Saturday, August 2, 2014


Peter Leithart writes about "Tradition and the Individual Theologian" on the First Things blog:

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy argued that traditions always grow from seeds sown by singular individuals. Before there was a Franciscan order, there was the man Francis. Once there was only Luther; now the world is peopled with Lutherans. What is a tradition if not the persuasive claims of an individual, repeated?

Appeals to tradition become deeply unhistorical when they treat doctrinal formulations, creeds, and confessions as if they were permanent features of the landscape, as natural as falling apples and the rising sun. To be deeply historical is to be open to the possibility of another Francis, another Luther, another homoousion. It is to be open to the idiosyncratic individual scholar. Newman was mistaken: To be deep in history is to be open to the possibility of Protestantism.

It's rather unusual to see Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy cited in an article, but Leithart has written about him for First Things before.

I don't really see how being "deeply historical is to be open to the possibility of another Francis" equates with being "open to the possibility of Protestantism." And I don't accept Leithart's argument about time and revelation, because all Truth must be eternal, it is one and unchanging--it is our discovery of Truth that is time-bound and subject to change and time.

Newman's brief remark has to be placed in greater context--he was writing about the fact of how Protestants in his era rejected historical Christianity:

Meanwhile, before setting about this work, I will address one remark to Chillingworth and his friends:—Let them consider, that if they can criticize history, the facts of history certainly can retort upon them. It might, I grant, be clearer on this great subject than it is. This is no great concession. History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite. And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in England, which prevails even in the English Church. Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John. It is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon. To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

Note that he does not say that "To be deep in history is to become a Catholic", since he cites the example of Edward Gibbon. Newman goes on:

And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: "So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that 'when they rose in the morning' her true seed 'were all dead corpses'—Nay dead and buried—and without grave-stone. 'The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.' Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!—then the enemy was drowned, and 'Israel saw them dead upon the sea-shore.' But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood 'out of the serpent's mouth, and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city.' Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial {9} of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless." 

That Protestantism, then, is not the Christianity of history, it is easy to determine, but to retort is a poor reply in controversy to a question of fact, and whatever be the violence or the exaggeration of writers like Chillingworth, if they have raised a real difficulty, it may claim a real answer, and we must determine whether on the one hand Christianity is still to represent to us a definite teaching from above, or whether on the other its utterances have been from time to time so strangely at variance, that we are necessarily thrown back on our own judgment individually to determine, what the revelation of God is, or rather if in fact there is, or has been, any revelation at all.

This is just another example of how careful you have to be when quoting Blessed John Henry Newman.

World War I on the Big Screen (and Little)

In July, Turner Classic Movies dedicated Friday nights to World War I movies:

In observance of the centenary of World War I, which lasted from July 1914 to November 1918, TCM devotes its popular Friday Night Spotlight franchise to films about this conflict. . . .

The movies in our Spotlight reflect views of the First World War as seen by filmmakers through the decades. King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925), released only seven years after the war's end, takes an unflinching look at the horrors of war as experienced by an American soldier (John Gilbert). Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) makes a powerful anti-war statement in another story about the travails of a young soldier--this one a German (Lew Ayres). In Howard Hawks' Sergeant York (1941), Gary Cooper plays Alvin York, a former pacifist from Tennessee who became the most decorated soldier of WWI.

Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) tells the powerful story of a French colonel (Kirk Douglas) who goes against his better judgment in following orders to lead his men in a suicide mission against the Germans. David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) follows the colorful real-life exploits of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), the flamboyant British officer who fought alongside Arabs in their revolt against the Turks during WWI. Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981) tells of two idealistic young friends (one of them played by Mel Gibson) who join the Australian Army during the war and fight in Turkey in the ill-fated Battle of Gallipoli. 

TCM showed many of the films highlighted in this article from The Wall Street Journal, "Unquiet on the Western Front: A look at World War I in film":

Several outstanding war pictures of the 1920s centered on aerial combat, particularly William Wellman's "Wings" (1927), winner of the first best picture Oscar; "Hell's Angels" (1930), produced by Howard Hughes and featuring Jean Harlow in her first major role; and Howard Hawks's "The Dawn Patrol" (1930), starring Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Like "The Big Parade," "Wings" and "Hell's Angels" incorporated romance into their storylines of airborne heroics. Not so the all-male "Dawn Patrol," which won an Oscar for best story and plumbs issues of personal responsibility in wartime. Though the film celebrates the derring-do of its British fliers, it also takes a nuanced look at the men who, duty-bound, send their comrades to virtually certain death and then must deal with the guilt such actions provoke. The film was remade in 1938 in response to the Anschluss, under Edmund Goulding's direction and starring Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and David Niven. And what this later version loses through its distance from the Great War, it more than makes up for in slicker production values and a dashing cast.

The near decade between the two versions of "The Dawn Patrol" saw the perfection of a different type of war movie, one unequivocally pacifist in nature. The most internationally celebrated and sophisticated of these is Jean Renoir's classic "La Grande Illusion" (1937), whose title says it all. With its multinational cast and a worldview more universal than any similar picture, its hold on the public imagination remains strong after nearly 80 years, and rightly so. Something similar can be said of Lewis Milestone's "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930), based on Erich Maria Remarque's novel, whose mass appeal—despite its ostensibly narrow focus on German troops—has been even greater than Renoir's film, at least in the U.S. Far less famous, though no less potent, is Raymond Bernard's "Les Croix de Bois" (1932), or "Wooden Crosses." Its cast composed entirely of veterans, the film charts the gradual disillusionment of a French soldier (the excellent Pierre Blanchar) as his regiment thins and the war drags on. In addition to a tense episode in which the enemy Germans lay mines beneath a French trench, the movie features an extraordinary battle sequence that runs an unremitting 15 minutes and stands among the screen's most harrowing.

Read the rest here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Detective's Act of Contrition: "Forget about the doctor. Send for a priest."

Turner Classic Movies recently broadcast the 1951 movie, Detective Story, based on the Sidney Kingsley play, with Kirk Douglas in the title role. At the end of the movie, after his wife (Eleanor Parker) has left him, the protagonist, Detective McLeod, saves the rest of the policemen and suspects in the squad room from a criminal who shoots him with a gun grabbed from another cop's holster.

He knows he is dying and when his lieutenant starts to call for an ambulance, he says, never mind an ambulance, call for a priest. ("Forget about the doctor. Send for a priest.")The police have a local parish dialed up in seconds. While he suffers the agony of being shot in the gut, Detective McLeod offers a man accused of fraud a second chance, and prays that his wife Mary will forgive him--he asks one of his friends to find her and ask her to forgive him, and to help her as he had not been able to help her when she begged him.

Then he makes the Sign of the Cross with his bloody hand and begins to pray the Act of Contrition--but dies in the midst of praying it. His friend, Lou Brody, played by William Bendix, finishes the Act of Contrition for him. It's a powerful scene, and I was praying along with him.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You,
and I detest all my sins, because I fear
the loss of heaven [that's when McLeod dies]
[Brody continues the prayer:] and the pains of hell,
but most of all because I have offended You, my God,
who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace,
to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life.

In the context of the movie, this scene marks a great change in the Detective's story: Detective McLeod has not been able to forgive anyone, offer mercy or leniency to his wife for her past sin (an abortion) or to a young man whom even his victim wants to forgive. Now he prays for mercy and forgiveness.

May we all receive the grace of final repentance; and as Father Zuhlsdorf would say on his blog: Go To Confession!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Restoration of the Society of Jesus and England

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus--The Jesuits, and 2014 also marks the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuit order after its suppression in 1773:

Pressured by the royal courts of Portugal, France and Spain, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society, causing Jesuits throughout the world to renounce their vows and go into exile. The suppression lasted for 41 years, until the Society’s restoration on August 7, 1814.

In England the suppression did not have quite the impact that it had on the Continent, because it depended on the government to enforce:

In 1762 because of the  suppression of the Society of Jesus in France, the English college in St Omer was transferred to Bruges. Despite the storm clouds the English Province was strong: in 1768 there were approximately 300 Jesuits, 26 of whom worked in Maryland and 136 in England. 

The position of the Jesuits in England after Pope Clement XIV's brief of 1773, "Dominus ac Redemptor" - suppressing the Society of Jesus - was anomalous. The Society did not exist officially in England so it could not be suppressed by the secular government. Ironically relations between secular clergy and Jesuits were extremely friendly at the time. Ex-Jesuits were able to remain united under a type of superior associated with the college then in Bruges (eventually moving to Liège and finally in 1794 to Stonyhurst) and to retain ownership of the province's not inconsiderable assets.

Even before the universal restoration, Jesuits in England benefited from the "anomalous" situation and the support of the order in Russia:

In March 1801 Pope Pius VII approved the status of the Society of Jesus that continued to exist in Russia because of the protection of the Russian Tsars. 

In 1803, thirty-five ex-Jesuits renewed their vows at Stonyhurst under Marmaduke Stone as first Provincial of the restored English Province. 

Despite some opposition from the English Vicars Apostolic and the insertion of a clause in the Act of Catholic Emancipation (1829) that forbade Jesuits and other religious orders from accepting novices in hope of their eventual extinction, the province thrived in the nineteenth century.

Long before the suppression or the restoration, Jesuits had played an important, although sometimes controversial, role in the English mission:

Between Ignatius's begging mission to England in 1531, and the foundation of a mission in 1580, Jesuit contact with England was sporadic.  The second half of the 16th century was one of religious upheaval in England, since Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1534. Elizabeth 1 (1558-1603) was determined to build a Protestant state, and, fearing influence or invasion by stronger Catholic European monarchies, effectively banned Catholic worship, and outlawed Catholic priests. To become a Catholic priest young Englishmen would now have to train and probably work abroad.  Yet many Englishmen joined the Jesuits and worked throughout the Jesuit world: Edmund Campion was sent to Prague; Thomas Stephens to India; John Yates to Brazil.  The English College for the training of priests from England was founded in Rome in 1579 and Pope Gregory XIII entrusted the college's administration to the Jesuits.

Seizing the opportunity, William Allen, leader of English Catholic exiles and later a Cardinal, persuaded Father General Everard Mercurian to approve a Jesuit mission to England. The first missioners, Campion, Robert Persons, and Ralph Emerson, departed Rome in April 1580. By the end of 1581, Campion had been executed and Persons was back on the continent, never to return to England.

The history of the Elizabethan Jesuits is the stuff of legends and hagiography: clandestine meetings, priest-holes, raids, escapes from the Tower of London, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom.

So intense was persecution that periodically Father General Claudio Acquaviva questioned the mission's continuation. Persons, along with Jesuits in England such as Robert Southwell and John Gerard, strengthened the resolve of lay Catholics through the Spiritual Exercises.

On the continent Robert Persons and others sought to alleviate the suffering of Catholics in England by encouraging invasion of England and deposition of Elizabeth. See Jesuit conspiracy theories for more details.

Indeed, the stories of the Jesuit martyrs are often thrilling--St. Edmund Campion, St. Robert Southwell, St. Henry Walpole, St. Henry Morse, St. Philip Evans, St. Nicholas Owen (the lay brother and master builder), St. Henry Garnett, Blessed Edward Oldcorne, St. David Lewis, etc. The two books I would recommend for those wanting to know more about this history are Into the Lion's Den: The Jesuit Mission in Elizabethan England and Wales, 1580-1603 by Robert E. Scully, SJ, published by The Institute of Jesuit Sources, which I reviewed here, and for the stories of the individual martyred saints and blesseds, Jesuit Saints and Martyrs by Joseph N. Tylenda, SJ.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Smithfield on July 30, 1540: Catholics and Zwinglians

On July 30, 1540, two different sets of martyrs set off for Smithfield for execution. There were three Catholics, who had refused to swear Henry VIII's Oaths of Succession and Supremacy, and there were three Protestants--more properly, Zwinglians--who refused to accept the definition of Christian sacramental doctrine outlined in Henry VIII's Six Articles. The three Catholics were what I call Supremacy Martyrs, since the immediate cause of their execution/martyrdom was their refusal to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England, the Ecclesia Anglicanae.

Thomas Abell (or Abel), Richard Fetherston, and Edward Powell had all been chaplains and defenders of Queen Catherine of Aragon--very learned men; graduates of the University of Oxford. Thomas Abell had written Invicta veritas. An answere, That by no manner of law, it may be lawfull for the most noble King of England, King Henry the eight to be divorced from the queens grace, his lawfull and very wife. B.L. in 1532 and had also been implicated in the Nun of Kent cause celebre. Richard Fetherston had also written against Henry's divorce of Catherine in Contra divortium Henrici et Catharinae, Liber unus although no copy of the text survives. He also tutored the Princess Mary. Henry VIII had favored Edward Powell for his works against Lutheran doctrines in earlier days, but then Powell ran afoul of Henry's changing policies and desires to cast aside Catherine of Aragon. They had been held in prison for a long time; Abell had been held in confinement since 1533, Fetherston and Powell since 1534.

The Zwinglians Robert Barnes, Thomas Garrett, and William Jerome were also taken to Smithfield that day. Robert Barnes had attended the University of Cambridge and had "hung out" at the White Horse Inn with other Lutheran minded students and masters. While Thomas Cromwell was in power, they had preached against the Catholic Bishop, Stephen Gardiner, but once Cromwell fell and was executed on July 28, 1540, they lost their protector and were sentenced to death.

Both the Catholics and the Zwinglians were sentenced to death without trial. Bills of Attainder condemned the Catholics as Traitors and the Zwinglians as Heretics. Three hurdles dragged the men to Smithfield from the Tower; each hurdle held a traitor and a heretic. At Smithfield, the traitors were hung, cut down and butchered while alive, their bodies quartered and their heads cut for display; the heretics were burnt alive at the stake. A poem titled, "The Metynge of Doctor Barnes and Dr. Powell at Paradise Gate and of theyre communicacion bothe drawen to Smithfylde fro the Towar" described the juxtaposition of the Catholic and the Protestant that day.

This day demonstrates Henry VIII's equal opportunity injustice; he sentenced both those who refused to swear the oaths he demanded and those who refused to obey the religious doctrine he required. The Catholics certainly knew the dangerous route they were taking -- defending Catherine against the king's wishes and refusing the oaths. By 1540, the pattern of execution for those offenses was well established. The Zwinglians were probably caught off guard by Cromwell's sudden fall; on the leading edge of Protestant thinking and theology, they lost their protector and were caught up in the strange factional divisions Henry countenanced in the later years of his reign. (See chapter 2 in Supremacy and Survival, in the section titled, "Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, and Henry's Reformation" for more insight into that period.)

Catherine's former chaplains were beatified by Pope Leo XIII; the Zwinglian preachers were honored by John Foxe in his Acts and Monuments(Thomas Abell carved the bell in the wall of his cell in the Tower of London--it is obviously a pun on his last name)

"For Which the Queen Prayed": Claude of France's Prayer Book

In The Wall Street Journal, Barrymore Laurence Scherer reviews an important exhibition of Queen Claude of France's prayer book and book of hours at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City:

The illuminations in Claude's prayer book are imbued with richly layered symbolism not just relating to holy writ, but to the queen herself, especially to her persistent anxieties about bearing healthy sons. The central example of this symbolism is the book's only full-page image without text, a glowing painting of the Holy Trinity. "The Trinity," on the left-hand page of the opening, is complemented by an illumination of adoring choirs of angels on the right-hand page. Images of the Trinity usually depict the Dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over a white-bearded God the Father and Christ the Son either on or with the cross or bearing the stigmata of his Crucifixion. This one differs significantly—wearing identical purple robes, the Father and the Son resemble youthful twins. Moreover Jesus (on the left) bears no stigmata. This is the Christ who has not yet assumed flesh on Earth via the Immaculate Conception, explains Mr. Wieck, author of the splendid exhibition book (which includes a contribution by conservator Francisco H. Trujillo). The Father, steadying a golden-clasped book on his lap, gestures in benediction. Christ, with eyes lowered, places his left hand on the book, raising his right hand in affirmation. The implication here, explains Mr. Wieck, is that Christ will obey his Father's command to descend to Earth to suffer for humanity's sins. And in the blue cloud below the figures, an almost microscopic vignette of spires and towers represents the unredeemed world at that moment.

The symbolism extends further: Although the prayer book's other illuminations are all rectilinear, "Trinity" is oval. And it is framed differently than the others. Nearly every image in the book is framed by a cordelière, a rope motif adopted as an armorial device from the rope belt worn by Franciscan monks. Most pages are framed by Queen Claude's personal cordelière, running a rectangular course around each page and tightly knotted at the top, bottom and sides. But the cordelière framing "Trinity" is arranged in open loops—King Francis's armorial device. Thus the complete symbolism of this single page is that as God bestowed his Son upon mankind, so may he bestow a son and heir upon Francis and his queen. Even the painting's oval shape possibly symbolizes the fertility for which Claude prayed.

Queen Claude was Francois I's first wife. Both Mary Boleyn and Anne Boleyn had attended her as they remained in France after Louis XII, Mary Tudor's first husband, died. (This Mary Tudor was Henry VIII's favorite sister). Queen Claude and Catherine of Aragon met at The Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Queen Claude died when she was 24 years old after bearing Francois seven children, including his heir, who would reign as Henri II. Francois remarried after Claude's death, becoming betrothed to Charles V's sister while he was held prisoner in Spain after the Battle of Pavia.

Note that for those of us who cannot go to New York City to see the exhibition, we can view the prayer book on line here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Poisonous Cook Gets Cooked (Boiled Alive)

Author Nancy Bilyeau writes at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog about the execution of the cook who attempted to poison Bishop John Fisher. Richard Roose confessed to the crime of poisoning the Bishop's soup but said that it was just supposed to make him or anyone who ate it sick, and that it was just a joke. Such jokes were not funny at that time. Although there's some irony in a cook being boiled to death, the way the punishment fit the crime wasn't funny either:

On April 5, 1531, hardened spectators of public punishment gathered at Smithfield, joined, perhaps, by others who were too ghoulish or genuinely curious to stay away. For an execution had been announced of a type that none had witnessed in their lifetimes, nor ever heard of.

The condemned man, Richard Roose, was not of the magnitude of criminal expected to meet his end at Smithfield. . . .

Roose, the victim of 1531, had not sought to harm King Henry VIII nor Queen Catherine nor any royal councilor. He had not tried to overthrow the nation's government nor change its religious policies. The charge was murder. Roose, a cook in the service of Bishop John Fisher, was accused of murder by poison, his victims an obscure gentleman in the bishop's household and a destitute widow. He is believed to have admitted to the poisoning but claimed it has a joke gone wrong, an accident. There is no testimony to examine because Roose had no trial, by command of Henry VIII. . . .

The murder motive and the question of a larger plot were soon obscured by Henry VIII's drastic actions. He decided that Roose should be condemned by attainder without a trial--a measure usually used for criminals who were at large. Roose was in prison. And a bill was passed in Parliament making boiling a form of legal capital punishment for poisoning. This crime was especially heinous, the king's representatives said.

Chapuys questioned the King's actions in his letter to Emperor Charles. Regardless of the "demonstrations of sorrow he makes he will not be able to divert suspicion."

But no accusations were made, of course. And in April the crowds of Smithfield witnessed Roose's death, to their horror. According to an eyewitness:

"He roared mighty loud, and divers women who were big with child did feel sick at the sight of what they saw, and were carried away half dead; and other men and women did not seem frightened by the boiling alive, but would prefer to see the headsman at his work."

Anne Boleyn was implicated by rumor in the attempt on Bishop Fisher's life--and there is record of another attempt at assassination when a shot was fired at his house at Lambeth. Was Henry VIII covering something up? As Bilyeau demonstrates, Henry had admired and valued Fisher, but once the latter opposed him on the matter of the divorce, that regard dissipated. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes the acts of attainder used against Bishop Fisher before his trial for treason:

That the regime might well by this stage have entertained the most profound suspicions about Fisher's loyalty is shown in the way that he was implicated in the proceedings now being taken against the Holy Maid of Kent. After she had been induced to confess publicly to fraud, proceedings were expedited by act of attainder, and Fisher was by the same act convicted of ‘misprision of treason’ and sentenced to confiscation of goods and imprisonment at the king's pleasure for having concealed the predictions she shared with him (these were all of course, as Fisher vainly pleaded in his own defence, public knowledge). Even now the regime had not abandoned all hope of—if not winning Fisher over—at least cowing him into submission. Had he been willing to take the ‘oath to the succession’ (an oath required in 1534 of all adult males, recognizing Henry's divorce and second marriage, and implicitly repudiating papal authority), he would doubtless have been restored to full honours. But he was not, and in April he was therefore confined in the Tower of London. About the end of the year a further act of attainder deprived him of his preferments, including the see of Rochester. In the course of 1535 pressure was put on him to affirm or deny Henry's status as ‘Supreme Head of the Church of England’ (which had been recognized by act of parliament late in 1534). Eventually, he seems to have uttered a denial of this title (possibly elicited by chicanery), which left him liable to the penalties of high treason under a new treason act passed that year. And so in June 1535 he was indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced, and, on Tuesday 22 June, decapitated on Tower Hill. His death, which Catholic Europe unanimously interpreted as martyrdom, was of no small importance in perpetuating after his death the reputation as a theologian which he had acquired earlier in his life. Now his witness against the innovations of his time was sealed in the blood of martyrdom—and death for the truth was no longer the exclusive preserve of the protestant reformers.

Monday, July 28, 2014

CIVILISATION Remade: "Challenging questions about contemporary pieties"

Earlier this month, I posted about the Kenneth Clark exhibition at Tate Britain, and about the BBC's plans to "remake" the series. I noted the problems some people have with Clark's appearance and manner and said:

What Stourton describes as distractions now I find essential to the series. It was "A Personal View" so the person, Sir Kenneth Clark had to be himself--he did not have to look like a television personality; he had to have ideas and views to present. I like the static camera and the slow pans from Clark to the background and the great close ups of the artwork, so steady and patient--the camera is giving me a chance to see what Clark sees, to learn how to look at the art, see the beauty, and appreciate the civilization that created it.

The BBC is going to "remake" the series with another art critic who will have his or her own "Personal View"--I doubt the critic would dare have such a "conservative" view of civilization or even to concentrate on western civilization. It will have to be multi-cultural and the pace will have to be fast, with quick cuts and angles. The presenter will have to be photogenic with perfect teeth (Sir Kenneth's are horrible, one can tell). I can't imagine a remake of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation: A Personal View that could replace it in my library of books, DVDs, or memories. As Clark says at the end of the series, I may be hopeful about the new version, but not joyous.

Now, History Today comments on the BBC's plans and brings up the same issues:

How often has Lord Hall paused to regret announcing that the BBC intends to remake Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation? The notion becomes more fraught with difficulty at every turn. Set aside the question as to whether a modern Civilisation is a good idea and still Hall’s problems, or rather those of his commissioning editors, multiply.

First shown in 1969 in 12 episodes, Civilisation focused exclusively on western Europe. It is inconceivable that today’s BBC could make a series that excluded the cultures of the Far East, India, Africa and Central and South America. So is one that paid little attention to women. Or indeed one that started, as Clark’s did, with the disarming statement: ‘What is civilisation? I don’t know … but I think I can recognise it when I see it.’

Early attacks on Clark were instigated by his ideological opposite John Berger and they hit home. The way that Clark has been wilfully misinterpreted is, however, also a measure of changed times and contemporary pieties. His omission of other cultures was not because he thought them inferior but because, as he admitted, he didn’t know much about them. He did not ‘suppose that anyone could be so obtuse as to think I had forgotten about the great civilisations of the pre-Christian era and the east’, but people did. It is worth noting that he hardly mentioned Spain – Velázquez, Goya et al – in the series because he thought the country’s contribution to culture too slight: ‘One asks what Spain has done to enlarge the human mind and pull mankind a few steps up the hill.’ It is also forgotten that the series had the all-important subtitle; ‘A personal view by Kenneth Clark’.

And then there's the issue of who will host the show:

Hall’s greatest problem though is who should play the Clark role. Immediately after the BBC announcement, the retiring novelist Kathy Lette unhelpfully whipped up a petition signed by the likes of Helena Kennedy, Shami Chakrabarti, Tracy Chevalier and Sandi Toksvig instructing Hall not to plump for a man. Mary Beard is their poster girl, though what attributes she would bring to a discussion of 19th-century Paris or pre-Columbian Peru was not made clear. Among other widely tipped names Neil MacGregor and Simon Schama stand out. Pick a woman and Hall will be accused of pandering to feminists, pick MacGregor and he will be demonstrating patrician tendencies; pick Schama and it will show a lack of imagination. And why no black or Indian presenter?

Could the presenter at least wear tweed in a few of the episodes?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27, 1914: One Last Day of Peace

In 1914, today was a day of peace in Europe before war began--it was a Thursday--and the next day, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. On Saturday, July 29, Austria started bombing Belgrade, and Russia mobilized against Austria. The day after that, Austria and Russia started mobilizing against each other. On July 31, Germany issued an ultimatum to Russia and another one to France--step by step, day by day, the great powers of Europe moved closer and closer to waging war against one another.

The video above, from the Catholic News Services, emphasizes the efforts of Pope Benedict XV, elected in September of 1914 after the death of Pope Pius X, to negotiate peace at the beginning of the war--a Christmas truce in 1914--and a just peace at the end of the war. He was consistently ignored, as this EWTN page notes:

He was elected to succeed Pius X, probably because of his diplomatic experience. As father to all Catholics, Benedict XV favored neither side in the war. But his policy of neutrality was misinterpreted by both sides, each regarding him as siding with the other. He pressed for a Christmas truce in 1914 to ward off the “suicide of Europe,” but was ignored. In 1917, he tried to broker a peace plan, but his efforts were unsuccessful. He was able, however, to arrange the exchange of disabled prisoners through neutral countries, and to have the sick and wounded sent to neutral countries for treatment and recuperation. Through his intercession, deported Belgians were allowed to return home, and he donated money to relieve those suffering the effects of the war throughout Europe. After the war, in 1919, he asked for a Vatican role in the Paris Peace Conference, but was turned down. He pleaded with the victorious Allies to lift the blockade against Germany, because of the suffering it caused to women and children, and he took up a Church-wide collection to buy food. For human solidarity, he favored the founding of the League of Nations, though the Vatican itself was excluded from membership.

In his November 1, 1914 encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (Appealing for Peace), he reached out to the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and Other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See to remind themselves and their communities of their Christian brotherhood: 

Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from Heaven for the very purpose of restoring amongst men the Kingdom of Peace, which the envy of the devil had destroyed, and it was His will that it should rest on no other foundation than that of brotherly love. These are His own oft-repeated words: "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another (John 14:34); "This is my commandment that you love one another" (John 15:12); "These things I command you, that you love one another" (John 15:17); as though His one office and purpose was to bring men to mutual love. He used every kind of argument to bring about that effect. He bids us all look up to Heaven: "For one is your Father who is in Heaven" (Matt. 23:9); He teaches all men, without distinction of nationality or of language, or of ideas, to pray in the words: "Our Father, who are in Heaven" (Matt. 6:9); nay, more, He tells us that our Heavenly Father in distributing the blessings of nature makes no distinction of our deserts: "Who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). He bids us be brothers one to another, and calls us His brethren: "All you are brethren" (Matt. 23:8); "that He might be the first-born amongst many brethren" (Rom. 7:29). In order the more to stimulate us to brotherly love, even towards those whom our natural pride despises, it is His will that we should recognize the dignity of His own very self in the meanest of men: "As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me" (Matt. 15:40}. At the close of His life did He not most earnestly beg of His Father, that as many as should believe in Him should all be one in the bond of charity? "As thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee" (John 22:21). And finally, as He was hanging from the cross, He poured out His blood over us all, whence being as it were compacted and fitly joined together in one body, we should love one another, with a love like that which one member bears to another in the same body.

He discussed the various evils of the day (besides the war) and how they contributed to the unrest that led to the war, including atheism, greed, racial hatred, contempt of laws and authority, etc. He urges the bishops and the patriarchs and bishops to be unified, charitable to each other, and to pray:

It remains for Us, Venerable Brethren, since in God's hands are the wills of princes and of those who are able to put an end to the suffering and destruction of which We have spoken, to raise Our voice in supplication to God, and in the name of the whole human race, to cry out: "Grant, O Lord, peace, in our day." May He who said of himself: "I am the Lord . . . I make peace" (Isaias 41:6-7) appeased by our prayers, quickly still the storm in which civil society and religious society are being tossed; and may the Blessed Virgin, who brought forth "the Prince of Peace," be propitious towards us; and may she take under her maternal care and protection Our own humble person, Our Pontificate, the Church and the souls of all men, redeemed by the divine blood of her Son.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chesterton Anticipated "The Catholic Herald"!

Francis Campbell, writing for The Catholic Herald, comments on the plan to honor Mahatma Gandhi with a statue in Parliament Square. He says it's a good idea, but that it highlights another mission statue: in honor of Daniel O'Connell

It is time for the Government to recognise the debt of gratitude we owe to Daniel O’Connell: the London-trained lawyer who went on to lead the Irish through a time of great turbulence and who could lay claim to be the inspiration for non-violent civil rights movements. Indeed, Gandhi himself looked to figures in 19th-century Irish history for inspiration, O’Connell among them. A statue of O’Connell would honour his legacy and send out a powerful message about democratic pluralism, inclusion and non-violence.

Nearly 170 years after his death, there is no statue of O’Connell erected anywhere in London, let alone Parliament Square. Yet few figures in the 19th or 20th centuries changed the course of Britain’s parliamentary democracy, and influenced the health and vitality of its democracy and pluralism, as much as he did.

O’Connell’s greatest contribution was in the area of religious pluralism. He fought for and won the right for Catholics to take their seats in Parliament. Choosing politics over force, he achieved Catholic emancipation through the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act in 1829, which also annulled the remaining Penal Laws and the Test Act, and helped to pave the way for the restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales, and Scotland. O’Connell’s 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act is also credited with helping to secure the passing of the Jews Relief Act of 1858.

O’Connell’s absence from his rightful place in Parliament Square is all the more grating given that Robert Peel, who initially opposed Catholic emancipation, is honoured there. It was a lonely campaign for O’Connell, and Peel was ultimately persuaded not on any grounds of enlightened principle, but simply by fear that failure to repeal prejudicial laws would trigger further rebellion in Ireland. Why should the former stand proud just minutes from our seat of power, and the latter be overlooked?

Campbell is exactly correct in his argument, but G.K. Chesterton anticipated him about 85 years ago, when he wrote about the differences between how the Catholic Church and the modern state responds to past injustices. To quote my own blogpost:

. . . in an article titled "The Early Bird in History", Chesterton notes "there's a common and current charge against the Catholic Church, that she is, as the phrase goes, always behind the times."
Not that there's anything wrong with that, he says, when you consider the times, but then he notes at least one instance in which the Catholic Church was far ahead of anyone else and in ways that no other institution had caught up with (in 1929, at least). He examines the rehabilitation of St. Joan of Arc. Chesterton notes that her canonization may have taken centuries, but her rehabilitation did not. The Church investigated, acknowledged the injustice, and cleared her name during the lifetime of her family-- of her mother. 

Then Chesterton considers some other cases: Did Edward III repent of the brutal execution of William Wallace by Edward I? Did Elizabeth I rehabilitate Sir Thomas More, acknowledge the error of his trial, conviction, and execution as a traitor? Of course they did not. 
He acknowledges that in the 19th century the English did "make a romance about Wallace" and finally start thinking of St. Joan of Arc with more favor and recognition of their own tawdry role. (Shakespeare's depiction of Joan, he notes, features "insular insults".)
Chesterton has two more historical parallels: have the English honored Daniel O'Connell, the catalyst of Catholic Emancipation within one hundred years of that great milestone (1829-1929)? Have they accepted Robert Emmet of Ireland as well as they've accepted George Washington of the United States of America? No--in 1929, they had not. Thus, Chesterton demonstrates that the Catholic Church was not so far behind the times as "people" say, and in fact, the secular world is really far behind in the process of acknowledging past injustices.