Friday, July 13, 2018

A Dirty, Jovial and Unscrupulous Crew

Reading through the accumulation of modernist novels one has gathered over the years of graduate school is much like a slow and careful mining operation. One might occasionally find a rich vein of valuable ore, but must be careful of cave-ins, pockets of poison gas, and societies of mole men. I had never read much of Ford Madox Ford's fiction before now, just part of a science fiction collaboration with Joseph Conrad and a few essays. The Good Soldier is probably Ford's most famous novel, a story about bourgeois indolence and cuckoldry. The narrator is the victim of his wife's infidelity and of his friend Edward's apparent trustworthiness. While the novel is not especially worthy of the attention it has received, one passage jumped out at me as I was desperate to find anything memorable within:
I have given you a wrong impression if I have not made you see that Leonora [Edward's wife] was a woman of a strong, cold conscience, like all English Catholics. (I cannot, myself, help disliking this religion; there is always, at the bottom of my mind, in spite of Leonora, the feeling of shuddering at the Scarlet Woman, that filtered in upon me in the tranquility of the little old Friends' Meeting House in Arch Street, Philadelphia.)[...] For Edward was great at remorse. But Leonora's English Catholic conscience, her rigid principles, her coldness, even her very patience, were, I cannot help thinking, all wrong in this special case. She quite seriously and naïvely imagined that the Church of Rome disapproves of divorce; she quite seriously and naïvely believed that her church could be such a monstrous and imbecile institution as to expect her to take on the impossible job of making Edward Ashburnham a faithful husband. She had, as the English would say, the Nonconformist temperament. In the United States of North America we call it the New England conscience. For, of course, that frame of mind has been driven in on the English Catholics. The centuries that they have gone through—centuries of blind and malignant oppression, of ostracism from public employment, of being, as it were, a small beleagured garrison in a hostile country, and therefore having to act with great formality—all these things have combined to perform that conjuring trick. And I suppose that Papists in England are even technically Nonconformists.
Ford himself was a Catholic, at least at one time. He had been received into the Church at the age of nineteen (1892), but by the writing of this novel his marriage had fallen apart and he and his lover attempted unsuccessfully to secure German citizenship in order to procure a divorce. To Ford's credit, I suppose, he never exploited his fellow Catholics as a readership like the pseudo-Catholic Graham Greene later would. His bitterness about the Church's doctrine against divorce and remarriage makes The Good Soldier an interesting kind of anti-Catholic propaganda, and also grants readers a glimpse into his own soul.

The passage continues:
Continental Papists are a dirty, jovial and unscrupulous crew. But that, at least, lets them be opportunists. They would have fixed poor dear Edward up all right.
Perhaps this is true or perhaps it is wishful thinking. Leonora's Irish Catholicism (her religion is described alternately as English and Irish) has the kind of strength that comes from embattlement, and those who have lived for years comfortable in the practice of their faith do tend to slouch into laxity. Certainly the slothfulness of our own days bears this out.

I have no idea if Ford, like Conrad, finally died reconciled to the Church. There is little indication he cared to move past the "feeling of shuddering" at the thought of Papistry or to repent of his war against marriage. One suspects he will be meeting plenty of bishops in his place in the afterlife.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Saint James, Spanish Place

The church of Saint James is one of the more interesting churches built in London in the years after the Reformation. It has soaring arches and was not built by Pugin. From its full name, "Saint James, Spanish Place", one can deduce that this magnificent temple originated in the adjoining Spanish Embassy in the Marylebone district and was used by the diplomatic corps and any London Catholics who could not attend Mass before Catholic Emancipation. After the connection to the embassy ceased and the Vicariate became the Archbishopric of Westminster a proper parish church began.

The initial temptation to associate Saint James with the neo-gothic fashion of the Victorian and Edwardian age beckons a first time visitor, but I had several opportunities to visit the church and eventually decided that this church is more definitively gothic in the proper, medieval sense of the word than it is Puginesque. For one, although neo-gothic borrowed its look from the medieval ages it retained the baroque scheme of a church with a Marian altar and a Saint Joseph altar on either side of a shallow sanctuary that the laymen in the pew can see without obstruction. Neo-gothic also borrows its architectural perspective from the baroque, that of wide open churches with wide naves, few aisles, and a warm lighting. In all these respects, Saint James fails the test.

Instead, Saint James is a church with many aisles which, although amply wide, are marked by soaring arches culminating in distinct ceilings from each other. The result is the staggered effect that being in an aisle of Salisbury Cathedral has, that one senses privacy from the nave. The nave itself soars to an overwhelming height in contrast to the seemingly narrow width of the same place. Contributing to this medieval compartmentalized sensation are the distinct ornaments of the nave and aisles. The nave focuses on the altar with only a few devotion statues, notably Our Lady of Walsingham, visible; the aisles are barely visible even from the back of the nave. The aisles forgo the neo-gothic Mary & Joseph arrangement in favor of proper chapels for every devotion. Each altar has its own special purpose and is segmented from the main church by both an altar rail and a full wrought iron door. The chapels are dedicated to various purposes, some near and dear to English Catholics like the martyrs executed at the Tyburn "Tree". The various chapels, statues of saints in the rear, and assorted doors, lamps, railings, and kneelers were gifted to the church over a period of time and give the church of Saint James an authentic, lived-in demeanor that even the best contemporary churches elsewhere in London lack. Perhaps the best example is the Marian Chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, which was given by the wealthy family of a priest who died at a young age.

Saint James has a 1962 low Mass (hopefully the new new liturgical movement changes that), a Latin Novus Ordo, and occasional Vespers with their excellent choir. They offer Confession every day and other devotions. I believe Dr Laurence Hemming is, or was, the deacon of this parish. It is certainly an interesting place to visit when you are next in London and only a few blocks away from Regent's Park, my favorite park in the city.


The sanctuary and altar

For perspective, the height of the place when facing back. The difference between
neo-gothic broadness and a spacious gothic church that is tall is sheer size.

The layers of chapels, three in this view, from the Epistle side of the sanctuary.

Ambo and sounding board on the Gospel side. Note the houseling cloth used for Communion.

The instinct in decoration also follows older instincts rather than those in fashion
in the 19th century, which would has resorted to large statues. Instead, Saint James
follows an older pattern with more recent devotions. The papier-mache picture needs
to go.

The altar again, which includes a covering rather than a baldachin.

Our Lady of Walsingham, towards the altar

Chapel for the English martyrs

The exquisite chapel of the Assumption

The multi-level effect of gothic, which contributes to the sense of the depth in the church

Well used Confessionals

The Baptistry, correctly octagonal

Saint Jude

A pieta, which attracted many people before and after the weekday Masses

This chapel at the rear of the church is dedicated to Saint Teresa and was donated by a guild
in honor of a deceased pastor

The same chapel includes its own Stations of the Cross, separate from those in the nave

On an unrelated note, my views on the liturgy have not changed an iota, but I grow tired of reading liturgical polemics online. If the tide is slowly turning in a good direction, and it is, would not all that ink spilled on the Pauline Mass be better spent on the edification of those who could attend or promote the old liturgy? In the future I hope to do a post on the strange Rite of Michael Napier, which like the Rite of Econe and the Rite of Gricigliano does not follow any particular edition of the Roman books but is historically notable none the less.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Devotionalism: Pilgrimages


At the root of the pilgrimage is the desire to heal the breach between God and man. After the expulsion from Eden we are “here” and God is “there” and we must somehow find out way back into his presence. Man cannot make his own way unassisted back to the Divine, but because God has already made a pilgrimage to meet man, man can travel that same path to his creator.

Indeed, God’s pilgrimages to meet sinful man were numerous even before that Great Pilgrimage of the Incarnation, when the Word of God leapt down from his royal throne in Heaven to Earth. He came down to make a covenant with Abram, to wrestle with Israel, to speak to Moses face to face, to touch the lips of Isaias with a burning coal, and to speak to Ezechiel from his cherubic chariot.

The pilgrimages of man towards God are also of many types and examples. Abram left his father’s idolatry for a foreign land at God’s invitation. Joseph was his family’s savior when he brought them to Egypt. Moses led his nation to the borders of the promised land, a type of Heaven. Locations of ancient theophanies became pilgrimage sites to the Hebrews, since they were places God had graced with his presence. The annual pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate the Passover symbolized man traveling to the mountain of God’s dwelling to beg his mercy.

The Christian era made no great modification to this religious instinct. The destinations for pilgrimages increased because devotion to the martyrs meant visiting their graves to beg their intercession, and the locations of the God-Man’s life and death were of great interest. God became a pilgrim among us, and man could model his own pilgrimage on the life of Christ (“because I go to the Father”). Churches were built all over the Holy Land and elsewhere to house the relics of martyrs. Rome was a site of pilgrimage first because it was where Sts. Peter and Paul were slain by Nero, not because it was the seat of the pope. One motivation for the Crusades was to make safe the way of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Throughout the Middle Ages shrines all over Europe were popular pilgrimage destinations. A properly-made pilgrimage could even reconcile sinners to the Church, according to some customs.

In our own day the practice of making a real pilgrimage is much rarer than it once was. The biographical account of Hilaire Belloc’s pilgrimage in The Path to Rome, complete with a solemn vow of intention, is charming to the modern reader for its archaism but is not taken very seriously as a form of devotional piety. The Camino de Santiago remains popular, but arguably more so for young adults “backpacking across Europe” than for the pious Catholic. Many ancient pilgrimage destinations have been transformed into tourist attractions and have lost the air of seriousness that attracts the true devotee.

The Stations of the Cross were formulated in order to make the experience of pilgrimage through the Via Dolorosa available to those unable to visit Jerusalem in person. As travel to the Holy Land became increasingly dangerous the Stations became more formalized and canonically regulated. As imperfect as many Stations-centered devotional booklets can be, the desire to imitate Christ’s own pilgrimage among us even unto his death remains central.

Many sites remain for those still inclined to make a true pilgrimage. Even North America hosts sites like Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and a variety of shrines in Canada and the United States. In spite of multiple rounds of iconoclasm since the Reformation, Europe is not lacking in destinations. I personally made a pilgrimage to Rome a year after my reception into the Church with the intention of assisting at Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in thanksgiving for my conversion. The religious experience of Rome is still, as in Martin Luther’s day, a mixed bag of wondrous and debasing, but we will probably never be entirely free of simony and apathy.

In a day when travel is more effortless than it has ever been, pilgrimage may be a corrective not only for our troubled spirits but for our overtaxed, modernized minds. The broadway leads to destruction, but the slow and narrow path is the way to salvation.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Devotionalism: On Limiting the Divine

(source)
At the behest of a good friend of mine I have started a read-through of the entire Bible. Despite my Protestant roots, there are still some books of Holy Writ I have never completed, mainly due to the repetition and bookkeeping style of some of the sacred texts. Audiobooks are a great way to push through even the monotony of the Mosaic law and the literal numbering of the book of Numbers. I have not read the early books of the Bible since my conversion. It is a return to a landscape I used to know quite well, but has become strange and new from the distance of neglect.

In spite of my many concerns and skepticism about the historical-critical reading so popular among Bible scholars of the last two centuries, occasionally I can see their point. The two accounts of Abimelech king of Gerara nearly having his way with another man’s wife because her husband was hiding the marriage could be harmonized more easily if both accounts were about the same married couple, but the first is about Abraham and Sara, and the second about Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis chapters 20 and 26, respectively). The thought that the same trick was played twice on the same man is not impossible, but it is so darkly humorous that one cannot blame the scholars too much for attempting to retain a modicum of seriousness.

The genealogies between Eden and Abraham are treated with the same apparent level of historical veracity, which makes the harmonization of Scripture and paleoanthropology difficult. While I am not opposed to a more spiritual or allegorical reading of the Old Testament like St. Augustine’s, I also do not know that the authorial intent is anywhere along those lines. A scholar of ancient Hebrew texts I do not pretend to be, but unlike many other restless minds I do not care to worry myself to death or fabricate conspiracies over every difficulty.

But what comes through more strongly than I had remembered is the personality of God. The “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” is no deistic Prime Mover. He is not even an interloper in the stories of the Patriarchs. Rather, he is the protagonist throughout, with occasional digressions into the lives of his creatures. Even with the acknowledgement that the inspired writers used anthropomorphic language to describe the wishes and actions of the Divine, they were still inspired to do so by God himself.

He creates the universe apparently only to have made something good. He takes pity on Adam and gives him a mate. He is greatly disappointed in their trespass. He is disgusted by the self-destruction of mankind. He lets Abraham speak to him almost as if to an equal. He wrestles with Jacob and lets him gain the upper hand. He pours out judgment not only on Pharaoh but on his devil-gods, using the opportunity to show his wonders to his chosen people. He wishes to speak intimately with his people in the wilderness and is offended when they tell Moses to do it for them. He slays whomever makes a graven image of himself, since they were all too afraid to see him as he is. He tells Israel that he would not chasten them if he did not love them so much.

The interpretation of the Canticle of Canticles as the untamed love of God for his people did not appear in a vacuum. It is a reasonable extrapolation from the earlier books of Hebrew Scripture.

Likewise, the popular and theological characterizations of Our Lord in the Christian era take many cues from the “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” St. Paul witnessed the risen Christ already glorified in the celestial realms, but the evangelists wrote from the perspective of those who knew Jesus, as it were, before he was cool. The Christ of the Gospels vacillates between aristocratic aloofness, angry table-turning, and tender compassion. One might say that the Catholic devotional instinct has become a method of focusing on that third aspect of the Divine Countenance in the hopes that the first might be ignored and the second avoided.

This is why devotions like the Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, and many of those centered on Mary are so often narrowly tender and ignorant of the more difficult aspects of God’s interaction with man. The Novus Ordo practice of canonizing the deceased at his funeral is an outgrowth of this blind focus on love and compassion. Perhaps no one can bear the fulness of what has been revealed of the Divine Personality without a special outpouring of grace, but one suspects that few are even very willing to try.

We cannot force God to shine only his kindly countenance upon us simply because we desire it. He is the lover, we are the beloved. Sometimes he is aloof, sometimes angry, sometimes tender, and sometimes even absent. “In my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and found him not.” How do we find God when he is distant, when his tender compassion seems very far from us?

We go on a pilgrimage. (Next up: Pilgrimages as devotion.)