Monday, 22 December 2014

The Conception of the Mother of God...

I came out of the mouth of the most High, and covered the earth as a cloud. I dwelt in high places, and my throne is in a cloudy pillar. I alone compassed the circuit of heaven, and walked in the bottom of the deep. In the waves of the sea and in all the earth, and in every people and nation, I got a possession. With all these I sought rest: and in whose inheritance shall I abide? So the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and he that made me caused my tabernacle to rest, and said, Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thine inheritance in Israel. (The first lesson at Mattins of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

Happy feast to those of you who follow the traditional kalendar and keep in reverent memory a feast far older than the 1850's. When I was at Heythrop I wrote my church history dissertation on the development of the doctrine of the "immaculate" Conception and my research did much to change my understanding of St Mary's essential part in the history of Salvation. It also strengthened my conviction, which has not changed, that mankind must be redeemed after a manner consonant with his nature. That we celebrate the Conception of St Mary at all is hagiographically unique in terms of original sin, rather like the sanctification of St John the Baptist. I dissent, however, from the Romish doctrine on the grounds that it is a theological novelty, undermines the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union and enshrines a particular hermeneutic of original sin. If man must be redeemed according to the flesh then how can the mother, chosen from before all ages, not have an equal share in our humanity? Only Christ is without original sin and this is the traditional teaching of the Church.

If it isn't in good taste, it can't be good!

The photograph at the top of the post is of the south porch of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford. The beautiful statue of Our Lady was the first such erected in England since Reformation times, in 1637. The Puritans reviled it and cited this "scandalous statue" as evidence in blessed +Laud's trial. Later, some "godly" Puritan fellow took it upon himself to shoot at it. The bullet holes are still visible to-day.

Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Ne contristeris...

Ne contristeris, Ioseph, meum intuens uterum; videbis enim qui ex me nasciturus est atque gaudebis, eumque sicut Deum adorabis, aiebat Dei Mater suo sponso, dum Christum paritura veniret. Illam commemoremus dicentes: Gaude, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, et per te nobiscum.

When the time of Christ's birth was come, said the Mother of God to her spouse, Be not sorrowful, O Joseph, seeing that I am with child; for thou wilt see him who is to be born of me and thou wilt rejoice and love him as thou lovest thy God. Let us remember her, saying: Be thou glad, O full of grace, the LORD is with thee, and through thee with us.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Christmass rant...

"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith." Proverbs 15:17.

Well, it's that time of year again. A time to exchange pleasantries with people whom deep down we despise; a time to sit at meat with folk whom really we wish were dead, etc. I wish to God I could spend 25th December with people I really loved for a change! I'm sorry to say that they are all off with their families putting up with them (although perhaps there really do exist people who love their families...), and the hypocrisy of the season has me stuck at home in a "festive" jumper and party hat forced upon me by my mother and listening to my malicious sister Jemima, the most unwelcome guest since Katisha, going on about how religion is for idiots and the rest of her cynical, ignorant drivel. Saying "I believe in science" is just as arbitrary as saying "I believe in astrology," and adding "not fairy tales" just gives undue offence to countless people. Her borderline tendencies have her constantly seeking attention, which probably explains her verbal diarrhoea, and she becomes worse with drink. Small wonder then that every 25th December I deliberately get myself drunk by lunch time! That is no easy task; all those glasses of Champagne, and Campari (yes, I am a tart), not to mention the Guinness to wake me up at dawn. Being half cut makes the day so much more tolerable.

This year Jemima is bringing her new boyfriend Nick, an "actor." My father calls him Bottom, possibly alluding to his more-than-likely having played Bottom in more than the Shakespearean sense, although I don't think Nick knows Shakespeare well enough to get that joke. This is the wet paper bag of a man who seems to live in terror of my sister and, on my parents' anniversary, said he doesn't have any religion at all. No wonder my mother didn't like him. My Ulster mother and I don't see eye to eye on most matters but on this we are united and my mother would agree, I'm sure, with C.S Lewis when he said, homo post-Christianus non similis homini pre-Christiano. Tantum distant ut vidua a virgine...non enim Christi modo legem sed etiam legem Naturae Paganis cognitam negligunt. Rather like the prodigal son going back to the pigs trough. I could imagine Nick with his head in a trough.

We haven't got there yet. Christmass is still some days away. But is all this falseness what the spirit of the season is really about? Keeping up appearances? We must work away at the unlovable; if love means anything at all it is for our enemies that we must pray. This I know deep down but I think that for all men there is that one exception; that one person from whom we cannot escape and for whom we cannot even assume a veneer of civility, knowing that he or she is a vile, wretched little orc. One's "nemesis," or almost. I just do my utmost to avoid her. That is all that is within my ability. My hatred was worse during those, fortunately erstwhile, six months when she was living with us. Now I just have to get myself through birthdays, anniversaries and Christmasses and fortunately, the lord Christmass, Nowell himself in his finery and jollity (he's Bacchus in a red cope), keeps me merry enough to forgo wrath. I hope you too raise your glasses to Old Father Christmass on Christmass Day.

Friday, 19 December 2014


This post was first published on 27th December 2010. It still rings true to-day.

Where does one ''draw the line''? Exactly where are the boundaries between the periphery of reasonable conviction and fringe lunacy? Moreover I'd like to know who decides these boundaries. I ask because ''fanaticism'' seems to be a common accusation against me; that and holding ''erroneous beliefs'' about various things. What things? That I don't believe that the ends justify the means? That I see the separation of Pope and Liturgy as a good thing? What about evening Mass, or Mass facing the wrong way? Both are damnable practices, and yet some Catholics, of the kind who think I have ''erroneous beliefs'', seem to think that other things, such as some Trad bishop wearing a bit of extra lace on his rochet, or the Pope wearing the camauro, add extra ''solemnity'' and ''tradition'' to the Church, and are signs of a new Pentecost of liturgical renewal - never mind that Mass is still said (not sung) facing the wrong way in every corner of the West, and at a liturgically inappropriate time! Oh no wait, sorry, the Benedictine Altar arrangement rectifies this problem! How it angers me! To quote Aragorn: ''Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.'' Let me explain. Traddies may pride themselves on their staunch opposition to doctrinal relativism, but their liturgical convictions are certainly wanting. There is a strong tendency among Traddies to criticize local bishops for their ineptitude. I can't say that I blame them for this per se; many of the bishops often are inept. I would say, however, that the Pope is no different. The Pope is not above reproach; he does not have some special insight into the Sacred Liturgy as universal pastor, nor does he embody in some mystical way the collective wills, sentiments and prayers of the Catholic Church; he is merely the bishop of the city of Rome, and knows little more about Liturgy than his lordship bishop So-and-so of the ''spirit of Vatican II'' diocese. Therefore if the Pope celebrates Mass facing the wrong way, how is this any different from Bishop So-and-so doing exactly the same thing? If the Pope has a lovely Postcommunion dance featuring Lady Gaga, how can you criticize the local bishop for delegating children to read a different sentence from the Gospel pericope of the day, or permitting girls to minister at the Altar? Is liturgical abuse one thing among the bishops, who are nice scapegoats for the Traddies, and another thing among the Popes?

I don't think I shall ever attend another evening Mass again. Is this fanaticism? I ask in all sincerity. I don't think it is at all, and I am sure that more sensible Traddies agree with me that evening Mass is an abomination - and that the Church is WRONG to permit this abuse. So who decides what constitutes real conviction as opposed to fanaticism? In terms of demonstrably untraditional and pernicious liturgical abuse I don't see how anyone can. The image was sent to me about a year ago by a friend. I think it depicts Pope Benedict XIV celebrating Mass facing the people in Vienna, indicative of the loss of the knowledge that the Patriarchal Basilicae in Rome were built for practical purposes facing Westward - and that therefore the Popes celebrate Liturgy in those churches facing the people incidentally. How far back the malaise goes!


Then Turgon king of Gondolin robed in white with a belt of gold, and a coronet of garnets was upon his head, stood before his doors and spake from the head of the white stairs that led thereto. "Welcome, O Man of the Land of Shadows. Lo! thy coming was set in our books of wisdom, and it has been written that there would come to pass many great things in the homes of the Gondothlim whenso thou faredst hither." (The Book of Lost Tales, volume II, chapter III).

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Arkenstone...

This is where my routine knowledge of Old English and mediaeval literature shews me up as a poor Tolkien scholar indeed. A Clerk of Oxford has posted a very detailed and original article on the Arkenstone of Thrain. Well worth reading. I'd have begun the article with Gandalf's philological discourse with Bilbo rather than concluded it but I never really gave the Arkenstone much thought beyond its occurrence in Beowulf. The connexion the esteemed Clerk makes between the eschatological "burglar" of Crist III, that is Christ's Second Coming, and Bilbo's stealing into the fastness of Smaug as a Thief in the Night is fascinating.

I never cease to be amazed at Tolkien. He can be as familiar as mugs of beer in a pub and as lofty as the beauty of Christ in His Second Coming, beautiful beyond enduring. When I became depressed two years ago and I tried to read The Hobbit but found the text too familiar, I reproached myself for the very reason that one can never be too familiar with the text. The Hobbit is really Tolkien's masterpiece. There is always something new; every word is to be considered for itself alone because every word has its own unique history to tell, its own comparative forms, and the text of The Hobbit is the synthesis of that.


Thank you to Dr Tighe for alerting me to this. It seems that Chartres Cathedral, a miracle of Gothic architecture, is at the mercy of philistine restorationists. It reminds me of what the French revolutionaries did to Notre Dame; not in the least bit "enlightened." My family and I visited Chartres in 2001 and my memories of the great cathedral are nothing like the images you will see if you follow the link. Then it was all dark and "atmospheric," not dingy and unpleasant.

I had planned on going to France next year for Agincourt Day and, if time and money allowed, making a long journey south just to see the cathedral. I wonder now whether I'd have the heart to do so.

The Lord of Waters...

Behold now Ulmo leapt upon his car before the doorway of his palace below the still waters of the Outer Sea; and his car was drawn by narwhal and sealion and was in fashion like a whale; and amidst the sounding of great conches he sped from Ulmonan. So great was the speed of his going that in days, and not in years without count as might be thought, he reached the mouth of the river. Up this his car might not fare without hurt to its water and its banks; therefore Ulmo, loving all rivers and this one more than most, went thence on foot, robed to the middle in mail like the scales of blue and silver fishes; but his hair was a bluish silver and his beard to his feet was of the same hue, and he bore neither helm nor crown. Beneath his mail fell the skirts of his kirtle of shimmering greens, and of what substance these were woven is not known, but whoso looked into the depths of their subtle colours seemed to behold the faint movements of deep waters shot with the stealthy lights of phosphorescent fish that live in the abyss. Girt was he with a rope of mighty pearls, and he was shod with mighty shoes of stone.

Thither he bore too his great instrument of music; and this was of strange design, for it was made of many long twisted shells pierced with holes. Blowing therein and playing with his long fingers he made deep melodies of a magic greater than any other among musicians hath ever compassed on harp or lute, on lyre or pipe, or instruments of the bow. Then coming along the river he sate among the reeds at twilight and played upon his thing of shells; and it was nigh to those places where Tuor tarried. And Tuor hearkened and was stricken dumb. There he stood knee-deep in the grass and heard no more the hum of insects, nor the murmur of the river borders, and the odour of flowers entered not into his nostrils; but he heard the sound of waves and the wail of sea-birds, and his soul leapt for the rocky places and the ledges that reek of fish, for the splash of the diving cormorant and those places where the sea bores into the black cliffs and yells aloud.

Then Ulmo arose and spake to him and for dread he came near to death, for the depth of the voice of Ulmo is of the uttermost depth: even as deep as his eyes which are the deepest of all things. And Ulmo said: "O Tuor of the lonely heart, I will not that thou dwell for ever in fair places of birds and flowers; nor would I lead thee through this pleasant land, but that so it must be. But fare now on thy destined journey and tarry not, for far from hence is thy weird set. Now must thou seek through the lands for the city of the folk called Gondothlim or the dwellers in stone, and the Noldoli shall escort thee thither in secret for fear of the spies of Melko. Words I will set to your mouth there, and there you shall abide awhile. Yet maybe thy life shall turn again to the mighty waters; and of a surety a child shall come of thee whom no man shall know more of the uttermost deeps, be it of the sea or of the firmament of heaven." Then spake Ulmo also to Tuor some of his design and desire, but thereof Tuor understood little at that time and feared greatly. (J.R.R Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales volume II, chapter III).

Just some Tolkien for you, some very old Tolkien. The earliest sketches for The Fall of Gondolin, of which this is part, were written in pencil while Tolkien was convalescing in hospital in 1917. "Stealthy lights of phosphorescent fish" sticks in my mind from this passage. Very Greek! You won't find "phosphorescent" anywhere else in the legendarium!

The artists, Ted Nasmith and John Howe respectively, both had The Silmarillion account of Ulmo's visitation in mind where, of course, he arises out of a great sea storm by the coasts of Vinyamar and not in the summer twilight in the Land of Willows, as in the Lost Tales. Which painting do you prefer?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

That subject again...

I don't believe in the existence of lesbians. This is both because I cannot understand how women can feel any kind of sexual attraction and because most lesbians I have seen, like Miriam Margolyes and Clare Balding, are disgusting old harridans anyway. In fact, Clare Balding was so disgusting that my father, normally a very placid man, wrote to Channel 4 and asked them to take her off the bloody television because he found her ignorance and lesbianism too much to bear. He received no reply and she's still there, boring for Britain.

A priest once told me he didn't believe in the existence of male homosexuality either and that he attributed the vice to any other temptation, like the temptation to steal. I mean I can't speak for other homosexuals. You must understand that with everything I say, I speak only for myself. I am a minority within a minority. But I would say this. It would be dishonest for me to say that I am not sexually attracted to other men. But it is honest for me to say that, deep down, I loathe my predicament as much as I loathe the gay community. You might remember from my post about friendship that, with one exception, the passes made to me by my homosexuals friends were rejected. I am not interested in relationships and I do not support the monstrous notion of "gay marriage." You might say that I bless God for my autism in this respect; it cuts any chances of becoming involved with somebody else in half.

A psychologist who spoke to me once said I had "low self-esteem." When he asked if I knew what that meant, I said, "no" in such a way that it conveyed full knowledge but no interest. When I told my mother she said that I didn't need self-esteem. That always struck me as a moment of clarity for her. Self-esteem, self-hatred and all those other things are imaginary constructs of the psychiatric community, as easily dispensed with as homosexuality itself. I am myself and disdainful. That is enough.

Suffering from...

"Exempt suffering from sexual perversion." It's interesting what the psychiatrist puts to Mr Crisp about fantasy visions of prowess and heroism. One might say, look at Elton John and his assumed middle name "Hercules!" In the 1940's homosexuality was understood as a mental illness, akin to schizophrenia and window licking, until the gay rights lobbyists had their way in the early 1970's. Now it's just one of any number of alternate lifestyles and morality, in personal and public life, is meaningless. It's easy to point the finger of blame at the nasty liberals themselves; to see all these "individual liberties" as subversive of common interest. They are. But in a society governed by Christian values, Christian morality gives way too often to hypocrisy and beneath the surface of decency pulls an undercurrent of vice. I sometimes fear, perhaps in ignorance of history, that this was the case in the United Kingdom. But homosexuality is still not as acceptable to the average man as the liberal oligarchs in Parliament would like. "Gay" is still used as a term of scorn; and such words as "poof," "pansy," and "fag" are still in common parlance, if now largely restricted to the working class. I don't like the working class anymore than you do, dear readers, but perhaps, as Winston Smith fondly hoped in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is to them that we can turn in our liberal darkness? Perhaps it isn't too late to have all the nasty liberals rounded up and shot?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Crist by Cynewulf...

For your lectio divina this Advent, I encourage you to read the poem Crist by the Saxon poet Cynewulf, the successor of Caedmon. Crist is an homiletic work based on the psalms and one of St Gregory the Great's sermons for Ascension but it is not wholly out of season. As it says in the Exeter Book, "less doth yearning trouble him who knoweth many songs; his possession is his gift of glee, which God gave him."

Éalá Éarendel engla beorhtast ofer middangeard monnum sended; ond sóðfæsta sunnan léoma torht ofer tunglas þú tída gehwane of sylfum þé symle inlíhtes! Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, above the middle-earth sent unto men, and true radiance of the sun, bright above the stars - thou of thy very self illuminest for every season!

"There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words," Tolkien said of his first encounter therewith, "if I could grasp it, far beyond antient English." Those words stirred something unfathomable in Tolkien and moved him to compose the first of the Lost Tales, the Voyage of Earendel, which forms the cornerstone of his legendarium. Earendel (which can be interpreted ''radiance of the dawn'') is a type of St John the Baptist, the herald of Christ's coming. Tolkien became enamoured of the singular beauty of the name and kept it in Eärendil the Mariner. Eärendil, incidentally, means "devoted to the sea" in Quenya; significant not only in the later voyage of the Edain to newly-established Númenor but that it also calls to mind the famous stella maris title for St Mary used in the Advent hymn Alma Redemptoris Mater.

Tolkien would later incorporate the words of Cynewulf into The Lord of the Rings. In the Pass of Cirith Ungol, Sam clutched at the Elven phial and, in defiance of the dark and of the monstrous and abominable eyes that had him in deadly regard, cried aloud in the voice of the Gnomes far back in the deeps of time and knew not what he said:

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon sí di'nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

"O Queen of the Stars, Star-kindler, from heaven gazing-afar; to thee I cry now in the shadow of (the fear of) death, O look towards me, Everwhite!" The subject is different, of course, and assumes instead a somewhat Marian piety, but the connexion to Crist is evident. Is it not reminiscent of O Oriens, among the finest of the Great Antiphons?

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Mediaeval writers, most notably (to my mind anyway) the Venerable Bede, speak the language of Liturgy, the language of divine service. Crist by Cynewulf is such a work. Cynewulf writes as if he breathes a wholly liturgical air which, for 9th century England, is not to be wondered at. His identity is mysterious but he was most likely in holy orders; this we can deduce from the fact that his work is so expressive of a deep hagiographical and scriptural knowledge gained, no doubt, from common singing of Divine Office.

Eärendil himself encompasses many aspects of Old Testament symbolism about the advent of The LORD. In The Silmarillion, Eärendil the Mariner, the Flammifer of Westernesse (a title which recalls another of the Great Antiphons, O Emmanuel), with the holy jewel upon his brow, penetrated the shadows of the wild seas about the Blessed Realm, even as St John made straight the ways of the LORD, and besought the Valar as the herald of Elves and Men to move them to pity upon their travail and sorrow; and thus was the kingdom of the Dark Lord brought to ruin. How poignant and marvellous a connexion between the Prophet and the Mariner, and between Liturgy and literature.

The text of Crist can be read here.