08 November 2010
Some Thoughts On Mediaevalism
It wasn't a nice place, by today's standards. The man who was hanged, William ap Rhys, known as William Cragh (Scabby William) from Swansea, was ordered to be hanged by the Lord of Swansea, who thoughtfully arranged for men of William's family to carry out the hanging.
All the evidence pointed to William's death, but he had prayed to St Thomas on his way to his death, and the Lady of the Manor had prayed to St Thomas to restore him to life. Both had twisted a silver penny in token of their prayer, and the Lady had had the corpse measured in order to promise a life size wax effigy of the execution for St Thomas' tomb in Hereford if he restored William to life.
And restore him to life he did.
The book gives a wonderful picture of the mental and physical world in which all of this happened. Time is measured in the time it takes to walk a quarter mile; distance is measured by the flight of a crossbow; time is approximate: "some fifteen years since Michaelmas next". The book concentrates on the social and political conditions, but the religious life is as distant from us. Bishops are civil servants and raising taxes for State and Church is an important part of their life. St Thomas had been excommunicated by the Bishop of London in an argument over tax yields. Some things are recognisably the same: the canonisation process for example, but it was relatively new in the early forteenth century.
I also read some jottings from the diary of the papal Master of Ceremonies who accompanied Pope Leo X to meet King Francis of France at Bologna in 1515. Amidst the descriptions of ceremony came a curious section. The Pope wanted Francis out of Italy as quickly as possible, but the King wanted to attend a Papal Mass. The Pope only said Mass on Sundays, and need brooked for no delay. So the MC said
"that next Thursday, that is feria quinta, was the feast of St Lucy, and that he might celebrate on that day, as Pope Alexander had celebrated in the presence of King Charles on St Andrew's Day; and that he might say one prayer in the Mass without commemoration of the feria, for we could have the Mass of the feria said earlier by someone else; and that pleased the Pope, especially when I said that all things were observed at this Mass as on Christmas Day, with a Cardinal Bishop assistant, and two epistles (Greek and Latin), and two Gospels, and the other solemnities; and it pleased the Pope to so so, and he immediately ordered me to begin preparations; and at once I had a whole army of carpenters and workmen busy transforming the interior of San Petronio and providing for the crush."
When I hear about the wrong-headedness of Pius XII, or the ahistoricity of the reforms of Pius X, or the classicist Breviary Reform of Clement VIII, or the mistaken formal entrustment of the Reform of the Liturgy to Pius V by the Council Fathers of Trent, I can't help feeling that we could carry on back through the anti-traditional ripping up of the Liturgy by Gregory the Great, following its earlier mutilation by Gelasius in an attempt to reach some archaeological truth which would be about as valid as Eucharistic Prayer 2!
In the same way that we can't separate the practices of the mediaeval Church and their development from the practices of world in which it lived, we can't take some isolated fragments of an earlier period and claim that they are part of the practices of today. (Borges explains this better than I ever could in Pierre Menard Autor del Quijote (Pierre Menard Author of Don Quixote).)
We can have the 1962 Missal because it never stopped being said. We can't have the 1950 Missal back, because it has stopped being said. We could change current practice and introduce folded chasubles, the Vigil just after Dawn, no Communion on Holy Saturday etc etc etc, but it won't be a restoration, but a radical novelty dressed as a return to the earl(ier)(y) Church: exactly the same accusation that is thrown at Archbishop Bugnini.
Posted by Ttony at 20:38