Thursday, November 30, 2006

Turkish entry into Europe

" I
T WAS EARLY MORNING, with the waning moon high in the sky. The walls were strewn with the dead and dying; but of living defenders there was scarcely a trace. The surviving Greeks had hurried home to their families, hoping to save them from the rape and pillage that had already begun; the Venetians were making for the harbour, the Genoese for the comparative security of Galata. They found the Horn surprisingly quiet: most of the Turkish sailors had already gone ashore, lest the army beat them to the women and the plunder. The Venetian commander encountered no resistance when he set his sailors to break down the boom; his little fleet, accompanied by seven Genoese vessels and half a dozen Byzantine galleys, all packed to the gunwales with refugees, swung out into the Marmara and down the Hellespont to the open sea.

By noon the streets were running with blood. Houses were ransacked, women and children raped or impaled, churches razed, icons wrenched from their frames, books ripped from their bindings. The Imperial Palace at Blachernae was left an empty shell, the Empire's holiest icon, the Virgin Hodegetria, hacked into four pieces and destroyed. The most hideous scenes of all, however, were enacted in St Sophia. Matins were already in progress when the berserk conquerors were heard approaching. Immediately the great bronze doors were closed; but the Turks soon smashed their way in. The poorer and less attractive of the congregation were massacred on the spot; the remainder were led off to the Turkish camps to await their fate. The priests continued with the Mass until they were killed at the altar; but there are among the faithful those who still believe that one or two of them gathered up the patens and chalices and mysteriously disappeared into the southern wall of the sanctuary. There they will remain until Constantinople becomes once again a Christian city, when they will resume the service at the point at which it was interrupted.

Sultan Mehmet had promised his men the three traditional days of looting; but there were no protests when he brought it to a dose the same evening. By then there was little left to plunder, and his soldiers were fully occupied sharing out the loot and enjoying their captives. In the late afternoon, accompanied by his chief ministers, his imams and his bodyguard of janissaries, he rode slowly to St Sophia. Dismounting outside the central doors, he picked up a handful of earth which, in a gesture of humility, he sprinkled over his turban; then he entered the Great Church. As he walked towards the altar, he stopped one of his soldiers whom he saw hacking at the marble pavement looting, he told him, did not include the destruction of public buildings. At his command the senior imam mounted the pulpit and proclaimed the name of Allah, the All-Merciful and Compassionate: there was no God but God and Mohammed was his Prophet. The Sultan touched his turbaned head to the ground in prayer and thanksgiving St Sophia was now a mosque."

John Julius Norwich - A Short History of Byzantium pp. 380-1

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Muniment Room

A new blogger sets himself an interesting brief - how would the mainstream Catholic Media in England & Wales look if it were to rediscover its vocation? What is "critical solidarity", what would it require, and what would it feel like? This blogger aims to challenge the English Catholic media (and, by implication, the English Hierarchy) to begin engaging honestly with the Traditionalist position, as a refreshing and radical alternative to another thirty years of soul-sapping party-line platitudes. He hopes to explore ideas of how such a thing might be set in motion, akin to coaxing hardened hydrophobics back into the stream.

Good luck with that!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Domine dilexi decorum domus tuae

"THE CHURCH OF ST THOMAS AQUINAS was a massive building; its walls were plastered by deposits of soot and grease, so that their original grey was black. It stood on a kind of pimple of higher ground, and this fact occasioned little flights of stone steps and cobbled ramps, slippery and mossy under-foot; clustering at the base of the tower, they looked like household terriers running at the feet of some dangerous, dirty tramp.

The Church was in fact less than a hundred years old; it had been built when the Irish came to Fetherhoughton to work in the three cotton mills. But someone had briefed its architect to make it look as if it had always stood there. In those poor, troubled days it was an understandable wish, and the architect had a sense of history; it was a Shakespearian sense of history, with a grand contempt of the pitfalls of anachronism. Last Wednesday and the Battle of Bosworth are all one; the past is the past, and Mrs O'Toole, buried last Wednesday, is neck and neck with King Richard in the hurtle to eternity. This was - it must have been - the architect's view. From the Romans to the Hanoverians, it was all the same to him; they wore, no doubt, leather jerkins and iron crowns; they burned witches; their buildings were stone and quaint and cold, their windows were not as our windows; they slapped their thighs and said prithee. Only such a vision could have commanded into being the music-hall medievalism of St Thomas Aquinas.

The architect had begun in a vaguely Gothic way and ended with something Saxon and brutal. There was a tower at the west end, without spire or pinnacles, but furnished with battlements. The porch had stone benches, and a plain holy-water stoup, and malodorous matting that was beaten thin by scuffling feet - matting that was always sodden, and might have been composed of some thirsty vegetable matter.

The doorway had a round arch of a Norman persuasion, but no recessed arches, no little shafts, no ornament, not so much as a lozenge, a zigzag, a chevron; stern had been the mood the day that doorway was designed, and the door itself was strapped and hinged in a manner that put one in mind of siege warfare and starvation and a populace reduced to eating its rats.

Inside the church, in the pit-like gloom, there was a deep font, without ornament, with a single plain shaft, and big enough to cope with a multiple birth, or dip a sheep. There was a west gallery for the organ, with a patch of deeper blackness beneath it; the gallery itself, though you would not know until you had swum into that blackness, was reached by a low little doorway with junior siege-hinges, and a treacherous spiral staircase, with risers a foot deep. There were two side chapels, two aisles, and it was in the arcades that the architect's derangement was most evident, for the arches were round or pointed, seemingly as a consequence of some spur-of-the-moment decision, and as one blundered through the nave, the confusion of style gave the church a misleadingly heroic air, as if it had been built, like one of the great European cathedrals, in successive campaigns a hundred years apart. The shafts of the columns were squat and massive cylinders, made of a greyish, finely pitted stone, and their uncarved capitals resembled packing cases.

The lancet windows were grouped two by two, and sur-mounted by grudging tracery, here a circle, here a quatrefoil, here a dagger trefoil. In each of the lights stood a glass saint, bearing his name on an unfurling scroll, each scroll inscribed in an unreadable Germanic black-letter; the faces of these glass saints were identical, their expressions were all alike. The glass itself was of a mill-town sort; there was a light-refusing, industrial quality about its thick texture, and its colours were blatant and vile: a traffic-light green, a sugar-bag blue and the dull but acidic red of cheap strawberry jam. There were stone flags underfoot, and the long benches were varnished with a treacly red stain; the doors to the single confessional were low and latched, like the doors to a coalshed.

Father Angwin and the bishop came out through the draughty vaulted passage from the sacristy, and emerged by the Lady chapel in the north aisle. They looked about; not that it profited them. In all, St Thomas Aquinas was as dark as Notre-Dame and resembled it in one other alarming particular - that at any given moment, standing in one part, you lost all sense of what might be happening in another. You could not see the roof, although you had - in St Thomas Aquinas - an uneasy, crawling feeling about it, that it might not be so far above your head at all, and that it might lower itself a little from time to time, just that little inch or so that betrayed its ambition to unite, one winter's day, with the stone flags, and freeze into a solid block of unwrought masonry, with the worshippers between. The church's inner spaces were aggregations of darkness, with channels of thicker darkness between. There were plaster saints - which the bishop now surveyed as best he might - and before most of them, in severe iron racks that looked like the bars of a beast-house, devotional candles burned; yet it was a lightless burning, like marsh-gas, a flickering in an unfelt, breathless wind. There were draughts, it was true, which followed each worshipper like a bad reputation, which dabbed at their ankles and climbed into their clothes, as cats do with people who do not like them. But when the church was empty the draughts lay quiet, only whistling from time to time about the floor; and the candle flames rose up towards the roof, straight and thin as dressmaker's pins.

“These statues,” said the bishop. “Have you a pocket torch?” Father Angwin did not reply. “Then give me a tour,” the bishop demanded. “Start here. I cannot identify this fellow. Is he a Negro?”

Hilary MantelFludd (Viking 1989)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Read this

...wonderful essay.

(Picture courtesy of Rorate Caeli)

On The Farm

There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.

There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.

There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.

And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life's dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.

R.S. Thomas

Did John Paul II write "pro omnibus"?

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf @ 10:21 am

I learned about something at The Undercroft, stemming from something else at Valle Adurni ... something rather serious. I am obliged to add additional information to put things straight.

Some folks have incorrectly speculated that the late Pope John Paul II, in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, wrote "pro omnibus" instead of "pro multis"...

Read the rest here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Pharisaical nominalism..."

Thanks to Fr Tim Finigan

Chris Ferrara on pro multis:
The development is also important for the traditionalist cause because it demonstrates that traditionalist opposition to this erring novelty was not “private judgment,” as neo-Catholic spokesmen insisted in their Pharisaical nominalism, but a mere observation of what is self-evident: that “for many” cannot mean “for all,” and that the Church has never sanctioned such an idea concerning the fruit of the Mass. Likewise, as this development certainly highlights, the rest of the traditionalist position is nothing but a systematic statement of the obvious about recent changes in the Church. Just as it is obvious that “for all” is a mistranslation, so is it obvious that the traditional Mass was never prohibited by any papal command—a fact the Vatican itself now openly acknowledges, despite decades of neo-Catholic advice to the contrary. Also obvious is that “ecumenism” is a pastoral program that can be abandoned as a failure, not an irrevocable doctrine of the faith—a fact that one can hope will soon enough be recognized as well by the Vatican...

You had to have been there...

SEVERAL YEARS AGO BBC Scotland broadcast an hour-long programme in which three Scots clerics - a Calvinist minister, an Anglican theologian and a Cardinal - wandered around the Holy Land sharing their reflections on the life of Our Lord. The Calvinist Minister, a rare soul from the remote West Highlands, said a number of penetratingly beautiful things about Jesus; the Anglican, erudite and devout, offered a number of very interesting and orthodox insights; the Cardinal, God rest his soul, bored on almost exclusively, and to general incomprehension, about the Second Vatican Council.

Cathcon links to this priceless article, which begins as follows:

Noticing that the words “Vatican II” evoked no response in her high school students, an Irish nun recently told me she asked them what Vatican II was. After some time and with much hesitation, one of them asked: “Would that be the pope’s summer residence?”

The Central Event of Human History is receding from the consciousness of Catholics. It's not on the radar of the young. How can this possibly be happening? Sense the scandal, the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Savour it.

There's hope yet: anyone who imagines this unaccountable indifference among the young to the Second Pentecost might be reversed by earnest perusal of the memoirs of Fr Yves Congar belongs in a rubber room. But we knew that anyway.

Oh, my sides....

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The "T" word

ONSIDER the following heart-sinking exchange at NLM over the pro multis debacle:
If the Holy Father approves, that ought to be sufficient. Paul VI approved the existing translation, so it is valid. If Benedict XVI approves the new (and more felicitous) translation, it will be valid. Is that not after all why we have a Holy Father, that the Church may avoid the confusion arising from personal interpretation?
john m | 11.18.06 |

Does that mean that truth changes from Holy Father to Holy Father?

Rev.Hunter | 11.19.06 |

No, he's merely saying that one Pope said the one was valid; another said the other was valid. Paul VI, in confirming the validity of "for all," did not say that "pro multis" was invalid; Benedict XVI, if he prefers "pro multis," this does not imply that he thinks "for all" is invalid. There is no contradiction involved....

Pastor in Valle in the course of some very helpful sleuthing on the track of pro omnibus, raises more disturbing material, which I’d either forgotten about or hadn’t registered:

I had a memory that in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the encyclical of John Paul II on the Eucharist, that he had used pro omnibus for the words of consecration over the chalice even in the Latin text...

Can anybody doubt that solum magisterium is the operative norm in sections of the Roman Catholic Church today? Recently I referenced Dr Geoffrey Hull’s essay A Protohistory of the Liturgical Reform, which includes a vignette of the late John Paul II's subjective and postivistic attitude to liturgical rites; well, here he is, apparently, re-writing scripture to favour the universalist theories adumbrated by fashionable theological opinion. I really don't think it's possible to exaggerate how profoundly shocking and troubling this is.

If the liberation of the Mass is the essential condition of rebalancing the Church – the sine qua non - at another level it seems to me that some kind of major teaching document on Tradition and Magisterium is urgently required, on the basis that the only means of moving those who now appear to think that the Catholic Faith is whatever the present Pope/latest Council says it is (and who, in a sense, can blame them?) - is a Pope himself telling them otherwise. Last year's Christmas address to the Curia was encouraging, but pitched at dog-whistle level as far as the wider Church is concerned. I despair of ever seeing such a thing, for all the obvious reasons - but I’m convinced that the submergence of any clear, general understanding of what Tradition is, and what it’s for, is at the root of everything . I don’t think it’s only neo-catholics who suffer from this disability – I’m sure numbers of “traditionalists” exhibit it too, in a somewhat different sense.

I find the following analogy helpful. No doubt somebody will rush to deprive me of it on the basis of superior learning and understanding, but here it is:

JUST AS WE SPEAK of faith in two senses: the content of the faith (doctrine) and the supernatural virtue of Faith (the power, given by God, of believing the doctrines), so we can think of Tradition in a similar way:

1) The content of Tradition (as "incarnated" especially in the Liturgy).
2) The organ of Tradition – Magisterium, which exists to guard and faithfully transmit the deposit of Faith as present in Scripture and Tradition (in the former sense). It is by this "power" of the Magisterium (analagous to the virtue of faith) that Our Lord guarantees the indefectibiliy of the Church in everything necessary for salvation. It does not extend to anything new. It only enables the Magisterium to frame definitive formulations of what is already present in Tradition in order to make it more explicit, to remove doubt or settle a controversy by excluding an erroneous interpretation. Such acts of the Magisterium in turn build up the objective content of Tradition.

This doesn't mean that only the Pope and the Bishops have any responsibility for handing on the Faith and its practice; that responsibility belongs in a sense to all the faithful who as well as living it, are obliged to defend it from disruption and attack; the point being that an identifiable objective content exists to be handed on. These "norms" of Tradition should be present and operative in the forms and practices handed down and lived day-to-day in the Church. Consequently, they can never be considered as mere legal prescriptions.

Now, no-one would ever think of dividing the virtue of faith from the content of faith, in order to pit one against the other - but that's exactly what happens today in the case of Tradition. So, although it's perfectly correct to speak of "living Tradition"and of the Magisterium as a "living" organ of the Church (just as the virtue of faith is "alive"), liberals, modernists and especially neo-conservatives are all guilty of using and understanding this expression in a false and misleading sense, to indicate merely "the present, living occupants of the Magisterial office". What this false understanding of the term "living Magisterium" implies, and is intended to imply, is a level of possible opposition between the Magisterium "as represented by its living occupants" and the Magisterium as represented in Tradition.

"Tradition" in this one-sided conception, is deprived of objective content and reduced to little more than "the Pope of today telling us what he understands from yesterday". This, it goes without saying, “reduces the perennial ordinary Magisterium of the Church to a nullity” (Fr Parsons). This is precisely what the movement called "Traditionalist" exists to correct, not by deprecating the "organ" of Tradition but by reasserting the objective content of tradition to which the organ is ordered, and for the custody and transmission of which it exists.

In the absence of such a correction, we will continue to drift ever closer to the parody of Catholicism propagated by the Protestants - a kind of deterministic, totalitarean autocracy, having very little visible connection with the historic Faith

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A History of the Church

Apologies to Sellar & Yeatman - 1066 & All That

A LITTLE WHILE after Our Lord’s Ascension, He sent the Holy Ghost in the form of an Advocate* to frighten the Apostles into Doing Something. They ran off to the Market Place where they were supposed to have drunk New Wine, thus starting the Church of England. After that they did the Acts, at Home and at various Mediterranean Resorts. They were all killed, mostly by the Wicked Romans, except John, who went to the Greek Islands instead.

The Christians had to hide in Catacombs so as not to be fed to Lions by the Wicked Romans who were not Church of England and persecuted them. In addition, the Church was troubled by hearsay, put about by Bad Bishops and Vicars who Made It Up as They Went Along. They were sorted out by the Fathers who were Good C of E and remembered chiefly for having had very silly names, like Basil, Pseudo Denis, Turtlelion, Chris Tomtom, Origen of the Species and Cardinal Newman.

Everything got better when Emperor Constantine whose Mother was C of E from Essex stopped the persecution and made the Bad Bishops stay behind and copy out the Anastasian Creed, which took a very long time

An Emperor called Julian the Apostolate tried to stop everybody being C of E by Restoring the Gods. He got them out of Attics all over the Empire and began Cleaning them Up, but everyone just laughed. Soon all the Known World was Christian, except for some who went on spreading hearsay, and the Turks. The Turks captured all of the Middle East and North Africa, Spain, Constantinople and most of Eastern Europe. The Christians they killed and subjugated there were Decadent, not C of E, so nobody minded. The Crusaders minded, but they were Wicked Romans and Worse than the Turks.

The Pope was Top Bishop, despite being a Wicked Roman and living Abroad. He was fond of his indulgences, of which he had a great many, and was sometimes saucy with the girls. Lex Luther was a German, and he disapproved: girls were not for Popes to get saucy with, they were for Cooking and Children and Church. He wrote a list of ninety-seven things he disliked about Popes and their various indulgences, and nailed them to a door, thus causing the Reformation, which was a Very Good Thing. Lex Luther was not alone in doing the Reformation, but his friends are remembered chiefly for having had even sillier names than the Fathers - Kelvin Klein, Crammer, Zwingly and Melonthong.

King Henry VIII was married to Queen Catherine who was very beautiful and devout but she wouldn't give him any Air, so he locked her in a tower, which caused the King's Business. Cardinal Wolsey who was very fat, tried to run the King's Business for a while, but the Effort killed him, which was a Good Thing. Henry had the Sin of Lust. He met Anne Boleyn who had six fingers on one hand, so he married her instead of Catherine, which made the Pope very angry. Anne Boleyn wouldn't give the King any Air either, and neither would Sir Thomas More or Bishop Fisher, so he cut their heads off. Altogether he had six wives, and only one would give him any Air.

Henry told the Pope he wasn't going to let him be Top Bishop any more (being a Wicked Roman and living Abroad). There would be no Top Bishops at all. Henry would Do the Job Himself, and if the Pope didn't like it, he'd bring in Lex Luther instead (who was friends with Archbishop Crammer On the Quiet).

King Henry VIII didn’t much care for Lex Luther, but the Reformation allowed him to get back his money from the Guilds (associations of working men who had no business having it), and to let the Monks out of their Cells, on condition that if they wanted to go on Indulging the Pope they would have to do it Elsewhere. He had the Monasteries done up as Stately Homes and sold them to the National Trust. His daughter was Bloody Mary, who married the King of Spain and died, which was also a Good Thing.

Archbishop Crammer was awakened one night by an Angel, who dictated the Prayer Book to him, but that was later when the Air appeared. The Air was Sickly and was called Edward. He was very young when Henry died and the Nobles stuffed him full of Lex Luther so that they too could grab Church Property, do it up and sell it to the National Trust.

Good Queen Bess was very good C of E. She sent thirty-nine articles including a big Bible on a Chain to every Vicar in the Land. She also realised that all the Pictures and Statues of Jesus, Mary and the Saints stopped people thinking about God, so she had them all chopped up and burned and replaced wherever possible with a picture of Herself. She invented Shakespeare, the Armada and America, which was not such a Good Thing as it turned out. She politely discouraged the Jesuits, who were the Wickedest Romans of All.

Scotland had Ronald Knox. He had a very big beard and despised everything Roman. He wanted Scotland to have a religion of her own, so he brought in a new one from Kelvin Klein in Switzerland. Everyone had to have big beards and wear Hats in Church. Adultery was severely punished on the grounds that it might lead to Dancing. This was a very Good Thing for Scotland. He kept a Monstrous Regiment of Women who blasted Trumpets, thus causing the Salvation Army.

King Charles the Martyr was exemplary C of E, thus causing the Civil War, which he lost, and had his head cut off by Oliver Cromwell, who was a Good Thing Nevertheless, because he killed lots of Wicked Romans in Ireland. He liked the Scottish religion and introduced it to England for a while, but the English preferred Dancing, and so brought back the King, which caused the Restoration.

God was now so pleased with the British that he gave them Half the World to rule, heathen savages who had never heard of the C of E, and others who had been corrupted by the Wicked Romans. England beat Napoleon and the Germans (twice) before God got bored with Mattins and Evensong and sent them all New Books and lady Vicars.


*Scholars are divided over the precise nature of the apparition. According to translation, The Holy Ghost appeared either as an “advocate” or lawyer, or a giant parrot. Either rendering is acceptable in the context since there can be little doubt that both would serve equally to frighten your average Galiliean half to death.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Baltic

haur are ye gaen sae fast, my bairn,
It's no tae the schule ye'll win?'
Doon tae the shore at the fit o' the toon
Tae bide till the brigs come in

Awa' noo wi' ye and turn ye hame,
Ye'll no hae the time tae bide;
It's twa lang months or the brigs come back
On the lift o' a risin' tide.

I'll sit me doon at the water's mau'
Till there's niver a blink o' licht,

For my feyther bad' me tae tryst wi' him

In the dairkness o' yesternicht.

"Rise ye an' rin tae the shore", says he,

"At the cheep o' the waukin' bird,

And I'll bring ye a tale o' a foreign land

The like that ye niver heard."

Oh, haud yer havers, ye feckless wean,
It was but a dream ye saw,
For he's far, far north wi' the Baltic men
I' the hurl o' the Baltic snaw;

And what did he ca' yon foreign land?'
He tell'tna its name tae me,
But I doot it's no by the Baltic shore,
For he said there was nae mair sea.

VIOLET JACOB 1863 - 1946

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pandora's Box

"To reverse the maxim, subordinating the standard of worship to the standard of belief, makes a shambles of the dialectic of revelation. It was a Presence, not faith, which drew Moses to the burning bush, and what happened there was a revelation, not a seminar. It was a Presence, not faith, which drew the disciples to Jesus, and what happened there was not an educational program but His revelation to them of Himself as the long-promised Anointed One, the redeeming because reconciling Messiah-Christos".
Dom Aidan Kavanagh OSB
HOW DO PAPAL teaching documents come into existence? Many of us, I suspect, preserve a vague notion of the Pontiff labouring alone at his desk at the prompting of the Holy Ghost, in a manner reminiscent of St Gregory the Great in the familiar icononography. Of course we know it doesn’t happen in quite that way – all such documents are, to varying degrees, drafted, re-drafted, argued over and amended, at the hands of several parties. The Pope picks his men, commissions the work, makes his particular contribution whether formal or substantial, and sets his signature to the final document. Most of us know that the indefectibility of the Church is not involved in every minor detail or in anything beyond the narrow parameters of Pastor Aeternus.

Nevertheless, we sometimes seem to forget that the Holy Ghost’s protection from error operates chiefly in a “negative” way - even those of us who understand perfectly well that connecting the pipes and turning the tap doesn’t produce Pentecost on demand. Circumstances such as those surrounding the withdrawal and amendment of the original GIRM of 1969 are rare indeed; and although it’s appropriate to see in that particular episode perhaps one of the most explicit tip-offs from the Holy Ghost in modern history, it’s doubtful if a lively faith in the Church’s immunity from error could survive too many such incidents. More common are routine mis-statements arising from the exigencies of the times; minor in themselves, but not, perhaps, without consequences.

Consider the following extract from Mediator Dei (Para. 49)

From time immemorial…the ecclesiastical hierarchy…has not been slow – keeping the substance of the Mass and the Sacraments carefully intact - to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting, and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honour paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage.

This is uncomfortably close to being the very opposite of the truth. In fact “slowness” and extreme circumspection in introducing even the most tentative modifications or additions have always been the very defining characteristic of ecclesiastical authority in its dealings with the Liturgy; whatsmore, on every occasion when authority has intervened prescriptively to “modify”, the results have been, almost without exception, unfortunate. Trent, it would appear, is practically the only positive example of beneficial authoritative prescription in 1000 years. All of the rest - from Paul III’s disastrous Breviary reform, through Urban VIII’s mutilation of the Breviary hymns (corrected only after Vatican II) and St Pius X’s rearrangement of the traditional Psalter, to the reforms of Pius XII himself, have been questionable at best, deplorable at worst, and all disruptive of ancient forms. Even so, any idea that the liturgy may be made over in a spirit of pastoral or pedagogical expediency according to the subjective perceptions of a particular age, had always in principle been rightly and vigorously rejected.

I’m often puzzled by the extent to which "traditionalists" who rightly deplored the cult of personality surrounding John Paul II during his lifetime, and the santo subito agitations following it, themselves display an equivalent attitude in relation to one or other – or more usually all - of his pre-Conciliar, post-Tridentine predecessors. I often suspect such people aren’t really "traditionalists" at all, in any meaningful sense – merely ultramontane conservatives under the “wrong” Popes. The image of Pope Pius XII in particular as the “Last Great Roman”, the last faithful guardian of the flame of authentic Tradition and implacable foe of all of our present ills, after whom the Deluge, is still widely received. Mediator Dei in particular is routinely flourished by traditionalists to denounce the separation of altar and tabernacle, or the archaeologisms of the New Liturgy.

Dom Alcuin Read’s Organic Development of the Liturgy offers a more ambiguous account of Pius XII's relationship to the "reform". I was aware that plans for the Novus Ordo had been laid exceedingly deep, and that a blueprint had been prepared and circulated at the Lugano Congress as early as 1953 (attended by Cardinals Ottaviani - who offered Mass for the delegates versus populo - and Montini, on behalf of the Pope); that Pius, who took an active interest in the Liturgical Movement, had promulgated Bugnini’s Holy Week rites (now clearly revealed as a preparatory run for more radical incursions) and Cardinal Bea’s anti-traditional Latin Psalter (which rendered the Gregorian chant all but impossible, and was withdrawn by John XXIII). It is still a shock to realise the extent to which Pacelli was evidently in sympathy with those tendencies of the later Liturgical Movement which compromise the NO so deeply – an ultramontanist reduction of “reform” to considerations of mere legal prescription, bare sacramental validity and “pastoral” expediency, under which respect for Tradition as objective content is almost completely submerged.

In A Protohistory of the Liturgical Reform, Dr Geoffrey Hull cites Mediator Dei’s reversal of Prosper of Aquitane’s dictum lex orandi, lex credendi as “a Pandora’s box which (Pius XII’s) successors were tempted to open, and did”; and indeed this is much more serious in its implications than the minor mistatement noted above. Had Pius XII omitted this passage, or better, restated the traditional understanding more fulsomely and explicitly, the Bugnini project would certainly have been stopped in its tracks. Who was responsible, one wonders, for the drafts of Mediator Dei? Isn't it a fair certainty that the Pope would have commissioned the leading liturgical experts - the same favoured group of scholars working simultaneously on prototypes of the Novus Ordo, and the text of what would become Sacrosanctum Concilium itself; who unpacked and implemented it subsequently, post-'65?

In any case, we cannot simply go back and go on as before, as though nothing had happened. If resistance to what Mediator Dei at least partly helped to set in motion was just and necessary, it cannot be right to wish for a mere "restoration" of pre-Conciliar conditions, as though it were possible to consign to oblivion the knowledge of what was in fact done to the Church, by the Popes, in the second half of the 20th century. Undoubtedly it will take several generations for the fog to clear, whatever the judgement of history on those at the centre of events. Meanwhile, we, the living, do not have time to wait for the Church to “think in centuries” – we and our children, in order to fulfil the purpose of own brief passage here, need the sine dolo lac today. We will not allow ourselves to be deprived of it again.
No one, however, who has found his way, through sacrifice and trials, to the great Christian liturgy will allow any progressive or conservative cleric to deprive him of it. We must not think of the future. The prospects for a liturgical Christianity are poor. From today's perspective, the future model of the Christian religion seems to be that of a North American sect--the most frightful form religion has ever adopted in the world. But the future is of no concern to the Christian. He is responsible for his own life; it is up to him to decide whether he can turn away from the gaze of the liturgical Christ--as long as this Christ is still shown to us.
Martin Mosebach - from The Heresy of Formlessness

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lux perpetua luceat eis

The Sarabite gives us the following thought-provoking prayer:

I am sorry, Lord, that I have wanted to be an angel and not a man.

I am sorry that I have expected others to be angels and not men.

Lord, grant me the strength to accept my own humanity.

Amen. It’s a standing paradox that “angelism” poisons the wells of our spiritual lives, precisely because everything becomes subject to a perspective that can never be ours. As a consequence, even things good and proper to us become suspect, or lose their former power to move us or to communicate the realities that stand behind them. This disincarnational spirit is everywhere today – in the liturgy and the liturgical arts most obviously, but as a consequence, perhaps, of an underlying drift into the notion that truth is a proposition rather than a Person (which amounts to a failure of faith); that the means by which we attempt to represent and communicate the Truth are therefore of marginal importance. Thin Calvinistic air starves our capacity to engage as we ought with things both seen and unseen. We are alienated and displaced in both worlds. It ought to be obvious to us that we can’t be integrated ourselves, or think in an integrated way about anything, if we start out by falsifying our own nature – but it isn’t.

The Catholic novelist Alice Thomas Ellis (RIP), in a riveting interview several years ago with “radio shrink” Dr Anthony Clare, described a protracted breakdown in her late teens, during which she received an intimation of Hell, not as a place of darkness, but of unendurable, inescapable, endless light. This marked the beginnings of her conversion. It has the ring of authenticity: the lux perpetua for which we pray is of course insufferable to souls separated from God; but it’s also a consequence of "angelist" theology that Heaven itself begins to assume an equivocal aspect - a place where nothing human can be taken, or found; a place that might easily be mistaken for the Other Place.

Edwin Muir’s poem The Good Town opened this blog as a kind of manifesto. Here’s another by the same author, who has also given consideration to The Good Man in Hell; I think of the following poem, “There’s nothing here…” as its complement - not quite “The Bad Man in Heaven”, but the natural man, in the "Heaven" of the Calvinists:

There's nothing here I can take into my hands.
Oh, for the plough stilts and the horse's reins,
And the furrows running free behind me.
The clay still clings to me here, and the heavy smell
Of peat and dung and cattle, and the taste of the dram In my mouth, the last of all.
These things are what I was made for. Send me back.
There is not even a shadow here. How can I live
Without substance and shadow? Am I here
Because I duly read the Bible on Sundays
And drowsed through the minister's sermon? I knew my duty.
But in the evening

I led the young lads to the orra lasses
Across the sound to the other islands. Summer!
How can I live without summer? And the harvest moon
And the stooks that looked like little yellow graves, so bonny
And sad and strange, while I walked through them
For a crack with Jock at the bothy : old-farrant stories
He had, I could tell you some queer stories. And then we would dander
Among the farms to visit the lasses, climb
Through many a window till morning. But that's no talk
For this place. And then I think of the evenings
After the long day's work ...

Paul VI’s idea that the church could move “as far as possible” in the direction of Calvinist-style worship without detriment to Catholic souls so long as the traditional orthodoxy continued to sleep between the covers of the Catechism, is a conception essentially “angelist”. It’s shared by a great many Catholics today, in whom a tenuous, theoretical orthodoxy coexists with indifference, if not aversion, to the traditional formulations of faith and worship. This manifests itself in the context of the sacraments in a kind of crass “validitareanism” that prides itself in emancipation from anything beyond the bare requirements of sacramental validity. “Oh, I don’t need all that…God doesn’t care about all that…”

Here's how pious Catholics destroy their own religion:

Point A - God isn't concerned about that
Point B - That's trivial - God doesn't care...
Point C - Come on - I don't think God minds very much...

These were all pretty minor things, so we'll also concede D - P as belonging to the category of trivialities, beneath the attention of the Almighty and superfluous to spiritual advancement. Nobody got hurt, so let's press on...

Point R - My faith isn't dependent on all that
Point S - I don't need any of that to worship God or pray properly
Point T - Haven't we got beyond all that?
Point U - What's the relevance of this is to Catholics today...

...and now we're getting on a roll. We've established a principle: that we can construct, reconstruct or discard according to our own perceived needs, without detriment to anything theoretically "essential". We've also started to alter somewhat the way our religious practice and beliefs look and "feel", because all those little minor changes of "unimportant" things, taken together, add up to something suggesting a real shift. We experience this shift as exhilarating and liberating and can't help feeling scornful of those who, unlike us "need all that". Forget them. They're the chaff, we're the wheat; nor do we consider ourselves under any obligation to take seriously the warnings of those who can see trouble coming: prophets of doom, reactionaries, Pharisees, fearful conservatives and others who never “got” the Gospel.

By now we're well on the way to re-constructing a truly “spiritual” religion entirely in our own image and likeness; but what was once, in our dim, distant and superstitious past something that brought to life the vision of Isaias or St John in the Apocalypse now consists largely of being read at by middle-class people in nice knitwear. Where did everybody go?

It’s a symptom of our disintegrity that the things we think and say about ourselves are often the furthest from the truth: and it’s precisely when a man proclaims his emancipation from “all that” that he reveals himself to be most conspicuously in need of it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Solum Magisterium

What is Sacred Scripture?
Sacred Scripture is Matthew 16:18.

What is Sacred Tradition?
See Matthew 16:18. La tradizione sono io.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Cardboard Fence - A November Epilogue


IN THE WINTER of 1950 from a basement apartment on Webster Avenue in the Bronx, a little girl of seven watched her father storm up into the street, propelled by her mother’s furious rage. She never saw him again. I never saw him at all, except in a single photograph, but pray often for his soul, wherever it is. He was the grandson of Irish immigrants - a kind, stocky man with troubled eyes and a love of music – a violinist. In the 40’s Roosevelt’s New Deal got him regular work with the Radio City Orchestra – between times he taught a little, took labouring jobs, began business ventures that petered out, married a beautiful girl from Buffalo with thick, blue-black Irish hair by whom he had two children, a boy - and this little girl.

The nuns at St Joseph’s school on Bathgate Avenue were austere and orthodox to a fault – the violinist’s little daughter learned her catechism, sang in choir, and waited in line for confessions every Saturday afternoon while her brother played stickball in the yard. She was bright, and the nuns, contrary to the 1950’s stereotype, were determined she should gain the most from such opportunities as this opened up for her, despite the little family’s practical dependence on the St Vincent de Paul Society. The Sisters coached and encouraged the little girl to gain a scholarship to a prestigious Catholic girls' school, run by Benedictine sisters in a northern suburb of the city. Her mother worked nights in a telephone exchange, while she travelled back and forth from school to the Bronx, dreaming on the “L” train of one day becoming a famous writer.

Her mother remarried (without dispensation) to a genial warm-hearted Jew, and moved with the girl to a more salubrious part of the Bronx. At seventeen, she had grown into the image of her mother, dark Irish beauty and dark Irish temperament. She resented the Jew and convinced herself she hated him; this alien interloper who had unaccountably supplanted her - by now thoroughly romanticised – father, and occasioned her mother’s excommunication. At the first opportunity she emancipated herself from the detested menage, by embracing the very thing that represented the death of her dreams: she “married an Irish cop” - a boy who had been besieging her since High School; he represented an “out” and she took it, though it meant the end for Columbia, where she’d already enrolled – the cop didn’t want an intellectual wife. She turned up for the civil ceremony in a black dress (this was 1961) and having burned her bridges with the Church, left him three months later following the first inevitable bout of abuse, running first to her brother’s artist’s studio in City Island (a portrait of her still hangs over a bar there) and then to the West Coast. San Francisco. 1962.

I met her by chance twenty-five years ago. Her lover, a little Scots guy playing the penny whistle in a damp November Athens street (an Oxford classics graduate as it turned out) invited me for dinner. We climbed the stairs in one of the old Plaka villas and the door was opened by this extraordinary figure, straight out of Hemingway: rich blue-black Irish hair, delicious smart-talking Bronx contralto well seasoned in whiskey and cigarettes; big jewellery, disreputable dressing gown, house impeccably tasteful, bohemian chaos; a nice little dog called Parnell. I was 24 and straight out of Glasgow. It was irresistible.

One day (some time after the whistle player’s departure) she asked me “Where d’ya keep slopin’ off to Sunday mornings?” I told her I went to Mass. Her face softened. “I ain’t been to Mass in twenty-odd years”, she said. “I heard they changed it all – what a stoopid thing to do!”. I told her that in Athens at least, things appeared to be much as they’d always been. She announced she was going to come with me. Sunday morning arrived and Julie was in a panic. She dressed as conservatively as she was capable and sat silent and pale in the streetcar all the way down Panepistemiou to the Basilica. As we walked through the west door she suddenly stiffened and gripped my arm “My bra just busted” she hissed. “I knew He was gonna pull some stunt like this on me – “Hey, Michael” he’s sayin, – “look at this!”” Mass was in Latin with Asperges and plainsong, but versus populo. “When’s he gonna turn around and get on with it?” she hissed during the Offertory.

Eighteen months later we were married in the same basilica of St Denis the Areopagite, and thus began an eight year theological argument, Julie kicking against the pricks, detesting “the changes”, me full of a new "Trad's" zeal and a young man’s inexhaustable curiosity. We moved to Sussex, and began trying to reconcile ourselves to English life; Julie also to later middle-age, a prospect that did not appeal to her remotely. Her drinking got heavier and then out of control. In the autumn of 1994 she started complaining of headaches and blurred vision. She flew suddenly into terrible, desperate rages which left her drained and weeping. By December she was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in the brain, secondary to advanced cancer of the lungs and liver. “Get the priest” she told me.

By great good fortune I had made friends with a young curate, very recently ordained, who offered the Tridentine Mass privately. He brought the Blessed Sacrament to the house, heard Julie’s confession (which took most of the evening), gave her the Viaticum and the last rites of the Church. She emerged beaming with a radiance that hardly left her during the remaining six weeks of her life, despite the occasional bouts of fear and desperation. She took up her rosary almost, it seemed, at the point at which she’d put it down at seventeen. She told the priest and me on different occasions that she wanted to unite her sufferings with those of Our Lord for the conversion of sinners such as herself. He drove fifty miles from his parish to sit by her side into the early morning after her last admission to hospital. Her very last words were “Holy Spirit, give me strength”, after which she lost consciousness and died two days later, on the eve of Candlemas, 1995. She was 52.

I asked Julie what she wanted on her headstone. She thought for a bit and then said “Finally settled down” in that delicious wisecracking Bronx accent. That’s what it says. Below that, a line from the Song of Songs: Surge, amica mea et veni – "Arise, beloved and come."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thank you all my visitors in this, my first week of blogging. Sincere thanks to those who have left comments, made favourable mention of the Undercroft elsewhere, or added links to their own sites.
DEUS, qui caritatis dona per gratiam Sancti Spiritus tuorum fidelium cordibus infundisti: da famulis et famulabus tuis, pro quibus tuam deprecamur clementiam, salutem mentis et corporis; ut te tota virtute diligant, et quae tibi placita sunt, tota dilectione perficiant. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum...
De profundis for all your departed.

The Perambulator in the Hall...

…was, according to Cyril Connolly, the deadliest enemy of Art. It’s the familiar manichaean, Brokeback Mountain account of soul-sapping domesticity, in which a man, having submitted conventionally to the slavery of biological and pecuniary imperatives, has his natural instinct for the good the true and beautiful crushed out by the burden of commonplace concerns and malodorous surroundings.

I ponder Connolly, one of the godfathers of what used to be called “the permissive society”, as a Brandenburg Concerto (period instruments) expands into the dimmer and dustier corners of the Undercroft like a brilliant and intricate planetarium made of sound. Philoprogenitive Bach (twenty children by two wives) is a favoured intellectual and aesthetic remedy around here for the generalised pretence and gimcrackery of modern life (a more satisfactory antidote, perhaps, than Sir William Walton, whose modestly attractive oeuvre we owe, by her own account, to the abortions he demanded of his young Catholic wife).

Connolly was an astute, erudite critic and a formidable stylist, who deserves to be remembered if only for such book titles as The Condemned Playground and The Enemies of Promise, even as the books themselves retreat from view. He believed that it was his destiny to deliver himself of The Great Novel – but he never did, despite the rational precaution of childlessness. The consciousness of artistic sterility tormented and further paralysed him, together with a semi-legendary, Oblomovian sloth. His wife, Barbara Skelton, describes him lying inert for hours at a time, the sheets (which he was in the habit of chewing) spilling from his mouth “like ectoplasm”. Naturally, he permitted himself to pronounce upon religious themes:

“In my religion, there would be no exclusive doctrine; all would be love, poetry, and doubt.”

Surprise, surprise, eh?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Imagination, Intellect and Will

I WON'T BORE my visitors by pretending to be shocked by scenes from the Planet Novus Ordo. Every so often though, the radar picks up things from that strange, remote orbit that still have the power to render one speechless (or very nearly).

Paulinus, an English blogger, reveals that consideration is sometimes given to airing John Lennon’s Imagine in the context of the Liturgy. Now call me naïve, but I would have assumed hitherto that a lyric so crass as to be self-debunking would remain beneath the attention even of the most radically disconnected victim of the Hermeneutic of Rupture. Apparently not: Paulinus does the charitable thing, and joins the dots, provoking me to add a bit of colouring-in.

"Nothing to kill or die for…"

Okay – the old canard that people kill or die principally on account of “religion”; take away "religion", nobody will kill or die any more. Right.

People, as long as they are people, will die for (and sometimes kill in defense of) things they love and care about more than themselves. The world of Lennon's Imagine is therefore one in which no-one cares much about anything. It's the earthly paradise of the sublime egotist - an insipid nirvana empty of meaning or even natural human attachments. At best this represents a colossal failure of imagination - at worst it's anti-social, mendacious, self-centred and inhuman.

Let’s call things by their names. Imagine is sub-Rousseaunian mind-rot, packaged as chocolate milk and ardently promoted as wholesome by those who also hail its author as a genius and secular saint (what other promoter of the drug culture has airports named after him?). It’s gulped down eagerly by millions – billions; but the ideology it promotes and nurtures in undernourished imaginations is precisely – absolutely precisely – that of the Khmer Rouge.

Dominus meus et Deus Meus

Thanks to Joee Bloggs (link right) for this.

Châteauneuf du Pape

Scene: A Wine Shop, in the Archdiocese of Bordeaux

Enter a Customer

Wine Merchant: Good morning Monsieur. How may I help you?

I’d like a bottle of wine, please.

(sighs) Aaah. A Bottliste. How quaint. (sighs, rolls eyes) Tell me
Monsieur: do bottles exist for their own sake or for the sake of the wine inside?

Well, for the sake of the wine, obviously…

So why not simply ask me for wine, if it’s wine you’re after? What's all this about "bottles"? Why this obsession with confining the wine, with locking it up, sealing it in? It’s a glorious gift from God – the stuff of love and life – it ought to run free…

Very generous sentiments, I’m sure. It’s rather difficult to take home though, without a bottle.

(rolls eyes) Look, this is the twenty-first century. “Bottles” are ridiculous in this day and age. Today, we use these!

That’s a paper bag.

You know very well it’s not a “paper bag”. It's the most attractive, modern, practical and adaptable means of transporting wine. Do you suppose the first wine-makers used glass bottles? Of course they didn’t – they used wineskins – and as a matter of fact these bags are much closer to the idea of a wineskin than a glass bottle. You can get them in all sorts of colours and patterns – they’re fantastic! Look - we even do kitschy bottle-shaped ones for nostalgia addicts like

They leak. And they make the wine taste funny.

Rubbish! They were designed by experts – they don’t leak. You’re simply not using them correctly. You should read the instructions. The “taste” thing is entirely in your imagination. Get over it.

Hmmm. I never needed to “read the instructions” to take wine home in a bottle. “Experts” or not, these things are always half-empty by the time you get them home, and what remains is indistinguishable from vinegar after two days. My wife started picking them up a while ago, till we lost patience with the leaks and the peculiar flavour. The kids thought they looked cool for about ten minutes, but they’ve never developed an interest in wine (I blame the peculiar, synthetic after-taste). They're into supermarket vodka, I fear…

WM: Oh, here we go…elitist snobbery about “vodka”. What’s wrong with vodka? Who are you to turn your nose up at vodka? Actually, we’re thinking about doing a line in vodka ourselves. You should listen to your kids, instead of sneering at them. How typically judgmental!

C: Look, I only came in here for a bottle of wine…

No you didn’t. You don’t care about wine. You don’t understand the first thing about wine. You came in here to waste my time with your dead, sterile arguments about bottles.

Okay, can I have a bottle of wine please?


All right - I get the message. By the way, I understand very few people come in here any more. Any idea why that might be?


Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Border Widow's Lament

I AM PROBABLY of the last generation of wee Scots boys to have learned old “muckle sangs”, together with the earthier chunks of Burns, by heart before my teenage years. We took them for granted, and who can say to what extent their dark, beguiling cadences and macabre themes formed the stuff of our souls? In my own case “grain-belt” bipolarism – the unstillable oscillation between violence and remorse – survives the vanished appeal of heroic and romantic appearances – mere accidents of chivalric convention; like Webster, seeing “the skull beneath the skin”, the wee Scots boy knows that every suit of dazzling armour conceals a rotting and forgotten corpse. How many eight-year-olds today sing this?:
Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I'll pike out his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We'll theek our nest when it grows bare,
We'll theek our nest when it grows bare.'

'Mony an ane for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken where he is gane;
O'er his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair,
The wind sall blaw for evermair
These are the Twa Corbies (Two Crows), planning with relish and efficiency the recycling of a “new slain knight” abandoned by his hawks, his hounds and his lady. The cold east wind playing everlastingly through a stripped, forgotten rib-cage is an image not easily effaced, especially when embibed in childhood, surrounded by the very moors, bogs and bleak uplands in which these events are set. Douglas, Percy, Lord Maxwell, Hughie Graham, Sir Patrick Spens - their grim, even when superficially heroic, ends - have, I suspect, coloured indelibly my view of the world, and especially of my own race, with whom, like the builders of those grim border “keeps” I maintain a complex and uneasy relationship.

“The Borders” (the lands on the Scots-English border) are Britain’s own Sicily – the violence and melancholy of the landscape finding a ready echo in the hearts of inhabitants who feuded relentlessly without reference or reverence to crown or law on either side of the river Tweed. Add a strong savour of Calvinistic pessimism and the ever-present consciousness of perdition, and you begin to get the picture.

Imagine, if you can, a nightclub in downtown Jedburgh or Coldstream, circa 1650 – the kind of place you’d go to unwind at the end of hard day’s blood-feuding. There’s whisky, tobacco and sheep's-offal with mashed turnips - but it’s the entertainment that really makes the rain-sodden slog here worthwhile. On the stage is a striking English woman at the height of her considerable powers, her dark, menacing contralto weaving the old tales in a new way, over the plangent, eerie-blue chording of piano, cello and bass. This is June Tabor, raising a familiar procession of Banquo’s ghosts to walk in their grave-clothes between the tables, indicating their wounds and the lamentations of their loved-ones.

Here is the new widow of Bonnie James Campbell, her barn to build and her baby unborn, tearing her hair at the sight of her husband’s good horse, returned with an empty blood-soaked saddle. Here is the newlywed laird’s vision of his chamber “full of wild swine and my bride’s-bed a –floating in blood”- his discarded lover, dead by her own hand, addressing him from the foot of the bed; a Bishop of Carlisle procuring the judicial murder of his lover’s husband – his blazing defiance from the gallows and avowal of revenge beyond the grave; the sleep-deprived fugitive duellist, who, waking in panic, fatally stabs his lover; doomed Sir Patrick “with the Scots lords at his feet” in the most genuinely moving arrangement of the old story I have ever heard. The Cruel Mother, new to me, almost unbearable in its bleak understated pathos:

Oh Mother, oh Mother when we were yours
You dressed us in our own hearts’ blood

You wiped your penknife on your shoe
The more you wiped the bloodier it grew

You buried us under the marble stone
You turned and went a maiden home
Tabor hardly puts a foot wrong: the arrangements are perfect – full of intelligence and authentic feeling for the old songs – but there’s nothing to match that voice, with its austere undecorated melancholy and seldom-absent note of menace. It fails only slightly when she succumbs once or twice to the temptation to over-egg the pudding; a slightly theatrical over-emphasis that mars – if only for a second or two – the masterfully understated quality of the whole.

The Twa Corbies themselves are absent – but their mocking cry and the moaning of the wind over bleached bones pervades the whole collection.

June TaborAn Echo of Hooves (Topic Records TSCD543)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Hermeneutic of Dissonance

AS GK CHESTERTON observes, there are any number of angles at which one falls, only one at which one remains upright. That’s the context of the little diagram below. I’m aware of its deficiencies, and that it won’t pass for real theology. I’m aware too that it’s likely to make any kind of sense only to conflicted Roman Catholics of a certain persuasion (such as this blogger). Nevertheless I’ve found it helpful in sharpening my approach to certain questions and developments, so bear with me a little while; all will become obscure.

Think of the spot in the centre as a bird's-eye view of the end of a broomstick standing absolutely upright. It represents normative, traditional Catholicism. The ring around it represents the perimeter of the Church's faith, as defined by Scripture, Sacred Tradition (the content of Tradition) and the Magisterium (the organ of Tradition). The arrows represent three exaggerations, as directions in which the broomstick might be prevailed upon to fall. Now consider the following:
To suggest that doctrine can change at the behest of the reigning pope is to reduce the status of the ordinary universal teaching of the Church to a nullity, and to subvert its infallible certainty by a kind of dogmatic positivism. Papal remarks about universal justification, evolution, capital punishment and non-Christian ecumenism in subsequent years, have displayed this same tendency. The Fascists used the slogan Il Duce ha sempre ragione (The Duce is always right). The Ultramontane is a Catholic who asserts the same about the current policy (whatever it may be) of the current pope (whoever he may be).

If Eastern Orthodoxy can be charged with taking tradition as its operative norm, even to the obscuring of the present authority of the successor of Peter and to the loss of a centre of unity, Catholicism since the mid 19th century and especially since the 1960s, can be charged with taking the policies of the current occupant of the Holy See and a bureaucratic centralism as its operative norm, even to the obscuring of traditional formulations of belief and worship. In both cases there is an imbalance that needs to be righted.
Fr John Parsons

Briefly, the spot at the centre ought to be occupied by the official organs and institutions of the Church, together with the Catholic faithful. But it isn’t. They and their Ultramontane and neo-conservative apologists have, since the 19th century at least, been moving ever further “south”. This movement advanced without significant rumblings for as long as the Magisterium continued to uphold the normative, traditional praxis of the Church. Eventually, however we reached a point at which it was accepted, more or less without question or opposition, that “even … the traditional formulations of belief and worship” as incarnated above all in the Sacred Liturgy, could be suppressed legitimately by legal proscription – and that provided a theoretical orthodoxy was maintained, no harm could come of it, since the action was underwritten by Peter. In other words, a solemn anathema of the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicea was overturned without anyone much turning a hair.

Thence, Catholicism is more or less exclusively a question of “following Peter”, everything else being merely secondary and contingent. A loyal Catholic will therefore “accept” whatever an inimical bishop throws at him, because that’s the only viable definition of what a loyal Catholic is – anything else is “Protestantism” or “schism”. Thus, the Roman instinct for order and discipline is reduced to legalistic parody: Bishop X is “in communion” and in good standing despite the fact that he disbelieves openly in defined dogmas of the Church and promotes liturgical anarchy. Group Y, however, are “schismatic” because they wish to pray, worship and be catechised according to the immemorial traditions of the Church. From the perspective of those acclimatised to this view of things (looking at the diagram again) any attempts to restore the balance and persuade Catholics to re-occupy the centre, are seen solely in terms of movement “north”, and therefore in the direction of Protestantism or Orthodoxy.

The prototype of the Papacy is of course the Fisherman, who was famously inconstant, reckless, impetuous, and sometimes just plain wrong - but whose faith ultimately "would not fail" because the Lord, who called him 'Rock' and granted him the keys in spite of his human frailty, had prayed that it wouldn't. Modern Catholics, right across the spectrum, have forgotten Peter; “conservative” or “liberal” their idea of the Pope is a cross between Moses and Superman - the universal athlete, genius, poet, prophet, philosopher, saint. It is a conception essentially mobilist and positivist. "Follow Peter!" they cry, "that's what Catholicism is - anything else is Protestant!". But in what sense does one follow a Rock? Self-evidently this is not Catholic.

"Centrists" then, cast out of the bosom of the Church, persecuted and derided by their shepherds or marginally tolerated in precarious ghettoes, holding their breaths with every conclave to discover whether their religious existence will be protected or proscribed according to Papal whim or curial machination, are driven inevitably to ask hard, searching questions about the relationship of the Church to her past. In this, I always believed, they had a powerful champion:
For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of the liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church's whole past. How can one trust her present if things are that way?
Ratzinger - God and the World p416.
It seemed to me that Pope Benedict XVI really did intend to inhabit the “centre”, notwithstanding the reservations of many "Traditionalist" brethren who (unlike me) repine for the Tiara and the sede gestatoria. Self evidently, only the Pope is capable of reconnecting an ultramontanist to Tradition, and thus curing him permanently of his instability. So far, however, vaguely encouraging discourses and numerous rumours notwithstanding - nothing. And now, we hear, a coterie of French senior clergy, whose every published word confirms their terminal addiction to the “hermeneutic of rupture” and irremediable mental incarceration on the PlanetSoixante-huite, are making determined attempts to re-man the barricades. Will they succeed? If they do, is there any longer a point to the Papacy? If Benedict cannot make a home in the Church for normative Catholicism – who can?

What has brought this terrible crisis upon us, brewed apparently in the confrontation with modernity? I'm certain Fr Parsons' historical account is correct as far as it goes; but I'm increasingly convinced that a more radical aetiology is to be sought in the parting of the ways with the East. Afterwards, the lack of a "conservative" counterweight to the Roman adventure allowed a mobilist mentality to develop among westerners, already heady with renewed cultural and political confidence. The collapse of the East – marooned, supine and overrun by Islam seemed almost a historical vindication; in reality the Western crash has been on its way from the day we first monkeyed with the Creed.

I believe that one of the currents converging on the Second Vatican Council was an uneasy sense that something in the Church had gone too far, was becoming unsustainable and unbalanced. It's possible to see behind the Council's principle of Collegiality, for example, some sort of attempt at rebalancing, subverted at one level by that leitmotif spirit of bogus "democratisation" and at another, by its very prosecution as a project of the “new” Magisterium, to be pursued and imposed in an ultramontane manner, by agencies incapable of extricating themselves from an ultramontane bureaucratic mindset. The "party line" changed - the mentality and reflexive attitudes remained exactly the same. Revolution? We can "make" our own Revolution. God is with us! It can't fail!

Throughout it all one continues to believe that the Holy Spirit has been, and is, quietly at work - perhaps never more so than in the working-out of that explosive and toxic conjunction of ultramontanism and liberalism in the fall-out of which we grope our way today. To the ultramontane, legalist mind you need only the components – Pope, Bishops, Council - connect up the plumbing in the requisite order, turn on the tap and out comes Pentecost; but God, famously, “writes straight with crooked lines”. The Council was not "Pentecost". In consideration of its fruits and the darkness and confusion following in its wake, the suggestion is proximately blasphemous. Nevertheless, is it not possible that the aggiornamentist project, in its pride and folly, unintentionally set the match to an all-consuming fire – not of Pentecost but of Purgatory - from which a chastened, humbled and truly restored Roman Church can at last emerge?

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Cardboard Fence


BOLD FENCES MADE OF TIN and a lopsided garden of frail skinny flowers and beyond that, the Puerto Ricans working in a factory beyond a cardboard fence. A frenzy of childhood, facile and free, milk cartons and bruised knees, t-shirts and jeans, dirt and its musty smell, broken trees and lame dogs in a neighborhood of rusty weeds and Irish gossips with red noses. Mrs. Connelly and her moppy dog, beady eyes and wagging tongue who stopped by Mrs. Sullivan's window on a warm Saturday morning, Mrs. Sullivan appearing, a face in a dark window to share her one confidence and many tales they would stay for hours as we children played around Connelly's old-shoed feet pulling her dog's tail and him yowling, Mrs. Connelly so engrossed in gossip as not to notice her dog's suffering as we laughed in our dirty sleeves and reached for her pennies. Mr. Sullivan, sallow, calling to his wife and whispering in his thinness for Mrs. Sullivan to waddle her fat into the kitchen to make his lunch. Green lettuce and carrots, trees and spring worms from the ground that teased our palms and made us laugh with tickles and squirms and reaching behind the cardboard fence with bottles of soda to squirt the Puerto Ricans at their lunch. Clubhouses of old paper cartons and dirt that oozed into our souls and Let's Pretend on the radio with fairy tales to pillow our nerves and keep us whole for the falling leaves.

I HAVE A LITTLE CATHOLIC corner in my cupboard and reach beyond it for a prayer now and then; a world apart for lovers, with solemn chants and bells, feasting and sorrow and little trinkets, worry beads that speak I am hungry. School shoes, red ties, blue shirts and jackets, rosary beads and dirty fingernails and darkness, scapulars that glow in the dark; the confessional, and guilt streaming with the sun through stained glass. Mea culpa, lies to cover sins - broken windows, pawings in the dark. Behind a pew on wooden boards, red knees and aching back bless me father (I can't), sliding shutter and deep voice of the frocked priest and fear this is God I want to cry but there are no tears. Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys on the marble floor before the altar and


Into Christmas snow and Mass with blue ears and burning fingers at nine o'clock in the hoary morning when all little atheists are fast asleep under heavy blankets, not caring and damned, but warm just the same. Quick, the holy water bless yourselves and genuflect as the water drips from ashen foreheads and into the eyelids wiped hastily to read the troublesome Latin as it slips through mouths and fingers in lazy responses. Clipped hair, missing teeth, children in a desert of lonely voices that howl absently through the pipes with old Mrs. Browning in her purple hair and glasses and rolled stockings tied above the knees and sagging into the shoes pounding a tired organ Now sing children loudly above groaning pipes in the old choir loft, Alleluia! with the Latin chant of three young priests spilling incense into the sleepy eyes and noses of the dressed-up congregation. The pointed finger of Sister Freddie, tiptoe quietly past the center and never pass without falling to your knees. Be quiet, gold-ringed finger raised to her lips, Sister Freddie marches us up the aisle, the shiny brass bell held silently until all hell breaks loose on St. Joseph's church steps and the bell flashes clanging to life for thundering silence everyone hides behind the other kid Sister Freddie's bumpy red face sodden with anger, Father O'Hara appearing at the top flashing the shillelagh money changers at the temple in all God's wrath to wield the stick against the child that yelled. Father O'Hara drove away in his Cadillac then and tousled heads and dirty faces standing sullenly in line and hasty notes passed around behind the watchful eye of Sister Freddie's angry bell.

CONFESSIONAL at the creaky pews, kneeling on raw earth: footstools feel primitive, but never mind think of what you did, what did you do? Disobey your mother, tell lies, impurity, can't tell that, that's awful, but it's the biggest sin, okay won't tell that, so that's a sin of omission, one, two, three, five sins, okay, I'm ready: is that O'Hara they're sending me to? Hope it's Murphy, sweet old man, tell him anything he just nods wisely and gives easy penance, wish I were outside, dark in here and scary, kids playing stickball on Bathgate Avenue, can hear their voices. Holy Virgin with the candles in front, will she move and show me with a real tear on the marble cheek I am foolish not to become a nun? O'Hara's voice booming loud from the dark confessional and the window slammed; O God I'm next and it's O'Hara: offered the kid next to me the dime I don't have to change places with me - shuddered and wouldn't go for it.
- Bless me, father...
He knows it's me, his head is bent, what is he thinking of? It's so dark I can barely see him, pretend it's not me - too late, all right, on with it, police station next door and God behind the little red curtain and the devil in the basement kid just hit a home run heard the sock of the stick on the ball
- ...for I have sinned.
- How long since your last confession?
- Oh, yeh, I forgot, sorry...uh, a week.
What could I have done in five days quick think.
- lied five times
- Yes.
He doesn't believe me okay
- 'Scuse me father, six times.
- Make it seven.
- Yes, father.
- Say the rosary for your penance and make your act of contrition, child, get on with it, and speak up, will you?
His voice is loud I know the kids can hear it, OH, I FEEL SO BAD
his fingers are drumming on the wooden window impatient to slam it. It is so dark in here like a mother's womb or hell must be, can't stand it only thing in the darkness O'Hara's Irish face with his shillelagh somewhere floating above him ready to strike.
- loss of heaven and the pains of hell...
- Wooden window slammed, I didn't finish.
Search in pocket for the plastic beads an hour at least on the marble steps before the altar - damn O'Hara. Another sin. Oh for some sunlight!

GUY NAMED SODA down the block walking twenty times past the house burping and swiping at the kids with one milky hand while fondling a pigeon under his dandruff coat with the other, mumbling tears and anger under a cloudy sky past the Jewish school on the corner where the boys fly out circled yarmulkes on their heads, one long curl straddling each cheek and fifteen books under each arm us teasing in a sing-song voice. Why? said McGee transferring his cane to the other foot we are all children of God me not answering and upset but loving McGee just the same little man tall as my eight years living with the rocking chair lady in the boarding house around the corner, eighty year McGee smart as a whip and old Bill Davis with one eye on mom and the other on us picking up dirty candy from the street him chiding as tobacco drips from a chewing mouth to stain his white shirt front hoping for an extra cigar from the cronies holding up Ryan's saloon wall all day long, his friend with the cancer ridden face, nose and mouth in white bandages fumbles in his pants for the nickel to give us as we mess up Schwartz's paper stand grabbing for Archie comics. Old man Schwartz grumbles behind his egg creams passing newspapers to the gray man, oatmeal face above a bowtie who lives above us in a gray furnished room and makes the trip slowly under massive stone weight just for the papers and nothing more, from room to candy store and gliding back again, a silent ship not smiling once but watching always.

THE EMPTY LOT around the corner an abandoned house and sad broken windows creaky floorboards to disappear under, haunted we thought and played happily up and down the echoing stairs and hide and seek among the rooms deserted by its hasty long gone owners, threadbare rug used as a tent and teepee, dog just lifted his leg on as we chased him out, Willy Gabriel calling him gently then booting him down the stairs Willy's mother screaming from the floppy house, curlers in her hair boyfriend's arm around her waist and beer in hand, William don't tease that dog Willy cringing and saying damn her, then running into the next room to pull his sister Patty's hair and scare her into thinking he's a ghost. Mrs. Gabriel not pretty not caring reaching for her hot iron as the dog yelps between her legs, stepped on peanut butter and jelly, all over Patty's face her mother wiping with the dishrag.

Bernie Rochester playing basketball long and skinny and all freckles, eating baby food because he liked it even though we laughed. Never had a girlfriend, never ate a steak. Johnny Reese stringy hair rotten teeth, ate sandwiches made of sugar had a brother always angry, me chasing Johnny up a skimpy tree to grab a kiss to see what it felt like not caring that he had no teeth and ate all those sugar sandwiches.

A HAPHAZARD WOODEN FENCE around a beer garden where on Sundays the Irish came, stringing balloons and drinking beers, harmonicas in the night and us peeking through the hole in the fence; bar all lit up and kids on tricycles playing at the boozy feet all rubbed in gravel and empty beer cans, midnight and the kids still playing red faced mothers growing cozy and over their fences into the strange man's confidence as one hand slips around her shoulder, a woman slapping the child tugging on her dress be good we'll go soon stop crying Tommy damn it smiling up at the man no longer stranger after warmth of beers and romance of the fly-infested tinsel lanterns making it prettier to the loneliest. Reaching for a paper flower to pin in her hair, the woman slips down on her face over the picnic table helped up by her new friend his face turned but jingling in his pocket other coins and glancing secretly at his watch, thinking of the job calculating time and the kid's waking hours, Mrs. Connelly screaming from her third floor window, YOU KIDS GO HOME and me in the dark silence watching her red nose glisten in the moonlight.

JULIA BROPHY 1943 - 1995
Requiescat in Pace