The false note

The re-run below has been pulled up from “Spy Wednesday” only last year. Liturgically, we are in the calm before the storm, on this day when Judas quietly dropped by the house of Caiaphas. Most likely it was Wednesday, 1st April, 33 AD. The high priest had invited, along with other members of his Jerusalem establishment, several of the Pharisee elders, too, in a gesture of ecumenism: the Pharisees sharing their desire to see Jesus dead. Their problem was to seize Him in a moment when he was separated from His numerous admirers, and this is where Judas came in. His services were also fairly priced: for 30 denarii was merely the bargain-house rate for an unskilled slave.

I should like to take this opportunity to mention that Judas is in Hell. This is very clear from Scripture, Tradition, and general Catholic instruction through twenty centuries down to “the spirit of Vatican II,” when this hard teaching was itself betrayed. I should also like to mention that he isn’t in Hell for betraying Christ. It is instead for refusing divine forgiveness. Here we are staring directly into the Mystery of Iniquity, for having as all men been offered an escape, Judas chose Hell. And there he is: dangling from the tree, by his own hand. It was his final betrayal. We have no right to judge for ourselves whether any human soul is damned. But in this case we aren’t doing that. We are told as much. Christ will forgive us anything, even murdering Him, if we beg forgiveness humbly and sincerely, promising, without guile, to amend. Therefore if you haven’t been, gentle reader, get thee to the Confessional today.

The piece below has nothing to do with this. Its point might be dimly discerned with reference to my piece on “Saint Luke’s Passion,” posted today at Catholic Thing (here). Somewhere in the interstices I have something said on the nature of Christian music — both inside and outside the Liturgy. In the course of revising I have discarded some tedious ranting against Beethoven. It was getting too personal.


Perhaps I should be telling a priest instead of a general audience, but I broke down this morning and did something bad.

You see, I had been weeding my inventory of recorded music, through Lent — decimating it at first, in the strict sense, with about every tenth disc going on the trash pile of history (or more precisely, to a used CD store). More: novemating, octimating, septimating, sextimating, quintimating, finally quadrimating or even tertimating my collection of CDs, too many of which were acquired irresponsibly, back in the day when I was filthy stinking rich, and more dissolute even than I am now. Symphonies, operas, histrionic performances — the whole “Romantic Era” had to be cleared out. … (Why?) … Because I can’t stand it any more.

It’s not just Wagner, whom I have always loathed; but every composition in which old Ludwig Van is shaking his fist, or Brahms is going programmatic. It was all a mistake, cloning those violins, building those immense orchestras, those Mormonesque tabernacle choirs; fronted by those gesticulating übermenschen, playing with the volume, and breaking up an unholy dulcet smoothness with these infernal crashing sounds. I have come to despise grandiosity in music, whether it is outwardly sacred or profane. For two centuries now, in an alarming way, the profane has been invading the sacred. Conversely, a false, gnostic, “humanist” spirituality has been invading the profane. Verily, to my mind, most of the nineteenth century has to go, and everything in the twentieth that followed from it. Because it is loud, ruthless, rebellious, and noisome.

Necessarily, I play snippets as I go along, rather as one glances through a rifle scope, to check one has the right target. Or to increase the pleasure of waving adieu. Ah, the sinless delight of purgation!

But then, as I was going through composers, about to the end of the letter R, I came to “Ryba”: Jakub Jan Ryba, the Czech (1765–1815). I found one disc only of this gentleman’s works, recorded by a small orchestra and choir of blameless madrigalists in Prague. It contained two settings for the Mass, in a style I would describe as àpres-baroque. The first alone is famous. It is known as Hej, mistře! — which, to those shamefully unacquainted with Czech, does not translate “Hey mister!” but rather: “Hail, Master!” It is plainly a Christmas, not a Lenten Mass. Indeed, they play it at Christmas in Czecho the way we do Handel’s Messiah here, or as we intone Dickens’s mawkish reflections on Scrooge.

Ryba’s Kyrie sounds like a Gloria. The Gloria sounds like a Gloria. The Gradual sounds like a Gloria. The Credo, Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnes Dei, — all sound like Glorias. And there is a recessional attached, a final choral exposition, which sounds very much like a Gloria.

I listened to the whole thing; aware, throughout, that it is not Christmas. I couldn’t stop myself. I was totally uplifted. (“Faith is not feeling.”) And at what is, seasonally and liturgically, nearly the worst moment possible. It was appalling behaviour on my part. Bless me, general audience, for I have sinned.

True, a priest had given me a dispensation to drink a glass of whisky, even in Lent, at such moment as might seem advisable for medicinal purposes, in view of my affairs. Whisky is better than lithium, he conceded. But I doubt we are allowed to substitute dispensations by analogy.

It has been “a good Lent,” otherwise, if you know what I mean. No stone left unturned in this spiritual mansion. Now back to the narrow path, which should consist of silence, the darkness, and from out of the darkness, Chant.