Shoreham by Sea in Sussex is one of the under-stated gems of England. From the bungalow-town across the water it looks uncannily like (albeit in miniature) the views of London before it was savaged by Capitalism: the solid dignfied skyline of the town clustering round, but never over-topping, its ancient Church. It was from this little port that Charles II escaped, in a collier, after the Battle of Worcester. Hither, from nearby Brightelmeston, came the fourth of the Georges in 1792, in company with his lawful wife Mrs Fitzherbert. She was a Catholic and the builder of Brighton's Catholic Church. She was also godmother to one of the Benedictine nuns of our Lady of the Angels at Montargis. You will not have forgotten that this was the decade when the Carmelites of Compiegne were guillotined by the Enlightenment; when the English Carmelite sisters of Antwerp avoided a similar fate, ending up at Lanherne in Cornwall ... where a courageous young community are currently engaged in restoring the ancient Carmelite Charism.
As the Queen's Gallery puts on its new Exhibition illustrating 'Prinny' as a patron of the arts, it is diverting to consider him also as a patron of English Catholicism!
The erudiite Dr Simon Cotton ... erudite both in research Chemistry and as an antiquary ... acquired, about seven years ago, a copy of Thomas a Kempis' Imitatio Christi in a French (1704) translation. A violet stamp revealed that the book had once belonged to these refugee Sisters. It also contained the bookplate of a Georgian Antiquary, the Reverend Francis Blomefield (1705-1752), Rector of Fersfield in Norfolk. As Dr Cotton points out, this is a salutary reminder that the intellectual and spiritual torpor of Georgian Anglicanism is an over-simplified assumption. Dom Gregory Dix referred with justified distaste to the 'rapacious torpor' ... or was it 'torpid rapacity' ... of the Whig episcopate; but there is evidence of sound and sober Catholic belief and spirituality among the (often Tory) lower clergy and the Squirearchy. Jane Austen was schooled by this devout sobriety when she made her distinction between Sense and Sensibility ... a distinction not always familiar to the swooning heroines in Ann Radcliff's novels.
Dr Cotton neatly recalls Pusey's words "The doctrine of the Real Presence I learnt from my mother's explanation of the Catechism,which she had learnt to understand from older clergy ... All that I knew about religious truth I learnt, at least in principle, from my dear mother ... But then behind my mother, though of course I did not know it at the time, was the Catholic Church".
Nathaniel Woodard emphasised the availability of auricular Confession in the 1820s; it was to that same decade, in which he was ordained, that S John Henry looked back as the the starting point of his own half-century of unbroken continuity of opposition to Liberalism, as he replied to the biglietto of Pope Leo XIII.
Cdertainly, there were discontinuities within the period between the imposition of the Elizabethan settlement in 1559 and the death of classical Anglicanism around the end of the second millennium. But are we sure that discontinuity is the most important factor in the Mind of Providence?
Perhaps there is a thread, even if sometimes tenuous, stretching from Parson Trichay through blessed William Laud and the Non-jurors and the Tractarians and the Anglo-Papalists to the three English bishops who led us into Full Communion with the See of S Peter in the early months of 2011.
19 November 2019
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It is one thing to find a such book in the library of Georgian clergyman with antiquarian interests, it is quite another thing to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest its content.
This is even true of English Benedictine monastery libraries of the same period that certainly held books of mystical theology, affective devotions, and so forth but certainly never, well hardly ever, opened them. Interestingly the EBC nuns did read and use them, thanks to Fr Baker's ongoing influence, when the monks had all but given up. And even when a reading can be seen here and there in the use of Roman Catholic books by Anglicans, non-conformists and more esoteric readers, there is clear evidence of the removal of any Papist superstitious content, cf Little Gidding and their redacted version of the 'Imitation of Christ'.
I recall Bishop Patrick Kelly's response to many of the Anglican clergy who came to him after the ordination of women. He was then bishop of Salford, where the skull of the martyr St Ambrose Barlow in enshrined on the staircase at the bishop's palace. The vicars maintained that the CofE had always really been Catholic, and that they were really Catholic priests.
"Well," said his Lordship in his wonderful Morecambe accent,
"I was thinking about all this last night, and on my way to bed I said,
'If what they say is true Ambrose, then why did you bother?'"
Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man between 1697 and 1755, was a great example of an Anglican prelate neither torpid nor rapacious. (he was described by John Henry Newman as being "a burning and shining light", and several of his writings were republished in Tracts for the Times.) While his tolerance was broad enough to maintain cordial relations with Papists, Methodists and Quakers, his beliefs were Catholic enough that he wrote and published prayers to supply deficiencies in the 1662 Communion Service (to be said soto voce). I was pleased to discover in the Customary of our Lady of Walsingham a reading from a sermon of his, appointed for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity.
Writing this in Shoreham by Sea itself, Father, I agree entirely with your assessment of this little gem of a town, of which I was once the pastor. I note that also the Benedictine Sisters of Montmartre landed here in the throes of the French Revolution, welcomed by the Prince Regent himself, and were taken to the Ship Hotel in Brighton. In due course they settled at Princethorpe near Rugby; in the 1960s they downsized to Fernham and have now sadly dispersed to other communities; a couple in the Lake District, and a couple of others in Thanet. Like the Sion Bridgettines, how sad that our own ages have managed to destroy what the sixteenth century could not.
Old Shoreham also can boast St John Henry Newman's sister Jemima, married to the Rector. JHNs friend Bloxam was the incumbent of Upper Beeding, as I'm sure you are aware, whom he visited on return from Rome with his red hat.
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