Archive for April 2018

Beauty for the Sake of Beauty   Leave a comment

Above:  From the Grounds of Saint Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, April 29, 2018

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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One needs no excuse to share a photograph of natural beauty.  Daily one might witness much political and cultural ugliness, much of it consisting of self-inflicted injuries.  Nevertheless, natural beauty surrounds us constantly.  We should notice it, thank God for it, and perhaps even take some occasional pictures of it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES MONTGOMERY, ANGLICAN AND MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES EDWARD WALSH, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP AND POLITICAL PRISONER IN CHINA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROSS MACDUFF AND GEORGE MATHESON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTERS AND AUTHORS

THE FEAST OF SARAH JOSEPHA BUELL HALE, POET, AUTHOR, EDITOR, AND PROPHETIC WITNESS

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Theological Diversity and the Communion of Saints   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of All Saints

Image in the Public Domain

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IN PARTICULAR, WITH REGARD TO MY ECUMENICAL CALENDAR OF SAINTS’ DAYS AND HOLY DAYS

My methodology of adding to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days entails filling vacant slots on a day-by-day basis.  If I, for example, have two vacant slots for a given date, I ponder saints, consider how much information is available about them, and decide how best to fill both slots, if possible.  Sometimes I leave slots vacant, for filling later.  My current policy is to have a maximum of four posts (with one or more saints per post) per day, except a date with a Biblically-themed feast, when I usually reserve that date for that feast, unless I make a rare exception to that rule.  March 25, for example, is the Feast of the Annunciation and the Feast of St. Dismas, both Biblically themed feasts.  January 1 is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus; it is also World Peace Day.  Nevertheless, January 6 is solely the Feast of the Epiphany on my Ecumenical Calendar.  I plan to change the maximum number of posts for most days to five in 2020 or 2021, and perhaps to more eventually.  My Ecumenical Calendar can be a long-term project always in progress, assuming that I lead a long life.

Longevity is not a guarantee, of course.  Yet I make plans, just in case I am around and able to continue work on this hobby.

Since I think about additions to my Ecumenical Calendar on a day-by-day basis, looking at the trees, not the forest, so to speak, I do not collect data about societal categories (such as gender, ethnicity, and national origin) and assign quotas based on them.  Affirmative action, for all its societal value in many settings and cultures at certain times, has no place in my Ecumenical Calendar.  I do, however, enjoy recognizing people whose stories of faith have fallen into the shadows of others, including other saints.  Many of these overlooked saints fall into categories such as women, racial or ethnic minorities, and members of powerless or less powerful populations.  I cite, for example, my recent post about Niebuhrs, which includes not just Reinhold and H. Richard, but Hulda and Ursula also.

I do think purposefully about theological diversity.  Thus Popes rub shoulders with Protestants and Orthodox Patriarchs, Anglican bishops with Puritan missionaries, dogmatic theologians with non-dogmatic theologians, and mystics and alleged heretics with the conventionally orthodox, by the standards of their contexts.  In the New Testament a saint is simply a Christian; that is my definition of a saint.  The great cloud of witnesses spreads out across a wide spectrum.

According to an old saying, each Christian is somebody’s schismatic.  One might make a strong case for Roman Catholicism being schismatic from Judaism.  As surely as each Christian is somebody’s schismatic, he or she is also somebody’s heretic.  God defines heresy with certitude; we mere mortals do not.  Often we define heresy to exclude those who disagree with us, but sometimes our definitions overlap with God’s.  But how are we to know how often that happens?

I steer a moderate course through the thicket of heresy and orthodoxy, learning from early Ecumenical Councils and Church Fathers, and from Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers.  While I do this I acknowledge that, according to the Roman Catholic Church, I, as one who belongs to another Christian communion (The Episcopal Church, to be precise), I lack the fullness of the faith.  Roman Catholic orthodoxy since Vatican II holds that, since Holy Mother Church alone has the fullness of the faith, all other Christians are “separated brethren.”  At least I am no longer going to Hell, allegedly.  Progress is progress.

For all the theological diversity represented on my Ecumenical Calendar, unity is also evident.  The unity of serving Christ is present; that outweighs many differences.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICHT AND LIEGE, AND FLORBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

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Feast of Walter Rauschenbusch (July 24)   3 comments

Above:  Walter Rauschenbusch

Image in the Public Domain

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WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH (OCTOBER 4, 1861-JULY 25, 1918)

U.S. Baptist Theologian of the Social Gospel

Episcopal feast day (since 2009) = July 2

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To concentrate our efforts on personal salvation, as orthodoxy has done, comes close to refined selfishness.

–Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianizing the Social Order (1912)

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God commands us to care actively for the poor.  Moses understood this, as did Hebrew prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and Walter Rauschenbusch.  “Us” is plural and, in this case, includes religious institutions.

Walter Rauschenbusch, born in Rochester, New York, on October 4, 1861, shifted from his conservative upbringing.  His father, Karl August Rauschenbusch, and his mother, Caroline Rhomps Rauschenbusch, were German immigrants.  Karl had arrived in the United States as a pietistic Lutheran missionary.  He became a Baptist eventually and, from 1858 to 1890, taught at Rochester Theological Seminary, Rochester, New York, specializing in Anabaptist history.  Unfortunately, the Rauschenbusch marriage was unhealthy, filled with verbal abuse from Karl.

Our saint grew up a conservative, individualistic Baptist, mostly in Rochester.  He spent 1865-1869 in Germany, and the summers of 1869-1879 working on a farm in Pennsylvania, however.  In 1879 Rauschenbusch reported a conversion experience and made a profession of faith.  For the next four years he studied in Westphalia (and briefly in Berlin), graduating with honors in classical studies, having become expert in German, Hebrew, French, Greek, and Latin.  Rauschenbusch returned to Rochester in 1883, to prepare for ordained ministry.  He graduated from the seminary’s German department in 1885 and from the seminary the following year.

In 1886, however, Rauschenbusch, influenced by critical scholarship, had begun to question the orthodoxy of his youth.  His time as pastor of Second German Baptist Church, in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City, led our saint further to the left.  Rauschenbusch, confronted by crime, poverty, unemployment, disease, and malnutrition, first addressed those problems with warm-hearted and individualistic pietism, which he came to conclude was insufficient.  The crucible of Hell’s Kitchen led Rauschenbusch to reject the distinction between social work and “Christian work” favored by many on the Right then, as now.  In Rauschenbusch’s mind the bridge between social work and “Christian work” was the Kingdom of God, which he defined as the “reign of love.”  The church, he argued, is “the social factor in salvation.”

Rauschenbusch, who went deaf in 1888, left his parish in 1891.  For the next few years he traveled in Europe, studying Fabian Socialism in England and the New Testament in Germany.  He came to identify as an “evangelical liberal.”  Our saint, back in New York City, married teacher Pauline E. Rother of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The couple had five children.

In 1897 Rauschenbusch joined the faculty of Rochester Theological Seminary, teaching New Testament interpretation in the German department as well as civics and natural sciences in the college.  He became the Professor of Church History five years later.  Rauschenbusch was obscure when we went overseas on a sabbatical in 1907.  When he returned, however, he was famous, for Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) had sold well, going into six editions in two years.  Rauschenbusch fit in well with the Progressive Era.

Rauschenbusch, not a dogmatic theologian, was a practical one instead.  He, influenced by Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley, pondered institutional and societal sins more than individual ones.  Therefore Rauschenbusch emphasized the need for societal and institutional revolution–the spirit of Christ transforming all human affairs–while recognizing economics as part of the Kingdom of God, or “the reign of love.”  For our saint war was inconsistent with the Kingdom of God, Christianity, and human progress.

Rauschenbusch’s theology was optimistic.  In this respect it was a product of its time, La Belle Époque, destroyed by World War I.  His theology had much to recommend it, as subsequent critics Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr noted while disagreeing with its optimism.  Rauschenbusch, who published his Taylor Lectures at Yale University as A Theology of the Social Gospel (1917), lived long enough to witness the Great War and grieve over it.  He died of cancer at Rochester on July 25, 1918.  Rauschenbusch was 56 years old.

The Neo-orthodox critique of Rauschenbusch’s theology is correct; only God can usher in the Kingdom of God.  Nevertheless, one can learn much of value from our saint, for institutionalized sin does exist, and individual good deeds are insufficient to correct it.  We need for Christ to transform culture, as Rauschenbusch and H. Richard Niebuhr agreed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICHT AND LIEGE, AND FLORBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

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Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor:

By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight;

through Jesus Christ, our Judge and Redeemer, who lives and reigns

with you and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 55:11-56:1

Psalm 2:1-2, 10-12

Acts 14:14-17, 21-23

Mark 4:21-29

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 736

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Feast of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (July 6)   1 comment

Above:  Dawn with Mountain Landscape

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHN WYCLIFFE (CIRCA 1320-DECEMBER 31, 1384)

English Theologian and Church Reformer

“Morning Star of the Reformation”

Also known as John Wiclif, John Wickliffe, and John Wyclif

Episcopal feast day = October 30

Church of England feast day = December 31

influenced

JAN HUS (1371-JULY 6, 1415)

Czech Theologian, Church Reformer, and Martyr

Also known as John Huss and John Hus

Moravian, Episcopal, and Lutheran feast day = July 6

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It is better to die well than to live wickedly.  One should not sin in order to avoid the punishment of death.  Truth conquers all things.

–Jan Hus, 1415, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), 292

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INTRODUCTION

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One of my purposes in renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is to emphasize relationships and influences.  Therefore I, citing the latter, merge the Feasts of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

The Moravian Church, founded by Hussites, has long commemorated Hus, who has been a saint in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and their predecessors since the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).  The Episcopal Church added Hus and Wycliffe to its calendar in 2009.  Meanwhile, Wycliffe, with separate feast days in The Church of England and The Episcopal Church, has remained absent from all Lutheran calendars I have consulted.

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THE “MORNING STAR OF THE REFORMATION”

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Above:  John Wycliffe

Image in the Public Domain

The fourteenth century was a difficult time for much of Europe.  During five years in the late 1340s and early 1350s the Black Death killed no less than two-fifths (and probably more) of the population of Western Europe, upending civilization there and helping to give rise to the modern world.  The tumult of that time called authorities and institutions into question as, for example, many peasants revolted, many urban workers asserted their rights, and the Church restaffed with substandard personnel.  The devastating death toll called the legitimacy of the Church into doubt in the minds of many people, some of whom favored apocalyptic understandings of recent events.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy (1309-1377) at Avignon, France, a great scandal, was a self-inflicted wound for Holy Mother Church.  Another great scandal and self-inflicted wound, the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417), ensued promptly.

John Wycliffe lived during those times.  He, born near Richmond, Yorkshire, England, circa 1320, was a priest.  Wycliffe was also an academic at Oxford University.  He matriculated at Baillol College in 1344, became master of that college by 1360, and resigned in 1361.  He held overlapping portfolios:

  1. Rector of Fillingham (1361-1368);
  2. Prebend of Aust, Bristol (1362-1384);
  3. Warden of Canterbury Hall, Oxford (1365-1367); and
  4. Rector of Lutterworth (1374-1384).

Meanwhile, Wycliffe was also a lecturer at Oxford until his forced retirement in 1381.

Wycliffe, a popular lecturer and preacher, became a radical.  He, interested in science, theology, local history, canon law, and philosophy, earned various degrees, culminating in his Doctor of Theology degree in 1372.  His move away from affirming the status quo began in 1374, at the start of the last decade of his life.  (Not everyone grows more conservative with age.)  Wycliffe served as a royal envoy to a conference with papal representative at Bruges.  The topic was provisions, or papal appointments to posts not yet vacant.

By 1376 Wycliffe became a committed reformer of the Church.  He criticized papal taxation, fees, and appointments, perhaps more out of political considerations than theological ones.  Our saint, who affirmed the Divine Right of Kings, became convinced that in terms of both doctrine and life the Church had strayed from its apostolic roots.  He argued that the clergy should not hold secular power, so no Pope should exercise power over the English Church.  Furthermore, Wycliffe wrote, Christ is the sole Head of the Universal Church, the Bible is the Law of God, and the true Church consists solely of the predestined Elect.  Wycliffe also affirmed the priesthood of all believers, questioned the theology of purgatory and transubstantiation, opposed the veneration of relics and statues, inveighed against the invocation of saints, criticized the celibacy of the clergy, and insisted that the state (with the monarch as the head of the state church) had an obligation to seize church lands for the benefit of the poor.  Certainly the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417), a time of competing Supreme Pontiffs, influenced and reinforced Wycliffe’s criticism of the Papacy.

Wycliffe alarmed Popes, bishops, and leaders of religious orders, but had protectors in the royal family and among the nobility.  Nevertheless, after he became a scapegoat for a peasant revolt and Oxford authorities declared him a heretic in 1381, forced retirement became his fate.

Wycliffe was fortunate; he got to live and to retain his church positions.  He died three days after a stroke at Lutterworth on December 31, 1384.  Wycliffe was about 64 years old.

Wycliffe’s legacy continued, however.  The translation of the Bible into English was a project in which he was deeply involved, with help from others.  Wycliffe’s theology influenced Jan Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.  The man had died, but his ideas lived.

Nevertheless, the Council of Constance condemned Wycliffe as a heretic posthumously in 1415.  Thirteen years later Richard Fleming, the Bishop of Lincoln, ordered the exhumation and burning of the old priest’s remains.

Some of Wycliffe’s followers were more radical than he was.  The Lollard movement began in 1380 and continued into the 1500s, influencing the English Reformation.  “Lollard” came from the Middle Dutch word for “mumbler” or “mutterer.”  The term, already applied to Flemish heretics prior to Wycliffe’s time, stuck to his followers by 1382.  It was a persecuted minority movement, some of whose members dared to plot to overthrow the government and disendow the English Church in 1431.

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THE CZECH REFORMER

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Above:  Jan Hus

Image in the Public Domain

Lord Jesus Christ, it is for the sake of the gospel and the preaching of the word that I undergo, with patience and humility, this terrifying, ignominious, cruel death.

–Jan Hus, July 6, 1415; quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), 291

Jan Hus, born in Husinec, Bohemia, in 1371, was 17 years old when Wycliffe died.  Hus, influenced by Wycliffe’s writings, became a reformer in Bohemia and walked the road to martyrdom.

Hus, educated at the University of Prague (starting in 1390) was a Roman Catholic priest, as Wycliffe had been.  Hus, based in Prague, was, from 1392, chaplain of the Bethlehem Chapel, where he preached in the Czech language.  Our saint, the dean of the philosophical faculty of the University of Prague from 1401, served also as the Rector of the university in 1403 and 1409.  The following year, however, Archbishop Zbynek Zajic of Hasenberg excommunicated Hus.

Hus had been reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting writings of Wycliffe, as well as translating some of them into Czech.  Wycliffe’s ideas had already begun to influence politics in Bohemia, where the Church owned about half of the land, and many people, including a large number of priests, were poor.  Many peasants resented the Church, for obvious reasons.  Also, simony was rife.

Although Hus was radical in his setting, he was less radical than Wycliffe.  Hus, for example, affirmed transubstantiation consistently.  Yet, like Wycliffe, Hus condemned ecclesiastical abuses and defined the true Church as the assembly of the predestined Elect.

Hus managed to survive as long as he did because of protectors.  In 1410  King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia attained a bull from (Antipope) Alexander V (in office 1409-1410) ordering the burning of Wycliffe’s works, forbidding the preaching of their contents at Bethlehem Chapel, and allowing no appeal.  Archbishop Zajic burned those writings that year.  The following year (Antipope) John XXIII, one of three competing Popes, placed an interdict on Prague, but Wenceslaus IV ignored it and ordered others to do the same.  Meanwhile, (Antipope) John XXIII was waging a war against King Ladislaus of Naples and selling indulgences to finance that war.  After Hus, technically excommunicated yet living as though there were no excommunication order, condemned the sale of those indulgences and accused (Antipope) John XXIII of being the Antichrist.  Wenceslaus IV had been protecting Hus, but ceased to do that in 1412, after (Antipope) John XXIII threatened the Bohemian monarch with a crusade on the charge of protecting heretics and heresy.  So, from 1412 to 1414, Hus lived, wrote, and preached in southern Bohemia for two years.

Hus died as a heretic at Constance, Baden, on July 6, 1415.  He had traveled there under a promise of safe conduct, for the Council of Constance, in 1414, but found himself a prisoner instead.  Hus, after having refused to recant, burned at the stake as a heretic.  He was 43 or 44 years old.

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CONCLUSION

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Much of the history of ecclesiastical reactions (as opposed to responses) to heresies, alleged and actual, is an account of behavior contrary to the spirit of Christ.  What in the Gospels might give one the idea that Jesus would approve of burning accused heretics?

One might disagree with Wycliffe and Hus on certain political and/or theological points, but one should recognize and respect their courage in risking their lives by resisting authority nonviolently in the knowledge that the authorities they objected to had the power to torture and execute them.

The Church has silenced and killed prophets, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

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O God, your justice continually challenges your Church to live according to its calling:

Grant us who now remember the work of John Wyclif

contrition for the wounds which our sins inflict on your Church,

and such love for Christ that we may seek to heal the divisions which afflict his Body;

through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 43:26-33

Psalm 33:4-11

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 4:13-20

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 659

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Faithful God, you gave John Hus the courage to confess your truth

and recall your Church to the image of Christ.

Enable us, inspired by his example, to bear witness against corruption

and never cease to pray for our enemies,

that we may prove faithful followers of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Job 22:21-30

Psalm 119:113-120

Revelation 3:1-6

Matthew 23:34-39

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 455

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Feast of Reinhold, Ursula, Hulda, and H. Richard Niebuhr (July 5)   9 comments

Above:  A Partial Niebuhr Family Tree

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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HULDA CLARA AUGUST NIEBUHR (1889-APRIL 17, 1959)

Christian Educator

sister of

KARL PAUL REINHOLD NIEBUHR (JUNE 21, 1892-JUNE 1, 1971)

United Church of Christ Theologian

husband of 

URSULA MARY KEPPEL-COMPTON NIEBUHR (AUGUST 3, 1908-JANUARY 10, 1997)

Episcopal Theologian and Advocate for Women’s Rights

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HELMUT RICHARD NIEBUHR (SEPTEMBER 3, 1894-JULY 5, 1962)

United Church of Christ Theologian

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A FAMILY STORY

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INTRODUCTION

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Niebuhrs have made vital contributions to Christian theology and public life, especially in the United States.  Reinhold Niebuhr has received the most attention.  His brother, H. Richard Niebuhr, also an influential theologian, has received much attention as well.  They have deserved all the attention they have received.  In the process, however, other Niebuhrs have received too little attention.

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GUSTAV AND LYDIA

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Gustav Niebuhr (1863-1913) was a minister and church planter for the old Evangelical Synod of North America, founded by members of the Lutheran-Reformed Prussian church who had immigrated to the United States.  Gustav, who had arrived in the United States at the age of 18 years in 1881, was a Belle Époque optimistic liberal with pietistic tendencies and a firm grasp of the Greek and Hebrew languages.  He lobbied for his denomination to conduct services in English.  (Attachment to the language of the mother country ran deep among many immigrant Christians in the United States.  This was cultural, liturgical, and psychological, sometimes with a theological veneer.  Among the Swedish-American Lutherans of the old Augustana Synod (1860-1962), for example, some argued that preaching the Gospel in English, not Swedish, would dilute the truth of the Gospel.)

Lydia Hosto (Niebuhr) (1869-1961) was like many wives of ministers; she did much pro bono work in parishes and became, in the minds of many parishioners, an extension of her husband.  She was far more than that, of course.  Her legacy has fallen into the shadows of her husband and two famous sons, unfortunately.  Lydia was sister of Adele Hosto, a deaconess in the Evangelical Synod of North America, and a daughter of Edward Hosto, a missionary of that denomination.

Gustav and Lydia had five children–one daughter and four sons.  One son died as an infant.  The language at home was German.  Gustav alienated Walter, his second child, and discouraged Hulda, his daughter, from pursuing higher education.  Gustav had old-fashioned ideas about gender roles.  He, from 1902 to 1913 the pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Church, Lincoln, Illinois, also served as an administrator at Deaconess Hospital.

Gustav Niebuhr, aged 50 years, died in 1913.

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HULDA (I)

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The eldest of the Niebuhr children was Hulda Clara August Niebuhr, born in 1889.  According to Gustav, her father, a woman was supposed to marry and bear children.  He thought that a woman’s desire for higher education was unseemly and egotistical, as well as a distraction from an interference with marriage and child-bearing.  Hulda pursued higher education anyway.

For her own reasons she never married.

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REINHOLD (I)

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Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr entered the world at Wright, Missouri, on June 21, 1892.  He was the third son and fourth child born to the family  “Reinie” graduated from the denominational college (Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois) and seminary (Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri), as well as Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut.  He, ordained at St. John’s Evangelical Church, Lincoln, Illinois, served at Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, Michigan.  Denominational rules mandated a two-year commitment; he served for thirteen years, until 1928.

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H. RICHARD (I)

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Helmut Richard Niebuhr, the youngest of the five children, entered the world at Wright City, Missouri, on September 4, 1894.  He graduated from Elmhurst College in 1912, Washington University in 1917, Yale Divinity School in 1923, and Yale Graduate School in 1924.  H. Richard, ordained into the ministry of the Evangelical Synod of North America in 1916, pastored an ESNA parish in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1916-1918 then a Congregationalist church in New Haven during his doctoral work there.  For the rest of his career H. Richard was an academic–a professor at Eden Theological Seminary (1919-1922), the President of Elmhurst College (1924-1927), again a professor at Eden Theological Seminary (1927-1931), and finally as a professor (specializing in Christian ethics) at Yale Divinity School (1931-1962).

In 1920 H. Richard married Florence Marie Mittendorf.  One of their children was Richard Reinhold Niebuhr (1926-2017), a professor at Harvard Divinity School from 1956 to 1999, as well as the father of Richard Gustav Neibuhr (b. 1955), usually listed as Gustav Niebuhr.  The grandson of H. Richard Niebuhr has distinguished himself as an award-winning religion journalist (through 2001) and academic (since December 2001).  After his work at Princeton University (2001-2003) (Richard) Gustav Niebuhr joined the faculty of Syracuse University, Syracuse New York, teaching journalism as well as the history of religion.

Harvard Divinity School has honored Richard Reinhold Niebuhr by naming a professorship after him.

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HULDA, REINHOLD, AND LYDIA IN DETROIT

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Gustav Niebuhr died in 1913.  At that time Walter, the eldest son, whom Gustav had alienated, rescued the family financially.  He, a devout Christian, had gone into secular life as a journalist and a businessman, making real money.

The Evangelical Synod of North America assigned the bachelor Reinhold Niebuhr to Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, Michigan, in 1915.  The membership stood at 65 when he arrived.  It was also entirely of German extraction.  Hulda and Lydia worked in the parish.  Hulda specialized in religious education for several years.  Lydia was effectively the co-pastor.

At Detroit Reinhold became deeply involved in liberal politics, siding with labor unions, opposing Ku Klux Klan-backed candidates for local offices, and imbibing deeply of Marxian thought (Conflict Theory).  He, shedding Social Gospel optimism and moving toward Christian Realism while writing Moral Man and Immoral Society (published in 1932).  Meanwhile, the Niebuhrs grew Bethel Church to 700 members by 1928.

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HULDA (II)

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Hulda, who had begun her higher education at Lincoln College, Lincoln, Illinois, in 1912, completed her undergraduate degree at Boston University, starting in 1918.  At B.U. she also earned her M.A. in the School of Religious Education and Social Service.  The university became her professional home; she was one of three female assistant professors there in 1927.

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REINHOLD (II)

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By 1928 Reinhold had come to the attention of Henry Sloane Coffin, President of Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York.  Coffin hired the pastor in 1928.  Reinhold and his mother moved to New York City that year; he taught applied Christianity and Christian ethics.  He remained at Union Theological Seminary until declining health forced his retirement in 1960.

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REINHOLD AND URSULA

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Ursula Mary Keppel-Compton, born in Southampten, England, on August 3, 1908, would have offended Gustav Niebuhr (1863-1913); he would have accused her of egotism.  Ursula not only pursued higher education, but excelled at it.  She graduated with honors in history and theology from St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, then became the first woman to win a fellowship to Union Theological Seminary, where she, aged 23 years, arrived in the fall of 1930.  Ursula chose not to date Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom she met there; she wrote,

I thought him rather too Teutonic and too Prussian for my taste.

She did fall in love with Professor Reinhold Niebuhr, however.  Ursula had a mind of her own.  She as a lay minister in The Church of England, had dared to preach, thereby doing what only men were officially supposed to do in that milieu at that time.  She married Reinhold at Winchester Cathedral in December 1931.  During their marriage (1931-1971) the couple debated theology.  Ursula remained in the Anglican tradition; she was an Episcopalian.  Reinhold likewise remained true to his background as it turned into the Evangelical and Reformed Church (in 1934) then the United Church of Christ (in 1957).

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URSULA

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Ursula was a formidable scholar.  She had an interest in Biblical archeology.  Her thesis at Union Theological Seminary was “Ultimate Moral Sanction as According to the New Testament.”  Ursula also taught the history of religion at Columbia University and founded then chaired the Department of Religion at Barnard College, retiring in 1960, when her husband retired from Union Theological Seminary.

Ursula scaled back her career due to Reinhold’s declining health.  In 1952, while returning from a meeting with his friend Adlai Stevenson, Reinhold suffered a stroke.  He was able to continue to teach until 1960 and publish into the 1960s.  In his last major work, Man’s Nature and His Communities (1965), Reinhold acknowledged Ursula’s influence on his evolving thought.

In recent years some scholars have asked to what extent Ursula and her husband were co-authors.

Ursula, aged 90 years, died at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on January 10, 1997.

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HULDA (III)

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Hulda spent 1928-1946 in New York, New York.  She began work on a doctorate at Union Theological Seminary ad the Teachers College of Columbia University (as part of a joint program of the two institutions) and was A.B.D. (All But Dissertation).  From 1930 to 1945 she was a religious educator at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  Hulda also wrote two books and six articles about the religious education of children from 1928 to 1944, and was an adjunct faculty member at New York University from 1938 to 1946.

In 1946 moved to Chicago, Illinois, to accept a position at the Presbyterian College of Christian Education, associated with McCormick Theological Seminary.  She became an Associate Professor of Religious Education.  Upon the merger of the college and the seminary in 1949, she joined the faculty of the seminary, which made her its first female full professor in 1953.  Hulda, who shared her home with her mother, wrote two more books and 18 more articles.

In one of those articles, “Red Roses and Sin” (1958), Hulda wrote:

We bemoan the fact that our church members do not know the Bible, while at the same time we waste opportunities to make it available to them.  Children (not to mention adults) like to hear good stories told and retold.  The Bible teems with dramatic material that can be presented to them in story form.

Hulda, who emphasized teaching children in ways in which they learned best, died on April 17, 1959, one month shy of retirement.  She was about 70 years old.

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H. RICHARD (II)

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To make decisions in faith is to make them in view of the fact that no single man or group or historical time is the church; but that there is a church of faith in which we do our partial, relative work and on which we count.  It is to make them in view of the fact that Christ is risen from the dead, and is not only the head of the church but the redeemer of the world.  It is to make them in view of the fact that the world of culture–man’s achievement–exists within the world of grace–God’s Kingdom.

–H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York:  Harper & Row, 1951), 256

H. Richard, quite an influential theologian, as well as the only member of the family in his generation to earn a doctorate, thought and wrote deeply about the relationship of faith to culture.  In the seminal Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929) he wrote of secular influences, such as race, social class, regionalism, and nationalism–or institutional religious life.  Then, in The Church Against the World (1935) and The Kingdom of God in America (1937), H. Richard emphasized spiritual influences on culture.  In The Meaning of Revelation (1941) he pondered the relationship of Christian community to the revelation of God, the absolute, and argued that the revelation of God is relative and in the context of faith community, which functions as a safeguard against many excesses of members of that community.  Perhaps H. Richard’s most influential work was Christ and Culture (1951), in which he argued against separation from the world as well as accommodation to it.  The majority Christian position, he wrote, is a synthesis of Christ and culture.  H. Richard did not approve of that either; he preferred Christ as the transformer of culture.

Stanley Hauerwas is one of the theologians who has simultaneously critiqued and affirmed the theology of H. Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr.

H. Richard, not yet retired, died on July 5, 1962.  He was 67 years old.

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REINHOLD (III)

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Harlan Ellison has said that being consistent requires one to remain as poorly informed as one was the previous year.  Reinhold Niebuhr, who changed his mind many times during his nearly 70 years of life, valued avoiding naïveté and hypocrisy, not seeking consistency with himself when he was younger.  Thus he, once a pacifist, a socialist, and a Social Gospeller, rejected many former opinions.  Reinhold became a champion of Neo-orthodoxy (which retained the social justice aspects of the Social Gospel while rejecting the optimism that World War I had belied) and Christian Realism.  He was too liberal for many conservatives and too conservative for many liberals.  Reinhold’s theology recognized the reality of the gray, not just the black and the white.  He came to support the George Kennan-style Containment policy during the Cold War, and condemned Senator Joseph McCarthy as an agent of evil.  Reinhold, who supported U.S. involvement in World War II, opposed the war in Vietnam, as did Kennan.

The author of the Serenity Prayer (in the 1930s) won the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1964, helped settle refugees in the 1930s, came to oppose Christian attempts to convert Jews, and influenced a host of influential people, including Martin Luther King, Jr.; Senator John McCain; and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.  Reinhold was Obama’s favorite theologian.

Reinhold broke religion into two categories–prophetic religion and priestly religion.  He defined prophetic religion as the source of human religious consciousness.  Reinhold was critical of priestly religion, which he defined as that which people use to replace, blunt, or domesticate true religion, that is prophetic religion, which is essential to human personality (cheapened by modern industrial society) as well as societal cohesion.

That societal emphasis, which Reinhold had in common with H. Richard, informed an understanding of original sin–more than individual, corrupting society and social institutions.  Therefore only God can usher in the Kingdom of God.

Sorry, Walter Rauschenbusch, whom I also esteem highly.

Reinhold died at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on June 1, 1971.  He was 78 years old.

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CONCLUSION

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One may disagree respectfully and civilly with any of these four saints on various matters.  Yet, if one is honest, one cannot fail to recognize their contributions to the Church, and societies.  Of course Christian educators should use effective pedagogical methods.  Of course churches and societies influence each other, for good and ill.  Of course corrupt social institutions, which even the most pious institutions, which even the most pious cannot avoid, involve those pious people in societal sins, so that, as the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) affirmed in 1962, in a statement with Niebuhrian influences:

Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

–Quoted in The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1965), 332

I wonder what these four Niebuhrs would write and say about today.  I wonder what advice Hulda would offer to contemporary Christian educators, given the shortened attention spans and the ubiquity of screens and smart phones.  I wonder what critiques H. Richard, Reinhold, and Ursula would offer for U.S. foreign and domestic policy.  I also wonder how they might adapt their critique of industrial society in the context of post-industrial society–an information economy amid globalization.  I wonder what they would make of social media.  They would offer discomforting words of wisdom, I suspect.  And those words of wisdom would not fit into sound bytes.

I also wonder about another matter.  I collect and consult calendars of saints.  A wide variety of these calendars exists.  Not one, to my knowledge, lists any of these four Niebuhrs as saints.  That surprises me.  Anglican and Lutheran ecclesiastical calendars count legacies, not miracles.  Certainly I am shocked not to find H. Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr on any Anglican or Lutheran calendar of saints.  During this process of renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days–with this post, in fact–I hereby merge the former feasts of Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr as I add Ursula Niebuhr and Hulda Niebuhr to the commemoration.  They deserve it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servants Hulda, Reinhold, Ursula, and H. Richard Niebuhr,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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Feast of Blessed Joseph Boissel (July 5)   Leave a comment

Above:  Blessed Joseph Boissel

Image in the Public Domain

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BLESSED JOSEPH BOISSEL (DECEMBER 20, 1909-JULY 5, 1969)

French Roman Catholic Missionary Priest and Martyr in Laos, 1969

Blessed Joseph Boissel risked life and limbs to serve Christ in the people of Laos.  His faithfulness and heroism led to the crown of martyrdom.

Boissel, born in Le Loroux, Ile-et-Vilaine, France, on December 20, 1909, became a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate and spent most of his life in Laos.  He arrived in that country in 1938.  Boissel and two other priests were captives for a time, starting in March 1945.  Nevertheless, our saint returned to Laos the following year.  Twenty-three years later he died there.

The Vietnam War was raging.  Hat-I-Êt was a village of Kmhmu refugees.  The area was dangerous for everyone, but Boissel, a catechist, and two Laotian Oblate Missionaries traveled there in a car anyway on Saturday, July 5, 1969.  North Vietnamese Soldiers shot into the vehicle, hitting Boissel in the head and killing him instantly.  Then soldiers threw a grenade at the car.  According to one of those in the car, one Thérèse, who was in the car also, suffered brain damage as a result and spent the rest of her life afflicted with intellectual deficiencies.

Pope Francis declared Boissel a Venerable in 2015 then a Blessed the following year.

Boissel is one of the 17 Martyrs of Laos.

I have heard a Roman Catholic priest describe the twentieth century as the century of martyrs, given the high rate of Christian martyrdom between 1901 and 2000.  This assertion is consistent with the additions of so many who gave their lives for Christ in the previous century to the Roman Catholic calendar.

I also think of Father Boissel and his companions, especially Thérèse, who was unfortunate enough to survive in misery, and stand in awe of their dedication to Christ that compelled them to risk everything to travel into a place of danger, to minister to refugees.  I conclude that I would not have acted as they did.  That is why they were better than I am.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

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Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Blessed Joseph Boissel

triumphed over suffering ad was faithful even to death:

Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving,

to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world,

that we may receive with him the crown of life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:1-12

Psalm 116 or 116:1-8

Revelation 7:13-17

Luke 12:2-12

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 714

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Feast of Georges Bernanos (July 5)   Leave a comment

Above:  Georges Bernanos

Image in the Public Domain

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LOUIS ÉMILIE CLÉMENT GEORGES BERNANOS (FEBRUARY 20, 1888-JULY 5, 1948)

French Roman Catholic Novelist

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God did not create the Church to ensure the prosperity of the saints, but in order that she should transmit their memory….They lived and suffered as we do.  They were tempted as we are.  The man who dares not yet accept what is sacred and divine in their example will at least learn from it the lesson of heroism and honor.

–Georges Bernanos, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), 290

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Georges Bernanos was a man with a strong sense of the sacred and the divine, as well as shifting politics.  He, born in Paris, France, on February 20, 1888, grew up mostly in Fressin, a village in Pas-de-Calais.  Our saint, a soldier during World War I, studied at the Sorbonne.  Early in life Bernanos was a reactionary, not a conservative; he thought that France should be a monarchy, not a republic.  For a number of years he belonged to Action Française, a right-wing Roman Catholic organization, and even attacked a professor who had dared to criticize St. Joan of Arc.  Bernanos left Action Française in 1932, however, and accused it of valuing tradition and order more than the spirit of Christ.

Bernanos, married to a descendant of St. Joan of Arc’s brother, struggled for years to support his family with his writing.  He wrote about priests in particular.  Our saint’s first novel was Under the Star of Satan (1926), was about the battle between good and evil within a rural priest.  Bernanos, who had to walk the assistance of canes after an automobile accident in 1933, found financial security in 1936 with The Diary of a Country Priest, his masterpiece.  The main character was a pious priest who struggled with mediocrity and failure, despite much effort, while remaining unaware of his underlying sanctity.  That priest’s dying words were,

Does it matter?  Grace is everywhere.

The Bernanos family moved to Majorca, Spain, in 1936.  Our saint initially supported Francisco Franco‘s Falangist Party (Christian Fascists), supposedly fighting for the Roman Catholic Church during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  Yet Bernanos became disillusioned with Franco, who won that war, committed many atrocities, and presided over a dictatorship until 1975.  Our saint’s Ceremonies Under the Son led to recrimination and allegations of betrayal from many of his usual allies on the Right and praise from the Left.

Bernanos left Spain in 1938.  He resided in Brazil, living on a farm, until 1945.  Our saint, openly critical of the Vichy regime, returned to France after World War II.  His final work, left incomplete, due to death, was a life of Christ.  Bernanos, aged 60 years, died at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, on July 5, 1948.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 25, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARK THE EVANGELIST, MARTYR

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Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring Georges Bernanos and all

those who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the

Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 728

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