THE Chronicle of Bury St. Edmunds, translated and edited by Antonia Gransden for Nelson's Medieval Texts, is one of those literary memorials of English monasticism in preReformation days more enduring even than massive ruins such as Fountains and Tintern.
But it is probably true to say that today few visitors to monastic remains realise the debt they owe to the former tenants of these religious houses for their knowledge of their country's history. One such memorial is here set before us with great care and skill by Miss Gransden.
It is a portion of the Chronicle of England's most splendid abbey, Bury St. Edmunds, dating from 1212 to 1301, and covering the last four years of the reign of John, the whole of the reign of his son Henry III, 1216-72, and all but the last six years of Edward 1, 1272-1301.
This part of the chronicle has been chosen because from 1212 it becomes independent of other known sources, and is the only known authority for a number of statements relating to general history.
These include the piratical raids of the east coast ports, Yarmouth and Dunwich. by the Zeelanders and Dutch in 1282, and two sea fights in which the men of the Cinque ports, assisted by fighting ships from Ireland and Bayonne, inflicted severe defeats on a combined piratical force of Normans, Germans, Flemings and Lombards in the year 1293.
The Chronicle itself is brief and succinct. In 1252 it tells of a heat wave that killed great numbers, of a terrifying thunderstorm on the morrow of the feast of the Assumption, of a battle between the Germans and Flemings in which thousands of the latter were slain. and of the consecration of the present cathedral of Ely. All this in a sentence of 40 words. produced, with the Latin and English printed opposite each other and making in all a book of close upon 400 pages. of which 45 are devoted to a most valuable historical introduction.
The Australian Hierarchy's Catholic Catechism, Book Two, is issued by order of the Australian Bishops' Committee for Education. It is designed for what we in England call secondary modern schools, and for the lower forms of what we call grammar schools.
It would be difficult to praise it too highly, difficult even to find fault with it. There is a vast wealth of useful and interesting material for classes. clear simple theological summaries in non-technical language, imaginative designs all set out attractively.
It uses the now familiar scheme of Bible, Liturgy, Dogma and Christian life in each section so that the material, while appealing to the imagination, has a formative influence on one's mind and conduct.
The work is designed not simply to teach dogma, but to teach children, and children get the first consideration. It is very impressive to see how generous and sympathetic the authors are to their subjects.
They warn. for example, against trying to impose on our pupils standards of behaviour, dress, hair styles, attitude to authority, conformity, etc., which were considered proper when we were children. What was considered dangerous or radical in our childhood in many cases is standard practice now.
It is this sort of attitude, this ability to accept the world of the child of the 1960s for what it is. that is going to make the teaching of religion a success today, and overcome the widespread notion that religion is out-of-date and irrelevant. One does not have to like what the children like, but our love of them should lead us to be sympathetic and tolerant to what they like.
Thus there is much of value in this book and we cannot help asking ourselves: When indeed shall we h-ave something comparable for use in our own country?
At a time when the Church is concerning herself a great deal with liturgical changes and reform, a book such as these Meditations and Devotions of Newman reminds us that their purpose is to help us to pray, and to live more deeply. We tend to forget, perhaps, that Christianity is concerned with our love-relationship with God. and that unless this is true, all external changes will be useless.
It may surprise some to find how much Newman values what is often called the "interior life". Here we see the life of prayer and the spiritual depth from which his more famous books came.
He has often been thought of as a rather cold and distant man, but his intense love of God and his fellow-men is nowhere more evident than in these meditations written in his clear and unaffected style. Newman has a strong sense of the spiritual value of the Church's teaching. for many of his meditations are on the doctrines of the Church, seeing in them, not a constriction for his love, but a stimulant to prayer and reflection and a path to God.
It is a tragedy in England to realise how little Newman is known. For the uninitiated, this excellent little book with its helpful introduction by Meriol Trevor, could be the best of introductions.
The Angels and the Liturgy should come in handy to bring out something of the eschatological dimensions of Christian worship so much insisted on in the recent conciliar Constitution on the liturgy. Published originally in 1935 and now translated into English for the first time, this book might be described as a rather erudite meditation on the role of the angels in the celebration of the liturgy.
The notes are particularly valuable, though it should be pointed out that many of the Greek and Latin extracts are left untranslated. Peterson was not really a theologian, and readers may sometimes he baffled by his more fanciful suggestions. His remarks about the angels, monastic liturgy and the laity could do with some clarification.
For that matter, some people might wish for a more precise account of what exactly the angels are and how they impinge on our world. But the book as a whole can certainly be recommended to all those who would like to recapture for the Roman liturgy something of that presence of the angels which becomes nearly tangible in some of the oriental liturgies.