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Requiem Mass for Peter Geach RIP

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On 24 May, a Requiem Mass was held at Blackfriars, Oxford for the repose of the soul of Peter Geach, who died on 21st December 2013, aged 97. Together with his wife, Elizabeth Anscombe, Peter was an enormously influential philosopher of the 20th century, but also a great witness to the Catholic Faith. At this Requiem organised by their daughter, Sr Tamsin Geach OP, many members of the Geach family were present, as well as old friends, philosophers, and admirers.

We are pleased that Fr Richard and Sr Tamsin have graciously allowed that the sermon preached on that occasion be shared here on Godzdogz.

Sermon Preached at a Requiem Mass for Prof. Peter Geach
by Richard Conrad, O.P.
on 24th May, 2014, Blackfriars, Oxford

Readings:  Song of Songs 2:8-14 (the Prophecy at Mass on the day Prof. Geach died, 21st Dec. 2013)
                  I Peter 3:15-18 (the Epistle for Sunday 25th May, 2014, 6thSunday of Easter)
                  John 14:15-21 (the Gospel for Sunday 25th May, 2014, 6thSunday of Easter)

For the festschrift marking what he called “their fifty years of philosophical, spiritual and personal married partnership,” Cardinal Cahal Daly wrote: Peter Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe “have given us a model of personal faith and Christian witness, and of sacramentally hallowed and faith-deepened partnership in Christian marriage, which are a source of inspiration to us all.” Their Marriage took place on St. Stephen’s Day, 1941. They had met in the spring of 1938, at a Corpus Christi procession, providentially brought together by an even greater Sacrament. About that meeting granted “by God’s mercy,” Peter wrote, “I have never got over being suddenly struck with amazement from time to time at my good fortune.” All the Sacraments, of course, speak to us of the love affair between the Lord and His Bride the Church, the love affair between the Lord and each elect soul. But Marriage and the Holy Eucharist most specially point us back to an earlier moment in an earlier spring when the Lord who had come from heaven to seek His holy Bride bought her with His own Blood. Committing Himself to His Sacrifice, Jesus gave us the Holy Eucha­rist and thereby the privilege of applying the power of His Sacrifice to the living and the dead.

And so we offer the Holy Eucharist today for Peter, together with our continuing prayers. On 31st May, 1938, Peter professed his faith in the power of Christ’s Sacrifice at his reception into the Catholic Church. Writing from Warsaw in 1985, he concluded his brief philosophical autobiography with the elegiac couplet:

            Sexaginta annos complevi hucusque novemque
            In Domino sperans, dum vocet ipse: Veni.
                        (which I translate:)
            Sixty and nine years have I thus far run
            Hoping still in the Lord, till He say, “Come!”

Peter had 28 more years to run, until that day last December when the passage from the Song of Songs was read at Mass in which the Lord says to His Bride and to the elect soul, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come.”

Not long before that day, Peter had expressed his persevering hope, and his conviction of our solidarity in Christ’s love, by asking More to “organise for [him] to be a courtier in the Court of the King of Heaven.” We are in fact compelled by gratitude and affection to do our bit to arrange that for him, by offering this Sacri­fice, and our prayers, that Peter’s hope, and our hope for him, may have been fulfilled.

For our offering, and our prayers, are made to the eternalGod about whose almighty Providence Peter wrote in a typically careful and penetrating way. The Liturgy entrusts to God all those personal pilgrimages whose outcome is not yet revealed to us while the Spirit and the Bride still say, “Come!”, and we hope to inherit the New Heavens and New Earth which the Lord Jesus has inaugurated and pledged by His Death and Resurrection. When, as David, Sybil, St. Peter and St. John say, the old cosmos is dissolved, then all that is hidden will be manifest; and we hope and pray, for ourselves and those who are dear to us, that all sins will be revealed as forgiven, so that nothing will be revealed that is not an occasion for joy. Then, we hope and pray, the Lord will say to us, and to Peter and Elizabeth, “Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet,  and your face is comely.” Reflecting – reflecting to each other – Christ’s risen glory, we shall, in concert with the Angels, sing to God the Father every honour and glory, in, through and with Christ, united in the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Gift of whom was won for us from the Father by Christ by the Sacrifice He offered.
Early Christian funerary monument in Rome: the souls of the dead are symbolised by doves around Christ (X-P)
For the time being, however, Peter’s voice, with which he spoke so elegantly, has fallen silent. So we lend him our own voices, and sing for him the prayer of someone facing the King of tremendous majesty, as Peter did last December, when what will be revealed at the General Doom was revealed to him personally. We call on Jesus the Fount of pietas, the one, that is, in whom God’s devotion to us took flesh, asking that all He did and suffered to purchase the pearl of great price, namely Peter’s soul, may bear its fruit.

We pray, then, that Peter may so have passed from this life as to have heard the Lord say, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come.” We pray that he may so have persevered in faith, hope and Love as to be welcomed by the Angels and Martyrs into the Courts of Heaven. And if any further “dying with Christ” remained to be done after he had endured some years of outwarddecline, we pray that Peter may swiftly and gently have completed his share in Christ’s Cross, so that faith and hope have been replaced by Vision and Possession, and Love has come home.

Faith, hope and perseverance are the work of the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Loyalty, whom Jesus’ Sacrifice won for us. Our love of God, our love of truth, our loyalty to each other and to our voca­tion, the cherishing by husband and wife of each other, are fruits of the Spirit of Truth, the Divine Covenant-Love in Person. The signs are that Peter was indeed possessed by that Spirit of Truth, and so possessed that Spirit while on pil­gri­mage, as we hope and pray he now possesses Him in Heaven. From his earliest years Peter had a native talent for sensing ideas that are incoherent, even wicked; and a love of wisdom, which his father nurtured. For a time he followed his father’s frequent changes of faith, but having discovered MacTaggart, Peter remained ever after grateful for the “standards of rigour, clarity and honesty” that MacTaggart set for him. Peter’s native talents, and his instinct for honesty, were, I suggest, a praeparatio evangelica. So, when he was a student at Balliol, as he later wrote: “My Mactaggartian beliefs were honed to a sharp edge by con­troversy. Increasingly… I found myself arguing with Catholics. I was certainly cleverer than they, but they had the immeasurable advantage that they were right – an advantage that they did not throw away by resorting to the bad philosophy and apologetics then sometimes taught in Catholic schools. One day my defences quite suddenly collapsed: I knew that if I were to remain an honest man I must seek instruction in the Catholic Religion.” 

At the same time, of course, Elizabeth was also seeking instruction; then they met, and, as Cardinal Daly put it, “shared a passion for truth… a profound reverence for God, the mysterium tremendum, and an equally profound reve­rence for truth… and they have seen the search for God and the search for truth as ultimately the same quest.” In this pursuit of truth they showed what Luke Gormally called “the sort of intellec­tual independence which is inimical to syndrome thinking.” So, to other people’s surprise, but not their own, Peter and Elizabeth would sometimes not know what the other was thinking. They could always be fascinated by each other’s ideas. But Peter could truthfully write: “Both of us, I hope, have avoided two vices: frivolous change of mind, and adherence to past sayings in the desire to have been right rather than beright.”

While remaining firm in the Catholic Faith, Peter respected the “[M]any people who are far from the Chris­tian religion… [but] have had a deep devotion to the pursuit of truth.” After all, “[i]t is not surprising that men are found to value truth even apart from being enjoined to do so in revelation; men are made for the truth…” While saddened in one place where he worked by “petty hostility” and some incomprehension, Peter “found relief in the friendship of a group of Christadelphians… a Christian tradition not of fanatical enthusiasm but of quiet persuasion; they often cite the text, ‘Be ready to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.’ My dialogue with my friends [Peter wrote] was I hope a matter of ‘speaking the truth in love’ on both sides; honesty about our differences served to bring out some measure of deep agreement.”

Peter had been given a special talent for logic, which is an invaluable tool in the service of truth. 
In the dedication of his book Reason and Argument, Peter quotes Kotarbiński’s poem:

            On every side the weeds of error grow;
            Vengeful logician, at them with the hoe!
            - Na chwasty moja praca później się rozpostrze.
            - A teraz czym się trudnisz? – Sama siebie ostrzę.
                        “Weeding? For that just now you must not ask!”
                        Why not? “Tool-sharpening is my present task.”

Peter’s recovery of his maternal Polish roots gave him a precious insight into how the “idiotisms of idiom” that each language has, do not matter for logic, a point sometimes missed by English – but not, he claimed, by Polish – philosophers.

Our natural talents, and the charismatic gifts bestowed by the Spirit of Truth, take on new lustre, a divine value, if – and only if – they are employed in Charity, in that divine Love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. In that Love, we can “speak the truth in love” by words and by deeds. St. Paul tells us (I Cor. 13: 8-13) that our know­ledge and our prophecy are imperfect – indeed, there comes a time when they, and the exercise of similar talents, must cease, and in Peter’s case, as in many cases, this was some years before death. But for all our present life, faith, hope and Love abide, and we pray that for Peter that God-given, God-directed Love has carried him to see “face to face”, so that his service of the truth is rewarded in “understanding fully, even as he has been [eternally] understood.” 

We pray, that is, for the fulfilment of his own prayer expressed in his book Truth and Hope: “Soaking myself in McTaggart, I imbibed a desire for Heaven and eternal life, which of course I had not to abandon on becoming a Catholic; and meanwhile I was preserved from giving my heart with total devotion to some less worthy end… Even as regards the relation of time and eternity I had no need to find McTaggart wholly mistaken. God’s life, the life of the Blessed Trinity, really is the sort of Boethian eternity that McTaggart ascribed to all persons; and we have the great and precious promise that, in a way we cannot now begin to understand, we shall transcend all the delusion and misery and wickedness of this life and become sharers in that eternal life.”

The music at Mass included:   
The Sequence Dies irae, dies illa;
The hymn “Lo! He comes with clouds descending” in the full version by Charles Wesley and Martin Madan;
The antiphons In paradisum and Chorus Angelorum
The literature referred to in the sermon comprises:
GEACH, Peter. “A Philosophical Autobiography.” In Harry A. LEWIS (ed.) Peter Geach: Philosophical Encounters. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991. Pages 1-26.
GEACH, Peter. Providence and Evil. The Stanton Lectures 1971-2. Cambridge: CUP, 1977.
GEACH, P. T. Reason and Argument. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.
GEACH, Peter. Truth and Hope. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.
GORMALLY, Luke (ed.) Moral Truth and Moral Tradition: Essays in Honour of Peter Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe. With a foreword by Cardinal Cahal B. Daly. Blackrock: Four Courts Press, 1994.


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