Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.
I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.
Thinking of visiting Oxford?
Allow me to be your guide... and discover the history of Oxford with an Oxford historian.
I offer a wide range of guided walks around the city and university. These can be a general introduction to the history and architecture or looking at specific themes and subjects.
I am a Catholic and a historian based in Oxford, where I am a member of Oriel College. My research, for a long delayed D.Phil., is a study of Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln in the second decade of the fifteenth century. I also work as a freelance tutor in History and as an independent tour guide.
I was received into the Church in 2005 and am a Brother of the External Oratory of St Philip Neri at the Oxford Oratory.
Last night I attended the Ordinariate Solemn Evensong for Whitsuntide at Blackfriars here in Oxford which I publicised the other week.
The Newman Consort were once again in good voice, and sang the early sixteenth century Magnificat Regale by Robert Fayrfax;
Msgr Burnham said in his words of thanks that this was rather rarely
performed - I think its length may inhibit its use on other than grand
festal occasions - and as something wrtten for the Court had been chosen
to mark the Jubilee. The Monseigneur also made the point that such
music is part of that patrimony the
Ordinariate is seeking to recover and share with other Catholics. The
Anglican choral tradition is indeed well suited to use such
splendid pre-Reformation music which is very much part of a common patrimony for
Catholics and Anglicans.
The church at Blackfriars is a very
dignified setting for such services, and it was good to see the very
handsome red cope and stole, together with the matching humeral veil,
all decorated with fine gold embroidery, which belongs to the Priory
Yesterday I travelled with a friend northwards, and just across the county boundary into Warwickshire, having been invited for lunch by friends at Long Compton. The journey took us past Blenheim Palace and through Woodstock, and past the turnings to those other great early eighteenth century Oxfordshire country houses, Ditchley and Heythrop Park, and eventually past also the turnings to Great and Little Rollright, and the nearby Rollright Stones, and so we descended the long hill into the village at Long Compton.
It is typical village of the Cotswold area, with a handsome medieval church, and a local tradition of witchcraft - well in the past anyway. I gather from abit of online research that the village was apparently notorious for witchcraft.
Local belief in the power of witches continued until well
into the twentieth century. In 1875, a Long Compton man slew one
old woman with his sickle because he was convinced that she
had caused the debilitating pains and cramps in his legs.
Tradition also claims that in the sixth century St Augustine visited
the church and raised a man from the grave.
Long Compton church and its distinctive lych-gate
The whole journey was an exercise in a reading of the passing scene in the best traditions of W.G.Hoskins and The Making of the Engliah Landscape. I really always mean after such a day out to read up more about the history of the area, but so often fail to do so.
We had a most enjoyable lunch and spent time sitting and talking with our friends in their garden, before driving back, this time in clear sunlight and with a detour across towards the Banbury road which took us through rolling countryside, lush after the recent rain and displaying a wonderful range of foliage greens, the hedgerows heavy with May blossom - which to my eye appeared much brighter in the sunlight of late afternoon than it had during the overcast morning - and the verges thick with cow parsley, or, to give it its more romantic names, Our Lady's Lace or Queen Anne's Lace.
This was both a chance to spend time with friends and an opportunity to see the English countryside as one imagines it to be, but often fears that it is no longer. Howevere in this part of the country at least the trees and hedgerows flourish and it is possible to look at a landscape unascarred by pylons, windfarms, television masts, chimneys... This is still the England of rural life and of popular fiction - one could people the places we passed with any number of plots and scenarios. The whole day was a tonic to the mind, the spirits and the palate.
Today is Oak Apple Day, commemorationg the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660.
had ordered the 29th of May, the King’s birthday, to be forever kept as
a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s
return to his Government, he returning to London that day.
— Samuel Pepys’s Diary 1st June 1660
King Charles II in Coronation robes
Quotation and image from The Monarchist blogspot
time there is talk or rearranging Bank Holidays we should remind
Parliament of this decision and get Oak Apple Day re-established as a
It is certainly a day upon which to give thanks for the Monarchy and to pray for it and for the Royal Family. In this Jubilee year it seems all the more appropriate to do so.
I have only once managed to get a sprig of oak leaves to wear on this day as a button-hole. Perhaps something to try to do more strenuously in future years.
A revised version of my post for this day last year. My post from the previous year can be read at Restoration.
Were I to invited to suggest liturgical, or at very least calendric changes, in the cause of the "Reform of the Reform" I would give priority to amending the celebration of Pentecost.
In the current Missal we go from Pentecost straight into Ordinary Time, there no longer being an Octave. This is, in my opinion, to be regretted. Not only was the Octave an ancient feature of the liturgy but it provided a week to reflect on the gifts of the Holy Spirit day by day, and to assign time to reflect on the scale of the gift poured out upon the Church. So there are good practical and teaching arguments for extending the observance of the feast.
There is in the present arrangement, despite the renewed emphasis in recent years upon the role of the Holy Spirit, a constraint on observing the gifts and rejoicing in them which seems to be a result of stressing the unique, but enclosed period of fifty days from Easter to Pentecost. This is now all designated as Eastertide, with only the Easter Octave surviving as a sub-division. So the hinge of the Ascension, stressed by commentators such as Dom Gueranger, loses something of its significance - all the more so with its transference as a solemnity to the Sunday following. Pentecost can appear to be no more than the rounding off of Easter rather than the beginning of the next phase in Salvation-history.
My pre-1955 St Andrew's Missal begins its description of the rites of Whitsun with a clear reference to the discrete fifty days, but goes on to stress the significance of the established, interlocking liturgical components to it - Ascension and its Octave, the original novena of Penetcost and so on.
Restoring its Octave would redress that balance, as indeed would the restoration of the pre 1955 Whitsun Vigil. This would emphasise the solemnity of the feast and give it a symmetrical relationship with Easter, whose night time Vigil has become very popular since the liturgical changes under Pope Pius XII. Here a restored Pentecost Vigil would allow reflection on the nature of Christian initiation and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, and emphasise the importance of the feast.
I have drawn attention recently to the restored Vigil celebrated at Blackfriars in Oxford, and many priests will no doubt be celebrating votive Masses of the Holy Spirit this week - and may even keep red hangings in place for part of the former Octave. I heard of one church which began its celebration of Pentecost with Solemn Terce - that being the Hour at which the Spirit descended. There is an appetite for such renewal.
The emphasis by many in recent decades on the action of the Holy Spirit has at times disturbed and confused others within the Church. A revival of ancient practice and custom could serve as a reminder, along the lines of long established understanding, that the bestowal of the Holy Spirit is not, as it not infrequently appears to be seen, an ecstatic personal religious experience but rather that it is the baptism of the Body of Christ which is the Church and its sanctification. It is through the medium of the Church that we as individuals receive Grace, and through our membership our incorporation into it as a living Body and, hopefully our ultimate divinisation.
Regular readers may have worked out that the Clever Boy rather likes going to church, and this last weekend has provided him with several splendid opportunities to do so.
On Friday evening at the Oxford Oratory there was, following the 6 pm Mass for St Bede, Solemn First Vespers for the Solemnity of St Philip, with the psalmody sung by the choir,and three coped sacred minsters, followed incensation of the relic and altar of St Philip, followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and by the Veneration of another of the relics of the saint.
St Philip Neri - and his cat
A painting by Anthony Lummis,
one of the Brothers of the External Oratory at Oxford.
Image: Anthony Lummis/Oxford Oratory
On Saturday morning there was the Solemn Mass for the feast, with the sermon being preached by Msgr Marcus Stock, Secretary of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. At the heart of his homily was the concept of St Philip being like the Apostles with his immediate experience of the Pentecostal fire in 1544.
The Monseigneur set this within his own reminiscences of times spent at the church. One was of his praying there, as an undergraduate of an Anglican Evangelical background, in 1978 for guidance as to being received into the Catholic Church. Another was from 1990 when as a priest he was very temporarily in charge of the church and parish before the first Oratorians arrived from Birmingham. At that time the relic cupboards were empty - their contents had been cremated some years previously, but, intrigued by a locked cupboard underneath the others, he had picked the lock and found inside, covered in dust, two pieces of the orginal collection given at the beginning of the last century. There, in glass cases, were a copy of the death-mask of St Philip and a copy of the sixteenth century printing of the hymns of the late thirteenth century Franciscan ecstatic Jacapone da Todi, complete with on the title page, the former owner's signature - Philip Neri. He had placed the two relics on the altar and sung a Te Deum in thanksgiving, assured that St Philip had arrived well before his sons and, one might add, as in Newman's hymn to St Philip, that he had journeyed on after his death and sought the very heart of England.
He concluded the sermon with a reading of one of Jacapone's hymns, full of the spiritual joy which inflamed St Philip.
Afterwards there was the opportunity to see both death-mask and hymn book in the relic chapel - itself now happily restocked with relics and objects of devotion collected by the Fathers of the Oxford Oratory.
In best Oratorian tradition there was an enjoyable reception afterwards and the opportunity to talk to friends and visitors who had come to the feast day.
Not having yet acquired the charism of quadlocation I had to miss out on attending the Westminster Ordinariate Diaconal Ordinations, the London Oratory's celebration of St Philip's day with Cardinal Burke and the chance to join a patronal pilgrimage to Pugin's St Augustine's Ramsgate with the parish of SS Gregory and Augustine. One cannot, alas, do everything.
In the evening I went to the Mass of the Oxford Ordinariate group at Holy Rood, where to celebrate Pentecost we had music by Haydn and a sermon from Fr Richard Duffield of the Oxford Oratory, and the congregation was afforced by a number of German and US visitors.
Unfortunately I did not make it later on to Blackfriars for their First Vespers, Vigil and First Mass of Pentecost, about which I posted the other day - but perhaps on a warm day that might have been a bit much, and might even suggest religious mania on my part...
On Sunday, due to a committment in the late morning, I went to the well attended 8am EF Mass at the Oratory rather than my usual attendance at the 11am celebration, and in the evening I was back again for Solemn Vespers.
Once again it was a three cope occasion, and all the more striking with the clergy vested in Whitsun red. The Office was all sung by the Oratorians and the church choir, and, as usual, followed by Benediction. This was the second year in succession that Vespers for Pentecost has been a fully musical service, as is the established custom on Easter Day, and a very fine celebration it proved to be. I shall be writing more about how I think Pentecost should be marked liturgically.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
This morning Bishop Alan Hopes
will ordain 21 former Anglican clergy to the Diaconate for the
Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral. Amongst
them is my good friend John Hunwicke.
In this panel St Vincent is ordained as deacon by his Bishop, St Valerius of Saragossa:
with contemporary late medieval Netherlandish and German art I delight
in the details of liturgy and contemporary life and costume such
paintings record. As a painting it is a splendid representation of the beauty of medieval ritual and practice.
As with the great Lisbon panels depicting St Vincent, themselves of the 1460s, the use of a red pileus is shown - is this, I wonder, an indication of membership of the episcopal familia and the equivalent of a Monseigneurial or canonical biretta today?
May St Stephen, St Lawrence and St Vincent join us in praying for these new Deacons.
I shall celebrate it here
at the Oratory in Oxford with my friends there. We have prepared for the
feast with Novena in St Philip's honour, and last night we had First
Vespers of the Solemnity. Please join me in keeping the Fathers,
Brothers, External Brothers and their parishioners together with the
other Oratories in England at Birmingham and London and the others
across the world in our
The body of St Philip in the Chiesa Nuova, Santa Maria in Vallicella, in Rome
The deathmask of St Philip
The Virgin Mary appears to St Philip Neri
Today is the feast of St Bede (673-735), the great historian of the conversion of England and the only English Doctor of the Church (to date).
The tomb of St Bede in Durham Cathedral
Here, from the Office of Readings for today, is the account by the monk Cuthbert of the death of Bede:
the Tuesday before Ascension, Bede began to suffer greater difficulties
in breathing and his feet began to swell slightly. Nevertheless, he
continued to teach us and dictate all day, and made jokes about his
illness: “Learn quickly,” he would say, “because I don’t know how long
I’ll last: my Creator may take me very soon.” But it seemed to us that
he was perfectly conscious of his approaching end.
He spent all night in giving thanks to God. As dawn
broke on the Wednesday, he ordered us to finish writing what we had
started, and we did this until the third hour [mid-morning]. Afterwards
we carried the relics of the saints in solemn procession, as it was the
custom to do on that day. One of us stayed with him, and asked him:
“Dear master, the book is almost complete, there is one chapter left to
go – would it be difficult for you if I asked you to do more
dictation?.” “No,” Bede replied, “it is easy. Take your pen and ink, and
write quickly” – which he did.
At the ninth hour [mid-afternoon] he said to me “I
have a few precious things in my cell: some pepper, some napkins, and
some incense. Run quickly and call the priests of the monastery to me,
so that I can give to them the few little gifts that God gave me.” When
they came he spoke to them in turn, giving advice to each one and
begging him to say a Mass and pray for him; which they all willingly
promised to do.
They were grief-stricken and wept, especially because
he had said that he thought they would not see his face much more in
this world. But at the same time it made them glad when he said “It is
time – if it is my Maker’s will – to return to him who made me, who
shaped me out of nothing and gave me existence. I have lived a long
time, and the righteous judge has provided well for me all my life: now the time of my departure is at hand, for I long to dissolve and be with Christ;
indeed, my soul longs to see Christ its king in all his beauty.” This
is just one saying of his: he said many other things too, to our great
benefit – and thus he spent his last day in gladness until the evening.
Then Wilbert (the boy who asked him for dictation)
asked him again: “Dear master, there is still one sentence left to
write.” “Write it quickly,” he answered. A little later the boy said
“now it is completed” and Bede replied “you have spoken truly, it is finished.
Hold up my head, because I love to sit facing my holy place, the place
where I used to pray, and as I sit I can call upon my Father.”
And so, on the floor of his cell, he sat and sang
“Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”; and as
he named the Spirit, the Breath of God, he breathed the last breath from
his own body. With all the labour that he had given to the praise of
God, there can be no doubt that he went into the joys of heaven that he
had always longed for."
Quite apart from its description of the peaceful death of man immersed in scripture and prayer, what interests me about this account are the references to Rogation processions and to the concept of offering Mass for an individual soul being well established in England by 735 - these are not late nedeival accretions, and nor was the Northumbrian church primative and folksy - it was very much part of Catholic Christendom.
Today is the 525th anniversary of the only coronation to have been held in Dublin - and a somewhat strange occasion it was.
Centre stage in Christ Church catheral - or Holy Trinity as it was then known - was King Edward VI - in reality the imposter Lambert Simnel masquerading as the very unfortunate Edward Earl of Warwick, son of the late George Duke of Clarence. The young Earl was, in reality, in detention in the Tower of London by reason of his potential asa rival to King Henry VII. In the absence of a crown one was borrowed for the ceremony from a statue of Our Lady.
I do not know if there is any record of the ceremonial used - did Archbishop Walter Fitzsimon, who was certainly present, if not actually officiating, raid his Pontifical or was their access to the English Liber Regalis?
The coronation may have been something improvised in a hurry to win over or reassure the Anglo-Irish nobility, who had tended to support the Yorkist cause, but it also indicates more than a temporary strategem. "King Edward VI" was thereby presented as ruler of one polity, not just as Lord of Ireland (then the title of the English King in respect of Ireland) and this incident can be seen as an apt illustration of Steven G. Ellis's thesis about the relationship between England and Ireland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as set out in his fascinating and readable (and not uncontroversial ) Ireland in the Age of the Tudors 1447-1603 - that is that the Anglo-Irish world was indeed that, and that English Ireland saw itself, and was seen by the English, as part of a common unity, but with its own local institutions, modelled on those of England. I would heartily recommend Prof. Ellis's book to anyone interested in the topic and period.
Michael J. Bennett's very useful life of Lambert Simnel in the new Oxford DNB can be read here, and gives an excellent account of the events of 1487 and their aftermath. The cathedral in Dublin has changed more than most since that day in 1487, not only with the reformation, but also in consequence of the extensive restoration by G.E. Street in 1871-78, as can be read here.
On the evening of the Wednesday in the Octave of Pentecost - for such it
will be in the Calendar of the English Ordinariate - that is May 30th,
there will be another Solemn Evensong followed by Benediction and
celebrated by the Oxford Ordinariate Group in the church at Blackfriars
here in the city at 7.30.
The preacher will be the Rev’d Professor Allan
Brent. He is the assistant Chaplain at Fisher House in Cambridge and the
Professor of Early Christian History and Iconography at King's College
in the University of London, as well as being Professore Invitato at the
Augustinianum in the Lateran University in Rome.
The music for the service will be provided by the Newman Consort, the Oxford Ordinariate Group's own schola.
If you have not previously attended one of these occasions and are able
you would be made most welcome and have the opportunity to see what the
Ordinariate groups can offer and appreciate Anglican patrimony in the
form of BCP propers in a fully Catholic context.
If you are in or near Oxford this coming Saturday evening - May 26th - you might like to attend the liturgical celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost at Blackfriars on St Giles. As the Priory is dedicated to the Holy Spirit this is part of the celebration of their patronal feast by the Dominican community.
The liturgy consists of First Vespers, the Vigil and First Mass of Pentecost and commences at 9pm. I have attended for the last two years, that is since the Vigil was reinstated as part of their celebrations, and you can read my accounts of previous occasions - from 2010 at Pentecost Vigil at Blackfriars and from last year, with photographs, at Vigil of Pentecost at Oxford Blackfriars.
That indefatigable photographer of the fine arts of the middle ages Genevra Kornbluth has posted, amongst other of her photographs on the Medieval Religion discussion group this link http://www.kornbluthphoto.com/VestmentsBecket.html to her set of photographs of the vestments preserved at Sens cathedral and believed to have been used by St Thomas Becket whilst he lived there in 1164-5 and 1166-70.
Please respect Genevra's rules in respect of her copyright if you wish to use the photographs in any way - the details are posted on the side bar.
Otherwise enjoy the sight of relics of a martyr prelate and see what twelfth century bishops wore to celebrate the liturgy.
A friend has sent me a link to an online article from the magazine America about recent Catholic church building projects in the United States and the revival of older and more traditional styles and plans. It is similar to posts on the same theme on the New Liturgical Movement site. The article can be seen here and, as my friend points out, the slideshow of buildings is worth looking at. Here is one featured example:
The church of St. John Neumann in Farragut, Tennessee, built in 2008
In case readers have not seen them The Sensible Bond has a series of posts about the current state of negotiations between the Holy See and SSPX. They provide a good amount of information and ideas about the state of play at the moment, and can be read at
The most notable absentees from the Monarchs' lunch at Windsor were the King and Queen of Spain, whose government interdicted their visit because of the continuing dispute over the sovereigny of Gibralter - the issue which prevented their attending the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981.
This year is proving something of an annus horribilis
for the King and Queen, who did not publically celebrate their Golden
wedding last Monday. The various rumours of scandal around members of
the Royal family as are recorded, in a rather negative way, in this report
in the supposedly conservative Daily Telegraph.
one sense this can be seen as a coming of age for the restored Spanish
monarchy - like the other reigning dynasties of Europe they have become
fair game for the bored and opinionated, for those with a fine nose for
scandal and the grinding of particular axes. Too often, far too often it
is the open season for sniping. Misjudgements there may have been, and
mistakes made, but monarchs are human - that is one of the strengths of
monarchy - it is not a machine.
In the last generation or so we
have seen the Swedish monarchy prounced terminally doomed from before
the present King's accession in 1973, the hostility to the present Queen
of the Netherlands' marriage in the 1960s, the allegations around her
father in 1976, and doubts as to the future at
the time of her accession in 1980.
Here in the United Kingdom
the problems of the mid
1990s were only too publically aired and discussed, and even in Denmark
Prince Henrik has been the centre of various storms as indicated here.
Luxembourg and Lichtenstein the constitional position of the monarch
has been under fire and in Belgium the very future of the country, and
hence the monarchy, questioned.
For the Spanish monarchy there is
the problem of the hiatus between 1931-75, even if the monarchy was
formally re-established in 1947. It has been argued that, despite the
hitherto enormous popularity of the King, Spain itself is not a
sufficently monarchist society. I do not know if that is true, but I
can see that there might be some cause for concern for the future there.
On the other hand this could be dismissed as the chattering classes at
it again - and how they can chatter on such matters.
So it is not
easy, and for the moment it is the Spanish
crown that is under the public scrutiny. The country has far more
serious problems with which to concern itself, and should in no way
belittle the extraordinary and fundamental achievements of the King and
Queen and the Prince of Asturias in providing the stable constitutional
framework that allows it as a nation to try to deal with the
consequences of the eurocrisis, and which has guided it since 1975.
Yesterday the Queen gave a luncheon party to celbrate her Diamond Jubilee for her fellow monarchs, their consorts or represntitives from around the world at Windsor Castle. Such a gathering is almost without precedent. In the evening the Prince of Wales was host for adinner for most of the guests at Buckingham Palace
The Sovereign Monarchs Jubilee lunch,
in the Grand Reception Room at Windsor Castle.
Front row, from left The
Emperor of Japan, the Queen of the Netherlands, the Queen of Denmark,
the King of the Hellenes, the King of Romania, the Queen, the King of
Bulgarians, the Sultan of Brunei, the King of Sweden, the King of
Swaziland, and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein. Middle row, from
left The Prince of Monaco, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the King of
Lesotho, the King of the Belgians, the King of Norway, the Emir of
Qatar, the King of Jordan, the King of Bahrain, and the Yang di-Pertuan
Agong of Malaysia.
Back row, from left Nasser Mohamed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait, the
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the Crown Prince of Yugoslavia, the King of
Tonga, the Crown Prince of Thailand, Princess Lalla Meryem of Morocco
and Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia
Image: PA/Daily Telegraph
What I was particularly impressed by was the presence of the Kings of Romania, of the Bulgarians and of the Hellenes, and of the Crown Prince of Yugoslavia. Although such unfortunately exiled or dethroned Monarchs have been invited to Royal weddings and to private occasions as relatives it is virtually unprecedented for them to be accorded their rightful dignity as Sovereigns, and indeed the public precedence they enjoy by reason of their length of reign. In this respect the British Establishment has been less generous than other European monarchies in the past, and really ever since 1918. This is a very welcome change.
There were various absentees amongst the non-regnant dynasties, but the pattern does appear to have been adjusted.
A painting which does, to my mind, convey substantially more than other depictions the theology, and not just the mechanics, of
the Ascension is El Greco's Holy Trinity, which is sometimes
presented as a depiction of the Ascension, or at least the reception of
Christ, both human and divine, back into the unity of the Trinity. It
was painted as
part of a series of nine canvasses for the Cistercian monastery of
Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo in 1577-79, and is now in the Prado
from late medieval representations of the Holy
Trinity, familiar in paintings and alabasters, but whereas these are
static and facing the viewer, in this painting El Greco infuses the
theme with a profoundly human and tender feeling, derived from the
tradition of the Pieta.
Here in visual form is one of the great themes of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Here then is the return of Christ in the flesh to the throne of God.
Here then is an emphatically Trinitarian presentation. Here too is the
carrying of human flesh into the very Godhead. Here is the exhaustion
and self-giving of immolation. Here is the full accomplishment of the
act of Salvation. Here is the one all-sufficient sacrifice of God in the
flesh offered by the Son. Here is its acceptance by the Father, who
wears the High Priestly crown. Here the Holy Spirit hovers over the
Father and the Son expressing their unity. Here is completion,
Coincidentally there have been some
recent comments from contributors to
the Medieval Religion discussion group about late medieval concepts of
the Holy Trinity which reinforce this view. Thus, as one member wrote,
"the roles of the Persons of the Trinity can be
interchangeable: The Father can be both Creator and Judge; the
Son can be both Judge and Advocate; the Spirit can be both
Advocate and Creator ... and I think there are more overlaps if
one hunts for them ... I have never seen this as
contradictoriness so much as flexibility - the essential Oneness
of the Three. On the lines of the Athanasian Creed, perhaps ?"
Another pointed out that in the fifteenth century, "students learned
concerning the Trinity that "Opera divina ad extra sunt indivisa",
that is that the actions of the Trinity toward others cannot be
neatly sorted. So, the Son, sent by the Father and supported by
the Spirit, performed the act of redemption." A third writer pointed out that in the Eastern tradition "all actions of the godhead (creation, salvation,
judgement) are actually actions of the Trinity, no single Person.
Nonetheless, in iconographic tradition, the Father cannot be depicted
(for no one has seen Him) and the Spirit appears more or less as beams
of light, so Christ alone is shown. There is no sense of needing to
reconcile Christ as intercessor and judge because they are really one
and the same thing - i.e., God’s judgement and mercy are the same thing
seen from different perspectives." I wonder if his Cretan origins influenced, in this respect, his very un-Eastern depiction of the Trinity.
In artistic terms, El Greco has animated the
tradition into the vibrancy of naturalism, or supra-naturalism. A
stunning painting infused with spiritual insights. This is of course a
painting created in the
era of St Teresa of Avila and
St John of the Cross and the great age of Spanish mysticism. Here one
senses, as with them, the opening up of perceptions beyond the visible
and material into the Eternal.
The eastern origins of the
painter may in part explain the awareness of the Divine behind the
image, but is a way that is radically different from the static world of
the icon - indeed diametrically opposed in every brush stroke. Here is
the Divine life surging through and transforming the created order, here
the Divine and the temporal meet, and are reconciled. There is the same
spiritual vision can be seen in El Greco's contemporaneous painting of
and even more in his later version of the same subject of 1596-1600:
Here again there is the Divine energy, and, just as in the Holy Trinity he
sacrifice of Calvary and the culmination of the Ascension with the very
nature of the Godhead, so here he combines the force and power of the
Resurrection with the upward vigour of the Ascension.
Turning from one of my favourite painters to one of my favourite patristic authors, here are the same themes as in the Holy Trinity as presented in two sermons on the Ascension from the fifth century by Pope St Leo the Great:
From Homily I
“And truly great and unspeakable was their [the Apostles] cause for joy, when in the
sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly
creatures, the nature of mankind went up, to pass above
the angels’ ranks and to rise beyond the archangels’ heights, and to
have its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with
the Eternal Father, it should be associated on the throne with his
glory, to whose nature it was united in the Son.”
- Extract from the Office of Readings for Wednesday before Ascension Day
and Homily II
Our faith is increased by the Lord's ascension
Easter, beloved brethren, it was the Lord’s resurrection which was the
cause of our joy; our present rejoicing is on account of his ascension
into heaven. With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on
which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the
hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest
heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. It is upon this
ordered structure of divine acts that we have been firmly established,
so that the grace of God may show itself still more marvellous when, in
spite of the withdrawal from men’s sight of everything that is rightly
felt to command their reverence, faith does not fail, hope is not
shaken, charity does not grow cold.
For such is the power of great minds, such is the
light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what
is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is
beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could
anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was
And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into
the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been
replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts,
enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s
ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain
unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire and
ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal
persecutors. Throughout the world women no less than men, tender girls
as well as boys, have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this
faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and
raised the dead.
Even the blessed apostles, though they had been
strengthened by so many miracles and instructed by so much teaching,
took fright at the cruel suffering of the Lord’s passion and could not
accept his resurrection without hesitation. Yet they made such progress
through his ascension that they now found joy in what had terrified them
They were able to fix their minds on Christ’s divinity as he
sat at the right hand of his Father, since what was presented to their
bodily eyes no longer hindered them from turning all their attention to
the realisation that he had not left his Father when he came down to
earth, nor had he abandoned his disciples when he ascended into heaven.
The truth is that the Son of Man was revealed as Son
of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into
his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his
divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity. A
more mature faith enabled their minds to stretch upward to the Son in
his equality with the Father; it no longer needed contact with Christ’s
tangible body, in which as man he is inferior to the Father. For while
his glorified body retained the same nature, the faith of those who
believed in him was now summoned to heights where, as the Father’s
equal, the only-begotten Son is reached not by physical handling but by
have a high priest who sits at the right of the throne of the Divine
Majesty in heaven. Let us come near to God, then, with a sincere heart
and a sure faith, with heart made clean and guilty conscience purified,
Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because
we can trust God to keep his promise. Let us come near to God, then,
with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with heart made clean and guilty
conscience purified, alleluia.
- From the Office of Readings for the Friday after Ascension Day
I am observing today as Ascension Day, and will, if plans work out, be able to attend two Extraordinary Form Masses here in Oxford to celebrate the feast. I personally prefer to keep the feast today, though I am quite happy to celebrate it all over again on Sunday - or do I mean the Sunday in Ascensiontide? It is one of my favourite days of the calendar, and rich in imaginative imagery.
However, looking online, I realise that depicting the Ascension has proved rather surprisibgly difficult for artists. There are, of course, the ratehr delightfully naive medieval depictions of Our Lord's feet disappearing into a cloud as the apostle slook on - as in the boss in the nave of York Minster dating from the early fourteenth century (replaced after the fire of 1840 from drawings of the original).
The other main types are those of the icon tradition, and the swirling figures and drapery of the Baroque.
This tradition continued in manuscrpts as well as icons for centuries,
even when presented with greater animation as by Giotto (1267-1337) in
the early fourteenth century. Nonetheless there is an awkwardness in the central figure:
Noneteless the hierarchical tableaux vivante deriving from the icon tradition was still powerful at the end of the fifteenth century as in Pietro Perugino's painting of 1494-98:
Tintoretto's painting, begun circa 1576 and completed in 1581 conveys a dynamic energy lacking in other representations:
After that the full Baroque style developed, with which we are familiar. The results may be
impressive - and indeed seem designed for architectural settings in
churches with soaring columns and soaring music to accompany the liturgy
- but they can at times be accidentally somewhat comic in their effect.
They appear to be more concerned with the mechanics of the ascension rather than with its theology, whereas the earlier tradition tended to place the emphasis
on the theology at the expense of narrative, or at least naturalism.
However there is one painting which does, to my mind, manage to combine both theology and naturalism in its narrative of the Ascension, although it is not simply a depiction of that event alone in the economy of Salvation - and I shall write about it in my next post...
The other day I was engaged in a triangular discussion with two friends
online which started when one forwarded me this article about the late Professor John Boswell of Yale's The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe published in 1994, the year in which he died.
have a copy of the Boswell book somewhere, though I have never got
around to reading
it fully. I recall that when it came out critics said it was very
interesting - but, and it is a very important "but" - that their main
point seemed to be that the unions he describes were matters of
"friendship" or "brotherhood", and
not "marriage" - i.e. non-sexual compacts.
Other examples of such pacts are recorded - Maurice Keen has a
on two early fifteenth century English knights agreeing a business
partnership (shares in
ransoms and prizes etc) as brothers-in arms rather on those lines. We
may well not make sufficient allowance for the existence and forms of
friendship and its impacty on medieval and early modern people simply
because today we have only partial evidence.
Equally historians with a contemporary agenda may find themselves
writing about what are in essence present issues in their work on the
past, or indeed go looking for evidence of what they want to believe
happened, not what did happen.
In particular in Boswell's book there does also appear to have been a misunderstanding of what are mainly Eastern Orthodox liturgies - a point made by modern Orthodox commentators.
There is a good demolition job of the Boswell thesis which can be read here.
What is perhaps surprising is that eighteen years after its publication the Boswell book, despite very serious criticism of its argument and use of evidence, is still being cited by advocates of same-sex marriage as though its conclusions were unchallenged and incontrovertible.
A friend has pointed out to me an article by Alasdair Palmer in The Spectator about
continuing programme of cleaning the interior of Chartres cathedral. It
questions the suitability of such a project and can be read here.
see that Malcolm Miller, the great guide to the glass of the cathedral,
approves of the scheme, and, on the basis of what is in the article I
am inclined to do so as well.
The nave of Chartres looking towards the choir
I visited Chartres in 1992 it felt, unlike some other French
cathedrals, to still be a living place of prayer. The glass is
spectacular, as is the survival of the medieval floor. It was also very
dark - yes, a veritable 'dim religious light' - and I do also recall a
certain griminess to it. So yes clean it and restore it to something
more like it was eight
centuries ago. Maybe go further,and re-colour at least some of the
carvings, if not exactly, then more-or-less as they once were.
Like most medieval French cathedrals Chartres suffered from a fairly drastic post-Trent re-ordering - they closed the cathedral for a few days and ripped out all the medieval chantry chapels - and then there was Ancien Regime
neglect and 'improvement' so it is difficult to appreciate it as it
would have appeared to visitors, to pilgrims in its earler centuries of existence.
Palmer's criticism seems to be based on an aesthetic sense of what is
suitable to an eight hundred year old monument rather than what is
appropriate to the creators of the cathedral or to a continuing place of
worship. The "grime is historic"argument does not impress me.
The nave illuminated and with the medieval labyrinth visible
I suspect a lot of parishes are holding their May Devotion to Our Lady
today on what would otherwise be the freast of Our Lady of Fatima, and
on the 95th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady in the Cova
de Iria in 1917.
Our Lady of Fatima
The message Our Lady delivered at Fatima was to a revolution afflicted country in a war-torn world, but it is one equally applicable to the circumstances of the present time. To turn to Christ in a spirit of repentance should be our response to the diverse and complex series of problems which confront the world today.
In particular the message of Fatima seems profoundly bound up with the survival of Christian European civilisation, and that is an issue with which we should indeed be concerned.
Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.
was the first British coronation to be fully photographed and filmed,
and one in which the liturgy was further revised on traditional lines.
Most noteworthy was the fact that the King having been crowned with St
Edward's Crown did not have it immediately replaced with the Imperial
State Crown, as his father did in 1911, but wore it for the
enthronisation, the homage and up to the Communion.
The beginning of the ceremony
The dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Oath-taking
In these photographs of the King and Queen, Queen Mary and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret the crowns can be seen. The Imperial State Crown was altered and provided with a new frame for the present Queen's Coronation in 1953 and the arches returned to their somewhat lower angles as when it was made for Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838. Queen Elizabeth's Crown was made for her in 1937, using as its base a circlet made for Queen Victoria. Queen Mary is wearing the crown made for her in 1911, but without its arches and cross. The two Princesses circlets were designed by their father, there not being a precedent in modern times for such coronets.
The King and Queen enthroned.
The King holds the Sovereign's Sceptre and the orb, the Queen the Queen's Sceptre with the cross and the Queen's Ivory Rod with the Dove.
My attention had been drawn by a friend to a post on The Sensible Bond about the exchange of letters within the leadership of SSPX about responding to the Holy See and the current discussions. It can be read here.
As I have said previously about these discussions, it is time to pray, and to pray earnestly, for a successful outcome.
I did not manage to see the State Opening of Parliament on television
yesterday. However one passage in what commentators have seen as a
legislatively uninspiring Queen's Speech which has attracted some
comment is about plans to amend the rules regarding the Royal
The Queen reads the speech at the State Opening of Pparliament yesterday . Image: BBC
The actual passage merely says:
My government will continue to work with the 15 other Commonwealth
realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the
This may indeed suggest that what was spoken of as
having been agreed last autumn is still under discussion. However if
plans are moving ahead it is in some ways very suitable for Jubilee
From what has been announced previuiosly there are three parts to the propsed changes, which would apply.
rule whereby male primogeniture ensured a younger son would have rights
over an elder sister would be removed, and succession would proceed
simply in order of birth, irrespective of the sex of the individual. This cahnge would not rbe retrospective - so no change in the existing line of succession.
ban on marrying Roman Catholics, dating from 1701, would be repealed,
although there appeared to be a retention of the fact that the
Sovereign, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, could not be a
The requirement under the 1772 Royal Marriages
Act for descendents of King George II to seek the Sovereign's approval
for their marraige would only apply to the six persons in immediate line of succession to the throne.
Of these proposals I would be inclined to leave the privilege in
favour of males unchanged. A friend made the point that to talk of
equality or fairness in respect of what is, of its very nature, a
selective, elite institution is to risk undermining an aspect of its
traditional base without any real gain. However this really turns on
matters of human genetics, and on the basis that for the last 124 years
out of 175 we have been well and wisely ruled by female sovereigns, not
an overly serious issue. Nonetheless I would be inclined to leave well
Allowing marriage to Roman Catholics is fair - here that
argument does I think apply, particularly given the respective numbers
of practising believers amongst the Crown's subjects - and one that I
have held since long before I personally became a Catholic. If we ever
see a return to dynastic marraiges then this widens the available number
of potential spouses.
As to the 1772 Marriage Act - well, inevitably the six nearest
the succession is going to be a fairly changing group, and in the absence
of a House Law on the lines of those of German dynasties, it does
provide a system of regulation. I would again be inclined to leave well alone.
Now with all that said I will engage in a few little flights of
fancy... The Clever Boy does not really take to the idea of counter-factuals in history, and is inclined to the view that they are only really of use
to enable us to reconstruct the possible options facing people in the
past which we have forgotten.
However, the Clever Boy has indulged in a few relections as to what
would have happened in the past if females had had equal rights of
succession with their brothers.
The last time this would have
affected the succession would have been in 1901 when Queen Victoria I
would have been succeeded by her eldest child, Queen Victoria II. We
might assume that had such rules then applied she would not have been
married off so as to become German Empress and Queen of Prussia.
Nonetheless we will proceed with out excursus... With her death later
that year the Crown would have passed to her eldest child King William V - otherwise known as Kaiser Wilhelm II. Now such an Anglo -
German condominion would have resolved tensions in Wilhelm himself - see
Giles McDonagh's very readable biography - and also such little matters
as the naval rivalry of the years up to 1914. From him, after his death in 1941, the succession
would have passed through to his son William VI/Wilhelm III, and
through his son, also Wilhelm, killed in 1940, and then to his daughter
in the next generation, Princess Felicitas (d 2009) and now to her
daughter Princess Friederike.
Before that the previous instance of daughters preceding sons might be seen as post factum validation for Queens Mary II and Anne displacing their half-brother the de jure King James III and VIII in either 1688-89 or 1701.
Earlier than that in the Stuart period is the possibility of
what would have happened at the death of King James I and VI in 1625.
Then, under such rules as are proposed he would have been succeeded by
his daughter Queen Elizabeth II and I, rather than his younger son King
Charles I. Well we might have avoided the series of Civil Wars of his
reign, but at the cost of being drawn into the Thirty Years War which
started with Elizabeth's husband's election as King of Bohemia in
1618.... On her death in 1662 the Crown would have passed to her son Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine (d.1680)
- a man of a rather doubtful character who played an equivocal role in
the English Civil War ( unlke his brothers the Princes Rupert and
Maurice ) - and might have reigned as King Charles I, to be
succeeded by his son as King Charles II and then by the latter's sister
Elizabeth Charlotte Duchess of Orleans. Through
this formidable lady (Queen Elizabeth III and II?) the succession would have descended to the House of
Orleans, and a potential Anglo-French Monarchy under Louis Philippe...
Previous to this scenario, in 1547 ( allowing for
minor problems of legitimacy) Queen Mary I would have succeeded King
Henry VIII, and then Queen Elizabeth I, with no King Edward VI at all -
and no nasty radical Protestant reformation...
Back in 1483 - well there would have been no King Edward V and
Richard Duke of York and Norfolk for their uncle Richard Duke of
Gloucester to worry about, but rather Queen Elizabeth I - but then, in
the end she married King Henry VII...
And finally, in 1135 the Empress Matilda (or perhaps dowager Queen of the Romans) would have become
undoubted Queen after her father King Henry I, and no trouble from cousin Stephen, but King Henry II
would have had to wait to succeed his mother until 1167 ....
Now is that all entirely clear? Questions may be asked later...
Although September 29th is the principal feast day of St Michael the Archangel today is the feast that commemorates his late fifth century apparition at Gargano
on Adriatic coast of Italy - the spur of Italy - and the geginning of devotion to him there. It is said that the sanctuary dedicated to him there is the only church
not dedicated by a bishop but by the Archangel himself - although a similar story
was told in the middle ages of Westminster Abbey being consecrated by St Peter himself during a nightime visitation.
The feast of the Apparition entered the Roman Missal as aunversal feast with Pope St Pius
V in 1570, but does not occur in the 1970 Missal.
There is an online article about the sanctuary here and there is another article about the Gargano peninsula here. The official website of the Sanctuary can be opened here.
Something of the theology and history of the cult of St Michael can be read in this online article.
Coincidentally Prof Georgi Vasilev of the State University of Library Studies and Information Technologies in Sofia Bulgaria recently posted on the Medieval religion discussion group some extracts from medieval apocrypha (basically coming from East) including the "Apocryphal oratione of St. John Chrysostom how Michael,
chieftan of the celestial army defeated Satan" which is rather popular. Here is a
brief citation from the old Bulgarian version (the original source is
fails to sum up courage to fight with Satan, the Lord forgave Gabriel
and again said unto Michael: ‘You were first in the kingdom of Adam, who
proceedeth from me, and it is thine today to go down to that vile antichrist
and take from him the heavenly mantle, the crown and the sceptre of
angelic orders, which he stole from Me. And
divest him of his beauty and glory so that his servants see who the
Father is.”(Bulgarskata literatura i knizhnina prez XIII vek, p.151)
and from the Apocryphal text "The Tiberiad Sea":
God sent Michael to Satan. And Michael went but was scorched by Satan
and returned to God and said ‘I did what You sent me to do but the fire
of Satan fell unto me.’… And Michael came and struck Satan with the sceptre and threw him down with all his army. And they fell three days and three nights like drops of rain. (Stara bulgarska literatura.I. Apokrifi, p.32 )
As Prof Vasilev points out this image is used by John Milton in Paradise lost. In his interpretation Messiah (Christ) is send by
God instead of Michael:
Raphael continues to relate how Michael and Gabriel were sent forth to battel against Satan and
his Angels. The first Fight describ’d: Satan and his Powers retire
under Night: He calls a Councel, invents devilish Engines, which in the
second dayes Fight put Michael and his Angels to some disorder; But,
they at length pulling up Mountains overwhelm’d both the force and
Machins of Satan: Yet the Tumult not so ending, God on the third day
sends Messiah his Son, for whom he had reserv’d the glory of that
Victory: Hee in the Power of his Father coming to the place, and causing
all his Legions to stand still on either side, with his Chariot and
Thunder driving into the midst of his Enemies, pursues them unable to
resist towards the wall of Heaven; which opening, they leap down with
horrour and confusion into the place of punishment prepar’d for them in
the Deep: Messiah returns with triumph to his
Lost, Book VI. The Argument)
another coincidence I am reminded of a conversation last week with
someone who was asserting that there had beena feminization of religion
in the nineteenth century, and cited in evidence religious art. Setting
apart bad religious art - and of that there was a lot produced then - I
disagreed strongly as to the dating of the changes in iconography he had in mind, as well indeed with his whole argument.
I thought I should have drawn attention to the image of St Michael.
Long before the Baroque, let alone popular religious art such as many
prayer cards, the Archangel was often depicted as a rather androgynus
figure. Thus, in examples drawn from my own particular period of interest
and enthusiasm, one can find many examples of this, although in this English alabaster of 1430-70 he appears very
robust attacking the dragon of evil whilst weighing souls:
Image: Victoria and Albert Museum
However contemporary art from Catalonia and the Netherlands suggests a more complex angelic personality. Here is a small selection of such images chosen from a great wealth of such examples from both regions:
Saint Michael the Archangel by Blasco de Grañén, 1422
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
Image:mbell1975 on Flickr
St Michael weighing souls by Rogier van der Weyden
Detail of St Michael weighing souls at the Last Judgement
Hans Memling 1466-1473
The Last Judgement
National Museum, Gdansk
I assume the convention originates in an attempt to convey the beauty of holiness contrasted with the ugliness of evil, but the result has a definitely feminine quality to it, indicating the sexlessness of non-corporeal beings. Nevertheless by the late medieval period the image appears established. The muscular Christianity of Epstein's St Michael at Coventry appears a much more modern concept.
On the basis of some of the paintings i have reproduced here it is probably best to be able to recognise St Michael - we are all likely to meet him on Judgement Day.
Today is the anniversary of the death of St John of Beverley in 721, a saint about whom I posted in October on the feast of his translation in St John of Beverley. Today gives an opportunity, or excuse, to post another picture of the great medieval church which arose at his cult centre in Beverley. Being a bit off the beaten track it is not as well known as it deserves to be - Beverley Minster is one of the glories of high and later medieval Yorkshire and England, a treasure house of sculpture as well as soaring architecture.
The High Altar of Beverley Minster.
The building is early thirteenth century, the reredos from the fourteenth century and the east window, with its medieval glass, an earlier fifteenth century insertion. In the middle ages the relics of St John rested in their shrine on the top of the reredos. To the left of the altar can be seen part of the Percy tomb from the early fourteenth century.