Thursday, September 30, 2004

When Nellie met Tom...

I've just started listening to Nellie McKay's debut album 'Get Away from Me'. I'd heard that she was getting rave reviews in the States and I have to say that I'm enjoying her unique sound and witty lyrics. That's not to say that I agree with her political point of view - she seems to be somewhat nearer the liberal end of the scale than myself. Indeed, on the back cover of the album (couldn't find the image on-line) she explains that she's a member of PETA and shows her feeding some pigeons. In a Washington Post interview she says:
I have a friend who covers Tom Lehrer in piano bars, and one of the songs he covered was 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.' That kind of put me off Tom Lehrer.
A somewhat childish sentiment, but she is only 19...
Anyway, the pigeon picture on the back of her album caught my eye, because it very closely resembles this Tom Lehrer publicity shot:

This is either quite a nice joke on Nelly's behalf, or (I'd prefer to think..) one at her expense.
Incidentally, for my money, The Remains of Tom Lehrer is one of the funniest collections that one could buy. He even did a song about the Second Vatican Council. (I might post some more about Tom anon.)

Vicars General, etc...

Another reason to worship at the Shrine - this Gilbert and Sullivan parody. Kudos to Matt and Lauren of the Cnytr 'blog. In the comments box, Tim Ferguson explains that a Vicar General is 'the crook at the top of the bishop's staff. This reminds me of the unofficial definition of a mitre - 'An embroidered container for a vaccuum'.
Given that today is the feast of St. Jerome (one of those Doctors of the Church one does not want to tangle with...) I share this link to my favourite image of the saint.
Finally, from Japan, the Corriere della Sera gives us this picture of the Boyfriend's Arm Pillow which is designed to provide emotional comfort for those unwilling to sleep alone.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Food for thought...

Cnytr posts an image of a crucifix in Spoleto which provokes a meditation on Christ's blood qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.

We are also treated to another incident which highlights the scandal of disunity in one of the holiest places on earth - there's been another scuffle between Franciscans and the Eastern Orthodox priests at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

University Church, Dublin

Earlier this month Andrew Cusack blogged about Newman's University Church in Dublin. I've had the opportunity of visiting this 'bricks and mortar' testament to Newman's time in Dublin. It also bears witness to the generosity of the many people who donated money to assist Newman during the Achilli libel trial. Newman came out of the affair with a legal defeat and a moral victory and the surplus in his defence fund helped fund the building of this Byzantine gem in that most unByzantine of cities
In his post Cusack mentions the modest facade. It is interesting to note that the facade and long porch leading into the church are not those of the original design. Newman was forced to add them when he realised that the walls of the adjoining houses were liable to collapse and so the new facade and porch were added to provide support for these houses. Mark R uses the word 'barn' in his comment - in his own initial 'brainstorming' with the architect, Newman himself specified that he wanted the church to be a barn and emphasised the necessity of it being well-suited to preaching.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Scripture Scholarship...

Zorak links to this EWTN Q&A and I have to say that I'm disappointed by both the situation described by Timothy and the answer given by Father Echert.

Firstly, it's a sad state of affairs that anyone studying theology in a Catholic university should come away with their faith so-weakened. It seems to me that the 'scientific' or 'historical critical' study of scripture in isolation can lead to this, but we should not, for that reason adopt a reactionary attitude to this discipline. What is lacking, from what I can determine, in the theological studies offered in the certain parts of the English-speaking world is an insufficient philosophical appreciation of the nature of scripture studies. The fundamental axiom of historical-critical studies is that the scriptures, as documents from the past, are amenable to the tools of textual, historical and critical analysis which are applied to the studies of other historical documents. Whether scripture means more than Homer is not a matter addressed by this particular science. To my mind, the results of historical criticism can and do shed light on the meaning of scripture, but only in as much as they are historical documents with true human authors (c.f. Dei Verbum 11). They can certainly inform one's faith, but one needs to be keenly aware of the scope and limitation of the method.
The problem therefore with the likes of Hicks and Bultmann is that their philosophical and theological understanding of scripture, not with the historical-critical method. Particularly in Bultmann's case, we cannot simply reject a priori their work on the grounds of a blanket rejection of modern scripture scholarship. Rather students should be trained to appreciate and distinguish the different aspects of their thoughts - like it or not, no matter how wrong-headed his overall theological vision was, Bultmann was one of the influential greats of 20th century scripture scholarship. In a Catholic university, obviously, scripture cannot be taught with an uncritical acceptance of the underlying presuppositions of these exegetes.
However, nor can we ignore these exegetes. It is disappointing to see how many of the 'traditionalists' (even supposedly well-educated ones) adopt an ostrich-like attitude to these issues. That's why I'm less than thrilled that Fr. Echert's response to a (presumably) educated enquirer is to send him to Haydock's 19th century commentary. I don't have access to my library at the moment and can't therefore browse through Haydock, but I cannot imagine that his obsolete scholarship is a satisfactory solution to Timothy's doubts. I understand the patristic content of Haydock is well-regarded and I don't doubt that we need to recover a greater appreciation for patristic exegesis, but 19th century 'solid exegesis' is unlikely to fit the bill.
Far better for someone with a background in theology would be an approach which would help to put scripture back into context. This would involve looking at fundamental theology rather than scripture studies. Without having an appreciation for the relationship between Revelation, Scripture, Tradition and the Church one cannot appreciate the value and the limits of historical-critical analysis. A look at the theology of Biblical inspiration would also be essential - what do we mean by the Divine and human authorship of the scriptures?
In this context, I would suggest that Dei Verbum would be the indispensable reference and the Pontifical Biblical Commission's 1993 Document 'On the Interpretation of Scripture in the Church' would also be worth a look. (I would note that this latter document does have weaknesses however in its inadequate treatment of some of the alternatives to the Historical Critical Method.) As regards solid English-language textbooks in he area of Fundamental Theology, I'm not as au fait with the literature as I should be - anyone got any suggestions?
Without a doubt some Catholic Universities are doing their students a great disservice (putting it mildly) in their approach to Sacred Scripture. What is disappointing is the lack of effective and intelligent response by more conservative/traditionalist Catholics which is sadly often at odds with the intellectual traditions of the Church.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

More d'Alton

“And that’s not the only problem with Br Sacristan,” the Prior continued. “He’s not happy with the manner in which the altar wine is stored.”
“So how did you reply to that?” asked the Abbot.
“I lost my temper. I told him to put a cork in it.”
-Cloistered Changes by Fr Linus d’Alton

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Pigeons rendered redundant...

Prior to this point, I have been relying on a specially-trained troupe of carrier pigeons to handle my correspondance. However, weeks after everyone else, I've managed to acquire a gmail address. See my sidebar for further info.

More d'Alton and some greetings...

I cannot but be troubled by the theories disseminated by the New Biblical Criticism. The Mosaic Pentateuch has become a mosaic Pentateuch […] but at least we’ll never go the way of the Anglicans. I can’t imagine the Curia ever permitting the Mass to be celebrated in a language with no more than a vestigial subjunctive.
-The Posthumous Papers of an Abbot by Fr Linus d’Alton

Auguri to Matthew of the Holy Whapping on his patronal feast! (Though I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he venerates a more obscure St. Matthew as his patron.)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Saints - outside the fold?

Over in a comments box at the Shrine, they've come up with a couple of Arian saints recognised by the Catholic church. This seems to be the kind of stuff one could use to taunt ultra-Feeneyites, if that's your entertainment of choice. They've also come up with a monophysite saint.
Within the fold, I'm reminded of St. Cyprian of Carthage whose relationship with the Apostolic See was slightly rocky at the time of his martyrdom. It's also noteworthy that St. Vincent Ferrer was a supporter of the anti-pope Benedict XIII, while his fellow Dominican St. Catherine of Siena was a vigorous advocate of the widely disliked, but validly elected Urban VI.
They're not formally venerated as saints in the Catholic church, but it's of note that several of those martyred along with St. Charles Lwanga were Anglicans. We can also bring to mind many Protestants who gave their life for Christ in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Ecumanists have suggested that their sacrifice be recognised alongside that of the canonized Catholic martyrs like St. Maximilian Kolbe.
On a slightly related note (I'm not suggesting he is a martyr or candidate for canonization) there's the curious case of French philosopher Henri Bergson. He was convinced of the truth of Catholicism in the late 1930s, but wasn't baptized. He expressed a desire to be baptized, but due to the anti-semetic persecutions could not bring himself to abandon his people - he made the choice to remain amongst the persecuted and died in 1941, seemingly as a result of privations endured due to his status as a Jew.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Fr d'Alton again...

Br. Porter had a self-satisfied air. “I saw off a couple of charlatans,” he explained to the Prior. “Two nuns showed up at the gate. They claimed to be Little Sisters of John the Baptist.”
“And I sent them packing. Little Sisters of John the Baptist, my eye! John the Baptist was an only child!”
-Cloistered Changes by Fr Linus d’Alton

Psalm 133...

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
running down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life for evermore.

The Independent tells the story of 'The last two Jews of Kabul' who live on less that friendly terms with one other.
For years the feud was so bad that the temple was divided by a curtain so the pair didn't have to see each other during worship.

(This unfortunate story reminds me of the wisecrack about the Dutch - One Dutchman and you have a theologian, two Dutchman and you have an argument, three Dutchmen and you have a schism...)

Monday, September 13, 2004


I am, at present, reading Ann Wroe’s fascinating biography of Perkin Warbeck. Warbeck led a rebellion against King Henry VII, first Tudor monarch of England, claiming to be Richard, Duke of York, last of the House of York and one of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ allegedly murdered by Henry’s deposed predecessor Richard III. One of the key arguments of the Ricardians who seek to rehabilitate Richard’s name is Warbeck’s success in garnering support for his claim – this success suggests that the fate of the princes at the time was unknown and the subsequent consensus putting the blame on Richard was as a result of the propaganda campaign of Tudor historians to bolster Henry VII’s right to the throne by conquest. Most surprisingly of all, Warbeck managed to secure the support of Margaret of York, aunt to the princes and widow to Charles the Bold. Supposedly the son of a poor boatman of Tournai, Perkin Warbeck (aka Piers Osbeck) somehow managed to acquire sufficient well-spoken English and manners to deceive a number of noble and royal supporters. Or was it deceit? Two contradictory versions of his supposed confessions were circulated by Henry VII. One described a childhood of little education, spent in preparation for a possible career in trade, whilst another describes time spent in a variety of Tournai schools and an apprenticeship to a church musician. Whether Perkin was an incredibly skilled rogue of a chameleon working alone, the pawn and pupil of Margaret or some other noble sponsor seeking to destabilize the Tudor monarchy or even the genuine Richard of York will probably never be definitively known. (Incidentally, I note that Wroe’s other historical biography is about an even more inaccesible character: Pontius Pilate.)
In one of her asides, Wroe gives a description of what Perkin’s life as a choirboy in Tournai cathedral might have been:
Once a year too, on the feast of the Holy Innocents at the end of December, the choirboys woulod deck themselves as little priests, dance in the sanctuary and pretend to say Mass. Then, on a special stage on the cathedral porch, they would dress up one of the priests or minor canons as the Bishop of Fools, in full pontificals and take him on a wild and jeering progress round every tavern in town. Such observances were seen elsewhere, but the show of the small counterfeit priests sometimes lasted as long as a week in Tournai, performed so boisterously that in 1462, just for that year, the town banned the foolish bishops, “or abbots, or anyone else like them”.
(Puts giggling altar servers and whispering in the choir loft into perspective…)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

A Pint of Colza Oil's Your Only Man...

-The early books of the Bible I accepted as myth, but durable myth contrived genuinely for man’s guidance. I also accepted as fact the story of the awesome encounter between God and the rebel Lucifer. But I was undecided for many years as to the outcome of that encounter. I had little to corroborate the revelation that God had triumphed and banished Lucifer to hell forever. For if – I repeat if - the decision had gone the other way and God had been vanquished, who but Lucifer would be certain to put about the other and opposite story?
-But why should he? Mick asked incredulously.
-The better to snare and damn mankind, De Selby answered.
-Well now, Hackett remarked, that secret would take some keeping.
-However, De Selby continued, perplexed, I was quite mistaken in that speculation. I’ve since found that things are as set forward in the Bible, at least to the extent that heaven is intact.
-How could you be so sure? he asked. You have not been temporarily out of this world, have you, Mr De Selby?
-Not exactly. But I have a long talk with John the Baptist. A most understanding man, do you know, you’d swear he was a Jesuit.
-The Dalkey Archive, Flann O’Brien

It is not easy to give an account of the Colza Hotel, its owner Mrs Laverty, or its peculiar air. It had been formerly, though not in any recent time, an ordinary public house labelled ‘Constantine Kerr, Licensed Vintner’ and it was said that Mrs Laverty, a widow, had remodelled the bar, erased the obnoxious public house title and called the premises the Colza Hotel.
Why this strange name?
Mrs Laverty was a most religious woman and once had a talk with a neighbour about the red lamp suspended in the church before the high altar. When told that it was sustained with colza oil, she piously assumed that this was a holy oil used for miraculous purposes by Saint Colza, VM, and decided to put her house under this banner.
-The Dalkey Archive, Flann O’Brien

Friday, September 10, 2004

Brideshead, Newmanalia and Parenthood...

I was flicking through my copy of Brideshead Revisited looking for the following quotation:
I remember her [Lady Marchmain] saying: ‘When I was a girl we were comparatively poor, but still much richer than most of the world, and when I married I became very rich. It used to worry me, and I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realise that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor. The poor have always been the favourites of God and his saints, but I believe that it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included.’
- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
when my eye lighted on the following conversation between Ryder and his wife:
'I don't believe you've changed at all Charles.'
'No, I'm afraid not.'
'D'you want to change?'
'It's the only evidence of life'
which I take to be an allusion to Newman's famous maxim from his Essay on Development:
In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

On a wholly unrelated note, I see that Zorak is running a poll to decide (sorry, I mean predict) the gender of her firstborn. As with any upcoming arrival, arbitrary strangers have the right (nay, duty) to share our unsolicited theories regarding parenthood. Like the Lucy Honeychurch's engagement, once announced pregnancies have the unfortunate habit of becoming public property.
Anywa, one idea that’s always tickled my fancy is the approach taken by Montaigne’s father to his son’s education – rather than be exposed to the ‘slave talk’ of the vernacular, Montaigne was educated in a French chateau where he was only allowed speak Latin. To my mind, this sounds like a really fun project and worthy of repetition, but I’m not sure that the Old Oligarch would want to run the risk of being father to a French-speaking sceptic.
Therefore, I hope that my second proposal will be more amenable. Rather than pollute the child with the perfidious influence of television, radio, books, newspapers or parental chitrchat, why not simply raise him in isolation from all verbal communication? According to all the best medieval natural philosophers, he should of his own accord acquire fluency in pre-Babel, aboriginal Edenic ancient Hebrew, as spoken by all our favourite antediluvian Biblical heroes.

More from Fr. d'Alton...

“I should think it’s perfectly obvious why I refused his [the Professor Emeritus of Ecclesiastical History] invitation,” the Abbot snapped. “University statues notwithstanding, he’s been keeping cocker spaniels in his room for as long as I can remember.” Dom Pio surmised that the Abbot’s association with the university dated back forty years or more. “Anyway,” continued the Abbot, “He’s always had a penchant for giving them extravagant names – Athanasius, Dollinger, and so on.”
“I’m not sure that’s particularly offensive.”
“Maybe not, but his bitch Egeria has just given birth to puppy he’s calling Anathema.”
“Bull!” muttered Dom Pio.
- Ritual and Right by Fr Linus d’Alton

Professor Paxton Bailey was no fan of German advances in Biblical scholarship. The nearest he got to formgeschichte was an argument in the public bar of the Fletcher’s Arms with an inebriated undergraduate concerning the merits of the second favourite in the 2.30 at Haydock.
- Ritual and Right by Fr Linus d’Alton


In response to my 'most bizarre thing I've seen all year' posting, I received the following (slightly puzzling) comment from Father Ethan.
I think that is anti-Catholic. They are mocking our vestments and customs. That is very wrong.
Respondeo dicendum quod
Without a doubt, Fellini was engaging in satire, but I'm at a loss why you seem to be taking it so seriously. Have you seen the film, or even the sequence in question?
I would suggest that the thrust of Fellini's satire is not so much Catholic 'vestments and customs', but rather clerical life in Rome and the rush to modernization within the Church in the early 1970's. Believe me, they both have aspects open to satire. There's also, no doubt, a swipe at certain excesses in vestmentry of a more 'pre-conciliar' stripe. Strange as some of my readers may find it, but there is such a thing as 'too much lace'.
Anyone got anything to add? Should Catholics find Fellini's Ecclesiastical Fashion Show offensive, or does it fall within the realms of fair comment?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Recently overheard...

"Croatia is the new Prague."

Quite a find...

I’ve managed to acquire quite a treasure for my library. Thanks to the generosity of a bibliophile friend, I find myself in possession of a complete (5 volume) set of the short stories and novellas of the late Fr. Linus d’Alton. They are, in themselves, of relatively little literary value, but as a curiosity and collector’s item are notable. Bound in green leather and with pages edged with gold leaf, they mainly consist of comic tales set amongst a fanciful monastic, ecclesiastical and academic milieu in an unnamed English city. d’Alton, rather ambitiously, thought of himself as a clerical PG Wodehouse, but the fact that they had to be privately published by a London vanity publishers, the Kingfisher Press. As a matter of fact, neither the style, nor the quality of humour commend themselves, with the majority of stories being elaborate superstructures supporting a painfully unfunny and well-flagged punchline.

Far more interesting, in fact, than the stories themselves are the adventures of Fr. Linus himself and it is unfortunate that he never chose to turn his literary ‘talent’ to writing his own memoirs. An Oxford graduate and English diocesan priest, d’Alton volunteered as a chaplain to the British armed forces during the Second World War. This brought him to Rome shortly after the liberation and thereafter never returned home. It is rumoured that his Ordinary was only too happy for his bonviveur priest to stay on in Rome – it is understood that they had some manner of falling-out prior to the war and his bishop had no great confidence in d’Alton’s pastoral capabilities. d’Alton talked himself into the position of chaplain and confessor to a convent of nun on the Aventine, a post that brought with it a small income and a large apartment.

He saw out the rest of his days between writing, socializing and attending to his nominal duties in the convent. He quickly became well-known in clerical circles, but never sought advancement in curial or academic circles. It being suggested to him that he might try and enter the Papal diplomatic corps, he reportedly quipped, “I have no interest in emerging myself in such a pond, where it seems that only the scum floats to the top.” It is because of this reticence that despite being well known as a wit and socialite, he made no impact on such events as the Second Vatican Council. (That being said, I did spot that he does warrant a mention in Yves Congar’s conciliar diary.)

Those who remember him have described me as being a well-built figure, standing well over 6 foot tall, cutting a striking figure in cassock, saturno (clerical hat) and handlebar moustache. Later years, however, saw him go into mental and physical decline. He spent his last days pottering around the city dressed in a rough approximation to a Benedictine habit and insisting on being called ‘Dom Pio,’ one of the more obscure characters in his books. (Rome is incredibly tolerant of such eccentricities.) He finally passed away in 1982 and was buried in the Campo Verano cemetery.
The subprior was puzzled – “I don’t understand what the Theoretical Physics Department needs with a dozen lead-lined boxes.” Raising an eyebrow, the novice-master replied, “Nor do I, but I’m more concerned by the fact that Professor Schrodinger spends an inordinate time loitering in the vicinity of the Home for Abandoned Felines.”
-Intellectus quaerens by Fr Linus d’Alton

The professor of moral philosophy leaned back in his armchair. “You will understand,” he drawled, “that this august institution is not in the habit of condoning dishonesty.”
“Indeed not,” responded Bro. Cuthbert. “My understanding is that it preferred to encourage it.”
- New Words, New Ways by Fr Linus d’Alton

Who said this???

In politics mistakes are anonymous,
Because the man who accepts responsibility
Isn't the man who made the mistake.

Almost poetic...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

You really should...

... pop over to Pontifications for some very erudite writing about Tradition and the Appeal to Antiquity.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Mixing heavy and light...

First, the heavy...
Swinburne’s description of what it is that the theist understands by “God” is followed by the assertion that “Christians, Jews and Muslims are all in the above sense theists. Many theists also hold further beliefs about God, and in these Christians, Jews and Muslims differ among themselves.” I find that account unacceptable. The things which Christians, Jews and Muslims characteristically (and to some extent separately) believe about God cannot be divided, in the way that Swinburne does, into a “central core” with variable penumbra, without doing fundamental violence to Christian, Jewish and Muslim belief. The belief (for example) that God is his Word, eternally uttered and addressed to us in time; or that God is his self-gift, his life, his joy, animating, transforming, and reconciling all nature and history; these beliefs are not, as Swinburne claims, “further beliefs” which may be “added to” and, by addition, “complicate” a prior set of convictions concerning an entity with all the interesting characteristics listed by him.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the terms “theist” and “theism,” originating with Voltaire, make their first recorded appearance n English in 1662 and 1678 respectively. There they joined “deist” which had arrived, also from France a few years earlier (in 1621) and, in 1682, “deism” appeared to complete the set. At the outset, both “deism” and “theism” were used interchangeably, to denote “belief in the existence of a Supreme Being as the source of finite existence, with the rejection of revelation and the supernatural doctrines of Christianity,” and it was may years before the senses separated and “theism” came to be used without connotations intended to be pejorative of Christian doctrine. In other words, what Swinburne (and, I suspect, many English-speaking philosophers of religion today) takes to constitute a common “core” of belief originally designated a set of beliefs, and a mode of believing, alternative to what were thought to be the beliefs and procedures of traditional Christianity.
Theologians had, of course, discussed “divine attributes” for centuries. But, in an older tradition, the discussion was not descriptive but grammatical: the attributes were attributes of “divinity,” indications of what might and might not be meant by “godness”. And, because we do not know God’s nature, they served as protocols against idolatry, reminders that anything whose nature we do know, anything that we can imagine, consider, or come across as an individual object among the other objects that there are, is not God and is not to be worshipped – whether it be a statue, a persona, an institution, or an ideal, and be it ever so beautiful, impressive, attractive, or powerful. In the tradition which runs from seventeenth-century deism to contemporary philosophy of religion in the empiricist tradition, however the divine attributes are (in marked contrast) taken to be specifying characteristics, identifying properties, of an individual entity, a being called “God”.
Originally, therefore, the theist supposed that orthodox Christianity related to God improperly, by having recourse to authority rather than to the deliverances of reason. And if, nowadays, the theist more modestly supposes that he is confining his attention to the “central attributes” of Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) belief, he nevertheless lays claim to quite a lot of detailed information concerning the nature of God.
In suggesting, then, that we dispense with theism, I am suggesting that we try to offer an account of Christian experience and the he knowledge of God which owes nothing to the assumption that the divine attributes are “essential properties” of a being called God, to the list of which other “properties” may be added according to taste or tradition.
-Easter in Ordinary, Nicholas Lash

Then, the light...
The magician riposted by cutting a cord in two places with a pair of shears. He pushed the three pieces into his mouth and pulled them out restored to one cord. Walt was put in mind of the Trinity in Unity, the Unity in Trinity. If a mountebank at a city gate could perform such a trick then probably God could too.
The odd thing was someone else in the crowd took the same meaning, and hollered blasphemy. Well, perhaps not so odd. For seven hundred years the town (Nicea) had a reputation for being pernickety about theological niceties.
-The Last English King, Julian Rathbone

The most bizarre thing I've seen all year...

... is undoubtedly the Ecclesiastical Fashion Show from Fellini's Roma. It's indescribable, but suffice it to say that the general effect of Cardinal Ottoviani, a Roman Palazzo, neon light decorated Roman chasubles, flapping wimples for poorly-ventilated convents and bemirrored mitres resembles somewhat the Shrine of the Holy Whapping on acid.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Were I the other side of the pond...

... I'd love to attend the Solemn Mass organized by our Whapster brethren. It's encouraging that they're receiving so much interest from the clergy. Incidentally, one could do worse than give this CD to any serious-minded cleric who'd like to learn how to say or sing the Mass in Latin, but didn't know how to get started. There is a slight English accent (far from as extreme as the plummy Latin of the London Oratory) on some of the Latin, but so far as I can tell, the pronunciation is excellent. Incidentally, despite the efforts of successive Pontiffs, in Rome there still survive very distinctive Spanish and German Latin accents.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Where do you fellowship??

An amusing anecdote from the Old Oligarch reminds me of two others in a more or less similar vein.

Firstly, I was once accosted by a Protestant 'sidewalk evangelist' who was asking people 'Would you like to come to a non-denominational church service?' At a loss for time to engage with him more thoroughly, I replied 'No thanks, I'm a very demoniational sort of person.'

Secondly, the late Father Bouyer, in his excellent biography of Newman (about which, more anon) recounts the incident of a newly appointed Anglican clergyman calling on the aged Cardinal at the Birmingham Oratory so that he might pay a pastoral visit on his 'most distinguished parishioner'. This mirrors an event several decades previously, when as an enthusiastic new pastor of the Anglican parish of St. Mary the Virgin, Newman himself began an intensive programme of visitation. He called in on regular churchgoers, lapsed churchgoers, dissenters and on one particular gentleman who was known not to attend either the established or dissenting services. He turned out, to Newman's surprise, be a Jesuit who was tending to the spiritual needs of the Catholics of the area.

Some slang...

I was recently browsing in a library and came across a great (and relatively old) dictionary of slang. Alas, I forgot to note the bibliographical details, but I did jot down the following pieces of slang which deserve to be restored...

Quockerwodger: A politician acting under an outsider's orders.

Fetch a circumbendibus: To make a detour (A 19th/20th century colloquialism, apparently...)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Patriarch Bursts into Flames

No, not a high-ranking ecclesiastical dignitary, but the floating church/trawler, owned by controversial 'Tridentine Bishop' Michael Cox. The boat got into difficulties off the Irish coast and the three crew members have been rescued by the Irish authorities. Lest we confuse Cox with the high-minded and holier-than-thou schismatics of the Lefevrist bent, the linked article reminds us:
For the past decade, Mr Cox has preached the virtues of the Latin Mass, his skills as an exorcist and water diviner, and his healing powers, a practice that attracts scores of ill and disabled people to his remote base in Birr, County Offaly.
Mr Cox has attracted special attention with a string of stunts, including exorcizing alleged demons from a Dublin radio station and the national parliament; setting up a confessions-by-phone hot line; and selling a "Heal yourself, by the miracle bishop" home video.
In recent years he has been recruiting followers to a new sect he calls the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church. In 1998 he consecrated a high-profile gay Catholic priest from Northern Ireland, Pat Buckley, as a bishop - an act that earned them both automatic excommunication under Roman Catholic canonical law.

London recalling, etc...

As I mentioned previously, I recently spent a spell of time in England. Passing through London I was able to re-acquaint myself with a couple of old favourites by a visit to Westminster Cathedral and the London Oratory at Brompton. I also went for the first time to the Farm Street Jesuit Church, which is situated near Berkley Square and was the site of reception for many well-off and influential converts to Catholicism. It’s interesting too to contrast the architecture of these three prominent London churches, which were built in more or less the same era. Westminster is charmingly Byzantine and must have made a surprising departure from Pugin’s legacy of neo-Gothic architecture. As befits a major cathedral, its construction time will be measured in centuries and decades – the mosaics within are still incomplete, but encouragingly work is ongoing in the side-chapels. Conceivably they could have cut corners and completed the decoration of the cathedral in a more ‘economic’ manner, but I for one like being able to look up at the exposed brickwork of the galleries and know that some day they will shine with gold tiles and be worthily decorated for the glory of God.
Brompton, in contrast, reflecting the temperament of Faber and companions, is exceedingly Italianite. But for the mixture of English and Irish surnames behind the pieta-cum-war memorial, and a few altars dedicated to English saints, one would think oneself in the Baroque duomo of a fair-sized Italian city. Despite Brompton’s prestige, however, there is an air of cost-cutting and insubstantiality about the Oratory. In contrast to Westminster slow and careful progress towards being a great church, Brompton seems to have tried to acquire all the Italian impedimenta (incuding a bejewelled and bevestmented Madonna atop a side-altar) without due discretion and discernment. One, for example, needs to keep one’s head up in Brompton – the wooden (rather than marble or tiled) floor spoils the Italian illusion.
Farm Street is much more modest in terms of size, but the neo-Gothic interior is well-decorated. There are a number of attractive side-altars, a Pugin reredos, a fine pulpit and the stained glass lacking in Brompton and Westminster.
On a wholly unconnected note, I have of late been keenly aware that even our smallest acts can be more important than we realise. A small act of kindness can mean a lot to someone else and be long remembered after we have forgotten. Along that line, I was therefore stuck by the following passage from Owen Chadwick’s 1973-73 Gifford Lectures ‘The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century’:
The evidence of religious attitudes (in France) varies greatly according to province or department or even suburb. […I]nvestigations point to differences, reaching back into the past, between one region and another. There have been suggestions that a difference in religious practice can be discerned, for example, between those on the right bank of a river and those on the left, though both banks were in the same diocese and the same kind of parishes. If this were so, old historical reasons, long vanished from the realities of the present, ought to be working – a war, a bishop, an old frontier; the influence or non-influence of a group of parish priests – we can guess at a variety of reasons or we can guess at mere chance. The deeds of men in te past live extraordinarily into the present; for sometimes in nineteenth century France the division between better and worse practice of religion ran along an old and no longer existing frontier between one-time dioceses. Someone must have done good, or someone must have neglected, someone was beloved or someone despised, back into the eighteenth century or even into the age of religious wars. (pp 120-121)