Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Shakespeare and the Catholic Faith

Whilst brain is in functioning mode, I’ve been doing my own rumination over the question of whether Shakespeare was a Catholic. Others have alluded to the research done that suggests he was in Rome in the period prior to his surfacing as a major playwright in England in 1591-1592, supporting his Roman orientation.

I remain skeptical and would suggest that Shakespeare probably agonised long and hard over whether to remain a Catholic, but I am yet to be convinced that he died a Catholic.

What really fascinates me are the three plays he chose to put on at the Rose on the south bank of the Thames in this period around 1591. They are the three plays about Henry VI. Note that at this time Edmund Spencer was publishing his Faerie Queene and all righteous England was in love with good queen Bess, unless of course you were a Catholic or had Puritan tendencies. It must be remembered that Henry VII had very nearly succeeded in getting his ancestor Henry VI beatified. His grave in Windsor was certainly a major destination for pilgrims up to the Reformation, he had a love for the poor and was famous for his acts of charity. Henry VI was an overtly pious king, whose record as king looks bleak. He lost France, got the country into horrid levels of debt and “started” a civil war. He is not really the sort of figure to be glorified in drama during the reign of Elizabeth. He was not a success by any measure of success that most Elizabethans would recognise.

Perhaps in the collective psyche of the covert Catholics of Elizabethan England Henry VI did embody something they could relate to. His faith was the most central thing in his life, he lacked ambition and any ounce of ruthlessness. He was surrounded by many who were far more scheming than him and he was perhaps easily manipulated. There is a theme in the three plays that strong (true?) faith leads to earthly failure.

However the plays are not a hagiography. They were obviously quite watchable for any of Elizabeth’s subjects (who liked plays) and indeed the very pro-Establishment Thomas Nashe even goes as far as recommending one of them in his Pierce Penilesse. These plays are not intended to be acts of sedition, yet nor are they anti-Catholic like much of the pro-Establishment literature of the time. Henry is never made to look a fool because of his faith. There is a corrupt Cardinal in the shape of Henry Beaufort, but the Church itself is not seen as corrupt.

I see Shakespeare more as a philosopher, trying to reach as many as possible with balanced tales that delve deep into the psychology of the times. For him to have overtly take sides would have meant him having to obscure universal truths about human nature.

For example, try reading Sonnet 26 as Shakespeare’s “protestation” of his Catholic faith, a faith he loves but does not wish to die for. It works for me, but then I’m no scholar.

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit:
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul's thought, all naked, will bestow it;
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect
And puts apparel on my tatter'd loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
Till then not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The lights are on ....

....but who is home?

This post is about trying to blog in 2009. It hasn’t been easy.

I’ll put no hyperlinks in this post, you know who you are.

Some bloggers have just vanished. Perhaps they have too much work to do? Perhaps they have nothing to say? I don’t know, but I do know that often the busier you are the more the blog posts flow. I know I miss these bloggers.

Some bloggers have left and said goodbye. They are missed too, but they have their reasons for saying farewell.

Some bloggers have simply had a dreadful year and real life has overwhelmed them and made blogging difficult.

To all of you, my heartfelt prayers.

I myself have had a difficult year for many reasons. I am trying to continue blogging but it is not easy. However, it is often just about the only real witness I can give to my faith. This is sad. But in my job, there is so much compromise between what I am and what I am employed to do, that beyond seeing it as a way to keep a roof over my head, it is far from being a calling. I need to blog to reconcile the contemplative life within me to the active life that others see me in. It helps form a bridge between the two.

My active spiritual life is always centred round my marriage. The other aspects of it this year have mainly revolved around the dying and the dead.

What is missing is a broader feeling of community with living breathing Catholics. Yup, I know this should come through my parish, but it doesn’t. They also, rightly centre their apostolate around their families and those they care for. But being English, we are all so tight a**ed, about involving each other, helping each other, asking each other to pray for us and our needs, helping each other be obedient to Holy Mother Church. Also in a rural community like ours, the next nearest parishioners are 4 miles away, it isn’t a tight knit community.

Bizarrely, it is the internet, where you can let your guard down, be vulnerable, ask for support. It is easier on-line to find and express the caritas that is so hard to grasp in the muddled world outside.

However my lack of posts recently is due to two things, firstly, whatever is wrong with me is making thinking difficult and typing takes forever. I have to write everything in Word first and re read it many times because putting sense in to words is so difficult for me at the moment. Secondly, the whole Irish Abuse Scandal hurts deeply. I have reasonable credentials to be Irish, I was born in Dublin and Baptised in St. Andrews on Westland Row, but I just don’t feel Irish. The hurt comes from the real sense of damage the whole thing has done to the mystical Body of Christ, through the sheer number of souls that are affected. Such a betrayal of Jesus has taken place that we are all wounded. The staggering silence (from a pastoral perspective) from our own hierarchy only adds to the sense of how fallen we are.

I have been wanting to scream the Safeguarding policies, screening and enhanced disclosures will NOT protect us from evil, only prayer and fasting will do that.

Maybe it is just better to shut up.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

This is one of the most beautiful confessions of Faith I have read. It is long, but worth it. I urge you to read it too.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Homo Factus Est

I am an avid reader of Faith magazine. I like the depth of issues covered and I think the whole Faith organisation is worthy of supporting. However that doesn't mean I agree one bit with their basic philosophy. I had penned a letter to their editor about my misgivings, but I feel far from brainy enough to get involved with this on a theological level (I got cold feet about sending my letter) and would therefore be grateful if someone could assist me in my meandering thoughts via this little blog.

This post of mine certainly doesn't intend to be a "my idea of the Trinity is better that your idea of the Trinity" post. I would however dearly like some clarification on the Scotist idea that Christ was predestined to come into the world before the creation of the universe and ...Christ would have become incarnate even if there had been no sin to give us the fullness of salvation and grace that we need (words taken from the editorial). I must be a Thomist because I find the second part of this statement worrying.

I would like to pose some questions in regards to this statement.

Should Christ become incarnate and be revealed to an unfallen Adam, the first question I ask is why this didn’t actually happen anyway? One is assuming the cosmological battles have already begun between the angels and fallen angels. When Adam arrives, surely the appearance of an Incarnate Christ to guide him away from the wiles of the Devil would have been a good thing. God obviously didn’t deem this necessary, after all it is God that gave us freewill.

Unfallen humanity did not know death. Death is a scandal, it is the separation of the eternal soul from the body. Sinless man was meant to be assumed intact into heaven when the earthly body grew tired, as happened to the Immaculate Conception. Christ in an unfallen world would be subject to the same rules as the other creatures who were without sin, and as he wouldn’t have got murdered, he would have known old age. Being incarnate means being subject to the constraints of time. How can we justify Christ knowing old age? How could He be around for all, locked into one earthly lifetime as God made Man?

I simply don't get the concept that Christ's coming would still be necessary in a sinless world to provide us with the fullness of salvation and grace. We wouldn’t need saving if we were sinless, or am I missing something?

The Incarnation has to be a unique event. If always destined to happen, but happening in an unfallen world, how would God have chosen/crafted his handmaid?

The editorial goes on to suggest that we should reach out to scientists with the Cosmic Christ as opposed to Christ Our Redeemer. Reaching out to scientists with the eternal, cosmic Christ seems somehow silly if the rest of the population find Christ primarily through His passion (love, suffering and death), why should Scientists be steered away from engaging with Christ Crucified? Seriously, I do worry that the Cosmic Christ is just not lovable. We are fallen beings and we love Christ as our Saviour. It is the only way we can begin to grasp at the pure love that flows from and through the Trinity. Our perspectives and feelings are inherently part of the world we live in.

The Physicist Earnest Rutherford once said, all science is either Physics or stamp collecting. Surely Adam, before he was exiled from Eden, was the first stamp collector. Adam was happy and content to be naming things in the garden, well botanist rather than stamp collector, but it really is the same thing. Questions of why and wherefrom, would not have occurred to him. He was a cataloger and gardener. I wish to argue (as a Physicist myself) that natural philosophy (physics) is a product of the Fall. It is our exile from the garden makes us feel the need to put purpose into our existence, or atleast question our existence, the yearnings of the natural philosopher are not the yearnings of an unfallen creature. Therefore pure science is a human construct to try to grasp some understanding of the created universe. This would imply theologians should engage with scientists through their combined lack of understanding.

Whilst I would unswervingly support the movement to promote the primacy of Christ in Creation. Is it not the case that because as we are poor, frail beings, destined to die, trapped by gravity and time, we simply can not get close to the Cosmic Christ, though He is just that, we will only meet Him through His Passion, that is the whole of His encounter with the fallen world?