Salve Mater

In reflecting upon another subject on another blog (Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy), I found myself picking up Frederick Kinsman’s Salve Mater again, and came to the back of his wonderful little book. Kinsman was the Episcopal bishop of Delaware in the early 20th century, eventually resigning and becoming a Roman Catholic. It is a book well worth reading by anyone thinking about ecclesiology what the term Salve Mater entails.

He comes at the end to talk about his recognition that the Church is the hospital for the wounded, a nursing mother to nourish her children. As he was pondering all this, he read John Henry Newman’s Loss and Gain and came upon the following:

“He felt himself possessed, he knew not how, by a high superhuman power, which seemed able to push through mountains, and to walk the sea. With winter around him, he felt within like the springtide, when all is new and bright. He perceived that he had found, what indeed he had never sought, because he had never known what it was, but what he had ever wanted—a soul sympathetic with his own. He felt he was no longer alone in the world, though he was losing that true congenial mind the very moment he had found him. Was this, he asked himself, the communion of Saints? Alas! how could it be, when he was in one communion and Willis in another? “O mighty Mother!” burst from his lips; he quickened his pace almost to a trot, scaling the steep ascents and diving into the hollows which lay between him and Boughton. “O mighty Mother!” he still said, half unconsciously; “O mighty Mother! I come, O mighty Mother! I come; but I am far from home. Spare me a little; I come with what speed I may, but I am slow of foot, and not as others, O mighty Mother!”

Kinsman than adds a quote from Hugh Benson: “To the world she is a Queen, rigid, arrogant, and imperious, robed in stiff gold and jewels, looking superbly out upon crime and revolt; but to her own children she is Mother even more than Queen. She fingers the hurts of her tiniest sons, listens to their infinitesimal sorrows, teaches them patiently their lessons, desires passionately that they should grow up as princes should. And, supremely above all, she knows how to speak to them of their Father and Lord, how to interpret His will to them, how to tell them the story of His exploits; she breathes into them something of her own love and reverence; she encourages them to be open and unafraid with both her and Him; she takes them apart by a secret way to introduce them to His presence.”

How hard it is for those who are outside to look in and see what the Orthodox see (or what these two converts saw in Rome). For us we may not understand all that the Church teaches, but we are not called to understand, but to submit, to obey and to do (“This do . . .” not “This understand in remembrance . . .”). As I read Kinsman once again, I could hear Cardinal Newman’s famous hymn, Lead Kindly Light, rolling through my head.


Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom,
lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years!

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

I had confessed owing a great debt to Anglicans. I owe a great debt as well to Catholics. I have to confess that one of the men most responsible for helping me in my conversion to Orthodoxy is an Irish Catholic who now attends a Byzantine Catholic Church. But it was not just his encouragements, nor his ever-present needling me about the uncatholic nature of my Protestantism, but seeing in him the very reality of a catholic Churchman. By this I don’t mean someone who grovels before his priest, nor even someone who says “I don’t know all the answers but trust that the Church does.” Instead someone who is observant of what his Mother teaches, seeks to keep the fasts, the disciplines, and the offices. Someone who, what is more, seeks to defend the Church from the myriad erroneous vacuities that parade as catholic. When I first became Orthodox, so much was only dimly real to me, and I felt very much like the pilgrim in Newman’s story, and in his hymn. It is only with time that we understand God’s ways with us, and of the ways of our Mother: imperious to those without, kindly tender to those within.

About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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2 Responses to Salve Mater

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Billy says:

    I dearly love Newman’s hymn. Although an Anglican, I’ve shed nearly all of my Protestant tendencies in obedience to the Church. I suppose to some extent, pride still rules my will since as an Anglican I worship in a communion that divided itself from the Church Christ founded. But more and more, that wonderful imagery from St. Paul’s allegory captures my heart: “Jerusalem which is above is free and the Mother of us all.” There is such a freedom of conscience in submitting to my mother. It’s a paradox of sorts that abiding by the rules grants liberty, but as Newman said, “the night is gone.”

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