Thursday, 30 January 2014

From the Ordinariate...

Fr Hunwicke has written a very fine, very moving post on Blessed Charles þe Martyr on his blog Mutual Enrichment, known aforetime as Liturgical Notes.

I was at the Banqueting House for the commemoration and high Mass this morning. The commemoration is always worth attending; a simple, short, said service with the Last Words, redolent of the Funeral Sentences. I make a point of sitting at the back for the Eucharistic service which follows the commemoration; the less one sees, the better. To-day's sermon had clearly been written in haste the night before and had neither a coherent beginning nor an intelligible end but we were all summoned to instigate a new Oxford Movement and to live out the catholic values of the Church of England. Time was when I'd have bothered to do any such thing. It was at least consoling to see that the preacher was dressed properly. The BBC were filming there to-day; apparently for some documentary on royal palaces, past and present. I managed to keep out of the camera's way, except for the moment I went up to venerate the relic of King Charles' shirt (or was it a lock of his hair?).

After lunch I went to the National Gallery to look at Van Dyke's equestrian portrait of King Charles in the Mond Room, the little man on a big horse. The gallery was full of tourists and not one of them was looking at this magnificent painting. On the train home, I was reminded of another royalist moment in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam had left Faramir's company and Gollum was leading them to the Crossroads. There they discovered the monument to some antient king, despoiled by the Orcs, the head had been cut off and cast to the ground and in its place had been set a rough stone with the tokens of Sauron scrawled upon it. It was the time of Sunset and Frodo looked upon the head of the fallen king and behold! a trailing plant with flowers as of silver stars had bound itself across the brow of the king as if in reverence and in the light of the westering sun it seemed to the hobbits that the king had a crown again. Defiance and hope were then stirred in them as the Sun went down and Frodo said: "They cannot conquer for ever!"

And they didn't, did they!

Art: Ted Nasmith. It depicts the very scene I have just described. Not quite as I imagined it, but I am not an artist.

Tolkien on Kingship...

In his final days at St James' Palace King Charles bade farewell to his youngest children one by one, turning last to Henry. The boy looked up at the King, who said: "Heed, my child, what I say; they will cut off my head, and perhaps make thee a king. But mark what I say, thou must not be a king so long as thy brothers, Charles and James do live. For they will cut off thy brothers' heads (when they can catch them) and cut off thy head too, at the last: and therefore I charge thee, do not be made a king by them!" Henry sighed and said: "I will be torn in pieces first."

In Tolkien's legendarium the line of the Kings of Gondor came to an end with the disappearance of Eärnur in the year 2050 of the Third Age (about a thousand years before the events of The Lord of the Rings). In the year 1975 Eärnur had defeated the Witch-king of Angmar in the Battle of Fornost and the Witch-king fled south to Mordor and took up his abode in Minas Morgul. In the year 2050 the Witch-king challenged Eärnur to a battle and the King rode with a small band into the foothills of the Mountains of Shadow and was ambushed by the soldiery of the Witch-king, and was never seen again. As the King had no heir, thereafter the rule of Gondor was committed to the hereditary Stewards, until the King should return.

In Book IV of The Lord of the Rings Frodo and Sam were captured in Ithilien by the Rangers of Faramir, son of Denethor (the ruling Steward). In an interesting discussion with Frodo, Faramir narrates how, in his studies of the lore of Gondor and the history of the House of Mardil (the first of the ruling Stewards was Mardil, after whom the house of the stewards is named), it always displeased his brother Boromir that their father was not a king. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?" he asked. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," answered Denethor. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."

This passage is but one among many in The Lord of the Rings that tells us something about what Tolkien thought of Kingship. Compare Boromir's question about being made a king or usurping the Kingship to St Charles' admonition to his son Henry about the necessity of the hereditary Kingship. And, of course, the words of Ioreth, wise-woman of Gondor: "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known."

St Charles þe Martyr...

The death of King Charles I is arguably the most grievous event in the history of this nation. The poet Katherine Philips expresses the unimaginable sorrow of the English at the death of their Sovereign even so:

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.
It would be foolish to say that Charles was guiltless of any wrongdoing in the Bishops Wars or thereafter. He was, like most Stuart monarchs (not least his grandmother Mary, who also famously went to the scaffold), not apt to reign in many respects (was St Edward the Confessor?), but his manner of death was both heroic and Christ-like, redeeming any and all past sins. The King is presented to us in both the Eikon Basilike and the works of Delaroche (best known for his dismal painting of the execution of Lady Jane Grey) as undergoing a passion of sorts with an air of dignity and piety. And he did. He suffered for the Golden Age of Anglicanism, for episcopacy, for kingship and for a rich liturgical tradition. I'd say that qualifies as Anglican Patrimony, wouldn't you?
This marvelous Collect comes from the 1662 Prayer Book. Redolent of Psalm 90 (my favourite psalm) it calls to mind the reality of human suffering and our need for God's Grace:
Almighty and everlasting God, whose righteousness is like the strong mountains, and thy judgements like the great deep; and who, by that barbarous murder this day committed upon the sacred person of thine Anointed, our late Soveraign, hast taught us, that neither the greatest of kings, nor the best of men are more secure from violence, than from natural death; Teach us also hereby so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. And grant that neighter the splendour of any thing that is great, nor the conceit of an thing that is good in us, may any way withdraw our eyes from looking upon our selves as sinful dust and ashes; but that (according to the example of this thy blessed Martyr) we may press forward towards the prize of the high calling that is before us, in faith and patience, humility and meekness, mortification and self-denial, charity and constant perseverance unto the end: And all this for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christs sake; To whom, with thee, and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
St Charles, King and Martyr, pray for us.
I tried to upload Delaroche's painting but Blogger was having none of it. You can view that here.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

More Tolkien...

I found this video on YouTube about a year ago. It's well worth watching. It is 1968 (or the winter of 1967) and J.R.R Tolkien is interviewed in his retirement by the Verger of Merton College and is seen at times to walk about the gardens and quadrangle with what seems to be a tour. Also, of note, are the views expressed by the many young people on Tolkien's works. Not all of them are on the ball (there's one young man, the one with the moustache and spectacles, who derides Tolkien's work as lacking in political credibility!) but one young woman understands Tolkien with great clarity. One of the most heartwarming (to me) moments is where Tolkien is sat at a desk with pint of ale and his pipe. That's really what life is all about, isn't it! And, of course, these simple things are almost ennobled in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I guess that's one quality that makes them so readable.

Some Tolkien...

Then was a great council held between the Two Trees at the mingling of the lights, and Ulmo came thither from the outer deeps; and of the redes there spoken the Gods devised a plan of wisdom, and the thought of Ulmo was therein and much of the craft of Aulë and the wide knowledge of Manwë. (The Book of Lost Tales vol.I cap.IV).

The equivalent passage in The Silmarillion goes:

Manwë sat long in thought upon Taniquetil, and he sought the counsel of Ilúvatar. And coming then down to Valmar he summoned the Valar to the Ring of Doom, and thither came even Ulmo from the Outer Sea. (cap.III).

These quotes concern the council of the Valar before their assault upon Melko(r) in ancient days. In the Lost Tales the gods held their council because many of them were concerned about the great violence of Melko upon the Great Lands; forests groaned and snapped, the fire of the mountains was mingled with the sea, unquiet phantoms from Utumna escaped and roamed the world "turning the dark into an ill and fearful thing, which it was not before" (a motif which is echoed in The Lord of the Rings, if you remember Bombadil's remembrance of the "darkness under the stars when the night was fearless"), Melko spouted to heaven from a fire-torn hill, etc. In The Silmarillion, however, the Valar held council because of the news that Oromë brought about the coming of the Quendi and their war against Melkor was undertaken on their behalf though, of course, Aulë was still concerned about the "hurts to the world which must come of that strife," which must be a deference to the earlier account.

The Lost Tales are written in a very grandiloquent style which was abandoned by Tolkien in the '30s (along with the Gnomes and the tradition of Ælfwine of England). "Of the redes there spoken," for example, it's like cream over strawberries, draughts of the finest ale. I have missed Tolkien.

Art: John Howe. It depicts the assault of the armies of Morgoth upon the Gnomish (or Noldorin) city of Gondolin. This happened many thousands of years after the events described in the post but I rather like the painting.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


My English teacher told me once that England didn't have a Renaissance...because of the Reformation. Well, looking at Tolkien's map of Beleriand which I uploaded to illustrate my polemical post yesterday I was reminded of the great John Speed whose atlas entitled The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain was published in the same year as the Authorized Version of the Bible. To-day I would say that, contrary to the ignorant postulation of my English teacher, the Elizabethan Settlement provided the most apposite setting in which an English Renaissance could have flourished in the universities, the towns and at Court. John Speed's maps, Spenser's poems, The Countrey Parson (more Patrimony!), Byrd's musick, the masque tradition, even the writings of King James, they all of them tributary to the glory of God and this island kingdom which, without the break with Rome, I think would have been very different and certainly less great.

Tolkien was clearly inspired by Speed's maps, I think their style indicates that much, but I think he could have done more with them; you know, illustrations of Ossë and Uinen on the sea, a mantle of clouds wreathed about the Iron Mountains, nightingales in the forest of Neldoreth, and perhaps a few ents on the highlands of Dorthonion. The artist John Howe attempted something like this some years ago in the publication of his maps of Middle-earth, two of which hang on my bedroom wall (yes, I have maps of Middle-earth in my that I don't lose my way). When I was younger and more selfish I said to myself that The Lord of the Rings ought never to have been published but left in manuscript form in Merton College Library, to be discovered by me. It would be like the discovery of a hidden wine cellar and I'd become intoxicated with it! Sometimes I would that I could have the pleasure of meeting Tolkien again for the first time as I expect most of us would with the works of literature most dear to us.

Here ends another meaningless post.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Am I not, or am I?

I recently discovered Opus Publicum by the blogger Modestinus. Modestinus is one of those difficult-to-understand types who seems to have converted from holy Orthodoxy to the Roman communion and makes somewhat of a fuss about it. He says that Liturgiae Causa is a fine source of liturgical information; and I daresay it is, though I hasten to add that none of that information comes from my own mind but rather the contribution of my readers whose expertise in matters liturgical far outstretches the reaches of my imagination. One thing he claims about me on his blog is that I have been a disaffected Anglo-Catholic in good standing with the Elves of Mirkwood. If by "disaffected Anglo-Catholic" he means lapsed Roman Catholic and by "Elves of Mirkwood" he means the Gnomes of actually I prefer the Grey Elves under the lordship of Thingol...then he'd be closer to the truth. I was never an Anglo-Catholic. While for a brief period I attended a prominent Anglo-Catholic church in London I never once accepted the holy Sacrament there and my deference to the Church of England is, and was, merely a polite nod to the fact that it is the Church Established of this nation under the sovereignty and protection of Her Majesty The Queen, who is really the last Christian symbol of national life. The fact is that the Church of England is apostate from the Faith though I would say that this came about in the last century and not due to the schism of Henry VIII or the Elizabethan reform. I am a lapsed Roman Catholic in the sense that I have stopped attending Roman Catholic services. I suppose I am in the same (or a similar) boat to most people who would say that they are Roman Catholics. However my objections to the Roman Catholic faith (and hence my refusal to attend or countenance their religious rites) are more profound and thoughtful than: "yeah, but the pope says we can't use condoms." I expect in the eyes of the Roman church, however, I am something more dangerous than a lapsed Catholic; I am apostate from "the" faith because I openly reject many core Roman Catholic teachings, such as the infallibility and primacy of the pope, the Romish doctrine concerning purgatory (notice my choice of words), indulgences, the doctrine of the Eucharist, etc.

I do not currently practice any religion whatever. I left the Roman church three years ago, after being publicly expelled from a sacristy on account of being homosexual, and have so far shewn no demonstrable interest in joining any other church. I go to Westminster Abbey sometimes to hear Evensong and I shew solidarity with my friends by attending certain commemorations in London and elsewhere, such as the martyrdom of St Charles Stuart, but I am a long way away from even undertaking a new search for a new faith. I am simply not interested. You may ask wherefore I keep the blog going, then? With a title as compelling as liturgiae causa and hardly any discourse on liturgy, does this not present somewhat of a dichotomy? In all honesty, I've forgotten everything I once knew about liturgy (and that wasn't much). I understand its importance relative to the life of faith and one's sense of doctrinal right and wrong for, unlike the erroneous Papists, I haven't succumbed to the profound error wherein they reverse that antient maxim legem credendi lex statuat lex supplicandi (under the dominion of which came some of the most pernicious liturgical reforms of the 20th century). But I have come to the conclusion, after months of apathy (which, in turn, came after years of earnest, fruitless, research), that you will look in vain to the Sacred Liturgy for any answer; at least unto liturgy of a "Western" manifestation as celebrated...or at least carried out (as one would put a ready meal in the microwave) mainstream churches. That, in turn, is not an endorsement of the many weirdos out there who like to do-it-yourself at home. The Holy Ghost is hardly likely to send down the Pentecostal fire onto upside-down trestle tables in a garage for the benefit of a renegade with skeletons in his (or her; we must be politically correct) closet.

There has been a great schism in the West, a schism betwixt Liturgy and the People of God brought about by years of Papal-endorsed violence (under the guise of "reform"), neglect, tampering and the noticeable absence of the spirit of real liturgy; the spirit having gone out with each tradition legislated away by pope X, Y and Z. And it's something that cannot be undone by any means within the power or lifetime of churchmen. It's a grim reality to have to face but the truth is seldom comforting, and the truth is simply this: the Roman Liturgy, which enshrined the hallowed traditions of our Western fathers of old, is now only to be found in far-sundered books, or pages in manuscript, in places like the British Library or the writings of men like Dr John Wickham-Legg. Go to any church, even (or especially) to "traditionalist" churches (whether in good standing with Rome or not) and you will find only falsehood or, if you prefer, 1955 all over again. Go to the Ordinariates and you'll find something more recent than that! And that's not to mention the abominable hypocrisy so rife in such places. The more (to this world) unacceptable teachings of the Roman church, where they are enforced, provide the comfort and stability for people with emotional problems to have a sense of triumphalism, of being in a safe little clique, and these people don't give a damn about liturgy! Liturgy, to them is the suspicious by-product of some other pursuit and a mark of identification (the mark of the Beast?) rather than a channel of the love of God and a genuine connexion to the Fathers. Favour the 1962 liturgy and you're traditional; you're in the club. And you have to favour it under the guidelines of Summorum Pontificum! Viva il Papa, and all that! Anything else and you pose a threat, you have to be cut away like an unclean piece of flesh. All this makes me wonder upon what foundation the traditionalists build their sense of "tradition," if they always and everywhere must make recourse to a papal pronouncement of six years ago. I was in a pub adjacent to the Savoy Hotel once and someone suggested to me that on every subsequent Holyrood Day they ought to sing the Te Deum. I looked aghast at him though nobody understood why. What happens when pope Francis abrogates Summorum Pontificum, as (to me) seems highly likely? To what motu proprio or canon will they look then? Maybe they'll once again start crying out for "immemorial custom," and Quo Primum! Or worse, maybe they'll begin undermining the pope's authority (ever so subtly!) and take a quasi-sedevacantist position, saying that pope Francis doesn't have the authority to abrogate Summorum Pontificum and that its precepts still carry the weight of auctoritas and its decisions still bind on liturgical tradition? And so on and so forth in an endless cycle of contradictions and doublethink that have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.

Well, you'll excuse me if I wish to have no association with such base, ignorant rabble. These people don't practice Christianity, they are the Pharisees of whom the Lord spoke, rendering lip service to the Scriptures whilst upholding various monstrous doctrines in the name of Tradition (of which they know absolutely nothing), and being so very apt to evil. So let them count their beads and visit their modern places of pilgrimage. I'm sure that on Doomsday, when the magnitude of their own ignorance is revealed to them, they'll find that they aren't that dissimilar to fanatics in other religions, like Islam. Woe unto them!

I'm sorry, I forgot to answer the question I posed earlier: why continue with this blog? Erm, well I suppose it just drowns out the ticking of the clock. People have long ceased to take much notice of me. Perhaps I keep it up in the hope that one day I'll get my enthusiasm back? Who knows.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Jessie Matthews...

This one takes me back. Over my shoulder goes one care!

The Welcoming Land...

This has worked better this time. I was never good at uploading videos to Blogger but I seem to have got the gist now. This is The Welcoming Land by Clemence Dane recited by Noël Coward. It is sublime.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Some Taft...

I thought this interview well worth the read. Particularly this comment by Fr Robert Taft, SJ:

Vatican II, with an assist from those Council Fathers with a less naïve Disney-World view of their own Church’s past, managed to put aside this historically ludicrous, self-centered, self-congratulatory perception of reality.

Unfortunately there are still many traditionalists out there who support this demonstrably erroneous view of the Roman Communion; the solution to all problems being for the whole Christian world to once again kneel in the snow at the pope's feet and do penance. But the tide has turned! Even if any of us would be inclined to kiss the pope's toe, against our consciences, I doubt whether pope Francis would have anybody do such an idolatrous, scandalous thing. I have high hopes for pope Francis. Who knows, if he abrogates Summorum Pontificum, transfers curial powers to episcopal conferences and ceases inter-religious dialogue with Jews and Muslims then he might begin the hoped-for process of the destruction of the Papacy itself, by his own authority! Then let him abase himself before an Orthodox bishop and himself do penance for a thousand years of corruption.

Yeomen of the Guard...

For those of you who, like me, appreciate Gilbert & Sullivan I found this gem on YouTube. A 1974 BBC production of The Yeomen of the Guard which rivals even D'Oyly Carte. Janet Hughes, the finest mezzo-soprano I have ever heard (though relatively obscure), is Phoebe. Enjoy!

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Wind in the Clock...

"It is Thursday, 9th May [1940]; our objective was Arnhem. On our way the bus passed a great number of people trudging in the opposite direction...peasants dragging children and carrying large bundles of belongings. We gave our performance, and once more, with its steady defiance of gathering clouds, the English-Netherlands Society entertained me before the show. The chairman, a charming Dutch Baroness, was accompanied by an enchanting small daughter. This eight-year-old child* had a distinction and personality rare in one so young. Her mother spoke of the child's wish to become a dancer. I remember my reaction: that here a star was born - no matter in what guise. In an ankle-length party dress this child presented me with a bouquet of red tulips; but the tulips are over-shadowed by the elfin grace of the donor and the small face lit up by its promise of character, at present shining forth from a pair of sensitive dancing eyes. I can see her as clearly today in that indelible impression of her youthful yesterday as the world sees her now in the full flowering of her young womanhood: her name is Audrey Hepburn." Ninette de Valois, "Come Dance with Me," chapter V.

To-day is Audrey Hepburn's anniversary, which is always a sad day. I think if she had become a professional dancer the 20th century would have been diminished and the name Hepburn known only to historians as the Eorl of Bothwell. But Audrey, for me, represents one of the great personae of the century, which was otherwise so full of woe and destruction. Ninette draws attention to Audrey's "elfin grace," or elven as I would say, and I daresay that when Ninette first saw the child shadows of her future greatness took shape in Ninette's creative mind. They met again in Rome in 1954. By this time Sadlers Wells was already long-established at Covent Garden and Audrey Hepburn had achieved international stardom as both the princess in Roman Holiday and Sabrina. I was only 5 years old when Audrey went to her long home. I can't say that I remember her death at all but I do have very fond memories of watching her films. She was altogether precious. I wish I'd known her.

Audrey Hepburn
4th May 1929-20th January 1993
May she rest in peace.

*This memoir was written in the 1950s. Chapter V tells the story (very moving in parts) of the struggle of Sadlers Wells Ballet during the Second World War. The company went to the Netherlands in the spring of 1940 at the behest of the British Council and Foreign Office to present to the Dutch people some cultural propaganda in the form of a rising English balletic tradition. Audrey Hepburn was, of course, living in the Netherlands at the time. Dame Ninette says that the young Audrey was only 8 at the time but she was actually 10 years old in the Spring of 1940.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Father Nicholas Christmass...

"Behold the majesty and grace,
of loving, cheerful Christmass face."

The Armenians celebrate Christmass to-day so I thought I'd say something about St Nicholas who, at some point, became confused with the Lord Christmass of English legend.

All that we know of St Nicholas is legendary, and not even that he was bishop of Myra during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (and that he was more than likely to have suffered a martyr's death) can be confirmed historically. Diocletian was Emperor from A.D 284 to 305, and spent most of his time in Asia Minor (or thereabouts), having ingeniously devised a Tetrarchy of a secondary Caesar and a pair of Augusti to safeguard the imperial borders in the West, with himself in sole charge of the East - he visited Rome for the first time in 303, twenty years into his reign. If St Nicholas was indeed bishop of Myra, and a worker of miracles, then it's hardly surprising that records attest to his persecution, torture and imprisonment; for Diocletian instigated his infamously harsh systematic persecution of Christians in the Empire in 303. When Constantine the Great acceded in 306 he was too busy with battles in the Rhineland and Italy to devote any time to a bishop imprisoned in Lycia but when he decided that Rome wasn't central enough to manage an empire that stretched from the Rhine to the Euphrates, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) became a Christian land much like the rest of the Empire. St Nicholas must have been released some time after 311, the year of the Edict of Serdica (which granted freedom of worship and congregation to Christians). He is said to have attended the great Council of Nicaea in 325 but St Athanasius (the Sydney Smith of his time), who knew all the bishops, fails to mention any "Nicholas of Myra." His existence, much like the existence of a good pope, depends entirely upon the belief of pious women.

In England the festival of St Nicholas (6th December) was marked by the election of boy bishops who performed all the rites and offices, except Mass, accoutered with mitre, cope and crozier, and whose authority lasted until Childermass on 28th December. Henry VIII put a stop to this in 1542; Bloody Mary revived it ten years later, and Gloriana finally abolished it some time into her own reign, rendering the Church of England devoid of a sense of humour for ever. The reversal of the rôle of prelate and choir boy was the ecclesiastical counterpart of the Lords of Misrule, or festival of fools, made famous by Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris.

So who is Father Christmass? And whence came the connexion to an obscure 4th century bishop? He was certainly not a fat man who dove down chimneys bringing coal to miscreant children. He was rather the spirit of the season, manifestly a jolly, bearded and wise elderly gentleman in a fur coat who encouraged good cheer (bringing news of Christ's birth) and alms for the poor. During the Civil War, Father Christmass could not be born among the puritan caste, neither could mince pies and holly (being "trappings of popery"), and in 1645, when the Directory of Publick Worshippe was imposed upon the unhappy English, all holydays ("having no warrant in the Word of God") were abolished and out went Father Christmass. Thus wrote John Evelyn at Christmass in 1655:

"I went with my wife to London to celebrate Christmass Day, Mr Gunning preaching in Exeter Chapel. As he was giving us the holy Sacrament the chapel was surrounded by soldiers. All the communicants at assembly were surprised and kept prisoner by them, some in the house, others carried away!"

Thus were the lords of misrule supplanted by the lords of bad-rule in Westminster! Father Christmass returned with the King in 1660, bringing joy to many hundreds of Christians. On Christmass Eve 1660 Samuel Pepys' church was decorated with holly and bay for the first time in seventeen years and on Christmass Day he returned, after morning services, to a dinner of roast shoulder of mutton and chicken and, after napping through the afternoon services (understandably), returned home to play the lute.

Old Father Christmass survived into the 18th century and beyond but by Dickens' time seems to have become confused with St Nicholas, the giver of gifts. Unfortunately, Dickens is to blame for much of the tat surrounding Christmass that comes down to us from the 19th century. A Christmass Carol, with Scrooge's promise to keep Christmass the whole year, has done nothing but flatten the period from October to January. But there are some authors who have kept Old Father Christmass as he was from Chaucer's time, and even created their own legends about him. In 1920 J.R.R Tolkien began the composition of his Letters from Father Christmass, written to his own children, which contain many adventurous stories about goblins, elves and the North Polar bear. C.S Lewis introduced his Father Christmass figure in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Both figures represent the synthesis of both the lord Christmass of English folklore and St Nicholas, the lord of gifts. The same can be said for the figure introduced as "Old Father Christmass" in Ursula Moray Williams' book The Good Little Christmass Tree. It's certainly interesting that in Narnia Father Christmass claimed to have been banished by the White Witch, so I wonder if that's a polite nod to the unhappy rule of the Major Generals?

I always rather liked Father Christmass. It's such a shame he has been ruined by corporate greed and secularism. He remains the spirit of the season but has become for many the spirit of avarice, a wolf in sheep's clothing. These days "Santa Claus," an American conflation, is used by retail giants to manipulate long-suffering parents into buying their children lots of expensive and useless things, to the ruin of their taste. I daresay that when Old Father Christmass does visit towns like London and Paris he sees all the signs of festivity, merry-making and indulgence but few signs of any holyday, or charity, or the warmth that succours as we recall the birth of the Saviour. Sometimes I wonder which is worse, the unhappy Christmasses of the Interregnum or that which we all suffer annually in these latter days?

Nevertheless, I wish you all a belated Merrie Christmass!

Images: I fell in love with Gillian Tyler's illustrations of Father Christmass when I was very little. They remain my favourite depictions of the spirit of the season to this day. They encapsulate all the qualities that Father Christmass represents, of benevolence, wisdom and good cheer; and they're not tacky. Go elsewhere for an image of Father Christmass and you find rubbish! I found the other image on Wikipedia. It's from the 17th century account of the Trial of Father Christmass. The poem is beautiful.

Friday, 17 January 2014


I don't often recommend books. This is because literary appreciation exemplifies qualities such as individuality, taste and temperament in us. As the Grinch said, one man's toxic sludge is another man's pot pourri. People are astounded when I say "I certainly would not recommend The Silmarillion." Why? Not because it's bad literature (far from it) but because the stories are pasted together to form a canon, and this does not read like a mythology. Tolkien strove throughout his latter years to publish The Silmarillion but time was ever against him and, if he'd lived longer and accomplished his design, I daresay it would be very different to the posthumously published work.

One book I would recommend is The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp. While it is the story of complete failure and humiliation throughout the book there are moments of insight which are frank and humorous in nature. Crisp was a talented writer and raconteur whose life experiences and peculiar worldview make this book a sympathetic piece in which gay lobbying finds no place whatever. I most admire Crisp's honesty, and the sharpness with which he pierces the sinews of contemporary social norms regarding queers and sods. If only I could expand upon this there might be some hope that I might stand half a chance of writing book reviews for a living. I was going to say, in one chapter of the book he says such and such, and this reflects his vocation relative to the shame of being homosexual in the '30s, but what's the point? If you care for Quentin Crisp, you might like to read the book. My only advice would be to try and forget everything you think you know about homosexuals.

Thursday, 16 January 2014


"In 1653, when God took a turn for the worse, the gusto with which the English took to a life of self-restraint undoubtedly contained an element of debauchery. If we don't suffer, how shall we know that we live?" Quentin Crisp.


I ran out of steam. I began this post weeks ago but lost interest. It's still more or less in note form; I hope you don't mind! The painting, by Ted Nasmith (the Canadian illustrator), depicts the escape of Beren and Lúthien from Angband which was the stronghold of evil in the North. As with so much else in life (including a certain Galatians essay I struggled to write when I was at Heythrop), I can perceive connexions, parallels, etc and they take shape in my mind as concepts easily enough to demonstrate...but I just can't be bothered. It's easier to just sit there gathering dust. Enjoy!

"Thy word is a lantern unto my feet and a light unto my paths." Psalms 119:105.

At high Mass in the Roman Rite it had become customary in latter days for the deacon to proclaim the Gospel of the day facing the north. I have read apologetical works on the "traditional" liturgy which all invariably say that this has a symbolic meaning, almost a theology unto itself, that the Word is proclaimed by the Christian ministers of the Church to a barbarous, "pagan" North. The contemporary craze to ascribe the word "liturgical" to just about any compass direction regardless of the actual orientation of a church notwithstanding I marvel that people make such a fuss about this! The actual origins of this peculiar ceremony have been lost in the mist of time but seem to be connected to the evolution of low Mass (in which the celebrant stands at the north end of the altar facing in a north-easterly direction, being at once priest, gospeller, congregation and ministers), a position postulated by Dr Fortescue in The Mass: A Study of the Roman Rite. Another (more probable) theory is that it had its origins in the decorum of the deacon at episcopal services in which he stands, in such a way, as to be neither facing the congregation in an actual sense nor turning his back to the bishop. Perhaps the northward posture is the synthesis of both these theories? The character of low Mass, as we know, impacted upon liturgical tradition in the West (arguably in a devastating way) but it remains right to look upon episcopal services as the fount of all liturgical tradition. In ancient times the lessons were read from an ambo in the midst of the nave so that the lector could be heard of the people. If you like this sort of thing you could turn to the prophet Isaiah, where he says: "O Sion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength," (40:9), or to Christ's Sermon on the Mount.
Ambones disappeared in the waning of the years, much like rood lofts and riddel posts, surviving only in such churches as St Clement's in Rome, although I believe they were still used in the Ambrosian Rite into recent times.

Liturgical actions, furnishings and vesture, great or small, have their uttermost origins in utilitarian purposes. The great example, of course, is illumination. As Dom Gregory Dix says: "Anyone who has inspected ancient liturgical books, with their close writing and frequent contradictions of spelling, will understand the need of a light near the book, even in daylight, for the public reading of a text." (The Shape of the Liturgy, chapter XII). As is the tendency in the evolution of liturgical customs, the custom takes shape over time, it becomes fixed and recogniseable across a liturgical spectrum, then years later a theology of symbolism is ascribed to it, which renders the custom indispensable to the rite. It matters not that, for example, a procession of acolytes with candles to the

The very same principle can be applied to the proclamation of the Gospel. A custom, serving...

If you read the works of men like Guéranger

I think that, for us, the north has lost all significance as a direction for conversion. Nowadays we are in the midst of pagans, and worse.

Are these apologists saying this only to defend the practice or does the practice itself have any merit at all? These days we are in the midst of pagans, yea more! C.S Lewis said that our modern times have "progressed," like Tolkien's "sentient apes," to a situation that is worse than paganism for at least, where the Christians had the supernatural light, the pagans had the natural light. They were awaiting, in a similar way to the Patriarchs and Prophets who preceded Christ, the fulfilment of Salvation history. Modern man has exchanged that for the darkness of sin.

this has become the norm, especially in the Roman Rite. A custom is built up, like the carrying of acolyte candles at the Gospel procession, and a theology is built around it. Where before

The Gospel itself is the presence of Christ not just the exposition of an august text for dumb listeners.

My view is that if the

My inclination, nowadays, is that the proclamation of the Gospel, being at once for the edification and sanctification of the people as well as an act of liturgical worship, the Word ought to be brought into the midst of the people and proclaimed facing eastward.

Sunday, 12 January 2014


It seems that archbishop Vincent Nichols is to be made a Cardinal in the next consistory. What took them so long? Protocol? Or was it because Benedict simply didn't like Vinnie, with his wishy-washy disposition and halting rhetoric? Or has pope Bogroll seen the light? Vinnie certainly isn't very popular among the Traddies, so news of this promotion must have raised a few eyebrows. I think he's a harmless idiot, to be honest. I remember laughing my socks off when I watched the address he gave in Westminster Abbey before (or after) +Cantaur's address during the visit of pope Benedict. It was comparatively weak and could have been summed up thus: "err, thank you for the, errr, umm, you know, this historic, erm, occasion [looks at his watch]; and, errr, we're very touched by this, gasp, reception." You can imagine how wearisome it sounded in his thick Lancashire diction. I mean, really! He hasn't even had elocution lessons! Did he go to Oxbridge? Sometimes I wonder if he has a real theology degree. What would Evelyn Waugh say?

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Someone suggested...

...that I expand this comment I left on Fr Chadwick's blog and turn it into a post. Years ago (my crest has long since fallen) I had actually thought of turning something like this into a thesis or book (when I was about fourteen or fifteen I imagined myself, a doctor of letters and acclaimed academic, writing "the great book" on Tolkien). Unless it were a "get rich quick" option I doubt these days whether I'd have the inclination. See what you think?

The literary works of J.R.R Tolkien are full of nostalgia, whether it be Gandalf’s sigh as he remembered the “unimaginable hand and mind of Feanor at work” in the days of the Two Trees as he took Pippin to Minas Tirith or to the longing of the dwarves for their ancient home in The Hobbit, or even of Cirdan the Shipwright as he waits on the “grey shores” for the passing of the Last Ship. I think it’s one of the reasons Tolkien appeals to me so much. Memory, nostalgia and longing for the past, for a sense of moral righteousness is given a somewhat theological veneer. He paints a very beautiful picture of the saintly days of yore, and how much things have changed (for the worse) on account of the existence of evil, neglect, people forgetting (and being themselves forgotten) and the decay that Time inevitably brings.

Salvation comes as an eucatastrophe, only at the end and in spite of all odds, and that which has fallen into decay as a result of time and all those things becomes more poignant and meaningful as a result of this process. Grief is lost in joy, selfishness in altruism because our knowledge of evil and the contingency of matters has changed. As Eru (the Godhead figure) himself said to the supreme agent of evil (in my own words as my copy of The Silmarillion is not to hand): “for he that attempteth this [to change God's design in spite of God] shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things even more wonderful which he himself hath not imagined.”

I have been reading about Buddhism lately, and Buddhists take a very stoical disposition to memory, attachment and longing. But I think that memory and longing go to the very heart of Christianity and were intrinsic human principles set in our hearts by God himself as a mirror to reflect upon the Truth. After all, the Anamnesis of the Eucharistic liturgy is central to our faith and did not Christ himself say that they are blessed, them that “hunger and thirst” for righteousness? As for me, I hold those who remember high things relative to our own fallen times as blessed among men, having at heart a very evangelical principle. It is this principle, more than any parallels one might make between Varda or Galadriel and St Mary, Mother of God, that makes Tolkien a most catholic and most religious work; Memory and Tradition.

Art: Ted Nasmith. The two images, of Rivendell and Lothlórien, represent two kinds of tradition. On the one hand, in Rivendell, Tradition is remembered in books of lore and song in the Hall of Fire, and the memory of Master Elrond. On the other, in Lothlórien, Tradition is very much alive, alive in the very water. I wrote a very halting post on this a few years ago.

Friday, 10 January 2014


The Society of King Charles the Martyr will be holding its annual memorial and high Mass at the Banqueting House on Thursday 30th January (new style), beginning at 11:40am. Patricius will be in attendance.

Of course, the great irony is that, at the time of St Charles' martyrdom, England, while its people and institutions were plagued by monstrous forms of protestantism, followed the catholic kalendar of our long fathers of old and not the new kalendar haply introduced by Roman innovators on the continent.

I wonder what the English Ordinariate, founded to (apparently) rejoice in an English liturgical patrimony, will be doing on Charlesmass? Probably nothing, for it seems to be more important to them to sacrifice that which is good and ancient in the English traditions of their fathers on the altar of obedience to the pope than to safeguard and maintain that which has come down to them from times past in spite of Rome. When will people learn that the Papacy is a vacuum? You'll all be sucked into oblivion, gobbled up by the beast from the sea. I mean, look what the Papacy did to the Roman liturgy! Do you think that your traditions are safe? Think again!

But I was forgetting. Those Anglicans who sought union with the Papacy didn't really care much for Cranmer or Andrewes or Dearmer in the first place. It begs the question: does the Ordinariate even have a purpose anymore? Or was it just a fanciful idea? A dried up old onion, I think. Doomed to failure. May the money run out, and all interest, and that soon!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014


My contract with my latest employer expired on Saturday. On Sunday, contrary to my accustomed feelings about shopping on the Lord's Day, I went out and bought sixteen balls of aran wool. I figured that since I now have all the time in the world I'd knit myself a jumper. Can I knit? Well, I can do very basic cast-on and I have no pattern for my imagined jumper but I'm sure everything will be lovely (!). Most likely, however, the wool will be sitting there a year from to-day; just like the jam jars my mother bought me last Christmass (or was that the Christmass before then?) when I expressed a fleeting interest in making quince jam.Years ago I thought knitting was a form of witchcraft. This was because it was a skill that I didn't have. Similarly, J.R.R Tolkien once said that he had the deepest respect for musicians, considering them "wizards worthy of deep respect," if my memory of his letters is up to scratch, for it transpired that he had no recognisable talent for music. But crafts like knitting and embroidery seem to have come back into fashion these days (on a comparatively small scale). As for me, it is a means of trying to turn back the clock on this world; just like the Facebook account I so happily deleted when I was up to my neck in the mire of depression.. I am so ashamed to have been born into a time where (or when?) people are so ignorant and useless. My mother told me this very evening that years ago my grandmother made her own curtains. People don't make anything anymore! We live in such a cheap, throw-away society.

But, who am I to judge? I am just as lazy as (perhaps more than) the next slob. The jam jars will continue to gather dust just like the Lewis & Short I bought when I was studying Latin; and don't forget the aran wool! Someone said to me recently, "if you carry on like this, life will pass you by." So I said, "well, thank God for that, I nearly got mixed up in the beastly thing!" Did any of you ever read the full tale of Míriel Þerindë? She was the mother of Fëanor and in giving birth to him she languished and died, a dilemma which presented the first great riddle for the Valar in the legitimate exercise of their authority under God. It was a thing unnatural for one of the Eldar, at first to endure such suffering as would cause actual death (and, of all places in this world, in the Uttermost West where death had no presence) and, at the point of death, to have had no desire to be made healthy in the gardens of Estë. Míriel's story is very long and entails too many complex questions of soteriology to illustrate the point but she did indeed, after so long, return from the Halls of Mandos (death) but not to her family or to any of the people of the Gnomes; but instead to a kind of purgatory and she sought admittance at the House of Vairë by the shores of the Outer Sea. There she remained until the End of Time, recording the entire History of Arda in tapestries so marvellous that they seemed to recall to waking life the great deeds of the Gnomes in Middle-earth. I think that she could well have been inspired by the weavers of the Bayeux Tapestry, those women who, while telling the story of a Norman victory, glorified the Saxons at Hastings.

I want to be like Míriel. I think that her story obviates feelings of numbness I recognise in myself. Of course, in death she was reunited with her ancient husband, Finwë, and decked the Halls of Vairë. My own state of purgatory is hardly so romantic.

Image: John Howe. It is in no way related to Míriel's story but I guess we ought to rejoice in the paucity of Tolkien images on the Internet; at least images from The History of Middle-earth. At least those volumes haven't (yet) been marred by Peter Jackson.