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.


Monday, 21 June 2010

Flos paradisi


Salveto centies! Flos paradisi!
are the first words of the hymn we shall no doubt sing this evening to mark St Aloysius' day at the Oxford Oratory, as we sang it last night at First Vespers.


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St. Aloysius Gonzaga as a youth


St Aloysius (1568-91) was a Jesuit, and when the present church in Oxford was built by the Society in 1875 he was chosen as patron. I assume this was partly because he was seen as a suitable role model for young men in the university city as well as being a Jesuit. There is a short biography here
.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga

The contemporary portraits of St Aloysius suggest, as does his life, a young man of considerably more determination that the later, hagiographical images, where he looks decidedly wimpish.

As we were reminded in a good sermon on this day last year from one of the Jesuit Chaplains to the University St Aloysius can appear a rather uncomfortable figure - the pious youth of aristocratic family who renounces all to become a Jesuit and dies at the age of 23 whilst nursing plague victims, a young man of austere life and spirituality who never, according to his confessor, committed a mortal sin. He stands in a tradition that includes the fourteenth century Avignon teenage Cardinal, Peter of Luxemburg, as someone one may admire, but feel it impossible to follow. It was perhaps for this reason, that is with conscious irony, that Lord Sebastian's teddy bear is named Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. As, however, last year's preacher pointed out what we need to see is the young man who is possessed of self knowledge - the member of Renaissance aristocratic military society who sees only too clearly the temptations the world has to offer, and rejects them. A little known English parallel would be the member of the great Bohun family who, in the fourteenth century, renounced his inheritance to join the Austin Friars.
Presented in that way St Aloysius becomes a much more accessible figure, one who is re-configured in Christ, and who can speak to all of us as to the possibilities of spiritual transformation in our own situations.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga in Glory

May St Aloysius continue to pray for the Oratory and its parish.

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