Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christina Rossetti, RIP

The Anglo-Catholic, Tractarian, Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti died on December 29, 1894. The Poetry Foundation describes her religious and poetic inspirations:

Caught up in the Tractarian or Oxford Movement when it reached London in the 1840s, the Rossettis shifted from an Evangelical to an Anglo-Catholic orientation, and this outlook influenced virtually all of Christina Rossetti’s poetry. She was also influenced by the poetics of the Oxford Movement, as is documented in the annotations and illustrations she added to her copy of John Keble’s The Christian Year (1827) and in her reading of poetry by Isaac Williams and John Henry Newman. For more than twenty years, beginning in 1843, she worshiped at Christ Church, Albany Street, where services were influenced by the innovations emanating from Oxford. The Reverend William Dodsworth, the priest there until his conversion to Catholicism in 1850, assumed a leading role as the Oxford Movement spread to London. In addition to coming under the religious influence of prominent Tractarians such as Dodsworth, W. J. E. Bennett, Henry W. Burrows, and E. B. Pusey, Rossetti had close personal ties with Burrows and Richard Frederick Littledale, a High Church theologian who became her spiritual adviser. The importance of Rossetti’s faith for her life and art can hardly be overstated. More than half of her poetic output is devotional, and the works of her later years in both poetry and prose are almost exclusively so. The inconstancy of human love, the vanity of earthly pleasures, renunciation, individual unworthiness, and the perfection of divine love are recurring themes in her poetry.

As this site shows, she wrote several poems for Advent and Christmastide, through to Candlemas, the traditional end of the 40 days of Christmas. One of the most familiar is called "A Christmas Carol" but we know it as "In the Bleak Midwinter":

In the bleak mid-winter
  Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
  Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
  Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
  Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
  Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
  When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
  A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
  Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him whom cherubim
  Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
  And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him whom angels
  Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
  Which adore.

  May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
  Throng'd the air,
But only His mother
  In her maiden bliss
Worshipped her Beloved
  With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
  Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
  I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
  I would do my part,--
Yet what I can I give Him,
  Give my heart.

Remember that today is also the feast of St. Thomas a Becket, and of Blessed William Howard, martyrs.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Henry VIII and Sanctuary

If you've seen the Charles Laughton-Maureen O'Hara movie version of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you surely remember the moment that Quasimodo carries Esmeralda into Notre Dame Cathedral and raises her in his arms to proclaim "Sanctuary, Sanctuary!" And the crowd below goes wild!

As this blog dedicated to English Legal History notes, criminals in England had the right of Sanctuary too, claiming protection from the Catholic Church:

In medieval England, a criminal could go to a church and claim protection from the law. The authorities and the processes of criminal justice could not reach him. This was based on the idea that no force could be used on the consecrated and holy ground of the churches.

This privilege, called sanctuary, could be taken up by any criminals, ranging from murderers, rapists and thieves to the simple debtor who owed a sum of money.

The common law of the time stated that the privilege of sanctuary could only be used for up to 40 days. However, there were in existence some large sanctuaries (such as Westminster Abbey) that could house hundreds of criminals and had the facilities for them to stay indefinitely. When the criminals attempted to continue their criminal activities from the Abbey, the practice of these large sanctuaries was heavily frowned upon by the authorities and the public.

One of the most famous claimers of Sanctuary was not a criminal, however, but the wife and then widow of King Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville. She remained with her children and household in Westminster Abbey's Sanctuary during two periods of the Wars of the Roses.

Of course, Henry VIII, since Church and State become one under his Supreme rule, eventually eliminated the rights of Sanctuary:

There was a significant case between 1516 and 1520 regarding a large sanctuary at St John’s Priory. This led to calls for reform and Henry VIII declared that the ancient kings and old popes never had the intention of letting the sanctuaries be used to such a gross extent.

Henry proceeded to abolish almost all sanctuaries and removed the possibility of using the privilege for almost all crimes. The practice did not breathe its last until a statute of 1624 which stated ‘no sanctuary or privilege of sanctuary to be hereafter admitted or allowed in any case’.

The reason I bring this up is because there's a fascinating post on the Oxford University Press blog by an author of a recent book about the practice of Sanctuary in England and her reactions to another famous author on the subject. Shannon McSheffrey, Professor of History at Concordia University in Montreal writes:

For the last fifteen years I have been having an intense dialogue in my head with a long-dead historian, Isobel D. Thornley (1893-1941). Isobel is my best frenemy. Two pieces she wrote in 1924 and 1932 remain standard citations for one of my favourite subjects, medieval sanctuary; this is a feat of scholarly longevity that few of her contemporaries can boast. Having dug through the same documents—and benefitted enormously from following in her footsteps—I admire Isobel’s archival diligence and the boldness of her arguments. I also disagree with almost everything she says.

Isobel’s place in the interwar historical community in London is mostly forgotten: she does not appear in any directories of important historians of the past—neither the Institute of Historical Research’s London’s Women Historians, for instance, nor another of the IHR’s pantheons, Making History. Her name does live on in the form of the Thornley Bequest Fund, established when she left her estate to the University of London. Over the decades Isobel’s legacy has benefited hundreds of historians, both students and academic researchers, many of whom probably have no idea who she was. . . .

The continuing influence of her work on sanctuary is not due to a precocious modernity; her sententious writing style probably seemed old-fashioned in the 1920s. It is, I think, the clarity and the no-nonsense tone that continues to convince many readers, even though her interpretations are unquestionably Whiggish, congruent with the views of her mentor Pollard. Sanctuary was a “great evil,” for it allowed criminals to escape punishment. In her account, “bold” and forward-thinking civic leaders allied with the judiciary to destroy the “hoary” popish institution of sanctuary and bring England into Protestant modernity.

I disagree with Thornley’s interpretation of English sanctuary on many fronts, too many to rehearse here (quick version: it was much more complicated). . . .

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Another Jesuit Martyr's Christmas Hymn

Saint Robert Southwell (1561 to February 21, 1595) is the famous Jesuit martyr who wrote a great Christmas poem, "The Burning Babe", but Saint Jean de Brébeuf (March 25, 1593 to March 16, 1649), one of the North American Jesuit martyrs, also wrote a poem for Christmas, set to a French tune (Une Jeune Pucelle). He wrote the poem in Wendat, the Huron's language. This version includes the hymn in Wendat, French, and English. The most commonly used translation is by Jesse Edgar Middleton:

'Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunter heard the hymn:

"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria."

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp'd His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high. Refrain

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heaven
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy. Refrain

This website discusses some controversy about the hymn, but the controversy really centers not on the original, but on the Middleton translation:

The first claim is that the song uses broad generalizations that depict a Western idealized image of native cultures. Some see this as Western culture appropriating native images and slotting them into a Western religious story. Others argue the images are not of native cultures at all, but just Western interpretations of what native culture should look like. In particular, people point out the images of "broken bark" and "ragged robe of rabbit skin", and phrases like "people of the forest free".

The second issue is that the song confuses different native cultures. For example, "Gitchi Manitou" is an Algonquian word for "Great Spirit", which is a different language group from Huron/Iroquoian language.

Thirdly, some critics say the Huron Carol is a tool to convert people from one set of beliefs to another. The very act of trying to change someone's religion is seen as disrespectful to that person's beliefs. Meanwhile, the use of traditional beliefs to convey a different religious meaning can be seen as deceptive.

The author then notes that a more exact translation reveals Brebeuf's knowledge of the Huron culture and his efforts to convey his love for Jesus, sharing instead of imposing. 

Like St. Robert Southwell, St. Jean de Brebeuf suffered greatly during his martyrdom, as summarized by Bert Ghezzi:

In 1649, the Iroquois attacked the Huron village where John was living. They brutally martyred him, Gabriel Lalement, his companion, and their converts. Their suffering is indescribable: bludgeoned, burned with red-hot hatchets, baptized with boiling water, mutilated, flesh stripped off and eaten, hearts plucked out and devoured. 

St. Robert Southwell, pray for us!
St. Jean de Brebeuf, pray for us!

Best wishes for a happy, holy, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2018

"O Mercy Divine" on Christmas Eve

This hymn by Charles Wesley is the commissioned carol for the annual--in the 100th anniversary years--of the Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College Chapel, Cambridge (music composed by Judith Weir):

O mercy divine, O couldst Thou incline,
My God, to become such an infant as mine?
What wonder of grace: The Ancient of Days
Is found in the likeness of Adam’s frail race!

He comes from on high, who fashioned the sky,
And meekly vouchsafes in a manger to lie;
Our God ever blest, with oxen doth rest,
Is nursed by His creature and hangs at the breast.

So heavenly-mild, His innocence smiled,
No wonder the mother would worship the Child,
The angels she knew had worshipped Him, too,
And still they confess adoration His due.

On Jesus’ face, with eager amaze,
And pleasure ecstatic the cherubim gaze;
Their newly born King, transported they sing,
And Heaven and earth with the triumph doth ring.

The shepherds behold Him, the promised of old,
By angels attended, by prophets foretold;
The wise men adore now, and bring Him their store,
The rich are permitted to follow the poor.

To the inn they repair, to see the young Heir;
The inn is a palace, for Jesus is there!
Who now would be great, and not rather wait
On Jesus their Lord in His humble estate?

Like Him would I be, my Master I see
In a stable; a manger shall satisfy me;
And here will I lie, till raised up on high,
With Him on the cross I recover the sky.

It's from Wesley's Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord published in 1745.

Image credit:The Nativity depicted in an English liturgical manuscript, c.1310-1320 (NB: This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.)

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Bishop Christopherson, RIP

A great supporter of Queen Mary I and a committed Catholic, John Christopherson, the former Bishop of Chichester, died on December 22, 1558. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:

Being conscientiously attached to the Roman catholic church (sic) he retired to the continent during the reign of Edward VI, but was supported by Trinity College. As an indication of his gratitude he dedicated to that society in February 1553 his translation of 'Philo Judæus.' He was then residing at Louvain.

Philo Judæus refers to Philo of Alexandria.

On the accession of Queen Mary he returned to England, and was appointed master of Trinity College in 1553, Dr. William Bill, a decided protestant, who had filled that office in the latter part of King Edward's reign, being ejected by two of his own fellows, who removed him from his stall in the chapel in a rude and insolent manner, in order to make room for Christopherson (Baker, Hist. of St, John's, i. 127). He was also nominated chaplain and confessor to Queen Mary, to whom he dedicated his 'Exhortation to all Menne,' written immediately after the suppression of Wyatt's rebellion in 1554. He tells the queen that his duty obliged him to write the book, because her majesty's bountiful goodness, when he was destitute of all aid or succour, so liberally provided for him that now he might without care serve God, go to his book, and do his duty in that vocation to which God had called him.  . . .

He ran into trouble under Elizabeth I, of course, since he was "conscientiously attached to the Roman catholic church (sic)":

On 27 Nov. 1558, being the second Sunday after Queen Elizabeth's accession, Christopherson, preaching at St. Paul's Cross, with great vehemence and freedom answered a sermon preached by Dr. Bill at that place on the preceding Sunday declaring that the new doctrine set forth by Dr. Bill was not the gospel but the invention of heretical men. 'or this sermon he was summoned before the queen, who ordered him to be sent to prison, where he died about a month afterwards (Zurich Letters, i. 4). He was buried on 28 Dec. 1558 at Christ Church, London, with heraldic state, five bishops offering at the mass, and there being banners of his own arms, and the arms of his see, and four banners of saints (Machyn, Diary, 184). By his will dated 6 Oct. 1556, but not proved till 9 Feb. 1562–3, wherein he desired to be buried in the chapel of Trinity College, near the south side of the high altar, he gave to that college many books, both printed and manuscript, in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and directed that certain copies of his translation of 'Philo Judæus' should from time to time be given to poor scholars. He also gave to his successors in the mastership of Trinity certain hangings and other goods in his study chambers and gallery, and requested the college to celebrate yearly on the anniversary of his death a dirge and mass of requiem wherein mention was to be made of his father and mother, and of his special good master and bringer up, John Redman, D.D. Independent of his own benefactions to Trinity College, he procured considerable donations to that society from Queen Mary.

He wrote a tragedy in Greek about Jephthah , one of the judges of Israel, who swore an oath: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31) After winning the victory over the Ammonites Jephthah returned home and his daughter, his only child met him so he had to fulfill his vow to the Lord.

Image creditThe Return of Jephtha, by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

English Reformation Heroes

The Catholic Herald posts a review of a book by Jonathan Dean, an ordained Methodist minister and Methodist Tutor at The Queens Foundation, in which Dean describes his favorite heroes of the English Reformation era, starting with St. Thomas More:

The book’s adoring tone is set by the opening chapter on Thomas More. Utopia is “one of the finest books ever written”, and More was apparently “the greatest Englishman of his age” with “a strong claim to be the greatest of any age”. That’s something of a stretch, but Dean makes a decent fist of reconciling the seemingly contradictory aspects of More’s character. He was the “teller of merry tales” and someone who mocked the “follies and extravagances of some elements of Catholic devotion”, but also a man who held heretics in the deepest contempt.

Dean sees no obvious conflict. Whatever flaws the papacy may have had, it remained “the guarantor of connection to the Church in every other place and time”. Its enemies were to be obliterated.

Dean also admires Thomas Cranmer:

Dean likes Cranmer a lot. He argues against the idea that Cranmer’s early career was defined by vacillation or timidity and demonstrates that his contribution to the Henrician and Edwardine Reformations was valuable. Having begun as a Cambridge scholar, perfectly happy with his lot, Cranmer was dragged into public life as much through “political shenanigans” as “his own talents”, but those gifts helped to forge a brand new Church.

According to the publisher:

To Gain at Harvest celebrates the courage, intellect, humility and passion displayed by figures of all shades of opinion and belief during the English Reformation.

Offering insights into the turbulent period of the English Reformation and its ideas, Jonathan Dean demonstrates the qualities of mind and heart, and the gifts of faith and character, which some of its leading proponents possessed.

The book will provide a vital resource for students and general readers seeking to understand a crucial moment in church history.


1. The Ground of Charity: Thomas More

2. Ambition and Fidelity: Thomas Cranmer

3. A Tudor Woman’s Passion: Anne Askew

4. Manifold Passions: Katherine Parr

5. ‘Nourished with Hope’: Nicholas Harpsfield

6. The Virtue of Moderation: Matthew Parker

7. Governing with Subtlety: Queen Elizabeth I

8. The Piety of Prayer and the Fluency of Speech: Lancelot Andrewes

9. ‘Make me Thine’: George Herbert

10. Felicity and Desire: Thomas Traherne

I would be very interested in what Dean thinks of Nicholas Harpsfield, More's biographer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Chesterton on Mary, Queen of Scots and Don John of Austria

I have updated my Other Publications page to note that Gilbert!, the magazine published by the American Chesterton Society, has published the second part of my essay on G.K. Chesterton's great counter-factual exploration of how history would been different in Don John of Austria, the Hero of Lepanto, had followed through on his notion to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots and marry her!

In 1911, G.K. Chesterton published his narrative poem Lepanto. Don John of Austria, an illegitimate son of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, leads the fleet of the Holy League of Catholic countries against the invading Ottoman fleet. . . .

Twenty years later, Chesterton returned to his great hero and wrote an article offering a fascinating proposal of marriage: the world would be different today if Don John of Austria had rescued Mary, Queen of Scots and married her. Chesterton argues that it would have been a good match for both of them. Most counterfactuals about English Reformation history—The Alteration by Kingsley Amis for example—assume that a Catholic England would be a medieval, backward country (betraying great ignorance of the Middle Ages of course). Chesterton proposes that something great could have happened in Scotland and England—in Christendom, in Europe, and the whole world— “if Don John of Austria had married Mary Queen of Scots”.

It takes some imagination to follow his argument and some knowledge of English and Scottish history to understand his examples, but it’s a rewarding exercise nonetheless. As “an earnest and plodding student of the dry scientific details of history”, (104) Chesterton uses many historical examples, and the purpose of this article is to explain some of the more obscure.

Please note that a subscription to Gilbert! is included in membership to the American Chesterton Society.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Brexit and the English Reformation

Brexit is in the news again as the government of Great Britain and the European Union try to reach an agreement about how the U.K. leaves the E.U., so once again comparisons between Brexit and the English Reformation are being posted. Like this one, which has an interesting twist on the reason for Henry VIII to break away from the Papacy and the Catholic Church. It seems to almost suggest an anti-Catholic argument amongst Brexiteers--the E.U. is as bad as the R.C.C.:

Most of the arguments in favor of Brexit assume a traditional conception of sovereignty, and are grounded in English – rather than British – history. Brexiteers look back fondly at King John’s defiance of Pope Innocent III in the thirteenth century. And they are even more smitten with the Tudor era, when Henry VIII wrested the Church of England from the yoke of papal authority. To this day, the Tudors enjoy a near-ubiquitous presence in British textbooks, media, films, and the popular imagination.

The defining moment of the Henrician Reformation came in April 1533, when the Parliament of England passed the Ecclesiastical Appeals Act, giving Henry the final word on all legal and religious questions. The point of the law was to free England from the authority of a papacy that answered to Charles I of Spain – that is, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. As long as Charles called the shots in Rome, Henry would not be able to divorce Charles’s aunt, Catherine of Aragon.

Contained in the Appeals Act is the first clear legislative definition of sovereignty. “This realm of England,” the law states, “is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one Supreme Head and King…” But as is always the case, the measures that launched the revolution were incomplete. The laws that Parliament adopted in the 1530s did not replace Catholicism with Protestantism. But they did pave the way for religious reformers to carry the revolution into its next phase.

The use of the word divorce is so ridiculous. The Catholic Church has never issued divorces. Henry VIII was seeking a decree of nullity to say that no marriage had ever occurred. Divorce is a civil matter; nullity can be too, but in that period marriage was more a religious, sacramental state than a civil one. And the religious legislation of the 1530's went a long way to undoing traditional Catholicism in England, if not establishing a thoroughly Protestant church.

Please read the rest there

Image Credit: Henry VIII with Charles V (right) and Pope Leo X (centre), c. 1520