|Elder statesman of the Traditional movement|
By Father William Hudson
|REMNANT GUEST COLUMNIST|
We are gathered together today to pray for the soul of Michael Davies, but a short time ago we laid him to rest in a curiously moving country church at Chislehurst where an exiled Emperor once laid, and where now lie the mortal remains of a humble schoolmaster, a writer, historian, polemicist, and champion of the faith he held so dear. It was characteristic of the man that he chose such a church: a choice that surprised many of us, being as it is rather difficult to get to, and rather too small to accommodate his numerous friends and admirers. Michael never imagined that many would wish to gather at his funeral.
I have to confess that I feel a difficulty in saying anything about Michael Davies today which needs saying. Those who came to know the author through his books, articles and conferences will have no doubt of what he believed. His constant and untiring defence of catholic tradition (in particular the Mass) needs no recalling. And those of us who knew Michael, who were fortunate enough to consider him a friend, will have our own memories which mean infinitely more than anything I can say.
Michael himself certainly wouldn’t have wanted much said; he always winced at flattery and praise, immediately deflecting it with a joke and changing the subject, often to the bewilderment of his friends across the Atlantic. In his will he stipulated that no panegyric be preached at his funeral, and that one simply speak of the superiority of the old Mass to the new. That alone says much about the man we mourn.
And yet Michael wouldn’t begrudge us the consolation of remembering him today, for the loss of a friend is often tempered by memories. Of Michael the soldier and the teacher I am ill qualified to speak; in the army he was granted the gift of faith, and at Chislehurst his sometime pupil Father Martin Edwards attested to the remarkable skills of his onetime teacher. Michael of course never ceased to teach, and it was principally through his writings that he instructed countless thousands; through them Michael the teacher lives on.
Surprisingly, of all places, it was in the library of Fisher House, Cambridge that I first came across his famous trilogy on the council and Pope Paul’s Mass. How many, like I, were awakened to the full horrors of the liturgical revolution by these books? How many were determined to do something about it and perhaps began to consider a priestly vocation?
Michael’s literary output was phenomenal, more than twenty full volumes, and thousands of articles and reviews. These covered an equally astonishing breath of subjects, not only liturgy and theology, but history, biography and current affairs.
Detractors of the “Tablet reading type” would be quick to say that Michael was not a serious scholar; of course he wasn’t in the sense of stuffy academia… he never claimed to be. Michael was a publicist and journalist, who championed a cause and he did so with fervour, understanding and wit. He was an enthusiast and, as all great teachers, his enthusiasm was infectious. Be it in writing or in conversation, the subject being rugby, Wales, the Mass or the Reformation, he was never dull. Michael had the genius of conveying his arguments with utter clarity, of understanding his opponents and demolishing their arguments with ruthless logic. The finest example of this, to my mind, is his book on religious liberty, a thorny issue amongst traditionalists. While others have written interminably long and largely unread treatises on this difficult subject, Michael analyses the various arguments and gives the definitive answer based on Catholic doctrine and tradition.
Those who had never met Michael but knew his works were
invariably surprised on meeting him for the first time; no one could
have been more different from the caricature of the Poe-faced right
wing traditionalist his detractors supposed him to be. It was,
surely, impossible not to like Michael: one might disagree, but his
sincerity, goodness, humility and utter lack of guile would endear
him to all but the stoniest hearted. His sense of humour was
legendary. One incident comes to my mind: a frequent visitor to our
seminary near to Florence, where the majority of priests and
seminarians are French, Michael on one occasion arrived with a video
recording of a recent rugby match between France and Wales. He
immediately asked Msgr. Wach whether he would permit the seminarians
to watch it with him that Sunday afternoon. The request was
accorded; the amusement of the non Frenchmen was only equalled by
the growing despondency of the French as it transpired that the
match was a colossal victory for Wales, the French not scoring a
single tri! Michael loved conviviality, conversation and laughter
and in the truly Catholic way, wine and more often whisky prolonged
the joy of the occasion. Michael, echoing Belloc, was very
suspicious of “water drinkers”.
Another aspect of Michael’s character was his loyalty and gratitude; his firm grasp of history meant that he saw the upheavals in the post-conciliar church sub specie aeternitatis. Thus while he disagreed with Archbishop Lefebvre regarding his decision to consecrate bishops in 1988, he never sought to denigrate the man for whom he had written an “Apologia” nor the order he had founded. He maintained friendly relations with many priests of the Society of St. Pius X, refusing to classify them as schismatic or condemn the faithful who went to their Masses. If sometimes there was rancour, it never came from Michael. Without the Archbishop, the more widespread acceptance of the traditional Mass and the foundation of the approved traditional communities would never have come about as far as Michael was concerned. He didn’t forget.
Nevertheless when his convictions were concerned, he was a fearsome opponent. The role he played as the international president of Una Voce in the late 1990’s is an example. He vigorously opposed an attempt to replace the approved 1962 edition of the Roman Missal with a later version, along with other changes in the same direction. Michael saw such moves as the thin end of the wedge. He made it clear in high places that any softening of the accords granted in 1988 would lead to his mobilising all his forces to oppose such change. Michael, by then the unquestioned elder statesman of the Traditional movement, was a force to be reckoned with and carried the day; a remarkable achievement and for which we can all be grateful.
The death of Michael Davies leaves us all poorer; we have lost a great champion of orthodoxy of the timbre of Belloc or Chesterton. Some have lost a husband, father or friend. If we dared question the decrees of Providence, but please God, both faith and experience make us too wise to question them, we might well have wondered why he was not left among us for a work he alone seemed qualified to do.
I remember vividly the occasion that Michael informed me of his illness; it was at lunch, in the company of Msgr. Wach at a London hotel. Having asked after his health, he brightly replied, “as you happen to ask, not that well, I’ve been told I’m dying”. It came as a total shock, being so unexpected, and I felt faint. Michael expressed no visible anguish, worry and absolutely no self pity. He had that week been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and given a maximum of two years to live.
Michael had always known that one day he would die… now he knew roughly when, and was determined to make the most of his remaining time; his busy life of travel, lectures and writing continued unabated. He had so many unwritten books to write! While Michael had no fear of death, it should not be imagined that he was spared the anguish of terminal cancer, the pain both physical and spiritual; in particular he was worried for those he would leave behind, especially his adored wife Maria. No Christian is spared suffering. His refusal to be cowed was a sign of grace in his soul, which demonstrated a true love and relationship with God achieved by familiarity with the sacraments, and prayer. Michael’s traditionalism was not the hollow polished veneer of some. The courage he showed was a sign of true holiness; I hope it is not presumptuous to say that Michael achieved what God desired of him; that is what sanctity is about.
This morning we pray for Michael, knowing that his legacy shall not fade. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.