Friday, October 31, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal--Even During Fall

A journalist has noted that journalists just don't understand the Catholic Church and don't write about us honestly--in Time Magazine, no less:

The "Pope Francis supports evolution" story is just the latest example of the press getting the Catholic Church completely wrong

It is official: the media has gone bananas in its coverage of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’ real role in this evolution hubbub was small. He spoke, as Popes do, to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Monday, which had gathered to discuss “Evolving Topics of Nature,” and he affirmed what Catholic teaching has been for decades. “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” he said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Anyone who knows anything about Catholic history knows that a statement like this is nothing new.

But news coverage, as from MSNBC, would have us think that this was something new and more precisely that this was something that demonstrated once again that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a reactionary, medieval, conservative pope, and Pope Francis is a modern, open minded and liberal pope:

It doesn't seem to matter that Pope Benedict XVI called the debate between evolution and creation an “absurdity” in 2007. MSNBC opened its piece saying, “Pope Francis made a significant rhetorical break with Catholic tradition Monday by declaring that the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real.” NBCNews called the Pope’s statement, “a theological break from his predecessor Benedict XVI, a strong exponent of creationism.”

I've seen this statement before but can't give the source: if someone covering sports--say, the World Series in baseball--showed such a lack of knowledge of their subject, he or she would be fired or reassigned immediately. The sport page readers or game show listeners would light up the switchboard with calls of rage and for removal. Of course if Catholics make those kind of calls it's just special pleading. But it's not right or just that reporters can mislead their readers so much either out of ignorance or manipulation.

And if the mainstream media agrees with Pope Francis so much, perhaps the reporters should read again what he said about Pope Benedict XVI:

"Benedict XVI was a great pope," he said: "Great for the power and penetration of his intellect, great for his considerable contribution to theology, great for his love for the church and for human beings, great for his virtues and his religiosity."

Pope Francis praised his predecessor Oct. 27 at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The academicians invited Pope Francis to unveil a bronze bust of Pope Benedict at the academy's headquarters in the Vatican Gardens.

The pope said he was pleased that the statue's face and particularly its eyes captured the spirit, intelligence and love of Pope Benedict.

"This spirit, far from crumbling with the passing of time, will appear greater and more powerful from generation to generation," the pope predicted.

With his intellectual curiosity and his love for science, Pope Benedict especially enjoyed conversing with scientists at the Pontifical Academy, Pope Francis said.

"No one could ever say of him that study and science made him and his love for God and his neighbor wither. On the contrary, knowledge, wisdom and prayer enlarged his heart and his spirit," the pope said. "Let us thank God for the gift that he gave the church and the world with the existence and the pontificate of Pope Benedict."

I feel like that Martian character from Looney Tunes: "This makes me very angry, very angry indeed."

Fasting on Halloween? No Candy?

What a scary thought!  Halloween as we know it now is a night for gathering candy and sweets, dressing up in ghoulish costumes, and watching horror movies! Since today is Halloween and also Friday, we should either abstain from meat or complete some other penance. We should fast before we feast.

November 1 and November 2 were important days on the Church calendar for all Christians before the Reformation. They fasted on October 31, the vigil of the feast of all the saints in heaven. "Halloween" means the evening before All Hallows--All Saints.  All Hallows/All Saints was a Holyday of obligation then as it is today, meaning that Catholics were to attend Mass. Thus the term "Hallowmas" like Christmas, Michaelmas, etc.

As important as All Saints Day was because of the devotion of the people to their patron saints, All Souls Day was also important because it was the day set aside for praying for the dead who were not yet in Heaven. The Poor Souls in Purgatory were still undergoing their purification because of their attraction to sin during their time on earth. Their final destination was Heaven, but they were suffering in Purgatory--so their family on earth prayed for them, hastening their Heavenly happiness. 

Sadly, because of the Reformation, which in addition to tearing Christians in this world apart, the great unity of Christians on earth, in heave,n and in purgatory was torn apart--add to that the commercialization of Halloween with horror movies and parties and costumes--and we Catholics don't know what Halloween is any more and how to celebrate it.

Scott Richert writes about the concerns some Catholics and Christians have about celebrating Halloween because of its "pagan origins", explaining:

Despite concerns among some Catholics and other Christians in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween, there really are none. The first attempts to show some connection between the vigil of All Saints and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain came over a thousand years after All Saints Day became a universal feast, and there's no evidence whatsoever that Gregory III or Gregory IV was even aware of Samhain.

In Celtic peasant culture, however, elements of the harvest festival survived, even among Christians, just as the Christmas tree owes its origins to pre-Christian Germanic traditions without being a pagan ritual.

And then he explains more about the development of the celebration of Halloween and opposition to it, focusing on England before and after the Reformation:

Combining the Celtic and the Christian

The Celtic elements included lighting bonfires, carving turnips (and, in America, pumpkins), and going from house to house, collecting treats, as carolers do at Christmas. But the "occult" aspects of Halloween—ghosts and demons—actually have their roots in Catholic belief. Christians believed that, at certain times of the year (Christmas is another), the veil separating earth from Purgatory, Heaven, and even Hell becomes more thin, and the souls in Purgatory (ghosts) and demons can be more readily seen. Thus the tradition of Halloween costumes owes as much, if not more, to Christian belief as to Celtic tradition.

The (First) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween

The current attacks on Halloween aren't the first. In post-Reformation England, All Saints Day and its vigil were suppressed, and the Celtic peasant customs associated with Halloween were outlawed. Christmas and the traditions surrounding it were similarly attacked, and the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas outright in 1647. In the Northeastern United States, Puritans outlawed the celebration of both Christmas and Halloween, which were revived largely by German Catholic (in the case of Christmas) and Irish Catholic (in the case of Halloween) immigrants in the 19th century.

He gives good advice about balancing the pros and cons of trick or treating, but it's clear that the true way to celebrate Halloween is to remember and apply Blessed John Henry Newman's warning: "Life is short. death is certain, and the world to come everlasting" on Halloween and every other day.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

P.D. James' Fan Fiction: "Death Comes to Pemberley"

P.D. James apologizes to Jane Austen for writing this pastiche, a mystery novel sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps she should have apologized to Elizabeth Bennett Darcy, whose character is the one done harm, not Jane Austen herself. Since the mystery of who murdered--why was the title not Murder at Pemberley?--Captain Denny dominates the story, Elizabeth does not have the opportunity to sparkle with wit and humor at others' follies, although it is reported that she has done so on occasion. Only after the crisis of the murder, the inquest and the trial do we see flashes of Elizabeth's character created by Austen.

James creates links to Pride and Prejudice and other Austen fiction throughout the novel with references to previous events and characters like Anne Eliott from Persuasion and Harriet Smith from Emma. But since there's a mystery to to be solved, the focus is on the investigation of the crime: interviews, confessions, and legal proceedings dominate the action. Elizabeth's input throughout the novel is to manage the household, take care of her sister-in-law Georgiana, visit the tenants in the cottage on the estate, and assist Darcy in practical matters. She notices things about the tenants and she is certainly involved in Georgiana's prospective choice between two suitors, but so much has to be deferred while Captain Denny's accused murderer is under investigation and on trial. Darcy is involved in most of the legal proceedings as witness and brother to the accused (Wickham); Elizabeth may accompany him to London for the trial but there is no possibility that she will attend it, for example.

James begins the novel back with the Bennetts at Longbourn as Mrs. Bennett is so relieved to have married off four of her five daughters--and you might be surprised at the one who got married and which one is still at home. She and Lydia, Lady Catherine de Brough, and Mr. Collins are as irritating as ever, while Elizabeth has second thoughts about her good friend Charlotte who married Mr. Collins after Elizabeth turned him down. The mood of the novel is dark. Judging by the synopsis of the second episode of the BBC adaptation, that dramatization overstates Darcy's second-guessing of his marriage to Elizabeth.

All ends well, however. To comment on the presence of clergymen in this novel: Good Church of England pastors like the Reverends Mr. Oliphant and Cornbinder come off well as practical men of good sense and kindness. Mr. Oliphant protects the Darcy family from the curiosity of those attending Sunday services with an incomprehensible and long sermon and conversation after the service is over. He and Dr. McFee (a good name for a doctor: "make fee") take crucial action while Reverend Corbinder helps both Wickham and Darcy. But the Reverend Mr. Collins is the same Mr. Collins, insulting Elizabeth while angling for a better living at Pemberley!

I don't know if I can really recommend Death Comes to Pemberley; James is well known as an excellent writer--and she does recreate Austen's prose style with an opening sentence that echoes the beginning of Pride and Prejudice--but perhaps like so many other fans of Jane Austen, she should have been satisfied by Austen's accomplishments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pope Benedict Appreciates the Ordinariate's Appreciation

According to the Friends of the Ordinariate website, they've received a letter from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in response to a thank you letter they had written him:

The Chairman had written to Benedict XVI to express his gratitude for the gift of the Ordinariate. He had also sent the Pope Emeritus a brief history – translated into German – of the Ordinariate’s central church, Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory’s, Warwick Street (London, W1). This church is built on the site of a Bavarian embassy chapel, which was pillaged during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots (1780).

In his letter, His Holiness asked Nicolas Ollivant to “convey my thanks to all [the Ordinariate’s] members”, before saying that he is “particularly glad that the former Bavarian Chapel has now become … [the] Ordinariate’s church, and serves such an important role in the whole Church of God.”

The site offers a translation of the letter, since it was written in German as was part of the message the Friends had sent Pope Benedict, and an image of the letter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Wrong Lizzie

I watched part one of  Death Comes to Pemberley this Sunday, the BBC adaptation of P.D. James' mystery novel Austen pastiche. The actress playing Elizabeth Bennett Darcy is utterly miscast: Elizabeth should be pretty, happy, and witty. This lady has scraggly hair and when her sister Jane showed up the mistake in casting/makeup/styling was clear--Elizabeth's sister-in-law Georgiana is so beautiful too so the contrast is striking. She looked more like poor Anne Elliott than Elizabeth!

James evidently brings out--I have not read the book--some skeletons from the Darcy closet: bad blood between the Darcy's and a neighboring family and a wastrel ancestor. There are several mysteries at Pemberley: the murder of Wickham's friend Denny; Colonel Fitzwilliam's meeting with a mysterious lady; a baby whose parentage is unknown, and the ultimate question: will Elizabeth's and Darcy's marriage survive this debacle and the presence of her family and Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

The synopsis of episode one from PBS:

One the eve of the annual Lady Anne ball at their magnificent Pemberley estate, the silver gleams, the kitchen bustles with activity, the grounds evoke serenity and order, and alongside her husband Darcy, Pemberley's Lady Elizabeth presides. Together, they welcome their guests: Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy's severe cousin and a newly-minted heir in a dutiful search for a wife; young lawyer Henry Alveston, a sincere admirer of Darcy's gentle-natured sister Georgiana; and the histrionic Mrs. Bennet and her long-suffering husband. Unwelcome and uninvited are the Wickhams.

Yet the pre-ball festivities are brought to an abrupt halt when a coach races up to Pemberley carrying an hysterical Lydia Wickham, shrieking "Murder!" Darcy leads a search party and discovers the old thorn in his side, George Wickham, distraught and covered in blood, dragging the body of Captain Denny, whom he'd pursued mid-argument into the dark woods.

All evidence—now in the hands of the magistrate Hardcastle, an old Darcy adversary—points to Wickham's guilt. Has Wickham committed the ultimate crime? And innocent or not, will he finally damage Pemberley and its residents beyond repair?

Not to give anything away, but I do think one problem with the magistrate's case is: where is the murder weapon? Episode two airs next Sunday.

Monday, October 27, 2014

American Jacobites? "The Royalist [American] Revolution"

From Harvard University Press:

Generations of students have been taught that the American Revolution was a revolt against royal tyranny. In this revisionist account, Eric Nelson argues that a great many of our “founding fathers” saw themselves as rebels against the British Parliament, not the Crown. The Royalist Revolution interprets the patriot campaign of the 1770s as an insurrection in favor of royal power—driven by the conviction that the Lords and Commons had usurped the just prerogatives of the monarch.

Leading patriots believed that the colonies were the king’s own to govern, and they urged George III to defy Parliament and rule directly. These theorists were proposing to turn back the clock on the English constitution, rejecting the Whig settlement that had secured the supremacy of Parliament after the Glorious Revolution. Instead, they embraced the political theory of those who had waged the last great campaign against Parliament’s “usurpations”: the reviled Stuart monarchs of the seventeenth century.

When it came time to design the state and federal constitutions, the very same figures who had defended this expansive conception of royal authority—John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, and their allies—returned to the fray as champions of a single executive vested with sweeping prerogatives. As a result of their labors, the Constitution of 1787 would assign its new president far more power than any British monarch had wielded for almost a hundred years. On one side of the Atlantic, Nelson concludes, there would be kings without monarchy; on the other, monarchy without kings.

HUP posted an interview with the author in July this year and Jack N. Rakove reviews it, with some reservations, for The Weekly Standard:

Eric Nelson is a young historian of political thought at Harvard whose basic ambition is to transform every topic he studies. He has published three books in the past decade, and each seeks to transform a major subject in the study of early modern (16th-18th century) political ideas. His first book, The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought (2004), identifies a mode of thinking about the collective use of property that departs sharply from the emphasis on political liberty and personal independence that dominates the scholarly interpretation of early modern republicanism. Nelson built on this argument in his second book, The Hebrew Republic (2010), by noting how early modern thinkers used the biblical idea of the half-century Jubilee to support the redistribution of property. But that book’s greater contribution lies elsewhere. Nelson argues that the Jews’ desire to replace direct divine rule with monarchy, as expressed in 1 Samuel 8:4-9 and rabbinic commentaries, provides a basis for preferring representative government to arbitrary royalty. The use of these sources by early modern writers demonstrates that creative political thinking was profoundly informed by religious texts and concerns and was not merely a secular development.

The Royalist Revolution, Nelson turns his attention from Europe to revolutionary America. His argument will alternately surprise, shock, distress, and outrage many scholars, but it will also help to reshape a debate about the origins of the presidency, a topic that gravely matters as we agonize over the role of the post-9/11 executive in our impassioned and impasse-ridden politics.

Nelson’s argument begins with an ingenious analysis of a surprising claim that American revolutionaries made just before independence. Resistance leaders and the Continental Congress repeatedly urged George III to take their side in the struggle against Parliament’s assertion that it possessed unlimited authority to enact laws governing the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” In their view, the king should act as a wholly independent monarch who would treat each of his empire’s representative assemblies as possessing essentially the same authority. If Parliament overstepped its power in enacting laws for the colonists, the king should intervene, wielding his royal veto against unjust legislation. He should act, as Thomas Jefferson memorably wrote in 1774, as “the balance of a great, if a well poised empire.” Far from clinging unthinkingly to the Glorious Revolution settlement of 1688 and its aftermath, which made the British king a decidedly constitutional and limited monarch, George III should reclaim his prerogative and vigorously exercise the independent powers that custom and theory located in the executive. The clearest exponent of this view was James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who later played a critical role in shaping the novel presidency that emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Other scholars, myself included, have never known quite what to make of these claims. Taken at face value, they imply an ignorance of British governance so profound as to make the colonists seem like political idiots. Perhaps the claims can be read as an ultimatum to Britain’s ruling class. The colonists really did not believe that the king would take this part. They simply wanted to demonstrate that they would no longer recognize any parliamentary jurisdiction over America, beyond allowing it to regulate imperial trade, a power that had to be lodged somewhere.

Nelson powerfully demonstrates that there was a depth to this position that other scholars have simply missed. In his view, some (though hardly all) American leaders had become “patriot royalists” who were strikingly sympathetic to the monarchist arguments that the “execrable” Stuart monarchs of the 17th century had made against Parliament. The key texts here pivot on a largely forgotten struggle in the 1620s, when Parliament tried to enact legislation regulating American fisheries, and James I and Charles I each wielded the royal prerogative to insist that the colonies were not subject to parliamentary governance. For patriot royalists arguing within the precedent-laden traditions of Anglo-American governance, the Stuart success on this point in the 1620s provided crucial evidence that the colonists could revive and deploy a century-and-a-half later.

Read the rest of the detailed review there.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Von Hildebrand's Battle Against Hitler

A major publication by Image Books and the Hildebrand Project:

How does a person become Hitler’s enemy number one? Not through espionage or violence, it turns out, but by striking fearlessly at the intellectual and spiritual roots of National Socialism.

Dietrich von Hildebrand was a German Catholic thinker and teacher who devoted the full force of his intellect to breaking the deadly spell of Nazism that ensnared so many of his beloved countrymen.

His story might well have been lost to us were it not for this memoir he penned in the last decades of his life at the request of his wife, Alice von Hildebrand. In My Battle Against Hitler, covering the years from 1921 to 1938, von Hildebrand tells of the scorn and ridicule he endured for sounding the alarm when many still viewed Hitler as a positive and inevitable force. He expresses the sorrow of having to leave behind his home, friends, and family in Germany to conduct his fight against the Nazis from Austria. He recounts how he defiantly challenged Nazism in the public square, prompting the German ambassador in Vienna to describe him to Hitler as "the architect of the intellectual resistance in Austria." And in the midst of all the danger he faced, he conveys his unwavering trust in God, even during his harrowing escape from Vienna and his desperate flight across Europe, with the Nazis always just one step behind.

Dietrich von Hildebrand belongs to the very earliest anti-Nazi resistance. His public statements led the Nazis to blacklist him already in 1921, long before the horrors of the Third Reich and more than twenty-three years before the famous assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944. His battle would culminate in the countless articles he published in Vienna, a selection of which are featured in this volume.

"It is an immense privilege," writes editor John Henry Crosby, founder of the Hildebrand Project, "to present to the world the shining witness of one man who risked everything to follow his conscience and stand in defiance of tyranny."

The Hildebrand Project website provides a generous sample and asks for help promoting the book. I joined the launch team and look forward to receiving my copy. I am also interested in how this book supplements his widow's book, The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand, published by Ignatius Press (using the same photograph!) in 2000. Alice von Hildebrand has also written her memoirs: Memoirs of a Happy Failure, about how she faced another form of totalitarianism, relativism--teaching for 37 years at Hunter College. You may also read an excerpt from her book on TAN Books' website.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Books ARE Glorious!

A Clerk of Oxford translates an ode to books from an Old English poem:

'Books are glorious. They abundantly proclaim
the appointed purpose to anyone who thinks at all.
They strengthen and made stable the steadfast thought,
gladden the heart of every man
amid the pressing miseries of this life.
Saturn says:
Bold is he who tastes the skill of books;
he will ever be the wiser who has command of them.
Solomon says:
Victory they send to each of the true-hearted,
the haven of healing for those who love them.'

Further comment:

The value to be found in books, and in learning and wisdom generally, is a common theme in Anglo-Saxon poetry - although the most famous bookworm in Old English gets nothing by the books he devours! TheSolomon and Saturn example is particularly nice because it doesn't just talk about the value but the pleasure of books: they amyrgað 'make merry, gladden' the heart in the midst of the troubles of the world. Don't they, indeed?

Today, of course, books are so readily available--in earlier eras they have been rare, expensive, and of limited range. Terry Teachout points out in a recent column in The Wall Street Journal that for all their availability, the way we shop for books has actually limited their range--if we don't shop in real bookstores, used or new, and only search on line for the books we think we need, we don't find the book(s) we really might need. He offers an excerpt from the column (behind The WSJ paywall) on his blog;

On a recent trip to Chicago, I spent an hour wandering through the Seminary Co-Op, the University of Chicago’s much-loved independent bookstore, which claims to have more than 100,000 titles in stock at any given moment. I bought three books during my visit. . . .

He explains that two of the books he bought, on subjects he is interested in, he had never heard of:

What’s the point of this anecdote? Just this: It was solely because I visited the Seminary Co-Op that I bought those two books. Yet it had been at least two years, if not more, since I’d set foot in a large brick-and-mortar bookstore. Nor can I remember the last time that I went into a record store of any size. Like a fast-growing number of Americans, I now do virtually all of my book and record buying online. It’s cheaper and infinitely more convenient to click a few keys and be done with it.

That’s the good part. Here’s the bad part: Nowadays I buy a book or record onlybecause I’m specifically looking for it. But when I went to the Seminary Co-Op, I browsed purely for the sake of browsing, and in so doing made two happy discoveries. Had I not stumbled across “Music Makes Me” and “Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert” purely by chance, I doubt I would ever have learned of their existence, much less bought and read them.

In 2006 I noted in this space that online stores like Amazon were “seeking to replace the personal touch…with ‘preference engines’ that automatically generate computerized lists of ‘other items you might enjoy’ each time you make a purchase.” Eight years later, I can report that these marketing tools haven’t made the slightest bit of difference in my own life. So far as I can recall, I’ve never bought an “other item you might enjoy” from Amazon, not even once.

For me, then, preference engines have not replaced browsing. But neither has anything else. As a result, I no longer browse. What’s more, I suspect that my experience is widely shared. Browsing, it appears, will soon be as dead as dial phones. That constitutes a huge cultural shift, one whose unintended consequences are not yet clear. Still, I’m sure that they’re going to be significant, and if I had to guess, I’d say they’ll be harmful….

I agree with Teachout. Long live Eighth Day Books, which just celebrated its 26th anniversary--with a sale, at which I browsed, and found two books to buy!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Katherine Parr's Only Baby, Another Tudor Mystery

Linda Porter wrote about Katherine Parr's baby girl, named Mary after Henry VIII's eldest daughter, for History Today in 2011. Mary's mother, died in childbed and then her father was beheaded " for treason on March 17th, 1549, leaving Lady Mary an orphan at the age of seven months." Sadly, Mary did not find a very loving guardian, even though the person selected shared her mother's religious views:

Thomas did not appoint any of his own or Katherine’s relatives as guardian to his daughter. He could scarcely have handed her to the brother who signed his death warrant and no one else among the extended Parr or Seymour families seems to have taken much interest in the child. Like most of his former ‘friends’, they were all trying to put as much distance between themselves and Thomas Seymour as possible. Instead, Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Katherine Parr and a lady of seemingly unimpeachable reforming religious ideas, was appointed as guardian. It was not a charge she accepted with enthusiasm.

Despite her strong religious views, the duchess’s bosom was not full of Christian charity. Lady Mary may have been a dispossessed orphan, but she was an expensive one. As a queen’s daughter, she came with a household of her own, consisting of a lady governess, rockers, laundresses and other servants. The government was supposed to provide for her upkeep and the payment of her staff but the duchess could not get Somerset to part with the money until she appealed to William Cecil, then a prominent member of the duke’s household, to intervene on her behalf. The letter she wrote makes it clear how much she resented ‘the queen’s child’, as she frostily referred to the little girl.

Katherine Brandon (pictured above), the widow of Charles Brandon, did get some money from the seized (attainted) estate of Thomas Seymour, but what happened to the little girl is still unclear, although there is a clue:

The answer to this compelling Tudor mystery seems to lie in a Latin book of poems and epitaphs written by John Parkhurst, Katherine Parr’s chaplain, who had previously served the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. The discovery was made by the American academic, Janel Mueller, but has been overlooked by historians. I am grateful to Jean Bray, the archivist at Sudeley Castle, for drawing it to my attention. In Parkhurst’s Ludicra sive Epigrammata juvenilia, published in 1573, appears the following poem, which translated reads:

I whom at the cost
Of her own life
My queenly mother
Bore with the pangs of labour
Sleep under this marble
An unfit traveller.
If Death had given me to live longer
That virtue, that modesty, That obedience of my excellent Mother
That Heavenly courageous nature
Would have lived again in me.
Now, whoever
You are, fare thee well
Because I cannot speak any more, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life

Though no name is given, this must surely be the epitaph that Parkhurst, who would have known Lady Mary Seymour, wrote on her death. It suggests, as has long been conjectured, that she died young, probably around the age of two. She may well be buried in Lincolnshire, near Grimsthorpe, the estate owned by the Duchess of Suffolk, where she had lived as an unwelcome burden for most of her short, sad life.

Perhaps the Princess Mary, for whom the little baby was named, would have been a better choice as guardian, if her Catholicism could have been overlooked. Reports are that she loved children, and might not have found little Mary "an unwelcome burden".

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Robert Hugh Benson, RIP

I missed posting a notice of the anniversary of Robert Hugh Benson's death last Sunday (October 19; he died in 1914), but want to make up for it by noting his poetry today. A book of his poems was published in the U.S. by P.J Kenedy & Sons of New York soon after his death with an introduction by Wilfred Meynell.

Meynell noted first the purpose for which Benson published his poetry: as a fundraising effort:

Yet one may be named apart, the Homes of Mr. Norman Potter, since it was for their benefit that he put into the market the autobiographical and heart-searching poems here printed. They are very intimate; and as such are proper to poetry even in the case of a writer who had not specially studied the mechanism of poetry as his medium. Under cover of poetical convention, he is able to bare himself, equally in the lines written before he became a Catholic in 1903, and in "The Priest's Lament" of a later date. In "Christian Evidences" he gets back to his intuitions; to that which made him, ardent investigator though he was, ever in closer touch with the simple than with the scientific -- back to that witness within himself which Christ promises and gives to all His own; while in "Visions of the Night" we are at close quarters with that apprehensiveness which, while it imposed suffering, also conferred insight -- the insight by which others learned to see. One passage in "Savonarola Moriturus" is especially self-revealing, and that for a reason it is now no breach of decorum to set forth. A year or two before his death he talked with a neophyte on the sacrifices one might have to make for the Faith. "And are you sure you would make them all?" he was asked. His reply was that he would like to say "Yes," but that he dare not answer for what he might be made to yield under bodily torture. The first four lines of the second stanza of the Savonarola poem are the more poignant for this modesty of the author's own estimate of his powers of endurance, powers which he thenceforth put to sharp apprenticeship and test, passing out, not vanquished, but victor.

He then passes over Benson's novels with some comments:

Of his novels I do not here attempt an appreciation. As a ruthless writer, where ruthlessness comes into the scheme of a man's salvation, as it had been in that of his own, let him be ranked. In the spiritual warfare he gave no quarter. Whether he was cruel, besides, in the burning of The Coward, who makes indeed cowards of us all; whether he views woman as no more than an adjunct of man, an accident for the hindering or the helping of his salvation; whether Dorothy is properly killed so that Roger Mallock may prove his vocation; these, and many more, are the problems that palpitate in his pages, and that men and women, according to their varied experiences, will variously adjudge. Of his historical novels in general he was inclined to say very much what he said of "Come Rack, Come Rope": "I fear it is the kind of book which anyone acquainted with the history, manners, and customs of the Elizabethan age should find no difficulty in writing." If in this class, the author proved conspicuously his industry and his facility -- uncommon but not rare faculties -- then in "Initiation" and other studies of current life he was nothing if not individual. In these he was of his age and no other; he was himself and no other. Nor were the sensitivenesses of these books without their effect on the whole of his productions. When in historical romance he described a martyrdom, we have also his own comment on it: "It seems to me, who have never been on the rack, that I have succeeded pretty well in writing down what the rack must have felt like, and the mental states it must have induced. When I had finished writing that scene, I was conscious or very distinct, even slightly painful, sensations in my own wrists and ankles." Obviously there was an apprehension, necessary for one class of book, which greatly benefited the other; and the experience of the hero in "Initiation" could not have been conveyed, had not the author himself gone under an anaesthetic in a nursing home; and again endured another ordeal without an opiate, "to learn what pain really was" -- a sharp lesson of sixty hours. Similarly the description of the headaches of the hero (how real a hero!) in "Initiation," the most vivid description of its class in all English literature, could only have been written by one who had himself suffered them, and suffered them with a sensibility that is fortunately the iron crown conferred upon only the very elect.

Read the rest of the introduction here. You may peruse the poetry here, but here are a couple of samples:


Who hast made this world so wondrous fair; --
  The pomp of clouds; the glory of the sea;
  Music of water; song-birds' melody;
The organ of Thy thunder in the air;
Breath of the rose; and beauty everywhere --
  Lord, take this stately service done to Thee,
  The grave enactment of Thy Calvary
In jewelled pomp and splendour pictured there!

Lord, take the sounds and sights; the silk and gold;
  The white and scarlet; take the reverent grace
  Of ordered step; window and glowing wall --
Prophet and Prelate, holy men of old;
  And teach us children of the Holy Place
Who love Thy Courts, to love Thee best of all.


O God, I love Thee mightily,
Not only for Thy saving me,
Nor yet because who love not Thee
Must burn throughout eternity.
Thou, Thou, my Jesu, once didst me
Embrace upon the bitter Tree.
For me the nails, the soldier's spear,
With injury and insult, bear --
In pain all pain exceeding,
In sweating and in bleeding,
Yea, very death, and that for me
    A sinner all unheeding!
O Jesu, should I not love Thee
Who thus hast dealt so lovingly --
Not hoping some reward to see,
Nor lest I my damnation be
But, as Thyself hast lovèd me,
So love I now and always Thee,
Because my King alone Thou art,
Because, O God, mine own Thou art!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tudor Romance: Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor

Nancy Bilyeau writes about the most romantic of all Tudor marriages, between Henry VIII's beautiful sister the Princess Mary and Charles Brandon, for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog:

Erasmus said of Mary Tudor, "nature never formed anything more beautiful." The pampered and adored younger sister of Henry VIII was married at 19 to Louis XII, king of France. After the princess arrived in Paris with her dowry of 400,000 crowns and hundreds of attendants, the French, disposed to find her a disappointment, admitted that she was, indeed, a "nymph from heaven."

King Louis, 52, crippled with gout, died less than three months after the wedding but not before showering his teenage wife with jewels, including "the Mirror of Naples," a diamond pendant with a pearl "the size of a pigeon's egg." Everyone expected the widow of the French king to make another spectacular royal marriage.

Instead, while still in France, she secretly took as her second husband a 31-year-old Englishman, Charles Brandon, the newly elevated Duke of Suffolk, celebrated for his good looks, military valor and jousting skill. Before she sailed for France, Mary had told her brother she would only agree to wed the old French king if she could choose her second husband herself. Desperate for the diplomatic alliance, Henry VIII had agreed. But Mary feared that if she returned to England, her brother would force her into another arranged marriage. She persuaded Brandon, whom she had known for years and had probably fallen in love with in England before her marriage, to marry her. They had no permission to do so and were in disgrace, with Brandon facing arrest, until Henry VIII forgave them. Charles Brandon was, after all, his best friend.

It was a highly romantic episode, inspiring a stream of novels over the centuries, most significantly
When Knighthood Was in Flower in 1898, which sold so many copies it inspired a burst of similar historical novels and no less than three films, including one in 1922 financed by William Randolph Hearst and starring Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies.

While this might be a most romantic story, Bilyeau focuses on how Charles Brandon used marriage to advance his career and build his wealth. In most Tudor histories I've read, it's clear that the Princess Mary was always opposed to Henry VIII's attempts to have his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon annulled and to his attacks on the Catholic Church hierarchy in England. Charles Brandon seems to have served and supported Henry VIII in these endeavors and decisions completely--so as Bilyeau concludes her post, the real question is:

Did Mary Tudor find happiness with the husband she chose for herself, who she risked her brother's wrath to marry? Was this a man who, despite his irresistible good looks and athletic prowess, could be a good husband, even in the 16th century? Perhaps. That is another question entirely, fit for another blog post.

Of course, Mary, the former Queen of France, died before the break, in 1533. She was buried first in the great abbey church of Bury St. Edmonds and then her remains were re-interred after the abbey was suppressed in 1539 in one of the abbey's parish churches, St. Mary's. And Charles Brandon married again after she died (Catherine Willoughby was his last wife).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"A distinct, Catholic approach to history"

Kevin Jones of the Catholic News Agency interviewed the authors of a new book about writing narrative history from a Catholic perspective:

.- The study of history is an opportunity to unite faith and reason and to recover a distinctly Catholic perspective that sees God acting in the past, present and future, the authors of a new book say.

“From its earliest centuries, the Church understood itself as possessing not simply a faith with a history, but a historical faith,” Christendom College history professor Christopher Shannon told CNA Oct. 13.

“That is, Church Fathers such as Eusebius and Augustine understood God as speaking to his people through history, and not simply Church history proper. The rise and fall of nations were to be understood in terms of God calling his people to himself.”

Shannon is the co-author of “The Past as Pilgrimage: Narrative, Tradition, and the Renewal of Catholic History,” from Christendom Press. Through the book, he and Christopher Blum – a history and philosophy professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver – aim to cultivate the awareness of “a distinct, Catholic approach to history” among both professional historians and the general reading public.

“Catholic historians, like non-Catholic historians, use reason to discern facts and establish relations of causality in history, but they also draw on their faith to discern the meaning and significance of events,” Shannon said.

Blum explained that “The Past as Pilgrimage” aims to aid “the recovery of Christian memory” that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have called for.

The scholar said that Catholic approaches tend to avoid a “critical” history that debunks ideas or a “scientific” history that aims to be “encyclopedic or technical.”

Rather, Catholic forms of history should be “reverent” and seek to be “challenging and meditative.” Blum said the exemplars of this approach to history include Sts. Athanasius, Augustine and Gregory the Great, as well as Blessed John Henry Newman.

Read the rest of the interview there. About the book, from Christendom Press (AmP Publishers Group):

In The Past as Pilgrimage: Narrative, Tradition, and the Renewal of Catholic History, Catholic historians Shannon and Blum challenge the secular bias currently prevalent among professional historians, and argue for the compatibility of faith and reason in the study of the past. Inspired by the understanding of tradition developed in the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, the authors first critically examine both the internal contradictions and the enduring faith commitments of secular objectivity, then proceed to explore various traditions of Catholic historical thinking capable of synthesizing the technical advances of modern history with distinctly Catholic historical narratives. Their argument seeks to foster a conversation about the ways in which Catholic historians can integrate their faith traditions into their professional work while still remaining open to and engaged with the best of contemporary, non-Catholic thinking and writing about history.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Newman the Prophet on the Doctrine of Religious Liberalism

At the culmination of my Newman series last week at the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, I presented some passages of Blessed John Henry Newman's "Biglietto Speech", made when he received the letter from Pope Leo XIII announcing his appointment as Cardinal Deacon.

We noted that many people reading this today would say the situation Newman describes is just as it should be: religion should not be the bond of society; Christianity should not influence the "goodly framework of society", there is no one true religion; religion should be just a private luxury; a secular, government-controlled education is better for forming a well-ordered and respectable population, etc. We even agreed that many Catholics would say that what Newman describes is an acceptable situation:

And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as it is, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

Hitherto the civil Power has been Christian. Even in countries separated from the Church, as in my own, the dictum was in force, when I was young, that: "Christianity was the law of the land". Now, everywhere that goodly framework of society, which is the creation of Christianity, is throwing off Christianity. The dictum to which I have referred, with a hundred others which followed upon it, is gone, or is going everywhere; and, by the end of the century, unless the Almighty interferes, it will be forgotten. Hitherto, it has been considered that religion alone, with its supernatural sanctions, was strong enough to secure submission of the masses of our population to law and order; now the Philosophers and Politicians are bent on satisfying this problem without the aid of Christianity. Instead of the Church's authority and teaching, they would substitute first of all a universal and a thoroughly secular education, calculated to bring home to every individual that to be orderly, industrious, and sober, is his personal interest. Then, for great working principles to take the place of religion, for the use of the masses thus carefully educated, it provides — the broad fundamental ethical truths, of justice, benevolence, veracity, and the like; proved experience; and those natural laws which exist and act spontaneously in society, and in social matters, whether physical or psychological; for instance, in government, trade, finance, sanitary experiments, and the intercourse of nations. As to Religion, it is a private luxury, which a man may have if he will; but which of course he must pay for, and which he must not obtrude upon others, or indulge in to their annoyance.

Another challenge of these paragraphs is to read them as positive, not negative, statements--to find the truth, reverse the errors that Newman outlines:

There is one true religion; one creed is true and the others are not; God has revealed His truth and He has founded a Church to teach it; it is miraculous and real; those who follow it base their devotions, their worship and prayer, upon its doctrines and teachings, etc. One who follows the true religion will act in public matters based upon its doctrine (including morality). It does matter what religion a man follows. The true religion should be the bond of society; it should inform the common good and influence education, commerce, diplomacy, etc.

When we turned Newman's definition of the spirit of liberalism around, we recognized how even professing Catholics, influenced by our culture's emphasis on toleration and acceptance, can feel uncomfortable with these positive statements about the truth of Christianity and the fullness of that truth in the Catholic Church. As Newman says later in the speech, "There never was a device [the spirit of liberalism in religion] of the Enemy so cleverly framed and with such promise of success." For note, as Newman began the discussion, that "Liberalism in religion is the doctrine"--it is a teaching that establishes truths that make claims as clear as those in the paragraph immediately above. This religious liberalism has in some ways become the divisive bond of society and it attempts to influence not just the public, but the private practice of religion by individuals--note the attempt of the city of Houston to subpoena the sermons of ministers opposed to a city ordinance. Usually the claim of those urging a secular society is that religion, a private affair, should be practiced within the walls of one's church, but now it's reaching inside those walls--a definite chilling affect on free speech and exercise of religion, as obtrusive and annoying as it condemns religion for being.

The Married Martyr: St. Philip Howard

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops features St. Philip Howard on their website about marriage, citing his conversion and return to his wife as crucial:

In 1970, St. Philip Howard was named by Pope Paul VI one of the “Forty Martyrs of Wales and England.” Yet as with many martyrs, St. Philip’s early life was little indication of the supreme honor he would one day receive, dying for the sake of Christ.

Philip Howard was born in 1557 in an England that was still reeling from King Henry VIII’s establishment of the Church of England. During Philip’s childhood, “Bloody” Queen Mary was on the throne, a Catholic ruler who rejected the Church of England. Accordingly, Philip was baptized as a Catholic by the archbishop of York. He later pursued his education at Cambridge.

However, times were soon to change. Queen Elizabeth I succeeded Queen Mary, and the country once again became Protestant; more than that, Catholicism was strictly forbidden. As with so many Englishmen at the time, Philip’s father took the family with him back into the Church of England. Change was also happening in Philip’s home: his father remarried a woman with three daughters. At the young age of 14, St. Philip was given in marriage to one of these daughters, Anne; his other two brothers married the other two daughters.

St. Philip’s early years as a husband were none too pious. Climbing the career ladder was forefront in his mind, while family and faith fell by the wayside. His young wife, Anne, stayed admirably devoted to her inattentive and often moody husband, even as he spent more and more time at the Queen’s court, seeking to build his prestige and affluence. And yet it was here at Court that the seeds were sown for Philip’s later years of discipleship.

Read the rest there. The post includes this prayer:

St. Philip Howard, husband and martyr, pray for those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus and their love of His Church. Give strength especially to those husbands and wives who are separated from each other under difficult circumstances. Pray in a particular way for the faithful of England, that they may stay rooted in the love of Christ.

St. Philip Howard, pray for us!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Vestiges of Mary's Dowry: Reformation Iconoclasm

Once I Was A Clever Boy continues his series on English Reformation Iconoclasm, focused the destruction of Marian shrines and chapels:

Nothing so encapsulates English iconoclasm in the Reformation period and in subsequent centuries than the attack on the cult, on the veneration, on almost even the name, of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary's Dowry appeared more than anxious to expunge her from its collective life and worship.
I have already mentioned the 1538 burning of several famous statues of her as well as other devotional images, and in the first years of the Elizabethan settlement there were similar scenes - what I wonder did the good people of Sleaford in Lincolnshire think in 1560 when the Crucifix was taken out from their parish church of St Denys and burned in the market place outside?

Lady Chapels in churches attracted the attention of zealous reformers. At Ely cathedral the wondrous fourteenth century Lady Chapel lost all its glass and every statue in the canopy work around the arcades was meticulously decapitated. . . .

The English liturgy was purged of virtually all Marian devotions in 1548, and little survived beyond the feasts of her birth and, surprisingly perhaps, conception. In Oxford University the feast of the Assumption survived as a lesser commemoration, and as it still exists in the University Calendar.

In Oxford the University Church of St Mary the Virgin had a new porch built in 1636-37 by the mason Nicholas Stone at a cost of £230. This was adorned with a statue of the Virgin and Child, and in 1644 this was one of the capital charges brought against Archbishop Laud by the Parliamentarians, on the basis that Laud as Chancellor of the University had sanctioned this. The statue had attracted the respect and indeed devotion of some University students and was blasted by a Parliamentarian musket when the army left the city at the beginning of the Civil War. A modern replacement now occupies the niche.

Read the rest there.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Saint Richard Gwyn, Troublemaker and Martyr

In 2011, The Catholic Herald featured St. Richard Gwyn as the Saint of the Week on its website. He put up quite a fight against the Elizabethan authorities who tried to force him to worship as the state dictated:

Richard Gwyn (1537-1584) was a victim of Queen Elizabeth I’s persecution of Catholics, conducted with increasing intensity after 1581.

Born in Llanidloes in central Wales, Gwyn matriculated at Oxford before removing swiftly to Cambridge where, at St John’s, he lived by the charity of Dr Bullock, the college’s Catholic Master.

After the death of Queen Mary in 1558, however, Bullock refused to take the oath of supremacy administered by Elizabeth’s government and was ejected from the Mastership.

Gwyn fled to the continent, spending some time at Douai. Around 1562 he returned to Wales and for the next 16 years worked as a schoolmaster, mainly in Wrexham and Overton. He was much loved, not merely for his excellence and dedication as a teacher, but also for “other good partes known to be in him”. . . .

When his persecutors laid him in heavy shackles before the pulpit of a Protestant church in Wrexham Gwyn “so stirred his legs that with the noise of his irons the preacher’s voice could not be heard”.

Placed in the stocks as a punishment, he was taunted by an Anglican priest who claimed to possess the keys of the Church as surely as St Peter did. “There is this difference,” Gwyn riposted, “namely that, whereas Peter received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, the keys you received were obviously those of the beer cellar.”

Indicted for high treason, Gwyn was eventually condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered at the Beast Market in Wrexham in October 1584. “I have been a jesting fellow,” he told the crowd from the scaffold, “and if I have offended any that way, or by my songs, I beseech them for God’s sake to forgive me.”

The execution was hideously bungled, so that Gwyn remained conscious throughout his disembowelment. His last words, in Welsh, were: “Iesu, have mercy on me.”

It is clear that he did nothing to oppose the reign of Elizabeth I but practice his Catholic faith. For that he was harassed, mistreated, tortured, and brutally executed. As a beloved teacher, his Catholicism made him liable for accusations of trying to bring pupils or families to the Catholic faith. Wikipedia has these details about his trial:

Richard Gwyn, John Hughes and Robert Morris were indicted for high treason in 1583 and were brought to trial before a panel headed by the Chief Justice of Chester, Sir George Bromley. Witnesses gave evidence that they retained their allegiance to the Catholic Church, including that Gwyn composed "certain rhymes of his own making against married priests and ministers" and "[T]hat he had heard him complain of this world; and secondly, that it would not last long, thirdly, that he hoped to see a better world [this was construed as plotting a revolution]; and, fourthly, that he confessed the Pope's supremacy." The three were also accused of trying to make converts.

Despite their defences and objections to the dubious practices of the court Gwyn and Hughes were found guilty. At the sentencing Hughes was reprieved and Gwyn condemned to death by hanging, drawning and quartering. 

His relics are venerated and he is remembered at Wrexham Cathedral in North Wales, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and elsewhere, with a high school named for him. Mary's Dowry has produced a documentary of his life and death. While he was executed on October 15, his memorial is observed in Wales today, since St. Teresa of Avila's memorial is on October 15.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

New Biography of Lafayette

Frederick Brown reviews a new biography of the Marquis de Lafayette in The Wall Street Journal:

In 1824, at President James Monroe’s invitation, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, took a triumphal tour of America. In New York, 6,000 guests walked through a Roman arch at Manhattan’s Castle Garden to assemble in his honor under a canopy decorated with the flags of the world and surmounted by a bust of George Washington. More galas awaited him in other cities. Every town paraded for the general; artillery salutes punctuated his journey; musicians composed adulatory songs; eulogists wrote odes. The 67-year-old reveled in his enshrinement, as he had every reason to do.

Lafayette’s reputation at home had been subject to more vicissitudes. During the French Revolution, he had championed constitutional monarchy and in due course found himself obliged to flee the Terror. Despised as an aristocrat by regicides loyal to Robespierre and as a traitor to his class by aristocrats loyal to the Bourbon dynasty, he was more often caricatured in hostile journals than idealized in civic sculpture. Laura Auricchio deals admirably with this trans-Atlantic career in her well-written, well-furnished biography, “The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered.” Her subject straddled not only two continents but two centuries. Born in 1757, at the end of Louis XV ’s reign, he died in 1834, four years after the July Revolution, which brought a constitutional monarch to power in France.

From the excerpt on line at Random House, it appears to be a very well written book:

If pleasure-loving Parisians enjoyed the novelty of these New World republicans, many military men saw the Americans’ cause as an opportunity for revenge. The army had been nursing its wounds since 1763, when the French and Indian War (known in France as the Seven Years’ War) had ended with France ceding its Canadian colonies to Great Britain. By helping to wrest thirteen valuable colonies from British control, a humiliated French officers’ corps hoped to redeem itself. So pervasive was enthusiasm for the American fight that the economist and author André Morellet—an astute social observer who often accompanied Franklin on his rounds—quipped in 1777 that “there is more support for American independence in Paris than in the entire province of New York.”

Yet there was something uncommon about Lafayette’s commitment to America. His devotion was deeper than his countrymen’s, his drive more intense. While other Frenchmen sailed for the New World seeking riches or retribution, Lafayette sought nothing short of a new life. Earnest, enthusiastic—as optimistic as Voltaire’s naïf Candide—Lafayette was out of place in the glittering Parisian world of wit and cynicism that the urbane Franklin so effortlessly mastered.

Lafayette had married into one of the best-connected families of the French court, but he hailed from the Auvergne region of south-central France, and the uncontrived manners of that rural area marked him as a stranger in the refined circles of his in-laws. At Versailles, even Lafayette’s rugged appearance counted against him. The young marquis was large for his time: five feet, nine inches tall and endowed with a broad frame that one contemporary described as “decidedly inclined to embonpoint.” In other words, he tended to be stout. As Lafayette grew older, his bold features would be called distinguished, but as a youth he was not widely perceived as handsome. He had a long, oval face with a prominent aquiline nose, gray-blue eyes that peered out from a pale complexion, and a shock of unfashionably red hair atop a high, sloping forehead. Friends and admirers saw Lafayette’s open and frank expression as a window to his soul, but this transparent credulity placed him at a disadvantage in the dissimulating games of intrigue that passed for sociability at Versailles. 

Having visited Lafayette's grave in Cimitiere Picpus, with the U.S. flag so proudly waving, I think that Auricchio is correct when she speaks of Lafayette as being naive about not only Mesmerism, but about the French Revolution. His wife's family suffered greatly, and when I toured Cimitiere Picpus to see the place where the remains of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne were dumped after their executions, I pondered the significance of the site of his grave--right outside the wall that divides the tombs from the mass graves. His mother-in-law and sister-in-law are buried behind the wall, while he and his wife, the great Adrienne de Noailles rest together--she certainly deserves her own updated biography, that brave, faithful Leonore!

Even in Fiction, the Queen Dies

From Modern Library Classics:

Paris, 1793, the onset of the Terror. Brave Republican Maurice rescues a mysterious and beautiful woman from an angry mob and is unknowingly drawn into a secret Royalist plot—a plot revolving around the imprisoned Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, and her enigmatic and fearless champion, the Knight of Maison-Rouge. Full of surprising twists, breakneck adventure, conspiracies, swordplay, romance, and heroism, The Knight of Maison-Rouge is an exhilarating tale of selflessness, love, and honor under the shadow of the guillotine. Dumas here is at the very height of his powers, and with this first and only modern translation, readers can once again ride with the Knight of Maison-Rouge.

On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette was beheaded by the guillotine at what is now Place de la Concorde in Paris. Elena Maria Vidal provides details of her death here.

Alexandre Dumas' The Knight of the Maison-Rouge (1845) tells the story of an attempt to save the queen by substituting an impostor in the Conciergerie. Dumas used the attempt of the Chevalier le Rougeville to communicate with Marie Antoinette with a message hidden in the petals of a carnation as a detail in the novel. Dumas does not contradict history by having the plot succeed, and the queen rides from the left bank to the right bank to die--with a most pathetic scene of her poor little dog Thisbe, following her cart.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Rome, 250 Years Ago Today

Donald S. Prudlo writes about Edward Gibbon's inspiration to write The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for Crisis Magazine's The Standard Bearers series:

Two hundred and fifty years ago, on the 15th of October 1764, a young traveller from the north mounted the aggressively vertical steps of the ancient Franciscan Church. As many had done before him, he reclined on the top after his severe climb. This wanderer had received the classical education that used to be the crowning glory of the West. He had been steeped in the Greek and Latin classics, and was a denizen of the empire that was poised to inherit the mantle of Rome. Saturated in such a world, Edward Gibbon sat upon the steps of Ara Coeli. He could just look over the crest of the hill where there spread out the expanse of the Roman forum, the domain of Cato, Cicero, and Caesar. He would not have had to face the brooding monstrosity of the Victor Emmanuel monument, a towering oversized expanse of white marble, charitably called by Romans “the dentures.” Its absence made for a clear view to the Basilica of San Marco and the Cancelleria, next to the tenements of the contemporary Piazza Venezia. To his left was the marvelous Campidoglio of Michelangelo, echoing for Gibbon the attempt to rescue the city from its medieval torpor, and bring pagan Rome back to life.
Just at that moment the Franciscan friars began one of the hours of the Divine Office. Their chants echoed out to Gibbon. Here were these Catholic religious in sole possession of this monument of Western humanity. Why had the magnificent civilization fallen, which Gibbon prized so highly? The concatenation of chant and ruin bore powerfully on the young man. Gibbon was an archetype for his own generation. His outlook was that of the Enlightenment, at one with men like Voltaire, straining against the forces of tradition which they considered to retard social development. Chief among these was the Catholic Church. Though the young man had a yearlong dalliance with Catholicism a decade before, it ended with a desultory reconversion to Protestantism, perhaps a factor in his later writing.

Gibbon began to turn over the matter in his mind. These chanting friars behind himwere the cause of the fall of Roman dominion, for they had exchanged the spirited pagan search for glory for an otherworldly promise of salvation. In short, the Roman Empire had died of Christianity. It was a febrile religion, which had unmanned the ancient world. Rome became terminally ill when it converted to the Church because, to use his famous term, it suffered a “loss of nerve.”

Read the rest here.

Richard Crashaw's Hymn to "The Name and Honour" of St. Teresa of Avila

As today is her feast, it seems appropriate to post Richard Crashaw's poetic tribute to St. Teresa of Avila. As Robert T. Petersson notes in his book, The Art of Ecstasy: Teresa, Bernini, and Crashaw, St. Teresa was one of many leaders of the Counter Reformation in Spain. Petersson states that Spanish reformers led the way, in fact, from St. Ignatius of Loyola to St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, in the efforts to renew and revive the Catholic Church after the Protestant Reformation.

LOVE, thou are absolute, sole Lord
Of life and death. To prove the word,
We'll now appeal to none of all
Those thy old soldiers, great and tall,
Ripe men of martyrdom, that could reach down
With strong arms their triumphant crown:
Such as could with lusty breath
Speak loud, unto the face of death,
Their great Lord's glorious name; to none
Of those whose spacious bosoms spread a throne
For love at large to fill. Spare blood and sweat:
We'll see Him take a private seat,
And make His mansion in the mild
And milky soul of a soft child.
Scarce has she learnt to lisp a name
Of martyr, yet she thinks it shame
Life should so long play with that breath
Which spent can buy so brave a death.
She never undertook to know
What death with love should have to do.
Nor has she e'er yet understood
Why, to show love, she should shed blood;
Yet, though she cannot tell you why,
She can love, and she can die.
Scarce has she blood enough to make
A guilty sword blush for her sake;
Yet has a heart dares hope to prove
How much less strong is death than love....

Since 'tis not to be had at home,
She'll travel for a martyrdom.
No home for her, confesses she,
But where she may a martyr be.
She'll to the Moors, and trade with them
For this unvalued diadem;
She offers them her dearest breath,
With Christ's name in 't, in charge for death:
She'll bargain with them, and will give
Them God, and teach them how to live
In Him; or, if they this deny,
For Him she'll teach them how to die.
So shall she leave amongst them sown
Her Lord's blood, or at least her own.

Farewell then, all the world, adieu!
Teresa is no more for you.
Farewell all pleasures, sports, and joys,
Never till now esteemed toys!

Farewell whatever dear may be--
Mother's arms, or father's knee!
Farewell house, and farewell home!
She 's for the Moors and Martyrdom.

Sweet, not so fast; lo! thy fair spouse,
Whom thou seek'st with so swift vows,
Calls thee back, and bids thee come
T' embrace a milder martyrdom....

O how oft shalt thou complain
Of a sweet and subtle pain!
Of intolerable joys!
Of a death, in which who dies
Loves his death, and dies again,
And would for ever so be slain;
And lives and dies, and knows not why
To live, but that he still may die!
How kindly will thy gentle heart
Kiss the sweetly-killing dart!
And close in his embraces keep
Those delicious wounds, that weep
Balsam, to heal themselves with thus,
When these thy deaths, so numerous,
Shall all at once die into one,
And melt thy soul's sweet mansion;
Like a soft lump of incense, hasted
By too hot a fire, and wasted
Into perfuming clouds, so fast
Shalt thou exhale to heaven at last
In a resolving sigh, and then,--
O what? Ask not the tongues of men.

Read the rest here.

Richard Crashaw was a Catholic convert from Anglicanism at a dangerous time--during the English Civil War. After being born the son of a most anti-Catholic, Puritan, father, William Crashaw, he had attended Pembroke College at Cambridge, a High-Church Anglican college and been a fellow at Peterhouse College, but was too Catholic for that oldest of Cambridge colleges. He fled to the Continent in 1644 and, destitute, was introduced to Queen Henrietta Maria in exile at St. Germain-en-Laye by a friend Abraham Cowley. From St. Germain he went to Rome and died soon after becoming sub-canon the Cathedral of Santa Casa in Loretto. He is  not only one of the Metaphysical Poets, but he is a Baroque poet. The St. Austin Review featured Crashaw in the September/October 2013 issue as "English Poet; Catholic Exile"; the cover is pictured above.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Blessed John Henry Newman, Part Two: Conscience

Tonight at the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kansas, I'll be presenting Part Two of this mini-series on Blessed John Henry Newman. The session tonight is dedicated to his teaching on conscience and I will also recount some details and events from the second half his life--the Catholic half.

The first session last week went well from my view: I didn't make a major mistakes, fall over, or spill my glass of water. I maintained eye contact, presented good content, with some humor, and engaged the participants in discussion with good Q & A. My husband rounded out the small group and we were most happy to see a priest friend whom we knew in college at WSU through our activities at the St. Paul's Parish-Newman Center!

Tonight's topic is challenging: many Catholics do not understand the real meaning of conscience. Newman is persuasive in his explanation of conscience's rights and duties, however, and his life demonstrates how he both formed and obeyed his conscience, which included being obedient to his superiors in the Catholic Church, even when he had hoped to accomplish things for the laity and their formation in England after centuries of neglect and obscurity. Also, many today read his defense of the rights of conscience as an attack against the teaching authority of the Church and Papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals--selective reading of his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk!

At the end of tonight's class, I'll have copies of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation available to sign and sell.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Making Blessed John Henry Newman Better Known

Father Juan Velez wrote last week on the Memorial of Blessed John Henry Newman about making him better known, and he has some suggestions:

The writing and promotion of short biographies of Cardinal Newman will make him more accessible to people. My biography Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman is an attempt to fill this gap. Short articles in journals and websites will also foster interest and awareness of his life and contribution. These types of articles have become more common in the last decades. Conferences on Newman and his thought such as those sponsored by the Newman Studies Institute will continue to help Newman scholars in their research. The participants in these meeting will need to continue to find creative ways to teach people in general about Newman. To this effect there should be many more talks and seminars in parishes and diocesan centers on Newman’s life and ideas.

There are two others measures that will bring Newman to a much larger number of Catholics. The first, which applies to the United States, is for university Newman Centers to develop and put into effect a comprehensive study plan on Newman’s contributions to doctrine and spirituality, and to foster devotion to him. The second refers to the liturgical celebration of Newman’s memorial in the dioceses of English speaking countries. A petition to the Holy See of one or more conferences of bishops from English speaking dioceses to include the memorial of Blessed John Henry Newman as an optional memorial in their liturgical calendars would most likely be well received and result in the liturgical observance of this memorial. In consequence the faithful would hear about Blessed Newman and many would wish to learn about him.

There are understandable reasons for ignorance of Newman:

People in general, Catholics included, do not read a lot of books; instead they watch television or movies and read news articles. Newman’s English flows in elegant and articulate sentences with rich and nuanced vocabulary. Unaccustomed readers are easily turned off after reading a few lines or unable to comprehend them. Furthermore given his depth of historical knowledge Newman’s writing refer to historical events, peoples and ideas; without some knowledge of these the reader finds himself at a loss. As for the Church going Catholic he will rarely hear about Newman because pastors know little about him and thus will not explain what he taught and quote from his works.

I made some other suggestions in a comment, as this blog post coincided with my preparation of a list of suggested reading for my Newman class at the Spiritual Life Center tomorrow night:

For those who can’t undertake a systematic study of Blessed John Henry Newman, I think works like your Five Minutes devotional, or excerpts from his sermons (Scepter Publishers has a nice collection, The Rule of Our Warfare: John Henry Newman and the True Christian Life) or Sophia Institute Press’s Everyday Meditations are good places to start. They will promote devotion to him, intercession to him, and canonization for him!

And it's also nice to think that I have made small contributions along the lines Father Velez mentions: articles (here and here) on Newman and conscience; presentations; and even radio interviews.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Baroque and St. Teresa of Avila

The October issue of The New Criterion has an article by F.H. Buckley, "Men of the Baroque: the sculptor & the poet"; you have to subscribe to The New Criterion to see the article on-line. Buckley examines the Baroque interpretation of St. Teresa of Avila's great ecstasy in the sculpture of Bernini and the poetry of Crashaw.

Allow me to share a couple of quotations:

As a style, the Baroque was not rude and irregular, like the Gothic; nor was it refined and simple, like the High Renaissance Palladian; nor had it the Rococo's affectation and irony. Like the Gothic it communicated a sense of awe, but with an exuberance entirely foreign to the Gothic, Like the Palladian it adhered to classical forms, but with a transcendent vision the Palladian lacked. It shaded into the eighteenth-century Rococo, but had a symmetry and grandeur that the Rococo mocked. (pp. 33-34)

Discussing why the Baroque style is not well represented the United States, Buckley comments that it "pre-dated the American colonies" and "as an expression of the Catholic Counter-Reformation is was wholly alien to the country's religious traditions" because it was too triumphalist and sensual for Catholics in America, who were "tinged with an austere Jansenism" (p. 35).

He points out two examples of the Baroque in the United States: Frederick Hart's Ex Nihilo at Washington's National Cathedral and St. Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona.
Reading this article lead me to find a book about the connections between the saint, the sculptor and the poet: The Art of Ecstasy: Teresa, Bernini, and Crashaw by Robert T. Petersson (New York: Atheneum, 1974)--first published in 1970 and winner of the National Catholic Book Award in 1971. Professor Petersson retired from Smith College in 1985 and died in 2011. He also wrote a book about Sir Kenelm Digby, son of one of the Gunpowder Plotters (Sir Everard Digby, cousin of Anne Vaux).