Essays in Idleness


Month: February, 2016

Old wine in old bottles

According to the inhabitants of Seta (or Cette, in the old, disintegrating book I am reading) — a city on a hill about three leagues west of Montpellier — it is possible with the simpler wines of Catalonia and Roussillon, the excellent inexpensive local brandy, and plentiful springwater, to make “Port, Sherry, Clarets, Burgundy, Champaigne, […]

Book of Eccles

Perhaps I am a little giddy from recent illness, and should avoid making magisterial statements until I am elected pope, but I have found that an effective way to avoid the Sin of Wrath is to read the blog, Eccles is Saved (here), before turning to the other ecclesiastical news. This is especially useful in […]

A safe space

Some forty years ago, and for a couple of years before and after — which is to say, once upon a time — I lived in a small workman’s cottage at Vauxhall — which is to say, towards the middle of the Great Wen of London. I often think back on this “squat,” which I […]

On desecration

It is a little-remembered fact — perhaps because those who could remember are increasingly dead — that it is possible to make a thorough hash of the Tridentine rite. Those old enough to recall church attendance in the late ’fifties and early ’sixties of the last century have several times told me that standards were […]

Peter Damian

Saint Peter Damian, whose thousandth birthday must have passed by now, will be familiar to readers of Dante, who presents him in Canto XXI of the Paradiso. On checking, I see that it has: for he was less than three hundred years old when Dante met him; now he is one thousand and nine. Young […]

Don’t leave

I have received more despairing letters from Catholics (and aspiring Catholics) this last week or so — since the Holy Father went to Mexico, and to Cuba again — than ever before. Many of these are livid with anger, and let me say I understand it. The sense of betrayal is one I share, not […]

The tale of Mattie

Bad David: I truly failed to keep up and foster the fairly good training in classical (and modern) languages with which I was blessed in childhood; and with the passage of the lazy years, have become ever more dependent on my halting English as a medium of thought. This helps account for my shallowness and […]

Against masochism

My priest — well, I think of him as mine, though actually I share him with some other people — has that wonderful gift for catching a person by surprise. This shows to best effect when that person — in this case, moi — has just said something stupid. I was reflecting upon my unworthiness […]

Out with you

Among my favourite potsherds from the ancient world are the ostraka of the Athenians. Although the surface may be inscribed only with one name, and that long forgotten, there is something exhilarating about them. Once, I held one in my hand. Shards of earthenware, flakes of limestone, and other materials with messages written on them […]

Lent makes us smarter

Maimonides, quoting Alexander of Aphrodisias (who was commenting on Aristotle) says there are three significant causes of human ignorance; then adds a fourth. This is in chapter 31 of the first part of the Guide to the Perplexed, in my old Friedlander translation. Arrogance and vainglory lead the list. We are too full of ourselves […]


I had the strangest dream, that Justice Scalia had died. As the dream occurred the night after news reports of his death, I may have been influenced by them. Often my dreams are clairvoyant in that way. Last June, speaking with beloved Cardinal Burke in Ottawa (our greatest living canon lawyer), I asked for an […]

Against scheduling

Oh, dear. Yesterday once again I filed a longish Idlepost which I returned to in the night, making it longer still in the hope of clarity. Gentle readers complain whenever I do this. It is not in the spirit of idleness, after all, and I’m sure my beloved Kenko, author of the original Tsurezuregusa (“Essays […]

Gödel & Lemaître

My Chief Irish Veterinary Correspondent put it most succinctly: “Didn’t Gödel drive a stake through the heart of the concept of a ‘Theory of Everything’?” (See yesterday.) This is also my understanding: that the Austrian logician demonstrated in his two “incompleteness theorems,” published in 1931, why no such thing can work. But we are dealing […]