Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lady Teresa

"It's witchcraft" the way Lady Teresa Marchmain controls her children and the people around her. "There's no other explanation," according to fop par excellence Anthony Blanche. You can see the toothmarks on all her victims. Why is Teresa Marchmain so disagreeable that woman my co-blogger called an overbearing matriarch last year?

At the surface she superficially spoils the lives of two vivacious characters in Brideshead Revisited, her flapperesque daughter and her puerile, dipsomaniacal son. They are unhappy figures who seemingly would enjoy their lives more thoroughly if not for the matriarch's religious rearing and burdensome oversight. Julia could freely marry Rex Mottram and his few developed faculties without the social stigma of a wedding in a divorcee chapel and Sebastian could dote upon his fellow aesthetes with as much Cointreau as his lubricated heart desired. The Catholic within screams "No, they have a God-sized hole and are filling it with frivolities. Their saintly mother knows better." The first statement is true, but the second does not necessarily follow.

Waugh sets up Anthony Blanche at the beginning of the novel as the seer of the story, as Tiresias, the clairvoyant prophet who dispassionately advises a wanderer. Blanche's disdain for the Marchioness dampens our impression during the few direct encounters with her in the novel. He paints a gruesome picture of Teresa Marchmain as manipulative with a compulsive victim complex, a woman who would make her husband appear to have eaten her children and danced about "wreathed in all the flowers of Sodom and Gomorrah."

Blanche, however, is not the only seer in the story. The younger daughter, Cordellia, is also a prophet, albeit a minor one when contrasted with Blanche. Blanche sees the characters in three dimensions and with five senses, often more clearly than they see themselves. Cordellia sees them through spiritual lenses. She recognizes Sebastian's spiritual struggle masked in drink, Rex's vapidity, Bridey's misplaced piety, and her mother's near sanctity; Teresa is nearly a saint, but not quite. She lost her brothers during the First World War and then her husband to an Italian dancer after it; she accepts loss, but does not deal well with it. While she is not unholy, she may be bitter, and it causes her to hew to her children until they find themselves constricted in a way they might not otherwise be. She could be a saint, but saints are detached and Lady Marchmain is not detached for fear of loss. In a cruel twist, her fear only ensures that she does lose her son, at least for her lifetime.

J interestingly compared Lady Marchmain and her unreasonable expectations to the Church and Her high standards for salvation. In fact, Lady Marchmain is not the Church in Brideshead Revisited, the house Brideshead is the Church, built atop sturdy old foundations and calling all who belong back to her. All the characters eventually return both to the Church and to the house, at least the ones who have left. Likewise, Lady Marchmain is not the cornerstone of the house, but she is one of the better bricks in it. Christ is the cornerstone.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Lived Faith II: Surfer Church

Lassoing them in for the Lord!
"My husband used to be in the ministry," my manager told me. "He was hired by a friend who was the main pastor to be the youth pastor."
"Oh, really?" replied his Traddiness. Occasionally she diverts her cohort from the Amazon rain forest trees that died to panel the walls of our office, an informal jeans-wearing establishment decorated like a Manhattan law firm, and our monthly reports, read by the few, with tales of her evangelical life. For the New England Catholic, these life pericopes are remarkable passages of local religion that one could scarcely imagine outside the Bible belt.
"Yeah," she continued. "We were going to join a cowboy church, but that was 20 minutes away. Just too far."
"A cowboy church?"
"What, pray tell, is that?"
"Ya'll never heard of a cowboy church?"
"Mrs. Manager," I said, "I am a Yankee. Everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line is either a Catholic, a lapsed Catholic, or a semi-lapsed Jew."
"Cowboy church is when you have a theme, in this case the rodeo, to draw people in and ya'll have a good time together, but ya'll have to do a devotional."
"A what?" I wonder what transpires within her big Dallas hair. Surely no one can survive unscathed the chemical exposure in the quantities of hairspray necessary to achieve Dolly Parton's hairdo on a daily basis.
"A devotion? It's just a prayer service and some teaching. It can happen right quick wherever you are! Even on the beach?"
"The beach?"
"Heck yeah, the beach! A friend of ours went to Thailand to start a surfer beach. All the locals and tourists surf in, they hold their devotional on the beach, and then they surf out."
I cannot help myself: "Before the Flood, no doubt?"

In thinking about the idiosyncrasy of someone born in Lubbock and raised in Dallas wearing the babushka, perhaps we have overlooked more extreme examples of what happens when faith is planted on soil with no nutrients; roots cannot dig deep.

A reading from the book of Brian Wilson:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tolle Lege

A page from the Hungarian "Biblia Pauperum"

Recently I spoke with a priest about the disintegration of society and how this fall is confirmed more in the collapse of many small things than in any one major collapse. The inability of people to keep their appointments, the apathetic rudeness of drivers, and the loss of basic reading comprehension are all indicators of a culture falling apart. Signs of the times. I observed that my Protestant grandfather, a long-passed farmer from an immigrant family, used to read the Bible every day and share reflections about his reading at the dinner table. He was not extensively educated, and his bookshelf was small, but the books he did own were of good quality and well-read.

Later that night I began to grieve the loss of Bible-reading, not just in the larger culture, but in my own regular habit. In a time when practicing Catholics obsess about hearing the voice of God in their religious practice and in the discerning of life-altering choices, very few of us read the Scriptures often enough to call to mind the words of Christ, the apostles, or the prophets in times of trial. (I was recently complimented by a Catholic on using the metaphor of straining a gnat out of a cup of soup, while swallowing the camel which had been bathing therein. He did not realize it was actually a dominican aphorism from the Gospels.)

Even a basic literary acquaintance with the Gospels and the Psalms is lacking. Familiarity with the Psalms can be obtained by regularly praying the hours of the Breviary. Familiarity with the Gospels and Epistles is usually begun by attentively listening to the daily Mass readings, but one will not gain any depth here without regular, intentional, extra-liturgical reading. The Old Testament is a magnificent beast that can only be tackled by habitually cracking open that dusty Bible in the quiet of one’s own home.

When King Josias heard the words of the Mosaic law for the first time, he realized how greatly God’s anger had been kindled against Israel for their willful ignorance (cf. II Kings 22). The hearing of God’s word is not the softly consoling feather bed of a weekend retreat, but a chastisement: “The great wrath of the Lord is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this book, to do all that is written for us.”

Likewise, when St. Augustine was inspired to pick up the Holy Writ and read by some nearby playful children, it reoriented his soul in irreversible ways:
So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away. (bk. viii)
Take up and read.

Fra Angelico

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Why would anybody concern himself with this topic when there are so many other “burning questions” swirling round the internet? Distinct from so much that is discussed, it has a lasting value. Like a regrettable family portrait, church art has a way of lasting beyond the lifetime of those who commissioned it and consequently a way of creating an impression on people who were never its intended audience. Consider one little example, from the reign of Pius XI, the under-appreciated Vatican train station:

Vatican Railway Station: Did we just pull into Fascist Italy?
 Now, compare it with something in the so-called fascist style:
A dated example of Italian "Futurism," a.k.a. Fascist art

The casual art observer in and around the Vatican could easily get the feeling that perhaps there was some degree of sympathy for fascism on the part of Papa (Mit brennender Sorge) Ratti. Still, it could be worse: one could have this as his artistic legacy:

Paul VI hands on his love of modern art
There’s also this consideration: “modern art” (a more precise description will follow) provokes a kind of universal response. No one likes it—at least, not in the straightforward understanding of liking something because it is truly beautiful and evokes a love of beauty in the viewer. True, there are some, perhaps many, who like it under a particular aspect. Let’s face it, there is a major incentive for artists in the labor-to-payoff ratio involved with producing a piece of Abstract Expressionism; much more so than, say, painting a meticulous copy of Napoleon Crossing the Alps. For the consumer, such art is approved by the “academy” and is therefore “safe” to admire and collect. And there is undoubtedly a “fun” aspect to some of it: I personally have observed Italian teenagers having a good laugh in the modern sculpture rooms of the Vatican museums.

But for the rest of us, we may simply dislike this kind of art, especially in the context of the Church and her Mysteries, without perhaps being able to explain exactly why.

Modern Art: what's not to like?

And more to the point here, we have a nagging suspicion that Modernism in the art world has some profound, though hidden, relation to the all-too-familiar ecclesiastical Modernism, including one of its many baleful progeny, the modern liturgical environment:
An irony-free environment, courtesy of modern sensibilities


So, let’s flush these dark suspicions out into the open and see if we can have a better idea what lies at the heart of our dislike, or at least distrust, of “modern” church art.
Allow me, then, to lay out in the most preliminary of ways, that by “beauty,” I mean the classic definition quod visum placet: “that which, when seen, is pleasing.” It would be more accurately, if less literally, rendered as: “whatever gives delight when perceived.” Whether beauty as such is one of the transcendentals—i.e., one of the universal aspects of any thing—separate from truth and beauty, or whether it is merely an aspect of truth (namely, truth perceived as good), need not detain us here. It’s enough to note that things in and of themselves have beauty; we merely perceive this beauty, not impose it from without.

"Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee" Canticles 4
We also want to acknowledge that all art involves abstraction from reality. Of course we’re mainly interested in the visual arts, but it’s equally true of music or even something less practical, like mathematics. At any rate, if there were no abstracting of certain things from reality while leaving other aspects of reality behind, then of course we wouldn’t be dealing with an artwork but with reality itself. So far so good?
Abstract art (Richard Estes)

A particular kind of abstraction—you certainly don’t need me to remind you—is the symbol. A black cross on a yellow, diamond-shaped background is the conventional symbol of an intersection, for instance. But of course “symbol” is only a couple of letters away from the much more religion-tinted word symbolum, better known as the creed. It’s not merely the result of wordplay, however, to say that whatever a given art movement abstracts from reality (its “symbols”) gives us an insight into that movement’s creed (its “symbolum”).

The modern creed? (Paul Klee, The Archangel)
Along these lines, we might examine the Church’s art (at its best, I mean), to see what great Catholic artists abstracted from reality. If I’m correct, it should give some insight into the Church’s symbolum.

Without a doubt, in classical Catholic architecture (for instance) there is a great emphasis on the order and proportion that obtains among things, as in the nave of the great Durham cathedral:
"Thou hast ordered all things in measure, number, and weight" Wisdom 11

But of all the symbols used by Christian artists, the most widespread (according to the influential art historian H. W. Janson) is light: the “shadow of God,” as Einstein dubbed it. Light is, he contends, more prevalent in Christian art (or abstraction) than even the cross or crucifix.
"In thy light, we shall see light" Psalm 35
So, even an admittedly very superficial look at Christian abstraction cum symbolism yields an insight into the central fact of God as the One who illumines and causes beauty in the reality He created and set in order. Certainly not the entirety of the Credo properly so-called, but good enough perhaps as an introduction.


Modern art, as we all understand the term, sprang up—not un-Cerberus-like—with three heads, close on the heels of Impressionism. The three heads, or better, three general tendencies of post-Impressionism were and are Abstraction, Fantasy (for want of a better term), and Expression.
Picasso, natch: Me and my (shattered) guitar
Abstraction. This brand of post-Impressionism began with the blindingly obvious insight that a painting is not a three-dimensional “scene” but merely colors on a two-dimensional surface. (Analogous insights were applied to other areas of the arts.) That being the case, artists should stop using perspective and other tricks to fool the eye into seeing three dimensions on a painted surface. The particular aspect of reality that relates things one to another in space is simply dispensed with—we might say, abstracted. In fact, why not go a step further and abstract from the three dimensions entirely and reduce the object out there in reality to a two-dimensional version of itself? This is the wondrous contribution of Cubism.
If you think this is a vase full of flowers, you are hopelessly un-modern (Cezanne, Tulips and Apples)
Next, with the—what word to use?—advances in psychology, some artists concentrated on abstraction according to the images and feelings of the psychological realm, whence the “school” of Fantasy in the post-Impressionists’ world. Well, if there’s any truth to the saying that the state of your room reveals the state of your soul, by extension the state of its fantasy abstractions will become the news source for the modern psyche. And the news isn’t good.
The modern soul: not a pretty picture
(Munch, Die Schrei)

Finally, no less indebted to abstractionism than Fantasy, but with a concentration on the artist’s reaction to his perceptions as an artist, there is Expressionism. Let’s say you’re a half-insane, frustrated seminarian from the Low Countries with a bent for drawing. You eventually escape to a part of Europe where there is a good deal more physical beauty than in Holland, namely the Midi. You see some pretty trees. Of course, as a Post-Impressionist, you have no intention of rendering the scene in its essential aspect. No, you’re only interested in putting colors on your two-dimensional surface in a way that records your reaction. Nevertheless, these trees provoke in you a feeling of the sheer power and energy and solidity of living things—certainly not a bad thing. And once all that gets processed, voilà! a Van Gogh original:
The look of love: Van Gogh's cypress trees

In lesser artists, “expression” became more and more solipsistic, until it eventually landed on the unhappy idea of recording the artist’s motions with a paintbrush (or drip bucket) while the connection with whatever was “out there” became tenuous to the point of vanishing from the observer’s ken. In fact, “out there” isn’t very important anymore: it’s only what’s inside the artist—along with the tools of his trade—that matters. And so you end up with this rogues’ gallery:

Eventually these tendencies crept, Grinch-like, into the household of the Faith, having found a welcoming embrace (as I intend to show in more detail in the second part of this article) and a generous lease from doctrinal Modernism—more precisely, the philosophical underpinnings that united the disparate movement labeled Modernism.
And so, if a sculptor—let’s say—were commissioned to render the Glorified Christ in bronze under the new dispensation of Expressionism, we wouldn’t look for a representation of something that was in itself beautiful, exalted, and glorious. That would be anything but modern. No, of course, such a sculptor would seek to represent the impression, the feeling even, that the idea of resurrection provokes in a thoroughly modern soul, working in bronze.
Fazzini, The Resurrection--but only of the Christ of Faith
You may have always hated this sculpture, and I readily admit that a knowledge of modern artistic tendencies toward Abstraction, Fantasy, and Expression will probably not dilute that hatred. But at least, such knowledge helps set “modern” church art into its proper context. (I would say “perspective,” but that’s been out since Cezanne.) Besides, no matter how many Catholics despise a particular work of modern church art, it doesn’t matter as far as the art itself is concerned: it’s always about the artist himself.
Are such artists (and their ecclesiastical patrons, of course) the embodiment—according to their own capacity—of the modern idea of one’s relation to the world and to oneself? The view, i.e., that the world around us is fragmented, rendered into haphazard abstractions, without order or harmony, so that the individual soul must retreat into a psychological world of the self that is more and more cast adrift and alienated from its natural place in creation? You bet! But I think this question bears more explanation—and illustration—and I will seek to supplement this lowly introduction to modernism in art with an examination of its fungus-like flourishing in the contemporary Church, the Church’s art, and her greatest artistic expression: divine worship.

The Modern goes to Mass: even the Celebrant's gaze is redirected.
But Faith is still present, at least in the abstract.
(Matisse, Rosary Chapel, Vence, 1948-1951)


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lived Faith

I reverenced the icons of the Pantokrator and Theotokos, and then entered the nave of a little hovel of an Orthodox church in suburban Texas. Amid industrial megachurches replete with competing production values reminiscent of the battles between MGM, Warner Brothers, and the other Hollywood studios of the ‘30s and ‘40s had sprung a devout little church of oriental extraction. The men leaned against the wall and the women fervently stared forward, clad head to toe in their native peasant dress and wrapped in the babushka, making their prostrations, their numerous signs of the cross at every mention of the Holy Trinity all without as much as a sigh of strain. As is the Russian norm, only the choir sang. I made the mistake of singing “Glory to You, O Lord” at the Gospel and drew several gazes of disgruntlement; I had violated their Slavic piety.

Except they were not Slavic. None, or nearly none, were anything other than Texas born and Texas reared Americans. It was Good Friday on the Julian scheme. An Orthodox friend attended Good Friday and Annunciation Divine Liturgy at our Ukrainian Catholic parish and asked if we might return the favor when the equivalent date arrived in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this case it was not a Russian Orthodox or Greek Orthodox ethnic church, but the OCA, the Orthodox Church of America, a 20th century attempt to create an indigenous Orthodox Church without constricting ties to the old world. After three hours of Jerusalem Mattins, all sung in recto tono with a descant, I thought that this church could do with an umbilical cord to the East. No one was impolite to us in the least, but there was a distance perceptible that I did not find when I went to the neighboring Greek Orthodox Church to ask the priest about a few specific icons. Everyone introduced themselves with their baptismal names rather than their given names (Dimitrios, Sheraphim, and the like). Coffee hour discussion turned to the “Eastern Roman Catholics who use our liturgy and call it the ‘Western rite’.” I let it go.

This parish was a community, one without roots and fumbling for a religious instinct, looking for the sensus fidelium of liturgical piety and finding instead external significations of membership. It was like the local Tradistani parish, except with babushkas instead of Little House on the Prairie dresses and disdain for “Uniatism” instead of the Second Vatican Council; the affinity for homeschooling remained. This was intellectual religion looking for a Sacramental expression. Someone read about the Latin Mass or the Orthodox Church in a book and, bypassing the normal channels of devotion, dove into the small pond of the strictest standalone communities of their relevant creeds.

Aidan Kavanagh, reacting to Pius XII’s reversal of lex orandi, reminds the reader that it was the Presence of God that drew Moses up the mountain to the burning bush, not something intellectual. It was a revelation, something revealed by God to mankind, not something discerned by a clever mind. Revealed religion is not subject to progress in the way physical sciences are, with every succeeding generation creating new theories on the shoulders of the previous generation’s theories. It is, however, something handed on, a traditio in the most Latinate sense of the word. It cannot be something figured out. It must be something handed from one generation or one person to another. Irish migrants in London taught many 19th and 20th century English converts how to be Catholic; in the Apologia Newman reminisced about watching them go to Confession and pray their rosaries at St. Mary’s on Warwick Street. In my own life I have seen Arabs at a Melkite Church show Americans how to be Eastern Christians without ostentation. Passed on liturgical piety and a lived faith may not create a parish, but they will sustain it. One thinks of the “high” churchmen on the past century—none of them the “trained” liturgists who pest Fr. Hunwicke—like Quintin Montgomery Wright, Clement Russell, the prior generation at the Brompton Oratory, and the “slum priests” of poor neighborhoods, men known for their elaborate praxis, but in fact more concerned with pastoral matters than with stiff posture at the collects.

We should take to heart those Greek words, which bear as much wisdom as they do honor to God: "We have seen the True Light/ We have received the Heavenly Spirit/ We have found the True Faith..."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mary, Quite Contrary

The Quasi-Assumption of Mary (Giotto)

Last month Pope Francis promoted the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalen in the new kalendar to a feast, prompting a small flurry of discussion about the true identity of the Apostolorum Apostola. The western conflation of Magdalen with the sister of St. Martha has a long and noble tradition dating back at least to Pope Gregory the Dialogist, but in the east the Orthodox have long considered them to be distinct persons.

After finishing my Josephology series, I had considered writing a short series on the history of Mary Magdalen in liturgical history, but most of the books on the subject were written either from a neo-Gnostic or an egregiously feminist philosophical base. The few Orthodox sources I could find were polemically anti-occidental, so finding a sober consideration of this great saint was next to impossible. (Honestly, is it really so difficult to think that a woman from whom was cast seven devils might have been a great sinner?)

Personally, I find the scriptural argument for conflating the two Marys and the female “sinner” reasonable if not absolutely compelling. It would be strange if the women Luke and John describe as having anointed the feet of Christ with their hair were two separate people, and John’s Gospel suggests that Mary of Bethany indeed anointed his feet twice. “Mary who is called Magdalen” is named just after Luke’s narrative of the penitent prostitute, suggesting but not necessitating a connection. But it is reasonable that the Mary who had anointed Christ’s feet in preparation for his burial would also be the one to go out to the Holy Sepulchre to anoint his dead body.

Hugh Pope constructs this possible sequence of events for the “conflated” penitent and Marys:
In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole; the “sinner” comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen “out of whom seven devils were gone forth”; shortly after, we find her “sitting at the Lord’s feet and hearing His words.” To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection—excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ’s feet—it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head—the first (Luke 7) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.
The Protestant separation of the Marys was not ubiquitous even among the heretics. Although John Calvin explicitly separated Mary of Bethany from Mary Magdalen in his Gospel commentaries, the Lutheran and Anglican sects retained the Gregorian hagiographical tradition.

I cannot agree with Fr. Erlenbush that the Latin tradition and the common post-Gregorian papal opinion of Marian conflation easily proves the Roman martyrology correct, as if the eastern tradition was not worthy of account. Perhaps someday a future Council will consider this topic worthy of dogmatic clarification, but for now we must live with some measure of uncertainty.

The Greeks say that the Myrrh-Bearer Magdalen lived with St. John and the Blessed Virgin in Ephesus for many years until her death. The Latin tradition has her being cast into the sea on a small boat with Martha and Lazarus until their ship found the coasts of France. From there, Mary made her retirement as a hermit until her death. The medieval Golden Legend describes her desert life:
In this meanwhile the blessed Mary Magdalene, desirous of sovereign contemplation, sought a right sharp desert, and took a place which was ordained by the angel of God, and abode there by the space of thirty years without knowledge of anybody. In which place she had no comfort of running water, nor solace of trees, nor of herbs. And that was because our Redeemer did do show it openly, that he had ordained for her refection celestial, and no bodily meats. And every day at every hour canonical she was lifted up in the air of angels, and heard the glorious song of the heavenly companies with her bodily ears. Of which she was fed and filled with right sweet meats, and then was brought again by the angels unto her proper place, in such wise as she had no need of corporal nourishing.
The head of Mary Magdalen is believed to be held in La Sainte-Baume, in the south of France.

Mary Magdalen, feminist icon, pray for us!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Local Flavors & Savors

July is a brutally 1570 sort of month, but August is a very 1910ish month, with the ferial office hardly appearing between the octaves of St. Lawrence and the Assumption as well as a number of very Roman double feasts. The General Roman Calendar created by the Consilium—nominally administered by Cardinal Lercarco, in fact run by the man Louis Bouyer described as the "despicable Bugnini", a "man as bereft of culture as he was basic honesty"—is quite modern and quite general, but in very few ways is it Roman.

August begins with the very Roman feast of St. Peter's Chains, which is also the name of an ancient Roman church that holds the reputed link of chain which held the Prince of the Apostles while he await execution. Peter went to Antioch, where the various Catholic and Orthodox descendants remember him in their own way, and then to Rome, where he acted as bishop before his inverted crucifixion. To Felix Roma was given the privilege of claiming the two greatest as its patrons and fathers in faith. Christians in Jerusalem held the holy places in high esteem and continued their devotion to them between the time of the Ascension and the edict of Milan, so much so that when St. Helen came to the holy city seeking relics she found consistent narratives of the Crucifixion's site and the True Cross. Roman Christians followed this instinct in venerating the ossuaries and objects associated with its saints, as did Christian of every church. Jerusalem's devotion effected the received practices of Holy Week, Rome's created the phenomena of local feasts and stational Masses. Throughout August, the old rite presents the feasts of St. Peter's Chains, the Dedication of Our Lady of Snows (St. Mary Major), the feast of St. Lawrence (with a vigil and octave of proper Mattins), and a unique date for St. Bartholomew's day. Notably all these feasts could supersede a Sunday Mass. Additionally, the Latin Church celebrated the Finding of St. Stephen, a Gallican feast imported as part of the medieval synthesis of the Frankish and first millennium Roman traditions. The significance granted to these feasts is remarkable by our post-Divino Afflatu standards, but hardly surprising to the Romans: they were feasts concerning the character and encounters with the Divine of the Roman Church. Every rite has Pascha, Theophany, and Epiphany; only the Latin rite has "St. John at the Latin Gate."

What came out of the Consilium's conference rooms and reserved trattoria seats reflects the view that the Roman rite is the rite of the Latin Church rather than a template for the Roman Church. St. Bartholomew is not celebrated on the Roman day (!), gone is St. Stephen, and while St. Lawrence and Our Lady of Snows remain, their festive rankings have been stripped such that they do not appear on Sundays, even if once every seven years. Above all, the feast of the Apostle of gone without a trace. The revised calendar's inorganic nature betrays the centralizing mindset of its creators, who must have known that they were creating ex nihilo a calendar for the entire Latin Church. Local additions, with regulatory approval, would be exceptions rather than the norm. Rome was not alone in having local feasts. Sarum's calendar is replete with saints whose names are almost forgotten after the Reformation: Edmund of Abindgon, Kenelm, Osmund of Salisbury to name a few; also, many particular devotions to the Holy Name and Five Wounds found their way into the English liturgy. The neo-Gallican French rites reflected similarly local saints like Genevieve as well as contemporary [and unhealthy] interest in St. Augustine. While the revised liturgy allows approved local additions, the locale implicit in the Roman rite lacks the gravitas of Romanitas. Our Lady of the Apparition type feasts carried over from before the reforms, but what of the Commemoration of St. Paul, St. Peter's Chair, or St. John at the Gate?

Interestingly, many local "dialects" of the Roman rite, Sarum among them, have those distinctly Roman feasts. Ancient and medieval churches sought to imitate Roman practices while allowing for their own saints and miracles, too, which proved that the Church was quite alive in those days. A medieval diet was about 3,000-4,000 calories daily depending on one's social class; the proliferation of holy men in diverse places aided in the multiplication of feasts which would "gladden the heart of man" (ps. 103). The revised calendar is more a novelty diet which allows a few "cheats" per year.

I, for one, would like to see the delicious return of some savory local feasts.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Remnant Responds!

I am happy to see that the good folks over at The Remnant have taken my call for intra-traditionalist tolerance seriously and announced the 2016 Catholic Identity Conference. The panel of experts includes priests from both the FSSPX and the FSSP. Don't worry, though: Chris Ferrara will be there to drown out all other conversation that might get nasty.

Here, I fixed your banner.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Traditionalist Identity Politics

Don't tread on my lace!

“I love Catholic tradition, but I’m not a traditionalist,” goes one common complaint of the modern-day Latin Mass attendee. I’m reminded of a recent headline on a Christian parody site that reports on a man who does not want to be labelled a “Christian pastor,” but as a “pastor who happens to be Christian.” We worry constantly about self-identification, about perfecting the definitions of our selves, and trying desperately not to be misunderstood.

At any Latin Mass community one will find a wide variety of types: die-hard 1962ers, high-minded pre-1955ites, those who will defend the FSSP against the FSSPX to the death, those who will do the opposite, and “Novus Ordo babes” (true story) who think the Latin Mass is pretty keen but not an all-consuming passion.

Identity politics is a kind of vanity, worrying endlessly about being perceived correctly by others, and an unwillingness to suffer the minor injustice of misunderstanding. Some are attracted to traddy parishes, but will assure all his worrying non-traddy Catholic brethren that he’s not a weirdo Creationist like the priest in charge. Another will attend the old Mass for its beauty, but will whine constantly about the bad attitudes of his fellow attendees. I’m often surprised they don’t pull out a series of ready-made Venn diagrams to prove they aren’t too strange.

One of the notable vices of our time is the obsession with identity. In its most extreme forms we see people surgically modifying their bodies to conform with their desired shapes. In less extreme forms we see Republicans who complain about every kind of Republican they are not, or Texans who apologize profusely for their fellow statesmen. But our real identities have far more to do with the natures God gave us, our decisions regarding vice and virtue, and our choices of state in life. Anything beyond those tend towards vanity and an excess of eccentricity.

The bothersome part is not so much the appropriation of some particular ecclesiastical identity, but the hatred tossed at others who are actually most similar to the offended party. Nobody is pickier about the way a Novus Ordo Mass should be celebrated in Latin than another priest who does it his own way. No one will complain about an Eastern Rite liturgy like someone from another rite. No two people think of themselves as more radically different from one another than traddies sitting in the same pew.

See how these Christians love one another.

Some small touches of eccentricity are good for the soul and for society, of course, but real individuality comes as a result of spiritual growth. One of the maxims of the spiritual life is that one should not be concerned with imitating one single saint but with following the commandments, because the saints are already so individualized that they cannot be fruitfully mimicked in their unique personalities. The closer we come to God, the more we become “ourselves.” Outwardly we may appear more eccentric, but there is a great chasm between the mere eccentric and the man who is becoming more truly himself, the perfect Idea of himself that God always had in mind.

Communities need group identities in order to survive, be they large immigrant clans or liturgical ghettoes. A certain amount of conformity should be expected from those who are a part of such communities, and nothing tears them apart faster than petty rebelliousness in nonessential areas. If we lack the humility to conform to the broader cultural ideals of a community, then we aren’t truly a part of those communities, any more. We are simply visitors passing through.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Europe's Original Sin: Being Different

Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor and author, died a few days ago. Most young Americans will know his account of deportation, separation from his family, and liberation in 1944, Night. One night four years ago I had the opportunity to dine with Wiesel and some other students, who, between their verbal eructations of self-import, occasionally allowed the old sage to voice a few words.

The question was raised by one as to whether or not Germany was a ticking time bomb before the Second World War, if years of Catholicism, beer, wet weather, and military history amounted to a countdown to Hitler's death camps. Wiesel countered that "Germany—really Austria—did give us Hitler, but it also gave us Schiller, Goethe, and Beethoven. As much as Hitler took life, they gave it." And how the students were enchanted at such an aphorism! The tiramisu was terrible.

This quick one liner harped on Germany and the rest of Europe's on-going existential crisis. European politicians have effectively asked their constituencies de facto to disavow their own histories and cultures since the end of the Second World War and instead to embrace a spirit of cooperation, putting aside one's differences. Endless platitudes alluding to our "common humanity" fill U.N. documents and modern Christian writings. When did our "common humanity" ever avert a war? There has not been a major direct war since 1945 for fear of mutual nuclear destruction between America and Russia, not because of peace conferences. More poignantly, medieval Europe generally avoided open wars, with some exceptions, because the common religion of those people was both their primary value and their greatest commonality. But common humanity? The common bipedal creatures who convert air into carbon dioxide?

After the 19th century revolutions throughout Europe the State replaced the Church as the focus of Man's devotion. Nationalism, far from polarizing people, was a forced attempt to build consensus where religion failed after 1517 rent the veil of Christendom. Its spectacular failure in the twentieth century (although let us not forget that Communist China and Red Russia killed many times more people than Hitler ever did) did return people to religion. Instead it only reinvigorated the monster that has bothered leaders since the democratic disease replaced culture two centuries ago: people are different. The glue of Christianity is gone and unlikely to return in the near future. However, post-Christian pretensions of unity have not.

Nationalism is not in and of itself harmful. One need not not believe in the immaculate conception of the Declaration of Independence to be patriotic. One can be proud of one's heritage and country without shame, even with its sins. Modern leaders would better spend their time leaving people alone rather than inadvertently starting world wars by forcing them to be alike. If they really want to build consensus they should start making pray together to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost rather than by feigned councils that lead men to military posts.

Happy octave day.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Mysteries of Marriage

Rule #1: Maintain a stoic front at all times.

Fr. Smiles

“Every sacrament has matter and form, both,” Fr. Smiles preaches.

The occasion is a friend’s wedding, and many of the groom’s Protestant relations are present. Presumably they had no idea they were about to be catechized in Catholic sacramental theology.

“The matter is the stuff that is used in the sacrament, the form is the words used to indicate what that sacrament is doing. The words inform the matter.”

Close enough. A good introduction for the ignorant.

“So what are the matter and form of marriage? That’s a little more difficult. The Church teaches that the matter of matrimony is the husband, offering his role as the head of the family to the wife. The form is when she accepts that.”

I steal a glance at my fiancée. She appears as shocked and confused as me.

“And then it goes the other way. She offers her service and obedience, and he receives it. The matter and the form. The offering is the matter, the reception the form. He’s offering something. It’s just stuff that doesn’t have form yet, until she accepts it.”

Are there two forms (man and woman both offering themselves) and two matters (both receiving the other)? At this point I imagine legions of Thomists spinning in their graves so fast it solves the world’s energy crisis.

Later, after the wedding and reception, we discuss Fr. Smiles’ peculiar sacramental theology. We wonder if he was perhaps trying to be appealing to the Protestant guests, since many Protestant churches include the wife’s obedience to her husband in the marriage vows. I start browsing through the Summa on my phone and find the following excerpt:
Now the sufficient cause of matrimony is consent expressed in words of the present. Therefore whether this be done in public or in private, the result is a marriage. Further, wherever there is the due matter and the due form of a sacrament there is the sacrament. Now in a secret marriage there is the due matter, since there are persons who are able lawfully to contract—and the due form, since there are the words of the present expressive of consent. (sup.45.5)
God bless St. Thomas and his pedantic quest for brevity and clarity.

Joseph to the Rescue

“While you’re preparing for marriage,” Mr. Helpful instructed me, “you should really take St. Joseph to be your model.”

“Old, cranky, and surprised to find himself betrothed to a younger woman?” I said.

“Well, he was the perfect husband, you see,” Mr. Helpful continued, ignoring my restorationist sarcasm, “and the perfect model of masculinity. He can teach you how to be a great husband and father.”

“I don’t know. People who take St. Joseph very seriously as their model sometimes end up not consummating their marriages.”

“Oh, sometimes you can find a good compromise. Look at Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, who abstained from the marriage bed for their first year of marriage, offering it up to God as a sacrifice, so that God would bless them with many holy children! And look, they gave us the Little Flower, herself!”

“Is that what happened? I read that Zélie was furious with her husband for springing the ‘Josephite marriage’ thing on her at the last minute, and then had to pester him into listening to a priest who knew better. It sounds to me like taking St. Joseph as a model for marriage is a terrible idea!”

“Well, you should pray about it more.” Mr. Helpful began fishing through his pockets, pulling out a small white rope with knots. “Here’s a St. Joseph cord. You should ask Fr. Smiles to enroll you when you see him next. You’ll need to daily recite the prayer in this booklet”—swiftly produced—“and the Glory Be. It has indulgences attached and grants the benefits of purity and chastity.”

“I’m getting married soon. Chastity may not be what I’m in the market for.”

“Also be sure to meditate on the seven sorrows and joys of St. Joseph every day. Tie the cord around your waist like a girdle. It will protect you against temptations.”

“Thanks, I’ll place it next to my scapular.”

Anathema Sit

Some choose to respond to the ravings of clerical loons with mockery or silence. For myself, I enjoy opening up the sessions of old ecumenical councils while sipping a good scotch in one hand.

Wondering about the “fidelity” or “real marriage” of cohabitating adulterers?
If any one saith, that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not prohibited by any divine law; let him be anathema. 
If any one saith, that the Church has erred, in that she hath taught, and doth teach, in accordance with the evangelical and apostolical doctrine... that both, or even the innocent one who gave not occasion to the adultery, cannot contract another marriage, during the life-time of the other; and, that he is guilty of adultery, who, having put away the adulteress, shall take another wife, as also she, who, having put away the adulterer, shall take another husband; let him be anathema.
Take that, sycophants!

Also, a little bonus canon I noticed whilst browsing this Tridentine session:
If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.
Feel free to quote that to the next “Theology of the Body” missionary who insists that marriage is a spiritual good as great as the life of the evangelical counsels. Anathema sit!


Between the Scylla of bureaucratic diocesan requirements and the Charybdis of Pope Francis’ devil-may-care demolition of marriage, we only lost a few sailors along the way.

The paperwork is endless: forms for the engaged couple’s parents’ to fill out, forms for getting the music approved, forms for ensuring compatibility, forms for obtaining sacramental records from all previous parishes, forms for requesting altar servers, forms for keeping track of every associated fee. Somewhere in the middle of all this is actual preparation.

On our own initiative, the little lady and I have begun reading Fulton Sheen’s Three to Get Married. The late bishop spends a lot of time arguing with the pop-Freudianism of his day. Doubtless this was useful at the time and might occasionally be so today, but one gets impatient to reach the meat of his marriage advice. I am assured it will eventually be worthwhile.

More interesting is the marriage advice found in the pre-Christian Jewish wisdom literature. The book of Ecclesiasticus contains such wonderful selections as:
Happy is the husband of a good wife, for the number of his years is double. A virtuous woman rejoiceth her husband, and shall fulfill the years of his life in peace. A good wife is a good portion, she shall be given in the portion of them that fear God, to a man for his good deeds. (ch. 26)
There is no anger above the anger of a woman. It will be more agreeable to abide with a lion and a dragon, than to dwell with a wicked woman. The wickedness of a woman changeth her face, and she darkeneth her countenance as a bear, and sheweth it like sackcloth. In the midst of her neighbours, her husband groaned, and hearing he sighed a little. (ch. 25)
You said it, Jesus.