Sunday, December 30, 2007

Today's gospel...

... reminded me of the following joke:
Father was visiting the infants' class and the children were showing him their Christmas drawings. One had drawn the baby Jesus, another the Wise Men and a third the shepherds. The fourth gave Father a picture of an aeroplane. "What's that?" he asked. "That's the flight into Egypt. There's Jesus, there's Mary and that's Joseph."
"Who's that up front?" the bemused priest asked.
"That's Pontius Pilot."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Medieval Nativity Scene?

Via The Times:
Books on medieval art will have to be rewritten after an ivory carving long dismissed as a forgery was confirmed as a masterpiece of the 12th or 13th century.
For more than a century, scholars could not believe that the exquisite Nativity and Last Judgment diptych was genuine. They assumed it to have been carved in the 18th or 19th centuries, when Gothic-style ivories were made. Carbon14 dating tests done in Britain and France have now placed it firmly in the 12th or 13th century.
John Lowden, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London – where it will have its first public display next month – said: “There was nothing else like it, therefore it wasn’t medieval.”
Throughout the 20th century it was in a private collection. Its previous provenance is unknown. In 1924 it was published by the great scholar Raymond Koechlin, who thought it too architectural to be medieval.
Professor Lowden said: “If you accept as genuine something that’s a fake, you distort the historical record. If you reject something that is genuine, that does more damage to historical records. What you’re saying, in this case, is that because it’s so beautifully carved, it can’t be medieval. If it is medieval, we have to change our view of ivory carving. It is really beautiful, extraordinarily detailed and lively. It draws you in to construct a narrative.”
He pointed to details such as angels announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds, one of whom has been playing bagpipes: “He has taken the pipe out of his mouth and turned to express astonishment.” There are remarkable carvings of figures rising from tombs.
Two years after it was sold in Paris for €3,000 to the former owner of The Times, the late Lord Thomson of Fleet, it is now worth millions. Its first public show will be as part of an exhibition drawing on Lord Thomson’s magnificent collection formed over more than half a century. The display will feature about 45 of the finest medieval ivories.
There include statuettes of the Virgin and Child intended to stand on altars in chapels, small versions for the home and folding tablets or diptychs with scenes from the life of Christ, and a richly narrative 15th-century ivory comb, decorated with a carriage drawn by horse and mule, taking two couples to the fountain of youth.
A folding ivory tabernacle would have been used for personal devotion while travelling. Working with a block of ivory taken from the centre of the tusk, the sculptor cut away the material to form a standing Virgin and Child under a canopy supported on columns.
He then sliced thin panels off the sides and front of the block and carved them with scenes from Christ’s life in low relief. The hinged panels serve as small to protect the carved surfaces when closed and act as wings of a miniature altarpiece when open.
My scepticism about the media and their expertise means that I suspect the impact of this discovery is being somewhat exaggerated, however it's an interesting story. I'm also curious as to whether the Carbon 14 tests actually prove this to be medieval work.

On the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.
I've spent this morning in a mostly meditative mood because of today's feast. It seems to pose a lot of tough questions when we look at the overall picture. Certainly the Church venerates them as martyrs and for that reason we celebrate their entry into eternal glory, but I wonder whether we have the courage to face the awful reality that their martyrdom represents.
One might consider their birth into eternal life as being an example of predestination and wholly unmerited grace. These infants had done nothing in their lives to deserve the honour of martyrdom; they did not preach the Good News, they knew nothing of Christ, but in utter passivity they were baptised in their own blood as they died due to Herod's hatred and fear of the Infant Christ.
We see in their slaughter the fact that to those He has predestined for eternal life, God gives the means for salvation. But what means we see in the deaths of the Holy Innocents! If I might push the baptism imagery a little further, one might ask whether Herod's solders were the ministers of this Baptism, whether their sword thrusts were the form and the blood of the infants was the matter of this gruesome sacrament. I'm sure you can see how this is disturbing. To what extent can we describe the massacre of the Holy Innocents as being part of God's plan?
Consider the sorrow of their parents. It would have seemed to them fantastical, absurd and grotesque to argue that there was anything good about the deaths of their little ones. They would have seen simply the brutality of Herod and wept for their slain babies. However, we realise that these children have entered into Heavenly Glory with the unique dignity of having been slain in place of Christ.
I'm not sure what conclusions we should draw from all this. I think, however, that the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents should remind us that we should be very humble when we try to speak of providence, God's plan for us, and His ability to bring good out of the evil which surrounds us. We should be very careful about speaking too definitively about how we see or don't see God's hand at work in the world.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Death of Stephen; The Conversion of Saul

From The Newman Reader:
When the blood of Stephen was shed, Saul, then a young man, was standing by, "consenting unto his death," and "kept the raiment of them that slew him." [Acts xxii. 20.] Two speeches are recorded of the Martyr in his last moments; one, in which he prayed that God would pardon his murderers,—the other his witness, that he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus on God's right hand. His prayer was wonderfully answered. Stephen saw his Saviour; the next vision of that Saviour to mortal man was vouchsafed to that very young man, even Saul, who shared in his murder and his intercession.

Strange indeed it was; and what would have been St. Stephen's thoughts could he have known it! The prayers of righteous men avail much. The first Martyr had power with God to raise up the greatest Apostle. Such was the honour put upon the first-fruits of those sufferings upon which the Church was entering. Thus from the beginning the blood of the Martyrs was the seed of the Church. Stephen, one man, was put to death for saying that the Jewish people were to have exclusive privileges no longer; but from his very grave rose the favoured instrument by whom the thousands and ten thousands of the Gentiles were brought to the knowledge of the Truth!

The Preaching of St Stephen (Carpaccio)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wishing you the Blessings of Christmas

May the Infant Jesus make His home in the hearts of my readers this Christmas and may He bless you abundantly in the New Year.

In God's Name

We're used to associating the name 'Allah' with Islam, but that's because it's the Arabic word for 'God'. There are, in fact, a number of languages where the word 'Allah' means God and is used by Christians - a fact which sometimes surprises some anglophone Christians. However, this is the first time I've heard of this particular situation - Via CNA:
A senior government official in Malaysia has ordered a Catholic newspaper to drop the use of the word “Allah” in its Malay language section if it wants its publishing permit renewed, the Associated Press reports.
The Herald, published by Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as “Allah.” Che Din Yusoff, a senior official at the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit, has said this usage is erroneous because “Allah” refers to the Muslim God.
"Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim god. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people," Che Din told the Associated Press.
Che Din said that the newspaper should use the general term for God, the word “Tuhan.”
Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, explained the newspaper’s usage of the controversial word:
"We follow the Bible. The Malay-language Bible uses Allah for God and Tuhan for Lord. In our prayers and in church during Malay mass, we use the word Allah," Father Andrew said. "This is not something new. The word Allah has been used in Malaysia for a long time. There is no confusion," he continued.
Che Din said that since Christians don’t use the word “Allah” in English-language worship, they shouldn’t use it in the Malay language. In addition to “Allah,” Che Din said three other Malay words ought not be used by non-Muslims: "solat" for prayers, "kaabah" for the place of Muslim worship in Mecca and "baitula" the house of Allah.
That comment about Catholics not calling God 'Allah' in English is a decided non sequitur. Someone should tell him that Maltese and Arabic-speaking Catholics do however call Him 'Allah'.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Crucified Santa

Via the Houston Chronicle:
BREMERTON, Wash. — Art Conrad has an issue with the commercialism of Christmas, and his protest has gone way beyond just shunning the malls or turning off his television.
The Bremerton resident nailed Santa Claus to a 15-foot crucifix in front of his house.
"Santa has been perverted from who he started out to be," Conrad said. "Now he's the person being used by corporations to get us to buy more stuff."
A photo of the crucified Santa adorns his Christmas cards, with the message "Santa died for your MasterCard."

Lessons in Pelagianism

A friend recently mentioned the 'blog of the Seraphic Single and reading through the archives I've found it to be some of the most thoughtful, reflective and witty writing in the Catholic Blogosphere. This post, amongst others, caught my attention:
This week the parish was celebrating the graduate students in particular, and so two graduate students gave short addresses. One was by a sweet young woman who said when she arrived in Cambridge she was 'just some kid from South Carolina' and was very intimidated. But then she found out that, thanks to a priest friend, a whole impoverished village in Latin America was praying for her every week. This was heartwarming. But then a sleek young man took over and lectured us on Success.

Standing a little to the side of a huge wooden crucifix, where Christ was dying the death of a slave, the speaker reflected on what had made him, the speaker, such a success. He told us about how impressed and proud he had been to be working in a top Manhatten office over the summer, but when his wife gave birth, he realized that he was more than a top Mahatten office worker but a Co-Creator. (Blah blah blah.) True Success comes about through Catholic Virtues, he told us, making Catholic Virtues sounding like the handmaids of Capitalism.

"But what else brings Success?" he asked.

Being Catholics listening to a sermon, we waited obediently for the answer.

"Work!" he shouted.

"Acck!" I replied.

"He's a Pelagian!" I told Volker 2.

Volker 2, who had been well aware of my shifting and muttering, sighed sympathetically.

The reflection didn't get better than that. The theology was atrocious, and I began to really dislike this Rich Young Ruler. He counselled us to get to know our Faith better, and I imagined what would happen if St. Francis confronted him at the door, never mind St. Augustine. But then I also realized that I was envious of this young man. He has a very marketable degree. He has worked the classy office job. He has a beautiful wife. He has a beautiful baby. He really looks like he has everything---except a grasp of Catholic theology, of course.
Of course, this touches on an interesting problem for anyone who tries to live by and preach the Gospel - so much of being Catholic seems to be both good practical sense and yet also a particular sort of divine foolishness.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blair Popes!

Via the Telegraph:
Tony Blair has completed his long anticipated conversion to Catholicism.
The former prime minister joined the faith at a service in a chapel in Westminster, after years of speculation that he would convert after leaving Downing Street.
Mr Blair, whose wife Cherie and four children are Catholic, met Pope Benedict XVI on an official visit in June - his third trip to the Vatican in four years.
Now a Middle-East peace envoy, he was reluctant to convert while in office because it could have caused a potential conflict with his role in choosing Church of England bishops.
His views on abortion, gay rights and stem cell research were also at odds with Catholic teaching, and his parish priest Fr Timothy Russ commented that he had “some way to go” on important moral issues.
Now, that's putting it mildly! I don't doubt the sincerity of Blair's desire to be Catholic, but he and the Church Catholic have been poorly served by ignoring the several elephants in the chapel and downplaying the extent to which his position on several issues put him outside the pale.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor has welcomed Mr Blair into the faith. He said: “For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion."
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has also wished the former Prime Minister well in his spiritual journey: "Tony Blair has my prayers and good wishes as he takes this step in his Christian pilgrimage."
Frankly, the whole thing leaves me speechless.
Damien Thompson comments:
Yesterday the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster received into the Catholic Church a politician who consistently voted in favour of abortion and, as Prime Minister, refused to countenance any reduction in the time limit for “terminations”. In the eyes of the Church, he has the blood of innocents on his hands.
Don’t ask me for an explanation: I simply don’t understand. Has Tony Blair changed his mind about abortion? If so, why has he not said so publicly?
I repeat: I do not understand what has happened. Can anyone enlighten me?

Edited to add:
I'm thinking that maybe my initial reaction doesn't do sufficient justice to the power of the Holy Spirit; I pray that the grace of Christ may work within Mr Blair. May he be a holy and faithful member of the Church.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Who is primary?

A Shakespearean take on a comedic classic - very mild bawdiness at the beginning.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Poor Rowan Williams

There's going to be a lot 'blogged about what the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury said on the radio yesterday. The Times headlines the story Archbishop says nativity 'a legend' and begins with the paragraph:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, dismissed the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men yesterday as nothing but “legend”.
Damien Thompson's take on this is:
Does Rowan Williams EVER think before opening his mouth? He waits until the week before Christmas before describing the nativity as a “legend” and condemning the poor wise men, asses and oxen to the realms of fantasy.
Yes, it’s true that most biblical scholars agree with him. But really – has the Archbishop of Canterbury got nothing better to do than dismantle the Christmas story on Radio Five Live, for God’s sake? Can you imagine Pope Benedict XVI going on Simon Mayo’s show to chip away at the naïve beliefs of millions of Christians?
I agree with Thompson that Williams was certainly unwise in what he was saying, but I don't think the reportage fairly represents what he actually said. I would suggest actually reading a transcript of the interview in question before making up one's mind about him.
Firstly, note that the question he is being asked relates not to the accuracy of the infancy narratives in the Gospels, but rather the classical Christmas card images.
So, he points out that there's nothing in the Gospesl about the ox and the ass, and notes that the Wise Men and the shepherds probably weren't there at the same time and doubts that it was snowing. So far as I can see, he doesn't deny the historicity of the Magi.
Simon Mayo: And the wise men with the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason?

Archbishop of Canterbury: Well Matthew's gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from, it says they're astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told so, yes, 'the three kings with the one from Africa' - that's legend; it works quite well as legend.

SM But would they have been there?

ABC Not with the shepherds, they wouldn't. So if you've got shepherds on one side and three kings on the other, there's a bit of conflation going on.

SM And pulling back further - snow on the ground?

ABC Very unlikely I think; it can be pretty damn cold in Bethlehem at this time of the year, but we don't know that it was this time of year because again the Gospels don't tell us what time of year it was; Christmas is the time it is because it fitted very well with the winter festival.

SM Just as a side issue on the kings and the wise bit; do you have a problem with astrologers being seen as wise men; there'd be many people in your church who would think, actually, astrology is bunk and should be exposed as bunk and the idea of saying that they are wise is somewhat farcical.?

ABC Well I 'm inclined to agree that astrology is bunk but you're dealing there with a world in which people watched the stars in order to get a sort of heads up on significant matters and astrologers were quite a growth industry; people who were respected and had a kind of professional technical skill and were respected as such., the thing here if course is what's the skill about? Well it's all bringing them to Jesus; it's not about fortune telling or telling the future, it's about a skill of watching the universe which leads them inexorably towards this event, so I don't think it's a justification of astrology.
It seems to me that what Williams is saying is that their depiction as 'three Kings, one of them from Africa' works well as legend; he doesn't say that the Magi themselves were legendary, and indeed continues to speak of them as though they did come to pay their homage.
It's worth reading what he has to say about the Virgin Birth as well. Again, this is an area where he will be misunderstood.
I'm certainly not one to see eye-to-eye with the Archbishop of Canterbury in many matters theological, but it really is unfortunate to see him misunderstood and pilloried because of this interview.
By the way, if you've ever wondered about the animals traditionally shown in nativity scences, the answer can be found in Is 1:3:
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood.
Some of the Fathers associate the ox with the people of Israel and the ass with the gentiles.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Name that Saves

Something stuck me about today's gospel. The Angel of the Lord appears to St Joseph and says to him: ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’

The Fathers of the Church frequently commented on the significance of the name of Jesus. They saw in the figure of Joshua (the names are the same in Hebrew) a prefiguration of Christ, but more especially, they picked up on this fact which is recorded in St Matthew's Gospel that the name means Saviour.

Indeed, I seem to recall [I can't chase down the exact reference at the moment] that St Augustine accused one of his Pelagian opponents of forgetting that Christ (the anointed one) is also Jesus (the Saviour). He didn't think that Pelagian theology did justice to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Now, Cardinal Ratzinger (as was) used to point out his discomfort with people referring to 'Jesus' whilst pointedly not calling him Christ. That, he pointed out, was frequently done to promote an inadequate low Christology. By speaking about Jesus, they were trying to obscure that very fact which makes Christ more than just 'one of us'. I agree with the Cardinal on this point and another one could be added. There's a certain natural reserve amongst the faithful about using the name Jesus. When we reflect on what the name means and the fact that it was divinely given, then this reserve seems fitting. The name of Jesus is sacred and casually using it as an implicit denial of His divinity is ironic, not to mention disrespectful. Thus, preferring to say Christ instead of Jesus mirrors the Jewish custom of not pronouncing the Divine Name. Now, I wouldn't suggest that we should never use Our Lord's given name. That wouldn't be right either. But we could certainly take care to see that we do so respectfully because today's Gospel tells us that there's something special about the Holy Name of 'Jesus'. It wasn't simply something that Our Lady and St Joseph plucked out of the 'big Book of Jewish Baby Names'. It was a name that was given by God and means 'Saviour'. Indeed, considered as a divinely given title, one could conceivably argue that 'Jesus'/'Saviour' is a higher and more crucial title than 'Christ'/'Anointed'.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Henry VIII's Bible

The Times has a fascinating article about an edition of the Bible that I'd not heard of before:
In July 1535 the industrious London stationer Thomas Berthelet, who also served as “King’s Printer” to Henry VIII, published a selective text of the Latin Old and New Testaments, in the Vulgate version of St Jerome: this seems to have been, perhaps surprisingly, the very first bible to have been printed in the British Isles.
Berthelet’s isolated novelty, a stout but handy small quarto, laid out in double columns, is titled Sacrae Bibliae Tomus Primus (ie, the first volume – only – of the Holy Bible); it consists of the Pentateuch, Joshua and Judges, Psalms, Proverbs and the Sapientia or Wisdom of Solomon (a late Greek text now consigned to the Apocrypha), plus the entire New Testament, including Revelation. A preface addressed to the devout reader, headed “Pio Lectori”, apologizes none too humbly for the apparent eccentricity of leaving out more than half the canonical Old Testament, and promises to collect all the omissions in a supplementary volume, which either never appeared or (far less likely) has perished.
One might assume at first that the writer of such a preface, who begins by routinely puffing the product – the Scriptures – as “true riches” valuable beyond any worldly goods, but also takes specific credit for its selection, arrangement and issue, was the publisher Berthelet himself, [...] However, a second look reveals that the author, hence the conceiver or designer of this idiosyncratic recension and its robust apologist, was not Thomas Berthelet, nor any of his corresponding or in-house scholars or “correctors of the press”, but his own royal patron, Henry VIII.
You know well”, the prefacer declares,
how our Lord God, whose words or scriptures we are discussing, ordered that when a king sat on the throne of his kingdom, he should write for himself the law of God, and having it with him, should read it every day of his life, so that he should thus learn to fear the Lord his God, and guard His words."
This is a reference to Deuteronomy 17:18–19, employed to justify (as only a king could) the present reordering and selection of scriptural materials, offered to the pious but perhaps obstinate reader who found any “departure, however slight, from ancient practice or established form . . . an offence to religious scruple”.

The Cause of Nennolina Advances

The Holy Father authorized the promulgation of various decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Of especial note is the following:
le virtù eroiche della Serva di Dio Antonia Meo (detta Nennolina), Fanciulla; nata a Roma il 15 dicembre 1930 ed ivi morta il 3 luglio 1937.
The heroic virtues of the Servant of God Antonia Meo (called Nennolina), young girl; born in Rome the 15th of December 1930 and died there the 3rd of July 1937.
The age of this young Servant of God is astounding, and this declaration means that the recognition of a miracle through her intercession would lead to her beatification. I know that Don Marco of Vultus Christi has a special devotion to her, having spent much time in the Monastery of S. Croce in Gerusalemme where she is buried. He mentions her in this post:
Here in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme we have the tomb of the little Servant of God Antonietta Meo, fondly known as Nennolina. Nennolina was born on December 15, 1930. She was a lively and joyful child, quick to join in games at school. One day she fell while playing in the schoolyard and injured her knee on a stone. The pain did not go away: the doctors diagnosis was osteosarcoma. Her leg was amputated. A long way of the cross ensued. Hospitalized, she suffered atrocious pain. Nennolina died on July 3, 1937. She was not seven years old.
Nennolina left behind a diary and more than one hundred letterine (little letters) addressed to Jesus, to the Madonna, and to God the Father. Nennolina's letters reveal an extraordinary mystical union with Jesus Crucified. Her tomb, at the entrance to the Chapel of the Sacred Relics of the Cross and Passion in our Basilica, has become a place of pilgrimage. If canonized, Nennolina will be the youngest saint, not a martyr, in the history of the Church.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Life in Italy (for Italians)

I'm frequently asked by visitors about the Italian economy and the standard of living of Italians. Shelly has written a really insightful post about this.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sentamu cuts up dog collar

An interesting form of protest by the Anglican Archbishop of York. Via the Telegraph:
The Archbishop of York has cut up his dog collar live on television in protest against the human rights violations of Robert Mugabe.
John Sentamu pledged not to wear the symbol of the clergy until the Zimbabwean president steps down and urged others to "pray, march, protest and collect money" for the cause of his people.
With Mr Mugabe enjoying the global limelight at the EU's Africa summit in Lisbon, the Archbishop spoke out against the destruction of Zimbabweans' identities.
"Do you know what Mugabe has done? He has taken people's identity and literally - if you don't mind - cut it to pieces," Mr Sentamu told BBC1's Andrew Marr show.
"As far as I am concerned, from now on I am not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe is gone."

French want Boney III Back

From the Telegraph:
He was the last emperor and the first president of France but for 120 years the Emperor Napoleon III's remains have lain in England.
Now the French want them back. Tomorrow Christian Estrosi, the secretary of state for overseas territories, will arrive in Britain to request the return of the remains of the exiled emperor and his wife, Empress Eugénie, which lie in a crypt in St Michael's Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire.
Mr Estrosi said: "This trip will be for me an occasion to send a clear message to the British - to thank them for all they did for the imperial couple in exile but also to remind them that we have some rights over them."
But Father Cuthbert, the Benedictine monk who heads the abbey, is unlikely to agree to Mr Estrosi's request to return the remains of Napoleon III, who sought refuge in England with his family and a few faithful followers after his defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.
The monk said he hoped the minister was coming to ask forgiveness for having left the monastery so long without news or support.
Bravo Fr Cuthbert!

Ancient Roman Medicine

From the Telegraph:
An ancient doctor's surgery unearthed by Italian archaeologists has cast new light on what a trip to the doctor would have been like in Roman times. Far from crude, the medical implements discovered show that doctors, their surgeries and the ailments they treated have changed surprisingly little in 1,800 years.
Sore joints were common, patients were often told to change their diets, and the good doctor of the seaside town of Rimini even performed house calls.
Archaeologists have spent the past 17 years at the Domus del Chirurgo - House of the Surgeon - painstakingly excavating the site and compiling the world's most detailed portrait of medical treatment in Roman times. Their discoveries go on public display for the first time on Tuesday.
"This is the largest find of surgical instruments anywhere," said Dr Ralph Jackson, the curator of the Romano-British collection at the British Museum and an expert in ancient medicine.
Among the 150 different implements is a rare iron tool used to extract arrowheads from wounds, which suggests the doctor had experience as a military surgeon.
"It tells us a great deal of how he worked and the range of procedures he undertook because of its completeness. All previous finds have been only partial," Dr Jackson said. "The healer almost certainly concocted anaesthetic preparations of white mandrake, henbane and opium poppies."
Perhaps the most unexpected find was a piece of equipment that would delight a modern podiatrist: a ceramic hot water bottle in the shape of a foot, into which oil or water could be poured when the foot was inserted.
"Joint problems were the single most common complaint in Roman times, and they were probably treated with heat and cold," said Dr Jackson.
The discovery suggests that the doctor used diet as a first approach to treating a disease, then drugs prepared from plants in a pestle and mortar, and finally surgery. That could include anything from pulling teeth - dental forceps were part of his equipment - to opening a patient's fractured skull to remove bone fragments.
"One of the most exciting finds was a lenticular, a small chisel used for opening the skull safely after gouging a channel into it with another instrument," said Dr Jackson.
Ome of the thoughts that occasionally crosses my mind is whether there's anything we could learn about Roman physicians and their patients' perceptions of same which would refine our understanding of the use of the image of Christ as physician in the writings of the Latin Fathers.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mad King Ludwig Murdered?

From the Telegraph:
A century-old mystery surrounding the fate of the “Mad King” who built Bavaria’s celebrated fairytale castles has taken a new twist after an historian claimed that he was murdered.
The allegation comes from an art expert turned sleuth who claims that contemporary portraits of Ludwig II prove that far from killing himself in a fit of melancholy, he was assassinated to put an end his extravagant spending.
Ludwig’s body was found on June 13, 1886, in the knee-deep waters of a lake not far from Neuschwanstein Castle, his most fanciful creation, whose soaring towers and turrets now draw tourists from all over the world.
After a cursory investigation, the death was declared suicide by drowning - a verdict fiercely protected by his successors, who have forbidden any modern scientific examination of his remains.
But art historian Siegfried Wichmann now claims that he can prove that Ludwig was murdered, after an investigation that has taken up half his life and has drawn upon his own wartime experience. “I can say that, professionally, I have never been wrong in all my career,” said Mr Wichmann, who is the leading authority on Bavarian paintings from the late 19th century.
A secret Bavarian society known as the Guglmänner, whose members dress in capes and hoods and claim to be guardians of the German monarchy, has long questioned the official version of his death. But the calls for Ludwig’s body to be exhumed and given a modern autopsy have now grown louder. Last month, Detlev Utermöhle, a Bavarian banker, made a sworn statement claiming that he had seen the coat Ludwig was wearing on the day of his death, and that it contained two bullet holes.

A man who is worth provoking...

A had a friendly dig at Don Marco for 'blogging about the Collect for the Friday of the First Week of Advent when the proper Collect for today's Mass is that of St Ambrose. Well, Don Marco replied with this short but wonderful Ambrosian post:
Saint Ambrose invites us to seek the Face of Christ in his mysteries, that is to say, in the Sacred Liturgy. When the Church opens the Lectionary, it is to discover the Face of Christ shining from its pages. When, in obedience to the command of the Lord, she breaks the Bread and offers the Chalice, all her joy is in the contemplation of His Eucharistic Face.

I Have Found Thee in Thy Mysteries
When I had the opportunity to choose a text for the card commemorating my ordination to the priesthood, I didn’t hesitate. Immediately, the words of Saint Ambrose came to mind: “Face to face, thou hast made thyself known to me, O Christ; I have found thee in thy mysteries.”
Go and read the whole thing!
Thank you Don Marco.

More Leonardo Tomfoolery...

There's something about Leonardo da Vinci that brings out the cranks. Via the Telegraph we have the lastest crackpot theory:
A new storm is brewing in the world of Da Vinci theorists after a mysterious group claimed it has used mirrors to uncover hidden biblical images in some of the great master’s most famous works.
In recent years, art history scholars have unveiled Templar knights, Mary Magdalene, a child and a musical script hidden in the Italian’s paintings.
I'm tempted to say that 'scholars' is too strong a word.
It is well-documented that Da Vinci, who lived between 1452 and 1519, often wrote in mirror writing, either in an attempt to stop his rivals stealing his ideas or in a bid to hide his scientific theories, often deemed as subversive, from the powerful Roman Catholic Church.
There we go! A Leonardo story wouldn't be complete without a reference to the powerful Church... so powerful that 'mirror writing' would befuddle her secret agents.
But now a group known as The Mirror of the Sacred Scriptures and Paintings World Foundation believes that he applied the same technique to some of his best-known creations, including the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, to conceal mysterious faces and religious symbols.
When applied to the sketch The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, which hangs in London’s National Gallery, the authors say the mirror image reveals the ancient Old Testament god Jahveh, who "protects the soul of the body’s vices" and wears the Vatican’s crown.
Their theory would explain why many of Da Vinci’s characters seem to be pointing or staring into space, as if searching for the Divine.
The group claims they are indicating where the mirror should be placed to reveal the painting’s secrets.
I see. And what's the result? Darth Vader lives in Mona Lisa's sleeve.
According to the group, the same technique was used by Michelangelo and Raphael, in artwork exhibited in the Vatican, and Renaissance artists including the neoclassicist Jacques Louis David. Similar images have also been found in famous paintings and sculptures of Buddha.
Yes! It's a giant conspiracy, including not only Michelangelo and Raphael, but the much later French artist David and those crazy Buddhists.
The study’s authors wrote to the Vatican last year to explain their discovery, but received a lofty reply saying that while their findings would no doubt be the object of much discussion in the art history world, their ideas required "solid proof" and needed to be supported by a general consensus among art critics before they could be taken seriously.
A lofty reply, eh? They've reproduced it on their website. Not especially lofty, in my opinion. Maybe they were expecting the Pope to write back with pictures of himself traipsing around the Vatican museums with a mirror.
The latest theory, expounded by The Mirror of the Sacred Scriptures and Paintings group, whose website, is owned by the Sacred and Divine Reason and Foundation Corp, follows the revelation in July by an Italian amateur scholar that the Last Supper contained a hidden image of a woman holding a child.
The figure, he said, appeared when the fresco was superimposed with its mirror image and both were made partially transparent.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Imagine the disappointment...

at finding one of these in your Christmas stocking. [Biretta-doff: At Home in Rome]
(Although, I'd quite like one of these.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mystery Photo

Of what is this a picture?
I'm sure that most of my readers are regulars at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping. Well, they've posted the above picture and are trying to establish the context. It was taken in the Cathedral in Fort Wayne and given the unusual costumes and so on, they're stumped as to what it might depict.
Pop over to their site for more information or if you can help.

Why does the Vatican get blamed for everything?

From the Telegraph:
Saints by phone service condemned by Vatican
An Italian company that is sending virtual prayer cards to the mobile phones of the faithful was accused of blasphemy yesterday by the Roman Catholic Church.
Hmmmm... Well, the first thing is to note that 'The Vatican' and 'The Roman Catholic Church' are not synonyms. If a reporter says 'The Vatican' said or did something, it should mean that one of the Curial Offices in Rome or one of the Pope's senior curial assistants has formally/officially acted in some capacity. It should not, as happens so frequently, be used with reference to an unofficial comment of a Vatican bureaucrat or a teacher in a Pontifical University, as I've seen in the press previously.
For three euros (£2) a week, subscribers will be able to receive up to three images of saints and great figures of the Church, including Pope John Paul II, Padre Pio and the Virgin Mary when the service starts today.
Hmmmm... a little tacky... but there's plenty of tack to be seen in Rome's souvenir shops.
But the Italian bishops' conference last night accused McKay & Sisters, a Milan-based communications company, of offending Catholics by "exploiting" their faith. "This is a poor show and has nothing to do with faith," said Bishop Lucio Soravito De Franceschi, a spokesman on doctrinal matters. "It is exploiting the faith, lowering it to banality with no sense. It is a blasphemous idea that will horrify the true faithful.
"For the Church a saint is someone of great heroic virtue, not someone to be commercially exploited."

Okay... how does a spokesman of the Italian Episcopal Conference represent the Vatican?

Barbara Labate, a director of the company, dismissed the Church's response. "I had the idea from my mother who always puts a prayer card in her bag before travelling," she said.
"I don't think it is scandalous or blasphemous at all. We have had saint and prayer cards for more than 600 years and we will always continue to have them.
"What we are doing is moving with the times," she added.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Origen the Liturgist

Origen's treatise On Prayer has an interesting section at the end about the formalities of prayer which give an interesting insight into 3rd century practices.
On standing and praying
Of all the innumerable dispositions of the body that, accompanied by outstretching of the hands and upraising of the eyes, standing is preferred—inasmuch as one thereby wears in the body also the image of the devotional characteristics that become the soul. I say that these things ought to be observed by preference except in any special circumstances, for in special circumstances, by reason of some serious foot disease one may upon occasion quite properly pray sitting, or by reason of fevers or similar illnesses, lying, and indeed owing to circumstances, if, let us say, we are on a voyage or if our business does not permit us to retire to pay our debt of prayer, we may pray without any outward sign of doing so.
But kneeling has its place as well
Moreover, one must know that kneeling is necessary when he is about to arraign his personal sins against God with supplication for their healing and forgiveness, because it is a symbol of submission and subjection. For Paul says; For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father from whom is all fatherhood named in heaven and on earth. It may be termed spiritual kneeling, because of the submission and self-humiliation of every being to God in the name of Jesus, that the apostle appears to indicate in the words: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
It should not be supposed that beings in heaven have bodies so fashioned as actually to possess knees, since their bodies have been described possibly as spherical in form by those who have discussed these matters more minutely. He who refuses to admit this will also, unless he outrages reason, admit the uses of each of the members in order that nothing fashioned for them by God may be in vain. One falls into error on either hand, whether he shall assert that bodily members have been brought into being by God for them in vain and not for their proper work, or shall say that the internal organs, the intestine included, perform their proper uses even in heavenly beings. Exceedingly foolish will it be to think that it is only their surface, as with statues, that is human in form and nothing further underneath.
A very literal ad orientem
A few words may now be added in reference to the direction in which one ought to look in prayer. Of the four directions, the North, South, East, and West, who would not at once admit that the East clearly indicates the duty of praying with the face turned towards it with the symbolic suggestion that the soul is looking upon the dawn of the true light?
Should anyone, however, prefer to direct his intercessions according to the aperture of the house, whichever way the doors of the house may face, saying that the sight of heaven appeals to one with a certain attraction greater than the view of the wall, and the eastward part of the house having no opening, we may say to him that since it is by human arrangement that houses are open in this or that direction but by nature that the East is preferred to all the other directions, the natural is to be set before the artificial. Besides, on that view why should one who wished to pray when in the open country pray to the East in preference to the West? If, in the one case it is reasonable to prefer the East, why should the same not be done in every case? Enough on that subject.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

You know you're in Rome when...

... you go to one of your regular hang-outs for supper and you notice that there's at least one priest in each of the 7 or 8 groups who have already been seated.

My Patrons for the Year

The Tomb of Sts Henry and Cunegunda
I was delighted to get an e-mail from Lucy this morning letting me know that she'd chosen my two patron saints for the new liturgical year:Your patron saints are:
Sts Cunegunda & Henry

Pray for those in public office

"And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." [Mt 25, 40]
*Doffs biretta at Lucy*
Now, I must confess that I knew next to nothing about my new saints. Actually, I'd never even heard of St Cunegunda and presumed that she was probably one of those doughty Saxon princess-saints. I was therefore surprised to learn that she was from Luxembourg and was St Henry's wife. So, what do we know about this pair?
St. Henry, son of Henry, Duke of Bavaria, and of Gisella, daughter of Conrad, King of Burgundy, was born in 972. He received an excellent education under the care of St. Wolfgang, Bishop of Ratisbon. In 995, St. Henry succeeded his father as Duke of Bavaria, and in 1002, upon the death of his cousin, Otho III, he was elected emperor. Firmly anchored upon the great eternal truths, which the practice of meditation kept alive in his heart, he was not elated by this dignity and sought in all things, the greater glory of God. He was most watchful over the welfare of the Church and exerted his zeal for the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline through the instrumentality of the Bishops. He gained several victories over his enemies, both at home and abroad, but he used these with great moderation and clemency. In 1014, he went to Rome and received the imperial crown at the hands of Pope Benedict VIII. On that occasion he confirmed the donation, made by his predecessors to the Pope, of the sovereignty of Rome and the exarchate of Ravenna. Circumstances several times drove the holy Emperor into war, from which he always came forth victorious. He led an army to the south of Italy against the Saracens and their allies, the Greeks, and drove them from the country. The humility and spirit of justice of the Saint were equal to his zeal for religion. He cast himself at the feet of Herebert, Bishop of Cologne, and begged his pardon for having treated him with coldness, on account of a misunderstanding. He wished to abdicate and retire into a monastery, but yielded to the advice of the Abbot of Verdun, and retained his dignity. Both he and his wife, St. Cunegundes, lived in perpetual chastity, to which they had bound themselves by vow. The Saint made numerous pious foundations, gave liberally to pious institutions and built the Cathedral of Bamberg. His holy death occurred at the castle of Grone, near Halberstad, in 1024. His feast day is July 13th. He is the patron saint of the childless, of Dukes, of the handicapped and those rejected by Religious Order.

Friday, November 30, 2007

On proportion...

Just comment from the Times's Daniel Finkelstein:
Have you noticed that word disproportionate?

It keeps popping up in relation to Gillian Gibbons and the teddy bear.

The Archbishop of Canterbury called her jail sentence:

"absurdly disproportionate response" to a "minor cultural faux pas".

while the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), which represents more than 90,000 Muslim students in the UK and Ireland, said it was:

"deeply concerned" at what was a "gravely disproportionate" verdict.

Er, no.

It was not a misunderstanding of culture on the part of Gillian Gibbons. And the verdict was not disproportionate.

The arrest and imprisonment of this teacher was a political act, not a cultural or religious one. Its aim is not cultural preservation but terrorising the population. It is the classic move of a totalitarian state supported by a mob.

Why wasn't it disproportionate? This word implies that some sort of censure was required but that imprisonment was too much. The punishment wasn't out of proportion. It was unwarranted, outrageous, insupportable.

The use of the phrase "disproportionate" is offensive.

Spe Salvi - Random Observation No. 5

This will probably be my last 'random observation' concerning Spe Salvi, as I have other commitments this afternoon. Apologies for the superficiality of my reading of this document.
Firstly, Amy Welborn links to John Allen on Spe Salvi. He outlines the inital positive welcomes and reports the concerns of the decidedly "progressive" group 'Wir Sind Kirche':
The deliberately wide appeal of Spe Salvi does not mean that early reaction has been uniformly positive. The “Wir Sind Kirche” statement, for example, posed three critical questions about the encyclical:
• Why doesn’t it rely more on Gaudium et Spes, or “Joy and Hope,” the Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which has long been a sort of charter document for the reform wing of Catholicism?
• Why doesn’t the pope ask whether the current structures and disciplinary systems of the church actually promote an atmosphere of hope?
• Will this encyclical generate real hope for progress towards ecumenical reunion?
It's the first of these questions that interests me most. It's striking that Pope Benedict XVI doesn't seem to refer to the Second Vatican Council or its documents at all in the Encyclical. (Take note of that - it could be an interesting trivia question at the theological dinner table.) In particular, he doesn't refer to Gaudium et Spes, the Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Why he doesn't would make an interesting study. Two reasons spring to mind and seem worthy of further investigation. Firstly, I seem to recall that Fr Ratzinger as peritus (theological expert) at the council was not enthusiastic about this document and was, I think, of the opinion that much of the second part of the document did not deserve to be part of a Pastoral Constitution (the most important sort of document issued by the Council.) Secondly, it might be that the whole issue of eschatology was not tremendously well dealt with by the Council and this document Spe Salvi reflects a more integrated and mature expression of the magisterium on eschatological matters. I should make clear that these are just my off-the-cuff speculations at the moment... I haven't given the matter much thought and am very much open to correction.
It is worth noting that he does draw on the Catechism of the Catholic Church in several places, and his drawing on the thought of Henri de Lubac so one could hardly accuse the Holy Father of neglecting those positive theological fruits of the Council and the Ressourcement movement. Indeed, one hopes that this encyclical will provoke a renewed interest in eschatology drawing on de Lubac's recognition of the social dimension of salvation and an honest appraisal of whether we take the reality of the Last Judgement seriously. I know that there are some of a more scholastic bent who are not fans of de Lubac, but I think he has something important to say on this issue. The idea of salvation being based around a me-and-Jesus axis does not do justice to the ecclesial dimension to salvation, and, for example, the Augustinian idea of our salvation as part of the Church which he describes as the Totus Christus or whole Christ.
Finally, I think this encyclical deserves particular attention for the manner in which it manages to incorporate some pretty serious biblical exegesis and modern philosophy in a fairly accessible manner.

Spe Salvi - Random Observation No. 4

Offer it up!
I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ's great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.(Spe Salvi 40)

Actually, there are some interesting aspects of a mystical theology of suffering for others in paragraph 38:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie.
Echoes of Charles Williams?

Spe Salvi - Random Observation No. 3

There's a passage at the end of paragraph 33 which expresses very clearly the demand that the encounter with God places on the Christian conscience:
We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. “But who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults” prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12 [18:13]). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.
Certainly, ignorance does mitigate personal responsibility and culpability, but one sees in some circles the idea that 'being pastoral' means not pointing out some of the sinfulness present in this world. The theory is that if the faithful are not presented with the fullness of Christian morality, then God will not hold them responsible for sins committed in ignorance.
I've never been happy with that horribly nominalistic argument as it presents a misleading view of God and of the Christian life. Cultivating a dulled conscience amongst the faithful is depriving them of an encounter with the living God who wants only what is good for them. Living according to a distorted picture of 'the good' will inevitably obscure the vision of the God who is Good. Denying the existence of sin is a denial of the God who redeems us from sin. A lively conscience is the sine qua non of the adult Christian life.

Spe Salvi - Random Observation No. 2

On human freedom:
Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last for ever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. (Spe Salvi 24)
That's a very succinct description of our fallen reality: Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good.

Spe Salvi - Random Observation No. 1

I'm reading through the new document and one of the obvious things that caught my eye was the fact that the Holy Father makes reference to the older form of baptism in paragraph 10:
In the search for an answer, I would like to begin with the classical form of the dialogue with which the rite of Baptism expressed the reception of an infant into the community of believers and the infant's rebirth in Christ. First of all the priest asked what name the parents had chosen for the child, and then he continued with the question: “What do you ask of the Church?” Answer: “Faith”. “And what does faith give you?” “Eternal life”. According to this dialogue, the parents were seeking access to the faith for their child, communion with believers, because they saw in faith the key to “eternal life”. Today as in the past, this is what being baptized, becoming Christians, is all about: it is not just an act of socialization within the community, not simply a welcome into the Church. The parents expect more for the one to be baptized: they expect that faith, which includes the corporeal nature of the Church and her sacraments, will give life to their child—eternal life. Faith is the substance of hope.
This is interesting in the context of the Holy Father's great interest in the older liturgical forms, but also in terms of the theology of baptism which he insists - even for infants - is about more than simply welcoming the believer into the Church. Anyone with a passing familiarity with St Augustine's struggle against Pelagianism will realise that the significance of infant baptism is frequently misrepresented today in a manner which smacks of the old Pelagian heresy. Indeed, Pope Paul VI insisted that the Rite of Baptism for Infants be revised a second time after the Council as the first Rite which was produced seemed to neglect the fact that infant baptism removes the stain of Original Sin. That's not quite the question that the Holy Father is dealing with here - but he is pointing to the supernatural significance of baptism and the fact that the child, although unable to believe himself, does receive the supernatural habitus of faith through baptism.
Pope Benedict follows this with an interesting explanation of death and eternal life, and the curious paradox that for the Christian death is both punishment and remedy.

Spe Salvi

In English, Latin, Italian or whatever you want.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Arrupe to Jesuits on Humane Vitae

Diogenes has posted a copy of the late Jesuit Superior General Fr Arrupe's letter to Jesuits on the occasion of the issuing of Humanae Vitae. It's worth a read, and it's easy to wistfully agree with Diogenes's desire that so many SJs failed to take it to heart.
However, his version of the English translation includes one of strangest translation errors I've ever read.
I think he's using the 1968 National Catholic Reporter translation which includes the following sentence:
In so fulfilling our mission as Jesuits, which is to make the thought of the Church understood and loved, we can help the laity, who themselves have much to bring to the problems touched on in the encyclical, and who rely on us for a deep understanding of their points of view.
This should read:
In so fulfilling our mission as Jesuits, which is to make the thought of the Church understood and loved, we can help the laity, who themselves have much to bring to the problems touched on in the encyclical, and who rely on us for a deeper understanding of the teaching of Paul VI. (pro intimiore penetratione magisterii Pauli VI)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Liturgical Curiosity

I attended the Mass of the Rings this morning. Of interest was the fact that amongst the concelebrating Cardinals was Emmanuel III Delly who wasn't wearing a chasuble. Instead, he was wearing what looked like a cope. This is because liturgical law states that when concelebrating in a liturgical rite which is not his own, a priest should retain the vestments proper to his rite. Thus, he wore Chaldean vestment and that garment which looks like a cope is, I think, called a Ma'apra.
Now, exceptions can legitimately be made in situations where (for example) Eastern rite priests don't have access to their regular vestments, but it's wonderful to see the splash of colour and variety that properly vested Eastern rite priests add to some of the larger concelebrated Masses in Rome.

Two more things:
My previous consistory post contains an error about Mons Marini. He was MC in Genoa, not Bologna, prior to his move to the Vatican.
Also, Rocco has a nice picture of the rings given to the new Cardinals. The Holy Father explained the design thus:
Questo, cari Fratelli neo-Cardinali, sarà sempre per voi un invito a ricordare di quale Re siete servitori, su quale trono Egli è stato innalzato e come è stato fedele fino alla fine per vincere il peccato e la morte con la forza della divina misericordia.
This [the crucifxion], dear brother Cardinals, will always be an initation for you to remember which King you are servants of, and what throne He was raised up on and how he was faithful to the end in order to conquer sin and death with the power of divine mercy.

Edited to add: For those who are interested, this photo shows the Holy Father's vesture for the Mass. Note especially the gold lace on his alb and the pontifical dalmatic.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Consistory Notes

My regular readers will not be surprised to know that I attended this morning's public consistory and I've been reading some of the coverage on various 'blogs such as The New Liturgical Movement and WDTPRS.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful event and much of the 'blog commentary is focusing on the Holy Father's vesture and the wonderful Papal throne which was dusted off for the occasion. (Cf Matt 13:52) They certainly added to the occasion and show that Mons Marini seems to be making his mark in terms of the 'style' in which the liturgy is celebrated. The fact that the liturgy was held inside St Peter's shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. The idea of holding an outdoor ceremony at the end of a Roman November, particularly one at which so many elderly princes of the Church were to be present was always optimistic, and it's been common knowledge in the city for quite a while that the whole thing would be moved indoors. It is unfortunate that this meant that many of the faithful who had travelled long distances to see their bishops being elevated to the Sacred Purple had to watch on TV screens in the Piazza , but there was no other realistic alternative. Thankfully, I did get inside the basilica and it certainly is wonderful when St Peter's is used for these solemn liturgies. There's something very special about the enthusiastic chanting of the responses and hymns in Latin by the congregation in such a manner that it threatens to raise the roof of this extraordinary building.

Some Liturgical Questions
Some questions have been asked in the comment-boxes of the various 'blogs about the absence of the altar cross - maybe it wasn't visible in the TV coverage, but the cross, rather than being placed on the altar behind the Holy Father, was rather placed at the top of the steps which lead down to the confessio. One wonders whether the intention was that the Holy Father should be facing the cross during the liturgy.
It should also be noted that the consistory is structured as a liturgy of the word - therefore, it's not at all inappropriate for the Holy Father to preside in his cope rather than just wearing choir dress. (I don't think anyone was complaining about the cope, but people are curious about the switch in vesture.)
I'm enthusiastic about Mons Marini, but I think he's still settling into his job. There were quite a number of gaffs during the consistory which jarred. The Holy Father read the formula for a Cardinal Deacon when imposing the birettas on a number of the Cardinal Priests and the wrong prayer was read before the Cardinals' profession of faith. The microphone was poorly handled as well, meaning that we frequently missed the first few words of the Holy Father's prayers. That being said, I can't imagine what it is like stepping into a job of that magnitude, and given his experience in Bologna, I'm sure that these little wrinkles will soon be ironed out. Whilst not a fan of his predecessor's style, having seen him at work on numerous occasions, I always respected his ability to run a liturgy smoothly and with a certain attention to detail. Speaking of Archbishop Marini, one is tempted to read something into the fact that he did attend the consistory, but quietly placed himself right at the back of the section reserved for the so-called Capella Papale. Cardinal Sodano, I understand, didn't attend at all. Having just turned 80, one wonders whether his retirement as Dean of the Sacred College is imminent. [Fr Z corrects me on this point. It seems that Cardinal Sodano was present. I don't recall where I read that he was absent.]

Other things which occur to me
It will not escape the attention of anyone who followed the consistory that great emphasis was placed on the bestowal of a red hat on Emannuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. As head of a Church which is suffering much and whose members are enduring great fortitude, his elevation to the College of Cardinals is pregnant with meaning. As the Holy Father himself said:
Questi nostri fratelli e sorelle nella fede sperimentano nella propria carne le conseguenze drammatiche di un perdurante conflitto e vivono al presente in una quanto mai fragile e delicata situazione politica. Chiamando ad entrare nel Collegio dei Cardinali il Patriarca della Chiesa Caldea ho inteso esprimere in modo concreto la mia vicinanza spirituale e il mio affetto per quelle popolazioni.
These brothers and sisters of ours in the faith are experiencing in their own flesh the dramatic consequences of a continuing conflict and currently live in an eveor more fragile and delicate political situation. By calling into the College of Cardinals the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, I intended to express in a concrete way my spiritual cloeness and my affection for these suffering peoples.

It should be noted that as a Patriarch, His Beatitude will rank alongside the Cardinal Bishops in dignity and (unusually) does not receive a titular church in Rome.
Looking at the titular churches, some catch my eye:
Cardinal Vingt-Trois of Paris inherits San Luigi dei Francesi from his deceased predecessor Cardinal Lustiger. Cardinal Ortega's title of S. Maria della Presentazione is a newly erected title. So is Cardinal Njue's title of Preziossisimo Sangue di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. Cardinal Brady's title of Ss. Quirico e Giulitta was vacant since 1968. The title of S. Salvatore in Lauro was re-established, but as a Deaconry rather than a Cardinal Priest's Title for Cardinal Comastri. Cardinal Coppa's deaconry of S.Lino and Cardinal Cordes's deaconry of S. Lorenzo in Piscibus are newly established. (Curiously, there are a number of 'open' and already established Deaconries.) [Credit must be given to Salvador Miranda for this useful resource which is great for digging up information about these issues.]

Friday, November 23, 2007

Consistory - The Bigletto Speech of Cardinal Newman

It used to be the custom that one who was about to be created Cardinal would take up residence in Rome and wait for the Pope to publish his appointment to the Cardinals gathered in secret consistory. The Cardinal-to-be would, at this time, be waiting for the messenger from the Vatican to bring the bigletto announcing his creation. Via the Newman Reader, one can read about Cardinal Newman's reception of the bigletto.
On Monday morning, May 12, Dr. Newman went to the Palazzo della Pigna, the residence of Cardinal Howard, who had lent him his apartments to receive there the messenger from the Vatican bearing the biglietto from the Cardinal-Secretary of State, informing him that in a secret Consistory held that morning his Holiness had deigned to raise him to the rank of Cardinal. By eleven o'clock the rooms were crowded with English and American Catholics, ecclesiastics and laymen, as well as many members of the Roman nobility and dignitaries of the Church, assembled to witness the ceremony. Soon after midday the consistorial messenger was announced. He handed the biglietto to Dr. Newman, who, having broken the seal, gave it to Dr. Clifford, Bishop of Clifton, who read the contents. The messenger having then informed the newly-created Cardinal that his Holiness would receive him at the Vatican the next morning at ten o'clock to confer the berretta upon him, and having paid the customary compliments, his Eminence replied in what has become known as his "Biglietto Speech"
This speech has become famous as one of the most penetrating and prescient analyses of the theological and ecclesiastical challenge of the Enlightenment and is still worth reading today:
Vi ringrazio, Monsignore, per la participazione che m'avete fatto dell'alto onore che il Santo Padre si è degnato conferire sulla mia umile persona—

And, if I ask your permission to continue my address to you, not in your musical language, but in my own dear mother tongue, it is because in the latter I can better express my feelings on this most gracious announcement which you have brought to me than if I attempted what is above me.

First of all then, I am led to speak of the wonder and profound gratitude which came upon me, and which is upon me still, at the condescension and love towards me of the Holy Father in singling me out for so immense an honour. It was a great surprise. Such an elevation had never come into my thoughts, and seemed to be out of keeping with all my antecedents. I had passed through many trials, but they were over; and now the end of all things had almost come to me, and I was at peace. And was it possible that after all I had lived through so many years for this?

Nor is it easy to see how I could have borne so great a shock, had not the Holy Father resolved on a second act of condescension towards me, which tempered it, and was to all who heard of it a touching evidence of his kindly and generous nature. He felt for me, and he told me the reasons why he raised me to this high position. Besides other words of encouragement, he said his act was a recognition of my zeal and good service for so many years in the Catholic cause; moreover, he judged it would give pleasure to English Catholics, and even to Protestant England, if I received some mark of his favour. After such gracious words from his Holiness, I should have been insensible and heartless if I had had scruples any longer.

This is what he had the kindness to say to me, and what could I want more? In a long course of years I have made many mistakes. I have nothing of that high perfection which belongs to the writings of Saints, viz., that error cannot be found in them; but what I trust that I may claim all through what I have written, is this,—an honest intention, an absence of private ends, a temper of obedience, a willingness to be corrected, a dread of error, a desire to serve Holy Church, and, through Divine mercy, a fair measure of success. And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

Hitherto the civil Power has been Christian. Even in countries separated from the Church, as in my own, the dictum was in force, when I was young, that: "Christianity was the law of the land". Now, everywhere that goodly framework of society, which is the creation of Christianity, is throwing off Christianity. The dictum to which I have referred, with a hundred others which followed upon it, is gone, or is going everywhere;
and, by the end of the century, unless the Almighty interferes, it will be forgotten. Hitherto, it has been considered that religion alone, with its supernatural sanctions, was strong enough to secure submission of the masses of our population to law and order; now the Philosophers and Politicians are bent on satisfying this problem without the aid of Christianity. Instead of the Church's authority and teaching, they would substitute first of all a universal and a thoroughly secular education, calculated to bring home to every individual that to be orderly, industrious, and sober, is his personal interest. Then, for great working principles to take the place of religion, for the use of the masses thus carefully educated, it provides—the broad fundamental ethical truths, of justice, benevolence, veracity, and the like; proved experience; and those natural laws which exist and act spontaneously in society, and in social matters, whether physical or psychological; for instance, in government, trade, finance, sanitary experiments, and the intercourse of nations. As to Religion, it is a private luxury, which a man may have if he will; but which of course he must pay for, and which he must not obtrude upon others, or indulge in to their annoyance.

The general character of this great apostasia is one and the same everywhere; but in detail, and in character, it varies in different countries. For myself, I would rather speak of it in my own country, which I know. There, I think it threatens to have a formidable success; though it is not easy to see what will be its ultimate issue. At first sight it might be thought that Englishmen are too religious for a movement which, on the Continent, seems to be founded on infidelity; but the misfortune with us is, that, though it ends in infidelity as in other places, it does not necessarily arise out of infidelity. It must be recollected that the religious sects, which sprang up in England three centuries ago, and which are so powerful now, have ever been fiercely opposed to the Union of Church and State, and would advocate the un-Christianising of the monarchy and all that belongs to it, under the notion that such a catastrophe would make Christianity much more pure and much more powerful. Next the liberal principle is forced on us from the necessity of the case. Consider what follows from the very fact of these many sects. They constitute the religion, it is supposed, of half the population; and, recollect, our mode of government is popular. Every dozen men taken at random whom you meet in the streets has a share in political power,—when you inquire into their forms of belief, perhaps they represent one or other of as many as seven religions; how can they possibly act together in municipal or in national matters, if each insists on the recognition of his own religious denomination? All action would be at a deadlock unless the subject of religion was ignored. We cannot help ourselves. And, thirdly, it must be borne in mind, that there is much in the liberalistic theory which is good and true; for example, not to say more, the precepts of justice, truthfulness, sobriety, self-command, benevolence, which, as I have already noted, are among its avowed principles, and the natural laws of society. It is not till we find that this array of principles is intended to supersede, to block out, religion, that we pronounce it to be evil. There never was a device of the Enemy so cleverly framed and with such promise of success. And already it has answered to the expectations which have been formed of it. It is sweeping into its own ranks great numbers of able, earnest, virtuous men, elderly men of approved antecedents, young men with a career before them.

Such is the state of things in England, and it is well that it should be realised by all of us; but it must not be supposed for a moment that I am afraid of it. I lament it deeply, because I foresee that it may be the ruin of many souls; but I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth. Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.

Mansueti hereditabunt terram,
Et delectabuntur in multitudine pacis.

Encyclical - Confirmation

Via the Bolletino:

Si informano i giornalisti accreditati che venerdì 30 novembre 2007, alle ore 11.30, nell’Aula Giovanni Paolo II della Sala Stampa della Santa Sede, avrà luogo la Conferenza Stampa di presentazione dell’Enciclica del Santo Padre Benedetto XVI dal titolo: "Spe salvi".

Interverranno: Card. Georges Marie Martin Cottier, O.P., Pro-Teologo emerito della Casa Pontificia; Card. Albert Vanhoye, S.I., Professore emerito di Esegesi del Nuovo Testamento, Pontificio Istituto Biblico.
It has been rumoured for quite a while, but the Vatican has today confirmed that the Holy Father will be releasing an Encyclical Letter entitled Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope) next Friday 30th of November. Cardinal Cottier (former Papal Theologian) and Cardinal Vanhoye (former Professor of New Testament exegesis at the Biblicum) will be presenting it at a press conference at that day.

Consistory 101

Amy Welborn gathers together just about everything you want to know about the upcoming consistory.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Via the Guardian:
Rome has revealed what its leading archeologist says is "one of the greatest discoveries ever made", a lost shrine dedicated to the ancient city's mythical founders.
Andrea Carandini told a press conference yesterday that a large vaulted hall beneath the Palatine hill was almost certainly the fabled Lupercale - a sanctuary believed by ancient Romans to be the cave where the twin boys Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. The professor acknowledged the evidence was as yet not totally conclusive, but said only "one doubt in thousand" remained.
Decorated with seashells and coloured marble, the domed cave was found close to the site of the palace of the first emperor, Caesar Augustus, by archaeologists. Ancient texts indicate that the sanctuary was indeed near the palace; a document from the 16th century, when it was still accessible, recorded that the emperor had embellished it with a white imperial eagle.
The outline of just such an eagle was found at the apex of the vaulted ceiling when probes were let down from the surface to examine the underground structure. Giorgio Croci, the engineer and professor in charge, said: "You can imagine our amazement. We almost screamed."
No one has entered the circular structure, the ceiling of which is 7 metres below the surface. More than three-quarters of its volume is filled with soil, but Croci said laser scans had indicated it was 8 metres high and 7.5 metres across. Part of the roof has fallen away.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Vote for Jesus

If Fr Sibley were still blogging, you can be sure that he'd have done a piece about the Japanese politican Mitsuo Matayoshi, who also likes to call himself The only God Mitsuo Matayoshi Jesus Christ. Wikipedia explains:
After a life of preacher he has developed a particular concepts of Christianity, strongly influenced by Eschatology. In 1997 He established the World Economic Community Party (世界経済共同体党) based on his conviction that he is the God and Christ.
His concept is both religious and political, a mix of christian eschatology like Augustine's De civitas Dei and modern political moralistic conservatism. According to his program he will do the Last Judgement as the Christ but the way to do this is totally within the current political system and its legitimacy. His first step as the Savior is to be appointed the prime minister of Japan. Then he will reform Japanese society and then the United Nations should offer him the honor of its General Secretary. Then Matayoshi Jesus will reign over the whole world with two legitimate authorities, not only religious but also political.
I must have missed that chapter of the Apocalypse.
And his tactics?
He has become well-known for his eccentric campaigns where he urges opponents to commit suicide by hara-kiri (disembowelment, note that he avoids the more polite seppuku) and says that he will cast them into Gehenna.

There's a translation of some of his campain literature here.
After the Upper House Election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should hand the seat of the Prime Minister to Jesus Matayoshi, the one true God. If he cannot, he should cut his belly and die. Jesus Matayoshi, the one true God, will throw him into the fiery depths of hell. The reason is that before you kill another person you should die yourself. The same goes to those voters who do not vote for Jesus Matayoshi, the one true God. You will understand the specific reason in election advertisements.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Coronation of Elizabeth II

There's an interesting piece in the Telegraph about the Coronation Ceremony of Elizabeth II:
On June 2, 1953, four Knights of the Garter held a canopy over the head of the Queen. What came next we were not allowed to see.
I have just watched a remarkable Technicolor film of the Coronation - which has quite a different flavour from the black and white images we are accustomed to. It is available on DVD under the title A Queen is Crowned. But I had not at first noticed that at the moment the canopy is raised, the continuity is cut.
The voice of Laurence Olivier, speaking a text by Christopher Fry, announces: "The hallowing, the sacring." The ceremonial that comes next, which we were forbidden to see on film, is the anointing. Oil is poured from an eagle-shaped ampulla, or flask, into a spoon. The spoon is the only piece of Coronation regalia surviving from the Middle Ages. The Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch on the forehead, breast and hands.
The camera then picks up the narrative again, as the Queen is clothed with a wide-sleeved cloth-of-gold tunic reaching the ankles. It is gathered with a golden girdle. The young Queen looks like a figure in some Japanese play, walking in this wide, stiff gown to receive a jewelled sword, which she holds point upwards, swearing to defend widows and orphans. It is then placed on the altar.
There is a great deal of this sort of thing, and it is not laughable. I knew about the orb. "Receive this orb set under the Cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer," the archbishop says. But I didn't know about the wide, golden bracelets placed on the sovereign's wrists as she sits on the Coronation Chair. They signify sincerity and wisdom.
Each item of the crown jewels has its meaning. The sceptre stands for power and justice, and there is another golden rod, standing for equity and mercy. After the archbishop, in his wide cope, reaches up and solemnly brings down the crown on to the Queen's head, she sits holding the sceptre in one hand and the rod in the other. They all look heavy for a young woman to bear, but then so are sovereignty, justice and mercy.
These ceremonies take place as the Queen is seated on the Coronation Chair. It had the so-called Stone of Scone fitted into it. The stone was reputed to be the one that Jacob used as a pillow on the night he dreamt of the ladder into heaven with angels ascending and descending. When Jacob awoke he said: "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." And he was afraid, and said: "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
The Queen is then lifted into a different seat, her throne, by Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, who do her homage, one by one. Her husband says: "I, Philip, become your liege man."
Of course, on one level, this could be dismissed as an Anglican sham, BUT the signs of this quasi-sacramental act still speak clearly and it would be a mistake of the highest order were the ceremonial of coronation watered-down.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Scary Cold War Stuff

From the BBC:
Newsnight has discovered that until the early days of the Blair government the RAF's nuclear bombs were armed by turning a bicycle lock key.
There was no other security on the Bomb itself
While American and Russian weapons were protected by tamper-proof combination locks which could only be released if the correct code was transmitted, Britain relied on a simpler technology.
The British military resisted Whitehall proposals to fit bombs with Permissive Action Links - or PALs - which would prevent them being armed unless the right code was sent.
PALs were introduced in the 1960s in America to prevent a mad General or pilot launching a nuclear war off their own bat - the Dr Strangelove scenario.
President Kennedy ordered that every American nuclear bomb should be fitted with a PAL.
The correct code had to be transmitted by the US Chiefs of Staff and dialled into the Bomb before it could be armed otherwise it would not detonate.
Papers at the National Archive show that as early as 1966 an attempt was made to impose PAL security on British nuclear weapons.
The Chief Scientific Adviser Solly Zuckerman formally advised the Defence Secretary Denis Healey that Britain needed to install Permissive Action Links on its nuclear weapons to keep them safe.
"The Government will need to be certain that any weapons deployed are under some form of 'ironclad' control".
The Royal Navy argued that officers of the Royal Navy as the Senior Service could be trusted:
"It would be invidious to suggest... that Senior Service officers may, in difficult circumstances, act in defiance of their clear orders".
Neither the Navy nor the RAF installed PAL protection on their nuclear weapons.
The RAF kept their unsafeguarded bombs at airbases until they were withdrawn in 1998.
Here we have proof, if proof were needed, that Pelagianism was a British heresy. How could anyone with a healthy regard for the doctrine of Original Sin say: "It would be invidious to suggest... that Senior Service officers may, in difficult circumstances, act in defiance of their clear orders"?

This is fun...

A nice game for those of a logical turn of mind: Factory Balls.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

And for your penance...

One of the reasons it's great to be Catholic is the knowledge that one's unlikely to receive a penance like this in the confessional:
An Indian man who believed he had been cursed for stoning to death two dogs has atoned for his sin by marrying another dog in a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony.
P. Selvakumar, a 33-year-old farm labourer from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, married the four-year-old stray bitch after it was bathed and processed to his village temple dressed in an orange sari and garlanded with flowers.
He was reported to have suffered a series of physical ailments after stoning the dogs to death and hanging their bodies from a tree.
“After that my legs and hands got paralysed and I lost hearing in one ear,” said Mr Selvakumar after the ceremony with his new "bride", whose name is Selvi.
A reception attended by some 200 guests was held for the newlyweds in the groom's house during which Selvi grew restless and ran away.