Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Latin Clerk, by Aidan Nichols, O.P.

Book Review: The Latin Clerk, The Life, Work, and Travels of Adrian Fortescue, by Aidan Nichols, O.P.

Aidan Nichols is one of the foremost authors and theologians in the English-speaking world, having penned 40 titles, including the recent G.K. Chesterton, Theologian (2009), and From Hermes to Benedict XVI: Faith and Reason in Modern Catholic Thought (2009). A member of the Dominican Order, he now resides in Blackfriars, Cambridge. His latest offering is a biography of another priest, theologian and author, Fr. Adrian Fortescue 1874-1923 .

Fortescue is often thought of today as an icon of traditional Catholicism, but his traditionalist credentials are much more sublte. He was, for example quite unconvinced about the necessity of the infallibility of the papacy as expressed at the Vatican 1 Council, which led him into tension with the more conservative elements of the hierarchy. Fortescue was an expert in liturgy, having penned very influential tomes on the subject, 'Ceremonies Of The Roman Rite Described', and 'The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy'. Indeed, it could probably be said that he was the leading expert on the development of liturgy in the west. His knowledge however was not restricted to the Latin West and even as a priest he engaged in a flirtation with the orthodox Church, largely as a result of its beautiful liturgy, but decided in the end, tells Nichols, to remain a 'Latin clerk'.

Fortescue completed his studies for the priesthood at the Scots College in Rome and was ordained by the Prince Bishop Simon of Brixen, Austria, in 1898 Adrian Fortescue had an unusual upbringing. Schooled in Boulogne, and orphaned 12, he lived with an aunt in Wimbledon before going to the Scots College aged 17. Fortescue had knowledge of 11 languages and held three doctorates.  In 1907 Fortescue was assigned the mission parish of St Hugh of Lincoln in Letchworth. He had the formidable task of organizing and supporting the new parish.  His book, 'Ceremonies Of The Roman Rite Described' was written for £100. Needless to say the parish was soon blessed with magnificent liturgy. 

Aidan Nichols admirably describes these different phases in the life of a quite enigmatic figure. Particularly after Summorum Pontificum, his life reveals tensions and stresses in the life of the Church which have parallels today. My only criticism is that I thought the book might perhaps have gone into more detail. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book, writtren in clear language and I heartily recommend it to all Catholics interested in the life and times of Adrian Fortescue.

The contents are given below to illustrate the extent of Fr Nichol's coverage of Fortescue's life.

List of Illustrations


1. Background and Boyhood

2. The Formative Years

3. Ordination and First Steps in Priesthood

4. The Levantine Grand Tour (1906–7) and The Greek Fathers

5. Studies of the Eastern Churches, Far and Near

6. Letchworth and Beyond

7. The Theory of the Liturgy: Encyclopaedias, and The Mass

8. The Practice of the Liturgy: Rivalis Villa, the Ceremonial, and the Chant

9. Anglo-Roman Debates

10. Liberal Catholicism, Catholic Modernism, and the Posthumous Boethius

11. Conclusion


Index of Names

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