Sunday, August 28, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 35 ~ St. Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine [Born 354 Died 430]

 Classical civilization was born in the Mediterranean basin in the eighth century BC. Classical civilization first came about in ancient Greece. Picture the Parthenon, with its ordered objective architecture and those symmetrical columns, and you have a good image of the birth of Classical civilization. Rome was a kind of pragmatic, more workable version of Greece. So when we say 'Classical Civilization' we often mean a merger of Greek culture and Roman political pragmatism. This ‘Classical Civilization’ dominated Europe for six centuries.

St. Augustine Refuting a Heretic
 Augustine was born into such a civilization in 354 AD. He grew up reading Virgil, that brilliant mimic of Greek epic poetry. He grew up in a relatively ordered world, in a North African outpost of the Roman Empire. When Augustine died, in 430 AD, the African city in which he lived was besieged by Vandals [Vandal is the name of a German tribe, not a derogatory adjective]. Rome itself, the eternal city, had been sacked by Visigoths, twenty years before. (I do not know the difference between Visigoths and Goths: the particular set of Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410 were led by a chap named Alaric the Goth, so perhaps they were not very clear on this either).

 It was more than just the Roman Empire which was falling. It was classical civilization. One of the keys to Augustine’s importance is that he was both the last classical thinker, and the first really great Christian philosopher. You will find in Augustine’s theology a sort of buried Parthenon. His theology is founded on the classical principles of objectivity, unity and order.

 Augustine was born in Carthage, which is in Africa. He grew up speaking Latin; he learned some Greek, but was never especially proficient at it, you budding theologians may be glad to hear. His principal schooling was in the Latin classics, such as Virgil. He became a lecturer in Rhetoric. That is, he wasn’t really trained as a philosopher; but as a public speaker. Rhetoric is the art of verbal persuasion. In 383, Augustine moved; he took up a new lectureship in Milan. In Milan, Augustine was converted to Christianity. As everyone knows, Augustine sent his girlfriend packing, and then later he himself returned to Africa.

 By this time, Christian bishops were taking over the function of civic leadership. The things which Roman magistrates once had done, now were being done by Christian bishops. To act with authority, you have to understand yourself as having an authoritative status: you have to think that what you represent is important. The Roman magistrates didn’t believe that the culture of Romanitas was important, they let people call them by their first names, their oratory was not convincing, and everything went down hill. The Bishops did believe in their culture. In 395, Augustine became Bishop of an African city called Hippo. He drew on the experience of Christian community, and Christian leadership, in his writings. In the year 410, the Vis-Goths marched into Rome and the Eternal City rolled over with its feet in the air. In spiritual and in imaginative terms, it was an almost unimaginable disaster. Rome stood for everything which people had believed in for five hundred years. Some people grumbled that this was all the fault of Christians.

Bishop Augustine now sat down to write The City of God. In The City of God Augustine argues that the real abiding city, which will last forever, is the City of God. Not the Roman Empire, but the City of God is the truest form of human community. Augustine argues that the Roman Empire was just a lot of power grabbers. In the Roman Empire, Augustine argues, under a decent guise of civility, the heart of the matter was the advantage of the stronger. This is the City of man, the human city, and it is founded on love of self, egotism. On the other hand, there is the city of God. It is based on love of God. It is built on the Love of God and the love of neighbour at the expense of love of self-ego. These two loves have built the two cities which dominate world history, love of God and neighbour, which constructs the City of God, and love of self-ego, which lies at the basis of all the politics of the city of man.

 Augustine believed that truth matters. In that way, he was a real old fashioned classicist. Suppose that someone comes along and tells you that you [know] nothing, that everything is an matter of opinion. Augustine says that, you can reply that, on the contrary, you know at least two certain truths. One is that you exist, because you can’t make a mistake about a thing like that unless you are around to do so. Granted this one truth, then you have two truths, that you know that you exist.

 Augustine is arguing that there is at least one thing that we can be certain of: that we exist, and that we know ourselves, and love ourselves. He says: “It is beyond question..that I exist, and that I know and love that existence. In these truths there is nothing to fear from the arguments of the Academics [sophists]: what if you are mistaken? Since if I am mistaken, I am. One who does not exist, cannot be mistaken. Thus, if I am mistaken, this very fact proves that I am. ..since I must exist in order to be is beyond doubt that I am not mistaken in this, that I know myself as knowing. ..For, as I know myself to exist, so, also, I know this, that I know. And to these two, since I love them, I join that love as a third element of equal value to those things I know.’

 Its somewhat like Julius Caesar’s tri-partite Gaul. My own self falls into three parts: my deep, memorial recognition of my self-existence, my knowledge of myself, and my love of myself. Augustine sees the tri-partite nature of the human self as an image of the Trinity, with Father, Son (word or knowledge), and Holy Spirit (or love).

 So what Augustine did, as classical civilization fell all around him, was to give the West new grounds for believing in objective truth. If you are going to say anything at all is true, you must have some standard, or ground for saying so. The standard by which Augustine judges all human rationality is the Christian God, the Trinity.

Augustine defined God in terms of truth. You know that your own opinions are always changing. And you know that the world around us changes all the time - it can’t function as a ruler or standard, because it never stays still. And yet, despite all this change in our thought processes, and all of the transience and illusion in the world around us, we have some idea of objective truth. Augustine has a subjective argument for an objective reality: if you are honest and not just trying to make debating points, and if think back over your own experience, and if you reach into yourself, you know that occasionally you have some experience of truth. Somehow, the mind can know truth: it can know that two and two are four. It can somehow reach out of its own materialness, and into some transcendent realm of truth. Augustine was going to argue that the only way one could account for these experiences of truth was by reference to the existence of God. God is the eternal truth, who is outside the whole process of change, transience and decay. God is the unchanging, immutable, in a world of constantly moving goal-posts. We live in a world of changing goal - posts, and yet, amongst all the mistaken enthusiasms and rationalisations, we sometimes see the light, and on the basis of it, form a true judgement. The basis of that inner rationality, Augustine argues, is God.

 Augustine’s Confessions is his most readable book. It is only about three hundred pages long and it is crazy not to read it and re-read it throughout your life. It’s one of the greatest works of Christian philosophy ever written, and one of the most accessible, because its an autobiography. It tells the very human story of Augustine’s life, his education, his intellectual search for truth, his progress through the various ‘new age’ cults which existed at that time, his ambition - to be a famous rhetoric lecturer - and his eventual conversion, in which his search for truth comes to rest in the Christian God. In the Confessions, Augustine has an inner drive, a desperate need to find out the truth about reality; but at the same time, he was not born St. Augustine. He says that, all the time that he was seeking truth, he would sort of put off the moment when Truth would start giving him orders: he says ‘I always prayed: give me poverty and chastity but not yet.’

 Augustine says that he kept on and on trying to imagine what God is like and could not get beyond a material picture, a physical picture. He says that he would picture God as a sort of infinitely extending invisible fluid, and the world floating in it like a sponge in the bath. He tried and tried to get past this material idea of God, but couldn't quite do it. He was picturing God as in everything, and as everywhere, or as everything, but not as transcending everything. Then, he says, in the Confessions, ‘I read the books of the Platonists.’ And these books enabled him to envisage God as entirely transcendent. The way in which these books showed him how to envisage God as transcendent was by telling Augustine to look for God within his own soul. This is the most characteristic feature of Augustine’s theology. You can journey round the external world as far as you like, but just journeying amongst physical objects won’t take you any closer to God. You have to look for God, not outside in the external world, but inside, in your soul. Because, inside in your soul, you find a spiritual medium, a capacity for transcendence. Unlike the Platonists, Augustine didn’t think the soul is divine. But he did think the soul is spiritual, transcendent, not physical. The capacity for thought rises above brain processes; it is spiritual, transcendent. So he went ‘up’ to God, by going ‘within’, to his soul. He says in the Confessions: ‘If I am to reach Him, it must be through my soul’. The soul is like the inner door which leads to God. The external world doesn’t contain the door; the access is through the soul. Augustine is always said to have embarked on an ‘interior’ journey to God. But he didn’t think his soul was inside him, like his appendix. He thought that if, in inverted commas, you go inside the self, you are going to find an opening to the infinite. So the self in Augustine’s thought is not a closed box, like a refrigerator; the self has this openness to transcendence and infinity.

Focussing a portrait of Saint Augustine on his Confessions may seem very partial. As Joseph Ratzinger says, Augustine went through three conversions in his life. His first conversion is simply to belief in truth, to a simple Platonism or Classicism. Then there is the conversion described in The Confessions, where he gets down as far as a kind of Christian platonism (and send his girl friend packing)! But then there is the deeper conversion of the years following his return to Africa, when Augustine becomes a Bishop, and has to give up being a philosopher, and playing with ideas, to serve the wider Church. Now he writes his great commentaries, on the Psalms and other Scriptural texts, and The City of God, and De Trinitate. And it's in his years as a Bishop that Augustine engages in controversies with Pelagius and with the Donatists. All these things are much more important for his influence on Christianity, most Catholics-who-know will say, than The Confessions. All that is true. And yet. You can go out and read The Confessions in about a month, and identify with Augustine and make sense of his journey. Unless you are a professional academic theologian or a Bishop yourself, you are not going to read many of Augustine’s sermons or his commentaries on the Psalms or the thousand page City of God. You could read The Confessions and you should.

Grumpy is a professor of theology in the Midwest. 

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 34 ~ Venerable Andrey Sheptytsky

On July 6, 2016, Fr. Jason Charron sent out a plea for prayers for one of his six young daughters who was fighting a life-threatening infection. Fr. Jason was previously featured in the Catholic news for being among the married men ordained to the priesthood in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, a Church sui iuris in full communion with Rome. The pictures accompanying the article* of joyous smiling children being assisted by their dad was a stark contrast to the details of little Martha’s battle. She was in a medically induced coma to tend to her pain and to focus all her body’s efforts on healing. Fr. Jason asked for prayers through the intercession of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, whom Pope Francis had elevated to the title of venerable one year previous in July 2015.

Named Roman Aleksander Maria Sheptytsky at his birth in July 1865 in western Ukraine (then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the famed leader took on the name Andrey when he entered the Basilian Order. After becoming a religious, he was ordained a priest then bishop and in 1901 was named as head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. In that capacity, he spoke out against the Communists in Russia, the atheists in Poland, and the Nazis in Germany while they took turns invading Ukraine. This led to his arrest on at least 3 different occasions and to 3 years of incarceration. Despite that, he was an unrepentant promoter of peace and ecumenical dialogue especially with the Russians and Poles while refusing to accept the evil they were committing.

Venerable Met. Andrey Sheptytsky eschewed the Polish aristocratic trappings of his childhood in order to live a life of poverty that funded free clinics, scholarships, and other grants for Ukrainian peasants in need, he was a patron of the arts, and he personally gave shelter to more than 160 Jews during the Holocaust. He learned Hebrew and was often greeted by both the priest and the rabbi when he visited a village. He encouraged others to follow his lead and his brother Klymentiy (who is a blessed) along with Met. Andrey’s priests and religious joined him in harboring the homeless and persecuted during the Nazi atrocities. His leadership of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church successfully navigated two world wars with courage, truth, and constant calls for unity in the Lord. He died in 1944, months before the Soviet liquidation which forced the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches to have to go completely underground by 1946, where the Ukrainian Catholic Church remained for over 40 years—the largest social structure in opposition to the Soviets and the largest underground religious community in the world.

While the cause for Met. Andrey’s sainthood has been open for over 50 years, Cold War politics and a lack of access to the underground documents stalled the efforts to recognize his heroic virtue. The absence of formal approval did not stop the public from recognizing his sanctity. Former Polish Foreign Minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld, pediatric cardiologist Leon Chameides, Kurt Lewin the son of a murdered rabbi, and Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann are among those hidden in the metropolitan's monasteries whose faith and life were preserved without a single loss and who went on to call for his celebration. David Kahane, his wife, and daughter were also among the Jews who were protected by the metropolitan. David went on to become the chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force and to publish his memoirs in 1990 under the title “Lvov Ghetto Diary,” a journal he began while hidden in the Metropolitan’s palace. In the same year as his published account of the Metropolitan’s heroism, the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies moved from it’s foundation at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago to it’s home at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada where the vitality of the universality of the Church is lived in academic study and summer intensives, calling upon "the East-West understanding and rapprochement between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches" that Met. Andrey exemplified.

The formal vetting process was eventually complete and the hierarch named a venerable last year, waiting next on a miracle through his intercession in order to be declared a blessed, then a second miracle in order to be declared a saint.

It was this loving care in the face of overwhelming persecution, this charity in the face of evil, which Fr. Jason called upon in asking Met. Andrey’s intercession for the life, health, and salvation of his beloved daughter as she lay in agony while the doctors predicted her death.

"A couple days ago amidst her pain,” Father Jason updated on July 18, Martha "called me to her bedside and asked that I 'say that prayer which helps me.’” Not knowing what she meant, Fr. Jason asked for clarification. "Daddy, it's the one on that card which has a picture of the bishop with the white beard.” She did not know that she was referencing the prayer for the beatification of Met. Andrey, nor did she know that her recovery had been entrusted to his intercession.

Looking up from her med sheet in disbelief at the number of strong medicines the little one was enduring, a nurse new to Martha's care later commented to her mother Halyna that “it's a miracle your daughter is even alive."

"Yes, a miracle indeed!” Fr. Jason acknowledged. "Recovery from severe septicemia and septic bone is a long and drawn-out battle (as we are learning) and many do not make it.”

"Halyna and I don’t want to ignore the role that medicine has played in this, nor do we wish to downplay the talents of the doctors and nurses,” he explained. "But, the sheer outpouring of spiritual strength and love from people here… and from numerous lands has been marvelous to behold. My family and I have encountered the power of God’s people and are in awe of this God whom we serve. No wonder He hides His glory, for if we were to see it fully unveiled we would not be able to withstand it. This gives me great courage as I observe the terrific troubles facing the Church on earth and our present world. Clearly, there is a power at hand which is invisible to the media and the powerful of this age: the power God’s people have when they turn in prayer to the Holy Trinity.”

"Do keep us in your prayers,” Fr. Jason pleaded. "I do not want to tell you not to pray for Martha and us. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and how beautiful it is. I believe Met. Andrey Sheptytsky is in that light.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ - You always regard Your faithful servants, not only with special gifts of Your love, but also with the eternal reward of the saints in heaven, and in many cases You grant them the recognition of sanctity by Your Church here on earth.

We humbly pray: grant that Your faithful servant Metropolitan Andrey be numbered among the saints. Throughout his just life, “full of suffering and trials,” he was a good shepherd for his flock and a great labourer for Christian unity. And through his beatification and intercession, grant our entire people the great gift of unity and love.

O Lord, in your mercy grant me the favor that I ask for through the intercession of the Servant of God Andrey Sheptytsky:
that Christ Our true God give the Charron family more time with their beloved Martha by healing her in soul and body,
that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church be protected and raised up for the glory and honor of Our Father,
that the divisions between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, especially those in Ukraine, be healed through the love of the Holy Spirit,
and for these personal intentions: __________.


*I don't think that this is the article, but it's an article.

Isolde is a member of an online intercessory prayer group of which I have been a member for several years. I really appreciate her writing this post for us.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 33 ~ St. Margaret Clitherow

The City of York is one the major tourist destinations of England, perhaps rivalled by Oxford or Stonehenge but by few other places outside London. Long stretches of the medieval city wall survive, and small patches of Roman masonry, as well as one of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals (York Minster), more medieval stained glass than can be seen in any other place on earth, and countless lesser buildings dating back to Tudor and Stuart times. The grand, neo-classical Assembly Rooms (where balls would have been held in Jane Austen’s time) now house a pizza restaurant, and the Archaeology Department of York University is based in King’s Manor, a royal mansion in the Tudor style where the Council of the North once met. There is an entire street, The Shambles, that has changed little in 400 years. The timber-framed houses lurch upwards and forwards, each storey up jutting a couple of feet further into the street than the one below. One of these timber-framed houses was once the home of Margaret Clitherow, the Pearl of York, one of England’s best known saints.

Born in 1556, by the age of 18, when she was reconciled to the Catholic Church, Margaret was the wife of a prosperous butcher and the stepdaughter of a local bigwig. Once a Catholic, she rapidly became a pillar of the Catholic underground in the city. She ran clandestine catechism classes for local children, but she was also in and out of prison for refusing to attend Anglican church services on Sundays (as required by the 1559 Act of Uniformity). In the reign of Elizabeth it was death to be a Catholic priest in England, and in August 1582 James Thompson was arrested in York and admitted to being a priest. He was hanged outside the city on 28 November. Margaret venerated him as a martyr (he was beatified as such in 1886). A new priest, John Mush, arrived in York in 1583, followed by Francis Ingleby in 1584. By this time Margaret had had a priest hole built in her home, and when her house came under surveillance she rented a property where the priests could hide. The typical image of those sheltering priests is of Catholic gentry on their country estates, rather than a butcher’s wife in the centre of a bustling city. In 1585, Parliament passed a law making it a hanging offence to harbour ‘seminary priests’. Margaret’s stepfather was now the mayor of York, and was politically compromised by his stepchild’s known disaffection from the established church. In 1586 she was arrested and brought to trial in a test case of the new law.

Historians who have worked on the case take the view that the intention was to make her back down and sue for mercy, allowing the regime to look stern but benevolent. Things did not work out that way. Far from confessing her wrongdoing and throwing herself on the mercy of the court, she refused to recognise the court’s authority over her conscience and twice refused to plead to the indictment. Those familiar with the play (or the film) The Crucible will know that a man called Giles Corey was crushed under a door for refusing to plead in the Salem witch trials. This was the Common Law practise, inherited from the Middle Ages, to force defendants to recognise the authority of a court and answer to the question “Guilty or not guilty?” It was also to be Margaret Clitherow’s fate. “This way to heaven is as short as any other,” she is reported to have said. On 25 March 1586, she was stripped, bound, and laid flat on the ground with a sharp stone under her back. A door was placed on top of her (in one account her own front door), and weights were piled on until she died.

Most of what we know of her comes from a biography by John Mush, one of the priests she hid. This was not printed in full until 1849, as The Life and Death of Margaret Clitherow, the Martyr of York, but as early as 1619 An Abstracte of the Life and Martirdome of Mistres Margaret Clitherowe was published in Belgium. Shortly after her death somebody removed her hand as a relic, and a century or more later this was gifted to the Bar Convent in York, which was then a secret establishment of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, running a clandestine school (it is now the oldest convent in England). In York last November with a group of students, I was able to use a couple of hours off to visit the chapel and venerate the relic.

I had vague memories of watching a BBC dramatization of Margaret Clitherow’s story 30 or 35 years ago, but online searches indicate that my memory must be at fault. The only BBC dramatization I can find any record of was a 1982 radio play. The search did, however, turn up this 2010 Woman’s Hour interview with one of the IBVM sisters and with an ecclesiastical historian (starting around 32 minutes in). It is well worth a listen.

Like Week 22’s John Kemble, Margaret Clitherow was canonized by Pope Paul VI on 25 October 1970, as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. The Pope ended his homily on that occasion with a prayer that seems to prefigure Benedict XVI’s erection of the Anglican ordinariate:
May the blood of these Martyrs be able to heal the great wound inflicted upon God’s Church by reason of the separation of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church. . . . There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church – this humble “Servant of the Servants of God” – is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ: a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of priesthood and of rule, a communion of the Saints in the freedom and love of the Spirit of Jesus. Perhaps we shall have to go on, waiting and watching in prayer, in order to deserve that blessed day. But already we are strengthened in this hope by the heavenly friendship of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who are canonized today. Amen.
Paul Arblaster is my second oldest internet acquaintance (The oldest is Mary who also comments on this blog.). He has also written about St. AnthonySt. CuthbertMargaretSt. Kizito, and St. Peter Ascanus  for this series.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 32 ~ Jacques Hamel

Early on Tuesday morning (26th July) I opened up Facebook and the very first item on my news feed was posted by my friend, Father Anthony, an Australian Dominican priest, notifying us of the terrible news that a priest in France had been murdered while saying Mass.

This murder has affected me deeply.

As I went through my day, needing to do a variety of jobs, my mind kept turning to this priest. I would pray for his soul, and sometimes I would shed a few tears.

I'm writing this, simply to honour his memory. By now, most of us probably know the basic facts of this terrible event. It's not up to me to decide if he is truly a martyr for the Faith – the Church will decide that in time, but I am writing simply from the heart. Whether or not the Church officially ever recognizes him as a Saint, the death of any priest, particularly during Mass (or perhaps shortly after) is a truly shocking thing, especially for Catholics.

I really don't want to say much more about this, for reasons that are hard to define, but I just felt that I should honour his memory and mark the tragic event.

Nobody is obliged to agree with my views on this, but I had, and still have, a strong feeling that the death of this priest is a turning point. I look to see what Divine Providence will do next.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Ps. 115(116):15  

Louise LaMotte is a friend from Light on Dark Water. Since she lived in Australia at the time we met online, I never thought we would meet in person. I was wrong. She has written here about St. Mary of the CrossSt. Damien of Molokai, and Pope St. Pius X.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Since this entry is so short, I asked Louise if it was okay if I added a bit to what she said, and she said that was fine.

When I read about Fr. Hamel's death, my first thought was of a day when I was serving dinner at the shelter that the Missionaries of Charity have in Memphis. There had been 3 of their sisters murdered in the last few days, and a friend who was with me said, "Oh sister, I'm so sorry to hear about your sisters who were killed." Sister looked at us with a radiant smile and said, "We are so happy! More martyrs in heaven."  And what I thought when I heard that priest had been murdered during Mass was what a privilege and joy it would be to die in that manner. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 31 ~ St. Ansgar

If the state of my own knowledge is any guide, which is certainly debatable, it seems that St. Ansgar’s name should be more familiar, because he was known as The Apostle of the North, i.e. Scandinavia. I came across his name some years ago when I did a bit of brief internet searching about the evangelization of the Nordic countries, and it was completely new to me. I didn’t do much more at the time than note his name and rough dates. And when I decided to write about him for this series I really didn’t expect to find much about him, perhaps some possibly legendary anecdotes to flesh out the few facts. I was certainly wrong on that last score.

After I became Catholic it became a source of interest and of course disappointment to me that most of northern Europe is Protestant. Owing to geography if nothing else, it had arrived late to the Church. In the case of Scandinavia the arrival was later by some centuries even than in Britain. But it had also left early—why? I can’t help wondering if there is something in the northern character that is inhospitable to Christianity. I don’t say only to the Catholic Church, as I think Protestantism as a living force began fading away there before Catholicism did in the south (historians, please feel free to correct me there).

Had I actually grown up in one of the Scandinavian or perhaps German Christian traditions I would probably have known more about Ansgar, as he seems to be quite well-known there and among American communities that originated there. He is in fact the patron saint of Scandinavia. If you do a Google search for Ansgar you’ll see many signs of this, such as a town in Iowa called Saint Ansgar, and a number of apparently Lutheran schools and churches.

And, contrary to my expectation of finding only a few scraps of biography, I found more information than I quite know what to do with, including a pretty lengthy and detailed Life of Ansgar thought to have been written by his follower Rimbert very soon after Ansgar’s death (see below). So rather than paraphrase the biographies found in places like Wikipedia, I’m going to give you a very brief summary, and then some specific stories.

Ansgar (also spelled Anskar and Anschar) was actually, in terms of modern geography, by birth a Frenchman, though of course the term is anachronistic. He was born in Amiens in 801. His mother died when he was still a small child, and he was brought up at Corbie Abbey, presumably by the monks. (Corbie is an interesting and sad story in itself: founded in the mid-7th century and apparently shut down and partly demolished by the Revolution in 1790.) Obviously a devout and capable young man, Ansgar at age 21 was sent as part of a group to found an abbey to be called New Corbie, later Corvey, in Westphalia (present-day northwest Germany). He soon began the missionary activity into Denmark and Sweden that would be the main focus of his life.

At 30 he was appointed Archbishop of the newly created archdiocese of Hamburg. Our image of Hamburg is of course that of an ancient and very large city, and my first image on reading that Ansgar was its bishop was that of a lofty prelate taking possession of a well-established and prosperous see. But Hamburg was little more than a village in 831, the first permanent building on the site, a castle, having been erected at the order of Charlemagne in 808. And there was of course a very good reason why it was a castle. All of northern Germany was subject to raiding from the Vikings, the very people whom Ansgar wanted to evangelize. We don’t have to use a lot of imagination to get a notion of what he was letting himself in for: just imagine a missionary walking into, say, Syria or Libya right now.

And he didn’t have to venture into Denmark or Sweden to encounter the Vikings. In 845 Hamburg itself was attacked and destroyed. Ansgar survived but was a bishop without a see for a while. (One source I found said this was the second major attack on the city, a previous one in 837 having destroyed the just-built cathedral.) The second half of his life, until his death in 864, was spent almost entirely in this northern region of what is now Germany, trying to run a diocese in a barely Christianized land while making efforts to evangelize the further north.

What strikes me most about the life of St. Ansgar is the contrast, or if you prefer the balance, between mysticism and pragmatism that he seems to have had. At every major step of his life he was guided by a dream or vision. This is the story, from Rimbert’s Life, of a very early instance of this.
He used to relate that when he was a boy about five years old, his mother, who feared God and was very religious, died, and that soon afterward his father sent him to school to learn his letters. When he had taken his place he began, as boys of that age are wont to do, to act in a childish way with the boys of his own age, and to give attention to foolish talk and jests rather than to learning. When he had thus given himself up to boyish levity, he had a vision during the night in which he appeared to be in a miry and slippery place, from which be could not escape except with great difficulty; beside him was a delightful path on which he saw a matron advancing, who was distinguished by her beauty and nobility, and was followed by many other women clothed in white, with whom was his mother. When he recognised her he wished to run to her, but he could not easily emerge from that miry and slippery place.
When the women drew near to him, the one who appeared to be the mistress of the rest and whom lie confidently believed to be the Holy Mary, said to him : “My son, do you wish to come to your mother?” and when he replied that he eagerly desired to do so she answered : “If you desire to share our companionship, you must flee from every kind of vanity, and put away childish jests and have regard to the seriousness of life ; for we hate everything that is vain and unprofitable, nor can anyone be with us who has delight in such things.”
Immediately after this vision be began to be serious and to avoid childish associations, and to devote himself more constantly to reading and meditation and other useful occupations, so that his companions marvelled greatly that his manner of life had so suddenly changed.

There are several more stories similar to this. And yet he was clearly no other-worldly dreamer, as his dealings with various kings and chieftains of the North reveal.
We ought not to pass over in silence the fact that the Northalbingians on one occasion committed a great crime and one of a terrible nature. When some unhappy captives, who had been taken from Christian lands and carried away to the barbarians, were ill treated by these strangers, they fled thence in the hope of escaping and came to the Christians, that is to the Northalbingians who, as is well known, live next to the pagans, but when they arrived these Christians showed no compassion but seized them and bound them with chains. Some of them they sold to pagans, whilst others they enslaved, or sold to other Christians.
When the bishop heard this he was greatly distressed that so great a crime had been perpetrated in his diocese, but he could not devise how he might mend matters because there were many involved who were esteemed to be powerful and noble. When he was much distressed on this account there was granted to him one night the customary consolation. For it seemed to him that the Lord Jesus was in this world, as He had once been, when He gave to men His teaching and example. It seemed to him that He went with a multitude of the faithful and that he, the bishop, was with Him on His journey, glad and rejoicing because there was no opposition, but a divinely infused fear was upon the arrogant, and the oppressors were removed and a great quiet prevailed, so that there appeared to be no contradiction or opposition on the journey.
Having seen this vision he prepared to go to this people with the desire by some means or other to set free the unhappy men who had been sold and given over to an outrageous servitude and by the Lord's help to prevent anyone from committing hereafter so great a crime. On this journey the Lord so greatly assisted him and caused the fear of his power so to overawe those who were arrogant that, though these men were of rank and exercised harmful influence, none of them ventured to oppose his advice or resist his authority, but the unhappy men were sought out wherever they had been sold and were given their liberty and allowed to go wherever they desired. Furthermore, in order to prevent any deceit being practised thereafter they made an agreement that none of those who had defiled themselves by the seizure of these captives should defend himself, either by taking an oath or by producing witnesses, but should commend himself to the judgment of Almighty God, whether it was the man who was accused of the crime or the captive who accused him.
Thus did the Lord manifest on this journey the truth of the promise which He made to those who believe when He said, "Lo I am with you all the days even unto the end of the world." [Matt xxviii., 20] So prosperously and joyfully did he accomplish this journey that those who were with him said that never in his life did he have such a good and pleasant journey, for they said, "Now of a truth we know that the Lord was with us."

Notes to the text above say that the reference to “commend[ing] himself to the judgment of Almighty God” referred “to trial by ordeal, the commonest forms of which at this time were judicium aquaticum, judicium ignis, judicium sortis and judicium Eucharistiae. In the last mentioned ordeal it was believed that if the guilty party partook of the Eucharist he would fall down dead."

An example of inculturation of the Gospel, I suppose. I take judicium sortis to involve the casting of lots, which was heavily relied upon by these peoples when a decision had to be made.

I was stymied for a bit here trying to figure out who the Northalbingians were, as a Google search turned up almost nothing for the word. Finally I stumbled across an apparently more widely used spelling, Nordalbingian, and a brief Wikipedia article. The Nordalbingians were, as the Life suggests, essentially Ansgar’s flock. Their territory was at the door of Denmark, and they had only recently been converted. So it’s not surprising either that they engaged in the sort of pagan practices described, or that Ansgar was outraged by it.

How I wish we had some account of Ansgar’s activities written in a very detailed novelistic fashion, so that we could have a real sense of what all this was like. Simply traveling must have been a risk and an adventure. At some point Ansgar goes to Rome. It’s related that he went, the main events of his stay there, and that he returned, all in only a few sentences. I’d very much like to know what that was really like. How many difficulties were involved and accepted as just a normal part of travel, as we might accept having to drive a few miles out of the way to find a gas station?

All his accomplishments, however, are less revealing of his essential character than this statement attributed to him by a friend: “One miracle I would, if worthy, ask the Lord to grant me; and that is, that by His grace, He would make me a good man.”

I’ve had a pretty difficult time with this post, because there is so much that seems worth mentioning, and this is after all a blog post and shouldn’t be too long. I haven’t even touched, for instance, on Ansgar’s asceticism, which should be mentioned along with his mysticism and practical ability. Having spent a good deal of time already doing things like reading most of the Life, I will just stop here and give you links for further reading.

If you just want a brief account, but more than the bare facts I’ve given, there’s the Wikipedia entry.

The single best document I found is at a web site called Saintnook. It’s quite well-written; turns out it was written by Sabine Baring-Gould. It’s of moderate length (5000 words), and very nicely formatted for online reading.

The entire Life of Ansgar can be found in Fordham University’s Medieval Sourcebook. To my eyes it is not nearly as readable as the Saintnook document. There are long blocks of un-paragraph-ed text and the font is not the the most readable to my eyes (I added paragraph breaks to the above excerpts). There are some recurring typos, such as “lie” for “he”, that make me think the electronic text was obtained by using OCR on a paper one and not thoroughly corrected. But I was not able to find a more readable version online.

If you have a Kindle, there is a Kindle edition available at Amazon.

Both the above editions appear to be a translation by a Charles H. Robinson, whom I believe to have been an Anglican clergyman, but if so one not overly concerned with Protestantizing history. The same translation can be found in a variety of formats, including Kindle and ePub (both free), at Unfortunately the plain text version is quite plain, looking like a typewritten document, and not much more comfortable to read than the one at Fordham. The PDF is interesting, as it’s a scan of a print copy. Not especially comfortable for reading online, though.

Ansgar’s entry at ends on a sad note, and returns me to my opening thoughts about the loss of the North to the Catholic Church:
Though called "the Apostle of the North" and the first Christian missionary in Scandinavia, the whole area lapsed into paganism again after his death at Bremen on February 3rd [865].

But of course it ain’t over till it’s really over, and we don’t know when that will be.

Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 AuthorsIn this series he has written about St HenrikSt. John Fisher, and St. John Kemble.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Foundation and Trump

This is my maybe-once-a-year political post and it has nothing to do with whom anyone ought to vote for or not vote for. It's just an observation of what is.

The other day I read somewhere that Moody's Analytics, who had correctly predicted which party would win the presidential election since 1980, has said the the Democrats will win this election. It made me laugh. 

"Why is that?" you may ask.

Well, it's because of who Donald Trump is, and this is who he is.

He is the Mule. If you are not a died-in-the-wool reader of Science Fiction of the traditional sort, you probably don't know who the Mule is, but anyone who has read Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy will know immediately whom I am talking about. 

The Foundation is a secret organization of psychohistorians who, on the verge of the collapse of the Galactic Empire, gather to plot the course of history so that the new civilization will rise in only 1000 years instead of the 30,000 years it would normally take. They make complicated calculations using mathematical sociology which can predict large events, and they determine different points at which their plan may go awry and what they will have to do make corrections. They do this really well for a long time but then something, someone comes along that they could not possibly have forseen, and that someone is The Mule. The Mule is an anomaly, a mutant who can look into the minds of people and adjust their emotional temperature. It's much like Tom More's lapsometer but he doesn't need a machine to do it. 

Six months ago, who would have imagined that Trump would win the Republican nomination? Did even he think it would happen. Maybe, but everyone else was astonished when he won primary after primary. It was beyond reasonable calculation. I'm certainly not saying that he has any unsuspected powers, but there was more going on than anyone understood or could have predicted. There are undercurrents that may only be understood after a sufficient amount of time has passed.

And so, I don't know if Trump will win or not, but I wouldn't put my faith in anybody's predictions. 

I used this Wikipedia article to refresh my memory. It's been a really long time since the last time I read these books.