August 24, 2014
Fr Martin Rhonheimer, who teaches at the Opus Dei university in Rome, and who is known for defending various other indefensible things, such as the use of prophylactics and (so I’m told) the crushing of the heads of unborn children, both of course only in unusual circumstances, has renewed his attack on the Church’s teaching on the duties of the State. In a recent article in Nova et Vetera he argues that the pope and bishops should never have called upon Catholic civil magistrates to repress heresy. The civil power has no duty to submit to the authority of the Church, he says, because it is substantially secular. We used to think it did have such a duty, but we were wrong; Vatican II has changed all that.
He makes some strange claims. At one point he says that the view that the secular arm was subject to the spiritual arm has no roots in patristic tradition. Then a couple of pages later, he says that it comes from St Gregory the Great and St Isidore of Seville! When does he think the patristic period was? He also says that the two swords’ doctrine is ‘heterodox Augustinianism’ – a misinterpretation of St Augustine’s ‘City of God’. But St Augustine warmly applauded the intervention of the Roman civil authority which helped to suppress Donatism in north Africa (the saint had been opposed originally, as he had thought it would be counter-productive; but when he saw that it led to sincere conversions, he changed his mind and said so.) I am surprised that Nova et Vetera would let such claims get through.
So, should the secular arm be subject to the spiritual one?
Now Eliseus was sick of the illness whereof he died: and Joas king of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, and said: O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the guider thereof. And Eliseus said to him: Bring a bow and arrows. And when he had brought him a bow, and arrows, He said to the king of Israel: Put thy hand upon the bow. And when he had put his hand, Eliseus put his hands over the king’s hands, And said: Open the window to the east. And when he had opened it, Eliseus said: Shoot an arrow. And he shot. And Eliseus said: The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance (4 Kings 13).
What is the arrow that flies toward the East, if not the intention of man hastening towards Christ and Heaven, with undeviating aim? And whose hands direct him thither, if not the king’s, held firm by the prophet’s?
August 24, 2014
Today is the 200th Anniversary of Britain’s sack of Washington DC and burning of the White House. About which Canadians (I spoke to one yesterday) remain extremely smug. I’m told the Iron Duke was confident his veterans could re-conquer the thirteen colonies but advised it was not worth the endless hassle from the disaffected neo-subjects. A Canadian musician introduced me to this song a few years ago and I thought the bicentenary was a good opportunity to post it here while my UEL relatives retain a numerical preponderance. The Americans ought to be grateful really as the campaign also gave rise to a slightly more famous ditty.
August 15, 2014
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The last scene in Elijah’s life so far is well known. He was walking with his spiritual son Elisha in the region beyond the Jordan when a fiery chariot drawn by horses of fire parts them. As he sees Elijah ascend skywards in the chariot, Elisha cries out: ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its driver!’
The prophet Elijah is in a strange way a figure of the Blessed Virgin. At least, his life is evocative of her. His greatest miracle took place on Mount Carmel, the place more than any other which is used for one of Mary’s titles. He cast his mantle over Elisesus to call him to the prophetic life. Our Lady casts the scapular, especially that of Mount Carmel, over her spiritual children so that they may imitate her fidelity to the Word. When the famine of three and a half years is about to end, Elijah sends his servant up to the top of Mount Carmel, and he sees at last a cloud no bigger than – what? The modern versions tend to say ‘a man’s hand'; but the Vulgate and the Septuagint, consistently with the Hebrew, which is patient of either sense, say ‘a man’s foot’. It is then a symbol of that heel, which God declared in Eden would one day crush the head of the enemy and bring to an end the famine of the Word of God.
Given such things, it is natural to see the assumption of Elijah, though it was not into the glory of heaven, as a prefigurement of today’s feast.
Yet there is more than this. The cry of Elisha, ‘The chariot of Israel and its Driver!’ seemed to pass into a proverb in Israel. For when Elisha also was at the end of his life, and lying on his death-bed, King Joash of Israel came to see him, and wept, and said ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its Driver!’ (3 Kings 13:14). It is a cry of sorrow, no doubt, at parting, but also of hope. Joash does not speak to Elisha about the prophet Elijah but rather evokes that mysterious vision before which even Elijah had been silent. Who then are the Chariot of Israel and the Driver thereof? God after all did not need to send them; He could have taken up Elijah without visible means; so they must have some great significance. It seems to me that they are figures of Mary and Jesus, coming to help the faithful in their dying moments. They do not come bodily, since the faithful do not ascend into heaven bodily until the end of the world. But they come spiritually, as the faithful are to ascend spiritually. Our Lady is compared to the ‘chariot’ and our Lord to the ‘charioteer’, to show that she is perfectly responsive to His will. Thus the same death-bed hope that under a veil of metaphor comforted the faithful ones of the old covenant now comforts the true Israelites who look with face unveiled to where Christ and His Mother await them in a holier place than that to which Elijah himself was taken.
August 8, 2014
The prophet Zechariah once had a vision of four successive chariots, each pulled by a pair of horses, emerging between two brazen mountains. The first pair of horses were red, the second black, the third white and the fourth were grey and strong. What does it all mean, he asked the angel?
The angel told him:
These are the four winds of the heaven, which go forth to stand before the Lord of all the earth. That in which were the black horses went forth into the land of the north, and the white went forth after them: and the grisled went forth to the land of the south. And they that were most strong, went out, and sought to go, and to run to and fro through all the earth.
Adapting an exposition of Pope Gregory IX, we can see this as a reference to the four great religious rules in the Church. The earliest is that of St Basil. He is symbolized by the red or chestnut horses, since this is the closest a horse can be to the imperial colour: and his very name means king or emperor. His horses are not said to go to some new location, since Catholic religious life in the East has on the whole not moved far, down the centuries, from those places where it began.
The black horses represent the rule of St Benedict, and in their chariot are the black monks. Starting in Monte Cassino, or Nursia if you prefer, they “went forth into the land of the north,” and filled it with their monasteries.
The white horses stand for the rule of St Augustine. Why do these ‘go forth after’ the black ones, when Augustine lived a hundred years before Benedict? Perhaps because the Orders which have perpetuated his rule in the Church are ones that came later – the Premonstratensians and the Dominicans. These Orders also go forth after, that is, imitate, the Benedictines in being committed to a solemn choral office. The religious of these two Orders wear white, hence the white horses.
The last of the great rules is that of St Francis, symbolised by the strong, grey horses pulling his chariot of grey friars. Why do they go to the land of the south? At first I wondered if this could be a reference to the evangelisation of South America; but the Dominicans were prominent in this as well. Perhaps then it stands for some future great effort of evangelisation of the Muslims, foreshadowed by the early Franciscan martyrs of north Africa, and by St Francis’s own attempt, ultimately successful according to the Fioretti, to convert the sultan of Egypt. May then the strong sons of Francis go forth against the sons of Mahomet and slay them, with the sword not of steel but of the Spirit!
August 2, 2014
Only once, I think, have I met a Catholic from Chaldea (may God have mercy on them and convert their murderers). It was about thirteen or fourteen years ago. He came from a town or village where they spoke Aramaic as their mother tongue. His English was stumbling. I do not now remember what turn of fortune or misfortune had brought him into Wessex, where I then lived. Some friends of mine and I entertained him; and as we sat down to dine, this stranger from that obscure Eastern province, heir to the tongue of the prophets and the apostles, looked at my companion opposite him; pointed; and said, ‘Mr Bean!’ And indeed, the resemblance was striking.
I hardly ever see the television or read a modern novel; I would struggle to name any painting or piece of classical music or sculpture in stone or bronze produced in these islands in the last five decades, so my opinion is probably worthless. But I sometimes think that Mr Bean will be the one work of art created among us in modern times that will last. Wordless, or nearly so, it can transcend not only the nations, as the visitor from Chaldea showed, but also the times. I can imagine men of a thousand years ago laughing at the sketch below. And should the world last, I think they would do the same a thousand years hence.
Scripture tells us that we must honour the physician, for we have need of him. But we have need also of the Clown. Indeed, is not the clown a kind of physician, purging men of an excess of melancholic humour, harmful both to body and to soul? In any case, let him have his honour too.