Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Farewell to 2019; Hail 2020!

John Mason Neale included this translation of the medieval hymn (Anonymous; Germany; 12th century), In hoc anni circulo in his 1853 Carols for Christmas-tide:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether or not you seek to gain the Plenary Indulgence, today is a good day to praise and thank God for all the blessings of the past year with a traditional hymn, the Te Deum Laudamus:

O, God, we praise You and acknowledge You
to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships You.
All the angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the cherubim and seraphim, continually cry to you:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of Your glory.
The glorious choir of the apostles,
The wonderful company of prophets,
The white-robed army of martyrs, praise You.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges You:
The Father of infinite majesty;
Your adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, You are the King of glory!
You are the everlasting Son of the Father.
When You took it upon Yourself to deliver man,
You did not disdain the Virgin's womb.
Having overcome the sting of death,
You opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You sit at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father
We believe that You will come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg You to help Your servants
whom You have redeemed with Your Precious Blood.
Let them be numbered with Your saints in everlasting glory.

Best Books of 2019: One through Five

My ways of determining which books made this list were: 1) How much I enjoyed reading the book; 2) How much I learned from reading the book, especially as it added to knowledge I already had; 3) the author's skill in using sources and making an argument I could engage with; and 4) how well the book connected with other books I was reading or other events I was attending.

From February of 2019:

The late Margaret Aston took on Roy Strong's dating of the allegorical painting Edward VI and the Pope in this wonderfully illustrated and elegantly argued exploration of religious issues during Elizabeth I's reign. Aston does it with such good humour and careful explanation that I think that even Roy Strong wouldn't mind her suggestion that he was wrong to date this painting to the reign of Edward VI, even though it seems to depict events occurring while that new Josiah was on the throne and his Protectors and Council were implementing a truly Calvinist and iconoclastic Reformation in England.

Much of Aston's evidence is graphic as she dates the sphinx-like bedpost at the bottom of Henry VIII's bed, and indeed Henry VIII's posture, including the hand on his knee and the pointing finger, by citing another image, created after both Edward and Mary I reigned, on the Continent by Peter Galle in 1564. Aston also found a drawing of the Fall of Babel dating to 1567 upon which the inset picture of the destruction of idols could be based. Those two models take the allegorical picture out of Edward VI's reign and into Elizabeth's reign. . . .

This is really masterful work, explaining many facets of the English Reformation through the analysis of an allegorical painting which is not really a great work of art but a fascinating image nonetheless. 

Another royally titled book from November:

I certainly agree [with the publisher] that Fraser writes "character-driven narrative history": her profiles of historical figures from Lord George Gordon to Cardinal Consalvi, Bishop Milner to Daniel O'Connell, Maria Fitzherbert to Father John Lingard describe their contributions to the ongoing social, political, and Royal struggle to allow Catholics to practice their faith freely. Each chapter describes the proponents and opponents of Catholic Emancipation and the slow progress of Parliamentary efforts toward it. She begins with the Gordon Riots, continues with the situation of the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitzherbert (the heir to the throne married to a Catholic widow through a wedding not recognized by the State), King George III's breakdown, English sympathy for Catholic refugees from the French Revolution, Daniel O'Connell's efforts, etc. . . .

Fraser dedicates two-thirds of the book to the events and personages dealing with the cause of Catholic Emancipation in Ireland and in England. The last section details the final, reluctant assent of Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington, and King George IV to Catholic Emancipation after Daniel O'Connell had won a landslide election in County Clare. The remarkably horrid fear of Catholics--King George IV's brother, Ernest Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland (future King of Hanover) actually thought that Catholic Emancipation would mean that England would become a Catholic country with a Catholic government--when Catholics were such a minority in England (but not in Ireland!). . . .

So finally Catholic Emancipation was achieved, except that important supporters of O'Connell in Ireland were stripped of the vote when the property value limits were increased for freeholds from forty shilling to ten pounds, reducing the number of Catholic men who could vote. O'Connell regretted that part of the deal. He also had to stand for election again because the law didn't grandfather him in: under his original election, he still had to take an oath denying the Real Presence, etc.

Fraser rightly pays tribute to O'Connell's rhetoric eloquence and strategic brilliance: while not allowing any violence, especially after he had won election, Wellington's government knew there was a threat and the possibility of insurrection. He was one of the heroes of this effort. She also acknowledges Wellington's commitment and even Peel's change of mind. This is a great work of historical storytelling with important consequences. . . .

In August, I read this book by Deal W. Hudson in .pdf format before its release in September:

What Deal Hudson does in this book is help us teach ourselves--be autodidacts--about the classic works of literature, film, and music (adding the last two to the usual consideration of the Western Classical Tradition) and then help us maneuver in the world of social media, the mainstream mass media, and the progressive, anti-traditional cultural milieu we face--where we can lose our minds (and souls). He doesn't reject the internet, citing many sources, especially for musical compositions, that are on-line. Finally, he examines the Four Loves delineated by C.S. Lewis (Storge/Parental Love, Philia/Friendship, Eros, and Agape) and the classic works of literature, film, and music that depict them.

These three parts of the book reflect the three transcendentals that have always kept men and women from losing their minds: Beauty ("The Irresistible Canon"), Truth ("Bad Ideas in Motion"), and Goodness ("Love is the Crux"). Like the line from the Rilke poem in Chapter One, "You Must Change Your Life", the image on the cover depicts what great works of art mean to us and the roles they play in our lives: to challenge, inspire, and educate us: to see more than we have seen before. Hudson goes on to urge us to read or view or listen to works that don't immediately conform to our own comfort, that may be dark or tragic.

Before and after the Eighth Day Institute Florovsky-Newman Week in June, I read the next two books. 

In May:

Father O'Malley devotes three of the five chapters to the background of the First Vatican Council, the first Church Council since Trent in the 16th century. He reviews the political and culture situation in Europe, especially in Italy, where the Pope's temporal authority over the Papal States and Rome was in danger in the drive for Italian unity and nationhood. He examines the relationship between Church and the nations in Europe, especially trends like Gallicanism,  Febronianism, and Josephinism through which the state or the ruler controlled education, formation of priests, selection of bishops, monastic and religious foundations, etc. O'Malley's survey in those three chapters thus begins in the eighteenth century, explores the grassroots origins of the Ultramontane movement--meaning grassroots from the laity, to the priesthood, to the academic world, and to the episcopacy--and the pontificate of Pope Pius IX (including the history of the treatment of the popes personally during the revolutionary movements of France and Italy). . . .

In his Conclusion Father O'Malley discusses the aftermath of the First Vatican Council, including, all too briefly I think, Newman's response to Gladstone's overreaction to Pastor Aeternus. In his interview with Deal Hudson, O'Malley opines that since the decree on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there has been no exercise of Papal Infallibility in matters of faith and morals. But the Church has been more centered on the role of the Pope in the everyday lives of Catholics, with Papal documents, speeches, travels, audiences, etc. One could also argue that the greatest event of the twentieth century for Catholics was the Second Vatican Council, which changed many aspects of daily Catholic life on the local, not Papal, level. Father O'Malley doesn't discuss this, but the long papacy of Pope Saint John Paul II also changed Catholics' view of the pope's role in our lives: his travels, his theological and philosophical influence, the saints he canonized, the reforms he instituted (Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, World Youth Day, the Synods of Bishops, etc), his great project of the celebration of the Third Millennium of Christianity, have formed our image of what a pope should be and do.

Father O'Malley is great historian and writer. He uses the sources well; writes succinctly and clearly; analyses cogently.

Highly recommended: except that I think he should have dedicated a few paragraphs to show how Newman's response to Gladstone formed the mainline interpretation of Papal Infallibility and authority.

In July:

I appreciated Levering's method of exposition as outlined [by the publisher]. He limits his discussion to the 20th century, describing the teaching of the Catholic Church on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the different theological schools and how they explored the meaning this teaching--their speculative theology--and how in the case of Karl Rahner it led to correction by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Not having read any of Joseph Ratzinger's speculative theology before, Levering's description of his work on the Assumption surprised me.

His exploration of typological interpretation of the Holy Bible as practiced by three Protestant theologians, Richard B. Hays, Peter Ens, and Peter Leithart, seemed to balance exposition of their thoughts and his reaction to their limitations of biblical interpretation by the historical-critical method fairly.

What I appreciated even more was Levering's references to two of Blessed John Henry Newman's Discourses to Mixed Congregations, "The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son" and "The Fitness of the Glories of Mary", although I was surprised that he did not also include Newman's thoughts on Mary as the New Eve from the Letter to Pusey. Nevertheless, the last two chapters present an excellent argument for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary based first on "The Authority of the Church as Interpreter of Revelation" (Chapter 5) and then on "The Fittingness of Mary's Assumption in God's Economy of Salvation" (Chapter 6). . . .

Tomorrow: Best Books of 2019: Six through Ten.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Books, Books, Books: Part Three

One person gave me these three books! It's extraordinary to say that I have never read Night by Elie Wiesel, which is now assigned in high school (9th to 12th grade):

It is 1944. The Jews of Sighet, Hungary are rounded up and driven into Nazi concentration camps. For the next terrible year, young Elie Wiesel experiences the loss of everything he loves — home, friends, family — in an agonizing journey through Birkenau, Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald. The greatest tragedy of our time, told through the eyes of a 15-year old boy.

Night is a terrifying account of the Nazi death-camp horror that turns a young Jewish boy into an agonized witness to the death of his family, his innocence, and his god. Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary of Anne Frank, Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.

Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.

Nor have I read anything in French for awhile:

This is the first mystery Simenon wrote with Inspector Jules Maigret! I guess if I can't read it in French, I'll have to buy the "crib"from Penguin!

And, in keeping with my other post today on the state/fate of Notre-Dame de Paris, it seems appropriate to highlight this book too:

According to Pan Macmillan:

In this wonderfully readable book, Alistair Horne tells the huge and romantic story of Paris through seven ages of turmoil and change: the Middle Ages, the 100 years war, the Paris of Louis XIV, the age of Napoleon, the Commune, the Empire days of Louis-Napoleon and Eugenie, and the First World War and De Gaulle. Interweaving historical narrative with telling detail, this is a fluent and definitive work of social and cultural history.

Soon, I'll let you know about my favorite books read in 2019!

50/50 Chance for the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris

After the death of my husband on January 16, 2019, the saddest thing that happened this year was the fire at Notre Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019. Seeing that beloved cathedral in flames and thinking of all the times he and I went there--especially the first time when we walked across Pont au Double from our Latin Quarter hotel--to tour Notre Dame, to pray in Notre Dame, to attend Mass in Notre Dame, was heart-breaking.

The news published this past week that the Cathedral realistically has a 50/50 chance of surviving because of the dangerous weight of the scaffolding was another heartbreak:

This year Christmas Mass was not celebrated at Notre Dame de Paris for the first time since the French First Republic, and the cathedral’s rector says that there is a significant chance the building cannot be rebuilt safely.

The church “is not out of danger,” Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said to the Associated Press Dec. 24. “It will be out of danger when we take out the remaining scaffolding.”

The scaffolding, which was present on the building prior to the April 15 fire due to restoration work, fused together during the blaze. There are an estimated 551 tons of metal still present on top of the cathedral.

“Today we can say that there is maybe a 50% chance (the cathedral) will be saved,” said Chauvet. “There is also (a) 50% chance of scaffolding falling onto the three vaults, so as you can see, the building is still very fragile,” he added.

This video from inside the Cathedral recently released shows the huge gap in the roof and the extraordinary puzzle of the scaffolding above. When you look up now, you don't see the glories of the Gothic height. Outside, the flying buttresses have been buttressed by wooden structures.

We humans are so used indeed of thinking that we can bend all matter to our will, make anything happen, but the thought that the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris could have survived the French Revolution, two World Wars, and even the growing secularization and laicite of 20th and 21st century French and may not survive a fire caused by a stray cigarette or electrical short is stunning.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

2020: 850th Anniversary of St. Thomas a Becket's Martyrdom

Since this is Sunday, the solemnities of the Christmas Octave (Feast of the Holy Family in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite; Sunday during the Octave in the Extraordinary Form) take precedence over the feast of St. Thomas a Becket, Henry II's Archbishop of Canterbury. Next year will be the 850th anniversary of his assassination in the Cathedral at Canterbury. The British Museum will open a special exhibit marking that anniversary in October of 2020:

Becket was one of the most powerful figures of his time, serving as royal Chancellor and later as Archbishop of Canterbury. Initially a close friend of King Henry II, the two men became engaged in a bitter dispute that culminated in Becket's shocking murder by knights with close ties to the king.

Marking the 850th anniversary of this dramatic crime, this major exhibition will present Becket's tumultuous journey from a London merchant's son to Archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a 'traitor' in the eyes of Henry VIII, over 350 years later.

Get up close to the man, the murder and the legend through an incredible array of objects associated with Becket, including medieval stained glass, manuscripts, jewellery and sacred reliquaries. It will feature artefacts from the Museum's collection as well as important loans from other major collections from the UK and around the world.

As the Museum notes on its blog this year, that murder in that cathedral had a lasting impact:

The assassination of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 changed the course of history. Becket was one of the most powerful figures of his time, serving as royal Chancellor and later as Archbishop of Canterbury. Initially a close friend of King Henry II, the two men became engaged in a bitter dispute that culminated in Becket’s shocking murder by knights with close ties to the king. It is a story of betrayal, of the perceived abuse of power and those who fall for standing in the way of the Crown. Here we explore Becket’s rise and fall, and unpick the events that led to the murder that shook the Middle Ages . . .

Becket’s death and subsequent miracles transformed Canterbury Cathedral into one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe. In 1220 his body was moved from the crypt to a glittering new shrine in a purpose-built chapel upstairs in the Cathedral. Geoffrey Chaucer famously captured something of the atmosphere of pilgrimage to this shrine in his Canterbury Tales. In death Becket remained a figure of opposition to unbridled power and became seen as the quintessential defender of the rights of the Church. To this end you can find images of his murder in churches across Latin Christendom, from Germany and Spain, to Italy and Norway. Becket was, and remains, a truly European saint. His relics at Canterbury were visited by people from across the continent until 1538, when Henry VIII would label him a traitor, order the destruction of his shrine and try to wipe him from history altogether. That, however, is a story for another time.

This exhibit is part of a bigger program of events next year in England, especially in Canterbury of course:

2020 marks an important dual anniversary for the extraordinary figure of Thomas Becket. It will be 850 years since his dramatic murder on the 29th December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, and 800 years since his body was moved on the 7th July 1220 from a tomb in the crypt of the cathedral into a glittering shrine. The events of 1220 were orchestrated to relaunch the cult of Becket, and ensured that Canterbury became the principal pilgrimage destination in England and one of the major pilgrimage sites within Europe.

Becket2020 is a programme of events developed by partners from across the UK, a platform to commemorate the remarkable life and death of Thomas Becket.

In the meantime, today while I'm celebrating the Solemnity of the Holy Family (and listening to Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ), I'll also remember St. Thomas a Becket (listening to the Unfinished Vespers of December 29, 1170, interrupted by the four knights).

St. Thomas a Becket, pray for us!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Books, Books, Books: Part Two

This next set of books offers some humbling challenges, starting with learning how to be more humble from St. Benedict of Nursia, via a Benedictine monk of the St. Louis Abbey:

Saint Benedict's fifth-century guide to humility offers the antidote to the epidemic of stress and depression overwhelming modern young adults. But the language of The Rule by Saint Benedict is medieval, and its most passionate advocates are cloistered monks and nuns. How then does this ancient wisdom translate into advice for ordinary people?

With candor, humor, and a unique approach to classical art, Father Augustine, a high school teacher and coach, breaks down Saint Benedict's method into twelve pithy steps for finding inner peace in a way that can be applied to anyone's life.

Drawing upon his own life experiences, both before and after becoming a Benedictine monk, the author explains every step, illustrating each chapter with color reproductions of sacred art that he has embellished with comic flourishes. The winsome combination is sure to keep readers from taking themselves too seriously—which is already a first step on the path to humility.

Becoming humble is part of metanoia, isn't it? Therefore, this book by Bishop Robert Barron seems appropriate:

"This book rests upon the conviction that real metanoia, the transition from a mind of fear to a mind of trust, is possible. Due to the playful, strange, unpredictable, and relentless love of God, the imago in us can be polished and the great soul can emerge." - Excerpt from And Now I See

Bishop Robert Barron offers an accessible exploration of Christian theological concepts that anyone can comprehend. He divides his book into three sections as he examines Christianity as a source of human transformation.

In his first section, Bishop Barron argues that human nature is alienated from itself and thus humans are in need of a mediator who can draw them back to God and self. The second section takes up a renewed understanding of God in light of the alienated nature of humanity. In his final section, Bishop Barron contends that Christ is a healer and reconciler who seeks to draw humanity back into relationship with God. Along the way, Bishop Barron draws on sources as diverse as Dante, Paul Tillich, Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor.

I also received a copy of Humility of Heart by Padre Gaetano Maria de Bergamo, translated by Herbert Cardinal Vaughan, the third Archbishop of Westminster, and edited by Michael Augustine Church. The author is also known as Father Cajetan de Bergamo. Jonathan Coe describes the book and the translation (in another edition) in Crisis Magazine:

Humility of Heart was translated into English by Herbert Cardinal Vaughan (1832-1903), the Archbishop of Westminster, during the last months of his life. He had read the book dozens of times and it was his constant companion for much of his adult life.

Father Cajetan (1672-1753) was professed a Minor Capuchin in 1692 and became one of the great Italian missionaries of the eighteenth century. His eulogy was brief but redolent with meaning: “Second to none in the customs of religious life, first in writing on things of every kind.”

The purpose of the first two-thirds of his book is to make the reader “conversant with the idea of humility in its necessity, it’s excellence and its motives.” The remaining third presents a practical examen of the virtue and a concluding meditation on the vice of pride.

A word or two on the hard-hitting tone of the book would be helpful. St. Alphonsus Liguori counseled other priests: “Be a lion in the pulpit, but a lamb in the confessional.” With Father Cajetan da Bergamo, we’re definitely getting the lion.

One consolation to the reader is that the good reverend comes clean about the issue of pride in his own life: “I am considered proud by those who know me, and they are not mistaken, for I show it by my vanity, arrogance, petulance, and haughtiness.”

If Father Cajetan is the lion, perhaps Father Wetta is a lamb? Both sound like appropriate Lenten reading!

I've decided to subdivide this list of books further, because the next three--yes, three more books--belong together because they offer different challenges. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Books, Books, Books: Part One

My family and friends know me very well indeed. I have a stack of wonderful books to read in the new year. With two exceptions--the first two books--these are the books I've received as gifts for my birthday and Christmas and the approximate order in which I plan to read them. I've received so many books that I've divvied them up into two posts, today and tomorrow.

But first I want to finish Margaret Barker's Christmas: The Original Story which I purchased from Eighth Day Books earlier this month:

The story of Christmas is loved by all Christians, and its cultural influence is felt far and wide, not only in the art and literature of the Church but also in the Qur’an. Much of the original story, however, is not found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and so some of the detail in Christian art and literature is not always understood.

Margaret Barker uses her knowledge of temple tradition and Jewish culture in the time of Jesus to set the story in its original cultural and literary context. By examining the widely used Infancy Gospel of James, and by uncovering layers of allusion in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, she reveals what the Christmas story originally meant. She then goes on to show how this understanding can be found in later texts such as the Arabic Infancy Gospel and legends known in mediaeval Europe.

This is first book I've read by Barker, a Methodist Preacher:

Margaret Barker has developed an approach to Biblical Studies now known as Temple Theology. Margaret Barker read theology at the University of Cambridge, England, and went on to pursue her research independently. She was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998, and edited the Society’s second Monograph Series, published by Ashgate. She has so far written 17 books, which form a sequence, later volumes building on her earlier conclusions.

BTW, Eighth Day Books is holding their annual after Christmas sale: 35% off used books! If you're in Wichita, this is place to be:

We invite you to visit us after Christmas to pick up a few used book bargains. Every "pre-owned" title on the shelf is 35% off through New Year's Eve. Don't miss the opportunity to browse this curated inventory of used books-our best selection ever!

We are open regular hours right after Christmas: 10-8 on Thursday & Friday, 10-6 on Saturday. The sale continues Monday and Tuesday until New Year's Eve. We look forward to wishing you a joyous New Year full of inspired-and inspiring-reading.

After finishing Christmas: The Original Story by the end of Christmas-tide I want to dive into Gareth Russell's latest great work: The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era, sent to me by the publisher through the author's generosity!

I'll post a review once I've come up for air!! The story of the Titanic has fascinated me for years; I've watched all the movies and read other classic accounts and am looking forward to Russell's Belfast-based view. The book has been very well reviewed!

Then I'll wade through George Weigel's latest, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform from Basic Books:

A powerful new interpretation of Catholicism’s dramatic encounter with modernity, by one of America’s leading intellectuals

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, both secular and Catholic leaders assumed that the Church and the modern world were locked in a battle to the death. The triumph of modernity would not only finish the Church as a consequential player in world history; it would also lead to the death of religious conviction. But today, the Catholic Church is far more vital and consequential than it was 150 years ago. Ironically, in confronting modernity, the Catholic Church rediscovered its evangelical essence. In the process, Catholicism developed intellectual tools capable of rescuing the imperiled modern project.

A richly rendered, deeply learned, and powerfully argued account of two centuries of profound change in the church and the world, The Irony of Modern Catholic History reveals how Catholicism offers twenty-first century essential truths for our survival and flourishing.

I received another book that will be fun to dip into throughout the year: Saints are Not Sad: Short Biographies of Joyful Saints, assembled by Frank J. Sheed and published anew by Ignatius Press:

"The only tragedy is not to be a saint", wrote the French novelist Léon Bloy. And St. Francis de Sales said that "A sad saint would be a sorry saint." But what is a saint? One way to answer is to analyze sanctity, theologically and psychologically. Another way, which is the path Frank Sheed chose in creating this volume, is to show you a saint-or rather, since no two saints are alike-to show you a number of saints. In this book, you are shown forty saints.

The saints Sheed chose for this collection are from various time periods: six before A.D. 500, seventeen from then to the Reformation, and seventeen from the Reformation to the middle of the twentieth century. Many are well known, like St. Anthony, Francis, Augustine, Patrick and Bernadette, while others are lesser known, for example, Columcille and Malachy.

The same can be said for the various authors of these short biographies. Among them are the famous like Hilaire Belloc, Alban Goodier and G.K. Chesterton, as well as priests and laymen whose names may no longer be familiar but whose writing still brings to life men and women whose closeness to God gave them purpose, strength, and yes, joy.

That's all for today, folks! More tomorrow when I find a new metaphor!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Of the Father's Love Begotten

John Mason Neale translated Prudentius's Corde Natus, and Henry W. Baker added to his translation in 1851 and 1861 respectively:

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Image Source: English: A medieval Book of Hours probably written for the De Grey family of Ruthin c.1390 (This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

BBC's Christmas CD 2019

I posted on the BBC's Classical Music Magazine's selection of a carol by Owain Park earlier this month. Yesterday I began listening to the CD included with the magazine, A Ceremony of Carols from the Choir of the Queen's College in Oxford.

You may see the selection of the Carols chosen here. You may notice that six of the works are by Michael Praetorius, who, according to this website was:

The son of a pastor who had been a pupil of Luther, he became organist at the Marienkirche, Frankfurt an der Oder, in 1585. From 1595 he served the Bishop of Halberstadt as organist, demonstrating a new instrument there to many famous organists the following year. When his patron became Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, he went with him to Wolfenbüttel and became his Kapellmeister in 1603. This post necessitated much travelling in Germany, which enabled him to earn widespread renown as a conductor of musical performances, an organ consultant, and a knowledgeable expert on practical music and on musical instruments.

Praetorius was a Lutheran church composer of amazing industry. Dominating his output is the 9-volume Musae Sioniae containing 1,244 chorale settings, but he published many others too, altogether including pieces on every conceivable scale from little bicima (sic) to massive Polychoral variations with instrumental support. He also wrote much other liturgical music and a set of 312 dances (Terpsichore). His 3-volume treatise
Syntagma Musicum (1619) is an invaluable compendium of information on German music, musical instruments and performance, based on what he heard and saw in his travels.

Praetorius is most famous for his arrangement/harmonization of "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen", translated as "Low, how a Rose E'er Blooming" (see illustration of original tune).

I have an extensive collection of Christmas CD's from the BBC's Classical Music Magazine because my late husband bought me a subscription to the magazine for my birthday or Christmas for many years. This is the last issue from the last subscription he gave me last year. 

I've decided not to renew the subscription.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Newman's Heart Speaks to Hearts

Lucy Beckett reviews Eamon Duffy's John Henry Newman: A Very Brief History (SPCK: 2019) for The Wall Street Journal:

Anyone daunted by more weighty biographies, the best being Ian Ker’s (1988), should read Eamon Duffy’s short, fresh account. The Cambridge scholar of religion’s calm judgment expertly illuminates every aspect of Newman’s life, work and—until he was very old—unceasing mental and spiritual attention.

Newman was a very unusual theologian. Mr. Duffy is right to point out that he was not so much a Victorian as a Romantic, less than six years younger than Keats, though he would outlive, mostly by decades, all the other great English writers of his generation. Like St. Augustine, whose works were partly responsible for Newman’s conversion from the Anglican to the Catholic Church, Newman did his theology, always, by thinking for himself about the truths of faith that he held with the loyalty of deep feeling.

When Newman looked back, it was not to the high Middle Ages or the Counter-Reformation, but to the early church of the Greek and Latin fathers. Neither Thomism nor the Neo-Scholasticism practiced by his contemporaries hampered the speculation of his free intellect, even if doctrinal orthodoxy framed and anchored everything he wrote. Newman had the greatest respect for rational argument, and was unusually good at it, but at the same time he knew (as did Augustine) that no one had ever become a Christian because of a logical proof.

It may be behind the paywall but I searched for it ("Lucy Beckett Saint John Henry Newman Duffy") and gained access

The timing of this review with Beckett's emphasis on Newman's motto as a Cardinal in the title ("‘John Henry Newman’ Review: A Heart That Speaks to Hearts") seems providential as two converts from Anglicanism reflect on their past, present, and future.

Reverend George W. Rutler, oft mentioned on this blog, looks back on his ordination as an Episcopalian priest on December 20, 1969 in Crisis Magazine. He mentions some of the weaknesses he soon found in the Episcopalian church and his decision to join the Catholic Church and become a priest. Naturally, he highlights St. John Henry Newman's influence:

Let mine be a letter of affection without reproach, from one whose roots disdain emotion, to those who were patient with me when I first took up the promise to serve God, albeit in a mix of innocence and naīveté. There was a blessing and benison in my ignorance of the many trials that would lie ahead, for had I “loved to choose and see my path,” I would have hesitated. One cannot pretend that the path to Rome was more difficult than what one frequently found once having arrived. If there are more years allowed me in the course ahead, I may write a lengthier story of my experiences, though in some quarters it might be a precipitate of agitation. Suffice it to say that Saint John Henry Newman was an agent in my conversion. Once, standing in his pulpit in the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, I felt something like a bolt of lightning. At the moment, I did not understand it. Now I do. Newman said that as a Protestant “I felt my religion dreary, but not my life—but as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion.” Lacking his depth of soul, I never knew dreariness in any quarter. But if wistfulness is a pastiche of agony, I at least have known that no human journey is without interruptions of happiness.

As Beckett writes of Newman in her review:

For years, Newman’s life as a Catholic was hard. He had lost the sympathy of his family and most of his friends, as well as a comfortable and highly respected career—not to mention the architecture, language, music and intellectual company of Oxford Anglicanism. Instead he had to cope with ugly new churches and the suspicion directed toward him by English Catholics. Some of these were ill-educated because of longstanding Catholic exclusion from the best schools and from Oxford and Cambridge. Others were rabid philistine converts.

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, another clergyman from the Anglican Communion becomes a Catholic, Gavin Ashenden. He recounts his reasons for becoming a Catholic for The Catholic Herald here. On EWTN's The World Over, he told Raymond Arroyo (via the National Catholic Register):

What does it mean to come to Catholicism the year of St. John Henry Newman’s canonization, a man whom I know had a huge influence on you, this decision, and your decision to convert to Catholicism?

Well it’s embarrassing because I identify with him very strongly. He was a giant and I’m a pygmy. But our journeys have been really similar in terms of the narrative. So for me, he’s charted the journey and I think back 30 years ago, I knew I’d have to take this journey sometime. I’m very grateful to him for making clear to me and to others what the issues are. For trailblazing a root back to Rome where we belong—the one true Church—where the fullness of faith is celebrated and the power of Christ is truly revealed.

The Catholic News Agency also adds this Newman connection, from the bishop who will receive Ashenden today into full communion with the Catholic Church, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury:

Bishop Davies commented that “it is very humbling to be able to receive a bishop of the Anglican tradition into full communion in the year of canonisation of St John Henry Newman.”

“I am conscious of the witness which Gavin Ashenden has given in the public square to the historic faith and values on which our society has been built. I pray that this witness will continue to be an encouragement to many,” he added.

I don't know what role, ordained or not, Mr. Ashenden will play in the Catholic Church in England after his reception today. He may find as many difficulties as St. John Henry Newman and Father George Rutler. As the late, great (to Mark and me) Monsignor William Carr always said, when you join the Catholic Church--or stay with her--you can't expect the Barque of Peter to be a gleaming, luxurious, well-provisioned ocean liner. It's a leaky boat, steered by sinners and saints. There will be rough seas ahead for sure! They come with the voyage.

But one note I find most fascinating is that his wife, Helen, became a Catholic two years ago! It would be interesting to learn more about her journey to Catholicism and why she crossed the Tiber before him.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy

Last November and December, when my husband Mark wasn't feeling at all well, we read C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy together: well, I read the three books out loud and we talked about them as we progressed through Ransom's adventures on Mars, Venus, and Earth. I had never read Perelandra; we had read That Hideous Strength for a reading group and I might have read Out of the Silent Planet long, long time ago, probably at Mark's urging.

Mark had read and enjoyed the books before and my reading aloud distracted him a little.

Our timing for reading Perelandra was perfect, we decided: just before the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Most of this novel is a long verbal and then physical battle between Ransom and Weston (or the Un-man) for the soul of Perelandra's Eve, the Green Lady. She is perfectly innocent, in complete unity with Maleldil: she is full of grace. If she disobeys Maleldil's command not to stay overnight on the Fixed Land, she will bring division and disharmony to Perelandra, that is, Original Sin.

At one point, the Un-man points out that such a Fall may bring about a great good: the Incarnation of Maleldil on Perelandra to heal this disruption.

By telling this space fiction story, C.S. Lewis was creating a theologically themed image of an unfallen world in contrast to our own fallen world with the successful temptation of Eve to eat of the one tree God forbade her to, the Protoevangelium that a Savior would come to crush the Serpent, the providential choice of Mary of Nazareth to be the Mother of God, preserved from that Original Sin with a will united to God's, full of grace.

So I started to write about this theological lesson, set it aside when Mark died in January this year, submitted it a couple of places, got rejected, and then set it aside until this November. The National Catholic Register accepted it and published it as a blog post for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Since December is dedicated in traditional Catholic devotion to the Immaculate Conception, here's the link.

In the conclusion of the article, I quote St. John Henry Newman's explanation of Mary as the New Eve, comparing her sinlessness to Eve's before the Fall. Mary, the Mother of God, is the New Eve as Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, is the New Adam:

When he explained the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to his former Oxford Movement friend in his 1865 A Letter Addressed to the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D. on Occasion of his Eirenicon, Saint John Henry Newman described what would have happened if Eve had rejected the temptation of eating the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil as Tinidril had rejected the temptation of staying on the Fixed Land:
Suppose Eve had stood the trial, and not lost her first grace; and suppose she had eventually had children, those children from the first moment of their existence would, through divine bounty, have received the same privilege that she had ever had; that is, as she was taken from Adam's side, in a garment, so to say, of grace, so they in turn would have received what may be called an immaculate conception. They would have then been conceived in grace, as in fact they are conceived in sin.
But our Eve did not stand the trial; nor did Adam; their children were “conceived in sin.” And we would never have known how to climb back “into love and trust again” unless God the Father had sent His Son to be Incarnated in the womb of the Mother of God, prepared by her Immaculate Conception to be united to His Will.

The second volume of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy provides a creative meditation on Salvation History by imagining an alternative story of a world without a Fall, without Original Sin—but also without a Savior.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Reminder: Chesterton, Dickens, and Christmas

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning at about 6:50 a.m. Central Time/7:50 a.m. Eastern Time. Matt Swaim and I will talk about G.K. Chesterton's great appreciation of Dickens and particularly of A Christmas Carol!

Listen live here; the podcast will be archived here

As Chesterton commented in his praise of A Christmas Carol, as much as it is a Christmas story, and as much as it is a ghost story, it is also a conversion story:

The Christmas Carol (sic) is a happy story first,
because it describes an abrupt and dramatic change. It is not only the story of a conversion, but of a sudden conversion; as sudden as the conversion of a man at a Salvation Army meeting. Popular religion is quite right in insisting on the fact of a crisis in most things. It is true that the man at the Salvation Army meeting would probably be converted from the punch bowl; whereas Scrooge was converted to it. That only means that Scrooge and Dickens represented a higher and more historic Christianity.

And everyone loves a conversion story, because it gives us hope that we can change, that we can be better, and do good all the year long!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Alma Mater Redemptoris

I added this CD from The Sixteen and Harry Christophers to my Advent playlist earlier this week (joining Puer Natus Est from Stile Antico, Veni Domine from the Sistine Chapel, and Come, Thou Dayspring from on High from Wyoming Catholic College):

The long-established tradition of devotion to the Virgin Mary resulted in some superb settings from Spanish composers. Tomás Luis de Victoria was, quite possibly, the most outstanding composer of the Renaissance and this recording features a tantalizing selection of the sumptuous music he wrote in honour of the Virgin Mary, including some of his exquisite Marian motets and the glorious Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater:

1. Salve Regina a 5
2. Alma Redemptoris Mater a 5
3. Congratulamini mihi a 6
4. Sancta Maria
5. Gaude Maria

6. Kyrie
7. Gloria
8. Credo
9. Sanctus and Benedictus
10. Agnus Dei

11. Hymn: Ave maris stella
12. Magnificat octavi toni
13. Regina caeli a 5
14. Ne timeas Maria
15. Litaniae Beatae Mariae a 8


The cover of the CD features a detail from one of El Greco's paintings of the Annunciation. This version is held by the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid:

In the course of his life, El Greco painted numerous versions of the Annunciation, thus allowing his stylistic development to be traced through his changing treatment of this Biblical episode. This painting, dated around 1576, is thought to be one of the last versions executed in Italy, and is clearly influenced by the Venetian style. From her prayer-stool at the left of the painting, the Virgin listens attentively to the message of the Archangel, a figure rendered very much in the style of Veronese. The light and the colouring owe much to Titian, a painter EI Greco admired, while the arrangement of the figures and the treatment of the drapery strongly recall the work of Tintoretto. Here, EI Greco places the figures within a simple architectural setting, loosely framing them to make the scene more realistic.

Compare this version, another Venetian inspired painting. As the Prado website explains the influences of Titian and Tintoretto:

In keeping with iconographic tradition, the Virgin turns in surprise at the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel and the Holy Ghost. This work is very close, compositionally and stylistically, to the Annunciation of the Modena Triptych, but it is not known whether it is a sketch for that work, or an autograph reduction. Probably painted in Venice just before 1570, this piece seems to be inspired by the work of Titian, although the architecture in the background and the tile flooring in the room hearken to Tintoretto. These were the two painters who most influenced El Greco.

To see  a more "El Greco" El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), see this version, held by the Museum of Fine Art in Budapest:

In the picture of the Prado treating the same subject and painted in Venice, El Greco placed the Annunciation scene in a dynamic architectural setting and enlivened it with a group of cherubs. In this version, dating from the last years of the 16th century, the interior of the room is filled with clouds and flashing lights, in a way that the objects surrounding the Virgin – the simple prie-dieu, the book opening like a fan, the sewing-basket and the vase – are removed from real space and saturated with mystic significance. The wide, emphatic arc of the drapery covering the Virgin’s knees seems only to make her small head and narrow, transfigured face appear as distant from us and as close to the heavenly messenger as possible.

Mother of Christ, hear thou thy people's cry
Star of the deep and Portal of the sky!
Mother of Him who thee made from nothing made.
Sinking we strive and call to thee for aid:
Oh, by what joy which Gabriel brought to thee,
Thou Virgin first and last, let us thy mercy see.

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray. Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

One light-hearted note about this recording: my dogs, Joey and Brandy, seem to enjoy this music. They slumber peacefully whenever I play the CD!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

In Case You're Asked: "Calculating Christmas"

Touchstone Magazine shared this post from its archives, an article by William J. Tighe, Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, exploring the efforts of the Early Church to establish the date of the birth of Christ. He confronts the usual explanation that early Christians "baptized" the pagan celebration of the birth of Sol Invictus, noting that view has it backwards: the Emperor Aurelian established that feast to compete with the birth of Christ in 274 A.D.

Instead, Tighe examines the common belief that the great prophets of God were conceived or born and died on the same date. Thus the date of the Annunciation, March 25 in the West, April 6 in the East, became the determining factor:

It is to this day, commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.

Christmas (December 25th) is a feast of Western Christian origin. In Constantinople it appears to have been introduced in 379 or 380. From a sermon of St. John Chrysostom, at the time a renowned ascetic and preacher in his native Antioch, it appears that the feast was first celebrated there on 25 December 386. From these centers it spread throughout the Christian East, being adopted in Alexandria around 432 and in Jerusalem a century or more later. The Armenians, alone among ancient Christian churches, have never adopted it, and to this day celebrate Christ’s birth, manifestation to the magi, and baptism on January 6th.

Western churches, in turn, gradually adopted the January 6th Epiphany feast from the East, Rome doing so sometime between 366 and 394. But in the West, the feast was generally presented as the commemoration of the visit of the magi to the infant Christ, and as such, it was an important feast, but not one of the most important ones—a striking contrast to its position in the East, where it remains the second most important festival of the church year, second only to Pascha (Easter).

In the East, Epiphany far outstrips Christmas. The reason is that the feast celebrates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan and the occasion on which the Voice of the Father and the Descent of the Spirit both manifested for the first time to mortal men the divinity of the Incarnate Christ and the Trinity of the Persons in the One Godhead.

Please read the rest there.

Image credit: Diptych with Scenes of the Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, 1300–1325 (German) Public Domain from THE MET. The image at the top is the interior of the diptych; the bottom image is the exterior.