Friday, December 29, 2023

Devotion to Saint Thomas of Canterbury

I've grown in my spiritual devotion to the Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales of the Reformation era, and I'm also growing in devotion to Saint Thomas of Canterbury, thanks to this book of prayers asking his intercession and meditating on his life and martyrdom.

Saint Thomas has often been seen as an important figure in the conflicts between Church and State: defending the rights of the Church in England against Henry II's attempt to take away the bishops's authority over priests and clergy. But Father John S. Hogan, in this book from Gracewing, Devotions to St Thomas Becket, reminds us that devotion to the martyred saint began as people went on pilgrimage to pray for his intercession, seeking miraculous healings through his prayers.

Therefore, Father Hogan includes prayers to Saint Thomas of Canterbury for the sick, a Litany for the Sick, a Prayer for Miracles, etc.

Father Hogan also reminds us that Saint Thomas of Canterbury grew in his Christian faith, that we find a process of conversion in his life, not just from his secular life at Court with Henry II, but through his exile and other sufferings. Father Hogan declares, "As he slowly woke to the way of true Christian discipleship, his experiences, his mistakes, his trials and sufferings, progressively turned him completely to Christ". (p. x) So there are prayers for conversion, including a Novena for the Grace of Conversion. 

Because Saint Thomas of Canterbury was a priest and bishop Father Hogan includes prayers for priests, for bishops, and a "Eucharistic Prayer", emphasizing Becket's growth in devotion to the Eucharist and to celebrating Mass with great reverence.

Thomas  Becket was born on the 21st of December (in 1119/20) and died on the 29th of December (in 1170), so there's a novena to celebrate the martyr between those dates. Since Canterbury is still a site for pilgrimage, there's a "Seven Stations" series of prayers with landmarks like St. Dunstan's Church, where Henry II started his penitential pilgrimage to the Cathedral in reparation for the martyr's murder, the Cloister of the Cathedral through which both the saint and his killers walked to enter the north transept, the Crypt where his first tomb was located, and the parish church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, the Catholic shrine to this great saint.

There's also a Litany to St Thomas Becket and other prayers for courage, in time of persecution, etc. Gracewing has also published Father Hogan's biography of the saint.

Saint Thomas of Canterbury, pray for us.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Book Review: "La Duchesse" by Bronwen McShea

From Pegasus Books with the double subtitle: The Life of Marie de Vigneron--Cardinal Richelieu's Forgotten Heiress Who Shaped the Fate of France:

A rich portrait of a compelling, complex woman who emerged from a sheltered rural childhood into the fraught, often deadly world of the French royal court and Parisian high society—and who would come to rule them both.

Married off at sixteen to a military officer she barely knew, Marie de Vignerot was intended to lead an ordinary aristocratic life, produce heirs, and quietly assist the men in her family rise to prominence. Instead, she became a widow at eighteen and rose to become the indispensable and highly visible right-hand of the most powerful figure in French politics—the ruthless Cardinal Richelieu.

Richelieu was her uncle and, as he lay dying, the Cardinal broke with tradition and entrusted her, above his male heirs, with his vast fortune. She would go on to shape her country’s political, religious, and cultural life as the unconventional and independent Duchesse d’Aiguillon in ways that reverberated across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Marie de Vignerot was respected, beloved, and feared by churchmen, statesmen, financiers, writers, artists, and even future canonized saints. Many would owe their careers and eventual historical legacies to her patronage and her enterprising labor and vision. Pope Alexander VII and even the Sun King, Louis XIV, would defer to her. She was one of the most intelligent, accomplished, and occasionally ruthless French leaders of the seventeenth century. Yet, as all too often happens to great women in history, she was all but forgotten by modern times.

La Duchesse is the first fully researched modern biography of Vignerot, putting her onto center stage in the histories of France and the globalizing Catholic Church where she belongs. In these pages, we see Marie navigate scandalous accusations and intrigue to creatively and tenaciously champion the people and causes she cared about. We also see her engage with fascinating personalities such as Queen Marie de Médici and influence French imperial ambitions and the Fronde Civil War. Filled with adventure and daring, art and politics, La Duchesse establishes Vignerot as a figure without whom France’s storied Golden Age cannot be fully understood.

While I'm not quite sure that the Duchesse d'Aiguillon "shaped the Fate of France", she certainly had a great impact on the Catholic Church in France, French Canada (Quebec), and missionary fields around the world. The impact of the French Revolution kind of limits how much her political and social efforts could shape France's fate/future. Slightly hyperbolic, but perhaps indirectly she did by supporting the monarchy against the Fronde and Mazarin so that King Louis XIV ruled absolutely, giving the later French revolutionists something to rebel against!

Nevertheless, McShea's biography of this forgotten and misunderstood (at least in Catholic circles) French peer provides enough evidence of her subject's impact on culture, literature, and religion in her lifetime that it does make the reader wonder why she has been forgotten. 

Marie de Vignerot influenced Catholic piety and charity in Paris and beyond not just by her charitable contributions but even more by her vision and goals in giving the money to support her causes. One example that struck me because I am devoted to Eucharistic Adoration with a weekly hour at my parish, and regularly attend First Friday Benediction and Adoration at our Cathedral, was her influence at her parish church of Saint Sulpice while Jean-Jacques Olier was pastor. She supported him in establishing "a Benediction service that would take place in the church on the first Sunday and first Thursday of every month." (p. 207) There was a procession with the Host in the Monstrance and adoration of the Host on the Altar, this in a time when "Benediction services were rare in France" and Marie regularly attended these services because her "devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament . . . was deep and sincere." She provided the funds for the candles, vestments, and the other liturgical objects required (the Monstrance, the thurifer, incense, and bells, etc). But as McShea explains, Marie also attached certain conditions, including "organ music, the ringing of the church bells, and the singing of numerous Latin hymns and responses" and "a vocal prayer for the repose of the soul of the late Cardinal Richelieu." (p. 208) 

This example is emblematic of the Duchesse's involvement in her charitable causes: she didn't just give the money, she gave direction and encouraged certain goals. McShea emphasizes that as the patroness of Saint Vincent de Paul, she inspired--not always with his immediate agreement--the methods by which improvements in the lives of the poor in rural France and civic Paris would be carried out. She had vision and the will and means to achieve her goals. 

McShea notes one vision Marie could not achieve: she thought she had a vocation to the Carmelite order but her uncle Richelieu dissuaded her, even after her husband died, to pursue it. But she certainly balanced an active live with breaks for contemplation and prayer. For example, in the chapter on Saint Sulpice, McShea recounts a 1:00 a.m. visit Marie made to the Blessed Sacrament after a busy day: She wished to make her prayer where she could be "more returned and recollected" than at home. (p. 210)

The other goal that she did not achieve as she wished was to publish her uncle's works and a history of his era based on his memoirs and other documents. The death of the author of the history she commissioned thwarted that latter effort as "the Jesuit leadership in Paris for some reason confiscated [his manuscript]" instead of giving it to her as he instructed (p. 367). She did negotiate the completion of his tomb in the chapel of the Sorbonne, but she could not maintain the unity of the house of Richelieu because of constant demands for money from her nephew Armand-Jean. His lawsuits and other actions against her estate made her last months, as she suffered from breast cancer, harder. She died on April 17, 1675. 

The book is divided into two parts: the first when Cardinal Richelieu was alive and had taken such an interest in his niece, especially after her husband died (Part One--Princesse Niece), including chapters 1 through 31, and the second after his death, since he chose her rather than her younger brother as his heir and executrix (Part Two--Pair [Peer] de France, including chapters 32 through 58. There is also a charming "Author's Afterword" demonstrating the personal link between the author and her subject (as she comes as close as she can to Marie's grave site), Acknowledgements, Sources, Notes, and an Index. It is a well-researched and narrated book. I would have appreciated either a table of names or a couple of family trees as the names and titles can be a little confusing as the characters emerge, drop away and come back again.

If Marie de Vignerot did not "shape the fate of France", she was certainly alive at an exciting time in French history: the reigns of Kings Louis XIII and XIV, with motherly Regents to both young kings (Marie de Medici and Anne of Austria respectively), the chief ministries of Richelieu and Mazarin, the Thirty Years War, the Fronde revolution, the Jansenist controversy, even the English Civil War, as Henrietta Maria returned to France after King Charles I was imprisoned. Marie even hoped to do more to support English Catholics in exile or at home--and also Catholics in Ireland, ravaged by Oliver Cromwell. She was also interested and engaged in missionary efforts in Tunis, Algiers, Vietnam, and Madagascar, and supported the seminary in Paris training missionaries as part of the Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris.

Why was such an influential figure forgotten? McShea suggests that it is because one eulogy which emphasized her retirement from worldly pursuits was chosen as the template for understanding her life, rather than another, which demonstrated her energy and direction. The preacher at one memorial Mass, at the seminary cited above, on May 13, 1675, Father Jacques-Charles de Brisacier, credited her for "magnanimity, courage, and great negotiating skills" and praised her for ardor, leadership, and judicious governance. Father Brisacier offered a more dynamic appraisal of Marie de Vignerot's achievements. (Here's an article  by McShea discussing that eulogy and describing her "contributions to the colonial-era foundations of the American church while clarifying her role in spreading French Catholicism elsewhere in the world.")

On August 12 of the same year, Father Esprit Fléchier, at the Carmelite convent church on Rue Chapon, portrayed her as the victim of a frustrated religious vocation and much more conventionally as a pious, retiring, and charitable benefactress. (See pages 377 through 380 in chapter 58, "A Forgotten "Femme Forte""). Indeed, when one reads her biography in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, it is Fléchier's version that is cited while Brisacier's is ignored:

After the death of Richelieu, who made her his principal heir, she retired to the Petit-Luxembourg, published her uncle's works and continued her generous benefactions to all kinds of charities. She carried out the Cardinal's last request by having the church and the college of the Sorbonne completed, as well as the Hôtel Richelieu, which has since been converted into the Bibliothèque Nationale. The great Fléchier was charged with pronouncing her funeral oration, which is regarded as one of the masterpieces of eloquence of French pulpit oratory.

Highly recommended. Please note that I purchased my copy from Eighth Day Books. I look forward to reading her first book (Apostles of Empire: The Jesuits and the New Frontier) and to the publication next year of Women of the Church: What Every Catholic Should Know from Augustine Institute and Ignatius Press.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Bill Introduced to Disestablish the Church of England!

You might remember earlier this year that the Oaths that King Charles III took upholding the Church of England and his place as the Defender of the Faith were important issues during his Coronation on May 6: 

Archbishop of Canterbury: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?

Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?

And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

The King: All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised I will perform and keep. So help me God.

Archbishop of Canterbury: Your Majesty, are you willing to make, subscribe and declare to the statutory Accession Declaration Oath?

The King: I am willing. The King: I Charles do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.

But before making these promises and taking this Oath, King Charles heard the Archbishop of Canterbury add an important caveat, recognizing the sovereign's obligation to "seek to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely."

Just recently, on December 6 (St. Nicholas's Day!), however, a Bill has been proposed in Parliament that would change all that: 

A bill backed by the National Secular Society [NSS] to disestablish the Church of England has been introduced in parliament.

The private member's bill, proposed by Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven with assistance from the NSS, was presented in the House of Lords today.

The bill makes provision for the separation of church and state by removing the Church of England's established status, abolishing the automatic right of bishops to seats in the Lords and removing the monarch's title "Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England".

It would also give the Church full independence over its doctrine, liturgy, and clergy, while ecclesiastical law and courts would cease to have any legal jurisdiction. The regulation of notaries would also be transferred from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Lord Chancellor.

If you go to the official website, you can see the progress of the Bill as it moves through the House of Lords and the House of Commons to the final stages and Royal Assent. 

Will King Charles III give his Royal Assent? Can he refuse?

In 2017, PBS Masterpiece presented a film adaptation of Mark Bartlett's King Charles III in which the king considers opposing an Act of Parliament--he does not refuse his Royal Assent but he enters and Prorogues Parliament (out of turn)!

Here's an online conversation about whether or not a King can refuse Royal Assent and what it would mean.

As of this writing, I do not find any reaction or statement from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited the House of Lords on December 8 for a debate on "Love Matters", focused on support for families.

The real question is, of course, what would passage of such an Act, with Royal Assent, mean for Christianity in England? 

Also: What would it mean for the Catholic Church in England? and What will the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster say about this Bill? Vincent Cardinal Nichols attended the Coronation and the Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement and official prayer for King Charles III. 

I did not see anything currently on the Westminster website, nor on The Tablet or Catholic Herald websites. 

Something to watch for!

Photo: The late Monsignor William Carr and I walking toward Westminster Abbey; my late husband Mark took the picture. (C) Stephanie A. Mann 2023; All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Preview: Saint John Roberts' "Last Supper"

In this shortest of Advents, our last discussion for 2023 of Father Henry Sebastian Bowden's Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors on the Son Rise Morning Show will take place on Monday, December 18, at the usual time of 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern. Appropriately enough as we're all thinking of our Christmas gatherings just a week to the day later (!) we'll look at the feast shared by Saint John Roberts, OSB and Blessed Thomas Somers the night before their executions at Tyburn. You may listen live here or follow up with the podcast later here.

This feast was arranged by a Spanish lady, Luisa de Carvajal, who had come to England because of her great devotion to the Catholic missionary priests. Years ago Glyn Redworth wrote a biography of this noble woman, The She Apostle: The Extraordinary Life and Death of Luisa de Carvajal which I reviewed here

So why was she in England and why was she able to hold a dinner party, a "Last Supper" for two Catholic priests in an English prison the night before their executions? From book description:

In 1605 - the year of the Gunpowder Plot - she was secreted into England by the Jesuits, despite the fact that she spoke not a word of English. To everyone's surprise including her own, she steadily assumed a prominent role within London's underground Catholic community, setting up an unofficial nunnery, offering Roman priests a secure place to live, consoling prisoners awaiting execution, importing banned books, and helping persecuted Catholics to flee abroad. Throughout this time she ran the grave risk of imprisonment and execution, yet she miraculously managed to avoid this ultimate fate in spite of being arrested on a number of occasions. 

Father Bowden describes the dinner she arranged on December 9, 1610  in Newgate Prison for Saint John Roberts, OSB, one of the six Welsh martyrs included among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and Blessed Thomas Somers, who was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI. This memento is titled "The Last Supper" with the verse from Luke 22:11, "The Master saith to thee: Where is the guest chamber, where I may eat the pasch with My disciples?" 

Perhaps because she had the support of the Spanish Ambassador and King James I wanted to maintain peace with Spanish, "she obtained leave to prepare a supper for Frs. Roberts and Somers on the eve of their martyrdom, and for their fellow prisoners."

This was not a small gathering:

"They then sat down to support--twenty prisoners for conscience's sake; twenty confessors of the Faith--Luisa de Carvajal presiding at the head of the table. The meal was a devout and joyful one--heavenly the refreshment ministered to the guests, great the fervor and spiritual delight which our Lord bestowed on His valiant soldiers, giving them that peace which passeth all understanding."

Isn't this the kind of Christmas dinner we all hope for? Festivity, peace, joy, camaraderie, and fellowship? Yes, the food is delicious and fine! And yes, the spirit is peaceful and complete!

But in fact, these guests hardly thought of eating the feast Carvajal had prepared! In the midst of that joyous celebration, Father John Roberts, the Benedictine monk, had some misgivings:

"'Do you not think I may be causing disedification by my great glee? Would it not be better to retire into a corner and give myself up to prayer?'"

No, she replied, 'You cannot be better employed than by letting them all see with what cheerful courage you are about to die for Christ.'

The next day, December 10. 1610, the martyrs suffered at Tyburn. Their executions were unusual, however, because of their reputations among the spectators:

. . . the two Martyrs in the midst of the sixteen criminals were left hanging, and quietly rendered their souls into the hands of the Holy Angels. They were allowed to remain until they were quite dead, a special mercy which it was not usual to extend to Catholics. It was already late, and nearly an hour after mid-day when the executioner cut the rope and took down the body of Father Roberts; it was first disembowelled, and the bowels thrown into a large fire. Then he cut off the head, and divided the trunk into four quarters. The same thing was done to Mr. Somers. But here a remarkable thing happened. It is usual for the hangman when he disembowels those executed for high treason, to take out the heart, and holding it up, to say, “This is the heart of a traitor,” and the people answer, “ Long live the King.” In this case when the hangman said the words, not one person answered, but all remained silent as if struck dumb.

And John Hungerford Pollen, SJ in in his 1891 Acts of the English Martyrs Hitherto Unpublished also reports this jest among Saint John Roberts' last words: "Then he arose, and looking at the fire that was already burning to consume their bowels, said, 'Here’s a hot breakfast ready, despite the cold weather.'" (see pages 143 to 170 for the full account of their trial and execution).

Thus the joyful spirit of that Last Supper sustained him through the end of his life!

While Rowan Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury, he spoke about Saint John Roberts with great admiration:

John Roberts went from London to Paris and then to Spain, and first to the monastery of Saint Martin in Valladolid – the centre of a severe and serious monastic family, in a context where many new things were going on in the life of prayer. The heritage that mattered here was the heritage of people like Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross; the emphasis of this monastic family, the Congregation of Valladolid, was on the inner life, the life of contemplation and self-knowledge. This was a 'renaissance' of prayer and contemplation, a kind of parallel to the cultural renaissance. In both, the human spirit was able to discover new depths and new possibilities. In Valladolid, John Roberts was encouraged towards these depths. And when he returned to England, he was able to speak and act out of these depths – in his ministry to the sick at the time of the plague in London, his compassion for all, his service to the poor of the city. And at the end, he was able also to face the appalling agony of his death out of those same depths, on the foundation of the silence and love of his monastic experience.

The martyr isn't a person who says 'No' to the world in any simple sense. The martyr sees the richness of the world, the wealth of mind and imagination, the wealth of culture and the beauty of the human spirit. And because he sees the whole as the gift and sign of God, he knows that the beauty of the Giver is infinitely more than the whole world itself. 'More treasures are found in your name than in the whole of India', in the unforgettable words of Williams Pantycelyn in the greatest Welsh hymn of the eighteenth century ('Iesu, Iesu rwyt ti'n ddigon' – 'Jesus, Jesus all-sufficient'). And so the martyr sets out on the journey to a heavenly 'India', a land of marvels, through his death.

Saint John Roberts, pray for us!
Blessed Thomas Somers, pray for us!

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Henry VIII's Psalter: Himself as King David

Earlier this year there was an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England. One of the featured exhibits was the Psalter King Henry VIII commissioned from Jean Mallard in 1540, on loan from the British Library. Both the British Library and the Smithsonian Magazine comment on how Henry VIII designed the Psalter to reflect his piety--including comparisons of himself to King David--and how he annotated certain psalms to identify himself in the psalms as one who had done the Lord's Will and was being rewarded for it (i.e., the birth of his son Edward).

From the British Library's Medieval manuscripts blog:

The Psalter was commissioned by the King himself in 1540 and written and illustrated for him by Jean Mallard, a French scribe and illuminator. It is a lavish production and is still in its original binding, which although quite threadbare, retains traces of deep red velvet. The Psalms are written in an elegant, humanist script and accompanied by exquisitely decorated initials showing birds, insects, fruit, flowers and foliage.

But the Psalter’s true significance lies in its main illustrations, four of which depict Henry, and its annotations written by the King. Taken together, they demonstrate that by the 1540s Henry perceived himself as King David of the Old Testament who, according to tradition, composed the Psalms and whose story was used to justify Henry’s declaration of independence from Rome and to define the Royal Supremacy. . . .

The Smithsonian Magazine article includes some analysis of Henry VIII's annotations in the margins of his Psalter:

Henry appears to have found the self-justification he’d been seeking. Handwritten annotations in the psalter reveal what the king thought of the text and its implications for his own power. On one page, Henry scrawled “nota de peccatore quid ait,” Latin for “note: what he says about the sinner,” next to a passage declaring that sinners’ hereditary lines will be cut off as punishment for their evil deeds. By 1540, after years of waiting and seizing power to enable his multiple marriages, he had at last been rewarded with a son who would continue the Tudor line. Based on his interpretation of the psalm, Henry saw himself as being in God’s good graces—perhaps unthinkable when modern readers consider that he had already executed one of his wives, Anne Boleyn, and would soon execute another, the young Katherine Howard.

In 1540, Henry married again--twice!--to Anne of Cleves and then to Katherine Howard, who followed, as stated above, his second wife to the block.

The article goes on to state:

If these markings tell scholars anything, it’s that Henry wasn’t suffering from a twinging conscience. On the contrary, he viewed unfolding events as vindicating the very choices that later led to his reputation as a callous tyrant. Henry’s notes implicitly justify his self-empowerment; his marriages; and the executions of those who opposed him or fell out of favor, including chief adviser Thomas Cromwell and his old tutor and lord chamberlain, Thomas More. These individuals and many others were, in one way or another, casualties of Henry’s attempt to break from Rome and marry Anne Boleyn.

Following one's conscience is an important theme in Henry VIII's religious and marital matters. He complained of his conscience bothering him after years of marriage to Catherine of Aragon that he had done wrong in marrying his brother's widow. St. Thomas More writes extensively about how he had formed his conscience to answer Henry VIII's questions about the validity of that marriage. His Dialogue on Conscience also explains his position and he explained the traditional Catholic view of conscience to Cromwell and those questioning him on why he would not take the Oath as his monarch required when Cromwell tried to compare More's conscience to the consciences of the heretics which More had investigated as Chancellor (as he described the conversation to his daughter Meg in a letter dated June 3, 1535):

To this Master Secretary said that I had before this when I was Chan­cellor examined heretics and thieves and other malefactors and gave me a great praise above my deserving in that behalf. And he said that I then, as he thought and at the leastwise Bishops did use to examine heretics, whether they believed the Pope to be the head of the Church and used to compel them to make a precise answer thereto. And why should not then the King, since it is a law made here that his Grace is Head of the Church, here compel men to answer precisely to the law here as they did then concerning the Pope.

I answered and said that I protested that I intended not to defend any part or stand in contention; but I said there was a difference between those two cases because at that time, as well here as elsewhere through the corps of Christendom, the Pope's power was recognized for an undoubted thing which seems not like a thing agreed in this realm and the contrary taken for truth in other realms. Whereunto Master Secretary answered that they were as well burned for the denying of that as they be beheaded for deny­ing of this, and therefore as good reason to compel them to make precise answer to the one as to the other.

Whereto I answered that since in this case a man is not by a law of one realm so bound in his conscience, where there is a law of the whole corps of Christendom to the contrary in matter touching belief, as he is by a law of the whole corps though there hap to be made in some place a local law to the contrary, the reasonableness or the unreasonableness in binding a man to precise answer, standeth not in the respect or difference between beheading and burning, but because of the difference in charge of con­science, the difference standeth between beheading and hell.

What the Smithsonian Magazine article highlights is that by 1540 Henry VIII was not suffering from any troubled conscience about what he had done to achieve his desire to sire a legitimate son to succeed him. Henry VIII died in 1547, leaving that son, Edward VI a young boy who would never reach the age of majority, marry, or sire a son to succeed him. 

The commentator in the article, James Clarke, notes that Henry might have thought himself in God's good graces, but was concerned that that youth had passed him by and that he was getting old: he was beginning to face his mortality, if not his morality! 

Image Credit (Public Domain): Henry VIII reading Psalm 1: Beatus Vir (Blessed the man).

Friday, December 8, 2023

Preview: Saint Eustace White Meets Richard Topcliffe

The martyrs of England and Wales suffered throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, so we'll continue our series of discussions of Father Henry Sebastian Bowden's Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors For Every Day in the Year, with his memories of Saint Eustace White, martyr.

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show Monday, December 11 at my usual time at about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, the last segment in the second national hour on EWTN Radio. Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later here.

Saint Eustace White, one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, was hanged, drawn, and quartered on December 10, 1591. In his entry for the then Venerable Eustace White (declared so in 1886), Father Henry Sebastian Bowden described the priest's conversion, vocation, imprisonment, and torture:

He was born at Louth, Lincolnshire, and his conversion so much offended his father, an earnest Protestant, that he laid his curse upon him ; but God turned the curse to a blessing, and Eustace White became a priest and entered on the English Mission, October 1588. He was apprehended at Blandford, and having confessed himself a priest, a certain minister, one Dr. Houel, a tall man, reputed of great learning, was sent for to dispute with him, but was ignominiously vanquished, as he failed to disprove a certain text which White affirmed to be in the Bible. At the Bridewell, London, he was once hung by Topcliffe in iron manacles for eight hours together; but though the torment caused the sweat from his body to wet the ground beneath, nothing could be extracted from him of the least prejudice to Catholics. Under the extremity of his passion he cried out, “Lord, more pain if Thou pleasest, and more patience.” To his torturer he said, “I am not angry at you for all this, but shall pray to God for your welfare and salvation.” Topcliffe replied in a passion that he wanted not the prayers of heretics, and would have him hung at the next session. Then said the martyr, “I will pray for you at the gallows, for you have great need of prayers.”

Because of the reference to how much Father White sweated as he hung by his wrists, Father Bowden chose the title "The Sweat of the Passion" and the verse from the Gospel of St. Luke 22:44, "And His sweat became as drops of blood running down to the ground." (p. 390 in the Sophia Institute Press edition)

The torture technique of being "hung by iron manacles" was described by Father John Gerard, SJ in his Autobiography of a Hunted Priest:

My arms were then lifted up and an iron bar was passed through the rings of one gauntlet, then through the staple and rings to the second gauntlet. This done, they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it from slipping, and then, removing the wicker steps one by one from under my feet, they left me hanging by my hands and arms fastened above my head. The tips of my toes, however, still touched the ground, and they had to dig the earth away from under them. They had hung me up from the highest staple in the pillar and could not raise me any higher, without driving in another staple. Hanging like this I began to pray. The gentlemen standing around me asked me whether I was willing to confess now. 'I cannot and I will not,' I answered. But I could hardly utter the words, such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood in my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing from the ends of my fingers and the pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it, and added to it, I had an interior temptation. Yet I did not feel any inclination or wish to give them the information they wanted.   

Saint Eustace White was hanged, drawn, and quartered on December 10, 1591 at Tyburn Tree, the same day that Saints Edmund Gennings, Polydore Plasden (priests), and Swithun Wells (layman), and Blesseds John Mason and Sidney Hodgson (also laymen who had assisted Catholic missionary priests) suffered near Saint Swithun Wells' home on Grays Inn Road. 

Richard Topcliffe, Elizabeth I's chief pursuivant of Catholic priests, and an expert torturer, was present at that site. He didn't show up at Tyburn--was it maybe because he did not want to hear Father White's prayers for him? He did hear Saint Swithun Wells pray that like Saul, Topcliffe would hear the voice of Jesus on his own road to Damascus, stop persecuting Catholics, and become like Saint Paul!

A layman suffered at Tyburn with Father White:

Brian Lacey was a Yorkshire country gentleman. Cousin, companion, and assistant to Blessed Father Montford Scott. Arrested in 1586 for helping and hiding priests. Arrested again in 1591 when his own brother Richard betrayed him, Brian was tortured at Bridewell prison to learn the names of more people who had helped priests. Finally arraigned at the Old Bailey, he was condemned to death for his faith, for aiding priests and encouraging Catholicism. Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1929. Blessed Brian Lacey was also related to Blessed William Lacey, a 1582 martyr in York.

Saint Eustace White, pray for us!
Blessed Brian Lacey, pray for us!

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

A Cistercian Seal found in Smithfield, Virginia

You might remember that years ago--in 2015, to be precise--there was a story about a reliquary, presumed to be of Catholic provenance, found in the grave of one of the Jamestown founders. There are more details about the reliquary here. Now, there's a story about a seal from a suppressed English Cistercian monastery being identified in Smithfield, Virginia:

At a recent archaeological artifact workshop hosted by our good friends at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Va., a most unusual 14th-century religious seal was brought to our attention. After sharing the information we had obtained from earlier research conducted by Judith Paulos of The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, we discussed the artifact with a friend and colleague, Dr. Bly Straube, who is the Senior Curator at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and a superlative researcher. Bly shared the fact that the late Ivor Noel Hume, the former Director of Archaeology at Colonial Williamsburg, had seen the same seal matrix just prior to finishing his 1994 book The Virginia Adventure. In his book, Hume included a photo of the item and recognized its antiquity. He speculated that it may have been a sign indicating that the “lost colony” had made its way to the area after leaving Roanoke Island sometime prior to the 17th century. . . .

As part of the ongoing investigation into what happened at the Roanoke Settlement, the archaeologists hope to make a connection between the seal and the movement of those colonists. They identified the seal as coming from one of the Cistercian monasteries suppressed by Henry VIII, Garendon Abbey in Leicestershire, one of the hundreds of Cistercian houses established in England, Scotland, and Ireland:

Bly discovered that the seal matrix likely came from the Cistercian Garendon Abbey in Leicestershire, England. The Garendon Abbey was established under the protection of St. Mary the Virgin in 1133 by Robert [de Beaumont], Earl of Leicester. The Cistercians held a great deal of land over several counties near the Abbey, and the monks, priests, and other residents living there appear to have been occupied heavily in sheep farming. . . . 

The post references the dissolution of abbey in 1536, stating that in that year Henry VIII "officially dissolved all Catholic institutions in England, marking the end of the Garendon Abbey." That's not completely accurate: in 1536, Cromwell and Henry, after an extensive visitation of the monasteries throughout England, ostensibly to value their property for taxation purposes, but also to identify abuse and infidelity, acted upon the 1535 Act of Parliament for the "Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries", those valued less than 200 pounds. Garendon Abbey fell beneath that threshold in value, and thus was liable to suppression.

British History Online notes the discrepancy between the reports of Cromwell's visitors and local commissioners in 1535:

In the 16th century, if not earlier, the Holy Cross at Garendon was an object of pilgrimage locally. (fn. 40) In 1535 the clear yearly value of the abbey's revenues was assessed at less than £160. (fn. 41) Cromwell's investigators, visiting Garendon in the following year, alleged that five of the monks were guilty of unnatural vice, and that three sought release from religion. (fn. 42) The county commissioners, who visited the house in June of the same year, gave a much more favourable report, stating that all the fourteen monks of the house desired to continue in religion, and that twelve of them were priests, of good conversation. Divine service was well maintained, though the large old monastery was partly ruinous. Five children and five impotent persons were maintained by the monks' charity, (fn. 43) and there were also two corrodiaries [individuals living in the monastery with room and board provided]. (fn. 44) The abbey, however, was listed amongst the smaller monasteries dissolved in 1536. (fn. 45) The abbot [Randolph Arnold] obtained a pension of £30. (fn. 46) The First Minister's Account shows a net income of £100. 18s. 10½d. (fn. 47)

Why did someone bring a seal from a suppressed Cistercian abbey to the New World in the 16th or 17th century? Does this mean there was Church Papist from Leicestershire in the colony, who remained inwardly true to the Catholic Church while attending Church of England services to avoid recusancy? Like the reliquary box in Jamestown, it remains a mystery because it does not seem that the provenance of this artifact has been identified.

Image Credit (Public Domain): Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the founders of the Cistercian reform of the Benedictine order.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Preview: Saint Edmund Campion, SJ in Father Bowden's "Mementoes"

There are many reasons to admire, imitate and be inspired by Saint Edmund Campion, SJ: his intelligence, his courage, his care for his flock (he went back to a house to minister to the Catholics there and was thus captured), his ability to defend the teachings of the Church, and of course, his holiness, well attested by his martyrdom. 

Thus it's no surprise that Father Henry Sebastian Bowden mentions Campion 20 (twenty) times in his Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors For Every Day in the Year, not counting the poem Saint Henry Walpole, SJ wrote about his mentor in martyrdom (Campion's blood splashed on Walpole and he left London to study for the priesthood and return to England as a missionary and martyr) included as an appendix ("Why do I use my paper, ynke and penne?") 

And it's no surprise that we'll look at what Father Bowden says about Campion's martyrdom in our next segment on the Son Rise Morning Show on Monday, December 4.

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time at about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, the last segment in the second national hour on EWTN Radio. Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later here.

I chose the most dramatic of the mementoes Father Bowden offers, the description of the day of Campion's martyrdom, December 1, 1581, with the title "A Sight to God and Man" because of the richness of the details in the account. As we read the description, we can try to imagine what that day was like, as though we are witnessing it:

In the splash and mud of a wet December morning, Campion was led forth from the Tower, still in his old gown of Irish frieze. Undaunted he saluted the vast crowd, saying, “God save you all, gentlemen! God bless you and make you all good Catholics!” 

Irish frieze was a coarse, woven woolen cloth, very durable, with the nap left on one side. This garment would have been stripped from Campion once his execution began. On his way to a horrible death, Campion is both undaunted and loyal to his mission as a Catholic priest: to offer blessings and good will.

After kneeling in prayer he was strapped on the hurdle, Sherwin and Briant being together bound on a second hurdle. They were dragged at the horses’ tails through the gutter and filth, followed by an insulting crowd of ministers and rabble. 

Saint Ralph Sherwin, SJ (31 years old) and Saint Alexander Briant (25 years old) had been imprisoned, tortured, and tried at the same as Campion (41 years old). They and other Catholic priests had been accused of complicity in the Rome and Reims Plot, an invention of the Court. The gutters and streets would have been wet, and dirty not just from mud but from horses' dung and other waste. That was below them; above them were insults and curses.

Still some Catholics were consoled by a word from him, and one gentleman, like Veronica on another Via Dolorosa, most courteously wiped his face all spattered with mire and filth. Passing under the arch of Newgate, whereon still stood an image of Our Lady, Campion raised himself and saluted the Queen of Heaven, whom he hoped so soon to see. 

These two gestures of honor, one to comfort Campion and the other to show devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, are moving intervals as the martyrs are drawn to brutal executions.

At the gallows he began with a sweet firm voice, “Spectaculum facti sumus Deo Angelis et hominibus,”* but the Sheriffs interrupted him, and urged him to confess his treason. He repeatedly maintained his innocence, and having declined to join in prayer with the ministers, asked all Catholics for a Credo for him in his agony, and while again professing his loyalty to the Queen he went to his reward.

Campion begins by citing the verse Father Bowden includes in this memento, from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: *“ We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.”—1 Cor. 5:9. 

In his biography of Saint Edmund Campion, Richard Simpson cited the martyr's last words:
"I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that faith have I lived, and in that faith do I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then am I guilty; as for other treason, I never committed any, God is my judge. But you have now what you desire. I beseech you to have patience, and suffer me to speak a word or two for discharge of my conscience."

He was not allowed to continue and his execution was almost another trial as he was questioned again about his loyalty to the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church and/or to the Queen of England. His final statement was:

"Wherein have I offended her? In this I am innocent. This is my last speech; in this give me credit — I have and do pray for her." Then the Lord Charles Howard asked of him for which queen he prayed, whether for Elizabeth the queen. To whom he answered, "Yea, for Elizabeth, your queen and my queen, unto whom I wish a long quiet reign with all prosperity."
Then he was stripped, hanged until barely conscious, eviscerated, beheaded, and quartered. During this agony, his blood splashed on the bystander, Henry Walpole. Then Sherwin and Briant endured the same agony. 

How long could I -- or you -- have watched it?

He and his companions, and Henry Walpole, were canonized among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope St. Paul VI in Rome on October 25, 1970.

Saint Edmund Campion, pray for us!
Saint Ralph Sherwin, pray for us!
Saint Alexander Briant, pray for us!
Saint Henry Walpole, pray for us!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Book Review: "Betrayed Without a Kiss"

After I posted the cover of John Clark's Betrayed Without a Kiss: Defending Marriage after Years of Failed Leadership in the Church, I contacted the author. He had the publisher send me a review copy--I offered particularly to comment on his treatment of Henry VIII's Great Matter of the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and its aftermath, but of course I read the entire book. 

In the first chapter, Clark sets up the Biblical basis of Catholic Church teaching on the purposes and sacramental nature of marriage with readings from Genesis (Adam and Eve), Tobit (Tobias and Sarah), and the St. John's Gospel (Wedding Feast of Cana).

The book is often historical in theme and treatment, looking at historical events in the Church, the world, and the United States: not only Henry VIII's marital machinations (Chapter 2), but the Lutheran demotion of Marriage from a Sacrament to a civil contract, to be overseen by the State and the Catholic response at the Council of Trent; contrasting the Anglican change-of-mind on contraception at Lambeth in 1930 (reversing statements in 1908 and 1920) with Pope Pius XI's re-iteration of Catholic doctrine on the purposes of marriage and why contraception was not allowed in Casti Connubii in the same year. (Chapter 3)

Clark also looks at two social and moral trends in the past and their influences on the present: one that generally affects men more than women (pornography; through Hugh Hefner's Playboy philosophy), and one that influences women more than men (feminism, via Simone Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan). Both, he says, contribute to a view that marriage and family are either not necessary to human satisfaction (pornography) or is detrimental to human fulfillment (feminism): they condition men and women to seek happiness outside of marriage and family. (Chapter 4)

Then he turns to the crisis of confidence within in the Church in Chapter 5, noting the dissident reaction to Humanae Vitae, which as Clark points out, was merely the reaffirmation of Pope Pius XI's re-iteration of Catholic doctrine on the purposes of marriage noted above. In Chapter 6, he looks again, historically, at a trend in the granting of decrees of nullity notably in the USA on the basis of a defect of consent, which Pope St. John Paul II deplored in several addresses to the Roman Rota (pages 159-163). Finally, in Chapter 7, he looks at more recent history: the controversial apostolic exhortation Pope Francis issued in 2016, Amoris Laetitia, and footnote 351 in chapter 8. In his discussion of that document and Cardinal Walter Kasper's efforts at the Synod on the Family to argue for allowing Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, Clark cites Archbishop Samuel Aquila's article "Did Thomas More and John Fisher Die for Nothing?"

In the next three chapters, about pre-Cana programs (Chapter 8), how the Church can help married couples and families (Chapter 9), and how the married laity can help themselves, Clark offers different recommendations. As I read these chapters, I noted the anecdotal nature of some of these situations. He writes about priests not always being involved in pre-Cana programs, and that may be true in some dioceses, but I know not all. He also comments on the need for free education in Catholic schools, and I wondered if Clark was aware of dioceses, like the Wichita diocese I live in, that have instituted a Stewardship program through which families don't pay tuition, but make contributions to their parish according to their income for their children to attend the parish school--it's not free, but it's fair. (We also have the St. Katherine Drexel Fund to further assist with parish and high school education.)

Throughout these chapters, Clark writes with both clarity and charity about what he sees affecting the sacrament and marriages inside and outside of the Church. He particularly focuses on the anomalous situation of couples seeking an annulment having to first obtain a civil divorce in contrast to the statements of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2384. He persuaded me that is a strange condition (please see pages 168-172).

But to the heart of the reason I wanted to read and review the book:

Regarding Clark's analysis of Henry VIII's marital issues and the martyrs they produced in Chapter 2, "Letting No Man Put Asunder: When Catholics Defended Marriage to the Death": the issue of the validity of Henry and Catherine of Aragon's sacramental marriage was much bound up in issues of the authority of the pope to issue a dispensation to allow Henry to marry his brother's widow. 

Henry, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, and others set up a conflict between Bible verses (laws regarding Levirate marriage in the Old Testament) and Papal authority. They also consulted William of Occam's arguments about the limits of Papal authority versus the monarch's authority in his own kingdom. Thus the overlap between the two issues: the validity of the marriage and papal authority.

Clark is correct to distinguish between St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More in their different public reactions and statements re: Henry's efforts. Fisher, as a bishop and successor of the Apostles, stood up against Henry's efforts in Convocation and before the king. More made his opinion, based on study of the Scriptures and the Councils of the Church, known privately to Henry VIII, but he did not speak of it publicly. Henry VIII knew it and yet appointed More his Chancellor after Cardinal Wolsey's death anyway, thus Thomas Cromwell took the lead on the matter of Henry and Catherine's marriage.

While Clark is also correct to emphasize the brave stand of the protomartyr Carthusians of the Charterhouse of London, I wish he could have found room to mention the Observant Franciscans, both the non-martyrs and martyrs, who stood up against Henry VIII's plans from beginning. Father William Peto famously preached before Henry and Anne Boleyn in the Greenwich chapel; he and Father Henry Elston were threatened with martyrdom but were not dissuaded. Blessed John Forrest was burned to dead, hung in chains above a fire kindled with the statues of saints. Henry VIII just as brutally suppressed the Observant Franciscan Order as he did the Carthusians, and there are a few Venerated martyrs of that order: Anthony Brookby, Thomas Cort, and Thomas Belchiam.

And most of all, three of Catherine of Aragon's counselors and chaplains--who might be considered The Defenders of the Bond--were hanged, drawn, and quartered after long imprisonment on July 30, 1540:
Thomas Abell, Richard Fetherston, and Edward Powell had all been chaplains and defenders of Queen Catherine of Aragon--very learned men; graduates of the University of Oxford. Thomas Abell had written Invicta veritas. An answere, That by no manner of law, it may be lawfull for the most noble King of England, King Henry the eight to be divorced from the queens grace, his lawfull and very wife. B.L. in 1532 and had also been implicated in the Nun of Kent cause célèbre. Richard Fetherston had also written against Henry's divorce of Catherine in Contra divortium Henrici et Catharinae, Liber unus although no copy of the text survives. He also tutored the Princess Mary. Henry VIII had favored Edward Powell for his works against Lutheran doctrines in earlier days, but then Powell ran afoul of Henry's changing policies and desires to cast aside Catherine of Aragon.
Along with Fisher and More and the Carthusian and Briggitine (Richard Reynolds) protomartyrs (and John Forest), they were beatified by Pope Leo XIII on December 29, 1886--on Saint Thomas of Canterbury's feast day. So I wish these brave men could have been highlighted. 

Otherwise I thought this chapter was a good overview of Henry VIII's Great Matter and what those many years meant for the Sacrament of Marriage and the Church in England and beyond.

I appreciate TAN sending me the review copy; written by a married layman and father, it is a substantial example of how the laity can respond to issues in the Church combining practical experience and knowledge of doctrine, both sacramental and moral. That reminds me, of course, of Saint John Henry Newman's description of the laity (from The Present Position of Catholics in England): 

What I desiderate in Catholics is the gift of bringing out what their religion is. I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism . . .

The book has an excellent bibliography; no index.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Preview: Two Second-Chance "Confessor" Bishops

I thought we'd continue with the theme of second chances at the Tudor Court because Father Henry Sebastian Bowden remembers two bishops who survived during the religious changes of the Tudor dynasty in his Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors For Every Day in the Year on November 18 and 23: Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall and Bishop Richard Pate. Bowden includes them as "Confessors", not as canonized saints, but as Catholics who suffered under the religious changes of their age in England, sometimes after having gone along with the flow of change.

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time on Monday, November 20, about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, the last segment in the second national hour on EWTN Radio. Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later here.

Just a quick reminder of these religious changes during the Tudor Dynasty:

Henry VII: Catholic with strong ties to Rome through Cardinal Protectors
Henry VIII: Started out the same; ended up divided from the universal Catholic Church; proclaimed as the Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England; various changes in liturgy and devotion; Catholicism and Lutheranism mixed; religious orders destroyed
Edward VI: Reigned as a minor; strongly Calvinist doctrine; known as "The New Josiah" (the sixteenth King of Judah who restored Temple worship in Jerusalem); some Catholic prelates (including these two) realized their errors
Mary I: restored Catholic worship and doctrine; reconciled England to Rome
Elizabeth I: Re-established Royal control over the Church; compromise Thirty-Nine Articles; outlawed the Catholic Mass, etc

With the title "Lifelong Repentance", and a verse from Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 35:5 ("To depart from iniquity pleaseth the Lord, and to depart from injustice is an entreaty for sin.") Father Bowden sketches out Bishop Tunstall's career:

Erasmus described him as a man of most exquisite judgment both in Greek and Latin literature, but at the same time of incredible modesty and of sweet and joyful manner. [Saint]Thomas More, who had been educated with him, declared that "the world scarce contained any one of greater learning, prudence, or goodness." Yet he failed where More stood firm, and under Henry VIII took the oath of Supremacy, and defended himself to Pole on the ground that the Pope’s supremacy was not so certain a matter as to die for. [Reginald] Pole replied, "Your friends Fisher and More were of not so vile a mind as not to know why they died. God send you a livelier spirit in His honour."** He atoned, however, for his weakness under Edward VI by his opposition to the new Protestantism, and was sent to the Tower. Restored to his See of Durham under Mary, and strengthened and pardoned by the blessing of Christ's vicar, he ardently repaired the havoc caused by schism in his diocese. Summoned by Elizabeth to take the oath, he refused, and on his arrival in London, after a week’s journey, was deposed, and died imprisoned under Clark [sic: should be Matthew Parker, Elizabeth I's first Archbishop of Canterbury] at the age of eighty-five, November 18, 1559.

**Father Bowden is probably referencing an exchange of letters between Pole and Tunstall after Pole had written his public letter "On the Unity of the Church" to Henry VIII, deploring his actions--including the executions of More, Fisher, and the Carthusians--which the Lambeth Palace Library has in its collection (Tunstall, Cuthbert, A letter written by Cuthbert Tunstall, late bishop of Duresme, and John Stokesley, sometime byshop of London, sente unto Reginalde Pole ... (London, 1560). STC 24321 [A polemical letter against Pole by two of Henry VIII’s advisers.] (ZZ)1553.02.03)

So Tunstall, like almost everyone else, went along with Henry VIII's marital and ecclesiastical plans, then began to see their results during the reign of Edward VI and was fortified enough with the restoration of Catholicism during the brief reign of Mary I, to refuse to cooperate with Elizabeth I and her Parliament's legislation establishing the Church of England with its Thirty-Nine Articles, etc. Thus he died in Lambeth Palace under house arrest.

Father Bowden gives Bishop Pate's memento the title "Wasted Away" with verses 3 and 5 from Psalm 31: "Because I was silent my bones grew old, whilst I cried out all the day long . . . I have acknowledged my sin to Thee." He also took the required oaths during the reign of Henry VIII, but while at the Court of Charles V in Spain, seemed to advocate for the Princess (then called Lady) Mary's legitimacy, so that's why, as Father Bowden mentions, Henry VIII mistrusted him:

He was the nephew of Longland, the Courtier Bishop of Lincoln, confessor to Henry VIII, and was made by him Canon and Archdeacon of his Cathedral, even before taking his degree at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Through his uncle’s influence he was sent as Ambassador to Charles V in Spain. Recalled to England in 1537, he accepted the Royal Supremacy, and in 1540 returned as Ambassador to Charles. Though his desire to please the King led him into schism, Henry secretly mistrusted him, and recalled him to England. Pate fled to Rome, and was attaindered. In Rome he was fully reconciled to the Church, and nominated to the See of Worcester by Paul III in 1541, and assisted as one of two English bishops at the Council of Trent. On Mary’s accession he returned to England, and took possession of his See. Under Elizabeth he voted in the first Parliament against every anti-Catholic measure, and made reparation for his previous fall by refusing to take the oath. He was imprisoned in the Tower, and then for a year and a half placed under the custody of Jewel, September 1563, at Salisbury, and finally recommitted to the Tower, where he died of his sufferings after six years’ confinement, November 23, 1565.

When I read these biographies of those who lived through all the religious changes in the Tudor dynasty, I'm reminded of the title of an EWTN program hosted by Ralph Martin, The Choices We Face.

They faced tremendous and fateful choices (King or Church; safety or martyrdom?), made their choice, and then had to live with it. These two men made their choice, realized their error, repented, and made the better choice, to return to the Church and the Catholic Faith.

May they rest in the peace of Christ.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Preview: Two Second-Chance Benedictine Martyrs

On Monday, November 13, we'll continue our series on highlights from Father Henry Sebastian Bowden's Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors For Every Day in the Year looking at two Benedictine Abbots of major English monasteries. One thing Blessed Hugh Faringdon, OSB and Blessed Richard Whiting, OSB have in common is that that took Henry VIII's Oaths of Succession and Supremacy; the other thing they have in common is that they seem to have regretted it. They, with companions, suffered being hanged, drawn, and quartered on November 15, 1539 in sight of their respective abbeys.

Perhaps we should be inspired by their stories to see any dangers to the Faith as soon as possible, and act against them!

I'll be on at my usual time, about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, the last segment in the second national hour on EWTN Radio. Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later here.

For Blessed Hugh Faringdon, Father Bowden offers the title "Guardian of the Sanctuary", noting that as Abbot of Reading he was favorite of Henry VIII, who called him "his own abbot". He was "learned and pious", and enforced "strict discipline in his Abbey." Bowden says, however that Faringdon "compromised himself by supporting the King in his petition for the divorce" and the doctrine of Royal religious supremacy. Faringdon supplied Henry with books supporting his argument that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid in spite of a papal dispensation.

When the time came for the surrender of Reading Abbey, founded by King Henry I in 1121 for the monks to pray for his salvation, that of his ancestors and successors, Faringdon seemed willing to surrender it, although no signed documentation survives.

As British History Online documents:

Apparently some kind of justification for the charge of high treason against Abbot Hugh was devised or forthcoming, but it is impossible now to find out what it was. The abbot was hurried off to the Tower, probably early in the summer, and whilst there Cromwell coolly decided, as we have seen, that he was to be tried and executed at Reading.

So the Abbot was executed--hanged, drawn, and quartered--in front of the Abbey Gates. Father Bowden comments that "On the scaffold, he spoke out boldly, professed his fidelity to the Holy See, which he declared to be the common Faith of those who had the best right to define the true teaching of the English Church." The Pope, not King Henry VIII.

The scripture verse is from Lamentations: "Our heart is sorrowful . . . for Mount Sion, because it is destroyed . . . But Thou, O Lord, wilt remain forever" (5:17-19) Because Reading Abbey was of course left to decay and ruin, and the grave of King Henry I--founder of the Abbey--lost.

The martyrdom of Blessed Richard Whiting follows a similar pattern: he was the 61st and "last abbot of Glastonbury, the most ancient and famous of the great English Benedictine houses. In rank, he stood next to the Abbot of St. Albans" and he was a member of Parliament in the House of Lords. There were one hundred monks in the great abbey, and under his leadership, it was "a religious house of strict observance" and a house of education. Whiting administered the vast land holdings of the abbey for "the relief of the poor and works of charity"--there was no scandal or abuse at Glastonbury.

But there had to be if Henry VIII was to get his hands on that vast wealth for his purposes. But there wasn't any . . . so Abbot Whiting's taking of the Oath of Supremacy didn't matter once he opposed the suppression of Glastonbury Abbey; that was Treason enough. So he was Attainted for Treason in Parliament, denied--like Abbot Faringdon--the trial of his peers in Parliament he was entitled to. He was tried in Wells and taken back to Glastonbury, dragged up the High Tor nearby, and drawn and quartered in sight of that glorious abbey.

Bowden titles his memento "The Watchman on the Hills' with the verse from Isaiah 62:6: "Upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen all the day and all the night: they shall never hold their peace."

Although these two Guardians and Watchmen may have failed at first to see the danger Henry VIII's marital issues and power grab posed to the Catholic faith and to their abbeys and their way of life, they did recognize the danger at last and died martyrs in resistance. They were beatified by Pope Leo XIII on May 13, 1895 in a group of nine martyrs, seven of whom suffered toward the end of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (including John Beche, last abbot of Colchester, John Eynon, Roger James, John Rugg, John Thorne, and these two Abbots).

Blessed Hugh Faringdon, pray for us!
Blessed Richard Whiting, pray for us!

Image credit (Public Domain): Reading Abbey. The south doorway of the Abbey Church, looking along the east walk of the Cloister. Photograph by H. W. Taunt and Company, No. 9014. 1890-1899.
Image credit (Public Domain): View of Arches at Glastonbury, albumen print, by the British photographer Francis Frith. 16.7 cm x 21.1 cm (6 9/16 in. x 8 5/16 in.) Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Preview: A Martyr (St. Edmund Gennings) and His Brother (A Confessor)

On Monday, November 6, we'll continue our journey through Father Henry Sebastian Bowden's Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors For Every Day in the Year with a stop on the way of one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, Saint Edmund Gennings (or Genings) and his confessor brother, John Gennings. I'll be on at my usual time, about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, the last segment in the second national hour on EWTN Radio. Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later here.

Father Bowden has eight (8) entries for the martyr brother and two (one shared) for the confessor brother. I chose the November 7 entry for the martyr, "God Ways Not Ours" ["My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor My ways your ways, saith the Lord." Isaiah 55:8] on page 354 which describes Saint Edmund's conversion, study for the priesthood, and return to England:

Page in the family of Mr. Sherwood, a Catholic gentleman, he was converted, ordained priest at Rheims, and when only 23 years old, landed in England. His first desire was to convert his family in Lichfield, but finding that they were all dead except a brother, who had gone to London, thither he went himself.

He didn't find his brother during his search, but one day, he felt a "strange feeling" about a young man, twice, and recognized his brother John. As Father Bowden, he asked about himself, and John replied:

that he had gone to the pope, was become a traitor to God and his country, and if he returned would certainly be hung. Finding him [his brother] hopelessly bigoted, [Edmund] left him, promising on his return to confide to him an important matter.

The important matter? 

John was converted by Edmund's martyrdom, and, as a Franciscan friar, renewed the life of his order in England.

On page 14, Father Bowden describes "The Prodigal's Return"  (on January 6) as John Genings has heard of his brother's horrific execution* on December 10, 1591. At first, John is relieved  

since he deemed it an escape from all Edmund's arguments and persuasions in favour of the Catholic religion, being himself strongly against the faith. But about ten days after his brother's execution, having spent all that day in sport and jollity, being weary with play, he returned home. There his heart felt heavy, and he began to weigh how idly he had passed the day. His brother's death came before him, and how he had abandoned all worldly pleasures, and for the sake of religion alone endured intolerable torments. Then the contrast of their two lives —the one mortified, fearing sin, the other spent in self-indulgence and in every kind of vice. Struck with remorse, he wept bitterly and besought God to show him the truth. In an instant joy filled his heart with a tender reverence for the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, of whom he had scarcely heard. He longed now to be of his brother's faith, and gloried in his eternal happiness. He left England secretly, was made priest at Douay, became a Franciscan, and the first Provincial of the renewed English Province.

Of course, the scripture verse is: " I will arise and go to my Father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee." (Luke 15:18)

*Saint Edmund Genning's execution was indeed brutal. Richard Topcliffe, Queen Elizabeth I's infamous pursuivant and torturer, was there and wanted to make sure that Genings suffered the full agony of being hanged, drawn, and quartered:

Topcliffe, the notorious priest-hunter, was enraged with the attitude of St Edmund Gennings. He then ordered that Edmund be hanged and immediately cut down. When the hangman began his butchery, St Edmund was still alive when his heart was ripped from his chest. With his last breath he cried out, "Saint Gregory: Pray for me." The hangman swore, "Zounds! See, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist!".

If Father John Gennings heard those details, he would indeed have been moved.

Saint Edmund Gennings, pray for us!