Wednesday, 23 November 2011

From the Bishop of London, through St Clement, to the Emperor Napoleon

Thanks to our previous blogpost More than Words having been shared on Facebook (if you are not a member of our Facebook group, please think about signing up, the link is in the right hand sidebar of this blog), then having been highlighted by the Ordinariate Portal blog and then finally having been referred to in a few other blogs, we have had very many more visitors than usual over the past couple of days.  A warm welcome to any new readers who have stuck with us and who are now reading their first post-big event blogpost here.

This blog started with the intention of documenting the arrival of our Ordinariate Group in the Catholic Church, and by reporting that we were quite happy with where we had ended up.  Early posts talked of the background to the decision making process, steps along the way in that thought process and then recounted some early experiences.  As time has gone on, posts have gone up based on streams of consciousness inspired by thoughts of the saint of the day, or from some news article or developments or blogposts elsewhere.  Occasionally, we have even strayed into the dangerous field of commenting on what is happening of relevance to our Anglo-Catholic friends still fighting the good fight in the CofE, as we did yesterday: but when commenting on Ordinariate-related matters, as seen from either side of the Tiber, we tend to focus on the happy landing we have had, rather than on the challenges facing those we have very sadly left behind on the other shore.

Today's post is not about the trials and tribulations of Anglo-Catholicism.  There are enough people writing about that already.  Instead, a few brief thoughts on St Clement (with absolutely no mention of Philadelphia).

St Clement, one of the very earliest popes, is one of the names from history that provides a connection with the time of Christ.  Pew fodder like me (sometimes referred to more politely as the laity) so often hear all these marvellous stories from the Gospels, but without the occasional dose of historical perspective, this can sometimes risk appearing to be rather remote.  St Clement, who became Pope at the end of the first century AD, is said to have been ordained by St Peter, and was in Rome at the time St Paul was (and was possibly one of the Romans to whom the Epistle to the Romans was addressed).  He may well be the Clement referred to in Philippians 4:3.
And I entreat thee also, my sincere companion, help those women who have laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement and the rest of my fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life.
The one surviving document of his, a Letter to the Church in Corinth, is considered among the earliest, indeed possibly the earliest, Christian document after the component books of the New Testament.   The significance of this early letter for those with an interest in Roman primacy and in the threefold structure of Holy Order is that the letter includes authoritative admonitions from St Clement about events that have taken place in the Church in Corinth, and reminding his readers of the hierarchy of the offices of bishop, priest and deacon. 

It is one of those texts that sits very uneasily with the charming but not necessarily entirely accurate image conjured up when people talk cosily of something being "very early church", a term which for some reason now often appears to mean something closer to Quaker prayer meetings than to the highly ritualistic worship of the first century Jewish temple or indeed the very early Church (as Fr Hunwicke has discussed on his blog far more eruditely and eloquently than I ever could). 

St Clement, along with two of the other early popes (Linus and Cletus) are mentioned by name in the Roman Canon.  For those of us who follow the text week by week in the missal (covered by the singing of the Sanctus, the Celebrant's words are usually inaudible at St James's at this point), this provides yet another historical link to the first century.

St Clement's life, as one might expect for a Christian leader at that time, did not end pleasantly.  He is said to have been exiled to a colonial outpost near modern day Sebastopol in the Ukraine during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, and at some point thereafter, he was martyred by being thrown into the Black Sea tied to an anchor.  Given his importance as one of the very first popes, St Clement is almost always pictured in at least mitre, and often in tiara.  When it comes to images of his martyrdom, this leads to some rather interesting results, as this picture shows. 

The Basilica of San Clemente in Rome houses the tombs of St Clement (and of St Ignatius of Antioch).  This minor Basilica became one of the sites frequented by Blessed John Paul II during his years as Pope, on occasions when he wished to pray in particular for Poland, his native land, and for the countries of Eastern Europe.  The reason for the Pope John Paul's many vists was that the Basilica also contains the remains of St Cyril and Methodius, saints who evangelised much of Eastern Europe, and who in 868 brought the mortal remains of St Clement to Rome.

New readers of this blog may not be aware that many of our posts end with a rather tenuous link to a piece of music.  The Alleluia for a Mass of St Clement celebrated today is Tu es Petrus, of which the awe-inspiring setting by James MacMillan, as sung at Westminster Cathedral last year for the Holy Father's visit, is included in the right-hand sidebar of this blog.  The search is then for an alternative setting for inclusion today.  As St Clement was a Pope who struggled with (and was eventually killed by) secular powers, I find my mind somehow turning to Pope Pius VII, a Pope who spent his entire Papacy struggling against French Imperial interference. 

One of the most humiliating moments of his papacy must have been his participation in the extraganza and cavalcade that was what we in English usually call the Coronation of Napoleon, but in fact is properly called the Sacre de Napoleon, the Consecration of Napoleon (French royalty having been consecrated with chrism by the Archbishop of Rheims as the key moment of their formally becoming monarch, rather than the crowning being the crucial thing that people remember).  Huge pressure was placed on Pope Pius VII to attend, and despite recent assasinations of Church officials in France, and against the advice of the Roman Curia, Pius did end up attending (how voluntary this decision was is a matter of debate).  As every school boy and girl used to know, at the crucial moment, Napoleon took the crown himself and placed it on his own head, before himself crowning the Empress Josephine.  The humiliated Pope could do no more than stick to the script and announce "Vivat Imperator in Aeternum", before listening to the choir sing first the Te Deum and then, during the acclamations of the people as Napoleon processed out, "Domine salvum fac imperatorem nostrum Napoleonem".

The Papal Procession had earlier set off for Notre Dame from the Tuileries led by a bishop, carrying a processional cross and seated on a donkey (does that almost count as quasi-Anglican Patrimony, thinking of Aunt Dot and her camel, Fr Chantry-Pigg and the Towers of Trebizond?).  When the Pope arrived at Notre Dame and processed in (minus donkey I suppose, there is no donkey in the David painting of the event), the choir sang the Le Sueur setting of Tu es Petrus.  There you go, I warned you that I liked tenuous links.

St Clement, pray for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment