Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Our works do not pass away, as they seem to do" -- Bernard of Clairvaux

Information still continues to drift in, often when I've just about given up hope of receiving it. Several weeks ago I posted an entry about a stained glass window in the church at Bude Haven that was dedicated to the memory of Rev. Barton R. V. Mills, father of George Mills. Cornwall records had shown that a plaque had been approved, but I couldn't at the time verify that there actually was one or what it may have said.

Yesterday afternoon, however, I received the rest of the details from Cornwall:

Dear Mr Williams,

I’m afraid that I am probably not going to be of much help, and can only give you such information as I have obtained from Budehaven Church.

I quote from the guide book of the Church:
“The window on the North side of the Sanctuary is in memory of Rev. Barton Mills and shows St Bernard of Clairvaux, on whom this priest was an authority. It is an adaption of a 15th century panel of an altar-piece from the Abbey of Clairvaux, now in a Dijon Museum.”

Under the window itself is a small plaque which reads:
“To the glory of God and in loving memory of Barton Reginald Vaughan Mills for ten years Vicar of this parish 1891 – 1901”

The bronze tablet is on the East Wall of the North Transept of the Church, under the Organ, and reads:
“To the beloved memory of Barton R. V. Mills. Born 29 October 1857, died 21 January 1932. Vicar of this parish, 1890 – 1900. ‘Our works do not pass away, as they seem to do; they are the seeds sown in time of a harvest reaped in eternity.’ Saint Bernard of Clairvaux”

I’m afraid that any information on ceremonies or services held during his time, or for the dedication of the window, would be held in the County Record Office in Truro.

I hope some of this is useful, and if you require anything further, please do let me know.

With kind regards,

David Standen

The Rev'd Dr David Standen
Priest-in-Charge of the Benefice of
Stratton & Launcells, Budehaven with Marhamchurch

Thank you very much! That actually was a great help since it would've been cost-prohibitive for me to fly to Cornwall and read those myself.

Someday I'd like to make a trip and take a look at all of the places and all of the things I've been discovering instead of merely experiencing them 'virtually'. Teachers' salaries anywhere in the United States don't exactly make entering this profession a get-rich-quick scheme, and here in Florida, they make one feel more like a "plantation worker" than a "professional," but I'm starting to put away some nickels and dimes for just such an excursion.

Until then, however, I am exceedingly appreciative of the assistance and kindness I've received from everyone who is helping me learn so much about a place and a time that sometimes seem so very far away.

Regarding the information above, I've found reference to an "Altarpiece from the Abbey of Clairvaux, with five panels (15th cent.)" in Dijon. The source is the book Northern France, from Belgium and the English Channel to the Loire by Karl Baedeker (1909). I haven't been able to find the name of the artist of that piece or any five-part 15th century image.

I have come up with an image of St. Bernard "exorcising a possession" from an altarpiece [right] by the German painter Jörg Breu the Elder (c. 1475 – 1537). Breu was born in Augsburg, about 400 km from Dijon, so that makes him a possibility in terms of time and place, especially since the on-line date of the work is simply "circa 1500." I have not been able to find the location of this painting, though.

Does it look like the window? Probably. Would I have noticed the resemblance to the stained-glass Bernard above without anything having been mentioned? Probably not.

Finally, I think the quotation of St. Bernard's is particularly wonderful. I took the second half of the quote, the segment after the semi-colon, and punched it into three major search engines: Altavista, Bing, and various Google sites. I came up with only one location for it on-line, and it is lengthy:

It displays an excerpt from a 1937 book called Cornwall—England's Farthest South by Arthur Mee. Mr. Mee's context for the quote is: "The north window of the chancel has a big figure of St. Bernard holding a church; on a tablet nearby, in memory of a vicar, are these fine words of St. Bernard: Our works do not pass away, as they seem to do; they are the seeds sown in time of a harvest reaped in eternity."

It's obviously not a well-known quote, certainly not one that's proliferating across the internet. Barton R. V. Mills is the unnamed vicar in Mee's text.

I'm certain there are theologians and students of theology who study St. Bernard, his life, and his words today. I'm certain they write papers, present theses, and publish journal articles among themselves. Mills himself certainly did that.

What strikes me is that it was the death of Mills that managed to keep these powerful words by Bernard of Clairvaux alive among the lay people in Bude Haven. Arthur Mee never mentions Mills, but keeps the words of the saint alive in an English language text for the public at large—something Mills had been working to do during his career as a cleric. Finally, St. Bernard's words find their way here—on a blog, of all things!

Perhaps Barton Mills knew that St, Bernard's words were withering away in Latin, unavailable to the masses of the Modern age in which the reverend found himself in the early 20th century, post-World War I.

According to Mills' friend and colleague, Rev. Watkin W. Williams, M.A., in the Introduction to Williams' own short 1920 book on St. Bernard, The Treatise of St. Bernard, Abbat of Clairvaux, Concerning Grace and Free Will: "Researches made by my friend, the Rev. Barton Mills, have led to the conclusion that Mabillon's [commonly known] text of St. Bernard's writings, as presented in the Benedictine folio edition of Migne's Patrologia Latina, is far from trustworthy. It is not, perhaps, generally known that, when the Abbey of Clairvaux was sacked at the period of the French Revolution, a certain number of its literary treasures were rescued, and ultimately found an asylum in the Bibliothèque de la Ville in Troyes, where they still remain under the guardianship of the learned and courteous librarian, Mons. Morel-Payen."

Barton Mills spent the latter part of his life trying to define the thinking of Bernard of Clairvaux for a person—perhaps for members of his own family—and translating it for use by an increasingly modern public, regardless of social class.

Mills' 1901 book, The Marks of the Church, was initially criticized in the Church Quarterly Review [Vol. 54, April/June, 1902] as being "average" and "unnecessary," its sermons being "too plain and commonplace in style and matter to attract more than passing attention." However, a secular publication, The Bookseller [11 October 1901], had already lauded Mills for publishing a book that "more than merits the attention of the public," and whose "sermons fall in with the vogue of the day. Even pulpit utterances must be up to date, no less than other more sublunary affairs."

Perhaps the most interesting critique of the book came from The Churchwoman: "Plain and practical sermons, very much of the Walsham How type, which will describe them best." Rev. William Walsham How, of course, was a 19th century cleric who became Bishop of Wakefield. From Wikipedia: "He founded the East London Church Fund, and enlisted a large band of enthusiastic helpers, his popularity among all classes being immense."

In 1929, at almost 70 years of age, Barton Mills published his English translation of St. Bernard's twelve Degrees of Humility and Pride. In its preface Mills writes: "This volume is intended for those who do not read Latin, all quotations from classical or patristic writers have been translated, and for this purpose I have used and acknowledged public translations where such exist. Quotations from the Bible present some difficulty. St. Bernard of course uses the vulgate, and his arguments and phraseology are profoundly—and sometimes unfortunately—affected by that version."

I can't believe anyone in the hierarchy of the church was exactly doing cartwheels over a new interpretation of the 12th century writings of a saint, but Mills was at odds with the Anglican Church over several other issues as well, it seems. Writing about religion in a manner that would have suited the populace, not the Church, seems to have been one of those. Perhaps it was because his translations might not have encouraged theology students of the new century to read original church manuscripts in the Classical Languages. Why bother when clear, well-researched English language editions would be available?

In conclusion, the above quote from Bude Haven—written by St. Bernard and translated by Mills—is a remarkably fine example of what Mills was doing with the later years of his life: Making something he deeply and faithfully believed in available to us all.

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