Thursday, January 31, 2008


Via the Telegraph:
The Scout Association has been reported to the equality watchdog for allegedly discriminating against atheists by making them swear an oath to God.
Ever since Lord Baden-Powell founded the 100-year-old organisation, the promise by scouts to do their duty to God and the Queen has been as much a part of their movement as jamborees, woggles and the three-fingered salute.
Now, however, it has become the latest target of secularists when the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association complained to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
They are furious that the Scout Association is refusing to scrap the pledge required of every new member, which they said was excluding "a growing number of children without belief".
Members in Britain, where there are nearly half a million scouts, have to promise to "do their best to do their duty to God and to the Queen", to help other people and to keep Scout law.
To accomodate the movement's 28 million members around the world, the words can be modified to encompass non-Christian faiths.
The Scout guidelines state: "The phrase 'to love God' and 'duty to God' implies belief in a supreme being and the acceptance of divine guidance and therefore the word 'God' can be replaced by 'Allah', 'my Dharma' or others as appropriate to suit the faith or religion of the individual concerned."
But the two secular bodies said in a joint letter to Derek Twine, the chief executive of the Scout Association, that the requirement for members to have a faith should now be made optional.
They said that the Association's stance was "completely unacceptable" for an organisation "that is so committed to personal development of young people and that claims to foster mutual understanding between different beliefs, which of course should include those of no belief."
The intention would seem to be to deprive religious believers of the right to organise.
I'm just waiting for the Secular Society to turn its guns on Alcholics Anonymous. The 12 Steps sound dangerously excluding of avowed atheists:
1 We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.

2 Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3 Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4 Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5 Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6 Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7 Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8 Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9 Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10 Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11 Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12 Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jean Preston

I've blogged previously about Jean Preston, the deceased Oxford woman in whose attic were found two Fra Angelicos. One of her relations said: "Auntie Jean knew everything there was to know about medieval literature, but not a lot about art." The Cranky Professor and I found that statement dubious at best.
Well, there's an update to the story, and it seems that Jean Preston was quite the collector:
A collection of paintings found in a pensioner's modest house was worth more than £2.7 million.
After Jean Preston died two years ago, two paintings by the Renaissance artist Fra Angelico were found behind the door of the spare room in her two-up, two-down terraced home in Oxford. The works sold for £1.7 million at auction, a record for a sale outside London.
Guy Schwinge, of Duke's auction house in Dorchester, Dorset, said: "Her family told us that there may be some interesting works of art inside her house. That was something of an understatement.
"In almost every room there were works of art that were quite staggering in their sheer quality and importance."
A rare edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, worth nearly £100,000, was found in her wardrobe.
Two pre-Raphaelite masterpieces worth more than £1 million were also discovered - a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the kitchen and a work by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones in her sitting room.
Personally, the pre-Raphaelites leave me cold.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Israel Apologises

Let's not start a debate about what Israel might or might not need to apologise for... But given the State's controversial role on the world stage, there's more than a little surreality in this:
Israel is to apologise formally to the surviving members of the Beatles for cancelling a 1965 concert by the band.
The country plans to deliver letters of apology to the two surviving members of the group and relatives of the deceased members for cancelling the concert back in the group's heyday.
The reason given at the time was because the Israeli government could not afford to host the world-famous band.
But other sources suggest Israel was concerned it would not be able to cope with Beatle-mania and feared that it might corrupt the minds of Israeli fans.
"We would like to take this opportunity to rectify a historic missed opportunity which unfortunately took place in 1965 when you were invited to Israel," the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper quoted the letter as saying.
"Unfortunately the state of Israel cancelled your performance in the country due to lack of budget and because several politicians in the Knesset had believed at the time that your performance might corrupt the minds of the Israeli youth."
Israel's ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor was due to meet Julia Baird, the sister of the late John Lennon, on Monday during a visit to Liverpool.
He was expected to use the occasion to invite the surviving members to play at Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations in May this year, Yediot said.
Other copies of the letter would go out to Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and the relatives of the late George Harrison.

Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas

Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.


Blessed are the pure in heart - they shall see God.

News from Naples

I wish that I had this news from a more reliable source than the Telegraph, but this is interesting and possibly worrying:
An appeal for divine intervention in the rubbish crisis in Naples appears to have failed after a phial said to contain the blood of the city's patron saint failed to liquify.
For several weeks the city has had to cope with thousands of tonnes of uncollected rubbish because of a dispute about disposal.
In a prayer vigil to solve the crisis - led by Crescenzio Sepe, the city's cardinal - thousands gathered in Naples's historic Duomo to pray to St Gennaro, who died in 305AD.
As part of the ceremony, a phial containing the saint's blood was put on display and venerated by worshippers.
The phial of dried blood is usually displayed on the first Sunday in May, when it is reputed to turn to liquid, ensuring the city success and safety.
But it is also brought out in times of crisis - most recently in 1979 when the city was in the grip of a cholera epidemic.
Worshippers at the vigil, which began on Friday, were asked to pray to St Gennaro for help but after three days the "miracle of the blood" has failed to happen - prompting increased fears for the future.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Truth about Shergar?

In the Telegraph there is this interesting, but gruesome article claiming to reveal the truth about the kidnapped racehhorse Shergar. For those of you who've never heard of this mystery, here's a brief explanation:
Shergar (born 1978. Sire: Great Nephew, Dam: Sharmeen) was an acclaimed racehorse, and winner of the 1981 Epsom Derby by a record 10 lengths, the longest winning margin in the race's 226-year history. This victory earned him a spot in The Observer newspaper's 100 Most Memorable Sporting Moments of the Twentieth Century. A bay colt with a distinctive white blaze, Shergar was named European Horse of the Year in 1981 and was retired from racing that September.

Two years later, on February 8, 1983, he was kidnapped by masked gunmen from the Ballymany Stud, near The Curragh in County Kildare, Ireland. The generally accepted account is that Shergar was abducted by an IRA unit who killed him a few days later when negotiations for a £2 million ransom had stalled and the horse was becoming uncontrollable. His remains have never been found. The incident has been the inspiration for several books, documentaries, and a movie.

Ain't Waugh Wonderful?

One of my favourite passages from his Helena:
When she heard mass in the Lateran Basilica -- as she often did in preference to her private chapel -- she went without ostentation and stood simply in the congregation. She was in Rome as a pilgrim and she was surrounded by friends. There was no way of telling them. There was nothing in their faces. A Thracian or a Teuton might stop a fellow countryman the streets, embrace him, and speak of home in his own language. Not so Helena and the Christians. The intimate family circle of which she was a member bore no mark of kinship. The barrow man grilling his garlic sausages in the gutter, the fuller behind his reeking public pots, the lawyer or the lawyer's clerk might each and all be one with the empress dowager in the Mystical Body. And the abounding heathen might in any hour become one of with them. There was no mob, only a vast multitude of souls, clothed in a vast variety of body, milling about in the Holy City, in the See of Peter.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Incompetence in the Russian Navy - 1904

This article caught my eye:
Zinovy “Mad Dog” Rozhestvensky was charged with taking 46 warships of the Russian Baltic Fleet 18,000 miles round the world to relieve Port Arthur, in Manchuria, from Japanese forces. This operation got off to an inauspicious start when one of the warships opened fire on an approaching steamer carrying a message from the Tsar promoting Rozhestvensky to the post of vice-admiral.
Within days, the manoeuvres had almost succeeded in unintentionally triggering war with Britain. Passing through Dogger Bank, the Russian fleet sighted some small craft on the horizon. The logical and correct explanation was that they were Hull fishing boats. However, the Russian sailors decided they must be Japanese torpedo boats (off Grimsby) and started shelling them. One trawler was sunk and four others damaged. Only the bewildering inaccuracy of Russian marksmanship (the Orel fired 500 shells and missed with every one of them) prevented serious slaughter.
In Britain, there were calls for vengeance. The Royal Navy was put on alert and a cruiser squadron dispatched to “escort” the Russian fleet as far as the Bay of Biscay.
After the Russian fleet docked at Tangier to resupply, its departure was marred when an anchor ripped-up the telegraph cable connecting North Africa to Europe. Several days of intercontinental radio silence ensued. Off Madagascar, illness and disease took its toll. A live shell was fired to mark one sailor's funeral but was not aimed away from the fleet and scored a direct hit on the battlecruiser Aurora.
Clearly in need of gunnery practice, a line of stationary targets was attached to a support vessel. The shelling missed the targets but hit the vessel. The torpedo practice was no less farcical. One torpedo started whizzing round and round in circles, forcing the fleet to disperse in fright.
Amazingly, the arrival proved worse than the journey: at the Strait of Tsushima, the Russian fleet was pulverised by the Japanese, and Rozhestvensky taken prisoner. But as far as preventing international incidents are concerned, it is perhaps right to be more fearful of the underpractised navy than the one that goes in for expensive war games.

Roman Gardens

Mary Beard pays tribute to a deceased colleague:
I had missed the sad fact that Wilhelmina Jashemski died just before Christmas, aged 97. Hardly a household name, she had been Professor at the University of Maryland for almost 40 years, retiring in the 1980s. It was, however, thanks to her that we have a reasonably good idea what the average Roman garden once looked like. I never met her .. and our only contact was when she asked me to write an article on ancient cucumber frames (sic -- which I regretfully declined). But I find that I’ve been using her more and more while I’ve been writing about Pompeii.
Jashemski’s triumph was to see that you could do a proper archaeology of Roman gardens. That meant not just picking up all those microscopic traces of seeds and pollen that earlier archaeologists simply didn’t spot. Jashesmski did for plant roots what Giuseppe Fiorelli did for dead bodies.
That is to say, where Fiorelli in the late nineteenth century saw that you could pour Plaster of Paris into the cavities left in the lava by decaying corpses and reveal the shapes of the bodies, Jashemski saw that you could do the same with the roots of plants … and so see what big trees/shrubs had been growing.
The other one that I’ve found really interesting is in the “House of Julius Polybius”, just a few doors away from "Chaste Lovers". The space is roughly the same, and it’s also in an open court in the centre of the house. Bt this time Jashemski’s work revealed a quite different plan. This plot was not an ornamental garden at all. It was packed full of fruit trees and probably a couple of olives, and against the boundary wall more trees were espaliered.
The guess is that these might have been something exotic, like lemons. The evidence? Well around the roots, there were still fragments of the terracotta pots in which these trees had been planted out – and that’s the kind of process that Pliny recommends for more delicate plants.
It was in other words a working garden, not an elegant place for a promenade at all. Further proof of this was found in the print of a ladder some 8 metres tall found on the surface of the soil. It tapered towards the top, and Jashemski’s workmen instantly recognised it as the kind of ladder they used for picking fruit.

Very touching story

Via the Telegraph:
A mother who refused cancer treatment to give her baby the best chance of life has died just weeks after giving birth.
Lorraine Allard, 33, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer when she was four months pregnant and was offered a termination.
But she refused and delayed her treatment, giving birth to Liam 15 weeks prematurely.
She told her husband: "If I am going to die, my baby is going to live."
Mrs Allard, of St Olaves, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, spent just two months with her son before losing her fight for life eight days ago.
Her husband Martyn, an oil field technician, yesterday paid tribute to her as the "best wife and mum in the world".

Friday, January 25, 2008

Prodi Resigns

Via the Times, more proof that politically Italy is a joke:
Silvio Berlusconi was poised to make a remarkable political comeback last night after the collapse of the Italian Government led by Romano Prodi.
Only 20 months after defeating Mr Berlusconi in a close-fought general election, Mr Prodi, 68, fell from power in a senate confidence vote, losing by 161 to 156. The Prime Minister went immediately to the Quirinale Palace to tender his resignation to President Napolitano.
An exultant Mr Berlusconi held a celebratory champagne party at the Palazzo Grazioli, his residence in the historic centre of Rome, after hearing the news. “We need to go to the polls in the shortest time possible without delay,” he told reporters.
However, the ambitions of the flamboyant media tycoon, whose centre-right political movement enjoys a comfortable poll lead, may yet be frustrated by the President, who will begin consultations today on how to proceed. He could decide to appoint a caretaker administration to overhaul the Italian electoral system before new elections are held. Walter Veltroni, the leader of the largest party in government, argued last night that early elections would “push the country into a situation of dramatic crisis.”
Mr Veltroni, regarded as Mr Prodi’s successor in waiting, is said to want an interim administration and a new electoral law to give the Left time to prepare for the battle with Mr Berlusconi.
Mr Prodi, fighting to stay in power against the odds, had opened the confidence motion debate in the senate by appealing to senators to back him so that he could complete “urgent reforms”. In a reflection of the tense atmosphere, a senator from the Christian Democratic faction — the party that sparked the crisis by deserting Mr Prodi’s coalition — fainted after being assaulted by fellow party members when he declared that he was supporting Mr Prodi after all. In extraordinary scenes, Nuccio Cusumano was spat on and insulted and had to be taken out of the chamber on a stretcher. He later returned, but his vote was not enough to save Mr Prodi.
President Napolitano can now call new elections, appoint an interim caretaker government or ask Mr Prodi to try to reform his coalition, as he did when the Prime Minister lost a senate vote a year ago on the deployment of Italian troops in Afghanistan. Potential candidates for the post of caretaker Prime Minister would include Mario Draghi, the widely respected governor of the Bank of Italy.
Mr Prodi, who had gone ahead with the vote despite the prospect of defeat, said that he had done so in the spirit of the founders of postwar Italy, who had devised a democratic constitution whose 60th anniversary is being celebrated this week. This provided for votes of confidence to confirm or dissolve governments, and not for “extra-Parliamentary crises”. He said that Italy could not afford the luxury of a power vacuum.
Opinion polls indicate that the Centre Right would win elections handsomely. Mr Berlusconi has already fought four elections as centre-right leader, winning two of them, and a fifth election bid for the premiership would be an Italian record. Mr Prodi’s problems were sparked by the resignation last week of Clemente Mastella, head of the UDEUR Christian Democratic faction, as Justice Minister after magistrates began a corruption investigation involving him and his wife, Sandra. Some on the Left have accused the Vatican of persuading Mr Mastella to sabotage the Prodi Government — the 61st since the Second World War — because its policies on issues such as abortion and gay civil unions are against Roman Catholic doctrine. Vatican officials and Mr Mastella deny this.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Diogenes hits the nail on the head when he quotes Danielou on the subject of pluralism and non-Christian religions:
For syncretism, those who are saved are the inward-looking souls, whatever the religion they profess. For Christianity, they are the believers, whatever level of inwardness they may have achieved. A little child, an overworked workman, if they believe, stand at a higher level than the greatest ascetics. "We are not great religious personalities", Guardini once said; "we are servants of the Word." Christ himself had said that St. John the Baptist might well be "the greatest among the children of men", but that "the least among the sons of the kingdom is greater than he." It is possible for there to be great religious personalities in the world even outside of Christianity; it is indeed very possible for the greatest religious personalities to be found outside Christianity; but that means nothing; what counts is obedience to the Word of Christ.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Christian Epigraphy

Many early Christian inscriptions are quite crude. This burial inscription from the Basilica of St Agnes outside the Walls (click on the photo to enlarge) is typical. What's interesting is the spelling - it seems to give an indication of how ordinary folk actually spoke. The two things that spring out at me are the last words of the 1st and 2nd lines - Nobenbres and bixit respectively. Spelled correctly they should be Novembres and vixit - amongst the some of the common folk, at least, 'v' was pronounced as 'b'. This reminds me of the manner in which present-day Spaniards speak Italian.
If any of my readers would care to add anything about the inscription, I'll happily update this post to incorporate comments. I was going to post a full translation, but I lose my way a little in the middle when I have difficulty breaking the inscription up into individual words.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Turin holy water theft blamed on Satanists

Via the Telegraph:
Satanists have struck at one of Turin's most famous churches, stealing a vial of holy water and a missal, or prayer book.
The items were taken from behind the altar at the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio, or Church of the Great Mother of God, at the end of last week.
A source at Turin police said a special team of carabinieri military police are investigating the break-in, and that the "most likely explanation" was that "the items were stolen to be used in a rite of black magic".
The holy water, from the river Piave, was in a crystal sphere which was around 14 inches wide. It was mounted on a marble base. The missal was around 20 years old and was lying on a prayer stand.
Father Sandro Menzio, the priest in charge of the church said the job had been done by professionals.
"They forced open exactly the right door and took their targets in the most rational way. They also avoided setting off the alarm. The things they stole were just symbolic, so it is difficult to find an explanation for their behaviour," he said.
Experts in the occult said the church, which was built in 1814 to celebrate King Victor Emanuel I's return to Italy, is one of the most important sites in the cosmic battle between white and black magic.
Sitting on the banks of the river Po, it forms one point of a "triangle of good" and is linked to other points in Lyons and Prague.
Twin statues stand at the base of the stairs leading up to the doors of the church, representing Faith and Religion. The statue of Faith holds a chalice in its hand and is looking at the location of the Holy Grail, which is buried in the city, according to legend.
"This church is full of important symbols to practitioners of the occult," said Giuditta Dembech, the author of Turin: Magic City.
"But only the theft of the prayer book makes any sense. You can organize a black mass with the prayer book, but I do not know what the thieves would do with the water."
She added: "For the objects to have any power for Satanists, they would need to come from a church, and this is one of the most important magical sites."
Turin is said to lie on the 45th parallel, an invisible line that runs around the globe and is halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. But a "line of evil" also intersects the city, and connects it to London and San Francisco.
The city allegedly has the highest concentration of Satanists in Italy.
The Piazza Statuto, a short way away from the church, is a shrine to devil-worshippers, who believe that the gateway to hell lies underneath. Thousands of criminals and deviants were executed in the piazza in Roman times, because it was believed to be a cursed place which often lay in shadow.
There is certainly a stronger awareness of Black Magic and Satanism in Italy than there is in most of the Western world. I'm not quite sure what to make of this story, however. It seems strange that Satanists would limit themselves to stealing an altar missal and a vial of holy water. It is certainly to the Italian Church's credit that it's very aware of Black Magic, however, there also seems to be a tendency amongst some Italian clergy to blame everything on Satanism and Freemasonry.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More on St Agnes

My St Agnes posts are here and here.
Amy Welborn gathers links together here, along with a great picture of the Holy Father and the lambs.
Don Marco gives a beautiful homily for today. (Such a shame that I've never heard him preach!)
Fr Z also has a devotion to St Agnes and gives his own Patristic/Latinist's slant. In particular, this is interesting:
Pope St. Damasus composed a panegyric, an elogia, inscribed in gorgeous letters on marble (designed and executed by Dionysius Philocalus) in honor of Roman saints, including Agnes. This was the period when the Roman shifted from Greek to Latin. Damasus was also trying to make a social statement with these great inscriptions, set up at various places about the City. The panegyic of St. Agnes was placed in the cemetery near the saint’s tomb, but through the ages it was lost. Amazingly, it was at last rediscovered in 1728 inside the basilica, whole and complete: it had been used upside down, fortunately as a paving stone!

Now it is affixed to the wall in the corridor descending to the narthex. Its discovery was a find of vast importance.


It is told that one day the holy parents recounted that Agnes, when the trumpet had sounded its sad tunes, suddenly left the lap of her nurse while still a little girl and willingly trod upon the rage and the threats of the cruel tyrant. Though he desired to burn the noble body in the flames, with her little forces she overcame immense fear and, gave her loosened hair to cover her naked limbs, lest mortal eye might see the temple of the Lord. O one worthy of my veneration, holy glory of modesty, I pray you, O illustrious martyr, deign to give ear to the prayers of Damasus.
[Click on the photo for a closer view]
I snapped a photo of this stone, with the intention of doing a post at a later date about early Christian inscriptions. The lettering style is very distinctive - these are the so-called Damasine letters which were the work of Furius Dionysius Filocalus who was the Pontiff's calligrapher. Pope Damasus did a huge amount of work related to the preservation and veneration of the martytrs' relics, and frequently composed monumental inscriptions which were then carved into stone in this distinctive script.

Pauline Year

There was a press conference this morning concerning the forthcoming Pauline Year. I'm sure there will be reports in English available shortly, but one thing struck me. There was a little bit of controversy recently when it was announced that the now-defunct baptistery of St Paul outside the Walls was being converted into an 'Ecumenical Chapel'. Today offers some clarity concerning what this involves. The chapel will serve as a place of prayer for non-Catholic pilgrims who visit the Basilica, either individually or in groups. It will also be open to groups of Catholics and non-Catholics who wish to pray in common. However, it will not be used for the celebration of sacraments.

Behold the lambs...

Whilst out at the Basilca of St Agnes outside the Walls, I managed to get a picture of the lambs which were solemnly blessed this morning and will be used to make Pallia.

I also venerated the sacred relics of St Agnes.

The Miracle of Bl Piux IX at St Agnes Outside the Walls

I made a pilgrimage this morning to the Basilica of S.Agnese Fuori le Mura and came across the following fresco in a chapel which leads off the courtyard just inside the main entrance from the Via Nomentana.
I had read previously that Bl Pius IX had miraculously escaped injury whilst visiting the Basilica, and a little digging turned up the following article from the New York Times of 13 April 1905:
To Canonise Pius IX
Pope Receives Surviving Witnesses of Supposed Miracle of 1855.

ROME, April 12. -- an interesting ceremony took place this morning in the Basilica of St Agnes, 2 miles outside of Rome. The building stands over the catacombs, where, among others the body of St Agnes is buried.
While Pius IX on April 12, 1855 was receiving the College of the Propaganda in the Basilica the floor gave way and all present were precipitated into the catacombs, 20 feet below. Nobody was injured, and this, by some persons, was considered a miracle.
The only survivors of the accident the Rev. Dr. Richard L. Burtsell of Rondout, N.Y., and Archbishop Rubian, the resident representative of the Armenians in Rome. In the Basilica this morning Dr. Burtsell celebrated high mass and Archbishop Rubian intoned the Te Deum and bestowed the benediction on the members of the College of the Propaganda.
The Pope later in the day received Dr. Burtsell and Archbishop Rubian. The Pontiff took the occasion to speak of Pius IX. He says that many persons were urging him to begin the informative process towards his canonisation.
"Miracle of the Basilica of St Agnes," the Pope continued, "is one of the events which will be brought forward to establish the fact that Pius IX performs miracles. It is a good thing that there are living witnesses to give evidence."
On either side of the picture are lists of those who survived the incident. To the left are the various dignitaries who escaped, and to the right is a list of seminarians from the Propaganda College who survived, including Burtsell and Rubian. It would be interesting to establish whether the figures in the painting true to life. Bl Pius IX is, of course, clearly recognizable and I suspect that at least the senior dignitaries portrayed are intended to be realistic. If you look at the figure of the Cardinal who is lying underneath a fallen beam in the bottom left of the picture, you will see that he bears a more than passing resemblance to Cardinal Antonelli who was certainly present.

Edited to add:
I forgot to mention that there's another interpretation of what happened to Bl Pius IX. Some superstitious sorts believed that he had the 'evil eye' - not that he himself was evil or malevolent, but that he was an involuntary bringer of ill-fortune. This book explains:
Ask a Roman about the late Pope's evil eye reputation, and he will answer: "They said so, and it seems really to be true. If he had not the jettatura, it is very odd that everything he blessed made fiasco. We all did very well in the campaign against the Austrians in '48. We were winning battle after battle, and all was gaiety and hope, when suddenly he blessed the cause, and everything went to the bad at once. Nothing succeeds with anybody or anything when he wishes well to them. When he went to S. Agnese to hold a great festival, down went the floor, and the people were all smashed together. Then he visited the column to the Madonna in the Piazza di Spagna, and blessed it and the workmen; of course one fell from the scaffold the same day and killed himself. He arranged to meet the King of Naples at Porto d'Anzio, when up came a violent gale, and a storm that lasted a week; another arrangement was made, and then came the fracas about the ex-queen of Spain.
"Again, Lord C------ came in from Albano, being rather unwell; the Pope sent him his blessing, when, pop! he died right off in a twinkling. There was nothing so fatal as his blessing. I do not wonder the workmen at the column in the Piazza di Spagna refused to work in raising it unless the Pope stayed away!"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sagrada Familia under threat?

Via the Telegraph:
The construction of a high-speed train tunnel that could threaten the foundations of Barcelona’s most popular tourist site is set to begin within months.
The train line will pass within yards of the Sagrada Familia
Spain’s government is to go ahead with controversial plans to build an underground train line that will pass within yards of the church of the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s surreal and still unfinished opus.
The move will come as a blow to architects working to complete the world-famous basilica that Barcelona’s most famous son Gaudi began 125-years ago.
Jordi Bonet I Armengol, who has worked on Gaudi’s daring cathedral for 40 years, has said the planned excavations “could prove fatal” and cause “irreversible damage” the landmark, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Giant tunnelling machines will bore a 39ft wide tunnel through the sandy, waterlogged earth passing within yards of the cathedral’s foundations causing a “risk of subsidence or flooding” according to Mr Bonet.
It's not to everyone's taste, but I'm a huge fan of the Sagrada Familia. Check out the front portal.

St Agnes' Eve

The Seraphic Single passes on a superstition about tonight. As Keats writes:
They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
Seraphic kindly translates this into prose for us:
Single gals may dream about their future spouse. Just don't eat your supper, and then don't look behind you or upwards when you go to bed. And, um, ask the intercession of St. Agnes, I guess.
Of course, this all seems very ironic when you actually do some research into the martyrdom of St Agnes...

Today's Angelus

As I promised, I made it to today's Angelus, and as Fr Z notes there were 200,000 others there to show their solidarity with the Pope. What can be said? It was a joyful moment of prayer with the Holy Father. The contrast with the scenes at La Sapienza couldn't be greater. The police presence was very light despite the numbers present, whilst the protesters in the university had to be controlled by legions of riot-police. There was also a wonderful mix of people there of all ages, although it was surprising to note how many young people showed up. It was also interesting to see the banners of some of Italy's trade unions present - not protesting, but showing that the Pope's voice is welcome in the public arena.
Our professor-Pope can be a tad formal and reserved, but there was no disguising the fact that he was chuffed at the turn-out and the attentive reception that his words received. Rocco draws attention to the intimate tone of his conclusion:
"The university environment, which for many years was my world, linked for me a love for the seeking of truth, for exchange, for frank and respectful dialogue between differing positions. All this, too, is the mission of the church, charged to faithfully follow Jesus, the Teacher of life, of truth and of love. As a professor, so to say, emeritus, who's encountered many students in his life, I encourage you, dear collegians, to always be respectful of other people's opinions and to seek out, with a free and responsible spirit, the truth and the good. To all and each of you I renew the expression of my gratitude, assuring you of my affection and prayers."
I brought my camera with me and snapped the following:

The crowd arriving 20 minutes before the Pope begins the Angelus.

There were plenty of colourful flags and banners.

The crowd spilled out onto the Via della Conciliazione.

Viva il Papa!

The piazza was packed.

A shot of the crowd leaving by the Porta Angelica.

Comments Policy

I've been wondering whether I should stick a comments policy on the sidebar. I like receiving comments, but I've had an upsurge of off-topic and unpleasant comments that I've deleted recently. I don't like deleting comment, but I like to keep the tone friendly and light-hearted around here.
Anyway, en lieu of a formal policy, here are a few principles that should make things clearer:

1. Debate is good, but keep it on-topic. If you're going to say something irrelevant to the topic at hand, then it had better be something that'll make me smile. In particular, you may have a grievance (legitimate or otherwise) with the Pope, the hierarchy, your pastor or maybe even the Church as a whole - I'll only allow you to air it in this forum if you do so politely, rationally and when it's relevant to something I've posted.

2. It's okay to disagree with me and other commenter, but be polite. We probably have a lot to learn from you, but if you're rude or aggressive then you'll probably end up being deleted. I'd rather things were kept friendly and polite. I don't have the time or inclination to referee boxing matches.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sensory Deprivation

An interesting report in the Times:
[A] new televised experiment reveals how badly the brain is affected if isolation is complete and there is no sensory stimulation. It can take just hours for us to become more forgetful, worse at problem-solving, worse at finding words and, perhaps most worrying of all, more open to suggestion from other people. The findings may have implications for how we bring up children, look after the elderly and treat prisoners.
Next week’s Horizon on BBC Two recreates an experiment in sensory deprivation so controversial that it hasn’t been conducted for 40 years. Six volunteers were observed as they spent 48 hours completely isolated in pitch-black rooms, unable to see or hear anything. These are the sort of conditions endured by hostages such as Brian Keenan, who was isolated for eight months during his four-year captivity in Beirut, which ended in 1990.
Similar experiments were held in the 1950s, after thousands of American and Canadian prisoners of war had been held in conditions of sensory deprivation during the Korean War. Prompted by frequent accounts of PoWs seeming to have become “brainwashed” and taking on the views of their captors, North American psychologists examined how isolation affected the minds of volunteers. The experiments were closed down because they were deemed too cruel. But now the psychologist Ian Robbins – a professor at the University of Surrey and a specialist in supporting victims of torture, who has treated British detainees from Guantanamo Bay on their release – has reconstructed some of the sensory deprivation experiments in Horizon, but only for short periods, which are unlikely to result in long-term effects for the volunteers.
Before being isolated, the volunteers underwent tests of visual memory (reproducing a complex drawing); information processing (filtering out confusing information); verbal fluency (naming words starting with a certain letter); and suggestibility (how likely they were to accept something their questioner said at face value, without pointing out that it was wrong). Then they spent two days and nights in isolation.
Two of the participants coped well, sleeping through much of the period. All found it profoundly boring; most found it distressing. One young woman became convinced that her sheets were wet even though, when she checked, they were found not to be. Most of the volunteers started pacing their small rooms like caged animals during the second day and felt less and less safe as time went on. Three experienced auditory and visual hallucinations – snakes, piles of oyster shells, tiny cars, zebras.
“It was weird,” said Mickey, a postman. “I started to imagine things; a load of fighter planes buzzing round, a swarm of mosquitoes. I thought the room was taking off at one time. That was frightening.”
Conducting the same tests again, when the “prisoners” were gratefully released after 48 hours, Professor Robbins found that their ability to do even the simplest tasks had deteriorated. Mickey’s memory capacity fell by 36 per cent. All the subjects had trouble thinking even of one or two words beginning with “F”. And all four of the men (though interestingly not the women) were markedly more suggestible.
It’s the last of these findings that Professor Robbins thinks has an immediate social and political relevance. “People being held for questioning in police stations, for example, may be treated humanely, but they get virtually no sensory input,” he says. “If the detention is for short periods of time, I don’t think that’s a problem, but there is talk of extending the period of time for which people can be held on suspicion of terrorist offences. And if people are indeed more suggestible, the longer they are held in isolation, the more that must raise questions about the reliability of their evidence.”

St Agnes

On Monday we celebrate the Feast of St Agnes. Every year, lambs are taken from the Church of St Agnes Outside the Walls to the Vatican for a special Papal blessing. The wool from these lambs is used to make the pallia worn by Metropolitan Archbishops. Orbis Catholicus was there a couple of years ago to see the lambs in the Church of St Agnes. I'm hoping to do the same, but have been unable to track down what time the lambs are at the church. Any of my Roman or non-Roman readers know this?

Techies in the Pews

Whilst we're talking about Jesuits, there's an interesting article from the Jesuit astronomer Guy Consolmagno in Thinking Faith (an online publication of the British Jesuits) called Techies in the Pews.
It has frequently occurred to me that one of the primary challenges for contemporary evangelization is the particular mindset that a technical education forms. Those who have received such a formation and who work in the technological disciples have particular patterns of thinking that preachers need to engage with.
Part of that engagement will be to provoke 'techies' to broaden their horizons and see that their categories of thought need to be challenged if they are to engage with the mystery of their relationship with their Creator and Redeemer. However, it's also important that theologians and preachers understand the thought-categories of those to whom they minister. Fr Consolmagno's article is an interesting perspective on that world.

Habemus Papam Nigrum!

From Rocco:
Fr Adolfo Nicolás -- the Spanish-born, 72 year-old head of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania -- has been elected the Society's 30th Superior-General and was rapidly confirmed in the post by Benedict XVI.
Based until now in Tokyo, Nicolás immediately takes the reins of the church's largest community of professed men. Unlike the vast majority of those tipped for the post, he is said to have no Roman experience.

Election of the Black Pope

Rocco has an excellent post on this.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

For those who read Italian

The proposed Papal address to the Sapienza University. I'm sure that English translations will be circulating soon.

Edited to add: Amy links to an English translation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ruini - Show support for the Pope on Sunday!

The Italian press is reporting that that Cardinal Ruini, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome, is encouraging the faithful to give a large show of support for the Pope by attending the Papal Angelus at noon on Sunday. Needless to say, there's no way I'm missing that.

Mainstream political opinion in Italy is almost entirely in support of the Pope with reference to the whole Sapienza debacle. Even those who do not agree with him see this as a defeat for the principle of free speech. Amongst ordinary Italians there tends to be an attitude of great embarrassment that the Pope seems to be more welcome in Turkey than he is in the country's largest university. Some of the signatories of the notorious letter which opposed the Pope's attendance are also trying to nuance their position. They claim that the letter should have been private and that it was 'used' by the protesters in a way that was not intended. The rector of the university is speaking of a 'defeat for reason and secularism.'

Catholic students from the Sapienza university were also prominent at today's Papal audience. They were showing that if the Pope couldn't come to them, then they were going to go to the Pope.

Rats & super-rats...

Via the Times:
The fossilised skull of a rat the size of a car has been unearthed. The creature lived about four million years ago, weighed about a tonne and ate mostly soft vegetation. It was so big that it probably spent much of its life semi-submerged in water, like a hippo, to reduce the stresses caused by its size.
Palaeontologists found the skull in rock deposits in Uruguay. It is believed to date back two to four million years to a time when giant wildlife was commonplace in South America.
The rodent, Josephoartigasia monesi, was uncovered by Andrés Rinderknecht and Ernesto Blanco. It has been nicknamed Mighty Mouse and is thought to have been similar to the capybara and pacarana, much smaller creatures that are still found in South America. Capybaras are the biggest living rodents at just over 60kg fully grown, while pacaranas weigh 15kg. The common rat weighs about 300g.
J. monesi is thought to have weighed about a tonne and the biggest specimens could have been more than 2.5 tonnes — about the same as hippopotamuses, which range from 1.4 tonnes to 3.2 tonnes.

They're worse than I thought...

John Allen does us a great favour by reproducing Ratzinger's 1990 remarks on Galileo. Go over there and read it a couple of times.

It seems to me that the then-Cardinal does not even suggest that he necessarily agrees with Feyerabend. When he says:
If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognizing both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: “The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.”
he expresses neither agreement nor disagreement. Rather, reading in context, his emphasis seems to be the fact that there is a debate within secular thought itself regarding the progress made by science since the Galileo case. He goes on to say:
To my great surprise, in a recent interview on the Galileo case, I was not asked a question like, ‘Why did the Church try to get in the way of the development of modern science?’, but rather exactly the opposite, that is: ‘Why didn’t the church take a more clear position against the disasters that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora’s box?’
Ratzinger himself was surprised at the criticism of modern science which has been arising recently.
What's his conclusion:
It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics.
He does not suggest that people of faith 'construct a hurried apologetics' based on the reassessment of Galileo by some thinkers. In simpler language, he's warning us, be careful of jumping to hasty conclusions about the relationship between science and faith. And why does he say that?
The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason
And why did he bring up the Galileo case?
Here, I wished to recall a symptomatic case that illustrates the extent to which modernity’s doubts about itself have grown today in science and technology.
The quotation which was hostile to Galileo came from an 'agnostic-skeptic' thinker. The then-Cardinal quoted it, without indicating whether he agreed with it or not. He quoted it to show that there was a debate within modernity. He also warns that those of us who are believers should not exploit this debate for apologetics purposes without thinking it all through - one gets the impression that Ratzinger is very cautious about adopting a position and that there may be significant nuances in any final theological judgement concerning the legacy of Galileo.
Reading the actual words of Ratzinger, it becomes increasingly clear that scientific horror at his 1990 words was a mere fig-leaf to justify an anti-clerical protest on behalf of a bunch of blindly secularist ideologues.

Credit where credit is due

The Telegraph reports the Sapienza controversy very well:
The pope has been forced to cancel a visit to a university in Rome because of fears for his safety.
Benedict was due to address students at La Sapienza University, but called off his trip at the last minute because of a sit-in protest.
The last papal trip to be cancelled for security reasons was in 1994, when John Paul II was due to visit Sarajevo. However, the pope has never been unable to tour Italy in modern times.
Angry students had threatened to blast dance music at the pontiff, and also to dress up as nuns. According to sources close to the Vatican, there had also been "more serious threats".
The official newspaper of the Holy See, L'Osservatore Romano, said that "this is a dramatic threat against the papacy, culturally and civilly".
The controversy began after 67 professors at the university signed a letter saying the pope should not be allowed to give the inauguration speech for the academic year.
The professors accused Benedict of being opposed to science, and cited a speech he gave two decades ago. They argued that the pope would have supported the Church's 17th century trial against Galileo for claiming the earth revolved around the sun.
Although there is little evidence in the speech to support their claim, the students lent their support to the cause, and occupied the dean's office, waving banners which said: "The Pope has occupied La Sapienza. Free the Intellectuals!"

The Italian Bishops' Conference said they were "worried" about the state of the university, which was founded by the Vatican seven centuries ago. "There seems to be part of the secular world which does not argue, but demonises and which does not discuss, but creates monsters," said a spokesman for the bishops.
Students rejoiced when the Vatican finally conceded and cancelled the trip, shouting "Get the Pope out !"
However, Renato Guarini, the dean of the university, said he was "bitterly upset" at the tension on campus.
Romano Prodi, the Italian prime minister, also condemned the students' actions, saying that it had been "unacceptable".

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gah! It's not about Galileo!

BBC Reportage of the Sapienza controversy:
Pope Benedict XVI has postponed a visit to a prestigious university in Rome where lecturers and students have protested against his views on Galileo.
"After the well-noted controversy of recent days... it was considered appropriate to postpone the event," a Vatican statement said.
The Pope had been set to make a speech at La Sapienza University on Thursday.
Sixty-seven academics had said the Pope condoned the 1633 trial and conviction of the astronomer Galileo for heresy.
Pope Benedict was in charge of Roman Catholic doctrine in 1990 when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he commented on the 17th-Century Galileo trial.
In the speech, he quoted Austrian-born philosopher Paul Feyerabend as saying the Church's verdict against Galileo had been "rational and just".
That's the ostensible reason that some of the scientists have claimed for their objections... but really, who gets that upset about such an off-hand remark?
Anyway, the BBC's reportage gets worse:
Fifteen years ago Pope John Paul II officially conceded that in fact the Earth was not stationary.
WHAT? Does someone at the BBC seriously believe that (pace Robert Sungenis) the Catholic Church has been teaching geocentrism until 15 years ago? Granted, some Fundamentalist Protestants have some pretty wacky things to say about biology and dinosaurs, but it takes a serious lack of understanding of mainstream Christian belief to think that it wasn't until John Paul II came along that the Church denied that the earth moved. Sheesh!
Fr Z has a franker and (alas) more accurate take on the situation:
These narrow-minded little brats are probably being pushed by aging hippies, communists, and sexual deviants. Much of the protest seems focused on how "homophobic" Pope Benedict is. Also, apparently the Pope and the Chuch are against science and truth, etc.

Basically, this whole thing is driven by two things: stupidity and lust.

The Church in Italy has been very involved in some matters in the public square. After decades of having no real opposition, the Left is freaking out now because the Church and the Italian bishops are no longer being filtered through the monumentally mediocre and now defunct Christian Demoncrat party. The Church is weighing in on matters like assisted fertilization, civil unions for homosexuals, euthanasia, abortion, etc. The Left and the deviants don’t like this new development at all. Their reactions? Level death threats against the new president of the Bishops Conference and then behave like snotnosed delinquents when faced with opposing views.

The authorities were worried about what image would be created by televising students involved in civil disobbedience confronting the Pope.

Incidentally, this protest against the Pope is said to be based on the 'secular' nature of science. Why aren't the students protesting the presence of politicians at the inauguration of the academic year? Isn't science also non-political?

One of the things that annoys me about the Italians...

... is their proclivity for political excess. I can understand people of various political stripes not agreeing with the Pope or having serious disagreements with the Catholic Church. However, the reaction of some of the lefty students at the Sapienza is laughably over-the-top. This Reuters report and photo say it all:
Students stand over a banner reading "La Sapienza is hostage of the Pope" outside the window of an occupied room at La Sapienza University in Rome January 15, 2008. Some professors and students are protesting against plans for Pope Benedict to address Rome's most prestigious university, saying a speech he made nearly two decades ago showed he had reactionary views on science. The German-born Pope is due to speak at La Sapienza on Thursday at a ceremony opening the 2008 academic year. The inaugural event's theme is the death penalty, which the Vatican and the Italian state want abolished globally. But more than 60 professors have written a letter saying the invitation should be withdrawn because the Pope's views "offend and humiliate us".
REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (ITALY)

Breaking News: The Papal visit has been called off! More info to follow!

Update: This report was made by the news agency ANSA a few minutes ago:
ROMA - The Vatican "has thought opportune to postpone" the visit of the Pope to the Sapienza University "due to the continuing uprest of these days".

It seems that as part of the protests, the Rector's offices were occupied by students today.
One has to imagine that security concerns and the dignity of the Holy Father were the primary concern here. One suspects that many at the Sapienza University are ashamed what the actions of their colleagues have brought about.
The Pope will, however, be sending the text of his proposed address to the Sapienza.

Matt 10:14: And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.

Edited to add:The American Papist is keeping on top of the story.

New 'blog: Requiescat in pace

Jane of Alle Psalite and her newly-minted husband have started a new blog called Requiescat in pace. The concept is unusual:
[I]t has been a tradition for at least a century for Catholic families to have prayer cards printed when a loved one dies to remind people to pray for that person’s soul. Many of these end up in the trash, or tucked in prayer books.
We’ve found a few such cards tucked in used prayer books that we’ve bought or inherited, and decided that these souls should not be forgotten. We plan to post scans of both sides of the cards, in hope that our readers will find the artwork on the front sides of the cards interesting, and will pray for the souls of the deceased mentioned on the reverse.
What a wonderful idea!

Now a Rome 'blog...

I forgot to mention sooner that the Cranky Professor may now be numbered among the Rome 'blogs as he's spending a semester here with some of his students. His post of today has a fascinating assignment which will help them get to grips with the ever-present historical character of the Eternal City.
The professor himself gave a presentation concerning one of my own favourite relics of pre-Christian Rome:
I did a demonstration by taking them around the corner from the Campo dei fiori to look at what modern Rome has made of the foundations of the Theater of Pompey. Click and enlarge at point A on the map - look at the semicircles of streets and blocks . . . those rise up on the form of the theater, a semicircle of concentric and radial lines of masonry. There is almost nothing left of the building (unless you go in a few restaurants and certainly some cellars), but the ghost of the building still shows. The straight streets to the right (east) of the semicircle represents the side walls of the very large courtyard attached to the theater - which allowed patrons to stroll in gardens between acts or between plays. Pompey built the first permanent theater in Rome in 60 BCE - something which always surprises me. Plautus (died 185 BCE) and Terence (died 158) would have played only in temporary theaters, or on one of the flat spaces at the Forum Romanum! Pompey's innovation was to introduce a permanent building on the Greek model (sort of) to the City, which at least shows Roman assimilation of Greek institutions and almost certainly should be understood as Roman triumphalism, especially when combined with the decorative statuary Pompey certainly imported as well. Oh, and Julius Caesar was assassinated here, which allowed me a second link to the Forum tour last week.

One of my favourite theories about Roman history is that Pompey managed to circumvent the prohibition on building permanent theatres within the city walls by designating the structure as a temple rather than a theatre. Officially speaking, the fact that this temple just happened to serve very well as a theatre was a happy coincidence. ;)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pope to Visit the Sapienza University

There's not been much coverage of this in the English-speaking press and the blogsphere, but it will be fascinating to see what kind of reception he will receive at the secular Sapienza University when he gives an address at the inauguration of the academic year. Leftist elements have been making rather childish noises about the Pope being 'opposed to science' and 'against the university' - ironic when you consider the Holy Father's great interest in academia, the university and human reason.
There's a gallery of photographs from the university on the website of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. You'll see that the leftists have organised an 'Anti-clerical Week' and have adorned a statue of Minerva with a poster which reads (in part) Knowledge needs neither Fathers nor Priests.
This photo from the Corriere della Sera is another gem.

Fra Giordano [Bruno] was burned,
Galileo recanted,
We will resist the Papacy.
17 January - Anti-Clerical Day, 12 Noon, Aldo Moro Square.
To do science is not a crime
Secular-Self determining Knowledge
Sexual Liberty
LGBT Rights

That's what passes for intelligent discourse in some quarters, friends.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A question

In Spe Salvi the Pope makes the following point:
In the arrangement of Christian sacred buildings, which were intended to make visible the historic and cosmic breadth of faith in Christ, it became customary to depict the Lord returning as a king—the symbol of hope—at the east end; while the west wall normally portrayed the Last Judgement as a symbol of our responsibility for our lives—a scene which followed and accompanied the faithful as they went out to resume their daily routine. As the iconography of the Last Judgement developed, however, more and more prominence was given to its ominous and frightening aspects, which obviously held more fascination for artists than the splendour of hope, often all too well concealed beneath the horrors.
During the various discussions that have been happening on various 'blogs today, it's been pointed out that the Last Judgement is painted on the western wall of the Sistine Chapel. Now, it's not at all unusual for 'liturgical East' to be 'geographical West', I'm curious as to how it came about that the altar in the Sistine Chapel faces geographical west, towards something that iconographically belongs at the 'liturgical West'. Is there an interesting historical explanation?


Via the International Herald Tribune:
VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI baptized 13 babies in the Sistine Chapel during a Sunday Mass celebrated at the altar at the foot of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" wall fresco.
In a departure from tradition, Benedict did not celebrate the Mass at a small altar set up to face the congregation. Instead, he celebrated it with his back to the congregation, which included the children's parents, godparents, grandparents and siblings.
Decades ago, priests routinely celebrated Mass at altars with their backs to parishioners, but after the modernizing changes of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, it became common practice for the celebrant to face the congregation.
You've got to love that part about 'departure from tradition'.

Media Reaction...

How wonderful to see the Holy Father confirm to the world that celebrating towards the liturgical East is still a legitimate option! I'm interested in what the media reaction will be however. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica has this rather banal report (translation mine):
"Whilst for other creatures, who are not called to eternity, death means only the end of earthly existence, in us sin creates an abyss which risks swallowing us up forever, if the Heavenly Father does not reach out his hand towards us." These severe words, which contradict the openness of Paul VI regarding the possibility that animals also go to paradise, were spoken by Benedict XVI in the Sistine Chapel before the extraordinary fresco of Michelangelo of the Last Judgement. He did this during the homily of the mass which will be remembered for a long time: after 40 years, for the first time in fact, a Pope has celebrated with his back to the faithful, despite the fact that for the mass of the rite of baptism was chosen from the new post-conciliar missal in Italian, and not that of Pius V, notwithstanding the fact that from the 14th of September last Pope Ratzinger has liberalised the use of Latin.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Piano, Piano, Conversi ad Dominum

Rocco has news of the litugical orientation for tomorrow's Papal Mass:
In another significant liturgical turn at the very top, B16 will celebrate tomorrow's annual Sistine Chapel Mass for the Baptism of the Lord in the ad orientem stance -- that is, facing away from the congregation and toward the cross that stands at the chapel's back wall.
In an explanatory note from the Office for Papal Liturgical Celebrations picked up by the Italian wires, the papal MC Msgr Guido Marini noted that the Mass, to be conducted according to the post-Conciliar "Ordinary Use" approved by Paul VI, would use the main altar of the Sistine Chapel -- as the original altar is not freestanding, versus popolorum celebrations there have required the construction of a temporary altar and platform. While John Paul II celebrated his first Mass after his 1978 election using the permanent altar and no freestanding altar exists in the Pope's private chapel, a public papal liturgy has not been celebrated in the "common orientation" in memory.
"The celebration at the old altar is being restored so as not to alter the beauty and harmony of this architectural jewel," the note said, "preserving its structure from the celebratory point of view and using an option contemplated by the liturgical norms." The change of orientation, Marini's statement said, would seek to enhance "the attitude and disposition of the whole assembly."
The annual liturgy features the baptism of several infants by the pontiff. The contemporary baptismal font designed by Lello Scorzelli -- also the designer of the pastorali, the cross-topped liturgical staffs used by Paul VI and his successors -- will likewise be maintained.

Cremation in Italy?

More confusion from the Times vis-a-vis the difference between 'The Vatican' and the 'Italian Episcopal Conference'.
Believers who choose to have their ashes scattered after being cremated are entitled to a Christian funeral, the Vatican said yesterday.
The ruling follows the refusal of a parish priest in the Italian Alps to hold a funeral for a local man who had asked to have his remains spread in the mountains. Father Carmelo Pellicone, of the parish of St Etienne in Aosta, told the man’s widow that a religious funeral was impossible because it was against the dogma of the resurrection of the body.
He said that scattering ashes in the countryside or at sea was a “pantheistic communion with nature in death, which is not part of our religion” – a belief held by many priests. Bishop Luciano Pacomio, head of doctrine at the Italian Bishops Conference, said, however, that this reflected an out-of-date mentality.
I'm inclined to agree with Fr Pellicone. I'm not a fan of cremation, but realise that it's allowed under Canon Law. However, regardless of the subjective intention of the bereaved or the deceased, the sprinkling of ashes seems inconsistent with our Catholic tradition of respect for human remains.
I really think that the Italian bishops could have done better than this statement:
“Church funerals will be celebrated for all the faithful, including those who have chosen the scattering of their ashes, as long as the choice was not made for reasons contrary to the Christian faith.” Catholic funerals should still be denied to those motivated by “a pantheistic or naturalistic mentality”.
One could argue very strongly that the symbolism of sprinkling ashes is objectively contrary to our Catholic funeral customs, and that such funerals should not be accommodated by the Catholic Church. There seems to be a lack of the objective symbolic value of some acts.
The article continues:
Cremation was forbidden in the Church for centuries because of the belief that the body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” and that Christians will be bodily resurrected.
That is true enough, though it should be made clear that Catholics never thought that the act of cremation made the resurrection of the dead impossible.
Next comes the inevitable blunder:The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s lifted the ban, provided the body was present during the funeral and cremated afterwards.
Really? I don't think you'll find any reference to cremation in the Council documents.
Incidentally, the Congregation for Divine Worship's Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy has the following to say:
254. Christian piety has always regarded burial as the model for the faithful to follow since it clearly displays how death signifies the total destruction of the body. The practice eschews meanings that can be associated with mummification or embalming or even with cremation. Burial recalls the earth from which man comes (cf. Gen 2, 6) and to which he returns (cf. Gen 3, 19; Sir 17,1), and also recalls the burial of Christ, the grain which, fallen on the earth, brought forth fruit in plenty (cf. John 12, 24).
Cremation is also a contemporary phenomenon in virtue of the changed circumstances of life. In this regard, ecclesiastical discipline states: "Christian obsequies may be conceded to those who have chosen to have their bodies cremated, provided that such choice was not motivated by anything contrary to Christian doctrine"(369). In relation to such a decision, the faithful should be exhorted not to keep the ashes of the dead in their homes, but to bury them in the usual manner, until God shall raise up those who rest in the earth, and until the sea gives up its dead (cf. Aps 20, 13).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Garbage Wars

The situation in Naples as described in the Telegraph:
The Italian army moved into Naples as tensions over the city's mounting rubbish crisis erupted in violence.
Entire districts of the city are lying submerged under more than 5,000 tons of waste. The pile is growing at the rate of 800 tons a day.
No rubbish has been collected in Naples since Dec 21, when the city's dumps reached their capacity.
While the residents are furious at the stink, and the risk of disease, there have also been protests at plans to create new dumps or reopen old ones.
Riots broke out at Pianura, the site of an enormous open-air dump that the locals say pollutes the area with deadly dioxins.
Four buses were set alight during the night and police were struck with a hail of stones as they tried to dismantle temporary roadblocks.
Army engineers used bulldozers to clear waste from schools in the Caserta region.
The government called for the schools to be opened, but no students arrived.
Clemente Mastella, the justice minister, said the dead hand of the Camorra, or Neapolitan mafia, was behind the crisis.
"People who set fire to buses are not citizens, but usually people sent by the mafia," he said.
It is in the Camorra's interests for rubbish to build up in the city, since the clans own most of the rubbish recycling companies that would eventually win contracts to dispose of the waste.
In the past, corrupt firms have been found to be shipping waste to China, where it is buried, instead of recycling it.
Mafia families also profit from buying properties in the troubled areas, where prices have become depressed by the continuing rubbish crisis.
In addition, the Camorra is said by the police to bring lorry-loads of waste to Naples from factories in northern Italy for fees that undercut legal competitors, adding to the rubbish piles.
Also, there's a report on the practice of coffee-sharing:
Steeply rising prices for basic foods have inspired a new fad in the south of Italy: "coffee-sharing"
The trend, which started in the tiny Sicilian town of Partinico, involves two or even three people taking a sip each from the tiny cup of espresso.
"It is sociable and it has become a habit," said Alberto Guercio, a regular at Partinico's Bar del Viale.
"I usually go in with a friend anyway, so I offer him a sip. We save money, and we drink less coffee. Everyone knows that too many cups make you feel ill anyway."
Etiquette demands that the first drinker uses one side of the cup, the second person uses the other, and that the third person may drink from the middle.
"It is no longer rare to hear the Sicilian phrase 'menzu l'uno?' ('half each?')," said La Stampa newspaper.
Partinico, which lies around 19 miles from Palermo, has one of the highest rates of coffee consumption per head in the country.
Since the euro was introduced in 2001, the price of a cup has risen by around 40 per cent, to 90 cents (67p).

Monday, January 07, 2008

Continuous Prayer to rid the Priesthood of Paedophilia

Does anyone know anything about this? The Times reports as follows, but I'm wary of taking what it says at face value. It has a poor record in religion reporting:
Pope Benedict XVI has instructed Roman Catholics to pray “in perpetuity” to cleanse the Church of paedophile clergy. All dioceses, parishes, monasteries, convents and seminaries will be expected to organise continuous daily prayers to express penitence and to purify the clergy.
Vatican officials said that every parish or institution should designate a person or group each day to conduct continuous prayers for the Church to rid itself of the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy. Alternatively, churches in the same diocese could share the duty. Prayer would take place in one parish for 24 hours, then move to another.
Vatican watchers said that there was no known precedent for global prayer on a specific issue of this kind. There are about one billion Roman Catholics worldwide.
The instruction was sent to bishops by Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of Brazil, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy. He told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that he was acting in the Pope’s name. The Pope wanted Catholics to pray for the “mercy of God for the victims of the grave situations caused by the moral and sexual conduct of a very small part of the clergy”, he said.
Officials said that the prayers were in addition to support for legal action against paedophile priests by their victims and a code adopted two years ago by the Vatican to try to ensure that men “with deep-seated homosexual tendencies” do not enter seminaries to train for the priesthood.
Cardinal Hummes said that the aim was to put a definitive stop to a scandal that had damaged the image of the Church and forced US archdioceses, including Boston and Los Angeles, to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the victims. He said that the scandal was exceptionally serious, although it was probably caused by “no more than 1 per cent” of the 400,000 Catholic priests around the world.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Strange Fudge

This article by Msgr Roderick Strange promises much but delivers little. The headline states Newman has the best answer to Blair’s critics but a close examination reveals that Msgr Strange leaves the substantive issue untouched.
In my mind, the key issue concerning Mr Blair is his recent and proactive pursuit of a social agenda expressly contrary to Catholic principles. As Msgr Strange puts it:
Some saw Tony Blair’s gift as a clear sign that he would soon be received as a Catholic himself. And now that he has been, the news has sparked critical comments, especially concerning the way he made allowance for policies as Prime Minister that clashed with Catholic teaching, for example, on abortion, on stem-cell research, and on same-sex unions. His sincerity has been questioned. How could he have supported those policies then, yet become a Catholic so soon after?
There is a prima facie case that Mr Blair should have renounced these policies when converting. Whether this recantation should have been public or private is, perhaps, open to discussion.
Strange makes use of Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk to address these concerns. Or, at least he claims to do so. Firstly, consider his description of the background to Newman's letter:
Gladstone had lost a general election and he attributed his misfortune in part to the influence that he felt the Pope had exercised in Ireland, an influence, he believed, that had undermined his position. He was mistaken. But smarting from his defeat he produced a popular pamphlet attacking the decrees of the first Vatican Council (1869-70), which had defined Papal Infallibility, and claiming that on account of those decrees Roman Catholics had forfeited their moral and mental freedom and placed their civil loyalty and duty under the Pope. As citizens they were no longer to be trusted.
Already we see that the issues that Newman were confronting do not correspond to the concerns that some Catholics have about Tony Blair's acceptance into the Church. However, let us continue reading to see if we can see what Strange is up to:
At the same time Newman also wanted to offer an alternative view to some of the exaggerated claims for papal authority then prevalent among Catholic extremists. He saw Gladstone’s outburst as a chance to set the record straight. By showing the extent of papal claims, he wanted also to show their limits.
Aha! This is more promising. Despite verging on ultramontanism myself, I realise that it's not healthy to expect every detail of Catholic life throughout the world to be hyper-regulated by Rome.
Strange continues:
One of the questions he discussed was that of divided allegiance. Could Catholics be loyal or were they always untrustworthy? First, there was the general matter of the Pope exercising “the supreme direction” of Catholics. Newman pointed out immediately that “supreme” is not “minute”. Papal authority may be supreme, guiding what Catholics are to believe, their faith, and how they are to behave, their morals, but without intruding minutely into the details of their daily lives. By way of contrast, he observed, consider civil law. That is far more intrusive. “There are”, he pointed out, “numberless laws about property, landed and personal, titles, tenures, trusts, wills, covenants, contracts, partnerships, money transactions, life insurances, taxes, trade, navigation, education, sanitary measures, trespasses, nuisances, all in addition to the criminal law.” Yet these laws, he went on, are not regarded as interfering “either with our comfort or our conscience”. He was writing in 1875. Are we as much at ease with our laws today? But certainly the Pope is not interfering with our ordinary daily life.
Fair enough... But we're not dealing with minutiae here. Much of what excites the scruples of those with questions about Blair's reception are not minor matters. We are dealing with some fundamental issues concerning the shape of society and its institutions. What is more, we are dealing with legislation which is unambiguously and gravely evil. Strange, thankfully, doesn't push the envelope and claim that the issues on which Blair was not kosher fall under the heading of minutae.
So, without explaining the significance of this digression, Strange makes another point:
Then there was a second question, touching the imagined clash between papal teaching and parliamentary legislation. Newman struggled to find an example. We may have less difficulty and refer to the very issues for which Tony Blair has been criticised, abortion, stem-cell research and same-sex unions. But Catholic politicians in raising their concerns about these controversial matters are not simply bowing to Rome in blind obedience. A debate needs to continue. It is not obvious that the tragedy of an unwanted pregnancy is best resolved by the further tragedy of termination; that the ethical issues surrounding the use of stem cells are empty of meaning; and that the way legislation is framed for same-sex unions can do no harm to marriage and family life. Catholic politicians should never seek to impose their views on others, but in a free and democratic society they have the right to argue their case and hope to be heard in an honest, open-minded way.
This would seem to be a non sequitur. Strange defends the right of Catholic politicians to contribute to the public debate, and insists that doing so according to a conscience formed by Catholic teaching is "not simply bowing to Rome in blind obedience." Fair enough. However, this has nothing to do with the criticisms made of Blair. What does the right of a Catholic politician to argue his case have to do with the fact that whilst an Anglican Mr Blair argued for and promoted some decidedly uncatholic and immoral things?
Strange concludes his non-argument with a final point which does have some relevance:
And then there is that third specific issue. Would Tony Blair as a Catholic have been unable to go to war in Iraq given Pope John Paul’s opposition to it? Would his policy have been controlled by the Vatican? Newman raised the question directly. His answer was plain. He refers to members of the Armed Forces, but the point applies to prime ministers as well: “ . . . were I actually a soldier or a sailor in Her Majesty’s service, and sent to take part in a war which I could not in my conscience see to be unjust, and should the Pope suddenly bid all Catholic soldiers and sailors to retire from the service, here again, taking the advice of others, as best I could, I should not obey him.”
This is a much more interesting case. Newman and Strange do have a decent point here. However, differing with the Pope on the prudential judgement of whether a particular war is unjust or not differs greatly from the promotion of a legislation and a social agenda so wholly contrary to Catholic teaching. Additionally, what is at issue is not the correctness of one particular judgement or the other. No one can say that they make the correct moral judgement all the time. Rather, what is at issue is Mr Blair's moral principles. Up to relatively recently, he seemed to be enthusiastically wedded to a whole host of moral principles which are at odds with the teaching of the Church. That is why so many Catholics look on his reception into the Church with scepticism.
Strange concludes as follows:
In fact Newman regarded the notion of a genuine conflict between obedience to Parliament or obedience to the Pope as unreal. He recognised that some exceptional situation could occur, but were it ever to do so, he argued, the individual case would need to be judged on its merits. The irony of the case of the war in Iraq is that many people wish that Tony Blair had been influenced by the Pope rather more.
I suppose this paragraph highlights the huge difference between the Victorian age and ours. It is a sad fact of history that many states (including the United Kingdom) are pushing an evil agenda which Newman would have found incomprehensible. He saw the Established Church and the more-or-less Christian culture of 19th Century Britain as providing a bulwark which would keep his country respectable, decent and more-or-less moral. I doubt that he'd have been able to believe the realities of modern-day legislation and government policies.
I'm at a loss as to what Msgr Strange intended to prove with this article. I sincerely hope that he wasn't trying to bolster Mr Blair's position by linking his position to that of Cardinal Newman by means of a lot of rhetorical hand-waving. He does deal with the question of the war in Iraq, but despite the gravity of the conflict itself, it is far from being the greatest discrepancy in Mr Blair's position. What he does leave untouched is the great contradiction between Mr Blair's moral principles and actions as Prime Minister. There can be no doubt but that he is morally responsible for his actions whilst in public office and that his recently held principles are gravely at odds with the faith he now publicly professes. That is where the problem is for many Catholics - and that is the issue that Msgr Strange seems to be studiously avoiding.
Many Catholics are also concerned about the wisdom and the integrity of the decision of those clergy who admitted Mr Blair to the faith whilst leaving these issues unresolved. To be honest, I've still not made up my mind about this case. I'm torn between my grave concern surrounding Mr Blair's position and the question of the privacy which should be afforded to a convert in matters of conscience. Given that we know the Profession of Faith that he made on entering the Church, shouldn't we, perhaps, give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him (and the Holy Spirit) to manifest his conversion by his words and deeds in the future. That's one debate that I don't want to get involved in. At this stage, I'm just confused by Msgr Strange's article and what he intended to prove by it.