God & I: Jacob Rees-Mogg

April 19 2019 | by

YOU ARE a practicing Roman Catholic and a political conservative. What formed your convictions?

I was brought up as a Catholic by my father, who was a devout Catholic. And my father derived his faith through his mother, who was Irish-American. As with many Catholic families we went to church every Sunday in a parish served by Downside Abbey. So I grew up with a familiarity with the Catholic Church, and I always found belief very easy, and my father’s example was very important in my upbringing.

In terms of political Conservatism it was the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who made it clear to me that Conservatism actually works; what happened in the UK in the 1980s was a great testament to the success of Conservative policies.


Did your views evolve over time, and how?

My views have evolved greatly over time, both in terms of my faith and my political convictions. With faith, knowledge increases. As a child, when you go to church you don’t understand all that is happening. As you get older you begin to understand the essentials of the faith, you understand more of what’s in the Gospels and Scripture in general. The more I have got to know, the more I have felt comfortable with the authority of the Church.

In politics, likewise, one realizes that things function in different ways, and that there is no certainty that what you think will work is actually going to work out the way you think. You can pursue a course that you think will be best, but sometimes the best government policies don’t work. A friend of mine once said that there should be a Ministry of Unintended Consequences. However, the basic principle that people should be allowed to get on with their lives is absolutely correct, as well as the principle that decisions made by individuals are better than those made for them by the state. This very clear principle plays through into how you run schools, hospitals, income tax procedures and so on.


Your late father, when he was editor of The Times 50 years ago, displayed a remarkable tenacity on the point of the Gold Standard. Your own tenacity as a Brexiteer shows that same intensity. Is this a like-father-like-son thing, or does that characteristic emerge from a Catholic foundation?

This is an interesting question. It is probably more a like-father-like-son principle. My father was very interested in ideas, in how they could be put into practice. He was also interested in learning from history and seeing what had worked in the past. His great point on the gold standard, a monetary system whereby a country’s currency or paper money has a value directly linked to gold, was that in the UK between 1688 and 1914 there had been no inflation whilst the country was on the gold standard, and that since 1914 the value of money had disappeared. So he learned from history. Now with Brexit one learns from history that the nation state is the most successful form of government, and because of this the idea of taking back control is very powerful here in Britain. So in my case it’s more of a like-father-like-son thing rather than the dogmatism of Holy Mother Church.


In February 2018 speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Martin Donnelly, a civil servant, warned that Brexit would be “giving up a three course meal… for the promise of a packet of crisps in the future.” Do you agree with this comment?

Absolutely not. It is a silly comment with no validity. I believe in democracy. I think that the way a people vote and the ability to change a government is fundamental to the success of a nation. That which is imposed by unelected bureaucrats can never rival the efficiency of an elected government, and the bureaucratic proposals from the European Union do not lead to good government. Indeed, this is a matter Italy is facing at the moment and that Greece has faced, and the whole European Continent is facing up to the fact that the bureaucratic direction of policy from the EU has failed, especially from the economic standpoint. The UK can do much better by being accountable to its own democratic system.


The Anglican vicar and Brexiteer Giles Fraser wrote in an article in The Telegraph ,“The English Reformation was the first Brexit. We survived our break from Europe then, and we’ll do so again.” Could there even be in Brexit a hint of rejection of Catholicism?

I don’t think so. A lot of Brexiteers are Catholics. Bill Cash, a leading Brexiteer, is Catholic along with quite a number of others. Catholicism is not ill-disposed towards Brexit because Catholicism is a spiritual matter rather than a temporal matter.

One of the problems of the European Union is that it does not have any recognition of God within its constitution. When the EU constitution was being proposed St Pope John Paul II wanted it to mention God, but the architects of the constitution refused. The EU is a very secularist organization, whereas England at least still has an Established Church. England is still formally a Christian nation. As a Catholic I feel very comfortable in rejecting the EU, and I’m not sure the comparison with the Reformation holds. The Reformation was a spiritual decision taken for temporal reasons, whereas Brexit is a temporal decision taken for temporal reasons.


Don’t you think, however, that it would be better to change the EU from the inside rather than by just going away from it?

No, because the European Union is fundamentally flawed. The fundamental error with the EU is that there is no democracy in it. In the Church I do not want democracy; we have our hierarchy, and the Holy Father is Christ’s representative on earth, who has a unique authority because of that fact. The Pope’s authority is not one that the faithful can possibly compete with, or want to compete with. This is not true of the State, of the temporal power, which does not have a unique connection to God. In the State democracy, the vote of each individual human being, is equally valid, and this is the best way to run a State, but the EU can never hope to achieve that.


Is British Catholicism liberal or conservative?

It’s mixed. There are many liberal Catholics as well as many conservative Catholics in Britain. As with all things the alternation between liberals and conservatives goes in cycles. You now see many young people, many young priests, who are very keen on the Old Rite of the Mass; and the strange thing is that it tends to be the older priests who are getting out the guitars and the tambourines, so I think there is hope for a more conservative Church in the future.


What, in your opinion, are the most important values that the Church and society in general should promote?

The Church should be more visible in preaching the miracle of the Resurrection, from which everything else flows. The Resurrection is about life, and therefore the Church ought to concentrate on issues that have to do with life; it should avoid political controversy because, whether income tax should be 20p to the pound or 25p to the pound is not a matter of infallibility, it is a matter of organizations and structures, and there can be an argument for one level of taxation or for another level. The Church’s authority is enhanced when it seeks the truth and tries to promote life, rather than the details of political and economic policy.


Last November Catherine Pepinster, author of The Keys and the Kingdom: the British and the Papacy from John Paul II to Francis, wrote an article titled, “Even today, Britain’s Catholics still face prejudice.” Do you agree?

No, not really. I don’t think there is a prejudice against Catholicism as such, rather do I see a strong secularist bias against faith, whether it is the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Muslim or Jewish faith. There is a feeling that faith is slightly odd, and a belief that the idea of God is slightly odd, and that faith and belief in God should be cut out of public life altogether. This is very unfortunate because faith plays a tremendously important part in promoting a civilized society.


Have you ever had any doubts about your faith?

No, never, and this may sound very odd. I’ve always believed in God and the Church from childhood, and I never had any reason to doubt. I am too stupid to have doubts.


Who is God for you? How would you describe Him?

This is a very difficult question. On Sundays at lunchtime I go through the Catechism with my children to get them ready for their first communion. I know that God made me, but I don’t know what God is. The Catechism says, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

God is the supreme being; he is the supreme expression of love, power, justice and mercy. But we do not know precisely what God is. He is a great mystery.


As a Roman Catholic what impression do you have of Pope Francis and his attempts to reform the institutional Church?

The Church has been very lucky in having had the recent popes that I have known about in my lifetime. With St Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis we have always had the right popes at the right time. Pope Francis’ concentration on mercy and forgiveness in the Church is appropriate in this period of the Church’s history. He is right in emphasizing that we are a Church of sinners. The Church can also sometimes appear to be authoritarian, and that is a risk, but it must also uphold the truth, and Pope Benedict was wonderfully effective in reasserting truth in a doubting age. Now Pope Francis has said nothing that is against truth, but he has emphasized mercy. Therefore both the papacies of Benedict and Francis have been tremendously important in upholding different components of the faith.


If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would you choose, and why?

This is a very nice question. What you are really asking me here is whether I wish to have dinner with the current Pope Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI, or with the Holy Father. I would choose to have dinner with the Pope Emeritus, but only because the Holy Father would be too busy!


You are one of a small group of people who is seriously discussed as a possible prime minister. When people spoke to Cardinal Hume about being pope, he said, “Unthinkable.” When people asked Cardinal Winning the same question, he said, “They could do worse!” Which of these two positions is nearer to your own in respect to life in Downing Street?

My answer is much more in line with Cardinal Hume’s. I don’t think I am a candidate, and I have tried to make this clear. I wouldn’t have any support with members of parliament, so it doesn’t arise. I am very interested with what I am doing as a backbencher, and I am very happy about doing that.


Has St Anthony ever played any particular role in your life?

St Anthony is one of the most useful saints. Through his kind intercession one finds all sorts of lost items. I always feel slightly guilty about this though, because I feel one should generally pray for more serious things. Rather than praying to recover material objects one should pray to recover spiritual goods, like faith, morality, wisdom, etc. However, St Anthony’s help in finding lost items is absolutely terrific.

Personally, though, I usually ask the intercession of Our Lady. As with many Catholics, the Blessed Virgin is the centre of my life of prayer.

I had a wonderful parish priest who died many years ago. He used to tell me that he often felt very guilty, but when he needed to get up early in the morning he would always ask Our Lady to wake him up. He said Our Lady always woke him up, so he never needed an alarm clock!

 The thought that the saints and particularly Our Lady are also human is very helpful because the majesty of God is so great that direct, unmediated access to God requires great effort and courage, and is out of reach for most of us. Therefore the intermediation by saints and priests is extremely helpful to Catholics, and provides a root and a comfort to get to God that builds faith in other areas. It may seem trivial to use Our Lady as an alarm clock or St Anthony to find lost items, but if that brings you closer to God than the more serious things will follow.


BORN Jacob William Rees-Mogg on May 24, 1969, in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital Hammersmith, London, to William Rees-Mogg and Gillian Shakespeare Morris, Jacob’s father was an editor of The Times and his mother is the daughter of a Conservative Party politician who was the mayor of St. Pancras, London.

Jacob graduated from Trinity College, Oxford, where he was the president of the Oxford University Conservative Association and a frequent debater. His first job was with the Rothschild investment banking company. Jacob later co-founded Somerset Capital Management.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is a prominent member of the Conservative Party, and was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) from the North East Somerset constituency in 2010.

Jacob entered politics at the age of 26, and served as the chairman of the Cities of London and Westminster Conservative Association. He gained the reputation of being one of the most rebellious MPs of the Conservative Party. He is vocal about his views against the European Union, same-sex marriage and abortion. He supports technology and believes that measures to check climate change should not retard development. He is a strong supporter of the monarchy and the Christian Church. He is against the routine involvement of Britain in overseas conflict zones and has opposed uncontrolled immigration into the UK.

Jacob is married to Helena de Chair, with whom he has six children. Although he has denied any ambition of becoming the prime minister of the UK, he is a strong contender for leadership of his party.

Updated on April 19 2019