Wednesday, 31 December 2014


No, this is not that post I abandoned in March or April which was designed to be a complete synthesis of the history of that superstitious custom. This is rather a very brief answer to a question put to me by a valued reader.

That would be the subject of a post, not a comment. Suffice it to say that I do believe in the Real Presence but in a different mode to "transubstantiation," which I reject entirely. I think it rash to define the Real Presence as much as the Incarnation. How do we really understand the union of the Divine and Human in the One Person of Christ?

With regard to the Real Presence, if I had my way:

1. Major elevation of the host and chalice in the midst of the Canon would be abolished on pain of latae sententiae excommunication. The liturgical books would be revised to reflect this change.
2. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament would be abolished along with the Forty Hours prayer and adoration.
3. The feasts of Corpus Christi, Precious Blood and blessed sacrament processions would be abolished.
4. Masses coram Sanctissimo would be abolished.
5. The rites for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday would be significantly revised to incorporate the change; restoration of pre-Tridentine praxis being the desired order.
6. The Sacrament would no longer be reserved in tabernacles under lock and key but kept apart in the priest's house in a fitting place and kept solely for communion of the sick.
7. Distribution of Holy Communion would be under both kinds always and everywhere, except in cases of grave necessity. Fear of profanation is not a grave necessity.
8. Monstrances would be rounded up and destroyed.
9. The use of wafers for Holy Communion would discontinue and actual unleavened bread would be used (in the West), according to Tradition. There is nothing, to me, more distasteful in respect of the eucharistic gifts than when a sacristan rips open a plastic bag of wafers and tips them into a ciborium.

That is, in brief, what I would do if I were the pope. If popes have the authority to change so much else, why can I not introduce these changes, for the good of humanity and the tonic for their superstition?

Parents' evening...

"This boy has produced the best piece of English Literature coursework I have ever seen for GCSE." 

I was as surprised as my mother to hear that from Mrs Wheeler as I thought she hated me and it's an assessment about as far removed from "special needs" as Traddieland is from facts. When we got home my mother said: "she clearly hasn't taught English for very long." That wasn't true as Mrs Wheeler once said that she'd been teaching English since before any of us were born; nevertheless I suspect that her glowing remark was still less as complimentary as my arrogance made it. As I said before, I take it as axiomatic that people of my generation are, like, illiterate you know!

The piece of coursework in question was a diary. We were asked to compose a fictitious diary covering several days or weeks during the Second World War. Presumably the idea came from Anne Frank's diary (which I have never read), but altogether less grim since we were all English children either evacuated from major cities or living in the country by birth. I actually based my diary on stories told to me by my English grandmother, who was born at Rochester in 1933. Her older brother Joseph died at Monte Cassino and she had kept a diary and old postcards and things and narrated much to me from memory. Among the most poignant of my research experiences was a photograph, carefully preserved, from 1938 of nanny with Joseph, on the back of which was written in her flowing script: "my older brother and I before the War." At the time I saw this I found it hard to believe that grief could come so soon and so hard into a man's life but nanny spoke heartily of Joseph and his fondness for motorcars and the railway station, and clearly missed him even fifty-nine years after his death.

I don't have the diary and remember little of what I had produced (save a party tree in a field; no doubt borrowed from The Lord of the Rings), and the only thing I have upstairs to prove I ever took GCSE English is a review of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was clearly impressive enough to warrant that comment and I do remember the stories nanny told me.

It's sad that the bulk of history is biography and chronicle. I find stories told from memory far more interesting.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Special Needs...

Would you believe me if I told you that when I was a little boy I had to visit a special needs teacher every afternoon because my other teachers thought me retarded? Oh yes, I remember Miss Hills very well. A tall, pale woman with flat brown hair and round spectacles. I discovered (by hiding under her desk) that she was having an affair with Mr Clark, the man who couldn't teach fractions and decimals to save his life. When I told my mother she was scandalised that I was exposed to their rather pasty, amorous behaviour, so she wrote to the headmaster. I don't know what happened, if anything (they were not suspended), but I can't think why I was sent to Miss Hills for special needs tuition everyday - I thought my discovery rather ingenious and that I was not myself discovered evidence of my stealth and talent for espionage. I have never considered myself retarded, or even disabled (although I think I qualify for a blue badge...). I read The Hobbit when I was seven and came away with as good an impression and memory of the text as I have now. My favourite word at that age was "cantankerous;" and when the naysayers confronted me with the news that Father Christmass was a myth (he isn't), my response was: "I emphatically believe in Father Christmass!" So it still puzzles me that I had to have all this extra help with spelling and arithmetic. Perhaps it was because I couldn't (or wouldn't) understand the association between word form and word meaning; I asked the school chaplain once: "father, why does beauty sound so ugly?" I always thought "beauty" an embarrassing word to say. His response was to laugh and tell that joke about the peacock and the egg.

In secondary school I took to Latin and French like a duck to ducks; in fact with French I think I was the only one in the class who could pronounce the words without a trace of an English accent. I can't think why but at one point my RE teacher put it to the class, "does anybody know the Latin for 'book?'" The whole class turned to me! I smiled and said: "it's liber; we get library from that." I still don't know to this day whether she actually knew herself. Certainly I knew more than she ever did about the Roman Catholic church; she was another tall, pale woman with spectacles only, unlike Miss Hills, she had short hair...actually she looked like most priestesses I've ever seen (I had a lay chaplain at sixth form college who had similar wonders at times whether these people are all related!). In the words of my mother, "her face was a picture" when I confronted her with my very own copy of the Code of Canon Law (purchased with my pocket money...wasn't I a normal boy!) and pointed with not a small amount of smugness to that canon which stipulates that all priests are to be well-versed in Latin. You see, she had told me in front of the class the previous day that knowledge of Latin was no longer compulsory for priests. I have always been one of those strident and determined individuals who, when stunned to sullen silence on account of my inability to win an argument (thank you impaired theory of mind...), just can't let it go. It was jolly decent of me to prove my point in the absence of the other children, wasn't it? Of course, this determination usually just ends up with me in a bad temper and ignored by all humanity. If only I could compel them to listen. And the day she stupidly told us that the Parable of the Talents was about our moral duty to cultivate our own talents...I was sent to the headmaster's office and a letter was sent home. You must surely see why I am so bitter about my school days!

Confessedly, I found mathematics very difficult and still do. I had similar problems with science. I saw no point in bunsen burners and atoms and thought memorising the periodic table about as useful as reading expired television guides. Even so, my science teacher rather liked me (as did my maths teacher, who was a Methodist). Most people with Asperger Syndrome are at the opposite end of that spectrum; aren't they all a bunch of science and technology geeks? My Art teacher was a Mr Crawley, a man from "away North" who had a phenomenally foul temper. I enjoyed art because I could "draw things how they looked," in the words of a disgruntled school...chum, I suppose. One year I designed the school Christmass card and chose a simple Madonna and Christ Child theme. I think Mr Crawley turned a blind eye to all the art history books I stole from his office. He did have the only collection of books in the school worth reading; big hardcovers with lots of paintings and odd-sounding names of obscure artists.

My history teacher was a bully who hated me.

Physical Education was the pits. It was the last lesson of the week after lunch on Fridays. We spent those two hours either in the gymnasium, from which there was no escape, or on the heath from which one could catch a bus if the teacher was looking the other way. I went to see nanny and granddad on several of these occasions. Granddad never said a word to us children, nor we to him. Mother said he was a heartless man who once beat her for standing too close to a wet dog that shook its mane (and I think in many ways my mother takes after him). Nevertheless, nanny made me tea, fed me cakes and let me watch Fifteen to One on television and gave me £10 for visiting. Eventually, I stopped attending P.E altogether, all the threats of permanent detention notwithstanding. I was invincible.

I was a nice little boy, don't you agree? Do any school teachers read this blog? And if so, can they understand my behaviour and my resentment?

The photograph is of the cemetery adjacent to the field over which my English class looked. I could see that folly over the trees when, out of boredom, I looked towards the dead.

Monday, 29 December 2014

St Thomas of Canterbury...

And specially from every shire's end.
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

The feud between Henry II and St Thomas was...and I've gone blank (well, I am writing this on Christmass Day and I have a stinking cold and have had too much port). What I really want to say is that one cannot really have a devotion to St Thomas without having at least some deference to Fisher, More, and the other contemporary lords spiritual. Arguably Henry VIII wielded more power than Henry II, Magna Carta notwithstanding, but is there really much difference between the blissful martyr of Chaucer's pilgrimage and those who went to the block in defiance of the Act of Supremacy? I may be mistaken but I don't think there was a spontaneous cult of any of the Reformation martyrs (on the Roman side). Which was right, the King or the bishops?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

John Cleese...

I have always enjoyed Fawlty Towers, partly because I see in Basil some of my own less admirable traits; you might say his unwarranted air of superiority. I would have said suppressed anger which is, of course, what makes him so funny.

So mother bought me John Cleese' autobiography for Christmass. So far, apart from one or two sideswipes at organised religion (which is forgivable given his woefully bad religious instruction), and a liberal-minded apology for using exclusively masculine personal pronouns to describe farcical comedians, it is very funny. I am on p.85. This is my favourite so far:

"There was one master who quite liked me, no doubt in part because I quite liked him. Nobody else liked him, though - perhaps because he was physically unattractive. Actually that's not true. I was being polite. He was ugly. God, was he ugly. He could have won competitions without taking his teeth out. Rather surprisingly - and endearingly - he was also a bit vain: always fussing about his hair and glancing in the mirror. It was strangely touching to see him battle on in this way against insuperable odds - rather like Quasimodo using eyeliner, or the Elephant Man wearing a toupee."

I have to say I laughed out loud. Elsewhere he derides the gross imbalance of his education and I can't help but feel rather put out by this. Surely his education was better than mine? I take it as axiomatic that people of my generation are, for the most part, illiterate compared with my parents' and grandparents' generation. I remember my tutor coming into the Copleston Room at Heythrop some time into Michaelmass Term in my first year and complaining that us stupid teenagers were never taught how to structure an I was the only teenager on the Bachelor of Divinity course I took that as referring to the worldly BA students; nevertheless they were my contemporaries. Certainly I learned nothing at school, and consider the time I spent there ill-used. My writing style was largely based on Tolkien but I don't recall ever being taught how to structure an essay at school, except the cursory "in this essay, I intend to prove..." and then following that banal, sausage factory structure. Hardly in the class of Dr Johnson, is it?

My tutor went to public school, so I envy him for that. My uncles all went to grammar school, so I despise them for that. I went to a Roman Catholic comprehensive school and came away as stupid and ill-equipped for the rigours of indolence as when I first went thither. Latin was phased out in my second year and so I was the last year to undertake examinations. Our English teachers managed to stretch Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth out over the five years of my sojourn there, augmented by trashy modern poetry (ironically one of these modern poems referred to the Battle of Marston Moor; not that we learned anything about the Civil War in history). My mother later told me that when she was at school she had had to read three Shakespeare plays per annum! Music was a cultural vacuum. Art was about "self expression." Dear God! I learned nothing remotely useful; I wasn't even encouraged by teachers to do anything extra-curricular, like go to an exhibition or to a museum. Nothing about trees, plants, birds; nothing about British history beyond the Suffragettes (and you can guess why those harridans were in the National Curriculum!); in short, absolutely nothing. I wouldn't have minded all the detentions for being constantly absent (in the woods mostly, or the library) if the school had provided some discipline and structure; just the tonic when one isn't remotely interested. Even so, in my case I think I'd have been considerably worse off. At least I was always myself enough to disregard school. Everything I know to-day I taught myself and I have to say that I am resentful of the comparative inferiority of my education.

I could go on but my education wasn't the original impetus for this post. I won't recommend Cleese' autobiography.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Giving quarter...

76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
12th December 1955

"Surely how often 'quarter' is given is off the point in a book that breathes Mercy from start to finish: in which the central hero is at last divested of all arms, except his will? 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,' are words that occur to me, and of which the scene in the Sammath Naur was meant to be a 'fairy-story' exemplum..."

You won't find this in the published Letters of J.R.R Tolkien. It was a letter to David Masson, at that time librarian at the University of Leeds, who had written a response to a Times Literary Supplement review of The Return of the King. Tolkien remarked that the reviewer ought not to have made such a fuss over giving quarter to the Orcs. You will notice that Tolkien uses the goodly traditional Prayer Book speechcraft of the Oratio Dominica. Having been written in 1955, this letter surely indicates a rejection of the modern version?

Art; Ted Nasmith.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Have yourself...

...a merry little Christmass. This song was ruined by later versions, such as that of Frank Sinatra, but Judy Garland's version has always fascinated me. Meet me in St Louis was first shewn in 1944 and has a number of rather gay songs; The Trolley Song, The Boy Next Door, Over the Bannister, etc. I know them all by heart.

Happy Christmass!

"Then said he, I am going to my fathers, and tho with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword, I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill, to him that can get it. My marks and scarrs I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battels, who now will be my rewarder." Mr Valiant-for-Truth.

I wish you all the temporal and spiritual blessings in the Infant Jesus on this most sacred (new kalendar) solemnity of His Birth.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Stille Nacht...

Among the tales of sorrow and of woe that come down to us from the darkness of the Great War there is yet one in which amidst weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of our history most fair to mine ears is the story of the Christmass Truce of 1914.

Those of you who are familiar with Tolkien will instantly recognise that I have just recycled his introduction to the Lay of Leithian as told in prose in The Silmarillion but I thought it apposite for the spirit of this post. A few months ago I bought Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914 by Malcolm Brown & Shirley Seaton in preparation for this anniversary. Honestly, until a week ago I only glanced at it but it is a very poignant read. We all know the familiar stories of caroling gentlemen in No-man's Land, a glimpse of common humanity amid so many horrors, and the subsequent wrath of the high command. But this book, carefully illustrated and full of real stories, has moved me profoundly. I feel a kinship and solidarity in the reading not only with our English fathers but our German cousins too. On this point one English soldier remembered that there was a Saxon regiment nigh to their trench and on Christmass morning at 9 o'clock he heard a voice crying in clear English: "Hello there, hello there, we are Saxons, you are Anglo-Saxons. If you don't fire, we won't fire." This instantly reminded me of what Tolkien wrote about Gimli's meeting with Galadriel, "And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding."

There is another account of elsewhere on the Western Front. At dawn a German officer took a Christmass tree into the area between the trenches. An Englishman came forward to meet him, shouts and warnings from his friends notwithstanding, and he shook hands with the officer. When the Englishman returned to the trench unharmed the English applauded the magnanimity of their German foes.

The joint burial service at Fleurbaix was the greatest occasion of its kind that day. Writing home to an old friend from Lancing College, Second Lieutenant Arthur Pelham-Burn, who was an Anglican seminarian, said:

Our Padre...arranged the prayers and psalm, etc. and an interpreter wrote them out in German. They were read first in English by our Padre and then in German by a boy who was studying for the ministry. It was an extraordinary and most wonderful sight. The Germans formed up on one side, the English on the other, the officers standing in front, every head bared. Yes, I think it was a sight one will never see again.

About a hundred bodies were buried that day. One Englishman said afterwards: "I must say some of them are very nice fellows and did not shew any hatred, which makes me think they are forced to fight." A German said pointedly: "We achieved what the pope himself could not do and in the middle of war we had a merry Christmass."

Let us bless God for this day of humanity and comradeship. I wish you all a very happy Christmass.

(This was my 700th post by the way)...

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

People often ask...

...what do you believe? One reader wrote to me recently and besought my help in the fledgling church, in the Ordinariate "tradition," to which he is attached when, in another forum, he had noticed that I had said that I was churchless. When I replied and said that I could not, in good conscience, render any support whatever to the Ordinariates; for many reasons that I need not elaborate here but ultimately resting on the monstrous claims of the bishop of Rome; he replied giving a succinct exposition of Roman primacy and all the rest of that. I'm afraid I've heard it all before. Questions of liturgy aside, I would say that Roman primacy is out of date. It is not of apostolic origin and developed undoubtedly out of the secular polity of the Roman Empire; just as the comparative see of Constantinople. I believe, as a pious fool one might say, that the blessed apostles Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome; this is attested to in our tradition. But I do not believe that St Peter claimed episcopal authority over the Romans anymore than he founded a see in Rome. Later popes, assuming "Petrine" authority unto themselves and many imperious titles besides (pontifex maximus not the least), tore the Church assunder in their arrogance, confirming Latin occupation of Constantinople, imposing erroneous doctrines on pain of hell fire, bulldozing local traditions and generally dispensing God's Grace like maundy money; so much so that arguably the crux of all schism in Christianity can be laid at the feat of this greatest bridge-builder. It is an arbitrary and demonstrably false model of ecclesiastical polity that one man claims universal, supreme jurisdiction over all bishops, all traditions, all doctrines and the regulation of the sacred liturgy. Do other bishops share less in the episcopate than this one man who exalts himself? I can only repeat that this doctrine is repugnant to the writ of God and destructive of unity. Indeed they are anathema who believe in the doctrine of Papal Supremecy; just as hellbound as any Presbyterian.

Thus far I have said only what I do not believe. What do I believe then? Well, I am conscious enough of my own failures to perceive rightly that I am in the Wood between the Worlds. The only strong conviction that I have as yet is my avowed intent not to dive back into the pool from which I came. So please, readers, stop writing to me and begging me to return to the bosom of Rome. It will not happen.

Never fear! I pray God daily that I shall not apostatize. I do fear, however, that for people like me there is no home, no church in which we're welcome. I could never hope to rise to any platform from which I could happily enforce my correct liturgical views in a mainstream church anymore than I could meekly sit in a pew and endure one collect every Sunday and do nothing. These churches are doomed to hell fire for their complacency. That's the mainstream churches out the window and I am not at all interested in renegade churches and congregations, episcopi vagantes or other fringe lunatics. Religion, for them, is simply a palliative; something that serves to numb their innermost feelings of inadequacy and a theatre in which to dress up. For some these congregations are the fora to prey on the elderly in hospices, posing as real priests, manipulating the vulnerable with drugs adminstered with prayers into the signing of wills, and looking elsewhither for legitimacy. Most of the time, these sins notwithstanding, they are also as guilty of liturgical complacency as the mainstream lot and consider extra lace and candles the hallmarks of tradition.

What, then? I wouldn't have said I was a cynic but in the seasonal words of Dickens: "Tradition was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Conception of the Mother of God...

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

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

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

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

Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Ne contristeris...

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

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

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Christmass rant...

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 December 2014


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

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

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


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

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Arkenstone...

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

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


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

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

The Lord of Waters...

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

That subject again...

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

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

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

Suffering from...

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

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Crist by Cynewulf...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text of Crist can be read here.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Dr John...

I have expanded the paragraph about Dr John in my post about Friendship. He is certainly one of the most interesting, enduring characters. By the way, I am giving very serious thought to compiling a "memoir" of sorts and getting this stuff published. What do you think? Do you know a publisher who would accept this sort of stuff? I can't imagine Ignatius or SPCK!

I met Dr John in 2004. I was 16, he was 67. I had started going to Corpus Christi church in Maiden Lane. I remember my first evening there very clearly. I wasn't entirely sure where the church was so I wrote down the directions from Charing Cross on some note paper and went up to the church on a summer afternoon (three hours early in fact) in June. I had finished my GCSE examinations and was a vivacious little tradunculus looking to spend my summer in piety and tradition. It was weeks before anyone spoke to me and then someone from the choir asked me on the way out if I could sing; and I do sing quite charmingly. Not wishing to commit myself I declined his invitation to join the choir. Nevertheless I joined in the conversation outside the church. John was there. When everybody else had departed he invited me to Ponti's for coffee and we had a very pleasant chinwag.

Until that evening I had thought of myself as the only homosexual in the Church. How naïve! John was a theatrical costume maker and art historian. He had escaped Old Mother Damnable in 1994 during the first major influx of Anglicans into Rome but was still "Anglican-at-heart," as he said. In the early days of our friendship I met a few of his more colourful friends and learned a lot about his fascinating life. He had such wonderful stories to tell and had met some very interesting people. He had had tea with Quentin Crisp in 1977 and told me an amusing story about his first meeting with Dame Margot Fonteyn. When I told him about my adorable grandmother, he said: "I think I probably knew her," and indeed they had met. They were at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane when they saw Judy Garland inebriated in a corner. "We were both invited to a dinner in her honour," he said. "But we agreed we wouldn't go if she was to be in that state." And they didn't. She died soon afterwards. At some point I confided to John my secret, unrequited love for Formosus. Formosus was a young man in the retinue of Fr W.C Mick. He wisely told me to give up daydreaming, and I did try.

In 2007 there was a high Mass of Requiem for Soulmass at Maiden Lane and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to convert my rather liberal Latin teacher to the traditionalist caused. I was genuinely surprised that she came. You see, I was so traditional in those days that in addition to wearing my best Charles Tyrwhitt black suit and silver pocket watch for the day, I had also been to the low Mass of Requiem in St Wilfrid's chapel that morning and I was naturally desirous of converting my esteemed Latin tutor to the same frame of mind. What better way of spending one's Soulmass than in traipsing across London for low Masses? I don't remember what she said about the Mass, if indeed she expressed any view at all. John was there with his friend Algernon and, as usual, we all went for tea and cakes, this time to the Carluccio's in Garrick Street as Ponti's had begun to "serve me at breakfast," so John reasoned, and this was clearly not to his liking. There John regaled us with his accustomed wit and Algernon, the only man I ever met who can make the word "yes" sound like "ears" was telling us about the Stuarts.When I went back to college my tutor summoned me to his office, whereupon he said: "Maudlin is worried about you, Patrick," "Oh?" said I. "She is concerned that you're becoming involved with older men." I ought not to have been so dense. No wonder John kept touching my hand and admiring my beauty! We had been to Rule's earlier in the year for my 19th birthday. When I told Lewis that, he said: "it must be true love!" I thought he was joking. Eventually, I stopped going to Maiden Lane as I no longer wished to countenance the impious rites celebrated there and our meetings became less frequent but I still visited John occasionally at his flat in Chelsea. I invited him to visit Blackfen once and he complained of the distance and disparaged the ugliness of the church. When I started going to St Magnus the Martyr he became rather waspish. "You can't go there," he said. "Nobody joins the Church of England!" Even so, he is deeply involved with the Society of King Charles þe Martyr and I think that some of the articles about bl. Charles on the society website were written by him.

These days I see him much less frequently than I used and ought. I must see him before Christmass. He has been very good to me over the years and has given me a number of small treasures; an 18th century print, a signed book and celebrity autograph. The photo at the top of this post depicts one of the love letters John sent me, written in his spidery script. This one is dated June 2009. It's the only thing, of that sort, that I have on display in my room; but only because I like the painting.

The Countess...

Until recently, in Soho, the hooligan district of London, there was a woman known as the Countess; and not without cause. But in spite of her aristocratic pretentions she had in fact no fixed address, no means of support, and her body was perpetually bent double from a life-long habit of looking in the dustbins to see if she could find there something she could possibly sell to a kind friend, or, if not, that she herself could use. And one day, in a dustbin in the most expensive part of London, she found a complete backless bead dress. She longed for night to fall so that she could nip into a dark doorway and try it on. But by about half past six her patience had worn out. It was barely dusk; but she went into a churchyard in the middle of London and there she proceeded to take off her clothes. This caused a crowd to collect. And the crowd caused a policeman to collect. And the next day, in court, when the Magistrate said: "and what exactly were you doing, stripping among the dead?" She replied: "I was doing what any woman would be doing at that hour; changing for dinner!"

Saturday, 13 December 2014

St Lucy...

It's St Lucy's Day to-day (in the Gregorian Kalendar). I suppose you could say that St Lucy serves as a satellite for Christmass Day. During Advent we await the coming of the LORD as a weary people in darkness and the cold and the dark amidmost we venerate St Lucy in a festival of light. Years ago I attended a carol service on St Lucy's Day where a wonderful sermon was preached connecting the saint with the antient Hebrews in the darkness before the dawn (that is, the birth of Christ). I wish I could remember it! Instead, perhaps this passage from The Lord of the Rings might resonate with you?

Frodo sighed and was asleep before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo's hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope, for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master's, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep. (The Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter II).

Housewife superstar...

I have never seen Dame Edna live but I've always wanted to. Here's why!

Friday, 12 December 2014


Fr Hunwicke has written about the meeting of pope Francis and patriarch Bartholomew and I thought I'd say something about ecumenism.

I find myself in sympathy with those efforts that are strictly ecumenical, in the abstract. However I find all the joint declarations, photographs, talk about "progress," watered-down liturgies and general pussyfooting around completely spurious and dangerous. Indeed it reminds me of the lottery in Nineteen Eighty-Four. No prizes for guessing who wins - nobody, ever. And what do the ordinary people get from it? Nothing. The simple simply do not know or care what the pope is getting up to meeting some foreign prelate in a far off country and they are probably completely unaware of what goes on in the Baptist, Methodist or Anglican church in the next street let alone in a Byzantine or Monophysite church. For prelates to declare unity while not carrying the simple folk along with them is like so many castles in the air. Church unity, if there is ever to be such a thing, will have to come from the ground upwards, not the other way around. And, I'm sorry, but people are not interested. They are devoted to their parishes; if the existence of other Christians occurs to them at all, it's in some incidental context, like walking past another church on the way to the post office or, if you're a Traddie, in your summary condemnations of all non-Traddies. You can't change people like this so why bother trying? And even if unity were declared (but certainly not realised), what difference would it make? People would go on as they did before, if you changed nothing; and if you did change things, they would be disrupted and ill-used.

As for the problems inherent to the whole process, I simply shake my head in disbelief. All these declarations, these aliturgical convocations, the relativistic and wholly complacent inter-communion services, the smiling faces; it doesn't foster neighbourliness or improve things; it just pisses me off.
I don't suppose that breaking off ecumenical relations with a particular ecclesial body for the sake of Truth would be the done thing in these days of relativism and spinelessness. This maddeningly weak and pathetic culture of desperately trying not to offend people, inaptly termed "political correctness," has seeped even into the Church! None dare speak their mind nowadays! If everyone simply said: "I believe this, my church fortifies me in this belief and I will not compromise," then we could all sit down to tea together and try to exercise the virtue of charity, ut omnes unum sint. The Westminster Confession and the Roman catechism are irreconcilable; modern Roman liturgical books and the Byzantine rite are, except in some superficial similarities, manifestly at variance and expressive of two completely different traditions, liturgical theologies and of faith. The Anglican ordination of women cannot be reconciled to the constant praxis of the Church; need I say more? There are hosts of other problems; saints canonised by different churches being brought into some nebulous, future "united Church," each condemning the traditions of the other; reconciliation of liturgical traditions, subtle points of Christology and Trinitarian Theology; the Sacraments, their number, theologies; pastoral theology, monasticism and religious orders, the Kalendar; the ministry of women in a general sense; vocations; church polity; biblical and liturgical translations; the list goes on and on.

I wonder what they're saying? That is, the pope and patriarch. Do you think it's something like "everything is hunky dory; there are no serious canonical, liturgical, theological differences between us. We're all all right. Let's share our sacraments together in a wondrous relativistic fudge with complete disregard for our traditions and the sentiments of our faithful."

Ecumenism, as practised to-day, is one of the worst and most ludicrous heresies ever to plague Christ's Church.

Tolkien's Jonah...

"At the roots of the mountains. I went down into the countries beneath the earth, unto the peoples of the past. But you raised up my life from the pit, Yahweh, my God." Jonah 2:7, from Tolkien's own translation.

Compelled, as they were, to compile a translation in timeless English (a dead term) Alexander Jones wrote to Tolkien in January 1957 and expressed his profound longing to "have an English Bible translation from such a hand." I don't know what he expected; Tolkien's right English goodliness of speechcraft is hardly "timeless," and Tolkien's original translation of Jonah (from French into English) was so heavily revised for the 1966 publication that it ceased to be his own. When asked to contribute, Tolkien sent a sample translation of Isaiah's prophecy, even so:

Heavens hearken, earth give ear, for Jahveh speaks: I have brought up sons and caused them to grow, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its keeper, and the ass the crib of its master; Israel knows nothing, my people understand nothing.

It's poetically alliterative but rather dumbed down towards the end. Compare this to the Authorized Version:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Tolkien's attempt here reminds me very much of Mgr Ronald Knox's New Testament. Knox's translation is a marvellous scholarly feat but I always got the impression that its style was somewhat artificial. Take one of the dearest moments in St John's Gospel, for example:

Woman, Jesus said to her, why art thou weeping? For whom art thou searching? She supposed that it must be the gardener, and said to him, If it is thou, Sir, that hast carried him off, tell me where thou hast put him, and I will take him away. Jesus said to her, Mary. And she turned and said to him, Rabboni (which is the Hebrew for Master). Then Jesus said, Do not cling to me thus; I have not yet gone up to my Father's side. Return to my brethren, and tell them this: I am going up to him who is my Father and your Father, who is my God and your God.

I mean, if intelligibility or applicability is the desired end why retain obsolete pronouns? Do men find "saith" more difficult than "said," or "borne," for "carried?" What you end up with is something dull and uninteresting.

Five years ago Tolkien's original translation of Jonah was going to be published in its own handsome cover. For some legal reason it was shelved. It would have been marvellous to see Jonah's prayer turned into alliterative verse; the style most dear to Tolkien. I mean it would be unsuitable for liturgical use but in one's private devotions...

Thursday, 11 December 2014


I initially published this article in August 2014 but it was brought to my attention the other day by a friend of mine, who may or may not be included in the narrative, who asked who the persons described might be. Naturally, I am not going to reveal names and some of the names of churches are made up (but most are real). One of the names given is real, because that person has no interest in liturgy, does not read my blog and would not necessarily mind the description I have given of him (or her), but the rest are either chosen at random, rearranged or have some significance, though that significance may be purely personal or become apparent to them in time. My attention being turned to this article the other day reminded me of one of my mother's typically acerbic answers to the many questions I put to her over the years about my relationships with other people. I said, now many years ago: "mummy, why don't people like me?" And she said: "because you can't keep your mouth shut." Of course, it did not occur to me upon my friend's enquiry about this article that my indiscretion or bluntness had anything at all to do with it and that his or her asking me about it was just frank curiosity. The article is very much the same as before but has been expanded somewhat that I may reflect upon my indiscretion I have also included accounts of three other friends excluded heretofore from the narrative.

As the years have gone by, friends of mine have come and gone. When I was at school, from about the age of 8 years, my best friend was Alex. We were a match of opposites. I was intensely religious, he was largely indifferent to religion (he eventually embraced atheism); in fact one day, during a Religious Education lesson, somebody expressed an opinion on Mark's Gospel at variance with the teaching of the Church so I raised my hand and bluntly told the teacher that anybody who dissented from Church teaching must leave the school. Alex turned to me afterwards and said: "you would say that, wouldn't you!" I was always instinctively conservative; he was very liberal. I was interested in history and languages; he was interested in science and mathematics. The only thing we really had in common was a sense of intellectual superiority. When we achieved our A Level results and went our separate ways, he to study Mathematics and Philosophy at Cambridge, I to study Divinity at Heythrop, we fell out of contact and both of us met new friends at university. Years later, but still some years ago, we met again through Facebook. I remember meeting him at Charing Cross railway station in my best suit - the idea was that I would go for a "more successful than I really am" look - and we went for tea at Browns. Over the course of several months, I met him and his girlfriend (who disliked me intensely), and it was, for a while, very good to catch up, even if I did at whiles perceive the wisdom of our parting. The friendship waned, however, after one evening. Alex had broken up with his girlfriend and, in a spirit of experimentation, we decided to go to a gay bar in Greenwich. Perhaps it was a bitter blend of boredom and beer but he made several homosexual advances towards me, which I rejected, and then invited me to his flat. It was raining, I had no umbrella and I was very much put out so I did the right thing and embarked upon my train homeward. Later, after ignoring his phone calls, I wrote to him saying that I wasn't offended per se but to myself thought that maintaining even the veneer of friendship was too much of an effort. I cut him off and since that evening he has made no attempts to contact me.

When I went to Heythrop in 2006 I met Lewis. Lewis was wonderful. His mind was marvellously subtle; he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Church history and spoke four languages fluently. He was also very attractive. He was a year ahead of me but we took Latin and Greek together and sometimes he would make an appearance at Corpus Christi in Covent Garden (though that was seldom). He was clearly homosexual so during my "traditionalist" days a grievance but lulled to sleep came between us. I was obedient to the Church's magisterium and not only accepted my being queer but protested the fact - in other words, I would not be ordained however much I wanted it and however much that might impede my own future happiness. I was also, in those far off days, still under the delusion that homosexuality was not so rife among the clergy as is now seen to be. But Lewis seemed to flout the rule and, for his piety, that cross would remain to drag him earthwards. When he graduated (with a first) he went to do a Masters degree in Celtic Christianity at an overseas university so I joined Facebook to stay in contact. He used to read my blog and, being a Roman Catholic (indeed in holy orders), took offence at some of the more intemperate posts. I used to send him a Christmass card and write to him occasionally; he would in turn write back with prayers and blessings. I last wrote to him at Epiphany 2014 and received no reply. Whenever I think of our antient friendship I am assailed by the feeling that I didn't do enough. I loved him dearly.

I met David through a mutual friend. I never much liked him though he claims to have loved me with every inch of his manhood. I found him repulsive and cheap from the start and only met him during concourse of other folk, occasions which gave him opportunity to flirt shamelessly with me. He was completely oblivious to my disdain. You see, his idea of flirting was a few neolithic lurches towards the object of his desire. He invited me to his flat for dinner on at least three occasions. I declined two of them but to save face I consented to the third. Dinner was an Iceland pizza with chopped up brie and salami! My stomach turned. Two hours to get there, four hours of this, two hours back. There wasn't enough wine. The whole evening was an unmitigated fiasco. He wanted sex. I declined. One year, before Christmass, he wrote to me crying penury so I sent him a cheque. On another occasion he met me at the church of St Magnus the Martyr and brought along his new special friend. Even among the "fags of St Mags" he didn't quite fit in; though one of the more senior members of the congregation was smitten with his histrionic, ostentatious boyfriend. It wasn't encouraging to be so privy to their pasty affections so I sneaked off quietly with another friend. He wrote to me that evening whining that I had left him "all alone." Weeks later I asked about the boyfriend whereupon he said that they had broken up, a "tragedy" (or travesty) for which I was apparently to blame; although it transpired that he found cause to blame our mutual friend too. Needless to say, I felt no pity. Eventually, he came to understand that I no longer wished to continue our association. The last I heard, he wished me dead.

Nina was one of two lady friends in my life. She was beautiful, urbane and witty and dispelled a number of prejudices I had had hitherto about women; though I daresay the extent to which she exercised any real influence there was mitigated by the fact that during the term of our acquaintance religion very seldom came up in conversation. I met her in 2007. We worked together at Morrisons and both of us had similar hard-luck stories to tell. The only reason, in hindsight, that I worked there for nine years was because of my own indolence. She had been a dancer for two years on cruise ships but had had an accident and so she came home to take up part-time work and start another degree. When I told my mother about her, she asked me if I liked her to which the reply was a curt "no!" Nina and I had very similar non-liturgical interests such as ballet and Alexa Chung and we both read Vogue magazine. We enjoyed the same films, the same contemporary music, vintage dresses and she met my Irish grandmother on one occasion (whom she described affectionately as "amazing"). But, at the same time, we were very different. She was outgoing and sociable and had a number of (mostly lady) friends. I was...well, I am me; hamfast and standoffish. Certainly few of her lady friends cared for me much and I never felt so lonely as at Nina’s 25th birthday party. She left Morrisons about a year before I did to take up a dance and drama teaching position. About a year ago she was offered a job in Canada and I haven't seen her since. Whenever I reflect upon our time together I am struck by how superficial it all was. In hindsight, Nina had a wonderfully beautiful face but very little personality.

I met Francisco at a dinner party in 2009. He was the only liturgical man I ever met of my generation for whom I have had any patience. When I first met him he was an Anglo-Papalist, with portraits of pope Benedict XVI and Carolus Rex side by side in his flat. Like Lewis he was deadly attractive but nothing ever reared its ugly head. We had a few laughs. Indeed, now that I think about it laughter was the principle feature of our acquaintance. We often met each other in one of the many queer churches of London; places, I have come to understand, of assignation, but certainly occasions given not so much to immorality as a lot of hysteria. Homosexuals together, especially religious ones, tend to act more affectedly homosexual for some mysterious underlying purpose. But on one such occasion, when I admitted to Francisco my childhood dream of becoming a Roman housewife, he suddenly stopped laughing and said that I was "weird." I was shocked by his bluntness and took offence perhaps more because I had been drinking than the fact that it was by no means a gratifying observation. The hysterical laughter was forever after stilled. I did always suspect that I liked him more than he liked me. Maybe because he was beautiful I made the mistake of putting myself out more. He was liturgically rather sensible but more diplomatic than me and willing to compromise where I would depart in wrath. He had the remarkable ability to build bridges where my talent seemed to lay in their destruction. Not that maintaining the bridge did the people of Nargothrond much good. When the dragon finally came they took to throwing down the stones of their pride too late and, for all his bridge-building, Francisco's fate was not dissimilar to theirs. We remained congenial, despite the weird comment, until he moved overseas but I think he departed a defeated man and, like me, took little further interest in Western liturgies. He now worships with the Russian Orthodox. I haven't heard from him for at least two years.

I met Dr John in 2004. I was 16, he was conservatively in his late sixties. That year I had started going to Corpus Christi church in Covent Garden. I remember my first evening there very clearly. I wasn't entirely sure where the church was so I wrote down the directions from Charing Cross on some note paper and went up to the church on a summer afternoon (three hours early in fact) in June. I had finished my GCSE examinations and was a vivacious little tradunculus looking to spend my summer in piety and tradition. It was weeks before anyone spoke to me and then someone from the choir asked me on the way out if I could sing; and I do sing quite charmingly. Not wishing to commit myself, I declined his invitation to join the choir, the sound of which was like unto wailing. Nevertheless I joined in the conversation outside the church. John was there. When everybody else had departed he invited me to Ponti's for coffee and we had a very pleasant chinwag.

Until that evening I had thought of myself as the only homosexual in the Church. How naïve! John was a theatrical costume maker and art historian. He had escaped Old Mother Damnable in 1994 during the first major influx of Anglicans into Rome but was still "Anglican-at-heart," as he said. In the early days of our friendship I met a few of his more colourful friends and learned a lot about his fascinating life. He had such wonderful stories to tell and had met some very interesting people. He had had tea with Quentin Crisp in 1977 and told me an amusing story about his first meeting with Dame Margot Fonteyn. When I told him about my Irish grandmother, he said: "I think I probably knew her," and indeed they had met. They were at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane when they saw Judy Garland inebriated in a corner. "We were both invited to a dinner party in her honour," he said. "But we agreed we wouldn't go if she was to be in that state." And they didn't. She died soon afterwards. At some point I confided to John my secret, unrequited love for Formosus. Formosus was a young man in the retinue of Fr W.C Mick. He wisely told me to give up daydreaming, and I did try.

In 2007 there was a high Mass of Requiem for Soulmass at Covent Garden and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to convert my rather liberal Latin teacher to the traditionalist cause. I was genuinely surprised that she came. You see, I was so traditional in those days that in addition to wearing my best Charles Tyrwhitt black suit and silver pocket watch for the day, I had also been to the low Mass of Requiem in St Wilfrid's chapel that morning and I was naturally desirous of converting my esteemed Latin teacher to the same frame of mind. What better way of spending one's Soulmass than in traipsing across London for low Masses? I don't remember what she said about the Mass, if indeed she expressed any view at all. John was there with his friend Algernon and, as usual, we all went for tea and cakes, this time to the Patisserie Valerie in Bedford Street as Ponti's had begun to "serve me at breakfast," so John reasoned, and this was clearly not to his liking. There John regaled us with his accustomed wit and Algernon, the only man I ever met who can make the word "yes" sound like "ears" was telling us about the Stuarts. When I went back to college my tutor summoned me to his office, whereupon he said: "Maudlin is worried about you, Patrick," "Oh?" said I. "She is concerned that you're becoming involved with older men." I ought not to have been so dense. No wonder John kept touching my hand and admiring my beauty! We had been to Rule's earlier in the year for my 19th birthday. When I told Lewis that, he said: "it must be true love!" I thought he was joking. Eventually, I stopped going to Maiden Lane as I no longer wished to countenance the impious rites celebrated there and our meetings became less frequent but I still visited John occasionally at his flat in Chelsea. I invited him to visit Blackfen once but he complained of the distance and disparaged the ugliness of the church. When I started going to St Magnus the Martyr he became rather waspish. "You can't go there," he said. "Nobody joins the Church of England!" Even so, he is deeply involved with the Society of King Charles þe Martyr and I think that some of the articles about bl. Charles on the society website were written by him.

These days I see him much less frequently than I used and ought. He has been very good to me over the years and has given me a number of small treasures; an 18th century print, a signed book and celebrity autograph.

I met Martin at Holy Cross church in the palmy days of Heythrop. Like Alex, we were a match of opposites, though we shared some interests such as a latent love of drag queens and a general fondness for battle-axe women. Our common childhood heroine was Dame Edna Everage. He was a talented musician but was actually rather stupid (in an oblivious sense) and I have sadly to admit that I found him endearing except for his optimism and gaiety. We were in town together in the early summer of 2011; we had been to see Lloyd-Webber's The Wizard of Oz, and had each worn red suede shoes for the occasion. We went thence to the Green Carnation and had a jolly good piss up. As we left, he mentioned something about what had happened to me recently (that is to say, my having left the Roman Catholic church); I said; "oh, shut up about that, would you?" I can't really describe the look on his face at that; it was as if he knew that to press the point was a bad idea. I became sullen and wouldn't speak for most of the journey home. Then, upon arrival at the station, we disembarked and he turned and kissed me on the lips. It was as surprising as it was perfect. I'll leave what happened next, if anything, to your imagination, but it transpired that he was moving away with his family to Bath. I have seen him once since then though we exchange Christmass cards. To my knowledge he plays the organ now in some Anglican parish. Like so many other friendships, ours simply waned with distance and time.

I first met Columb at St Margaret Clitherow's. When I first met him I found him rather dull; he had a voice not dissimilar to my Fundamental Theology tutor at Heythrop, the man who forever dried up what little interest I had in theology. Nevertheless, he was a good man. To my other friend, I said that in many ways he reminded me of a good priest we both knew at Covent Garden. When, for liturgical differences, I went elsewhither for Sunday Mass, Columb stayed in contact with me by telephone; his preferred means but by no means my own. I went to his house for dinner on St Stephen's Day some years ago for the first time. I was amazed by his knowledge, experience, his down-to-earth, I daresay Hobbit-like good sense, his complete lack of pretence, his thoughtfulness and consideration, his altruism. The oft-repeated phrase "what you see is what you get," sprang to mind, that and a good many other turns! His house in Highgate was full of books, old prints and paintings. I felt uncomfortable and not a bit confused with the paintings of William III and the Young Pretender that he had in his living room but there were hundreds of Christmass cards from various friends and well-wishers, surely an indication that he is well-liked and respected. I went on visiting him for about three years but as time went by I sensed that he wanted to be more than just friends. He told me about an old romance he had had in his youth with a man who has since died; stories like this interest me not in the least so I looked away. He then took me into his bedroom where I saw several photographs of naked men. Among them was a photograph of myself (the one at the top of this paragraph). By this time he had over-imbibed and kept saying that he thought me beautiful, and such things. He put his arm around my waist so I backed away and changed the subject. I thought enough was enough. I changed my 'phone number and decided that I didn't really think that my charity in visiting him in his loneliness was worth this. I last saw him at Baker Street underground station some months ago and I think he saw me because he stopped but I hastily boarded my train and went my way.

I don't remember the first time I knew Crassus but I knew of him for years. I think I first saw him at St John and St Elizabeth; or was it at Spanish Place? We became Facebook friends. I spoke to him for the first time in the crypt of St Magnus the Martyr. I was surprised one Sunday to hear a very distinct baritone voice coming from the organ loft. Afterwards we went to lunch with a mutual friend. Nothing much else happened betwixt us for another four or five months. Then in January we were both guests at a splendid Old Kalendar Christmass dinner party hosted by an esteemed mutual friend of ours. He shook my hand and gave me a very unpleasant look; there was a look of hideous lust in his eyes. He was very rude to one of the guests. The wine was copious, of course, and so his company was at least tolerable. He wrote to me the next day saying that he was enchanted by me and was desirous of seeing me again and so, thinking that I could use him for his influence and money, I consented to accompanying him to breakfast at St James' Court on the occasion of Mary Stuart's anniversary and thence to Westminster Abbey for the Royal Stuart Society commemorations. We said the Angelus in the nave, prayed by St Edward's tomb, shook our fists at the statue of Oliver Cromwell by the Palace of Westminster and then returned to his flat for lunch and to watch Brian Sewell's Grand Tour series on DVD. His personal insecurities, lust and grandiosities became manifest throughout the afternoon. He shewed me his collection of pornography, his vast collection of pseudo-Baroque tat, and insulted my family not to mention making several inappropriate passes at me and trying unsuccessfully to get me drunk. He begged me to spend the night with him; I refused and made up the excuse that I was making brunch the next day for my long-suffering mother (I would never treat my mother with such deference). Even so I remained on speaking terms and thought his aristocratic pretentions amusing. I do not blame people for being queer any more than myself, but it does bother me when men would fain have us believe they lead godly, celibate lives when, in fact, they do not. When I told my esteemed friend, he of the Christmass Party, what had happened on that Saturday he remarked: "perhaps he has a papal dispensation to be gay?"

Moving on.

I next saw him a few weeks later. At Spanish Place, where a parishioner recognised me from my blog, we attended a concert of poorly-integrated Irish music sung by a not-very-prestigious choir. We went afterwards to his flat for a cocktail party. Expecting Miranda I was greeted by Caliban. He expected me to help set things up, help host the party and wanted to shew me off as his new boyfriend. I was outraged! He served cheap Prosecco bought from Tesco when I had expected vintage champagne; you know, to at least match his pretence and hauteur. A terrible host, more than once I felt obliged to circulate the room with the bottle. I met his mother, a charming lady with a noticeable accent, and my thoughts went back to our last meeting when Crassus said condescendingly that I was like a young Kenneth Williams. I thought, but didn't say, "well, unlike your mother, my Irish grandmother took elocution lessons to get rid of her accent!" We were watching George V's Delhi Durbar on YouTube when, in the midst of the dwindled party, he asked whether I'd have felt more comfortable sitting in his lap. I said, "certainly not." I stayed until all left – a mistake since it seemed to substantiate the illusion that I was really together with him. No wonder his sister and the rector of Spanish Place ignored me that evening! He put his right hand on my arse and tried kissing me, asking whether I would consent to spending the night with him again. For the last time, I said no. I went home and was resolved never to speak to him again. Of all my friends and acquaintances over the years I never once met one so hypocritical, so rude and so downright bloody awful. Crassus, Knight of Magistral Grace and social climber.

Edward was a dear friend and I, for my part, still count him so. I met him at the London Abattoir (or Oratory) and found him very sensible. We became close and eventually he introduced me to his partner Piers. We had so much in common; a mutual love of ballet, of Tolkien, of liturgy, of dogs, of fine food and wine (and ale), and of history - real, local history and the history of country churches. Unfortunately, he embraced Unitarianism and we became estranged as a result. I could not conceal my disdain for his new found religion any more than my contempt for his pastor. He cut all ties recently. Oh well. I suppose, if you bite into a soft centre you can't put it all back in.

You might say that this article illustrates my profound and fantastical inability to keep friends. Or that the word "friend" has been largely misapplied here and that few of them really were friends in any meaningful sense. Having spent a number of years reflecting upon them, I now realise that most of them were interested in one thing; sex. But real friendship is supposed to transcend all that. There is a real crisis about friendship in our times because of promiscuity and easy recreational sex. It seems that everybody is looked upon as a potential bed-fellow and it's becoming increasingly difficult to draw the line between platonic friendships and stimulants of sin. Of course, my thoughts here illustrate my own significant interpersonal problems and a complete lack of discretion. In one case I do not repent at all of what I have said, even if I know that it has been read (fortunately unlikely). In others, most others actually, I regret sincerely that things ended as they did. But are you surprised by it? Perhaps it is my doom to go through life with few real friends. I am an intolerant person and after a time certain things about people, whether it be their lifestyles or personal beliefs, tend to eat away at me until silence becomes unspeakably irksome. It is not in my nature to keep silent. Where I have offended good people, much better people than I could ever hope to be, I am deeply sorry. A shame, for me anyway, that any of us could be so sundered in these latter days; since I value friendship more than I can say.