Rorate Caeli

Traditionalist publishing renaissance (5): The newly-established Cenacle Press

Many readers will already be familiar with the wonderful online giftshop of the traditional Benedictine monastery of Silverstream Priory in Ireland. The same monastery has recently launched Cenacle Press, with six classic reprints, all newly typeset -- four by Robert Hugh Benson and two by Dom Hubert van Zeller -- along with biography of a remarkable Polish nun, Sr. Maria Bernadette of the Cross, and a collection of new poetic works and poetic translations from Latin by the monks of Silverstream.

All titles are available from the online giftshop (ships to anywhere) and also at online retailers such as Amazon. Happy reading!

The King's AchievementOne of the most coldly calculated acts of Henry VIII during the Reformations was the dissolution of the monasteries. Monks and nuns were driven from their cloisters; the abbeys were plundered and turned over to greedy courtiers. From these ignoble proceedings came Robert Hugh Benson’s inspiration for this great historical novel, the story of a house divided against itself. The Torridon brothers are sworn to serve different masters; one is a monk, in love with the Mass and the Faith of Ages, the other an agent of Thomas Cromwell, in love with a protege of Sir Thomas More. Among the giant figures who move through the tale are those of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, the ruthless King Henry VIII, and the grasping Cromwell. Their actual deeds are carefully woven into this harrowingly romantic tale of the attempted destruction and resilience of the Catholic Faith in England. (link)

By What Authority? The fates of two young people caught in a conflict of ideals is the theme of this stirring and tragic novel, set in the England of Elizabeth I. At a time when following the Old Religion resulted in penalties stretching from heavy fines to imprisonment to death, Puritan-bred Anthony and Isabel Norris find themselves drawn to the Church of their forefathers. Underlying their heroism in their struggles and conflicts with Protestant England is the strength and vitality of Catholic Church supporting and drawing the characters into Her embrace. In a story which delves into the deepest reaches of the Catholic and Anglican dilemma, Benson weaves together the lives of his characters and their encounters with central figures in English Reformation history in order to praise and defend the England that was, the England that is truly England, the Catholic England. (link)

The Friendship of Christ. Christ desires to be our Friend. But how can we respond? Taking up themes from great mystical writers, Benson gives a prophetic corrective for those in the Church who mistake “Christ’s gifts for Christ, religiosity for religion, and the joys possible on earth for the joys awaiting us in heaven.” Benson steers the soul away from temptations to despair and from presumption upon Christ’s friendship, pointing to the consoling truth: “I am in all things His debtor, but He bids me call Him Friend.” (link)

Papers of a PariahIn this work of imaginative fiction, Catholic priest and writer Robert Hugh Benson “edits the notes” of a non-Catholic actor who is attempting to understand the belief and worship of Catholics. Only moderately successful in his career, the author of these “papers” finds himself quite alone in the world, his wife having died within a year of their marriage. His own health beginning to fail, he pays serious attention to the subject of religion for the first time. After a brief dalliance with the Anglican Church, he is drawn to the local Catholic church, where he attends various liturgies. He struggles with “a great deal of inchoate agnosticism” while writing about the powerful impressions these ceremonies make on him. Finally, the actor is received into the Church shortly before he dies. Benson, himself a convert from Anglicanism, creatively weaves surprising, poignant, and profound insights into the traditional beliefs and customs of Catholics by viewing them through the eyes of “a pariah”—a lonely outcast. (link)

Letters to a Soul. The year is 1975. A young man...a painter. Having converted, he tries his vocation as a monk, but decides that monastic life is not for him. Thrown back on his own resources, he quickly becomes enmeshed in difficulties-not least, when he discovers an unusually sympathetic ear in a young married woman-and he struggles to find a place in the contemporary Church. Throughout his searching, he turns to the Benedictine Dom Hubert for counsel, wondering what to do with his feelings. Dom Hubert, also an artist, offers practical advice to his correspondent while astutely pinpointing his mistakes. Not only fascinating as an historical snapshot of the world in 1975 through the eyes of a widely-travelled monk, these letters, full of wit and insight, address many topics which remain pertinent today. (link)

We Work While the Light Lasts. “If my correspondence is anything to go by,” writes Benedictine artist and author Dom Hubert Van Zeller, “the problem which men and women living in the world most want to discuss is that of how to handle the affections.” The fruit of Dom Hubert’s experience as a spiritual director, these 42 short reflections are culled from his correspondence, and engage with questions surrounding the cultural upheaval which followed World War II, the first stages of the sexual revolution, and the modern world’s apathy towards God. Dom Hubert’s witty and incisive reflections draw on a varied and colourful array of sources, including Tacitus, Milton, Evelyn Waugh, and Saint Benedict. (link)

For Their Sake I Consecrate Myself. Joy, simplicity, peace: such words could easily characterize the life of Maria Róża Wolska, yet so could suffering, disappointment, and self-sacrifice. Holiness fuses these apparent opposites into one beautiful and life-giving reality. A beautiful record of simple and genuine holiness, this biography of Sister Maria Bernadette of the Cross brings light and encouragement to anyone truly seeking God, and reminds us that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, in which those who love more, despite their own poverty, can make up for those who love too little or even betray love. Sister Maria Bernadette’s tenure in her convent prepared her for an unexpected sacrifice—her own life at the age of 35 in reparation for the infidelities of priests. “It is enough to look at the Cross to see where that love led Him, or at the Host,” she wrote, bearing witness to the Love that conquers death. “He knew that he would be trampled upon, but nevertheless he stayed.” (link)

Dawn Tears, Spring Light, Rood Peace. Written by monks of Silverstream Priory, some poems let memory and imagination search the corners of the earth, there to glean the sorrows, hopes, and joys of men, and so present them to the Father. Others draw from the deep wells of tradition, with verse translations of ancient Latin hymns, or new compositions in that Catholic tongue. From there, gazing upwards, free verse explores the dark night of the soul, only to discover a sky star-speckled with the hope of immortality. Themes such as spiritual darkness, search, and self-gift are juxtaposed with pieces composed for recreation. Poems that exult in the beauty of nature find a place beside ones which meditate the economy of salvation in Scripture, the Liturgy, and religious life. (link)