Thursday, 19 February 2009

Brocard Sewell and Montague Summers


Father Brocard Sewell’s Montague Summers: A Memoir (1965) is a model of how to build bricks without straw. There are profound mysteries and gaps in Summers’s life and personality, yet despite the book’s slightness, Brocard was able to present a rounded portrait of the controversial priest and demonologist. Brocard always argued that Summers was in possession of valid holy orders ― even if they were obtained irregularly. He wrote in Tell Me Strange Things: A Memorial to Montague Summers (The Aylesford Press, 1991): " ... as he says at the beginning of his will, 'I, Montague Summers, Clerk in Holy Orders ...', there is no getting away from that. Anyone who says that Montague Summers was not in holy orders is just saying that which is not, and is talking about something that he doesn’t understand."

As he wrote in the Review (Summer 1966): "Would that [Summers] were here today to lash with his vitriolic pen (as it could be on occasion) those in the Latin Church who are busily engaged in dismantling the liturgical heritage of a thousand years."

It is stated in the obituary of Father Brocard Sewell ― the "Literary friar who challenged the authority of the Pope," as The Times characterised him ― that he died in London on 2 April 2000, aged 87. The Carmelite scholar, theologian, biographer, editor, printer and publisher was a great advocate of "minor literary figures," as the anonymous Times obituarist pronounced.

The Times obituarist struck a sour note, suggesting that the Review’s "eclecticism reflected Sewell’s own tastes, which ranged widely if uncertainly." Evidently his passion for Machen, Summers and Gray was misplaced! (These writers are admittedly not household names, but so much the worse for our households.) The Times also indulged in a little guilt-by-association innuendo. Father Brocard championed Henry Williamson when the writer was condemned for his fascist leanings: "His friendship with Henry Williamson led him into some dubious territory, since, like Williamson, he was an admirer of Sir Oswald Mosley." Father Brocard claimed never to have voted Conservative. In an obituary notice written for The Independent Brocard’s friend the artist Jane Percival quoted his views on Mosley: "Sir Oswald is a greatly misunderstood man, but I feel that he is partly himself to blame for this. The turning point came, I think, when he was released from prison in 1944. He should then, in my judgement, have retired from politics."

A key to Father Brocard’s tolerant personality can be found in Jane Percival’s assessment: "He had an entirely non-judgemental attitude. He hardly ever criticised others and if he did it was with some subtle epithet which would be hard to interpret and which could hardly give offence to anyone." Montague Summers was elevated to the episcopate within the Old Catholic succession in his latter years and died of a heart attack in 1948. His vampirological mantle awaited the arrival of Seán Manchester.

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