Fr Jacques Hamel, Martyr

For the first time in my life, I have said Mass in honour of a Martyr the very day of his death. Until this morning, this retired priest of the Archdiocese of Rouen was helping out in his local parish, and was saying Mass for two religious sisters and two lay people. His name will now be one of the noble army of Martyrs praising thee as I paraphrase from the Te Deum. There is no need for a beatification or canonisation, which will certainly happen in time. I was inclined to commemorate him as a Martyr at today’s Mass of St Anne rather than remember him at the memento of the dead like any deceased person.

I live in the territory of the Rouen Archdiocese, but I never met Fr Jacques. He was born in 1930 and was ordained in 1958. This morning, he was elderly and known to his parishioners and the clergy of his diocese, an ordinary priest going about helping out in an ordinary parish. Why was he chosen by the two drug and ideology crazed terrorists this morning? They could have taken out a whole congregation on a Sunday morning! They started “preaching” in Arabic near the altar of the church, made Fr Jacques kneel and then they cut his throat with a knife.

Martyrdom is all the difference between Christianity and Islam. In the Christian Gospel, victory is won through weakness, through the sacrifice of the victim and not the strength of the executioner. Many would like Christianity to glorify wealth and strength as the reward of success, and this is a question I have already discussed. In Islam, the victims are always the guilty ones – raped women, victims of a massacre, the conquered. For this reason, the executioner cries الله أكبر, “God is the greatest”. In his perverted “theology” a sacrifice is accomplished and the strong is vindicated.

In some of my reflections on Gnosticism, Allah is the Demiurge par excellance, the jealous psychopath who kills and punishes, who gasps for blood like a Transylvanian vampire. Gnostic mythology situates the separation between the God above God, the true God, and the creating entities in whom evil had entered. The Demiurge is the ultimate Führer who rules with tyranny and makes the world into a living hell. For this kind of Islam (there are many kinds from the contemplative Sufis to the Shiites and Sunni among others), they take advantage of the “weakness” and tolerance of Christianity.

There are messages coming out of this awful event of a 86-year old retired priest being killed in such an atrocious way. One was that he accepted retirement only as an official requirement of his Church, but that he wished to continue to minister until the day of his death. The priesthood is something we carry with us all our lives. We don’t put it on and take it off like our cassock. This is the way we were taught at seminary, and this is a very important aspect of the French school of priestly spirituality. Therefore, Fr Jacques helped out in a parish on a voluntary basis even though he was officially retired. Many elderly priests do. The priesthood is not something we put on like a garment, or even our identity to make us important human beings – but is Christ within those of us who are ordained. The Church calls the priesthood a sacred character like Baptism and Confirmation. The term is of course an analogy of something that is ineffable and mysterious.

Fr Jacques was killed in hatred of the Christian faith and the priesthood of Christ. He died a Martyr. There is absolutely no doubt about it. The Gospel more than ever shows us that the alternative to the Ubermensch and the domination of the strongest is the teaching of the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

This is the meaning of the Gospel and the priesthood Christ passed to his Apostles and the bishops and priests in their succession.

Blessed Jacques, Priest and Martyr, pray for us…

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Horror on my own doorstep!

Update: the attackers are confirmed to have been Daesh terrorists.

* * *

I was horrified to hear about the hostage situation in the church of Saint Etienne de Rouvray near Rouen, about an hour’s drive from my home. By now, there will be news articles all over the internet. Two attackers seriously wounded members of the tiny congregation at the weekday Mass and barbarously killed the 84-year old priest celebrating the Mass. The two attackers were then shot dead by the police.

I can hear the radio as I write, and there is no confirmation yet about the motive, but a religious motive is preferred over the acts of people with mental problems (there is a psychiatric hospital next to the church).

Such a barbarous attack leaves me without words, whether committed by persons with motives of revenge or Islamist ideology. I suppose the police had no alternative to killing the two attackers, otherwise some information could have been extracted in a soundproof cell with the judicious use of a carving knife and a pair of pliers! They took the priest and tiny congregation as hostages, so logically would have tried to obtain something.

What do we do? Support political movements which would advocate a tough line like Le Pen or Trump? Turn the other cheek, which is usually a euphemism for cowardice? As a priest, I feel awkward with the usual platitudes of churchmen. We need to look within ourselves, not so much to make ourselves feel guilty, but to know ourselves, be ourselves and ascertain the quality of our own commitment to Christ both in his sacramental mystery and the way of life he taught us in the Gospel.

That is about all I can say in a time when we are troubled by atrocity after atrocity and the duplicity of politicians and world leaders.

At this stage, as it becomes clearer that this was an Islamist attack, my feelings are presently not very Christian and perhaps not very edifying. I am not of the political extreme-right in terms of ideology, but rather more socialist in the 19th century meaning of this idea – but Nationalism now seems to be the only way: a realistic degree of repression of any radical form of Islam, including the use of torture to obtain the information needed to destroy organisations like Daesh. I am in no way motivated by racial hatred, but, at the same time, had Churchill lived in our times, he would have vowed to “fight them in the trenches…”. It is clear that these atrocities are designed to provoke this feeling in us all – until the day when terrorists will curse their mother for giving birth to them.

As a French bishop has just said on the radio, we have to go on living and not let terrorism win in terms of maintaining us in fear for our own lives. It is easy to act tough and run a mile if actually faced with terrorists intending to kill us.

BBC News on the situation.

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Dog Days

I was corresponding with a friend and mentioned the Dog Days. He asked me what they are. I had mentioned this period of the year in the northern hemisphere as when we get hot and lethargic, frustrated and perhaps peevish. I’ve written about this before, four years ago – Dog Days.

The Dog days are the period between 3rd July and 11th August (Gregorian) which is typically the hottest period of the summer. In Latin – Dies canicularis. In French – La Canicule currently meaning simply a heatwave period. Sarum mentions the sun in Leo and the Dog Days from 14th July (Julian) but doesn’t mention when they end. This time is marked by the rising of Sirius the “Dog Star” with the sun. The time is also marked by mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun in countries like Italy or Spain as Noel Coward used to sing. Most dogs lie down in some quiet and cool place and pant to get their body temperature down. If we listen to Summer of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, you will hear the double notes of the cello, representing the barking dogs in Venice.

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Liturgists and Terrorists

It’s an old quip: the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist. You can negotiate with a terrorist – unless he cuts your throat with a knife or blows you up with a bomb shouting the middle-eastern equivalent of Heil Hitler! What is a liturgist?

I read Fr Hunwicke’s article Trained Liturgists I have met. I too had my training in the subject at Fribourg with Fr Jakob Baumgartner, a Swiss-German priest belonging to a missionary congregation (only slightly less numerous than the number of women’s orders). I worked under his supervision as I produced the basis of what ended up being published as a chapter in Fr Alcuin Reid’s T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy. I avoided much of the pastoral mish-mash by showing an interest in liturgical history, and liturgical theology as I read it from the point of view of Dom Odo Casel or many eastern Orthodox authors. I never saw Fr Baumgartner celebrate Mass, but I was told at the time that it was just fumble and playing about. The chasm between theory and practice, in contact with some liturgical scholars, just blew my mind!

I admire Fr Alcuin as he labours to beat the liturgists at their own game, debunking ideologies and outdated theories of old men (we all get old one day if we don’t die first). We have to remember that the idea of the old dinosaur being replaced by young conservatives is a misleading myth. Christianity is dying in the west and being transformed into a kind of Evangelical cult in Africa, Asia and South America. It remains only to be seen whether Orthodoxy will go the same way. Benedictine monasteries are wonderful places, but relevant only to the monks and the twenty or so lay people who travel long distances to attend their Offices on a Sunday or during a retreat. For all Fr Alcuin’s energy and devotion, to which I have contributed in a small way, it is only relevant to bookworms and intellectuals in libraries. One can only hope that Fr Alcuin and his age-group will live longer than the fossils still claiming that Mass facing the people was the practice of the primitive church, perhaps like the phantom women priests.

It’s all being discussed, but presently it is cujus rex ejus religio. Pope Francis will kick the bucket one day and the spiritual equivalent of the National Front might get in having beaten the Champagne Socialists in the election. That’s what it really seems to come down to.

In good King Charles’ golden time, when loyalty no harm meant,
A zealous high churchman was I, and so I gained preferment.
To teach my flock, I never missed: Kings are by God appointed
And damned are those who dare resist or touch the Lord’s annointed.

(Chorus):

And this be law, that I’ll maintain until my dying day, sir
That whatsoever king may reign, Still I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.

When royal James possessed the crown, and popery came in fashion,
The penal laws I hooted down, and read the Declaration.
The Church of Rome, I found, did fit full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit, but for the Revolution.

(Chorus)

When William was our King declared, to ease the nation’s grievance,
With this new wind about I steered, and swore to him allegiance.
Old principles I did revoke; Set conscience at a distance,
Passive obedience was a joke, a jest was non-resistance.

(Chorus)

When Royal Anne became our queen, the Church of England’s glory,
Another face of things was seen, and I became a Tory.
Occasional conformists base; I blamed their moderation;
And thought the Church in danger was from such prevarication.

(Chorus)

When George in pudding time came o’er, and moderate men looked big, sir
My principles I changed once more, and I became a Whig, sir.
And thus preferment I procured From our new Faith’s Defender,
And almost every day abjured the Pope and the Pretender.

(Chorus)

The illustrious house of Hanover and Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance swear — while they can hold possession.
For in my faith and loyalty I never more will falter,
And George my lawful king shall be — until the times do alter.

(Chorus)

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A Basket of Crabs

Un panier de crabes doesn’t mean very much in English, but I was appalled on reading The Sacra Liturgia Conference has set the cause of the Reform of the Reform back by 20 years. That may not be a bad thing. The subject of this piece by the LMS chairman reflects what I put up yesterday. I suppose that the essential theme of this posting is that the more the Novus Ordo is prevented from taking a more “traditional” form, the more people would be attracted to the Pius V liturgy. Perhaps…

The article conveys to me the shocking reality of parish life ruled by technocrats like in the dioceses, the episcopal conferences and in Rome. No “reform of the reform” is possible and the agenda of the former Pope is forthwith cancelled. No surprise. It also means the same thing as everyday life.

I mentioned the other day that I spent a night with my boat in a fishing port. I simply tied up my boat is a vacant space and left the following morning. It is a bit like the distinction between illegal camping and bivouacking. You just do it, and the worst thing that can happen is being told by a policeman to move on. You ask official permission and you have to jump through hoops all the way, producing the registration documents of your boat (mine don’t exist) and all sorts of prohibitive conditions.

Ask your RC bishop for permission to celebrate using Sarum or the Novus Ordo in Latin facing east, and you might as well be asking for permission to (you name it…). With such official inertia, who wants to be a priest or attend church as a lay person, unless it is for some kind of power trip manipulating other people and making them as helpless and unhappy as possible. As a result of Cardinal Sarah’s words, no different from those of Cardinal Ratzinger’s or Schönborn’s in a different era, a priest has to jump through hoops to say the Novus Ordo on the church’s old altar (assuming it hasn’t been wreckovated). That said, I don’t suppose the English Oratories will be visited by goons to enforce the repression.

It all reminds me of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism in the days of anti-Ritualist repression and priests being sent to jail for very little – just a pair of candles and eastward celebration with very simple vestments. The problem for Rome and the RC technocrats is that they can’t use the civil and criminal laws of the state – Separation of Church and State! But anyone who goes the way of anarchy becomes marginal. You are no longer comfortably mainstream with the money and respectability. That is the agony of the conservatives – certainly not mine!

The point is made: The golden rule in such matters is that you don’t press for clarification unless you are sure things will be clarified in your favour. In short, like in France, you just do something until you are told that it’s not allowed – like parking your car or mooring your boat. Everything is forbidden but everybody does it. English RC’s have become like the Germans – everything is forbidden unless it’s allowed. Churchill put it the other way round for England. Everything is allowed unless it’s forbidden.

The status quo in the RC Church is permanent, inevitable and graven in the rock – at least as much as in the Thousand Year Reich, the Soviet Union or the Brussels Bureaucracy. Earthly empires only last so long before they collapse. When this one goes, I don’t see the conservatives winning. Christianity will be perceived as “rubbish” by many more people. The Church, as sacrament of Christ, will continue to subsist and will survive in the little marginal communities that come and go like each of us comes and goes.

It is ironic that the Pius V liturgy is more “respectable” than the Novus Ordo dressed up as the old liturgy or simply celebrated eastwards. The Pius V option can be contained, whilst the Novus Ordo is the “mainstream”. In 1860, there was a hell of a lot of difference between St Albans Holborn or St Peter’s London Docks and your average respectable Squire’s parish in the country where the organist went fishing during the extremely long sermons of the day! Comparisons can be made, however imperfect they may be.

I had the experience as a Roman Catholic deacon in a parish in the Sens-Auxerre archdiocese of trying to go “brick by brick” as certain American priests would put it. It was a disaster. Everything has become so polarised between those who are effectively Evangelicals and the priests trying to bring back a more contemplative liturgy and making their flocks learn different things. They are stick in the mud, because the Novus stuff is what is traditional for them. It’s now forty seven years since the Novus Ordo was promulgated by Paul VI! That’s a hell of a long time – and it’s now as permanent as a body with malignant cancer. It’s a cultural issue. The old liturgy – Pius V, Sarum, Ambrosian, whatever is only relevant to cultured and contemplatively-minded priests and folk. It will never be anything but marginal. The old idea from the Benedict XVI era that the “progressives” were dying dinosaurs soon to replaced by young conservatives was a fallacy. Thus Benedict XVI abdicated, probably knowing that Bergoglio was waiting for his place! The mask is off and all the discussions of 2011 and 2012 are now moot, as dead as fossils.

I learned many things from my fifteen-year stint in the RC Church. I have had to rethink my own priestly vocation. I am irrelevant to absolutely everyone in the place where I live, so it can only have any meaning in a “contemplative” kind of way, except that I don’t have the regularity and asceticism of monks. The pearl hangs by a slender thread, especially through my Bishop’s fatherly encouragement and tolerance of my wild eccentricities. I don’t have the same judgement of the traditionalists as my friend Patrick. Simply they and I don’t live in the same world. I am increasingly alienated from their categories and priorities. For them I am dead, and for me they are a distant abstraction.

For me, as for most in my little Church, we don’t have to face the agony and cognitive dissonance. We just get on with what we have and are, and do not have to justify or prove anything to anyone outside our own canonical chain of command and hierarchy. We have the eastward-facing liturgy, whether it’s Anglican Missal or Sarum, even if almost no one is interested in attending it. The RC traditionalists, whether they are SSPX or Fraternity of St Peter or Gricigliano, have their own history and cultural references.

The western world will be decreasingly Christian, and the Roman Catholic Church simply seeks to preserve it assets and capital like the Anglican Communion or the Methodists. We enter the mouth of the vacuum faced with the spectre of Big Brother and crazy jihadists killing everyone in sight. There was what appeared to be a new spring, but it was false and as fleeting as a mayfly.

Any real spring will have to be preceded by realism and an extremely sober attitude. The present dark age will not be dispelled by Benedictine monasteries or anything. It doesn’t mean either that we should cease to be Christians, give up and die. It just means that truth and holiness are elsewhere and within ourselves as tiny seeds waiting to be sown. Indeed, the Parable of the Sower.

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Eastward position back in the news

I don’t look at Roman Catholic news very often these days, so I go from hat tips coming from Dr Willam Tighe and Fr Hunwicke. On Orientophobia: Coming out of the Liturgical Closet. Update: Who’s Afraid of Ad Orientem?

We won’t see the “chopping blocks” and the distinctive symbolism of Mass facing the people disappear from Roman Catholic churches any time in the near future, since Cardinal Sarah has been slapped down, but at least the question is being discussed. It is perhaps for the first time since the Ratzinger / Benedict XVI era.

The problem in the Roman Catholic Church is the continuation of post-Tridentine uniformity, selective uniformity of course. Of course, ad orientem celebrations in the modern rite were never forbidden. Many French abbeys of the Solesmes Congregation were doing it throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, as were the English Oratories in London and Birmingham. I was once in a small American community in Rome, housed at the Czech College, where we had ad orientem Mass in the new rite in our private chapel on the first floor. That being said, there has always been enormous pressure to make the exceptions conform to the versus populum norm.

There are many arguments for either position, but the meaning is obvious as soon as you go into a church and see the effect. I don’t think I am alone in being drawn to the Mass in which the priest is facing the symbolic east of the church (when the church is not pointing to the magnetic compass east or the morning sunrise on the 21st June of the Gregorian calendar). Mass facing the people makes me want to walk out of the church and leave them to their own devices. I’m not interested in arguing it out or getting involved in polemics and single-issues. I have never said Mass facing the people, and would feel intensely out of place if I were asked to do so. The symbolism is fundamental.

In Rome, it is all ideology masquerading as ecclesiology. There is the fear of giving in to the traditionalists and a rolling back of the ideology that has been in place essentially since the 1960’s, though it was implicit much earlier and contained in the centralist papal ideology. Ironically, those most afraid of going back to the days of Pius XII and the heavy-handed repression of heresy are the most influenced by what they fear.

In the Anglican world, one of the most significant aspects of the Reformation was the destruction of the altar and the arrangement of the priest facing the little handful of communicants across a movable wooden table placed between the choir stalls of the church. In England, north-side celebration would restrict the Eucharist to a small elite of communicants. In modern Roman Catholicism, the church has become a place for entertainment and teaching ideologies and ideas to the masses. As an alternative to the traditionalists, there are the charismatics who have progressed over the decades since the 1980’s and the contemplative monasteries.

Most of us would agree that the answer to the bitter polemics and divisions between “conservatives” and “liberals” would be to remove the barriers, take away the sanctions inflicted for diversity and daring to move on, removing the “chopping block” and using the old altar – or building an altar to replace the one that had been destroyed. There would be a spontaneous movement if the opening-up is accompanied by a sensitive pastoral attitude on the part of parish priests. Common sense is hard to come by these days, especially in large collectivities.

Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church has become the spiritual equivalent of the old Soviet Union and the present European Union. It is ruled by unaccountable technocrats. Traditionalists often sin by a lack of common sense reasoning. Not all the 1960’s reforms were bad. For example, there are loads of prefaces, many of which were revived from medieval uses and early sacramentaries. The Bidding Prayer is something very traditional. Not everything is good in the Pius V liturgy, such as the continuation of the underpinning rationale of the Low Mass being the basis, filled out with “optional extras” to make a High Mass. An attempt to reform this fault was made in the 1964 edition. Had my opinion been asked at the time (were I an adult at the time – because I was in fact a very small child), I would have recommended a rolling back of post-Tridentine rubricism and uniformity in favour of reviving local usages and supplementing them with later saints’ feasts and suchlike, and allowing them to be celebrated in the vernacular following sound and literary translations.

The eastward position is a point that sticks out like a sore thumb in the perspective of the reconciliation between Rome and the eastern Orthodox Churches. Ecumenism is love and hate, selective and manifestly hypocritical. It is a mere euphemism, a red herring that conceals the prevailing technocrat ideology that will one day collapse from its own top-heaviness. The Jesuit Pope has given impetus to the “old guard” in Rome, but this dinosaur will only last for so long. The problem is ensuring the vitality of a way of thinking that transcends the old Tweedledum and Tweedledee I have often criticised over the years.

The problem is that the dinosaur is taking a long time a-dying. I could never imagine being a Roman Catholic any more than being an anonymous factory worker in Leningrad in the early fifties. It has all become so irrelevant to me, as to the vast majority of the erstwhile Christian populations in Europe. They are not alienated from Catholicism because they have jumped on the consumer bandwagon, but because it has become nonsense to them. They have moved on or have accepted substitutes for transcendence and the spiritual. The traditionalists have only attracted a small ideologically-motivated minority, and they lack the auctoritas to continue into the future. Certainly, the same can be said of us continuing Anglicans too. We can just hang on and wait for the turning of the tide. I doubt we will see it in our lifetimes.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men (Matt v.13).

* * *

Whilst I am on the subject of contemporary Roman Catholicism, I come to the subject of the Ordinariates. I suppose my ignorance about the English one is from my own doing, since I do not bother to seek information from their various web sites and magazines. I do sometimes look at Fr Hunwicke’s blog, and sometimes wonder why more inspired material would not come with such a cultured priest. However, it appears that the American situation is different.

John Bruce in St Mary’s Hollywood: The Cold Case File has been banging the drum for a while in his opposition to anything other than run-of-the-mill diocesan Roman Catholicism such he has chosen as his spiritual home. He called me a “crank” some months ago for criticising his more outrageous claims about St Mary’s in Hollywood and the former Primate of the TAC. I have to understand the inner coherence of Mr Bruce’s writings. He may well be right about the American Ordinariate, that it has nothing to offer other than extra work for overburdened RC diocesan bishops. So it all about conformity to the “spiritual Big Brother“. But, surely, this is a question for “cradle” RC’s, those who grew up in Roman Catholic families. The present day RC Church lays no further claim to be the “one true Church” but rather seeks to ingratiate itself with the status quo of the world in which it finds itself. It is of no interest to those who originate outside it – unless of course we are motivated by wanting to belong to a particular community like a parish or whatever. The more he writes on this subject, the more his Church becomes irrelevant to most of us.

We all struggle in our little way to lead Christian lives and be in communion with a tangible community. It is the ACC in my case. Perhaps, for Mr Bruce, I should be held at gunpoint to convert to his Church or return to the mainstream Anglican Communion. I am simply grateful that he does not hold political power to put religious dissidents in jail, haul them up before inquisitions and perhaps torture them into his particular orthodoxy. He represents the absurdity of conservative Catholicism in a Church that does not give it auctoritas or legitimacy.

We should not be in any illusion or express an attitude of resentment against sour grapes. The RC Church attracts lots of people to its services. Football matches and TV shows do too. It is surely a Christian organisation that is open to all those who are attracted to that kind of worship. Plenty of people go to mega-churches. They pack into those immense halls and the neurones really react together to the same stimuli. At the same time, it is all rubbish to the majority of the population, and not always for reasons of atheism or materialism.

Few are attracted to the “transcendent” and “contemplative” type of liturgy. It is irrelevant to the humanity of the masses. Some of us hate crowds, the latest fashions and social conformity for its own sake. I almost never watch television. I find sources of news (both mainstream and “alternative”) on the internet, and I watch films on DVD or Youtube. A few of us are attracted to the symbolic world of the liturgy in which there is not only the word for the ears and the intellect, but for the whole person. The RC Church caters for such people through monasteries and small communities, but such are few and far between.

The alternatives to the mainstream western churches are Eastern Orthodoxy, for those who can adapt to it culturally, or continuing Anglicanism. Lay people can find their home in a mainstream parish that does things to their taste, which is fine for as long as the parish has the same priest.

I emphasise the point again – which certainly makes me a “crank” – that we can no longer speak of a “true Church” but rather of local communities in which the Church as sacrament of Christ subsists. Let there be diversity and freedom, so that there is something for all to relate to! This question has already been discussed at length on this blog. Were there this diversity and respect for freedom, there would be no need for dissident communities and small Churches. That only seems to make sense.

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La Fête Nationale

I live in France, and tomorrow, the 14th of July, it is a national holiday that celebrates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. It was a symbolic event, since there were few prisoners in the place. One was the undistinguished Marquis de Sade.

The French Revolution is a complex chapter of history, and I would be a fool to try to analyse everything in a short blog article. In the video I show here, we find the conclusion that the liberal ideas of the Revolution survived the cruelty and fanaticism of Robespierre, and so did the hatred and terror of those who declare war against humanity. We have the satisfaction of knowing that this vile man died on his own guillotine, in the same way as our ancestors heard on the wireless in 1945 that Hitler had poisoned and shot himself in the Führerbunker in Berlin.

The Revolution marked the end of the Church and the Monarchy working according to the principles of medieval Christian society. In the founding stages, it brought hope to many: the poor, ordinary people, those who could not follow the old regime. The Romantics were fascinated with the new ideas coming out: human rights, equality, fraternity and freedom. They were naive, but put their hope into what they believed to be a new spring. We see the same kind of thing happen now with movements of revolt such as we experienced in the 1960’s. In the 1790’s, the Revolution set fire to France and much of the rest of Europe, leading to lasting instability throughout the nineteenth century, and established the roots of World War I. The Terror began in 1793. Here is a video to watch on Robespierre:

In 1793 to the following year, the blood flowed as the guillotine claimed its victims. They were not only the nobles and priests, but anyone under suspicion of being an enemy of the state. Robespierre lost his head in 1794 and the Jacobins were overthrown by the Thermidorean reaction. The Revolution declined and Napoleon took France with an iron fist. Napoleon was a revolutionary with royalist trappings. As I mentioned in the light of my visit this week to the Isle of Aix, I appreciate the devotion many French people have for Napoleon’s military genius, energy and vision for a new Europe. By 1815, when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and exiled to the Island of Elba, the Revolution and the vicissitudes of nineteenth-century France were no longer of any interest to Romantic idealists.

My wife and in-laws are deeply Napoleonic in their ideas, not royalists or legitimists. I see their point. France is a country one both loves and hates. There is a cruel undercurrent in this country that is unmatched even by the British Empire of yore and the atrocities in India and Australia. This country of human rights can be remarkably callous. France was twice divided in the twentieth century, over the Dreyfus Affaire and which side people buttered their bread under the Occupation and the Pétain regime south of the Ligne de Démarcation. Many collaborated with the Nazis out of self-interest, and most of those involved in the Résistance were Communists by ideology as well as those loyal to De Gaulle. The lines of division are felt to this day. In a highly polarised country, I am glad to be an English expatriate.

It is humanity and the Mark of Cain, the broken and sinful spirit of man who sought something other than the knowledge of God.

I hope and pray that this celebration of a tragedy of tragedies will bring us to self-knowledge and repentance for our foolish ways and hatred for other humans. I see the hollowness and hypocrisy of French republicanism through the self-serving politicians at the Elysée. It is no different in England with the absolute fiasco over the Brexit referendum. Perhaps the gunpowder, as dry as ever, will one day again be ignited. We all feel it in the air.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

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