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.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

St Leo the Great ... and his biographer

Today is the feast of St Leo the Great, Pope from 440 until 461, and by any standards one of the towering figures in the history of the Papacy. As a theologian, as a practical Bishop of Rome in troubled times and as a key exponent of Petrine claims he is central to the emergence and recognition of the Papacy as the central institution of the Church.


St Leo the Great

From an eighth century painting in Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome.
Although this is three centuries after Leo's time it appears to be the earliest picture that I can find of him. I do not know if it incorporates a tradition as to his appearance, but it conveys a convincing impression.

I always find great pleasure as well as instruction when the Breviary readings are from St Leo - his style is clear and conveys a great sense of spiritual and doctrinal authority.

My interest in him is enhanced by the fact that what still appears to be the standard book in English on him, The Life and Times of St Leo the Great
SPCK 1941) was written by T.G.Jalland, sometime vicar of St Thomas here in Oxford, close to where I live and where I used to be churchwarden.

Dr Jalland lies buried in the churchyard there, with his wife and her parents - her father was the great historian of the English medieval church Alexander Hamilton Thompson. Trevor Jalland was vicar there from 1933 until 1947, and whilst at St Thomas also delivered the Bampton Lectures in 1942, published in 1946 as The Church and the Papacy, and also still a standard work. His book on St Leo can be read online here, if you subscribe to the virtual library.

Hunwicke, the current p-i-c of St Thomas', wrote as follows about his predecessor on his blog on 11 September this year - I have added the odd comment myself in []:
" Inadequates; wet indequates, we are. Speak for yourself, I hear you say? Very well, I will. How can I compare myself with my distinguished predecessor, Fr Trevor Gervase Jalland? According to Oral Tradition, one Good Friday, at the Mass of the Presanctified (ah, those were the days), some unfortunate Altar boy presented himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. His Parish Priest brushed him aside with such decision that the child keeled over ... ah, those were the days. [When he was incumbent at St Mark's Swindon he is said to have thrown the sacring bell at a liturgically offending server...]

Jalland (Vicar 1933-1947) went on to found the Theology Faculty at Exeter University; he came back to S Thomas's to be buried, the Funeral Mass being said by the veteran and erudite (he's still going strong in his nineties) Prebendary Michael Moreton of Exeter (who was writing about the importance of
versus Orientem decades before the papists rediscovered it). Fr Michael risked raised eyebrows at Jalland's very Establishment funeral by using the Canon Romanus. "Jalland was a Patristics scholar and I resolved that he should have a Patristic Eucharistic Prayer."

According to the same Oral Tradition, Fr Sweeney (Vicar 1979-2003, now enjoying his retirement), was not much less resolute. I have been told that he would kick an ill-placed Sacred Minister and, dissatisfied during Mass with the Music (he is a distinguished musician), would clap his hands and berate the organ loft ... you see what I mean about my own inadequacy and wetness? [I was present upon such occasions...]

Jalland had few qualms about facing lesser men down. He was at the heart of the process of liturgical revision in the Church of England back in the 1960s, fighting the battle for an
oblatio in the anamnesis. Ultimately, this battle was lost; bigots, evangelical, in General Synod were able to vote down the proposed "We offer thee this bread and this cup". But most notorious of his audacities was Jalland's response to being asked, in 1942, to preach the Bampton Lectures in this University. This is probably the most prestigious series of lectures upon a theological topic in the Church of England ... and Jalland chose to devote his eight lectures to The Church and the Papacy. This was a time when Dom Gregory Dix had demonstrated the congruity of the Vatican I decrees on papal primacy and infallibility with the praxis of the anti-Nicene centuries; but Dix's audience tended to be mainly his fellow Anglican Catholics. Jalland's hearers would be Anglican theological specialists of every doctrinal school."

Fr Hunwicke continued on September 13th:

"The 1942 Bampton Lectures of my distinguished predecessor at S Thomas's, Dr Trevor Jalland, are a tour de force demonstrating his sure-footed competence in discussing the relationship of Papacy to Church in every succeeding Christian era, from a decidedly favourable verdict ought to be given regarding not only the Petrine texts, but also the tradition of the Apostle's residence and death in Rome down to
That the Roman episcopi, whether in plurality or as successive holders of a single office, were held to be and were in fact the heirs of the authority of St Peter and of his co-Apostle St Paul in the Roman See seems to be suggested, if not guaranteed, even by such limited evidence as we still possess, though it is equally clear that reflexion on the real implications of the original data was needed before their full significance was generally appreciated. The value of the papal office as the primary centre of unity, as the highest court of appeal, as a custodian of order and a corrector of aberrations from the original depositum fidei - all this and much more emerges ... only when the Church becomes aware of itself in a fuller sense as a world-wide organisation, and when a local and 'parochial' consciousness gives place to an oecumenical outlook. This papal ideal, in spite of the occasional distortion and falsification which it has undergone in the course of its long history, is to be viewed in its perfection not as an instrument for the suppression of liberty, but as a means under providence for the safeguarding of the ordered freedom of the `sons of God' ... it is a strange form of historical blindness which is unable to perceive in its long and remarkable history a supernatural grandeur which no merely secular institution has ever attained in equal measure. Its strange, almost mystical, faithfulness to type, its marked degree of changelessness, its steadfast clinging to tradition and precedent, above all its burning zeal for order and Justitia,compel us to acknowledge that the Papacy must always defy a categorisation which is purely of this world."

I rather think St Leo would have been quite approving of all this. I also sense that Trevor Jalland had certain Leonine qualities. One rather wonders how Attila the Hun would have fared if he had turned up on Hollybush Row or Becket Street in OX1 in the Jalland years.

I do not know if St Leo was a scatterer of servers or hurler of bells during liturgical celebrations in fifth century Rome.

I should add that Fr Jalland was not, it would appear, very popular with some at least of his parishioners at St Thomas', who, I am led to believe, in later years referred to him by his surname alone, and who had to rescue from a junk shop parish banners he had disposed of and restore them to the church after he left. He also made the mistake of selling off the parish hall given by the great Victorian vicar, Thomas Chamberlain. On the other hand he did commission Martin Travers to produce the handsome statue of Our Lady now in the church, as well as a parclose screen for the Lady Chapel, although that, alas, was never realised.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know that Fr Jalland's book The Church and the Papacy is now online at the Internet Archive: