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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Family Courts: a Scandal With an End In Sight?

Those who follow Christopher Booker's column (I have a permanent link to his Daily Telegraph page at the right hand side) will know that, prompted by some recent and scandalous cases that have become public because they have been published outside Britain, there is a growing hope that the corrupt and secret family courts will see the light of day. One might not think much of Sir James Munby's professed legal philosophy, but at least he is moving to do something about this painfully flawed system.

I know a little about this matter from friends in the medical profession: one doctor with whom I worked told me the story of an immigrant mother who was terrorised by a social worker. The mother had a few months of post-natal depression, but with an attentive and hard-working husband, she was able to make it through and get back to health. A social worker who had needlessly threatened to take the five older children away during the episode then "kept tabs" on the family, and complained to my friend that there was something not quite right about the mother's behaviour when she went round to the spotlessly clean and obviously happy household: the mother wasn't chatty or friendly. My friend quite rightly pointed out to said social worker: that is because she knows what you intended to do, and is terrified of you still, and your "helpful" prying visits to see if there is anything that might justify your breaking up a close-knit family.

If you think that this is a rare problem, I am not so sure. There are other similar cases in which I have been involved directly which have made me very angry, and mystified as to the motives of the social workers concerned. In one case, although not involving children, another doctor and I had to start a procedure to obtain an legally appointed I.M.C.A. (Independent Mental Capacity Advocate) for a patient, before we could prevent a social worker from needlessly forcing an elderly person into a place that they clearly did not wish to go to, when there were obvious simple and preferable alternatives.

I suppose that any era or nation is not judged in retrospect by the relatively large number of people who acquiesce, or live a life that never runs into conflict with authority and power. No-one talks about the vast numbers of happy people living in Spain during the Inquisition period; no-one writes pieces on the fact that most Germans had reasonably normal and free war-time lives, comparable to the lives of British people not under a Nazi regime. Most people make the minor adjustments necessary, keep their voices down when they are saying something that could be dangerous, and compromise here and there - all for a reasonably quiet time. But these ages and civilisations are censured and maligned because of what happened to the people who either actively resisted the regime, were not discreet enough, or those who for whatever reason ended up on the wrong side of the wrong people.

It is generally accepted that splitting up families and forcing adoptions is the mark of a wicked tyranny - whether it be perpetrated upon medieval Jews, communists in Franco's Spain, or Aboriginal families in Australia. It is possible that this is one of the things for which our age will be remembered: children taken from their parents on flawed medical evidence, or to satisfy the personal hostility of a social worker, and without hope of recourse or a public hearing. And although the injustice does not touch a large proportion of people, it is the manner in which the affected families are treated that will leave a lasting shame upon this time and this country.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Twelve Days

Well, I don't know about this... there is a claim floating around in the Wiki version of history and truth that the song The Twelve Days of Christmas has its origins as a kind of occult memory aid for recusant Catholics in the sixteenth century. An example of the interpretation proffered:
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” celebrates the official Christmas season which starts liturgically on Christmas Day and ends twelve days later on the Feast of the Epiphany. “My true love” refers to God, “me” is the individual Catholic. The “twelve lords a leaping” are the twelve basic beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed. The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful after the treachery of Judas. The “ten ladies dancing” are the Ten Commandments. The “nine drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels which in those days of class distinction were thought important. The “eight maids a milking” are the Eight Beatitudes. The “seven swans a swimming” are the Seven Sacraments. The “six geese a laying” are the Six Commandments of the Church or the six days of creation. The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah which are generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament. The “four calling birds” are the Four Gospels. The “three French hens” are the Three Persons in God or the three gifts of the Wise Men. The “two turtle doves” represent the two natures in Jesus: human and divine or the two Testaments, Old and New. The “partridge” is the piece de resistance, Jesus himself, and the “pear tree” is the Cross.
Note the nice bit of hedging one's bets at number six; I have also seen the numbers nine and seven interpreted as the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, respectively. There are a few problems - some people have done their homework and cannot find any reference to recusancy in connection with this song before A.D. 1990 and this particular theory seems to have first arisen on the Internet; and it seems that there may be a French origin to the song (a theory says that it skipped the Channel c. 1770).

Whatever the doubtful origins of the song, there are Twelve Days in Christmas, and they add up to a splendid celebration in the Roman Breviary. Because each of the first four days is the beginning of an Octave (one makes a special commemoration of the feast that has an Octave for seven days, and then celebrates it anew on the eighth), there is a polyphony in the prayer that ebbs and flows rather like Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium. In addition to the feasts I list below, one of the first eight days of Christmas will be the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, which carries its own significance and recounts the blessing of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem by Simeon and Anna. It commemorates the prominent and surprising emphasis of the Octave of Christmas, the coming suffering ("yea, a sword shall pierce thine own soul also", says Simeon to Mary) and the lamb-like innocence of the Divine Son, and yet His kingly power, shortly to be revealed in the Epiphany.
(1) 25th December: The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
This is a feast which sets Christmas in motion, but which is not primarily a feast of a little baby in a manger, but is - remember that this day brings Advent to its consummation - a triumphant proclamation of the coming of the Christ as King, one who will rule the nations with a Rod of Iron. Its temper is set by the shout of the angels, Gloria in excelsis Deo.
The three Masses of this day, Midnight, Dawn and Midday, have slightly different connotations and have been mystically interpreted as connected with, respectively, the Creation (Jesus's origin in Eternity), in the Judaic dispensation (Jesus's birth in Time), and in the Christian dispensation (Jesus's birth in the Soul).

(2) 26th December: St. Stephen the First Martyr
The first martyr to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was an outcast in the swaddling clothes of the manger as he was to be an outcast in the shroud of the tomb, is joined so closely to the celebration of Christ's birth to be a stark reminder of the fate of the faithful follower of the Christ-Child, and of their common prayer of forgiveness to the Father in the moment of death.

(3) 27th December: St. John the Apostle and Evangelist
The one who leaned upon the breast of Jesus, the beloved disciple, is celebrated to bring one to contemplate a mystical union in love with the Incarnate God. Again, the suffering and Cross is not far distant, for St John stands with the Mother of the Church at the foot of the Cross, himself a type of the Church given to her maternal care, as was too the Infant Jesus.

(4) 28th December: The Holy Innocents
The martyrdom of St. Stephen and suffering of St. John's heart is followed by the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem at the hands of Herod. Here is a relentless third in this threefold prefiguring of the Passion, the Lamb without spot offered at the hands of wicked men, intent on preserving their own power and safety; here too is a prefiguring of the One who "as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so openeth he not his mouth". The Holy Innocents are understood by some to be those 144,000 of the Apocalypse who are virgins, and who "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth"; those who have seen the Triumph of the Holy Innocents by Holman Hunt in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool will not forget the scene of a crowd of toddlers thronging the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt, getting across the mystical idea of the unity of these slaughtered children with the ultimate work of Jesus.

(5) 29th December: St. Thomas a Becket
There is a summing up of the themes of the first four days of Christmas in the death of Archbishop of Canterbury: he is martyred for standing against worldly interest, one with Christ at His very altar.

(6) 30th December
The one day without a specific memorial, in it one recalls the four simultaneously running Octaves in the following commemorations:
Antiphon of the Nativity: Gloria in exclesis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis, alleluia, alleluia
Antiphon of St. Stephen: Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine, faciebat signa magna in populo
Antiphon of St John: Iste est Joannes, qui supra pectus Domini in coena recubuit: beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta coelstia
Antiphon of the Holy Innocents: Hi sunt, qui cum mulieribus non sunt coinquinati: virgines enum sunt, et sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit

(7) 31st December: St. Silvester Pope and Confessor
Bishop of Rome at the time of Constantine, his legend states that he refused the imperial crown from the newly converted Emperor Constantine, from which it is implied that the Pope's authority guides the imperial power: emphasising, one might say, that the kingly exercise of Jesus's power is subject to His priestly and sacrificial authority. He rules, but from the Cross; just as He is truly Incarnate, but in a mean stable.

(8) 1st January: The Octave Day of Christmas, the Feast of Mary as Mother of God (The Theotokos or "God-bearer") and the Feast of the Circumcision.
Rather than Christmas Day itself, which is very much a festival of the Kingship of the Babe, the feast at New Year is a feast of the humanity of Christ, seen in a dual way - in His Circumcision and subjection to the Law of which He was Author, and in His taking his humanity from His dear Mother. One of the antiphons for this day speaks of the "marvellous exchange", whereby He takes our humanity and we are granted His Divinity.

(9) 2nd January: The Octave Day of St. Stephen

(10) 3rd January: The Octave Day of St. John

(11) 4th January: The Octave Day of the Holy Innocents

(12) 5th January: The Vigil of the Epiphany, Twelfth Night
From the Octave Day of Christmas and each of the days following until Vigil of the Epiphany, the commemoration of each of the Octaves gradually drops out of the daily prayer, the polyphony sinking into a single keening voice at the lamentation of Rachel for her children in the Octave of the Holy Innocents. Then, on the Vigil of this among the most ancient of Feasts, the Appearing of the Christ to the Gentiles, the note of joy and expectation is taken up again, and the happiness of the Babe in Arms is about to be transformed into manly joy as God Incarnate, King and High Priest raises His radiant eyes over the benighted world, receives homage and the gifts of His station, is lighted upon by the Spirit of Life and Power and pours out wine like water.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Summer in December

It is well enough known, I believe, that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was disputed between the Dominicans and the Fransicans, St Thomas and St Bonaventure, with the "pro" Franciscans on the winning side. I saw this set in a different frame, however, in some readings for the feast whose original source I cannot place: the piece pointed out that the difference between the two sides was underpinned by a diverse theology of the Incarnation and Redemption. For the Dominican Aquinas, the Incarnation was a response and remedy to the Fall; for the Franciscans and Duns Scotus the Incarnation was part of the plan of Creation and thus the Incarnation of the Word preceded the Fall. The different notions of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the feast of her conception on 8th December predates the dispute) flow from this parting of the ways. For St Thomas, the Fall involves all of Creation, including the Blessed Virgin, and the redemption of Jesus then purifies and saves our Lady more or less at the moment of her conception; for the Franciscan theologians on the other hand, Mary, as the one whom God willed to be the carrier of the human nature of the Incarnate Christ, was purified and redeemed by his Incarnation before the Fall took place. Maybe the fact that we celebrate the feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception is to tip the scales slightly towards the idea that Creation is but the first step towards the Incarnation, and the final step at the end of all things, the Consummation of the Incarnation, is the divinisation of Creation in the Incarnate God.

I reproduce the following from a homily by the Abbot of Pluscarden, now Bishop of Aberdeen, on 8th December 2010, and to read the rest follow this link.

Today the Church is filled with joy at Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It’s not just Mary who says, Gaudens gaudebo in Domino. It’s all of us.
We know what we’re celebrating: not, as many think, the conception of Jesus by Mary, but the conception of Mary herself. And not that conception from her parents’ side, as if there was anything out of the usual about it (which there wasn’t), but from hers. We’re celebrating simply her. We’re celebrating the gift given her from the moment she came to be. This gift can be spoken of in two ways, and the liturgy does both. Put negatively, it was the gift of redemption, by preservation, from original sin, often metaphorically described as a stain or spot, like something on a mirror or a face. Mary is free of this blemish. But original sin, says Tradition, is itself a negative. God’s intention for us has only ever been grace, relationship, but because of the mysterious first sin we are conceived without this, dis-graced, if you like. We’re like poor modern students, starting life in debt. There’s a lack in us, something missing, a deprivation, a nakedness says Genesis: a lack of grace. Mary lacked this lack. And if you negate a negative what you get is a positive. And so positively, this gift is the gift of sanctifying grace, of a share in the life of God. It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit living in the heart. The mirror is stainless to reflect the light, the face is all radiance, the nakedness is clothed. It’s the gift of holiness, of ultimate beauty. Mary, said the poet Coventry Patmore, is ‘the extreme of God’s creative energy’. She is the human being fullest of the Holy Spirit.
And this is something to be filled with joy about.
Not everyone has an unhappy childhood. Thomas Traherne, the 17th c. poet, certainly did not. In fact, it was much more than happy. It was transfigured. It was an experience of Eden. He himself, of course, had received redemption from original sin and the gift of sanctifying grace in baptism as an infant, and he described his childhood once like this:
  I felt no stain nor spot of sin.

  No darkness then did overshade,
  But all within was pure and bright;
  No guilt did crush nor fear invade,
  But all my soul was full of light.

  A joyful sense and purity
  Is all I can remember,
  The very night to me was bright
  ’Twas Summer in December.’ (Innocence). 
 ‘’Twas Summer in December.’ Topical! That is why the Church is rejoicing today. Summer in December, spring in winter. Gaudens gaudebo in Domino.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Thoughts on C.S. Lewis, and Christian Reunion

By unanimous popular request I am going to write a post on C.S. Lewis to honour the Golden Jubilee of his passing from this world to the next. Unanimous popular request means that one person mentioned that I should do so in passing, and no-one else has suggested that I write anything at all. I wanted to mention two things: (1) the evolution of Lewis's reputation as a writer and (2) was he just about to turn Roman when he died?

I haven't read any of the panegyric or polemic on Lewis on this anniversary of his passing, although, skimming through news and blog sites many a title with his name in it has caught my eye. The reason is partly that I have read more or less every word the Ulsterman wrote, and probably several times as well, and have read through most of the major commentaries; I even read through A.N. Wilson's ghastly biography. (Nota bene: if you really cannot stand someone's guts, your biography of them is unlikely to avoid a strong odour of bias. Why did he bother?) I am therefore unlikely to be surprised or informed, as most obituary and review material on such occasions is likely to be recycled. It is interesting, though, how Lewis's legacy continues to evolve. We are still relatively close to his death, and he seems to be growing in stature in some ways, and shrinking in others. His literary criticism, for example, is now acclaimed as his most original and enduring work; his didactic theology and philosophy laid aside; and his fiction does not seem to command quite the same favourable consensus that it did. People are beginning, on the one hand, "for Pete's sake!", to talk of the boarding school Pevensies as dated; whilst on the other hand there are hints that people are discovering the final book That Hideous Strength in his Science Fiction trilogy and finding it to be a vivid and stark prophetic warning.

I think that That Hideous Strength is very powerfully prophetic, yes, and has some great scenes and philosophical ideas behind it. Such as the notion of angels as planetary deities, for example; the ideas of language and the Babel scene near its end; its spiritual insight into the potential evils of contraception; and its stark warning about the convergence of three things - power, a medical view of moral evil and an irresistible program of social engineering. The very final love scene, or should I say the anticipation of the love scene which takes place after the close of the book, so to speak, is very beautiful indeed. Very few writers get across the earthy, ancient, semi-divine and deeply complicated experience of conjugal love in the way that Lewis achieves at the close of the book. But is it a unified and complete work of art? As much as I wish it did, it really doesn't pull it off, and in parts it is in my opinion the worst fictional stuff that Lewis wrote.

A very interesting question presents itself about the Chronicles of Narnia for lovers of those seven books: what is their pecking order? I admit that perhaps there is something in the idea that the boarding school Pevensies don't help, apart from the wonderful Lucy, because my clear favourite as a boy was the only book to be set completely in the other world, The Horse and His Boy. I struggle to pick out an order of preference, but this is what comes to my mind most spontaneously:

(1) The Horse and His Boy: my childhood favourite still wins out. The best bit: Shasta's meeting with the golden Lion in the mist.
(2) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: an awfully close second. It is piled thick with beauty and excitement, and I can't decide whether to pick the sweet sea of lilies at the World's End or the escape from the Island of Darkness as my most loved part.
(3) The Silver Chair: and here there is utterly no doubt of the best bit, the Last Sign, the smell of singed Marshwiggle and the breaking of the spell of the Underworld enchantress.
(4) The Magician's Nephew is almost joint third, and I love especially the part where Digory refuses to escape back home with the Apple of Youth - or come to think of it, is my favourite bit the accursed city of Charn, the room of the Images, and the golden bell?
(5) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe comes in fifth. It was of course the first of the Narnia stories that I read, and I loved the logic of the Professor when Peter and Susan come to him to question Lucy's sanity. People say this character is based on Lewis's tutor Kirkpatrick: perhaps, but I would say it is vintage Lewis.
(6) The Last Battle I found rather dreadful and terrifying as a child, and I still do. The scene of the Last Judgment is to my mind the best bit: but it isn't comfortable.
(7) Prince Caspian is last, not because I don't enjoy it, but because as a child I didn't get the story immediately, and found the bit about Bacchus and the dryads in the woods unintelligible because I didn't know the necessary classical background. Even though I now enjoy that part very much, I simply don't have the same depth of childhood response to it. The episode of Lucy's vision of Aslan when they are lost in the forest - she can see him beckoning (barely) but the others cannot, and refuse to accept her pleading, is classic Lewis. We are always given enough for our faith to follow, though often with difficulty, and in hindsight we know very well what we should have done but are very good at disguising the truth from ourselves in the conflicting passions of the moment. My most loved moment in the book is when Lucy wakes in the moonlit forest, and feels that the long sleeping trees are about to awake. She speaks, but the moment passes without the trees awakening, and she is left feeling that she had spoken a moment too soon or too late, or somehow said slightly the wrong words. There is something very deep in one's psyche that is touched by this passage, about our understanding of nature, or of the unconscious natures of others (but are they the same thing?). It speaks to our aching loss of some primal word of wholeness, of wisdom and integration that at times seems so elusively near our tongue yet so utterly irretrievable. Perhaps St Francis knew it.

After that piece of wholly and unashamedly self-indulgent reverie about the Chronicles of Narnia, now for something a bit more long-faced. I noted from the Catholic blog sites that one or two people were setting out a case for Lewis as almost a Catholic, or at least on a trajectory that would have catapulted him across the Tiber had he but lived a few years more. This doesn't stand up, at least not from his written work.

His posthumously published essay Christian Reunion sets out the problem for ecumenical efforts - that there is no common agreement about authority between Catholics and Protestants. Lewis states the problem, but doesn't answer it: in fact he says he says "I can see no way of bridging this gulf". The gulf Lewis identifies thus: "[for a Catholic] the real vice of Protestantism is the formless drift which seems unable to retain the Catholic truths" and ends in modernism; on the other side "the terrible thing about Rome is the recklessness [for a Protestant] with which she has added to the depositum fidei. You [the Catholic] see in Protestanism the Faith dying out in a desert; and we [Protestants] see in Rome the Faith smothered in a jungle." The problem is that the Catholic sees an absence of Doctrine in Protestanism - asking a Catholic to agree to Protestant doctrines is like "asking a man to say he agrees not with a speaker but a debating society". And the reason Lewis cannot be Catholic, he says, is that to accept Catholicism is not to accept a particular doctrine, but "to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces.... like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but what he is going to say."

Lewis's only suggestion is that unity won't come about by high Anglicans and liberal Catholics getting cosy together, (was that an anticipation of ARCIC?) but by people at the heart of each communion coming closest in spirit through union with Christ. Thus I do not see here, or anywhere else, a sign of Lewis drifting into Catholicism. The fact that he engaged in Anglo-Catholic practices such as viaticum and confession to a priest seem to me beside the point, as these were practices fully accepted within that wing of Anglicanism at the time.

One of the interesting things is that little Fount volume I have containing Lewis's essay (Christian Reunion and Other Essays) has a foreword by Walter Hooper who is encouraged by the opening of ecumenical dialogue at Vatican II. Now as I see it this turned into a red herring, for what came of this effort was exactly what Lewis said would not result in unity: liberal Catholics and High Anglicans having cosy conferences and producing glossy reports. And in this Lewis has been proved right. It is noteworthy, too, that nothing has changed in the gulf between Protestant and Catholic notions of authority, and in some ways it has worsened. The Vatican II definition of papal authority is if anything less limiting and less traditional than Vatican I: and in fact papal power, both before and after the council, was used to sweep away centuries of liturgy and accumulated tradition. Even if the liturgical reforms were not the direct will or act of any one Pope, there have been changes made or allowed that I think former popes would simply not have seen as within their juridical scope to make. One could argue that what one might call liberalising powers have been exercised in a very centralised and autocratic fashion. What has been missing is a firm hand in calling the Church back to centuries of tradition, even in the supposedly super-conservative reign of Benedict XVI, who removed the strictures on suppressed tradition but did not use his authority to say "No" with any great rigour. Thus the liberal Catholics, while decrying the notion of a centralised papacy and talking the language of a democratic Church, seem not to be wary of using episcopal and papal authority to enact sweeping and drastic reforms which they could not otherwise have pushed through.

On the other hand, have the conservatives had a conversion of heart on the notion of papal authority? They are much more likely these days to speak of the binding nature of tradition, to emphasise that the Pope has no authority to cast this aside, and to speak in their theology of the ultimate Tradition and guide of our belief, lex orandi, lex credendi. If this is true, then perhaps the road for a truly conservative and traditional path to unity will be opened by a clear notion of Tradition bound by the Divine Liturgy emerging, of which the Pope is the foremost guardian and servant. The text of the Bible and the text of the Magisterial Office will be seen through the text of liturgy: the Eternal and Living Word present in a Eucharist which has been restored to its proper place. In this way Lewis's concerns about the exercise of authority might be met, when authority becomes the servant of the Word, and the limits of its exercise are clearly defined by the prayer of the Church. There is a revival of Patristics and interest in tradition among some Reformed churches in the United States and more recently here in Britain, and Lewis's conundrum about unity could be solved by a convergence of traditional Catholicism and Reformed and Evangelical thought on the least likely of grounds: tradition.

The Bonnie Prince

There are some expressions of devotion to Jesus and His companions in glory that I find rather creepy, and I know I am not alone. The Holy Infant Child of Prague, for instance, scares me a bit, and several people I have mentioned this to nod in agreement. I came across a rather unusual modern Scottish Infant Jesus recently, The Bonnie Prince emerging from the misty Highlands, wearing a tartan with the Hunterston brooch pinned to it and standing on the Stone of Scone. This seems very appropriate somehow, given the legend and aura of the stone, and could be a starting point for an additional piece of mythology about the stone itself. The Bonnie Prince is a piece of popular devotional imagery that I found instantly attractive - a rarity - and perhaps if someone could produce one of the Holy Child sailing a little boat out of my beloved Bangor in County Down, I would be even more happy.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Fr Hunwicke: Reditus

Some housekeeping for this web log: visitors are directed to an addition in my list of "Sites to Follow" on the right hand side, the web log of an Ordinariate priest called Fr Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment. Father hadn't been posting for a long time, but has got going again and there is some juicy stuff in the last week or two. I don't think I'll offend anyone if I say that Fr Hunwicke's is the most erudite Ordinariate blog, and the most entertaining.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Remembrance of Things Past

It is coming up to a year since my grandfather's passing away. He was 93, and my sister was with him faithfully during his last night as many before, when, his mind wandering, his soul took anchorage in possibly the first thing he had learned to recite as a child at Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church near Helen's Bay, County Down: the Lord's Prayer. My aunt is collecting reminiscences from family and friends to put together, and when I thought of writing something, there was one incident that stood out for me above all others.

Some very early childhood memories are vivid but very much separate and distinct, and without a sense of chronology. One remembers a mild summer's day and playing with a kitten in the orchard on a blue tartan rug; or crying for the loss of a cork from one's popgun at the end of the garden. One does not, however, remember any preceding or following events. The memory is like a miniature picture in bright colour, sharply and finely detailed but distant. Such a memory is mine, a memory of "Nanda" as his grandchildren called him, paying a visit one evening to our home unexpectedly, arriving on foot. His house was about a mile's walk distant over barley fields and pasture land, but there was no direct path. There would have been a few ditches to jump and fences to climb, some made of barbed wire strung along wooden posts to pen in the sheep where the hedgerows had thinned and could not be trusted to stop them from straying. As we were still living at the cottage at Hillhead, it was certainly before 1987 and I was less than six years old. Something tells me that I was a lot younger. It must have been an evening between late autumn and early spring, for it was already dark outside and I was not yet sent to bed. The fire was lit in the sitting room.

When he came in, his hands were red with blood, and amid the excitement of my elder sisters' talk I gathered that in his walk he had come upon a sheep tangled in barbed wire and had freed it. He must have washed his hands by the time I saw him sitting on the settee beside my sisters, his face as always like the youthful David's "ruddy, and of a fair countenance", his hair snow-white, and his smile... but to describe his smile would be to give a definition of the man and that is an impossible thing. At the time, in my child's mind I did not quite grasp that the blood fresh on his hands was the animal's: I think that I thought it to be his.

There was something about the moment that gave the child a kind of holy awe, something of what I imagine a boy of Greece would have felt if the figure of ancient Nestor had darkened the hall, a man who had known the demi-god Hercules, had seen the siege of Troy and was living still. But there was more than pagan awe of the man half-hero, half-legend in that feeling. Crossing that low hill, those dark, long and lonesome fields already seemed a journey of epic; and then to free and save the life of a struggling lamb, shedding his own blood in unhesitating compassion, made my grandfather in my eyes to be a living image of the Good Shepherd. At that moment, his white hair, weather-red face and smile were transfigured, and I saw the One who "giveth his life for the sheep".

I do not think this vision ever quite left the form of my grandfather, even when the moment was forgotten, and shortly before he died the memory arose again, clear, whole and blessed.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Victor Hugo on Architecture

Before anyone, wavering over their next choice of reading material, picks up Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, please pass on to another book. And if according to the law of reverse psychology you decide that this is a book you must read because someone said not to, you will soon find out your error in the first chapter, before page ten in fact. You will realise that you are not roaring with laughter (as are the crowd) at the Parisian students' supposed witticisms, and in fact you are struggling to smile.

Unlike Les Misérables where the imperfections as a novel are endearing, the faults of the Hunchback just make things worse.

For the long diversion in Les Misérables on the Battle of Waterloo which could stand alone as a truly dreadful depiction of war, as a great and noble piece of patriotism, as an elegy to human suffering - we have instead some endless insertions on the buildings of medieval Paris, or medieval justice. It is bad enough that the diversion on Paris before the Renaissance is unintelligible to anyone but a specialist in the history of Paris who has lived there for twenty years as a tour-guide, but the stuff about the Middle Ages shares all the retrospective silliness of the nineteenth century where the sins of the Renaissance, e.g. hysterical witch-hunts, are visited on the rational men of two hundred years earlier. And I am quite certain there is some nonsense too. Executing animals for witchcraft was "common"? Oh, really? Those dreadful medievals!

For the improbable but giant figure of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables who strides through the book like a myth, we have the rather ridiculous demonic archdeacon, or again the hunchback himself who goes from a senseless clod who is somehow simultaneously viciously cunning, to a sensitive and gentle soul, and all in a couple of chapters.

For the operatic quality of Les Misérables, we have the bathetic scenes of the Hunchback culminating in its super bathetic ending (I don't care if this is a "spoiler") of thwarted mothers dashing their brains out on walls, innocent beautiful girls being strung up by hangmen, and deformed monsters turning patricidal and throwing Satan-worshipping priests off Gothic towers. And that's just the last three pages.

There are better things to read, and the interest of the story of the Hunchback - that it doubtless has, apart from the novel - would be better conveyed in a comic strip, a silent film, or a mime. But there is one exception, I think, in one of the diversions of the Hunchback (on architecture) that I think is startlingly original, and Hugo's own. At least I haven't seen the same things said elsewhere. There are two things that struck me.

The first is that Hugo says that the Gothic - as a new form supervening on the Romanesque - is a popular form of architecture. The Romanesque is arcane, he says, hieratic, and symbolical. The Gothic on the other hand is popular, accessible, and representative art. The Romanesque is priestly, the Gothic democratic. I suppose that this aspect of the Gothic isn't what would strike a modern visitor to Wells Cathedral or York Minster. But the more I think of it, the more I think that Hugo is on to something. He is picking up on a profound difference between the Romanesque - or even the Byzantine, for that matter - and the Gothic that is very stark if one compares say, St Mark's in Venice and the Duomo in Milan. In the Romanesque, the round arch or the dome often depicts an image of the celestial in traditional symbolic form, interpreted by the priest and his function. The Gothic, on the other hand, its likeness to a vast forest, its pointed arch producing the optical effect of a building much higher in an illusion of retreating perspective, appeals directly to the people's vertigo, their nerves and ultimately their aspirations. By representing the divine in three dimensions (and not just two as in the mosaic) the Gothic introduces the revolution of appealing "over the head" of the priest to the people. I am not sure if I would go the whole way with Hugo here, but he touches on something that I have felt obscurely on walking into a Byzantine-style church, or even older Roman basilicas, and I think he is at least partly right.

The second thing in the diversion that caught my attention was the idea that the printing press was the death of architecture. His idea is that a culture will always seek to leave its artifacts in the most durable materials. The temple made of stone is the most durable for every age until the late medieval period: and into the supreme art of building every other art is integrated and finds its place and purpose therein. Music is the music of the temple - the liturgy of the office and the mass; the icon and the statue find their setting and their significance there; and the sacred poetry reaches its highest expression within the sacred precincts. With the printing press, however, words can be reproduced indefinitely if one wishes: it no longer needs the great labour of the copyist. The book began to dominate, and soon dominated utterly. The other arts, cut off from their theatre, their stage, began to develop an unhealthy separation and privatisation. Architecture became a matter of decoration; statutory degenerated into sculpture; painting into virtuosity; and music into composition. In a striking sentence, Hugo says that St Peter's in Rome was the last original piece of architecture. Since then all has been imitation.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Anglican Breviary

There is a remarkable piece of history and liturgy in my hands - indeed I have hardly set it down since I came in the door to find a fat package from the States awaiting me. It is the Anglican Breviary, saved from oblivion by one determined and persistent enough to organise its re-printing. To read more, follow this link. The price is - well, don't tell my wife - not low but not ridiculous for what it is.

It was produced in the United States, in the heyday of Anglo-Catholicism, the early 1900s, when the Anglo-Catholics were the strongest and most evangelically active wing of Anglicanism. The Anglican Breviary was an almost direct translation of the Roman Breviary, using the Coverdale Psalter, the Authorised King James Version and Keble's translations of the Breviary's hymns. Even the extra-biblical readings of Matins are translated into antique English. Following the wane of Anglo-Catholicism, and the drastic Catholic reforms of the Daily Office after the Council, the book was little used and fell out of print.

It is a beautiful book, the entire office in a single manageable volume. I am looking forward to using it in bits and pieces - the Antiphons especially - alongside the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham. I have a dream of getting together various bits of the Divine Office in English, creating a massive bank of all its parts in small media files, and then creating "playlists" for each day and feast, of Lauds, Vespers etc. for people to play (and pray) in their earphones on their way to and from work. If anyone would like to pay to commission a college choir (King's or John's would be fine) to record it all for me, I'd be much obliged.

Postscript: I have since discovered that this book was out of print since 1973 when, in 1998, a twenty-two year old enthusiast decided to fund a reprint. This was not the vanity project or hobby of a rich man - astonishingly, he scraped the funds together for the printing from a series of credit cards, and was then able to pay for subsequent reprints from the money raised from the first sale. But at the time of the first print, there was absolutely no guarantee of this outcome. Now there is a story: of love for a book and a tradition, and a lot of faith.

Was Paisley Right?

A few days ago I watched Darragh McIntyre's documentary "The Disappeared" about the abduction, killing and secret burial by the IRA of people who in one way or another knew too much. These people saw something that they should not have seen, or informed on the IRA, and in many cases their families still have no knowledge of where their bodies are.

I hail from the province, and was brought up there in the 80s and 90s, when one expected news of a bomb or killing on the local news bulletin at five minutes to six - and fairly often something big enough had happened to make it onto the national news after the dong of Big Ben at six o'clock. The archive film of the documentary, its ochre and bitter colours, put me back on the streets of Belfast that I had seen as a child, and the familiarity of that world came with a cold shock. It seemed so very normal at time, and was happening just a dozen miles from where I was raised as a boy, untroubled, playing with cats and inventing games with my sisters in the pastoral gentleness of wooded Crawfordsburn.

There was an interesting interview with Mr Gerry Adams in the documentary, who still denies that he was head of the IRA's operations in Belfast in the 1970s. Presumably, risible though the denial might be, it was felt necessary for the Republican movement to have a supposedly unbloody ambassador for those trips to the US to publicise their cause, and for the push for Sinn Fein to break through into the political scene in the Republic of Ireland, where they remain pariahs to a large extent to this day. He has apparently written knowledgeably about, and boasted about, the ambush of the British undercover operation in a laundry van in West Belfast. One of "The Disappeared" informed on the IRA, and then turned himself over to the IRA and gave crucial information about the laundry van operation that led to the successful ambush. For the informer, it wasn't enough to save his life. He was killed anyway. The late IRA commander Brendan Hughes claimed that Gerry Adams gave the order for his death, a claim that Adams has of course rubbished. Darragh McIntyre, in the documentary, skillfully manoeuvres Gerry Adams into admitting that he knew the man's family, and knew them pretty well. He then asks if, since Adams was at the very least a leading Republican in the area at the time, he knew that the boy (who was then killed as an informer) was the source of information, and if he knew that he had gone missing. Adams' evasive response is worth the watching. People, he says, come and go; rumours circulate. I have rarely seen anything so shifty.

But several things in the documentary prompted the following. For I have a question for Catholics generally, and I would be very interested to hear the responses to this from both the Irish and non-Irish variety. It is to do with the deep-seated suspicion about the role of some of the Church's hierarchy in the Northern Ireland Troubles among the Protestant people from which I come. Shall we say that there is a suspicion that certain actions during that period helped to foster the notion that the Irish nationalist cause was a Catholic cause, which is itself a questionable notion; but further, that the actions of the IRA were somehow given legitimacy by the association. Is this suspicion justified? There were individuals such as the late Cardinal Daly who earned the hatred of the Republican movement by a clear public opposition to their actions. But are there other incidents where there was a loss of such clarity of principle, giving rise to the suspicion that perhaps some in the Catholic hierarchy, as well as the laity, had forgotten that a movement which considers the murder of people out for their Saturday morning shopping to be regrettable but ultimately necessary is not exactly in line with the teachings of Christ? And which therefore ought not to be encouraged in any way? I am not talking here about the actions of an isolated priest who sided with and aided the IRA, but something that ran much deeper.

I will pick out one example, which may be emotive, but I think it illustrates my point very well. The hunger strikers have been almost beatified in Republican areas, and I can take you to a poem on a commemorative plaque in Newry, County Down, in which there is a clear parallel drawn between Christian martyrdom and the hunger strikers. I don't wish to be facetious when I say that no Christian martyrs have starved themselves to death to gain political prisoner status. I am not trying to rile convinced Irish Republicans, I am stating a point of theology. But it is not that issue that I am concerned with here. Nor am I sure about the qualities of the hunger strikers, e.g. Mr Bobby Sands. Now, removed from Ulster by a few years and leagues of sea and land, I can see what as a partisan youngster I could not - that the young Bobby Sands and his family were treated in a horrible way, and perhaps a violent fight against such treatment is not so strange. Nevertheless, the Republican movement carried out crimes which, if they wished to be treated as combatants in a war - as they did at the time - would be counted as war crimes e.g. the deliberate and premeditated killing of men, women and children who were not by any definition combatants.

Was it wise, therefore, of Pope John Paul II to send, or allow himself to be persuaded to send, his private secretary Father Joseph Magee, ostensibly to end the hunger strike? Was it necessary? Cardinal O'Fiach of Armagh, for example, had played a negotiating role in ending a hunger strike months earlier, but didn't go inside the prison itself. Could one say that the incident added the odour of papal sanctity to the myth of martyrdom that was already being written, even though the visit was supposed to be a desperate attempt to stop the strike? I cannot believe that churchmen were so naive as not to know what kind of emotional association their actions would create on this occasion. It is all very well to have a laugh about the Rev. Ian Paisley of the 1980s, roaring against the Antichrist and the Whore of Babylon, the enemies of Ulster. But on one count at least he has been proved right, for there was an unclean bird brooding in the temple: during this period there was a horrible cancer eating its way into the heart of the Irish Church, which has since been exposed in part. I am not so sure it has been excised. And what if he was right too, in the face of an unholy complacency on the part of some towards the notion that the Republican movement were serving not just an ideal of Ireland, but the cause of the Church?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Sorrow Not Sweet

For some reason our dog - the softest brute whom I have never seen go for the kill - was uncontrollable around a kitten that I brought home last week. After some hopeless attempts to make him less murderous, we, sore of heart, gave away the kitten to an eight-year-old girl on her birthday. We simply didn't have the space and time to make it work. It was surprising how little time it took for us to become very, very attached. Sometimes prose is not enough.

To a Kitten Named Fly: a Farewell

What muse whispered your name to me, what sprite?
  Too apt for you, whose crazed and dizzy dance
  Led hearts along the fleet path of your tail,
  Your ringed and ginger tail, hearts rested in
  Two amber eyes. Too apt, o clever cat
  Who conned well how to slip in cosy beds
  And make us answer to those gentle orbs
  Pleading for milk or fish. Too apt - for, raised
  Alas! a quiv’ring bloody eager rage
  In a mild dog who ne’er till now so shook
  To racial strings and old, you dared not stop,
  But flew, dear Fly, away. Five days we laughed
Then dropping salty tears, all, down to your bed
We gave and could not watch your parting head.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Why Science Needs Plato Baptised: Part 1, The Myths of Science

What follows is the groundwork for a second post that I hope to write soon: this is Part 1. Part 2 is an attack upon the Aristotelian notion of science. This is not because I think it is nonsense, but because I think it needs a Platonic foundation to make sense. (This might be a Part 3, I’m not sure yet. Let’s see how I get on.)

There are a few odd scientific myths around – at least I think they are myths and would be interested to hear what other people have to say – about “accurate” measurements and the notion of measure in general. When I talk about myths of science, I mean the popular version that leaks out – even from scientists – into public consciousness, whatever caveats are added in academia. I can give three examples of what I am talking about.

1)      Time: we are told that the Earth’s rotation is slowing down, meaning that the solar day is getting slightly longer and a leap second has to be inserted at various intervals. But the Earth is getting slower in comparison to what? To the atomic clock – which measures time very accurately indeed, deriving it from the frequency of radiation emitted when an electron moves from one energy level to another of a caesium-133 atom. But apparently colder atoms move more slowly, so the time measurements also need to be standardised by cooling caesium-133 to almost absolute zero.

2)      Space: a metre started out as one ten-millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator proposed in 1790 by the French Academy of Sciences after the Revolution as the basic unit of measurement. Because of a miscalculation (they reckoned on the Earth being perfectly spherical which, as they discovered in 1793, it isn’t) it is about 0.2mm short. Then, in 1889 the first “General Conference on Weights and Measures”, Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures, came up with the notion of having a prototype platinum bar made as a standard – it is still locked up somewhere – but of course the measurements have to be taken at a certain temperature (viz. the melting point of ice) because the bar expands a little with heat. There are other problems with the accuracy of this bar as a standard, too, and so in 1993 the standard definition was changed to something more accurate still: and the metre is now defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second.

3)      Properties: we are told that certain colours correspond to certain frequencies of light on the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. But, in fact – and as every child who has pored over an optical illusion knows – how one sees a colour depends on the colours around it. So what is really (according to measured frequency) a certain shade of green looks, in certain conditions, a lighter shade compared to exactly the same frequency of green light in subtly different conditions of light.

Now for what I see as mythical about (1), (2) and (3) in the sense that people have so accepted a “scientific” version of these phenomena that they have stopped thinking about the most basic premises of the thinking involved.

(1)   Involves the idea that (ultimately) seconds are gradually getting a bit longer. But this is a rather perverse notion when one thinks about it. We decide the length of a day (a “solar” day as the scientists have it) by measuring midday to midday: crudely put, by the time it takes between the shadows being at their shortest on one day, to the shadows being shortest on the next. If one then divides this period into 24 hours, and then divides the hours into minutes and seconds, one eventually has the “length” of a second. But it therefore stands to reason that there is really no other reference for the length of a second than the ratio of 1/86,400 to the length of a solar day. Just say that one picks, at random, today (which happens to be All Hallows’ in the year of our Lord 2013) and fixes on the length of the second at midday and sets this up as the absolute standard, one could then measure whether (relative to this arbitrary standard) the days are getting shorter or longer over time. But this raises another problem. One must then find some other way of fixing the exact length of the second, some reference to say this and exactly this is the length of our new standard second. Hence the need for the atomic clock as mentioned above.

But this raises yet another problem, and therefore another question. One then assumes, as the basis of all comparison for all temporal measurement, that the atomic clock is striking out a fixed and unchanging time period: that it doesn’t slow down or speed up. Now it might be part of one’s scientific theory that the atomic clock is indeed ticking along immutably at one standard second per second: but the problem is that, even if it did change, one wouldn’t know, because one has nothing to compare it too. There are three questions raised by this problem. (a) First, why advance the atomic clock as the absolute authoritative time, when it is obvious that all time must be measured as a comparison, and therefore in ratio, to something else? There neither is, nor can there be, such a thing as an absolute time measurement. All measurement of time involves a comparison or ratio (made by us) of one phenomenon with another e.g. the high point of the sun in the sky to measure a solar day. My objection isn’t to the use of an atomic clock for some purposes, but to point out that the notion of absolute time is a scientific myth. (b) And secondly, what is the rationale for the choice of one particular length of second as the “standard second” when – according to the atomic clock – no one second is the same length? Isn’t it just arbitrary? (c) And thirdly, why say that seconds are getting longer when they are, in the first place, a division of the solar day into 86,400 bits?

My points can be summed up as follows – we have a mythical notion of absolute time, when time is in fact always a comparison of phenomena made by us, and we have created a strange situation where we have so lost touch with the idea of what a second is, that we have set up a “standard” second whose length bears no present relation to the actual temporal phenomena of a second. Not only have we allowed science to set up an absolute standard where there can be none, but we have redefined the word “second” to mean something that doesn’t fit with what a second actually is, i.e. a small division of the solar day.

(2)   The objections canvassed above will give the flavour of what I am going to say about the measurement of space: again, there is and can be no absolute standard, because like time it involves a comparison, made by us, between phenomena, and the use of ratio. A platinum bar in a vault can never be an absolute standard, because it is measured against something else, which in turn must be measured against something else: and, to prevent the inevitable ad infinitum conclusion, one is driven to choosing something somewhere as the absolute standard, with all the problems and questions that that raises. This is exactly what has been done in the measurement of space. When one tries to fix time or space measurements, one finds that everything is altered by variables of heat, and every other kind of condition: so one gets right down to the most basic level of matter and energy that (in modern scientific theory) are the productive of all the other kinds of energy. And down at this level, one cannot measure time or space independently. [Here I must jump over a massive bit of modern physics to explain why one can’t.] By choosing the distance travelled by light in a certain time in a vacuum to standardise the measurement of distance, one introduces into the problem of distance measurement exactly the same collection of problems and questions mentioned above in (1) with regard to the measurement of time.

(3)   My final set of objections, about properties, is anticipated in what I have already mentioned about time and space. We observe a colour, for example: we then invent a scientific theory about the frequency of light to explain why colours are the colour they are. Subsequently, we discover that in certain conditions, what looked red looks more like purple, and because the measured frequency of light is still what we expect red to be, we then say that our eyes are in error. The colour is actually red, and our seeing purple is a mistake. But surely we cannot use a scientific theory to trump the very phenomenal observations on which the theory claims to be built in the first place? The myth here is that science tells us what e.g. colour really is – even though colours are simply observed phenomena, not measured frequencies of electromagnetic radiation.

There is, I think, something not quite right here - Part 2 will try to say why things are going wrong, and Aristotle will get some of the blame.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Ordinariate Rite: some detail from memory

I have been following the conception and birth of the new Ordinariate Rite for the use of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and witnessed it for the first just a few days ago.

The following is a summary of the detail of the Eucharist according to the Ordinariate Rite, hastily and from memory and therefore open to correction, as I heard it on Sunday. The diction and prayers lifted straight from the Book of Common Prayer I have highlighted in red. Even allowing for the fact that I have printed some of these prayers out in full in red type, it is a heavily Anglican and more specifically Book of Common Prayer influenced ritual. Even the order - note the penitential rite coming after the intercessions and before the offertory: although one could argue that this is an original Sarum influence upon the Book of Common Prayer, as the Bidding Prayers at this juncture of the Sarum Rite contained an invitation to penitence within them.

My first impression was - that I will need to hear this many more times, and let it settle in over a year at least, until any particular beauties (at first unseen) will emerge, or whether any infelicities will begin to jar. But it felt lighter than the Book of Divine Worship rite that we had been using for the last year (the interim usage). When I say "lighter" I mean that some of the plodding Novus Ordo insertions have been lifted from the audible part of the offertory, and (despite the fact that it is very obviously a liturgy spliced together, if one knows one's sources) it feels like a poetic whole that one experiences as one thing. But I think (and this I haven't yet heard) that it would be more tremendous with the Decalogue, sung (including the priestly prayers, the Gospel etc.), and above all with the Last Gospel.

UPDATE: I should add that this useful comparison is on an Anglican Use parish website in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hilaire Belloc on Milton

Hilaire Belloc's historical studies are remarkable works, particularly his works on English authors and historical personages, because he combines a very rare combination of qualities that he brings to his criticism. I think it comes from his being raised in England and having a French father. I am prompted to say this by his study on John Milton, as Man and Poet (that there is a distinction between these two is the foundation of Belloc's book) which I found free on the World Wide Web. These qualities are:

(1) a kind of Gallic savage truthfulness that leads him to "out with it" in the most brutally unforgiving delineation of people's faults, but without malice. This leads some to call him misanthropic - witness his poem Carpe Diem for justification of this claim - but I think it is in fact the ironic French enjoyment of naked and uncomfortable truths that is coming out here.

(2) a love and understanding of the English language and the national character it embodies, not just as a great and economical prose writer, but as a critic.

(3) a detached and highly idiosyncratic political mind which combines a love of monarchy, the rights of peasantry founded on property and the ownership of the tools by which they earn their bread, and hatred of tyrannical oligarchy and the machinery of capitalism (he sees the two as tied together).

(4) this latter political understanding founded in a kind of fusion of the tradition of Anglo-Saxon liberty (which he loved) with Catholic principle and medieval political theory - and he finds justification for both in Catholic theology.

This is an unusual set of political and personal loyalties and loves hits one in the face quite dramatically when one reads his historical and biographical work. He doesn't see history in the usual English tradition (one gets to the heart of this tradition from the phrase in 1066 And All That, that Henry VIII was "a Good Thing but a Bad Man"), or see his characters through the accepted phrases about them. He seems to be utterly free of other people's accumulated mistakes and muddied thoughts: instead of talking about constitutional settlements and compromises, Belloc thinks in what he avers to be the concrete and enduring categories: Land, the Free Peasantry, the King and the Catholic Faith.

And in his book on Milton, instead of talking abstractly about his "high seriousness", he points simply to his lack of humour, and monumental selfishness. Like all of Belloc's insights, it is a shock, a jolt: always before one has heard people talk of Milton's pride, his great defect - but Belloc seems to stand outside all that talk about his pride as a defect in his character (which is otherwise left rather vague), and gets to the heart of what his character was like. It is painful, not least because all the little things one has heard about Milton but not quite imagined in a living personality suddenly fall into place, one is struck by the horrible plausibility of it, and it seems inescapable because of Belloc's unvarnished way of saying it.

Having grown up with a kind of hagiography of Cranmer and his martyrdom, I experienced the shock of Belloc's approach for the first time in full when I read Belloc's biography of Henry VIII's Archbishop. I am still not sure if Belloc's Cranmer is a wholly fair portrait, but it certainly makes me reconsider.

Which reminds me of an idea for a brief historical study that I once mentioned to a friend and which I wish someone competent would carry out. I think that the statesmen and martyrs of sixteenth century are usually badly paired off and compared. St Thomas More, for example, gets contrasted with William Tyndale (probably because they exchanged polemic). It seems more apt to me to compare More with Cranmer, and Tyndale with the Jesuit martyr Campion, a double character study of four executed men worth writing, I think. The first two were statesmen who tried to work within the corridors of power to bring about their ends and to stretch their duty of loyalty as far as they could allow; the second pair were "undercover agents", labouring and striving while hunted.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Ordinariate Rite: It's Arrived!

You can tell how excited I am by the exclamation mark, normally a thing I abominate, in the title. Yesterday, 10th October, was the first celebration of the Ordinariate Rite at Our Lady of the Assumption, at Warwick Street, Soho. Given that it was reported in February 2012 that this was going to take five years to come about, this day has come swiftly beyond hope.

The fullest detail so far of what the Rite involves, apart from Monsignor Burnham's homily found on the Ordinariate site, is this offering from Pray Tell, which has a few critical remarks about the sources and authenticity of some of the Rite. I am not sure if this is justified: if one is going to bring together various elements, I think one is going to require some bridging material somewhere. To call it the Anglo-Catholic Dream Liturgy therefore isn't quite fair, but the phrase set me thinking of an apt piece of Coverdale's Psalter for the occasion:
When the LORDE turneth agayne the captiuyte of Sion, then shal we be like vnto them that dreame. Then shal oure mouth be fylled with laughter, and oure tonge with ioye.
Not everyone's tongue is filled with joy, though: and does it surprise that Anglicans aren't the irritated party? The Tablet's journalists picked up on what was, of course, the main point of the evening, as an occasion to check one's gender and diversity quotas: "Women at the Mass were outnumbered by men by around four to one." All I can say about that is, what a splendid sign for its future.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Patience and Purpose

Whatever people at the top might say or emphasise or try to commend, without the like will in the masses there is inertia. A lot of people were rightly excited, from 2005 onwards, about the hermeneutic of continuity, Summorum Pontificium, etc. The Rorate Caeli writers, to whom I have a permanent link on the right hand side in my "Sites to Follow" list, were never quite carried away, and one of them made a very astute remark recently. Papa Bergoglio is the first of the Popes to have received formation in the post-conciliar Church: John Paul II and Benedict XVI were formed and shaped before the Council. In other words, if conservatively-minded people think that the abuses and muddle associated with Vatican II have played themselves out because that generation are slowly being displaced, then this is not the case. Prelates now in their fifties and sixties, many of them not known to be "continuity" supporters, are going to be in charge for the next two decades, and in charge of a bunch the majority of whom aren't that bothered about theology and councils at all. Remember that the resistance to Vatican II as "rupture" didn't really get underway until the 90s, and then consider that the many of the fruits of that renewal will not begin to appear until a full generation later.

My point is this: that the current climate that the conservative folks are observing is not a blip. It is the forecast of the likely weather conditions for 20 years, I would imagine.

My thoughts on what would be good in the meantime. They aren't very original, nor are they easy, nor have I started very well on this recommended path. Some of this is a mental note to myself. Some of this, you will see - like house groups - is subversive in the sense that I think the kind of strategy associated with e.g. pentecostal Christianity should be put to use.

1) Cultivate a personal love for Jesus through daily prayer and lectio divina, and look to the mystics of the Church for what an authentic relationship with Him looks like. I think that if discernment is needed for the times ahead, if dogmatic theology doesn't give one an automatic cut-and-dried answer to every situation, then the authenticity of a life lived close to Christ's will shine through and give that discernment.

2) Get on with providing homes for pregnant mothers about to abort their children for want of concrete help; find out who is choosing between heating and food and give them a hand; don't leave the old and the poor to the impersonal bureaucracy of the welfare state. Give alms and aim for Benedictine simplicity as much as possible.

3) Catechise, and through every means possible, but especially stories - the Bible and the saints. There aren't good, affordable, beautiful books for children about the Life of Christ, or the stories of the Old Testament, or the lives of the saints. Teach the Psalms. And there is a wonderful thing called Sunday School - half an hour per week, for every child, every Sunday, not just coming up to the sacraments. Don't leave it up to someone who will talk about compassion and love etc. The child needs clear, bright, rapier sharp examples in its memory of what holy love and compassion look like. And if possible start schools, proper ones.

4) Make things: books, art, music, even if it isn't top class. Somebody will produce something that is real art, from an imagination formed by the above in (3). If possible, build.

5) Form house groups for the Daily Office and devotion. Not everyone can get to the parish church everyday, but if every Christian and their neighbours met regularly for prayer in their own homes it would fortify their faith and sanctify the home as a house of prayer.

6) Know history, know philosophy, and know the history of liturgy, of the Orthodox East, of the pre-conciliar rites, of the popular devotions now forgotten, of the Church Fathers and the Middle Ages, and the theology of the modern era from 1500 onwards. A lot of claims may be made: one needs to be saturated in the context of what has always been believed, and how it has always been believed. That will carry weight eventually, although probably not to people who are bent on fuzziness.

7) This needs clarification: avoid the clergy, and don't tell them what you are doing. What I mean is, that there is no point in waiting for, or asking, an overworked curate to give a hand with any of these projects. And if you do ask if you can use the parish hall for catechesis, and a reason is invented for why you shouldn't, then use your living room instead.

8) Stop talking and thinking (but not writing, and discussing in the right place) about sexuality, and whether people look gay or not, and resolutely cut out all speculating and gossiping. Put such thoughts and questions utterly away, and meet each person as they come in the spirit of St Patrick's Breastplate, as innocent as a four-year-old. People are desperately needed in the world, for whom all that does not matter - in the sense of it being a lens through which everyone is seen. It is no one's business but one's own how one feels, and a very, very few other people's, and part of the problem with the  need for an immediate "solution" to the problem in the Church is that we are all talking shamelessly, endlessly, without decorum, about things that should be worked through in discreet pastoral care on an individual basis. People, whether they realise or not, need space and privacy here, and not to parade around - willingly or unwillingly - on public display in a big cage marked "LGBT" or whatever the latest acronym is.

9) Wherever possible, make the liturgy a thing of beauty, but with simplicity. There is no reason why the thing can't be done well, but with graceful though simple and austere vestments and vessels, and lowliness of manner. Gorgeousness isn't needed.

10) Enjoy building a civic life out of Christian custom, enjoy the fish and the fasts and the ember days, enjoy the soul cakes and the things festival, as things which give relish and pull the life of God's creation into the yearly round of the liturgy.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Ordinariate Rite: Some More News

I had heard - and feared - that it might take another two or three years to have an Ordinariate Rite for the Eucharist approved for the use of my beloved Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham: but, no. The only website that seems to be reporting on this is the The Friends of the Ordinariate, which says that it is being "launched" (is that a playful metaphor to refer to the people standing in the nave?) on 10th October in Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street, but there isn't an awful lot of new detail in there about the exact text of the Rite. There isn't even anything about the launch on the Ordinariate website itself apart from a laconic note in the events calendar.

Monsignor Burnham's paper at the Sacra Liturgia conference gave a good guide as to what to expect of the Rite, but there is still nothing in print anywhere. Is the lack of a text because there isn't a published version available yet, and they need to safeguard copyright? Because the detail isn't finally decided? And if it simply a tweak here and there to the Book of Divine Worship from the Anglican Use parishes in the United States, why not say so? I'll have to ask around and find out, and probably just have to wait.

I hope our blessed patron, dear John Henry, doesn't mind about that poster advertising the Votive Mass. He looks disconsolate and spectral, and one can see the fatal knife slash on his right upper chest, just within the frame.

In the Inferno (A Shopping Trip)

A brief note on Hell.

I was forced - not by my spouse, but by my own necessity - to go into a shopping centre to buy a pair of shoes today. It was one of those oblong "malls", I think they are called, with storeys of shops built around a central covered courtyard. There are no windows into the blessed outdoors, as all the shops open towards the central cavern: indeed, the few doors are off down side alleys, and are distressingly difficult to find. One travels up and down between the floors in a glass lift (if one has a buggy), so that one can writhe in discomfort at the hideous panorama.

As I was nearing the exit door in some relief, the tide of vicious anger that always takes me in these places already beginning to abate in anticipation, I stopped for a moment beside a chemist's shop. It was horribly, artificially bright, like as if some kind of pale pink lightening was perpetually and unblinkingly discharged within. There was a female singer reaching a fake emotional crescendo over the loudspeakers, the words so wretchedly sentimental they would make one squirm. There were lots of shiny pink and metal booths scattered about with no particular path through them, women all dressed the same with the same make-up moving aimlessly around beneath the same advertisements with pictures of models who looked the same advertising the same kind of products. I turned to my wife - who lagged behind dangerously like Lot's wife - and made some remark about this place resembling the Infernal Regions, then hastily generalised the remark to the whole place.

Then I realised something. All of those diagrams and explanations in helpful little Prefaces and Introductions to Dante's Inferno, difficult to get one's head around - there is need for them no longer. Simply introduce La Divina Commedia with the sentence: "To understand Hell, imagine a modern shopping centre". Circles under circles, each with their own selection of wearingly similar punishments as you descend from one circle to another with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

As I write, a satire presents itself to me: a modern Inferno set in a nine storey shopping centre that descends from the ground floor downwards, with only one entrance. A well-stocked Waterstones at ground level (yes, that's limbo), Floor -1 with an Ann Summers shop, Floor -2 containing Burger King and MacDonalds, etc. It's waiting to be written.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Big Interview and the Fuss

Since the papal interview was published - that interview, with Fr Spadaro - there hasn't half been a fuss. A couple of thoughts have surfaced in my mind in the last few days. I am finally getting around to putting pen to paper. (My time to write this web diary has been terribly squeezed over the last month: it isn't so easy as it seemed at the beginning, in the less busy summer.)

The first thing is that the main point made was largely lost by the initial welcoming liberal reaction and conservative counter-reaction. That is, that the simple Gospel should be the centre and substance, and the motive force of every word and deed of Christians. This is quite true, necessary, vital also, and vital in the very literal sense of being the life-blood of the Church. But there are a couple of questions stirring in my mind, which I think might get to the heart of what the conservatives and traditionalists are uneasy about.

Shall we say that Papa Bergoglio is emphasising what our concern should be for the world outside the Church? In one sense, it doesn't matter what laws are passed in the land, what slippage there is in civic life into un-Christian forms of living, for the proclamation and living out of the Gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ is and remains the first duty of the Church Militant. One's primary concern oughtn't to be wielding legal machinery and the like, but to bring and to be Christ's light. Members of the Church are perfectly right to campaign against great evils, vast ignorance of natural law, and bad legislation: but this is not what the Church qua Church is about. One shouldn't fall for the anti-Nazi fallacy: abortion is a great and unseen social evil, like the Holocaust, and therefore the Church must make it its overriding mission to bring it to everyone's attention. We cannot allow such an evil to be perpetrated silently. True, but this isn't the primary meaning of the Church's existence. It must confront the world with its ruler, Christ crucified and risen, and as the One who takes away its sins. And of course abortion is one of the world's sins.

[Perhaps, even when the Christian approaches a matter like abortion (as he will be obliged to sooner or later), he must do so in an evangelical way: there isn't anything very Christian about e.g. denouncing abortion and then not lifting a finger to help a frightened girl who is being browbeaten into having an abortion by her boyfriend. The point is not to denounce simply, but to manifest the kind of life, together with one's fellow Christians, that witnesses to another kingdom. That is, a kingdom where one's goods and one's body are gifts from God, given to be enjoyed by being given firstly back to God. And in concrete terms, perhaps a homosexual person wouldn't feel rejected by the Church if he found the living and positive virtue of chastity in the life of young unmarried - and married - Christians around him, and lifted into God's service permanently in the vows of the consecrated. He would rather find a Christ-like image of what sexuality is for.]

That is my understanding of the thrust of the interview, but it does raise a further question. What about those within the Church? If our zeal and love towards those outside is to be evangelical, then what about those inside who don't quite agree with her teaching, don't - what is that phrase? - sentire con la chiesa, have a heart beating with her maternal heart? Of course, here also a love ignited by the Gospel is needed for wisdom in bringing them back to truth. But there is a problem with public scandal: not just Catholic politicians and public figures making ambiguous remarks or doing hostile acts against the clear teaching of Christ , but with people in one's parish whose lives manifest an open contradiction which they are in no hurry to correct. No-one seems too bothered. One would like to know what the Pope thinks of these internal disciplinary matters. Should the Church just muddle through, and never really confront the scandal within? There is a way of dealing with these things that is pastoral and charitable but clear (and not merely bureaucratic); but often confrontation of scandal is avoided through fear, confusion masquerading as tender love, or downright connivance. And what does the Bishop of Rome think of that? Because the two questions i.e. the need for an evangelical priority towards those without, and the need for holiness in those within, seem to me to be distinct. I am not sure that the answer to the second question comes across very clearly. We don't need to talk about the issues of communion for divorced-and-remarried people and homosexual people, about Catholic politicians who support abortion, all the time... but we are doing something about them, all the time, within the Church. And here is the problem: is vague, and contradictory, and nothing in particular, the right thing?

There a couple of other things that I wondered about in the interview.

What does the Pope mean by "ideologising" the Vetus Ordo? It seems that to create a good ideology out of the old rite would be a very good thing to do, if one actually compares what has been developed out of the Novus Ordo in some places. One might even call such an ideology theology. I sometimes wonder if anyone who dislikes the Traditional Rite and favours the Novus Ordo has the slightest notion about e.g. what the Orthodox view of the liturgy is, and why they think it shouldn't be fiddled with. I've spent a little time trying explain that in a previous post, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (I might as well shamelessly plug my most popular post by far). I can only give some idea of their conception by saying that paring down the liturgy for an Orthodox Christian is almost like chopping a few books out of the canon of Holy Writ. Might one say that what the Church has suffered from in the last 40 years has been an ideologising of the Novus Ordo to the detriment of the our worship of a Most Holy God and our belief in Him? I am not saying that it is justified to see in the Novus Ordo as the sole reason for Christian decline (or is that a bad word?) in the West, but rather that there has been an "ideologising", a bad theology that has grown up with it that is linked to the bad liturgy that has been permitted under its umbrella. And on Vatican II: people talk, said Pope Francis, about a hermeneutic of continuity or discontinuity. Yes, they do, but it seems that he certainly doesn't want to. Again, the question looms - is a certain reading of Vatican II to be allowed to become an ideology that will cut off the children of the Church from its past?

I should point out that the Pope's literary interests were anticipated on this blog: if you look back over the last few months I have penned posts on Dostoevsky and Hölderlin. What an oversight that he didn't mention the book I have written about most recently, The Wind in the Willows.

I don't know if all the fuss is helpful anytime Pope Francis says something that irritates traditionalists. The point about the Eucharist as the source and centre of Christian life is that Christianity isn't a personal cult of Pontifex Maximus. It is for the Incarnate Christ and the feeding of His flock that the See of Peter is there at all. Anglo-Catholics, even those for whom the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was a God-send, have I think developed in their wilderness a quite strongly spiritual and Eucharistic sense of unity with the Petrine see. They (how shall I put this?) probably don't invest too much in desperate readings of every papal pronouncement to see if things are "going their way". Things didn't go their way for so long in the Church of England, the faculty of seriously hopeful wishing that things would go their way atrophied like a vestigial organ. There are better things to get on with, anyhow: as we are reminded in the interview, things like being a faithful and joyful Christian, serving the poor, living and speaking the Gospel in a direct and simple way, and reaching out in hope for God's promises.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What Larks

The passage below is from Dickens' Great Expectations - which book a judicious friend once settled upon as the greatest English novel, and which I am reading again after many a long year. Pip, come into his fortune and got up as a gentleman, is embarrassed by the expected arrival of his old friend the blacksmith, the large-hearted, awkward and untutored Joe Gargery in his new lodgings in London:
I had little objection to his [Joe's] being seen by Herbert or his father, for both of whom I had a respect; but I had the sharpest sensitiveness as to his being seen by Drummle, whom I held in contempt. So throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.
To which one can but say O me miserum! O me infelicem!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Amateurs and Professionals

G.K. Chesterton's name has popped up in some news articles lately, with talk of a cause being opened for his beatification. Several people have called him a prophet, in the sense that his writings contained the warnings against and predictions of what we have become. Since the winter sporting season is about to begin, here is the splendid essay Logic and Lawn Tennis by Chesterton. As it turns out, it was as prophetic as anything he wrote and cuts right across the cult of sport that seems to get sillier and crasser every year.

Although he doesn't tackle this directly in the essay, isn't the term "professional sport" an oxymoron?

In case anyone thinks that popular sport, with vast audiences and intense fanatical support cannot exist in the amateur world, then do visit Ireland to watch Gaelic football, still a strictly amateur sport. There is an annual tournament at county level, the final of which is probably the single biggest sporting event in the year, attended by almost 100,000 partisan supporters cheering on their county. Only Ireland's Six Nations rugby games have anywhere near this following. I don't really know how the skill levels compare, as I don't watch it and couldn't tell even if I did, but I think that it isn't unusual for Gaelic footballers to make the move to "soccer", as they call it, at professional level.

It is difficult to pick a line from Chesterton's essay to lure the reader in, because every line is quotable. Of scholastic philosophers, he writes: "And they might even have suggested, what so many journalists seem to forget, the paradoxical possibility that Tennis was made for Man and not Man for Tennis."

Thursday, 15 August 2013

BBC vs. Daily Mail

Compare and contrast the following: a "news" report from the British Broadcasting Corporation, and a report in the Daily Mail.

The BBC headline ran: "Egypt PM Defends Deadly Crackdown". In the article that follows, it seems that the we are supposed to think that the Egyptian Prime Minister used weasel words to excuse the brutal and murderous intent of armed forces moving into groups of supporters of the [democratically elected but now deposed] President. But does anyone outside Egypt really know what happened on that horrible day, and who was to blame? And what do the BBC suppose would become of Egypt if it fell into the clutches of the Brotherhood? Do they think that the elections in Iran, for example, are conducted freely and fairly, and that it is a shining example of democracy? Do they know the aims of those who are in these camps, what they hope to achieve, and what they would do if unchallenged, climbing back through the windows of government to seize power? Here is a link to a statement by the Patriarch of the Copts, in French but with an English translation below, borne of firsthand experience of the events, and which doesn't fill me with confidence in the BBC's version.

The Daily Mail, on the other hand, published (let us be pseudo-intellectuals for a moment) a "sensationalist" piece about the democratic Egyptian protesters pushing a police van, occupants and all, off a high overhead bridge, apparently with photographs of the dead and dying policemen on the ground afterwards. I don't want to see the pictures, I don't want to look at them, and I don't think it is good journalism to publish this kind of thing. But, compared to the BBC piece, the article was honest news reporting: these are the events in Egypt, and this is the context: the deposed President's supporters attacking and being attacked in return. No ambiguous phrases about Prime Ministers "defending" murder, and no weighted headlines. On this occasion, the Daily Mail published a fairer account.

The BBC still unintentionally crosses my vision sometimes and I see something to get on my nerves. So again this evening, I saw another fairly weighted headline about a female Russian athlete, Isinbayeva Defends Anti-Gay Stance, and discovered from this and other sources what the fuss was about. Someone, a public figure and an athlete, had the temerity to say - in Russia - that she supported Russians law and didn't like it when other athletes flaunted their disagreement with those laws whilst being given Russian hospitality. Yet another reason to love Russians, who are blessed to be one of the last independently minded peoples on this earth, careless of the bleatings of effeminate Europe and virile in the face of American bullying. It gives one great pleasure to think of vast and endless tracts of waving grain, of steppe, mountain, tundra, lake and forest, all that impregnable immensity utterly distant from and heedless of the prissy, squeaky, bossy voices emanating from Broadcasting House.

Wilt Thou See In Her How Thou Art Loved?

In the Daily Prayer for the Ordinariate, the extra-biblical reading for today, 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the Eleventh Revelation of Lady Julian of Norwich, from her Revelations of Divine Love.

AND with this same cheer of mirth and joy our good Lord looked down on the right side and brought to my mind where our Lady stood in the time of His Passion; and said: Wilt thou see her? And in this sweet word as if He had said: I wot well that thou wouldst see my blessed Mother: for, after myself, she is the highest joy that I might shew thee, and most pleasance and worship to me; and most she is desired to be seen of my blessed creatures. And for the high, marvellous, singular love that He hath to this sweet Maiden, His blessed Mother, our Lady Saint Mary, He shewed her highly rejoicing, as by the meaning of these sweet words; as if He said: Wilt thou see how I love her, that thou mightest joy with me in the love that I have in her and she in me?

And also (unto more understanding this sweet word) our Lord speaketh to all mankind that shall be saved, as it were all to one person, as if He said: Wilt thou see in her how thou art loved? For thy love I made her so high, so noble and so worthy; and this pleaseth me, and so will I that it doeth thee.

For after Himself she is the most blissful sight.

But hereof am I not learned to long to see her bodily presence while I am here, but the virtues of her blessed soul: her truth, her wisdom, her charity; whereby I may learn to know myself and reverently dread my God. And when our good Lord had shewed this and said this word: Wilt thou see her? I answered and said: Yea, good Lord, I thank Thee; yea, good Lord, if it be Thy will. Oftentimes I prayed this, and I weened to have seen her in bodily presence, but I saw her not so. And Jesus in that word shewed me ghostly sight of her: right as I had seen her afore little and simple, so He shewed her then high and noble and glorious, and pleasing to Him above all creatures.

And He willeth that it be known; that all those that please them in Him should please them in her, and in the pleasance that He hath in her and she in Him. And, to more understanding, He shewed this example: As if a man love a creature singularly, above all creatures, he willeth to make all creatures to love and to have pleasance in that creature that he loveth so greatly. And in this word that Jesus said: Wilt thou see her? methought it was the most pleasing word that He might have given me of her, with that ghostly Shewing that He gave me of her. For our Lord shewed me nothing in special but our Lady Saint Mary; and her He shewed three times. The first was as she was with Child; the second was as she was in her sorrows under the Cross; the third is as she is now in pleasing, worship, and joy.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Boris, Our New Great Hope

I thought it worth linking to a post on Defende Nos In Proelio which links in turn to an article about the Gay Liberation Front Manifesto of 1971 and 1978. It is worth reading in itself, but also interesting for what it tells one about London's present Lord Mayor, the bombastic yet lovable Mr. Boris Johnson.

A lot of conservatives managed to convince themselves that Cameron was a sound fellow, and voted for him. It has taken him to hit them over the head with a sledge hammer, roast their child and eat it with a delicate vintage red before their very eyes, then take their small change from their pocket before slapping their astonished faces and walking away humming There'll Always Be An England for these people to realise that he isn't a sound fellow, although some of them still aren't utterly sure because they have rather poor memories (but maybe after all... he's promised us a referendum).

But if and when Cameron goes: just suppose... do you think, really - well, why not Boris! now wouldn't that be too funny. So erudite, so witty, so eccentric. So conservative, too.

The London Mayor is not a conservative in a social, moral or political sense, as anyone who looks at his behaviour, policies and utterances over the last decade will know. I rather suspect that a lot of people suspect this dimly in the back of their minds, but they are willing to forgive him anything if he becomes the next head of the Conservative Party because he is such a splendid figure. They are willing to chuckle as he quotes Seneca as to why he can't give us a referendum on Europe after all, adore his tousled mop as he skips along at the head of Gay Pride, and to proffer for his supper the children that Cameron hadn't eaten just to hear Boris pay them a compliment in his own inimitable way.