23 April 2017

The child-like simplicity of some Natural Scientists (1)

I once read an article in New Scientist, exulting (as I must confess I also do) in then-recent Pluto fly-past, which enquired 'where we go to next'. The author replied to his own question by suggesting a visit to Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbouring star, which is a mere four light-years away. Acknowledging that a space-craft constructed in accordance with our current technology would take a rather long time to get there, he nevertheless enthusiastically urged such a project on the grounds that it would be tremendously exciting for our descendants, in 100,000 years, to be getting the pictures (and other data) back.

I think this sort of sweet and child-like simplicity really marks out the instinctive differences between those like me, bred to cynicism and scepticism in the Humanities, and what I will call the naive journalism-end of Science writing. (I put it like this because, during my teaching career, I had colleagues, published scientists, who were men and women of very broad interests and formidable intelligence, whom I have no desire to patronise or insult.) For me, litteris humanioribus nutritus, nothing is more obvious than that the interests and assumptions and intellectual fashions of our species vary hugely from year to year, generation to generation, century to century, millennium to millennium. My own immensely shallow forays into intellectual history have included the 1930s, the 1840s, the 1630s, the 1490s, the Classical Roman World, the Classical Greek World ... in other words, brief, superficial  forays into brief periods spread over a little more than two thousand years. Many readers will recall that a very able mind, Mgr Ronald Knox, described with erudition and brilliance the mutating preoccupations in a fictional Oxford Senior Common Room by eaves-dropping its after-dinner conversations at fifty year intervals from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries (Let Dons Delight).

Of course, I may be wrong, and I grant you the liberty to be quite certain that I am. But I have to say that nothing strikes me as more totally, mind-blowingly, absurdly improbable than the idea that, in 100,000 years, our human descendants, assuming that we have any, will be possessed of interests even remotely similar to those of early twenty-first century astronomers. 

Anyone who can believe that (I feel inclined to say) will believe anything.

22 April 2017

"Archbishop Becciu"?

So an English gentleman, Fra Matthew Festing, has been ordered by some Italian archbishop called Becciu not to set foot in Rome. Such is the degree of petty tyranny to which Christ's Church Militant has now descended.

 Did I say 'archbishop'? This Becciu has never discharged a pastoral role as a real Bishop, let alone an 'arch'bishop. He is styled 'Archbishop' because of a nasty, corrupt practice set in place by S John XXIII, of spraying episcopacy over pen-pushing bureaucrats.

I complained about this twice in 2014. Interestingly, Cardinal Kasper made exactly the same point around the same time. In this matter, he is absolutely right. This is a massive abuse calling for reform, but still unreformed even in an allegedly reforming pontificate.

I wonder what conclusions we should draw from the spectacle of a Pope whose rhetoric is about Shepherds Smelling of Sheep, and about a Church Which gets Its Hands Dirty, but who actually functions oppressively through 'archbishops' who smell of nothing so much as the Computer.

Here is one of the pieces I originally wrote in 2014.

It is nice to know that Important People in Rome read my blog so carefully and take it so seriously. Cardinal Walter Kasper, I gather, agrees with me that: it is an abuse to thrust episcopacy upon curial bureaucrats as a sort of 'honour'. Kasper points out that even the great and admirable Cardinal Ottaviani, that hugely wonderful apotheosis of doctrinal rigour combined with Traditional peasant Catholicism [that bit's my description, not Kasper's], was not a bishop until S John XXIII, in accordance with his deplorable new policy, forced him to become one. Indeed, back even in the days of the derided 'Renaissance Prince' papacy, this was not thought necessary. (Blessed John Henry Newman was a cardinal but never a bishop.) Why can't the present Holy Father see the logic of my and Kasper's point? To thrust the charism of a Successor of the Apostles upon someone who is not going to be using that sacramental status in et cum Ecclesia, as the Shepherd of a Particular Church with its presbyterium, diakonia, and laos, but is merely going to have a 'titular' see in some long-forgotten place, is an abuse of the Sacraments. It is to use the Sacraments themselves merely to augment a bureaucrat's dignity and vanity ... as well as Signor Gammarelli's profits! Of course, there are bishops whose ministry of episkope is unusual but is pastorally episcopal (one thinks of Archbishop Pozzo, in the Ecclesia Dei  Commission), but I do not think that this is typical of curial roles.

Neither Walter Kasper nor I are attacking the present Pope individually in saying this. Pope Benedict XVI and S John Paul II used episcopal Consecration in precisely the way we are criticising. In my view, it would show Pope Francis in a very good light if he took the opportunity of his reform of the structures of the Curia to introduce this reform as part of the package. He's removed all the silly stuff about curial prebyters getting automatically to call themselves Monsignore ... good ... but the abuse of the Apostolic Ministry carries on, and is a far worse abuse. [Frankly, the speed with which Bergoglio made Tucho Fernandez an archbishop, in little more than hours after becoming pope, calls into question his credentials as a 'reformer'.]

Let curial Cardinal Presbyters be and remain Cardinal Presbyters! (And wear, daily, a galero, if they want to!) But what is worst is that secretaries of dicasteries are made archbishops. Is the Holy Father not aware that, in the local churches throughout the world, 'Archbishop' is a title of some distinction?

Sometimes it is suggested that such 'rank' is necessary so that the curial chappy concerned can 'outrank' Bishops from dioceses (rather as the Officer commanding a naval base used to be made the 'Harbour Admiral' so that he could outrank pushy visiting ships' Captains).

But does the Body of Christ need this infantile preoccupation with rank?

21 April 2017


This year, the Julian and Gregorian Easters coincide, a glorious pignus of Unity. So Easter Week is also Bright Week. And on Friday in Bright Week the Byzantines celebrate the role of the Mother of God in pouring Christ's healing streams of grace upon us. Originally Zoodochos Pege (the life-receiving fount) refered to one of Constantinople's greatest basilicas (next door to the imperial residence), Blachernae. Our Lady appeared there at the hagiasma (miraculous stream), standing with her hands raised in the orans posture. After an ikon was created to portray this and placed in the church, water began to flow from her hands. One is reminded of similar imagery and ideas at much later Western shrines such as Fatima and Lourdes, and of linked motifs of water and of grace flowing from her hands. The congruence here between East and West is quite uncanny, and it can only be a glorious intimation of the fact that both East and West drink from the same wholesome wells.

Zoodochos Pege is is also the dedication of that nice little Orthodox chapel up the stairs at the back of the Anglican Shrine Church of Our Lady of Walsingham. Suitably so, because a big part of the pilgrimages at Lourdes and Walsingham is the use of the water which our Lady showed to her servant. What a shame there is no Catholic Byzantine chapel at Walsingham! How lovely if the historically biritual Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer were able to start one!

It seems to me that the symbolism of Zoodochos Pege is an expression of what we Westerners have in mind when we call Mary Mediatrix omnium gratiarum, or refer to her Omnipotentia supplex. May she pray for the unity of all her Son's people.

20 April 2017

William Cardinal Allen ...

... is one of my favourite Cardinals. What a shame the Armada, perhaps the greatest Ecumenical venture ever planned, was unsuccessful! What a loss to the Ecclesia Cantuariensis!

In Westminster Cathedral, a large church in a Byzantine-derived style near Victoria Station, there are big brassy brass lists, dating from the pontificate of Cardinal Vaughan, erected to demonstrate the links of communio between successive Roman Pontiffs and the heads of the Catholic Church in England. (I have written about them before; my suspicion is that they are intended as an attempted counter-blast to Anglican claims of linear succession from S Augustine's quite successful little Church Plant from the Caelian Hill.)

What I want to know is: Why is Cardinal Allen not on that list?

Was he not appointed Head of the English Mission on September 18 1591 by Gregory XIV (an admirable pope who was a friend of S Philip Neri and of S Charles Borromeo, perpetuator of our own dear Cardinal Pole's Counter-Reformation).

What has the Ecclesia Westmonasteriensis got against William Allen? Or against Gregory XIV?

Was Vaughan in Lord Burley's pay?

A toast to the Glorious Memories of Popes Gregory XIV, Benedict XIV, and Clement XIV! And of William Cardinal Allen!!

19 April 2017

"In communion with the Pope"

Some bishop somewhere out there in foreigner-land has suspended a priest who criticised Pope Bergoglio in a sermon.

Personally, I think it is bad form to use a sermon to criticise directly any other Catholic cleric ... including the Pope. It is not what sermons are for.

But I take great exception to the wording which this bishop is reported to have used. And I mention it because it is a linguistic usage I have come across elsewhere during this increasingly illiberal pontificate.

Preaching should serve, said the bishop, "meditation of the readings of the day, and certainly not to give personal judgements, especially if they were not in communion with the Pope ... It is certain that priestly ministry in the Catholic Church presupposes communion with the Holy Father [sic all the syntax]".

Being in Communion with the Pope, or (since baptised non-Catholics may be said to be in partial communion) being in full Communion with the Pope is, surely, a juridical category whch implies that one has not been separated from the Communion of the Catholic Church by some formal judgement or by committing a canonical crime which, according to Canon Law, carries with it a sentence of excommunication latae sententiae.

Simply to criticise the Pope (however improperly or unwisely) surely does not incur such a sentence. Or, if it does, which Canon says so? And which Canon says that a cleric so acting incurs suspension either latae or ferendae sententiae?

If criticising the Pope automatically puts one out of communion with Christ's Body the Church, then there must be quite a lot of people who criticised Pope Benedict and who are still wandering around with an invisible but very real excommunication latae sententiae dangling round their necks and clashing at embarrassing moments with their pectoral crosses.

18 April 2017

Canon Brian Brindley ...

... wrote a nice piece on S Mary's Bourne Street ... or, as we called it once, Graham ['Grahm'] Street. My last visiting preachment as an Anglican was to this lovely 'Travers' building; the Marylebone Ordinariate Group, in aeternum floreat, represents in my mind the Faithful Remnant of that great old tradition, with its 'Mascall' connections.

Brindley explained that the key to understanding this Church was that it was intended to look like a Catholic Church which had gently and organically evolved over the centuries. He went on:

" ... in the Church of England, in all circles, low church and moderate as well as high church, the liturgical initiative is seen to lie with the Roman Church, and the Roman Church on the continent of Europe in particular. All the gimmicks which we see accepted without demur in the most official Anglican circles within the Church of England today - evening Mass, 'concelebration', Mass facing the people, 'primitive' vestments - all of them came to us direct from the Roman Church. Even in the matter of liturgy 'understanded of the people', where the Church of England has had a few centuries' start, it must be confessed that it has lagged behind the Romans. Church people who travel on the continent now find a very different external manifestation of Catholic continuity from that which delighted Maurice Child and Ronald Knox in the days before the Great War - tabernacles empty, high altars stripped and deserted, statues removed, votive-stands gone, high mass abandoned, plainsong and polyphony alike cast out in favour of vernacular hymns and trivial melodies; and, everywhere, communion-tables strictly in accordance with Cranmer's rubrics of 1552, in use at Mass. A Belgian or a Spanish visitor, wandering by chance into St Mary's, might be forgiven for thinking that he had strayed into some forgotten land of liturgical conservatism."

Father got some things wrong:
(1) Evening Mass was invented by Evangelicals, probably (has anybody researched this?) as an attempt to subvert Tractarian emphasis on Fasting Communion; and
(2) the 1552 BCP rubrics ordered the priest to stand at the North, or left, side of the Table. Thus he would be sideways-on to the people, who would have a good view of his right ear but would not be required to be confronted by his grinning face ... as the custom is in most Novus Ordo Churches. And

(3) are things quite as bad now?

Thanks to the erudite Dr Cotton for this.

17 April 2017

Fr Thurston again

Fr Altiere has kindly told me that Fr Thurston's book Lent and Holy Week can be read integrally online:


Father adds that Ft T also has an interesting article on the O Antyoiphons and, among other things, a study of the English Coronation Service, probably written at the time of the Coronation of George V.

16 April 2017


A courtier once asked Benedict XIV, Prospero Lambertini, whether he had noticed the large cross being worn suspended from a necklace by a certain well-endowed marchesa.

The enquiry was a cheeky one because the lady was displaying her emerald cross just above a very plunging neckline.

"Yes", replied the Sovereign Pontiff. "And I've also noticed the hill of Calvary upon which it is set up".

Easter Morning

In medieval England, Mattins on Easter morning, which some modern forms of the Office assure us we can leave unsaid if we have been at the Vigil, was a centrally important corporate part of the life of the community, for which parish magnates were proud to lay out money to provide the resources. The Liturgy, of course, which we call the Vigil, had happened earlier on Holy Saturday; now, early on the Sunday morning before Mattins began, the Host and Crucifix (which on Good Friday had been 'buried' in the 'Easter Sepulchre') were taken in procession, the former to the High Altar, the latter to a side altar. Antiphons were sung; the versicle and response
V The Lord hath risen from the grave
R Who hung for us upon the Cross.
were followed by a collect. Similar services took place in many parts of Europe, some even surviving to our own time. So culturally important was it that Archbishop Cranmer, in his First English Prayer Book, felt obliged to leave a shadow of it still in existence (vide inferius).

Around 1000ish, on Easter morning, the Roman Pontiff entered his Cathedral and opened the silver doors which gave access to the ancient Resurrection Ikon. He kissed the Lord's feet three times and then chanted the same versicle, to which the response was given. He then venerated the Cross, and his household did the same. The Pope then gave the Peace to each of them, with the words
V The Lord hath risen indeed; to which each replied
R And hath appeared unto Simon.

In recent years, a form of this rite, with the same verses (although no longer in V and R form) being used, has been restored as a preliminary to Easter morning Mass at S Peter's. It is now seen as an expression of the tradition that the Lord appeared either first or most significantly (Luke 24:34; I Corinthians 15:5) to S Peter; so that when the Pontiff, in whom Peter lives and witnesses, venerates the ikon, that Meeting is re-enacted.

Back to England, Sarum, and Archbishop Cranmer: when translating the Medieval texts, he replaced the first versicle and response with
V Show forth to all nations the glory of God.
R And among all people his wonderful works.
This strikes me as motivated by a desire to eliminate the idea of a Mystery experienced and presently relived, and its replacement by the scaled-down notion of remembering and proclaiming his past wonders. The poor old gentleman just could not bear the thought that, for the devout common peasantry of England and in objective reality, the Lord in His most August Sacrament had  been in the Sepulchre in the North Wall of the Chancel of their Church.

I don't think Thomas Cranmer and Dom Odo Casels would have found much upon which to agree.

Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger celebrates his ninetieth birthday today.

Blessed John Henry Newman notoriously rejoiced that so few popes had been clever; the purpose of a pope, he insisted, is to be a barrier against innovation.

Benedict XVI, one of God's choicest gifts to His Church in two millennia, was that most rare of things: a very clever pope who courageously set his hand and mind to the dangerous labour of building up the broken places.


15 April 2017

Have you seen it? UPDATED

Not in Cornwall; although in the weeks following Corpus Christi in 1549, the rebels carried it before them until the Tudor regime's genocidal German mercenaries drenched the countryside in blood. Nor in Oxfordshire, where, the same year, Lord Russell ordered the priests to be hanged from their Church towers. Nor will you see it in the North, not since the suppression by Bloody Bess of the the last Catholic insurrection in 1569.

But you can see it, newly made and newly flying in triumph above the Catholic Chaplaincy and its Hall of Residence in Cardiff. Vivat Cambria!

The banner of the Five Wounds, or the Flag of the "Arms of Christ", was the great battle-standard of the Catholic culture of late Medieval England. You can still see these arms carved in the bench ends of many old churches in Cornwall and Devon. I think there is a surviving ancient banner kept in the archives at Arundel. Blessed Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, the Cardinal's martyred Mother, had it enbroidered on the back of her shift.

Easter is surely the great celebration of the Five Wounds, when the risen Christ comes hurrying to meet each one of us in our Easter Communion, His outstretched arms and feet marked with the now glorified signs of His love, His open Heart both a fount of Mercy and a safe refuge. At the Day of Judgement the same Lord will bear the same signs, more dazzling than all the suns in Creation, as He comes from the East to call His blessed ones into His Father's Kingdom.

Happily, the old Sarum Votive Mass of the Five Wounds is found in our Ordinariate Missal, with the Paschal Alleluia: "To thee be glory, hosanna: to thee the crown of highest praise and honour. Alleluia"!

UPDATE: those with queries about the Mass of the Five Wounds will find a dozen or so posts by tapping FIVE WOUNDS into the search engine at the top left hand corner of the blog. If you can't find it, you may need to turn off your adblocker. 

14 April 2017

Regnavit a ligno Deus

"The Lord has reigned from the Tree".

As Neale translates this stanza of the Vexilla Regis:

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
Amidst the nations, God, saith he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.

You will not find the words from the tree [literally, wood] in any version of the psalter that reposes upon your bookshelves ... nor in any translation ... unless you are lucky and learned enough to possess a copy of the 'Psalterium Romanum': where it does occur in verse 10 of psalm 96MT/AV=95LXX/Vg. This psalter was used by many in the time of Venantius, as well as much earlier. S Justin Martyr knew the reading a ligno, and accuses the Jews of deliberately censoring these words from their text because of the embarrassing Christian resonances. Tertullian, S Cyprian, Lactantius, and S Augustine knew it, but S Jerome could not find it in a Hebrew text. Nor is it in the Septuagint, except in one single bilingual manuscript ('apo xulou') where it might have crept across from the Latin side.

Despite this, could it be original? Well, the discovery of Hebrew Biblical manuscripts much earlier than the medieval Hebrew 'Masoretic text' which Jewry treats as authentic, has shown a much greater diversity in the textual tradition than most people expected ... especially in the poetic books. (I counted some 28 occasions on which the producers of the New Vulgate adopted a reading from the Qumran Isaiah, supported by early translations, in preference to a reading from the Masoretic Text.) And it has become very obvious (not least to that admirable Methodist Margaret Barker) that elimination of 'Christian' verses did occur. If this phrase is original, it could originally have referred to the wood of the ark of the Covenant, victorious over the Philistine god Dagon. That's quite a nice piece of typology anyway, isn't it?

This, however, is not in my view the big question. Texts, before the invention of printing, were inherently unstable (look at the apparatus criticus of the OCT Homer), and this phrase, 'original' or not, is quite simply part of our Biblical tradition (just as is the story in S John of the Woman Caught in Adultery); canonised by the Fathers who were fed by it ... and by the use of Venantius' hymn throughout the Latin Christian centuries. Dom Lentini, in his first draft (1968) of the revised Breviary hymns, retained the stanza, and admirably added in a footnote "We do not dare [non audemus] to suppress the strophe nor to change the line". Good for him.

However, by the time the Liturgia Horarum was authorised (1971), a more radical and philistine attitude held sway; a determination to 'dare' to make the Great Tradition less visible; a hermeneutic of rupture. It is the prayer of all right-thinking people that Papa Ratzinger was successful in starting a process of turning the Philistines back. The restoration of this stanza to the Liturgy is overdue.

Perhaps I should make clear that I would not, for example, want to add the phrase to the Vulgate or neoVulgate psalters. I just object to editing it out of Venantius, so as to create a univocal and exclusive model of the interaction between biblical texts and patristic/liturgical texts. Both in secular literature and within Scripture, intertextualities are often immensely complex and extremely rewarding.

As long as some addict of 'Enlightenment' linearity doesn't come along and rob us of them.