BBC Hume Service

You may listen to the wireless programme I mentioned below here – but only for the next three or four days, mind!


Just the other day, I was surprised to find myself invited to take part in a forthcoming BBC McRadio documentary about David “le bon” Hume (this year of our Lord being the tercentenary of Hume’s birth).  The programme maker confessed to a bewilderment about the content and import of Hume’s principal claim to contemporary fame: his philosophy.  A colleague of hers had suggested that I might be a light to lighten the Enlightenment in this regard.  This was a recommendation that was only a lustrum or so wide of its best-before date, but never mind.  It’s nice to be asked.  Flattery is a free bus pass with me, if not exactly a chartered jet: it will get you places, but not too far.

The immediate result was a very pleasant and light-hearted chat with Debbie (the programme’s editrix) which lasted well over an hour, and encompassed such varied territory as Hume, Dundee friaries and West Highland terriers.  The intermediate outcome was an equally (almost) painless hour-and-a-bit blether with a certain weel-kent cultural commentator and former senior Pisky churchman of these parts – a gentleman with whom I would not always have relished such a moment of co-operative chuminess, for reasons which needn’t detain us here.  The interview took place in a “most learned drawing-room”, close to my own heart and hearth.  

It was clear from the get-go, not least because I knew the intellectual partialities of my interviewer, that this programme was intended to be an uncomplicated encomium to Hume, and I was equanimitously resigned to that.  No goode Catholick can be expected to be more sanguine than that about helping big-up Big Dave, it seems to me, but nor was I at all grudging when praise was due. 

Anyway, I was ostensibly there just to lift the penumbral drape from off some of Hume’s most basic philosophical concepts, and I was equal to that task.   I did not entirely disclose an ulterior motive, which was to pour a playful splash of cald, historical watter on some of the censers burning at Davie’s cultic shrine, and to help rescue some of his co-æval critics from some of the less-deserved opprobrium later generations have heaped upon them.  Truth and justice, innit?  I think I was equal to this task also, but diplomacy and the preeny desire not to have everything I said end up on the virtual cutting-room floor kept me disarmingly gentle and jovial in my subtle swipes.

I was aghast to hear myself introduced, after my name and job title, as: “but more importantly, an expert on David Hume.”  This is not a claim I had made nor ever would make of myself, but I was saving all my discordant comments for later so I limited my protest to a hammily hideous grimace.  Those erstwhile fellow labourers of mine in the philosophical vineyard who may choke on their biscuits on hearing me thus styled are earnestly entreated to be indulgent. 

I managed to squeeze a few ums and ahs in about Hume’s much-vaunted, invariable good-naturedness, and got one or two other comments in under the radar that took some of the gilt off the gingerbread shrine of St David.  I larded the discussion with references to Hume as an iconoclast, audacious, a touchy braggadocio, a thinker of genuinely dangerous ideas.  At one point, I was asked whom I thought the David Hume de nos jour was.  I mischievously suggested that Richard Dawkins probably fancied himself in that niche, but the horror on my interviewer’s face made me relent far enough to agree that Christopher Hitchens was probably closer to the mark. 

Perhaps you will have the aural joy of hearing the programme for yourselves in due course, so I’ll leave off there for now.  But I’ll finish with a rough note I wrote to myself at Christmas about the Scottish reformation and the Enlightenment, for your immediate gratification.  It is, I dare say, both good and original – in the Johnsonian sense, that is.

The Enlightenment was the Reformation writ large and taken to its natural conclusion.  In rejecting the authority of the magisterium, the Petrine office, the cultic mysteries and Tradition as a whole, and in substituting personal revelation and judgement, a private unmediated relationship with God (and therefore with truth), and a desacrilised, “rationalist” cultus, the reformers sowed the seeds of the scepticism, iconoclasm and individualism of the Enlightenment.  The results were far more radical a rejection of God and religious faith than the reformers could have anticipated (or than most of them could have regarded without horror); but humanist secularism was almost an inevitable working-through of the principles which the reformers first began to enunciate.

 Naturally, Lord Hailes, et al., were uncomfortable with the (at best) resultant deism and (at worst) outright atheism which spread with the enlightenment project, but the crop was sown and the harvest was nearly ripe – and plucking the godless tares from the field without also uprooting the wholesome wheat of reason was to prove exceptionally difficult.  Once the juggernaut was on the slope, it was all but impossible to stop it careering downhill.  The robustness of the presbyterian commitment to the Scriptures helped, of course, but the Moderates were less able to avail themselves of this than the anti-Enlightenment evangelicals whose rigorism moderates were constantly trying to counter with reason.

Discuss.  Please show your workings.

Almighty and eternal Father, who hast set Benedict our Pope as Pastor over thy whole Church, and hast made him to be a faithful steward of the treasures of thy household, both old and new; we beseech thee graciously to consider our humble thanksgiving for the same and, of thy great mercy, to pour upon him thy continual favour; that we, worthily celebrating the holy mysteries of thy temple, may together with him be brought at last unto that everlasting worship of thee in heaven which thou createdst us from the beginning to offer; through Jesus Christ thine only Son, our Lord, who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end,


1 The happy birds Te Deum sing
‘Tis Mary’s month of May;
Her smile turns winter into spring,
And darkness into day;
And there’s a fragrance in the air,
The bells their music make,
And Oh! the world is bright and fair,
And all for Mary’s sake.

2 Whene’er we seek the holy Child,
At every sacred spot,
We meet the Mother undefiled;
Who shun her seek him not:
At cloistered Nazareth we see
At haunted Bethlehem,
The throne of Jesus, Mary’s knee,
Her smile, his diadem.

3 The Daughter, Mother, Spouse of God,
None silence her appeal
Who long to tread where Jesus trod,
What Jesus felt to feel,
O Virgin-born, from thee we learn
To love thy Mother dear;
Her teach us duly to discern,
And rightly to revere.

4 To love the Mother, people say,
Is to defraud the Son;
For them, alas, there dawns no May,
Until their hearts are won:
Then, when their hearts begin to burn,
Ah, then to Jesus turn,
And loving whom he loves, they learn
To love Saint Mary too.

5 How many are the thoughts that throng
On faithful souls today!
All year we sing our Lady’s song,
‘Tis still the song of May:
Magnificat! O may we feel
That rapture more and more;
And chiefly, Lord, what time we kneel
Thine altar-throne before.

6 ‘Tis then, when at thy feet we pray,
We share our Lady’s mirth:
Her joy we know who hail to-day
Thy Eucharistic birth;
That trembling joy to Mary sent,
Ah, Christians know it well,
With whom in his dear sacrament
Their Saviour deigns to dwell.

7 Yes, Mary’s month has come again,
The merry month of May;
And sufferers forget their pain
And sorrows flee away,
And joys return, the hearts whose moan
Was desolate erewhile
Are blithe and gay, once more they own
The charm of Mary’s smile.

8 Thy Son our Brother is, and we,
Whatever may betide,
A Mother, Mary, have in thee,
A guardian and a guide;
Thy smiles a tale of gladness tell,
No words can ever say;
If but, like thee, we love him well,
The year will all be May.

9 All hail! An angel spake these words
We lovingly repeat;
The song-notes of the singing birds
They are not half so sweet:
This is a music that endures,
It cannot pass away,
For Mary’s children it ensures
A never-ending May.

O God, rich in mercy, who willed to place blessed John Paul, pope, over your whole church, grant, we beseech Thee, that instructed by his teachings, we may trustingly open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, man’s only Redeemer.


Just a very temporary dust-off for this important petition – since I feel somewhat responsible for it…

Do sign if you feel you can – if only to say thank you to the Holy Father and assure him of your prayers.

[Image courtesy of this site.]

Feel the final hours

Loosening the tournique

Of separation.