Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Make it new

The extraordinary presentation of the Old Testament in the liturgy: as a whole library of ancient texts that are all about Christ.

Re-new-al, re-nova-tion, restoration: even the bright lights of the “Renaissance” (a term desperately in need of qualification) knew that making new means going backwards. Backwards towards the new. Newman: “Walking to heaven backwards.” Jesus: “I come not to abolish but fulfil.”

From the vantage of the new we (Christians) can better see the newness in the old; how Virgil Aristotle Plato Homer rise above the oldness. Why sagely Chinamen and Brahmins are redemptive in some partial way; they, too, grasping fragments of the future (and timeless) Christian vision. But it took Christ to show it whole.

Dante is so wonderfully severe; so new. Reading (instead) Piers Plowman in bed last night I thought, Can any poet match Dante in moral severity? Langland is so tolerant, so understanding, so utterly charming, so later. What an enchanting evocation of life in the fourteenth century! But there is a man getting old again.

In a world that rots, we need new. We need to keep it new. That is why mere conservatism can never cut it. We need the full-bodied reactionary attitude; the take-no-prisoners approach of Dante.

Just thinking aloud.

Plain speaking

It is Friday. Lots of gentle readers in desolation this morning (about this, &c); and others in confusion (though only about my last Idlepost). Easy things first.

I seem to have caused much confusion by the word “Modern,” which I’m in the custom of using as a term of abuse. But I used it yesterday as if it were a good thing. Now, all words are contextual, especially in English, and I was juxtaposing “Ancient and Modern,” where Ancient is understood to be the old pagan regimes of Greece and Rome — extremely impressive in their own right — before the historical arrival of Christianity. Hence my allusion to the Battle of the Books (Jonathan Swift’s contribution), on the querelle des Anciens et des Modernes which broke out in the late seventeenth century, in the Académie française, then diverted all of intellectual Europe.

This was perhaps a poor choice of allusion, since it led several readers astray. For the Moderns in that debate were, for the most part, explicitly defending not only the worldview opened by “modern” empirical and material science (as they then understood it), but also that opened by our “modern” empathies. In literature and art, the Moderns were inventing spectacular new genres — from sentimental comedy, to landscape painting. Descending from the freethinking Renaissance humanists, and leading ultimately to Robespierre, they congratulated themselves for their “enlightenment” on these and other fronts. The current liberal and progressive outlook is thus nothing new. It is merely a degeneration of the much older modernism — a version from which the sanity has been “progressively” expunged.

For the purposes of that old Parisian argument, I am roughly of Gottfried Ephraim Lessing’s view, that the Moderns, astride the shoulders of giants, see more, but the Ancients saw better. But to him, and to most of them, modernity begins with printing and allied arts, which made our brave new world possible. The debate itself was essentially post-Christian, with both sides largely overlooking the Middle Ages, which is to say, missing the elephant in the room of European history.

To be sure, the Ancients did not have our technological advantages, but too, the Platonists and Aristotelians (at least) did not have the disadvantage of being mesmerized by technology. There is a philosophia perennis in which they and we both participate, and in this the older classical authors had the temporal advantage of getting there first. They express vividly much that we can only restate, and thus we must be fools to ignore the classics.

What I’m trying to say is that technology is irrelevant: the real division between Ancient and Modern must be placed much farther back in time. It is the difference between the ancient pagan worldview, and what became possible through the definitive revelation of Jesus Christ. In this sense, Cicero is an Ancient, and Augustine a Modern. Swift, I think, in his characteristically provocative way, points towards this. We do not have so much one view then the other, as the two in continuing conflict: a knowledge of the True God, as against a wilful ignorance of Him.

Given my daily self-allotment of two hand-scribbled pages, there will not be room to rehearse my views on the development of Ancient, i.e. Hellenistic and Roman science and technology. Suffice me to say, that it starts shockingly well, then declines into mere engineering and superstition (rather as our “settled science” is doing today). The old pagan world was afflicted with intellectual blockages which the Christian “vision” began to clear. (Mistakes we are now repeating.)

The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century is the direct outgrowth of cosmological speculations in what we currently label the High Middle Ages — built upon the Christian theological insight that the universe God created must make sense. Its philosophical component, however — from Bacon and Descartes to Kant and Heidegger — is unnecessary to the empirical science and applied technology that confers prestige. It is rather the (often brilliant, and sometimes unintentional) re-imposition of the ancient Epicurean and Stoical blinders. Our modern “progress” in this sense consists of moving philosophically and theologically backwards to a pre-Christian age.

I was proposing to redefine Modern in the light of that Christian revolution, which we find at the foundation of “Western Civ.” By this means, I become the Modern, and e.g. the Darwinoids are exposed as Ancients. And the whole notion of “progress” may be casually discarded. “Old Pagan” and “New Christian” would perhaps be plainer terms: a choice between them with no third.

Is everything now clear?

Ancient & modern

Allow me, gentle reader, without mentioning Saint Augustine for a moment, to throw three dates wildly in the air. These will be the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312; the death of the Emperor Justinian in 565; and the death of the Emperor Charlemagne in 814. From first to last we have five centuries to play with here; about the same amount of time we’ve had since what is called the Protestant Reformation — enough room to swing an armadillo. And neatly divisible into two halves, as our own rather abstract “modernity” by what is called the Enlightenment.

Now let us consider the characteristic features of what we call “mediaeval architecture” — towered facades, colonnaded ambulatories, subterranean crypts, interior vaulting, and the whole vocabulary that describes each subsequent development in the art of building, founded upon the design of Christian basilicas in Late Antiquity.

The dates I gave correspond to collapses. The first is a collapse of the pagan imperium, the second of the Christian effort to restore it, the third of the first focused scheme to unite Western Europe. But each end also represents a new beginning, in which forces concentrated by political means were released, to spread as conscious or unconscious ideals in the formation of a geographically Eurocentric order which for want of any plausible alternative we may term “Christendom.”

Yes, I am playing schoolteacher this morning, there being no formal classes at the seminary round the corner on Thursdays. From the height of an eagle (or drone) I am inviting a view over the formative landscape of what will constitute our civilization, itself built upon the foundations of a deeper antiquity; a kind of “New Testament,” if thou wilt, laid over the “Old,” as it were. Not the coming of Christ, which slices history neatly into years before and after the manger scene at Bethlehem, but the full institution of Christianity — the Church — as a tangible and unavoidable presence over a vast area whose frontiers, as the pagan Roman, suffer constant incursion from barbaric tribes who will need to be converted. And will always do thereafter.

Let’s bring Augustine into this, and perhaps his contemporaries, as Jerome and many more, in the succession of Fathers of the Church. In looking for tipping points between the “ancient” and the “modern” (yes, I am reviving the Battle of the Books) we find something remarkable in their pages. Assuming, of course, some minimal education, we read there a worldview that is perceptibly our own; an intellectual environment where we are essentially at home, in a way that we are not among the older Greeks and Romans, or even among the earlier Fathers so often reasoning with a world from which they are estranged, to theological views not always confident.

At Hippo Regius, where Bishop Augustine presides in his later life over church and cloisters recognizable in their fragmentary remains, we are “back in Europe.” And this although the city, which is in Africa not Europe, will fall to the Vandals in the very year of Augustine’s death, and later to the Arabs. (He has anticipated that; it’s all there in the City of God.)

Or put this another way, in the words of a lady I know who was a (pointedly “secular”) archaeologist in Egypt, digging through a first-century cemetery in Sinai. She uncovered the grave of a young lady, buried with her child. She had uncovered several, but the skeleton in this one had a necklace on which had been hanging a Crucifix. This had a startling effect on the digger. “One of us!” she thought, quite involuntarily, as she began her own personal journey of return to the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” Church of her ancestors.

The term and concept of the “Middle Ages,” or media saecula, was an invention of the later Italian humanists, since absorbed into historical science at large, and constituting one of its most important false premisses. It was adopted because it would serve to isolate “Christian Europe” in a ghetto, from which we may escape to more comfortable suburbs with better plumbing and electric lights. Or among Protestants, to smartly skip over that part of their own heritage unmistakably Catholic. The idea of historical “progress” — Ancient, Mediaeval, Modern, Post — depends upon it, and for the last five centuries we have been betraying that heritage, thereby denying what we are.

For our next Renaissance I propose that we simply skip over the “Modern” claims, and resume our civilizational identity as the Moderns who succeeded the worthy and respected Ancients.

See also: here.

Of money & honey

The economists (such bores!) tell us that money can be many things. It can be, for instance, a store of value. It can be a medium of exchange. A unit of account. A source of information.

We find a somewhat different, more curt account of money in the Bible, but pass that by.

Just as particle physicists and evolutionary biologists did not consort to write the Book of Genesis, so economists of the Austrian and Chicago Schools did not compose any letters to the Corinthians. Truth to tell, a great number of things are “not covered” in our scriptures, but left to the individual or collective Jews or Christians to figure out for themselves, on their own time, working from Nature through unabridgeable human experience, or perhaps starting from a few divine hints. The need to mend clothes, for instance, or replace them when they are beyond mending: not a word!

In the parables, as elsewhere, much has been taken for granted: property and trade and politics and a whole kaleidoscope of human, instinctual, self-interested responses — the “survival skills” let us call them. As I was reminded in Mass several days ago, we are not told not to not suffer a thief from entering our house or apartment. Rather it is simply assumed that we will not not do that. Indeed, someone could write a book on “things taken for granted in the Bible,” by way of showing that various holier-than-thou poses among our more “progressive” contemporary Christians are ridiculous. Perhaps someone already has.

Here I am sidetracked already. I was intending to fixate on the boring topic of economics. I was going to write of money as a source of information. My example would be honey.

We have been told, by the usual unreliable sources, that there is a crisis in the apiaries. Honeybees have been (along with frogs and monarch butterflies, I gather) mysteriously dying off. The long-experienced fact, of honeybee die-offs, is usually omitted from this account. But seasoned apiarists are not fooled; only the gullible. These latter are invited to imagine a world without bees, without honey — unless we do something immediately through the United Nations that will cost a hundred billion dollars and provide employment for ten thousand progressive administrators and lobbyists.

Now, I do almost all my grocery shopping in the Parkdale district of Greater Parkdale (Vallis Hortensis as I like to call it). I prefer to patronize the small independent family businesses, but have ventured into a supermarket from time to time. When in one of those, such as the “No Frills” emporium at the foot of my street, I succumb to bargains — forgetting that the children of the harshly-taxed family merchants might, in the absence of my trade, be perishing from hunger. And that therefore I can only justify the purchase of Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice (specifically, “not from concentrate”), to which I happen to be addicted, and which I find stocked nowhere else. Though if I had any decency I would instead buy the constituent grapefruits from the Chinese lady down Queen Street, and squeeze the bloody things myself.

Honey, my dears, has been knocked down for quite a while now. So far, that in a moment of disloyalty (for it is also available at a slightly less knocked-down price from the Bengali brothers), I bought a kilo of this substance in there. Seven Canadian bucks, who can beat that? (Used to cost ten or more.) But whether there at No Thrills, or where I usually buy my Buckwheat Honey (at the Polish shop), or Creamed Honey (from the Rajasthanis), or some exotic Floral Honey (from the co-op hippies), I have noticed the prices trending stable or falling.

Take this for the information function of money. What can I learn from it?

That the supply of honey is secure. That the scare stories I read in the media are all what that Trump gentleman calls, “Fake news.”

Our Lady of Fatima

One hundred years after the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, do we have a clearer understanding of what happened? I don’t think so. We had tens of thousands of witnesses for the Miracle of the Sun, on 13th October 1917. We have an embarras de richesses of testimonies, for that and related occurrences, as we have for many other miracles declared “worthy of belief” by the authorities of the Holy See, now and in the past. The claims of the little shepherd children were exhaustively investigated, and what they said Mary told them was carefully recorded.

The apparitions at Zeitoun, in greater Cairo, over a period beginning in April 1968, I looked into once. Again, the number of affirming witnesses was in the tens, or hundreds of thousands. Most of them were Muslims, and they included even the Egyptian president at the time, the socialist Gamal Abdul Nasser. Many eerie photographs of the events were taken, and survive. Unquestionably something happened utterly foreign to the conditions of everyday life. But this “abnormality” included the message itself, delivered mostly in gestures from the roof of a Coptic church. It was not rationally simple and straightforward. There was an instruction to the Christian faithful, and arguably also a call for conversion to the Muslims, who venerate the Virgin Mother of the Prophet Jesus, yet deny the crucifixion and resurrection. (She pointed repeatedly to the Cross.) But this was in its nature mystical. Every tool of rational inquiry would be defeated by it. Every speculation is defeated about why she should appear then, and in that place. All the explanations I have read are incurably trite, facile.

But the mysterious bears contemplation. The thinking about this is useful. It can lead to a deeper appreciation of what, to the world, must seem arbitrary, even whimsical.

It strikes me, however, that trying to interpret the testimonies of Fatima, or the testimonies of Zeitoun, in terms of worldly historical events, is impossible. In general terms, Yes, to what we commemorate after one hundred years. The world was at war, and the twentieth century was unfolding in a hideous way. Our Lady warned of what is to come, and demanded a return to Catholic obedience — to the Faith, presumably as to the faith of little children.

She warned that human souls were falling, like snowflakes into Hell.

One of the principles behind the Catholic apprehension of the miraculous is that, it must be consistent with what we already know. It was. Mary did not come, and does not come, to revise any of the ancient teachings from out of our Deposit of Faith. She comes to accentuate and recapture. She comes bearing reminders, including the crucial reminder that her Son will verily come again.

We are right to commemorate these events; to absorb them into the liturgy over time. We are right to “take the message,” as it were. But that message is from another world, beyond place and time, and the contemplation must take us beyond the mere puzzlements of this one.

An embarrassment

One hesitates to recommend a book, such as Jean Daniélou’s Scandaleuse Vérité (“Scandal of Truth” is a mild translation), because it will be misunderstood. By the half-attentive, English-thinking reader, it may be taken as the pretentious blather of a French intellectual — which, since it came out in 1961, is now sufficiently dated to be ignored. Yet from its start, invoking Justin Martyr, it points to the heart of our Western crisis, and locates it beyond the pressure of “events.”

The truth has always been embarrassing. It was embarrassing, too, in the ancient world, and the worldly-wise have always cringed at the poor taste of those who present it. Seldom will they actually oppose claims made on behalf of the verities, for even by opposing the truth they would be dragged into an unpleasant debate, finally with their own souls. Their only defence can be the glibness with which the word is placed in dismissive quotes. The truth is reduced to “words, words, words” in a time when human testimony has been degraded. Our world, as surely all will agree, is so full of lies that the cynical may easily sneer upon the very notion of trust. Yet the existence of lies does not preclude the existence of truth.

As we see in society at large, and now hear even from Rome, sincerity becomes the substitute for faith. What is true can only be “true for me,” and the genuineness of a feeling substitutes for the content of the faith itself.

This is what a pope is now preaching: not against the content of the Catholic faith, which all his predecessors accepted as true; rather against their view that this content has importance — that, in effect, the truth is true, and commands our adherence because it is true, whether we find comfort and pleasure in it, or not. Instead, any view sincerely held is taken as acceptable, and though we might technically allow it is in error, we must “accompany” the holder to death’s door.

This is hardly a view originating in the Holy Father. I mentioned the publication date of Daniélou’s remarkable book — before Vatican II had congregated. Before it had ever been announced, the “dictatorship of relativism” had been proclaimed, in the world around us. In retrospect, it seems to me, no Church Council called in that environment could avoid a direct, and very embarrassing, clash with the modern world; for otherwise it would be infected. And that direct clash was avoided.

I have touched only on the opening remarks in Scandaleuse Vérité. The book goes on to deal with things more fatal than indifference to truth, or than the scandal with which it is received. It deals with the elevation of the ungodly; with counterfeit hierophanies and lofty “ideals” which occupy the very place in the soul that yearns for truth and meaning. We face, ever more plainly, a grand attempt to raise atheist man to the station of his own God and Maker. And this, such that the tragic consequences of our anti-religions — the casualties of wars and abortions — are not so bad as the soul-destroying scheme itself.

Paradoxically, I reflect, the principal accomplishment of this grand scheme or project is that man is in fear — not of God, but of himself. We have tasted our own destructive powers, and rightly we are frightened by them.

 

Dr Frank Hutson Gregory

Frank Gregory lived a shameful life, by his own accounts. He loved to shock people, but had the misfortune to live in an age and environment where his preferred methods no longer worked. Illicit sex, for instance, has had little shock value through the last few decades; illicit sex in Bangkok possibly none at all.

When I first met him, some forty years ago, he was just passing through that city. I was editing a business magazine there; he needed paid employment. Gangly, tall, unkempt, hound-faced, preposterously rude and facetious, I took to him immediately. He had come from England, where he’d studied maths and logic; I think of him as the last of the desiccated analytical philosophers; a kind of hippie Bertrand Russell. His ability to assimilate and manipulate “factoids,” then wittily narrate them, made him an invaluable rewrite man. Too, his casual assumption that everyone in business and public life would prove corrupt, put him constantly ahead of the story.

Like many who passed through Bangkok, without ever moving on, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Asked flatly, he said he was researching a coffee-table book on the brothels of Asia. He recounted adventures in “the cages of Calcutta,” in Gang Dolly, in the “walled city of Kowloon” — then mentioned that he had made it all up. For the bargirls on Patpong, he was a real trial: more interviewer than customer. He gave his religion as, “Antinomian,” on all government forms.

Secretly, he had a fierce sense of justice, and would do things unprompted that were disquietingly honourable. Then deny what he had done, when caught.

His politics were conventional mild Left; his satirical works limited to the sarcastic. But he had a splendid eye for the ludicrous, and an ear for the devastating verbal slip. He had, in my opinion, the potential to make mischief that would be positively divine, but wasted it on atheism.

He grew older, out of my view. By the time of his death, last month, he had written various serious papers on logic, the application of logic, its cultural transmission; on number, “information theory,” and other dimensions of reasoning. But from his letters I gathered that he remained the same old Frank; albeit settled into a traditional northern Thai house in the paddy near Chiang Mai; with Napat, the woman who cared for him through horrible sickness as she had in his health, and was (I have on good information) there, selflessly there, by his bedside to the end.

It does not surprise me that he could command such loyalty, in a lover as in old friends; for he was himself abidingly loyal. We could see a strange innocence through his protestations of guilt. I remember how he tormented me, for having become a Christian; but too, the affection he concealed beneath that. He was unusual in wanting the best for people.

I have been thinking much of death lately, as several near to me have recently pushed off. I can hardly explain why this death hit me hardest; this mourning a life all future, that has become all past. If Frank could die, anyone could die: perhaps I mourn discreditably for myself. Or maybe it’s just that I loved the guy.

George, Wolfgang, and Julian went up from Bangkok to the cremation at Chiang Mai. Old buddies, still in Thailand after all these years. Had I stayed, I would have been in the fourth seat.

Good is prolific

Somewhere in The Idea of a University — Discourse VII, I discover — Newman unfolds a battle flag I have long saluted. He is struggling against utilitarian principles in education; he finds that far from being recent innovations they go back directly to Locke; and he is aware that as champion of classical learning he is, by the middle of the nineteenth century, on the defensive. “The good” and “the useful” are sufficiently distinct that the one may be set in opposition to the other, tempting the hotheads to take sides. Calmly, he rather finds good on both sides.

“But I lay it down as a principle, which will save us a great deal of anxiety, that, though the useful is not always good, the good is always useful.”

Since I have gone to the trouble of looking this up, let me continue the quote:

“Good is not only useful, but reproductive of good; this is one of its attributes; nothing is excellent, beautiful, perfect, desirable for its own sake, but it overflows, and spreads the likeness of itself all around it. Good is prolific. …”

The radical descendants of the utilitarians cannot be happy with this; nor would have been their puritan forebears. They have always been on the side of suppression. In this case, how dare we teach a lad (or a lass when it comes to that) what will be of no direct use to him in his later life. Latin, particularly, has been in their gunsights, but all of philosophy is a waste to them, and as for poetry, and the higher arts, they are not buying. They want “science,” in the most limited sense, and they want know-how, technique. And in the main, the twentieth century attests to their victory in the public squabble.

I am not Cardinal Newman, and lack his serenity and patience, to say nothing of his learning. My habit in battle is to escalate sharply. My instinct, on first contact with a utilitarian, is to reach for my Browning. Newman’s was instead to examine his position for any good it might contain, and see if that good could be disentangled.

He reaches for the parallel of bodily health, ever taken as a desideratum. He allows that balance is required: that overdevelopment of some physical faculty may conceivably undermine the whole. But having granted this, it is plain that the healthy man has advantages over the unhealthy in whatever he chooses to do — starting with getting out of bed in the morning, which elsewhere Newman says is the beginning of virtue.

So it goes with the mental faculties. Some balance may be required, lest the man grow into the intellectual equivalent of a weightlifting prodigy — a self-made idiot savant — yet the man who can read poetry with enjoyment, and whose views are elevated by the ladder of the classics, has the advantage over the dolt whose only relaxation is football.

The America founded on puritan ideals, utilitarian to a fault, and now gone crazy, has long been anti-intellectual. (I learnt this the hard way through schoolyard beatings.) We believe in muscle, and in lifting weights. To us the brain is a kind of muscle. All of its strengths are to be applied.

It should be the occasion of no surprise that our campuses are now ruled by ignorant Leftist thugs, feminazis and what have you. All focused, censorious utilitarianism ends that way.

Thanksgiving

North America takes a day off today — for Canadian Thanksgiving, and Columbus Day down there in Buffalo and points south; or Día de la Raza more properly celebrated on the 12th of October (the actual date of Columbus’s first landing in this New World). It is also, I understand, a Fiesta Nacional in Spain, and Giornata Nazionale in Italy; and Día del Respeto a la Diversidad in poor, benighted Argentina.

There were European visitors before Columbus: Basque fishermen to the rich codfields of Newfoundland, perhaps, and Norsemen before them. Leif Erikson landed, most likely in the autumn of the year 1000, and for all we know, Saint Brendan the Navigator nearly half of a millennium before him. Christians all, and given their ages, quite certainly Catholic.

One way or another, Canada has the deepest Christian roots in the Americas, and our early northern Thanksgiving should reflect that. The second Monday in October is as good a day as any to pray on it.

In Canada as elsewhere in this New World a great deal of neurosis has being exhibited over the last generation or so. By the Leftist trolls, Columbus has been associated with wickedness, and the salvation of so many native souls with “cultural imperialism.” True, the conquistadors from Extramaduro were in some respects no better than those from Saint-Malo and Bristol — greedy and unscrupulous, even murderous in pursuit of gold and glory. Humans have been like that in all cultures.

Against this we must consider what was unique: the selfless devotion of the Jesuits and other missionaries who carried the Cross. They were another party entirely, often protesting the behaviour of their godless countrymen, and a constant irritant to the nominally Christian governments back home.

High enterprise, and its requisite courage, are to be commended. The accomplishments of first explorers into unknown lands merit our qualified admiration. But where this courage is combined with the evangelical calling, in expectation of martyrdom, the qualifications are removed. America became the burial ground for so many Christian saints.

In giving thanks, for the divine providence that brings the harvest year on year — for the sun that gilds the corn, and the moisture that feeds life upon our little rock hurtling through space — we are doing what all men have done by instinct since time out of mind. Those alive enough to read this are indebted for everything we have. Let us get to Mass so we may address this thanks to Him who hath bestowed every gift of Being.

At sea

We come again to the victory at Lepanto, commemorated today in the Sacrifice of the Mass, embracing the Feast of her Holy Rosary. I’ve remembered Lepanto more than once before (as, here), and God willing, will return to it again. The reader who wants to know more about it can go to the reference books: the more recent, generally, the less reliable. Or, Father Rutler gives a splendid account of the whole business (here).

“You had to be there.” This is a thought that applies to many circumstances, but in this case it means to read — to reconstruct so far as possible in one’s mind — the incident and its time from the original accounts. Armchair strategists may try to explain how the papal fleet defeated a massed Ottoman armada from a navy which had previously dominated the whole of the Mediterranean Sea. The closer one reads, the more improbable the victory, turning on a moment with the winds, the full 180 degrees. Yet it was necessary to the defence of Christendom, and was accomplished by multiple feats of daring, all of which seemed to turn out lucky. It is true that morale was on our side, for we were fighting for our freedom and besides, the Christian slaves that manned so many of the out-sized Turkish galleys could not have had their hearts in it. But more largely it was volunteers against seasoned professionals; and the plucky, valiant amateurs won.

In trying to comprehend history, I have come to respect eyewitness and contemporary sources, not only in the Gospels. “Journalism,” one might glibly call it, but that term refers almost always to secondhand accounts, gathered at some distance. Of course firsthand accounts may be dishonest, yet there is such a thing as the “ring of truth,” borne through in the results. It takes a broad mind to discern it; one not clotted with anachronistic, modern assumptions about how the world works; a mind which therefore refuses to exclude the possibility of factors such as Faith and Miracle. To discern sincerity is a first step. Believers are in less need of hype.

The men who defeated the “Infidel Turk” (as we then called him, and continued to call him through later centuries) believed they were serving a Holy Cause. They had dedicated their efforts and called individually and collectively upon the assistance of the Virgin Mary, every single man with his Rosary. They were in no doubt why they would need it. And it was their own extremely confident assurance that she had won the victory for them, that spread through Europe (both Catholic and Protestant) after the event.

This is irreducible fact; deed. We are describing an event nearly twenty generations removed from our present day: different Turks, different Europeans. Yet continuity may be found in the respective Islamic and Christian faiths. For fourteen centuries these two have been clashing, and we have hardly prevailed in all of the exchanges. It is a violent history, but can be no other, against a religion normally spread by violence. But on this occasion, with everything on the line, as on others dating from Charles Martel, our own faith has carried us, regardless of the odds. Had it not, on any of the great occasions, Europe would certainly be Islamic today, and by extension America.

God has been with us whenever we have called upon Him, with our whole being, especially through Mother Mary. Even in disorder, our prayers have been heard. We may not now have a future, for what remains of our Western Civilization; but if we do, it will be Christian.

About time

One last week, two more in this: the doddering oldies, pushing off. How often they die in the approach to winter. Ich habe genug, as the Bach cantata says: an expression that may be taken wryly. Both my parents left, about this time of year. The youngest of that generation, ahead of mine, are now passing ninety. Few will last another decade. In my childhood veterans of the Great War were common enough; some had yet to retire. Then suddenly there were none; none at all. And so now with the graduates of the Second Great War, with their lovers and companions, gone where?

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark.”

Last week it was the turn of my Uncle Joe: among the last of the master carpenters and joiners. A good man, and a happy: blest with kindly wife and children. But also with tragedies, pain, awful loss. Struggling at the last to sort through recollections; confused between the living and the dead. Need I attend the reception in Burlington? Of course I must. For in the moment I learnt of Joe’s passing, I heard my late father’s voice. Saying only: “That was my little brother.”

At the reception, so many cousins growing old like me; and young ones I had never met, children of children, so “Warrenish” in their faces. Jim, Bob, Joe, all gone: the idea that Death is picking through my family. The photos everywhere of lives lived; one in particular of a sprawling family reunion, half a century ago. (That’s me: on the far right.) But now fifty more years will pass; and a hundred, and a thousand. There will be not one fragment of dust to prove that we were ever here. That which was so commonplace, so present, and sometimes so utterly boring, becomes impossibly remote. One reaches through receding place and time. And as one reaches, it pulls farther away.

Soon it will be the turn of my contemporaries. Many even of these old friends are gone. I know, because I attended the funerals, or received the letters, or caught the shocking news by chance. When they die they grow younger in the passages of the mind. Even Rick, Joe’s eldest, killed by a car at the age of twenty-three, trying to save a dog. My precise contemporary, but now I search in my memory for his face and voice, and for a moment find him vividly before me, but reverted to eight or nine. It is as if they perish through birth as well as death, growing ever smaller.

Christ comes into this: that Christ who died, descended into Hell, then rose that Death shall have no dominion. We live, if we live at all, in Him.

Viva el Rey

According to Alfonso II (“the Troubadour,” “the Chaste”), Catalonia is an autonomous collection of counties within the Kingdom of Aragon, which straddles the Pyrenees. This was in the twelfth century, slightly before my time. As king he was also styled “Count of Catalonia”; and too, “of Provence”; with interests beyond in Languedoc and oversea in Sardinia. He was not entirely sovereign, however: for he was united with the king of Castile even then, under a bond of vassalage. Moreover, there were no absolute sovereignties, in the subsidial matrix of mediaeval government.

In other words, the socialist romanticists of Catalonia are right to claim a certain autonomy of more than eight centuries’ standing. But in all this time their proposed nation state never existed. The remarkable city of Barcelona has been continuously the centre of this coherent realm, with a language as beautiful as Occitan and others strewn through the interior mountains. For more than five centuries a distinct “principality” (like Wales). But not a kingdom as, for instance, Valencia once became.

Anciently, primitive Iberian; then Carthaginian, Roman, Visigothic; the current identity is a product of the European Middle Ages. Catalans emerged at a Christian frontier of the conquering Dar al-Islam. Their knights took an important part in the Reconquista, driving the Moors back south from where they’d come; freeing their Christian slaves. All Europe is thus indebted to a heritage of Catalan warriors, saints, poets, artists; and as ever, patient and industrious farmers. Within Christendom, their autonomy has always been recognized, most recently by the Kingdom of Spain.

They have been the wealthiest constituent part of that kingdom through many generations, while their attention was focused upon creative acts of trade; of life, letters, religion, and away from the scourge of politics.

We could go on with this little backgrounder, but my only intention is to stress that the demand for an independent Catalan republic is something very modern, wild and evil.

A single glance at a photograph of the current Catalan cabinet — which ordered a referendum in defiance of national law, in which the majority of the population did not participate — explains everything. They are bitter-faced women in pantsuits, and men with that smug, leftish smirk, and the dead look in the eyes. We have seen them before in Quebec, and Scotland, and will see them again.

They are the worst enemies of Catalonia; of everything she has been through the centuries. In their ravenous pursuit of power they have made a peaceful land into a psychic warzone, turned neighbour against neighbour and race against race. And this in a blink of time. The violence has barely begun. More bodies wait to be heaped upon the demonic altar of Nationalism.

There were no serious grievances at the start. No one was oppressed, except in his imagination. Now there will be grievances on all sides, real oppression, and scores to settle through coming generations.

Nice work, Satan. You’ve done it again.

Against closure

To the contemporary mind, empathy is a sentiment, and therefore we must sentimentalize. We who think ourselves Christian should be trying to make some distance from this; to re-establish (my favourite word this month:) chastity in our empathetic responses. There is too much hugging. There is not enough quiet, selfless devotion. For the demonstrative empathy I observe, almost everywhere at the slightest call, is impure theatre. It is empty gestures; “virtue signals” comparable to many others on display. It reverses the moral requirement for hardness of head, and softness of heart.

It is heartless empathy. One does one’s emoting for the appropriate audience then as quickly as possible, one gets away.

Gentle reader will know that I am dispositionally unflattering to the mass media of entertainment and supposed “news.” Constant immersion in this filth (as Pope Benedict aptly called it) is perhaps the principal cause of our empathic showiness. Its deeper history was one with the growth of journalism and novels. Mimetic creatures, we emulate “feelings.” We “act,” not in the sense of doing anything useful, but of cheap theatre.

I know these things because I find them in myself. Though arguably less sogged with the popular culture than most, I know exactly how to behave in response to the usual cues for “support.” I have all the phrases down, and have mastered the touchy-feelies. I can’t bring myself to cry on cue, but can see how it is done; and how to climb down into our cultural swamp — where we grieve for people we never knew, in places we’ve never been, such as Las Vegas.

Yet I have noticed that the genuinely bereaved are alone. They are contemplative by the enforcement of nature. We demand that they acknowledge the unwanted gift of our emotional enclosure; that they be empathetic to the empathetic, as it were. The ugliest of these impositions comes under the label of “grief counselling.”

Women are the worst, but also the best, in the trying times of death and catastrophe. A good woman can see what work needs doing. She does it; gets help when needed. Leaves the men to stand around “being strong.” (The best of the men also make themselves useful.) Food always needs cooking; there is cleaning to be done; other details to take care of. Contemplation requires leisure; let the grieving have the leisure they require. They ask for no advice: give none. Don’t distract with offers of help that are both unnecessary and insincere. Instead be attentive to request, and act — invisibly. Be there, on call like a soldier; and like a good soldier, shut up.

To have loved, and lost, is a terrible adventure. Only we, the audience, want closure: want the movie to end before the night is out. Want a happy ending (“a celebration of life”). But for the protagonist of grief, the adventure is beginning. Let him emerge in due course with his gifts from the dead; with his own character enhanced by experience. Do not set an agenda for him.

The truest act of empathy for the grieving is to pray for the dead.