Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rereading Come Rack! Come Rope!

Come Rack! Come Rope! is one of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson's historical novels, set in the Elizabethan era, telling the story of recusant families and priests in Derbyshire. I've read it at least a couple of times, but must admit that I've read his other historical novel set in the Elizabethan period, By What Authority? more often. Even The King's Achievement, which is almost a prequel to By What Authority?, has been more favored. After re-reading Come Rack! Come Rope! I agree with Joseph Pearce that this novel deserves more attention:

In Come Rack! Come Rope!, first published in 1912, the whole period of the English Reformation is brought to blood-curdling life, the terror and tension gripping the reader as tightly as it grips the leading characters, who witness courageously to their faith in a hostile and deadly environment. According to the Jesuit, Philip Caraman, it “quickly became established as a Catholic classic” and remains “perhaps the best known” of Benson’s novels, although his futuristic tour de force Lord of the World is surely its literary equal and the lesser known Richard Reynal, Solitary remains sadly and undeservedly neglected.

The inspiration for the novel came from the account of the Fitzherbert family in Dom Bede Camm’s Forgotten Shrines, published in 1911, and from Benson’s own visit, in the same year, to the Fitzherbert house in Derbyshire, where he preached at the annual pilgrimage in honour of the Catholic priest-martyrs, Blessed Nicholas Garlick and Blessed Robert Ludlam [the Padley Martyrs], who were executed in 1588. From the blood of these martyrs came the seed of Benson’s story. The novel’s title is taken from the famous promise of St Edmund Campion that he would remain steadfast, “come rack, come rope.” Campion was executed in 1581.

St. Edmund Campion, St. Nicholas Owen, Richard Topcliffe, Elizabeth I (at a distance), Anthony Babington (of the Babington Plot), and Mary, Queen of Scots are among the historical personages who appear in the novel. It is a more compact story than the epic of By What Authority?, and as Pearce notes, Benson tells a love story in the midst of this historical novel:

It is a great romance, a great love story. It is a story that shows the romance of Rome and the true greatness of a noble and self-sacrificial love between a man and a woman. The love between Robin and Marjorie, the two principal protagonists, is a love far greater than that between Romeo and Juliet. Their love for each other has none of the possessiveness of Shakespeare’s “star-cross’d lovers” and everything of the purity and passion of Lear’s Cordelia. As a love story alone, Come Rack! Come Rope! deserves its place in the canon.

As for the novel’s climax, one must agree with Hugh Ross Williamson that “it is impossible not to be moved by the last chapter which, as far as I know, has never been bettered as an account of an Elizabethan martyr’s execution”. For potency and poignancy, the novel’s climactic moment compares in literary stature with the final, fateful moments of Lord Marchmain in Waugh’s masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited. And if Benson’s finale lacks the subtlety of Waugh’s denouement it matches it for dramatic tension.

Benson uses some excellent techniques in telling the story without changing the scene or location of the narration, which centers on the houses of recusant Catholics in Derbyshire (although there is a trip to London): Letters, reports of executions, descriptions of events by witnesses. When Robin travels to the Continent to study for the priesthood, Marjorie remains at home, waiting for news from him as he waits for news from her--and the letters take a long time, carried secretly from Douai to Derbyshire. Marjorie's home becomes the center of recusant activity in her area as she assists the missonary priests serving the Catholics of Derbyshire. By focusing on that area, and a few Catholic families, Benson is well able to depict the stresses and strains of recusancy, as it divides family and friends. The Fitzherbert family, for instance, endures fines, imprisonment, threats, and even the danger of betrayal from within.

As Benson includes Anthony Babington and his plot to assassinate Elizabeth I, free Mary of Scotland from captivity and place her on the throne of England, he is able to depict the frustration and impatience of some Catholic laity -- and the counsel of priests against such treasonous plotting.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Anyone Have $6 Million to Spare? Historic Real Estate in England

From The Daily Mail online, some prime English real estate is for sale:

A 500-year-old Tudor mansion boasting a 100ft great hall, three priest holes and its own ghost is for sale for £4.75million.

Sawston Hall, described as the finest private house in Cambridgeshire, has five ensuite bedrooms, a moat, and an arboretum with rare trees, but its real draw is its history.

Owned by a grand Roman Catholic family for centuries, the Hall has secret places where outlawed Catholic priests could hide when the terrifying priest-hunters came to call during the Reformation.

Feared by Catholics who continued to practise their religion even after it was made illegal, priest-hunters would arrive with skilled carpenters who would spend up to a week ripping out panelling and pulling up floorboards looking for priests.

Sawston Hall, which was one of the famous Catholic safehouses in the reign of Elizabeth 1, has three such holes hidden in the fabric of the stone, Grade I-listed mansion. One of them, hidden within a stone turret housing a spiral staircase, was created by master carpenter Nicholas Owen, and is said by experts to be the finest example of a priest's hole in the country.

Owen, who died under torture in the Tower of London in 1606, was later canonised for his role in ensuring the future of British Catholicism, and his work in creating spaces where priests could escape capture played a key role in English Catholic history.

The article includes many pictures, so you know what you're paying for: beauty, history, priest holes, and all--including a modern kitchen! Fortunately, the article notes that there's an effort to make it available to the public, for the sake of Catholic history:

A campaign to raise the money to buy the house and open it for future generations has been launched by historians and is backed by leading Catholics including Ann Widdecombe and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster.

Read the rest here.

A martyred saint labored in the house: St. Nicholas Owen, pray for us! You might recall that after torturing St. Nicholas Owen to death, James I's officials claimed that he had committed suicide.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England"

This book will not be coming out in the USA until April, but it looks fascinating:

The Catholics of Elizabethan England did not witness a golden age. Their Mass was banned, their priests were outlawed, their faith was criminalised. In an age of assassination and Armada, those Catholics who clung to their faith were increasingly seen as the enemy within. In this superb history, award-winning author Jessie Childs explores the Catholic predicament in Elizabethan England through the eyes of one remarkable family: the Vauxes of Harrowden Hall.

God’s Traitors is a tale of dawn raids and daring escapes, stately homes and torture chambers, ciphers, secrets and lies. From clandestine chapels and side-street inns to exile communities and the corridors of power, it exposes the tensions and insecurities masked by the cult of Gloriana. Above all, it is a timely story of courage and frailty, repression and reaction and the terrible consequences when religion and politics collide. has a different blurb:

Elizabeth I criminalised Catholicism in England. For refusing to attend Anglican services her subjects faced crippling fines and imprisonment. For giving refuge to outlawed priests -- the essential conduits to God's grace -- they risked death. Almost two hundred Catholics were executed in Elizabeth's reign and hundreds more wasted away in prison. They were beleaguered on the one hand by a Papacy that branded Elizabeth a heretic and sanctioned her deposition and on the other by a government that saw itself fighting a war on terror and deployed every weapon in its arsenal, including torture, to combat the threat. With every invasion scare and attempt on Elizabeth's life, the danger for England's Catholics grew.

God's Traitors explores this agonising conflict of loyalty from the perspective of one Catholic family, the Vauxes of Harrowden Hall. To follow the Vaux story -- from staunch loyalty to passive resistance to increasing activism -- is to see, in microcosm, the pressures and painful choices that confronted the Catholic community of Reformation England. Theirs in an enthralling tale of plots, priest-holes and persecution plated out in a world of shadows people by spies and agents provocateurs. They lived in a state of siege, under constant surveillance. The petty squabbles, unsuitable marriages, love and laughter of family life were punctuated by dawn raids, sudden arrests and clandestine meetings. Above all, this is a timeless and timely story of human courage and frailty, repression and reaction and the power of faith against the sternest of odds.

Father Godfrey Anstruther, OP, wrote about the family in his 1953 study, Vaux of Harrowden : a Recusant Family, reviewed in The Tablet at the time:

There are many sides to the picture he presents ; the impact of the Reformation on England ; the fabulous adventures of the missionary priests ; the surge of excitement that greeted the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. But above all this is the history of one family, a family of great wealth and position, who lived in the very heart of England, and whose house, for that among other reasons, became, after the Reformation, one of the nerve-centres of the Catholic resistance. At one time or another nearly every missionary priest must have come to Harrowden ; Father Gerard, S.J., was, in fact, for several years the chaplain there ; and through the eyes of the Vaux family we can see the reaction of the laity in England to almost all the problems that perplexed the members of the proscribed religion. The behaviour of the Vauxes of Harrowden is particularly interesting because, of all the members of the upper class, they had the most reason to cling to the fortunes of the Tudors. The Wars of the Roses had left them virtually penniless and it was only the triumph of Henry VII at Bosworth Field that restored them to power. From then on, prosperity was assured, and Sir Nicholas Vaux was able to play an increasingly prominent part in all. the more spectacular pageants of the age, a form of entertainment of which he appears to have been inordinately fond. The triumph of his life came when he was chosen to arrange the details of that fantastic event that history knows as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The cost of the whole spectacle was prodigious, but Sir Nicholas at least would have been among those who must have felt that it had been well worth every penny. "I see, I see an Age truly Golden arising," wrote Erasmus in 1519, and without doubt the Vauxes would have been in full agreement with him. Fifteen years later, the first Catholic martyrs were executed at Tyburn. In such a short space of time so much had happened.

It looks like both books would be necessary!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The White Horse and King Alfred the Great

Our local American Chesterton Society group will meet tonight at Eighth Day Books to conclude our reading of Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse. King Alfred the Great, the only English king called great is in the news lately because they've found his bones. Since the Reformation the exact location of the great Wessex king and hero has been uncertain. From The Telegraph:

Last Friday, archaeologists announced that the remains of King Alfred the Great whose whereabouts have been unknown since the Reformation, may well have turned up at last.

A pelvic bone discovered in Winchester was dismissed as animal bone in 1999 but has now been confirmed to belong either to the leader of Wessex and vanquisher of the Vikings, who died more than 1100 years ago in 899 - or to his son Edward.  

The author describes Alfred's achievements:

Here was a king who inherited a realm on the point of collapse. The rulers of other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had been slaughtered, like St Edmund (as in Bury St Edmunds) or eased out. The invaders responsible for this ongoing calamity were Scandinavian Vikings who had changed strategy from the raids of a century before to all-out conquest. Initially Alfred, too, was unable to stop their advance. It is to a period he spent early in his reign on the run, desperately trying to gather an army to drive out the Vikings, that the story of his finding shelter with a cowherd and “burning the cakes” relates. That was one of a number of legends that would attach itself to a man who became semi-mythical, after he managed to defeat the invaders, driving them out of Wessex for good.

Alfred wasn’t just a successful general. He was also a scholar, writing translations of religious and philosophical works, and becoming by his death the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Marcus Aurelius, the model of ruler as philosopher. It was as much for his achievements with the pen as with the sword that later generations came to know him as “the Great”, the only English king ever to earn the name. Alfred was never king of England, but his reign certainly laid the foundations for the united England that his successors, beginning with his son Edward the Elder, established.

Alfred's remains went missing during the English Reformation because of--you guessed it!--Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries!

This glorious record should have earned Alfred a safe resting place in the hereafter. Certainly, that was what he had in mind when in his will he left the massive sum of £50 to the Old Minster in Winchester as “the church in which I shall rest”. His son probably thought he was only doing his father even greater honour when he moved Alfred’s tomb to the New Minster, but that wasn’t a permanent home either. Henry I moved the New Minster’s monks - and their monuments - to Hyde Abbey, and after the Reformation, the site of the Abbey eventually became a prison.

More about Hyde Abbey here. Image credit.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Stuarts In Italy

According to Cambridge University Press, the blurb for The Stuarts in Italy, 1719–1766: A Royal Court in Permanent Exile by Edward Corp:

For nearly half of the eighteenth century, the exiled Stuart court provided an important British presence in Rome. It acted as a surrogate embassy for the many Grand Tourists passing through the city – Hanoverian Whigs as well as Tories and Jacobites – and as a significant social and cultural centre. This book presents the first complete study of the court of the exiled Stuart King James III, offering a significant reassessment of its importance and of the lives of the Stuarts and their courtiers, and their relations with the Popes, cardinals and princely families of Rome. Edward Corp's interdisciplinary approach also reveals the Stuarts' patronage of leading portrait painters, their influence on the development of Italian opera, and the impact of their court buildings on relations with their supporters. This book will be essential reading for everyone with an interest in Jacobitism, Italian culture and the eighteenth-century Grand Tour.

~This is the first ever study of the exiled Stuart Court in Italy
~Provides a great deal of new information about the lives of all four members of the Stuart royal family; James III and his Polish wife Queen Clementina, and the upbringing of their two children (Bonnie Prince Charlie and Cardinal York)
~Makes comprehensive use of previously unexploited Italian archives

This is a sequel to Corp's work on the Stuart exiles in France, A Court in Exile: The Stuarts in France, 1689–1718, which I reviewed here.
This study of "a court in exile" covers all aspects of the grandeur of court life. When King James II was deposed during the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688-89, he came with his family to France, where his cousin, Louis XIV allowed him to establish a large court-in-exile in the Château of Saint-Germain near Versailles. The book describes the magnificent setting of the court, the way it was organized, and how the exiled courtiers lived. Particular attention is given to the close relationships between the British and French royal families.

~The first full study of the Stuart court in exile in France, following the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688/89
~Covers all aspects of the court - social, financial, cultural - and not merely the political background
~Emphasises cultural and patronage issues, breaking new ground in describing the painting, poetry and music of the court

The emphasis in the new book on music and art, with chapters on "The Stuarts and Italian operatic life", and "The Stuarts and Italian music", as well as on the portraits of the court, looks particularly fascinating.

St. Philip Neri and His World

According to The New Liturgical Movement blog:

Beginning on January 27, St. Thomas Apostle Parish in Washington D.C. will offer a six-part series of talks on “The World Which Made St. Philip Neri”, exploring the relationship of St. Philip to the religious orders and movements of his time. Bringing together a Dominican, a Carmelite, and a Jesuit to discuss St. Philip’s historical connections with each of their orders, the series will also include presentations by members of the Oratorian Community of St. Philip Neri, a community in formation for the Oratory in the Archdiocese of Washington. Each talk will take place at 7 pm in the Parish Library.

The complete schedule, from the parish website:

Monday, January 27
The Rise of the Preachers: A Dominican Perspective
Bro Innocent Smith OP

Monday, February 3
The Call of Carmel: The Hermit tradition
Fr Kevin Alban OCarm

Monday, February 10
The Dialogue of Carmelites: SS Teresa of Avila & John of the Cross
Fr Kevin Alban OCarm

Monday, February 17
The Unlikely Saint: St Philip Neri
Fr Richard Mullins

Monday, February 24
A New Itinerary: An Ignatian Perspective
Fr Stephen Fields SJ

Monday, March 3
The Call to Conversion: An Oratorian perspective
Msgr Andrew Wadsworth

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote about his patron St. Philip Neri and his times in one sermon in two parts published in his Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, "The Mission of St. Philip Neri", Part 1 and Part 2. He particularly notes the influence of Savonarola on St. Philip Neri:

So was it with the Lord of grace Himself, when He came upon earth; so it is with His chosen servants after Him. He grew up in silence and obscurity, overlooked by the world; and then He triumphed. He was the grain cast into the earth, which, while a man "sleeps and rises, night and day, springs up and grows whilst he knoweth not." He was the mustard seed, "which is the least of all seeds, but, when it is grown up, becometh a tree, and shooteth out great branches, so that the birds of the air dwell under its shadow." He grew up "as a tender plant, and as a root out of a thirsty land"; and "His look was, as it were, hidden and despised, wherefore we esteemed Him not." And, when He began to preach, He did not "contend nor cry out, nor break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax"; and thus "He sent forth judgment unto victory." So was it in the beginning, so has it been ever since. After the storm, the earthquake and the fire, the calm, soothing whisper of the fragrant air. After Savonarola, Philip.

1. Philip was born in Florence within twenty years after him. The memory of the heroic friar was then still fresh in the minds of men, who would be talking familiarly of him to the younger generation,—of the scenes which their own eyes had witnessed, and of the deeds of penance which they had done at his bidding. Especially vivid would the recollections of him be in the convent of St. Mark; for there was his cell, there the garden where he walked up and down in meditation, and refused to notice the great prince of the day; there would be his crucifix, his habit, his discipline, his books, and whatever had once been his. Now, it so happened, St. Philip was a child of this very convent; here he received his first religious instruction, and in after times he used to say, "Whatever there was of good in me, when I was young, I owed it to the Fathers of St. Mark's, in Florence." For Savonarola he retained a singular affection all through his life; he kept his picture in his room, and about the year 1560, when the question came before Popes Paul IV. and Pius IV., of the condemnation of Savonarola's teaching, he interceded fervently and successfully in his behalf before the Blessed Sacrament, exposed on the occasion in the Dominican church at Rome. This was in his middle age.

Monday, January 20, 2014

No Way to Treat a Diva--or a Dame

I'm sorry for the lack of posting lately: I've had that horrible RSV that's going around. After watching the Denver Broncos defeat the New England Patriots, I was in the midst of watching the NFC Playoff game when I realized that Downton Abbey was on. I wasn't able to watch the Dame Nellie Melba/Dame Kiri Te Kanawa episode last week because our local PBS station had sync problems (like watching the proverbial mis-synced Japanese movie), so last night I switched from football to Masterpiece Theatre.

The episode had other developments of course, but was all focused on the performance of Dame Nellie Melba because everyone had gathered to hear her--and the Downton Abbey producers had another Australian (sort of: she is from New Zealand) to portray her: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Well in my opinion, they wasted the opportunity, both historically and operatically.

There is no way that Dame Nellie Melba would have consented to being shuffled off to a room with a tray for dinner. The butler, Carson, certainly did not know how to treat a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (the honor Melba had received in 1918). With all the charity work Melba had done during World War I, the honors and welcome she had received around the world, etc--I think she and Lord Grantham, and Lady Grantham, would have had more to talk about than claret. Melba was a diva: she was not just a professional opera singer from Australia! The Granthams just don't seem to be aware of culture at all: they can't get used to Catholics being full citizens in England and they don't know about the great artist about to perform for them. They also seem to lack common hospitality.

Then, after the faux-pas of her arrival and sequestration in her room, the episode gave her no grand diva entrance. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's performance was underwhelming: I was expecting the lush, lyric quality I'm used to and it just wasn't there--not even the usual precise diction. Of course, she has retired from the operatic stage (she is 69 years old), but the last performances I had heard of her did not prepare me for what I heard last night. Finally, of course, her performance is undercut by the violence occurring downstairs, which was awful.

Finding some real Nellie Melba on youtube, I listened to this 1926 recording from Covent Garden--made while the Dame was on one of her unending farewell tours! And when I searched for that, I found this article from The Telegraph, in which the professional critic Rupert Christiansen confirmed my disappointment and identified the problems technically with Dame Te Kanawa's performance:

Confined to her room with a cup of tea and treated by Carson as though she was a visiting tradesperson during her visit to Downton Abbey? The real Dame Nellie Melba wouldn’t have tolerated such treatment for a nanosecond. In 1922, she had enjoyed 30 years of being received as a social equal by crowned heads and aristocrats throughout Europe, and she would only have sung at a private party as a personal favour to her host. Melba was nobody’s hireling: she called all the shots, and the Granthams and their staff would have quaked at her approach. . . .

But she sounded rather worse - recordings of the Australian soprano dating from that era demonstrate singing far more secure and shapely than Dame Kiri’s. Sharp unsteady intonation, heavy vibrato and tastelessly swooping portamento vitiated what fragments we heard of her performance of two arias by Puccini and a song by Dvorak: the dastardly Green’s reference to the noise of ‘a cat on a bonfire’ was unkind, but Mrs Patmore’s expression of heavenly rapture was scarcely convincing, and no wonder that poor Anna Bates whisperingly complained of a headache.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Martyrs of Lincolnshire and the Lincoln Uprising

The blogmaster of the Lincolnshire Martyrs website left a comment asking me to promote his efforts to make the martyrs of Lincolnshire and the cause of the Lincolnshire Uprising better known.

The Lincolnshire Uprising was really the prelude to the Pilgrimage of Grace in Yorkshire--or one could say that both rebellions were focused on the same thing: the peoples' rejection of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell's dissolution of the monasteries.

Those executed for their participation in the Lincolnshire Uprising (and the Pilgrimage of Grace) have not been declared martyrs and their cause is still pending. The site lists those who suffered, including several monks, clergy, and lay people.

The site also includes the list of Lincolnshire martyrs, beatified and canonized, from the reign of Henry VIII to the Popish Plot under Charles II. It's a very beautifully illustrated site, featuring this banner from the canonization of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970:


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Travel Via Roku Movie Nights

My husband and I went to France twice this week: to an undisclosed village in My Afternoons with Margueritte (yes, two t's--her father could not spell very well, she tells us) and to Senlis, north of Paris, in Seraphine.

Roger Ebert liked the former (and we did too):

Germain is a handyman in a sloppy flannel shirt and overalls, overweight and hulking. Margueritte is a little (85 pounds) old (95 years) lady. They meet on a park bench, where both know that exactly 14 pigeons hang out there, and both recognize them by sight. . . .

This happens in an improbably sweet film that will strike many as too upbeat. Germain is cuddled by his adorable bus-driver girlfriend Annette (Sophie Guillemin), and pals around with his buddies at a local cafe. He suffers through flashbacks to his unhappy childhood, but seems on the whole serene. He loves Annette but he declares himself "in love" with Margueritte.

So are we, a little. She is bright-eyed and high-spirited, and never overplays the heart-tugging. The director, Jean Becker, is the son of the great French noir director Jacques Becker, who was 8 when Gisele Casadesus was born. There's history here. The happy ending lays it on too thick, but what the hell: In for a dime, in for a dollar. Besides, the movie started me re-reading
The Plague.

We enjoyed the upbeat ending and were happy to think about Margueritte, Annette, and Germain being happy. We did not start re-reading The Plague.

Instead, we started watching Seraphine, a 2009 movie based on the life and art of Seraphine Louis, usually called Seraphine de Senlis. We have visited Senlis before, driving there from Roissy to see the Cathedral (of the former diocese of Senlis) and eat dinner at Le Gril des Barbares. I would like to go back to Senlis our next trip to visit the museum that displays her work.

Seraphine does not have a happy ending, except that the title character may have received the care and peace she needed. When she created her beautiful artworks, the artist sang the Veni, Creator Spiritus, and she offers prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, painting at the inspiration of her Guardian Angel. Roger Ebert liked it, too, but he did not recognize the Veni, Creator Spiritus!

We might watch The Well Digger's Daughter the next time we have a Roku movie night. We've enjoyed the movies based on Pagnol's works before: Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources; My Mother's Castle and My Father's Glory, so we look forward to it.

Conscience, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and Blessed John Henry Newman

Since conscience is back in the news again with the matter of the Little Sisters of the Poor protesting against the violation of their conscience and their practice of religion by the HHS Contraceptive Mandates--and since I've just had an article on Blessed John Henry Newman's brilliant explanation of conscience in OSV's The Catholic Answer Magazine: I will be on the Son Rise Morning Show tomorrow morning (Thursday, January 16) at 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central, etc). Please listen live here--podcasts should be posted here.

The crucial difference between the false idea of conscience--which Newman identified in the nineteenth century and has endured to the twenty-first-- and the true nature of conscience is the source and standard of the truth an individual conscience uses to discern what is to be done or not done. To quote my article:

Newman set out to demonstrate that individual Catholics were indeed free to follow the guidance of their consciences. He also showed that conscience is “the voice of God in the nature and heart of man” that needs “training and experience . . . for its strength, growth and due formation.” He says conscience as a natural voice of God’s eternal law is an “aboriginal Vicar of Christ.” But then he contrasts this true definition of conscience to its counterfeit: the common view of conscience as something completely free of any duty to anything outside itself.

In a great expressive passage he shows how this view means nothing more than “the right of self-will,” with no reference to truth. In the same way that Newman would speak of the spirit of “liberalism in religion” in his Biglietto speech of 1879, when Pope Leo XIII had made him a cardinal, he notes this view of conscience means the individual has become the judge of religion, setting the standards of critiquing how well a church’s teaching conforms with his own view. For 18 centuries, Newman comments, “the old, true, Catholic meaning of the word” had been the norm — to Catholics of the past, this counterfeit is unrecognizable.

You may read the rest here. I hope you can listen to the broadcast.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blessed Margaret Pole, On the Block

On the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, Judith Arnopp writes about Blessed Margaret Pole, imagining her last moments:
It is May 27th 1541 and an old woman wakes in her prison at the Tower of London. She stretches her limbs and blinks at the early morning light filtering through the high window, and groans as she remembers that today is the day she is to die.

Reluctant to shed the warmth of the furred nightgown sent to her by Queen Katherine just a few weeks ago, she shivers while her woman rolls up her hose, ties her fur lined petticoat and secures her new worsted kirtle. She prays for a while, the familiar rhythm of the words whispering from chapped lips until a footstep sounds. The rattle of a chain, bolts shooting back, the creak of the door.

‘It is time, Madam.’

Outside, the world is calm. The sky is white. Fresh green leaves bright against the sombre walls. A flurry of ravens fly up as the small party passes beneath their roost. There is no scaffold for Margaret, just a block and a terrified executioner about to take his first victim. . . .

As Judith Arnopp notes, Hazel Pierce’s biography Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership, which is now out in paperback, is still the only major biography of this great lady.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Recusancy and Regicide" from Penn History Review

Carolyn Vinnicombe, at that time a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote this analysis of the Jesuit mission in Reformation England, published in the Spring 2012 issue of the Penn History Review:

Introduction: In pursuing their goals of reviving the religious zeal of the English Catholic community by converting them to religious opposition in the later sixteenth and earlier seventeenth centuries, the drivers of the Jesuit mission in England, under the guidance of the Jesuit Robert Persons, failed. They did so not because Catholic doctrine lacked appeal in protestant Elizabethan England, but because their conversion strategy was wholly unsuited to the political realities of the times. Instead, the aggregate effects of the Church’s clerical infighting over the issues of conformity and disputation as a conversion device, failure to understand the practical needs of the average Catholic, and Person’s ill-fated political plotting polarized the English against the Jesuits and created a religious and political environment so toxic that it cannibalized the mission’s own conversion efforts. Though the Jesuits saw later success with the publication of their non-polemic spiritual texts, they never succeeded in gaining back the ground they lost as a result of their catastrophic early strategy.

The issue of conformity to the Elizabethan Settlement of 1569 presented a dilemma without an absolute solution for the English Catholic community. When Pope Pius V’s Regans in Excelsis of 1570, excommunicated the queen, and prompted her regime to mandate attendance at protestant services, it left English Catholics floundering to find traction on the plane of religious devotion. Could they still call themselves Catholics if they yielded to the state and attended protestant services, but maintained Catholicism in their hearts, or were only those who defied the state and refused to attend services worthy of the “Catholic” label and, indeed, salvation? This was a question for which neither the laity nor the Church had a clear answer.

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Play's The Thing--Then and Now

Times Higher Education reviews The Drama of Reform: Theology and Theatricality, 1461-1553 by Tamara Atkin (reviewed by Helen Smith):

Whereas the drama of the English Renaissance is celebrated, frequently performed and a staple of school and university curricula, the plays of the English Reformation (or rather the multiple, incremental and partial reformations of the four British nations) are neglected with almost equal enthusiasm. In part, this can be explained by their unfortunate chronological position, wedged awkwardly, in stylistic as well as temporal terms, between the medieval and early modern. In part, it comes down to our lack of knowledge about where and why many of these plays were performed, despite some diligent detective work. Ultimately, though, the lack of widespread zeal for the plays may be a result of their own passionate espousal of the religious arguments that transformed personal and national identities in the middle years of the 16th century.

The Drama of Reform follows the lead of recent scholarship in embracing the complexities of reformist drama, from the polemical plays of John Bale to the likes of Jacke Jugeler, which claims to be only a “merie” reworking of Plautus, but is centrally concerned with debates concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Tamara Atkin’s book concentrates on four plays, dedicating a chapter to each and identifying telling, and often precise, links between their contents and the proponents of reform. What we get rather less of, however, is a sense of how representative these plays are and how they fit alongside more traditional, orthodox drama.

And The Independent reviews the Royal Shakespeare Company theatrical adaptation of the first two novels about Thomas Cromwell written by Hilary Mantel--which have their own "theology":

One hesitates to use the phrase “a marriage made in heaven” in the vicinity of Henry VIII but that would be a fair way of describing this brilliant union between the RSC and Hilary Mantel.

The Company has just unveiled its epic six-hour stage version of her two prize-winning novels which view the English Reformation and the deadly intrigues of the Tudor court from the vantage point of Thomas Cromwell, the Putney blacksmith's son who rose to be royal fixer-in-chief.
The marathon press performance began at 1pm and, after a dinner break, concluded at 10pm. But such is the dramatic skill of the adaptation by Mike Poulton (with whom Mantel has worked closely) and the unflagging power and fascination of Jeremy Herrin's fleet, incisively acted production that, if the final instalment of the trilogy had been completed and turned into a play, I would gladly have stayed up all night.

There are inevitable losses in the transition from page to stage - from the atmospheric richness of Mantel's prose to the flashbacks to formative experiences in Cromwell's past, such as his witnessing, in boyhood, the pitiless auto-da-fe of a female heretic.

But Ben Miles is superlative at conveying the inner complexities of the man – the shrewd watchfulness, the sense of banked-down grief, the little flashes of sardonic humour. David Starkey once described Cromwell as “Alastair Campbell with an axe” but in these plays we get a thoroughly three-dimensional figure.

Beyond the pages of a book, literary or theological, the representation of personal drama on stage, comic or tragic, has an attractiveness that reaches out to another audience. Someone who would never read John Bales's theological arguments in the 16th century would learn from his plays. In the same way, Mantel's fiction translated to the stage becomes even an even more powerful representation of her characterizations of Cromwell and Thomas More, for example. That is certainly why the Society of Jesus developed a dramatic tradition in their schools, to teach their students about the art of persuasion (rhetoric) and to inculcate virtue. More on the Jesuits and drama here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Constantine in Wichita, Kansas

No--not the Keanu Reeves's movie; I mean the Emperor Constantine!

Some major speakers are going to be in Wichita next weekend to discuss "Constantine, Christendom, and Christian Renewal", according to The Wichita Eagle:

“Constantine, Christendom and Christian Renewal” is the theme of the fourth annual Eighth Day Symposium, Jan. 16 to Jan. 18 at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Wichita.

The symposium is sponsored by Eighth Day Institute, a nonprofit effort to renew culture through faith and learning. Speakers from four traditions will headline the event: Peter Leithart, president of Trinity House and adjunct senior fellow at New St. Andrews College; Vigen Guorian, professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia; Alan Kreider, professor of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; and Benjamin Wiker, faculty associate at the Veritas Center for Ethics and Public Life and visiting associate professor of theology at Franciscan University.

The cost of the symposium is $40 a day or $75 for two days; lunch is included. A banquet on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. is $35. Register online at, by calling 316-573-8413, or in person at Eighth Day Books, 2838 E. Douglas. Registration will also be available at the door; the cathedral is at 7515 E. 13th St.

You can find out more about the speakers--really major academic presenters and authors--here.

Read more here:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, John Carroll!

Russell Shaw writes about the life and career of John Carroll in the December 23, 2013 issue of Our Sunday Visitor newsweekly:

A member of a wealthy and respected Catholic family, with excellent contacts among America’s political and social elite, Archbishop Carroll proved notably adept at building bridges with the non-Catholic world in a career spanning more than three decades. “A gentleman of learning and abilities,” John Adams, who was to be second president of the United States, said of the young priest in 1776, the year of American independence.
Along with persuading Protestants that Catholics also had a place in America, John Carroll was to tackle the mammoth task of building the infrastructure of the Church from scratch. And in this, too, he proved remarkably successful.
He was born Jan. 8, 1735, at his parents’ plantation in southern Maryland, the fourth of seven children. His older brother, Daniel, was to be one of only five men who signed both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. His cousin and lifelong friend, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first U.S. senator from Maryland.
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Today is Epiphany: The Twelfth Day!

Although many Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany yesterday at Sunday Mass, today is the twelfth day--the traditional date of the Epiphany of Our Lord. Epiphany means "manifestation" and the day really remembers three great manifestations of Jesus: to the Magi; to John the Baptist in the Jordan; and at the Marriage Feast Cana, where He turned water into wine. A Clerk of Oxford features this fifteenth century English hymn that celebrates the coming of the Magi, narrating the story of their contact with Herod and even his massacre of the Holy Innocents:

Reges de Saba venient,
Aurum, tus myrram offerent.

1. Now is the Twelfth Day ycome,
The Father and Son together are nome,1
The Holy Ghost, as they were wone,2
In fere.
God send us a good New Year!

2. I will you sing with all my might,
Of a Child so fair in sight,
A maiden him bore this endernight,
So still;
As it was his will. . . .
A Clerk of Oxford not only explains the carol's origin, but offers an illustrated version of its narration:
This is a lively Epiphany carol, full of drama and dialogue. It comes from a fifteenth-century manuscript of carols, BL Sloane 2593, and I've modernised the spelling from this text; the refrain means "Kings shall come from Sheba, offering gold, frankincense and myrrh" (a quotation from a Christmas hymn). One of my favourite things about it is the moustache-twirling villain Herod in verse 16: "Herod laughed and said, "A-ha!" But really the whole thing is wonderful.

Let's take a lot at the same story as it appears, illustrated in exhaustive detail, in the splendid manuscript
BL Yates Thompson 13. This fourteenth-century English Book of Hours has exquisite illustrations on a whole range of subjects but also depicts the entire narrative of the Magi and King Herod, in a series of pictures running across the bottom of ff. 90-95v. So this is the Visit of the Magi: Medieval Graphic Novel Version.
Merry Christmas! Happy Epiphany!
Image Source: wikipedia commons.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Anne Line and Shakespeare: Tragedy and Christ

On my review stack is this volume, Anne Line: Shakespeare's Tragic Muse by Martin Dodwell. Mr. Dodwell follows up on the efforts of John Finnis and Patrick Martin, and others, who see a connection between Shakespearean works and the story of Anne Line. I've only read a couple of chapters, so I'll withhold my opinion about Dodwell's work.

Surely, however, Anne Line's story is tragic--and amazing--not because of any flaw (the English major's knowledge that every tragic hero has to have a "tragic flaw"), but because of her virtue of conscientious faithfulness. She is rejected by her family because she becomes a Catholic; she loses her husband to exile because they are Catholic and he attends Catholic Mass; she is arrested and condemned to hanging because she aids Catholic priests, and finally she is buried without ceremony or consecration--cast off like a suicide. All of her actions are indeed in conflict with her country's laws and culture, which condemn her Catholicism as treason against the state (and against the monarch). Like Antigone burying her father and brother against Creon's decree, Anne Line upholds her Catholic faith against Elizabeth I's Protestant laws.

There is, of course, a crucial distinction for a Christian tragic heroine: the Resurrection. Now death itself is not tragic in the same sense--it is not just Anne Line's death that appeases the Elizabethan recusancy and penal laws as the ancient Attic tragedy required. With the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as David B. Hart argued in a First Things article  almost 10 years ago (in 2003!), the whole concept of tragedy has changed. When He was crucified, condemned by Pontius Pilate, He overturned that idea of tragedy, because He rose from the dead, defeating Roman execution. Hart explains the Attic view of tragedy and expiation:

As it happens, the word “tragic” is especially apt here. A sacrificial mythos need not always express itself in slaughter, after all. Attic tragedy, for instance, began as a sacrificial rite. It was performed during the festival of Dionysus, which was a fertility festival, of course, but only because it was also an apotropaic celebration of delirium and death: the Dionysia was a sacred negotiation with the wild, antinomian cruelty of the god whose violent orgiastic cult had once, so it was believed, gravely imperiled the city; and the hope that prompted the feast was that, if this devastating force could be contained within bright Apollonian forms and propitiated through a ritual carnival of controlled disorder, the polis could survive for another year, its precarious peace intact. . . .

The religious vision from which Attic tragedy emerged was one of the human community as a kind of besieged citadel preserving itself through the tribute it paid to the powers that both threatened and enlivened it. I can think of no better example of this than that of Antigone, in which the tragic crisis is the result of an insoluble moral conflict between familial piety (a sacred obligation) and the civil duties of kingship (a holy office): Antigone, as a woman, is bound to the chthonian gods (gods of the dead, so of family and household), and Creon, as king, is bound to Apollo (god of the city), and so both are adhering to sacred obligations. The conflict between them, then, far from involving a tension between the profane and the holy, is a conflict within the divine itself, whose only possible resolution is the death — the sacrifice — of the protagonist. Other examples, however, are legion. Necessity’s cruel intransigence rules the gods no less than us; tragedy’s great power is simply to reconcile us to this truth, to what must be, and to the violences of the city that keep at bay the greater violence of cosmic or social disorder. . . .

And then he explains how Jesus Christ changed all that, beginning with the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate in the Gospel of St. John--in which the representative of the Roman Empire is stymied by the regalness of a Jewish peasant--and then considering Peter's tears:

This slave is the Father’s eternal Word, whom God has vindicated, and so ten thousand immemorial certainties are unveiled as lies: the first become last, the mighty are put down from their seats and the lowly exalted, the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent empty away. Nietzsche was quite right to be appalled. Almost as striking, for me, is the tale of Peter, at the cock’s crow, going apart to weep. Nowhere in the literature of pagan antiquity, I assure you, had the tears of a rustic been regarded as worthy of anything but ridicule; to treat them with reverence, as meaningful expressions of real human sorrow, would have seemed grotesque from the perspective of all the classical canons of good taste. Those wretchedly subversive tears, and the dangerous philistinism of a narrator so incorrigibly vulgar as to treat them with anything but contempt, were most definitely signs of a slave revolt in morality, if not quite the one against which Nietzsche inveighed — a revolt, moreover, that all the ancient powers proved impotent to resist.

In a narrow sense, then, one might say that the chief offense of the Gospels is their defiance of the insights of tragedy — and not only because Christ does not fit the model of the well-born tragic hero. More important is the incontestable truth that, in the Gospels, the destruction of the protagonist emphatically does not restore or affirm the order of city or cosmos. Were the Gospels to end with Christ’s sepulture, in good tragic style, it would exculpate all parties, including Pilate and the Sanhedrin, whose judgments would be shown to have been fated by the exigencies of the crisis and the burdens of their offices; the story would then reconcile us to the tragic necessity of all such judgments. But instead comes Easter, which rudely interrupts all the minatory and sententious moralisms of the tragic chorus, just as they are about to be uttered to full effect, and which cavalierly violates the central tenet of sound economics: rather than trading the sacrificial victim for some supernatural benefit, and so the particular for the universal, Easter restores the slain hero in his particularity again, as the only truth the Gospels have to offer. This is more than a dramatic peripety. The empty tomb overturns all the “responsible” and “necessary” verdicts of Christ’s judges, and so grants them neither legitimacy nor pardon.

(Among the surprised judges must be the Sanhedrin, with Caiaphas and Annas--and Caiaphas' proposal of offering Jesus as a sacrifice for the good of the community being overturned by reports of His resurrection and appearances.)

The Elizabethan authorities knew that their prosecution of Catholics was creating martyrs--Elizabeth's spymaster Walsingham warned against the power of the martyrs after their executions to create sympathy and inspire followers--so the whole notion of executing Anne Line and the other priests who suffered that same day at Tyburn as a way of proclaiming the power and justice of the state had changed. Not only the Greeks and Romans had to respond to this revolution in life and death in tragedy--but even the Elizabethan/Anglican polis had to recognize that its sacrificial victims lived on beyond Tyburn and an unmarked, unconsecrated grave.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Elizabeth Barton: More Questions than Answers?

Beth von Staats posts on Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, and she uses an icon with the words "Blessed Elizabeth Barton" among her illustrations. Elizabeth Barton has not been beatified by the Catholic Church--she and her confessors were included in the second "cause" for the Reformation martyrs held at Westminster from September, 1888 to August, 1889, but she and her five companions (John Dering, O.S.B., Edward Bocking, O.S.B., Hugh Rich, O.S.F., Richard Masters, priest, Henry Gold, priest) have not moved forward in the process of canonization. Since they were not included in the first cause submitted to Rome, they are among the prætermissi (the passed over). The author and I corresponded on the post to clarify the point.

Nevertheless, von Staats' post is interesting, as she narrates the story of Barton's rise and fall:

Born in obscurity, Elizabeth Barton's life as a celebrated English woman began with what at the time was considered by all Roman Catholics an awe-inspiring trance and God sent miracle. While working as a servant in a Kent household, Barton became seriously ill -- some today might surmise epilepsy, while others might assume delirium or psychosis. Incredibly, she began to speak in rhyming prophecies.

After sharing her vision of a nearby chapel, Elizabeth Barton was taken there and lain before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As astounding as this sounds, the woman remained there in a trance for a week. Upon awakening, Elizabeth Barton began prophesying again, predicting the death of a child living in her household, and as detailed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in a letter to Archdeacon Hawkins, "speaking of many high and godly things, telling also wondrously, by the power of the Holy Ghost as it was thought, things done and said in other places, whereas neither she was herself, nor yet heard no report thereof."

Soon afterward, she was questioned by a special commission established by then Archbishop William Warham. They determined her trances, visions and prophecies genuine, and a "star was born". At least a thousand people took to the road, processing to the little chapel, and like Jim Morrison's grave, the Ford Theater, the town of Bethlehem, and the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett, it became a place of pilgrimage.

Elizabeth Barton's illustrious or infamous career, depending on one's point of you, then began in earnest. Admitted to St. Sepulcre's nunnery in Canterbury, she professed her vows, and her trances, prophecies and clairvoyance continued and increased unabated.

Sister Elizabeth’s messages of warning and predictions of the future were reported to the world outside her cloistered community by a group of priests close to the convent, and her fame and celebrity rose to the highest zenith of Tudor society. Legitimized as filled with the Holy Spirit by the likes of Archbishop William Warham and Bishop John Fisher, who both met with the "Holy Maid of Kent", Sister Elizabeth Barton became exceptionally acclaimed throughout the realm, respected for her piety and marveled for her Godly giftedness.

One of her cited sources is the old Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Elizabeth Barton, which notes that Protestants and Catholics have taken sides on how to interpret her story:

Protestant authors allege that these confessions alone are conclusive of her imposture, but Catholic writers, though they have felt free to hold divergent opinions about the nun, have pointed out the suggestive fact that all that is known as to these confessions emanates from Cromwell or his agents; that all available documents are on his side; that the confession issued as hers is on the face of it not her own composition; that she and her companions were never brought to trial, but were condemned and executed unheard; that there is contemporary evidence that the alleged confession was even then believed to be a forgery. For these reasons, the matter cannot be considered as settled, and unfortunately, the difficulty of arriving at any satisfactory and final decision now seems insuperable.

And "difficulty of arriving at any satisfactory and final decision" about Barton's guilt or innocence, pretense or authenticity as a mystic--and her confessors' roles in her activities--probably means that her cause will not move forward. Barton, Bocking, Dering, et al, may have suffered and died because of their opposition to Henry VIII's religious revolution, but if they were using religious prophecy to manipulate and deceive, they won't be declared blessed or canonized by the Church.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January/February 2014 Articles

In the reverse type on the cover of the January/February 2014 issue of the St. Austin Review, you might discern my name:

Then if you access the Table of Contents for the issue, you'll see my article on Pope Benedict's English Catholic Legacy listed "Inter Alia". StAR is a print review with limited on-line access, but I have submitted some texts to supplement the article on the StAR blog.
In a way, there's a connection between that StAR article and my article in the January/February 2014 issue of OSV's The Catholic Answer Magazine:
"How Can We Hear the "Voice of God"? Blessed John Henry Newman and conscience" is illustrated with a picture from the 2010 beatification of John Henry Newman. OSV recently updated its website and now all the articles I've written for TCA are available on-line!
Happy New Year!