Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Robert Southey: The Three Bears and Sir Thomas More

“In the name of God,” I exclaimed, “who are you, and wherefore are you come?” 
“Be not alarmed,” he replied.  “Your reason, which has shown you the possibility of such an appearance as you now witness, must have convinced you also that it would never be permitted for an evil end.  Examine my features well, and see if you do not recognise them.  Hans Holbein was excellent at a likeness.” 
I had now for the first time in my life a distinct sense of that sort of porcupinish motion over the whole scalp which is so frequently described by the Latin poets.  It was considerably allayed by the benignity of his countenance and the manner of his speech, and after looking him steadily in the face I ventured to say, for the likeness had previously struck me, “Is it Sir Thomas More?” 
“The same,” he made answer, and lifting up his chin, displayed a circle round the neck brighter in colour than the ruby.  “The marks of martyrdom,” he continued, “are our insignia of honour.  Fisher and I have the purple collar, as Friar Forrest and Cranmer have the robe of fire.” 
A mingled feeling of fear and veneration kept me silent, till I perceived by his look that he expected and encouraged me to speak; and collecting my spirits as well as I could, I asked him wherefore he had thought proper to appear, and why to me rather than to any other person?--from Sir Thomas More, or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society

Today is the anniversary in 1774 of the birth of Robert Southey, the Romantic Poet who at first embraced the spirit of the French Revolution and then like William Wordsworth and other Lake Poets became more conservative: from Radical to Tory! As the Poetry Foundation notes:

Of his fellow Romantics he was perhaps the most versatile, as well as one of the most prolific. As poet—and eventually poet laureate—he produced epics, romances, and metrical tales, ballads, plays, monodramas, odes, eclogues, sonnets, and miscellaneous lyrics. His prose works include histories, biographies, essays, reviews, translations, travelogues, semi-fictional journalism, polemical dialogues, and a farraginous work of fiction, autobiography, anecdote, and omnium-gatherum that defies classification. His bent was inherently encyclopedic; and, while his writings lack both moral profundity (as distinct from moral fervor) and “natural magic,” they compensate by their vigor and abundance for their dearth of genius. Coleridge rightly called him the complete man of letters.

Among those encyclopedic works are two wonderful inventions: the story of The Three Bears and his imaginary dialogue with Sir Thomas More, cited above.

Southey wrote a narrative version of a well-known fairy story and published it in his 1837 volume, The Doctor. Instead of  girl named Goldilocks entering the three bears's house, "an impudent, bad old woman . . . set[s] about helping herself" and says wicked words when the chairs, porridge, and beds don't suit her.

Of Sir Thomas More, or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, the Poetry Foundation opines:

More’s historical Catholicism, in fact, gets in the way—Southey turns him into an embryonic Protestant—and the fiction of a visitation by and dialogue with a ghost becomes bizarre after the first encounter and irritating after the second or third. The work has often been praised for its limpid prose style. But that style is generally at its best in the numerous descriptive and anecdotal digressions—about local scenery, local legends, or Southey’s library holdings—interspersed with the more portentous dialogues, rather than in the dialogues themselves.

Southey died on March 21, 1843, having been appointed Poet Laureate of England in 1813; William Wordsworth succeeded him the next month.

"Love You More" Photo copyright Stephanie A. Mann, February 14, 2015.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

130 Years Ago Today: Saint John Henry Newman

Saint John Henry Newman died on August 11, 1890.

Note, however, that his feast is celebrated on October 9, the anniversary of his coming in to the one fold of Christ. The great follower of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi is celebrated on August 11 and she is a very popular saint! Since his canonization last year the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not added his feast as an optional memorial to the Liturgical/Sanctoral Calendar (Saint Denis, Bishop, and Companions, Martyrs and Saint John Leonardi, Priest are currently the optional memorials to the Weekday this year).

Newman had been in failing health since the end of 1889; he was nearly blind (having memorized two votive Masses so he could offer Mass privately) and had indeed said Mass the last time on Christmas day that year. Unable to read the Breviary, he prayed the Rosary unless another Oratorian read the Office to/with him.

Two days before Newman died his niece Grace Longford, the only child of his estranged sister Harriett visited him. Newman had not seen her since she was three years old, because Harriet had cut off all contact with him after he became a Catholic on October 9, 1845. 

Adds a certain human poignancy to his feast day, doesn't it? reminding us of all he sacrificed for the truth: Friends, family, reputation, livelihood, and home.

The Newman Reader offers a collection of contemporary press comments on Newman's death. One highlight is from the The Times of London:

A great man has passed away; a great link with the with past has been broken. Thus enviably closes a most noteworthy life; a life that in itself sums up in the best and most attractive way one side of the religious life of the century. At ninety years of age, full of years, full of honour, but not of honours, in the obscurity of his almost private home, the great man receives the last summons and quietly obeys. A most interesting chapter of our history closes his death, and a life which bears strange testimony to the permanence of certain types in human nature becomes a part of the past. Once more the world is reminded of the degree in which respect and love still attach to the saintly life, when it is coupled with one or another kind of intellectual leadership. Cardinal NEWMAN is literally the last of his generation. Many of his old friends and colleagues he has long survived; others have but lately passed away; but he, to all appearance the most fragile of all, has remained till now. . . .

The writer of this meditation on Newman's life and death was not only thinking of the past--he was looking to the future! And we are fortunate to know the answer: Yes!


Will NEWMAN'S memory survive in the estimation of his country? Will his books maintain it? That is a question which may be asked today, but which the future only can answer. Of one thing we may be sure, that the memory of his pure and noble life, untouched by worldliness, unsoured by any trace of fanaticism, will endure, and that whether Rome canonizes him or not he will be canonized in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England. The saint and the poet in him will survive. "Lead, kindly Light," is already something better than a classic; the life at Littlemore and at Edgbaston will engrave itself deep into the memory of all to whom religion and lofty human character are dear.

Several other press notices mentioned "Lead, kindly Light" in their praise of Newman's legacy:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on;
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.

So long Thy pow’r has blest me, sure it still
Wilt lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.



Speaking of poetry, the Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti wrote a sonnet titled Cardinal Newman on the occasion of his death:

"In the grave, whither thou goest."

O weary Champion of the Cross, lie still:
  Sleep thou at length the all-embracing sleep:
  Long was thy sowing day, rest now and reap:
Thy fast was long, feast now thy spirit's fill.
Yea, take thy fill of love, because thy will
  Chose love not in the shallows but the deep:
  Thy tides were springtides, set against the neap
Of calmer souls: thy flood rebuked their rill.
Now night has come to thee--please God, of rest:
  So some time must it come to every man;
  To first and last, where many last are first.
Now fixed and finished thine eternal plan,
  Thy best has done its best, thy worst its worst:
Thy best its best, please God, thy best its best.


Thirty years ago, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an official letter to the Archbishop of Birmingham, Maurice Couve de Murville, remarking on the centenary of Newman's death:

At the approach of the first Centenary of the death of John Henry Newman and in response to your kind invitation, I gladly associate myself with the celebrations that mark this event in England and indeed in many countries throughout the world. The memory of the great Cardinal’s noble life and his copious writings seem to touch the minds and hearts of many people today with a freshness and relevance that has scarcely faded with the passing of a century.

The Centenary year coincides with the beginning of a period of profound change in world events. This period has begun with new prospects for genuine freedom and signs of a renewed awareness of the need to build life, both individual and social, on the solid foundation of unfailing respect for the human person and his inalienable God-given dignity. To all searching minds in this present historical context, Newman’s voice speaks with a timely message.

Newman’s long life shows him to have been an ardent disciple of truth. The unfolding of his career confirms the single-heartedness of his aims as expressed in the following words which he made his own: "My desire hath been to have Truth for my chiefest friend, and no enemy but error" (J. H. Newman
The Via Media, London 1911, vol. 1, pp. XII-XIII). In periods of trial and suffering he persevered with confidence, knowing that time was on the side of truth.

Newman’s quest for the truth led him to search for a voice that would speak to him the authority of the living Christ. His example holds a lasting appeal for all sincere scholars and disciples of truth. He urges them to keep asking the deeper, more basic questions about the meaning of life and of all human history; not to be content with a partial response to the great mystery that is man himself; to have the intellectual honesty and moral courage to accept the light of truth, no matter what personal sacrifice it may involve. Above all, Newman is a magnificent guide for all those who perceive that the key, the focal point and the goal of all human history is to be found in Christ (Cfr. Gaudium et Spes, 10) and in union with him in that community of faith, hope and charity, which is his holy Church, through which he communicates truth and grace to all (Cfr. Lumen Gentium, 8).


That same year, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger made a presentation in Rome commenting on Newman's influence in his life and especially on Newman's presentation of conscience and authority:

Newman had become a convert as a man of conscience; it was his conscience that led him out of the old ties and securities into the world of Catholicism, which was difficult and strange for him. But this way of conscience is everything except a way of self-sufficient subjectivity: it is a way of obedience to objective truth.

The second step in Newman's lifelong journey of conversion was overcoming the subjective evangelical position in favour of an understanding of Christendom based on the objectivity of dogma. In this connection I find a formulation from one of his early sermons to be especially significant today:
"True Christendom is shown... in obedience and not through a state of consciousness. Thus, the whole duty and work of a Christian is made up of these two parts, Faith and Obedience; "looking unto Jesus' (Heb 2: 9)... and acting according to His will.... I conceive that we are in danger, in this day, of insisting on neither of these as we ought; regarding all true and careful consideration of the Object of faith as barren orthodoxy, technical subtlety... and... making the test of our being religious to consist in our having what is called a spiritual state of heart...".
In this context some sentences from The Arians of the Fourth Century, which may sound rather astonishing at first, seem important to me: "...to detect and to approve the principle on which... peace is grounded in Scripture; to submit to the dictation of truth, as such, as a primary authority in matters of political and private conduct; to understand... zeal to be prior in the succession of Christian graces to benevolence".

Throughout the last day of his 2010 visit to Scotland and England (September 19), Pope Benedict XVI commented on various aspects of Newman's life during the Beatification Mass and at each of the concluding events.

Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

From the propers for his feast in the Catholic Dioceses of England and Wales on October 9:

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 forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, August 10, 2020

This Morning: Saints Polydore Plasden and Edmund Gennings

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central to continue our series on the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales. Matt Swaim and I will discuss Saints Polydore Plasden and Edmund Gennings, executed on December 10, 1591 for being priests in England not willing to swear the Oath of Supremacy.

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

Both men had left England to study for the priesthood on the Continent, both studying at the English College in Rheims. Father Plasden was ordained in 1586; Father Gennings in 1590. Father Plasden returned to England in 1588; Father Gennings immediately after his ordination. So Father Plasden served in the mission for about three years; Gennings for one.

Details of St. Edmund Gennings' life include that he was a convert to Catholicism, following the example of his mentor Richard Sherwood, whom he served as a page. When Father Gennings returned to England he sought out his family and found his brother John in London. Their meeting did not go well: John believed Edmund to be a traitor because of his conversion. John knew about his brother's execution on December 10, 1591 and rejoiced that Edmund would not be able to persuade him to convert to Catholicism, which would have been an act of treason for both of them. There must have been something in his brother that made him concerned that Edmund could persuade him!

But thinking about his brother's life in contrast to his own, John began to realize that he had nothing to live for except pleasure while Edmund had had something to live and to die for, and he resolved to learn more about the Catholic faith. As the older Dictionary of National Biography explains, John Gennings' life changed drastically, as he left England, became a Catholic and studied for the priesthood becoming a Franciscan Friar and priest--and a missionary to England like his brother, during the reign of King James I:

He entered the English College at Douay, was ordained priest in 1607, and was sent on the mission in the following year. In 1614 or 1615 he was admitted into the order of St. Francis. In 1616, in his capacity of vicar and custos of England, he assembled at Gravelines about six of his brethren, including novices, and within three years he succeeded in establishing at Douay the monastery of St. Bonaventure, of which he was the first vicar and guardian. In 1621, with the assistance of Father Christopher Davenport he founded the convent of St. Elizabeth at Brussels for English nuns of the third order of St. Francis. On the restoration of the English province of his order he was appointed its first provincial, in a chapter held at Brussels on 1 Dec. 1630. He was re-elected provincial in the second chapter held at Greenwich on 15 Jan. 1633–4, for another triennium, and again in the fourth chapter at London on 19 April 1640. He died at Douay on 2 Nov. (O.S.) 1660.

This just demonstrates again the impact of these English and Welsh martyrs on those who witnessed or heard of their sacrificial love. 

Perhaps those of us who have family members who have left the Catholic Church and her Sacraments should choose Saint Edmund Gennings as an intercessor for their return!

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

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Kneller's Chinese Catholic Convert

Godfrey Kneller, the great portrait painter of the Stuart Courts from the reign of Charles II to Anne and of the first Hanoverian Court of George I, was born on August 8, 1646 and died on October 19, 1723.

He painted portraits of kings, queens, members of the Kit-Cat Club, the Hampton Court Beauties, John Locke, and Isaac Newton. He also painted the portrait of the Chinese convert to Catholicism, Michael Alphonsus Shen Fuzong who was visiting England during a tour of Europe with the Flemish Jesuit Father Couplet. He called this painting "The Chinese Convert".

Jonathan Spence described the occasion of this painting in a 2010 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities for the NEH:

. . . sometime during that spring or summer of 1687 Shen Fuzong had his portrait painted. . . . This was not just a casual venture by an unknown artist: it was a full-length portrait by one of the best-known and most fashionable portraitists of the day, Godfrey Kneller, soon to be knighted and already celebrated as a painter both of the English royal family, and of many leading aristocrats of the day. Kneller portraits did not come cheap, and the painter’s own surviving account books from the time show him receiving between thirty-five and forty pounds sterling for a full-length portrait such as this one. (Three-quarter length and bust length portraits were cheaper, depending on the exact square footage.) According to those who knew Kneller, this was the painting of his of which he was the proudest, and in retrospect it gains additional value as the first detailed portrayal ever made of a Chinese in England. It is startling both in its pose and in its clarity. Shen is shown holding a crucifix in his left hand, and gesturing toward it with his right, even as he looks up and past the viewer to some distant horizon, with his face (beneath a fur hat) and his hands shining in the light of dawn. Shen’s attire is an unusual mixture of styles and fabrics, part Chinese and part Western. He stands on a marble floor, with the view to a distant tropical countryside opening out through the open window behind him. On the lavishly fringed table covering, just touched by the light, is a leather-bound book that we might guess is the newly published Confucius volume, fresh from the Paris press.

Who commissioned this painting, and exactly when and where did Kneller create it? Was it a gift? If so, from whom? Could it have been commissioned by King James II himself? (That is not totally far-fetched, since on one occasion James sent Kneller to make a portrait of King Louis in France.) Or did the idea come from one of the prominent Catholic families, or from the newly appointed papal legate sent to London from Rome? Or from the Jesuit priests who could once again worship openly in post-Reformation England, now that the King, James II, was proclaimed as a Catholic monarch, and was taking the initiative in funding or reestablishing schools, hospitals and beautifully decorated chapels for the Catholic congregations? There were many people eager to salute the King for righting what they believed to be past wrongs, and for seeking to bring Catholics back to many public positions, from posts in the treasury to the masterships and fellowships of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Was Shen’s portrait, in this particular religious and political context, seen as the symbol of a new dawn for the Catholic faith, of which the mission to China was a manifestation? There seems no doubt that King James took a kind of proprietary interest in the painting and made sure that others knew of the pleasure it gave him. In a visit to Oxford in early September 1687, King James summoned [Thomas] Hyde from his desk in the Bodleian and asked him specifically if he knew this Chinese man, and to tell Hyde that he had Shen’s “picture to the life hanging in his roome, next to the bed chamber.” Hyde told the King that he not only knew Shen but that he personally “learned many things of him.”


Shen Fuzong left England in 1688 (good timing as Spence notes: "just before King James II was driven from his throne to permanent exile in France by his anti-Catholic political and religious enemies"), became a Jesuit priest in Lisbon and died on his way home to China in September 1691 of a fever near Mozambique. The portrait is part of the Royal Collections in England--I think the exiled King James II would have liked to have it with him in France.

Image Credit (Public Domain)

Friday, August 7, 2020

Preview: Two More on Gray's Inn Road

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

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

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

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

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

He was 28 years old.

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

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

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

He was 24 years old.

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

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Transfiguration of Our Lord


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 3, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Gilbert Murray's Catholic Convert Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please read the rest there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, July 31, 2020

Preview: St. Swithun Wells, Recusant Layman

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

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

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

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

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

The Catholic Encyclopedia adds some details about his previous arrests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Swithun Wells, pray for us!

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