'The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue' ed. Michael Davies

'The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue' ed. Michael Davies

Michael Daniel

(Roman Catholic Books, 1999, 420pp. Inquiries Ignatius Press, Brisbane, (07) 3376 0105)

"Adrian Fortescue (1874-1923) was a priest of unique and remarkable talents who truly merited the title of genius. He was probably the most outstanding scholar among the clergy of the English-speaking world in the first three decades of this century (p. 6)." So writes Michael Davies in his latest book, The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue.

Davies is a Welsh Catholic writer and President of Una Voce (an international organisation seeking to facilitate celebrations of the traditional Mass), whose works are largely concerned with the traditional rite of Mass.

The first section of The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue provides an in-depth biography of its subject. The only other published biography, Adrian Fortescue: A Memoir, appeared in 1924 and has long been out of print. Davies has drawn extensively from Fortescue's papers and other archival material as well as from reminiscences of some of Fortescue's last surviving parishoners.

To many older clergy, Fortescue is most remembered as the author of an authoritative manual of liturgical ceremonies. Ironically, Fortescue would dismiss this work, admitting that he only wrote it to raise funds for work on his parish church of Letchworth, Hertfordshire. During his lifetime, he was perhaps better known as an erudite scholar, particularly of the liturgy, of both the Eastern and Western rites.

Adrian, whose father was a convert clergyman, was educated for the priesthood at the Scots' College in Rome and Innsbruck in Austria. Ordained by Simon, Prince Bishop of Brixen on 27 March 1898, Fortescue was to spend the next seven years completing doctoral studies. At the same time, he held various pastoral appointments in the Diocese of Westminster. On 29 November 1907, he was appointed parish priest of the newly established mission at Letchworth, a post he was to hold for the rest of his life.


Fr Fortescue was known to be a caring pastor whose scholarship had a profound influence on the conduct of the liturgy in his parish. He designed the sanctuary furnishings and vestments while the music and conduct of the liturgy were of an extremely high standard. He was also known for his calligraphy. His life was sadly cut short at the age of 49 on 11 February 1923, due to cancer.

Most of his books have long been out of print and, given the high prices asked by some book sellers, are scarce commodities. The reprint of a selection of his articles, which comprises the second section of The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue, is thus timely. The articles reprinted were written for the first edition of the Catholic Encyclopaedia, published in the first decade of the twentieth century and are on topics dealing with the liturgy including rites of the Church, liturgical books and a series of articles on the different parts of the Mass.

Most remarkable about these articles is the depth of the author's knowledge. Although almost 100 years have passed since the articles were first written, much of the historical scholarship therein has yet to be superseded. Even the changes in the Church's liturgy of the last thirty years by no means render these articles irrelevant, particularly as much of each article is devoted to historical developments.

What does need to be considered, particularly by those interested in the traditional Roman rite, is that modifications were made to this rite between the first decade of the twentieth century and 1962, when the last edition (that currently approved by the Vatican for use under the terms of Ecclesia Dei Adflicta 1988) was published. For example, many details of the Holy Saturday rite that Fortescue describes in the article "Lumen Christi" were superseded by changes to the Holy Week ceremony in 1955. Also, the articles were not originally written as a continuous narrative, hence there is a degree of repetition. The editor, however, has wisely reprinted each article in its entirety, removing only some footnotes that would make the text otherwise cumbersome and adding some explanatory endnotes as required.

The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue is a welcome addition to reprints of Fortescue's works that have appeared in recent years, notably the 1962 edition of The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite. Given their readability and quality of scholarship, it is to be hoped that others of Fortescue's works will soon be reprinted.

Michael Daniel teaches at a Melbourne independent school.

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