Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Antiantifa in action

A (gentle?) reader writes to allege that I am responsible for the Trumpestuous mob that invaded the Capitol building in Washington, yesterday. Let me make a full and frank confession. Yes, bored from the Batflu lockdown, I contrived to overthrow the Natted States Gummint. (A correspondent in West Texas tells me this is the correct spelling, not “guvmint” as I was using before.) My intention was to install Mister Trump as Generalissimo, and remove the “President Elect” to an old people’s home. (I’d do the job myself, but prefer to delegate.)

I had a press release ready for the Merican meejah, explaining how to spell generalissimo, and specifying that it is an Italian term, with a Latin superlative suffix; not Spanish, as they appear to believe. It mentioned as an afterthought that all Batflu restrictions were now lifted; and that any television host who moaned about this would be burnt at the stake, with Dr Fauci.

Truth to tell, I’m getting somewhat old and feeble myself, and a bit rusty at arranging coups d’état. I’m afraid my Washington operation didn’t come off quite as I planned, and that the Congress seems to have proceeded with the certification of the votes of the Electoral College, anyway. They should have realized this was quite pointless, now that they’d been overthrown. Note to self: have them all arrested.

Epiphany

[Brought forward from 2015, for some reason.]

*

There is a gentleman I know, from around here, who reads this Idleblog “sometimes,” and is nominally Catholic; although he’d be first to admit that he is what I call a “cradle case.” That is to say: baptized in a Catholic church, and spiritually abandoned thereafter. I love this guy, because he has honesty, candour, native humility, and a few other virtues that church-going Catholics often lack. So it was in character that he asked, the other day:

“What is Epiphany? Something must have happened that day. What the hell happened on Epiphany?”

“The arrival of the Magi. You know: ‘We Three Kings’ …”

This seemed a good starting point, and I was puzzling where to take it from there, when stopped short by the next question.

“What three kings?”

Let me put this succinctly. For a couple of generations, our Church of Kumbayah, which does not feel much need to catechize, unless people really insist — and then passes the job to volunteers, often themselves in serious confusion — has been depending upon the anti-Christian mass media to provide “the narrative,” or “backstory.”… And guess what?

My friend did, however, recognize the tune of the carol — a miracle, given the quality of my singing voice. That much was left, in anno MMXV: the tune of an Episcopal deacon, from the 1850s in downstate New York. My friend had probably heard it in a shopping mall.

There is much more to the Epiphany than “the narrative,” which is itself rather more involved than the carol attempts to express. But it is nevertheless a beginning. It is a path towards understanding the manifestation of Christ — to the world, not only of His fellow Jews, but of the Gentiles. Indeed, this Feast was once, and may well become again, the crown of the Christmas season. For those who still allow Christ into Christmas, it takes the “birth narrative” of Jesus and magnifies it.

Much of what the Devil was doing, when he was overseeing Catholic liturgical reform in the 1950s through 1970s, consisted merely of jumbling the calendar and texts, as much as he could get away with. Lax, crass, and inadequate translations, often purposeful mistranslations, were sent out in multiple languages: a kind of Pentecost in reverse. The profound gestures, profound music, profound artistic and architectural expressions of Holy Church, were replaced by cheap and nasty. Note the timeline: for this process did not start with Vatican II, as many “traditionalists” wrongly believe.

The destruction of the Epiphany Octave, for instance, was done under Pope Pius XII in 1955. This made possible the later reduction of the Epiphany itself to an apparent afterthought, that might be celebrated on its original date (as it had been through many, many centuries), or might soon be flipped to one Sunday or another. With the anchor of this Great Feast thus lifted, the big ship could then collide with every other ship in the harbour, damaging all, and sending a few to the bottom.

To say the Devil (and I don’t mean Bugnini; I mean the Devil) did not know what he was doing is a waste of words. He knew exactly what he was doing.

It is a source of excruciating pain to faithful Catholics today — especially those who survived the previous desecrations — to discover that the heroic efforts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to restore the magnitude and serenity of Catholic liturgy and teaching, are being methodically undermined by their successor. Our resistance is now to false moral doctrine being “tweeted” from Rome, but this depends on a deeper falsehood of which our incumbents are hardly the cause. Rather they are symptoms: priests formed through weak seminaries in the glib spirit of the Novus Ordo; priests now bishops who often don’t know any better; who have become vague about whom they are serving, and are urgently in need of Christ’s help and our own very earnest prayers.

For the Catholic moral order extends from the Catholic mystical order, and it is that mystical order that is embodied in the Mass — unambiguously at the centre of Catholic life, day by day and century after century. The Mass is the means by which we take Our Lord into ourselves. “How to live, what to do” follows from that mystical installation. The homilies take their cue from the words and movements of the Mass; and surely not vice versa.

The Epiphany, and the ancient Epiphanytide (the latter half of the Christmas season), is essential to this proper ordering of things, in the procession from Christmas to Easter — a harmonic procession now rudely interrupted by an egress into so-called “Ordinary Time.”

In the Eastern as well as the Western Church, the 6th of January is an assembly of all the strands by which Christ is recognized — made manifest, seen, known — even before He has begun His public ministry. It is, as the Greeks have it, the Theophany — a word which connoted in ancient times the manifestation of the god to the worshipper. Indeed, in the Christian view, all such manifestations, and the very idea of them, must prefigure the central manifestation of Christ in universal history; unless they are plainly demonic.

The homage of the Magi comes into this, but also the Wedding at Cana, signally in the Eastern rite. All the events of Christ’s birth, childhood, and youth, are reflected in this Feast. That is why it could take precedence in the early Church over the Feast of the Nativity itself, which celebrates the birth only, nine months after the Annunciation. That Annunciation was also more important to the earliest Christians; and the significance of the birth was to be found more in the lowness or modesty of it; as, too, in the shocking nature of its announcement, by an Angel in a shepherds’ field. Not to “the wise,” perhaps visited in dreams; not to the intellectuals, did the Angel come; but to the lowly shepherds, who trusted in what they could see before them. (See the Church Fathers on this, usefully arranged in the Catena Aurea of Thomas Aquinas.)

One might even say that the Twelve Days of Christmas lead to, are the preparation for, this Feast of the Epiphany. The light has extended day by day: from the manger, to the shepherds, to the kings from afar; to the first miracle in the wine; and through everything that leads to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection and the Coming Again.

All of this needs to be recovered, in its wholeness, its harmony and completeness, within the passage of our seasons. It is a huge task, building and rebuilding Christendom; but, “Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” And so we must start again today, from out of the darkness by the starry light, in the company of Three Kings — bearing, with them, back into the Church, the finest gifts we are capable of presenting.

Surge, illuminare, Jerusalem.

The future of pugnacity

I make a subtle distinction between an argument and a brawl. Each has its place. Subtlety is needed, for sometimes, as in the Natted States just now, it is a fine balance. On both party political sides, there is an argument, that is on the edge of an internal brawl. Between the two parties, it is a brawl, but with hints of an argument, still.

By comparison, up here in the Canadas, where arguments and brawls are long overdue, there is instead what I have sometimes called, “the long sleep of the just.” (This is among my most sarcastic expressions.)

It is hard to decide on the degree of pugnacity that is called for, in any given situation. I use a mental scale, that runs from a dispute over small change from a grocery bill (in which weapons of mass destruction are almost never appropriate), to World War (wherein all bets are off). In the view of Eternity, however, immortal nastiness will sometimes peak at the supermarket cashpoint, whereas World Wars may be started with the best of intentions.

Note that I am not currently parading as a moral judgementalist. We try to stay cool, calm, and collected, in the ivory tower of the High Doganate; though it’s a close-run thing. Sometimes our only denizen is in contrary minds.

Those of my gentle readers who painfully follow the news, will notice that we celebrate Twelfth Night this year with fightin’ talk from the near abroad. To the Demwits, the fight is only over Trump, and whether he will leave office “peacefully.” Their raft of policy proposals is, by and large, concealed. To the Republicants, Trump is a flag pole, and Liberty is on the fly.

Were I to say more I would expose myself as approximately 100 percent on the Republican side — even though I am a Monarchist. This is because the Democrats have come to represent everything I despise in public life. Whereas, I only find around 80 percent of Republican policies despicable — and those the less representative ones.

That the election result was fraudulent, I take as proven on several planes. Democrats tend to be godless people, and the evidence accumulates that they are casual about committing crimes. There is more hesitation on the other side. Moreover, it would be uncharitable to my Merican friends, to suggest that the majority of their countrymen would even dream of voting for Biden.

But, “Who won the vote?” strikes me as an uninteresting question. If a majority did actually vote for Biden, America were lost, so why argue? Rather, it is time for a brawl — not to spend more precious hours in the rats’ maze of “democracy.”

I didn’t think the Patriots had a casus belli in 1776 (I descend from Loyalists, after all). It seems more plausible today, when everything that (limousine liberal) Thomas Jefferson could throw at (His Majesty) King George III, seems mild compared to the way Democrats now rule. I’ve been tempted to write an updated “Declaration of Independence,” but would demand five cents a word.

Meanwhile, a fight that is ultimately related. If today is indeed Twelfth Night — and I know it is, for I am capable of counting to twelve — tomorrow must be the Feast of the Epiphany. As opposed to: the nearest Sunday, by some vacuous clerical “reform” from 1969. It is the very belief that ancient traditions can be altered by a committee vote, that I think should be a casus belli for all of us.

Natal homing

The salmon, up here in the Canadas, as elsewhere, are apparently acquainted with the old Russian proverb, that “a man can do the most good where he was born.” Whether these salmon in fact think that they are men, like the sheep in New Zealand, is a side issue. Truth to tell, I never interviewed a salmon, in half a century of hack journalism, including the last decade or so of being a cancelled one — when gentle reader might think I’d have more leisure to widen my contacts. Indeed, in the only tête-à-têtes I can recall, the salmon were not in a position to reply.

But the homing instinct is not confined to them. A quick check in the Wicked Paedia reveals that “natal philopatry” is a thing. As usual, they display their tedious Darwinist assumptions, which they imagine to be buttressed by geomagnetic imprinting, chemical and olfactory cues, &c. We are slapped in the face by sea turtles, and Atlantic Puffins.

Granted, I am also tedious on this subject, but I giggle every time an unnecessary Darwinist assumption is dangled. This means that I am laughing a lot. The point is, most creatures, including cats, dogs, and migratory avians, reach a point in their wanderings when they want to go home. And, it turns out, most of them know the way.

I’ve never interviewed a Bluefin Tuna, either, but I celebrate their native conservatism — which some might confuse with racism. Those from eastern or western shores mix freely in the mid-Atlantic, and yet they know to which side they should return, as they grow and mature and want to start a family. “There is a chemical imprint in the animal’s otoliths,” it says here; and while a certain number find their way into trawlers, instead, only a tiny proportion make mistakes in the state of nature.

Recently, among my human friends, I have lost several old companions to natal philopatry. Why, just since the Batflu, I have lost one couple to Moravia, and another to southern Sweden, who had long been refugees from there. All observe, that there is now more socialism on this side of the Atlantic, than on that side, or it’s all much of a muchness. They might as well go back to where their language is understood and, quite frankly, the food is better. Enough of this refugee rubbish.

I can’t blame them, although I’m entitled to miss them. Well, in a few decades they’d be dead anyway, and maybe even before then, I will be; so everyone “goes home” eventually.

But sticking, rigidly, to the world of the biologically mobile, I think that Russian proverb is sound. Our notions of “multiculturalism” (more accurately, de-culturalism) have advanced, so that all the welfare states have become, in effect, refugee camps, and the inmates keep moving from one camp to another. As a Pakistani acquaintance once informed me, “Canada is a country of excellent facilities” — arguably better in this respect than his native Pakistan — and so he decided this is the place to be. But he still pines for home.

Once upon a time, when I was wandering in the East, to a place where I was employing foreign-educated smart young things, this topic often came up. Most observed that facilities were better elsewhere, and thought “elsewhere” would be an easier place to get rich. They hadn’t yet considered the consequences, not only to them but to the people they were abandoning. Perhaps, if they thought facilities were good things to have, they should attend to improving them where they were born. Perhaps even make them more attractive and humane, than the post-attractive and post-humane facilities in the West.

This was an heretical thought, “against progress,” even then: forty years ago and ten thousand miles away. It was hard to argue, for what was I doing there? (“Travelling.”) I noticed, however, that the stay-at-homes were the wiser, in my demographic samples, and likely the happier. Too, probably the more usefully productive. (We need a category for “uselessly productive,” that I’d be happy to supply.)

Is it best to be a heretic against progress, where one was born? I’m with the Russkies, on this.

Resolution

What gentle reader’s resolutions may be, for the New Year, are no business of mine, and I will not presume to advise, beyond recommending that you keep your resolutions. I have noticed, this year especially, that they (“resolutions”) are going out of style. I make my own on Saint Andrew’s Day, for the new liturgical year, so am already ahead of most “secular” people still mulling their options on New Year’s Eve. My reasoning is, that if I can’t keep my intentions through Advent, at least by the fourth Sunday I may be able to remember what they were. It is good to remember things.

But the spirit of Resolution has been dying in our society, and that is among the principal reasons that our public life has been down-trending. It is what we may call the Age of the Putz, using the term with its full Yiddish vigour, yet in English where we may say it in the presence of women and children. Yes, it means stupid, foolish, worthless, idle and so forth. But as I understand, at the fulcrum, it means “easy to swing around.” It means being led by one’s rope, as it were. A putz (understandably confused with a schmuck, or a nebbish) does what he has been told by the authorities, and oddly like the brave, he does not hesitate. But this is because he can’t endure pain. He can be agreeable, yet without charm. (Reader warning: my Yiddish may be defective.)

This would be acceptable, in the sense that there is nothing we can do about a putz — he has already surrendered — but a line must be drawn somewhere, if only for our own edification. This is where, in current jargon, we cross over from a putz, to a Karen. In my apartment building alone, there must be a dozen who have made this “transition.”

They are the ones who think they will die, if you’ve forgotten your bat-muzzle, or threaten to step within seventy inches of them, in an elevator. They may appear to be making a threat, by the shrieks of complaint they utter, but really it is only fear. It is, to be plain, the opposite of Resolution. The authorities, taking them for putzes, have easily instilled the “public health” terror, with “science” they have made up, and may yank them here or there as they want.

Could I make videos, I would record a snide little number that composed itself in my head, last May (when we were only two months into “fifteen days to flatten the curve”). It was entitled, “You’re Going To Kill People!” The dance component was a variation on the hippie-days twist, in which Walmart shoppers try to stay six feet clear of each other, while looting modest consumer durables.

Resolved, for the indefinite future, not to participate in this dance. Well, that might be labelled as a command. But the challenge we face is to retrieve vacuous, Pre-Batflu Normal; not so much to resist lunatic orders, as to ignore them. And should we be confronted by a phalanx of putzes, behind their forest of imaginary sarissas, offer to give each a hug and a kiss. Or better, retreat, as if you cannot hear them. For they are too encumbered to chase.

At the centre of Resolution, is a certain willingness to die. This counts for ten points in battle, but in the fog of everyday life, it translates into a willingness to be uncool. To show indifference in the face of social pressure, is what must serve to make the modern hero, or heroine as the case may be. It is not even necessary to shout, “To hell with all you idjits,” for that would be taking the devils seriously.

In the finest mediæval tradition, when the devils display at their most pompous, we laugh at them. Let us be Resolved, to laughter.

Year-end

At year-end, we pay off our debts (in Japan, traditionally, as I recall), or at least acknowledge them (in other choice countries). As it appears to be year-end, I would like to thank the many people who’ve been kind to me, this last twelvemonth, and in particular those who have sent donations since Black Friday. I have received better than I deserved, once again, and haven’t thanked all of you individually. This is a shocking oversight on my part, and sadly typical of this Idler. Be assured, however, that I notice every cheque or electronic ping, mutter a blessing upon its sender, and contrive to deposit, if not always promptly.

Several recklessly kind individuals sent me hundreds of dollars. Many sent beautiful cards with donations, and I have arranged them in a fine Christmas display. They are a real encouragement to me; a reminder that I have sincere friends, and gentle readers scattered through this world. It is a world that certainly looks bleak, at the moment, but sometimes appearances may be deceiving.

May Our Lord smile upon our fitful labours, and draw us towards a bottomless faith; may Our Lady touch our hearts and open them; and may the angelic host reflect the Love that moves the stars. For everything old is new once again, as it was in the beginning, world without end.

A petition

Dystopia and Utopia are really the same place. It is simply viewed through different temporal perspectives. Utopia is invariably in the future, whereas Dystopia happens now. But the belief that they are different places is among the Utopian fantasies. “Heaven” might be mentioned as a variation on the Utopian theme, except, it works the other way. For Heaven is divine territory, out of earthly reach. Utopias are earthly parodies of some Heaven that we have imagined. They descend into Dystopias, as Utopias are achieved.

Note: I am not saying this is a trend, or tendency. It happens every time. The promises of revolutionary politics always end that way. So many of the misrepresentations and falsehoods that gird us round in the daily news, are the consequence of an aspiration to reach Utopia; or once we have got there, they pretend that it is nice. It was necessary to discourage those who were in the way of progress; but upon arrival, opponents of the revolution must be vigorously suppressed.

This is how I know that in the West, Utopia has been achieved — the way it was in, for instance, the Soviet Union after 1917. It is by observing Dystopia, descending everywhere. We have moved from the “propaganda” phase into the “realization” phase of our Utopian revolution.

Of course there is still plenty of propaganda. In places like the mass-media, and throughout our captured institutions, there is basically nothing but. Notwithstanding, the “dreamers” have been transformed into “activists,” or replaced by them, as needed. For the time has come when progressives stop making demands, and start enforcing them. Woke up and smell the coffee, as it were. (“The lockdown must continue until resistance ends.”)

Still, we are in the early stages of the revolution. In Russian terms, the old government has been overthrown, but the Mensheviks have yet to be replaced by the Bolsheviks. And even when the Bolsheviks take over, things will not outwardly change right away. A time must be allotted to “defending the revolution,” against opponents who are still visible. The priority, for progressives, must be to defeat them before they do the things that would help them gather allies. The equivalent of a civil war must come first.

History never repeats itself precisely, as everybody knows. The waves in its channels are all brand-new waves. The game is always scoreless, at kickoff. Who knows what comes next? Nor would I predict the result, at intermission. The second half might look very different, and the fourth quarter might prove very exciting.

Moreover, Americans are different from Russians, and had much deeper traditions of liberty. They aren’t fully accustomed to being pushed around by apparatchiks. American serfs were free to choose new fates. Europeans, likewise, although they drive smaller cars. According, at least, to one school of thought, even Europeans can be pushed only so far. I haven’t seen any evidence for this, but I am willing to entertain the possibility.

Will a slave revolt follow, among people who weren’t slaves? And who suddenly remember prosperity and freedom? We’ll see how it all works out. Certainly I hope the revolution will be extinguished.

But to my mind, people are unreliable. So we’d better petition God.

The head start

The expression, “unintended consequences,” is a charitable dodge. It is what old-fashioned, polite, civic-minded people say about the fallout from progressive social policies. It implies that their authors have overlooked something, or made some innocent mistake. For unfortunately, the policies do the exact opposite of what was promised. Surely the “reformers” didn’t mean to force decent, reasonable people to do things that any decent, reasonable person would consider to be satanic. Yet somehow, that was the result.

By contrast, these reformers despise the tactics of the bourgeois. Rather than argue, they prefer to drown out their opponents with slogans. Rather than coherently reply, they characterize any asking questions as “fascist,” “misogynist,” “racist,” “hate criminals,” &c. Those who have exposed scandals are personally smeared, slandered, doxxed. This isn’t new. It is the way the Left has always “debated,” going back long before Lenin. Once they have the police working for them, opponents get the knock in the middle of the night.

There are, incidentally, two kinds of “reform,” corresponding to the two political persuasions. One happens without planning, and is an organic response to things no longer working properly. Try, in good faith, to make the old system work, and it will subtly change. The “problems” fix themselves, when they are allowed to. The other kind is “reform” according to a theory. A huge, mostly imaginary “problem” is created, so a “solution” may be imposed. Every tool must be applied, to get everyone onside for the task: fake news, fake science, fake history, and miscellaneous fakery. For as every godless person knows, “the end justifies the means.”

Luckier than most, raised in “liberal” environments, I was able to discern this from an early age. By chance I acquired many friends who were refugees from Communist (especially Soviet-occupied) countries. But it was not just that. Having been trained counter-culturally, by non-conformist “classically liberal” teachers, and also having learnt to read for myself, I was already fairly alert. The clincher for me was a native disposition, not only to think independently, but to resist being a putz. It was not in my nature to assume that the enemies of real liberalism (which requires honesty) had good intentions. Reason, and experiment, demonstrated that they had not.

For instance, I early realized that leftwing factions formed a Party of Privilege. Every policy they advanced favoured individuals with relatively more wealth and power, against individuals with less. Unions were a good example. They represented the better-paid. The labour laws they advocated were designed to exclude the young and the poor from labour-market competition. They secured the allegiance of thuggish union members through crassly self-interested schemes. They opposed legitimate rewards for labour; for skill and hard work. Instead they enforced universal mediocrity, and punished intelligent enterprise. Legitimate labour interests, once represented by cooperative and self-managing guilds, were replaced by the interests of (untalented) union organizers.

As ever, I am proposing not to write a book, simply noting obvious things. Once one discards the commonplace idea that “reformers” are misinformed or stupid, the world makes more sense. Assume, rather, that they fully intend the consequences of their actions, even when their ineptitude defeats their own plot.

Power wants more power. This reality extends beyond the moment. That power corrupts, was known before Lord Acton, as well as that it corrupts more and more — even before the 20th century had raised the background tragedy of fallen man to murderous, high-tech farce. Never imagine the man who takes your freedom in a “crisis,” plans to give it back once the “crisis” is over. This applies, ultimately, to both Left and Right.

But when a man starts from a position that is dishonest, he may achieve material evils much faster. Being “liberal,” “leftist,” and “progressive,” gives him a significant head start.

____________

TODAY — did you remember to mark it down? — is the eight hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the murder of the saint, Thomas à Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral, at the suggestion of King Henry II. It was an event that reverberated across all Europe, all Christendom; and it echoes still. I must have been asleep at the switch. Happily, I am reminded by Mr Donald J. Trump:

“On this day, we celebrate and revere Becket’s courageous stand for religious liberty, and we reaffirm our call to end religious persecution worldwide. …

“A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure — because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God.”

Childermas

According to a recent survey, 30 percent of women under the age of twenty-five now identify as “LGBT.” That is, three in ten. To advise a young man not to take one as a girlfriend, would be moot.

The young people I know have been aging. Their elders have been aging along with them, and adjusting to changes in the world. Assigning some arbitrary boundary to “the young” — say, persons under twenty-five — I am more puzzled by the generation that begat them. The same people have become stranger. Backing up another generation, into my own quadrant, I am farther out to sea. So many who were “coming of age” half a century ago — perhaps as “hippies,” yet still clinging to bourgeois aspirations — now seem to have lived no lives at all. “We,” shall we call us, were never very sure what we wanted (a spouse? a home? a career? children, perhaps?) — and what we weren’t sure of was often kicked away. Now we have more money than we ever had; or less. But what we bought for whatever we had now seems frivolous, worthless.

And there is no looking down. The stilts we walked on are tottering.

To my reflections, “too dark” for some gentle readers, there are innumerable exceptions. I have friends from all generations, whom I find entirely adequate. Those “values” I was raised in, and those I came to embrace, have not disappeared. Among those younger, in the last fortnight or so, I have been in harmonious contact with several families in which I count six or more children; and since the Batflu at least, all of them home-schooled. In the main, these kids seem bright, alert, happy, promising; it is hard to imagine they will all screw up. Though a tiny minority, some will carry what their parents carried: Hope, in the Catholic, Christian sense. There will still be some women and men. “Others,” of course, are not reproducing.

But for the moment, I notice that these friends all agree that the world has gone mad, and that life requires them to fight with it; and sometimes even to hide.

One gets a glimpse of “Herod the Great” from Josephus, and other ancient sources. Rome’s client in Judaea, at the time of Christ’s birth, was megalomaniac, paranoid, sadistic, sanguinary. He was the model for an “oriental despot.” Macrobius said it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son, in light of the number he killed and how he killed them. Greeks, generally, Romans, and Jews, speak not well of him.

This is the man, in the Book of Matthew, who ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of two, in Bethlehem and environs. He was looking for Jesus. Divinely warned, Mary and Joseph, with the infant Jesus, fled into Egypt. They returned when Herod had “passed on.”

In truth, there cannot have been more than a few dozen babies to kill, around Bethlehem; hardly worth mentioning, to the ancient historians. In addition to murdering, for instance, a wife and three sons, Herod ordered greater massacres whimsically; and taxed his surviving subjects into penury. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is a souvenir of his Second Temple; the Haram platform is essentially his peons’ work. Well, he created a lot of employment, building monuments to himself.

The Massacre of the Innocents is thus quite plausible. It would have been among Herod’s more modest “executive orders.” Children have often been thought expendable, as abortionists continue to think today; this was “just a few dead.” The efforts that anti-Biblical scholars have put into proving the whole thing “a myth,” suggests to me how desperate they are. Indeed, every scholar who denies Christ, also denies the veracity of this story.

Matthew invokes Rachel, weeping for her children — “and would not be comforted because they are not.” This echoes down the ages from so many Rachels.

These slaughtered children of Bethlehem are, in point of time, the first Christian martyrs. In Church liturgy they unambiguously died for Christ.

But to a modern, progressive mind, this is absolutely mindless. For if God is good, why did he allow such a thing to happen? Why does he allow massacres to this day, piled higher than Tamurlaine’s highest heap of skulls? Why has He allowed countless millions of abortions? Why did He not intervene in Herod’s “lifestyle options,” and why won’t He intervene in ours?

The Holy Innocents are a key to this mystery. Today we ask them to pray for us.

A Christmas story

[Recycled from my first Christmas Idleblog, somewhat condensed.]

*

In the words of the modern carol, “All we want for Christmas is some extra-strength Tylenol,” and sure enough, our little sister brought some up to the High Doganate, “on Christmas Day in the morning.” Since then, the quality of life has much improved up here. We specified acetaminophen, and neither aspirin nor ibuprofen, since in our understanding the former alone would be of any use in masking the symptoms of a viral influenza. (Disclaimer: if you are taking medical advice from this website, you may already be beyond help.)

After just one gramme, the fever seemed abating, and the headache had almost disappeared. Nearly three grammes later (at intervals, not all at once, you fool!) I feel almost well enough to run out and catch pneumonia.

Indeed my first thought, is that we should start a charity, to ship Tylenol to the Middle Ages. Maybe include some penicillin and basic antibiotics in the care packages; with instructions for their use in easy, colloquial Latin. We’ve all heard dark stories about mediæval medicine. So why don’t we do something practical to help?

Already I imagine the wiseacre query of some insufferable progressive. “How you gonna send that, by Pur-o-lator?” How wantonly these people expose their own ignorance. The courier companies only serve current addresses. Mediæval Man is removed from us in time. Therefore Purolator can’t reach him. But that shouldn’t defeat an unwearying Yankee optimism. Instead, we could try digging down to the appropriate archaeological stratum, then leaving the boxes in conspicuous places. Common sense would supply locations: say, the medical schools at Parma, Padua, Bologna, Montpelier, Paris, or Oxford.

*

Perhaps, had our ancestors been more robust, we could have avoided modernity altogether; and stood a little better against other rude invaders, such as those plague-bearing Mongols.

For one of the little ironies of historical fact (as opposed to historical theories, which are just glib) is that nomadic barbarians often show a quicker understanding of “empirical science” than more civilized peoples, whose practised decency obstructs their “vision.” Indeed, it is because we are becoming nomadic barbarians ourselves, once again, that we are “following the science” better and better. Back in the day, we had “the greatest public health disaster in history.” It was called the Black Plague.

I refer to the Mongol siege of the Genoese trading colony of Caffa, in Crimea — in its heyday among the most cosmopolitan cities on earth. It welcomed alike Genoese and Venetians, Greeks and Armenians, Jews and Muslims from all over; even visitors from far Ethiopia, and Cathay. Too, every sort of Turk and Tartar who wandered the lonely Steppe. On his good days, the city enjoyed the contractual protection of the Khan of the Golden Horde, who derived considerable profit from it. On his bad days, however, it did not enjoy this.

To my backward, reactionary, and roughly mediæval mind — unshared with contemporary historical scholars — Caffa’s problems really began with a moral, as opposed to physical, “issue.” The city had a very prosperous slave market, which dealt mostly in Turkic slaves, sold chiefly to the Mameluke Sultans for use as soldiers. From a Genoese or Venetian point of view, this was all to the good, not only remunerative in itself but beneficent, since otherwise the Sultan would be enslaving Christians.

The Mameluke soldier slave, selected for his height and virility, enjoyed a fairly good life. As the Sultan’s henchman he had the right to bear arms, and show contempt to the general population, on behalf of the Sultan. (The despot’s first act is to withdraw the subject’s right to bear arms; for a half-armed subject is twice as obedient, and an unarmed one, entirely so.)

Slavery is intrinsically wrong, of course, but in this case expanding free trade also turned out to be a bad move, strategically. For it began to make the Mongols unhappy. They were indifferent when the slavers were capturing their own enemies, perhaps even mildly approving. But soon enough it came round to their friends being captured and led away. (Poor Italians probably couldn’t tell the difference.) And no Khan of the Golden Horde is remembered by history for his phlegmatic disposition.

Sultan happy, Khan unhappy, was moreover a bad formula, for the Sultan could offer little protection from an irritated Khan. Indeed, those free traders, in the 14th century, had to rely on a distantly stretched Italian navy. Not that this navy should be scorned: for contrary to the general understanding, Italian “marines” did a number on the Mongols several times, while operating far from home. Indeed, they lifted the first Mongol siege of Caffa at a cost of more than 15,000 lives, almost all of them Mongolian.

It was, however, the Mongols’ second siege that counted. Learning from Round One that they would need to up the ante, they suddenly re-appeared in 1345, in the usual Mongol way, from everywhere. They were as ever travelling fairly light, with quite brilliant equine manoeuvres. But the one, incredibly unlikely, flaw in such a large subscription of horsemen, announced itself. For at least one of the contributing exotic tribes was carrying the bacillus for the Bubonic Plague, which now began spreading through their entire ranks, initially to the joy of the besieged within Caffa.

As we hinted above, the native cunning of the barbarian is more use, in grasping the implications of new “science and technology,” than is the reasoning of civilized man, whose judgement is diffused by prudence. He cannot match the “noble savage” for ruthlessness. The Mongols quite spontaneously grasped the principles of biological warfare. They began catapulting the bodies of their own dead and dying over the city walls.

It was not long before Caffa was losing the battle of attrition. Survivors of the Plague began evacuating voluntarily, even as the Mongols were losing interest in their siege. Those Italian ships that had come to supply food to the besieged, were now carrying the Christians back to their home ports: to Venice, and Genoa, and all over Europe.

We have for instance the remarkable account of Gabriele de’ Mussi of the homecoming at Piacenza, where the Plague exploded instantly upon the travellers’ return. It includes an account of the cause, crisp enough to satisfy any epidemiologist. It uses apocalyptic language in a convincing way, and adds a touching lament on behalf of distant foreigners: “the Chinese, Indians, Persians, Medes, Kurds, Armenians, Cilicians, Georgians, Mesopotamians, Nubians, Ethiopians, Turks, Egyptians, Arabs, Saracens, and Greeks — for almost all the East has been affected.” (Gentle reader will note that the world news was more complete back then.)

*

To the mediæval mind, a Plague on such a scale must surely involve Divine Judgement. We retain the apocalyptic words, but their content has been discarded. We read these and accuse our ancestors of superstition. Yet they were hardly unaware of proximate cause, and had long understood the principle of infection. They could be quite attentive to the hard factuals, when they were seriously interested. All men have always been.

It is just that, being more humble and broad-minded than we have been (since the Enlightenment), they did not exclude the possibility of Divine Wrath. Nor the hope, should that be the cause, that they might still do something to assuage it; such as, earnestly repent of very real and terrible sins. They were certainly not so completely lacking in intelligence and dignity to run about shrieking, “Why why why?”

Consider: frequent private bathing, showering and washing especially hands and feet, were customary throughout the Middle Ages, in continuity from the ancient world. The old Roman systems of urban and rural sanitation had been, whenever possible, carefully restored; then gradually extended and improved upon. Episcopal condemnation of public bathing is often cited to refute this. It does nothing of the sort: for it was directed expressly against moral vices. Those fusty old bishops were acutely aware of what went on in bath houses — and of diseases spread not “through the water” but from sexual promiscuity.

It was rather in the Reformation era (on both Protestant and Catholic sides) that attention to washing was displaced by fastidious perfuming, and bathing went out of fashion. This, thanks to the early modern superstition that water, alone, could carry infections through the pores. Hence, at least partially, the reason for the frequent reappearance of devastating epidemics through the 17th century and beyond. Hence, as we have begun to establish from cumulative searching through parish records (we have Mormons to thank for much of this), the curious fact that life expectancy was substantially higher in the High Middle Ages than it ever was again until quite recent times. For as my mommy, a nurse, used to say, “Baby no wash, baby get sick.”

Mediaeval man was not nearly so stupid, nor superstitious, as we hold him to have been. His capacity for reasoning, in his circumstances, greatly exceeded our own in ours. Nor did he narrowly limit himself to making inferences based on “I feel.” Too, mediaeval man benefited tremendously from respect for his predecessors, and those of foreign cultures, unlike today. For as soon as we meet a furriner of any sort, we start lecturing him on how to acquire the bacillus of “progress.”

We remain, for instance, intellectually encumbered by a tremendous weight of foolish and malicious sectarian propaganda, adapted from Reformation pamphlets to our present irreligious need — which is to show how superior we are to our God-fearing ancestors. It still reduces our capacity to learn elementary things, that are not sectarian; to believe embarrassing, and totally implausible stuff, such as Darwinism. Our self-confidence, when buying into rubbish, is founded upon moronically false ideas about the past, such as “men believed the world was flat,” or “they had no idea of gravity,” or “they argued about how many angels would fit on the head of a pin,” or, “they thought they were at the centre of the universe” — when actually they thought they were at the bottom of it (except for Hell). They were entirely free of that chronological vanity that attributes every boon to some spooky “spirit of progress,” and hails itself in tireless fits of self-congratulation.

Mediæval man inherited astrological, alchemical, herbal, and other quackeries (along with things not quack) from their own pagan ancestors, including especially ancient Romans and Greeks; then sifted for the efficacious over long tracts of time. Their notions of the Four Humours were derived from Hippocrates, and Galen, and many other classical sources towards which they were, perhaps, too credulously respectful. They were open to Arabic and Oriental influences, not from osmosis but from conscious study. (This is why the motherlode of mediæval Islamic science and learning must now be sought in European libraries, where so much of it was preserved from destruction.) To error and prejudice they were, like all men, necessarily prone, but on nothing like our modern scale.

*

Our modern medical faculties descend from such medical schools as I mentioned above. Anatomy was studied with (Church-permitted) human dissections, and methods of surgery were advanced thereby. The use of clove and other herbal oils with anaesthetic properties was commonplace, along with methods of dressing and sterilizing wounds — whether or not on the correct germ theory. Monastic physic gardens were constantly exploring the properties and possibilities of medicinal herbs — goldmines of useful information lost and too often still awaiting rediscovery.

But beyond this the whole culture of medicine — the teaching colleges (in which it took ten years to become a doctor), the specialized hospitals and hospices for such as cripples and the blind, those for sick children, for women, for the elderly and infirm, for those afflicted with various chronic diseases; asylums for the mad, and for lepers; alms houses scattered everywhere; the dispensaries and surgeries for the poor which also distributed food and clothing to them; the networks of itinerant medical specialists; the guild systems to enforce quality controls — from where does gentle reader think all these things came?

Hint: all are from our own (intensely Catholic) Middle Ages.

Dead right, my dears! All without exception from that despised Mediaeval Church; and from her idle and corrupt clergy; her crazy brooding monks and nuns; and from her unique, scary dark theological notion that the universe makes sense. And from frightening, authoritarian popes — such as Innocent III, who at the dawn of the 13th century launched a “crusade” to provide every little town throughout Christendom, no matter how remote, with its own clinic (as distinct from “hospitals” for pilgrims, which themselves provided medical assistance, and other charitable care). Towns of a size that would be dismissed as villages today, some with towering cathedrals.

And all of this carried on the income of the great monastic houses, and by grand bequests and donations, and by guild and municipal charity and pride, and by voluntary labour, and by little old widows and grannies dropping their wee copper mites into small tiny boxes, and lighting candles for their beloved, in Purgatory — and yes, a portion through modest but compulsory tithes, waived for paupers. Compare: our sprawling Kafkaesque bureaucracies.

For as I once had to explain, to an aggressively anti-Christian television hostess:

“Have you ever noticed, Mademoiselle Sunshine, that more than half the hospitals in this fine secular burg were named after some Saint?”

(For some reason, she never invited me back.)

The city of Florence, population around 70,000 on the eve of the Black Death, had more than two dozen specialized hospitals. Three-quarters of these Florentines perished all the same (fun facts that happened to burn into my brain many summers ago while reading Boccaccio, and Villani). Too, from a long fascination with old city plans, I may confidently tell gentle reader that, wherever he wants to go in the later Middle Ages — to London, to Paris, to Naples, to Milan — that he will find eleemosynary institutions thicker on the ground than they are today. This remained true, incidentally, to the eve of the Great War in 1914 — a much greater concentration of “welfare dives,” conventual establishments, schools, colleges, and every other sort of humane institution, supported privately at a loss.

*

I am not restricted to defending the honour of mediæval man, though, nor interested in the view that his Middle Ages resembled Heaven at any point over their duration of more than a thousand years. The best we could say, for most of this long period, is that it formed a civilization that was morally, aesthetically, intellectually, and spiritually, superior to ours. But perhaps even better Christendoms are possible.

For Jesus

For Jesus, whose arrival in this world we will commemorate: in our hearts if outward celebration is banned, and Communion is denied to the faithful. It is hard to keep God out of the world that He made, and transcends from the beginning to the end of time. It is difficult even to smear Him, and such efforts rebound against themselves. Even crucifying Him turned out badly for the Roman State, if we take a candid view. For Jesus is still here, and the Roman State isn’t. Were I a political advisor to a Caesar, I would recommend against persecution. This on purely practical grounds. For His opponents have had a poor track record against Him, and looking back, none have prevailed. “I wouldn’t count your chances.”

From the start, Our Saviour defeated expectations. Mary’s Child resembled all babies. In particular, I note, babies are powerless. This one, born in a Bethlehem manger to a couple from out of town, was in this respect like the rest of us. Our own nativities were usually fairly humble. The choice of mother and father was not made by us. Jesus alone chooses. For the rest, whether they decide to welcome or abort us, we will not be consulted.

I am deeply moved by the story of the shepherds; of the angel who announces Him to them. It would seem that God is partial to shepherds. Out in the fields, on warm nights or cold, they have a privileged view of His starry Creation.

They were dazzled, and naturally afraid; the announcing angel told them, “Fear not.” This was the first expressly Christian command.

“Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born a Saviour.”

Our history then divides in two; into a Before and an After.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

That last point is vexed, or was vexed intentionally, by modern liturgists. They like to mistranslate “men of good will” to “all people” again. But the angel made an important distinction.

The Child grows. We have known a few more things about Him over the last twenty centuries or so, in this world transformed by His arrival. There is a political point that is worth making.

He is self-referential, and refers to Himself, unambiguously, as if He were God. This was as alarming to his contemporaries as it is to us. Many then, as now, thought Him a shrieking madman; although He didn’t shriek. Rather, He cultivated understatement. He did not like to show His credentials, though when necessary, through miracles, He did. He spoke in the same knowledge as the angel of Shepherds’ Field.

Why are there shepherds? Because sheep will stray. And there are wolves.

My political point is about Christ’s claims. His Kingship was, and is, and will be, “not of this world.” He actually dodges earthly kingship. He avoided arrest for the duration of His mission, but also avoided the enthusiasm of his followers. When they were on the verge of proclaiming Him a king — some Lord of Palestine — He walked away. He’d disappear from what was turning into a rally; duck into a temple or other private place. He went to some lengths to avoid misunderstanding; yet was tacked to a Cross by those who misunderstood. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Father, forgive. It will be Christmas, very soon, when we start over. May we be reborn, in You.

Darkness at Christmas

The lights are going out in our churches this year, all over the world, as we ready ourselves for a Midnight Mass that has been withdrawn. For unlike any Christmas we remember, the darkness will continue through Christmas morning, and all the holy days ahead; and through the primary Christmas season to Epiphany; through Candlemas, most likely, and then through Lent, to another vacated Easter. States all over have decreed that Christian worship be replaced by worship of the Batflu, as a precursor to the universal lockdown our “progressives” long for, when all human life will be permanently regulated, by them, and made unbearably grim. The Batflu itself will pass away, as every contagion before it, but it is the prospect of a “reset,” in a vast “climate change” bureaucracy, that keeps the shine in their eyes.

That every conceivable human evil may be advanced by methods of social isolation, has been this year’s “breakthrough” rediscovery, and points to its ultimate authorship, Below.

In Ontario, for instance, under a simpleton premier, almost all human interaction is banned, except that of mass-market retailing. Starting on the Feast of Stephen (December 26th), familiar visitors to our households will become liable to fines of up to 100,000 Canadian dollars, and up to one year in gaol.

While such lockdowns have been shown to have no effect whatever on the transmission of viruses already widely disseminated, wherever they have been studied, they are imposed as if they were “science,” by petty, and very sleazy, politicians. In no civilized jurisdiction had they such personal authority. But they are thrilled to discover that they can get away with it; that a public systematically misinformed, and deprived of prompt, decisive legal recourse, will obey their edicts, and thereby submit to enslavement. Throughout history, those willing to be enslaved, have been enslaved.

In Christendom, through the centuries, freedom was associated with Jesus Christ. It is no coincidence that our current batch of godless, sordid tyrants close the churches, but not the crowded “big box” stores; demanding that small and family businesses be crushed, thus expanding the market for “Amazon” and the other monsters of Big Tech. Freedom is thus abrogated by means of both “socialism,” and “monopoly capital.”

I write this in explicit reply to some of my (often otherwise kindly) correspondents, who now criticize me for being “too dark.” (Yet I do try to err on the side of smileyface, sometimes.)

Many others have written to ask for my advice. “You tell us to defy our persecutors, but when we go to a Catholic church, we find that it is closed, and there is no Mass to go to.” I don’t know what to recommend, to fellow Catholics abandoned by their Church.

Indeed, our Church has been descending into depravity for some time. The worst of it is priests who themselves do not understand what the Church IS, and are shielded by their bishops. They think of the Church as if she were a civil corporation, bound only by the rules of “organization men.” But the organization that was founded and is sustained by Christ, is not of this nature. She is rather a mystical body — once far from invisible — with clerics meant to serve her, not serve themselves.

If the light of Christmas does not come through them, Christ will find ways around them. The Hope that comes from Our Saviour is not something they can turn spigot-like on and off. If we cannot reach His Presence in His churches, then we must go underground, and sometimes suffer martyrdoms, even at the hands of fellow churchmen, for His sake. But in the face of Eternity, this is a minor inconvenience.

The Church herself will eventually join us, underground; leaving a desiccated husk on the surface, to be scattered by the winds. Christ will retrieve His Church, because, for all the betrayals, Christ abides.

Forgotten places

“Nothing will cure the sick lion but to eat an ape.”

The line comes from Marianne Moore, I think; a Presbyterian from Missouri. It drifted into mind, while I was trying to think of something else. My memory is often sound, and if it is now, I used to rather adore this poet. On the one hand, she was crystalline: sharp and precise. On the other, she could be whimsical — a masculine quality — and at the same time both brutal and light. The line I quoted above exhibits this. She was probably against sacrificing apes to sick lions, but could be ambiguous. She could be very stiff and formal, while utterly sabotaging stiffness and formality. Too, she wore a tricorn hat, when making public appearances.

Miss Moore lived two lives, sequentially; first as a modernist poet, then as a college campus celebrity. That is the usual order. Today, one may become a college celebrity without ever having been poetic, but only for fifteen minutes. A Republican and enthusiast for Herbert Hoover, she was never in danger of becoming a cult. Her much-applauded passing interest in the suffragist movement was a feature of juvenile life at Bryn Mawr (circa 1900). Looking for later hints of feminism is one of those games that academics play, in order to distract themselves from the verse, and its contagious beauty.

In which, to my mind, she was on the “Tower Bridge” between Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens: up high, but lower than either peak. For I continue to believe that Pound and Stevens were our two magisterial poets in English, in the twentieth century. I say “bridge” because Miss Moore could almost combine virtues from both towering poets; though being closer to the Stevens side. Her attitude towards Pound, when he was incarcerated in the St Elizabeth asylum as an alternative to hanging him for his wartime pro-Mussolini broadcasts, was just right. She stiffly disapproved of his anti-Semitism and Fascism. But she visited him regularly.

Someone should put together an anthology of female Presbyterian mystics. I think of our Canadian contributor, the late sublime Margaret Avison. While there was little theological presence in any of Miss Moore’s earlier poems, and less through her unfortunate rewrites near the end, it seemed to me that religion, and in the form of a recessive Holy Spirit, sparkled deep within her drollness.

And look, I have found her (1951) Collected Poems, still extant among my books. And I have just looked it up. The quote with which I started did come from Marianne Moore. Thank God because, if it hadn’t, I would have had to write a whole new Idleblog.