Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Brian Sewell on dogs...

I always admired Brian Sewell. I found his Channel 4 series' The Naked Pilgrim and The Grand Tour very informative and amusing and I tend to appreciate people who call a spade a spade more than those who make a god out of diplomacy. Sewell has no time for the likes of Damien Hirst and other conceptual "artists" as his idol is the great Michelangelo, the greatest of all artists. Years ago I bought his book about his experiences in Turkey in the mid-1970s, "an escape from the tyranny of Western art," he called it. It called to mind the great Councils of the Early Church and a longing to visit the ruins of the birthplace of Christianity though it has become an abode of dragons. Of course, like everything else in my life, it hasn't yet materialised.

Sewell's appreciation for art and classic motors is shared equally by a passion for dogs. He is 82 years old and has never been without one. When Lucy died in November I tried half-heartedly to sum up my feelings for her in a badly-written post but I think that Sewell has done a better job in The Express newspaper. You can read his article here if you like.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The season to be...what, exactly?

This was going to be another cynical rant about how Christmass has gone down the drain and in its place has been erected the monstrous pillar of corporate greed and ignorance...but never mind; we've all heard that story. At work yestermorn a woman complained not only that the close of business was five o'clock but that we are going to be closed on St Stephen's Day as well. "Well, everywhere else is open," said she. I wanted to hit her, the stupid bint! On that note, Quentin Crisp once said that love is the extra effort we make with the people we do not like. I wonder, does our charity extend to the greedy and ignorant as much as to our friends and family? It's a tough one.

Anyway, I feel rather serene now that I have had my lunch, watched Her Majesty's Address and had copious amounts of champagne. I could even face church. I did try to watch the festival of Nine Lessons from King's but switched off when they brought on a woman to read. Nobody ever gets it right these days, and as for carol services in place of liturgy...don't get me started! It's like eating strawberries in the winter; round hole, square peg.

I think I shall go and read The Hobbit now. My mind is hungry for adventure, and for some of Beorn's honey strangely enough.

Wishing you all a very Happy (new kalendar) Christmass!

Sunday, 22 December 2013


Nigella Lawson is a paragon of indulgence and generosity. She makes cooking alluring in so many ways; very unlike Delia Smith, who just seems so cheap and mean. Watching Nigella's cooking programmes is always informative and it is, confessedly, very easy for me to become mesmerised by her smooth voice and voluptuous bosom. She is an Icon.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Great Antiphons...

In the Roman Rite the seven days leading up to Christmass Eve are greater ferias. The Office becomes more solemn, the antiphons at Lauds and the Hours are proper, and the Magnificat antiphon at Vespers takes on a fervent character, calling upon Christ with the many titles used of him in Scripture in a great and eager expectation of his coming. These are the beautiful O Antiphons, so-called because of their consistent use of that interjection. In the illustrious Use of Sarum there were eight of these O Antiphons, with the crowning antiphon used at Vespers on 23rd December being O Virgo Virginum, addressed to St Mary, the Mother of God. The significance of these antiphons is treblefold. Liturgically they are linked with the antiphons used at Vespers on Christmass, such as Levate capita vestra, which calls upon the people to lift up their heads as their redemption is at hand. O Virgo Virginum corresponds directly to the antiphon of the third Psalm at Christmass Vespers, Completi sunt dies Mariae, which cements one of the many exegetical connexions between Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfilled in the person of Our Lady. The antiphons are sung at a time of evening, the very time that Christ was born in Bethlehem. The seventh antiphon, O Emmanuel, smooths over a significant personal connexion that I established between the Saxon poet Cynewulf and Bilbo's song in the House of Elrond about Eärendil the Mariner. The antiphon reads:

O Emmanuel, Rex et Legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.

Legifer is a curious word which means "law-bringer," or "law-giver." Etymologically it is related to such familiar latinate words as conifer (cone-bearer), crucifer (cross-bearer), signifer (standard-bearer), or, infamously, to Lucifer (light-bearer). In Bilbo's song about Eärendil he describes the Mariner as the Flammifer of Westernesse, or the flame-bearer of the West; the "flame" being the Silmaril containing the unsullied light that was before the Sun and Moon. Significantly, Eärendil is a type of St John the Baptist. At the end of the First Age he serves to herald, like St John, a great advent; the coming of the Valar to the aid of the Gnomes and Fathers of Men in their darkest hour. When Eärendil first rose shining in the West he was seen by the people of Middle-earth as a "star of high hope" (Gil-Estel). Those of you who are familiar with the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth may recall that Finrod distinguished between two types of hope; amdir, which corresponds to "looking up," having an expectation of good which, though uncertain, has some foundation in what is known; and estel, which is founded deeper, and corresponds to "trust." "It is not defeated," says Finrod, "by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy." I expect the first sight of Eärendil, a new star of heaven, to the people of Middle-earth came as a feeling of warmth and a solace amidst grief and suffering.

The name Eärendil had its uttermost origins in the Old English earendel, from the poem Crist by Cynewulf, and it signifies "radiance of the Dawn." If we are to understand Eärendil as a type of St John the Baptist then we have in Tolkien some of the most apposite seasonal reading this Advent. Earendel, being the keeper of the flame and the radiance of the Dawn, brings with him the good tidings of our Salvation and a light to illumine the world that grows chill.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

On and on...

I went away for about six months and switched off. Between May or June of this year until this very month I thought better of reading any religious blogs because I found that they all rattled on about the same things. Well, I looked at the New Liturgical Movement again and found this article by someone I've never heard of. It's yet another appraisal of the "Benedictine Altar arrangement," and, typically, the author gets the very premise wrong and just repeats a lot of theories designed to water down an obvious abuse. I've heard all these arguments before and they're really quite meaningless. The fact remains that facing the wrong way is the absolute worst thing you can do liturgically. You cannot seriously ascribe the word "liturgical" to any compass direction you like or to some nebulous "inward orientation," and then expect orthodoxy to somehow fall into place; neither is furnishing an altar with gradines and claptrap in accord with the spirit of the Liturgy. The standing of any object whatever upon the mensa of the altar was completely contrary to the devotional conventions of the early Church and as for a crucifix, it is superfluous. Such things have nothing whatever to do with piety or liturgical orthopraxis but remain questions of aesthetics best left to the choice of the celebrant. If you wish to pile on more and more candles, flowers, and prayer cards, that's your lack of taste. Please don't try to make it the yardstick of orthodoxy.

I shan't repeat what Percy Dearmer brilliantly said about the "big six," so perhaps Dom Gregory Dix should have this one?

What preposterous nonsense it is to try to erect sacristy orthodoxies and even tests of theological allegiance out of these minute details of pious furnishing, that have varied endlessly throughout christian history and have never meant anything in particular by all their changes!

Wintry tempests...

Another of the king's chief men, offering counsel with his recommendation and with prudent words added immediately: ''Such,'' he said, ''seems to me, O King, to be the present life of men on earth, in comparison to that time which is unknown to us. It is like when you are sitting at meat with your ealdormen and thegns in wintertide, with the hearth burning in the middle and the dining room [caenaculo] has been made warm, but outside the storms of wintry rain or snow are raging through all, and a sparrow flies quickly through the hall, who when entering through one door, soon goes out through another. At that time, when it is inside, it is not touched by the storm of winter, but however when a very small space of calm has run out in a moment, soon returning from winter unto winter, it escapes from your eyes. So this life of men appears moderately [modicum]; but what follows, or what goes before, we know not at all. Consequently, if this new doctrine brings us more certainty, it seems meritorious to be followed.'' Other elders and counsellors of the king continued after the same manner, being divinely prompted to do so. (St Bede).

Thursday, 12 December 2013

To kindle the ashes...

Occasionally (very occasionally these days), I receive e-mails from people who read my blog. Usually they come from people who have only just discovered the wretched thing and are hoping (against hope) that I am still as charged and enthusiastic as I was three years ago when I began Liturgiae Causa. Much has changed in that time. Not that three years is any time at all. Quoth the Psalmist: "but a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday." But ostensibly, to us men, three short years can bring many changes. I suppose I was already on the path to this present state when I began writing three years ago, and writing in such impetuosity can only lead to wrath and despair. Having silenced Singulare Ingenium and feeling, as it were, a fire growing hot within me, I remember having a tremendous urge to trample upon the euphoria of Traddieland (a land of make-believe), the godly popes of yore, and to counter the general contempt the Traddies always had for the liturgical Office. I endeavoured to procure a solution to the problems as I saw them but invariably fell short. Nor did I go about the business of daily living practising my solution. Hypocrites were among Our Lord's pet hates if the Pharisees are the measure of hypocrisy but you may have guessed by now that I am actually quite lazy.

Inevitably my enthusiasm and inclination dried up. I feel now as though I am hanging on a rotten rope over an abyss or as if I have run a race against an opponent tirelessly swifter and, having at last reached the finish line, feel worn out and bitter. I suppose Aesop would call that "sour grapes," for I think the sentiments are (roughly): "hmph...well, I was never interested in winning in the first place!" After all, you cannot impose, or even suggest, any positive changes upon a group of people that is totally against them. I set out to rehabilitate Roman Catholics, in the externals of liturgical worship at first (as a means to rehabilitate their sense of tradition to a more holistic mode in order to bring about a reappraisal of the Petrine ministry among them), but failed, failed utterly and ruined my own life in the process. Time was when I sneered at the godless kind who deliberately avoided church on Sundays; liturgical worship on Sundays is, after all, a thing most civilised (in theory: my own snobbery dictates that I decide the liturgical and architectural style thereunto, the music, etc). These days I seem to have willingly joined the legions of the damned, and I don't give a shit! The road to Hell is such a beauteous way, ever so easy and comfortable. But if the road to Paradise is understood solely in terms of altruism, self-denial and long-suffering then we're all in trouble!

I make no secret (secrecy is a terrible sin) of the fact that I have been depressed. Someone suggested that I "do something" about it. I thought then that I had made one of the more spectacular blunders in my life, having hoped that the depression would simply lift of its own, or that a divine wind would blow it away, or that a white light would suddenly stab into the darkest corners of my mind and pierce the wretched cankers that were living there where all else was dead. There is no such hope, of course. A change is required but of my own making and that entails eshewing that godly vice in my life, namely sloth. Already I have changed jobs. Until October I was a victim of fate, working, living, etc where I was put by others. Not much has changed on that frontier, except now I can no longer order my own comings and goings in the workplace. My dog died. That was a change that was thrust upon me by Nature but it may tributary to something greater and more beautiful. Where, in my darkest months, the palace of my mind became a dark place there were still the remotest corners where the knowledge of light, saxifrage and God was unblemished. Those corners are expanding, I think, albeit slowly and there is nothing, to me, more precious than my mind's home. It is the one place I have always tried to keep free of dust!

But what to do? What do you do, when you are depressed, to try and rekindle the ashes of your former passions? How can a man start his life again? This state of mind has really been a round-about turn. I never once thought that I would completely abandon old pastimes, reading (I was an assiduous reader until this year), going out, etc and exchange them for a simple continuance. I would go to work, I would come home, and I would invariably go to bed. At work (when I bothered going) I would stagger on and not really bother with most of it. I was fortunate that my work was "behind the scenes," so any mistakes would only really be brought to light by a senior auditor so there were some days on which I could sit in the office with the lights off and nobody would ask questions. I don't have that luxury anymore so I am forced to stay active; not a bad thing. In fact one of the coins with which I tried to buy back my sanity was to change jobs so that I would have no option but to work! I am on a temporary contract at the moment and, having received four failed job applications in the last fortnight (one external, three internal), I am under no delusions that I shall be in work on 5th January, in spite of all my efforts and the praise of other members of staff. My decision to end the nightmare of my last job had been taken seriously but it was, nevertheless, a great throw of the dice. I haven't been unemployed for eight and a half years so that will be interesting!

So, what do I do now? Have I resumed blogging? Someone suggested that my literary style is particularly suited to satire or the writing of novels. That sounds quite grandiose and I am by no means a latter day Swift. But there is something about publication and having an audience that appeals to me, and I have missed Liturgiae Causa. But have I, in turn, been missed?

A note on the images. They are quite meaningless, having been recycled from previous posts. The crocuses are used as a sign of hope, I suppose, and The Way to Emmaus long time readers may remember was the signature image and raison-d'etre of the blog. The one in the middle is of me and Joe the Working Class git.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Old prejudices...

About two months ago I started a new job with another retailer. I was so sick of the abominable conditions, the prevailing culture of ignorance and being constantly at variance with the senior managers in my last job that I gave it up at the uttermost end of desperation, taking the very first job offer that came my way. Fortunately it was with a company which I have long admired. Unfortunately I am now about £12,000 a year worse off, I have forfeited all evenings and weekends and the contract runs out in January. In short, I have taken a dive to the very bottom and many of my contemporaries are 16 years old. However, not all is lost. I seem to be getting on extraordinarily well and if I am kept on after the January Clearance I shall be given a more favourable rota, a pay rise and generous staff discount. In fact, I have already applied for a better job within the Company, which I stand just as good a chance of getting as anyone (so I am told). As my mother so bluntly put in one of her characteristically barbed put-downs: "you just have to keep your 'real' personality as hidden as possible." But that might be unfair.

Another Christmass Temp joined us the other day; a young man named Tom. Well, it transpired that he is a Christian. When he told me, old feelings (long forgotten) of interest in that religion surged up only to be dashed when he elaborated and said "Pentecostal." I then realised that we had nothing whatsoever in common. He told me that his father had been a "pastor," and it was abundantly clear that he had no experience of anything beyond the weird confines of this world of hand-clapping and contemporary rock music. He might as well have told me that he practised vegetarianism. He asked if I believe in anything, so I said: "not really. I wouldn't have said I was a cynic but I suppose I am to some people. Nowadays I go to church only to shew support for various societies or ecclesiastical establishments and that has long ceased to be an act of religion." It was all wasted on him. He had no idea what "Anglican" meant, and even "archbishop of Canterbury" was no help so I thought better of saying anything about Orthodoxy. He hadn't even heard of St Charles the Martyr so Heaven alone knows how he has a degree in engineering. He didn't seem "stupid" in any particular sense just grossly misinformed which, I suppose, is a strong tendency among religious people. Thinking outside of the box, as the saying goes, is anathema to them all but there really is no excuse for that kind of ignorance. It just bolsters the charge of secularists that religious people are ignorant, and nowadays I am inclined to agree with them. And don't let's forget that with religions like "pentecostalism" goes a rejection of monarchy, aristocracy, monasticism and all the other traditional pillars of our society. These people really are the great unwashed.

Of course, you will have noticed by now that I am presenting to you a great dichotomy. It is invariably the problem of having simply rejected a religious model for a an irreligious one without having completely shaken it all off. I don't go to church. I don't read religious blogs anymore, nor do I read any of my books. But I still retain some of the values which went with it all. I am still just as intolerant as I ever was of the beliefs and, by extension, the motives of other people. But a sense of apathy has become an all-pervading tendency in my life. Life itself has been stripped bare. I don't read or watch the news or keep up with anything contemporary. I was only dimly aware of the situation in the Philippines because people were talking about it at work. I don't give to charity. I don't watch any television (except for University Challenge on Monday nights). I don't do any house work. I seldom listen to music, and when I do I listen to the same tune over and over and over until it becomes tiresome. I don't go out, except to work. I spend little money (though always seem to be short). No art, no music, no sex, no drink, no travel, no nothing really. I spend the days playing retro video games. This has become an activity to simply pass the time, and where they are so old, where they are so familiar it invariably means that I have to use as little imagination to complete them as possible. To demonstrate the point, a few months ago I bought the sequel to an old game on the original Playstation and I gave it up after five minutes because I didn't know what to do or where to go, and couldn't be bothered to try and find out. Any effort of mind or will has become anathema to me. I never bothered with physical exercise and people who do go to the gym are an alien sort. Even keeping up with friends has become tiresome.

Perhaps you're wondering whether these are the symptoms of depression? Well, I was depressed a year ago. I would say that now waking life has become tolerable. I am not unhappy. Insofar as I have any strong desires it is to shut out the outer world completely and become an island. No religion, no modern technology, no friends, no cleaning, no effort, no nothing. Maybe I practise a form of solipsism? After all, other people were never my first priority. Or perhaps I have just become insufferably selfish and lazy? That great God which searches all our hearts alone knows with what demons I wrestle in the wilderness of my own making. May they not prove the stronger!