Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rebellious Catholics IV

Mary, Queen of Scots
In the previous posting I had begun the story of Mary Queen of Scots, the exiled Queen of Scotland whom Elizabeth had executed in 1587.  Catholic historians have over the past century and a half tried to portray her as a saintly victim martyred for her faith when in fact while she was a devout Catholic she was a person of somewhat tangled morals who was beheaded for purely political reasons.  Elizabeth was not nearly the ogre and Mary not nearly the saint that Catholic writers have tried to portray them as.  History is always political and here the politics of religion has long been allowed to jumble the historical narrative for an agenda of apologetics 
Much had happened in Scotland during Mary’s absence.  The pro-English Protestant faction among the nobility had grown in strength and for several years had been all but in rebellion against Mary’s regent, her mother, Mary of Guise.  Mary of Guise herself had died only six months before her daughter was widowed and the Protestant party had used the power vacuum to consolidate their strength.  The Protestant faction was led by Mary’s illegitimate half-brother James Stewart, the son of James V and Lady Margaret Erskine.    The Calvinist reformer, John Knox, was the spiritual leader of the Protestant party and in 1558 had written a treatise “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” which was not directed solely at Mary’s Reign but also that of the late (Bloody) Mary of England and her sister, Elizabeth, the newly crowned English Monarch.  Knox claimed that Rule by women was an affront to God. (Today he would be made a Cardinal in grateful recognition for this insightful theological contribution.)   Knox now directed his preaching against Mary for her Catholic religious practices, for her dancing and gaming, and for her frivolous dress and lifestyle.  Knox was the leader among those who would give Calvinism a grim reputation—not that Calvinism itself didn’t flourish on cheerlessness even without Knox’s sourpuss preaching.     
Due to her education in the French Court, Mary was a fine athlete, a brilliant linguist, and an accomplished writer, but what had been neglected in Mary’s education in France was how to rule.  She was not bred to be Queen of Scotland but rather Queen consort of France and now she had no idea how to manage the complex politics of her kingdom.  She failed to play the Catholic and Protestant parties off against one another to her advantage but allowed herself to be dominated by her enemies.   She summoned Knox to remonstrate against him—he only mocked her by preaching at her when she tried to speak to him.  She charged him with treason; he was acquitted.  Mary tried to accommodate the Protestant faction and allowed them to dominate her privy-council.  She kept her Protestant half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, as her chief counselor and ignored the Catholic lords.  The Catholic nobles, for their part, were angry that the Queen was so sympathetic to the Protestant cause and several of them rebelled against her in 1562.
Realizing that she lacked political astuteness, Mary sensed what she needed was a savvy husband to guide her.  The French proposed an Austrian but Mary refused.  Mary proposed a marriage to Don Carlos, the Spanish heir, but the Spaniards refused.  (Lucky too, as Don Carlos inherited his family’s gene for lunacy.)  Elizabeth suggested a Protestant old boyfriend of her own, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester but the proposed groom refused.  (Mary was not particularly interested anyway.)
By the way, does any of this sound like the stuff of which religious martyrs are made?  Hold on, it only gets worse.
Mary eventually married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at Holyrood Palace on July 29, 1565.  Both parties were Catholic but they failed to get the necessary papal dispensations for marriage of close kin.  (They were cousins through multiple family intermarriages, but both were grand-children of Margaret Tudor, the wife of James IV and thus first-cousins.)
This marriage infuriated Elizabeth as any child proceeding from the union would have a double claim to the English throne given that as descendants of Margaret Tudor both Mary and Darnley themselves had prime claims.  Moreover, Darnley not only held a Scots title of nobility but an English one and Elizabeth was aggrieved that he had not sought her permission to marry as he was her subject.   Mary’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray was also angry as were the Protestant nobles at the Queen having a Catholic consort, and they went into rebellion with Moray as their leader, but after several defeats by Catholic forces Moray fled to England and Elizabeth’s protection.  
Mary and Darnley had a son, James, who would become James VI of Scotland and eventually James I of England—the fellow we had written about in the gunpowder plot (see posting for December 27 2012).  Darnley was not a good choice for a husband.  He wanted to be not merely consort to the Queen Regnant but to be given the “Crown Matrimonial” which would make him co-ruler with his wife and King in his own right should he outlive her.  Mary refused and he grew angry and sullen.  Darnley was not a faithful husband (which was far from uncommon in those days among the upper classes, not that our age is known for marital fidelity) and there are hints that he may have been abusive to Mary.   He was also jealous of Mary’s secretary, David Rizzo.  There were rumors swirling around that Rizzo, not Darnley, was the father of Mary’s child and while these rumors remain unproven they cannot be totally dismissed.  Darnley and some of the Protestant party brutally murdered Rizzo in the presence of Mary who almost miscarried as a result of the trauma.  The Earl of Moray returned at this point and was reconciled to his sister.
The Murder of Rizzo sealed the demise of the Mary/Darnley marriage.  They separated and Mary sought counsel from her advisors as to what she should to terminate the marriage but there seems to have suddenly been a change of plans, indeed a change of the Queen’s heart.  Darnley was summoned back to Edinburgh and given a house in the Kirk o’ Field—a former Abbey—in which to recuperate from health problems—possibly syphilis or the result of poison.  Mary visited him there daily and it seemed they were to reconcile.  Then early in the morning hours of February 10, 1567,  Mary having left the house only hours before  to attend a wedding of a member of her household, an explosion racked the house.    Darnley’s body was found in the garden.  He had not been killed in the explosion and there were no signs of physical violence or strangulation.  He had apparently been smothered, a most curious death.  A variety of people were suspected of involvement in the murder including Mary, her-illegitimate half-brother the Earl of Moray, the Earl of Morton, and James Hepburn, the fourth Earl of Bothwell.  Now here is where it gets a bit sleazy.
If ever there was an unsavory politician, it was Bothwell.  (As there have been many an unsavory politician, you imagine just how sleazy Bothwell must have been to stand out in such company.)  Bothwell was Lord High Admiral of the Scots Navy and in this capacity he met and married Anna Trondson, the daughter of a Norwegian/Danish Admiral. (Norway at the time was part of the Kingdom of  Denmark.)  Anna travelled with her husband to Flanders and when he had gone through all his money, he forced her to sell her possessions to support his gambling and riotous living.  He then sent her home to get more money from her family, but when the family heard of his abusive behavior towards her they did not permit her to return to him.  Without obtaining any divorce from Anna, Bothwell then married Lady Jean Gordon in a Protestant service.  Lady Jean was Catholic, but Bothwell refused to marry according to Catholic rites.  Mary of Scots was enthusiastic about this match and hosted the wedding at Holyrood Palace.  She also provided cloth of silver for Lady Jean’s wedding gown.  Now here is where things become very murky, but the story will continue in the next posting.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rebellious Catholics III

Mary of Scotland at the time
she was widowed from King
Francis II of France in 1560
In my last posting I mentioned Mary, Queen of Scots, and various plots to assassinate Protestant Elizabeth and put Catholic Mary on the throne.   Mary is often portrayed by Catholic historians as a martyr for her faith when, in fact, her execution had nothing to do with her faith but rather the danger she posed to Elizabeth’s life and the continuation of Protestant government in England.  Mary is a very complex character and before we look at her religious views we need to understand her claim to the English throne and the danger this posed to Elizabeth.  Because Mary is such a complex character and her saga is so convoluted it will take several postings to tell this story, but I think we will see Mary is neither saint nor martyr though she herself tried, at the end of her life, to portray herself as such.  As a child in grade school and high school, hearing her story, I always wondered why the Church had not yet made a saint of her, but when I began to study history on the graduate level I came to see how history is not so much the story of what happened as much as it has become how the historians tell the story of what happened.   A professor of mine, the late Norman Cantor, wrote a book he titled Inventing the Middle Ages in which he displayed how much of what we take as history is in the telling rather than in the actual events.  While Mary, Queen of Scots, is an Early Modern (or Renaissance or Reformation, as however you wish to slice the cake) figure and not from the Middle Ages, I can think of no better example of this tendency to bias the story in the telling than the persona that nineteenth and early twentieth-century (i.e. pre-Vatican II romanticists) created from the facts, factoids, and shambles of the life of this 16th century Queen.    Well, enough prologue: on to her story.     
Mary had become Queen Regnant of Scotland (that means Monarch in her own right, not simply Queen by marriage to a King) at the death of her Father, James V, when she was only six days old.  Of course a six-day old girl (or boy) is in no position to rule a country and Scotland was ruled by Regents who exercised the royal power in Mary’s name.   From her infancy there was a struggle to control the child and the country she rule.  Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of Saint Andrews and confidant of James V, produced a will in which the King named Beaton as regent, but this will was widely regarded as a forgery and was challenged by James Hamilton, Earl of Arran who also claimed to be the legitimate regent.  Arran had the support of the majority of the court and out maneuvered Beaton whom he had arrested and confined in the house of Lord Seton, but the Cardinal escaped.  Beaton, of course, was Catholic and Arran Protestant and each represented the interests of his co-religionists.  This Catholic-Protestant struggle would be a major theme in the life of Mary as each group tried to control her seeing as both in Scotland and England their fortunes depended on her fate.  To complicate matters,  as long as Mary had no children, Arran was next in line to the throne as there were no other legitimate-born Stuarts more closely related by blood.  Arran’s maternal grandmother, Mary of Scotland, was the daughter of James III.  So the infant queen was in the care of the Protestant earl.  This boded well for the Protestant party.  As a Protestant, Arran wanted to arrange a marriage for the young Queen to the young son of Henry VIII of England.  This would unite the crowns of the two kingdoms and insure the triumph of Protestantism.  However as Prince Edward was five and the child-Queen was less than a year old, it would be a long engagement. 
In fact, it wasn’t.  It was broken within the year in a very remarkable about-face.  Lord Arran suddenly reconciled with Beaton, converted to Catholicism, and was given the Duchy of Châtellerault by Henry II of France in return for arranging the marriage of Mary to the Dauphin (Crown Prince of France), the future Francis II.  When Mary was less than six years old she was sent to live in the French Court.  Arran remained in Scotland as regent until when in 1554 he surrendered the regency to Mary’s mother, the French princess Mary of Guise, widow to Scotland’s James V.  This put both Scotland and the young Queen firmly in Catholic hands.  Arran would later revert to Protestantism but that is not relevant to this story other than his unsuccessful attempts in 1560 to marry his son to the newly crowned Elizabeth of England or, after her being widowed from Francis, to Mary herself.  Nothing came of these attempts.
Mary meanwhile flourished in France.  She had a vivacious and charming personality that won over all except her mother-in-law to be, Catherine de Medici.  (No one wins a pissing contest with an Italian mother-in-law.)  Moreover Mary excelled in the sports appropriate to women (horsemanship, hunting, falconry), in the arts (music, poetry, needlework), and learned French, Latin, Greek, Italian, and Spanish in addition to her native Scots Gaelic and what English she had learned in Scotland.
Mary, for her part, made a will (equivalent to today’s pre-nup) leaving the Scots throne and her claims to the English Throne (she was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England and next in line after Elizabeth to the Throne of England) to the French Crown.  She married Francis at Notre Dame in Paris on April 24, 1558.  The marriage did not last long.  The king died two and a half years later at age 16.   Mary returned to Scotland nine months later.   This provides a natural break in Mary’s story and we will leave it here for our next posting.  To this point Mary is a vivacious young queen still in her teens who is Catholic by upbringing but not particularly pious beyond what is expected of a Queen in the ceremonies of her court.  In France she was in an environment where the Catholics still held the political power (though that would soon be challenged by the rise of Calvinism among the French urban middle classes), but returning to Scotland that would be very much reversed as there the Calvinists had been far more successful in gaining control of the situation.  But that is for next time. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Rebellious Catholics II

Elizabeth I
In the previous posting I wrote about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot to assassinate King James, his heir, and the entire English Parliament by exploding a store of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords during the 1605 State opening of Parliament.  This was an act of desperation on the part of a group of English Catholics who had hoped James would offer them some relief in the restrictions placed on English Catholics during the reign of James’ predecessor, Elizabeth I.  Today I want to look at Elizabeth’s policies towards her Catholic subjects.  I realize this is approaching history in a reverse order, but think of it more as peeling back an onion to see the layers beneath the surface.  We probably will go on at some point to look at Elizabeth’s predecessors as well.


Elizabeth, of course, was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.  As the daughter of this second marriage which, in the eyes of the Catholic Church was invalid as Henry’s first marriage to Katherine of Aragon had not been annulled, Elizabeth was considered a bastard by Catholics everywhere.  Elizabeth had been preceded on the throne by her sister Mary, daughter of Henry and Katherine, and Mary had restored the Church of England to full communion with the Church of Rome.  This was because her father, Henry, had broken communion with Rome in 1536 and her brother, Edward, who had ruled from 1547-1553, had led the Church of England into Protestantism with doctrinal and liturgical reforms.  Mary, during her five year reign, restored Catholic doctrine and practice but Elizabeth, not recognized as legitimate in Catholic circles, was bound to reverse that. 
Mary died and Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in November 1538.  In February 1559 Parliament took up a bill reestablishing the independence of the Church of England from Papal authority.  It also took up legislation to replace Catholic ritual with a slightly modified form of Edward VI’s Second Book of Common Prayer.  Elizabeth had been crowned according to Catholic ritual in January 1559 but both at Christmas 1558 Mass and during her Coronation Mass Elizabeth had insisted on some minor changes in the ritual that reflected a tendency towards Protestantism. 
Elizabeth’s religious preferences are difficult for historians to discern.  She was both extremely intelligent—perhaps the most intelligent of British monarchs (which, I realize is not saying that much as Britain has seen an array of incredibly dumb [“stupid” doesn’t do them justice] Rulers in its history, but she actually was extraordinarily bright)—and highly educated, particularly in theology.   Like many educated in theology, however, religion for her seems to have been more of an intellectual exercise than a genuine faith commitment.  Consequently she can be described as having been Protestant in her doctrine but Catholic in her piety.   While more zealous churchmen were sweeping away cross and candles from the altars, Elizabeth used the “ornaments rubric” of the prayer book as a justification for retaining them in her chapel where she insisted on more decorum than many of her bishops or priests maintained in their cathedrals and parish churches.  Elizabeth also was clear that she preferred the clergy to be celibate although she could not enforce this on the more reform-minded prelates and priests of her English Church.  But then Elizabeth herself seems to have had some very ambiguous attitudes about sex and historians are uncertain in their opinions about the Queen’s sexual history. 
Some claim, and I think they are right, that Elizabeth would have preferred the Royal Catholicism of her father, that is, a Church that remained in worship and piety in the Catholic tradition while preserving its autonomy from papal power.  This was never an option however.  London had been thoroughly Protestantized during the reign of her brother King Edward and his thoroughly Protestant Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley.  Ridley had been burned at the stake in the reign of Mary and Londoners regarded him and other Protestant martyrs as heroes.  London was a Protestant city through and through.  When Elizabeth came to London in her coronation progress she was greeted by a series of pageants by the citizens that made it clear to her that her capital was a Reformed City, not a Catholic one.  While attachment to “the old religion” was strong in the North and West of England, Elizabeth had to govern from London and London and the surrounding southern part of England wanted nothing to do with the cult the Reformation had wiped away. 
Despite the Act of Supremacy making Elizabeth “supreme governor” in all things, spiritual and ecclesiastical as well as temporal and asserting that “no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate” shall claim any jurisdiction within her realm, and despite the abandonment of Catholic liturgical practices, Rome moved slowly to respond with an excommunication.  Despite some deliberate ambiguities to suit the Queen’s piety, Elizabeth’s 1559 Prayer Book was definitely Protestant in doctrine.  However the following year a Latin edition of the Prayer Book was issued, ostensibly for use in the chapels of Oxford and Cambridge where scholars would be familiar with the language.  A close examination of the two books, the Latin and the English, shows that the Latin Book is far more “Catholic” not only in its vocabulary but in is theology.  I would not overstress this—the liturgy is substantially the same—but the variations are theologically significant.  Elizabeth’s chief advisors undoubtedly realized that Rome would study the liturgical texts carefully to discern the theological stance of the English Church before making its judgment about the Queen’s faith and that given the choice of using a Latin or an English text for their research, they would choose the more familiar Latin.  The Latin book is slanted to make the break seem somewhat less drastic than it in fact was. 
In coming to the throne, Elizabeth had to deal with enemies both at home and abroad who wanted to use the opportunity of a woman on the throne to subordinate England to their own policies, foreign or domestic, by finding her a husband who would dominate her and thus dominate the realm.  Elizabeth had no desire to be so manipulated but she was in no way secure enough on the throne to play her hand openly at first.  Protestants wanted to find her a domestic husband from among their coreligionist nobility.  (This was not an easy task as many of the old nobility remained Catholic while the “new-blood” families who had been elevated by her father to the nobility to side with him in his struggle against the Church and the old guard, were Protestant.)  Catholics, on the other hand, hoped she would marry a Hapsburg (Spanish or Austrian) or Valois (French) prince who might persuade her to restore Catholicism.  Elizabeth probably had no intention of every marrying anyone but she played these two factions off against one another.  To do so she had to go easy on English Catholics lest she offend potential foreign suitors.   
As I wrote, religion for Elizabeth was more a matter of intellectual exercise than a personal passion and she was genuinely reluctant to disturb individuals whose preferences and even ideologies differed from hers so long as that they did not disturb the peace of the realm.  Many of “old families”—both noble and gentry—kept discreetly to the Catholic faith and Elizabeth was not wont to stir up hornets’ nests, especially as she did not feel secure on the throne with her nearest heir  (Mary, Queen of Scots) being a Catholic and England’s powerful enemies—France and Spain—looking for excuses for war and possible conquest.  Thus for eleven years things remained calm in England. 
It was actually Catholics who ignited the fuse of rebellion that would lead to persecution.  In 1569 there was a rebellion in the north of England that intended to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots.  The Plotters designed that Mary was to be married to the Duke of Norfolk, the leading peer of the realm and a Catholic.  Elizabeth would be captured, perhaps killed but certainly deposed.  Mary and Norfolk would reign.  The plot failed.  Pius V then issued a bull, Regnans in Excelsis, deposing Elizabeth “pretended Queen of England and servant of crime,” releasing her subjects of any obedience to her, and excommunicating any who did obey her.  Well, this put Catholics in a bad spot—they were either to be excommunicate or be traitors, they could make their choice.  Moreover, just to seal the deal there was another Catholic plot organized by a Florentine banker, Roberto di Ridolfi, with Pius’ blessing to murder Elizabeth.  Subsequent Catholic plots—the 1583 Throckmorton Plot and the 1586 Babington Plot—would lead to Mary’s execution and to the arrests and execution of Catholics for treason.
What persecution of Catholics there was under Elizabeth was not on religious grounds but for suspected treason.  While there were laity who gave their lives, the vast majority of Elizabeth’s victims were priests.  Priests were considered foreign agents (of the Pope) who undermined the Queen’s authority.  The execution of a woman in the city of York, Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was put to death on Good Friday 1586 for harboring priests, provoked a letter from an outraged Elizabeth stating that given her sex, Clitherow should not have been executed.   By executing people for treason rather than religious beliefs, Elizabeth avoided the mistake her sister, “Bloody Mary,” had made of elevating her victims to martyrs in popular opinion.   It was only in the nineteenth century that Catholic historians were able to change popular opinion concerning the Elizabethan victims from traitors to religious martyrs, and to be perfectly honest, the case of each needs to be looked at singularly to decide whether the individual was indeed a martyr for the faith or a criminal legitimately executed for treason.          


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rebellious Catholics I

King James, target of The
Gunpowder Plot
There is a great podcast that I like very much called “Things You Missed in History Class” featuring Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty.  (In the past hosts have included Jane McGrath and Candace Keener and perhaps others whose names I can’t find.)  This podcast is not about the history of the Church but of all sorts of historical topics and often our Catholic Church plays a role—sometimes favorable and sometimes not—in the stories they relate. 
What brings “Things You Missed in History Class” to mind is that I was listening to podcasts as over the hills and through the woods I went to Grandmother’s House for Christmas and they had an episode on Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot and I thought that might be interesting to do a posting on.
Guy Fawkes was only one, and actually the least important, of five plotters who hatched a plan to King James I of England, his son Prince of Wales Henry, and members of Parliament of both Lords and the Commons by detonating gunpowder they had stored in a cellar under the House of Lords.  The occasion would have been the State Opening of Parliament scheduled for November 5, 1605. 
Fawkes, Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, John Wright, and Thomas Percy—all Catholics—hatched the plot in their disappointment that King James had not lifted many of the restrictions and penalties imposed by the Crown and Parliament on Catholics during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.   When Elizabeth died in 1603 she was succeeded on the throne by her third cousin, James VI Stuart of Scotland. (James’ great-great grandparents were Elizabeth’s grandparents.  Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s Father was the brother of Margaret Tudor who had married James IV of Scotland, and they were the great-grandparents of  James VI.)  James’ Mother was Mary, Queen of Scots who was a devout Catholic and who, as Elizabeth’s nearest relative and heir, had been kept under arrest by Elizabeth and eventually executed for fear of a Catholic rebellion that would depose (and kill) Elizabeth and put Catholic Mary on the throne.  When his mother was beheaded at Fotheginghay Castle on Feburary 8th 1587, James became the next in line for the English Crown.   (If you want to read a great piece of historical prose, read the introduction to Garrett Mattingly’s The Armada.  It tells the narrative of Mary’s execution and I think this is the best piece of historical prose in the English language.)   While his mother was Catholic and his wife, Anne of Denmark, was a convert to Catholicism who engineered the marriages of her sons to Catholic Princesses to secure a Catholic foothold in England, James himself was raised Protestant (Church of Scotland, Church of England) and was convinced in his Calvinist faith.  Nevertheless, he sent signals at his accession that he was to be tolerant of Catholics.  To gain Catholic support for his ascending the English throne, James had told the Earl of Northumberland—a prominent sympathizer with the Catholics and probably secretly a Catholic himself—that he would not persecute “any that would be quiet and give but an outward obedience to the law.”  This promise was probably made in good faith, but the Puritan faction in Parliament would have none of it and wanted in fact to strengthen the anti-popery laws.  The failure to offer relief to Catholics caused many in the Catholic party to turn from their support of James. The five plotters met on May 20, 1604 at the Duck and Drake Inn in the Strand (in London) to lay the foundation of their scheme; they swore an oath of secrecy and then, to seal the oath, received the Eucharist together.  The plotters used Thomas Percy’s position as a member of the Honorable Company of Gentlemen at Arms, (ironically) a bodyguard of the King, which gave him the prestige and rationale to rent a house within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster that adjoined the chamber in which the House of Lords met.  The house was owned by one John Whynniard.  The building included an “undercroft” (or semi-basement hall) that in fact was directly beneath the Lords’ Chamber.  The plotters devised a plan to secretly and by night move gunpowder into this crypt over a period of months and then detonate it when the King came for the ceremonial opening of Parliament.    Killing the King and the Crown Prince, the plotters planned to kidnap the King’s infant daughter, Elizabeth and make her Queen while she would be “guided” by a council of Catholic noblemen. 
Parliament was scheduled to convene in February 1605 but plague and other reasons caused the opening to be postponed several times until a final date of November 5 was chosen.   The delay gave the plotters time to gather more participants into their scheme but this may have worked against them as the larger the group became the more difficult confidentiality became to maintain.  Moreover the plotters were receiving conflicting advice from the clergy as to the morality of their plot, some priests encouraging them and others admonishing them against violence and treason.  By November the conspirators had stashed 36 barrels of gunpowder in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords.
A little more than a week before the scheduled date, Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter, presumably from a friend among the conspirators, advising him to leave London and not attend the State Opening.  Monteagle was a Catholic sympathizer (and possibly himself secretly a Catholic) but he immediately handed the letter over to the Earl of Salisbury, head of James’ secret police.  Salisbury initially hesitated but then showed the letter to the King who ordered a search of the Houses of Parliament in which the cellars where the conspirators had hidden the gunpowder beneath piles of firewood were searched, but the firewood was not disturbed and the powder was not found.  A second more thorough search uncovered the gunpowder and Fawkes, who was guarding it, was arrested.  Other conspirators were rounded up but most had fled at word of Fawkes arrest.  Within days, a posse led by the sheriff of Worcester rounded up most of the conspirators in the Midlands.  In addition to the conspirators themselves many prominent Catholic nobility and gentry were arrested and interrogated.  In the end, Fawkes and Thomas Wintour, were executed by being hung, drawn, and quartered while Percy, Catesby, and Wright were killed while be taken by the Sheriff of Worcester’s posse. Later joiners to the plot Everard Digby, John Grant, Robert Wintour, Thomas Bates, Ambrose Rookwood, Stephen Littleton, Robert Keyes and Humphrey Littleton were all hung, drawn, and quartered.  Jesuit Father Henry Garnet who had been privy—at least to some degree—of the plot but had not endorsed it was also captured and executed. 
I think the interesting question the gunpowder plot raises is the use of violence for a just cause.   Catholics certainly had every justification in seeking relief from the civil and penal restrictions placed on them by Elizabeth and James.  Catholics could feel that they had been betrayed particularly by James who had given assurances of leaving them in peace in return for their support at his accession to the English throne but then reneged on his promises.  Given the state of constitutional development in England in the 17th century there were no non-violent ways to bring about a change of government that would leave Catholics in peace.   Nevertheless, Church authorities both in England—Archpriest George Blackwell—and in Rome had told the clergy to instruct the faithful against any sort of civil disobedience. (The Archpriest was the papal appointee to oversee the Church in England which at this point had no bishops.)   Despite appeals to Pope Clement VIII to condemn rebellion against the Crown and Parliament, it was only after the Gunpowder Plot that Pope Paul V condemned the plot and admonished English Catholics to keep the peace.  This was somewhat of a reversal of earlier policies set when Pius V had excommunicated Elizabeth and relieved her Catholic subjects of their obedience to the Crown.  At the end of the day, one would have to say that the Church did not support the plot and the use of violence to bring about its freedom under James and that the plotters acted against Catholic principles. Also as none of those executed—with the possible exception of Father Garnett—were in any way executed for odium fidei (hatred of the faith), they cannot be considered martyrs but remain traitors to those loyal to the Crown and rebels to those who recognize the right of rebellion by those deprived of liberties. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rageoholics and Religion


Cardinal O'Malley greets President
Obama at the funeral of the late
Senator Ted Kennedy
Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, making his swan-song after twenty-four years in the United States Senate, recently said:

I’m not saying I was always right,” he said at his Senate office. “I’ll leave that to God and history. But I believed I was doing what I thought was right and people didn’t just disagree with me. There was hatred. But I’m not alone in that. You can take the last three presidents — Clinton, Bush, Obama — and people haven’t just disagreed with them, they’ve hated them. And to me, that’s really terrible. That’s a cancer that’s eating at our politics.”

As I would also say about Mr. Justice Scalia on the political right, while I have not always agreed with Senator Lieberman, I have always had a lot of respect for him because he is a man who is not afraid to speak up for what he believes to be right.   And I find that people of small intellects and narrow spirits have met both the Justice and the Senator with a personal animosity that is nothing less than pathological.  And if that is true for the lesser lights, such as Justices and Senators, how much more so for Presidents—Clinton, Bush, and Obama most of all.
I must admit that I have never cared for Mr. Clinton personally though I think he had a successful presidency and will go down in history as one of our better Presidents.  Mr. Bush I think is a good man but was a terrible president not only because of the disastrous policies that led both to a national financial shambles and two immoral wars with the consequent socio-political chaos of the implosion of the Middle-East, but even more so because he allowed himself to be surrounded by evil persons who manipulated their access to power for personal gain at the cost of national ruin.  As a professional historian, I have no doubt that the Senior President Bush and his predecessor, President Reagan, will be evaluated very differently in the long-run than they have been in the short.  When archives are opened and the definitive history of the 1980 election and subsequent presidencies of the winning candidates can be written, Americans will be appalled at the way in which the Republican Party undermined our constitutional government.   And to be honest and fair, the roots of the evil that like a cancer is eating out the democracy from within our republican form of government go back further and deeper and are not limited to one party.   I only wish there were more Joe Libermans and Antonin Scalias whose integrity I trust.  All this is a way of saying that while I while I wouldn’t buy a used car from Bill Clinton, and I think George W was in way over his head, and while I think Ronald Reagan and George H.W., and Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Ashcroft are (or were) evil people—and I don’t use that term lightly—I don’t have any personal animosity, much less hatred, for them.  I don’t wish them harm or even misfortune.  Like evil people I have personally encountered in my life—in the Church, in academics, in business, as neighbors, or as relatives—my disappointment in them doesn’t fester into rage or even an abiding anger.  My perception of them as “evil” is precisely that—my perception—and I don’t expect that God sees them the same way I do.  In fact, I am aware that if I saw them as God did I might better understand where their moral failure—or what I perceive to have been their moral failure—comes from and having a context for it I might better understand it.     
On the other hand, the rage we see today directed by some towards President Obama baffles me.  I can understand people disagreeing with him.  I can see their being disappointed in their fellow citizens choosing him for a second term.  I can see people worrying for the future of the country as I did under the last three Republican administrations.  I can even see people not liking him, as I obviously have disliked some of his predecessors.  What I cannot see is healthy people being enraged by everything the man does from spending a Christmas vacation with his family to his occasional attendance at a Church service to his appearance at a Catholic Charities benefit to his visits to our wounded warriors to his remarks at a memorial service for the victims of the Newtown Connecticut gun murders.  When everything an individual does inspires rage in a person, one begins to see that the problem is not with the individual but with the person who becomes angry.  
Regular readers know that one of my bête noires is the author of a blog under the title of “Les Femmes.”   Twenty years ago when I worked in Northern Virginia this woman had a certain reputation and her little home-printed newsletter circulated quarterly among the various parishes and organizations to which she mailed it, unsolicited and gratis.    She used it to excoriate various priests and nuns and diocesan officials that didn’t meet her criteria for orthodoxy or whose read on canon law differed from her own.  Though “Les Femmes” entitled themselves “Women of Truth,” she never hesitated to use lies, half-truths, innuendos, and out-of-context quotes and stories, to pass judgment on her spiritual betters.  Over the years her organization, never more than a handful, has dwindled down to what pretty much appears to be a one-woman campaign to attack a range of foes from Jesuit Father James Martin to Benedictine Sister Joan Chittester to local prelates and priests such as Father Tuck Grinnell or Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  But these last few years, foes within the Church have been eclipsed by an increasing and incredible personal animosity towards not only President Barack Obama but towards his wife.  When, during a question and answer period after a talk I gave recently, I used her blog and newsletter as an example of pathological anger hiding beneath a cover of religion, a member of the audience told me:  
" I have known this woman for over forty years.  We had children together at St X School in Y, Virginia.  She is a rageoholic.  For her, religion—her religion, not the Church-- is the fuel that drives her anger.  Her anger blinds her ability to see reality in any way other than she constructs it and she constructs it to feed her anger.”
I found this insight fascinating.  A colleague of mine who is a psychotherapist often speaks of rageoholics.  Some people, more than a few in our society, are addicted to anger even as others are addicted to alcohol or drugs or are compulsive in their sexual acting-out, or their use of food, or their self-mutilation.   Like other addicts, rageoholics construct their realities to support or justify their addictions.  It is not that they are conscious of their lies or deliberate in their evils—reality becomes for them that which they need it to be to feed their addiction.  The roots of this addiction, like the roots of other compulsive  behavior, can be many—incidents of abuse, fear, depression, loneliness, anxiety or a thousand other experiences that produce a need for whatever gratification the addiction gives or angst it soothes.  Anger releases many of the same endorphins as sex and even as sex-addicts find their compulsions soothed by sexual release, anger-addicts find comfort in their release of those endorphins by giving rant to their rage.  The moral culpability for such behavior needs to go not towards the addict—whose loss of moral freedom has been diminished by the addiction—but to those who fan the flames of this anger.  For those who find in pseudo-Catholicism a justification for hating—not disagreeing with, but hating—someone we must find the sources that are feeding that compulsive rage.  Those who use the pulpit or the press for demagoguery or voices like that of Michael Voris and his “Real Catholic T.V.” are the ones who need to be held responsible for the epidemic of hatred under the cover of “religion,” that is becoming part of the warp and woof of our society.   There is no way that the Gospel of Christ can be used to justify the sort behavior that can swell ideological disagreement into personal hatred and as a Church we do not want to be known for this sort of attitude.  By this shall know you are my disciples—that  you have love for one another.  There is enough evil in the world already; we don’t need Westboro Baptist Catholics.              

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Post-Newtown Choices 2


"Adoration of the Shepherds"
by Gerard van Honthorst  1622
In a recent post I mentioned a person whom most Catholics have not heard of and most evangelicals have forgotten—Clarence Jordan.  I thought I might have mentioned Jordan in a previous posting but checking back, I don’t find that I did.  Sometimes I find that I become to “Catholic” but not “catholic” enough in the way I focus this blog.   In any event, Clarence Jordan (1912-69) was an Evangelical Protestant from west-central Georgia who from his youth was conscious of the plight of the African American and white sharecroppers in his State.  To help with this problem he studied agriculture at the University of Georgia but then was convinced that the problem was not only a matter of economics but of spirituality.  He attended the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville and earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek.   He never presented himself for ordination but he remained a New Testament scholar throughout his life, able to translate the scriptures on sight from their Greek original into contemporary American English.  In fact he produced the “Cotton Patch” edition of many New Testament books—a paraphrase of the scriptures in the language and culture of the American South.  In his adaptation of the Christmas story Jesus is born not in a stable but a garage, and laid not in a manger but an apple-crate.  And at the end of the stories, Jesus is not crucified at the instigation of the High Priest and Sanhedrin, but lynched at the urgings of Baptist preachers.  Explaining his “adaptation” of the story, Jordan wrote: “they crucified him in Judea and they strung him up in Georgia with a noose tied to a pine tree.”  Of course Jordan was not the first to take the story and give it this sort of a twist.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, has Christ brought for an interview before the Grand Inquisitor, representing the powers of the Catholic Church, who condemns Christ to death.  (In the end, however, the Inquisitor allows Christ to leave rather than consigning him to the stake to which he had been condemned.)
In 1942 Jordan and his wife, Florence, along with another couple, Martin and Mable England, began Koinonia Farms, an interracial commune modeled on the early Jerusalem Christian community described in the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  This sparked a huge outrage among the locals as it was against the law for blacks and whites to live within the same household.  The community was dedicated to the principles of racial equality, ecological responsibility, common ownership of possessions, and a rejection of violence.  How un-Georgia could you get?  It also turned out how un-Southern Baptist could you get as according to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, Jordan was dis-fellowshipped from the Convention.   As the Civil Rights movement began to pick up momentum, Koinonia Farms became the target of much violence but Jordan and his friends  remained committed to what they saw as the path of Christian discipleship.  Millard and Linda Fuller came to Kononia Farms in 1965 and Jordan’s example and inspiration led them to the establishment of Habitat for Humanity.   Another American influenced by Jordan’s Christianity is President Jimmy Carter.   Clarence Jordan died in 1969.  Consistent with his evangelical life he was buried in a pine-box in an unmarked grave on the Farm at a funeral attended by family and the neighboring poor.  In many ways, Clarence was a Protestant Saint Francis—a man whose love for the Gospel led him to follow Christ in his poverty and his passion for the poor.  He gives us something to think about and reflect on this Christmas season.  The baby came for a reason and the work he began isn’t finished yet.  Clarence took up the work for the span of his years.  There is a need for others to take up that work today. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Post-Newtown Choices

I mentioned in my last post H. Richard Neibuhr and his book Christ and Culture, or more specifically I referred to his “Christ of Culture” model drawn from that book.  Neibuhr, the younger brother of theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, was a Protestant theologian coming out of the Evangelical and Reformed tradition (now the United Church of Christ) a German based denomination that embraced both Lutheran and Calvinist roots.  Neibuhr, who died in 1962 at age 68, represents the “neo-orthodox” movement in American Protestantism of the first half of the twentieth century that provided an important corrective to the modernist-leaning liberal trend in American and European Protestant Christianity of the period.  Neibuhr held his Ph.D. from Yale in 1924 and after serving several years as president of Elmhurst College and two stints of teaching at Eden Theological Seminary, he returned to Yale to teach in 1931 and remained there until his death.  As a “neo-orthodox” Christian, Neibuhr drew his chief inspiration from Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth.    Typical to this Calvinist heritage, Neibuhr stressed the absolute Sovereignty of God.   His acerbic critique of contemporary liberal Protestantism remains a classic and I often quote it in my talks as it applies equally well to the American happy-clappy Catholicism that I detest for its lack of gravity and historical context.  Neibuhr wrote of liberal Christians that they believed in

A God without anger
Who led a people without sin
Into a kingdom without judgment
Through the ministry of a Christ without a cross. 

If that just doesn’t sum up what is wrong with a lot of contemporary Christianity —Catholic and Protestant—I don’t know what does.
In any event, the “Christ of Culture” position which Neibuhr scores can  basically be described as the socio-political-economic stance of the “Christian” who uncritically endorses the cultural status quo.  I always use the example of the Russian Orthodox Bishops standing on the railway station platforms blessing the Czarist troops as they are sent off to World War I.  National flags flanking the altar or singing “America the Beautiful” in a worship service would be other examples.  The identification with America as the new “Promised Land” or Americans being the new “chosen people” is yet another.  All these are examples of the unhealthy alliance of public culture and religious institutions.  They are usually wed to a moralism that takes no account of the modern sciences and a free-market capitalism that leaves every man to himself and leaves women and children to be victimized by a system based on rabid individualism and unbounded greed.    
But the relationship of the Christian to the prevalent culture is even more complex today than in Neibuhr’s time.  We are in the midst of what is being called “culture wars” as two competing ideologies strive for recognition as the predominant American culture.  The competing culture to the neo-cons is a libertarian/libertine society in which the individual has no accountability to the common ethic—for there is no acknowledged “common ethic.”  This society would advocate a feel-good world of total subjectivism, addictive consumerism, actions without accountability, sex without commitment, and narcissistic me-firstism.  Neither “culture” is consistent with core Christian values.  The fatal flaw in both pseudo-cultures, the neo-con and the liberal, is the American lie of individualism.  I, the individual, is not the subject of supreme good.  “My rights,” my good, my desires, and even my freedoms must be subordinated—freely, but subordinated none the less—to the common good.    
The Newtown Tragedy demands the Christian, Catholic or Protestant, must step into the culture and redeem what is redeemable within it and repent of what is not.   What is not redeemable in contemporary America is our fascination with violence and our addictions to anger.  What threatens to destroy us as a society is the ever widening gap rooted in rage that makes dialogue impossible and reconciliation no more than a dream. 
By the way, yesterday (Thursday, Dec 20) Terry Gross had a great discussion on the challenges facing those who advocate stronger gun-control policies from the NRA and from the gun manufacturers--and the relationship between NRA and manufacturers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

O Wisdom!


The incipit of a medieval
copy of the Book of the
Wisdom of Solomon.
 The Church is coming close to Christmas—on Monday we started the O Antiphons.  The O Antiphons are a series of seven antiphons sung at the Magnificat of Vespers from December 17 to the 23rd.  They build in drama until the final:

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster
 
           O Emmanuel, our king and giver of the law,
hope of the gentiles and their Saviour:
Come to save us, O Lord our God.

I love these antiphons and look forward to them each year.  In the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council they are also used as the alleluia verse at Mass.  Some priests adapt them for the strophes of the penitential rite.   And of course the hymn Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) is based on a very close adaptation of these marvelous hymns. 

The antiphons themselves go back at least to the eighth century where it is recorded that they were sung at Vespers both at Rome and at the Abbey of Fleury in the Loire Valley.  This indicates that their usage was widespread in the western Church pretty early on and some claim that they may even come from the fifth century.  On the other hand, as there is no trace of them or their influence in the Eastern Rites, it is not likely that they were much  earlier than the fourth century.   

The first of the O Antiphons is O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

 

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
Stretching  from one end (of the earth) to the other,
powerfully yet gently ordering all things:
Come to teach us the path of prudence.

 This morning I heard Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, say that he would prefer to see teachers and school administrators armed (with guns) in the classroom as a means of preventing the sort of violence we saw last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.  Dr. Land is not a stupid man—he holds a D.Phil. from Oxford—but obviously neither is he wise.  Wisdom and Knowledge are not one and the same thing, and neither, for that matters, is wisdom and intelligence.  Nor, to be honest, is intelligence and knowledge.  Intelligence is a capacity for knowledge but does not itself fulfill the potential it offers.  It is not enough to be intelligent, one still has to acquire the knowledge. Knowledge, for its part, is something that we acquire, hopefully to whatever capacity our intellect gives us.  Wisdom, on the other hand, is—at least in our Catholic tradition—an infused gift.  It is something that only God can give. 

I would not be inclined to look to the Southern Baptist tradition for Wisdom—nor for that matter, ethical gravity—as it is a denomination historically founded on the most base racist principles.  The congregations  associated with the SBC certainly did not do themselves gospel-proud during the Civil Rights movement and the SBC distinguished itself in advocating racism when according the theologian Stanley Hauerwas it excommunicated Clarence Jordan, one of the most saintly evangelicals in the history of American religion.  Of course, to be fair, Jordan brought down censure on himself when in his popular telling of the Gospel story relocated from the first-century Holy Land to the twentieth-century American South, he has Jesus not crucified but lynched by the Church leaders.  Dr. Land, for his part, has a history of making comments that if not deliberately racist certainly betray an ignorance of racial sensitivity.  He also was vocal in his support of George W. Bush’s bringing the nation to war against Iraq.  His comments today on NPR show a consistency with his views of an America that fits H. Richard Neibuhr’s Christ of Culture model in which religion sells itself out to support a prevailing socio-economic and political culture rather than challenge that culture with the Gospel.   In other words, Dr. Land is one of those “let’s make the good news bad news” sort of people.  But then again, as this blog has pointed out, we have plenty of “Bad-News Christians” in the Catholic Church too.  Calvinists and Jansenists drink from the same poisoned well.    

Let’s give some meditation time to the First of the O Antiphons

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
Stretching  from one end (of the earth) to the other,
powerfully yet gently ordering all things:
Come to teach us the path of prudence

And ask Wisdom how best to order all things in this world of violence and human anguish so that teachers don’t have to carry guns for children to learn in peace and safety.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Three elderly Mennonite women, all between 84 and 90 years old, were tied up and attacked with a stun gun in a small eastern Pennsylvania town Friday—the same day a gunman killed 20 children, six teachers, his mother and himself in an affluent Connecticut town.  Dereck Taylor Holt, 22, attacked the women apparently for no reason other than their religion.  The irony is that Mennonites, like their spiritual cousins, the Amish, are a peace loving people who for centuries have consecrated themselves to non-violence.  Meanwhile members of the Westboro Baptist Church—the notorious Kansas sect that pickets military funerals with signs declaring that “God Hates Gays” have announced that they are going to picket funerals of the victims of the Newtown shooting.  One has to wonder how evil such as the assault on these elderly women, the murder of children and teachers, and the hate that fills the hearts of this Topeka Kansas synagogue of Satan  can be reconciled with our belief in God.  How can a good God tolerate the harm done by evil people? 
I have been listening to Catholicism –the made for Public Television series by Father Robert Barron of Chicago as I do my treadmill routine—practicing to wow my cardiologist at my stress-test.  I am really impressed by the series.  As you know, I am a bit jaundiced by most official Catholic propaganda and there are things that Father Barron says that I find a little more “inside the box” than I might choose to say.  But overall, I am finding the series to be very thought provoking and faith-inspiring.  But he asks that very question: How can a good God tolerate evil in our world?  I think he comes up with some credible answers why God doesn’t just burn down Westboro or strike dead bullies and sociopaths.  But the real issue is—why do we tolerate evil?
I spent a weekend last year as the guest of some friends at their seaside vacation home.  There was another family there with their college age sons.  A priest friend was also there and said Mass for the group the Sunday morning.  We were all there except for the younger son of the guest-couple.  I was a bit surprised as this family are practicing Catholics and the sons are graduates of Catholic grade and high schools. The young man not only wasn’t there, he made his absence conspicuous by walking past the group several times during the liturgy and then taking out his hand gun and doing some target practice where we could all hear him. 
Afterward I asked the host “what was that all about?”  “Joe is angry with God.” My host said.  “He was bullied in school and he blames God for not doing something about it?”  To be honest, I am frightened for this young man.  This sort of unresolved anger combined with his fascination for guns are two components of what could be a toxic psychiatric cocktail.   But his question is simply a variation of why doesn’t God burn down Westboro or strike dead those who are doing harm to elderly women or defenseless children. 
The Catholic answer, rooted in Augustine and Thomas as well as Ratzinger and Rahner is that we need to take responsibility for evil in our world and we need to do something about it.  It isn’t God’s problem.  God did not create evil.  We have shattered the inherent goodness of creation by our greed, our anger, our lust, our jealousy, our need for control or power.  We have caused the problem and we must—with God’s grace—find ways of healing it.  Notice, I said “heal.”  In most cases punishment is only the petri dish that grows the evil.  But the culture of violence in which we wallow is the seedbed of the murders and assaults and the bullying and the hatred we find in Newtown and Pennsylvania and Topeka and your town and mine.  Christ alone has the answer.  Christ is the answer.