Saturday, April 30, 2016

Scotland and Catholic Revival

Once a name pops up, it keeps popping up! Here's George Mackay Brown again, this time in an article by Tracey Rowland for The Catholic World Report:

On a recent trip to Scotland Bishop Gilbert of Aberdeen asked me whether I was familiar with the Scottish writer George Mackay Brown. I had to confess that I had never heard of him. A few days later I was rummaging through second-hand book stores searching for everything and anything by Mackay Brown.

Bishop Gilbert had got me hooked by suggesting I read Mackay Brown’s essay “The Treading of Grapes,” which takes the form of three homilies on the Wedding Feast of Cana. One is delivered in 1788 by a classically Calvinist Presbyterian minister, down on every kind of human enjoyment from wine to party dresses. He uses the story of Cana to berate his flock about spending too much money on their wives’ wardrobes, and drinking too much at weddings. He compared their enjoyment of ale to piglets sucking on the teats of a sow.
The second homily is delivered in the 20th century by a modern liberal Protestant minister, who uses the homily to explain that Jesus didn’t really turn water into wine. There was no miracle. Jesus was simply a good organizer who saw to it behind the scenes that supplies were sufficient. 

Finally, one is treated to a homily by a Catholic priest delivered in 1548. Rather than berating people as piglets, or denying the reality of miracles, the priest tells his congregation that at the wedding feast of the Lamb they will all be princes. Therefore, he says, I will call you Olaf the Fisherman and Jock the Crofter no longer, but I will call you by the name the Creator will call you on the last day—princes! Prince Olaf! Prince Jock!, et cetera.

Professor Tracey Rowland is Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne) and a member of the International Theological Commission.. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from Cambridge University and her Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. She is the author of Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (2003),Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (2008) and Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010).

Because of her interest in Pope Benedict, she knows how he likes cats (he met the Oratorian cat in Birmingham during his 2010 visit to England and Scotland) and so she noted the popularity of the Pluscarden Abbey cat:

An unanticipated surprise was my discovery of Baxter, the monastery cat, who is named after the soup factory in the nearby town. He is famous. Baxter memorabilia brings in more money at the gift shop than sales of any other item, including Rosary beads, books, soap, and medicinal products. Baxter cards, calendars, and coffee-table booklets outsell everything. He is at his best with the many families who visit during the summer months. He meets and greets and plays with the children. Even though he has only half a tail, he is not shy or self-conscious.

I was pleased to hear that the monastery had a pro-cat policy. I said that I thought Pope Benedict would strongly approve, and I was told that Pope Benedict knows about Baxter.

Pluscarden's on-line gift shop isn't open now, but you can see a photo of Baxter on the 2016 calendar (May). I'm not going to get a cat (can't breath around one) but I guess I'd better get some books by George Mackay Brown!

Water Music for Rainy Weather

We went to daily Mass on Thursday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Wichita, then drove to Delano for a delicious lunch at La Galette of quiche, salad, chicken and rice soup, and a shared slice of cake and cup of coffee. Then we checked the classical music bins at Spektrum Muzik and purchased this recording of Handel's Water Music:

I would not immediately associate Pierre Boulez with Handel, but with the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra, he creates a vibrant and spirited modern instrument performance (with harpsichord continuo). You can hear it on youtube but that recording has some pops that our very good plus LP does not. The LP was released in 1966 during the Teresa Sterne years at Nonesuch Records and the cover art design was by William S. Harvey.

Sterne was fired by Warner Communications in 1979; composers and artists protested to no avail. Teresa Sterne died in 2000 of "Lou Gehrig's" Disease; she was 73 years old. May she rest in peace. Her NYT obit notes:

As the director of Nonesuch Records from 1965 through 1979, Ms. Sterne turned a small budget label into one of the most adventurous companies in the recording business. When she was invited to take charge of Nonesuch, the label was a subsidiary of the pop-oriented and profitable Elektra Records. Nonesuch's business had consisted mostly of acquiring the rights to existing recordings of Baroque music by European ensembles and reissuing them at budget prices in the United States. . . .

At Nonesuch she brought attention to areas of music neglected by the major labels, particularly contemporary music and American vernacular music. She championed American composers like George Crumb, Elliott Carter, Morton Subotnick, Charles Wuorinen and Donald Martino, not just recording their works but commissioning them, an unusual move for the leader of a record company. She also issued important recordings of lesser-known works by Schoenberg, Busoni, Stravinsky and other major figures. . . .

She was also in the forefront of the early instrument movement in Baroque and Renaissance repertory. And under her leadership, Nonesuch's Explorer series introduced music from Bali, India, Peru and other countries to a wider audience. Ms. Sterne believed that every record she produced should have a purpose, and she involved herself with everything, from the packaging to the liner notes.

We listened to Handel's Water Music during a rainstorm Friday afternoon, enjoying, as usual, those fine liner notes, this time written by Bernard Jacobson, which included a discussion of "the 'gap' that has allegedly developed between the enormous musical riches available to the 20th-century public and the actual tastes and interests of most that public. A mere five per cent, if so many, they reflect, make any real use of the cultural opportunities before them; and this is interpreted as evidence that public taste has seriously deteriorated. When we contrast the popular acclaim with which great composers of the 18th century like Handel were greeted, the melancholy picture seems complete."

Jacobson then goes on to note that of course, the public to which such riches were available in the 18th century was very small and now many more in the public have access to them: "Today it is within the power of most inhabitants of the Western world to go to an occasional concert, buy as occasional record, or at least hear music now and then on the radio. Certainly there are factors--environmental, educational, and still, regrettably, economic--which militate against the exercise of this power . . ." How often have you read the word "militate" in the liner notes of a record?

Fortunately, Nonesuch honored Teresa Sterne's contributions to Nonesuch in the 1960's and 1970's, and her own career as a concert pianist and prodigy, with a two disc set in 2000 before she died:

At the tender age of four Teresa Sterne declared that Bach was her "sweetheart." Born into a musical family in Brooklyn in 1927, Sterne’s mother, a professional cellist who abandoned her career to devote herself to her daughter’s artistic development, and her uncle, a distinguished violinist, helped guide Sterne to fully realize her natural talents. At the age of 12, Teresa Sterne made a most auspicious performance debut, appearing with the NBC Symphony and the New York Philharmonic Symphony (the two major orchestras in New York at that time) in her first two public appearances. . .

Sterne’s contribution to the field of music, both old and new, while as a performer herself and as a skilled producer and label executive, is evidenced in the release of Teresa Sterne: A Portrait. It is a testament to her personal and professional integrity that such a diverse body of repertoire, all performed at such a high level, could be collected in one place, and ultimately under one name.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Opus Anglicanum (But Catholic, NOT Anglican!)

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has announced, and local media are covering, an exhibition of English Medieval Embroidery opening this October:

Explore a selection of the most outstanding examples of English Medieval embroidery. Featuring surviving examples of exquisite craftsmanship, this exhibition will focus on the artistic skill of the makers and the world in which they were created.

See the website for examples of the works to be displayed.

The Guardian and The Independent have covered the announcement of the exhibition. From The Guardian:

A golden lion on red silk once thrown over a king’s horse, a pair of gold and silk slippers peeled from the mummified feet of a bishop when his tomb was opened after 600 years and a lute being played by an angel on horseback are being gathered together at the V&A museum – precious survivors of an art form in which England once led the world.

The V&A’s autumn exhibition Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, will be the first in more than half a century devoted to this beautiful embroidery work, coveted by kings and popes – and for the first time in decades, the museum has dared to use Latin in an exhibition title. It means “English work”, and curator Glyn Davies said it demonstates how across Europe, people associated the dazzling skill and luxurious materials with English needle-workers.

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is to exhibit ‘surviving examples of exquisite craftsmanship’ in English Medieval embroidery, encompassing gold, silver and pearl work fit for, and indeed used by, a king.

Artifacts at Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery will include a gold lion-emblazoned silk thrown over a king’s horse and opulent slippers taken from a bishop when his tomb was opened after 600 years.

The Vatican has also provided some pieces on loan, which were commissioned by Pope Innocent IV after he coveted the regal garments being worn by English bishops.

The context that's missing--perhaps assumed--from both of the stories, which seem to be aimed at making sure readers understand the use of Latin in the exhibition title, is that much of this work was created for the celebration of Holy Mass and other Catholic sacraments. I'm sure, from the V&A description, promising the dual focus on the creativity of the English artisans and the "world in which [the works] were created", that the omission will be corrected. An older page about embroidery in England may be accessed here.

Image credit: Wikipedia commons (public domain): "Embroidered bookbinding for the Felbrigge Psalter in couched gold thread and split stitch, likely worked by Anne de Felbrigge, a nun in the convent of Minoresses at Bruisyard, Suffolk, during the latter half of the fourteenth century."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Prisoner of Zenda

Sean Fitzpatrick writes about the great adventure novel, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope for Crisis Magazine:

Rudolf Rassendyll—an indifferent young man who enjoyed his leisure well. Though in excellent training as a horseman, swordsman, and marksman, he bore no desire whatsoever to become the proverbial man of action—until he found himself a man assailed by action, immured in one of the most dangerous and delicate plots imaginable. On an impromptu journey to attend the coronation of the new King of Ruritania, to whom he bears a distant, illegitimate relation, Rassendyll is discovered and swept up by two members of the Royal Cabinet due to an uncanny resemblance he bears with the soon-to-be-crowned King. This curiosity becomes a crucible when the King is suddenly and subtly kidnapped. With the political state of Ruritania hanging in the balance, Rassendyll agrees to undertake the risk of impersonating the King before the entire nation in order to buy the time necessary to rescue the imprisoned monarch from the schemes of Black Michael, the evil Duke of Strelsau.

Thus it runs—a romp of mistaken identity, plot twists, swashbuckling heroism, and high romance with the King’s intended, the beautiful Princess Flavia, with whom, of course, Rassendyll falls madly in love as he woos her in place of the King. Thus it runs with blazing revolvers, ancient castles, woefully grim councils, wonderfully glib speeches, daring souls pulling at brandy flasks, midnight marauding, and one of the most memorable villains of Victorian fiction: the malevolent, murderous Rupert of Hentzau.

Thus it runs, and the running pace is one of the elements that perhaps accounts for the unprecedented popularity of
The Prisoner of Zenda. The plot hurtles on like a horse and is dominated by a sense of time running out.

There are two sound-era motion picture versions of this novel, the later of which is a scene-for-scene recreation in technicolor of the earlier black and white version. The Ronald Colman-Madeleine Carroll version is usually the preferred. But both of them display the beauty and solemnity of the king's coronation in a Catholic cathedral, although the novel adds the tremendous detail that this coronation includes reception of the Holy Eucharist--and Rassendyll is an Englishman (an Anglican):

At last we were at the Cathedral. Its great grey front, embellished with hundreds of statues and boasting a pair of the finest oak doors in Europe, rose for the first time before me, and the sudden sense of my audacity almost overcame me. Everything was in a mist as I dismounted. I saw the Marshal and Sapt dimly, and dimly the throng of gorgeously robed priests who awaited me. And my eyes were still dim as I walked up the great nave, with the pealing of the organ in my ears. I saw nothing of the brilliant throng that filled it, I hardly distinguished the stately figure of the Cardinal as he rose from the archiepiscopal throne to greet me. Two faces only stood out side by side clearly before my eyes-- the face of a girl, pale and lovely, surmounted by a crown of the glorious Elphberg hair (for in a woman it is glorious), and the face of a man, whose full-blooded red cheeks, black hair, and dark deep eyes told me that at last I was in presence of my brother, Black Michael. And when he saw me his red cheeks went pale all in a moment, and his helmet fell with a clatter on the floor. Till that moment I believe that he had not realized that the King was in very truth come to Strelsau.

Of what followed next I remember nothing. I knelt before the altar and the Cardinal anointed my head. Then I rose to my feet, and stretched out my hand and took from him the crown of Ruritania and set it on my head, and I swore the old oath of the King; and (if it were a sin, may it be forgiven me) I received the Holy Sacrament there before them all. Then the great organ pealed out again, the Marshal bade the heralds proclaim me, and Rudolf the Fifth was crowned King; of which imposing ceremony an excellent picture hangs now in my dining-room. The portrait of the King is very good.

In the previous chapter, Rassendyll had received some catechesis:

The cool morning air cleared my head, and I was able to take in all Sapt said to me. He was wonderful. Fritz hardly spoke, riding like a man asleep, but Sapt, without another word for the King, began at once to instruct me most minutely in the history of my past life, of my family, of my tastes, pursuits, weaknesses, friends, companions, and servants. He told me the etiquette of the Ruritanian Court, promising to be constantly at my elbow to point out everybody whom I ought to know, and give me hints with what degree of favour to greet them.

"By the way," he said, "you're a Catholic, I suppose?"

"Not I," I answered.

"Lord, he's a heretic!" groaned Sapt, and forthwith he fell to a rudimentary lesson in the practices and observances of the Romish faith.

"Luckily," said he, "you won't be expected to know much, for the King's notoriously lax and careless about such matters. But you must be as civil as butter to the Cardinal. We hope to win him over, because he and Michael have a standing quarrel about their precedence."

We were by now at the station. Fritz had recovered nerve enough to explain to the astonished station master that the King had changed his plans. The train steamed up. We got into a first-class carriage, and Sapt, leaning back on the cushions, went on with his lesson. I looked at my watch--the King's watch it was, of course. It was just eight.

I remember when I read those passages as a student at Kapaun-Mount Carmel Catholic High School--I was shocked and dismayed!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New Biography of Elizabeth I: UK and US Versions

John Guy, author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and other periods of English history, including studies of Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey, and Thomas a Becket, promotes his new study of the last years of Elizabeth I on his website. He sets out many unique features of Elizabeth: The Last Years, including:

  • Guy steers clear of the myths originating with William Camden's Annales or History of Elizabeth, published between 1615 and 1627 - Camden, for example, air-brushed the brutal torture of Catholics that took place in Elizabeth's later years and promoted the image of a 'benevolent queen' who had rewarded 'those that were wounded and indigent' after the 1588 Armada campaign 'with noble pensions'.
  • Guy dispels the myth of her popularity, exploding the concept of 'Good Queen Bess' to show that this complex character was unpopular even with the men who fought for her, many of whom she left die in the gutters without their wages, or else to beg. Comments such as those to war veterans describing them as 'wandering idle persons of [the] condition of rogues and vagabonds' earned her few fans.
  • Guy counters Lytton Strachey's argument that Elizabeth was in love with Essex, arguing that Essex was partly an accessory, ultimately disposable: 'She was not in love; that could never be. ' Whereas Strachey based his biography Elizabeth and Essex on 'facts' that were nebulous or even wrong, Guy strikes out and gets closer to the truth about the ageing Elizabeth by returning to the original, handwritten letters and documents in the archives rather than by recycling familiar anecdotes culled from unreliable memoirs
  • Most biographers are unaware of the fact that Elizabeth disliked having her portrait painted and may have only sat for her portrait as little as five times. Courtiers as opposed to the queen commissioned portraits as a sign of their loyalty - but these were often copied from previous depictions or occasionally modelled on the queen's bedchamber women wearing her clothes instead of the monarch. The 'Virgin Queen' image was also only introduced later in her life than has been previously thought, not until 1578 - a Victorian misreading of Camden's Annales is responsible for the misconception that she spun this view of herself for propaganda purposes.
  • By returning to original French writings rather than relying on often defective translations, Guy is able to dispel certain misconceptions about Elizabeth's character - for example the idea that she flaunted her sexuality in her choice of dress, disproven by going back to the original writings and rediscovering the correct sixteenth century meanings of words like gorge and échancré, which shows that in fact Elizabeth favoured Italian and especially Venetian necklines. New documents also throw fresh light on the vexed question of whether Elizabeth really did ever finally designate James VI of Scotland as her successor.

I always find it interesting how publishers market the same book in different countries. Guy's new study of Elizabeth has two different covers: one for the UK (at right) and one for the US (above). I like the UK cover better. Penguin UK is the UK publisher and posts a brief blurb on their site for the book. The Viking blurb for the US is much longer and more detailed:

A groundbreaking reconsideration of our favorite Tudor queen, Elizabeth is an intimate and surprising biography that shows her at the height of her power by the bestselling, Whitbread Award-winning author of Queen of Scots.

Elizabeth was crowned at twenty-five after a tempestuous childhood as a bastard and an outcast, but it was only when she reached fifty and all hopes of a royal marriage were dashed that she began to wield real power in her own right. For twenty-five years she had struggled to assert her authority over advisers who pressed her to marry and settle the succession; now, she was determined not only to reign but also to rule. In this magisterial biography of England’s most ambitious Tudor queen, John Guy introduces us to a woman who is refreshingly unfamiliar: at once powerful and vulnerable, willful and afraid. In these essential and misunderstood forgotten years, Elizabeth confronts challenges at home and abroad: war against the Catholic powers of France and Spain, revolt in Ireland, an economic crisis that triggered riots in the streets of London, and a conspiracy to place her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on her throne. For a while she was smitten by a much younger man, but could she allow herself to act on that passion and still keep her throne?

For the better part of a decade John Guy mined long-overlooked archives, scouring court documents and handwritten letters to sweep away myths and rumors. This prodigious historical detective work has made it possible to reveal for the first time the woman behind the polished veneer: wracked by insecurity, often too anxious to sleep alone, voicing her own distinctive and surprisingly resonant concerns. Guy writes like a dream, and this combination of groundbreaking research and propulsive narrative puts him in a class of his own.

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years is due out May 6, 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

There They Go Again: the Saint or Sinner Choice

It will be a couple of weeks before I'll see the May 2016 issue of the BBC History Magazine at our local Barnes & Noble, but their cover story, by Joanne Paul, has the headline I'm tired of seeing, posing a poor question: "Thomas More: Saint or Sinner?" If it must be answered, it's simple: "Both". The Catholic Church never says that a saint is not a sinner or that a sinner cannot become a saint. Moral perfection is not a requirement, although of course the desire never to be separated from God is necessary for sanctity. 

The subtitle is also interesting: "The real character of Henry VIII's controversial statesman". That second adjective, "controversial", could apply to almost all of Henry VIII's statesmen, Wolsey, Cromwell, Wriothesley, etc. I eagerly await this article by Joanne Paul, who is working on a monograph for Wiley's Polity Classic Thinkers Series and other works considering More as a statesman, according to her website:

Thomas More's works are analysed in history, politics, literature, philosophy and theology departments throughout the world. He remains one of history's most alluring and enigmatic figures - his reputation fiercely debated since the moment of his execution in 1535.

My monograph on More focuses on his place within the history of political and philosophic thought, and will be published as a part of Polity's Classic Thinkers Series, October 2016, coinciding with the quincentary of More's most famous text, Utopia (1516). I have published on Utopia in History Today (April, 2016), and I am currently developing a monograph on Utopia for Palgrave, at the request of the editors.

You can be sure that I'll let you know what I think of this article once I obtain the magazine. In the meantime, I have a little bit of a lull before starting on two projects for June (one article and one presentation), a presentation in July, and one in August--and then a nice break until November, when I'll teach a class at the Regan Catechetical Institute for Catholic teachers in the Diocese of Wichita. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Report on the Second Annual Catholic Culture Conference

Last year I wrote: "The Catholic Culture Conference was a great success in my view, with excellent presenters, a great venue, and wonderful fellowship during the lunch and breaks. Our local chapter of the American Chesterton Society made some good contacts and we hope to gain new members and/or guests at our monthly meetings." I can repeat those comments this year too, after the second annual Catholic Culture Conference, with the addition that I am happy with how my presentation was received Saturday afternoon. Dusty Gates announced that there will be a third annual Catholic Culture Conference next year (that's 2017!--2020 is in sight!) on April 28 and 29, with Monsignor Stuart Sweatland, the President of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas as the keynote speaker--with the specific topic to be announced.

Professor Anthony Esolen gave three talks: one Friday night and two Saturday morning and then headed back to Providence, RI after lunch. Poetry was one of his themes, and he cited a poem of G.K. Chesterton's Friday night, "The Holy of Holies":

‘ELDER father, though thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?

‘Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary.

‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.’

‘God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and Seraphim,
Filling all eternity—
Adonai Elohim.’

In his second lecture, he emphasized the fact that in Dante's Divine Comedy, poetry is not mentioned in the Inferno, and is replaced by prayer and song in the Paradiso, but is included in the Purgatorio. He highlighted these aspects (from the foreword of another translation) of Dante's journey through Purgatory and toward Heaven:

Of the three sections of the poem, only Purgatory happens on the earth, as our lives do, with our feet on the ground, crossing a beach, climbing a mountain. All three parts of the poem are images of our lives, of our life, but there is an intimacy peculiar to the Purgatorio. Here the times of day recur with all the sensations and associations that the hours bring with them, the hours of the world we are living in as we read the poem. Tenderness, affection, poignancy, the enchantment of music, the feeling of the evanescence of the moment in a context beyond time, occur in the Purgatorio as they do in few other places in the poem. And hope, as it is experienced nowhere else in the poem, for there is none in Hell, and Paradise is fulfilment itself. Hope is central to the Purgatorio and is there from the moment we stand on the shore at the foot of the mountain, before the stars fade. To the very top of the mountain hope is mixed with pain, which brings it still closer to the living present. . . .

The Purgatorio is the section of the poem in which poets, poetry, and music recur with fond vividness and intimacy. The meetings between poets — Virgil's with his fellow Mantuan Sordello, over twelve hundred years after Virgil's own life on earth; his meeting with the Roman poet Statius; Dante's with Guido Guinizzelli and with Arnaut Daniel and the singer Casella — are cherished and moving moments. It is worth noting something about the current of poetic tradition that Dante had come to in his youth.

And in his third lecture, Esolen described the three dementias of our current day: fatal errors in category, premise, and logic.

The Spiritual Life Center will probably post video or audio recordings of these presentations. 

I also attended Dusty Gates' presentation on St. George, in which he explored some themes from the Inklings and G.K. Chesterton on true myths, traditions, and fairyland. Matthew Umbarger of Newman University described how rabbis read scripture and interpreted it with a great deal of imagination and creativity to delve deeper into its mysteries--midrash. He gave us an example of Christian midrash, the Gospel of Nicodemus, which depicts the Harrowing of Hell, when Jesus freed the dead from Sheol:

1 And as Satan the prince, and Hell, spoke this together, suddenly there came a voice as of thunder and a spiritual cry: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. When Hell heard that he said unto Satan the prince: Depart from me and go out of mine abode: if thou be a mighty man of war, fight thou against the King of glory. But what hast thou to do with him? And Hell cast Satan forth out of his dwelling. Then said Hell unto his wicked ministers: Shut ye the hard gates of brass and put on them the bars of iron and withstand stoutly, lest we that hold captivity be taken captive.

2 But when all the multitude of the saints heard it, they spake with a voice of rebuking unto Hell: Open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And David cried out, saying: Did I not when I was alive upon earth, foretell unto you: Let them give thanks unto the Lord, even his mercies and his wonders unto the children of men; who hath broken the gates of brass and smitten the bars of iron in sunder? he hath taken them out of the way of their iniquity. And thereafter in like manner Esaias said: Did not I when I was alive upon earth foretell unto you: The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall rise again, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice, for the dew which cometh of the Lord is their healing? And again I said: O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

3 When they heard that of Esaias, all the saints said unto Hell: Open thy gates: now shalt thou be overcome and weak and without strength. And there came a great voice as of thunder, saying: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up ye doors of hell, and the King of glory shall come in. And when Hell saw that they so cried out twice, he said, as if he knew it not: Who is the King of glory? And David answered Hell and said: The words of this cry do I know, for by his spirit I prophesied the same; and now I say unto thee that which I said before: The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, he is the King of glory. And: The Lord looked down from heaven that he might hear the groanings of them that are in fetters and deliver the children of them that have been slain. And now, O thou most foul and stinking Hell, open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And as David spake thus unto Hell, the Lord of majesty appeared in the form of a man and lightened the eternal darkness and brake the bonds that could not be loosed: and the succour of his everlasting might visited us that sat in the deep darkness of our transgressions and in the shadow of death of our sins.

It's apocryphal, of course, but it's the background of  one of the York Mystery Plays and the great reading in the Office for Holy Saturday!

The Abbey of Romsey and St. Etheldreda

The BBC reports on efforts to identify whose hair was found in a coffin under Romsey Abbey in the nineteenth century. There have been theories of course:

. . . about who the hair might have belonged to but nothing more than that. Frank Green, who is the archaeological adviser to Romsey Abbey, has been wondering about it for years.

"[We've always believed] it was a person of some significant status because there was originally an outer wooden coffin and an inner wooden coffin inside the lead one."

Over the years there has been speculation that it was the hair of a saint.

"The two saints are St Morwenna who was the first abbess here and St Ethelflaeda, who is our patron saint," Romsey's vicar, Reverend Canon Tim Sledge, explains.

"And I think that's the rather romantic, hopeful, aspirational thing about this. These two saints are unique to Romsey - no one else has ever heard of them. They are our two saintly celebrities."

The BBC story describes the testing that has been conducted so far and archaeologists can date it to the mid to late Saxon era.

Of course, the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII as recounted by British History Online:

Elizabeth Ryprose, the last abbess, was elected on 15 December, 1523. The documents relative to this election are set forth in great detail in the episcopal registers. (fn. 35) The temporalities were restored in the following month. (fn. 36) In November 1537 the abbey, alarmed at the fate of the smaller houses, procured an elaborate inspection and confirmation of all their royal charters from the time of Henry I. downwards. (fn. 37) But this was so much waste of parchment and fees.

Sir Richard Lister wrote to Cromwell in September, 1537, informing him that the nuns of Romsey, hearing they were in danger of suppression, were making leases and alienating their goods. He desired to know whether he was to stay them in this. (fn. 38)

On 28 December, 1538, John Foster reported to Sir Thomas Seymour as to the state of the house of Romsey. He pronounced the house out of debt; that the plate and jewels were worth £300; the bells worth £100. The church is described as a great sumptuous thing, all of freestone and covered with lead, and worth £300 or £400 more. The annual rents are returned at £481 1s. 8d. The names of the abbess, Elizabeth Ryprose, the prioress, Edith Banester, and the subprioress, Katharine Wadham, are set down, together with twenty-three other nuns. Mr. Foster wrote: ' In answer to your letter by Mr. Flemynge, whether the abbess and nuns would be content to surrender their house, the truth is, that, in consequence of the motion made by your kinswomen and other friends, they will be content to do you any pleasure, but they would be loath to trust to the commissioners' gentleness, as they hear that other houses have been straitly handled.' (fn. 39)

Nearly a third of this community had made their religious profession in July, 1534, very shortly before the beginning of their troubles. One of these was Katherine, youngest daughter of Sir Nicholas Wadham, Governor of the Isle of Wight, whose sister Jane had also been for some years a professed nun of the same abbey. John Foster, whose letter to Seymour has just been cited, lived at Baddesley near Romsey, and was convent steward. His reference to ' kinswomen' applied to the two Wadham nuns and to another nun of the name of Elizabeth Hill. Sir Nicholas Wadham's first wife was a daughter of Robert Hill of Antony, and his second was Margaret, sister to Queen Jane Seymour and Sir Thomas Seymour. Through their influence it was hoped that a quiet surrender would be made. (fn. 40)

Whether this was effected or not cannot now be asceertained, for there is no extant formal surrender. But the abbess and convent in January, 1539, had licence to alienate their lordships or manors of Edingdon and Steeple Ashton and all their lands and tenements in Hampshire and Wiltshire to Sir Thomas Seymour.

Notice that detail: "Nearly a third of the community had made their religious profession in July, 1534"--therefore this was an active, growing community with recent vocations and younger nuns. So now these young nuns were to be paid small pensions, not allowed to marry, cast out into the world by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, still bound by their vows but unable to live their vocations. This website offers more information about the abbey, which had suffered great losses during the Black Death, and other ups and downs through its history. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Forty Martyrs of England, Day by Day

The Catholic Truth Society, which used to offer a little booklet on the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, has been counting down to the Feast of the English Martyrs of England and Wales, which is on May 4. Their blog posts  in honor of the martyrs who have been beatified and canonized began with this prayer:

To you, Holy Martyrs of England and Wales, we commend our prayers and our needs in these difficult times.

As you laid down your lives for Christ and His Church, we ask that we may emulate your sacrifice in our daily lives, living as true and humble disciples of Christ.

May His Gospel so penetrate our minds and hearts that we may become what He urges us to be: salt of the earth and light of the world, making Him present through holy lives to the men and women of our time.

Sustain us with your loving presence, be our companions on our earthly journey.

Defend us in moments of trial, console us in sorrows and remind us of that joy which Christ implants into the souls of His devoted servants.

Intercede that we may truly be servants of mercy and reconciliation.

Watch over us and guide us in our Christian lives so one day we may merit to be with you in the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.


Today's saints are the priests Edmund Gennings and Polydore Plasden, who were executed on December 10, 1591. Fr John Hogan, a CTS author, has prepared reflections for each day. Since today is Sunday, our weekly Holy Day of Obligation, this reflection on the Holy Mass and the priesthood is most appropriate:

It was as he was saying Holy Mass for the faithful, assisted by his brother priest, St Polydore, that St Edmund was arrested. Clothed in the sacred vestments, the Holy Sacrifice hurriedly completed, he was led out to captivity and martyrdom. These two dedicated priests, Edmund and Polydore, would offer their bodies as a sacrifice in union with the Masses they had offered in their priestly ministry. It is the call of a priest to offer gift and sacrifice (Heb 8:3), to lay down his life for his brothers and sisters in imitation of the Divine Master, there is no greater love (Jn 15:13). The mystery of a priest’s suffering and martyrdom is immersed in the mystery of his offering the holy Eucharist.

The martyrs rejoiced in the Holy Mass – it was their strength and joy in the midst of affliction. The graces and blessings which emanated from the Eucharist sustained them and helped them endure their sufferings, as it revealed the significance of their martyrdom. Like them, may we never take this Sacrifice for granted, but rather seek enter more deeply into it; to lose ourselves in the great mystery that is being unveiled before us so we may find ourselves again in our union with the Eucharistic Lord.

According to the blog, during the "last ten days of this journey, there will be a series of invocations and a Litany to the Martyrs of Wales." Furthermore, CTS will post the daily reflections on their Facebook page and Twitter profile.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Another Catholic Literary Convert

Coincidentally, I had just read George Mackay Brown's name in Father John Vidmar's The Catholic Church Through the Ages (second edition); then I see that Joseph Pearce has written an article in The Catholic Herald about George Mackay Brown, who

was raised in a lukewarm Presbyterian family, where “all the words that clustered about [Catholicism] – rosary, pope, confession, relics, purgatory, monks, penance – had the same sinister connotations”. Yet Brown, a great and underrated Scottish poet who died 20 years ago on April 13, 1996, would be received into the Catholic Church in 1961, shortly before his 40th birthday.

The process by which he overcame these inherited prejudices is recounted in his semi-autobiographical story The Tarn and the Rosary (1974), especially in the letter that Colm Sinclair, a character in the story, sends home to explain to his parents why he took the unthinkable step of becoming a Catholic: “What saves us is ceremony … Ceremony makes everything bearable and beautiful for us. Transfigured by ceremony, the truths we could not otherwise endure come to us … It is this saving ceremony that you call ‘idolatry’ and ‘mumbo-jumbo’.”

This salvific “ceremony” was of course the Mass. Completing the letter, Colm walks to a nearby church to experience the beauty of the liturgy: “The celebrant entered … Once again, for the thousandth time, Colm watched the ancient endless beautiful ceremony, the exchange of gifts between earth and heaven, dust and spirit, man and God. The transfigured Bread shone momentarily in the saffron fingers of the celebrant.”

Having been transformed and transfigured by the sheer beauty of the Mass, it might be said that Brown’s conversion was essentially aesthetic. And yet, as is illustrated in his multifarious works – verse, short stories, novels and essays – he was acutely aware that beauty points towards the good and the true, forming a transcendental trinity which reflects the Trinity itself.

In contrast to the beauty of the Mass, the Reformation casts a gloom-laden shadow over Brown’s poems and stories. In “Master Halcrow, Priest”, one of the stories in A Calendar of Love (1967), religious images are callously and iconoclastically destroyed; and in his play, A Spell for Green Corn (1970), the Reformation is held responsible for the destruction of the old faith of the island folk and its replacement with a barren and lifeless puritanism: “The Word was imprisoned between black boards, and chained and padlocked, in the pulpit of the kirk.”

Read the rest there. More about Brown here at the Scottish Poetry Library.

I'll be at the Catholic Culture Conference all day today at the Spiritual Life Center, trying to decide which sessions to attend when I have a choice and making my own presentation:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

7:30am Holy Mass- Chapel of Mary the First Disciple

8:15am Breakfast and book sales

9am Opening prayer in Main Assembly Room

Plenary Lecture by Anthony Esolen- “Dante and the Glorious Liberty of the Children of God”

10am Break

10:15am Pillar Lecture by Anthony Esolen- “Assaults on Spiritual Liberty”

11am Break

11:15am Breakout Sessions

Bo Bonner- “Purifying the Passions through Wonder: Why Children should read Homer & Virgil” - Marian Room

Dusty Gates- “Imagination and Heroism: The Mystery of St. George the Dragonslayer” St. Joseph Room

Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke- “Touched by the Divine through our Imagination” Main Assembly Room.

12:00pm Lunch (Dining Room)

1:00pm Pillar Lecture by Stephanie Mann “Chesterton, Cobbett, and Merry Old England”

2:00pm Break

2:15pm Breakout Sessions

Matthew Umbarger- "Reading the Bible with an Overactive Imagination: Midrash as a Tonic for Fundamentalism"- Main Assembly Room

Jackie Arnold- “Inspiring a Catholic Imagination in Children”- Marian Room

Bo Bonner- “Chewing on God: Scripture, Prayer, and Lectio Divina”- St. Joseph Room

3:00pm Break

3:15pm Panel Conversation: Questions, Answers, and Comments

4:00pm Closing Prayer and Dismissal

Our Greater Wichita American Chesterton Society local group will have a table with information about our meetings and Chesterton and Eighth Day Books will also be there with tables and tables of books!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Robert and Clara and Friedrich

A major gap in my cultural education is German Romanticism. The BBC Music Magazine CD this month is helping me fill that gap with this recording of songs by Robert and Clara Schumann, setting poems of Friedrich Ruckert. I did recognize one of the lieder, however, because I've listened often to Mahler's Ruckert Lieder: "Liebst du um Schönheit".

If I had studied German, that might help too!

Classical Net describes Robert Schumann:

Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810 - July 29, 1856) was the arch-Romantic composer, thoroughly committed intellectually and emotionally to the idea of music being composed to register the feelings, thoughts and impressions garnered by a sensitive spirit on its journey through life. . . .

He married Clara Wieck, herself a talented pianist, but two careers in one family caused difficulties:

Throughout this period Schumann had composed almost exclusively for the piano. Now there was a tremendous outburst of lieder and the following year, much to the approval of the ambitious Clara, Schumann buckled down to compose his first symphony. Their close working relationship, and the arrival of their first child in 1841 (they produced seven in all), meant that Clara's career suffered. Although she continued her concert tours (they needed the money), she willingly suspended her other musical activities. The marriage at this time was blissfully happy. In the spring of 1841 Schumann's Spring Symphony was premiered. By the following year Clara was on tour again: as women did not travel alone at that time, Robert had to accompany her. Deeply insecure away from domestic routine, his health deteriorated and he began to resent his wife's addiction to the pleasures of concert-giving.

His professional career was still in the ascendant, and in 1843, when Mendelssohn provided the impetus for the founding of the Leipzig Conservatory, he also insisted that Schumann be given a teaching role there. Schumann, however, proved to be a diffident teacher; unable to communicate his ideas, he would often sit through an entire lesson without saying a word to his students. He resigned his post in 1844. By then his bouts of depression (he called them "melancholy") were more severe and more prolonged.

Nevertheless, he supported and encouraged his wife's efforts as a composer. They had eight children! The lieder on this disc are all about love and nature, beauty and youth, passion and and song.

Schumann died in an asylum for the insane. 

Miguel Cervantes, RIP

We should be celebrating Miguel Cervantes today on the 400th anniversary of this great novelist's death, but we aren't celebrating it as much as we are William Shakespeare's 400th anniversary tomorrow (April 23), as least according to the BBC:

Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare died days apart, 400 years ago, each of them a giant in his own language and literary tradition. But a difference in the scale of quatercentenary [sic] celebrations in their respective countries and around the world is leading some fans of the author of Don Quixote to cry foul.

While "all the world's a stage" for the British bard thanks to the rollout of the massive Shakespeare Lives programme of arts events around the globe, celebrations of the life of his Spanish contemporary are perhaps "more honoured in the breach than the observance".

Shakespeare Lives aims to reach half a billion people worldwide - the first screenings of The Complete Walk, 37 short films to represent the complete body of the bard's stage plays, took place at the weekend. The Spanish government's action plan for Cervantes, on the other hand, seems far less ambitious... and leans heavily on exhibitions and conferences in big city museums and libraries.

This has provoked some rather unchivalrous comments from bigwigs in the field of Spanish culture.

"We've had 400 years to prepare for this," said Dario Villanueva, director of the Spanish Royal Academy, shortly after a letter from UK Prime Minister David Cameron introducing Shakespeare Lives was published in major newspapers around the world.

"There are a few events lined up but the figure of Cervantes deserves a major gesture on the part of our top institutions."

The Spanish Culture Ministry has admitted that the programme remains a "work in progress" and that some events will not emerge from the pipeline until 2017.

Read the rest here

Since I have Chesterton on my mind, here's a snippet of his Lepanto--Cervantes was there at the great victory of the Holy League--and Cervantes is already thinking of his great hero:

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

And, Chesterton wrote his own homage to Cervantes in his last novel, The Return of Don Quixote!

Finally, here's the great anthem from The Man of LaMancha, "To Dream the Impossible Dream", sung by the original Broadway Don Quixote, Richard Kiley!

May Miguel Cervantes, hero and author, rest in the peace of Christ, having reached the reachable Star of Heaven!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saint Anselm, the Reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury

The late, great Ralph McInerny wrote this about St. Anselm of Canterbury, today's saint:

Saint Anselm was born near Aosta in 1033. His education commenced under the tutelage of the local Benedictines. When his mother died, Anselm knew a period of grief and sadness and, after three years of wandering, came to the monastery at Bee, drawn there by the reputation of Lanfrane. He became a monk of Bec in 1060 and, when Lanfranc went to Caen in 1063, succeeded him as prior of the abbey. He was a teacher in the monastery and became abbot in 1078. After fifteen years in this post he was summoned to England in 1093 to become the archbishop of Canterbury. His years at Canterbury were filled with controversy, and it was in that post that death overtook him in 1109. A rather extensive biography by his pupil Eadmer has come down to us.

This skeletal outline of the life of Anselm seems to present us with a busy ecclesiastic. Despite this impression, it is generally held that Anselm was a reluctant administrator and that he had no real relish for the many controversies into which he was drawn. He seems to have been prompted by a sense of obligation rather than by any deep inclination of his own nature. His essential self, it would seem, was inclined to withdraw into study and contemplation. Eadrner suggests that Anselm was so intent on the life of a teacher that he considered leaving Bec because Lanfranc already occupied the teaching post there. Later Anselm was to chastise himself for this worldly ambition, which he felt to be incompatible with the cloistered vocation that was his. Nonetheless, that ambition symbolizes his deep-seated desire for study, for teaching, for the calm of contemplation. Anselm's dislike for administration and active posts was based on his conviction that he had no real competence for leadership. Twice he asked the pope to relieve him of the see of Canterbury. He sought to return to the peace and tranquillity of the cloister, to prayer, meditation, and the teaching that awaited him there. Although he was a reluctant archbishop, his troubles in the post seem not to have been due to any incompetence of his. He was nonetheless twice exiled from his see, something that caused him no little anguish, but perhaps he derived a kind of ambiguous pleasure from those absences, for during those periods he recaptured in some measure the life he truly desired. But even in his active periods as archbishop he was as much theologian as spiritual administrator, composing some of the works on which his fame was to repose. . . . 

Just as the sketch of his life can mislead us into thinking that in Anselm we are confronted principally with a Church leader, so this seemingly meager list of writings could cause us to think that we will not find Anselm to be a significant thinker. He is a major figure nonetheless. His teaching represents one of the highest points reached by what may be referred to as the Augustinian tradition. It has often been suggested that Anselm has suffered unfairly from the tendency of students to hurry past him in order to arrive at the giants of the thirteenth century. But Anselm is a man of the eleventh century, and it is in its terms that he must be viewed. Thus regarded, he looms above the men of his own time. If we must say, as we must, that the men of the thirteenth century knew much more than Anselm, we may add that Anselm was one of the sources of their knowledge.

Read the rest there, for more information about his theological works.

O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm
to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom,
grant, we pray,
that our faith in you may so aid our understanding,
that what we believe by your command
may give delight to our hearts.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Seven (7) Martyrs on April 20: 1584, 1586, 1602

Even though there are seven Catholic martyrs today, Annie Mitchell and I are only able to discuss two of them this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show: Blessed James Bell and Blessed John Finch, a priest and a layman executed in Lancaster on April 20, 1584. Blessed James Bell was born during the reign of Henry VIII! ordained during the reign of Mary I! I'll be on during the National EWTN hour.

Blessed James Bell: Priest and martyr, b. at Warrington in Lancashire, England, probably about 1520; d. 20 April, 1584. For the little known of him we depend on the account published four years after his death by Bridgewater in his "Concertatio" (1588), and derived from a manuscript which was kept at Douay when Challoner wrote his "Missionary Priests" in 1741, and is now in the Westminster Diocesan Archives. A few further details were collected by Challoner, and others are supplied by the State Papers. Having studied at Oxford he was ordained priest in Mary's reign, but unfortunately conformed to the established Church under Elizabeth, and according to the Douay manuscript "ministered their bare few sacraments about 20 years in diverse places of England". Finally deterred by conscience from the cure of souls and reduced to destitution, he sought a small readership as a bare subsistence. To obtain this he approached the patron's wife, a Catholic lady, who induced him to be reconciled to the Church. After some time he was allowed to resume priestly functions, and for two years devoted himself to arduous missionary labours. He was at length apprehended (17 January 1583-84) and, having confessed his priesthood, was arraigned at Manchester Quarter-Sessions held during the same month, and sent for trial at Lancaster Assizes in March. When condemned and sentenced he said to the Judge: "I beg your Lordship would add to the sentence that my lips and the tops of my fingers may be cut off, for having sworn and subscribed to the articles of heretics contrary both to my conscience and to God's Truth". He spent that night in prayer and on the following day was hanged and quartered together with Blessed John Finch, a layman, 20 April, 1584.

Blessed John Finch: A martyr, b. about 1548; d. 20 April, 1584. He was a yeoman of Eccleston, Lancashire, and a member of a well-known old Catholic family, but he appears to have been brought up in schism. When he was twenty years old he went to London where he spent nearly a year with some cousins at Inner Temple. While there he was forcibly struck by the contrast between Protestantism and Catholicism in practice and determined to lead a Catholic life. Failing to find advancement in London he returned to Lancashire where he was reconciled to Catholic Church. He then married and settled down, his house becoming a centre of missionary work, he himself harbouring priests and aiding them in every way, besides acting as catechist. His zeal drew on him the hostility of the authorities, and at Christmas, 1581, he was entrapped into bringing a priest, George Ostliffe, to a place where both were apprehended. It was given out that Finch, having betrayed the priest and other Catholics, had taken refuge with the Earl of Derby, but in fact, he was kept in the earl's house as a prisoner, sometimes tortured and sometimes bribed in order to pervert him and induce him to give information. This failing, he was removed to the Fleet prison at Manchester and afterwards to the House of Correction. 
When he refused to go to the Protestant church he was dragged there by the feet, his head beating on the stones. For many months he lay in a damp dungeon, ill-fed and ill-treated, desiring always that he might be brought to trial and martyrdom. After three years' imprisonment, he was sent to be tried at Lancaster. There he was brought to trial with three priests on 18 April, 1584. He was found guilty and, 20 April, having spent the night in converting some condemned felons, he suffered with Ven. James Bell at Lancaster. The cause of his beatification with those of the other English Martyrs was introduced by decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, 4 Dec., 1886.

They were both beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

Blessed Richard Sargeant and Blessed William Thomson suffered on April 20, 1586. Find their stories here.

Blessed Thomas Tichborne, Blessed Robert Watkinson, and Blessed Francis Page all endured martyrdom at Tyburn in London on April 20, 1602. These five martyrs were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

Blessed James Bell, pray for us.
Blessed John Finch, pray for us.
Blessed Richard Sargeant, pray for us.
Blessed William Thomson, pray for us.
Blessed Thomas Tichborne, pray for us.
Blessed Robert Watkinson, pray for us.
Blessed Francis Page, pray for us.
Holy martyrs of England and Wales, pray for us.
Holy confessors of England and Wales, pray for us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

With Chesterton on the Middle Ages

Preparing for my presentation for the Catholic Culture Conference this weekend at the Spiritual Life Center ("Cobbett and Chesterton on Merry Old England"), I've been reading books and essays by Chesterton. Registration closes today at noon, so you'd better call in now!

Throughout his Short History of England, his study of Chaucer, and many essays in which he mentions the Middle Ages, Chesterton notes that the twentieth century Englishman (or woman) knows nothing about the Middle Ages except what prejudices he or she has received about the darkness and obscurity of that Catholic era. As an example, The American Chesterton Society posts this essay from the Illustrated London News, November 15, 1913, "Getting to Know the Middle Ages":

It is quite natural that the prosperous people in our time should know no history. If they did know it, they would know the highly unedifying history of how they became prosperous. It is quite natural, I say, that they should not know history: but why do they think they do? Here is a sentence taken at random from a book written by one of the most cultivated of our younger critics, very well written and most reliable on its own subject, which is a modern one. The writer says: “There was little social or political advance in the Middle Ages” until the Reformation and the Renaissance. Now I might just as well say that there was little advance in science and invention in the nineteenth century until the coming of William Morris: and then excuse myself by saying that I am not personally interested in spinning-jennies and jelly-fish – which is indeed the case. For that is all that the writer really means: he means he is not personally interested in heralds or mitred abbots. That is all right; but why, when writing about something that did not exist in the Middle Ages, should he dogmatise about a story that he has evidently never heard? Yet it might be made a very interesting story.

A little while before the Norman Conquest, countries such as our own were a dust of yet feeble feudalism, continually scattered in eddies by barbarians, barbarians who had never ridden a horse. There was hardly a brick or stone house in England. There were scarcely any roads except beaten paths: there was practically no law except local customs. Those were the Dark Ages out of which the Middle Ages came. Take the Middle Ages two hundred years after the Norman Conquest and nearly as long before the beginnings of the Reformation. The great cities have arisen; the burghers are privileged and important; Labour has been organised into free and responsible Trade Unions; the Parliaments are powerful and disputing with the princes; slavery has almost disappeared; the great Universities are open and teaching with the scheme of education that Huxley so much admired; Republics as proud and civic as the Republics of the pagans stand like marble statues along the Mediterranean; and all over the North men have built such churches as men may never build again. And this, the essential part of which was done in one century rather than two, is what the critic calls “little social or political advance.” There is scarcely an important modern institution under which he lives, from the college that trained him to the Parliament that rules him, that did not make its main advance in that time.

Read the rest there.

Also from The American Chesterton Society, Dale Ahlquist writes about Chesterton on Chaucer:

Chesterton has often been dismissed for blindly idealizing the Middle Ages, but the real problem is quite the opposite. The modern world automatically attacks the Middle Ages as something backwards, dark, and superstitious, the enemy of reason and liberty. Chesterton merely defended the truth that reason and liberty enjoyed a high point in medieval times that the world has not really seen since. He acknowledged that there were still problems in those times, and there are certainly many things that we can rightfully regard as improvements. But history is not a story of progress. Our fortunes move both backward and forward. While technology provides a kind of liberty, it also provides a kind of slavery. While the experts are useful as servants, they are unbearable as masters.

In the Middle Ages the peasant class, according to Chesterton, was still successfully fighting off the rise of the Aristocratic state. He refers to a famous peasant uprising where they “killed the lawyers; a comprehensible and (relatively) even commendable course; though they also showed some disposition to hang anybody who could read or write; which is perhaps carrying the distrust of professionalism too far.”

The most difficult thing for us to understand about that culture is that it was purely Catholic, there were no Reformers or Rebels to contend with. The theology was solid and widespread. The criticisms of the Church came in the form of making fun of stuffy Roman officialism, or, in the case of Geoffrey Chaucer, making fun of friars.

As I recall, though dimmed by years, when I studied The Canterbury Tales in college, it was as if the Reformation had already happened in Chaucer's time: the Church was corrupt; Indulgences were for sale; we were as anti-clerical as Lollards or Voltaire; Martin Luther came far too late to the ball! After this project, I think I need to read Chesterton on Chaucer and then re-read The Canterbury Tales without jaundice. After all, April is not over yet!

Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for the seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Father O'Connor/Father Brown

Our G.K. Chesterton group discussed the first three chapters of Nancy Carpentier Brown's biography of Frances Chesterton Friday night and decided to assign the rest of the book for our next meeting on Friday, May 13 (the second Friday of the month instead of our usual third Friday).

Several of us commented on the friendship between Frances Chesterton and Father John O'Connor, which was first demonstrated through a correspondence filled with spiritual advice and consolation. Because Brown wrote a biography of Frances and not of Gilbert, she only hints that Father O'Connor was Chesterton's model for Father Brown.

This biography, The Elusive Father Brown: The Life of Mgr John O'Connor by Julia Smith, published by Gracewing Press, may fill some of the necessary gaps left by Nancy Carpentier Brown:

G. K. Chesterton’s much-loved priest-detective, Father Brown, was based on his friend John Joseph O’Connor, born in Ireland and ordained a Catholic priest in 1895. Mgr. John O’Connor became known for possessing one of the finest intellects in early twentieth-century Europe, friend and confidante of statesmen, writers and artists, his own literary output was prolific. He collected fine works of art, the sale of which part funded the building of his first church, and through his friendship with Eric Gill he commissioned the Stations of the Cross for his Bradford church. This, the first biography, aims to introduce the shadowy figure who was involved in so many different worlds.

K.V. Turley reviewed the biography on June 13, 2015 for The Catholic World Report:

Crime fiction fans are well aware of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and his place in the Pantheon of great detectives. Nevertheless, in contrast with the seemingly endless speculation as to the ‘real Sherlock Holmes’, there has been little such debate about the origin of the priest sleuth. However, a recent book, The Elusive Father Brown(Gracewing, 2010), by Laura [sic] Smith, goes some way to rectifying this, detailing as it does the life of the cleric who formed the basis upon which Chesterton’s characterization was based, and who played a part in at least two very public conversions. . . .

Monsignor O’Connor, as he was to become, unlike his fictional alter ego, was very much a priest with a parish and one he was to remain attached to for most of his priestly ministry. Although unmistakeably an Irish man, in accent and manner, he was to live the majority of his life in Yorkshire, more precisely Bradford. In that city he was to gain the status of a local celebrity. He seems to have known the great and the good—Catholic or not—while never neglecting his own flock to whom he was very much an old-fashioned parish priest. He was familiar with the social and political currents that played out around this West Yorkshire municipality as much as they did other British cities. Whereas, at times, Fr. Brown appears ‘other worldly’, this could never have been said of Mgr. O’Connor who was in the thick of things at all times.

In fact, his reach was well beyond the city limits of Bradford, then a place known for heavy industry rather than culture. It was through his influence that all sorts of contemporary cultural figures were to descend upon it, writers like Chesterton and Belloc, and artists such as David Jones and Eric Gill. They came hardly knowing the priest, only, in some instances, to leave as friends and, for some, more deeply Catholic. In Chesterton’s case, he began writing Fr. Brown stories as Anglican only to end those adventures as Catholic, the writer’s conversion in no small part to the influence of Mgr. O’Connor.

Read the rest there.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

St. Robert Southwell's Influence

Next month, from St. Augustine's Press: Southwell's Sphere: The Influence of England's Secret Poet by Dr. Gary Bouchard:

Once feared by Queen Elizabeth I and admired by William Shakespeare, Robert Southwell, s.j. (1561–1595), clings today to a thinning canonical presence in English literature among a sphere of other writers incongruously called the metaphysical poets. Southwell’s Sphere lifts this sixteenth century Jesuit priest and prolific writer from the obscurity in which he too often resides and places him instead at the center of a sphere of English poets upon whom his life and works exerted an observable influence. As he weaved his religious content into the familiar loom of Elizabethan form and style, this young missionary priest was seeking not just to catechize those whom he regarded as the faithful and the fallen, but to intentionally reform the verse of his native England. Remarkably, during his brief six-year mission, he actually managed in many respects to do so. Surviving for six years by successfully navigating and fostering a complicated underground Catholic network in and around London before being captured, tortured and imprisoned, Southwell was brought to trial and executed at Tyburn at age 33. He therefore never knew most of the “skillfuller wits” that he called upon to direct their poetic skills to the service of God. And like the marks upon his tortured body, the poetic marks of influence that his work left upon individual writers of this era were in many cases deliberately concealed. Southwell’s Sphere seeks to rediscover those marks and offer the reader a renewed appreciation for this subverted and subverting literary force in Early Modern England. In individual explicative chapters this book examines works by six poets whose verse may be appreciated differently in light of Robert Southwell’s life and work. The author makes the case that Southwell’s works, posthumously and prolifically published, instructed William Alabaster, provoked Edmund Spenser, prompted George Herbert, haunted John Donne, inspired Richard Crashaw and — two and a half centuries later — consoled Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j. With the exception of Spenser, all of these poets were, like Southwell, ordained ministers. The particular personal, political and religious complexities of each of their lives notwithstanding, what they most shared in common with Southwell was their priestly vocation, their talent as English poets and the inevitable and inextricable joining of these two activities in their lives. While it would have made little sense for any of these poets to acknowledge Southwell as a poetic peer, each of them authored important verse that can best be appreciated within the sphere of this improbably successful and influential English poet.

Professor Bouchard wrote about Southwell and his legacy in the July/August 2014 St. Austin Review and he will be speaking later this month at the Catholic Literature Conference in New Hampshire:

“Hanged, Drawn, Quartered and Published: Robert Southwell and the Reformation of English Poetry”

Dr. Gary Bouchard - Dr. Bouchard is a professor in the English Department of Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH. Since 1987, he has served the College in a variety of capacities, including a five-year term as the College’s Executive Vice-President from 1998 to 2003. He currently serves as secretary of the Executive Board of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, as a trustee of Catholic Medical Center, and on boards at Bishop Brady High School and The Villa Augustina. Dr. Bouchard specializes in Early Modern lyric and narrative poetry. His book
Southwell’s Sphere: The Influence of England’s Secret Poet (due out in January 2016) [sic?] discusses Southwell’s influence on seventeenth-century poets.

A poem by St. Robert Southwell, "Look Home"--could it have influenced John Donne?

Retired thoughts enjoy their own delights,
As beauty doth in self-beholding eye ;
Man's mind a mirror is of heavenly sights,
A brief wherein all marvels summed lie,
Of fairest forms and sweetest shapes the store,
Most graceful all, yet thought may grace them more.

The mind a creature is, yet can create,
To nature's patterns adding higher skill ;
Of finest works with better could the state
If force of wit had equal power of will.
Device of man in working hath no end,
What thought can think, another thought can mend.

Man's soul of endless beauty image is,
Drawn by the work of endless skill and might ;
This skillful might gave many sparks of bliss
And, to discern this bliss, a native light ;
To frame God's image as his worths required
His might, his skill, his word and will conspired.

All that he had his image should present,
All that it should present it could afford,
To that he could afford his will was bent,
His will was followed with performing word.
Let this suffice, by this conceive the rest,
He should, he could, he would, he did, the best.