Cor ad cor loquitur

We are nine years old today, counting from the moment of our Reception into the One Holy Catholic & Apostolic Church. We may be in a position to demand an Ave on that account.

The choice of the Feast of Saint Sylvester (also New Year’s Eve, &c) was not ours. It was suddenly proposed by Father Robinson, our priest who, after several months of catechizing us in quite delightful, broad-ranging weekly conversations, suddenly decided: “You’ll do.” We were the more surprised by the date he selected when we reflected on a long personal history of New Year’s Eve events. It had been, for instance, on that day in anno 1969 that we had finally & irretrievably “hit the road” — leaving our childhood permanently behind us, at the age of sixteen. (We had travelled alone some distances before, but those journeys were to & from; this journey, as our poor weeping mother could see, was “forever.”)

The date seemed to reverberate, for through years after, in a variety of strange & exotic places, something unexpected kept coming up to make 31st December memorable in a new way. On one of these Eves, we were almost killed; on several others, fell in with company whom we would never have met except by the chance of such a New Year’s encounter; including several people who remain friends to this day. How did the priest choose such an auspicious personal anniversary? It was the sort of thing we would once have called a “Jungian synchronicity.”

Sylvester I, the Pope we commemorate on this day, who reigned 314 to 335 AD, was contemporary with Constantine the Great (reigned 306 to 337). Sylvester did not attend the Council of Nicaea (325), but sent his delegates & obviously concurred in the Creed that declared the Son “one in being” with the Father, thus distinguishing Catholic teaching from the Arian heresy. (A shy & retiring man, from what can be made out at this immense distance, we like to entertain the notion of Pope Sylvester as a kind of “Paul VI” in the Nicaean era — maintaining orthodoxy at least to the letter as well as he could while surrounded by wilfully destructive powers of which he could not get the mastery. But take this little personal speculation with a truckload of salt.)

We who live in the shadow of Vatican II might wish to remind ourselves of the plight of those faithful Catholics who lived in the shadow of the Council of Nicaea. They endured much. For several generations it appeared that the Church was entirely overthrown. The Arians may not have prevailed at the Council, but they acted just as if they had, & were triumphant not only in schismatic movements but inside the Church & among the bishops. Worse, in a sense, “moderate” factions arose, playing games with words & offering the confused new dimensions of bewilderment. Yet through moments when their own bishops could not be trusted, the faithful continued to pray, & kept orthodox teaching alive in their own devoted hearts. In time, the Church was righted & restored.

Read, The Arians of the Fourth Century, by John Henry Cardinal Newman; & consult his motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, “heart speaks to heart.”

These words, Cor ad cor loquitur, we find written in the hand of the late John Muggeridge. He quoted them in a note to us, inscribed in the front of a book he gave us for our Reception (The Heart of Newman, a “synthesis” arranged by Erich Przywara, SJ), nine years ago this day. It was getting near the end of John’s life, our beloved friend & guide. He, too, was a Catholic convert. An inscription to John from another, citing the same phrase, can be read on the next page. Thus has our faith been handed down, person to person, these last two thousand years.

Often through the centuries we were up against the wall. Far worse has happened, than to Catholics in the last couple of generations; the Church herself has come much closer to extinction. Moments of victory (remember Constantine) turned to ashes (as above); terrible defeats conversely to glory. The great ship of Holy Church has capsized, & been righted, many times, by the hidden hand of the Holy Spirit; saved when no men could have saved her. Through all, some faithful have persisted, in obedience to the still small voice. We have been martyred, & we have been desolated. But we were never abandoned by Christ.

From Newman’s mission prayer: “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”