Monday, 31 December 2012

Looking back on a year of faith and love, sustained by family and filled with hope

Was this the year the wheels came off the Greek economy? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

This was the year of the London Olympics, the year of child killings in Connecticut and cinema killings in Colorado, the year of Barack Obama’s re-election, the hijacking of the Arab Spring in Egypt so that it turned to an Islamist winter, the continuing and brutal civil war in Syria, more offensive Israeli offensives in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank, and a year of increasing poverty in Greece brought on by austerity measures that Greeks blame on Germans.

It was the year of the Costa Concordia cruise sinking, when the Taliban targeted children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and when we learned more about Jimmy Savile than we ever wanted to know.

It was a year that saw the publication of the Mahon Tribunal Report, but we still don’t know where Bertie Ahern keeps his money, and we still don’t know why bankers receive fat pensions rather than receiving long sentences. It was the year Angela Merkel thought we were working, Aung San Suu Kyi came to Dublin, the Encyclopaedia Britannica went out of print, and the typewriter went out of production.

It was the year the death of Savita Halappanavar almost awoke the conscience of a nation, that saw the deaths of Maeve Binchy in Ireland, Bishop K.H. Ting (Ding Guangxun) in China and Pope Shenouda in Egypt. And it was a year that saw the election of new Archbishops of Canterbury and Armagh.

And of course, as The Irish Times Magazine said on Saturday, referring to the hysteria about supposed Mayan prophecies, “It was the year the world was meant to end, but instead life went on in its everyday way.”

Silence and double talk

Was this the year the Church became obsessed with an out-of-date agenda, looking in on itself instead of looking out to the world? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

But this was also the year when the Churches once again demonstrated our apparent innate ability to shoot ourselves in the foot. Pope Benedict seemed to be more obsessed with how many animals could fit into a stable in Bethlehem than with facing up to the damage to all the churches created by the issues surrounding clerical sex abuse or dealing with clerical celibacy and women’s ministry.

This too was the year in which the Vatican silenced Father Tony Flannery, Father Gerard Moloney, Father Brian D’Arcy, Father Sean Fagan and Father Owen O’Sullivan. Many more have been silenced too, but have no-one to speak up for them.

In the Church of Ireland, we probably shot ourselves in the foot too when, as The Irish Times observed, the General Synod appeared to vote in favour of prejudice against gay clergy. We certainly gave the disappointing impression that we are not a welcoming church in many dioceses and parishes. We closed the doors we had opened, slightly and briefly, at Ballyconnel, Co Cavan, and in the debates in the General Synod I found myself resenting being spoken down to by some synod members when all I had done was speak in favour of wording found in the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles. It made me ask who the true defenders of tradition are.

By the end of the year, many were asking too whether the Church of England also shot itself in the foot by voting down the proposed legislation on women in the episcopate, even though the majority of dioceses in the Church of England – 42 out of 44 – have already approved proposals for women bishops.

The vote was a setback for Archbishop Rowan Williams ahead of his retirement from Canterbury, and as I attended a reception in Church House in Westminster immediately after the vote, it was obvious that he and all the bishops present were downcast. I was reminded that evening of a similar vote in 1978, when the General Synod rejected the ordination of women and Una Kroll cried from the gallery: “We asked for bread and you gave us a stone.”

Now the Church of Ireland faces a series of episcopal elections over the next few months, and it is going to be interesting to watch what happens.

Meanwhile, I cannot but be hopeful when it comes to the immediate and the long-term future of the Church ... in all its expressions, and I am reminded of the words of Leonard Cohen: “... Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

Back to Cambridge

Snow covers Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

For the first time in many years, I was not at the annual summer school in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. Instead, I attended a two-week summer school at the Institutum Liturgicum in London, studying patristic sources for liturgical texts and liturgical Latin, and staying for two weeks with the Benedictines at Ealing Abbey.

However, I was back in Cambridge a few times this year. At the beginning of February, I was the visiting preacher at Choral Evensong in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. The Dean of Sidney Sussex, Peter Waddell, and his wife Lisa were perfect hosts, and after dinner in their home we enjoyed trudging back to through the snow and across the frozen Cam at “Mag’s Bridge” in the dark to Sidney Sussex.

We had rooms looking out over both Hall Court and Cloister Court, which were covered in snow when we woke on Sunday morning. After the Eucharist we joined Peter and the students for brunch. Later that evening, after Choral Evensong, there was formal dinner in the Hall, and a lengthy discussion afterwards with dons and guests over Port and Stilton.

Peter has since moved to the University of Winchester. But I was back in Cambridge again in June to walk the “Fitzwilliam Trail,” researching a paper on the connections between the Fitzwilliam families of Ireland and Cambridge. The trail began at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Fitzwilliam Street, and ended in Fitzwilliam College, and there was a quick visit to Sidney Sussex afterwards. The trail would continue later back in Ireland, with visits to Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Square in Dublin and the former Fitzwilliam estates in Co Wicklow.

USPG becomes Us

The High Leigh Conference Centre ... where USPG was about to become Us (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I continued my commitments as a member of the boards of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland and the council of USPG in Britain. There were board meetings and meetings of working groups in Dublin and Kilkenny, and in June I was at the USPG conference in the High Leigh Conference centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and the Diocese of St Albans.

I celebrated the closing Eucharist at the conference, which was, in effect, the last Eucharist at a USPG conference, for the society was soon to be renamed and relaunched as the United Society, to be known as Us.

I was back in London again in November, taking part in a service in Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, for the relaunch of USPG as Us.

Teaching and ministry

Flying to Edinburgh for a seminar on deacons’ ministry and the diaconate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We reached a new milestone at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute with the successful completion of the first full three-year cycle for the MTh degree, and the conferring of the first MTh degrees at Trinity College Dublin.

I was pleased to begin delivering the MTh Year I module on Church History, which I had designed. I gave papers on deacons’ ministry and the diaconate at seminars in Edinburgh and Dublin, and so it was interesting to be invited to preach at the ordination of deacons in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in September.

I took my place a few times in the year as canon-in-residence in Christ Church Cathedral, preaching, presiding at the Eucharist, and reading lessons, and preached and presided regularly in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. I was invited to preach in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, on Good Friday and at a service to mark the 150th anniversary of Saint John’s Church, Monkstown (Cork). I also took services, took part in services or preached in Rathfarnham, Tullow, Saint Bartholomew’s, Saint Nahi’s and the Chapel of the Mageough Home (Dublin), spoke at a Lenten reflection in Castleknock, took part in a baptism in Knocklyon, and attended ordinations in Edenderry (Co Offaly) and Dublin.

I also attended the introduction of the Revd Anthony Kelly to the parishes of Holmpatirck, Kenure, and Balbriggan, and the institutions of the Revd Patrick Burke in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, and the Revd Olive Henderson in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow. In October, I was at Saint Mogue’s Cottage, beside Saint Edan’s Cathedral in Ferns (Co Wexford), to speak to the diocesan ecumenical societies on the present state of the Church of Ireland.

Once again, I took part in the annual memorial service in the Unitarian Church, Dublin, for former staff members of The Irish Times, only weeks after the death of former Irish Times colleague John Armstrong. And there were funerals in Dundonald (Belfast), All Saints’, Grangegorman (Dublin) and on Achill Island (Co Mayo), and the funerals of Maeve Binchy (Dalkey) and the Revd Derek Sargent (Clontarf).

Travels in Ireland

Staying at the Lough Erne resort near Enniskillen earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I brought a student group to visit the Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue, organised a Liturgy Module field trip to Christ Church Cathedral and Core Church in Dublin, and I also brought students from the US to visit Christ Church Cathedral.

There were two Church History module field trips: the first was to Tara, Kells, Trim and Drogheda; and the second was to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the Bank of Ireland (former Parliament), Trinity College Dublin to see the Book of Kells, and the National Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland.

There were visits to other monastic sites in Ireland too, including Clonard, Co Westmeath, Clonfert and Portumna in Co Glaway, Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly, and Freshford, Co Kilkenny.

A good Christmas gift meant I stayed in the Lough Erne resort in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, at the beginning of February, and later that month I stayed in Virginia, Co Cavan, with Archdeacon Craig McCauley, when I was one of the facilitators at the one-day Church of Ireland conference on sexuality in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

Visiting my grandmother’s former farmhouse outside Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In my travels through Ireland this year, there were return visits to Lismore and Cappoquin, Co Waterford, reviving many happy childhood memories. I also stayed in Athlone, Co Westmeath, Castle Durrow, Co Laois, in April, and visited the grounds of Stormont (Belfast).

Visiting Ballybur Castle, the Comerford ancestral home between Kilkenny and Callan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

There was a number of visits to Kilkenny throughout the year. The Dublin and Glendalough clergy conference in Kilkenny in February, which included services in Saint Canice’s Cathedral and Saint John’s Church, and a reception in the former Palace. There were USPG board and committee meetings in Kilkenny, there was Patrick Burke’s institution in Castlecomer, there was a visit yo see the former Comerford castle at Danganmore in April, there was a visit in May to Ballybur Castle and Kilkenny with visiting Comerfords from the US, and there was a visit to Freshford in July.

The remains of the former Comerford castle in Danganmore, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Then I was back in Kilkenny again before the end of a year to deliver a public lecture in Rothe House on the different branches of the Comerford family. The evening was organised by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and the Callan Historical Society.

Looking out onto the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath, from the terrace in Relish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Of course, I had regular beach walks throughout the year, with walks on beaches in Co Dublin (Skerries, Loughshinny, Rush, Portrane, Donabate, Malahide, Portmarnock, Bull Island), Co Meath (Mornington, Bettystown and Laytown) Co Wicklow (Bray, Greystones, Kilcoole and Brittas Bay), Co Wexford (Kilmuckridge, Courtown and Kat’s Strand), and Co Mayo (Mulranny and Dugort on Achill Island), as well as walks along the shoreline in Dun Laoghaire, Howth, Killiney, Dalkey, Booterstown, Seapoint and in Skerries, Bray and in Wexford town.

Passing through the Vee, between Cappoquin, Co Waterford, and Clogheen, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

There were country walks in Co Carlow (Borris and Tullow), Co Laois (Dunamaise and Durrow), Co Kilkenny (Danganmiore, Kells, Inistioge, The Rower, Ballybur, Freshford and Castlecomer), Co Waterford (Cappoquin and Lismore), Co Kildare (Celbridge and Castletown), Co Wicklow (Tinahely, Kilcoole and the grounds of Kilruddery), Co Meath (Trim, Tara and the grounds of Dunboyne Castle and Gormanston Castle), Dublin (between Portrane and Donabate, and in grounds of Howth Castle and the grounds of Orlagh Retreat Centre), riverside walks (along the banks of the Shannon, the banks of the Dodder in Rathfarnham, Templeogue, Knocklyon and Firhouse, the Thames in Richmond, the Cam in Cambridge and the Avon in Chippenham), and countryside walks in England near Lichfield, near High Leigh and in the West Country.

Travels in England

A walk in the countryside along Cross in Hand Lane near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

It was a year of extreme weather in England, and so far this year has seen the driest spring and the wettest winter on record. But nothing can take away from the pleasures I get from my regular return visits to England throughout the year.

I was in Lichfield Cathedral on the Day of Pentecost, and as we were about to leave the Cathedral singing about the fire of the Holy Spirit, the organ was silenced and the fire alarm went off. The cathedral emptied earlier than expected, but later that afternoon we had lunch without friends Pete Wilcox and Catherine Fox.

Pete was the Canon-Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, and Cathy is a writer and columnist in the Church of England Newspaper. I was sorry, later in the year, not to be in Liverpool when Pete was installed as the Dean of Liverpool Cathedral in succession to Justin Welby, who had just become Bishop of Durham and who is now about to be enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Spring colours on the ground near Lichfield as summer is about to break (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Throughout that weekend, we followed the daily cycle of prayer in Lichfield Cathedrals. But there was time too for meals with friends, visits to some of our favourite places including Vicars Close and Saint John’s, walks in the parks and by the pools, and walks in the countryside out along Cross in Hand Lane and out towards Farewell and Chorley.

During other visits to England, I spent a day in Saffron Walden, researching an essay and indulging in some architectural photography. An old friend brought me on a walking tour of Kinston-on-Thames on a summer afternoon. During my two-week stay at Ealing Abbey, there were visits to the Ealing Studios, and a visit into the City of London to see Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and to see Dr Johnson’s House off Fleet Street.

A taste of heaven in the West Country... sitting in the sunshine behind the Talbot in Quemerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I spent a beautiful summer’s day in the West Country, visiting Chippenham, Calne and Quemerford in North Wiltshire. Sitting in the summer sunshine with the Guardian and a glass of white wine in the beer garden behind the Talbot in Quemerford, looking across the open Wessex countryside, I was conscious that there are many more moments like that when I catch a glimpse of heaven.

I was back in Lichfield again in early November before winter closed in for a family anniversary and a family birthday.

Winter fields off Abnalls Lane near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The winter fields were bare, either ready for ploughing and preparation for spring or covered in stubble left from the autumn harvest. The skies were blue, and it was crisp weather that invited walks in the countryside along Cross in Hand Lane and Abnalls Lane, and walks in Beacon Park, along Beacon Street, by Minster Pool and Stowe Pool, in Vicars Close and the Cathedral Close, and through the Market Place.

Before the end of the year, I was back in London too, staying at the Penn Club in Bloomsbury as I took part in the relaunch of USPG as Us in Westminster Abbey.

Further afield

In the cloisters of Arkadi Monastery in hills above Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

For the first time ever, I visited Scotland in March to take part in a seminar on deacons’ ministry and the diaconate, and I used the opportunity to see as much as possible of Edinburgh. I had never thought of it before as a delightful European capital city. Summer holidays were spent in Greece and Italy, with time in Crete at the end of June and beginning of July, and time in Tuscany at the end of August and beginning of September.

In Crete, I stayed in Rethymnon, which has continued to draw me back for four decades and remains my favourite town in Greece. There were meals with friends in Rethymnon and Iraklion, visits to Chania, time in some mountain villages, time to visit some monasteries, and time on the beach.

The rise in poverty is less visible in Crete than in other parts of Greece because tourism has cushioned Crete against some of the worst effects of the collapse of the Greek economy. But it is difficult to imagine that this can continue for Crete.

The crisis has brought other problems too for Greece – the loss of political confidence, the loss of social confidence, and the loss of hope for many.

Enjoying the vineyards and the hillsides of Tuscany (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In late August and early September, I joined a guided tour of Tuscany, staying in Montecatini Terme and visiting Florence, Pestoia, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca and Pisa, and going to coast at Viareggio and the five villages of Cinque Terre. There was time for the opera, visits to vineyards and olive groves, and an afternoon in the Uffizi.

Inter-Church, Interfaith and inter-cultural work:

On the Pilgrims’ Trail around the churches of Dublin during the International Eucharistic Congress (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Over the years, I written about the theology of Bishop KH Ting while I was secretary of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, and had a number of meetings in Cairo with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Shenouda, while I was working on Christian-Muslim dialogue in Egypt. When Pope Shenouda died this year, the Church of Ireland Gazette used a photograph of the two of us at one of those many meetings.

The Eucharistic Congress in Dublin also had its ecumenical dimensions. I took part in the pilgrims’ trail around the churches of Dublin, and that experience also provided the inspiration for a new blog, the Dead Anglican Theologians’ Society.

I attended the Kristallnacht commemorations in the Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue when I brought a number of students to experience the use of liturgical and sacred space in Judaism.

I was a guest at the Chinese New Year celebrations in Temple Bar, and later in the year I was a guest at the Moroccan embassy in Dublin for celebrations marking the end of the Ramadan fast.

Publications and broadcasting

Wexford’s quays in winter weather ... I did a radio interview on RTÉ on Christmas Day on the ‘Wexford Carol’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I continue to contribute a monthly column to both the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory), and to write occasional comment pieces in The Irish Times and the Church of Ireland Gazette.

I wrote an ‘In retrospect’ tribute to Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh in Search to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. There were book reviews in The Irish Times and the Astene Bulletin, Notes and Queries (Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East), Number 50: Winter 2011-12 (February 2012), London, and two photographs from my collection were published in Maurice Curits’s latest history of a Dublin suburb, Portobello. And there were two further contributions to the American journal Koinonia: with Rev. John D. Alexander: ‘Anglo-Catholicism’, Koinonia, (Kansas City MO), vol 5, no 19, Trinity 2, 2012, p. 3; and ‘Finding Hope in Greece in the Midst of financial and economic crises,’ Koinonia (Kansas City MO), vol 5, no 19, Trinity 2, 2012, pp 8-11.

I did a radio interview on RTÉ Radio 1 on Christmas Day on the Wexford Carol, and there were positive responses to my blog essay series on Christmas poems, Poems for Lent, Poems for Easter, and the Saints through Advent and Christmas.

Now there are invitations to write a paper for Studies next year and to contribute to a new book being planned for publication by Veritas.

Continuing commitments

With Fred Deane and the Revd Martin O’Connor outside Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, collecting for local charities during the ‘Black Santa Sit-out’ in the week before Christmas

This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Half a century later, the world faces a greater threat from the stockpiles of nuclear weapons that keep growing and proliferating. I have continued as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) and have spoken at the annual general meeting of Irish CND, and the annual Hiroshima Day commemorations in Merrion Square on 6 August.

As President of Irish CND, I also attended the conference of the International Peace Bureau, which met in Dublin for the first time, and was present when the Sean MacBride Peace Prizes were presented by President Michael D Higgins to two democracy activists from the Arab Spring, Lina ben Mhenni from Tunisia and Nawal El-Sadaawi from Egypt. The ceremony was attended by many old friends, including Bruce Kent, vice-president of CND in Britain.

I remain a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synod, the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue and the Anglican Affairs Working Group, and as a member of the Governing Council of CITI and the MTh course co-ordinating committee in TCD.

I have also kept up my commitment to Heart to Hand, which raises funds for projects with children in Romania and Albania, and took part once again in the three-day sale in Portrane, helping out on the bookstall in the big tent each day. Then in the week before Christmas, I took part in the “Black Santa” sit-out outside Saint Ann’s Church in Dawson Street. These fundraising efforts raised over €30,000 each and it was a privilege to be part of both.

Health and good spirits

Leonard Cohen in concert at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I continue to spend time each month with my GP for B12 injections, and there were days of tests in hospital as they continued to monitor my sarcoidosis. But there was good news too, when I was told that sarcoidosis has become quiescent. It doesn’t mean it has gone away, or that the symptoms have gone away. But it means it is not making any progress, and that it’s doing any damage to me at present.

Not that that would stop me from living a full life, and living life to its full. Faith and love, family and friendships – these have been the mainstays throughout this year and they continue to give me hope. And I have also been sustained and buoyed by my work, my walks on the beach in the countryside and my cultural experiences, including visits to art galleries, listening to music, enjoying architecture, watching movies and reading.

At the beginning of the year, the Greek film-maker Theodoros Angelopoulos died in a street accident in Athens while making the last movie in a trilogy. But his death caused me to rewatch a number of his movies, including Ulysses Gaze (1995), Eternity and a Day (1998), The Weeping Meadow (2004) and The Dust of Time (2009). I wonder whether The Other Sea, which was his take on the Greek financial crisis and which he was making at the time of his death, is ever going to be completed?

Leonard Cohen was back in Dublin again in September, and once again I was at his concert in the Royal Hospital. For me this was, perhaps, the cultural highlight of the year:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

With the Saints through Christmas (6): 31 December, John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe depicted in a window in the Chapel of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

John Wycliffe (ca 1330-1384) is remembered as an early Reformer and an early translator of the Bible into English, whose principles led to him losing his academic posts at Oxford. He is honoured in the calendar of Common Worship in the Church of England on this day [31 December], but on 30 December in the Anglican Church of Canada, and on 30 October in the calendar of the Episcopal Church [TEC].

Wycliffe has been called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” His followers were known as Lollards, are their movement is seen as a precursor to the Reformation. At the end of his life, he completed his translation of the Bible directly from the Vulgate into common English in 1382-1384. In those final years of his life, he increasingly argued for Scriptures as the authoritative source of Christianity, that the claims of the papacy were unhistorical, that monasticism was irredeemably corrupt, and that the moral unworthiness of priests invalidated their office and sacraments.

John Wycliffe was a member of the Wycliffe family of Richmond in Yorkshire and was born in the village of Hipswell in North Yorkshire, before 1330, probably in the mid to late1320s. His family was long settled in Yorkshire and took its name from Wycliffe-on-Tees, about 15 km north of Hipswell.

By 1345, he was at Oxford, where his influential cotemporaries included Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Bradwardine, William of Occam, and Richard FitzRalph, later Archbishop of Armagh.

Wycliffe showed an early interest in the natural sciences and mathematics, but concentrated his efforts on theology, canon law and philosophy. He became deeply disillusioned both with the Scholastic theology of his day and with the state of the Church and the clergy.

He was a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and by 1361, Wycliffe was the Master of Balliol College, Oxford. In the same year, the college appointed him the Rector of Fylingham, Lincolnshire. He had to retire from Balliol, but he continued to live at Oxford, where he had rooms in the Queen’s College.

In 1365, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Islip, appointed him Warden of Canterbury Hall, Oxford, where 12 students were preparing for ordination to the priesthood. That year, Pope Urban V claimed a feudal tribute that dated back to the reign of King John but that had not been paid for 33 years. In response, Parliament declared that neither King John nor any other had the right to subject England to any foreign power. Pope Urban recognised his mistake and dropped his claim. Wycliffe, who served as a theological adviser to the government, wrote a tract on the Pope’s claims.

Archbishop Islip died the following year, in 1366, and his successor, Simon Langham, replaced Wycliffe at Canterbury with a monk. Wycliffe appealed to Rome, but lost his case.

Later, Canterbury Hall would be incorporated into Christ Church, Oxford.

In 1368, he moved from Fylingham and became Rector of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire. The parish was near Oxford, enabling Wycliffe to keep his connections with the university. Six years later, in 1374, he received the crown living of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, where he remained rector until he died.

In that same year (1374), when France and England were involved in negotiations in Bruges, Wycliffe was one of commissioners sent from England to deal with papal delegates from Avignon about Church complaints.

Soon after his return from Bruges he began to write his great work or Summa Theologiae. In his De civili dominio, he argued that the Church should renounce all claims to temporal dominion.

Sometime between 1372 and 1384, Wycliffe became a Doctor of Divinity, giving him the right to lecture on theology at Oxford.

Wycliffe was summoned before William Courtenay, Bishop of London, on 19 February 1377 “to explain the wonderful things which had streamed forth from his mouth.”

Meanwhile, Pope Gregory XI had issued a bull condemning Wycliffe, and on 22 May 1377 he sent five copies to England from Rome – one to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the others King Edward III, to the Bishop of London, the Chancellor, and Oxford University. The Pope also denounced 18 theses of Wycliffe as erroneous and dangerous to Church and State. But Edward III died on 21 June 1377 and was succeeded by Richard II, so that the bull against Wycliffe did not become public until 18 December.

In March 1378, he appeared at a church court in Lambeth Palace and for a time he was confined by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University in Black Hall. Wycliffe was released on threats from his friends, but was excommunicated.

However, before any further steps were taken against him, Pope Gregory XI died in 1378.

In the space of two years, Wycliffe tried to refute his opponents by writing books dealing with the Church, the office of king, and the power of the Pope. For Wycliffe, the Church is made up of all who are predestined to holiness, including the Church triumphant in heaven, those in purgatory, and the Church on earth. No one who is eternally lost has part in it. There is one universal Church, and there is no salvation outside.

However, his denial of the teaching of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as expressed in the concept of transubstantiation – not yet an officially defined dogma – lost him his royal protection. In the summer of 1381, when Wycliffe formulated his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in 12 short sentences, the bishops of England proceeded against him, and the Chancellor of Oxford University had some of the declarations pronounced heretical.

In the midst of the controversy, the Peasants’ Revolt broke out in 1381. Although Wycliffe disapproved of the revolt, he was blamed for it. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay, called an ecclesiastical assembly in London in 1382, but as it met an earthquake hit the city. Those present were terrified, but Courtenay declared the earthquake a favourable sign, indicating the earth’s purification from erroneous doctrine.

Of the 24 propositions attributed to Wycliffe, 10 were declared heretical and 14 erroneous. On 17 November 1382, Wycliffe was summoned before a synod at Oxford, and while he was not excommunicated or ejected from his parish, he was forced from his offices at Oxford University.

He returned to his parish in Luttertworth, where he wrote tracts and preached sermons castigating the monks and Pope Urban VI, who disappointed Wycliffe’s hopes of being a reforming pope. He completed translating the Bible directly from the Vulgate into common English in 1382-1384.His last work, Opus evangelicum, was never completed.

While he was celebrating Mass in his parish church on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December 1384, John Wycliffe suffered a stroke. He died three days later, on 31 December 1384.

A law passed in 1401 extended persecution to Wycliffe’s remaining followers. The Constitutions of Oxford in 1408 banned Wycliffe’s writings and made unlicensed translation of Scripture into English a punishable crime and a heresy.

In 1415, the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic and decreed that his books should be burned and his remains exhumed. At the command of Pope Martin V, his body was dug up and burned, and the ashes were thrown into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth.

Wycliffe was a close follower of Augustine and is seen as one of the first writers to formulate f the two major principles of the Reformation: the unique authority of the Bible, and justification by faith.

Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, founded in 1877, is named after John Wycliffe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, founded in 1877, was named after John Wycliffe and is one of the Evangelical theological colleges in the Church of England.

Wycliffe has also given his name to Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto and Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire.

Wycliffe Bible Translators, one of the largest international organisations dedicated to translating the Bible, is named in honour of John Wycliffe. The Lutterworth Press, a major evangelical publisher in England, takes its name from his parish.


Almighty Father,
you have built up your Church
through the love and devotion of your saints:
inspire us to follow the example of John Wycliffe,
whom we commemorate today,
that we in our generation may rejoice with him
in the vision of your glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Micah 6: 6-8; Psalm 32; Ephesians 3: 14-19; Matthew 19: 16-21.

Post Communion Prayer:

Faithful God,
who called John Wycliffe to serve you
and gave him joy in walking the path of holiness:
by this Eucharist
in which you renew within us the vision of your glory,
strengthen us all to follow the way of perfection
until we come to see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Looking for the children of the Lennox sisters in Celbridge

Castletown House ... built by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce for Speaker William Conolly (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The rain came down heavily this afternoon. It was too blustery and it was too wet for a walk on a beach, and as the rain got heavier we agreed it was too wet for Plan B, a walk by the boathouses and the banks of the River Liffey at the Memorial Park in Islandbridge.

Plan C kicked into place. Following lunch in Beirut Express after the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, we decided to go on an historical treasure hunt in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Over the last few days I have been researching the story of the descendants of one of the Lennox sisters who feature in Stella Tillyard’s book Aristocrats (1995). So we headed west to visit Celbridge House and Castletown House before darkness closed in on the day.

The Lennox sisters were the daughters of Charles Lennox (1701-1750), 2nd Duke of Richmond, a grandson of King Charles II. The eldest of the Lennox sisters, Lady Caroline, married one of the most prominent English politicians of the mid-18th century Henry Fox (1705-1774), 1st Lord Holland. But the three other surviving daughters married three prominent Irish men of the day:

● Lady Emily Lennox (1731-1814) married James FitzGerald (1722-1773), 20th Earl of Kildare, later 1st Duke of Leinster, and the builder of Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin;

● Lady Louisa Lennox (1743-1803) married Thomas Conolly (1738-1803), who inherited Castletown House, Co Kildare, from his great-uncle, William Conolly (1662-1729), Speaker of the Irish House of Commons;

● Lady Sarah Lennox (1745-1826) married Colonel George Napier (1753-1804), who lived at Celbridge House, Co Kildare, from 1785.

In this way, the children of ‘Donnie’ and Sarah Napier were first cousins of Lord Edward FitzGerald, one of the most colourful leaders of the United Irishmen in the revolution of 1798.

Celbridge House ... once the home of the Napier family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In the past, I have written and lectured on the role of members of the Church of Ireland in the events of 1798. Since then, I have researched and lectured on the interesting life of one of Sarah Lennox’s most colourful sons, Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), who played an interesting role in the Greek War of Independence when he was Governor of Kephalonia.

Now I am researching an interesting story about one of the descendants of Charles Napier’s younger brother, Sir William Francis Patrick Napier (1785-1860), who was born in Celbridge shortly after his parents moved there.

We stopped first Celbridge House to photograph the former home of the Napier family and Sir William’s birthplace and now known as Oakley Park.

Celbridge House was built in 1724 by the Revd Dr Arthur Price (1678-1752) when he was the Vicar of Celbridge and the Dean of Ferns. Price came to Celbridge through the friendship between his father, Samuel Price, and Speaker William Conolly. In the same year as he built Celbridge House, Dr Price became Bishop of Clonfert, and later went on to be Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, Bishop of Meath and finally Archbishop of Cashel.

The house was probably designed by the architect Thomas Burgh. Dr Price’s steward in Celbridge was Richard Guinness, father of the Dublin brewer Arthur Guinness.

In 1785, the house became home to the Napier family. In 1840, Oakley Park was sold to the Maunsell family, and as the house changed ownership many times it fell into disrepair. In 1935, Oakley Park was bought by the Guiney family, who sold it to the Christian Brothers. Their plan for a school in the house never matured; in the 1950s, the house was bought by the Saint John of God Brothers, and it is now part of the Saint Raphael training centre for children and young adults.

The East Wing of Castletown House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

By the time we had photographed the Napier home, dusk was falling, and we wondered whether we had time to photograph Castletown House on the other side of Celbridge.

We made it just in time. But darkness was closing in and the house was closing to the public at 5 p.m. We agreed we must return another day.

As we left and made our way back onto the motorway, we remarked on how the local railway station is known as Leixlip Louisa Bridge.

The memory of the Lennox sisters lives on.

With the Saints through Christmas (5): 30 December, Josephine Butler

Josephine Butler … ‘God and one woman make a majority’

Patrick Comerford

Josephine Butler (1828-1906) was active campaigner against the way Victorian society and legislation treated prostitutes, most of whom were forced into their lifestyle activity through desperate poverty.

Josephine Butler was born on 13 April 1828 at Milfield House, Milfield, Northumberland, and was baptised on 30 May in Northumberland. She was the seventh child of John Grey (1785–1868) and Hannah Eliza Annett 1792-1860). Her father, John Grey, was an eminent agricultural expert, and the cousin of the reformist Prime Minister, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. John Grey was campaigned for the abolition of slavery and played a significant role in Catholic emancipation. He lost most of his savings in 1857 with the failure of the Newcastle Bank.

In 1852, Josephine married the Revd George Butler (1819-1890), who encouraged her in her public work. From her 20s on, Josephine was active in feminist movements, and the Butlers had strong radical sympathies, including support for the Union in the American Civil War.

Josephine and George Butler had four children. In 1863, while they were living in Cheltenham, where George was the vice-principal of Cheltenham College, their only daughter, Evangeline, died at the age of six.

In 1866, the family moved to Liverpool when George was appointed headmaster of Liverpool College. There Josephine decided to seek solace by ministering to people with greater pain than her own. She became involved in the campaign for higher education for women, and with Anne Jemima Clough, later principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, she helped to establish the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women.

Against the advice of her friends and family, she began visiting Brownlow Hill workhouse in Liverpool, which led to her first involvement with prostitutes. She saw the women as being exploited victims of male oppression, and attacked the double standard of sexual morality.

Her campaign took on an international dimension when she travelled through Europe in 1874-1875 addressing meetings. Her campaign succeeded with the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act in 1883. In 1885, she became involved in a successful campaign against child prostitution.

She was a devout Anglican and a woman of prayer, and once said: “God and one woman make a majority.” She modelled her spirituality on that of Saint Catherine of Siena, and wrote a biography of the Dominican saint.

When George Butler retired from Liverpool College, he became a Canon of Winchester Cathedral. He died on 14 March 1890. Josephine continued her campaigns until the early 1900s. She died on 30 December 1906.

Josephine Butler is celebrated in the Calendar of Common Worship in the Church of England on 30 May, the anniversary of her baptism, and on 30 December, the anniversary of her death.

She is depicted in windows in the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool, and Saint Olave’s Church, London.

Many of her papers are in the Women’s Library in London Metropolitan University and in the Josephine Butler Museum, Southend-On-Sea. Durham University honoured her in 2005 by giving her name Josephine Butler College. A building in the Faculty of Business and Law in Liverpool John Moores University is named Josephine Butler House. Her former home in Cheltenham was demolished in the 1970s.


God of compassion and love,
by whose grace your servant Josephine Butler
followed in the way of your Son
in caring for those in need:
help us like her to work with strength
for the restoration of all
to the dignity and freedom of those created in your image;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Isaiah 58: 6-11; Psalm 12; I John 3: 18-23; Matthew 9: 10-13.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Redeemer,
who inspired your servant Josephine Butler
to witness to your love
and to work for the coming of your kingdom:
may we, who in this sacrament share the bread of heaven,
be fired by your Spirit to proclaim the gospel in our daily living
and never to rest content until your kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (31 December): John Wycliffe.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Liturgy and Mission

‘Send us out in the power of your Spirit’ ... greeting worshippers at the west door of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

At the best of business meetings, and even the best of vestry meetings, good chairing will see that before the meeting concludes a summary of the meeting is presented, with a summing up of the decisions and the undertakings of all present.

If the Sunday Liturgy can be seen as the principal meeting of the Church, then that summary of decisions and undertakings is provided in the new Book of Common Prayer at Holy Communion Two, before the dismissal with the prayer: “Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory” (page 221). This commission for mission is less explicit, but nevertheless is to be found, in Holy Communion One in the second prayer after the Lord’s Prayer, asking that we may “do all such god work as thou hast prepared for us to walk in ...”

We are sent out after every Sunday Eucharist in mission, to be authentic witnesses to Christ and to his kingdom in the world. But the commission to mission at the end of the liturgy is not merely an extra dimension coming after all has been said and done: the whole action of the Eucharist is missionary and the event of the liturgy is a mission event itself, in which the Church is formed as a missionary community and is sent out to engage in mission, in what the Eastern Orthodox Church calls “the Liturgy after the Liturgy.”

The Book of Common Prayer (2004) contains an embedded invitation to the ‘liturgy after the Liturgy’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

As the new Book of Common Prayer is introduced in parishes and dioceses throughout the Church of Ireland, there is a risk that in some places the emphasis will be on getting words and actions right, forgetting what words and actions are expected to follow them in the “liturgy after the Liturgy.”

The Eucharist is not just the remembrance of things past but is also a foretaste of the heavenly banquet: “We look for the coming of his kingdom” (page 210), “we look for his coming to fulfil all things according to your will” (page 215), and we ask to be brought “with all your people into the joy of your eternal kingdom” (page 215). This invitation to the banquet is constantly voiced and addressed not only to the members of the Church, but also to non-Christians and strangers too, in an invitation that is missionary in intention and scope.

The Romanian Orthodox theologian, Professor Ion Bria, has pointed out that there is a double movement in the Liturgy: on the one hand, the people of God remember the saving acts of Christ “until he comes again”; and on the other, the Eucharist is a symbol of and realises the process by which the cosmos, the whole of creation, is becoming ekklesia, the Church. The liturgy is both an invitation to the world into the Lord’s House and to seek the Kingdom to come. Because the Eucharist is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, and because missionary activities provide symbols of our hope for the Kingdom of God, then it is only natural that the we should have a proper theology of liturgy as mission.

As Greek Orthodox theologians insist, the Liturgy is not an escape from life. It is a continual reorientation and openness to efforts aimed at challenging structures of injustice, exploitation, agony, loneliness, and at creating real communion of persons in love. And so, when we go out, “the liturgy has to be continued in personal, everyday situations,” Bishop Anastasios Yannoulatos told an Orthodox consultation on the liturgical life of the Church back in the mid-1970s. “Each of the faithful is called to continue a personal ‘liturgy’ on the secret altar of his own heart, to realize a living proclamation of the good news ‘for the sake of the whole world’. Without this continuation the Liturgy remains incomplete.”

Personal everyday life becomes liturgical, and that liturgical everyday life becomes missionary when it is empowered by the liturgy, drawing power from participation in the Eucharist.

Candles lighting in a Church in Crete ... Orthodox liturgical theology provides seven principles underpinning the Orthodox approach to mission (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

There is a danger, at times, of thinking that the Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist is very limited. But there is a vitality in many Orthodox circles that enables them to see the intimate link between liturgy and mission, and these insights have shaped the seven principles underpinning the Orthodox approach to mission:

1. Mission is about community. Mission is not just about the proclamation of truth, or a calling of individuals, it is also about the building of a community of faith that lives the truth of the Gospel. And so, the local church is the primary focus of mission.

2. It follows that worship is the beginning of mission. As Ion Bria has said, worship constitutes that permanent missionary impulse and determines the evangelistic witness of every Christian. The mission of the Church rests upon the radical and transforming power of the Liturgy. As the glory of God is revealed in corporate worship, so those who are inside are sent out in mission and those who are outside are drawn in by the revelation of the glory of God. If our worship is not attracting the attention of those who do not know God, then it fails to please God.

3. Mission and unity belong together. God is one, and for churches to be engaging in mission apart from each other is a denial of the Gospel of reconciliation in Christ that they seek to proclaim.

4. Mission is based on the love of God. We reach out to each other because God first loved us. The key mission text in Orthodox theology is not Matthew 28: 19 but John 3: 16: “God so loved the world ...” Love is the superior motivation, higher even than obedience to the commands of Jesus.

5. The goal of mission is life, so, that Orthodox doctrine of theosis teaches that the believer can experience life to its fullest potential, even participating in the inner life of the Godhead. In this thinking, John 10: 10 provides the missionary objective “that they may have life in all its fullness.”

6. There is a cosmic dimension to mission as there is to liturgy. St Paul’s teaching that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5: 19) provides the cosmic dimension for mission. Our turning to God, to find in him our peace and fulfilment, is but a very small part of a universal movement initiated by Christ on the cross.

7. Mission must be holistic mission. St John Chrysostom, who shaped the order of the Eucharistic Liturgy ordinarily celebrated by the Orthodox, speaks of the “sacrament of the brother”. For him, there is basic coincidence between faith, worship, life and service. Therefore, the worship at the Holy Table is complemented not at the dismissal but in the offering on the “second altar”, the altar of the neighbour’s heart.

These Orthodox insights into mission and liturgy teach us that mission begins in worship, that it continues in the proclamation of the Gospel, and that it is completed in the service that we offer to others. As Ion Bria has argued, in the liturgy after the Liturgy, the Church witnesses to the cosmic dimension of the event of salvation, and puts into practice, daily and existentially, its missionary vocation. Hopefully, the new Book of Common Prayer will help each of us in putting that missionary vocation into practice.

The Last Supper in a carving at Bridgeman’s workshop in Quonian’s Lane, Lichfield ... mission begins in worship, continues in the proclamation of the Gospel, and is completed in the service we offer to others (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. This essay was first published in Gazette Review, 25 June 2004, pp 1-2, a supplement to the Church of Ireland Gazette, to mark the publication of the Book of Common Prayer, and is republished here as a contribution to module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course

With the Saints through Christmas (4): 29 December, Thomas Becket

Saint Thomas Becket ... a 13th century window in Canterbury Cathedral

Patrick Comerford

Thomas Becket (ca 1118-1170), the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, is commemorated today [29 December] with a Lesser Festival in the Calendar of the Church of England.

Thomas Becket, also known as Thomas à Becket, was a skilled diplomat and Chancellor of England for many years before he succeeded as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161. Thomas was forced into exile when he insisted on the privileges. Although he returned in triumph to Canterbury in 1170, the king’s words of anger at court prompted four knights to go to Canterbury where they chased Thomas into the cathedral, and there murdered him on the steps of the altar on this day in 1170.

Thomas Becket was born ca 1118-1120 in Cheapside, London. Tradition says he was born on 21 December, the feast day of Saint Thomas the Apostle, and so received his name. He may have been related to Theobald of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury.

When he was a 10-year-old, Thomas was sent as a student to Merton Priory in England and he then attended a school in London. Later, he spent about a year in Paris around the age of 20.

When his father, Gilbert Beket, suffered a financial setback, Thomas earned a living as a clerk, and then found a position in the household of Archbishop Theobald.

Archbishop Theobald entrusted him with several important missions to Rome and sent him to Bologna and Auxerre to study canon law. In 1154, although he was not yet ordained priest, Thomas was appointed Archdeacon of Canterbury, and he acquired a number of other Church appointments, including becoming a prebendary of both Lincoln Cathedral and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, and Provost of Beverley.

In January 1155, on the recommendation of Archbishop Theobald, King Henry II appointed Thomas Lord Chancellor of England.

Several months after the death of Archbishop Theobald, Thomas was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury and his election was confirmed by a royal council of bishops and noblemen on 23 May 1162.

Thomas was ordained a priest on 2 June 1162 at Canterbury, and a day later he was consecrated a bishop by Bishop Henry of Blois of Winchester and the other bishops of the Province of Canterbury.

The new archbishop resigned as chancellor and changed almost immediately from being a pleasure-loving courtier into a serious-minded, simply-dressed cleric. He took to wearing a hair shirt under his robes, immersed himself in penitential cold baths and washed the feet of 30 paupers each day before he dined.

When he set about trying to recover and extend his rights as archbishop, a rift grew between him and the king, leading to a series of conflicts, including one over the jurisdiction of secular courts over the English clergy.

King Henry’s efforts to win over the other bishops against Thomas began in Westminster in October 1163, when the king sought approval of the traditional rights of the royal government in regard to the Church. At a council in Clarendon Palace, on 30 January 1164, Henry presided over an assembly of the most senior English clergy and in 16 constitutions, sought less clerical independence and a weaker connection with Rome. He drew on all his skills to secure their consent but failed to convince Archbishop Thomas.

Finally, even the archbishop signalled his willingness to agree, but he refused to formally sign the documents. The king summoned the archbishop to Northampton Castle on 8 October 1164 to answer charges of contempt of royal authority and malfeasance while he was Chancellor. When Thomas was convicted of the charges, he stormed out of the trial and fled to the Continent.

King Louis VII of France offered Thomas protection, and he spent nearly two years in the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny until Henry’s threats against the Cistercians forced Thomas to return to Sens.

Thomas fought back by threatening to excommunicate the king and to place the king, the bishops and England under an interdict. When Pope Alexander III sent Papal legates to arbitrate between the king and the archbishop, Henry offered a compromise that would allow Thomas to return to England from exile.

In June 1170, the Archbishop of York, Roger de Pont L'Évêque, along with the Bishop of London, Gilbert Foliot, and the Bishop of Salisbury, Josceline de Bohon, crowned Henry’s heir as king-in-waiting at York. This action was a direct challenge to the privileges of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in November 1170 Thomas excommunicated all three. While the three bishops fled to the king in Normandy, Becket continued to excommunicate his opponents in the Church.

When the king heard the news of the archbishop’s actions, tradition says, Henry demanded to know: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” However, his contemporary and biographer Edward Grim puts other words in Henry’s mouth: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”

Whatever Henry said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four knights – Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton – set out to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On 29 December 1170, they arrived at Canterbury, where they placed their weapons under a tree outside the cathedral and hid their mail armour under cloaks before entering to challenge the archbishop. They ordered Thomas to Winchester to account for his actions, but when he refused they retrieved their weapons and rushed back inside.

Meanwhile, the archbishop was preparing himself for Vespers. The four knights drew their swords, caught up with Thomas near a door to the cloister, on the stairs leading to the crypt and the cathedral quire. As the third blow hit him, he fell on his knees and elbows, saying in a low voice: “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” The next blow to his head decapitated him, and his brains and blood were splattered on the paved floor.

After killing him, one of the knights said: “Let us away. He will rise no more.”

The murder was reported in minute detail: no fewer than five of Thomas’s companions in Canterbury Cathedral were witnesses on that fateful day. The monks who prepared his body for burial found that Thomas had worn a hair-shirt under his archbishop’s robes.

Selskar Abbey, Wexford ... Henry II is said to have spent Lent 1172 here in penance after the murder of Saint Thomas Becket (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to local lore in Wexford, Henry II did penance for the murder by spending Lent in 1172 in Selskar Abbey.

On Ash Wednesday, 21 February 1173, Thomas was canonised by Pope Alexander III. On 12 July 1174, in the midst of a revolt, Henry did public penance for the murder at Becket’s tomb, in an act of penance, donning sackcloth and walking barefoot through the streets of Canterbury while 100 nervous monks flogged him with branches. Henry concluded his atonement by spending the night in the martyr’s crypt, which quickly became a popular place of pilgrimage.

However, the assassins were never arrested and their lands were lands never confiscated. Pope Alexander excommunicated all four. Seeking forgiveness, the assassins travelled to Rome, where the Pope ordered them to spend 14 years as knights in the Holy Land.

In 1220, Thomas’s bones were moved to a shrine behind the high altar in the Trinity Chapel. The shrine was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII at the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. The king also destroyed Becket’s bones and ordered that all mention of his name be obliterated. The paved floor where the shrine stood is now marked by a lit candle.

Saint Thomas Becket was undoubtedly a proud and stubborn man, for all his gifts, and his personal austerities as archbishop were probably an attempt at self-discipline after years of ostentatious luxury. His conflict with Henry II stemmed from their conflicting ambitions, exacerbated by the claims of the papacy. His martyrdom became the emblem of spiritual resistance to secular tyranny, and no king until Henry VIII dared repeat Henry II’s assault on ecclesiastical jurisdiction in England.

The Church Historian Eamon Duffy wrote in The Guardian earlier this year:

“Today’s readers, all too conscious of ecclesiastical cover-up of clerical abuse, are unlikely to warm to Becket’s cause, but more was at stake than clerical privilege. The medieval church was the sole source of moral value, and one of the few contexts within which criticism of tyrannical rule was possible. Kings such as Henry II were rarely concerned with abstract justice, and royal control of the church posed problems not unlike those posed nowadays by state censorship of the press or suppression of the right of peaceful protest. Becket saw himself as a champion of the cause of Christ and the liberties of the church.”

Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is set in a company of pilgrims on their way from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket, the “holy, blissful martyr,” in Canterbury Cathedral.

Peter Glenville’s 1964 movie Becket starred Richard Burton as Archbishop Thomas Becket and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II.

In the interlude in TS Eliot’s play, Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas Becket preaches his Christmas sermon shortly before his murder. He explains that the “peace to men of good will” that the angels announced at the first Christmas was “not peace as the world gives,” but, to the disciples, “torture, imprisonment, disappointment … [and] death by martyrdom.”

He links the birth at Christmas with the death of martyrdom, asking: “Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means.”

Having remembered Saint Stephen the first martyr on 26 December, Saint John, who reaches soaring heights and whose concept of love reaches the furthest breadths (27 December), and the Holy Innocents, who remind us of all children at risk (28 December), this day to continues to recall the connections between the Incarnation and witnessing to the Gospel, even at the cost of martyrdom.


Lord God,
who gave grace to your servant Thomas Becket
to put aside all earthly fear
and be faithful even to death:
grant that we, disregarding worldly esteem,
may fight all wrong, uphold your rule,
and serve you to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


I Kings 19: 9-13a; Psalm 54; Hebrews 13: 10-16; Matthew 10: 28-30.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened
by the blood of your martyr Thomas Becket:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (30 December): Josephine Butler.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Friday, 28 December 2012

An afternoon in Howth before the storm

Waiting for a storm on the West Pier in Howth this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

There are strong warnings of a storm tonight, and walkers and motorists alike are being told to stay away from coastal paths and roads as we prepare for the high waves. The weather warnings are giving a continuing alert for gale force winds from 90 to 130 kph across Ireland tonight, with the winds peaking between midnight and 3 a.m.

The full moon means the waves should be higher and the waters choppier tonight. As we drove out along the road through Clontarf to Howth this afternoon, some houses had sandbags outside preparing for the worst with the high tide tonight.

By the time we got to Howth, the waters were choppy, the weather was blustery, and there fast-moving grey clouds overhead without any sky to be seen. But there were no high waves at either the West Pier or the East Pier.

Thanks to a gift voucher given a few months ago, we went for lunch at the award-winning restaurant Aqua at the north end of the West Pier.

A view south to Sutton... but I could do no justice to the panoramic views offered on three sides from Aqua Restaurant in Howth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

On three sides, Aqua offers stunning sea views from Sutton around past Ireland’s Eye and across Howth Harbour to the coastline at Portmarnock and Malahide. However, the grey skies and choppy seas meant my camera was doing no justice to the panoramic views as we sat to eat.

Aqua specialises in seafood, but this vegetarian was also well catered for. One of us had Smoked Fish Risotto with Truffle Oil and Balsamic Dressing; Cod; Christmas Pudding; and an Americano. I had Grilled Asparagus, with Rocket Salad and Parmesan Cheese; Penne Pasta, with Basil and Tomato Sauce and Rocket Salad; and a double espresso. We shared a bottle of Sensi Pinot Grigio, a light semi-fragrant wine with a sweet lemon-citrus finish.

Looking back at Aqua from the West Pier in Howth late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From Aqua, we strolled along the West Per, which was busy with families taking holdiay walks.

Looking down at the Baily Lighthouse from the summit at Howth Head this evening (Photographb: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

It was 4 p.m. when we decided to go up to Howth Summit to see whether the storm was rising. On each side, the dramatic cliff walk spread beyond us. Below us were the flickering lights of the Baily Lighthouse, built in 1814 on the south-east corner of Howth Head. It stands on the site of an old stone fort and there has been a hilltop beacon here since at least 1667.

To the south, there were views out to Dublin Bay, and across to the Wicklow Mountains. But the wind was too strong to attempt stepping out on the cliff walks, and daylight was fading fast.

We drove back through Sutton, Kilbarrack and Raheny into Dublin. At the Bull Wall, the wooden bridge was reflected in the waters that separate the North Bull Island and Dollymount.

The wooden bridge reflected this evening in the waters between the North Bull Island and Dollymount (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Anglo-Catholicism: a perspective from the US

The following paper appeared earlier this year in Koinonia, (Kansas City MO), vol 5, no 19, Trinity 2, 2012 p. 3:


1. A High View of God: Anglo-Catholic worship at its best cultivates a sense of reverence, awe, and mystery in the presence of the Holy One.

2. A High View of Creation or a delight in the beauty of God’s creation: The Anglo-Catholic view of the world is highly sacramental, seeing signs of God’s presence and goodness everywhere in God’s creation. In worship, the best of creation – as reflected in art, craftsmanship, music, song, flowers, incense, etc – is gathered up and it is all offered back to God.

3. A High View of the Incarnation: Our salvation began when Christ took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God became human in order to transform human existence through participation in his divine life.

4. A High View of the Atonement: Evangelical detractors often overlook the fact that authentic Anglo-Catholicism looks not only to Christ’s Incarnation but also to his Sacrifice. Anglo-Catholic spirituality entails a lifelong process of turning from sin and towards God. And so, many Anglo-Catholics find the Sacrament of Penance an indispensable aid in this process.

5. A High View of the Church: We come to share in the divine life of the risen and ascended Christ by being incorporated through Baptism into his Body, the Church. And so the universal Church is neither an institution of merely human origin, nor a voluntary association of individual believers, but is a wonderful mystery, a divine society, a supernatural organism, whose life flows to its members from its head, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

6. A High View of the Communion of Saints: The Church includes not only all Christians now alive on earth (the Church Militant), but also the Faithful Departed, who continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God (the Church Expectant), and the Saints in Heaven, who have reached their journey’s end (the Church Triumphant). And so, we have fellowship with all who live in Christ.

7. A High View of the Sacraments: Christ really and truly communicates his life, presence, and grace to us in the Sacraments, enabling us to give our lives to God and our neighbor in faith, hope, and love. Baptism establishes our identity once and for all as the children of God and the heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, even though we can freely repudiate this inheritance. In the Eucharist, Christ becomes objectively present in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

8. A High View of Holy Orders: Since the days of the Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholicism has borne witness to the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons in Apostolic Succession. The validity of our sacraments, and the fullness of our participation in the life of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, is intimately linked to the faithful stewardship of this gift.

9. A High View of Anglicanism: The Anglican Churches are truly part of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Anglo-Catholicism has borne a prophetic witness to the catholicity of Anglicanism. Since the days of the Oxford Movement, the standard has been the faith and practice of the ancient, undivided Church, holding ourselves, and our Anglican institutions, accountable to the higher authority of the universal Church.

10. A High View of Mission: others may argue which came first, mission or the Church. But Anglo-Catholicism brought both together, for the church could not be confined to the boundaries of the state, any more than it was a department of state, and so, as a consequence gave us the world-wide Anglican.

11. A High standard of hymnody: whatever you think of Songs-of-Praise type services, where would we have been last Christmas without Fanny Alexander’s Once in David’s royal city or John Mason Neale’s Veni Emmanuel?

12. A Highly-tuned social conscience: if the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom of God, then those who are nourished by its sacramental life must seek incarnationally to provide sacramental signs of the kingdom today.

(Compiled by Rev. John D. Alexander & Canon Patrick Comerford)

With the Saints through Christmas (3): 28 December, the Holy Innocents

The Killing of the Holy Innocents, by Giotto (ca 1304-1306), Padua

Patrick Comerford

The Church Calendar today (28 December) recalls the massacre of the Holy Innocents, who are sometimes revered as the first Christian martyrs. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the feast tomorrow (29 December).

These dates have nothing to do with the chronological order of the event. Instead, the feast is kept within the octave of Christmas because the Holy Innocents gave their life for the new-born Saviour. Saint Stephen the first martyr (martyr by will, love and blood, 26 December), Saint John the Evangelist (27 December, martyr by will and love), and these first flowers of the Church (martyrs by blood alone) accompany the Christ Child entering this world on Christmas Day.

This commemoration first appears as a feast of the western church at the end of the fifth century, and the earliest commemorations were connected with the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January), bringing together the murder of the Innocents and the visit of the Magi.

The story of the massacre of the Innocents is the biblical narrative of infanticide by King Herod the Great (Matthew 2: 16-18). According to Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem to save him from losing his throne to a new-born king whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi:

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the visiting magi from the east arrive in Judea in search of the new-born king of the Jews, having “observed his star at its rising” (Matthew 2: 2). Herod directs them to Bethlehem, and asks them to let him know who this king is when they find him. They find the Christ Child and honour him, but an angel tells them not to alert Herod, and they return home by another way. Meanwhile, Joseph has taken Mary and the child and they have escaped to Egypt.

Saint Matthew’s Gospel provides the only account of the Massacre. This incident is not mentioned in the other three gospels, nor is it mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus, who records Herod’s murder of his own sons. When the Emperor Augustus heard that Herod had ordered the murder of his own sons, he remarked: “It is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.”

Saint Matthew’s story recalls passages in Hosea referring to the exodus, and in Jeremiah referring to the Babylonian exile, and the accounts in Exodus of the birth of Moses and the slaying of the first-born children by Pharaoh.

Estimates of the number of infants at the time in Bethlehem, a town with a total population of about 1,000, would be about 20. But Byzantine liturgy estimated 14,000 Holy Innocents were murdered, while an early Syrian list of saints put the number at 64,000. Coptic sources raise the number to 144,000 and place the event on 29 December.

Later, the Church of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome was said to possess the bodies of several of the Holy Innocents. Some of these relics were transferred by Pope Sixtus V to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

In many cathedrals in England, Germany and France, the boy bishops who were elected on the feast of Saint Nicholas (6 December) officiated on the feasts of Saint Nicholas and the Holy Innocents. The boy bishop wore a mitre and other episcopal insignia, sang the collect, preached, and gave the blessing. He sat in the bishop’s throne or cathedra in the cathedral while the choir-boys sang in the stalls of the canons, when they directed the choir on these two days and had their solemn procession.

The Reconciliation monument in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral ... the ‘Coventry Carol’ recalls a mother’s lament for her doomed child (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Coventry Carol, an English Christmas carol from the 16th century and performed as part of a mystery play, depicts the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem. The carol is traditionally sung a cappella, and there is a modern setting of the carol by Professor Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988).

The lyrics represent a mother’s lament for her doomed child:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Also dating from the 16th century, or perhaps even earlier from the late 14th century, is the hymn ‘Unto us is born a son.’ It has been translated by both George R Woodward and Percy Dearmer. We sang the Woodward version of this hymn at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last week, including the third stanza:

This did Herod sore affray,
And grievously bewilder;
So he gave the word to slay,
And slew the little childer.

Massacre of the Holy Innocents, Alexey Pismenny


Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod:
By your great might frustrate all evil designs,
and establish your reign of justice, love and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Jeremiah 31: 15-17; Psalm 124; I Corinthians 1: 26-29; Matthew 2: 13-18.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us this day at the table of life and hope.
Teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (29 December): Saint Thomas à Becket.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

An unplanned journey at twilight

The moon at twilight in Greystones this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Oh, the silly things we do as families.

For examples, we were playing charades as an extended family around the dinner table on Christmas Evening.

“A movie?” Yes.

“One word?” Yes.

“Four syllables?” Yes.

“First syllable sounds like gold?” No.

“First syllable is gold?”. Yes.

And so we continued.

But no-one got the answer.

Eventually, we were told: “Goldfinger.”

“Goldfinger doesn’t have four syllables.”

“Well, it does on the northside: Go-ald-fing-her. Anyway, you don’t want to give everything away, do you?”

A calm and quiet night on the River Liffey after Christmas Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

On the way back home, it was a bright clear night as we crossed the River Liffey from the northside, with the trees and the Convention Centre lit up like Christmas decorations, the lights of the riverside buildings reflected in the water, and the light of a moon that was almost full.

Saint Stephen’s Day was one for family visits, and it was a delight after celebrating the birth of a child on Christmas Day, to hold in my arms two children born since last Christmas, the sons of a niece and a nephew, and to be reminded how beautiful new life is and that life goes on.

This afternoon, four of us had planned to go to the movies to see The Hobbit: an unexpected journey.

But we never got there. Instead an unexpected journey, or at least unplanned journey, brought two of us to Greystones. The tide was coming in, there was a swell on the water, and there was a crisp bite in the air.

After coffee in Insomia, we were caught in delight by the full moon that risen in the east behind the Dart station. We walked back down to the bridge under the railway line, and onto the beach.

In the twilight, the full moon was shining on the water.

Within just a few minutes it was covered in clouds, and darkness had fallen.