A Survivor of the Jesuits
When I was at that Lake Garda symposium back in July I sat next to a man at dinner who turned out to be the official historian of the Knights of Malta. Henry Sire was a good ten years younger than I, but he reminded me strongly of the senior boys at Downside when I was a junior kid of 13 or 14. Without meaning to, he made me feel rather gauche.
Alumni of Balliol College, Oxford are said to exude an air of effortless superiority, and I’d say that description suits Henry to a T, although he went to a different Oxford college. It’s not that he’s snobbish or arrogant—just totally at ease with himself and his place in the world.
Henry was educated at Stonyhurst, just at a time when the Jesuits were beginning their slide into self-destruction. The fact that he resisted the liberal pressures to which he must have been subjected as an adolescent is very much to his credit. Unlike most of his Jesuit-educated contemporaries he is neither lapsed nor modernist—a strongly Traditional Catholic, in fact.
When I returned to Ireland I saw that Angelico Press had just released a book by by H.J.A. Sire entitled, most unpromisingly, Phoenix from the Ashes. (What a cliché! I hope Henry didn’t think it up himself.) The sub-title, The Making, Unmaking and Restoration of Catholic Tradition aroused my interest at once, so I ordered it.
It’s a treat. In a style erudite but readable—indeed lively and sometimes caustic—Henry takes no prisoners as he outlines all the previous major crises in the Church, explains how we stumbled into the present ecclesiastical quagmire, and points to the only way out of it—the full restoration of Catholic tradition. Great value at £14.00 sterling.
I shall probably be quoting from Phoenix from the Ashes quite frequently over the next few months. Here is Henry Sire on the future of the liturgy:
…one thing can be prophesied: when the Church recovers its true character, Latin will be restored to its central place in the liturgy. There are many, even of those who are faithful to orthodoxy, who say that Latin is a lost cause, that it is hopeless to expect modern people to re-learn Latin. Yet history has shown us the examples of nations that have revived an ancient language, and a difficult language, because of what it meant to them as patriots. Two hundred years ago, who would have predicted that Hebrew and Gaelic would one day become living languages, and the official languages of sovereign states? They have done so because the Jews and the Irish have wanted to assert their national identity and the place of their ancestral language in it. When a loyal love of the Church hs been rediscovered by Catholics, we may expect Latin to be restored, to be studied devotedly, and to be cherished as the language of prayer that unites the faithful of today with the great ages of the Church.
Irish scholars will no doubt say—correctly— that “Gaelic” never ceased to be a living language. But that doesn’t detract from the point Henry is making.