Monday, September 1, 2014

WWI Poet, Siegfried Sassoon, RIP

Siegfried Sassoon, the great World War I poet and Catholic convert, died on September 1, 1967--he was born on September 8, 1886, so he almost made it to his 81st birthday. There is a new biography of the poet, heroic soldier, novelist, and pacifist, published by The Overlook Press:

Published to coincide with the centennial of the outbreak of the First World War, Siegfried Sassoon is the first complete biography of arguably the greatest English-language war poet. Hailed as “invaluable” by the Times and “thorough and perceptive” by the Observer, Siegfried Sassoon encompasses the poet’s complete life and works, from his patriotic youth that led him to the frontline, to the formation of his anti-war convictions, great literary friendships, and flamboyant love affairs. Written by biographer and scholar Jean Moorcroft Wilson, this single-volume opus also includes never-before-published poems that have only just come to light. With over a decade’s research, and unparalleled access to Sassoon’s private correspondence, Wilson presents the complete portrait, both elegant and heartfelt, of an extraordinary man, and an extraordinary poet.

“Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin they think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.” —Siegfried Sassoon

Jean Moorcroft Wilson lectures in English Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is married to Virginia Woolfe's nephew, with whom she runs a publishing house. She is considered the foremost expert in Siegfried Sassoon.


He became a Catholic in 1957, and Joseph Pearce provides some background to his conversion:

The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima inspired Sassoon to the same heights of horrified creativity as it had inspired Sitwell in the composition of her "three poems of the Atomic Age" . . .  Sassoon's "Litany of the Lost" employed resonant religious imagery as a counterpoint to the post-war pessimism and alienation engendered by the descent from world war to Cold War. As with the previous war, the world had emerged from the nightmare of conflict into the desert of despair, transforming "wasteland" to nuclear waste. 

The ending of the second of the century's global conflagrations marked the beginning of Sassoon's final approach to the Catholic faith. Influenced to a degree by Catholic friends such as Ronald Knox and Hilaire Belloc, but to a far greater degree by the experience of his own life, he was received into the Church in September 1957, shortly after his 71st birthday. After a lifetime of mystical searching he had finally found his way Home.
 

During his first Lent as a Catholic, Sassoon wrote "Lenten Illuminations," a candid account of his conversion which invites obvious comparisons with T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday." The last decade of his life, like the last decades of the Rosary he came to love, was a quiet meditation on the glorious mysteries of faith. As ever, his meditations were expressed in memorable verse, particularly in the peaceful mysticism of "A Prayer at Pentecost," "Arbor Vitae," and "A Prayer in Old Age."
 

In 1960 Sassoon selected 30 of his poems for a volume entitled
The Path to Peace, which was essentially an autobiography in verse. From the earliest sonnets of his youth to the religious poetry of his last years, Sassoon's intensely personal and introspective verse offered a sublime reflection of a life's journey in pursuit of truth. These, and not his diaries, his letters, or his prose, are the precious jewels of enlightenment that point to the soul within the man.

UPDATE: I looked at this biography in our local B&N bookstore yesterday: the author notes that Sassoon's conversion made him very happy for the rest of his life. He encountered some of the usual misunderstanding and anti-Catholic response to his conversion, but also made some great new contacts, particularly at Stanbrook Abbey. Joining the Catholic Church transformed Sassoon's moral and spiritual life.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

G.K. Chesterton on John Bunyan


John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim's Progress, died on August 31, 1688. G.K. Chesterton wrote an introduction to Bunyan's great allegory:

John Bunyan was born in 1628, probably in the November of that year, since his baptism followed in that month. His birthplace was the village of Elsow, just outside Bedford. His family was a good example of a thing of which there are many examples, and of which there cannot be too many-- a sort of plebian aristocracy, plain and insignificant in name and handicraft, but rooted in the land like a royal dukedom. The notion that Bunyan's origin lies amid vagrant tinkers is an error; it lies amid highly respectable tinkers, whose presence can be traced for generations and who had left such evidences as a whole farm which had always been called "Bonyon's End." Bunyan's grandfather, Thomas Bunyan, was a small tradesman or "chapman" who died in 1641; of his father less is known, beyond the fact that he had three wives, of whom the second was the mother of John Bunyan, and the third was to all appearance his worst enemy.

He has left on record himself that his youth was riotous, but to judge by the specimens which he gives it would have seemed to boast only a very mild and clumsy sort of rioting. In all human probability he was really only a course and awkward boy, sometimes dropping in among dubious companions, far more often drifting off sulkily by himself. He served in early life in the army, no uncommon episode in the careers of that kind of sullen wastrel. Some dispute has arisen, not indeed about the actuality of his military service, but about the side on which he served in the Civil War. General internal evidence, however, as well as enormous moral probability, allot him to the Parliamentarian camp.

In the year of the Restoration he was arrested for having preached to unlawful assemblies, and was imprisoned in Bedford Gaol for twelve years. In this sudden isolation, shut out from effective acting or speaking, it occurred to him systematically to write, and he opened the first window on the dark and amazing drama which had been going on within his seemingly dull personality while he ran about the fields to be away from his stepmother or leaned on his pike by the watch fires of the great war.

He wrote "Grace abounding to the Worst of Sinners" perhaps the most powerful work ever wrought by genius with the materials of morbidity. Certainly no Parisian decadent, no Swinburnian poet, no Beardsleyian artist so completely contrived to give disease the vigor of health. It is the masterpiece of an element which has a right to have a masterpiece, since it is a living and recurring element-- the element of the dark and hysterical soul of early youth. It is the epic of the pessimism of boyhood.

During the same period he wrote a less-known work called "The Holy City." He was released in 1672, but as he refused to abandon his preaching, which was now powerful and popular, he was flung back again into prison in 1675. It was during this second detention that he wrote the work which has set him finally among the English immortals, "The Pilgrim's Progress." Many controversies have raged as to whether he owed the allegorical type of narrative to anything before him, but all the allegories mentioned in this connection are almost as unlike "The Pilgrim's Progress" as they are unlike "Vanity Fair." The Elstow tinker produced an original thing, if an original thing was ever produced. Nothing stronger can be said of it than that it dwarfs altogether into insignificance "Grace Abounding" published before it, and "The Holy War," published afterwards. Bunyan, released from prison, died quietly in 1688.


In his collection of essays The Thing (which we are reading in the Wichita branch of the American Chesterton Society), Chesterton writes "On Two Allegories"--Bunyan's in The Pilgrim's Progress and Dante's in The Divine Comedy, comparing and contrasting their allegories and the theologies on which they are based:

Mr. James Douglas, who once presented himself to me as a representative of Protestant truth, and who is certainly a representative of Protestant tradition, answered Mr. Alfred Noyes in terms very typical of the present state of that tradition. He said that we should salute Bunyan's living literary genius, and not bother our heads about Bunyan's obsolete theology. Then he added the comparison which seems to me so thought-provoking: that this is after all what we do, when we admire Dante's genius and not HIS obsolete theology.  Now there is a distinction to be made here; if the whole modern mind is to realize at all where it stands. If I say that Bunyan's theology IS obsolete, but Dante's theology is NOT obsolete--then I know the features of my friend Mr. Douglas will be wreathed in a refined smile of superiority and scorn. He will say that I am a Papist and therefore of course I think the Papist dogmatism living.  But the point is that he is a Protestant and he thinks the Protestant dogmatism dead. I do at least defend the Catholic theory because it can be defended. The Puritans would presumably be defending the Puritan theory--if it could be defended.  The point is that it is dead for them as much as for us.  It is not merely that Mr. Noyes demands the disappearance of a disfigurement; it is that Mr. Douglas says it cannot be a disfigurement because it has already disappeared. Now the Thomist philosophy, on which Dante based his poetry has not disappeared.  It is not a question of faith but of fact; anybody who knows Paris or Oxford, or the worlds where such things are discussed, will tell you that it has not disappeared. All sorts of people, including those who do not believe in it, refer to it and argue against it on equal terms.

I do not believe, for a fact, that modern men so discuss the seventeenth century sectarianism.  Had I the privilege of passing a few days with Mr. Douglas and his young lions of the DAILY EXPRESS, I doubt not that we should discuss and differ about many things. But I do rather doubt whether Mr. Douglas would every now and again cry out, as with a crow of pure delight "Oh, I must read you this charming little bit from Calvin."  I do rather doubt whether his young journalists are joyously capping each other's quotations from Toplady's sermons on Calvinism.  But eager young men do still quote Aquinas, just as they still quote Aristotle. I have heard them at it.  And certain ideas are flying about, even in the original prose of St. Thomas, as well as in the poetry of Dante--or, for that matter, of Donne.

The case of Bunyan is really the opposite of the case of Dante. In Dante the abstract theory still illuminates the poetry; the ideas enlighten even where the images are dark. In Bunyan it is the human facts and figures that are bright; while the spiritual background is not only dark in spirit, but blackened by time and change.  Of course it is true enough that in Dante the mere images are immensely imaginative. It is also true that in one sense some of them are obsolete; in the sense that the incidents are obsolete and the personal judgment merely personal.  Nobody will ever forget how there came through the infernal twilight the figure of that insolent troubadour, carrying his own head aloft in his hand like a lantern to light his way. Everybody knows that such an image is poetically true to certain terrible truths about the unnatural violence of intellectual pride. But as to whether anybody has any business to say that Bertrand de Born is damned, the obvious answer is No. Dante knew no more about it than I do:  only he cared more about it; and his personal quarrel is an obsolete quarrel.  But that sort of thing is not Dante's theology, let alone Catholic theology.

In a word; so far from his theology being obsolete, it would be much truer to say that everything is obsolete except his theology. That he did not happen to like a particular Southern gentleman is obsolete; but that was at most a private fancy, in demonology rather than theology.  We come to theology when we come to theism. And if anybody will read the passage in which Dante grapples with the gigantic problem of describing the Beatific Vision, he will find it is uplifted into another world of ideas from the successful entry to the Golden City at the end of the Pilgrim's Progress. It is a Thought; which a thinker, especially a genuine freethinker, is always free to go on thinking.  The images of Dante are not to be worshipped, any more than any other images. But there is an idea behind all images; and it is before that, in the last lines of the Paradiso, that the spirit of the poet seems first to soar like an eagle and then to fall like a stone.

There is nothing in this comparison that reflects on the genius and genuineness of Bunyan in his own line or class; but it does serve to put him in his own class.  I think there was something to be said for the vigorous denunciation of Mr. Noyes; but no such denunciation is involved in this distinction. On the contrary, it would be easy to draw the same distinction between two men both at the very top of all literary achievement. It would be true to say, I think, that those who most enjoy reading Homer care more about an eternal humanity than an ephemeral mythology.  The reader of Homer cares more about men than about gods.  So, as far as one can guess, does Homer. It is true that if those curious and capricious Olympians did between them make up a religion, it is now a dead religion. It is the human Hector who so died that he will never die. But we should remonstrate with a critic who, after successfully proving this about Homer, should go on to prove it about Plato. We should protest if he said that the only interest of the Platonic Dialogues to-day is in their playful asides and very lively local colour, in the gay and graceful picture of Greek life; but that nobody troubles nowadays about the obsolete philosophy of Plato. We should point out that there is no truth in the comparison; and that if anything the case is all the other way. Plato's philosophy will be important as long as there is philosophy; and Dante's religion will be important as long as there is religion. Above all it will be important as long as there is that lucid and serene sort of religion that is most in touch with philosophy. Nobody will say that the theology of the Baptist tinker is in that sense serene or even lucid; on many points it necessarily remains obscure. The reason is that such religion does not do what philosophy does; it does not begin at the beginning.  In the matter of mere chronological order, it is true that the pilgrimage of Dante and that of Bunyan both end in the Celestial City.  But it is in a very different sense that the pilgrimage of Bunyan begins in the City of Destruction. The mind of Dante, like that of his master St. Thomas, really begins as well as ends in the City of Creation.  It begins as well as ends in the burning focus in which all things began.  He sees his series from the right end, though he then begins it at the wrong end. But it is the whole point of a personal work like THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS that it does begin with a man's own private sins and private panic about them.  This intense individualism gives it great force; but it cannot in the nature of things give it great breadth and range. Heaven is haven; but the wanderer has not many other thoughts about it except that it is haven.  It is typical of the two methods, each of them very real in its way, that Dante could write a whole volume, one-third of his gigantic epic, describing the things of Heaven; whereas in the case of Bunyan, as the gates of Heaven open the book itself closes.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Many Martyrs Today: Three Special Women and Several Brave Men

There are really two events to remember today. One is the execution of six Catholics--one laywoman, four laymen and one priest--in London as part of the English government's reaction to the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada. The other is the memorial of three female English Catholic martyrs, who were canonized among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970, but have this special day all to themselves on the liturgical calendar of the Dioceses of England and Wales.

St. Margaret Clitheroe and St. Anne Line share the date of St. Margaret Ward's execution on August 30, 1588--she was part of a second group of martyrs after the failure of the Spanish Armada. She is a virgin martyr: she helped Father William Watson escape from Bridewell Prison. She visited him often enough that the jailer finally allowed her to enter without searching her, so she was able to smuggle in a rope. Father Watson injured himself unfortunately while escaping and was unable to retrieve the rope. Margaret found John Roche to help the injured priest once out of prison and both she and John were arrested; John because he had exchanged clothing with the priest and Margaret because the jailer figured out that she was the last person to visit Father Watson before he escaped. She was held in chains, hung up her hands and scourged as the authorities attempted to force her to tell them where Father Watson went after escaping Bridewell prison. She refused, even though she acknowledged that she helped him. Offered a pardon for attending Church of England services, she again refused. The torture inflicted upon her left her partially paralyzed and she had to be carried to Tyburn for hanging.

Also martyred that day were Blessed John Roche (who had assisted Margaret Ward in the escape of Father William Watson), three other laymen who had assisted priests, Blesseds Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley, and one priest, Blessed Richard Leigh. The regime was certainly sending a message about laity who assisted Catholic priests.

The article for Blessed Richard Leigh from the Catholic Encyclopedia offers some details about him and the other laymen executed that day:

English martyr, born in Cambridgeshire about 1561; died at Tyburn, 30 August, 1588. Ordained priest at Rome in February, 1586-7, he came on the mission the same year, was arrested in London, and banished. Returning he was committed to the Tower in June 1588, and was condemned at the Old Bailey for being a priest. With him suffered four laymen and a lady . . . Edward Shelley of Warminghurst, Sussex, and East Smithfield, London (son of Edward Shelley, of Warminghurst, a Master of the Household of the sovereign, and the settlor in "Shelley's case", and Joan, daughter of Paul Eden, of Penshurst, Kent), aged 50 or 60, who was already in the Clink for his religion in April, 1584 was condemned for keeping a book called "My Lord Leicester's Commonwealth" and for having assisted the [Blessed] William Dean [who had been executed on August 28, 1588]. He was apparently uncle by marriage to Benjamin Norton, afterwards one of the seven vicars of Dr. Richard Smith. Richard Martin, of Shropshire, was condemned for being in the company of the Ven. Robert Morton and paying sixpence for his supper. Richard Lloyd, better known as Flower (alias Fludd, alias Graye), a native of the Diocese of Bangor (Wales), aged about 21, younger brother of Father Owen Lloyd was condemned for entertaining a priest named William Horner, alias Forrest. John Roche (alias Neele), an Irish serving-man, and Margaret Ward, gentlewoman of Cheshire, were condemned for having assisted a priest named William Watson to escape from Bridewell. 

St. Margaret Clitherow and St. Anne Line also suffered martyrdom because they protected priests from discovery during England's recusant era. May these three brave Catholic women martyrs--and all the brave men who suffered this day in 1588-- inspire us!

Waugh's Interviews


(Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy)

Francis Philips writes about Evelyn Waugh in The Catholic Herald, referring to a televised interview he gave in 1960:

Then I came across Fr Tim Finigan’s blog last year about Evelyn Waugh’s “Face to Face” interview with John Freeman in 1960. Never having watched this encounter before, I found it very revealing of the man who could write the mordant satire referred to above. Waugh smiled from time to time as he (briefly) explained a point, but only with his lips; his eyes remained cold, watchful, wary – indicative, as Freeman must have realised, of a gifted, complex and deeply private man who understood his own nature and failings and felt not the slightest desire to share this knowledge with the BBC.

Freeman was a model of patient, self-effacing and sensitive enquiry; a disembodied voice focused on his subject and unvaryingly courteous, even though Waugh refused to expand on any tentative avenues of enquiry. Asked whether he missed the life of the city (Waugh was then living at Combe Flory House in Somerset), he replied “I live in the country as I like to be alone”, indicating that further questions in this line would not be approved. . . .

 There were no revelations, confessions, psychologising or the kind of celebrity chumminess that has characterised interviews in a later age. When Freeman tried to probe him on his conversion, Waugh refused to be drawn; he had realised that “Catholicism was Christianity” at the age of 16, had ignored religion for the next decade and reprimanded Freeman for suggesting that his faith might have brought him comfort or solace: “It isn’t a lucky dip”, he replied, adding in an aside that was not picked up on, that it was “the essence”.

Waugh converted in 1930. In 1949 he explained in an interview that his conversion followed his realization that life was “unintelligible and unendurable without God.” Doubtless, if Freeman had quoted this on “Face to Face” Waugh would have declined to expand. But it indicates much about the intellectual clarity and emotional intensity with which he looked at life.


Julian Jebb interviewed Evelyn Waugh for The Paris Review in 1962, and seemed to have about the same luck, although there are some gems:

INTERVIEWER
It is evident that you reverence the authority of established institutions—the Catholic Church and the army. Would you agree that on one level both Brideshead Revisited and the army trilogy were celebrations of this reverence?
 
WAUGH
No, certainly not. I reverence the Catholic Church because it is true, not because it is established or an institution. Men at Arms was a kind of uncelebration, a history of Guy Crouchback's disillusion with the army. Guy has old-fashioned ideas of honor and illusions of chivalry; we see these being used up and destroyed by his encounters with the realities of army life.
 
INTERVIEWER
Would you say that there was any direct moral to the army trilogy?
 
WAUGH
Yes, I imply that there is a moral purpose, a chance of salvation, in every human life. Do you know the old Protestant hymn which goes: “Once to every man and nation / Comes the moment to decide”? Guy is offered this chance by making himself responsible for the upbringing of Trimmer's child, to see that he is not brought up by his dissolute mother. He is essentially an unselfish character.
 
And this exchange on characters in fiction:
 
INTERVIEWER
E. M. Forster has spoken of “flat characters” and “round characters”; if you recognize this distinction, would you agree that you created no “round” characters until A Handful of Dust?
 
WAUGH
All fictional characters are flat. A writer can give an illusion of depth by giving an apparently stereoscopic view of a character—seeing him from two vantage points; all a writer can do is give more or less information about a character, not information of a different order. . . .But look, I think that your questions are dealing too much with the creation of character and not enough with the technique of writing. I regard writing not as investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed. I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech, and events that interest me.
 
INTERVIEWER
Does this mean that you continually refine and experiment?
 
WAUGH
Experiment? God forbid! Look at the results of experiment in the case of a writer like Joyce. He started off writing very well, then you can watch him going mad with vanity. He ends up a lunatic.

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.