Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May the Fourth Be With You, on the Third

Anna Mitchell and I will discuss the Feast of the Martyrs of England and Wales this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show during the first of the local hours on Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati--then she will air the segment during the national EWTN on the Feast itself (in the dioceses of England). Today, I'll be on at 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central; tomorrow sometime (TBD) between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. Eastern and 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. Central.

I've often wondered why we don't celebrate this Feast, even as a Memorial or optional memorial in the USA. After all, we remember the great groups of martyrs in Mexico, in Japan, in China, in Korea, etc. Why don't we celebrate St. John Houghton and Companions on May 4 as we celebrate St. Charles Lwanga and Companions on June 3?

I wonder to whom I would suggest this addition to the Calendar in the USA?

I will post more about this feast tomorrow: May the Fourth be with you!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Shakespeare and Aemilia Bassano Lanier

Sith Cynthia is ascended to that rest
Of endlesse joy and true Eternitie,
That glorious place that cannot be exprest
By any wight clad in mortalitie,
In her almightie love so highly blest,
And crown'd with everlasting Sov'raigntie;
Where Saints and Angells do attend her Throne,
And she gives glorie unto God alone.
To thee great Countesse now I will applie
My Pen, to write thy never dying fame;
That when to Heav'n thy blessed Soule shall flie,.
These lines on earth record thy reverend name:
And to this taske I meane my Muse to tie,
Though wanting skill I shall but purchase blame:
Pardon (deere Ladie) want of womans wit
To pen thy praise, when few can equall it.
And pardon (Madame) though I do not write
Those praisefull lines of that delightfull place,

As you commaunded me in that faire night,
When shining Phoebe gave so great a grace,
Presenting Paradice to your sweet sight,
Unfolding all the beauty of her face
With pleasant groves, hills, walks and stately trees,
Which pleasures with retired minds agrees.

(Opening lines of  Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum by Aemilia Bassano Lanier)

Mary Sharratt, author of Illuminations and Daughters of the Witching Hill (both of which I've read and reviewed) has a new novel out, published during this year's Shakespeare celebrations:

THE DARK LADY’S MASK is the story of Aemilia Bassano Lanier (1569–1645), the first professional woman poet in Renaissance England, and her collaboration—and star-crossed love affair—with William Shakespeare, as his Dark Lady.

Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they and begin to secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country—and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later he publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

THE DARK LADY’S MASK gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

Her website includes an excerpt from the novel, a reader's guide, and an interview. Nancy Bilyeau also interviews her here. In responding to a question about suspense in the novel, Sharratt states:

There’s so much about William Shakespeare’s life that we just don’t know—his enigmatic “lost years,” etc. Though the greatest corpus of literature in the English language has his name on it, the documented facts about Shakespeare as a man are so sparse. Some of we do know about him seems so riddling. In his will, why doesn’t he mention any books or papers? What happened to his unpublished manuscripts after he died? These gaps and omissions naturally lend themselves to suspense and speculation.

The same goes with Aemilia Bassano Lanier. Her life feels so rife with contradiction. The daughter of a secret Jew, she founded her literary reputation by writing about the passion of Christ. She was educated by Susan Bertie, a devout Protestant, and yet instead of marrying respectably and living a life considered “virtuous,” young Aemilia plunged herself into a long, heady affair with Henry Carey, a man more than twice her age. Then, after years of unhappy marriage, poverty, and decline, how did she find the inspiration, in midlife, to become such a ground-breaking poet?

Trying to connect the disparate threads of her life and to weave them together with Shakespeare’s created the tension and suspense.

Todays's Christian Martyrs

Perhaps you saw the news reports about the Trevi Fountain being dyed red last week in honor of the Christian martyrs suffering around the world. Nina Shea explains the background in First Things:

The popular fountain is decidedly not Christian-themed and historically seems to have inspired only frivolity. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need and a coalition of other Catholic Italian non-governmental organizations that are co-sponsoring this performance art are counting on this unlikely juxtaposition. They hope that the coin tossing, selfie-taking throngs of tourists, as the frivolous Western public at large, will be given pause, if only briefly, to contemplate the surging pattern of mass murder of Christians purely for reasons of faith, largely by Islamists.

This threat has become existential for various Christian communities in Asia and Africa. In northern Nigeria, worshippers are slaughtered in their churches and in their living rooms. In Kenya, Christians have been hunted out and killed for their religion in their university dorm rooms, at shopping malls, and on public buses. In Libya, it was the Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian Christian migrants who were singled out and beheaded. In Pakistan, Christian families were blown up while celebrating Easter in a park. In Yemen last month, the nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity were tied up, shot to death and mutilated; their staff was murdered and their priest, the last surviving Christian in the port city of Aden, was kidnapped. For the past three days, at the outset of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the Armenian Christian quarter in Aleppo has come under jihadi siege though there are no military installations there—only defenseless civilians.

Read the rest there.

As we near the Feast of the Martyrs of England and Wales in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, I can't help but think of how powerless Catholics in England, Wales, Ireland, and then on the Continent felt when seeing or hearing of martyrs suffering at that time. We may feel the same way, wondering what we can do. Now we can give humanitarian aid to those in exile and suffering, and we can always pray for the martyrs as witnesses for Jesus, admire them, and even hope to imitate them in their devotion and faith, even if "not to the point of shedding blood." (Hebrews 12:4)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Scotland and Catholic Revival

Once a name pops up, it keeps popping up! Here's George Mackay Brown again, this time in an article by Tracey Rowland for The Catholic World Report:

On a recent trip to Scotland Bishop Gilbert of Aberdeen asked me whether I was familiar with the Scottish writer George Mackay Brown. I had to confess that I had never heard of him. A few days later I was rummaging through second-hand book stores searching for everything and anything by Mackay Brown.

Bishop Gilbert had got me hooked by suggesting I read Mackay Brown’s essay “The Treading of Grapes,” which takes the form of three homilies on the Wedding Feast of Cana. One is delivered in 1788 by a classically Calvinist Presbyterian minister, down on every kind of human enjoyment from wine to party dresses. He uses the story of Cana to berate his flock about spending too much money on their wives’ wardrobes, and drinking too much at weddings. He compared their enjoyment of ale to piglets sucking on the teats of a sow.
The second homily is delivered in the 20th century by a modern liberal Protestant minister, who uses the homily to explain that Jesus didn’t really turn water into wine. There was no miracle. Jesus was simply a good organizer who saw to it behind the scenes that supplies were sufficient. 

Finally, one is treated to a homily by a Catholic priest delivered in 1548. Rather than berating people as piglets, or denying the reality of miracles, the priest tells his congregation that at the wedding feast of the Lamb they will all be princes. Therefore, he says, I will call you Olaf the Fisherman and Jock the Crofter no longer, but I will call you by the name the Creator will call you on the last day—princes! Prince Olaf! Prince Jock!, et cetera.

Professor Tracey Rowland is Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne) and a member of the International Theological Commission.. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from Cambridge University and her Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. She is the author of Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (2003),Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (2008) and Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010).

Because of her interest in Pope Benedict, she knows how he likes cats (he met the Oratorian cat in Birmingham during his 2010 visit to England and Scotland) and so she noted the popularity of the Pluscarden Abbey cat:

An unanticipated surprise was my discovery of Baxter, the monastery cat, who is named after the soup factory in the nearby town. He is famous. Baxter memorabilia brings in more money at the gift shop than sales of any other item, including Rosary beads, books, soap, and medicinal products. Baxter cards, calendars, and coffee-table booklets outsell everything. He is at his best with the many families who visit during the summer months. He meets and greets and plays with the children. Even though he has only half a tail, he is not shy or self-conscious.

I was pleased to hear that the monastery had a pro-cat policy. I said that I thought Pope Benedict would strongly approve, and I was told that Pope Benedict knows about Baxter.

Pluscarden's on-line gift shop isn't open now, but you can see a photo of Baxter on the 2016 calendar (May). I'm not going to get a cat (can't breath around one) but I guess I'd better get some books by George Mackay Brown!

Water Music for Rainy Weather

We went to daily Mass on Thursday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Wichita, then drove to Delano for a delicious lunch at La Galette of quiche, salad, chicken and rice soup, and a shared slice of cake and cup of coffee. Then we checked the classical music bins at Spektrum Muzik and purchased this recording of Handel's Water Music:

I would not immediately associate Pierre Boulez with Handel, but with the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra, he creates a vibrant and spirited modern instrument performance (with harpsichord continuo). You can hear it on youtube but that recording has some pops that our very good plus LP does not. The LP was released in 1966 during the Teresa Sterne years at Nonesuch Records and the cover art design was by William S. Harvey.

Sterne was fired by Warner Communications in 1979; composers and artists protested to no avail. Teresa Sterne died in 2000 of "Lou Gehrig's" Disease; she was 73 years old. May she rest in peace. Her NYT obit notes:

As the director of Nonesuch Records from 1965 through 1979, Ms. Sterne turned a small budget label into one of the most adventurous companies in the recording business. When she was invited to take charge of Nonesuch, the label was a subsidiary of the pop-oriented and profitable Elektra Records. Nonesuch's business had consisted mostly of acquiring the rights to existing recordings of Baroque music by European ensembles and reissuing them at budget prices in the United States. . . .

At Nonesuch she brought attention to areas of music neglected by the major labels, particularly contemporary music and American vernacular music. She championed American composers like George Crumb, Elliott Carter, Morton Subotnick, Charles Wuorinen and Donald Martino, not just recording their works but commissioning them, an unusual move for the leader of a record company. She also issued important recordings of lesser-known works by Schoenberg, Busoni, Stravinsky and other major figures. . . .

She was also in the forefront of the early instrument movement in Baroque and Renaissance repertory. And under her leadership, Nonesuch's Explorer series introduced music from Bali, India, Peru and other countries to a wider audience. Ms. Sterne believed that every record she produced should have a purpose, and she involved herself with everything, from the packaging to the liner notes.

We listened to Handel's Water Music during a rainstorm Friday afternoon, enjoying, as usual, those fine liner notes, this time written by Bernard Jacobson, which included a discussion of "the 'gap' that has allegedly developed between the enormous musical riches available to the 20th-century public and the actual tastes and interests of most that public. A mere five per cent, if so many, they reflect, make any real use of the cultural opportunities before them; and this is interpreted as evidence that public taste has seriously deteriorated. When we contrast the popular acclaim with which great composers of the 18th century like Handel were greeted, the melancholy picture seems complete."

Jacobson then goes on to note that of course, the public to which such riches were available in the 18th century was very small and now many more in the public have access to them: "Today it is within the power of most inhabitants of the Western world to go to an occasional concert, buy as occasional record, or at least hear music now and then on the radio. Certainly there are factors--environmental, educational, and still, regrettably, economic--which militate against the exercise of this power . . ." How often have you read the word "militate" in the liner notes of a record?

Fortunately, Nonesuch honored Teresa Sterne's contributions to Nonesuch in the 1960's and 1970's, and her own career as a concert pianist and prodigy, with a two disc set in 2000 before she died:

At the tender age of four Teresa Sterne declared that Bach was her "sweetheart." Born into a musical family in Brooklyn in 1927, Sterne’s mother, a professional cellist who abandoned her career to devote herself to her daughter’s artistic development, and her uncle, a distinguished violinist, helped guide Sterne to fully realize her natural talents. At the age of 12, Teresa Sterne made a most auspicious performance debut, appearing with the NBC Symphony and the New York Philharmonic Symphony (the two major orchestras in New York at that time) in her first two public appearances. . .

Sterne’s contribution to the field of music, both old and new, while as a performer herself and as a skilled producer and label executive, is evidenced in the release of Teresa Sterne: A Portrait. It is a testament to her personal and professional integrity that such a diverse body of repertoire, all performed at such a high level, could be collected in one place, and ultimately under one name.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Opus Anglicanum (But Catholic, NOT Anglican!)

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has announced, and local media are covering, an exhibition of English Medieval Embroidery opening this October:

Explore a selection of the most outstanding examples of English Medieval embroidery. Featuring surviving examples of exquisite craftsmanship, this exhibition will focus on the artistic skill of the makers and the world in which they were created.

See the website for examples of the works to be displayed.

The Guardian and The Independent have covered the announcement of the exhibition. From The Guardian:

A golden lion on red silk once thrown over a king’s horse, a pair of gold and silk slippers peeled from the mummified feet of a bishop when his tomb was opened after 600 years and a lute being played by an angel on horseback are being gathered together at the V&A museum – precious survivors of an art form in which England once led the world.

The V&A’s autumn exhibition Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, will be the first in more than half a century devoted to this beautiful embroidery work, coveted by kings and popes – and for the first time in decades, the museum has dared to use Latin in an exhibition title. It means “English work”, and curator Glyn Davies said it demonstates how across Europe, people associated the dazzling skill and luxurious materials with English needle-workers.

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is to exhibit ‘surviving examples of exquisite craftsmanship’ in English Medieval embroidery, encompassing gold, silver and pearl work fit for, and indeed used by, a king.

Artifacts at Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery will include a gold lion-emblazoned silk thrown over a king’s horse and opulent slippers taken from a bishop when his tomb was opened after 600 years.

The Vatican has also provided some pieces on loan, which were commissioned by Pope Innocent IV after he coveted the regal garments being worn by English bishops.

The context that's missing--perhaps assumed--from both of the stories, which seem to be aimed at making sure readers understand the use of Latin in the exhibition title, is that much of this work was created for the celebration of Holy Mass and other Catholic sacraments. I'm sure, from the V&A description, promising the dual focus on the creativity of the English artisans and the "world in which [the works] were created", that the omission will be corrected. An older page about embroidery in England may be accessed here.

Image credit: Wikipedia commons (public domain): "Embroidered bookbinding for the Felbrigge Psalter in couched gold thread and split stitch, likely worked by Anne de Felbrigge, a nun in the convent of Minoresses at Bruisyard, Suffolk, during the latter half of the fourteenth century."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Prisoner of Zenda

Sean Fitzpatrick writes about the great adventure novel, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope for Crisis Magazine:

Rudolf Rassendyll—an indifferent young man who enjoyed his leisure well. Though in excellent training as a horseman, swordsman, and marksman, he bore no desire whatsoever to become the proverbial man of action—until he found himself a man assailed by action, immured in one of the most dangerous and delicate plots imaginable. On an impromptu journey to attend the coronation of the new King of Ruritania, to whom he bears a distant, illegitimate relation, Rassendyll is discovered and swept up by two members of the Royal Cabinet due to an uncanny resemblance he bears with the soon-to-be-crowned King. This curiosity becomes a crucible when the King is suddenly and subtly kidnapped. With the political state of Ruritania hanging in the balance, Rassendyll agrees to undertake the risk of impersonating the King before the entire nation in order to buy the time necessary to rescue the imprisoned monarch from the schemes of Black Michael, the evil Duke of Strelsau.

Thus it runs—a romp of mistaken identity, plot twists, swashbuckling heroism, and high romance with the King’s intended, the beautiful Princess Flavia, with whom, of course, Rassendyll falls madly in love as he woos her in place of the King. Thus it runs with blazing revolvers, ancient castles, woefully grim councils, wonderfully glib speeches, daring souls pulling at brandy flasks, midnight marauding, and one of the most memorable villains of Victorian fiction: the malevolent, murderous Rupert of Hentzau.

Thus it runs, and the running pace is one of the elements that perhaps accounts for the unprecedented popularity of
The Prisoner of Zenda. The plot hurtles on like a horse and is dominated by a sense of time running out.

There are two sound-era motion picture versions of this novel, the later of which is a scene-for-scene recreation in technicolor of the earlier black and white version. The Ronald Colman-Madeleine Carroll version is usually the preferred. But both of them display the beauty and solemnity of the king's coronation in a Catholic cathedral, although the novel adds the tremendous detail that this coronation includes reception of the Holy Eucharist--and Rassendyll is an Englishman (an Anglican):

At last we were at the Cathedral. Its great grey front, embellished with hundreds of statues and boasting a pair of the finest oak doors in Europe, rose for the first time before me, and the sudden sense of my audacity almost overcame me. Everything was in a mist as I dismounted. I saw the Marshal and Sapt dimly, and dimly the throng of gorgeously robed priests who awaited me. And my eyes were still dim as I walked up the great nave, with the pealing of the organ in my ears. I saw nothing of the brilliant throng that filled it, I hardly distinguished the stately figure of the Cardinal as he rose from the archiepiscopal throne to greet me. Two faces only stood out side by side clearly before my eyes-- the face of a girl, pale and lovely, surmounted by a crown of the glorious Elphberg hair (for in a woman it is glorious), and the face of a man, whose full-blooded red cheeks, black hair, and dark deep eyes told me that at last I was in presence of my brother, Black Michael. And when he saw me his red cheeks went pale all in a moment, and his helmet fell with a clatter on the floor. Till that moment I believe that he had not realized that the King was in very truth come to Strelsau.

Of what followed next I remember nothing. I knelt before the altar and the Cardinal anointed my head. Then I rose to my feet, and stretched out my hand and took from him the crown of Ruritania and set it on my head, and I swore the old oath of the King; and (if it were a sin, may it be forgiven me) I received the Holy Sacrament there before them all. Then the great organ pealed out again, the Marshal bade the heralds proclaim me, and Rudolf the Fifth was crowned King; of which imposing ceremony an excellent picture hangs now in my dining-room. The portrait of the King is very good.

In the previous chapter, Rassendyll had received some catechesis:

The cool morning air cleared my head, and I was able to take in all Sapt said to me. He was wonderful. Fritz hardly spoke, riding like a man asleep, but Sapt, without another word for the King, began at once to instruct me most minutely in the history of my past life, of my family, of my tastes, pursuits, weaknesses, friends, companions, and servants. He told me the etiquette of the Ruritanian Court, promising to be constantly at my elbow to point out everybody whom I ought to know, and give me hints with what degree of favour to greet them.

"By the way," he said, "you're a Catholic, I suppose?"

"Not I," I answered.

"Lord, he's a heretic!" groaned Sapt, and forthwith he fell to a rudimentary lesson in the practices and observances of the Romish faith.

"Luckily," said he, "you won't be expected to know much, for the King's notoriously lax and careless about such matters. But you must be as civil as butter to the Cardinal. We hope to win him over, because he and Michael have a standing quarrel about their precedence."

We were by now at the station. Fritz had recovered nerve enough to explain to the astonished station master that the King had changed his plans. The train steamed up. We got into a first-class carriage, and Sapt, leaning back on the cushions, went on with his lesson. I looked at my watch--the King's watch it was, of course. It was just eight.

I remember when I read those passages as a student at Kapaun-Mount Carmel Catholic High School--I was shocked and dismayed!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New Biography of Elizabeth I: UK and US Versions

John Guy, author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and other periods of English history, including studies of Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey, and Thomas a Becket, promotes his new study of the last years of Elizabeth I on his website. He sets out many unique features of Elizabeth: The Last Years, including:

  • Guy steers clear of the myths originating with William Camden's Annales or History of Elizabeth, published between 1615 and 1627 - Camden, for example, air-brushed the brutal torture of Catholics that took place in Elizabeth's later years and promoted the image of a 'benevolent queen' who had rewarded 'those that were wounded and indigent' after the 1588 Armada campaign 'with noble pensions'.
  • Guy dispels the myth of her popularity, exploding the concept of 'Good Queen Bess' to show that this complex character was unpopular even with the men who fought for her, many of whom she left die in the gutters without their wages, or else to beg. Comments such as those to war veterans describing them as 'wandering idle persons of [the] condition of rogues and vagabonds' earned her few fans.
  • Guy counters Lytton Strachey's argument that Elizabeth was in love with Essex, arguing that Essex was partly an accessory, ultimately disposable: 'She was not in love; that could never be. ' Whereas Strachey based his biography Elizabeth and Essex on 'facts' that were nebulous or even wrong, Guy strikes out and gets closer to the truth about the ageing Elizabeth by returning to the original, handwritten letters and documents in the archives rather than by recycling familiar anecdotes culled from unreliable memoirs
  • Most biographers are unaware of the fact that Elizabeth disliked having her portrait painted and may have only sat for her portrait as little as five times. Courtiers as opposed to the queen commissioned portraits as a sign of their loyalty - but these were often copied from previous depictions or occasionally modelled on the queen's bedchamber women wearing her clothes instead of the monarch. The 'Virgin Queen' image was also only introduced later in her life than has been previously thought, not until 1578 - a Victorian misreading of Camden's Annales is responsible for the misconception that she spun this view of herself for propaganda purposes.
  • By returning to original French writings rather than relying on often defective translations, Guy is able to dispel certain misconceptions about Elizabeth's character - for example the idea that she flaunted her sexuality in her choice of dress, disproven by going back to the original writings and rediscovering the correct sixteenth century meanings of words like gorge and √©chancr√©, which shows that in fact Elizabeth favoured Italian and especially Venetian necklines. New documents also throw fresh light on the vexed question of whether Elizabeth really did ever finally designate James VI of Scotland as her successor.

I always find it interesting how publishers market the same book in different countries. Guy's new study of Elizabeth has two different covers: one for the UK (at right) and one for the US (above). I like the UK cover better. Penguin UK is the UK publisher and posts a brief blurb on their site for the book. The Viking blurb for the US is much longer and more detailed:

A groundbreaking reconsideration of our favorite Tudor queen, Elizabeth is an intimate and surprising biography that shows her at the height of her power by the bestselling, Whitbread Award-winning author of Queen of Scots.

Elizabeth was crowned at twenty-five after a tempestuous childhood as a bastard and an outcast, but it was only when she reached fifty and all hopes of a royal marriage were dashed that she began to wield real power in her own right. For twenty-five years she had struggled to assert her authority over advisers who pressed her to marry and settle the succession; now, she was determined not only to reign but also to rule. In this magisterial biography of England’s most ambitious Tudor queen, John Guy introduces us to a woman who is refreshingly unfamiliar: at once powerful and vulnerable, willful and afraid. In these essential and misunderstood forgotten years, Elizabeth confronts challenges at home and abroad: war against the Catholic powers of France and Spain, revolt in Ireland, an economic crisis that triggered riots in the streets of London, and a conspiracy to place her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on her throne. For a while she was smitten by a much younger man, but could she allow herself to act on that passion and still keep her throne?

For the better part of a decade John Guy mined long-overlooked archives, scouring court documents and handwritten letters to sweep away myths and rumors. This prodigious historical detective work has made it possible to reveal for the first time the woman behind the polished veneer: wracked by insecurity, often too anxious to sleep alone, voicing her own distinctive and surprisingly resonant concerns. Guy writes like a dream, and this combination of groundbreaking research and propulsive narrative puts him in a class of his own.

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years is due out May 6, 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

There They Go Again: the Saint or Sinner Choice

It will be a couple of weeks before I'll see the May 2016 issue of the BBC History Magazine at our local Barnes & Noble, but their cover story, by Joanne Paul, has the headline I'm tired of seeing, posing a poor question: "Thomas More: Saint or Sinner?" If it must be answered, it's simple: "Both". The Catholic Church never says that a saint is not a sinner or that a sinner cannot become a saint. Moral perfection is not a requirement, although of course the desire never to be separated from God is necessary for sanctity. 

The subtitle is also interesting: "The real character of Henry VIII's controversial statesman". That second adjective, "controversial", could apply to almost all of Henry VIII's statesmen, Wolsey, Cromwell, Wriothesley, etc. I eagerly await this article by Joanne Paul, who is working on a monograph for Wiley's Polity Classic Thinkers Series and other works considering More as a statesman, according to her website:

Thomas More's works are analysed in history, politics, literature, philosophy and theology departments throughout the world. He remains one of history's most alluring and enigmatic figures - his reputation fiercely debated since the moment of his execution in 1535.

My monograph on More focuses on his place within the history of political and philosophic thought, and will be published as a part of Polity's Classic Thinkers Series, October 2016, coinciding with the quincentary of More's most famous text, Utopia (1516). I have published on Utopia in History Today (April, 2016), and I am currently developing a monograph on Utopia for Palgrave, at the request of the editors.

You can be sure that I'll let you know what I think of this article once I obtain the magazine. In the meantime, I have a little bit of a lull before starting on two projects for June (one article and one presentation), a presentation in July, and one in August--and then a nice break until November, when I'll teach a class at the Regan Catechetical Institute for Catholic teachers in the Diocese of Wichita. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Report on the Second Annual Catholic Culture Conference

Last year I wrote: "The Catholic Culture Conference was a great success in my view, with excellent presenters, a great venue, and wonderful fellowship during the lunch and breaks. Our local chapter of the American Chesterton Society made some good contacts and we hope to gain new members and/or guests at our monthly meetings." I can repeat those comments this year too, after the second annual Catholic Culture Conference, with the addition that I am happy with how my presentation was received Saturday afternoon. Dusty Gates announced that there will be a third annual Catholic Culture Conference next year (that's 2017!--2020 is in sight!) on April 28 and 29, with Monsignor Stuart Sweatland, the President of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas as the keynote speaker--with the specific topic to be announced.

Professor Anthony Esolen gave three talks: one Friday night and two Saturday morning and then headed back to Providence, RI after lunch. Poetry was one of his themes, and he cited a poem of G.K. Chesterton's Friday night, "The Holy of Holies":

‘ELDER father, though thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?

‘Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary.

‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.’

‘God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and Seraphim,
Filling all eternity—
Adonai Elohim.’

In his second lecture, he emphasized the fact that in Dante's Divine Comedy, poetry is not mentioned in the Inferno, and is replaced by prayer and song in the Paradiso, but is included in the Purgatorio. He highlighted these aspects (from the foreword of another translation) of Dante's journey through Purgatory and toward Heaven:

Of the three sections of the poem, only Purgatory happens on the earth, as our lives do, with our feet on the ground, crossing a beach, climbing a mountain. All three parts of the poem are images of our lives, of our life, but there is an intimacy peculiar to the Purgatorio. Here the times of day recur with all the sensations and associations that the hours bring with them, the hours of the world we are living in as we read the poem. Tenderness, affection, poignancy, the enchantment of music, the feeling of the evanescence of the moment in a context beyond time, occur in the Purgatorio as they do in few other places in the poem. And hope, as it is experienced nowhere else in the poem, for there is none in Hell, and Paradise is fulfilment itself. Hope is central to the Purgatorio and is there from the moment we stand on the shore at the foot of the mountain, before the stars fade. To the very top of the mountain hope is mixed with pain, which brings it still closer to the living present. . . .

The Purgatorio is the section of the poem in which poets, poetry, and music recur with fond vividness and intimacy. The meetings between poets — Virgil's with his fellow Mantuan Sordello, over twelve hundred years after Virgil's own life on earth; his meeting with the Roman poet Statius; Dante's with Guido Guinizzelli and with Arnaut Daniel and the singer Casella — are cherished and moving moments. It is worth noting something about the current of poetic tradition that Dante had come to in his youth.

And in his third lecture, Esolen described the three dementias of our current day: fatal errors in category, premise, and logic.

The Spiritual Life Center will probably post video or audio recordings of these presentations. 

I also attended Dusty Gates' presentation on St. George, in which he explored some themes from the Inklings and G.K. Chesterton on true myths, traditions, and fairyland. Matthew Umbarger of Newman University described how rabbis read scripture and interpreted it with a great deal of imagination and creativity to delve deeper into its mysteries--midrash. He gave us an example of Christian midrash, the Gospel of Nicodemus, which depicts the Harrowing of Hell, when Jesus freed the dead from Sheol:

1 And as Satan the prince, and Hell, spoke this together, suddenly there came a voice as of thunder and a spiritual cry: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. When Hell heard that he said unto Satan the prince: Depart from me and go out of mine abode: if thou be a mighty man of war, fight thou against the King of glory. But what hast thou to do with him? And Hell cast Satan forth out of his dwelling. Then said Hell unto his wicked ministers: Shut ye the hard gates of brass and put on them the bars of iron and withstand stoutly, lest we that hold captivity be taken captive.

2 But when all the multitude of the saints heard it, they spake with a voice of rebuking unto Hell: Open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And David cried out, saying: Did I not when I was alive upon earth, foretell unto you: Let them give thanks unto the Lord, even his mercies and his wonders unto the children of men; who hath broken the gates of brass and smitten the bars of iron in sunder? he hath taken them out of the way of their iniquity. And thereafter in like manner Esaias said: Did not I when I was alive upon earth foretell unto you: The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall rise again, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice, for the dew which cometh of the Lord is their healing? And again I said: O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

3 When they heard that of Esaias, all the saints said unto Hell: Open thy gates: now shalt thou be overcome and weak and without strength. And there came a great voice as of thunder, saying: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up ye doors of hell, and the King of glory shall come in. And when Hell saw that they so cried out twice, he said, as if he knew it not: Who is the King of glory? And David answered Hell and said: The words of this cry do I know, for by his spirit I prophesied the same; and now I say unto thee that which I said before: The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, he is the King of glory. And: The Lord looked down from heaven that he might hear the groanings of them that are in fetters and deliver the children of them that have been slain. And now, O thou most foul and stinking Hell, open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And as David spake thus unto Hell, the Lord of majesty appeared in the form of a man and lightened the eternal darkness and brake the bonds that could not be loosed: and the succour of his everlasting might visited us that sat in the deep darkness of our transgressions and in the shadow of death of our sins.

It's apocryphal, of course, but it's the background of  one of the York Mystery Plays and the great reading in the Office for Holy Saturday!