Presiding Officer, ladies and gentlemen, before being a bishop, I am a Benedictine monk, and I lived in a monastery which, thanks to an act of the Scottish Parliament of 1560, became a ruin for 400 years. This Thursday, its restored church will be re-dedicated.
It is a privilege to be in this restored Parliament and to offer, simply, encouragement. Public service as a member of the Parliament, a legislator, perhaps as a member of the Government, is something worthy, generous and good. It is, to use an old word, noble. I hope that you hear that sometimes. Pope Francis has spoken of
“nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others.”
Cicero was a senator with soul and Robert Harris’s novels have been recalling him. He laid the foundations of our political, legal and linguistic culture. He coined the word “humanitas”, which is achievement enough. His “Republic” is a summons to political engagement:
“I simply state this ... nature has given to mankind such a compulsion to do good, and such a desire to defend the well-being of the community, that this force prevails over all ... temptations.”
Ignore the bugle of retreat, he says. Commit yourself. Do not listen to those who say that “most politicians are worthless”.
“The aim of a ship’s captain is a successful voyage; a doctor’s, health ... So, the aim of our ideal statesman is the citizen’s happy life—that is, a life secure in wealth ... and honourable in its moral character. That is the task I wish him to accomplish—the greatest and best any man can have.”
Next year, 2016, marks the 20th anniversary of the death of the Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown. His poem “The Storm” begins:
“For the islands I sing”
and this becomes “For Scotland I sing”
“For workers in field
and mill and mine”
and at last “Praise tinker and saint”.
Such was the scope of his poetry. It was about a service of the common good, and a way of being with and for that he kept to through battles with alcohol and depression. As a pastor, I am encouraged by that; perhaps parliamentarians can be too.
Culture, law and religion; poets, parliamentarians and pastors: my hope is that we can all be people of soul, and that we can sing—even while quarrelling—for Scotland, for humanitas, for tinker and saint, and that we can always honour what is deepest and truest in us, what Cicero called the divine spark and the bible the image and likeness of God.