Monday, December 31, 2012

"In the Ending of the Year"~~December 31, 2012

John Mason Neale included this translation of the medieval hymn, In hoc anni circuli in his 1853 Carols for Christmas-tide:

In the ending of the year
Life and light to man appear;
And the Holy Babe is here,
De Virgine;
And the Holy Babe is here,
De Virgine Mariâ.

What in ancient days was slain
This day calls to life again;
God is coming, God shall reign,
De Virgine;
God is coming, God shall reign,
De Virgine Mariâ.

From the desert grew the corn,
Sprang the lily from the thorn,
When the Infant King was born
De Virgine;
When the Infant King was born
De Virgine Mariâ.

On the straw He lays His head,
Hath a manger for His bed,
Thirsts and hungers and is fed
De Virgine;
Thirsts and hungers and is fed
De Virgine Mariâ.

Angel hosts His praises sing,
Three Wise men their off'rings bring,
Ox and ass adore the King,
Cum Virgine;
Ox and ass adore the King,
Cum Virgine Mariâ.

Wherefore let us all to-day
Banish sorrow far away,
Singing and exulting aye,
Cum Virgine;
Singing and exulting aye,
Cum Virgine Mariâ.

As 2012 draws to a close, thank you for your attention to and comments on this blog! I look forward to more research and sharing in 2013--including a big announcement I should be making in the next few weeks!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Another Christmas Present: On Its Way

Back from Wichita's remaining Barnes & Noble where I bought two half-price calendars (the annual White West Highland Terrier calendar and one of London--no Norwich Terrier calendars for 2013!)--and the Christmas issue of the BBC Music Magazine. All purchases made with gift cards. My husband bought me a one year subscription to the BBC Music Magazine and I look forward to receiving it next year.

The Christmas issue is filled with articles about Christmas music, with highlights like the cover story on Charles Dickens and carols, a consideration of the agnostic Ralph Vaughn Williams, and Heinrich Schutz's "The Christmas Story" and includes a CD of Christmas music performed by Laudibus!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: The Library of America's edition of the "Little House" Books

In September this year, I read this article in The Wall Street Journal and told my husband: here's a birthday present idea for you: The Library of America boxed edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Little House on the Prairie books!

Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of our best-known children's authors, her "Little House" books about pioneer life having been read and reread by four generations of Americans. Yet precisely because she is beloved as a storyteller for the young, her work's artistry and seriousness of purpose are underappreciated. The new Library of America edition, which packages her nine books of fiction into two volumes with helpful supplemental texts, is thus doubly welcome, both for its timeliness and for presenting her stories as literature worthy of adult readers.

Wilder wrote the series, as she noted in 1937, to show children who had grown up in a post-frontier age "what it is that made America as they know it." Her books are a magnificent historical chronicle, offering both a detailed record of how the pioneers lived and a testament to the values that built America. As Wilder saw it, in her own life she "represented a whole period of American history"—and it was through the details of her own life that she wanted to tell the story of the frontier experience.

Laura Ingalls was born in Wisconsin in 1867. Her father had what she called in her books a "wandering foot": In late 1869 or early 1870, Charles and Caroline Ingalls moved the family to the Osage Diminished Reserve in Kansas by covered wagon, only to return to Wisconsin in May 1871. In 1874, the family crossed the frozen Mississippi River into Minnesota to try farming, only to fail after a plague of locusts—which consumed half the nation's agricultural output—destroyed their crops. Next it was Iowa, and by 1880 the Ingallses were working to "prove up" on a homestead in De Smet, S.D. There Laura would become a teacher and meet and marry her husband, Almanzo Wilder.

It was around these major life events that Wilder structured the "Little House" series. "Little House in the Big Woods" (1932), about her Wisconsin childhood, follows a calendar year of frontier life in the upper Midwest. "Farmer Boy" (1933), about Almanzo's childhood in upstate New York, emphasizes the freedom and independence of the agrarian life. In "Little House on the Prairie" (1935), the Ingallses brave flooded rivers, malaria and tensions with Indians to set up a home in Kansas. "On the Banks of Plum Creek" (1937) covers the family's efforts to build a farm in Minnesota and is the first time the Ingalls girls experience town life and school. "By the Shores of Silver Lake" (1939) chronicles the family's move to Dakota Territory by train and their claiming of a homestead, and "The Long Winter" (1940) tells the story of their survival there amid the epic blizzards of 1880-81. In "Little Town on the Prairie" (1941) and "These Happy Golden Years" (1943), Laura blossoms into a young woman—working for pay to help her parents, developing mature friendships and being courted. (A ninth book, the novella "The First Four Years," was posthumously published in 1971 and covers the beginning of her married life.)

According to The Library of America website:

In the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder created both a much-loved masterwork of children’s literature and a vivid firsthand narrative of an epoch in the settling of America. Now The Library of America and editor Caroline Fraser present all nine of these autobiographical novels in a deluxe two-volume boxed set that celebrates Wilder as a distinctive and vital voice in the canon of American literature.

Originally published from 1932 to 1943, the eight Little House novels—Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years—are brilliant narratives of the early life of Laura Ingalls and her family as they grow up with the country in the woods and on the plains of the advancing American frontier. They are joined here by the posthumous novella The First Four Years, which recounts the early years of the author’s marriage to Almanzo Wilder and, as a special feature, four rare autobiographical pieces that address the need for historical accuracy in children’s literature, reveal real-life events not included in the novels, and answer the inevitable question: what happened next?

The Little House Books are presented by The Library of America without the illustrations and typographical trappings of editions for young readers. Here Wilder’s prose for the first time stands alone and can be seen for exactly what it is—a triumph of the American plain style.

When I was growing up I read these books over and over again; my paperback copies with the Garth Williams illustrations fell apart. I did not know that I was absorbing some of Wilder's way of thinking about the individual and the government, according to Meghan Clyne:

The "Little House" books are virtual manuals of self-provision, with exhaustive descriptions of how the Ingalls and Wilder families secured their own food, shelter, clothing, education and entertainment through the work of their own hands. In "Little Town on the Prairie," for instance, a flock of blackbirds destroys the crops that the family is relying on to make ends meet, but the setback is no match for Ingalls ingenuity. Pa kills the blackbirds and Ma uses them to feed the family, even turning them into a pot pie. "The underside was steamed and fluffy," Wilder wrote. "Over it [Pa] poured spoonfuls of thin brown gravy, and beside it he laid half a blackbird, browned, and so tender that the meat was slipping from the bones." " 'It takes you to think up a chicken pie, a year before there's chickens to make it with,' Pa said."

If Wilder's pioneer families are resourceful, government is depicted as meddling and incompetent—a contrast that emphasizes the importance of providing for oneself. Indeed, Washington's bungling is blamed for the Ingallses' forced departure from Indian Territory in "Little House on the Prairie," and in "The Long Winter" a family friend denounces politicians who "tax the lining out'n a man's pockets" and "take pleasure a-prying into a man's affairs." Fear of debt hangs over these stories like a dark cloud; to be "beholden" to anyone is a mark of shame. The only respectable path to subsistence—let alone comfort—is hard work. "Neither [my parents] nor their neighbors begged for help," Wilder explained in a 1937 speech. "No other person, nor the government, owed them a living."

Rereading the books now in this format does emphasize to me what Laura Ingalls Wilder called the stoicism of the Ingalls and Wilder families. At the beginning of By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura's sister Mary is blind and her best companion Jack, the old dog, dies. But Laura does not mourn Jack long--she realizes she is growing up when the friend of her childhood dies, and she starts to adjust to the fact that the family's ambitions for Mary to become a teacher will now fall upon her. Her Pa sings a happy song whenever he is cold and miserable, and the family endures every setback with little emotion but constant effort and hard work. They keep going on and they rely on themselves alone--even God seems a little distant in these books; each Christmas celebration in these books is more a family event than a religious observance of the birth of the Savior of the World. Pioneers are really on their own.

I can't remember who said this but I think I've read that the best children's books can and should be read again in adulthood. Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is such a classic, and the adult reading the book recognizes truths behind the story she didn't perceive as a young girl reading it. I think the same is true of this Little House books; what I read as a child as just fun stories of growing up in pioneer times, now--especially because of The Library of America edition--appear as lessons in persistence and perseverance. And now I also see what they lack: the Catholic sense of Sacramentalism and devotion to the Person, Jesus Christ, and the depth of community in the Church.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

St. John Stone, a "Supremacy" Martyr

St. John Stone was an Augustinian Canon, who refused to acknowledge Henry VIII's title as the Supreme Head and Governor of the Church in England, and thus I call him a "Supremacy" martyr:

Almost nothing is known of John's early years or of his life and activities as an Augustinian.

The Parliament of England in 1534 approved a law known as the Act of Supremacy. This Act proclaimed King Henry VIII the supreme head of the Church in England.

Four years later, an official of the King arrived in Canterbury to close all the monasteries and to obtain the written assent of every single Friar to the provisions of the Act of Supremacy. The official first went to the monasteries of several other Orders. Then they went to Austin Friars, the Augustinian house where John was a member. All the other Augustinian Friars signed the document, but John refused.

John was arrested and thrown into prison in the Tower of London. He remained firm in his refusal to accept the King as head of the Church. While in jail, he spent many hours in prayer. One day, God spoke to him, encouraging him to be of good heart and to remain steadfast in his belief, even if it meant death. From this point on, John felt great strength.

John was tried and convicted of treason in 1539. Right after Christmas of that year, a slow procession passed through the streets of Cangerbury. The prisoner John was being taken through the city to a hill outside the city walls. There he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Because he was considered a traitor, his head and body were put on display at the entrance to the city.

Pope Leo XIII beatified John Stone in 1886. Pope Paul VI canonized him in 1970, along with 39 other English martyrs of the same period.

St. John Stone had long opposed Henry; he had spoken against Henry's effort to have his first marriage nullified to remarry--it is no surprise that he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy! His last words were: "Behold I close my apostolate in my blood, In my death I shall find life, for I die for a holy cause, the defence of the Church of God, infallible and immaculate." He alone of his friary stood up against Henry VIII; the rest of them would be pentioned off a few years later when the friary was suppressed.

More here, including an illustration of the Canon in the Tower of London, and more on the Austin Friary in Canterbury here. According to that second website, the city records contain these details for what it cost to execute Friar John Stone:

"Paid for half a ton of timber to make a pair of gallows to hang Friar Stone, 2s. 6d.; to a labourer that digged the holes, 3d.; to four men that helped set up the gallows for drink to them, for carriage of the timber from Stablegate to Dongeon (i.e. Dane John), 1s.; for a hurdle, 6d.; for a load of wood and for a horse to draw him to the Dongeon, 2s. 3d.; paid two men that set the kettle and parboiled him, 1s.; to two men that carried his quarters to the gates and set them up, 1s.; for halters to hang him and Sandwich cord and for straw, 1s.; to a woman that scoured the kettle, 2d.; to him that did the execution, 3s. 8d."

Those are rather horrible details: sharing 1s. for parboiling the quarters of a friar; sharing 1s. for hanging his quarters to the gates of Canterbury! He was drawn to the hill of Dane John overlooking Canterbury and would have seen his suppressed friary below before he died the death of a traitor. The date of his execution is not certain, but I chose today's date as it is also the Feast of St. John the Beloved Apostle in the Octave of Christmas. St. John Stone, pray for us!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Two Christmas Poems by Robert Southwell

St. Robert Southwell's most admired poem:

The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, though scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed,
As though his floods should quench his flames, which with his tears were fed.
"Alas," quoth he, "but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts, or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood."
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas Day.

And another of the martyr's Christmas poems:

New Prince, New Pomp

Behold a silly tender Babe, in freezing winter night;
In homely manger trembling lies, alas a piteous sight:
The inns are full, no man will yield this little Pilgrim bed,
But forced He is with silly beasts, in crib to shroud His head.
Despise Him not for lying there, first what He is enquire:
An orient pearl is often found, in depth of dirty mire;
Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish, nor beasts that by Him feed:
Weigh not His mother's poor attire, nor Joseph's simple weed.
This stable is a Prince's court, the crib His chair of state:
The beasts are parcel of His pomp, the wooden dish His plate.
The persons in that poor attire, His royal liveries wear,
The Prince Himself is come from heaven, this pomp is prized there.
With joy approach, O Christian wight, do homage to thy King,
And highly prize this humble pomp, which He from heaven doth bring.

I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas Day celebration!

One Christmas Present: "England, My England"!

Our godson Hugh's parents gave us this two CD set from the Choir of King's College Cambridge: "England, My England" with music from Byrd to Elgar, Tallis to Rutter, Handel to Holst!:

There is surely no more quintessentially English sound than that of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, its unaccompanied voices – evocative of immemorial sandstone, of cool cloisters, of evensong in church, chapel and cathedral – serene in the music of Shakespeare’s contemporaries Byrd and Gibbons, ethereal in Delius heard of a summer’s night across the Backs of the River Cam.

No less iconic is the chapel that lends its unique acoustic to that sound. One of the glories of the English perpendicular style of architecture, it was eventually completed in 1547, a little over a century after the founding of the college itself by Henry VI.

This collection opens and closes with coronation music: Zadok the Priest was written for the crowning of George II in 1727, I was glad for that of Edward VII in 1902. Both were so successful that they have been sung at every coronation since their premières. Parry’s ‘processional anthem’ is heard here in its full panoply of extra brass and shouted Vivats, the choir of King’s choir providing the semi-chorus in the exquisite interlude 'O pray for the peace of Jerusalem'.

In between are motets ancient and modern – from the miniature If ye love me and the architectural splendour of the 40-part Spem in alium to William Harris’s dramatic double-choir Spenser setting Faire is the Heaven; well-known psalms sung to Anglican chant; and favourite hymns, notably All people that on earth do dwell, arranged ceremonially for another coronation, that of Elizabeth II.

As well as national rejoicing there is solemn remembrance. Come ye sons of art away is Purcell’s 1694 birthday ode for Queen Mary, Thou knowest, Lord part of the music he wrote for her funeral just nine months later. John Ireland’s Greater love hath no man is often heard on Remembrance Sunday; Sir John Tavener’s Song for Athene made a powerful impression at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales; while John Rutter’s small-scale, personal Requiem touched a wider public following the attacks of 11 September 2001. But ‘Nimrod’ above all epitomises music of national remembrance. Here a choral setting of it, Lux aeterna, represents our ‘Shakespeare of music’, Edward Elgar.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"The Night Before that Happy Tide"!

In the words of the Wexford Carol--

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belovèd Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon the morn
There was a blest Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide
The noble virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass:
From every door repelled, alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble oxen stall.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go”, the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God’s angel has foretold,
They did our Savior Christ behold.
Within a manger He was laid,
And by His side the virgin maid
Attending to the Lord of Life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

Merry Christmas and Peace to All!

Last Minute Christmas Shopping Ideas: From Paris

Just some eye candy for last minute Christmas shopping ideas from our recent trip to Paris:

Some cheese:

Some Maile products:

Some pastries:

Some decorations:

Some Westie puppies!!:


Happy shopping!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tennyson at King's, Cambridge

This year's new, commissioned hymn for the Lessons and Carols at King's College Chapel, Cambridge is set to words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Carl Vine is the composer:

This year's commissioned carol in A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a new setting of 'Ring Out, Wild Bells' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92).

The poem appeared in what some would argue was Tennyson's finest collection, In Memoriam (1850), and has been set to music by Australian composer Carl Vine.

Carl studied physics and composition at the University of Western Australia and began his career writing music for theatre and dance in Sydney. Since then he has emerged as a major orchestral composer. He has written seven symphonies and nine concertos, as well as music for piano and string quartet.

He has also taken on more high profile projects, such as arranging the Australian national anthem and writing the 'Sydney 2000' presentation for the closing ceremony of the Atlanta Olympic Games (1996).

More about this year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols here, including this year's service booklet, with all of the notes about the BBC broadcast requirements along with the liturgical rubrics. The site also has information about when to hear the broadcast on the BBC and on various U.S. networks.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

English Recusants and Christmas

This article, "Lords of Misrule: The Puritan War on Christmas 1642-60" from History Today contrasts Puritan and Recusant views of Christmas in 17th century England:

During the seventeenth century, as now, Christmas was one of the most important dates in the calendar, both as a religious festival and as an important holiday period during which English men and women indulged in a range of traditional pastimes. During the twelve days of a seventeenth-century Christmas, churches and other buildings were decorated with rosemary and bays, holly and ivy; Christmas Day church services were widely attended, gifts were exchanged at New Year, and Christmas boxes were distributed to servants, tradesmen and the poor; great quantities of brawn, roast beef, 'plum-pottage', minced pies and special Christmas ale were consumed, and the populace indulged themselves in dancing, singing, card games and stage-plays.

Such long-cherished activities necessarily often led to drunkenness, promiscuity and other forms of excess. In fact the concept of 'misrule', or a ritualised reversal of traditional social norms, was an important element of Christmas, and has been viewed by historians as a useful safety-valve for the tensions within English society. It was precisely this face of Christmas, however, that the Puritans of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England found so objectionable. . . .

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

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

The celebration of Christmas thus became just one facet of a deep religious cleavage within early seventeenth-century England which, by the middle of the century, was to lead to the breakdown of government, civil war and revolution. When the Puritans took control of government in the mid-1640s they made a concerted effort to abolish the Christian festival of Christmas and to outlaw the customs associated with it but the attempt foundered on the deep-rooted popular attachment to these mid-winter rites.

Read the rest here.

William Palmer wrote The Life of Mrs. Dorothy Lawson, which Father Philip Caraman excerpted in his collection of primary sources The Years of Siege: Catholic Life from James I to Cromwell, describing her rigorous devotional life in contrast to her celebration of Christmas:

In this time of mirth and joy for his birth who is the sole engine and spring of true comfort, she unbent the stiffness of her brow a little, and dispensed with her accustomed rigour in so small a relaxation that I want a diminutive to explain it, unless I deem it that in quantity which philosophers call atoms or indivisibles in quality. . .

She had in a room near the chapel a crib with music to honour that joyful mystery, and, all Christmas, musicians in her hall and dining chamber to recreate her friends and servants. She loved to see them dance, and said that if she were present, greater care would be taken of modesty in their songs and dances.

More on the Puritans against Christmas from an earlier edition of History Today. Perhaps Mrs. Lawson's musicians performed William Byrd's Carroll for Christmas Day, "This Day Christ Was Born" or played this galliard for dancing?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Archbishop Chaput, Book Reviewer

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia writes about St. Thomas More and a new biography, which I've mentioned before, The One Thomas More and takes issue with Hilary Mantel's view of the saint in her Wolf Hall:

Critics of More are not new. His detractors had a voice well before his beheading. As Henry VIII’s chancellor, he earned a reputation as a hammer of heretics and a fierce opponent of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. Yet Erasmus of Rotterdam revered More as a scholar and friend. Jonathan Swift, the great Anglo-Irish writer, described him as “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom [of England] ever produced.” When Pope John Paul II named Thomas More as patron saint of statesmen in 2000, he cited More’s witness to the “primacy of truth over power” at the cost of his life. He noted that even outside the Church, More “is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal the service of the human person.”

Ten years later, speaking to leaders of British society in Westminster Hall, Pope Benedict XVI returned to the same theme. Benedict noted that More “is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose ‘good servant’ he was, because he chose to serve God first.”

So which is it: More the saint or More the sinner? Was he the ruthless, sexually repressed rage addict suggested by historians like G.R. Elton, fearful of change and driven by helpless fury? Or was he the humble and generous “man for all seasons” praised by his friend Robert Whittinton and so many others among his contemporaries? Were there really two Thomas Mores: the young, open-minded humanist, and the older royal courtier, gripped by religious fanaticism?

The moral integrity of More’s life has been argued with persuasive skill in the various works of Gerard Wegemer, among many others. And Peter Ackroyd’s fine biography, The Life of Thomas More, vividly captures the whole extraordinary man—his virtues, his flaws, and the decisive nature of his moment in history. Travis Curtright has now added to the luster of the real More’s legacy with his excellent new book The One Thomas More.

Bickering over the “real” Thomas More has importance beyond the scholarly community. Why? Because just as the nutty premises of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code confused millions by reinventing the backstory of Christian belief, so too the novel Wolf Hall offers a revisionist Thomas More wrapped in popular melodrama. The author, Hilary Mantel, a lapsed Catholic whose disgust for the Church is a matter of public record*, drew her portrait of More in part from the work of Elton. The “hero” of her novel is Thomas Cromwell—More’s tormentor, and in reality, a man widely loathed by his contemporaries as an administratively gifted but scheming and vindictive bully. Unlike the widespread European shock that greeted More’s judicial murder, few wept for Cromwell when he finally followed More to the scaffold.

The One Thomas More is not a book for beachside browsing. While it’s well-written, modest in size and rich in content, it is a scholarly effort. Some casual readers may find it heavier than they bargained for. But as a resource on Thomas More, it’s invaluable. Curtright’s final chapter, “Iconic Mores on Trial,” has special importance. It directly challenges Mantel’s loose treatment of facts, for which it deserves wide circulation.

*In May 2012, Ms. Mantel proclaimed, "I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people." When has it ever been for respectable people? It's for sinners and saints, now and through the ages--she should remember who Jesus ate with and who thought it wasn't "respectable"--ridiculously ignorant statement.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More on Edward Norman

Any reader of Blessed John Henry Newman's works will recognize the title Edward Norman used for this 2004 book, which Damian Thompson covered in his blog on The Telegraph website: "In fact, his book, Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors, is one of the most ferocious assaults ever launched on the Church of England. It is all the more deadly because its author is not a traditionalist quote-merchant, but a leading Church intellectual."

The website for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham posts more about Edward Norman's conversion a couple of months ago, publishing an article originally in The Catholic Herald:

Now the main difference between Catholic Christianity and Anglicanism is the nature of the Doctrine of the Church itself. It is not that Catholicism has one understanding and Anglicanism another; it is that Catholicism has such a doctrine and a very clear one and that Anglicanism does not really have one at all. Far too much was left unattended at the Reformation, when English Christianity was detached from the centre of unity and from the Magisterium of the universal Church, leaving the Church in England without a means of determining its own doctrines. No one could have foreseen at the time that the split with Rome was to prove permanent. And so for the next three and a half centuries doctrine in the Church of England was determined by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Some of the most unsuitable aspects of this state of affairs have been modified, yet the essential position has remained; Anglicanism has no basis for its authority which links it to a universal body. The consequent effect has been that every section of it and, in these days of spiritual individualisation, every person in it feels free to make up faith for themselves and deem the result to be “Christianity”. How can the “Church” be the body of Christ in the world when its confession varies from place to place and person to person, not only in minor but in the most essential teachings about faith and morals? At the centre of Anglicanism is a great void.

Catholic readers will perhaps find this all very obvious. It is not. However, the way things are seen in the Church of England – where there is actually very little consciousness of any need to think about the authority of Christian teaching at all. Moral issues are determined, where they are determined at all, on the basis of data furnished by media presentation or the findings of surveys of opinion. Doctrinal questions do not in reality get much airing, largely because there is so little common ground for precise formulations or any stomach for debating them – and, anyway, there is no authority for determining the basis of authority, short, one supposes, of legislation in Parliament. As for Christian morality, there is a procession of tawdry public controversies. With every compromise the truths of which the Church of England purports to be the guardian mean less and less.

Seeking to join the Catholic Church, after the experiences of years of exposure to these ecclesiastical inconsequences in the Church of England, induces not only a feeling of coming home but a sensation of cleansing. Humanly speaking, nevertheless, gratitude to Anglicanism is still experienced, and a large degree of lasting affection. The Church of England provides a masterclass in equivocation; it also, however, is the residence of very many good and faithful Christian people who deserve respect – for their perseverance in so many incoherent spiritual adventures. To leave their company is a wrench; to adhere to the Catholic faith is to join the encompassing presence of a universal body of believers in whose guardianship are the materials of authentic spiritual understanding. After lengthy preparation I have immense gratitude.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Impact of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol"

Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol was first offered for sale on December 19, 1843 and it has had a great impact on the celebration of Christmas (good and bad), as this blog notes:

All 6,000 copies of the first edition were sold in only four days! The book became instantly popular, though the high cost of printing, including the fine illustrations, limited Dickens’s profits. Before long, however, vast numbers of people in England and America knew the story, not only from reading the book, but also from dramatic presentations and many public readings by Dickens himself.

Because our own celebrations of Christmas have been so strongly influenced by Dickens, we can easily overlook his special contributions to our traditions, such as:
• Christmas as a major holiday. At the time of Dickens, it was relatively ignored by most people.
• Christmas as a one (or two) day celebration rather than the traditional twelve.
• Christmas as an occasion for family and close friends to gather for luscious food, singing, dancing, and games. Before A Christmas Carol, turkey was an uncommon on Christmas tables. After the book, it became the meat of choice for this holiday.
• Christmas as a time for being generous to the poor.

Dickens did not so much invent these traditions as he resurrected them and popularized them. Much of what we assume to be true of Christmas celebrations today derives from the vision of Dickens, especially as portrayed in A Christmas Carol.

So close was the connection between Charles Dickens and Christmas that, when he died in 1870, a young woman who heard of it was aghast. “Dickens dead?” she exclaimed. “Then will Father Christmas die too?” Well, as it turns out, Father Christmas didn’t die along with his greatest promoter, Charles Dickens. The influence of this man, and most of all his masterful novella, A Christmas Carol guaranteed that Christmas would be kept for generations upon generations.

When I say good and bad, I'm referencing that one bad point: "Christmas as a one (or two) day celebration rather than the traditional twelve"! So that's why we see Christmas trees on the curb December 26!

Les Standiford tells the story of how Dickens' novella became such an influence in The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits:

Acclaimed popular historian Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, where we find out how a struggling Charles Dickens came to write the small book that would transform a somber, faded holiday into the celebration of charity and good cheer we know today.

Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist.

The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution. It was a harsh and dreary age, in desperate need of spiritual renewal, ready to embrace a book that ended with blessings for one and all.

With warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer, Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, its most beloved storyteller, and the birth of the Christmas we know best. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a rich and satisfying read for Scrooges and sentimentalists alike.

I think that I have seen all the sound era movie versions of A Christmas Carol, including the updated, Americanized versions. I even like the musical version (Scrooge!) with that fun scene, "Thank You Very Much" when Scrooge doesn't realize everyone is happy just because he's dead!

God Bless Us, Every One!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

News from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

The latest news from the Ordinariate in England is about some of the nuns from an Anglican order joining the Ordinariate:

A group of Anglican nuns from the Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) in Wantage, Oxfordshire, are to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church in January 2013.

Eleven sisters from the historic Anglican community will join the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the structure established by Pope Benedict XVI to enable groups of Anglicans to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church whilst retaining elements of their liturgical, spiritual, and pastoral heritage. The group includes the Superior of the community, Mother Winsome CSMV.

The eleven CSMV sisters, will be joined by Sister Carolyne Joseph, formerly of the Society of St Margaret in Walsingham, who joined the Ordinariate in January 2011. These twelve sisters will initially be established as a Public Association of the Faithful within the Personal Ordinariate. They will be known as the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary and will continue in their work of prayer and contemplation, whilst retaining certain of their Anglican traditions and practices. Foremost amongst these is the tradition of English plainchant for which these sisters are well known.

After consultation with Church of England authorities it has been decided that the sisters will move from their convent in Wantage and, after reception into the Catholic Church, will spend a period of time with an established Catholic community. Following this, the newly established Ordinariate community will seek to find a suitable new home.

Monsignor Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, said, “The Community of St Mary the Virgin in Wantage has been at the heart of the Church of England’s Religious Life since the mid-nineteenth century. The contribution of the community to the life of the Anglican Communion has been significant, not least through the community’s care for those marginalised by society in Britain, and also in India and South Africa”.

The order was founded in the wake of the Oxford Movement, according to the community's website.

In his book Glorious Battle, John Shelton Reed mentions that the Community of St. Mary the Virgin maintained a High Church Tractarian liturgy, using a book called The Day Hours of the Church of England, "an 1858 adaptation of the pre-Reformation use of the Diocese of Salisbury (Sarum)." (p. 53) Thus the nuns joining the Ordinariate will further its efforts to maintain the Anglican patrimony.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to Visit Henry VIII's Monumental Tomb

Sorry, but that's a trick headline! You can't visit Henry VIII's great monument or memorial, because there isn't one. He had planned one, but hadn't built it before he died and no one built it after him.

More from the English Historical Novels blog:

Henry's son, Edward VI has a tomb fit for a monarch at Westminster Abbey, as does Elizabeth who shares her grave with her half-sister Queen Mary I. Even Henry’s bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, lies in some majesty in St Michael’s church at Framlingham in Suffolk.

Many of Henry's VIII's contemporaries have superior monuments to their king. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, third Duke of Norfolk has a sumptuous memorial at Framlingham Church, and Henry’s great rival King Francis I has a huge effigy in the Basilica of St Denis in Paris with a separate, gigantic urn to house his heart.

And Henry’s last victim, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was beheaded just one day before the king died, has a resplendent effigy marking the tomb he shares with his wife Frances, at Framlingham in Suffolk.

Henry’s elder brother Arthur, who was Catherine of Aragon's first husband and died before he could ascend the throne, has an ostentatious tomb in a designated chapel. I could go on, and on but I will resist.

Henry’s parents, grandparents, wives, children, cousins, siblings, friends; most of the Tudors rest in splendour and, I hope, peace.

It is only Henry, who in life was the most ostentatious of them all, that lacks the majesty of a proper monument.
Please pardon my snarkiness, but perhaps Henry VIII does have the monument appropriate to his reign and its accomplishments: the Church of England.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent Hymns

The Advent season in the Catholic Church today is dedicated to preparing for the threefold coming of Jesus Christ: His coming at the end of time in Glory, His coming to each of us (in our earthly life and at the moment of death), and His coming as a little baby. The Second Divine Person of the Holy Trinty becomes Incarnate, taking on our human nature and He lived among us in time, in history. In the last weeks of Advent, that Coming becomes the focus. One of the hymns commonly sung in this season is "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry", referencing St. John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ, announcing His coming. The original Latin of the hymn's lyrics, composed by Charles Coffin for the Paris Breviary is:

Jordanis oras prævia
Vox ecce Baptistæ quatit:
Præconis ad grandes sonos
Ignavus abscedat sopor.

Auctoris adventum sui
Tellus & æther & mare
Prægestiente sentiunt,
Et jam salutant gaudìo.

Mundemus & nos pectora:
Deo propinquanti viam
Sternamus, & dignam domum
Tanto paremus hospiti.

Tu nostra, tu, Jesu, salus;
Tu robur & solatium:
Arens ut herba, te sine
Mortale tabescit genus.

Ægris salutarem manum
Extende: prostratos leva:
Ostende vultum, jam suus
Mundo reflorescet decor.

Qui liberator advenis,
Fili, tibi laus maxima
Cum Patre & almo Spiriiu
In sempiterna secula.

Charles Coffin was born in Northern France and in 1701 would become a faculty member of the College of Beauvais, and later the principal of the same. In 1718 he became rector of the University of Paris for a short time before returning to the College. An avid scholar and Latin author, poet, and hymn writer, Coffin published a number of his Latin poems in 1727 and in 1736 published his Hymni Sacri Auctor Carolo Coffin, a collection of one hundred of his own hymns, many of which were also published in the Paris Breviary. Following the styles of Ovid and Horace, “he was the outstanding Latin author France has produced.” In 1736, the Archbishop of Paris commissioned Coffin, along with several other French writers, to create the Paris Breviary, with the intention of replacing the “…ancient Latin hymns with more modern ones.” In the preface to his Hymni Sacri, Coffin writes:

In his porro scribendis Hymnis non tam poetic indulgendum spiritui, quam nitore et pietate consulendum esse existimavi. Pleraque igitur, argumentis convenientis e purissimis Scripturs Sacra fontibus deprompsi quae idoneis Ecclesiae cantui numeris alligarem.
[In composing the hymns which follow, I have judged it right not so much to give rein to a poetic spirit, as to have regard to elegance and piety. For the most part, therefore, I have drawn their themes from the purest sources of Sacred Scripture, and have incorporated these in verses fitted for the Church's song.]

The dissemination of a number of Coffin’s hymns occurred in great part thanks to the Rev. James Chandler (1806-76), a Vicar in the Anglican Church of Witley. Chandler’s translations resulted from his desire to “…see the ancient prayers of the Anglican Liturgy accompanied by hymns of a corresponding date of composition.”

Rev. Chandler's translation:

1. On Jordan’s bank, the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake, and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of kings!

2. Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
Make straight the way for God within;
Prepare we in our hearts a home
Where such a mighty Guest may come.

3. For Thou art our Salvation, Lord,
Our Refuge, and our great Reward.
Without Thy grace we waste away,
Like flowers that wither and decay.

4. To heal the sick stretch out Thine hand,
And bid the fallen sinner stand;
Shine forth, and let Thy light restore
Earth's own true lovliness once more.

5. Stretch forth thine hand, to heal our sore,
And make us rise to fall no more;
Once more upon thy people shine,
And fill the world with love divine.

6. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee
Whose advent sets Thy people free,
Whom, with the Father, we adore,
And Holy Ghost, forevermore.

Read more about the hymns of Charles Coffin and his translator, Rev.James Chandler, here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

All You Need to Know: Figgy Pudding

As I've posted before:

The Puritans banned Christmas during the Interregnum (the period between the fall and execution of Charles I until the restoration of Charles II)--and didn't understand why people keep breaking the rules, steaming their puddings and roasting their geese!

This is surely one instance that supports H.L. Mencken's definition: Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Conflict over Christmas marked the relations between Parliament and the Court of Charles I before the English Civil War and the capture and execution of Charles I. The Puritans knew what the word ChristMAS means--and that the celebration of the Catholic Mass was at the center of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. They also thought all the other festivities and feasting centered around Christmas were "Popish" and "Papastical," very bad things to be! Once they had the power, if Parliament proclaimed the fourth Saturday of December was to be a day of fasting and the fourth Saturday of December happened to be December 25, Christmas Day, the day of fasting trumped the day of feasting and celebration. Even if Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, there was to be no special commemoration. The Book of Common Prayer was banned and the Church of England, like the Catholic Church, gone underground. Celebrating Christmas was an act of rebellion against the rebels who had become the rulers of England!

This year, the English Historical Fiction blog tells you all about figgy pudding, starting off with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and the Cratchit's pudding:

"Hallo!A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper [boiler]. A smell like washing –day! That was the cloth [the pudding bag]. A smell like an eating house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding. like a speckled cannon ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top." "Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage..."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cromwell and Mantel via Wilson

I have not read Hilary Mantel's two novels on the life and times of Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies) and I don't have immediate plans to do so, either. In History Today magazine, however, Derek Wilson acclaims her work and the rehabilitation of Cromwell's reputation:

‘And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.’ The accolades – and two Man Booker prizes – won by Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the published parts of her fictional trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, draw attention to one of the more remarkable rehabilitations in modern historiography. It is half a century since some of us were privileged to sit at the feet of Geoffrey Elton as he lectured on the ‘Tudor Revolution in Government’. Hitherto Thomas Cromwell had been, for many, a rather shadowy, sinister figure and certainly a minister who bore no comparison with the more flamboyant Thomas Wolsey or the saintly Thomas More. Now he is acclaimed as the architect of the English Reformation and the brief era of his ascendancy (1532-40) is portrayed as one of the most formative in the nation’s history.

The last 50 years have seen great shifts in the reputation of this man about whom, despite his importance, we still know remarkably little. Indeed it is the enigma behind the public figure which provides such rich pickings for novelists. Elton’s presentation of Cromwell as an administrative genius who single-handedly transformed a ‘medieval’ system of household government into a ‘modern’ bureaucracy was vigorously (in some cases bitterly) challenged by his peers. This somewhat esoteric debate over the nature of institutional change was significant in that it served to highlight the importance of the 1530s. England on the day after Cromwell’s execution, we now realise, was a vastly different place from the England that had awoken to the news of Cardinal Wolsey’s death.

Read the rest here.

Derek Wilson attempted to contribute to this re-evaluation of Thomas Cromwell, the Earl of Essex in his book, In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition, and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII, a book I attempted to read ten years ago:

In the Lion’s Court is an illuminating examination of the careers of the six Thomases--Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton---whose lives are described in parallel. Wilson traces their family and social origins, their pathways to the royal Council chamber, their occupancy of the Siege Perilous, and the tragedies that, one by one, overwhelmed them. By showing how events shaped and were shaped by relationships and personal destinies, Derek Wilson offers a fresh approach to the political narrative of a tumultuous reign.

When I tried to read the book, I found that Wilson lost the focus on the six Thomases--he proposed an interesting thematic device and then just wrote a straightforward biographical narrative that needed an editor's help to tighten up the story. "Sudden Death"? No one dies for chapters and chapters! Wilson certainly displayed great disdain for any other interpretation of the English Reformation than the Whig view that it was necessary and inevitable for English freedom and progress. He would like Mantel's depiction of Thomas More as a radical zealot!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: Two by Nemirovsky

This post is far from the subject of my blog, I know, but I have enjoyed reading two of Irene Nemirosky's books recently, and wanted to share. I find her novels, including that great sensation of 2007, Suite Française, strangely compelling. You may remember the story of that book, two novellas of an ambitiously planned five novellas about France under occupation during World War II. Irene Nemirosky, who had been born in Kiev in a Jewish family, lived in France and had been baptized a Catholic. She was working on this five part saga when she was finally arrested as a Jew in Vichy France. She had written two parts of Suite Francaise and left this work behind, She died in Auschwitz. Her daughters escaped France and had the notebook containing this work for years. They presumed the notebook contained a diary, some private work. Finally, one daughter found it to be a work for publication, had it edited and it was published.

The Wall Street Journal published this consideration of her works in December last year:

Irène Némirovsky was a prolific writer punctiliously devoted to her craft. She was at work on her magnum opus, the novel Suite Française, just two days before French policemen knocked at her door on July 13, 1942, to arrest her as a foreign Jew. She died a month later in Auschwitz, either of typhus or in the gas chambers—the exact circumstances will never be known. She was 39 years old.

On July 15, from a transit camp in central France, she wrote a quick note to her husband, Michel Epstein, who would also perish at Auschwitz. "My dearest love, Don't worry about me. I have arrived safely. For the time being, there is disarray, but the food is very good. I was even astonished. . . . A parcel and a letter may be sent once a month. Above all, don't be anxious. Things will settle down, my dearest. I hug you as I do the children with all my heart, with all my love. Irène." The next morning, hastily penciled, came the last words she ever wrote: "My dearest, my beloved little ones, I think we are leaving today. Courage and hope. You are all in my heart, my dears. May God protect us all."

The strains of her final hours in France as she is about to board the box car transport to Poland are barely audible in these hopeful words. Part of it could be credited to a temperamentally matter-of-fact writing style that disparaged anything resembling the lachrymose or sentimental. Part of it also reflects her buoyant disposition in life and a will to stir courage in others. She was no stranger to setbacks and misfortune. Born in the lap of luxury in Kiev, she fled Russia with her family after the revolution and then managed to resettle in France in the very lap of luxury they'd left behind. There was always a way out, always room for hope. But part of her unshakable optimism derives from downright ignorance of the Nazi death machine. No one knew. Even the canniest and most discerning did not know, could not know, much less imagine, that when husband and wife or parent and child said goodbye what they meant was forever.

The author of the review essay, Andre Aciman, also comments on the difficulty of separating Nemirosky's success as a writer from her biography, particularly since while she suffered arrest, imprisonment and death because she was a Jew according to Nazi law, Nemirovsky never sympathizes with Jewish characters in her novels. "Never sympathizes" is indirect litotes; she depicts her Jewish characters as materialist and worldly, little else. She exposes their faults and their satisfied comfort with devasting irony, according to Mr. Aciman.

I say that her novels are strangely compelling to me because she applies that same irony to all her characters, as I read these two novels: The Wine of Solitude and All Our Worldly Goods. Her narrative voice conveys a certain distance from her characters as she tells their stories with unflinching detail of the ways they fool themselves, the ways they ignore their weaknesses and their flaws, the ways they exult in their comfort--even as their worlds are falling apart and their sins are catching up with them. The mystery is that I still care about these characters and their stories, even as Nemirovsky exposes their human weaknesses so brutally.

Vintage Books summarizes The Wine of Solitude:

"From the author of Suite Française comes a powerful novel of family, war and the end of innocence.

"Hélène is a troubled young girl. Neglected by her self-absorbed mother and her adored but distant father, she longs for love and for freedom. As first the Great War and then the Russian Revolution rage in the background, she grows from a lonely, unhappy child to an angry young woman intent on destruction. The Wine of Solitude is a powerful tale of an unhappy family in difficult times and a woman prepared to wreak a shattering revenge."

Helene loves her father Karol but he ignores the adultery committed by his wife Bella, even accepting her lover Max as part of his household. Helene also loves her French governess Mademoiselle Rose and her mother uses that love against her own daughter. The French governess dies during World War I in Russia and then Helene and her family travel in exile to Finland and then to France to escape the Russian Revolution. Religion has no part in their lives--Helene does attend Mass with Mademoiselle Rose, the only person who demonstrates real love and concern--otherwise, their lives are totally secular and totally immersed in sensual pleasure, wealth, sex, and addiction. The three adults blindly seek out their desires with no consideration of the child's emotional welfare. As an adult Helene decides to take revenge on her mother by stealing her aging lover--but she relents from total destruction, not wanting to be as bad as they are. When her father dies, he gives her all the cash he has and she flees with her cat, prepared to make a living on her own, standing under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, ready to face the world.

In one scene the child Helene adds narration to an idealized portrait of a family in one of her books. In contrast to the domesticity depicted in the scene, Helene's story reflects the disorder around her--a husband unaware or unwilling to confront the adultery of his wife; the wife revelling in the pleasure she's found--and when her notes are discovered, she is the "bad child" and Mademoiselle Rose's influence is blamed. Perhaps Mademoiselle Rose's influence prevents the adult Helene from totally destroying her mother and wrecking her lover Max's life with the scandal of marrying Max. The Wine of Solitude is a devastating story of the effects of sin and selfishness--and yet, how humanity endures and even triumphs (the image of the the Arc de Triomphe may be obvious, but it's also effective).

Vintage summarizes All Our Worldly Goods thus:

"Reads like prequel to Suite Française, but is a perfect novel in its own right - a gripping story of family life, of money and love, set against the backdrop of France in two terrible world wars.

"Pierre and Agnès marry for love against the wishes of his parents and the family patriarch, the tyrannical industrialist Julien Hardelot, provoking a family feud which cascades down the generations. Even when war is imminent and Pierre is called up, the old man is unforgiving. Taut, evocative and beautifully paced, All Our Worldly Goods points up with heartbreaking detail and clarity how close were those two wars, how history repeated itself, tragically, shockingly..."

Indeed, Mr. Aciman notes the connection between the two novels: "This novel is a paean to hope and middle-class fortitude. Hence the word goods in the title, meaning possessions and wares but also the good things of life. If the war did not end by the time All Our Worldly Goods ends—at the French surrender—then Némirovsky had no choice but to open the wounds again in her subsequent novel, Suite Française. One novel ends where the next begins. All Our Worldy Goods should garner as many readers as the best-selling Suite Française."

Nemirovsky is most devastating when she describes the thought process of Julien Hardelot, who is totally secure and satisfied, certain of his control even of the future after he dies: his factory, his family, his life is in his control--he thinks. I think any reader, even one who doesn't get the irony of the first sentence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, would understand the irony here: the hubris, the folly of thinking one can control life after death!

Pierre and Agnès endure this family feud, which includes the twist of Pierre's former fiance Simone marrying a soldier she meets during the evacuation of Saint Elme and becoming part owner of the Hardelot family paper factory. Their son Guy then falls in love with Simone's daughter Rose and they marry, living with Pierre and Agnes because Simone won't give Rose any dowry. They also endure separation during World War I, financial difficulties after the war, and fear and stress leading up to the war. They do love each other, sacrifice for each other, and try to do the right thing in every circumstance.

Perhaps Mr. Aciman helps me understand why I like these novels so much:

Némirovsky was a moralist. Like Pascal, La Rochefoucauld and Flaubert, she liked nothing better than to unsaddle human pieties. Her short and polished sentences are underscored by a ruthless clarity of vision and an underhanded wryness that hurts—and was most likely meant to hurt. She is cold, lucid, almost vitreous in her ability to cut through deceit or, worse yet, self-deceit. In this lies her brilliance. Némirovsky was a supremely disabused writer. She is never taken in. She exposes bad faith, derides pretense, sniffs out affectation and, with masterly brushstrokes, undresses the fop and the hypocrite. She instantly spots the dissonance between who we proclaim we are and who we turn out to be. And she does so in a prose that is uncompromisingly classical.

Even in translation, I don't think that "uncompromsingly classical" prose is lost. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sacrificing Them All: Blessed Thomas Holland, SJ

Today's English Catholic martyr, Thomas Holland, SJ sounds like a brilliant man: fluent in many languages; a scholar and a diplomat:

He was probably son of Richard Holland, gentleman, was educated at St. Omer's College and subsequently in August, 1621, went to Valladolid, where he took the missionary oath 29 December 1633. When the abortive negotiations for the "Spanish Match" were taking place in 1623, Holland was sent to Madrid to assure Prince Charles of the loyalty of the seminarists of Valladolid, which he did in a Latin oration.

In 1624 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Watten in Flanders, and not long after was ordained priest at Liège. After serving as minister at Ghent and prefect at St. Omer's he was made a spiritual coadjutor at Ghent (28 May 1634) and sent on the English mission the following year. He was an adept in disguising himself, and could speak perfect French, Spanish, and Flemish.

He was eventually arrested on suspicion in a London street 4 October 1642, and committed to the New Prison. He was afterwards transferred to Newgate, and arraigned at the Old Bailey, 7 December, for being a priest. There was no conclusive evidence as to this; but as he refused to swear he was not, the jury found him guilty, to the indignation of the Lord Mayor, Isaac Penington, and another member of the bench named Garroway. On Saturday, 10 December, Sergeant Peter Phesant, presumably acting for the recorder, passed sentence on him. On his return to prison Holland heard many confessions.

On Sunday and Monday he was able to say Mass in prison, and soon after his last Mass was taken off to execution. There he was allowed to make a speech and to say many prayers, and when the cart was turned away, he was left to hang till he was dead. His brethren called him "bibliotheca pietatis".

He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on December 15, 1929. Note that he was found guilty on the flimsy evidence of not implicating himself of a crime: he would not swear that he was not a Catholic priest. Otherwise, there was no positive evidence and therefore, the Mayor and another Judge were angry at the injustice of the proceedings. The court sergeant passed sentence, I presume because the recorder refused to do so. You might note that Isaac Pennington had children who became Quakers. If Penington shared their beliefs, he was opposed to the swearing of oaths!

This site details those last words and prayers of Blessed Thomas Holland, SJ:

He recited his acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition and then prayed for King Charles I and the nation “for whose prosperity and conversion to the Catholic faith, if I had as many lives as there are hairs on my head, drops of water in the ocean, or stars in the firmament, I would most willingly sacrifice them all.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Hymns and Christmas Carols

The liturgical background of our traditional hymns during Advent and carols during the Christmas season, according to Christopher O. Blum in Crisis Magazine:

It is from the medieval Church and from her very life, the liturgy, that the custom of singing songs to the Christ child descends. The earliest noëls sprang directly from such chants as the Carolingian anthem Puer natus est and the O antiphons sung before the Magnificat at vespers during the octave leading up to Christmas. The word noël itself derives from the Latin natalis and appears in the form of the salute Noé! in Christmas Masses in the 12th century, meaning approximately “Hail, newborn one.” In the 13th century, the O antiphons emerged from the monastic choirs and took to the streets in the form we still know and love as Veni, veni Emmanuel. Many of the earliest Christmas songs that survive today are similarly bound to the liturgy and its language, often taking the form of what is called macaronic verse, in which Latin lines alternate with vernacular, with Bl. Heinrich Suso’s In Dulci Jubilo and the anonymous Célébrons la Naissance Nostri Salvatoris being particularly fine examples of the type.

It was the holy audacity of Saint Francis of Assisi that made the occasional pious work of creative clerics into one of the most popular manifestations of Christian piety, the carol and caroling. In 1223, Francis transformed the tiny village church at Greccio into the first living manger scene, complete with ox and ass and straw. Francis was granted a vision of the Christ child that night while the Little Brothers stood around singing their songs of praise. The grace of that midnight Mass multiplied like the loaves and fishes as the friars traveled throughout Europe carrying with them their new songs and their custom of reenacting the shepherds’ joyous march to the crèche. From these processions comes the word carol, which appears in the 13th century and comes from the old French name of a type of dance.

Towards the end of the medieval period, the invention of the printing press led to the preservation of many early carols and noëls. Back when England was still Merry, the publisher Winken de Woorde produced an edition of English carols (1520), and French, Spanish, and German publishers were not slow to follow suit. Thanks to Martin Luther’s own love of singing, the custom of celebrating Christmas with song survived in Lutheran Germany and Scandinavia, and even enjoyed a new flourishing with such hymns as Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen by Michael Praetorius (flourished ca. 1600) and the immortal Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10, 1591 On the "Son Rise Morning Show"

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show, broadcast on the EWTN Global Radio Network from Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati, Ohio this morning at 7:45 a.m. Eastern, 6:45 a.m. Central to discuss the executions of a group of Catholic martyrs on December 10, 1591 on Gray's Inn Road in London:

St. Swithun Wells was hanged for NOT attending a Catholic Mass in Elizabethan England. His wife Alice attended the Mass held in his house near Gray's Inn in London, but he wasn't there when the priest hunters burst in during the Mass celebrated by Father Edmund Gennings. Those attending held the pursuivants off. His wife, Fathers Gennings (pictured at right) and Polydore Plasden, and two other laymen, John Mason and Sidney Hodgson were arrested at the end of the Mass. Swithun was arrested when he came home.

At his trial, he said he wished he could have attended that Mass and that was enough for the Elizabethan authorities! He was hung near his home on Gray's Inn Road in London, and he spoke to Richard Topcliffe before he died, hoping that this persecutor and torturer of Catholics would convert! He said, "I pray God make you a Paul of a Saul, of a bloody persecutor one of the Catholic Church's children." St. Swithun as a school master had for a time conformed to the official church but then had returned to the Catholic faith.

As he was led to the scaffold, Wells saw an old friend in the crowd and called out to him: "Farewell, dear friend, farewell to all hawking, hunting, and old pastimes. I am now going a better way"!

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

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

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

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

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

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