Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Murder in the Cathedral

Eyewitness to History has this detail about how Henry II's knights accosted and murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury on December 29, 1170, from the report of Edward Grim, a monk at the cathedral:

"The murderers followed him; 'Absolve', they cried, 'and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.'

"He answered, 'There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.'

'Then you shall die,' they cried, 'and receive what you deserve.'

'I am ready,' he replied, 'to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.'

"Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him 'pander', and saying, 'Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.'

"The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. 'No faith', he cried, 'nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.'

"Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, 'For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.'"Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.

"Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder."

Like St. Thomas More, Becket is sometimes viewed as a controversial character, as this History Today article notes:

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, is probably best known in history for his infamous clashes with King Henry II of England in the 12th century. What started as a supposedly close relationship between king and clerk eventually led to a irreconcilable falling out as Church clashed with State. Their drama culminated with four knights from Henry's court who went to Christ Church in Canterbury to confront Becket. When the archbishop remained defiant, he met a grisly end, dying at the altar with the top of his skull severed. In death, however, he seemed to have the last laugh. His murder in the cathedral was seen as martyrdom, which resonated with the medieval people. An immense following built up after his death, with reports of miraculous healing occurring near his place of death, and ecclesiastical writers hastened to promote his cult with a flurry of hagiographical writings. The cult became so widespread, in fact, that it overtook St Cuthbert's cult in Durham as the most popular saint cult in England during the late Middle Ages, eventually reaching an international level of fame. The impact of Becket's cult was not limited to hagiography either. The pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales travel to Canterbury to pay their respects to St Thomas Becket's shrine. Clearly Becket's cult had appealed to many different members of society by the end of the fourteenth century. For a holy man lauded as the most popular saint in England during the late Middle Ages, however, the question remains: what generated such polarised controversy?

Despite the surge of devoted hagiographical texts in the wake of his demise, not everyone spoke highly of Becket. In Draco normannicus, royalist Stephen Rouen viewed him as a villain who was guilty of peculation. Cluniac monk Gilbert Foliot's opinion of Becket was particularly critical, showing that some members of the ecclesiastical community were responding unfavourably to Becket as well. Gilbert claimed that he bought his way into his chancellor position and then used his royal connections to become archbishop, and thus he felt as if he had to overcompensate for this and prove himself as a worthy and capable archbishop. Other accounts criticised Becket for his stubborn and self-indulging behaviour, which made him dangerous, and that he showed few signs of piety and saintliness in life. The implications of hagiographic rhetoric are worth considering as well. Hagiography idealises the saint with the intention of edification in imitation of Christ. The ecclesiastical community wanted to promote his cult and tailor his life to fit a Christian image. The success of this rhetoric benefitted them financially and spiritually, and thus it was essential that they idealised Becket's death, comparing him to a martyr dying for his faith. . . .

While the interpretation of his historical role is ultimately complex and disputable, Becket's controversial nature is understandable. Becket had plenty of criticism in life and in death, but the impact of his cult is undeniable, influencing the literature, history, life, and even spirituality of the medieval world and beyond. There are still traces of Becket across England, with numerous churches named after him. Although Henry VIII reportedly destroyed his bones during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth century, Becket's memory lives on in the subconscious of the English people, whether one views him as a saint or quite the opposite.

The question about whether or not Henry VIII's minions destroyed Becket's bones--there's no doubt that they destroyed the shrine--was the subject of a 1995 book from Yale University Press: The Quest for Becket's Bones by John Butler:

Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Fifty years after his martyrdom, his remains were placed in a spectacular shrine behind the high altar, which became a place of pilgrimage and miracle. The shrine was destroyed during Henry VIII's reformation in 1538, and the bones disappeared.

For 450 years the whereabouts of the remains of the greatest English saint have been the subject of speculation and rumor. The generally accepted view is that they were burned by the King's Commissioners. But others have suggested that the monks secreted them outside the cathedral precincts and later reinterred them in an unmarked grave. In 1888, workmen excavated the eastern crypt of the cathedral and uncovered ancient bones of a tall man whose skull had seemingly been cleft by a sword. In 1948 the bones were reinterred and re-examined by medical scientists. In 1990 two Foreign Legionnaires—Peregrine Prescott and Risto Pronk—were arrested attempting to break into the cathedral to liberate Becket's bones from a site reputedly known only to a small group of Catholics. Each of these events stimulated interest and spurred debate in private and public.

The history of the quest for Becket's bones is a compelling story of politics, science, conjecture, romanticism, and mystery. This book tells that story, sifting the known evidence, uncovering much that is new, and suggesting several hypotheses for the resting place of the elusive bones.

More here on Henry VIII's campaign against St. Thomas a Becket, in which he proclaimed that violation of a secular law precluded his canonization.

The Popish Plot and The Howard Family

The Howard family boasts two martyrs: St. Philip Howard who died in the Tower of London during Queen Elizabeth I's reign (denied the opportunity to see his son before he died unless he denied his Catholicism and professed to be a Protestant!) and his grandson, Blessed William Howard, who was beheaded on December 29, 1680 on Tower Hill.

William Howard was born on November 30, 1614, the son of Thomas Howard, who had conformed to the Church of England. William married Mary Stafford in a Catholic ceremony in 1637 and they had nine children. The Howard family, being Royalists, fled to the Netherlands during the English Civil War and returned to England with the Restoration of Charles II, being restored to his lands. Three of their daughters became nuns on the Continent and his wife died in 1692; James II had provided her with a pension.

He was accused by Titus Oates of being part of the non-existent Popish Plot and was tried by his peers in the House of Lords in Westminster Hall. One of his witnesses was arrested and died in jail. Howard was, of course, found guilty, attainted and his lands forfeit. The British Museum has a print that depicts his trial and execution.

He protested his innocence throughout the trial and on the scaffold:

Next he lift up his hands, standing up, and said. "I beseech Thee, God, not to avenge my innocent blood upon any man in the Whole kingdom ; no, not against those who by their perjuries have brought me here. For I profess before Almighty God that I never combined against the King's life, nor any body else, but whatever I did was only to procure liberty for the Romish religion. And, as for the Duke of York, I do here declare, upon my Salvation, I know of no design that he ever had against the King, but hath ever behaved himself, for ought I know, as a loving, loyal brother ought to do.
So now, upon my Salvation, I have said true all that I have said. And I pray God to have mercy upon my soul." . . .

After which he went round the scaffold and spake to the multitude thus, "I pray God, bless the King, and bless you all, especially the King's loyal subjects (such as I am myself) for I know you have a good and gracious King as ever reigned. God forgive me my sins, I forgive all the world, even those fellows that brought me here, and pray God to send them no worse punishment than to repent and tell the truth. And so, God bless you all."

And some replyed, "God have mercy upon your soul." Then a minister applyed himself, and said, "Sir; you did disown the indulgences of the Romish Church."

To which he answered, with a great passion.

"Sir ; what have you to do with my religion? Pray do not trouble me. However, I do say that the Church of Rome allows no indulgences for murder, lying, &c., and whatever I have said is true. What need you trouble yourself?"

Min. "Have you received no absolution?"

Answ. "I have received none at all. Sir, trouble not yourself, nor me."

Min. "You said that you never saw those witnesses."

Answ. "I never saw any of them but Dugdale, and that was at a time when I spoke to him about a footboy, or a foot match."

Then his man took off his periwig and upper coat, and with a pair of sizers (sic) cut off the collar of his masters shirt, after which, W.S. lyes down in a white satin waistcoat, a quilted sky-coloured silk cap, with lace turn 'd up, &c.

He gave his watch to a gentleman, crucifix to his page, his staff and paper to another.

Having fitted his neck to the block, rise up upon his knees and prayed to himself, then takes the block and embraced it, then 'his servants cut off more of the linen, in all which time he sent up short prayers, that Christ would receive his spirit. Then lying down and praying upon the block, the sheriff Cornish askt' of the headsman, in kindness to W.S., if he had given him any sign. He answered "No."
Whereupon W.S. rose up in a consternation and asked what they wanted. To which it was answered, "What sign will you give, Sir?"

Answ. "No sign at all. Take your own time. God's will be done."

Whereupon the executioner said, "I hope you forgive me?"

He made answer, "I do." Then lying down again, two of his servants came with a piece of black silk to receive the head. Then the headsman took the Axe in 'his hand, and after some pause gave the blow, Which was cleverly done, save the cutting off a little skin, which was cut off immediately with a knife. 

In 1824 his great-great-great grandson George William Jerningham requested Parliament to reverse the attainder against William Howard and restore the title Viscount Stafford, which he then inherited.

Pope Pius XI beatified William Howard in 1929.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The First Martyrs for Christ: The Holy Innocents

"The Coventry Carol" was part of a 16th century mystery play, "The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors", according to a 1534 prompt book by one Robert Croo, which enacted the events of Jesus's nativity story in St. Matthew's Gospel, depicting the slaughter of the young boys in Bethlehem as described in St. Matthew's Gospel, chapter 2, verses 16-18:

Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Douai-Rheims translation).

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor Youngling for
Whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever morn and day
For Thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Here is a performance from Westminster Cathedral.
Because Henry VIII proscribed these mystery plays, and the last authentic manuscript was burned in the 19th century, the words we have now are based on a transcription. There were two other carols in this play but we have only fragments of their texts. 

Who knows what other treasures the world has lost because of that era of plunder and destruction? 

There is another famous hymn for this Feast, very ancient, by Prudentius, Salvete flores Martyrum. The Catholic convert and Oratorian priest, Reverend Edward Caswall, translated the Latin thus:

Flowers of martyrdom, all hail! 
Smitten by the tyrant foe 
 On life’s threshold – as the gale 
 Strews the roses ere they blow.

First to bleed for Christ, sweet lambs! 
What a simple death ye died! 
Sporting with your wreath and palms 
At the very altar-side!

Honor, glory, virtue, merit, 
Be to Thee, O Virgin’s Son, 
With the Father, and the Spirit 
While eternal ages run. – Amen.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Proto-Martyr and the English Martyrs

Francis Aidan Cardinal Gasquet wrote a history of the Venerable English College in 1920; as a historian, Gasquet is often accused of bias and inaccuracy, but he can write stirring prose about the English martyrs from the Venerabile, showing the connections between the missionaries and two great Counter-Reformation saints, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Philip Neri:

FROM these melancholy reflections we may usefully turn to consider one of the most glorious pages in the history of the English College in Rome; as glorious as, if not indeed more glorious, than any similar Institution can boast of possessing: the page which records the martyrdom for the Faith of so many of its alumni. Proud indeed must be every son of the Roman Alma Mater at the thought of the heroic sufferings and deaths of so many of the old students of the Venerabile, and of the fact that the very foundations of the College were washed, as it were, by the blood of the many martyrs who went forth as priests from its walls to help to preserve the Catholic religion in England. They were true heroes in every sense of the word, knowing as they did that they were preparing themselves in their college life for certain persecution and possible death, in the exercise of their ministry in England. This is why the great St. Charles [Borromeo] of Milan thought it an honour to receive these young men when passing through his metropolitan city on their way to and from their own country. This is why the sweet St. Philip, who lived close to the College, on meeting them in the streets was wont to salute them with the words of the hymn for the feast of the Holy Innocents, Salvete Flores Martyrum.

In addition to this connection to the Holy Innocents, Gasquet highlights how the students at the Venerabile commemorated today's feast of St. Stephen, the proto-martyr of all Christian martyrs:

On St. Stephen's Day was inaugurated a long-continued practice of one of the students preaching before the Pope and Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on that feast. The ceremonial to be observed on these occasions is noted down in the volume of addresses and sermons before referred to. A carriage was sent from the Vatican to bring the preacher from the College: he was to remain in the sacristy vested in his surplice until the Master of Ceremonies came to fetch him after the singing of the Gospel. He was then, on entering the Chapel, to bow profoundly to the Cardinal celebrating the Mass, and then to proceed to the papal throne, where first kneeling on both knees he was to ascend and kiss the Pope's foot, to salute His Holiness with a bow, and returning to the bottom step, was again to genuflect on both knees, and having received the blessing, was to ask permission to publish the usual Indulgences. In his sermon he was not to turn directly to the Pope, but to look rather to the Cardinals; neither was he to raise his voice too loudly, and to beware of being carried away by his eloquence or of making use of too many gestures. After the sermon was finished, he was directed to return to the steps of the throne and remain kneeling whilst the Confiteor was being sung, after which he was to rise and publish the Indulgence, again kneeling whilst the Holy Father pronounced the blessing. At the end he was to follow the Master of Ceremonies to the sacristy. The occasion must have been a trying ordeal for the student even although, as was evidently the case, the Latin discourse had been composed for him. The feast suggested references to the possible martyrdom of the selected orator, when his turn came to go forth from Rome for the English Mission.

Two of these preachers did suffer martyrdom in England: Blessed John Cornelius and St. David Lewis.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Blessed John Henry Newman: Christmas Eve

Christ Hidden from the World: "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." John i. 5.

His condescension in coming down from heaven, in leaving His Father's glory and taking flesh, is so far beyond power of words or thought, that one might consider at first sight that it mattered little whether He came as a prince or a beggar. And yet after all, it is much more wonderful that He came in low estate, for this reason; because it might have been thought beforehand, that, though He condescended to come on earth, yet He would not submit to be overlooked and despised: now the rich are not despised by the world, and the poor are. If He had come as a great prince or noble, the world without knowing a whit more that He was God, yet would at least have looked up to Him and honoured Him, as being a prince; but when He came in a low estate, He took upon him one additional humiliation, contempt,—being contemned, scorned, rudely passed by, roughly profaned by His creatures.

What were the actual circumstances of His coming? His Mother is a poor woman; she comes to Bethlehem to be taxed, travelling, when her choice would have been to remain at home. She finds there is no room in the inn; she is obliged to betake herself to a stable; she brings forth her firstborn Son, and lays Him in a manger. {241} That little babe, so born, so placed, is none other than the Creator of heaven and earth, the Eternal Son of God.

Well; He was born of a poor woman, laid in a manger, brought up to a lowly trade, that of a carpenter; and when He began to preach the Gospel He had not a place to lay His head: lastly, He was put to death, to an infamous and odious death, the death which criminals then suffered.

For the three last years of His life, He preached the Gospel, I say, as we read in Scripture; but He did not begin to do so till He was thirty years old. For the first thirty years of His life, He seems to have lived, just as a poor man would live now. Day after day, season after season, winter and summer, one year and then another, passed on, as might happen to any of us. He passed from being a babe in arms to being a child, and then He became a boy, and so He grew up "like a tender plant," increasing in wisdom and stature; and then He seems to have followed the trade of Joseph, His reputed father; going on in an ordinary way without any great occurrence, till He was thirty years old. How very wonderful is all this! that He should live here, doing nothing great, so long; living here, as if for the sake of living; not preaching, or collecting disciples, or apparently in any way furthering the cause which brought Him down from heaven. Doubtless there were deep and wise reasons in God's counsels for His going on so long in obscurity; I only mean, that we do not know them. . . .

We are very apt to wish we had been born in the days of Christ, and in this way we excuse our misconduct, when conscience reproaches {246} us. We say, that had we had the advantage of being with Christ, we should have had stronger motives, stronger restraints against sin. I answer, that so far from our sinful habits being reformed by the presence of Christ, the chance is, that those same habits would have hindered us from recognizing Him. We should not have known He was present; and if He had even told us who He was, we should not have believed Him. Nay, had we seen His miracles (incredible as it may seem), even they would not have made any lasting impression on us. Without going into this subject, consider only the possibility of Christ being close to us, even though He did no miracle, and our not knowing it; yet I believe this literally would have been the case with most men. . . .

Let us then pray Him ever to enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may belong to the Heavenly Host, not to this world. As the carnal-minded would not perceive Him even in Heaven, so the spiritual heart may approach Him, possess Him, see Him, even upon earth.

Chesterton at Kings (Frances, That Is)

Each year I peruse the booklet for the Nine Lessons and Carols at the King's College Chapel in Cambridge to see what carols have been chosen and what the new commissioned carol is. Chesterton would approve of all that alliteration and this year Chesterton contributes to the program. Not G.K. Chesterton, but his wife, Frances Chesterton!

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift! 
We need not wander more but enter with our gift; 
Our gift of finest gold, 
Gold that was never bought nor sold; 
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed; 
Incense in clouds about his head; 
All for the child that stirs not in his sleep, 
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep. 

Bend low about his bed, for each he has a gift; 
See how his eyes awake, lift up your hand, O lift! 
For gold, he gives a keen-edged sword 
(Defend with it thy little Lord!) 
For incense, smoke of battle red, 
Myrrh for the honoured happy dead; 
Gifts for his children, terrible and sweet, 
Touched by such tiny hands, and Oh such tiny feet.

The music is by Herbert Howells.

Our Greater Wichita chapter of the American Chesterton Society held a most festive meeting last Friday at Eighth Day Books: we read selections from collection by G.K. Chesterton called The Spirit of Christmas, of which I bought two copies last year (and gave one as a gift): it's as rare as hen's teeth now and the American Chesterton Society should reprint it as the companion volume to Frances Chesterton's collection, edited by Nancy Carpenter Brown, of poems and plays, How Far Is It to Bethlehem. You might say we had lessons without carols, but with many treats and great fun!

When my GKC group friends see this post, it may confirm us all more than ever that we should read The Woman Who Was Chesterton next, once we've finished reading and discussing The Well and the Shallows (and we can just about see the bottom of the well now).

According to the website for King's College Chapel:

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 on 24 December at 3pm (10:00 EST or 07:00 PST). The service is also broadcast at 2pm on Radio 3 on Christmas Day, and at various times on the BBC World Service.

In the United States the service is broadcast by around 300 radio stations, including American Public Media and its affiliates (Minnesota Public Radio and WNYC-New York, for example). Unfortunately there is no list of radio stations that are broadcasting the service, so it's best to contact your local stations or check their online listings.

Christmas and Easter Meet in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

John M. Grondelski writes some "Catholic Thoughts on A Christmas Carol" for Crisis Magazine, highlighting the religious lessons to be learned from Dickens' classic Christmas ghost story:

Justice and Mercy Meet. Marley suffers because of the man he made himself into: “I wear the chain I forged in life” and now fetters him eternally. The same fate threatens Scrooge, whose chain was “as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago.” But that turn of justice is not something external, imposed by an angry God: it is rather that we reap what we have sown. The women justify theft of Scrooge’s deathbed curtains by his life: “Every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did.” If he took care of himself, why can’t she? And if neglect breeds ignorance, despair, and death, then Tiny Tim’s fate is not imposed but ineluctable: “If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.” But if they are changed, if “courses be departed from,” things can be different. God lets us have what we want: we need to be sure it’s indeedreally what we want.

Kids love the “spirits” and thrills of A Christmas Carol, a story with an easily dislikable villain and a happy ending, a blend of Christmas and Halloween. One can reduce the Carol to that cartoon level. But there’s a greater richness in the story where, through the intervention of the supernatural, a man takes stock of himself and rises a new creature. It that sense, it’s a blend of Christmas and Easter.

G.K. Chesterton also noted the theme of "a man takes stock of himself and rises a new creature" in his study of Dickens, in which he notes that each of us, as much as Scrooge, need to undergo that process, that conversion:

And as with his backgrounds of gloom, so with his backgrounds of good-will, in such tales as "The Christmas Carol." The tone of the tale is kept throughout in a happy monotony, though the tale is everywhere irregular and in some places weak. It has the same kind of artistic unity that belongs to a dream. A dream may begin with the end of the world and end with a tea-party; but either the end of the world will em as trivial as a tea-party or that tea-party will be as terrible as the day of doom. The incidents change wildly; the story scarcely changes at all. "The Christmas Carol" is a kind of philanthropic dream, an enjoyable nightmare, in which the scenes shift bewilderingly and seem as miscellaneous as the pictures in a scrap-book, but in which there is one constant state of the soul, a state of rowdy benediction and a hunger for human faces. The beginning is bout a winter day and a miser; yet the beginning is in no way bleak. The author starts with a kind of happy howl; he bangs on our door like a drunken carol singer; his style is festive and popular; he compares the snow and hail to philanthropists who "come down handsomely;" he compares the fog to unlimited beer. Scrooge is not really inhuman at the beginning any more than he is at the end. There is a heartiness in his inhospitable sentiments that is akin to humour and therefore to humanity; he is only a crusty old bachelor, and had (I strongly suspect) given away turkeys secretly all his life. The beauty and the real blessing of the story do not lie in the mechanical plot of it, the repentance of Scrooge, probable or improbable; they lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him; that great furnace, the heart of Dickens. Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us. Whether or no the visions were evoked by real Spirits of the Past, Present, and Future, they were evoked by that truly exalted order of angels who are correctly called High Spirits. They are impelled and sustained by a quality which our contemporary artists ignore or almost deny, but which in a life decently lived is as normal and attainable as sleep, positive, passionate, conscious joy. The story sings from end to end like a happy man going home; and, like a happy and good man, when it cannot sing it yells. It is lyric and exclamatory, from the first exclamatory words of it. It is strictly a Christmas carol.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

“O Virgo Virginum” Among the White Canons

The Norbertines of England (aka Premonstratensians) use a different set of O Antiphons, starting on December 16. Tonight's antiphon honors the Blessed Virgin Mary:

The Roman Rite begins the Great Antiphons on the 17th, but we sing the first, “O Sapientia,” on 16th, because we sing an extra Antiphon, “O Virgo Virginum” in honour of Our Blessed Lady on the 23rd. This was a common [English] medieval practice that our Order maintains (it was also sung in the Sarum Use, for example, although the other medieval variant on the Roman Rite, “O Gabriel,” is not included in our Breviary).

The antiphon in Latin:

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

And English:

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

The Norbertines of St Philip’s Priory, Chelmsford provide this history on their vocations blog:

The Canons Regular of Prémontré were founded by St. Norbert at Prémontré, France on Christmas Day, 1120.

By God's grace, we live the canonical life based upon the ancient Rule of St Augustine (written around 400). At the heart of our way of life is a devotion to prayer and contemplation, which nourishes our various apostolic works in the world. There are five pillars to our Norbertine way of life that our holy father Norbert bequeathed to us:

- The praise of Almighty God in the sacred liturgy
- A zeal for souls
- A life of penance
- Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament
- Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially her Immaculate Conception

The Order arrived in England in 1138, until the suppression of the monasteries in the Reformation. By then, there were 38 houses (both male and female) in the British Isles. Expelled from these islands for over three centuries, we returned in 1872 and founded several missions.

The Norbertine houses in England were in Alnwick, Barlings, Bayham, Beauchief, Beeleigh, Blackwose, Blanchland, Broadholme, Cammeringham, Cockersand, Combswell, Coverham, Croxton, Dale, Durford, Easby, Eggleston, Guizance, Hagnaby, Halesowen, Hornby, Irford, Kayland, Langdon, Langley, Lavendon, Leyston, Newbo, Newhouse, St. Radegund, Shap, Snellshall, Stixwold, Sulby, Tichfield, Torre, Tupholme, Warburton, Welbeck, Wendling, West Dereham, and West Ravendale. The priests of the Order worked primarily in parishes, serving in 150 parishes near these houses--those services all lost during the Dissolution of Monasteries and all religious orders.

It's interesting that the former Anglicans who are part of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham do not follow this English pattern of O Antiphons in their recently approve Missal and Customary, as least according to this Ordo.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Scottish "War on Christmas"

You've heard of the Puritan ban on Christmas in England and the British Colonies: but the Reformation in Scotland, led by John Knox, led to a long, long ban on the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus (starting in 1640), according to this article in The Catholic Herald:

Unlike the recent “wars on Christmas”, the four centuries-long Scottish indifference to the birthday of Jesus was rooted in the Reformation and John Knox’s rejection of many forms of Catholic worship. Until then Yule had happily been celebrated with “games and feasting”.

The present minister at Canongate, the Rev Neil Gardner, explains that “Knox took a dim view on this, and associated Christmas with excessive frivolity”. Knox, having abandoned the grandeur of St Andrew’s Cathedral, also rejected celibacy for priests and nuns, bishoprics, belief in purgatory, the Virgin Mary, rosary beads, saints, the Pope, holy water and incense. The fiery preacher did not stop there. He set his face resolutely against the observance of the Christian year and all its festivals, including Christmas, on the grounds that the Lord’s Day alone could claim scriptural authority.

In 1640, an Act of the Parliament of Scotland abolished the “Yule vacation and all observation thereof in time coming … the kirke within this kingdome is now purged of all superstitious observatione of dayes…”

The historical basis of the Christmas feast was not difficult for Knox and other Reformists to challenge. As Jews didn’t celebrate birthdays, there is nothing in the Gospels, or even in the books by Josephus, about the month, let alone the day, when Jesus was born. But it is well known that in the 4th century Emperor Constantine introduced December 25, the feast day of his former god, Mithras, as the birthday of Christ – a convenient date as it coincided with multitudes of other pagan celebrations around the European winter solstice.

The Rev Charles Robertson admits that Christmas is “a Christianised pagan festival” but thinks it is a special date for all Christians as “it is important to walk through the year with Christ, marking it with the events of Jesus’s life – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost”. When I asked what he thought had brought around the change in Scottish attitudes to Christmas, he spoke of the influence of the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, and the inheritance of their liberalising attitudes.

I doubt that David Hume, who thoroughly despised Catholicism, would have much to do with the revival of Christmas. The Enlightenment did not really liberalize attitudes toward Catholics or anything connected to Catholicism. Remember that John Locke in England denied that Catholics were even Christian! Perhaps it was the number of Irish coming to Scotland in the nineteenth century adding to the numbers of native Catholics who had survived the long period of oppression or the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland by Pope Leo XIII in 1878 that brought the celebration of Christmas back. 

Christmas became a public holiday in 1958.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Church History Apologetics: December Edition

This morning on the Son Rise Morning Show, at about 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central, Matt Swaim and I will conclude our Church History Apologetics series for the year with a consideration of the Legend of Pope Joan. Every so often there's a new book--or redesigned reissue of an older one--or a cable network documentary about the legend, which was first recounted in the thirteenth century, of a woman disguised as a man, who became pope in the eleventh century.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia entry sums up reputable historical reaction to the legend:

This alleged popess is a pure figment of the imagination. In the fifteenth century, after the awakening of historical criticism, a few scholars like Aeneas Silvius (Epist., I, 30) and Platina (Vitae Pontificum, No. 106) saw the untenableness of the story. Since the sixteenth century Catholic historians began to deny the existence of the popess, e.g., Onofrio Panvinio (Vitae Pontificum, Venice, 1557), Aventinus (Annales Boiorum, lib. IV), Baronius (Annales ad a. 879, n. 5), and others.

It is, nevertheless brought up again and again as a way to attack the male-only priesthood in the Catholic Church and the office of the Pope, the hierarchy of the Church, etc.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Mortal Storm: A Family Makes Choices

Last night, TCM showed one of my favorite movies: The Mortal Storm with Margaret Sullavan ("with an A") and Jimmy Stewart (billed as James Stewart). The New York Times reviewed the movie in 1941:

At last and at a time when the world is more gravely aware than ever of the relentless mass brutality embodied in the Nazi system, Hollywood has turned its camera eye upon the most tragic human drama of our age. In Metro's "The Mortal Storm," which opened yesterday at the Capitol, a grim and agonizing look is finally taken into Nazi Germany—into the new Nazi Germany of 1933, when Hitler took over the reins and a terrible wave of suppression and persecution followed. And, on the basis of recorded facts and the knowledge that its drama is authentic, this picture turns out to be one of the most harrowing and inflammatory fictions ever placed upon the screen.

There is no use mincing words about it: "The Mortal Storm" falls definitely into the category of blistering anti-Nazi propaganda. It strikes out powerfully with both fists at the unmitigated brutality of a system which could turn a small and gemütlich university community into a hotbed of hatred and mortal vengeance, which could separate the loving members of a family and hound two free-thinking young people into flight from their homeland and to death. It gives no quarter to the antagonists; from clear-eyed and apparently upright young men, they suddenly become heartless sadists at nothing more than the call of their leader's name, the infectious chant of a song. There is no question of why they become such. The fact that they are is assumed as a premise.

But so violent is the oppression meted out by the Nazis and so bitter and hopeless is the fate of those against whom it is aimed that even the spiritual satisfaction which might be derived from a story of heroic suffering is seriously impaired, especially in the light of current headlines. As propaganda, "The Mortal Storm" is a trumpet call to resistance, but as theatrical entertainment it is grim and depressing today.

The family involved is a mixed family: two non-Aryans (the father, played by Frank Morgan) and the daughter (played by Sullavan); the mother and her sons are protected by their Aryan blood and in fact the sons and their friends become Nazi's, while the father suffers because he will not, as a scientist and esteemed professor, accept that there is a difference between Aryan and non-Aryan blood. The reviewer is correct that the violence and bullying depicted in the movie make the viewer feel helpless and hopeless: you wish you could burst into the action and beat up Dan Duryea! You want to tell the two Roberts, Stack and Young, that they are destroying all they love! Directed by Frank Borzage.

Friday, December 18, 2015

'the true life of a man is in his letters'

From Oxford University Press comes this new book about Blessed John Henry Newman:

John Henry Newman was one of the most eminent of Victorians and an intellectual pioneer for an age of doubt and unsettlement. His teaching transformed the Victorian Church of England, yet many still want to know more of Newman's personal life. Newman's printed correspondence runs to 32 volumes, and John Henry Newman: A Portrait in Letters offers a way through the maze.

Roderick Strange has chosen letters that illustrate not only the well-known aspects of Newman's personality, but also those in which elements that may be less familiar are on display. There are letters to family and friends, and also terse letters laced with anger and sarcasm. The portrait has not been airbrushed. This selection of letters presents a rounded picture, one in which readers will meet Newman as he really was and enjoy the pleasure of his company. As Newman himself noted, 'the true life of a man is in his letters'.

The Contents:

A Chronology of John Henry Newman
1. Early Years (1801-33)
2. The Oxford Movement (1833-39)
3. Under Siege (1839-43)
4. From Oxford to Rome (1843-46)
5. Early Catholic Years (1846-51)
6. The Pressure of Crises (1852-58)
7. Dark Days (1859-63)
8. The Apologia and the Oxford Mission (1863-65)
9. Answering Pusey and Anticipating the Vatican Council (1865-69)
10. Vatican I and Answering Gladstone (1870-76)
11. Honorary Fellow of Trinity and Cardinal (1876-81)
12. Final Year (1881-90)
Index of Correspondents

Amazon.com offers a generous preview and/or Kindle sample. 

Strange is an excellent interpreter of Newman's life and thought. Next to Father Ian Ker and Edward Short, he is one of the best. Several years ago, I read his Newman 101 published by Ave Maria Press and reviewed it for Amazon:

Over the years I have read many books about Newman: biographies, studies, monographs. I have read Newman's major works and many of his sermons. I have taught classes on Cardinal Newman. When I picked up this book to read as a review before attending a seminar at Christ Church at the University of Oxford, I really did not expect to learn anything new.

With that preface out of the way--this book truly impressed me. Father Strange reveals Newman's influence and impact on his life and vocation as a priest in so many wonderful ways, so that the book has a very appropriate "heart speaks to heart" quality (Cor ad cor loquitor/Heart Speaks to Heart was Newman's motto as Cardinal).

He provides an excellent overview of Cardinal Newman's life and his major efforts and works. The chapter on Marian Doctrine and Devotion, not always a theme expected in an introductory study of Newman, was truly revelatory. Newman's apologetic for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, like his explanation of the First Vatican Council's declaration on Papal Infallibility, provides a clear defense of the Church's teachings while placing them in their proper context of the Divine Economy of Salvation.

Father Strange also enlightens when describing Newman's understanding of God's providence in his life (and in the lives of all Christians), the course of Newman's sermons at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin during the Oxford Movement, his efforts to help the laity, and to advance Christian unity.

The last two chapters are perhaps the most extraordinary: a comparison of St. Thomas More and Venerable John Henry Newman as a meditation on sanctity and canonization and an analysis of Newman's epic poem, "The Dream of Gerontius".

The title may indicate that this book is on an introductory level, it's true (in the U.K. the title was "John Henry Newman: A Mind Alive" which does not have such a college course catalog flavor about it). The writing is clear and accessible, but the richness of Father Strange's introduction goes far beyond just an acquaintance or chance meeting--it reveals friendship and understanding. Highly recommended to anyone wanting to know more about Venerable (soon to be Beatified) John Henry Newman.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Prayer of Evening for the Golden Nights

Each of the major Hours of the Divine Office has a canticle from St. Luke's Gospel: the Benedictus during Morning Prayer; the Nunc Dimittis during Night Prayer, and the Magnificat during Evening Prayer:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae; ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen ejus, Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Sucepit Israel, puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae, Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semeni ejus in saecula.


My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

Starting tonight, the antiphons for that great Marian prayer, which Mary prayed when she, Elizabeth, the unborn Jesus and the unborn John the Baptist all met during the Visitation, are the great O Antiphons. As the USCCB site reminds us:

The Roman Church has been singing the "O" Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative "Come!" embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah. 

Each antiphon names a title of Jesus: Wisdom, Lord of Israel, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of All the Nations, God With Us. More about the O Antiphons of these Golden Nights just before Christmas here.

St. Thomas a Becket and the Long Delayed Excommunication of Henry VIII

The Catholic Church usually moves rather slowly to censure or punish: if dissenters or heretics persist in their error, the Church investigates, argues, urges conversion, warns, and finally acts. The excommunication of Henry VIII--or rather, its public declaration--is an example, as Dr. Matthew Bunson describes on this EWTN page:

In July 1533, Pope Clement VII threatened English King Henry VIII with ex-communication if he did not resume his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The date that the pope gave to Henry was September of that year. For the English at the royal court, the decree all but marked the formal excommunication of the king as it was clear that Henry had no intention of abandoning his schemes with Anne Boleyn. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, subsequently annulled the marriage in May 1533. The pope still did not issue the bull as he remained hopeful of an eventual solution to the problem and that Henry might at last come to his senses. This, of course, never happened, and Clement died the next year in September. It is a testament to the patience of the Holy See that Pope Paul III, pontiff since October 1534, waited until 1538 to issue the bull. Significantly, he did not promulgate a new one but merely issued the longstanding one first drafted by Clement in 1533. I believe that some of the confusion may stem from this fact. The excommunication was issued because of Henry’s demolition of the Church in England and his determination to execute anyone who stood in his way.

Speaking personally, I have not read the bull of excommunication, although a copy should exist in the Vatican Archives. The reasons for its lack of publicity at the time stems perhaps in part from the political situation, especially when compared to the circumstances surrounding Regnans in Excelsis. By 1570, the English Reformation had destroyed the ecclesiastical structure in England, and Elizabeth was able to use the bull as a cudgel against her Catholic enemies and as a propaganda device. In 1538, Henry’s political situation was far more precarious, and he long considered the threat of excommunication to be a serious one as it isolated him from the Holy Roman Emperor and from the King of France, both of whom remained in the Catholic camp. The Protestant states were still unsettled, so the scale of potential enemies was considerable. As it turned out, Henry broke definitively from the Church, and the oppressive years for the Catholics in England only grew worse. 

When both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had died in 1536, Henry was freed of all marital impediments, so his marriage to Jane Seymour and the successful delivery of a baby boy (Henry must have been so relieved when Edward survived the first few months and then a full year!), led to those hopes that he might return to the Catholic fold, give up his spiritual authority in England, and stop his dalliance with Reformed theology and religious practice. After Jane's death, Henry's marital prospects included some Catholic princesses, so there was again some hope. But then the destruction of shrines, the suppression of monasteries and friaries, and Henry's obduracy must have convinced Pope Paul III that the time was right to publish the excommunication.

The Anne Boleyn Files summarizes it thusly:

Henry VIII had already upset the Pope and the Catholic Church by:-
  • Annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn
  • Declaring himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England
  • Persecuting those who opposed the Acts of Supremacy and Succession
  • Dissolving the monasteries
  • His handling of the Pilgrimage of Grace

But the final straw was Henry’s attack on religious shrines in England, shrines that contained religious relics and that were visited by many pilgrims. One such shrine was that of St Thomas Becket (Thomas à Becket) in the Trinity Chapel of Catherbury [sic] (Canterbury) Cathedral, which was seen as one of Europe’s holiest shrines and was therefore a popular destination for pilgrims from all over Europe. In a meeting of the King’s Council on the 24th April 1538 a “Process against St Thomas of Canterbury” was decided. . . .

One treasure which was purloined by the King from the shrine was the Regale of France, a great ruby which was donated by King Louis VII, and Henry VIII had this made into a thumb ring for himself.

Such desecration of a place which many pilgrims, and the Catholic Church as a whole, saw as holy could not go unpunished and it was this final act which made Pope Paul III issue the Bull of Excommunication.

Note again, however, that Pope Paul III waited until almost the end of the year (from April to December) to finally issue the decree of excommunication. It was a signal to Henry's European foes, Frances I, King of France and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as Nancy Bilyeau explains here. England has always been part of an island, of course, but Henry's action against the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket was making it more insular than ever, cutting it off from the community of Europe more surely than the English Channel. St. Thomas a Becket  and his shrine was for all Catholics in the world; Henry thought the shrine was his to dispose of as he wished. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Book Review of a Book of Book Reviews

My literary friend Edward Short sent me a review copy of Adventures in the Book Pages: Essays and Reviews, published by Gracewing in the UK:

In Adventures in the Book Pages, Edward Short shares his insights into history, literature, music, art, religion, and biography from a refreshingly Catholic standpoint. Here are essays and reviews on Renaissance portraiture, Catholic poetry, the Great War, Europe entre deux guerres, and the Blue Plaques of London. There are also pieces on Ben Jonson, Samuel Johnson, W. M. Thackeray, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Penelope Fitzgerald, as well as Henry V, Henry VIII, John Ruskin, A. W. N. Pugin, Henry Mayhew, Edward VII, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Winston Churchill, Kenneth Clark, Alec Guinness, John Osborne, Charles Arnold-Baker and the Queen Mother. And, last, but not least, an extended essay on Cardinal Newman and the idea of sanctity.

Edward Short maintains a good pace of book reviews even as he works on the last volume of his trilogy on Blessed John Henry Newman: Newman and His Critics (which he has told me includes both critics and commentators, pro and con). Many of his reviews are of books about Newman and his contemporaries (which happens to be the title of the first book of the trilogy) and I have read some of the books he reviews in this volume because of our shared interest.

He is an insightful and knowledgeable reviewer. His judgments are backed by authority. He grants the author's intent and accepts the author's achievement but he also judges the author's failures. As an example, I offer the wonderfully titled review of Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee: "Penelope's Odyssey". Short provides an excellent precis of the book and its subject, highlighting Lee's successes, but also describing her biography's failure to understand the role of religious faith in Fitzgerald's life and works.

That is a hallmark of Short's reviews: the role of religious, specifically Catholic Christian, faith in the books he reviews: not only because the books are often about some aspect of religion in society, but because Short looks for it, even by its absence, as in the example above. These are not "just" book reviews because Short provides as much historical and biographical background as the reader needs to be able to assess whether or not she should read the book.

As I noted, I have read some of the books Short reviews in these pages. I was a little surprised at how positive ("The Great Temple") he was about R.A. Scotti's Basilica: The Splendor and The Scandal: Building St. Peter's (two colons!) because I thought the author had overemphasized the scandal in the first subtitle. On the other hand, he helped me understand Father Ian Ker's study on Newman and the Second Vatican Council more completely and will lead me to another reading of that important study.

Note that there are a few essays in the book also, including a great survey of Catholic poetry in the English Tradition, and an excellent discussion of "Newman and the Idea of Sanctity".

The index and the table of contents provide a modicum of help to the reader seeking certain books and/or subjects. The index could have referenced the specific reviews in which, for example, "Newman, Blessed John Henry" is a subject. The table of contents could have included the title and author of the book reviewed. Or, as the author himself suggested to me, the book could have been organized thematically. Nevertheless, it is a great collection of reviews of many scholarly, influential books on subjects ranging from historiography, biography, the nineteenth century, Catholicism, World War I and World War II--both a resource and a joy to read for the love of reading. Even more: for the love of reading about the love of reading, judging, and explaining books and ideas; appreciating the people who write them and read them.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bishop Thomas Tanner, RIP

Thomas Tanner, the Anglican bishop of St. Asaph, died on December 14, 1735. He wrote a history of the English monasteries and friaries before the Reformation, Notitia Monastica, or a Short History of the Religious Houses in England and Wales. He describes the literary, administrative, social, and other benefits of the monasteries which William Cobbett quotes extensively in his History of the English Reformation in England and Ireland:

In every great abbey there was a large room called the Scriptorium, where several writers made it their whole business to transcribe books for the use of the library. They sometimes indeed wrote the ledger books of the house, and the missals, and other books used in divine service; but they generally were upon other works, viz. the the Fathers, Classics, Histories, etc. John Whethamsted, abbot of St. Alban's, caused above eighty books  to be thus transcribed during his abbacy. Fifty eight were transcribed by the care of one abbot at Glastonbury and so zealous were the monks in general for this work, that they often got lands given, and churches appropriated for the carrying of it on. In all the greater abbeys, there were also persons appointed to take notice of the principal occurrences of the kingdom, and at the end of every year to digest them into annals.

In these records they particularly preserved the memories of their founders and benefactors', the years and days of their births and deaths, their marriages, children, and successors; so that recourse was sometimes had to them for proving persons' age and genealogies . . .The constitutions of the clergy in their national and provincial synods, and (after the Conquest) even acts of parliament, were sent to the abbeys to be recorded ; which leads me to mention the use and advantage of these Religious houses. For, first, The choicest records and treasures in the kingdom were preserved in them. An exemplification of the charter of liberties granted by king Henry I was sent to some abbey in every county to be preserved. Charters and inquisitions relating to the county of Cornwall were deposited in the priory of Bodmin; a great many rolls were lodged in the abbey of Leicester and priory of Kenilworth, till taken from thence by king Henry III. King Edward I sent  to the Religious houses to search for his title to the kingdom of Scotland in their ledgers and chronicles, as the most authentic records for proof of his right to that crown. When his sovereignty was acknowledged in Scotland, he sent letters to have it inserted in the chronicles of the abbey of Winchcombe, and the priory of Norwich, and probably of many other such like places. And when he decided the controversy relating to the crown of Scotland between Robert Bruce and John Baliol, he wrote to the dean and chapter of St Paul's London, requiring them to enter into their chronicles the exemplification therewith sent of that decision.

The learned Mr. Selden hath his greatest evidences for the dominion of the narrow seas belonging to the king of Great Britain, from monastic records. The evidences and money of private families were oftentimes sent to these houses to be preserved. The seals of noblemen were deposited there upon their deaths. And even the king's money was sometimes lodged in them. Secondly, They were schools of learning and education; for every convent had one person or more appointed for this purpose ; and all the neighbours, that desired it, might have their children taught grammar and church music without any expense to them. In the nunneries also young women were taught to work, and to read English, and sometimes Latin also. So that not only the lower rank of people, who could not pay for their learning, but most of the noblemen's and gentlemen's daughters were educated in those places. Thirdly, All the monasteries were in effect great hospitals, and were most of them obliged to relieve many poor people every day. They were likewise houses of entertainment for almost all travellers. Even the nobility and gentry, when they were upon the road, lodged at one Religious house and dined at another, and seldom or never went to inns. In short their hospitality was such, that in the priory of Norwich one thousand five hundred quarters of malt, and above eight hundred quarters of wheat, and all other things in proportion, were generally spent every year. Fourthly, The nobility and gentry provided not only for their old servants in these houses by corrodies, but for their younger children and impoverished friends, by making them first monks and nuns, and in time priors and prioresses, abbots and abbesses. Fifthly, They were of considerable advantage to the crown, 1) By the profits received from the death of one abbot or prior to the election, or rather confirmation, of another. 2) By great fines paid for the confirmation of their liberties. 3). By many corrodies granted to old servants of the crown, and pensions to the king's clerks and chaplains till they got preferment. Sixthly, They were likewise of considerable advantage to the places where they had their sites and estates: 1) By causing great resort to them, and getting grants of fairs and markets for them; 2) By freeing them from the forest laws; 3) By letting their lands at easy rates. Lastly, they were great ornaments to the country; many of them were really noble buildings; and though not actually so grand and neat, yet perhaps as much admired in their times, as Chelsea and Greenwich hospitals are now. Many of the abbey churches were equal, if not superior, to our present cathedrals; and they must have been as much an ornament to the country, and employed as many workmen in building and keeping them in repair, as noblemen's and gentlemen's seats now.

Bishop Tanner also recounted the disadvantages and problems with the monasteries throughout the centuries, but it must be said that his listing of them is short in comparison with the work and charity--not to mention the prayer and worship--of the monasteries detailed above. He also discusses their relative decline in the sixteenth century, a decline they had no opportunity to recover from as they had in earlier ages (N.B., the tenth century!). The "corrodies" referred to above are the lifetime provisions of food, lodging, and clothing by the monasteries, providing a kind of retirement plan for royal and noble servants--thus saving the monarch from having to grant pensions to his former servants. More on Bishop Tanner here.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Blessed Thomas Holland, SJ: "Sacrifice Them All"

From The Jesuit Curia in Rome:

Thomas Holland (1600-1642) suffered from poor health during the whole of the seven years he spent in active ministry in his native England. Despite his suffering he fearlessly moved around London to bring the sacraments to Catholics during a period of oppression.

He was born in Lancashire and attended the English College at Saint-Omer in Flanders for six years. He moved to Valladolid, Spain, in August 1621, to attend the English College there and then returned to Flanders in 1624 so that he could enter the Jesuits. He did his novitiate and theological study in Flanders and was ordained there before being assigned to be the spiritual director of the scholastics at Saint-Omer. In 1635 he was assigned to the English mission in the hope that his native air would meliorate the poor health he had begun to suffer.

The conditions in which he had to live in England made his health worse, not better. He had to stay indoors all day and travel only at night because of the danger of arrest by priest-hunters. The hardships he endured caused a loss of appetite, which only worsened his condition. Ill health, however, did not keep from ministry; and he continued until his arrest on Oct. 4, 1642 on suspicion of being a priest. He was detained at New Prison in London for two weeks and then taken to Newgate at the time of his trial. No evidence could be put forth proving that he was a priest, and he had been very careful in prison not to be caught praying, but when the court asked him to swear that he was not a priest, he refused; the jury found him guilty and condemned him to die. The French ambassador offered to intervene to try to win his freedom, but Holland said he preferred martyrdom. Some Capuchin friends smuggled Mass supplies into prison so he could celebrate the Eucharist one last time. On the morning of Dec. 12 he was dragged to Tyburn to be executed. He prayed for those who had condemned him and for King Charles I, the royal family, parliament and the nation. He gave the hangman the little money he had, forgave him for what he was about to do and then was hanged until he was dead. His body was then beheaded and quartered and exposed on London bridge.

This Jesuit site provides more details about his execution and his beatification:

Fr Holland was dragged to Tyburn at mid-morning of the 12th and seeing a crowd had gathered in silence, he spoke: “I have been brought here to die a traitor, a priest and a Jesuit; but in truth none of these things has been proved.” Then mounting the cart, he placed the noose about his neck and told the people that he was truly a priest and a Jesuit and that he pardoned the judge and jury that had condemned him.. He recited his acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition and then prayed for King Charles I and the nation “for whose prosperity and conversion to the Catholic faith, if I had as many lives as there are hairs on my head, drops of water in the ocean, or stars in the firmament, I would most willingly sacrifice them all.” These words brought cheers from the crowd. He then forgave his executioner for what he is about to do and gave him the few coins he still had in his pocket.

With eyes closed in prayer, Fr Holland looked at a priest in the crowd and received absolution. After he was hanged, his body was beheaded and quartered and exposed on London Bridge. Fr Holland was only forty-two years of age and a Jesuit for eighteen years. Pope Pius XI beatified him on December 15, 1929.

Blessed Thomas Holland, pray for us!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Mount Grace and The Lady Chapel

Of course it makes sense that when English Heritage posts information about 10 women from that country's history with connections to its various properties and attractions, some former monasteries or friaries would be mentioned. In this post from earlier this year (in March), the author starts with St. Hilda of Whitby--so that brings up Whitby Abbey; then Margery Kempe with her connection to Hailes Abbey AND Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire. The article concludes with the life of Gertrude Bell and Mount Grace Priory again:

Our rundown ends with a woman who maybe ‘made it happen’ more than anybody else in the list, but will soon lose her claim to being ‘lesser-known’ thanks to two new films, Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman . . . and a documentary, Letters from Baghdad. After a fairly conventional upper class upbringing in County Durham, London, and then at Oxford University – with frequent country house weekends at her grandfather’s house, Mount Grace Priory – Gertrude Bell embarked on the travels that would occupy her extraordinary life. After long periods in Bucharest and Tehran, two round-the-world trips, and a number of unprecedented mountaineering expeditions, Bell became obsessed with the Middle East. Years of cultural immersion, writing and archaeological study alongside figures including T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) followed, before she was recruited by British Intelligence during the First World War. Her expertise, and Lawrence’s, exerted a huge influence on British policy in the region, and both were invited to help determine the boundaries of the British mandate and the fates of nascent states such as Iraq in the aftermath of the war.

In addition to being one of the architects of its eventual borders, Bell became a powerful force in Iraqi politics; she could even be described as its kingmaker when her preferred choice, Faisal, was crowned King of Iraq in August 1921. Her focus soon returned to archaeology, however, and she became Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, establishing its National Museum. It opened shortly before her death, in 1926. She has been described as ‘one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection’.

Mount Grace Priory was a Carthusian house dedicated to the House of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Nicholas and founded by Thomas Holland, the First Duke of Surrey, in 1398. Mount Grace was well known for its preservation of great works of English spirituality.

Like the Carthusians of the Charterhouse of London and its priories at Beauvale and Epworth/ Axholme, some of the hermit monks at Mount Grace refused to take Henry VIII's Oath of Succession and thus were imprisoned by Henry. When the last prior at Mount Grace submitted the priory to Thomas Cromwell, Henry's Vice-Regent in spiritual matters, the hermit monks were released.

Where once there were nine Carthusian houses in England (two in Somerset--Witham and Hinton; two in Yorkshire--Kingston upon Hull and Mount Grace, Coventry in Warwickshire, Sheen in Surrey, Beauvale in Nottinghamshire, Epworth in Lincolnshire and the Charterhouse in London), now there is only one: St. Hugh's Charterhouse, Parkminster, West Sussex. The first Carthusian Charterhouse in England was founded by King Henry II in reparation for the murder of St Thomas a Becket. Just remember, the Carthusians were never, ever accused of any violations of their rule: they were exemplars of the monastic/hermetic vocation and Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell DESTROYED THEM ANYWAY! Yes, those capital letters are well earned: I am shouting on the internet.

After Emancipation in 1829 and the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850, the order returned to England in 1873.

From Mount Grace Priory, the separate Lady Chapel survived:

In 1515 a former Franciscan, Thomas Parkinson, entered the hermitage at the Lady Chapel, provided for by Katharine of Aragon, after whom the hotel in Osmotherley is named. He appears to have remained there until the dissolution of Mount Grace Priory in 1539. At that time the lands and buildings of the Priory passed into the possession of Sir James Strangways. Meanwhile, John Wilson, the last Prior of Mount Grace, was granted a pension and given the Lady Chapel in perpetuity. Following a brief period of exile during the reign of Edward VI, he returned to England with the accession of Queen Mary and entered the restored Charterhouse at Sheen, where he died. It is thought that by this time the chapel was unroofed and in ruins. However, it appears that a member of the Wilson family continued to hold the Lady Chapel and a Wilson was caught on pilgrimage there in 1611.

Despite the ruinous state, the Lady Chapel continued to attract pilgrims to a degree that alarmed the authorities in York, and on the eve of Little Lady Day, 7 September 1614, sixteen people were arrested and subsequently confessed to having prayed at the chapel.

Among those visiting the Lady Chapel were sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, come to pray for their foundress, Mary Ward, who was gravely ill. Upon her recovery, she too made a pilgrimage to the chapel in thanksgiving. At the time one of the Sisters wrote: ‘The Chapel is to this day a [p]lace of great devotion, where many graces are granted, though so destroyed as only four walls remain without roof or cover; and… exposed to great winds. Yet there you shall find Catholics praying together for hours.’ Other pilgrims visiting the shrine during the Civil War period included the Jesuit priest John Robinson, who, three months after narrowly escaping the death penalty for a second time, wrote of returning ‘from a celebrated chapel of the Immaculate Virgin in the county of York’. This second escape, when actually on the scaffold, was the result of an order of Parliament bringing to an end the death penalty ‘for religion alone’.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Banned in Boston: Christmas

Movies and books have been "Banned in Boston"--but Christmas? Matt Swaim and I will discuss the official ban of Christmas in Boston and Massachusetts for more than 20 years on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning after the 7:45 a.m. Eastern break (6:45 a.m. Central time). This site describes the background:

Outlawing the celebration of Christmas sounds a little extreme, but it happened. The ban existed as law for only 22 years, but disapproval of the Christmas celebration took many more years to change. In fact, it wasn't until the mid-1800s that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region.

The Puritans who immigrated to Massachusetts to build a new life had several reason for disliking Christmas. First of all, it reminded them of the Church of England and the old-world customs, which they were trying to escape. Second, they didn't consider the holiday a truly religious day. December 25th wasn't selected as the birth date of Christ until several centuries after his death. Third, the holiday celebration usually included drinking, feasting, and playing games - all things the Puritans frowned upon. One such tradition, "wassailing", occasionally turned violent. The custom entailed people of a lower economic class visiting wealthier community members and begging, or demanding, food and drink in return for toasts to their hosts' health. If a host refused, there was the threat of retribution. Although rare, there were cases of wassailing in early New England. Fourth, the British had been applying pressure on the Puritans to conform to English customs. The ban was probably as much a political choice as it was a religious one for many.

It wasn't just Massachusetts: anywhere in New England where the Puritans influenced the culture, Christmas was not celebrated. The Puritans were bringing their non-celebration customs from England. Christmas was just too Catholic for them. Misspell and mispronounce the word and you have the key: Christ Mass. The celebration of the Incarnation and Eucharist are too close for Puritan comfort.

The Puritans thought Christmas was unscriptural and that the Papists had just taken over a pagan holiday (there are some Christian denominations that are opposed to the celebration of Easter too for the same reasons). The fact that in England, Catholic recusants still celebrated the Christmas season with prayers, Mass, and parties, irritated the Puritans too:

In addition to this association with immorality and the concept of misrule, another of the central objections to the feast for the stricter English Protestants between 1560 and 1640 was its popularity among the papist recusant community. Within the late medieval Catholic church, Christmas had taken a subordinate position in the liturgical calendar to Easter. Its importance, however, had been growing and was further enhanced by the religious conflicts of the sixteenth century, for whereas, as John Bossy has recently pointed out, the more extreme Protestants had little time fox Christ's 'holy family', reformed Catholicism laid great stress on this area. The Tridentine emphasis on devotions to the Virgin Mary in particular elevated the status of the feast during which she was portrayed as a paragon of motherhood.

Certainly, English recusants seem to have retained a deep attachment to Christmas during Elizabeth I's reign and the early part of the seventeenth century. The staunchly Catholic gentlewoman, Dorothy Lawson, celebrated Christmas 'in both kinds... corporally and spiritually', indulging in Christmas pies, dancing and gambling. In 1594 imprisoned Catholic priests at Wisbech kept a traditional Christmas which included a hobby horse and morris dancing, and throughout the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Benedictine school at Douai retained the traditional festivities, complete with an elected 'Christmas King'. The Elizabethan Jesuit, John Gerard, relates in his autobiography how their vigorous celebration of Christmas and other feasts made Catholics particularly conspicuous at those times and, writing on the eve of the Civil War Richard Carpenter, a convert from Catholicism to Protestantism, observed that the recusant gentry were noted for their 'great Christmasses'. As a result, by the 1640s many English Protestants viewed Christmas festivities as the trappings of popery, anti-Christian 'rags of the Beast'.

Christmas had been a great feast in Merry Old England with specific festivities after the Advent period of fasting and repentance. As Ronald Hutton showed in his book, The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year, 1400-1700, the ritual year began--just as the Church year does today--with Advent and the Christmas season. During the coldest and darkest days of the year, the Christian people of England prepared and then celebrated the coming of the Light of the World, both "corporally and spiritually". 

In both England and New England, it was not until the nineteenth century that celebrating Christmas became both accepted and common. The Victorians, especially Charles Dickens, revived the festivity of Christmas, but unfortunately focused it all on one day, December 25, forgetting about the season. In the U.S.A., the Civil War led to the revival of Christmas, with thoughts of home and family--and Ulysses S. Grant proclaimed Christmas Day a federal holiday in 1870.

Martyrs on Gray's Inn Road and at Tyburn, December 10, 1591

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, 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 (pictured at right) 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! He was hung near his home on Gray's Inn Road in London, and he spoke to Richard Topcliffe before he died, 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." St. Swithun as a school master had for a time conformed to the official church but then had returned to the Catholic faith.

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"!

St. Swithun's wife Alice received a reprieve from her death sentence, but died in prison in 1602. The two priests and the other three laymen were all executed on December 10. Sir Walter Raleigh was present at the execution and heard Father Polydore pray for Queen Elizabeth. Raleigh then asked him about his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth as the rightful ruler of England and liked his answers, so ordered him to be hung until dead, thus avoiding the rest of the torture of his execution. On the other hand, Topcliffe made sure that Father Gennings suffered all the tortures of being hung and quartered: he was left to hang but a short time and was fully conscious as the executioner started cutting him up. Father Gennings had said, "I know not ever to have offended the Queen. If to say Mass be treason, I confess to have done it and glory in it."

The two priests and the house owner have been canonized: St. Edmund Gennings, St. Polydore Plasden, and St. Swithun Wells--among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970. The two laymen who helped defend St. Edmund Gennings at Mass and were sentenced to death for that felony were beatified (Blessed John Mason and Blessed Sidney Hodgson) by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

But these were not the only martyrdoms in London that day in 1591--Father Eustace White and layman Brian Lacey were executed at Tyburn. St. Eustace White was a convert to Catholicism--his anti-Catholic father cursed him and White endured permanent estrangement from his family. In 1584 Eustace began studies for the priesthood in Rheims, France and Rome, Italy, and was ordained at the Venerable English College in Rome in 1588. In November 1588 he returned to the west of England to minister to covert Catholics. The Church was going through a period of persecution in England, made even worse by the attack of the Armada from Catholic Spain. Arrested in Blandford, Dorset, England on 1 September 1591 for the crime of being a priest. He was lodged in Bridwell prison in London, and repeatedly tortured.

He endured the torture technique developed by Richard Topcliffe and used on St. Robert Southwell and others, being hung by the wrists. As he wrote to Fr. Henry Garnet, SJ from prison:

"The morrow after Simon and Jude's day I was hanged at the wall from the ground, my manacles fast locked into a staple as high as I could reach upon a stool: the stool taken away where I hanged from a little after 8 o'clock in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon, without any ease or comfort at all, saving that Topcliffe came in and told me that the Spaniards were come into Southwark by our means: 'For lo, do you not hear the drums' (for then the drums played in honour of the Lord Mayor). The next day after also I was hanged up an hour or two: such is the malicious minds of our adversaries."

At his trial he forgave the judges who sentenced him to death. He is also one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. You could read more about him in this book. Brian Lacey was a Yorkshire country gentleman. Cousin, companion and assistant to Blessed Father Montford Scott, who had suffered earlier in 1591. Arrested in 1586 for helping and hiding priests. Arrested again in 1591 when his own brother Richard betrayed him, Brian was tortured at Bridewell prison to learn the names of more people who had helped priests. Finally arraigned down the Old Bailey, he was condemed to death for his faith, for aiding priests and encouraging Catholic. Pope Pius XI also beatified him in 1929. Blessed Brian Lacey was also related to Blessed William Lacey, a 1582 martyr in York.