Tuesday, April 21, 2009

St Anselm's Day

The parents of St Anselm were Gundulph and Ermenberga.  These are rather unusual names for Italians - Anselm and his family were noble Lombards.  Transplanted to England, this erstwhile monk ruled (not without exasperating royal interference) and taught as a true bishop ought, fighting manfully against deviations from the Faith and combatting State attempts to suborn or strip away the freedom of the Church.

To-day is the 900th anniversary of his death: a century ago, St Pius X wrote an encyclical (Communium rerum) in praise of him, and earlier still he had been declared a Doctor of the Church by Clement XI.  This encyclical is astoundingly contemporary, in its description of modernism within and State persecution without as the current problems besetting Catholicism, along with the temptation to timidity that haunts mediocre churchmen, just as analogous pests wracked the Bride of Christ in Anselm's day; but it nonetheless inculcates confidence that the Enemy cannot destroy Christ's flock - rather the opposite! - and ends by invoking Anselm to pray with and for us:

13. For you are aware, venerable brethren, and you have often lamented it with Us, how evil are the days on which we have fallen, and how iniquitous the conditions which have been forced upon Us. Even in the unspeakable sorrow We felt in the recent public disasters, Our wounds were opened afresh by the shameful charges invented against the clergy of being behindhand in rendering assistance after the calamity, by the obstacles raised to hide the beneficent action of the Church on behalf of the afflicted, by the contempt shown even for her maternal care and forethought. We say nothing of many other things injurious to the Church, devised with treacherous cunning or flagrantly perpetrated in violation of all public right and in contempt of all natural equity and justice. Most grievous, too, is the thought that this has been done in countries in which the stream of civilization has been most abundantly fed by the Church. For what more unnatural sight could be witnessed than that of some of those children whom the Church has nourished and cherished as her first-born, her flower and her strength, in their rage turning their weapons against the very bosom of the Mother that has loved them so much! And there are other countries which give us but little cause for consolation, in which the same war, under a different form, has either broken out already or is being prepared by dark machinations. For there is a movement in those nations which have benefited most from Christian civilization to deprive the Church of her rights, to treat her as though she were not by nature and by right the perfect society that she is, instituted by Christ Himself, the Redeemer of our nature, and to destroy her reign, which, although primarily and directly affecting souls, is not less helpful for their eternal salvation than for the welfare of human society; efforts of all kinds are being made to supplant the kingdom of God by a reign of license under the lying name of liberty. And to bring about by the rule of vices and lusts the triumph of the worst of all slaveries and bring the people headlong to their ruin - "for sin makes peoples wretched" (Prov. xiv. 34) - the cry is ever raised: "We will not have this man reign over us" (Luc. xix. 14). Thus the religious Orders, always the strong shield and the ornament of the Church, and the promotors of the most salutary works of science and civilization among uncivilized and civilized peoples, have been driven out of Catholic countries; thus the works of Christian beneficence have been weakened and circumscribed as far as possible, thus the ministers of religion have been despised and mocked, and, wherever that was possible, reduced to powerlessness and inertia; the paths to knowledge and to the teaching office have been either closed to them or rendered extremely difficult, especially by gradually removing them from the instruction and education of youth; Catholic undertakings of public utility have been thwarted; distinguished laymen who openly profess their Catholic faith have been turned into ridicule, persecuted, kept in the background as belonging to an inferior and outcast class, until the coming of the day, which is being hastened by ever more iniquitous laws, when they are to be utterly ostracized from public affairs. And the authors of this war, cunning and pitiless as it is, boast that they are waging it through love of liberty, civilization, and progress, and, were you to believe them, through a spirit of patriotism - in this lie too resembling their father, who "was a murderer from the beginning, and when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar" (Ioan. viii. 44), and raging with hate insatiable against God and the human race. Brazen-faced men these, seeking to create confusion by their words, and to lay snares for the ears of the simple. No, it is not patriotism, or zealous care for the people, or any other noble aim, or desire to promote good of any kind, that incites them to this bitter war, but blind hatred which feeds their mad plan to weaken the Church and exclude her from social life, which makes them proclaim her as dead, while they never cease to attack her - nay, after having despoiled her of all liberty, they do not hesitate in their brazen folly to taunt her with her powerlessness to do anything for the benefit of mankind or human government. From the same hate spring the cunning misrepresentations or the utter silence concerning the most manifest services of the Church and the Apostolic See, when they do not make of our services a cause of suspicion which with wily art they insinuate into the ears and the minds of the masses, spying and travestying everything said or done by the Church as though it concealed some impending danger for society, whereas the plain truth is that it is mainly from Christ through the Church that the progress of real liberty and the purest civilization has been derived.

15. But with no less severity and sorrow have We been obliged to denounce and to put down another species of war, intestine and domestic, and all the more disastrous the more hidden it is. Waged by unnatural children, nestling in the very bosom of the Church in order to rend it in silence, this war aims more directly at the very root and the soul of the Church. They are trying to corrupt the springs of Christian life and teaching, to scatter the sacred deposit of the faith, to overthrow the foundations of the divine constitution by their contempt for all authority, pontifical as well as episcopal, to put a new form on the Church, new laws, new principles, according to the tenets of monstrous systems, in short to deface all the beauty of the Spouse of Christ for the empty glamour of a new culture, falsely called science, against which the Apostle frequently puts us on our guard: "Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to the traditions of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ (Colos. ii. 8).

16. By this figment of false philosophy and this shallow and fallacious erudition, joined with a most audacious system of criticism, some have been seduced and "become vain in their thoughts" (Rom. i. 1), "having rejected good conscience they have made shipwreck concerning the faith" (I Tim. i. 19), they are being tossed about miserably on the waves of doubt, knowing not themselves at what port they must land; others, wasting both time and study, lose themselves in the investigation of abstruse trifling, and thus grow estranged from the study of divine things and of the real springs of doctrine. This hot-bed of error and perdition (which has come to be known commonly as modernism from its craving for unhealthy novelty) although denounced several times and unmasked by the very excesses of its adepts, continues to be a most grave and deep evil. It lurks like poison in the vitals of modern society, estranged as this is from God and His Church, and it is especially eating its way like a cancer among the young generations which are naturally the most inexperienced and heedless. It is not the result of solid study and true knowledge, for there can be no real conflict between reason and faith (Concil. Vatic., Constit. Dei filius, cap. 4). But it is the result of intellectual pride and of the pestiferous atmosphere that prevails of ignorance or confused knowledge of the things of religion, united with the stupid presumption of speaking about and discussing them. And this deadly infection is further fomented by a spirit of incredulity and of rebellion against God, so that those who are seized by the blind frenzy for novelty consider that they are all sufficient for themselves, and that they are at liberty to throw off either openly or by subterfuge the entire yoke of divine authority, fashioning for themselves according to their own caprice a vague, naturalistic individual religiosity, borrowing the name and some semblance of Christianity but with none of its life and truth.

30. They err greatly, therefore, who lose faith during the storm, wishing for themselves and the Church a permanent state of perfect tranquillity, universal prosperity, and practical, unanimous and uncontested recognition of her sacred authority. But the error is worse when men deceive themselves with the idea of gaining an ephemeral peace by cloaking the rights and interests of the Church, by sacrificing them to private interests, by minimizing them unjustly, by truckling to the world, "the whole of which is seated in wickedness" (I Ioan. v. 19) on the pretext of reconciling the followers of novelties and bringing them back to the Church, as though any composition were possible between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial. This hallucination is as old as the world, but it is always modern and always present in the world so long as there are soldiers who are timid or treacherous, and at the first onset ready to throw down their arms or open negotiations with the enemy, who is the irreconcilable enemy of God and man.

57. But if the erring continue obstinately to scatter the seeds of dissension and error, to waste the patrimony of the sacred doctrine of the Church, to attack discipline, to heap contempt on venerated customs, "to destroy which is a species of heresy" in the phrase of St. Anselm, and to destroy the constitution of the Church in its very foundations, then all the more strictly must we watch, venerable brethren, and keep away from Our flock, and especially from youth which is the most tender part of it, so deadly a pest. This grace We implore of God with incessant prayers, interposing the most powerful patronage of the august Mother of God and the intercession of the blessed citizens of the Church triumphant, St. Anselm especially, shining light of Christian wisdom, incorrupt guardian and valiant defender of all the sacred rights of the Church, to whom We would here, in conclusion, address the same words that Our Holy Predecessor, Gregory VII, wrote to him during his lifetime: "Since the sweet odor of your good works has reached Us, We return due thanks for them to God, and We embrace you heartily in the love of Christ, holding it for certain that by your example the Church of God has been greatly benefited, and that by your prayers and those of men like you she may even be liberated from the dangers that hang over her, with the mercy of Christ to succor us" (S. Anselm, "De nuptiis consanguinerorum," cap. 1). "Hence We beg your fraternity to implore God assiduously to relieve the Church and Us who govern it, albeit unworthily, from the pressing assaults of the heretics, and lead these from their errors to the way of truth" (In lib. ii. Epist. S. Anselmi, ep. 31).

Apart from praising his learned writings and holy life, what else is there to say of this intrepid monk, abbot and Archbishop?  May he pray for us, and for Canterbury, that the pretenders to that venerable See cast away error and reconcile with Christ's Vicar.  It must be agreed by all that Canterbury and those apparently - for the moment - in communion with it (whatever that elastic term now signifies among Anglicans, a very Babel of confusion as they are) certainly could do with prayers put up for them in heaven!

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