Wednesday, November 25, 2015

St. Catherine of Alexandria in England

According to this site, today's saint was very popular in medieval England:

The main center of Katherine's cult in the Middle Ages was an Orthodox monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, which claimed to have acquired her tomb and her relics by miraculous means. Since Katherine's tomb exuded an oil with healing powers that could be sold to pilgrims, it became a major source of fame and revenue for the monastery - aided by the advertisements for this pilgrimage site that ended many retellings of her legend. Some medieval readers were skeptical about the miracles that supposedly occurred at Mount Sinai (see Mirk's account, for example), but the rest of Katherine's legend was widely accepted, and by the end of the Middle Ages she had become one of the most popular saints in Europe. The main impetus for her cult in the west came not from Sinai itself, but from the abbey of the Holy Trinity and Saint Katherine at Rouen, in Normandy, which had acquired some of her relics by the end of the eleventh century. From Normandy, of course, her cult easily spread across the English Channel. Her great subsequent popularity in England is suggested by such facts as these: her name appears in the dedications of 62 medieval English churches, countless side altars, and many parish guilds; at least 56 churches had wall paintings with scenes from her life; and over 170 bells with inscriptions in her honor have survived until recent times. She was also one of the saints most frequently portrayed on church screens, in stained glass windows, and in small works of art for private use.

Katherine's appeal was even broader than Margaret's because her legend cast her in a wide range of roles, inviting different kinds of people to take her as their patron saint. For example, she was considered a suitable patron for aristocratic women because she was a princess who had been brought up to rule a kingdom. She was a good patron for nuns and other women with religious vocations because, like them, she was a consecrated virgin, a faithful bride of Christ. Her courage and outspokenness were clearly important to some exceptional women, including Catherine of Siena and Margery Kempe, who emulated her example when they spoke out against abuses of power in their own society. More surprisingly, she was a favorite patron and role model for (male) university students and preachers, since she was such a brilliant scholar and debater that she had once defeated the arguments of fifty pagan philosophers at once. Her legend also made her an advocate for women with evil husbands, a patron for nursing mothers (because milk flowed from her neck when she was beheaded), and a powerful intercessor for those who invoke her when they are dying or in great need (because of her final prayer and its answer). Since the climactic instrument of torture devised by her persecutor was a diabolical set of wheels, she was often portrayed with a wheel as her emblem - with the paradoxical result that she even became the patron saint of wheelwrights, millers, and other craftsmen who worked with wheels.

One church or chapel dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria was a pilgrimage site founded by the Benedictine monks of abbey of St Peter at Abbotsbury. As the English Heritage site for the chapel notes:

Its isolated setting allowed the monks to withdraw from the monastery during Lent for private prayer and meditation. . . .

Although no records survive of its building, the chapel can be dated in style to the late 14th century. It is a sturdy rectangular structure, built entirely of the local golden buff limestone. The walls are high and heavily buttressed to take the stone vaulted roof; rainwater drains off the roof through holes in the parapet wall between the buttresses.

At the north-east corner a stair turret, octagonal on the outside, rises above the roof and gives access to the parapet. It also contains a tiny oratory at roof level. Originally the buttresses and the stair turret were crowned with pinnacles. There are porches on both north and south walls.

The overall effect of the chapel is of a structure far larger than it actually is. The high walls and tall parapets are designed to impress, while the sense of grandeur is further enhanced by the chapel’s lofty position.

Inside, the effect in medieval times would have been just as rich, with stained glass in the windows, and details of the roof picked out in bright colours. At the intersections of the vaulting are bosses carved with foliage, figure subjects and animals. A large triple window lights the east wall, and there are smaller windows on the other walls.

The walk up to the chapel provides excellent views down over Abbotsbury village and the abbey site.

The chapel survived the suppression of the abbey in 1539 because it was used as a beacon, being on the southern coast of England. Sir Giles Strangways received the abbey's property from Henry VIII. Sir Giles, like many, could not know what was going to happen in England after the Reformation. Strangway's will "bequeathed £6 13s.4d. a year for two years for a priest to say mass for the repose of his soul and the souls of his wife and son"--he died in 1546, a year before Henry VIII died in 1547: those Masses may or may not have been said during the reign of Edward VI.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

From English Penal Laws to the U.S. Second Amendment

One of my friends sent me a link to this article, assuming that I already knew about its premise: that the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights was James Madison's response to Penal Laws that forbade Catholics in England and Ireland from owning weapons. Makes sense once I read it; like no religious tests for federal public office in Article VI, paragraph 3 was a response to English Test Acts passed during Charles II's reign.

To quote this article from The Washington Post by David Kopel:

Although Catholics were a small minority in England, there were concerns that in case of foreign invasion by a Catholic nation, they would ally with their co-religionists. Thus, in 1613 King James I had ordered the disarmament of all Catholics. Similarly, Michael Dalton’s widely read 1622 manual for Justices of the Peace, “The Countrey Justice,” explained that Justices could seize the arms of convicted “popish Recusants.” In English law, a “recusant” was a Catholic who refused to attend the services of the Church of England. Because the arms guarantee in the English Declaration of Rights did not apply to Catholics, Parliament was free in 1695 to pass “An Act for the better securing the government, by disarming papists.” The statute was aimed especially at Catholics in Ireland, who had a long history of fighting England’s efforts to rule them without their consent. Although Catholics had no right to arms, they could possess or carry a firearm if they were granted a license.

In the American colonies, however, there do not appear to have been arms restrictions aimed at Catholics, except for one episode in Maryland in the early 18th century, during Queen Anne’s War. James Madison aimed to make sure that religious restrictions on the right to arms could never be allowed in the United States. Madison’s notes for his speech in Congress introducing the Bill of Rights explained that the proposals were to deal with the “omission of guards in favr. of rights & libertys.” His amendments “relate 1st. to private rights.” A Bill of Rights was “useful–not essential.” There was a “fallacy on both sides–especy as to English Decln. of Rts.” First, the Declaration was a “mere act of parlt.” Second, the English Declaration was too narrow; it omitted certain rights and protected others too narrowly. In particular, there was “no freedom of press–Conscience.” There was no prohibition on “Gl. Warrants” and no protection for “Habs. corpus.” Nor was there a guarantee of “jury in Civil Causes” or a ban on “criml. attainders.” Lastly, the Declaration protected only “arms to Protestts.” Thus, the Second Amendment contains none of the limitations or exceptions of its English ancestor.

The author of the article is David Kopel, Research Director, Independence Institute, Denver; Associate Policy Analyst, Cato Institute, D.C; and Adjunct professor, Denver University, Sturm College of Law. It was based upon an article in the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, “The First Century of Right to Arms Litigation.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ--Viva Christo Rey!

How appropriate that Blessed Miguel Pro's memorial comes this year the day after the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe! He was executed by firing squad on November 23, 1927 after crying out "Viva Christo Rey"--"Long Live Christ the King"!

This brief EWTN biography sums up his life:

Miguel Pro was born January 13, 1891, at Guadalupe Zacatecas, Mexico. From his childhood, high spirits and happiness were the most outstanding characteristics of his personality. The loving and devoted son of a mining engineer and a pious and charitable mother, Miguel had a special affinity for the working classes which he retained all his life.

At 20, he became a Jesuit novice and shortly thereafter was exiled because of the Mexican revolution. He traveled to the United States, Spain, Nicaragua and Belgium, where he was ordained in 1925. Father Pro suffered greatly from a severe stomach problem and when, after several operations his health did not improve, in 1926 his superiors allowed him to return to Mexico in spite of the religious persecution in the country.

The churches were closed and priests were in hiding. Father Pro spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to the sturdy Mexican Catholics. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, he also carried out the works of mercy by assisting the poor of Mexico City with their temporal needs. He adopted many disguises to carry out his secret ministry. In all that he did, he remained filled with the joy of serving Christ, his King, and obedient to his superiors.

Falsely accused in a bombing attempt on the President-elect, Pro became a wanted man. He was betrayed to the police and sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process.

On the day of his death, Father Pro forgave his executioners, prayed, bravely refused the blindfold, and died proclaiming "Long Live Christ the King!"

Christ the King, by the intercession of Blessed Miguel Pro, I beg you to answer my prayers. Give me the grace and the strength necessary to follow your heroic example and to live my Catholic faith in spite of all temptations and adversities. Amen.

Evelyn Waugh referenced Pro's martyrdom in the second edition of his biography, Edmund Campion, in 1946 (the first edition was in 1935). Waugh also refers to a nineteenth century biography of Campion by Richard Simpson:

We have come much nearer to Campion since Simpson's day. He wrote in the flood-tide of toleration with Elizabeth's persecution seemed as remote as Diocletian's. We know now that his age was a brief truce in an unending war. The Martyrdom of Father Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion's in faithful detail. We are nearer Campion then when I wrote of him. . . . The haunted, trapped, murdered priest is our contemporary and Campion's voice sounds to us across the centuries as though he were walking at our elbow.

Blessed Miguel Pro was not executed by being hung, drawn, and quartered, so that's not the "faithful detail" that Waugh highlights. The parallels between Campion and Pro are that they had served the Catholic people in disguise since their vocation as priest had been declared illegal by the state; that they were arrested and tried for a conspiracy that did not exist, and that they offered their lives for the true king of the world, Jesus Christ, and His Church.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King and the English Martyrs

It was on the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe in 1987 (November 22 that year also, 28 years ago) that Blessed John Paul II beatified the Eighty-Five Martyrs of England and Wales:

This feast of Christ the King proclaims that all earthly power is ultimately from God, that his Kingdom is our first and lasting concern and that obedience to his laws is more important than any other obligation or loyalty.

Thomas More, that most English of saints, declared on the scaffold: “I die the King’s good servant but God’s servant first". In this way he witnessed to the primacy of the Kingdom. 

Today we have declared Blessed another eighty-five martyrs: from England, Scotland and Wales, and one from Ireland. Each of them chose to be "God’s servant First". They consciously and willingly embraced death for love of Christ and the Church. They too chose the Kingdom above all else. If the price had to be death they would pay it with courage and joy. 

Blessed Nicholas Postgate welcomed his execution "as a short cut to heaven". Blessed Joseph Lambton encouraged those who were to die with him with the words "Let us be merry, for tomorrow I hope we shall have a heavenly breakfast". Blessed Hugh Taylor, not knowing the day of his death, said: "How happy I should be if on this Friday, on which Christ died for me, I might encounter death for him". He was executed on that very day, Friday 6 November 1585. Blessed Henry Heath, who died in 1643, thanked the court for condemning him and giving him the "singular honour to die with Christ". 

Among these eighty-five martyrs we find priests and laymen, scholars and craftsmen. The oldest was in his eighties, and the youngest no more than twenty-four. There were among them a printer, a bartender, a stable-hand, a tailor. What unites them all is the sacrifice of their lives in the service of Christ their Lord. 

The priests among them wished only to feed their people with the Bread of Life and with the Word of the Gospel. To do so meant risking their lives. But for them this price was small compared to the riches they could bring to their people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

The twenty-two laymen in this group of martyrs shared to the full the same love of the Eucharist. They, too, repeatedly risked their lives, working together with their priests, assisting, protecting and sheltering them. Laymen and priests worked together; together they stood on the scaffold and together welcomed death. Many women, too, not included today in this group of martyrs, suffered for their faith and died in prison. They have earned our undying admiration and remembrance. 

These martyrs gave their lives for their loyalty to the authority of the Successor of Peter, who alone is Pastor of the whole flock. They also gave their lives for the unity of the Church, since they shared the Church’s fait, unaltered down the ages, that the Successor of Peter has been given the task of serving and ensuring "the unity of the flock of Christ". He has been given by Christ the particular role of confirming the faith of his brethren. 

The martyrs grasped the importance of that Petrine ministry. They gave their lives rather than deny this truth of their faith. Over the centuries the Church in England, Wales and Scotland has drawn inspiration from these martyrs and continues in love of the Mass and in faithful adherence to the Bishop of Rome. The same loyalty and faithfulness to the Pope is demonstrated today whenever the work of renewal in the Church is carried out in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and in communion with the universal Church. 

Central to this renewal, to which the Holy Spirit calls the Church, is work for that unity among Christians for which Christ himself prayed. We must all rejoice that the hostilities between Christians, which so shaped the age of these martyrs, are over, replaced by fraternal love and mutual esteem. 

Seventeen years ago forty of the glorious company of martyrs were canonized. It was the prayer of the Church on that day that the blood of those martyrs would be a source of healing for the divisions between Christians. Today we may fittingly give thanks for the progress made in the intervening years towards fuller communion between Anglicans and Catholics. We rejoice in the deeper understanding, broader collaboration and common witness that have taken place through the power of God. 

In the days of the martyrs whom we honour today, there were other Christians who died for their beliefs. We can all now appreciate and respect their sacrifice. Let us respond together to the great challenge which confronts those who would preach the Gospel in our age. Let us be bold and united in our profession of our common Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. 

Blessed Martyrs of England and Wales, pray for us!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

St. Julian of Norwich at the Ladder with the Sisters of Sophia

"I think that Julian of Norwich is with Newman the greatest English theologian." -- Thomas Merton

Ellen Awe made a presentation on Julian of Norwich at the third meeting of the Sisters of Sophia and cited that quotation from Thomas Merton. 

That puzzled me at first because of course I thought of St. Julian of Norwich as a mystic who saw visions; while Blessed John Henry Newman was not a visionary. Then I re-read the entire quote that Awe gave us from a letter Merton wrote in 1962:

I think that Julian of Norwich is with Newman the greatest theologian. She really is that. For she reasons from her experience of the great Christian mystery of Redemption. She gives her experience and her deductions clearly, separating the two. And the experience is of course nothing subjective. It is the mind of Christ as apprehended by her, with the mind and formation of a fourteenth century Englishwoman.

I read the chapter on St. Julian of Norwich in a 1961 Sheed & Ward book on spiritual writers in England and then read the chapters on Newman, and I think I begin to see connections between St. Julian of Norwich and Blessed John Henry Newman, if this is what Merton meant. Like Julian, Newman was absolutely certain of the relationship between himself and God: "To every one of us there are but two beings in the whole world, himself and God . . ." Newman had apprehended this fact when he was sixteen, during his crucial first conversion: "from a boy I had been led to consider that my Maker and I, His creature, were the two beings, luminously such, in rerum natura."

Newman viewed dogma and revelation as the foundation of faith, not subjective and personal insight. The truth about Jesus Christ and His Church was objective whether or not a person accepts it. H. Francis Davis writes: "Newman pointed out [that] we must not listen to our listening, but to the truths God teaches us. Faith is not feeling, but the acceptance of Christ, who is its Object. It must lead to action with regard to that Object. One without the other would be a mockery. Faith, for Newman, is self-effacing. It looks out of itself and beyond itself, to the God who reveals Himself." (p. 124)

Also, while Newman wouldn't usually be called a mystic, Davis reminds us how much Newman appreciated the invisible world, which he felt more real and true than the visible. As he begins his Parochial and Plain Sermon, "The Invisible World":

THERE are two worlds, "the visible, and the invisible," as the Creed speaks,—the world we see, and the world we do not see; and the world we do not see as really exists as the world we do see. It really exists, though we see it not. The world we see we know to exist, because we see it. We have but to lift up our eyes and look around us, and we have proof of it: our eyes tell us. We see the sun, moon and stars, earth and sky, hills and valleys, woods and plains, seas and rivers. And again, we see men, and the works of men. We see cities, and stately buildings, and their inhabitants; men running to and fro, and busying themselves to provide for themselves and their families, or to accomplish great designs, or for the very business' sake. All that meets our eyes forms one world. It is an immense world; it reaches to the stars. Thousands on thousands of years might we speed up the sky, and though we were swifter than the light itself, we should not reach them all. They are at distances from us greater than any that is assignable. So high, so wide, so deep is the world; and yet it also comes near and close to us. It is every where; and it seems to leave no room for any other world.

And yet in spite of this universal world which we see, there is another world, quite as far-spreading, quite as close to us, and more wonderful; another world all around us, though we see it not, and more wonderful than the world we see, for this reason if for no other, that we do not see it. All around us are numberless objects, coming and going, watching, working or waiting, which we see not: this is that other world, which the eyes reach not unto, but faith only.

Let us dwell upon this thought. We are born into a world of sense; that is, of the real things which lie round about us, one great department comes to us, accosts us, through our bodily organs, our eyes, ears, and fingers. We feel, hear, and see them; and we know they exist, because we do thus perceive them. Things innumerable lie about us, animate and inanimate; but one particular class of these innumerable things is thus brought home to us through our senses. And moreover, while they act upon us, they make their presence known. We are sensible of them at the time, we are conscious that we perceive them. We not only see, but know that we see them; we not only hold intercourse, but know that we do. We are among men, and we know that we are. We feel cold and hunger; we know what sensible things remove them. We eat, drink, clothe ourselves, dwell in houses, converse and act with others, and perform the duties of social life; and we feel vividly that we are doing so, while we do so. Such is our relation towards one part of the innumerable beings which lie around us. They act upon us, and we know it; and we act upon them in turn, and know we do.

I would have to read more of St. Julian of Norwich's Revelations, but perhaps this is what Merton saw in her that was theologically comparable to Newman--that they both were responding to the revelation of God's love for us, demonstrated by God's Incarnation and Redemption and that they both saw beyond the visible world to the invisible.

Intriguing--but I have to finish a presentation for next week, so can't go any further. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tonight at Eighth Day Books: CHESTERTON and Cake

While the cake mix is still in the box, I am otherwise prepared for tonight's meeting of the Greater Wichita branch of the American Chesterton Society (Eighth Day Books, 6:30 p.m.). We are reading two essays tonight from The Well and the Shallows: "Mary and the Convert" and "A Century of Emancipation".

In the second essay, Chesterton is discussing the anniversary of the 1829 Emancipation of Catholics in England:

WHEN we really wish to know how the world is going, it is no bad test to take some tag or current phrase of the press and reverse it, substituting the precise contrary, and see whether it makes more sense that way. It generally does; such a mass of outworn conventions has our daily commentary become. An excellent example occurred recently concerning the prospects of Protestantism and Catholicism. The editor of the Sunday Express, once better known as a sympathetic critic of letters, summed up the matter by saying that he had no prejudice against Catholicism or Anglo-Catholicism, that he had every respect for them, but that England (evidently including himself) was solidly Protestant. This is a very neat and convenient statement of the exact opposite of the truth. I have most friendly feelings to the gentleman in question; and it is without the least animosity to him that I say that what is sincere and alive and active in him is Anti-Catholicism and nothing else. What is really working in the world to-day is Anti-Catholicism and nothing else. It certainly is not Protestantism; not half so much as it is Pelagianism. And if the religion of modern England is to be called Protestant, there is at least one other adjective which cannot conceivably be applied to it. Whatever else it is, it is not solid Protestantism. There might perhaps be a case for calling it liquid Protestantism. . . .

Chesterton analyses the state of Protestantism in the early nineteenth and contrasts it to its current state in the 1920's and 1930's, making a point I addressed earlier this month, the change in practice of praying for the dead after World War I. Chesterton states that the Protestant fundamentalism of the early nineteenth century is gone, and the surety that Protestantism is right is gone, but what remains is the automatic certainly that Catholicism is wrong:

To-day, as a national and normal thing, it has utterly vanished. Not one man in ninety really disapproves of praying for the dead. The War, in killing many million men, killed that pedantry and perversity. Not one man in ninety is either a Calvinist or an upholder of Faith against Works. Not one man in ninety thinks he will go to hell if he does not instantly accept the theological theory of redemption; perhaps it would be better if he did. Not one man in ninety believes the Bible infallible, as real Protestants believed it infallible. Of all that wonderful system of religious thought, thundered against Rome in so many sermons, argued against Rome in so many pamphlets, thrown out scornfully against Rome in so many Exeter Hall meetings and Parliamentary debates, nothing remains. Of all that, as it affects the forward movement of the educated classes, and the future of the world, nothing remains. 

But there is something that remains. Anti-Catholicism remains; though it is no longer Protestantism, any more than it is Albigensianism or Donatism. And that is the factor we must grasp and estimate, if we are to estimate the outlook to-day. Protestantism is now only a name; but it is a name that can be used to cover any or every "ism" except Catholicism. It is now a vessel or receptacle into which can be poured all the thousand things that for a thousand reasons react against Rome; but it can only be full of these things because it is now hollow; because it is itself empty. Every sort of negation, every sort of new religion, every sort of moral revolt or intellectual irritation, that can make a man resist the claim of the Catholic Faith, is here gathered into a heap and covered with a convenient but quite antiquated label. When the journalists sav that there is solid Protestantism, all they mean is that there is a pretty heavy reluctance or resistance in the matter of any return of the English to their ancient religion; and this, up to a point, may be quite true. But the heap is a hotch-potch; the resistance is not a rational resistance, in the sense of having a clear and commonly accepted reason; and in so far as it has a prevailing colour, it is quite the contrary colour to that which prevailed in Protestantism. It is even more against Calvinism than against Catholicism; it is even more insistent on works than were the Catholics; it would make a future life far less final and more purely progressive than did the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory; it would make the Bible far less important than it is to a Catholic. On every single point on which the Protestant attacked the Pope, he would now say that the modern spirit was a mere exaggeration of the Popish errors. In so far as there is such a vague modern spirit, common to all these things, a spirit that may be called either liberality or laxity, it never was at any time the spirit of Protestantism. It came from the Revolution and the Romantic Movement, indirectly perhaps from the Renaissance of men like Rabelais and Montaigne; and ultimately much more from men like More and Erasmus than from men like Calvin and Knox. When the Protestant orators in the present crisis repeat rather monotonously, "We will not lose the freedom we gained four hundred years ago," they show how little they share the religion which they defend. Men gained no freedom four hundred years ago; there was no particular freedom about creating the Scottish Sabbath or preaching nothing but Predestination or even yielding to the Tudor Terror or the Cromwellian Terror. But it is arguable that they gained freedom a hundred years ago, as Catholics gained it a hundred years ago. It is tenable that such freedom was the expanding effect of the American and French Revolutions and the democratic idealism which came with the nineteenth century and seems in some danger of declining with the twentieth. Above all, it is arguable that they have a certain kind of freedom now, not because they are Protestants, for they are not; but because they are anything they like and nothing if they like that better; because they are theists, theosophists, materialists, monists or mystics on their own. How much such freedom is worth, or how much chance it has of bearing any fruit in anything positive or creative, is another matter; but in order to anticipate the next phase, it is necessary to realise that this phase is one of negative liberty, not to say anarchy. Whatever it is, it is not Protestantism; and whatever it is, it is not solid. 

Someone--not me, since I am not in England and don't know all the current trends except what I read from trusted sources--should be preparing an update to Chesterton's essay as we approach the 200th anniversary of Catholic Emancipation in 2029. I wonder if the anniversary will be celebrated with some analysis of how Catholics have done as part of modern English society since 1829.

Bury St. Edmunds and the Royal Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Edmund the Martyr, king of East Anglia. Abo of Fleury describes his martyrdom:

Then king Edmund summoned a certain bishop with whom he was most intimate, and deliberated with him how he should answer the fierce Ivar. The bishop was afraid because of this emergency, and he feared for the king's life, and counselled him that he thought that Edmund should submit to what Ivar asked of him. Then the king became silent, and looked at the ground, and then said to him at last : "Alas bishop, the poor people of this country are already shamefully afflicted. I would rather die fighting so that my people might continue to possess their native land." The bishop said: "Alas beloved king, thy people lie slain. You do not have the troops that you may fight, and the pirates come and kidnap the living. Save your life by flight, or save yourself by submitting to him." Then said king Edmund, since he was completely brave: "This I heartily wish and desire, that I not be the only surviror after my beloved thegns are slain in their beds with their children and wives by these pirates. It was never my way to flee. I would rather die for my country if I need to. Almighty God knows that I will not ever turn from worship of Him, nor from love of His truth. If I die, I live."

After these words he turned to the messenger who Ivar had sent him, and, undaunted, said to him: "In truth you deserve to be slain now, but I will not defile my clean hands with your vile blood, because I follow Christ who so instructed us by his example; and I happily will be slain by you if God so ordain it. Go now quickly and tell your fierce lord: 'Never in this life will Edmund submit to Ivar the heathen war-leader, unless he submit first to the belief in the Saviour Christ which exists in this country.'" Then the messenger went quickly on his way, and met along the road the cruel Ivar with all his army hastening toward Edmund, and told the impious one how he had been answered. Ivar then arrogantly ordered that the pirates should all look at once for the king who scorned his command, and sieze him immediately.

King Edmund, against whom Ivar advanced, stood inside his hall, and mindful of the Saviour, threw out his weapons. He wanted to match the example of Christ, who forbade Peter to win the cruel Jews with weapons. Lo! the impious one then bound Edmund and insulted him ignominiously, and beat him with rods, and afterwards led the devout king to a firm living tree, and tied him there with strong bonds, and beat him with whips. In between the whip lashes, Edmund called out with true belief in the Saviour Christ. Because of his belief, because he called to Christ to aid him, the heathens became furiously angry. They then shot spears at him, as if it was a game, until he was entirely covered with their missles, like the bristles of a hedgehog (just like St. Sebastian was). When Ivar the impious pirate saw that the noble king would not forsake Christ, but with resolute faith called after Him, he ordered Edmund beheaded, and the heathens did so. While Edmund still called out to Christ, the heathen dragged the holy man to his death, and with one stroke struck off his head, and his soul journeyed happily to Christ. There was a man near at hand, kept hidden by God, who heard all this, and told of it afterward, just as we have told it here.

The relics of St. Edmund the Martyr were brought to Beodricsworth sometime around 903 A,D. and Beodricsworth, thankfully, became known as Bury St. Edmunds and became a great shrine, drawing many pilgrims. In 1020, the Benedictine abbey was founded.

Of course, as a faithful reader of this blog, you know how it all ends:

Early in 1538, the agents for spoiling the greater monasteries (in this case Williams, Pollard, Parys, and Smyth) visited St. Edmunds. Writing to Cromwell, from Bury, they tell the Lord Privy Seal that they found a rich shrine which was very cumbrous to deface; that they had stripped the monastery of over 5,000 marks in gold and silver, besides a rich cross bestudded with emeralds and other stones of great value; but that they had left the church and convent well furnished with silver plate. (fn. 80)

On 4 November, 1539, this famous abbey was surrendered. The surrender is signed by Abbot John Reeve, Prior Thomas Ringstede (alias Dennis), and by forty-two other monks. (fn. 81)

Pensions were assigned, on the same day, of £30 to the prior, of £20 to the sacrist, and of sums varying from £13 6s. 8d., to £6 13s. 4d., to thirty-eight other monks. (fn. 82)

Sir Richard Rich and other commissioners who had received the surrender wrote to the king on 7 November, saying they had not yet assigned the ex-abbot any pension, but suggested as he had been 'very conformable and is aged,' and as the yearly revenues of his house would be 4,000 marks, that he should have 500 marks a year and a house. They had taken into custody for the king the plate and best ornaments, and sold the rest. The lead and bells were worth 4,500 marks. They desired to know whether they were to deface the church and other edifices of the house.(fn. 83) On 11 November, the abnormally large pension of £333 6s. 8d. was allotted to the abbot. (fn. 84) He lived, however, only a few months after the dissolution of his house. Weighed down, as it is said, with sorrow and disappointment at the complete degradation of his order, he died on 31 March, 1540, in a small private house at the top of Crown Street, Bury St. Edmunds, never having drawn a penny of his pension. He was buried in the chancel of St. Mary's Church, with a pathetic Latin epitaph on the brass over his remains. The brasses were torn from his grave in 1643, and in 1717 the slab was broken up and the remains removed to make way for the burial of a ship's purser named Sutton. (fn. 85)

May Abbot John Reeve rest in peace, his broken heart healed. It wasn't enough that he had to be exiled from his life in religion, but later generations thought it their right to disturb his remains. I pray that he and St. Edmund rejoice in heaven!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Age of Plunder and Roche Abbey

A facebook friend posted this from the English Heritage blog:

On 23 June 1538, Abbot Henry Cundall of Roche Abbey in South Yorkshire and his 17 monks gathered in their chapter house to surrender their abbey to the king’s commissioners. Roche was one of the many larger religious houses which ‘voluntarily’ surrendered that year, in the course of Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries.

The monks, cast out of their comfortable abbey with small pensions, had to make the most of what they had.

Each monk had been given the cell in which he slept, ‘wherein there was nothing of value save his bed and apparel’. One monk tried to sell his cell door for two pennies, ‘which was worth more than five shillings’. But the potential buyer refused, ‘for he was a young man, unmarried, and in need of neither a house nor a door’.

The source for these details was a priest, Michael Sherbrook, rector of Wickersley, who wrote an account of the suppression of Roche abbey in the 1590's. He gathered anecdotal evidence that the monks and the abbey were not despised in any way--pillaging the abbey was nothing personal:

Sherbrook wondered whether such an orgy of devastation was a product of hostility towards the Roche monks. It was strange, he thought, that ‘even such persons were content to spoil them, that seemed not two days before to allow their religion, and do great worship and reverence at their Mattins, Masses and other service, and all other their doings’. So he pressed his father, who had also been present, to explain:

For the better proof of this my saying, I demanded of my father, which had bought part of the timber of the church, and all the timber in the steeple, with the bell frame, with other his partners therein … whether he thought well of the religious persons and of the religion then used?

And he told me Yea: For said he, ‘I did see no cause to the contrary.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘then how came it to pass you was so ready to destroy and spoil the thing you thought well of?’

‘What should I have done?’ said he. ‘Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the abbey? For I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.’

That reminded me of what W.G. Hoskins wrote about the Dissolution of the Monasteries in The Age of Plunder: The England of Henry VIII, 1500-1547:

"In these matters the only true god is Mammon. The sixteenth century showed it abundantly in every decade. Catholic or Protestant, what did it matter when Mammon was sitting in the seat of power?"

More about survivors of Roche Abbey's suppression here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Downton Abbey: No God Allowed

Except for anti-Catholicism, Downton Abbey has steadfastly ignored the theme of religion throughout its run. The chapel has shown up when weddings were celebrated, but otherwise the vicar has had little to do.

This article explains why: we can't have historical accuracy when atheists might be offended!

The trials and tribulations of the Crawley family have enthralled Downton Abbey viewers for six series. But some have questioned why Christianity, which would have formed a central part of the lives of the aristocracy in the early 20th century, is largely absent from the show.

Now the man tasked with ensuring the historical accuracy of the series has revealed why Downton does not do God. Alastair Bruce, who serves as the show’s historical advisor, said that executives in charge of the series had ordered producers to “leave religion out of it”, for fear of alienating an increasingly atheistic public.

Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed that the Crawley family is never shown in the process of sitting down to dinner, with the action instead shown from part-way through the meal. This, Mr Bruce said, was to avoid having to show the characters saying grace.

He added: “In essence you hardly ever see a table that isn’t already sat at. We never see the beginning of a luncheon or a dinner, because no one was ever allowed to see a grace being said, and I would never allow them to sit down without having said grace.

“I think that the view was that we’d leave religion out of it, and it would’ve taken extra time too. I suggested a Latin grace, but they decided that was too far, and no one would’ve known what was going on.”

Here's where it gets silly:

Mr Bruce said that he was even banned from featuring napkins folded in the shape of a bishop’s mitre, for fear of breaching the religious edict. “Everyone panics when you try to do anything religious on the telly,” he said. “I still wish we could’ve got some decent napkin folds, but I was always left with my triangle.”

I liked the show when it was set in World War I; there was briefly some real historical impact to the family's response to the crisis that decimated English youth. Otherwise to me it has become a period costume soap opera. Perhaps the producers should have trusted their audience more: surely atheists are a little more broad-minded than that!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mary I on the Son Rise Morning Show

On this the 457th anniversary of her death in 1558, Matt Swaim and I will discuss on the Son Rise Morning Show (at about 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central) the reign of Mary I, the first Queen Regnant of England and the only reigning Catholic Queen of England--there were Catholic consorts after her. Mary's reputation has undergone a change in the past five or so years. The sobriquet "Bloody Mary" is still common, and we certainly can't argue away almost 300 heretics and Protestants burned alive at the stake, but a more realistic view of religion in the 16th century has pointed out that whether the judgement of the government was heresy or treason, religious freedom did not exist in sixteenth century England.

G.J. Meyer's 2010 hardcover survey of the Tudor dynasty was re-issued in the U.K. as a two volume paperback with Henry VII and Henry VIII covered in the first volume and Edward VI through Elizabeth I in the second volume.

Meyer continues the re-evaluation of Mary I's reign in his book, noting that Mary's first Parliament reversed--except for the Dissolution of the Monasteries--all the Reformation legislation of Henry VIII and Edward VI's reign without much dissent at all. Parliament re-established the relationship between the Catholic Church in England and the Papacy and Mary gladly relinquished any claim to headship or governorship over the Church. Unlike her father, half-brother and half-sister, Mary did not want to rule the Church; she would not decide what orthodoxy and heresy were; that was up to the Church, not the State. He also regrets that the same Parliament revived the heresy laws in England--the State would assist the Church in examining, charging, and executing heretics.

In his first chapter on Elizabeth's reign, which begins at the end in March 1603, Meyer notes that the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth followed a similar pattern (the difference was of course duration): their reigns each began with enthusiastic welcome; they share a middle period of success and popularity; they both ended in exhaustion and disillusion. The crucial difference in Meyer's view is that Mary wanted to do more than survive: she wanted to achieve something:

No historian today could dispute that Mary was a capable and conscientious queen, or argue that her government killed or tortured or imprisoned as many people as Elizabeth's. She devoted herself to what she perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be the interests of her subjects, and she might have achieved her objectives if she had reigned even half as long as Elizabeth. The process of winnowing the facts has taken four centuries, but it is clear by now that Mary was the more ambitious of the sisters--that she aspired to much more than her own survival, certainly--and that the reason for her failure many be nothing more mysterious (or shameful) than the fact that at the time of her death she was 28 years younger than Elizabeth would be at hers.

Mary had aimed at the restoration of Catholicism in England and in her brief reign she had done much, with the aid of Reginald Cardinal Pole, the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury and his bishops, to restore the Church and even implement reforms in the Church. When she died on this day in 1558 she thought, because Elizabeth had sworn to her that she was a true Catholic, that her work in England would continue.

Like each of the Tudors before her, she would be betrayed by her successor. Henry VIII betrayed his father by placing glory and pleasure above statecraft and investment; Edward VI betrayed his father by destroying what was left of the structure of prayer for the dead, the communion of saints, and the sacramental order; Elizabeth betrayed Mary by lying to her about the one thing, except for the love of her father and mother, most dear to Mary: Jesus Christ and His Church. Mary had not betrayed Edward: he knew what she believed and what she would do--that's why he wanted Jane Grey Dudley to succeed him.