Tuesday, January 27



Matthew Alderman. An Allegorical Image of the Virtue of Prudence. November 2008. 4" x 6". Private Collection, New York State.

This image of the traditional personification of Prudence--incorporating her symbols of mirror, serpent, and deer--was intended as a companion-piece (and something of a contrast within that harmony) to last year's drawing of the martyr St. Victoria. The personified Virtues are often shown with hexagonal halos to distinguish them from human saints or angels; in Prudence's case, she is often showed armored, with a serpent curling around her to represent cautious action in difficult situations. The arrow is also sometimes included. The mirror, I believe, represents the ability to accurately assess problems, while the deer's heavy antlers suggest slow but steady movement forward under a burden. There's also a number of a number of other symbols (such as showing her as a two-faced figure) I was unable to incorporate here for compositional reasons, but all the classic attributes are included.

As there is always the risk in making a companion-piece too similar to its mate, I tried hard to explore variant details within the same general composition--the dark background representing the dangers surrouding Prudence, her bound-up blonde hair, St. Victoria's flowing dark locks and plain background, armor and queenly robes, and so forth. Nonetheless, the basic style, size and figural composition keep the two related.

Matthew Alderman. S. Victoria of Córdoba, Virgin and Martyr. Ink on Vellum, December 2007. Private Collection, New York.

Monday, January 26


St. Casilda Redux

As a follow-up to our posts some time ago on the work of Zurbarán, here are two more really splendid images of St. Casilda, by the artist or his studio. (There are tons more virgins and female martyrs from this school, and I'll have to post some of my better finds in the next few days). The patterned cloth and drapery on the latter is quite wonderful, if the face is a bit mannequinish. The guy must have been cranking these things out by the score... On the other hand, in an age where every church in Spain and her colonies needed scores of original paintings, and some popular saints transcended regional boundaries, it's no surprise.

Perhaps instead we should wonder at all the touches of individuality and nuance that these variant depictions have when placed side by side. The first is almost a little girl, with a delicate, angular face, her figure all bold orange-red and olive-green in the strong shadows, determined to look properly pious with her little upturned nose; the second more exotic, more idealized, with a long, questioning face turned out towards us, an otherworldly Moorish princess out of a storybook clad in rich brocade and pale lavender silk.

Some particulars on this ubiquitous saint. Apparently she is not a martyr as I thought:

Saint Casilda of Toledo (Spanish: Santa Casilda de Toledo) (d. ca. 1050 AD) is venerated as a saint of the Catholic Church. Her feast day is April 9.

According to her legend, St. Casilda was a daughter of a Muslim king of Toledo (called Almacrin or Almamun) who showed special kindness to Christian prisoners. She would carry bread hidden in her clothes to feed these prisoners.

Once, she was stopped by Muslim soldiers and asked to reveal what she was carrying in her skirt. When she began to show them, the bread turned into a bouquet of roses.

She was raised a Muslim, but when she became ill as a young woman, she refused help from the local Arab doctors and traveled to northern Iberia to partake of the healing waters of the shrine of San Vicente, near Buezo, close to Briviesca. When she was cured, she was baptized at Burgos (where she was later much venerated) and lived a life of solitude and penance not far from the miraculous spring. It is said that she lived to be a hundred years old.

Saturday, January 24


January 27: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) is the first universal commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/7 on 1st November 2005 during the 42nd plenary session (See Wikipedia article).

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/7:

The General Assembly,

Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, religion or other status,

Recalling article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,

Recalling also article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,

Bearing in mind that the founding principle of the Charter of the United Nations, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war", is testimony to the indelible link between the United Nations and the unique tragedy of the Second World War,


Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice,

1. Resolves that the United Nations will designate 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust;

2. Urges Member States to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide, and in this context commends the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research;

3. Rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part;

4. Commends those States which have actively engaged in preserving those sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labour camps and prisons during the Holocaust;

5. Condemns without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur...

Related blogging to follow on January 27, because those who are ignorant of history, or deny it, would doom us to repeat it. I would also urge other bloggers, Catholics especially, to mark January 27, too. Such vigilance and remembrance is a non-negotiable aspect of human decency.

Top 10 Catholic Blogs

A website listing top-ten blogs has assembled a list of the top 10 Catholic blogs.

I just want to say what an objective, yet insightful and ultimately brilliant list this is!!!! Speaking completely objectively, of course.

Oh, Discernment!

New Years at the Dominican Monastery of Summit, New Jersey

(Image from their blog.)

The sisters of Summit, NJ, are featured this week in a photo essay for Time Magazine called "Radical Love."

Friday, January 23


The Vatican YouTube Channel

Pope Benedict XVI joined President Barack Obama and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on Friday by launching his own YouTube channel, the latest Vatican effort to reach out to the digital generation.

The Vatican said it was launching the channel to broaden Benedict's audience while also giving the Holy See better control over the papal image online.

In his inaugural foray, Benedict welcomed viewers to this "great family that knows no borders" and said he hoped they would "feel involved in this great dialogue of truth."

The site, http://www.youtube.com/vaticanit, was launched the same day the pontiff praised as a "gift to humanity" the benefits of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace in forging friendships and understanding.

Read More

The Vatican's YouTube Channel can be found here:

Unfortunately, the Vatican has requested that embedding be disabled for its videos.


You should read this

The B-Movie Catechism

Thursday, January 22


Potential Step in Reaching Communion with the SSPX

In 1964, Paul VI and Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras I met to mutually lift the excommunications placed upon each other. In the words of OrthodoxWiki, "This was a significant step towards restoring communion" with Rome.

The rumors now are that a similar thing is poised to happen with the SSPX: Benedict XVI is said to be close to lifting the excommunication against them.

One imagines that this could also be "a significant step towards restoring communion." Communion, of course, is always doctrinal and juridical, so there would be no full communion until they arrive at doctrinal and juridical consensus with Rome.

We've been working at it with the Orthodox for 40 years since that excommunication--which was only against the Patriarch himself--was lifted. Any bets on how long it might take with the SSPX?

Wednesday, January 21


Yet Another St. Lucy

My red-and-black image of St. Lucy has proven particularly popular with patrons. This one (for a priest's niece in Iowa) I am particularly satisfied with, as it works out some of the kinks that had found their way into my last two renditions of the subject. At some point in the future I may consider doing some other virgin-martyrs in a similar pose, to form a matched set, rather like the images I posted last week of St. Margaret, St. Casilda and St. Apollonia and other similar saints done in a very different style but in roughly the same processional posture and level of fanciful costume by Zurbarán in the 17th century. Also, another saint would be good as I am starting to run out of variant Lucy-related attributes for her to hold.

Monday, January 19


Cardinal Tettamanzi's Decalogue Against Temptation

1. Do not forget that the devil exists.
2. Do not forget that the devil is a tempter.
3. Do not forget that the devil is very intelligent and astute.
4. Be vigilant concerning your eyes and heart. Be strong in spirit and virtue.
5. Believe firmly in the victory of Christ over the tempter.
6. Remember that Christ makes you a participant in His victory.
7. Listen carefully to the word of God.
8. Be humble and love mortification.
9. Pray without flagging.
10. Love the Lord your God and offer worship to Him only.

In related news, if you haven't read it, it's worth it.

Hat tip: Samuel Howard

A Request for Prayers

I would ask all our readers (especially our priest readers) to remember me in their prayers at about ten-thirty tomorrow morning. I have a very important business-related matter to attend to then and could use all the spiritual aid I can get. (It is, incidentally, the feast of St. Sebastian.) Thank you in advance, and thanks for reading, since we would not be doing this were it not for all of you.

The Reverend Doctor

One of the amazing things about the United States of America is that the only American on the "civil calendar," the only individual American with a national day of celebration, is the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Christian minister. He was a Christian minister like few others -- confident in the truly transformative power of Christianity, and confident of the place of Christianity in the public square as the engine of social progress and social reform.

The resolutely religious character of Martin Luther King's message and vocabulary is one of the greatest legacies in the public patrimony of American Christianity, and I can't help but be convinced that a primary weapon against secularism, and one of the primary helps in dialog with secularists or non-Christians of good will, is the testimony and content of the work of this Chrisitan preacher.

An excerpt from Rev. Dr. MLK Jr's Paul's Letter to American Christians, November, 4, 1956


The important thing, however, is that I can imagine the Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians in 1956 A.D. And here is the letter as it stands before me.

I, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to you who are in America, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For many years I have longed to be able to come to see you. I have heard so much of you and of what you are doing. I have heard of the fascinating and astounding advances that you have made in the scientific realm. I have heard of your dashing subways and flashing airplanes. Through your scientific genius you have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. You have been able to carve highways through the stratosphere. So in your world you have made it possible to eat breakfast in New York City and dinner in Paris, France. I have also heard of your skyscraping buildings with their prodigious towers steeping heavenward. I have heard of your great medical advances, which have resulted in the curing of many dread plagues and diseases, and thereby prolonged your lives and made for greater security and physical well-being. All of that is marvelous. You can do so many things in your day that I could not do in the Greco-Roman world of my day. In your age you can travel distances in one day that took me three months to travel. That is wonderful. You have made tremendous strides in the area of scientific and technological development.

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about "improved means to an unimproved end." How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.

I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an unChristian world. That is what I had to do. That is what every Christian has to do. But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different. Their great concern is to be accepted socially...

I understand that you have an economic system in America known as Capitalism. Through this economic system you have been able to do wonders. You have become the richest nation in the world, and you have built up the greatest system of production that history has ever known. All of this is marvelous. But Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism. I still contend that money can be the root of all evil. It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity.

The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation. They tell me that one tenth of one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth. Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem. You cannot solve the problem by turning to communism, for communism is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept. You can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. You can use your powerful economic resources to wipe poverty from the face of the earth. God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe "enough and to spare" for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.


I understand that there are Christians among you who try to justify segregation on the basis of the Bible. They argue that the Negro is inferior by nature because of Noah's curse upon the children of Ham. Oh my friends, this is blasphemy. This is against everything that the Christian religion stands for. I must say to you as I have said to so many Christians before, that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus." Moreover, I must reiterate the words that I uttered on Mars Hill: "God that made the world and all things therein . . . hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth."

So Americans I must urge you to get rid of every aspect of segregation. The broad universalism standing at the center of the gospel makes both the theory and practice of segregation morally unjustifiable. Segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ. It substitutes an "I-it" relationship for the "I-thou" relationship. The segregator relegates the segregated to the status of a thing rather than elevate him to the status of a person. The underlying philosophy of Christianity is diametrically opposed to the underlying philosophy of segregation, and all the dialectics of the logicians cannot make them lie down together.


May I say just a word to those of you who are struggling against this evil. Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.


I must bring my writing to a close now. Timothy is waiting to deliver this letter, and I must take leave for another church. But just before leaving, I must say to you, as I said to the church at Corinth, that I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This was one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicurean and the Stoics sought to answer it; Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summon bonum of life? I think I have an answer America. I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, "God is love." He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.

So American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language. You may possess all of the eloquence of articulate speech. But even if you "speak with the tongues of man and angels, and have not love, you are become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

Sunday, January 18


Some Real Hope for You

Thursday, January 15


More Francisco de Zurbarán

On the suggestion of one of our commenters, I visited the website Ciudad de la pintura and had a look round their wonderful online collection of Zurbarán paintings. A selection, including a number of curious iconographic subjects I had not encountered often, and some old favorites:

Burial of St. Catherine, 1637

Bl. John Houghton

The Immaculate Conception as a Girl-Child, 1656

The Crowning of St. Joseph

The Mass of Fray Pedro de Cabañuelas

Tuesday, January 13


Zurbarán's Virgin-Martyrs

I have never been able to ascertain whether these served as a set, but every now and then I run across a new addition to what appears to be a series of paintings by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán of virgin-martyrs in delightfully lavish costume, holding up the appropriate hagiographical attribute. They have a certain mixture of solemnity and girlish sweetness that always cheers me.

St. Casilda, 1638-42, 1,84 x 0,90 m., Oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

St. Agatha, 1633, Oil on canvas, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France.

St. Margaret, 1631, 1,94 x 1,12 m., Oil on canvas, National Gallery, London. (St. Margaret was, at one time, a shepheredess.)

St. Apollonia, 1636, Oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre.

More of the painter's work can be found here.

Monday, January 12


A Harsh Answer, but it is a Valid Question

Overheard in a sandwich place off Broadway:

First Yuppie: (staring at menu over counter) Why does American cheese even exist?
Second Yuppie: Because we're idiots.

Saturday, January 10


Dawn Eden, Franciscan Friars, and Awesomeness

Shrine friend Dawn Eden says she thinks this is the best interview she's ever had. Of course, it helps, in terms of Catholic awesomeness, that the guy asking the questions is a bearded, grey-robed Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, and the recording studio is a frigid Romanesque church interior that appears to have been inherited from Cluny's glory days as a record label. Go have a look, over at her place.

Friday, January 9


Martin Travers Alert

A simple iconographic ornament by one of my favorite ecclesiastical illustrators, Martin Travers, the originator of the curious Anglo-Catholic Congress Baroque style back in the 1920s. I can't remember where I found this, or what the original context was, but it's a nice little design.

Thursday, January 8


Overheard on 86th Street

One teen/tween girl to another: "I'm seeing strawberry membranes!"

On retrospect, I must have heard wrong. Right? Please say yes.

Secretly, All Architects Feel This Way At One Time or Another

Then we remember a) it's nice to get a regular paycheck, b) which requires happy clients, and c) Howard Roark should be considered a cautionary tale, not something to aspire to. We usually console ourslves by going out and binging on bow-ties.


The Holy Fellowship of the Rings

Alpine Hat Tip to Catholicism-wow

Tuesday, January 6


The Curious Case of San Simon de Guatemala

Or, How I Met a French Revolutionary in the Mexican Aisle

At the grocery story today, I discovered a votive candle dedicated to "San Simon"--which would have made sense, if the votive had pictured a Mediterranean man in turn-of-the-first-century attire.

Instead, San Simon was a South American man in a stylish, roughly 1920's suit. Naturally, I assumed that the man was a martyr in the Mexican persecutions or something. Looking at the panel on the other side, however, I found a very unusual prayer:
Oh! Powerful St. Simon, I humbly come to you. Let your spirit help me in all actions and in any dangerous circumstance. If it is love, you will hold the person I like. If it is a business, you will not allow it to fail because evil cannot have more power than your spirit. If it is an enemy you will defeat him. Oh power St. Simon, I offer you your cigar, your tortilla, your drink and your candles if you help me with any dangerous circumstance I may encounter. For any debts I cannot currently pay, let the judge be defeated and on my side in invoking your name. I ask of you, in the name of the One you sold for thirty coins that were given to the needy, to let everything be forgotten; and in this manner, I want you to perform the miracles I request.
Exactly how the petition for judges collecting rightful debts to be defeated relates to the virtue of justice was unclear, much less how holding the person one likes squares with free will. How a Christian can offer a cigar, tortilla, or drink without reference to the Paschal Mystery of the Cross, without offering Christ to the Father, I don’t know. Then again, praising the inherent power of the “spirit” of a “saint” without any reference to Christ, rather than asking for a saint’s intercession, is un-Christian -- and so, apparently, was San Simon of Guatemala.

I have never heard of "Goodtime Bob" Klingenberg, but his site did have a helpful account of the apparent origins of "San Simon de Guatemala," which he published in the June 1996 edition of Guatemala Weekly, where he lived at the time:
While San Simon of Guatemala is perceived to be a representation of everything from a Mayan god, or warrior, to Judas Iscariot, surprisingly little is said, or known, about his origin.
Coming upon The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner, Klingenberg concluded that San Simon of Guatemala was actually the French count Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon. The nobleman Saint-Simon renounced the concept of nobility in light of the injustice of 18th century French society. (Count Saint-Simon is an individual case of Matthew & Dan’s discussion on how Christendom shot itself in the foot through social injustice, religious wars, and the absence of catechesis in rural areas.) He was jailed by his father for refusing to go to communion; he fought in the American Revolutionary War, took part in the famously-failed French attempt to build a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific, and survived to fight in the French Revolution, where he made a fortune selling property confiscated from the Church. He married on a three-year contract and spent all his money in the company of the French intelligentsia. Brought to desperation by his debts, he shot himself--but lived another two years after the fact.

After his death in the 1820's, Saint-Simon's friends began a cult in his honor.

How and why did Count Saint-Simon become San Simon de Guatemala?

Klingenberg knows of only three churches in Guatemala dedicated to San Simon de Guatemala. "All are in the Guatemalan highlands, not that far from one another." At all sites, San Simon is also referred to as the Mayan god Maximon, so we see some religious syncreticism at work.

Klingenberg suggests that, somehow, the artifacts of the religious cult founded by Saint-Simon's friends reached Guatemala, perhaps by subversive French missionary priests who practiced the rationalistic cult or by German influence, since the cult of Count Saint-Simon existed in Germany and there was German immigration to Guatemala. He writes,

The Guatemalan Saint-Simonian worship might be seen as a form of cargo cult. But, rather than worshipping the consumer objects of industrial man, as did some people in the Pacific earlier in this century, the early day Saint-Simonians worshipped a man who symbolized that wealth, or access to that wealth.


Mayan and Hispanic Guatemalans who first adored San Simoninan earlier era, (say 100 years ago), may have been reacting to the great changes of outside influences, and the newly industrialized nations and era, knocking at their door since Spanish independence. Just as, coincidentally, the European members of the Saint-Simonian church were reacting to the coming of industrialism to Europe.
Which explains the exclusively materialistic, rather than Christian, emphasis of the prayer quoted above.

I imagine that offering Simon his cigar, tortilla, drink, and candles relate more to syncretism with the Mayan Maximon.

The first lesson to draw from this is that a strong devotion to San Simon de Guatemala is not exactly advisable.

The second lesson is that this was one of my more interesting trips to the grocery store!
Oh, and for those of you who've just dropped in, I wanted to keep S. Peter Martyr above the fold, so to speak, but I also just added an item on Epiphany blessings and rituals farther down the page.

Also, while not the winning entry, my submission to the Usus Antiquior magazine design contest was specially commended by the judges, which is rather exciting. (It's a bit looser than my usual product, but it was intended more as an esquisse than a finished rendering.) There's more over at the New Liturgical Movement, particularly on the magazine itself, which is due out in January 2010 and looks to be great fun.

S. Peter of Verona, Martyr of Lombardy

Matthew Alderman. S. Peter Martyr. 4" x 6", ink on vellum. September 2008. Private Collection, Virginia. (Click image for larger version).

A work commissioned by a client (and friend) in Virginia as a Christmas present for her younger brother, whose confirmation saint is S. Peter Martyr.

Her response: "A perfect balance of blood, awash with profundity and Dominicanism!" (She's a writer. They're allowed to say stuff like that.)

She reports on her brother's reaction: "He has been showing it off to anyone who will listen as 'the best gift of the entire year'!"

Which comes, not so much as a puff-up of pride, but a great relief! The artist always risks getting boxed up in his subjectivity if he is not careful. Admittedly, so long as it is directed by a properly-formed conscience and a deep artistic sense of decorum and precedent, this subjectivity is one of the artist's great assets. However, he always runs the risk of ruining that particularly valuable facet of himself by falling into egotism. Such comments, and such abilities to bring a little modicum of happiness, always come as a great relief as a result! Especially if the work, true to traditional iconographic form, involves a gory meatcleaver.

The story of S. Peter Martyr runs thus:

Born at Verona, 1206; died near Milan, 6 April, 1252. His parents were adherents of the Manichæan heresy [ie, Cathars or Albigenses, those sexually-repressed, suicidal dualist weirdoes so beloved of sub-Dan Brown fictioneers], which still survived in northern Italy in the thirteenth century. Sent to a Catholic school, and later to the University of Bologna, he there met St. Dominic, and entered the Order of the Friars Preachers. Such were his virtues, severity of life and doctrine, talent for preaching, and zeal for the Faith, that Gregory IX made him general inquisitor, and his superiors destined him to combat the Manichæan errors. In that capacity he evangelized nearly the whole of Italy, preaching in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Genoa, and Como. Crowds came to meet him and followed him wherever he went; and conversions were numerous. He never failed to denounce the vices and errors of Catholics who confessed the Faith by words, but in deeds denied it. The Manichæans did all they could to compel the inquisitor to cease from preaching against their errors and propaganda. Persecutions, calumnies, threats, nothing was left untried.

When returning from Como to Milan, he met a certain Carino who with some other Manichæans had plotted to murder him. The assassin struck him with an axe on the head with such violence, that the holy man fell half dead. Rising to his knees he recited the first article of the Symbol of the Apostles, and offering his blood as a sacrifice to God he dipped his fingers in it and wrote on the ground the words: "Credo in Deum". The murderer then pierced his heart. The body was carried to Milan and laid in the church of St. Eustorgio, where a magnificent mausoleum, the work of Balduccio Pisano, was erected to his memory. He wrought many miracles when living, but they were even more numerous after his martyrdom, so that Innocent IV canonized him on 25 March, 1253.
His murderer later became a Dominican laybrother himself, and is venerated as Blessed Carino of Balsamo. (It was a popular cult and it is unclear to me if it ever got approved by Rome, as the paperwork got lost at some point. Really.) His accomplice, Manfredo, lighted off for the Alps and took refuge with the Waldenses, an obscure proto-Protestant sect founded by one Waldo (really), who are now best known for renting out their space in their small number of Roman churches to touristy opera concerts.

Peter's dying witness to the faith handed down to us by the Apostles later inspired a party snack of mine, incidentally. (Look, we're Catholic. Some of us think stigmata cookies are a good idea. We smile because the saints are joyous in heaven, and perhaps the ketchup reminds us we're called to nobler sacrifices.)

Back to the drawing. A finished work is never perfect, and the artist always feels his greatest project is the one next up on his drawing board. There are always problems, things you'd wish you'd been able to fix, rework, or study more carefully, as well. On the other hand, dissatisfaction or even failure can also be remarakbly salutary as well, as while liturgical art can exhort and challenge the faithful to remember the suffering of the martyrs--and thus have a certain positive hagiographic shock value--you have to at least get your foot in the door first with beauty, tradition and a sense of psychological complexity when the subject demands it. Or perhaps, depending on the audience, the splatter comes first, and then the serenity.

Epiphany Blessings

From the 1964 Roman Ritual. The last version published before the interim reforms (I believe in 1952) is substantially similar, save for a few translational tics. The original Latin versions for the 1962 form can be all found here. There is also a lengthy blessing for a special species of holy water on the eve of the Epiphany I may post at another time.


P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.Let us pray.

Accept, holy Father, from me, your unworthy servant, these gifts which I humbly offer to the honor of your holy name and in recognition of your peerless majesty, as you once accepted the sacrifice of the just Abel and the same kind of gifts from the three Magi.

God's creatures, gold, incense, and myrrh, I cast out the demon from you by the Father + almighty, by Jesus + Christ, His only-begotten Son, and by the Holy + Spirit, the Advocate, so that you may be freed from all deceit, evil, and cunning of the devil, and become a saving remedy to mankind against the snares of the enemy. May those who use you, with confidence in the divine power, in their lodgings, homes, or on their persons, be delivered from all perils to body and soul, and enjoy all good things. We ask this through the power and merits of our Lord and Savior, the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of all the saints, in particular the godly men who on this day venerated Christ the Lord with the very same gifts.
All: Amen.

God, the invisible and endless One, in the holy and awesome name of your Son, be pleased to endow with your blessing + and power these creatures of gold, incense, and myrrh. Protect those who will have them in their possession from every kind of illness, injury, and danger, anything that would interfere with the well- being of body and soul, and so be enabled to serve you joyously and confidently in your Church; you who live and reign in perfect Trinity, God, forever and ever.
All: Amen.

And may the blessing of almighty God, Father, + Son, and Holy + Spirit, come upon these creatures of gold, incense, and myrrh, and remain always.
All: Amen.

They are sprinkled with holy water.


P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.
Bless, + O Lord God, this creature, chalk, and let it be a help to mankind. Grant that those who will use it with faith in your most holy name, and with it inscribe on the doors of their homes the names of your saints, Casper, Melchior, and Baltassar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health in body and protection of soul; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.

It is sprinkled with holy water.

[The chalk is then used to inscribe the year and the initials of the three Magi, on the lintel of your home, in this fashion: 20+C+M+B+09. The C+M+B may also stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat as well as Caspar, Melchior et Balthazar. I did this Sunday evening, but as white chalk on beige millwork doesn't stand out very well, I refer you to Fallen Sparrow, whose black wooden front door picks up the chalk far nicer than mine does.]


As the priest comes into the home he says:

P: God's peace be in this home.
All: And in all who live here.
P. Ant.: Magi from the East came to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasure chests they presented Him with precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial. Alleluia.

Then, priest and people recite the Canticle of the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55) antiphonally, concluding with the Gloria Patri. Meanwhile the home is sprinkled with holy water and incensed. At the end of the Magnificat the antiphon is repeated.

Then the priest says Our Father (the rest inaudibly until:)
P: And lead us not into temptation.
All: But deliver us from evil.

[This was once the custom in nearly all liturgical rites outside of the Mass, a precious relic of the days when the words of the Our Father was imparted in the post-baptismal mystagogy, and considered too sacred to be said aloud outside the Mass of the Faithful, lest it be heard by heathen ears.]

P: Many shall come from Saba.
All: Bearing gold and incense.
P: Lord, heed my prayer.
All: And let my cry be heard by you.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May he also be with you.Let us pray.

God, who on this day revealed your only-begotten Son to all nations by the guidance of a star, grant that we who now know you by faith may finally behold you in your heavenly majesty; through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

Responsory: Be enlightened and shine forth, O Jerusalem, for your light is come; and upon you is risen the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary.
P: Nations shall walk in your light, and kings in the splendor of- your birth.
All: And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.Let us pray.

Lord God almighty, bless + this home, and under its shelter let there be health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness, obedience to your commandments, and thanksgiving to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May your blessing remain always in this home and on those who live here; through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

Monday, January 5


They Make a Desert and Call It "Culture"

Anthony Esolen knows of what he speaks:

Man is most free, and most human, when he celebrates a feast, in honor of the divine. That is when distinctions among men come the closest to vanishing; the very word “celebrate,” in Latin, suggests a crowding together. It cannot be a feast in honor of ourselves; that is but self-absorption, with food. It cannot be a dinner for making your way in the world, hobnobbing with Important People. It cannot be a fundraiser for the candidate you believe will return the most money to your pocket. If the Lord does not build the house, they labor in vain that build it, says the Psalmist.

[I'm reminded of the last opening ceremonies of the Olympics, where the teams, rather than marching in a dignified order, united towards a greater goal, schlumped along, waving, and taking video of itself with hand-held camcorders. Who raised these people, wolves? --MGA]

We might say too, if the Lord does not call the feast, they cry in vain that call it. Look at our paltry attempts to establish wholly secular feasts, or to remove from even a national holiday the last traces of the holy. These attempts reflect not the establishment or preservation of culture, but its evisceration. We took that fine day on which America once remembered the sacrifice of her men in the horrible trenches of Flanders and the Argonne, the day called Armistice Day because that was the day when World War I ended, and shifted it to some Monday or other, tacking upon it the innocuous name Veterans’ Day, and obscuring the meaning of the Sunday before it, to boot. So have we also done with Oblivion Day, the day whereon we forget the liberty for which our fathers gave their lives. So have we done with Residents’ Day, the day whereon we ignore the men who resided for a time in the White House, two among whom, Washington and Lincoln, we used to revere around that time for some benefits or other they conferred upon us. So would we also do with Dependence Day, were it not for the embarrassing fact that it is otherwise known by its specific date, the Fourth of July. We have made the very phrase “national holiday” almost a contradiction in terms. Can anyone tell what is holy about Labor Day?

I do not wish simply to mourn the loss of a vaguely Christian American culture. I am noting the loss of culture itself. For, whether we like it or not, it is an historical and anthropological fact that culture without cultus does not exist. Pieper puts it thus: “However dim the recollection of the association may have become in men’s minds, a feast ‘without gods,’ and unrelated to worship, is quite simply unknown.” What is left to set man free from work and politics, for the heartiest enjoyment of his fellow creatures on earth, together, across the generations, even across the centuries? [...]

Here no doubt some may object. “But we do have a culture,” you say. “You might look down upon it as shoddy or stupid, but it is still a culture. We have sports, just as the Greeks had. We have music, we have plays. We’re Americans.” First of all, it is not true.

For example, we certainly do not have sports just as the Greeks had, unless there are some hidden communities in the mountains whose men come together to worship and to honor the gods of baseball by displaying the excellence they owe to those gods. Our sports are businesses, and the players businessmen; and our vacant lots are in fact vacant lots, vacant of boys impersonating, in mimic play, the idiosyncrasies of their heroes. [More.]

There's a lot of talk here and there about Christians engaging our own culture on its own terms. All good and well. Children must have milk first before they move on to meat.

But that alone will not arrest the long, slow collapse of our civilization, or, even more important, lay any sort of foundations for a lasting future culture, whether Western or not. Sure, there are a few good things out there these days, a few extremely clever if often sadly troubling sitcoms, some interesting stylistic tics in the graphic arts, Dale Chihuly, Shake Shack, Umberto Eco, Seinfeld, iPods, blue M&Ms, wireless internet, gourmet macaroni and cheese, etc., but they are frosting without cake underneath.

There is very little to be gained by dialogue with contemporary culture if we do not also elevate it, shake it hard, and slap it out of its stupor. We are losing, slowly, all that it means to be human, substituting bovine contentment for true joy. We have to teach our fellow humans to be human again.

Friday, January 2


Tanto Monta, Monta Tanto, Ysabel como Fernando*

I am reminded today of the defeat of Abu 'abd Allah Muhammad XII, otherwise known as "the little," or el zogoybi, "the unfortunate," or just the easy-to-pronounce if linguistically sloppy Boabdil, by the Catholic Sovereigns Fernando and Ysabel of Aragon and Castile on January 2, 1492. Today is the day which marks the end of Spain's reconquest of the peninsula and the threshhold of her entry into the New World, a day full of the vivid red blood and red gold that is so characteristic of the Iberian Catholic character--gallant, visceral, direct, honorable to the point of touchiness, magnaminity and mercy to the defeated, and even a certain chivalric respect for their foes (when their conduct deserved it, of course), but not incapable of the controlled melancholy of reflection, aspects we find in one of Spain's more famous sons, that of Ignatius Loyola.

The sovereigns, incidentally, wore Moorish costume at the handing-over. The long siege was ended by a negotiated treaty than a daring sortie, with, at the time, plenty of rights for the inhabitants (save the possession of firearms--rather like New York in that). But it is, whatever the case, a splendid occasion, a final crescendo after years and centuries of living like hunted dogs, holed up in Asturias, or in time of slogging through the grinding mud of siege warfare and a dozen shifting, checkered alliances.

Strange sidelights this victory has. These Catholic monarchs had a daughter, incidentally, and her name was Katherine of Aragon, and she was a pale, pretty redhead, and like her mother Ysabel she once wore armor when her English husband was away and rebellion threatened in the north. And on her banners and surcoat she bore the pomegranate that was her badge, the pomegranate of Granada.

And many centuries after, an American wanders the desolate gardens of the old Moorish kings, and pens ghost-stories as he lives among them, and he also invents the picturesque lie that Columbus tried to prove the world round--Washington Irving.

And on the opposite side, amid the shattered fragments of defeat and nation-building, the Spanish Jews are forced across the seas with their beautiful manuscripts and books, their Torahs decorated patriotically with the royal lions of Léon, their letters like black flames on white ground. They take with them their long family trees, their industry and ingrained religiosity, and they sing sad songs of Sepharad in the grubby splendor of Constantinople and the Maghreb. Some try to evangelise the leftover Moors. A Cardinal says "The Lord be with you" in Arabic to his congregants, who play the zambra at the elevation of the Host. It does not quite work. Rebellion and counter-rebellion follow for the next hundred years, while the "Andalusian" style of Arab music becomes popular in Morocco for equally sad reasons.

Cortez conquers Mexico, perhaps hamfistedly, with a pink banner of the Holy Spirit and an anti-Aztec army composed mostly of disgruntled vassal Indians. Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin dies under dubious circumstances, and his death midwifes a complex new race, fully Catholic, half of the New World, half of the old, and full of questions about what to name itself. Some Spaniards garrotte Aztec aristocrats, others marry them off to their daughters. In 1627, Pedro Tesifón de Moctezuma is given the title of first Count of Moctezuma de Tultengo, and his line still persists. Bloodsoaked altars are overturned, thousands of baptisms take place. Mexico's faith is tested a hundred times. Different people remember the Alamo, and Chapultepec Castle.

A bastard king's son saves Europe off an obscure Greek shore. Sancho Panza and Don Quixote tilt at giants. The Burlador of Seville mocks his petrified dinner-guest. Carmen acts like an embarassing stereotype. Cuba discovers "independence" means something very different to Theodore Roosevelt than to her. And nowadays you can get Goya products in South Bend, Indiana, if you try.

Today, the siege is lifted, the cross shines from the towers and garrets of the city. Admitted, the dark and controversial clouds of the future--the expulsions of Jews and Moriscos, smallpox epidemics and Indian strife, the sad songs of the Sepharadim, the foxy profile of the ruinous Duke of Lerma and the distended jaw of poor Carlos the Bewitched, the priest-martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and the Cristero Rebellion, the wobbly extremes of bloodstained communism and hamfisted military rule,and the long, limping shadow of that most magnificent and blinkered of kings, Philip II--lie ahead of us, but so do Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Franciscan missions and magnificent Baroque churches of Puebla, the gorgeous viceregal courts of Lima and the exuberance of Indian Catholicism, the Jesuit half-utopia of Paraguay and Carlist peasant-soldiers singing their pious songs on the march, the music of Victoria and cemihcac ichpochtle, cenca timitz totlatlauhtilya mato panximotlatolti.

It is good to recall the words of a popular song of the day, to get a sense of this marvelous rush, and revel in it. Granada is delivered. Vivat Hispania!:

Levanta, Pascual, levanta
Aballemos a Granada
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Lenata toste priado
Toma tu perro y currón,
Tu samarra y samarón,
Tus albogues y cayado
Vamos ver el gasajado
de aquella ciudad nombrada
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Déxate desso, carillo,
Curemos bien del ganado,
No se meta en lo vedado,
Que nos prenda algún morillo,
Tañamos el caramillo,
Porque todo lo otro no es nada,
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Yo te diré comó fue:
Que nuestra reina y el rey
Luzeros de nuestra ley,
Partieron de Santafé
Y partieron, soncas,
Que dizen que esta madrugada,
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Luego allá estarán ya todos
Metidos en la ciudad
Con muy gran solemnidad
Con dulces cantos y modos
¡O claridad de los godos,
Reyes de gloria nombrada!
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

¡Que consuelo y qué conhorte
Ver por torres y garitas
Alcar las cruces benditas!
¡O qué plazer y deporte!
Y entraba toda la crote a milagro atavida
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Por vencer con tal victoria
Los reyes nuestros señores
Demos gracias y lores
Al eterno Rey de Gloria
Que jamás quedó memoria
De reyes tan acabada:
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Get up, Pascual, get up,
Let's go with our flock to Granada,
They say the city's been taken!

Get up, hurry, make haste,
Get your dog and sack,
Your sheepskin and your apron,
Your shawm and shepherd's crook,
Let's go see the revels,
In that great city of renown:
They say the city's been taken!

I trow you think you've fooled me,
You're pulling my leg, I bet!
I tell you, even more than you,
I wish it were so,
But really, I see no proof
That what you say is true,
They say the city's been taken!

Don't talk such nonsense, my friend,
We had better tend our flocks
Lest they stray into hostile land,
Caught in a Moorish trap.
Let's pipe up a merry tune
For the rest is idle gossip,
They say the city's been taken!

I'll tell you how it came to pass:
Our queen and the kind,
The shining stars of our faith,
Rode out from Santafé
And truly, they both set out
Before the break of day:
They say the city's been taken!

The city with our assembled hosts
Must at this hour be teeming
With solemn celebrations
and manners sweet and singing.
O fairest of the Gothic line,
Our sovereigns of glorious name!
They say the city's been taken!

What comfort and what solace,
To see on every turret high
The blessed cross displayed!
What pleasure and what sport!
And all the Court pass through the gates,
Most splendidly arrayed:
They say the city's been taken!

For this victory of our lord and lady,
Our victorious kind and queen
Let us now give thanks and praise
To the eternal King of Glory
For never so perfect
A king was known to history:
They say the city's been taken!

~Juan del Enzina,
on the fall of the City of Granada to their Catholic Majesties, 2 January 1492

*Something like, "Six the one, half-dozen the other, Ysabel's just as good as Fernando." This is not to say the two monarchs did not have very different personalities. In a bar-fight Ysabel would probably politely and methodically beat the snot out of one of her opponents (while still remaining quite ladylike), while Fernando would come up behind with a Toledo switchblade.

Thursday, January 1


The Blood Hyphen on New Year's

I like starting the year off with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The title is simple, majestic, almost Byzantine. On a purely aesthetic level, it feels a weightier replacement, if a replacement must be found for the old feast of the Circumcision, than the preputic euphemism of the Holy Name of Jesus (though I am glad to see that too now has a place on the General Calendar again), or that weird period from 1960 to 1970 where it was apparently simply the nameless Octave Day of the Nativity. It is good to start the year with Mary.

That being said, there is a case to be made for today's older name, especially when placed, not against the New Year but within the sequence of feasts round Christmas. The renaming was probably inevitable given how modern man faints at a papercut--even if then sits impervious in front of a TV gorefest from the oeuvre of George Romero. It is especially a pity considering what good could have been got from it. As with the jettisoning of the feasts of the Maccabees, it is more than unfortunate that these elements of our liturgical tradition were not seen in a more ecumenical light. (Admitted, the removal of the Maccabees from the calendar was related to the embarassing discovery around then their purported relics at San Pietro in Vincoli were, of all things, pig bones, but their saintly example still retains its relevance.)

Furthermore, the feasts around Christmas are primarily feasts of events tied into salvation history--Christmas, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, or, for instance, the Ambrosian feast of Christophoria, the return from Egypt. The intrusion of a more abstract title such as Mary's maternity into the sequence seems slightly jarring. (Okay, there's the Holy Family, I give you that, and the saints' days. But the Immaculate Conception is an event as well as a person.) It also lacks the distinct sacrificial-paschal aspect that the Circumcision with which the circumcision is so manifestly embued. This is when Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, becomes part of the Covenant whose promise he is about to fulfil; this is when He sheds His first blood for us. It reminds us Christ was a man, and had a male body, and this was not merely a concession to the male-chauvinist times, or was more than a Gnostic spirit or Nestorian prosôpon. (Or was that Docetism? After a while all elderly heretics with beards start to blur together.)

The medievals often placed the two events in relation to one another in their altarpieces; subtler ways enforced the connection. Art historians speak of the "blood hyphen" in mediaeval images of the crucifixion in which the blood from Christ's side streams down His side into His loin-cloth, reminding us of His Abrahamic roots, and of His own small passion as a baby, barely a week old. No longer does this dispensible custom become cruel, disturbing, quaint, or unseemly, but is once again plugged into the whole of salvation history.

Let us meditate on Mary and Her holy maternity today, and ask Her to take us under our cloak. But perhaps it would be just as good for us to meditate on Christ's blood, and love today as well.

Because New Year's Wouldn't be New Year's without Field Marshal Radetzky

The Grand Finale of the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert is, to my knowledge, always Johann Strauss's cheerfully militaristic Radetzky March, named after the most famous of Emperor Franz Josef's generals. (Who else but the funloving Austrians would write a march that could virtually double, with some creative tweaks, as a waltz or polka tune?) Having watched the concert for years on PBS (with the narration, I'm not sure why, of the soothingly geriatric Walter Cronkite) it seems appropriate here to pass on this particular Proustean/Pavlovian facet of my childhood to you today.

There's also Die Fledermaus, of course, if you're in the mood for something a bit longer and more endearingly silly on New Year's. (Prince Orlovsky reminds you that even a clever bear cannot lay eggs. Drink responsibly.) And if you feel something a bit more Latin, or perhaps inadvertently inducing choking, there's the Hispanic custom (familiar to my Cuban grandmother) of eating twelve grapes at midnight, in between strokes of the clock. (The dirty little secret behind this was apparently it was a marketing attempt to sell off excess grapes after a particularly large harvest occurred in 1909, in the Spanish province of Alicante).

Happy New Year! Prosit Neujahr! And, of course, a hearty A.E.I.O.U. to all our Hapsburg cryptogram enthusiasts.

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