Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Prisoner of Zenda

Sean Fitzpatrick writes about the great adventure novel, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope for Crisis Magazine:

Rudolf Rassendyll—an indifferent young man who enjoyed his leisure well. Though in excellent training as a horseman, swordsman, and marksman, he bore no desire whatsoever to become the proverbial man of action—until he found himself a man assailed by action, immured in one of the most dangerous and delicate plots imaginable. On an impromptu journey to attend the coronation of the new King of Ruritania, to whom he bears a distant, illegitimate relation, Rassendyll is discovered and swept up by two members of the Royal Cabinet due to an uncanny resemblance he bears with the soon-to-be-crowned King. This curiosity becomes a crucible when the King is suddenly and subtly kidnapped. With the political state of Ruritania hanging in the balance, Rassendyll agrees to undertake the risk of impersonating the King before the entire nation in order to buy the time necessary to rescue the imprisoned monarch from the schemes of Black Michael, the evil Duke of Strelsau.

Thus it runs—a romp of mistaken identity, plot twists, swashbuckling heroism, and high romance with the King’s intended, the beautiful Princess Flavia, with whom, of course, Rassendyll falls madly in love as he woos her in place of the King. Thus it runs with blazing revolvers, ancient castles, woefully grim councils, wonderfully glib speeches, daring souls pulling at brandy flasks, midnight marauding, and one of the most memorable villains of Victorian fiction: the malevolent, murderous Rupert of Hentzau.

Thus it runs, and the running pace is one of the elements that perhaps accounts for the unprecedented popularity of
The Prisoner of Zenda. The plot hurtles on like a horse and is dominated by a sense of time running out.

There are two sound-era motion picture versions of this novel, the later of which is a scene-for-scene recreation in technicolor of the earlier black and white version. The Ronald Colman-Madeleine Carroll version is usually the preferred. But both of them display the beauty and solemnity of the king's coronation in a Catholic cathedral, although the novel adds the tremendous detail that this coronation includes reception of the Holy Eucharist--and Rassendyll is an Englishman (an Anglican):

At last we were at the Cathedral. Its great grey front, embellished with hundreds of statues and boasting a pair of the finest oak doors in Europe, rose for the first time before me, and the sudden sense of my audacity almost overcame me. Everything was in a mist as I dismounted. I saw the Marshal and Sapt dimly, and dimly the throng of gorgeously robed priests who awaited me. And my eyes were still dim as I walked up the great nave, with the pealing of the organ in my ears. I saw nothing of the brilliant throng that filled it, I hardly distinguished the stately figure of the Cardinal as he rose from the archiepiscopal throne to greet me. Two faces only stood out side by side clearly before my eyes-- the face of a girl, pale and lovely, surmounted by a crown of the glorious Elphberg hair (for in a woman it is glorious), and the face of a man, whose full-blooded red cheeks, black hair, and dark deep eyes told me that at last I was in presence of my brother, Black Michael. And when he saw me his red cheeks went pale all in a moment, and his helmet fell with a clatter on the floor. Till that moment I believe that he had not realized that the King was in very truth come to Strelsau.

Of what followed next I remember nothing. I knelt before the altar and the Cardinal anointed my head. Then I rose to my feet, and stretched out my hand and took from him the crown of Ruritania and set it on my head, and I swore the old oath of the King; and (if it were a sin, may it be forgiven me) I received the Holy Sacrament there before them all. Then the great organ pealed out again, the Marshal bade the heralds proclaim me, and Rudolf the Fifth was crowned King; of which imposing ceremony an excellent picture hangs now in my dining-room. The portrait of the King is very good.

In the previous chapter, Rassendyll had received some catechesis:

The cool morning air cleared my head, and I was able to take in all Sapt said to me. He was wonderful. Fritz hardly spoke, riding like a man asleep, but Sapt, without another word for the King, began at once to instruct me most minutely in the history of my past life, of my family, of my tastes, pursuits, weaknesses, friends, companions, and servants. He told me the etiquette of the Ruritanian Court, promising to be constantly at my elbow to point out everybody whom I ought to know, and give me hints with what degree of favour to greet them.

"By the way," he said, "you're a Catholic, I suppose?"

"Not I," I answered.

"Lord, he's a heretic!" groaned Sapt, and forthwith he fell to a rudimentary lesson in the practices and observances of the Romish faith.

"Luckily," said he, "you won't be expected to know much, for the King's notoriously lax and careless about such matters. But you must be as civil as butter to the Cardinal. We hope to win him over, because he and Michael have a standing quarrel about their precedence."

We were by now at the station. Fritz had recovered nerve enough to explain to the astonished station master that the King had changed his plans. The train steamed up. We got into a first-class carriage, and Sapt, leaning back on the cushions, went on with his lesson. I looked at my watch--the King's watch it was, of course. It was just eight.

I remember when I read those passages as a student at Kapaun-Mount Carmel Catholic High School--I was shocked and dismayed!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New Biography of Elizabeth I: UK and US Versions

John Guy, author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and other periods of English history, including studies of Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey, and Thomas a Becket, promotes his new study of the last years of Elizabeth I on his website. He sets out many unique features of Elizabeth: The Last Years, including:

  • Guy steers clear of the myths originating with William Camden's Annales or History of Elizabeth, published between 1615 and 1627 - Camden, for example, air-brushed the brutal torture of Catholics that took place in Elizabeth's later years and promoted the image of a 'benevolent queen' who had rewarded 'those that were wounded and indigent' after the 1588 Armada campaign 'with noble pensions'.
  • Guy dispels the myth of her popularity, exploding the concept of 'Good Queen Bess' to show that this complex character was unpopular even with the men who fought for her, many of whom she left die in the gutters without their wages, or else to beg. Comments such as those to war veterans describing them as 'wandering idle persons of [the] condition of rogues and vagabonds' earned her few fans.
  • Guy counters Lytton Strachey's argument that Elizabeth was in love with Essex, arguing that Essex was partly an accessory, ultimately disposable: 'She was not in love; that could never be. ' Whereas Strachey based his biography Elizabeth and Essex on 'facts' that were nebulous or even wrong, Guy strikes out and gets closer to the truth about the ageing Elizabeth by returning to the original, handwritten letters and documents in the archives rather than by recycling familiar anecdotes culled from unreliable memoirs
  • Most biographers are unaware of the fact that Elizabeth disliked having her portrait painted and may have only sat for her portrait as little as five times. Courtiers as opposed to the queen commissioned portraits as a sign of their loyalty - but these were often copied from previous depictions or occasionally modelled on the queen's bedchamber women wearing her clothes instead of the monarch. The 'Virgin Queen' image was also only introduced later in her life than has been previously thought, not until 1578 - a Victorian misreading of Camden's Annales is responsible for the misconception that she spun this view of herself for propaganda purposes.
  • By returning to original French writings rather than relying on often defective translations, Guy is able to dispel certain misconceptions about Elizabeth's character - for example the idea that she flaunted her sexuality in her choice of dress, disproven by going back to the original writings and rediscovering the correct sixteenth century meanings of words like gorge and échancré, which shows that in fact Elizabeth favoured Italian and especially Venetian necklines. New documents also throw fresh light on the vexed question of whether Elizabeth really did ever finally designate James VI of Scotland as her successor.

I always find it interesting how publishers market the same book in different countries. Guy's new study of Elizabeth has two different covers: one for the UK (at right) and one for the US (above). I like the UK cover better. Penguin UK is the UK publisher and posts a brief blurb on their site for the book. The Viking blurb for the US is much longer and more detailed:

A groundbreaking reconsideration of our favorite Tudor queen, Elizabeth is an intimate and surprising biography that shows her at the height of her power by the bestselling, Whitbread Award-winning author of Queen of Scots.

Elizabeth was crowned at twenty-five after a tempestuous childhood as a bastard and an outcast, but it was only when she reached fifty and all hopes of a royal marriage were dashed that she began to wield real power in her own right. For twenty-five years she had struggled to assert her authority over advisers who pressed her to marry and settle the succession; now, she was determined not only to reign but also to rule. In this magisterial biography of England’s most ambitious Tudor queen, John Guy introduces us to a woman who is refreshingly unfamiliar: at once powerful and vulnerable, willful and afraid. In these essential and misunderstood forgotten years, Elizabeth confronts challenges at home and abroad: war against the Catholic powers of France and Spain, revolt in Ireland, an economic crisis that triggered riots in the streets of London, and a conspiracy to place her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on her throne. For a while she was smitten by a much younger man, but could she allow herself to act on that passion and still keep her throne?

For the better part of a decade John Guy mined long-overlooked archives, scouring court documents and handwritten letters to sweep away myths and rumors. This prodigious historical detective work has made it possible to reveal for the first time the woman behind the polished veneer: wracked by insecurity, often too anxious to sleep alone, voicing her own distinctive and surprisingly resonant concerns. Guy writes like a dream, and this combination of groundbreaking research and propulsive narrative puts him in a class of his own.

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years is due out May 6, 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

There They Go Again: the Saint or Sinner Choice

It will be a couple of weeks before I'll see the May 2016 issue of the BBC History Magazine at our local Barnes & Noble, but their cover story, by Joanne Paul, has the headline I'm tired of seeing, posing a poor question: "Thomas More: Saint or Sinner?" If it must be answered, it's simple: "Both". The Catholic Church never says that a saint is not a sinner or that a sinner cannot become a saint. Moral perfection is not a requirement, although of course the desire never to be separated from God is necessary for sanctity. 

The subtitle is also interesting: "The real character of Henry VIII's controversial statesman". That second adjective, "controversial", could apply to almost all of Henry VIII's statesmen, Wolsey, Cromwell, Wriothesley, etc. I eagerly await this article by Joanne Paul, who is working on a monograph for Wiley's Polity Classic Thinkers Series and other works considering More as a statesman, according to her website:

Thomas More's works are analysed in history, politics, literature, philosophy and theology departments throughout the world. He remains one of history's most alluring and enigmatic figures - his reputation fiercely debated since the moment of his execution in 1535.

My monograph on More focuses on his place within the history of political and philosophic thought, and will be published as a part of Polity's Classic Thinkers Series, October 2016, coinciding with the quincentary of More's most famous text, Utopia (1516). I have published on Utopia in History Today (April, 2016), and I am currently developing a monograph on Utopia for Palgrave, at the request of the editors.

You can be sure that I'll let you know what I think of this article once I obtain the magazine. In the meantime, I have a little bit of a lull before starting on two projects for June (one article and one presentation), a presentation in July, and one in August--and then a nice break until November, when I'll teach a class at the Regan Catechetical Institute for Catholic teachers in the Diocese of Wichita. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Report on the Second Annual Catholic Culture Conference

Last year I wrote: "The Catholic Culture Conference was a great success in my view, with excellent presenters, a great venue, and wonderful fellowship during the lunch and breaks. Our local chapter of the American Chesterton Society made some good contacts and we hope to gain new members and/or guests at our monthly meetings." I can repeat those comments this year too, after the second annual Catholic Culture Conference, with the addition that I am happy with how my presentation was received Saturday afternoon. Dusty Gates announced that there will be a third annual Catholic Culture Conference next year (that's 2017!--2020 is in sight!) on April 28 and 29, with Monsignor Stuart Sweatland, the President of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas as the keynote speaker--with the specific topic to be announced.

Professor Anthony Esolen gave three talks: one Friday night and two Saturday morning and then headed back to Providence, RI after lunch. Poetry was one of his themes, and he cited a poem of G.K. Chesterton's Friday night, "The Holy of Holies":

‘ELDER father, though thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?

‘Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary.

‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.’

‘God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and Seraphim,
Filling all eternity—
Adonai Elohim.’

In his second lecture, he emphasized the fact that in Dante's Divine Comedy, poetry is not mentioned in the Inferno, and is replaced by prayer and song in the Paradiso, but is included in the Purgatorio. He highlighted these aspects (from the foreword of another translation) of Dante's journey through Purgatory and toward Heaven:

Of the three sections of the poem, only Purgatory happens on the earth, as our lives do, with our feet on the ground, crossing a beach, climbing a mountain. All three parts of the poem are images of our lives, of our life, but there is an intimacy peculiar to the Purgatorio. Here the times of day recur with all the sensations and associations that the hours bring with them, the hours of the world we are living in as we read the poem. Tenderness, affection, poignancy, the enchantment of music, the feeling of the evanescence of the moment in a context beyond time, occur in the Purgatorio as they do in few other places in the poem. And hope, as it is experienced nowhere else in the poem, for there is none in Hell, and Paradise is fulfilment itself. Hope is central to the Purgatorio and is there from the moment we stand on the shore at the foot of the mountain, before the stars fade. To the very top of the mountain hope is mixed with pain, which brings it still closer to the living present. . . .

The Purgatorio is the section of the poem in which poets, poetry, and music recur with fond vividness and intimacy. The meetings between poets — Virgil's with his fellow Mantuan Sordello, over twelve hundred years after Virgil's own life on earth; his meeting with the Roman poet Statius; Dante's with Guido Guinizzelli and with Arnaut Daniel and the singer Casella — are cherished and moving moments. It is worth noting something about the current of poetic tradition that Dante had come to in his youth.

And in his third lecture, Esolen described the three dementias of our current day: fatal errors in category, premise, and logic.

The Spiritual Life Center will probably post video or audio recordings of these presentations. 

I also attended Dusty Gates' presentation on St. George, in which he explored some themes from the Inklings and G.K. Chesterton on true myths, traditions, and fairyland. Matthew Umbarger of Newman University described how rabbis read scripture and interpreted it with a great deal of imagination and creativity to delve deeper into its mysteries--midrash. He gave us an example of Christian midrash, the Gospel of Nicodemus, which depicts the Harrowing of Hell, when Jesus freed the dead from Sheol:

1 And as Satan the prince, and Hell, spoke this together, suddenly there came a voice as of thunder and a spiritual cry: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. When Hell heard that he said unto Satan the prince: Depart from me and go out of mine abode: if thou be a mighty man of war, fight thou against the King of glory. But what hast thou to do with him? And Hell cast Satan forth out of his dwelling. Then said Hell unto his wicked ministers: Shut ye the hard gates of brass and put on them the bars of iron and withstand stoutly, lest we that hold captivity be taken captive.

2 But when all the multitude of the saints heard it, they spake with a voice of rebuking unto Hell: Open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And David cried out, saying: Did I not when I was alive upon earth, foretell unto you: Let them give thanks unto the Lord, even his mercies and his wonders unto the children of men; who hath broken the gates of brass and smitten the bars of iron in sunder? he hath taken them out of the way of their iniquity. And thereafter in like manner Esaias said: Did not I when I was alive upon earth foretell unto you: The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall rise again, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice, for the dew which cometh of the Lord is their healing? And again I said: O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

3 When they heard that of Esaias, all the saints said unto Hell: Open thy gates: now shalt thou be overcome and weak and without strength. And there came a great voice as of thunder, saying: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up ye doors of hell, and the King of glory shall come in. And when Hell saw that they so cried out twice, he said, as if he knew it not: Who is the King of glory? And David answered Hell and said: The words of this cry do I know, for by his spirit I prophesied the same; and now I say unto thee that which I said before: The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, he is the King of glory. And: The Lord looked down from heaven that he might hear the groanings of them that are in fetters and deliver the children of them that have been slain. And now, O thou most foul and stinking Hell, open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And as David spake thus unto Hell, the Lord of majesty appeared in the form of a man and lightened the eternal darkness and brake the bonds that could not be loosed: and the succour of his everlasting might visited us that sat in the deep darkness of our transgressions and in the shadow of death of our sins.

It's apocryphal, of course, but it's the background of  one of the York Mystery Plays and the great reading in the Office for Holy Saturday!

The Abbey of Romsey and St. Etheldreda

The BBC reports on efforts to identify whose hair was found in a coffin under Romsey Abbey in the nineteenth century. There have been theories of course:

. . . about who the hair might have belonged to but nothing more than that. Frank Green, who is the archaeological adviser to Romsey Abbey, has been wondering about it for years.

"[We've always believed] it was a person of some significant status because there was originally an outer wooden coffin and an inner wooden coffin inside the lead one."

Over the years there has been speculation that it was the hair of a saint.

"The two saints are St Morwenna who was the first abbess here and St Ethelflaeda, who is our patron saint," Romsey's vicar, Reverend Canon Tim Sledge, explains.

"And I think that's the rather romantic, hopeful, aspirational thing about this. These two saints are unique to Romsey - no one else has ever heard of them. They are our two saintly celebrities."

The BBC story describes the testing that has been conducted so far and archaeologists can date it to the mid to late Saxon era.

Of course, the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII as recounted by British History Online:

Elizabeth Ryprose, the last abbess, was elected on 15 December, 1523. The documents relative to this election are set forth in great detail in the episcopal registers. (fn. 35) The temporalities were restored in the following month. (fn. 36) In November 1537 the abbey, alarmed at the fate of the smaller houses, procured an elaborate inspection and confirmation of all their royal charters from the time of Henry I. downwards. (fn. 37) But this was so much waste of parchment and fees.

Sir Richard Lister wrote to Cromwell in September, 1537, informing him that the nuns of Romsey, hearing they were in danger of suppression, were making leases and alienating their goods. He desired to know whether he was to stay them in this. (fn. 38)

On 28 December, 1538, John Foster reported to Sir Thomas Seymour as to the state of the house of Romsey. He pronounced the house out of debt; that the plate and jewels were worth £300; the bells worth £100. The church is described as a great sumptuous thing, all of freestone and covered with lead, and worth £300 or £400 more. The annual rents are returned at £481 1s. 8d. The names of the abbess, Elizabeth Ryprose, the prioress, Edith Banester, and the subprioress, Katharine Wadham, are set down, together with twenty-three other nuns. Mr. Foster wrote: ' In answer to your letter by Mr. Flemynge, whether the abbess and nuns would be content to surrender their house, the truth is, that, in consequence of the motion made by your kinswomen and other friends, they will be content to do you any pleasure, but they would be loath to trust to the commissioners' gentleness, as they hear that other houses have been straitly handled.' (fn. 39)

Nearly a third of this community had made their religious profession in July, 1534, very shortly before the beginning of their troubles. One of these was Katherine, youngest daughter of Sir Nicholas Wadham, Governor of the Isle of Wight, whose sister Jane had also been for some years a professed nun of the same abbey. John Foster, whose letter to Seymour has just been cited, lived at Baddesley near Romsey, and was convent steward. His reference to ' kinswomen' applied to the two Wadham nuns and to another nun of the name of Elizabeth Hill. Sir Nicholas Wadham's first wife was a daughter of Robert Hill of Antony, and his second was Margaret, sister to Queen Jane Seymour and Sir Thomas Seymour. Through their influence it was hoped that a quiet surrender would be made. (fn. 40)

Whether this was effected or not cannot now be asceertained, for there is no extant formal surrender. But the abbess and convent in January, 1539, had licence to alienate their lordships or manors of Edingdon and Steeple Ashton and all their lands and tenements in Hampshire and Wiltshire to Sir Thomas Seymour.

Notice that detail: "Nearly a third of the community had made their religious profession in July, 1534"--therefore this was an active, growing community with recent vocations and younger nuns. So now these young nuns were to be paid small pensions, not allowed to marry, cast out into the world by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, still bound by their vows but unable to live their vocations. This website offers more information about the abbey, which had suffered great losses during the Black Death, and other ups and downs through its history. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Forty Martyrs of England, Day by Day

The Catholic Truth Society, which used to offer a little booklet on the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, has been counting down to the Feast of the English Martyrs of England and Wales, which is on May 4. Their blog posts  in honor of the martyrs who have been beatified and canonized began with this prayer:

To you, Holy Martyrs of England and Wales, we commend our prayers and our needs in these difficult times.

As you laid down your lives for Christ and His Church, we ask that we may emulate your sacrifice in our daily lives, living as true and humble disciples of Christ.

May His Gospel so penetrate our minds and hearts that we may become what He urges us to be: salt of the earth and light of the world, making Him present through holy lives to the men and women of our time.

Sustain us with your loving presence, be our companions on our earthly journey.

Defend us in moments of trial, console us in sorrows and remind us of that joy which Christ implants into the souls of His devoted servants.

Intercede that we may truly be servants of mercy and reconciliation.

Watch over us and guide us in our Christian lives so one day we may merit to be with you in the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.


Today's saints are the priests Edmund Gennings and Polydore Plasden, who were executed on December 10, 1591. Fr John Hogan, a CTS author, has prepared reflections for each day. Since today is Sunday, our weekly Holy Day of Obligation, this reflection on the Holy Mass and the priesthood is most appropriate:

It was as he was saying Holy Mass for the faithful, assisted by his brother priest, St Polydore, that St Edmund was arrested. Clothed in the sacred vestments, the Holy Sacrifice hurriedly completed, he was led out to captivity and martyrdom. These two dedicated priests, Edmund and Polydore, would offer their bodies as a sacrifice in union with the Masses they had offered in their priestly ministry. It is the call of a priest to offer gift and sacrifice (Heb 8:3), to lay down his life for his brothers and sisters in imitation of the Divine Master, there is no greater love (Jn 15:13). The mystery of a priest’s suffering and martyrdom is immersed in the mystery of his offering the holy Eucharist.

The martyrs rejoiced in the Holy Mass – it was their strength and joy in the midst of affliction. The graces and blessings which emanated from the Eucharist sustained them and helped them endure their sufferings, as it revealed the significance of their martyrdom. Like them, may we never take this Sacrifice for granted, but rather seek enter more deeply into it; to lose ourselves in the great mystery that is being unveiled before us so we may find ourselves again in our union with the Eucharistic Lord.

According to the blog, during the "last ten days of this journey, there will be a series of invocations and a Litany to the Martyrs of Wales." Furthermore, CTS will post the daily reflections on their Facebook page and Twitter profile.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Another Catholic Literary Convert

Coincidentally, I had just read George Mackay Brown's name in Father John Vidmar's The Catholic Church Through the Ages (second edition); then I see that Joseph Pearce has written an article in The Catholic Herald about George Mackay Brown, who

was raised in a lukewarm Presbyterian family, where “all the words that clustered about [Catholicism] – rosary, pope, confession, relics, purgatory, monks, penance – had the same sinister connotations”. Yet Brown, a great and underrated Scottish poet who died 20 years ago on April 13, 1996, would be received into the Catholic Church in 1961, shortly before his 40th birthday.

The process by which he overcame these inherited prejudices is recounted in his semi-autobiographical story The Tarn and the Rosary (1974), especially in the letter that Colm Sinclair, a character in the story, sends home to explain to his parents why he took the unthinkable step of becoming a Catholic: “What saves us is ceremony … Ceremony makes everything bearable and beautiful for us. Transfigured by ceremony, the truths we could not otherwise endure come to us … It is this saving ceremony that you call ‘idolatry’ and ‘mumbo-jumbo’.”

This salvific “ceremony” was of course the Mass. Completing the letter, Colm walks to a nearby church to experience the beauty of the liturgy: “The celebrant entered … Once again, for the thousandth time, Colm watched the ancient endless beautiful ceremony, the exchange of gifts between earth and heaven, dust and spirit, man and God. The transfigured Bread shone momentarily in the saffron fingers of the celebrant.”

Having been transformed and transfigured by the sheer beauty of the Mass, it might be said that Brown’s conversion was essentially aesthetic. And yet, as is illustrated in his multifarious works – verse, short stories, novels and essays – he was acutely aware that beauty points towards the good and the true, forming a transcendental trinity which reflects the Trinity itself.

In contrast to the beauty of the Mass, the Reformation casts a gloom-laden shadow over Brown’s poems and stories. In “Master Halcrow, Priest”, one of the stories in A Calendar of Love (1967), religious images are callously and iconoclastically destroyed; and in his play, A Spell for Green Corn (1970), the Reformation is held responsible for the destruction of the old faith of the island folk and its replacement with a barren and lifeless puritanism: “The Word was imprisoned between black boards, and chained and padlocked, in the pulpit of the kirk.”

Read the rest there. More about Brown here at the Scottish Poetry Library.

I'll be at the Catholic Culture Conference all day today at the Spiritual Life Center, trying to decide which sessions to attend when I have a choice and making my own presentation:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

7:30am Holy Mass- Chapel of Mary the First Disciple

8:15am Breakfast and book sales

9am Opening prayer in Main Assembly Room

Plenary Lecture by Anthony Esolen- “Dante and the Glorious Liberty of the Children of God”

10am Break

10:15am Pillar Lecture by Anthony Esolen- “Assaults on Spiritual Liberty”

11am Break

11:15am Breakout Sessions

Bo Bonner- “Purifying the Passions through Wonder: Why Children should read Homer & Virgil” - Marian Room

Dusty Gates- “Imagination and Heroism: The Mystery of St. George the Dragonslayer” St. Joseph Room

Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke- “Touched by the Divine through our Imagination” Main Assembly Room.

12:00pm Lunch (Dining Room)

1:00pm Pillar Lecture by Stephanie Mann “Chesterton, Cobbett, and Merry Old England”

2:00pm Break

2:15pm Breakout Sessions

Matthew Umbarger- "Reading the Bible with an Overactive Imagination: Midrash as a Tonic for Fundamentalism"- Main Assembly Room

Jackie Arnold- “Inspiring a Catholic Imagination in Children”- Marian Room

Bo Bonner- “Chewing on God: Scripture, Prayer, and Lectio Divina”- St. Joseph Room

3:00pm Break

3:15pm Panel Conversation: Questions, Answers, and Comments

4:00pm Closing Prayer and Dismissal

Our Greater Wichita American Chesterton Society local group will have a table with information about our meetings and Chesterton and Eighth Day Books will also be there with tables and tables of books!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Robert and Clara and Friedrich

A major gap in my cultural education is German Romanticism. The BBC Music Magazine CD this month is helping me fill that gap with this recording of songs by Robert and Clara Schumann, setting poems of Friedrich Ruckert. I did recognize one of the lieder, however, because I've listened often to Mahler's Ruckert Lieder: "Liebst du um Schönheit".

If I had studied German, that might help too!

Classical Net describes Robert Schumann:

Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810 - July 29, 1856) was the arch-Romantic composer, thoroughly committed intellectually and emotionally to the idea of music being composed to register the feelings, thoughts and impressions garnered by a sensitive spirit on its journey through life. . . .

He married Clara Wieck, herself a talented pianist, but two careers in one family caused difficulties:

Throughout this period Schumann had composed almost exclusively for the piano. Now there was a tremendous outburst of lieder and the following year, much to the approval of the ambitious Clara, Schumann buckled down to compose his first symphony. Their close working relationship, and the arrival of their first child in 1841 (they produced seven in all), meant that Clara's career suffered. Although she continued her concert tours (they needed the money), she willingly suspended her other musical activities. The marriage at this time was blissfully happy. In the spring of 1841 Schumann's Spring Symphony was premiered. By the following year Clara was on tour again: as women did not travel alone at that time, Robert had to accompany her. Deeply insecure away from domestic routine, his health deteriorated and he began to resent his wife's addiction to the pleasures of concert-giving.

His professional career was still in the ascendant, and in 1843, when Mendelssohn provided the impetus for the founding of the Leipzig Conservatory, he also insisted that Schumann be given a teaching role there. Schumann, however, proved to be a diffident teacher; unable to communicate his ideas, he would often sit through an entire lesson without saying a word to his students. He resigned his post in 1844. By then his bouts of depression (he called them "melancholy") were more severe and more prolonged.

Nevertheless, he supported and encouraged his wife's efforts as a composer. They had eight children! The lieder on this disc are all about love and nature, beauty and youth, passion and and song.

Schumann died in an asylum for the insane. 

Miguel Cervantes, RIP

We should be celebrating Miguel Cervantes today on the 400th anniversary of this great novelist's death, but we aren't celebrating it as much as we are William Shakespeare's 400th anniversary tomorrow (April 23), as least according to the BBC:

Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare died days apart, 400 years ago, each of them a giant in his own language and literary tradition. But a difference in the scale of quatercentenary [sic] celebrations in their respective countries and around the world is leading some fans of the author of Don Quixote to cry foul.

While "all the world's a stage" for the British bard thanks to the rollout of the massive Shakespeare Lives programme of arts events around the globe, celebrations of the life of his Spanish contemporary are perhaps "more honoured in the breach than the observance".

Shakespeare Lives aims to reach half a billion people worldwide - the first screenings of The Complete Walk, 37 short films to represent the complete body of the bard's stage plays, took place at the weekend. The Spanish government's action plan for Cervantes, on the other hand, seems far less ambitious... and leans heavily on exhibitions and conferences in big city museums and libraries.

This has provoked some rather unchivalrous comments from bigwigs in the field of Spanish culture.

"We've had 400 years to prepare for this," said Dario Villanueva, director of the Spanish Royal Academy, shortly after a letter from UK Prime Minister David Cameron introducing Shakespeare Lives was published in major newspapers around the world.

"There are a few events lined up but the figure of Cervantes deserves a major gesture on the part of our top institutions."

The Spanish Culture Ministry has admitted that the programme remains a "work in progress" and that some events will not emerge from the pipeline until 2017.

Read the rest here

Since I have Chesterton on my mind, here's a snippet of his Lepanto--Cervantes was there at the great victory of the Holy League--and Cervantes is already thinking of his great hero:

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

And, Chesterton wrote his own homage to Cervantes in his last novel, The Return of Don Quixote!

Finally, here's the great anthem from The Man of LaMancha, "To Dream the Impossible Dream", sung by the original Broadway Don Quixote, Richard Kiley!

May Miguel Cervantes, hero and author, rest in the peace of Christ, having reached the reachable Star of Heaven!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saint Anselm, the Reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury

The late, great Ralph McInerny wrote this about St. Anselm of Canterbury, today's saint:

Saint Anselm was born near Aosta in 1033. His education commenced under the tutelage of the local Benedictines. When his mother died, Anselm knew a period of grief and sadness and, after three years of wandering, came to the monastery at Bee, drawn there by the reputation of Lanfrane. He became a monk of Bec in 1060 and, when Lanfranc went to Caen in 1063, succeeded him as prior of the abbey. He was a teacher in the monastery and became abbot in 1078. After fifteen years in this post he was summoned to England in 1093 to become the archbishop of Canterbury. His years at Canterbury were filled with controversy, and it was in that post that death overtook him in 1109. A rather extensive biography by his pupil Eadmer has come down to us.

This skeletal outline of the life of Anselm seems to present us with a busy ecclesiastic. Despite this impression, it is generally held that Anselm was a reluctant administrator and that he had no real relish for the many controversies into which he was drawn. He seems to have been prompted by a sense of obligation rather than by any deep inclination of his own nature. His essential self, it would seem, was inclined to withdraw into study and contemplation. Eadrner suggests that Anselm was so intent on the life of a teacher that he considered leaving Bec because Lanfranc already occupied the teaching post there. Later Anselm was to chastise himself for this worldly ambition, which he felt to be incompatible with the cloistered vocation that was his. Nonetheless, that ambition symbolizes his deep-seated desire for study, for teaching, for the calm of contemplation. Anselm's dislike for administration and active posts was based on his conviction that he had no real competence for leadership. Twice he asked the pope to relieve him of the see of Canterbury. He sought to return to the peace and tranquillity of the cloister, to prayer, meditation, and the teaching that awaited him there. Although he was a reluctant archbishop, his troubles in the post seem not to have been due to any incompetence of his. He was nonetheless twice exiled from his see, something that caused him no little anguish, but perhaps he derived a kind of ambiguous pleasure from those absences, for during those periods he recaptured in some measure the life he truly desired. But even in his active periods as archbishop he was as much theologian as spiritual administrator, composing some of the works on which his fame was to repose. . . . 

Just as the sketch of his life can mislead us into thinking that in Anselm we are confronted principally with a Church leader, so this seemingly meager list of writings could cause us to think that we will not find Anselm to be a significant thinker. He is a major figure nonetheless. His teaching represents one of the highest points reached by what may be referred to as the Augustinian tradition. It has often been suggested that Anselm has suffered unfairly from the tendency of students to hurry past him in order to arrive at the giants of the thirteenth century. But Anselm is a man of the eleventh century, and it is in its terms that he must be viewed. Thus regarded, he looms above the men of his own time. If we must say, as we must, that the men of the thirteenth century knew much more than Anselm, we may add that Anselm was one of the sources of their knowledge.

Read the rest there, for more information about his theological works.

O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm
to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom,
grant, we pray,
that our faith in you may so aid our understanding,
that what we believe by your command
may give delight to our hearts.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.