Friday, August 7, 2020

Preview: Two More on Gray's Inn Road

On Monday, August 10, Matt Swaim and I will discuss two more of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, Saint Edmund Gennings (portrait on the right) and Polydore Plasden on the Son Rise Morning Show (about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central) broadcast on Sacred Heart Radio from Cincinnati, Ohio.

The execution of two priests and three laymen at a specially built gallows at Gray's Inn Road on December 10, 1591 drew a crowd and some special spectators: Richard Topcliffe was there, as was Sir Walter Raleigh, one of Elizabeth I's favorite courtiers.

These priests were being execution simply because they were English subjects who had gone to the Continent to study and be ordained and had returned to England. Parliament had passed a new law in 1584, 27 Elizabeth Cap 2 (Act Against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and Other Such Disobedient Subjects). Unless these returning priests were willing to leave England within 40 days of arrival or accept the queen's supremacy over the Church in England, they were considered traitors. Anyone who harbored these recusant priests, the "other such disobedient subjects", were guilty of a felony: thus Saint Swithun Wells, and the Blesseds John Mason and Sidney Hodgson were hanged to death as felons that day.

But the presence of Richard Topcliffe (as demonstrated by his dialogue with Saint Swithun Wells described last week) and Sir Walter Raleigh also made these executions notable. Their presence also made a difference in the way the two priests suffered their executions.

St. Polydore Plasden and Sir Walter Raleigh (portrait on the left), according to the "Relation of Fr. James Young" included in Father Philip Caraman SJ's The Other Face: Catholic Life Under Elizabeth I discussed the priest's prayers for the queen. Raleigh was willing to have Plasden's execution stayed when he swore that he would defend Elizabeth's life against any threat of assassination. But then Topcliffe intervened and asked if Father Plasden would fight to assist Philip II of Spain in reasserting Catholicism in England. He said as a priest he could not, but that he would argue against any attack on the queen in such a cause. But Topcliffe pressed the argument further and Plasden said he would not counsel anyone else not to fight to reestablish the Catholic Church in England (in other words that he would support military action if necessary to replace the Church of England with the Catholic Church)--and Raleigh agreed that he was indeed a traitor to England because of his loyalty to the Catholic Church. Father Plasden said that he could not deny his faith in Christ and His Church. "O Christ" saith he, looking up to heaven and kissing the rope. "I will never deny thee for a thousand lives." And so he was hanged--but Raleigh ordered that he be allowed to hang until dead, so that he didn't suffer the agonies that followed.

He was 28 years old.

Father Gennings was not so fortunate in his conversation with Topcliffe. As the website of the Dominicans in England and Scotland recounts:

If to return to England a Priest, or to say Mass be a Popish treason, then I confess I am a traitor. But I think not so. And therefore I acknowledge myself guilty of those things, not with repentance, but with an open protestation of inward joy.” Topcliffe, the notorious priest-hunter, was enraged with the attitude of St Edmund Gennings. He then ordered that Edmund be hanged and immediately cut down. When the hangman began his butchery, St Edmund was still alive when his heart was ripped from his chest. With his last breath he cried out, Saint Gregory: Pray for me. The hangman swore, “Zounds! See, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist!”

Caraman's entry for Gennings in The Other Face supplies the detail that he was cut down so quickly from the gallows that he was standing up and had to be toppled down by the hangman to begin the torture. 

He was 24 years old.

Saint Edmund Gennings, pray for us.
Saint Polydore Plasden, pray for us.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Transfiguration of Our Lord


At the end of this Leap Year February, I attended an Eighth Day Institute Seminar on Holiness: in The Bible, the Fathers, the Liturgy, and Literature. A small group of us read and discussed The Song of Songs, a passage on the Transfiguration of Our Lord from St. Maximus the Confessor, the Vespers of the Feast of the Transfiguration, and Flannery O'Connor's short story "Revelation".

O'Connor has been much in the news since Loyola University of Maryland cancelled her, citing racist passages in her letters. Jessica Hooten-Wilson cited "Revelation" in a defense of Flannery O'Connor and so did Lorraine V. Murray.

But the standout of the readings was Saint Maximus the Confessor's Ambiguum 41 on the Transfiguration of Our Lord. This blog cites the entire passage, but I will highlight just a few of the sections that were astounding to me, as Maximus describes what God wanted to achieve in His Creation by finally creating Man:

This is why man was introduced last among beings— like a kind of natural bond mediating between the universal extremes through his parts, and unifying [1305C] through himself things that by nature are separated from each other by a great distance — so that, by making of his own division a beginning of the unity which gathers up all things to God their Author, and proceeding by order and rank through the mean terms, he might reach the limit of the sublime ascent that comes about through the union of all things in God, in whom there is no division, completely shaking off from nature, by means of a supremely dispassionate condition of divine virtue, the property of male and female, which in no way was linked to the original principle of the divine plan concerning human generation, so that he might be shown forth as, and become solely a human being according to the divine plan, not divided by the designation of male and female (according to the principle by which he formerly came into being), nor divided into the parts that now appear around him, [1305D] thanks to the perfect union, as I said, with his own principle, according to which he exists.

Then, once he had united paradise and the inhabited world through his own proper holy way of life, man would have fashioned a single earth, not divided by him in the difference of its parts, but rather gathered together, for to none of its parts would he be subjected. After this, having united heaven and earth through a life identical in virtue in every manner with that of the angels (as much as this is humanly possible), he would have made the sensory creation absolutely identical and indivisible [1308A] with itself, not in any way dividing it into places separated by distances, for he would have become nimble by means of the spirit, without any corporeal weight holding him to the earth, and thus proceed unhindered in his ascent to the heavens, for his nous would no longer behold such things, but hasten purely to God, and in the wisdom of his gradual ascent to God, just as if he were traveling on an ordinary road, he would naturally overcome any obstacles standing in his way.

But we know what happened: Adam and Eve sinned and broke away from God through disobedience--and so the Father sent His Son to restore the original wholeness coming as "perfect man, having assumed from us, and for us, and consistent with us, everything that is ours, lacking nothing, but without sin . . .

Then, having sanctified our inhabited world by the dignity of His conduct as man, He proceeded unhindered to paradise after His death, just as He truly promised to the thief, saying: Today, you will be with me in paradise. Consequently, since there was for Him no difference between paradise and our inhabited world, He appeared on it, and spent time together with His disciples after His resurrection from the dead, demonstrating that the earth is one and not divided against itself, for it preserves the principle of its existence free of any difference caused by division. Then, by His ascension into heaven, it is obvious that He united heaven and earth, for He entered heaven with His earthly body, which is of the same nature and consubstantial with ours, [1309C] and showed that, according to its more universal principle, all sensory nature is one, and thus He obscured in Himself the property of division that had cut it in two. Then, in addition to this, having passed with His soul and body, that is, with the whole of our nature, through all the divine and noetic orders of heaven, He united sensory things with noetic things, displaying in Himself the fact that the convergence of the entire creation toward unity was absolutely indivisible and beyond all fracture, in accordance with its most primal and most universal principle. . . .

And with us and for us He encompassed the extremes of the whole creation through the means, as His own parts, and He joined them around Himself, each with the other, tightly and indissolubly: paradise and the inhabited world, heaven and earth, the sensory and the noetic, since like us He possesses a body, sense perception, soul, and nous, to which (as His own parts) He associated individually the extreme that was thoroughly akin to each one of them (i.e., His parts), according to the mode described above, and He recapitulated in Himself, in a manner appropriate to God, all things, showing that the whole creation is one, as if it were another human being, completed by the mutual coming together of all its members, inclining [1312B] toward itself in the wholeness of its existence, according to one, unique, simple, undefined, and unchangeable idea: that it comes from nothing. Accordingly, all creation admits of one and the same, absolutely undifferentiated principle: that its existence is preceded by nonexistence.

You have to read this passage several times to comprehend the vision of unity, integrity, and holiness Saint Maximus is conveying. In our divided, troubled, uncertain world, it is clear that Jesus Christ is only way to wholeness and holiness, the only icon of God the Father's plan for us.

Image Credit: 15th century Icon of the Transfiguration by Theophanes the Greek.

Monday, August 3, 2020

This Morning: St. Swithun Wells on the Son Rise Morning Show


Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central to continue our series on the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales. Anna Mitchell and I will discuss Saint Swithun Wells, a recusant Catholic known to authorities who was executed on December 10, 1591 for NOT attending Mass in his home on All Saints Day.

Please listen live here on the Sacred Heart Radio website; the podcast will be archived here. 

His execution by hanging, with two other laymen, and two priests, who were meted out the full agony of hanging, drawing, and quartering, must have been remarkable scene. On Friday this week I'll preview the stories of the two priests who suffered with him that day on Gray's Inn Road. As remarkable at Saint Swithun's interaction with Topcliffe was, Saints Edmund Gennings and Polydore Plasden had even more extraordinary conversations with Sir Walter Raleigh and Topcliffe--all while preparing themselves to suffer excruciating executions!

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Gilbert Murray's Catholic Convert Daughter

Seeing Gilbert Murray's name as one of the editors of Chesterton's book on the English literature of the Victorian Age, I looked him up. In addition to being the Regius Professor Greek at the University of Oxford, he translated many Greek plays, wrote many other books on classical and other topics, and was an internationally known Humanist, even participating in the League of Nations.

Looking him up, I found out about his daughter, Rosalind, who was born in 1890,  married the historian Arnold Toynbee in 1913, converted to Catholicism in 1933, divorced Toynbee in 1946, and never remarried. She began her literary career as a novelist starting with The Leading Note in 1910 and then, after her conversion, began to write Catholic apologetical works: The Good Pagan's Failure (1939), Time and the Timeless (1942), The Life of Faith (1943), The Forsaken Fountain (1948) and The Further Journey: In My End Is My Beginning (1953). She died in 1967.

Persephone Books publishes one of her novels, The Happy Tree, which I plan to order soon:

This 1926 novel begins with the death of a young man during the war, flashes back to his happy childhood shared with the young woman who is the narrator, and then describes how the war – inevitably – took them unawares, destroyed their happiness and has left her, the young woman, emotionally maimed. In one sense it does not sound very entertaining. But the quality of the writing is extraordinary and it tells the reader as much about the after-shock of the war as, say, Testament of Youth [by Vera Brittain].

Persephone Books also provides a biography and a photo of young Rosalind.

The rest of her books, especially the books she wrote after her conversion, are out of print and hard to find. But The Good Pagan's Failure seems to have found some new readers lately. Most recently on the VoegelinView website:

No one today knows Murray’s name but in her lifetime she wrote steadily, sustained an audience, and garnered the attention of literary critics. In her later career she sidelined herself as a fiction-writer and devoted her productivity to religious non-fiction. She produced the first fruit of this authorial metamorphosis in 1939 under the heavily laden title The Good Pagan’s Failure. No doubt but that the coinage of “the Good Pagan” implies close personal relations, touching on both her father and her husband, but the book never mentions either. In it, rather, the formula denotes the modern, upper-class humanist whose sincere good intentions center on building up a global regime of justice and equality, but who, at the same time, rejects any concept of God and assumes a stance, sometimes dissimulated, that is hostile to religion. . . . 

The Good Pagan’s Failure belongs in a genre consolidated by the conservative critics of modernity, especially those who assume a Catholic perspective, as do Jacques Maritain, Simone Weil, Henri de Lubac, and Gabriel Marcel. The cognoscenti will also detect in Murray’s Weltanschauung echoes of José Ortega y Gasset, whose influence on the final section of her study marks itself as indubitable. This spotting of sources by no means suggests a lack of originality, however. It attests, on the contrary, to Murray’s education both broad and deep, her enduring concern for the sinfulness of the modern condition, and her religious conviction, to which she adds the intense personal discoveries that originate in her highly conscious experiences of life – of her milieu in youth and of her thirty-three years of marriage.

Please read the rest there.

And if five years ago still counts as lately, Jude Dougherty, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, wrote an appreciation of her book in 2015 for The Wanderer:

She was remarkably positioned to know and to assess the mind of what she calls the “Enlightened Pagan.” The book is essentially a critique of the fashionable humanism and liberalism of her day, the epoch of George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and G.E. Moore.

It is Rosalind Murray’s contention that the crucial difference which separates and divides us as human beings is, and always must be, spiritual, exemplified by an acceptance or rejection of belief in God. “Our attitude on this fundamental question determines the whole direction of our living in all of its aspects, and in all relations, and that opposition in this one decisive matter implies secondary, but resultant, opposition in outlook and in value throughout our lives.” (2)

Speaking of herself, she writes, “Born and brought up among enlightened Pagans, their outlook and their standard, and their values are those which I first knew, [and] by which I was educated….In maturity, I have found enlightened Paganism inadequate to explain life as I see it, inadequate to deal with it as I find it. The picture presented to me in youth has proved, so it seems to me, a misleading picture, their accounting of existence offered, a false account; the key with which I was furnished unlocks no door.” (3)

In acknowledging her transfer of allegiance, she says, “I retain a deep regard, a very real respect for the good Pagans whom I must now oppose.” (4)

For the footnotes and the rest, please see the article.

Fascinating traces of a forgotten author. The Wikipedia entry for her father contains this intriguing anecdote:

[Gilbert] Murray was baptised as a Roman Catholic; his father [Sir Terence Aubrey Murray] was a Catholic, his mother [Agnes Murray] a Protestant. His daughter Rosalind (later Rosalind Toynbee), a Catholic convert, attacked his secularism in her book of apologetics, The Good Pagan's Failure (1939). About a month before he died, when he was bedridden, his daughter Rosalind called the local Catholic priest to see him.[54] Rosalind subsequently claimed that Murray was then reconciled to the Catholic Church; other family members, however, contested her version of the events.

Perhaps like Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited? Rosalind may have opposed her father's secularism, but she still loved him as a Good Pagan, and wanted the best for him: eternal life and the Beatific Vision!

Book Review: Chesterton on "The Victorian Age of Literature"

According to Joseph Pearce in his biography of G.K. Chesterton, Wisdom and Innocence, the editors of The Home University Library of Modern Knowledge, The Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Herbert Albert Laurens) Fisher, M.A., F.B.A., Prof. Gilbert Murray, Litt.D., LL.D., F.B.A. (Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford), Prof. Sir J. Arthur Thomson, M.A., and Prof. William T. Brewster, M.A., asked Chesterton to write a survey of the Victorian Age in Literature. His book was published in 1913 as no. 61 in the library; the editors thought it best to warn their readers:

The Editors wish to explain that this book is not put forward as an authoritative history of Victorian literature. It is a free and personal statement of views and impressions about the significance of Victorian literature made by Mr. Chesterton at the Editors' express invitation.

Chesterton was an author, he was a Victorian (his dates: 1841-1922) , and he had obviously read the Victorians and their works, so I read the book as his authoritative history of Victorian Literature. He approaches the composition of a survey of an age in literature in the only way that Chesterton could: a systematically unsystematical way. He can't do it chronologically any more than he can do it alphabetically, so he traces themes and genres throughout the queen's long reign (her dates: 1837-1901), highlighting along the way a few of his favorites: Cobbett, Dickens, and Shaw. And he does it all in an introduction and four chapters:

Introduction
Chapter 1. The Victorian Compromise and its Enemies
Chapter 2. The Great Victorian Novelists
Chapter 3. The Great Victorian Poets
Chapter 4. The Break-up of the Compromise
Bibliographical Note (added by the editors?)

The page numbers below are based on the Dodo Press edition pictured above.

He actually begins his overview before Queen Victoria's reign begins with the French Revolution: "the most important event in English history [that] happened in France". Moreover, he asserts "that the most important event in English history was the event that never happened at all—the English Revolution on the lines of the French Revolution." The Romantic poets were the radicals: unlike the first of his favorites, William Cobbett, who really knew how the rural and urban poor suffered and had suggestions for correcting these injustices, there was no revolution. Or as Chesterton states, there was a counter-revolution: "an aristocratic revolution, a victory of the rich over the poor. It was about this time that the common lands were finally enclosed; that the more cruel game laws were first established; that England became finally a land of landlords instead of common land-owners." While that was being implemented, "English Romantics, English Liberals, were not public men making a republic, but poets, each seeing a vision." . . .  "Ideals exhausted themselves in the void; Victorian England, very unwisely, would have no more to do with idealists in politics." (p. 3)

Thus the Victorian Compromise: implement reform and progress in England without great social unrest. Chesterton identifies Thomas Babington Macaulay as an exponent of this compromise: "its praise of Puritan politics and abandonment of Puritan theology; its belief in a cautious but perpetual patching up of the Constitution; its admiration for industrial wealth." (pp. 7-8) 

You'll have to read the book for yourself to appreciate how Chesterton characterizes and criticizes the strengths and weaknesses of the authors he discusses. It is a very quotable book and believe it or not, I have restrained myself in quoting it in this review. As an example, 

"There were two Macaulays, a rational Macaulay who was generally wrong, and a romantic Macaulay who was almost invariably right. All that was small in him derives from the dull parliamentarism of men like Sir James Mackintosh; but all that was great in him has much more kinship with the festive antiquarianism of Sir Walter Scott." (p. 8)

Macaulay could be Homeric, he could praise both the England that defeated the Armada and the Jacobite who died in exile after fighting to restore the Catholic Stuarts:

TO my true king I offered, free from stain,
Courage and faith; vain faith, and courage vain.
For him I threw lands, honours, wealth, away,
And one dear hope, that was more prized than they.
For him I languished in a foreign clime,
Grey-haired with sorrow in my manhood’s prime;
Heard on Lavernia Scargill’s whispering trees,
And pined by Arno for my lovelier Tees;
Beheld each night my home in fevered sleep,
Each morning started from the dream to weep;
Till God, who saw me tried too sorely, gave
The resting-place I asked, an early grave. . . .
(my example, not his)

Chesterton thus praises Macaulay's greatness: "His noble enduring quality in our literature is this: that he truly had an abstract passion for history; a warm, poetic and sincere enthusiasm for great things as such; an ardour and appetite for great books, great battles, great cities, great men." (pp. 8-9)

He also cites John Stuart Mill and his utilitarian and libertarian philosophy but without much analysis of Mill as a writer.

If Macaulay is an emblem of the Victorian Compromise, with its rationalism and utilitarianism, Newman and the Oxford Movement is an example of one of its enemies: The Oxford Movement "was an appeal to reason: reason said that if a Christian had a feast day he must have a fast day too. Otherwise, all days ought to be alike; and this was that very Utilitarianism against which their Oxford Movement was the first and most rational assault. This idea, even by reason of its reason, narrowed into a sort of sharp spear, of which the spear blade was Newman." (p. 13)

(I've already quoted most of Chesterton's comments about Newman here.)

Then Chesterton goes on to analyze Carlyle, Froude, Ruskin, Kingsley, and Arnold, all with the same balance of praise and blame. He cites them all as "roughly representative of the long series of protests against the cold commercial rationalism which held Parliament and the schools through the earlier Victorian time, in so far as those protests were made in the name of neglected intellect, insulted art, forgotten heroism and desecrated religion. But already the Utilitarian citadel had been more heavily bombarded on the other side by one lonely and unlettered man of genius."  (p.25)

And that genius is, of course, Charles Dickens, who Chesterton includes both among "the fighters" in this chapter and the novelists in the next. 

In that chapter Chesterton begins by highlighting the great achievement of female novelists, from Austen to the Brontës , but especially George Eliot. He certainly admires Jane Austen:

Her [George Eliot's] originals and even her contemporaries had shown the feminine power in fiction as  well or better than she. Charlotte Brontë, understood along her own instincts, was as great; Jane Austen was greater. The latter comes into our present consideration only as that most exasperating thing, an ideal unachieved. It is like leaving an unconquered fortress in the rear. No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains. She could describe a man coolly; which neither George Eliot nor Charlotte Brontë could do. She knew what she knew, like a sound dogmatist: she did not know what she did not know—like a sound agnostic. But she belongs to a vanished world before the great progressive age of which I write. (p. 35)

He later says of her in comparison to Eliot and the Brontës :

Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected woman from truth, were burst by the Brontës or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew much more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may have been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her. When Darcy, in finally confessing his faults, says, "I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice though not in theory," he gets nearer to a complete confession of the intelligent male than ever was even hinted by the Byronic lapses of the Brontës' heroes or the elaborate exculpations of George Eliot's. Jane Austen, of course, covered an infinitely smaller field than any of her later rivals; but I have always believed in the victory of small nationalities. (p. 37)

Then he goes on to the men: Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Collins, Reade, Kingsley, Bulwer Lytton, Meredith, and Hardy. He concludes chapter 2 with a discussion of children's literature and "literature meant merely for fun": Macdonald, Lear, Carroll, and W.S. Gilbert (and Sullivan?), ending with a joke about the librettist's last name and his own first name: "the word "Gilbertian" will probably last longer than the name Gilbert."! (p. 83)

Among the poets in chapter three he reviews Tennyson, and Browning, with this comment on Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

With all his Italian sympathies and Italian residence, he was not the man to get Victorian England out of its provincial rut: on many things Kingsley himself was not so narrow. His celebrated wife was wider and wiser than he in this sense; for she was, however one-sidedly, involved in the emotions of central European politics. She defended Louis Napoleon and Victor Emmanuel; and intelligently, as one con scious of the case against them both. . . . She is by far the most European of all the English poets of that age; all of them, even her own much greater husband, look local beside her. Tennyson and the rest are nowhere. (pp. 61-62)

Then he goes on to Swinburne, Rossetti, Fitzgerald, Morrison, Thompson, and Patmore.

Chesterton summarizes the end of the Victorian Age and the break-up of the Victorian Compromise thus:

There came a time, roughly somewhere about 1880, when the two great positive enthusiasms of Western Europe had for the time exhausted each other—Christianity and the French Revolution. About that time there used to be a sad and not unsympathetic jest going about to the effect that Queen Victoria* might very well live longer than the Prince of Wales. Somewhat in the same way, though the republican impulse was hardly a hundred years old and the religious impulse nearly two thousand, yet as far as England was concerned, the old wave and the new seemed to be spent at the same time. [*Today we could substitute the name "Queen Elizabeth II"!] . . .

Liberalism (in Newman's sense) really did strike Christianity through headpiece and through head; that is, it did daze and stun the ignorant and ill-prepared intellect of the English Christian. And Christianity did smite Liberalism through breastplate and through breast; that is, it did succeed, through arms and all sorts of awful accidents, in piercing more or less to the heart of the  Utilitarian—and finding that he had none. Victorian Protestantism had not head enough for the business; Victorian Radicalism had not heart enough for the business. Down fell they dead together, exactly as Macaulay's Lay says, and still stood all who saw them fall almost until the hour at which I write. (pp. 75-76)

In this chapter he examines the Æsthetes and the Decadents: Wilde, Beardsley, and even Maeterlinck(?). He did not include Dowson ("days of wine and roses"; "gone with the wind")! Among novelists, he critiques Henry James, opining that The Turn of the Screw is such a great achievement as a ghost story because the characters in the rest of James's novels are like ghosts! Again, he brings in one of his best literary friends (and designated heretic), G.B. Shaw, and another heretic H.G. Wells for his commendation and criticism.

Then he closes with the Imperialist phase: Stevenson, Henley, and Kipling. His appreciation of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is astute:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a double triumph; it has the outside excitement that belongs to Conan Doyle with the inside excitement that belongs to Henry James. Alas, it is equally characteristic of the Victorian time that while nearly every Englishman has enjoyed the anecdote, hardly one Englishman has seen the joke—I mean  the point. You will find twenty allusions to Jekyll and Hyde in a day's newspaper reading. You will also find that all such allusions suppose the two personalities to be equal, neither caring for the other. Or more roughly, they think the book means that man can be cloven into two creatures, good and evil. The whole stab of the story is that man can't: because while evil does not care for good, good must care for evil. Or, in other words, man cannot escape from God, because good is the God in man; and insists on omniscience. This point, which is good psychology and also good theology and also good art, has missed its main intention merely because it was also good story-telling. (p. 87)

The main caveat to be made about this book is that you have to know Victorian literature--you have to know it just to know who Chesterton is talking about sometimes for he does not always include first names (unless like Henry James the author has two first names as his name) or the title of the novel or book he is describing. You have to know the novels and the poems and the characters and the plots. I pulled out the second volume of the Norton Anthology of English Literature just to double-check some things. 


Sadly, the only author not included in this survey is G.K. himself (which would have been a conflict of interest anyway)--but it's interesting to think about the contributions he made to literature before Queen Victoria died and his attacks on the Victorian compromise on the side of reason and faith, against utilitarianism, industrialism, and jingoism, and how he continued the fight long after the queen died. 

An enjoyable and enlightening read. Notice how the discussion of the English reaction to the French Revolution dovetailed with my recent reading of Robert R. Reilly's book. Notice how Chesterton would have been particularly pleased with the alliteration of my penultimate sentence.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Preview: St. Swithun Wells, Recusant Layman

On Monday, August 3, Anna Mitchell and I will talk about Saint Swithun Wells in our series on the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales on the Son Rise Morning Show (about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central on Sacred Heart Radio).

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

The layman Saint Swithun Wells was hanged to death on December 10, 1591--a bloody day in the history of Catholic Recusancy in Elizabethan England. Seven English Catholics suffered brutal execution on December 10, 1591: three priests and four laymen, including Wells. One of the priests, Saint Eustace White and a layman, Blessed Brian Lacey were executed at Tyburn Tree. The other five suffered near Gray's Inn.

Wells was known to authorities as a recusant and they were probably watching his London house. According to the Oxford Reference website, Wells was

Born at Bambridge (Hants.) of a wealthy country family, Swithun Wells, a well-educated and travelled man, who was also poet, musician, and sportsman, lived a quiet country life until middle age. At one time he was tutor to the household of the earl of Southampton, later he married and then founded his own school at Monkton Farleigh (Wilts.). In 1582 he came under suspicion for his popish sympathies and gave up his school. He actively supported priests, organizing their often dangerous journeys from one safe and friendly house to another. He and his wife, though impoverished, moved to Gray's Inn Fields in 1586 and made their house a centre of hospitality to recusants. Wells was twice arrested and interrogated, but released for lack of evidence.

The Catholic Encyclopedia adds some details about his previous arrests:

On 4 July, 1586, he was discharged from Newgate on bail given by his nephew, Francis Parkins of "Weton", Berkshire. On 9 August, 1586, he was examined for supposed complicity in the Babington plot, and on 30 November, 1586, he was discharged from the Fleet prison. He was again examined 5 March, 1587, and on this occasion speaks of the well known recusant, George Cotton of Warblington, Hampshire, as his cousin.

He was indeed fortunate to have survived being questioned about the Babington Plot in 1586. The first executions of those convicted in that plot to replace Elizabeth I with Mary, Queen of Scots (who was her prisoner) were so brutal that authorities toned down the cruel gore the next day. 

In 1591, however, St. Swithun Wells was hanged for NOT attending a Catholic Mass in Elizabethan England. His wife Alice attended the Mass held in his house near Gray's Inn in London on November 1, 1591 (All Saints Day!), but he wasn't there when the priest hunters burst in during the Mass celebrated by Father Edmund Gennings. Those attending held the pursuivants off. His wife, Fathers Gennings and Polydore Plasden, and two other laymen, John Mason and Sidney Hodgson were arrested at the end of the Mass. Swithun was arrested when he came home. At his trial, he said he wished he could have attended that Mass and that was enough for the Elizabethan authorities. All of those arrested on November 1 were found guilty under 27 Elizabeth Cap 2 (Act Against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and Other Such Disobedient Subjects) and sentenced to death. Authorities then built a scaffold right outside his house for the executions.

Gray's Inn, at the intersection of High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road, by the way, is one of the four Inns of Court in London, where future barristers studied and trained. Recusant Catholics secretly studied there, so the Well's house was well situated for helping priests and hosting Mass. The scaffold outside his house and the presence of dignitaries at his execution and that of the two priests and two other laymen--more about that next week--would have been a powerful warning to the recusants in the area. We're watching you and we will punish you.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that Wells was an admirer and follower of Saint Thomas More, and he displayed some of that saint's sense of humor on the way to the scaffold and as he contended with Richard Topcliffe and a Church of England minister:

As he was led to the scaffold, Wells saw an old friend in the crowd and called out to him: "Farewell, dear friend, farewell to all hawking, hunting, and old pastimes. I am now going a better way"!" After he had climbed the ladder, Topcliffe called for a minister, who attempted to persuade Wells to confess to following false doctrine and traitorous priests. Wells turned and responded, "although I heard you say somewhat, yet it is but one doctor's opinion, and he also a very young one." The young minister was so daunted that he had no reply. Topcliffe then baited Wells, saying that "Dog-bolt Papists! you follow the Pope and his Bulls; believe me, I think some bulls begot you".Wells responded in kind: "if we have bulls to our fathers, thou hast a cow to thy mother".  He then immediately begged pardon and asked Topcliffe not to provoke him when he was trying to focus on other matters, hoping that this persecutor and torturer of Catholics would convert. He said, "I pray God make you a Paul of a Saul, of a bloody persecutor one of the Catholic Church's children."

John Hungerford Pollen's book Acts of English Martyrs Hitherto Unpublished, is the source of this dialogue. More and Wells must have "met merrily in heaven"!

St. Swithun's wife Alice received a reprieve from her death sentence, but died in prison in 1602.

Saint Swithun Wells, pray for us!

Image Credit: Statue of Saint Swithun Wells in Saint Etheldreda's, Ely Place in London.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: "America on Trial" by Robert Reilly (Part Two)


I published part one of my review on Saturday; it covered most of the book from the Introduction through chapter 8 on John Locke and how the Founders read him (see below for an outline of the book's contents, including the subheads in each chapter).

So, having offered his review of the intellectual background to the Founders' understanding of the issues of governance (Natural Law, Reason, happiness, tyranny, consent of the governed, Divine Right of Kings, rights to overthrow tyrants, etc), Reilly summarizes how they applied that knowledge to the situation the British American colonists faced in the 1760's and 1770's as Parliament (not really King George III) had violated their right of consent through taxation without representation. I found it remarkable that after all this discussion of the battle of ideas between Reason and Will, Reilly states that half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were college graduates who had received classical Scholastic educations in the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry) and had studied Latin, another vestige of medieval Catholic culture. Whatever the contemporary debate about rights and rulers--Hobbes vs. Locke et al--half of the signers had a grounding in the liberal arts. In that day, a university education was conservative of classical knowledge of the past.


Next, Reilly compares and contrasts the thoughts of some of the leaders of the French Revolution with those of the Founders, citing Abbé Sieyès, Marquis de Condorcet, Marquis de Sade, and Louis Saint-Just (who wasn't). He explains Jefferson's initial support of the French Revolution, before the Reign of Terror (a reign without a monarch!), and his disappointment with its progress after he left Paris, but then demonstrates how much John Adams and Alexander Hamilton inveighed against the philosophy and ideology of these French thinkers from the start. Reilly highlights Adam's arguments against Condorcet's The Progress of the Human Mind, carried out in the margins of a copy of the book, to demonstrate how completely he rejected Condorcet's view of the human person and society. Reilly's pithy statement in the section on the French Revolution's attack on the Catholic Church, Christianity, and Catholics sums up the dichotomy: The revolutionaries in France "attempted a total break with the past by destroying it"; the Founders of the United States of America "sought a fulfillment of the past by preserving and improving it" (p. 280). Tories, who had wanted to remain loyal to England's rule, may not have been "treated with kid gloves" (p. 288), but there was no genocide as in the Vendee, no rejection of Sunday as a day of rest and worship, no martyrdoms, September massacres, or new religion in the American Revolution.

Having built his case over ten chapters, Reilly now takes on the critics of the Founders and their intellectual background. Perhaps I am at a disadvantage here because I have not read the works of Deneen and Hanby. He devotes at least five pages to debunking Deneen's misquotation of a passage by James Madison in Federalist Papers Number Ten, noting that Deneen uses that misquotation several times in his analysis of the Founding. (The complete quotation is: "The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.") Deneen proposes that Madison argues for the protection of the "diversity in the faculties of men" while Reilly argues that Madison wanted government to protect the "faculties" but acknowledged that the natural diversity in those faculties was an obstacle to unity that had to be dealt with because of dangers factionalism pose. A reading of that paper makes it clear to me that Madison was trying to find the better way of "controlling the effects of faction" while enabling and protecting liberty. Madison thought that the federalist structure helped balance those efforts: "The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures."

In his Epilogue, Reilly cites passages from Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton--whom he incorrectly identifies as a signer of both the Declaration and the Constitution (p. 314)--to demonstrate that the Founders believed the form of representative government they were establishing required Christian virtues to succeed and perdure. They predicted the decline of the Republic if Christian virtues were rejected and diminished among the Republic's citizens.

Reilly identifies German historicism as the cause of our current decline as we've been taught that progress in itself perfects. Our truths are superior to truths of the past--there is no objective, natural, real truth; it's relative to time and place; it's subjective for each person. "That may be your truth, but it's not mine. Don't impose your truth on me." (I overheard that in a pub outside Canterbury Cathedral many years ago when one woman opined that it's good to be married before you have children--and it was spoken in anger, not comity. The discussion was closed.) Therefore, who ever has the most power to impose their subjective truth--BLM, the NBA, NFL, MSM, Corporations, etc--will triumph; there will be no discussion or debate on a reasonable basis. Wilson, Dewey, and Obama agree: Social reform and political control; schools as great factories to create properly formed citizens; Truth as the object of will because there is no absolute truth. Except for the truth that there is no absolute truth.

In the final paragraphs of the Epilogue, Reilly calls for a ressourcement of the Founding--a return "to reality, to reason, to 'the laws of Nature's God'"--and avers that it will come as the "modern project" destroys itself, cancels itself, devours itself as the Soviet Empire "imploded from its own hollowness." (p. 331)

But as the history of the Soviet Empire demonstrates, there will be great suffering before the end of the modern project: viz Portland, Seattle, and Chicago, et al.

Contents:
Foreword by Larry P. Arnn, PhD
Preface
Introduction: Do We Hold These Truths?
--Whose Fault Is It?
--Sources of the Founding

Chapter 1. The Legacies of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome
--The Prephilosophical World
--Magic Time: The Problem with Pantheism
--The Problem with an Eternal Universe
--The Philosophical World: Athens
--Natural Law: "What Is"
--The End of Man and Morality
--The Order of the City and the Order of the Soul
--The Problem of Happiness
--Jerusalem: Transcendent Monotheism
--The Goodness of Creation and the "Imago Dei"
--The Origin of Evil
--Rome: Christianity--The Nuptials of Jerusalem and Athens
--Logos Incarnate
--The Solution to Happiness
--Limiting the Political to Itself
--Dedivinization of the World
--Man's Freedom
--The Spiritual Genealogy: Equality

Chapter 2. The Medieval Roots of Civilization
--Dual Sovereignties
--Wielding the Two Swords
--The Investiture Conflict
--The Struggle in England
--Magna Carta
--The Struggle in the Holy Roman Empire
--The Contribution of Canon Law to Constitutional Thinking
--What Touches All Must Be Approved by All
--The Development of Consent

Chapter 3. The Loss of Reason and Nature
--The Realist Metaphysics of Reality
--Nominalism and the End of Essences
--Voluntarism and the Primacy of Will
--Parallels with Islamic Voluntarism
--Loss of Cause and Effect
--Consequences for Law

Chapter 4. Enter: Martin Luther--Exit: Christendom
--Luther and Nominalism
--The Hidden God--Deus Absconditas
--Complete Corruption of Original Sin
--Faith Alone
--Contra Aristotle and Philosophy
--Freedom from Free Will
--The Political Consequences
--The End of Dual Sovereignty
--Legal Positivism--Law as Will

Chapter 5. Richard Hooker: Restoring Natural Law
--Recovery of Reason
--The Requirement of Consent
--Hooker's Influence

Chapter 6. Thomas Hobbes and the Rise of Secular Absolutism
--Hobbes versus Hooker
--Denial of the Highest Good
--Mutable Men
--Primacy of Passion and Power
--The War of All against All
--All-Powerful Leviathan
--Dispositive Despotism
--The Reaction

Chapter 7. The Divine Right of Kings and Its Enemies
--Bellarmine and Suarez
--James I's Divine Right
--Filmer's Defense of Divine Right
--Sovereignty of the People
--Principle of Equality
--Francisco Suarez
--A Catholic Founding? (parallel passages from Bellarmine, Suarez, the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence)
--Algernon Sidney

8. John Locke: Problem or Solution?
--Equality and Consent
--The Right to Revolution
--Locke and the Founders
--A Two-Faced Janus?
--The State of Nature
--Happiness or Hedonism?
--Locke vs. Hobbes

9. A Restorative Founding on Reason
--War of Ideas
--Parliament's Violation of the Right of Consent
--Violating the "Laws of Nature" and "Natural Right"
--James Wilson and Natural Law
--The Revolution Arrives
--Declaration of Independence
--The Theology of the Founding
--"All Men Are Created Equal"
--The Relationship between Liberty and Happiness
--The Constitution

10. The Antipodes: The American Revolution versus the French Revolution
--French Enlightenment Ideologies
--The Assault on Christianity
--Adams and Hamilton React

11. Critiquing the Critics: Why They Go Wrong about What Was Right
--Scorning America
--The Abolitionism
--Misquoting Madison
--America Devoted to Diversity?
--Misunderstanding the Declaration
--Misunderstanding Massachusetts
--Retrofitting the American Founding
--Cogs in the Machine
--Suicidal Blunder

Epilogue

Selected Bibliography
Index

Monday, July 27, 2020

This Morning: Saints Margaret Clitherow and Margaret Ward

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central to continue our series on the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales. Matt Swaim (or Anna Mitchell) and I will discuss Saints Margaret Clitherow and Margaret Ward, two laywomen who suffered martyrdom because they sheltered and protected priests.

Please listen live here; the podcast will be archived here.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ composed this unfinished poem in honor of Saint Margaret Clitherow; at the end of the poem he alludes to Margaret possibly being pregnant when she was executed:

GOD’S counsel cólumnar-severe
But chaptered in the chief of bliss
Had always doomed her down to this –
Pressed to death. He plants the year;
The weighty weeks without hands grow,
Heaved drum on drum; but hands also
Must deal with Margaret Clitheroe.

The very victim would prepare.
Like water soon to be sucked in
Will crisp itself or settle or spin
So she; one sees that here and there
She mends the ways she means to go.
The last thing Margaret’s fingers sew
Is a shroud for Margaret Clitheroe.

The Christ-ed beauty of her mind
Her mould of features mated well.
She was admired. The spirit of hell
Being to her virtue clinching-blind
No wonder therefore was not slow
To the bargain of its hate to throw
The body of Margaret Clitheroe.

Great Thecla, the plumed passionflower,
Next Mary mother of maid and nun
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And every saint of bloody hour
And breath immortal thronged that show;
Heaven turned its starlight eyes below
To the murder of Margaret Clitheroe.

She was a woman, upright, outright;
Her will was bent at God. For that
Word went she should be crushed out flat
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Fawning fawning crocodiles
Days and days came round about
With tears to put her candle out;
They wound their winch of wicked smiles
To take her; while their tongues would go
God lighten your dark heart – but no,
Christ lived in Margaret Clitheroe.

She held her hands to, like in prayer;
They had them out and laid them wide
(Just like Jesus crucified);
They brought their hundredweights to bear.
Jews killed Jesus long ago
God’s son; these (they did not know)
God’s daughter Margaret Clitheroe.

When she felt the kill-weights crush
She told His name times-over three;
I suffer this she said for Thee.
After that in perfect hush
For a quarter of an hour or so
She was with the choke of woe. –
It is over, Margaret Clitheroe.

She caught the crying of those Three,
The Immortals of the eternal ring,
The Utterer, Utterèd, Uttering,
And witness in her place would she.
She not considered whether or no
She pleased the Queen and Council. So
To the death with Margaret Clitheroe!

Within her womb the child was quick.
Small matter of that then! Let him smother
And wreck in ruins of his mother. . . .

The repetition of "Margaret Clitheroe" at the end of each stanza is quite effective. Perhaps when Hopkins got to the point of the baby in her womb being crushed, he could go no further?


Hopkins did not write a poem about St. Margaret Ward, but the Diocese of Shrewsbury honors her among the saints and martyrs of the area:

St Margaret is today honoured in the Diocese of Shrewsbury. The saint is depicted in panels in St Joseph’s, Sale (above left), and St Alban’s, Wallasey. There was a wooden statue of her in St Laurence’s Church, Birkenhead, and in Sale a school and a church bear her name, as does another in Holmes Chapel.

Large statues of St Margaret and Blessed John Roche still stand today in St Etheldreda’s Church in Holborn, London.

St. Margaret Clitherow, pray for us!
St. Margaret Ward, pray for us!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Book Review: "America on Trial" by Robert Reilly (Part One)

From Ignatius Press:

The Founding of the American Republic is on trial. Critics say it was a poison pill with a time-release formula; we are its victims. Its principles are responsible for the country's moral and social disintegration because they were based on the Enlightenment falsehood of radical individual autonomy.

In this well-researched book, Robert Reilly declares: not guilty. To prove his case, he traces the lineage of the ideas that made the United States, and its ordered liberty, possible. These concepts were extraordinary when they first burst upon the ancient world: the Judaic oneness of God, who creates ex nihilo and imprints his image on man; the Greek rational order of the world based upon the Reason behind it; and the Christian arrival of that Reason (Logos) incarnate in Christ. These may seem a long way from the American Founding, but Reilly argues that they are, in fact, its bedrock. Combined, they mandated the exercise of both freedom and reason.

These concepts were further developed by thinkers in the Middle Ages, who formulated the basic principles of constitutional rule. Why were they later rejected by those claiming the right to absolute rule, then reclaimed by the American Founders, only to be rejected again today? Reilly reveals the underlying drama: the conflict of might makes right versus right makes might. America's decline, he claims, is not to be discovered in the Founding principles, but in their disavowal.


The Catholic World Report published a symposium of reactions to America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, but I encourage you to read the book--like I did--before you read the 13 responses by philosophers, historians, and others. Form your own opinion first on what Reilly has attempted and achieved before being influenced by them. I saw the symposium, scanned the summaries of the responses, and stopped--then went to Eighth Day Books and bought my copy. When I was last in the store Tuesday this week (for a discussion of Book III of Boethius' The Consolations of Philosophy with a group of friends) Warren was sold out, but I'm sure he'll be getting more copies soon.

Robert R. Reilly, whom I saw speak at the Midwest Catholic Family Conference in Wichita  (cancelled this year by COVID of course) a few years ago on his book The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, in this book offers an exploration of the philosophical and intellectual sources that inspired the Founders of the United States of America in their quest for independence from Great Britain and the establishment of a new nation. 

He goes all the way back to the pre-philosophical era, explores Greek philosophy focusing on Aristotle, Jewish monotheism, and the Latin/Roman Catholic synthesis of Greek philosophy and Revelation focusing on St. Thomas Aquinas, and continues his philosophical lessons through to the eighteenth century. 


Aristotle and Aquinas, with their confidence in our ability to reason based on the reality we experience around us are his heroes in these chapters. The Catholic synthesis of Aristotelian metaphysics and Revelation meant that we could, in a limited way of course, try to understand God and His creation with confidence, determine what is good, true, and beautiful, and live according to the Natural Law He created in the world, demonstrating the continuity between His Natural Law and His Revelation. This synthesis, Reilly argues, provided the foundation for the equality of all before the law, Divine and human, and the rights of all of God's creation to justice, including the consent to be governed. 

Along the way he offers an important defense of the Middle Ages, so often misidentified as the age of the "divine right of kings". Although it created many struggles between the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the rulers of countries and empires, Reilly suggests that the "two swords" theory of the Middle Ages created a balance of rights and responsibilities for the ordinary person that a single sword--the state controlling both secular and religious order in each country--takes away. This recalled to my mind how the 17th century courts of the Inquisition were considered more just by those being tried in the Civil in those Catholic countries that still--even though as Reilly later points out, many Catholic rulers adopted the single sword model--maintained some semblance of the "two swords" theory with two Court systems. There was a greater presumption of innocence and a higher standard of proof of guilt in the Church Courts of the Inquisition, such that those accused of secular crimes would fake religious crimes to change the court they would be tried in--the BBC even said so!

Then he demonstrates how William Ockham in philosophy and Martin Luther in theology, through their nominalism and voluntarism, destroyed this synthesis and shifted the basis of knowledge and action from Reason to Will: even God's Reason. Larry P. Arnn of Hillsdale College addresses Reilly's view of Martin Luther in his Preface, counselling Lutherans and other Protestants to respond carefully and charitably, noting that Reilly quotes Martin Luther accurately and judiciously.

Reilly asserts that the English theologian Richard Hooker re-established Aristotelian realism in the (High) Church of England but I found that chapter not as convincing as Reilly intended. Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity did not restore the "two swords" to England--the Church of England was as Erastian after as before--and even if James I praised Hooker's work that king upheld the theory of the Divine Right of Kings and the right of the monarch to rule the Church and the state without the consent of the governed. Yes, Hooker helped restore Natural Law to some extent, but the history of the Church of England demonstrates the limits of his legacy. His section on the relationship of the Church to the State, as Reilly notes in a later chapter, was not published until after both his and James I's deaths, because it was too controversial during that reign.

Reilly adds Thomas Hobbes to his triumvirate of the enemies of Reason and the Natural Law as he examines that gloomy philosopher's Leviathan as an effort to avoid civil war through absolute earthly obedience to the monarch, even above obedience to God. Heaven is no rewarding destination, only enforced peace on earth. The control of the state is necessary to hold in check the common, individual desires of each citizen to keep them from killing each other in the pursuit of worldly goods and security. Like Ockham and Luther, Hobbes deplored the thought and influence of Aristotle.

(Reilly mentions Machiavelli in his discussions of these contrasting views of political authority, but evidently judges him and The Prince to be a little outside the English background of the Founders.)

Juxtaposing James I of England's doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings to arguments by St. Robert Bellarmine and Father Francisco Suarez defending the sovereignty of the people and their right to consent to be governed, echoing Medieval theories. He cites parallel statements of Bellarmine, Suarez, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence on the "Source of Political Power", "Power of the People and the Requirement of Consent", and "Right to Revolution and Self-Determination". Reilly notes that our Founding Fathers weren't citing these arguments because their authors were Catholics (whom most of them detested and feared) but that they acknowledged the truth and effectiveness of these arguments as they were cited in Robert Firmer's defense of the Divine Right of Kings in his attempts to refute them. Lastly, he describes the influence of Algernon Sidney and his Discourses Concerning Government on the Founders, again noting the congruence between the two Jesuit scholastic theologians and Sidney.

The chapter on John Locke ("Problem and Solution") is a crucial one for Reilly's argument as he works to separate Locke's epistemological theories from his political theories. Again, part of his effort is to demonstrate what in Locke's philosophical and political works influenced the Founders. Reilly defends Locke from charges that he valued freedom and liberty only for the sake of hedonistic pleasures and shows that Locke has the common philosophical view of happiness as the fulfillment of Natural Law and Reality. He compares and contrasts Hobbes and Locke to demonstrate that the latter's thoughts are congruent with "orthodox" philosophies of Reality and Natural Law. Locke's epistemological skepticism did not extend to the afterlife, as he hoped for Heaven on his deathbed and wanted the Psalms read to him. That chapter was convincing to me.

I continue this review another day as this post is getting long! Since my background in Philosophy is scanty--one class at WSU that started with the thought of A.J. Ayer and scattered reading on my own--Reilly's systematic review of this history has been thought-provoking and fascinating to me.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Preview: Two Martyrs Named Margaret


On Monday, July 27, we'll continue our series on the Son Rise Morning Show with two more lay martyrs, Saint Margaret Clitherow and Saint Margaret Ward, two magnificent Catholic heroines who suffered during the reign of "Good Queen Bess" because they defended Catholic priests.

Saint Margaret Clitherow, The Pearl of York, was pressed or crushed to death on Good Friday (according to the Old Calendar, since England had not accepted the Catholic Gregorian reforms), March 25, 1586. Because she had refused to enter any plea when brought to trial--not cooperating with authorities--she was condemned to this unusual method of execution.

Clitherow was laid supine on the ground, a small stone placed beneath her back. She was naked, except for the shift placed on top of her. Her arms were outstretched like Jesus’ on the cross and tied to stakes, and the executioners placed a door on top of her. Then the executioners placed nearly 700 pounds of rocks on top of the door. She was crushed to death in about 15 minutes, speaking the name of Jesus as her ribs broke: “Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! Have mercy on me!”

She was born Margaret Middleton in 1556, married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and widower, when she was 18; at age 21, she became a Catholic. Her husband paid her fines when she refused to attend Church of England services, but he could not prevent her from being arrested and jailed for what authorities considered obstinate “popery” (her refusal to conform to the official national church). While she was in prison, however, she learned how to read and write.

John had children from his first marriage, Henry and Thomas; John had also allowed her to raise them as Catholics, as well as her children Anne and William. She hired a Catholic tutor named Stapleton to teach the children the faith. One of their sons, Henry, left York to attend a Catholic school on the Continent.

John Clitherow became a chamberlain of the city of York and was outraged when the authorities questioned him about his family’s faith and his son’s absence. John’s own brother William was a Catholic priest, so he was vulnerable, in spite of his public conformity to the Anglican church, especially when his wife refused to conform.

On March 10, 1586, the authorities raided the Clitherow household and found the tutor, Anne, William and neighborhood children doing their lessons. One little boy, from Flanders, after being threatened with torture, told the authorities about the priests who visited the household and showed them where the vestments were hidden. They arrested Margaret and accused her of breaking the laws against attending Mass and harboring Catholic priests.

Most of the sources I've read indicate that Clitherow refused to enter at plea at trial because she knew that her husband and her children would be called as witnesses and might be threatened with or even suffer torture; also her husband's standing in the community meant that his friends and colleagues would be on the jury to cast the verdict against her.

Being sentenced to peine forte et dure (“hard and forceful punishment”) was usually a three-day process: the first two days the prisoner would be laid down on the ground with as much weight laid upon her as she was able to bear and left thus without food or drink. If she entered her plea during the first two days, the weights would be removed and her trial would continue. If she still wouldn't enter a plea under this torture, she would be crushed to death on the third day. Saint Margaret Clitherow did not undergo the torture of three days: she was crushed to death on the first day. They left her body under the weights for another six hours and then buried her secretly. Her right hand was retrieved as a relic; it is kept at the Bar Convent in York. Her body was also found and decently buried.

Before sentence was carried out she sent her stockings and shoes to her daughter, conveying the message of following in her footsteps of faithfulness to the Church and the Sacraments. Anne left England to become a nun in Louvain, now Belgium. Both William and Henry became priests; and Thomas died in Hull prison in 1604, imprisoned for recusancy. John Clitherow remarried.

Father John Mush, her confessor, wrote her story in 1586, The Life and Death of Mistress Margaret Clitherow; he was arrested and sentenced to death in October that year but escaped.

Saint Margaret Ward was part of the second group of martyrs to suffer in 1588 after the failure of the Spanish Armada. She is a virgin martyr: she helped Father Richard 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 unfortunately injured himself 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 by 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 over eight days left her partially paralyzed and she had to be carried to Tyburn for hanging. On August 30, 1588, she and Blessed John Roche, who had helped rescue Father Richard Watson, Blesseds Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley, and one priest, Blessed Richard Leigh suffered martyrdom. The regime was certainly sending a message about laity who assisted Catholic priests.

These two saints share a separate feast day on August 30 with the other female martyr among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, St. Anne Line. In the triptych featured above, they are depicted in the right hand panel. Anne Line, a widow, is dressed in black; Margaret Ward holds a rope; Margaret Clitherow kneels on a door. The painting is by Geoffrey Webb.

St. Margaret Clitherow, pray for us!
St. Margaret Ward, pray for us!