Before considering the wolf as American National Mammal, let me illuminate and clarify the great public debate now going on about the Catholic bishops who at this very moment are searching their souls on the question of atomic war.

You will wonder how I qualify to speak on such a matter, and certainly I would not except for an incident in September. In that month I purchased and ate a fried egg sandwich at Ely Cathedral, possibly the most wonderful church in Christendom. It is not a Roman Catholic cathedral, of course, and I feel that what follows is utterly ecumenical, applying to all.

Satisfying myself that nobody was loose with whips or table-turning equipment I settled down to the sandwich sold in what I suppose had once been a small chapel of this great church, and I learned, actually LEARNED, two interesting things which of course are obvious but which we do not keep in mind, really:

First, no celestial glow arose inwardly upon eating the sandwich, though if any place in the world should have sandwiches with special values, it should be Ely. And second, the sandwich cost as much as a similar sandwich at any diner in America, and was roughly of the same quality, which is adequate but not great.

My old legs were tired, since Ely is a tremendous church, not far from London, and you can spend days exploring it, so I thanked God for a warm place to sit and some wholesome food. Man cannot live by stone alone.

If the egg was not different from Washington Post cafeteria eggs, though consumed in those sacred precincts (the cathedral), clearly my own thinking was wrong, or rather my uncritical and unexamined expectation was wrong, to suppose it would be better at Ely.

I thought then of the workmen who built the great edifice. Surely we would honor the masons, indeed the men who mixed the mortar, even, for this structure. One feels instinctively they were a cut above construction crews we have worked on or have known. And yet, there is that awkward business of the great central tower collapsing in the year 1322. Perhaps the masons were too secular. Not quite careful enough.

Of course they are dead now, and I am the last man to defame them, who (after all) admire more than almost anybody else the gorgeous building they erected. It may have been the architect's fault, not the mortar mixer's.

And at least I never heard the medieval work crew of Ely accused of stealing the timber, sand, stone and lime from the building yard while the church was under construction (as the workmen did at the tremendous cathedral of York) nor were the Ely men rebuked (as they were at York) for workmanship so shoddy that it had to be pulled down and done again at enormous cost.

Besides, if the vast tower of Ely fell, well, so did a lot of others, including Bury St. Edmunds (which embarrassingly fell down twice), Winchester, Beverley, Ripon, Worcester, Hereford, etc., to mention only some examples of the English church and saying nothing of Beauvais, etc., where more than the tower collapsed.

Meditating at Ely, then, on the intrusion of human fallibility into even divine precincts, I acknowledged to myself that you don't have to be holy, you know, to be in a church. You don't even have to be a gentleman. You don't even have to display minimal standards of virtue.

Let sleeping dogs lie, I always say, and yet I often think of the little tension between the archbishops of York and Canterbury, finally settled with the usual sense and fuzz of the English by letting them be equal, only with Canterbury a little more equal than York. And I mention it merely as a reminder that archbishops, and therefore probably bishops, too, are human.

In the old days, before this excellent (if somewhat murky) solution was reached, there used to be actual fist fights about it, and I shall pass over the old accusation that an archbishop of York helped arrange the murder of an archbishop of Canterbury (Becket, slaughtered in the transept of his own church in 1170) and I doubt much good is done by dwelling on the year 1123, in which it became clear the archbishop of Canterbury had forged papers giving him precedence over York (an incident in which York took godly glee, I suppose).

You think, perhaps, that English archbishops, at least, would behave well, but as recently (or as early) as ll76 an archbishop of Canterbury marched into a synod at Westminster and sat himself down in the seat of honor. In marched the archbishop of York who was amazed to see Canterbury plopped down as if he owned the place. York stalked over and sat his haunches (as the contemporary account puts it) down right on top of Canterbury.

Entertaining, no doubt, to the assembled bishops. But was this godly brotherhood?

No doubt it's different now, but bishops were not usually chosen in the past for startling virtue or learning or wisdom (I speak of the English church alone) so much as for other important qualities, like cunning, experience at intrigue, administrative ability, loud voice useful on the battlefield, and so forth.

I have known two or three bishops -- do not misunderstand me -- who were every bit as good as the average secular fellow. My only point is that -- well, no matter, they did the best they could.

I have a generally erroneous notion that an egg sandwich or a mortar mixer or a canon or a bishop at Ely is going to be more wonderful, somehow, than anywhere else. I value, therefore, my learning experience there.

People never make the mistake, I am sorry to notice, of thinking a writer at a great newspaper is pretty dandy, himself. Certainly no writer ever falls into this error concerning editors. Nor do we suppose a truck driver for the National Gallery is more artistic than a truck driver for Safeway.

It is only in things having to do with religion that we easily assume those employed by the institution are more righteous than other folk, and this is bound to be embarrassing to clergymen who, after all, do not trot about saying they are better than other men.

Of course I do not wish to offend anybody's sensibilities here, and some readers may believe the Lord will enter into the bishops' debates, ensuring a wise or even a holy document. Of these things I am not competent to speak. But I remember quite well the fried egg at Ely was just average.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the bishops are just serious decent men of quite specialized function. They have as much right as Caspar Weinberger or the Clancy Clarion or a committee of philosophers or the ladies running Cosmopolitan to search their souls and to speak their conclusions, which like the great tower of Ely will stand or fall by their internal strength, not by their external flourishes.

Some conclusions naturally carry more weight because their argument is more sound, more carefully reasoned, than other arguments. Besides, the fact that you're a bishop should never mean you can't, therefore, even think about life and death and morals. Such cogitations are perfectly permissible, and may even be a good thing, even for bishops.

So much for prologue. As for today's topic, whether the wolf should be named the American National Mammal to balance the eagle, which would remain the national symbol, I agree fully with Mary E. Trindal of Alexandria, who has organized a campaign to salute the wolf, that the wolf is well suited for such an honor. The only question I have is whether we need a national mammal. I hate arguments of any kind. Would not this honor to the wolf upset, say, the American squirrel?