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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

"Woe to him that shall scandalise one of these My little ones" (Mathew 18/6)


We learn from our Catechism that the three enemies of the soul are the devil, the world, and the flesh.

For young people today the temptations of the flesh, promoted by Satan and the secular society in which we live, must seem overwhelming. Certainly without God's grace they could not win this ongoing battle. The mass media feeds our  society a diet of news and entertainment, some good but much of it sensational and downright licentious. Active homosexuality, a criminal offence in the UK prior to 1967, is promoted as a lifestyle by celebrities from all walks of life, as is so-called 'same-sex marriage'.  Indecent and pornographic material is readily available on the internet, which includes access by millions of young people worldwide using mobile phones, Ipods, etc.

In view of  -      a) current political initiatives to enforce sex-education in all schools in the United Kingdom;  and
                          b) outspoken criticism from respected Catholic sources that certain programmes incorporated in the recent Catholic World Youth Day in Poland, were pornographic in content;,,,

- it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of the Papal Encyclical  'On Christian Education’ - ‘Divini Illius Magistri’,  issued by His Holiness Pope Pius XI on December 31, 1929.

'Such is our misery and inclination to sin, that often in the very things considered to be remedies against sin, we find occasions for and inducements to sin itself.'                        
(Cardinal Silvio Antoniano b.1540-d.1603. Contemporary and friend of St Charles Borromeo and St Philip Neri. Renowned writer - 'Christian Education of Children'- translated in French and German editions in late 19th century)

                                                                       Pope Pius XI  (1930)

This is a comprehensive encyclical, too long to reproduce here, which,  although written nearly eighty-seven years ago, is particularly appropriate to our times, with the same relevance and truth.

 "ON CHRISTIAN EDUCATION  -  'Divini Illius Magistri'


 - the following are extracts from this encyclical. To read the whole, strongly recommended, go to

“….It is therefore as important to make no mistake in education, as it is to make no mistake in the pursuit of the last end, with which the whole work of education is intimately and necessarily connected. In fact, since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man's last end, and that in the present order of Providence, since God has revealed Himself to us in the Person of His Only Begotten Son, who alone is "the way, the truth and the life," there can be no ideally perfect education which is not Christian education.

Hence every form of pedagogic naturalism which in any way excludes or weakens supernatural Christian formation in the teaching of youth, is false. Every method of education founded, wholly or in part, on the denial or forgetfulness of original sin and of grace, and relying on the sole powers of human nature, is unsound. Such, generally speaking, are those modern systems bearing various names which appeal to a pretended self-government and unrestrained freedom on the part of the child, and which diminish or even suppress the teacher's authority and action, attributing to the child an exclusive primacy of initiative, and an activity independent of any higher law, natural or divine, in the work of his education.

But alas! it is clear from the obvious meaning of the words and from experience, that what is intended by not a few, is the withdrawal of education from every sort of dependence on the divine law. So today we see, strange sight indeed, educators and philosophers who spend their lives in searching for a universal moral code of education, as if there existed no decalogue, no gospel law, no law even of nature stamped by God on the heart of man, promulgated by right reason, and codified in positive revelation by God Himself in the ten commandments. These innovators are wont to refer contemptuously to Christian education as "heteronomous," "passive," "obsolete," because founded upon the authority of God and His holy law.

Such men are miserably deluded in their claim to emancipate, as they say, the child, while in reality they are making him the slave of his own blind pride and of his disorderly affections, which, as a logical consequence of this false system, come to be justified as legitimate demands of a so-called autonomous nature.

 Another very grave danger is that naturalism which nowadays invades the field of education in that most delicate matter of purity of morals. Far too common is the error of those who with dangerous assurance and under an ugly term propagate a so-called sex-education, falsely imagining they can forearm youths against the dangers of sensuality by means purely natural, such as a foolhardy initiation and precautionary instruction for all indiscriminately, even in public; and, worse still, by exposing them at an early age to the occasions, in order to accustom them, so it is argued, and as it were to harden them against such dangers.

          St Aloysius Gonzaga S.J. (1568-91) - declared patron saint of youth by Pope Pius XI in 1926.

 Such persons grievously err in refusing to recognize the inborn weakness of human nature, and the law of which the Apostle speaks, fighting against the law of the mind; and also in ignoring the experience of facts, from which it is clear that, particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect, as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and unsupported by the means of grace.

 In this extremely delicate matter, if, all things considered, some private instruction is found necessary and opportune, from those who hold from God the commission to teach and who have the grace of state, every precaution must be taken. Such precautions are well known in traditional Christian education, and are adequately described by Antoniano cited above, when he says:

'Such is our misery and inclination to sin, that often in the very things considered to be remedies against sin, we find occasions for and inducements to sin itself.'

Hence it is of the highest importance that a good father, while discussing with his son a matter so delicate, should be well on his guard and not descend to details, nor refer to the various ways in which this infernal hydra destroys with its poison so large a portion of the world; otherwise it may happen that instead of extinguishing this fire, he unwittingly stirs or kindles it in the simple and tender heart of the child. Speaking generally, during the period of childhood it suffices to employ those remedies which produce the double effect of opening the door to the virtue of purity and closing the door upon vice. 

False also and harmful to Christian education is the so-called method of "coeducation." This too, by many of its supporters, is founded upon naturalism and the denial of original sin; but by all, upon a deplorable confusion of ideas that mistakes a leveling promiscuity and equality, for the legitimate association of the sexes. The Creator has ordained and disposed perfect union of the sexes only in matrimony, and, with varying degrees of contact, in the family and in society. Besides there is not in nature itself, which fashions the two quite different in organism, in temperament, in abilities, anything to suggest that there can be or ought to be promiscuity, and much less equality, in the training of the two sexes. These, in keeping with the wonderful designs of the Creator, are destined to complement each other in the family and in society, precisely because of their differences, which therefore ought to be maintained and encouraged during their years of formation, with the necessary distinction and corresponding separation, according to age and circumstances. 

These principles, with due regard to time and place, must, in accordance with Christian prudence, be applied to all schools, particularly in the most delicate and decisive period of formation, that, namely, of adolescence; and in gymnastic exercises and deportment, special care must be had of Christian modesty in young women and girls, which is so gravely impaired by any kind of exhibition in public.

 It is no less necessary to direct and watch the education of the adolescent, "soft as wax to be moulded into vice," in whatever other environment he may happen to be, removing occasions of evil and providing occasions for good in his recreations and social intercourse; for "evil communications corrupt good manners."

The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by Baptism, according to the emphatic expression of the Apostle. ... For the true Christian must live a supernatural life in Christ ... and display it in all his actions.

How grave therefore is the error of those who separate things so closely united, and who think that they can produce good citizens by ways and methods other than those which make for the formation of good Christians. For, let human prudence say what it likes and reason as it pleases, it is impossible to produce true temporal peace and tranquillity by things repugnant or opposed to the peace and happiness of eternity.

O Catholic Church, true Mother of Christians! Not only doest thou preach to us, as is meet, how purely and chastely we are to worship God Himself, Whom to possess is life most blessed; thou does moreover so cherish neighborly love and charity, that all the infirmities to which sinful souls are subject, find their most potent remedy in thee.

Childlike thou are in molding the child, strong with the young man, gentle with the aged, dealing with each according to his needs of mind and body. Thou does subject child to parent in a sort of free servitude, and settest parent over child in a jurisdiction of love. 

Thou bindest brethren to brethren by the bond of religion, stronger and closer then the bond of blood .... Thou unitest citizen to citizen, nation to nation, yea, all men, in a union not of companionship only, but of brotherhood, reminding them of their common origin. Thou teachest kings to care for their people, and biddest people to be subject to their kings. Thou teachest assiduously to whom honor is due, to whom love, to whom reverence, to whom fear, to whom comfort, to whom rebuke, to whom punishment; showing us that whilst not all things nor the same things are due to all, charity is due to all and offense to none."

    Holy  Family   with St John the Baptist and female Saint - Titian                                                       


 'Such is our misery and inclination to sin, that often in the very things considered to be remedies against sin, we find occasions for and inducements to sin itself.'  (Cardinal Silvio Antoniavo)

Is this not the case with the  new Vatican sex-education programme? From all accounts it may represent a real 'occasion of sin'  for many young people. It is deeply disturbing, to say the least, that such a programme has the imprimatur of Rome - 'Woe to him that shall scandalise one of these My little ones' - Jesus' own words! We hope in the light of the widespread criticism, that the contents of the programme will be re-considered  and  amended, in line with the encyclical 'Divini Illius Magistri'. Finally, why has such an important encyclical as this been ignored? What is the purpose of papal encyclicals if they are not used as points of reference for similar encyclicals in later years?

Friday, 5 August 2016

1925-1950 - Silver Jubilee of Mgr Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli - future Pope St John XXIII

‘Journal of a Soul’, published eight months after the death of Pope John XXIII, comprises the notes, spiritual thoughts and prayers, recorded by the Pope himself from the age of fourteen until a few months before he died. These notes, recorded in diaries and on loose notepaper, some hand-written some typed, and kept near at hand by the Pope wherever he happened to be, reflect the  thoughts of a most humble priest, bishop, Pope, and saint. After his death they were annotated by his private secretary Don Loris Capovilla and published in book form. Cardinal Capovilla died in May this year, aged 100 years.


  Basilica of San Carlo al Corso, Rome. Father Roncalli was consecrated Bishop here in March 1925, with the title of Archbishop of Areopolis    (wikipedia commons. ack. Livioandronico2013)


The following extracts from ‘Journal of a Soul’, relate to the years 1945-1952 when Msgr Roncalli was Papal Nuncio in France.

Annual Retreat, 23-27 November, 1948. Held at the Benedictine monastery of the Sacred Heart at En Calcat (Dourgne), and given by the Abbe de Floris.

…………‘I have not been able to read much Holy Scripture during this time.  But I have carefully meditated upon the General Epistle of James the Less.  Its five chapters are a wonderful summary of Christian life.  The teaching about the exercise of charity, the right use of the tongue, the power of the man of faith, collaboration for peace, respect for others, the awful fate awaiting the rich, unjust and hateful man, and finally the appeal for trust, hopefulness and prayer …. All this and more make it an incomparable treasury of directives and exhortations, particularly and alarmingly applicable to those of us who are ecclesiastics, and to lay folk of all times.  One should learn it by heart and return to it from time to time to enjoy the heavenly doctrine line by line.  At my time of life, on the threshold of my sixty-eighth year, there is nothing but old age before me. But wisdom is there in the divine book. Here is an example:

 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his good works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, un-spiritual, devilish.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.  And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace’ (James 3:13-18)

   Benedictine Monastery at En Calcat (Dourgne). (Ack. Wikipedia Commons Licence. Casablanca1950) 

Extracts  from spiritual notes written during my brief retreat at Oran (Algeria) 6-9April, 1950, Thursday, Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day.

‘The Bishop of Oran, Mgr Lacaste, has welcomed me with brotherly hospitality, for which I am grateful to him. …. It is now a quarter of a century since Holy Church made me, poor and unworthy as I am, a Bishop, and I like to think of my past, my present, and my future.

Holy Thursday:  my past.

I have brought with me on this journey the bundles of spiritual reflections made during these years, 1925-1950, to jolt me out of any complacency and inspire me with repentance and an increase of Episcopal fervour, notes written on the various retreats that I was able to make from year to year in Bulgaria, Turkey and France.  I have read them all over again, with calm, as if in a confession, and I recite the Miserere, which is all my own, and the Magnificat, which is entirely the Lord’s, as my penance and as an exercise in sincere and trustful humility. At a distance of twenty-five years I have re-read part of the notes I made in March, 1925, while preparing for my impending Episcopal consecration. I then resolved: I will often re-read chapter IX, book III of ‘The Imitation of Jesus Christ’:  ‘That all things are to be referred to God as to their final end.’ This has impressed me profoundly in the solitude of these last few days. Indeed, in these few words there is everything! It was on the eve of my new life that I wrote this; I feel the same way now, and so I enjoy returning to that time and reconsidering this teaching of Christ’s after a quarter of a century of trials, weaknesses and recoveries, although, thanks to the Lord, my will has remained firm, faithful and convinced, in spite of all the seductions and temptations of the spirit of this world.


         Mgr Roncalli, extreme right, Papal Nuncio to Turkey.
         Photograph taken in Istanbul, c. 1929/30

 O Jesus, how much I thank you for having kept me faithful to this principle: ‘From me, as from a living fountain, the humble and the great, the poor and the rich draw the water of life.’ Ah, I am numbered among the humble and the poor! In Bulgaria, the difficulties of my circumstances, even more than the difficulties caused by men, and the monotony of that life which was one long sequence of daily pricks and scratches, cost me much in mortification and silence.  But your grace preserved my inner joy, which helped me to hide my difficulties and distress.  In Turkey the responsibilities of my pastoral work were at once a torment and a joy to me. Could I not, should I not, have done more, have made a more decided effort and gone against the inclination of my nature? Did the search for calm and peace, which I considered to be more in harmony with the Lord’s spirit, not perhaps mask a certain unwillingness to take up the sword, and a preference for what was easiest and most convenient for me, even if gentleness has been defined as the fullness of strength? O my Jesus, you search all hearts: the exact point at which even the striving after virtue may lead to failure or excess is known to you alone.

            I feel it is right not to boast of anything but to attribute all to your grace ‘without which man has nothing, and very strictly do you demand my thanks in return’. So my Magnificat is complete, as it should be. I like so much the expression: ‘My merit, your mercy’ and St Augustine’s words: ‘When you crown our merit you are crowning your own gifts.’

            My gratitude to you will never cease, Jesus: ‘For divine charity overcomes all and enlarges the powers of the soul. I judge rightly, I rejoice in you alone, in you alone I hope, “for none is good save God alone” (Luke 18:19), who is to be praised above all else, and blessed in all things.’  So, as the conclusion of my twenty-five years as Bishop, I put the last words of the same little chapter of ‘The Imitation’ with which I began them. I still have, to the proper mortification of my spirit, the memory of my faults, ‘in thought, word, and deed’, which are so many, so very many in twenty-five years. But I still have also my unalterable faith in my daily Sacrifice, the divine and immaculate Host, offered ‘for my countless sins, offences, and negligences’. Twenty-five years of Episcopal Masses, offered with all the splendour of good intentions, and all the dust of the road, oh, what a mystery of mingled grace and shame! The grace of Jesus’ tender love given as ‘Bishop and Shepherd’ to his chosen priest, the shame of the priest who finds his consolation only in trustful self-surrender.

Good Friday: my present

Last night I said Matins by myself: this morning in chapel I said the Hours with the Miserere four times and today’s liturgy, uniting myself in spirit as I followed it in my Missal, as if I were attending the ceremony in some great church, or as if I were still presiding over it in Sofia, or in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Istanbul.

            My present: here I am then, still alive, in my sixty-ninth year, prostrate over the crucifix, kissing the face of Christ and his sacred wounds, kissing his heart, laid bare in his pierced side; here I am showing my love and grief. How could I not feel grateful to Jesus, finding myself still young and robust of body, spirit and heart? 'Know thyself’: this keeps me humble and without pretensions. Some people feel admiration and affection for my humble person: but thanks be to God, I still blush for myself, my insufficiencies and my unworthiness in this important position where the Holy Father has placed me, and still keeps me, out of the kindness of his heart. For some time past I have cultivated simplicity, which comes very easily for me, cheerfully defying all those clever people who, looking for the qualities required in a diplomat of the Holy See, prefer the outer covering to the sound, ripe fruit beneath. And I keep true to my principle which seems to me to have a place of honour in the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the suffering and the persecuted. My present, then, is spent in faithful service to Christ, who was obedient and was crucified, words I repeat so often at this season: ‘Christ was made obedient.’ So I must be meek and humble like him, glowing with divine charity, ready for sacrifice or for death, for him or for his Church.

            This journey in North Africa has brought home to me more vividly the problem of the conversion of the peoples without the faith. The whole life and purpose of the Church, of the priesthood, of true and good diplomacy is there: ‘Give me souls; take all the rest.’

  Chapel in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Istanbul. Dedicated to Pope St John XXIII, who as Msgr Roncalli, was Papal Nuncio to Turkey.

Holy Saturday: my future.

When one is nearly seventy, one cannot be sure of the future. ‘The years of our life are three score and ten, and even if we are strong enough to reach the age of eighty, yet these years are but toil and vanity; they are soon passed and we also pass away’ (Psalm 89:10-11). So it is no use nursing any illusions: I must make myself familiar with the thought of the end, not with dismay which saps the will, but with confidence which preserves our enthusiasm for living, working and serving. Some time ago I resolved to bear constantly in mind this reverent expectation of death, this joy which ought to be my soul’s last happiness when it departs from this life. I need not become wearisome to others by speaking frequently of this; but I must always think of it, because the consideration of death, the judicium mortis, when it has become a familiar thought, is good and useful for the mortification of vanity and for infusing into everything a sense of moderation and calm. As regards temporal matters, I will revise my will once more. I am poor, thank God, and I mean to die poor.

            As for my soul, I shall try to make the flame burn more brightly, making the most of the time that remains as it passes more swiftly away. Therefore, total detachment from the things of this world, dignities, honours, things that are precious in themselves or greatly prized.  I want to redouble my efforts to complete the publication of the ‘Visita Apostolica di San Carlo Borromeo a Bergamo’, but I am also ready to accept the mortification of having to give this up.

            There are some who, to flatter me, speak of the Cardinalate. Nothing here of  any interest to me. I repeat what I have already written. Were this not to happen, as is quite possible, I shall think this also was predestined, and thank God for it.

            For the rest, on my return to Paris I shall resume my ordinary life without impatience, but with absolute fidelity to my duty and to the service of the Holy See, with care, with charity and patience, and in close union with Jesus, my King, my Master, my God, with Mary, my sweet Mother, and with St. Joseph, my dear friend, model and protector.


                          Mgr Roncalli - Papal Nuncio to France c.1945

I must comfort myself with the thought that the souls that I have known, loved and still love are now almost all in the other world, waiting and praying for me. Will the Lord call me soon to the heavenly fatherland? Here I am, ready. I beg him to take me only at a good moment. Has he perhaps reserved for me many more years of life? I will be grateful for them, but always implore him not to leave me on this earth when I have become an encumbrance and of no further use to Holy Church. But in this also the Lord’s holy will, that is enough.

            I end these notes to the sound of the Easter bells ringing from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart nearby, and I remember with joy my last Easter homily in Istanbul, when I preached on the words of St Gregory Nazzen, ‘the will of God is our peace’.

           Coat of Arms - Pope John XXIII.   Motto: Obedientia et Pax

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Poetry - 'Holy Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy...'

The following three poems are taken from 'The Mary Book' an anthology of poems and writings by different authors, assembled by F.J.Sheed, and first published by Sheed and Ward, London and New York, in 1950.

                                  Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

 In a Boat    by Hilaire Belloc

Lady! Lady!
Upon Heaven-height,
Above the harsh morning
In the mere Light.

Above the spendthrift
And above the snow,
Where no seas tumble,
And no winds blow.

The twisting tides
And the perilous sands
Upon all sides
Are in your holy hands.

The wind harries
And the cold kills;
But I see your chapel
Over far hills.

My body is frozen,
My soul is afraid;
Stretch out your hands to me,
Mother and maid.

Mother of Christ,
And Mother of me,
Save me alive
From the howl of the sea.

If you will mother me
Till I grow old,
I will hang in your chapel
A ship of pure gold.
            Hillaire Belloc


Song to Our Lady       -     Medieval: author unknown

Of one that is so fair and bright
Velut maris stella, - as the star of the sea,
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella.  - Mother and maid.
I cry to thee to turn to me;
Lady, pray thy Son for me,
Tam pia.  - So loving.
That I may come to thee,
Maria.  – Mary.

In sorrow, counsel, thou art best,
Felix fecundate:  - Happy and with offspring:
For all the weary thou art rest,
Mater honorata:  - Honourable Mother:
Beseech Him in thy mildest mood,
Who for us did shed His blood
In Cruce,  - On the Cross,
That we may come to Him
In luce.  - In light.

All this world was forlorn,
Eva peccatrice, - From Eve a sinner,
Till Our Saviour Lord was born
De te genetrice; - Of thee Mother;
With thy Ave sin went away,
Dark night went and in came day
Salutis. - Of salvation.
The well of healing sprang from thee,
Virtutis. - Of virtue.

Lady, flower of everything,
Rosa sine spina, - Rose without a thorn,
Thou borest Jesus, Heaven’s King,
Gratia Divina.  - Grace Divine.
Of all I say thou borest the prize,
Lady, Queen of Paradise
Electa: - Elect:
Maiden mild, Mother
Es effecta.  - Thou are become.

Well He knows He is thy Son,
Ventre quem portasti:  - Whom thou didst bear in thy womb:
He will not refuse thy bone,
Parvum quem lactasti:  - Whom thou didst suckle as a baby:
So courteous and so good He is,
He hath brought us to our bliss
Superni.  - Of heaven.
Who hast shut up the dark foul pit
Inferni.  - Of hell.
                                        Medieval - author unknown.


                                                  Caryll Houselander  (1901-1954)

The Reed    by Caryll Houselander

She is a reed,
straight and simple,
growing by a lake
in Nazareth

a reed that is empty,
until the Breath of God
fills it with infinite music:

and the breath of the Spirit of Love
utters the Word of God
through an empty reed.

The Word of God
is infinite music
in a little reed:

it is the sound of a Virgin’s heart,
beating in the solitude of adoration:
it is a girl’s voice
speaking to an angel,
answering for the whole world;

it is the sound of the heart of Christ,
beating within the Virgin’s heart;
it is the pulse of God,
timed by the breath of a Child.

The circle of a girl’s arms
has changed the world –
the round and sorrowful world
to a cradle for God.

She has laid love in His cradle:
in every cot
Mary has laid her Child.

In each
comes Christ;
in each Christ comes
to birth;
comes Christ from the Mother’s breast,
as the bird from the sun
returning again to the tree he knows,
and the nest,
to last year’s rifled nest.

Into our hands
Mary has given her Child:
heir to the world’s tears,
heir to the world’s toil,
heir to the world’s scars,
heir to the chill dawn
over the ruin of wars.

She has laid love in His cradle,
answering, for us all,
“Be it done unto me”:

The child in the wooden bed,
the light in the dark house,
the life in the failing soul,
the Host in the priest’s hands,
the seed in the hard earth,
the man who is child again-
quiet in the burial bands,
waiting his birth.

Mary, Mother of God,
we are the poor soil
and the dry dust;
we are hard with a cold frost.

Be warmth to the world;
be the thaw,
warm on the cold frost;
be the thaw that melts,
that the tender shoot of Christ,
piercing the hard heart,
flower to a spring in us.

Be hands that are rocking the world
to a kind rhythm of love:
that the incoherence of war
and the chaos of our unrest
be soothed to a lullaby;
and the round and sorrowful world,
in your hands,
the cradle of God.

                            Caryll Houselander
  N.B. If you, like me, enjoy the writings of Caryll Houselander, you will find further works by her on this website (umblepie), with direct link through the sidebar.
'The Rosary' on 18.1.12;  'Philip Speaks' on 4.8.14; and  'Advent' on 18.11.15.                              


'God has created ME to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.   I have my mission -  I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
               I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good,  I shall do His work.  I shall be an angel of peace,  a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it -  if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.'
                                                  Blessed John Henry Newman


                                                  'Cardinal Newman' (1801-1890)
                                                             by John Everett Millais

Thursday, 12 May 2016

'The Riddle of the Ivy'

                                            Ivy and fruit (Wikipedia - Roger Griffith 1954)

 'The Riddle of the Ivy' is taken from 'Tremendous Trifles', a book of short stories by G.K.Chesterton, each of which was originally published in the early twentieth century in the American  'Daily News'. In the Preface to the book, Chesterton writes ...'None of us think enough of these things on which the eye rests. But don't let us let the eye rest. Why should the eye be so lazy?  Let us exercise the eye until it learns to see the startling facts that run across the landscape as plain as a painted fence. Let us be ocular athletes. Let us learn to write essays on a stray cat or a coloured cloud. I have attempted some such thing in what follows; but anyone else may do it better, if anyone else will only try.' 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) - taking a stroll in Brighton

 'The Riddle of the Ivy'

More than a month ago, when I was leaving London for a holiday, a friend walked into my flat in Battersea and found me surrounded with half-packed luggage.
    “You seem to be off on your travels,” he said. “Where are you going?”
With a strap between my teeth, I replied, “To Battersea.”
    “The wit of your remark,” he said, “wholly escapes me.”
“I am going to Battersea,” I repeated, “to Battersea via Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort.  My remark contained no wit. It contained simply the truth. I am going to wander over the whole world until once more I find Battersea. Somewhere in the seas of sunset or of sunrise, somewhere in the ultimate archipelago of the earth, there is one little island which I wish to find: an island with low green hills and great white cliffs.  Travellers tell me that it is called England (Scotch travellers tell me that it is called Britain), and there is a rumour that somewhere in the heart of it there is a beautiful place called Battersea.”
“I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you,” said my friend with an air of intellectual comparison, “that this is Battersea”
“It is quite unnecessary,” I said, “and it is spiritually untrue.  I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England.  I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair; because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes.  The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea.  The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word ‘paradox’, I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it.”
    But when, after only a month’s travelling, I did come back to England, I was startled to find that I had told the exact truth. England did break on me at once beautifully new and beautifully old. To land at Dover is the right way to approach England (most things that are hackneyed are right), for then you see first the full, soft gardens of Kent, which are, perhaps, an exaggeration, but still a typical exaggeration, of the rich rusticity of England.  As it happened, also, a fellow traveller with whom I had fallen into conversation felt the same freshness, though for another cause. She was an American lady who had seen Europe, and had never yet seen England, and she expressed her enthusiasm in that simple and splendid way which is natural to Americans, who are the most idealistic people in the whole world. Their only danger is that the idealist can easily become the idolator. And the American has become so idealistic that he even idealises money. But (to quote a very able writer of American short stories) that is another story.
    “I have never been in England before,” said the American lady, “yet it is so pretty that I feel as if I have been away from it for a long time.”
    “So you have,” I said, “you have been away for three hundred years.”
    “What a lot of ivy you have,” she said, “it covers the churches and it buries the houses. We have ivy, but I have never seen it grow like that.”
    “I am interested to hear it,” I replied, for I am making a little list of all the things that are really better in England. Even a month on the Continent, combined with intelligence, will teach you that there are many things that are better abroad. All the things that the Daily Mail calls English are better abroad. But there are things entirely English and entirely good. Kippers, for instance, and Free Trade, and front gardens and individual liberty, and the Elizabethan drama, and hansom cabs, and cricket, and Mr. Will Crooks. Above all, there is the happy and holy custom of eating a heavy breakfast. I cannot imagine that Shakespeare began the day with rolls and coffee, like a Frenchman or a German. Surely he began with bacon or bloaters.  In fact, a light bursts upon me; for the first time I see the real meaning of Mrs Gallup and the Great Cipher. It is merely a mistake in the matter of a capital letter. I withdraw my objections; I accept everything; bacon did write Shakespeare.”
    “I cannot look at anything but the ivy,” she said, “it looks so comfortable.”
    While she looked at the ivy, I opened for the first time for many weeks an English newspaper, and I read a speech of Mr Balfour in which he said that the House of Lords ought to be preserved because it represented something in the nature of permanent public opinion of England, above the ebb and flow of the Parties. Now Mr Balfour is a perfectly sincere patriot, a man who, from his own point of view, thinks long and seriously about the public needs, and he is, moreover, a man of entirely exceptional intellectual power.  

  Rt Hon Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) . 1st Earl of Balfour.

But alas, in spite of all this, when I had read that speech I thought with a heavy heart that there was just one more thing that I had to add to the list of the specially English things, such as kippers and cricket; I had to add the specially English kind of humbug.  In France things are attacked and defended for what they are.  The Catholic Church is attacked because it is Catholic, and defended because it is Catholic.  The Republic is defended because it is Republican, and attacked because it is Republican. But here is the ablest of English politicians consoling everybody by telling them that the House of Lords is not really the House of Lords, but something quite different; that the foolish, accidental peers whom he meets every night are in some mysterious way experts upon the psychology of the democracy; that if you want to know what the very poor want you must ask the very rich, and that if you want the truth about Hoxton you must ask for it at Hatfield. If the Conservative defender of the House of Lords were a logical French politician he would simply be a liar. But being an English politician he is simply a poet. The English love of believing that all is as it should be, the English optimism combined with the strong English imagination, is too much even for the obvious facts.  In a cold, scientific sense, of course, Mr. Balfour knows that nearly all the Lords who are not Lords by accident are Lords by bribery. He knows, and (as Mr Belloc excellently said) everybody in Parliament knows the very names of the Peers who have purchased their Peerages.  But the glamour of comfort, the pleasure of reassuring himself and reassuring others, is too strong for this original knowledge; at last it fades from him, and he sincerely and earnestly calls on Englishmen to join with him in admiring an august and public-spirited Senate, having wholly forgotten that the Senate really consists of idiots whom he has himself despised; and adventurers whom he has himself ennobled.
    “Your ivy is so beautifully soft and thick,” said the American lady, “it seems to cover almost everything. It must be the most poetical thing in England.”
    “It is very beautiful,” I said, “and, as you say, it is very English.  Charles Dickens, who was almost more English than England, wrote one of his rare poems about the beauty of ivy. Yes, by all means let us admire the ivy, so deep, so warm, so full of a genial gloom and a grotesque tenderness. Let us admire the ivy, and let us pray to God in His mercy that it may not kill the tree.”

NB.   'Structural strength of a tree can be overwhelmed by aggressive ivy growth leading to death directly or by opportunistic disease'  -  'Several ivy species have become a seriously invasive to property' (wikipedia).

 An ivy-covered apartment house in Cambridge, Massachusetts   (ack. Daderot (Wikipedia))

Mr Will Crooks - Londoner, born 1852 died 1921 London. Member of Parliament, noted trade-unionist and Labour politician, member of the Fabian Society. Particularly remembered for his campaign work against poverty and inequality, notably with regard to reform and improved conditions for those in the 'Poor House'. (wikipedia)

    Mr Will Crooks - by Spy 'Leslie Ward' -Vanity Fair (April 1905)

Mrs Elizabeth Gallup  - born 1848 Paris, died 1934 New York. American educator and exponent of  Francis Bacon as the true author  of much of Shakespeare's work. She based her belief on the basis that a 'biliteral cipher' was used in the original printing of these works, to conceal messages concerning the authorship, and other statements about the secret history of the times. (wikipedia)  (Her views were clearly not shared by GKC!)

Portrait of  Elizabeth Gallup as a young woman - taken from the frontispiece to 'Concerning the Bi-Literal Cipher'


'If a sinner, though he may not as yet have given up his sin, endeavours to do so, and for this purpose seeks the help of Mary, this good Mother will not fail to assist him, and enable him to recover the grace of God.'
Ack. 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus'

Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven - Diego Velazquez (1645)