Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Belloc on Henry VIII's First Two Wives

Tomorrow (a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern) on the Son Rise Morning Show, Anna Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, looking at Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's first two wives.

One of the most interesting aspects of his analysis of Catherine of Aragon is that Belloc rejects the usual explanation of Henry VIII wanting to have his marriage to Catherine annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn--the desire for a legitimate male heir:

Now here arises an important point. To what extent was Henry influenced in the abominable thing he did by the desire for an heir? Did his wronging of Catherine have any excuse in his disappointment at having only a daughter to succeed him? 

The white-washers of Henry and the defenders of the great tragedy of the Reformation have argued with all their weight on that side. They have pretended in different degrees of sincerity that Catherine's ill success in providing him with an heir is the root of the affair. Not one who reads the contemporary documents of the time can believe that. 

The root of the affair was Henry's miserable infatuation with Anne Boleyn. But the first duty of the historian is to be just; and we must allow a certain weight to Henry's desire for a male heir. These things cannot be put in exact proportion or percentages, but if one attempts to put it thus and give the disappointment at the lack of an heir from one fifth to one quarter of his motive, one may perhaps roughly represent the weight which it bore. 

He was somewhat worried by not having a male heir because his throne was not too stable; his father had been a usurper and only captured the throne twenty-four years before his son's accession. It was in its way important to leave a son to carry on the dynasty; on the other hand the greatest thrones in Europe were handed on through women Spain itself was a splendid example — and the little Princess Mary was so popular with everyone and would have been so thoroughly supported that there was no real danger. 

Put forward as the main excuse for the divorce, the pretence that the necessity for a male heir was the leading motive was falsehood and hypocrisy. When it was clear that Catherine could bear no more children, Henry gradually deserted her. He had several affairs ; he took up with a woman whom he had known in boyhood — one Blount — and had a son by her whom he called the Duke of Richmond. He also took up with the daughter of a courtier and diplomat of his called Boleyn, a young lady of the name of Mary, and when he was tired of her he married her off to one of his other courtiers with a portion which did no credit to his generosity. 

He probably ceased to live with his wife as early as 1521, when he was no more than thirty, and she, poor woman, still under thirty-seven. Even by his own admission (and he was a great liar) he ceased to live with her within the next three or four years.

And then Anne Boleyn shows up in 1522 and Belloc also has a different view of Anne's influence on Henry VIII's actions:

Anne, then, was neither the cause nor the inspirer of the first movement away from Catholicism. But she is what I have called her, the pivot figure. It is because she was what she was, and did what she did, that England is what England is to-day. 

It is, therefore, of the first importance to history to under- stand what this woman really was and the real place of her action in the whole scheme of the time. From her day to our own it has been taken for granted by all national tradition and by every historian that she lay at the origins of the English Reformation, but latterly there has arisen an effort to weaken or question this sound tradition and to explain in other ways the quarrel between Henry and Rome and the ultimate effect of it. This effort at supplanting true history by false is part of the general scepticism of our time, which is usually ready to accept anything new because new falsehoods sound more picturesque as a rule than well- worn truths. But there is here a more powerful motive, to make the origins of the change of religion in England look a littie less ignoble than they really are. That is why Professor Pollard, for instance, who is the chief authority on the details of the period in England, tries to maintain the fantastic theory that Henry's attempt to get rid of his wife was not connected with Anne Boleyn, but with larger reasons of State, and that he had had the policy of getting rid of Catherine of Aragon in mind for many years before he met Anne Boleyn. The idea is not only fantastic, but desperate; it has no chance of being accepted out of England, and I do not think it will be accepted even in England save by those who are very hard up for material in the whitewashing of Henry VIII's character. 

No, Anne remains and will always remain at the origins of dire catastrophe. It behooves us therefore to understand her and her effect as best we can. Anne Boleyn was a Howard. That is the first thing to grasp in connection with her, and it is all the more important to grasp it because historians have failed to stress as strongly as they should have stressed this capital feature in her position. She was a Howard through her mother, who was the daughter of that old Duke of Norfolk, the victor of Flodden, and who was the sister of his son Thomas, third Duke of Norfolk, who played a great part throughout the whole of Henry VIII's reign. 
The Howards were semi-royal. . . .

And then Belloc comes to the Great Matter and Henry's intentions:

We have no documents; we can only judge by the nature of the case and by what followed. But it is fairly clear that some time before, or in the very early part of 1525, when Henry was thirty-four years of age, and Anne well over twenty, perhaps as much as twenty-three, there was some arrangement between them, and that Anne had already given Henry to understand that she would not be his mistress, but would envisage marriage if he could get rid of Catherine. In that year her father was raised to the peerage and given a new and more prominent position, and in that year we have also large gifts from Henry to Anne, and Henry interfering with her movements and saying where she is to stop. 

It does not follow that Henry had thus early accepted the idea of marrying Anne. He probably still thought she would become his mistress at last. To attempt the repudia- tion of Catherine, the niece of the Emperor of Germany and the King of Spain, the most prominent woman in the greatest family in Europe, would be a very serious business indeed, and Henry's hesitating and uncertain character would hardly come to a decision at once in the matter. . . . 

Fascinating, right? But does Belloc have it right? Tune in tomorrow!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Newman and History

Coming soon from Gracewing Publishing, Edward Short's new book on Blessed John Henry Newman: Newman and History:

The author has already promised me a review copy!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Violence and Blood on the Scaffold and on BBC TV

The BBC miniseries on the Gunpowder Plot has upset some viewers from the start because it depicts two gruesome executions: a woman, like St. Margaret Clitherow, being crushed to death, and a young Catholic priest, like Saint Alexander Brian or St. Ralph Sherwin, being hanged, and drawn, and quartered. These were brutal, bloody, and horrific sights and in the dramatization, Robert Catesby and Anne Vaux witness these executions.

BBC News reports that audiences were shocked:

A BBC drama about the gunpowder plot has drawn criticism for its violence.

One viewer labelled an execution scene in Gunpowder "grotesque and completely unnecessary", while another called it "one of the most painful things I've ever witnessed on TV".

The drama, starring Game of Thrones' Kit Harington, tells of the 1605 plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

The BBC said the offending scenes were "grounded in historical fact" and reflected what took place at the time.

The first episode, shown on Saturday, showed a woman being pressed to death and a priest being disembowelled.

"I'd been really looking forward to #Gunpowder but just had to turn off during the first episode," tweeted one viewer.

But another Twitter user said the drama had to be "graphic & gory... for us to understand the depth of persecution, and why [Robert] Catesby & co did what they did".

It's always interesting to think of what violence people can tolerate; so many action style movies have a great deal of violence. I watched about 30 minutes of a Transformers movie recently and was stunned at the pace, the action, and the violence--but of course most of that is machines attacking each other!

The reason the violence of a woman being stripped and pressed to death or a young man been choked until barely conscious and then being eviscerated and beheaded while still alive is so shocking is that these are victims, enduring this suffering without recourse or resistance. I would presume that these images would be as hard to look at as the scenes of the scourging and crucifixion were in The Passion of Christ, Mel Gibson's movie: the blood, the brutality, the helplessness of the victim are too much for us to bear. Because of modern movie special effects magic, the blood can seem to spurt, the bones to snap, and we can see and hear it to a remarkable degree of verisimilitude.

If the BBC drama shows the executions of the plotters in the last episodes of the series, I wonder if viewers will be just as repelled, knowing what they had planned for their victims: burning to death or being blown up.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Happy Birthday to Mary Sidney Herbert

Mary (Sidney) Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, was born on October 27, 1561. According to the Poetry Foundation:

Mary Sidney was the most important non-royal woman writer and patron in Elizabethan England. Without appearing to transgress the strictures against women's writing, she composed a sizable body of work, evading criticism by focusing on religious themes and by confining her work to the genres thought appropriate to women: translation, dedication, elegy, and encomium. Even more important to her success was her identity as the sister of Sir Philip Sidney. She began her public literary career after his death by encouraging works written in his praise, publishing his works, and completing his translation of the Psalms. Except for some business correspondence, all of her extant works were completed or published in the 1590s. Tantalizing later references indicate that she continued writing and translating until her death, but all subsequent works have been lost, probably to fire; her primary residences of Wilton and Baynards Castle burned in the seventeenth century. The extensive family correspondence mentioned by her brothers and other contemporaries has also been lost; her only surviving personal letters were written to her uncle, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in 1578; and to Robert Sidney's wife, Barbara Gamage, in 1591, offering the services of a nurse.

The daughter of Sir Henry Sidney and Mary Dudley, Mary Sidney was born on 27 October 1561 at Tickenhall near Bewdley, Worcestershire, on the Welsh border while her father was serving as lord Governor of the marches of Wales. He had been a companion of King Edward, who died in his arms. Her mother, a well-educated woman who was a close friend of Queen Elizabeth, was the daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, who was virtual ruler of England in King Edward's final years, and the sister of Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley. Lady Sidney was badly scarred by smallpox after nursing the queen, and thereafter rarely appeared at court.

Describing her work on the psalter, the Poetry Foundation states:

Sometime in the early 1590s, probably while she was completing her Petrarch translation, the countess had begun the work for which she is known, her metric translation of Psalms 44-150 that completes and revises a project that her brother Philip had begun in his final years. Although the Psalms have always been an important part of Judeo-Christian worship, translating them into the vernacular for private meditation and public singing had become a particularly Protestant activity in the sixteenth century. When the countess first began her metric versions, she remained fairly close to the phrasing and interpretation familiar to her from Miles Coverdale's prose version in the Great Bible, incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer. Her more polished versions, transcribed by Sir John Davies of Hereford in the Penshurst manuscript, evidence a scholarly process of revision, however. Choosing Protestant scholarship based on the original Hebrew, the countess revised her Psalms to be closer to the Geneva Bible than to the Great Bible, with considerable reliance on Théodore de Bèze (in the original Latin and in Anthony Gilby's English translation), on John Calvin, and on Les Psaumes de David mis en rime Françoise, par Clément Marot, et Théodore de Bèze (1562). References are also made to other continental versions and to earlier English metrical Psalms, such as those by Anne Lok and Matthew Parker.

The countess used 128 different verse forms for the 107 Psalms she translated (Psalm 119 has twenty-two sections), making her achievement significant for metrical variety as well as for the content, Like her Genevan sources, the countess used the Psalms to comment on contemporary politics, particularly the persecution of "the godly," as Protestants called themselves. By expanding metaphors and descriptions present in the original Hebrew, Sidney also incorporated her experience at Elizabeth's court, as well as female experiences of marriage and childbirth.

Sir Philip Sidney offered this translation of the most famous psalm, number 23:

The Lord, the Lord my shepherd is, 
And so can never I 
Taste misery. 
He rests me in greene pasture his: 
By waters still, and sweete 
He guides my feete. 

He me revives : leades me the way, 
Which righteousnesse doth take, 
For his names sake. 
Yea though I should through valleys stray, 
Of deathes dark shade, I will 
Noe whitt feare ill. 

For thou, deere Lord, thou me besett'st: 
Thy rodd, and thy staff be 
To comfort me; 
Before me thou a table sett'st, 
Even when foes envious eye 
Doth it espy. 

Thou oil'st my head thou fil'st my cup: 
Nay more thou endlesse good, 
Shalt give me food. 
To thee, I say, ascended up, 

Where thou, the Lord of all, 
Dost hold thy hall.

Mary wrote this translation of Psalm 90:

Thou our refuge, thou our dwelling, 

O Lord, hast byn from time to time: 
Long er Mountaines, proudly swelling, 

Above the lowly dales did clime: 
Long er the Earth, embowl'd by thee, 

Bare the forme it now doth beare: 
Yea, thou art God for ever, free 

From all touch of age and yeare. 

O, but man by thee created, 
As he at first of earth arose, 

When thy word his end hath dated, 

In equall state to earth he goes. 
Thou saist, and saying makst it soe: 
Be noe more, O Adams heyre; 
From whence ye came, dispatch to goe, 

Dust againe, as dust you were. 

Graunt a thousand yeares be spared 
To mortall men of life and light: 

What is that to thee compared? 
One day, one quarter of a night. 

When death upon them storm-like falls, 
Like unto a dreame they grow: 

Which goes and comes as fancy calls, 
Nought in substance all in show.

John Donne praised this work highly in this poem:


ETERNAL God—for whom who ever dare
Seek new expressions, do the circle square,
And thrust into straight corners of poor wit
Thee, who art cornerless and infinite—
I would but bless Thy name, not name Thee now
—And Thy gifts are as infinite as Thou—
Fix we our praises therefore on this one,
That, as thy blessed Spirit fell upon
These Psalms' first author in a cloven tongue
—For 'twas a double power by which he sung
The highest matter in the noblest form—
So thou hast cleft that Spirit, to perform
That work again, and shed it here, upon
Two, by their bloods, and by Thy Spirit one ;
A brother and a sister, made by Thee
The organ, where Thou art the harmony.
Two that make one John Baptist's holy voice,
And who that Psalm, "Now let the Isles rejoice,"
Have both translated, and applied it too,
Both told us what, and taught us how to do.
They show us islanders our Joy, our King ;
They tell us why, and teach us how to sing.
Make all this all three choirs, heaven, earth, and spheres ;
The first, Heaven, hath a song, but no man hears ;
The spheres have music, but they have no tongue,
Their harmony is rather danced than sung ;
But our third choir, to which the first gives ear
—For Angels learn by what the Church does here—
This choir hath all. The organist is he
Who hath tuned God and man, the organ we ;
The songs are these, which heaven's high holy Muse
Whisper'd to David, David to the Jews ;
And David's successors in holy zeal,
In forms of joy and art do re-reveal
To us so sweetly and sincerely too,
That I must not rejoice as I would do,
When I behold that these Psalms are become
So well attired abroad, so ill at home,
So well in chambers, in Thy Church so ill,
As I can scarce call that reform'd until
This be reform'd ; would a whole state present
A lesser gift than some one man hath sent ?
And shall our Church unto our Spouse and King
More hoarse, more harsh than any other, sing ?
For that we pray, we praise Thy name for this,
Which, by this Moses and this Miriam, is
Already done ; and as those Psalms we call,
—Though some have other authors—David's all,
So though some have, some may some Psalms translate,
We Thy Sidneian psalms shall celebrate,
And, till we come th' extemporal song to sing
—Learn'd the first hour that we see the King,
Who hath translated those translators—may
These their sweet learned labours all the way
Be as our tuning, that when hence we part,
We may fall in with them, and sing our part!

Mary Sidney died on September 25, 1621.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Music and Religious Identity in the Reformation

Chiara Bertoglio has written a series of articles about music during the Reformation era for Mercatornet based upon her book Reforming Music. In one article, she notes that Catholics and Protestants used music against each other in public or in parody. During processions, Catholics would sing hymns or litanies and the Protestants would disrupt the gathering by singing their own hymns. They wrote contrafactions--changing the words to a song--against each other, etc.

Her more than 800-page book presents a vast range of information about musical styles, development, and uses among the different religious communities, from Luther's Germany to Calvin's Geneva to Tudor England, and of course Tridentine Catholic liturgical music in Rome:

Five hundred years ago a monk nailed his theses to a church gate in Wittenberg. The sound of Luther’s mythical hammer, however, was by no means the only aural manifestation of the religious Reformations.

This book describes the birth of Lutheran Chorales and Calvinist Psalmody; of how music was practised by Catholic nuns, Lutheran schoolchildren, battling Huguenots, missionaries and martyrs, cardinals at Trent and heretics in hiding, at a time when Palestrina, Lasso and Tallis were composing their masterpieces, and forbidden songs were concealed, smuggled and sung in taverns and princely courts alike.

Music expressed faith in the Evangelicals’ emerging worships and in the Catholics’ ancient rites; through it new beliefs were spread and heresy countered; analysed by humanist theorists, it comforted and consoled miners, housewives and persecuted preachers; it was both the symbol of new, conflicting identities and the only surviving trace of a lost unity of faith.

The music of the Reformations, thus, was music reformed, music reforming and the reform of music: this book shows what the Reformations sounded like, and how music became one of the protagonists in the religious conflicts of the sixteenth century.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Henry V's Martyrs and Saints on October 25, 1415

Shakespeare's Henry V recalls to his troops that they fight the battle of Agincourt on the feast of the twin martyr saints, Saints Crispin and Crispinian:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

But the historical Henry V had in mind another saint on the day of battle: St. John of Beverley, since October 25 was the feast of the translation--movement--of his relics. As the website of the Beverley Minster explains:

In 1415 King Henry V won the battle of Agincourt on the Feast of St. John’s translation (25th October). In 1420 the King visited John’s shrine to give thanks, and made him one of the patron saints of the Royal family.

The following extract is from prayers said on the feast of the translation:

“For though God decreed to give help to this church of His and the kingdom of England’s inhabitants, on the account of the merits of diverse saints with which she gloriously shines, yet He has of late more miraculously comforted them, as we sincerely trust, by the special prayers of the almificious confessor and pontiff, his most blessed John of Beverley….

O the ineffable consolation of these our times, especially refreshing and memorable to all ages, that is the gracious victory of the most Christian Prince Henry the fifth king of England and his army in the battle lately fought at Agincourt, in the county of Picardy, which was granted to the English by the immense mercy of God to the praise of His name and the honour of the kingdom of England on the feast of the translation of the said saint.

In which feast, during the engagement of our countrymen with the French…..holy oil flowed by drops like sweat out of his tomb as an indication of the Divine mercy toward his people, without doubt through the merits of the said most holy man.”

Henry VIII destroyed his shrine; his feast was removed from the Roman Calendar after the Second Vatican Council.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Compare and Contrast: Newman and the Little Flower

The Communion of Saints is a remarkable aspect of the Church in Heaven: each saint in Heaven--proclaimed by the Church formally or not--is holy (meaning that there are definite features of holiness) and unique (holy in his or her own way). This means that we can look at their lives on earth for not only a general encouragement to become more Christlike but also to seek guidance and inspiration in surprising ways.

In the most recent issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Doctor John C. Caiazza compares and contrasts Saint Therese of Lisieux and Blessed John Henry Newman. His focus on is how they prepared the Church for the crucial development at the Second Vatican Council of the universal call to holiness:

It is common these days to read of certain figures whose contribution to the Church in some way prefigured the reforms of Vatican II—e.g., de Lubac, Congar—but among them also are the figures of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, and Cardinal John Henry Newman. (They will be referred to as “Thérèse” and “Newman” in this article.) Their contributions are the subject of this essay, not in terms of exact and specific contributions to the fully developed doctrine of current Church teaching on the laity, but in terms of the development of spiritual aspirations of lay people—namely that it is not necessary to be a priest or a professed religious to seek the higher altitudes of Jesus’ holy mountain. Both insisted that the highest degrees of holiness, and lively participation in spiritual life, are not restricted to cloistered nuns, or ascetic monks, but are available to lay people, as well. Both figures then, the cloistered nun and the Oxford Scholar, wrote and inspired lay spirituality that was prophetically aimed at the full enunciation of the teaching by the Catholic Church in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catholic Catechism. . . .

What do Thérèse and Newman have in common in regards to their doctrines of lay spirituality? First, that they have such a doctrine that extends the option of spiritual advancement, in a positive and direct sense, to lay people. This is new enough in its way to require notice. Thérèse and Newman readily give an answer to the question: “What is the general means by which lay people may acquire holiness?” Thérèse’s and Newman’s answer is “all you need is love,” that is love expressed in doing one’s daily duties in life. In Thérèse’s case, we have photographs of her doing laundry, and on knees, washing the floor, while in her autobiography, she details her attention she paid to an elderly nun whose irascibility she had to learn to overcome, and ignore; that is, nothing heroic, but doing each day what daily living required. Doing such duties without seeing praise or notice, suppressing resentment, not overlooking details because no one would notice, doing these things for the love of Jesus, was the essence of her “little way” to holiness, a way that is available to all.

Please read the rest there.

I'm sorry for some interruptions in blogging. My mother, Rita, died on Monday, October 16 and my husband was in hospital this week too. Please pray for his complete recovery and please pray for the repose of my mother's soul. Her funeral is on Tuesday, October 24. Thank you.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

St. Philip Howard and His Dog

Please check this link today for my post at the National Catholic Register blog site on St. Philip Howard, who died a martyr in chains on October 19, 1595. In it, I explain some of background to the engraving of Howard in the Tower with his greyhound by his side. Hint: the Society of Jesus, conversion, dogs and other animals, and family connections are involved:

In a nineteenth century engraving, Sir Philip Howard, the Twentieth Earl of Arundel, leans against the wall above a fireplace. He has just inscribed the words “Quanto plus afflictionis pro Christo in saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro.” (“The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next.”) He is young, handsome, well-dressed: he is in the Tower of London, looking toward the source of sunlight in his cell. On the floor behind him, a dog looks up at him, perhaps awakened by his master’s sigh. Someone who loves dogs—and is devoted to St. Philip Howard for his conversion, his fortitude, and his example—sees the bond between owner and pet clearly in this drawing. Howard is often depicted with his dog in statues and stained glass portraits, and the group painting of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, commissioned when Howard and the others were canonized in 1970.

The engraving is attributed to William Barraud, a famous painter and illustrator, with his brother Henry, of animals: horses, cattle and dogs from sporting hounds and lap dogs. . . .

Please read the rest on the National Catholic Register blog page.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Henry VIII: The Lion Who Knew His Strength

Remember that this morning I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show to discuss Hilaire Belloc's view of Henry VIII. Listen live here about 6:49 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern.

After Catherine of Aragon, perhaps Thomas More treated Henry VIII with the most respect when trying to influence him. He also had great insight into his monarch's personality. As he told Thomas Cromwell: "Master Cromwell, you are entered into the service of a most noble, wise, and liberal prince. If you follow my poor advice, you shall, in your counsel-giving unto his grace, ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do. . . . For if a lion knew his own strength, hard it were for any man to rule him."

Cardinal Wolsey also warned that once Henry VIII got an idea in his head, he would not forget it, so once he thought that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was cursed and that the Pope should release him from those false marriage vows, he would get what he wanted--no matter what.

More, unlike those who tried to control Henry through flattery and making themselves (they thought) indispensable, knew exactly what power his monarch had over him. When William Roper congratulated his father-in-law for his close relationship to the king, he commented, "I thank our Lord, son," quoth he, "I find his Grace my very good lord indeed, and I do believe he doth as singularly favour me as any subject within this Realm. Howbeit (son Roper) I may tell thee, I have no cause to be proud thereof. For if my head would win him a castle in France (for then there was wars between us) it should not fail to go."

For our next discussion, we'll look at Catherine of Aragon AND Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's first two consorts. On All Saints Day, November 1.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Belloc on Henry VIII--On the Son Rise Morning Show Tomorrow!

Annie Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, starting with the "author of  that great disaster the English Reformation" as Belloc calls him. Listen live here tomorrow morning, October 18, about 7:48 a.m. Eastern/6:48 a.m.  Central.

On the cover of the new Ignatius Press edition of Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, Henry VIII is in the center. The portrait chosen is from 1537. By that year, Henry VIII's first two wives were dead and his third wife was pregnant with his long desired son who would be born on October 12--and she would be dead by October 24. He was half-way through his six wives: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour, and he took a three year break from matrimony. He had been Supreme Head and Governor, the Caesar-Pope of England since the Act of Supremacy in 1534. Henry VIII had survived the Pilgrimage of Grace, but Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher, the Carthusians, the Observant Franciscans, and a few others had not survived the proclamation of his Supremacy and the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries--the beginning of the end for the monks, nuns, and friars and the religious vocations of England was about to begin.

Belloc, however, starts his discussion of Henry VIII's character with the young man, succeeding to his father's throne and marrying his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, in 1509:

Young Henry being thus left sole heir to the throne, his father died in the spring of 1509 some months before the boy would reach his eighteenth birthday. He duly succeeded under the title of Henry VIII, was crowned, and proceeded to marry at once this sister-in-law of his, Catherine, older than himself by nearly six years. They were at first very happy together, the young King was popular, his wife had an excellent influence over him, and everything went well.[His grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, was briefly his regent, and that provided stability in the transition.]

Now let me describe the character of this young fellow, upon whom so much was to depend. His leading characteristic was an inability to withstand impulse; he was passionate for having his own way — which is almost the opposite of having strength of will. He was easily dominated, always being managed by one person or another in succession, from this beginning of his life to the end of it, but being managed — not bullied or directly controlled.

It is exceedingly important to understand this chief point about him because a misjudgment of it has warped much the greater part of historical appreciation upon him. Because he was a big man who blustered and had fits of rage and was exaggeratedly eager to follow appetite and whim he had been given the false appearance of a powerful figure. Power he had, but it was only the political power which the mood of the time gave to whoever might be monarch. He had no personal power of character. He did not control others by their respect for his tenacity, still less by any feeling that he was wise and just and still less by any feeling that he was of strong fibre. 

On the contrary, all those who managed him, one after the other — except his wife — despised him, and soon came to carry on as though they could do what they liked on condition that they flattered him. They managed public affairs while he followed his appetites or private interests. That was true of the whole series of those who "ran" him: Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, and, at the end, his brother-in-law Seymour. The only exception was that admirable wife of his who, through the simplicity of her character and her strong affection as well as from her sense of duty, treated him with respect. But her influence over him was, perhaps on that very account, soon lost. 

As might be expected with a nature of this kind, he revolted against each manager one after the other. He felt he was being "run" by each in turn, grew peevish about it, had explosions of anger and would in a fit of passion get rid of them. Getting rid of them often meant, under the despotic conditions of that day, putting them to death. That is how he suddenly broke with Wolsey, that is how he broke with Anne Boleyn, that is how he broke with Thomas Cromwell — who had all three done what they willed with him, acting independently of him, showing their contempt for him in private and ultimately rousing his fury. . . .

Annie Mitchell and I will discuss this and more--including that famous comment by Thomas More about working with Henry VIII--tomorrow on the Son Rise Morning Show.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

For the Inklings Festival

The Inklings Festival is less than a week away. On Friday, October 20, Joseph Pearce will talk about two of the poets of WWI, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Here is the schedule for the lectures on Friday and Saturday:

World on Fire: How the Inklings Responded with Hope & Creativity by Joseph Pearce
"Tolkien & Lewis among the War Poets" - Friday, 7 PM

Anniversary Reception at Eighth Day Books - Friday, 8:30 PM

Beyond the Waste Land: Hope and War in the Work of Lewis - Saturday, 9:30 AM

War & Mordor: Hope and War in the Work of Tolkien - Saturday, 11:00 AM

The rest of the details are here.

I wrote a little essay for the Eighth Day Institute blog on some of the music of WWI, including the young Classical music composers who served in the trenches:

POPULAR music during World War I served to rouse the troops, comfort the grieving, and encourage patriotic spirit. Several classical composers served in the British armed forces during the war and their works reflected their experience, as did the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, subjects of this year’s Inklings Lecture Series.

Popular songs wistfully recalled home or reminded home to remember the soldiers who were away. Lewis and Tolkien must have heard these songs at home and at the front. One of the most popular songs, composed in 1914, was “Keep the Home Fires Burning” by Ivor Novello, sung here by the great Irish tenor, John McCormack, who recorded many of these songs, toured the USA during the war for the Red Cross, and also sang opera around the world . . .

George Butterworth died in action at the First Battle of Somme on August 5, 1916. Upon his death, his father found out that his son had been awarded medals for bravery, and his military commander found out that he was a promising composer. Butterworth was interested in the English folk song and traditional dancing, especially Morris dancing. He composed “A Shropshire Lad Rhapsody”, based on the poetry of A. E. Housman, and “The Banks of Green Willow.”

Frederick Septimus Kelly and William Dennis Browne were closely associated with the poet Rupert Brooke. Browne wrote the famous description of Brooke’s death and midnight burial on the Isle of Skyros among the olive groves. He died on June 15, 1915 during the Battle of Gallipoli.

Please read the rest on the Eighth Day Institute website. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The "Battle" for Evensong

BBC Four is advertising a programme to be broadcast on October 17 hosted by Lucy Worsley with the title "Elizabeth I's Battle for God's Music"!

Lucy Worsley investigates the story of the most remarkable creation from the tumultuous and violent era known as the Reformation - choral evensong.

Henry VIII loved religious music, but he loved power more - when he instigated his English Reformation he dramatically split from the ancient Catholic church that controlled much of his country. But in doing so set into motion changes that would fundamentally transform the religious music he loved.

Following Elizabeth I's personal story, Lucy recounts how she and her two siblings were shaped by the changes their father instigated. Elizabeth witnessed both her radically puritan brother Edward bring church music to the very brink of destruction and the terrifying reversals made by her sister Mary - which saw her thrown in the Tower of London forced to beg for her life.

When Elizabeth finally took power she was determined to find a religious compromise - she resurrected the Protestant religion of her brother, but kept the music of her beloved father - music that she too adored. And it was in the evocative service of choral evensong that her ideas about religious music found their ultimate expression.

I know that conflict is what drives plot and that there was lots of conflict during the English Reformation, but some of this language seems a bit over the top! 

Henry VIII never experienced Evensong so his links to Elizabeth's version of "God's Music" seem weak. In what way did the "ancient Catholic church control much" of England? As Thomas More's Poor Souls protested to Henry VIII in The Supplication of Souls, it was clear who had the authority in England--Simon Fish had stated that the Catholic Church was preventing Henry from ruling his people but More denied that completely. Henry VIII was, even before his split from the universal Church, deeply involved in naming bishops, communicating with Church hierarchy--Bishops and Archbishops served the monarchy in diplomacy and administration--the Church and State were separate powers, but they had worked together smoothly for years. Remember that Henry VIII, like his father, even had Cardinal Protectors to argue English positions on ecclesiastical issues to the Pope and the Curia in Rome

Did Edward VI really "bring church music to the very brink of destruction"? Listening to Thomas Tallis's English anthems from that reign might bring that into question. Tallis would compose music for English translations of the Psalms for Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker during Elizabeth I's reign too. Edward VI's reign, through Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer's creation of The Book of Common Prayer, made Evensong possible, combining Vespers and Compline into one prayer service.

What terrifying reversals in Church music did Mary I make? Seems like Worsley is mixing things up here a little bit, referring to the restoration of Catholic worship and unity with the Catholic Church, and the revival of the Heresy Laws by Parliament in the context of changes in religious musical styles. I don't think those reversals "saw" Elizabeth thrown into the Tower, but the Wyatt Rebellion and concerns about Elizabeth's involvement in it as the one who would replace Mary on the throne. Elizabeth I would throw many people into the Tower whenever she felt threatened too. 

Shouldn't Mary's restoration of English polyphony be the main point of this discussion? If Edward was bringing it to the brink of destruction, didn't Mary save it? 

It's a little strong to say that Elizabeth I "was determined to find a religious compromise"; I think most scholars agree that Elizabeth was pragmatic and her Parliament created the religious settlement she wanted but I doubt that she thought of it as a compromise.

Image (public domain): The Pelican Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard. The pelican was thought to wound her breast to nourish her young, and became a symbol of Passion and Eucharist, adopted by Elizabeth portraying herself as the "mother of the Church of England."

Perhaps we'll see it here in the USA on PBS someday to see how this history is really presented.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Review: "Holiness in a Secular Age"

National Catholic Register published my review of Father Juan Velez's new book on Blessed John Henry Newman in the October 1 print edition. NCReg then published it on-line yesterday!

When young John Henry Newman experienced his first conversion to an evangelical form of Anglicanism, he was inspired by two maxims of Thomas Scott. One of them — “holiness rather than peace” — became a motto for the rest of his life.

In this introduction to Blessed John Henry Newman’s example of pursuing holiness in 19th-century England as it was becoming more secularized, Father Juan Vélez guides readers through Newman’s life, projects and published works. He presents Newman as a man of faith evangelizing a world that was moving away from Christian doctrine and morality.

After a succinct survey of Newman’s life, including his leadership in the “Oxford Movement,” his conversion to Catholicism, his foundations of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England and the short-lived Catholic University of Ireland, and his struggles and eventual acceptance within the Catholic Church in England, the author addresses a number of themes in Newman’s life.

Please read the rest there. I just love the cover of the book, which is a detail of the stained glass window behind the altar of the chapel for the Newman Center on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Note that Father Velez has produced a study guide, which he is sharing for free on his website, www.cardinaljohnhenrynewman.com/

Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church; graciously grant that, through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fulness of your truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Suppressed But Not Defeated: the Benedictines of England

As James Kelly writes in The Catholic Herald of the Benedictine Order in England after the Dissolution of the Monasteries:

The significance of what they represented was not lost on them: as several monks testified at their martyrdoms, they were from the same order as the first missionary to England, St Augustine of Canterbury, “from whom,” as George Gervase, executed in 1608, put it, “England acknowledged that she had received the Christian faith”.

Like the other missionary clergy who had been secretly entering England since the 1570s, these missionary monks brought with them the Catholic Reformation. Imbued with the zeal of a movement then sweeping Catholic Europe and, increasingly, far-flung parts of the globe from Asia to America, they were agents for the transfer of religious and intellectual ideas gaining ground in mainland Europe.

But nor were they solely about the new: they also tracked down the last surviving monk of Westminster Abbey. By the start of the 17th century, the infirm Sigebert Buckley lived under a form of house arrest. In 1607, he aggregated two of the new monks to him, thereby ensuring the continuity of the English Benedictines from the medieval period. As the new monastic movement grew and the monks re-founded the English Benedictine Congregation in 1619, this symbolic act took on greater significance. . . .

This is the text of that key document, aggregating the two monks to guarantee continuity from St. Augustine of Canterbury to 1607:

I, D. Sebert, otherwise Sigebert, priest and monk of the monastery of St. Peter, Westminster, of the Congregation of England of the Order of St. Benedict: lest the rights, privileges, insignia, should perish which were formerly granted by Princes and Pontiffs and which for some years, God so permitting, have been preserved in me the sole survivor of all the English monks: did at London in the year 1607, the 21st day of November, with the consent of their superiors receive and admit as brethren and monks of the said monastery D. Robert Sadler of Peterborough and D. Edward Maihew of Salisbury, English priests and monks professed of the Cassinese Congregation of St. Justina of Padua: and to them did grant, impart and assign all rights, privileges, ranks, honours, liberties and graces which in times past the monks professed and dwelling in the said monastery did enjoy. And the same by these presents I do again approve, ratify and confirm. And I do receive and admit as monks, brethren, lay-brethren, oblates of the said monastery – and to them do grant, impart and assign all rights, privileges, as above, all those whom D. Thomas Preston of Shropshire, D. Augustine [Smith] and D. Anselm [Beech] Lancastrians, and D. Maurus [Taylor] of Ely have admitted or received as monks, lay-brethren, oblates, and to whom they have granted the rights, &c, as above: since to them I did grant authority and power so to admit, &c, as appeareth more at large in my letters of the 21st November 1607: the which [letters] as to all and each of their parts I do by virtue of these presents hold ratified and confirmed, and will so hold them in perpetuum. Given at Punisholt, otherwise Ponshelt, Anno Domini 1609, the 8th day of November, in the presence of the underwritten Notary and witnesses."

As Kelly continues:

It meant that the English Benedictines of the 17th century could lay claim to the old monastic properties which the Order had once enjoyed. As such, the English Benedictines throughout the period elected priors of, for example, Durham, Canterbury and Ely cathedrals, ready for the moment when England – as they believed, inevitably – returned to the Catholic faith.

This did not stop the monks forming new houses in exile, three of which remain to this day. St Gregory’s, founded at Douai in northern France in 1606, is now better known as Downside Abbey; St Laurence’s, founded in the town of Dieulouard in Lorraine in 1608, is now Ampleforth Abbey; St Edmund’s, Paris, founded in 1616, is now settled at Woolhampton, Berkshire, as Douai Abbey.

More and More Reformation Books: Another Stark Choice

Rodney Stark, whose books I've enjoyed and learned from, has written a book about the Reformation (his most recent book before this is Bearing False Witness). His contribution to the library of Reformation books coming out this fall is Reformation Myths: Five Centuries Of Misconceptions And (Some) Misfortunes. As the publisher, SPCK (the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) describes the book:

What has the Reformation Ever done for us? That's the question asked by church historian and sociologist Rodney Stark, whose latest book (one of SPCK's August 2017 Releases) Reformation Myths . . . offers an alternative consideration of the way culture and church remembers the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation of the Church in the West.

Stark takes and skewers eight myths that, from his uniquely informed perspective, have tainted the way our culture has been shaped. Unafraid to engage with some of the 'sacred cows' of Reformed and other streams of thought, this little book challenges common views and wonders if there might be another way to think.

Bracketed by chapters on mythical Protestants (Who were they anyway?) and a conclusion of prejudice and persistence, Stark has penned a wide ranging and entertaining tone, that Martin Luther would no doubt have spluttered into his Weissbier were he alive today and regularly reviewing books. Some of those myths include:

The myths of full pews, pious kings, and limited monarchies
The misfortune of state churches, with forced piety and bigotry
The ongoing misfortune of nationalistic states
The enduring myth of the Protestant Ethic
The myth of the way that Protestantism and Reformed thought led to the scientific revolution

Written in an informed, authoritative, and iconoclastically engaging style, and published to provide a mirror to the celebrations around the world of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, this book asks the question, inviting us to consider a range of answers, and rethink what we thought we knew about Luther, Calvin, the Diet of Worms, and all that.

Remember that part of Stark's iconoclastic charm is that he is NOT a Catholic, so when you read the sample from the book that's available for free from Amazon, you may be amazed when he notes that the only way to define Protestantism is in the negative: it's Christian but not Catholic or Orthodox! And the fact that the SPCK, a publisher founded to defend the Anglican church and support Church of England missions in 1698, is just another twist in the story.

Illustration credit: a weissbier in Munich!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Tudor Gothic Romance: The Miracle of St. Bruno's

While searching for an image of St. Bruno of Cologne, founder of the Carthusians, I found the cover of an historical novel, The Miracle of St. Bruno's by Philippa Carr (aka Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Eleanor Hibbert, etc). This was the first novel in Carr's series Daughters of England, 20 novels published from 1972 to 1993, with historical eras from the Tudor Era to the 20th century as the backdrop.

Carr sets up a dual narrative in this Tudor Gothic novel: all the Court action of Henry VIII's six wives, wars, executions, religious changes, etc takes place off site. It's reported, not depicted. Even the dissolution of the monastery next door to the heroine's home, the Carthusian Priory of St. Bruno's, is mentioned at arm's length.

The heroine's name is Damask (named for a rose) and she and her father are fictional versions of Margaret More Roper and St. Thomas More, even down to the beheading of the fathers. Except for the historical action conducted in London and at Court, this is a typical Gothic novel, the kind Jane Austen mocked in Northanger Abbey. The ruined monastery, rumors of it being haunted, the secret love affairs, the hidden source of riches, the witch in the forest, who seems both to curse and to love the heroine, the mysterious spouse, etc: all Gothic elements.

Carr's Tudor history, especially the reportage of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall, is sometimes a little shaky. For example, Mary I was not called "Bloody Mary" during her reign--that came later. The religious changes of the Tudor monarchs create the atmosphere of danger in the family, but except for Damask's mother becoming convinced of the validity of the New Religion, there are few signs of religious fervor, apart from the dispersed monks who come back together in the monastery as it is being rebuilt. Even the father's heroism is muted by the fact that Catholic prayer and worship never seem to be part of the household or Damask's upbringing. The Carthusians next door are a source of fascination not devotion. The hero, Bruno, is a Byronic figure, thinking himself superior to all other men, capable of achieving his every goal, and impervious to danger. He disappears and then reappears, obtaining the Priory of St. Bruno's and rebuilding it.

One of the supporting characters undergoes a drastic, unexplained change from a manipulative rival to a concerned friend of Damask's. Everything happens to Damask, who takes a strangely modern view of religious toleration with a live and let live attitude foreign to the 16th century. At the end of the novel, the promise of the new reign of Elizabeth seems to suggest that all the conflicts of the past 20 years are over, which is risible.

For 99 cents on Kindle, it's a fast read, but there are long sections where nothing happens and Carr attempts to maintain some tension without great success: the reader knows what will be revealed at the end, and has as soon as the hero reappears in the story. The miracle is that you'll probably keep reading the book until Carr reveals the secret.

Friday, October 6, 2017

St. Bruno and the English Carthusian Martyrs

I have often posted about the Carthusian Order and its English Reformation martyrs on this blog. Today we celebrate the feast of the order's founder, St. Bruno of Cologne:

Born in Cologne around 1030, he begins studying at the school of the Cathedral of Reims at an early age. Made a "doctor", Canon of the Cathedral Chapter, he is made the Rector of the University in 1056. He was one of the most remarkable scholars and teacher of his time "a prudent man whose word was rich in meaning."

He finds himself less and less at ease in a city where scandal has little affect towards the clergy and the Bishop himself. After having fought, not without success, against this disorder, Bruno feels the desire of a life more completely given to God alone.

After an attempt at a solitary life of short duration, he enters the region of Grenoble, of which the Bishop, the future Saint Hugues, offers him a solitary site in the mountains of his diocese. In June 1084, the Bishop himself leads Bruno and six of his companions in the primitive valley of Chartreuse, where the Order eventually gets its name from. They build a hermitage, consisting of a few log cabins opening towards a gallery which allows them access to the communal areas of the community -- church, refectory, and chapter room -- without having to suffer too much from intemperate conditions.

After six years of a pleasant solitary life, Bruno is called by Pope Urban II to the service of the Holy See. Not thinking of being able to continue without him, his community first thinks of separating, but it allows itself to be convinced to follow in the life that he first formed. Advisor to the Pope, Bruno is ill at ease a the Pontifical Court. He only lives in Rome for a few short months. With the Pope's blessing, he establishes a new hermitage in the forests of Calabria, in the south of Italy, with a few new companions. There he dies 6 October 1101.

I note this on the website: "Liturgical celebration does not have any pastoral intent. This explains why those outside the Order are not admitted to participate at the offices or the Mass celebrated in the churches of our monasteries. Because of our call to solitude, visits are limited to the family members of the monk (2 days a year) and to those who feel called to our life, whom we call retreatants."--so when St. Thomas More spent any time with the Carthusians of the Charterhouse of London, it would have been as a retreatant. Note also how much Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Audley, at al, were interrupting the solitude of the Carthusians.

There is a Charterhouse in England today: St. Hugh at Parkminster (make sure you have the sound turned on your computer; the site comes with chant!) It was founded in 1873 and the house originally had two houses from the Continent to accommodate. Their site includes a gift shop, with this book about the Beauvale martyrs of the English Reformation.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Belloc in the Morning on the Son Rise Morning Show

Annie Mitchell and I will start a series this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show, discussing Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, recently reissued by Ignatius Press. We'll start today a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern with some background on Belloc and the book. Listen live here and find podcasts there later, too. We'll continue going through the book, discussing Belloc's insights every two weeks. If you want to read along, you could join our book club!

Hilaire Belloc was born on July 27, 1870 and died on July 16, 1953. Belloc (Joseph Hilaire Pierre Rene) was born in France; his father was French, his mother English. After his father's death, his mother brought him and his sister Marie to England, where he attended the Oratory School in Birmingham founded by Blessed John Henry Newman. He then served in the French military as required and returned to attend Balliol College at Oxford. He was president of the Oxford Union Debating Society and hoped for a fellowship at All Souls. All Souls selects its Fellows by offering examinations. Hilaire Belloc took the examination and failed to earn a Fellowship after earning a First in History from Balliol College in 1895. This site suggests that he might have failed because he placed a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the desk before his examination. I can imagine Belloc being so demonstrative about his faith. 

Belloc married Elodie Hogan in 1896 and they had five children before her death in 1914, one of whom, Louis, died in World War I. Belloc became British citizen in 1902. When he ran for Parliament in 1906, his campaign manager begged him not to mention his Catholicism--so Belloc proclaimed during one of his speeches (when heckled for being a "Papist"): "Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that he has spared me the indignity of being your representative." Of course, he was elected.

Frederick Wilhelmson, author of a study of Belloc titled Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man, A Study in Christian Integration, published by Sheed and Ward in 1953, commented on his energy and vigor in another essay:

At my last count, Hilaire Belloc wrote 153 books. The business has to do with vigor, an enormous lust for life, and a willingness to make mistakes. Belloc did not give a damn for what anybody thought of him. He wrote his life of King James II in a hotel on the edge of the Sahara in ten days: “It is full of howlers and is the fruit of liberty.” He walked to Rome as a young man, coming in upon the Appian Way on a mule drawn cart — but with his feet dragging on the road so his vow would not be broken.

His vigor was legendary, and I have mentioned as well his lust for life. Belloc — and this is a key to understanding his role as a Catholic apologist — was a man totally at home in this world, but one who knew it was an illusion to be so at home. There was not a trace of Manicheanism in him, and he called puritanism, in his biography of Louis XIV, an “evil out of the pit”, meaning the pit of hell. A mountain climber, he was even more a sailor. His Hills and the Sea and The Cruise of the Nona are classics. If The Path to Rome is the work of a young genius, rollicking and rolling his way over mountain and valley toward the Eternal City, The Four Men, on the contrary, called by its author “A Farrago”, was penned in solitude mixed with melancholy. Grizzlebeard, the Poet, and the Sailor are all extensions of Myself, and Myself is Belloc. Only when life is lived close to the senses, when the intelligence is engaged immediately on what is yielded to man through the body, is the paradox of sadness in created beauty brought home in all its delicacy and inexorableness. Page after page of Belloc’s writing is troubled by a deep and troubled gravity, heightened by his profound communion with the things of his world: English inns; old oak‑burnished and sturdy; rich Burgundy and other wines” that port of theirs” at the “George” drunk by the fire with which he began this book; the sea and ships that sail — but, please, “no abomination of an engine”; the smell of the tides. These loves run through Belloc’s essays, recurring themes testifying to a vision movingly poetic in its classic simplicity. His eyes are fixed on the primal things that always nourished the human spirit, on the things at hand.

In Characters of the Reformation, Belloc provides sketches of major figures in the English Reformation and some French leaders. He does not include Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any other Continental Reform leader in this collection. He does not narrate the history of the Reformation on the Continent or in England in this book. His How the Reformation Happened provides that narration.

As Wilhelmson said of Belloc and English Reformation history:

Time prohibits my detailing Belloc’s revolution in English historical writing. Suffice it to say — and this is said formally and altogether without rhetorical emphasis — that one man, Hilaire Belloc, turned the whole writing of British history around. Since Belloc, nobody can get away with understanding the Reformation as the work of high‑minded souls bent on liberty and democracy, noble souls who brought England out of the darkness of Catholic superstition and medieval obscurantism. Others footnoted Belloc and traded on his vision. They did well in doing so, but the vision was his — as was the persecution of silence that followed on his work.