Friday, January 29, 2021

Preview: St. Thomas a Becket, Rescheduled

At the beginning of last year (2020!), Anna Mitchell, Matt Swaim, and I discussed on the Son Rise Morning Show the major historical anniversaries to be remembered and celebrated that year. One of the major events was the 850th anniversary of the "Murder in the Cathedral", the martyrdom of St. Thomas of Canterbury on December 29, 1170. Events in Canterbury and a major exhibition at the British Museum were planned.

Then of course, COVID-19 shutdowns and crowd management intervened and, except for the usual celebrations of his feast at Mass during the Octave of Christmas--and an extraordinary proclamation from the White House of President Donald J. Trump--all those plans were scrapped.

But now, St. Thomas a Becket is back in the news again as the planned exhibit at the British Museum is going to open in April, so I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time (7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central) on Monday, February 1st to talk with Anna Mitchell about his enduring significance--and a surprising discovery made when one of the surviving stained glass windows from his destroyed shrine (Henry VIII's work!) was put back together in the right order for the first time in 350 years! A conference at Canterbury Cathedral has also been rescheduled for April.

Please listen live here or on EWTN radio, on-line or on your local station, as this second hour is now broadcast on EWTN.

First, an excerpt from the December 28, 2020 Proclamation from the Trump White House:

Thomas Becket’s martyrdom changed the course of history. It eventually brought about numerous constitutional limitations on the power of the state over the Church across the West. In England, Becket’s murder led to the Magna Carta’s declaration 45 years later that: “[T]he English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.”

When the Archbishop refused to allow the King to interfere in the affairs of the Church, Thomas Becket stood at the intersection of church and state. That stand, after centuries of state-sponsored religious oppression and religious wars throughout Europe, eventually led to the establishment of religious liberty in the New World. It is because of great men like Thomas Becket that the first American President George Washington could proclaim more than 600 years later that, in the United States, “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship” and that “it is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”

Thomas Becket’s death serves as a powerful and timeless reminder to every American that our freedom from religious persecution is not a mere luxury or accident of history, but rather an essential element of our liberty. It is our priceless treasure and inheritance. And it was bought with the blood of martyrs. . . .

To honor Thomas Becket’s memory, the crimes against people of faith must stop, prisoners of conscience must be released, laws restricting freedom of religion and belief must be repealed, and the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed must be protected. The tyranny and murder that shocked the conscience of the Middle Ages must never be allowed to happen again. As long as America stands, we will always defend religious liberty.

A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure — because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God.

Next, the explanation from Canterbury Cathedral of how the mix-up on one of the surviving stained glass Miracles was discovered and corrected:

This is the first time one of the famed Miracle Windows – which were made in the early 1200s to surround Becket’s now-lost shrine in the Cathedral’s Trinity Chapel – have ever been lent, and the first time the glass has ever left the Cathedral, since their creation 800 years ago. The seven surviving windows, from an original series of twelve, tell several of the evocative stories of miracles attributed to Becket in the three years following his death, and are the only known depictions of Becket’s miracle stories in any media.

New research in collaboration with the foremost expert on the Becket miracles, Rachel Koopmans of York University, Toronto, has revealed that some of the panels have been in the wrong order for centuries. They were probably mixed up during a hasty rearrangement in the 1660s and the errors were discovered after close inspection of individual pieces under a microscope. When the window is shown at the British Museum, it will be rearranged in the correct narrative order, and this will be the first time in over 350 years that visitors will be able to view these panels as they were made to be seen. It will also be the very first time the window can be seen up-close at eye-level.

Leonie Seliger, Director of Stained Glass Conservation at Canterbury Cathedral, said: “The Miracle Windows are medieval versions of graphic novels illustrating the experiences of ordinary people. They greeted the pilgrims at the culmination of their journey to Becket’s shrine with images that would be reassuring and uplifting. The window that will be shown at the British Museum is only one of seven that remain, and they are one of Canterbury Cathedral’s greatest treasures.”

It's rather surprising to me that any of the windows survived the destruction of the saint's shrine in 1538--the act that finally led to Henry VIII's excommunication by Pope Paul III on December 17, 1538.

In Henry VIII's Proclamation of November 17, 1538, he had stated:

Therefore his Grace strayghtly chargeth and commandeth that from henseforth the sayde Thomas Becket shall not be estemed, named, reputed, nor called a sayncte, but bysshop Becket; and that his ymages and pictures, through the hole realme, shall be putte downe, and avoyded out of all churches, chapelles, and other places; and that from henseforthe, the dayes used to be festivall in his name shall not be observed, nor the service, office, antiphoners, colletes, and prayers, in his name redde, but rased and put out of all the bokes.”

A Reformation era example of "cancel culture".

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Book Review: Eamon Duffy's "A People's Tragedy: Studies in Reformation"

Note the subtitle: not studies in the English Reformation, but just "Reformation"--Duffy explores the reformation of how historians (and even novelists) have written about the English Reformation in these studies, exploring the revisions to commonly accepted tenets of the Whig version of English history. The Whig version proposes that Henry VIII's break from the Catholic Church and the establishment of Protestantism in England was necessary for progress and liberation. Therefore, any losses, material, spiritual, or personal, may have been regrettably cruel and destructive, but were absolutely necessary for liberty to flourish (even as the State imposed its religion on it subjects, restricting their liberty). 

As I expected, these studies are adapted from lectures and previously published works, for which Duffy provides details in the extensive notes for each essay.

The book is also very well illustrated, with captions referring to points Duffy makes in the essays. The contents of the book:


Part One: Studies in Reformation

1. Cathedral Pilgrimages: The Late Middle Ages
2. The Dissolution of Ely Priory
3. 1569: A People's Tragedy?
4. Douai, Rheims and the Counter-Reformation
4. The King James Bible
6. Richard Baxter, Reminiscent

Part Two: Writing the Reformation

7. Luther through Catholic Eyes
8. James Anthony Froude and the Reign of Queen Mary
9. A.G. Dickens and the Medieval Church
10. Walsingham: Reformation and Reconstruction
11. Writing the Reformation: Fiction and Faction

Starting from last chapter, Duffy demonstrates how both Protestants and Catholics used historical fiction to further their interpretations of the English Reformation, highlighting several Catholic revisionist works. He includes several of the novels of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (By What Authority; The King's Achievement; Come Rack, Come Rope). He highlights Ford Madox Ford's The Fifth Queen which presents Catherine Howard as a Catholic trying to bring Henry VIII back to the Church. Duffy particularly praises and analyses the achievement of the Anglo-Catholic H.F.M. Prescott in The Man on a Donkey--too bad he did not mention the Anglo-Catholic Catholic convert Sheila Kaye-Smith's Superstition Corner (it is a similarly complex historical novel on a smaller scale)--then he moves on to Hilary Mantel's historical fiction in her Cromwell trilogy. 

He deprecates the influence her novels have had on the historically valid reputation of Saint Thomas More--at one point making an awkward joke about historical errors in a draft of Pope John Paul II's 2000 Apostolic Letter proclaiming Saint Thomas More the patron of statesmen and politicians as proof the Pope couldn't have written it, because he's supposed to be infallible (ha, ha)--but even more deprecates the fact that some historians have accepted Mantel's unproven depiction of More as a torturer while ignoring the documented fact that Cromwell did torture Catholics and other dissenters. 

Trying to set this record straight, Duffy cites the historical record that Cromwell, under Henry VIII's orders, sent more heretics (25 Anabaptists) to be burnt alive at the stake than More (also under Henry VIII's orders), and that he "managed the process" of the Carthusians left to die of dehydration in Newgate prison without trial or sentence. Mantel's secular saint is not as tolerant as she wants him to be, so she ignores these cruelties, and passes off Cromwell's thoughts about the torture he supervises of Pilgrimage of Grace survivors as failures of persuasion--and "chains and heated irons" are his means to "pinch a man with pains". In other words, Cromwell tortures but really hates to do it.

But the dramatic presentation of Mantel's view of the contest between Cromwell and More in the novels, the miniseries, and the stage play probably mean that Duffy's efforts will have just as much impact as those of Richard Rex and others. Those who will read historical articles and appraise the record honestly will be persuaded--but how many of us are there? and how many more captivated by Mantel's manipulative words and images?

Duffy performs similarly revisionist analyses of A.G. Dickens's historical interpretation of the Medieval Catholic Church and of James Anthony Froude's view of the reign of Queen Mary in chapters 8 and 9. What he discloses is that Dickens and Froude's negative views of Catholicism tainted their historical evaluations of the past: when Dickens says that anything in Medieval Catholic culture is "charming" he means that it's deceitful and false; while Froude regrets injustices during the reign of Henry VIII, he thinks they were necessary for progress and freedom, but he condemns injustices during the reign of Mary I as horrific examples of Catholic repression and cruelty.

He surveys Catholic historic and theological views of Martin Luther in chapter 7, culminating with Richard Rex's The Making of Martin Luther. I think it would have been interesting if he had also addressed Brad S. Gregory's Rebel in the Ranks.

To now jump back to the beginning: In chapters 1, 2, and 3 in the first part of the book Duffy explores aspects of the destruction of the religious culture of pre-Reformation England, its monasteries, shrines, traditions, worship, and prayer. He notes that previous historians downplayed these losses and indeed ignored their effect on "the English imagination": the destruction of shrines to historic and holy great men and women, the loss of devotion, the end of community. In the chapter on the 1569 Northern Rebellion he recounts how former Catholic clergy at Durham Cathedral were reconciled to the Church while the Rebellion's leaders held the city, but then reverted to the safety of the Elizabethan Church as the Queen enacted her justice. The only priest-martyr of the Northern Rebellion was Blessed Thomas Plumtree, a chaplain to the Earls of Westmoreland and Northumberland. 

The chapter on Douai and Rheims highlights William Allen's efforts to prepare priests for the mission to England with a specific curriculum focused on knowledge of the Holy Bible and of apologetic arguments--familiar material from Chapter 5 "Founding Father, William, Cardinal Allen" of  Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants, and the Conversion of England and his contribution to Memory, Martyrs, and Mission. Duffy has made excellent use of that material, adapted to different purposes and audiences.

The chapter on the King James Bible is as fascinating whirlwind of praise and reappraisal of its influence and achievement. He notes that the prose and style of that English translation is often appreciated most by those who ignore its content and teaching! 

And finally, the chapter on Richard Baxter, of whom I know little. Duffy surveys the Reliquiae Baxterianae, a memoir posthumously collected from his works, demonstrating that the Puritan pastor of Kidderminster provides another great first-person view of the seventeenth century, not as popular as Pepys or Aubrey, but significant for its vivid detail and story-telling skill.

As I noted before, Duffy's insights into the history and the historiography of the English Reformation era are always enlightening and informative. Highly recommended--Eighth Day Books will be getting a copy for the shelf in soon, I think.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

New Year; Newman ("The Lapse of Time")

The days at the end of December and the beginning of this year have been a blur of activities, decisions, and emotions: I mentioned before that I was in the hospital with COVID-related pneumonia (December 7 through 12). My older brother was also in the hospital with COVID-related pneumonia starting on December 3; went home the next week; returned to the COVID ward a couple of days later; went home for about seven days, and then ended up in CCU at another hospital, and finally in hospice/palliative care. He died January 2 in hospice and his funeral was January 13. 

January 16 was the second anniversary of my husband Mark's death. So the Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell have been much on my mind.

Then on January 17 I went to our monthly "Lovers of Newman" group at the IHM convent in Colwich, Kansas to read an unusual New Year's Day sermon by John Henry Newman, "The Lapse of Time". 

Newman delivered this sermon in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin on January 1, 1832--before the Oxford Movement began--and he celebrated the New Year with his parishioners by reminding them that their time on earth is fleeting, precious, and consequential, that each one of them will die some day--maybe not tomorrow--but some day, and that when they die they will have no time left to live so as to prepare to die.

Death may come suddenly:

We naturally shrink from the thought of death, and of its attendant circumstances; but all that is hateful and fearful about it will be fulfilled in our case, one by one. But all this is nothing compared with the consequences implied in it. Death stops us; it stops our race. Men are engaged about their work, or about their pleasure; they are in the city, or the field; any how they are stopped; their deeds are suddenly gathered in—a reckoning is made—all is sealed up till the great day. What a change is this! In the words used familiarly in speaking of the dead, they are no more. They were full of schemes and projects; whether in a greater or humbler rank, they had their hopes and fears, their prospects, their pursuits, their rivalries; all these are now come to an end. One builds a house, and its roof is not finished; another buys merchandise, and it is not yet sold. And all their virtues and pleasing qualities which endeared them to their friends are, as far as this world is concerned, vanished. Where are they who were so active, so sanguine, so generous? the amiable, the modest, and the kind? We were told that they were dead; they suddenly disappeared; that is all we know about it.

And Newman warned his nineteenth-century congregation that they don't think enough about the souls of the dead:

The world goes on without them; it forgets them. Yes, so it is; the world contrives to forget that men have souls, it looks upon them all as mere parts of some great visible system. This continues to move on; to this the world ascribes a sort of life and personality. When one or other of its members die, it considers them only as falling out of the system, and as come to nought. For a minute, perhaps, it thinks of them in sorrow, then leaves them—leaves them for ever. It keeps its eye on things seen and temporal. Truly whenever a man dies, rich or poor, an immortal soul passes to judgment; but somehow we read of the deaths of persons we have seen or heard of, and this reflection never comes across us. Thus does the world really cast off men's souls, and recognizing only their bodies, it makes it appear as if "that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them, as the one dieth so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath, so that a man hath no pre-eminence over a beast, for all is vanity." [Eccles. iii. 19.]

So in 1832, Newman imagined the experience of the dead man, as his soul faces judgment and eternity and realizes he is out of time (in more ways than one):

It goes forth as a stranger on a journey. Man seems to die and to be no more, when he is but quitting us, and is really beginning to live. Then he sees sights which before it did not even enter into his mind to conceive, and the world is even less to him than he to the world. Just now he was lying on the bed of sickness, but in that moment of death what an awful change has come over him! What a crisis for him! There is stillness in the room that lately held him; nothing is doing there, for he is gone, he now belongs to others; he now belongs entirely to the Lord who bought him; to Him he returns; but whether to be lodged safely in His place of hope, or to be imprisoned against the great Day, that is another matter, that depends on the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil. And now what are his thoughts? How infinitely important now appears the value of time, now when it is nothing to him! Nothing; for though he spend centuries waiting for Christ, he cannot now alter his state from bad to good, or from good to bad. What he dieth that he must be for ever; as the tree falleth so must it lie. This is the comfort of the true servant of God, and the misery of the transgressor. His lot is cast once and for all, and he can but wait in hope or in dread. Men on their death-beds have declared, that no one could form a right idea of the value of time till he came to die; but if this has truth in it, how much more truly can it be said after death! What an estimate shall we form of time while we are waiting for judgment! Yes, it is we—all this, I repeat, belongs to us most intimately. It is not to be looked at as a picture, as a man might read a light book in a leisure hour. We must die, the youngest, the healthiest, the most thoughtless; we must be thus unnaturally torn in two, soul from body; and only united again to be made more thoroughly happy or to be miserable for ever.

Reading those sentences in bold may make a Catholic wonder: how did Newman after his conversion look back at them and reconcile them with his belief in Purgatory? A Soul in Purgatory is bound for glory in Heaven; he or she can do nothing to aid himself or herself while enduring the purgation necessary for sins confessed and forgiven, so it is true that his or her "lot is cast once for all." 

On the other hand, in our discussion we did not know exactly what Newman meant by saying: "for though he spend centuries waiting for Christ" and "he can but wait in hope or in dread". Did Newman believe in 1832 that there was no immediate, particular judgment of the soul until the end of time and the return of Christ in the Second Coming? At that time, did he believe in a form of "soul sleep" in which the soul is still aware?

There's quite a contrast here to his much later work The Dream of Gerontius, which we discussed briefly, with its images of the immediate, particular judgment and the Soul of Gerontius willingly being led to Purgatory by his Guardian Angel. The Soul feels the bitter pang of realizing how he failed God while on Earth and is ready to be purified.

At the end of the sermon--and I encourage you to read the rest here--Newman certainly demonstrates that he is well-past his former Calvinist convictions, as he summarizes the mystery of God's grace and our Free Will:

Those whom Christ saves are they who at once attempt to save themselves, yet despair of saving themselves; who aim to do all, and confess they do nought; who are all love, and all fear; who are the most holy, and yet confess themselves the most sinful; who ever seek to please Him, yet feel they never can; who are full of good works, yet of works of penance. All this seems a contradiction to the natural man, but it is not so to those whom Christ enlightens. They understand in proportion to their illumination, that it is possible to work out their salvation, yet to have it wrought out for them, to fear and tremble at the thought of judgment, yet to rejoice always in the Lord, and hope and pray for His coming.

This must have been quite a sermon to hear on the first day of 1832 in Oxford. Newman was reminding his congregation of hard truths and realities they knew, but did not know. As he says at the beginning of the sermon, if we think of death only in physical and general terms, we don't know about the reality of our own deaths: we have "no knowledge of that great truth at all."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Lingard on Newman in "The Newman Review"

Shaun Blanchard, Assistant Professor of Theology at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tantalizes us in the opening paragraphs of an article in The Newman Review--and then promises more in a subsequent article--by quoting the Catholic historian Father John Lingard's opinion of the recent convert and Oratorian, Father John Henry Newman:

“I don’t like Newman,” wrote the famous English historian Fr. John Lingard in January 1850. The reasons the aged and ailing Catholic historian gave for his antipathy towards perhaps the most celebrated English convert of all time encapsulated the collision of old and new: “too much fancy or enthusiasm”[1] was Lingard’s gripe in a letter to his friend John Walker. The relative obscurity of Lingard today is surprising, since in his day (he died in 1851) he was “the best-known and most widely read English Catholic writer.”[2] Lingard’s “Victorian celebrity” was due primarily to ground-breaking historical works, but also significantly buttressed by his reputation as a formidable theo-political controversialist: both in intra-Catholic squabbles and in defense of his community against Protestant detractors.[3] The crowning achievement of a life of research, his eight-volume History of England (1819–1830) featured pioneering work with primary source material.[4] Lingard’s History was widely reviewed and debated. It was translated into many languages, went through multiple editions, and was even abridged for use as a school textbook in France. In the twentieth century, Hilaire Belloc added a final volume to bring the narrative from 1688 to the present; this version of Lingard’s History of England can still be found in old family libraries around the UK. Lingard can be counted as a kind of founding father of certain “revisionist” historical positions on English history advanced by scholars like Eamon Duffy and Christopher Haigh. Long before Duffy’s classic The Stripping of the Altars (1992), Lingard’s work suggested a re-narration of the Whiggish and triumphalist national story vis-à-vis Catholicism.[5]

Lingard in fact had quite a lot of interesting things to say about Newman, dating from his growing awareness of the importance of the Oxford Movement in the 1830s until Newman’s conversion in 1845, when Lingard was in his mid-seventies. In a subsequent essay, I’ll explore Lingard’s take on Newman and on the great changes sweeping the English Catholic community at the end of his life (Lingard strongly associated Newman with many of these changes, and mostly bemoaned them). This essay, however, will introduce readers to Lingard, one of the major intellectual lights of the English Catholic community when Newman joined it in 1845 at Littlemore. . . .

Please read the rest there. I look forward to learning more about Lingard's reasons for not liking Newman in the promised subsequent article. Lingard seems to have been most particular about how Catholics practiced their faith, and the last sentence in this quotation seems most contradictory:

While his willingness to defend the Catholic community from outside critics had won him renown, he grew extremely critical of elements within English Catholicism that he found embarrassing, theologically suspect, or intellectually wanting. He dismissively mocked Italian priests who came to England to run retreats fueled by “enthusiasm,” and criticized the women who attended them (sometimes directly, by letter, as attendees included close friends). Lingard’s correspondence also reflects a stereotypical English mistrust of the French and the Irish. A man of the eighteenth century and the Catholic Enlightenment, he could barely contain his dislike of Gothic revival, Pugin’s work, and the Anglo-Catholic Tractarians. While ardently desiring the conversion of non-Catholics, especially socially prominent Anglicans, he distrusted the leading converts of the Oxford Movement like Frederick Faber and Newman. . . .

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Did Henry VIII Corrupt the Morals of England?

David Carlin writes for The Catholic Thing considering the connections between manners and morals and the example of leaders in modeling that connection or not:

I suppose I should mention at this point a political leader or two who tended to corrupt his people with his example of bad taste, bad manners, and bad morals. Maybe I could mention Mussolini. Or maybe Huey Long. Or maybe Sardanapalus. Or maybe I should point to somebody closer to home. But I won’t. Instead I choose King Henry VIII.

Now I’ve read books about Henry, the worst tyrant in our Anglo-American history. But the image of Henry in my mind has not been formed by those learned book
(sic) so much as by the Charles Laughton portrayal of the king in the wonderful 1930s movie, “The Private Lives of Henry VIII.

Two things stand out in my mind. (1) Henry’s piggish way of dining: ripping the chicken (or was it duck?) apart, gorging himself on it, then tossing the bones away over his shoulder. (2) His getting rid of multiple wives, especially his casual decapitation of two of them. Very amusing to watch today. (I saw it again only a week or so ago.) But it wasn’t an edifying example to his people.

I think that many would agree that Henry VIII was a tyrant: he certainly abused the system of justice in his country for his own purposes. Thomas Cromwell and he used Bills of Attainder to condemn those against whom there was no proof of treason or even misprision of treason--and Cromwell found that method of Attainder used summarily against him! 

And that's a source of corruption in a nation. But did he corrupt the personal morals of the English people? Although he sought "divorces" from two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves--which could more accurately be termed decrees of nullity (that no marriage had taken place)--did more English men seek divorces after Henry VIII's example? 

One could even argue that Henry VIII upheld morality in his own tyrannical fashion, punishing Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard for adultery, violations of morality. (Although there are many arguments to be had about their guilt and the methods of inquiry and trial.)

But citing Alexander Korda's 1934 movie The Private Life of Henry VIII as an example of the king's bad manners at the dining table is inaccurate and misleading. As Alison Weir pointed out in her 2001/2008 book Henry VIII: King and Court:

As a rule, Henry did not dine in the great halls of his palaces, and his table manners were highly refined, as was the code of etiquette followed at his court. He was in fact a most fastidious man, and – for his time – unusually obsessed with hygiene. (page 1 of her Introduction)

She dedicates an entire chapter (9) to the "Elegant Manners, Extreme Decorum, and Very Great Politeness" at Henry VIII's Court.

Carlin's use of a movie scene (although I do remember a similar scene of gluttony as a fantastic main course was served to Henry VIII in the Showtime series The Tudors) to establish Henry VIII's bad manners as a key to his bad morals and bad influence on his country damages his case.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Best Books Read in 2020

Near the top of my selections for best books read in 2020: Reinhard Hutter's John Henry Newman on Truth & Its Counterfeits: A Guide for Our Times. I devoted two posts to my review of it: here and here. As I summarized my impressions of the book and its impact on me:

The bibliography is excellent, and the footnotes, as I mentioned, are important to read. I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the influence of Newman's teachings and writings on conscience, faith, ecclesiology and the Church's magisterium, and the idea of a university. I enjoyed and benefited from "hearing" Professor Hutter's voice of reason and experience throughout his discussion of these important subjects. It's a book I've had a hard time putting down even after I read the last word.

In contrast, Eamon Duffy's brief study of Newman was the most disappointing read of 2020. It could have been written by his brother Frank or Edwin Abbot.

Either a close second or tied for top spot: Robert R. Reilly's America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding. It also merited two posts for my review: here and here. For me, Reilly's survey of the influences on our countries founders as framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America was a great philosophical education:

Robert R. Reilly, whom I saw speak at the Midwest Catholic Family Conference in Wichita (cancelled this year by COVID of course) a few years ago on his book The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, in this book offers an exploration of the philosophical and intellectual sources that inspired the Founders of the United States of America in their quest for independence from Great Britain and the establishment of a new nation.

He goes all the way back to the pre-philosophical era, explores Greek philosophy focusing on Aristotle, Jewish monotheism, and the Latin/Roman Catholic synthesis of Greek philosophy and Revelation focusing on St. Thomas Aquinas, and continues his philosophical lessons through to the eighteenth century.

Other best non-fiction books: Lisa McClain's Lest We Be Damned; Maura Jane Farrelly's Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860; and Liturgical Mysticism by David Fagerberg.

I did not read much fiction last year, so Simon Tolkien's No Man's Land is my top pick in that category.

For the most entertaining book read last year: G.K. Chesterton's The Victorian Age in Literature. In his chapter on the Great Victorian Novelists, he shows a great appreciation for Jane Austen, which I appreciated:

Her [George Eliot's] originals and even her contemporaries had shown the feminine power in fiction as  well or better than she. Charlotte Brontë, understood along her own instincts, was as great; Jane Austen was greater. The latter comes into our present consideration only as that most exasperating thing, an ideal unachieved. It is like leaving an unconquered fortress in the rear. No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains. She could describe a man coolly; which neither George Eliot nor Charlotte Brontë could do. She knew what she knew, like a sound dogmatist: she did not know what she did not know—like a sound agnostic. But she belongs to a vanished world before the great progressive age of which I write. (p. 35)

He later says of her in comparison to Eliot and the Brontës :

Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected woman from truth, were burst by the Brontës or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew much more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may have been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her. When Darcy, in finally confessing his faults, says, "I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice though not in theory," he gets nearer to a complete confession of the intelligent male than ever was even hinted by the Byronic lapses of the Brontës' heroes or the elaborate exculpations of George Eliot's. Jane Austen, of course, covered an infinitely smaller field than any of her later rivals; but I have always believed in the victory of small nationalities. (p. 37)

If you like, please cite your favorite books from last year in the comments. 

Happy New Year!!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Other Thomas: Some News from The Center for Thomas More Studies

I received an email from The Center for Thomas More Studies with several updates and links, including this 
one of a translation of Sir Thomas More: humaniste et martyr by Father Louis Bouyer (of the Oratory) from the French by Andrea Frank.

The website has been updated. Of course, they highlighted the publication of The Essential Works of Thomas More from Yale University Press and the website created to provide supporting materials for that publication.

Before circumstances toward the end of the year, including concerns about the local spike in coronavirus cases, prevented us from meeting, I was reading More's A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation with a small group, masked and socially distanced, at Eighth Day Books. I hope we can start gathering again later this month, or as soon as possible.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Book Review: Memory, Martyrs, and Mission

This is the book from the Venerable English College, offered through January 29, 2021 as a free ebook.

As the publisher (Gangemi Editore) describes the book:

Essays to Commemorate the 850th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St Thomas Becket (c. 1118-1170) | Foreword by Mgr Philip Whitmore Rector of the Venerable English College, Rome. Essays by Judith Champ, Peter Davidson, Eamon Duffy, Peter Leech, Peter Phillips, Carol M. Richardson, Nicholas Schofield. Edited by Maurice Whitehead 

The murder on 29 December 1170 of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, sent shockwaves across the Christian world. The combination of his martyrdom, his canonization in 1173, and the creation of a shrine to him at Canterbury in 1220 increased the importance of the Via Francigena – the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome: indeed 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 English Hospice into a new English College in Rome, preparing future priests to serve on the dangerous post-Reformation mission to England and Wales, engendered further martyrdoms: between 1581 and 1679, forty-four members of the Venerable English College, Rome, were executed for serving as priests on the mission to England and Wales. Exploring three major themes – Memory, Martyrs, and Mission – this volume analyses, on the 850th anniversary of his death, the enduring legacy of St Thomas of Canterbury, expressed in English seminaries in continental Europe through their distinctive spiritual, artistic and literary activities; the resilience of those institutions to radical change over the centuries, in the face of revolution, war and social upheaval; and the challenges and opportunities for the effective formation of priests ready to meet the changing demands of mission in the twenty-first century. The volume concludes by demonstrating how music associated with St Thomas of Canterbury has resonated across the centuries, from soon after his martyrdom down to the present day.

My first comment is that I do not like ebooks and this one compounds my dislike by not having a table of contents with links to the chapters; I also don't like the illustrations being at the back of the book, making it hard to move between them and the chapters they pertain to. Each chapter is well documented with end notes; in those with sections, the end notes appear at the end of each section. Well-illustrated. 

I definitely prefer printed, tangible books.


Foreword by Mgr Philip Whitmore, Rector of the Venerable English College, Rome
List of contributors (bios)
List of illustrations

Chapter 1. St. Thomas a Becket (c. 1118-1170): Patron of the Venerable English College Church, Rome and of the English Clergy. --Nicholas Schofield
(each chapter begins with an abstract)
  • 'The Holy, Blissful Martyr'
  • St. Thomas and the English Catholic diaspora
  • 'Thomas Points the Way': The Cult at the Venerable English College
  • 'Martyr for the Liberty of the Church': Becket and the Victorians
  • A Patron for Modern Times
Chapter 2. The English Colleges of Douai and Rheims, the Venerable English College, Rome, and the Tridentine Seminary. --Eamon Duffy

Chapter 3. The Cultural Life of the English Colleges in Continental Europe: An Overview. --Peter Davidson

Chapter 4. 'No other of Christianity except that which we preach to them': the Venerable Bede and the 1580s Martyrs' Frescoes of the Venerable English College, Rome. --Carol M. Richardson
  • The fresco context
  • Three conversions
    • Peter
    • Eleutherius
    • Alban and Amphibalus
    • Constantine and Helena
  • Ursula
    • Gregory and Augustine
  • Brightness and Englishness
Chapter 5. The Restoration of the English and Welsh Seminaries in the Aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. --Peter Phillips
  • The final days of the English College, Douai
  • The Venerable English College, Rome
Chapter 6. New Wine in Old Wineskins? Harnessing the Power of History to Renew Priestly Formation. -- Judith Champ
  • 'Not drowning, but waving' (sic)
  • Understanding the past
  • Changes of culture: priestly or clerical?
  • What kind of Church: what kind of priest?
  • The changing nature of vocations to the priesthood
  • What kind of formation?
  • The role of the parish in formation
  • The art of accompaniment
  • Seminary and beyond
Chapter 7. Gaudeamus omnes: Catholic Liturgical Music for St. Thomas Becket in the British Isles, Continental Europe, and the Venerable English College, Rome, c. 1170-2020. --Peter Leech
  • Liturgical Music for St. Thomas of Canterbury in the British Isles, 1170-c. 1538
  • Liturgical Music for St. Thomas of Canterbury outside the British Isles to c. 1570
  • Becket Music in Britain, 1533-c. 1800
  • Liturgical Music for Becket in Continental Europe, c. 1550-. 1850
The only chapter I found lacking was Chapter 6; the author did not seem to live up to the title of the paper and only tangentially referred to the past or specifically the past formation and mission of priests from the Venerable College and their mission in England during the recusant period. It also raised more issues that it really addressed--although it certainly pertains to the VEC's current mission of training priests from various dioceses of England. Eamon Duffy's paper contained material from Chapter 5 "Founding Father, William, Cardinal Allen" from his 2017 Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants, and the Conversion of England.

Father Nicholas Schofield provides an excellent overview of St. Thomas of Canterbury's reputation through the centuries, while Chapters 3 through 5 explore aspects of the art and architecture of the VEC and the internal and external struggles of the English Colleges before, during, and after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The last chapter, which includes musical examples in an appendix, provides an excellent survey of the celebration of the feast of St. Thomas a Becket in liturgical music.

By the way, Father Schofield posts on the blog for the Archives of the Venerable English College, Rome, and I've included a link to Tales from the Archives on my blog roll on the right side of this blog.

If you haven't downloaded this free ebook yet, I recommend you do so soon--before January 29!!