Thursday, December 30, 2004

Clerical Stuff...

There are few greater joys that coming across a book one didn’t realise one had. I’d totally forgotten that I’d acquired a copy of AN Wilson’s Faber Book of Church and Clergy which is filled with gems like Msgr Ronald Knox’s poetic response to a rhymed letter of congratulations.

I’m the sort of man they make an Apostolic Protonotary –
I’ve written reams and reams of prose, and quite a lot of poetry:
To walk on garden-rollers is among my minor glories,
And I used to be prevailed upon to write detective stories;
I can also punt canoes (or, as they say in Greenland) kayaks,
And had quite a flair at one time for composing elegiacs;
I can look up trains in Bradshaw*, on occasions locomotory,
As undoubtedly becomes an Apostolic Protonotary.

In short, when I’ve unravelled all the complicated mystery,
About what the Holy Office does, the Rota, the Consistory;
When I’ve studied more theology, and don’t get quite so drowsy on
Attending learned lectures which discuss the Homoousion;
When I’ve somehow put behind me (with my poor command of French) a list,
Of authors whose philosophy is known as Existentialist,
When my learning on a multitude of themes is less bucolic –
There’s ne’er a Protonotary will be so Apostolic.

November 1951.
(* Readers of PG Wodehouse will know Bradshaw to have been a British collection of railway timetables.)

Then there’s the following extract from Francis Kilvert’s Diaries:
April 1874
Then the Vicar of Fordington told us of the state of things in his parish when he first came to it a half century ago. No man had ever been known to receive the Holy Communion except the parson, the clerk and the sexton. There were 16 women communicants and most of them went away when he refused to pay them for coming. They had been accustomed there at some place in the neighbourhood to pass the cup to each other with a nod of the head. At one church there were two male communicants. When the cup was given to the first he touched his forelock and said, ‘Here’s to your good health, Sir’. The other said, ‘Here’s to the good health of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
One day there was a christening and no water in the Font. ‘Water, Sir!’ said the clerk in astonishment. ‘The last parson never used no water. He spit into his hand.’

Finally, a depiction of High Anglican life from Compton Mackenzie’s The Parson’s Progress:
In the morning at sunrise Mark was woken by Dorward’s throwing various articles on his camp-bed and muttering to himself in evident agitation:
‘Can’t say Mass this morning. Can’t say Mass. I’ve forgotten to bring the maniple, No maniple. No Mass. It’s that muddle-headed Mrs Gladstone. I told her to be sure that she packed all my vestments. And she’s forgotten the maniple.’
‘Well, you’ll have to say Mass without it,’ Mark replied firmly.
‘My dear boy, it couldn’t be done.’
‘Don’t be so ridiculous, Dorward. You can’t disappoint these poor people at the last minute. Besides, if it comes to that, you’d be restoring the original use of the maniple by tying an ordinary dinner-napkin to your left arm. You haven’t forgotten anything else? Have you brought the chalice?’
Mark knew that Dorwood was not serious in refusing to say Mass, and after a short argument it was agreed that the absence of a maniple would not invalidate the Mass.
‘Have you got the cassock and cotta for the server?’ Mark asked.
‘No cassock,’ said Dorward. ‘Don’t be so High Church, Mark. You never see the servers in France or Flanders bothering about cassocks.’

Sunday, December 26, 2004

On the feast of Stephen...

Belated Christmas greetings to my small cadre of readers – I hope that the New Year brings you every grace and blessing.
Technically, today is the Feast of the Holy Family, but liturgical law notwithstanding, I still find myself calling it St Stephen’s Day. The British refer to today as Boxing Day, a reference to the fact that servants and tradesmen received ‘Christmas Boxes’ of goodies from their employees on this day. I doubt this custom survives, however to the Irish, the 26th of December is St. Stephen’s Day and is connected with the custom of the ‘Wran’. The ‘wran’ or (more properly) the ‘wren’ still survives in some rural parts of Ireland. Bands of men, young and old, (the wrenboys) put together disguises and travel from house to house, performing music and dances in exchange for a few coins and perhaps some refreshments. The traditional song for the day is the following ditty:
The wran, the wran, the King of all Birds,
On St Stephen’s Day got caught in
the furze,
So up with the pot and down
with the pan,
And give us a
penny to bury the wran.
The ‘furze’ would be better known as the gorse bush and the ‘wren’ is a small brown songbird. Traditionally, the wrenboys would have caught and killed a wren earlier in the day and carried it with them as they made their rounds of the neighbourhood. Nowadays, of course, this is no longer done and a piece of furze bush is pressed into service as a replacement totem for the wren himself. But why this hostility to the wren? Traditionally, the Irish considered the wren to be the smallest and weakest of the birds, and therefore by necessity the most cunning. The tale is told that there was a contest between the birds as to who should be their King. The bird who flew the highest would receive the throne. Needless to say, the mighty eagle soared high above all other competitors. However, the wily wren had secreted himself on the eagle’s back and when the eagle had reached the zenith of his flight, the wren took off and flew a few feet higher again.
This same cunning was to lead to the wren’s disgrace. I have been discussing with a correspondent various Irish Christian folklore and it strikes me that I had forgotten to mention the number of animal takes amongst them. Some are probably familiar to most of the English-speaking world – the origin of the cross on the back of an ass’s back and the robin’s red breast. However, there is a peculiarly Irish tale that for profit the wren betrayed the Holy Family to Herod’s soldiers as they fled into Egypt. There are a number of variations on the tale, but my favourite is the one where the Holy Holy Family hide in a cave and a spider contrives to put a web over the opening of the cave, thus making the pursuers think the cave was empty. Therefore, for his treachery, the wren is ‘hunted’ each St Stephen’s Day. In a variation, it is said that the wren had a hand in St Stephen’s execution too.
Traditionally the proceeds of the wrenboys’ labours went to finance a post-Christmas party – the Wren Ball. Due to their rowdy nature, the clergy attempted to suppress these gatherings in the late 19th and first half of the 20th Century. However, wags, with some justice, suggested that without the courting and matches made at these wren balls, there wouldn’t be as many priests brought into the world!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

In the news...

An ominous headline - Jews to face new rules in Germany - but thankfully the reality is much more benign...
Cat's gravestone fetches £200,000 at Sotheby's - the headstone in question is actually a medieval carving of St. Peter.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Friday, December 17, 2004

O Bambino mio Divino!

No Italian Christmas would be complete without a hearty rendition of Tu scendi dalle Stelle. Curiously, the lyrics are based on a poem by Bl. Pius IX and the tune was composed by St Alphonsus Ligouri.
1. Tu scendi dalle stelle
O Re del Cielo
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo
2. O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato
Ah, quanti ti costo
L'avermi amato
3. A te che sei del mondo,
Il creatore
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore
4. Caro eletto, Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà,
Piu m'innamora
Giacche ti fece
Amor povero ancora
For those of you who are Italian-imparied there's a (not quite literal) translation here.
There's an mp3 of the Three Tenors singing this hymn halfway down this page.

Correlation found between beards and academia...

The Telegraph reports:
A correlation between having a beard and being a professor has been uncovered by scientists, suggesting a reason for discrimination against women in academia.
A study of 1,800 male academics has revealed professors are twice as likely as lecturers to have bristles.
My personal theory is that women tend to be far too sane and balanced (in general) to become top-ranking academics who (in general) tend to be bonkers.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Kenyan Presbyterian Iconoclasts...

The Telegraph has this unusual story from Kenya which reports that local presbyterians are removing images in their churches because the Scottish missionaries who put them there were 'devil worshipers'.
Many Kenyan Christians believe there is a link between Freemasons and Satanists. Fear of devil worship runs deep in Kenya; a presidential inquiry into the practice ordered six years ago, reported that Satanic rituals, practices and symbols had become institutionalised.
The group took particular objection to the St Andrew's Cross, as well as to depictions of snakes and other wild animals in the stained glass.
Mr Githii insists that since the images had been removed, the atmosphere in the church had improved dramatically.
"These masonic objects gave off some kind of evil power that was affecting worship, a Satanic power," he said. "Now that we have removed them people have been revived and they are singing much more vigorously." He urged the Church in Scotland to follow Kenya's lead to stop congregations dwindling.
Somehow I find it hard to believe that the St Andrew's Cross is behind the Kirk's difficulties.

Google to collaborate with University Libraries...

If this ever pans out, I'm cancelling my life. I'll be glued to my computer until death...
The dream of instant, free access to centuries' worth of learning moved a huge step closer to reality yesterday under an agreement between Google and some of the world's top libraries to put their holdings online.
The internet giant unveiled plans to scan millions of books currently on the stacks of libraries, including the Bodleian at Oxford University, and make their contents available at the click of a computer mouse.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mary at the Foot of the Cross...

It has, perhaps, become unfashionable to refer to the longstanding tradition within the Church that Our Lady was spared the normal pains of childbrith when Our Lord was born. As the pain of childbirth is associated with Original Sin. As God says to Eve in Gen 3:16: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
Now, I don't propose to go into the whole debate about what kind of childbirth Mary had - I've heard opinions ranging the claim (not in accordance with the Tradition) that it was a perfectly normal childbirth to the condemned proposition of a Medieval German monk who suggested that Our Lord was born of light emerging from the ears of Our Lady.
What is interesting though is this snippet of a Middle English poem:
Nu thu fondest, moder milde,
Wat wyman drith with hir childe,
Thei thu clene maiden be.
Nu thes thiolden arde and dere
The pine werof thu were
Ine ti chilthing quite and fre.
(Now you find, mother mild
What women suffer with their children,
Though you were a pure virgin,
Now you have suffered hard and dearly,
The pain of which you were
In childbirth free and clear
The author is repeating an analogy (or even a strict identification) found in some patristic sources (including, I am reliably informed,Chrysostom) between the pain that Mary did not suffer at Christ's birth and the pain she experienced at the foot of the Cross.
One could, perhaps, speculatively link this with Our Lady's title as Mother of the Church and the patristic notion of the Church being born from the side of Christ on the Cross. From that, one could make the leap to the woman in Revelation (who does suffer the pains of childbirth).

Ringo Roundup...

I read this news in an Italian newspaper this morning, and just found confirmation on-line.
Legendary drummer RINGO STARR has made his own version of THE BEATLES' first hit LOVE ME DO - more than 40 years after the original version was released.
Starr was furious Beatles producer GEORGE MARTIN banned him from playing drums on the track in 1962, because he'd just joined the Fab Four and Martin doubted his talents.
But the 64-year-old's currently untitled new album with backing band THE ROUNDHEADS will contain a cover of the song with him providing percussion and replacing PAUL McCARTNEY on vocals. Meanwhile, AEROSMITH's STEVEN TYLER will play JOHN LENNON's iconic harmonica solo.

Pangur Bán

One of the most charming pieces of Irish poetry is the poem 'Pangur Bán'. Written in the Irish language by one of the monkish diaspora scattered throughout Europe in the 9th Century, and is found in a manuscript in an Austrian monastary. Robin Flower's translation nicely captures the tone of the original work which the author composed whilst working in the scriptorium. Flower was an Englishman, but a great scholar of and friend to Gaelic culture and he neatly reproduces the constructions and idiom of the Hiberno-English he would have found in the West of Ireland.
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Uri Geller (that most reliable of sources..) tells about the little golden egg given to John Lennon by aliens...

Oh dear....

A correspondant (biretta doff..) sends me the following link which reveals that British Celebrity couple David Beckham (soccer player) and wife Victoria (formerly 'Posh Spice') have been chosen to play Joseph and Mary in the Madame Tussaud's Waxwork Museum nativity scene in London.
If one looks through the slideshow, one sees that pop-star Kylie Minogue plays an angel; Tony Blair, George W Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh are the wise men; whilst the shepherds are represented by Hugh Grant, Samuel L Jackson (Ezekiel 25:17...) and 'gay' comic Graham Norton.
The Rev Jonathan Jennings told BBC News: "There is a tradition in which each generation tries to re-enact the nativity, but oh deary me."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Latin Acronym...

Guaranteed to raise a titter the next time one attends a clerical tea-party...

A Room with a View & etc...

I've been particularly busy and empty-headed of late, thus the dearth of posts...
It probabably comes as quite a surprise to people who know me that one of my favorite novels is EM Forster's A Room with a View. Incidentally, one of the best-cast movies ever is the Merchant-Ivory production of the same. Anyway, I was flicking through my copy yesterday and came across one of my favourite scenes which I reproduce (because, quite frankly, I've nothing else to post...)
Freddy and Mrs Honeychurch are waiting in the drawing-room while Cecil proposes to Lucy (sister to Freddy, daughter to Mrs Honeychurch) on the lawn:
The curtains parted.
Cecil's first movement was one of irritation. He couldn't bear the Honeychurch habit of sitting in the dark to save the furniture. Instinctively he give the curtains a twitch, and sent them swinging down their poles. Light entered. There was revealed a terrace, such as is owned by many villas with trees each side of it, and on it a little rustic seat, and two flower-beds. But it was transfigured by the view beyond, for Windy Corner was built on the range that overlooks the Sussex Weald. Lucy, who was in the little seat, seemed on the edge of a green magic carpet which hovered in the air above the tremulous world.
Cecil entered.
Appearing thus late in the story, Cecil must be at once described. He was medieval. Like a Gothic statue. Tall and refined, with shoulders that seemed braced square by an effort of the will, and a head that was tilted a little higher than the usual level of vision, he resembled those fastidious saints who guard the portals of a French cathedral. Well educated, well endowed, and not deficient physically, he remained in the grip of a certain devil whom the modern world knows as self-consciousness, and whom the medieval, with dimmer vision, worshipped as asceticism. A Gothic statue implies celibacy, just as a Greek statue implies fruition, and perhaps this was what Mr. Beebe meant. And Freddy, who ignored history and art, perhaps meant the same when he failed to imagine Cecil wearing another fellow's cap.
Mrs. Honeychurch left her letter on the writing table and moved towards her young acquaintance.
"Oh, Cecil!" she exclaimed--"oh, Cecil, do tell me!"
"I promessi sposi," said he.
They stared at him anxiously.
"She has accepted me," he said, and the sound of the thing in English made him flush and smile with pleasure, and look more human.
"I am so glad," said Mrs. Honeychurch, while Freddy proffered a hand that was yellow with chemicals. They wished that they also knew Italian, for our phrases of approval and of amazement are so connected with little occasions that we fear to use them on great ones. We are obliged to become vaguely poetic, or to take refuge in Scriptural reminiscences.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Latest from Rome

Following the handover of the relics of Ss John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen to the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Eternal City is abuzz with rumours that the Pope plans to return the remains of Karl Rahner to the Lutherans. :)

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Some untidy thoughts on the Prologue to St.John's Gospel
It's interesting to consider the prologue of St. John's Gospel as being an alterative to the geneologies and infancy narriatives presented by Ss. Luke and Matthew. Instead of a human geneology or the the Virgin Birth, we are invited to focus on Christ, the Eternal Logos, or (as I once heard somewhere) the 'prehistory of Christ.'
In this season of Advent, we could do worse than reflect on two passages from this great hymn (has it ever been put to music in English or Latin??).
Firstly, and most obviously, there are those marvellous words : "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." How can we say that, without adding 'Deo Gratias!' The miracle of the incarnation, the divine condescension... as we prayed at vespers this evening:
Though he was in the form of God, Jesus Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Secondly, for Advent, we have those heart-breaking words from John's prologue "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not." Advent is not a penetential season, like lent, but it is one of a certain austerity. Could we not make it our special intention this Advent that the Lord help us sharpen our 'spiritual sense' that we might recognise His presence and His work in the world?
Some Newman
I say, that we must not only have faith in Him, but must wait on Him; not only must hope, but must watch for Him; not only love Him, but must long for Him; not only obey Him, but must look out, look up earnestly for our reward, which is Himself. We must not only make Him the Object of our faith, hope, and charity, but we must make it our duty not to believe the world, not to hope in the world, not to love the world. We must resolve not to hang on the world's opinion, or study its wishes. It is our mere wisdom to be thus detached from all things below. "The time is short," says the Apostle; "it remaineth that they who weep be as though they wept not, and they that rejoice as if they rejoiced not, and they that buy as though they possessed not, and they that use this world as if they used it not, for the fashion of this world passeth away."

- John Henry Newman
And a Link to a Hymn
Conditor alme siderum, the great Advent hymn.

Thanksgiving? Spaniards? P'tish...

There's been a deal of chatter in the 'blogosphere about Thanksgiving, and the fact that the Spaniards landed in America long before the Puritans. True enough, and the first recorded Mass celebrated in the New World was celebrated by a Spanish priest. However, that doesn't mean that they were the first Catholics in America. Long before, sometime in the 6th Century, the Irish Saint Brendan and companions got there first. As the Navagatio puts it:
At the end of forty days, towards evening, a dense cloud overshadowed them, so dark that they could scarce see one another. Then the procurator said to St Brendan: ‘Do you know, father, what darkness is this?’ And the saint replied that he knew not. ‘This darkness,’ said he, ‘surrounds the island you have sought for seven years; you will soon see that it is the entrance to it ;’ and after an hour had elapsed a great light shone around them, and the boat stood by the shore.
When they had disembarked, they saw a land, extensive and thickly set with trees, laden with fruits, as in the autumn season. All the time they were traversing that land, during their stay in it, no night was there, but a light always shone, like the light of the sun in the meridian, and for the forty days they viewed the land in various directions, they could not find the limits thereof. One day, however, they carne to a large river flowing towards the middle of the land, which they could not by any means cross over. St Brendan then said to the brethren: ‘We cannot cross over this river, and we must therefore remain ignorant of the size of this country.’ While they were considering this matter, a young man of resplendent features, and very handsome aspect, came to them, and joyfully embracing and addressing each of them by his own name, said: ‘Peace be with you, brothers, and with all who practise the peace of Christ. Blessed are they who dwell in thy house, O Lord; they shall praise Thee for ever and ever.’
He then said to St Brendan: ‘This is the land you have sought after for so long a time; but you could not hitherto find it, because Christ our Lord wished, first to display to you His divers mysteries in this immense ocean. Return now to the land of your birth, bearing with you as much of those fruits and of those precious stones, as your boat can carry; for the days of your earthly pilgrimage must draw to a close, when you may rest in peace among your saintly brethren. After many years this land will be made manifest to those who come after you, when days of tribulation may come upon ‘the people of Christ. The great river you see here divides this land into two parts; and just as it appears now, teeming with ripe fruits, so does it ever remain, without any blight or shadow whatever, for light unfailing shines thereon.’ When St Brendan inquired whether this land ‘would. be revealed unto men, the young man replied: ‘When the Most High Creator will have brought all nations under subjection, then will this land be made known to all His elect.’ Soon after, St Brendan, having received the blessing of this man, prepared for his return to his own country. He gathered some of the fruits of the land, and various kinds of precious stones; and having taken a last farewell of the good procurator who had each year provided food for him arid his brethren, he embarked once more and sailed back through the darkness again.
Precious stones and an encounter with an angel... Much more to give thanks for than turkeys and 'Red Indians'...

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Foolish Virgins...

"Some say that that the lack of oil in the lamps of the foolish virgins means a lack of good deeds in their lifetimes. Such an interpretation is not quite correct. Why should they be lacking in good deeds if they are called virgins, even though foolish ones?... I, the humble one, think that what they were lacking was the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God. These virgins practiced the virtues, but in their spiritual ignorance, they supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works."
- Seraphim of Sarov

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Happy St. Clement's Day...

Linus, Cletus, Clement! Today we celebrate the feast of the 3rd successor of St. Peter, one who happily left behind his Epistle to the Corinthiahs. It dates to the end of the 1st Century, making it of an age with the later parts of the New Testament. Indeed, in some churches (including Corinth) it was accorded equal status with the Scriptures until univeral agreement was reached about the Canon of inspired writings. It is a rebuke to the church of Corinth and is seen as a significant indicator that the Roman church possessed some sort of authority (scholars argue whether this authority was of a moral or juridical nature) at a very early date.
The main Roman celebrations of the feast will be at the Irish Domincan church of San Clemente, just a stone's throw from the Colosseum. Last year, Matt of the Holy Whapping reported on the San Clemente celebrations in Rome, and this year I hope to experience them personally. Also interred in San Clemente are Ss. Ignatius of Antioch and Cyril, Apostle of the Slavs. Ignatius's body was brought there after his martyrdom at the Colosseum. The association between Cyril and Clement is more curious. It is said that Clement was banished from Rome and was thrown into the Black Sea with an anchor around his neck. Annually, the waters parted to allow pilgrims to venerate the remains until St Cyril returned them to San Clemente in Rome.
San Clemente is also one of the most important archeological sites in Rome. The upper church dates to the 11th Century, after the Norman sack of Rome. However, until the 19th Century it was believed that this was the original 4th Century church. However, an enterprising Irish Dominican and amateur archeologist spotted inconsistencies with this late date and began to dig. He uncovered the wonderfully preserved remains of the older church underneath the present building. His successors continuted to dig, revealing a 1st century pagan worship site and private dwelling place beneath that again. Some archeologists argue that this may well have been the home of Clement himself.
It's also worth remembering that today is also the feast of St Columbanus, an Irish missionary who established monasteries throughout Europe, before finally reaching Bobbio in the North of Italy. It is also the feast of Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Flash CV...

Biretta-doff to the Oligarch for linking to this incredibly annoying Flash CV (in English). He forgot to mention, however, that the French version rhymes!!!

In the News...

Quite few items of interest today:
There's this account of a journalist's life with the troops in Iraq.
Before becoming a journalist, I served in the British armed forces. Last week, if the distinction between journalist and soldier was becoming blurred, it was part and parcel of being an "embed".
On one occasion, I spotted a copper wire that could have been the trigger for a booby trap. The sergeant thanked me and we all stepped over it.
Also in a military vein, it seems that the British are treating some of their Commonwealth soldiers quite shabbily.
This account of a doctor who organized an abortion at 31 weeks is particularly disturbing. Of course her main concern is the possibility of losing her licence.
Saroj Adlakha turned away from the desk in her surgery office and leaned back in her swivel chair, wrapping her arms around her body. Peering benignly through her-pince nez, the neatly dressed GP spoke with calming, measured tones: "It is just a matter of taking the courage and afterwards, I can assure you, you will think it was just a bad dream."
The man sitting opposite her nodded. He had just described to her at length how he was the parent of a university student who was 29 weeks' pregnant and wanted to abort her healthy foetus for "social" reasons.
Although this man was not her patient, Dr Adlakha, a successful career woman and a mother herself, was sympathetic and determined that his 18-year-old daughter's academic career should not be impeded by the inconvenience of an unwanted child.
This editorial explains:
One of the most frequent and yet mysterious justifications for illegal late abortions was expressed by Dr Adlakha: that the unborn child will somehow be grateful that it is spared the pain of being adopted by strangers.
One can only hope that this will open people's eyes to the evil nature of all abortion.
On a much lighter note, the Telegraph seems bemused by the emergence of "wholesome faith-based entertainment or "Christian chick-lit" in the States.
According to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, sales of Christian fiction are worth $2 billion (£1.07 billion) annually. The market for romantic novels is growing by 25 per cent a year. The Whitney Chronicles was published last month by Steeple Hill Cafe, promising "hip, fun and smart fiction for modern and savvy women of faith".
One can appreciate the sentiments, but it sounds like awful stuff.
On slightly related note, I've been re-reading Pride and Prejudice (stop laughing) and had forgotten how far Jane could push the envelope on occasion...
Miss Bingley made no answer; and soon afterwards got up and walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; -- but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings she resolved on one effort more; and turning to Elizabeth, said,
``Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. -- I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.''
Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility; Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their chusing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. ``What could he mean? she was dying to know what could be his meaning'' -- and asked Elizabeth whether she could at all understand him?
``Not at all,'' was her answer; ``but depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it.''
Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in any thing, and persevered therefore in requiring an explanation of his two motives.
``I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,'' said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. ``You either chuse this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; -- if the first, I should be completely in your way; -- and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.''
Shocking! :)

Turkey and the EU

Father Bryce links to this article which mentions, amongst other things, the possible admission of Turkey to EU Membership. The writer notes:
Perhaps the only thing that infuriates the European man-in-the-street more than such bureaucratic shiftiness is the United States' bafflingly consistent support for Turkish E.U. membership.
There's nothing baffling about it at all. America badly needs new allies in the Middle East and Turkey is not an unreasonable candidate. At the worst, the US will earn some 'brownie points' with the Turks by lobbying for EU membership. Best case scenario for the States would be Turkish admission into EU - it'd mean that Turkey would have to move more towards the Western Democratic model and would be included in any military alliances between the US and whatever military arm emerges from the EU in the future. (The current coolness between the US and France, Germany, et al is just a red herring. It should be seen as little more than a lovers tiff - in the long run, the US and Europe are 'on the same side' so far as military matters are concerned.)

Don't Look Down...

“And without warning when we're almost at the top,
The wheel that turns us all comes to a sudden stop.
The wind that's blown us dies a quick and painless death;
The air gets clammy and we hold each other's breath,
We get the feeling that we're not alone in this
And then a God, who really ought not to exist,
Sticks out a great big hand and grabs me by the wrist,
And asks me, ‘Why?’ and I say, ‘Well God, it's like this,
It may be arrogance or just appalling taste,
But I'd rather use my pain than let it all go to waste
On some old God who tells me what I want to hear.
As if I cannot tell obedience from fear.
I want to take my pleasures where and how I will,
Be they disgraceful or distasteful or distilled,
And to be frank I find that life has more appeal
Without a driver who's asleep behind the wheel!’
Then God decides that he has taken quite enough
Of all this atheistic tosh I'm spouting off,
And so he calls upon his favourite angel choir
To sing of times when men were filled with Christian fire.
But over-zealous angels flap their wings too fast
And cause the wind to blow and turn the wheel at last,
And soon my feet are safely back on solid ground,
And then I hear a voice say, ‘Don't look down!’”
- from Don't Look Down by The Divine Comedy...
(Probably the best album ever)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Malundrum...

According to my Latin dictionary, a malundrum is a type of plant mentioned by Pliny. Of course, it should mean a dilemma with no good option.

On the Vigil of Christ the King...

Here's a little Hopkins...

To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion

Some Solzhenitsyn

A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly—but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter. . . . Then after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.
That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”
From The Gulag Archipelago

In the news...

The Telegraph reports on an interview with Ratzinger, which says absolutely nothing new! I suppose the only interesting thing is that the interview as in the leftish organ 'La Repubblica'.
More interestingly, here's a nice Christmas gift - if you've got about a hundred grand to spare - the suits worn by the Beatles on the cover of 'Please, Please Me' are up for sale!
According to the Dutch, the odour of sanctity could kill! (Well, they're going to have to pry my thurible from my cold dead hands...)
Also in the Telegraoph, news of the restoration work at La Scala.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Consult the Book of Armaments!

A fascinating set of articles in the Telegraph about the so-called Macclesfield Psalter, a recently discovered illuminated manuscript. This article explains that there is a fight to keep the manuscript in Britain, whilst this article describes it as the 'Monty Python' saucy psalter, due to the fact that it was decorated with bizarre and typically British cheeky images.
The margins contain Monty Python-esque images, possibly designed to ward off evil - or perhaps to hold the reader's attention if it happens to wander off spiritual matters - which include grotesques with faces in their bottoms, strange naked wild men, a dog dressed as a bishop, rabbits and a giant skate swimming across a page.


My plates of meat are giving me no end of gip at the moment, (I'm also inexplicably lapsing into cockney-speak) so I'm invoking the help of St. Servatus, one of those great Anti-Arian bishops of the 4th Century.
This article in the Telegraph describes the new Italian Foreign Minister - at one stage he described Mussolini as being 'the 20th century's greatest statesman.' If you read Italian, you'll probably get a laugh out of Gianelli's take on the situation. He contrasts the 'black' Condoleza Rice with the 'black' (i.e. 'blackshirt') Fini.
Also in the Corriere della Sera is this beautiful picture of St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow in the snow.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

There's never a good time not to medidate on this...

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.
From Newman's Meditations and Devotions

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

De Bello

Lauren links to this post in partial response to my post here. (You guys get that?)
I have replied in her comments box, but thing it worthwhile to repeat the substance (slightly expanded)of my remarks:

I was not supportive of the decision to enter Iraqi when and how the Americans and Brits did. I am not sad to see Saddam gone and I do think that many of the other Western powers could and should have taken a more hawkish stance against him. However, that does not mean that I am in favour of a withdrawal at this time. There is a de facto state of war/rebellion in Iraq and there are American and British troops involved. To withdraw or to fail to defend the Iraqi government would be wrong. Now that the troops are there, they have their mission and the Americans, British et al have their responsabilities.
The action of several nations to withdraw from Iraq (particularly under pressure from terrorists) strikes me a cowardly and sinful.
I don't know how the American media is reporting Fallujah, but they have a duty to do so responably - neither obscuring the truth nor needlessly undermining the morale of the troops and the American people. The main issue, from a news point of view, should indeed be how the action is proceding as a military operation without neglecting the conduct of the troops involved.
Lauren, it may seem that the American troops are coming under a lot of criticism. This may be so. The level of criticism may be excessive or unjust. I simply don't know. However, from my point of view, I hold it to be essential that the troops behave honourably and with due restraint. This is because we expect the soldiers of a Western democratic nation to behave with integrity. We hold the Americans and British to high standards because we expect to be able to respect them. It is a compliment. It is based on their honourable behaviour in several previous conflicts. We do not expect them to regress to the level of the undisciplined terrorists they have to face. To do that, to behave less than honourably, to compromise integrity, to sacrifice discipline and justice because of the brutalality of one's enemies is a form of defeat. A just cause pursued in an unjust manner is no just cause at all.
I think it probable that there will be a Western presence in Iraq for the next few years - a quick withdrawal does not seem to be an option, even when 'peace' has been restored. The Allies are (whether they like it or not) likely to be there for the long haul. Pragmatically speaking, the only way they are going to achive genuine success is if they behave with firm restraint and in accordance with all that is good and honourable in the military tradition.
Jon says: Don't forget that the purpose of an army is to secure victory, kill people, and break things. I would put it differently - I would say that an army serves its country in doing things that we civilians have neither the strenght or courage to do ourselves. In doing those things, they can either comport them honourably or behave like beasts. (Recall how the unreasonable behaviour of the British army played a part in provoking the American War of Independence) If the civilian population cannot rely on the army to behave honourably, then they will inevitably be treated with fear and/or contempt. If this happens, everyone loses.
(Of course, this places a huge onus on journalists too - their service to the truth demands that the troops are not unfairly maligned.)

On being Idolized...

This post by Fr Jim Tucker reminds me of the following poem...
On Being Idolized (Robert Frost)
The wave sucks back and with the last of water
It wraps a wisp of seaweed round my legs,
And with the swift rush of its sandy dregs
So undermines my barefoot stand I totter,
And did I not take steps would be tipped over
Like the ideal of some mistaken lover.

Monday, November 15, 2004

It's always in the last place one looks...

They've found Atlantis again...
According to Mr Sarmast the latest evidence matches exactly the detailed description of Atlantis given by Plato.
"There are about 60 specific points that match Plato's account," he said. "How can you explain away a bunch of coincidences like this?"
Mr Sarmast, 38, from Los Angeles, admits he has no formal academic qualifications to substantiate his claims, which he acknowledges to be controversial. But having spent 10 years studying accounts of the lost city he is in no doubt about the importance of his find.

One of my Favourite Meditations by Newman

Thou, Mary, art the Virgin of Virgins. To have a virgin soul is to love nothing on earth in comparison of God, or except for His sake. That soul is virginal which is ever looking for its Beloved who is in heaven, and which sees Him in whatever is lovely upon earth, loving earthly friends very dearly, but in their proper place, as His gifts, and His representatives, but loving Jesus alone with sovereign affection, and bearing to lose all, so that she may keep Him.

- From Meditations and Devotions

Sunday, November 14, 2004


'Blogging has been sparse because I have been very busy.

However, I must mention this Zenit article which mentions a residence for lay students who want to study in Rome's pontifical universites and a new centre dedicated to theological reseach on the Eucharist. I'm fairly familiar with the Lay Centre's work in Rome and heartily recommend it as an option for lay people interested in studying Philosophy/Theology in Rome. I've also had the pleasure of attending a retreat by the Center Eucharistia's director Fr. Anthony McSweeney and have little doubt but that the centre will be a great success. (The website is, I understand, still in development.)
I guess that is the Muslim equivalent of the Easter Egg - special pastries to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Gianelli has this droll commentary on Arafat's death - he's being frisked by the Angels before he's left anywhere near the gates of Heaven.

Friday, November 12, 2004

God, what were you thinking when you inspired this?

Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him over against them, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him.
And they said to him, "Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men; pray, let them go, and seek your master; it may be that the Spirit of the LORD has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley." And he said, "You shall not send."
But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, "Send." They sent therefore fifty men; and for three days they sought him but did not find him. And they came back to him, while he tarried at Jericho, and he said to them, "Did I not say to you, Do not go?"
Now the men of the city said to Eli'sha, "Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful." He said, "Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it." So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, "Thus says the LORD, I have made this water wholesome; henceforth neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it." So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word which Eli'sha spoke.
He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and thence he returned to Sama'ria.
2 Kings, 15-25 (RSV)

Thursday, November 11, 2004


At the Holy Spirit's festival of Whitsuntide in the Bavarian diocese of Eichstatt, a carved wooden dove of the Spirit was lowered down on the congregation through a hole in the church roof vaulting (this hole was a common extra architectural amenity in large German churches); the dove was closely followed by bucketfuls of water, and the member of the congregation most thoroughly soaked became the town's Pfingstvogel (Whitsun bird) for the coming year.
The Reformation, A History by Diarmuid MacCulloch

11:00, 11/11/1918

On this day in 1918, conflict on the Western Front ceased.

On Passing the New Menin Gate
Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns ?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate, -
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones ?
Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

Here was the world's worst wound. And here with pride
'Their name liveth for ever', the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
as these intolerably nameless names ?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.
Siegfried Sassoon
Sassoon wrote this poem shortly after the dedication of the war memorial at Ypres in 1927. He never had it published while he was alive and it only became known after his death.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Mater et Caput...

As Don Jim Tucker has already 'blogged today's feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica I'll keep it brief. One of the things that the reformers of the liturgical calendar got right after the Council was their policy of ensuring that there was a 'Roman flavour' to the calandar - so the feasts of several Roman martyrs and churches were retained on the General Calendar.
For your 'edification' (if I might pun...) here's an article about the Mother of All Churches and some images. BTW, above the altar are kept the heads of SS. Peter and Paul.

'I got my kills...'

Regarding the war in Iraq, I'm not sorry to see Saddam gone, but I can't say that I can bring myself to agree with when, how and why the Americans, British (et al) went in. Now that they're there, I want to see the whole thing resolved quickly, efficently and (most importantly of all) honourably. (Incidentally, anyone cherishing hopes of a quick withdrawal will, IMHO, be sorely disappointed. The Americans, British, UN or a local Arab peace-keeping force will almost certainly be needed in Iraq for a long time to come.)
Today, the Telegraph has this disturbing piece on the reality of urban warfare today.
I think the words of the soldiers tell their own story... One is quoted as saying "You guys get to do all the fun stuff. It's like a video game. We've taken small arms fire here all day. It just sounds like popcorn going off." Another says in reference to the killing of an enemy comitant, "Ain't nobody moving now. He rocked that guy's world." I know it's in the heat of battle, and it's a case of 'kill or be killed', but I can't but be affected by the fact that the situation they are in has brutalized these young men. It's not a video game, and it's not a movie, it's certainly not 'fun stuff'. Perhaps the only uplifting part of the article are the fine words of one American soldier:
"Given the choice, I would never have wanted to fire a gun," said Cpl Chris Merrell, 21, manning a machinegun mounted on a Humvee. "But it didn't work out that way. I'd like a thousand boring missions rather than one interesting one."
On his wrist was a black bracelet bearing the name of a sergeant from Phantom Troop. "This is a buddy of mine that died," he said. "Pretty much everyone in the unit has one."

The Talking Statues of Rome...

Alas, this post is not about moving statues, but is inspired by this list over at the Inn at the End of the World. In it, we discover that a collector of satires and lampoons is called a pasquinader. No doubt, this word derives from the pasquinade, a custom with Roman roots. As this page explains
In 1501 Cardinal Oliviero Carafa put in a small square near Piazza Navona the torso of a statue representing Menelaus with the body of Patroclus. Each year on April 25 the Cardinal chaired a sort of Latin literary competition and poems were posted on the statue and occasionally this happened outside the competition period. In this way Pasquino (the name given to the statue) became the first talking statue of Rome and it is still used from time to time for posting messages and claims. The little square is named after him Piazza di Pasquino and pasquinata (pasquinade) is the word used for a short satire exhibited in a public place.
There are still several 'talking' statues in Rome (most of them listed on the linked webpage) on which are posted satircal poems (usually in Roman dialect) and cartoons of a political nature. As a foreigner, much of it goes over my head, but it can be fairly strong stuff. In addition to the historical pasquinades mentioned on the linked page many others have been passed down:
From the time of Vatican I we have:
Il Concilio è convocato
I Vescovi han decretato
che infallibili due sono:
Moscatelli e Pio Nono
(Which translates as:
The Council was convoked,
The bishops have decreed,
That only two are infallible,
Moscatelli and Pius IX.

Moscatelli was a brand of matches which were advertised as being 'infallible'.
Another satire rendered INRI as 'Io Non Riconosco Infallibilità' - 'I don't recognise Infallibility'.

Monday, November 08, 2004


An interesting post by Enbrethiliel on the Gothic Genre and anti-Catholicism.
In England, Bishop Tom Wright is defending the English Bishop's right to make a castle his home. This editorial backs his position. (Incidentally, I heard Bishop Wright speak in Rome a couple of years ago when he was still Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and I must say that the Church of England is very fortunate to have such a fine scholar as Bishop of Durham.)
Finally, Enbrethiliel's article reminded me to revisit Newman's anti-Protestant polemic Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England wherein I found this wonderful piece of prose about the 'prejudiced man':
The prejudiced Man travels, and then everything he sees in Catholic countries only serves to make him more thankful that his notions are so true; and the more he sees of Popery, the more abominable he feels it to be. If there is any sin, any evil in a foreign population, though it be found among Protestants also, still Popery is clearly the cause of it. If great cities are the schools of vice, it is owing to Popery. If Sunday is profaned, if there is a Carnival, it is the fault of the Catholic Church. Then, there are no private homes, as in England, families live on staircases; see what it is to belong to a Popish country. Why do the Roman labourers wheel their barrows so slow on the Forum? why do the Lazzaroni of Naples lie so listlessly on the beach? why, but because they are under the malaria of a false religion. Rage, as is well-known, is in the Roman like a falling sickness, almost as if his will had no part in it, and he had no responsibility; see what it is to be a Papist. Bloodletting is as frequent and as much a matter of course in the South, as hair-cutting in England; it is a trick borrowed from the convents, when they wish to tame down refractory spirits.
The Prejudiced man gets up at an English hour, has his breakfast at his leisure, and then saunters into some of the churches of the place; he is scandalized to have proof of what he has so often heard, the infrequency of communions among Catholics. Again and again, in the course of his tour, has he entered them, and never by any chance did he see a solitary communicant:—hundreds, perhaps, having communicated in those very churches, according to their custom, before he was out of his bedroom. But what scandalizes him most, is that even bishops and priests, nay, the Pope himself does not communicate at the great festivals of the Church. He was at a great ceremonial, a High Mass, on Lady Day, at the Minerva; not one Cardinal communicated; Pope and Cardinals, and every Priest present but the celebrant, having communicated, of course, each in his own Mass, and in his own chapel or church early in the morning. Then the churches are so dirty; faded splendour, tawdriness, squalidness are the fashion of the day;—thanks to the Protestants and Infidels, who, in almost every country where Catholicism is found, have stolen the revenues by which they were kept decent. He walks about and looks at the monuments, what is this? the figure of a woman: who can it be? His Protestant cicerone at his elbow, who perhaps has been chosen by his good father or guardian to protect him on his travels from a Catholic taint, whispers that it is Pope Joan, and he notes it down in his pocket-book accordingly. I am alluding to an accident, which in its substance befell a most excellent person, for whom I had and have a great esteem, whom I am sure I would not willingly offend, and who will not be hurt at this cursory mention of an unintentional mistake. He was positive he had seen Pope Joan in Rome,—I think, in St. Peter's; nay, he saw the inscription on the monument, beginning with the words, "Joannæ Papissæ." It was so remarkable a fact, and formed so plausible an argument against the inviolateness of the chair of St. Peter, that it was thought worth inquiring into. I do not remember who it was that the female, thus elevated by his imagination, turned into in the process of investigation, whether into the Countess Matilda, or Queen Christina, or the figure of Religion in the vestibule of St. Peter's; but certainly into no lady who had any claim on the occupation of the Ecumenical See.
This puts me in mind of another occurrence, of which the publications of the day have recently been full. A lady of high literary reputation deposed that Denon and other French savans had given her the information that, in the days of the Republic or Consulate, they had examined St. Peter's chair in the Vatican Basilica, and had found that it unquestionably had come from the East, long after the age of the Apostle, for it had inscribed upon it the celebrated confession of Islamism, "There is one God, and Mahomet is his prophet." Her prejudices sharpened her memory, and she was positive in her testimony. Inquiry was made, and it turned out that the chair of which she had spoken was at Venice, not at Rome; that it had been brought thither by the Crusaders from the East, and therefore might well bear upon it the Mahometan inscription; and that tradition gave it the reputation of being, by no means the Roman, but the Antiochene Chair of the Apostle. In this, as in other mistakes, there was no deliberate intention to deceive; it was an ordinary result of an ordinary degree of prejudice. The voucher of the story was so firmly convinced, I suppose, of the "childish absurdity and falsehood of all the traditions of the Romish Church," that she thought it unnecessary to take pains to be very accurate, whether in her hearing or her memory.
Our Prejudiced Man might travel half his life up and down Catholic Europe, and only be confirmed in his contempt and hatred of its religion. In every place there are many worlds, quite distinct from each other: there are good men and bad, and the good form one body, the bad another. Two young men, as is well known, may pass through their course at a Protestant University, and come away with opposite reports of the state of the place: the one will have seen all the bad, the other all the good; one will say it is a sober, well-conducted place, the other will maintain that it is the home of every vice. The Prejudiced Man takes care to mix only in such society as will confirm his views; he courts the society of Protestants and unbelievers, and of bad Catholics, who shelter their own vice under the imputations they cast on others, and whose lives are a disgrace to the Church prior to their testimony. His servants, couriers, laquais de place, and acquaintance, are all of his own way of thinking, and find it for their interest to flatter and confirm it. He carries England with him abroad; and, though he has ascended mountains and traversed cities, knows scarcely more of Europe than when he set out.

Some Borges...

"What happened to the governments?"
"According to tradition, they fell into gradual disuse," he said. "They called elections, declared wars, collected taxes, confiscated fortunes, and tried to impose censorship, buit nobody on earth obeyed them. The press stopped publishing the news and photographs of government leaders. Politicians had to find honest work; some of them made good comedians or good faith healers. What actually happened was probably far more complex than this summary."
-Jorge Luis Borges, Utopia of a Tired Man

Friday, November 05, 2004

Last post this week...

'Blog-break until Monday or Tuesday - in the meantime, have a read of this Zenit article about how Rome remembers its dead...

Thursday, November 04, 2004


... so expect almost total 'blog-silence until next Monday/Tuesday...

In the meantime, there's this article in the Telegraph about a British TV show which plans on letting viewers watch the decomposition of a human body... This kind of morbid display is just what one expects from a society which has forgotten how to treat death in a sensible manner and prefers to either cover it up or treat a decomposing corpse as entertainment... Wouldn't you love it if the chosen corpse turned out to be incorruptable? It'd probably be the most unsatisfying miracle imaginable for a televison show!
Giannelli on yesterday's election. (No translation necessary)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A university is not founded every day

As I mentioned previously today marks the 150th Anniversary of Newman’s opening the Catholic University of Ireland at what is now known as Newman House in the centre of Dublin. This enterprise proved to be a painful and difficult one for Newman. It ‘interrupted’ his primary vocation as Father of the Birmingham Oratory for several years (he had to regularly make the difficult commute between Dublin and Birmingham) – indeed, Louis McRedmond calls his account of Newman’s Irish adventure ‘Thrown Among Strangers’ from a passage in Newman’s own correspondence dated 25/02/1854:
No one knows but myself the desolateness in leaving Birmingham, and being thrown among strangers – I trust it will be taken as penance and be of eternal good to me.
Despite being invited to head the project by Archbishop Paul Cullen and the Irish hierarchy he was hindered by their lack of support of the project. He also had the misfortune of being caught in the crossfire between Cullen (who was engaging in a campaign of ‘Romanizing’ the Irish church) and his doughty adversary the nationalist Archbishop John McHale, the so-called ‘Lion of the West’. (Newman refers to being ‘pawed by the Lion’) He did, however, win the support of some of the more ‘progressive’ bishops like the learned David Moriarty of Kerry (who would remain a life-long friend of Newman) who was the last Irish bishop to be persuaded to vote in favour of Papal Infallibility at Vatican I.
It is not surprising that the bishops of Ireland found it difficult to be enthusiastic about Newman’s project. The idea of building what amounted to a Catholic Oxford in a country ravaged by famine less than a decade previously was optimistic to say the least. While Newman was trying to drum up support for the university, the allocutions of Bishop Moriarty show that the clergy of his diocese were struggling to find money for such basic needs as vestments and church maintenance. The Catholic middle classes and many of the bishops would have preferred Newman to focus on professional schools of medicine, engineering and the like, rather than the genuine University of Newman’s vision. Newman, however, saw the Catholic university as not being just an Irish project. He had the vision of this institution being the primary Catholic University for the English-speaking world and therefore hoped for support and students from North America and Britain. Alas, this support never really materialised. What is less excusable than the pragmatic reluctance of the Irish hierarchy is the cruel way in which Newman was treated on so many occasions, particularly by Cullen. Through Cullen’s carelessness (or malice?) Newman was kept poorly informed of affairs regarding the university. Cruellest of all was the fact that at one stage Newman was assured of a Titular Bishopric to enhance his standing as Rector, only to have it snatched away at the last moment. To Newman’s great embarrassment, friends had already started to purchase episcopal regalia on his behalf!
Newman’s spell in Dublin was also somewhat of a personal mortification. As a refined Englishman, he found the Irish manner somewhat rough and the diet did not agree with his digestion. It was also a matter of some pain to Newman that he would often see his former Oxford colleague Richard Whately Anglican Archbishop of Dublin strolling near the university on St. Stephen’s Green but refusing to talk to Newman.
However, Newman’s time in Dublin was not a waste – he served as Rector of the University until 1858, and despite being small and ‘not Oxford’ he managed to attract some distinguished professors. He also established Ireland’s first Catholic Medical School and his fledgling university would form part of what was to become Ireland’s largest secular university. Within modern-day University College Dublin the Literary and Historical Society (a very influential student debating society, not unlike the Oxford Union) survives as a relic of Newman’s time. Still standing too, is Newman’s University Church. Dedicated to Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, Newman himself called it ‘the most beautiful one in the three kingdoms’.
Despite his difficulties as a quintessential Englishman, Newman developed an affection for the Irish. In a letter to the tragic Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (a professor at the Catholic University) he made the extraordinary comment
If I were an Irishman, I should be (in heart) a rebel.
The Irish too ‘took to’ Newman. In the positio put forward for Newman’s canonization, it is noted that whilst generally Newman tends to attract devotion amongst the clergy and intellectia, Dublin is notable for Newman’s cause having a following amongst the poor.
Perhaps, however, the greatest fruit of Newman’s difficult spell at the helm of the Catholic University of Ireland is his writing on university education. If he had not been given the task of founding a university, Newman would never have composed his Idea of a University or his Rise and Progress of Universities. He also preached several of his Sermons on Various Occasions for the Catholic University.
A University is not founded every day; and seldom indeed has it been founded under the peculiar circumstances which will now attend its establishment in Catholic Ireland. Generally speaking, it has grown up out of schools, or colleges, or seminaries, or monastic bodies, which had already lasted for centuries; and, different as it is from them all, has been little else than their natural result and completion. While then it has been expanding into its peculiar and perfect form, it has at the same time been by anticipation educating subjects for its service, and has been creating and carrying along with it the national sympathy. Here, however, as the world is not slow to object, this great institution is to take its place among us without antecedent or precedent, whether to recommend or explain it. It receives, we are told, neither illustration nor augury from the history of the past, and requires to be brought into existence as well as into shape. It has to force its way abruptly into an existing state of society which has never duly felt its absence; and it finds its most formidable obstacles, not in anything inherent in the undertaking itself, but in the circumambient atmosphere of misapprehension and prejudice into which it is received. Necessary as it really is, it has to be carried into effect in the presence of a reluctant or perplexed public opinion, and that, without any counterbalancing assistance whatever, as has commonly been the case with Universities, from royal favour or civil sanction.
From Rise and Progress of the Universities

150 years Ago Today...

John Henry Newman formally opened the Catholic University of Ireland. Later, this was incorporated into the secular 'National University of Ireland', but it's nice to note that one of its constituent colleges (University College Dublin) dates today as the anniversary of its foundation and will be honouring the Cardinal with a performance of 'The Dream of Gerontius'.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Giannelli's Take on the American Election

The Future of the World
Heads or Tails?

All Souls' Day...

I'm probably betraying quite a narrow cultural horizon, but in my opinion the two greatest poetic works dealing with the subject of the souls in purgatory are Dante's Purgatorio and Newman's Dream of Gerontius. Objectively speaking, I suppose that Dante's is the greater work, though comparing them is like trying to compare the Summa to the Story of a Soul - each genius is of a different kind.
However, I do think that the sheer scale and scope of Dante's work means than Newman's theological insight is keener and much more concise. One doesn't have to wade through scores of inventive punishments or obscure historical figures. Focusing on the journey of the single soul, Newman imagines the condition of the soul immediately after judgement - he is safe, but is unable to endure the Divine Love without purification:
Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be,
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
Told out for me.
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
Lone, not forlorn,—
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn.
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast,
Which ne'er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest
Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love:—
Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.
The soul yearns for purgation!
Within the 'golden prison' the souls sing the 90th Psalm and there can be few more touching sentiments than those expressed by the Guardian Angel as he escorts his charge to the place of purification:
Softly and gently, dearly-ransom'd soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o'er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.

And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.

Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou
And masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most

Farewell, but not for ever! brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.
I have sometimes reflected what a delicious agony the pains of purgatory must be - painful indeed to be seperated from the Lord, yet with the sure and certain hope of seeing Him face to face. These are suffering souls, but blessed souls too. I wonder if purgatory resembles the pain endured by the genuine mystic who strongly experiences the Divine Love but knows that the ecstacy experienced is not even a fraction of the joy of the Beatific Vision.
How marvelous, too, it is that by our prayers we can help them in their purification. May the Holy Souls be a reminder to us of the bonds of charity and grace that bind us together into the one Body of Christ.

More sloppy religion reporting...

The Telegraph is very disappointing these days due to the poor quality of its reporting on religious matters. This article entitled ''Men-only' Church proposal in bishop's report' has virtually zero content, focusing on just one of the seven options put forward in the House of Bishops working party's report. It also has such gems as:
Opponents of women bishops believe God ordained that a man should be at the head of every institution. They point to all of Jesus' apostles being men.
Nothing like the press to make a complicated issue so simple...

Monday, November 01, 2004

*Thump* (That's the sound of my jaw dropping...)

Kudos (as usual) to the Pontificator for two excellent posts :Tone-deaf and the Tragedy of the Open Episcopal Mind and Imprisoned in Modernity, wherein he takes on Father Jake's more liberal approach to the recent 'Episcopalian Druid Liturgy' kerfuffle. (It's more than just controversy, though, the Pontifcator manages to fit in some solid stuff on Tradition and the Grammar of the Faith)
Anyway, the controversy inspired me to explore Father Jake's 'blog - the modestly titled Father Jake Stops the World, self-described as 'the musings of an eccentric and sometimes heretical Episcopal priest'. Quite.
Anyway, from a commentator in Father Jake's comment box, I was led to the most incredibly synchretistic web-site which must be a joke... The Society of Saints Barlaam and Josaphat. They explain thusly,
The Society of Saints Barlaam and Josaphat is dedicated to the practice of "Pure Land Christianity" - a Christian (or if you prefer, Buddhist) school of thought holding that Amitabha Buddha and Kuan Yin manifested themselves in the first century as Jesus and Mary. We believe that anyone who has faith in Amitabha or Kuan Yin and the power of their Vow will be reborn in the Pure Land and attain Enlightenment.
The Society's FAQ some gems:
7.0 What liturgical texts do you use in your worship services?
We're not currently satisfied with our liturgical choices - we should work at creating more options. Presently, we use the Tridentine Roman Catholic Mass, the Christian rosary, assorted spells and mantras, and a handful of "pre-packaged" Christian and Buddhist materials (Catholic litanies from Saint Augustine's Prayerbook and the Handbook of Indulgences, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and a collection of Soto Zen prayers in Gregorian drag courtesy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives).
8.0 Whom do you worship?
Virtually anyone/anything a member wishes to worship, but we especially honor Jesus and Mary, both of whom we believe are Bodhisattvas. We encourage worshipping trees, rocks, animals, elves, fairies, spirits, teachers, ancestors, lovers, friends, abstract concepts - even figments of one's imagination. We find that our stuffed animals appreciate reverence too, so they're by no means off-limits.
8.1 You worship stuffed animals?!
Our official mascot is a stuffed hippo named Augustine, and he has a companion called Billingsworth the Duck. We shamelessly worship and adore our stuffed animals. But any stuffed animal deserves your love and attention as much as these two - give one a fair shake (maybe a stick of incense from time to time as propitiation), and you've got a friend and protector for life.
There's also an appeal to find a bishop 'in a verifiable line of apostolic succession' (got to do these things by the book..) to consecrate their chaplain so that she(!) could then consecrate everyone in her 'core group'.
Seems to be the syncretist counterpart to the Shrine of the Holy Whapping.

All Saints' Day...

I was going to post this hymn, but Stephen Riddle beat me to it. Nor am I likely to be able to top this post by Enbrethiliel. [Edited to add: Also worth a look is Quenta's posting of relevant Newman Quote.]
So, I suppose I'll just leave you to reflect on the fact that a priest of my acquaintance used to refer to the Communion of Saints as 'our friends in the court'. May we ever benefit from their pleading, guidance and example!
V.Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Dei.
R.Intercedite pro nobis.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Theology in the News... (Or How Not to Write About Theology)

The Telegraph proves the axiom that the secular press love to tell the Church to keep out of the bedroom, but only ever seems to write about theology when it has something to do with the bedroom (warning: surprisingly explicit conent for the Telegraph). Note too the headline and opening sentence -
Vatican sex guide urges Catholics to do 'it' more often
A Vatican-sanctioned sex guide is encouraging churchgoers to make love more often in an effort to offset "impotence and frigidity" and address papal concerns over declining birth-rates among Italian Roman Catholics.

Note the usual fudge - 'Vatican Sanctioned' could mean anything from 'the Vatican hasn't banned it' to 'written personally by the Pope and Ratzinger'. From the article, it sounds like describing the publication as a 'Vatican sex guide' is downright misleading...

In the News...

There was a festive air about Rome today as the city centre was pedestrianised for the national sport - protest marching. Of course, it was more than a bit of a pain if one actually wanted to go somewhere... Also, as one might imagine, the Eastern European clergy in Rome (and not only them, of course) are none too keen on Communists...
Here's a picture of lemurs. (In-joke)
What is it with animals and pumpkins?
Are we seeinf a lack of imagination?
The Telegraph reports that Buttiglione has stepped down. I don't think that we should be surprised at how 'tolerant' the European parliament really is. Additionally, there's an opinion piece from Charles Moore who questions the new powers of the EU.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Underground (literally) Cinema in Paris...

It's commonly known that under the streets of Paris there are miles of tunnels, galleries and catacombs. It's also well-known that tunnel exploration is an increasingly common pastime and there are numerous groups engaged in this activity. Surprising, however, the fact that one of these groups managed to put together an undergound cinema along with bar and restaurant. According to this article in the Times the 'cataphiles' of a century ago did something similar - they staged an 'underground concert' with a 45-piece orchestra.

Ars Moriendi & Other Topics...

I'm a big fan of the Web Gallery of Art and stumbled across this wonderful German woodcut from an Ars Moriendi (Art of Dying) book of the 15th Century. (Click on the picture itself for enlargement). I recognize Ss Catherine of Alexandria (with sword and wheel) and St Stephen (in the Deacon's dalmatic holding stones). I suspect that the female saint holding the tower with three windows is St. Barbara. (One window for each person of the Blessed Trinity). The portly saint at the back is a mystery to me, and nor am I entirely clear what God the Father is doing with some rather scarly looking surgeon's implements. A nice touch is the fact that St. Michael has vanguished the demons who cower under the bed.
Also worth a look is the Internet Biblia Pauperum. The site is incomplete and doesn't seem to have been updated recently, but its worth a look to see some more gorgeous woodcuts and some interesting typological connections between the Old and New Testaments. (Hold your pointer over the Latin text for an English translation.)
To finish with, one of my favourite pictures in Rome, the Galleria Doria Pamphilj's Rest on the Flight Into Egypt. I really like his depiction of St.Joseph holding the musical score for the angel and the tender (but unidealized) way in which the Virgin Mary holds the Child Jesus. (Incidentally, the musical score is genuine - the tune is playable)

Killers in the White House?

No, this isn't political commentary, but a question of trivia. Which US Presidents have killed a man?

In the News...

This article in the Telegraph reveals a terrific amount of childishness on everyone's behalf. The French seem to be speculating that Bush is descended from a French family called 'Boucher' and Le Figaro is suggesting that this might help Bush lose the election. Kerry, meanwhile, is trying to hush up the fact that he has (horror of horrors!) a cousin who is a French politician whilst the White House is quoted as saying that Kerry 'looks French'. It all sounds like something from the playground...
Meanwhile, churches in England are somewhat lamely trying to counter Hallowe'en with "festivals of light" or "hallelujah" parties. Rev Janet Russell, vicar of Crowmarsh and Brightwell-cum-Sotwell promises 'lively music'.
Here in Rome, yesterday, we had the signing of the EU constitution, a bad idea for many reasons. Ironically, this godless document was signed 'beneath the gaze of a statue of Pope Innocent X in Rome's city hall, designed by Michelangelo, on the Capitoline, the hill once at the heart of its ancient empire's mystic and political world.' I think that it's great that the birth of the new atheistic superstate can be viewed as a resurrection of the Antichristian Roman Empire (for all Catholic conspiracy theorists) or as the latest ploy of Babylon-on-the-Tiber to take over the world (for fans of Jack Chick and his ilk.)
Jack Chirk is, of course, unusually prophetic and I suspect that his paraonoid fantasy of Jesuit Supreme Justice of the World would terrify Catholics and Protestants alike.

St. Augustine Cometh...

Zenit has fuller details about the Bishop of Hippo's visit to Rome.

Friday, October 29, 2004


One of the nicest volumes I've come across of late is this booklet by a German seminarian which consists of the hymns and tones from the Latin breviary. It also includes a few additional Latin hymns not found in the breviary. It is very disappointing that only the Latin originals of the Marian antiphons made their way into the English translation of the breviary. Italian speakers are somewhat more fortunate as the translators included an appendix of Latin hymns at the back of their breviary. Anyhow, this handy little volume makes up the deficit.
You might be a Catholic nerd if you pray grace before meals in Latin... The standard Latin grace is here, but there are alternatives.
An Anglican parish has a page of graces, including a longer version of the 'normal' Catholic grace.
Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua, quae de largitate tua sumus sumpturi, et concede, ut illis salubriter nutriti tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus, per Christum Dominum nostrum.
Bless, O Lord, us and your gifts, which from your bounty we are about to receive, and grant that, healthily nourished by them, we may render you due obedience, through Christ our Lord.
The Cistercians give the text of grace as well as a blessing for those chosen to read in the refectory and serve at meals for the week. Finally, this page has a selection of graces from Cambridge University including that most useful of graces for the diner in a hurry or for the Latin-impaired - Benedictus benedicat!

In the News...

A California Biotech firm wants to 'create' Allergy-free cats.

'Dancing Priest' Neil Horan is in the news again - he's been cleared of indecency charges in London. Bizarrely, during the trial, both the defence and prosecution agreed that Horan was in a state of undress in the presence of his accuser (a 7 year old girl at the time of the alleged offence in 1991) and her mother. This report from the Times of London adds that the mother of the girl remained friendly with Horan after the event and even helped him with one of his his books 'A Glorious New World'. Incredibly, the Diocese of Southwark says: "Neil Horan's faculties to practise as a priest were formally withdrawn on health grounds." One wonders why canonical procedings seem not been brought. According to the Glasgow Daily Record
Cornelius Horan, 57, celebrated by performing a three-minute jig outside the Old Bailey in London.
Dressed in a kilt and green jacket and brandishing a bible, he said: 'This is the greatest day of my life and really and truly what saved me was this little book which I took on to Silverstone.'