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.

Sunday, 8 June 2014


Today is Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit, whether we think of it as a consuming fire, a rushing wind, a stream of water, or the gift of eloquence in tongues.



Hail this joyful day's return,
hail the Pentecostal morn,
morn when our ascended Lord
on his Church his Spirit poured! Alleluia!

Like to clove tongues of flame
on the twelve the Spirit came--
tongues, that earth may hear their call,
fire, that love may burn in all. Alleluia!

Lord, to you your people bend;
unto us your Spirit send;
blessings of this sacred day
grant us, dearest Lord, we pray. Alleluia!

You who did our forebears guide,
with their children still abide;
grant us pardon, grant us peace,
till our earthly wanderings cease. Alleluia!

Words: Attributed to St Hilary of Poitiers (d.368);
trans. Robert Campbell (1814-1868)

This is the hymn that we sing as the introit on Pentecost at the Solemn Mass at the Oxford Oratory. I like it not just because it is an ancient hymn but because, unlike some of the better known, and excellent, hymns associated with this season it emphasises the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church rather than to individuals. The Holy Spirit is bestowed upon the Church as the Body and the Bride of Christ, and so is mediated to the individual members of the whole in union with it and other members.

Few images of Pentecost convey in any adequate way to my mind the transforming and renewing power of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Here is a detail of one which does suggest the reality described in the Acts of the Apostles:

Detail from the painting by El Greco 


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