IIENRY VIII IS back in the news. A major biography by Jasper Ridley, backed by his usual massive research, has just been published by those adepts at royal publishing, Messrs Constable.
The publication date is timely since it is just 450 years ago this month that Henry VIII passed his Act of Supremacy, according to which "Christ's Church is an assembly of local churches, subject to the Prince, who directs the life of his church, guards and declares its teachings, gives its bishops their jurisdiction, and corrects its people."
The King's jurisdiction came, it was said, direct from God, not Parliament. The latter merely confirmed its divine origin.
Of the surprisingly few who opposed the King in this move, we always remember the most famous ones, but perhaps tend to forget the "stubborn" Carthusians and the participants in the Pilgrimage of-Grace.
I rather like some .remarks about Henry VIII made at an early age by Jane Austen who wrote, though it is scarcely among her most famous works, a splendid miniature History of England.
She is also, at the moment, in the ever-running anniversary stakes, for she was born two hundred years ago next year. What's the betting that the first of a spate of books about her will be published on January 2?
Jane was only 16 when she wrote her History of England, describing herself as "a partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian." But her tongue was, of course, firmly in her unblushing cheek. She already showed that spirit and wit, not to say sly cynicism, which slips out in such ladylike fashion from her first major book, Pride and Prejudice, written many years later.
Jane's History extends from the reign of Henry VI to that of Charles I.
Of Henry VIII she writes merrily, "The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing religious houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a man who was of no religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for Ages been established in the kingdom?"
She is said to have reread these lines many years later when living in that charming house in Chawton, Hampshire, which is so well worth visiting.
They say she was tempted to destroy her little history but was dissuaded, possibly by her sister, Cassandra, from so doing.
Let's hope it will be among next year's commemorative items about the great little lady.
RECENT HORRIFIC reminders of the vulnerability of public figures despite every possible security precaution inevitably inspires Catholics, and indeed, all Christians, to pray harder than ever for the safety of their Church leaders.
Such men are coming increasingly into the front line of the public battle for a better world — from Liverpool to South Africa, from the Phillipines to Poland; and few more so, of course, than the Pope himself.
It is thus a somewhat sobering thought that should, quod Deus avertat, a vacancy suddenly occur at the See of Peter, the number of Cardinals gathering to vote for a successor would be only just over half the full complement of the Sacred College.
The case for calling a Consistory is thus very strong and it is rumoured that this may soon happen.
The matter is urgent for a number of reasons. No less than 29 of the present Cardinals are beyond the age (80) at which they are entitled to elect a Pope. The total number of permitted Cardinals, as raised by Pope Paul VI, is 120. There are at present 25 vacancies. Thus if there were a conclave tomorrow the maximum amount of voters present would only be 66.
Certain key Sees, moreover, are occupied by Archbishops who would normally have, by now, received the Hat. These include New York, Munich, Utrecht, Bologna, Florence, Seville, Detroit and Madrid. Among heads of Vatican departments also awaiting elevation are Archbishop Ryan, formerly of Dublin, and Archbishop Mayer, pro-Prefect of the .Congregation for the Sacraments. (It was this Congregation whose recent Letter to the Bishops about the Tridentine Mass was 'leaked to the press before the Bishops had seen it.) There is also a strong case for increasing the amount of Cardinals in Latin America which will soon contain more than half the world's population of Catholics. Compared with the rest of the world they are underrepresented in the Sacred College.
Thus, when news of a Consistory comes, it could well be accompanied by an announcement that the College is to be enlarged to make it correspond more exactly to the Catholic population of the world.
It is to be hoped that Curial caution will not prevent the nomination of Latin American Cardinals who are truly representative of their flocks.
Back to basics
IT IS QUITE possible, of course, given the present climate in Rome, as it has. been developing over the last year or so, that something rather different may happen.
For at least a year there has been much talk about the "reform of the reform," another way of speaking of counter-reformation. The integralist party is now strong and confident, and powerful men like Cardinals Oddi and Ratzinger are the voices that count.
The well to do Saventhen family, friends of Cardinal Ratzinger and backers of the influential "Una Voce" movement, are happy about things and even the French theologian Abbe de Nantes is being studied carefully — if discreetly — in the "right" places.
The general tendency follows the well-known fear of many that certain reforms after the Council went too far and that the "spirit of Vatican II" was often too widely interpreted.
The Pope is said to have made his final decision about the Tridentine revival after his visit to Canada. And the less restrictive language of his own announcement about this, as opposed to that of the letter from the Congregation, has been taken as significant.
Permission for the Mass in that venerable rite is now, I'm told, presumed in Rome since the Pope is its Bishop; and he had asked other Bishops to be sympathetic.
Milan's prestigious periodical "La Repubblica" confirmed what was already fairly widely known, namely that the Pope had asked Opus Dei to help in the promotion of the Tridentine alternative.
The same periodical (October 20) even referred to Opus Dei as the "mighty secular and financial arm of the Church," a description with which most Opus Del members, who feel their mission to be primarily spiritual, would surely hardly agree.
The "reform of the reform" thus amounts to a redressing of the balance, at least as its own many protagonists view matters.
The Pope, in trying hard to strike the right balance as he sees it, risks being criticised in different quarters. But of that he is not afraid.
All of this points, some claim, to the strong possibility that the Cardinals with the longest experience will be brought back more into the centre of things and could regain their conclave voting rights. In Rome, as the saying goes, "life in the scarlet begins at 80."
The Pope, after all, has many occasions to meet Cardinal Calfonieri, Dean of the Sacred College, whose brain is razor sharp. And he will be 92 next year. The thinking behind it all appears to be that polarisation
in the Church since Vatican II is unfortunate but probably irreversible.
Traditionalists and progressives (for the usual want of any better descriptions) are irreconcilable with each other.
Psychologically, perhaps above all, they are leagues apart.
Past compromises and other devices to bring them closer have usually only made matters worse. The conclusion thus is that room must be made for both by provision of the corresponding options.
It is, at least theoretically, a logical and reasonable conclusion. What will be fascinating will be to see how it all works out in practice.
NOT EVERY country has a patroness as well as a patron saint. But one has: Scotia. ; and it is her feast day today.
St Margaret of Scotland was actually English but had been brought up in Hungary at the court of King (St) Stephen. She fled from England ahead of William the Conqueror's invading armies and did not stop until she reached wilder but more exciting regions north of the border and there met a rough and ready young man called Malcolm Canmore. Having succumbed to her considerable charms, he became a highly civilised and popular King of Scotland.
They married and had no less than three sons who became Kings. For good measure one of their daughters, Matilda; married Henry I of England and became known as Good Queen Maud.
Margaret, though scarcely a female libber, took naturally to her role as the King's principal adviser. She was, in fact, more powerful than he. It was not then obligatory to attend Mass on Sundays, but it became so at the behest of Margaret.
When the liturgical calendar was modified, her feast day was sensibly changed from June 10 to the anniversary of her death, that is, today.
I THINK I should have made it clear that, when and if his appointment is officially announced, Fr Peter Knott, SJ, will be the first resident Catholic chaplain to the Catholics of Eton. Apologies for any embarrassment caused by a possibly premature and/or incomplete account of the subject.