Friday, February 26, 2021

Preview: How St. Thomas More Reads the Holy Bible

On Monday, March 1, Matt Swaim and I will continue our discussion of St. Thomas More's "The Sadness of Christ" on the Son Rise Morning ShowListen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern.

If you want to follow along, The Sadness of Christ, with an excellent introduction by Gerard Wegemer is readily available from Scepter Publishers.

In our introductory discussion on Monday, February 22, I mentioned to Anna Mitchell that St. Thomas More has two themes in these meditations: (1) Jesus really endures fear and anguish in the Agony in the Garden as He knows what is going to happen in detail and (2) Jesus is a model for More's readers, both for those in More's own time who are failing to be true disciples in the midst of the crisis in the Church and in England and for us today. 

While More was preparing for his own death, either by natural causes in prison or by execution at Henry VIII's will, he meditated on the Agony in the Garden as a way to face his fears of suffering and death just as Jesus, True God and True Man, faced His natural human dread of the fulfillment of the prophesies of His Passion: the humiliation, cruelty, and horrible death He was to die. More looks upon this Agony as a model, one that he and his readers may fail to imitate, as they so often fail to imitate Jesus as they should.

Indeed, More immediately introduces an example of how often we fail in our imitation of Christ, how we don't live up to the discipleship we profess. He begins by citing the Gospel of St. Matthew (26:30): "When Jesus had said these things [in the Upper Room at the Last Supper], they recited the hymns and went out to the Mount of Olives."

More says that we often fail in giving proper thanks to God before, during, and after our meals--in his own time he says they are neglecting the prayers the Church has given them to praise God, and when they do pray, it's perfunctory and on the way to a nice nap after dinner. 

Demonstrating his scholarship, More cites the Spanish bishop of Borgos, Paul of St. Mary (1351-1435), who was a convert from Judaism after reading the Summa of St Thomas Aquinas. From Bishop Paul, More had learned that Jesus and the Apostles sang the six psalms of the Passover, Psalms 113 through 118, the great Hallel, after the Lord's Supper.

While we may nap or relax after dinner, Jesus sang the Hallel and then led his Apostles to the Mount of Olives to pray during the cold night, as was often his custom (More cites Luke 22:30). 

Again he offers Jesus as a model for our prayer life: we need to prepare to pray: "we must lift up our minds from the bustling confusion of human concerns to the contemplation of heavenly things" (p. 2)

St. Thomas More then presents some guidance on how to read the Holy Bible, how to pay attention to the meaning of names and how the interpretation of those names helps us understand what God wants us to know about these events and their deeper meaning beyond the literal narrative.

First, More looks at the importance of Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives. Olive trees were the source of many blessings: the oil of anointing, the branches of peace, the foreshadowing of the greater anointing of the Holy Spirit the Apostles will receive after they've witnessed His Passion. That anointing will be effective, as a Sacrament, because it will "then teach them what they would not have been able to bear had it been told them only a short time before." 

Then, More examines the geography of Jesus's path to the Mount of Olives in the garden of Gethsemane: He walks through the stream of Cedron in the valley between Jerusalem and the Mount: "Across the stream Cedron to the outlying estate named Gethsemane." (John 18:1, Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32) 

He pays attention to the meaning of the names Cedron (sadness) and Gethsemane (most fertile valley/valley of olives) because he says "not a single syllable [of the Bible] can be thought inconsequential" since it is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

More then brings up an issue that he'll explore further in later sections: "drowsiness". We have to be awake and alert to recognize not just the meanings of these words but how those meanings should affect our understanding of Holy Scripture. As Jesus crosses the Cedron to Gethsemane, "we must surely cross over, before we come to the fruitful Mount of Olives and the pleasant estate of Gethsemane . . . we must (I say) cross over the valley and stream of Cedron, a valley of tears and a stream of sadness whose waves can wash away the blackness and filth of our sins." 

Thomas More, a layman, is establishing himself ("I say") as an authority in the interpretation of scripture because it has so many "senses" and "mysterious meanings". Beyond the mysterious meanings, the spiritual senses of Scripture (moral, anagogical, and allegorical), More establishes the main significance of this passage: The darkness Jesus is entering (since Cedron means not only "sad" but "blackened") also signifies "the inglorious torment" and disfigurement "by dark bruises, gore, spittle, and dirt" He will endure.

More sees the Providence of God from eternity in these names and their meaning. He says the Gospel writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us these names so we could know their meaning and their significance.

Then, too, the meaning of the stream He crosses--"sad" was far from irrelevant, as He Himself testified when He said, "My soul is sad, unto death". (p. 4)

He notes that only eleven of the Apostles are with Jesus, since Judas left after receiving the morsel from Him; then More invites us: 

Let us follow after Christ and pray to the Father together with him. Let us not emulate Judas by departing from Christ after partaking of His favors . . ." (p. 5)

And that is what we will be begin to do on Monday.

Image Credit (public domain): James Tissot, "My Soul is Sorrowful unto Death".

Monday, February 22, 2021

This Morning: An Intro to More's "The Sadness of Christ"

As previously announced, Anna Mitchell and I will start a Lenten series on the Son Rise Morning Show today--at my usual time (7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central) on the EWTN Radio network. We will discuss (with the hosts taking turns), Saint Thomas More's meditation on the Agony in the Garden every Monday during Lent. Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate.

The Sadness of Christ, with an excellent introduction by Gerard Wegemer is readily available from Scepter Publishers--or check with your local Catholic bookstore.

Today, however, Anna and I will just discuss the context of this work based on my preview post and this one more detail:

In what we might consider happier times, when Desiderius Erasmus was visiting England and meeting with John Colet at Oxford, Erasmus and Colet debated what Jesus, True God and True Man, really experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the 19th century edition of the Dictionary of National Biography explains in its entry for John Colet:

Late in 1498 the two scholars talked at length of Christ's agony in the garden, and each gave a different explanation. Colet adopted St. Jerome's view, that the agony was not to be confounded with human dread of death, but was Christ's sorrow for the fate of his persecutors. Erasmus contended that Christ's human side was for a time dissociated from the divine, and, while defending his view in a letter written later, adopted the scholastic theory, that scripture was capable of a multiplicity of interpretations. The enunciation of this doctrine called forth strong disapproval on the part of Colet, who insisted on the unity of the Bible's meaning (Erasmi Disputatiuncula de Tædio Jesu, in Opera, v. 1265-94). Erasmus's opinion of Colet, although in details they were at times at variance, grew with increase of intimacy. He compared his conversation to Plato's, and represents him as the centre of the little band of Oxford scholars and reformers at the beginning of the sixteenth century which included Grocyn, Linacre, and Thomas More. Much to Colet's regret, Erasmus refused to actively join him in his Oxford labours, and left England for Paris early in 1500.

This modern Oxford Dictionary of Modern Biography entry highlights the impact meeting John Colet and Thomas More had on Erasmus, even though his first visit to England did not provide him the secure ($$) opportunities he'd hoped for:

On meeting Colet and More during this visit their friendship was so quickly cemented that Erasmus later penned glowing portraits of each for the benefit of a wider European audience. In Colet he recognized a pattern of Christian living which, as captured in his Enchiridion, persisted throughout his life and inspired his own devotion to education and humane letters; writing to Johannes Sixtinus, Erasmus described Colet as 'the defender and champion of the ancient theology' (Ferguson and others, 1.230), noting in the wake of Colet's death that 'I never met a more fertile mind' (Erasmus to Justus Jonas, 13 June 1521, ibid., 8.238). In Thomas More meanwhile he found a sweetness of both wit and character that were born for friendship. Colet's Oxford lectures on St Paul, despite his lack of Greek, breathed the new spirit to which Erasmus was drawn and embodied the biblical humanism that became Erasmus's hallmark.

Colet would later become the Dean of St. Paul's in London and More considered Colet his spiritual director. He died in 1519. 

Erasmus returned to England in 1509, 1515, and 1517. Seymour Baker House writes in the Oxford work cited above that Erasmus had fond but melancholy memories of his times in England, especially as old friends died or were in trouble. He wrote to Guy Morillon, Charles V's secretary, that More was 'the best friend I ever had' as he lamented More's imprisonment. Erasmus died in 1536, a year and five days after More's martyrdom.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Happy Birthday to Saint Newman; New Edition of "Anglican Difficulties"

Today is the 220th anniversary of Saint John Henry Newman's birth in the City of London. Our local Lovers of Newman group will meet this afternoon and read together (out loud) a Parochial and Plain Sermon: "Fasting a Source of Trial". We will, however, also celebrate his 220th birth anniversary with a cake: a red velvet cake (appropriate for a Cardinal I think), so our fasting won't be that much of a trial!

"And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered." Matt. iv. 2.

THE season of humiliation, which precedes Easter, lasts for forty days, in memory of our Lord's long fast in the wilderness. Accordingly on this day, the first Sunday in Lent, we read the Gospel which gives an account of it; and in the Collect we pray Him, who for our sakes fasted forty days and forty nights, to bless our abstinence to the good of our souls and bodies.

We fast by way of penitence, and in order to subdue the flesh. Our Saviour had no need of fasting for either purpose. His fasting was unlike ours, as in its intensity, so in its object. And yet when we begin to fast, His pattern is set before us; and we continue the time of fasting till, in number of days, we have equalled His.

There is a reason for this;—in truth, we must do nothing except with Him in our eye. As He it is, through whom alone we have the power to do any good {2} thing, so unless we do it for Him it is not good. From Him our obedience comes, towards Him it must look. He says, "Without Me ye can do nothing." [John xv. 5.] No work is good without grace and without love. . . .

I also have news of a volume being added to the Newman Millennium Edition: his lectures on Anglican Difficulties from Gracewing Publishers:

Originally published in 1850 and revised in 1876, John Henry Newman's
Lectures on Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church is a series of twelve talks that the convert gave at the London Oratory in King William Street before an audience of Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, Protestants and intrigued sceptics. The stated purpose of the talks might have been "to clear away from the path of an inquirer objections to Catholic truth," especially Anglo-Catholic inquirers, but the book is also a witty meditation on the Church and the World, a ruthlessly satirical study of the Oxford Movement, or what Newman called "the Movement of 1833"; an autobiographical dress rehearsal for the Apologia pro Vita Sua; and a piece of masterly prose. Richard Holt Hutton, Newman's finest contemporary critic regarded it as marked "in manner and style... by all the signs of his literary genius... the first of his books... in which the measure of his literary power could be adequately taken."

Neglected for over a century by many who regarded its hard-hitting criticism of the National Church of England as unforgivable, the book can now be seen as profoundly cautionary. If one of its animating themes is to show how worldly establishments travesty "the Ark of Salvation," Newman's
Anglican Difficulties has perennial appeal. Indeed, it is an anatomy of the false and brazen things that lie at the heart of all such establishments.

This is the first critical edition of the book to include an editor's introduction with an overview and summaries of the lectures, the book's critical reception, a definitive text of the 1876 edition, textual variants, annotations explicating the text's historical, theological, and literary references, and a comprehensive index.

“Edward Short's critical edition of Anglican Difficulties sheds fascinating new light on John Henry Newman's lectures of 1850. This is a lively, well-researched, well-written edition, which all faithful readers of Newman will enjoy." – Ian Ker, author of
John Henry Newman: A Biography (1988)

The Editor, Edward Short, sent me a link to this excerpt from his introduction to this volume, explaining why it is an important book today, and not just as an example of Newman's great skill and style as a writer:

. . . First and foremost, it is a far-ranging meditation on one of Newman's most abiding and insistent themes, the Church and the World, a theme which he would take up not only in his sermons but in Arians of the Fourth Century (1832), An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), Loss and Gain (1847), Callista (1850), and The Idea of a University (1875). It is a reaffirmation of the unity of the Church. It is an inquiry into the varieties of Erastianism, which, as Newman shows, presents a continual threat to the integrity of the Church's unique mission in the world.

It is a meditation on the nature of history, proof that the best historians are not always those who call themselves historians. "History is at this day undergoing a process of revolution; the science of criticism, the disinterment of antiquities, the unrolling of manuscripts, the interpretation of inscriptions, have thrown us into a new world of thought," Newman wrote in Lecture V, "characters and events come forth transformed in the process; romance, prejudice, local tradition, party bias, are no longer accepted as guarantees of truth; the order and mutual relation of events are readjusted; the springs and the scope of action are reversed."

Please read the rest there.

Short has also promised me a review copy!

Happy birthday, Saint John Henry Newman--and pray for us!

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Book Review: Russell Shaw's "Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity"

When I went to Eighth Day Books last Saturday, I purchased this book (with a Gift certificate!!) and remembered that I had forgotten to mention George Weigel's book The Irony of Modern Catholic History in my review of best books read in 2020. I should have ranked it along with Hutter's book on Newman and Reilly's book on the political philosophy of the Founders in a three-way tie for first place!

I had noted Shaw's book in the Ignatius Press catalog last year and thought it looked like it covered much of the same ground as Weigel's, so I did not immediately seek to obtain a copy. So the timing was right to see the book on the shelf at EDB on Saturday. There should still be a copy available, according to the store's website. 

According to Ignatius Press:

Assaults on the dignity and rights of the human person have been central to the ongoing crisis of the modern era in the last hundred years. This book takes a searching look at the roots of this problem and the various approaches to it by the eight men who led the Catholic Church in the twentieth century, from Pope St. Pius X and his crusade against "Modernism" to Pope St. John Paul II and his appeal for a renewed rapprochement between faith and reason.

Thus it offers a distinctive, illuminating interpretation of recent world events viewed through the lens of an ancient institution, the papacy, a key champion of human rights under attack in modern times.

The fascinating story is told through short profiles of the eight popes combining crucial, often little known, facts about each by an author who is a veteran observer of Church affairs, a former top official of the conference of bishops of the USA, and consultant to the Vatican. It is written clearly and simply, but with carefully documented precision.

A special feature are the substantial excerpts from the writings of the popes that give important insights into their personalities and thinking. It also includes a useful overview of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and its pivotal role in reshaping the Catholic Church.

Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity contains judgments that will be challenged by partisans of both liberal and conservative ideological persuasions. But serious and open-minded readers, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, will find it an informative, timely, and inspiring guide to understanding many central events and issues of our times, while students of Church history will find it indispensable.

1. Pope Saint Pius X (August 4, 1903-August 20, 1914): "The First Outbreak of the Modern Mind"
2. Pope Benedict XV (September 3, 1914-January 22, 1922): "Never Was There Less Brotherly Activity"
3. Pope Pius XI (February 6, 1922-February 10, 1939): Facing Up to the New Men of Violence
4. Pope Pius XII (March 2, 1939-October 9, 1958): "The Modern Age in Arms"
5. Pope Saint John XXIII (October 28, 1958-June 3, 1963): The Provisional Pope Who Launched a Revolution
6. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965): "Innovation in Continuity"
7. Pope Saint Paul VI (June 21, 1963-August 6, 1978): "Am I Hamlet or Don Quixote?"
8. Pope John Paul I (August 26-September 28, 1978): The Smiling Pope
9. Pope Saint John Paul II (October 16, 1978-April 2, 2005): The First Postmodern Pope

In 150 pages, Shaw certainly cannot match Weigel's complexity and depth, but he does provide a thoughtful and reliable overview of the major crises seven of these eight popes faced:

Pius X: Modernism inside the Church: Loisy and Tyrell, etc
Benedict XV: World War I
Pius XI: totalitarianism and assault on traditional moral values
Pius XII: World War II and Communism
John XXIII: convening Vatican II
Paul VI: implementing Vatican II and enduring Catholic dissent
John Paul II: fall of the Soviet Union and restoration of order in the Church

I think that Shaw should have drastically shortened his consideration of Pope John Paul I since he did so little in his ecclesiastical career or as Pope (only 33 days) to confront the "Crisis of Modernity" and thus make room to include the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, since he served John Paul II's goals in clarifying Church teaching as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and continued his predecessor's goals of ecumenical renewal and restoration of order in the Church. 

Consideration of his foreshortened reign as the Vicar of Christ (April 19, 2005-February 28, 2013) would have demonstrated how the theologian continued the work of the philosopher. Benedict XVI was as aware as John Paul II of the crisis of the human person and of the need to defend human dignity in a comprehensive program of continuity and renewal. I'd even argue that leaving Benedict XVI out of this volume truncates the narrative of how the popes in the 20th and early 21st centuries have faced the Crisis of Modernity. I think that Pope Francis has a different program entirely, but since we're in the midst of his pontificate, historians in the future will have to look back and discern continuity or change.

Aside from that major caveat, I found the book an informative and reliable guide to the efforts of these seven popes to address the Modernist and Post-Modernist challenges to human dignity, the family, marriage, the life of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly; issues of war and peace, the economy, the poor and the oppressed, etc. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Preview: Lent in the Garden of Gethsemane with St. Thomas More

On Monday, February 22, Anna Mitchell, Matt Swaim, and I will start a Lenten series on the Son Rise Morning Show--at my usual time (7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central) on the EWTN Radio network. We will discuss, every Monday during Lent, Saint Thomas More's meditation on the Agony in the Garden, which More wrote while he was in the Tower of London. Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate.

I'm glad to see that my home state of Kansas has 14 (fourteen) EWTN affiliates!! (How many does your state have?)

If you want to read along, The Sadness of Christ is readily available from Scepter Publishers--or check with your local Catholic bookstore.

The Sadness of Christ is the English translation of De Tristitia Christi--More wrote this book in Latin. His granddaughter, Mary Roper Bassett, Margaret More Roper's daughter, translated it from Latin into English with the title Of the sorowe, werinesse, feare, and prayer of Christ before hys taking in the 1557 collection of Thomas More's works published by William Rastell, The Workes of Sir T. More in the English Tonge.

More also wrote a longer meditation on the Passion of Christ in English, A Treatise on the Passion and A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, also in English, while in the Tower--evidently during the first months of his incarceration, after April 17, 1534. I have the Yale Edition with the Treatise on the Passion, but it has not been published in a modernized version yet.

We know that when he was finally questioned again in 1535 about taking the Oath of Supremacy by Cromwell and others--according to letters he wrote to his daughter Margaret--he had dedicated much of his time in the Tower to meditating on Our Lord's Passion and preparing for his own death by natural causes or execution. More had written to Margaret that he was happy to have the time and leisure to meditate and pray more attentively and deeply on the Passion of Christ. He had devoted Fridays to this meditation while living at home, but now in the Tower he could think about it all the time.

In his meditation on detachment he wrote: "To think my most enemies my best friends, For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred." Therefore, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell had done him a favor by locking him up in the Tower, as Joseph's brothers had done him a favor (and themselves) a favor by selling him off in to slavery so that he ended up in Egypt as Pharaoh's right-hand man!

Sometime after those late April and early May 1535 meetings, Richard Rich and two others came to More's cell and gathered up his writing materials and some books--but left these manuscripts and other writings behind--so he was left with charcoal to write his last letter to Margaret. Margaret and William Rastell gathered those books and materials after More's execution, just as Margaret recovered her father's head before it could be tossed from Tower Bridge.

In writing this meditation, More reflected on all four accounts of the Agony in the Garden, chapter 26 in St. Matthew's Gospel, chapter 14 in St. Mark's, 22 in St. Luke's, and 18 in St. John's. As he does in the Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, More warns his readers about the trouble to come, not the possible invasion of the Turks in Hungary, but the loss of faith in the Church. He exhorts them to remain awake, be steadfast and prepared, to be attentive--not like the Apostles who fell asleep and could not watch one hour with Jesus--and neither presume to be fit for martyrdom nor too weak to be faithful. Jesus in the Garden is his model for us to imitate: throughout this series on the Mondays of Lent, Matt Swaim, Anna Mitchell and I will discuss More's counsel on how to imitate Jesus.

Image Credit: Jesus Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane from the Vaux Passional. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Book Review: "The Great Dissent" by Robert Pattison

This book, published in 1991, is still in the catalog of Oxford University Press! I read a couple of years after it was published when I worked at Eighth Day Books the first time after a reorganization at the advertising agency I worked for eliminated my position. 

Robert Pattison, then Professor of English at Southampton College at Long Island University, first attacks Newman's claims to fame as a great Victorian writer and religious figure, building the case that he failed as an Anglican and as a Catholic to influence either community, and then builds him back up at the great critic of the "anti-dogmatic spirit" aka Progressive Liberalism. Pattison does so, not because he supports Newman's arguments against Progressive Liberalism, but because he thinks that Newman's arguments should remind Progressives that their strength precisely is their anti-dogmatic spirit, their refusal to adopt one orthodoxy and enforce that orthodoxy, thus becoming just like Newman. 

Pattison admits rather than admires Newman's absolute consistency, his total lack of compromise with the spirit of his age, the Victorian compromise with Christian truth for the sake of progress and reform. He traces this consistency through Newman's opposition to Renn Dickson Hampden (1793-1868) at Oxford and to the heretical priest Arius (250 or 256–336 A.D.), noting that Newman was a formidable opponent to both past and present enemies, presenting their errors and descrying the danger of those errors as moral and doctrinal attacks against the Truth and our ability to find and assent to the Truth.

As Pattison also demonstrates, Newman sought and found the Truth, assenting to Jesus and the Church He founded, the Catholic Church, as Pattison explores Newman's "Theory of Belief" which could better be called Newman's "Theory of Assent".

The Great Dissent can be a frustrating book to read in 2021; as I read the Preface and first chapter ("Failure: Newman's Vanquished Reputation") I remonstrated with Pattison that in 1991 he did not (could not?) anticipate Newman's enduring legacy and of course, his beatification and canonization in the 21st century. It may still be true that Newman's influence and achievements are mostly the interest of partisans--for and against--as Pattison insists, but Newman certainly has more partisans on his side today than he did even at the end of the 20th century. His works are still being published and still being analysed and discussed, with even greater emphasis on his devotion to Truth and his energetic action to defend and promote Truth. 

Perhaps one reason Pattison missed this: he relies almost exclusively on Newman's controversial works (his attacks on Hampden, on The Arians of the Fourth Century, The Grammar of Assent, the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, and the Apologia pro Vita Sua); he seldom consults Newman's sermons, Parochial and Plain or Catholic, nor his spiritual, devotional writings. Thus, Pattison does not have the fullest view of John Henry Newman. 

The Great Dissent is also an intriguing book: Pattison's publications seem to have focused on "Rock and Roll" and different aspects of Victorian literature (The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism; On Literacy: The Politics of the Word from Homer to the Age of Rock; Tennyson and Tradition; The Child Figure in English Literature). Why did he write such a complex book about Newman, defending his greatness in such a controversial way? Pattison seems to admire Newman for all the wrong reasons, to a favorable partisan like me.

Perhaps an answer to that question comes in the fifth chapter, "Last Things: the Greatness of Newman". Pattison there presents Newman as the great prophet of the doom of Progressive Liberalism. If Progressive Liberalism asserts its own orthodoxy, its own dogmatic "anti-dogmatic principle", it will open up an opportunity for Newman's--for the Catholic Church's--orthodoxy and Truth to prevail again, as St. Athanasius and others did in the fourth and fifth centuries:

Newman's great dissent is a timely reminder to liberalism that its vitality lies in heterodoxy. As the twentieth century draws to a close, liberalism no longer seems much like a heresy or even an ideology. But for all its protestations, liberalism cannot escape the consequences of its own relativism. It can never take its first principles for granted but must always be proving their strength and their utility. And this relativity is the heretical virtue of liberalism. Without violating its own anti-dogmatism, it cannot assert the existence of its own absolute truth, and it remains humane only so long as it refrains from assuming the mantle of dogma and imposing those mental and social repressions implied by Newman's theory of belief. As long as liberalism remembers that it is a heresy and fights against truth, the possibilities of relative decency and tolerant forbearance remains alive.

Newman hoped that liberalism would forget its heretical origins and be undone by its own success. . . . as a self-proclaimed truth, liberalism was sure to fail. . . . liberalism seems [in 1991] determined to be what John Gray* calls "an expression on (sic?) [of] intolerance" . . . (p. 216)

*in Liberalisms: Essays in Political Philosophy (1989)

So, for Pattison, Newman's greatness--in spite of all his failures--is that he warns liberals (whom Pattison supports for their tolerance and humaneness) not to become like him. If liberals do become like Newman, asserting Truth and Orthodoxy, especially if they try to suppress those who are like Newman, they will reveal their "hypocrisy while simultaneously invigorating the cause of orthodoxy, as persecution is wont to do." (p. 217) 

As was just proved when Facebook seems to have censored promotion of a book by Carrie Gress on the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model against "toxic femininity" -- and the book sold out!

The most subversive twist of all comes in the last paragraph on page 217:

. . . Newman reminds the liberal that his beliefs are not universally accepted, that his ideology is a frail coalition of heresies, that in the fourth century ascendant liberalism was crushed by an outnumbered orthodoxy [Athanasius contra mundum!], and that for a thousand years it struggled in dissent. In opposition, liberalism was precarious, and in victory it threatens to become the one good custom that corrupts the world. Anyone who believes in the principles of liberalism--that is, in the anti-dogmatic principle--must come away from the pages of Newman humbled by the knowledge that liberalism is not a truth but a heresy, and a heresy too good not to be fought for by being fought against.

I trust he makes himself obscure!! The Great Dissent: John Henry Newman and the Liberal Heresy is a book to contend with and meditate upon, perhaps every twenty or so years. Would that some progressive liberals would read at those pages and rethink censorious efforts of cancel culture and suppression of free speech when they disagree with its content or condemn the person who speaks it. Or maybe not. 



1. Failure: Newman's Vanquished Reputation

2. Odium Theologium: The Liberal as Antichrist

3. Heresy and Liberalism: Cicero, Arius, Socinus

4. What is Truth? Newman's Theory of Belief

5. Last Things: The Greatness of Newman

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Book Review: "The Memoirs of Saint Peter"

I purchased this book from Eighth Day Books in 2019 but did not start reading it until last month, since the liturgical Year B for Sunday Cycle in 2020-2021 (November to November) uses the Gospel of St. Mark, supplemented with readings from the other Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of St. Mark is the shortest Gospel, with only 16 chapters. The timing seemed to be just right.

According to the publisher, Regnery:

The Gospel as You Have Never Heard It Before...

At a distance of twenty centuries, the figure of Jesus of Nazareth can seem impossibly obscure—indeed, some skeptics even question whether he existed. And yet we have an eyewitness account of his life, death, and resurrection from one of his closest companions, the fisherman Simon Bar-Jona, better known as the Apostle Peter.

Writers from the earliest days of the Church tell us that Peter's disciple Mark wrote down the apostle's account of the life of Jesus as he told it to the first Christians in Rome. The vivid, detailed, unadorned prose of the Gospel of Mark conveys the unmistakable immediacy of a first-hand account.

For most readers, however, this immediacy is hidden behind a veil of Greek, the language of the New Testament writers. Four centuries of English translations have achieved nobility of cadence or, more recently, idiomatic accessibility, but the voice of Peter himself has never fully emerged. Until now.

In this strikingly original translation, attentive to 
Peter's concern to show what it was like to be there, Michael Pakaluk captures the tone and texture of the fisherman’s evocative account, leading the reader to a bracing new encounter with Jesus. The accompanying verse-by-verse commentary—less theological than historical—will equip you to experience Mark’s Gospel as the narrative of an eyewitness, drawing you into its scenes, where you will come to know Jesus of Nazareth with new intimacy.

A stunning work of scholarship readily accessible to the layman,
The Memoirs of St. Peter belongs on the bookshelf of every serious Christian.

The author, again according to Regnery, is:

a professor of ethics and social philosophy in the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. He earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Harvard and studied as a Marshall Scholar at the University of Edinburgh. An expert in ancient philosophy, he has published widely on Aristotelian ethics and the philosophy of friendship and done groundbreaking work in business ethics. His previous books include Other Selves: Philosophers on Friendship, The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God, and most recently The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel according to Mark. He lives in Hyattsville, Maryland, with his wife, Catherine Pakaluk, a professor of economics, and their eight children.

Regnery has now published Professor Pakaluk's new translation of another Gospel: Mary's Voice in the Gospel According to John.

I would disagree with some aspects of this comment by the publisher in the blurb above:

The accompanying verse-by-verse commentary—less theological than historical—will equip you to experience Mark’s Gospel as the narrative of an eyewitness, drawing you into its scenes, where you will come to know Jesus of Nazareth with new intimacy.

The commentary is not really verse-by-verse with each verse of the Gospel included, but Pakaluk comments on aspects of many verses, explaining his translation and the significance of certain word choices, especially the various verb tenses (historical present, imperfect, aorist) and why sometimes as Mark narrates an event, he uses different tenses, because he is recounting Peter's memory of an event. For example, from chapter 15, verses 20-24, Mark describes the Crucifix as if it is happening right now, before Peter's eyes:

So now they are leading him out to affix him to a cross. They press into service a certain man who is passing by, coming in from the country, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to take his cross. They lead him to the Golgotha area, which means "Area of the Skull". (They gave him wine mixed with gall, which he did not take.) They affix him to the cross. They divide his garments, casting dice, to see who will take them. (p. 266)

Also, his commentary is theological: Pakaluk explains the literal theological meaning of many verses in his translation. Since his thesis is that Mark recorded Peter's memories of the three years he spent with Jesus (a thesis supported by early testimony in the Church) based upon how Peter had taught in Rome, Pakaluk often highlights Peter's intent in recounting certain events. He told certain stories--remember that St. John's Gospel states that many books would have to be written to tell everything that Jesus did and said)--because they were important to his preaching of the Gospel. So when Pakaluk explains the literal meaning of these stories and how Mark/Peter told them, he's explaining the theology, doctrinal, pastoral, and sometimes even moral, meaning and significance behind them. He does not explore the moral or practical, allegorical, or anagogical interpretation of most verses, but focuses on the literal. (For instance in chapter 10, when Jesus teaches against divorce, adultery, and remarriage, Pakaluk cannot help but offer commentary on the moral significance of that passage.)

I agree that this translation makes the narrative vivid, immediate, and fresh. Pakaluk's word choices, like not using the common "Crucify him", instead choosing "Put him on a cross" (or instead of "they crucify him" choosing "they affix him to the cross"), made me stop as I read familiar lines. 

The passage that really impressed me came in chapter 6, verses 39-40:

So he told them to have everyone sit down and form as it were dinner parties, side by side, on the green grass. And they sat down in groups of a hundred and groups of fifty, looking like flower beds sat side to side. (pp. 97-98)

This imagery of "dinner parties" and "flower beds", Pakaluk explains in his commentary, is how Peter remembers it looked that day when Jesus miraculously fed the vast crowd. That's a beautiful detail of a wonderful day.

Image Credit: the publisher Regnery Gateway (fair use for a book review) St. Mark Writing Under the Dictation of St. Peter, attributed to Giuseppe Vermiglio, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, France. (Also attributed to Pasquale Ottino)

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Today's "Great Feast": The Presentation in the Temple

Sadly, this feast will probably not be celebrated as it should be in the Catholic churches/parishes where I live. St. George Orthodox Cathedral prayed Great Vespers last night and offers the Divine Liturgy this morning. We will have the Blessing of Candles after Low Mass tonight in the Extraordinary Form at St. Joseph Catholic Church, but I don't think we will have the procession before Mass. In my recollection, I've participated in the fuller form of this feast once at my home parish, because February 2 "fell" on a Sunday--otherwise it's been a daily Mass celebration. (Which is, of course, a great mystery and feast in itself!)

Note that in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church this feast is either called The Purification of Mary or The Presentation of the Lord--or Candlemas, because of the blessing of candles to be used in prayer. It's the 40th day after Christmas and time to take down all the holly and the ivy, etc. Eastern Rite Catholics celebrate this feast too.

In fact, this is a Great Feast--it's one of 12 in the Orthodox Churches, called by a different name:

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church. We have sermons on the Feast by the holy bishops Methodius of Patara (+ 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (+ 360), Gregory the Theologian (+ 389), Amphilocius of Iconium (+ 394), Gregory of Nyssa (+ 400), and John Chrysostom (+ 407). Despite its early origin, this Feast was not celebrated so splendidly until the sixth century.

In 528, during the reign of Justinian, an earthquake killed many people in Antioch. Other misfortunes followed this one. In 541 a terrible plague broke out in Constantinople, carrying off several thousand people each day. During this time of widespread suffering, a solemn prayer service (Litia) for deliverance from evils was celebrated on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, and the plague ceased. In thanksgiving to God, the Church established a more solemn celebration of this Feast.

Church hymnographers have adorned this Feast with their hymns: Saint Andrew of Crete in the seventh century; Saint Cosmas Bishop of Maium, Saint John of Damascus, and Saint Germanus Patriarch of Constantinople in the eighth century; and Saint Joseph, Archbishop of Thessalonica in the ninth century.

According to Dom Prosper Guaranger, the Extraordinary Form uses a Latin translation of a Greek (Orthodox) antiphon at the beginning of the Procession:

Adorna thalamum tuum, Sion, et suscipe Regem Christum: amplectere Mariam, quæ est cœlestis porta; ipsa enim portat Regem gloriæ novi luminis; subsistit Virgo, adducens, manifub Filium ante luciferum genitum; quam accipiens Simeon in ulnas suas, prædicavit populis Dominum eum esse vitæ et mortis et Salvatorem mundi.

Adorn thy bridechamber, O Sion, and receive Christ, thy King. Salute Mary, the gate of heaven; for she beareth the King of glory, who is the new Light. The Virgin stands, bringing in her hands her Son, the Begotten before the day-star; whom Simeon receiving into his arms, declared him to the people as the Lord of life and death, and the Savior of the world.

It's also wonderful to note that J.S. Bach wrote several Cantatas while he was in Leipzig for this feast as celebrated in the Lutheran Church, including BWV 82, Ich habe genug (It is enough), performed here by Philippe Herreweghe and the Choir & Orchestra of La Chapelle Royale with soloist Peter Kooy. Text and translation here. More about other Bach cantatas for this feast here and more about the Lutheran readings for this feast (which are those used in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite also) here.

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine
Secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium,
Et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.

Image Credit (public domain): Painting from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)

Monday, February 1, 2021

St. Thomas of Canterbury on the Son Rise Morning Show

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning at about 7:50 Eastern/6:50 Central to talk about how St. Thomas of Canterbury (aka Becket) is back in the news since the postponed commemoration of the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom is ramping up. 

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

When Henry VIII commanded that "the dayes used to be festivall in [St Thomas of Canterbury's] name" be removed from the calendar in his Church of England, he was referring to two feasts: that of his martyrdom on December 29 and that of the translation of his relics to the great shrine in Trinity Chapel in the Cathedral of Canterbury on July 7. 

That latter date was on St. Thomas More's mind in 1535 as he awaited execution in the Tower of London. He hoped it would be scheduled on July 6, the eve of the Feast of the Translation of St. Thomas of Canterbury.

2020 was not only the 850th anniversary of the first feast, but also the 800th anniversary of the second feast, as the saint's relics were moved to the shrine in 1220. For 318 years, until Henry VIII ordered its destruction, thousands of pilgrims came to Canterbury to ask for the martyr's prayers for their intentions. In honor of that 800th anniversary, a digital recreation of the shrine was created.

The BBC posted a story about the digital model, but The Daily Mail story also includes a video.

The model was based on several first hand reports by pilgrims and depicts it as it would have appeared in 1408, according to this article:

Besides Erasmus there are at least seven surviving first-hand accounts of the pilgrim experience within the cathedral from the early 14th century, as well as one locally composed poem on the subject and the surviving Customary of the shrine. 20 Erasmus’s is the latest of all these sources, and the only one to visit the Martyrdom or tomb before going to the shrine. As I have argued elsewhere, all sources apart from Erasmus show that the ‘typical’ pilgrim went directly to the shrine up the south choir aisle and only then to some or all of the other ‘stations’, dependent on status, need or interests. 21 In addition to the accounts cited in my previous work, a newly discovered Florentine merchant’s account of his visit in 1444 confirms the shrine as the first port of call, followed by a selection of the other sites (in his case not including the tomb). 22 Even if the cathedral had been planned so that pilgrims, rather than monastic processions, would move from Martyrdom to tomb to shrine, the evidence from the later Middle Ages strongly indicates they were not doing so. Some of the previously reconstructed pilgrim routes would have taken the laity through such intimate monastic spaces as the north choir aisle and even into the choir itself. While special visitors such as Erasmus and the Florentine merchant may have been given this treatment as part of a guided tour, if used as a general route monastic liturgy and pilgrim activity would have had to take place at separate times, for both used the same spaces. Yet the Customary and other accounts provide evidence that pilgrim activity was managed so that it could take place at the same time as, and adjacent to, the monastic liturgy. The celebration of divine service in the choir at the heart of the cathedral provided a sensory backdrop to the activity at the shrine, enhancing and shaping the pilgrim experience and emphasising the custodial role of the monks in the cult. 23

Just like the Miracle windows that surrounded the shrine on the North and South aisles of the cathedral, the lost shrine fascinates historians and archaeologists as they explore the past. St. Thomas of Canterbury, as the defender of the freedom of the Church in the 12th century--therefore a hero today for religious liberty--can be honored more by Catholics as a symbol in a cause than as a saint, an intercessor in Heaven to pray for us. Medieval pilgrims didn't visit Canterbury Cathedral because they wanted to demonstrate their disagreement with what Henry II had done or his knights had done, to take a stand against the State or their ruler. They came to the saint's shrine to ask for his prayers for their health, healing, and other needs and to make reparation for their confessed and forgiven sins. 

Saint Thomas of Canterbury, pray for us!