Tuesday, December 29, 2020

850 Years Ago Tonight: Murder in the Cathedral

Before COVID struck, there were great plans to celebrate this 850th anniversary of the martyrdom, or some might say, assassination, of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Thomas a Becket. The British Museum, for example, postponed their major exhibit Thomas a Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint to open in 2021 (it was scheduled to open in October this year). The Venerable English College is still remembering the event in a special way this year:

December 29th, 2020 marks the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The English Hospice, founded in Rome in 1362 for pilgrims from England and Wales, was dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity and St Thomas of Canterbury.

The transformation in 1579 of the Hospice into a new English College in Rome, preparing priests for the dangerous post-Reformation mission to England and Wales, engendered further martyrdoms, with 44 members of the College being executed for serving as priests on the mission.

The VEC has just produced an impressive new book titled
Memory, Martyrs, and Mission. Essays to Commemorate the 850th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St Thomas Becket (c. 1118–1170). The e-book version of this volume is being made available to readers for a limited time.

Hurry! Only available until January 29th, 2021. (If you do download the book, you might consider making a gift to the Venerabile through the North American Friends of the Venerable English College (NAFVEC).

I have a new CD to listen to today (in addition to the Unfinished Vespers of December 29, 1170), from Hungaroton Classics.

The BBC also has a story about St. Thomas of Canterbury, concerning a "certain little book" he wanted to be sure to take into exile with him in 1164:

In exile he would need money, so before leaving Northampton, Becket had secretly sent his closest confidant, the scholar Herbert of Bosham, to Canterbury, to gather as much as he could and to take it to the Abbey of St Bertin, near Calais. But there was also one other thing he wanted Herbert to find - a certain little book.

"The implication is that it was a book that was very important to Becket, and that Herbert would know what it was," Anne Duggan says.

"It's quite interesting that he doesn't tell us - so there is a mystery there. It wasn't a law book, it wasn't a gospel, it was a little book - a codicella." . . .

Saint Thomas of Canterbury, pray for us!

Remember, it's still the Octave of Christmas: Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Pope Leo XIII and the Feast of the Holy Family

Pope Leo XIII holds a special place in my heart because he made Father John Henry Newman of the Oratory a Cardinal, even though he knew it might cause trouble, and referred to Newman as ‘Il mio cardinale’ (My Cardinal)! But I did not realize how important his influence was to the feast of the Holy Family, which we celebrate today!

According to this blog:

The Feast of the Holy Family is of recent origin. In 1663 Barbara d’Hillehoust founded at Montreal the Association of the Holy Family; this devotion soon spread and in 1893 Pope Leo XIII expressed his approval of a Feast under this title and himself composed part of the Office. The Feast was welcomed by succeeding Pontiffs as an efficacious means for bringing home to the Christian people the example of the Holy Family at Nazareth, and by the restoration of the true spirit of family life, stemming, in some measure, the evils of modern society. These motives led Pope Benedict XV to insert the Feast into the Universal Calendar, and from 1921 it has been fixed for this present Sunday.

To be clear: in the 1962 liturgical calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite, this feast is celebrated the Sunday after Epiphany (today the EFLR observes the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas); on the 1970 liturgical calendar of the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite, this feast is celebrated on the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas. If both Christmas Day and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God are on Sundays, the feast is celebrated on December 30.

Pope Leo XIII composed the hymns for Matins, Vespers, and Lauds. The December 2020 Magnificat prayer magazine has a translation of his Matin hymn for today's Morning Prayer and of his Lauds hymn for Evening Prayer. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The opening words of the hymn for Matins of the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy See instituted the feast in 1893, making it a duplex majus (greater double) and assigning it to the third Sunday after Epiphany. Leo XIII composed the three hymns (Vespers, Matins, Lauds) of the Breviary Office. The hymn for Matins contains nine Sapphic stanzas of the classical type of the first stanza:

Sacra jam splendent decorata lychnis
Templa, jam sertis redimitur ara,
Et pio fumant redolentque aerrae
Thuris honore.

(A thousand lights their glory shed
On shrines and altars garlanded,
While swinging censers dusk the air
With perfumed prayer.)

The hymns for Vespers (O lux beata caelitum) and Lauds (O gente felix hospita) are in classical dimeter iambics, four-lined stanzas, of which the Vespers hymn contains six and the Lauds hymn seven exclusive of the usual Marian doxology (Jesu tibi sit gloria). All three hymns are replete with spiritual unction, graceful expression, and classical dignity of form. They reflect the sentiment of the pope in his letter establishing a Pious Association in honour of the Holy Family and in his Encyclical dealing with the condition of working-men.

More about these hymns and translations may be found here.

It's still Christmas: Merry Christmas!

Image Source (Public Domain): Miniature in the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany, 1503-08, by Jean Bourdichon

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

First Book on 2021 Wish List

I'm going to ask Warren at Eighth Day Books to order this for me as soon as it's available next year (scheduled for release on January 5, 2021!) Per the publisher, Bloomsbury:

As an authority on the religion of medieval and early modern England, Eamon Duffy is preeminent. In his revisionist masterpiece The Stripping of the Altars, Duffy opened up new areas of research and entirely fresh perspectives on the origin and progress of the English Reformation.

Duffy's focus has always been on the practices and institutions through which ordinary people lived and experienced their religion, but which the Protestant reformers abolished as idolatry and superstition. The first part of
A People's Tragedy examines the two most important of these institutions: the rise and fall of pilgrimage to the cathedral shrines of England, and the destruction of the monasteries under Henry VIII, as exemplified by the dissolution of the ancient Anglo-Saxon monastery of Ely. In the title essay of the volume, Duffy tells the harrowing story of the Elizabethan regime's savage suppression of the last Catholic rebellion against the Reformation, the Rising of the Northern Earls in 1569.

In the second half of the book Duffy considers the changing ways in which the Reformation has been thought and written about: the evolution of Catholic portrayals of Martin Luther, from hostile caricature to partial approval; the role of historians of the Reformation in the emergence of English national identity; and the improbable story of the twentieth century revival of Anglican and Catholic pilgrimage to the medieval Marian shrine of Walsingham. Finally, he considers the changing ways in which attitudes to the Reformation have been reflected in fiction, culminating with Hilary Mantel's gripping trilogy on the rise and fall of Henry VIII's political and religious fixer, Thomas Cromwell, and her controversial portrayal of Cromwell's Catholic opponent and victim, Sir Thomas More.

I know for a fact that Warren has stocked a book with the same title but a different subject: Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924! Eighth Day Books has Natasha's Dance by the same author in stock.

I'm sure like Reformation Divided (2017), also published by Bloomsbury, some of this material has been published before, but Duffy's insights into the history and the historiography of Reformation England are always welcome.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Book Review: Four Novellas by Gertrud von le Fort

I purchased this book at Eighth Day Books a couple of weeks ago (and there's still copy on the shelf as I post this review!). According to the publisher, Ignatius Press:

Newly translated into English for the first time, these four novellas from the acclaimed German writer Gertrud von le Fort are from her later works of historical fiction. Ominous and mysterious, these page-turning stories bring to life momentous chapters in from the past.

The Innocents, set in Germany after the Second World War, is a poignant family drama about the horrors of war, the suffering of the innocent, and the demands of justice.

The Ostracized Woman traces the fate of a Prussian family at the end of World War II to the heroic deed of an ancestor done centuries before.

The Last Meeting imagines the last encounter between Madame de La Valliére and Madame de Montespan, rival mistresses of King Louis XIV of France.

The Tower of Constance leads the reader into the heart of the infamous French prison of the same name while exploring the role of conscience in the religious and philosophical conflicts of the eighteenth-century.

Reading them in the translation by Michael J. Miller, what I noticed most was the tension and suspense that von le Fort created in each of these tales. Some great mystery, some great injustice, must be brought to reconciliation--through sacrifice, understanding, or mercy. Each story or novella is a moral mystery and each is effectively paced and plotted.

For the last two stories, I was happy, however, that I had read Antonia Fraser's Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King several years ago. It helped me understand the background of the moral issues of the Most Christian King and his defense of orthodoxy in France in the context of his adultery, conflict between his mistresses, their own desires to confess their sin and be absolved, and of course, his control of the Church.

I recommend this volume of Gertrud von le Fort's later works: they are thought-provoking and moving.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Announcement: The North American Friends of the Venerable English College (NAFVEC)

I've been asked to help in whatever way I can in a new project with the English Martyrs of the Recusant era, specifically those who attended the Venerable English College in Rome:

The Venerable English College in Rome has been preparing men for Catholic priestly ministry in England & Wales since 1579. It is the oldest British institution outside the United Kingdom.

North American Friends of the Venerable English College was established in 2020 to promote awareness of the “Venerabile” and the history of the College and its Martyrs. It is committed to fostering material and spiritual support for the VEC as a unique Catholic institution and seminary housing an exceptional archival collection.

I'll post a link to the website on the right side of this blog, but want to direct your attention particularly to this page highlighting The Heritage Collection:

The VEC Archives are a valuable resource for the study of the history of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and indeed of English and Welsh presences in Rome since before the founding of the Hospice. The Heritage Collections and Archives contain papal bulls, vestments, works of art, music and architectural records, and a wealth of other historical material . . .

Holy Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales, pray for us!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

This Friday: December 18: Andrew Nash on Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

My Newman friend, Edward Short, interviewed Andrew Nash for the Catholic World Report about his new film on the poet and convert, Father Gerard Manley Hopkins:

A new EWTN film about the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) seeks to introduce the unique nineteenth-century Victorian-era writer to a wider audience. The film was made by Dr. Andrew Nash, who studied English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was Head of English and a Housemaster at the Oratory School (founded by St. John Henry Newman). Nash, who is the first doctoral graduate of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, has lectured on Newman and his critical edition of Newman’s Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England was published by Gracewing in 2000.

Now retired from his former position as Headmaster of St. Edward’s School, Cheltenham, he spoke recently with
CWR about the film Gerald Manley Hopkins: Priest-Poet, which will debut in the United Kingdom and Ireland on December 9th (12:00 pm London Time) and in the United States and Canada on December 18th (8:00 pm EST) on EWTN. . . .

Please read the rest there. I am looking forward to watching this program Friday night on EWTN! I have read and appreciated Hopkins' poetry since I was an undergraduate English major!! It is most appropriate that Nash will focus on The Wreck of the Deutschland, the poem Hopkins wrote "To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875"!!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Happy Gaudete Sunday and St. Lucy's Day!

Sorry for the lack of blogging this week. I was in the hospital receiving COVID-related pneumonia treatments. 

Thanks to good care, I was released on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and am home recovering.

I appreciate all the prayers and help I received from friends and family.

Happy Gaudete Sunday:

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every prayer let your petitions be made known to God.

Ps. O Lord, thou hast blessed thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob. ℣. Glory to the Father and to the Son . . . .

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every prayer let your petitions be made known to God.

(Introit for Gaudete Sunday in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite from Phil 4:4-6)

And today is also the feast of Saint Lucy!

Happy Advent!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Vespers at the Venerable English College in Rome

I received some exciting news from the Venerable English College in Rome last week:

This Tuesday [Today!] marks a very important day in the calendar of the VEC. 1st December is Martyrs’ Day. During the recusant period, students would gather around the Martyrs’ Picture in the chapel to sing a Te Deum whenever news reached Rome of a martyrdom of a former student. This tradition continues today, and includes the veneration of the relics of the Martyrs, including proto-martyr St Ralph Sherwin.

The VEC produced forty-four martyrs for the Faith, of whom ten are canonized saints. They are referred to as “the Forty-four.”

The VEC will have a live-stream via You Tube of the evening liturgy on Tuesday, with veneration of the relics and singing of the Te Deum. 

The link is here and it will be live at 20:15 Central European time /2:15 p.m. Eastern Time/1:15 p.m. Central Time.

The College Martyrs, Canonized, Beatified, and declared Venerable:

St Ralph Sherwin, 1581
St Luke Kirby, 1582
St Polydore Plasden, 1591
St Eustace White, 1591
St Robert Southwell S.J., 1595
St Henry Walpole S.J., 1595
St John Almond, 1612
St Henry Morse S.J., 1645
St David Lewis S.J., 1679
St John Wall O.F.M., 1679
Bl. John Shert, 1582
Bl. Joseph Lambton, 1592
Bl. William Lacey, 1582
Bl. Thomas Pormort, 1592
Bl. Thomas Cottam, 1582
Bl. John Cornelius S.J., 1594
Bl. William Hart, 1583
Bl. John Ingram, 1594
Bl. George Haydock, 1584
Bl. Edward Thwing, 1594
Bl. Thomas Hemerford, 1584
Bl. Robert Middleton, 1601
Bl. John Munden, 1584
Bl. Robert Watkinson, 1602
Bl. John Lowe, 1586
Bl. Edward Oldcorne, 1606
Bl. Robert Morton, 1588
Bl. Richard Smith, 1612
Bl. Richard Leigh, 1588
Bl. John Thules, 1616
Bl. Edward James, 1588
Bl. John Lockwood, 1642
Bl. Christopher Buxton, 1588
Bl. John Woodcock O.F.M., 1646
Bl. Christopher Bales, 1590
Bl. Anthony Turner S.J., 1679
Bl. Edmund Duke, 1590
Ven. Thomas Tichborne, 1602
Ven. Brian Tansfield S.J., 1643
Ven. Edward Morgan, 1642
Ven. Edward Mico S.J., 1678

The video will available later in the day; you may also view a report on last year's Martyrs' Day here. I've also been informed that the relics won't be displayed on the Altar because of some COVID-19 restrictions. The relics normally displayed are of St Ralph Sherwin, St Edmund, King and Martyr, St Thomas of Canterbury, and St Philip Howard.

Monday, November 30, 2020

This Morning: Houselander's Advent Patience

Just a reminder that I'm starting an Advent Series based on the spirituality of Caryll Houselander on the Son Rise Morning Show today at 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern. Please listen live here on the Sacred Heart Radio website. 

In another of the excerpts chosen for the first week of Advent, Houselander drives home her anti-Pelagian theme that we aren't the ones making our own spiritual progress. She notes that whatever good we do for others "we shall not [or should not!] do it in martyr spirit or with that worse spirit of self-congratulation." We should not allow ourselves to think "that we are making ourselves more perfect, more unselfish, more positively kind."

Instead, she encourages us to "let Christ serve through us, that our patience may bring Christ's patience back to the world" even as Jesus patiently developed in His mother's womb.

Houselander's emphasis on Jesus in Mary's womb reminds me of the depictions of the Visitation, with St. John the Baptist in St. Elizabeth's womb, leaping, as he recognizes Jesus in His Mother's womb, like this icon.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Preview: Advent with Caryll Houselander on the Son Rise Morning Show

Based on a collection of excerpts from Caryll Houselander's works, Matt Swaim, Anna Mitchell, and I will discuss Advent themes starting Monday, November 30 (which is also St. Andrew's feast day). I'll be on at my usual time (7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central) on Sacred Heart Radio, and I'm sure they'll repeat each segment later in the week during the EWTN national broadcast hour. On Monday, you may listen--unless you're in the broadcast area of Sacred Heart Radio--online here.

Caryll Houselander (September 29, 1901-October 12, 1954) was a convert to Catholicism when she was a child, baptized after her mother became a Catholic. She could also be called a "Revert" because she left the practice of the Catholic Faith and explored other spiritualities, including Buddhism, before returning to the Church. Her parents divorced when she was nine and Houselander had a difficult childhood and was often ill, but also began to have mystical experiences as a young girl, as this article explains:

Among the sisters at the school, there was one German nun who spoke very little English and who was isolated from family and friends after World War I began. Houselander recalled coming upon her one day as she was polishing shoes. Tears running down her face, Houselander noticed her hands “were folded in a way that expressed inconsolable grief.”

She continued, “We were both quite silent and I stare down at her beautiful hands, afraid to look up and then – I saw – the nun crowned with the Crown of Thorns. I shall not attempt to explain this. I am simply telling the thing as I saw it. That bowed head was weighed under the Crown of Thorns.”

“I stood for – I suppose – a few seconds, dumbfounded and then, finding my tongue, I said to her, ‘I would not cry, if I was wearing the crown of thorns, like you are.’ She looked at me as if she were startled, and asked, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I said, and at the time I did not. I sat down beside her and together we polished the shoes,” Houselander recounted.

She also had a vision of the last Romanov Czar being murdered (when she was interested in Russian Orthodoxy). But the most important vision was seeing Christ in each person she encountered:

Houselander recalled traveling from work on an underground train with every manner of man headed home from the day’s work, writing: “Quite suddenly, I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them – but because he was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here in this underground train, not only the world as it was at that moment, not only at the people in the countries of the world, but all those yet to come. I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passerby – Christ.”

These visions are part of what informs her spiritual writing, which became very popular during World War II as she helped Catholics and other Christians understand the suffering they were enduring. She's been compared to Julian of Norwich and there's also an element of St. Therese of Lisieux's Little Way in her writing as she emphasizes the spirituality of daily tasks and work.  Houselander is also practical and common-sensical, offering spiritual advice for those who don't have visions. She was a prolific writer in the 1940's and some of  her works were republished in the late 20th and early 21st century.

In these Advent writings, selected and excerpted from The Reed of God (about the Blessed Virgin Mary), The Passion of the Infant ChristThe Risen Christ, and The Comforting of Christ, her emphasis on silence, simplicity, seeing the depths of God's love for us in everyday things, and patience, make them an excellent way to slow down and wait for Christmas to come to us. Thomas Hoffman has chosen several passages that focus on the Mother of God's patiently waiting for the development of the Savior in her womb and the fulfillment of the promises made to her and her people.

As others have said before, Christmas does not begin on Black Friday and end on December 25. The time of Advent, which once was a time of fasting and penance in the Roman/Western Catholic Church--and still is in the Eastern Rite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches--at least should still be a time of stillness and waiting. So put off the Christmas parties and carols, chant the O Antiphons during the last week of Advent, and wait for Season of Christmas, beginning on December 24!

In the meditations selected for the first week of Advent, Hoffman chose one for the first Sunday of Advent from The Reed of God that emphasizes patience:

There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us. . . . 

This habit of Advent may be part of the rhythm of our life, she says, or be immediately present as a "result of conversion or of a new awareness of God or of an increase of love". Or it can be painful as we want to start right off and find it difficult. Houselander offers the example of the Mother of God for our imitation:

In her the Word of God chose to be silent for the season measured by God. She, too, was silent; in her the Light of the world shone in darkness.

So it may take us some time--especially after all the celebrations of Thanksgiving Day and the holiday weekend after it--to get into the Advent spirit. Houselander reassures us that we need to let God help us into this habit and spirit.

In the Thursday meditation from The Passion of the Infant Christ, she offers the image of Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary--she was not in control of how the unborn Son of God Incarnate developed--encouraging us to allow Him "to rest in us" and "wait patiently on His own timing of His growth in us" so that "we are formed into Him."

I think she's reminding us that we are not in charge of our own spiritual growth. We need to cooperate with the gifts of grace that God gives us, but we need to be careful of thinking that we can force an Advent spirit upon ourselves. Thus she encourages patience and silence.

Monday, November 23, 2020

This Morning: Newman on Memories and Gratitude


Just a reminder that Anna Mitchell and I will discuss "Remembrance of Past Mercies", a Parochial and Plain Sermon by Saint John Henry Newman on the Son Rise Morning Show at 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern. Please listen live here on the Sacred Heart Radio website.

(The photo above is of the pulpit in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, where Newman, as an Anglican, preached.)

Friday, November 20, 2020

Preview: Newman on Thankfulness for Past Mercies

We decided to have another discussion about thankfulness and gratitude on the Son Rise Morning Show on Monday, November 23 (at about 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern). This time, Anna Mitchell and I will explore a Parochial and Plain Sermon by Saint John Henry Newman, "Remembrance of Past Mercies".

Newman's topic in this sermon, which he delivered during the Christmas season, is the gratitude we owe to God as a Christian virtue or grace:

Such thankfulness, I say, is eminently a Christian grace, and is enjoined on us in the New Testament. For instance, we are exhorted to be "thankful," and to let "the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord."

Elsewhere, we are told to "speak to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our heart to the Lord: giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Again: "Be careful for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God."

Again: "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." [Col. iii. 15, 16. Eph. v. 19, 20. Phil. iv. 6. 1 Thess. v. 18.]

Although he begins the sermon with these quotations from the epistles of St. Paul, Newman focuses throughout most of it on the Old Testament patriarch Jacob. He sees something important in Jacob for us to imitate:

Jacob's distinguishing grace then, as I think it may be called, was a habit of affectionate musing upon God's providences towards him in times past, and of over-flowing thankfulness for them. Not that he had not other graces also, but this seems to have been his distinguishing grace.

The text Newman uses as the inspiration for his sermon is an example of Jacob's gratitude for past mercies: "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant." (Genesis 32:10). He briefly compares and contrasts Jacob and Abraham: Jacob looks back thankfully at what God has done for him while Abraham looks forward in hope to what God will do for him: 

Abraham appears ever to have been looking forward in hope,—Jacob looking back in memory: the one rejoicing in the future, the other in the past; the one setting his affections on the future, the other on the past; the one making his way towards the promises, the other musing over their fulfillment.

Then Newman provides several examples to demonstrate this aspect of Jacob's life and character:

For instance, when coming to meet Esau, he brings before God in prayer, in words of which the text is part, what He had already done for him, recounting His past favours with great and humble joy in the midst of his present anxiety. "O God of my father Abraham," he says, "and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands." Again, after he had returned to his own land, he proceeded to fulfill the promise he had made to consecrate Bethel as a house of God, "Let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went." Again, to Pharaoh, still dwelling on the past: "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my life been," he means, in themselves, and as separate from God's favour, "and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage." Again, when he was approaching his end, he says to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz," that is, Bethel, "in the land of Canaan, and blessed me."  . . . 

After this long paragraph of examples, Newman exhorts his congregation to be like Jacob:

Well were it for us, if we had the character of mind instanced in Jacob, and enjoined on his descendants; the temper of dependence upon God's providence, and thankfulness under it, and careful memory of all He has done for us. It would be well if we were in the habit of looking at all we have as God's gift, undeservedly given, and day by day continued to us solely by His mercy. He gave; He may take away. He gave us all we have, life, health, strength, reason, enjoyment, the light of conscience; whatever we have good and holy within us; whatever faith we have; whatever of a renewed will; whatever love towards Him; whatever power over ourselves; whatever prospect of heaven. He gave us relatives, friends, education, training, knowledge, the Bible, the Church. All comes from Him. He gave; He may take away. Did He take away, we should be called on to follow Job's pattern, and be resigned: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord." [Job i. 21.] While He continues His blessings, we should follow David and Jacob, by living in constant praise and thanksgiving, and in offering up to Him of His own.

He reminds us of our dependence on God:

We are not our own, any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves; we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We cannot be our own masters. We are God's property by creation, by redemption, by regeneration. He has a triple claim upon us. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness, or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. These may think it a great thing to have everything, as they suppose, their own way,—to depend on no one,—to have to think of nothing out of sight,—to be without the irksomeness of continual acknowledgment, continual prayer, continual reference of what they do to the will of another. But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man—that it is an unnatural state—may do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end. No, we are creatures; and, as being such, we have two duties, to be resigned and to be thankful.

Using a rhetorical device called anaphora, repeating the same words at the beginning of sentences and phrases, Newman builds up his case for our gratitude to God:

Let us then view God's providences towards us more religiously than we have hitherto done. Let us try to gain a truer view of what we are, and where we are, in His kingdom. Let us humbly and reverently attempt to trace His guiding hand in the years which we have hitherto lived. Let us thankfully commemorate the many mercies He has vouchsafed to us in time past, the many sins He has not remembered, the many dangers He has averted, the many prayers He has answered, the many mistakes He has corrected, the many warnings, the many lessons, the much light, the abounding comfort which He has from time to time given. Let us dwell upon times and seasons, times of trouble, times of joy, times of trial, times of refreshment. How did He cherish us as children! How did He guide us in that dangerous time when the mind began to think for itself, and the heart to open to the world! How did He with his sweet discipline restrain our passions, mortify our hopes, calm our fears, enliven our heavinesses, sweeten our desolateness, and strengthen our infirmities! How did He gently guide us towards the strait gate! how did He allure us along His everlasting way, in spite of its strictness, in spite of its loneliness, in spite of the dim twilight in which it lay! He has been all things to us.

Then he brings us back to think of Jacob's gratitude:

He has been, as He was to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our God, our shield, and great reward, promising and performing, day by day. "Hitherto hath He helped us." . . . "Thou, Israel," He says, "art My servant Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend." "Fear not thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." "Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour." [Isa. xli. 8, 14; xliii. 1-3.]

Saint John Henry Newman obviously read the Scriptures prayerfully and closely. He even has a certain degree of sympathy with the kind of person the Old Testament patriarch Jacob was, appreciating his human qualities, even his weaknesses ("Such men are easily downcast, and must be treated kindly; they soon despond, they shrink from the world, for they feel its rudeness, which bolder natures do not.") Newman sees him as a real person, not just a figure or type in the history of salvation. Thus Newman offers us a great example for remembering past mercies and being thankful for them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tuesday, November 17: Saints and Sinners

Quite a remarkable day: Queen Mary I and Reginald Cardinal Pole died today in 1558, ending the restoration of Catholicism in England for 292 years--until the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850.

The composer Hugh Aston might have died on the same day--or near it--because he stopped receiving a pension on that date:

English composer. Hugh Aston, with seven large-scale works to his credit, is the most important of the less famous composers represented in the Forrest-Heyther and Peterhouse partbooks. He graduated Bachelor of Music at Oxford in 1510. It was fitting therefore that the choirmaster's post at Cardinal College, Oxford which Taverner was persuaded to take was first offered to him. Aston may have been in London and associated with the royal court from 1510 to 1525. Aston was master of the choristers at St Mary Newarke College, Leicester in 1525, and remained there until the College was dissolved in 1548. Drew a pension in Newarke granted in 1544 until Nov. 17, 1558. He was not the eponymous Archdeacon of York (d. 1522) or Canon of St. Stephen's, Westminster (d. 1523). . . .

Much of Aston's music is in fact very vigorous and forceful, sometimes rather in the manner of Taverner, but with a fondness for tiny florid touches which sometimes produce rather rough unessential dissonances. Some of the imitative writing for full choir in the Mass Videte manus meas (cantus firmus an antiphon from Vespers of Easter Tuesday) is similar in its energetic quality to parts of Taverner's Gloria tibi Trinitas, especially at 'rex coelestis' or 'descendit de coelis'; but in general there is a far more mechanical handling of less interesting shapes.

The best of Aston is probably to be found in the antiphons
Gaude virgo mater Christi and Ave Maria divae matris Annae. The melodic style here occasionally points ahead quite strikingly to that of later composers in the new boldness of outline of some important melodic phrases; in particular one notes in several places a new kind of melodic expansion in which an important interval is enlarged when imitated to help create a sense of growth and climax.

Stile Antico included his Gaude virgo mater Christi on their Music for Compline CD and the Blue Heron ensemble included that Marian antiphon and two others, including Ave Maria divae matris Annae on their first CD of Music from the Peterhouse Part Books. I own those two CDs and have ordered this CD set which includes one of his Masses (featuring Thomas Cardinal Wolsey on the cover!).

And there are at least three saint's feast days to be celebrated: Saint Hugh of Lincoln, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, and Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, depending on Rite and location. I plan to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite tonight, at which the latter will be remembered:

Gregory, bishop of Neocæsarea in Pontus, was illustrious for his holiness and learning, but still more for his miracles, which were so startling and so numerous that he was called the Thaumaturgus; and, according to St. Basil, he was considered comparable to Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles. By his prayer he removed a mountain, which was an obstacle to the building of a church. He also dried up a lake which was a cause of dissension between brothers. The river Lycus, which was inundating and devastating the fields, he restrained by fixing in the bank his stick which immediately grew into a green tree, and served as a limit which the river henceforth never overpassed.

He frequently expelled the devils from idols and from men’s bodies, and worked many other miracles, by means of which he led multitudes to the faith of Christ. He also foretold future events by the spirit of prophecy. When he was dying, he asked how many infidels remained in the city of Neocæsarea; and on being informed that there were only seventeen, he gave thanks to God, and said: When I was made bishop, there were but seventeen believers. He wrote several works, by which, as well as by his miracles, he adorned the Church of God.

He is also honored today in the Orthodox Church: Troparion and Kontakion here.

Queen Mary I, rest in peace.
Reginald Pole, rest in peace.
Hugh Aston, rest in peace.
St. Hugh of Lincoln, pray for us.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us.
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, pray for us.

Monday, November 16, 2020

This Morning: Chesterton, Thanksgiving, and Aquinas

Just a reminder that Matt Swaim and I will discuss G.K. Chesterton and Gratitude on the Son Rise Morning Show at 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern. Please listen live here on the Sacred Heart Radio website; the segment will be repeated on November 26 during the special Thanksgiving Day episode, while the hosts and staff at Sacred Heart Radio enjoy their Chestertonian Thanksgiving feasts!

As I read and contemplated Chesterton's 1903 essay on "The Philosophy of Gratitude" I thought that his parable of "God in the Dock" was an indirect answer to Ivan Karamazov's desire to return his "ticket" to God because of all the human cruelty and evil in the world. Unlike Aloysha, who is mute before his brother's examples of innocent children suffering, Chesterton would have reminded Ivan that there are also good families and people who rescue children. Ivan should have some feelings "about the normal"; some "gratitude for the positive miracles of life". Like the human judge in Chesterton's "Cosmos at the bar" parable, Ivan should be careful about whom and how he judges.

(BTW: I don't know if Chesterton ever read The Brothers Karamazov, but he did know something about Dostoevsky, as this quotation proves.)

Chesterton intuitively grasped--before he wrote about "The Dumb Ox"--St. Thomas Aquinas's reasoning that thanksgiving is, as Cicero stated, a special part of the Cardinal virtue of Justice. As we say in the dialogue before the Preface at Mass: "It is right and just" that we "give thanks to the Lord our God". Aquinas comments in question 106, Section 1 of The Summa Theologiæ:

Accordingly, since what we owe God, or our father, or a person excelling in dignity, is not the same as what we owe a benefactor from whom we have received some particular favor, it follows that after religion, whereby we pay God due worship, and piety, whereby we worship our parents, and observance, whereby we worship persons excelling in dignity, there is thankfulness or gratitude, whereby we give thanks to our benefactors. And it is distinct from the foregoing virtues, just as each of these is distinct from the one that precedes, as falling short thereof.

And Chesterton obviously agreed with Aquinas's reasoning in Article 3, that we owe thanks to every benefactor--even the man who passes the mustard--because "it is right and just":

Every effect turns naturally to its cause; wherefore Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i) that "God turns all things to Himself because He is the cause of all": for the effect must needs always be directed to the end of the agent. Now it is evident that a benefactor, as such, is cause of the beneficiary. Hence the natural order requires that he who has received a favor should, by repaying the favor, turn to his benefactor according to the mode of each. And, as stated above with regard to a father (II-II:31:3; II-II:101:2), a man owes his benefactor, as such, honor and reverence, since the latter stands to him in the relation of principle; but accidentally he owes him assistance or support, if he need it.

There's a hierarchy of benefactors from the man who passes the mustard, to our parents, to Almighty God, and some friends and family in between. Chesterton agrees that it is right and just that we express our gratitude appropriately, from a polite "Thank you for passing the mustard," to a heart-felt "Thank you for loving me from my birth in this family until this day", to a worshipful, sacrificial "Thank you for creating me, redeeming me, forgiving me, and blessing me." 

It is right and just. Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Preview: Chesterton on Gratitude During a Pandemic

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”--G.K. Chesterton

"Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen."--a common form of Grace before meals

Anna Mitchell of the Son Rise Morning Show asked me to talk with Matt Swaim on Monday, November 16 at my usual time (7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central). Our Topic (leading up to the celebration of Thanksgiving): G.K. Chesterton and Gratitude. 

Please listen live here on the Sacred Heart Radio website; she plans to repeat it on November 26 during the special Thanksgiving Day episode.

Many people have already gathered thoughts about Chesterton and Gratitude: even specifically about celebrating Thanksgiving Day "like Chesterton", gathering five quotations  or more. So I looked for inspiration for something different to say. I can imagine that someone may find it harder to be grateful after a year of such disruption, loss, death, fear, anxiety, rioting, violence, etc, this Thanksgiving Day. I think Chesterton offers us insights into how to be truly grateful in the midst of so many losses.

First, an episode from Chesterton's life that demonstrates his own gratitude and thanksgiving: Our local Chesterton reading group recently celebrated our ninth anniversary of meeting once a month to discuss a book by or about Chesterton. We are currently reading Joseph Pearce's biography of Chesterton, Wisdom and Innocence. We have reached the point in Chesterton's life when he has become a Catholic and his wife Frances has finally followed him into that Communion on November 1, 1926. Once she followed him there, she began to lead him again as she did in so many ways throughout their marriage, so Chesterton was very grateful that they were together again in all essential things. Pearce had offered the great insight that Chesterton joining the Catholic Church on 30 July 1922 was, for Chesterton, a most heroic act, taken without his wife's leadership and with only her mournful permission. For four years, he'd been on his own: He had lost her guidance and her leadership in an essential part of his life, being a Catholic. And then he got that all back when she began her new life as a Catholic. After her conversion, "he could once again rest in total and blissful dependence." (p. 334) 

There's an essential connection between Chesterton's dependence and gratitude: part of being grateful is to recognize how dependent we are on the generosity of other people, but even more on the generosity of God, Who gives us everything even when we don't see it--or even when we've lost it.

Perhaps this essay by Chesterton on "The Philosophy of Gratitude" explains this idea as he defended in 1903 a comment he had made in a previous essay for The Daily News: “No one can be miserable who has known anything worth being miserable about.”:

The remark was written as remarks in daily papers ought, in my opinion, to be written, in a wild moment; but it happens, nevertheless, to be more or less true. What I meant was that our attitude towards existence, if we have suffered deprivation, must always be conditioned by the fact that deprivation implies that existence has given us something of immense value. To say that we have lost in the lottery of existence is to say that we have gained: for existence gives us our money beforehand. It is quite impossible to imagine ourselves as really calling, as Huxley expressed it, the Cosmos to the bar.

He goes on in the essay to describe what folly it would be for a mortal judge to accuse the Cosmos--God the Creator--of taking something away from us, like accusing one old man of stealing a handkerchief from another old man:

Suppose he is convicted. And suppose after he is convicted he is able to say blandly and with unimpeachable argument, “It was my handkerchief.” That is the position of God or Nature, or what you will. Suppose, again, that the judge and the Court are in some doubt about this reply. The man says, still very humbly, “It was my handkerchief; I made it.” “Made it,” the judge will say, “what did you make it out of?” “Out of nothing,” replies the prisoner, and waves his hand. Sixty handkerchiefs flutter down out of the empty air. The judge is startled, and looks keenly at the meek prisoner; nevertheless he continues: “You may have made the handkerchief (though in this somewhat irregular way), and so far, of course, it may be yours. All the same you seized it from this old gentleman.” The prisoner coughs slightly and looks embarrassed. “The fact is,” he says, “the fact is, I made the old gentleman, too.”

The prisoner goes on to demonstrate that he can not only make the old gentleman out of nothing, but the judge himself:

Then the Prisoner, who has made all things, steps up [to] the tribunal, his white hair flaming like a silver crown, and looks down upon the things he has made.

Thus Chesterton offers us a lesson in gratitude in our current circumstances, especially if we say we have faith in God and His Providence:

The whole question in which the existence of religion is involved is whether, while we have feelings about the catastrophic, we are or are not to have feelings about the normal; that, while we curse our luck for a house on fire, we are to thank anything for a house. If we come upon a dead man, we start back in horror. Are we not to start with any generous emotion when we come upon a living man, that far greater mystery? Are we to have any gratitude for the positive miracles of life? We thank a man for passing the mustard; is there indeed nothing that we can thank for the man who passes it, for the great, fat, living, two-legged, two-eyed fairy tale, who, by the mystical avenues of ears and hands, is magically agitated to pass the mustard? Is the offering to us of that creature so small a civility, that we shall not even say a word about it?

No; most men have felt that we should say a word. . . .

Chesterton knew the right words to say: Thank you. Thank you, Good and Gracious God, for all the blessings we have received this year and every other year. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Book Review: Belloc on "The French Revolution"

Hilaire Belloc, born in France of a French father and an English mother, does not tell the history of the French Revolution in this relatively brief book. He analyses the causes, characters, events, and issues of the Revolution, including the military campaigns fought in France by the Revolutionaries against European monarchies. He offer character sketches, much as he did in his Characters of the Reformation, and argues that the Catholic Church has nothing to fear from democracy nor democracy from the Catholic Church.

His target audience is an English reader or student; perhaps one hostile to Catholicism based on centuries of prejudice. The book was published in 1911, just 61 years after the Restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England to a most hostile public and legislative response. Belloc attempts to explain the context of Catholicism in France after the Wars of Religion and after the Revolution to an audience not prepared for sympathy with Catholics or the hierarchy. His tone and style throughout the book is precise, measured, and even rather limited. Ultimately, I'm not sure his approach is effective.

Belloc in Chapter 1 begins with an explanation of the political theory of the French Revolution, hoping to help Englishmen, who should recognize it as their own, look past their country's history of the Napoleonic Wars:

The political theory upon which the Revolution proceeded has, especially in this country [England], suffered ridicule as local, as ephemeral, and as fallacious. It is universal, it is eternal, and it is true.

It may be briefly stated thus: that a political community pretending to sovereignty, that is, pretending to a moral right of defending its existence against all other communities, derives the civil and temporal authority of its laws not from its actual rulers, nor even from its magistracy, but from itself.

But the community cannot express authority unless it possesses corporate initiative; that is, unless the mass of its component units are able to combine for the purpose of a common expression, are conscious of a common will, and have something in common which makes the whole sovereign indeed.

It may be that this power of corporate initiative and of corresponding corporate expression is forbidden to men. In that case no such thing as a sovereign community can be said to exist. In that case "patriotism," "public opinion," "the genius of a people," are terms without meaning. But the human race in all times and in all places has agreed that such terms have meaning, and the conception that a community can so live, order and be itself, is a human conception as consonant to the nature of man as is his sense of right and wrong; it is much more intimately a part of that nature than are the common accidents determining human life, such as nourishment, generation or repose: nay, more intimate a part of it than anything which attaches to the body.

If that is the political theory of the French Revolution, Robert Cardinal Bellarmine would agree with it.

In Chapter 2 Belloc summarizes Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Contrat Social, which he calls the "text of the Revolution", emphasizing Rousseau's style and diction throughout:

Nevertheless, if it be closely read the Contrat Social will be discovered to say all that can be said of the moral basis of democracy. Our ignorance of the historical basis of the State is presumed in the very opening lines of it. The logical priority of the family to the State is the next statement. The ridiculous and shameful argument that strength is the basis of authority—which has never had standing save among the uninstructed or the superficial—is contemptuously dismissed in a very simple proof which forms the third chapter, and that chapter is not a page of a book in length. It is with the fifth chapter that the powerful argument begins, and the logical precedence of human association to any particular form of government is the foundation stone of that analysis. It is this indeed which gives its title to the book: the moral authority of men in community arises from conscious association; or, as an exact phraseology would have it, a "social contract." All the business of democracy as based upon the only moral authority in a State follows from this first principle, and is developed in Rousseau's extraordinary achievement which, much more than any other writing not religious, has affected the destiny of mankind.

It is indeed astonishing to one who is well acquainted not only with the matter, but with the manner of the
Contrat Social, to remark what criticisms have been passed upon it by those who either have not read the work or, having read it, did so with an imperfect knowledge of the meaning of French words. The two great counter arguments, the one theoretic the other practical, which democracy has to meet, stand luminously exposed in these pages, though in so short a treatise the author might have been excused from considering them. The theoretical argument against democracy is, of course, that man being prone to evil, something external to him and indifferent to his passions must be put up to govern him; the people will corrupt themselves, but a despot or an oligarchy, when it has satisfied its corrupt desires, still has a wide margin over which it may rule well because it is indifferent. You cannot bribe the despot or the oligarch beyond the limit of his desires, but a whole people can follow its own corrupt desires to the full, and they will infect all government.

In Chapter 3 "Characters of the Revolution", Belloc is merciless in his analysis of the characters and personalities of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Of the king he states:

Few men are possessed of the eye, the subtle sympathy, the very rapid power of decision, and the comprehension of human contrasts and differences which build up the apt leader of an armed force great or small. Most men are mediocre in the combination of these qualities. But Louis was quite exceptionally hopeless where they were concerned. He could never have seen the simplest position nor have appreciated the military aspects of any character or of any body of men. He could ride, but he could not ride at the head of a column. He was not merely bad at this trade, he was nul. Drafted as a private into a conscript army, he would never have been entrusted with the duties of a corporal. He would have been impossible as a sergeant; and, possessed of commissioned rank, ridicule would have compelled him to take his discharge.

This lack did not only, or chiefly, betray itself in his inability to meet personally the armed crisis of a revolution; it was not only, or chiefly, apparent in his complete breakdown during the assault upon the palace on the 10th of August: it was also, and much more, the disastrous cause of his inability to oversee, or even to choose, military advisers. . . .

. . . From the beginning to the end of the movement, the whole of the military problem escaped him. . . .

Of the queen he notes:

Marie Antoinette presents to history a character which it is of the highest interest to regard as a whole. It is the business of her biographers to consider that character as a whole; but in her connection with the Revolution there is but one aspect of it which is of importance, and that is the attitude which such a character was bound to take towards the French nation in the midst of which the Queen found herself.

It is the solution of the whole problem which the Queen's action sets before us to apprehend the gulf that separated her not only from the French temperament, but from a comprehension of all French society. Had she been a woman lacking in energy or in decision, this alien character in her would have been a small matter, and her ignorance of the French in every form of their activity, or rather her inability to comprehend them, would have been but a private failing productive only of certain local and immediate consequences, and not in any way determining the great lines of the revolutionary movement.

As it was, her energy was not only abundant but steadfast; it grew more secure in its action as it increased with her years, and the initiative which gave that energy its course never vacillated, but was always direct. She knew her own mind, and she attempted, often with a partial success, to realise her convictions. There was no character in touch with the Executive during the first years of the Revolution comparable to hers for fixity of purpose and definition of view.

It was due to this energy and singleness of aim that her misunderstanding of the material with which she had to deal was of such fatal importance.

He likewise dissects the leaders of the Revolution: Mirabeau, La Fayette (sic), Dumouriez, Danton, Carnot, Marat, and Robespierre--the latter with surprising sympathy, attempting to absolve him from blame for the Reign of Terror.

Belloc breaks down the Revolution into six phases, briefly summarizes and then analyses the events in each phase:

From May 1789 to 17th of July 1789.
From the 17th of July 1789 to the 6th of Oct. 1789.
From October 1789 to June 1791.
From June 1791 to September 1792.
From the invasion of September 1792 to the establishment of the Committee of Public Safety, April 1793.
From April 1793 to July 1794.

In his description of the military campaigns of the French Revolution, Chapter 5, he compares the initial success to the final defeat, with the first substantial mention of Napoleon Bonaparte:

The Revolution would never have achieved its object: on the contrary, it would have led to no less than a violent reaction against those principles which were maturing before it broke out, and which it carried to triumph, had not the armies of revolutionary France proved successful in the field; but the grasping of this mere historic fact, I mean the success of the revolutionary armies, is unfortunately no simple matter.

We all know that as a matter of fact the Revolution was, upon the whole, successful in imposing its view upon Europe. We all know that from that success as from a germ has proceeded, and is still proceeding, modern society. But the nature, the cause and the extent of the military success which alone made this possible, is widely ignored and still more widely misunderstood. No other signal military effort which achieved its object has in history ended in military disaster—yet this was the case with the revolutionary wars. After twenty years of advance, during which the ideas of the Revolution were sown throughout Western civilisation, and had time to take root, the armies of the Revolution stumbled into the vast trap or blunder of the Russian campaign; this was succeeded by the decisive defeat of the democratic armies at Leipsic [Leipzig], and the superb strategy of the campaign of 1814, the brilliant rally of what is called the Hundred Days, only served to emphasise the completeness of the apparent failure. For that masterly campaign was followed by Napoleon's first abdication, that brilliant rally ended in Waterloo and the ruin of the French army. When we consider the spread of Grecian culture over the East by the parallel military triumph of Alexander, or the conquest of Gaul by the Roman armies under Cæsar, we are met by political phenomena and a political success no more striking than the success of the Revolution. The Revolution did as much by the sword as ever did Alexander or Cæsar, and as surely compelled one of the great transformations of Europe. But the fact that the great story can be read to a conclusion of defeat disturbs the mind of the student.

Please note that Belloc ends both the consideration of the phases of the Revolution and the military campaigns in 1794 with the fall of Robespierre, so he does not discuss the Thermidorean Reaction or The Directory, nor the French army's invasions of the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy, etc. England was less involved in the military actions of the period Belloc covers; he notes at the conclusion of this chapter that the naval superiority of Britain's fleet was obvious, but not as consequential at this phase of the war: the heroism of Admiral Nelson was to come.


Image credit: Le Massacre des Carmes by Marie–Marc–Antoine Bilcocq

Finally, Belloc comes to his last argument, that democracy and Catholicism are not incompatible--and yet, the Catholic Church in France suffered greatly during phases of the Revolution--at first by focusing on the political theory of the French Revolution and the social doctrine of the Catholic Church:

We must, then, approach our business by asking at the outset the most general question of all: "Was there a necessary and fundamental quarrel between the doctrines of the Revolution and those of the Catholic Church?"

Those ill acquainted with either party, and therefore ill equipped for reply, commonly reply with assurance in the affirmative. The French (and still more the non-French) Republican who may happen, by the accident of his life, to have missed the Catholic Church, to have had no intimacy with any Catholic character, no reading of Catholic philosophy, and perhaps even no chance view of so much as an external Catholic ceremony, replies unhesitatingly that the Church is the necessary enemy of the Revolution. Again, the émigré, the wealthy woman, the recluse, any one of the many contemporary types to whom the democratic theory of the Revolution came as a complete novelty, and to-day the wealthy families in that tradition, reply as unhesitatingly that the Revolution is the necessary enemy of the Church. The reply seems quite sufficient to the Tory squire in England or Germany, who may happen to be a Catholic by birth or by conversion; and it seems equally obvious to (let us say) a democratic member of some Protestant Church in one of the new countries.

Historically and logically, theologically also, those who affirm a necessary antagonism between the Republic and the Church are in error. Those who are best fitted to approach the problem by their knowledge both of what the Revolution attempted and of what Catholic philosophy is, find it in proportion to their knowledge difficult or impossible to answer that fundamental question in the affirmative. They cannot call the Revolution a necessary enemy of the Church, nor the Church of Democracy.

So why is there such a lasting--and Belloc emphasizes that the conflict goes on in 1911 (six years after the official Separation of Church and State in France)--conflict and such grievances between the Catholic Church and the spirit of the Republic and democracy in France?

First he examines the condition of the Gallican Catholic Church under the Ancien Regime, under which anti-clerical disbelief was accepted and allowed, and the practice of the faith was weakening while the officials of the Church, the bishops and cardinals, were protected, worldly, and wealthy. I think Belloc errs though when he tries to compare monasticism during the reign of Henry VIII to the Catholic hierarchy in eighteenth century France. He also ignores the Vendee (as he mentioned the uprisings there only briefly in Chapter 5) and the massacres there. He places the blame for the conflict on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the oaths required of priests and bishops because the politicians were wrong about the Catholic Church:

Had the Catholic Church been, as nearly all educated men then imagined, a moribund superstition, had the phase of decline through which it was passing been a phase comparable to that through which other religions have passed in their last moments, had it been supported by ancient families from mere tradition, clung to by remote peasants from mere ignorance and isolation, abandoned (as it was) in the towns simply because the towns had better opportunities of intellectual enlightenment and of acquiring elementary knowledge in history and the sciences; had, in a word, the imaginary picture which these men drew in their minds of the Catholic Church and its fortunes been an exact one, then the Civil Constitution of the Clergy would have been a statesmanlike act. It would have permitted the hold of the Catholic Church upon such districts as it still retained to vanish slowly and without shock. It proposed to keep alive at a reasonable salary the ministers of a ritual which would presumably have lost all vitality before the last of its pensioners was dead; it would have prepared a bed, as it were, upon which the last of Catholicism in Gaul could peacefully pass away. The action of the politicians in framing the Constitution would have seemed more generous with every passing decade and their wisdom in avoiding offence to the few who still remained faithful, would have been increasingly applauded.

If the French had known about Catholics in Ireland or England under the Tudors and the Stuarts, they wouldn't have made such a mistake. When the priests and a few bishops refused the oaths and the conflict inside and outside France ramped up in intensity, the massacres of September 1792 and the campaign of De-Christianization marked Catholic memories in France as surely as Irish memories of Cromwell:

There followed immediately a general attack upon religion. The attempted closing of all churches was, of course, a failure, but it was firmly believed that such attachment as yet remained to the Catholic Church was due only to the ignorance of the provincial districts which displayed it, or to the self-seeking of those who fostered it. The attempt at mere "de-christianisation," as it was called, failed, but the months of terror and cruelty, the vast number of martyrdoms (for they were no less) and the incredible sufferings and indignities to which the priests who attempted to remain in the country were subjected, burnt itself, as it were, into the very fibre of the Catholic organisation in France, and remained, in spite of political theory one way or the other, and in spite of the national sympathies of the priesthood, the one great active memory inherited from that time.

Belloc believes that this memory--and the opposite memory of supporters of the Republic perceiving Catholic intransigence--will take generations to fade. 

Here is one of the examples of Belloc's measured and even rather limited approach, which I think fails. He devotes much more explanation to the weakness of the Catholic Church in France before the Revolution--eight paragraphs detailing the worldliness of the clergy, the "moribund condition of the religious life of France upon the eve of the Revolution", and the intertwining of the Church and the State--and but one paragraph to the great efforts to de-Christianize France. I think Belloc missed a great opportunity with his audience here: English public opinion had been sympathetic to the exiled French non-juring priests; English monks and nuns re-established the religious life in England after fleeing France. Belloc does not recount the September massacres; the changes in the calendar; he mentions the closing of churches but does not offer details about their desecration; he ignores the efforts to establish different cults of Reason and the Supreme Being: in short, in his dedication to the political theory of the French Revolution, Belloc passes over its abuses, injustices, and cruelties.

This is not the book on The French Revolution I expected from the author of Europe and the Faith. Perhaps I need to re-read the latter.

Monday, November 2, 2020

This Morning: The Last Three Canonized Martyrs Among the 40


Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central today to conclude our series on the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales. Matt Swaim and I will discuss the missions and martyrdoms of Saints John Plessington, John Kemble, and David Lewis, SJ, three priests captured and executed in the wake of the Popish Plot.

Please listen live here on the Sacred Heart Radio website; the podcast will be archived here; the segment will be repeated on Friday next week during the EWTN hour of the Son Rise Morning Show (from 6:00 to 7:00 a.m. Eastern/5:00 to 6:00 a.m. Central).

To sum up this series on the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, I draw your attention to this homily by Father Lawrence Lew, OP, preached on Sunday, October 25, the Feast of Christ the King in the 1962 Missal as established by Pope Pius XI, and the 50th anniversary of the Canonization of these martyrs by Pope Paul VI:

The forty martyrs who we especially remember today exemplify the ultimate self-denial and carrying of the Cross that is demanded of us Christians. This group of English and Welsh Martyrs, just a small representation of the hundreds executed during the so-called Reformation, is composed of 13 diocesan priests (or secular clergy), 3 Benedictines, 3 Carthusians, 1 Brigittine, 2 Franciscans, 1 Augustinian, 10 Jesuits and 7 members of the laity, including 3 mothers. And all of them sacrificed everything for the sake of the Holy Mass and the Sacraments; for the unity of Christ’s Church in communion with the Pope; for the sake of the sacred Priesthood through whom we receive the Sacraments; and for the sake of Christ’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage and family life. 

Please read the rest there.

Even after a summer when we saw statues and churches attacked in the USA, and even as we are rightly concerned about religious freedom issues on local, state, and federal government levels, we know that in the USA we don't face mortal martyrdom. We do face spiritual martyrdom, as we should, and Father Lew reminds us that following Christ the King does not mean that we serve Him in a Court of pleasure, comfort, power, and diversion--His kingdom is not of this world. Father Lew selects two lessons for us to take from these martyrs and from Christ's kingship:

Therefore, in our times and in our country, we honour these holy men and women, and we show ourselves to be their friends, if we love what they love. So, let us love the Mass and the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church; love the Holy Father and pray for him; love your clergy, pray for them and uphold them with care and help; love your husband, your wife, and as a family bear witness to the love and joy of the Gospel. . . . Therefore, enthrone Christ in your homes, in your families, and in your own hearts. . . .

However, it is most noteworthy in the accounts of their lives and their final words that the forty martyrs of England and Wales did all this without rancour or bitterness or anger or hatred. Instead, they spoke with humour, serenity, and humility, always acting with charity. For this is the genuine sign that Christ is their King. Let it be so for each of us too, especially in these difficult and polarised times. . . .  It is a joy that flows from a childlike confidence and trust in God’s love, in the victory of the Risen Lord Jesus; a joy that springs from a firm faith in divine Providence. . . .

Good reminders for us the day before Election Day in the USA.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

St. John Henry Newman's "Re-Imagining" of Purgatory

On Monday, October 26, I watched Professor Kenneth Parker's Journey Home episode on EWTN. He is currently the Ryan Endowed Chair for Newman Studies, Professor of Historical Theology and soon will be the Chairman of the newly formed Department of Catholic Studies both at Duquesne University. 

He grew up in a Christian community I'd never heard of before, the Pilgrim Holiness Church. He studied Historical Theology at the University of Cambridge, became a Catholic in 1982 and discerned a  vocation as a Benedictine monk in California before returning to the academic world. As he says on his page at Duquesne:

My original area of scholarship focused on early modern English theology, and I have published on English sabbatarianism, Richard Greenham, and Elizabethan pastoral care. In the late 1980s my research interests expanded to include John Henry Newman and Christian historiographical traditions. In the early 2000s, I began exploring the papal infallibility debates of the 1860s and how history was employed by key theologians. This research has drawn me into studies of two Irish American archepiscopal brothers, Francis and Peter Kenrick, who profoundly influenced the discourse on papal authority in the 19th-century North Atlantic Catholic world. Their Irish background has led to research on the Irish gallican tradition and its impact on Catholicism in the United States.

In the course of his interview, some viewers sent emails and one of them asked about a neglected or relatively unknown aspect of Saint John Henry Newman's works and thought. Professor Parker suggested that how Newman "re-imagined our understanding of Purgatory" in The Dream of Gerontius was one thing, continuing with the thought that Newman often regretted "from his first book" [The Arians of the Fourth Century] that doctrines celebrated doxologically through worship had to be defended through intellectual argument, removing them from their proper place. 

What I interpreted him to mean is that the Divinity of Jesus was celebrated in the liturgy of the Church, but the attack on that Divinity by Arius meant that orthodox believers had to provide technical exegesis and theological arguments to defend and codify it. 

Furthermore, I conclude that Professor Parker was saying that in The Dream of Gerontius, with its earthly and heavenly liturgies of prayer and praise, Newman was providing a fresh vision of Purgatory in its proper context--worship and awe of the Holy Trinity; the justice and mercy of God; the reality of sin, repentance, and expiation--all in the experience of a man dying in the state of grace, absolved of sin, and prepared for judgment by the traditions of the Church.

When Gerontius's Soul approaches particular judgment, he hears those at his deathbed praying for him, and his Guardian Angel explains:

It is the voice of friends around thy bed,
Who say the "Subvenite" with the priest.
Hither the echoes come; before the Throne
Stands the great Angel of the Agony,
The same who strengthen'd Him, what time He knelt
Lone in that garden shade, bedew'd with blood.
That Angel best can plead with Him for all
Tormented souls, the dying and the dead.


The Subvenite is the responsory prayed immediately after the Christian has died:

R. Subveníte, Sancti Dei, occúrrite, Angeli Dómini, Suscipiéntes ániman ejus, Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altíssimi. Suscípiat te Christus, qui vocávit te, et in sinum Abrahae Angeli dedúcant te. Suscipiéntes ánimam ejus, Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altíssimi. 

V. Réquiem aetérnam dona ei, Dómine, et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altìssimi. 

R. Come to his assistance, all you Saints of God: meet him, all you Angels of God: receiving his soul, offering it in the sight of the Most High. May Christ receive you, who hath called you, and may the Angels conduct you to Abraham's bosom. Receiving his (her) soul and offering it in the sight of the Most High.

V. Eternal rest give to him (her), Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him (her). Offering it in the sight of the Most High.


This is what has been happening to Gerontius's Soul; the Angels of God have received it and are offering it "in the sight of the Most High" as the Soul goes to face God and Judgment. And after the Soul has received Judgment, Newman places a poem of great subtlety mixing joy and pain, longing and peace as the Soul is "happy in [his] pain", "Lone, not forlorn--" and will sing to "soothe [his] stricken breast":

Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be,
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
Told out for me.
There, motionless, and happy in my pain,
Lone, not forlorn –
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn,
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast,
Which ne’er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest
Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love: –
Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.

[His Guardian Angel had warned his Soul that he would feel this way:

When then—if such thy lot—thou seest thy Judge,
The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart,
All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.
Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,
And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,
That one so sweet should e’er have placed Himself
At disadvantage such, as to be used
So vilely by a being so vile as thee.
There is a pleading in His pensive eyes
Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though
Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinned,
As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire
To slink away, and hide thee from His sight;
And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen,—
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,—
Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.]


Sir Edward Elgar left that passage out of the libretto of his oratorio, but that image of the Soul seeing with spiritual eyes the love God has for him and how much the Soul has failed to receive that love worthily--and that moment "will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory" is a re-imagining of the moment of Judgment and Purgatory, and even the immortal soul's reaction to its fate. It is ready for Purgatory now; it wants to be purified and prepared to enter that Presence again.

This is the passage that even Charles Kingsley, Newman's defeated opponent of the Apologia pro Vita Sua crisis could accept, as cited in this article by Robert Carballo:
I read the Dream with awe and admiration. However utterly I may differ from the entourage in which Dr. Newman’s present creed surrounds the central idea, I must feel that the central idea is as true, as it is noble, and it, as I suppose, is this: The longing of the soul to behold the Deity … that the soul is ready, even glad, to be hurled back to any depth, to endure any pain, from the moment it becomes aware of God’s actual perfection and its own impurity and meanness.
The Guardian Angel's description of Purgatory echoes a poem Newman wrote in 1853, "The Golden Prison", promising the presence of Angels even there--the Soul will not suffer alone.

Now let the golden prison open its gates,
Making sweet music, as each fold revolves
Upon its ready hinge. And ye great powers,
Angels of Purgatory, receive from me
My charge, a precious soul, until the day,
When, from all bond and forfeiture released,
I shall reclaim it for the courts of light.

And then the Guardian Angel's final words refer to "penal waters", a lake, and "bed of sorrows", as the Angels of Purgatory tend, nurse, and lull the penitent soul and prayers and Masses on earth make the time pass swiftly until she returns to convey his Soul to Heaven:

Softly and gently, dearly ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And Masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.
Farewell, but not for ever brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow. 

Newman emphasizes that the sufferings of the Soul are outside of earthly time; it is not earthly days or weeks or months or years that pass but merely a "night", and the Guardian Angel will return "on the morrow".

Professor Parker mentioned Elgar's oratorio based upon Newman's poem: Dame Janet Baker's performance of this final aria is the perfect conclusion. Elgar's brilliance of weaving the prayers of the other Souls in Purgatory reciting Psalm 90 as the Angelicals sing "Praise to the Holiest in the Height" lead us to a peaceful Amen. 

Farewell, but not forever.