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.

Thursday 28 February 2013

Thank you Holy Father

Pope Benedict XVI gives his final blessing to his cardinals at the Vatican this afternoon

In these last hours of his pontificate I would wish to put on record my gratitude to the Holy Father for his time as Pope, and indeed for all his lifetime of service as pastor, administrator, theologian and writer to the life of the Church. His withdrawal from the public scene is not after just eight years at the centre, but far longer - for over thirty years he has been a leading figure, and ultimately the leading figure, in the administration of the Church. It is not easy to imagine the Church without him. We must trust that his legacy endures.

I shall miss that quiet, calm, authoritative scholarly voice whether when speaking or in his writings which has characterised his pontificate. These one can, and will, still refer to and use - Jesus of Nazareth and the other books based on his addresses are no mean achievement in themselves  in addition to his existing previous books, and produced whilst he had the responsibility of the Papacy.  He possesses  a remarkable clarity and beauty of thought and expression.

He has shown himself to be a  true pastor, a task he has exercised with dignity leavened by quiet humour and gentleness. 

To my mind his pontificate may well come to be seen as the steadying hand on the tiller of the barque of the Church, reestablishing a more certain passage through the troubled waters of this world - but for that judgement of history we shall have to wait.

Together with many friends I have been the beneficiary of what he gave in Summorum Pontificum and in Anglicanorum Coetibus - very significant moves indeed in the spheres of liturgy and ecumenical dialogue. 

His emphasis on liturgical restoration is one of the most obvious features of his pontificate. This has been clear in the dignity of ceremonial and attire  at Papal Masses and ceremonies since  2005. The dignity of the Papal office has been signified, and venerable practices re-established. I hope very much that continues and is maintained by his successors. These things are not, or should not, be matters of personal preference but rather the indicators of what the Papacy is - in preceding decades it seemed to become prone to too great a dependency on the personality of the individual Pope rather than the inherent authority of the office. The present Pope's personal humility of manner has counterbalanced this with dignity and discretion.

I saw him twice during his memorable visit to this country in 2010 - at Westminster and at the beatification of John Henry Newman in Birmingham -  both of them remarkable things to experience.
His address yesterday at his final General Audience can be read at  Pope's Final General Audience Address

I wish him well in his retirement to a life of prayer, and will certainly keep him in my prayers.

Thank you, Holy Father, and God bless you.


Wednesday 27 February 2013

St Josemaria Escriva on the Church

A friend has sent me this extract from one of the homilies of St Josemaria Escriva which were published both as a book and online under the title In Love with the Church - it is no 6 in the series.

In what it says the extract is always pertinent, but at the current time with the kind of media coverage of the actions of a tiny minority who have erred that we have become used to, it is a valuable corrective to much of what we read and hear:

" Gens sancta, a holy nation, composed of creatures with infirmities. This apparent contradiction marks an aspect of the mystery of the Church. The Church, which is divine, is also human, for it is made up of men, and men have their defects: Omnes homines terra et cinis, we men are dust and ashes.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who founded the holy Church, expects the members of this people to strive continually to acquire sanctity. Not all respond loyally to his call. And in the spouse of Christ, at one and the same time, both the marvel of the way of salvation and the miseries of those who take up that way are visible.

It was one and the same purpose — namely, that of perpetuating on this earth the salutary work of the redemption which caused the divine Redeemer to give the community of human beings, founded by him, the constitution of a society perfect in its own order, provided with all the juridical and social elements... If something is perceived in the Church which points to the infirmity of our human condition, this is not to be attributed to her juridical constitution, but to the lamentable tendency of individuals toward evil, a tendency which her divine Founder suffers to exist even in the higher members of his Mystical Body, for the testing of the virtue of both flock and pastors, and for the greater merit of Christian faith in all.

This is the reality of the Church here and now. For this reason the holiness of the spouse of Christ is compatible with the existence in her bosom of individuals with defects. Christ did not will sinners to be excluded from the society he had founded; if therefore some members are spiritually infirm, this is no reason for lessening our love toward the Church, but rather for increasing our compassion toward her members.

It would be a sign of very little maturity if, in view of the defects and miseries in any of those who belong to the Church (no matter how high they may be placed by virtue of their function), anyone should feel his faith in the Church and in Christ lessened. The Church is not governed by Peter, nor by John, nor by Paul; she is governed by the Holy Spirit, and the Lord has promised that he will remain at her side always, to the close of the age.

Listen to what Saint Thomas Aquinas says, elaborating on this point. He is speaking about receiving the sacraments, which are the cause and sign of sanctifying grace: He who approaches the sacraments receives the sacrament concerned from the minister of the Church not as such-and-such an individual, but precisely as a minister of the Church. Hence so long as the Church suffers him to remain in his ministry, one receiving a sacrament from him does not share in his sin, but shares in the life of the Church who publicly recognises him as minister. When the Lord permits human weakness to appear, our reaction ought to be the same as if we were to see our mother ill or treated with disdain: to love her all the more, to bestow on her a greater manifestation of affection, both external and internal.

If we love the Church, there will never arise in us a morbid interest in airing, as the faults of the Mother, the weaknesses of some of her children. The Church, the spouse of Christ, does not have to intone any mea culpa. But we do: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. The only true mea culpa is a personal one, not the one which attacks the Church, pointing out and exaggerating the human defects which, in this holy mother, result from the presence in her of men whose actions can go far astray, but which can never destroy — nor even touch — that which we call the original and constitutive holiness of the Church."

The whole set of St Josemaria's homilies can be accessed here.

The Heavens declare the Glory of God



The spectacular lightening strike on St Peter's on February 11th, a few hours after the Pope announced his intention of abdicating drew predictable comments in the press and suggests that people still look for signs and wonders, for portents and supernatural indicators. The modern scientific mind is likely to dimiss such things as coincidence at best, although lightening in February is rarer than at other times of the year. Yesterday evening I was, however, told by a priest of one explanation - one which saw the lightening as neither approval or disapproval, but a Divine message none the less - simply that God is still very much in business. I merely pass on the idea for reflection.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Not to be confused with...

Some eighteen months or so ago it was pointed out to the Clever Boy, by no less a person than the Archbishop of Birmingham himself, that the Clever Boy bears a striking resemblance to Cardinal Walter Kasper. The Clever Boy felt vaguely intrigued, but no more.

Now however he sees from photographs in the press that he also bears a strong resemblance to Lord Rennard, the Liberal Democrat Life Peer who is alleged to be a sex-pest. The Clever Boy has no wish to be confused with an alleged sex-pest. Neither has the Clever Boy any wish to be confused with a Liberal Democrat, nor does he wish to be confused with a Life Peer. The Clever Boy is also wondering which of these three things he would find to be the most distressing were he to be so confused... 

Monday 25 February 2013

Oxford Ordinariate Oratorio

This coming Saturday, March 2nd, the Newman Consort, who provide the music for the Oxford Ordinariate group's liturgies, will perform the oratorio Jephte by Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) at 4pm in Holy Rood church, which is in Abingdon Road in Oxford. 

There is a longstanding Oxford connection with Carissimi in that Henry Aldrich, Dean of Christ Church from 1689 until 1710, collected copies of nearly all of the composer's works and these are still in the library at Christ Church.

File:Giacomo Carissimi.jpg

Giacomo Carissimi

Image: Wikipedia

Admission is free, and afterwards there will be refreshments, before the Ordinariate Mass at 6pm.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Embertide Pilgrimage to Caversham

Earlier today I went on the Latin Mass Society's Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Caversham.  I am very fond of this beautiful shrine, and there is an article from the local historical journal Oxoniensia about its history in the middle ages by Christopher Haigh and David Loades which can be viewed here


Our Lady of Caversham
The present statue is late medieval Flemish, with a crown blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1996

Image: ourladyandstanne.org.uk

The present shrine chapel was added in 1958 in an extraordinarily skillful design to the church of Our Lady and St Anne, which itself dates from 1896. The new chapel really does feel as though it were twelfth century - although I imagine if it were it would have been more colourful with wall paintings in the style of the period. It is both splendid and restrained - noble simplicity perhaps? The screen in particular reminds me of the decoration of the King Edward I chantry in the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham. There is more about the church and shrine at the parish website which can be viewed here. If you get the chance to go to the shrine at Caversham do go, it is quite delightful.


The exterior of the Shrine chapel

Image:karenblakeman on Flickr

It was also my first opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Form Mass for this Ember Saturday. I had been asked to act as thurifer, so it was a fairly early start to get the bus with a friend from outside Christ Church and travel on a cold day with snow flakes blowing in the wind down to Caversham. We arrived in good time and were able to join a good number of parishioners in Eucharistic Adoration before setting up for the Mass.

This was a beautiful liturgy with its distinctive sequence of Old Testament prophetic readings, each of them sung by members of the schola in front of the altar. In his sermon the celebrant, Fr Daniel Lloyd, drew out the harvest imagery in respect of the tradition of holding ordinations at the Ember Days as a sign of the fruitfulness of the Church in producing vocations to ministry and the fruits of Grace. I must admit that my rheumatics were playing up rather as I genuflected (or attempted to) at the usual places as well as the repeated Flectamus genua during the prophecies - I must remember to dose myself more heavily with anti-inflamatories next time...

The music was provided by the Scholas Abelis from the Latin Mass Society and by the Newman Consort, and we concluded by singing the Ave Regina Caelorum at the Shrine. Afterwards there was the usual lighting of individual candles there and pilgrims seeking the intercession of Our Lady of Caversham as they have for centuries in the vicinity - the original shrine was in a chapel upwards of amile to the east. I think that the site has now been quarried away for gravel.

The Shrine Chapel

Image: ourladyandstanne.org.uk

I came back with the MC and the other friend I had travelled with by car, stopping in Wallingford for a late lunch, and made a mental note to myself to go back when the weather is less cold and explore further this very historic Thameside town - what I have seen of it on a previous visit makes me realise its interest. The site of what once was a very impressive castle, virtually all of it reduced to earthworks, and the similar remains of the town defences indicate how important it once was.

After that we came back to Oxford and went to join the Pro-Life Witness I posted about earlier in the week. Having now come back to the city centre I am starting this post before going off to the Ordinariate Mass to round off a cold but eminently Catholic day.

The Chairman of the Latin Mass Society has very kindly send me the link to his set of photographs of the Mass at Caversham - they can be viewed here  and if clicked upon will enlarge. I hesitate to point out that I feature in several of the photographs, but don't mind me, appreciate the liturgy.

Friday 22 February 2013

The Chair of Peter

Today's feast of the Chair of Peter, which I have posted about in Chair of St Peter last year, clearly has a particular significance this year, falling as it does less than a week before the present Pope lays down the Petrine burden. At Mass this morning the homily urged us to keep both the Pope and the College of Cardinals in our prayers, as well as the man who will be elected to fill the See of Peter - not that, I am sure, we are not so doing.

There is an informative post about the way the feast is celebrated in St Peter's Basilica in an article from 2011 on the New Liturgical Movement website which can be seen at Decorations of the Vatican Basilica on the Feast of St. Peter's Chair. This site as well as  another one on the same theme can be found in my post from last year More on the Chair of St Peter.

There is information about the history of the enthroned statue of St Peter attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio from the Vatican website here.


 The enthroned statue of St Peter in the Vatican as vested for today's feast

Image: Panoramio

For those who have not read it here is the second lection from the Office of Readings for today in the Divine Office. It is from one of the homilies of Pope St Leo the Great (440-461), who was, I think it fair to say, the first Pope or indeed Father of the Church to fully outline the responsibilities of the Papal office.

" Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside at the calling of all nations, and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the Church. Though there are in God’s people many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing of his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them.
  The Lord now asks the apostles as a whole what men think of him. As long as they are recounting the uncertainty born of human ignorance, their reply is always the same.
  But when he presses the disciples to say what they think themselves, the first to confess his faith in the Lord is the one who is first in rank among the apostles.
  Peter says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replies: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” You are blessed, he means, because my Father has taught you. You have not been deceived by earthly opinion, but have been enlightened by inspiration from heaven. It was not flesh and blood that pointed me out to you, but the one whose only-begotten Son I am.
  He continues: And I say to you. In other words, as my Father has revealed to you my godhead, so I in my turn make known to you your pre-eminence. You are Peter: though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation.
  And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.
  The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, so they send down to hell those who contradict them.
  Blessed Peter is therefore told: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.
  The authority vested in this power passed also to the other apostles, and the institution established by this decree has been continued in all the leaders of the Church. But it is not without good reason that what is bestowed on all is entrusted to one. For Peter received it separately in trust because he is the prototype set before all the rulers of the Church."

The text has been downloaded from the Universalis site, and is, I think, a different translation from that in the Divine Office as used in this country, Ireland, Australia etc.

Thursday 21 February 2013

The Pope and SSPX

The well-informed and serious Rorate Caeli has a valuable and insightful piece from the religion blog at Le Figaro about the negotiations to regularise the position of SSPX as the present Pontificate approaches its conclusion. It is written with genuine passion for what is at stake. It is also more than that, in that it is also a reflection on the achievements of the Pope in respect of liturgical restoration. 

It can be read at Benedict XVI - SSPX: Quarter to midnight.


The Pope in Eucharistic Adoration at the Madrid World Youth Day - for the writer in Le Figaro this is the quintessential image of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI 

An important article that is well worth reading - and with matters well worth praying about.


The Pope reflects on Vatican II

Last Thursday the Pope gave an address to the parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome in which he reflected on Vatican II. This address is now being made available on the always useful Zenit website in installments, but the whole text can be read from the Vatican website here.

This is, it seems to me, a very important speech. Much more than a leave taking of his diocesan clergy it comprises the reflections of a man who has been at the heart of the debates about the choices facing and made by the Council since before it even met fifty years ago. The Pope is clearly a man with a profound historical sense about the Church and that is evident in this address.

It is also important as it is doubtless the last word we shall hear from Pope Benedict on these matters - I am sure his retirement to a life of prayer will be just that, he will not be writing, let alone speaking in public, about the Church or the Council.

The speech is quite lengthy, and I suspect some of my friends may not entirely like some of the views His Holiness expresses about the pre-Conciliar liturgy, but it is, as I said, an important text. It certainly stands in the tradition of the hermeneutic of continuity, and it also recalls the real enthusiasm of the young peritus Joseph Ratzinger for what the Council might achieve. It can also be seen as setting out an agenda for the continuing and future perception of Vatican II.

Tsar Michael I of Russia

It was on February 21 1613 that the 16 year old Michael Romanov was unanimously elected by the Zemsky Sobor as the Tsar of Russia. This choice of the young Tsar is seen both as marking the end of the Time of Troubles following the end of the House of Rurik in 1598 and as the beginning of the rule of the Romanov dynasty. It was not until March 24 that a delegation reached Michael and his mother, who were initially reluctant to accept the dignity, and not until July 22 that he was crowned.

File:Tsar Mikhail I -cropped.JPG

Tsar Michael I at the time of his coronation

Image: Wikipedia

There is an introduction to the life of Tsar Michael I here.

In 1913 there were Tercentenary Celebrations of the advent of the Romanovs which tragically proved to be the swansong of the old order in Russia. There is a short account of the celebrations on that February 21st here.


Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and two of their daughters 
at the Tercentenary Celebrations. The Tsarevich Alexis, carried by a cossack, 
can be seen between his parents.

Image: zolotoivek.tumblr.com

Pope Julius II

It was on the night of February 20th-21st 1513, five centuries ago, that Pope Julius II died.

Born Giuliano della Rovere in 1443 he was elevated to the cardinalate by his uncle Pope Sixtus IV and was himself elected to the Papacy late in 1503.

There is an illustrated online life of Pope Julius here and another, from the Catholic Encyclopaedia, here.


Pope Julius II

The Pope is depicted as Pope Gregory IX issuing the Decretals.
He is wearing the Papal tiara on top of the camauro.

Image: The Mad Monarchist

As Pope he is famous for his military campaigns, which may today seem somewhat unsuitable for the Vicar of Christ, but which were part of the maintenance of the independence of the Papal States - a vital issue for the Popes from the Donations of Pepin and Charlemagne to the Lateran Treaty of 1929 and the creation of the modern sovereign Vatican City state.

His other, and more enduring, legacy for the Holy See and the Church was the rebuilding of St Peter's Basilica, which he began with the laying of the foundation stone in 1506 and, of course, his commission to Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Both of these buildings are going to be more than usually in the thoughts of Catholics and the wider world in coming weeks, so it is by no means inappropriate to give thanks for Pope Julius as a patron of truly great and spectacular art.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Oxford Pro-Life Witness this Saturday

Oxford Pro-life Witness

Saturday, 23rd February

3pm - 4pm

Please come and pray for all unborn babies, their families and those involved in the sin of abortion.  Holy Rosary led by Fr John Saward.

The group meets at the Church of St Anthony of Padua, Headley Way, Oxford.

Witness is at the entrance of the JOHN RADCLIFFE Hospital, Headley Way.

Refreshments available afterwards in the Church hall.

The brass of Thomas of Woodstock

Whilst looking for illustrations for my recent post about the Merciless Parliament I came across a reproduction of the engraving of the monumental brass of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester.The brass, which was in Westminster Abbey, was drawn by Sandford in 1677, but has regrettably subsequently been lost.

Image: Monumental Brass Society website mbs-brasses.co.uk

The Duke, wearing the robes of a Knight of the Garter, is in the middle of the third register, with his wife below him. The figures either side of her may be their children. Above the Duke is the Holy Trinity, between the Blessed Virgin Mary and, presumably from the mitre, St Thomas of Canterbury. This suggests a devotion to the Trinity similar to that of his brother Edward Prince of Wales as shown in the tester over his tomb, which is situated close to the site of the shrine of St Thomas in Canterbury cathedral. 

At the top is King Edward III in state flanked by two of his sons and with others and his daughters, identified by their arms, forming the side panels. The way the figures are placed within the embattlemented canopy work is slightly reminiscent of the brass of Bishop Wyvil at Salisbury which shows him within the episcopal castle at Sherborne which he had recovered for his see.

The emphasis on the Duke's membership of the wider royal family is unusual, indeed almost unique, though it does recall the paintings commissioned by his father for St Stephen's Chapel in the adjacent palace showing the King and his sons at prayer, of which portions survive, having been rediscovered after the 1834 fire. It perhaps owes something to the design of a Tree of Jesse, and also to brasses which show a single figure flanked by smaller figures of saints. It presumably stresses Duke Thomas' membership of the royal house and his status as a Son of the King of England, the contemporary equivalent of the modern HRH, or the Iberian Infante. It is presumably designed to invite the viewer to pray for the souls of the Duke's parents and siblings as well as for him and his wife.

The design is unusual and it is not immediately clear if it is a single plate which might suggest that it was a product if a Flemish workshop, as they specialised in large plates, or if it is English work with the preference for individual  cut out figures and shields. I think it is the latter from the way Sandford shows the brass, with the apparent background being a stone slab.

The Monumental Brass Society website dates it to 1395, suggesting it was commissioned by the Duke, who was killed two years later. He was originally buried in St Edmund's chapel but King Henry IV moved his body to the Confessor's chapel to be near his parents King Edward III and Queen Philippa. The fine, separate brass of his Duchess, Eleanor, who died in 1399, does survive in the abbey.

Monday 18 February 2013

Uneasy lies the head

Following on from my recent posts about the positive identification of the skeleton of King Richard III and about the drawing of the skull of King Richard II a German friend has pointed out to me an online article about what is thought or claimed to be the head of King Henri IV of France. The article can be viewed here

I have posted about this particular royal body part before in December 2010 in King Henri's head.


King Henri IV

Image: Bookstove.com

The King's body was, like that of the other Kings of France sacrilegiously disinterred from St Denis in 1793, and when it was reburied in 1817 in the abbey the head was found to be missing. This head would appear to be that of the King. From what I have read the identification looks very probable, and it is unfortunate that the matter has now been caught up in controversy over the veracity of a book about the discovery, and indeed in differing responses from the rival claimants to the French throne, who would be King Henri VII or King Louis XX. 

If it is adjudged to be in truth the head of the first Bourbon King of France then it would indeed be right and proper for it to be reburied at St Denis. Until then, like the bones of St Edward the Martyr did for so many years in this country, it remains in a bank vault.

False fleeting perjur'd Clarence

Today is the 535th anniversary of the execution at the age of twenty eight in the Tower of London of George Duke of Clarence following his conviction for treason in a court presided over by his brother King Edward IV. Such appears to have been the stage management of this trial that it was deemed necessary to destroy the official record of it, and we are dependent upon reports from the Croyland chronicler for what we know of it. The Duke was buried with his wife, who had died in 1476, at Tewkesbury abbey. Clarence's downfall may well be seen as the begining of the implosion of the House of York that culminated in Bosworth and the destruction of the family.

Michael Hicks, who has written a typically balanced and well researched biography of the Duke in False Fleeting Perjur'd: George Duke of  Clarence 1449-1478, also wrote the Oxford DNB life of Duke George which can be read here.There is another online life of Clarence here which contains other biographical links. There is an online piece about the Duke's downfall, written from a Ricardian standpoint, here, which contains additional interesting information.


George, Duke of Clarence

A detail from a late sixteenth or early seventeenth century painting from a series of the Constables of Queenborough Castle in Kent. It may derive from a lost contemporary portrait of the Duke.


The story of Clarence being drowned in a butt of malmsey is nearly contemporary with his death, and his daughter, Bl.Margaret Pole, wore a small barrel on a bracelet, presumably as a reminder of her father's fate. The best explanation I have seen is that he was drowned in a bath tub made out of a vat which had held malmsey - perhaps King Edward recoiled from literally spilling his brother's blood, and opted for drowning as a means of execution.

The Duchy of Clarence is one of the oldest royal Dukedoms, first bestowed in 1362, and deriving its name from the lands of the Clare inheritance - a point brought out at the town of Clare in Suffolk. It is not a particularly auspicious title - of the five Dukes none has left a male heir who has been able to inherit the title. 


Sunday 17 February 2013

The Temptation of Christ

I was particularly struck by the second reading in today's Office of Readings - it provides considerable food for thought, an ideal piece to reflect upon in doing lectio divina, and so I thought I would post it for others to reflect upon if they are so inclined.

St Augustine
Sandro Botticelli, 1480

Image: wikipedia
The lection is taken from a commentary on the psalms by Saint Augustine of Hippo, and is about Ps 60, vv2,3:

In Christ we suffered temptation, and in him we overcame the Devil

Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer. Who is speaking? An individual, it seems. See if it is an individual: I cried out to you from the ends of the earth while my heart was in anguish. Now it is no longer one person; rather, it is one in the sense that Christ is one, and we are all his members. What single individual can cry from the ends of the earth? The one who cries from the ends of the earth is none other than the Son’s inheritance. It was said to him: Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession. This possession of Christ, this inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity that we are, cries from the ends of the earth. What does it cry? What I said before: Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer; I cried out to you from the ends of the earth.’ That is, I made this cry to you from the ends of the earth; that is, on all sides.

Why did I make this cry? While my heart was in anguish. The speaker shows that he is present among all the nations of the earth in a condition, not of exalted glory but of severe trial.

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.

The one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own. Christ chose to foreshadow us, who are his body, by means of his body, in which he has died, risen and ascended into heaven, so that the members of his body may hope to follow where their head has gone before.
He made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. We have heard in the gospel how the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.

If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

Note: I have copied the text from the Universalis website, and I have the impression that this is a slightly shortened version from that contained in the printed Divine Office, but I may be wrong on that point.

Saturday 16 February 2013

The Merciless Parliament

Today is, by my reckoning, the exact anniversary, allowing for the calendar change of 1752, of the opening on February 3 1388 of what was to be termed by Henry Knighton the chronicler of Leicester abbey, the Merciless Parliament, which sat until June of that year, and during its session by its actions earned its epiphet.

The 1388 Parliament is the third act in the political drama played out between 1386 and 1389, beginning with the Wonderful Parliament of 1386 and the "gyration" of the King round his realm during 1387 when he sought to outflank politically, miliatrily and legally his critics. The failure to do that by December 1387 had brought the country to the edge of civil war and the King to the real risk of deposition. Parliament was summoned to address the issues that underlay the crisis.

There is an account of the Parliament, but one which I am somewhat wary of recommending as it contains a number of  inaccuracies, here. It gives the basis sequence of events, but is at points inaccurate and has misleading links - but it is, I suppose, better than nothing as an introduction.

File:Richard II King of England.jpg

King Richard II
This portrait, in Westminster abbey, and dated to circa 1393, shows the King much as he may have appeared presiding over the Parliament of 1388.

Image: Wikipedia

In popular perception, such as Gordon Daviot's play Richard of Bordeaux, the events of these year tend to be presented as the youthful King being ganged up upon by nasty nobles who eliminate his friends.

Trying to understand these events historically offers a range of interpretations. The young King had an exalted view of his position and sought freedom to appoint whom he chose and pursue his own policy, notably one of a peaceful settlement with France of the English claims there - and the French appear to have been offer a considerable amount of territory in return for homage. To some of his relatives and nobles this was a betrayal of the English position and they resented exclusion for the King's circle and access to it, blaming ostensibly, and probably in part actually, the King's favourites for this - to publically blame the King himself was to risk even more conflict.

The opposition to the King, who had recently reached the age of 21,  was led by his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock Duke of Gloucester , who had just turned 33, and two of the greatest magnates, Richard Fitzalan Earl of Arundel, who was about 42, and related to the royal family through his mother and second wife, and Thomas Beauchamp Earl of Warwick, at 50 the oldest of the group. They were now joined by two younger men. One was the King's cousin and the son and heir of John Duke of Lancaster Henry Earl of Derby, later King Henry IV, who was 21 in the April of 1388, and who was probably safeguarding his own family interests as one closely in line to the throne, and who may well have resented the influence of some of the King's favourites. His wife 's elder sister was the wife of Gloucester. The other was Thomas Mowbray Earl of Nottingham,w ho at 22 may have resented his displacement as an intimate of the King. He too was a descendant of King Edward I and the son-in-law of Arundel. Anthony Goodman's The Loyal Conspiracy gives a balanced assessment of these five nobles.

These five, as the Lords Appellant brought charges in Parliament against leading figures around the King, who were found guilty of 'living in vice, deluding the said king...embracing the mammon of iniquity for themselves.'  Three of the principal victims, Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk, who had served as the King's Chancellor, the King's great friend Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland and Earl of Oxford and the Archbishop of York Alexander Neville fled to the Low Countries where they died in exile in the 1390s. Less fortunate were Chief Justice Robert Tresilian and the London financier Nicholas Brembre who were executed. So too were a number of the King's Chamber Knights, most notably, and divisively even for the Appellants themselves, Sir Simon Burley, the former tutor of the King, as well as lesser figures such as the writer Thomas Usk.

Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester
 with a swan brooch from the St Albans Book of Benefactors
British Library Cotton MS Nero D.viii, f. 0

Image: Wikipedia

The King recovered the initiative in 1389, but the events of the years 1386-8 loomed as a series of unresolved grievances and resentments through the 1390s, came to the fore with the King's move against Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick in 1397 and the consequent royal 'tyranny' led to the King's downfall in 1399.

Friday 15 February 2013

Abuse - lies, damned lies and statistics

A friend has drawn my attention to a blog post by Brendan O'Neill on the Daily Telegraph website about some of the the facts, as opposed to the fiction, about the incidence of clerical abuse of minors and others over whom they exercised authority. It can be read here and is a useful corrective to many of the false statistics that are bandied around in a routine manner.

Thursday 14 February 2013

The skull of King Richard II

February 14th is often given as the approximate date for the death of King Richard II at Pontefract Castle in 1400. 

This is based on rather cryptic letters from the Council in London enquiring as to whether the ex-King was still alive or if he was dead, and if he was, that his body should be sent put on display. Assuming that the real Richard had not escaped to Scotland as some claimed his embalmed body was sent to London, displayed at St Pauls and then buried, first at King's Langley and then moved to its original intended burial place in Westminster Abbey by King Henry V.

With all the recent interest in the bones of King Richard III I thought this drawing, made in 1871, of the skull of King Richard II might be of interest. There is more about the drawing here. It was made during restoration work at Westminster when the tomb was opened. One thing this nineteenth century examination showed was that death was not caused by a blow to the back of the head, as in Shakespeares's King Richard II. The fact of their being no known historical figure of Sir Piers Exton, who slays the ex-monarch in the play, has led to historians looking to Sir Peter Buckton as the possible assassin but there remains a range of possibilities as to the nature of King Richard's death.

Eerie: A sketch of the skull of medieval King Richard II found in the National Portrait Gallery basement

Image:Daily Mail 

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Re-burying King Richard III

In a comment on my post The King under the car park a friend asked me my views as to where the newly identified bones of King Richard III should be buried, and whether, as some want, he should have a state funeral.

Given that his bones have been in Leicester since 1485 it seems reasonable to leave him there, and, as the proposal stands, to bury him in the city's Anglican cathedral. The cathedral already has a modern ledger stone in memory of him, and the Greyfriars site is in the parish.

Leicester Cathedral 

Leicester Cathedral 
The building is medieval, but much restored, and the tower and spire date from 1862


I am not sure where the idea that he wanted to be buried at York comes from - I doubt if it is at all accurate. Queen Anne was buried at Westminster, but where King Richard himself thought he might be buried is unclear. Westminster is likely, but both his brother King Edward IV and King Henry VI are at Windsor - though for differing reasons he might not have wanted to be with them.

The present memorial  placed in the choir of the cathedral in 1980

Image: calmaxinengland.blogspot.com

Whatever was done with his interment in 1485 - he rather looks to have been bundled into his grave - King Richard has had a funeral already.

A State Funeral has, I gather been ruled out by the Queen, and to hold such an event would, frankly smack of  a stunt, though some peopel writing in the press, such as Andrew Roberts, appear to favour such a thing. As others have pointed out there remain unresolved issues as to how King Richard came to the Crown, and of various of his actions in respect of relatives, erstwhile friends and opponants. You do not have to go from not doubting the version of his career presented by Shakespeare in a play a century later than the King's death to believe the more extravagant claims of his modern partisans, who manage, at times, to present him as a virtual candidate for canonisation.

The proposed form of service at the reburial in the cathedral next year is an ecumenical one. Now this does raise issues. Ecumenism was not a big issue for King Richard III or his contemporaries. Leicester cathedral is part of the established national church, but Richard was a Catholic - and he would expect Catholic Rites. Given Leicester's Lollard tradition in the preceding century he might have been very cool towards "ecumenical" services with their successors.

Given that the cathedral is part of the national body established by his great-nephew in the 1530s I imagine some sort of compromise liturgy is inevitable. The unknown sailor from the Mary Rose received a Sarum Requiem in the Anglican cathedral in Portsmoth, but in 1545 the country was not in communion with Rome.  A deceased fifteenth century King does deserve the liturgies and practices he would have known. That would mean a Requiem - and as Desmond Seward points out in his book  Richard III; England's Black Legend, this was a man with a strong penchent for establishing requiems for the departed, including those for whom he might well be held accountable for their deaths.

Despite what Cranmer says in the BCP there does not appear, acording to the latest thinking, to have been a seperate Lincoln Use, but rather a local varient on Sarum in the diocese in which both Bosworth and Leicester lay. So a Sarum Requiem celebrated by a Catholic seems to be called for, or at least a modern OF or EF Requiem. I have heard that Bishop Macmahon of Nottingham has expressed his willingness to celebrate a Requiem for King Richard III. As the Bishop is a Dominican maybe a traditional Requiem in the Dominican Rite would be suitable.

On a different point, it is noteworthy how much interest has been raised by the discovery of the King's skeleton. That must be good for encouraging awareness of the fifteenth century in the wider public.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

The Pope's Abdication

It was not until late afternoon yesterday that I learned of the Pope's announcement of his intention to abdicate as of the evening of February 28th. His announcement appears to have caught virtually everyone by surprise, though I recall that he had said in an interview with Peter Seewald that he would consider abdication if he thought he was no longer physically able to exercise the Papal office as he thought it should be done. He has been a Pope of surprises, and in this final announcement has continued that way of operating.

The Pope gives his benediction after his announcement

Image:Fox News

This is clearly the Holy Father's free personal choice, after prayer and reflection, as he said. It should be accepted with respect, and without the wilder theories that will doubtless go the rounds of the internet. He clearly wishes not only to avoid personal distress through infirmity, but to spare the Church another period of leadership by an ailing Pope. That is something he himself will well understand from the latter years of Pope John Paul II. From yesterday's pictures he appears more aged than hitherto, though the emotion of the choice and occasion must have taken its toll.

I am saddened by this news for two reasons. Firstly I am very sorry that someone for whom I have enormous, boundless, respect and admiration considers that they are too frail to continue in office. I have real human sympathy for the Pope, and wish him well in his retirement, the chance to relax and to spend time with his brother, and with God in prayer.

Secondly I am sorry that he will not continue to lead the Church along the lines he has led it since his election - despite his age I looked forward to new initiatives and genuine renovation coming from him.

I also feel great gratitude for all that the Pope has achieved in his pontificate and all that he has given to the life of the Church over so many years. This will be, I am sure, an enduring legacy of writings, formation, liturgical renewal - not just Summorum Pontificum but the new English translation and a real concern for the dignity and tradition of worship in and around the Papacy itself - the initiation and establishment of the Ordinariates, and the intellectual confrontation with secularism.

As someone who was received into full peace and communion two days before Pope John Paul II died I have been so far,  ipso facto, a Pope Benedict XVI Catholic, and consider myself very fortunate indeed to have had him as the visible head of the Church as I have grown into its life and practice.

The precedents for Papal abdication are few. He will apparently return to the status of being a Cardinal again, as did Popes Gregory XII and Pope John XXIII in the early fifteenth century. Will a life of cloistered prayer within the Vatican be possible for him without having the real opportunity to publish or speak again for fear of it being seen as a criticism of his successor? Will he be left in peace to do what he wishes?

Pope benedict XVI in 2009 visiting the reliquary of Pope Celestine V - St Peter of Morrone - who abdicated in 1294, the last Pope of an undivided Western Church to abdicate.

Images:New Liturgical Movement

As loyal Catholics we must continue to pray for the Pope, and for the Cardinals who will elect his successor, for that successor and for the Church.