Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher

Have to acknowledge the feast of St. Thomas More (and his martyred co-religionist, John Fisher) today, the patron of my beloved parish back in SC.

So -- here's a link from Rich Leonardi (via Amy, of course! On limited time, where else does one go? :)


assiniboine said...

Well, he tortured and burned a lot of Protestants when that was still the way to go. I suppose that was saintly in 16th century terms; not so sure how it really sits with modern sensibilities. And if the Anglican Communion keeps going the way it is, it is going to end not with a bang but a whimper; no thumbscrews, racks or stakes required at all. But isn't venerating Sir Thomas More just at this juncture somewhat rubbing salt in just a little?

Gashwin said...

Now now, Sir Thomas More personally tortured people? I'm sure, with the mindset of his time, he was ok with this kind of stuff directed at heretics.

And, both "sides" had their martyrs in England -- St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. Edmund Campion are just three names that come to mind on the Catholic side in that century. Then there were the various Protestants killed under Mary Tudor.

The reason I mention him is that July 22 is his feast day in the Roman Calendar. Nothing directly to do with the recently concluded General Convention.

assiniboine said...

Do check out this, will you? The wondrous Eamon Duffy, but Ashgate £50 (0-7546-3070-6) Church Times Bookshop £45. Cough, cough, that's ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS!!!

The Church of Mary Tudor
By Eamon Duffy and David Loades, editors

Neither lost hope nor lost cause: Alec Ryrie admires an even-handed study of Mary I’s failures and achievements

Ashgate £50 (0-7546-3070-6)
Church Times Bookshop £45

THE HISTORY of the reign of Mary I (1553-58) is a bear-pit: it has produced little apart from noise, grievance, and bitter partiality. The dominant view has long been that Mary was a doomed, barren bigot whose attempt to stem the providential tide of English Protestantism produced nothing but the ashes of 300 innocent martyrs. (This picture had its umpteenth outing in the BBC’s weak series The Virgin Queen, in January.)

The alternative view is that she was a heroine of faith, swept to power on a wave of popular Roman Catholicism, whose success in rebuilding a devout nation was ended only by the accident of her early death. This view’s stock has been rising recently among historians, although not among film-makers. But the two sides have still had little to say to one another. Enlightened Catholic reformer or unimaginative persecutor: you pays your money and takes your choice.

But if you can afford the steep price of this volume of essays, you will find, at last, a few more choices. This book is not a bear-pit (though some of the contributors do snarl at each other occasionally). Many of the essays give detailed, level-headed assessments of particular facets of Mary’s restored Catholic Church.

We learn about her refoundation of Westminster Abbey, a complex story that incidentally explains the Abbey’s current peculiar (in both senses) status. We learn about the traditional but sophisticated theology of Bishop Watson, one of the regime’s showcase intellectuals; and about the efficient administra-tion of Cardinal Pole, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury.

Other contributors address the old controversies more directly, and set about muddying the waters. The Protestants do not, here, look quite like a glorious army of martyrs. England’s second city, Norwich, avoided bloodshed less because the city government was squeamish than because the local Protestants were faint-hearted; and in the Protestant heartland, Kent, an embarrassing number of those executed were not respectable Calvinists, but anti-Trinitarian radicals.

Nor does Mary’s regime seem as incompetent as once it did. She used the traditional theatre of monarchy effectively; and her decision to rebuild English Catholicism around the cornerstone of devotion to the mass was shrewd. Moreover, in one of the gems of the volume, Eamon Duffy demonstrates that Cardinal Pole was a far more committed preacher, and supporter of preachers, than we have long believed.

Yet (despite the instincts of some of the contributors) this volume is not an apologia for Mary. The editors’ splendid introduction acknowledges the problems as well as the achievements. Her Spanish marriage was unpopular and helped to discredit her cause; the persecu-tion she instigated was not only cruel but, worse, politically inept, reflecting a personal religion that was scholarly but unimaginative.

Still, this book’s main achieve-ment is that it does not see Mary’s short reign as either a lost hope or a lost cause, but as a specific episode with causes and consequences. And ironies: the editors argue that it was Mary who saved episcopacy for the Church of England; for she made bishops seem indispensable. With this kind of approach, perhaps we can, at last, begin to study Mary I’s reign as history.

Dr Ryrie is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Birmingham University.