Tag Archives: England

June 5: Saint Boniface by Pope Benedict, 2.

Today is the Feast of Saint Boniface.

This great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns – for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization – that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished.

Although he was getting on in years (he was almost 80), he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: with about 50 monks he returned to Frisia where he had begun his work. Almost as a prediction of his imminent death, in alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to Bishop Lull, his disciple and successor in the see of Mainz: “I wish to bring to a conclusion the purpose of this journey; in no way can I renounce my desire to set out. The day of my end is near and the time of my death is approaching; having shed my mortal body, I shall rise to the eternal reward. May you, my dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the maze of error, complete the building of the Basilica of Fulda that has already been begun, and in it lay my body, worn out by the long years of life” (Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46). While he was beginning the celebration of Mass at Dokkum (in what today is northern Holland) on 5 June 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Advancing with a serene expression he “forbade his followers from fighting saying, “cease, my sons, from fighting, give up warfare, for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day, the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!'” (ibid., pp. 49-50). These were his last words before he fell under the blows of his aggressors. The mortal remains of the Martyr Bishop were then taken to the Monastery of Fulda where they received a fitting burial.

Centuries later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvelous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk.

The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will.

Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, his zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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Congratulations to Naomi!

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Naomi Billingsley, who writes for Agnellus Mirror sometimes as NAIB, has just had her book published. We haven’t yet had time to read it properly but thought we’d tell you about it at once, in case it sells out before you get chance to buy it.

Our friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses often point out to me what they see as ‘design’ in Creation. My reply has always been to say, yes, but designer is just too inadequate a word. It conjures up a drawing board and ruler  and compasses, whereas Blake, according to Naomi, sees God as an artist, a being bursting with loving imagination.

WT.

Here follows the review on the publisher’s website:

William Blake (1757-1827) is considered one of the most singular and brilliant talents that England has ever produced. Celebrated now for the originality of his thinking, painting and verse, he shocked contemporaries by rejecting all forms of organized worship even while adhering to the truth of the Bible.

But how did he come to equate Christianity with art? How did he use images and paint to express those radical and prophetic ideas about religion which he came in time to believe? And why did he conceive of Christ himself as an artist: in fact, as the artist, par excellence?

These are among the questions which Naomi Billingsley explores in her subtle and wide-ranging new study in art, religion and the history of ideas. Suggesting that Blake expresses through his representations of Jesus a truly distinctive theology of art, and offering detailed readings of Blake’s paintings and biblical commentary, she argues that her subject thought of Christ as an artist-archetype. Blake’s is thus a distinctively ‘Romantic’ vision of art in which both the artist and his saviour fundamentally change the way that the world is perceived.

From King’s College London, where Naomi completed her MA:

Naomi Billingsley is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester. Her research is at the intersection of the histories of Christianity and art in Britain, especially in the Romantic period. Her current project ‘The Formation and Reception of the Macklin Bible’ examines an important illustrated Bible, published between 1791 and 1800.

Naomi completed her PhD at the University of Manchester (2012-2015) on the figure of Christ in William Blake’s pictorial works. She was then Bishop Otter Scholar for Theology and the Arts in the Diocese of Chichester, and taught Art History at Birkbeck, University of London.

Naomi is a graduate of the MA in Christianity and the Arts (2011) and holds a BA in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge (Magdalene, 2010). 

The Visionary Art of William Blake: Christianity, Romanticism and the Pictorial Imagination
Naomi Billingsley

I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2018.

 

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25 May: Saint Bede of Northumbria and Europe.

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Pope Benedict XVI spoke about today’s saint at his General Audience of 18 February 2009. He touches on many of Pope Francis’s themes, so continuity continues! An appropriate message for Pentecost-tide.

You can find Pope Benedict’s full text here.

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In his commentary on the Song of Songs, Bede says Christ the Bridegroom wants a hard-working Church, “weathered by the efforts of evangelisation”. There is a clear reference to the word in the Song of Songs (1: 5), where the bride says “Nigra sum sed formosa” (“I am very dark, but comely”) intent on tilling other fields or vineyards and in establishing among the new peoples “not a temporary hut but a permanent dwelling place”, in other words, intent on integrating the Gospel into their social fabric and cultural institutions. In this perspective the holy Doctor urges the faithful to be diligent in religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable crowds of the Gospel who did not even allow the Apostles time to take a mouthful”.

He teaches them how to pray ceaselessly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy”, offering all their actions as a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ. He explains to parents that in their small domestic circle too they can exercise “the priestly office as pastors and guides”, giving their children a Christian upbringing. He also affirms that he knows many of the faithful (men and women, married and single) “capable of irreproachable conduct who, if appropriately guided, will be able every day to receive Eucharistic communion” (Epist. ad Ecgberctum, ed. Plummer, p. 419).

After his death, Bede’s writings were widely disseminated in his homeland and on the European continent. Bishop St Boniface, the great missionary of Germany, (d. 754), asked the Archbishop of York and the Abbot of Wearmouth several times to have some of his works transcribed and sent to him so that he and his companions might also enjoy the spiritual light that shone from them.

It is a fact that with his works Bede made an effective contribution to building a Christian Europe in which the various peoples and cultures amalgamated with one another, thereby giving them a single physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith. Let us pray that today too there may be figures of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole continent united; let us pray that we may all be willing to rediscover our common roots, in order to be builders of a profoundly human and authentically Christian Europe.

Bede translates St John’s Gospel

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9 April: Killed in action.

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Edward Thomas died in battle on this day in 1917. He came late to poetry, as did W.H. Davies, who wrote this tribute to his friend. They were great walkers through the countryside, like these friends from L’Arche Kent. May we all walk in peace!

Happy the man whose home is still
In Nature’s green and peaceful ways;
To wake and hear the birds so loud,
That scream for joy to see the sun
Is shouldering past a sullen cloud.

And we have known those days, when we
Would wait to hear the cuckoo first;
When you and I, with thoughtful mind,
Would help a bird to hide her nest,
For fear of other hands less kind.

But thou, my friend, art lying dead:
War, with its hell-born childishness,
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well,
And never left it once before.

MMB.

 

 

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10 February: O is for Oswestry

Stoswaldaskingnyplspencer1f89r.jpgThe Empire builders drew a straight line in the sand dividing Syria and Iraq, and all those similarly ruled boundaries in Canada and Australia. Was anyone asked would they rather be in Manitoba or Saskatchewan? Thank God those boundaries cause little friction.

The Welsh border with England has very few straight bits, and the area around Oswestry is a case in point. On the map England seems to have taken a huge bite out of Wales, and place names in English and Welsh turn up on either side of the border. Maesbury is a mishmash of the two, and Welsh Frankton is definitely in England.

The New Saints Football Club play in the Welsh Premier League but have their ground in Oswestry, England, and so it goes on.

The Old Saint of Oswestry was King Oswald of Northumbria who died at Oswald’s Tree – or Oswestry – in the 7th Century, battling against the pagan Mercians and their Welsh allies – who of course were more than capable of going to war against Mercia when the fit was on them. Or of marrying across the border as seems to have happened more than once in my own family.

Let us be grateful for peaceful co-existence along the Marches of England and Wales and pray for peace along the many borders that divide rather than unite people in our world today.

Oswald from a Ms in New York Public Library:
File:Stoswaldaskingnyplspencer1f89r.jpg From Wikipedia

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May 4: A pleasure shared

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We walked home from church with a friend who wanted to see the bluebells in the wood. She had heard about them but did not know they were so close to home. A pleasure shared already, but she took pictures aplenty to share with her mother in East London, a pleasure further shared: her mother will enjoy not just the bluebells but the clear and infectious pleasure our friend received from them.

A gift that is special to an English spring.

A few days before we had walked that way with young Abel, who’s too small to damage the flowers as he walks, but he too loved the ‘blue flowers’: pleasure shared as a little child lets us into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t often quote Rupert Brooke, but I remember …

the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Kingdom of  Heaven is reflected in that very English carpet, but I’m less sure about an English Heaven? One that welcomes people from around the world, I trust, or it would not be Heaven, just an off-shore island …

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24 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: XVII, A Hagiographical Foray

 

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Though ‘T’ and the Chihuahuas had been all unaware, the day of their visit to the monastery at Minton was the feast of St. Domniva, its foundress. In the course of the various services they attended throughout their stay and by recourse to some fragments of conversation had with a few of the more knowledgeable of the nuns, ‘T’ and the Chihuahuas were able to piece together bits of her fascinating story. It seemed that Domniva (before she became a saint) had been a princess of one of the royal Anglo-Saxon houses and a renowned world traveler. There was a massive amount of (circumstantial) evidence indicating that one of her journeys may have even taken her- along with a sizeable entourage since she was, after all, a princess- to sub-Saharan Africa. It was there that she discovered a rare and wonderful animal in the sprawling market of a nameless and long-vanished city called a dik-dik. Smitten by its elegant grace, the noble Domniva purchased the animal for a magnificent sum and brought it back with her when she returned to the foggy shores of East Kent.

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The dik-dik appeared as a perfectly formed young deer…except that its coat of dense fur was a soft, buff-gray peppered with nearly invisible spots. For all that the magnificent animal resembled a member of any number of herds ranging the length and breadth of the Five Kingdoms, it only stood around six inches tall; a miniature version of its British cousins with ebony hoofs no larger than the tip of its mistress’ forefinger. Used to a much warmer clime in the dense acacia forests of its African homeland, it nevertheless also was able to appreciate the overgrown nature of the English countryside (and nearly all of England was countryside in the late seventh century) and, discovering that a brisk frisk was an excellent way to dodge the chill, it soon began to thrive. Everyone who saw it fell instantly in love. Perhaps, the dik-dik should not be referred to as an ‘it’ since it was a young stag, sporting a full rack of arching antlers, and proudly answered to the name Boanerges, which the Lady Domniva had given it.

At some point in time there was a blood feud, as seemed so common among royalty then and now and, in order to make things right, the king of Kent decided to build a monastery. Fortunately for the king, the Lady Domniva had also become very pious and wished to retire from the tiresome frivolities of life at court. And so it was settled- Domniva would found the monastery and serve as its first abbess. A site was duly chosen on the shore of the mighty Wansum river, which, bisecting a large mass of land, created the Isle of Thanet. It was then that the dik-dik established himself forever in the annals of England and lore of the great southeast.

To be continued

TJH

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21 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries XIV, The Sands of the Sea 2

 

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One of the things that had early enamoured the delegation’s Director of that strange planet called Earth was the presence of not one, not two, but five major salt water oceans. The Director’s home planet, within the sprawling Ossyrian Confederation, possessed many stunning streams and a few shallow lakes – most of liquefied ammonia but a few world-famous tourist attractions that ran with the mirror-brightness of molten mercury – but these were mainly for aesthetic admiration and nearby inhabitants rarely went in for a paddle or dip. Stunned by the beauty of the opalescent North Sea channel between east Kent and what he reckoned must be northern Belgium, which seemed to change colour with every mood of the capricious sky in an antipodal love affair that would have done justice to any couple – bickering or dewy-eyed – found in the classics of terrestrial literature, he would spend long hours along the shore; hunting for treasures that might litter the sand, or simply staring into the endless blue. And then, while stranded in the sun-drenched daydream called California, he had screwed up his nerve on a particularly sultry day and taken the plunge.

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Oh, yes!!  The memory washed over him like the sloppy kiss of a saucy courtesan with impossible emerald-coloured skin as soft as watered silk and gold dust swirling in her eyes. Though she could dance with abandon and even (when out of sorts) be dangerous, the unselfconsciously beautiful Pacific owned a touch that both soothed and tingled, relaxed yet stimulated, all of his weary senses. The Chihuahuas, safely ensconced in England, either with Mrs. Fox in Cornwall or Will Turnstile’s raucous tribe closer to home in Canterbury, were never forgotten as he floated on the soft swells and then, emboldened, body surfed the crashing waves of blue-green foam. No, not forgotten but perspective was regained. As the mystic said long ago, all would be well, all manner of things would be well.

TJH

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June 4th – Saint Boniface, Apostle to the Germans.

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Tomorrow would be the feast of Saint Boniface if it were not a Sunday. Here in Canterbury, Fr Boniface OFM counts his patron as ‘perhaps the greatest Englishman who ever lived.’ Quite a claim  from a German-Scot, but then Saint Boniface is celebrated as the Apostle of Germany. He worked there in the Eighth Century.

This greatest of Englishmen spent much of his working life outside England, as a European, preaching and baptising, dealing with royal houses, journeying to Rome to confer with popes and maintaining correspondence with friends at home and in Ireland as well as on the continent. No insular little Englander!

Boniface was first and foremost a missionary, sharing the Good News, giving faith to others, often in the face of opposition. He died in an ambush by pagan outlaws, and like Jesus in the Garden he refused to let his companions fight. Instead he held aloft the Book of the Gospels in a gesture of prayer. That book, hacked about by the robbers’ swords, can be seen in Fulda, near Boniface’s tomb.

Bonifatius, erfurt

The Good News survives attacks by those who oppose Christianity, and even the damage done by us Christians when our vision is too restricted or we tacitly accept that our faith is private, when it ought to inform all our relationships with God, family and neighbour.

 

MMB.

Upper picture: from 11th Century Sacramentary of Fulda at:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/St_Boniface_-_Baptising-Martyrdom_-_Sacramentary_of_Fulda_-_11Century.jpg
Lower picture: Statue of Saint Boniface with the hacked Gospels, from Erfurt, where Boniface established a church in 724 during his first mission in the region, and set up the diocese some 18 years later. Note and picture by NAIB.

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April 27th: Peace on Earth? II

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All went well with the construction of the intergalactic space modules and the training of their crews. Then the question arose as to how the Ossyrians should appear, for naturally they had very long necks, short legs, a thick waist and huge doomed heads which would tend to generate ridicule probably followed by violence from the earthlings. They pondered long and hard on the best disguise to adopt and finally settled on the idea of appearing as dogs. They had noticed that dogs seem to have very positive and generally friendly relationships with the earthlings, being allowed to enter in all the special places beloved of their masters such as in front of the fires they had in the wintertime and on their beds. So all the crews choose to be different kinds of dogs and started training to eat dog food as served up on Planet earth.

Then they were off. It took nearly six months to arrive at their destination, a place called Canterbury in a country called Britain. They had spent the journey time learning Earth Speak. But this was very difficult because unlike the Ossyrians who only had one language the earthlings had dozens, which as the Ossyrians saw right away produced lots of friction and difficulties.

However, as they were in a part of the world where the language, ‘English’ was among the most familiar to the Ossyrians, they found they could understand at least some of what was said but there was another problem, accents. Some of the people who appeared to be speaking English which the Ossyrians had learned were totally impossible to comprehend because they had peculiar intonations. They looked different and the Ossyrian explorers discovered that they were refugees escaping from wars and revolutions in their own countries, or trying to get work in Britain. Many of the British seemed to resent or even fear them but some people had the same attitude as the Ossryians who never discriminated against any groups because it would obviously lead to friction, discord and violence which would damage the whole of society.

To get accepted by the British, the Ossyrian explorers had first to pose as strays and then hope to be adopted. Gradually this happened and within a month all tRip alfie xxxxhe Osssyrians had been accepted into homes where they were well treated and in many cases ‘spoiled rotten’. This did not please them because it interrupted their examination of the earthlings whose attitudes of mind as expressed by their behaviour seemed more and more difficult to understand now that they were living amongst them.

The earthlings were in some ways quite clever and had invented a lot of technically advanced devices such as ‘cars’ .boats’, ‘aeroplanes’,’ computers’ and more obviously useful things like ‘vacuum cleaners’. However, having invented something they never seemed to spend any time on evaluating its real worth and its probable effects on society as a whole before allowing it to be produced en masse. ‘Cars’ and indeed vehicles in general created huge problems, killing large numbers of people, placing huge demands on the health services, damaging the environment by pollution, preventing more efficient types of transport from being developed and causing economic upheavals when the price of oil changed. By contrast Ossyrians did not own individual transport machines and would not want to because public transport was very efficient and cheap.

Then there was food. The Ossyrians ate only six types of food and four types of drink. All of them scientifically assessed to give the greatest benefit to their bodies and minds. Their food was all produced under artificial conditions and there was plenty for everyone. Consequently they were generally very fit and active mentally and physically and this greatly reduced demands on the health and social services. Generally most Ossyrians died at the agy of about 120 anny.

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Canterbury Cathedral, ESB.

The other thing which impressed and depressed the Ossyrians was the hypocrisy of most earthlings some of whom professed belief in a benign Goddy who required them to love one another and to be charitable to each other. However, this view was more honoured in the breach than the observance as most earthlings seemed to spend a considerable part of their time in denigrating other people which was regarded as a serious ‘sinny’ and totally unacceptable to Ossyrians because it would obviously lead to friction, possibly violence and unhappiness. So it could not be tolerated because it would destroy their wholequality of life  and undermine their well balanced, happy society.

The Ossyrian observers decide to return to their own planet as they had come to the conclusion that they would not be able to help the earthlings whose noble philosophy of life was so much at variance with their actual mores. In any case communication was too difficult because of all the different tongues and accents. However, the Assyrians did leave a letter in the porch of the Cathedral explaining all this to the people of Canterbury who had been kind to their ‘doggies’. But these visiting ‘doggies’ were looking forward to having some proper food again and living in an honest, non-hypocritical society.

Unfortunately no one could understand Ossyrian English, so this note was assumed to be Chinese and thrown away.

Alfie H and Ajax by NAIB; Alfie B by Jennifer Thompson

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