ABORTION AND MARTYRDOM
Edited by Aidan Nichols OP. Gracewing. PB. 164pp. ISBN 0-85244-543-1. Rec. Price $29.95. (Available from Freedom Publishing for $25.00.)
Abortion and Martyrdom is a collection of papers given at a meeting at the Benedictine Abbey at Solesmes, France, to discuss the very important question of the status of babies who have died in abortion.
The Abbey at Solesmes, about 300 km south-west of Paris in Normandy, has had a most interesting history. Founded over 1,000 years ago, this Benedictine Abbey barely survived the violence of the Reformation when French Huguenots attempted to destroy the Abbey and particularly its works of art, in a frenzy of iconoclasm.
The Abbey was attacked during the French Revolution, and the monks were scattered. It survived the Napoleonic Era but was derelict, and faced demolition in the 1830s. However, a new foundation was established there which grew rapidly.
The hostility of the secular anti-clerical government saw the Abbey closed four times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it survived and even prospered.
It is regarded as one of the most important Benedictine Abbeys in France today. Since Vatican II, it has played an important role in maintaining the liturgy and in preserving and popularising Gregorian Chant. From it, 24 congregations of men and 8 of women have been established throughout the world.
Fr Aidan Nichols, who participated in the meeting and has edited the papers into this book, is one of the most prominent Catholic writers in the world today, having written over 20 books, including Catholic Thought Since the Enlightenment.
The subject of this book is most important: what is the status of the innocent unborn victims of abortion?
In light of the Catholic Church’s emphatic and repeated statements on the humanity of the unborn, and the moral evil involved in abortion, the question must be asked as to whether aborted babies are like the Holy Innocents, the children killed by King Herod the Great.
In one of the earliest Gospel accounts, Matthew describes how King Herod attempted to thwart the threat to his throne by the infant Messiah:
“When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
“Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’.”
The account of the prophet Jeremiah goes on to say: “Thus says the Lord: let your voice cease from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord, and they shall return out of the land of the enemy.”
Reflecting on these words, the Church understood them to mean that these innocent children had been martyred in the place of Jesus, and their souls were in Heaven. A solemnity to mark their deaths has been celebrated since the 5th century.
The meeting which was the subject of this book heard a number of papers given in response to the question: are aborted babies the martyr companions of the Holy Innocents, and should they be recognised as such by the Church?
In the papers which Fr Nichols has published in this book, there are a number of different views expressed on this question.
The most powerful argument came from the Professor Philippe Jobert from the Solemnes Abbey, who argued that “aborted infants are brought to their deaths by the same ‘rulers of this age’ (1Cor2:8) who crucified Jesus, and constitute, indeed, icons of his crucified Innocence.”
In a very interesting Postscript, Professor Jobert widens the subject from aborted children to the broader subject of babies who die before birth. This is a question to which St John Paul II gave his attention, in addressing women who have had an abortion.
He said, “Do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly.
“If you have not already done so, give yourself over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
“You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost, and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your little child, who is now living in the Lord.”
These word, emphasise the love and mercy of God, and his desire that all mankind should share with Him the perfect beauty of Heaven. They are a deep consolation to all mothers who have lost children.
The matters discussed in this book deserve to be the subject of further and deeper discussion by all members of the Church – not just priests and theologians.
The Church has already given witness to the sanctity of human life through its principled opposition to abortion. Its position would be strengthened further if the victims of abortion were to be honoured as martyrs in the cause of truth.
Belloc’s counter-argument on the Reformation
HOW THE REFORMATION HAPPENED
By Hilaire Belloc.
(Tan Books. PB 223pp. ISBN 978 0 89555 465 9. Available from Freedom Publishing. Rec. Price: $17.60)
by Paul Simmons
In this short book, published originally over 85 years ago, the famous English controversialist, Hilaire Belloc, presents a most interesting perspective on the Protestant Reformation – a perspective very different from most previous Protestant, Catholic and secular accounts of that great religious movement whose effects have been felt down to the present day.
This is a work of popular history, and is not to be considered a formal historical work. It has no footnotes, no list or references, and few direct quotations. It is intended to sell a story, rather than write a thesis, and should be judged in this light.
According to Protestant historians, the Reformation was an attempt by religious leaders in the 16th century to rediscover true Christianity, shorn of the false doctrines, corruption and self-serving practices of centuries of popish priests: a rebirth of Christianity in its original purity.
In the course of this, ritual and ceremony were radically simplified, prayer to the saints was abandoned, prayer for the deceased was discouraged if not forbidden, the sacraments and the Mass were abandoned, as were the devotional practices which had sustained religious life for centuries.
To many of the Catholic historians, the Reformation was quite simply the rebirth of a new heresy, like those which had afflicted the Church throughout history. The centre of this new heresy was an attack on the Church as Christ’s presence in the world, and the substitution of the right of private judgement in spiritual matters.
To secular historians, the Reformation was seen as an intellectual uprising against the tyranny of the priesthood, and a more or less inevitable consequence of the new learning which followed the Renaissance.
There are elements of all these accounts which are accurate. However Belloc argues that they underplay the most important causes of the Reformation: the condition of the Church itself.
Tracing the weaknesses in the church back to the Black Death and the weakening of papal authority during the Great Schism, when there were competing claimants to the See of Peter, then the leadership of the Church was in the hands of men who were utterly unworthy of the position which they occupied.
The moral collapse of the papacy was followed by the moral collapse of the aristocracy and the nobility.
While the Reformation was presented as a challenge to the church’s doctrines and authority, the most profound challenge was the desire of avaricious kings and princes to expropriate the resources of the church for their own personal wealth.
The reformed doctrines provided the means by which this could be achieved.
At the time when Belloc wrote this book, his argment was largely ignored. However, the more recent writings of historians like Henri Daniel-Rops and Eamon Duffy have tended to confirm Belloc’s argument.
This book is engagingly written, and for those with limited knowledge of the 16th Century history, will give a short overview of the principal causes of this event whose tragic consequences are still seen today in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere.
Daily reflections of Pope Francis
THROUGH THE YEAR WITH POPE FRANCIS:
Edited by Kevin Cotter
(Our Daily Visitor. PB 383pp. ISBN 978 1 61278 766 4. Available from Freedom Publishing. Rec. Price: $33.90)
Reviewed by Paul Simmons
This book is a series of daily quotations, taking short extracts of homilies and addresses given by Pope Francis, then with a reflection added by the Editor. There are 365 of them: one for every day of the year.
It is a useful book to encourage us to think about our faith, and how we must respond to the challenges of faith in our lives.
From the book we also get an insight into the thinking of the Holy Father: his radical commitment to the poor and underprivileged, his sense of his own unworthiness, and his willingness to ask the hard questions which most us would prefer not to think about.
In this sense, it is an uncomfortable book, but one which forces us to think more deeply about how we are to live out our faith in today’s world: in our families, our schools, our workplaces, our offices and farms.
Through the Year with Pope Francis also comes with a valuable index, for finding that particular comment or quotation. This would make a good Christmas present for anyone wanting to have a book of daily reflections for 2016.