Saturday, 31 December 2011

Catholic Middle-earth...

''But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King.'' (J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter IV).

Tolkien was a Catholic and a mediaevalist. The Saxons believed, as indeed it was held in ancient tradition throughout mediaeval Europe, that Lady Day, the 25th March, was the actual date of our Lord's Crucifixion, and the last day of Creation. All of this is asserted in Byrhtferth's Manual, written by Byrhtferth, a monk of Ramsey, c. A.D 970-c.1020. Until the adoption of the Gregorian Kalendar in 1752, the 25th March was the beginning of the new year for most legal and official purposes in England. The Fellowship of the Ring departed from Rivendell on 25th December, and the realm of Sauron was ended on the 25th March. I think he was trying to tell us all something.

You see, it isn't just moral lessons to be learned from The Lord of the Rings - for those who have eyes to see.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

St Thomas of Canterbury...

As you know St Thomas was actually murdered as he was about to celebrate Vespers (''Vespera erat, nox longissima instabat,'' as William Fitzstephen's account has it), but perhaps the artist who produced this exquisite Book of Hours sought deliberately to equate the martyrdom of St Thomas with the Passion of our Lord in the context of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Whatever floats your boat, as the saying goes.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Hobbitorum Carminae...

Earlier today, on the feast of St Stephen the Protomartyr, I was joshing with a friend of mine about songs of the Hobbits, and we agreed that Gaudete, the 16th century Christmas carol, and Laetabundus, the Sequence for Christmas (absent from the Roman Rite, but found in the liturgical books proper to Sarum, and the Dominican liturgical books) would be songs sung in the Shire during Yuletide. Gaudete reminds me of O Filii et Filiae because it's very lively and simple.
Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

This rendering of Laetabundus is sung by the Dominican friars of Oxford. Sic Ecclesia hobbitur ad astra! Merrie Christmass to you all, and may St Stephen pray for you.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merrie Christmass...

Nativitas carnis manifestatio est humanae naturae; partus Virginis divinae est virtutis indicium. Infantia parvuli ostenditur humilitate cunarum: magnitudo Altissimi declaratur vocibus Angelorum. Similis est rudimentis hominum, quem Herodes impie molitur occidere; sed Dominus est omnium quem Magi gaudent suppliciter adorare.

The birth of the flesh is the manifestation of the human nature; the bringing forth of the Virgin is the indication of the Divine power. The little infant is shown in the humility of the cradle: the magnitude of the Most High is declared by the voices of the Angels. He is like the beginning [ie, innocence] of Men whom Herod strives impiously to kill; but He is the Lord of all whom the Magi rejoice humbly to adore.

So wrote St Leo the Great, a jewel among the popes of old Rome, in his famous Tomus ad Flavianum. Is it not melodious, and bethought it of wise doctrine? So it was read by the papal legates to the Council of Chalcedon, upon which the Fathers cried, una voce: This is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo. So taught the Apostles. Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught Cyril [of Alexandria].

Christmas is possibly the most dear of all feasts in the Church's twofold cycle of liturgical prayer, and the one which truly brings home the fact of the Incarnation. Christ became so truly human as to be a babe in arms, to feel hunger, to feel sad, to get annoyed, to work, to walk at will about the land, to suffer and die at the desire of the Jews. I'm afraid I am very tired after a 60 hour week at work (the busiest time of the year in the retail industry), so posting has been sporadic at best, but may I take this opportunity to wish all my readers every temporal and spiritual blessing in the Holy Child in this most sacred Solemnity of His Birth. Please don't overindulge on peacock!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Christmas Sybil...

Dies irae dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

I have often wondered to whom Thomas of Celano referred with these staves, and why the Sybil ranks alongside King David in import to him. Does he mean the Cumaean Sybil, who foretold (according to a reading of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue) the coming of the Saviour? (My old Latin teacher, herself a practicing Roman Catholic, told me of this many years ago, and told me to reject such reading as revisionist and fanciful). However, he may have been familiar with the so-called Sibilline Oracles which were a set of Christian writings imitating the pagan Sibillline Books. It's interesting nonetheless, that something so familiar should go unnoticed by hosts of people who go to Masses of the Dead.

In ancient days, in temples and caves, there dwelt wise women, the legendary seeresses of antiquity, who lived under the influence of the gods, and to whom men came from far and wide for counsel and prophecy. We call these women Sibyls, from the Greek σίβυλλα which means ''prophetess.'' One such Sibyl dwelt at the ancient Etruscan town of Tibur (modern day Tivoli), about fifteen miles north east of Rome. Her temple (which still stands to this day) stood in the midst of a sacred grove, the streams of which flowed out into the Tiber.

Augustus Caesar met with the Tiburtine Sibyl on the very afternoon of our Lord's Nativity. The story is to be found in Jacobus de Voragine's 13th century Golden Legend, and goes:

'' is what Pope Innocent III tells us: in order to reward Octavian for having established peace in the world, the Senate wished to pay him the honours of a god. But the wise Emperor, knowing that he was mortal, was unwilling to assume the title of immortal before he had asked the Sibyl whether the world would some day see the birth of a greater man than he.

Now on the day of the Nativity the Sibyl was alone with the emperor, when at high noon, she saw a golden ring appear around the sun. In the middle of the circle stood a Virgin, of wondrous beauty, holding a Child upon her bosom. The Sibyl showed this wonder to Caesar; and a voice was heard which said: "This woman is the Ara Cæli!"

And the Sibyl said to him: "This Child will be greater than thou."

Thus the room where this miracle took place was consecrated to the Holy Virgin; and upon the site the church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli stands today. However, other historians recount the same event in a slightly different way. According to them, Augustus mounted the Capitol, and asked the gods to make known to him who would reign after him; and he heard a voice saying: "A heavenly Child, the Son of the living God, born of a spotless Virgin!" Whereupon Augustus erected the altar beneath which he placed the inscription: ''This is the altar of the Son of the living God.''

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

That peasants' shop...

I always had a moral objection to Tesco. The stores are, generally, badly laid out, with serious issues of poor stock control and availability, illegal pricing, lack of POS and promotional signage, with a generally oppressive feeling; the staff are, in my experience, ignorant of promotional lines and just ''don't give a crap,'' to put it one way; all conducive to a positive shopping experience! This isn't to mention the inferior fresh and grocery food standards compared with Waitrose or Marks & Spencers (hence the title), or the fact that it is morally questionable to support an industry where people buy poor quality food just because it's cheap - and we are supposed to be a superior species on this planet?

But I'm afraid this just confirms my aversion. According to Nick Lansley, Head of Research & Development for, Christians who oppose same sex marriage are ''evil.'' You can read more about it here. Rest assured that I have written a very scathing email of complaint to the CEO, Philip Clarke. Mind you, being the snob that I am, I only ever went into Tesco for milk. I shall stop that forthwith.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Kim Jong Il...

Kim Jong Il has died, apparently of ''fatigue'' (according to the broadcast I saw on BBC Asia at 5 o'clock this morning). The words of Gandalf spring to mind: ''a great evil has departed.'' I don't know about you, but I won't be praying for his soul. The man was despicable; he held his people in dire thralldom and want, murdered whole families because of a dissenting member, and had innocent Christians put cruelly to death. May he feel the full force of Divine Justice.

I wonder what ramifications his death will have for future politics in North Korea? The news put me in mind of Winston Smith's discourse on the ''spirit of man'' during his time with O'Brian in the Ministry of Love, that you cannot build a civilisation upon lies, grotesqueries and the intoxication of power. Do pray for the people of North Korea.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


Melko however looking upon him was wroth, asking how a Gnome, a thrall by birth of his, had dared to fare away into the woods unbidden, but Beren answered that he was no runagate but came of the kindred of Gnomes that dwelt in Aryador and mingled much there among the folk of Men. Then was Melko yet more angry, for he sought ever to destroy the friendship and intercourse of Elves and Men, and said that evidently here was a plotter of deep treacheries against Melko's lordship, and one worthy of the torture of the Balrogs; but Beren seeing his peril answered: ''Think not, O most mighty Ainu Melko, Lord of the World, that this can be true, for an it were then should I not be here unaided and alone. No friendship has Beren son of Egnor for the kindred of Men; nay indeed, wearying utterly of the lands infested by that folk he has wandered out of Aryador. Many a great tale has my father made to me aforetime of thy splendour and glory, wherefore, albeit I am no renegade thrall, I do desire nothing so much as to serve thee in what small manner I may,'' and Beren said therewith that he was a great trapper of small animals and a snarer of birds, and had become lost in the hills in these pursuits until after much wandering he had come into strange lands, and even had not the Orcs seized him he would indeed have had no other rede of safety but to approach the majesty of Ainu Melko and beg him to grand him some humble office - as a winner of meats for his table perchance.

Now the Valar must have inspired that speech, or perchance it was a spell of cunning words cast on him in compassion by Gwendeling, for indeed it saved his life, and Melko marking his hardy frame believed him, and was willing to accept him as a thrall of his kitchens. Flattery savoured ever sweet in the nostrils of that Ainu, and for all his unfathomed wisdom many a lie of those whom he despised deceived him, were they clothed sweetly in words of praise; therefore now he gave orders for Beren to be made a thrall of Tevildo Prince of Cats. Now Tevildo was a mighty cat - the mightiest of all - and possessed of an evil sprite, as some say, and he was in Melko's constant following; and that cat had all cats subject to him, and he and his subjects were the chasers and getters of meat for Melko's table and for his frequent feasts. Wherefore is it that there is hatred still between the Elves and all cats even now when Melko rules no more, and his beasts are become of little account. (The Book of Lost Tales, Book II, Chapter I).

In 1959 a Cambridge cat breeder had asked Allen & Unwin if she could register a litter of Siamese kittens under names taken from The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote back:

''My only comment is that of Puck upon mortals. I fear that to me Siamese cats belong to the fauna of Morder, but you need not tell the cat breeder that.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no.219).

Friday, 16 December 2011

Here is Wisdom...

Don't forget your O Antiphons, my dears! In that illustrious Use of Sarum they began today instead of tomorrow as in the Roman Rite.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Sapientia is in the Prayerbook kalendar of saints days, but no texts are given. Does anybody know how, why, when etc, it was ever recited? Or is it like one of those things like the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols?

I wish God would shew me the way of prudence...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


''...I am not ok, and you are not ok.'' I think Mother Theresa said that. Some people who style themselves Christians (mostly nasty protestants) tend to think that as long as you're nice to people then everything is fine. No need to cultivate a sense of morality grounded in the Natural Law, a backbone, establish firm belief in the teachings of Christ's Church, attend Liturgy every Sunday, and humbly observe the liturgical feasts and fasts which envelope the seasons (nobody cares about months of sacred hearts or Joseph the working class git) - you know, no need to put on Christ as the Scriptures say. Everything is now, no need for a rhythm to life, fasting and feasting in due season; just go out every Friday for a piss up, hang on Saturday, spend money on Sundays, be nice to people, work, enjoy promiscuous sex with a series of life partners, get married in a registry office, get divorced (who cares about extra-marital sex, or the witness of Christ's Church? Since when did ''sanctifying grace'' come into marriage? It's just a civil contract between two random people who will probably fail to be rigidly monogamous, or later find some excuse to divorce), no need to put your moral and interpersonal proclivities to the test; no need to render obeisance to an established ecclesiastical authority, you can run your own moral life; take bits at random from various religions (like ''Karma''), and piece them together according to your own idle fancy. I often find that if it is hard to do, then it's usually the right decision. Not that this knowledge helps much when the time comes.

Of course given the morally dubious lifestyle I've chosen, I'm not really one to pontificate about morality, am I? Least of all to the many people out there who do not care for religion. Someone asked me the other day why I was so opposed to same-sex marriage - they often forget that I am a [lapsed] Catholic. Impossibility is something that doesn't enter their small minds. I believe that Marriage was instituted by God in the beginning of our innocence where a man and a woman establish between themselves a lifelong partnership, for their good, the good of the Church, the good of society, and for the procreation and upbringing of children. A valid marriage is therefore inextricably for two parties who are ontologically male and ontologically female, with no grey areas. No human authority has the right or power to ''redefine'' marriage in order to make concessions to pressure groups here and there in the name of ''equality.'' How could it be equal? Men cannot carry children, neither can women sire them; and surrogacy is no substitute. But God help the children who are raised by same sex partners. He alone knows what kind of psychological trauma and confusion they must be put to. Same sex marriage would bring the backbone of society crashing down, and I am not cynical or paranoid. This is why I do not identify with or support the LGBT movement - but I have my foot in both camps, apparently; doomed to forever straggle the two, in the knowledge that I'll never belong to either one. Oh well.

Unless I am quite mistaken most religious people are born into a religion and die in the same. Fr Chadwick was talking about this yesterday, that for them it provides stability, or something. For my part I am tired and bitter, lethargic in a wilderness of fear, uncertainty and disinclination. I still cling to the moral teachings of the Roman church, for they seem (for the most part) wise, grounded in Scripture, and in accord with my own conscience; but I have now no more real reason to adhere to them anymore than the relativistic moral teachings of any other mainstream Christian denomination. I went to Mass every Sunday for eleven years - this past year I have seriously let the side down. I used to blame my chronic lack of sleep, and getting up at 4:30am is no treat five days a week; but even upon waking I know this is not the reason. It's a moral and religious choice of the utmost import to which I make the wrong answer, where before there was no question. Do we go to Mass to render hearty thanks unto God, to partake in religious conduct of the highest order and ceremonial? Do we go to Mass to stand in the midst of the saints and adore the Eucharistic God at the sacring, and approach the Table of the Lord with a true penitent heart and receive that holy Sacrament? Or do we go to Mass simply to act as liturgical spectators, pronouncing judgements upon the follies, misgivings and mistakes of others, and afterwards congratulating one another over a pink gin or two? Such questions as these (and they are cogent) never used to bother me, and Mass attendance on Sundays and feasts was just ''the done thing,'' as was assistance with the preparation and serving of the Liturgy. Is it a sin to be too scandalized by others? I am probably the most intolerant person in England and generally take ill any meddling, but being part of a renewal process, in a tiny (albeit famous) corner of the West meant something to me - although I guess that the fruits of such small efforts as these are only measurable if you're in the correct place in the first place, although that is beside the point. I hate not being needed, or being of no accord.

I did have a point...oh yes. So what do I do now? I'm tired of this wood between the worlds and the sight of so many pools. I want to belong. The Sackville-Bagginses may be ignorant, prejudiced and generally disagreeable, but that can be said of all of us. We're all hobbits together, even if some of us like tweed and others cheap cable knit jumpers. It reminds me of that song the Silvan Elves made of the estrangement of the Ents and the Entwives when the Great Darkness came in the North. The Ents desired the wide woodland halls and the mountain slopes; the Entwives desired order, with well tended gardens and orchards. It is a strange and sad story, which Treebeard told to the hobbits Merry and Pippin when they escaped the battle of the Orcs with the men of Rohan. The last stanza goes:

Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.

I hope this post is comprehensible. I just sat down and typed it, and have no inclination to go through and edit it.

Art: Ted Nasmith. A painting of Rivendell from a J.R.R Tolkien kalendar which is based on a watercolour Tolkien himself painted of that fair valley; a place where the regal history of Middle-earth is remembered by Elrond, master of lore, and the people subject to him. Lórien is different in the sense that the land itself seems wrought of that history, that it lives still, rather than consigned to the books. I guess this would be synonymous with the difference between liturgical study and living a truly liturgical life. The former is a praiseworthy feat and could render great service to Christ's Church, but becomes stagnant, almost evil, when it renders you bare of all charity, and bethought of bitterness.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

To care...

Leaving questions of the aforementioned painting at the top of this 'blog aside for the moment (in fact, they can go hang), Fr Chadwick over at English Catholic has a very resonant and apposite post about conversion, patrimony, keeping up with the Joneses (I got that impression), intolerance, the wood between the worlds; call it what you will. I enjoy reading his stuff. He seems steadier than me, less quick to wrath and resentment and more skilled in the art of writing, even if we are in some ways similar in our outlook. I commend him for linking to me - doing so can hardly increase his popularity in the liturgical (or otherwise) blogosphere.

As for me, I am at present so overworked and frustrated with one thing after another that I have stopped caring and retired to the woods of Middle-earth. It's St Lucy's Day today, and I am going to spend some time with my dog (who is called Lucy, and who is in the above photo), a creature far more worthy than many humans, who understands me better than most, and far more liturgical than me, or anyone. Who else would wake up and scratch on your bedroom door at close to 2 o'clock in the morning to remind you of your liturgical duties?

Monday, 12 December 2011


Does anybody know what has happened to the painting at the top of the screen? I just came online one day and it had shrunk. I didn't do anything...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Master of Doom, by doom mastered...

Then abiding until a very vital and unfended spot was within stroke, he heaved up Gurtholfin his black sword and stabbed with all his strength above his head, and that magic blade of the Rodothlim [Gnomes] went into the vitals of the dragon even to the hilt, and the yell of his death-pain rent the woods and all that heard it were aghast.

Then did that drake writhe horribly and the huge spires of his contortions were terrible to see, and all the trees he brake that stood nigh to the place of his agony. Almost had he crossed the chasm when Gurtholfin pierced him, and now he cast himself upon its farther bank and laid all waste about him, and lashed and coiled and made a yelling and a bellowing such that the stoutest blenched and turned to flee. Now those afar thought that this was the fearsome noise of battle betwixt the seven, Turambar and his comrades, and little they hoped ever to see any of them return, and Níniel's heart died within her at the sounds; but below in the ravine those three caverns who had watched Turambar from afar fled now in terror back towards the fall, and Turambar clung nigh to the lip of the chasm white and trembling, for he was spent.

At length did those noises of horror cease, and there arose a great smoking, for Glomund was dying. Then in utter hardihood did Turambar creep out alone from his hiding, for in the agony of the Foalókë his sword was dragged from his hand ere he might withdraw it, and he cherished Gurtholfin beyond all his possessions, for all things died, or man or beast, whom once its edges bit. Now Turambar saw where the dragon lay, and he was stretched out stiff upon his side, and Gurtholfin stood yet in his belly; but he breathed still.
(J.R.R Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth, Volume II, Chapter II).

Randomness. Art: Ted Nasmith.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Rubricarius of the St Lawrence Press has published a series of articles about the vestments of Dr Adrian Fortescue, salvaged from a skip by Fra' Duncan Gallie of the Knights of Malta - no doubt the priest responsible for throwing them away is a philistine with no liturgical or aesthetic sense. Do go over and look; the stoles are especially exquisite - not like the spade-shaped ones in vogue among the Sackville-Bagginses.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

From Fr Nicholas Christmas...

Cliff House, North Pole, Christmas 1943

My dear Priscilla,

A very happy Christmas! I suppose you will be hanging up your stocking just once more: I hope so for I have still a few little things for you. After this I shall have to say, ''goodbye,'' more or less: I mean, I shall not forget you. We always keep the old numbers of our friends, and their letters; and later on we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children.

My messengers tell me that people call it ''grim'' this year. I think they mean miserable: and so it is, I fear, in very many places where I was specially fond of going; but I am very glad to hear that you are still not really miserable. Don't be! I am still very much alive, and shall come back again soon, as merry as ever. There has been no damage in my country; and though my stocks are running rather low I hope soon to put that right.

Polar Bear - too ''tired'' to write himself (so he says) -

I am, reely

sends a special message to you: love and a hug! He says: do ask if she still has a bear called Silly Billy, or something like that; or is he worn out?

Give my love to the others: John and Michael and Christopher - and of course to all your pets that you used to tell me about. Polar Bear and all the Cubs are very well. They have really been very good this year and have hardly had time to get into any mischief.

I hope you will find most of the things that you wanted and I am very sorry that I have no 'Cats' Tongues' left. But I have sent nearly all the books you asked for. I hope your stocking will seem full!

Very much love from your old friend, Father Christmas.

(J.R.R Tolkien, Letters from Father Christmas).

I know we have a long way to go before Christmas, so purists out there (confessedly like me) who despise the whole ''festive season'' thing which only mocks and cheapens the Advent and Christmas seasons have naught to fear from me. Within this great Octave of St Andrew the Apostle, called first among the Disciples, we celebrate the feast of St Nicholas, the ''real'' Fr Christmas, and the patron saint of children. Many miracles are attributed to him, and many legends arose around his cult, such as you can find in the letter from Fr Christmas to Priscilla Tolkien when she was a girl. Why do we lie to our children, though? Why do we have them believe in a benevolent, fat old man in a red cloak who dives down chimneys and leaves gifts under the Christmas tree? Do these things have much to do with the historical St Nicholas, Wonderworker, who punched the heretic Arius in the face during the ''there was when he was not'' debate at the Council of Nicaea? Certainly my father told me about St Nicholas, that he was a bishop in Asia Minor in ancient days, but I seldom thought of the jolly fat man and the saint in the same light. To what extent are they akin? At least my upbringing was ''culturally'' Roman Catholic, augmented by my pious Roman Catholic grandparents, and balanced by influence from my protestant grandmother (even now I am averse to kissing things like relics and images); how is it with godless children? When they grow old enough and start families of their own, why do they continue what seems to me to be a custom with little meaning? What use are irreligious fairy tales to children with no faith?

Whatever betide, I still enjoy some of the legends surrounding St Nicholas, many of which are as old as the hills. I am even mindful of them when I say my prayers to him. If you have children, Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R Tolkien would be a nice Christmas present (in my opinion). The Good Little Christmas Tree by Ursula Moray Williams also, with handsome illustrations by Gillian Tyler; one of my favourite books as a child. The little I know of Ursula Moray Williams is good; like Tolkien she was a Catholic, and her book is influenced by the faith of our fathers for those who have eyes to see. It is out of print unfortunately, but you can still find it on Amazon.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

St Barbara...

The most beautiful image of St Barbara in East Anglia - on the rood screen at Barton Turf. Many thanks to the Canon Precentor of Norwich Cathedral for bringing this to my attention.

Unfortunately the world over which she once presided is now dead, and gone.

St Barbara, pray for us.

Friday, 2 December 2011


The strife among the Princes of the House of Finwë went back into the long Years of the Trees in Valinor, but it was nursed by Melkor, the father of lies, who went at will about the land ere his devices were laid bare, and he could be subdued again. When Fëanor went into exile from Valinor with his Seven Sons, a greater part of the Gnomes went with him, but by no means all were willing to march under Fëanor 's banner; for many, having still a love and reverence for the Valar, went with the host of Fingolfin and Finarfin, the half-brothers of Fëanor, bearing with them treasures, a solace and a burden on the road; but all fell under the Doom of Mandos. When the host of Fëanor came to the shores of Middle-earth, and at the bidding of Fëanor burned the ships of the Shoreland Pipers at Losgar, Fingolfin descried the flames from the Araman and knew that he was betrayed, and so attempted the dread passage of the Helkaraxë about the girdle of Arda, which none had dared save the Valar only, and Ungoliant. No love had any in the host of Fingolfin for the House of Fëanor when they met again in Mithrim, but the waters of Mithrim divided their camp. Thus was the assault upon Angband stayed, even as the Sun rose flaming in the West and filled the servants of Morgoth with fear. But Maedhros, son of Fëanor, Morgoth had chained to the sheer walls of Thangorodrim.

Thus spake Ælfwine of England, who found the Straight Road into the West:

Thus because of the curse that lay upon them the Gnomes achieved nothing, while Morgoth hesitated, and the dread of light was new and strong upon the Orcs. But Morgoth arose from thought, and seeing the division of his foes he laughed. In the pits of Angband he caused vast smokes and vapours to be made, and they came forth from the reeking tops of the Iron Mountains, and afar off they could be seen in Mithrim, staining the bright airs in the first mornings of the world. A wind came out of the east, and bore them over Hithlum, darkening the new Sun; and they fell, and coiled about the fields and hollows, and lay upon the waters of Mithrim, drear and poisonous.

Then Fingon the valiant, son of Fingolfin, resolved to heal the feud that divided the Gnomes, before their Enemy should be ready for war; for the earth trembled in the Northlands with the thunder of the forges of Morgoth underground. Long before, in the bliss of Valinor, before Melkor was unchained, or lies came between them, Fingon had been close in friendship with Maedhros; and though he knew not yet that Maedhros had not forgotten him at the burning of the ships, the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart. Therefore he dared a deed which is justly renowned among the feats of the princes of the Gnomes: alone, and without the counsel of any, he set forth in search of Maedhros; and aided by the very darkness that Morgoth had made he came unseen into the fastness of his foes. High upon the shoulders of Thangorodrim he climbed, and looked in despair upon the desolation of the land; but no passage or crevice could he find through which he might come within Morgoth's stronghold. Then in defiance of the Orcs, who cowered still in the dark vaults beneath the earth, he took his harp and sang a song of Valinor that the Gnomes made of old, before strife was born among the sons of Finwë; and his voice rang in the mournful hollows that had never heard before aught save cries of fear and woe.

Thus Fingon found what he sought. For suddenly above him far and faint his song was taken up, and a voice answering called to him. Maedhros it was that sang amid his torment. But Fingon climbed to the foot of the precipice where his kinsman hung, and then could go no further; and he wept when he saw the cruel device of Morgoth. Maedhros therefore, being in anguish without hope, begged Fingon to shoot him with his bow; and Fingon strung an arrow, and bent his bow. And seeing no better hope he cried to Manwë, saying: ''O King to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Gnomes in their need!''

His prayer was answered swiftly. For Manwë to whom all birds are dear, and to whom they bring news upon Taniquetil from Middle-earth, had sent forth the race of Eagles, commanding them to dwell in the crags of the North, and to keep watch upon Morgoth; for Manwë still had pity for the exiled Elves. And the Eagles brought news of much that passed in those days to the sad ears of Manwë. Now, even as Fingon bent his bow, there flew down from the high airs Thorondor, King of Eagles, mightiest of all birds that have ever been, whose outstretched wings spanned thirty fathoms; and staying Fingon's hand he took him up, and bore him to the face of the rock where Maedhros hung. But Fingon could not release the hell-wrought bond upon his wrist, nor sever it, nor draw it from the stone. And therefore in his pain Maedhros begged that he would slay him; but Fingon cut off his hand above the wrist, and Thorondor bore them back to Mithrim.

There Maedhros in time was healed; for the fire of life was hot within him, and his strength was of the ancient world, such as those possessed who were nurtured in Valinor. His body recovered from his torment and became hale, but the shadow of his pain was in his heart; and he lived to wield sword with left hand more deadly than his right had been. By this deed Fingon won great renown, and all the Gnomes praised him; and the hatred between the houses of Fingolfin and Fëanor was assuaged. For Maedhros begged forgiveness for the desertion in Araman; and he waived his claim to kingship over all the Gnomes, saying to Fingolfin: ''If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.'' But to this his brothers did not all in their hearts agree.
(J.R.R Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter XIII).


I highly recommend listening to this. The Tallis Scholars sing Byrd's Vigilate. Enjoy!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Vicar's choice...

It is often claimed that the London Oratory is a centre of ''liturgical excellence.'' I wonder what standard they who make this claim use to measure ''liturgical excellence.'' Clearly not Tradition, so what? I venture to think that the most famous ''liturgical'' people out there who make such judgements really don't know what they're doing, or if they do they just wish to perpetuate a myth and keep innocent, less-informed Christians in the dark - a bit like keeping up with the Joneses, or a sycophants' club where they all compliment each other on how traditional and Ultramontane they all are. The feast of St Andrew had, of old, an Octave in this land, and having half an hour to spare, I decided to listen to the BBC Radio 3 live broadcast of choral Vespers from the Oratory for Andrewmas. I think that the incorrect psalmody, the mediocre choir, and the presence of elements from the New Rite would shew this place up as being by no means a centre of ''liturgical excellence'' (a claim made by a moderator of The New Liturgical Movement 'blog, by the way). Why Psalm 117 in place of Psalm 138? Vicar's choice, perhaps? Psalm 117 is much shorter than Psalm 138. Maybe it was so that we could have a polyphonic psalm. If this was the reason then all I can say is that the Sacred Liturgy cannot be cheapened like that.

From the Annals of Aman...

This passage from The History of Middle-earth I find so resonant. Does it remind you of anything?

And it is said that Melkor was not seen again for a while; but suddenly he appeared before the doors of the house of Finwë and Fëanor at Formenos, and sought to speak with them. And he said to them: ''Behold the truth of all that I have spoken, and how you are indeed banished unjustly. And think not that the Silmarils lie safe in any treasury within the realm of the gods. But if the heart of Fëanor is yet free and bold as his words were in Túna, then I will aid you, and bring you far from this narrow land. For am I not Vala as are they? Yea, and more than they, and have ever been a friend to the Noldor, most skilled and valiant of all the folk of Arda.''

Then the heart of Fëanor was increased in bitterness and filled with fear for the Silmarils, and in that mood he endured. But Melkor's words touched too deep, and awoke a fire more fierce than he intended; and Fëanor looked upon him with blazing eyes, and lo! he saw through the semblance of Melkor and pierced the cloaks of his mind, perceiving there the lust for the Silmarils. Then hate overcame all fear and he cursed Melkor and bade him begone. ''Get thee from my gate, thou gangrel, jail-crow of Mandos,'' said he, and he shut the doors of his house in the face of the mightiest of all the dwellers in Eä.

And at that time, being himself in peril, Melkor departed, consumed with wrath, and bitter vengeance he plotted for his shame.
(The History of Middle-earth, Volume X).

The account in The Silmarillion is different, and in a few literary respects superior, but given the choice I always look to The History of Middle-earth.

Art: Ted Nasmith. And said Fëanor, ''let the ships burn!''

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Beatus Andreas Apostolus sit pro nobis perpetuus intercessor. I trust you all had a pleasant feast day? I know I did (thank you lovely friend)! I have now raided my father's vintage whiskey cupboard - well not really, his middle name is Andrew, and he seemed pleased that today was one of his name days; and has let me partake of some of his 30 year old Glenfarclas. I'm no connoisseur of whiskey, but cheers dad!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The armour of light...

A welcome sight. The Sacred Ministers vested for the celebration of Mass at the church of St Magnus the Martyr nigh to London Bridge on the First Sunday in Advent. A truly splendid way to begin the liturgical year!

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen. (Collect for the First Sunday in Advent in the Book of Common Prayer). You will look in vain to the Sarum liturgical books for this. The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent in Sarum is much the same as the ''modern'' (you know what I mean) Roman books; it seems that the Collect above is a 16th century composition, not wholly inappropriate, it must be said; although the Collect prescribed for next Sunday is less good, and bethought of protestantism. The Officium in Sarum for this Sunday, and the next, and the next, correspond to the Roman Introits; for the First Sunday, even so:

Ad te levavi animam meam: Deus meus in te confido, non erubescam: neque irrideant me inimici mei: etenim universi qui te expectant non confundentur. Ps. Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi: et semitas tuas edoce me. Ad te levavi. Gloria Patri, &c.

The Introit Rorate Cæli, for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, is not found in the Sarum liturgical books, and in its place is the Officium:

Memento nostri, Domine, in beneplacito populi tui: visita nos in salutari tuo: ad videndum in bonitate electorum tuorum, in laetitia gentis tuae, ut lauderis cum haereditate tua. Ps. Peccavimus cum patribus nostris: iniuste egimus, iniquitatem fecimus. Memento nostri. Gloria Patri, &c.

A rather loose, albeit beautiful, translation is given by Coverdale. Remember me, O Lord, according to the favour that thou bearest unto thy people; O visit me with thy salvation, that I may see the felicity of thy chosen, and rejoice in the gladness of thy people, and give thanks with thine inheritance. We have sinned with our fathers: we have done amiss, and dealt wickedly. Remember me. Glory be to the Father, &c.

The Epistle and Gospel pericopes correspond across all three for the First Sunday, although in Sarum there is, of course, a Sequence (Salus Aeterna), which is peculiar (as are all the Advent Sunday sequences) since all lines of each verse end with the letter a, and do not seem to follow any strict poetic cursus. There is a goodly translation by Pearson (1871), which renders it almost Tolkienian, since it is laden with the sorrow of mortal men, but typical of Advent, with expectation, by which the season is enriched. I wonder if Tolkien knew of these Sequences? As a mediaevalist, it is not unlikely.

The Missal of Robert of Jumièges contains a proper Preface for this Sunday. I was hoping against hope that this would correspond to the ad libitum proper Preface for Advent in the 1962 Missal, but no. The preface in the 1962 Missal is, interestingly, derived from the Lyonese Missal, a curiosity considering that most else in that dread reform had no source in the Tradition of the Church.

(Domine sancte Pater omnipotens aeternae Deus), cui proprium est ac singulare quod bonus es. Et nulla umquam a te es commutatione diversus. Propitiare quaesumus supplicationibus nostris, et Ecclesiae tuae misericordiam tuam quam deprecamur ostende. Manifestans plebi tuae Unigeniti tui et Incarnationis mysterium, et adventus admirabile sacramentum: ut in universitate nationum constet esse perfectum quod vatum oraculis fuit ante promissum, percipiantque dignitatem adoptionis quos exornat confessio veritatis. Per quem...

Or as found in the 1962 books and the Lyonese Missal (to be used on all Dominicae and feriae even up to the Vigil of the Lord's Nativity inclusive):

(Domine sancte Pater omnipotens aeternae Deus): per Christum Dominum nostrum. Quem perdito hominum generi Salvatorem misericors et fidelis promisisti: cuius veritas instrueret inscios, sanctitas iustificaret impios, virtus adiuvaret infirmos. Dum ergo prope est ut veniat quem missurus es, et dies affulget liberationis nostrae, in hac promissionum tuarum fide, piis gaudiis exultamus. Et ideo...

It would be interesting to see how many traditionalists, accustomed to using pre-Pius XII liturgical books, use the ad libitum Preface for Advent - it's quite traditional. It is one of those rare things in the modern Roman Rite where you can have catholicity in variegation, rather than uniformity, which is not now nor ever desirable.

A blessed Advent to you all. Watch ye for ye know not when the master of the house cometh.

The Door of Night...

''Thus came it that the Gods dared a very great deed, the most mighty of all their works; for making a fleet of magic rafts and boats with Ulmo's aid - and otherwise had none of these endured to sail upon the waters of Vai - they drew to the Wall of Things, and there they made the Door of Night (Moritarnon or Tarn Fui as the Eldar name it in their tongues). There it still stands, utterly black and huge against the deep-blue walls. Its pillars are of the mightiest basalt and its lintel likewise, but great dragons of black stone are carved thereon, and shadowy smoke pours slowly from their jaws. Gates it has unbreakable, and none know how they were made or set, for the Eldar were not suffered to be in that dread building, and it is the last secret of the Gods; and not the onset of the world will force that door, which opens to a mystic word alone. That word Urwendi only knows and Manwë who spake it to her; for beyond the Door of Night is the outer dark, and he who passes therethrough may escape the world and death and hear things not yet for the ears of Earth-dwellers, and this may not be.'' (The History of Middle-earth, Volume I, Chapter IX, The Hiding of Valinor).

Earendel keeps ceaseless watch upon those doors, lest the Dark Lord figure out the secret of them and essay to rend them. I have often wondered about the presence of ''dragons'' - creatures of Morgoth, even if they are lifeless. Smoke is said to issue ever from their jaws. Perhaps they function like to cathedral gargoyles, such as you find on Notre Dame de Paris? The idea was that images of devils would cheat the Devil into thinking the church were a place already claimed by them, temples unto his cult, or something. The Middle Ages were fun!

I dreamt of those doors once, when I was staying with my grandmother in Cornwall, as a boy of 14 or 15 Summers; I stood upon the edge of a vast precipice and beheld an unbroken forest kingdom below, beyond which was a sea, which I could descry with the sight that was given to me, and amidmost were the impenetrable doors. I longed to fly like a bird to them, but I woke up and the vision was taken away. It was time to get up.

St Quentin of Bumhampton...

Well this certainly tickled my fancy when I opened the email from Blogger. A comment from a less-than-sympathetic reader? A cruel joke? An innocuous observation? Think of it what you will!

You know, I've long suspected that Anglo-Catholics should be called Gaynglicans and that most men who dress up and get all exercised about liturgy aren't exactly the most butch, but you sir, take the cake.
Why not just canonize Quentin Crisp and be done with it?

Monday, 28 November 2011

Venturus est Dominus...

Well, Advent is finally upon us. It is less sombre than Lent, and, even as the Gnomes standing upon the high walls of Gondolin await the coming of the Dawn, and to raise their voices in song at the uprising of the Sun, the Church too awaits the coming of Christ, the liturgical Sun and the Sun of Justice. It is a liturgical season of rather blended feelings; on the one hand, the use of folded chasubles reminds us of our need to do penance, and the sorrow of the Church on earth is united to the sorrow of the old Israelites awaiting the Messias (indeed it is behoveful that we all of us unite ourselves to the old Israelites in asking God for the Christ-child), but on the other hand, the Church ceases not to say Alleluia in the Sacred Liturgy, nor wholly to assuage gladness in the Sanctorale. As Dom Prosper put it: ''This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.'' (The Liturgical Year, Volume I, Advent).

Trado, tradere...

A silhouette of Whitby Abbey - a vision of that which has been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time.

I am not a protestant - protestants do not pray to the Saints, nor do they make such a fuss about Liturgy, or ornaments, rubrics, candles, etc. Protestantism is a heresy which consists in rejection of Tradition and the triumph of one's own judgement upon the Word of God. A year or so ago I was accused of protestantism because I was guilty of ''rigidly adhering to antiquity in spite of contrary papal or conciliar legislation.'' Do Roman Catholics not understand the meaning of Tradition? They accuse protestants of selectivism, rejection of proper ecclesiastical authority, etc, but are they not themselves guilty of a similar heresy? It is often the way with diametrically opposed schools of thought, or things - they're exactly the same, suffering the same prejudices and want of reason. Nazism was manifestly much the same as Stalinism, for example. So it is with modern Roman Catholics and protestants. If it boils down to authority then we may we may well ask wherefore the pope has authority sufficient enough to alter Tradition - or if he does, what distinguishes the Word of God from Tradition since both are inextricably linked in the fundamentals of revelation. How is any verse of Scripture exempt from the authority of the pope? Do I exaggerate? Apologists for Papal authority go on and on about the limits thereof, but I am no longer convinced of their arguments. History, which the Roman communion cannot conceal forever, begs to differ. Papal authority as it has been manifested since the 19th century has, in my view, gone way beyond the parameters set by legitimate exercise of authority in the Church, be it that of an ecumenical synod or the delicts of a local bishop. Even in terms of philosophy it has neither been justly exercised nor for the good of the Church.

The stance of the Roman communion on doctrinal and moral relativism is commenable, but is this not just a stinking red herring? It is but to say: ''you must believe this, this, and that; you must also do this, but the pope, Christ's Vicar, is above these rules and can do as he sees fit on a whim. He is infallible, after all.'' Or maybe I've spoken of this before and I am just repeating myself. It is unpopular to think so, but if the pope can decide that folded chasubles aren't to be used on the Sundays and ferial days of Advent anymore, what's stopping him from saying that the doctrine of the Triune God is false? A few weeks ago I had this argument with a Greek Orthodox woman who said that all the pope has to do is ''remove the Filioque,'' and everyone would be happy. Who exactly did she have in mind? Certainly not me! Such a ''trivial'' thing as she seemed to think involves very complex questions of theology and ecclesiology. The Roman church has professed belief in the double procession of the Holy Ghost for over a thousand years. For the pope to simply remove the Filioque from the Nicene Creed would be the height of arrogance. Not only would he be anathematizing hundreds of Western saints who taught contra Graeciae, he would be severely re-shaping Roman Trinitarian theology as defined by the councils to which Rome attaches the name ''ecumenical.'' Does the Bishop of Rome have this authority? What then? Would the pope step down from his exalted position in Christ's Church and pick up where everybody left off in the 11th century? What then was the purpose of the Papacy for a thousand years? Its self-destruction? Would that it were! But no. It matters not that the pope added the Filioque in the first place, or that maybe one day he will remove it, to nobody's satisfaction but the ignorant. The point is simply this: if you question the pope's authority (whether or no you blame the authority of the pope) regarding folded chasubles, or some other aspect of liturgical reform, you might as well question the addition, or removal, of the Filioque. What are the ecumenical implications of all this? Personally, I think that it leaves small hope for the reunion of the Roman and Orthodox churches - but who wants that anyway? I know of many deluded Romans who think little of the Orthodox (''how dare they reject our lovely pope!''), and still more Orthodox who can't abide the Papacy. I can just imagine the Orthodox and the Traddie in conversation about it. After the pope excises the Filioque from the Creed, the Traddie asks: ''so, what do we do now, then?'' The Orthodox replies: ''well, now you abolish Pastor Aeternus and Lumen Gentium.'' ''Why?'' ''Because the Filioque is a fundamentally papal issue. In no other way are our ecclesiologies so far apart as the question of the pope.'' Can any of you see this going anyway?

I adore this. It's superb. Liturgy as it should be.

This post has long ceased to have any coherent point, so I'll just round up. A few years ago I went into Holy Trinity church at Long Melford in Suffolk, a masterpiece of the perpendicular style. I marvelled at the church, so beautiful it was, and I looked about me with a profound sense of regret which has never wholly left me, even now when I think that Rome has no actual right to have dioceses in England. It was the feeling of an exile returned after a long absence, looking about at things at once familiar and yet remote, remembering times when he was lord - the typical triumphalist attitude of the Roman Catholic to the Anglican about their own ancestral churches. It put me in mind of the words of Galadriel to Celeborn. You remember her kindly remonstrance about the company of the Ring being caught up in the net of Moria? ''If our folk had been exiled long and far from Lothlórien, who of the Galadhrim, even Celeborn the Wise, would pass nigh and would not wish to look upon their ancient home, though it had become an abode of dragons?'' Even if Roman Catholics eventually got all the old churches back, would the liturgy they brought with them be any improvement? Do they vainly suppose that their traditionalism would be a homecoming? That our catholic forebears would be familiar with their modern liturgical books, statues of St Joseph the Worker and Lourdes shrines?

Well doesn't this show up my lack of skill as a writer! I am actually quite bored with the raison d'etre of this 'blog at the present. I am labouring under a crippling depression, struggling at work, home and university, have suffered a series of setbacks, etc. I can't even concentrate on my Tolkien books. I started reading Book V of The Lord of the Rings about two weeks ago, and haven't even finished The Siege of Gondor. Maybe I should just keep quiet about liturgy. It makes me unhappy and I can't claim to have anything more than a rudimentary knowledge anyway. Let the Ents look to it!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tolkien's Mother...

Mabel Tolkien, A.D 1870-1904. Latter day Martyr, long-suffering for the Catholic Faith. Mabel was so inextricably linked up with Tolkien's own faith that, in a sense, the Catholic Faith occupied the same place that she had, after she passed from this world unto her long home. She died after her Baptist and Unitarian family cut her off for ''poping'' in the Jubilee Year.


I am among a minority of Classicists who believes that Seneca was a proto-Christian humanist. I am also among a minority of Catholics who thinks that planetis plicatis ante pectus should be used on Dominicae and feriae of the season of Advent.

I wonder. Are such dispositions measurable in the history of my salvation? When I stand before the just Judge on the Day of Judgement, will it avail me to say to Him: ''I was traditional in that respect,'' when I live in the knowledge that my life is a great moral vacuum? It reminds me of that passage in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth where Tar-Meneldur, the fifth King of Númenor, reads the letter of Gil-galad, musing on the judgement of Eru. For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Libera me...

I'm sorry to learn that Dominic Mary of the 'blog Libera Me has died. I met him a handful of times in this world and found him to be a very pleasant man, pious and understanding.

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me: Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit: for they rest from their labours. Amen.

From the gate of hell. Deliver his soul, O Lord. May he rest in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Narn e' Rach Morgoth...

''You say it,'' said Morgoth. ''I am the Elder King: Melkor, first and mightiest of all the Valar, who was before the world, and made it. The shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda, and all that is in it bends slowly and surely to my will. But upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair. Wherever they go, evil shall arise. Whenever they speak, their words shall bring ill counsel. Whatsoever they do shall turn against them. They shall die without hope, cursing both life and death.'' (J.R.R Tolkien, The Children of Húrin, Chapter III).

Monday, 21 November 2011

In mei memoriam facietis...

I was very interested to read this yesterday by the Bishop of London (whom I was privileged to meet in 2003). I thought it wise, timely and pastoral. That the use of the new translation of the Roman Missal in the Church of England is ''a pastoral unkindness to the laity and a serious canonical matter'' is without question. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer ought to be the standard for Anglican liturgical praxis, not Common Worship, or the modern Roman liturgical books.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Ut quid, Deus?

O God, wherefore art thou absent from us so long: why is thy wrath so hot against the sheep of thy pasture?
O think upon thy congregation: whom thou hast purchased and redeemed of old.
Think upon the tribe of thine inheritance: and mount Sion, wherein thou hast dwelt.
Lift up thy feet, that thou mayest utterly destroy every enemy: which hath done evil in thy sanctuary.
Thine adversaries roar in the midst of thy congregations: and set up their banners for tokens.
He that hewed timber afore out of the thick trees: was known to bring it to an excellent work.
But now they break down all the carved work thereof: with axes and hammers.
They have set fire upon thy holy places: and have defiled the dwelling-place of thy Name, even unto the ground.
Yea, they said in their hearts, Let us make havock of them altogether: thus have they burnt up all the houses of God in the land.
We see not our tokens, there is not one prophet more: no, not one is there among us, that understandeth any more.
O God, how long shall the adversary do this dishonour: how long shall the enemy blaspheme thy Name, for ever?
Why withdrawest thou thy hand: why pluckest thou not thy right hand out of thy bosom to consume the enemy?
For God is my King of old: the help that is done upon earth he doeth it himself.
Thou didst divide the sea through thy power: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.
Thou smotest the heads of Leviathan in pieces: and gavest him to be meat for the people in the wilderness.
Thou broughtest out fountains and waters out of the hard rocks: thou driedst up mighty waters.
The day is thine, and the night is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun.
Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.
Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy hath rebuked: and how the foolish people hath blasphemed thy Name.
O deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove unto the multitude of the enemies: and forget not the congregation of the poor for ever.
Look upon the covenant: for all the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations.
O let not the simple go away ashamed: but let the poor and needy give praise unto thy Name.
Arise, O God, maintain thine own cause: remember how the foolish man blasphemeth thee daily.
Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the presumption of them that hate thee increaseth ever more and more.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

From the side bar...

Some of you may have noticed that I have removed the image of Pius XII and the petition from the 1552 Book of Common Prayer against the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome, and all his detestable enormities. Long time readers of this 'blog will remember that before my utter rejection of the Roman communion there had been an image of pope Benedict. I replaced it with the aforementioned image of Pacelli in posture of Lord-knows-what, and the petition from the Litany. Some people think I am cracked like old Mr Bilbo, or a fanatic, and I guess that that ship has long since sailed. Think of it what you will - an attempt to regain credibility, a mild ecumenical gesture, completely random, whatever. I think of it as a symbol that Liturgiae Causa is not reactionary like Protestantism, set up in defiance of Christ's Church, even if most Roman Catholics see Protestantism only in terms of rejection of Papal authority, and fissiparous even so because therein lies the root cause of all heresy. Personally I think that there is more to Catholicism than intellectual assent to the teachings of the pope, and that such a notion as ''do what the pope says on a whim'' is wholly novel, and certainly unprecedented in the history of the Church. Catholicism encompasses all manner of traditions, pious customs and culture.

I hope that this move is welcomed by readers. I venture to ask, though; does anybody listen to me?

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Eye of Sauron...

''Of old there was Sauron the Maia...'' (The Silmarillion, Part V, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age).

A few years ago I attended a Forty Hours Prayer where, during the Mass coram Sanctissimo (on the third day), the celebrant preached (!) about the Blessed Sacrament. He contrasted the Sacrament in the monstrance to the great Eye of Sauron, a symbol of vigilance and a reminder that God pervades over all, or something. I was told in the vestry afterwards that most eyes in the church fell upon me when the name of Tolkien was uttered - I guess one of a number of reasons that preaching is actually forbidden during Masses coram Sanctissimo. I felt obliged to remonstrate with the celebrant about his choice of topic (naturally my complaints and adherence to the law of the Church regarding the subject of a sermon at all were completely ignored), since it seemed to me that his information was based upon the Peter Jackson film interpretation of Tolkien's magnus opus, and not the work of Tolkien himself. One of the most obvious discrepancies between The Lord of the Rings and the film trilogy is that of the physical form of Sauron. In the film he is depicted as a gigantic floating eyeball wreathed about with fire and lightning. I imagine that this is because the people who made the film mistook Frodo's vision in the Mirror of Galadriel:

''In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter VII, The Mirror of Galadriel).

The Lord of the Rings itself contains no physical description of Sauron. I believe this to be a literary device of a sort (like the Eagles, or lembas (waybread, viaticum) - naturally miles are miles, and hunger and thirst are even so in Middle-earth, and lembas makes plausible long journeys in the wild on foot), a means of rendering the Dark Lord more menacing. The question remains, though: what did Sauron look like? It is a cogent question though difficult to answer, for Sauron had spent many ages in Middle-earth and could formerly assume many forms. Therefore it is behoveful that we look to the Ages of the legendarium to piece together a picture of the emissary of evil.

The Battle of Huan and Sauron, here in the form of a ''monster,'' I guess. Ted Nasmith.

As I have said hitherto, Sauron was in origin a Maia, of the people of Aulë the Smith, and is thus akin both to Saruman (who was also of the people of Aulë) and to Gandalf . As a Maia, he had certain inherent abilities, which to Men would appear ''magical,'' though to the Maiar they were just as natural as the ability to walk or to sing. Of these great was his power to change shape at will. In The Silmarillion, Sauron's ''own accustomed form'' seems to have been human - it was customary for the Ainur to imitate the form of the Children of Ilúvatar in their dealings with them, and insofar as the manifestation of the will of the fëa (spirit) corresponded to their Valinorean stature (cf. The History of Middle-earth, Volume X). For example the Diabolus Morgoth first descended upon Arda in girth and majesty greater than any of the Ainur, ''as a mountain that wades in the sea;'' Ulmo, Lord of Waters, could be seen as a mounting wave, etc. In the battle between Sauron and Huan the great Wolfhound of Valinor, Sauron was pinned down, and in his endeavour to escape he shifted shape, from wolf to serpent and thence to ''monster,'' and upon his defeat, fled in the form of a vampire bat, ''great as a dark cloud across the moon,'' dripping blood from his throat upon the trees. At the end of the First Age, dismayed by the downfall of the Diabolus Morgoth, Sauron abased himself and assumed the most beautiful form he could devise, and did obeisance to Eönwë the herald of Manwë. He would not, however, return in humiliation into the West to abide the judgement of the Valar for his service to Morgoth, and he hid himself in Middle-earth. His repentance, therefore (which was probably genuine, if only out of fear of the Valar), caused a greater relapse, until slowly, beginning with fair motives (the re-ordering of Middle-earth after the tumults of the War of Wrath, the rehabilitation of the wild Men ''neglected'' by the Valar, etc), he himself became a ''dark Lord.'' As one of the Maiar, however, indeed the greatest of the Maiar, he kept the power to change shape.

Early in the Second Age, the age of Númenor, Sauron appeared to the Elves of Eregion, exiled Gnomes who refused to return into the West, in his most beautiful form and took the name Annatar, Lord of Gifts, unto himself. His teaching was most enamoured of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the Jewel-smiths who followed Celebrimbor, for Sauron was skilled in craft, and under his teaching they wrought the Rings of Power. To all but the most wary his countenance was fair and wise, but some misdoubted his fair seeming - Galadriel rejected him, as did Elrond, and he was not welcome in Lindon. In this form Annatar was taken to Númenor as hostage of Ar-Pharazôn, the last king, and there he corrupted the Men to idolatry and the worship of Morgoth. In the tumults of the Downfall of Númenor Sauron's fair form was dragged down in the ruin of the temple of Morgoth, and destroyed, and his spirit fled back to Mordor on a cold dark wind. In the Dark Tower he fashioned for himself a new form, terrible to behold, and the form in which he wrought so great an evil he could never assume again. He could never again appear beautiful to Men. Interestingly, this mirrors Morgoth's declension from beauty and splendour into ugliness and impotence. Morgoth, who in the earliest days of Arda was brighter than the Sun and could drive all the Valar into retreat, became permanently incarnate and was, therefore, vulnerable and afraid, and waged war by means of subordinates and devices whilst remaining safe in the deepest depths of Angband - remember that he took up the challenge of Fingolfin perforce, enduring the names ''lord of carrion'' and ''wielder of thralls'' in the presence of his captains.

In the Battle of the Last Alliance, at the end of the Second Age, Sauron himself came forth after the Siege of Barad-dûr and wrestled with Gil-galad the Elven-king and Elendil of Númenor, slaying them both, but was himself overthrown, Isildur having cut the Great Ring from his hand. In his defeat he lost his physical form altogether, and we are told that: ''...he forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places; and he took no visible shape again for many long years.''

During the first millennium of the Third Age Sauron remained impotent and invisible in the wild, until he returned to Dol-Guldur in the south of Greenwood the Great. We know nothing of his appearance at this time, the ''Shadow of Sauron,'' except that he exerted vast influence and dark things crept back to him, the great forest became the haunt of dark things, and was named anew; Mirkwood it became. It would appear that without the Ring, which was lost, he could not fashion for himself a new form, or would not. Even after his return to Mordor he would not even permit the Orcs to use his name on their devices or in parlance beyond his realm, something which Aragorn noted after the death of Boromir when examining the livery of the soldiery of Saruman (though since the lieutenant of the Dark Tower declared himself the ''Mouth of Sauron'' is is likely that either Aragorn's information was obsolete, if indeed this is not an inconsistency in the story).

Towards the end of the Third Age, when Bilbo found the Ring in Gollum's cave, Sauron was driven out of Mirkwood by the White Council and returned again to Mordor, though his flight was feigned and his return long-prepared by the Nazgûl. He must, by this time, have created for himself a new form. By the end of the Third Age, with the onset and duration of the War of the Ring, Sauron did indeed have a physical, human form. As I have said heretofore, there are no descriptions given anywhere in The Lord of the Rings, and people are often confused by constant references to the ''Eye of Sauron,'' and the ''Eye of Barad-dûr.'' There are cases where this is clearly figurative, but others it would appear that Tolkien equates the Eye with Sauron himself - as seems to be the case with Frodo's vision in the Mirror of Galadriel; ''the Red Eye will be looking towards Isengard,'' and all that.

However, Sauron clearly had a real physical, human form. Gollum, who had seen the Dark Lord in person, said: ''He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough.'' Furthermore, there are other references which indicate Sauron's ability to travel around freely such as Denethor's remonstrance with Pippin that Sauron would not leave the Dark Tower until he came to triumph over him, or, curiously, Aragorn's command that the lord of the Black Land must come forth to abide the judgement of the King.

The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, however, procure the answer to the question we asked at the beginning of this post.

''Sauron must be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no.246).

My supposition is that the ''Eye of Sauron'' must be seen as a metaphor for his constant vigilance - it could even refer to the Palantír of Minas Ithil which he had seized in the overthrow of that city. It would certainly explain why Denethor was driven mad, and Frodo saw the glazed yellow eye - for Sauron exerted great command over the Palantíri, and could make those who foolishly dared to look into them see only what he wanted them to see - unless they had a will of adamant and could wrest the stone from him.

So there we are. Someone (actually a number of people) suggested I do a doctorate ''in Tolkien.'' Anybody have any suggestions as to what exactly?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A new book...

I don't read The New Liturgical Movement much anymore. I daresay I find the tendency of that 'blog to elevate form over substance quite irksome (you know, ''look at the lace!'' or ''bishop celebrates Palm Sunday Mass in the usus antiquior with beautiful Roman cut red vestments'', and blah, blah, blah), though I daresay that every so often they post something of interest. Gregory DiPippo's articles are always worth reading, possibly because cloaked beneath the tact and the diplomacy is someone with eyes that see both deep and far - much like Rubricarius, and very unlike our now-dormant liturgical pimp friend. I wonder if the writers of The New Liturgical Movement know I exist? Oft am I taken aback at the reports Sitemeter generate for me everyday.

Anyway my friend sent me news today of a new book about that illustrious man Dr Adrian Fortescue. The Latin Clerk: The Life, Work and Travels of Adrian Fortescue by Aidan Nichols promises to be an interesting read, and something which dispels the myth of the Sackville-Bagginses that Adrian Fortescue was some kind of proto-Traditionalist (though some hold to the view that he was a ''Modernist'' because he rejected the Oath against Modernity!). See here.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The King James Bible...

As you may know the year of Our Lord 2011 marks the 400th year since the publication of the Authorized Version, otherwise known as the King James Bible. Manuscript English bibles had been in circulation since the days of the Lollards, and the Authorized Version was the third official translation of the Word of God into English, the first having been Henry Tudor's Great Bible (with its famous frontispiece), the work of Myles Coverdale, one time rector of St Magnus the Martyr; and the Bishops Bible of 1568. The Gospel and Epistle pericopes for the Lord's Supper were revised in the Prayer Book of 1662 to bring them into line with the Authorized Version, but Coverdale's psalmody remained. I have heard it said that the Douay-Rheims version influenced the scholars who translated the King James Bible, but I have no source for that.

A service of commemoration was held this day at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to mark the anniversary. I am trying to think of familiar modern phrases which come from the Authorized Version, but I can only think of Tyndale's ''Let there be light.'' Suggestions in the combox please!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Traddies and Neo-Conservatives...

Fr Chadwick over at English Catholic has written a very apposite post warning Poping Anglicans against the Roman communion - at least that's how I read it. The general thrust of the post is that there is no room for any semblance of Anglican tradition, or ''patrimony,'' in the Roman church - just blindly obey the new orthodoxy wrought and propounded by the contemporary Magisterium (expressed in the will and whim of the Holy Father), you know, Ordinary and Extraordinary forms, etc, and you're laughing. Like me and you want something more than a commonplace cotta every Sunday and you're held in suspicion, until something else convenient comes up and you're thrust out.

Nowadays I am of the opinion that the neo-conservatives are more dangerous than the Traddies. Traditionalists are at least at variance to some degree with Rome; many want to see the ''Old Rite'' in whatever recognisable form in situ again, even if the ornaments and the rubrics are rather modern. Some express private dismay at the precepts of Summorum Pontificum, seeing it as a temporary measure, a means to an end, conciliatory to the $$PX, or whatever. Some are dangerous and want 1962 all over again. To the neo-conservatives, however, to whom the expressions ordinary and extraordinary form comes as second nature, Tradition means nothing. To them obedience to the Magnisterium comes first, conscience and knowledge of the Truth second - they are irrelevant. That Tradition has an auctoritas independent of the reigning pope is a concept that does not enter into their small minds, enthralled to the totalitarian pope and his retinue of sycophants in the Vatican.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Upon the Double Murder of King Charles...

Great Charles his double misery was this,
Unfaithful friends, ignoble enemies;
Had any heathen been this prince's foe,
He would have wept to see him injured so.

(Katherine Philips, 1632-1664).

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Flos, flos, florem...

As a sort of ''update'' to my latest post on the Octave of All Saints, here is my account of my visit to Westminster Cathedral two years ago on the occasion of the visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux. It is interesting to see how much my views have changed since then, particularly about Roman Catholicism in general (especially in this country), and the saints. I remain, as I said then, convinced that that was one of the great events of my life, and proof enough for me that St Thérèse of Lisieux was indeed saint Thérèse, whatever others say. Such feelings as I expressed then are simply not inspired by the bones of men, and it was no counterfeit of the Enemy.

On the Octave of All Saints...

(which, in proud defiance of Papal authority, we continue to celebrate here)...

I found this image ages ago, presumably depicting a meeting between St Dominic and St Francis of Assisi. Some Orthodox believe that St Francis of Assisi was possessed of devils and find the very idea of stigmata a blasphemy. I am undecided. St Francis was the saint I chose at my Confirmation twelve years ago and, despite being rather embarrassed by that these days, he remains one of my patrons. While being crypto-Orthodox I do not believe that all the saints of the Roman Church canonized after 1054 are heretics; many of them were just as holy and heroic as Orthodox ones. I have, for example, a special place in my heart for St Thomas of Canterbury, and even rather late, simple ones like St Thérèse of Lisieux whose relics I visited two years ago in Westminster Cathedral. The Dominicans, at any rate, enriched the liturgical patrimony of the Roman Rite (are there not similarities between their liturgical books and those of the illustrious cathedral church of Sarum? did they not number Sundays after Trinity, for example?), and many among the more distinguished theologians of that Order (such as St Thomas Aquinas) were opposed to such things as immaculate conceptions, well into the 19th century. We can't really say the same for the Franciscans, who were (and remain) a very aliturgical bunch - at least the ones I've met. The sons of St Francis valued poverty as an end, not a means, and there was never much scope for sung Office and high Mass among itinerant friars who were seldom even allowed to own liturgical books. Instead they adopted the abridged rite of the court of Innocent III and took this across Europe. The little I know of that process would be reckoned a matter of tears were men gathered for the telling of tales.

Still, a very blessed Octave to you all. St Dominic, St Francis and all the Saints, pray for us.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Vespers this Wednesday...

I cordially recommend going to the church of St Magnus the Martyr on Wednesday evening for Vespers of the Dead with the Funeral Sentences of the Prayerbook, if you can. Last year was superb. I took the photo last year.

That's Wednesday 9th November at 6:30pm. Refreshments to follow!