Friday, August 29, 2014

An Obscure Masterpiece


Willard Spiegelman, Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, describes Caravaggio's masterpiece, "The Taking of Christ" for The Wall Street Journal:

Seven figures, one barely noticeable, are tightly bound within the confines of a small space. On the left, John the Evangelist turns his back on the others, his hands lifted in shock, surprise or exclamation. Next to him, Christ is dressed in red and blue garments. His eyes, hooded to the point of invisibility, look down, and he clasps his hands in resignation. Judas, having just kissed the Savior, grips Jesus with his left hand. Both men—typical of Caravaggio—have dirty nails. Their brows are furrowed. John, Jesus and Judas look like parts of one person, their three heads all in a line, with John's seemingly joined Siamese-fashion to Christ's, and Judas's mouth having just separated from the man he has sold to the enemy.

Dead center in the picture is the arresting officer, of whose face we can see only a nose and the outline of an upper lip. Otherwise, he is a study in metal. His left arm clasps Christ and his hand extends from the shiny, steel-colored armor of his arm and breastplate. His helmet completes the image. He is all exoskeleton, barely a man at all. The painter has offered an allegory of the way the State—hard, metallic and unyielding—comes to overwhelm compliant, beleaguered, passive humanity. Beside the main officer another, older, soldier reveals more flesh—nose and moustache—but in neither of these figures can we see eyes. In the rear we can make out only the outline of yet one more soldier.

This leaves us with the most mysterious figure of all, neither Roman nor Jew. Dark-headed, handsome, with eyes fully revealed and looking intently at the scene in front of him, this man holds in his right hand a lantern, which offers illumination from behind and to the right of Jesus and Judas. Who is he? The consensus among the experts is that Caravaggio has produced a self-portrait.


This is one of "Ireland's Favorite Paintings" at the National Gallery of Ireland, which displays it on indefinite loan from the Irish Jesuits. 

Image Credit: Public Domain.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

O Bone Jesu: St. Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ



O bone Jesu,
miserere nobis,
quia tu creasti nos,
tu redemisti nos
sanguine tuo praetiosissimo.

Today's English Catholic Martyr was raised in a recusant family and suffered much for his Catholic faith and his priesthood. Executed on the vigil of the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, it is interesting to note that his defense of holy matrimony brought about his final arrest. Like St. John the Baptist, speaking to Herod, he told one of his flock that his marriage was not valid and was betrayed.

According to this site, Catholic Online:

St. Edmund Arrowsmith (1585 - 1628) Edmund was the son of Robert Arrowsmith, a farmer, and was born at Haydock, England. He was baptized Brian, but always used his Confirmation name of Edmund. The family was constantly harrassed for its adherence to Catholicism, and in 1605 Edmund left England and went to Douai to study for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1612 and sent on the English mission the following year. He ministered to the Catholics of Lancashire without incident until about 1622, when he was arrested and questioned by the Protestant bishop of Chester. He was released when King James ordered all arrested priests be freed, joined the Jesuits in 1624, and in 1628 was arrested when betrayed by a young man he had censored for an incestuous marriage. He was convicted of being a Catholic priest, sentenced to death, and hanged, drawn, and quartered at Lancaster on August 28th. He was canonized as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI in 1970. His feast day is August 28th.

He recited the prayer O bone Jesu (Oh, Good Jesus, have mercy on us; because you have created us, you have redeemed us through your most Precious Blood), on his way to execution.

The BBC Exposes the Myth of the Spanish Inquisition


Last year in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, I wrote about the Spanish Inquisition:

The Monty Python cohort may have said, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but Catholics can expect it to be brought up regularly. This exaggerated version emphasizes all the depths of the Black Legend of Spain: the tyranny of the popes and the Catholic Church, torture, and the multitude of victims writhing in agony, burned alive during the auto-da-fe. The quick facts to present in response to an attack on the Church concerning the Spanish Inquisition are these:
  • The government wanted the Spanish Inquisition, not the Church; the State was in charge.
  • Successive popes, like Pope Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII complained to Spain about the conduct of the Inquisition.
  • The Church never tortured anyone—Spanish officials may have, but no Inquisitorial friar or monk ever tortured someone accused of heresy.
  • The Church did not burn anyone to death; in fact, of the approximately 2,000 condemned to death by the State, very few were actually executed—they were usually burned in effigy, having fled the country.
  •  Those condemned were not burned alive at the stake during the auto-da-fe.
Those are the facts to present, but the deeper issue is that in medieval and early modern (Renaissance and Reformation) eras in Europe, heresy was a serious matter for the State. Queen Elizabeth I in England wanted all her subjects to be members of the Church of England, and King Philip II of Spain wanted all his subjects to be Catholics. To them, it was a measure of unity and loyalty in their realms. We look back and think, how could the government be so concerned about what doctrine their subjects believed, what religion they practiced? Governments today around the world are just as concerned about the religious practice of their citizens. Even the United States, which has enshrined religious liberty in our Bill of Rights, is facing a crisis of religious freedom and the rights of conscience.

After watching the 1994 episode from the BBC's Timewatch series linked above, I realized I told only part of the story, because I was defending the Church from attack, not the Spanish Inquisition itself. The BBC's examination of the myth of the Spanish Inquisition is balanced and exact in citing the facts about the history of that effort to suppress heresy, using for what at that time was new information gained from the opening of the archives of the office of the Inquisition. There is discussion of the propaganda of the Black Legend from print media to fiction to even opera (Verdi's Don Carlo). The most disturbing aspect of this propaganda, which did come from enemies of the Catholic Church and the Spanish Empire--many of whom were Protestant, we must admit--is how it contrasts with the horrible record of witch burning in Europe, mostly in Protestant countries. The BBC notes that around 3,000 were sentenced to death during the Spanish Inquisition, but that 150,000 were burned alive as witches--while the Spanish Inquisition rejected the so-called "evidence" of a woman being a witch. Yet even our era accepts the imagery of Spanish cruelty while ignoring northern European horrors. 

The documentary points out that the Spanish Inquisition courts were so well known for their relative fairness that prisoners accused in other civil courts would pretend to be heretics just to switch. The Inquisition courts did allow for proving the negative--that the accused was not a heretic--while other civil courts in that era supposed the guilt of the accused just because he had been accused. Think of the 17th century victims of the false Popish Plot in England. Their efforts to prove themselves not guilty were frustrated by the assumption by the court that they were guilty of conspiracy and treason because they were Catholics. Whatever evidence they offered to prove for example that they could not have been where Titus Oates said they were because they had witnesses who could testify they were somewhere else--it would be rejected because the witnesses were Catholic and thus part of the conspiracy.

It's a long video (about 45 minutes) but well worth watching. Oh, and just like I did above, the program starts with Monty Python, torturing a woman on the comfy chair and poking her with pillows! The end is charming too as a happy chorus proclaims English superiority to all other peoples and nations!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

St. Nicholas Owen in The Catholic Herald


Francis Phillips reviews a new book about St. Nicholas Owen:

While on holiday last week I read “St Nicholas Owen: Priest-hole Maker” by Tony Reynolds (published by Gracewing, £9.99.) I have always been drawn to what I have read about this man of small stature, not a priest but who saved the lives of many priests in the Elizabethan period with his highly ingenious priest-holes. This book fills in the gaps of my knowledge – though there is much that we don’t know about his early life.

He was born in Oxford probably in 1562, the son of a carpenter. He himself chose to become an apprentice in joinery – a more skilled trade and one that was to exploit his considerable gifts to good effect in the Catholic cause. Owen was one of four sons: two older brothers became priests – a highly dangerous choice of vocation in Tudor England – and the youngest, the only one to marry, became a printer, and then chose to engage in the secret printing of Catholic literature. So all four sons in this humble Oxford carpenter’s family took their Catholic faith with a resolute seriousness that could, in those days, lead to imprisonment and death. No details are given of Owen’s parents but I should have loved to have known more of what early influences kindled such a strong faith. We know a lot about the domestic life of St Thomas More for obvious reasons, but nothing about the childhood influences of a man equally courageous in remaining steadfast to his faith to the bitter end.

Owen died under torture in 1606. It is known that he suffered for some years from a hernia. The kind of torments devised by the torturers of the period often caused a rupture in the stomach wall of victims, which would increase the agony. This happened in Owen’s case and led to a prolonged and agonizing death. But throughout his ordeal he gave nothing away to his interrogators. He had spent 18 or 19 years as the faithful servant of the Jesuit Father Henry Garnet, knowing that to “relieve, comfort, aid or maintain” a Catholic priest would make him liable to death as a traitor. Contemporary accounts suggest he was personable, discreet and highly skilled in the peculiar demands of his illegal work. As with St Margaret Clitherow, another Elizabethan martyr, Owen shows that great sanctity has nothing to do with social status or superior educational attainments.

I thought the cover illustration rather striking: it is by Matthew Alderman. More about the book on the publisher's website.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

St. David Lewis and Blessed Dominic Barberi, Missionary Priests

The National Calendar for the Catholic Church in England and Wales honors two missionaries from very different eras today. In England the memorial honors Blessed Dominic Barberi--in Wales, St. David Lewis, SJ. Like St. John Kemble and St. John Wall on August 22, St. David Lewis was a victim of the Popish Plot.

The particularly repellent aspects of the Popish Plot are:

1) There was no plot at all: Titus Oates perjured himself and made it all up
2) Parliament's leaders, like Lord Shaftesbury, Anthony-Ashley Cooper, fomented it
3) Charles II knew it was not true and yet seemed powerless to prevent it
4) The vaunted English Court system was duped by it and was an accessory to multiple injustices--like that experienced by today's saint!

It took the Courts far too long to recognize this injustice--at which time it started finding the accused not guilty--and Parliament never truly admitted its culpability. Titus Oates was found guilty of perjury but was soon rewarded by the regime of William and Mary with a pension. Charles II protected his brother and his wife, although James and Mary Beatrice fled to Ireland in exile. Charles did not give in to the desire of Parliament to bypass his Catholic brother the succession, either.

St. David Lewis was born and raised in a Protestant family but when he went to Paris at age 16 he was moved to become a Catholic! He was ordained in 1642 in Rome and joined the Jesuit order in 1645--like St. John Kemble he served in Monmouthshire for some years.

In November of 1678, he was arrested, taken to London and questioned in connection with the Popish Plot. Lord Shaftesbury offered him freedom if he gave information about the Plot and renounced his Catholicism. David said he had no knowledge of the Plot and would not renounce his faith.

St. David Lewis was then returned to Monmouthshire and executed in Usk on August 27, 1679. He is the last Welsh martyr. Like Blessed Dominic Barberi, his memorial is on August 26 to avoid conflict with that of St. Monica, St. Augustine's mother. This blog contains some great detail about the Last Welsh Martyr! He was canonized among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
 
Blessed Dominic Barberi also died on August 27, in 1849 and is honored on August 26 and featured on the National Calendar in England. He is probably best known for having received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church on October 9, 1845 but there are other aspects to his life that should be recalled.

The first is that he was born in Italy during Napoleonic rule, meaning that he grew up in milieu of anti-clericalism and irreligion. His large peasant family placed him with an uncle and he was a shepherd. Young Dominic became attracted to the Passionist Order and joined them as a novice in 1814, after restrictions against religious orders were removed.
 
Secondly, although in England his English language skills were never that strong (which probably gave some the impression he was not that bright), he was a tremendous theologian and scholar for the Passionist order. He was entrusted with greater and greater responsibility in the order and the mission field.
 
Thirdly, he received this special call to serve the people of England and received converts. I believe he heard that call because John Henry Newman needed him. As Newman was living in Littlemore after the suppression of the Oxford Movement he was as he said on his deathbed as an Anglican--but he was not yet ready to recover and become a Catholic. The example of Father Barberi, enduring ridicule for his poor English, being stoned in the streets and yet persevering to bring Christ to the people--even leading the first Corpus Christi procession in England since the Reformation--impressed Newman. As he had written, "If they [Catholic religious] want to convert England let them go barefooted into our manufacturing towns-let them preach to the people like St. Francis Xavier-let them be pelted and trampled on-and I will admit that they can do what we cannot…What a day it will be when God will make arise among their Communion saintly men such as Bernard and the Borromeo’s…The English will never be favorably inclined to a party of conspirators and instigators; only faith and sanctity are irresistible.”

Father Barberi said,  "What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event. I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great."

The International Centre of Newman Friends offers this detail of that momentous event on October 8 and 9, 1845:

"The original historians, who were also closer to the facts, delighted in presenting the events of that night in a dramatic fashion, something which Dominic never would have done, being always very simple and loath to talk about himself. Alfonso Capecelatro, for example, who was an Oratorian and a future Cardinal, wrote about the event ten years after the death of Dominic: “Dalgarins (sic)invited a certain Fr. Dominic of the Mother of God, a Provincial of the Passionists, to go to Aston Hall in Littlemore, telling him that he was being called to a work in the service of God: and unwittingly, he agreed. He was always conscious that every delay could possibly result in some great harm to the office to which he called. However because of a terrible storm he set out in a covered coach. He endured five hours of driving rain and, as it so pleased God, completely exhausted he arrived at Littlemore at night. Without delay he entered in the solitary dwelling of those fervent men who were famous throughout England, and with great humility Newman fell at his feet, telling him that he would not move from there until he was blessed and received into the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Beyond this great event, Father Dominic worked very hard while in England, establishing churches, preaching and teaching. He suffered a heart attack and died in Reading on August 27, 1849. He is buried in St. Anne's church, St. Helens, Merseyside, alongside Father Ignatius Spencer, an Anglican convert and Passionist, and Elizabeth Prout, another Anglican convert and the foundress of the Institute of the Holy Family. You can watch this interesting interview of Blessed Dominic, portrayed by Kevin O'Brien on EWTN's The Journey Home. Pope Paul VI beatified Dominic Barberi in 1963 in the midst of the Second Vatican Council and his cause is still active in the Birmingham, England archdiocese.
 
St. David Lewis, martyr, pray for us! Blessed Dominic Barberi, confessor, pray for us!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Saint Louis and St. Louis

Mark and I visited the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Sacre Coeur) in Paris during our 2012 visit on a cold, clear, crisp November Saturday and I took this picture of the statue of St. Louis.

Today is his feast day and this year marks two great anniversaries: the 800th anniversary of his birth and the 250th anniversary of the founding of the city of St. Louis, Missouri!

Yesterday, the Bourbon heir to the throne of France, Prince Louis, was present at a vigil Mass celebrated at the great Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in St. Louis:

A descendant of St. Louis IX, King of France, Prince Louis was born April 24, 1974. A member of the Royal House of Bourbon, he grew up in Madrid. Prince Louis is the oldest of the Capetian line of French kings and descends in a direct line from Henry IV, the first king of the Bourbon branch. Ten generations link him directly to Louis XIV. He has dual French-Spanish nationality.

After studying economic sciences at the Lycee Francaise de Madrid, the prince went to the university Centro Universitario de Estudios Financieros, gaining an advanced degree in economic science, with a specialization in finances. He is an international vice president of a bank based in Venezuela.
Prince Louis is a great-grandson of King Alphonse XIII of Spain, and a cousin of King Phillip of Spain. As successor of the kings of France and as head of house, the prince is regularly invited by local or national authorities to preside over commemorative ceremonies, both in France and in the various countries in which the Capetians had a historical role. Known formally as Louis Alphonse of Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, he enjoys sports, including skiing, polo, ice hockey -- and he ran marathons in New York, Berlin and Paris.

Married in 2004 to Margaret of Caracas, Venezuela, the couple have a daughter and twin sons.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis published this editorial in the St. Louis Review earlier this month in preparation for the feast in such an important anniversary year:

This year's celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of our city is a fitting time to commit ourselves to the Christian values and dedication to the poor of the man whose name is St. Louis.

Louis IX served as king of France in the mid-13th century and was known as a living embodiment of the Christianity of the time. He had a special place in his heart for religious orders -- as does our city, known as the home of many communities of men and women religious and the many ministries they established here.

His biographers note that St. Louis received indigent people each day and brought them food. In Lent and Advent, he cared for all who came, often waiting on them in person. He had a passion for justice, and changed the "King's court" of his ancestors into a popular court, where he listened to any of his subjects who came with grievances and gave what seemed to them wise and impartial judgments. He sought to replace the feudal method of settling disputes by combat with peaceful arbitration or the judicial process of a trial, complete with the presentation of testimony.

The man who is St. Louis also gave generous monetary gifts to poor people whether others considered them worthy or not. Monks and nuns, widows and prostitutes, gentlefolk fallen on hard times and minstrels too old or sick to perform, St. Louis gave happily to them all. He also built hospitals and homes for those who needed them.

King Saint Louis was canonized at Orvieto in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Leonine Prayers after Mass


With the two crises of Black Masses in Cambridge, Mass. and Oklahoma City, Okla, mocking the Catholic faith and desecrating the Sacramental Host, Catholics have been urged to pray the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, composed by Pope Leo XIII:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the Divine power of God, cast into hell Satan,
and with him all evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen

The prayer to Saint Michael is just one of the prayers that Pope Leo XIII ordered to be said after Low Mass by the priest and the congregation in Catholic churches throughout the world. Pope Pius IX had required Catholics in the Papal States to offer certain prayers after Mass during the crisis of the Italian revolution in 1859: three Hail Marys, the Salve Regina and a special Collect. Pope Leo expanded the use of those prayers in 1884 and added the St. Michael the Archangel Prayer in 1886 Popes Pius XI and XII emphasized that the Leonine prayers, named for Pope Leo XIII, were to be prayed for the conversion of Russia.

In 1964, the Instruction on Implementing the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, Inter oecumenici suppressed both the Last Gospel, read after the dismissal and final blessing, and the Leonine Prayers. On Sunday, April 24, 1994 St. John Paul II nevertheless encouraged Catholics to pray the St. Michael Prayer during his Regina Caeli message and prayers:

May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.

Archbishop Coakley in Oklahoma City asked that this prayer be said at the end of every Mass and that Eucharist Holy Hours be offered "to honor Christ's Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist". Bishop Slattery in the Tulsa Oklahoma diocese asked Catholics there to pray a decade of the Rosary and the St. Michael Prayer. And although we have the good news that the organizers of the Black Mass have returned the consecrated Host they planned to desecrate, those prayers are still needed as they still plan to hold some mockery of the Mass at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City.

You may find the full text of the Leonine Prayers in both England and Latin here. Although the congregational praying of them has been suppressed, anyone may pray these prayers after Mass, High or Low, in the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form--or whenever!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Byrd Yesterday and Today


No sooner do I prepare a post on the link to my StAR article on "Reading Between the Line(r Note)s: Tudor Church Music and Revisionist History" but I read about this new recording of William Byrd's three Masses, composed for five, four, and three voices, from The Choir of Westminster Cathedral (the Catholic Westminster in London). The purpose of the recording is to highlight the significance of these Masses in both the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries:

A new recording of the most perfect of Tudor masterpieces, Byrd’s three Mass-settings, from the cradle of their nineteenth-century rehabilitation. Westminster Cathedral Choir is enjoying a vintage period, and here we hear its trademark sound in all its glory: unfettered, natural singing from the trebles underpinned by warm yet clear tones from the gentlemen.

This recording celebrates Byrd’s Catholic Masses in two ways simultaneously. Most obviously, it addresses great and timeless works, which themselves address great and timeless liturgical texts. But at the same time it reminds us that the revival of Byrd’s Masses in the late nineteenth century was pioneered by Roman Catholic church choirs. This is a point worth pondering. Since the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, the choirs of England’s Protestant cathedrals and college chapels have had their own distinctive musical repertory, which has flourished and grown in unbroken tradition. The anthems and services of Thomas Tallis, for instance, have never fallen from cathedral use; they have been the epitome of Choral Evensong and Eucharist for more than four centuries. This Anglican repertory, however, is not what Roman Catholic worship requires. When major Catholic choral foundations were established in late Victorian and Edwardian England, at Downside Abbey, the Brompton Oratory, and above all at Westminster Cathedral, there was a quest for new and more relevant music; and it was at these places that William Byrd’s three Latin Masses were revived. Hence the pertinence of this recording; it celebrates that Catholic revival no less than it celebrates the works themselves.


As John Milsom writes in the liner notes (!):

It is hard to imagine a time when William Byrd’s Latin Masses and motets were not a cherished part of England’s musical culture. Today these works seem to soar among the pinnacles of Tudor achievement, alongside the plays of Shakespeare, Byrd’s contemporary; yet for two hundred years, from roughly the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth, they fell almost wholly from favour and use. This long neglect has nothing to do with their intrinsic quality, which has never been questioned. It is to do with the fact that they are Catholic music. Since 1558, England has been officially a Protestant nation, and Catholic culture has had to negotiate its place as best it can. Byrd’s Catholic music, composed for a suppressed minority group in the decades around 1600, was by necessity inconspicuous when it was new, and it was wholly shunned by the established church. Only in more tolerant times has it risen to the surface, to be recognized and loved for its true worth. . . .

. . . William Byrd, if he could hear these performances, would be amazed, for they are not at all what he would have envisaged. In the 1590s, when his Masses were composed, there were no Catholic church choirs in England, and he never imagined them being sung proudly and publicly in cathedrals for all to hear. Few hard facts survive about the kinds of performances Byrd’s Catholic works received in his lifetime, but we can speculate with a fair degree of confidence. In the age of the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder Plot, England’s Roman Catholic community celebrated Mass covertly behind closed doors, taking pains not to be found out and punished or fined. Their secret services took place in rooms hastily converted into chapels, led by priests who led surreptitious lives. If music was used, then it was sung and played by whoever came safely to hand: family members, invited guests and trusted servants. By definition, then, Byrd’s Masses are really chamber music, not choral repertory, and it was never Byrd’s intention that they should be sung in the resonant ambience of a great church by a choir such as that of Westminster Cathedral.

Grand choral polyphony was, however, the stuff of Byrd’s main career; for he lived a double life. In public, Byrd was the towering member of Queen Elizabeth’s chapel royal, a choir that served monarch, court, and the swarm of overseas diplomats and visitors that mingled with them. This choir typically sang in the grand chapels of the queen’s palaces, such as Westminster, Greenwich and Richmond, and on occasions it also sang in more public places, even out of doors. It was for this choir, wearing his public hat as England’s foremost musician, that Byrd sang, composed and played the organ, and it was therefore with the Chapel Royal in mind that Byrd composed his Great Service, a work of the greatest splendour, setting texts from the Book of Common Prayer for use at Mattins, Eucharist and Evensong. But this was only one side of Byrd’s life. In private, he moved in the network of England’s Catholic community, whose religious beliefs he shared, and for whom he also wrote music—initially motets, but latterly also works for liturgical use, such as the three Masses and, later, the impressive cycle called Gradualia. As Byrd grew older his allegiances shifted, and he spent less time in London and more time with the Catholics in rural Essex, where he set up home. But his retreat never became a rift. Up to his death Byrd remained loyal to his queen
[and king; Byrd died during the reign of James I] and his country, and he was tolerated at court even by those who knew of his double life. . . .

Read the rest here. The cover art is described thusly: The Madonna delle Ombre (1450, detail) by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) (c1387-1455) Museo di San Marco dell'Angelico, Florence / Bridgeman Art Library, London

English Recusant Composers in StAR


I mentioned that I would share the cover of the September/October issue of the Saint Austin Review as soon as it was available, and here it is!

But I can do even more, because Joseph Pearce (I presume) chose my article as the one to represent the issue on the StAR website and you may read the article here! What a nice surprise (to me at least).

BTW, please see my updated Other Publications tab.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Baring, Over-Bearing, and Past Bearing


Frank Weathers offers some notes on Maurice Baring, friend of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc:

What? There is a third person in the Chesterbelloc? George Bernard Shaw forgot someone? Exactly, dear reader.

See the portrait above? It’s by Sir James Gunn, and it is entitled, “The Conversation Piece.” Surely you recognize the heavyset fellow on the left, and the irascible looking fellow on the right. But who is the tall guy in the center? That would be Maurice Baring, the friend G.B. Shaw forgot.

It is said that when Chesterton saw the finished painting he quipped, “Baring, over-bearing, and past-bearing.” Joseph Pearce wrote at length about this friendship in his excellent book, Literary Converts. There is also a little article written by Pearce about him at Catholic Authors.

Baring wrote a fascinating historical novel about the English Reformation, Robert Peckham. I reviewed it for Catholicfiction.net. In contrast to the novels by Robert Hugh Benson, Baring daringly writes about a man who chooses neither to conform to the established church or to stand boldly against it, and suffers for his lack of action:

Baring offers a third way—also a way of trouble and suffering. Robert Peckham does not choose; as he admits at the end, he fails to speak and act when he should and as his conscience compels him: “I was most blameworthy . . . in my relations with my father. I never told him the truth; not the whole truth. . . . I never dared tell him that I saw full well that the consequence of his acts [supporting whatever changes in religious policy Henry VIII and his successors made] would be to bring about the contrary of what he desired and the ruin of all he held most dear” (p. 278). Fearing his father, who places loyalty to the monarch above family or Church, Peckham can never take the action he should to speak up, to protest, to resist.

Peckham’s father Edmund had determined that the best way to be a good Catholic was to be a good Englishman—and particularly to fulfill the oath of loyalty he made to Henry VIII to support each of his heirs without question.  Edmund Peckham thus accepts all the religious changes, including iconoclasm, suppression of the Holy Mass, heresy trials, burnings at the stake, etc.  Whatever Robert does say to his father cannot persuade him to change. Perhaps fortunately, Edmund Peckham dies at the beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign: he can still have a Catholic priest at his deathbed, but the funeral service must be according to the Book of Common Prayer.

Robert Peckham also fails in his relationships with both his wife and the woman he should have married; again because he does not speak when he should. Baring’s great achievement in this novel—which is surely aided by his choice of first person narration—is that he keeps the reader fascinated by the relationships and relative lack of action in Peckham’s life.

Robert Peckham offers us a lesson: we must choose; we must choose either life or death; either the City of God or the City of Man—and if we do not choose rightly, or if we try to avoid the choice God places before us, we will not know peace merely by avoiding conflict and confrontation. In every age, Catholic Christians have faced momentous choices. Catholics in sixteenth century England faced the great choice of loving Jesus Christ and His Church more than life itself, suffering fines, imprisonment, torture, and death. Baring structured this novel, about a fictional “Robert Peckham” who avoids that choice, around the epitaph of the real Robert Peckham in the Church of St. Gregory the Great on the Caelian Hill in Rome:

Here lies Robert Peckham, Englishman and Catholic, who after England’s break with the Church, left England because he could not live in his country without the Faith and, having come to Rome, died there because he could not live apart from his country.


As Weathers notes, Maurice Baring did choose: he became a Catholic, received into the Church at the Brompton Oratory: he said of his conversion that it was "the only action in my life which I am quite certain I have never regretted.”

Robert Peckham certainly had many regrets:

I was rash when I should have been timid, and timid when I should have been bold. . . .I should never have left England. I should have remained and resisted, or died in the attempt.