zenpundit.com » Benedict XVI

Archive for the ‘Benedict XVI’ Category

Sunday surprise: two small items for your contemplation

Monday, June 13th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the heart speaks for itself; the recusant pyx to truth of a higher order ]

Two for your contemplation


It’s the second of these that really takes my breath away.

Recusants were the British subjects who remained Catholic in faith and practice at a time when the newfangled Protestantism made that behavior a heinous offence, punishable at times by death.

It has been the life and martyrdom of the Jesuit scholar and priest Edmund Campion in Elizabeth‘s reign and under her increasingly repressive laws — as Evelyn Waugh describes him in his book of that name — which engraved in me the heroic role of the recusants, and among them of their “massing priests” and the sacrament they brought to their faithful recusant remnant.

Michael Robinson notes in Newman’s Quest for the One True Church writes:

The Catholic majority did not submissively acquiesce to Elizabeth’s scheme. Much has been written of the fate of the priests, educated and ordained abroad, who were accused of treason, tortured, then hung, drawn and quartered; but as the Catholic Church went underground the laity also began to take enormous risks. Catholic gentry opened their stately homes up to the missionary priests. Escape routes were devised, with the diminutive Jesuit layman St. Nicholas Owen leading the way in ingenious acts of carpentry. He created hiding-holes for priests, their vestments and other liturgical items, that were so effective that centuries passed before some of them were discovered. In 1620 he died in the Tower of London under torture, taking his secrets with him.

Campion himself gets to the heart of the recusant matter, though, in the first salvo of his celebrated Brag — addressed before his capture to those who might capture him, the “Right Honourable, the Lords of Her Majestie’s Privy Council”:

I confesse that I am (albeit unworthie) a priest of ye Catholike Church, and through ye great mercie of God vowed now these viii years into the Religion of the Societie of Jhesus. Hereby I have taken upon me a special kind of warfare under the banner of obedience, and eke resigned all my interest or possibilitie of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldlie felicitie.

Waugh emphasizes, in turn, the significance of a priest as one who says Mass, ie whose sacramental act “in the person of Christ” continues the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, turning the very bread and wine of the offering into the body and blood of Christ, while they retain their outward and physical form, following the words of Christ at the Last Supper:Take, eat; this is My body and Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood.

It was this transformation, this transubstantiation of bread into the very body, wine into the very blood of Christ, which so frightened and infuriated the Protestants. As Waugh notes:

Whatever the sectional differences between the various Anglican groups, they were united in their resolve to stamp out this vital practice of the old religion. They struck hard at all the ancient habits of spiritual life — the rosary, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, pilgrimages, religious art, fasting, confession, penance and the great succession of traditional holidays — but the Mass was recognized as being both the distinguishing sign and main sustenance of their opponents

To be a priest, a Jesuit, and above all the great scholar Edmund Campion SJ, was to court death for treason. But the priest’s duty was to bring that sustenance, the blessed sacrament, to the faithful — and when they could not attend Mass, it could be carried to them in just such a silver box on a string as is illustrated above. This pyx, as it was called, would have carried the body of Christ to the needy, hidden on a chain under the shirt, and on pain of most painful and drawn out death.

It is for this reason that the recusant pyx, beautiful as it may be, means so much to me, and I hope to have conveyed something of that sense to you also: seldom if ever has a container carried a freight so exalted in service to a people so spiritually hungry, under so grave a threat.


But to relax a little…

The situation was fraught, and increasingly so, for those who remained loyal Catholics — and yet just as there were pockets of recusants still faithful to the old ways, there were pockets of allowance made for them in certain circumstances. Waugh puts it nicely:

In many places the priest would say Mass in his own house for the Catholics before proceeding to read Morning Prayer in the parish church; occasionally, it is said, he would even bring consecrated wafers and communicate his Catholic parishioners at thesame time as he distributed to the Protestants the bread blessed according to the new rite.

Thus also Queen Elizabeth I herself favored the composer William Byrd enough that he was able to compose not only works suited to the Protestants (Anglicans) such as his four Services, but also Masses for specifically Catholic use, in three, four, and five voices.


Byrd for Her Protestant Majesty, Queen Elizabeth:

The Nunc dimittis (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace) from the Great Service

Byrd the faithful Catholic, for his fellow recusants:

The Agnus Dei from the Mass for five voices, Westminster Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI celebrating



  • Norfolk Heritage Explorer, June – Broken Heart
  • Annie Thwaite, Revelation and Concealment: Flipping the pyx
  • Glenn Beck one-two

    Thursday, February 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — defending someone i don’t much like ]

    I’m no fan of Glenn Beck, who talks quite a bit about Islamic apocalyptic and has been known to confuse Twelvers (the major branch of Shia Islam) with the Hojjatieh society (an anti-Bahai movement banned by the Ayatollah Khomeini), which is more or less like talking about Christianity and confusing the Catholic Church with the Legionnaires of Christ (which fell from grace under Benedict XVI, see also the note at the foot of this post).


    Anyhow, HuffPo carried a slightly frantic article headed Glenn Beck Thinks God Killed Antonin Scalia To Help Ted Cruz Get Elected President, and while the headline may be accurate, the body of the text attributed the following thought to God, not Beck:

    I just woke the American people up. I took them out of the game show moment and woke enough of them up to say, look at how close your liberty is to being lost. You now have lost your liberty. You replace one guy, and you now have 5-4 decisions in the other direction. Just with this one guy, you’ve lost your liberty — so you’d better elect somebody that’s going to put somebody on (the Supreme Court) because for the next 30 years, if you don’t, the Constitution as you know it… the Constitution is hanging by a thread. That thread has just been cut, and the only way that we survive now is if we have a true constitutionalist.

    If you listen to what Beck actually said:

    I think you might conclude, as I do, that he could have been referring to himself, and specifically perhaps to this portion of his earlier presentation in suppoort of Ted Cruz:


    The religious resonances of the current election season are truly remarkable.

    My question:

    Does the still small voice truly require a megaphone?



    The Legionnaires of Christ received new statutes under Pope Francis in 2014

    It’s been a while since anyone last used a nuclear bomb, right?

    Monday, September 9th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — keeping you in the “loopy” loop ]

    There’s more ridiculous sloshing around on the web than I can hope to monitor, but my personal collection hit a couple of high points recently that I thought I should share with you. Did you know, for instance, that Israel recently exploded a nuclear bomb in Syria? How could you consider yourself informed, and be unaware of such a thing? It was on YouTube…

    But pshaw, that’s secular nonsense, and as you know, my tastes run to the religious. So did you know the emeritus Pope Benedict had a demonic advisor by his side while he was making a major speech?

    That sure as hell beats out the namby-pamby 10 Weirdest Fundamentalist Christian Conspiracy Theories an Alternet writer came up with, eh?

    In any case, please watch both the above videos: I trust you will then realize that the world is in far worse shape than you thought it was before reading this post.

    After all, it’s on YouTube.


    How about this?

    Hang on a moment, Sayyida Zaynab is the shrine dear to Shiites that Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada is defending, as this graphic suggests:

    And last but not least, consider this, from a US Senator:

    Coincidence!?!? — or just a clumsy creative leap?


    NB: Updated to replace “Hezbollah” with “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada” above — h/t Phillip Smyth.

    Hints followed by guesses; and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action

    Monday, May 6th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — you can safely ignore this if you have zero interest in any or all of Bach, Eliot, Christianity and Sufism ]

    It’s Sunday evening here, let’s start with Yehudi Menuhin playing Bach — the great Chaconne:


    This post began to coalesce for me when Dr Alan Godlas, whose web-pages at the University of Georgia offer, among other things, a profound “gateway to Sufism“, gave me his permission to quote a comment he’d made in a private communication:

    Sufis and Muslims need to learn how to recite and listen to the Qur’an (and how to do dhikr and practice Islam and Sufism) at the depth at which Bach wrote this Chaconne and at which it was played by Menuhin.


    That really gets to the heart of the issue of spirituality and beauty — and it brought to mind a comment made by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict Emeritus, in his speech at Rimini on The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty:

    The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgement and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said: “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true”. The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration. Isn’t the same thing evident when we allow ourselves to be moved by the icon of the Trinity of Rublëv? In the art of the icons, as in the great Western paintings of the Romanesque and Gothic period, the experience described by Cabasilas, starting with interiority, is visibly portrayed and can be shared.


    John Eliot Gardiner, the great conductor of Bach with whom I apparently spent some of my earlier school-years, offers us an intriguing insight in In Rehearsal with John Eliot Gardiner (Bach Cantata No. 63), immediately after Sara Mingardo‘s deeply devotional rendering of the recitative O selger Tag

    Nota bene: Bei einer andächtigen Musik ist allezeit Gott mit seiner Gnaden Gegenwart. Now I find that very, very significant. That he’s saying wherever there is devotional music, God with his grace is present. Which, from a strict theological point of view is probably heresy, heretical, because it’s saying that music has an equivalent potency to the word of God. And I think that in essence is why Bach is so attractive to us today because he is saying that the very act of music-making and of coming together is, in a sense, an act which invokes the latency, the potency, the potentiality of God’s grace, however you like to define God’s grace; but of a benediction that comes even in a dreadful, overheated studio like Abbey Road where far too many microphones and there’s much too much stuff here in the studio itself, that if one, as a musician, puts oneself in the right frame of mind, then God’s grace can actually come and direct and influence the way we perform his music.


    But I’ve quoted both Benedict and Gardiner on this very topic before, I know, so I’ll move on to the poet TS Eliot, who in Four Quartets tells us:

    For most of us, there is only the unattended
    Moment, the moment in and out of time,
    The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
    The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
    Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
    That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
    While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
    Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
    Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.


    I would like to offer three more interpretations of the Bach Chaconne, and one anecdote. The first interpretation is of the entire Solo Violin Partita #2, including the Chaconne, by the young and already great Hilary Hahn. Her rendition of the Chaconne alone is available as a separate YouTube video here:

    There’s also a Busoni piano arrangement, played here by Helene Grimaud — it was, I think, our own J Scott Shipman who introduced me to this stunning performance:

    And even more amazing, perhaps, is the disc called “Morimur” by the Hilliard Ensemble, which you can watch much of on Youtube here, then purchase in full and with a detailed accompanying booklet here


    Finally –since I obviously love the Chaconne — I would like to leave you with the story of a double performance of this same piece by violinist Joshua Bell at L’Enfant Plaza metro in Washington, DC — as told by Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten — who won a Pulitzer for this article:

    Pearls before Breakfast:

    HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L’ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play …

    Go ahead, read it if you haven’t already — it’s quite a story!

    The papabili — and Angelo Cardinal Scola among them

    Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — thinking today of the Church in terms of its “foreign policy” and the “Islamic world” ]

    It’s worth looking at John Allen‘s list of papabili from the most recent conclave, the 2005 conclave that elected Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy, before reading the twelve names he offered CNN for the upcoming election — if only to note that Ratzinger’s own name is conspicuously absent from the list of likely candidates…

    It is also worth remembering the response then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave to a reporter in a 1997 interview:

    INTERVIEWER: “Your Eminence, you are very familiar with church history and know well what has happened in papal elections. . . . Do you really believe that the Holy Spirit plays a role in the election of the pope?”

    RATZINGER: “I would not say so in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked. I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”


    Bearing that in mind, and given the current world context in which the issue of reform within the church is receiving the most fervent press attention, I’d like to pause for a moment to consider “foreign affairs” — and more specifically the Church’s relations with the Islamic world, since the next pope has the opportunity here to be a bridge builder, a literal pontifex, a peacemaker if he so chooses — or a divider, an antagonist.

    I am therefore particularly interested in the possibility that Angelo Card. Scola might be elected to the papacy, since he has been involved for some time in Catholic-Islamic dialog through his Oasis project:

    The ‘mestizaje of civilisations and cultures’. This refers to the ongoing, novel historical process of mixing of peoples and cultures. Hybridization is neither a theory about cultural integration, nor a general notion explaining realty. It is simply an acknowledgment of a situation that we must all face, whether we like or not, individually or collectively, that requires that each one of us to try to influence it for the better. On the basis of this notion the Oasis Centre aims at transcending certain frames of reference and concepts like multiculturalism, integration and reciprocity that are proving increasingly inadequate to explain the increasing interaction of peoples. It is clear that reflecting upon it cannot be done without taking into consideration the contribution of various religions and the way they themselves interact. In particular the Centre’s focus is on the relationship between Christians and Muslims.

    Scola is currently the archbishop of Milan, and was previously patriarch of Venice. For a closer look at his work with what he accurately terms “the Islams” see his 2008 op-ed, The Freedom to Convert and interview with John Allen on “popular Islam”.


    For myself, I was particularly interested in his response to a question from Allen in a 2009 interview on Shi’ite messianism:

    ALLEN: What are you hearing from your contacts in Iran these days? Looking down the line, it seems that Shi’a Muslims and Catholics share certain traits: A strong clerical hierarchy, a theology of sacrifice, and deep currents of popular devotion. Does this suggest that Catholicism can play an important role in a dialogue with Iran, where Shi’a Islam is dominant?

    SCOLA: Three accents strike me in the Shi’a tradition: the necessity of a continual actualization of revelation in certain physical persons, to the point of overcoming a too-rigid conception of divine transcendence; the lively expectation of eschatological fulfillment; and the reflection on the problem of evil. I have the impression that we’re not well informed on these points, despite the enormous work of study and analysis that’s been done by specialists in recent years. We know Shi’ites better than we know Shi’ism!

    The Oasis network really hasn’t arrived yet in Iran, so what I know about what’s happening is what I see and read in the mass media. I don’t doubt, however, that many people in Iran want better relations with the West. We must not forget that Persian culture has shown itself to be extraordinarily fertile and receptive.

    The principal problem, if I can put it slightly audaciously, is that Shi’ite messianism, almost unable to bear the weight of the expectations with which it is structurally bound up, has been converted over the centuries, at least in some circles, into a political ideology. We’re talking about a long process that’s not linear, which experience a brusque acceleration with the 1979 revolution. As Westerners, we were caught off guard. We had forgotten that history is also sometimes forged by ‘theological options.’

    In any event, all this is reversible.

    A comparison of the Shi’ite Ta’zieh “passion plays” mourning the martyrdom of Husayn at Kerbala with the equivalent Catholic play at Oberammergau memorializing the passion of Christ confirms the resemblance Allen suggests between the “theology of sacrifice, and deep currents of popular devotion” in Shi’a Islam and Catholicism respectively.

    As for our lack of awareness of the contemporary pull of Islamic eschatology, Scola’s words mirror one of my own concerns to a T:

    As Westerners, we were caught off guard. We had forgotten that history is also sometimes forged by ‘theological options.’

    Switch to our mobile site