Oxford, Oratories, and Openness to Reality

It is well that there are palaces of peace
And discipline and dreaming and desire,
Lest we forget our heritage and cease
The Spirit’s work—to hunger and aspire…
– C.S. Lewis, “Oxford”

Last week, I visited my friend Aurora who studies at Oxford. It was my first visit there and I was delighted that Aurora led me around the colleges, libraries, churches, coffee shops, pubs, and bookstores and that we shared many wonderful conversations and meals.

In celebration of our travels to Oxford, Birmingham, and London, here are some photos and a few of my favourite quotations in connection with the places we visited. 

A and A - Trinity College Lawn

…The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made…

– from J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem “Mythopoeia” written following a discussion with C. S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson at Magdalen College, Oxford which took place on the night of 19 September 1931

We attended Mass at the Oxford Oratory Church of St. Aloysius where Gerard Manley Hopkins once served. Throughout our travels, we read from George Weigel’s book Letters to a Young Catholic. In one of the chapters Weigel says, “What unites Chesterton and Hopkins is that both were saturated with the sacramental imagination.” Weigel describes Hopkins’ poem below as “a less familiar hymn to the truth and beauty found in a profoundly Catholic loyalty to the world, to the open-ended givenness of things.”

Oxford Oratory

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins

Aurora and I also made a trip to Birmingham to visit the Oratory founded by Newman in 1848. Now the church also includes a Shrine of Blessed John Henry Newman. There we read George Weigel’s chapter on “Newman and ‘Liberal’ Religion” in which he discusses the quest for truth as the aim of a noble, ordered liberty that does not obstruct our joy and happiness, but actually leads us to it.

A and A - Newman

Here is one of my very favourite quotations by Newman which, I think, is a good refutation of the libertarian concept of “self-ownership”. I find it compelling because of its beauty and resonant because of its truthfulness.

“We are not our own, any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves; we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We cannot be our own masters. We are God’s property by creation, by redemption, by regeneration. He has a triple claim upon us. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness, or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. These may think it a great thing to have everything, as they suppose, their own way,—to depend on no one,—to have to think of nothing out of sight,—to be without the irksomeness of continual acknowledgment, continual prayer, continual reference of what they do to the will of another. But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man—that it is an unnatural state—may do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end. No, we are creatures; and, as being such, we have two duties, to be resigned and to be thankful.” – John Henry Newman

Birmingham
Birmingham Oratory

We also visited St. Patrick’s Church in Soho Square. Then, we went to the Olde Cheshire Cheese and read Weigel’s chapter “Chesterton’s Pub and a Sacramental World.”

“If who we are and what we do counts, then it’s worth being good, and it’s worth doing good as well as we can with what materials and talent we have at hand. If nothing counts-if the world is simply an ephemeral stage for working out the ‘needs’ of my self-then why sculpt? Why paint? Why write poetry or compose music? Or, perhaps better, why do any of that in any way other than as protest against the emptiness and meaninglessness of it all?” – George Weigel

A and A - Cheshire

How wonderful it was to make contact with Lewis, Tolkien, Hopkins, Newman, Chesterton, and others through reading their words in England. After my visit, Aurora gave me a copy of Brideshead Revisited which I read on my journey home.

As we pray during the Mass, may this sacred time be a time for the renewal and purification of our hearts, so that, freed from disordered affections, we may deal with the things of this passing world and hold rather to the things that eternally endure.

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