24 October 2022

Nichols in Neasden

I do not think Cardinal Nichols is or was a bad man or a bad pastor. I strongly incline to the opposite judgement. And I felt that he was not given a fair hearing at the Paedophile Enquiry. So, rather than attacking or mocking him, I would rather approach the broader question of how such a man could behave in the way he did in Neasden.

Archbishop Vincent was admitted to Major Orders when the Roman Breviary was just about to be replaced by the Liturgy of the Hours. This means that, for more than three decades, his priestly and Christian identity had not been fed and sustained by the old Breviary readings.

So what?

The 'unreformed' Breviary had a calendar characterised by Martyrdom. Its earlier strata, stretching back to the Ages of Persecution, had not been completely obscured by the emphasis, in the Counter-Reformation centuries, on those 'Confessor Bishops' who were Founders of orders and whose well-resourced Congregations could secure canonisations. In this regard, the earlier Latin West was still in step with the Byzantine Calendar, where the profusion of Martyrs of the early centuries had been joined by the New Martyrs of the Ottoman oppression (S Chrysostom of Smyrna, pray for us).

I have just opened my Pars Autumnalis at random ...

... inanibus diis sacrificare jussus, constantissime renuit. Cumque variis artibus ad Christi fidem ejurandam fustra tentaretur, una cum uxore et liberis leonibus objicitur. Horum mansuetudine concitatus imperator, aeneum in taurum subjectis flammis candentem eos immitti jubet, ubi divinis in laudibus consummato martyrio ...

So, in the preconciliar Roman Office, day after day, there were gruesome accounts of the physical sufferings of our Christian martyrs. Sometimes the accounts are so similar that one suspects contamination. Sometimes there are serious grounds for suspecting the historicity of some details ... or even, of more than just details. Since the Enlightenment, the erudite had been calling for revisions of the Lections in the Sanctorale. Read all abaht it in Batiffol. But extensive revision seemed to elude savants and pontiffs alike ... even the august and erudite figure of Benedict XIV. Tradition assisted inertia.

And in England, the old Roman Calendar was augmented by the accounts of 'the English Martyrs'. English Catholic Clergy were given an extensive education, as they opened their Breviaries daily before God, of the consequences which can follow a refusal to commit idolatry.

After the Breviary was replaced by the Liturgy of the Hours, the 'viral load' of gruesome martyrological narratives was lightened; and the unwillingness of those who edited the new texts to lay  emphasis on details of physical tortures introduced a significant cultural shift.

Dom Anselmo Lentini, revising the old hymns after the Council, felt that the words of S Ambrose Nudata pendent viscera/ sanguis sacratus funditur ... would be too strong for a generation which had witnessed the Second World War.

Those nurtured by the post-conciliar texts are not likely to be anything like as instinctively horrified at the very thought of idolatry as their unenlightened predecessors were. Visceral revulsion at the apostasy of laying offerings (even just flowers!) upon or before the altars of pagan deities has, I suspect, become attenuated.

Hence, the gentle and kindly and dangerous elegance of the Age of Nichols.

Whatever might be said about the details or even the spirit of the old Breviary, its overwhelming, cumulative effect must have been powerful to fortify the clergy against the enticements and the cultural attractions of new and newly fashionable syncretisms. 

There may be more subtle methods of securing a tradition than by painstaking historical accuracy. Providence may know of more than one way of killing a cat.

Like Benedict XIV, I see no alternative to sticking with what we had in place before the "reform". That older culture may now seem flawed to some parts of our minds ... to those parts upon which 'Enlightenment' assumptions have most strongly encroached.

But ...


Richard said...

I think you put your finger on it with talk of feeding and sustaining the Christian identity, of clergy and layfolk. That's exactly what's not been going on this past century. We have not been thinking, talking and worrying enough about the sacraments.

Joshua said...

His Majesty will soon be pleased to appoint his second Prime Minister (and at this rate will soon have amassed more such than his late lamented mother); amongst other duties, this next First Lord of the Treasury will advise the King as to the appointment of Bishops of the Church of England - which seems a duty passing strange for a polytheist.

Joshua said...

As the odious Bishop Hoadly cynically observed, the Church of England is Trinitarian, but by Act of Parliament could become Unitarian; one could logically add, it could likewise become atheistic or polytheistic. Fluidity is very much in vogue, after all.

Moritz Gruber said...

Dear Joshua,

the nice thing about the English constitution is that it isn't written down. Is there any Statute that reserves this advising rĂ´le to the Prime Minister? I doubt it.

Unwritten does not mean "can be disregarded". It does mean, though, that the question "What does the unwritten English constitution say about the hitherto unprecedented situation that the Prime Minister is not a Christian?" can and even should be answered in an "as interpreted by common sense and the nature of the case" manner.

In my view, the thoughtful, rather than bovine answer is thus: "In such a case, the Church of England appointments belong to some other minister, among whom the obvious choice is the Lord Chancellor. If the Lord Chancellor also is no Christian, the Home Secretary; if he is no Christian either, the Lord Privy Seal. Only then it gets difficult."

I have a suspicion politics will follow the "bovine" path, though.

CE User said...

Don't forget, though, that "the old hymns" were still Urban VIII's butcheries of even earlier hymns.

Prayerful said...

So many Holy Martyrs perished, preferring torture and degrading death to the easy course of making offerings to an idol or offering false worship, scorning generous bribery in some instances, rather than do what Nichols Card. Vincent did at that Hindu Temple. Hopefully, and in all certainty he repented of that, and other mistakes. Given, and since, Assisi '86 with its seeming Papal Imprimatur for syncretism, so many Catholic leaders, that is, archbishops and similar senior management, have failed to understand why what they did and are doing, is wholly wrong. What hope then for the ordinary priest (yet many try so hard to push back against the world). Perhaps they (senior management and all fallen into indifference) could all do with reading the Roman Martyrology, as of 1962, available online or via library loan or in their own personal libraries, so they might be brought to a better understanding.

John Vasc said...

Leaving Breviary and Martyrology aside, in the First Commandment the Almighty makes it clear: No idol worship.
Catholic pastors should be educated enough in Hinduism to know that the presentation of flowers to their gods at a shrine *is* idol worship, a gesture of dedication.

Banshee said...

Should be... But probably aren't. I saw a travel show where the host thought it was a great lark to visit Japanese temples, to do lustrations,to clap hands or bow and worship Shinto or Buddhist deities, to buy divinations, and to buy pagan charms. She did not seem to understand that these were religions, and not tourist games.

And to be fair, a lot of religious leaders seem okay with tricking Christians into performing acts of worship, or of renunciation of faith, when the Christians are just speaking what to them is gibberish, or when going along politely. "It is just a greeting." No, it isn't.