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.


Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year sleep out


Spare a thought and a prayer, and maybe some money, for two of my friends from the Oxford Oratory, Jo O'Donovan and Catherine Brown, who are going to do a sponsored sleep out tonight in Oxford from 6 pm until 6 am in aid of the Oxford Oratory Appeal.

Given that these two ladies are, well, not in the first flush of youth (and I am sure they will not mind me saying so) this is a very commendable effort on their part, and deserves support and encouragement.

St Sylvester and the Donation of Constantine


The other day I mentioned the Donation of Constantine and as to day is the feast of its alleged recipient St Sylvester I thought I would put in a link to an introduction to this famous and influential text - it can be read here. There is an article on Pope Sylvester I here.


The Emperor Constantine gives Imperial authority and the papal tiara to Pope Sylvester I.
Note the presence of the umbrellino.
A thirteenth century fresco in the church of Santo Quattro Coronati in Rome

Image: Wikipedia

Friday, 30 December 2011

Coronation in Budapest


Today is the 95th anniversary of the coronation of the Bl. Emperor Charles as King Charles IV of Hungary in 1916. The fact that he had received this sacramental was of enormous spiritual significance to the King and his Queen Zita, and why he refused to renounce his rights in 1921.

The ceremony, central to the traditional Hungarian concept of kingship, was both deemed to be a constitutional requirement and also. it seem, as a means of binding the new King, who had succeeded to the throne in late November, to the existing balance of political pwer within the realm by the Prime Minister, Count Tisza.

There is an account of the preparations for the coronation in Miklos Banffy's memoir The Phoenix Land and there is a detailed description of the day, set within the action of a sprawling novel about a Magyar aristocratic family, in Lajos Zilahy's The Dukays.

http://www.emperorcharles.org/images/JPG%20800/cd%202/08--The%20Hungarian%20Coronation/Cat%20No%20139-12--King%20Karl%20Taking%20the%20Coronation%20Oath--Magyar.jpg

The King taking the Coronation oath

http://www.emperorcharles.org/images/JPG%20800/cd%202/08--The%20Hungarian%20Coronation/Cat%20No%20139-17--King%20Karl%20on%20the%20Coronation%20Hill--Postcard,%20.jpg

The King on horseback upon the hill composed of soil from every county in Hungary.
This part of the ceremonial involved the King riding up the hill and brandishing his sword to the four points of the compass to symbolise his defence of the frontiers of the kingdom - indeed the oath speaks of extending them.

http://www.emperorcharles.org/images/JPG%20800/cd%202/08--The%20Hungarian%20Coronation/Cat%20No%20140--The%20Hungarian%20Royal%20Family%20Enthroned-Photograph.jpg

King Charles IV, Queen Zita and Crown Prince Otto.
The King died in 1922, Queen Zita in 1989 and Otto in 2011.

http://www.emperorcharles.org/images/JPG%20800/cd%202/08--The%20Hungarian%20Coronation/Cat%20No%20150--King%20Karl%20Wearing%20the%20Crown%20of%20St.%20Stephen--Pos.jpg

King Charles IV wearing the Holy Crown
and mantle of St Stephen and holding the sceptre.

Images: The Emperor Charles League of Prayer

Thursday, 29 December 2011

St Thomas of Canterbury in Monreale and Soria


Here is another depiction of St Thomas made soon after his death. It is part of the decoration of the apse of the cathedral at Monreale in Sicily.

He is shown standing between Pope St Sylvester I and St Lawrence. The association of themes and ideas appears clear - St Sylvester was believed to be the recipient of the Donation of Constantine, with all that was taken to imply for Papal and ecclesial authority, and St Lawrence had been martyred in 258 for refusing to compromise and hand over the Church's wealth, and thereby its independence, to the Imperial authorities. St Thomas is therefore presented as being in good company in respect of Church-State relations.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3164/2575093180_0101779142_b.jpg

Image: John Dillon posting on Medieval religion discussion group 29/12/2009

The historical and cultural context of the creation of the mosaic and the cathedral are discussed in John Julius Norwich's splendid and evocative The Kingdom in the Sun, the successor volume to the equally compelling The Normans in the South. Both books make you yearn to travel to Sicily and the rest of the Regno to visit the places he describes.

St Thomas's murder as depicted in a late twelfth-century wall painting in the church of San Nicolás in Soria (Castilla y León). The painting, exceptional in that its shows the Archbishop being stabbed in the back rather than struck in the head, is discussed in two articles here and here. There is a brief BBC film clip showing more of the painting here.

Just as St Thomas's early depiction in the apse mosaics at Monreale has been ascribed to the influence of one of King Henry II's daughters, Joanna/Giovanna, Queen of Sicily, so this painting has been ascribed to the influence of another daughter, Eleanor/Leonor, Queen of Castille.


St Thomas of Canterbury at Chartres


Today is the feast of the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury in 1170.

Quite apart from my work as a medieval historian as a former churchwarden at St Thomas the Martyr in Oxford he is a saint who interests me. My post about both the saint and the church from last year can be read at St Thomas of Canterbury.

As a consequence of the shock engendered by his death and the cult that developed around him St Thomas was widely depicted in art. Many of these representations in England were casualties of King Henry VIII's fulminations against veneration of St Thomas - "that traitor Becket."

Thanks to some posts on the Medieval religion discussion group by Christopher Crockett, that veteran enthusiast for all things Chartrain, I am reproducing some images from Chartres Cathedral, where Becket's supporter John of Salisbury was Bishop from 1176 until his death in 1180.

Clark Maines in an article 'A Figure of St. Thomas Becket at Chartres' in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte XXXVI, 1973), pp. 163-173, identifies one of the figures on the south portal of Chartres cathedral as St Thomas. This can be read on JSTOR if you have access at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1481845 The figure on the right is, in this reading, St Thomas, trampling on King Henry II.

http://images.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/i/image/getimage-idx?cc=chartres;entryid=x-fcsp333610220;viewid=FCSP333610220.TIF;quality=m800;view=image



http://images.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/i/image/getimage-idx?cc=chartres;entryid=x-fcsp333610225;viewid=FCSP333610225.TIF;quality=m800;view=image

Images:images.library.pitt.edu

Also at Chartres in the ambulatory is a window telling the story of St Thomas, and given by the Guild of Tanners. It can be viewed, with some explanatory notes, here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

St John the Evangelist


I have always identified St John the Evangelist as my name-saint - being a bit squeamish it is probably because he was the one Apostle not to be martyred - and perhaps also because the Cluniac priory in my home town was under his patronage. Anyway I do rather like the mystical and theological approach to faith. Thinking about it as I get older I think I should maybe identify with St John the Baptist and indulge in my urge to tell the brood of vipers what I really think, and go round preaching repentence - but I do want people to like me, so maybe not...

St John the Evangelist has not, to my mind, provided the inspiration for artists that the Baptist has. Too often he is depicted as a long haired rather effeminate young man, and not really the mystical theologian of the New Testament texts, still less one of the sons of thunder with a pushy mother...

This painting by Memling is rather better in conveying something of the meditative quality of St John, and anyway it is late medieval and therefore, ipso facto, good.

St. John The Evangelist

St John the Evangelist
Hans Memling c.1430 -1494

Image: artexpertswebsite.com

Here are both St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist in the same artist' s Mystic Marriage of St Catherine from the St John Altarpiece of 1474-79 which is in Bruges - the other female saint in the composition is St Barbara:

The Mystic Marriage Of St. Catherine Of Alexandria (central panel of the San Giovanni Polyptch) - Hans Memling - www.hansmemling.org



Here is Memling's panel from the same altarpiece showing St John on Patmos:

St John Altarpiece (right wing) 1474-79 - Hans Memling - www.hansmemling.org

There is great charm and delicacy in Hieronymous Bosch's 1485 painting of St John on Patmos:

http://stjohnleonia.org/parish/images/stories/church/stjohn.jpg

Image:stjohnleonia.org

Although there is something of the nice young man from Sotheby's or Christie's holding up an object at an auction to the figure, and it is a really rather splendid chalice, there is more of both youthful impetuousness and conviction as well as the intensity of devotion and of mysticism in El Greco's paintings of him, as here:

http://www.southbear.com/stjohn3.jpg

Image: southbear.com


Monday, 26 December 2011

Good King Wenceslas


Although his feast day is on September 28th thanks to the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas
not only St Stephen but also St Wenceslas comes to mind today.

The story of J.M.Neale's 1853 carol and its musical accompaniment can be read here.


http://images.arcadja.com/munyaradzi_henry-st__wenceslas~300~10000_20050119_W05700_154.jpg

St Wenceslas and his page on St Stephen's day

A painting by Henry Munyaradzi (b.1931)

Image: arcadja.com

There is a modern online illustrated life of the tenth century Duke of Bohemia who was to become the patron of the monarchy and country here, and there is a modern adaptation of a 10th century Slavonic text biography here.

http://www.hrad.cz/img/u/prazsky-hrad/img-korunovacni-klenoty-koruna.jpg

The Crown of St Wenceslas
It was made for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who was also King of Bohemia

Image: hrad.cz

I have published two previous posts about the fourteenth century crown of St Wenceslas which can be read at The Crown of St Wenceslas.

http://img.radio.cz/pictures/cirkev/svatovaclavska_prilba.jpg

The helmet preserved as that of St Wenceslas

Image: radio.cz

His relics are enshrined in the St Wenceslas chapel in St Vitus cathedral in Prague, and there is more about it here.


St Stephen


St Stephen, whose feast falls to day is, of course venerated as the proto-martyr of the Church.
http://cache2.artprintimages.com/p/LRG/13/1348/GUCS000Z/art-print/michael-pacher-the-stoning-of-st-stephen-from-the-altarpiece-of-st-stephen-circa-1470.jpg
The Stoning of St Stephen
From the St Stephen Altarpiece by Michael Pacher c.1470

Image: art.com

There are a series of readings and traditional devotions to him, as well as various depictions here.



St Stephen.
He is quite often shown in a standing pose but being bombarded with stones.
A rather effete depiction of a saint who was anything but that, being noticeably robust according to the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7.

The remainder of this post is adapted from a post from this day in 2005 on A Catholic Life.

"If you know what witness means, you understand why God brings St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents to the crib in the cave as soon as Christ is born liturgically. To be a witness is to be a martyr. Holy Mother Church wishes us to realize that we were born in baptism to become Christ — He who was the world's outstanding Martyr" (Love Does Such Things by Rev. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O.)

We have only just celebrated the birth of our Lord and already the liturgy presents us with the feast of the first person to give his life for this Baby who has been born. Yesterday we wrapped Christ in swaddling clothes; today, he clothes Stephen with the garment of immortality. Yesterday, a narrow manger cradled the baby Christ; today, the infinite heaven has received Stephen in triumph (St. Fulgentius, Sermon 3)



This painting is a detail from The Ordination of St Stephen by Blessed Fra Angelico
(circa 1395-1455) in the Niccoline chapel in the Vatican.
Saint Peter is ordaining Stephen to the diaconate while Saint John the Beloved (whose feast is tomorrow), holding his Gospel, looks on.
The composition is remarkable: the three heads of Peter, John and Stephen form a triangle, a symbol of communion in the Three Divine Persons. Peter is handing over the chalice and paten which are very large. Fra Angelico makes the Most Holy Eucharist central; he paints what Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, i.e. that the unity of the Church is constituted and held together by participation in the adorable Body and Blood of Christ.

Source for the above excerpt: Vultus Christi

The Martyrdom of St Stephen.
A rather florid Baroque view.

Saint Stephen, martyr of Christ, ora pro nobis. Amen

Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, so to imitate what we revere, that we may learn to love even our enemies: for we celebrate the heavenly Birthday of him who knew how to pray for his very persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son: Who liveth and reigneth with Thee.

1962 Daily Missal

Images: A Catholic Life blog

 

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Unto us a Child is born


A Holy, Blessed and Joyful Christmas to you all




Madonna of the Rose Bower

c. 1440

Stefan Lochner c.1400-1451

Oil on panel, 51 x 40 cm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne


This small panel which employs several iconographic models is an especially charming remnant of Cologne Gothic.

It depicts the "humble Madonna" (Madonna dell' Umiltà) as Mary is sitting on the ground or on a pillow placed on the ground, gently holding an infant in her lap. Their figures are surrounded by adoring angels who offer flowers and fruits to the baby Jesus. To create a backdrop for the scene, two diligent angels stretch out a golden brocade curtain which reminds the viewer of the reigning, victorious Madonna. At the same time, this curtain insures separation from the rest of the world and the intimacy of the holy family. Above, surrounded by light-rays, we can see God the Father and the dove of the Holy Spirit. This intimates the Immaculate Conception; thus the painting includes the depiction of the Holy Trinity. This is the picture of completeness with the Divine Mother as its centre.

The image of being enclosed is reinforced by another motif: the low stone wall around Mary, which recalls the "hortus conclusus" (enclosed garden), the symbol of Mary's purity and innocence.

The spectacular carpet of flowers covering the ground intimates the earthly Garden of Eden, as does the bower of roses. Roses were often connected with the Madonna; such a simile appears in several medieval Latin hymns to the Virgin.

The musical child angels in the foreground play an important part in the creation of an idyllic atmosphere. Their instruments - two different sized lutes, a harp and a portative organ - are realistically rendered, and their small hands reveal their musical expertise.

Notes from the Web Galley of Art

This is the same post as I produced for Christmas Day last year, but I could not immediately think in the vast number of possible depictions of another image of Our Lady and the Christ Child that had quite so much appeal, so I decided to republish it.



Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Expectation of Our Lady


I was charmed as usual last Sunday by the recessional hymn we sang following the Solemn Mass at the Oxford Oratory. It is by Fr F.W.Faber (1814-63) and I thought I would share it with readers.

It is Faber at his best - presenting theological truth with warmth and emotion, and using vivid images, but it is restrained at the same time - not as 'over the top' as he could be when it came to devotion to Our Lady. I am grateful to my friend Irim Sarwar who hunted out the text on the internet for me. The hymn's charm is enhanced by its lilting, slightly bouncy tune, which is from an Oratorian compilation of 1870, and can be founfd in the Oratory sponsored Catholic Hymnal. It seems a very appropriate piece to share on Christmas Eve.

Like the dawning of the morning
On the mountains’ golden heights,
Like the breaking of the moon-beams
On the gloom of cloudy nights;
Like a secret told by Angels,
Getting known upon the earth,
Is the Mother’s Expectation
Of Messiah’s speedy birth.

Thou wert happy, Blessed Mother,
With the very bliss of Heaven,
Since the Angel’s salutation
In thy raptured ear was given;
Since the Ave of that midnight,
When thou wert anointed Queen,
Like a river over-flowing
Hath the grace within thee been.

On the mountains of Judea,
Like the chariot of the Lord,
Thou wert lifted in thy spirit
By the uncreated Word;
Gifts and graces flowed upon thee
In a sweet celestial strife
And the growing of thy Burden
Was the lightening of thy life.

And what wonders have been in thee
All the day and all the night,
While the angels fell before thee,
To adore the Light of Light.
While the glory of the Father
Hath been in thee as a home,
And the sceptre of creation
Hath been wielded in thy womb.

And the sweet strains of the Psalmist
Were a joy beyond control,
And the visions of the prophets
Burnt like transports in thy soul;
But the Burden that was growing,
And was felt so tenderly,
It was Heaven, it was Heaven,
Come before its time to thee.

Oh the feeling of thy Burden,
It was touch and taste and sight;
It was newer still and newer,
All those nine months, day and night.
Like a treasure unexhausted,
Like a vision uconfess’d,
Like a rapture unforgotten,
It lay ever at they breast.

Every moment did that Burden
Press upon thee with new grace;
Happy Mother! Thou art longing
To behold the Saviour’s Face!
Oh his Human face and features
Must be passing sweet to see
Thou hast seen them, happy Mother!
Ah then, show them now to me.

Thou hast waited, Child of David,
And thy waiting now is o’er;
Thou hast seen Him, Blessed Mother,
And wilt see Him evermore!
O His Human Face and Features,
They were passing sweet to see;
Thou beholdest them this moment,
Mother, show them now to me.

Reflecting on Advent


Now we have got to Christmas Eve I think I have managed to observe a rather better Advent than in some years. Not that I have not had far too many distractions and general end-of-year and pre-Christmas hassle, but I do think it has been a bit more spiritually profitable than some other years. That is not to say that its lessons will not have to be relearned next year all over again. Nonetheless the fact that Advent this year has been as long as it can possibly be has meant that there really has been a bit more time to reflect on the God who came in time, comes to us in time and will come at the end of time.

Another regal anniversary


Last year we saw the thirty-fifth anniversary of the accession of the King of Spain to the throne, and this year has seen the twentieth anniversary of the King of Norway and the thirtieth of the Queen of the Netherlands, whilst this coming new year will witness the fortieth anniversary of the Queen of Denmark and, of course, our own Queen's Diamond Jubilee. With these in mind perhaps one can spare a thought and a prayer for the de jure King of Portugal who today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of his father's death and his inheritance of the claim to the throne. Dom Duarte III and the Portuguese people deserve better than the present situation of the country offers.

Dom Duarte's website can be seen at Portuguese Monarchy, and there are other sites devoted to the history of the Most Faithful Kings at Real Familia Portuguesa and at Unveiling the Portuguese Monarchy.

Friday, 23 December 2011

O Virgo Virginum


The additional Sarum antiphon for today is:
Latin:
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
English:
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.
The first line appears to refer to Our Lady's response to the Archangel at the Annunciation in Luke 1:34, whilst the reference to the Daughters of Jerusalem links to the repeated references to them in the Song of Songs.

O Emmanuel


O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum, veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
 
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: come and save us, O Lord our God. 
 
'Emmanuel' derives from Isaiah 7:14,
'Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium,
Et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel'

'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
And his name shall be called Emmanuel.'


This is referred to the birth of Christ in St Matthew's Gospel:

'Hoc autem totum factum est, ut adimpleretur quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentam: Ecco virgo in utero habebit, et pariet filium, et vocabunt nomen eius Emmanuel,
quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus.'

'Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was said by the Lord through the prophet,
saying: Behold, a virgin shall have a son in her womb, and bear him, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being translated, God with us.' (Matthew 1:22-23).


Emmanuel, 'God with us', is perhaps the most important title in the series.

'Rex', 'King' is a title often applied to Christ in the New Testament, e.g. at Matthew 2:2, 'Ubi est qui natus est rex Iudaeorum?' 'Where is he that has been born King of the Jews?' Or the title placed on the cross: 'Hic est Iesus rex Iudaeorum' 'This is Jesus, King of the Jews' (Matthew 27:37).

'Legifer', 'lawgiver' equates Jesus with Moses who gave the law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. Jesus is portrayed as giving a new law, e.g. in his delivery of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Or cf. John 13:34, 'Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut dilexi vos' - 'A new Commandment I give you, that you should love one another, as I have loved you.' ['Mandatum' here gives us 'Maundy' as in Maundy Thursday, the day of the Mandate].

'Exspectatio gentium' has already been mentioned with reference to 'O Clavis David'. It derives from Genesis 49:10,

Non aufertur sceptrum de Iuda,
Et dux de femore eius,
Donec veniat qui mittendus est,
Et ipse erit expectatio gentium.


'The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah,
nor the leader from his thigh,
until he comes who is to be sent,
and he will be the expectation of the nations.'


'Salvator', 'Saviour', is applied regularly in the Old Testament to God, and equally regularly in the New Testamen to Jesus. The equation is made explicit in the last words of our antiphon, 'veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster' - 'Come and save us, O Lord our God'. 
 
Fr East adds this comment "In England, there was an eighth antiphon, 'O virgo virginum', 'O virgin of virgins', applied to Mary; and example of English exhuberance spoiling the careful and spare patterning of the Roman liturgy."

Thursday, 22 December 2011

O Rex gentium


O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque
unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of the Nations, and their desire; the Corner-stone, who makest both one; Come and save mankind, whom thou formedest of clay.

The key text here is Haggai 2:8,

'Et movebo omnes gentes, Et veniet Desideratus cunctis gentibus'

'And I shall shake all nations, and the Desired One will come to all nations.'

Haggai is a prophet writing at the time of of what is called the Restoration, that is, the return of the Jews to the holy land after the exile in Babylon, the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of public and religious institutions. As Haggai writes, these things do not yet amount to much, but he forsees a time when the glory of the restored temple with exceed that of Solomon's original building. Christians see this prophecy fulfilled in Christ.

The phrase 'Rex Gentium' I have not found exactly, but cf. Psalm 2:6-8,

Ego autem constitutus sum Rex ab eo
Super Sion, montem sanctum eius,
Praedicans praeceptum eius.
Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu;
Ego hodie genui te.
Postula a me, et dabo tibi gentes haereditatem tuam,
Et possessionem tuam terminos terrae.

'Yet have I set my King:
upon my holy hill of Sion.
I will preach the law, whereof the Lord hath said unto me:
Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [i.e. nations]
for thine inheritance:
and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.'

The corner-stone goes back ultimately to Isaiah 28:16,

Ecce ego mittam in fundamentis Sion lapidem,
Lapidem probatum,
Angularem, pretiosum, in fundamento fundatum;

'Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious
corner stone'

This is quoted at 1 Peter 2:6. St Paul at Ephesians 2:20 also refers to Christ as 'ipso summo angulari lapide Christo Iesu' - 'Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.' In context, Paul explores the meaning of this image as referring to the Jews and Gentiles as it were coming to God from two directions, and meeting in Christ, as two walls meet and join in the
corner-stone. 'Who makest both one' refers to Ephesians 2:14, 'qui fecit utraque unum'.

'Quem de limo formasti' derives from Genesis 2:7, 'Formavit igitur Dominus Deus hominem de limo terrae.' Again Jesus is identified with the God of Creation, the God of Genesis.

A number of texts have been combined to produce a coherent theology: Christ is the Lord of all nations, both Jews and Gentiles, as a corner-stone supports both walls; he is the agent through whom both were made, and will lead both to a destiny greater than anything in their previous existence.

In addition tomorrow, December 23rd, the last day of the O Antiphons, traditionally has a special antiphon for the Benedictus at Lauds:

Ecce completa sunt omnia, quae dicta sunt per Angelum de Virgine Maria.


Behold, all things are fulfilled, which were spoken by the Angel to the Virgin Mary.


So we are ready for Christmas...

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Virgin, maiden or young woman?


In his address at Mass yesterday evening at the Oxford Oratory Fr Jerome spoke about the passage in Isaiah 7:14 which speaks of a young woman who will conceive and give birth to Immanuel, which has of coursetraditionally been identified with the events of Christmas. Critics are keen to point out that the original Hebrew says 'young woman' not 'virgin', and that this is then seized upon to "disprove" the Virgin Birth or Christianity.

As Fr Jerome pointed out to us this fact has been one of which Christians and their critics have been aware since at least the Dialogue of St Justin Martyr with Trypho circa 130, so this is no new discovery. Furthermore the Septuagint, itself seen as inspired, renders the word as 'Virgin', and that two centuries before the birth of Christ. There is nothing exceptional about a young woman conceiving - that is the course of nature; an older woman like St Elizabeth is noteworthy; a vigin - now that is exceptional.

O Oriens


O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina
sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O Day-spring, Brightness of Light Everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness:
Come and enlighten him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.

This description derives from the Song of Zechariah, or Benedictus, Luke 1:78-79,
Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri:
In quibus visitavit nos, Oriens ex alto,
Illuminare his qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent . . .

'Through the bowels of compassion of our God,
Through which the Dayspring from on high has visted us,
To illuminate those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death . . .'

Notice that our antiphons are proceeding in a chronological direction through the Bible; not in the texts quoted, which are from here, there and everywhere, but in the events alluded to: Creation - Exodus - Jesse - David - and now the beginning of the Gospel, John the Baptist.

The symbolism of light is often applied to Christ in the New Testament, but for specifically eternal light we should look to Isaiah 60, which is all about light. The chapter begins,

Surge, illuminare, Ierusalem, quia venit lumen tuum,
Et gloria Domini super te orta est.
'Arise, shine, Jerusalem, for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.'

Note orta, 'risen', the past participle of orior, of which Oriens is the present participle. 

At verse 19 of this chapter we find,
Non erit tibi amplius sol ad lucendum per diem,
Nec splendor lunae illuminabit te;
Sed erit tibi Dominus in lucem sempiternam.

'The sun shall be no more thy light by day;
neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee:
but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light.'

This is taken up in the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse:
Et civitas non eget sole, neque luna ut luceant in ea, nam claritas Dei illuminavit eam, et lucerna eius est Agnus. (Rev. 21:23)
'And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.'

We should also note the Second Letter of St Peter, 1:19,

Et habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem: cui benefacitis attendentes quasi lucernae lucenti in caliginoso donec dies elucescat, et lucifer oriatur in cordibus vestris.
'We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.'

The 'Sun of Righteousness' comes from Malachi 4:2,
'Et orietur vobis timentibus nomen meum Sol iustitiae, et sanitas in pennis eius.' [note again the use of orior]
'And there shall rise upon you who fear my name the Sun of Righteousness,with healing in his wings.'

To quote a much later writer, Charles Wesley, who continued this highly creative tradition of turning the scriptures into liturgy:

"Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o'er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear."

Or again, by the same author - quoting it in his original form; we are more familiar with it in the slightly altered form it received from G. Whitefield, M. Madan and others:

"Hail the heavenly Prince of peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings."

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A vacant throne?


A friend has pointed out to me this illustrated post from Andrew Cusack about recent changes to the what might be termed the seating arrangements in Dublin Castle, which can be read here. In many the Clever Boy approves no more than Mr Cusack does, and possibly even less... However the Clever Boy is rather given to the view that those who are not entitled to use things should not do so, so maybe the recent changes are apposite, if unfortunate in their totality, to put it mildly...

O Clavis David


O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et exuc vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris.
 
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest, and no man shutteth, and shuttest, and no man openeth: come and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.

Our antiphons grow fuller and fuller of allusion.The main reference is to a certain Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who is promised at Isaiah 22:22,

Et dabo clavem domus David
Super humerum eius;
Et aperiet, et non erit qui claudat;
Et claudet, et non erit qui aperiat.


'And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.'

Into this text, more or less, the antiphon inserts the word 'sceptre'. This comes from a Messianic prophecy very early in the Bible, at Genesis 49:10,

Non aufertur sceptrum de Iuda,
Et dux de femore eius,
Donec veniat qui mittendus est,
Et ipse erit expectatio gentium.


'The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah,
nor the leader from his thigh,
until he comes who is to be sent,
and he will be the expectation of the nations.'


And who is this who sits in darkness, in prison? We find him in Isaiah 42, another key Messianic passage, which begins:

'Behold my servant, who I uphold: mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth;
I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the
Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench . . .'


Then at verse 7 we find that his mission is:

Ut aperies oculos caecorum,
Et educeres de conclusione vinctum,
De domo carceris sedentes in tenebris.


'To open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.'

We find St Luke quoting this passage in the Song of Zechariah, or 'Benedictus', in Luke 1:78-79,

Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri:
In quibus visitavit nos, oriens ex alto:
Illuminare his qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent,
Ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis.

To Fr East's comments I would add that this antiphon clearly resonates with the Petrine commission of the keys, found in Matthew 16:19, and linked to Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23. Just as it refers back to Isaiah 22, so it links forward to Revelation 1:18.

In addition, tomorrow, December 21st, the traditional feast of St Thomas in the western rite, has a special antiphon for the Benedictus at Lauds:


Nolite timere: quinta enim die veniet ad vos Dominus noster.


Fear not, for on the fifth day our Lord will come to you.


Monday, 19 December 2011

'Habemus Papam'


Last night the Clever Boy went with a friend to see Habemus Papam/We have a Pope, a recent Italian film about the election of a Pope who between election and appearing on the balcony of St peter's to be acclaimed by the faithful suffers a catastrophic panic attack. The film is about his reaction, that of the Sacred College and the psychoanalyst brought in to help him.

The film uses archive footage and clever scene setting, and the actors look and act like a possible College of Cardinals - continental cinema does these things very well. It is described as a comedy - the publicity stresses this - but I cannot say it was bundle of laughs. There were some amusing bits of interplay between the Cardinals which were credible.

The problems seemed to be that here was an intersting idea, but it rather lost the plot - like the unfortunate Pope at the centre of the drama. This film is not The Shoes of the Fisherman, nor is is The Pope Must Die. A curious offering.

O Radix Jesse


O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.


O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: Come and deliver us, and tarry not.

'Radix Jesse' derives from Isaiah 11:1,

Et egredietur virga de radice Iesse, Et flos de radice eius ascendet.

'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.'

Jesse was the father of King David, founder of the Davidic dynasty of the Kings of Judah. It is very much alive. The Davidic dynasty came to a sticky and apparently final end when Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was taken prisoner by the King of Babylon:

'And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon' [2 Kings 25: 7] where he subsequently died. That was apparently the end of the line for David. But the Jews believed that God would send a Messiah, an 'Anointed one' (Greek 'Christ'), a king in succession to David, a new branch growing up from that truncated tree. Our antiphon salutes Jesus as that new shoot, growing from the stump of Jesse.


If we move on to Isaiah 11:10 we find more of our antiphon:

In die illa radix Iesse, Qui stat in signum populorum, Ipsum gentes deprecabuntur.

'And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek.'

The Tree of Jesse as a genealogy of Our Lord, as in the Gospels, was common in medieval churches - the east windows of Dorchester Abbey and Selby Abbey, as well as a window in the nave of York Minster all illustrate it, as does the reredos of Christ Church Priory in Hampshire. These are all fourteenth century examples.

The remaining portion of our antiphon we find at Isaiah 52:15,

Super ipsum continebunt reges os suum,

'The kings shall shut their mouths at him'.

For Christians, this is a 'key' passage of Isaiah, for it occurs at the beginning of one of the 'suffering servant' passages, which Christians have always understood as referring to Christ:

'He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed' (Isaiah 53:3-5).


Our O-antiphons, as we have seen, begin with Christ as the God of Creation (O Sapientia), then of the Exodus and the Law (O Adonai). Now we move on to Christ as Son of David, with a hint of his role as suffering servant.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

O Adonai


O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et
ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the Law in Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

"Adonai" means "Lord" and is the name used in the Jewish tradition for God. The divine name, spelt with the consonants JHWH, was probably pronounced "Yahweh"; however, it came to be considered too holy to pronounce at all, and the Masoretic vowel-signs for the word Adonai were attached to the consonants. This was a signal for the reader to say "Adonai" rather than "Yahweh" when reading aloud. The convention was misunderstood by some (though not all) of the reformers, who combined the consonants of JHWH and the vowels of Adonai to create the quite novel word Jehovah. In recent years we have seen the commendable reprobation of the use of the term Yahweh in Catholic Bibles and texts by the present Pope

Our antiphon, then, identifies Christ very directly with the God of the Old Testament, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3) and gave him the Commandments on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20).

The phrase 'domus Israel', 'house of Israel'; is used many, many times in the Old Testamen as a name for the Hebrew people, and also a few times in the New Testament.

The phrase 'in brachio extento', 'with outstretched arm' is characteristic of the Book of Deuteronomy in describing God's mighty act of delivering Israel from bondage to the Egyptians; cf. Deut. 26:8, 'et eduxit nos de Aegypto in manu forti, et brachio extento.'

The O-Antiphons therefore begin by associating Christ with God in Creation: he is the Sapientia, Wisdom, who was with God and was God in the beginning, without whom nothing was made; in other words, with the God of Genesis.

Then they move on to associating him with the God of the Exodus, which in the NewTestament itself is regarded as a type of Christ's redeeming passion (cf. Luke 9:30-31, the Transfiguration: 'And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his Exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.')

Several more of the antiphons compare the redemption wrought by Christ with deliverance from situations of imprisonment or slavery mentioned in the Old Testament. Curiously, none mentions the Exile in Babylon, which is alluded to so plainly in the first verse of our Latin hymn:

Veni, veni, Emmanuel,
captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exilio,
privatus Dei Filio.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,Redeem thy captive Israel,That into exile drear is gone,Far from the face of God's dear Son.
That happy and creative allusion is down to the hymnographer.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

A Prime Minister who does "do God"


Today's newspapers have reports of a speech made here in Christ Church cathedral in Oxford last night by the Prime Minister in which he said that the Church of England should be proclaiming traditional Christian teaching with more vigour. This he based partly on the point that if the Archbishop of Canterbury feels able to comment on politics (and who is indeed prone to comment on any and everything at the drop of a mitre) then he as a layman in public life can comment on the ecclesiastical sphere. A fair point. Unlike some of his recent predecessors the Prime Minister clearly does "do God."A good point. He stresses that this is a Christian country and that churchmen should not be afraid to assert the teachings of the faith and not to lie down passively in the face of opposition or rivals. Another good point.

The Prime Minister, speaking at an occasion to commemorate the 1611 Bible translation, stressed Biblical teaching as a moral basis for social life. From what else I have read of his views in these matters I think Mr Cameron understands this in a very interior way - faith is a matter of personal conviction and behaviour above all, and less a matter of structure and organisation.

I have to point out that this is not the historic understanding of Christianity of either the established Church in this land over the centuries - Catholic or Anglican - nor of the Conservative Party. A few weeks ago the Prime Minister was telling his party conference he believed in same-sex marriages because he was a Conservative, not in spite of it. Now he may be able to believe both - you can be a Christian in public life and at the same time support something which is against the clear tradition of the faith. His attitude to abortion may well be the same. It is liberal, libertarian - but not truly Christian or Conservative.

I do not want to be grudging - a Prime Minister with a concern for belief and spiritual values which he is prepared to voice is infinitely better (well, let's face it, anyone or anything would be) better than the sanctimonious and hypocritical Mr Blair. If, however, Mr Cameron sees Conservatism as a form of Christian Democracy, it really has to be more than words and telling churchmen to do their job - much as that needs to be done in certain cases. The eminently Biblical Epistle of St James has something to say about faith and works.

O Sapientia


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad
finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

The Antiphon is based on Wisdom 8:1, "Attingit ergo a fine usque ad finem fortiter, Et disponit omnia suaviter."

Wisdom, in the Old Testament "is more than a mere quality and tends increasingly to become a hypostasis, so especially in Prov. 8 and Wisd. 7.22 ff" (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church - ODCC).

Proverbs 8:12 ff runs:
"Ego sapientia, habito in consilio, et eruditus intersum cogitationibus . . . Meum est consilium, et aequitatis; Mea est prudentia, mea est fortitudo. Per me reges regnant . . ." [Making the link between Sapientia and Prudentia].

Wisdom 7:22 ff. runs:
"Est enim in illa [i.e. in Sapientia] spiritus intelligentiae, sanctus,
Unicus, multiplex, subtilis, disertus, mobilis,
Incoinquinatus, certus, suavis, amans bonum, acutus,
Quem nihil vetat, benefaciens,
Humanus, benignus, stabilis, certus, securus,
Omnem habens virtutem, omnia prospiciens,
Et qui capiat omnes spiritus,
Intelligibilis, mundus, subtilis."


"In the New Testament Divine Wisdom is incarnate in Christ, who St Paul calls 'the wisdom of God' (I Cor 1:24)" [ODCC]. The relevant passage is as follows:

I Corinthians, 1:23 ff,
Nos autem praedicamus Christum crucifixum: Iudaeis quidem scandalum, gentibus autem stultitiam, ipsis autem vocatis Iudaeis, atque Graecis Christum Dei virtutem, et Dei sapientiam: quia quod stultum est Dei, sapientius est hominibus: et quod infirmum est Dei, fortius est hominibus.
"But we preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power ('Virtue') of God and the Wisdom of God; because what is foolish of God, is wiser than men; and what is weak of God, is stronger than men."

"Amongst the Fathers most use 'Wisdom' as a synonym for the Incarnate Word or Logos" (ODCC).

The phrase "suaviter fortiter" occurs in Boethius De Consolatione and has been regarded as the only definite reference to the scriptures and/or the Christian liturgy in that work. But see James Shiel's interesting article "fortiter suaviter" which can be found online here.

The abstract of the article is as follows:
F o r t i t e r s u a v i t e r
by James Shiel

A happy phrase used by Lady Philosophy in Boethius' Consolation has often been quoted as a meagre but significant indication of Christian belief. But it seems rather to be the normal expression of a Neoplatonic sentiment about the combination of power and effortlessness in divine action. And the pleasure expressed by Boethius over the verbal felicity simply echoes the emphasis placed on appropriate dignity of idiom in Eleatic and Platonic descriptions of the divine.

"It is therefore the supreme goodness which rules all things strongly and orders them sweetly." ashiel.html - fn1[1]

This sentence occurs at a pivotal point in Boethius' dialogue with Lady Philosophy. Their discussion had started with his complaint about the injustice of his being imprisoned and condemned as if blind Fortune ruled the universe. The Lady gradually steers him through arguments about the instability and illusion of what men generally regard as good, such as wealth, power, esteem. The prisoner at last comes to fasten firmly on to one abiding conviction, that, despite the bitter appearances to the contrary, a supreme goodness coordinates all things, including the vagaries of Fate. From that central stance the dialogue can go on to explain the nature of Providence, its control over Fate, its compatibility with human free-will, its rewarding of moral effort and prayer.

A Christian version of the crucial sentence has been noted in the Latin church liturgy, in an Advent antiphon with a memorable plain-chant tune. I translate it from the Liber Usualis (a more complete text than that given in Bieler's edition of the Consolatio):
O Wisdom who have come from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end strongly, sweetly, and disposing all things, come to teach us the way of prudence." ashiel.html - fn2[2] 

The antiphon is evidently based on the Vulgate Book of Wisdom, the Sapientia Salamonis (8,1) ashiel.html - fn3[3], which in turn was a close translation from the Greek Septuagint: "Wisdom stretches from end to end strongly and disposes all things gently." ashiel.html - fn4[4]

http://www.hermes-press.com/boethius4a.jpg

Boethius in prison communes with Lady Philosophy

Image:hermes-press.com

Friday, 16 December 2011

O Antiphons


Some years ago on the Medieval Religion discussion group there were a series of posts on the Great Os - the antiphons to the Magnificat sung at Vespers from December 17th to 23rd. I thought I would recycle them with a bit of editing and a few additions on my own part.

The commentaries were originally written by Fr Bill East and posted in 1998, and reposted by Tim Henderson in 2000. In addition I have drawn on a post from Fr Thomas Sullivan OSB of Conception Abbey in Missouri about the monastic practice of singing the Great O's. Today there is an introduction, and then each day there will be an exposition of the antiphon.

Oliver Treanor's Seven Bells to Bethlehem is an excellent Advent book based on reflections on the themes of the O Antiphons.

Most people first become aware of the O Antiphons with the hymn Veni, veni Emmanuel. The antiphons themselves are more ancient in origin and date back to at least the ninth century. The hymn itself was composed in the 12th century in French and the Latin version of the hymn was first published at Cologne in 1710. It was translated by J.M.Neale in to English in the mid-nineteenth century and with a setting adapted by Thomas Helmore from a fifteenth century processional.

According to Fr William Saunders as quoted on Wikipedia:

"The exact origin of the "O Antiphons" is not known. Boethius (480–524/5) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the "O Antiphons" was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases "Keep your O" and "The Great O Antiphons" were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the "O Antiphons" have been part of Western liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one—Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, "Tomorrow, I will come". Therefore Jesus, whose coming Christians have prepared for in Advent and whom they have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to them: "Tomorrow, I will come." So the "O Antiphons" not only bring intensity to their Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion."

The notes in my copy of the St Andrew's Missal stress the mounting sense of expectancy through Advent leading to the heartfelf intercessions of these antiphons and says that Honorius of Autun (d. circa 1151) likened the seven O Antiphons to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, with which Christ was filled.

The Sarum Office started using the antiphons a day earlier on December 16th and concluded with an eighth antiphon, O Virgo Virginum on December 23rd. This was revived by the liturgists of the Oxford Movement and I will post that in addition on December 23rd. I do not know why this change occurred - I wonder, but do not know, if it could be with a system of saying anticipated Vespers, so there was an extra one on the 23rd that needed an antiphon of its own. With this the acrostic becomes vero cras : "Truly, tomorrow."

Writing of monastic practice Fr Sullivan writes:

"In parts of Germany, for example, it was the custom to illuminate the antiphon for the day very beautifully on a separate piece of parchment and to expose it to view upon the great lectern in the centre of the choir, as we do with the Christmas book here at Conception. In most churches, provision was made for the special ringing of bells at Vespers on these days: they were rung as if on a feastday or the heaviest bell was used. We at Conception ring a bell all through the Magnificat. Sometimes the antiphon was doubled, that is, sung after each verse or couplet.
But the most interesting of all observances for the great antiphons were the pomp and circumstance which almost everywhere and especially in the monasteries, were attached to the intoning of them. The intoning of antiphons on feast days was always reserved to the abbot or other dignitaries of the chapter and this was particularly true of the O Antiphons. The right of intoning one of the O Antiphons was jealously limited by immemorial custom to certain higher officers in the community and each of these great functionaries had his own appropriate antiphon. In most monasteries, the antiphon O Sapientia (O Wisdom) was reserved to the Abbot and O Adonai to the Prior. Some antiphons were entoned by the obedientiary or functionary most closely associated with the theme of the antiphon: O Radix Jesse was reserved to the gardener, O Clavis David to the cellarer whose duty it was to keep things under lock and key, and O Rex Gentium to the infirmarian, since the antiphon contained the clause, "Come and save (or heal) man whom you have formed out of clay." At Conception, the dean of studies or the librarian sometimes presented the Christmas book to the Abbot for entoning "O Sapientia" and the groundskeeper for the antiphon "O Radix Jesse."

Moreover from this custom of making much of the privilege of entoning the great antiphons a curious development resulted. It seems to have been regarded as becoming that the high functionary so favoured should mark his sense of the honour done him by standing for a treat for the community for "making or keeping his O" (faciendo suum O). The account rolls of the various departments record the expenses for this haustus or treat, frequently beer, fish, spices, and almonds. It is surprising that this party-like spirit should prevail over the fasting days of Advent; probably the whole system may be best explained as a lingering survival of that spirit of joy and expectation which was a prominent though not a unique feature in the Advent liturgy of the early centuries.

The letter O simply tells us that we're talking to someone. but O also reminds us of much more. It makes us think of something having no beginning or end. It resembles the shape of our mouth and the sound we make when we face a mystery we cannot fully comprehend."

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Rorate Mass this coming Saturday


Today is the first of the December Ember days in the traditional practice of the Church, with their three seasonal Masses. A Mass with a similar introit and the same Gospel as that for today, Rorate, can be offered as a votive on other days at this time of year, and is devoted to the expectancy of Our Lady. It is celebrated by candlelight as dawn breaks. There is a background post here about the tradition.

In recent years the offering of this Extraordinary Form Mass has become a regular feature of the Advent calendar of the Oxford Oratory, and this year the Rorate Mass will be celebrated there at 7am on Saturday this week, December 17th. So if you are around Oxford and want a good start before the next bout of Christmas shopping you know where to go.

* Revised in the light of the first comment received - many thanks to the friend who put me right in this matter.

The Prince Consort


150 years ago today the Prince Consort died. A highly gifted man who was not always appreciated by his wife's subjects as he was entitled to be by reason of his abilities and the support he gave her, and who after the Queen's death became something of an image of what was seen as an old fashioned world, it has only in recent decades that his reputation has been recovered and his talents valued. Rather like the Albert Memorial he was an object of wry amusement or even ridicule until restoration occurred to both reputation and monument. It is wonderful to be able to see the latter once again as it was intended, and to take in the craftsmanship and the grandeur of the composition.

http://www.aviewoncities.com/img/london/kveen1201s.jpg

The Albert Memorial

Image:aviewoncities.com

Although the link above questions the story that his statue was painted black during the Great War on the odd sounding notion that its reflection would help German zeppelin raids on the capital - and thinks it was a pre-1914 response to atmospheric pollution which had destroyed the gold leaf - the idea does convey something of the attitude to 'German' Albert.

http://www.yourlocalweb.co.uk/images/pictures/11/50/albert-memorial-112873.jpg

The restored statue of the Prince Consort on the Albert Memorial

Image: yourlocalweb.cm/Westminster

I think there is something deliberately and unpleasantly offensive in G.K.Chesterton's strictures from 1920 or thereabouts on the Memorial.
Writing after visiting Jerusalem the rabidly anti-German GKC considered there was nothing so conspicuous, gilded or gaudy in Jerusalem, and that an Orthoox pilgrim confronted by it would probably hope it was a temple erected to Christ, fear it was to Antichrist and probably recoil with unimaginable perplexity if told that the gilded idol was really "a petty German prince who had some slight influence in turning us into the tools of Prussia."( Dudley Barker G.K.Chesterton p.241).

I see that there is a new book by Helen Rappaport, who I met through St Bede's Hall when it was functioning, which looks at Albert's death and its impact on the Queen, the Crown and the nation.
Magnificent Obsession:Victoria, Albert and the Death That Changed the Monarchy was published last month by Hutchinson, and is a book I would like to find time to read.

Amongst Prince Albert's many achivements is the church at Whippingham on the Osborne estate on the Isle of Wight. Built in 1854-5 and completed in 1861-2 it is the work of the architect A. J. Humbert, but working on the Prince's overall design. The church website is here. What makes the church particularly interesting is the insight it gives into the spirituality of Victoria and Albert. Along with their Mausoleum at Frogmore and the work carried out by the Queen at St George's Windsor, and the number of paintings with a religious theme in their appartments at Osborne. This is not 'Black Protestantism' by any means, and ought to provide for more fruitful academic attention than it has hitherto received - but I will come back to that topic on another occasion.

Meanwhile let us remember the Prince Consort with gratitude for his great achievements - not least the South Kensington complex and his contribution to the development of the monarchy in the nineteenth century.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Vestments of Dr Adrian Fortescue


A friend has pointed out to me a set of posts on the St Lawrence Press blog about the surviving vestments of Dr Adrian Fortescue the original author of, inter alia, that classic work for practical liturgists The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. There is an online biography of him here, and Fr Aidan Nichols has a book on him coming out in the new year.

In my days at Pusey one of the regular female attenders, who now, like me, has crossed the Tiber remarked of some of the Sacristan-servers "They ought to have bracelets marked not with WWJD [What Would Jesus Do] but WWFD - What Would Fortescue Do."

The posts are about vestments which were both designed and worn by Fortescue, and are in the gothic style, and can be viewed at The Vestments of Adrian Fortescue, DD. Part I, The Vestments of Adrian Fortescue, DD - Part II, The Vestments of Adrian Fortescue, DD - Part III, The Vestments of Adrian Fortescue, DD - Part IV, The Vestments of Adrian Fortescue, DD - Part V, The Vestments of Adrian Fortescue, DD - Part VI, The Vestments of Adrian Fortescue, DD - Part VII

St Lucy


Today is the feast day of St Lucy, one of the Virgin martyrs who is named in the Roman Canon, and who has enjoyed widespread veneration through the centuries.


St Lucy and her mother Eutychia receive a vision of St Agatha after praying at her tomb.
A painting of 1410 by Jacobello del Fiore (c.1370-1439).
Civic Museum Fermo

Image:Wikipedia

There is a good account of her life and legend here showing how her story and image developed. She continues to be particularly celebrated in Sweden and, as this article on St Lucy's Day shows, that tradition has spread to other Scandinavian countries during the last century. An example of the diffusion and 'invention' of tradition. The article also examines the reasons for the persistence of devotion to St Lucy in a Lutheran country far from the origins of her cult in Sicily.


Monday, 12 December 2011

The Imperial Crown of India


Today is the centenary of the Coronation Durbar in Delhi of the King-Emperor George V.

There is an online article about the Durbars of 1877, 1903 and 1911 here. I understand from a friend who works on the history of India that the ceremonial was carefully modelled on that of pre-1857 Mughal Imperial enthronements.

There is another about the title Emperor of India here, from which I was interested to learn that the title was used until June 22 1948, ten months after partition and independence, and two years before the present Indian state became a republic.

http://i273.photobucket.com/albums/jj238/georgewindsor/Family/banbury1.jpg

The King-Emperor receiving homage
Image: myspace.com

The two previous Durbars had been held by the Viceroy, but in 1911 the monarch himself was present.

This can be interpreted as part of what can misleadingly be termed the "invention of tradition" at that time. I would prefer to use a term like "recovery of tradition" to describe the process. It is interesting that King george V, by temperament arather retiring man shoul dbe so prominent in this process. Under him the Coronation service was restored to more of its traditional form, St Edward's Crown permanently set with precious stones, the Investiture of the Prince of Wales revived as a public ceremony and held at Caernarvon, the Durbar held by the King-Emperor, the wearing of the Imperial State Crown at the State Opening from 1913 and, later on, at the suggestion of his cousin Princess Marie- Louise, the Royal Maundy once more given by the Monarch in person. This policy has been continued by King George VI - as for example the revival of much of the Order of the Garter ceremonial in 1948 to mark its 600th anniversary - and by the present Queen.

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The King-Emperor and Queen-Empress at the Durbar

Image: Press Association

The presence of the King-Emperor posed a ceremonial problem. As a Coronation Durbar it was fitting for him to wear a crown ansd robes of state. However the Act of Settlement of 1701 forbids the removal from the realm of the crown jewels. As a result a new crown had to be made - there are details about its composition and cost, together with a photograph, here. The government were sceptical about having new crwons across the Empire and it was suggested that after its return with the King to Britain it should be broken up. This was rejected by the King, who considered his Indian subjects would appreciate seeing it alongside the other regalia in the Tower of London.

Then the question arose as to when the King-Emperor should put the crown on. Entering the Durbar arena and putting it on himself would make it a non-religious ceremony, which was opposed by Archbishop Davidson of Canterbury, but a Christian coronation of the ruler of an overwhelmingly Hindu and Muslim empire deemed inappropriate. As a result the King-Emperor entered the Durbar robed and crowned, and the Queen-Empress wore robes and a tiara made for the occasion. This was inherited by the present Queen from Queen Mary, but not used until recent years when it has been worn by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.

When the funeral of King George V was held in 1936 no place was found for the Indian crown - the second Orb, that of Queen Mary II, placed on Queen Victoria's coffin in 1901 is said to have symbolised her position as Empress of India. By contrast in Austria alongside the Imperial Crown was placed a replica of the Hungarian Crown to symbolise the dual monarchy - and India could be deemed to be analogous.


photo

The Imperial Crown of India

Image:Hylaride on Flickr


Following the independence of India and Pakistan and their becoming republics this spectacular crown has remained a museum piece rather than part of the living regalia of the monarchy. However as a crown that is not bound by statute to this realm it could take on the function of one to accompany the Monarch to his or her other realms, either to be worn or carried at State Openings of Parliament. Rather like the 'House-Crown' of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II became the Imperial Crown of Austria after 1804-6 the Indian Crown could take on a new function.

Now that would be an invention or revival, or extension, of tradition - but it would, to my mind, make sense.


Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Abdication of King Edward VIII


Seventy five years ago today there occured the abdication of King Edward VIII. At the time it was a profound shock to Britain and her Empire, and remains a subject of fascination, and an event with a continuing legacy for the monarchy.

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The Instrument of Abdication

It took a day for the necessary legislation to pass through Parliament here and in the Dominions

Image: Wikipedia

Both Crown and subjects were fortunate in that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were to prove so faithful and conscientious in the exercise of kingship, and to have transmitted that tradition to the Queen and through her to the next generations.

There have been many accounts of the abdication crisis which make for interesting reading, but I was struck by this portrait of the King by his former secretary Sir Alan Lascelles which I found on the internet "Prince Charmless: A damning portrait of Edward VIII".

Lascelles expressed his view of Edward that "for some hereditary or physiological reason his normal mental development stopped dead when he reached adolescence."

There are varying interpretations of the life and character of King Edward VIII and Lascelles' view may not be definitive, even if as a former Private Secretary it tends to the authoratative. There is an interesting similarity to a view I have seen of the other English King who was the eighth of his name* - King Henry VIII has been presented as a monarch whose accession at the age of almost eighteen had the effect of stunting his development - not that he was not intelligent, but that he stopped developing emotionally. An interesting, if coincidental, similarity perhaps - and in both cases matrimonial difficulties were to follow.


* In reality there have been eleven English Kings called Edward and nine called Henry (ten if you are a Jacobite) - there are three Kings Edward before the Norman Conquest, and Henry The Young King 1170-83 as co-ruler with his father.