Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Irish Martyrs: The Blessed Few of Many


Dermot O'Hurley, the Catholic Archbishop of Carshel, was hanged on June 20, 1584, outside of Dublin after excruciating torture. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, he was

called in Irish Diarmait Ua Hurthuile, the son of William O'Hurley, by his wife, Honora O'Brien of the O'Briens of Thomond, was born about 1619. His father, a well-to-do farmer at Lycodoon in the parish of Knockea, near Limerick, also acted as agent for the Earl of Desmond. Being destined for a learned profession, he was sent, after receiving what education was possible for him in Ireland, to Louvain, where he took his degree with applause in the canon and civil law. Afterwards he appears to have gone to Paris, and about 1559 he was appointed professor of philosophy at Louvain. Subsequently he held the chair of canon law for four years at Rheims, where he acquired an unhappy notoriety for contracting debts. He then proceeded to Rome, where he became deeply engaged in the plans of the Irish exiles against Elizabeth's government. On 11 Sept. 1581 he was appointed by Gregory XIII to the see of Cashel, vacant since 1578 by the death of Maurice Fitzgibbon, and on 27 Nov. he received the pallium in full consistory. He was a mere layman at the time, and a contemporary congratulates him on the triple honour thus conferred on him: —

Quid dicam? vel quid mirer? nova culmina? mirer
⁠Uno te passu tot saliisse gradus!
Una sacerdotem creat, una et episcopon bora,
⁠Archiepiscopon et te facit bora simul.

In the following summer he set out from Rome to take possession of his diocese, proceeding by way of Rheims, where he discharged his debts 'recte et gratiose,' and where he was in August detained for a time by a severe illness. He embarked at Cherbourg, and landed at Skerries, a little to the north of Dublin, about the beginning of September. His baggage and papers he had sent by another vessel, which was captured by pirates, and in this way government was apprised of his intentions, and caused a sharp outlook to be kept for him at the principal ports. Disguising himself, and attended by only one companion. Father John Dillon, he made his way to Waterford; but being recognised there by a government agent, he retraced his steps to Slane Castle, where he lay for some time concealed in a secret chamber. Becoming more confident, he appeared at the public table, where his conversation aroused the suspicions of the chancellor. Sir Robert Dillon. Finding himself suspected, he proceeded by a circuitous route to Carrick-on-Suir, where, with Ormonde's help, he was shortly afterwards, about the beginning of October, captured. He was taken to Dublin, and committed to prison. Being brought before the lords-justices Archbishop Loft us and Sir Henry Wallop for examination, little of importance was elicited from him, though he admitted that he was 'one of the House of Inciuisition,' and his papers revealed his correspondence with the Earl of Desmond and viscount Baltinglas. Walsingham recommended the use of 'torture, or any other severe manner of proceeding to gain his knowledge of all foreign practices against her majesty's state;' but the lords justices, especially Loftus, were loth, out of respect for his position and learning, to resort to such extreme measures, and, on the ground that they had neither rack nor other instrument of terror, advised that he should be sent to London. Walsingham, however, impressed with the dangerous nature of his mission, suggested toasting his feet against the fire with hot boots, and a commission having been made out to Waterhouse and Fenton for that purpose, O'Hurley was subjected to the most excruciating torture, He bore the ordeal with extraordinary patience and heroism, and was taken back to 'prison more dead than alive. Torture having failed, and government being advised that ' an indictment for treason committed abroad would not lie, and fearing to run the risk of a trial by jury, O'Hurley, after nine months' imprisonment, was condemned by martial law. The warrant for his execution was signed by Loft us and Wallop on 20 June 1584, and next day, very early in the morning, he was executed, being hanged for greater ignominy with a withen rope, at a lonely spot in the outskirts of the city, probably near where the Catholic University Church now stands in St. Stephen's Green. His remains were interred at the place of execution, but were privately removed by William Fitzsimon, a citizen of Dublin, who placed them in a wooden urn, and deposited them in the church of St. Kevin. His grave became famous among the faithful for several miracles reputed to have taken place there.


From the date of his martyrdom the Irish martyrs beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1992 take their feast. The others honored today are:

Bishop Patrick O’Healy and Father Cornelius O’Rourke, Franciscans: tortured and hanged at Kilmallock 22nd August 1579

The Wexford Martyrs: Matthew Lambert and sailors – Robert Tyler, Edward Cheevers and Patrick Cavanagh: died in Wexford 1581

Margaret Ball: lay woman, died in prison 1584

Maurice Kenraghty (or MacEnraghty): secular priest, hanged at Clonmel on 20th April 1585

Dominic Collins: Jesuit brother, hanged in Youghal 1602

Bishop Conor O’Devany and Father Patrick O’Loughran: Franciscans, hanged 6th February 1612

Francis Taylor of Swords, lay man, Lord Mayor of Dublin: died in prison 1621

Father Peter Higgins, Dominican, Prior of Naas: hanged at Hoggen Green, Dublin 23rd March 1642

Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien, Dominican: hanged and beheaded at Gallow’s Green, Limerick 30th October 1651

John Kearney, Franciscan, hanged 11th March 1653

William Tirry, Augustinian, hanged 2nd May 1654


More about them here.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains, there are many more Irish martyrs who have not been beatified nor canonized by the Catholic Church. It is an extremely long list, especially under "Good Queen Bess", Elizabeth I. When you read the descriptions of how some of them were killed, it reminds you of the cruelty of the Communists in Russia against the Orthodox:

1565: Conacius Macuarta (Conn McCourt) and Roger MacCongaill (McConnell), Franciscans — flogged to death, Armagh, 16 December, for refusing to acknowledge the queen's supremacy.
1575: John Lochran, Donagh O'Rorke, and Edmund Fitzsimon, Franciscans — hanged, 21 January, Downpatrick;
1575: Fergall Ward, Franciscan guardian, Armagh — hanged, 28 April, with his own girdle.
1577: Thomas Courcy, vicar-general at Kinsale — hanged, 30 March;
1577: William Walsh, Cistercian, Bishop of Meath — died, 4 January, in exile at Alcalá.
1578: Patrick O'Hely, Bishop of Mayo, and Cornelius O'Rorke, priest, Franciscans — tortured and hanged, 22 August, Kilmallock;
1578: David Hurley, dean of Emly — died in prison;
1578: Thomas Moeran, dean of Cork — taken in the exercise of his functions and executed.
1579: Thaddæus Daly and his companion, O.S.F. — hanged, drawn, and quartered at Limerick, 1 January. The bystanders reported that his head when cut off distinctly uttered the words: "Lord, show me Thy ways."
1579: Edmund Tanner, S.J., Bishop of Cork — died, 4 June, in prison at Dublin;
1579: John O'Dowd, priest, O.S.F. — refused to reveal a confession, put to death at Elphin by having his skull compressed with a twisted cord;
1579: Thomas O'Herlahy, Bishop of Ross.
1580: Edmund MacDonnell, priest, S.J. — 16 March, Cork (but the year should be 1575 and the name perhaps O'Donnell);
1580: Laurence O'Moore, priest, Oliver Plunkett, gentleman, and William Walsh or Willick, an Englishman — tortured and hanged, 11 November, after the surrender of Dun-an-oir in Kerry;
1580: Daniel O'Neilan priest, O.S.F. — fastened round the waist with a rope and thrown with weights tied to his feet from one of town-gates at Youghal, finally fastened to a mill-wheel and torn to pieces, 28 March. He is obviously the person whom Mooney commemorates under the name O'Duillian, assigning the date, 22 April, 1569, from hearsay;
1580: Daniel Hanrichan, Maurice O'Scanlan, and Philip O'Shee (O'Lee), priests, O.S.F. — beaten with sticks and slain, 6 April, before the altar of Lislachtin monastery, Co. Kerry;
1580: the prior at the Cistercian monastery of Graeg, and his companions. Murphy, quoting O'Sullevan, says the monastery was Graiguenamanagh; O'Sullevan names the place Seripons, Jerpoint.
1581: Nicholas Nugent, chief justice, David Sutton, John Sutton, Thomas Eustace, John Eustace, William Wogan, Robert Sherlock, John Clinch, Thomas Netherfield, or Netterville, Robert Fitzgerald, gentleman of the Pale, and Walter Lakin (Layrmus) — executed on a charge of complicity in rebellion with Lord Baltinglass;
1581: Matthew Lamport, described as a parish priest (pastor) of Dublin Diocese, but more probably a baker (pistor) of Wexford — executed for harbouring Baltinglass and Father Rochford, S.J.
1581: Robert Meyler, Edward Cheevers, John O'Lahy, and Patrick Canavan, sailors of Wexford — hanged, drawn, and quartered, 5 July, for conveying priests, a Jesuit, and laymen out of Ireland;
1581: Patrick Hayes, shipowner of Wexford, charged with aiding bishops, priests, and others — died in prison;
1581: Richard French, priest, Ferns Diocese — died in prison;
1581: Nicholas Fitzgerald, Cistercian — hanged, drawn, and quartered, September, at Dublin.
1582: Phelim O'Hara and Henry Delahoyde, O.S.F., of Moyne, Co. Mayo — hanged and quartered, 1 May;
1582: Thaddæus O'Meran, or O'Morachue, O.S.F., guardian of Enniscorthy;
1582: Phelim O'Corra (apparently Phelim O'Hara, above);
1582: Æneas Penny, parish priest of Killatra (Killasser, Co. Mayo) — slain by soldiers while saying Mass, 4 May;
1582: Roger O'Donnellan, Cahill McGoran, Peter McQuillan, Patrick O'Kenna, James Pillan, priests, and Roger O'Hanlon (more correctly McHenlea, in Curry), lay brother, O.S.F. — died, 13 February, Dublin Castle, but the date can scarcely be correct for all;
1582: Henry O'Fremlamhaidh (anglicized Frawley);
1582: John Wallis, priest — died, 20 January, in prison at Worcester;
1582: Donagh O'Reddy, parish priest of Coleraine — hanged and transfixed with swords, 12 June, at the altar of his church.
1584: Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel;
1584: Gelasius O'Cullenan, O.Cist., Abbot of Boyle, and his companion, variously named Eugene Cronius and Hugh or John Mulcheran (? Eoghan O'Maoilchiarain), either Abbot of Trinity Island, Co. Roscommon, or a secular priest — hanged, 21 November, at Dublin;
1584: John O'Daly, priest, O.S.F. — trampled to death by cavalry;
1584: Eleanor Birmingham, widow of Bartholomew Ball — denounced by her son, Walter Ball, Mayor of Dublin, died in prison;
1584: Thaddæus Clancy, 15 September, near Listowel.
1585: Richard Creagh, Archbishop of Armagh — poisoned, 14 October, in the Tower of London. He is included amongst the 242 Prætermissi in the article ENGLISH CONFESSORS AND MARTYRS;
1585: Maurice Kenraghty, priest; Patrick O'Connor and Malachy O'Kelly, O.Cist. — hanged and quartered, 19 May, at Boyle.
1586: Maurice, or Murtagh, O'Brien, Bishop of Emly — died in prison at Dublin;
Donagh O'Murheely (O'Murthuile, wrongly identified with O'Hurley) and a companion, O.S.F. — stoned and tortured to death at Muckross, Killarney.
1587: John Cornelius, O.S.F., of Askeaton; another John Cornelius, S.J., surnamed O'Mahony, born in England of Irish parents from Kinelmeky, Co. Cork, is included among the venerabiles of the English list;
1587: Walter Farrell, O.S.F., Askeaton — hanged with his own girdle.
1588: Dermot O'Mulrony, priest, O.S.F., Brother Thomas, and another Franciscan of Galbally, Co. Limerick — put to death there 21 March;
1588: Maurice Eustace, Jesuit novice — hanged and quartered, 9 June, Dublin;
1588: John O'Molloy, Cornelius O'Dogherty, and Geoffrey Farrell, Franciscan priests — hanged, drawn, and quartered, 15 December, at Abbeyleix;
1588: Patrick Plunkett, knight — hanged and quartered, 6 May, Dublin;
1588: Peter Miller, B.D., Diocese of Ferns — tortured, hanged, and quartered, 4 October, 1588;
1588: Peter (or Patrick) Meyler — executed at Galway; notwithstanding the different places of martyrdom assigned, these two names may be those of the same person, a native of Wexford executed at Galway;
1588: Patrick O'Brady, O.S.F., prior at Monaghan — Murphy, on slender grounds, supposes him to be the guardian put to death in 1540, but Copinger and after him Curry, in his "Civil Wars in Ireland", state that six friars were slain in the monastery of Moynihan (Monaghan) under Elizabeth, Thaddæus O'Boyle, guardian of Donegal, slain there, 13 April, by soldiers.
1590: Matthew O'Leyn, priest, O.S.F. — 6 March, Kilcrea;
1590: Christopher Roche, layman — died, 13 December, under torture, Newgate, London.
1591: Terence Magennis, Magnus O'Fredliney or O'Todhry, Loughlin og Mac O'Cadha (? Mac Eochadha, Keogh), Franciscans of Multifarnham — died in prison.
1594: Andrew Strich, priest, Limerick — died in Dublin Castle.
1597: John Stephens, priest, Dublin province, apparently chaplain to the O'Byrnes of Wicklow — hanged and quartered, 4 September, for saying Mass;
1597: Walter Fernan, priest — torn on the rack, 12 March, at Dublin.
1599: George Power, Vicar-General of Ossory — died in prison.
1600: John Walsh, Vicar-General of Dublin — died in prison at Chester;
1600: Patrick O'Hea, layman — charged with harbouring priests, died in prison, 4 December, Dublin--probably the Patrick Hayes of 1581 (supra);
1600: James Dudall (Dowdall) — died either 20 November or 13 August, Exeter;
1600: Nicholas Young, priest, died, Dublin Castle.
1601: Redmond O'Gallagher, Bishop of Derry — slain by soldiers, 15 March, near Dungiven;
1601: Daniel, or Donagh, O'Mollony, Vicar-General of Killaloe — died of torture, 24 April, Dublin Castle;
1601: John O'Kelly, priest — died, 15 May, in prison;
1601: Donagh O'Cronin, clerk — hanged and disembowelled, Cork;
1601: Bernard Moriarty, dean of Ardagh and Vicar-General of Dublin — having his thighs broken by soldiers, died in prison, Dublin.
1602: Dominic Collins, lay brother, S.J. — hanged, drawn, and quartered, 31 October, Youghal.
1602: To this year seems to belong the death of Eugene MacEgan, styled Bishop-designate of Ross, of which he was vicar Apostolic, mortally wounded while officiating in the Catholic army. There was no Catholic army on foot in 1606, at which date his name appears in the official list. He was buried at Timoleague.
The following Dominicans suffered under Elizabeth (1558-1603), but the dates are uncertain: Father MacFerge, prior, and twenty-four friars of Coleraine, thirty-two members of the community of Derry, slain there the same night, two priests and seven novices of Limerick and Kilmallock, assembled in 1602 with forty Benedictine, Cistercian, and other monks, at Scattery Island in the Shannon to be deported under safe conduct in a man-of-war, were cast overboard at sea.


But, remember, as Peter Hitchens told us, don't you dare compare Elizabeth I and Mary I! 

Pope St. John Paul II reminded the Irish bishops of their heritage during their ad limina visit to Rome in 1992:

Your ad Limina visit happily coincides with the Beatification of Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley, Francis Taylor, Margaret Ball and their companion Martyrs. Times have changed since that dark period in which the profession of faith often met with imprisonment, torture and death. But the essence of their witness, their fidelity to Christ and to the Church, is sublimely relevant today. The Martyrs challenge the faith which you and your people profess as heirs to the truths for which they gave their lives. They stimulate your fidelity to Christ, who is himself "the faithful witness" (Rev. 1:5). Their intercession and their heroic example serve as a point of reference for the commitment and dedication with which you personally are called to fulfil the episcopal ministry. The Beatification of the Martyrs reminds us all of "the one thing necessary" (Lk. 10:43), and is a source of encouragement to all those in Ireland whose generous and self–giving Christian life is a pledge of divine love and the best and most abiding guarantee of a society grounded in justice, truth and peace.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

St. John Fisher and His Biographer, Father Vincent McNabb

Father Vincent McNabb, OP, the Irish-born Dominican who championed the Distributist cause, died on June 17, 1943. CatholicAuthors.com offers this biography:

Father McNabb was born in 1868 in Portaferry, County Down, Ireland, within a few miles of the rock that covers the bones of St. Patrick. "My father," wrote Father McNabb, "was a master 'Mariner' (to give him his noble title) and my mother, a dressmaker." Vincent, who was proud he was the seventh son and the tenth of eleven children, spent his schooldays at the diocesan seminary of St. Malachy's College, Belfast. When asked by the editor of The Catholic Times to lend assistance to Ireland during one of the last crises, Father McNabb wrote in his scalpel-like way that both peoples alike, the people of England and the people of Ireland have been martyred by the same imperious few. He said that he loved Ireland like a mother and England like a wife.

Except for a period of study at the University of Louvain, Father McNabb's Dominican life had been identified with the English province for which he was ordained in 1891. On November 10, 1885, he had joined the novitiate of the English Dominicans at Woodchester in Gloucestershire. He walked about London in habit and army boots. A born controversialist, he often spoke in Hyde Park for the Catholic Evidence Guild. He had a fine sense of humor and a soaring eloquence. A zealous priest, he did a lot of work among the poor. In St. Pancras, London slum, he actually lived the extreme poverty enjoined by the gospel. An admirer wrote, while Father Vincent was still alive: "It is wonderful to see that happy lace with its look of smiling quizzical inquiry come from among a swirl of anxious self-absorbed London faces, the habit billowing from the lean, alert old figure like the drapes of winged victory.' He practiced a rigid asceticism. While he had a chair and a bed in his room he never used them. He either stood or knelt. There were just about four books in his room, a Bible, a Breviary, the Dominican constitutions, and the Summa of St. Thomas.

Father McNabb was a prolific writer:

He is the author of about thirty books. Among them are: Infallibility; The New Testament Witness to St. Peter; Oxford Conferences on Prayer; Oxford Conferences on Faith; Our Reasonable Service; Frontiers of Faith and Reason (thirty scholarly papers on Scripture); The Catholic Church and Philosophy; Thoughts Twice Dyed. Father McNabb's The Church and Reunion, shows a long interest in the subject. On this topic he wrote numerous articles between 1902 and 1936. An authority on economics, he had long been an advocate of the "Back-to-the-Land" movement and treats of it in his book, The Church and the Land. The city, he said, is the graveyard of religion and the machine age is the doom of mankind. His book Old Principles and the New Order has for its main theme the principle that true economics must rest on true faiths and morals. During the first World War, he learned practical farming in his leisure, as a recreation. He had been, also, a shining light in the Distributist Movement.

Father McNabb was, however, not only a polemic writer, but an informal essayist of undeniable charm, as shown particularly in: Francis Thompson and Other Essays; The Wayside, and the lovely Path of Prayer. Many people not of the Catholic faith read Blackfriars, the Dominican literary monthly published in Oxford, for which he was a regular contributor. His words are racy [?] of the soil. Writing with his capuche on, he used the back of old letters and envelopes for his manuscript. His motto was, "produce as much as you can, consume as little as you need." He urged the scrapping of all machinery and wanted people living as members of family-owned subsistence farms. The reader is never permitted to forget that here is a son of St. Dominic, a follower of St. Thomas. His vocabulary smacked of pre-Norman times, even in such a title as The Craft of Prayer. More recent books have been in the field of hagiography-on St. John Fisher or on St. Elizabeth of Portugal, the patroness of peace, who rode upon her little mule between embattled armies. In A Life of Jesus Christ Our Lord, hitherto shadowed places in the divine chronicle are illumined by a penetrating flash.

So Father McNabb died on the 408th anniversary of St. John Fisher's trial for treason in Westminster Hall. As Mediatrix Press, who reissued his 1935 biography of the Cardinal martyr describes it:

Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., a prolific Dominican known for his humility and preaching, takes advantage of the historical research of his contemporaries to weave the drama of St. John Fisher’s amazing life.

This is a short work, rather than a detailed historical analysis, that is both endlessly enjoyable as literature-even a work of art, yet at the same time pious and inspiring to faith. McNabb’s life of Fisher traces the saint’s early days from his childhood to his enrollment in Cambridge, his becoming a priest, a chaplain to Lady Margaret Beaufort, and at last, being appointed Bishop of Rochester, in which office he would be cruelly put to death by Henry VIII, the exemplar of tyrants.

Fisher is an important study for us today, not only because he died for the Catholic Faith, but also because he died for not believing as the monarch would have him believe. Henry VIII, in his quest to divorce his wife to marry his mistress, created the model of the Totalitarian state. Fisher is for us, a witness both of solid adherence to faith, as well as the courage to speak out when most others are content to get along. The perfect antidote to
Wolf Hall!

The original Sheed & Ward edition is online here.

On June 17, 1535, John Fisher was tried for treason, with Sir Richard Rich as the main witness against him, and have been found guilty, was sentenced to death by being hanged, drawn, and quartered. He spoke to the court:

My lords, I am here condemned before you of high treason for denial of the King’s supremacy over the Church of England, but by what order of justice I leave to God, Who is the searcher both of the king his Majesty’s conscience and yours; nevertheless, being found guilty, as it is termed, I am and must be contented with all that God shall send, to whose will I wholly refer and submit myself. And now to tell you plainly my mind, touching this matter of the king’s supremacy, I think indeed, and always have thought, and do now lastly affirm, that His Grace cannot justly claim any such supremacy over the Church of God as he now taketh upon him; neither hath (it) been seen or heard of that any temporal prince before his days hath presumed to that dignity; wherefore, if the king will now adventure himself in proceeding in this strange and unwonted case, so no doubt but he shall deeply incur the grievous displeasure of the Almighty, to the great damage of his own soul, and of many others, and to the utter ruin of this realm committed to his charge, wherefore, I pray God his Grace may remember himself in good time, and harken to good counsel for the preservation of himself and his realm and the quietness of all Christendom.

St. John Fisher, pray for us!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Catholicism in the Thirteen Colonies


EWTN, the late Mother Angelica's Catholic media empire, has now conquered book publishing--along with social media outreach, a tremendous website, a cable television station in the US and around the world, broadcast radio, and newspaper publishing--and in this case, EWTN has published a book by one of the priests who has presented many programs on EWTN on Church History. I presume this book could be adapted for a series of programs for EWTN television. Father Charles Connor celebrated his silver jubilee of ordination in the Diocese of Scranton in 2015.

Sophia Institute Press publishes and distributes the book, which I purchased at Eighth Day Books here in Wichita, Kansas. The publisher's book description:

In this comprehensive history, Fr. Charles Connor details the life of Catholics in the American Colonies. It’s a tale that begins with the flight of English Catholics to religious freedom in Maryland in 1634, and continues through the post-Revolutionary period, by which time the constitutions of all but four of the first 13 states contained harsh anti-Catholic provisions.

Catholic readers will be proud to learn from that despite almost two centuries of ever-more-intense religious persecutions and even harsher legal prohibitions, American Catholics in the colonies simply refused to abandon the Catholic Faith.

This is an indispensable reading for souls interested in the deep roots of Catholicism in America, and in the holy courage of scores of Catholics who kept remorseless forces from driving Catholicism out of America. Among other things, you’ll learn:

  • The tale of The Ark and The Dove that carried the first settlers to Maryland
  • The surprisingly harsh anti-Catholic sentiments of most of the Founding Fathers
  • The Quaker/Catholic alliance that promoted both religions
  • The role of persecuted Catholics in the Revolutionary War
  • Why, in that War, many Catholics favored the anti-Catholic British
  • The French Jesuits who evangelized New York and its frontier areas, and the saints who were martyred there
  • The years in which, throughout the colonies, Catholics became an endangered species

Father Connor's survey emphasizes Maryland. After three chapters offering background on the Protestant Reformation on the Continent of Europe, the Tudor Reformation in England, and the status of Catholics in England during Elizabeth's I reign and the Stuart Dynasty, four chapters of six dedicated to Catholics in the colonial era are devoted to describing Lord Baltimore's colonial enterprise, his vision for it, his sons' implementation of that vision, and its vicissitudes. His narrative style is smooth and detailed, using substantial quotations from other secondary sources. 

Unfortunately, there's no index, which does reduce the usefulness of the book as a resource. From the table of contents in the book, you would not know that he covers Rhode Island, Connecticut, etc., however briefly, as is their due. To reach its potential as a historical resource, the book should also have a map and perhaps a few portraits. The bibliography is comprehensive and up-to-date. Good, solid and insightful historical writing. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

G.K. Chesterton, RIP

From the Archbishop of Westminster, Arthur Hinsley, writing of G.K. Chesterton after his death on June 14, 1936:

We have lost a man, a big man of unique strength, a man of courage and conviction. G.K., as he was everywhere known, was an ardent Catholic, a lover of liberty, a sound philosopher, an apologist of highest value, a keen, clean humourist. He will be sadly missed in days when men in the mould of St. Thomas More are rare. Those who share our heritage of English speech may well owe a great debt to G.K. Chesterton for his work as a master artist. Some will certainly repay him with the meed of so many words. But his friends and comrades in the rank of the Church militant will remember chiefly that he staunchly fought the good fight and upheld the faith. To them words without prayers will seem a scant and empty requital of his unswerving loyalty.

Father Vincent McNabb, O.P. wrote that the shock of the words CHESTERTON IS DEAD made him moan almost with despair because of what he and the world had lost:

Londoner of Londoners. English of the English. Gilbert Chesterton towered shoulder high about his contemporaries. His massive body, crowned with a massive head, struck me as being only the well-proportioned outward visible sign of the massive intellectual, spiritual reality within. And this inward reality was in the sphere of memory, mind and heart. His memory was not just beyond the average, but far beyond the average. Had it not been balanced by equal powers of mind it would have been, as in lesser minds, a danger or even a disease. But Gilbert Chesterton's memory was a storehouse of such ordered facts that from it, almost at will and always at need, he could bring forth things old and new. In control of this vast, densely filled memory was a mind of more than average power. It was not just a power of reason - though few could reason better - it was an unusual power of instant intuition; which, the philosophers say, is to be found only in a few men; and, as the theologians say, is found in all the angels.

One of his books he called
An Outline of Sanity. The title was the man. His was the same healthy mind that recognizes in the outline the first necessary line of thought received or thought expressed. His thought about things was always the deep philosophical recognition not of resemblance but of differences. Unconsciously he acted on the principle that "a philosopher is one who knows how to divide." His rapidly moving intelligence recognised in one principle a hundred conclusions; and in one phenomenon of nature or one fact of history recognised a hundred principles. This made him the best of listeners. But whilst he listened even to something he had already heard and perhaps knew better than the speaker knew, his giant mind was tracing within the accurate outline of the subject an elaborate diaper of thought. The myriad epigrams of his style were not carefully designed effects. But they were the irrepressible and spontaneous results of a clear mind always set with philosophic instinct on discerning differences.

Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, was born on June 14, 1958. He wrote about Chesterton's death in 2014 for Crisis Magazine:

His death was front page news around the world and was met with an outpouring of spontaneous groans and genuine grief. Thousands of people who had never met Chesterton but who had welcomed him into their homes through his newspaper columns felt as though they had lost a friend. But the next few decades passed and he was forgotten. Then something quite contrary happened. Thousands of people suddenly found a friend in Chesterton. His books and essays surged back into print, and people got to know him all over again, embracing the sense of wonder and joy that lives on in his words.

We have witnessed a revival, and it has, of course, been personally gratifying as Chesterton has proved to be my friend, my hero, my mentor, my Virgil, who led me, not through the Inferno but through the comedy which is indeed divine. It is a great joke that he led this Baptist to the Catholic Church.


Chesterton's Eternities:

I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well hath He spoken: "Swear not by thy head.
Thou knowest not the hairs," though He, we read,
Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
And I will name the leaves upon the trees,

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
Still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;
Or see the fading of the fires of hell
Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.

Image: Self-portrait of Chesterton based on the Distributist slogan "Three acres and a cow"

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Report on the Sunday Sessions of the Catholic Culture Conference

The Adult Education program of the Spiritual Life Center here in Wichita, Kansas recently presented the Fourth Annual Catholic Culture Conference. Joseph Pearce and Dale Ahlquist made presentations on Friday and Saturday and Brad (Bradley) Birzer from Hillsdale College spoke on Sunday. He was born and raised in Kansas and had attended a family wedding in Kansas City on Saturday before driving to Wichita on Sunday. He was born in Great Bend and grew up in Hutchinson--his mother and other family members met him during his presentations so there was a family reunion going on too.

He was a great presenter; his enthusiasm and knowledge of his subject was so evident. I enjoyed his talk on Russell Kirk because I had not read much about him. Here's a Catholic World Report introduction to Kirk that Professor Birzer wrote:

By almost any 21st-century American or western standard, Russell Amos Augustine Kirk (1918-1994) possessed a quirky, eccentric, and original personality. He was—to put it as simply as possible—genius. Descriptors like charitable, tolerant, loyal, intense, playful, mischievous, creative, imaginative, shy, romantic, brilliant, humble, eccentric, traditional, and innovative flow from the lips and pens of most of those who knew him personally. As with every person, of course, Kirk expressed an immense variety of emotions and thoughts during his life. No man or woman can be summed up in a sentence, let alone in a book or even in a series of books. Almost certainly, the person himself fails to apprehend all of his majesty and his failings. Of all appreciations of and attacks on Kirk, Dartmouth professor of English literature Jeffrey Hart says it best. “Russell Kirk was a fantastic individualist—in his own way, of course.”

Yet, of all major converts to Roman Catholicism in the 20th century, Kirk remains one of the least known. There were so many notable converts, as biographers such as Joseph Pearce have explored, that one middle-aged American’s conversion has understandably been overlooked. After all, Kirk is remembered mostly for his 1953 magnum opus,
The Conservative Mind, and as the founder of intellectual and cultural conservatism. On the surface, Roman Catholicism is not inherently conservative, at least politically, and most Catholics would probably be more comfortable reading a Flannery O’Connor short story than a speech Kirk ghostwrote for Senator Barry Goldwater.

Still, it is unfortunate that Catholics have not paid more attention to Kirk’s story. His conversion to the Church not only provided a major asset to the faith but also reveals much about the nature of tradition, the continuity of the pagan and the Catholic, the fragility of civilization, and the sanctity of charity.

I bought Birzer's biography of Russell Kirk--and he bought a copy of my book. Very kind of him: we autographed each other's books.

He also spoke on J.R.R. Tolkien, emphasizing how much World War I influenced the creation of Tolkien's Catholic mythology of Middle Earth. This essay, from the Imaginative Conservative (which Birzer co-founded) gives you an inkling of what Birzer discussed:

One finds the most moving prose of The Lord of the Rings, somewhat surprisingly, in chapter two of Book Four (that is, the second chapter dealing with Frodo and Sam in The Two Towers), “The Passage of the Marshes.” In it, Tolkien offers a vast and broad claustrophobic landscape across which Frodo, Sam, and Gollum must travel.

As is typical with Tolkien, he allowed his experiences to influence and inform his writing, but he refused to let them dominate it. In a 1960 letter, he admitted that the approach came from his reading of William Morris as well as his own experiences in World War I.

"The Lord of the Rings was actually begun, as a separate thing, about 1937, and had reached the inn at Bree, before the shadow of the second war. Personally, I do not think that either war (and of course not the atomic bomb) had any influence upon either the plot or the manner of its unfolding. Perhaps in landscape. The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme. They owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans, as in The House of the Wolfings or The Roots of the Mountains." [Letter 226 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien].

That Tolkien mentions his experience in World War I at all is startling, as he rarely did this, and certainly not until the end of his life. In an interview eight years later, Tolkien confirmed the influence of his experience in the trenches on his writing. “I remember miles and miles of seething, tortured earth, perhaps best described in the chapters about the approaches to Mordor. It was a searing experience.” [Interview by Keith Brace, “In the Footsteps of Hobbits,” Birmingham Post (March 25, 1968)]

In almost every way, Tolkien’s “The Passage of the Marshes” presents a deeply frightening and suffocating experience for the reader, as the three figures—the two Hobbits and the decrepit Gollum, once a Hobbit himself—move across a landscape that has become, and continues to become through the chapter, devoid of grace. Unlike the area of the Old Forest (in
The Fellowship of the Ring) that had once been the sight of a terrific battle in the North, the Dead Marshes, and the No-man’s land, just to the northwest of Mordor, has no guardian spirit or caretaker such as a Goldberry or Tom Bombadil. In the Old Forest, the evil of the angry trees and undead wights cannot prevail against the natural goodness of Tom and Goldberry, masters of the land. No such masters ever took hold of the Dead Marshes. Instead, there still lingers the rotting souls of elves, orcs, and men, all the remains of the Last Alliance against Sauron, a pyrrhic victory won more than 3,000 years earlier.

Birzer concludes:

If there is a passage in all of English literature that better describes the horrors of the twentieth-century—its world wars, its gulags, its holocaust camps—I have yet to encounter it.

In a genius moment of anti-Romantic Romanticism, “The Passage of the Marshes” echoes the structure of a medieval church—from the “lights” of the purgatorial recesses to the buttresses of the decayed walls to the obscene graveyard. This is a church unprotected, unguarded, unclean. As Frodo and Sam journey through it, even memory itself is elusive and unattainable.

As ghosts, Frodo and Sam continue through this nightmare realm, itself devoid of grace, armed only with the Elvish lembas, what would be translated into English as “the bread of life.”

If there is a story in the English language that better grasps the meaning of life and perseverance in this world of sorrows, I have yet to encounter it.

I hope that Professor Birzer returns to Wichita soon to talk Christopher Dawson or Charles Carroll of Carrollton, about whom he has also written.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Chesterton's HERETICS


Our G.K. Chesterton group has been reading Heretics, the book that preceded Orthodoxy. Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society calls Heretics one of Chesterton's least-familiar books:

Heretics is one of Chesterton’s most important books. It is also one of his most neglected books. Perhaps the reason has to do with the title.

The word heretic conjures up frightful images of controversial characters being barbecued for their beliefs. It smacks of “intolerance.” The very word “dogmatic” is perceived as being intolerant. But Chesterton says that man is the animal who makes dogmas. “Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.” There is something ironic about “tolerance” being an ideal, and that it is connected to religious freedom. In reality, “tolerance” has done more to suppress religion than has any persecution. It has left us not only afraid to debate about our beliefs, it has made us afraid even to discuss them. As Chesterton says, “We now talk about the weather, and call it the complete liberty of all creeds.” This strange silence about religion leaves the impression that religion is not important. . . .

This book is not an attack but a defense, a defense of the ancient truths that are under attack by modern heretics. Chesterton claims to have gained a deeper appreciation of the Christian Faith through the simple exercise of defending it. He says he never realized the great philosophic common sense of Christianity until the anti-Christian writers pointed it to him.

Heresy, it turns out, is usually a distinct lack of common sense. A heresy is at best a half-truth, but usually even less than that. A heresy is a fragment of the truth that is exaggerated at the expense of the rest of the truth. The modern world praises science and hygiene and progress. These are all very well and good, but they have been elevated at the expense of larger truths, such as faith and tradition and permanent ideals.


At our last meeting (Friday, June 8--we almost always meet on the second Friday of the month), we discussed two chapters: The Moods of Mr. George Moore and On Sandals and Simplicity.

George Moore was an Irish Catholic heir of a great family estate in County Mayo who renounced his Catholic faith and wrote  Confessions of A Young Man. We should remember that Chesterton wasn't a Catholic yet when he wrote:

His account of his reason for leaving the Roman Catholic Church is possibly the most admirable tribute to that communion which has been written of late years. For the fact of the matter is, that the weakness which has rendered barren the many brilliancies of Mr. Moore is actually that weakness which the Roman Catholic Church is at its best in combating. Mr. Moore hates Catholicism because it breaks up the house of looking-glasses in which he lives. Mr. Moore does not dislike so much being asked to believe in the spiritual existence of miracles or sacraments, but he does fundamentally dislike being asked to believe in the actual existence of other people. Like his master Pater and all the aesthetes, his real quarrel with life is that it is not a dream that can be molded by the dreamer. It is not the dogma of the reality of the other world that troubles him, but the dogma of the reality of this world.

We should also remember that Chesterton admired Robert Louis Stevenson when we read:

For the truth is much stranger even than it appears in the formal doctrine of the sin of pride. It is not only true that humility is a much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride. It is also true that vanity is a much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride. Vanity is social—it is almost a kind of comradeship; pride is solitary and uncivilized. Vanity is active; it desires the applause of infinite multitudes; pride is passive, desiring only the applause of one person, which it already has. Vanity is humorous, and can enjoy the joke even of itself; pride is dull, and cannot even smile. And the whole of this difference is the difference between Stevenson and Mr. George Moore, who, as he informs us, has "brushed Stevenson aside." I do not know where he has been brushed to, but wherever it is I fancy he is having a good time, because he had the wisdom to be vain, and not proud. Stevenson had a windy vanity; Mr. Moore has a dusty egoism. Hence Stevenson could amuse himself as well as us with his vanity; while the richest effects of Mr. Moore's absurdity are hidden from his eyes.

If we compare this solemn folly with the happy folly with which Stevenson belauds his own books and berates his own critics, we shall not find it difficult to guess why it is that Stevenson at least found a final philosophy of some sort to live by, while Mr. Moore is always walking the world looking for a new one. Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility. Self is the gorgon. Vanity sees it in the mirror of other men and lives. Pride studies it for itself and is turned to stone.

Chesterton goes on to explain the problem with pride for an artist, someone who is trying to be creative based upon his own experience of art:

A man who thinks a great deal about himself will try to be many-sided, attempt a theatrical excellence at all points, will try to be an encyclopaedia of culture, and his own real personality will be lost in that false universalism. Thinking about himself will lead to trying to be the universe; trying to be the universe will lead to ceasing to be anything. If, on the other hand, a man is sensible enough to think only about the universe; he will think about it in his own individual way. He will keep virgin the secret of God; he will see the grass as no other man can see it, and look at a sun that no man has ever known.

When Chesterton discusses simplicity and all the complicated attempts of modern society to live simply, it's no surprise that he calls upon children as the best among us for seeing wonder, delighting in simplicity even when it's complicated:

The child is, indeed, in these, and many other matters, the best guide. And in nothing is the child so righteously childlike, in nothing does he exhibit more accurately the sounder order of simplicity, than in the fact that he sees everything with a simple pleasure, even the complex things. The false type of naturalness harps always on the distinction between the natural and the artificial. The higher kind of naturalness ignores that distinction. To the child the tree and the lamp-post are as natural and as artificial as each other; or rather, neither of them are natural but both supernatural. For both are splendid and unexplained. The flower with which God crowns the one, and the flame with which Sam the lamplighter crowns the other, are equally of the gold of fairy-tales. In the middle of the wildest fields the most rustic child is, ten to one, playing at steam-engines. And the only spiritual or philosophical objection to steam-engines is not that men pay for them or work at them, or make them very ugly, or even that men are killed by them; but merely that men do not play at them. The evil is that the childish poetry of clockwork does not remain. The wrong is not that engines are too much admired, but that they are not admired enough. The sin is not that engines are mechanical, but that men are mechanical.

In this matter, then, as in all the other matters treated in this book, our main conclusion is that it is a fundamental point of view, a philosophy or religion which is needed, and not any change in habit or social routine. The things we need most for immediate practical purposes are all abstractions. We need a right view of the human lot, a right view of the human society; and if we were living eagerly and angrily in the enthusiasm of those things, we should, ipso facto, be living simply in the genuine and spiritual sense. Desire and danger make every one simple. And to those who talk to us with interfering eloquence about Jaeger and the pores of the skin, and about Plasmon and the coats of the stomach, at them shall only be hurled the words that are hurled at fops and gluttons, "Take no thought what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed. For after all these things do the Gentiles seek. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Those amazing words are not only extraordinarily good, practical politics; they are also superlatively good hygiene. The one supreme way of making all those processes go right, the processes of health, and strength, and grace, and beauty, the one and only way of making certain of their accuracy, is to think about something else. If a man is bent on climbing into the seventh heaven, he may be quite easy about the pores of his skin. If he harnesses his wagon to a star, the process will have a most satisfactory effect upon the coats of his stomach. For the thing called "taking thought," the thing for which the best modern word is "rationalizing," is in its nature, inapplicable to all plain and urgent things. Men take thought and ponder rationalistically, touching remote things—things that only theoretically matter, such as the transit of Venus. But only at their peril can men rationalize about so practical a matter as health.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

George Sand and the English Augustinians

So my husband and I were eating pizza at a nearby restaurant and I found a review in the Wall Street Journal of a newly-translated biography of George Sand, Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin. It highlighted the detail that Aurore was raised by her grandmother and sent to the convent school of the English Augustinians in Paris. This convent, Notre-Dame-de-Sion on the rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor (now rue de Cardinal Lemoine) was founded by English Catholic exiles. In her memoirs, Aurore described the experience:

THIS convent was one of the three or four British communities established in Paris during Cromwell’s ascendency…. It is the only one now in existence, its house having endured the various revolutions without suffering greatly. Its traditions say that Henriette of France, the daughter of our Henry IV. and wife of the unfortunate Charles I. of England, had often come to pray in our chapel with her son James II. All our nuns were English, Scotch, or Irish. Two-thirds of the boarding pupils and lodgers, as well as some of the priests who came to officiate, belonged to these nations. During certain hours of the day the whole school was forbidden to speak a word of French, which was the best means for learning English rapidly. Naturally our nuns hardly ever spoke anything else to us. They retained the habits of their country; drank tea three times a day allowing those among us who were good to take it with them.

The cloister and the church were paved with long tombstones, beneath which were the venerated bones of those Catholics of Old England who had died in exile, and been buried by favor in this inviolable sanctuary. There were English epitaphs and pious inscriptions everywhere on tombs and walls. Large old portraits of English princes and prelates hung in the Superior’s room and in her private parlor. The beautiful and amorous Mary Stuart, reputed a saint by our chaste nuns, shone there like a star. In short, everything in that house was English, both of the past and of the present; and when within its gates, one seemed to have crossed the Channel. All this was a “nine days’ wonder” to me, the Berri peasant.

Aurore was incorrect about the date of its founding. King Charles I was on the throne in 1634 when it was founded. She was there from 1817 to 1820 and her memoirs reflect some loneliness and restlessness in the cloister:

We were cloistered in the full sense of the word. We went out twice a month only, and never spent a night out except at New-Year’s. There were vacations, but I had none; as my grandmother said she preferred not to interrupt my studies, so as to have me at the convent a shorter time. She left Paris a few weeks after our separation, and did not come back for a year; then went away for another year. She had demanded that my mother was not to ask to take me out. My cousins the Villeneuves offered me their home for all holidays, and wrote to my grandmother for her permission. I wrote too, and begged her not to grant it; and had the courage to tell her, that not going out with mother, I ought not and did not wish to go out with any one. I trembled lest she should not listen to me; and though I felt the need and the wish to enjoy these outings, I made up my mind to pretend illness if my cousins came to fetch me armed with a permit. This time my grandmother approved my action; and instead of finding fault, praised my feeling in a way I found rather exaggerated. I had done nothing but my duty; yet it made me spend two whole years behind bars. 

We had mass in our chapel, received visits in the parlor, took our private lessons there; the professor being on one side of the grating while we were on the other. All the convent windows towards the street had not only gratings, but immovable linen screens besides. It was really a prison, but a prison with a large garden and plenty of company. I must confess that I never felt the rigors of captivity for an instant; and that the minute precautions taken to keep us locked up and prevent us from getting a glimpse of the outer world, often made me laugh. This care was the only stimulant we had to long for freedom; for there was not one of us who would ever have dreamt of crossing her mother’s threshold unattended: yet almost every girl at the convent watched for the opening of the cloister door, or peeped furtively through the slits in the linen screens. To outwit supervision, go down into the court three or four steps, see a cab pass by, was the dream and the ambition of forty or fifty wild and mischievous girls, who the very next day would go about Paris without in the least enjoying it; because once outside the convent inclosure, stepping on the pavement and looking at people were no longer forbidden fruit.


According to her latest biographer, Martine Reid, Aurore became "very devout" while with the English exiles, and even thought of a religious vocation for a time. St. Augustine's Priory in Ealing has this brief note about Notre-Dame-du-Sion in Paris:

Our history dates back to 1631 when an English woman, Lettice Mary Tredway, an English nun at the convent of Notre Dame de Beaulieu at Douai, together with Father Thomas Carre, a priest at the English College at Douai, conceived the idea of founding an order in France for those English women who wished to pursue their religious vocation but were prevented from doing so in England due to religious persecution.

In 1634 the Augustinian convent of the Canonesses Regular of the Lateran opened in Paris. Six English women were selected to start this new community, among them a thirteen year old girl, Margaret Dormer. She was too young to become a nun and so the school began, with Margaret Dormer the first pupil.

Over the next 250 years the community and school on the Rue des Fosses St Victor found itself at the heart of European events. The French Revolution saw the nuns enduring the terror of those years, their convent even being used as a prison for women. In the following years under Napoleon the community often played host as the Emperor enjoyed walking in the quiet of the convent gardens. Following Napoleon’s defeat, the Duke of Wellington visited the community. Revolution in 1848 saw the nuns remain at their posts, but in 1862 new premises had to be found when the property on the Rue des Fosses St Victor was demolished, and the convent and school moved to Neuilly, on the outskirts of the city.

In 1911, after nearly three hundred years, the anti-clerical laws of France saw the community compelled to leave France for England, a country where nuns were now welcome, to practise their vocation and run their school.

Image of the cloister of the convent (by Hubert Robert); Image credit for the location of the convent on rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

WWI and the Ruins of Medieval Churches

I've heard of the German "Baedeker Bombings" of World War II, in which the Luftwaffe selected non-military, cultural sites in England for bombing based on a popular guidebook. This blog describes the bombings:

The next day Baron von Sturm (a spokesman for the German Foreign Office) said “’We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide.” von Strum’s comments led to the raids being called the ‘Baedeker Raids’ by both the Germans and the Allies. Although Goebbels agreed with the tactic he was furious with von Strum for his thoughtless, off-the-cuff comment. Goebbels had wanted to take the moral high ground, describing the British attacks as ‘terror bombing’, but now von Strum had effectively admitted that the Germans were deliberately targeting cultural and historical sites. Exeter was bombed again within hours of von Strum’s statement. A third raid on Exeter took place on 3rd May when high explosives, incendiaries and parachute mines were dropped by 90 planes, devastating the city’s shopping centre. 163 people were killed and 131 seriously injured in the attacks on the town which was poorly prepared for such raids, as were the other locations chosen from the guidebook. . . .

Exeter was not the only city to be targeted. 400 people were killed in raids on Bath on two consecutive nights (25th + 26th April), during the raid the railway station was put out of action and communications severely affected. After the raids on Bath Goebbels reported that Hitler intended to “repeat these raids night after night until the English are sick and tired of terror attacks” and that he “shared [Goebbels’] opinion absolutely that cultural centres, health resorts and civilian centres must be attacked… there is no other way of bringing the English to their senses. They belong to a class of human beings with whom you can only talk after you have first knocked out their teeth.”

But according to this article from History Today, there was bombing during the First World War--the war to end all wars--that also focused on cultural, indeed religious, sites in an effort to drive down civilian morale:

Throughout the four years marking the centenary of the First World War, we have seen a succession of sombre events marking its many major and minor tragedies. Among the most poignant datelines are those recalling a litany of medieval landmarks that fell along the frontline almost from the opening hours of the war: at first, simply shattered by the German army's rapid advance and then steadily eroded by mutually destructive attrition. Treasured symbols of its commercial and cultural power in the later Middle Ages, Belgium's heritage churches bore the full ferocity of the first salvoes. Liège's late Gothic cathedral of St Paul came under enemy bombardment on the second, sweltering day of the war and, following the fall of the medieval walled city of Namur on 23 August 1914, the German Third Army took Dinant on the same day. There they toppled the distinctive Reformation-era pyriform dome of its collegiate church, an act of destruction that was eclipsed by the massacre of 600 townspeople. No doubt in the next four years most of the major milestones in the conflict will be marked, but, perhaps increasingly, we will also remember and reflect on those experiences – mechanisation, civilian bombardment – which, after the passage of a century, we can see more clearly represent moments of great cultural transformation.


Notre Dame of Reims, the cathedral of coronation for France's kings, was a particular target of German bombs:

A presage of what was to follow in the four years of war was offered at Reims, scarcely six weeks after the conflict began. On Saturday 19 September a shower of German incendiaries set the 13th-century cathedral ablaze. In the stillness of a misty autumn twilight, bystanders paused aghast at the edge of the Place du Parvis as fire seized the roof timbers and the scaffold, which, by a fateful irony, still surrounded the northern tower of the west front after a stint of restoration work. The fire reached such intensity in the hours that followed that it softened the mortared joints of the statues covering the facade. Suddenly, the sculpted head of the Smiling Angel – le sourire de Reims – broke from its shoulders and fell. . . . 

World War I bombings finished what Protestant iconoclasm had started:

Such widespread destruction of medieval heritage was unprecedented in the modern era. As the French press ruefully observed, even their Revolution – powered by a radical secularism – had not seen the razing of so many ancient sites. Not since the 16th-century Wars of Religion had churches in a whole chain of regional capitals suffered in such a way. It also represented a new departure in modern warfare because, as the conflict intensified, these medieval landmarks were made the deliberate target of offensive action. In this respect, the attack on Reims represented a turning point. The early damage wrought by the invasion force had been largely collateral. At Reims, however, the Germans fired on the cathedral. Earlier, on first entering the city, they had established a temporary encampment in the Place du Parvis but, as the allied counterattack began, they had withdrawn to a strategic position to the north to concentrate their fire on the centre of the city.

Thereafter, the great cathedrals and other medieval landmarks were targeted right along the Front. . . .

The article goes on to demonstrate that there was a spiritual reaction to this modern iconoclastic warfare on the Continent and in England:

The attention given to the great cathedrals and abbey churches also engendered a level of spirituality, which some had considered lacking in the early stages of the war. Public worship and private devotion in these spaces surged, even among the rubble. Church leaders, roused into guiding the public response, used the fragility of their most ancient places of worship to reinvigorate intercession. Cardinal Louis-Henri-Joseph Luçon, Archbishop of Reims, performed the Stations of the Cross daily, picking his way around the fallen vault of the nave. In England parallel efforts were carried forward by Canterbury, York and the senior bishops, in which the historic resonance of their great churches was self-consciously harnessed to the imperatives of the Home Front. National Days of Intercession, first tried during the Boer War, called the public into these ancient places of worship; at Salisbury and Exeter Cathedrals and Westminster Abbey local people were reminded of the bishops' wish that everyone pause and enter their churches for prayer at noon each day. At a time when troops from across the Empire were passing through many cities and towns, it would appear the antiquity of these places spoke to those with little first-hand knowledge of the Old Country they served.

James G. Clark, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, demonstrates how this spiritual revival continued after the First World War ended, as Church of England bishops encouraged travelers on the Great Western Railway to make pilgrimage visits to great medieval (formerly Catholic) cathedrals and churches in the Midlands and Wales:

England's largest railway company, Great Western (GWR), embarked on its own promotion in 1924: recruiting academic medievalists – Montague Rhodes (MR) James, provost of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, and Sir Charles Oman, Oxford's Chichele Professor, and launching a trio of guidebooks to the cathedrals, abbeys and castles of the region served by GWR. Announced by a poster campaign to rival the Art Deco imagery of the French railway companies, the guides called on their customers to practice a new kind of touring, sober and reflective, 'not to be unloaded for ten minutes from a charabanc', as the guide admonished, but to pause amid 'these precious monuments of English piety'.

Please read the rest there.

At the University of Exeter website, Professor Clark comments upon his research and writing:

My historical interests are focused on the period between the Black Death and the Break with Rome. While a medievalist by training, I explore themes in religion, intellectual and cultural life which reach across the traditional boundaries of medieval and early modern; likewise, my approach is informed not only by the sources and methods of the historian but also by those of researchers in literary, artistic and material culture.

I'd say this article is a good example of his reaching "across the traditional boundaries of medieval and early modern" history!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Carthusian Martyrs of Newgate Prison


Anna Mitchell and I will talk about the continuing saga of the Carthusian Martyrs of London during the reign of Henry VIII this morning around 7:50 Eastern/6:50 Central on the Son Rise Morning Show, broadcast by Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati, Ohio and on-line here.

The last group of Carthusians who had refused to accept Henry VIII's role as Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England began to die in Newgate Prison on June 6, 1537. They had been imprisoned there, bound and left standing against pillars, without food or water since May 29.

They survived until June 6 because for the few days of their imprisonment--note again that they were left to die without trial or condemnation--Margaret Giggs Clement, one of St. Thomas More's wards and adopted daughter, came into the prison disguised as a milkmaid and brought food and water to the monks and laybrothers. When they hadn't died as quickly as Henry VIII expected, the jailer wouldn't let her in again. She tried to lower food and water to them from the roof, but that just didn't work:

  • Blessed William Greenwood, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 6, 1537
  • Blessed John Davy, deacon, choir monk of the London Charterhouse,  on June 8. 1537
  • Blessed Robert Salt, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 9, 1537
  • Blessed Walter Pierson, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 10, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Green (perhaps alias Thomas Greenwood), choir monk of the London Charterhouse, on June 10, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Scryven, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 15, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Redyng, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 16, 1537

Two of the Carthusians evidently received some food and water or there had been some change of strategy, because they did not die in prison until later that summer:

  • Blessed Richard Bere, choir monk of the London Charterhouse, on August 9, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Johnson, choir monk of the London Charterhouse, on September 20, 1537

One of this group was evidently removed from the starvation cell and held in confinement for almost three more years before his execution:

  • Blessed William Horne, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, hanged, disembowelled, and quartered at Tyburn, London on August 4, 1540.

In his book Saints and Scholars, David Knowles eulogizes the Newgate prison group:

The third and most numerous band was denied even the dignity of a formal trial and execution. They had asked to live as hidden servants of Christ; they died, silent witnesses to his words, hidden from the eyes of all. Chained without possibility of movement in a foul atmosphere, and systematically starved . . .

Rarely indeed in the annals of the Church have any confessors of the faith endured trials longer, more varied or more bitter then these unknown monks. They had left the world, as they hoped, for good; but the children of the world, to gain their private ends, had violated their solitude to demand of them an approval and a submission which they could not give. They had long made of their austere and exacting Rule a means to the loving and joyful service of God; pain and desolation, therefor, when they came, held no terrors for them. When bishops and theologians paltered or denied they were not ashamed to confess the Son of Man. They died faithful witnesses to the Catholic teaching that Christ had built his Church upon a rock.


The More family, so closely associated with the Carthusians, went into exile. Margaret Giggs Clement died in Mechelen, and her daughter recounted a mystical experience she had on her deathbed:

But the time had now come that God had appointed to reward her for her good works done to the Fathers of the Charterhouse. He visited her with an ague which held her nine or ten days, and having brought her very low and in danger, she received all the sacraments with great devotion, and being desirous to give her blessing to all her children who were all present except her Religious daughters and one more that remained at Bruges with her husband, she caused her to be sent for in all haste. Wednesday being now come, which was the last day before she died, and asking if her daughter were come, and being told no, but that they looked for her every hour, she made answer that she would stay no longer for her, and calling her husband she told him that the time of her departing was now come, and she might stay no longer, for there were standing about her bed the Reverend Fathers, Monks of Charterhouse, whom she had relieved in prison in England and did call upon her to come away with them, and that therefore she could stay no longer, because they did expect her, which seemed strange talk unto him. Doubting that she might speak idly by reason of her sickness, he called unto her ghostly Father, a Reverend Father of the Franciscans living in Mechlin, to examine and talk with her, to whom she constantly made answer that she was in no way beside herself, but declared that she still had the sight of the Charterhouse monks before her, standing about her bedside and inviting her to come away with them, as she had told her husband. At the which they were all astonished. 

BTW: the first group of Carthusian martyrs are three of the protomartyrs of the English Reformation, suffering on May 4, 1535: St. John Houghton, St. Augustine Webster, and St. Robert Lawrence.

The second group suffered on June 19, 1535: Blesseds Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate.

The third set on May 11, 1537: Blessed John Rochester and Blessed James Walworth.

Blessed Carthusian martyrs, pray for us.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Development of the Church's View of Newman's "Development"

For Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Dr. Ryan Marr, a member of The National Institute for Newman Studies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reviews Newman's Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854 by C. Michael Shea, published by Oxford University Press:

C. Michael Shea’s Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854, represents a landmark historical study in the field of Newman scholarship. While numerous studies of John Henry Newman’s life and writings continue to be churned out each year, few monographs within the field exhibit the depth of archival research and originality of argumentation that Shea’s book does. With this relatively brief study (the argument proper runs right around 200 pages), Shea offers a convincing revision of an assumption that has long held sway in Newman studies—namely, that Newman’s theory of doctrinal development was held in suspicion by Roman theologians during the years immediately following the publication of his Essay on Development (1845), and only fully emerged from this cloud of suspicion in the mid-twentieth century when it was officially vindicated at the Second Vatican Council.

As Shea demonstrates, this narrative gained traction through Owen Chadwick’s influential book,
From Bossuet to Newman, which portrayed the influence of Newman’s Essay on Development as “almost wholly negative” (19). According to Chadwick’s reading of events, continental theologians, in particular, were unreceptive of Newman’s theory of development, and in Rome, even among those who were generally sympathetic to Newman, the idea landed with a thud. A key cog in Chadwick’s argument was his view of Newman’s famous exchange with the renowned Roman theologian, Giovanni Perrone, which Chadwick interpreted as a wholesale rejection of the concept of development. In Chadwick’s judgment, “Perrone laconically, but flatly, denied Newman’s thesis” (From Bossuet to Newman, 182).

In his introduction, Shea shows how Newman scholars have, for the most part, taken Chadwick’s rendering of events as definitive, and then constructed their histories of the reception of Newman’s theory around this basic narrative framework. As a prominent example, Shea points to Aidan Nichols’
From Newman to Congar, which “built upon Chadwick’s foundation” and, in so doing, “perpetuated and deepened the impression of the Essay on Development’s being neither accepted, nor influential, after it first appeared” (19). Since the publication of Nichols’ study in 1990, Newman scholars have continued to research and publish on the theory of doctrinal development, operating under the assumption that Newman’s idea followed a trajectory of early rejection and later acceptance in Roman Catholic circles.

Through a careful engagement with previously neglected sources, Shea demonstrates that the reception of Newman’s theory was exceedingly more complex than this narrative lets on. . . .

Please read the rest there. It would be fascinating to know what Aidan Nichols thinks about Shea's book! Here's some detail from OUP on the contents

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Corpus Christi Thursday and Sunday


I have already celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi: our Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite) community and Blessed Sacrament Parish collaborated on a Thursday night Mass with a Eucharistic Procession and Benediction. The choir of Blessed Sacrament sang the Sine Nomine Mass of Palestrina--and will again this morning at the 11:00 Mass today--and we chanted St. Thomas Aquinas' great sequence for the feast during Mass and the Pange Lingua during the procession, concluding with Tantum Ergo back at the Altar. Father Thomas Hoisington offered Mass beautifully and offered a great homily on the Paschal Mystery: the Passion and the Mass.

Pope St. John Paul II expressed the Church's doctrine of and his own love for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in his 2013 encyclical letter ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA:

3. The Church was born of the paschal mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the centre of the Church's life. This is already clear from the earliest images of the Church found in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42). The “breaking of the bread” refers to the Eucharist. Two thousand years later, we continue to relive that primordial image of the Church. At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and to what followed it. The institution of the Eucharist sacramentally anticipated the events which were about to take place, beginning with the agony in Gethsemane. Once again we see Jesus as he leaves the Upper Room, descends with his disciples to the Kidron valley and goes to the Garden of Olives. Even today that Garden shelters some very ancient olive trees. Perhaps they witnessed what happened beneath their shade that evening, when Christ in prayer was filled with anguish “and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (cf. Lk 22:44). The blood which shortly before he had given to the Church as the drink of salvation in the sacrament of the Eucharist, began to be shed; its outpouring would then be completed on Golgotha to become the means of our redemption: “Christ... as high priest of the good things to come..., entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11- 12).

4. The hour of our redemption. Although deeply troubled, Jesus does not flee before his “hour”. “And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' No, for this purpose I have come to this hour” (Jn 12:27). He wanted his disciples to keep him company, yet he had to experience loneliness and abandonment: “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mt 26:40- 41). Only John would remain at the foot of the Cross, at the side of Mary and the faithful women. The agony in Gethsemane was the introduction to the agony of the Cross on Good Friday. The holy hour, the hour of the redemption of the world. Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated at the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, there is an almost tangible return to his “hour”, the hour of his Cross and glorification. Every priest who celebrates Holy Mass, together with the Christian community which takes part in it, is led back in spirit to that place and that hour.

“He was crucified, he suffered death and was buried; he descended to the dead; on the third day he rose again”. The words of the profession of faith are echoed by the words of contemplation and proclamation: “This is the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world. Come, let us worship”. This is the invitation which the Church extends to all in the afternoon hours of Good Friday. She then takes up her song during the Easter season in order to proclaim: “The Lord is risen from the tomb; for our sake he hung on the Cross, Alleluia”.

5. “Mysterium fidei! - The Mystery of Faith!”. When the priest recites or chants these words, all present acclaim: “We announce your death, O Lord, and we proclaim your resurrection, until you come in glory”.

In these or similar words the Church, while pointing to Christ in the mystery of his passion,also reveals her own mystery: Ecclesia de Eucharistia. By the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the Church was born and set out upon the pathways of the world, yet a decisive moment in her taking shape was certainly the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room. Her foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and “concentrated' for ever in the gift of the Eucharist. In this gift Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery. With it he brought about a mysterious “oneness in time” between that Triduum and the passage of the centuries.

The thought of this leads us to profound amazement and gratitude. In the paschal event and the Eucharist which makes it present throughout the centuries, there is a truly enormous “capacity” which embraces all of history as the recipient of the grace of the redemption. This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist. For it is he who, by the authority given him in the sacrament of priestly ordination, effects the consecration. It is he who says with the power coming to him from Christ in the Upper Room: “This is my body which will be given up for you This is the cup of my blood, poured out for you...”. The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in his priesthood.


This morning, I'll attend Mass of the External Celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi at the Spiritual Life Center. Professor Bradley Birzer, author of Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson and other works will speak on Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien on the last day of the Fourth Annual Catholic Culture Conference:

1:30 p.m. Bradley Birzer, presenting “The Christian Humanism of Russell Kirk—one of Catholicism’s greatest (but largely forgotten) 20th century figures”

A convert, Kirk went from spiritualism to Stoic Paganism to Catholicism in the first 45 years of his life. From 1964 to his death in 1994, he served the Church faithfully, in word, if not always in deed. He was, however, one of the single most charitable men of his age.

2:30 p.m. Break, and book signing/continued conversation with Dr. Birzer

3:00 p.m. Bradley Birzer, presenting “The Inklings and J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology”

Most of you know something about J.R.R. Tolkien and his monumental work, The Lord of the Rings, and the literary impact of his friendship with C.S. Lewis and the rest of the “Inklings”. Below the surface, however, there is much in Tolkien’s work that lies hidden to the casual reader. In this lecture, Dr. Birzer will explore Tolkien’s mythology as a Catholic answer to the terrorist ideologies of the previous century.