"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Sunday 28 August 2011


A happy and holy feast day to all who use the Julian Calendar because today is the Feast pf the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15th).   Today, I served the Divine Liturgy in Our Lady's honour with Fr Dyfrig as chief celebrant in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish in Gloucester.   It is wonderful to be able to participate more and more in the Byzantine Rite as I become more familiar with it.   I remembered that it was between the feasts of the Transfiguration and the Dormition that Communism collapsed in Moscow, thus fulfilling what was foretold by Our Lady to the children at Fatima.   I prayed in the Liturgy for the patriarch and the people of Russia and for all those in other parts of the Soviet Union who are striving to fill in the void created by the atheist regime, even as they are hampered in this task by internal rivalries..

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Orthodox nuns take the icon of the Blessed Mother of God from the Holy Sepulchre to the place where they believe she was buried after her death in preparation for the Feast of  her Dormition and Ascension into heaven. (Thanks to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish of St Elias for the photo)




Saturday 27 August 2011


Mother Thekla, who died on August 7 aged 93, was the last surviving nun to have occupied the enclosed Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption in North Yorkshire, but became better known to the wider world as the spiritual muse of the composer Sir John Tavener. August 12, 2011 

 A beautiful, Russian-born Cambridge graduate who co-founded the monastery near Whitby and latterly lived there in seclusion as the abbess, she furnished the words for some of Tavener’s most important religious works, and was the spiritual driving force behind one of his most popular pieces, The Protecting Veil (1987). In 1993 she supplied the words for Tavener’s Song For Athene, originally written to commemorate Athene Hariades, a young half-Greek actress he knew who had died in a cycling accident. Tavener attended Athene’s funeral, and came away with the music fully-formed in his mind. “I rang Mother Thekla that same day,” he remembered, “and I said: 'I want words’.” The next day’s post brought, from Thekla, the quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”, together with verses from the Orthodox funeral service . Although it was retitled for the occasion, Song For Athene went on to become the music played when the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, was borne out of Westminster Abbey, in August 1997.

 Mother Thekla was also Tavener’s librettist on his opera Mary Of Egypt (1992) and choral works including The Apocalypse (1993) andFall And Resurrection (1999), which was dedicated to his friend the Prince of Wales. She exerted a remarkable influence on Tavener, a Presbyterian who had flirted with Roman Catholicism before converting to the Orthodox Church in 1977. He contacted Sister Thekla, as she then was, in 1984 after reading a religious book she had written. She subsequently became one of the composer’s principal spiritual guides: he called her his spiritual mother

.  Thekla was brought up in England and worked as an actress and schoolmistress before taking her vows. Her relationship with Tavener was almost telepathic: she would send him odd words — “crucify” or “apple”, for example — which he would instinctively understand and interpret. He once described her as “the most remarkable woman I have ever met in my life”. Yet in many ways the pair were complete opposites. It was Thekla, ever practical, who drilled the unworldly Tavener in the dynamics of a creative partnership. She never lost her volatile , thespian streak, and insisted on calling him “darling”. For all her devoutness, Tavener considered her “a pretty wild character, pretty formidable; she has a ferocious temper”. He could not imagine working with another librettist: “It’s one of those very special relationships in life, which will not ever happen again.” When Tavener ventured to suggest some kind of professional collaboration, Thekla replied, typically: “Yes, darling, but behind the scenes.”

 With another nun, Mother Maria, Mother Thekla founded the first Orthodox order in England, moving from a monastery they had founded in 1966 at Filgrave, Buckinghamshire, to a dilapidated farmhouse at Higher Normanby, outside Whitby, in 1971. It was the bleakest spot they could find, on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. The nuns would meet only at lunchtimes, for a frugal meal of home-grown vegetables and rice. At the hesychasterion (the hermitage or prayer-house) Thekla followed the simple routine of the 7th-century saint Hilda, rising at 4am, swathing herself in a loose black “shroud” that served as a habit and praying every three hours six times a day. The farmhouse was divided into simply furnished “cells” in which the nuns slept and meditated; a former cowshed became their chapel . As well as the fixed routines of their daily offices and obligations, they translated religious liturgies, painted icons to decorate the chapel walls and cultivated the land around the farmhouse. Tourists were not encouraged. A sign at the entrance warned: “Monastery enclosure, do not enter.” Originally there were five nuns at Higher Normanby, but Mothers Maria, Catherine and two others eventually died. Thekla remained there alone until 1994, hoping that a younger, American-born, sister nun, Mother Hilda, would take over. Ultimately, this was not a success. Some years ago Hilda unceremoniously delivered Mother Thekla to the infirmary at the Anglican Abbey of St Hilda in Whitby. Hilda did take over the monastery, but sold it, and died in Whitby in 2010.

 The daughter of a barrister, Mother Thekla was born Marina Sharf on July 18 1918 at Kilslovodsk in the Caucasus amid the clamour of the Russian Revolution. She described being baptised in a flower vase because her parents were prevented from getting to the church by crossfire in the streets. Shortly afterwards they moved to England and she grew up at Richmond, Surrey, before moving to Chelsea. Educated at City of London Girls’ School, she went up to Girton College, Cambridge, to read English, graduating in 1940. The following year she joined the WAAF and spent the war working for British Intelligence, partly in India, being mentioned in despatches in 1943, although she would never be drawn on this episode in her life. After the war she worked for a few years as a civil servant in the Ministry of Education, and later worked as a teacher, becoming head of English at Bedford Girls’ School.

 Her decision to become a nun was abrupt. “I went on a retreat and met Mother Maria and that was it. I was called to it. It’s a bit like a thunderbolt. You can’t deny it when it hits you. I used to love things like visiting second-hand book shops, but you can’t compare life now with life before. It’s like walking through a mirror backwards.” Her new life was totally at odds with her privileged upbringing. As Mother Thekla, she baked loaves of bread, while her eggs were supplied by a local farm. Although the monastery was equipped with a microwave, a washing machine and a computer, such fripperies as television, radio, telephone and newspapers were banned. “It is the monotony of our lives which frees the spirit; all the imminent things drop away,” Mother Thekla told a visiting journalist in 2002. “It’s quite painful being faced with your real self without the trimmings. There’s time here to pray for the world. That’s our work: it’s not something we do on our Sunday off.”

 It was Thekla’s short book The Life Of St Mary Of Egypt (1974), about the famous prostitute-saint, that caught the attention of John Tavener and became the basis of his second opera, Mary Of Egypt (1992). In the meantime she had counselled Tavener following the death of his mother in 1985, after which he feared he would never write music again. Having found his muse once more, Tavener was advised by Thekla to “return to the marketplace” — to write more commercially — and he did so with The Protecting Veil for cello and strings, which, for all its mystical content became a huge popular hit, thanks in no small part to Classic FM, which played it repeatedly. “It became ridiculous,” Tavener recalled. “I couldn’t even go to an airport without being accosted by people saying: 'I want to tell you now much your music means to us’.” The piece was so successful that it allowed Tavener to become self-sufficient as a composer. When conventional critics dismissed his work, Thekla would encourage him with the mantra: “Be dead to it all, darling. Just be dead.” She wrote the texts for Tavener’s visionary We Shall See Him As He Is (1993), drawing on the First Epistle of John, and for Let Us Begin Again (1995), which is mimed as well as sung. For Total Eclipse (2000), in which Tavener pitted an orchestra of baroque instruments against the soaring soprano saxophone of John Harle, Thekla compiled words from the gospels for soloists and choir which described St Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

 In 2003 reports of a “frightful bust-up” suggested that Mother Thekla and Tavener had fallen out, apparently over the composer’s growing interest in Eastern religions. Mother Hilda declared that if asked to explain what had happened, Thekla “would probably say, and pardon my French: 'Go to Hell’”. A reconciliation followed. Mother Thekla was the dedicatee of John Tavener’s memoir The Music Of Silence: A Composer’s Testament (1999). Not only had she helped him spiritually, Tavener said, she had also “helped me put my music and my life together”. Much to her distress, Mother Thekla left no surviving colleague. At her funeral at the Abbey of St Hilda a choir will sing a newly-written piece by Tavener, They are all Gone into the World of Light, as well as Song for Athen

Thursday 25 August 2011



MONASTERY OF THE ASSUMPTION OIF OUR LADY OF CURRIERE qas founded in 1976 in the mountains of Chatreuse in the Diocese of Grenoble.  It is a wilderness where the monks seek God alone according to the Rule of St Bruno accoding to the tradition of the Desert Fathers.   It is the mother house of the Congregation of the Assumption and St Bruno.   While it follows a traditional Carthusian life it has also made Vatican II its inspiration, especially the Council's call for unity between East and West.   As hermits, the monks and nuns live this unity in their heart, adoring the Blessed Sacrament (western)  but practising  the Jesus Prayer continuously (eastern) to the eucharistic presence of Christ in the heart.  Their liturgy too reflests this unity between East and West, even if the Liturgy remains in the Western Rite. http://www.bethleem.org/monasteres/curriere_freres.php#

THE MONASTERY OF MONTE CORONA in the Diocese of Perugia, a mere 30 kilometres from Assisi,  was a Camaldolese monastery from which the monks were expelled in the 19th century.   The nuns of Bethlehem took it over in 1981 and the masculine branch replaced them in 1990.

In the year 2,000, fifteen monks were sent to Tel Gamaliel, just 39 kilometres from both Jerusalem and Bethlehem, thanks to the kindness of the Salesians.   They called their new monastery, "Our Lady of Maranatha" (Come, Lord Jesus).

In 1967, three monks came to Galilee to seek unity between East and West within themselves in silence and prayer.   In 2005, the Higoumen, Fr Ya'aqov, knowing that he had not long to live, invited monks of the Assumption and St Bruno to take over the Lavra.

Many people are pessimistic about the Church's future, and I think it is because they are looking in the wrong places. Many people speak of the post-Vatican II liturgy as highly defective. So many have not seen how effective and wonderful it can be. I think they ought to look towards monasteries like these and others like mine for whom the "hermeneutic of continuity" is natural.
For "Monastic Family of Bethlehem (nuns) click here
For the "Monastic Family of Jerusalem" (very different) click

Tuesday 23 August 2011

On the "riches and merits" of St. Bernard of Clairvaux's theology

From Pope Benedict XVI's August 20, 2006, Angelus address, focused on the life of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church, whose feast is celebrated on this date:
The riches and merits of his theology do not lie in having taken new paths, but rather in being able to propose the truths of the faith in a style so clear and incisive that it fascinated those listening and prepared their souls for recollection and prayer. In every one of his writings, one senses the echo of a rich interior experience, which he succeeded in communicating to others with a surprising capacity for persuasion.
For him, love is the greatest strength of the spiritual life. God, who is love, creates man out of love and out of love redeems him. The salvation of all human beings, mortally wounded by original sin and burdened by personal sins, consists in being firmly attached to divine love which was fully revealed to us in Christ Crucified and Risen.

In his love, God heals our will and our sick understanding, raising them to the highest degree of union with him, that is, to holiness and mystical union. St Bernard deals with this, among other things, in his brief but substantial Liber de Diligendo Deo.
There is then another writing of his that I would like to point out, De Consideratione,addressed to Pope Eugene III. Here, in this very personal book, the dominant theme is the importance of inner recollection - and he tells this to the Pope -, an essential element of piety.
It is necessary, the Saint observes, to beware of the dangers of excessive activity whatever one's condition and office, because, as he said to the Pope of that time and to all Popes, to all of us, many occupations frequently lead to "hardness of heart", "they are none other than suffering of spirit, loss of understanding, dispersion of grace" (II, 3).
This warning applies to every kind of occupation, even those inherent in the government of the Church. In this regard, Bernard addresses provocative words to the Pontiff, a former disciple of his at Clairvaux: "See", he writes, "where these accursed occupations can lead you, if you continue to lose yourself in them... without leaving anything of yourself to yourself" (ibid).
How useful this appeal to the primacy of prayer and contemplation is also for us! May we too be helped to put this into practice in our lives by St Bernard, who knew how to harmonize the monk's aspiration to the solitude and tranquillity of the cloister with the pressing needs of important and complex missions at the service of the Church.
The full address, along with numerous others, is included in the recently published collection, Holiness Is Always in Season (Ignatius Press). Here is a passage from St. Bernard's work, "On Loving God":
Why we should love God and the measure of that love

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love. Is this plain? Doubtless, to a thoughtful man; but I am debtor to the unwise also. A word to the wise is sufficient; but I must consider simple folk too. Therefore I set myself joyfully to explain more in detail what is meant above.

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).

Ought He not to be loved in return, when we think who loved, whom He loved, and how much He loved? For who is He that loved? The same of whom every spirit testifies: ‘Thou art my God: my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16.2, Vulg.). And is not His love that wonderful charity which ‘seeketh not her own’? (I Cor.13.5). But for whom was such unutterable love made manifest? The apostle tells us: ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Rom. 5.10). So it was God who loved us, loved us freely, and loved us while yet we were enemies. And how great was this love of His? St. John answers: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3.16). St. Paul adds: ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’ (Rom. 8.32); and the son says of Himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13).

This is the claim which God the holy, the supreme, the omnipotent, has upon men, defiled and base and weak. Some one may urge that this is true of mankind, but not of angels. True, since for angels it was not needful. He who succored men in their time of need, preserved angels from such need; and even as His love for sinful men wrought wondrously in them so that they should not remain sinful, so that same love which in equal measure He poured out upon angels kept them altogether free from sin.


I have visited Llanthony three times.   The first was on my very last day at Belmont Abbey School, only a few months away from my own entrance into the noviciate.   I got off the bus in the middle of the Welsh countryside at Llanvihangel and wondered where to go next.   Luckily, there was a boy on a bicycle, and I asked him the way to the  monastery, not the mediaeval one but that which was built in the 19the century.   "Oh, I live there," he told me, "I'll take you ;" and he took me back to his house, wheeling his bike.
"What is your name?" I asked.
"Eric," he told me, "Eric Williams;" and it transpired that he is the grandson of Eric Gill, the sculptor.   His mother stuffed me with food and talked about her father.  The boy stands out in my memory as a very friendly fourteen year old' but he must now be seventy, and I have learned that he is a retired engineer and a grandfather.  May God bless him!
Of course, as a monk-yo-be, I had gone to Llanvihangel to see the monastery of that famous eccentric, Fr Ignatius of Llantony.  I had found his biography very interesting, and had been amused by a story that had been passed down at Belmont.  Of course, Fr Ignatius had had very little contact with Catholic life as it is actually lived, and he filled up small gaps in his knowledge with his imagination.   

S it was told that he used to light the sanctuary lamp from the Easter candle and then lit each successive lamp from the previous fire.   One day, the lamp went out and no flame had been preserved to light it again, so he sent a monk to Belmont to ask them.  Of course, he was told to light it with a match, and Belmont had an amusing story to pass on to future generations.

My second visit was in the seventies when Fr Mountney was Vicar of All Saints, and a good friend.   He asked me to take a few volunteers from Belmont to sing the solemn Salve Regina at the statue of Our Lady where, I was told, the Virgin appeared to Fr Ignatius.   I put together my group and asked Brother William, a convert from Anglicanism who knew all the twisting paths and dark corners of extreme Anglo-Catholicism, to be our driver.   "You are not going to like it!" he exclaimed to me when I asked him; and he repeated this  at intervals during the journey.   I didn't.

Of course, there were scores of ordinary Anglicans, clergy and people, with whom I felt honoured to be on pilgrimage; and Dom Augustine Morris   , Abbot of Nashdom, for whom I had great respect and on whose face were mirrored the same feelings of distaste that must have been on mine.   The preacher too was a Carmelite from Aylesford who gave an excellent sermon  The trouble was that Fr Ignatius had received the sacrament of priestly ordination from an episcopus vagans, a wandering bishop, who went around ordaining priests outside any recognisable ecclesiastical body.   I can understand why.   Fr Ignatius was a pioneer of monasticism in the Church of England, and his bishop would not ordain him.   He needed ordination; and he looked for it outside of Anglicanism which was still in the thralls of the Protestant Captivity.  The trouble was that all others whose ordination had come about in the same way regarded him as their saint and flocked to the pilgrimage.   They came from all over Britain.

There were Old Catholics with little or no connection with the Old Catholic Church in Holland, Liberal Catholics who mixed Catholicism and the occult, and many others.   "From what episcopal line do you come?" I heard one pastel-coloured Liberal Catholic priest ask another from a different ecclesiastical conventicle.   Liberal Catholic priests wear Roman-style cassocks and birettas in any other colour but black which represents for them the Dark Forces.    My temper reached boiling point when I was approached by a man in the full Roman regalia of a Catholic bishop - in ordinary life he sold insurance, and I was told his cathedral was a converted garage - accompanied by an acolyte in pink jeans.  I turned my back and went towards the car: I had had enough.

I was angry because they seemed to me to be playing with holy things.   They also made me think.  There was a real contrast between the Anglicans who were present and the others.   On the one hand, there were the ordinary Anglo -Catholic clergy and faithful, whose devotion to the Mass and Our Lady I shared and in whose presence I felt comfortable.   Yet I did agree basically with Apostolicae Curae that their orders were invalid.  On the other hand, there was these free-lance bishops and priests who were making up their religion as they went along: DIY Popery is as illogical as a square circle.  This called in question my somewhat mechanical view of apostolic succession.   I remembered  Eric Mascall writing that ordination is being received into communion as a bishop/priest with other bishops and priests within a Tradition that comes to us from the Apostles and which embraces heaven and earth, a reception into the unity of Christ the Priest, not the conferring of powers to  individuals outside any proper ecclesial context so that they can create churches in their own image and likeness..  

The third time I went to Llanthony was this Sunday and was a great pleasure and a moment of grace.   The wierdos had gone; and a smattering of Anglicans and Catholics were left, doing their best in difficult circumstances and trusting in the Lord and his Blessed Mother.   You could not have met a nicer group.   It was organized by the Fr Ignatius Memorial Trust.   I was invited by our abbot who had been asked to preach the sermon.   Also, Dom Alex of Pachacamac was with us.   He is studying theology at Blackfriars, Oxford.
We started off  in the tiny parish church of Capel-y-fin, which is the smallest Anglican church in Wales.   It is now in the Parish of Hay-on-Wye.  The vicar played the organ for Evenesong, while another Anglican priest celebrated in a cope.
After Evensong, the Abbot of Belmont gave his sermon,  He made three main points.

   He said that the life of Fr Ignatius reflects a dilemma that exists in many a monastery and has existed since monastic life began.   On  the one hand, the monastic vocation is a call to the desert, to prayer in silence, to a life of contemplation.   On the other hand, there is the urge to spread the Good News, to evangelize and to help the needy.   Large stretches of Europe were converted to Christianity by monks, even by hermits.   When we are at prayer, we feel guilty because we are not spreading the Word: when we are spreading the Word, we feel guily because we are not at prayer.   Fr Ignatius exemplifies in his life this pull in what look like two opposite directions.   

The solution to this problem i
was found written on his bedspread.   On it was a large cross and the words, JESUS ONLY.   These words reflects the experience of the Apostles after the Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah had disappeared.  The monastic life, and the Christian life in general, is about Jesus alone and harmony with him in the Spirit.

The last point that we can take from the life of Fr Ignatius is perseverance.   Some wise monk had said, it is one thing to break your vows: it is totally other to leave the monastery.   It is he who perseveres to the end that will be saved.   Fr Ignatius made mistakes and met obstacles that would have persuaded many others to give up, but he persevered, which is why we honour him today.  Only a very single minded man could have embedded religious life in the Church of England of his time.   In this, his faithfulness to his monastic vocation became heroic; and it is in this, more than anything, that we can see evidence of sanctity.

Finally, the abbot said that he was going to say something unecumenical.   He thinks it a pity that Fr Ignatius was not a Catholic because Catholicism, more than Anglicanism, understands, tolerates and even appreciates a holy eccentricity.

To the sound of the Lourdes hymn, with very much better words than we normally use, we set off from the church to walk the mile to Fr Ignatius's monastery which is now a hostal for hikers and is owned by a very pleasant family that collaborates with the Trust in preserving what is left of Fr Ignatius and the life that was led there.
Prayers were said at a wayside shrine of the crucifixion and the words of Jesus to his Mother and to St John were proclaimed from St John's Gospel
The Salve Regina was sung where Our Lady is said to have appeared to Fr Ignatius, and intercessions were read out: all very good and wholesome.
We finished up with the concluding prayers in the ruined church where Fr Ignatius is buried.
Dom Alex is here with one of the pilgrim families.

After this there was tea and a lovely kind of Welsh cake in the garden.  Unfortunately, I was attacked by cramp and had to sit below where the owner of the house kindly brought me tea and cake.   Hence, no pictures of the garden scene.



 Text from Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, by Desmond Morse-Boycott. (New York: Macmillan, 1933).

 ON November 23, 1837, four years after the Oxford Movement had begun, there was born at Trinity Square, London, to Francis Lyne, a merchant whose father had been Welsh and whose mother was Italian, by his wife Louisa Genevieve (nee Leycester), a second child who was destined to blaze a trail across the pages of Anglican history; be detested and persecuted by fellow-Churchmen; win countless souls for Christ; and raise up a memorial in stone which must ever remain a permanent reproach to the Church he served so nobly, and to the generations which have forgotten even his name. Joseph Leycester Lyne was rather a precocious child, who early became oppressed by a fear of hell-fire, which was to haunt him for thirty years and then vanish by a revelation of the saving power of Christ. He seems to have impressed his masters mightily. One of them, writing his memory of Joseph in St. Paul's School, twenty-four years afterwards, said: My recollections of Joseph Leycester Lyne are among the freshest and most pleasing reminiscences of well-nigh the third of a century's superintendence of St. Paul's School. You may say to all who ask (if any should ask a question)—had he the usual failings of a boy? that, in my judgment, he was most unlike all boys that I ever knew, with none of their pardonable short-comings, and more true holiness and spirituality of mind and character than usually falls to the lot of Christians, still growing in the grace of God in after years throughout this world's proficiency. As a young man Joseph came into repeated conflict with his father, who disliked his High Church tendencies, but despite many ups and downs (emptying a Presbyterian church while, as a layman, in charge of a mission in Scotland, and driving all his own flock to the Presbyterians!) he managed to become a deacon. As he was much criticized in after years over his ecclesiastical status it is important to mention that, having scruples over his baptism as an infant, he was conditionally baptized at this time by the vicar of St. Peter's, Plymouth, taking a vow of perpetual celibacy. Helped by friends he became an unpaid assistant to Canon Prynne, of St. Peter's, Plymouth, where he worked fruitfully. Dr. Pusey and Mother Priscilla Sellon (who re-established the religious life for women in the Anglican Communion) sympathized with his tendencies to monasticism. They became as convinced as he of his vocation to reestablish religious life for men, although it is evident that in time Dr. Pusey was frightened of his erratic ways. It is my purpose in this essay to stress the fact that what was erratic was accidental and superficial, and t at a grave justice has been done to Father Ignatius, as he was soon to style himself, by the overlooking, deliberate or otherwise, of the fact that he never turned back from any plough that he set his hand to. Miss Sellon made him his first habit, which was intercepted and destroyed by his father; and she made him a second. As yet he was a friar rather than a monk, assisting Father Lowder at the mission of St. George's-in-the-East. He became acquainted personally with all the inhabitants of the infamous Ratcliff Highway, where he was as fearless as he was tactless, going into disreputable dancing halls to announce, in a loud voice, that " We must all appear before the judgement-seat of Christ." Even more courageously, he threw away his chance of ordination to the priesthood by refusing to abandon the unusual habit that he wore on all occasions. So I became a Benedictine [he wrote]. Two other people were willing to join me now. I was twenty-four years of age. My father was very angry, and refused to give me any further help. . . . I realized that I should be penniless. I had already drawn a very crowded congregation to Father Lowder's Mission Church, but I had made up my mind to break away from every tie. Relatives, except my mother, would have nothing to say to me. My bright prospects in the Church would be for ever ruined; the world would say I was mad; the Church would regard me as most dangerous, a kind of ecclesiastical Ishmael. . . . Yet I firmly believe God was calling me, and I must obey. . . . Obey he did. To attempt, in what must be a short sketch, to follow his footsteps in detail is a task I cannot do. But, for the forming of a better opinion of this heroic deacon, I will outline him sharply in some of his astonishing crises (every day was a crisis, of some sort). He was molested with violence by Protestant fanatics in the first house he founded, and was stoned in the streets. He shows no sign of wavering. He moved to another house, where he stayed, with his companions, for two and a half years. They were half-starved. This morning [he writes] just as our firing was nearly all spent, a gentleman sent us two chaldrons of coke. One of the Brothers fainted away in choir on Wednesday last, and some ladies who were present in chapel sent, about an hour afterwards, a hamper of fish and seven-and-sixpence; and so we had a good dinner that day. At times his priory was surrounded by angry mobs. Police and armed supporters would camp around it. One day he set out for Rome, in search of health, with a quaint retinue, regardless of spiteful tongues—Brother Philip, Sister Ambrosia (to nurse him) and a little child of four years whom he had adopted as an oblate to the order. He was hospitably received by the Pope. Donald Attwater, in a recent book, is most, amusing in this connexion. He writes: Two men wearing the dress of monks, going about with an indeterminate female and a child in sandals and a white habit, would cause a sensation anywhere. In Rome it was a furore. Monsignori took snuff and looked down their noses; ladies of the noble families put their heads together; the superstitious shot out the index and little finger of the right hand. And the authorities sent somebody round to the Via Condotti to investigate. . . . Dr. Brownlow, of the Venerable English College, and afterwards Bishop of Clifton, was appointed to wait upon the distinguished visitor, and a religious woman was told off to take an adjoining room and chaperon Sister Ambrosia—Rome forgets nothing. But when Ignatius returned to England he found his community at Norwich dispersed and his priory put up for sale. The Archbishop of Canterbury advised him to try to recover the property by action, but, though he struggled for twelve years, and spent all his inheritance (£12,000), he finally failed. Some accounts refer to a flaw in the title deeds, but the "official" biography by the Baroness Bertouch calls it fraud. In August, 1866, Dr. Pusey invited the broken-down and lonely monk to stay with him in the Isle of Wight. Here his sorrow was turned into joy, as he walked along the seashore, while the melancholy roar of the sea whispered of the follies of the children of time. He was oppressed by the thought of Hell, his shattered health his ruined life, when there flashed upon him, like a ray of evening sunshine, sinking softly on wild and wold, ere the tender stars come out to gleam in token of the infinite beauty of God, the thought that he was mistaken in trying to save his soul, for Jesus Christ had done all that for him. He says: "I cannot tell the joy, the new life, the strength that came to me. 'My beloved is mine and I am his,' I could say with all my heart…" Can we doubt this personal revelation when we consider the circumstances which surrounded the bewildered, shattered young champion of Jesus? Note his unchangeability. To the end of his harassed life he walked in that radiance. If he was given to moods, and tempestuous actions, they must be attributed to the life he had to live, calculated to shatter the strongest of men, while he was one of the weakest. They were superficial. There never left his heart the joy that he gained on that memorable moment when he found his master on the shore in the evening. The scene now changes. We find the undaunted monk essaying a task which only the faith which can remove mountains would embark upon. It is to build a monastery on a Welsh mountain, miles away from anywhere. The transport cannot get within four miles, and huge stones have to be dragged up in waggons. The workmen, inadequately supervised, quarrel and down tools. By fits and starts the work progresses, and the shell of Llanthony Abbey begins to appear. Meanwhile the monks are enduring hardships justly comparable to those of the Cistercians at Citeaux and Fountains. Ignatius writes: (We) went through incredible hardships at our first foundation here, I myself living in a cold wet shed, the only shelter for the Blessed Sacrament and myself for some time existing here; the other monks living in a windowless draughty barn. . . . From 22nd July, 1870, until December of the same year, our first portion of the Abbey, the west cloister, remained unfinished. The kitchen fire, for cooking purposes, burned on the mud floor of the barn up in a corner, the smoke finding its way out as best it could. . . . As the winter frosts began our sufferings were great indeed. I myself often rose at 5 a.m. from my bed in the cold damp shed, the blanket that covered me really steaming with the damp. I had to quickly make my bed and ring the bell to call the brothers from the barn to come and sing Prime with me in my shed " the Abbot's Lodge." Of an evening, after supper and Vespers, we would kindle a fire on the muddy ground of the unfinished and desolate cloister, fastening up a blanket for a shelter from the cutting wind. We had gathered the wood on the mountain for ourselves, being too poor just then to procure coal. And the while, in well-warmed episcopal palaces well-fed bishops wrote inhibitions, bidding him refrain from preaching in their churches; and deans and archdeacons and the whole hierarchy of higher clergy spoke of him acidly or with jocularity over their wine cups; and the people of England, who flocked to bear him in the Halls in which he was driven to speak, came to mock at a madman and remain to pray; and dry-as-dust dons composed voluminous treatises to oppose Modernism, of which they were to become in time the champions, leaving him to heard the atheist in his den, and bid him come to Jesus. His magnificent debates with Bradlaugh and others at least effected this, that they compelled people to see that Christianity is a life rather than a creed. In the fullness of time his Abbey was built, and like all cities built on a hill attracted pilgrims. Here one must notice a defect in his character which was, perhaps, the underlying cause of his failure to found an enduring Community. He was gullible to a degree. He took everyone at his own valuation, and so was perpetually surrounded by impostors as well as the genuine. The Community was thus exposed to constant disintegration and reformation. Ignatius was so transparently honest that he simply could not understand how anyone could be deceitful. Towards the end of his life he swung to the other extreme, and became suspicious of everyone. Small wonder! Another of his faults was an imperious temper. He was kind and affable in repose, but when aroused hardly responsible for his actions. He would, too, vanish on preaching tours for months while his monks, and the nuns whom he had established hard by, were inadequately provided for, spiritually and materially. This was a serious weakness. He was forced to pursue two irreconcilable paths, which he never doubted were the Divine plan for him; that is to say, he tried to be Abbot of a monastery, an office that can only be held wisely by an efficient and quiet administrator, with capacity to judge character, and a Missioner, plucking brands from the burning in Hull, Newcastle, Birmingham, Cardiff, Brighton, Worthing, and the United States of America, etc. And the Mission work was done, again, for daily bread. It all worked into the scheme of things, but it spelt and provoked disaster. If someone had come forward with a substantial gift to endow Llanthony Abbey, it might belong to the Anglican Church to-day, and be a centre of vitality such as Cowley or Mirfield, or even if he had been a shrewd judge of character, for then he might have been assisted by an able monk. But the work was marred by the bickerings of his followers, who were quick to see and resent the intrusion of knaves. The right men cleared out while the wrong ones stayed—for a time. This aspect of his work is pitiable, but date we blame him? Scorned in his lifetime, he is forgotten by modern Churchfolk, and has lately been dubbed, by a biographer whom I suspect to be a Roman Catholic, "the reductio ad absurdum of the reaction from eighteenth century classicism and of the opposition to the new self-satisfied materialism and scientific rationalism; . . . not indeed the last end, but a term of the Gothic Revival, of the Oxford Movement, of Romanticism, of Evangelicalism, of neo-Medievalism, of revivalism in a general sense taking on a new and particular sense." He so stresses his Victorianism that Ignatius would seem to be a religious version of Mr. Barrett of Wimpole Street. I suggest a simpler definition. Father Ignatius—saint. The degree of his sanctity can be appreciated best by those whose work lies in the foundation of some colossal undertaking. They can feel for the frail friar in his weariness; his eager search for funds; his longing to be quiet in his monastery while the placards blazed abroad the information that he would preach in this place and in that, and reporters waited on his doorstep; and, when quiet, in the restless urge that came upon Mm to win enough bread for his children, to whom the Church offered a stone. He cannot be understood by the simple and the scholarly and the stay-at-homes. It is illuminating, for instance, to find that in some of the histories of the Oxford Movement he is scarcely mentioned. But I think that he was rewarded by Heaven. There are strange stories told, by those who knew him intimately, of visions and hearings. Here is one, told me by one of his monks, who became a bus conductor. I have told it in full elsewhere, but a mention must needs be made in this connexion. I quote my own words first, then his: There were some boys who received their education in the Abbey. They were playing in the fields one summer evening, but abandoned their game and ran to Father Ignatius, crying out that there was a light burning in a bush. He calmed them, and ordered a watch to be kept before the altar by the monks of the Abbey and the nuns in the Convent near by. . . . The next day one of the nuns sent word that Father Ignatius had left the monstrance on the altar. . . . Father Ignatius went to lock it up, but it was not visible. . . . On that evening the boys saw the light in the bush again. The monks were assembled in the porch, where they sang an Ave….. It was a foul night. The wind howled in the vast solitude. The rain teemed down. A thick pall of cloud draped the hills and the heavens. Then—I quote the witness's words: A wonderful light appeared in the heavens. It seemed to open out, and in the centre there then appeared the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her hands were outstretched, and the light from her presence was so radiant that the monks could hardly look upon it. The walls of the massive monastery became like glass. I would comment on this vision only with two reflections. (I) Ignatius hated a lie. Others might deceive him; he had no self-deceit. (2) Presumably a vision from Heaven would be a reward for sanctity and heroism. Who among priests and prelates in Ms days had more than he? The splendour of his courage pales his contemporaries' valour (and there were giants in those days) into insignificance. In connexion with the vision I once received the following letter: …A rather extraordinary personal experience of mine with regard to him and his death may interest you. Except to a few intimate friends I have never talked of it. In 1889, owing to my adopting a profession Fr. Ignatius greatly disapproved of—I became an actor—for some few years our correspondence ceased. Several years later I happened to be in London, and being in Baker Street one afternoon, I saw a poster announcing a series of services by Father Ignatius at the Portman Rooms, and there being one that afternoon, I felt I must hear him once again, and went in and sat right at the back. At the end, as I was leaving, Mr. Charles Lamb, who for years was one of his chief helpers in London, stopped me and said, after exchanging greetings, the Rev. Father spotted you and wants you to wait and see him. I did so, and we had a long talk and renewed our friendship, and I found that his views with regard to my calling had become somewhat less austere. From that time we restarted an occasional correspondence. A few years later, I was living for a time in Bath, my wife being an invalid. One Sunday evening we had had some friends to see us, and when they were about to leave, my wife suggested our walking with them thro' the Park—it being a lovely evening. After saying goodbye to our friends, as we were returning, I saw in the twilight what appeared to be a statue of our Lady, with a halo of light round it, in a group of trees, and the statue seemed very familiar. I was, of course, convinced it was some hallucination and said nothing, when my wife suddenly said, "What a curious place to put a statue of our Lady. I've not seen that before—lets go over and look at it." As her health was very frail and I dreaded the effect of any shock, I persuaded her to put off seeing it till another time. But the whole thing puzzled me, and the next morning I rose early, went out and walked over the same route, but as I felt sure, there was no statue. When I got back my wife, who was not up, called me, and when I went to her room, said, "You've been in the Park." I said, "Yes." " There's no statue there?" I replied, "No." "Then look at that," and she handed me the Daily Sketch, and the front page was headed "Death of Fr. Ignatius," and the page was divided down the centre, one side a photograph of the Rev. Father, the other side a photograph of "Our Lady of Llanthony," the statue erected there in memorial of the vision. That was the statue we both saw the night before in the Park at Bath. Two years later my wife died—alluding to that experience almost at the end. Ignatius died, as he had lived, a monk, albeit a quaint one. He made a fatal mistake, as far as his work was concerned, in accepting ordination to the priesthood at the hands of a wandering old Catholic bishop, who was an adventurer. Thus he was finally discredited in the eyes of the Church that denied him the priesthood and ignored his appeals for the Sacraments for his flock. He died on October 16, 1908, murmuring, "Praised be Jesus for ever and ever," was given a wonderful funeral, and a number of critical obituary notices in the press. A fool like St. Francis, a hero like St. Benedict, a revivalist like Moody, a lover of souls like General Booth, an ascetic like St. Anthony the hermit, an orator as golden as Lacordaire, but withal a poor theologian, and as simple as a child, of whom his Church was unworthy. Alas! She is awkward in her handling of saints and her saints cannot breathe in "Establishment."

Sunday 21 August 2011



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The Essential Nature and Task of the Church | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger  | From God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 2002)
 | From God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 2002)
The Essential Nature of the Church
Let's stay with this rebirth. What is the Church supposed to be? What kind of body is she meant to be? Her nature is always specified as being apostolic and catholic. What does that mean?
Apostolic signifies the horizontal cross-connection of the Church through all the ages. She is first of all fixed to the historical origin in the eleven men whom Jesus chose (eleven were left, plus Matthias, who was elected to the office). This is not just some mythology or other, an invented piece of ideology, but is truly anchored in the historical events concerned with Jesus Christ and can always at any time be renewed from these apostolic origins. At the same time, this expresses not only fidelity to the witness, to the faith of the apostles, but also a sacramental dimension. Because of this, we cannot simply rethink the Church whenever we like; she stands rather in an unbroken relationship with her origins, in constant continuity with them. The sacrament of ordination to the priesthood expresses this relationship to something we have not ourselves invented and, at the same time, refers to the Holy Spirit as guarantor of this continuity.
And Catholic?
The translation of Catholic is "including the whole"; it signifies "relating to the whole". It is a way of expressing the fact that the Church belongs to the whole world, to all cultures and every age. That is quite essential. For the Church must never shrink to being a national Church. She is always there to ensure that boundaries are transcended. She is to prevent the occurrence of Babel. The Church is there to prevent the confusion of opposition and contradiction from dominating mankind. She should, instead of this, bring the whole wealth of human existence, in all its languages, to God--and should be thereby herself a power for reconciliation among mankind.
There is a quite particular Catholic habit of thought. Thus is a certain way of looking at events and people and everything that happens on the stage of this world. Can we define thus habit of thought in any way?
That is hard to say. Catholicism is fed by the whole of the history of belief, but in its characteristic form it developed in the Western Church. In that sense, much of what we today call a Catholic way of thinking is not beyond the limitations of time, nor is it unchangeable. It may be subject to modification, development, and renewal through the arrival new peoples or the departure to new historical ages.
Protestants have in their faith, so it seems to me, the rigorous either-or stand, whereas with Catholics a flexible both-and is dominant; what unites is important. So it's a matter, in each case, of Scripture and tradition, of authority and freedom, of faith and works. What is the specific difference between what is Protestant and what Catholic?
I don't think it's so easy to say what it is, and you certainly can't make it all dependent on one single point. Although the categorical dividing into either-or is indeed deeply rooted in Protestantism. In Lutheran thinking, at any rate, the principle solus Christus--Christ alone--is very strongly emphasized, whereas for Catholicism the attempt at a synthesis was more typical. But we should beware of any schematic definition of this difference, above all because Protestantism exists in great variety of forms and because, when it comes down to it, the Catholic Church also has a wealth of different forms--and, over and beyond this, is confronting a range of historical possibilities that are still far from exhausted.
It is of course true that the Catholic Church has always rejected certain sola formulae--for instance, that only Scripture counts. The Catholic Church believes that Scripture and a living tradition belong together, since it is tradition that is the agent in providing the Scriptures and the agent when the Church interprets them. Another point is that she only allows the sola fide in a limited sense. In the sense, that is, that faith is in the first instance the only door by which grace can reach us, but that this faith, as the Letter to the Galatians says, is actively at work in love. The power of justification of the Christian life thus consists in an amalgam of faith and love. So here, too, the sola must be broken open.
So this tendency to open up, which rejects exclusive categories--whose importance we must not fail to recognize--as liable to be one-sided is one of the essential points of difference. ...
The Task of the Church
The task of the Church is exciting and almost supernatural. Perhaps we can't quite entirely describe it. Paul in one of his great sayings, calls the Church the pillar and the foundation of truth. She is, he says, on one hand, the divinely appointed teacher of the faith and, on the other hand, has also to ensure that nothing of this faith is lost and that no error finds its way into the faith. The Church as strict guardian of the grail--is that what she is?
You are quoting here from the Pastoral Letters, which a majority of modern exegetes say are not by Saint Paul, but that need not concern us here. In any case, these letters stand in the Pauline tradition; and they take Paul's ideas a step farther, at least within the Pauline school. It is already evident in the great Pauline letters that the Church is the living agent carrying the truth of Christ. It is for her to hold fast to this truth, to be, so to say, a pillar upon which it can stand and also to live it out in reality, to hand it on, so that it remains accessible and comprehensible, so that it can develop and unfold. We have also heard how, in all of this, the Spirit leads her into the truth, so that fidelity and development go together.
Which some people dispute.
Luther objected that there was no need for an office of teaching in the Church, as Scripture itself was sufficient. A Magisterium, or teaching office, so Luther says, is an imposition; whoever reads Scripture aright will understand it aright, as it is comprehensible in its own terms. Today more than ever we can see that a book on its own is always open to the risk of ambiguity. It belongs without question in the living context of the Church, within which the Word comes to life properly. In that sense, then, a fully authoritative reference for questions of interpretation is necessary, though certainly this agent of reference must be aware that it does not stand above the Word of God, but in service under the Word, and must be judged by the Word.
At this point, by the way, processes of ecumenical reconciliation are already underway. For, on one hand, the determinative force of Scripture is becoming evident in all clarity even in the Catholic Church and, on the other, the situation of the Word, embedded in the living teaching activity of the Church, as being active in interpreting the Word, is clearly seen today by Protestants. In the course of time, the following conclusion has been drawn from these perception: If the Church interprets responsibly, then the support, the promise, must be given her that she is truly interpreting accordance with the Spirit of God, which guides her. It is in this way that the teaching about infallibility ultimately developed. 
Concerning which, there is obviously a great need of further enlightenment.
This doctrine obviously needs to be understood very precisely within its correct limitations, so as not to be misused or misunderstood. It doesn't mean that every word that ecclesiastical authorities say, or even every word said by pope, is infallible. It certainly does mean that wherever the Church, in the great spiritual and cultural struggles of history, and after all possible prayer and grappling with the truth, insists that this is the correct interpretation and draws a line there, she has been promised that in this instance she will not lead people into error. That she will not be turned into an instrument of destruction for the Word of God, but remains the mother, the living agent, within whom the Word is alive and truly expresses himself and is truly interpreted. But that, as we have said, is linked to certain conditions. For all those in positions of responsibility in the Church, this means that they themselves must, in all seriousness, subject themselves to those conditions. They are not allowed to impose their own opinions on the Church as doctrines, but must set themselves within the great community of faith, and at its service, and must learn to listen to the Word of God. They must allow themselves to be judged and purified by this Word, in order that they may be able to convey it correctly.
The spirit of contradiction and confession is obviously a part of the Church's task. This gives her an aspect of rebelliousness, something radical and unaccommodating. The Church is also, if I'm not mistaken, always in opposition to the dictates of fashion. The Pope, in any case, has specified this as his principal task, to set his apostolic contradicitur against the world: We contradict, he cries. A protest against the power of mere empiricism, against the excesses of materialism and the insanity of a world without morals.
There is no doubt that being prepared to contradict and to resist is a part of the task of the Church. We have seen that man always has a tendency to resist the Word that has been given him, to want to make it more comfortable for himself, to be the only one to decide what is right for him, by formulating ideologies and developing dominant fashions according to which people shape and conform their life-styles.
Let's go back to Simeon's prophecy. He says, concerning Christ, this man will be a sign that will be contradicted. And let's recall the saying of Jesus himself: "I have not come to bring peace, but the sword." We can see here that the Church has been given this great and essential task of contradicting fashions, contradicting the power of empirical thinking, the dictatorial power of ideologies. Within this last century, she has had to raise her voice in opposition to the great dictatorships. And today we are suffering for the fact that she did not contradict them enough, that she did not cry, out, into the world, "We contradict!" loudly enough or dramatically enough. Thank God when official spokesmen are weak, because of diplomatic considerations, there are martyrs, who suffer this contradiction in their own bodies, as it were.
But certainly, this opposition ought not to arise from a taste for contradiction in principle. Nor indeed from a reactionary attitude, nor from an incapacity to adjust to the contemporary world or to face the future. She must always preserve the capacity to be open to what is good in any period, to whatever new possibilities it opens up--which will always reveal entirely new dimensions of the Word of God. But in all this, faith must not dissolve into something arbitrary, must not lose all definition. It must in fact itself contradict whatever contradicts God--to the point of finding the courage for martyrdom.
It is one thing for faith to contradict the spirit of the age so often. To an even greater extent, the spirit of the age sets itself against belief and that's hardly new. Guardini once wrote: "Anyone who keeps company with the Church will, at first, experience a certain irritation and impatience with the way she always puts him in opposition to what other people want," The believer will even feel that he's being reactionary, in opposition to the prevailing opinion, which is always in the first instance looked on as being modern. Guardini then said: "But once the blindfold has been taken from his eyes then he will recognize how the Church always liberates those who live in her company from the power of the contemporary world and puts them in touch with enduring standards; the strange thing is, no one is more sceptical, no one has more inward independence, over against 'what everyone says', than the person who truly lives with the Church."
Yes, and that has certain autobiographical dimensions. Guardini was a student at a time when the heritage of liberalism was very much alive, even in Catholic theology. One of his teachers at Tübingen, he was called Koch, was very much influenced by it. And naturally Guardini, in his youth, was on the side of this teacher. It's obvious that students will support a teacher who says new things, who says them more clearly and boldly, who sets them free from the chains of tradition and, in doing so, crosses swords with Rome.
It was in the course of his time as a student, at any rate, during which he suffered great doubts concerning his faith, that Guardini finally came face-to-face with the real Church, in the liturgy. And without abandoning his particular liking for this teacher, as he himself says, he developed an anti-liberal position, because he found that, when it came down to it, the only truly independent mind in this whole story was the Church. And that keeping her company, entering into her, entrusting yourself to her faith--which is allegedly being nothing but infantile and dependent--represents in reality the greatest degree of independence from the spirit of the age and signifies greater boldness than is embodied in any other possible position. Guardini is among the pioneers who got rid of the liberal trend in theology. In doing so they awakened, in that whole period, from about 1920 to 1960, great joy in the Church, in thinking with her and believing with her. For Guardini personally this sprang from this experience of having the scales drop from his eyes, of suddenly seeing that it was really quite different. That is not an infantile dependence; that is courage to contradict and the freedom to go against prevailing opinions, the freedom that offers us a firm footing and which the Church has not invented for herself.
Some astonishing parallels open up...

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