Sunday, December 24, 2006

orate caeli desuper !
Heavens distil your balmy shouris,
For now is risen the bricht day ster,
Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris;
The clear Son, whom no cloud devouris;
Surmounting Phoebus in the east,
Is comen of his heavenly touris;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis;
Tronis, potestatis, and martyris seir,
And all ye heavenly operationis,
Star, planet, firmament, and sphere,
Fire, erd, air, and water clear,
To him give loving, most and least,
That come in-to so meek manner;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Sinneris be glaid, and penance do,
And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to,
To you is comen full humyly,
Your saulis with his blude to buy,
And loose you of the Fiendis arrest,
And only of his awn mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him incline,
And bow unto that bairn bening,
And do your observance divine
To him that is of kingis King;
Ensence his altar, read, and sing
In haly kirk, with mind degest,
Him honouring attour all thing,
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial fowlis in the air,
Sing with your notis upon hicht;
In firthis and in forestis fair
Be mirthful now, at all your micht,
For passit is your dully nicht;
Aurora has the cloudis pierc'd,
The sun is risen with glaidsome licht,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the root,
Revert you upward naturally,
In honour of the blissit fruit
That raise up fro the rose Mary;
Lay out your leaves lustily,
Fro deid tak life now at the lest
In worship of that Prince worthy,
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing heaven imperial, most of hicht,
Regions of air mak harmony;
All fish in flood and fowl of flicht,
Be mirthful and mak melody:
Heaven, erd, sea, man, bird, and beast,
He that is crownit abune the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

William Dunbar OFM (1460-1530)

Wishing a very happy and holy Christmas to all visitors and friends of the Undercroft. Apologies for the light posting schedule of late; I expect things to pick up in the New Year.

In Christo Domino

Ben Donald

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Here's tae us!


"WHO, THAT HAS a feeling for warfare, would fight with a Scotchman? Such a one, I hope, does not breathe; the plain fact being that if a Scot beats you, he beats you; whereas if you begin to beat a Scot he will assuredly bawl, in the King's name, for the law. “Hech, sirs, rin for the polis. A'hm gettin' whupped!” Let us therefore continue our discourse amicably.

Your proper child of Caledonia believes in his rickety bones that he is the salt of the earth. Prompted by a glozing pride, not to say by a black and consuming avarice, he has proclaimed his saltiness from the house-tops in and out of season, unblushingly, assiduously, and with results which have no doubt been most satisfactory from his own point of view. There is nothing creditable to the race of men, from filial piety to a pretty taste in claret, which he has not sedulously advertised as a virtue peculiar to himself. This arrogation has served him passing well. It has brought him into unrivalled esteem. He is the one species of human animal that is taken by all the world to be fifty per cent cleverer and pluckier and honester than the facts warrant. He is the daw with a peacock's tail of his own painting. He is the ass who has been at pains to cultivate the convincing roar of a lion. He is the fine gentleman whose father toils with a muck-fork. And, to have done with parable, he is the bandy-legged lout from Tullietudlescleugh, who, after a childhood of intimacy with the cesspool and the crablouse, and twelve months at “the college” on moneys wrung from the diet of his family, drops his threadbare kilt and comes south in a slop suit to instruct the English in the arts of civilization and in the English language. And because he is Scotch and the Scotch superstition is heavy on our Southern lands, England will forthwith give him a chance, for an English chance is his birthright. Soon, forby, shall he be living in “chambers” and writing idiot books. Or he shall swell and hector and fume in the sub-editor's room of a halfpenny paper. Or a pompous and gravel-blind city house shall grapple him to its soul in the capacity of con-fidential clerk. Or he shall be cashier in a jam factory, or “boo and boo” behind a mercer's counter, or “wait on” in a coffee tavern, or, for that matter, soak away his chapped spirit in the four-ale bars off Fleet Street."

TWH Crosland – from The Unspeakable Scot (1902)

Monday, December 11, 2006

More Hermeneutico-whatsit

A SLIGHT and rather querulous post of mine last week provided the thin compost from which a truly illuminating crop of comments sprang up. I am deeply grateful to all who contributed – particularly to Daniel Mitsui for articulating so effectively his “Hermeneutic of Recovery” (to coin a phrase) to which I also subscribe, and which makes it possible for me to remain a Roman Catholic while conceding almost all of the points addressed with such devastating effectiveness by Orthodox brethren. I’m provoked to return to it today by the speculations of my friend Tony at The Muniment Room, on the reception the fabled motu proprio is likely to receive at the hands of the English (and not just the English) hierarchy – of which more subsequently.

This whole “Hermeneutic of XYZ” business originates, of course, with that famous address the Holy Father gave to the Roman Curia almost exactly a year ago (I say “famous” in the sense that every Catholic blogger of traditionalist and conservative stripe has been over it with a toothcomb in the intervening year; beyond this and its immediate audience, I suspect it might as well have been played on a dog-whistle). It has been adopted as a kind of “mission statement” by conservative Catholics, something that provides both a key to the upheavals of the recent past, and a modus operandi for the future.

But does it? Almost every post on this blog that deals directly with the crisis in the Church is an exercise in elaborating a single idea – that Catholic belief and Catholic practice have become dangerously bifurcated as a consequence of an unbalanced ecclesiology, the origins of which are to be sought far further back than the Second Vatican Council. The hermeneutic of Continuity sets out to draw things back together by insisting that they were never legitimately loosened, far less separated, in the first place: that the discontinuities actually experienced by real live Catholics – those who approved, those who disapproved and the majority who remain absolutely indifferent because they "follow the Pope" – are the consequence of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, misapplications. In other words, another theoretical apparatus is proposed, to cover practical discontinuities that remain self-evident nevertheless to very nearly every adult in every diocese of the Catholic world.

To return to the burden of Tony’s post, then: this “Hermeneutic of Continuity” - can you touch it? Can you smell it? Can you sing or pray it? Can you make an icon of it? Will it lodge in the imagination of a five-year-old? Will it enable her to grow up understanding why we have to drive past four Catholic churches to attend a Mass thirty miles away?

So long as the answer to any of these questions is “no”, I’m afraid it’s of absolutely no earthly use.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Yper tou agiou Oikou

THANKS TO JOHN for this beautiful image of the Great Church, accompanying his poignant commentary on an article by Rod Dreher:

"Benedict has a clearer eye about Islam than his predecessor... [and] he is not prepared to pretend that it is of no matter that in Europe Muslims are free to worship as they please and to build mosques at will, while in Turkey and the Muslim world, Christians are generally not permitted to build churches and face state-sanctioned discrimination. It is better, says Benedict, to speak frankly about the world as it is, rather than about the world Western elites wish we lived in."
Log on to the Aghia Sophia site, to demand restitution and an end to Turkey's century-long ethnic cleansing of Christian minorities, as a precondition of EU membership talks.

Friday, December 08, 2006

In paradisum deducat te Angeli


"Please pray for the soul of Fr. Michael Charles Crowdy who passed-away mid-afternoon to-day in the care of the Bevan Family in Dover.

Fr. Crowdy was born on the 21st. November 1914, a solicitor by profession; an Anglo-Catholic convert he was Oratory-trained for the priesthood in Italy.

In latter years, to all intents and purposes, he became an itinerant priest and as late as August of this year travelled on his motorcycle...some 60 miles or more to take The Mass to outlying locations. He returned the next day, fully caped, having ridden through inclement weather.

Attempts to restrain him were to no avail, both cancer and Parkinson's notwithstanding, he said his last public Mass in Taunton on All Saints Day. On one occasion he was persuaded not to travel to a Mass Centre, but it was later discovered he had taken Communion to a sick parishioner even further distant."

May his soul and souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

(Thanks to Sixupman for this notification)

Thursday, December 07, 2006


MGR RONALD KNOX, somewhere, illustrates a salient difference between Protestantism and Catholicism by means of an “umbrella test”: if a man leaves an umbrella behind in a Catholic or a Methodist chapel, in which of these can he be confident of finding it, just where he left it, on the following week? We know the answer – or at least we used to: if you leave an item of property behind in a Methodist chapel, it will remain untouched until you retrieve it, except insofar as some kind soul may have set it aside for safekeeping until your return. Anything left in a Catholic Church will be nicked - full stop.

Knox’s point is also mine, and that of Arturo Vasquez; far from wringing his hands over “what this says” about the degenerate condition - as compared with their respectable counterparts in the Protestant sects - of those nurtured with the rational milk of Holy Mother Church, Knox rejoices in this certain indication of the presence of sinners within her bosom as yet further proof of the authenticity of her claims.

In Great Britain we were used to this dichotomy. Here, the Established Churches (Anglican in England, Presbyterian in Scotland), except for their more remote rural parishes, have always in modern times been identified with the middle-classes at prayer. The “Non-conformist” Protestant sects (Baptists, Methodists, Wee Frees etc) were a button down on the cuff perhaps, but still solidly bourgeois for all that. Catholics were the rabble – inbred recusant backwoodsmen, dubious bohemians and wayward aristocrats, together with the lowest of the immigrant urban poor, ten-to-a-bed in the tenements of Glasgow and Liverpool. This was one of our chief glories and, as Knox suggests, an apologetic all on its own.

Not any longer: a pincer movement of what passes for “prosperity” and the surrounding post-Protestant culture, avidly assimilated as part of the aggiornamentist project and apotheosised in smug, inverted, bourgeois liturgy, has sliced deep into the Catholic soul. Leave your umbrella in a suburban Catholic Church today (an ugly-on-purpose cinder-block affair, self-consciously tricked out in that tell-tale conjunction of low kitsch and middle-brow minimalism) and somebody in nice knitwear, wearing a strange facial expression known in Protestant circles as a SWEG (Sickly Weak Evangelical Grin) will make a point of handing it back to you. It makes me sick to my stomach.

Are “Traditionalists” immune? Not a bit of it. The dominant influence in English-speaking Traditionalism, as in English-speaking-everything-else, is American. In an astonishingly prescient piece posted at the Lion and the Cardinal, HL Menken anatomises the baneful influence of American Protestantism (a stupider, louder, more saccharine-puritanical mutation of the Anglo-German original) on US Catholic clergy two generations before Roncalli’s Folly made assimilation of it obligatory. To this, modern US Traditionalists have added their own dreary distillation of Maynooth Jansenism, so that wherever two or three are gathered together in the name of the ancient faith, the conversation is less likely to tend to the recovery of liturgical spirituality than whether or not we ought to read Dante (who condemned several Popes) or Chaucer (who wrote about toilet matters and immoral liaisons); whether or not every picture since Fra Angelico (with the exception of low charismatic kitsch) is cunningly concealed filth, the work of some unspeakable heathen degenerate; whether or not an honest wife and mother doing a bit of gardening in her jeans runs the risk of falling into trans-sexual lesbian breadwinning...

Puritanism is not Catholic. It is not even human. Prudery is not purity. Respectability is not holiness, but if anything, an actual impediment to holiness. The Church of Christ is home to saints and sinners; the merely respectable are quite welcome to shift for themselves.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rover's Return

Pseudo-Iamblichus, the Thinking Man's Maverick, is back on the block following a sojourn among the Saxon; but if you think he's going to cease lobbing bricks through all the right windows, you're in for a shock.

This decision will not affect how I write nor my criticisms of Catholicism, of the Pope, or of Catholic history in general. So do not hold me accountable for being inconsistent with the ethos that dominates the Roman Catholic Church or the traditionalist movement within it. I am going back to being a plain old Roman Catholic (with heavy unorthodox Lefebvrist sympathies), and not joining the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club nor the Church of Pope Pius XII Re-Enactment Society.

Link bar amended, Arturo.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cantate Domino

PSALMODY GIVES tranquillity to souls, brings peace by mastering surging thoughts. It calms anger and represses concupiscence. Psalmody strengthens friendship, unites those who are estranged, reconciles those who are angry, for who would consider as an enemy one who united his voice with his in praise of God? Psalmody also gives the greatest of goods, charity: it unites all into one choir. It puts the devils to flight and ensures the help of angels. It is a protection against the fears of night-time, a rest in the labours of the day. It strengthens children, adorns the young, consoles the aged and beautifies women. It peoples solitude, it stills agitated assemblies. It is the voice of the Church. It gives splendour to festivals. It gives rise to the sadness which comes from God; from a heart of stone it can draw tears.

Psalmody is the occupation of the angels, it is the life of heaven, it is the spiritual sacrifice. It contains true theology: the prophesies of the Incarnation, the threats of judgement, the hope of the resurrection, the fear of punishment, the promise of glory, the revelation of mysteries – all these are gathered up in the Book of Psalms, a great treasure-house, open to all the world.

St Basil the Great - Homily on Psalm 1

Monday, December 04, 2006

Exsules filii Hevæ

OW THE ICE lays its smooth claws on the sill,
The sun looks from the hill
Helmed in his winter casket,
And sweeps his arctic sword across the sky.
The water at the mill
Sounds more hoarse and dull.
The miller's daughter walking by
With frozen fingers soldered to her basket
Seems to be knocking
Upon a hundred leagues of floor
With her light heels, and mocking
Percy and Douglas dead,
And Bruce on his burial bed,
Where he lies white as may
With wars and leprosy,
And all the kings before
This land was kingless,
And all the singers before
This land was songless,
This land that with its dead and living waits the Judgement Day.
But they, the powerless dead,
Listening can hear no more
Than a hard tapping on the floor
A little overhead
Of common heels that do not know
Whence they come or where they go
And are content
With their poor frozen life and shallow banishment.

Edwin Muir - Scotland's Winter

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Unam Sanctam

FRIEND draws my attention to the following article by an Orthodox priest:
...the Orthodox would be delighted for His Holiness of Rome, repudiating what we regard as the errors attendant on his recent understanding of his ministry, to take once again his rightful place as the ranking spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church (a position that the patriarch of Constantinople has held since the separation of Rome from Orthodoxy in the 11th century).

To Orthodox Christians, such a "solution" to the problem would seem very attractive. In fact, however, one fears that it would be no solution at all. Such a weakening of the papacy would be an utter disaster for the Roman Catholic Church as it is currently constituted. To many of us outside that institution, it appears that the single entity holding the Roman Catholic Church together right now is probably the strong and centralized office of the pope.

This sobering and, in my opinion, deadly accurate view really should send icy fingers up our collective Roman spine. At the end of a thousand years of the "Roman Adventure" the unity of the Catholic Church is reduced to a legal fiction, sleeping between the covers of the Catechism and a million parish registers; it is almost nowhere effectively operative at the level of faith and worship. Without the central-beaureaucratic Papacy it would crumble at the touch. This is not the "Oneness" of the Creed, nor of any ecclesiology worthy of the name. Historically too, it's absolutely true that once a dictatorship has been erected and citizenship defined solely in terms of obedience to it, any subsequent weakening at the centre will set in motion, ineluctably, the disintegration of the state.

Having choked off Sacred Tradition, the "living Magisterium" is itself now in retreat - leaving some, like Protestants, with scripture alone and most of the remainder prey to a kind of "magisterial fundamentalism" that reduces the content and practice of the faith to following the Pope (forgetting that a Rock ought not to be "going" anywhere).