Essays in Idleness


On wrath

Here is another piece I’ve brought forward from a couple of years ago, thinking perhaps it might still be worth reading. Or perhaps not. Other items around it now strike me as too trite, or too timely; merrily I blitz them as I go along. Alas this deprives gentle reader of that pleasure. As Doctor Johnson said, “A man who writes a book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.” … Quite frankly, I love the way they placed commas in those days.


It is true that parents have an influence on their children; we cannot know how much. It is also true that children are “born that way.” Among the sane, nature and nurture are both acknowledged, each working upon the other, and Grace upon both. The list of “rules” to be followed in raising a child is both short and vague. This is because each child is a person, and not one of them a machine, and even the amount of attention he needs varies from one to another. Love being the Great Teacher, what is taught through love may have some good effect. But love is more than forbearance.

Look at these creatures. Humans are much different from cats (and other animals, such as painted turtles), and yet I found, from my own childhood, that a cat could demonstrate the nature of nature. I so-to-say “owned” more than one from a kitten, and noticed that each came endowed with a personality, an intelligence level, a unique constellation of feline dispositions. And while a cat cannot be a dog, nor a tomcat drop kittens, every cat will display some range. In these respects, cats are much like people.

I regret to say that through complex oversights, I was provided with only two children to experiment upon; both boys. For scientific purposes, I needed dozens more. But even in this limited field I immediately detected the kitten phenomenon. The same with other people’s children, known since very young: “They come that way,” and unless one is tutoring not lecturing one will miss their particular requirements.

Unfortunately, our modern idea of education is all lecturing. We put them in a class; one size fits all. As anyone can see from the products of this system, they do not learn from it. In particular, the notion that education centres on the development of character, from that which is uniquely endowed, is lost on our pedagogic authorities; and from what I can see around the Greater Parkdale Area, on parents as well. For given what human beings are, there are moral implications in every form of learning, and this does not cease when “why” is replaced across the board with “how to.”

Wrath is my subject of the moment. It is always topical, though in the moment more topical to me than in most. To call it a Deadly Sin is a beginning, but it helps to understand of what the sin might consist. It cannot be a judgement on mere temperament, or cats would be capable of sin.

My father and I were born with unholy tempers, my elder son and my paternal grandfather apparently without. Wrath is a sin to which some seem untempted, any more than gluttony can tempt the anorexic. They can be vexed; I should think anyone can be vexed. But the emotional response is not always apparent. I knew a man of seemingly saintly disposition, who did not rise to any goad; who reacted to escalating taunts by turning away and becoming reflective; who endured an unendurable woman without complaint for many years; who did not flinch from acute physical pain, nor yell when anyone would yell, but spoke of fate philosophically, and counselled others simply to endure. We were all surprised the day he killed himself.

The animals I have known (apart from the humans) have more or less of temper; they express it quite spontaneously. I have fed the most serene sparrows, and watched others rave for their morsel of crumb. With humans one can seldom be sure what one is dealing with. In certain traditional Asian cultures, anger is suppressed, and insult is greeted with smiles, and then with giggling. I have watched ignorant Westerners miss these cues, even when warned. We think they fail to take us seriously, and become angrier, pushing our luck. The giggling expresses nervous anxiety; the preceding smiles were meant to assuage. But the capacity for anger is certainly there, and when finally it is unleashed, you are a dead man.

William Blake wrote, “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” Granted, he presented this as a Proverb of Hell, but with arcane Swedenborgian approval. The man of power I most fear is the one who seems to possess no temper. He may prove a monster of self-will, and brooding malice. The anger will never be shouted in words, yet may be subtly broadcast in a gesture. It will be absorbed, and stored, in his silent battery. But in the moment he “gets even,” you will learn the truth. And he will never forgive you thereafter, now that you have come to know him. Never work for psychopaths; and stop electing them to high office.

My father, who was honest, could explode like a volcano; but had forgiven and forgotten within a few hours. Unfortunately the recipient of his blast might take longer. It is hard to be wise with anger.

It makes you blind, hence the expression, “blind anger.” My schooling in this was from people actually blind, long a topic of fascination. When a person who is blind becomes angry, he loses the capacity to sense his environment, and starts colliding with things he would normally have avoided. I recommend the autobiography of the French Resistance hero, Jacques Lusseyran (1924–71), blinded in a childhood accident: And Then There Was Light (the translation last re-issued in 1998). It gives a superb account of the material and spiritual universe of blindness; to which add his collection of essays, Against the Pollution of the I. For the blind have so much to teach the sighted.

Among those physically sighted, as I have found to my cost, anger likewise blinds one to fact. The enemy is demonized, his virtues are disregarded. Reckless assertions will be made, about his acts and motives. To bear false witness is among the most grievous crimes, yet in the state of wrath, one bears it lightly. Even when the assertions are true, they will be unbalanced. Great generals in the field have known since the time of Sun Tzu, or long before, that they may make their opponents blunder, from rage. And clever politicians have mastered the art of infuriating their rivals. Anger can make us do the enemy’s bidding; hence the bottomless wisdom in Christ’s “resist ye not evil.” Run clear of it, by foot or in mind.

The Catholics have a saying which at first seems Pollyanna: “Offer it up.” There is actually profound sense in this: to offer the laundry up, to be washed by the angels. A wise priest of my acquaintance recommends carrying the handwritten text of some appropriate prayer, to repeat in emergencies. You may need this script; anger could make you forget the words. And the sooner you turn to it, the less sanity you stand to lose.

In Proverbs (the proper Old Testament collection) we read: “A soft word turneth away anger.” It is remarkable how many impending explosions may be obviated by this simple device, available free in any quantity from our Maker. (It is what the Asiatic intended by his smile.) An apology could serve this purpose well — if you wait until the barbs have been extracted.

Yet if there were no anger there would be no justice, so anger must have a place. The desire for vengeance impinges upon a divine prerogative; but the withholding of punishment may actually be a sin against charity. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” is a prescription for mildness and proportion, lost on us today. Our cult of cowardly “niceness” has largely undermined or supplanted the older societal view of crime and blackguardly behaviour: that it had to be dealt with, that it couldn’t be habitually ignored, without terrible consequences. It is like pacifism: one half of a moral instruction, and that the feebler. Weighing requires a scale, and thus the chastity of the balance, held away from the bodily passions. The trial begins with oneself: “To what degree is my anger just? To what degree my own projection?”

For anger illuminates a dark landscape. In a flash it can show us what is lurking there. Or perhaps what is not lurking.

“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” I once inscribed this additional Blake proverb into the ceiling beam of an English cottage — neatly, with serifs, after pencilling it for word and letter-spacing. For it seems to me there is wisdom in the storm, if the yachtsman will set his sails for its genius. It may require reefing, or even bare poles. But up to the gale it will carry him forward; and were there no wind, there’d be no getting home.

Sinite illam

’Twere nothing else, the Mass knits daily the Old and New Testaments into a seamless garment; and in doing that, does more. In its “extraordinary” form (i.e. free of the Bugnini desecrations, designed to reduce the poetic to the prosaic), the creative tension between Epistle and Gospel provides, consistently, each and every day, material for contemplation on the high analogy of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We may, in preparation before the Mass, or in our walk home after, ask ourselves: 1. What is the Epistle saying? 2. What is the Gospel saying? 3. What are the two saying together? Today for instance, there is a theme of Acceptance. Isaiah gives a foreview of the scourging and humiliation of the Messiah; then Saint John shows us a dinner scene in Bethany, six days before the Pasch. In this, the Christian significance of the Pasch is unfolded; it is rehearsed. Within this scene is another scourging, of Jesus, by Judas Iscariot, which pertains to the Church in all ages. In this (much-revised) fragment of an Idlepost I have brought forward from two years ago, I try to explain something too easily lost on those who count in silver coins.


We are shown today two ways of receiving Jesus, at Bethany, in the household of Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus, whom Christ had raised from the dead. The commonplace today is that the sisters represent respectively a more mystical way, in Mary, and a more practical way, in Martha. I have been told many times by modern Christian women, “I am more like Martha.” Nearly always I detect a certain unintended self-satisfaction, a kind of advertisement for humility, as if the lady were shopping, and choosing the less expensive dress. Or if you will, the simpler New Mass, over the extravagant Old Mass, because the former is more suitable for “humble people,” with their busy lives. Not by word, but by insinuation, Mary is criticized again.

Let us take for granted that both ways are valid. We have been assured that they are. But are they “equal”? … According to Jesus, No.

Martha, it will be recalled, was actually whining to Jesus about the behaviour of her sister, Mary. For while Martha has been running about, tidying the house, prepping the food for dinner, Mary has been dawdling. She is as it were an idler: for there is housework to do, and there is Mary, sitting at Christ’s feet, just listening to him, or drinking him in. But it gets worse. Mary has now taken the extremely costly oil of spikenard — one full pint of it, no doubt the family supply “for ever” — and poured it over Jesus’ feet. And to top this, she has wiped Those Feet with her own long hair, so that the scent of this oil has filled the house, and might well be filling the neighbourhood. Is this, or is this not, a “reasonable” thing to do?

We know this spikenard from the Song of Songs. Through all time, however mysteriously, however beyond human understanding, this act has been expected. And now, in the fullness of time, it has been performed.

In the Gospel today, we have the testimony of Judas Iscariot that the pint of spikenard Mary poured over Jesus’ feet was worth a year’s wages for a working man. (The denarius, anciently translated as a “penny,” was the basic silver coin: the standard daily workman’s wage. Judas, no slouch in accounting, estimated the price at 300 denarii, which is to say, ten times the amount for which he was prepared to sell Jesus out.)

Why, Judas asks, was this extravagant perfume not sold? Why, when it could have been used to raise so much money for the poor?

It is a question all progressives ask, when they look upon the extravagance of traditional Christian rituals, the architecture of the cathedrals, and the real estate they are sitting on. The question has often been asked with great sanctimony, on behalf of “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” As the passage in John makes abundantly clear, it is the remark of a fraud, a Judas.

And Christ, already knowing this much — it is the very week in which He will be betrayed — replies patiently to it.

Sinite illam, He begins, in defence of Mary. It means, “Let her alone.”  Let her alone: “that she may keep it against the day of My burial. For the poor you have always with you; but Me you have not always.” In the approach to the Passover, He has conveyed that Mary is anointing His body; as, too, today, the Church anoints.

Saint John, the Evangelist whose account of the Life of Jesus is most vivid and immediate — “the disciple whom Christ loved”; who like Horatio in Hamlet seems always to be there, witnessing, even when we have forgotten he is still on stage, listening to what we have mistaken for soliloquies — spells it all out so that we will not be mistaken. He lets us know that Judas was the accountant among the Apostles, the keeper of the money bag; and that he was corrupt. He was, like our modern nanny state, the one who would be distributing those alms. After taking his cut.

How obscene that the Church has all this wealth, when there are poor that go hungry! How irrelevant the old Latin Mass, when “the people” do not understand Latin!

Judas is “a man of the people.” He is the master of plausibility; the man who keeps his eye on the till; the guy who gets the paperwork done; the commissar of the counting house; our modern hero.

Christ is not plausible. For that matter, the Resurrection from the Dead is not plausible — not to us, and not to the ancient world, either. Resurrection from the Dead has never been plausible, in any culture. Creatures once dead have always stayed that way, and not only for the more sophisticated observers. The most primitive hunter knows that what is dead, stays dead. It does not rise in the very flesh. Ghosts, maybe, but not in the flesh. Verily, that is why he kills it: to make that creature stay dead.

There is more in this account. I think of our modern social arrangements. The rich will be taxed to help the poor; it is all so plausible. I think of this as Judas, distributing the alms, after taking some for his own share; as Judas Iscariot writ large. I think of him as chancellor, president, fundraiser, bishop; the man with the golden tongue. He’s the politician. I’ve watched his election campaigns; watched him corralling the lower-income constituency; heard all about his bleeding-heart compassion. The poor are more numerous than the rich: there’s compassion for you. And the rich have accountants: there’s your hope and spare change. I’ve seen all the ads for St Judas Iscariot, and watched him perform at his prayer breakfasts, too.

Why not sell the spikenard? Why not give the money to the poor? It would be the plausible thing, after all; Judas is the expert on income redistribution. Sell it, and write a cheque, and have done with it. Then we can sleep at night, knowing that we are good people, who have paid our taxes. The poor will all be fed. Judas is taking care of it.

And the poor will go under the bus, with Jesus.

Saint John provides the almost tedious detail: “Now Judas said this not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein.”

But of course the Church is “for the poor.” And let me add that the poor do not feel honoured when they are served in earthenware chalices, and from straw baskets, while the rich get silver. Instead, they see the hypocrisy; they feel the condescension. God should have beautiful things, and they, who are poor, may share in them. Every beautiful thing in the Church belongs equally to the poor. For many, it is the only wealth they have: unspeakably precious. For everyone else “speaks truth to power.” But Christ speaks to them.

As Dostoyevsky wrote, beauty is evangelical. It is a line that comes from the mouth of “the Idiot,” the epileptic Prince Myshkin: “Beauty will save the world!” And from the context we see that by the beautiful, Myshkin means Christ. (Pope Benedict once expounded this, wonderfully, and from the same Dostoyevsky: that Christ is beauty, that beauty is Christ.)

And as Christ said, what Mary of Bethany has done for Him, is beautiful.

“Something beautiful for God,” as another woman said, at another time, and in another place: Calcutta. She was another whose priorities were also challenged, by the Judases of our day. (Why did she prioritize Love over “modern medicine”? How could she think painkillers actually less urgent for the dying, than the action of Our Lady’s “I am here”?)

It is all there in the Mass today — that and more, in the creative tension between Isaiah and Saint John: the beauty in Christ’s coming down, and in the anointing, and in His rising again; the Glory in the First, and in the Last, manifest in the Now.

Gates of Jerusalem

The item below is fetched up from the files, from earlier in this century. Lost in time, I have exhumed it so that it may be lost in time again. I can never help making a few changes, at least a word here or there when it strikes me that another would be more apt; or a fact that has become superannuated; or I insert lines, even whole paragraphs, to bridge what now seems too far a leap. And sometimes I delete things. You know me: always fussing, fussing; never getting to the point. Through Holy Week I intend to do more of the same: to continue posting daily as by vow, but escape most of the work so I can keep my mind fixed elsewhere. Let’s hope I don’t get sued for plagiarizing myself. God bless all surviving readers, and the others, too; keep them through this week in which the Christian teaching, in Gospel and in Liturgy, comes to its bloody point.


Christians celebrate today Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem — through Saint Stephen’s Gate, it must have been, riding on an ass. He was coming on the road from Jericho — through Bethpage, through Bethany — over the Mount of Olives, and down the Kidron side, then up the path towards the east wall of the city, from what I can make out.

Saint Stephen’s Gate (a.k.a. the Sheep Gate, the Lion Gate) is not now, nor was likely then, the grandest entry into Jerusalem. Saladin came through that way, in 1187, but only after his soldiers had considerably widened the opening. The Crusaders who took Jerusalem in the summer of 1099, tried the Zion Gate first, on the south side of the city, but finally used siege engines to break through the walls all over. General Allenby famously rode in to the Jaffa Gate on the west side, when claiming the city for the British in 1917. (We have photos: he dismounted at the gate and then walked in, out of respect to the city of his Saviour.) In 637, I believe Patriarch Sophronios would have gone to the Damascus Gate, on the north side, to surrender Jerusalem to Caliph Omar.

There have been quite a few other conquests of Jerusalem, triumphant entries into the city, and ignominious exits, over the last several millennia — I don’t know through which gates. We make much, and the Muslims make more, of that 1099 incident, when the conquest was followed by horrific slaughter; but only the year before, the Fatimids had taken Jerusalem from the Seljuks, in a non-prissy way. The Seljuks had previously taken it from the Fatimids in 1076, and so forth.

To the inhabitants of Jerusalem, these pink-skinned “Franks,” or Crusaders from the farthest ends of Europe, were a novelty. They must have seemed like visitors from Mars. It could be said, almost truthfully, that when you’ve seen one Musulman dynastic battle, you’ve seen them all. But to be fair to Islamic civilization in that era, the Crusaders proved somewhat rougher than even they were used to. The taking of Jerusalem in 1099 should indeed leave Christians feeling sick to our stomachs.

As the late American historian, Robert S. Lopez, described the conquerors at their earlier appearance in Sicily: “Actually the Normans were much like the ideal of the sagas and the chansons de geste — they were adventurous, fearless, unruly, insatiable, exceedingly gallant to willing and unwilling ladies of any social class, indiscriminately hard on unwarlike peasants and bourgeois, … and frequently very devoted to Christ, if not to his commandments.”

And the people at Saint Stephen’s Gate, meeting Christ on His entry into Jerusalem, and throwing palm fronds before Him, olive branches, and the odd cloak, perhaps anticipated the Normans in this last respect. They were for Christ. They were not necessarily like him.

Which is not to present Christ as the gliberals paint him today — as some kind of fairy pacifist preaching tolerance and multiculturalism. He was the one who said, in the Gospel of Matthew, “I bring not peace but a sword,” and that he would “set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.” In Saint Luke: “Do you think I come to bring Peace on Earth? I tell you, No.”

Upon passing through Saint Stephen’s Gate, he turned left and into the Temple — to do what? He pushed over the tables of the money changers, made a whip to scourge the sellers of sacrificial cattle and sheep, told the dove-sellers to (euphemism) “leave.”

This is the Christ that Western man is trying to delete from his collective memory: the Christ who could be confrontational. The Christ who was not, incidentally, making some effete protest against the commercialization of religion. Rather, the one who, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Amos before Him, was denouncing the cult of animal sacrifice — the reduction of religion to cheap acts of propitiation; the violence done to the majesty of God. And the remark He makes about the “den of robbers” is quoted from Jeremiah, who had stood at the same spot, making the same point, some centuries before.

The palm of Palm Sunday is the old pagan emblem of victory, but the victory prefigured is not a worldly conquest — for Christ arrived at the head of no army. Rather, the victory that Christ will win is over Death, and it is from the Cross that He will conquer.

I find something strangely comic in the narrative of Palm Sunday. Not comic, outwardly, to laugh; but inwardly, sublimely comic — to think of the Creator of the Universe entering Jerusalem in the manner of Don Quixote. Or comic, if you will, in the sense of a “Divine Comedy.”

My little sermon today has been about religion and worldly power. They are two different things. They cannot understand one another. They start from different premisses, and seek for different ends.


I am very much in need of a short post. For lately, I go on blathering two thousand words a day, and this is no good sign; especially with Holy Week upon us. But you see, gentle reader, there is so much more to say. It is a problem I have, known as graphomania: each intended squib starts turning into a book. My greetings to anyone still bearing with me.

So let me take today a simple question from a reader, and answer it, simply.

The one I have selected is from a man named Brett, who shares my delight in the memory of the great Canadian thinker, George Grant. After a formidable proem, he asks:

“From a Catholic perspective, can we see in Catholicism, not only the possibility for the salvation of individual souls, but the salvation of Canada as an ideal — even if it means planting it in different soil than its original dreamers had the vision for?”

I reply:

That I do not know how a Catholic order could be implemented in Canada today, without tanks. But if gentle reader has some tanks, I am willing to try.

Would it solve our problems? I don’t think so. That would require genuine personal conversion on the part of a plurality of Canadian souls, which unfortunately cannot be achieved at gunpoint. And even then, all the background problems of sinfulness would remain; together with the usual material ones.

The best we can do is posit the thing, reminding that the original Canada — the actual one, not the fake — was founded on unambiguously Catholic principles by Champlain. As you say, the original conditions are long gone.

And the best way to posit this “restoration” is, I think: candidly and directly. That is, to oppose the prevailing secular religion not only in the main, but in every jot tittle and inference of the thing — to make clear that it is evil and ugly and false, and that the alternative is good and beautiful and true. Like Saint Paul, we should be constantly on the offensive.

Of course, this will get us punished, but hey.

In particular: plans never work. That is part of our religion. Only Christ can save us; Christ the King, dead and Resurrected. (Le roi est mort, vive le roi!)

As a man of the thirteenth century I would observe, that the Middle Ages weren’t planned. They just happened — more and more as the little European peninsula became more Christian.

What more is there to say?

Saint Jean de Brébeuf, pray for us.

Saint John Baptist, pray for us.

O modest and shadowy Saint Joseph, patron of Canada, pray for us!

Litera scripta manet

“The humblest and meanest among Christians may defend the Faith against the whole Church, if the need arise. He has as much stake in it and as much right to it, as Bishop or Archbishop, and has nothing to limit him in his protest, but his intellectual capacity for making it.”

John Henry Newman wrote that as an Anglican, and on first sight it will be taken as a Victorian Protestant Yell. But consult the actual essay (the 10th in his Via Media collection) and one immediately discovers it is the opposite. Newman is instead responding to the Yell: replying to the man who “considers it a hardship to have anything clearly and distinctly told him in elucidation of Scripture doctrine, an infringement on his right of doubting, and mistaking, and labouring in vain.”

He is affirming that anyone (layman, woman, child, anyone) has in fact the right to uphold the Faith against all comers — a right subtly different from the violent enforcement of one’s right to keep oneself in a state of abject ignorance. He is at the time (it was actually just before the accession of Queen Victoria) under the impression that he is himself maintaining the “Catholic” inheritance of the Church of England, partly against “Roman” innovations.

Paradoxically, as we learn from consulting the history, his “protestation” was poorly received by his fellow Protestants in the day. The Tractarian movement of which he was a leading light — a movement to restore the catholicity of the English church — was itself resisted by those who, perhaps correctly, smelled the Roman incense creeping back into their long-ventilated chapels. The Tractarians were suspected of sneering at the proper authorities, and they were indeed suggesting that the Church was something more than an agency of Crown-in-Parliament; that it were subject to a throne mounted even higher than the Queen’s. That is to say, there was something treasonable about them.

Treason has ever been the darkest English crime. Look at their (our English-speaking) history and one may understand why obedience to duly constituted authority would be set at such a premium. We no longer have Tudors on the throne, but we do have an intellectual and spiritual continuity, which I discover each time I put the scare quotes around the word “democracy.” For while the monarchs no longer have the Divine Right of Kings, it has not disappeared. It has merely been transformed into the Divine Right of the People, expressed through the clowns whom they elect.

But ah to be in England, or to have been, to recall the full, secular unction. I feel something like a nostalgia for it, as I now smell its evaporation into the gas of post-modernism, and the gas chambers of “political correctness.” It is the same old same old, but now the Satanism is overt, and everywhere.

Er, I am getting ahead of myself.

As I wrote, Newman’s lectures were popular in some quarters of Oxford  — anciently England’s most reactionary town, as always her most learned — but increasingly unpopular among the sanctimonious of Anglican church and state. By the time he “poped” there could be not much surprise, just the usual understated horror. Three centuries of unrelenting propaganda had fixed simple equations in the English mind: that the Roman Church were the Whore of Babylon, and every Pope the Antichrist.

I mentioned before somewhere, possibly in this space, the curious history of the Flat Earth. The idea that Columbus would sail over the edge was a fiction, made up from whole cloth — by the popular American writer, Washington Irving, with something like Henry Ford’s appreciation of history. No one in the Middle Ages thought our planet anything but round, and the idea that it could be flat had not yet dawned (at least, on anyone we know) until Irving’s time. Then Darwin came along, and in the controversy over Evolution his defenders — perhaps innocently, and perhaps not — hit upon the ad hominem device of comparing Darwin’s opponents to Flat Earthers. (Their tactics today have not evolved: they still argue with straw men, exclusively.)

From sheer cussedness, some Biblical Fundamentalists (mostly in outback USA, but some in outback England) responded by buying in. They proclaimed that the world is indeed Flat, to spite the pointy-heads. Their flat-earth heritage thus dates back only to the middle of the nineteenth century. And while I’ve never myself taken to the “theory” that the world is flat, I have to admit that, compared with Darwinism, it has some merit.

Here we see again the working of what I call the “Iron Law of Paradox.” One of its corollaries is that people thoughtlessly embrace the most wanton accusations of their worst enemies. In this case, I’m dealing with Catholics in England, who thoughtlessly bought into the “Divine Right of Kings” but turned it around, embracing the “Divine Right of Popes” as their alternative.

The issue was further complicated in the High Victorian Age by propaganda against the dogma of Papal Infallibility, as defined by the First Vatican Council, under Pius IX. This dogma was misrepresented to mean that everything a Pope says is infallible — an idea only a little less intelligent than that of the Flat Earth. Properly understood, the dogma is not an empowerment of the Pope. It is a solemn limitation upon him. But that is not our topic for today.

Instead, to get to where I’m going, I should like to make an invidious comparison between the Irish and the English. The Irish, being Catholic (if we exempt the Orange ones), instinctively understood the dogma, which after all was implicit from the time that Christ elected Peter. The English, including alas many English Catholics, instinctively did not understand it. Instead, their instinct was to mock it, in the case of the Protestants; or, in the case of the Catholics, to support it, even in the terms by which it had been misrepresented. In their mirror world, the simpler of them now averred that verily, the Pope could do no wrong.

I say “English,” but this applies equally to Canada, USA, Australia, and so forth: wherever English-speaking Catholics have lived as a small and beleaguered minority, on islands in a Protestant sea. It is understandable that they may develop insular qualities, detached as they are from the spirit of universalism that may prevail elsewhere, in locations where Catholics are not taken for strange and unaccountable beasts, but rather as something normal.

My love for the Irish can be ambiguous (I am of the Scotch genetic persuasion, don’t ye know) but in this case I am totally on their side. I’ve noticed that the Irishmen in my inbox pull no punches — as if the notion that their Pope could be above criticism had not yet occurred to them. True, this is anecdotal from a few emails, but more deeply I’ve long noticed, with my weather eye for a stereotype, that Irishmen have opinions on everything they care about, and have been showing this disposition for some centuries. (And Paddy makes a great soldier, too.)

One of the things they traditionally cared a great deal about was the Throne of Peter — so much that they looked sceptically upon all who sat upon it. Should the slightest crack of light appear between “a Catholic” and “a Papist,” they were (and some of them remain) Catholics first. This was the more because specific popes had, in certain historical moments, sold them out or let them down. Given what they had suffered for the Faith, they didn’t like this.

Well, like it or not, gentle reader, this is how I explain some of my other emails, too, including the choicest Anglo-Saxon ones from fine upstanding Catholic citizens who — after confiding that they agreed with pretty much everything I said about Pope Francis — upbraid me for daring to criticize him. It is not quite that the Pope can do no wrong; rather that we should never admit it publicly. Either go through contortions to show that what he meant was the opposite of what he said, or put a stopper in it.

I half-agree with them. I think the Queen should not be treated with casual disrespect, or excessive familiarity; nor should the Pope be; nor, for that matter, the Chief Rabbi, nor the Sheikh of al-Azhar. I try to be polite myself, even when I meet a bishop. I draw the line at common politicians. The other half of this is, however, incumbent upon Pope, Rabbi, Sheikh, and Queen. They must keep themselves above the fray. Should they descend into the realm of common politicians, I cannot answer for my pen.

Reverence for the office, deference to the person, but independence of judgement, too — I want to be Irish about this. And to be with Newman, too, both before and after his Roman conversion, who in his searching study of early Church history came to realize that there were patches when the laity upheld the orthodox teaching, while their clergy cut and ran (see his: Arians of the Fourth Century). Indeed, this has happened many times in many places, in the far distant past, and today.

It happened, too, at the beginning of modern England, when of all the dozens of bishops in the kingdom of Henry VIII, the unlikely Bishop of Rochester alone stood his ground — and this while tens of thousands (the exact number will always be disputed) went to their deaths in defence of the Old Religion. We revere the memory of John Fisher, Saint and Martyr. The rest of the bishops “had their reward,” stuffed themselves on Fat Harry’s patronage for a season, and then became wormfeed.

The matter is of course more complex, yet in outline I have come to see many English sources of modern totalitarianism, in the obsequity to bosses. By now, we almost carry it in our genes, reinforced by osmosis through the English-speaking world: an idea of “kingship” that is all-too-human, and expressed in many ways.

We see it for instance in our practice of capitalism: we have the figure of the “company man,” who has no thoughts or morals of his own, since he belongs body and soul to the CEO of the moment, bowing and scraping before him on all matters of “policy.” Similarly, in politics, the ritual gesture of cabinet ministers: “I am nothing and the President is everything.” (In the Westminster “democracies,” the Prime Minister is grovelled to in the same way.)

The company man lives or dies for the corporation: he’ll work late, work weekends, come in early, fly anywhere, then bounce back on a pogo stick to please The Boss. He will sacrifice his family for him; she will put her children on the pyre for her “career.” There are parallels now, I think, in every other culture, but the Anglo-Saxon version pioneered.

To an Italian, still, this is all insanity: one lives, if not for Christ, then for oneself. Of course there is a Boss, but bosses come and go: their chief duty is to pick up after us. An Italian (not just the ones in Italy, but spiritual Italians everywhere) does not even claim the right to an opinion: it is ingrained in the way he lives and breathes. Tell him not to speak and he speaks a little louder: you’ll need a gun to shut him up. Say something outrageous in his presence, and he’ll beg you to continue. He enjoys the entertainment.

It is because our current Pope acts like an Anglo-American CEO (albeit he is an Hispanic from Antarctica), that I have developed an Italian attitude towards him. It is true he is The Boss, but he is not a CEO; his job is to pick up after us. Not only does he dispense “mercy” as Pope Francis rightly says, he has to listen first to what we have done, before he can absolve us. Benedict and Saint John-Paul fully understood this: a Pope is under very strict orders, far stricter than we are. He is servus servorum Dei. He is, as Pope Saint Gregory declared (sometime before 600 AD), my servant — or more completely, the servant of the servants of Our Lord.

Eight minutes

A correspondent calls my attention to another anti-blog, which I will mention below. I won’t name the correspondent however, because he has a responsible position in the wings of Holy Church, and wouldn’t want his colleagues to know he reads it. I hope some of them are, conversely, concealing from him that they read it; for in the present state of moral and intellectual squalor, which has alas pipped the top of our earthly hierarchy, received Catholic doctrine — the very teaching of the Magisterium, through twenty centuries — must sometimes be communicated by samizdat.

During the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family, for example — according to widely available reports — Cardinal Baldiserri, the organization man, had more than one hundred copies of the book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, physically removed from the attending bishops’ mail boxes, and thrown out. The book included essays by five of the most distinguished living authorities on actual Catholic doctrine, touching marriage and communion. The authors, including Cardinals Burke and Brandmueller, identified particularly the heresies in Cardinal Kasper’s writings and utterances, which the pope had unfortunately promoted. It contained material of which all that synod’s participants (to say nothing of the pontiff himself) needed to be aware.

Quite apart from this, intercepting mail is a serious offence in all civilized jurisdictions, and always has been. Cardinal Baldiserri of course deserves a fair trial in an Italian criminal court. Perhaps he did not do what the many witnesses allege. But it is a scandal to the Church that he has not been prosecuted, and meanwhile, that he remains in office.

This is one incident. I am aware of several more, of a like nature, and of commission in Rome, “right under the pope’s nose” if you will. Gentle reader will be aware, too, if he follows the less sycophantic Vatican media. And as every “traditional” (i.e. non-heretical) Catholic must be aware, we have the continuing scandal of the pope himself, whose very job is to defend the Faith, handed down unaltered from our Founder. For he has been, I am genuinely sorry to observe, making reckless and divisive, frequently heretical, off-the-cuff remarks as he travels urbi et orbi; and publicly insulting, repeatedly, often in unnecessarily coarse language, the very people who at some real cost to themselves uphold Catholic teaching by word and example. He is spreading chaos throughout the Church, and thereby doing incalculable harm.

Were he instead some selfish, greedy, calculating, villainous, even murderous Medici, it would not be so bad. We have had some very bad popes, and easily survived them when, but only when, they did not play games with doctrine. The paradox is that a pope governed by the vanity of his “good intentions,” or a craving for popular adulation, can do far more damage.

Much else of what Pope Francis says is orthodox, it should be added, and some of it (ignored in the mass media) is arguably courageous. His more orthodox defenders balance the “sound bite” trash against remarks that are theologically sound (if not widely reported). I am surprised that a man of his age and career experience did not anticipate this “media selectivity”: especially as I’d gathered from Argentine sources that long before he became pope, he devoted assiduous attention to his media image. I keep no scorecard on this, however. My point is instead about the chaos. By mixing true and false together in an incomprehensible jumble, he is doing graver injury than if he were consistently denying the faith, and could therefore be clearly marked and deposed as an anti-pope, to everyone’s edification.

I don’t care whether he has “good intentions,” or whether his much-strutted “humility” is real or affected. I have opinions on this, but they are beside the point. The point is that, from the height of his office down to every parish around the globe, he is giving encouragement to the worst tendencies in the clergy and laity, and discouragement to the best.

But of course, among those both within and without the Church, who despise most if not all of the Catholic teaching, and consider it “oppressive” and “out of date,” he is “a breath of fresh air.” And there could be worse: which is why I fear the next conclave, after the present pope has stacked it.

This popularity is worthless. More generally, it does not matter how popular the pope is, or how popular the Church herself; it matters only that she is true to Jesus Christ. If she is, those who love Christ will find her. She is not a people’s republic, she is a divine Monarchy and ¡Viva Cristo Rey!

In times like ours, the Church ought to be unpopular. We are, after all, preaching a religion that stands in open contradiction to that which is taught in the septic tank of our public square. Praise from the Devil was never our aim. Too, I should affirm that, in the fullness of time, God will draw good from our evils; and that, in a view transcending time, Christ has already done so.

I am not God, however, and from my human view, we have a catastrophe. Moreover, I think that the duty of a Catholic is to adhere to all truth, and as it were, tell it like it is. My loyalty is to the papacy: to the institution but also, personally, not only to Francis but to the two hundred and sixty-five popes who preceded him. Our loyalty cannot bobble from pope to pope, like a dashboard decoration. Our obedience to command is required; but it is not to be toyed with. And mistakes are to be corrected, no matter who makes them. Privately, or when necessary publicly, I doubt very much that even one of those popes, his reign however short, was not corrected on some point, large or small; and usually, by something fiercer than his own press office. For popes are human, and can be forgetful, and need reminding from time to time.

A lot of reminding, in some cases. For now, all the consequential mistakes made in the nadir of the ’sixties and ’seventies are being revived and renewed and rebuilt upon, after all the painful work that was done by two magnificent popes to stop the rot. We will not ourselves contribute to the recovery — that must eventually come — unless we recognize the truth of our situation.

This means recognizing the good as well as the bad, and seeing the promise where it can be seen: mostly in Africa and Asia, where the Church is not only rapidly expanding, but consolidating in her fidelity to what Christ taught. In a longer historical view, this should prove more significant than the filth and error into which we have fallen in Western Europe and the Americas. Yet even here, miracles are happening, and from what I can see, various obscure “traditionalist” enclaves have become factories of vocations. A time may well come, sooner than anyone could foresee, when the Old Mass is fully restored, the old order with it, and the desecration of the “spirit of Vatican II” is not merely disowned, but forgotten. In supplication: Godspeed, I pray.

For it also means using the pain as penance, and carrying the burden of it upon ourselves, in prayer and positive intention. As Catholics we must pray for the pope, and not against him. Some well-informed Vatican observers (Sandro Magister I especially commend) see evidence that Francis himself may be learning from his mistakes, and changing his behaviour. God bless him if he is. How glorious it would be if the pope himself could provide a towering example of true humility: by reversing out of the course he has set as captain, towards the shoals. We do not take pleasure in being ashamed of him. Or rather, some of us do, and by doing, they become a party to the mess.

“Hope springs eternal.” But mind that it is a Catholic and Christian Hope, in Heaven and not in this world. The issue here is not the future in time, but the cure of souls in all times: that is why the Church exists, and why the Deposit of Faith is unchanging. The size of the Church on Earth is irrelevant to her mission; her nominal membership may grow or shrink, and it is all just statistics. Her success is measured by a standard that is not of this world: by the salvation of souls. Heaven rejoices in the salvation of one soul, and cannot be very curious about numbers sported by the diocesan bureaucracies. This is spiritual combat, hand to hand, and who dares wins.


Ah yes, I was going to mention that controversial blogger. He calls himself “Mundabor,” and gentle reader may take it from there. The piece to which my attention was called, and which I rather enjoyed, was entitled, “Liberals: too wimpy for the firing squad.” That will in itself give warning of the tone. I will not comment on the issue Mundabor raises, pertaining to Utah, since he does such a good job of it himself.

I will instead, for my isolated example, refer to one of his passing remarks. It is about the German commercial aeroplane that crashed into the French Alps this week. The explanation for this is “evolving,” as they say, but a figure that caught every news-watcher’s attention was “eight minutes.” This is the time the aeroplane was said to have taken to go from its full cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, to impact with the side of a mountain. There was broad and reflexive comment that this was too horrible: that it would have been better had the plane, say, exploded from a bomb, and all its crew and passengers died “quickly.” (“Painless” doesn’t come into this: I should think hitting the side of a mountain at five hundred knots is quite painless.)

Mundabor, on the contrary, with his tenacious hold on actual Catholic teaching, thought the supposed long and winding descent a good thing. I would add that, twenty minutes would have been better. For you see, gentle reader, once they knew they were doomed, the passengers could use the time to their advantage. Being no longer able to depend on modern technology, they could turn their freed minds instead to God, and to re-orienting their souls to holiness, in light of their impending fate. For most, I would imagine eight minutes hardly enough to make a general, but perfectly sincere First Confession. (In the absence of a priest, God will hear it directly.) But it could count as a show of earnest.

This, indeed, is why hanging — or the firing squad, in Mundabor’s instance — can be so efficacious in the cure of souls; and why, through the centuries, the Catholic Church was admirably consistent in her advocacy of capital punishment for those convicted of deserving crimes. For various reasons, I am not much of an enthusiast for capital punishment, at the moment, but I do try to prefer the continuous teaching of Holy Church to my own passing whims, or those of fey editorialists in the soi-disant Catholic press. I further acknowledge the essential truth in Doctor Johnson’s dictum, that the prospect of a hanging helps wonderfully to concentrate the mind.

Courage, mon ami, as they say. (Not sure, currently, who “they” are; but the remark is not original to myself.) We must find the courage to contradict “secular post-humanism,” even and especially when it is slid on thick latherings of cheap sentimentality, and clinched with false emotional appeals. For like the pope’s, our job is not to play to the gallery. It is instead to evangelize, even proselytize — and usually today to fight, against the easy miserable lie, and in defence of the hard precious truth.


NOTE. As ever happens when one comments on “breaking news,” the facts change. Even while I was writing the above, world media were reporting that a French prosecutor has the new story: the plane was intentionally crashed by its co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, who locked the pilot out of the cockpit. Passengers may not have known their fate until the last moments, when they began screaming. (A very poor use of the available time.) Predictably, the politicians and media talking heads declare themselves unable to comprehend why Herr Lubitz would do such a thing. This implies that they never heard of a cold-blooded murder before — or had any other opportunity to descry the demonic in human affairs. Alternatively, they subscribe to a materialist philosophy that cannot explain evil except on the analogy of defective robots. Among the reasons I would recommend “traditional” Catholicism to the curious of all ages is that, by contrast, it can explain stuff like this.

The Annunciation

“The love which our Blessed Lady had for God was so great, that she suffered keenly through her desire for union with Him; hence the Eternal Father, to console her, sent her His only and beloved Son.”

The quote is from Saint Philip Neri, a little book of his maxims and counsels arranged for every day (published by the Toronto Oratory). It is in the nature of saints to look at things from unexpected angles; it is in God’s nature to act from every direction at once. Enter, however modestly, into the infinite mind of God, and one begins to discern what the world easily overlooks: in this case, Our Lady’s “private” spiritual condition, prior to the Annunciation.

According to the Canticle in Luke, “My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaid.”

Saint Philip has taken it from the top, as we say in show business. His maxim has in a moment of genius glimpsed Mary as God saw her, and as she saw herself. There was a congruence there, in her own youthful sanctity, this peasant Jewish girl from Galilee, who had all the makings of a Christian nun, and more. Under current worldly conditions, we forget that this is possible: that over the generations and centuries quite a number of women, as young as Mary or younger, have become utterly fixated upon the divine. The idea of “perpetual virginity” is so alien to the current fashion, that we are inclined to doubt it is possible. Except as a punishment.

I am struck by the contemporary response to the ancient Christian doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, as of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. We just can’t believe anyone was so “pure.” Which is a paradox: for in the same moment we think this we have undermined our notion that there is no such thing as purity. We have revealed that we know exactly what we are denying. This is the paradox of atheism. I’ve never met an atheist who did not know exactly which God did not exist, little as he knew Him.

To this modern mindset, which denies the very possibility of scandals, since a moral “judgement” would be required to define one, there must have been a scandal somewhere. The Church must be covering something up. So perverse have we become, that even Catholics who nominally uphold the Church teaching in this matter, and accept that Jesus was “born of a virgin” — or by parthenogenesis as it is called in fish biology — become exhausted after that. They just can’t believe Mary continued to be a virgin. Not in her circumstances.

Never having come to terms with original sin, we are in no position to imagine its absence. Mary was free of it; was herself conceived without any tincture of “original sin.” How strange. For as Chesterton put it, “The man who denies original sin believes in the Immaculate Conception of everybody.”

There is nothing quite like a genuine Catholic nun to fly in the face of everything our world currently believes, or thinks it does. Her vows are not those of a “normal” person; for most of us they are inconceivable. Her fidelity to those vows can only be attributed to some sort of brainwashing. And yet they keep coming forward, even today, voluntarily, to live the charitable and contemplative life of nuns; to serve Christ in obedience without hesitation.

Look around, gentle reader. What do you think it is in the world, as we find it today, that might brainwash a girl into keeping a vow of perpetual virginity?


“Why me?” is a question we often ask, or at least I do, when any of the world’s various tribulations are offered, including quite minor ones. “Now look here, Lord,” I have often thought, “I have enough crosses on my plate already. Why not give this one to X [name of some loved, but intensely disliked person]. His plate appears to be empty.”

The sinful mind is full of thoughts about fairness, and for good reason. God isn’t “fair”: not in any normal human sense of the term. He is what we call “biased.” For instance, He seems habitually to dump a lot more of the world’s least comfortable burdens on the best people. Too, He lets the wicked prosper. Hence that old mediaeval saw that Teresa of Avila repeated: “When I see how you treat your friends, my Lord, I understand why you have so few of them.”

In particular, God must necessarily be in defiance of every article of every human rights code, and every other piece of interventionist legislation from our dear Nanny State. All such were written, after all, to correct some obvious unfairness that somehow got by Him; or on closer inspection, that He actually authored. He made men different from women, gave brains different capacities, made skins different colours, and has what looks very much like an unhealthy obsession with the Jews. In the received progressive view, God might or might not exist. But if He does, He is a duffer, and we are put to constant trouble correcting His innumerable, awkward-squad mistakes.

God is, when you think of it, incredibly unfair, both in withholding and granting His favours. He lets some people get born with terrible disabilities, he lets others float by on native cunning, which is to say, a cunning with which they were born. For as everyone knows, people were not actually born equal: some with silver spoons, some with silver tongues.

On the other hand, it does not usually occur to us to thank God for some special favour, some personal advantage or other blessing — to ask, “Why me, O Lord?” in guileless puzzlement over our own good fortune. Why me, when some slum kid could have made better use of my natural ability — to pick locks, for instance? Or ace job interviews, or psych out applications for government arts funding? Rather, we take such things in our stride.

Nor does it frequently occur, even to practising Christians, that the talents might be endowed to some end or ends — perhaps even other than those to which we have applied them. That they might be used to serve Him, for instance, in some dimly discernible way. We look on them more as personal property, and on property itself as a human right. We have a “right to choose” what to do with anything that belongs to us, and that certainly includes our talents, or anything else attached to us from birth, or if you will, from conception. A baby, for instance, should some woman (why is it always a woman, eh?) suddenly find herself in possession of one. It is her baby, no? It is after all indisputably living inside her body. What right has anyone else to decide what she will do with it?

The Blessed Virgin had similarly a right to choose: in her case even before the fact of pregnancy. In theory, she could have said, “Why me, O Lord? Have You any idea what a mess this will make of my life?” From our contemporary view, this would be an extremely reasonable position. Perhaps it was only because of that Immaculate Conception — from her own birth free of original sin — that it seems not to have occurred to her to tell the angel to tell God, “No, thank you.” Except, she was human and it did occur: she told Gabriel plainly what the problem would be. And having stated it for the record, she then told him, “YES!” and became the New Eve.

Moreover, such was the faith of this peasant Jewish girl from Galilee (probably illiterate), she grasped immediately that she was deciding not only for herself, but on behalf of all creation, and all mankind for all time to come:

“All generations shall call me blesséd.”

Now, that was rather tough on all those who ever wished that Christ had never been born. You talk about unfair: any agnostic can see the whole thing was a set-up. For rather than taking a decision that would effect us all forever to, say, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, God picked some poor Palestinian girl — a religious nutjob without so much as a high school certificate. (His contempt for credentials has since been exhibited in various other ways. Frankly, I share it.)

On a point of fact, Mary’s prediction, conveyed through Luke’s Canticle, was on the money. Christians in every generation, and even Muslims by their book, have called her blesséd, as we know people were doing from the first generation after Mary’s Assumption into Heaven — from e.g. the graffiti discovered by the archaeologists mucking about in the grotto underneath the present-day Basilica of the Annunciation, at Nazareth. For the site was from the start “the shrine of Mary.”

Given the antiquity of the site, and temporal proximity to Jesus’ own generation, I would dare to speculate that the very home in which Mary was wife, and Joseph was husband, and Jesus was child, is extremely nearby. Indeed, faith tells me to look in the same place — just as faith told the scholarly Franciscan diggers to look for the house of Simon Peter right under the ruined foundation of the first Byzantine Basilica at Capernaum; or for other archaeologists to seek the tomb of the same down deep beneath the altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica at Rome.

For nothing gets results like faith and reason, when you plug one into the other. (Nor fails so quickly, when they become unplugged.)


Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est: “For He that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is His name.”

This is the mystery of the fiat of Heaven, the decree that we are strangely free to honour or ignore. In our sinfulness, we usually ignore it. But she who was without sin honoured it without hesitation, becoming in that moment the Mother of God. At the moment of His earthly conception, she, as his mother, set for the world His first example, of joyful obedience to the Father’s will.

We sinners find this hard to understand. We moderns are afraid to render the fiat as Mary did; are alarmed even to hear it, because God’s plan for our own future may not be congruent with our own plans. And it is true that we have the right to choose: the way of life or the way of death. And have been given some time to think about it. But while thinking, we should seriously consider:

That his mercy is from generation to generation: unto them that fear Him.

That He hath shown strength with His arm: that He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.

That He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.

That He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away.

That He hath received Israel His servant: being mindful of His mercy.

(As, indeed, He spake to our forefathers: Abraham and to his seed for ever.)

The honest tyrant

There has been a gap of thirty years or more in my punditry on Lee Kuan Yew. I may have mentioned him, somewhere, but I’ve been no longer in Asia, and therefore, observing his “Asian values” from a more forgetful distance. In that time my views have evolved, too: I take much less for granted. That he has died I am taking on faith, from various media sources. The story seems plausible, given the man’s age (ninety-one); but nothing written about him by journalists can be entirely trusted. This much I remember from decades ago.

It should be said that Lee was a larger historical figure than those now lionizing him have appreciated, or ever appreciated. He was inspiration and excuse for many other tyrants. I once called him, “the great doorsman,” showing them which doors to open and which doors to close, so they could allow “economic progress” to happen, without endangering their own clamp on power. I also called him, “the great tiger rider.”

He was for instance the true, if unintending author of the “economic miracle” in mainland China. It was, I believe, on his visit to Singapore, just before the ground-shifting Communist Party congress of 1978, that Deng Hsiao Ping saw a way forward for China. He already knew that capitalism gets material results, and that socialism does not. What he had not noticed, until that moment, was that the two are reasonably compatible. Lee’s authoritarian rule in Singapore had proved that it is possible for a country to get almost as rich as Hong Kong, without allowing anything like the casual civic freedom which the absent-minded British authorities in Hong Kong had always permitted.

The “Hong Kong model” wouldn’t work for Peking: not if you were a Communist and planning to retain totalitarian power. But the “Singapore model” was extremely promising. Lee had proved that a society could be micromanaged down to the chewing gum level (chewing gum dealers were fined and could be gaoled, gum “vandals” or litterers flogged on the bare buttocks with a wet rattan cane), and yet still be animated by greed. Deng had also realized that the money and technology to kick-start this enterprise could be supplied entirely by foreign investors. Indeed, the scheme would work even better in mainland China, given the potential size of her domestic market. The investors would keep coming, no matter how many had previously lost their shirts (or had their shirts impounded by Party officials). No matter how much abuse they received, they would still think, “We can’t afford not to be in China,” and go back for more punishment. (It is a little-recalled fact that most of the pioneering investors in China lost huge sums of money.)

Nor would Red China face moral qualms from modern Western businessmen, about the exploitation of slave labour through the prison-camp system, and the like. Big-league capitalists tend to be broad-minded about things like that. Perhaps Deng’s most Machiavellian observation was that the man who has risen to the top of a large Western corporation is very much like the man who has risen to a high Party station. He has no morals; his self-interest is pure. The two could understand each other. They could do business together. And only one slogan would need to be added to the Communist Party Manifesto: “It is glorious to get rich.”

Now, I have not been putting this in the most flattering way. Lee and Deng were both strangely honest men. They never really pretended to be serving some transcendent cause: God, for instance. They were just trying to make things work: we call this pragmatism. And they were sincere, I should also think, in wanting their people to eat instead of starve. Both were courageous, and both came to their views through trial and error, though from rather different backgrounds. As it is Lee who has just died, let me focus on him.


The canned obituaries, especially those in the more serious British media, will supply background I won’t bother with. Lee himself, who was a brilliant and extremely articulate man (in six languages: English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Tamil, Malay, and wartime Japanese), provided the context for them:

“The final verdict will not be in the obituaries. The final verdict will be when the PhD students dig out the archives, read my old papers, assess what my enemies have said, sift the evidence and seek the truth. I’m not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honourable purpose.”

Actually, the final verdict will be in Heaven, but let that pass. The “I” of Lee might also be qualified. Kwa Geok Choo was the invisible half of him. That is the name of his wife, whose background somewhat resembled Lee’s as a Cambridge-trained colonial labour lawyer. In my understanding, but also in his, he would have been nowhere without her. The two together made a secret cabinet, or diarchy. It is worth knowing that he personally attended to her through the long years of her mental and physical decline (she died in 2010); that this largely explained his final retirement from politics, when his own mind was still sharp. He said after her death that caring for her was the hardest job he ever did, and also the most rewarding. This was a ruthless man, but it does not follow that his intentions were evil.

It is also worth knowing that although an unconcealed atheist/agnostic through his many years of political power (both official and unofficial), in his later life Lee took up what he described as “Christian meditation.” He left it at that, and so will I.

He was always an honest tyrant, as he explained while repeatedly prosecuting the one lonely opposition member in the city-state’s legislature:

“If you are a troublemaker, it is our job to politically destroy you. Put it this way. As long as J.B. Jeyaretnam stands for what he stands for — a thoroughly destructive force — we will knock him. Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.”

This is very easy for a man to say, when he has a bristling security force behind him. But Lee also said such things much earlier in his career, even before he eliminated trial by jury, and other little heirlooms of British Imperialism. The formative political experience of his youth was the British surrender of Singapore to the Japanese, without a proper fight, in 1942. Later, with little Singapore left to her own devices (after she was expelled from the Malaysian union, to stop Chinese-Malay race riots in 1965), he wasn’t going to show weakness of any kind. A true pessimist, he astutely observed that his modest acreage was surrounded by a cold, cruel, and ideologically aggressive world. He might need more than allies.

Left to her own devices, and without the Prussianesque nanny state that Lee imposed, Singapore would also have become quite obscenely rich. Her founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, had correctly selected the perfect little swamp on which to build a great entrepôt: on the main artery of the sea trade with the Far East, at its narrowest choke point. Singapore had always been prosperous. But she had also always needed the protection of the Royal Navy, which she no longer had.

Though predominantly Overseas Chinese, she was a free port, and from her beginnings a beacon to labourers and the enterprising of all races. Local ethnic tensions would thus be an issue for any governor, as they had been. These could be exploited by foreign powers and home-grown revolutionists, as they had also been. That is why Lee made his city English-speaking, and pursued many other “unifying” measures down to strict racial quotas in the provision of semi-public high-rise housing. There was always a reason, and he always knew what it was, even when he magnified a threat out of all proportion.

His pessimism could never be second-guessed, and anyway he wouldn’t allow it to be. Even the prosperity he sought, beyond that of trade, through domestic manufacture and financial services, was in his mind to the purpose of political survival, as in China — though in Singapore’s case a large part of that purpose was not to preserve, but to escape Communism, in the era of Vietnam. That, and only that, was why he became such a reliable ally of the United States. It proved a miscalculation.

The British had, incidentally, quietly won their own battle against the Communist insurgents in Malaya and Borneo, plentifully supplied through Sukarno’s Indonesia — with about one-fortieth of the resources with which the Americans defeated themselves in Vietnam. I mention it here for the one lesson Lee quickly took from it: “Don’t invite the press.” He wasn’t going to have cognitive dissonance in his wee island state.

Instead he was going to have “Asian values.” This truly meaningless phrase (Asia is a very big place) was attached to a specific shortlist of virtues which Lee inculcated in his citizens, without the slightest hint of shyness: Discipline, thrift, hard work, order, respect for authority. These resonated to some degree with inherited Confucian values, but the resemblance has always been overstated: for the truly Confucian desiderata include many other virtues, and carefully balance spiritual goods against material necessities. Lee’s set were tilted purposely against individualism, liberalism, democracy.

Unlike approximately 100 percent of my journalistic colleagues, I think these are good things to tilt against, too. But having said that, I am then compelled to become inscrutably subtle — being also, as it were, with Confucius against Hobbes. There are cultural and ultimately religious values that, under Lee, Singapore was taught to overlook, and the result is the hygienic but arid and vulgar skyscraper state he created, in which there is nothing for the wealth to buy, except more wealth. In the end that, too, is defeated by the human spirit, which cannot be contented with life in an ant colony, even if it is high-tech. Truth will out, it has been said, but also: beauty will out.

Not only Red China, but many other despotic states have lionized Lee Kuan Yew. It is interesting that, for instance, both the warring kleptocracies, in Russia and Ukraine, have cited Lee as a soi-disant revolutionary hero. Western politicians such as Obama and Cameron have also extravagantly praised him, but with no idea what they are talking about. Lee’s prescriptions were for Singapore alone; they become more monstrous the more they are enlarged.

His tears were genuine when Singapore was expelled from the Malaysian union. This is because he aspired to rule the whole thing. Had he done so, he might well have followed different prescriptions, for he was a pragmatist in the extreme. One cannot “copy” pragmatism, and to use Singapore as a model for states in much different situations can work only as an excuse for tyranny. Their statesmen would need the ingenious mind, as well as the ruthless habits of Lee, to be as successful at picking winners: for he was almost unique among twentieth century politicians in guessing where the money was next to be made, when investing state resources. Yet even at that, and discounting several farcical mistakes, he laid false claim to Singapore’s economic success, which could equally have been achieved with civic freedom. (Anarchic Hong Kong’s economy usually out-performed Singapore’s, and Hong Kong’s crime rate was not much higher, through the years when Iron Lee ruled the one, and a few bewildered British ex-pats only pretended to rule the other.)

“I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters — who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right.”

That was Lee Kuan Yew’s cherubically honest and sincere claim. It wasn’t true, however.


I am surprised how much heat I am taking from correspondents for the little joke from Auden I planted in yesterday’s Idlepost. In a couple of cases, I seem even to have incited an anti-Semitic upswell, of the sort that makes me pleased that I no longer have a combox. New Testament quotes were offered (Peter in Acts, chapter 3, for instance; Paul in I Thessalonians 2) by way of insisting that “the Jews killed Christ,” as if this were an article in the Creed.

It is a happy day, when I get to play the liberal.

My guess is the humour takes it over the top, for these people who have it in their power to make me cringe at being a Christian. Worse, the worst offender announced himself a Traditional Catholic, with breathtaking pomp. He applied his full weight to my lightness.

I have encountered this attitude before in my co-religionists, especially for some reason in women named Janice. In my experience of being a Roman, these last 135 months, I have found that the self-appointed guardians of our faith can be very clear on the need for Catholic apologists to match the standard of tedium established by our secular opponents. It is hardly the first time I have been excoriated for wit, or some related misdeed. (A Frenchman reminds that witch trials are an American convention.)

But I will not be called a “baby Catholic” again! … Not when I am so nearly a “Catholic adolescent.”

Recently a seasoned ecclesiastical observer recounted some of his experiences, with the thicker sort of bricks. He was trying to explain, for my benefit as a pauper, why the paid, Catholic speaking circuit consists mostly of heretics. This is because orthodoxy scares people: bishops especially.

“Yet it isn’t heresy they want, per se,” he said (or I paraphrase). “Rather, it is safety. And the only guarantee of that is to have speakers not merely ignorant of the faith they are exploiting, but earnestly leaden, dismal, and dull.”


In the vulgar, but nevertheless lively idiom of the contemporary world, we are with today’s Mass entering the phase of Christ’s ministry on Earth when it begins to go pear-shaped. Only last week we were recalling a happier moment, with the loaves and fishes. Jesus was being mobbed by admirers. The tone of that passage, I discussed last Sunday. I stressed the drollness in a couple of remarks, the “irony” in the moment when Jesus looks up to see the adoring crowd approaching, and must realize they are the same sort who will be, very soon, howling for His blood. I detect this irony not because I am always looking for light comic relief when reading Scripture (only sometimes), but because I think it is necessary to understand the passage.

Jesus Christ could see what is in man. And He could see it in a human way: from the inside, as a man himself, subject to every human temptation. He could understand that the people in the crowd, surging towards him enthusiastically, hadn’t really come to honour Him as very God of very God. They had come because they’d heard that He cures people of incurable diseases, that He performs other miracles, and might just do one for them. I should think nine in ten, minimum, had missed the part about, “Unless ye have faith.”

It should also be said that He loves those people, with a love beyond human understanding. I, for instance, wouldn’t have loved those people, even if they were coming to celebrate moi. I’d be secretly thinking, “Buncha monkeys.” I’d be summoning the will to smile. I’d be praying, “Why me, O Lord?” In other words, I’d be among those whom Christ loves, for no plausible reason. That Christ can love, or even stomach any of us, is among the divine Mysteries.

While there are, as Christians should expect, parallels in the world’s other “great religions,” there is nothing in any of them quite like this, where God, the very One who created the universe, and made Man, looks at it from the creaturely point of view. And from our human, creaturely view, that is the grandest of His miracles. It should bring home to us that extraordinary assertion in Scripture: that God made Man in His own image. And Christ is the very guarantor of that, clinched in his human pain and temptations.

This week we may consider His very human desire to cut and run. “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”

The Gospel today, from Saint John, chapter 8, verses 46 and forward, puts us in the thick of the action. The charge against Jesus is blasphemy; blasphemy against the very God. It is, though this is no longer funny, a charge of blasphemy against Himself. Those who make it know not what they do; but they are doing it with constantly increasing vehemence.

I find the passage very eerie. The crowd is pressing on Him, it will soon be throwing rocks. I don’t think it is my imagination: it is as if Saint John was there in person. Perhaps he was, and that explains it. An observation seems implicit in the text, that he saw something as he looked upon Our Lord: another transfiguration. Jesus speaks one moment more as a man, another more as God: to human eyes almost toggling back and forth. The faithless mob of course sees nothing but a mortal enemy: one helpless and surrounded small human person, by whom it has chosen to feel utterly threatened; two sparkling eyes to be put out; flesh to be pummelled into mincemeat. Their rage makes them blind, makes them swine.

For Jesus is a threat to more than public order. It is far worse than that. He is a threat to their smugness, their self-regard, their bourgeois spiritual comfort. They are, as we say, “losing it”; they now hurl charges that are self-refuting, such as that He is a Samaritan. Those who are smarter than their family pet should realize that in promising “everlasting life,” Jesus has been preaching the diametric opposite of Samaritanism. He has the bad taste to point this out. And as I note, Saint John — oddly enough, the most factual, or “journalistic” of the Evangelists — flags their literalism. By wantonly construing what Jesus has said about the Prophets in the most obtusely literal way (“Abraham is dead!”), his accusers display the human mind working at its least sentient level.

I called them swine: they are down to animals now. But of course, I have been unfair to swine. No pig could be so evil. For when humans behave like animals, they are so much worse than animals, and capable of acts the most ferocious predator is incapable of intending. That is why even the thinnest veneer of “civilization” is holy.

Forget gentle reader; it is time to remind myself that Jesus loves them.

It is curious that these passages have inspired men in a hundred later generations — men who call themselves Christians — to echo and reprise the very form of the malicious idiocy we see condemned in this passage, finding new ways to crucify, again and again. I refer to such phenomena as the anti-Semitism, the pogroms of Christendom; the allegations that, “The Jews crucified Christ.” (This was, incidentally, never the issue in the use of the misunderstood Latin word perfidius in the Old Mass.)

As W.H. Auden pointed out, only a bigoted and ignorant person could say that. “The Jews did not crucify Christ,” he explained. “It was the Romans. … Or to bring it up to date, the French.”

Or drop the wit, and make it plainer still: we, every one, would crucify Christ, and howl with the mob in the same situation, if only to save our own skins. Unless we wouldn’t: but to feel sure of it involves more of that bourgeois, smug self-regard.

I have been in mobs; the first time as a child of seven, being driven through a riot on the cross-bar of our family servant’s bicycle, trying to get me home safely from school in Lahore. (“Bill” was his name: a Punjabi Catholic.) That is when I first saw human blood trickling, quite literally in a gutter. It is still with me: it may be why I am squeamish about mob rule, or “democracy” as we call it today. The memory comes back: of what happens to the people in the crowd when the Devil takes them, and they become inebriated with their own collective power. Hell is no illusion: mine eyes have seen it.

And the alternative is to stand, and maybe hang with Christ. This will be — in the last day, in the last analysis — the only alternative. (Only through Christ; only through His Church.)

Lent has been long, and we have no doubt failed to observe it adequately. We always fail; we are weak, pathetic little humans. But in this final fortnight, it is time to take penitence seriously. We know what is coming, and can’t pretend we don’t. Gethsemane is no illusion.

Those who raise the Cross, yet omit the Man nailed to it, do not properly teach Christianity. For this will be a glorious, not a happyface Resurrection; for it involves the human race actually being saved. Meanwhile, something stands between here and there, that blocks our road Home. And we must deal with it, if we are going to get there.

Father Wallace

Post-modern Western man has lost his religion. This we all know, it is hardly a controversial statement. But he has a closely-related difficulty that is not so widely appreciated: he has also lost his mind. This is a more serious matter than may first appear. One cannot get by for long without a mind. Sooner than one might have thought, one will lose one’s independence, too; and then be subjected to many other inconveniences.

In principle, the mind could be recovered first, and that would lead to the recovery of religion. In practice, I don’t think so. Something more like divine intervention may be required. This is because the madness is quite advanced. It is cocky and blithering. It will not be disabused of its illusions or, more fundamentally, it will not listen to arguments. One sees this in the academy, which is as close to an asylum run by the inmates as one could wish to get; and one sees it especially where “science” is at issue. It was brought forth vividly to me this week when I saw a video clip of a man who is obviously insane — a certain Al Gore — not merely talking nonsense, but frothing in his demands to have critics of his nonsense punished.

Consider his (perfectly commonplace) notion of “settled science.” It is not merely that no such thing is currently available in the field to which he refers, but that the one term contradicts the other. What is settled cannot be science. What is science cannot be settled. Granting the contemporary belief that science is empirical, there is nowhere else to go. Even by older definitions, in order to be scientific, a proposition must be open to inquiry and challenge. What requires the silencing of critics, isn’t science. Have I made myself clear?

Surely not, for there is more involved in this. We would have to begin with some realistic, and in a sense positive understanding of what “science” might be. This discussion, if conducted on a typical university campus today, would immediately lapse into hysteria, shrieking, and the vapours; yet it continues in some quiet places. Science is knowledge, as we might at first agree. This is etymologically correct. The word could be used broadly in this way, but we want something less general. It is a particular kind of knowledge, different from other kinds. As a man of the thirteenth century, let me tell you that scientia est cognitio per causas. It is a search for the causal explanation of things. It must therefore necessarily be grounded in epistemology, and ultimately metaphysics. One must know what a cause is, to look for one.

“Modern science” is not like that. Not since David Hume; arguably not since René Descartes who, with his asinine little thought experiment on a ball of wax, overturned scholastic reasoning without bothering to refute it. The whole idea of empiricism is that man cannot come to a knowledge of causes. The best we can do is to gather and correlate “data.” This necessarily precludes the possibility that we can obtain certain knowledge of anything at all. In the Humean analysis, there can be no such thing as “settled science.” And yet as we see from, for instance, Mr Gore’s puffy and gaseous presentations, assertions are made on behalf of modern science as if we were working from a knowledge of causes. Frankly, my dear, this is on a level with, “I’m a little teapot, short and stout.”

In the very face of historical experience, which has for instance wiped away every single “certainty” of empirical scientists in the Victorian era, certainties are claimed. And they are claimed as if we understood causes. Moreover, they are claimed on the basis of an arbitrary “scientific method” which, quite possibly, no scientist has ever followed, and which has never been described twice in the same way.

Up here in the High Doganate, the mug of tea from which I am currently drinking levitates twenty-nine inches above the floor. I know why it does this. It is because it is resting on a solid wooden table of that height. I also know that the floor hovers one hundred feet above street level, and why. I could explain a whole series of hierarchical relations, touching on the altitude of my tea mug, with a certainty that might frighten gentle reader, but would be more likely to bore him. I could also retrace a linear sequence of events which gives a powerful, even irrefutable explanation of how the tea mug came to be there.

Given time, we could take this back to Aristotle, the great master of the principles of causation, and of the search for answers to the question, “Why?” We could return finally to the cause of causes, and put our Western world back together again, under God. Indeed, I recommend we do this, and better still, it is being done. People are working on it.

One of the primary workers in this field — of what science can and cannot be, in truth as opposed to self-serving phantasy — was William Wallace, OP. His two volumes on Causality and Scientific Explanation (Ann Arbor, 1972/74) rest on another secure wooden surface up here, at a height I could measure and explain. It may not even have been his most important work, but has the virtue that it helped me understand historical alterations in “scientific paradigms,” in a way that freed me from the speculative vagueness of the once-popular Thomas Kuhn. Forty years later, it stands up (with its extensive source notes) as a fine work of reference on the history of science over the last eight hundred years, and as an excellent resource for the recovery of the philosophy of science, or might I even say the philosophia naturalis.

Philosopher, theologian, palaeographer, physicist, historian, engineer, and inspiring priest and teacher, Father Wallace was a living reminder that the game isn’t up yet. He died March 3rd, in his ninety-seventh year, as I have just learned. Requiescat in pace.

More, there is more

Readers on Svalbard, or in the Faroe Islands, will be enjoying a total eclipse of the Sun this morning, on its path of totality sweeping towards the North Pole. (Need I provide you with the usual warning against looking at it directly?) It is “upsized” with a supermoon, happily enough (the moon is at perigee). With the Earth’s magnetic field reverberating from the coronal mass ejection that hit us on Tuesday, we have all these gorgeous auroras to go with that, some showing even in broad daylight. And as today is also the vernal equinox, we have ingredients enough for what the poets who inhabit our weather channels call a “Freaky Friday.”

Meanwhile our galaxy would seem to have expanded considerably, courtesy of some woman in China. She is the brilliant astronomer Yan Xu, and by a collation of observations she and her “team” seem to have established once and for all that the Monoceros Ring — floating 15 kpc off the fingertips of what we took for our Milky Way’s outermost arm — is actually a continuation of the spiral. (A “kpc” is a kiloparsec, equal to about 19 quadrillion miles, and not “Kentucky poached chicken” as one might think.)

You see, what we didn’t know until the day before yesterday is that the spiral arms of our galaxy — weird enough already for their wobblesome braiding habits in response to who-knows-what dark invisible gravitational forces — are corrugated. The mass of stars rise up and drop down in these helical waves from our galactic centre; and from our own position, part way up one wave, the next wave was blocking our view outward, and from all directions tending to omit much of the stellar flotsam in the troughs. Careful analysis now lets us see through the blockage. There’s more stars down there in the dips, as well as up and over the extra wave, and thus our galaxy turns out to be so decidedly more populous. Add another hundred billion stars, easy. Hell, add two hundred billion. Give them Obamacare.

And there could be another ring or two beyond the “new” one. And the dwarf galaxies or star-clusters glimpsed off farther still, that must exert their own shepherding influence as they stream round or even through our starry stir-pot — riding like errant comet-balls above and below the galactic ecliptic — may not be or do what we think. They had anyway turned out to be fewer than they should have been in theory.

Verily, the whole architectonic must be reviewed in light of this insolent failure on the part of the cosmos to act in accordance with human expectation.

More, there is more! … But we are already approaching the limit of my ability to translate astrophysical mumbo-jumbo into reckless and inaccurate layman’s terms. Suffice to say, if gentle reader was taught that our Sun is about two-thirds of the way out from galactic ground zero, he must now adjust his whole life to the fact that we are only half-way out, if that. For the Milky Way is rather like the Greater Parkdale Area. Every time you look the suburbs have spread, and there’s more condominiums downtown. The commutes must be getting horrendous.

True, none of this quite makes the threshold of breaking news on the Drudge Report. But we must take the long view. We must work harder to fill the world with our news, instead of their news. Idleness must compete with industry: we will need tremendous energy to win this fight.

Saint Joseph

God knows, even if we don’t, that a boy needs a father. A girl may need a father even more, I would add from my limited life experience, of fatherless girls, and those with weak, failed fathers. There is, in addition to the obvious “rôle models,” a special relation between fathers and daughters, and parallel, between mothers and sons: one knows instinctively when it is missing, or one is not surprised to learn the principal explanation for a person who acts just as if he were half-abandoned, or half-orphaned. The more heroic are struggling spiritually in themselves to find a balance that was not established in childhood — except when it was, by an uncle or an aunt, a step-parent or grandparent who understood the need, and came to love the child as his own. And the single parent — usually a single mother in present society, and often one who must hold a job down, too — has more than I can imagine on her plate, to fulfil all rôles. It would not be too much to say that her situation is impossible, that she cannot help failing. Yet against all the odds, she must try.

These relations are profound. A dead father, or a dead mother, still lives in the child’s soul. The loss is unthinkable, but the influence of a parent will be always there. If the man was good, if the woman was good, he or she, will see the child through to adulthood, by the example that was left. Parents must remember this in every moment, for in the next they may be gone.

Two mothers do not make one father, nor two fathers one mother; the distinction of the sexes is absolute, as we can know, for God has made that distinction. It does not come down merely to the genital, as those with working minds must see. I was impressed, very impressed, by the courage of those gay fashionistas, Dolce and Gabbana, for the public stand they took recently against gay child-rearing (see news). I am always impressed when I see men and women rise above their own interests, or their social “identities,” or even their own sinful histories, in acknowledging what is right.

Even more was I impressed by an open letter the child of gay parents wrote to U.S. Justice Kennedy, confuting the same-sex propaganda (Katy Faust, here). There are facts of life that do not change, even when stating them becomes painful; for one will endure ostracism, at the least. But as we know from the histories of the Third Reich, and the Soviet Union, there will always be those prepared to do that: to witness the truth even in the face of the Big Lie.

The Joseph of the Gospels is a shadowy figure. He is there because he must be there: and I mean in reality, not as some “myth.” Jesus Christ was to be raised, on Earth, with a human mother, and a human father, or rather foster-father, needing both. Likewise, in the society in which He was raised, Joseph wasn’t “optional.” But we do not see him so vividly as Mary in the lens of Scripture, and what we know of him seems actually to come more from Sacred Tradition.

He is for instance identified in Scripture as a tekton, which could refer to a variety of trades, metal as well as woodwork, even an itinerant tinker, or odd-job man — certainly not a landowner, and therefore quite unlikely to be rich. But the early Fathers are in no doubt that he was a carpenter, and while we don’t know how they know that, we can know that they know. He was probably much older than Mary, possibly a widower: it all shades into the dark. As Matthew and Luke both make plain, he was of noble ancestry, though one tracks his genealogy from one son of ancient King David, the other from another. I do not know, and I should think no one can ever know the full story behind this, until God chooses to reveal. The truth is we don’t need to know, and the Bible is notorious for not telling us what we don’t need to know.

From both Scripture and Tradition we can however know something of his character: that he was honest, conscientious, kindly, upright, faithful, modest. God addresses him in dreams, thrice in the Gospels, and it seems in each case he responds without question, obediently. From all this we can see he was an extraordinary man, and I begin to appreciate his qualities when I think of several men I have known, married to very talented wives with public careers: who took their places out of the limelight. And each was, unknown to anyone not an intimate friend, the rock upon whom his wife depended. In no way were they emasculated by this. Indeed, the opposite was the case: for their very masculinity raised them above the cheap egoism that we have come falsely to associate with masculinity.

“Real men” are usually unknown, as I have seen in many other situations. They do not make spectacles of themselves. On the contrary, I have met quite a few who strutted their supposed virility in public, their machismo, but were at close range, or under actual pressure, quite shockingly hapless and effeminate — retiring to the bathrooms to “make themselves up.”

Joseph, as we can know, was not the kind to “assert his rights,” for to put it coarsely: real men are not rapists. They are in control of themselves, and they do not do what they must not do. This pertains of course to everything, not just “sex,” which is the first thing everyone thinks of in our disgracefully sexualized culture. The chastity we may assign to Joseph was of a kind reflected through his whole character, and underlies that profound sense of duty and calling that defines the genuinely male psyche. It is for the man who is paterfamilias to do what he must, like a soldier, and for the greater good he will sacrifice all. He makes decisions for his family, and with this goes the duty to put every single member of that family ahead of himself.

That is why, in traditional matrimony, the woman is told to obey her husband, and the man to love his wife. The relation isn’t equal, nor is it symmetrical: the bond is far deeper than that. The example I would give is on board the Titanic. There is no time to argue, and when the husband tells his wife to take the last place in the lifeboat, she must damn well obey.

We might say the feminists don’t understand that; but they didn’t understand because men didn’t understand; and by now almost no one understands it. That is because we are depraved.

In the Bible we learn almost nothing about the upbringing of Jesus, and after the scene in the Temple when Jesus is twelve, Joseph disappears entirely. We can only assume that he died, “some time after,” and must certainly be dead when, from the Cross, Jesus commands John to take care of His mother, and His body is collected by Joseph of Arimathea. Were his earthly father still alive, he would have had charge of both functions.

That Joseph was Saint, we have taken for granted, through two thousand years. He trusted God. And we may trust that his trust was well founded, as we turn to him in holy recollection, today.