The marriage of Joseph and Mary

Super Flumina

under the patronage of St Joseph and St Dominic

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
on the poplars that grew there we hung up our harps. . . Ps 136

St Dominic


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11th September 2001


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‘I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

‘Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?’

                                        The Ballad of the White Horse[1]

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1. One who stands apart from the modern world to see it in perspective cannot but note the lack of the critical faculty in the majority of men; their disposition, almost slavishly, to follow opinion.

Truth (logical truth) is the identity between what is asserted about reality and reality—between what is said and what is.  The modern attitude of deference to opinion reverses the definition: truth becomes the identity of what is with what is said.  The disposition to adopt opinion rather than reality as the standard of truth is called subjectivism.

The systematic dislocation of judgement it involves attests to the harm precipitated by two men some five hundred years ago.  Each was a Catholic who in the pursuit of overweening self will abandoned his faith.  Each, like Esau of old, surrendered his inheritance for a mess of pottage.[2]

Martin Luther
2. On 31st October 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk of doubtful vocation, proclaimed formally the long standing disturbance of his Catholic faith in ninety five theses focussed on repentance, purgatory and the power of the Church to grant remission of the temporal punishment due to sins forgiven (indulgences).  In many of their contentions Luther denied what Jesus Christ the Son of God had revealed, and His Church had formally proclaimed, as true.  The ground of objection was his opinion.  In defiance of God’s authority, he asserted his own.

The fire he had, as it were, lit with a single match spread and was soon out of control.  Others, drawn by his example, agreed with him in rebellion, but disagreed on what to reject.  But Luther’s principle informed each heterodox view that took fire.  No longer should a man believe what God had revealed on God’s authority, but on his own authority.  No longer was one bound by each and all of Christ’s teachings; he was free to pick and choose.  No longer was he bound by the canon of sacred scripture; he could reject books with which he disagreed.  No longer was he bound by the interpretations of Christ’s Church; he could make his own.

3. The word ‘religion’ connotes a bond.[3]   Now religion is not a univocal term, signifying the same reality in every setting: it is analogous.  In other words, when said of its logical inferiors, religion signifies a character in each which is somewise same and somewise unsame, but more unsame than same.  Neither is the term faith univocal: it, too, is analogous.  The habit, a product of modern philosophy’s debility in analysis, of glossing over distinctions hides the reality of what Luther did.

“It is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule assents to whatever the Church teaches.  If, however, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will.[4]

The bond of each religion is determined by its nature.  In any religion but that founded by God, the believer imposes the religious bond on himself.  In the religion which God founded, the bond is imposed, on the believer’s submission to it, by God.  For the Catholic faith is of God, not of man.  That is why St Paul calls it a gift—something given[5] .  There is, then, hardly more than a nominal community of meaning between faith said of Catholicism, and faith said of Protestantism[6] , or of any other religion for that matter.  Luther did not discover the true religion: he rejected it.  He did not reform Christ’s teachings: he revolted against them.[7]

Henry Tudor
4. In 1521 the young King of England, Henry Tudor, published a refutation of Luther’s heresies in a work entitled Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (“Defence of the Seven Sacraments”).[8]  He did so, almost certainly, with the assistance of the best legal mind in England, Sir Thomas More.  But the King had a problem.  He was licentious and unfaithful to his Queen, Catherine of Aragon.  He became  besotted with one of her maids, Anne Boleyn, and persuaded himself that he had sinned in marrying Catherine, the wife of his late brother, Prince Arthur who had died six months after their marriage (at the age of 15) in 1502.   Because Catherine and Henry were in the first degree of affinity, the canonical impediment to their marriage required a papal dispensation.  This had been granted at the request of the Tudor Court by Pope Julius II in 1504.  Henry’s denial of the efficacy of this act of Christ’s Church was the outrider, as it were, of the storm of rejection of the Church’s authority in which he was to indulge.

When, in 1529, Pope Clement VII rejected his appeal for annulment, Henry removed Cardinal Wolsey as his Chancellor and replaced him with Sir Thomas More.  On the advice of Thomas Cranmer, an apostate priest, whose views pleased him, Henry sought an opinion on the validity of his marriage from the principal universities of England and the Continent.  These, well bribed by Henry’s envoys, decided in his favour.  Henry then threatened the Pope with schism.  Regrettably, the Pope prevaricated.  Henry applied pressure: he threatened the English clergy with prosecution for breaching an English statute forbidding recourse to foreign courts unless they acknowledged him as supreme head of the Catholic Church in England.  To this unprecedented claim the clergy submitted with the qualification ‘so far as the law of Christ allows’.[9]   The principle having been admitted, Henry’s Secretary, Thomas Cromwell, moved to reduce them to subservience.[10]   More, who had weathered an attempt by the King to compromise him, resigned as Chancellor.  Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, died and, again regrettably, the Pope accepted the nomination of Cranmer as his successor.

Henry, meanwhile, had put aside his Queen in favour of Anne Boleyn.  Though still married to Catherine, he purported late in 1532 to marry Anne in a secret ceremony.  This was repeated publicly in London on 25th January 1533 by which time Anne was pregnant.  Cromwell then had Parliament abolish all appeals from English courts to Rome so that when, on 23rd May following, Cranmer pronounced the marriage of Henry and Catherine a nullity the Queen was bereft of any avenue of appeal.  By the Act of Succession Henry had the Parliament validate his marriage to Anne and disinherit Mary, his legitimate daughter, in favour of his progeny by Anne.

Clement VII excommunicated him on 11th July.  Henry countered with a series of measures to enforce the subservience of the English faithful including the Act of Supremacy (1534) commanding that the King be recognised as the one supreme head on earth of the Church in England.  He then had his henchmen enforce the pretended title by executing any who would deny it.  A fearful persecution followed and numbers of religious, notably Franciscans and Carthusians, died.  He then executed John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and his former confidant, Sir Thomas More.

Subjectivism Becomes A Principle
5. To appreciate the evils precipitated by Henry Tudor’s schismatic, then heretical, conduct[11] one must understand the reality of his actions.  No longer, after Henry VIII, was God’s law the measure of right moral conduct, but the will of the King—that is, the will of one who had sufficient power to enforce his will.   Henry confirmed at the political level what Martin Luther had demonstrated at the theological, that the will of some man is superior to the Will of God.

Repeatedly, he ordered the Parliament of England to declare—and by his tyrannical conduct he forced the populace to accept—that truth was falsity, and falsity truth.   He joined with Luther in establishing another evil principle of great moment.  God is the Author of the world and of the universe.  Upon Him the essence and existence of every creature depend.[12]   Reality is nothing but God’s surrogate, the means whereby He manifests His will.  In rejecting God and his authority, in substituting opinion for reality as the measure of truth, Luther and Henry VIII proclaimed that reality is what some man asserts it to be.

Exempla trahunt—it was inevitable that this novel principle would penetrate the public psyche.  If the theologian, the ruler, could conduct himself in this way, why could not the believer, the subject?  The spread of Protestantism ensured it was only a matter of time before the principle manifested itself in the philosophical realm.  This occurred with René Descartes whose cogito ergo sum exactly reversed the order of reality—sum ergo possum cogitare.[13]   After Descartes, what mattered was not reality but what the thinker conceived reality to be: not reality, but the thinker’s idea.  The subjective hadreplaced the objective.

6. Among the intellectual creatures God has created, man is the weakest.  His intellect does not, as does that of the angel, understand reality immediately.  Instead he must work rationally upon information obtained through the senses; extracting the intellectual content; proceeding in steps. Moreover, man is wounded in his nature, a consequence of original sin, and his ability to err is patent.[14]   While the social instinct disposes him to embrace a belief held by his fellows, his fallen nature may lead him, if he is not careful, to embrace a belief which has no ground in reality.

What is it that we know when we know?  The great philosophers of realism, Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas, insist that the senses report reality infallibly: what we know is what is.  But they counsel also that things exist in the mind differently from the way they exist in the real.  With Descartes these distinctions were lost.  Preoccupied with their own ideas and the perceptions of the senses, philosophers began to lose confidence that man could ever know reality; to confuse things in mind with things in the real, taking for reality their imaginings, and their imaginings for reality.[15]   Others denied that the intellect could ever attain truth, giving birth to the scepticism which colours much of modern studies and convinces the artistic that there is no objective ground of beauty.[16]

The rise to dominance of opinion over reality brought with it other consequences.  Valid forms of government, monarchy and oligarchy, were denigrated in favour of the one most easily manipulated by opinion, democracy.  This move was assisted by a weakening of the metaphysical understanding of reality which elevated the material at the expense of the formal.  This led to the naïve view that there exists a simple equality among men.  Men are equal under one respect, but under another, that of their talents and abilities, they are most unequal.

In the English Civil War Oliver Cromwell ravaged society in the process of destroying a King.  In the French Revolution Danton, Robespierre, St Just and their ilk led a people mad with self-conceit to wreak a greater havoc and destroy the very notion of kingship.  In the Russian Revolution under the influence of Karl Marx these errors were confirmed and these evils multiplied a hundredfold.

7. The instrumental cause of the French Revolution was a movement which is perhaps the most significant of those precipitated by the revolt of Henry Tudor, Freemasonry.  Since its inception late in the sixteenth century, it has served as an effective instrument for the establishment of a program of evil in the lives of men.

Henry used as agent his secretary, Thomas Cromwell.  Cromwell contrived the entrenching of Henry’s tyranny over his subjects by an abuse of the sacred.  An oath had always been required of one who was to fulfil some office of the Crown.  Now, the whole population, each man individually, might be required not only to confirm a lie—that falsity is truth and truth is falsity—which is a breach of the Eighth Commandment[17] , but tocall upon God to witness the endorsement of the lie, a breach of the Second Commandment.

Thus, in the Act of Succession—where Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was declared null and void, Mary, his legitimate daughter, was disinherited in favour of the illegitimate Elizabeth, and the authority of the Pope was rejected—there was provision for compelling each subject to take an oath—

“that they shall truly, firmly and constantly, without fraud or guile, observe, fulfil, maintain, defend and keep, to their cunning, wit, and uttermost of their powers, the whole effects and contents of this present Act.” [18]

Similarly, in the Act of Supremacy (1534)[19] which commanded that the King be recognised as “the one supreme head on earth of the Church of England”, there was provision for the imposing of an oath on each subject.  What was the effect of this device?  On pain of forfeiture of liberty, of property, and of life itself, the tyrant compelled each of his subjects to address God formally in the following terms—

“I call upon You to witness that I reject what You have revealed; I reject what You have instituted; I reject what You have ordained.”

It was blasphemy.  In a footnote to his life of St Thomas More, Reynolds remarks appositely of the time:

“This was the beginning of what may be termed a riot of oaths.  For a generation men swore and forswore themselves so many times that oaths lost all meaning.”[20]

This character of systematic mockery of God Freemasonry adopted as its own.

For the essence of Freemasonry—what constitutes it—is not its secrecy, nor the conspiracy of minds in which its adherents indulge, nor the extensive harm which may be laid at its door, but the blasphemous oaths with which it binds its members.  Every Mason takes an oath which breaches the First and Second Commandments[21] and so submits himself to the Devil.  As Pope Leo XII remarked in 1826—

“Is not an oath… to establish, as it were, a contract by which someone obliges himself to an unjust murder, and… to despise the authority of those, who… regulate either the Church or legitimate civil society… contrary to Divine Law?  Is it not the most unjust, and the greatest indignity, to call God as a witness and surety of crimes?”[22]

And indeed, Freemasonry emulates the Devil in its operations—hidden and secretive, lying and murderous.  The sole reason for its existence is to destroy the reign of God on earth through His Church.

8. Here, then, is the background to the abiding evil afflicting mankind in the twenty first century.  As with so many other things, it was Pope Leo XIII who grasped the issue precisely:

“[T]hat harmful and deplorable passion of innovation which was aroused in the sixteenth century first threw into confusion the Christian religion, and then, by natural consequence, invaded the precincts of philosophy, whence it spread through all the classes of society…”[23]

[To be continued]


Michael Baker
11 April 2010—Second Sunday of Easter

[1]   G K Chesterton, 1907.  The author puts these words in the mouth of Our Blessed Lady as she addresses King Alfred the Great.

[2]   Cf. Genesis 25: 29-34

[3]   It is derived from the Latin verb religare, to bind fast.

[4]   St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 5, a. 3

[5]   Cf. Ephesians 2: 8.  There is an apodictic proof of this in a phenomenon of which Catholics—and only Catholics—are aware.  When a man loses the Catholic faith he loses all memory of the thing he once possessed.  If the Catholic faith was of man and not of God, one who had forsaken that faith would yet remember the reality he had forsaken.

[6]   This may be seen in the relations that characterised Henry’s legitimate daughter, Mary Tudor, a Catholic, and Lady Jane Grey; and between Mary and her half sister, Elizabeth.  Jane and Elizabeth were raised in Protestant households and taught to hate Catholicism.  Neither understood the nature of Mary’s belief.  Nor, it must be said, did she understand the limitations of their Protestant faith.

[7]   Something amply demonstrated by Luther’s personal life.

[8]   Dedicated to Pope Leo X who rewarded him with the title Fidei Defensor.  The English historian, Scarisbrick, describes the work as “one of the most successful pieces of Catholic polemics produced by the first generation of anti-Protestant writers."  It went through some twenty editions in the sixteenth century, and as early as 1522 had appeared in two different German translations.

[9]   The Emperor Charles V’s ambassador Chapuys remarked, “This is in fact equivalent to declaring the king to be Pope of England.  It is true that the clergy appended a proviso… but… no one in future will dare to argue with the king regarding its extent.”  And so it proved.

[10]   He brought charges against the bishops and established a commission to examine the Church’s laws to see whether they infringed the royal prerogative.

[11]   It is frequently asserted that Henry remained a faithful Catholic until he died.  This is untrue.  He directed the Commons to declare that it would no longer be an heretical act to deny that the Pope was the Vicar of Christ on earth.  This was sufficient to make him a heretic.  In any event, he died excommunicate.

[12]   Man is both contingent and dependent.  He has existence—for the moment—and may lose it at any time.  He depends for his sustenance upon nature.  The very air he breathes is given to him.

[13]   “I exist and therefore I can think.”  Do follows be, not the other way round.

[14]   Chesterton remarked that the doctrine of Original Sin was the one Church teaching which could be proved experimentally.

[15]    A syndrome that marks the reasoning of the defenders of Darwinian theory.

[16]   And which has reduced poetry, art and music to their present abysmal state.

[17]   You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

[18]   25 Hen. VIII, c.22.

[19]   26 Hen. VIII, c.1.  This Act was repealed by Queen Mary, but a fresh Act of Supremacy was passed by Elizabeth in 1559.

[20]   E E Reynolds, The Field is Won, Milwaukee, 1968, p. 297.

[21]   I)  You shall have no gods besides me.  II)   You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.  Cf."Leo XIII & Freemasonry" at for an example of the Masonic oaths.

[22]   Apostolic Constitution Quo Graviora (13.3.1826).

[23]   Immortale Dei, 1.11.1885, n. 23.