16 October 2018

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is, essentially, the Sacring Place of English Kings and - since the invention of the 'United Kingdom' - of the monarchs of that protean political institution. It is rendered suitable for the former purpose by the presence of the shrine of S Edward the Confessor ... whose joyful festival we kept last Saturday.

There was, at the beginning of the modern era, an attempt to make the Abbey something more. In 1485, one Henry Tudor had, with very scant title, seized the throne of England. Marrying a Yorkist heiress did nothing to suppress agitation by those who wanted a Sovereign of the Blood Royal (indeed, his new mother-in-law joined those who were plotting against him); and, since Nature abhors a vacuum, whenever he executed Plantagenets, low-born Pretenders emerged from the woodwork. Foreign monarchs were cautious about betrothing daughters to the family of such a parvenu and unstable 'monarch'.

So he attempted to embellish his tenuous claim in two ways. By calling his son Arthur, he attempted to cast over his dodgy dynasty the mantle of the Once and Future King. And another name with incantatory potential was that of 'Henry'. Accordingly, the old Lady Chapel of the Abbey was demolished so as to be replaced by a new spectacular perpendicular chapel, where Tudor and his family were to be buried, but which, technically, was to be the shrine of a great royal saint who would match the S Edward who was enshrined nearby. Pope Julius issued bulls authorising the introduction of the cause for the canonisation of Henry VI (just as 'the divorce' was to be Henry VIII's Great Matter, so the canonisation was the Great Matter of Henry VII), and for the translation of his body from Windsor to this new chapel. Henry VII was seeking to cloak himself in the aura of the saintly Lancastrian, 'our Uncle of blessed memory', whose name, and whose descent from Catherine de Valois, he shared; and the very steps up to the chapel were to be endowed with indulgences. The building was adorned with all that was most sumptuous in the decorative arts of medieval England and of renaissance Italy.

In the twentieth century, there were admirers of Henry VI, especially Old Etonians, who revived the aim of securing his canonisation. However, so far ... perhaps PF ...

It is perhaps amusing that the last heir of the House of Stuart to prefer a claim de jure to the Three Crowns should have been His Most Eminent Majesty King Henry IX Cardinal Bishop of Frascati.

Hindsight informs us that there never was to be a Tudor King Arthur I. Nor did the politically-motivated campaign come to fruition of a canonised Saint Henry VI who would swell the pilgrim numbers in the Abbey. In fact, that England of popes, pardons and chantries had less than forty years to run before the Great Plunder.

But things seemed quite different at the start of the sixteenth century.

After all, the principal truth that the Muse of History teaches us is how very often the utterly unexpected is what happens.

A comforting thought during this present pontificate.

15 October 2018

Home Schooling

Apparently critical remarks have been made about home-schooling by some participants in the Synod.

I spent most of my adult life working in a college which was part of a corporation of colleges devoted to providing a middle-class education in the Catholic Tradition as this was understood within the Church of England. It was known as the Woodard Corporation, and contained about thirty colleges.

You might suppose that Canon Nathaniel Woodard, the Founder, must have entertained an uncritical devotion to the project of educating the young in colleges.

Not so.

He once described the practice of the mass education of the young as like trying o get one's hands clean by washing them in filth. His provision of so many establishments resulted simply from his conviction that, since the system existed, its worst features should be mitigated.

It was his view that the ratio of priests to pupils should be 1:10; and he did his best to secure that every member of his colleges should make a sacramental confession (the Victorians used the phrase Auricular Confession to make it sound sinister and unEnglish) on every occasion before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. The Chaplain was to be senior to the head master.

For this, he was mercilessly and endlessly persecuted.

Perhaps today's Catholic Church needs a dose of Woodardian 'Clericalism'.

14 October 2018

S Frideswide

Presumably, before 1962 the Birmingham Supplement of the Breviary had the Nocturn 2 lections for S Frideswide on October 19.

I'd be grateful if ...

Oratiuncula hodierna

Saint Paul VI, pray that the smoke of Satan which entered the Church may, by your intercession, be driven back. Pray that the the whole Church may hear with docile obedience the moral teachings which, handed down by your predecessors, you handed down to our generations. Pray especially for your successor Pope Francis, that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he may devoutly, powerfully, and joyfully set forth the tradition received through the Apostles, the Deposit of Faith.

13 October 2018

Cardinal Wuerl ...

... has finally had his resignation accepted. Many a blameless cleric would be delighted to receive as extravagant a send-off as PF has given Wuerl. What do we all have to do to earn ...

My own unease concerning Wuerl began with a story I heard the veracity of which I cannot guarantee. So, if I've got this wrong, apologies to the clerics concerned; apologies to my readers for misleading them. I welcome any corrections from anybody who knows the facts more accurately than I do. I would not wish the record to be anything other than straight! The following account is, therefore, provisional. It may well be totally withdrawn, with apologies.

It relates to North America and to the Ordinariate of the Chair of S Peter in the time of the previous Ordinary, Mgr Steenson..

My recollection is of being told that a parish in that Ordinariate had started an Extraordinary Form Mass on a weekday, which attracted quite a congregation. A stop was put to this by Cardinal Wuerl, who instructed Mgr Steenson to explain to his subjects that the EF was not part of the Anglican Patrimony, and should not be celebrated in Ordinariate churches.

If true, this is preposterous. The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus says that Ordinariate clergy may use either the Roman Rite or the Ordinariate Rite. It does not distinguish between the two forms of the Roman Rite, the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. By decreeing that Ordinariate clergy can celebrate the Roman Rite, and making no distinction between its two forms, those Ordinariate clergy are placed in exactly the same position as every other presbyter of the Latin Church, by virtue of Summorum pontificum.

Is the EF "part of our Patrimony"? In one sense, clearly not. The provinces of the Anglican Communion never authorised the Missal of S Pius V.

But, equally, those provinces never authorised the Novus Ordo of B Paul VI. So, by the "not part of our Patrimony" argument, Cardinal Wuerl would prevent us from using that too.

In another sense, the EF clearly is part of our Patrimony. It has been in use by our clegy and Laity for roughly a century. When I was in the Diocese of Oxford in the Province of Canterbury, I used it, in Latin, most weekday mornings. It was also used in various Missals such as the English Missal, which provided it partly in Latin and partly in English and with the possibility of interpolating some formulae from the Book of Common Prayer. I knew it as a schoolboy in the 1950s and as an undergraduate in the early 1960s.

The same is not true of the Novus Ordo! That is totally alien both to the elegant but Zwinglian formulae in the 'official' Book of Common Prayer, and also to the de facto liturgical culture which prevailed in 'Anglo-Catholic' circles.

The old Mass is very much an integral part of our liturgical history. Our greatest liturgist and mystagogue, Dom Gregory Dix, used it daily, in Latin, in his monastery at Nashdom, and insisted on doing so in the Lutheran Churches during a lecture tour in Sweden! In the Anglican shrine of our Lady of Walsingham, there still are dozens of examples of the Missale Romanum (well, there were last time I said Mass there about ten years ago), and of the English Missal, surviving in storage from the happy days when the twenty or so altars in the Shrine Church would have been in constant use, during the pilgrimage season, by priests saying their private masses according to what, in those  happy days, we called "the Western Rite"!

So ... can anybody fill me in with regard to this American business?

12 October 2018

Dr Jalland and the Ordinariate Missal

Over the last few days, I have shown how Dr T G Jalland, my erudite predecessor as pp of S Thomas's By The Railway Station in Oxford, was one of those Anglo-Catholics in the middle of the twentieth century who transformed for thoughtful Anglicans the question of the Papacy; he used the prestigious Bampton Lectures here in Oxford to open up the subject of 'Rome' to a great and much-needed hurricane of historical truth. I have not abandoned my sense of pietas towards him. He was one of the Grandfathers of our Ordinariate.

He used the occasion of the fourth centenary of the First English Prayer Book to preach a sermon which concluded with the summary that Archbishop Cranmer was

"always, from first to last, dependant on an imperfect text of Scripture, on a narrow range of Patristic material, as yet but partially understood in relation to its true historical character, and above all on 'the latest thing from Germany'. It is hardly surprising that his laboriously fashioned structure proved to be, doctrinally and liturgically speaking, a house of cards. But it is ever to his credit that in his command of English and above all of the rhythm and melody of words, he bequeathed to us a treasury out of which may be fashioned in the end 'a manner of the holy communion' far more 'agreeable with the institution of Christ, St Paul and the old primitive and apostolic church' than ever was his own". 

"May be fashioned in the end"! A prophetic vision of our admirable Ordinariate Missal!!

(Thanks to Professor Tighe for unearthing this text for me some years ago.) 


11 October 2018

Kai Lung and Tsu Pich

Discerning people nowadays, surely, have Friends; Close Friends; and Lake Garda Friends. These  last they look forward to meeting annually at the Gardone Riviera Conference.

It was one of these, dear Alex Sepkus, who, I think three years ago, introduced me to the 'Chinese' story-teller Kai Lung. Ernest Bramah's stories seem to have appealed in the 1930s particularly to those who, in Dorothy Sayers' phrase, are intoxicated with words. Wimsey, for example, and Belloc.

The essential linguistic register in these rococo tales is a combination of extreme ritual self-deprecation with an equally mannered elevation of the person addressed ... even in situations which factually belie the language employed.

Here, for example, Ernest Bramah descibes a murderous bandit kidnapping a hapless traveller:

"Precede me to my mean and uninviting hovel, while I gain more honour than I can reasonably bear by following closely in your elegant footsteps, and guarding your Imperial person with this inadequate but heavily-loaded weapon."

I could not help thinking of Kai Lung when I read of how a lofty (although diminutive) individual called Tsu Pich had treated a mean and lowly personage called Kal Chick. Consider this passage:

"For some weeks now, I have become increasingly concerned about a number of issues at Resurrection Parish. It has become clear to me that Kal Chick must take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support, so that his needs can be assessed".

 Philogical notes: 
 Concerned: nowadays, lofty and grand  people are never angry or even worried. In the impassibility of their Olympian fastnesses, they are concerned. 
Issues: in today's world and today's Church, we happily do not have problems. We do, however, have issues, which no longer means that our wives have born children, but that ... er ... we have ...er ... problems.
Receive pastoral support: modern management never does anything hostile, vindictive or harmful; everything done is always for the good of the victim. 
His needs ... assessed: ditto.

So, in the idiom of Kai Lung and Tsu Pich, an ordinary vernacular English analysis such as "This guy needs to be taken away and thoroughly beaten up" gets translated into "We shall give him pastoral support and assess his needs".

It makes the legendary Spanish Inquisition seem almost inviting, doesn't it?

10 October 2018

Montini and Modesty in Martyrdom

As we contemplate the impending canonisation of Blessed Montini, my undisciplined mind has started to meander among some of the more recondite goodies which the mox-Sanctus is responsible for having introduced into the Liturgy ...

Since I am a classicist, certain lines in S Ambrose's Hymn about S Agnes, brought into the Liturgia Horarum by Dom Lentini's coetus, drifted into my memory ... lines which might cause other Classicist readers the momentary puzzlement engendered by an obscure feeling of familiarity. Yes, you have read something like this in 'profane' Classical poetry.

The hymn contains the lines

Nam veste se totam tegens
terram genu flexo petit
lapsu verecundo cadens.
[ For, covering herself completely with her garment she made for ground with bended knee, falling with a modest fall.]

In the back of my mind was the thought that it sounded like Euripides and probably came from the Iphigeneia in Aulide (where Agamemnon secures a wind to get his fleet to Troy so that Helen can be retrieved, by the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigeneia). But a reading through the Messenger Speech near the end of that play proved the falsity of my suspicion. I sat stymied, until the Muse who looks after Liturgical bloggers (who she?) slipped into my mind the name Polyxena. Yupp! There it is in Euripides' Hecuba (so I was right about the author). Polyxena was a Trojan princess, loved by Achilles, who, after the Fall of Troy (and death of Achilles) was sacrificed upon his tomb, so that, so to speak, he got her in the end ...

Then the Pierian Lady vouchsafed me a second flash of enlightenment: it's also to be found in the Metamorphoses of the Greatest Latin Poet, Ovid. There you have the same three ideas: she covered herself; she fell to the ground on her knee; she fell in a way that did not betray her modesty.
Euripides: katheisa pros gaian gonu ... thneskousa homos pollen pronoian eikhen euskhemon pesein, kruptousa ha kruptein ommata arsenon khreon.
Ovid: illa super terram defecto poplite labens pertulit intrepidos ad fata novissima vultus; tum quoque cura fuit partes velare tegendas, cum caderet, castique decus servare pudoris.

Given the fact that each of these lubricious authors kept a frivolous tongue fairly consistently in a wicked cheek, I suspect that each is amusing himself with a little dry irony at the idea that a girl who was being poleaxed might be preoccupied with the need to prevent the chaps from getting a glimpse of her knees (Euripides had already enjoyed a bit of a schoolboy snigger, surely, in making Talthybios, a few lines earlier, praise Polyxena by saying that she had better breasts than a statue).

Entertainingly, the 'reformers' who provided the texts of the Hymns for the Liturgia Horarum missed out four lines, explaining that they did so because the lines 'nimis insistunt in praedicando pudore' [they go a bit too far in preaching modesty]. What a lovely and revealing (!) Sixties assumption: the idea that going on too much about sexual continence is a mistake*!

One wonders if the 'reformers' ' studies and libraries provided generous views from their windows of the immodest Sixties garments worn by the floozies (lupae, as we and pope Benedict might call them) in the Roman streets outside. It would explain how Bugnini - whom I picture as a man modestly garbed in the Apron of the Craft and with his mind set on weightier considerations than knees - got away with so much liturgical dishonesty.

*Originally the text went

nam veste se totam tegit,
curam pudoris praestitit
ne quis retectam cerneret.
in morte vivebat pudor;
vultumque texerat manu,
terram genu flexo petit
lapsu verecundo cadens.

Perhaps vultum texerat would have made the Saint sound too Islamic. French gendarmes might have arrested her.

9 October 2018

Dr Jalland in 1934

I continue this little "Jalland" series, which I hope well-disposed readers have enjoyed, by giving you a sketch of what Church Life was like at S Thomas's in Oxford, and in thousands of Anglo-Catholic Churches throughout England, in the 1930s. As I hope discerning readers have spotted, I am not doing this out of mere nostalgia. I think, living as we now are in peace and communuon with the See of S Peter, we may still have a lot to learn from 1930's Anglo-Catholicism as we lift our eyes to a beautiful vision of how the current Latin Church could be, once she is awakened and vivified.

I know that many readers may not have agreed with the analysis Jalland and his fellows came to with regard to what the Church of England really was. I would like to feel that we could leave those judgements to the Great Judge. Because what I desire to focus on is what the old Anglo-papalists thought they were doing: building up again the great edifice of Catholicism in places where they thought it had been obscured and perhaps even lost.

And is that not where we are today in the Catholic Church?

While I was browsing through the S Thomas's archives, the following 'Vicar's Notes' from 1934 attracted my attention; not least for the sense of a vibrant Catholic parish life during that decade when the Catholic movement in the Church of England was riding so very high. Jalland is writing about the observance of the Patronal Festival, of the Translation of S Thomas of Canterbury, on Saturday July 7.

"On that day there will be Masses at 6.30, 7.30, and a High Mass at 9. It is likely that the first evensong of the feast will be sung at 7.30 p.m., on Friday evening, at which there will be a Sermon by the Reverend Canon A.G.G. Ross, Vicar of St Mark, Swindon. It is hoped that there will be many who will take advantage of this opportunity of adding corporate worship to their personal preparation for the Feast. Confessions will be heard on several days before the Festival ... On the Sunday in the Octave the Sermon at Mass will be preached by the Rev. C. Gill, of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and after Evensong by the Rev.D Sargent, Vicar of St Cross, Holywell ..."

Mass, fasting, before breakfast; multiple morning Masses and a High Mass on a weekday morning; First Evensongs; high jinks continuing into the Sunday within the Octave; lots of confessions; and oodles of Visiting Preachers. This is the Anglo-Catholicism which Betjeman remembered and celebrated in his verses, when "the Faith was taught and fanned to a holy blaze". I suspect that those inter-war years were the last sparkling times before the Luftwaffe destroyed so many of the old Anglo-Papalist slum churches and British governments dispersed the remnants of their congregations into suburbs and high-rise flats.

A speculation of mine is that some of these Patronal celebrations may have owed a lot to what the Anglo-Catholic clergy saw on the Continent. I have in mind Canon Doble of the Diocese of Truro, who did so much research into the Cornish Saints by hunting down the cultus those same saints  enjoyed in Brittany (giving, as he did so, the French clergy whom he met the cheekily inaccurate impression that the entire Church of England was really totally Catholic!). Because it is my impression that Patronal Festivals never were and never have been very prominent in the culture of Irish-English Roman Catholicism. And, in any case, we rather prided ourselves in not aping the English Catholic Church.

Is this a Catholicism which needed the 'liturgical reforms' which followed so soon after the War? Were the 'reforms' of Pius XII - abolition of Octaves and First Evensongs - abolition of Fasting Communion and non-communicating High Masses - really advances? Have they really bequeathed to us a more flourishing, cheerful, inculturated Catholicism? 

We can never put the clock back ... but we can learn from the mistakes of the post-war years.

Today ...

 ... I wish all readers a very happy Festum of Blessed John Henry Newman, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the teachers of the modern Church.

I suggest readers might like to recite the Athanasian Creed, one of his most loved formulae, with an intention for the Oratorian families which are such a wonderful grace to the Anglophone Churches.

8 October 2018


A most important observation by Cardinal Gerhard Mueller has been reported but not, I think, adequately contextualised.

"A synod of the bishops is not an ecumenical Council. It has no authority. Even if the pope is speaking about authority, it is not magisterrial authority. THE POPE CANNOT CHANGE THE BASIC CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH. He cannot give a new definition of the primacy of the bishop of Rome or what bishops are to do."

The immediate context here is that PF had issued a purported "Apostolic Constitution" claiming to confer, in some circumstances, the cover of papal magisterial authority upon the pronouncements of his own poor doctored and loaded Synods.

The remote context is that Mueller is clearly here alluding to Denzinger 3114 (et vide 3117). Bismarck had launched a violent attack uon the teaching of Vatican 1; the German bishops responded by formally stating that the pope non potest mutare constitutionem Ecclesiae a fundatore datam ... Constitutio Ecclesiae in omnibus essentialibus fundatur in ordinatione divina ideoque immunis est ab omni arbitraria dispositione humana.

Subsequently, Pio Nono confirmed, in extraordinarily categorical language, what the German bishops had taught. It is thus the teaching not simply of the German bishops, but of Blessed Pius IX himself.

Frankly, the "Apostolic Constitution" had worried me. The firm explanation of Cardinal Mueller that PF (or any other pope) simply cannot do this sort of thing lifts a weight from my conscience.

The CBCEW has recently seriously dented its own reputation and authority by issuing an embarrassingly sycophantic ultrapalist communique. It would be very reassuring if this body could just teach the Catholic Faith with the same simplicity and clarity as Gerhard Cardinal Mueller does.

In my mind, Mueller would be a very good choice to sort out the mess which will have been left by this sad and sorry pontificate.


7 October 2018

Jalland again

The 1942 Bampton Lectures of my distinguished Anglican predecessor at S Thomas's, Dr Trevor Jalland, are a tour de force demonstrating his sure-footed competence in discussing the relationship of Papacy to Church in every succeeding Christian era, from "a decidedly favourable verdict ought to be given regarding not only the Petrine texts, but also the tradition of the Apostle's residence and death in Rome" down to "That the Roman episcopi, whether in plurality or as successive holders of a single office, were held to be and were in fact the heirs of the authority of St Peter and of his co-Apostle St Paul in the Roman See seems to be suggested, if not guaranteed, even by such limited evidence as we still possess, though it is equally clear that reflexion on the real implications of the original data was needed before their full significance was generally appreciated. The value of the papal office as the primary centre of unity, as the highest court of appeal, as a custodian of order and a corrector of aberrations from the original depositum fidei - all this and much more emerges ... only when the Church becomes aware of itself in a fuller sense as a world-wide organisatiom, and when a local and 'parochial' consciousness gives place to an oecumenical outlook. This papal ideal, in spite of the occasional distortion and falsification which it has undergone in the course of its long history, is to be viewed in its perfection not as an instrument for the suppression of liberty, but as a means under providence for the safeguarding of the ordered freedom of the 'sons of God' ... it is a strange form of historical blindness which is unable to perceive in its long and remarkable history a supernatural grandeur which no merely secular institution has ever attained in equal measure. Its strange, almost mystical, faithfulness to type, its marked degree of changelessness, its steadfast clinging to tradition and precedent, above all its burning zeal for order and Justitia, compel us to acknowledge that the Papacy must always defy a categorisation which is purely of this world."

Time was when I used to quote Jalland to try to persuade Anglicans of the divine reality of the Petrine Ministry. Now, by a strange conversio, I find myself commending Jalland's insights to fellow Catholics who need to be instructed about why Bergoglianity is such a falling-away from the real papacy ... such a theft from God's people of the Papacy which they have a right to have at their service. I have, of course, particularly in mind passages such as those I have ventured to emphasise above in red!


6 October 2018

Jalland continues

"I direct and appoint ... that the eight Divinity Lecture Sermons shall be preached ... to confute all heretics and schismatics ... upon the authority of the writings of the primitive fathers ...". So directed the Revd John Bampton, sometime Canon of Salisbury, when he founded his series of lectures to be given in every alternate year. Jalland, in the Preface to his 1942 Bampton lectures (you can read them on the Internet Archive), expresses "his very deep gratitude" to the friends who have helped him: Nipper Williams (who served at S Thomas's); Leslie Cross; Tom Parker; Eric Kemp; Gregory Dix ... all of them names to conjure with.

On the morning of Monday, July 18, 1870, as the early glow of dawn was slowly spreading across the sky of North Italy, an express train which had left Rome at half past seven o'clock the previous evening, was clanking on its way across the plains of Lombardy. For some weeks past the stifling heat of summer in the papal capital had been quite unbearable, and as the train neared the frontier of Piedmont, the fresh wind blowing down from the mountains must have reached the weary travellers like a breath of new life. Awakened by the glimmering daylight and the cool of dawn, Monsignor Felix Dupanloup, bishop of Orleans, felt in the pocket of his douillette and drew out his breviary. As he turned over its pages to find his places for the current feast of St Camillus of Lellis, his companion, Monsignor Louis Haynald, archbishop of the metropolitan see of Kalocsa, in Hungary, who was occupying the opposite corner of the compartment, leaned forward in the direction of his fellow-bishop. 'Monseigneur', he said, 'nous avons fait une grande faute'. The bishop of Orleans looked up, paused for a moment, and then, gently raising his hand, showed that he had already begun the recitation of his Office.

In my view, that is one of the all-time great beginnings to a book, fit to stand beside anything in the corpus of the divine Jane, and more striking than du Maurier's haunted Cornish house at Mandalay. How Jalland completed his Bampton lectures, I plan to reveal.


5 October 2018

Dr 'Patrimony' Jalland

I know that some readers dislike one of my favourite themes: that in the Ordinariates we have brought with us into Catholic Unity the Giants of our splendid old Catholic Anglican tradition. Why can't I forget about the dead Anglican past and just get on with being a Catholic? I apologise, but with the explanation that, in my opinion, there are curious and instructive parallels between them and their times; and a fair bit of what we are living through today in the Catholic Church. Just two examples: the tirade which Bishop Gore of Oxford unloaded upon his Anglican fellow-bishops after the Lambeth Conference of 1930 dumped the immemorial Christian teaching on Contraception; and the condemnations of so many competent Anglican liturgists of the changes "Rome" made in the Liturgy after Vatican II.

But today, I return to the erudite figure of my predecessor as pp of S Thomas the Martyr in Oxford, Fr Trevor Gervase Jalland. According to Oral Tradition, one Good Friday, at the Mass of the Presanctified (ah, those were the days), some unfortunate Altar boy presented himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. His Parish Priest brushed him aside with such decision that the child keeled over ... ah, those were the days. Jalland (Vicar 1933-1947) went on to found the Theology Faculty at Exeter University; he returned to S Thomas's to be buried, the Funeral Mass being said by the veteran and erudite Prebendary Michael Moreton of Exeter (who was writing about the importance of versus Orientem decades before the papists rediscovered it). Fr Michael risked raised eyebrows at Jalland's very Establishment funeral by using the Canon Romanus. "Jalland was a Patristics scholar and I resolved that he should have a Patristic Eucharistic Prayer".

According to the same Oral Tradition, Fr Sweeney (pp 1979-2003), was not much less resolute. I have been told that he would kick an ill-placed Sacred Minister and, dissatisfied during Mass with the Music, would clap his hands and berate the organ loft ...

Jalland had no qualms about facing lesser men down. He was at the heart of the process of liturgical revision in the Church of England back in the 1960s, fighting the battle for an oblatio in the anamnesis. Ultimately, this battle was lost; the evangelicals in General Synod were able to vote down the proposed "We offer thee this bread and this cup". But most notorious of his audacities was Jalland's response to being asked, in 1942, to preach the Bampton Lectures in this University. This is probably the most prestigious series of lectures upon a theological topic in the Church of England ... and Jalland chose to devote his eight lectures to The Church and the Papacy. This was a time when Dom Gregory Dix had demonstrated the congruity of the Vatican I decrees on papal primacy and infallibility with the praxis of the anti-Nicene centuries; but Dix's audience tended to be mainly his fellow Anglican Catholics. Jalland's hearers would be Anglican theological specialists of every doctrinal school.


4 October 2018

A unique grace of the Holy Spirit?

So there I was, the other day, strolling down St Giles without a care in the world. I had just stocked up at the World's premier Deli, Manos in Walton Street. As I had passed the Tower of the Winds (American readers may be more familiar with a copy of this building in Athens), I had looked over the new statue of Dr Radcliffe ... no; it's not worthy of such a great man; nor a fitting monument to the great age of Oxonian Jacobitism. But then, what do you expect? Redeat magnus ille genius Britanniae ...

Then I stopped as I recognised a brother priest. After Rome, Oxford must be one of the most priested cities in the World. Urbs felicissima. We Exchanged Fellowship. "When you get home", he advised me, "have gin. A very, very stiff gin. Then another. Then read the Communique of the CBCEW just issued at the end of their ad limina  visit to the Holy See. Then have some more gin".

I always do my best to take the advice of brother clergy. I have profound confidence in their sacerdotal wisdom.

I soon saw what he meant about the gin.

The Communique includes a passage which seemed to me familiar: "[PF] is indeed gifted with a unique grace of the the Holy Spirit of God. Even in this time of turmoil, the Holy Father is so clearly rooted in God and blessed by God. His peace is secure. His life is serene. We know, because he showed us his heart. It is the heart of a loving father. In our turn, we affirmed our deep communion with him and promised him our love, support, and prayers. We expressed confidently these sentiments on behalf of all the faithful Catholics of England and Wales."

It seemed familiar because it is manifestly from the same drafting hand which composed a letter to PF on the fourth anniversary of his election to the Throne of S Peter. "On behalf of the Catholic Community of England and Wales ... we thank God that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in the process of your election and that the same Holy Spirit guides and supports you day by day".

I would have to concede that such statements are probably not formally heretical. After all, each of the Baptised is gifted with a grace of the Holy Spirit which must be unique; crafted specifically for each differently created and variously loved individual. Praised be to God for this.

But  if these encomia are meant to have any meaning beyond that of sycophantic woffle, then give me instead  ... any day of the year ... the robust common sense and deft Bavarian humour with which Pope Benedict XVI responded when some fool of a journalist asked him whether the Holy Spirit guided Papal Conclaves.

Call me an unfaithful Catholic if you like, but I have no desire to be associated with these papolatrous statements implying that the Holy Spirit is the private personal bailiwick of PF. They seem to me to come close to blasphemy.

Nor am I very clear what is meant by "deep communion". I think I understand "communion" as a theological and canonical concept. I think I know the difference between being in full, and being in unfull, communion with the Church. But what on earth are these gradations of deepness in the matter of Communio?

"Are you in Communion with the See of Rome!" "Up to a point, Lord Copper".

3 October 2018


There is liturgical evidence, which I do not think has been widely noticed, concerning the authority carried by an act of Canonisation.

The rites of Canonisation have tended  ... this will not surprise you ... to vary in the last seventy years. The most recent changes before this (PF) pontificate, which took place under Benedict XVI, seemed designed to impose on the rites a theological meaning which they previously had not so explicitly expressed. As Pope Benedict left the rite, before the singing of Veni Creator Spiritus the Pontiff asked for prayer that Christ the Lord would not permit His Church to err in so great a matter. And, in the Third Petition the Cardinal Prefect for the Causes of Saints informed the Pontiff that the Holy Spirit "in every time renders the supreme Magisterium immune from error (omni tempore supremum Magisterium erroris expertem reddit)".

These phrases, added by Pope Benedict, were in formulae cut out by PF when he canonised a number of beati in 2014; and subsequently.

It looks to me as though Pope Benedict's additions were intended to strengthen the view that acts of canonisation are infallible and require acceptance de fide. I wish now to point out that, if the formulae introduced by Benedict XVI did affect this debated theological question, then, surely, so does the action of this Pontificate in removing them. In the gradual accumulation of evidences and precedents which gradually build up an established judgement of the Magisterium, surely phrases which were introduced into rites by one Pontiff and, very soon afterwards, removed by the next, have less auctoritas than established and immemorial formulae which have been used by successive pontiffs for centuries.

Canonisation raises questions which, for centuries, interested specialist students of Canon Law. They interested the future Pope Benedict XIV, Prospero Lambertini. However, they have in the past not been things which concerned non-specialists. Ordinary Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and laity naturally and very properly just accepted the judgements made by the Sovereign Pontiff in this as in so many other matters. But the situation is not the same now. There has been, in some quarters, an uneasy suspicion for some time that canonisations have turned into a way of setting a seal upon the 'policies' of some popes. If these 'policies' are themselves a matter of divisive discussion and debate, then the promotion of the idea that canonisations are infallible becomes itself an additional element in the conflict. Canonisation, you will remind me, does not, theologically, imply approval of everything a Saint has done or said. Not formally, indeed. But the suspicion among some is that, de facto and humanly, such can seem to be its aim. This is confirmed by a prevailing assumption on all sides that the canonisations of the 'Conciliar Popes' does bear some sort of meaning or message.

Personally, I feel more confident in my earlier conclusion, that to dispute the judgement made in and by an act of canonisation would not actually be a sin against fides. In other words, I feel happier with the theological implications of PF's' deletions than I did with the implications of what Pope Benedict added (see above). In practical terms, I feel that PF's excisions from the rite ought to make the canonisation of B Paul VI just that little bit less of a problem for particularly tender consciences, because the act of canonisation does not now come before us weighed down with quite that same degree of Authority with which Pope Benedict had wished it to be endowed. And I would regard the observations I made in the previous part of this series, about schismatic canonisations subsequently adopted within the Catholic Church, as also pointing in the direction of canonisations (at least pro eo) not necessarily being de fide.


A careful reader has drawn my attention to a piece of misinformation of which I am guilty: I asserted that Mass of our Lady of the Rosary can lawfully supersede, this coming Sunday, the Mass of the Sunday per annum in the Ordinary Form. I apologise for this. I should have known better. One gets confused as one gets older. What I had in mind was para 245 of the Institutio of the Liturgy of the Hours. (How odd, incidentally, that the permissions in the Mass and in the Office are not in sync.)

Mind you, in view of the recent comments of PF about keeping October as Rosary Month, I doubt if he would mind if you ...

2 October 2018


As if he has not yet created enough divisions within the Church Militant, PF intends this month to perform the highly divisive act of canonising Blessed Paul VI. Even he, judging from what he said in giving this information to the Clergy of the City, can see that this canonisation business has become a silly giggle: "And Benedict and I are on the waiting list", he quipped. Delightfully humorous. A very witty joke. Very drole, Sovereign Pontiff.

I share the views of many, however, that the joke is a bad one, in as far as this projected canonisation is fundamentally a political action to be linked with the apparent conviction of PF that he himself is the champion and beneficiary of B Paul's work at Vatican II and afterwards. I do not accept that he is. But, today, I do not intend to enable comments which discuss these questions of the prudential order (or comments which simply rant). Because I don't much like it when people comment merely so as to have an opportunity of plugging their own pet opinions, I shall probably not enable comments which show no interest in the fact-based arguments I deploy in what follows.

Because, I have some queries which are genuinely questions with regard to important theological matters antecedent to any imminent canonisations.

My mind really is not made up regarding the Infallibility of an act whereby the Roman Pontiff 'canonises'; and the probably but certainly related question of whether a de fide assent is required.  I assume that everybody with an interest in this subject knows exactly what the Vatican I text of Pastor aeternus said and did not say about Papal infallibility. I have also found it useful to have read parts of Benedict XIV's De Beatificatione et Canonizatione, and Liber 1 Caput LXV really is required reading; it can be found by googling Benedicti papae XIV Doctrina de Servorum Dei beatificatione et ..., and then scrolling down to pages 55-56 (42-43 in the printed book which Google copied). It was written before the election of the erudite and admirable Prospero Lambertini to the See of Rome.


(1) Theologians of distinction can be listed who have taught that Canonisation is an infallible act of the Papal Magisterium. But, with regard to those who wrote before 1870, is there not a prior question that has to be asked? The Church had then not defined (i.e. put limits, 'fines', to) the dogma of Papal Infallibility. The terms of Pastor aeternus were (to the chagrin of Manning and the palpable relief of Newman) extremely limited. Therefore, can we be sure that those pre-1870 theologians really were categorising canonisation as infallible in the sense of the word infallible as defined with all the limitations of the 1870 decrees? Or, because of the limits imposed by that definition, might they have used a different term had they needed to develop their arguments within the confines of what Pastor aeternus lays down? Is this why Benedict XIV accepts the possibility of arguing that what a Roman Pontiff decrees may be infallible, but still not be de fide? It is in logic obvious that a proposition may be true, and may be demonstrably true, without it being incumbent upon anybody to accept that truth. But after 1870, I assume, this is changed as far as ex cathedra papal pronouncements are concerned, because the scope and function of the term infallibilis have been changed to imply and include the notion that a proposition is not merely true but is also of faith.

(2) In assessing the arguments of such pre-1870 writers, should we pay attention to the general extent which they assert when talking about the authority of the Roman Pontiff? That is: if a writer is very generous in his estimate of the fields to which papal infallibility extends, he is unlikely to be writing in terms of something like the highly limited 1870 definition. But if an author is very much more sparing and circumspect in associating infallibility with papal interventions, he is more likely to have in mind a concept of infallibility resembling that of Vatican I.

As a consequence of this, when, later than 1870, we argue that papal canonisations are infallible, we should not claim simpliciter the support of those earlier, pre-1870, theologians, because they are likely to have been using the term in a different sense than that of Pastor aeternus.

(3) And there is another question raised by the Definition and Practice of Papal infallibility which the pontificate of B Pius IX bequeathed us. It implies an assumption that the Roman Pontiff is acting with the morally unanimous, collegial, assent of the whole ecclesia docens. I know that, for some traditionalists, Collegiality is a dirty word; but B Pius IX and Pius XII wrote to the bishops of the entire world seeking their counsel before defining the two Marian Dogmas ('Is it definable? Is it opportune to define it?') and ... well ... I'm just an ordinary Catholic ... the praxis of those two pontiffs is good enough for me! But do Popes seek the counsel of all their Venerable Brethren before canonising?

(4) Papal infallibilty is nothing but one modality within the infallibility of the Church. So is it rational to assign infallibility to some canonisations - those personally enacted by the Pope - and not to those enacted by a different authority (the oft-quoted Quodlibet IX:16 of S Thomas is not necessarily limited to papal canonisations.)? We know that popes cannot delegate their infallibility. There are the saints on the calendars of sui iuris churches: such as that of the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch (after all, it is arguable that, as a successor of S Peter, this Patriarch is, after the Bishop of Rome himself, the senior prelate of the Catholic Church) which include some who lived outside visible unity with the See of Rome in recent centuries and were canonised by Byzantine synods ... and whose names are certainly not on any Roman 'list'. Incidentally, my recent mention of S Gregory Palamas in this context was intended to establish some preliminary data to the present discussion.

I believe the Ukrainian Church includes Saints canonised up to the time of the Synod of Brest. And the 'two lungs' rhetoric of JP2 implies that, although the Latin Church is de facto very much larger than the Oriental Churches in Full Communion with Rome, theologically these latter are not just almost-irrelevant, tolerated, anomalies. What would a rounded and complete understanding of Canonisation within the Catholic Church have to say about Melkite and Ukrainian praxis? And what would be the bearing of that upon the question of the Infallibility of Canonisation?

(5) Papal infallibilty resides in the papal munus docendi, the ministry of doctrinally binding the whole Church, not part of it: so is there a distinction between those Saints who are by papal authority to have a compulsory cultus in every local Church, and those whose commemoration is confined to some localties; or is optional in the Universal Church? If the sui iuris Churches not of Latin Rite do not promptly include a Latin Saint, when he/she is canonised, on their Calendars, and the Roman Pontiff tolerates this, does this mean that he is not imposing that cult on the Universal Church and thus is not using his Universal munus docendi?

The actual formula of canonisation is in fact merely an order that X be placed on the List* of Saints of the 'ecclesia universalis'. What exactly ... physically ... is this 'list'? And furthermore, Benedict XIV explicitly says that "writing a name down in the Martyrology does not yet bring about formal or equipollent canonisation" (descriptio in martyrologio nondum importat canonizationem formalem, aut aequipollentem). But even if it did, would this mean that the Martyrologium Romanum, theologically and juridically, applies to sui iuris Churches not of the Roman Rite? If it doesn't, does this mean that 'ecclesia universalis', in the context of papal canonisation, really means 'ecclesia Latina universalis' (because, after all, the Latin Church is pretty world-wide)? And if this be true, what then becomes of the observation of Benedict XIV that an act of 'canonisation' which lacks complete preceptive universality is not in the strict sense canonisation? [Are there other loose ends arising from the fact that Roman documents seem quite often to sound as though they are majestically addressing the whole Church, but, when you get down to it, are really pretty obviously addressing the Latin Church (Sacrosanctum Concilium is an example of that)?]

(6) Finally: S Thomas held that canonisation was medium inter res fidei, et particulares; and Benedict XIV concludes his discussion of this matter by saying that plures magni nominis auctores deny that an act of canonisation is de fide; he gives a fair wind to their arguments; then summarises the arguments of those, inferioris notae doctores, who affirm that it is de fide; concludes by saying Utraque opinio in sua probabilitate relinquenda videtur, donec Sedes Apostolica de hac re judicium proferat. Benedict XIV went on to give his own private opinion as favouring the positive thesis (canonisations are of faith), but added "But before a judgement of the Apostolic See, it does not seem that the mark of heresy should be branded onto the contrary opinion."

In 1998, the motu proprio Ad tuendam fidem of B John Paul II was accompanied by a Commentary written by the CDF and signed by its august Cardinal Prefect. Paragraph 6 of this, combined with paragraphs 8 and 11, appears to lead to the conclusion that canonisations are to be given the same "full and irrevocable assent" as that required by the Creeds and the doctrinal definitions of Ecumenical Councils and of Roman Pontiffs speaking ex cathedra. Have I understood this correctly? But can such a dicasterial 'Commentary' be deemed to be that "judgement of the Apostolic See" which was required by Benedict XIV in order to settle this question?


To be frank with you, I am more impressed by writers who merely call the public rejection of a papal act of canonisation 'temerarious', than I am by those who invoke the I-word. The I-word surely means, from 1870 onwards, that, as a matter of divine Faith, one must accept something in ones heart. Use of temerarious (Suarez; Benedict XIV) means (I take it) that a public rejection is rash and unsafe and that, accordingly, one should refrain from disturbing the peace of the believing community by publicly attacking an authoritative inclusion of a person on the List* of Saints; and, furthermore, that one should preserve an interior awareness of ones own fallibility (after all, someone has to decide whether X goes into ... or does not go into ... the canon, and the decision is certainly way above my pay grade). Can anyone claim to be certain that Pope X is not in heaven interceding before the Throne of Grace?

Finally: I have a prejudice against potentially causing people problems of conscience by telling them that something is of divine Faith when (even if "just possibly") it might not be. After all, a lex dubia does not bind. And it potentially damages the authority of the Roman Pontiff to be rash in spraying the I-word too liberally around ... a point which poor Manning never grasped.

There is further Magisterial evidence to be considered, which comes from this present pontificate, before I will enable comments. 
*List: canon in Greek; catalogus in Latin (if you see what I mean!)

1 October 2018

Cardinal Cormac and Kieran Conry

So a solitary accusation of abuse has been made by one person, a long time later than the alleged event, and made when Cormac is dead and cannot defend himself.

It would be irresponsible to regard such an accusation with anything other than the most immense reserve.

The independant British Commission on the sexual abuse of children will doubtless subject the Catholic Church to the same close scrutiny as it will the BBC and already has the Church of England. And, goodness me, what a hammering it has given my own old diocese of Chichester. I continue to wonder why the Media have so little interest in publicising Anglican sexual abuse compared with their obsessive concentration on the failings of Catholic clerics in this area.

But the abuse of children is not the only sexual activity Catholic clerics ... and all Catholics ... are supposed to avoid. Nor is homosexual activity the only form of sexual deviance. Adultery does, after all, get its own dishonourable mention in the Decalogue, and British and Irish Bishops have a dodgy record here. Casey of Kerry and Galway was followed by Wright of Argyle and the Isles and Conry of Arundel and Brighton.

I regard Adultery as a major form of sexual abuse of the young. This is because of my professional experience of the disastrous effects marital infidelity and break-up can have upon the young.

Questions have never been addressed about who knew what and when concerning Bishop Kieran Conry's life-style.

I hope that the furore about the abuse of children will not continue to obscure the need for honest disclosure about the extent of Murphy O'Connor's knowledge, at the time of Conry's Consecration, of what Conry was getting up to.

30 September 2018


I have now returned to Business As Normal and have rushed through proferred Comments on the blogposts of the last fortrnight, enabling, I hope, most of them.

I am sorry to have delayed the publication of so many admirable limericks. And Tolkienish suggestions.

Our Lady of Victory and the Blavatnik School of Government

What a telling title: our Lady of Victories. So very Western Catholic; so Counter-Reformation ; so baroque; so redolent of the triumphalist Anglo-Catholicism of the 1920s and 1930s. When I was an undergraduate, the Church of S Paul up Walton Street was still a Church and did not yet have the gleaming rotundity of the Blavatnik School of Government looming over it. Inside, was a splendiferous statue of our Lady of Victories.

Our Lady of Victories ... You couldn't possibly imagine, could you, Byzantine Christians giving the Theotokos a title like that ...

Well, of course, they did. One of those Greeks did write a hymn to Mary as the hypermachos strategos with an aprosmakheton kratos (the Protecting General with an irresistible power). If the Orthodox had Hymns Ancient and Modern, you would probably find in it a paraphrase of the Hymnos Akathistos beginning: Stand up, stand up, for Mary. Or, taking my fantasy even further, imagine some Orthodox Sabine Baring Gould writing Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; with the Robe of Mary, going on before.

I think it was a great shame that our benefactor Mr Blavatnik, a gentleman of Russian heritage, was not encouraged to convert the remains of S Paul's, lately reduced to the status of a sort of night-club, into a Church attached to his school of Government, crowning it with a traditionally Russian dome, and dedicating it to the Hypermachos Strategos. I don't blame him; this University is now so horribly secularised.

East and West may wear different clothes, but their realities are often so uncannily similar. Because, of course, the title our Lady of Victory or Victories, just like the Akathist hymn, does have its military associations. That great Pontiff, S Pius V, established the Feast of our Lady of Victory to celebrate the triumph of Christian arms at the battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, a victory won by the countless rosaries which clanked through the hands of the Rosary Confraternities of Western Europe. They begged God for the safety of Christendom against the invading Turk. Gregory XIII pusillanimously renamed the feast as 'of the Rosary', and popped it onto the first Sunday of October (a mere stone's throw from the Feast of the Protection [or the Protecting Robe] of the Mother of God in some Byzantine calendars) where it stayed until the reforms of S Pius X.

But this happy year, October 7, next Sunday, coincides with the First Sunday in October! And, in accordance with the allowance still given for "External Solemnities", it will be licit in both the Extraordinary and Ordnary Forms to celebrate one Mass of Our Lady of the Rosary next Sunday!! 

29 September 2018

Where should the PAX come?

What seems like a long time ago, Pope Benedict XVI asked for thought to be given to moving the Pax to its 'Ambrosian' position before the Offertory, so that the Lord's command (be reconciled with your brother before you bring your offering) can be obeyed. But I wonder if we are being a bit too quick in assuming that the Roman position is secondary.

Remember Dix's point:  "Unless we recognise the important change produced in Christian theological method by the definite canonization of the N.T. Scriptures, which only begins to have its full effect after c.A.D.180, we shall not understand the second-century Church" [Jurisdiction pp117-8]. And don't ever forget the immemorial antiquity of the Roman Rite, older than any other liturgical tradition, older than the time when the New Testament Canon was settled (another Dixian point). A Roman custom is not to be sneered at for being "late"; it might be earlier than biblicising fashions which started to circulate in the third century. So perhaps the 'Ambrosian' position was introduced later, when people had begun to tinker with Liturgy to make it "fit Scripture" better.

Clergy may explain the Peace variously. They may, for example, draw the attention of their people to the words at the end of the Our Father about the Lord forgiving our trespasses as we forgive the transgressions of others. Fair enough, Father. Edifying. Good stuff. But it's not the (historical) reason why! So I do think that there is a lot to be said for the clergy, at least, themselves to know the real reason why the Roman Rite does things the way she does.

We have the Magisterial authority of Pope S Innocent I to help us. The people of Gubbio (Iguvium), an important town some distance North of Rome, had been nagging their bishop to move the Pax from the 'Roman' position to the 'Ambrosian'*. The Holy Father [PL20, 553 or 56,515] explained to him: "The Peace has to be done after all the things which I am not allowed to mention [i.e.the Consecration] to show that the people have given their consent to everything which is done in the Mysteries and celebrated in Church, and to demonstrate that they are finished by the signaculum of the concluding Pax". And Tertullian [PL1,1171&1176-9], speaking about the ending of the Prayer, uses the phrase "assignata oratione": "When the Prayer has been sealed". The imagery is of somebody writing a letter or an agreement on a wax tablet and then pressing his signet ring down into the wax so as to seal, confirm, what is written. Tertullian asks "What Prayer is complete when the holy kiss has been torn from it? ... What sort of sacrifice is it, from which people go away without the Peace?" And other early writers such as Justin [First Apology 65] and Origen [PG 1,1282] bear witness to the belief that the Kiss "seals" a prayer which has preceded it. So the Pax 'seals' the Consecration and the Oblation. And, importantly, it has nothing to do with being chummy to ones neighbours. It is a sombre, almost legal**, business; more like signing a will or a bill of sale, than like greeting friends in the pub.

If this were realised, there would be fewer complaints that the moment between the Consecration and the Communion is not the right time to socialise (people are right! It isn't!).

I am glad that the proposal of Benedict XVI was not followed!!


*I suspect there is significance in the fact that the Pax was already in the Roman position at Gubbio. The 'Ambrosian' position looks to me like a spreading fad which was threatening an established practice. We get no hint in S Innocent's words of an awareness that the Roman position was an innovation; this would in any case be surprising, given the conservative and archaic habits of Roman Liturgy. And possibly even the 'Ambrosian' position may originally have had the purpose (see Justin) of sealing the prayer at the conclusion of the Missa Catechumenorum, rather than of expressing reconciliation before you make your offering.
** Remember the very 'legalistic' instincts of Roman Liturgy; in the Eucharistic Prayer we actually ask God to make our Sacrifice 'adscriptam' and 'ratam'; 'written into the list' and 'ratified'!

28 September 2018

BETJEMAN: Anglo-Catholic Congresses

We, who remember the Faith, the grey-headed ones,
   Of those Anglo-Catholic Congresses swinging along,
Who heard the South Coast salvo of incense-guns
   And surged to the Albert Hall in our thousands strong
   With 'extreme' colonial bishops leading in song;

We, who remember, look back to the blossoming May-time
   On ghosts of servers and thurifers after Mass,
The slapping of backs, the flapping of cassocks, the play-time*,
   A game of Grandmother's steps on the vicarage grass -
   "Father, a little more sherry. I'll fill your glass."

We recall the triumph, that Sunday after Ascension,
  When our Protestant suffragan suffered himself to be coped -
The SYA* and the Scheme for Church Extension -
   The new diocesan's not as 'sound' as we'd hoped,
   And Kensit threatens and has Sam Gurney poped?

Yet, under the Travers baroque, in a limewashed whiteness,
   The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady's image, in multiple-candled brightness,
   The bells and banners - those were the waking days
   When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.
* Dr Simon Cotton tells me that SYA means the Seven Years Association and refers me to Ivan Clutterbuck's Marginal Catholics. A junior branch of the Church Union, founded by Peter Winckworth  at the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1933, and with its own chapel (of the Ascension) in the Shrine at Walsingham. Members undertook obedience to the precepts of the Church until the next ACC, scheduled for 1940. So the mis-en-scene of the poem is pinned down to 1933-1940.

27 September 2018

Blessed John Henry Newman at the races?

I was once accorded the tremendous privilege of looking at Blessed John Henry Newman's personal books at the Birmingham Oratory, in 'the Cardinal's' study (with adjacent chapel). Little discoveries can be as satisfactory as large ones; we all know that on Monday December 3, Newman left Oxford for the foreign travels which led him to Sicily, serious illness, and the writing of Lead kindly light. The day before, he preached a University Sermon which could be regarded as the start of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England.

But what was he doing on the preceding Saturday? He was shopping ... for books. Devout tomes? Deary me, No. He bought a pocket copy of Thucydides; and one of Pindar. Isn't it a lovely mental picture; the slender, donnish, very English figure, sweat pouring down his face as he plodded round the bumps near Syracuse and traced (Thucydides in hand) the footprints of the ill-fated Athenian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War; then sitting in a hostelry (I think I detected slight wine marks on some pages) and reading Pindar's mannered encomia upon the equestrian victories of Sicilian rulers in the Games.

Newman once said, I think, that he could never be a saint; because he loved literature too much. But Classicists, evidently, can become beati!

This was my first effort after I returned to blogging after the awkward and painful events which followed my entry into Full Communion with the See of S Peter. I have left the original comments.

26 September 2018

Epicurus and Euripides have Tea in Shrewsbury College

This continues from the previous post.
Regularly, twice a year, some British Government minister gives certain formulaic and ritual undertakings.

Apparently there is so much violence against girls - of thirteen years or even as young as eleven - including a great deal of sexual violence from boyfriends - that the government is going to take action. What sort of action? Somehow reinforcing patterns of parental control? Ensuring that parents know how their young are dressed and where they're going and what they're doing and who they're with and what time they come home? A long and up-hill struggle to reintroduce patterns of courtship and of gradualism in the development of relationships? Seminars for the young on Modesty?

Not on your life. They will take the same action as they promised six months ago. Children aged five (or three?) and upwards are to be taught in school about the wrongness of violence against females.

Sex and drink need ritual. They need inherited and formalised restraints. For, as Euripides taught the Athenians in their theatre, Aphrodite and Dionysus are dangerous gods. If you don't believe me, ask Hippolytus or Pentheus. When you fail to treat the divinities with respect, they take you to the cleaners. What is wrong with our society is not that the schools fail adequately to drive home the imperatives of political correctness; it is that members of the cultural elite have in the last generations prided themselves on destroying the restraints and deriding the rituals; and now the gods have descended upon them, as they did upon that Hideous Strength, and, my goodness, with what a vengeance. And those elites don't like it. And the only remedy they seem to be capable of discerning is the ancient mantra: "Doctor says keep on taking the pills". But what the Modern Girl needs is not more skill in contraception and better access to abortifacients, but careful lessons on how to entertain the Modern Boy to Tea.

And there can never have been a society which knew so little about hedone - real pleasure. I doubt if our culture of binge drinking delivers half the pleasure of wine approached with respect and drunk in accordance with archaic rituals (I know you will remember the Alec Guinness clergyman character in Kind Hearts and Coronets reminding the visiting 'bishop' that "The decanter is with you, my Lord").

And I doubt if our culture of instant polybonk delivers a tenth of the pleasure of wondering whether she really meant to brush your hand with hers as she offered you another sandwich.

25 September 2018

Did you ever have tea at Shrewsbury College?

A story existed, in the happy days when Oxford had Men's colleges and Women's colleges, of a group of women undergraduates gossiping at a hen-party - one girl from each of the then women's colleges. In dashes another girl, with the explosive news "I've just met a man!"

How each young lady replies reveals the alleged preoccupations which ruled in each of their colleges. The Somerville girl asks "What's he reading? Is he a Scholar?". The undergraduate from LMH: "Who's his father? Is he in the House of Lords?". The one from St Hugh's: "What does he play? Is he a Blue?" From St Hilda's - an undreamily practical lot of girls there - "Where is he?" But lastly, because she seems to lack the same sense of urgency as the rest of them, the St Anne's undergraduate drawls: "I've already had him to tea".

[Alumnae of D L Sayers' Shrewsbury College might devise a version including that home of learning.]

Time was when you walked out to a women's college for Tea with a very satisfying frisson within you. Not least because the ratio of women to men was 1:7 (according to rumour, at Cambridge it was 1:9, which is why most heterosexual males applied to Oxford leaving Cambridge almost exclusively occupied by Old Etonian Marxist homosexuals already in the pay of the KGB). From four o'clockish, if you were lucky, that could mean two and a half hours of gentle, tentative verbal interaction and exploration until you did a quick sprint back to your own college, splashed some water, dived into your gown, and hurried down to Hall for Dinner. Happy days.

Not that in Hall you could gossip with your friends about the pleasures of the afternoon. To do so would be a sconceable offence. "Williams, would you present my compliments to the Senior Scholar; and I desire to sconce Mr Smith for talking about a lady". The sconce, a silver quart tankard full of beer, would arrive*; either Mr Smith could drink it all in one draft (draught?), holding the tankard with only one hand, and then, if he kept it down, the man who had sconced him had the cost of the beer put on to his battels; or Smith could just drink some, and then wipe the rim and pass it on for all to do likewise, and the cost went on to his own battels.
Concludes tomorrow.


*You could appeal to High Table against the Senior Scholar's verdict, but the written appeal had to be in Latin, and dons liked to take their time before replying eadem lingua.

24 September 2018

A Julian BREXIT?

A Handbook of Dates For students of British History appeared in a new edition in 2000; C R Cheney and revised by Michael Jones*. They wouldn't get away with that title nowadays, because, while the book gives the Regnal Years of English monarchs, it appears entirely ignorant of Scotch kings ... not to mention Welsh princes. It really is a trifle parochial; thus, it only gives Julian Easters down to 1752, when we went Gregorian, although it would have been useful (despite the self-limitation of the title) in the one volume to have continued the Julian information down to the present and beyond.

It does provide the complete layout of the unique year 1752, when the people of England were deprived of eleven days of life as September was reduced to a mere nineteen days so as to bring us out of the old Julian Calendar and into line with the Gregorian Calendar of Western Europe.

And now these Three Kingdoms (as we used to call them before they were renamed the Yewkay ... I have found the older usage surviving in literature as late as the 1930s) are due to slip their European moorings and slink off into mid-Ocean in the hope of striking lucrative trade deals with the lost continent of Atlantis. No longer will the right wing Press be able to inspire terror at such thoughts as EU standardisation of the shape of bananas, Imperial being replaced by Metrical, and all that.

But what nobody, even the Daily Mail, has advocated is going the Whole Hog by resuming use of the Julian Calendar. "Thirteen additional days of Life! A longer Summer!! A two week August Bank Holiday!!!" What's not to like? It wouldn't matter if a subsequent British Europhile regime reversed such legislation as long as in doing so they snipped the thirteen (or fourteen?) days out of the middle of winter. Who would resent being deprived of a fortnight in January? It would be a win-win situation.

You know it makes sense. Everything I suggest invariably makes sense.

Paperback, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-10 0-521-77845-X

23 September 2018

The Anglican VIA MEDIA revisited

It occurs to me that there may be more to the Anglican notion that Anglicans constitute a via media between Protestants and Papists than we sometimes suppose.

Official Anglicanism, after all, cheerfully, whole heartedly, and gleefully persecuted both Papists and Protestants. As far as the former are concerned, I wrote in 1992: "We [Anglicans] should acknowlege that ... the great historical fact is that, for hundreds of years, the community of which we are the inheritors defined itself in broad, popular, international and cultural terms by opposition to Rome, to priesthood, and to sacramental religion. We helped to torture and kill those who perceived themselves - and were perceived by others - to be maintaining these things. ... for centuries we persecuted other Christians and then, when we finally realised that they had been largely right all the time, we couldn't even be decently apologetic and humble about it".

As far as Methodism is concerned, in the 1930s Dom Gregory Dix wrote about the hunger of the early Methodists for frequent Communion (Wesley rather liked a daily Mass) and commented "When one contrasts this hunger for communion with the torpid rapacity of prelates like Archbishop Manners-Sutton, who combined the See of Canterbury (then worth £40,000 a year) with sixty-three livings with cure of souls as well as other preferment, what can one say but that, great as is the sin of schism, the sin of Amaziah the priest of Bethel may well be greater still?"

In an age in which it appears to be fashionable to apologise for what one's predecessors or ancestors did, I wonder when Official Anglicanism is going to apologise for the via media from the comfort of which it raked with its heavy artillery the poor dissenters on each side of that Way. And let us not forget the Unitarians whom it continued to burn for long after the 1559 breach with Rome.

Will a Lambeth Palace Spokesman give us dates for all these very necessary ritual grovellings?

22 September 2018


A repeat of an old post, with its original thread.

 I am not the first to point this out; but some readers may not have heard it: the first recorded Limerick is found in the middle of the prayer attributed to S Thomas Aquinas in thanksgiving after Celebrating and Communicating.

Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio,
Concupiscentiae et libidinis exterminatio,
Caritatis et patientiae,
Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.

This must surely prove that there is something inherently satisfying about these structured rhythms and rhymes.

I bet nobody could render that into an elegant English Limerick.

21 September 2018


EVERVIRGIN has been a title of our Lady from the earliest days; it appears, albeit obiter, in the documents of councils from Chalcedon onwards. It still appears (confiteor; Communicantes) in the Novus Ordo Mass; was rather more frequent in the Classical Roman Rite; and comes very often in the Byzantine Rite. It is part of the Church's Marian dogma, and was treated respectfully, if rather evasively, by the ARCIC document on Mary. Non-Catholics sneer at it. The great Tom Wright is dismissive. Let us consider the question in the form of a Socratic Dialogue.

Haereticus: The Gospels make it quite clear that Jesus had brothers.
Catholicus: They don't. Adelphoi can mean kinsmen. It doesn't have to mean uterine (that is, born-of-the-same-womb) brothers.
So you say. But that's the obvious meaning if anyone talks about "Jesus' brothers" in any language, isn't it? 
 Not at all. Mark's and Matthew's Gospels, in their accounts of the Crucifixion, both talk about "Mary the mother of James and Joses [or Joseph]". If this Mary had been the same as Christ's own mother, it would have been very odd for them not to refer to her as the Mother of Jesus. The "obvious" and natural inference is that the "Mother of James and Joses" was a different Mary from "Mary the Mother of Jesus".
So what?
Well, in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55, the places where those "brothers of Jesus" are mentioned, the full text reads: " Jesus the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses [or Joseph] and Judas and Simon". We've just seen that this James and this Joses are apparently the sons of some Mary who was not the same as Mary the Mother of Jesus. And they're the first two on the list here. The list is thus clearly not itemising individuals who were uterine brothers of Jesus.
Well, I still think it's obvious that ...
If it's so "obvious", you've got some explaining to do. Throughout the second century the Gospels were increasingly regarded as 'canonical' and authoritative. If it is so "obvious" that James and the rest of those listed in the Gospels were uterine brothers of Jesus, then the tradition that Jesus was Mary's only child must have arisen well before those Gospels came to be regarded as authorities. Otherwise, when somebody started saying "she never had any more children", somebody who had read the Gospels would have said "Aha, you're wrong: here's a list of his brothers". So, if you're right about it being so "obvious", you're going to have to admit that Mary's perpetual virginity is so early a tradition as to predate the acquisition of authority by our Four Gospels; which modern scholarship dates to the beginning of the second century at the latest. I've got you either way.
That's all gobbledegook. It's obvious ...
That's the problem with you Prods and you Liberals. You're impervious to evidence and to reason.
Of course we are. "Reason is the Devil's Whore". Martin Luther said so. It's obvious.

20 September 2018

Next Monday ...

Are you preparing to celebrate, on September 24, the Solemnity of our Lady of Walsingham? It is, of course, in the English Ordinariate a Solemnity (in £.s.d., "Double of the First Class") and, in the other two Ordinariates, a Festum.

Readers might be interested in the provenance of the Propers for this celebration, as found in the Ordinariate ('Divine Worship') Missal.

Mary's home at Nazareth is a symbol both of Incarnation and of the sanctity of simple family life. The Propers of this festival started life as the Propers of the Shrine of the Holy House at Loretto in Italy, where the House is encased in baroque finery; but, of course, for those of the Anglican Patrimony the first resonance will be  the restored Anglican Holy House at Walsingham, where the architecture and ambience still speak of the joyfully optimistic Anglo-Catholicism of the 1930s (and its fine aesthetic tastes). In the Ordinariate, we have not lost our affection for this shrine; so the Mass authorised in our Missal for our Lady of Walsingham is a close translation of the lovely old Mass of the Holy House at Loretto (authorised pro aliquibus locis by Innocent XII, 1691-1700), which Fr Fynes Clinton adapted for use at Walsingham by simply omitting the phrase in the Collect about a miraculous Translation!! Themes in this exquisite and immensely Biblical and Typological Mass are: Mary; the House of God; the House of Wisdom.

Sadly, the Anglican shrine gave up the use of this Mass during the disorders of the post-Concilar period and now uses formulae reminiscent of the style favoured by ICEL in its dreariest days. We in the Ordinariate are faithful old bodies ... we don't just dump our Anglo-Catholic Patrimony!

TECHNICAL NOTES FOR CLERGY: The Mass in the Ordinariate Missal gives altermatives at a number of places. If you desire (I hope you do) to use the formulae authorised by Innoocent XII and recycled by Fr Fynes Clinton, select the first alternative in each case.

Clergy who say the Latin Mass using the old Appendix pro aliquibus locis need only turn to December 10 and delete the phrase eamque in sinu Ecclesiae tuae mirabiliter collocasti  from the Collect.

Those who wish to say a Votive in Eastertide will need to know that the Easter Alleluia is Alleluia, Alleluia. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: they will be alway praising Thee. Alleliuia. For one day in thy courts: is better than a thousand. Alleluia. 

There was a (now lost) Holy House at Glastonbury, where the void now reminds one of the void that lies at the heart of Protestantism, Liberalism, Relativism, and Iconoclasm. I have a private suspicion that these English medieval Holy Houses might have had their origins in First Millennium wooden or turf Oratories which survived because they were already venerated for their immemorial antiquity half a millennium before the Norman Conquest and its ambitious passion for rebuilding.

19 September 2018

The Corn, the Wine, and the Oil

As I settled down to supper and dowsed some bread (Italian) in olive oil (Greek, Kalamata) and enjoyed the reassuring gurgle of some wine (Gascon, ad honorem deiparae Virginis de Lapurdo nuncupatae) I thought of the exquisite biblical phrase 'the corn, the wine, and the oil'. And I recalled that the old Ember Days (commonly ignored now in the 'diocesan Church' ... today is an Ember Day!!) grew out of the old Mediterranean harvests (Pentecost: cereals; September: vintage; December: olives. See G G Willis 1964).

Some of the more intelligent American bishops are ordering the restoration in their jurisdictions of the Ember days. These are the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays of certain weeks which were celebrated as agricultural festivals in the Roman world. They were continued in the Roman Rite, but with a penitential sobriety intended to reform the excesses of the pagan celebrations. Because of the fasting, they became thought of as he ideal times for Ordinations. And so these admirable American bishops are suggesting the penitential use of the Ember Weeks in the context of the present very great crisis in the Church. Needless to say, the Ordinariate Missal retains the Ember Days.

But perhaps we had better start off with a fundamental point about the survival in the Roman Rite of Ember Days. And the theological point is this: our Faith is a Mediterranean faith, rooted in the agricultural communities of the Mediterranean basin, from the Hebrew Patriarchs onwards ... let us never forget that our Hebrew Faith is not 2,000 years old, but three (at least) thousand. And our sacraments are inextricably bound up with the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil. And the denial of the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil is the basic heresy, the elemental root of all error.

I don't only have in mind the iniquity of anti-alcoholism, although that is part of it. The Gnostics, creation-denying dualists, celebrated 'eucharists' in water, and we can share the righteous disgust of that acute theologian Dr Augustus Fagan ("Lloyd George, the temperance movement, Nonconformity, and lust stalking hand in hand through the country, wasting and ravaging"). The fact that Methodists and others commonly use substances other than wine in their communion services is not, as professional ecumenists try to get away with implying, some minor detail, easily fudged. And the disappearance of the Chrism in Protestantism is a real apostasy.

But more insidious still is the idea that the principle of inculturation could be applied to the elements used in the Christian sacraments. I have known suggestions that to use bread made from something other than wheat, alcohol produced not from grapes, and the oil of vegetables other than olives, would 'affirm' cultures which do not find their origins in the Mediterranean basin. This seems to be based on the notion that Christianity is an idea; and ideas can, in different cultures, be garbed in different clothes. That is what is the basic heresy. Because Christianity is not an idea. It is a Person, a God who took flesh - a particular flesh - from a particular Girl in a particular country in a particular culture. This is why the Liturgy insistently proclaims that Blessed Mary, single-handed, puts down all the heresies in universo mundo.

And that God, born of her ovaries, in that flesh died on a Cross made from a particular Tree: "One of the Trinity died upon the Cross". And He did so after He had, on a particular evening, given Himself to His friends under the outer appearances of a loaf and a cupful of wine. This particularity and this materiality, this rootedness, is Christianity. That is why the Gnostics were not Christians, and why Matthew Fox is not a Christian. And the Matter of the Sacraments is rooted in the particularity of that Incarnation and its culture.

Without the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil, nulla salus.

18 September 2018

Organic development

There are still people who do not understand the difference between Organic Development of the Liturgy, as suggested by Sacrosanctum Concilium  of Vatican II, and the sort of liturgical ruptures perpetrated in the post-Conciliar decade.

I have before me an Altar Missal printed in 1903. It was kept sedulously up to date during the first part of the twentieth century, by paste and fountain pen. Among the Prefaces, S Joseph is pasted in. After the Sunday following Corpus Christi, a very neat fountain pen has annotated "Feria VI post Oct: C.C. Festum SS. Cordis Jesu invenietur p. 380". After the Pentecost Sundays, Henricus Dante has provided the proper texts for Christus Rex, which are duly and carefully inserted. In June 1943, [Bishop] Edward Myers  has given the OK (perhaps it was difficult to secure printed texts from the continental liturgical publishers) for the Commune unius aut plurium Summorum Pontificum, and throughout the Sanctorale the Careful Pen has duly 'corrected' the entries for Holy Popes.

Personally, I dislike that characteristically Pius XII innovation of a distinctive Commune; Popes do not belong to some sacramental Order superior to that of Bishops. As originally authorised, that Commune actually and disgracefully prescribed the use on such days of the Praefatio Apostolorum; subsequently ... mercifully ... this little example of hyperpapalist excess was deleted.

The saints whose cultus was promulgated, or, in most cases, extended to the Universal Church during the Twenties and Thirties, are pasted in, providing a kaleidoscopic experience of the different typographical styles of the great publishing houses which in those happy days served the needs of the Latinophone Church ... except during the war years when Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, Ltd, London, got a look-in. The Preface for the departed, the first of the 'neo-Gallican' prefaces to be authorised for the Universal Church, got the paste-brush in 1919, entered among the Masses for the Departed..

Whoever was the careful custodian of this Missal had hung up his pen and his paste-brush before the 1950s. Gaudeamus is undisturbed upon August 15.

The book is still capable of being used now, more than a century after it was printed, by those who celebrate the Old Mass. This is the litmus test for 'organic evolution'. It is more than can be said for the books which, confected during the 1960s or 1970s, sit gathering dust in the sacristies of England.

17 September 2018

82, and counting ...

As more and more people wonder about PF's mental health, I have decided to reprint a piece I published about six months ago.
I think PF will soon be 82 years old. Since more and more voices world-wide seem to be talking about the possibility of this pontificate coming to a conclusion, I have been looking through the age-at-death of recent Roman Pontiffs. According to the rough notes I have made on the back of an old envelope next to my computer, the following ages, since Pius XI inclusively, seem at least roughly right [I excluded Pope John Paul I, the one-month pontiff]:
Pius XI, 82; Pius XII, 82; John XXIII, 82; Paul VI, 82; John Paul II, 85. [Benedict XVI was elected at the age of 78 and five years later is still 'making his pilgrimage home'.]

It would be interesting to know how long popes from before this period lived. A priori, it might be expected to be less long, because they had less advantage from modern medical advances. But I don't have enough backs-of-envelopes ...

I do not intend to suggest that an actuary would consider PF's death to be imminent ... although his own words after election, that he expected his pontificate to be only four or five years long, might suggest that he had himself used the backs of his own envelopes! No; my object is totally different.

(1) Conclaves seem very willing to elect quite old prelates to be pope. Curious, when the retirement age for bishops is 75; and, curiouser, one might have thought that bishops had less work and less strain than popes ... but, well, there you go.
(2) We seem to be in the middle of increases in the numbers of the elderly suffering from senile dementia. A quick foray into the Internet suggested to the back of my very humble envelope that perhaps one in six of those beyond the age of 80 has dementia. That really is quite a lot.

So it looks as if we have been distinctly fortunate in the excellent mental health of those elected pope from 1922 right down to the present. Long may our good luck hold!

But can we afford to be complacent? Given statistics like these, and if Conclaves keep electing old men, sooner or later we are going to have a pope with dementia.

If a bishop starts to have worrying symptoms, the Nuncio ... his Metropolitan ... the Congregation for Bishops ... the Pope himself ... all have the opportunity to intervene. But what if the Pope himself ...

Is there canonical provision for such a situation? If not, I think there should be. And, as Fr Aidan Nichols has hinted, there might also be provisions for the situation where the man who was the previous pope promoted heresy; so why not for a pope who, prima facie, is spreading heresy?.

In fact, it seems to me that there should be a whole new section in the CIC called de Romano Pontifice semovendo. The Times recently quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr as remarking that a constitution should be framed with "the bad man" in mind, because a state or an institution needs structures enabling it not merely to potter comfortably along in normal times, but also to survive a despot, or a sociopath, or a dunce ...

The Church Militant needs to take such advice on board. Her survival is indeed divinely guaranteed, but the whole economy of Faith rests on the assumption of a God who works with and through human synergy.

The Depths

In Saturday's Times, Mgr Roderick Strange, formerly Rector of the Beda, wrote:

"And it may be that even now the depths have not been plumbed, as allegations seek to compromise Pope Francis".

I wonder what he knows ... Mr Henry Sire's latest article at Onepeterfive about Cardinal Bergoglio's years in Argentina is most disturbing.

I will be reprinting in a few minutes a piece I wrote about six months ago when I was worried about PF's mental health. Frankly, and particularly in view of his habitual mendacity and buck-passing, I increasingly incline to fear that PF's problem is moral rather than psychiatric.

16 September 2018

Mainly for Tolkienists and Hellenists.

Currently, in the New Bod, there is quite a tasty little exhibition relating to the brilliant Catholic apologist and philologist J R R Tolkien. Among the goodies is a jeu penned by T when on a walking holiday with fellow Inklings.

It constitutes a spoof Examination Paper. This is how it begins:

College of Cretacious Perambulators. 

[?1] April 1938

Comment on the following.

(1) It is no good setting them that, they would know it.
(2) 'The poet sat in the third and laughed.'
(3) 'Ten twenty thirty you're very dirty.'
(4) 'The Armada can wait but my bowels can't.'
(5) Panta sphairei [in Greek letters with accents.]
(6) Felix qui potuit felis cognoscere caudam.

(1) presumably parodies the thought processes assumed to be present in the minds of cantankerous examiners. (3) is from George MacDonald ... Does anybody have any thoughts about (2)? Or about contextualisation in general?

(4), (5), and (6) speak for themselves ... or do they? In (5), the ink of the final two letters is much stronger, and it appears to me that they represent a correction of what was first written rather more faintly. Grammarians will immediately guess that the lectio prima might have been Panta sphairoi. But, in either case, what is the phrase supposed to mean?

I wonder if there are conceptual links between the 'questions'. One could certainly imagine a link between the appalling Drake's profluent bowels and the apophthegm of Heraclitus "Panta rhei". And between Heraclitus and the greatest of the Greek philosophers, Epicurus, as mediated through Lucretius to Virgil.

Whose was the cat and whence its sapient tail?

15 September 2018


From today and for two weeks, I shall not be reading emails or moderating comments. But I still hope that there will be daily posting on this blog.

Sub tuum praesidium ...

The earliest known prayer to our Lady is found first in a Greek Papyrus from around the year 200.

The Latin text which most Catholics will know either in the Latin or in a vernacular translation can be rendered:

We fly to [really 'beneath'] thy protection, O Holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O ever [the 'ever' should really go with 'deliver us'] glorious and blessed Virgin.

The Greek in the papyrus could be rendered thus:
We flee beneath thy mercy, O Mother of God; do not overlook our petitions in necessity, but deliver us from danger, O only Chaste, only Blessed.

You will notice that 'protection' was originally* compassionate mercy, eusplagnia. The root here is a word literally meaning 'bowels', seen as the seat of feeling, of compassion. When the Synoptic writers say that "Jesus had compassion upon ... ", this is the root they are employing. The Apostles sometimes beg their converts to show eusplagnia to each other. And the word for 'deliver' is the same one that we have at the end of the our Father. The prayer, in other words, is thoroughly biblical in its language, and the writer is clearly familiar with the Lucan narrative in which our Lady is Blessed, eulogemene. It is interesting to note how, well before the Council of Ephesus, it seems natural to call our Lady Mother of God.

It might seem odd to call our Lady only [mone] chaste. And other women might also qualify as blessed. I take it that the sense is that Mary is in quite a different league from other chaste and blessed women. Perhaps the point is that our Lady's chastity reaches deeply into her being so as to protect her from the sensual corruptions of the Enemy. If so, it is a witness to her Immaculate Conception.

Indeed, it is the very elevation assigned to the Mother of God that made the first modern editor of the rediscovered text misrepresent the date of this lovely prayer.


* Logically, of course, the Latin and the Greek might both come from a lost common archetype ...