Monday, December 18, 2017

Dante in Advent at Eighth Day Books


Yesterday, a professor from Wyoming Catholic College stopped in at Eighth Day Books on his way home to celebrate Christmas and spoke on Dante and Advent: “Dante and Waiting: The Poet and the Purgatorio for Advent.” Jason M. Baxter is associate professor of fine arts and humanities at WCC. His first book comes out in the spring of 2018 from Baker Academic:

Dante's Divine Comedy is widely considered to be one of the most significant works of literature ever written. It is renowned not only for its ability to make truths known but also for its power to make them loved. It captures centuries of thought on sin, love, community, moral living, God's work in history, and God's ineffable beauty. Like a Gothic cathedral, the beauty of this great poem can be appreciated at first glance, but only with a guide can its complexity and layers of meaning be fully comprehended.

This accessible introduction to Dante, which also serves as a primer to the
Divine Comedy, helps readers better appreciate and understand Dante's spiritual masterpiece. Jason Baxter, an expert on Dante, covers all the basic themes of the Divine Comedy, such as sin, redemption, virtue, and vice. The book contains a general introduction to Dante and a specific introduction to each canticle (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), making it especially well suited for classroom and homeschool use.

You may read a substantial excerpt from the book here.

There was a nice gathering at Eighth Day yesterday afternoon: I brought a red velvet cake to add some decadence to the event. Professor Baxter spoke about mostly the antechamber to Purgatory where souls wait to enter the Gates of Purgatory. The angel who guards the gate has been told by St. Peter to err on the side of mercy. Baxter said the souls in this ante-Purgatory learn that 1) this is a place of great mercy; 2) the divisions of humanity are healed there; and 3) complacency is overcome and their view of the world is changed. He gave the examples of Manfred, the son of Frederick II (who is in the Inferno), the grandson of Empress Constance; Dante's friend Belacqua; Buonconte of Montefeltro, and others. Manfred and Buonconte are there in spite of their violence and cruelty because of just a moment of repentance before their deaths; Belacqua is too lazy to take advantage of the mercy that will be offered him if he climbs to Purgatory's gates. Sapia of Siena is on her way to Purgatory only because "poor Peter the comb-seller" had prayed for her.

It was a good presentation as we discussed the mysterious balance of free will and God's mercy and grace: one little human gesture of repentance and desire was well matched by God's gifts to help the soul come closer to Him in Paradise, after enduring purification and achieving the virtues necessary to be ready to see God and have God see him or her.

I hope to obtain a review copy.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

All Hopes for Amendment Dashed: Henry VIII's Excommunication


On December 17, 1538, Henry VIII was formally and publicly excommunicated:

Bull against Hen. VIII., renewing the execution of the bull of 30 Aug. 1535, which had been suspended in hope of his amendment, as he has since gone to still further excesses, having dug up and burned the bones of St, Thomas of Canterbury and scattered the ashes to the winds, (after calling the saint to judgment, condemning him as contumacious, and proclaiming him a traitor), and spoiled his shrine. He has also spoiled St. Augustine’s monastery in the same city, driven out the monks and put in deer in their place. Publication of this bull may be made in Dieppe or Boulogne in Fiance, or in St. Andrew’s or Coldstream (? “in oppido Calistrensi”), St. Andrew’s dioc., in Scotland, or in Tuam or Ardfert in Ireland, if preferred, instead of the places named in the former bull Rome, Paul III.

Pope Clement VII had not published a formal Bull of Excommunication against Henry VIII; there was always hope that he would repent. When both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had died in 1536, Henry was freed of all marital impediments, so his marriage to Jane Seymour and the successful delivery of a baby boy (Henry must have been so relieved when Edward survived the first few months and then a full year!), led to those hopes that he might return to the Catholic fold, give up his spiritual authority in England, and stop his dalliance with Reformed theology and religious practice. After Jane's death, Henry's marital prospects included some Catholic princesses, so there was again some hope. But then the destruction of shrines, the suppression of monasteries and friaries, and Henry's obduracy must have convinced Pope Paul III that the time was right to publish the excommunication.

The Anne Boleyn Files summarizes it thusly:

Henry VIII had already upset the Pope and the Catholic Church by:-

-Annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn
-Declaring himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England
-Persecuting those who opposed the Acts of Supremacy and Succession
-Dissolving the monasteries
-His handling of the Pilgrimage of Grace

But the final straw was Henry’s attack on religious shrines in England, shrines that contained religious relics and that were visited by many pilgrims. One such shrine was that of St Thomas Becket (Thomas à Becket) in the Trinity Chapel of Catherbury [sic] (Canterbury) Cathedral, which was seen as one of Europe’s holiest shrines and was therefore a popular destination for pilgrims from all over Europe. In a meeting of the King’s Council on the 24th April 1538 a “Process against St Thomas of Canterbury” was decided. . . .

One treasure which was purloined by the King from the shrine was the Regale of France, a great ruby which was donated by King Louis VII, and Henry VIII had this made into a thumb ring for himself.

Such desecration of a place which many pilgrims, and the Catholic Church as a whole, saw as holy could not go unpunished and it was this final act which made Pope Paul III issue the Bull of Excommunication.


Note again, however, that Pope Paul III waited until almost the end of the year (from April to December) to finally issue the decree of excommunication. It was a signal to Henry's European foes, Frances I, King of France and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as Nancy Bilyeau explains here. England has always been part of an island, of course, but Henry's action against the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket was making it more insular than ever, cutting it off from the community of Europe more surely than the English Channel. St. Thomas a Becket and his shrine was for all Catholics in the world; Henry thought the shrine was his to dispose of as he wished.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

EWTN's Register Radio Today


The National Catholic Register asked me to write an article about how Christmas was banned in England and in the English American Colonies, and so I did:

The English Victorian Christmas is an ideal: the glowing Christmas tree, the carols, figgy pudding, Christmas goose or turkey, special charity for the poor, and the holly and the ivy. Then there’s the more extended English medieval Christmas: wassail, the Yule log and the festive Twelve Days of Christmas until the feast of the Epiphany. There’s a mixture of English, Welsh, German and French traditions in these images.

Even if we have to face the ghosts of Christmases past (or present and future), we want that perfect celebration of family and faith. Between the medieval era and the Victorian, however, the very idea of celebrating the birth of Our Savior with feasting and revelry was banned in 17th-century England. Every December was like Narnia because, although it was winter and it might be cold and snowy, there was no Christmas.


I manage to work in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Ulysses S. Grant, and all the trappings of Christmas--it should be in the next print edition.

Then they asked me to appear on a segment of EWTN's Register Radio, and so I did. It will be broadcast this evening at 6:00 Central and repeated on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Central. The broadcast will be archived here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Chesterton and Christmas at Eighth Day Books

As George Marlin wrote at The Catholic Thing on December 29, 2009: " . . .Chesterton’s publisher at Sheed and Ward (and later his biographer), Maisie Ward, described his essays as going “to the heart of his thought. Some men, it may be, are best moved to reform by hate, but Chesterton was best moved by love and nowhere does that love shine more clearly than in all he wrote about Christmas.”

The Greater Wichita local society of the American Chesterton Society will gather tonight to celebration this Chestertonian Spirit of Christmas, sharing poems, essays, insights, and refreshments. We'll gather on the second floor of Eighth Day Books at 6:30 p.m.

In January, we'll continue our discussion of Lepanto, reading two essays by Chesterton: "The True Romance" and "If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots". The title of the second essay is very enticing! What do you think would have happened if the victor of Lepanto had married the Queen of Scotland?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Brief Encounter and A New Publication

Last week my husband and I went to the Spiritual Life Center to attend one of the "Dinners with the Doctors" presentations--Erin Doom of the Eighth Day Institute on St. John of Damascus--and enjoyed the evening very much. Toward the end of the Q and A, a lady came in and sat at one of the tables; she looked familiar. At the conclusion of the presentation, she came over and asked, "Don't I know you?"

She was my college French instructor (15 hours of college credit)! Mark and I had also known her and her husband at the Newman Center at WSU and at our home parish at Blessed Sacrament. She lives in France, in the Moselle region, but visits the USA often. She was at the Spiritual Life Center for a retreat before going to visit some friends in Florida for Christmas. It's one of those coincidences: if we hadn't attended and if she hadn't come into the room (helping with some clean up as part of her retreat), we wouldn't have reconnected.

One of the things we mentioned to her was that we had been able to travel to Paris so many times since we had last seen her. Mark talked about how much her French lessons had helped me on those trips. We exchanged business cards and parted. On our way home, Mark and I reminisced about our college years at WSU. Who knows if we'll ever see her again! She commented that she hopes we'll visit France again soon.

There's my segue into mentioning that I've had an article accepted in a brand new publication, Faith & Culture. It's the Journal of The Augustine Institute, edited by Joseph Pearce. He had accepted an article on Paris for the St. Austin Review a few years ago and used it in his new publication instead. It's available here. More about the The Augustine Institute here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Belloc on Gardiner and More


Just a reminder that Anna Mitchell--still recovering from the Sacred Heart Radio fundraiser yesterday--and I will discuss what Hilaire Belloc thinks of Stephen Gardiner and Mary I, the first Tudor Queen Regnant of England and Wales (and parts of Ireland). Listen live here a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern.

Belloc offers some comments on Gardiner's concern about the division that would take place in England because of Henry VIII's takeover of the Church in England--and compares Gardiner to St. Thomas More:

But here we may note a curious point. When it came to the danger of schism Gardiner had about him a touch of hesitation. It was only a touch, but it is significant of what was to come. He was still whole-heartedly in favour of that absolute kingly government and of that strong national feeling which went with it; he was still as much opposed as ever to the political Papal claims over temporal sovereigns, and especially over his own sovereign; and when the decision had to be taken he was ready to accept the supremacy of Henry over the Church of England, and even to defend it, as we shall see. 

I pointed out in the case of Saint Thomas More, that to be so farsighted as to discern what the schism would ultimately mean was granted to very few. The average Englishman was with the King against the Pope in that particular quarrel — hoping vaguely perhaps that it would soon be patched up as so many others had been, but not connecting it in any way with doctrine. Therefore Gardiner, in every sense the average Englishman, followed the same road. 

Yet he did show a slight hesitation when the exact formula by which the King's supremacy should be first hinted at was introduced into the debates of the clergy. It should always be remembered in this connection that the Royal Supremacy was not, in the first steps towards it, represented as schismatical; the full schism was only arrived at by degrees and after a series of steps, each of which, save the last, might be twisted or argued into orthodoxy. 

Belloc also offers some comments on Gardiner's death, including his famous last words:

That which he had never thought possible, the presence of an anti-Catholic government in England — the destruction of the Mass — the unscrupulous despoiling of Guild property — the oversetting of all Shrines — the wanton destruction of Churches — had proved to him what the fruits of disunion might be. But for the schism, which he had approved, such things could not have come to pass; and now he was determined to undo the schism and worked with all his might for the restoration of England to the unity of Christendom, which he had the great privilege to see accomplished before he died. As he died he gave the famous cry, Negavi cum Petro, exivi cum Petro, sed non flevi cum Petro: "I denied as Peter did, I went out as Peter did, but I have not wept as Peter did."

So he had never truly repented of what he had done to destroy the Catholic Church in England by cooperating with Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and Thomas Cranmer. Nevertheless, Belloc avers that both Gardiner and Mary thought they had done all they could to restore the Catholic Faith in Catholic England:

She died as her mother had died, hearing the Mass which was being said in her death-chamber in the early hours of a dark winter's morning; and it is pathetic but pleasant to remember that as she died she said that angel children were about her bed. 

With her death the whole gang immediately seized power, using Elizabeth whom she had spared and whom she had regarded as her successor, because she had been deceived by the violent protestations of Catholic loyalty on the part of that Princess. With the death of Mary and the advent of Elizabeth began that slow and ultimately successful effort to drive the Mass out of England and destroy Catholicism in the people. 

But Mary died under the impression that the situation had been met, and that the national religion, to which the great majority of Englishmen still adhered, was no longer in grave or imminent peril. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Belloc on the English Gardiner and the Spanish Mary

Anna Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation tomorrow morning. I hope you are enjoying it--but there will be a break in our bi-weekly pattern as the Son Rise Morning Show takes the week of Christmas off. Early in the New Year, perhaps on January 3, we will continue the series: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots!!

Tomorrow, however, we will discuss Belloc's takes on Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, and Queen Mary I, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon's only surviving child. In the chapter on Gardiner Belloc sets up a theme: being truly English:

The figure of Stephen Gardiner is not among the very great figures of the English Reformation, or at any rate not quite in the first flight. On this account it has been in great part neglected, and quite unduly neglected, because although he did not mold events nor decide the general course of the movement, there is one reason for which all those who desire to understand the great disaster should make themselves well acquainted with this man. This reason is that he was the typical Englishman of the day. 

 If you follow the fortunes of Stephen Gardiner's soul, the fluctuation of his opinion, his utter devotion to national feeling, his original error on this account, his gradual awakening to the peril in which religion lay — his whole career, especially on its spiritual internal side — then you understand the England of the time. Henry the King, impulsive and very vain, was certainly not a typical Englishman. Even Mary Tudor, with her half Spanish blood and her isolated mind, could not be called typical of the country; Cranmer was not, for he was too much of an artist and much too much of a time-server and a coward to be typical of any ordinary healthy normal citizen of any time or place. Elizabeth was still less typical of England, for both by her talents and by her diseases of body and soul she was an abnormality. 

But Gardiner is the true Englishman of the time in body and mind and everything else. And that is his importance; understanding him, you understand the English Reformation, or rather you understand the kind of average citizen upon whom the catastrophe fell. It is, therefore, a great loss to history that even highly educated men have heard so little of him. For a hundred men who have heard of Henry, for fifty who have heard of Cranmer, perhaps one could tell you who Stephen Gardiner was.

Belloc brings up the heresy trials and burnings of Protestants (and those any orthodox Christian would consider believing in heresies about the Person of Jesus etc) and Gardiner's involvement:

There is one last point to be made with regard to him, and that is his attitude towards the prosecutions of the revolutionaries for heresy rather than for treason. Because he was Chancellor, because he was Mary's right-hand man and the most prominent of the Catholic protagonists, the symbol of tradition in the national religion, he was until recently almost universally accused by our official historians of particular harshness and even cruelty in the treatment of the heretics after the new policy began.

Now what was his real attitude towards it? We have no need for reluctance in the matter. The government had a perfect right to treat a small rebel minority, which was working for the destruction of religion and of the Monarch as well, as public enemies; it was rather a matter of policy than of morals whether the rebels should be treated as heretics or as traitors. But was Gardiner as a fact prominent in the prosecutions? Was he a leading spirit in them? It may be doubted or even denied.

As Chancellor it was of course his business to preside over the affair; but it is to be remarked that he took pains to save men from the consequences of their error, that he personally helped some of those most in danger to escape from the country, and in his own great diocese there were no executions. That was due in part, of course, to the fact that the poison had not reached the western country parts over which that diocese extended; it was only virulent in London, one or two seaport towns and certain sections of East Anglia and the Home Counties.

But still, from all that we know of the nature of the man and of his policy in other things, we may fairly conclude that if he had had a free hand he would have been in favour of Philip of Spain's policy and not of that of the Council. He would, I think, had he had a free hand, have made a few examples by prosecuting for treason; but he would have prevented the wholesale prosecutions for heresy. For that was what Mary's Spanish husband had urged: to repress treason rather than heresy. But Paget and the council, to show their English independence, rejected the foreigner's counsel.


I find it interesting that Belloc emphasizes Mary's "Spanishness": she was no more Spanish than he was French (and Belloc was born in France; his father was French and his mother English) in her feeling for the English people. He seems to use this foreignness (and she had never even been to Spain!) and her isolation and loneliness as the most long-suffering of Henry VIII's children as  excuses for the errors of her reign:

The true picture of Mary Tudor is that of a woman simple in character, like her mother, somewhat warped by isolation, devout, thoroughly virtuous, led of necessity by her all-powerful Council but in some points insisting upon her own will, and without too much judgment. She was also a woman suffering, like all Henry's children, from bad health, and dying early; a woman who was thoroughly representative in her religion of the bulk of the nation, and yet who was somewhat out of touch with the spirit of the nation in important matters, such as that of her Spanish marriage. It is further true that had she lived a few years longer England would probably be Catholic to-day, and had she had a child England would certainly be Catholic to-day. For the English people had always loved her and always regarded her as their true Queen and would not have tolerated the rivalry of anyone against her descendants. 

Mary Tudor was born in 1516, on February 18, when Henry and his wife Catherine of Aragon had been happily married for less than seven years, when the young King was still devoted to his wife and when everything was going well. . . .

She was in her fourteenth year when the great trial was held under Wolsey and Campeggio in London by which Henry hoped to obtain his divorce from her mother, Queen Catherine. She was already quite able to understand every- thing that was happening and to burn with indignation against the abominable way in which her mother was being treated. She was a woman grown, in her eighteenth year, when Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen and was therefore in a position to heap indignity and insult not only on the legitimate Queen (who was now exiled from Court) but on the legitimate heiress to the English throne, Mary herself. 

It was at such an age — eighteen — that Mary saw the illegitimate child of her mother's rival — the baby Elizabeth — proclaimed heiress to England and herself legally bastardized. Finally, when she lost her chief support by her mother's death, she was within six weeks of her twentieth birthday. All that youth of hers had been passed in the one preoccupation of the shameful affair which was bitterly disastrous and humiliating to her.

That last comment about the humiliation of how her mother was discarded and she was rejected because of the affair and the "divorce" shows me that Belloc sympathized with what Mary had endured. Yet, he does not make the point directly that Mary had to work with Stephen Gardiner, her Chancellor, who had aided and abetted her father's "Great Matter" and his take over of the Catholic Church. He had, as Belloc noted in the previous chapter, thoroughly supported Henry VIII in both the divorce and his Supremacy: while he repented of the latter, it's not clear what he thought about the former by the time Mary came to the throne. 

Belloc does take issue with how Catholic historians have defended or apologized for the burnings and Mary's part in the them:

But the curious thing is that those who should be the defenders of true, that is Catholic, history, have helped to perpetuate the legend by doing no more than answer individual points in it and not dealing with its falsity as a whole. 

For instance, they point out that if Mary persecuted she was only acting according to the spirit of the time; that if she put to death a great number of Protestants, so under Elizabeth were put to death a great number of Catholics — and so on. They imply the whole time that the main thesis of their opponents is true, namely, that England was already Protestant or at least was divided into two halves — Protestant and Catholic; that the initiative in the executions proceeded from Mary herself, and that her government had no right to check rebellion. 

When you meet the falsehood of an opponent by picking holes in the details of what he says, while still admitting his general thesis, you only confirm the error which he desires to propagate: the right way of meeting false propaganda is by the statement of the truth and the vigorous erection of a true picture which shall cancel the false one.

So the question would have to be: did Belloc succeed in establishing "a true picture"?

More tomorrow.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Blessed Arthur Bell, One of 85

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Friar Minor and English martyr, b. at Temple-Broughton near Worcester, 13 January, 1590; d. at London, 11 December, 1643. When Arthur was eight his father died and his mother gave him in charge of her brother Francis Daniel, a man of wealth, learning and piety, who sent him at the age of twenty-four to the English college at St.-Omer; thence he went to Spain to continue and complete his studies. Having been ordained priest, he received the habit of the Franciscan Order at Segovia, 8 August, 1618, and shortly after the completion of his novitiate was called from Spain to labour in the restoration of the English province. He was one of the first members of the Franciscan community at Douai, where he subsequently fulfilled the offices of guardian and professor of Hebrew. In 1632 Bell was sent to Scotland as first provincial of the Franciscan province there; but his efforts to restore the order in Scotland were unsuccessful and in 1637 he returned to England, where he laboured until November, 1643, when he was apprehended as a spy by the parliamentary troops at Stevenage in Hertfordshire and committed to Newgate prison.

The circumstances of his trial show Bell's singular devotedness to the cause of religion and his desire to suffer for the Faith. When condemned to be drawn and quartered it is said that he broke forth into a solemn Te Deum and thanked his judges profusely for the favour they were thus conferring upon him in allowing him to die for Christ. The cause of his beatification was introduced at Rome in 1900. He wrote "The History, Life, and Miracles of Joane of the Cross" (St.-Omer, 1625). He also translated from the Spanish of Andrew a Soto "A brief Instruction how we ought to hear Mass" (Brussels, 1624).

He was beatified in 1987 by Blessed John Paul II after being declared Venerable (through a decree of martyrdom) in 1986. He is 
remembered particularly at the shrine church of Our Lady of Consolation at West Grinstead in West Sussex, where Hilaire Belloc is buried. The church, as its website notes, was founded as a shrine to Our Lady of Consolation "in honour of Our Lady and in thanksgiving for the restitution of the Catholic Faith to England."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Seven Martyrs at Tyburn and Gray's Inn

Seven English Catholic martyrs suffered brutal execution on December 10, 1591: three priests and four laymen, while one woman, wife/widow of one of the laymen remained in prison for eleven (11) years. We know how these men suffered, but to imagine what she endured! Remember that prisons in Elizabethan England were not what prisons are today: if she didn't have resources to pay for room and board; if she didn't have family and friends willing to help her, she suffered hunger, thirst, illness, filth, loneliness, danger . . . it's horrible to contemplate.

The enormity of this suffering, the brutal exercise of torture and hatred, the community of love and support among the martyrs: these seven deaths--and the long imprisonment of St. Swithun Wells' wife Alice--incarnate the glory of the Recusant Martyrs under Elizabeth I. Sir Walter Raleigh provides some humanity and reason to the Elizabethan reaction to English Catholics remaining true to their faith and the faith of their fathers; Richard Topcliffe represents all the fear, bigotry and cruelty of the age.

Their stories:

On December 10, 1591, Father Eustace White and layman Brian Lacey were executed at Tyburn. St. Eustace White was a convert to Catholicism--his anti-Catholic father cursed him and White endured permanent estrangement from his family. In 1584 Eustace began studies for the priesthood in Rheims, France and Rome, Italy, and was ordained at the Venerable English College in Rome in 1588. In November 1588 he returned to the west of England to minister to covert Catholics. The Church was going through a period of persecution in England, made even worse by the attack of the Armada from Catholic Spain. Arrested in Blandford, Dorset, England on 1 September 1591 for the crime of being a priest. He was lodged in Bridwell prison in London, and repeatedly tortured. 

He endured the torture technique developed by Richard Topcliffe and used on St. Robert Southwell and others, being hung by the wrists. As he wrote to Fr. Henry Garnet, SJ from prison:

"The morrow after Simon and Jude's day I was hanged at the wall from the ground, my manacles fast locked into a staple as high as I could reach upon a stool: the stool taken away where I hanged from a little after 8 o'clock in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon, without any ease or comfort at all, saving that Topcliffe came in and told me that the Spaniards were come into Southwark by our means: 'For lo, do you not hear the drums' (for then the drums played in honour of the Lord Mayor). The next day after also I was hanged up an hour or two: such is the malicious minds of our adversaries." 

At his trial he forgave the judges who sentenced him to death. He is also one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. You could read more about him in this bookBrian Lacey was a Yorkshire country gentleman. Cousin, companion and assistant to Blessed Father Montford Scott, who had suffered earlier in 1591. Arrested in 1586 for helping and hiding priests. Arrested again in 1591 when his own brother Richard betrayed him, Brian was tortured at Bridewell prison to learn the names of more people who had helped priests. Finally arraigned down the Old Bailey, he was condemed to death for his faith, for aiding priests and encouraging Catholic. Pope Pius XI also beatified him in 1929. Blessed Brian Lacey was also related to Blessed William Lacey, a 1582 martyr in York.

But these were not the only martyrdoms in London that day in 1591--St. Swithun Wells was hanged for NOT attending a Catholic Mass in Elizabethan England. His wife Alice attended the Mass held in his house near Gray's Inn in London, but he wasn't there when the priest hunters burst in during the Mass celebrated by Father Edmund Gennings. Those attending held the pursuivants off. His wife, Fathers Gennings (pictured at right) and Polydore Plasden, and two other laymen, John Mason and Sidney Hodgson were arrested at the end of the Mass. Swithun was arrested when he came home.

At his trial, he said he wished he could have attended that Mass and that was enough for the Elizabethan authorities! He was hung near his home on Gray's Inn Road in London, and he spoke to Richard Topcliffe before he died, hoping that this persecutor and torturer of Catholics would convert! He said, "I pray God make you a Paul of a Saul, of a bloody persecutor one of the Catholic Church's children." St. Swithun as a school master had for a time conformed to the official church but then had returned to the Catholic faith.

As he was led to the scaffold, Wells saw an old friend in the crowd and called out to him: "Farewell, dear friend, farewell to all hawking, hunting, and old pastimes. I am now going a better way"!

St. Swithun's wife Alice received a reprieve from her death sentence, but died in prison in 1602. The two priests and the other three laymen were all executed on December 10. Sir Walter Raleigh was present at the execution and heard Father Polydore pray for Queen Elizabeth. Raleigh then asked him about his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth as the rightful ruler of England and liked his answers, so ordered him to be hung until dead, thus avoiding the rest of the torture of his execution. On the other hand, Topcliffe made sure that Father Gennings suffered all the tortures of being hung and quartered: he was left to hang but a short time and was fully conscious as the executioner started cutting him up. Father Gennings had said, "I know not ever to have offended the Queen. If to say Mass be treason, I confess to have done it and glory in it."

The two priests and the house owner have been canonized: St. Edmund Gennings, St. Polydore Plasden, and St. Swithun Wells--among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970. The two laymen who helped defend St. Edmund Gennings at Mass and were sentenced to death for that felony were beatified (Blessed John Mason and Blessed Sidney Hodgson) by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Newman and the Immaculate Conception

Blessed Pope Pius IX's proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, issued on December 8, 1864, would, like his re-establishment of the hierarchy in England and the First Vatican Council's declaration of Papal Infallibility, provoked reactions in England, politically and theologically.

Two years after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which Catholics celebrate today by going to Mass--and easing the usual Friday penitence!--Reverend Doctor E.B. Pusey wrote a public letter to the other great survivor of Newman's "defection", John Keble: An Eirenicon, responding to then Archdeacon Henry Manning's public letter to Pusey, The Workings of the Holy Spirit in the Church of England", in which Manning denied that the Church of England was protected from error the way the Catholic Church is. Pusey mentions the recently proclaimed doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854: "We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.") and examines it in a historical context.

Father John Henry Newman then answered Pusey with A Letter Addressed to the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D. on Occasion of his Eirenicon, in which he defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, starting with the commonly held doctrine that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were without Original Sin, filled with supernatural grace. Mary, the Mother of God is the Second Eve: her obedience and cooperation with God undoes Eve's disobedience:

She holds, as the Fathers teach us, that office in our restoration which Eve held in our fall:—now, in the first place, what were Eve's endowments to enable her to enter upon her trial? She could not have stood against the wiles of the devil, though she was innocent and sinless, without the grant of a large grace. And this she had;—a heavenly gift, which was over and above and additional to that nature of hers, which she received from Adam, a gift which had been given to Adam also before her, at the very time (as it is commonly held) of his original formation. This is Anglican doctrine, as well as Catholic; it is the doctrine of Bishop Bull. He has written a dissertation on the point. He speaks of the doctrine which "many of the Schoolmen affirm, that Adam was created in grace, that is, received a principle of grace and divine life from his very creation, or in the moment of the infusion of his soul; of which," he says, "for my own part I have little doubt." Again, he says, "It is abundantly manifest from the many testimonies alleged, that the ancient doctors of the Church did, with a general consent, acknowledge, that our first parents in the state of integrity, had in them something more than nature, that is, were endowed with the divine principle of the Spirit, in order to a supernatural felicity."

Now, taking this for granted, because I know that you and those who agree with you maintain it as well as we do, I ask you, have you any intention to deny that Mary was as fully endowed as Eve? is it any violent inference, that she, who was to co-operate in the redemption of the world, at least was not less endowed with power from on high, than she who, given as a help-mate to her husband, did in the event but cooperate with him for its ruin? If Eve was raised above human nature by that indwelling moral gift which we call grace, is it rash to say that Mary had even a greater grace? And this consideration gives significance to the Angel's salutation of her as "full of grace,"—an interpretation of the original word which is undoubtedly the right one, as soon as we resist the common Protestant assumption that grace is a mere external approbation or acceptance, answering to the word "favour," whereas it is, as the Fathers teach, a real inward condition or superadded quality of soul. And if Eve had this supernatural inward gift given her from the first moment of her personal existence, is it possible to deny that Mary too had this gift from the very first moment of her personal existence? I do not know how to resist this inference:—well, this is simply and literally the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I say the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is in its substance this, and nothing more or less than this (putting aside the question of degrees of grace); and it really does seem to me bound up in the doctrine of the Fathers, that Mary is the second Eve.

It is indeed to me a most strange phenomenon that so many learned and devout men stumble at this doctrine; and I can only account for it by supposing that in matter of fact they do not know what we mean by the Immaculate Conception; and your Volume (may I say it?) bears out my suspicion. It is a great consolation to have reason for thinking so,—reason for believing that in some sort the persons in question are in the position of those great Saints in former times, who are said to have hesitated about the doctrine, when they would not have hesitated at all, if the word "Conception" had been clearly explained in that sense in which now it is universally received. I do not see how any one who holds with Bull the Catholic doctrine of the supernatural endowments of our first parents, has fair reason for doubting our doctrine about the Blessed Virgin. It has no reference whatever to her parents, but simply to her own person; it does but affirm that, together with the nature which she inherited from her parents, that is, her own nature, she had a superadded fulness of grace, and that from the first moment of her existence. Suppose Eve had stood the trial, and not lost her first grace; and suppose she had eventually had children, those children from the first moment of their existence would, through divine bounty, have received the same privilege that she had ever had; that is, as she was taken from Adam's side, in a garment, so to say, of grace, so they in turn would have received what may be called an immaculate conception. They would have then been conceived in grace, as in fact they are conceived in sin. What is there difficult in this doctrine? What is there unnatural? Mary may be called, as it were, a daughter of Eve unfallen. You believe with us that St. John Baptist had grace given to him three months before his birth, at the time that the Blessed Virgin visited his mother. He accordingly was not immaculately conceived, because he was alive before grace came to him; but our Lady's case only differs from his in this respect, that to her the grace of God came, not three months merely before her birth, but from the first moment of her being, as it had been given to Eve.

But it may be said, How does this enable us to say that she was conceived without original sin? If Anglicans knew what we mean by original sin, they would not ask the question. Our doctrine of original sin is not the same as the Protestant doctrine. "Original sin," with us, cannot be called sin, in the mere ordinary sense of the word "sin;" it is a term denoting Adam's sin as transferred to us, or the state to which Adam's sin reduces his children; but by Protestants it seems to be understood as sin, in much the same sense as actual sin. We, with the Fathers, think of it as something negative, Protestants as something positive. Protestants hold that it is a disease, a radical change of nature, an active poison internally corrupting the soul, infecting its primary elements, and disorganizing it; and they fancy that we ascribe a different nature from ours to the Blessed Virgin, different from that of her parents, and from that of fallen Adam. We hold nothing of the kind; we consider that in Adam she died, as others; that she was included, together with the whole race, in Adam's sentence; that she incurred his debt, as we do; but that, for the sake of Him who was to redeem her and us upon the Cross, to her the debt was remitted by anticipation, on her the sentence was not carried out, except indeed as regards her natural death, for she died when her time came, as others [Note 5]. All this we teach, but we deny that she had original sin; for by original sin we mean, as I have already said, something negative, viz., this only, the deprivation of that supernatural unmerited grace which Adam and Eve had on their first formation,—deprivation and the consequences of deprivation. Mary could not merit, any more than they, the restoration of that grace; but it was restored to her by God's free bounty, from the very first moment of her existence, and thereby, in fact, she never came under the original curse, which consisted in the loss of it. And she had this special privilege, in order to fit her to become the Mother of her and our Redeemer, to fit her mentally, spiritually for it; so that, by the aid of the first grace, she might so grow in grace, that, when the Angel came and her Lord was at hand, she might be "full of grace," prepared as far as a creature could be prepared, to receive Him into her bosom.