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What St Stephen of Hungary can teach us about manners

The patron saint of Hungary has lots to teach us in the internet age

By on Friday, 17 August 2012

St Stephen could teach many web users about manners

St Stephen could teach many web users about manners

Yesterday was the feast of Saint Stephen of Hungary, which has the rank of an optional memorial. I always celebrate optional memorials, unless there is a very good reason not to, and I was thanked by a member of the congregation (who had Hungarian blood) for remembering Saint Stephen.

Saint Stephen of Hungary occupies an honoured place in Hungarian history, and you can read about that here. We may know little about Hungary in this country, but it is a place about which we should, I feel, know more, as it has a long and noble history.

But what struck me forcibly was the passage in the Office of Readings, which represents Saint Stephen’s advice to his son, who sadly predeceased him. It reminds us of the qualities that make a good King, a good man, and a good Christian. I found these words of particular significance: 

My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favour not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbours or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.

Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honourable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.

All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom.

This advice was given a thousand years ago, but it still makes sense today. Our own politicians and our own royal family would do well to follow it. And so would everyone else. Humility and politeness are excellent virtues, and to be encouraged. Every generation laments that people’s manners (which are morals in microcosm) are in decline. I confess myself shocked by the rudeness of some people, particularly on the internet. There is no excuse for it. We should allow ourselves, rather, to be inspired by this great Christian king.

Saint Stephen of Hungary, pray for us!

  • paulpriest

    “Composure, resignation, and the most exquisite good manners are, so to speak, the strong points of corpses.”GKC

    Ok – Think it’s about time the air was cleared:

    a] You’re a Priest
    b] You’re a Doctor of Moral Theology
    c] You’re writing on the Catholic Herald Website.

     So when someone in such a position speaks on any issue there should be a clearly stated implicit distinction of what is personal opinion and what is Catholic teaching; on too many occasions that delineation has been blurred to the point of misrepresentation.

    Someone candidly expressing antipathy, hostility or revulsion at one’s position should primarily be discerned not from a ‘rudeness’ perspective but as a proportionate indicator of the level of  disagreement, outrage or offence taken by that party.
    That they should include a few earthy anglo-saxon ‘sentence enhancers’ merely indicates the intensity of their fervently-held position.

    Here’s what GKC says on the issue:

    “If a critic tells a particular lie, that particular lie can be pointed
    out.  If he misses a specific point, that point can be explained.  If
    he is really wrong in this or that, it will be on this or that that the
    insulted person will eagerly pounce.  But “malice and spite” are vague
    words which will never be used except when there is really nothing to
    pounce on.  If a man says that I am a dwarf, I can invite him to
    measure me.  If he says I am a cannibal, I can invite him to dinner. 
    If he says I am a coward, I can hit him.  If he says I am a miser, I
    can give him half-a-sovereign.  But if he says I am fat and lazy (which
    is true), the best I can answer is that he speaks out of malice and
    spite.  Whenever we see that phrase, we may be almost certain that
    somebody has told the truth about somebody else.”

    Frankly when someone disagrees or takes grave offence and provides citations, arguments and substantive evidence to corroborate their position they should be afforded the respect of being argued with – the heatedness or flamboyancy of evocative/provocative adverbs are merely exigent to the heart of the matter.

    With no attempt to discuss the issues or argue one’s point, it’s the mark of the scoundrel to dismiss and scathingly deride with a contemptuous:

    “How rude!”

    One can be exceedingly more ill-mannered and discourteous than the person resorting to ‘indecorous’ lambasts or epithets..

    … simply by refusing to engage or not having the decency to counter someone’s sincerely-held viewpoints.

    Most people have a lot more respect for someone who calls them an idiot because of X,Y or Z than the person who ‘politely’ but loftily refuses to give them the time of day.

  • EndTimes101

     Excellent post…..

    Refusing to enter/engage the discussion/problem/battle because of feigned slights is the last refuge of the coward.

  • The GF

    Paul priest, your comment explains why you are a washed out nobody on a minimum wage. Grow a pair. Also, Alexander Lucie Smith is really hot.

  • EndTimes101

    I firmly believe that the Catholic Church (and by extension the world because only the CC can truly heal the world) is on the brink of total collapse/apostasy, not because of what the our Catholic establishment do, but what they FAIL to do.

    Fr Alexander, you consistently and persistently want to trip through the fields picking daisies even amid a full scale battle in the same field. You step over the carcasses and wounded, dodging all engagement so you can pick a pretty little flower.
    It’s not that your articles say anything wrong or evil, it is that your behaviour is totally inappropriate given the gravity of the situation the Church currently finds itself in.  

    How you can write a gushing piece on the Gates foundation for example, without even a word of criticism about its main objectives, which is to wipe as many people off the face as the earth as possible. You refuse to acknowledge the INTRINSIC evil this organisation engages in and promotes every single day, activities that are diametrically opposed the the Church you are supposed to represent.

    I write this not to judge and condemn you but to appeal to you to re-engage in the battle for souls and bodies. You have a grave responsibility as not just a priest, but as a very public writer on the Catholic Newspaper to inform the faithful who our greatest enemies really are……any person or organisation that engages in the promotion or aplication of industrial scale abortion, contraception and sterilisation should NEVER get a free pass. It is a grave sin of OMISSION….

  • James

     Yes, paulpriest has been caught red-handed because he is a rude, spiteful uneducated person who thinks he knows more than trained theologians.

  • Thirsty Gargoyle

    I see. How predictable. A recommendation from a saint that we should be merciful, patient, strong, humble, moderate, gentle, honourable, and chaste, and an observation that humility and politeness are to be cherished invokes the usual rage, rather proving the author’s point.

    Manners aren’t a simple matter of language. Of course loving language can be rather robust, whereas hateful language can be devoid of expletives. Nastiness, venom, scorn, and condescension can all be expressed — and are often best expressed — without resorting to those proverbial Anglo-Saxon words. This is all obvious. 

    Manners are simply basic decency — however a given society understands that — in action. In that sense, manners are indeed morals in microcosm.

    That’s why Chesterton — a man of impeccable manners, by all accounts, and an odd person to summon as an advocate for bad manners — linked the two when he said “Little children ought to learn nothing but legends; they are the beginnings of all sound morals and manners.”

    Has the internet caused a decline in manners? I think that it probably has, and I think Chesterton had forseen and lamented this very phenomenon, when he wrote in 1926 that:
    “Evil communications corrupt good manners, according to the Apostle; who was on that occasion perhaps not only an Apostle but a Prophet. For his remark was a pretty precise prediction of the problem of the modern world. I mean by evil communications what are commonly called good communications. I mean rapid communications, efficient communications, elaborately organised communications, communications by petrol and electricity and machinery which go to every corner of the earth. And in every corner of the earth today, we can see them corrupting good manners”

    We read and respond too quickly nowadays, and some of us scarcely pause for thought before condemning others for disagreeing with us, refusing to listen as we’re too keen to speak. When we do so, we think the worst of others in the most uncharitable of ways, and in our arrogant impatience to correct others we mercilessly launch ourselves at what we imagine to be weeds, heedless of the wheat we damage in the process.

    Is it really the mark of a scoundrel to refuse to engage with somebody? It depends. It can be, but life is short and time is precious, and sometimes time spent engaging is time wasted, when it might actually be better spent elsewhere. 

    I’ve found, for instance, both from experience and observation, that arguing with you is almost invariably an utterly futile endeavour, given your propensity to read things in the most blinkered of fashions. 

    I would point also to how I emailed you on June 5 and July 4, explaining and offering evidence for certain things that utterly refuted falsehoods you’d spread about the internet. Did you engage with me? Did you accept my offer of evidence? Or did you simply delete said emails, continue in your claims, and claim that you’d never been offered any right of reply to my refutations?

    By your own argument, it would seem that you’re a scoundrel. I’d not say that, though. I’d be willing to allow for the possibility that you’re a busy man, who thinks there are more important things in this life than disagreeing with people on the internet.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Well said!

  • Meena

    Wow!  Bravo!!
    After that you deserve a drink, oh stone and ugly one.

  • Meena

    I write this not to judge and condemn”

    Well if this is not be be judged and condemned, it’s surely enough to be going on with.

  • Caral

    “When we do so, we think the worst of others in the most uncharitable of ways, and in our arrogant impatience to correct others we mercilessly launch ourselves at what we imagine to be weeds, heedless of the wheat we damage in the process.” – Thirsty Gargoyle 
    An interesting comment, but not quite sure of what to make of Gargoyle’s comment, especially the ‘we’ aspect. As impatience is not a vice that he demonstrates, considering he spent over  256 hours working on 80 page ‘draft’ document mercilessly launching himself at his own imagined weeds, heedless to the wheat he damaged in the process.  
    Perhaps St Stephen’s advice is particular poignant.  
    “Be honourable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.” 

  • Lazarus

    Oh, crikey. Scrolled down from an article that was making some fairly unobjectionable points based on the Office of Readings and walk into ‘friendly’ fire in the combox.

    Well, Father Alexander, I like your posts. You’ve given me a couple of good tips for reading matter and now a timely reminder to moderate one of my vices. So thank you and keep it up.

  • paulpriest

    On occasions one may face a moral dilemma where Charity goes beyond all demands for justice.

    When someone is made aware of terrible things which have happened to others or of terrible actions perpetrated by another – one can only speak out or attempt to make some form of reparation or restitution if the engagement ensures the protection of the innocent and no grave harm occurring to anyone – including even the unjust parties.

    So when confronted with a situation where in order to defend oneself and vindicate one’s position it would mean compromising or jeopardising the lives, relationships and future of others?
    One must remain silent.
    Even if this means that so-called refutations of one’s position remain uncountered, even if it means that one’s reputation goes through the floor and one is denounced as a liar, a bully, a scoundrel and someone guilty of terrible calumnies…
    God will know otherwise.

    One must remain silent…in any alternate recourse the price is too high.

    Now I maintain that ‘good manners’ have very little to do with being well-mannered; sincerity, authenticity and integrity can often appear heavily disguised: Evil can be the most gravely polite of phenomena: Collaboration with evil can seem to be the most sensitive, charitable and common-sense approach.

    Yet sometimes ’tis the highest treason to do the right thing for the wrong reason.

    Love & Truth can sometimes wear the most hideous of masks, can be found in the foullest of words, can be cloaked within actions which to the unaware outsider might seem despicable and leave them incredulous….

    God will know otherwise.

  • Avoiding acrimony

    Have you read the document, Carol? I only ask because I have, and it seemed to me like a genuine and humble attempt to establish the truth of a complicated and acrimonious situation. It was not advocacy, but peacemaking, and yet the minority who apparently find it objectionable seem oddly reluctant to engage properly with the document.


    I take it that the reason the CC is against rubbers is because you should not lust after a woman and use her like a rubber dolly, on the other hand I think they might be a gift from Jesus our creator because he knows how stiff necked people are,what we got today are populations starving or being put to the sword while the world looks the other way,apart from the Blessed reporters of the media who will let the world know whether it want’s to or not,People are dying for the lack of rubbers,think about that now.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thanks, Lazarus, I always like your comments.

  • Caral

    *Yawn*. Did you read all of it? Obviously you have plenty of time on your hands, unlike me who is a busy mother.  Personally I don’t engage with Billy BS, especially written from a personal and emotional involved bias.Peacemaking it certainly did not do, however, malice making, lies, deception, imputing motives and calumnities were aplenty.    

    Interesting that you do not post under your own name….Are you sooty or sweep?  

  • Niall

    I’m confused. Did you read it or not? Because it seems like you didn’t, but then you’re very confident about its what it contained.

    You have no need to be hostile to me. My involvement in the whole business is almost entirely peripheral. If you’d prefer to know my real name, by the way, it’s Niall. I’m on Twitter as niall_gooch. I don’t usually post anonymously on things, and perhaps it was a mistake here. I just find that when there’s so much acrimony flying around it *can* help take the temperature down a bit.

    It took me approximately an hour and a half to read the document. Of course I could have been doing something else with that time, but I was entirely baffled by the apparently unexplained mud-slinging going on between people I quite liked and who had previously seemed to get on quite well, and wanted to know what it was all about. The document seemed to explain most things, though obviously some people are bound by confidentiality on some issues. If anyone else were to provide new evidence – e.g. things that were missed or ignored or overlooked – or to specifically rebut or refute things from the original, I would read that too. “When the facts change, I change my mind” and all that.Pax tecum 

  • Caral

    When you have some or any facts Niall, come back and we will chat some more.  :) 

  • James

     Nothing like total self delusion, is there?  Some very wierd individuals online indeed.

  • Deacon Tony

    Beautiful piece Father, I sat up yesterday
    morning when I read his opening words  “I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and apostolic faith
    with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed
    under you by God and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true
    Christian profession” and how they’re still pertinent today.


    This is reminds me how so much of De la Salle’s teachings are as ad rem
    in the third millennium as they were in the late 1600s.


    Again, it is a most beautiful piece, and most fitting for the day.  Thank you.

  • James

     A supreme irony, an article about manners and some replies to the article which only serve to prove the point of the whole article (that good manners, especially online, are in sharp decline)…

  • paulpriest

    You seriously think this post was about good manners?

    Rather than a thinly-veiled attack against online rudeness, dropping hints at the nature of such recent rudeness and its perpetrators?

  • andHarry

    ”I see. How predictable. A recommendation from a saint that we should be merciful, patient, strong, humble, moderate, gentle, honourable, and chaste, and an observation that humility and politeness are to be cherished  ….”

    Yes, it’s just a platitudinous ramble, and not unlike the uninformative trite messages we get from visionaries of Marian banality. Some of the response from the Medjugore seers are like this.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thank you for your kind comment.

  • Parasum

    Thanks for posting that :)

  • Paul Rogerson

    I am British, but Hungary is my home. Yesterday we visited the “Holy Right” (Hand) of Saint Stephen in his basilica in Budapest. The relic had been removed from the beautiful reliquary where it is normally kept and was exposed in a small glass case on an altar. Tomorrow in Hungary (20th August) is the day on which the national patron saint’s feast is celebrated with great pomp by the church and the secular state alike.
    Tried to upload some .png files but didn’t work. Try Google with “szent jobb”. 

  • Hamish Redux

    Gosh, I hadn’t realised that sentiments such as “be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately” would be so controversial, but from the evidence below the jury is still out on that. Don’t post the line about “love thy neighbour as thyself” or you’ll really get into trouble.