The Franciscan who influenced Hopkins


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
4. THE INFLUENCE OF DUNS SCOTUS

DUNS SCOTUS – Franciscan Theologian 1265-1308

Hopkins acclaims Duns Scotus in Duns Scotus’ Oxford

Towery city & branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark charmèd, rook racked,
river-rounded;
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country & town did
Once encounter in, here coped & poisèd powers;
Thou hast a base & brickish skirt there, sours
That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded
Best in; graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural, rural keeping — folk, flocks, & flowers.

Yet ah! this air I gather & I release
He lived on: these weeds & waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;
Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.


Hopkins’ poetic and spiritual interest in Duns Scotus was in his concept of haecceitas.

Duns Scotus’ spirituality was deeply Franciscan. He absorbed the Franciscan idea of prayer as gazing, which was discerned in the prayer of St Francis by St Clare. Clare wrote not only about gazing on Christ the mirror, but also more generally on gazing as prayer.

Sister Ilia Delio in Franciscan Prayer traces how gazing as a way of prayer becomes Duns Scotus’ philosophical concept haeccietas.

1. “Thisness”: this creature (thing, animal, person) is different from all other creatures like it.
2. This creature is unlike all other creatures.
3. This creature was uniquely made by God.
4. This creature is a unique expression of the Word.

Exercise.

Spend some time with a creature. Explore its haecceitas. Engage in dialogue with the Word communicated by the creature.

Suggested creatures: tree, flower, rock.

[A more “advanced” exercise would be to explore the haecceitas of a person, or love, or a kind action.]

Questions to ask about this creature.
1. What makes this creature different from all other creatures like it?
2. What makes this creature different from all other creatures – i.e. what makes it unique?
3. What is there about this creature that reveals God’s special love uniquely directed at this creature?
4. What Word does this creature speak to us? (What revelation of God’s nature is in this creature?

Blessed Duns Scotus contemplates the haecceitas
Blessed Duns Scotus contemplates the haecceitas
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The life of Gerard Manley Hopkins


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
3. THE LIFE
Paul Mariani recounts Hopkins’ life in fascinating detail in his 2008 biography (reviewed here).

The main facts are listed below:

o Born in London in 1844 to loving parents, the eldest of seven siblings.
o His father was in a lucrative marine insurance business.
o Baptised at St John-the-Evangelist in Horsham.
o Studied classics at Oxford.
o As an undergraduate, decided to follow John Henry Newman (and others), and to “go over” to Rome: a ‘perversion’ in the eyes of his family.
o Decided to follow Newman into the Society of Jesus.
o His friendship with the poet Robert Bridges only just weathered his conversion to Rome. They discussed the craft of poetry (and their poems) until Hopkins’ death.
o Jesuit novitiate at Roehampton in Wales, which Hopkins loved. During this time he did Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises for the first time. 1868-70.
o Studied for the Jesuit priesthood at Stonyhurst 1870-73.
o Parish work and teaching – the Jesuits refuse to allow him to take final vows for two years. Hard to know what to do with this strange priest.
o Sent to Ireland with a mission of founding a Catholic University. Reality of marking every Irish child’s matriculation exams in Latin and Greek. Very lonely and depressed.
o Dies in 1889. On the day of his death, the priest looking after him walked past his room and on several occasions heard Hopkins whispering, “I am so happy.”
o Bridges publishes The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1913. 750 copies printed, and it takes 12 years to sell them. Now a first edition might cost $15,000.

In Ireland, Hopkins writes To Seem the Stranger Lies My Lot

To Seem the Stranger.

Screenshot showing first edition offered for $US15,000
Screenshot showing first edition offered for $US15,000

Priest-poets enrich the Franciscan spirit


2. WHY SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS?

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet-priest, that is, he wrote poetry as part of his vocation as priest. His poetry is ministry.

Hopkins is in a long line of priest-poets. George Herbert was one.

Hopkins looked back to the Dominican geniusThomas Aquinas, a serious teacher and writer of theology until five years before his death, when his writing stopped – except for a series of beautiful poems celebrating the Eucharist. The most famous of the Thomas Aquinas poems is Adoro Te Devote .The original Latin as Thomas wrote it is here. Gerard Manley Hopkins translated Adoro Te Devote into a moving poem.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
see, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
how says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
what God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.

On the cross they godhead made no sign to men;
here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
both are my confession, both are my belief,
and I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
but can plainly call thee Lord and God as he:
this faith each deeper be my holding of,
daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O Thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread the life of us for whom he died,
lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
there be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
some day to gaze on thy face in light,
and be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.

[Latin original attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, English translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins]

Priest-poets puts their craft at the service of God. Thomas Ken (one of the non-juror bishops) headed every letter and every page of poetry Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – to God’s Greater Glory, and this is the heart of the priest-poet’s vocation.

Like George Herbert, Australian priest, Elizabeth J. Smith finds that many of her poems work well as hymns, and she is known firstly for her fine hymns.
Words in the hands of the priest-poet become instruments firstly to fathom God’s nature, and then to sing God’s praise.

St Thomas Aquinas: lover of the Eucharistic mysteries
St Thomas Aquinas: lover of the Eucharistic mysteries

Why Should Franciscans be interested in poetry?


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
1. SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN POETRY?

• St Francis was influenced by the troubadours. His interest in troubadours probably started on journeys to France as a child.
The troubadours:
o Sang in Italian or Provençal (French) and not Latin.
o Broke convention by singing love songs to ladies beyond their status.
o Used popular harmonies and rhythms.
St Francis wanted to be able to sing love songs to God with the same language of intimacy. He liked the fact that ordinary people could enjoy popular song styles and understand both words and music. Churchy Latin was remote.
Brother William SSF (Can it be True) was a modern Franciscan troubadour. In the late 60s and early 70s in Queensland William wrote ballads and songs and performed them at rallies with thousands of young people.
• Saint Francis was influenced by Sufi poetry. He wanted to travel to Morocco, Spain, and he succeeded in travelling to Damietta, all centres of Sufi poetry.
The Sufis:
o Wrote love poetry to God.
o The “whirling dervishes” got themselves into an ecstatic meditative state.
o Lived in covenanted communities.
Saint Francis asked Leo to whirl to determine which way to proceed at a crossroads. He was intrigued by ecstatic prayer, and he wanted to know more. Some scholars like Idres Shah believe that he came away from his meeting with the Sultan in Damietta having quizzed the sufis there.
Poetry expresses deep insights about God. The best theology is poetry. Good poetry is theology.
It is often difficult to discern the boundary between hymns and poetry. The poet-priest, George Herbert wrote Let All the World in Every Corner Sing, as a poem, but it makes a great hymn.

Sufis
Sufis

Franciscans discover poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins


The next posts in Mind Journeys will be a Franciscan exploration of the 19th Century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

These posts started originally as notes for the Convocation of the West Australian Franciscan Tertiaries last weekend.

Many of the Tertiaries present had encountered Hopkins in school as part of their English classes, but had never had to opportunity to explore his spirituality and the Franciscan influences on him.

Do Franciscans Bless Animals


Before I start criticising the practice of blessing animals, let me confess that I have blessed animals, and would do so again. In fact for a couple of years, Tom Sutton of Subiaco Parish in Perth invited me, along with other Franciscans and other priests to a great outdoor animal blessing. There is a picture of me blessing a great St Bernard, and it was a delight to make friends with this gentle creature.

Bless me St Bernard!
Bless me St Bernard!

This jamboree was stopped only because a certain dog food manufacturer was a sponsor and took advantage of this event. It took it over by emblazoning its name on every object and dog parade and snail race in sight.

Tom rightly believed that such rampant capitalism was at odds with the spirit of animal blessing.

But as a Franciscan I do feel ambivalent about blessing animals. Not that I have any theological problem with asking for God’s blessing on either pets or wild animals. Our blessing simply confirms the reality that God has already blessed creation. See Genesis 1.

Nor do I mind the chaos that can be caused by creatures great and small in a little church with God’s people trying to celebrate the Eucharist with devotion.

My problem, I think, is twofold. Firstly, blessing animals can become a sentimental act. “Isn’t it nice? Isn’t it lovely?” If an animal blessing is organised only to evoke superficial sentiments, then it is a dangerous waste of time. If an animal blessing is organised only to delight children, then it is a diversion from reality.

Secondly, blessing animals can easily turn companion animals into possessions rather than being seen as God’s gifts to us. The attitude that our pets are simply a convenience can easily lead to neglect and abuse , but even before it gets to that stage, this attitude diminishes us, making us consumers of animals’ services, rather than their grateful friends.

What Franciscans can do is to encourage people to think carefully about our relationship with animals. Saint Francis believed that each creature is a Word of God. In our encounter with an animal, St Francis encourages us to allow that animal to disclose its story to us. The animal is not there simply for our unfettered use, but is a fellow-creature put on this earth to share existence with us and to join our praise of the Most High Creator.

And I do love our dog!
And I do love our dog!

Our pets are our companions, not our slaves.

And do we bless the animals that give food, are food for us? Much has been written about the distance between us urban dwellers and the milk and meat that we enjoy. If we bless our pets, then we should equally bless the animals that nurture us. We should be prepared to ask whether the cost of being a meat-eater is too high. Dr Rajendra Pachauri Chair of the IPCC spoke of the positive environmental impact of eating one less meat meal each week.

Wild animals are a blessing, too, although I suspect it’s impossible to catch a blue wren or an Oenpelli python to lay hands on and pronounce a blessing over it!

So my plea as a Franciscan is, if we are to bless animals, then let’s do it with thorough thought and prayer, and not just as a liturgical stunt. But no one would do that, would they?