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Thursday, 17 December 2015

'Making Dogma out of Unsettled Science'

Grateful acknowledgement to Fr. George W. Rutler, for the following article published on December 14 in Crisis Magazine.

'In the Broadway production of Pygmalion, Professor Higgins regretted how proper English is considered freakish, and “in America, they haven’t used it for years.” The problem glares in the speech of television commentators, for whom coiffures are more important than diction, while grammar is banished from the social media, our urban landscape has become a jungle of incomplete sentences and dangling participles. By the time one reaches California, the subjunctive has completely disappeared. To have been reared speaking English is a blessing, for it is a language hard to learn by adoption and even native speakers can find its subtleties daunting. Consider, for instance, the differences between affect and effect, whether and if, since and because, which and that, nauseous and nauseated, farther and further, continual and continuous, disinterested and uninterested; and that is just for starters. Many English speakers think that the Greek derivative parameter means perimeter; and that leads to all sorts of problems.

A perimeter is a border, and a parameter — besides its technical mathematical meaning — is a physical property that determines the character of something. It is a measurable factor in the sense of a criterion or framework, a part of a whole. I mention this only because I want to speak of a matter of religion and science, and their parameters complement and serve each other, but are not to be confused. This was well expressed by Galileo’s friend Cardinal Baronio, or at least we may infer that Baronio was the one Galileo was quoting when he said: “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of not a few scientists who — following in the footsteps of Galileo — renounce neither reason nor faith. On the contrary, in the end they find value in both, in their reciprocal inventiveness. Christian thought compares the cosmos to a ‘book’ — Galileo also said the same — and considers it to be the work of an Author who is expressing himself by means of the ‘symphony’ of creation. Contrary to received histories, Giorgio de Santillana, no propagandist for Christianity by any means, said in his 'The Crime of Galileo', which has remained with me since I first read it when I was sixteen: “We must, if anything, admire the cautiousness and legal scruples of the Roman authorities.“ Most of the big ecclesiastical players knew their parameters: “…like Galileo, Copernicus had foreseen resistance not at all from the Church authorities but from vested academic interests.”

In 1576 Gregory XIII licensed a chair  of “Controversies” in the Roman College. The Religious orders and societies tended to line up according to their preferred philosophical systems, the Dominicans being Aristotelian and more disposed to geocentricism. The Jesuits and the Oratorians (of whom Baronio was one) leaned more toward the Augustinian tradition. Saint Augustine warned against resolving difficult questions such as those posited in astronomy by appeal to divine revelation: “We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, ‘I will send the Paraclete to teach you the course of the sun and the moon’; in fact, he wanted to create Christians not mathematicians.

                                                                         Pope Sylvester II

The first French Pope, Sylvester II, who reigned during the turn of the second millennium (and upbraided the superstitious Romans who read dire portents in the number 1000) saw harmony and not fracture in his life as Supreme Pastor and his avocation as scientist. (He invented the hydraulic pipe organ, introduced Hindu and Arabic numerals and the decimal system to Europe along with an improved abacus and an astrolabe, and transformed cartography by his use of the armillary sphere.) Copernicus had the same balance, and it is important to remember that he was first of all a priest, and dedicated his prime text “On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs” to Pope Paul III.

                                                      'Nikolas Copernicus' by Matejko

Here the Church nursed science when the Protestant leaders were condemning anything that did not accord with their reading of Scripture. Martin Luther had called Copernicus “that madman [who] wants to throw the art of astronomy into confusion” by denying that Joshua told the sun, and not the earth, to stand still. The Spanish theologians Diego De Zúñiga and Melchior Cano invoked against Protestant literalists the Augustinian exegetical principle that excluded the human language of Scripture from scientific proof texts. Though a pious Lutheran, the heliocentrist Johannes Kepler, shunned by his co-religionists, found friends among the Jesuits and had the honor of being plagiarized by the Catholic Galileo. Pope Urban VIII, somewhat offended when he sensed that his protégé Galileo had satirized him as “Simplicio” in his 'Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems', patiently urged Galileo to stay on the right track of speculation, and not to declare theory a fact.

                              'Galileo Galelei, 1636.'  by Justus Sustermans

 It may reasonably be said that Galileo was right and wrong, and so were some of his opponents, among whom St. Robert Bellarmine did not distinguish himself. Right in asserting the motion of the earth, which opponents denied, Galileo was wrong about the “solar stasis,” or immobility of the sun, which his opponents accepted. Both succumbed to error when they paraded theory as fact and scorned opponents as “deniers.” That alchemy of pride turns science into a false cult of scientism, which is unscientific science, while clerics abusing their authority descend to a false cult of clericalism, which is irreligious religion. A salutary example of how to order things rightly by humility was Christopher Clavius, the German Jesuit astronomer and mathematician, one of the commissioners for the Gregorian calendar, revered throughout Europe, who was a firm geocentrist. Telescopic observations with Galileo changed his mind, albeit with reservations, and he remained aloof from polemics.

There is a caution here relevant to the current debates, or refusal to debate, about global warming, previously global cooling and now preached as climate change. Its details are proper to physical science, but its moral imperative is rooted in revelation, just as is the very fact of creation in contradistinction to infinity. The human race was given authority to name all living creatures. Stewardship of creation is evidence of human dignity. “Ecology” is the understanding of all things animate and inanimate as part of God’s “household” just as economics is the ordering of that domain. Theories about climate change impose serious moral responsibilities, and require that the parameters of religion and science be identified, lest saving souls be overshadowed by saving the planet, which is an ambiguous concept anyway.

This point is lost on those who acknowledge no creator of creation and consequently make ecology a new theology. In that case, creation is perceived as its own creator with a system of dogmas and heresies, propaganda and censures, and its own secular liturgy, as when a crowd recently prostrated themselves on the floor of a chapel in Paris, chanting and praying for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to save Planet Earth. That salvation was called the most important challenge facing the human race, as though the terrorists who had murdered over a hundred Parisians just days before were regrettable irritants.

Jesus loved the lilies of the field, more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory, but he beautified this world incomparably by passing through it with a reminder of its natural impermanence: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The Church has dogmas and properly so, but they do not include making a dogma of unsettled science, just as in religion “private revelations” are not binding on the faithful. Science, by its nature is unsettled and today’s certitudes may be disproved tomorrow, and the anthropogenic theories held by even a majority of climatologists may fade like the geocentric theories of astronomers in the days of Clavius.

There are legitimate ways to consider the significance of carbon emissions in relation to variations in solar activity, changes in the terrestrial orbit and axis, fluctuations in gamma ray activity, and tectonic shifts, and the solid fact that Earth has been warmer than it is now in 7,000 of the last 10,000 years, but hypotheses should not be pronounced as conclusions. And if the Church’s “voice crying in the desert” is to be prophetic, it should not cry wolf. Nor should the Church allow herself to be appropriated by political elites and business interests and what Santillana in the instance of the Renaissance called “vested academic interests,” whose tendency is to exploit benevolent, if emotive, environmentalists.

 So it was perplexing that on the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the feast itself was upstaged by an unprecedented light show cast on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, sponsored by the World Bank Group, an environmental foundation called Okeanos, and Vulcan, Inc., a Seattle-based private company dedicated to exposing “sins against the climate.” Sins? These interests may have good intentions, but the parameters of banking, business and academe do not include imputing sin. There may be offenses and even crimes against the balance of the ecosystem, but not sins, unless science really has become a religion. The irony is that many who impute sins to those who disrupt the balance of nature, also defend and promote unnatural acts among humans. Although the Immaculate Conception was neglected by the New Age light show with its flying birds and leaping porpoises, it is consoling to remember that the Virgin Mary was completely free of sins against the climate, and departed this world without leaving any carbon footprint.

In the saga of environmentalism, the eleventh century Anglo-Scandinavian King Canute is often mistakenly evoked as a symbol of arrogance for setting up his throne on an English beach, possibly at Westminster or West Sussex or Southampton, and ordering the tides to roll back. The details are vague but the real point of the story is that Canute actually choreographed that drama to instruct his flattering courtiers in the limits of earthly power against the seas and skies. The tides did not withdraw, the king and his court got wet, and Canute pronounced: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but he whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” That was better than any gigantic light show, and better still, King Canute then placed his crown on the great crucifix in Winchester Cathedral and never wore it again. In matters of unsettled science, it would be edifying to see the members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the directors of the World Bank Group, corporate executives, and academics, do the same.
(Acknowledgement:  Fr. George W. Rutler and 'Crisis' magazine).


                            'The Nativity of Christ' by Vladimir Borovikosky

"Come, ye monarchs and emperors, come, all ye princes of the world, come and adore your highest King, who for love of you is now born, and born in such poverty in a cave.  But who appears?  No one.  The Son of God has indeed come into the world; but the world will not acknowledge him."
                                                      'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' 

'Wishing all a joyful and happy Christmas and New Year'

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

'ADVENT' by Caryll Houselander

                                                        'Annunciation' by El Greco

Caryll Houselander,  (1901 - 1954) was an English lay Roman Catholic ecclesiastical artist, mystic, popular religious writer and poet. 'The Reed of God' was one of many books she wrote, and in this she included the following article on Advent.I find her views deeply spiritual but always practical, simple but profound.

                                                                        Caryll Houselander

'ADVENT'  by Caryll Houselander

Advent is the season of the seed:  Christ loved this symbol of the seed.

The seed he said, is the word of God sown in the human heart.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed.”

“So is the Kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the earth.”

Even His own life blood:  “Unless the seed falling into the earth die, how shall the earth be sown?”

The Advent, the seed of the world’s life, was hidden in Our Lady.

Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her.

Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness.

Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence.

It is the season of humility, silence, and growth.

For nine months Christ grew in His Mother’s body. By His own will she formed Him from herself, from the simplicity of her daily life.

She had nothing to give Him but herself.

He asked for nothing else.

Working, eating, sleeping, she was forming His body from hers. His flesh and blood.  From her humanity she gave Him His humanity,

Walking in the streets of Nazareth to do her shopping, to visit her friends, she set His feet on the path of Jerusalem.

Washing, weaving, kneading, sweeping, her hands prepared His hands for the nails.

Every beat of her heart gave Him His heart to love with, His heart to be broken by love.

All her experience of the world about her was gathered to Christ growing in her.

Looking upon the flowers, she gave Him human sight.  Talking with her neighbours she gave Him a human voice. The voice we still hear in the silence of souls saying: “Consider the lilies of the field.”

                           'Our Lady of the Magnificat' by Sandro Botticelli

Sleeping in her still room she gave Him the sleep of the child in the cradle, the sleep of the young man rocked in the storm-tossed boat.

Breaking and eating the bread, drinking the wine of the country, she gave Him His flesh and blood; she prepared the Host for the Mass.

This time of Advent is absolutely essential to our contemplation too.

If we have truly given our humanity to be changed into Christ, it is essential to us that we do not disturb this time of growth.

It is a time of darkness, of faith. We shall not see Christ’s radiance in our lives yet; it is still hidden in our darkness; nevertheless, we must believe that He is growing in our lives; we must believe it so firmly that we cannot help relating everything, literally everything, to this almost incredible reality.

This attitude it is which makes every moment of every day and night a prayer.

In itself it is a purification, but without the tense resolution and anxiety of self-conscious aim.

How could it be possible that anyone who was conscious that Christ desired to see the world with his eyes would look willingly on anything evil? Or knowing that He wished to work with his hands, do any work that was shoddy, any work that was not as near perfection as human nature can achieve?

Who, knowing that his ears must listen for Christ, could listen to blasphemy or to the dreary dirtiness of so much of our conversation, or could fail to listen to the voice of a world like ours with compassion?

Above all, who, knowing that Christ asked for his heart to love with, for his heart to bear the burden of the love of God, could fail to discover that in every pulsation of his own life there is prayer?

This Advent awareness does not lead to a selfish preoccupation with self; it does not exclude outgoing love to others – far from it. It leads to them inevitably, but it prevents such acts and words of love from becoming distractions. It makes the very doing of them reminders of the presence of Christ in us.

It is through them that we can preserve the secrecy of Advent without failing to offer the loveliness of Christ in us to others.

           Everyone knows how terrible it is to come into contact with those people who have an undisciplined missionary urge, who, having received some grace, are continually trying to force the same grace on others, to compel them not only to be converted but to be converted in the same way and with precisely the same results as themselves.

            Such people seem to wish to dictate to the Holy Ghost. God is to inspire their neighbour to see things just as they do, to join the same societies, to plunge into the same activities. They go about like the scriptural monster, seeking whom they may devour. They insist that their victims have obvious vocations to assist in, or even to be completely sacrificed to, their own interests. Very often they unwittingly tear out the tender little shoot of Christ-life that was pushing up against the dark, heavy clay, and when the poor victim has been devoured, he is handed over, spiritless and broken, as a pre-digested morsel for the next one-hundred-per-cent zealot who comes along.

            Our Lady’s example is very different to this.

            When a woman is carrying a child, she develops a certain instinct of self-defence. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day to bring forth, the life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in its heart.

            This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.

            We could scrub the floor for a tired friend, or dress a wound for a patient in a hospital, or lay the table and wash up for the family; but we shall not do it in a martyr spirit or with that worse spirit of self-congratulation, of feeling that we are making ourselves more perfect, more unselfish, more positively kind.

            We shall do it just for one thing, that our hands make Christ’s hands in our life, that our service may let Christ serve through us, that our patience may bring Christ’s patience back to the world.

            By His own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent; He was absolutely helpless; He could go nowhere but where she chose to take Him; He could not speak; Her breathing was His breath; His heart beat in the beating of her heart.

            Today Christ is dependent upon men. In the Host, He is literally put into a man’s hands. A man must carry Him to the dying, must take Him to the prisons, workhouses, and hospitals, must carry Him in a tiny pyx over the heart onto the field of battle, must give Him to little children and ‘lay Him by” in His ‘leaflight’ house of gold.

            The modern world’s feverish struggle for unbridled, often unlicensed freedom, is answered by the bound, enclosed helplessness and dependence of Christ – Christ in the womb, Christ in the Host, Christ in the tomb.

            This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry Him in our hearts to wherever He wants to go, and there are many places to which He may never go unless we take Him to them.

            None of us know when the loveliest hour of our life is striking. It may be when we take Christ for the first time to that grey office in the city where we work, to the wretched lodging of that poor man who is an outcast, to the nursery of that pampered child, to the battleship, airfield, or camp.


                                                            Blessed Charles de Foucauld

 Charles de Foucauld, a young French soldier of our own day, became a priest and a hermit in the desert, where he was murdered by some of the Arabs whom he had come to serve. His life as a missionary hermit seemed no more than a quixotic spiritual adventure, a tilting at windmills, on the desert sands, but he knew and said that it was worth while for just one thing; because he was there, the Sacred Host was there.

            It mattered nothing if the heroic priest could not utter the wonder that was in his heart; the Blessed Sacrament was there in the desert; Christ was there, silent, helpless, dependent on a creature; that which His servant could not utter in words, Christ would utter, in His own time, in silence.

            Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness.  But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worth while.

                                                    'Visitation' by Frans Francken II
There is one exquisite incident in Our Lady’s Advent in which this is clearly seen: the Visitation.

            “And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda.”

            How lyrical that is, the opening sentence of St Luke’s description of the Visitation. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. “Those days” in which she rose on that impulse were the days in which Christ was being formed in her, the impulse was His impulse.

            Many women, if they were expecting a child, would refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness. They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or anyone else.

            The Mother of God considered no such thing. Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary’s own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth’s need – almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her.

            She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy.

            “I am come” said Christ, “that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” Even before He was born His presence gave life.

            With what piercing shoots of joy does this story of Christ unfold! First the conception of a child in a child’s heart, and then this first salutation, an infant leaping for joy in his mother’s womb, knowing the hidden Christ and leaping into life.

            How did Elizabeth herself know what had happened to Our Lady? What made her realise that this little cousin who was so familiar to her, was the mother of her God?

            She knew it by the child within herself, by the quickening into life which was a leap of joy.


                                                               'El buen Pastor' by Murillo

If we practise this contemplation taught and shown to us by Our Lady, we will find that our experience is like hers.

            If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it He is forming Himself; if we go with eager wills, “in haste”, to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that He desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.

            And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.

            It is not necessary at this stage of our contemplation to speak to others of the mystery of life growing in us. It is only necessary to give ourselves to that life, all that we are, to pray without ceasing, not by a continual effort to concentrate our minds but by a growing awareness that Christ is being formed in our lives from what we are. We must trust Him for this, because it is not a time to see His face, we must possess Him secretly and in darkness, as the earth possesses the seed. We must not try to force Christ’s growth in us, but with a deep gratitude for the light burning secretly in our darkness, we must fold our concentrated love upon Him like earth, surrounding, holding, and nourishing the seed.

We must be swift to obey the winged impulses of His Love, carrying Him to wherever He longs to be; and those who recognise His presence will be stirred, like Elizabeth, with new life. They will know His presence, not by any special beauty of power shown by us, but in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by an unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty.


                                               'The Road to Emmaus'  by Altobello Melone

 It seems that this is Christ’s favourite way of being  recognised, that he prefers to be known, not by His own human features, but by the quickening of His own life in the heart, which is the response to His coming.

When John recognised Him, He was hidden in His mother’s womb. After the Resurrection He was known, not by His familiar features, but by the love in Magdalene’s heart, the fire in the heart of the travellers to Emmaus, and the wound in His own heart handled by Thomas.

"Whoever would become a saint, must during this life resemble the lily among thorns, which, however much it may be pricked by them, never ceases to be a lily; that is, it is always equally sweet and serene. The soul that loves God maintains an imperturbable peace of heart."     
                                  ack. Thoughts from St Alphonsus.

e was hidden in His mother’s wombimHim

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Desert Fathers - 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven'.

               In these agitated days I think it time for another extract from 'The Desert Fathers', translated from the Latin by Helen Waddell. 

             "That part of the 'Historia Monachorum' dealing with the 'History of the Monks of Egypt', translated originally by Rufinus in Greek, was the story of a pilgrimage made through Egypt in AD 394, by a brother, possibly Timotheus, from Rufinus' own monastery on the Mount of Olives. He himself had made the same journey twenty years earlier, and Jerome had no doubts that 'translation' or not, Rufinus himself was responsible for the authorship, allowing his imagination a certain licence". Be that as it may, these stories - certainly founded on truth, convey a spirit of humility, simplicity, and trust in God, truly 'therapeutic' in our confused and materialistic world.

'We saw also the cell of the holy Paphnutius, the man of God, that was the most famous of all the anchorites in these parts, and that had lived the most remote inhabitant of the desert round about Heracleos, that shining city of the Thebaid.'

                        St Paphnutius of Thebes - etching 16/17th c.

                 Of him we had a most warrantable account from the Fathers, how at one time, after living an angelic life, he had prayed to God that He would show him which of the saints he was thought to be like. And an angel stood by him and answered that he was like a certain singing man, that earned his bread by singing in the village. Dumbfounded at the strangeness of the answer, he made his way with all haste to the village, and sought for the man. And when he had found him, he questioned him closely as to what works of piety and religion he had ever done, and narrowly enquired into all his deeds. But the man answered that the truth was that he was a sinful man of degraded life, and that not long before, from being a robber he had sunk to the squalid craft which he was now seen to exercise.

                                            Musicians - Simone Martini (14th c)

           But for this Paphnutius was the more insistent, asking if perchance some good thing might have cropped up amidst his thieving."I can think of nothing good about me,” said he: “but this I know, that once when I was among the robbers we captured a virgin consecrated to God: and when the rest of my company were for deflowering her, I threw myself in the midst and snatched her from their staining, and brought her by night as far as the town, and restored her untouched to her house. 
           Another time too, I found a comely woman wandering in the desert. And when I asked her why and how she had come into these parts, ‘Ask me nothing,’ said she, ‘nor question me for reasons, that am the wretchedest of women, but if it pleases thee to have a handmaid, take me where thou wilt. I have a husband that for arrears of tax hath often been hung up and scourged, and is kept in prison and tortured, nor ever brought out unless to suffer torment.We had three sons also that were taken for the same debt. And because they seek me also to suffer the same pains, I flee in my misery from place to place, worn out with grief and hunger, and I have been in hiding, wandering through these parts, and for three days have had no food.’
            And when I heard this, I had pity for her, and took her to the cave and restored her soul that was faint with hunger and gave her the three hundred solidi for which she and her husband and their three sons were liable, she said, not only to slavery but to torture; and she returned to the city and paid the money and freed them all.” 

            Then said Paphnutius, “I have done naught like that, yet I think it may have come to thine ears that the name of Paphnutius is famous among the monks. For it was with no small pains that I sought to fashion my life in this kind of discipline. Wherefore God has shown me this concerning thee, that thou hast no less merit before Him than I. And so, brother, seeing that thou hast not the lowest room with God, neglect not thy soul.” 
          And straightway he flung away the pipes that he carried in his hand, and followed him to the desert, and transforming his skill in music into a spiritual harmony of life and mind, he gave himself for three whole years to the strictest abstinence, busying himself day and night in psalms and prayer, and taking the heavenly road with the powers of the soul, gave up his spirit amid the angelic host  of the saints.

                                                Crucifixion - Parri Spinelli (c 1445) 

……… And again Paphnutius entreated the Lord that He would show him his like upon earth. And again the voice of the Lord came to him saying, “Know that thou art like the headman of the village close by.” And on hearing this, Paphnutius made haste to go to him, and knocked at the door of his house. And he, whose habit it was to entertain strangers, ran to meet him and brought him into his house and bathed his feet and set a table before him and made a feast. And as they feasted, Paphnutius began to question his host as to his doings, what was his desire, and what his exercises in good living. But he spoke humbly of himself, liking better to hide in his good deeds than be made a talk of, and Paphnutius urged him,  saying that it had been revealed to him by the Lord that he was worthy of the monastic fellowship. 
                   But at that he thought still more humbly of himself, and he said, indeed I know of no good in aught that is in me: but because God’s word has been said to thee, I can conceal naught from Him to whom nothing is hidden. So then I shall speak of those things that I am wont to do, set as I am in the midst of many men. It is now thirty years since a bond of continence was agreed between me and my wife and no man knows of it. I have had by her, three sons: for them only have I known my wife, nor have I known any other but her, nor herself now at all. I have never ceased to entertain  strangers and in such fashion that I let no one go to meet the coming guest before myself. I have never sent a guest from my house without provision for his journey: I have despised no man that was poor, but have supplied him with what things he needed. If I sat in judgement, I have not respected 
the person of my own son, in detriment of justice. 

        'Christ in the house of Simon the Pharisee' by Philippe de Champaigne (c.1656)

           The fruit of another man’s toil has never come into my house. If I saw a quarrel, I have never passed by till I brought them that were at odds to peace. No one ever caught my servants in a fault: never have my herbs injured another man’s crops: never did I forbid any man to sow in my fields, nor did I choose the richer fallow for myself, and leave the more barren to another. As much as in me lay, I never suffered the stronger to oppress the weak. Ever in my life I sought that no one should be sad because of me. If I were judge in a suit, I condemned no one, but sought to bring the dissidents to peace. And this, as God gave it, has been my way of living until now.”
            And hearing him, the blessed Paphnutius kissed his head and blessed him saying, "The Lord bless thee out of Zion and mayst thou behold the good things that are in Jerusalem. But as thou hast well and wisely performed all these, one thing thou lackest, which is the  highest of all good, that leaving all, thou should'st follow the very wisdom of God, and seek the more hidden treasure, whereto thou mayst not come unless thou deny thyself and take up thy cross, and follow Christ.”

                        Annunciation (detail) - Jacopo Pontormo (c1527)

              And when he had heard this, he delayed for naught, nor sought to set his house in order, but followed the man of God taking the road to the desert ……And when some time had gone by, and he had been led to that perfection of  knowledge who was already made perfect in deed, on a certain day Paphnutius sitting in his cell saw his soul taken up into heaven amid a host of angels that were saying, “Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest and causest to approach unto Thee: he shall abide in Thy tabernacle.”
          And hearing this, he knew that the man had been taken from this world. But Paphnutius persisted in fasting and prayer, reaching out to things greater and more perfect.

          ............ And again he prayed to God, that He would show him his fellow among men. And again a divine voice answered him saying: “Thou art like this merchant, whom thou shalt see coming towards thee: but rise up quickly and run to meet him, for the man who is thy fellow is nigh.” And going down without delay Paphnutius met a certain merchant of Alexandria, that was bringing goods worth twenty thousand pieces of gold in three ships from the Thebaid. And being a religious man and zealous after good, he had laden his young men with ten sacks of vegetables, and was bringing them to the monastery of the man of God: and this was the reason for his coming to Paphnutius. And straightway as he saw him , “What dost thou,” he said, “O soul most precious, and worthy of God?

   'St Augustine of Hippo' by Philippe de Champaigne (1645-50)    "You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.” ― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

                      What toil is this with things of earth, when thy lot and fellowship are in heaven? Leave these to such as are of earth, and think of earth; but do thou be a tradesman of the Kingdom of God, to which thou art called, and follow the Saviour, who will soon hereafter take thee to Himself.” 
                    And he with no least hesitation bade his young men give all that remained of his goods to the poor (for he had already himself given much away). And following the holy Paphnutius to the desert, he was set by him in that place from which his predecessors had been taken up to God. And in like fashion, instructed by him in all things, he abode in the exercises of the spirit and in studies of the divine wisdom, and in a little while, he also was translated to the assembly of the just.

                     And not long after, whilst Paphnutius himself was ordering his life in these same exercises of supreme  austerity and travail, the angel stood by him, saying to him .”Come thou blessed, and enter those everlasting mansions that are prepared for thee. For behold the Prophets are at hand who shall receive thee into their company. This at first I did not reveal to thee lest perchance thou shouldst be puffed up and thy labour be lost.”

                                                 'St Jerome'- Lionello Spada (c1610)

                        And after these things, for one day he lived his life in the body, and when certain priests came to visit him, he made known to them all that the Lord had revealed to him, saying to them that no one in this world ought to be despised, let him be a thief, or an actor on the stage, or one that tilled the ground, and was bound to a wife, or was a merchant and served a trade; for in every condition of human life there are souls that please God and have their hidden deeds wherein He takes delight: whence is it plain that it is not so much profession or habit that is pleasing to God, as the sincerity and affection of the soul and honesty of deed. And when he had spoken thus about each in turn, he gave up his spirit.'

                       St Anthony the Abbot and St Paul the first hermit
 'He had reached the age of one hundred and thirteen years when Anthony, then ninety years old, came to visit him. Paul received him warmly. After they had spent the night in conversing about holy things, Paul said that his death was at hand and asked Anthony to go and get the cloak given him by Athanasius to use as a winding sheet. Anthony went to do this and, as he was on his way back he saw Paul’s soul going up to heaven. His body he found in his cell, still in the attitude of prayer. When he had chanted the customary hymns, he wrapped the body in the cloak, but had nothing to dig a grave with. Thereupon two lions came from deep in the desert and hollowed out a place large enough to hold a men’s body. Anthony buried the body arranged the grave and went away taking with him the tunic which Paul had woven for himself from palm-leaves. Thereafter he always wore this cloak on the great feasts of Easter and Pentecost.' 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia
  "There is no devotion so generally practised by the faithful of all classes as that of the Rosary.  The immense good that this noble devotion has done to the world is well known. How many, by its means, have been delivered from sin! how many led to a holy life! how many to a good death and to heaven!"
ack. 'Thoughts from St. Alphonsus'.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Time for a Smile - Courtesy of W.S.Gilbert

Time, I think, for a smile, and what better than a look at 'Bab Ballads', a collection of light verse, written by W.S.Gilbert, and illustrated with his own comic drawings, prior to his professional association with Arthur Sullivan.  In writing these, Gilbert developed his unique "topsy-turvy" style, where the humour was derived by setting up a ridiculous premise and working out its logical consequences, however absurd. The Ballads also reveal Gilbert's cynical and satirical approach to humour. They became famous in their own right, as well as being a source for plot elements, characters and songs often recycled later in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.  The Ballads were read aloud at private dinner-parties, public banquets and even in the House of Lords.  (Wikipedia)
From 'Fifty Bab Ballads' published in 1884 by George Routledge & Sons, I have taken two which I hope you will enjoy, namely 'Annie Protheroe - a legend of Stratford-le-Bow';  and 'My Dream', both of which were performed as short operettas. 

Annie Protheroe    -   a legend of Stratford-le-Bow  (1868)

Oh! Listen to the tale of little Annie Protheroe.
She kept a small post-office in the neighbourhood of Bow;
She loved a skilled mechanic, who was famous in his day –
A gentle executioner whose name was Gilbert Clay.

I think I hear you say, “A dreadful subject for your rhymes!”
O reader, do not shrink – he didn’t live in modern times!
He lived so long ago (the sketch will show it at a glance)
That all his actions glitter with the lime-light of Romance.

In busy times he laboured at his gentle craft all day –
“No doubt you mean his Cal-craft,” you amusingly will say –
But, no – he didn’t operate with common bits of string,
He was a Public Headsman, which is quite another thing.

And when his work was over, they would ramble o’er the lea,
And sit beneath the frondage of an elderberry tree,
And Annie’s simple prattle entertained him on his walk,
For public executions formed the subject of her talk.

And sometimes he’d explain to her, which charmed her very much,
How famous operators vary very much in touch,
And then, perhaps, he’d show how he himself performed the trick,
And illustrate his meaning with a poppy and a stick.

Or, if it rained, the little maid would stop at home, and look
At his favourable notices, all posted in a book,
And then her cheek would flush – her swimming eyes would dance with joy
In a glow of admiration at the prowess of her boy.

One summer eve, at supper time, the gentle Gilbert said
(As he helped his pretty Annie to a slice of collared head),
“This reminds me I must settle on the next ensuing day
The hash of that unmitigated villain, Peter Gray.”

He saw his Annie tremble and he saw his Annie start,
Her changing colour trumpeted the flutter at her heart;
Young Gilbert’s manly bosom rose and sank with jealous fear,
And he said, “O gentle Annie, what’s the meaning of this here?”

And Annie answered, blushing in an interesting way,
“You think, no doubt, I’m sighing for that felon Peter Gray:
That I was his young woman is unquestionably true,
But not since I began a-keeping company with you.”

Then Gilbert, who was irritable, rose and loudly swore
He’d know the reason why, if she refused to tell him more;
And she answered (all the woman in her flashing from her eyes),
“You mustn’t ask no questions, and you won’t be told no lies!

“Few lovers have the privilege enjoyed, my dear, by you,
Of chopping off a rival’s head and quartering him too!
Of vengeance, dear, tomorrow you will surely take your fill!”
And Gilbert ground his molars as he answered her, “I will!”

Young Gilbert rose from table with a stern determined look,
And, frowning, took an inexpensive hatchet from its hook;
And Annie watched his movements with an interested air –
For the morrow – for the morrow he was going to prepare!

He chipped it with a hammer and he chopped it with a bill,
He poured sulphuric acid on the edge of it, until
This terrible Avenger of the Majesty of Law
Was far less like a hatchet than a dissipated saw.

And Annie said, “O Gilbert, dear, I do not understand
Why ever you are injuring that hatchet in your hand?”
He said, “It is intended for to lacerate and flay
The neck of that unmitigated villain, Peter Gray!”

“Now, Gilbert,” Annie answered, “wicked headsman, just beware –
I won’t have Peter tortured with that horrible affair;
If you appear with that, you may depend you’ll rue the day.”
But Gilbert said, “Oh, shall I?” which was just his nasty way.

He saw a look of anger from her eyes distinctly dart,
For Annie was a woman, and had pity in her heart!
She wished him a good evening – he answered with a glare;
She only said, “Remember, for your Annie will be there!”

                                                     * * * *

The morrow Gilbert boldly on the scaffold took his stand,
With a vizor on his face and with a hatchet in his hand,
And all the people noticed that the Engine of the Law
Was far less like a hatchet than a dissipated saw.

The felon very coolly loosed his collar and his stock,
And placed his wicked head upon the handy little block.
The hatchet was uplifted for to settle Peter Gray,
When Gilbert plainly heard a woman’s voice exclaiming, “Stay!”

T’was Annie, gentle Annie, as you’ll easily believe.
“O Gilbert, you must spare him, for I bring him a reprieve,
It came from our Home Secretary many weeks ago,
And passed through that post-office which I used to keep at Bow.

“I loved you, loved you madly, and you know it, Gilbert Clay,
And as I’d quite surrendered all idea of Peter Gray,
I quietly suppressed it, as you’ll clearly understand,
For I thought it might be awkward if he came and claimed my hand.

“In anger at my secret (which I could not tell before),
To lacerate poor Peter Gray vindictively you swore;
I told you if you used that blunted axe you’d rue the day,
And so you will, young Gilbert, for I’ll marry Peter Gray!”
                                                                                 [ And so she did. 

NB. Cal-craft (v3) --- William Calcraft (1800 - 1879), English Hangman  for 45 years, performing 450 executions. Of dubious fame.                                                                


My Dream  (1870)

The other night, from Care exempt,
I slept – and what d’you think I dreamt?
I dreamt that somehow I had come
To dwell in Topsy-Turveydom –

Where vice is virtue – virtue, vice;
Where nice is nasty – nasty, nice;
Where right is wrong and wrong is right –
Where white is black and black is white.

Where babies, much to their surprise,
Are born astonishingly wise;
With every Science on their lips,
And Art at all their finger-tips.

For, as their nurses dandle them
They crow binomial theorem,
With views (it seems absurd to us)
On differential calculus.

But though a babe, as I have said,
Is born with learning in his head,
He must forget it, if he can,
Before he calls himself a man.

For that which we call folly here,
Is wisdom in that favoured sphere;
The wisdom we so highly prize
Is blatant folly in their eyes.

A boy, if he would push his way,
Must learn some nonsense every day;
And cut, to carry out this view,
His wisdom teeth and wisdom too.

Historians burn their midnight oils,
Intent on giant-killer’s toils;
And sages close their aged eyes
To other sages’ lullabies.

Our magistrates, in duty bound,
Commit all robbers who are found;
But there the Beaks (so people said)
Commit all robberies instead.

Our Judges, pure and wise in tone,
Know crime from theory alone,
And glean the motives of a thief
From books and popular belief.

But there, a Judge who wants to prime
His mind with true ideas of crime,
Derives them from the common sense
Of practical experience.

Policemen march all folks away
Who practise virtue every day –
Of course, I mean to say, you know,
What we call virtue here below.

For only scoundrels dare to do
What we consider just and true,
And only good men do, in fact,
What we should think a dirty act.

But strangest of these social twirls,
The girls are boys – the boys are girls!
The men are women, too – but then,
Per contra, women are all men.

To one who to tradition clings
This seems an awkward state of things,
But if to think it out you try,
It doesn’t really signify.

With them, as surely as can be,
A sailor should be sick at sea,
And not a passenger may sail
Who cannot smoke right through a gale.

A soldier (save by rarest luck)
Is always shot for showing pluck
(That is, if others can be found
With pluck enough to fire a round).

“How strange!” I said to one I saw;
“You quite upset our every law.
However can you get along
So systematically wrong?”

“Dear me!” my mad informant said,
“Have you no eyes within your head?
You sneer when you your hat should doff:
Why, we begin where you leave off!

Your wisest men are very far
Less learned than our babies are!”
I mused awhile – and then, oh me!
I framed this brilliant repartee:

“Although your babes are wiser far
Than our most valued sages are,
Your sages, with their toys and cots,
Are duller than our idiots!”

But this remark, I grieve to state,
Came just a little bit too late;
For as I framed it in my head,
I woke and found myself in bed.

Still I could wish that, ‘stead of here,
My lot were in that favoured sphere! –
Where greatest fools bear off the bell
I ought to do extremely well.      


To wisdom belongs the intellectual apprehension of things eternal; to knowledge, the rational apprehension of things temporal. (St. Augustine of Hippo)