Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In honour of the Protoclete

St Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, who is also known as the 'protoclete' or "first-called", is honoured today in the Church's sanctoral calendar. Little is known of his apostolate after the Ascension although the tradition is that he went to Greece. Constantinople claims their apostolic lineage from him, but there is little evidence for this. The apocryphal passio of St Andrew says that he was crucified at Patras in Achaia but he was not nailed to the cross. Rather, he was bound to it and he is said to have preached from it for 2 days until he died. The idea that his cross was a saltire (as seen in the flag of Scotland and the image to the right) did not emerge until the 10th century and become common only in the 14th century. His supposed relics were taken by the emperor Constantius II to Constantinople in 356 or 357. However, the Crusaders removed them to Amalfi in 1204 and the head was brought to St Peter's in Rome in 1461 or 1462. It remained there until Pope Paul VI returned it to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

There is a legend that a certain St Regulus, who had charge of St Andrew's relics in the 4th century, was told by an angel to take the relics and go to a place that would be indicated to him. Regulus duly set off in a north-westerly direction "towards the ends of the earth" and was finally stopped by the angel when he reached a coastal area of Scotland. There he built a church to house the relics and he became the first bishop of St Andrews, spending the next three decades evangelizing the peoples. Thus St Andrew is patron of Scotland, an association that caused the shrine, town and university of St Andrews to flourish until its sad dissolution in the 16th century.

The following hymn in honour of St Andrew is found in the classic 'Westminster Hymnal' and was written by Canon Oakeley.

Great Saint Andrew, Friend of Jesus,
Lover of His glorious Cross,
Early by His voice effective
Called from ease to pain and loss,
Sweet Saint Andrew, Simon's brother,
Who with haste fraternal flew,
Fain with him to share the treasure
Which, at Jesus' lips, he drew.

Blest Saint Andrew, Jesus' herald,
Meek Apostle, Martyr bold,
Who, by deeds his words confirming,
Sealed with blood the Truth he told.
Ne'er to king was crown so beauteous,
Ne'er was prize to heart so dear,
As to him the Cross of Jesus
When its promised joys drew near.

Loved Saint Andrew, Scotland's patron,
Watch thy land with heedful eye,
Rally round the Cross of Jesus
All her storied chivalry!
To the Father, Son and Spirit,
Fount of sanctity and love,
Give we glory, now and ever,
With the saints who reign above.

May he intercede for us and for the Scots kingdom.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Creator of the starry height...

There is a paucity of hymns supplied in the English translation of the Roman breviary, including a sadly truncated version of the hymn below. As such, I thought it may be helpful to post this lovely Advent hymn which is typically sung to a simple but beautiful and distinctive plainsong tune. I first came across this tune and words in the delightful 'Echo Carol' by Philip Wilby when I was a choral scholar at Leeds Cathedral, in my undergraduate years. The hymn dates to the 6th - 7th century and is translated here by J.M. Neale and others. It is one of several hymns which we sing during Vespers throughout Advent here in our Priory.

"Conditor alme siderum,

aeterna lux credentium,
Christe, redemptor omnium,
exaudi preces supplicum.

Qui condolens interitu
mortis perire saeculum,
salvasti mundum languidum,
donans reis remedium.

Vergente mundi vespere,
uti sponsus de thalamo,
egressus honestissima
Virginis matris clausula.

Cuius forti potentiae
genu curvantur omnia;
caelestia, terrestria
nutu fatentur subdita.

Te, Sancte, fide quaesumus,
venture iudex saeculi,
conserva nos in tempore
hostis a telo perfidi.

Sit, Christe, rex piissime,
tibi Patrique gloria
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen."

'Creator of the starry height
thy people's everlasting light,
Jesus, Redeemer, of us all,
hear thou thy servants when they call.

Thou, sorrowing at the helpless cry
of all creation, doomed to die,
didst save our fallen race
by healing gifts of heavenly grace.

When earth drew near its evening hour,
thou didst, in love's redeeming power,
like Bridegroom from his chamber, come
forth from a Virgin Mother's womb.

At thy great Name, exalted now,
all knees in lowly homage bow;
all things in heaven and earth adore,
and own thee Lord for evermore.

To thee, O Holy One, we pray,
our Judge in that tremendous day,
ward off, while yet we dwell below,
the weapons of our deadly foe.

All praise, eternal Son to thee,
whose advent sets thy people free,
whom with the Father, we adore,
and Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.'

Monday, November 28, 2005

O come quickly!

This wonderful hymn by John Cennick (1718 - 1755), with alterations by Charles Wesley (1707 - 1788) is my favourite Advent hymn. As so many colleges in Cambridge ushered in the season with song and carols yesterday, I was inspired to post this sublime hymn in full. The rousing tune by Martin Madan (1726 - 1790) - who further altered the words - is called Helmsley.

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!

Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!

The painting above of the Last Judgment is by Stefan Lochner (15th century)

Sunday, November 27, 2005


"What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
(Mt 13:37)

How are we to watch? The psalmist says: "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning" (Ps 130:5-6).

And who is the Lord whom we await? Von Balthasar says:

"For the Christian - the only person who is really waiting for the Coming One - Advent is like a great gate through which he passes to enter some shrine. This gate is flanked by two figures guarding it; if we are Christians, they ask us why and with what intentions we are seeking admission. The two figures are very dissimilar, yet they are always found on old pictures, on the right and left of the Expected One (who is in fact the One Who Has Come). One stands tall and straight, haggard, an angel clothed in camel's hair, who wants to be nothing but a Voice resounding through the wilderness of the world, the desert of time: 'Prepare the way of the Lord.' The other figure is shrouded and wrapped in her own thoughts; only her body tells of the One she is expecting; her soft words reecho: 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.' Both know who they are waiting for... For Emmanuel, God-with-us"
(You Crown the Year, pp251-252).

Thus, Advent - which means 'Arrival' - is that season of watching, waiting, longing for the coming of the Lord. With the Church, the Bride of Christ, we cry out: "Maranatha!"; Come O Lord, come! And it is the Expected One, Who has in fact Come, that we call out to. In these initial weeks of Advent it is the long-expected Parousia of Christ in glory that we await with fresh hope and joy.

We live in the time between the Incarnation and the Parousia, what Von Balthasar calls "a specifically 'Christian time' that bears fruit in eternal time". And moreover, "the Son, therefore, puts his time - passing, yet replete with eternity - at our disposal in the Church as the Church's time, the Church's year, the Church's life, so that by living in it we shall share in Christ's own time" (Theo-Drama V, p129). This is a worthy consideration as we now enter a new liturgical year, a new year of the Church's time.

But what of the Parousia? How are we to watch for the Lord's return? Von Balthasar maintains that "Christ's return to the world has already begun in the Eucharist" (ibid, p130). Indeed, he then says (drawing upon the mystical utterances of Von Speyr),

"Thus the Eucharist becomes a meeting point, even more, a synthesis, a flowing source of the Son and of belief. Time and eternity come together... the whole of non-temporal and non-spatial eternal life is projected into the small-sized host. And when the Son gives himself in communion, it is as if he were simultaneously giving heaven and earth... the moment we communicate, the two planes, heaven and earth, coincide... and the promised heaven becomes its fulfillment. The Lord bestows in advance what he achieves through Cross and Resurrection, namely, incorruption"
(ibid, p135). As such, he makes it clear that the Parousia and the "life of the world to come" is already present in the Mass and in Holy Communion.

This same idea is shared by Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote as early as 1977 when he was a Cardinal:

"The Parousia is the highest intensification and fulfilment of the Liturgy. And the Liturgy is Parousia, a Parousia-like event taking place in our midst… And so light falls on a further aspect: the interweaving of present and future which constitutes the specific mode of Christianity’s presence in the world and its openness of what is to come. The dethronement of the world elements, the fading of sun, moon, stars, has already taken place, and yet is still to come. The trumpet of the Word is already summoning us, and yet it is still to be sounded. Every Eucharist is Parousia, the Lord’s coming, and yet the Eucharist is even more truly the tensed yearning that he will reveal his hidden Glory… As the Crucified, Jesus continues to be the One who goes away. As the Pierced One with the outstretched arms he continually comes. For the loving person who keeps his commandments, his coming occurs in an ‘eschatological event’ in the midst of the world. In touching the risen Jesus, the Church makes contact with the Parousia of the Lord. She prays and lives, so to speak, into that Parousia whose disclosure will be the definitive revelation and fulfilment of the mystery of Easter. Seen in this perspective, the theme of the Parousia ceases to be a speculation about the unknown. It becomes an interpretation of the Liturgy and the Christian life in their intimate connection as in their continual going beyond themselves. The motif of the Parousia becomes the obligation to live the Liturgy as a feast of hope-filled presence directed towards Christ, the universal ruler. In this way, it must become the origin and focus of the love in which the Lord can take up his dwelling… The theme of watchfulness thus penetrates to the point where it takes on the character of a mission: to let the Liturgy be real, until that time when the Lord himself gives to it that final reality which meanwhile can be sought only in image"
('Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life', pp203-204).

And therein lies the mode of our watching, our alert attention to the Christian mission. As Von Balthasar adds,

"Turn and repent of your sins, says the Baptist again and again. What does this mean? It means we must search for that turning point in our innermost self, the place where we turn from the 'I' to the 'thou' and to God, from sterile living for ourselves to fruitful living for others by following God, Emmanuel... Then, together, with the Virgin who is with Child... we can plant God's life in this world and make it grow... If we live out our lively faith in the God who wants to become man on earth, we are already 'pregnant' with him, empowered to carry him until he is born - and that will be a Christmas"
(You Crown the Earth, pp255-256).

What then are we to make of our belief in Christ's return in glory, as the Creed professes and as the Scriptures expect? Truly Christ will return "to judge the living and the dead" and has already returned (in the Eucharist and the sacraments of His Body, the Church). Von Balthasar speaks from a stand-point of 'christological time', which is unique and distinct from anthropological time. And yet, he insists, everything that is seen anthropologocally, must be "integrated in and subordinated to this trinitarian 'time'". As such he says,

"By the standards of eternal life, we are still living in expectation... We are meant, not to skip over temporality, but to live with Christ in time in such a way that it acquires an importance that the Father will not refuse to acknowledge. In bidding us 'lay up treasures in heaven', the Lord shows us what a mysterious relationship with heaven we already have. We are to work on earth and do what God requires of us, and this work will bring forth fruit; we have the right to harvest this fruit - but in heaven. Our entire temporal life has its fruit in heaven"
(Theo-Drama V, p136).

It is this harvesting that we expect, this expectation that we await with hope and this hope that we pray will be brought to fulfillment when Christ is all in all. And so in Advent and indeed, every day of our lives when we await His Parousia and work our our salvation, we cry out with joy: "Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay!" (cf Intercessions of First Vespers, First Sunday of Advent).

The image above is from an 19th century Missal from my personal collection.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Hymn to St Catherine of Alexandria

As she is one of the patrons of the Order of Preachers and one of the saints believed to have appeared to our Holy Father St Dominic in a vision, I present here a hymn in honour of St Catherine of Alexandria from the Dominican Breviary, Catharinae collaudemus. It may be sung to the tune of the Tantum ergo and is supplied here in translation:

Catherine's virtues of high station
Praise we in this serenade:
Homage true of veneration
By our lips and hearts be made,
That by her in due equation
For our praise we be repaid.

Strengthened by a faith unbounded,
Pagan judge inspires no dread:
With God's law were they confounded
Who had sought her fall instead:
'Fore the doctrine she expounded
All their gentile errors fled.

Strives the king - but vain his luring -
This pure maiden to defile:
Scourges leave her faith enduring,
Nor could royal grants beguile:
Guarded then and chains securing,
Closed was she in dungeon vile.

Though imprisoned, her light shining
Won to Faith the captain bold:
He, with his own queen combining,
Bravely mid Christ's friends enrolled;
In their wake, for Truth now pining,
Ten score pagans seek the fold.

Sing, my tongue, the glory telling
Of this virgin-martyr's fray:
May this gem, its light dispelling,
Down upon us shed some ray,
That all darkness in the dwelling
Of our soul may speed away.

When her passion near was nighing,
Prayed the maid: "Most loving Lord,
Whoso in this hour of dying,
Mindful of me, seeks reward;
What he asks, I pray Thee sighing,
Do Thou graciously accord."

When her head was amputated,
Milk flowed forth instead of blood:
Then her body was translated
By the angel multitude,
And on Sinai's Mount located
At its highest altitude.

It is worth noting, that the reference to angels may be in fact a reference to monks, who in the Eastern monastic tradition "live the life of the angels" in their consecrated life of constant prayer and service of the Lord. The monastery of St Catherine on Sinai is depicted above.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Prima Nix!

Looking out of the window today during the Midday Office, I noticed the smallest flecks of white drifting from the darkened sky... and so the long-forecast snow had arrived in Cambridge; the first snow fall of winter, one month before Christmas! Even now as I write this, the snow has been falling steadily and is becoming heavier. It never fails to amaze me, this miracle of nature we call snow. I remember trying to explain this phenomenon to my students in the Philippines and found it quite impossible to help them imagine gentle flakes of snow falling from the heavens. Only a fortnight ago, I came across a book with electro-magnetic microscopic photos of individual snow flakes, and they are indeed beautiful and symmetrical, more delicate than gossamer lace. Truly, nothing can surpass God's inventiveness and beauty in His creation!

Of course, snow can spell treacherously dangerous roads for many and other more unpleasant things and I pray for those who have to travel in such inclement conditions, especially the elderly... But something about seeing snow fall brings out the child in me and this charming little rhyme below from 'The House at Pooh Corner' by A. A. Milne was pointed out to me as a worthy little ditty with which to celebrate the first snow fall of the year.

"The more it
The more it
The more it

And nobody
How cold my
How cold my

Reviving St Catherine's Day

The following extract is from 'Magnificat' and was written by fr Michael Morris, OP in celebration of St Catherine of Alexandria whose feast is once more kept today:

"According to an old English legend of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, her young life of study and learning, of chastity and wisdom, culminated with her baptism and a dream she had thereafter: 'And Mary presented Catherine to the Lord of Glory saying, 'Lo! She has been baptized, and I myself have been her godmother!' Then the Lord smiled upon her and held out his hand and plighted his troth to her, putting a ring on her finger. When Catherine awoke, remembering this dream, she looked and saw the ring upon her finger; and henceforth regarded herself as the betrothed of Christ... thinking only of the day which would reunite her with her celestial and espoused Lord.'

She was reputedly a princess of Egypt renowned for her beauty and intelligence. Through study she was attracted to Christianity, and the vision of mystical marriage crowned her conversion. Constantine the Great was reportedly her relative. But his predecessor in the east, Maximin, was a tyrant who persecuted the Christians. When he arrived in Alexandria, Catherine left her palace sanctuary to openly defend the Christian community. She engaged fifty of his philosophers in pulic debate and converted them all. Her high rank and her youth may have protected her, but she continued to denounce Maximin and his pagan ways. When he tried to seduce her, she rebuked him with horror and disgust. He then threw her into prison where she converted her jailers. Maximin executed all her converts, and planned for her an exquisite death. She was to be tortured and executed on a spiked wheel. But when she was bound to it, a mighty hailstorm fell from the heavens, breaking up the wheel and killing the executioners. She was finally beheaded with a sword.

For nearly a millennium, Catherine of Alexandria was one of the most celebrated female saints of Christendom. She was the embodiment of feminine excellence. She was the patroness of philosophy, of eloquence, or libraries. Her image graced churches everywhere and her symbol of martyrdom, the spiked wheel known as the 'Catherine Wheel' was readily identifiable. Spinners, lacemakers, wheelwrights, cart drivers, ropeworkers, carpenters, millers and anyone working in a trade connected with wheels invoked her aid and celebrated her feast.

And then she disappeared.

With the changes after Vatican II, many of the venerable old saints who had graced the liturgical calendar for centuries were removed to make room for new saints. Saints Christopher, Valentine, Linus, Maurice, Edward the Confessor, and most of the ancient virgin martyrs, like Catherine, were cut from the calendar. Their feasts were no longer celebrated by the universal Church.

As time marches on, new Christian heroes emerge. Yet older saints manage to gain a new significance, like Agatha, who is now invoked against breast cancer, and the plague-saint, Sebastian, who is today invoked by those suffering from AIDS. Significantly, the memory of Catherine of Alexandria managed to endure for the last four decades even though her feast was not celebrated. She remains a potent female figure, so much so that she was recently reinstated on the liturgical calendar. And she returned to her old feast day of November 25.

Angels are credited with having transported her remains to Mount Sinai where an ancient Orthodox monastery founded in the sixth century venerates her memory to this day."

May she intercede for us, students of philosophy, and give eloquence to those who preach the Gospel and study in libraries in preparation for this great work of the salvation of souls. Given her close association with the work of the Order of Preachers, it is unsurprising that she appears (above left) on the Dominican Thornton Parva retable, a copy of which graces our chapel in Blackfriars Cambridge.

On the right is a photo of St Catherine and St Agnes, virgin martyrs, embroidered on a chasuble in the possession of this Priory and used on their respective feast days.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Martyrs of Vietnam

Today the Church commemorates the martyrs of Vietnam - 117 in total who shed their blood for Christ in the 18th and 19th centuries. Of this number 96 were Vietnamese, 11 were Spaniards and 10 were French. 59 were members of the Dominican family. The image on the right is a statue of St Vincent Liem de la Paz, Friar and Priest, protomartyr of Vietnam who was martyred in 1773. St Vincent, a Vietnamese scholar, was educated at the Dominican-run Colegio de San Juan de Letran in the old city of Manila, the Philippines.

The letters from some of these martyrs selected for the Office of Readings in the Dominican Breviary are still very raw and moving. They convey so effectively the bravery, strength and integrity of the martyrs and of those who offered themselves to the missions and to spreading the Gospel in a foreign (and hostile) land. They also testify to the uncertainties and pain of families who gave their children over to the work of God in the missions. It is these that we honour today and praise God for the graces He gave the martyrs in bearing witness to Him and His love.

The following is from a letter by St Pedro Almato to his father. It was written from Tonkin (Vietnam) on 3 August 1859:

"My dearest Father,

I suppose you must already have mourned for me thinking I was dead; there has been enough reason for that, for I myself did not expect I could be alive this long, nor do I have much hope of surviving this great persecution... The evils we have suffered up to now are great; our missions, formerly flourishing, have lost their greenery and their beauty. So many have been killed or exiled! It really makes you want to cry when you see people being executed, others being kept in dungeons for a long time and having their homes pillaged and torn down, they themselves being left in the street without so much as a piece of bread... I do not know how many exactly, have also suffered martyrdom.

Another European and I have been hiding for seven months in a small house that has underground caves where we can hide if the Mandarins decide to pay us a visit. If you should hear that I have been caught and martyred for the faith, do not cry, rejoice instead for the happiness that is mine. I say good-bye to you, my Mother, to my brother and sisters and to our relatives and friends, in case I cannot write again. Pray a lot for me to the Lord and to the Blessed Virgin to give me the grace I need to die for their love. Farewell, my Father."

Let us continue to pray for the Church in Vietnam and ask the martyrs to pray for us all that we too may receive the grace to witness to our love for Christ and our Blessed Mother.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hail, bright Cecilia!

Today's saint, the Roman virgin-martyr Cecilia, has a special place in my heart, not least because she is the patroness of music and musicians, and I consider myself among them. Concerts are a popular way to honour her on this day and for some time I used to gather a group of musicians to put on a small recital on her feast day.

She is one of the few saints in the Calendar to be accorded a full Office, despite being only a memoria. The texts used in her Office are lovely, being taken from the Golden Legend and other older sources.

A particularly delightful antiphon, the third at Lauds in the pre-Vatican II liturgy was brought to my attention: "Caecilia, famula tua, Domine, quasi apis tibi argumentosa deservit" which translates as 'O Lord, your servant Cecilia served you like a busy bee.' This image of the bee, so sadly lost in the modern translations of the Liturgy, particularly the Exsultet, was popular as a figure of industry and has a long history of usage in literature, beginning with Aristotle. In the case of the antiphon above, the idea is that Cecilia served the Lord so very devotedly and fully throughout her life...

Pope Pius XII's address on bees is well worth a read and the 'Tales from the Hive' site is also worth a visit.

Finally, to return to St Cecilia, there is a wonderful setting of Auden's poem 'Hymn to St Cecilia' by Benjamin Britten which may be sampled here and I quote from this same poem by way of ending and prayer:

"Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire."

Given the state of modern Catholic church music, I would pray that rather earnestly!

The marble sculpture above of St Cecilia as she lays in her tomb is by Maderno and is found in her church and shrine in Trastevere, Rome.

Monday, November 21, 2005

O Holy Dwelling Place of God!

"Beata Dei Genetrix Maria, Virgo perpetua, templum Domini, sacrarium Spiritus Sancti: sola sine exemplo placuisti Domino Jesu Christo,

'Blessed Mary, Mother of God, Ever-Virgin, temple of the Lord, sanctuary of the Holy Spirit: you alone, without any prior example, was
pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ, alleluia.'

- Magnificat antiphon of the Feast

Today's memorial in honour of the Blessed Virgin was first observed in the West in England in the 11th century and became a Roman feast in the 14th century. Because of its relatively late emergence, Pope Pius V actually removed it from the Tridentine-reformed Breviary but it was restored by Pope Sixtus V in 1585, thus firmly establishing this feast in the Universal Calendar of the Church. However, it seems to date to the 8th century in the Eastern Church wherein on 21 October, the Greek books mark a Feast of the 'Entrance of the All-Holy Mother of God into the Temple'. This, according to Butler's 'Lives of the Saints' links it to a commemoration of the basilica of St Mary the New in Jerusalem in 543.

Whatever the provenance of today's memorial, it is yet another opportunity to focus on the total dedication of Our Lady to the will of the Father, for this day commemorates the belief that when Mary was three years old, her parents, Ss Joachim and Anne, took her to the Temple to be educated. The 'Protoevangelium of James' rather touchingly notes that although Our Lady was only three, the Holy Spirit so endowed her with grace that she did not cling to her parents and instead "danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her", for which Ss Joachim and Anne thanked God and marvelled at His goodness.

This giving over of Mary to the priests of the Temple, who educated her, is a sign of the fact that Our Lady was entirely dedicated to the Lord. Indeed, St Ambrose of Milan wrote: "In the one Virgin how many glorious examples do shine forth. Her's was the hidden treasure of modesty, her's the high standard of faith, her's the self-sacrifice of earnestness, her's to be the pattern of maidenhood at home, of kinswomanhood in ministry, of motherhood in the Temple."

By the prayers and powerful intercession of the Ever-Virgin Mary and the grace of the Holy Spirit, may we too be found worthy to be presented in the heavenly Temple of the Lord's glory, even as today we recall Our Lady's presentation in the earthly Temple.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Tu nobis, Victor Rex miserere!

"Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!"

Christ is victor! Christ reigns! Christ is king!
"Rex regum, Rex noster, Gloria nostra,
Ipsi soli imperium, gloria et potestas, per immortalia saecula saeculorum!"
King of kings, Our king, Our glory,
To Him alone be empire, glory, and might for ever and ever.

-from the Laudes Regiae

On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King, may He reign in our hearts, conquer the evil of sin which still binds and afflicts us and establish His Kingdom ever more perfectly through our loving co-operation with His grace.

The illustration above is from the Archives of Ushaw College in Durham and is an interpretation of Christ the King who has triumphed over sin and death. It was drawn by a seminarian of the College in the 19th century.

Friday, November 18, 2005

To the Threshold of the Apostles' Tombs

Saints Peter and Paul, the twin pillars of the Church, whose blood enobled the Church of Rome has long been commemorated together. Although their primary Feast day is on the 29th of June, on this day, we mark the dedication of their Basilicas in Rome, one on the Mons Vaticanus and the other by the Via Ostiense, outside the walls of the Eternal City. These churches are built over the tombs of St Peter and St Paul, respectively, and fascinating archaelogical excavations have verified the fact that they are indeed buried in these places.

However, there is a lesser known fact. The heads of the apostles are actually in the reliquary above the baldachino (below) of the Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of Rome, which is the Mother and Head of all churches and Roman law holds that where the head is, there is the legal burial site. Nevertheless, the bodies of these martyred Princes of the Church are buried in the ancient catacombs beneath the altars of St Peter's Basilica and St Paul's Outside-the-Walls. It is the dedication of these memorial churches that we mark today and in so doing, we go on a spiritual pilgrimage ad limina apostolorum.

But in fact, by visiting either basilica, one actually visits both men. As Fr Engelbert Kirschbaum SJ explains: "For Rome and the Romans, Peter and Paul are inseparable. Both were founders of their faith and thereby founded their own unique position in the Roman world. Both shed their blood in Rome; Rome provided their last resting place... Where Peter is, there is Paul; and where Paul, also Peter. Everything develops with its inner logic from this deeply Christian and profoundly Roman idea: their heads, the noblest portion of their mortal remains, are the treasure of the Lateran, mother church of Christendom; equal halves of the other relics are likewise the pride and glory of the two other most important of Rome's shrines, St Peter's and St Paul's."

The Office Hymn, 'Iam bone pastor, Petre', uniquely provided for today in the new Liturgia Horarum, celebrates these men. The hymn is translated, although not metrically, thus by Fr Martin D. O'Keefe, SJ:

"Goodly shepherd, Peter most blest,
In your mercy receive now the prayers
Of those who call upon you,
And loose the bonds of their sins
By the power you have been given,
That power which you use
At your sole command,
To close or open
The gates of Heaven for all.

And you, teacher most renowned,
Paul the great,
Show us how we should live on earth;
Strive to transport us to heaven
In our thoughts at least,
Until that which is perfect
Be accorded us in full measure,
And that which we have
But imperfectly achieved
Be banished far away."

May this be our prayer today as we honour these great witnesses to the one true faith in Christ Jesus. May all who are drawn to the churches whose dedication we mark today be likewise dedicated to the service, glory and honour of the Living God. Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Hammer of Kings!

Of all the cathedrals in England, one of the most magnificent, which I have been fortunate to sing in, is Lincoln Cathedral. It sits perched on a steep hill (indeed, the road leading up to the cathedral is so called) and from the top one has a vantage point of the surrounding low-lying lands for miles around; I believe only Durham rivals its dramatic location.

Today, the Church in England celebrates the feast of the bishop who built this great house of God and whose Shrine was in the Angel Quire of the cathedral. Unsurprisingly, a vicious king Henry VIII had this destroyed and the saint's body has never been found. Nevertheless, the cathedral itself stands as a testament to St Hugh of Avalon (c.1140 - 1200).

Hugh was born at Avalon in Burgundy, where his father was a soldier and landowner. When his mother died when he was just eight, Hugh was educated at the Augustinian Priory of Villard-Benoit. When he was fifteen, he made profession as an Augustinian canon and then was ordained deacon at the age of nineteen. He was a noted preacher and was placed in charge of St Maximin, a small dependency of his priory.

At some point he went on a visit with his prior to La Grande-Chartreuse, the Carthusian motherhouse founded by St Bruno in 1084. He was drawn to the silence and spirituality of the monastery and eventually left the Augustinians and received the Carthusian habit when he was twenty-five years old. Meanwhile, king Henry II of England had founded the first Carthusian house in England at Witham (Somerset), in reparation for the murder of St Thomas Becket. In need of an able prior, he requested for Hugh, whom he had heard of by reputation. The bishop of Bath was sent to fetch him and the Chapter of La Grande-Chartreuse agreed.

At Witham, Hugh immediately set about building the monastery and settled injustices and smoothed over relations with the local people. Indeed, his humility and evident integrity won round the enemies of the Priory and even the king travelled long distances to seek his advice.

Like St Edmund, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, St Hugh had to tackle the English monarchy's penchant for the revenues of church land which they laid claim to when a see was vacant. As such, the monarchy left several sees vacant, including Lincoln, which was without a bishop for eighteen years. Eventually, the king capitulated and in 1186, the dean and chapter of Lincoln were told to elect a new bishop. Of course, Hugh was chosen (with Henry's influence) and it was only in obedience to the prior of La Grand-Chartreuse that Hugh agreed to take up the crozier. Thus, he became bishop of what was then the largest diocese in England, stretching from the Humber to the Thames.

The diocese was in need of reform and he set out to tirelessly lead by example, visiting the parishes and restoring discipline among the clergy. The cathedral had been damaged by an earthquake in 1185. This seems rather strange as I thought the British Isles were exempt from earthquakes but that is the evidence supplied! In any case, St Hugh set about reconstructing the church, sometimes even with his own hands. He designed most of the beautiful building although it was incomplete when he died. In particular, the Angel Quire, which is known as the "most beautiful presbytery in England" was only built in 1253 to contain his Shrine. It is so named because of the carved angels between the triforium arches of the choir.

But much of Hugh's success must be due to his contemplative spirit; once a year, he retired to Witham Priory to restore his Carthusian roots. He was also noted for his humility and his winning personality. Although reputed to be the most learned monk in England, he was also full of fun and good conversation and was said to have been of a most cheerful, responsive and enthusiastic disposition, with a particular gentleness with children and babies. He was also noted for his fearless concern for justice and combated Christian anti-Semitism, had a special care for lepers and rebuked kings. Indeed, he was called the "hammer of kings" and he was respected for this. Richard I once said of St Hugh that "if all the prelates of the Church were like him, there is not a king in Christendom who would dare to raise his head in the presence of a bishop"!

In 1200, Hugh visited La Grand-Chartreuse, as well as the abbeys of Cluny and Citeaux in France. But he was already ill and on his return to England, he went to pray at the Shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury. His condition did not improve so he retired to his house in London in the Old Temple, Holborn. That site is now Lincoln's Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in the city. Finally, on 17 November 1200, after a lingering and painful illness he died as the choir sang the Nunc Dimittis. His body was taken on a triumphal progress to Lincoln and prelates, princes and kings as well as his beloved poor and marginalized were present at his funeral.

In 1220 he was canonized by Pope Honorius III, the first Carthusian to be raised to the altars, although the request for his canonization came not from the Carthusians but the English king and bishops. In 1280, St Hugh's relics were transferred to a new Shrine in the splendid Angel Quire of the Cathedral he built. This was a popular shrine until the Reformation. All that remains of St Hugh is a white linen stole which is now at Parkminster, the only Carthusian house in England. St Hugh's College, Oxford is named for him and at the site of Avalon, a round tower was built by the Carthusians in the 19th century in his honour.

Rather like his contemporary, St Francis of Assisi, St Hugh was noted for his affinity with animals! While he was a Carthusian monk, it was said that squirrels and many species of bird were attracted to the garden outside his cell. Moreover, his special emblem is a swan, which is even depicted in stained glass in Lincoln Cathedral. This was the saint's pet swan which is said to have taken up its abode at Stow, the episcopal manor-house, on the day of the Bishop's installation at Lincoln. It formed an especial attachment to St. Hugh, feeding from his hand, following him about and even guarding his bed as he slept. It displayed extreme grief on Hugh's last visit to Stow, before going to London in 1200.

May St Hugh of Lincoln pray for us and the English Church.

I am indebted to Butler's Lives of the Saints and Boulter's 'The Pilgrim Shrines of England' for much of the information above. The image of St Hugh above is from the Angelus Workshop.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Pioneer of Scholasticism

St Edmund of Abingdon (c.1175 - 1240), Archbishop of Canterbury, is commemorated today by the English Church. Born Edmund 'Rich' in Abingdon (Oxfordshire), he was the eldest child in his deeply religious family and he was sent at the age of twelve to Oxford University to study grammar and then, three years later, to Paris, where he began his arts course and faithfully observed "in sometimes trying circumstances" the vow of celibacy he made while he was at Oxford.

From 1195 - 1201, he was a member of the arts faculty at Oxford, at a period when there was an exciting rediscovery of Aristotle both in the Muslim and Christian worlds. Edmund may well have been the first to teach the logic of Aristotle in Oxford and he soon realized that this might be a valuable tool for the understanding and learning of theology. In this sense, he was a pioneer of Scholasticism. In 1201, he returned to Paris to study theology and it was there that he was ordained to the priesthood.

Around 1214, he returned to Oxford to lecture in theology and in his teaching, St Edmund emphasized the literal and spiritual senses of the Bible, as well as its historical context, and used this as a springboard for his theological teaching. It is said that he always took a personal interest in his students, especially those who were either poor or sick.

In 1222 he became canon and treasurer of Salisbury cathedral, taking him away from Oxford. As the cathedral was being built at the time, Edmund's duties were demanding but this did not prevent him from giving alms generously and donating up to a quarter of his income to the cathedral building fund. Such generosity often left him personally short of funds for part of the year. It is known that to help him cope physically and spiritually, he would stay with the Cistercians at Stanley Abbey, where the abbot, Stephen of Lexington, had been one his students at Oxford.

In 1227 Pope Gregory IX sent him an order to preach the Sixth Crusade, which he did, foregoing the stipend which was his right in return for his preaching. He seems in general to have been a powerful and effective preacher and once said: "I would rather say five words devoutly with my heart than five thousand which my soul does not relish with affection and intelligence. Sing to the Lord with understanding: what a man repeats with his mouth, that let him feel in his soul." In this way, he warned against multiplying the externals of prayer at the cost of true and authentic interior prayer.

In 1233, out of obedience to the Pope and the bishop of Salisbury, he submitted to his election as Archbishop of Canterbury and he was consecrated on 2 April 1234. Despite his initial reluctance, he turned out to be an outstanding reforming bishop, thanks not least to his considerable personal qualities, which included a warm and affectionate disposition and a gift for mediation combined with meticulous concern for justice, great personal integrity and moral courage.

Such high office brought an inevitable involvement with politics which he disliked but did not shirk. He mediated between king Henry III and his earl marshal, Richard, thus averting a civil war and St Edmund was courageously outspoken in his relations with the monarch. However, Henry interfered often to restrict the jurisdiction of the Archbishop and even played the papal legate, Cardinal Otto, against Edmund, the bishops and the barons. Meanwhile, Edmund's authority as Archbishop was challenged by the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, who served the cathedral and thus claimed certain rights and privileges and they obstructed Edmund's reforms. In 1237, Edmund went to Rome to discuss the matter with the Pope. Upon his return to England, he excommunicated seventeen of the Benedictine monks which caused a stir among some of the bishops and attracted the king's opposition. Further troubles between the king and Archbishop with regard to the benefices of church offices drove St Edmund to return to the Continent in 1240.

Some people have seen this as a self-imposed exile but in fact, it may be that he was on his way to Rome for a General Council called for 1241 and he may have set out early in order to discuss his problems with the Pope, as he did in 1237. However, he was taken ill in France and he went to the Cistercian abbey at Pontigny. When it became obvious that it was unwise for him to travel on to Rome, he made for England but was taken ill again on the way back and stopped at an Augustinian priory near Soisy. He died there on 16 November 1240 and he was buried in the abbey church in Pontigny.

In 1246, he was canonized, the first Oxford Master to be raised to the altars and St Edmund Hall, the one surviving medieval Hall of Oxford is named after him. When his feast was celebrated for the first time, Henry III presented a vestment of white samite, a chalice and candles to his shrine at Pontigny (right).

The saint's writings consist mainly of Bible commentaries and devotional works, the most famous of which is the 'Speculum Ecclesiae', a treatise on the way of perfection for monks and nuns and a programme of contemplation and meditation. It is known to have been widely read and St Edmund's concern was for his readers to appreciate the connection between prayer and daily life. As an example of his spiritual wisdom, and one I can certainly identify with, I leave you his own words:

"If you are well, rise from your bed in the morning and linger not on account of cold or sleep or comfort, for the harder it is for a man to do, the greater shall be his reward if he does it freely. Then should you go to church and devoutly say Matins or quietly hear Mass and all the Hours of the day without chattering."

May St Edmund of Abingdon pray for us, especially on those cold mornings, when it is especially difficult to rise from our warm beds!

Much of the above comes from Butlers's 'Lives of the Saints' and the stained glass window of the saint is from Our Lady and the English Martyrs' Church, Cambridge.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In praise of the Universal Doctor!

On this day, holy Mother Church celebrates the Feast of St Albert the Great, the Universal Doctor and patron of the natural sciences. This great 13th century Dominican saint was tutor to the Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas and one of Blessed Jordan of Saxony's "catches". Marguerite Aron in 'St Dominic's Successor' describes it thus:

"Jordan went back in mind to a certain sixteen-year-old student at Padua, a lively and delicate lad, son of a great German family. He knew this youth's fancy to enter the Order, and how this was opposed by his uncle, who lived with him and made him promise not to listen to the Friars Preachers' sermons anymore. He could not forget his fervour, his assurance. Above all, at a glance [Jordan] had seen on this young man a precocious and assured scientific genius. Such an intelligence, in a soul already sanctified, would radiate a great light. By bringing him into the sound and vigorous Dominican way of life and learning, he would be saved from the current dissipation of mind, from the attraction of useless ambitions, he would be consecrated to truth. Jordan had no wish to make him abandon the sciences. On the contrary, he encouraged him to pursue those researches of which ignorant people were afraid, which frightened timid people; they alone could build a bridge between routine theology, too far removed from rational and experimental methods, and a liberal culture that was without restraint, dangerous to subtle imaginations and to consciences not balanced by a sufficiently strong faith. Albert of Lawingen would be a great man."
In July 1233, Albert "triumphed over temptation and the artifices of the world, over his uncle and over his own hesitations" and entered the Order of Friars Preachers.

In his letter to Bl Diana, describing this event, Bl Jordan says: "Celebrate a feast, giving thanks to the giver of all good things, for the merciful and compassionate Lord has recently deigned to visit the land and saturate it more abundantly than we had hoped." To this day, the Church still rejoices in the memory of Albertus Magnus.

Two Office hymns - 'O clara lux Coloniae' and 'Noctis tenebras dissipans' - are offered in the Dominican Breviary for the Office of Readings and the major Offices, respectively, and I reproduce them here in translation:

"O brilliant light of proud Cologne,
Great teacher, Albert, widely known;
The tutor famed of Thomas, too,
Accept this tribute sung to you!

Of holiness a shining light,
Of highest truth a witness bright,
Of charity a burning flame;
The faithful this of you proclaim.

Teach all the faithful souls that they
Should spurn those things that pass away;
And raise the minds of all, with love,
To truest joys of heaven above.

Now, from your heavenly home, we plead,
Come help your brethren in their need;
And Peter's boat, we pray you, save
From raging seas and tempest's wave.

To you O Christ, the most kind King,
Be triumph always, let us sing;
To Father and to Spirit be
A song of praise eternally. Amen."

"Come, let the name of Albert, far resounding,
Sound through the wide world in our festive singing;
Saint and wise Teacher, aptly is he titled,
Great among mankind.

This great, resplendent, worthy son of Guzman,
Led an austere life, free from sinful blemish;
Clear was his teaching of God's word effective;
Able his preaching.

By the bright radiance of celestial teaching
Rightly he scattered from each soul deep darkness;
And, a good shepherd, led his flock to feed in
Fields of salvation.

Under the forms of bread and wine, here present,
Christ he exalted, loving and adoring;
Fervent in honour towards the Virgin Mary,
He was peace loving.

Christ, King of rulers, yours be might and honour,
Majesty, power, also to the Father;
And to the Spirit Counsellor, sound likewise
Glory forever. Amen."

The images above are of St Albert the Great, dressed as bishop of Ratisbon, as depicted in the La Naval Procession in Manila. Also the Latin inscription and tomb of St Albert the Great in the Dominican church of San Andreas in Cologne. Finally, the Shrine of St Albert taken on Procession at the World Youth Day 2005, on the right.

Monday, November 14, 2005

As we wait in Joyful Hope...

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God..." (Phil 4:4-6).

This keynote of joy, of expectant hope in the coming of the Lord and indeed the closeness of God, is and ought to be a characteristic of the Christian life. Joy, which is distinguished from happiness is a fruit of the Spirit and rightly so, for it is profound, enduring and overcomes even persecutions, trials and tribulations; happiness is transient, passing and illusory. Joy is that foretaste and participation in the divine life which is the eternal reward of the saints. As yesterday's Gospel intimated, "Well done, good and faithful servant... enter into the joy of your master" (Mt 25:23). Joy is the proper response of the baptised to salvation and redemption in Christ and the promise we pray to be worthy of.

This keynote of joy is very much present in the letters of Blessed Jordan of Saxony and is founded on his firm expectation of the Lord's coming and his hope of salvation. This hope gave him much joy and he encouraged Blessed Diana by reminding her frequently that her troubles were as nothing compared to the rewards and joys she would receive in heaven.

Jordan's particular device in expressing joy is wine. In a letter from July 1223, he writes:

"For indeed the nuptials of the Lamb, whose right hand is filled with gifts to be given to console those who mourn out of longing for their true and heavenly country, will come quickly, and he will give sweet wine to those whose soul is suffering bitterness through thirst of love; he will wipe up the water of this present sad and savourless life and replace it by the holy and fruitful wine, that noble wine, the wine which makes man's heart glad, the wine with whose sweetness the beloved of God are inebriated, I mean the wine of everlasting joy: the rare wine, the new wine which the Son of God, blessed for ever and ever, pours out for his elect at the table of the court of heaven."

This image of wine is wonderfully expounded on by fr Paul Murray, OP and it is noteworthy that joy was such a characteristic of early Dominican preaching and I might add, is still such a feature of Dominican life today. Joy is fundamentally attractive and ought to set us apart as Christians, as redeemed in Christ, from other people. It is joy that will attract others to the Gospel, an intuition (and a reality) so well-grasped by Bl Jordan and the early Dominicans.

When I returned from the Philippines recently, I was struck by how dismal and unhappy British society seemed in comparison to the Filipino people who, although in dire poverty and difficult situations, are so joyful. I believe it is their faith, their great child-like trust and hope in God's salvation that imparts to them such Spirit-filled joy. It is this joy we need to lay hold of and communicate if we are to be effective preachers of the Gospel, which is afterall, 'Good News'! For here is a society in desperate need of joy, hope and love; the very things a Christian can offer them.

What is clear in Bl Jordan's letter is also its eschatological focus. There is little delight in the passing pleasures of this life and this world. Rather, his deep longing for the life to come is fundamental to his joy and this should be the focus of our lives too. Perhaps a certain loss in the sense of eschatological joy and the hopeful expectation of the early Christians, has led to this loss of focus and joy in our Christian lives and even diminished the attractiveness of the Christian faith. Sometimes it seems as if we live only for the pleasures of this mortal life and want to put off eternity for as long as possible. Some of us, if we're honest, may even fear the prospect of Christ's return in glory!

Our Dominican brother, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn can thus rightly say that “Today, language about man’s pilgrim path, about his homeland in heaven, of earthly tribulation and hope for life beyond death, has become largely a foreign language in the Christian churches. Is not this ‘eschatological amnesia’ of our preaching one reason why many people no longer turn to the Church when they want information about the ‘last things’? The growing belief in spiritualist practices, esoteric doctrines, belief in reincarnation, and many other such things is alarming.

And yet, why should this be the case? Annually, the Church’s liturgy at this time of year dwells on the last things and then devotes most of the coming season of Advent to a joyful expectation of the Parousia. Advent is precisely that time of grace when we should turn our minds to the hope of future glory in Christ and we long for his return, crying out, "Maranatha!" And yet these notes of joyful expectation, of the nearness of God who is the cause of our rejoicing, the foretaste of that wedding feast alluded to by Bl Jordan of Saxony, is with us daily in the Church's liturgy.

The then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the following in 'Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life' (1977) and I leave you with this for your prayerful reflection as we ponder the longed-for joy of Christ's return that is already ours through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist:

"The Parousia is the highest intensification and fulfilment of the Liturgy. And the Liturgy is Parousia, a Parousia-like event taking place in our midst… And so light falls on a further aspect: the interweaving of present and future which constitutes the specific mode of Christianity’s presence in the world and its openness of what is to come. The dethronement of the world elements, the fading of sun, moon, stars, has already taken place, and yet is still to come. The trumpet of the Word is already summoning us, and yet it is still to be sounded. Every Eucharist is Parousia, the Lord’s coming, and yet the Eucharist is even more truly the tensed yearning that he will reveal his hidden Glory… As the Crucified, Jesus continues to be the One who goes away. As the Pierced One with the outstretched arms he continually comes. For the loving person who keeps his commandments, his coming occurs in an ‘eschatological event’ in the midst of the world. In touching the risen Jesus, the Church makes contact with the Parousia of the Lord. She prays and lives, so to speak, into that Parousia whose disclosure will be the definitive revelation and fulfilment of the mystery of Easter. Seen in this perspective, the theme of the Parousia ceases to be a speculation about the unknown. It becomes an interpretation of the Liturgy and the Christian life in their intimate connection as in their continual going beyond themselves. The motif of the Parousia becomes the obligation to live the Liturgy as a feast of hope-filled presence directed towards Christ, the universal ruler. In this way, it must become the origin and focus of the love in which the Lord can take up his dwelling… The theme of watchfulness thus penetrates to the point where it takes on the character of a mission: to let the Liturgy be real, until that time when the Lord himself gives to it that final reality which meanwhile can be sought only in image"

May the Liturgy and the coming season of Advent be the source of our joy and preaching that we may speak words of joy, redolent with the nuptial wine of Christ's love, to all around us.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What are memes?

Memes, which generally function as a kind of questionnaire which a blogger fills in and then 'tags' other bloggers to complete have been circulating the blogosphere for years and some of them are quite popular and indeed fun. Others are less so...

In a discussion with two scientist friends tonight, they happened to talk about memes in physics and I finally had an idea what the word 'meme' meant! They called it a "cultural idea that is repeated and passed on." That seems to encompass some of the qualities of blogger memes.

Wikipedia actually has quite a comprehensive article on memes, as does this site. Here's another great site that explains more about memes and their importance. Fascinating!

Anyway, I'm glad I now know the origin and meaning of the word 'meme'. I never quite like using a word and not knowing what it means!

Answer to the Dominican Quiz

Thank you to those who have commented on the picture of St Peter Martyr (or a friar) with his finger across his lips. I think you have all given excellent and perfectly credible answers and it is indeed likely that admonishing the friars to be silent was Fra Angelico's intention in painting his fresco at San Marco of 'St Peter Martyr enjoining silence' (right).

Surely, whenever I see this portrait, I am reminded to keep silence for silence is truly the 'father of preachers'. I was also keen on the idea that the Dominican protomartyr silences heresy. But I myself can keep silence no longer and must reveal the answer to the question posed...

Only MonialesOP (predictably) came up with the answer I was looking for. I asked what the particular pose or gesture adopted by St Peter Martyr signified in the Dominican tradition. Indeed, it could have been any other early Dominican friar adopting this gesture and when I first read about this gesture, it struck me as somewhat counter-intuitive and hence I was struck by it.

To quote two sources: Fr W. A. Hinnebusch, OP in his masterful The History of the Dominican Order (Vol 1) writes,
"When friars asked to speak they approached the superior and placed a finger across the lips... In the Congregation of Holland, an observant group that constantly stressed silence, a fifteenth-century friar could get general liberty to speak from prime to compline by turning toward the prior in choir and placing his finger across his lips."

And from M. Michele Mulchahey's "First the Bow is Bent in Study..." Dominican Education before 1350, he explains that in the 13th century book, the Libellus de instructione novitiorum by Jean of Montlhery, a friar of St-Jacques, Paris, this instruction is given:
"Jean explains the rules of silence and the proper way to petition permission to speak: the placingof one finger across the lips as the friar bows slightly, with hood lowered in respect, before his superior."
Mulchahey goes on to say that:
"The famous fresco by fra Angelico in the main cloister of San Marco in Florence depicting St Peter Martyr with his finger before his lips, usually identified as "Saint Peter Martyr Enjoining Silence" thus represents, rather, the saint in the posture of requesting permission to speak... It is probably safe to say, however, that the one gesture, with which we today are more familiar, does derive from the other."

So, Congratulations to the sisters at MonialesOP! I think the debate as to whether or not St Peter Martyr per se was enjoining silence or asking for permission to speak is open to further discussion and interpretation. What strikes me is that in the early Dominican tradition, one had to make a certain gesture when requesting permission to speak and St Peter Martyr seems to be performing just that and the textual evidence indicates that this interrogatory sign predated its use as an admonition. As such, I would venture the opinion that a novice trained by Jean of Montlhery, when seeing such a pose in a painting would naturally assume the friar being depicted was asking for permission to speak, rather than telling others to be silent!

It ought to be noted that in the original painting posted with the Question, there is no indication that it is a depiction of St Peter Martyr. If I had not indicated it was him (and honestly, this was just an assumption on my part) would the guesses have been different?

Anyway, this was an interesting bit of Dominican trivia and I hope you enjoyed it too! The next time a Dominican tries to shush you up by placing his or her finger across the lips, go ahead and give them permission to speak!!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The origins of Cambridge colleges

We have already noted the origins of the university as a place of learning for clerical students. Unsurprisingly then, the colleges of Cambridge and Oxford, particularly the older and hence more picturesque foundations have their roots as religious houses.

But colleges were not always a part of the university. Indeed in the Middle Ages, most students were not members of a college. As we saw yesterday, they may well have been members of a religious order and lived in the friary and travelled to lectures.

To acquire the status and privilege in law of being a student it was sufficient to find a Master of Arts who would put the name of a prospective student on his matricula, or list. This is the origin of the requirement of matriculation for entry into the university. As regards lodgings, some students (who were not members of a religious order) lived in the house of their Master, others rented lodgings from Cambridge townsfolk and others in hostels. Even then student life could be riotous, bawdy and even violent, fuelled by alcohol. Some things don't change!

In order to provide for a more disciplined and regular life more conducive to study, some benefactors founded colleges for students, which provided them with lodging, food and clothing. The first was Peterhouse founded in 1280 by the Bishop of Ely, followed by King Edward II in the 14th century. This gives us an idea of the sort of men who became college founders although Lady Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth de Clare are aristocratic women who founded colleges. The Guild of Corpus Christi and the Guild of St Mary established Corpus Christi College and was famed for its annual Eucharistic procession. Many of these colleges were envisaged as places of prayer for the repose of the benefactors' souls and were endowed with many religious treasures. Corpus Christi, for example, owned no fewer than six chalices and a Monstrance of silver-gilt worth twenty pounds for use in its processions.

But not all students could be accommodated at these colleges in the Middle Ages and the colleges initially catered mainly to graduates. The colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were founded to unite in a common life groups of Masters and groups of students. College life brought them together to pray, either in a nearby parish church or in the chapel of the college, and to have their meals together in the college hall which could also be used for lectures and other gatherings. These medieval origins explain certain characteristics of Cambridge collegiate life which has endured such as the presence of a chapel with regular sung services and the importance of dining together in 'formal hall'.

The early colleges had what appears to be a monastic atmosphere because their members were all men and all celibate, as can be expected of clerical students. The Fellows were mostly priests and even when the law of clerical celibacy disappered in the Church of England after the Reformation, Fellows were not allowed to marry! This aspect of Cambridge life persisted until 1882. Another feature which reflects medieval usage is the grouping of rooms around a staircase with an open doorway at the bottom. There are no corridors such that residents have to cross the open courtyard to get from one part of the college to another.

As with so much else about England and its oldest traditions, glimpses of its Catholic past emerge if we scratch the surface. Walking the streets of this ancient university town, and walking through its cloisters and visiting its chapels, I cannot help but wonder what life in Catholic Cambridge would have been like and which streets the medieval Blackfriars traversed and where they prayed and preached.

I am indebted to Archbishop-Emeritus Couve de Murville and Philip Jenkins for much of the foregoing in this series on 'Catholic Cambridge' which is taken from their book of the same title (CTS, 1983) and all credit should go to them for these three articles.

Friday, November 11, 2005

In memoriam

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Friars in Cambridge

The mendicant friars of the early 13th century were a new and vibrant form of religious life and it did not take long for them to make their way to Cambridge, which was fast becoming one of the centres of learning in Christendom. They contributed significantly to the theological debate and intellectual life of the university and such luminaries as Dun Scotus are known to have come here.

The first to come were the Friars Minor or Franciscans. Known as the Greyfriars, because their habits were woven from a combination of white and black wool, they arrived in 1225, one year after their arrival in England. Their first house was established in the centre of Cambridge and they were helped by the townsfolk and the king in this regard.

These Franciscans were characterised by their spiritual fervour and great poverty. It was noted that they often cried with charismatic joy as they sang the Office and they had no cloaks despite the fact that East Anglia is one of the coldest parts of England. As such the 'Chronicle of Brother Thomas [of Eccleston]' notes that when these pioneering Franciscans were really cold they used to huddle together to keep warm "sicut porcis mos est", in the way that pigs do! Of course, such evangelical fervour, which won such admiration, faded as the Franciscans grew in wealth, learning and prestige!

In 1274, they moved to a new site provided by the townsfolk due to expanding numbers. By 1289, there were 75 Franciscan friars in Cambridge, their highest number ever. The site covered over 3 acres and included a large church, frequently used by the university, a cloister, refectory, two-storey school house and land and an orchard. Nothing remains of all this and Sidney Sussex College now occupies the site of the friary. However, the conduit which provided water to the community, built by the Franciscans in 1325 still provides the water that splashes into the Jacobean fountain in the Great Court of Trinity College.

Next to arrive in Cambridge were the Friars Preachers, possibly around 1238. King Henry III contributed to the building of the new priory and they came to occupy a 10 acre site outside the medieval town of Cambridge, by the Barnwell Gate. At least two stories in the Vitae Fratrum took place in the Cambridge community, which at its height numbered 75 friars.

Called the Blackfriars because they wore the black cappa or cape whenever they walked among the people, outside their priory, there is evidence of a preaching cross or outdoor pulpit where the Dominicans preached to the people of Cambridge. The street where this stood was called Preachers Street but even this trace of the Friars Preachers was obliterated after the Reformation by the change of the name to St Andrew's Street.

There is no evidence of the buildings of the priory as they were so completely destroyed at the Reformation. However, a fish pond remains within the grounds of Emmanuel College, the college which occupies the site of the medieval Dominican priory. Incidentally, on the feast of St Francis of Assisi, Br Paul and I wandered through the grounds of Emmanuel College and we stopped at the fish pond to admire the large fish within. Quite ignorant then of its provenance, I said to Br Paul: "Perhaps this was the friars' pond and they kept their stock of fish here", and I mused on our brothers who had once walked these grounds. I even joked that we should preach to the fish, as St Francis was known to have done. Little did I realize just how accurate I was, for indeed, that is the friars' pond and all that remains of the medieval Dominican Priory of Cambridge which was closed in 1538. Exactly 400 years later, the Priory of St Michael, was established and the Blackfriars returned to Cambridge, the only friars to have done so.

By 1292, the Carmelites or Whitefriars, on account of their white capes which they wore over a brown habit also arrived in Cambridge and they had at their peak no more than 50 friars. They originally had 3 acres of land near Cambridge on the fens, which afforded them a contemplative and semi-eremitical life. However, due to flooding, they found it difficult to travel from Newnham into Cambridge for lectures and so built their house on Milne Street in Cambridge with access to the river Cam. Again, nothing survives of this establishment but their site is now partially occupied by Queens College and extended as far as King's College chapel on the north side.

The Order of the Hermits of St Augustine or the Austin Friars, as they were popularly known, are first mentioned in Cambridge in 1289 and they were given land on the outskirts of Cambridge and housed up to 36 friars. Nothing remains of this friary either although there was
an infirmary which stood until the 18th century.

It was estimated that by the 1300s there were 200 friars in Cambridge and they took part in the religious processions of the town. Interestingly, they always walked in this order and after the secular clergy: Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans; this I supposed to be based on the precedence of the Order's foundation. Following the friars in procession were the brothers of St John the Evangelist hospital (now St John's College) and then the university. Of the libraries of the four Orders, only 200 manuscripts were packed at the time of the Dissolution and shipped from Cambridge to Rome but this would have represented a fraction of the total number of volumes.

Sadly so little of the friars and their presence in Cambridge remains, even their precious books dispersed and their buildings obliterated. A few stones believed to be from the original Dominican priory adorn a wall in the cloister of Blackfriars Cambridge (right) but otherwise, it is left to us, the actual Blackfriars who are as spiritual stones, to build upon the foundations laid down by our brethren in the early 13th century.

Co-incidentally, the BBC chose to discuss the rise of the Greyfriars and Blackfriars on BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning! The program hosted by Melvyn Bragg is available online. Great minds think alike!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Leo the Greater!

Today is the feast of Pope St Leo the Great


Here in Blackfriars Cambridge, we are also celebrating (yet) another day in honour of...

Leo the Greater!!

Yes, for the uninitiated, that is Leo, our Priory cat, a beautiful male Birman. His white fur looks beautiful against our white habits, especially when he is picked up and indulged (which he absolutely loves) but is a nightmare to get off our cappas!

Admittedly, not every friar is a devotee of the cat but this friar most certainly is. When the former Prior and the incumbent Prior are not available, Leo likes to spend the day sleeping in my room and on occasion even spends the night there... although he wakes me up at 4am to be let out!

He is a most affectionate cat and loves to have a fuss made over him and enjoys playing and being chased. All Hail, Leo the Greater!