Monday, July 31
So, does anyone have a copy they want to sell? Email on the side bar...
The British English and Welsh Bishops Wuss Out
As they, too, in the words of a Bishop I once met, "Gather to celebrate the glorious Ascension of our Lord, 43 days after his Resurrection from the dead."
Sunday, July 30
End of Summer
Useful Fact #234
Gratias Tibi, Pater
Also, visit his blog for a wonderful re-counting of my favorite moment of B16's inaugural homily. "It's really true!"
On the other hand, one thing that has always baffled me about the Mideast is their tendency to express frustration by destroying their own infrastructure...
Saturday, July 29
Query for Our Brilliant Readers
Question: Does anyone have any information on the history and use of the term
Every Catholic should embrace the whole of the deposit of the Faith, the whole of our Sacred Tradition--that is, everything passed on to us by the Lord through the Apostles.
But Catholic moral theory is quite insistent: culpability requires knowledge and intent.
On these grounds, I get rather annoyed when Catholics bash other Catholics for not standing up for the entirety of the Faith. Most Catholics don't have the proper knowledge and intent to be morally culpable for not confessing the Faith in its entirety, because quite simply, their own Church in America has not given them the formation to do so.
Can we really be so scandalized when most people don't possess the fullness of what our Church never successfully gave them? The Faith is not self-evident, and that is exactly why it is REVELATION, not deduction. The Faith is not easy to believe, and that is exactly why we have martyrs and apostates. Confessing the Faith requires formation and grace. The Formation required involves knowledge of what the Faith actually is, apologetical defense that makes the Faith reasonable and defensible (because we cannot expect that people will assent to something unreasonable), a positive presentation that makes the Faith attractive (because we cannot expect people to accept what is unatrractive), and the Christocentric, Eucharistic prayer life that is the cornerstone of it all. Without these things, I question whether any Catholic can morally culpable of not confessing the entirety of the faith.
I think we need to lighten up and be thrilled that Colbert is a practicing Catholic. If one of our brothers or sisters in the Church hasn't been given the resources to know, much less confess, the entirety of the Faith, then it is up to each one of us who have recieved it to continue to deepen the formation of our brothers and sisters in Christ so that they CAN confess the entire Faith. "To those to whom much have been given, much is expected"--and much griping probably isn't what's being expected. Much productive action is.
Bringing American Catholics to the fullness of their faith doesn't happen by condemnation or by magic, it happens when we actively give them the resources to do so--like, for example, parish groups, solid homilies, Relevant Radio, etc. And until someone is actively engaged in one of these apostolates, I don't want to hear that person dissing a single other Catholic for the fact that no one ever presented them with what the Church teaches in a convincing way. That quickly becomes destructive.
ND: Good Enough for Jesus
(Scroll down to see, on the same blog, evidence that the Soup Nazi visited Holy Hill, WI.)
I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition!
"They are not few who, in the shadow of a nonexistent Council, in terms of both letter and spirit, have sown agitation and disquiet in the hearts of many of the faithful." (para. 2)
The Spanish Bishops have issued a document blaming poor catechesis and liberal theologians for the decline of the Church in Spain:
The sickness [of the Spanish Church] is “the secularization within the Church”: a widespread loss of faith caused in part by “theological propositions that have in common a deformed presentation of the mystery of Christ.”
I remember when I found out that the Spanish Carmelites no longer wear the habit. The Spanish Carmelites--in Spain. Talk about internal secularization...
The cure is precisely that of restoring life to the profession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), in the four areas where it is most seriously undermined today:
– the interpretation of Scripture,
– Jesus Christ as the only savior of all men,
– the Church as the Body of Christ,
– moral life.
The document was drafted by the Communio bishops in conjuction with Ratzinger when he was still cardinal.
It is availible here in the original Spanish.
Worst Decision Ever?
An often you really can't tell.
That is exactly how I feel about this decision. Is it better or worse than the decision to completely destroy ecumenical talks by ordaining women bishops? Is it better or worse than the decision to elect a primate most of the Anglican world refuses to recognize? I can't really tell:
"[Episcopal Church] General Convention approved switching to the Revised Common Lectionary, additions to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and new rites-of-passage liturgies."*
OK, I know I'm about two months late for things related to General Convention, but I just read about this know. "Rites of Passage liturgies," you ask, "What're those?"
The article continues: "Convention approved liturgies for rites of passage--including reaching puberty, earning a driver's license or permit, dating relationships, graduating from high school, going to college, joining the workforce, going on a pilgrimage and moving from the family home."
A liturgy for reaching puberty is the only conceivable thing in the entire world that would compel me to appeal to Iran for asylum on account of fleeing religious persecution.
Are there really *so many* teenage guys bursting the seems of the ECUSA that they need to drive them away with this horrible, horrible idea? Whatever happened to Confirmation as a rite of passage?
And who did ECUSA add to the calendar? CS Lewis, Oscar Romero, Tikhon the Patriarch of Russia, Thurgood Marshal, and a bunch of people you've never heard of. It's worth noting that the Catholic Church only canonizes those who submitted to its judgment in life, not presuming to judge those who didn't after death. I think this is a very wise move, because it keeps the list of those canonized restricted to "heroic examples of living our Faith" as opposed to "a list of people we really, really like." Perhaps some day Episcopal Youth will be able to gather for puberty commemorations on the Feast of St. Elvis, singing "Achy Breaky Heart."
*Episcopal Life, July/August 2006, p12
Yekaterinburg, July 17, 1918
Nicholas's identity as czar, however, is so bound up in the indefinable Russianness of Russian Orthodoxy, it is even harder to know where religion stopped and politics began. The Orthodox recognize this complexity themselves, and are split on the question. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia calls him a martyr, and the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia designates him and his family something slightly different, a "Passion-Bearer." This is a Russian theological concept--a very useful and inspiring one--which describes a person who was killed violently, for whatever reason, who accepted nonetheless his death with God's grace. The martyrs Boris and Gleb (killed for an equally obscure mix of political and religious reasons, as with many of the early English kings and St. Magnus Martyr) are often reckoned as such.
Nicholas and Louis had their human failings, their sins, gullibilities and faults, and certainly the actions they undertook as head of the Russian and French states were not all perfect (and indeed a good many of them were tragically mistaken), but they accepted death, that great equalizer, as it came. And the cures undertaken in each of their states by radicalism turned out to be a thousand times worse than the disease. The same idea of "passion-bearing" is easier for me to accept in the case of that other member of this murdered royal triuvirate, the Anglican Charles I, who appears to accepted his own death at Cromwell's hands with great grace and dignity. In his case, the question of politicizing religion and making politics religious is so hopelessly bound up in the unfortunate English notion of Erastianism and state control as to be utterly unanswerable.
To some degree trying to separate out these motives is a question that is not capable of being answered. Even so, they both died as symbols of a whole sociopolitical order in which faith played a substantial, dyed-in-the-wool role--and thus, they could not be tolerated. And that life of faith, whether in a republic or a kingdom, a commonwealth or an empire, is something we can all respect and desire whatever the details of our particular politics.
Thursday, July 27
New Theology of the Body Translation
I had heard that this was coming out, but didn't realize it would be here so soon. The new critical translation, by Prof. Michael Waldstein, formerly of Notre Dame, goes back to a Polish edition for John Paul II's original system of headings and subheadings, as well as six catecheses that were found in the Polish edition, but not in previous English ones.
The problems of the previous translation are detailed in the press release:
Another translation problem, apparently, is that several different words in the original are all translated as "lust," when "concupiscence" or other similar words would be more appropriate. It will be interesting to see if this new translation, through such corrections, helps to establish a closer link between John Paul II and the broader theological tradition.
Soon after each catechesis was delivered, it was sent to the English editorial office of L'Osservatore Romano to be translated by whoever was on duty at the time.
Because they were dealing with individual catechesis, the result was inadvertent omissions, intentional edits, and many inconsistencies. For example, the key concept "spousal meaning of the body" is translated in eight different ways! Subsequent translators could not go back to change earlier text, because it had already been published.
Therefore, existing English translations of the catecheses were simply a compilation of these (slightly errant) Osservatore transcripts. Theologically true and pedagogically helpful, nevertheless they lacked the coherence originally conceived by John Paul II.
He's at it again...
Much was made on the blogs of Stephen Colbert reciting the Nicene Creed on his show a while back. Well, I was watching the show this afternoon, and during an interview with William Donahue he quoted Matthew 16:18! That quote falls in Part 1 of the interview, but tune in to Part 2 to hear Stephen ask, "Now, did you not like the Da Vinci Code because you're pro-Opus-Dei, or anti-crap-writing?"
Now, Stephen's made no secret of the fact that he's a practicing Catholic, but it's still an odd experience to be tuned into Comedy Central and hear scripture quoted (or hear it quoted non-derisively, at least).
Also, if you haven't yet seen Stephen's take on liturgical dance, have a look at this video from his old show.
(UPDATE: Some people have trouble acessing videos off of Comedy Central's site, so here's the link to the interview on YouTube.)
DePaul U Sells Historic Convent; Developer to Bulldoze
Anyway, think about it and all that Catholic Chicago is about to lose, and trot over to the St. Barbara Blog. And remember, you have a say in these matters to. Judicious rabble-rousing can go a long way: please be sure to give Mr. Powers a show of support in his comments-boxes!
Tuesday, July 25
The Baroque Qwik-E-Mart Artistically Considered
Strolling through the internet, I was catching up on back issues of the wonderful detroitblog, and came across this posting (March 3, 2006) concerning a crumbling but still intriguing art deco liquor store on the west side of Detroit.You still think I’m trying to be funny.
The pictures, and the author’s adept prose made my mind wander and wonder what a baroque convenience store (or laundromat, or check-cashing outlet) would look like.
Either that or you’re imagining something like David Macauley’s doodle of a Borrominian port-o-let in Great Moments in Architecture. At first glance, a rococo Laundromat might seem an opportunity to engage in ironic froth, like a Louis-Quinze retrofit of some nineteenth-century temple of commerce. I’d probably have a grand old time with it, for sure—it’s the kind of wacky thing I love to daydream about. But the question’s a good one, and in the end, a real one. The truth is, baroque’s more than just a matter of laying on the ornament with a trowel. If baroque’s a viable style, it should be able to do a convenience store as well as it does a church, a palace, a garden folly extravaganza.
People often forget that baroque includes a lot more than just curlicues, an idea largely derived from a misapprehension of the flamboyances of its Mexican and Spanish incarnations with their vast diagrammatic acres of ornament, but even there, you have, on the lower end of things, the mission church with its simple, rough lines and its rude, humble saints. The Baroque—as with the Gothic before it—is about ornament, of course, but it also is about a deeper logic, a sense of ordered hierarchy and decorum, that sometimes manifested itself in urban geometric playfulness, or gilding run riot in a church, or even a simple, ennobling little detail on an otherwise unremarkable Roman tenement.
Baroque was the default style of Europe for almost two centuries, and while it might be a stretch to call every peasant hovel an example of the style, there were certainly a lot of simpler, humbler dwellings that partake of its logic. The genetic code of classicism—the five orders of Roman days—include the rustic Tuscan and the simple Doric as well as the fecundity of Corinthian and Composite, and even Tuscan could get pared down into a simple row of pilaster strips.
There were simple palace stables and garden sheds even at Versailles, while most of Rome’s ubiquitous stuccoed apartment blocks are exemplars of a pared-down architecture of simple, practical shapes dignified and enlivened by elegant, charming little details here and there in stucco—a pleasant window frame here, a doorway surround there, all appropriately simple in keeping with the purpose of the place, and its hierarchical place in the greater scheme of things.
Occasionally, a full-throated residential baroque is allowed to burst through the Roman cityscape, apart from grandiose palazzi and churches; even then, it is keyed into the logic of the city plan, and the celestial hierarchy it reflects. The best example is the wonderfully theatrical, yet pleasantly simple, set of Roman rococo townhouses that define the hemicircular piazza before the church of Sant’ Ignazio, part of the old Jesuit College.
Piazza Sant' Ignazio, Rome
The architecture is delicately planar and curvilinear—a vivid massing of columns would steal the thunder from the great travertine slab of Sant’ Ignazio’s façade—festive, and yet distinctly deferential; participating and shaping the little world of the square, and yet unmistakably “private” in its orientation. It is theatrical, not in a false sense, but because it helps set the stage—and reminds us of the profound reverence the Baroque had for theater as a mirror for the universe and its many movements.
But getting back to the question at hand: a baroque gas station. It would be fun to imagine a little tempietto of commerce in the festive, jolly nineteenth-century mode, fitted up with cast iron, self-service pumps, and a little allegorical figure of Mercury presiding over the exchange of Twinkies and Coke; but that sort of opulence would be suited more to Harrod’s than BP, in terms of urban precedence, hierarchy and just matters of plain cold cash. The baroque solution is a bit simpler, and probably just as practical as anything being done today. You’d probably have a low, stuccoed, simple building with a tile roof—at least in southern climes—and a row of simple rectangular windows, their austerity relieved by dignified, if somewhat plain frames. The decoration would be simple and subtle, not unlike the deco liquor store that got this whole thought process running.
A Gas Station in the Manner of the Roman Vernacular Baroque
A little detail here and there—a little cupola to vent the fumes from the garage, a chimney pot, a turn of the molding—would bring a warming touch of life to the structure. Instead of a Shell Station with its garage and its plastic marquees, you’d probably see a simple, rustic collection of buildings like a stable-yard, with a practical but dignified wooden canopy covering the gas-pumps. Perhaps not the Grand Trianon, but a humane balance of dignity and practicality which could enliven a small but very important part of everyday life.
The Newest Basilica in the United States!!!
Apparently, Archbishop Dolan started the process to name the shrine a basilica a year ago... And didn't tell the friars until a week or so ago!
I wonder when this shrine will be named a basilica...
Feliz Dia de Santiago
Customs from Fisheaters... and the botafumeiro!!!!
Sunday, July 23
Slightly Old News
Working for Peace
The Church is working for peace in Lebanon:
Lebanon turned Wednesday to the Vatican for help in pressing for a cease-fire in the Middle East, dispatching the son of assassinated premier Rafik Hariri to meet with the Holy See's secretary of state.
I don't know exactly what the Vatican can do... The Israelis and the Muslim fundamentalists not being fazed by excommunication... But, one hopes that the Vatican can do something.
American Papist has more on the Patriarch of the Maronites's efforts, including meeting with Secretary Rice. (Thanks to him for the picture, btw)
Mark Shea suggested that the Church's best contribution would be the fasting and prayers of the faithful. Perhaps a good way for us to spend Monday?
I found this amazingly ironic.
First they ruled Italy. Then they couldn't enter Italy. Now one can't leave Italy.
Saturday, July 22
Because the Curt Jester is Awesome
"Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division."
Either way, I wish the author the best in her struggle, and recommend this post as reading if you ever feel discouraged about your local parish (which, Lord knows, happens).
Friday, July 21
And I might also buy one :)
More on the Ghastly Cardinal O'Connell of Boston
This is not a proper bishop's palace. In appearance, if not in reality, it looks like a luxurious, comfortable grand house for one man, not the central headquarters for one of Christ's representatives on earth. (In reality, there are offices and meeting rooms as well as residential quarters, but it doesn't really convey that on the outside.) The famous bishop's residence in Astorga has a Gothic majesty to it which makes it more than just a house for a single, anonymous bishop, and even the hideously inappropriate but quite splendid prince-bishop's Residenz in Würzburg points to something bigger than itself. These were both places where, if the bishop had so desired (I have no idea if he did), he could live in outward splendor but, like Charles Borromeo, could sleep on the floor at night just as easily. Not so in Boston, a place which suggests not the Apostolic Palace but the Vanderbilts. There is a difference between luxury and grandeur, and if we could rediscover that difference today, the world would be a far richer and more interesting place.
Incidentally, does anyone know if O'Connell is the model for the much more morally upright, though gruff and even paranoid, Archbishop Glennon in the novel The Cardinal? The time period's right, as is the lingering presence of the saintly Merry del Valle in the background. I should be quite sad if that's the case as I always rather liked the character.
RIP, email@example.com, and Other Matters
But I'm still a little sad to see my email go. It's an identity, you know, the last formal tie to Our Lady's university besides the sheepskin. I have a nominal alumni account but I'd already gotten the gmail one by the time I set it up, and it seemed simpler to keep it that way. There's a lot of memories stuffed back in the account--old invites to parties, jokes from friends, happy little notes from Drew, Dan, Emily, the Sober Sophomore and everyone else, a million scraps of prose I wrote down and wanted to remember but forgot to transfer to Microsoft Word, as well as Lucy's whole record, in serially-emailed quotes, of the arkies' year studying abroad in Rome, which brought back great smiles from the past to my mind. I even had a file entitled "Cool People" with the few treasured emails I'd gotten from the likes of Mark Shea, Amy Welborn and Sandra Miesel, as well as the birthday greeting I'd sent John Paul II at his "official" email address at vatican.va. I wonder how many billions of emails he got on that one day alone.
When I checked it a few minutes ago, it was still functioning, and naturally at about 110% capacity, something quite normal for me. The fourteen-day grace period before the kind folks at OIT lock you down always came in handy. And I'm a little bit sad as I was expecting this dramatic lockout at twelve last night. No such luck. firstname.lastname@example.org will slip into the cosmic jetstream of the web unnoticed, at some uncertain and obscure time when the techies get around to it, and in some respects, that's the the best, and most wonderfully poignant, death I could have asked for it.
Thursday, July 20
Among the worst bishops, archbishops, or cardinals ever appointed to America must be ranked William O’Connell, archbishop of Boston from 1907 to 1944. He was a good administrator, bringing his archdiocese to new heights of wealth, influence, clerical discipline and lay involvement. However, as a person and as a Christian, he was a disaster.
O’Connell seldom said daily Mass; when he did, he said it at such a pace that the attendees were often shocked. With church funds, he paid for a valet, a coachman, a grand palazzo in Brighton, a private golf course, a summer estate in Marblehead, and a winter home in the Bahamas. He appointed his nephew—a priest – the Chancellor upon the nephew’s ordination. This nephew embezzled 3/4 of a million dollars and took a wife on the side. When the Pope confronted O’Connell about this situation, the cardinal lied. The archdiocesan newspaper editor was another priest, Fr. Toomey, who lived with the cardinal and also took a wife; when the wife threatened to go public, they bought her off with church funds. Fr. Toomey claimed he blackmailed the Cardinal with knowledge of the Cardinal’s own homosexual relationship to a well-known lawyer, though the only proof of this charge is that the Cardinal’s personal lawyer intervened to have the court destroy all correspondence between the Cardinal and the lawyer upon that lawyer’s death.*
O’Connel was appointed by St. Pius X. He was appointed because he was good friends with the similarly-saintly Cardinal Merry de Val, author of the amazing “Litany of Humility” which I earnestly recommend to you. The two men are by all accounts saints, yet O’Connell was appointed to Boston, and never removed from Boston, despite a great number of complaints to the Vatican from the clergy of whatsoever diocese he was leading at the time.
The precise reason why a saintly ecclesastics can have horrible appointees, I cannot say. Perhaps saintly men trust too much, dismissing rumors as lies. Perhaps they’re busy, and haven’t time for details. But, I reiterate, don’t judge an ecclesiastic by his appointees.
* cf. Charles R. Morris, American Catholic (New York: Random House, 1997) pp. 120-122, a wonderful book for the first 280 pages.
The Jesus Papers and Other Superstitions
(Incidentally, these papers never actually show up in the book, Baigent gets some sort of vibe he saw them, somewhere, or something, but never got a chance to read them. I'm a bit hazy on the details, as it seems to me as evidence very thin indeed.)
First, I think the biggest problem with the genre of the "Jesus Conspiracy" book or novel is that it overestimates the desire of just about anyone involved to cover things up. St. Paul or the apostles or disciples frankly probably could have cared less about hijacking pagan myths to flesh out Christ's teachings. They were all Jews of one sort or another, and they'd been given enough to chew on from Christ's own mouth. Anyway, most of the allegedly stolen ideas don't crop up in pagan sources until well into the second or third centuries--Mithraic baptisms, for one--or are so universal in character than just about every religion has them. Every religion, or nearly every one, has tales of divine theophanies, voices speaking out of the whirlwind, unusual headgear, liturgies, and miracles.
Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, let's see what Baigent is claiming. From this article:
...because his clues point to a radical conclusion: that Jesus did not die on the cross.I imagine Baigent has put a new twist on it, but I think people have been trying to claim Christ didn't die on the Cross since day 1. The Gnostics had a particularly kooky and rather disturbing story about Christ magically switching places with Simon of Cyrene and then standing around afterwards, invisible, pointing and laughing as they got the wrong guy.
Baigent: I don’t think Jesus died at the crucifixion. I think he survived. [...]
What do we really know about what happened on that fateful day 2,000 years ago? The exact details of the crucifixion have always been steeped in mystery. What we do have are pieces of evidence from four different and sometimes contradictory gospels written at least 30 years after Jesus died.
Baigent, it seems to me, is appealing to tenets of a more modern mythology by substituting governmental cover-ups and anaesthetic for Gnostic mojo:
He says Pontius Pilate, who ordered Jesus’s death, actually made a secret deal to save his life.Let's just sit down and think about this for five seconds. First of all, Pilate was a crummy ruler. He was stuck out in the sticks (or Styx) for ten years when most procurators did only two. That he'd be stupid enough to start cutting baroque deals with a minor Galilaean prophet is beyond even his normal range of idiocy. What was in it for Pilate? Oh, I guess there's the "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," but I doubt even Pilate needed a Jewish rabbi to back up his tax-collecting policies. Not to mention the crowd calling for Christ's crucifixion he was trying to appease had just declared "We have no king but Caesar."
Baigent: It was rigged. It was a fraud. I think the crucifixion was set up precisely to remove a particular political problem which both Pilate and Jesus found themselves within.
Pilate, Baigent argues, he needed to appease the crowd which was calling for Jesus’s death. But because Jesus had urged his followers to pay their taxes to Rome, Baigent argues Pilate also had an incentive to let Jesus live.
Baigent: It’s my hypothesis that he rigged the crucifixion such that Jesus would survive but very quickly removed Jesus from the scene.
According to Baigent, Jesus and his supporters were also in on this plot. Baigent acknowledges there no proof of his theory, but it was possible to survive crucifixion. There is at least one example in early historical records. The Jewish historian, Josephus, writes about finding three of his friends nailed to the cross.
Baigent: He pleaded with Roman authorities and got them brought down. Two of them died. One survived. If the crucifixion was arranged to allow a survival, it could be done.
Secondly, we're talking about crucifixion. This is not a nose job, my friends. Punching holes in people's hands and feet and lifting you up on a pole to be drowned in your own fluids. You can't rig a crucifixion, or if you did something so mind-numbingly risky I'd imagine 99 times out of 100 the guy would die anyway. Was the Ecce Homo faked too? Do we have to imagine the stripes He received were just movie makeup? What sort of psycho would think 'rigging' a crucifixion would be a good idea? Or one that would even have the remote possibility of success? Josephus may have found, by coincidence, a few of his pals still up on the cross, but anyone accepting a wacked-out deal like this would be writing his own death warrant. Even today, despite all our special effects and technochocolate, I somehow doubt that we'd be able to pull off a stunt of this magnitude. If Pilate had wanted to compromise, or set Our Lord free, all he needed to do is say the word. He already tried a few compromises in his own wimpy way, such as resorting to the cruel (and unusual, even in those times) punishment of having a crucifixion victim flogged in the hopes it would placate the crowd, and then there was the whole Barabbas business.
If Pilate was in straights this bad that he would talk turkey with an obscure Galilaen rabbi, and risk bringing the whole Sanhedrin down on his head, he would have been shipped off to a posting even more singularly awful than Palestine, like being the night Maytag repairman on Hadrian's Wall, or the equivalent thereof since Hadrian (and the spin cycle) come a bit later in history. People have this strange idea that the Church in those days was some sort of gigantic power base with plenty to lose if "the truth" leaked out, rather than a mysterious teacher and twelve rather klutzy apostles.
Ah--but we're forgetting the sponge soaked in gall:
Baigent: I think it’s more likely that they raised the sponge with some kind of anesthetic, which knocked Jesus out, which would reduce the trauma and make it easier for him to survive.Oh yeah, like natural medicine is going to ease the pain when you're getting railroad spikes driven through your feet and hands. A little common sense here. It amazes me that a modern man thinks someone might be more likely to go through drug-addled torture rather than martyrdom, but that's the spirit of the age, and I wasn't consulted in the matter. The more I read these wild and raging theories sprouted by our occult friends, it seems to prove the truth of the statement that those who stop believing in God start believing in everything else. Agnostics often say that Christians ought to read a bit more science--and there's no harm in that, properly understood--but it seems to me that Michael Baigent and his cohorts ought to read a bit more history. Or, better yet, just get some common sense.
James: What do you think those drugs might have been?
Baigent: Well, they used hashish, opium, belladonna. There was a mixture of drugs.
A Follow-Up to Andy's Pax Americana Post
Ganz schön bist du, meine Freundin, und keine Makel is in dir.is literally, "Entirely beautiful are you, my [female] friend, and no blemish is in you." This works out roughly to being that passage from the Song of Songs, "Thou art lovely, my love, and there is not spot within you," or "Tota pulchra est, amica mea, et macula non est in te," a lovely turn of phrase which is permanently burned in my memory as a street-shrine near the Pantheon I used to pass every day in Rome bore this inscription below an image of the Virgin. That, and it's what the drunken missionary at the beginning of the Michael Caine movie Zulu is mumbling when they lock him up in that shed.
I find it interesting that "amica mea" works out to "meine Freundin" in German and "my love" in some English translations, given the chaste implications of "friend" in English. But then the Song of Songs is shot through with such seemingly contradictory imagery--the sister-bride, for instance--which reminds us, as Christopher West once put it, highlights the ordered sacredness of sexual love, properly understood. It is also interesting to note, as my correspondent did, that Makel is a clear cognate of macula or spot, from which one gets Immaculata and presumably the Spanish mancha or stain. (I suppose Man of La Mancha would make a great name for a Madrid dry-cleaning service, now that I think about it.)
Dawn Eden Takes Ireland by Storm!
Incidentally, a New York born-and-bred friend of mine tells me that the latest trend is for nouveau-riche Dubliners to get apartments in Manhattan. Apparently there's an apartment building going up in Midtown which is likely to be more than half-Irish. I guess we're a long way from Ellis Island these days.
Tuesday, July 18
"My Dear Brothers and Sisters ..."
If you've ever wanted to sound like JPII, here's your chance. Fisheaters.com brings you the Pope John Paul II Random Speech Generator. Some examples:
"The illuminating abundance of renewed zeal will renew acceptance of the Church's dignity."Found via Totus Pius
"The astonishing illumination of ecumenical dialogue will create, in a certain sense, the People of God's new Springtime."
Monday, July 17
Scientists Out of Things to Do, Decide to Dis-inter Famous Castrato
We at the Shrine would also like to take this opportunity to remind our loyal readers that there's more to being a countertenor than trying to do an impression of what sounds like Mickey Mouse singing. This presumably does not apply to bargain countertenors.
Biretta tip: Zadok.
Sunday, July 16
My uncle died as a teenager in the 1950's. It was very hard on my grandparents, and the family doesn't often talk about it. However, in the course of events, I recently was given custody of my uncle's holy cards, and other assorted items.
There are about 60 holy cards in all. Some are of St. Henricus, his patron saint; a lot of them are holy cards from the funerals of my great-grandparents or of distant aunts and uncles. The older ones are in German. Three of them were printed in honor of a parish mission, which I thought was particularly cool.
The most beautiful card is a smaller-than-average German holy card of Our Lady, with the verse:
"Ganz schobist du, meine freundin und keine Makel ist in dir."
I have no idea what that means, but if any of you do, let me know.
On the back of one of the holy cards, one of my uncle's teachers had written:
A Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Thanks for your letter. So you didn't forget me. Yes, I also miss Holy Name School and you children. Glad that yhou like school. Your letter was well-written.
May the Infant Savior bless you and keep you close to Him. Greetings to your Mother.
Please pray for,
Sister Rosine, SDS
Incidently, one of the holy cards contained a second-class relic of the SDS (Sisters of the Divine Savior) co-foundress, Ven. Mother Mary of the Apostles Since the 1950's, Mother Mary of the Apostles was declared Blessed, and the SDS community has became rather what you probably expect.
There were three other interesting pamphlets:
Examination of Conscience for Boys and Girls (first printing, 1927)
Venial sins are shown like this.
Venial sins that may become mortal sins are shown like this.
MORTAL SINS ARE SHOWN LIKE THIS.
- DID I DENY THAT I WAS CATHOLIC?
- Did I neglect pray for a long time through laziness?
- DID I WILLINGLY ATTEND NON-CATHOLIC SERVICES OR SUNDAY SCHOOl?
- Did I curse?
- Did I anger others to make them curse?
- Did I use God's name in an improper manner?
- DID I MISS MASS ON SUNDAYS OR HOLY DAYS THROUGH MY OWN FAULT?
- Did I come late to Mass through my own fault?
- Did I misbehave in church?
- DID I WORK FOR A LONG TIME ON SUNDAYS WITHOUT NECESSITY?
- Did I disobey my parents?
- Did I disobey my teachers?
- Did I make fun of old people?
- Was I mean towards my parents?
- Was I mean towards my teachers?
- Was I angry? Stubborn?
- Was I unkind or mean to others?
- Did I look down on others in pride?
- Did I wish evil to others?
- Did I hate others?
- Did I try to "get even" with others?
- Did I fight or quarrel?
- Did I make others fight?
- Did I lead others to sin by my bad example?
Sixth and Ninth Commandments
- DID I WILLINGLY TAKE PLEASURE IN USING IMPURE WORDS?
- DID I WILLINGLY TELL IMPURSE STORIES AND TAKE PLEASURE IN THEM?
- DID I LIKE TO LISTEN TO IMPURE TALK?
- DID I TAKE PLEASURE IN SINGING IMPURE SONGS?
- DID I WANT IMPURE THOUGHTS, AND DID I TAKE PLEASURE IN THEM?
- DID I TEACH OTHERS TO COMMIT IMPURE SINS?
- DID I TAKE PLEASURE IN TOUCHING MYSELF OR OTHERS IN AN IMPURE MANNER, OR LET OTHERS DO SO TO ME?
- DID I COMMIT AN IMPURE ACT?
- DID I REALLY WANT TO LOOK AT IMPURE THINGS OR PICTURES?
- Did I go to places that lead me to sin: saloons, poolrooms, bad movies?
- Did I read bad books or magazines?
- Did I go with bad companions?
Seventh and Tenth Commandments
- Was I jealous or envious?
- Did I wish to get, in a wrongful way, what belonged to another?
- Did I cheat?
- Did I steal anything?
- Did I help others steal?
- Did I tell another to steal?
- Did I take or keep stolen goods?
- Did I spoil another's property?
- Did I fail to return valuable articles when found?
- Did I say mean things about others in their absence?
- Did I tell lies?
- Did these lies injure others?
- Did I talk about the sins of others without necessity?
- DID I WILLINGLY LISTEN TO ANOTHER'S CONFESSION OR TELL OTHERS WHAT I OVERHEARD?
- DID I EAT MEAT ON FRIDAY OR OTHER FORBIDDEN DAYS?
- WHAT IN MORTAL SIN, DID I GO TO CONFESSION AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR?
- DID I FEAL TO RECIEVE HOLY COMMUNION DURING THE EASTER TIME?
- DID I MAKE A BAD CONFESSION (hide a MORTAL SIN from the priest)?
- DID I RECIEVE HOLY COMMUNION WITHOUT FASTING? IN MORTAL SIN?
Other Mortal Sins Older People Sometimes Commit
- NOT GETTING MARRIED BEFORE A PRIEST
- GETTING A DIVORCE
- MARRYING A DIVORCED PERSON
- KILLING OR TRYING TO KILL ONESELF
- KILLING ANOTHER, except in self-defence
- NOT PAYING LABORER FOR WORK DONE
- ROBBING A CHURCH
- TAKING A FALSE OATH.
- BELIEVING IN FORTUNE-TELLERS
- GETTING HELPLESSLY DRUNK
- NEGLECTING PARENTS IN OLD AGE
- JUDGING ANOTHER OF SERIOUS SIN WITHOUT GOOD REASON.
- JOINING SECRET SOCIETIES.
Coming up some time soon...
"Ad Altare Dei Requirements"
"My day... A Mass"
Pax Mexicana: A Query for our Brilliant Readers
I've found that hippy or new-agey stores are one of the most fruitful venues for the purchase of the ridiculously P.O.D.* Though not often a pious lot, hippies and New Agers (or at least their stores) are really into Latino Catholicism. At such stores, I've purchased an absolutely amazing carved Corpus from the Phillipines which looks very Medieval, I've purchased silver and ceramic holy water fonts ("Wild planter, man..."), and, most recently, a curious tin box.
Some Googling has revealed to me that my Catholic tin box is, in fact, a nicho, which Mexicans really do use to display religious images. The nicho I bought has a typical holy card of a baptism in it.
The Question: My nicho also came with some rose petals inside, which I had initially hoped indicated that Mexicans keep blessed flower petals in nichos as a sacramental, which would be a pratical and useful thing to know. However, when I was buying my nicho, the store clerk asked another employee if she wanted the potpuerri that she had put in the nicho back, showing that my theory about blessed petals might be reduced, in reality, to a hippy decorating scheme.
So: Do actual Mexican Catholic keep blessed petals in nichos? I imagine I certainly could, but I want to know if it's actually done.
*For that one person who always asks: Pious, and Overly-Devotional; Google it.
Friday, July 14
"That's not true! That's impossible!"
The Epsicopal National Cathedral that is. Which, I've just discovered, features a grotesque of none other than Darth Vader high atop one of the west towers.
Jacobites aren't the same as Jacobins
Further Reflections on the Revolution in France
The Church recognizes any type of government that recognizes fundamental human rights; this may be a monarchical one or it may be a republican one; both are of considerable antiquity and can be viewed through a Catholic lens. For that matter, a monarchy, if recognizing ancient legitimate rights of the people (e.g., "the rights of Englishmen" or the Italian communes) and mediatized by the primus inter pares of the feudal spirit, can be very "democratic." It can also be almost dictatorial. It is the feudal monarchies of the Middle Ages where the Church flourished, rather than the newfangled divine right rule that cropped up in the wake of the Reformation. It would be a fascinating study to see if there is any more than a casual link between English Erastianism and the fad for bureacratic centralization that swept Europe in the decades following the 30 Years War.
Conversely, a republic can be very aristocratic, in ways both good and bad (Venice), or even despotic or totalitarian, when the tyranny of the majority takes it out on certain groups of people or are propped up by a morally bankrupt ideology. A republic can even have a king, in the instance of the heroicly quixotic tragedy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Neither monarchy nor democracy guarantee pure unalloyed good. A state Church may guard public morality--or yoked to a government She cannot support, may only serve to give scandal. It is difficult to say, given that in many places where state Churches flourished, as in Spain, Rome groaned at the unconscionable liberties kings and emperors took in their appointment of bishops. Today, we are faced with the bleak wreckage of two experiments--the democratic indifference of an America without a state religion, or the sybaritic ignorance of Europe, where Catholicism was once a revered and often very healthy part of the political fabric. Choose your poison.
This isn't to say that it has to be that way, in either case.
In the case of France, a simple overhaul of the system, without the gore and bloodshed of the Revolution, as well as the destruction of ancient and revered institutions, often for the sake of wanton violence, would have done wonders for La belle France.
To view the French and American revolutions as one single seamless garment is extremely misleading. To be sure, there were elements of proto-Jacobinism in the War of Independence, more than some realize today, but there were far more radical types in the regicidal sirocco of Cromwell's days--John Lilburne, the Fifth Monarchy Men and the Levellers to name a few. Still, the essential impetus that gave rise to the American Revolution was a conservative one, until the unfortunate Tom Paine tricked Lady Liberty out in Enlightenment garb. This is crucial to understand when considering the differences between the American Revolution, her French sister, and their far more gruesome niece, who gave birth to Russia's myriad troubles.
The Americans were arguing their case, at least at the beginning, not on the nebulous feel-good whimperings of Rousseau (equal parts hippie, yuppie and bobo), or the historio-economic piffle of Marx, but on the rock-hard rights of Englishmen, granted to them by their King in the days of colony charters, and impinged upon by the intermeddling of the Ministry and the Parliament. And mind you Parliament was at least nominally answerable to the voters even then--just not the voters in America, who had their own time-honored legislatures, confirmed by the monarch, that were being closed down by Parliament, one-by-one. There was more of the Mayflower Compact than John Locke to 1775, and more John Locke than Jean-Jacques Rousseau to 1776. (This is not to say Locke has no flaws of his own, but I can stomach him more easily than the philosophes). In some respects, the struggle was more Republican Florence versus the Emperor than the oppressed masses seething and throwing off their chains. It helped you had more sensible men like Hamilton and Adams to put the breaks on Jacobin Francophiles like Tom Jefferson and his evil genius the libelous Benjamin Franklin Bache.
France, however, lacked the quirky, awkward and often medieval twists and turns of inherited English rights. Much of this feudal heritage had gotten sheared away or reduced to insignificance by the centralizing mania of the Sun-King. The result was a machine which combined the worst of medieval devolution and modern bureacratic autocracy. In some respects, the Revolution started out moderately enough, with some bubbling here and there in the middle class. They wanted legal vindication of their newfound wealth and economic power, rather than the often flimsy hereditary rights clung to by an aristocracy that were not necessarily as rich or as powerful as the popular view would have one believe. The term "penniless aristocrat" was not so much an oxymoron as it might seem to us now. (Furthermore, if the middle class was so unimpeachably democratic why did so many of them enjoy running around sporting bogus blue-blood titles of their own?)
One of my less illustrious ancestors was a parson's illegitimate son--surely the lowest of the low--who married the daughter of a minor and possibly disgraced nobleman, who I think might have gotten beheaded for his crimes. My memory is vague on this point, and I am probably conflating two or three people, but the point remains. Upward mobility could also run the other way too.
I won't tire you with the rest of the story, but the best account of the period is Simon Schama's Citizens, which paints the horrible and very abrupt radicalization of the Revolution in luridly accurate colors. The radical impulse in America's independence was always muted by Yankee good sense, as well as a pragmatic balancing of philosophy and more quotidian concerns. The Founders knew what was bad for business, and I don't mean that as an insult. In France (as in Russia), Faith was washed overboard in the deluge, Rousseau and the would-be goddess Reason (or Marx and the Proletariat, if one thinks about it) became the supreme authority, the despot, the monarch even, and every other possible crown had to be knocked from the heads of any rivals, whether they be king, priest, or even the simple laurels of the rights that these old authorities had bestowed on the ordinary folk they ruled once upon a time. Let us cry, perhaps by way of exorcism, both the American "Liberty and Union!" and the French "Vive le Roi!" on this day of ill-omen, and pray for wisdom to prevail.
From the London Times, January 25, 1793
Every bosom burns with indignation in this kingdom, against the ferocious savages of Paris, insomuch that the very name of Frenchman is become odious. A Republic founded on the blood of an innocent victim must have but a short duration. [...]Note also this horror, in association with the massacre of nearly five thousands of prisoners on September 2-3, 1793, including the martyrdom of many priests:
Shutting the Theatre in the Haymarket yesterday evening, on account of the barbarous murder of the late KING of FRANCE by a set of Conventional Butchers, does the highest honour to Mr. KEMBLE. It was a mark of respect to the memory of the unhappy LOUIS, with which the whole British nation must be pleased. It must likewise be considered as a proof of the great deference Mr. Kemble pays to the opinion the KING had plainly expressed, by not going to the Theatre the preceding evening.
LOUIS XVI of France, was murdered for the same crime, for which Agis, the Macedonian, was put to death by his ignorant rebel subjects; in fine, for wishing to revive the reign of Liberty and Justice, among a People, incapable of knowing the intrinsic value [...] of either.
The REPUBLICAN TYRANTS OF FRANCE have now carried their bloody purposes to the uttermost diabolical stretch of savage cruelty. They have murdered their King without even the shadow of justice, and of course they cannot expect friendship nor intercourse with any civilized part of the world. The vengeance of Europe will now rapidly fall on them; and, in process of time, make them the veriest wretches on the face of the earth. The name of Frenchman will be considered as the appellation of savage, and their presence shunned as a poison, deadly destructive to the peace and happiness of Mankind. It appears evident, that the majority of the National Convention, and the Executive Government of that truly despotic country, are comprised of the most execrable villains upon the face of the earth.
KING OF THE FRENCH
By an express which arrived yesterday morning from Messrs. Fector and Co. at Dover, we learn the following particulars of the King's execution:
At six o'clock on Monday morning, the KING went to take a farewell of the QUEEN and ROYAL FAMILY. After staying with them some time, and taking a very affectionate farewell of them, the KING descended from the tower of the Temple, and entered the Mayor's carriage, with his confessor and two Members of the Municipality, and passed slowly along the Boulevards which led from the Temple to the place of execution. All women were prohibited from appearing in the streets, and all persons from being seen at their windows. A strong guard cleared the procession.
The greatest tranquillity prevailed in every street through which the procession passed. About half past nine, the King arrived at the place of execution, which was in the Place de Louis XV. between the pedestal which formerly supported the statue of his grandfather, and the promenade of the Elysian Fields. LOUIS mounted the scaffold with composure, and that modest intrepidity peculiar to oppressed innocence, the trumpets sounding and drums beating during the whole time. He made a sign of wishing to harangue the multitude, when the drums ceased, and Louis spoke these few words. I die innocent; I pardon my enemies; I only sanctioned upon compulsion [i.e., under duress] the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. He was proceeding, but the beating of the drums drowned his voice. His executioners then laid hold of him, and an instant after, his head was separated from his body; this was about a quarter past ten o'clock.
After the execution, the people threw their hats up in the air, and cried out Vive la Nation! Some of them endeavoured to seize the body, but it was removed by a strong guard to the Temple, and the lifeless remains of the King were exempted from those outrages which his Majesty had experienced during his life.
The King was attended on the scaffold by an Irish Priest as his Confessor, not choosing to be accompanied by one who had taken the National oath. He was dressed in a brown great coat, white waistcoat and black breeches, and his hair was powdered.
When M. de Malsherbes announced to LOUIS, the fatal sentence of Death, "Ah!" exclaimed the Monarch, "I shall then at length be delivered from this cruel suspense."
The decree was imported that LOUIS should be beheaded in the Place de Carousel, but reasons of public safety induced the Executive Council to prefer the Place to la Revolution, formerly the Place de Louis XV.
Since the decree of death was issued, a general consternation has prevailed throughout Paris;—the Sans Culottes are the only persons that rejoice.—The honest citizens, immured within their habitations, could not suppress their heart-felt grief, and mourned in private with their families the murder of their much-loved Sovereign.
The last requests of the unfortunate LOUIS breathes the soul of magnanimity, and a mind enlightened with the finest ideas of human virtue. He appears not to be that man which his enemies reported. His heart was sound—his head was clear—and he would have reigned with glory, had he but possessed those faults which his assassins laid to his charge. His mind possessed the suggestions of wisdom; and even in his last moments, when the spirit of life was winged for another world, his lips gave utterance to them, and he spoke with firmness and with resignation.
Thus has ended the life of LOUIS XVI.
In different prisons, churches, and convents, the mob amused themselves with their victims, and formed a mock Tribunal. Some idea of these infamous proceedings may be collected from the following barbarities exercised on the old Cardinal DE LA ROCHEFAUCAULD. His hands and feet were tied together; and the mob ordered him to acknowledge that during his whole life he had never believed in God, but had been a hypocrite. He made no answer. The mob then said, if you believe in God, we give him, the Virgin Mary or her bastard John, five minutes to release you; and so saying they cut him to pieces.Liberty, equality, fraternity indeed. More examples of British newspaper coverage of the period's unspeakable atrocities can be found here. Definitely worth a read.
Thursday, July 13
Here We Go Again.......
All is ready for the agreement between the Holy See and the Fraternity Saint Pius X, founded by the "rebel" Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican has forwarded several weeks ago precise propositions to reach peace [a peaceful solution] and the reentrance into full communion with Rome of the Lefebvrists.
The negotiations, begun in 2000, have, as is well known, accelerated after the election of Benedict XVI, who, last August received the superior of the Traditionalists, Bishop Bernard Fellay, at Castelgandolfo.
However, from Menzingen, where the head of the Lefebvrists resides, no affirmative signal has so far arrived. Exactly two days ago, the same bishop Fellay was reconfirmed at the helm of the Fraternity, by the General Chapter, for the next twelve years. He had guided it since 1994.
As his "first and second assistants" Father Niklaus Pfluger and Father Marco Nely were elected. The first belongs to the harder line, while the second belongs to the more moderate wing.
It is possible that, in the past period, with the knowledge that his term was nearing its end, Fellay would have hesitated. Now, however, precise signals are expected in the Vatican. The terms of agreement include the acceptance of the theological agreement already agreed in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre and the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the lift of the excommunications decreed by the Holy See after the illegitimate ordination of four bishops by the same Lefebvre, and a canonical structure, similar to that of the military ordinariat, which allows the Fraternity Saint Pius X to preserve its seminaries and to incardinate [its own] priests.
Simultaneous to the agreement, the Holy See will announce a kind of liberalization of the pre-Conciliar Missal of Saint Pius V -- a measure very much expected also by Traditionalists in communion with Rome.
Thanks to Le Salon Beige for the link.
Wednesday, July 12
Joseph Ratzinger and the Holy Grail
French Soldier: Well, I'll ask him, but I don't think he will be very keen. Uh, he's already got one, you see.
King Arthur: What?
Sir Galahad: He said they've already got one!
King Arthur: Are you sure he's got one?
French Soldier: Oh yes, it's very nice!
Okay, you knew with the Santo Caliz of Valencia in the news, that there had to be Pythonism in the offing from the Shrine's resident Templar and Grailologist. (It's like a symbologist, but without Tom Hanks, and with actual footnotes.) For those of you entering this telecast in progress, Benedict XVI recently used the ancient Santo Caliz at his mass at Valencia Cathedral, one of several claimants to the title of the Holy Grail that are scattered around Europe. There's one in Genoa said to be carved from a single emerald, though it's more likely just some old Roman glass, as well as the Welsh Nanteos Cup, a wooden bowl of uncertain location which apparently attracted a sort of fly-by-night cultus about a century ago, though the tradition itself only goes back to Victorian times. One more extraordinary bit of folklore claims the Grail is hidden at Accokeek, Maryland, brought there by a secret priest aboard the ships of the Jamestown expedition. There are still others. This one in particular is my favorite of the various grails, and was venerated by John Paul II during his visit in 1982.
Of course, whether or not the Santo Caliz is real or not hardly disproves the existence of the true Grail Christ used at the Last Supper. Given the weird quasi-Gnostic undergrowth of romance that grew up around the tales of its quest, its loss or gain is hardly a huge blow to the Church. Still, there's something about the Santo Caliz that suggests this is more than just business as usual. The paper trail only goes back to the Middle Ages, to 1135, when King Ramiro, who placed the original agate cup in its precious setting. This indicates that the relic was already revered greatly by then; there seems to have been a standard iconographic type depicting the Virgin Mary bearing a flaming chalice unique to the region long before that. The cup itself dates back to Syria in the first century BC, and could have been floating around Palestine as an heirloom (or even like a bit of sixties kitsch) around the time of Our Lord.
(The Turin Shroud, whose own properties have proven to be far more bizarre, and which has in some ways an equally good or even better shot at being authentic, or at the very least rather antique, only has paperwork dating back to the fifteenth century, so a pedigree is hardly necessary.)
A recent official at the Vatican Museums pooh-poohed the chalice's claims in a manner that was almost absurdly dismissive, suggesting Christ would have used glass like everyone else of His class and station. There's two incorrect assumptions--one that Christ would have necessarily used glass, which wasn't as humble a material then as it is now (coughMahonycough), and was considered precious enough to be used for chalices until the middle of the 200s, when the fear of breakage, it's said, led it to be replaced by silver. Secondly, Christ's poverty hardly calls into question that He might have used a fine semi-precious stone cup to celebrate this most central and sacred ritual meal with His disciples. The Middle Ages strained hard to make Christ seem a gentleman at times, complete with His own coat of arms (as well as the rather amusing chivalric recasting which saw Lazarus as the feudal lord of Bethany), but today we often strive to make His surroundings, if not He Himself, poorer than they were. It's the Indiana Jones syndrome--while I loved The Last Crusade, everyone now assumes the Grail was a little wooden cup--with, let me remind you, a nice liturgical golden plating on the interior.
The disciples owned very little and lived simply, but Christ had friends in high places such as Joseph and Nicodemus. Being devout Jews in a culture which understood the beauty of holiness and the propriety of using only the best for God, the Twelve would have had the resources to shell out for some nice tableware for the Passover Meal, a ceremony as complex, according to some, as a Tridentine High Mass. Bear in mind, the disciples rented out the Upper Room, and dishes would have presumably been included. Stone vessels, incidentally, were preferred for the Passover at the time, being considered ritually pure.
The question is not what Jesus Himself might have used, but what some well-intentioned donor might have tried to foist off on Him. One legend actually has Nicodemus as the anonymously-encountered owner of the cenacle. The appropriately kosher agate cup, or some other sort of nice stoneware, might not have been out of the budget for this once-a-year opportunity--presuming Mr. Iscariot, with his fearsome sense of accountancy, could have been convinced to shell out the silver for it.
(Guys, um...why am I the only one on the other side of the table?)
In light of all this, some scholars are inclined to think that the chalice is a more likely claimant than it might seem at first glance. St. Lawrence, who a well-substantiated tradition calls a Spaniard, is said to have taken the cup for safekeeping amid the horrors of the Valentinian persecution, and it is possible he might have sent it to his family's homestead near Huesca, where the chalice is known to have been kept from the 1100s onward, but presumably had been there for a good long time earlier, given the sort of stir the arrival of such a new relic might have caused. At the insistence of the antipope Benedict XIII, King Martin the Humane had it ensconced at his private chapel in Zaragoza in 1399, and was transferred to Valencia in 1437. More fantastic theories attempt to link King Alfonso I of Aragon to the mythical Grail king Anfortas, but that's a shakier and much more mistily Celtic sort of sidelight to the whole problem.
Then there's the problem of multiple Grails. One could easily be real and the others fakes (such as the Nanteos cup, which I've always found a bit of a stretch), or all of them fakes, but one amateur Grailologist whose name escapes me made the startling suggestion they all might be authentic, or we even might be short a few grails of a full load. The Grail is not necessarily only the chalice used at the Last Supper, but also the vessel used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch the blood of Our Lord upon the Cross, a curious and Eucharistic image that one is initially inclined to dismiss as high-medieval embroidery.
However, I've read that there was the custom at the time among Jews that the spilled blood of a dead man had to be gathered up for burial, and that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, might have provided the precious stone and glass vessels to collect the bloodsoaked earth that Christ left behind on Golgotha. Perhaps I'm misinformed, but it explains the curious image of Joseph collecting the blood under the cross, and the strange and even outlandish traditions of multiple vials of Christ's blood and sweat being taken to Mantua and Lucca by, respectively, the centurion Longinus and the pharisee Nicodemus. For a culture that had preciously collected the manna of Moses, the tablets of the Law, the staff of Aaron and more, and for a beloved Rabbi whose followers tried hard to touch even the hem of His garment, this seems at the very least plausible.
It's not necessarily archaeology, just speculation and legend, and you needn't believe in the Holy Grail to believe in the blood of the God it carried. Every church has something better than the Grail itself, and that's the real presence. But I'm inclined to give our ancient cousins and uncles the benefit of the doubt when it comes to many legends. Stories get garbled and warped, but it's hard to totally make one up, even when one's just plain lying. The great Christian body of legends, the Church's bedtime stories, are the great unrecognized deposit of popular history, and the faithful show a certain noble democracy when they at least give them a little bit of respect now and again. In this instance, the Roman Canon has been speaking for almost a millenia and a half, rather uniquely among liturgies, of "this precious chalice." The expression has to come from somewhere.
Time and time again, as in the case of the grave of St. Peter, ancient legend, even a legend the Church needn't declare part of the deposit of Faith, has suddenly and quite unexpectedly been vindicated by science. We've said Peter was here for two millenia, and lo and behold, we discover his grave has been down there all this time. Surprise! There's a good possibility that the first tellers of such tales were there to witness the events that gave rise to the story, and they may not have had the fancy carbon tests or microscopes we have now, but they had their eyes, and their hearts, and their hard-headed common sense, something which perhaps is in short supply today, two thousand years after the fact.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, Newark
Tuesday, July 11
St. Hope of Rome, Virgin and Martyr. Matthew Alderman, Ink on vellum, June 2006.
Just a brief update answering the question of what Matt's been up to, besides playing at La vie boheme and enjoying the pleasures of urban living--I've been drawing! Here's a sample of my latest work, a small ink drawing intended as a slightly late birthday gift for friend and fellow Catholic nerd domer The Sober Sophomore, depicting the virgin martyr St. Hope. Doing art as a gift is always a pleasure as, for one thing, it forces me to finish something, and it also means you have to create something significant both to yourself and also capable of being shared. It takes you out of yourself in a small degree, something intensely important for a Christian artist. Most of my best drawings I've done as gifts for friends.
I've shown her in the robes of a Byzantine empress, referring to the popularity of the cultus of her mother St. Sophia's namesake, Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople. The polyglot macronic inscription Agia Spes is inspired by similar examples at San Clemente in Rome (Agios Paulus, for instance) and also highlights this east-west connection. Her symbol, the anchor, is shown in her right hand, alongside the pot of steaming pitch used in her gruesome and unnecessarily complex martyrdom. Other symbols of hope, such as the sparrow, a combined anchor-and-Chrismon insignia, and the inscription Spera in Deo from the Tridentine liturgy, are evident throughout the composition, as well. The style of the drawing is equal parts inspired by Byzantine iconography, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century German woodcut art, and art nouveau, as well as my continuing interest in incorporating figures into architectural framing elements such as the shrine-like niche in which the saint stands.
Watch this space for better photographs of this particular piece of work, as well as a number of ink drawings as they get finished, including a drawing of St. Gregory flanked by his parents intended as a gift for my mom and dad; as well as my first detailed half-length portrait--commissioned by my fellow New Yorker, journalist Dawn Eden--both of which promise to be exciting new challenges.
Sunday, July 9
The Church of England has voted to approve women bishops, though the actual implementation of this vote will take months or years.
Nonetheless, the CofE has officially given the finger to structural communion with Rome, which the Church had formerly promised to pursue, at the meeting of the Pope and ++Canterbury in the 1960's.
IMHO, this is a relatively positive development. The continuing theological difficulties of the Anglican Communion have created such divergent ecclesiastical cultures that union with Rome was no longer a feasible possibility. Now, however, Rome no longer needs to worry about hurting ecumenical sensibilities by creating "uniate" Anglicans at a corporate level: we didn't break the promise. So, Benedict's hand is much more free, now, than it formerly was to negotiate, if he so desires, with Anglicans seeking union at the corporate level.
The only question is, then, whether he so wills. Given the surprisingly close attention he paid to conservative Anglican groups as Cardinal, I anticipate that he does so will. But, of course, time will tell.
Frustrated by the intricacies of curial reform, Papa Benedict tries a new approach...
Other B16 ("You're the bomb!") wallpaper from a crazy Russian site
Some readers expressed an interest in Cram and Goodhue's Mexican baroque church of SS. Peter and Paul in Fall River, Massachusetts. Due to alert reader Liam at the New Liturgical Movement, I now have a picture of this no-longer extant church's exterior. I plan on posting a pic of the interior when I have a chance. The outside's a bit disappointing--I like the dome and the drum, and the star-shaped windows are intriguing if a bit jarring, but portions of the front just seem a bit unfinished. It strikes me that perhaps the two blocky front portions were intended to be towers, but just never got around to be finished. Still, I can see why Cram's client, Fr. McCahill, thought it would revolutionize Catholic architecture in America, and also why it didn't in the long run.
A Little Sentimentalism
Listening to Abba Pater while studying the unfortunate Grecian tongue, I suddenly remembered one of the things I've done in life that made me most happy. Long-time readers of the Shrine will recall when we pilgrimaged to Rome a few years ago. I went specifically to see the Holy Father, and specifically to shout "Viva il Papa!" as loud as I possibly could when I did.
Of course, that was one moment in a whole trip filled with some of the people and places that are closest to my heart, but it was the reason I ultimately bought the ticket.
I wonder how many times the Holy Father heard "Viva il Papa!" shouted from streets and audience halls and piazzas, and I wonder how many of those quick, fleeting cries represented the only direct tribute that thousands of pilgrims from around the world could come to offer a man who, by introducing them to a heroic commitment to following Christ, changed their lives forever. That makes for quite a chorus, indeed.*
*I know some of the more ornery get weary of my occasional outburts of gratitude to JPG, but hopefully you will understand my affection for the man who made me deeply Catholic. And if you don't, well.. don't read them :)
Saturday, July 8
Sign of Societal Decay #1,237
Come on people, what ever happened to table scraps?
More on this troubling story...
Friday, July 7
Cusack gave me his best bewildered Brit stare. He’s very good at this.
It was a summer evening in New York, and in the big plate-glass window, the street was still bright with sunlight. Andrew Cusack was still puzzled, the No Idea Bar on 20th was humming, and the air thick with darkness and conversation. I was crashing the New Criterion’s social hour with the connivance of lady journalist Dawn Eden, and she was doubling up with laughter right next to me. Dawn’s taken me under her wing of late since I got to Manhattan, my hip big city big sister—though only in a figurative sense as she only comes up to my chin. Good things come in small packages.
It was Dawn that had gotten the three of us together, leaning against the bar on the edge of the New Criterion crowd. I’d just met Roger Kimball, and made a fool of myself in appropriate Matt-meets-celebrity fashion. And yes, he counts as a celebrity, to me anyway; so would Florence King, Roman Genn or anyone remotely connected with National Review. I realized suddenly that I had no memory of any single article he’d ever written, and I’d read so many of them. I guess I never look at the bylines. I managed to stutter out something appropriately adulatory and look intelligent as Dawn introduced me, and the conversation shifted safely away from me at about the right moment.
I would call Dawn, conservative convert-Catholic, Chesterton-loving, pop music-geek, pro-life warrior reporter, a celebrity too. Though she’d doubtlessly dispute the claim with her typically bouncy humor. She’s well-known enough to have published a book—or about to publish one anyway—and done a guest spot on NR Online, which is enough in my book, not to mention earning the cognomen of the Petite Powerhouse, which suits her soft, bubbly, blonde energy to a T. She’s that rarest of creatures—someone who can out-talk even me. Even so, she crests and troughs, with long quiet stretches of listening when the topic takes a serious turn, articulating her thoughts with a certain silvery sobriety.
(Incidentally, if you’re still listening, the title of that book, on living the Christian life, is The Thrill of the Chaste--she’s only been a Catholic formally since Easter, and she’s already mastered the Peter Kreeft/Scott Hahn-style pun.)
Dawn and I were attempting to mess with young Mr. Cusack’s head, feeding him what purported to be all the slang—“Dude, you are totally smashing onions, man!”—he’d missed in the last four years he’d been out of the country studying at St. Andrews in Scotland. He wasn’t buying it, hence the stare. Still, we’d just topped off an immensely pleasant conversation about Gothic cathedrals, leaning on the bar, and Dawn was enjoying the strange—and strangely typical—contrast of it all.
She’d come straight from a dinner with songwriter Alan Merill (author of the astonishingly self-referentially recursive hit "I Love Rock and Roll," which alludes to a fictional hit called "I Love Rock and Roll," making it a song about listening to a song about a certain type of song), full of rock music gossip, and had landed herself in a neon-lit, dark bar (free drink today if your name’s Michael, which it isn’t) with two young fogies, one with an acquired Scots burr, discussing Ralph Adams Cram. Like many of my friends, and like myself, she straddled three or four different parallel pocket universes with her job, her vocation and her faith, humor, God, rock-and-roll, Max Kolbe, miraculous medals and more all swirling together in ways strangely apt and even providential.
Cusack didn’t join us for part two of the evening. Dawn wanted to meet some libertarian friends of hers—not necessarily for their politics which neither of us quite shared, but for their enthusiastically nerdy zest for life. I don’t mind small doses of libertarianism—it’s sort of as if The Onion were to go right-wing and start a political party, but I don’t really buy it either. Any group that has to debate in Byzantine detail on C-SPAN whether private citizens have a right to own nuclear weapons strikes me as cranky even by my stringent standards. But they have their moments. This evening would prove to be one of them.
The Jinx Society was meeting that evening in a long green room under a pleasantly boho bobo hangout in the East Village, on an agreeably shabby shabby-chic tenement block that had gotten cleaned up just enough to be authentic rather than grubby. The bar was dark and agreeably streamlined inside, with dark wood and strong subdued mod colors. There were little puddles of golden-amber light from stained-glass lamps and big lurid bits of modern art, the kind of stuff I wouldn’t want over my mantel but serve to make me feel edgily and suitably au courant when playing at la vie Bohème.
Dawn took me around a corner and to a plain, unassuming narrow door and down a flight of steep steps. I could hear the voices of debaters and a long row of polished shoes and feet that turned out to be the audience, seated on a long bench that ran the whole length of this odd, narrow basement painted in a vivid artificial green reminiscent of a theater backstage. I murmured something about feeling as if I was being led down into the Central Anarchist Council from The Man who was Thursday, a favorite book of Dawn’s.
Tonight’s event was a mock debate in flawless Robert’s Rules of Order style asking whether—I’m quite serious now—superheroes should be made to register with the government. With a pitch like that, it was impossible to resist. Young Cusack had turned down the offer to join us, demurring he didn’t have much to add to the subject of the graphic novel, but I wasn’t quite an initiate either. I own two comic books—one issue of The Far Side, which doesn’t quite count, and the other, the first volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which, despite some objectionable bits involving the Invisible Man, was a charmingly Vernean read, and was radically different from the eponymous and now-forgotten movie. But I get the jokes, I get the humor, I get the strange tangle of universes and multiverses and omniverses. I’m not sure from where. I blame late university nights alone with Wikipedia.
The debate was in full swing as we slipped in and found the two last slots on the bench. Pro and con were, respectively, Ken Silber—a libertarian journalist of some stripe who Dawn didn’t know at first—and the self-described West Indian Catholic black Republican Robert George, who manages to also do a bit of standup comedy in his (presumably rather sparse) spare time. He’s a big, friendly, well-groomed fellow with a shaved head and glasses, and who eventually won me over to his side by the end of the evening, at least momentarily. Had Mr. Silber had the savvy to bring out the Big Bertha of argumentation—to mention his position was endorsed by none other than Spiderman—I might have thought differently. Maybe. The Church already tried to do something similar when she exercised her prudential judgment and attempted to ban the crossbow—and it didn’t work. Hence the famous fifteenth-century hay wain bumper-sticker, “Ballistae don’t kill villeins, villeins kill villeins.” It struck me that the few folks who would register would be the kind not to cause a whole lot of trouble in the first place. Maybe the Blue Raja (you know, with the spoons) or Super President, or Invisible Boy or something.
(These are real—cough—superheroes, I’m not making those up.)
I won’t even try to describe the debate. We were all laughing too hard, Dawn the hardest, with me keeping close behind. It was a funhouse-mirror McGlaughin Group out of the parallel world of X-Men or possibly some even edgier graphic reality, studded with serious rhetoric oddly echoing bigger and more real issues and concerns illuminated by wild and hilarious images. Henry Kissinger brokering a non-agression pact with Dr. Doom of Latveria—and then Ken responding any argument with Kissinger in it was innately self-defeating with this audience.
“When superpowers are criminalized, only criminals will have superpowers,” opined George, as rebuttal formally followed rebuttal. Murky mirror-images of political rhetoric, crisply enunciated. Was Batman a freelance troublemaker or the central prop of Commissioner Gordon’s police force? And if you didn’t want Spiderman or the Silver Surfer getting accredited by the FBI, what’s so all-fired great about getting a Green Lantern ring from an interdimensional police force? Would Thor lose his tax-exempt deity status by becoming a member of the ATF? Would all this hue and cry abridging the rights of these men in tights—and I am not making this up, someone on the audience actually asked this—abridge the rights of transvestites? That one brought the house down. Only in New York.
(Ken: “I think we can quote the Supreme Court here: ‘I can’t define a superhero, but I know one when I see one.” That and the feather boa.)
I wasn’t sure who was winning, or who I agreed with. It’s a valid question—at least I think it is, but I’m the sort of person who has wasted copious brainpower on such equally pointlessly mythical sort of problems. Can you baptize a mermaid? Do centaurs have immortal souls? Such wacky questions shine flashlights into corners of the political or theological spectrum where we may not want to go otherwise. Superpowers, gun control, terrorism, Lex Luthor, kryptonite, Korean nukes, 9-11, supervillains, Dr. Doom, Osama and Saddam, those crossbows again—and private nukes, and the whole question of who we want knowing what about ourselves.
Ken lost me on the final round, when he played the class warfare card, against those would-be aristocratic, cape-wearing superheroes putting on airs (or even walking on them) in our democratic society. These were arguments clearly not intended for the ears of the only Jacobite in the room. Robert, on the other hand, threw in his pièce de résistance : First they came for The Hulk and I said nothing because I wasn’t big, green and filled with anger management issues; then they came for the mutants and I said nothing because I wasn’t a mutant; then they came for the superheroes and I said nothing because I wasn’t a superhero; then they came for me...
Well, you know the rest.
Okay, I thought, this guy has my vote. The motion carried, eighteen to six. There was much laughter in the long green room.
What to make of this all, these mock debates, this pomp, circumstance and circumstantial silliness? I can’t say for sure how it might tie into the current political spectrum—guns, swords, knives and crossbows are one thing, and the capability to destroy a whole city block by blowing your nose the wrong way is another, and terrorists don’t have handy labels on their spandex uniforms these days. But that evening as I stepped out into the purple-gold SoHo night, I remembered an exchange Dawn, Cusack and I had back in the murk of the No Idea Bar.
I’d just apologized to a soft-spoken Episcopalian lawyer currently dealing with his doubts about the direction his faith was taking, about my jocular pitch to swim the Tiber. I’m never good at these things, and usually when I play the preacher, bad things follow. “It’s no laughing matter what you’re all facing these days,” I said.
“Of course it is,” said young Cusack, adding his two pence to the conversation. I was about to make a concerned Danger Will Robinson noise lest we get too imprudently unecumenical when Cusack made an abrupt and brilliant hairpin turn. “If you can’t joke about serious things, what can you joke about? I think God’s the funniest thing in the world. It’s the devil who’s dull.”
I nodded. This guy was good. He continued. “I think the best way to die,” he said, pausing to take a sip of his drink, “would be to hear a joke told by God. It’d be so funny, you’d die of laughter.”
If Superman gains super strength, super speed, super agility just by going from the red sun of Krypton to the yellow sun of Earth, why not super humor? (Thus saith the script of Seinfeld).
Dawn’s face lit up. “It’s just like what Chesterton says at the end of Orthodoxy,” she said. “There was one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth,” she quoted, “and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”
Supreme strength is shown not in violence but in levity, and that too, is a super power, the best kind there is.