Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy Memorial Day: Remember

Peggy Noonan cites David McCullough's new book on why it is so important that we study and understand the past in her Wall Street Journal column this weekend, concluding with several bullet points:

Here, gleaned from the book, are some of Mr. McCullough’s observations on history.

• It is a story. “Tell stories,” said the historian Barbara Tuchman. And what is a story? Mr. McCullough, paraphrasing E.M. Forster, observes: “If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events. If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.”

• What’s past to us was the present to them. “Adams, Jefferson, George Washington, they didn’t walk about saying, ‘Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?’ It was the present, their present.” They were acting in real time and didn’t know how things would turn out. . . .

• Nothing had to happen the way it happened. “History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at almost any point, just as your own life can.” “One thing leads to another. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Actions have consequences.” These things sound obvious, he says, but are not to those who are just starting out and trying to understand life. . . .

• History is an antidote to the hubris of the present. We think everything we have, do and think is the ultimate, the best. “We should never look down on those of the past and say they should have known better. What do you think they will be saving about us in the future? They’re going to be saying we should have known better.”


She posted her column on Facebook, so perhaps it's still available without paying for access!

I particularly liked the comments "What's past to us was the present to them" and "Nothing had to happen the way it happened." It seems to me that those two comments vitiate the entire "Whig interpretation" of history that sees the events of the past as necessary for the progress of the future. 

Happy Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Blessed Margaret Pole, pray for us!

Blessed Margaret Pole, beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII with 53 other martyrs, was beheaded on May 27, 1541. EWTN posts this biography from Father Alban Butler:

The life of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was tragic from her cradle to her grave.l Nay, even before she was born, death in its most violent or dreaded forms had been long busy with her family—hastening to extinction a line that had swayed the destinies of England for nearly four centuries and a half. Her grandfather was that splendid Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the mighty King-maker, who as the "last of the Barons," so fittingly died on the stricken field of garnet, and whose soldier's passing gave to Shakespeare a theme worthy of some of his most affecting lines. Her father was the George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, whose death in the Tower in January, 1478, has been attributed to so many causes. The murdered "Princes in the Tower," Edward V and his little brother, the Duke of York, were her first cousins, while her only brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, was judicially murdered by Henry VII to ensure his own possession of the Crown. The list of tragedies in the family of the Blessed Margaret is still far from complete, but sufficient instances have been given to justify the description we have given of her whole career. . . .

The Countess of Salisbury was taken to East Smithfield early in the morning of 28th May, 1541, and there beheaded on a low block or log in the presence of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and a few other spectators. The regular headsman was away from London at the time, and his deputy, an unskilful lout, hacked at the blessed Martyr in such a way as to give some foundation to the story afterwards made current by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, that she had refused to lay her head on the block and was, therefore, struck repeatedly by the executioner till she fell dead. Before her death, she prayed for the King, Queen (Catherine Howard), Prince of Wales (later Edward VI), and the Princess Mary Her last words were: "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice' sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

The body of the Blessed Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, was interred in the Tower, in that Chapel dedicated to St. Peter's Chains, whose illustrious dead and historic associations are enshrined in Macaulay's memorable lines. She was declared Blessed with many of the rest of the English Martyrs by Leo XIII, 29th December, 1886. Others than her co-religionists, no doubt, like to reflect that a life, so marked by piety, and so full of griefs ever heroically borne, has after the lapse of nearly four centuries been thus honoured, and that the last direct descendant of the Plantagenet line has her place in the Hagiography of the Church so long associated with their sway.


This parish has a beautiful icon of Blessed Margaret Pole, holding up the white gown of a martyr with the banner of the Five Wounds of Christ on its front. While she had escaped the Exeter conspiracy with her life--although imprisoned in the Tower--when Thomas Cromwell's agents found the emblem of the Five Wounds among her possessions they determined that she was supportive of the rebels who opposed the Dissolution of the Monasteries and other religious changes. 

"Macaulay's memorable lines" about St. Peter ad Vincula are from The History of England from the Accession of James II:

In truth there is no sadder spot on the earth than that little cemetery. Death is there associated, not, as in Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul's, with genius and virtue, with public veneration and with imperishable renown; not, as in our humblest churches and churchyards, with everything that is most endearing in social and domestic charities; but with whatever is darkest in human nature and in human destiny, with the savage triumph of implacable enemies, with the inconstancy, the ingratitude, the cowardice of friends, with all the miseries of fallen greatness and of blighted fame. Thither have been carried, through successive ages, by the rude hands of gaolers, without one mourner following, the bleeding relics of men who had been the captains of armies, the leaders of parties, the oracles of senates, and the ornaments of courts.

The Chesterton Option?

Dale Ahlquist suggests an alternative to "The Benedict Option" and the Catholic World Report posted it:

What is the Chesterton Option? It starts with being faithful to the Faith. St. Benedict did not set out to save culture. He was seeking God. The Incarnation is the center of reality. It is the truth that affects all other truths. We have to not be afraid of telling that truth. It's worth dying for. But more importantly, it's worth living for.

From that start, we have to start taking control of our own lives. Not waiting around for the government to fix things, or for the new technological breakthrough, the new cure, the new device. Chesterton says it is a sign of decadence when we pay others to fight for us, others to dance for us, and others to rule us. Doing things for ourselves would be revolutionary. Chesterton says it is cheap to own a slave. It is cheaper to be a slave. We have to be free from all the things that would enslave us. Whether they are electronic, chemical, or cultural. Free means being as free not to use a thing as to use it.

What else can we do to change the world from the ground up?

Work to become your own employer rather than someone else's employee. Whenever you can, buy local. Start your own school with like-minded parents who understand that there is nothing more important than the souls of our children. Join a health care cost-sharing cooperative rather giving your money to a health insurance conglomerate that is officed in a glass skyscraper. Join a local credit union instead of a bank. Give part of your money to the poor and give them the dignity of spending it themselves rather than spending it for them.

Create your own entertainment rather than paying for the paltry product pedaled by the entertainment industry. Make your own art. Write poems. Poems that rhyme. Read books. Read old books. Read Chesterton.

Grow things. If you cannot grow vegetables or flowers, at least grow children.

Every day should include a family meal where we linger long at the table. Every day should include a time of family prayer. Every day you should make a time of silence for yourself. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Keep yourself holy. Break the conventions, keep the commandments.

Look at everything as if you are seeing it for the first time. Always be thankful. Always think about God. And if you are always thankful, you always will think about God. And you will be happy.

Chesterton says, "The aim of human polity is human happiness . . . There is no obligation on us to be richer, or busier, or more efficient, or more productive, or progressive, or in any way worldlier or wealthier if it does not make us happier."

And as I said before: Read Chesterton.

Please read the rest there!

Friday, May 26, 2017

St. Philip Neri, pray for us!

Blessed John Henry Newman and Father Frederick Faber wrote several hymns in honor of the Oratory's founder, St. Philip Neri, whose feast we celebrate today. Here is one of Newman's hymns to his beloved patron:

This is the Saint of gentleness and kindness,
Cheerful in penance, and in precept winning:
Patiently healing of their pride and blindness,
Souls that are sinning.

This is the Saint, who, when the world allures us,
Cries her false wares, and opes her magic coffers,
Points to a better city, and secures us
With richer offers.

Love is his bond, he knows no other fetter,
Asks not our all, but takes whate'er we spare him,
Willing to draw us on from good to better,
As we can bear him.

When he comes near to teach us and to bless us,
Prayer is so sweet, that hours are but a minute;
Mirth is so pure, though freely it possess us,
Sin is not in it.

Thus he conducts, by holy paths and pleasant,
Innocent souls, an sinful souls forgiven,
Towards the bright palace, where our God is present,
Throned in high heaven.

Father Jonathan Robinson, C.O., wrote about how St. Philip Neri influenced Blessed John Henry Newman in Faith and Reason: The Journal of Christendom College in Winter 1989:

St. Philip founded the Oratory, and Newman having discovered the Oratory began to learn about St. Philip. This seems to be the historical progression. Once, however, he began to discover St. Philip he found someone, as we would say today, with whom he could identify. Philip was born at Florence in 1515 (the same year as St. Teresa of Avila). Later, near Naples, while working in an uncle's business (which he was to inherit) he had a religious experience which left him without interest in secular pursuits. He renounced his inheritance and moved to Rome. From this time, when he was about 18, until his early 30's, he lived the life of a poor recluse, earning just enough through tutoring to meet his simple wants. During this period he spent long hours, even whole nights, in prayer in the catacombs where the early Christians had buried their dead, and where they could safely celebrate the mysteries of their religion. Those dark and silent galleries were for Philip the living and speaking image of the ages of persecution. Cardinal Newman, in a litany he wrote, called Philip "Man of primitive times," and in many respects he does seem more a man of earlier times than one whose lot was cast amid the splendors and conflicts of the sixteenth century. . . . 

Newman tells us that Philip came not to argue, not to berate, not to condemn: "He put from him monastic rule and authoritative speech, as David refused the armour of his King _ he would be an ordinary individual priest as others, and his weapons would be but unaffected humility and unpretending love."4 But, whatever St. Philip was, he was anything but ordinary. . . . .

Newman, having come to know Philip as the founder of the Oratory, came to love him for himself. Yet on the face of it the reason for the attraction is not obvious. Dwight Culler has argued that Newman was able to see in St. Philip the incarnation of his educational ideals, and I think he is correct.7 Philip's sanctity was built on, or into, the humanism of renaissance Italy. St. Philip, if he had not become a saint, might well have been a courtier or a philosopher instead. In his youth, says Father Bacci, one of his first biographers, he studied philosophy and theology until "he was reckoned one of the most distinguished scholars in the schools of Rome." But, when "he had made sufficient advancement in learning, not for his own use only, but also for the edification of others . . . he laid his studies aside and applied himself wholly to that science which is found in the crucifix."8

Please read the rest there.

Catching Up on my Register Blog


Just in case you haven't seen them, here are two posts I submitted to the National Catholic Register blogroll in the past two weeks:

In the first, May Traditions and the Blessed Virgin Mary, illustrated with this beautiful Maesta from Sienna by Simone Martini, I consider how traditional the month of Mary is, with all its events, and its Marian devotion. I am reading Yves Congar's book on The Meaning of Tradition, and I thought this passage explained the maternal aspects of these traditions:

In his book "The Meaning of Tradition", Yves Marie-Joseph Cardinal Congar summarized the role Tradition plays in Catholic Church doctrine, worship, and discipline. He explored the historical and theological aspects of Tradition (the magisterial teaching Tradition of the Church) and tradition (certain customs) in a two volume study published in 1960 and 1963—"The Meaning of Tradition", which is published in English by Ignatius Press, appeared in 1964.

In chapter one, “Tradition and Traditions” Congar offers us an insight into why May is such a maternal and traditional month. There is an intrinsic connection between the feminine genius, to use Pope St. John Paul II’s term, and tradition. As Congar notes, “We may even discern a feminine and maternal touch in the vital aspect of tradition. A woman expresses instinctively and vitally what a man expresses logically… The woman is the recipient, the matrix and fashioner of life. She creates the surroundings in which life will retain its warmth; one thinks of the maternal breast, of tenderness, of the home. She is fidelity.”

Congar goes on to note how important the home is to security and stability: graduating from high school to perhaps go to college; graduating from college to go into the working world, building a career and our own lives; progressing in our spiritual growth as Catholics as we receive the Sacraments. All of these transitions are supported by security of the home: “A home or milieu possesses a wealth of strength and certainly found nowhere else. Both provide security and with it the possibility of expansion that security affords.”


Looking at May as the month of Mary, I found this little-known encyclical of Pope Paul VI to be inspiring:

Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote a brief encyclical, “Mense Maio”, in 1965 to Catholic bishops throughout the world as the Second Vatican Council was meeting:
The month of May is almost here, a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Our heart rejoices at the thought of the moving tribute of faith and love which will soon be paid to the Queen of Heaven in every corner of the earth. For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God's merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother's throne.
We are delighted and consoled by this pious custom associated with the month of May, which pays honor to the Blessed Virgin and brings such rich benefits to the Christian people…
The escalation of U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War (with the possibility of using nuclear weapons), conflict between India and Pakistan, civil war in the Dominican Republic, and other conflicts led Pope Paul to urge prayers for peace:
So, Venerable Brothers, throughout this month of May, let us offer our pleas to the Mother of God with greater devotion and confidence, so that we may obtain her favor and her blessings. Even if the grave sins of men provoke God's justice and merit His just punishments, we must not forget the he is "the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort," (Cf. 2 Cor. 1.3) that He has appointed Mary most holy as the generous steward of His merciful gifts.
He concluded by asking the bishops “to make provisions for special prayers in every diocese and parish during the month of May” and “in particular, on the feast of the Queenship of Mary” (August 22) for peace in the world and the success of the Second Vatican Council.

Please read the rest there.


And this week, the Register published this post on how to listen to Gregorian Chant or other liturgical music. I really appreciate the choice of illustration: the Angels singing from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck. You can read more about that great altarpiece at The Getty Foundation website here.

I criticize the view that Gregorian chant, particularly, is music to relax to and even fall asleep to:

I try not to listen to Gregorian chant or other liturgical music as though it is background music. Readers might remember the “Gregorian Chant for Relaxation” CDs issued after the great success of the recordings by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silo in the mid-1990’s. Gregorian chant was promoted as calming and perfect for meditation, Christian or otherwise. One critic commented on an anniversary re-release of the CDs:
. . . this is music for reflection, calming down, re-fueling and getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life--which may be even more needed now than they were 10 years ago. Texts are not supplied and you won't need them; it's all about reverence and mood. Doing nothing but listening to this in 25-minute chunks will allow your breathing to slow and re-energize you. Each 55-minute CD will probably put you to sleep--and this isn't meant as a criticism.”(Emphasis added)
Since the Latin Biblical texts are the reason that chant exists, saying that they’re not necessary demonstrates a real misuse of this liturgical music. A listener should not be lulled to sleep listening to chant: she should be awakened and inspired to prayer and devotion.

On the other hand, I don’t want to respond to this music as though I’m in a concert hall, applauding a performance.

Please read the rest there.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Our Lady of Pity in Late Medieval England

The Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, recently blessed a shrine to Our Lady of Pity on the grounds of the Cathedral Church of Our Lady Help of Christians and St Peter of Alcantara in Shrewsbury. The Catholic Herald refers to Our Lady of Pity as "a particular Marian devotion held by the people of Shrewsbury before the Reformation".

The Bishop commented on the shrine that it:

“will recall the ancient devotion of the people of Shrewsbury to the Mother of God under the title of Our Lady of Pity” and be “a new place where we seek Our Lady’s help in all our need and join with her in continuous prayer as the Church has always done since the beginning”.

“It is to Mary, ever-faithful, that I will entrust each one of you and all who will be called to continue in the priesthood – a life and ministry for the joy of all Christ’s faithful people.”


One aspect of this devotion was the Obsecro Te prayer:

I beseech thee O Holy Lady Mary, Mother of God most full of pity, the daughter of the highest king, mother most glorious, mother of orphans, the consolation of the desolate, the way of them that go astray, the safety of all that trust in thee, a virgin before childbearing, a virgin in childbearing, and a virgin after childbearing: the fountain of mercy, the fountain of health and grace, the fountain of consolation and pardon, the fountain of piety and gladness, the fountain of life and forgiveness. By that holy unspeakable gladness, by the which thy spirit did rejoice that hour, wherein the Son of God was unto thee by the Angel Gabriel declared and conceived. And by that holy unspeakable humility, in which thou didst answer the Archangel Gabriel: Behold the handmaid of our Lord, be it unto me according unto thy word: and by that divine mystery, which the Holy Ghost as then did work in thee: and by the unspeakable grace, pity, mercy, love, and humility by the which thy son our Lord Jesus Christ came down to take human flesh in thy most venerable womb: and by the most glorious joys, which thou hadst of thy son our Lord Jesus Christ: and by that holy and most great compassion, and most bitter grief of thy heart, which thou hadst when as thou didst behold thy son our Lord Jesus Christ, made naked before the cross, and lifted up upon the same, hanging, crucified, wounded, thirsting, and the most bitter drink of gall and vinegar put unto his mouth. Thou heardst him cry Eli, and didst see him die. And by those five wounds of the same thy son and by the sore shrinking together of thy inward parts, through the extreme grief of this wounds, and by the sorrow which thou hadst when thou didst behold him wounded. And by the fountains of his blood: and by all his passion, and sorrow of thy heart, and by the fountains of thy tears, that thou wouldst come with all the Saints and elect of God and hasten unto my help, and my counsel in all my prayers, and petitions, in all my distresses and necessities. As also in all those things, wherein I am to do anything, speak, or think, all the days and nights, hours, and moments of my life. And obtain for me thy servant of thy beloved son Our Lord Jesus Christ the accomplishment of all virtues, with all mercy, and consolation, all counsel and aid, all benediction and sanctification, all salvation, peace and prosperity, all joy and gladness: also abundance of all spiritual good things, and sufficiency of corporal, and grace of the Holy Ghost, which may well dispose me in all things, and may guard my soul, govern and protect my body, stir up my mind, order my manners, approve my acts, suggest holy cogitations, pardon my evils past, amend things present, and moderate things to come: bestow on me an honest, and chaste life, grant me faith, hope, and charity: make me firmly to believe the articles of the faith, and to observe the precepts of the law: rule and protect the senses of my body, and evermore deliver me from mortal sins, and defend me to my life's end: that he may graciously and meekly hear, and receive this prayer, and give me life everlasting. Hear and make intercession for me most sweet virgin Mary Mother of God, and Mercy. Amen.


In The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy explains that this was a very popular prayer and devotion in the late Middle Ages in England and was always in the Books of Little Hours of Blessed Virgin Mary. The French tradition was to include an image of Our Lady of Humility or the Madonna of Humility, showing Mary seated on the ground and holding the Baby Jesus in her arms, with this prayer. That kind of image is used in the shrine Bishop Davies recently blessed.

The image of the Madonna of Humility by Giovanni di Paolo, c. 1456 is in the public domain.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Limited Toleration in England, 1689

The Act of Toleration, after being passed in Parliament, was approved on May 24, 1689 by William and Mary (1 Will & Mary c 18). The long title of the Act reveals its limited scope: An Act for Exempting their Majesties Protestant Subjects dissenting from the Church of England from the Penalties of Certain Laws (modern spelling). It was limited to allowing some freedom of worship to some dissenters. Catholics and Unitarians were excluded from the Act of Toleration.

The Protestants who dissented from the Church of England (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc.) were not "granted" freedom of religion and the Church of England remained the established church--its members had all the privileges of citizenship. England would certainly be protected from the dangers of Catholicism, as this paragraph emphasizes:
Be it enacted by the King's and Queen's most excellent majesties, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons, in this present Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same, That neither the statute made in the three and twentieth year of the reign of the late Queen Elizabeth, entitled, An act to retain the Queen's majesty's subjects in their due obedience; nor the statute made in the twenty ninth year of the said Queen, entitled, An act for the more speedy and due execution of certain branches of the statute made in the three and twentieth year of the Queen's majesty's reign viz. the aforesaid act; nor that branch or clause of a statute made in the first year of the reign of the said Queen, entitled, An act for the uniformity of common prayer and service in the church, and administration of the sacraments; whereby all persons, having no lawful or reasonable excuse to be absent, are required to resort to their parish church or chapel, or some usual place where the common prayer shall be used, upon pain or punishment by the censures of the church, and also upon pain that every person so offending shall forfeit for every such offence twelve pence; nor the statute made in the third year of the reign of the late King James the First, entitled, An act for the better discovering and repressing popish recusants; nor that other statute made in the same year, entitled, An act to prevent and avoid dangers which may grow by popish recusants; nor any other law or statute of this realm made against papists or popish recusants, except the statute made in the five and twentieth year of King Charles the Second, entitled, An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants; and except also the statute made in the thirtieth year of the said King Charles the Second, entitled, An act for the more effectual preserving the King's person and government, by disabling papists from sitting in either house of parliament; shall be construed to extend to any person or persons dissenting from the Church of England, that shall take the oaths mentioned in a statute made this present Parliament, entitled, An act for removing and preventing all questions and disputes concerning the assembling and sitting of this present Parliament; and shall make and subscribe the declaration mentioned in a statute made in the thirtieth year of the reign of King Charles the Second, entitled, An act to prevent papists from sitting in either house of Parliament; which oaths and declaration the justices of peace at the general sessions of the peace, to be held for the county or place where such person shall live, are hereby required to tender and administer to such persons as shall offer themselves to take, make, and subscribe the same, and thereof to keep a register: and likewise none of the persons aforesaid shall give or pay, as any fee or reward, to any officer or officers belonging to the court aforesaid, above the sum of six pence, nor that more than once, for his of their entry of his taking the said oaths, and making and subscribing the said declaration; nor above the further sum of six pence for any certificate of the same, to be made out and signed by the officer or officers of the said court.
If that wasn't clear enough, article XIV reiterated:

Provided always and bee it further enacted by the authorities aforesaid That neither this Act nor any Clause Article or Thing herein contained shall extend or be construed to extend to give any ease benefit or advantage to any Papist or Popish Recusant whatsoever or any person that shall deny in his Preaching or Writing the Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity as it is declared in the aforesaid Articles of Religion.

This book explores the progress of religious toleration through the seventeenth century in England:

The seventeenth century is traditionally regarded as a period of expanding and extended liberalism, when superstition and received truth were overthrown. The book questions how far England moved towards becoming a liberal society at that time and whether or not the end of the century crowned a period of progress, or if one set of intolerant orthodoxies had simply been replaced by another.

The book examines what toleration means now and meant then, explaining why some early modern thinkers supported persecution and how a growing number came to advocate toleration. Introduced with a survey of concepts and theory, the book then studies the practice of toleration at the time of Elizabeth I and the Stuarts, the Puritan Revolution and the Restoration. The seventeenth century emerges as a turning point after which, for the first time, a good Christian society also had to be a tolerant one.


Persecution and Toleration is a critical addition to the study of early modern Britain and to religious and political history.

But the difficulty for such an argument is that Catholics and Quakers were so completely shut out of the progress for toleration--except for under James II's Declaration of Toleration (1687 and 1688) which opened England up to freedom of religion:

We do likewise declare, that it is our royal will and pleasure, that from henceforth the execution of all and all manner of penal laws in matters ecclesiastical, for not coming to church, or not receiving the Sacrament, or for any other nonconformity to the religion established, or for or by reason of the exercise of religion in any manner whatsoever, be immediately suspended; and the further execution of the said penal laws and every of them is hereby suspended.

And to the end that by the liberty hereby granted, the peace and security of our government in the practice thereof may not be endangered, we have thought fit, and do hereby straightly charge and command all our loving subjects, that as we do freely give them leave to meet and serve God after their own way and manner, be it in private houses or in places purposely hired or built for that use, so that they take especial care, that nothing be preached or taught amongst them which may any ways tend to alienate the hearts of our people from us or our government; and that their meetings and assemblies be peaceably, openly, and publicly held, and all persons freely admitted to them; and that they do signify and make known to some one or more of the next justices of the peace what place or places they set apart for those uses.

And that all our subjects may enjoy such their religious assemblies with greater assurance and protection, we have thought it requisite, and do hereby command, that no disturbance of any kind be made or given unto them, under pain of our displeasure, and to be further proceeded against with the uttermost severity
. (from the 1687 version)

And yet, John Coffey gives only ten (10) pages to considering James II and Toleration in his book (according to the Table of Contents)!

Monday, May 22, 2017

John Senior's Life and Career: Realism and Christian Culture

I am not an alumna of the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program (PIHP) at the University of Kansas, but I know alumni of the program. A friend gave me a copy of this book about one of the three professors who developed and taught the program, John Senior and the Restoration of Realism by Father Francis Bethel, OSB, a monk of Clear Creek Abbey. Father Bethel is an alumnus of the program, and just one of the PIHP students who visited Fontgombault Abbey in France and became a monk or discerned a priestly vocation.

Father Bethel has written an intellectual biography of one of his teachers and mentors, demonstrating how John Senior put together his appreciation of reality in nature with an acceptance of the reality of things and the recognition that truth exists and can be known and must be acted upon. The interesting fact is that he'd lost that connection in the first place. Senior had been a cowboy and had experienced hard work and reality, but his interest in the Symbolist poets and Eastern philosophy and the occult led him for awhile into what he later called the Perennial Heresy, relativism and skepticism. Then he read St. Thomas Aquinas and rediscovered Realism: that what is is real and true. Something can't be both true and untrue: it is or it isn't, and we can and should accept this fact. That's the Perennial Philosophy of Realism he rediscovered and wanted to restore.

The book could have been titled John Senior and the Liberal Arts or John Senior and The Idea of a University Education, but Father Bethel's choice of title is appropriate because Senior's discovery of Realism led him to more than a career as an academic professor and one of the founders of the PIHP. It led him to a way of life, and it led him to Jesus and His Church. It led him to live with his wife and children in a certain way, owning a ranch and working it even as he taught at the University of Wyoming, always staying close to real things: the land, animals, books, musical instruments, etc. Instead of watching television--they did not own a TV set--they read books. His wife raised Afghan Hounds, elegant dogs, but dogs all the same that bark at inopportune times.

Browsing the index, I noticed the words "The Newman School of Catholic Thought" and found out more about John Senior's work at the Newman Center in Laramie, Wyoming and his contact with Father Charles Taylor. Father Taylor was one of the presenters at the 1979 Newman School of Catholic Thought I attended as a sophomore at WSU. At least one PIHP student attended that week (Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, who wrote one of the blurbs for this book).

Father Bethel uses Senior's books, The Death of  Christian Culture and The Restoration of  Christian Culture to outline the problem and Senior's solution. He notes that Senior never sought political solutions to the crisis, but instead thought education and formation was the answer. Bethel describes Senior's melancholic temperament, his vast reading--and its limitations--and elements of his teaching style, summing him up as "a good man with a gift for communicating his subject." (p. 129)

In the heart of the book (Part II and Part III), describing in detail how Senior developed his plan of attack on the Perennial Heresy his students had accepted, Bethel shows himself an apt pupil of his master. He doesn't just tell the reader what Senior found in, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, to inform his education theories and methods, he explains what Aquinas and Aristotle said and how Senior interpreted and used them in the formation of his theory of gradual, systematic education based upon opening the student's mind to nature through gymnastics and to the life of the mind through music (poetry and memory). Bethel explores Senior's understanding of the Four Modes of Knowledge in depth: Poetic, Rhetorical, Dialectic, and Scientific. He also describes Senior's proposal for a boy's education, found in an unpublished manuscript, "The Restoration of Innocence."

Part IV offers insights into the famed PIHP and its demise. The crucial element in attacks against the program was that so many students were becoming Catholics--and even monks--so that dedication to the Truth and believing that education should teach the Truth meant that the students were being proselytized or worse, brainwashed. Even though Senior, Nelick, and Quinn were cleared of those charges of trying to convert their students, the lack of diversity in the program--opposing views to Truth were presented--led University of Kansas officials to destroy the PIHP. Father Bethel notes that there was a later revival of interest in what Senior and Quinn taught in in the early 1980's, but then Senior's health (heart) problems brought about retirement. Senior and PIHP alumni kept in touch; he wrote the two books on Christian Culture, and there was a big reunion in 1995, John Senior died on April 8, 1999, when he was 77 years old. He and his wife were praying the Rosary.

Father Bethel bravely takes on his mentor's ecclesial wanderings in the post-Vatican II Catholic world. With misgivings about the rather Jansenist elements of the community, Senior attended what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite at churches with Society of Saint Pius X priests (although Bethel is reticent about where Senior attended Mass according to the Missal of 1962), even when he had access to the same Mass said by priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a Clerical Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical right approved of and supported by Pope John Paul II and then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Bethel is sympathetic to Senior's plight, but believes that he should have attended the FSSP. There is a strange comment about Senior's confessions to "priests in obedience to Rome." Father Bethel comments, "This clearly suggests that this confessors did not judge him to be sinning by attending Society Masses." (p. 373) I'm not sure that it suggests anything, clearly or not, since we don't know what he confessed (and can't/shouldn't because of the Seal of the Confessional).

I do wish that in the chapters discussing and citing mostly the books on Christian Culture that page number citations were used in the text, instead of being relegated to end notes at the back of the book. I'd prefer end notes for each chapter when they are mostly comprised of "Ibid." and a page number. There are some problems with the bibliography formatting (on page 428, the second work by Chesterton, using the spacer for the author's name, is listed first and two of John Paul II's works are also listed first with the spacer coming last; also on page 429, two author's entries seem to have run together ("Newman, John Henry" and "Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace"). Those are quibbles, however, and don't detract from the great achievement of this book, which should inspire parents and educators to follow John Senior's example and advice.

Indeed, Anthony Esolen, who recently left Providence College to teach and lead The Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire (where this book was published) seems poised to do so:

Imagine then dances in a great ballroom built just for such a thing; and imagine that the young people learn to dance as their grandparents may have done, with innocence and the natural attraction that boys and girls are meant to have for one another.

Imagine that you get people from the community who can play the fiddle, attracted despite themselves to the beauty of what is normal.
 People used to play musical instruments, for the pleasure and mirth of it, and not for pursuing a career.

Imagine a place for regular concerts, big and small, “professional” and amateur, by people with gray hair or by little ones with cowlicks or braids. All of the arts have gone sour; poetry, the first and highest art of man, has degenerated into political posturing, in verse without form and meter.


Gymnastics and Music, just as John Senior said.

Once you have read this book, you should read The Death of Christian Culture and The Restoration of Christian Culture. Both are available from Eighth Day Books.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Cardinal's Hat and Sainthood for Bishop John Fisher


Pope Paul III passed over the notion that Henry VIII had stripped Bishop John Fisher of his episcopal status and declared the imprisoned Bishop of Rochester a cardinal on May 20, 1535, a little more than a month before the good Cardinal's execution on June 22 that year. Of course, Fisher never received his Cardinal's hat, and the usual report is that Henry VIII threatened to send the Cardinal's head to Rome instead! Pope Paul III had named Fisher the Cardinal Priest of San Vitale, the altar of which is seen above. The full name of the church is the Basilica of Sts. Vitalis, Valeris, Gervase and Protase, honoring a family of martyrs!

Four hundred years later, Pope Pius XI canonized John Cardinal Fisher and Sir Thomas More on the anniversary of this creation. Pope Pius XI praised the new saint during his homily:

John Fisher, gifted by nature with a most gentle disposition, thoroughly versed in both sacred and profane lore, so distinguished himself among his contemporaries by his wisdom and his virtue that under the patronage of the King of England himself, he was elected Bishop of Rochester. In the fulfilment of this high office so ardent was he in his piety towards God, and in charity towards his neighbour, and so zealous in defending the integrity of Catholic doctrine, that his episcopal residence seemed rather a Church and a University for studies than a private dwelling.

He was wont to afflict his delicate body with fastings, scourges, and hair cloth; nothing was dearer to him than to be able to visit the poor, in order to comfort them in their miseries and to succour them in their needs. When he found someone frightened at the thought of his faults and terrified by chastisements to come, he brought comfort to the erring soul by restoring confidence in God’s mercy. Often when celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice, he was seen shedding abundant tears, while his eyes were raised to heaven in an ecstatic expression of love. When he preached to the multitudes of the faithful that crowded round to hear him, he seemed neither a man nor a herald of men, but an angel of God clothed in human flesh.

Nevertheless, whilst he was meek and affable towards the afflicted and the suffering, whenever there was question of defending the integrity of faith and morals, like a second Precursor of the Lord, in whose name he gloried, he was not afraid to proclaim the truth openly, and to defend by every means in his power the divine teachings of the Church. You are well aware, Venerable Brethren and Beloved Sons, of the reason why John Fisher was called in judgment and obliged to undergo the supreme test of martyrdom. It was because of his courageous determination to defend the sacred bond of Christian marriage—a bond indissoluble for all, even for those who wear the royal diadem—and to vindicate the Primacy with which the Roman Pontiffs are invested by divine command. That is why he was imprisoned and afterwards led to death. Serenely he advanced toward the scaffold and with the words of the Te Deum on his lips, he rendered thanks to God for being granted the grace of having his mortal life crowned with the glory of martyrdom, and he raised up to the Divine Throne a fervent prayer of supplication for himself, for his people and for his King. Thus did he give another clear proof that the Catholic Religion does not weaken, but increases the love of one’s country. When finally he mounted the scaffold, whilst a ray of sunlight cast a halo of splendour about his venerable grey hairs, he exclaimed with a smile: “Come ye to Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be confounded.” (Ps. xxxiii, 6.) Most assuredly the heavenly hosts of angels and saints hastened in joy to meet his holy soul, freed at last from the fetters of the body and winging flight toward eternal joys.


Saint John Fisher, pray for us!
Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shakespeare's "King Charles III"?

I watched the last hour of this PBS Masterpiece broadcast Sunday night; the show is available until May 28 online.

It is based upon a play written by Mike Bartlett as a Shakespearean History Play, although it describes events in the future, beginning with Queen Elizabeth II's death and the accession of Charles, the Prince of Wales as King Charles III. It even features the Ghost of Princess Diana--who is a confusing oracle indeed, predicting that both Charles AND William will be the greatest king that England has ever known!

The story is about a constitutional crisis based on the history of King William IV and the 1831-1832 Reform Act:

When the House of Commons defeated the First Reform Bill in 1831, Grey's ministry urged William to dissolve Parliament, which would lead to a new general election. At first, William hesitated to exercise his prerogative to dissolve Parliament because elections had just been held the year before and the country was in a state of high excitement which might boil over into violence. He was, however, irritated by the conduct of the Opposition, which announced its intention to move the passage of an Address, or resolution, in the House of Lords, against dissolution. Regarding the Opposition's motion as an attack on his prerogative, and at the urgent request of Lord Grey and his ministers, William IV prepared to go in person to the House of Lords and prorogue Parliament.[74] The monarch's arrival would stop all debate and prevent passage of the Address.[75] When initially told that his horses could not be ready at such short notice, William is supposed to have said, "Then I will go in a hackney cab!"[75] Coach and horses were assembled quickly and William immediately proceeded to Parliament. Said The Times of the scene before William's arrival, "It is utterly impossible to describe the scene ... The violent tones and gestures of noble Lords ... astonished the spectators, and affected the ladies who were present with visible alarm."[76] Lord Londonderry brandished a whip, threatening to thrash the Government supporters, and was held back by four of his colleagues. William hastily put on the crown, entered the Chamber, and dissolved Parliament.[77]

As in King William's day, so in Charles's putative reign: the monarch is defending progressive policies (in Charles's case, he's against a law restricting the Freedom of the Press). The twist is that in some ways, the Duchess of Cambridge (former Kate Middleton) is the Lady Macbeth of the piece, convincing William to dethrone his father (not murder him, of course). She has the ambition and desire to protect their son's right to the throne and believes that Charles is destroying the monarchy. Kate is trouble from the start, protesting that Charles isn't king until he is crowned. Camilla sets her straight on that.

According to PBS:

King Charles III Adapted by Mike Bartlett from his Tony-nominated stage play, and with Tim Pigott-Smith (Jewel in the Crown, The Hour) reprising the title role, King Charles III is a timely examination of contemporary Britain--part political thriller, part family drama.

Prince Charles has waited his entire life to ascend to the British throne. But after the Queen's death, he immediately finds himself wrestling his conscience over a bill to sign into law. His hesitation detonates a constitutional and political crisis and William (Oliver Chris, Breathless) and Kate (Charlotte Riley, Close to the Enemy) start to worry. With the future of the monarchy under threat, protests on the streets, and his family in disarray, Charles must grapple with his own identity and purpose to decide whether or not, in the twenty-first century, the British crown still has any real power.

This adaptation retains the daring verse of the original text while director Rupert Goold (The Hollow Crown) creates the ambitious scale and spectacle suggested by the play-from Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace to the restless streets of London.

Fascinating. Tim Piggott-Smith recreates his stage role in the movie; he died earlier this year.