Saturday, January 29, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 12

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 12


In our last exciting episode, we read how around 50 English separatists established the Plymouth plantation in 1620. They were Calvinist and, in the religious sense, non-conformists for whom the Church of England was still too “popish” and for whom Holland was just too, well, Dutch. We know them as “the Pilgrims”. They were soon followed by the Puritans (also Calvinists, but for whom the Church of England wasn’t quite that awful) They founded places like Boston in order to escape that religious popishness and frippery back in England. And they just kept coming.

In 1630, the Puritan John Winthrop received a charter from the King to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony of which he would be governor. He led a fleet of eleven ships carrying 700 English Puritans. That was the beginning of the Great Migration in which 20,000 colonists came to New England between 1630 to 1640. The Puritans found themselves increasingly alienated from the Church of England and soon joined forces with the separatist pilgrims. In 1648, at the request of the Massachusetts General Court, a synod of ministers from Massachusetts and Connecticut, met to draw up an agreement called the Cambridge Platform defining Puritan Congregationalism and in effect, the government of New England. The agreement defines the church as “a company of saints by calling, united into one body by a holy covenant, for the public worship of God, and the mutual edification of one another in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus.” No King, no Pope, no Bishops no Presbyters. The church consisted of the congregation, governing itself without reference to external authority. Thus, the Puritan settlers established a sort of unified theocratic political system which went on to give us the Salem witch trials. The birth of the United States could be as well defined by this document as by the Declaration of Independence.

Back in England, the English were tired of government by Presbyterians and, and wishing once again to be merry, restored the Stuarts as kings in 1660. The Stuarts, in turn, published the “Act of Uniformity” (1662),which said all ministers had to be ordained by the Church of England, and swear an oath to abide by its rules. In other words, conform or get out. More than 2000 Puritans ministers refused to swear and were tossed out of their jobs in an event called the Great Ejection. And so, they just kept coming to New England.

They came to these fair shores for religious freedom and the right to squash anyone they disagreed with. Dissenters likes Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams founded Rhode Island when they were banished from Massachusetts for heresy. In 1636, some Puritans went south and settled Connecticut with its rich soil. For some reason this worried the local Americans(by “Americans” I mean the original indigenous population) who decided that enough was enough. They tried to regain their land and independence in the Pequot War (1634-38) and in King Philip's War (1675-76). (King Philip, being another name for Metacom, chief of the Wampanoags.) The Wampanoags and the Pequots got clobbered and the era of the Native Americans was over. The Pilgrims whom they had sustained in those first hard winters had taken the natives’ land and sold some of them into slavery in Bermuda, some fled to other tribes beyond the reach of the English. Others were confined to small settlements as they would be until our present times, until they figured out how to get back what the palefaces had stolen by inviting us to their gambling casinos and selling us tax-free cigarettes.

The Americans didn’t entirely give up. A little less than a century later they allied themselves with the Catholic French in order to stem the unending flow of English colonists at the Appalachians. This was called the French and Indian war (French and Indians against the English, 1754-1763), which the case can be made, George Washington started by shooting the French ambassador at Fort Dusquesne, now known as Pittsburgh. This of course led to the American Revolution which led in turn to us. It also led to Cajun cuisine and Zydeko, because Massachusetts Governor William Shirley deported the French Catholic Acadians from Nova Scotia to New Orleans as part of the war. The war cost money and the British thought that the New Englanders should help pay for it. After all, the war had been fought to protect New England from its former owners, the Indians. The descendants of the Puritans refused to pay and so Massachusetts became “Cradle of Liberty”. New England had always disliked the Church of England and its head, the king, and so what had been religious separatism increasingly became just separatism. It is to be remembered that people like Sam Adams and his cousin John Adams and their friend John Hancock and that crowd, were the descendants of the Puritans.

You would be amazed at who is descended from the Puritans. Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush are all descended from the 50 Mayflower survivors. That’s just the 50 on the Mayflower. By 1640 there were at least 20,000 more Puritans in New England. Millions of modern day Americans are descended from the Puritans, among them President Barak Obama. Barack Obama, a Pilgrim? I’m not making this up. Barack Obama is a 13th-generation descendant of Thomas Blossom, one of the Plymouth colony’s earliest settlers, and is a cousin of the Bushes. The wonder of it all! These are only some of the physical descendants of the pilgrims. The Puritan founders of New England have innumerably more moral, philosophical theological descendants.

We have to remember that there were two principal English colonies in the Americas. Now you know more about the Plymouth Plantation than you ever wanted to. There is also Jamestown in Virginia named in honor of King James I. It was in effect, the Church of England’s colony. The Puritans of the north were the fathers of the American revolution, of the abolition movement, of the industrial revolution and on and on. The Jamestown settlers were the founders of the planter aristocracy of the south. These two opposing philosophies met head on in the English Civil War, and once again in the American Civil War. For the southern Anglicans, the Book of Common Prayer was normative. It was offensive to northern Puritans. The Book of Common Prayer is filled with vestiges of the Catholic past. In particular it contains prayers for the king, to ask God “to be his defender and keeper, giving him victory over all his enemies.” In the American revolution, this amounted to treason, and so Anglicans in America became Episcopalian, and ultimately the Puritanism of New England triumphed over the Anglicanism of Virginia.

Well, again you may ask, what has this to do with the Hootenanny Mass? When Governor John Winthrop was on his way to America with his flotilla of 11 ships crammed with Puritans among whom were the ancestors of almost everyone important in America today including Thomas Blossom, ancestor of Barak Hussein Obama, while still on board, Governor Winthrop delivered a sermon entitled, “A Model of Christian Charity” to his fellow Puritans. In this address he called their new colony “a city upon a hill” a phrase taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:14, he says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Perhaps this is the heart of the American Puritan ethos. It is the first clear enunciation and perhaps the root of American exceptionalism, the Puritan belief that the United States is more favored by God than other nations. The Spanish colonies did not think of themselves as exceptional. They were part of a universal church and looked back to Spain. The Virginia colonists looked back to England to which they referred lovingly as the mother country. The Puritans called themselves the godly and believed that God had given them this land by destroying its native inhabitants by plague and war, and they compared themselves to the Israelites and their promised land, cleared of its Canaanite inhabitants. They were special. They were the city on a hill, created to teach the rest of the world how to do it right.

On January 9, 1961, another Bostonian, John F. Kennedy spoke to the General Court of Massachusetts, quoting Winthrop’s sermon. “I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.” John Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the United States who said during his campaign that his Catholicism would not impinge on his presidency. Now do you see how the Puritan forbears are the fathers of the Hootenanny Mass, and of so much modern American “Catholicism"?


Saturday, January 22, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 11

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 11


Let us pause to look at some dates, not the edible kind. Queen Elizabeth I (Tudor) ruled England from 1558 to1603. King James ruled England from 1603 to 1625 and his son, Charles Stuart, a.k.a. King Charles I of England, ruled from 1625 to 1649. So, you have 100 years of the Church of England and Tudors/Stuarts, and what a century it was!

Elizabeth wanted a church that looked Catholic but thought Protestant, as had her father, Henry, before her. Her cousins the Stuarts thought that was just fine. Beginning in 1559, all English citizens were required to attend Church of England services on Sundays and holy days. One was fined for each service missed. Those conducting unauthorized services were fined more heavily, imprisoned and occasionally executed for sedition.

Calvinists and Catholics were not happy with the Elizabethan compromise. For Catholics it was too Protestant. For Calvinists it was too Catholic, or as they would say “popish.” (I’ve always thought that was a swell word.) Calvinists were not one cohesive group. There was a spectrum of Calvinist opinion. Some Puritans could put up with Anglican worship, but others, called Separatists or non-conformists, would have none of it. An Anglican Archbishop, Matthew Hutton, could not abide Calvin’s separatist followers, but showed some sympathy for Puritans expressed in a letter to Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to James I in 1604:

“The Puritans, whose phantasticall zeale I mislike, though they differ in Ceremonies and accidentes, yet they agree with us in substance of religion, and I thinke all or the moste parte of them love his Majestie, and the presente state, and I hope will yield to conformitie. But the Papistes are opposite and contrarie in very many substantiall pointes of religion, and cannot but wishe the Popes authoritie and popish religion to be established.” (Apparently people in merrye olde England had an odd way of spelling.)

A particular group of radical Separatists in the town of Scrooby (name not made up) in Nottinghamshire, England, were persecuted by King James’ government. In 1607 Tobias Matthew, Archbishop of York, raided homes and imprisoned several members of the Separatist Puritan congregation, so they abandoned England with its established church that smacked of popery, with its priests and bishops and vestments and superstitious rituals that looked suspiciously like Mass. They fled to Holland, where they found themselves second class citizens even among their Dutch Calvinist co-religionists. They were unable to speak the language and could barely get work and, heaven forfend, their children were becoming just too Dutch! So it was off to the wilderness of America to invent Thanksgiving and televised football.

In 1620, the Scrooby Separatists, later called Pilgrims by William Bradford, arrived in what is now Massachusetts aboard the Mayflower. Upon landing they found some mounds that turned out to be native graves which they promptly robbed. Taking some of the provisions for the dead which had been placed in the graves, they also found an iron kettle in which they placed some of the corn they found and re-buried the rest to use later as seed corn. William Bradford wrote: “They also found two of the Indian's houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colors. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, - as about six months afterwards they did.”

So began the story of the first Thanksgiving: grave robbing and home invasion. It all sounds a little like a Calvinist version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In a short time most of the settlers had become ill, and ridden with scurvy. It was December and there had already been snow. As they explored the area, they saw their first native people, who fled from them. It was not the first time that the locals had met the English. The English had already been there for fishing and trade even before Mayflower. One local tribe, the Pokanoket really disliked the English after a bunch of them had been rounded up, taken on board ship and shot.

Captain Thomas Hunt, a slave hunter also came calling and captured a couple dozen natives to sell as slaves back home in Europe. One of them was the famous Squanto. Admittedly, he sold his captives in Catholic Spain, but when some Franciscan friars found out what he was up to, they freed the Americans, and taught them Christianity. Squanto convinced the friars to let him try to return home. He made his way to London, worked on his English, and managed to sail back home. There he found his entire village dead of European diseases and pilgrims living on his family farm. He spoke English well and was able to mediate between native and thus insured the colonists’ survival. The colonists returned the favor by almost completely wiping out the native population who, as the years went by, had the temerity to fight for the land that they had once owned.

Let us briefly return to merrye olde England, which was becoming less and less merrye. King James was not the Separatists’ idea of a Godly sovereign and so more of them decided to move to America. In 1621, a second ship carrying more colonists came from England, boosting the population to 85. In 1623, it was up to 180. In 1630 it was around 300 and in 1643, around 2000. Between 1630 and 1640, in the so-called Great Migration, 20,000 settlers arrived in Massachusetts. Perhaps the Indians should have put up a fence or something at the border.

The Puritans were abandoning England by the boat load, literally. James was bad enough but his son, Charles, was worse. He wanted to move the Church of England away from Calvinism and even married a Catholic French Princess in 1525, and that was the last straw. A series of events began that eventually ended in Charles being beheaded by the parliamentary Puritans; a king of England losing his head over a woman. Now there’s a switch.

The Calvinists in Parliament decided that they could manage without the King and his popish relatives, and so in a series of civil wars that lasted from 1642 to 1655, they overthrew the royalist government and, in 1649, cut off Charles’ head. They declared a Commonwealth ruled by a Council of State, which included Oliver Cromwell, a general of the Puritan forces. The royalists were finally completely defeated in one more Civil War and during which Cromwell conquered Catholic Ireland. The butcher's bill for keeping England Calvinist and Protestant was incalculable, almost one million people in England Scotland and Ireland taken as a whole, lands of which Cromwell was the Lord “Protector”. Forty percent of Ireland’s population died of war and manufactured famine in one of the most brutal ethnic cleansings in history. At the Siege of Drogheda in September 1649, Cromwell's troops massacred nearly 3,500 people after the town's capture, soldiers, civilians, prisoners, and Roman Catholic priests, burning many of them alive in their church. Cromwell wrote of the event:

“I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret.”

This was just one of many massacres. In addition to the starvation and murder of at least 600,000, some 50,000 Irish were sold as slaves during the time of the English Commonwealth. Oliver Cromwell is certainly among the greatest mass murderers in human history. Curiously enough, the last battle of the English civil wars was fought in America. In 1655, at the Battle of the Severn, Puritans defeated the governor of Maryland, William Stone who was fighting to restore his government in the colony and its policy of religious toleration.

Once again what has this to do with the Hootenanny Mass? The heart of the matter is found in the Mayflower compact. It is the foundational document of the country even more than the Declaration of Independence and almost no one has ever heard of it. Before getting off the ship the colonists created a form of government that depended on nothing but its own will. “(We) Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic...” the document read. Not God not King, not custom nor law, but, “(we) the body politic.” In this document, the modern world was born, and nothing is so modern as the Hootenanny Mass and all that came with it. We will govern ourselves. Not popes nor bishops, nor kings nor customs.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 10

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 10


Let us move on to the next branch of the Tudor family, the Stuarts. They were descended from Henry VIII’s sister Margaret who had been married off to James IV, King of Scotland. (Family name: Stuart). Her granddaughter was Mary, the same “Mary, Queen of Scots, whom, you will remember, Queen Elizabeth Tudor, her cousin, had beheaded in our last episode. Pretty much everyone else in the family had been beheaded by now, so cousin James Stuart (1566-1625), already King of Scotland, was invited to be King of England.

The weather and the food may be bad in England, but have you ever been to Scotland? They eat haggis! So of course, James was glad to take the job and moved to London in 1603. He had been King of Scotland since 1567 when he was only thirteen months old. 1567 had been a rough year for the little fellow. His father, Lord Darnley, also a member of the Tudor clan, and the Stuarts, was blown to bits by a “mysterious” explosion. (I know all the names of these incestuous axe murderers are hard to keep track of, but try to pay attention.) Little James’ mother (Mary, Queen of Scots) was a very unpopular queen, being Catholic in a country that had gone Calvinist. She married again and that was the straw that broke the Presbyterian camel’s back. Protestants arrested Mary and she never saw her son again. He was made king, and was never quite right for some reason. Very nervous child. All that marrying cousins, beheading and exploding. It’s tough to be working full time at the age of one. And work he did. His life from that time on was controlled by tutors who beat him and by some very disagreeable politicians. Not a lot of down time in his young life. No wonder he had issues.

Most of the men in this very odd family had the reputation of being, well, friendly. Remember all those ladies in waiting? Not so James. He developed a reputation unusual for a king of the era. In his youth he had a reputation for chastity. In fact, he seemed uninterested in women. Who can blame him. They seemed to lose their heads so regularly. He was known for a series of really good male friends all his life whom he let run the country and spend his money. Scholarly opinion holds that they were just good friends, so don’t even go there. Being a monarch, marry he must, and a Protestant princess was required for the job. His handlers chose Anne of Denmark. He dutifully sailed to Norway, where she had been stranded in 1589 and brought her home. He really seemed to care for her and he had three surviving children with her and quite a few who didn’t survive. She was something he had never before seen: a royal woman with a functioning head.

At this time he visited Denmark, where witch hunts were all the rage. This may have piqued his interest in the study of witchcraft, in as much as he considered it a branch of theology. (Perhaps he had a point). Upon his return to Scotland, he attended a few witch trials. James worried much over the threat posed by witchcraft to him as monarch and, and actually wrote “Daemonologie”, a small book about witchcraft that seems to have provided material for Shakespeare's “Macbeth.” James personally supervised the torture of women accused of being witches. At least none of them were his wives. Quite a family. Well, enough with the gossip.

James was actually something of a scholar. Start learning Latin, Greek and Hebrew before you’re five, and you’re bound to learn something. James took a lively interest in literary endeavors and issued an authorized version of the Bible. We know it as the King James Bible, though it has undergone revisions since James first authorized it. It is thought that he himself may have worked on some parts of the translation. He wanted an authorized church, just like his predecessor Elizabeth and this meant an authorized bible.

At this point, we Catholics made a huge public relations blunder. On November 5, 1605, a Catholic named Guy Fawkes was found with 36 barrels of gunpowder preparing to blow up the parliament building where, on the next day the entire government including king, queen, royal family, parliament and all would be present. Thus started Guy Fawkes Day and thus ended any remaining sympathy for Catholicism in England until sometime a couple months ago when Pope Benedict went to visit England. The whole effect of the gunpowder plot was to make James more anxious than ever to enforce religious conformity, whether the non-conformists were Catholic or Protestant.

James faced growing financial pressures, partly due to inflation but still more to his financial incompetence. All that upper class male bonding isn’t cheap. James’ lavish court and life style caused him to argue constantly with parliament, who alone could authorize new taxes, and there were more and more Puritans in parliament who didn’t know why they should pay for the party, so James disbanded parliament and tried to go it alone. And then James made a truly stupid move. He thought that if he could marry his son Charles off to a Spanish princess, there would be a huge dowry. That meant, however, that the next queen of England would be Catholic, and that was not going to happen as far as the Protestant Parliament was concerned. James told them to mind their own business. In 1623 the match fell through and James died in 1625 leaving his son Charles to cope.

Charles, it turned out, couldn’t cope. He believed that a king could do anything he wanted, so he married a French princess, Henrietta Maria, who raised their children pretty much as Catholics. He continued to let his father’s last best buddy, the Duke of Buckingham run the country. Buckingham lost a war with Spain, and got himself assassinated, and then Charles ran things on his own, fighting a running battle with parliament over money and religion. Civil war broke out and parliament decided who needs a king? And, you guessed it, they cut King Charles head off. These people are nothing if not consistent. What has this, you may be asking, to do with the Hootenanny Mass? These events are directly responsible for the founding of Calvinist America by the Puritans, and no Calvinist America, no Hootenanny Mass.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 9

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 9


Henry gave it one more college try in his attempt to conquer France by besieging Boulogne in 1544. After failing one more time at his second favorite hobby (the first was certainly not palace building) he went home to England and died in 1547. He was succeeded on the throne by little Edward, his nine-year-old son by Jane Seymour.

Edward Seymour was the long dead Queen Jane’s brother and uncle to the boy King Edward (keep your Edwards straight. It’s very important.) Uncle Edward seized power and named himself Duke of Somerset and ran England. Meanwhile, little King Edward VI, despite the fact that he was a child, was a committed Protestant and had his little mind set on obliterating popery (the religion, not the scented candle) from England. Remember Cranmer? Ann Boleyn’s friend? He was a real survivor, at least up to this point. With Archbishop Cranmer’s help little King Edward published the Book of Common Prayer with its Protestant order of service. The book was not appreciated by the remaining Catholics, especially those in Devon and Cornwall, where people spoke a form of Gaelic and English, a more foreign language to them than was Latin. Thus erupted the Prayer Book Rebellion in Cornwall which Uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, now Lord Protector, put down by killing one in ten of the Cornish population.

The rebellion hardened little King Edward’s determination to get rid of the remaining Catholics in the country including his older sister Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, a staunch Catholic. She simply refused to stop going to Mass! He was on good terms with his sister Elizabeth, a Protestant, though not a very staunch one (there’s that word again).

Lord Protector Somerset (Uncle Ed Seymour) then kidnapped little King Edward, taking him to Windsor Castle in order to maintain his hold over the growing boy, but Uncle Ed Seymour was overthrown by John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick, who then appointed himself Duke of Northumberland. Dudley wanted to make England completely Protestant and to get rich in the process. He stripped the churches of their Catholic art and so created the unadorned style associated with Anglican/Episcopalian churches today, which some modern Catholics are so fond of imitating. (If you want to see what an English church looked like before John Dudley got his mitts on them, visit St. Gregory’s on the north side of Chicago, a gem of English art.) Little King Edward VI became ill in 1553, and his sister Mary the very, very Catholic, was next in line for the throne. At John Dudley’s (Lord Northumberland) urging, little King Edward, now about 15, young but determined and desperate for a Protestant heir, changed his father's will to allow a cousin, Lady Jane Grey, to become queen. It seemed the only way to keep the English people from returning to the Catholicism to which many were still loyal. Besides, Jane just happened to be married to John Dudley’s youngest son Guildford.

That would have started the Dudley Dynasty. Those English have a way with names. Just nine days after the boy king died, Mary Tudor’s supporters escorted her to London and installed her as queen. Jane and her husband were later executed. All those politicians who had ardently supported Jane now ardently supported the Catholic Mary, especially when she told them they could keep the land, houses and money they had stolen from the monasteries. What? Politicians flip-flopping? Unheard of!

The reign of Queen Mary went swimmingly at first. She pardoned most of Jane’s supporters. She didn’t even execute Jane until Jane’s father tried to depose Mary and put his own daughter back on the throne. Things only started to go downhill when Mary announced that she was going to marry the Spanish prince, Philip, her very, very Catholic cousin. She was as committed to making England Catholic as her brother had been to making England Protestant. Being a Tudor, she knew only one way to do it, well, two ways. In addition to the family hobby of beheading, she shared her father’s interest in burnings at the stake. Her Spanish husband, whom people sometimes blame for the executions, actually told her lighten up on the violence. It only made the Protestants look good. He actually insisted that she spare her sister Elizabeth who was really trying to look like a good Catholic. Mary succeeded in burning about 280 heretics, earning her the name of Bloody Mary. She had a series of false pregnancies, Prince Philip gave up and went back to Spain where the weather was better and he would be king of a large part of the world. Mary died on November 17, 1558. Oh, by the way, one of the people she burned at the stake was Archbishop Cranmer. I guess he wasn’t much of a survivor after all.

Her sister Elizabeth, age 25, succeeded her as Elizabeth I of England, Gloriana, the virgin queen, guiding light of the Elizabethan age. Don’t believe everything you read. Elizabeth was as crazy as a bedbug. She was, after all, a Tudor. Elizabeth was a Protestant, not very much of a Protestant, but a Protestant none the less. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn who, with Cranmer, had brought Protestantism to England. The bishops of England had a little more starch at that time than under the reign of Henry VIII. They mostly refused to have anything to do with Elizabeth’s coronation. She finally got the Bishop of Carlisle, Owen Oglethorpe, to perform the ceremony. (You gotta love those English names.) When Oglethorpe used some Catholic parts of the coronation ceremony, Elizabeth got up and left. Elizabeth quickly introduced the Act of Uniformity and the Act of Supremacy, making the Church of England Protestant and confirming what her father, Henry, had said all along. She was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. From then on it was required to attend Church of England services every Sunday. All clergy and government officials were required to swear an oath recognizing the Church of England, its independence from the Catholic Church, and Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church. If they refused the oath once, they would have a second chance. If again they refused to swear they were thrown out of office and their property was confiscated.

In 1569, the north of England, where Catholicism was still strong, rose up in rebellion against Elizabeth, as it had against her father, and thousands died. It is debatable that these were martyrdoms, but they certainly died because of resistance to the prohibition of Catholicism by Elizabeth. She executed 221 people outright for their Catholic faith. It became a crime punishable by death to be a priest, or even to harbor a priest, as it was to attend Mass. Inadvertently, Catholics did everything possible to keep Elizabeth on her throne by excommunicating her and trying to assassinate her, and trying to invade England by means of the Armada. Our bad, but one must remember that thousands were dying in England and Philip of Spain thought it was his duty to save them by means of the Armada. Far fetched by our standards, but not by theirs.

Let’s talk about the Armada for a moment. Sir Francis Drake -- as portrayed by Errol Flynn in one of his best swashbucklers, “The Sea Hawk” (1940)-- had spent 1585 to 1587 robbing Spanish Catholic colonies in the New World and attacking the Spanish port of Cadiz. He made sure that Elizabeth got her share of the plundered churches and colonies and she winked at his piracy. No matter what a swell picture Sea Hawk was, Francis Drake was a murdering thug.

Rathlin has been the site of a number of infamous massacres. An expedition in 1557 by Sir Henry Sidney in 1557 devastated the island. Francis Drake was the perpetrator of the massacre of Rathlin Island in Ireland in July 1575. Elizabeth’s favorite, the Earl of Essex ordered Francis Drake and John Norreys to kill about six hundred women and children of Clan MacDonnell, who had taken refuge on the island. We all know that the Spanish were nasty and the English noble. We see it in the movies all the time. After, all, we Americans learn our history and our theology from television. The myth of the nasty Spanish and the noble English is called the Black Legend. Look it up some day.

When, in 1587, Elizabeth beheaded her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots who had fled to her for help, and whom most of the world regarded as the legitimate queen of England. King Philip II finally had enough and launched the Armada (fleet) in 1588. When it failed largely due to poor planning, bad weather and that sneaky Catholic hater, Francis Drake, Philip had the bells of all the churches in Spain rung in thanksgiving for the defeat. It was the will of God. Philip, like his father, was very staunch.

It is still rather ironic that Mary succeeded in killing only 280 Protestants give or take, giving her the name “Bloody Mary” while Elizabeth and her administration managed to kill thousands of Catholics for which she is called “Good Queen Bess.” As her reign ended, prices rose and the standard of living fell. Catholics were more and more persecuted and she created a system of spies and propaganda to weed out any criticism of her regime.

Elizabeth never married. She dallied with favorites and strung along foreign princes. In her old age she loved the flattery of younger men and was unable to face the fact that she was no longer the young princess. Her refusal to marry meant that there was no clear heir to the English throne when she died, and this will prove interesting in our next Episode.

She died in April of 1603. It is said that she stood for hours on end, knowing that when she sat, she would never stand again. Some say it’s a myth, but she is thought to have said as she died, “All I posses for one moment of time....” In all of Anglo-American history there are few lives as sad. She had seen countless of her own family executed for God alone knows what reason. She lived under the constant threat of violent death. Her only goal in life seems to have been to survive. Her last word seems a little more plausible than some scholars admit.

For our purpose in figuring out how things in the Catholic Church of the late 20th century got so screwy, Elizabeth’s contribution is really quite simple. She wasn’t much of a Protestant, but she certainly didn’t like Catholicism. She really didn’t care that much about the whole business. She cared about Elizabeth, and she was going to have a Church that did what she wanted, an English Church. She liked the grandeur of Catholic liturgy, and so retained bishops and priests and sacraments and vestments. She did not, however, like all that supernatural religious nonsense that gave those priests real power. She would have power; they would be ornamental and useful for the creation of the myth of Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s handlers found just the right man to succeed her, a Scotsman, James Stuart for whom the Church of England was just right, not too Catholic, not too Protestant.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 8

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 8


At this point I have to make a slight disclaimer. I have been rather hard on the founders of Protestantism, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, Henry VIII and that crowd. From the perspective of five centuries it is easy to be harsh. One must take a look however at two characters of the English reformation who make it much more difficult for me to be as smug as I would like to be.

The first of these is St. Thomas More (1478-1535), lawyer, philosopher, and finally Henry VIII’s chancellor. Rumors abounded that More tortured heretics in his own home, but that myth can be blamed on John Foxe and his Book of Martyrs. More denied the claims. He admitted that he did imprison heretics in his own home, but that was not unusual. It was done for their “sure keeping,” but he claimed never to have tortured anyone “so help me God,” and More was not a man to take oaths lightly. It cannot be denied that six heretics were burned at the stake during More's chancellorship. It was pretty standard procedure, and as I have elsewhere pointed out, we Americans still burn people at the stake, we just call it electrocution. More refused to sign the oath recognizing Henry as head of the Church in England. He was eventually tried and executed, holding on to the belief that the papacy was established by Christ and thus necessary.

The second is St. John Fisher (1459-1535) an English bishop. Fisher was also executed by King Henry VIII for refusing to accept Henry as head of the Church and continuing to hold papal primacy. Of the bishops in England, 26 in all, only St. John refused to give in, and as far as I know, of all the high government officials of England only St. Thomas refused to give in. My point is this: these men gave their lives, not simply for Christ and the Church Universal, and not just for the papacy. They gave their lives in defense of the papacy, when the popes were, by in large, not very worthy men. They were able to see past the circumstances of the times and to realize that the papacy was integral to the Gospel. Most of the people of England, and I suppose Germany, thought, “What’s the difference? They’re all a bunch of crooks!” This was a time when stealing and killing for Christ was much in vogue. The Pizarro brothers were evangelizing Peru at the time by burning, raping, garroting, wholesale theft and enslavement, all the while giving God the glory.

The other conquistadors did their best, but they really didn’t give it the effort that the Pizarros did. It was everywhere the same. My forbears come from a little town in the rolling hills of Upper-Hessia (go to Marburg, take a right, you can’t miss it.) The town’s history didn’t lend itself to a quiet reverence for traditional Catholicism. Everybody remembered how back in 1465 two bishops had gotten into a shooting war over who was going to be Archbishop of Mainz. We backed the wrong guy. The bishop who eventually won the argument put our town under siege and to commemorate the event, there are three cannonballs in the church wall to this day.

So, when somewhere around 1520, the pastor marched into the mayor’s office and announced that the town was now protestant, the mayor just nodded. There would be no more Masses, people didn’t like Mass anyway since it was boring and pointless. Quite a few people disagreed and wanted to stay Catholic, despite the pastor. They built a chapel outside the town walls. Eventually the town was re-Catholicized and is part of a cluster of small Northern German Catholic towns, a very rare thing. (Motto: crabby, but still Catholic.)

I suspect that, had I been there at the time, I would have said, “Luther has a point! Throw the bums out!” Because my ancestors come from the same cheerful part of Germany as Luther and the eponymous Brothers Grimm, I have a certain sympathy for Luther. There were things wrong IN the Church, but there was nothing wrong WITH the Church. Luther would have been counted with Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross if he had just reformed the abuses and not the theology. He tried to make the Church conform to what he thought reasonable and, I suspect to his own needs. He only succeeded in unleashing a century of war and the secularized society in which we now live. Someone once said that Henry VIII’s attempt to partially protestantize the English Church was like commanding a man to leap from a tower and then commanding him to stop half way down. So it was with Martin Luther.

Luther, like myself, really believed that his ideas were so reasonable, that if only people would agree with him, all would be fine. He was not a year into the revolution he had created when he realized that it wouldn’t go as planned. Luther once said, “I confess that I am much more negligent than I was under the pope, and there is now nowhere such an amount of earnestness under the Gospel, as was formerly seen among monks and priests.” (Walch. IX. 1311) In 1538, Luther wrote, “Who would have begun to preach, if we had known beforehand that so much unhappiness, tumult, scandal, blasphemy, ingratitude, and wickedness would have been the result?” (Walch. VIII. 564 These quotes are taken from the Johann Georg Walch Edition of Luther's Works, 1740-1753.) Most sadly, there is a story told of Luther’s mother who, as she lay dying, asked her son which really was better, Protestantism or Catholicism. Luther is said to have replied, “Mother it is easier to live as a protestant, but it is easier to die as a Catholic.” I’m not sure of the footnote here, but it pretty much sums things up, and one can’t help but feel for Luther in a way that one feels for no other of the reformers. He was a renaissance Pandora, who having opened the box, saw all that was good fly away. I cannot but feel sorry for him.