A Pox on Doctrine

Islamic architecture

While Arab-Nomadic culture lacked a grand imperial art, their aesthetic tastes contributed essential elements to Islamic art. Nomads treasured the minor arts of textiles and weapons, and lavished them with geometrical decoration. Life under the stars, in the infinitude of the desert, endowed them with a love of surfaces filled with radiant, boundless patterns, and lush visions of paradise and vines. Along with architecture, decoration is a core element in Islamic art. —dartmouth.edu

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For this they kill each other?

I am listening to Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose discussing the possible reconciliation, in the distant future, of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. The two bodies are having “ongoing discussions,” but there are of course some pesky differences, such as their dissimilar views on married priests and birth control.

What the Anglican Communion is, it’s basically the Church of England (with its marvelous ancient Canterbury Cathedral, “the Mother Church”) in association with Anglican churches throughout the world— and who knew there were so many and so far-flung? And, however, one of them is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA), not being far-flung, at least not from our perspective here in Hilltop.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral, photo by Hans Musil. I'm not clear on exactly how old this structure is. St. Augustine built a cathedral on the site early in the 7th century, but the Saxons rebuilt it four centuries later or so. Augustine's church is still there, under the nave. Wow.

A royal whim

Father Dooley is saying that the Anglicans like to pretend that their church’s origin is not owed to King Henry VIII’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he was besotted, and who, everyone hoped, would bear sons to inherit the crown. Well, the establishment of the Church of England was indeed a direct result of Henry’s infatuation and his desire for a male heir, says Father Dooley. The wiley Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, plotted with Henry for years and in the end came up with the strategy that gave Henry “royal supremacy” and made him “the only supreme head on earth of the church in England.”

Montage of English royalty and distinguished citizens in the time of Henry VIIIBut they did that only as a last resort, after the pope refused to annul Henry’s marriage to poor Catherine of Aragon… and Henry didn’t particularly want to change the church, he just wanted to control it so that he could have his way. Plus he wanted the wealth and the property that the Catholic Church had amassed, so he turned the monks out of their monasteries, which he then handed out like party favors (the monasteries, I mean, not the monks) to his friends and supporters, who converted them to grand houses. And many monks were executed for defying the Act of Succession.

And do you know that in the end, after they were married, after hundreds died so they could be married, Henry and Anne didn’t like each other very much, and she didn’t give Henry the sons he wanted, only the one little girl who would become Queen Elizabeth I, and I know this because I have read just about every book about Anne Boleyn that was ever written, even though there is no suspense about the ending.

So, under Henry’s reign, people were executed for not signing a document agreeing that Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church, and blah blah blah, and one of the people who was executed was the scholar and statesman, and onetime close friend of Henry, Sir Thomas More (now, Saint Thomas More).

This is not to say that the Protestant Reformation was unknown in England. There were Protestants in England, but most of them kept rather quiet about it, not as in Germany, where Martin Luther had already converted much of the country to Protestantism.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

When Henry died, his nine-year-old son (by his third wife, Jane Seymour) became king — he was called Edward VI — and he was a zealous Protestant. But he ruled for only six years, and then he died, and there was some scrabbling, much of which involved the Protestant claimant to the throne, Lady Jane Grey, who actually was queen for a few days.

Edward’s half-sister Mary overthrew Jane with ease — there were still many Catholics in England, and Mary’s mother, Catherine, had been beloved. When Mary became queen, she restored Catholicism as the state religion, ordered her cousin Lady Jane Grey beheaded, and had nearly three hundred dissenters burned right there on the street corners of London.

King Philip II of Spain

King Philip II of Spain

For this and a bunch of other reasons, including her wayward husband, Philip II of Spain, who wore hats that looked like upside-down flowerpots, Mary was not a success as queen, and she died unloved and unhappy five years after her coronation. Finally, destiny had its way, as Mary’s brilliant and charismatic half-sister Elizabeth was crowned. Defying those who called her a bastard with no right to the throne, and those who said that she must marry because a woman could not rule, Elizabeth I reigned forty-four years and brought a measure of stability and religious tolerance to England.

And what does any of this have to do with God? I ask Father Dooley. If I believe in God and you believe in God and we both pray to God but the nitty-gritty details of our religious practice are different, don’t we begin with what we have in common? Don’t we start by honoring the one God, who gave us life and who holds our lives in his hands?

Servants of God

The name "Muhammad" in traditional Thuluth calligraphy by the hand of Hattat Aziz Efendi

Sunnis and Shi’a, major Islamic denominations, are mortal enemies. In 2005, al-Qaida‘s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called for a jihad on Shi’a. The situation in Iraq was degenerating into a civil war between the two sects. And what is it that each finds so intolerable about the other?

Sunnis believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful successors to Muhammad; since God did not specify any particular leaders to succeed him, those leaders had to be elected….

The Shi’a, who constitute the second-largest branch of Islam, believe in the political and religious leadership of Imams from the progeny of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who according to most Shi’a are in a state of ismah, meaning infallibility. They believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, as the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was his rightful successor, and they call him the first Imam (leader), rejecting the legitimacy of the previous Muslim caliphs.Wikipedia

Omigosh! You have got to be kidding. This is why you murder someone (but first you have to ask his name, because you can’t tell by looking or even talking with him whether he is a Sunni or a Shi’a, but you can probably tell by his name)?

I try to understand. It seems important for me to understand such a big thing about the world. So I make a little speech.

“I don’t mean to sound pious,” I say, “or naive, or… ingenuous?” (not sure I’m using the word correctly; it’s a new one I picked up the other day).

Father Dooley nods, and I go on.

Muhammad And Companions Advancing On Mecca

An anonymous artist's 16th-century illustration of Muhammad and his companions advancing on Mecca. The angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil, and Azrail are also shown

“I just don’t understand why everybody wouldn’t rather sit under a tree on a lovely day and read a good book. That sounds to me like a much better way to spend an afternoon than strapping on a bunch of explosives and then trying to blend at a wedding party, where, chances are, nobody else is wearing explosives, and where a large number of ‘the bad guys’ are gathered, and then detonating my explosives, thereby making paste of myself and several dozen wedding attendees, and some of them just little kids. In what way does that serve God? How can it be twisted into seeming to serve God?”

“Honey, I hope y’all never have to understand,” Sister Alma Rose says, suffocating me in a Sister Alma Rose hug because I am about to cry. “I hope y’all will never be so poor and desperate, and angry, because maybe the other side has killed someone dear to y’all, that y’all have to blame and punish someone. But no, y’all are right. It does not glorify God.”

Then I think of the Muslims born in the U.S. or the U.K. to middle-class families, the affluent young men who want to go to the Middle East and fight in the holy war, and I know that not all the killers are poor and desperate, maybe some are just bored, and Sister Alma Rose knows that too, and we will talk about it one of these winter afternoons as we warm our feet at Sister Alma Rose’s fireplace.

The Alhambra

At the Alhambra, the magnificent palace and fortress built by Muslim rulers during the 14th century in southern Spain

Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose and I go into Sister Alma Rose’s lovely white chapel and sit side by side, me in the middle, and we pray silently, except for Sister Alma Rose, who is whispering. And then Father Dooley prays out loud, fervently, for all who suffer enmity “in the name of God,” for those who die needlessly, and for an anxious, restless, seething world.  We sit quietly, and I feel the holy presence of peace, like the early rays of dawn, in Sister Alma Rose’s chapel.

And then Father Dooley takes Sister Alma Rose and me to the Dairy Cream, and Father Dooley drinks two large strawberry-cheesecake malts and belches a world-class belch, on purpose.

“Better to urp a burp and bear the shame than squelch a belch and die in pain,” he says, grinning like a kid; and what can I do but agree?

Catholic Things part 2

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Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

‘Pray Without Ceasing’

From ancient times the Church has had the custom of celebrating each day the liturgy of the hours. In this way the Church fulfills the Lord’s precept to pray without ceasing, at once offering its praise to God the Father and interceding for the salvation of the world. —Office of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

Fanny McElroy

I, Fanny McElroy

When I, Fanny McElroy, first discovered The Brother Cadfael Mysteries, by Ellis Peters, I ripped through them like a scairt rabbit about to be et by a hawk, as Sister Alma Rose says her Daddy Pete says, or maybe it’s “a hawk after a scairt rabbit.” Anyway, I read them fast. And then there weren’t any more, because Ellis Peters died, so for the longest time I put off reading the final book, the twentieth, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Brother Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey during the 12th century, but I found other books to read because I had become fascinated by all things medieval and all things Roman Catholic.

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

I loved Brother Cadfael’s irreverent way of being genuinely and truly religious, his painstaking cultivation of herbs for healing, his humor and his kindness. And the way he told the time not by the clock but by the Canonical Hours for Prayer — Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline, and so forth. Sister Alma Rose has specific times for prayer during the day, and if I am at her house when one of those times comes, we go into her chapel and pray together, and sometimes we pray out loud, sometimes we don’t, and she reads a psalm and we sing a hymn — harmonizing rather nicely, if I do say so — but the thing is, she always seems to know what she’s doing, I mean there aren’t any awkward “what should we do now?” moments. And now I know why.

The Liturgy of the Hours

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

One lazy summer afternoon I was sitting on the steps of Sister Alma Rose’s great green wraparound porch half-listening to Sister Alma Rose talking with Father Dooley and his sister Bernadette, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and who is a willowy, fair-haired, freckled young woman who has, as she says, “quite enough money,” and her occupation is Doer of Good Deeds, and she would have become a nun, she told us, but she wanted to get married and have children, which she hasn’t, yet, but she’s only something like twenty-two, so she spends her time visiting the sick and does what she calls “healing prayer work,” and sometimes she takes in the homeless, temporarily, like mothers with children running from an abusive man, that sort of thing, not scary people or drug addicts.

Versicle: Poem on a Stick?

So I’m sitting there, drowsy with the sun and the hum of a summer afternoon, and I perk up when I hear Bernadette say “Compline,” so I get up from the step and go over to the green wicker table and sit in the one vacant green wicker chair and listen to Bernadette talking about the Liturgy of the Hours, which is also called the Divine Office, I have no idea why, but Catholics have funny names for everything, like antiphon and breviary and versicle, which is not “a poem on a stick,” as I suggested, and everyone laughed, which was very gratifying because when one thinks that one is being very clever, it’s good to know that others think so too.

The Hours of Jeanne D'Evreaux

The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreaux

I think that everyone was surprised by my fascination with such a dry subject as the Divine Office, which I had thought was something from long ago… well, which it is, but it is still practiced, or “celebrated,” as Father Dooley says, and he as a priest is obligated to “celebrate” the Liturgy of the Hours, but it is a joy to him, he says, and Bernadette also “celebrates” the Liturgy of the Hours, and Sister Alma Rose says that her daily prayer times are “based on” the Liturgy of the Hours. “Fanny McElroy,” she says, “y’all have been celebrating it with me for years,” and then she laughs and pours me a glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade.

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Sister Alma Rose is not Catholic (she has referred to herself as “a Christian Jewish Buddhist,” probably offending adherents of all three religions, but she doesn’t mind — like J. Krishnamurti, she doesn’t mind much of anything, she says, and she is certainly the most serene person I have ever known, though in a crisis she becomes very exercised and shouts prayers to Heaven).

I am not a Catholic either, but there are many things I like about Catholicism, and here is one of them: For two thousand years or so, in spite of corruption and scandal and competition from other religions, and popes who had mistresses and children, and bishops who plotted royal assassinations, and so forth, the Catholic Church has inspired, comforted, counseled, educated, and healed. Irish monks preserved the knowledge from Roman and Greek antiquity by copying a huge lot of documents by hand (read How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill).

Sister Alma Rose has told me about the vile perverted priests who prey on young boys, but I don’t think that those sick men’s transgressions erase all the good that the church has done. And I love the idea of Confession, and the Rosary, and having one’s own personal saint, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, with her woman’s wisdom and her tender heart, and, of course, the Liturgy of the Hours. And, basically, that Catholic worship has gone on uninterrupted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Some facts about the Liturgy of the Hours

So I ask a thousand questions, and here is some of what I find out about the Divine Office:

It sprang from Jewish prayer practices (“Seven times a day I praise you,” it says in the Psalms)

It began rather simply, with reading or chanting psalms; reading from the Old Testament, the  Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and epistles; and canticles, which are basically hymns from the Bible but not usually from the psalms.

By the end of the fifth century, the Canonical Hours were — and this is a lot of praying and involves getting up in the middle of the night

  • Matins (during the night), sometimes referred to as Vigils or Nocturns, or in monastic usage the Night Office; it is now called the Office of Readings
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = 6 a.m.)
  • Terce (rhymes with “purse”) or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = 9 a.m.)
  • Sext (rhymes with “next”) or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = 12 noon)
  • None (rhymes with “John”?) or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”)
  • Compline (KOM-plin) or Night Prayer (before retiring)

Wow! Don’t you love it that the time for Vespers is “at the lighting of the lamps”?

The complete Liturgy of the Hours is contained in the Roman Breviary. Most of the pictures on this page are from personal breviaries made for wealthy people in the Middle Ages.

Très Riches Heures calendar page

Très Riches Heures calendar page

All hours begin with Ps. 69-70 v.2, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me,” and then the doxology:  “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

The Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer may consist of

  • opening versicle (a short verse said or sung by a priest or minister in public worship and followed by a response from the congregation) or (for morning prayer) the invitatory (Psalm 94)
  • a hymn, composed by the Church
  • two psalms, or parts of psalms with a scriptural canticle. At Morning Prayer, this consists of a psalm of praise, a canticle from the Old Testament, followed by another psalm. At Evening Prayer this consists of two psalms, or one psalm divided into two parts, and a scriptural canticle taken from the New Testament.
  • a short passage from scripture
  • a responsory (chant or anthem recited after a reading in a church service) typically a verse of scripture, but sometimes liturgical poetry
  • a canticle taken from the Gospel of Luke: the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus [Blessed be]) for morning prayer, and the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat: The “Song of Mary” from the Gospel of Luke, Magnificat anima mea Dominum = My soul doth magnify the Lord) for evening prayer

    Russian Orthodox icon, Zechariah

    Zechariah, Russian Orthodox icon

Nativity from an Antiphon

Nativity from an Antiphon

It looks complicated, doesn’t it? But I have to tell you, it is refreshing and renewing to drop everything at 3 p.m. or whatever because that is the time you have set aside for prayer. And if you’re not Catholic, you can develop your own structure for prayer and praise, as Sister Alma Rose has done, she created a sort of hybrid of the Divine Office, and Father Dooley says that’s fine with him, he encourages everyone to pray in the way that suits them best, as long as there’s no mutilation of poultry and stuff like that.

Well, you can buy the complete Liturgy of the Hours in four volumes for more money than I have in my piggy bank, which last time I counted was $97.13, I am saving for a school trip to walk the Appalachian Trail, but there are less expensive books, such as those that have only the Morning Prayer and the Evening Prayer.

There is much, much more to be told about the subject, but Bernadette had to leave to go back to Grand Rapids and her Good Works, which she does out of love and not to earn points toward Heaven or anything like that. So I will just tell you that I, Fanny, “celebrate” the Hours four times a day using the website DivineOffice.org, which has an audio version with beautiful music, and there are other websites with text versions. Sometimes I pray with Mama, and sometimes with Sister Alma Rose, and sometimes it’s just I, Fanny.

Even if you are not a Christian, you might enjoy this prayer discipline, which is principally made up of psalms anyway, though the references to Jesus Christ Our Savior might make you cringe, I don’t know. What I do know is that I need and enjoy discipline and structure in my prayer life, and for me, Fanny McElroy, the Divine Office is the beginning of that discipline and structure.

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

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