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.