21 October 2018

Dixit Veritatem

In 1933, when the centenary of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was being celebrated, a Dr N P Williams edited a volume entitled Northern Catholicism ..., in which he himself contributed a preface on 'Northern Catholicism'. Dom Gregory Dix wrote a review of this piece in the Nashdom Abbey periodical Laudate (which has long been out of print).

Dix, without much evidence, regarded himself as being of French origin, and very definitely as a 'Latin' Christian. The idea that, in Scandinavia, one might find a version of Catholicism which was manly and masculine and free of the superstitions of  flabby feminine 'Mediterranean' Catholicism, filled Dix with that combination of fury and satirical wit which so often resulted in his best writing. Sometimes he would quip that there once was a Nordic Catholicism; and that its decadence was one of the things that made a reformation necessary in the sixteenth century.

After a few witticisms about Nazi Racism, the Call of the Blood, and Heil Hitler, Dix in his review quotes Williams:
"the essential religious genius of the Northern peoples, where it finds unfettered expression ...[is] of a mystical and soaring quality appropriate to dwellers amidst the less genial aspects of Nature and beneath 'grey and weeping skies' - a quality which urges it to pierce straight upwards to the ineffable Godhead itself, and forbids it to take over-much delight in symbols, or to rest with satisfaction in material objects of devotion".

This risible tosh inspired Dix to comment: "It is a vivid and sympathetic picture. One can almost see these mystical and polygamous freemen at their simple devotions, and catch the rustle of their golden beards as they bend forward to breathe unsuperstitious prayers into their winged casques, seated on damp logs beneath the grey and weeping dome of heaven". In conclusion, Dix, referring to Horace's XVIth Epode, needles Williams with the suggestion that he might situate his Northern Catholicism in the non-existent Happy Happy Isles ... if only he will be prepared to take advice from a Dago poet (History does not record that Horace was a Swede).

Perhaps I ought not to be too hard on Nippy Williams; after all, he was a theologian of distinction. I believe he was so upset by Gregory's tour de force that he never spoke to him again. But the plain fact is that Dix exploded what was in reality just one more among the endless Anglican attempts to dream up some alibi for declining to accept the 'claims of the Roman See'. In this futile search, Nippy fell victim, in that decidedly nasty decade, to a whiff of the very nasty 'Aryan' myth. Not nearly as badly as did some of the great names of up-to-the-minute German New Testament Scholarship, with swastikas framing their Fuehrer-worship and their Aryan Jesus in his Gentile Galilee. But even in 1933, when the Extermination Camps were nothing more than a perverted gleam in the Fuehrer's eye, Dix saw through it all. Because he was a papalist.

Dix's summary? "Truth will be held most entirely and in due proportion in a Church which is truly 'Universal', supra-racial, and unaffected by the transient spirit of a particular age".

7 comments:

scotchlil said...

I wonder what, if anything, Professor Williams' step-grandson would make of it all... Blank incomprehension, I imagine...

Banshee said...

Well, there is St. Brigit of Sweden and her Brigittines. And their extremely standout habits and ornate devotions. Not exactly the same as the Tolkien/Lewis whiff of Northernness.

Or there is the ex-priest who became a Scandinavian king, and famously sang a chant hymn for weddings during a shipboard battle.

Or there is Leif the Lucky, who besides finding Vinland, was also a nice young man and very successful missionary to everybody but his stubborn dad and his mass murdering sister. But his mom took it as an excuse to stop sleeping with his dad. (Yeah, my third grade report on an explorer would have been much improved by access to primary sources like Vinlandsaga, which I looked for at the time. Kids today are so lucky to have the Internet!)

My understanding is that medieval Scandinavian churches went in heavily for bright paint and tons of woodcarving, because winters were long and dark.

Banshee said...

Actually Vinlandsaga is a secondary source, but it is more primary than some short articles on him, and the section in a weird happenings book that I knew better (even in third grade!) than to cite or use in my report.

I am also still upset that I was unable to find out the true state of affairs in Uruguay for my seventh grade Latin American history semester, but that is another complaint.

Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

I remember reading Northern Catholicism over 50 years ago, at about the same time I was reading Dom Gregory's The Shape of the Liturgy. I wish I had known of his review of Dr William's contribution then.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Don't forget the married warrior bishop and martyr for the faith Jon Areson, to this day, despite being Catholic, a nation hero to the Icelanders.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Should be Arason ...

Peregrinus Toronto said...

While in Oslo this summer I had the privilege of celebrating the English Mass at noon in St. Olav's Cathedral which is brightly coloured and decorated (as one respondent has suggested is appropriate to the climate). The very prominent reliquary in the shape of a human arm, situated on the Epistle side, contains the relics of St. Olav, King and Martyr. Reverent devotions attend the shrine and one has a sense of the power of Catholicism across the thousand years in Norway. The Mass was packed with English speakers from around the globe. Dom Gregory smiles, I believe, at a former Anglican papalist celebrating Mass in the land of his Nordic Catholic forbears with such a crowd of witnesses.