|An Incomparable Giant of the Faith:|
A Personal Reflection on the Life and Death
of Michael Davies
Thomas A. Droleskey, PhD
|REMNANT COLUMNIST, New York|
“Tom Droleskey? You must hate my guts!” Thus spoke the late Michael Davies in the home of Howard and Eleanor Walsh in New Jersey in late January of 1999 after I had introduced myself to him. Mr. Davies was recalling an article he wrote in these pages in 1993 that took me to task for a piece of mine that had appeared in The Wanderer.
“By no means,” I told Michael. “You were right to criticize me. So was everyone else who contributed articles in that issue of The Remnant that tore me up one side and down the other. I was defending the indefensible,” meaning the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.
“Ah, yes, defending the indefensible. That’s a good way to put it,” Michael noted before we moved on to discuss the state of the traditional movement.
Well, there is really no good way to describe Michael Davies other than by saying that he was and will long be remembered as an incomparable giant of the Catholic Faith. He was given extraordinary graces by Our Lady to have seen the problems with the Novus Ordo Missae from the very beginning. He is one of a handful of people (Father Gommar DePauw, the late Walter Matt, the late Hamish Frazier, Father Harry Marchosky, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the late Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, among a few others) to have seen things clearly from the very beginning.
His enormous body of work is in large measure responsible for my own conversion to traditionalism over the years. He wrote lucidly and convincingly, marshaling facts and documenting his statements with meticulous care and precision. He lectured with wit and with grace, inspiring those who heard him to drink more fully from the fountain of our glorious patrimony that is the Church’s authentic Tradition.
Although I had a lot to learn about the authentic history of liturgical development at the time, I could not help but be impressed with Michael’s command of facts and his ability to make cogent arguments when I saw him for the first time on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in 1979 or 1980.
Michael Davies was both a scholar and a polemicist. He was a scholar whose historical research, much of it original and ground-breaking, was first-rate and beyond reproach. He was a polemicist who could use his pointed prose to skewer an adversary with his marvelous and frequently devastating Welsh sarcasm.
He debated both friends within the traditional movement on various points of strategy and tactics, and foes outside of the movement, treating all with respect and dignity, never holding a grudge or stooping to pettiness and self-justification.
And he received those who were once objects of his pointed prose with warmth and generosity once they had seen the error of their ways. He used his writing to convince people of the truth of Tradition, not to lord it over others as one better than they. His charity was boundless.
Michael was especially solicitous of priests who were being persecuted for their fidelity to Tradition. Such priests frequently had no better friend, whether their brother priests or laymen, than Michael Davies. He supported them with his pen and with pound sterlings. His love of the priesthood was such that it was a particular consolation to him to know that so many priests had come over to tradition because of his own writings and lectures. And he would beseech Vatican officials for priests who were in difficulty because of their fidelity to Tradition, doing so right up to the point of his death.
Michael was particularly close to the late, great Father Frederick Schell, S.J., whose work in southern California is being carried on at present by Father Patrick Perez and Father Lawrence C. Smith. Father Schell told us in May of 2002 that he was praying to Our Lady for a quick exit after he entered into retirement at the age of eighty-six a few days later. He told Michael Davies that he would be dead by the time he, Michael, came out to southern California in October of 2002.
Sure enough, Father Schell died on September 28, 2002, and Michael Davies wrote a marvelous tribute to this great and courageous defender of Tradition in these pages. When I wrote to Michael about Father Stephen Zigrang’s situation in July of 2002, he wrote back, “Tell Father Zigrang to follow the example of another great Texan, Father Fred Schell. Tell him to open up his own chapel and be done with it.”
It is most likely the case that entire conferences will be held in the years and decades ahead to discuss the impact of such works as his initial treatment of Pope Paul’s New Mass, his Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, his tracts on various subjects (Mass facing the people, Saint Athanasius, the Social Reign of Christ the King) and Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II, to say nothing of his masterful historical and biographical studies that he either produced himself or put back into print, including one on the life of Saint John Fisher.
It is because of Michael Davies’ tremendous industry and appetite for using all of the energy that God had given him in behalf of the Holy Faith that the collected works of Father Adrian Fortescue have been put back into print. When I thanked him in a note in the summer of last year for the Fortescue books, he wrote back to say that he considered those books to be the most important of his career as they contained nothing of his own writing. What could be a more fitting testament to his abiding humility?
The Church has Father Harry Marchosky to thank for the gift of Michael Davies’ writing career. Father Marchosky told us last November that a young Michael Davies had wanted Father Marchosky to write books in defense of Tradition. “No,” Father Marchosky recalls telling Michael, “you have to write these books.”
Thus began the writing career of Michael Davies, who was introduced to the late Walter Matt of The Remnant. How fitting that Father Marchosky was able to be present at the event in Minneapolis eight months ago in which Michael Davies was honored by Walter Matt’s son, Mr. Michael Matt, the editor-publisher of this newspaper.
Others will write their own reflections, some focusing specifically on the theological and liturgical significance of Michael Davies’ writings and lectures. I would like to concentrate in this brief reflection on the last lesson he taught us all: how to prepare for death.
Although, Michael Davies was taken from this mortal life by means of a sudden and unexpected heart attack, he was aware that he had a death sentence hanging over his head from the cancer that was wracking his body. After months of leaks about his condition began to become sieves that he could no longer ignore, Michael wrote a brilliant and poignant reflection on his impending death in these pages. He accepted God’s Holy Will for him with perfect equanimity, recognizing that he had been given a great grace that is denied to so many people, namely, an opportunity to prepare for his own Particular Judgment.
The witness Michael Davies gave to the importance of dying well should teach each of us a great deal about being prepared at all times for our own deaths. Not even a person with a terminal illness knows the exact moment of his own death, barring some sort of mystical revelation. Such a person must be prepared at all times, recognizing that God could call him by means of an accident or a stroke or a heart attack or some other unexpected tragedy before nature can take its course by means of the terminal illness.
Apart from expressing regret that his beloved dog would be without his companionship after his death, Michael Davies was intent on using the time left to him in this vale of tears to do the work God had appointed for him to complete, thus teaching us that we must be busy about doing work God has appointed for us to until we are physically incapable of doing so or until we die. Michael set about an ambitious program of writing, some of which will now have to be completed by some of his learned pupils and protégés.
However, Michael Davies did not just sit back and wait for his death. He worked and worked hard to use the considerable talents and gifts God had given him for the good of the Church and thus for the good of the sanctification and salvation of the souls who had been purchased by the shedding of Our Lord’s Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross.
Michael Davies did much for the Church Militant while he was a member of her. As much as he did for us here in the Church Militant while he was alive, he can do far more for us from eternity, whether as a member of the Church Suffering or of the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Although the Poor Souls in Purgatory cannot help themselves, they can intercede for our needs. We must believe that the indefatigable Michael Davies will be working hard from eternity to promote the fullness of Tradition and thus the fullness of the Catholic Faith just as he worked as hard as he could until God took him by means of a sudden heart attack on September 25, 2004.
Those of us, including me, whose relationship with Michael Davies was only fleeting, now have the privilege of entering into a deep spiritual relationship with him by means of the Communion of the Saints. That is, while we remember his immortal soul in the Masses we have said for him and in our Rosaries and daily prayers, we can ask him to help us carry on the fight for Tradition and Truth that he fought so well and for so long, indeed, right up to the point of his dying breath.
Michael Davies was our solider on the battlefield of the Faith in life. He is our advocate in death. We will not see his like again. We can only pray that we remain steadfast until the end as he did.
Requiem aeternam dona