Wednesday, November 30, 2005

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Wednesday

Alas, the habitual blog-stoppage of Thursday & Friday impends, to be followed by the habitual blog-resumption of Saturday, however. In the meantime:

Today I had to visit downtown Minneapolis, and while there I'm afraid I splurged a little on music. Fortunately, all but one of the resultant CD's in my coat pockets were borrowed from the library, not purchased (the lone purchase was a bit of violin & piano music by Dvorak). Among other things, I borrowed a couple of Masses: Guillaume de Machuat's famous Mass of Notre Dame, and Mozart's Requiem, which indeed I had never heard before.

I was quite surprised by the character of de Machuat's Mass. At the time, sacred music in the West (and secular music too, I would suppose) still used microtonal ornamentation - for those unfamiliar with musical terminology, just think of that wavery stuff you hear in Middle Eastern or African singing. It all sounds very, very different from the music of Palestrina two centuries later.

Mozart is probably the most intimidating of composers, not excepting Bach I would say; the appalling smoothness of invention, the casual ingenuity and power of his music is unequalled. And the Requiem, of course, is one of his very greatest works. But enough of that.

Have I mentioned what a wonderful thing this 1962 Missal is? I can just flip it open at random and start reading; everything is good.

Anyway I've started re-reading "The Lord of the Rings." Now the movies are nice enough, but they are in no way the slightest patch on the book. There is something odd about it, though, a mix of grand themes and noble characters, with a sort of comfortable homeyness both in style and in dramatic treatment. It was hardly the only manner of which Tolkien was capable, as the Silmarillion shows, but at times I wish Tolkien had been a real master of the language, such as scarcely walk the earth anymore - a magician, a dramatist, a poet, an orator - in short, someone who knew English. Yet perhaps this mixture of virtues is psychologically impossible; the magicians tended to be lazy fellows except when it came to writing for a pay-check, and I could never imagine either a Shakespeare, or a Dickens, or anyone of that sort expending the enormous effort required in inventing the whole world of Middle-Earth - languages, history and all - not to mention writing such an epic work as Lord of the Rings.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

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Tuesday

Well, I now have "The Roman Missal (1962)" right here in front of me.

This thing is neat! I hadn't realized traditionalism was so much more fun than...well, the alternative. It's like a little (2000-page) handbook for Catholics - everything in the Mass that doesn't change, everything that does change, and all sorts of non-liturgical prayers (hundreds at least), including Latin versions of ones we all know at least in english, as well as plenty that I certainly don't know at all.

Is it too much to ask - why anyone would ever want to get rid of all this???

I know, I've just got my Missal and I've only been to 3 Tridentine Masses; shouldn't I take a little longer to start complaining about the Novus Ordo and all its accoutrements, in the manner of a cranky old traditionalist?

Well, the thing to keep in mind is: my conversion was based on reading, along with accompanying thinking, and specifically, reading pre-Vatican II writers like Chesterton, Fr. Ronald Knox, Hilaire Belloc (my man!) and if you want someone who practically embodies everything the modernists hate about the "pre-Vatican II Church", it's Belloc. Neither was I enraptured by the vitality of something called a "lifeteen mass", nor did the example of John Paul II influence me (I never paid much attention to the news, and apart from having thought [in earlier days] that the pope couldn't be a very good fellow as he was such a conservative [this being bad, supposedly] but that I vaguely wished I could like the pope as everything I heard about him personally seemed rather likeable, JPII barely appeared on my mental radar), nor did some American evangelical fellow realizing "hey, we're actually quite wrong about this, this and this! Moreover, somebody else seems to have been getting it right for the last two millenia!" particularly impress me. I certainly wouldn't say I converted in spite of the Novus Ordo, and as far as Vatican II, I have never paid much attention to it at all, I have to admit, except that the declaration on religious liberty has always been hard for me to square with what several popes have said on the matter. I am still unclear as to whether the documents of the council are infallible - Pope Paul VI seemed to have said "no" in one statement - nor am I confident in my ability to understand such things in any case, so I have always left that issue for wiser heads than my own. But I certainly did not convert because of the Novus Ordo or Vatican II or anything after 1960.

And in a year and a half of attending Novus Ordo Masses, it was not so much that I grew disenchanted with it, as that I was never attached to it in the first place. When I converted, one thing that struck me is how much importance Catholics attached to the Eucharist. And when people complained about the liturgy, the response (from non-pod-people) was "yes, it's quite awful - but Jesus is there, either way". This seemed quite logical to me - after all, the very presence of God Himself is surely more significant than a little bad music more or less, and some uninspiring prayers, etc.? It is only now that I realize, that this reasonable-seeming attitude really devalues the Mass. Consider these words from my 1962 Missal, introducing the "preparation for Holy Mass" and "ordinary of the Mass" section:

"Of all the practices recommended by our holy religion[...]-the august Sacrifice of the Mass is infinitely greater. It is the most precious, the most holy of practices, as well as the most conducive to man's salvation".

"Mass" is not used here as a synonym for "communion". There is a difference; the whole thing is important, and it does not exist solely to give us communion. Yes, the transformation of bread and wine into the Body of Our Lord is indeed at the very heart of the Mass, but this transformation is for Sacrifice and not solely communion. This fact, which I've harped on for a while now, is very significant here because a sacrifice demands a ritual solemnity beyond that of a "communal meal". In fact this is putting it too weakly, because neither music nor prayers are in any way part of communion at all, whereas ceremonial matters are indeed part of a sacrifice, at least in a sense, being naturally attendant on it. Thus, when you see Mass as nothing more than communion, it is easy to say "what if the music is bad? What if there are insipid prayers? It matters little". But when you say that sort of thing, while regarding Mass as a Sacrifice, you are saying "so what if the sacrificial ceremony is performed badly?" and that is lunacy. We must still, indeed, distinguish between the ceremony offered by mortals and the Sacrifice offered by Our Lord, lest we say "the Sacrifice is badly done" at this or that Mass, seeming to imply that Our Lord's action in the Mass in in some way deficient, which is obviously impossible. But anyway, no one will be loony enough to say, "what if the ceremony of Sacrifice is badly done? It is not important." This is obviously a very bad thing, and very irreverent.

Therefore the deficiencies of the Novus Ordo Mass (and I refer to the Novus Ordo as it actually exists, not as it might possibly be done according to the rubrics - though even ignoring such things as are not mandated by the rubrics, i.e. the altar-smashing, the priest facing Our Wonderfulness, putting everything in the vernacular and a very bad vernacular, the wretched music, etc., I have read through the Ordinary of the old Mass a few times, enough to see that the prayers here are much more numerous, more beautiful, more proper to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, than what one hears at a Novus Ordo Mass) lead to a sort of warped spirituality even in the devout (or the not-so-devout who still take their religion seriously), a sort of "communion-only" approach to the Mass. And though it might seem superficially that over-emphasizing "communion" would not be destructive of spiritual "community", I think that one of the main consequences of the New Mass is an almost Protestant "Jesus and me" approach to the spiritual life, where the role of the Church is minimized. This seems ridiculous, since the "communal aspect of the Mass" is supposedly much emphasized nowadays. So it is, but that only reinforces my point: regard the Church as nothing but a community, and not as our Mother, and you cannot love Her. The community to which a Novus Ordo Mass-goer is invited, is not an appealing one, hence the retreat into individualism that marked not only myself, but I suspect anyone who has had to comfort himself with the refrain "at least Jesus is there, whatever else I have to put up with" - a refrain perhaps more despairing than the speaker realizes, for it was only after the realizations I described above that the deficiency of such a mentality occurred to me.

In short, this is something that has been welling up in me for a long time; from the beginning I had some sympathy for traditionalism, for perhaps a year I have been inclining to think the traditionalists were right in at least most of what they said. But typically, I delayed quite some time in "taking the plunge" - so if any of my opinions should appear rather quickly-acquired, I assure the reader that this is not the case; I have simply been waiting. Waiting too long, in my opinion, now that I know what I was missing....

Sunday, November 27, 2005

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3rd report

I could definitely get used to this Tridentine Mass. Apart from everything else (and there is a lot of "everything else") it's nice to go to a Mass that does not make me wince. Look, "focus" is not exactly my strong suit anyway, and it doesn't help to have thoughts like, "what a terrible, terrible hymn" or "but this psalm-setting is even worse" or "this english pseudo-chant stuff is NOT RIGHT" or "that prayer of petition was not a good idea" or "do I have to shake hands? Okay he's turning towards me, so it would kind of be rude not to shake hands, wouldn't it? Okay, is that enough now?" running through my head. And I'm much too arrogant as it is, so the last thing I need is to separate myself from the crowd by different (and better) devotional practices, i.e. receiving on the tongue while 95% of the congregation receives in the hand.

At a Tridentine Mass there is no bad music or bad chant (actually this is a Low Mass so there's no music or chant at all; a pity, but there aren't many options), I don't have to shake hands, there are no unbearable petitions, everybody receives on the tongue while kneeling...though the simple absence of distractions would not be enough to put me on a two-hour bus ride every week, this is a very nice feature.

The more important superiorities of this Mass I have already mentioned in my earlier reports. That the priest does not turn his back on the tabernacle to face the wonderfulness of the congregation, but faces the High Altar with the tabernacle on it, thank you very much, that the priest does not blast out his every prayer at the top of his voice (with the strong implication that his prayers are only important because we hear them)...and yes, that almost all of it is in a language that does not corrupt over time, in a liturgy whose words were not written at a time when nobody seems able to write well...yes, this is all very good. I could certainly get used to this.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

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Ahh

In America we have a holiday called "Thanksgiving", the main idea of which is that you eat a great deal for several days, Thursday of this past week in particular. Blogimus is well fed now.

So, not to be stealing all of my topics for posting from ex laodicea (that would smack of laziness, wouldn't it?), but really, this rather startled me. Remember, traditionalists who worry about Modernism in the Church are silly, paranoid people. Cdl. Hans Urs von Balthasar was a great theologian. Now shut up and let me explain to you suspicious, uncharitable Rad-Trads what a flawed concept of Tradition you have - and start on your Tarot and Trimestigus pronto-donto, or we'll start to wonder if you've really accepted Vatican II at all.

I mean...using the "Major Arcana" as a way to the "deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery"? Look, there was a time I might have been interested in that kind of b.s....then I became a Catholic. It's a very weird thing I noticed after I converted - I had gone through every sham religion and philosophy, and was by then, quite frankly, completely uninterested in the thought of any non-Catholic on religious matters (and often on historical and philosophical matters, as these have much to do with religion). Time has only cemented me in this position; for the poor people who suggest that the cute little arguments and speculations of C.S. Lewis, or the dour musings of Karl Barth, or whatever it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, could be at all edifying to me, I smile and return to my St. Augustine, or my Belloc, or whatever real intellectual has my attention at the moment.

It is not that they are wrong and we are right; Lewis is no more useful to me when I agree with him than not. It does not hinge on being right in the sense of saying "B" instead of "A"; it hinges on being right or wrong the way a painting or a symphony is right or wrong; without the Faith to inform them, men cannot write about theology in a way that is interesting - interesting not in the subjective sense of "amusing", but in the sense of providing useful food for thought. At their very best, the Protestants or what have you can tell me what I already know; at their worst, they can tell me what I already know to be wrong. But as far as religion is concerned, however they may exceed me in other matters, they have nothing to tell me that I do not know at all.

But after my conversion, I noticed (and here is that very weird thing I mentioned earlier) that many of my newly-fellow Catholics seemed to have an opposite attitude. They seemed to have a positive thirst for non-Catholic writers on religion, usually Protestant, and they would quote some famous name of some famous heresy, as if he were some sort of theological authority. This was beyond me; such citations have a vaguely "ecumenical" air, except they are not even cited in the presence of Protestants! As if, to be real ecumenists, it is not enough to have a "dialogue" with them, where we quote approvingly from some silly ass they all revere and say "yes dear, he was actually right about this [if we interpret him in a sense that came to me while I was knocking back my fifth cup of home-brew]" (which is already a bit much), but we actually have to go quoting non-heretical statements of Luther TO EACH OTHER, as if he were somebody worth listening to. No doubt if I challenged anyone on this practice, they would say "I just take truth where I find it [you narrow-minded traditionalist bigot, you]". But that begs the question of why you would go looking there - not to mention, in practice, the fact that almost all of these "truths" are either false, or trite, or savour of the author's particular errors in a manner that is clear to any observant intellect.

Oddly enough, this habit strikes me as remarkably reminiscent of the justification for some of the innovations in the Mass, where "ecumenism" was also a factor: in order to further some pie-in-the-sky hope of bringing our "separated brethren" into "fuller communion", we must be willing to mutilate our own spiritual lives by suppressing things that annoy them. Allow me to encapsulate this strategy by quoting a Protestant, specifically the Screwtape Letters. It is a better work than I remembered, actually, and these bits of advice between demons are quite apropos:

"Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present[...]It is far better to make them live in the Future[...]He does not want ment to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do."

"To get the man's soul and give him nothing in return - that is what really gladdens Our Father's heart."

Lewis was not, to put it mildly, talking about wrecking the Mass (or our theological discourse) by Protestantizing it for the sake of ecumenical dreams. He would probably have approved of this (though not of the ICEL translations, much less our new music); he says elsewhere in the book that most Catholics & Anglicans, ignorant of Aquinas and Hooker as they are, should stop pretending they have anything significant to disagree about in re: the Mass vs. "communion" because most of them could not articulate the theological differences between them. This was false: apart from the snobbery of supposing that the inarticulancy of the uneducated means that their opinions are worthless (after all, what of those Christians who likewise couldn't give a coherent explanation of why they believe in the Faith at all - or why they believe the earth orbits the sun, or politicians are crooked? The same logic would condemn them on all three counts, but of course the logic of "you can't explain to me your reasons for believing this, so you're a fool to believe it" is always the logic of the intellectual snob and the sophist, in religion and everything else), many Catholics - they need not have been superbly educated - actually could have explained the most important difference: "the Mass is a Sacrifice; a Protestant service is not" is a simple proposition that plenty of Catholics and Anglicans used to know, understand and believe; the former believed in the Mass and died for it; the latter believed in 'communion' and killed for it; the Anglicans had forgotten all this by Lewis's day but not, I think, the Catholics. Most of us have forgotten it now, however....

Still, whatever Lewis's opinions, doesn't he put that very nicely? Or to quote another Englishman who I don't think was Catholic either:

"Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow but never jam today."

In short, this odious practice of slathering ourselves in Protestantism so we won't smell wrong to the Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists and Calvinists is a shell game, whether we do it by "downplaying" the sacrificial character of the Mass or by quoting Protestants whenever we can & approving their heretical formulas in whatever orthodox sense we can invent. The goal is vague and unreasonable, the sacrifices are real and weighty (souls), and the practice is folly. The false character of all this, should be obvious to anyone considering the fact that ecumenism is a much more reasonable project with the Eastern Orthodox, yet we have never changed the Mass to suit them, much less mutilated it for their sake, and we're much less likely to quote Eastern Orthodox writers, adopt the terminology of their theologians, etc. When we do quote them, they're more likely to have their heads on straight too...that we are most eager for "union" with those self-styled Christians who least resemble us, is telling and reeks of trickery.

Yet the people who turn to Protestants for truth, however much they might irk me, are infinitely more sensible than one who turns to medieval occultism for Christian wisdom (or likewise the ones who see something useful in Jung, who I think are much more numerous than the followers of this weird perversity uncovered at ex laodicea).

Either way, though, they are exhibiting that strange habit I noticed when I first entered the Church: of preferring to scrabble around for theological truth in the sterile back-alleys of unbelievers, when they can rummage at will in the two-thousand-year-old storehouse of sound and fruitful Christian thought which we have as part of our patrimony. Perhaps it began in ecumenism, but it has ended in a way of the spiritual life, and an insane one. That such people read Catholics as well is not the point; the point is that unbelievers even show up on their radar when it comes to religious matters, except as potential converts or polemical opponents - this betrays a lack of proportion in reading and in thought. We have the Truth, and as Belloc said, "outside is the night."

Speaking of which, I've scored a copy of "The Servile State" (serious) and "Companion to Mr. Wells' 'Outline of History'" (fun, mostly anyway). Reports to follow!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

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2nd report

Well, I went to St. Augustine parish (my patron saint, by the way, so nobody go knocking St. Augustine around here!) for their Tridentine Mass again. I could definitely get used to it....

I'm hoping to get a better grip on what happens in the Mass next Sunday, by which time the 1962 Missal from Baronius Press (thanks to Boeciana for the recommendation) should have arrived.

During the (extensive!) three-fold bus ride to St. Augustine, I sat next to a madman during the second leg of my journey. He was presumably what they would call "paranoid schizophrenic" nowadays. It had been some time since I was in the society of such a man, and I was surprised at the intelligibility of his monologue, after due acclimation. I wonder, if sometimes the incoherence of a lunatic's thought-processes is somewhat exaggerated, by people who are themselves too thoughtless to examine their fellow men with any accuracy.

For instance, when he said, "I am the wicked servant, the mystical money tree," I suspect there are all sorts of careless people - perhaps including some with "advanced" degrees in psychology - who would make some dismissive remark about "word salads" and say that this was gibberish. In fact, by the "wicked servant" he referred to the wicked servant in the Parable of the Talents, of which his exegesis was odd (though not odder than the interpretations of some sane people). Instead of taking the master to represent God, he took the master to be a sort of arch-capitalist, and interpreted the parable as an illustrating the evils of avarice, so that the "wicked servant" who failed to turn a profit was in fact the hero of the story. The fact that the talent was buried, conjured up an association with the adage "money doesn't grow on trees", and "mystical" is a somewhat obscure quality by which he seems to distinguish his own thought-processes from those of ordinary people (presumably he is well aware that a distinction exists); he, having a different, mystical concept of the purpose of money (as he explained), embodied by the idea of growing a money tree instead of trading it at the market, was thus "the wicked servant, the mystical money tree." Obviously this is not sane, but not really incoherent either, which surprised me somewhat.

But I was surprised even more, when he made what sounded like a series of sensible remarks on morality and the modern attempts to recast it in a new, "tolerant" mold. During this part of his soliloquoy, he said, "a lot of people want to tell Jesus, 'you'd better change this, or else.' Or else what?" There was something very reasonable in the way he said this, not to mention the reasonableness of the remark itself, from which many sane people could stand to learn.

When the driver announced we were heading down "Dr. Martin Luther King Drive" (I suspect there are about five million of these in the country) he made a joke based on the "I have a dream" speech, obviously of his own devising, but rather funny; however it was slightly bawdy (though only a prig would call it racist) and I will not reproduce it here.

This also makes me wonder about the neat and tidy little concept that many of us have, of a schizophrenic who is "all right" when he takes his medication, but otherwise crazy. That picture is easy to understand if a lapse into madness is a mere lapse into delusions, hallucinations or chaos; however as I said, his thinking was not wholly chaotic, nor did its faults consist merely in delusions in the sense of some false opinion (say, that the Jews were plotting against him - certainly he believed this, but not all of his monologue involved actual errors in fact of this sort. It is also interesting to note that during one passage on the Jews, he said something like "Judas is false righteousness", a remarkably cogent interjection), and he made no clear reference to hallucinations of any kind. Rather he had an ordered way of thinking which was itself insane. For the schizophrenic who in fact uses and benefits from anti-psychotic medications, does (for instance) his pre-medication Biblical exegesis completely vanish, along with all the other features of his schizophrenic mindset, simply by virtue of properly-adjusted brain chemicals? I find this doubtful, especially since a schizophrenic is still capable of reasoning, so the line between his "crazy thinking" and "sane thinking" does not seem perfectly sharp. I expect that whatever degree of recovery a schizophrenic may achieve, is due to much more than taking the right drugs, however useful they may be; it may actually be that his own will has something to do with the matter. Certainly anti-psychotics are not always or equally effective - almost as if a man's mind is not governed solely by a balance of neurotransmitters, strange as that sounds.

In any case it is clearly a horrible affliction, even if it is not as simple as casual observation and popular reputation would have it. Most pitiable, it seems to me, is the sheer loneliness that such people must endure. I myself looked at the man and listened to him, but said nothing, as nothing came to mind. How many others would not give him even so much attention as that?

So when I arrived at St. Augustine, the 10am Novus Ordo Mass was just ending, and when I entered the sanctuary I saw men removing the Novus Ordo altar. I have to say that there was something striking about the symbolism of this - a bare, impermanent block of stone being carried away, to give clear view to what it had never managed to obscure completely: the High Altar.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

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n.b. on Eusebius

My knowledge of Greek is scanty, but for anyone reading Eusebius whose knowledge is yet scantier: whenever you see the word "witness" (and probably "testimony" as at the beginning of Book VI) this is the same as "martyr"; likewise the verb forms of "to witness" are of the same origin. I suppose it's common knowledge that that's what "martyr" means, but somehow it strikes me as less obvious that the converse is true, so when Eusebius or some other Greek writer is made to say "witness" in the context of discussing the martyrs, it's handy to realize that this is more or less an arbitrary decision of the translator. Not to criticize them - where would we be without translators?

That's the another thing I like about these old-timey Greeks and Romans: even if they were great scholars like Eusebius of Ceasarea, they knew one language and one only - except for St. Jerome. Makes me feel right at home....
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Nothing New Under the Sun

In Book V, chapter 28 of Eusebius's history he describes the heresy of Artemon. It was an earlier, much more straightforward version of Arianism - Arianism, from what little I know, strikes me as a fundamentally tricky heresy, such as might strike the unwary observer as a minor terminological dispute with the orthodox, while the full implications of it, once unravelled, would scarcely imply more dignity to Our Lord than the doctrines of a Muslim. Artemon seems to have denied the divinity of Our Lord in a more direct and obvious fashion - and so, of course, had much less success than Arius. The followers of Artemon also took a free hand towards the Scriptures, and denied the antiquity of the orthodox teaching regarding Our Lord (not very plausibly, as pointed out by the writer Eusebius quotes). Heresy doesn't really change much over the millenia....
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There

I spiffed up my profile, giving my readers such useful information as my location (which information I consider COMPLETELY accurate) and a general idea of what Blogimus looks like (sans beard/goatee-like thing).
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Cold

So, when I went outside today, something told me that autumn is beginning to draw to a close. It could have been something about the grey cast of the sky, or the complete denudation of the non-evergreen trees - or perhaps it was because everything was covered in snow.

Whereas yesterday had been something like 40 or 50 degrees (about 5 to 10 degrees for those using the heathen metric system), the nearby bank thermometer (that great institution) was reading 19 degrees as of 15 minutes ago. That's about -7 by aforementioned heathenish reckoning. This, of course, is only the beginning; so far it's positively balmy by the standards of a Minnesota winter - or at least, it used to be. Minnesota's been a lot warmer lately, if you ask me.

Which brings us to this post by Boeciana. Now, I will pass over the fact that Scotland doesn't look all that cold to me, and move on to a fact concerning all natives of cold-ridden lands: that they wear their resistance to cold as a badge of pride [and engage in shameless one-upmanship, such as Blogimus committed in first clause of this sentence - ed.] Well, I wear my resistance as a heavy down coat, but to each his own. I find it interesting because from my (limited) experience, the natives of hot places don't seem to feel the same way. My dad had a friend named Arafat, who as you might guess was a native of rather warm climes, but when the weather was hot, rather than swagger around saying "bah, you Minnesotan slugs! This is nothing! Back in [I forget where he was from] we would think this was winter!" he actually hated the heat. Likewise the Southerners of my acquaintance tend to regard air conditioning as the very stuff of life.

If this is a true contrast, then perhaps it simply means that cold is generally easier to bear than heat. But I wonder if that is in fact true. Perhaps, instead, it has to do with the nature of resisting cold vs. resisting heat, namely that you don't really "resist" heat at all. Except via air conditioning.

Enduring cold is like fighting a battle, and when you have disdained hat and coat and glove, and calmly walked out to your car without rubbing your hands together or shivering or showing any similar weakness, you have proven your worth. You are a conqueror.

But when it's hot, there is no struggle. You just suffer - and turn up the a.c. if you can.

Well, maybe that explains it; who knows.
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Note

A warning to fellow bloggers: do not refer to oneself in the third person while using a weird internet pseudonym, however appropriate it may seem to do so. Or you will find yourself trimming your beard one day and saying "well, Blogimus has a nicely-trimmed beard now." I mean, hypothetically this could conceivable happen to somebody. The thought just occurred to me for no reason whatsoever.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

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Tuesday

Well, today I've been rooting around the New Advent site - or, "why God permits the Internet to exist". If you're going to waste time online, that is certainly the place to waste it - the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Summa and all sorts of Patristic texts, all in one place!

There seems to me something strange and Providential about the compilation of the first Catholic Encyclopedia, back in the golden age of encyclopedia-writing where the target audience did not consist of first-graders and the authors were people who actually knew something of their subject (for instance, the article in our old Brittanica on the theory of relativity was authored by this fellow "A. Einstein". Likewise I recall the author of an earlier Brittanica article on music was some "Tovey" character....) Like gathering in a store of food for the winter....

Right now I'm on book IV (of X) of this monumentally important work. When I was a little one I always thought history was boring, either because I was young and stupid, or because my dad was (and is) an early mideval historian (and what your dad does can't be cool, now can it?) Nonsense! This stuff is great! And a bit saddening, because as you read Eusebius's history, you start to realize the enormity of our own ignorance regarding early ecclesiastical history - or ancient history period. I think everyone supposes history is well-mapped-out and we know most of the important stuff...until they study it. And for all the sciences in which progress in recent centuries has been enormous, this is the one science that - up to a certain point - regresses. Or would anyone seriously deny that Eusebius knew enormously more about ecclesiastical history than anyone alive today?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

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Sunday

Well, I had a bit of a cold today and didn't sleep very well last night, so I decided that the 2-and-a-half-hour trip to St. Augustine was not a good idea. So no "Tridentine reports" on the Blogimus front; I went to the "default" parish. But it only confirms my desire to go back to St. Augustine. I should be healthy from now on - two colds in one season is already a bit much for me; I don't know what my immune system was thinking.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

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Saturday

I know this sort of thing is not really in the Blogimus style, but it cheered me up. Click while the link still works! But you'll need sound or it won't be funny.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

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Wednesday

It's amazing how het up people got over this "women & pants" thing at St. Blog's. Moral of the story: topic is dangerous. Avoid!

And to be sure, I have a hard time getting terribly interested in it anyway, but there is one thing that drew my attention, which is women saying "hey, what about guys being modest? What's good for the goose is good for the gander - so why can you go around in tight jeans, t-shirts (or no shirts) and all of that?"

Maybe this is just some male illusion, but I had never thought women found the sight of an immodestly-dressed man particularly tempting. The only feminine reactions I've seen to guys going around shirtless and so forth are something along the lines of eye-rolling and "yeah, you're really buff aren't you, you've made your point, now put your shirt on!"

So while I try to dress with a reasonable amount of modesty, it's more a matter of "I don't want to look like a barbarian" than "I don't want to go driving the ladies wild, now do I?" I have to agree that the modern epidemic of male shirtlessness is abominable, but I've always thought the main problem was simple decorum, and not that my Tarzan-like brethren were corrupting the virtue of the opposite sex. Am I wrong?

Of course there is a particular problem with shirtlessness, which is that of hair. The shirtless man is either displaying to the world: 1. that he is not manly enough to have chest hair or is weird enough to shave it, or 2. that he has chest hair and it ain't pretty. Not an impressive array of options.
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Amusing

I like this professor. Not just because he says "the right things"; there's just something funny about the dry way in which he says it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

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Why I Don't Read Novels Anymore

'It had long been their plan to seize the person of Boniface and compel him to abdicate, or, in case of his refusal, to bring him before a general council in France for condemnation and deposition. Since April, Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna had been active in Tuscany for the formation, at Philip's expense, of a band of mercenaries, some 2,000 strong, horse and foot. Very early on the morning of 7 September the band appeared suddenly before Anagni, under the lilies of France, shouting, "Long live the King of France and Colonna!" Fellow-conspirators in the town admitted them, and they at once attacked the palaces of the pope and his nephew. The ungrateful citizens fraternized with the besiegers of the pope, who in the meanwhile obtained a truce until three in the afternoon, when he rejected the conditions of Sciarra, viz., restoration of the Colonna, abdication, and delivery to Sciarra of the pope's person. About six o'clock, however, the papal stronghold was penetrated through the adjoining cathedral. The soldiers, Sciarra at their head, sword in hand (for he had sworn to slay Boniface), at once filled the hall in which the pope awaited them with five of his cardinals, among them his beloved nephew Francesco, all of whom soon fled; only a Spaniard, the Cardinal of Santa Sabina, remained at his side to the end. In the meantime the papal palace was thoroughly plundered; even the archives were destroyed. Dino Compagni, the Florentine chronicler, relates that when Boniface saw that further resistance was useless he exclaimed, "Since I am betrayed like the Saviour, and my end is nigh, at least I shall die as Pope." Thereupon he ascended his throne, clad in the pontifical ornaments, the tiara on his head, the keys in one hand, a cross in the other, held close to his breast. Thus he confronted the angry men-at-arms. It is said that Nogaret prevented Sciarra Colonna from killing the pope. Nogaret himself made known to Boniface the Paris resolutions and threatened to take him in chains to Lyons, where he should be deposed. Boniface looked down at him, some say without a word, others that he replied: "Here is my head, here is my neck; I will patiently bear that I, a Catholic and lawful pontiff and vicar of Christ, be condemned and deposed by the Paterini [heretics, in reference to the parents of the Tolosan Nogaret]; I desire to die for Christ's faith and His Church."' [from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Boniface VIII]

Can you beat that, Mr. Dickens?

Uh huh. I thought so.

Monday, November 07, 2005

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Monday

I remember an old episode of "the Simpsons", in which Ned Flanders (the geeky evangelical neighbor to the Simpsons) somehow got ahold of the Monkey's Paw with which, of course, he was able to get four wishes or something of the sort. I think that's how it went; anyway he wished for world peace. And what do you know, but he got world peace; the whole world laid down its arms and for awhile everything was nice.

But then the aliens came, realizing that this was their big chance. With everybody now committed to pacifism, they could conquer the earth with nothing but a couple wooden clubs. In descending from his spaceship to wreak havoc, club in hand, one of them said "your superior intelligence is no match for our puny weapons!"

When I think about the riots in France, I can't help remembering that episode.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

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Blogimus Reports

As you may remember, Blogimus decided to go to a Latin Mass this week for the first time. It took awhile, but I got there. You may also remember that I promised a report.

Short version: looks like I'd better buy a 1962 missal and get ready for some long bus rides.

Long version:

Some people seem to think a church should be sparse, minimalistic and - if you have the money - designed by some fashionable architect for millions of dollars.

It's kind of funny if you think about it; in our society, we think people should be very complicated. To call someone "complex" is a compliment, though it comes down to meaning that he is either partly good and partly bad, or else partly one kind of bad and partly another. But we think our art should be simple. I don't deny that modern art can be complicated in the sense of having many parts; only that intricacy is not a value in modern art and simplicity is. "Busy" is an insult; "spartan" is at worst a legitimate style for which some people may not have a taste. Unreasonable, riotous ornamentation is anathema (unless you are a "folk artist" or "outsider artist" - the good thing about the postmodern mindset is not that it really rejects artistic modernism [by and large it doesn't], but it allows modernism to be trumped by PC, and since the aesthetics of many PC-sacred-cow groups are much healthier than those of artistic modernists, this is definitely good).

I think that both things come from vanity. If the real focus of everything is us, then that is where all the fancy ornamentation should be - in the subleties of our own "personalities". If the things we make are meant to be expression of our wonderful selves, then complexity is a handicap, for all the subtle, beautiful little details in a thing are not very effective - poor things! - in pointing back at ME, the genius who gave it form. A broad stroke of the brush may express the anger of a painter; a fine stroke, meant to capture some exact bit of shading, expresses nothing - it is only beautiful, and what good is that? Thus realism, whether in "modern" or "post-modern" art or whatever you like, is scorned except as a trick used to express some brilliant concept of the artist (the photo-realist school of painting certainly produced some impressive feats of technique [or perhaps patience...], but it was only the gimmickiness of its exact imitation of the photograph, that appealed to trendsetters).

Or to put it differently: the more complicated a work of art, the more it draws attention to it, and the simpler a work of art, the more our attention is drawn to the "statement" it makes, whether one of "self-expression" or something that amounts to an in-joke among art critics.

So I walked into the sanctuary of this parish, saw the gaudy, painted statues and all the business and clutter on the walls and in the niches, all of it leading up to a carved, stone altar that was the epitome of riotous ornamentation (at least in comparison to the altars I see in other churches) - and I smiled. This was a church.

When it was time for the Mass to begin, in walked the priest - a tall, hefty, bearded young man wearing a biretta - and soon enough he had his back turned to us and was doing things.

Now there is a lesson for you. When I go to an ordinary parish and the priest pays attention to me, he does not interest me. I may like him, I may pay attention to him, but I do not find anything fascinating in him. But here, when the priest blithely ignored me - I couldn't look away! The Novus Ordo has been criticized - including by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in his "Spirit of the Liturgy" - for focusing too much on the priest: "Everything depends on him. We have to see him, respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing." I suspect the translator may have colloquialized the prose of our new pope a little, but in any case he did not mean that this is a good thing. But my point is that the priest became instantly more interesting when we did not make such a big deal of him.

This is because, when he is not behaving like a master of ceremonies, it becomes much more clear that he is doing something. I have also heard the Novus Ordo criticized for downplaying the sacrificial character of the Sacrifice of the Mass; while I could understand this criticism in some sense, I could not really begin to feel the force of it.

But I should say that when I went to Mass today, I was not precisely overcome with the sacrificial character of it. To be honest, I was too disoriented and ignorant to really have any profound understanding of what was happening. All I could say was that something was happening, something very different from a mere gathering of the community or a "worship service". This was a ritual; that much, at least, was blazingly clear.

When traditionalists say that the sacrificial character of the Mass is obscured, I suspect that many would find it all too easy to dismiss that as a tendentious theological argument, and say "well, you emphasize your aspect of the Mass, we emphasize another one." But the fact is, the bare fact that this is a ritual and not a worship service was never brought home to me - even if I might have assented to the proposition - until I went to a Tridentine Mass today. Of course, when you ask "what is this ritual?" then "a sacrifice" is the answer, but the point is that the old Mass appears to be exactly what it is, whereas it seems to me that the new Mass obscures its own character, when the priest spends all his time chatting with the congregation.

Again, the whole dispute over language was put in a different light. While it is certainly good for the people to understand what is being said, in a ritual of sacrifice to God, what matters is that God hears the priest, not that we hear the priest. If all we are doing on Sunday is celebrating a "communal meal" (another concept that our new pope disparaged in "The Spirit of the Liturgy"), and the priest's words are largely or entirely for the edification of his human audience (that he is often praying alone does not exclude this, as he still may often seem but a "spokesman" who could as well be replaced by any fellow who can read prayers in a good loud voice), then it would indeed be lunacy for him to edify us in a language we did not understand. But that is not what we are doing.

So I guess...it's time to get that Missal.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

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New Fun with Haloscan

Sorry to ax my old comments right after you posted yours, Bettina, but I decided it was way past time that I went to the enormous trouble of setting up Haloscan, which took all of 10 minutes. The last straw was that I couldn't figure out how to delete spam from the old system....

[after investigation it seems that all is well, except a certain tendency to delay updating the number of comments - ed.]

[have also brought links up to date. Perhaps more sprucing up is in order]
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Wow!

Independent confirmation that we actually exist over here! Scroll down past stuff about self-referentiality, which is appropriate here.

And welcome to the Inquisitor Generalis who also confirms the existence of Minnesota, about which an excessive acquaintance with American news can encourage skepticism.

Of course, as Amy Welborn notes, we are at least famed in St. Blog's as the progenitor of St. Joan of Arc parish, which is either the most liberal parish in the country, or the most liberal one with a website, or else the St. Bloggers just kept on using it as the ultimate symbol of liberal wackiness because they heard about it once, and ever after it was the best thing they had on hand. You decide!
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Wednesday redux

To be a little more serious about all this "public debate" over sodomy and so forth: I particularly doubt the utility of frequent arguments on this particular subject, because it is too much like having a public debate over cannibalism. Can there really be a point to such things? While we're on the subject of offenses against nature, isn't occupying one's mind with solemn arguments that it's really a bad thing to (fill in manifestly disgusting practice) something along those lines? I mean, shouldn't we ask ourselves, "what sort of filth does a man have to argue, before he loses the right to expect a civil debate from his fellow man?" Perhaps that sounds harsh - but since nobody seems to benefit, in actual practice, from arguing over the most basic principles of morality, I don't think we're really depriving any poor souls of rescue from their own delusions, by declining to argue with them.

Of course there is a place for apologetics, but sometimes it seems to veer on apologetics-as-gamesmanship, which is particularly unhelpful because, through misguided zeal, it gives an impression of insincerity or at least shallowness of conviction. After all, our opponents are not idiots, and if they see us cheerily arguing over sodomy as if we were discussing a controversy over the rules of baseball - only with less emotion - when they know full well that we have historically regarded sodomy as a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance...the inconsistency will not escape them.

Besides which, the whole enterprise is a bit like invading a foreign country, passing by all sorts of major cities and heading directly for an inaccessible mountain town of little strategic value and immense defensive strength. The people with whom we are arguing either do not believe in God, or do not believe in the God we know; they do not believe in the authority of His Son or His Church - and from my practical observations (including my own conversion), it is easier to convince people of the truth about these things, and let morality follow in their wake, than to attack the question of morals directly.

And in particular, they do not believe that Beautitude is the final end of Man for which he was created, so why on earth would we argue with them about "human nature" (which is what all this sodomy-debating comes down to) when we do not even agree on what Man is for? It's like arguing about the significance of that nail-plucking thingy on a hammer with someone who thinks hammers are an eating utensil. It's true that you can make certain judgments on whether this or that is "natural" to a thing without knowing the thing's purpose - for instance, I don't have to know what a computer is for, to be fairly certain that dropping it from a rooftop will severely reduce its utility. But a computer, being a man-made utensil, can at least be safely assumed to have a purpose. If our opponents don't even regard Man as having a purpose at all, in the sense of being made by a rational will in order to attain some end, then we cannot even argue for those provisional judgments.

I suppose one reason that I'm drawn more to the "traditionalist" wing of St. Blog's is that they by and large hold a similar attitude, and are not so much inclined to engage in these earnest and useless online polemics with liberals.

But then, maybe I'm being too gloomy and critical. It's happened before.
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Wednesday

I admire those conservative folks who actually get up there and, you know, argue about stuff with the champions of liberalism. When I argue with my dad about that sort of thing I just usually get tired; I think he gets tired too. That sort of argument never seems to go anywhere anyway. So I'm skeptical as to how much these admirable folk actually accomplish, but I have to like their spirit (my favorite liberal/conservative slugging match on "social issues" is this blog, not because I read it very often but because I used to deliver books & law journals to the guy on the liberal side {Dale Alan Carpenter III, law professor at the University of MN}. Perhaps he remembers tall, skinny quiet kid traveling hall with bin full of law journals...that's Blogimus, delivering books to the people who do the "real thinking" in our society....)

Still, I have to think that when we talk about "the light of reason" this is different from the heat of logomachy, or even of some interior dialogue; we realize that we haven't been honest with ourselves about something, or that we've been approaching this question in an irrational manner, or we've carried around a lot of false assumptions, without which the picture of things becomes very different - it's not as if our brain cooks up some verbal formula and we are illuminated.

Of course, they do say St. Augustine argued with a Manichee once and...the Manichee converted. But saints are always working miracles, so I'm not sure that counts.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

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Tuesday

Now this would not be Blogimus Maximus if it weren't for the occasional irrelevant musical aside, so:

Everyone talks about the advantages of learning other languages, and in fact it's difficult to find a downside - unless the Somalian guys next to you on the bus really ARE making fun of you, or something of that sort - but there is certainly one, which is that if you hear singing in that language, you run the risk of understanding it.

Think of all the wonderful music in the world, wedded to horrifying lyrics. You know, like the Ninth Symphony - joking, joking! Doubtless "Diesen kuss der ganzen Welt!" just makes me wince cuz I'm a Philistine...but I doubt I could ever be a serious opera buff, because as far as I can tell the writing for those things is generally trash - libretti have a lower standard to meet than lyrics proper, but still there's a limit to how low you can go.

Of course, if you can make your peace with the ill-written lyric then I envy you...but for some of us this is impossible, so apart from the rare exception, we're left basically with instrumental music, sacred music, and music in languages we don't understand. Maybe I should preserve my fund of the latter....