Essays in Idleness


Less is more

Chatting with some seminarians this week, about art and artists, and one remarkable artist in particular, I raised a point about “quitting while you’re ahead.” We could equally, I suppose, have been discussing Las Vegas, where persons disposed to gambling sometimes congregate, and where some have been known to continue betting even after — notwithstanding the odds — they have made handsome profits. Winning streaks do not last forever; nor losing streaks, although these latter can end in death.

As an avid, if incompetent watercolourist, I am perhaps over-familiar with this issue. It is a very rare thing when suddenly I discover that I have painted something that is “not half bad.” Pausing to thank the Holy Spirit for His assistance, I then reload the brush to make further improvements. They fail, badly. Soon I am trying to undo what I have done — a “reform of the reform” as it were — further advancing the metamorphosis of my once beautiful painting into a dog’s breakfast. What had seemed for a moment to be an unusually poetic depiction of winter light piercing an ice-fog in the Humber ravine, now more resembles a deluge, with shipwrecks, or perhaps they are discarded transit buses.

A talented poet of my once-acquaintance, once asked for my advice as an objective editor on a sequence he had written. My advice was, “remove all the last lines.” As the discussion extended to the rest of his works, my advice was enlarged to, “Remove the last line from every poem you have ever written; or the last stanza if the poem is long.” I should have quit while I was ahead.

In all the extravagance of his wordplay, I have noticed that Shakespeare knows when to stop. Marlowe often took things just that little bit farther, but not our Will. The most extraordinary scene has been developed and realized but then, “The rest is silence.”

Mission creep

Aggiornamento was the pretty Italian word used by Pope St John XXIII, to describe the purpose of the Ecumenical Council he projected in 1959. Englishmen, of course, do not understand Italian, but the word flowers in their ears all the same. It sounds like some happy journey into spring. But while it was in vogue through the 1960s, people everywhere came to understand it meant, “bringing up to date.”

At first, the sainted pope used the word quite specifically, with reference to canon law, which had been assembled and harmonized in a uniform, official, single-volume Code of Canon Law for the first time, in 1917. A revised, second edition of that seemed to be called for.

Cardinal Burke would know more about this, but from my limited understanding, the canon law that went into effect at Pentecost, 1918, had been a major undertaking. It had involved many scholars and broad-ranging research, under the direction of the formidable Pietro Gasparri, a Vatican secretary of state with a reputation for getting things done, regardless of whether they were possible.

Yet, this was not so impressive as a previous assembly of a Corpus Juris Canonici, at Bologna in the mid-twelfth century. This had been done by a single man, the brilliant Camaldolese monk, Johannes Gratian, about whom I’ve always wanted to know more. His Decretum (as it came also to be called) is a stupendous thing — not merely explaining what Church law must be, in the canones, but expounding its principles in scinitillating maxims and dicta. Gratian had pulled together into this self-consistent corpus every significant ruling from Moses forward to the recently concluded Second Lateran Council, in light of Roman law through Justinian, and with sidelong glances at Celtic, Saxon, and Visigothic legal orders. I am told that lawyers have gone to their graves in a state of bliss, just contemplating it.

Which is not to demean the great Burchard of Worms, who had attempted something similar a century before; nor the many other fine legal minds who had flourished in the first millennium of the Church; nor the many more who flourished after. Nor is it to suggest that the Decretum Gratiani was the only, or even the final word on anything. It is merely to insinuate that Gratian “wrote the book” on Catholic law, in a way similar to that in which Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa on Catholic theology.

Many other documents had since been added to the mix — thousands — but Gratian’s Decretum (with later notes) had continued to provide a sheet anchor. And the further beauty was, that it had no formal authority in the Church, whatever. It was, in effect, unwritten law in a written form. The mark of a great and noble institution — and what is Holy Church if not that? — may be seen in such arrangements. She does not rest her Positive Law upon neat programmatic formulae — like a revolutionary constitution, arbitrarily imposed — but on a distillation of human and divine wisdom, acquired over thousands of years. She is spacious: her distinctions are subtle but exact; her truths ordered to accommodate each other, assembling themselves hierarchically in the interstices of reason and revelation, as light dappled through the leaves. They are not “invented” but “discovered” (in the modern senses of both terms). When she needs something, she invariably finds it is already there. She requires only servants with the depth of mind to retrieve it, excavating where necessary down to the Natural Law at the centre of the Earth.

The intention behind that Codex Iuris Canonici (the Code of 1917) was good, unquestionably, the project having been launched by Pope St Pius X, and brought to fruition by Benedict XV. It cut a highway through the overgrown thicket, abrogating all trees in the way, thus making the law more accessible to persons of mediocre intelligence: in effect, the modern, buzzsaw approach to gardening, followed up in the liturgy half a century later. I myself would have been totally opposed to the whole project, but people consulted me even less before I was born. The revision foreseen by Pope St John XXIII was not completed until 1983, when Pope St John-Paul II signed off on it, bringing the “reform of the reform” of canon law into force for Advent in that year. In the meantime, Vatican II itself had created much additional turbulence for the smoothing, slowing the process down.

But I return to this little-known, or little-remembered fact: that the aggiornamento began with the fairly modest ambition of revising the text of the Code of Canon Law. Within a couple of years Pope St John himself, a man of energy and enthusiasm and what I might almost call overbearing goodwill, was speaking of a much grander enterprise, and using the same word to refer poetically to an aggiornamento of the entire Church — as if to clean out the cobwebs of two thousand years from every pipe of every organ. Nothing specific was foreseen, however; it was only a poetical flourish.

The one actual change upon which Pope St John insisted, he had already proclaimed: removing the word perfidius (“faithless”) from the Good Friday liturgy, where it had been used to qualify the word “Jews.” This genuine saint, who had done so much to rescue, hide, and save so many Jewish men, women, and children from the Holocaust during the War, rightly saw that any hint of anti-Semitism must be washed out of the Church’s thoughts — acting dramatically from the Sanctuary in 1959 to have the prayer for the conversion of the Jews repeated without the offending word. (Deo gratias!)

Compare: the omission of one word, with schemes to revise and rewrite everything in sight. And note: the popular idea that Vatican II was required to achieve that tiny but crucial alteration. Like most subsequent ideas about Vatican II, it is false, ignorant, and on closer inspection, mendacious.

Now, there’s a point to all this, and perhaps I will get to it tomorrow.


Speaking truth to power becomes quite impossible if the speaker has failed first to speak truth unto himself. The attempt might help to teach him that speaking truth is painful, in this vale of tears, and the more excruciating after one’s cheering section has dropped away. You will know that you have successfully spoken truth to power only later in the evening, when the Gestapo arrives; good luck speaking truth to them.

It is supposed to be an old Quaker saying, which would give it some original dignity, for the Religious Society of Friends did knowingly court persecution, while eschewing defences, in the seventeenth century. They were certainly high on Parrhesia, the biblical term that is constantly on a certain pontiff’s lips. (See Father Hunwicke, the classical scholar.) I, who totally reject the Quakers’ Arian, pacifist, teetotal, and radically egalitarian tenets (for starters), nevertheless still take their founder George Fox (1624–91) for one of my heroes. I was deeply impressed by his Journal, once upon a time, sensing in it the burning sincerity of a good if somewhat humourless man. (Look: the Everyman edition is still on my shelves, after forty years!) His instinct to simplicity in private life and works is commendable, and though sometimes heretical, his readings of Scripture contain flashes of prophetic insight.

As ever, the sect which followed him dispersed in many schismatic channels, so that we now have multiple branches of Friends who aren’t much friends of each other, as all drift farther from their Christian roots. I have met a couple of impressively conscientious Quakers, though, from congregations that must have been doing something right.

Fox was not author to the phrase, “speaking truth to power,” nor any of his high-sounding contemporaries, so far as I know. Instead, it seems to have come out of the civil rights movement in the USA, exploding after the American Friends Service Committee used it for the title of one of their pinkish tracts against the Cold War, in 1955. Smugness is implicit in the phrase, and by no accident it has since been popularized chiefly by persons with more actual power — in terms of available, aggressive supporters — than the adversaries they taunt with it. Fox would never have done this: he was in my view too decent a man. Yet it is one of the oversights in Fox, that in volubly proposing a public holiness, he was increasing the scope for public hypocrisy; the humourless being slow to catch a paradox in motion.

Stand your ground on moral issues, bravely; and speak the truth to anyone who will listen; but not too boldly. Christ was not a moral exhibitionist, and neither have the true Saints called moralizing attention to themselves. They fear God but are also vividly aware of the Devil and his snares. They realize that in the very moment they appear to triumph, Hell may be gaping before them. God may temper the wind to the shorn lamb, but conversely, He may let it howl on the woolly. Grandstanding would not be advised.

The Prophets, Old Testament and New, did not speak truth to power. They spoke truth rather to all Israel, and upon a divine command. Their boldness was not their own. The truth spoken by the prophet was moreover transparently not his own. Often it was mysterious in worldly terms: it contained things that could not be understood within the conventions of the day, or for long after. It had the ring of transcendent truth, as opposed to the whine of situational plausibility. The prophet spoke for God to the people, not for the people to their king. This could not court popularity; and as Christ reminds, the prophets were despised.

It is from such reflections I have come to believe that those who say they speak truth to power, or even think it, are lying to themselves. The demagogic pose negates the message.

But how can we escape posture, and begin at least to speak truth to ourselves?

As Lent progresses, one is reminded, by the progress of one’s own little failures, one’s own nasty little private infamies, that the process begins and ends in speaking truth to God’s little priest in the Confessional.

Cutting down

According to the latest research, he writes facetiously, coffee may be good for your heart. It just might prevent cholesterol build-up in the arteries and … blah blah blah. I refer to some Korean study in the news this morning, but the findings (not of causation but of statistical correlation) are hardly new. There was for instance a big Dutch study five years ago, which redeemed tea as well as coffee, and I vaguely remember others. “More research is needed,” say all the people who make money from such pointless research. We are trained to nod sleepily in agreement. These hugely expensive, perpetually inconclusive, and very soft epidemiological studies are what most people have in mind when the magic word, “science,” is invoked: for we are living in an age of magic.

Actual science would show the mechanism by which a specific constituent in coffee, such as caffeine, operates within the human metabolism to produce specific reactions in a long, very specific chain, leading to a specific result. (I have over-simplified, because at each of these stages there are innumerable complicating factors.) The rest is, to be perfectly colloquial, bullshit, as a “spokesperson” for the British Heart Foundation made abundantly clear, when commenting on the Dutch study. She said having one cigarette with your coffee would cancel all the benefits. There was nothing about this in the study, it was a candid expression of her superstitious beliefs.

For decades, as most readers should now know, public health authorities condemned delicious, fatty foods on that plausible argument (all magic must be made “plausible” to convince) about clogging the arteries. Now they have quietly taken it back, without owning to the misery spread by their lies through several generations. They mounted collateral attacks on beer, wine, and liquors, which likewise proved false; and their continuing campaigns against tobacco depend on the same methodology.

What they have done is far more evil than this, however: for they have been exploiting the human propensity to guilt, which serves an irreplaceable purpose in the moral order. Compunction about sin and wrongdoing is distracted to meaningless dietary issues. The success of the nannying public health authorities has helped the principalities and powers to accomplish a complete moral inversion — in which abstinence and fasting to a spiritual end is now dismissed as silly, yet dieting for health is done with insufferably morbid gravity. We have, as a consequence, a society of obsessive dieters, deluded fitness fanatics, and low-calorie muffin eaters, who are utterly shameless in committing crimes contra naturam: that Culture of Death which Saint John-Paul identified with such harrowing accuracy.

It should also be noted, for the benefit of credulous materialists, that the time and money invested in gathering and analyzing inconsequential health statistics subtracts from serious medical research into suspected causes of disease — including the hard and focused epidemiology that can usefully assist. Resources for such work are always finite, yet almost everything I see flagged in the media is an example of resources bled away.

A deeper note needs to be sounded, however, against the consistent tendency of all this “pop,” or more precisely, “crap science.” The target will ever be some innocent human pleasure; genuinely sinful ones with direct and potentially grave health consequences (sexual promiscuity, for instance, or sodomy), are shied away from, for fear of the politically correct. Class is evident in each choice of target: typically some consolation, some little delight that makes life more endurable for the poor. (Smoking is a primary example.)

Soft science is then combined with moral posturing to provide cover for the politicians, and senior bureaucrats. They publicize supposed health risks to justify raising taxes on what are now identified in the public imagination as “corrupting luxuries” — using the argument of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps the most corrupt individual in the history of philosophy, before Heidegger. An impression is given of taxing the rich, while in fact sucking the poor dry: a basic principle of progressive democracy.

The moral reality is exposed in state lotteries, which do real, direct, and vicious harm to the poor, but on which the state increasingly depends for revenue.

I have no idea whether coffee is good for you, by the way, or in what amounts. I do know for a certainty, however, that going to Hell would be bad for you, which is why we must urgently cut down on our consumption of pseudo-scientific, liberal and progressive blather.

The double dative chronicles

Sometimes I have opinions on things. An example would be the “Isleworth Mona Lisa,” in the news lately. It is not, definitely not — even by a wild stretch of the imagination, while rubbing at bedbugs in both eyes — not, by Leonardo. How do I know this? By looking at a picture of it on the Internet.

This was before learning a few other things, about this painting that washed up from some old manor house in Somerset, England, just before the First World War. The crackerjack who spotted it saw that it resembled the Mona Lisa. Once cleaned, it still bore a family resemblance to Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, the Florentine merchant who commissioned Leonardo’s extremely famous portrait now in the Louvre. She looks perhaps a decade younger, according to some viewers, but is posed in the same way, and is wearing some attempt at the same winning smile.

Everyone agrees the background of this Isleworth painting was dabbed in by some clumsy oaf. Only the face and hands are optimistically attributed to Leonardo, with the plausible suggestion that it was his first draught. The plausibility comes from the master’s work habits, or rather, a satirical misunderstanding of them. He painted few formal works, and when he did was slow to start, and even slower to finish. (He held exalted views on the possibilities of his art.) When he repainted a picture, as for instance the Paris and London versions of the Madonna of the Rocks, both are breathtaking; but in different ways, and there are many significant variations. He was not some duffer just trying to get it right.

It was anyway not the background, which I hardly noticed, but the foreground that convinced me, very quickly, that the “Isleworth” could not be from Leonardo’s brush. This is because it is glib. While it will pass as a likeness of the same sitter — not so much younger, I think, as bereft of intensity — it lacks entirely the spirit with which Leonardo infused not only the Mona Lisa, but all of his paintings. It was not in him to paint so glibly. He was not a clown. But if he had actually painted this damp squib, it would not have survived him. Elementary self-interest, if not aesthetic revulsion, would have caused him to toss it in the fireplace right away.

Now, the clincher for those who are motivated by “reason,” very narrowly defined, is the canvas it was painted on. Leonardo painted on wood. The real Mona Lisa is on poplar (which has slightly warped); others of his paintings are on walnut; infamously, The Last Supper went on rotting plaster. Leonardo had used linen: but only as a sketching medium with tempera, and then only when he was art-student young. He would not have begun a formally commissioned painting on such a support, which came into common use for serious painting only a century later, and on sail canvas, at Venice.

That would be the final killer for any attempt to attribute the painting to Leonardo “scientifically,” but the mysterious Swiss foundation that claims to have proved “scientifically” that the Isleworth portrait was by him, shuffles around this insuperable fact. They claim to have employed “research physicists” who established “with 99 percent certainty” that “the two versions” were by the same hand. I am therefore 99 percent certain these employees knew nothing about art. I leave their knowledge of chemistry to the chemists.

No serious Leonardo connoisseur or scholarly expert has ever bought into the authenticity of the Isleworth painting, and none ever will. There are many other bad copies of the Mona Lisa on which they have also never wasted their time. Among those living, Martin Kemp, Luke Syson, and Frank Zöllner are now on record contradicting the Swiss foundation, and sneering at the thing. The scienticists in Geneva, who did not consult them, now dismiss them for not having examined the painting themselves. Why would they?

I mention this matter only because it illustrates one of my bugbears: the use of “science” to perpetrate frauds on the ignorant public. I have no idea what the relationship is between the Swiss foundation, and the current owners of the painting, now kept in a Swiss bank vault. But I note this is a secret, of the sort that should inspire the Ciceronian question, Cui bono?

Natural science is of some use in certain specialized circumstances, and I have no desire whatever to suppress it. It can sometimes answer questions that are extremely specific, and shallow. It absolutely cannot answer intelligent questions. Those who claim it can should be ignored; or punished, should that prove impossible.

Feast of Dafydd

For the twelfth consecutive year, I have failed to find Saint David of Wales in my Roman Catholic breviary. In my previous, Anglican experiences of March 1st, it was no trouble at all. The erstwhile Bishop of Menevia (died no later than 601 AD) was ever at the top of the Kalendar for March, and thus the Welsh saint’s Legend ever before me when, on this date, I wanted a name-day to elude the rigours of Lent. Happily it is Sunday today, anyway.

As I have already confided to gentle reader, in some previous Idlepost, I was not named after David of Wales (or, Dafydd, if one wants to get Welsh about it). Born rather on the day Catherine of Siena died (though 673 years later), I was not named for her, either; nor for the Psalmist as might be supposed; but instead for King David of Scotland, then dead for a nice round eight hundred years. Not a Saint, but hey, my family weren’t Catholic.

The Patron of Wales was (Catholic), however, and as we learn from the chronicler Giraldus, one of the best, performing for that principality — once rather larger than it is now — much the same services as did Saint Patrick for Ireland. In 1398, Archbishop Arundel of Canterbury ordered the Feast of David kept throughout his province of the Church, which I suppose will have to do; daresay I’d have heard “Dewi Sant” acknowledged, had I awakened this morning in Cardiff.

Or, “Dewi Ddyrwr,” as he is also known, from the tradition that he was “a drinker of water,” which I have always found an insipid beverage. By this account he was also a vegetarian. That he completed this trifecta by being rather short, is indicated by one of his miracles. Addressing a synod at what came to be known as Llanddewibrefi (never try to pronounce Welsh names, you might hurt yourself), he found himself neither seen nor heard. A dove then alighted on his shoulder, and the ground heaved, lifting him into view.

The banner of Saint David is a yellow cross, on a field of black; or, vice versa. This has the advantage over the more common Red Dragon of Cadwaladr (passant, on a field of green and white) that it is not a Tudor standard. When Wales becomes independent again, as it surely will the way things are going, I do hope the Cross will be retrieved.

Digby chicks

Parkdale, which is to say, the inner core of the Greater Parkdale Area, in which the High Doganate is located, is a melting pot of innumerable overlapping ethnications. Among our most exotic immigrants are those from the far east: Nova Scotia, for instance, and Newfoundland. Shopping, at least for food in Parkdale, is a treat. We have every sort of specialist grocery, and in effect, groceries within groceries. One gets one’s Tibetan yak sausage, for instance, from a Serbian butcher whose store is cowboy-themed; ingredients for one’s Somali maraq from the Sinhalese grocery (via their Maldivian connexion); but the exhilarating, cardamom-infused gashaato instead via the Sikh Punjabis, as supplement to their Bengali sweets. Note, this culinary cross-dressing is the opposite of multiculturalism. Rather I would call it, “downmarket fusion.”

This being Lent, I try to avoid fish on Fridays. There’s enough of that for the other days, beans on rice will do, or perhaps sinfully on the last two Fridays, I indulged a craving for sweet potato in a Siamese red sauce. I woke this morning with a craving for salt, as well as protein, and as God is merciful, recalled to mind a little platter of Digby chicks in my fridge — obtained some days before from the Maritime ethnic section of a cheap local supermarket.

Digby Chicken has long been Nova Scotia’s answer to Bombay Duck. The latter, also salty, and so powerful in flavour and scent that it requires careful packaging, is actually a fish, the bummalo. Gentle reader may already be trying to construct an etymology from that, but there is no hope for him. The fish is actually harvested from the waters off Bombay. It was transported from there by rail, in the good old days of British Imperialism, aboard the Bombay Dhak (i.e. the Bombay Mail), which gave rise to such expressions as, e.g. “You smell like the Bombay Dhak.” Surely, that will be enough to go on.

Whereas, to my understanding (and my mommy was from Nova Scotia, remember), no one in its presence could be in the slightest doubt that Digby chicken are in fact intensely smoked and salted herring fillets. The name is an old Minas Basin in-joke, from the arrival of Loyalist settlers with Admiral Digby, after the final evacuation of New York City (in 1783). The first couple of winters were rather a pain, for these effete urban types, but the settlers did have a plentiful supply of fish. They called the herring they had salted away, “Digby chicken.” You see, they were being ironical.

It is a gorgeous thing, not only to eat but to look at, in its glistening darkness. I have knocked off two of the fillets this morning, cold (as they are best), each wrapped longitudinally in a slice of Bavarian rye, to assure catholicity. Nothing is required by way of condiment, except, arguably, a long slice of full-sour kosher dill, so that we may commemorate the Old Testament, also.

Pray for a slow death

It is all very well for these saints to be martyred, “at the top of their game,” as it were. One suspects it may even be a worldly privilege in some cases, like the silk rope I mentioned two Idleposts ago. However, recent events have reminded us that most die slowly, whether or not they happen to be saints, and with or without good palliative care. To the contemporary secular mind, this is appalling. The “quality of life” having been defined without reference to any spiritual values (love is incidentally a spiritual value) — but instead by analogy to the life of a dog — it is easy to understand the desire for euthanasia.

Today’s Saint in my Saint Andrew’s Missal is the young Passionist, Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838–1862). Should he not already know, I daresay gentle reader could find all about him, given the search terms just provided. (Some Catholics have even been infiltrating the Wicked Paedia, leaving all kinds of learning there: I am shocked, shocked, to find how much good stuff is now posted there, with information gradually transferred from standard printed sources. Good on them!)

What might occasion most surprise — after we have answered to our own satisfaction the question, “How did this young lady’s man and dandy become a saint at all?” — is Saint Gabriel’s peculiar prayer. It was for a slow death; and incidentally it was granted, through tuberculosis at the age of not quite twenty-four.

From a large family, Francis Possenti (as he was baptized) had in his short life already watched several of his brothers and sisters, and his mother, die of horrible diseases. One of his brothers had also committed suicide. Francis had himself suffered from the quinsy as a teenager: a throat abscess that starts with strep, from the days before tonsillectomies. It should have killed him, but miraculously did not. From such facts we may reasonably deduce that the young man could not possibly have entertained the romantic notions about “easeful death,” still quoted from the “Ode to a Nightingale.”

In the face of hard reality, yet, that was his prayer: for a death so slow it would give him a chance to prepare himself for the hereafter.

To those of you who are not yet saints (and I have a spiritual director who will confirm that I’m with you), a slow death is of inestimable advantage. There is a great deal of sinful attachment to this world that needs burning off, and best to get about it this side of Purgatory. Pain, properly managed (which is to say, peacefully accepted if it is one’s unavoidable lot), can be helpful, too. But even if the pain can be palliated — which it can be, usually, when known treatments are properly applied — time is of the essence. The more of it one has, the better, once one has fixed upon the ambition for a good death.

Time can also be wasted. This is the most heartbreaking thing I see in the nursing homes and elsewhere, where patients receive no spiritual counsel, and their visitors, if they still have any, flash the smileyface when they come, usually as cover for a quick getaway. These patients are told lies, including silly lies about how they are getting better. People who tell you lies are not your friends.

People who want to kill you are also not your friends, though I think this point has been sufficiently made in other Idleposts, recently.

Of course, if there is no God — no Heaven, “no Hell below us, above us only sky” — then I grant, you are a dog, indeed: a happy panting dog at best, but a dog nevertheless, and of course you should be put down if you are feeling seriously uncomfortable. But this is the fool’s hypothetical, which can be quickly dismissed. For if, as you aver, human life can be reduced to accident, it is entirely meaningless. So why don’t we put you down now?

There is no arguing with the Culture of Death, beyond showing it is a form of psychopathology. There can be no debate, and really it’s just a question of who has the power to get his way. Wolves eat sheep when there are no shepherds, and as Thomas More observed, sheep eat men when the atheists are in power.

Saint Gabriel Possenti, pray for us. … Lord, give us time to prepare ourselves for Thee.

Lili Kraus

The background music since last week, up here in the High Doganate, has been Mozart, mostly, oddly enough. He is not usually associated with Lent. But five CDs of his solo piano music fell into my hands the day after Ash Wednesday, and you know how superstitious I am. The organ is shut down till Easter in my church; and I haven’t been tempted to Mozart’s grander “operatic” and “symphonic” works — with one exception “proving the rule.” That is a small chamber transcription of his insuperable D-minor Requiem, by Peter Lichtenthal (1780–1853), performed by the Quartetto Aglàia on four very old string instruments. By subtracting the choral grandiloquence, and pulling away Mozart’s scintillating orchestral special effects, it makes the Requiem meditative and more shockingly Christian. And yet it does not reduce the terror in the Dies Irae, and rather enhances the dialectic of the whole piece, in which the proud soul is humbled to divine submission.

Lichtenthal was an accomplished musician and composer in his own right, of Hungarian origin, Viennese taste, and Milanese settlement. He was also a medical doctor, and a hack journalist — softly proselytizing against the melodramatic trend in nineteenth-century Italian music. His many transcriptions from Mozart and others appealed to keyboard and chamber players performing in their own homes, “under the radar,” as we say. His most ambitious literary work combined all his interests. It was a treatise on how music effects the human body, and can actually cure certain diseases.

From the album notes, I paraphrase this interesting observation on the nature of genius as gift. Lichtenthal is explaining Mozart’s accomplishment in a memorial pamphlet:

“Genius is present at birth. It does not provide the structure, however; only the base. Sometimes the genius strays from the path of hard study. He finishes by making disastrous mistakes. But if he is going to accomplish something truly great, he will need even more than diligent study of the classics. He will need, in addition to this and going beyond it, a remarkable focus: the ambition or will to accomplish something that is very great, that is universal.”

And this of course Mozart had. There are no “untutored geniuses,” there never has been, even one. This is something I have tried to communicate to the class I teach on Shakespeare, to arm my students against the extraordinary volume of plain rubbish that has been written about The Bard, all premissed on the Victorian heresy that, “Shakespeare is a god.” The same is usually applied to Mozart, and as falsely. Consult the ancient Greeks, who perfectly understood that human genius explains nothing. It is what the human has done with that gift that counts. Hence, Christ’s Parable of the Talents.

As in nature, so in art. Notice that there is nothing murky about any of God’s creatures in nature; that, as we have been recently reminded in biological discovery, there is no such thing as “junk DNA.” Every living thing is designed to close tolerances that beggar the human imagination. The flaccidity of “Darwinism” is a total lie, an idiot lie.

Likewise, the greatest works of human craft are not vague, slurred, messy, or “visionary” in the cheap popular sense. They are extremely sharp: not only in physical execution but in what it is that they embody. A “soul” underlies the work, so particular that even in translation — and in transcription — the work carries into new realms, reassembling or resurrecting itself in new ways. It may be interpreted, too, in many different ways, but only because it has the power to be interpreted. It has dimension, such that it may be seen only from one angle at a time. It has movement, or in other words, it is alive.

Mozart’s solo works for piano — about one hundred of the six hundred or so entries in the Köchel catalogue — are strange entities, in effect transcriptions of themselves. There is — I am struggling to describe this — an untouchable interior precision; a self-enfolding emanation of wit. I would almost say, an impenetrable transparency, for (it seems to me) he is enunciating many things very clearly, but not to an audience. Often he seems to be sharing brilliant private jokes, but not with us. I will dare to call them prayerful. The shape is classical, but the spirit is high baroque. The fantasies are inward, the sonatas outward-facing and declamatory, but in both modes an audible conversation, behind our backs. And we eavesdrop on only the half of it.


The early pianos on which Mozart played were much crisper instruments than modern grands, which drown us in tone colour, and turn us all into lounge lizards. They were, in a sense, half-way back to harpsichords. He writes to his father about the joy he has found in Stein’s instruments:

“When I strike hard, I can keep my finger on the note or raise it, but the sound ceases the moment I have finished producing it. In whatever way I touch the keys, the tone is always even. It never jars, it is never stronger or weaker or entirely absent. …”

Stein’s pianos, he explains, have an escapement mechanism that other piano makers can’t be bothered with: he can completely avoid “jangling and vibration.” This is so, likewise, with the draughtsman’s exact implements, or for the colourist with his sable-hair brushes (the importation of which into the States, incidentally, is currently stopped by environmentalist whackos). Mozart is drawing lines, in music, that are not “approximate.” There is dimension in the lines themselves. We are dealing here with a form of chastity that only an artist can fully understand. A sparkling, and not a grim chastity.

That they can be played on any sort of piano, I will take on the authority of any sort of piano player, and Lili Kraus plays them on what sounds like a very modern piano, but the spirit of them is of the age and instruments on which Mozart composed, or if you will, inhabited. He was the last of the non-Romantics. Everything I hear in him that “prefigures” Schubert, Beethoven, and so forth, is dry. Not once does he grab us by the lapels. I like how he gives us space; and how Lili Kraus lets him.

This pianist (1903–86), who lived an heroic life, is not only an exceptionally clear player, but one of incredible “dash” and “poise.” (I’ve lifted these words from Bernard Jacobson.) It is not her virtuosity alone but something more: that very quality Lichtenthal identified in Mozart himself. She was a woman who did not rest on mere study. The discs I have are aciculate remasters of her Haydn Society recordings from sixty-plus years ago, and possibly rare. I’ve heard some of her later recordings of the same repertoire, but I think there is an aloofness in these — a Mozartean aloofness — that could not be recaptured. These were not for the big concert hall, but from a moment when we were briefly free of all that. They are performances of an astounding cleanliness. I was lucky to find them (especially where I did).

It seems to me (and remember, I know nothing about music) that Lili Kraus found access, not “generally” to Mozart, but to what is most Catholic in him, through these solo compositions. They are a purposeful constriction, a self-limitation, on a character who is normally outgoing and social, a mixer and charmer of the dramatic muse, a master of the comedy of manners. But there is nothing fastidious or self-conscious in them. The music is something in its nature Lenten, yet joyfully and playfully so; carried off with dash, and poise. It is as if, operating almost entirely in major mode, without shadowing or concealment, Mozart had at intervals composed a hundred meditations on the theme, “According to Thy will.”


In a politically-corrected world, where there is one side to every story, although it changes from day to day, I was delighted to see the Wall Street Journal publish a courageous article. It was in defence of French waiters. They are, as Cristina Nehring hints, among the last upholders of Western civilization; and in their settled attitude of pas possible, doing a job even Rome has been abandoning.

Unlike so many miserable wretches in contemporary Parisian society, the garçon de café has a calling. And it is not a calling to anything else. He is, like the ancient English butler (who survives only in old movies), a man of dignity; and of a wide knowledge, at the disposal of those who politely ask. He knows what is possible and what is not. He gives respect to the respectable; and he demands respect in turn. Like an officer in the field, he is called by his office, and not by his name; never should he be treated as a familiar.

“Hi everyone, my name is Johnny and I’ll be your server today! Do you have any questions about the menu?”

The journalist quotes this painfully common line, and adds what follows from it: “servers” who pester throughout the meal; put you on the spot by asking your opinion; freely interrupt dinner-table conversation with their feigned concern for your wellbeing, breathing empathy in a mist-like spittle over the fancy entrée; and again unbidden, suddenly they nail you with the bill. This is arrogance of a kind that would be unthinkable to a true French waiter.

Some years ago a visitor from Montreal, to the then still-existing Idler Pub, whose kitchen was not inadequate, confessed the ugly truth about the decline of his city. He frankly admitted that, in Toronto nowadays, even the food is better. But in his prideful despair, he cried: “Dieu merci! … At least we still have real waiters.”

Aheu, for the civilizing mission of Catholic Quebec, to our North American wilds! The waiters he admired provided the last distant echo of Brébeuf and Lalement, gone to martyrdom in Huronia.

Waiters, he recalled; and not the art students, who were then scurrying about us, at pains to let us know all about themselves. How deadly the idea that “serving” should be a means, justified by some selfish end; to do a job for which you advertise your contempt, and right in the face of your victims. No: waitering is a calling in and of itself, and considerably higher than most to which the young now aspire. (Such as lawyering, or banking.)

By contrast, there is a waitress in my local greasy spoon, of a certain age and majesty, crowned with blue-rinse hair. She has been a waitress all her adult life, and in the same restaurant; mistress of her trade. A calling is a calling, and she has never used the job crassly, to get ahead. Maternal and confident is she. Nonsense she will never brook. And on the analogy of a French waiter, she upholds standards.

This is chivalry to begin (which has its feminine forms), and charity in its reaches. The customer who has committed a solecism must be corrected; if he cannot pronounce French words he should be shown how. It would be irresponsible to leave him in a state of ignorance, wherein he could be mocked. The complacent servers of America are rogues who will not only tolerate error, but flatter, while angling for larger tips.

The very business of tipping is no longer understood; even by me. All I know is that it must be chaste. It is vulgar to treat it as a bribe, or a wage, or a “mark of appreciation”; to make it too personal, or too exactly proportional. It is instead a fee — a conventional amount, round in number, and modest in size — to be tendered regardless of the quality discovered. (If you don’t like the restaurant, don’t return.) How modest? I am likely to be asked. By tradition, I would say a penny in the ounce, or shilling in the pound.

Similarly, one tips the hangman on one’s way up the gallows. It is his due for performing an important public service: conscientiously, as we must assume. And as the principal beneficiary, one pays his fee. The amount may differ for a hemp rope or a silk (according to one’s social station), but will in either case be fixed by convention. Haggling would be untoward.

And the waiter (or hangman, as the case may be) should no more adjust his service to the tip, than the customer his tip to the service. This would make it a bribe for doing his job well, and thus frightfully insulting. A good hangman (or waiter) is incorruptible.

There is a wonderful anecdote in the newspaper, which conveys the expertise, and characteristic archness of a fine French waiter. The journalist, confessing a sweet tooth, has ordered a Kir mûr (dry white, heavily spiked with a syrupy liqueur). The waiter is naturally appalled.

Alors,” says he. “For the future, the desirable recipe for a very sweet Kir is double-cassis and aligoté.”

“You’re saying I ordered the bubble-gum version?”

“Ah, non, Madame. You ordered what you like. A man never contradicts a lady.”

Then after the pause: “Now, if it had been Monsieur who had ordered this Kir, I would absolutely have contradicted him.”

As will be seen, this is a large and very important subject, to which I sometimes return. We have what the economists call a “service economy,” yet know nothing — nothing at all — about service. This will not do, and will have to be un-politically corrected.

Primum non nocere

The Hippocratic Oath is by no means the only one that has been taken by medical students and graduates the world over, today and through the many centuries of recorded history. The Oath of Asaph in ancient Hebrew, Vaidya’s Oath in Vedic India, the Sun Simiao of Sui-dynasty China, the teachings of Nagarjuna in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, fragmentary hints in ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian records — are among the many known parallels from antiquity, crossing all cultural lines. They provide startling evidence of the universality of the moral principles recognized in the school of Hippocrates: the Greek physician who flourished more than four centuries before the birth of Christ. There are, too, innumerable mediaeval and modern parallels, and testimonies to an identical reasoning. Books can be filled with this.

Readers of C.S. Lewis’s best book — The Abolition of Man — will be aware of such phenomena. He provided as an appendix many pages of parallel passages illustrating what he called, for popularity, “The Tao,” but showed to be the same as what we have called “Natural Law” in our Western tradition.

As a child, still in grade school, a book fell into my hands entitled The Portable World Bible (edited Ballou, 1944), with excerpts from scriptural works of all the major religions. Long before I became a Christian I was aware from this, and then many other sources, that there are universal truths: the philosophia perennis. And perhaps also, globalizing lies, being all attempts to deny or ignore them. “Multiculturalism” is an expression of the Great Lie today: the idea that each culture has only arbitrary beliefs, that one is as good as another, and that the only way to resolve the contradictions between them is through the moral and intellectual idiocy of a statist atheism, pretending to be neutral.

I used that word “idiocy” in a strict sense, ultimately derived from the Greek idios, suggesting not merely ignorance and mental deficiency, but more fundamentally: disconnexion, separation, isolation, alienation, atomization, aloneness. Atheism is an inevitable expression of this condition, but the “statist” adjective may have to be explained. Here I refer to what, for want of a better term, I call the essential autism of the modern state, which declares itself to be detached from any private interest. “Equality” is the modern, democratic ideal, reducing citizens to interchangeable cyphers, whose defining characteristics may then be overlooked. It is through this visor, this statistical abstraction, that the moral and intellectual idiot (or, “policy wonk”) views all matters that impinge on human life. We have reached an extreme where so fundamental a distinction between persons as that between a man and a woman can be shrugged off, dismissed, denied — with a glibness, a blankness of face and hollowness of soul, that should chill every heart.

After the last World War, the World Medical Association sponsored a revival of oath-taking by doctors in reaction to the suppression of the Hippocratic Oath in Nazi Germany. Gentle reader may perhaps guess why it would have been suppressed there. So long as the memory of Auschwitz is alive — and it is already fading from the popular consciousness — the lessons learnt may be vaguely recollected. But generations pass, and it is the fate of men to relearn truths by repeating catastrophes. How many of us, living and adult, can even remember what we learnt on the morning of 11th September, 2001?

The last time I mentioned the Hippocratic Oath in this space, a fortnight ago, I received a glib email from a correspondent who has been heckling me at intervals for at least twenty years. (His “avatar” is now a picture of George Orwell.) This clever fellow pointed out that “first do no harm” (a phrase I hadn’t used) is not in the text of the original oath. I daresay he found this “fun fact” in Wikipedia; primum non nocere was a brilliantly succinct nineteenth-century paraphrase of what that Oath articulates. He went on to tell me that I’m out of date, that the Oath is no longer mandated in white-coat ceremonies, that it never had any legal force, and that even where it is still recited the text has been revised and modernized to take account of “medical advances.”

Smug, as well as glib, the idiot didn’t remember that I had more than once previously shown myself perfectly aware of each of his points. And, before I gave up replying to him, I had also noted that his last point was a flat lie. There has been no technological advance that could possibly obviate the Hippocratic Oath, whose meaning has been intelligible to every generation, and retains its crystal clarity today. Instead it is altered to accommodate abortion and euthanasia — both of which were specifically and unambiguously condemned in the original. What this shows is not medical progress over the last two thousand four hundred years, but moral disintegration through the last fifty.

There is no more point in arguing with such a man, than with an audio loop, or an “ISIS” decapitator. Nor should we doubt he speaks for the majority, today — for what I call the “idiotized” masses; for the politicians they put into power; and for the judges and bureaucrats the politicians set in place. (Take this in: our Canadian Supreme Court voted for “physician-assisted dying,” nine-zero.) We are defenceless against people who do not value their own lives, let alone ours. But though in the end they may kill themselves and us, they cannot kill God.

It is true that the Hippocratic Oath is not legally enforceable, today. It may not even have been enforceable at the time it was written; though it is more likely the concept of honour was understood then. For it is an extremely solemn oath, and carries the sting in its last sentence. He who pledges it hopes to be ruined, should he ever betray it.

Primum non nocere, “first do no harm.” Our task is to keep this alive in our hearts: not only Christians, but every man and woman capable of decency. Every doctor and nurse and medical assistant who is not a murderer must keep it alive — pay any price rather than become complicit in a heinous evil. It is a phrase that resonates with a truth that is immortal, and will stand even as our world passes away.

On legitimate government

Only recently did I discover that I am a Hobbit. It had to be explained to me. Yet it followed from my previous political experience, for I was raised to think of myself as a liberal. This meant subscribing to the notion of free enterprise, in the economy and most other things; limited government; defending Western moral and intellectual values; and aggressively pursuing the international fight against Communism in places like Vietnam. This last was a question of decency and honour. My father explained all this to me. My mother more or less agreed, except she told me, sotto voce, the word for that had changed. People who preferred freedom to tyranny were now called “conservatives”; the commies had appropriated the other word. Upon going myself out into the world I discovered that, oddly enough, my mother was right. I was called a “conservative,” and soon gave up arguing that really I was a “liberal,” classical or otherwise.

Actually, some Czech drinking buddies helped me in this. Well do I remember a little pub altercation, in which some American draft dodgers at the next table went on and on about “Nixon” and “war crimes” and so forth. And when we’d had enough of their slogans, we Czechs answered with one of our own. “Bomb Hanoi!” we chanted (though not in the Gregorian manner). Then after some pointless exchange, we added, “Bomb Hanoi!” … Finally the bartender, affecting to be neutral, had us all tossed out.

From my readings in English history (using the term broadly here, to include Scottish, American, South African, Indian, Australian, and more generally “English-speaking” history), I was able to learn that “conservative” wasn’t good enough. “Reactionary” came closer to the mark; perhaps “Tory” was more conventional, so long as “Jacobite” was also understood.

By this time I had got a little religion, and begun to understand that with the loss of religion men became slaves to depravity, and the welfare state, requiring ever more “guvmint” to rule them as moral conscience faded, along with the spirit of personal independence, and the capacity for self-reliance.

The History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West, by the brothers Carlyle (Alexander J. and Robert W., countless volumes, Edinburgh 1903, &c) was eye-opening in this respect, for it conducted me into a world of political thinking different from, and dramatically superior to, that with which I had been acquainted from Hobbes, forward.

Now, Hobbes was no Hobbit. He was, on the other hand, far more interesting as a political thinker than the Whigs who followed him, largely because he was himself arguing with the Elizabethan, Richard Hooker, and through him, with mediaeval, especially Thomist ideas that had leapt the fence of the Reformation, to survive a few moments on the other side. He was not, like later philosophers of the Enlightenment, chiefly concerned with who should govern — a ridiculous question, as there will always be someone, no matter how he took the throne or what he wishes to be called. Nor, with the closely related Machiavellian question, How to get power and hang on to it? Rather, the background questions for him were the mediaeval ones: How to govern? What is most fundamentally necessary for the common weal? What is to be embodied in a ruler? Hobbes turned mediaeval thinking inside out, but did so in answer to essentially mediaeval questions.

Shakespeare of course comes into this, for while never a formal theoretician, he was by far the greatest and most penetrating political thinker that broad “England” ever produced; and I say this without the least disparagement of the second-greatest, Edmund Burke. But Shakespeare was a fully Catholic, mediaeval thinker. His meditations on “legitimacy” for instance — which extend through all his works, not only the history plays — present the concept from innumerable angles, and in a way neither absolute nor relative, and thus beyond the capacities of the modern mind.

There is what the Chinese would call the “mandate of heaven.” It is unavoidably real, yet it is also as mysterious as Providence and Grace, and cannot be considered apart from those theological realities. The kingship is divinely ordained, but the king himself no more selected, nor compelled to do anything, by the Holy Spirit, than is the pope. For divine intervention is not of that kind. Statecraft partly resembles priestcraft as a calling. As we see most clearly in the two Henry IV plays, anyone can dress up as a king, but the office requires not the fitting of gown and crown, but the amendment of a person (first Henry, then his son Hal). The inheritor must take upon himself the role and solemn, lonely responsibility of kingship; or he must fail to do so, at terrible cost to himself and many others. For men are radically free. Even God respects their freedom. Either they rise to their calling, or drag the office down to their own fallen level, becoming tyrants in the process.

But this is getting too far away from Hobbits.

My own development as a political thinker was tragically stunted by employment as a political pundit. No class of writers knows less about politics than they. In order to write at all in this genre, one must pretend to take seriously an entire political order that is preposterous, peopled by the mentally and emotionally disturbed, and ruled by power-hungry maniacs, until one’s own last mooring is shot. The madness is compounded by complete ignorance of what is going on, since no one not himself up to his ears in the actual exercise of political power can possibly understand what is in play. And, those up to their ears are drowning.

The idea of the autonomous “prince” is modern. The mediaeval idea of hierarchy precluded it. The man at the top was lynchpin for a regime consisting of persons in various ranks of nobility, but in a curiously invertible pyramid, for though each in his place is servant to a master above him, he is also servant to the servants of those below him in station, pledged to their defence. The idea of “public service” survives today, but with a much different flavour. This is because the individual has ceased to be defined as a soul, a “being,” with duties. He has been redefined as a cypher or “function” with “rights.” Where to the old Christian view, rights followed from duties in the same man, to our post-Christian view the arbitrary rights of one man translate to duties for unaccounted others. (My right to a free lunch translates to your duty to pay for it, &c.) In this sense, all modern political thinking is in its nature totalitarian.

At the opposite extreme are the politics of Hobbitry: in its nature mediaeval, or if you will, sane. This I gather from perusing recent works on the political views of J.R.R. Tolkien, principally that of Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards in, The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. I must depend on such secondary sources, for I’m afraid I’ve never been able to read Tolkien himself for very long without falling asleep. It follows that gentle reader is more likely to understand what I am saying here, than I am myself.

The Hobbits of the Shire live under a system of Hardly Any Government. Almost everything is decided at the family level, which leaves, on the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, hardly anything else to decide. But it is better than this, owing to qualities in the Hobbits themselves. It appears that they have no understanding whatever of the concept of “fairness,” and no intellectual ability to distinguish redistribution of property from theft and rapine. They see things rather as they are. On the other hand, they have a perfect understanding of self-defence, engaged when they are occupied by liberal do-gooders. The solution to the problems these do-gooders create is thus very simple. Get rid of them. It is a task which everyone can join in.

Saruman, his Orcs, and their contrivances, provide the metaphor to liberal do-gooders and their obsessions with “process” and technology. They proved their value in resisting evil, arguably, once upon a time, until they became evil themselves. They would not understand Christ’s mysterious instruction, “resist ye not evil,” nor the parables in which He shows that “fairness” is of the Devil. They arrive in power with a do-gooder agenda, and in this are typically modern men. They toggle between damnable efficiency, and damnable inefficiency. They care not which, for over time their project is to create such a cat’s cradle of inter-dependencies that all freedom of action expires, and they may feed on human souls unchallengeably. (Whenupon, God destroys them.)

Hobbits lack agendas of any kind, which is what makes them pushovers, when dealing with the guileful. Instead they have customs, such as the meal times for which they are famous (breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, &c). Their outlook is redemptively mediaeval. But how to protect them from e.g. Saruman and Orcs?

That is where thinking on kingship comes in. My suspicion is that the authors have been led by Tolkien’s whimsy into thinking him more naïve than he was. True enough, Tolkien the man hated democracy, and particularly hated tax collectors. Put more simply, he hated evil. He cannot have failed to understand that his Hobbits were in need of some sort of protection. They were not, however, in need of being changed. As a scholarly mediaevalist, Tolkien would have seen this plainly. I’m not sure Witt and Richards see it.

Mediaeval political thinking is focused on the requirements of kingship. It compasses an idea of men in personal relations with God, and with their neighbours. It is antithetical to various notions of the “divine right of kings,” hatched at the Reformation (then quickly copied from Protestant to Catholic realms); and by analogical extension to the abstract “divine right of the people,” in more recent constitutions. Divine rights belong only to the divine, and kings on the old model did not have “majesty,” only “highness.” (Again, “Your Majesty” was a dangerous innovation, from the late fourteenth century; though as it has since become customary, I let it pass.)

Not everything disappears. The mediaeval understanding survives to the present day, in the role of the pope as living ruler of the Church, and of the papacy as court of last resort. In the traditional understanding, he is no programmatic “politician”: his job is purely defensive. It is to defend the Deposit of Faith — the received doctrine, and the practices which follow from the doctrine — to the death if necessary. Any attempt to change these things — to innovate or pursue any kind of personal agenda — must be condemned. A pope who tried that would become an anti-pope, and all good men would then feel called to depose him (in the most orderly available way).

Similarly, a mediaeval king has the task of defending custom. It isn’t his “right” to change anything, but instead his duty to pass on the kingdom to his successor, unmolested. He is the symbol of unity, of social solidarity, of moral order, of motherhood and apple pie and everything that is “above politics.” When he exceeds his authority, he must be deposed. That is precisely why so much mediaeval political thinking was devoted to explicating the duty of rebellion. It can never be taken lightly, never be required except in the gravest circumstances. It is never a right; it can only be a duty. It is a duty not to overturn, but instead to restore a legitimate order, pleasing to God, that has itself been overturned. And as Shakespeare showed, with transcending genius in dramatic action, God’s favour is both sought and expressed in conclusive acts of Reconciliation.

What then, one might ask, is the legitimate purpose of kingship? On one level it is high and therefore sacramental, a mediation between God and man. But pragmatically or practically it has a related function that anyone should be able to understand. And that is, to protect the Hobbits.

A voice from the chorus

Before sending my little essays out in the world, I apply a special coating, to prevent them from going viral. It is my own secret recipe, which I am not prepared to share. I will only give a couple of annoying hints, on the ingredients. What I put in may be obvious enough; but what I take out is the key to it. For instance, whenever possible, I remove proper nouns. Gentle reader may have heard that the sin, and not the sinner, should be the target of Christian resistance; but for the world, the sinner is the search term.

Sometimes one must names names, however. But then one relies on another non-ingredient. I carefully avoid what the world is currently talking about, in relation to the name; to construct the post in such a way that it cannot be much use to anyone with an axe to grind, and therefore, no one will want to link it.

No one is perfect, and sometimes I slip. Usually it is because something has happened that makes not only others, but me, rather angry. There is some injustice that is obvious and needs rectifying; the victim is small and the perpetrator large. Still, with luck, my reputation for irrelevance may protect me from excessive attention.

I see that Thomas Rosica, one of the Basilian Fathers from over at St Mike’s — who have, in my longstanding opinion, done much over the years to kill off Catholic congregations and vocations — admirer of the disgraceful Gregory Baum, founder of Salt+Light TV, and now the English-language media point man at the Holy See Press Office under Fr Federico Lombardi (enough said) — has threatened to sue my friend David Domet. It is a story getting play all over the “traditionalist” blogosphere. Domet’s Vox Cantoris blog is a good enough source for material and links to many who do not much admire Fr Rosica, nor appreciate his “progressive” contributions to the life of the Church. I do hope Vox Cantoris stays up through the proposed “lawfare,” which began with a formal demand that Domet take down every post in which Fr Rosica is mentioned. (Go read them while you still can!)

Domet is a little guy, Rosica a big guy. (Well, biologically, they are more evenly matched.) I, personally, have many disagreements with both, yet am not midway between them. Domet treasures and defends the mystical dimension of the Church, and is deeply involved in her music. Where he has gone over the top, it seems to me he has chosen the right hill. Rosica is a mover and shaker; a wonderfully well-connected “modernist,” with a tin ear.

As a media man myself, at least in my dark past, I would not criticize the Vatican media operation nor, particularly, would I allege its total incompetence. As the Schoolmen used to say, some arguments are unnecessary.

Instead, I would call attention to a deeper problem, not only in media operations but most other communications I notice emanating from the current ecclesial bureaucracy, and devolving through various quasi-autonomous ventures (such as Salt+Light TV). They are upbeat, smileyface, welcoming, to a fault. The wolf, as we may see from Fr Rosica’s private, thuggish attempt at intimidation, may lurk behind the scenes, but in front we see only soft, glib, very comfortable sheepskin. We call this, “The Church of Nice.”

The harrying from within of all Catholic tradition — the replacement of her moral teaching with a fake “mercy”; of her profound liturgy with cheap karaoke; of transcendent truth with cute bumpersticker — is a sign of the times. We must read it even as we continue to pray; and in the knowledge that inevitably, Christ will prevail.

It might appear that the Church is imploding; that we watch a death star. I cannot know; I do not think this is the end of times, however. I suspect that under the surface the opposite is happening: that men will look back upon this as a true age of renewal, “out of Africa,” perhaps, but perhaps also out of here, in old Protestant territory, where converts have been breathing in new life. In order for the Church to emerge once again, from beneath the smoke, visibly as what she is and has always been, the gases of modernity must burn off. That, I think, is what is now happening: outwardly terrifying, but do not be alarmed. The forces of liberalism are consuming themselves.

Lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. This will not be forgotten. Those who pray as the Church has always prayed, now suffer a persecution that comes not only from outside. A bureaucracy and even a hierarchy which leaves heresy to flourish, turns with increasing vigilance against every expression of orthodox faith.

On this Quadragesima Sunday, I am reminded so poignantly of this, in the account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, and in the words of the ninetieth Psalm, scattered through the Tract and all the chants. Far from desolation, we have a song of tenacity and backbone, resolution and confidence. In the epistle, Saint Paul sounds the war horns: “Behold, now is the acceptable time.”

Persist: in caritate non ficta, “in charity unfeigned.”