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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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The theologian and poet Dom Sebastian Moore, who died on 28 February aged 96, kept his mischievous streak right up until the end.
One of his final poems, which he sent to The Tablet last November, takes aim at the new English translation of the Mass.
A monk of Downside Abbey in Somerset, Dom Sebastian was known to take a questioning stance to elements of church teaching through his books and poems. He was in the habit of writing a sonnet every day, and a collection of the poems entitled Remembered Bliss has just been published by Lapwing. The first copies arrived at Downside on the day he died.
Dom Sebastian came from an artistic family: among his great nephews are the actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes. Theology also runs in the genes – his nephew is Nicholas Lash, the Norris-Hulse Professor Emeritus of Divinity Cambridge University.
Dom Sebastian died in the 75th year of his monastic profession and his funeral Mass will take at Downside Abbey on Friday 14 March.
Below we reproduce his sonnet about the new translation of the Mass:
Poor little who
‘Oh God who gladden us…’ current missal
Poor little ‘who’, victim of a translation
Pulled back and forward both at the same time
And put into a state of consternation
Hardly evocative of the sublime.
‘O God who gladden’, so one prayer begins,
‘Who’ finds itself between ‘gladden’ and ‘God.’
Language that wants to sing, in effect sins,
Subconsciously we hear how words can plod.
This happened after twenty years of work
By English scholars was dumped overnight
For millions of Anglo-ears to irk:
The text is there for us to bring to light
While little ‘who’ still shivers in the cold
For millions of sheep still in the fold.
21 November 2013