Essays in Idleness


Against bombing

There is a paper somewhere (darned if I can find it) from the British Society of Antiquaries (I think) that surveys the district around the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük. This is a pair of Neolithic mounds which rise above the plain of Konya, south-east of the city that now goes by that name — the ancient Iconium, in Anatolia, now part of “Turkey.” Excavations that began in the late 1950s established that it was, about nine thousand years ago, a metropolis by Neolithic standards: perhaps one, perhaps two thousand households on either side of a long-dried riverbed. It was a city before there were cities, or rather, well before we have evidence of any other town that size.

It is a fascinating layout. As I am reminded from wikipaediations, there were no streets or other open public spaces. All the elements of much later urbanity were present, but materially “internalized.” The whole town was a honeycomb maze, and entrances to houses were down ladders from the roofs. In hundreds of excavated rooms, the remains were found of very smooth plaster walls, and sharply squared timbers. In the larger rooms, the most extraordinary murals, figurines, and other works of art. In the smaller rooms, quite sophisticated domestic arrangements including well-appointed and ventilated kitchens, and raised platforms on which the inhabitants apparently sat and slept. Their dead were buried, with ceremony, beneath where they had lived.

The go-to archaeologist is currently Ian Hodder of Cambridge, a pioneer of “post-processualism,” which is the usual mess of post-modern, neo-Marxist theoretical blather, and multicultural “subjectivity,” with big corporate sponsorships and glitz publicity. This makes old-fashioned “processual” facts hard to extract, but patience is sometimes rewarded.

In my view, which dominates these Idleposts, this “proto-city” was not necessarily significant in its time (which ranged over perhaps eighteen centuries). Its significance to us is that we found it, and that it helped explode many preconceived ideas about life in the Stone Age. There are innumerable large and small “tells” or mounds through the Middle East, which the Daesh will not think of blowing up, until they are properly excavated. The truth is that our knowledge of human “prehistory” is extremely sketchy, and often proved wrong; and that vast quantities of archaeological material still lie where they settled, for later generations to retrieve.

And, hooo, I have just found an abstract of that district survey on the Internet, which proves I had not imagined the whole thing. It began in 1995, over a ground six or seven miles square, to the north-east of Çatalhöyük. There were topographical maps and satellite photos and yet, simply by walking about for a couple of months, decently-trained (i.e. old-fashioned) British archaeologists were able to spot eight new tells. In the next couple of seasons, expanding the area of survey, and now using satellite imagery expertly from a ground-based perspective, some seventy-four new sites were located, with samples showing many of them to be multi-period. And so forth, through 2002.

Satellites are helpful, and low-level aerial photography exploiting angles and shadowing is more helpful still, but what makes the difference is feet on the ground. These latter include human brains, which are mounted atop each pair of walking stalks (minus those blown off by landmines). These process information in a way no computer is now, or will ever be able to do: questions of judgement which in their nature cannot be reduced to algorithms.

And this, in turn, is my argument against bombing, as a strategy to deal with the Daesh and other baddies — who, nevertheless, need killin’, at various locations through the same Middle East. It applies not only to massive or saturation bombing campaigns, in which non-combatants are exterminated by the hundreds, and thousands, and hundreds of thousands, but also and particularly to the drone attacks which the high-tech-idolizing idiots around the White House now favour. These latter depend on the sort of algorithms that have resulted in the annihilation of many wedding parties, and other defenceless people who happen by ill-luck to fit the current programming criteria. It is a monstrous, an unambiguously evil way to conduct war, which is nevertheless attractive in the post-modern West because, for the perpetrators, it is sanitized and casualty-free — and thus compatible with the smug self-satisfaction of our liberal and progressive elites.

That each drone attack provides an effective recruitment post for the Daesh — now operating within the morally-vacated spaces of our North American high schools and universities, as in our prisons — is something that passes bat-like over those gloaming, “enlightened” heads.


Indeed, by way of afterthought, I am inclined to draw a parallel between the “progressive” Church of Nice, which does spiritual warfare on the analogy of drones and algorithms; and the “traditional” Church of Nasty, which does it on the analogy of quaint mediaeval mano-a-mano, and therefore acknowledges the existence of pain in individuals, as opposed to classes. But this analogy will require a few minutes of contemplation.


The little things are what I first notice in the news. This morning, for instance, that the U.S. government is fast-tracking the shipment of anti-tank missiles to the government of (some of) Iraq. This, we can only suppose, so that Baghdad’s shrinking army may try to destroy some of the U.S.-supplied tanks and other heavy equipment, as well as the light equipment, that their soldiers abandoned to the Daesh in their hasty retreat from Ramadi; as well as all the equipment lost during their many previous hasty retreats. But will the same soldiers run before firing them, this time? I should think so.

There are also bigger things, such as the Syrian army’s surrender of Palmyra to the same Daesh. Some journalists speculate that these Sunni Islamic psychotics may blow up the archaeological remains of this ancient “Venice of the sands.” As they have done the same with all other pre-Islamic, and non-Sunni monuments that have fallen into their hands, I will admit the possibility. They will also, once again, massacre the defenceless, &c.

Total, I’d say, is the stupidity, incompetence, and all-round dysfunctionality of President Obama, his executive, and his State Department. Whether in responding to events in “Iraq and Syria,” or Libya, or Yemen, or in Baltimore for that matter, or to a train accident, or to anything, we can depend on all administrative spokesmen to utter mendacious absurdities including easily demonstrated lies, then follow up with action that is dramatically counter-productive. And yet they continue to enjoy the unflinching support of their clientele, both in the progressive elites, and the electoral underclasses.

With one exception. I note that a State Department spokesman is quoted thus, on Palmyra this morning:

“You’d have to be delusional not to take something like this and say, What went wrong? How do you fix it? And how do we correct course from here?”

This frank acknowledgement that Obama’s policies have been “delusional” is a welcome first step. There are foreign ministries across Europe that could benefit from a like candour. For some reason, our foreign department in Ottawa — so far as it is staffed by Stephen Harper’s political hacks — more or less understands the situation. They know, for instance, that Israel is our friend, and that Iran is our enemy. I can’t really account for this. Expect Harper to be voted out later this year.

All the above by way of supplementing what I wrote Tuesday under the title, “Ramadi.” I should have mentioned it then.

While there are urgent measures all Western governments should be taking, by way of armed ground intervention in the Middle East, the next best response would be to do nothing. For doing nothing would be a radical improvement on what they are doing now. The United States has become, through layered delusions, the leading supplier of hideously powerful (and expensive) weapons to the Sunni Islamist Internationale; and through negotiations with Iran, the chief inspiration for the current regional arms race. Too, the administration has been consistently unhelpful, to the point of sabotage, when regional allies (especially Israel, Egypt, Jordan) have tried to cover for its mistakes.

“Nothing” beats catastrophic error, every time. It can even provide a positive: an opportunity for the politicians to stare at their mess, and ask for advice, ideally from people whose track record isn’t consistently zero, as everyone Obama and company now consult. In this case, perhaps a chance to recall some of the demonized “neocons” from the previous administration — men who could actually read Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.

But here we run up against one of the “problems of democracy” to which I sometimes allude. In nine of ten cases, overall, “nothing” is the best thing a government can do, and in the tenth case, the best alternative to doing what is counter-productive. But the dynamic of democracy (with its drumbeat media) is such, that nothing is the one thing no government can do.

Making war better

Gentle reader may have noticed that I said nothing yesterday — nothing at all — about “just war theory,” nor provided so much as a passing and whimsical Catholic justification of a foreign policy that would necessarily involve killing people (Islamist terrorists, to fine the point).

By a happy coincidence, George Weigel was supplying this missing dimension at the same moment, at National Review (here). He gives fifty years to a frankly pacifist “Catholic” view of war, which he traces to the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes — in which the pregnant phrase “mente omnino nova” proposes new thinking on an old but arguably “evolving” topic.

As Weigel hints (and I will caricature), it invites contrary interpretations. Either it is taken to mean that conditions of war in this world have changed so much since the Middle Ages, through the introduction of “total war,” that we’d better review how the old Augustinian realism applies to it. Or, the phrase might suggest that the old Augustinian realism was itself wrong at start, and that a different “attitude” was necessary all along.

Liberals in the Church take the latter for granted: that what we always needed was a hip, psychologizing, and morally exhibitionist approach to evil on a massive scale. The bad guys should be told to stop being mean and hurting us; good guys should be reminded that they have faults, too. The world needs to be taught that “peace is better than war,” … as if the world didn’t already know that.

While I do not wish to psychologize the Fathers of Vatican II, I suspect it was the former they meant to assert, and that a purposeful mistranslation of the phrase has advanced misunderstanding. This because, I do not believe these Fathers were men of sub-normal intelligence. War we will have always with us. And evil, ditto, so long as the world wags: there are times when it threatens to get out of hand, and must be stopped.

Decent men, not only Catholics, have known this for a very long time. When your Hitler annexes half of your Poland you see that appeasement has run its course. Similarly in other situations: the very idea of law, both natural and positive, is to draw a few lines. We may debate where they are, who has crossed them and why, but only in the nicer cases.

To my Augustinian and realist mind, “total war” did in fact present an intellectual challenge. I was uncomfortable with annihilating non-combatants by the hundred thousand, on the “eye for an eye” principle; as too, about drafting millions to feed the front lines. A certain amount of “collateral damage” I am usually willing to accept, but not intentional massacre. And those weren’t the only head-scratchers.

Let us consider nuclear weapons for a paragraph. I don’t like to see them dropped on cities; I think that is very bad form. (But then, the “conventional” fire-storming of Tokyo killed more than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined; and it was a situation in which “showmanship” counted.) I might, however, advocate their use in excavating well-fortified bunkers. Had one been available on the 20th of July 1944, for instance — and had Lieut.-Col. Stauffenberg kindly tipped us off — I would not have hesitated to drop it on the Wolfsschanze. And this, even if it meant irradiating a beautiful section of the Masurian woods.

I believe this a Catholic position. No weapon can be condemned categorically; the question is how we propose to use it. There were caves in Afghanistan into which I would have pumped poison gas, without compunction. I can think of some good places to lay mines. And I would remind “liberal Catholics” that winning the war is an important part of “just war theory.” Indeed, I find their attitude to war downright puritan.

We should look for the most economical means to a good end (destruction of an identified evil), consistent with irreproachably good behaviour; not for a way to let evil win. Sun Tzu is the more Catholic military strategist, in my humble but possibly Sinophile opinion; Clausewitz less so (though he is often misrepresented as advocating what he is merely describing).

Now, it happens that for Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and a few other places, the American military has been developing and using weapons rather more accurate than those we employed in the World Wars. The kind of focus that was practicable in the better sort of mediaeval battles is gradually becoming so again. We should, for instance, have directed more praise to the admirable way in which the Rumsfeld Pentagon went about e.g. their Iraqi blitz, minimizing casualties even at the expense of assuming greater risks.

Like everything else, war requires craftsmanship, and the long Catholic commitment to art should be reflected in our critique of it. Let us work harder on making it attractive.


“If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

This is a principle the Daesh (“IS,” “ISIS,” &c) understand, but we in the West have forgotten. Now, I should think there is a dispute between us on what “doing right” might consist of. Eliminating all the Christians, Yazidis, Shia and other non-Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere, is not on our agenda; but it is on theirs. Our interest is restricted to eliminating the Daesh, with the complicating factor that we must also contain the Ayatollahs of Iran (ideally by removing them), and eliminating their proxies: Hezbollah, and for realpolitikal purposes, Hamas.

This is pure speculation on my part, but it seems that international, fanatic Sunni Islam is consolidating under the leadership of the Daesh on one side; and that international, fanatic Shia Islam has already consolidated under the patronage of Iran’s ayatollahs. One’s first instinct is let the two at each other, on the analogy of Hitler and Stalin. That this leaves too many million defenceless hostages to fate, may perhaps be seen. Beyond this, we soon discover that we have become hostages to fate ourselves, as our own enemies link (Russia and China come into this eventually), and the world descends into unimaginably destructive war.

It is useless to complain that the black-flag hordes who took Ramadi, while “Western-trained” Iraqi troops ran away (leaving yet another fortune in U.S.-supplied weapons) — are barbaric savages. It has been said before, and a time comes when something must be done about them. Bombing, it should be evident by now, cannot be the full answer. Nor does it make much sense, as in Yemen, to wink as the Saudi air force goes to work, with its comparative indifference to what we sometimes call “collateral damage.”

Note that, in the case of Iraq generally, and Ramadi as of this morning, the “proxy” on whom we depend is now our even-worse enemy, Iran.

Removing bad guys is a task that requires a variety of co-ordinated military methods. This naturally includes feet on the ground — the more against a millipedal opponent. To restrict efforts to the aerial (plus the occasional high-profile commando hit-job) is fey. To announce in advance that one’s efforts will be thus restricted is to intend failure.

Some years ago, as hack newspaper pundit, I supported allied intervention in Afghanistan, then Iraq. I would have supported it in Iran, too, had the offer been on the table. I’ve confessed before my regret that I did not spell my position out more candidly: in particular, my opposition to almost everything that came after the initial, rather impressive, invasions — except insofar as the plans involved keeping an allied military presence in theatre (a few discreet action-ready bases here and there). I was appalled by the ridiculous and profligate “nation-building” exercises under President Bush, and more by the “cut and run” that followed under Obama. All we needed were governments unambiguously on our side, and the means to sustain them.

My preference for Western intervention stands. For in the world as it actually works (apart from “theory”), peace requires order. There was, to my mind, a “sweet point,” soon after the American-led conquest of Iraq, when this object had been obtained. It had only to be maintained, thereafter. That is to say, not only had the Taliban been neutralized in Afghanistan, and Saddam’s Ba’ath in Iraq, but every other government in the region, including Iran’s and Gaddafi’s Libya, had become suddenly quite respectful of, and co-operative with, the United States of America.

Bush Dubya had, I think to start with, the right idea. One says, “If you do this, we will do that.” And then, if one is not obeyed, one does that, unfailingly. (Obama’s threats are pointless, because no one believes them.) This was easier when we had at least de facto governments in all capitals except Mogadishu. The instruction was: that they would suppress their terrorists, and conduct a government responsive to occasional Western requests. Or, we would do it for them. In superpowering terms, this was a modest instruction.

That it nevertheless smells of old-fashioned Imperialism, I allow. But gentle reader knows that I am old-fashioned. (You may call me a “neocon,” too; I have a thick skin.) Through the history of the world, civilized cultures have had to deal with uncivilized outliers at their frontiers, and it is best done quietly and ruthlessly. This is because every alternative is worse.

Publicity is not required. Indeed, it should be avoided, as much as possible. For people who live in bourgeois safety, far from the realities of conflict at those frontiers, have not the stomach for what is necessary. I don’t think most people could bear to watch open-heart surgery, either. Vietnam was lost, thanks to publicity, and ditto Afghanistan and Iraq. Even under the rah-rah conditions of press cheerleading through the World Wars, the problem of “too much information” frequently presented itself.

Let the histories be written, as accurately as possible, and with full access to the official records — after, and not during, the events. (That was the British way, and it worked.)

I had a little conversation once with the late admired American jurisprude, Robert Bork, just as the Bush administration was setting up logistically to “do Iraq.” He had been reading the New York Times, and was deeply pessimistic. He had no doubt that the U.S. military could perform its task, but could also see that the U.S. media were setting up, to “do another Vietnam.” He feared Bush did not realize how brief would be the American popular commitment to any foreign war; that, “He’d better get it over quickly.”

So let me blame Bush, for having made the presidency of Obama possible. We are in a position now where we have no stomach for the fight, nor any reasonable way to avoid it. We are not dealing with people we can negotiate with. Moreover, given our retreat, and the nature of the enemy since emerging, not even plausible threats will work. We will need once again Western leaders who — like Bush and Blair — make their threats stick.

All this must be admitted, too, as we look again at a regional situation that seriously threatens the peace of the whole world, in coming at least mentally to terms with it. For the stability we briefly created has been lost.

I do not see any practical alternative to doing the job ourselves. Our proxies in most regional states are useless. Either we do the job, or it is not done.


Look, it is Victoria Day again, up here in the off-white North. Or it might be: you can’t know with these three-day weekends, which day is supposed to count. Our political masters shift everything to the Monday, the way the “spirit of Vatican II” shifts to the nearest Sunday — or elsewhere, as the case may be. That way, no one will take their obligations seriously. But in secular terms, today is definitely the bank holiday, and that’s what really counts.

Fire-works and fire-crackers we still get: a fine demonstration of loyalty to the Crown, on the surface, though I wonder inwardly if the multiculturalists out there are consciously celebrating Her Late Majesty, whose birthday was actually May 24th. I like to imagine her tiny person, enhanced with hoop-skirt and calash, sitting as upon the marble throne within the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, Bengal. We have a Victoria Memorial Square here in the Greater Parkdale Area, but it converges, incongruously, on a monument to our heroes from the War of 1812, some of whose remains are buried nearby. Her Late Majesty was not even born then.

Whereas, Curzon’s magnificently odd memorial, in what is now misspelt “Kolkata,” remains a tourist magnet after all these years. Note, it is a twentieth-century monument, and as so few others were built that solid, our distant descendants will dig it up and take it for typical of our times. Just as they will find the landfill to which we consign all the used packaging from around here, and conclude from its location that the Greater Parkdale Area was in Michigan.

One crore, five lakhs of silver rupees: that’s what it cost to build that absurd parody of the Taj Mahal, on what was once Hooghly swamp, and at a time when the capital of British India was anyway being transferred to Delhi. Paid for largely by the voluntary subscriptions of Her Late Majesty’s long-mourning admirers, among the princes and peoples of the great Subcontinent. I cannot think of a more worthy cause.

Back here in Canada, I associate the day with fudge-making. My mommy and I used to make it together in a house along Edith Street in Georgetown, Ontario — from a recipe I surely still have filed away, and ought to have looked up. Let me say my mother’s recipes were infallible. One had only to follow her instructions exactly. But this is something I have ever been loathe to do. That is because I am a “creative” person. I like to experiment.

Yesterday, for instance, I tried to recall the principles of fudge-making, after a lapse of one half-century or so. As people love to collect recipes, here is how mine progressed:


Into a stove pot of convenient size, spill:

— All the cocoa powder that won’t fit in your storage tin.
— All the coconut milk powder, ditto.
— A few spoon-twirls of buckwheat honey.
— Enough water to compound the above into a thickish paste.

Keep adding water till you think, “Enough!” Heat to boiling while stirring merrily. Then stop stirring, and turn the heat down slightly. Wait until it looks right, and feels hot enough when you stick your finger in. (A candy thermometer would be useful, but hey.)

Then take it off the stove and add:

— As much bourbon whiskey as you will part with.
— A slurp of the rum in which a vanilla pod was steeping.
— Soft butter (lots).
— Your last four prunes, all chopped up.
— Generous pinch of kosher salt.
— No hashish at all.

Beat this, savagely, until the shine comes off. Beat it more, gratuitously. … Aha, just recollected, should have used a wooden spoon.

Pour into oblong baking dish greased with coconut oil. (A square one would be better.) You may lick the pot while you’re waiting for it to cool.


Perhaps I should mention that this essay in fudge-making was a total failure: worse than some of my Idleposts. Tastes interesting, but not what I expected. The texture is all wrong: soft, but not like icing. More a syrupy goo with lumps of a more gritty nature. I think I created a chemical concoction of sufficient complexity that only God could sort it out. My mommy, for her part, would have been appalled.

And would have recalled one of her adages, which, as the others, applies to life more generally. “Fudge is easy to make, dear,” she would say. “But it is even easier to mess up.”

Time’s arrow, time’s cycle

One of the things I love about the old missals — like the Saint Andrew one I swear by, my copy dutifully revised to 1962 so that it matches the current Extraordinary Form of the Mass — is the brief introductions for the Sundays and other Feasts. They “set the stage” for the liturgy, like a theatre programme, and provide preparatory hints. Together with the parallel translations of every single liturgical passage, they leave persons who whine that they can’t understand the Mass in Latin with no excuse at all.

Today, for instance, upon this Sunday after Ascension, I am provided, before the Mass even starts, with nine Bible readings on the witness of the Holy Spirit, including six from the Book of Acts. Then on brotherly charity, “to confine ourselves to a few essential texts,” twenty biblical passages are suggested, “including the splendid chapter 13 of I Corinthians,” and a cross-reference to the liturgy for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost. And then, seven more excerpts from Acts are suggested, which undergird the day’s Mass, and add depth and comprehension to both the Epistle (which is from I Peter) and the Gospel (from Saint John).

While being exposed to Protestant or post-Protestant environments, in my childhood, I often heard that Catholics never read the Bible, and I suppose there is some truth in it: that unobservant Catholics often don’t. Though I should think unobservant Protestants also tend to be unobservant.

No need to pick on them, however, to make the essential point: that in “traditional” (i.e. genuine) Catholic worship, the Mass serves as a kind of moving eye, through the whole scriptural heritage, casting light into its parts through the turning seasons. This does not exclude the consecutive reading of scripture, from Genesis through Apocalypse, on the usual chronological terms, following the arrow of time.

Instead, it adds a specifically divine, extra-temporal dimension to that reading, through the use of time in a grand circuit: beginning where we end, and ending at the beginning, and unfolding from any point at all.

The Lord who calls us is not confined to this arrow of time, calling us as much from past and future as from the present moment. And there are moments when we can see that His creation is not strictly linear, either. It is full of anticipations that cannot be explained otherwise than by prevision or foresight. Too, it is full of musical repetitions, often in a new key.

We, little humans, though endowed with minds that work most comfortably, and must work logically, in a linear way, are sometimes vividly aware of an extra-temporal dimension, upon which the present moment also depends. (Not everything that exists can be charted, and for that matter the consecutive time dimension is itself quite invisible, and unplumbable.) We are not without the ability to grasp some non-linear things, including that which is not illogical, but non-logical, because (for example) metaphorical.

For logic I have great respect, but wisdom works on non-logical principles, perhaps supra-logical, and I have even greater respect for wisdom.

A chicken, as I discovered in childhood, can be made to follow a line of feedgrain with its chicken-snout, wherever it leads: even to disaster. My finches and finchesses at breakfast this morning — on the balconata of the High Doganate — show themselves more philosophical and prudent. I left a line of seed along the ledge to an open window, with me on the inside, typing away. They were happy to follow it, almost to the edge of the open window. But then, after mutual consultations, they flew off.

Now, I’m not saying that finches are more Catholic than chickens; only better endowed with good sense. But these are “purple” (i.e. raspberry-splashed) finches, and when the males gather, they do rather resemble Roman Cardinals in conclave.

Losing the appearances

Some science writer on ye Internet performed, yesterday, the dirty trick of pulling out an old Scientific American (here). It was from 2005, and featured fifty technological “breakthroughs,” organized into seventeen “trends,” which the editors imagined to be harbingers of the future in which we now sit, a decade later. She was curious to know how these predictions had “panned out.” I’ve given the link, so gentle reader may see for himself just how badly the magazine batted: in baseball terms, pretty close to seventeen consecutive strike-outs.

In defence of Scientific American, let me say it has not always been a tranch of worthless, unreliable, often mendacious pulp. When young I subscribed to it, and old copies from the ’sixties and ’seventies were still available to me through the parental attic, until a few years ago. It did not then indulge in this sort of eye-popper journalism, as I know from having returned to its pages several times. Articles from half a century ago, written usually by genuine experts working in each field (and not by “popular science writers”), from their direct experience, do not seem so pathetically “dated” — so cravenly reflective of passing fads — as those you will find in any current number.

An important exception should be noted. The front article — in the position where a short story or other fictional item would be placed in the traditional magazine format — was even then, almost invariably, a spray of liberal-sociological hogwash. But after passing over that, one would generally find, decades later, two or three articles of enduring interest, routinely presenting historical background that does not date. In the 1980s, the publishers realized that there was no longer an intelligent general audience for science, and that the editorial focus would have to be redirected to caressing half-educated, smartass twits. That is now a highly competitive market.

Yet the real issue goes much deeper, and back much farther in time. Pierre Duhem, the French physicist, major contributor to thermodynamics and physical chemistry, historian of science, and inquirer into scientific methods (1861–1916), expounded it in his attacks on the Cartesian method, exemplified in the works of the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell.

In Duhem’s critique, Maxwell’s approach to science was recklessly bold and unsystematic. He depended almost entirely on mathematical “models,” entirely abstracted from the phenomena he described. Worst, he made no effort to connect his observations and discoveries to the received body of knowledge inherited from the past. In a word, he was “post-modern.”

What we see today, in for instance the garbage science of “climate change,” and in the sort of techie futurism that pop science supplies, is the effect of more than a century of impacting what we might call “Maxwell’s silver hammer” on everything empirical science encounters. And as Duhem shows, it is older still, for it goes back to Descartes’ dramatic breach with the organic continuities. (A large part of Duhem’s life work, actively suppressed by the French academy of his day, and still characteristically neglected, consisted in demonstrating that the origins of the seventeenth-century scientific revolution lay overlooked, well back in the Middle Ages.)

Science today claims to know things it does not and cannot know; claims not to know things it does most certainly know; and there is no health in it. It lives in a future that does not now and will never exist: a “postulated future.” It depends upon levels of gullibility only possible to maintain through over-specialization and half-education. And because of this, it has become dangerous, even demonic. (One of my correspondents calls this “the age of deferred consequences.”)

Yet the growth of classical science remains not only possible, but actual in the background. This is because the more accomplished scientists, regardless of what they think of themselves, are in fact closet Aristotelians. That is to say, they adhere to a body of knowledge that is founded on broad but careful observation, kept constantly in a self-consistent, holistic view. They are building an edifice which is not detached from the larger considerations; which is not mindlessly free of context. For there is a continuum through physics and metaphysics that fully deserves the title of “natural philosophy.” Man is capable of it, and should not reduce himself to an impulsive child, playing whimsically with lethal toys.

The Vimy problem

“Lord, please don’t make me do that. Nevertheless, according to Thy will.”

This is not among my favourite prayers, but I fear it could join the most frequent. Without going into sordid detail, I, along with who knows how many other practising Catholics — and our separated brethren, too — face a world that is becoming increasingly unfriendly. But this against a background history that was never all that friendly, anyway.

Here I am referring not only to specific opponents, but to the world itself, “structurally” as it were. “Man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do” many times daily, at some modest level, starting with getting up in the morning. (Newman somewhere observed, that getting straight out of bed without dawdling is the beginning of holiness.)

Every soldier must mull the call into battle. That trumpet is not attractive to all. Careful examination of my grandfather’s diary — he went up Vimy Ridge, &c — left me in awe of his generation. The thought that, “Whether or not I happen to make it, we are going to take the top from Jerry,” survives as a campaign medal. Does it survive in our hearts?

My own existence owes to his luck, so that I begin to appreciate his implicitly anti-Darwinian perspective. For it is: whether or not “I and my descendants” make it.

He was a simple Methodist farmboy, neither philosopher nor theologian. Bit of an artist, though. He did not always consider questions in the round. Considering them thus does not always contribute to courage, however. Perhaps one of the most acute failings, of my own bourgeois-hippie generation, was thinking in philosophical and theological terms — when we had no more of the equipment for it than did grandpa’s generation.

In light of what I wrote yesterday here, and for today, over at Catholic Thing — about the serious stress my co-religionists are and will be facing — I return to the Vimy problem. God is tooting on our horn, and we will just have to go up that hill. Jerry’s at the top, and he shouldn’t be there.

In jubilatione

It is the day of the Ascension of Our Lord, or it is, wherever the day has not been transferred to the nearest Sunday, &c, &c. What was done to the Rogation Days preceding, the Vigil, and so forth, I really don’t want to know. That is something faithful Catholics must endure, in the Novus Ordo. (By obligation, I attend it when I have no other choice.) In one sense, this suffering is apt: the whole Church is doing penance, year-round, even in the Mass, for the horrible evils that we allowed to be done to her.

In the midst of which, we are called to be joyful. In our midst, the Holy Spirit remains, and Christ will not abandon His Church. I cannot doubt this, and so I do not.

This major Christian feast — solemnly observed through the centuries — is now treated as any other weekday commemoration, to be bounced whimsically around the Calendar. But it was hardly placed upon this Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter, the tenth before the Pentecost, so casually. It is pivotal within the Christian understanding of Christ’s mission, in relation to both. It is the day on which Our Lord took leave of us, returning to Heaven. Death had not sent Him away; death He had defeated.

This Ascent was in preparation for us: to sit at “the right hand of God,” which is where we must rise to be with Him. He waits for us; for those who are faithful. And in the interim, between His going and His return — as He promised, there has come, the Holy Spirit to abide with us. This happened, in time; it continues to happen, beyond time, and through it. The old liturgy receives, and also enacts, and also celebrates, and also explains — quite literally, and too, quite mystically.

Lex orandi, lex credendi.

I am feeling burnt out this morning, having already composed my fortnightly piece for Catholic Thing, which will appear tomorrow. It touches upon the Pew Poll, published a few days ago, about religious affiliations in the USA. It is extremely thorough: thirty-five thousand people were interviewed, and asked fairly telling questions. It makes the accelerated de-Christianization of North America very plain. In particular, in shows that “mainstream” Catholic observance is, currently, collapsing fastest. In seven years, the number of those identifying as Catholics has dropped by one-eighth. When we break this down into generations, we may see half of the rest will soon be gone, too, as the last generation which called itself “Christian” without thinking, has stopped not only thinking, but breathing, too.

For any worldly hope we must look to the remnant who thought their Catholicism through. I am in no doubt the small minority of “traditionalists” will prosper, regardless of persecutions that may be visited upon them, by a rapidly increasing non-Christian population that interprets Christian belief as an affront to “progress,” “science,” and its own degenerate mores.

Turn to the news, as I did after filing, and I see what is being done in Rome. Well, gentle reader could do this for himself; I recommend against it. I have not the energy, this morning, even to list the liberal-progressive bandwagons which the Holy See is now clambering aboard, in a vain display of very worldly sanctimony. In the midst of our crisis, this latest betrayal of our faith. And yet, Christ warned us: put not thy faith in men.

And yet, Christ Ascended, as our pledge, bidding us follow. In joy:

— Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, alleluia.

— Et Dominus in voce tubae, alleluia.

A whole mind

Among the greatest achievements of the great Catholic controversialist, Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621; Saint, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church; feast today in Old Mass), was in the conclaves of 1605, when he twice talked his fellow Cardinals out of electing him Pope. Others have done it once. But with the quick demise of Leo XI, Bellarmine became the only papabile in history (so far as I am aware) to do it all over again a few weeks later. This showed not only, perhaps, rare self-knowledge, but also considerable energy.

He was indeed the founder of the faculty of Controversial Theology, at what became the Gregorian university at Rome — a discipline he invented expressly for the purpose of methodically refuting Protestant theological and doctrinal assertions, in all their kaleidoscopic variety.

As an Anglican, young and eager, decades ago, perhaps my favourite divine was Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626). His Preces Privatae (edited once by John Henry Newman) provided the boilerplate for my own private prayers. He was the organizing genius behind the King James Version of the Bible, whose tastes established its immortally “catholic” style. His sermons, too, enthralled me for his ability to turn from high learning to racy street language and back again, in successive clauses. The Elizabethans generally could do that sort of thing (Shakespeare thrives on such delicious toggles, between the coarse and the refined), but it seemed to me then that the Bishop of Winchester (Andrewes) had exceeded all others in his gift for making these sometimes humorous, often shocking gearshifts, resonate with sanctity.

My acquaintance with Bellarmine was through Andrewes. There was a great controversy between them, over the Oath of Allegiance (1606) that King James put before those of his subjects still Catholic, and which in good conscience many found impossible to take. Published in the backwash from the “Gunpowder Plot,” it appeared to offer English Catholics tolerance and safety, on the condition that they would recognize the Protestant King’s high authority, and abjure violence, insurrection, or tumult. To more modern eyes, this seems a real deal: “Let us live and let live. … Swear that you won’t try to overthrow me, and I swear that I won’t try to kill you.”

But it was not so simple as post-modern eyes see. In the course of the seven affirmations demanded of his subjects, King James was laying down the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings (since mutated into the Divine Right of Elected Politicians). No Catholic can accept that; many dissenting Protestants were uncomfortable with it, too; and the controversy over this English Oath of Allegiance was joined across Europe, for many years.

It seemed to me, struggling through an epistolary debate largely untranslated from Latin, that Andrewes had got the better of Bellarmine, in a close-run thing. (But I was biased.) Later I became the more impressed with Bellarmine when I realized that, like a chess master simultaneously playing a hundred opponents, he was meanwhile arguing with a large number of the most formidable Protestants on many other boards. Too, that Andrewes had jumped into the ring on tag wrestling principles, along with several other leading English ecclesiastics, after Bellarmine had wasted (the learned) King James himself, in a previous round. Too, Andrewes himself is profoundly respectful of Bellarmine, and does not dare to take cheap shots. The two men seemed to bring out the best in each other.

I doubt all these impressions would stand if, now a Papist, and of riper years, I returned to that scene. I also doubt the question, “Who won?” is in itself coherent. On balance, I think God was winning. For from both sides an attempt was being made, I think generously, to get at the truth: to formulate a position that could be universally acceptable, and thus might indeed win peace, without submission to moral compromise.

At this distance, I think the debate worth revisiting because every question touching the “separation of Church and State” is on the table, and each is pursued (by both sides) in dimensions since neglected. It is the more enthralling because the participants have implicitly agreed to appeal to man’s conscience. Previously they had thought of it more as a contest between their respective armies.

That a King, or other secular ruler, has an authority or legitimacy that is in some sense divinely sanctioned, Catholics would have to agree. This is affirmed even within Christ’s “give unto Caesar,” when properly understood. But it is affirmed, throughout Catholic teaching — ancient, mediaeval, and modern — with a very important qualification. When the State claims an authority even over conscience; and more particularly, when it claims the right to form that conscience in defiance of Holy Church; and even more particularly, when it establishes an alternative religion (whether that be “Anglican” as then or, as today, “Secular Humanist”) — it has lost its legitimacy, its right to be obeyed. For the demand now is no longer “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” rather, “give unto Caesar what is God’s.” This becomes a martyrdom issue.

No King (and no State in Christendom) has the “divine right” to do any such thing. King James’s essential claim, to a spiritual authority within his own realm, must be rejected.

A moment’s thought will reveal innumerable parallels today, within the Church, as well as from outside. Let me mention just one: the claim of German bishops to doctrinal competence on divorce and remarriage, within Germany. This immediately involves a claim to a “divine right,” which cannot be diffused.

It will be further seen that the controversy, in its own day, went to the heart of the Protestant Reformation. Saint Robert Bellarmine’s role, from his first experience of teaching at the Catholic university of Louvain in Flanders, was to clarify the Catholic position for the benefit not only of the other side, but of the many Catholic priests who had acquired, through contemporary fashions, quite Protestant attitudes.

U.S. Americans, defending their own Constitution, should be aware that many of the arguments of Jefferson and Madison against the “divine right of George III” were in fact lifted from Bellarmine; and that for many other Founding Fathers, the whole idea of the USA was Bellarminian: to dethrone one version of this “divine right” without, via “democracy,” setting another up in its place. In other words, the actual authors of that Constitution held views directly opposed to the liberal-progressives who interpret it in American law courts today; and were, with respect to natural law, quaintly “catholic.”

I have touched quickly and in a dangerously summary way on only one aspect of Bellarmine himself. His mind was very broad and very deep, and his works will repay very close study. I wish that I had ever found the time, for even on the basis of a glancing acquaintance I have come to realize how much is there.

Notwithstanding, I doubt he was among “the greatest Popes we never had.” More than anything I think I would defend this extraordinary Jesuit for the insight he showed in declining, or more precisely, avoiding, the papacy itself. His Jesuit mission was on the front lines of intellectual and spiritual controversy. He was a catechist for all the ages. But the role of a Pope is different in kind. It is, surely, to defend the faith from any alteration, but with a serenity that omits any personal agenda. Indeed, I long thought (before 2013), that it was a mark of the profound wisdom of the Roman Church that no Jesuit had ever been seated upon the Throne of Peter. For at their best — which they are far from, today — the Jesuits are an order established to serve the Vicar of Christ, only. (You don’t make cops into judges.)

In his retirement from the world, in his seventies, Bellarmine did however write several remarkably serene tracts, including spiritual masterpieces which began with, The Ascent of the Mind to God. Written consciously in the tradition of the early seventh-century Saint John Climacus, and the thirteenth-century Saint Bonaventure, it provides what I think is not only an intellectual, but a mystical key to the entire Counter-Reformation, in whose wake we still bob.

It takes deadly seriously the primary commandment of Jesus Christ: that we love God, not negatively but positively, with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with our whole mind.

Of a maple sapling

In some ways, I will miss this planet (when my spaceship comes, and it is time to go). Not so much the people as the places and things.

(I’m assuming the people also move along.)

There was a moment, early this morning, when this thought came back to me, in a narrow urban laneway (among the garages, behind the houses) when the rising sun, shining briefly under overcast, caught an especially apt arrangement of leaves on a maple sapling, struggling for city space. The floral painting that could represent it is well beyond my powers; the effect was of something woven, like damask. The leaves themselves looked the part of young, shall we say callow, in vegetable nature’s terms. Yet something in the quality of morning light made them seem, suddenly, very ancient.

Now, maples (and I intend no patriotic jingo today) have been around, give or take, seventy million years, judging from the earliest known Acer fossil, found near here in eastern North America. But they truly flourished in the Miocene, perhaps fifty million years later, if we judge by volume. Or if we judge by eye, they are still going strong, in more than a hundred species.

You know me, I tend to be sceptical of evolutionist claims. I do not doubt the fossils look like maples, in bark and leaf, and some as if they fell yesterday, into strata aeons down. But the Design Angels love to play tricks, and will often make things look the same that are genetically very far apart. I join them in giggling at the theoreticians.

This little guy was an Acer saccharum, I think — a sugar maple. Though this being the city, and the pollution-loving Norways moving in, I’m sure I’ll be told I was dreaming. They (both sugars and Norways) have so much to say for themselves, in their richly understated way, especially when turned red in the autumn; but also in the spring when they subtly flower; or in the north woods, where the sugars meet with the birch to dance, dance, dance in the breeze. And their syrup is of course to die for, developed in His pantries by God’s most accomplished Culinary Angels to slide over melting butter on those divine buckwheat hotcakes.

But this is all beside the quality of the light, reflected from those shy young unfurléd leaves this morning, revealed to Lord Sol from the shade.

We cannot provide a “meaning” for such moments, that string together as beads through our lives. So many other “incidents” like that come back vividly to haunt us: time somehow worming out of time.

The young sugar maple himself offered no comment — none, at least, that I could hear — except to capture in a gesture the is-ness, the remarkable is-ness, of things down here.

Dark gentleman of the Sonnets

The unattributed quotations embedded in yesterday’s Idlepost were of course from Shakespeare, Sonnet 73. My head is full of that stuff at the moment, from trying to teach this author to startlingly intelligent and perceptive young (“traditionalist”) seminarians. The poet’s allusions to the ruined monasteries that punctuate the Tudor countryside are … poignant at the least.

The Sonnets were published late in Shakespeare’s career (1609) — by a clever and unscrupulous man. His name was Thomas Thorpe. He ran what was for the times a unique publishing business, playing games with “copyright” that were often unconscionable but, usually, this side of the law. He owned neither a printing press, nor a bookstall — two things that defined contemporary booksellers — subcontracting everything in his slippery way. Indeed, I would go beyond other observers, and describe him as a blackguard; and I think Will Shakespeare would agree with me. Though Shakespeare would add, “A witty and diverting blackguard.”

He collected these sonnets, quite certainly by Shakespeare, but written at much different times and for quite various occasions, from whatever well-oiled sources. Thorpe had a fine poetic ear, and knew what he was doing. He arranged the collection he’d amassed in the sequence we have inherited — 154 sonnets that seem to read consecutively, with “A Lover’s Complaint” tacked on as their envoi — then sold them as if this had been the author’s intention.

We have sonnets not later than 1591, interspersed with others 1607 or later. In one case (Sonnet 145), we have what I think is a love poem Shakespeare wrote about age eighteen, to a girl he was wooing: one Anne Hathaway. (She was twenty-seven.) It is crawling with puns, for instance on her name, and stylistically naïve, but has been placed within the “Dark Lady” sonnets (127 to 152) in a mildly plausible way. It hardly belongs there.

Indeed, once one sees this it becomes apparent, surveying the whole course, that there is rather more than one “Dark Lady” in the Sonnets, and that like most red-blooded men, our Will noticed quite a number of interesting women over his years. But Thorpe has folded them all into one for dramatic effect.

The teen-aged Shakespeare has not yet fully mastered his craft. His earliest plays, too, contain flaws and miscalculations and stylistic naiveté. This does not mean they weren’t written by Shakespeare. They also contain passages so striking that his authorship is unmistakable. Our own (scholarly) perception of this is clouded, because of our dependence on statistical tests: the use of vocabulary counts, for instance, to date passages. More useful and important, are considerations of lyrical craft and breadth (as Shakespeare grows older he breaks more and more rules, to more and more purposes), and the background themes. For like every other writer, regardless of genre, there are continuities from one work to another, more conscious than unconscious.

Confusion redounds because, while scholars may agree that some sonnets are “early,” and some “late,” they can’t be trusted to guess which are which. Some creative intelligence, or “gift,” is necessary to discern such things. College professors with tin ears and computers are not up to the task. Their “results” belong to the counting house, not to poetry, and should never be taken so seriously as they are (by other college professors).

Thorpe had this “gift,” and used it mischievously. The first seventeen sonnets are unquestionably an intentional sequence, written as they declare, to a “Fair Youth” — quite probably the Earl of Southampton — advising him to marry and thereby perpetuate his family and fame. The conceits, including celebration of male beauty, are perfectly Elizabethan, and have, incidentally, none of the “homo-erotic tendencies” we began to read into them the day before yesterday. If one considers, alone, the Elizabethan connotations of the word “brave,” one may begin to realize that qualities we dismiss as “fey” and “effete” — including the very appreciation of poetry and art — were formerly associated with true masculinity.

Mischief, Elizabethan not post-modern, comes fully into play beginning at Sonnet 18. This is Thorpe’s first bridge. He is extending that short sequence into something grander and thus more saleable. He wants the reader to think he has in his hands not a jumble of miscellaneous sonnets, but a great, unified work of art in the Petrarchan tradition. He relies on Shakespeare’s own genius for address (even his soliloquys focus as if upon a single auditor), and for story-telling (even when there is no story), to carry the impression of a self-revealing narrative — that continues not for 17, but as if 126 of the sonnets were all addressed to this tremendously significant “Fair Youth.”

They appear to be going somewhere, when they are not, and the break into the “Dark Lady” section, and the concluding pair of “cupid” emblem sonnets, give more of the show away. For they create, with the “Lover’s Complaint” hitched onto those, a structure no competent poet would consider: a tail, tacked on a tail, tacked on a tail, like The Human Centipede.

As a point of departure, I recommend a good book by the American jurisprude, John T. Noonan, Jr. It is entitled, Shakespeare’s Spiritual Sonnets (2011), and is the product of a lifetime of attentive and meditative reading. Noonan considers each sonnet on its own terms, to see what it is saying and to whom.

He finds, for instance, explicitly religious language in many places. And there is self-revelation of a religious kind. Here, often, is a Catholic poet confessing his own sins, in thought word and deed, and making his poor and yet free oblation, not to a general audience but intimately, to the sympathetic Catholic reader. Shakespeare is, Noonan says, writing to his own soul (sonnets 129 and 146); to the Church (74, 111, 112, 115, 116, 117, 119, and elsewhere); to the Virgin Mother (109, 110); to God in Christ (122, 125); to the Jesuits on mission (69, 70, 94). And most spectacularly, in Sonnet 73, the Church herself is speaking. For the arguments gentle reader must go fetch the book.

Whether or not each attribution is correct, we begin to appreciate the mess Thorpe has made of Shakespeare. But, too: why Shakespeare, though he must have been outraged by the use to which his private poems were put, could do nothing. He could not call attention to Thorpe’s imposture without also calling attention to his own secret life, beyond the edge of the publicly acceptable.

For he could be Catholic as William Byrd, and many other composers, poets, and artists, inside the Court, and thus under its protection, while out of public view. But in plain view on the streets of London after the “Gunpowder Plot,” and other anti-Catholic hysterias, one did not make a spectacle of Roman allegiance. That would be asking for it.

Shakespeare would take risk enough, when he was likely to get away with it. He allowed, for example, the publication of one of the strangest poems ever written. This was his “Phoenix and the Turtle,” contributed to an anthology entitled Love’s Martyr, show-casing leading poets of the day. On its surface it was one of several light allegorical treatments of a harmless theme; but under this surface it was not harmless.

This “first metaphysical poem in the English language” is an unearthly funeral lament. It seizes upon a reversal of convention agreed by all the authors: the phoenix is presented as female, the turtledove as male. The brief, mysterious narrative, and then the threnos (“wailing”) at its tail, are profoundly moving, yet incomprehensible as they stand. That is, until we have this clue: that it is a requiem for (Saint) Anne Line, hanged from the Tyburn gallows for having sheltered Catholic priests, along with two priests also hanged and then drawn and quartered. (Anne’s husband, Roger Line, who predeceased her, comes into it as well.) Suddenly the “love” that is being “martyred” is likewise reversed: a Love not conventional but mystical, the martyrdom not a conceit, but real.

Read now Sonnet 74, for another reflection of the same event (from February 1601), and note wordplay that includes a nervy pun on Anne’s surname.

Now, this is the sort of material Thomas Thorpe insinuated into The Sonnets, and passed off as high society perfume. He had a history of collecting and publishing works behind poets’ backs, sometimes callously exposing them to trouble, while himself wiggling smartly out of the line of fire.

This he does in the inscrutable dedication he attached to the collection. He made it seem that he was loyally serving interests above his station, when he was not. He wrote similarly elegant, self-serving prefaces to other works, too, stepping himself aside, as tabloid editors do today: pretending to serve some public interest when they are in it for the dime. This most famous dedication in English was his cutest pose. And the final joke is that it contains what he may pass off as a bad typo (“W.H.” for “W.S.”) — a little twist that has sent generations of college professors down bottomless rabbit holes searching for an “onlie begetter” who is, in reality, onlie Shakespeare himself. Given what we know of Thorpe, the typo had to be intentional, intended for some additional private mischief we will never be able to trace.

Ask the women

President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation to create “Mother’s Day” in 1914, assigned to the second Sunday in May so it would not impinge upon commercial and bank schedules. The lady who had tirelessly campaigned for this sentimental, secular observance (Anna Jarvis, 1864–1948) then turned against it, as it became a boon for big business, starting with the Hallmark Card company. Instead of pausing to respect, they had found a new economic use for mothers. Her earlier efforts had a momentum that carried virally along, however, and International Mother’s Day spread to Canada, Mexico, Japan, everywhere, while she campaigned against it with ever-growing bitterness — finally dying in a lunatic asylum at West Chester, Pennsylvania.

When the U.S. Congress had been presented with the idea earlier (the first try was 1908), tasteless little jokes were made, such as a proposal for a matching “Mother-in-law’s Day.” I myself once proposed that the confusion with the socialist International Women’s Day could be clarified by observing both occasions — an International Biological Mother’s Day in May, preceded by an International Crazy Women’s Day in March that would specifically celebrate childless female social activists and harpies.

Alas, I lacked that “fire in the belly” which spreads so readily to the mind, and my proposal was stillborn. As any businessman will tell you, ideas are a dime a dozen, but the dedication to pursue an especially stupid one through every waking hour of a lifetime has some chance of being rewarded. Politicians might tell you this, too, but cannot afford to be so candid.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to motherhood, in principle, and in practice was quite fond of my own mother, and am capable of becoming sentimental on the topic. But as a Catholic, I am sceptical of all secular attempts to displace received liturgical traditions with post-humanist poppycock.

Your own mother is not a State Occasion.

We have motherhood well-covered in the cult of Mary, both abstractly and concretely; and crazy women, too, among our greatest saints — but turned redemptively to Heaven. Mothering is viewed within a supernatural order, in relation to the Father and the Son — and the Holy Spirit who abides in the fullness of human life. That is to say, the Church looks above the motherhood of nature, shared also by hedgehogs and raccoons. Her acknowledgement of motherhood, mystical and real, is set in every bead of the Rosary, and carried by such means back into everyday life.

There is however one class of human mothers who have been neglected by most Catholics in our time, with terrible consequences expressed as a “crisis of vocations.” The sterile Novus Ordo, or Banjo Church, glides lightly over the Marian occasions, accepts secularized conceptions of motherhood, and lacks instinctive reverence for the mothers of priests. The result is what we should have expected: churches closing, yet not enough priests to go round the ones we’re trying to keep open.

And those getting rather old now, less able to keep up with multiple parishes, with their own shrunken, aging congregations. (I read about this all the time.) And the mothers who produced those priests are long gone. And in their place, “the bare ruin’d quiers where late the sweet birds sang,” and the sands of time swirling, and “sun-set fadeth in the West, which by and by blacke night doth take away,” and the death wind howls: “the spirit of Vatican II.”

Who can withstand it?

Those not fully Catholic should think carefully through this, to understand how great that reverence, which filled those churches through the centuries, and provided them with priests enough to fill the monasteries, too. And on what it was founded. For next to God, a reverence for this woman: for Mary our first Mother, who brought forth Jesus, our Priest of priests: the very Incarnation. It is not a glide; it is the “fundament” part of fundamental.

Other reasons are often given for the “crisis,” but they are shallow, throwaway. They come from a culture that does not, incidentally, have much respect for mothers; which has demoted them in law to the status of legal guardians, on the State’s conditions; and having thus kicked motherhood in the shins, provides “Mothers Day” (pluralized, no longer possessive) as a vaguely feminist kiss on the forehead.

As Pius X explained, “A vocation comes from the heart of God, passing through the heart of a mother.” This is a very cogent explanation.

If becoming a Catholic priest is the last thing on earth a mother wants for her son, it is the unlikeliest thing she will get.

For it is not to the young men that we should make our first appeal, when we notice an abject priest shortage; rather to the mothers. They are the ones who produce our priests; they don’t make themselves. Heaven answers those who ask, and when mothers pray to beget and to raise priests for Holy Church, they and all Creation will get them.

There is a shortage of priests in the “New Church” because there is a shortage of Catholic mothers. (An acute shortage.)

But this, of course, is a “traditionalist” position, and circular in a sense. For there is no crisis of vocations in the traditionalist, Vetus Ordo congregations.