Wednesday, February 10, 2016

John Farrow, St. Damien the Leper and St. Thomas More

Today is, of course, Ash Wednesday.

February 10 is also the birthday, in 1904, of John Farrow, the Australian screenwriter, director, and author. He wrote a great biography of Damien the Leper priest of Molokai, now Saint Damien de Veuster--and also a biography of St. Thomas More. EWTN has it in their library.

As I'm preparing for my presentation this Saturday, February 13 on "St. Thomas More and the Defense of Christendom" at the First Annual History and Heretics Symposium in Fort Scott, Kansas, hosted by The Prairie Troubadour, I scrolled down to see what Farrow said about More's apologetic works against the Lutheran reformers:

In the long literary controversy, four men led the lists against More: William Tyndale, John Frith, Simon Fish, and Christopher Saint-German. The first two were priests, influenced by the new heresy; the second two were lawyers. All four were able men and put their cases well, but their opponent was abler still. After completing the Dialogue, More answered Fish's Supplication of Beggars with Supplication of Souls. Again he showed his characteristic wit in the story of "a lewd gallant and a good friar. Whom, when the gallant saw going barefoot in a great frost and snow, he asked him why he did take such pain. And he answered that it was very little pain if a man would remember hell. 'Yea, Friar,' quod the gallant, 'but what and there be no hell? Then art thou a great fool?' 'Yea, Master,' quod the friar, 'but what and there be hell? Then is your mastership a much more fool.'"

Even when he became Lord Chancellor, More somehow found time to wield his pen in defence of the Church, nor after his fall from the high office was the labour diminished. The pen continued to move; book after book answered the arguments and charges of the enemy. He deemed the great task he had undertaken to be both a duty and a work of love, and to keep his moral independence he avoided subsidy. (Chapter 10).

After his resignation from the Chancellorship, Farrow notes how much Thomas More wrote to defend Catholic teaching:

The speed with which he moved his pen was amazing. Unhampered by public duties, he completed his Confutation of Tyndale's Answer, a letter against Frith, the Apology, a work in defence of the clergy, The Debellation of Salem and Bizance, and his Answer to the book which a nameless heretic hath named The Supper of the Lord.

These works, nearly a half million words, constituted a bulwark of orthodoxy, and the clergy, recognizing More as their champion, thought to reward him. They collected a great sum of money, which he refused, giving as his reason that if he were in their pay, he would no longer be a disinterested and unbiased defender. Some of his friends pointed out that he was now a poor man and that it would be well for him to accept so that his wife and children would profit. But he was obdurate. When they offered him the purse he said: "I had liefer see it all cast into the Thames, than I, or any of mine, should have thereof the worth of one penny. For though your offer, my Lords, be indeed very friendly and honourable, yet set I so much by my pleasure and so little by my profit, that I would not, in good faith, for so much, and much more too, have lost the rest of so many nights sleep that was spent upon the same. And yet wish would I, for all that, upon condition that all heresies were suppressed, that all my books were burned and my labour utterly lost." (Chapter 15).

As Farrow notes in his foreword, he is not writing a critical biography, but he does write with a filmmaker's eye, noting the great drama of the events at Henry VIII's court:

The reader will soon discover that my aim was not to write an exhaustive biography in the conventional sense, but to tell a story in general terms of a man and his friends and his enemies; his time and circumstance; a story of tenderness and violence and tragedy, and, above all, a story of courage and example. I am indebted to Fr. Joseph Donovan, S.J., Dean of Law at Loyola University in Los Angeles, who encouraged me to write the book and who, at the planning stage, took me to the Huntington Library. There, thanks to the graciousness of the Library officials, my appetite was stimulated by the famous Holbein collection and the treasure of papers and books of the period. The Assistant to the Librarian, Miss Gertrude Ruhnka, consented to aid me in the compilation of the considerable research. This she did most ably and I thank her deeply. Upon completion of the writing, I sent the manuscript to a More scholar and fellow devotee then in London, Dr. Frank Sullivan. He interrupted his busy literary labours at the British Museum to make valuable suggestions and criticism. I thank him also.

Monday, February 8, 2016

William Byrd and John Donne: The Crux of the Piece


From the Gramophone magazine blog, how a composer was inspired by William Byrd to write a musical setting of a John Donne Holy Sonnet:

The more I thought and read about Byrd, and the idea of a ‘Credo’ or ‘creed’, I believe I had potentially the most interesting opportunity.

It was fascinating to reflect on what the words ‘I believe’ would have meant for William Byrd as a well-known recusant - a Catholic who refused to go to church. In Elizabethan England, being caught with Latin ‘popish’ books, celebrating Catholic Mass or, even worse, harbouring a priest in your house, could mean jail. For Jesuit martyrs like Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell and countless others, their fate was much worse: hanging, drawing and quartering and then your body parts being boiled in salt water and cumin seed before being displayed on pikes around the city. Lovely!

So it is all the more amazing that Byrd was able to write and publish his three Latin masses in the 1590s. Remember this was effectively illegal music that only someone courageous enough to risk accusations of treason would buy or sing. Church choirs certainly wouldn’t be queuing up to sing it.

In the course of my research, I eventually came to churchman and poet John Donne's Holy Sonnet XVIII. This poem beautifully expresses Donne’s lifelong despairing of the fragmentation of the church. Donne himself was a Catholic and his brother died in prison, guilty of 'harbouring a seminary priest'. Donne converted to Anglicanism in 1615 and later became Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London. Like Byrd, he would have understood only too well the dichotomy of different brands of the same Christian faith – which continues to challenge the Christian community to this day.

It seemed appropriate, therefore, to use Donne’s poem as the crux of my piece, along with interpolations from Campion and Southwell and William Byrd's will.


This is the Holy Sonnet Alexander L’Estrange refers to:

Show me dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robb'd and tore,
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self-truth, and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travel we to seek, and then make love?
Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild Dove,
Who is most true and pleasing to thee then
When she'is embrac'd and open to most men.


More about ORA, the group which has commissioned this work and the album set for release this week, here. Update: Here's more information from Harmonia Mundi about the CD, which I've ordered.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Henry VIII and the Hampton Court Vespers

Biographer J.J. Scarisbrick thinks that Henry VIII would not be happy at all about next week's Catholic vespers in the chapel at Hampton Court, as he writes in The Catholic Herald:

Cardinal Nichols’s presence at Hampton Court would be especially galling in that he is Archbishop of Westminster and a senior member of a nationwide Catholic hierarchy appointed by Rome, in communion with the Pope and confident that it is an authentic, organic part of the Church Universal. Henry thought he had got rid of all that and had set up an independent national Church with him as its lord and master. He would be outraged to know that the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and his brother bishops had an “alternative” set of cathedrals and dioceses, and that there had long been houses of monks, friars and nuns in England once more.

Scarisbrick goes on to discuss Henry VIII's "Catholicism without the pope":

We can never know exactly what Henry believed and what he really thought his “Catholicism without the pope” meant.

Yes, he allegedly “heard” Mass often, that is, he (probably) was within hearing distance while going about his early morning rounds. In his younger days he “crept” to the Cross on Good Fridays and went “devoutly” to Walsingham. And, of course, he wrote (with a good deal of help) that celebrated book against Luther which won him the title of Defender of the Faith – a papal award which, incongruously, is still part of the royal style.

Henry was theologically alert and informed, and could hold his own with any divine. But his faith was surely only skin deep. The royal supremacy was above all about power and prestige. The Church which he had delivered from the Roman “yoke” he bled white with merciless taxation. He showed little interest in its spiritual renewal. He certainly flirted with Lutherans when it suited him and had no qualms about importing a Protestant princess to be his fourth wife. Most remarkably, he knew full well that the primate of all England, Thomas Cranmer, was, as he said, “the biggest heretic in Kent”, but the archbishop was too useful in untangling his matrimonial problems to be censured, let alone deposed.

And then we must consider his assault on the religious orders. True enough, many of them were easy targets, but to have destroyed hundreds of monasteries, friaries and nunneries in a mere three and a half years was a colossal “achievement”. Henry masterminded it at every stage, with Thomas Cromwell his tireless agent. The whole operation was a devastatingly clever amalgam of false promises, smear campaigns, deception, blackmail, bribery and brutality.

His definitive biography is out of print from Yale University Press but readily available, including as an E-book with a good sample here. Here's a summary offered by Professor Scarisbrick.

Friday, February 5, 2016

President Garfield on PBS


I watched most of, except for the first 20 minutes or so, the Murder of A President, the biography of James Garfield on PBS's American Experience earlier this week. It was a well-produced documentary with dramatic representations of Garfield as President, his wife, his assassin, and his doctor. Garfield served only four months of his term of office. He was a Republican president who wanted to fight the corruption of elected officials in the Federal Government and to provide "equal opportunity" to all citizens, including the recently freed slaves. The documentary tries to build up Garfield's presidency as a lost chance, although the viewer is given little evidence of exactly what Garfield planned to do to facilitate "equal opportunity" for citizens of the U.S.A. His fight against corruption in office, the constant quid pro quo elected officials demanded for themselves and their unelected followers in the civil service, is much clearer, although again he did not have much chance to effect much change because of the attempted assassination by Charles Guiteau, aided and abetted by the medical ineptitude of Doctor Willard Bliss, who introduced infection into the non-fatal wounds and hindered Garfield's immune system.

Although other authorities are included, much of the program was based upon Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, which I read a few years ago. Millard tells Garfield's life story--and his assassin's, poor mad and unstable Guiteau, while interweaving the stories of Alexander Graham Bell, Vice President Chester Arthur, Senator Roscoe Conkling, Doctor Joseph Lister, and others, including Garfield's wife Lucretia.

The dramatic scenes are mostly well-done: Shuler Hensley, the actor playing Garfield seems to represent him well. He is confident, open, genial, and resolute. The actress Kathryn Erbe played his wife, displaying great love and heartbroken mourning at his suffering and death. I was sorry that Will Janowitz, who portrayed the mad Guiteau, did not have the opportunity to recite Guiteau's poem "I Am Going to the Lordy" on the gallows.

The wrap-up after Garfield's death was rather rushed and the documentary did not follow up as extensively as the book on the lives of the survivors. It does note that Chester Arthur frees himself of the influence of Conkling to reform the civil service of the federal government, but the program leaves out entirely the mysterious female correspondent who urged Arthur to become a better man.

As the transcript shows, however, it's the platitudes at the end--that try to present Garfield as a great change-agent who just didn't get the chance to make his impact--that weaken the overall effect of the program:

Narrator: With Chester Arthur in the White House, the wheels of government began turning again. Life went on across the country, but many Americans were haunted by a sense of loss. For laborers, field hands, immigrants, settlers, for everyone hoping to rise through hard work, James Garfield had embodied the American dream, a dream that was being obscured by the strife and divisions of the Gilded Age. In an era shot through with cynicism and corruption, he had dared to summon once again the better angels of their natures.

Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: Garfield would come to represent that vision for which the Union had fought. Garfield believed that everybody should have equality of opportunity and that the government should help them get that. And that included black men as well as white men. With the assassination of Garfield, that dream -- the dream for which the Union had fought -- that vision died.

Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: There's this great sense that Garfield represented lost potential. There's no question that Garfield could have been a great president.

Candice Millard, Author,
Destiny of the Republic: He'd been incredibly kind and just and courageous. Garfield for even a short time raised our sights and made us more tolerant and more open-minded.

The documentary needed another 30 minutes to prove those rather anodyne but far-reaching declarations.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Liturgy Bad; Spontaneity Good?

On the First Things blog, Peter Leithart references his review of Lori Branch's book, Rituals of Spontaneity from Baylor University Press published in the July/August 2009 issue of Touchstone:

Focusing on English literary culture and religion, Branch examines the formation of an “ideology of spontaneity” from the Reformation attacks on ritual through Puritan defenses of free prayer to the Romantic poetry of William Wordsworth. She demonstrates that the anti-ritual attitude is a central theme in the formation of modern views of religion, subjectivity, morality, and literature.

The “ideology of spontaneity” is more explicitly expressed in the early part of this history. English Protestants attacked the ceremonies of the Catholic Church and the remnants of ceremony in Prayer Book liturgies, not only because they thought these ceremonies lacked biblical support but also because they believed that set liturgical forms were, in themselves, inimical to religious sincerity. This had the effect of detaching believers from communal actions. Medieval Christians were participants in rituals; after the Reformation, Christians began to see themselves as detached individual selves, desperately ginning up religious passion.
In the Touchstone review, he begins by locating the source of this attack on ritual as Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More's good friend:
We have Erasmus to thank not only for the word “ceremony” but also for the derogatory connotations attached to it. His Latin neologism, ceremonialae, has been translated as “trivial little ritual nonsenses.” Early English occurrences of “ceremony” follow the Erasmian usage. Gentility, one sixteenth-century critic wrote, is no more than a “meer flash, a ceremony, a toy, a thing of nought.”

Medieval Christians would have found these sentiments bewildering. Rituals were not toys but powerful tools that performed a kind of magic. So powerful was the ritual of the Mass that everything connected with it—the altar cloth, the chalice, the table—glowed with the radiance that, in historian Eamon Duffy’s term, “leaked” out of the consecrated host and wine.

As Leithart praised Branch's book, he identified two extremes of thought over ritual in religion: war and indifference:

For a variety of reasons, historians have not followed the story of ritual, sacrament, and ceremony beyond the Reformation. This is unfortunate, because no attitude is so characteristic of the modern Western mind as its indifference, or even hostility, to ritual. In the sixteenth century, Europeans fought wars over the meaning ofHocin the Eucharistic formula “Hoc est corpus meum” (“This is my body”). Today, differences of that sort are greeted with a quizzical yawn.

In her dense and sophisticated work,
Rituals of Spontaneity: Sentiment and Secularism from Free Prayer to Wordsworth (Baylor University Press, 2006), Lori Branch has filled in a considerable part of the history between religious war and irreligious yawns. Focusing on English literary culture and religion, Branch examines the formation of an “ideology of spontaneity” from the Reformation attacks on ritual through Puritan defenses of free prayer to the Romantic poetry of William Wordsworth. She demonstrates that the anti-ritual attitude is a central theme in the formation of modern views of religion, subjectivity, morality, and literature.

Read the rest of the First Things blog here; the rest of the Touchstone review, here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Blessed John Nelson, SJ and the Trees of Tyburn


According to the Jesuit Curia in Rome, today's martyr was not only a late vocation to the priesthood (after age 40) but a late joiner of the Society of Jesus too:

John Nelson (1535-1578) became a Jesuit in prison just before he was martyred. A man of unshakeable convictions, he died two years before the English mission began, but he provided the same fearless service to Catholics that Jesuits later lived and died for. The son of Sir Nicholas Nelson, he was born in Yorkshire about 1535. He was firm in his conviction that Catholics should be bold in professing their faith and did not accept the practice of attending Protestant services to avoid penalties. Finally he left England when he was almost 40 and studied at the English College in Douai. He was ordained a priest at Bynche in June 1576 and set out with four other newly ordained priests the following November to return to England.

Little is known about Father Nelson's ministry except that it lasted only one year before he was arrested on the evening of Dec. 1, 1577 when priest-catchers burst into his residence as he was reading his breviary. They arrested him on suspicion of being a Catholic; but when he was brought before the queen's high commissioners and asked who the head of the Church was, he boldly answered that it was the pope, thus sealing his fate. His trial took place February 1 and featured the comments he made before the commissioners; since he refused to take the oath acknowledging the queen's supremacy in religious matters, he was found guilty of high treason and condemned to be executed as a traitor. Nelson had admired the Jesuits but their mission to England did not begin until two years after his death. He wrote to the French Jesuits asking to be admitted, and they were pleased to accept a priest about to be martyred. He was kept in a foul dungeon for two days and then dragged to Tyburn to be executed. As he gave his final words to onlookers, he was hanged but then cut down while he was still alive and disembowelled. He was beheaded and quartered with his body parts exhibited on London Bridge and the city gates as a warning.

This Jesuit website provides more detail about his execution and his beatification:

Just before he was hanged, Fr Nelson asked the Catholics present to pray with him and aloud he recited the Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary, all in Latin. He then encouraged the bystanders to remain steadfast in their faith, asked forgiveness of all whom he might have offended and beseeched God to forgive his enemies and executioners. Just as he was finishing these words he was hanged. He was cut down while still alive to make him further suffer disembowelment. His severed head was then displayed on London’s Bridge and portions of his body exhibited at each of the city’s four gates.

Fr Nelson had been an admirer of the Jesuits since he had met them in France and as there was no Jesuit mission in England until 1580, 2 years after his death, he had written to the French Jesuits during his imprisonment for permission to be admitted to the Society. The Jesuits were happy to accept him, especially one about to be martyred for Christ. Fr John Nelson was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on December 9 1886 together other Jesuit martyrs of England and Wales.

I missed this story (in 2014) from the Archdiocese of Westminster about how the marker of the site of Tyburn Tree near Marble Arch has been embellished with the addition of three trees, representing the Triple Tree of Tyburn where 105 beatified and canonized martyrs died:

The tree planting and restoration of the damaged roundel was a joint project between the Edgware Road Partnership, Tyburn Convent, Westminster City Council and Transport for London. It was marked by a ceremony in which Fr Christopher Pedley, a Jesuit priest from Farm Street parish, Mayfair, blessed the roundel with holy water.

He and fellow Jesuit Fr Dominic Robinson, nuns of Tyburn Convent, and other Catholics then honoured the martyrs by kneeling down to kiss the roundel in the centre of the traffic island.

Afterwards Fr Pedley said: ‘They have arranged the trees triangularly in a way which resembles the gallows used for executions. It is very significant, because it is the place where Catholic martyrs died and particularly a number of Jesuit martyrs between 1571 and 1679.’ The site is so significant for the Society of Jesus that when the order’s Superior General came to London he was brought to visit this spot.

At a reception in Tyburn Convent after the ceremony, Councillor Robert Davis, deputy leader of Westminster City Council, said the event was a ‘hugely important commemoration of one of the most poignant aspects of Westminster’s, London’s and the nation’s history.’

Tyburn, which means ‘boundary stream’ and refers to a tributary of the Thames, first became a place of public execution in the 12th century. By the 16th century it had become the ‘King’s gallows’ and on 4 May 1535 Charterhouse prior St John Houghton and four others became the first martyrs of the Reformation when they were hanged, drawn and quartered for refusing to take the oath attached to the Act of Succession.

Queen Elizabeth I rebuilt the gallows into the infamous three-sided Tyburn Tree in 1571 and frequently used them to execute Catholics in the religious persecution in the years afterwards. The last hanging there was in November 1783.

Blessed John Nelson, pray for us!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Democracy and Art: The Catholic Church?

I listened to an interview on the John Batchelor show with Victoria Coates about her book David's Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art. Batchelor and Coates were discussing her book in the context of the recent event in Rome when the authorities hid the nude sculptures on the Capitoline Hill to avoid offending the President of Iran.

The book's premise, according to the publisher, Encounter Books, is:

Throughout western history, the societies that have made the greatest contributions to the spread of freedom have created iconic works of art to celebrate their achievements. Yet despite the enduring appeal of works from the Parthenon to Michelangelo’s David to Picasso’s Guernica, histories of both art and democracy have ignored this phenomenon. Millions have admired the works of art covered in this book but relatively few know why they were commissioned, what was happening in the culture that produced them, and what they were meant to achieve. Even scholars who have worked on these objects for decades often miss the big picture as these works have been traditionally studied in isolation.

In David’s Sling, Victoria C. G. Coates integrates the pursuits of creative excellence and human freedom to bring a fresh, new perspective into both lines of inquiry. David’s Sling places into context ten canonical works of art executed to commemorate the successes of free societies that exerted political and economic influence far beyond what might have been expected of them. The book fuses political and art history with a judiciously-applied dose of creative reconstruction to craft a lively narrative around each key work of art and the free system that inspired it. David’s Sling tells their stories.

As I heard them discuss the book, I noticed a few comments: Batchelor compares Friar Savonarola of Florence to the President of Iran; Coates mentions that Napoleon Bonaparte betrayed the ideals of the French Revolution. Those comments seemed to betray a rather simplistic view of history. What were the ideals of the French Revolution? The Terror and the destruction of the Catholic Church? The life and career of Savonarola was much more complicated than Batchelor's quip. You can hear the podcast here.

It made me wonder how she regards the Catholic Church, the greatest patron of the arts in the medieval and Renaissance eras: painting, sculpture, architecture, and music, etc., which has never been a political democracy. When they discuss the great statue of David as a symbol of freedom against the rule of the Medici, they conclude that Michelangelo leaves Florence because he believes the republic has been destroyed by the Medici family and lives in Rome. Rome was not a republic; Rome and the Papal States were ruled by the pope as a secular monarch (even Medici popes!): how does this prove either Michelangelo's devotion to democracy or that democracy and free societies are necessary for creating great art?

It made me think of ten great works of art inspired by one of the least politically democratic organizations in world history, the Catholic Church:

1. St. Peter's Basilica (various)
2. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (Michelangelo)
3. The Last Judgment (Michelangelo)
4. Statuary for the tomb of Pope Julius, including the Moses (Michelangelo)
5. The School of Athens by Raphael (The Vatican's Stanza della Segnatura)
6. The Disputation of the Sacrament, also by Raphael (The Vatican's Stanza della Segnatura)
7. The Transfiguration (Raphael)
8. The Baldachin in St. Peter's Basilica (Bernini)
9. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila (Bernini)
10. Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, Jesuit Church (Bernini)

And this is just from one period, the Renaissance, in Rome--not to mention the glories of High Gothic in France (the Notre Dames of Paris, Chartres, etc)--and does not consider music (Victoria, Palestrina, etc) in Renaissance Rome at all. The popes and bishops who commissioned great works of art and patronized great artists might be surprised that they should have been living in free democratic societies to encourage such masterpieces. I don't think that her thesis is that only free democratic societies create great works of art to celebrate their achievements; the Catholic Church and Catholic artists have created great works of art to celebrate the life of Our Savior and the truth of His teaching, so that's a very different source of inspiration and goal of creation. But I wonder.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Belloc's Older Sister Marie and Her Movies!

In The Independent, Christopher Fowler summarizes her career and her most famous novel, The Lodger:

She was a prolific author, but her fame rests on a single novel. The only daughter of a French barrister and an English feminist, Marie Belloc Lowndes (1868-1947) was the sister of Hilaire Belloc, the granddaughter of the painter Jean-Hilaire Belloc, and the great-granddaughter of a famous theologian who invented soda water. She was one of the first to join the Women Writers' Suffrage League, and married a Times journalist. After her husband was left a legacy of £2,000 she had the financial security to risk a writing career, and began pouring out novels, essays, plays and memoirs at a rate of one a year, (I tally her total output at around 72 volumes but there may have been more).

Lowndes proved to be brilliant at combining suspenseful, exciting plotting with psychological insight. Her novel
Letty Lynton became a film vehicle for Joan Crawford, but there was another far more sensational book. In 1913, her novel The Lodger was slow to attract readers but gradually became a smash hit, eventually selling more than a million copies. It was loosely based around the Jack the Ripper murders, an outrage that had occurred just 25 years earlier and was still being discussed and analysed across the country. The book's inspiration came from a dinner party during which she overheard the hostess talking about her butler and cook, who kept lodgers and were convinced that one of them was the Ripper. In the novel, the landlady's suspicions grow when she discovers her lodger is a religious fanatic who walks the streets late at night and has an aversion to the engravings of beautiful women in his room. He reads sections of the Bible that rail against women, and returns home with a bloodstained cape. The novel's US version was championed by Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway.


Sources I've read about Belloc Lowndes, including the Wikipedia article, cite two movies based on her novels: The Lodger and Letty Lynton, and neglect to mention The Story of Ivy, which was made into a movie starring Joan Fontaine with the simple title, Ivy. It was on Turner Classic Movies last week. Ivy is a scheming woman who seems quite innocent: she is married (Richard Ney), has a lover (Patric Knowles), and wants another richer man (Herbert Marshall) to replace them both. So, she had to get rid of the husband and current lover and plans what she thinks is the perfect crime. It is an elegant and stylish film, produced by William Cameron Menzies. I won't give away the plot, but you know that crime does not pay--and there are few perfect crimes. According to TCM's article on the movie, this role was originally intended for Joan Fontaine's sister and rival, Olivia de Havilland. Olivia did not want the role because Ivy, as the title card noted is "So Sweet . . . So Beautiful . . .  So Lovely . . . but so utterly EVIL" and she did not want to play such an unsympathetic role.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Truth in Historical Interpretation

Suzanne Lipscomb writes about historians and the interpretation of the the facts of history in History Today:

History is debate, history is discussion, history is a conversation. Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote in 1957, ‘history that is not controversial is dead history’. While some of this controversy comes from the pronouncements of historians as public intellectuals addressing the present day, much of it comes from them arguing with each other. The collective noun for historians is – honestly – an ‘argumentation’.

This is not in contradiction to saying that historians aim at truth. What sort of truth we might achieve is debatable. Justin Champion, in writing about what historians are for, states that ‘historical claims to truth are aesthetic and ethical, rather than empirical and objective’. Peter Novick argued that historians make up stories and ‘make no greater (but also no lesser) truth claims than poets or painters’. I think this is to go too far. The past did exist, the events of history did happen. Our job as historians is to get at them as best as possible, on the basis of the evidence we have, in a way that is epistemic: that fits with the facts we can establish. It is this forensic, interrogatory process that is the joy of being an historian.

Yet the truth is, if you take a group of historians working on the same problem, writing at different times and in different places – even if they all use their evidence in a scrupulous, honest, critical and informed way – the conclusions they reach may differ. This is because we are all different people; our context, our formation, our insights are different and the histories we write are personal. If it were not so, there would be little point training up more students to be historians.

This is still a pursuit of truth.

Read the rest here. In another blog post, she offers some good advice for making sure that the facts historians use for their interpretative narratives are correct:

I thought I would presumptuously suggest a Code of Conduct for how historians should use evidence:
  • Use evidence to support your interpretation and seek to understand that evidence correctly.
  • Do not wilfully present evidence out of context, especially not in such a way that the lack of context will render the meaning of the evidence different, unclear or manipulable.
  • Do not cite evidence from sources that you elsewhere discount.
  • At best, do not waste a reader’s time on unsubstantiated sources.
  • At least flag up evidence that is drawn from such sources; do not use it silently.
  • Triangulate; search ardently for evidence that might undermine, as well as corroborate, your hypothesis.
  • Avoid assumption creep: do not allow assertions to move from ‘possibly’ to ‘probably’ to ‘definitely’; do not build more elaborate layers of interpretation on a foundation that is rocky.
  • Do not rely on the secondary assertions of other historians; ad fontes! Go back to the original sources.
  • Guard against confirmation bias; interrogate the ‘facts’ anew and bring a fresh analysis to them; do not mould the facts to your interpretation.
  • Root out and resolve any internal inconsistencies in your argument.
  • Cite sources so that they can be traced, with page numbers, archival call numbers and publication details.

Another Reason for Newman's Canonization

John Allen writes about Blessed John Henry Newman's inspiration for Catholics today:

There are many reasons why religion continues to thrive, but high on the list has been the capacity of a handful of influential religious thinkers to make their ancient traditions relevant to the contemporary situation — to put those traditions in creative conversation with the questions asked by modern women and men.

In that universe, few Catholic figures have packed a stronger punch over the past century than Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century British convert from Anglicanism whose carefully reasoned journey to Catholicism continues to inspire and provoke.

One might describe Newman as Catholicism’s “patron saint of relevance,” in that one can agree or disagree with his conclusions, but it’s impossible to dismiss them as the relic of a medieval mind.

Anyone who reads Newman today, and scores still do, immediately recognizes a very modern voice. It’s no accident that one of his best-known works is called precisely
Tracts for the Times.

And Father Dwight Longenecker writes for Aleteia:

A saint, however, is not a saint because of his intellectual accomplishments. Should he be declared a saint, John Henry Cardinal Newman will undoubtedly be up there with St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, St. Edith Stein and St Thomas More as one of the intellectual heavyweights. The galaxy of saints, however, contain stars who are not so bright intellectually. St. John Vianney, St. Joseph Cupertino, St. Therese of Lisieux and many others were not famous for their intellectual prowess or academic accomplishment. If John Henry Newman is a saint, then there is something else about him that we need to consider.

A saint is an ordinary person who has, by God’s grace, reached their full human potential. Therefore if John Henry Newman is to be a saint we must ask whether, by God’s grace, John Henry Newman had become all that John Henry Newman was created to be.

When we look at his life we see that he was gifted with a brilliant mind, a tender heart, and a deep love for God. Each one of those characteristics was fulfilled in his life. It is arguable, therefore, that John Henry Newman used his vast intellectual and spiritual gifts fully to the glory of God. Whether this beautiful soul and beautiful mind are granted the final formal recognition of being a saint is not so much a question of “if” but of “when.”

Since I have read and studied the life and works of Blessed John Henry Newman since I was a sophomore in college, this day of not if but when Newman is canonized is very exciting to me! I'm going to start the month of February off with the daily prayers and meditations from the CTS publication displayed above.