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By David Warren   
Saturday, 05 April 2014

“The last chapter of ancient Rome, and the first chapter of Spanish,” someone said about Saint Isidore of Seville, that encyclopedic Doctor of the Church, who flourished in the early seventh century. His feast day was yesterday, in my old Catholic missal; and I’m delighted to see, still in my new one.

Today, another Spaniard, of a different age and sort entirely, yet “equally” a saint: the Dominican, Vincent Ferrer, who harried sinners across Italy and France, a long way from his native Valencia. This some seven centuries later, and getting onto the other side of the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.

I put the word “equally” between the rabbit ears, because sometimes it needs the decoration. To our post-modern, statistical, “democratic” mindset, the word has come to mean something like “interchangeably.” But to the attentive Catholic, there is nothing interchangeable about any two human beings, least of all saints. They are like other people, but more so: more particular, and varied.

Many uses may be found for one’s missal, of which the chief is to praise God. And the second is perhaps like unto that: to advance the cause of holiness in one’s own person and environment.

The educational function might also be mentioned. To my mind it is of considerable importance at this hour. Under present conditions, we live in time as if in a small crowded urban neighborhood, under a present-tense media glare that deletes the stars above, and hides even the sun behind tall buildings. I see around me, in temporal terms, mostly a ghetto Catholicism, pressed in by walls on every side.

By this I insinuate that we need to get out more, in Time. As a convert, I see this perhaps more clearly than many to the cradle born. The Church that called me was not – O Lord it was not – the Contemporary Church, though I fully acknowledge her validity in present time. It was instead the Church through all ages.

Indeed, what kept me out for so long – as I believe it has kept many out in the cold – was “the spirit of Vatican II.” Now, the scare quotes have been put on that, because I do not intend to deny the Council. Rather, in the wake of that Council, I refer to the abandonment of so much that gave the Church her substance, her resplendent beauty, her freedom from pose and fashion.

To me, it seemed that she was suddenly trying to embrace the present moment; to deny her age and her past; to be tarting herself up like a cougar, trying to look young again, for acts of “outreach” increasingly desperate. I think that's how it looked to the world, too. And when I attended Mass in a Catholic church, the horror of the liturgical desecrations came home to me. Wherever I went: a Mass celebrated with neither reverence nor even dignity, by priests no longer properly educated.

Needless to say, this view was shallow. In the end, when my High Anglicanism became insupportable, the question was, “Where do I turn?” It was at that point I was struck by the Gloria: with the impact of the whole choir, by the power of twenty centuries, and the many more Hebrew centuries behind them.

It would be foolish to pretend that our Church is in good order. In the West, she has nearly collapsed before “the spirit of the age.” I often think we must be passing through a period analogous to the fourth century, when the hierarchy was corrupted by Arian and Gnostic fantasies, and it was given to a remnant of laity and minor clergy to hold on, to keep the heart beating until the human mind of Holy Church could recover its wits.

For I am in no doubt the Church will recover. It may be well beyond human agency to bail and right the ship, but Christ can do what is beyond our capacity. He can even raise the dead.

Indeed, I believe that had divine assistance been withdrawn, our Church would have broken into little shards and pieces by 1970 or so, and no one could have discerned which tiny fragment were the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. She would be like Pan Am: memorable, but no longer flying. She would belong almost entirely to the art historians, the early music enthusiasts, and the few remaining professors of poetry.

Now, Saint Isidore is of some importance to me, as a corrective. It was through him that I realized something about Catholic continuity. He came from the old Christian Spain that preceded the Islamic conquest; a Spain that was very alive, and Visigothic.

There are glimpses of the future Spanish language, forming in many of Isidore's words and phrases. We can observe a transmission of the heritage of the ancient world (including Aristotle), directly to the West, and not through Arabic translations. We can see, unmistakably, that distinctly Catholic and monastic combination of learning and holiness, patiently going about its task of reconstruction.

We can see what we may well see again, when our own re-paganized world falls apart as the old pagan world did. (Read, if you haven't, A Canticle for Leibowitz.) For a time is very likely to come when men in remote locations will again, patiently among the ruins, yet with some genius and the growing alacrity of faith, be putting the fragments of a civilized past back into order; and back into the service, both of men and of Our Lord.

In the meanwhile, the missal serves, to open such vistas; to free us from the traps of present time, and let in the sun and the stars, the immense rolling landscape of Time not confined to our own dark closet. In the procession of saints and martyrs through the centuries, in the readings and memorials, we are brought out of our smallness to encounter, once again, the large.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
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Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Bruno, April 05, 2014
Beautifully written Mr Speaker. Every probation and tribulation the Church faces will only serve to make her glory shine brighter, as she shone and shines for you and me in history already gone.
written by Augustine Thomas, April 05, 2014
Please send a letter to Pope Francis telling him to stop persecuting those who protect the patrimony you speak of in favor of encouraging sinners as if this will somehow convince them to attend church!
written by Chris in Maryland, April 05, 2014
Bravo Mr. Warren!

We must be an educated people: priests, bishops and laity learned in Catholic theology, philosophy, and history.

As blessed John Henry Newman understood, to be steeped in history is to be Catholic.

To be Catholic is to understand and hold Catholic tradition, per Gamber, Dobszay and Benedict XVI.
written by Chris in Maryland, April 05, 2014
Dear Mr. Warren:

What a perfectly fitting reminder - for us among these ruins - about St. Isidore, of whom I knew nothing, when I read his name yesterday.

You have reminded me that the Church's endowment, especially her Saints, Doctors and Martyrs remains a gift - unopened.

We have been given the gift of St. Isidore. I am going to open mine right now...and learn.

Thank you!
written by Bangwell Putt, April 05, 2014
My 1956 missal has long since fallen apart. I have replaced it several times, using used book internet sites and use it, as David Warren instructs, to free me from the "trap of present time". I take it with me to Mass, in part because I love the "Prayers Before Mass" as well as those for after Mass.

Pope Benedict refers to his own beloved "Schott" on page 19 of his "Milestones". No summary can do
justice to his moving description of the meaning of this lay missal, given to him in age-appropriate editions, by his parents.
written by Stanley Anderson, April 05, 2014
Whatever truth or usefulness to the storyline the opening to Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" ("Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way") may have, it certainly doesn't apply to the saints, who, as David Warren writes, "...are like other people, but more so: more particular, and varied." (though I suppose some might classify the Catholic Church as an "unhappy family" at times)

Wonderful column! And delightful reading just for the imagery and phrasings (though of course I praise not just the style, but primarily the idea content). The mention of Pan Am is inspired and immediately brings to mind the predictable historically-jangled images from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And "A Canticle for Leibowitz" is a long-time favorite here. Not to be missed.
written by schm0e, April 05, 2014
Just yesterday I heard the city of Rome recently described thusly: "There's the Vatican, and then there's the ruins." (this from a non-Catholic, who thinks of the Vatican as a place and not as a political institution).

I retain the image in my mind that came to it on hearing this: The splendor of the Church alive amidst the smoking ruins of the City.

As for me, my prayer is, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus."
written by Paul Musial, April 05, 2014
Mr. Warren, A wonderful and hopeful post. Let us pray that you are right about the future of our beautiful Church.
written by Randall, April 05, 2014
Spot on as usual, Mr Warren. I second the Canticle for Leibowitz recommendation.
written by Myshkin, April 05, 2014
Very good, Mr. Speaker. We are an archipelago Catholicism at his point. And the analogy to the Arian years is good. Yet, you should look a mite harder at those years and understand that it was hardly "a remnant of laity and minor clergy" that kept the Roman Catholic Church from heresy. Many of the hierarchy resisted and were driven from their sees, many lesser nobility of the Empire refused the garrulous Arians, and even when Pope Liberius, from mortal fear, made some kind of accommodation with the Emperor's henchmen in some way (it is not clear what exactly he did), it was after years of exile and persecution. It is not apt, both historically and in fairness, to stigmatize these fides Christi as having gone over to the Arians.

My own feeling is that the analogy which better suits is the Nazi takeover of the Weimar Republic. The Nazis cowed many people who didn't agree with them into shutting up and going along with inhuman monstrosities. And by going along, they became part of the evil which was the Third Reich. But the Nazis and their collaborators did it as *modern socialists*, with all the benefits of European modernism. The ancient world never saw such a network of evil as modernity has spun. The West is well on the way to being the Fourth Reich.
written by John Gueguen, April 05, 2014
David, you need to bathe in the true spirit of Vatican II, which you'll find in the documents, especially the Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). The crazy "spirit" is the fabrication of the media, which so many took in, thinking it authentic. Pray that the Popes, Bishops, and priests continue their efforts to implement (restore) the true Vatican II (and steer clear of the crazies, who will soon all be gone). Find yourself a Latin liturgy, whether Novus Ordo well done, or the earlier one.
written by Carlos Caso-Rosendi, April 06, 2014
This one is bound for translation, Mr Warren. A wise man, long ago said that "Spain shall be Catholic or shall be nothing." As we see the venerable country go the way of ruination and decay, those words take a more ominous and prophetic tone but also shows the glory of the courage and spirit of those men and women that fought to stem the tide of barbarisms old and new.

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