Monday, 23 July 2012

Fr. Bertrand Wilberforce OP 1839 - 1904

Father Arthur Henry Bertrand Wilberforce was the grandson of the evangelical abolitionist crusader William Wilberforce, and a convert Dominican who was learned in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.  He was called to give judgement upon the mysticism of Teresa and her devotion of the Sacred Head, and after subjecting her letters describing them to rigorous scrutiny according to the principles of Thomist theology, he was to become a very enthusiastic promoter of the devotion, a friend of Teresa and a consultant for her directors Fr. Edward Powell and Canon Alfred Snow.  The biography of his life and letters by Father Vincent McNabb OP is available online here.

He was born on 14 March 1839 at Lavington in Sussex and was later to be received into the Catholic church and become a Dominican priest, later becoming Preacher General.  He became a widely known spiritual director, missioner and writer on spiritual matters, giving missions and retreats around the country and was invited to preach at the opening of the church of St. Alexander, Bootle in 1867.  He was to give a retreat as a very sick man in 1904 at St. Scholastica's Abbey, Teignmouth (a community that alas ceased in 1986), when Teresa was only a few miles away in Chudleigh, and later was to die in Chiswick, London on December 14th, 1904, on exactly the same day that Teresa fell ill with a stroke that was final illness leading to her death.

He was to comment on her letters in 1882: "I think much of what she writes is, especially for a person of her education and little reading, very wonderful and that it shows great illumination of mind.  Her humility, obedience and mortification are wonderful, and, on reading the letters, my mind seems to feel that they are true."

He was in regular contact with Teresa when he was the chaplain to the Dominican sisters at Stone, Staffordshire, and when she was based six miles away at the mission school in Eccleshall, undergoing the terrible purifications and trials before her mystical marriage.  When it was to occur in October 1887, he was to say, "It is a high and wonderful mystery, and when the saints are favoured with the union of the mystic nuptials, it is the completion of in the highest way of that mystical union between Him and every soul in grace.  May His Name be ever praised for all His graces and for all He has done in the soul of His Spouse."

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