Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November; and Pictures, Too!

Tonight they’ll try to set a bonfire to burn England down. Why? Because back in 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught before he had time to light the fuse on 30 some odd barrels of gunpowder under parliament, in an attempt to destroy Parliament and the King (James I), thereby setting the stage for the restoration of the Catholic Church.

It has long since become nonsectarian although very often an effigy of Guy Fawkes is on the pyre. But mostly it’s a good excuse for a bonfire and fireworks, indeed rather like the 4th of July, where we really don’t rail much about old King George anymore.

It was celebrated here until the Revolution as well, especially in New England, where the effigy of Guy Fawkes was sometimes joined by one of the Pope. It was banned by General Washington while the Continental Army occupied Boston in the Revolution so as not to over inflame the residents, and pretty much never resumed.


Speaking of domestic terrorists

And, of course…

Most, as usual from PowerLine and Bookworm.

 

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Bare Ruined Choirs

In Sonnet LXXIII Shakespeare wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long

Not one of his happiest, but it accords well with my feelings, this fall. It hasn’t been a year I would wish on anybody, but this is the season when I understand why All Hollow’s is sometimes called Totenfest by those of German heritage. Tomorrow is the Feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, and for me, that has significance as well. Six years ago, I had never heard of Walsingham, let alone this representation of Mary, but One summer day in 2012, Jessica became my dearest friend at almost the moment she lit a candle for me at the shrine. The main part of the story begins here. I have ever since found Mary a worthwhile conduit for my prayers. But for me, it’s specifically the Walsingham representation. Earlier this year,  Fr Matthew Pittam wrote in the Catholic Herald about his feeling for the Shrine.

 

Whilst visiting this year I met some other pilgrims who were unfavourably comparing Walsingham to other well-known European Shrines that they had visited. It is true Walsingham is no Lourdes or Fatima but for me that is part of the appeal of the place. It seems right that the English National Shrine is understated, reflecting the character of the English themselves.

The story of Our Lady’s Shrine and the meaning of its message demand a much tenderer charism than Walsingham’s more flamboyant European cousins. Above all Walsingham is a memorial to the Annunciation. The whole place speaks softly of Our Lady’s ‘Yes’ to God. Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel was abundantly full of humility, generosity and peace. The quieter pace and rhythm of our National Shrine really can take us to the heart of this life changing and life-giving moment.

The location of Walsingham is also understated. It is not set amidst mountain grandeur but nestles within the pleasant rolling meadows of the Stiffkey Valley, echoing the gentleness of the shrine’s own spirituality and Our Lady. The whole place seems to be set apart for peaceful encounter.

He nails it for me. Without the slightest intention to be offensive, much of Roman Catholicism is too ornate, too baroque, and the decoration, like some of the verbiage, is over extravagant for me. That’s not a knock on it, it simply doesn’t fit with this working guy of Lutheran Scandinavian heritage. I’m no iconoclast, but enough is enough. Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic shrines at Walsingham have a northern European feel about them, which I find comforting. I’m still of my roots, I have found it comforting to talk with Our Lady, as Jessica once said, it feels rather like talking to Mom, which in a sense it is.

And then there is the relief, that I have felt on several occasions, after talking with Her, usually not the formal Rosary, although I do that sometimes as well, mostly sitting here, meditating silently directed towards Her. The old man’s knees aren’t really up to kneeling much anymore, anyway. 🙂

Strangely, it is only 3 years, nearly to the day, since the Abbess from Walsingham came to Jessica’s hospital bed to pray over her and sprinkle her with Walsingham water, giving her some ease, and then again a mere two weeks later, just after she received the last rites, she again prayed over her and sprinkled her. Two days later she was out of her coma, without pain and cancer free. A remarkable testimony to the power of prayer.

A year after that Mary Katherine Ham lost her husband,  Jake in a bicycle accident while pregnant with their second child. It was one of those things that shocked many of us, this young vibrant couple, and him suddenly gone. She wrote about it this week at The Federalist.

I love the idea of the divine spark. It crosses a lot of cultures and religions, the idea that you carry a bit of the Creator inside you, that it animates your life.

Jake’s life always brings to mind a spark and then some. Jake’s soul, to me, was a bonfire. He was here and he was in your face and he was warm and bright. He roared with enthusiasm at the beginning, even the hope of something new, sometimes a little too much. His glow was infectious, throwing sparks into the night air, silhouetted against a dark sky before they landed on everyone in his vicinity. He mellowed to embers as the night wore on, usually over a glass of bourbon or a beer.

I lived seven years of my life looking into a bonfire. I warmed my hands and found comfort in its flame. There were times when I damn near burnt myself or got a giant waft of smoke at exactly the wrong time.  Because that’s life. And that’s fire. It’s not all s’mores and sweetness.

Everyone who’s loved someone knows that light and warmth. Everyone who’s lost someone knows the feeling when it goes dark and cold one day.

When that happens at any time, it’s jarring. When it happens without warning, even more.

The light went out. This fire I’d stood next to for seven years just went out, like a flood light on a switch. Boom. Imagine staring into a fire, and then suddenly turning 180 degrees to survey the woods behind you. I couldn’t see. I was standing in what otherwise was my life, and I knew all the other parts of it were there, but I couldn’t understand its contours anymore. I was standing in my own life, blinded, blinking away those disorienting shimmery green spots.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. But you know when we lose someone we love, not even always to death, it’s like that as well. It was for me when my marriage broke up, and even though my sisters, parents and brothers-in-law lived full lives, in truth as much as could be expected, they have left a hole, that cannot be filled.

And so it was for me, a year ago today, when I received the last email from  Jessica, who as far as I know is healthy, happy, and busy. Too busy or some other unexplained reason, to maintain the friendship that turned to love on my part, more than I ever felt for another human being. And get your mind out of the gutter, yes she is beautiful, but I loved her before I knew that, far more a case of Agape than Eros. She was my friend, the best one I’ll ever have. And even Our Lady of Walsingham has found no way to comfort me. I’m reconciled that I must go on more alone than I have ever been, but have little appetite for it. Which is why that sonnet speaks loudly to me.

Walsingham, and Our Lady are her legacy to me, and I thank God for them everyday. But it does make me think of another poem.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

But it is true that while Eliot was writing of Little Gidding, I’ve always thought that this applied as well to Walsingham

           If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

We merely have to trust God that Dame Julian of Norwich was correct.

‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Absolute Morality

There has been a bit of commotion over in Britain the last couple of weeks, caused by a Member of Parliament that I’ll bet most Americans have never heard of, and that’s a shame. His name is Jacob Rees-Mogg. His father was William Rees-Mogg who was a former editor of the £ Times newspaper and created a life peer in 1988. Jacob was educated at Eton and in History at Trinity College, Oxford. (Can you say “posh”? I knew that you could.) He created his own financial services company and is the Member for North East Somerset (since 2010). Quentin Letts dubbed him the “Honourable Member for the early twentieth century”. It’s rather humorous, and yet, his accent and manner of dress, and yes his manner of acting play into it. As does that he is proud of being both Catholic and English, something we see far too seldom these days. And that’s why the commotion. The other day he was on Good Morning Britain and some of what he said shocked the hosts rather profoundly.

It’s rather fun to watch Piers Morgan taken apart, apart from the fact that Rees-Mogg is entirely correct for the Catholic Church as well as any orthodox Christian. It is simply what we have always believed everywhere, at all times. Here is exactly how far our churches have descended since the beginning of the twentieth century. And that leads us to something else. Steven Bullivant writing in the Catholic Herald, tells us something about how secular Britain, even its Catholics, are becoming.

How many Catholics actually share Jacob Rees-Mogg’s beliefs?

He is already in a minority simply by attending Mass regularly

Today’s Times carries an interesting – though for many Herald readers deeply dispiriting – article: “Most UK Catholics back right to abortion”. (It’s behind a paywall, but a quick and free registration can get you access.)

I won’t repeat the full thing here – and besides, you can read the full report from the 2016 Brithish Social Attitudes survey, on which the article is based here. But the essential statistics are these: In 2012, 39 per cent of British Catholics thought that abortions should be legal on the simple grounds that “the woman does not wish to have a child”. Now, fully 61 per cent of British Catholics think so.

This is, it must be said, a huge leap in just four years. By comparison, in the 27 years prior to 2012, the proportion of similarly pro-choice Catholics increased by only six percentage points (from 33 per cent in 1985). Personally, I’d suggest regarding the specific figures in play here – i.e., 61 per cent of British Catholics; a rise of 22 percentage points – as being illustrative, rather than pin-pointedly precise. (This is due to all the usual caveats regarding sample size, margins of error, etc.) Nevertheless, the general tenor of the statistics, and indeed of the direction of travel, are likely to be trusted.

These figures come at a time when Catholic attitudes to critical moral and social issues are already very much in the news. This is thanks to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s straight-talking statement of the Church’s, and therefore his own, opposition to both abortion and same-sex marriage. It is not surprising, then, that these new BSA data are being used to cast Rees-Mogg’s views as being out of touch even among Catholics themselves.

I addressed the general question of “How odd is Rees-Mogg?” in terms of British social attitudes as a whole on the Spectator’s website over the weekend. How representative, though, is he among his fellow Catholics?

First of all, he is already in a minority of Catholics simply by virtue of being a regular Mass attender: fewer than one in three of cradle Catholics (a good chunk of whom now identify as ‘no religion’, of course), and only about two in five of all those who currently identify as Catholics, say that they attend Mass even as often as once a month (see here).

Accordingly, it would be interesting to see what difference there is between practising Catholics and non- or irregularly-practising Catholics on attitudes towards abortion and other subjects. I suspect that among them Mr Rees-Mogg’s views would find much greater (though not at all unanimous) agreement.

Even so, these new statistics are a sobering indicator (as we didn’t have enough of them already) of just how far British Catholics have secularized. So too, for that matter, is the furore surrounding Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Part of what I find disheartening in this is that even as we, in the US, appear to be winning the battle on abortion, and we have public opinion on our side on same sex marriage as well. It was simply established by a federal court acting extra-constitutionally, if not quite unconstitutionally. But the United Kingdom appears to be still sliding down that slippery slope. But we know that we have seen some very dark places in this battle here as well. And one of the things that is winning for us, is the steadfastness of many Catholics in this battle, who have shown some of us Protestants what we must do to achieve the proper result.

And so, real conservatives in Britain have found someone who speaks eloquently for them, and for us as well. There is a boomlet for him to become the leader of the Conservative Party. It is, at best, very premature and unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Because a lot of what is happening in Britain these days are very much like those things that have caused us to say here, “That is why you got Trump”. And nothing in my lifetime was more unlikely than that.

He also reminds me of this, from Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream- -and not make dreams your master;
If you can think- -and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on! ‘

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings- -nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And- -which is more- -you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rees-Mogg certainly is, and a most admirable one, as well

The Church v. the United States

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

There was a piece by Fr Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa in the unofficial papal organ La Civiltà Cattolica. It was an attack piece, not so much on America per se, as on the American Catholic Church especially how it has so often become allied to US Evangelicals. I noted that it was published and let it go – I don’t know enough to comment intelligently, and so try not to. But Matthew Schmitz writing in The Catholic Herald, goes where I fear to tread, and very ably, too.

The men surrounding Francis see him as an indispensable support of a uniquely just political system. In a series of speeches on Europe, Francis has embraced that role, arguing that with the formation of the European Union, Europe finally “found its true self”. Europe had always had “a dynamic and multicultural identity”, but only since World War II has that identity been embodied in societies “free of ideological conflicts, with equal room for the native and the immigrant, for believers and non-believers”.

Francis stresses diversity over identity, dialogue over agreement. (“If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue.”) For all else the men share, this is a view opposed to that of Benedict XVI, who called on Europeans to “embrace our own heritage of the sacred” and warned that “multiculturalism, which is so passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own things”. Benedict XVI saw the Church and the liberal order standing in a deeply ambivalent relationship. If Francis is more optimistic that they can partner, it is perhaps because he desires both a liberal Church and a liberal politics – each ratifying the other in a kind of inverted integralism.

I (and many others) have noted that the Church sounds like an entirely different institution under Francis than it did Benedict. Nor does it seem to many of us one that promotes either the Kingdom of God or the good of the average man. After a needed explanation of integralism, the author continues.

It is in this context that one must understand the Vatican’s recent sally against America in the unofficial papal organ La Civiltà Cattolica. Written by Fr Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, another papal confidant, the article is not merely an expression of anti-American spite or an attack on ecclesial enemies. It is an attempt to defend the liberal order against what is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an existential threat.

Spadaro and Figueroa believe that American Catholics and Evangelicals resemble ISIS, in that they have formed a “cult of the apocalypse” in which the “community of believers (faith) becomes a community of combatants (fight)”. Underlying this cult of the apocalypse is a “political Manichaeism”, a desire to identify “what is good and what is bad”, which ultimately “divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil”. Spadaro and Figueroa single out for censure a fringe website called Church Militant – perhaps less for its influence (which is minor) than for its martial name.

If an indigenous tribesman interrupted in his affairs by a Columbus or Pizarro had read the accounts those explorers sent home, he would have marvelled as I did while reading this document. Error and exaggeration bloom, as the authors survey an unfamiliar landscape. American deserts and wastes were once expected to disclose glittering El Dorados; today, obscure websites and forgotten thinkers are accorded capital significance.

It’s sort of funny, really, about five years ago, a friend, an English Catholic living in Spain, asked me what I made of Michael Voris the force behind The Church Militant. After watching some of his videos, I told her that while much of his message resonated with me, some quite strongly, I found him too narrowly Roman Catholic to have any valid solutions, at least in America. I suspect that sort of thing happens fairly often, with both Catholic and Evangelical sources, we all have our separate axes that need grinding, but we also have quite a few common interests. That is part of the genius that seems to be mostly American, to cooperate and yet fight (mostly bloodlessly) like the very devil amongst ourselves. I’ve often compared us to a family, we fight and quarrel amongst ourselves, but let an outsider get involved, and we’re pretty much all on side.

It is no coincidence that America is more comfortable with both religion and violence – in some strange way, the two go hand in hand. Only if public moral judgments are potentially legitimate can public violence be justified. Manent believes that Europe’s leaders have come to doubt this possibility, and so “the secular state is itself becoming secularised”. No authority has the right to say who is worthy of receiving Communion and who is not, who may live and who must die. Church and state alike are stripped of the authority to command and punish.

Americans are less confident that they can dispense with such judgments. “Since the risk of violent death at the hands of others never completely disappears, the right to self-defence cannot completely disappear” – thus capital punishment and the Second Amendment. Spadaro and Figueroa decry this as a barbaric version of the old integralism. For Manent, it is an acknowledgment of inevitable fact.

America’s savagery is all the more baffling to Europeans because the US is richer and less haunted by the past than are the nations of Europe. At once more advanced and more primitive, America is an unsettling sign that no amount of progress will reverse the effects of the Fall.

This American, at least, is convinced that we cannot dispense with moral judgement. If we do, we enter Hobbes world, “A war of all against all”. And yes, it strikes as entirely appropriate that Americans exhibit the fact that no amount of progress will reverse the effects of the Fall. After all, the very design of American constitutionalism and all that flows from it is a recognition of, and an attempt to control the effects of, the Fall itself. It has worked remarkably well, so far, both for America, and the world. Perhaps something there for Rome itself to consider.

 

Charlie Gard: The Saga Continues

Time to speak again about Charlie Gard, that brain damaged British child whom the British health care system thinks needs to die, against his parents’ wishes, and in the face of possible treatment. We’ve spoken of this before, here, here, and here. The hearing has happened, and his parents left appearing rather distraught.

No surprise there. From the Catholic Herald.

They said that Judge Nicholas Francis had misquoted their earlier statements

The parents of a baby with a rare disease stormed out of a London court hearing in an emotional outburst Thursday, as the couple tried to convince a judge to let them take their critically ill child to the United States for medical treatment.

Charlie Gard’s parents are challenging the view of the Great Ormond Street Hospital, arguing that treatment abroad is in the best interest of the 11-month-old suffering from a rare genetic condition.

A succession of judges has backed specialists at the hospital who argue experimental treatment in America won’t help and may cause suffering for Charlie. The parents hoped to present fresh evidence to alter that view.

Two hours into the High Court hearing, questions from Judge Nicholas Francis prompted tensions to boil over. Charlie’s mother, Connie Yates, accused Francis of misquoting her earlier statements about Charlie’s quality of life.

In other words, they think they are being railroaded, and it’s quite likely they are. Catholicism Pure and Simple adds this.

The case of 11-month old Charlie Gard is bringing out the worst in the “Death with Dignity Movement.” By appointing Victoria Butler-Cole, a death with dignity advocate, as the lawyer representing Charlie in court against his parents, the death with dignity movement has crossed the line from advocating for individuals’ wishes to projecting its views onto innocent children who are too young to have indicated that “death with dignity” is something they want.

Charlie Gard, an 11-month-old living in the UK, has an extremely rare mitochondrial disorder. An experimental treatment exists that has a chance—although a small chance—at recovering his muscle function and allowing him to have a happy life. His parents will be in court Thursday asking the court to allow him to receive this experimental treatment. His hospital and others argue that the treatment is too experimental—that it has only been tested in a lab—but the same hospital has used equally-experimental treatment before.

From the CH article:

“Unlike the US, English law is focused on the protection of children’s rights,” said Jonathan Montgomery, professor of health care law at University College London. “The US is the only country in the world that is not party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; it does not recognise that children have rights independent of their parents.”

Yeah, and maybe there is a reason the United States hasn’t signed on to that convention. It avoids having the state appoint a pro death attorney to oppose the parents’ wishes.

Look, none of us, most especially those of us without expertise, and full knowledge have a complete understanding here. It’s quite possible that, objectively, it would be better for the parents to let him go. But you know, it’s not my decision, it’s not your decision, most assuredly it is none of the state’s business, especially a state like the UK that encourages mothers to commit abortion for almost no reason at all. It is, as it has always been, the parents’ responsibility. And they want to continue treatment.

In an article on The Conservative Woman yesterday about this matter, a friend of mine commented.

A source close to the parents told The Daily Telegraph: “The family find it astonishing that the quango that appointed the barrister to act in the interests of Charlie Gard is the chairman of Compassion in Dying, the sister body of Dignity in Dying, formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. The implication is obvious. It looks like a profound conflict of interest.”

This is part of a comment I made on that same article. I can’t improve on what I said there.

But the real point here is this. Whose child is it? Is he the parent’s child? Or is he the property of the state? That is the real determination to be made. If he belongs to his parent’s, they have a right to have him treated, at their own expense. If he is the property of the state, it has the right to deprive him of his life. It’s a very simple question, really, and a very serious one, for us all. Because it applies to us all.

Culture of Death, indeed.

Do also understand that in large measure, this case has been driven by the American right-to-life groups, who have done so much to point out the horrors of abortion as well. The British groups are getting on board, especially the truly conservative groups and Catholic ones, but the support for these parents has come overwhelmingly from the States. It is still another mainfestation of the healthy distrust of government that Americans feel, something our British cousins largely lack, to their detriment. They are learning, Brexit was a sign of that, but it will take time. Time Magazine, of all places, said this:

The twist in the legal case comes as a movement to bring Charlie to the U.S. has become an international campaign, bolstered by the involvement of conservative groups from the United States led by Catholics and evangelicals . Major attention on the case first picked up outside the U.K. when Pope Francis said in a Vatican statement that he was following the case “with affection and sadness” and prayed that Charlie’s parents’ “wish to accompany and treat their child until the end isn’t neglected.”

The following day President Donald Trump tweeted to his 33.7 million followers that he would be “delighted” to help Charlie, and the saga reached an entirely new audience. Suddenly, the case of Charlie Gard was being discussed in churches and by socially conservative groups across the U.S. On July 6, the Susan B. Anthony List, March for Life, Concerned Women of America and Americans United for Life — all socially conservative groups active in opposition to abortion — held a joint press conference in Washington D.C., where they announced the launch of a campaign to ‘Save Charlie Gard,’ including a petition and a “social media push” to raise awareness and support for Charlie and his parents.

“Who do we think we are [to] decide who gets to live and who doesn’t, whose life is valuable and whose is not?” Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, told attendees during the event. “This is way above our pay grade. This is a matter for God.”

And so it is.

 

The Feast of Bede the Venerable

The first great English historian, patron of writers and historians, writer of what is still the standard history of Anglo-Saxon England in his Historia Ecclesiastica, the only English-born Doctor of the Church, and the first to translate the Bible into English. He was born about 672 and died on 26 May 735, which, as it is this year, was the feast of the Ascension.

From A Clerk of Oxford:

[…]This is a lovely coincidence (or occasional mercy, rather) because the feast of the Ascension and the words of its liturgy were in Bede’s mind, and on his lips, as he lay dying. We know this because a moving account of Bede’s death was recorded by a monk named Cuthbert, a former pupil of Bede’s and later abbot of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Cuthbert was present at Bede’s deathbed, and this is how he describes his death.

For nearly a fortnight before the Feast of our Lord’s Resurrection he was troubled by weakness and breathed with great difficulty, although he suffered little pain. Thenceforward until Ascension Day he remained cheerful and happy, giving thanks to God each hour day and night. He gave daily lessons to us his students, and spent the rest of the day in singing the psalms so far as his strength allowed. He passed the whole night in joyful prayer and thanksgiving to God, except when slumber overcame him; but directly he awoke, he continued to meditate on spiritual themes, and never failed to thank God with hands outstretched. I can truthfully affirm that I have never seen or heard of anyone who gave thanks so unceasingly to the living God as he.

O truly blessed man! He used to repeat the saying of the holy Apostle Paul, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, and many other sayings from holy scripture, and in this manner he used to arouse our souls by the consideration of our last hour. Being well-versed in our native songs, he described to us the dread departure of the soul from the body by a verse in our own tongue, which translated means: ‘Before setting forth on that inevitable journey, none is wiser than the man who considers – before his soul departs hence – what good or evil he has done, and what judgement his soul will receive after its passing’.

The English translation of John’s Gospel which Bede was working on at his death has not survived, and nor have any of Bede’s other English writings (it’s not clear whether his ‘Death Song’ was of his own composition, or if he is quoting a poem he knew). But a century or so after Bede’s death, an Anglo-Saxon poet composed a poem on the Ascension which must be one of the greatest poems ever written on that subject. I quoted it at length here, but this is my favourite part:

Swa se fæla fugel flyges cunnode;
hwilum engla eard up gesohte,
modig meahtum strang, þone maran ham,
hwilum he to eorþan eft gestylde,
þurh gæstes giefe grundsceat sohte,
wende to worulde. Bi þon se witga song:
‘He wæs upp hafen engla fæðmum
in his þa miclan meahta spede,
heah ond halig, ofer heofona þrym.’
…Wæs se siexta hlyp,
haliges hyhtplega, þa he to heofonum astag
on his ealdcyððe. þa wæs engla þreat
on þa halgan tid hleahtre bliþe
wynnum geworden. Gesawan wuldres þrym,
æþelinga ord, eðles neosan,
beorhtra bolda. þa wearð burgwarum
eadgum ece gefea æþelinges plega.

So the beautiful bird ventured into flight.
Now he sought the home of the angels,
that glorious country, bold and strong in might;
now he swung back to earth again,
sought the ground by grace of the Spirit,
returned to the world. Of this the prophet sang:
‘He was lifted up in the arms of angels
in the great abundance of his powers,
high and holy, above the glory of the heavens.’
…The sixth leap,
the Holy One’s hope-play, was when he ascended to heaven
into his former home. Then the throng of angels
in that holy tide was made merry with laughter,
rapt with joy. They saw the glory of majesty,
first of princes, seek out his homeland,
the bright mansions. After that the blessed city-dwellers
endlessly delighted in the Prince’s play.

Here is where English, British, and American written history begins, where it ends depends, in large part in our diligence in studying what has come before.

Also: Bede’s death — NEWMAN LECTURES.

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