Tuesday, January 26, 2016

An Earlier Second Spring? Dom David Knowles on Father Augustine Baker

I purchased a copy of this book at Eighth Day Books last year and have dipped into it every so often, reading one or two of the essays. (There is another copy available at EDB.) It contains essays on Aelfric of Eynsham, Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, The Cloud of Unknowing, Dame Julian of Norwish, St. John Fisher (by E.E. Reynolds), St. Thomas More, Father Persons, SJ, Father Augustine Baker, Bishop Richard Challoner, Cardinal Newman (two--one by Dessain), Cardinal Manning, Father Faber, John Chapman, Monsignor Ronald Knox, and "Spiritual Reading for Our Times".

Dom David Knowles writes about Father Augustine Baker in what seems to have been the introduction or review of an edition of Baker's great work the Sancta Sophia. In establishing the context of Baker's lifetime, Knowles refers to a "Second Spring" of English Catholicism--and when I think of the Second Spring of English Catholicism, I think of Blessed John Henry Newman's 1852 sermon. Nevertheless, Dom Knowles makes a good argument for his use of that term:

The life of David (in religion Dom Augustine) Baker covered almost exactly (1575-1641), the period between the final break with Catholicism in the early years of Elizabeth I and the beginning of the civil disturbances which were to put to an end any hope there might have been of a massive re-establishment of the old religion as a powerful minority among all classes in the country.

Knowles is referring to the Northern Rebellion and various plots against Elizabeth, blaming them for the alienation of many Catholic nobles and landowners for fear of being aligned with traitorous plots.

Seen from another viewpoint, it was the period in which the new Catholicism, that of the Council of Trent, of the Jesuits, and of the Counter-Reformation, made its impact on England; it was a time of anguish and persecution; and yet it was a very real Second Spring, in which the first newcomers from the recently founded seminaries and colleges fired their relatives and converts at home with a zeal that had been lacking in the generation that had lost the faith, and that peopled monasteries and convents in France in the Low Countries with religious in exile; it was also, unhappily, a time of feuds and quarrels and mistakes, and of a clash of aims and hopes and ideals that ultimately did as much as the spirit of Puritanism to check the spread of faith in this country. David Baker had experience of all this.

In this long sentence, Knowles balances the achievements and the failures of the Catholic missionary project, referring to the conflicts for example between the Jesuits and the Appellants, etc. He also refers to "the generation that had lost the faith": the generation during the reign of Henry VIII that let Thomas More, John Fisher, and other martyrs of that time bear the burden of the faith while they compromised and plundered.

Knowles had a remarkable ability, probably through great effort and practice, of summing up historical trends. In those two sentences, he provides extraordinary insights into not just the lifespan of one man's life (66 years) but an age in England's history.

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