Thursday, December 8, 2016

More's Many Faces? One More Time


Joanne Paul has written a book about Thomas More for the Classic Thinkers series published by Wiley that will be available in just a few days:

Thomas More remains one of the most enigmatic thinkers in history, due in large part to the enduring mysteries surrounding his best-known work, Utopia. He has been variously thought of as a reformer and a conservative, a civic humanist and a devout Christian, a proto-communist and a monarchical absolutist. His work spans contemporary disciplines from history to politics to literature, and his ideas have variously been taken up by seventeenth-century reformers and nineteenth-century communists.

Through a comprehensive treatment of More's writing, from his earliest poetry to his reflections on suffering in the Tower of London, Joanne Paul engages with both the rich variety and some of the fundamental consistencies that run throughout More's works. In particular, Paul highlights More's concern with the destruction of what is held 'in common', whether it be in the commonwealth or in the body of the church. In so doing, she re-establishes More's place in the history of political thought, tracing the reception of his ideas to the present day.

Paul's book serves as an essential foundation for any student encountering More's writing for the first time, as well as providing an innovative reconsideration of the place of his works in the history of ideas.


One of the blurbs, by historian Suzanne Lipscomb, praises the book for having one, united view of More:

"For too long, there have been multiple Mores: Thomas More the 'man for all seasons' has also seemed to be a man of many faces: More's identities as a statesman, humanist, and saint have seemed riven from each other and bafflingly incompatible. In this brilliant, lucid, and pithy account, Joanne Paul reunites More with himself by identifying the central idea that animated his thought and action. This is an original and illuminating work that should be compulsory for any reader of Utopia."

But then, in a post for History Today, Paul seems to divide More again:

2016 is the year of Utopia, marking 500 years since the publication of Thomas More’s influential text. Central to the celebrations is a timely re-evaluation of the man who stands behind the enigmatic masterpiece. More’s reputation has ranged from saintly scholar to sex-crazed zealot, with Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall bringing each of these visions to life, albeit almost 60 years apart. 

It is 500 years since the publication of
Utopia, but it is also 50 years since the release of the Oscar-winning film based on Bolt’s play (first performed in London in 1950). Of course, neither Bolt nor Mantel is entirely accurate; that is what makes their work fiction. What is interesting is what the deviations from historical record in A Man for All Seasons tell us about Bolt’s time. This raises the question: if Bolt’s 1950s needed More the defender of individual conscience, why do we need More the zealous persecutor of heretics?

Bolt's More; Mantel's More; Paul's More; my More; your More: can't we just have one More? Or can't we just accept that Thomas More, like every other human being ever born, is complex and contradictory, both great and fallen, both a success and failure at what he loved and wanted the most? (Well, except for Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who were sinless!)

Does every generation really "get the More it needs" or does someone create a More for his or her own purpose? Instead of looking at the different views of More, shouldn't we just look at More?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What NOT to Read About Newman


My bookish acquaintance, Edward Short, has written a review of a collection of essays written on Receptions of Newman published by OUP late last year. He has certainly persuaded me not to purchase this book (the price would have also swayed my decision, however):

What strikes one initially upon opening Receptions of Newman, a collection of academic essays edited by Dr. Frederick Aquino and Dr. Benjamin King, is that it is dedicated, in part, to Frank Turner, the stridently anti-Catholic author of John Henry Newman The Challenge of Evangelical Religion, which the editors laud for “opening up new historical and philosophical lines of inquiry.” If Hutton and Ker saw admirable integrity in Newman, Turner saw only depravity and imposture. Indeed, for the unaccountably assertive Yale professor, Newman was “a confused schismatic,” who only converted to the Catholic Church to mask his manifold skepticism.

Following suit, the editors begin their introduction by asking, “Was John Henry Newman an agnostic?” The justification they give for inaugurating their volume with this peculiar query does not inspire confidence.

First, Newman’s writings on matters of faith continue to inform the study of theology, philosophy, and history… Second, division over agnosticism show the contradictory ways in which Newman’s readers have understood him… Third, by beginning this introduction with one example among the many subjects on which Newman wrote, the editors want to be clear from the start this this volume is not an exhaustive account of the receptions of his work…
However odd a defense for giving their collection so tendentious a turn, this does at least have the merit of showing readers how the liberal academy currently regards Newman and his legacy. If, after Tract 90, Newman found himself “posted up by the marshal on the buttery-hatch of every College of my University, after the manner of discommoned pastry-cooks, and… denounced as a traitor… against the time-honoured Establishment,” the true Catholic convert is no more welcome today in most of our own colleges and universities. Of course, the false agnostic Newman may be welcome for various purposes, but that is a different story.

Short does find one good essay ($110 for one essay?):

To be fair, there is one excellent essay in the collection by Father Keith Beaumont, entitled “The Reception of Newman in France,” which puts Newman and the Modernists in proper critical perspective. “The regular misquotation of Newman’s brilliantly pithy formula in the Essay on Development, almost always taken out of context, is revealing,” he writes.
Most modernists quoted, often with their own variations, only the last sentence of the relevant passage: “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” But the sentence which precedes is equally important, and determines the meaning of that which follows: “It [the idea] changes with them [new forms which continually appear] in order to remain the same.”
Here, again, is the insistence on semper eadem that Kasper and his liberal friends refuse to acknowledge. This solitary piece, however, for all of its insight, learning, and good judgement, cannot salvage an otherwise deeply misguided collection.  

The distrust of Newman's faithfulness and devotion to his belief in God and his confidence that the Catholic Church is the church Jesus founded all seem to me to come back to Charles Kingsley's accusation that Newman was a liar. Short notes that the contributors to this volume don't believe Newman's Apologia pro vita sua, and thus won't accept Newman's own account of his conversion. They just can't believe that he became a Catholic and rejoiced for the rest of his life that he was a Catholic. His Anglican and agnostic contemporaries couldn't accept it because he was an Englishman and to them Catholicism wasn't English. I presume those writing with such skepticism--although Short comments that the writers in this volume don't acknowledge the Victorian era sources of their arguments--are still relying on that paradigm: Newman was too intelligent, Newman was too intellectually brilliant, Newman was too English to really become a Catholic and believe what the Catholic Church teaches. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Background to Our Ozark Advent Adventure


My latest blog post at the National Catholic Register is about our attendance at two Masses on the First Sunday of Advent at St. Peter the Fisherman in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and it concludes:

Continuing the theme of paying attention, we drove back to our cabin again on the winding roads in darkness and pouring rain. As we navigated the twisting road, reminded by signs to slow down, watch out for deer, and be prepared for falling rock, we reflected upon the two Masses we’d attended and the glimpse of a parish community we’d experienced on the First Sunday of Advent in the Ozarks. We’d seen the universality of the Church with priests from Poland and Nigeria and Dominican Sisters from a congregation founded in Poland, the ageless celebration of the Mass in both forms of the Latin liturgy, and the welcome to the stranger that a parish community is prepared to give, knowing that visitors are sure to come to Sunday Mass.

We found out more about the two priests who celebrated Mass at St. Peter the Fisherman from the diocesan newspaper, the Arkansas Catholic.

Father Stanislas Swiderski was indeed born in Poland and he was a student of Pope St. John Paul II! Like Karol Wojtyla, he lived under the oppression of the Soviets:

Father Swiderski entered the seminary in 1956 and was ordained Oct. 11, 1963, just four days past his 24th birthday. He settled into the daily routine of ministering to the faithful and while he didn’t suffer direct persecution as a priest, things like traffic restrictions reminded him of the religious choke chain the Soviets held on the Poles.

Still, one of his earliest lessons was that official ideology and actual practice were often very different things.

“There were a number of high-ranking Communist officials, we called them radishes,” he said. “They were red on the outside and white on the inside. We would have parish missions or Lenten retreats, and there would be hours and hours of confessions. The leaders would usually come at night to make theirs so people didn’t know what they were doing. We called them Nicodemuses because of how he came to see Jesus at night.”

As much as he drew strength for his vocation from the devout, Father Swiderski also took note of those who received sacraments under cover of darkness. Rather than condemn them as hypocrites, he took hope from their example.


Re: his study with the future pontiff and saint, he said:

A landmark moment in his priesthood occurred in the late 1960s when Father Swiderski had the opportunity to study under Cardinal Karol Wojtyla at the Catholic University of Lublin. He remembers students flocking to the man who would become Blessed Pope John Paul II (the article was written before his canonization), as approachable and kind as he was brilliant in the classroom.

“He was charismatic, but not in an ostentatious sense. It was more the strength of his personality,” he said. “He was an inspiration in showing how much it meant for him to be with people. For me, it re-set my priorities as a priest and from then on my agenda was clear. I was to be available to the people for whatever they needed.”

Please read the rest there.


Father Christopher Okeke had also come to Mountain Home, Arkansas from a country fraught with political unrest, Nigeria:

Born in 1954, Father Okeke grew up the second of three sons in Amanze Obowo in the Imo state of Nigeria. He was 5 years old when his father died and eight years later, during the civil war in Nigeria in 1967, his mother died. Eventually, he and his brothers went to an orphanage, raised by the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy in Avutu.

“The lesson I got from them is what made me who I am today. Because of their way of life my mind went towards becoming a priest,” Father Okeke said. “It was a promise I made to God — if he would keep us alive during the war, I would be a priest.”

It was more than a promise though; almost divine providence, given the story of his names. His mother had three children, while others did not survive. In hopes that he would live, Father Okeke was named Anabochi, meaning, “If I stay ‘til tomorrow, I will be her child,” he said.

“The name I answered during my baptism was Christopher. Then the bishop said, ‘Do you know what Christopher means? Carrying Christ over the sea.’ That’s why when you look at St. Christopher you see Christ on his shoulder and he will be looking at him,” as the patron saint of travelers, Father Okeke said. “So my bishop connected my first name and my second christened name — ‘If I stay ‘til tomorrow that I would take Christ to people.’” 


I also found out more about one of the sisters from the Polish Dominican order, Sister Joachim Celinska, OP:

Growing up in Poland under Communist rule with two sisters and two brothers, her parents were members of the national underground and raised their children in the Catholic faith.

As a teenager, Sister Joachim loved Pope John Paul II and prayed his vocation prayer daily for an increase in vocations.

"I prayed every night, not realizing that Jesus had a plan for me," Sister Joachim said. . . .

"I was sitting in an empty church and had a very strong feeling. I was to give up everything I have and follow Jesus. And I did," she said. "I'm happy and would never choose another way."

She entered the Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1987, two years before communism fell in Poland.


I had no idea that there would be a Polish community in Mountain Home, Arkansas: it would not have entered my mind that a priest and two sisters would come from Poland to serve such a community! I've always attended rather non-ethnic or nationalist parish churches, although we do have some parishes with European backgrounds, Czech and German mostly, and of course the Vietnamese and Hispanic communities are strong here, but otherwise my experience of parish life has been rather generic. Wichita may be the larger city, but the Mountain Home community may be more cosmopolitan in some ways.

Sister Joachim concluded her interview with a wonderful statement:

"America is a beautiful country. God really loves this country because he's given freedom. We know what it's like to live under oppression. I wish and pray for all American people to take advantage of that freedom and thank God for freedom of religion, so they can express their faith freely."

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Dream "Dream of Gerontius"


According to the publisher of this DVD, ICA Classics:

Filmed in colour from Canterbury Cathedral in 1968, this DVD represents the only existing film of Sir Adrian Boult conducting The Dream of Gerontius.

Sir Adrian Boult championed Elgar’s music throughout his life, following the composer’s prophetic words in a letter to the conductor: ‘I feel that my reputation in the future is safe in your hands’.

Featuring a stellar cast of soloists including Dame Janet Baker, this performance is redolent of Sir Adrian Boult’s ‘commendable energy and typical humanity’ (The Gramophone Guide review of Boult’s 1975 studio recording of The Dream of Gerontius).

This DVD also features a 60-minute documentary on Sir Adrian Boult produced by the BBC in 1989 to celebrate the centenary of his birth.

This review offers some background to the production of the broadcast:

Hats off to ICA Classics for an invaluable restoration of an altogether exceptional document. First broadcast on Easter Sunday, 14 April 1968, this transmission in early colour of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius under the baton of the composer's most selfless champion represents a remarkable achievement. Producer Brian Large's original intention had been to use Worcester Cathedral, but in the end Canterbury was chosen instead: not only did the authorities agree to close the Cathedral to allow the BBC cameras unencumbered access, its proximity to London meant that the members of the chorus were able to sleep at home. Unfortunately, the Cathedral organ was out of action, so a closed-circuit link to the instrument of a nearby church was quickly set up. Filming took place over three days, the last of which entailed capturing some fascinating and rarely-seen images of the awe-inspiring Cathedral itself (and which are interwoven into the fabric of the film with great imagination).

You can find the performance online but the version posted is from a VHS tape. I think I have enough CD versions of Elgar's Dream so this is not on my wish list. I can't help, however, from pointing out that this is the story of a man dying, facing his personal judgment, and going to purgatory. It's being performed in what was once a Catholic church where people came on pilgrimage to expiate their sins and pray for the Poor Souls in purgatory--which is now an Anglican cathedral. I wonder if there was any backlash at the time against a Catholic work by a Catholic composer based upon the poetry of Catholic convert from Anglicanism being performed in the primary see of the Anglican Church, which eliminated prayer for the dead and denied the reality--and the hope--of purgatory?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Crucial Days for the Pilgrimage of Grace

Henry VIII's representatives and the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace were negotiating during early December, 1536, according to this article posted by Susan Loughlin, author of Insurrection: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace:

The truce held throughout the month of November, although there are numerous references to Henry’s contempt for the rebels and his correspondence is suggestive that he was biding his time, waiting for the rebels to slip up. On 21 November the Pilgrims’ council met at York, where Robert Bowes gave an account of his visit to the king at Windsor and reassured them as to the king’s mercy. Henry was willing to pardon all but ten ringleaders. There were many among the Pilgrims who hated and distrusted Cromwell and Aske was of the view that there were many in the south of the country who longed for the Pilgrims to arrive there. Heresy was deeply unpopular in the North and Cromwell was perceived as its principal advocate and the main provider of evil counsel. By making Cromwell the author of their misfortunes, the Pilgrims were seeking to frame their movement as not being against royal authority.

The Pilgrims representatives were summoned to a second appointment to discuss the situation with the Duke of Norfolk. In the lead up to the meeting, the issue of a free and general pardon for all rebels was a major part of the debate. The meeting took place at Pontefract between 2 and 4 December and Norfolk had been advised by the Privy Council that it would not be honourable for Henry to grant a free pardon: the king was of a view that his honour would be gravely diminished. However, the rebels’ military strength and resolve obliged Norfolk to grant the free and general pardon, and it reserved no one for punishment.


The Pilgrims based their negotiating position on the original five articles given to Norfolk on 27 October and produced the twenty-four Pontefract Articles on 4 December. Of these, ten are undoubtedly exclusively religious grievances and are discussed in detail in Insurrection: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace. Heresy, heretical bishops, the Dissolution of the monasteries and the Royal Supremacy were all criticised and the Pilgrims petitioned that the king’s daughter by Katherine of Aragon be declared legitimate (she had endured the demotion from princess to ‘Lady Mary’ following her father’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the subsequent Act of Succession, 1534). The rebels also wished to have a parliament convened in either Nottingham or York in the near future.

Things seemed to go the Pilgrims' way, as Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, knew the king did not have the requisite forces to fight them:

On 6 December it was agreed that these twenty-four articles were to be taken to the king and a general pardon be granted. In addition, the restored abbeys were allowed to remain.

Two days later, Lancaster Herald brought the general pardon and confirmation that a parliament would convene at York (although no date was specified). The gentlemen met with Norfolk at Doncaster and tore off their Pilgrim badges (of the Five Wounds of Christ) and dispersed.

The question is, did Henry VIII ever intend to follow through on these promises?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Looking Forward to Duffy's Latest

In February 2017, Bloomsbury Continuum will publish Eamon Duffy's contribution to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation: Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England:

Published to mark the 500th anniversary of the events of 1517, Reformation Divided explores the impact in England of the cataclysmic transformations of European Christianity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The religious revolution initiated by Martin Luther is usually referred to as 'The Reformation', a tendentious description implying that the shattering of the medieval religious foundations of Europe was a single process, in which a defective form of Christianity was replaced by one that was unequivocally benign, 'the midwife of the modern world'. The book challenges these assumptions by tracing the ways in which the project of reforming Christendom from within, initiated by Christian 'humanists' like Erasmus and Thomas More, broke apart into conflicting and often murderous energies and ideologies, dividing not only Catholic from Protestant, but creating deep internal rifts within all the churches which emerged from Europe's religious conflicts.

The book is in three parts: In 'Thomas More and Heresy', Duffy examines how and why England's greatest humanist apparently abandoned the tolerant humanism of his youthful masterpiece Utopia, and became the bitterest opponent of the early Protestant movement. 'Counter-Reformation England' explores the ways in which post-Reformation English Catholics accommodated themselves to a complex new identity as persecuted religious dissidents within their own country, but in a European context, active participants in the global renewal of the Catholic Church. The book's final section 'The Godly and the Conversion of England' considers the ideals and difficulties of radical reformers attempting to transform the conventional Protestantism of post-Reformation England into something more ardent and committed. In addressing these subjects, Duffy shines new light on the fratricidal ideological conflicts which lasted for more than a century, and whose legacy continues to shape the modern world.

I'm sure it will be fascinating and enlightening! I'm working on getting a review copy!

A Dollar's Worth of Arkansas Legal History

While my husband finished his coffee at Heidi's Ugly Cakes in Norfork, Arkansas, I walked down the street, passing by three ferocious dachshunds at one house, to the Terrapin Trading Company, a crafts and used bookstore. All of the books were on sale for $1.00 and I bought a history of colonial Arkansas focused on the administration of civil law during the French and Spanish period before Arkansas was included in Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase: Unequal Laws Unto a Savage Race: European Legal Traditions in Arkansas, 1686-1836 by Morris S. Arnold, published by the University of Arkansas Press in 1985. I finished the book while we were on vacation and found it fascinating.

Morris S. Arnold is a scholar, author, attorney, and marvelous writer. He describes how French law, specifically the Custom of Paris, was administered in colonial Arkansas by the commandants of the military installation at the Arkansas Post. This was civil law as opposed to English common law, mostly concerned with contracts, wills, and administrative justice enforcing such arrangements.

As the more remote part of the French Louisiana territory, Arkansas never quite developed as King Louis XIV and his successors hoped. There were some bourgeois and even noble pioneers, but the area was mostly inhabited by hunters and trappers, who had little regard for authority, either civil or religious. In fact, one of the Jesuits sent to serve in the area left because of the demonstrated irreligious and even blasphemous attitudes of its denizens. Although the Jesuits did not establish a very successful mission in the Arkansas Post, the Anglo-American colonists feared the influence of the Jesuits on the local Native American population, because they had seen how well the Jesuits, in other areas, had evangelized the Indians. In this case, neither the French, nor the Spanish ever invested the necessary effort to assist the growth of Catholicism in Arkansas--never building or consecrating a building as a chapel, for example, so that the Jesuit or sometimes Capuchin missionaries sent there were never able to make a firm foundation.

First the French and then the Spanish administered justice in the Louisiana Territory. Arnold really misses an opportunity when he mentions the first Spanish representative, named Alexandro O'Reilly. Oh really, O'Reilly? I knew that Irish surname meant he must have belonged to a family that fled Ireland in the Flight of the Earls. Sure enough, he was.

The last part of the book is about the conflict between French civil law and American/England common law once Jefferson purchased Louisiana. The French inhabitants did not want to adopt elements of the English Common Law like trial by jury or vive voce evidence, etc. They began to "drop out" of the legal system as established by the United States, and even language came between the two groups. The French were in the minority and the new Americans in the Louisiana Territory looked upon them as "backward European savages"! Arnold states that the Americans were rather glad the French opted to drop out of the new civil society and administration. The French mostly dealt with legal issues within their communities, looking to a "village elder" to make decisions.

Arnold is an expressive and impressive author. I enjoyed his clarity of thought and his way of demonstrating how the details of legal contracts and administrative processes exemplified the cultural and historic background of the French/Spanish colonial era in Arkansas. He makes the distinction between civil law and common law clear to the nonspecialist. I was just surprised that he let an opportunity like a man named O'Reilly representing the King of Spain to go without taking advantage of it. I look forward to  reading another of his books, Colonial Arkansas, 1686-1804: A Cultural and Social History. Perhaps he redressed this lapse in that book, of which I've ordered a copy--it will be more than a dollar's worth of history, however!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

435 Years Ago Today at Tyburn

From Gerard Kilroy, Edmond Campion biographer extraordinaire, a reflection on the response in England and abroad after his execution on December 1, 1581:

Edmund Campion was hanged (he was spared the pain of disembowelling while alive by the intervention at Tyburn of Lord Charles Howard) on 1 December 1581. Within six weeks, the English Ambassador in Paris, Sir Henry Cobham, was writing to Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary to the Privy Council.

"I sent you a small book on the death of Campion. They have been crying these books in the streets with outcries naming them to be cruelties used by the Queen of England."

L’Histoire de la Mort que le R. P. Edmund Campion may have been small, but it caused a big stir in Paris; in London, many accounts, in prose and verse, of his trial and martyrdom were already circulating in manuscript, and were in print by February 1582. Scribes such as Stephen Vallenger, who had written accounts of Campion’s four disputations in the Tower of London, or printers like Blessed William Carter, who had paid men to copy accounts by hand, were captured, tortured and (in Vallenger’s case) mutilated. The Recorder of London, William Fleetwood, seized the printing press where the first English account, A true reporte of the death and martyrdome, was printed. Richard Verstegan, the printer, escaped to Paris, and immediately turned to producing broadsheets and engravings of the martyrdom. By 1584, his engravings were circulating (sometimes improved by Italian engravers like Cavalieri) all over Europe, and the Queen and her Privy Council were forced to defend themselves against a veritable tide of hostileprint from Wilno to Rome. Two of the best prose writers in English, Robert Persons and William Allen, both personally attached to Campion, launched book after book setting out the injustices of a benighted country and attached Verstegan’s engravings to their writings. Meanwhile poems, like Henry Walpole’s ‘Why do I use my paper, ynke and penne?’, circulated secretly among courtiers, lawyers and gentry; William Byrd set this poem to music, and settings for lute and voice survive.

The Elizabethan regime may have dismembered Campion’s body, but the battle over his reputation was as fierce as the battle over the body of Patroclus in the Iliad. The topic was still contentious in 1587 when the censors, in the week before the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, took out 47 lines asserting that Campion died for religion from the work we know as ‘Holinshed’, the ‘Continuation’ of the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

What was lost in all this noise was Edmundus Campianus Anglus Londinensis, the boy born in the heart of the printing trade, Paul’s Churchyard, son of an anti-Catholic publisher also called Edmund, schoolboy prodigy at St Paul’s (1547-52) and Christ’s Hospital (1552-57), who was chosen to address the new queen, Mary Tudor. Also lost was Edmundus Campianus Oxoniensis, the brilliant Oxford scholar (1557-70) who could turn a speech on the earth and moon into a subtle plea to the Queen and the Earl of Leicester not to interfere in the university’s affairs; and the carefree, companionable novice in Brno (1573-74) and lecturer in rhetoric in Prague (1574-80), whose drafts for student performances on feast days like Corpus Christi or All Souls survive in autograph at Stonyhurst. And, of course, Edmund Campion, the affectionate friend who effortlessly attracted patrons and friends among merchants, aldermen, nobles and foreign princes.


St. Edmund Campion, SJ, Pray for us.
St. Alexander Briant, SJ, Pray for us.
St. Ralph Sherwin, Pray for us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Temptation of a Martyr: Blessed Alexander Crow

Wikipedia has this brief entry for today's martyr:

Alexander Crow (died 1586/7) was born in Yorkshire around 1550. He took up an early trade as a shoemaker, but in his twenties he travelled to Rheims, France, and trained as a priest at Duoay (sic) College, being ordained in 1584.

He returned to the north of England to continue his mission, until he was arrested in South Duffield whilst baptising a baby. Taken to York, he was hanged, drawn and quartered on 30 November 1586 or 1587. Sources conflict as to the year of his death, whether it was 1586 or a year later, 'being about the year (sic) of thirty five,'

One of the Eighty-five martyrs of England and Wales, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 22 November 1987.

In his Memoirs of the Missionary Priests, however, Bishop Richard Challoner includes the story of the great temptations Blessed Alexander Crow suffered the night before he died. He was in a cell with another Catholic prisoner who later reported on the vigil Father Crow kept. He wanted to stay awake and pray, preparing himself for the horrors of being hanged, drawn, and quartered. In the midst of his prayers, however, he was tempted by the devil, who told him he would never be a martyr and never enjoy heaven, but be kept in prison forever and go to hell. The "ugly monster" told him to kill himself rather than endure such lingering punishment. Father Crow kept fighting him off, but the "horrid figure" kept harassing him. Suddenly a vision of St. John the Evangelist and the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Father Crow, casting the demon away and telling him, "Begone from hence, thou cursed creature! Thou hast no part in this servant of Christ, who will shed his blood tomorrow for his Lord, and will enter into his joy." Crow received great spiritual consolation and rejoiced that he would indeed be a martyr the next day.

On the scaffold, however, the devil returned and knocked Father Crow off the ladder even before the noose was placed around his neck; the crowd gathered for the execution thought he was trying to kill himself. He told them that he was not, mounted the ladder again and after "exhorting them to the Catholic faith" and "passing through the usual course of the ordinary butchery, he gloriously finished his career, and went to enjoy his God forever."

Bishop Challoner's entry also includes the detail that when Blessed Alexander Crow was arrested, he was on his way to baptize the baby of "one Cecily Garnet" and I wonder if she was any relation to Father Henry Garnet or St. Thomas Garnet. I also wonder who baptized her baby and what the baby's name was. And note that the confusion about the year of his death was related to his age; the manuscript annals said he was 35 when he was executed, so he would have been born in 1552.

Blessed Alexander Crow, pray for us!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Martyrs on November 29 in 1588 and 1596

Blessed Edward BurdenAfter studying at Oxford University’s Trinity College, Edward Burden, of County Durham, England, journeyed to the continent to prepare for the Catholic priesthood. He was ordained at Douai, France in 1584 and set out for England two years later. But after spending the following two years serving Catholics in Yorkshire, Father Burden was arrested by the Protestant Elizabethan authorities. While awaiting his fate in a York prison, he saw a fellow Catholic priest incarcerated with him, (Blessed) Robert Dalby, led away to be put on trial. Envious of the latter’s prospects of imminent martyrdom, Father Burden complained, “Shall I always lie here like a beast while my brother hastens to his reward? Truly, I am unworthy of such glory as to suffer for Christ.” But it was not long before Father Burden was himself tried and condemned to death for his priesthood. On November 29, 1588, he was executed by drawing and quartering at York.

Note: Father (Blessed) Robert Dalby was held in York Castle and not executed until after Blessed Edward Burden, on March 16, 1589, with Blessed John Amias. Note that like Blessed John Henry Newman in the 19th century, Father Burden was a Trinity man!

On the same date in York, eight years later, three laymen were hung, drawn and quartered, found guilty of the treason of attempting to convert another English subject to Catholicism: Blesseds George Errington, William Gibson, and William Knight (another layman, Blessed Henry Abbot had been condemned under the same charge, but his execution was delayed until March the following year). They were victims of entrapment, according to Bishop Challoner:

A certain Protestant minister, for some misdemeanour put into York Castle, to reinstate himself in the favour of his superiors, insinuated himself into the good opinion of the Catholic prisoners, by pretending a deep sense of repentance, and a great desire of embracing the Catholic truth . . . So they directed him, after he was enlarged [released], to Mr. Henry Abbot, a zealous convert who lived in Holden in the same country, to procure a priest to reconcile him . . . Mr. Abbot carried him to Carlton to the house of Esquire Stapleton, but did not succeed in finding a priest. Soon after, the traitor having got enough to put them all in danger of the law, accused them to the magistrates . . . They confessed that they had explained to him the Catholic Faith, and upon this they were all found guilty and sentenced to die.

Blessed George Errington could also have been found guilty of the felony of aiding a Catholic priest (so might the others if they knew where to find a priest) because we know he was with St. John Boste at one time, who had suffered martyrdom in 1594. I presume they were in prison because of recusancy and not paying their fines.

The three who suffered on November 29, 1596 were all beatified by Pope John Paul II as among the Eighty-five martyrs of England and Wales. Abbot was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI. Father Burden was also included among the Eighty-Five Martyrs of England and Wales.

The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle honors these four martyrs among their "Martyrs of the North" and celebrates their martyrdoms on July 24. This is the prayer for that feast:

God, all-powerful Father,

The blessed martyrs of our diocese
Remained faithful in the face of danger and death.

Strengthen our faith
And take away our weakness.
Let the prayers and example of the martyrs
Help us share in the passion and resurrection of Christ
And bring us to eternal joy in your saints.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.