Monthly Archives: September 2007

Little Books of St. Nicholas

No doubt you Catholics out there have occasionally felt deprived, by not having grown up reading Victorian inspirational tales for kids. Well, thanks to, feel deprived no more!

There’s a whole series of St. Nicholas books, all by the euphoniously and repetitiously named Francis Browning Drew Bickerstaffe Drew. This gentleman apparently was eventually ordained, as he began writing as the Rev. Francis Drew.

Oremus: or,  Little Mildred is the tale of an English village girl raised by a squire father who doesn’t particularly believe in God. An English Catholic family lives nearby, and Mildred learns faith from them. Naturally, all sorts of things ensue. (Naturally, this includes some kind of illness or disability for a major character, so that’s not even a spoiler!)

This book is hugely didactic, but it does have some good stuff in it. For example, when Mildred learns to pray, she doesn’t receive any magical good consequences from it. She becomes more patient, but her brothers don’t magically stop being mean. It ends up being surprisingly complicated for a kids’  book of this sort. Also, the novelist has some fun with anti-Catholicism, as the atheist father’s cussedness makes him extremely impatient with slurs on anything “papist” his daughter is doing. A lot of the flaws are those of a first novel.

The later the books get in the series, the better the writing gets.

Credo; or, Justin’s Martyrdom is a story for much older kids. In fact, it’s an Oxford story about Anglo-Catholics. All sorts of theological terms come up. Ave Maria; or Catesby’s Story is a sequel dealing with a young Catholic boy from the previous book, as he goes off to boarding school and has to learn to live with Protestants and dispel prejudice.

Ora pro Nobis; or, Tristram’s Friends is the tale of a Cornish rector who raises a shipwrecked Catholic boy too young to know his name or family.

The UK’s National Archives say that the good father was born in 1858, died in 1928, and served as a “Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Forces”. Time’s June 16, 1928 obituary page is more revealing:

Mgr. Count Francis Browning Drew Bickerstaffe-Drew, 70, famed Catholic prelate, author (Rosemary, A Roman Tragedy, etc., written under the name of John Ayscough), private Chamberlain in 1891 to Pope Leo XIII, and to Pius X in 1903, four times decorated for service as a War chaplain; in Salisbury, England.

So our guy made good! Here’s some other stuff he wrote pseudonymously:

John Ayscough’s Letters to His Mother During 1914, 1915, and 1916. War letters. (1919)

First Impressions in America. Nonfiction travel and commentary. (1921)

Levia-Pondera. Essays. (1913)

Mariquita: A Novel. (1922)

San Celestino: An Essay in Reconstruction. Historical novel about Pope St. Celestine V and his wanderings.

Pages from the Past. A memoir. (1922) has a ton more.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church

Fr. Baltasar Gracian y Morales

This Jesuit is best known for his book of maxims, El Oraculo Manual, translated into English as The Art of Worldly Wisdom (among other names). The young George Washington even went to the trouble of copying many of his sayings into his journal. Definitely some good advice here for being as clever as serpents!

However, thanks to our friends, we can also read his less known work El Comulgatorio, translated by Mariana Monteiro as Sanctuary Meditations.

This looks like a pretty good devotional book to take to Mass with you. Drawing on Scripture stories, and in his characteristic plain but eloquent style, Gracian encourages you to improve your mental attitude towards God. There are meditations to encourage humility, and others to give confidence. Some examine gospel people’s attitudes towards Christ, and still others deal with Old Testament types and customs. Finally, with the blunt practicality of the old devotional books, he includes a meditation for receiving viaticum at the point of death. So yeah, you’re ready for anything….

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, History

Missionary Linguists and Radio Astronomers

The diversity of the work done for God by the old religious orders is really amazing. Check out this page of obituaries for priests and brother of the Society of the Divine Word. You’ll find Toledo’s Br. Vincent Webb, who could do anything from work in a creosote factory to New Orleans Creole cooking and running a dairy farm; Fr. Henricus “Harrie” Vanderstappen, an art history professor who went from the Nazi frying pan into the Chinese Communist fire; Fr. Wilbert Wagner, who fled Holland on a bicycle and set up seminaries in Latin America;  Fr. John Koster, radio astronomer in Ghana and physicist/computer science teacher in Taiwan; Fr. Louis Luzbetak, cultural anthropologist, linguist, inventor of phonetic alphabets for tongues with no writing system, and missionary; and many others.

But it’s not as if there’s anything stopping people today from doing equally amazing things. With God, all things are possible.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, History

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos

Fittingly, one of St. John Neumann’s students also stopped by the diocese of Toledo, and also strove for heroic sanctity. You can read about him over at Catholic Architecture and History of Toledo, Ohio.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, History

More on St. Alphonsus: Olden Days Parish from Hell

This weekend, over at Half Price Books, I saw that they still had that Volume II of the history of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood; and this time I realized that I’d be an idiot not to buy a rare-ish book like that. Volume I presumably covered the history of Mother Brunner, her large brood of kids who mostly became priests and nuns, her own founding of a lay adoration group which became a sisterhood of teachers and housekeepers, and her son Francis’ involvement with the Precious Blood movement and founding of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. Volume II begins with said son already in America with a bunch of cohorts, setting up shop in the Ohio wilderness that would eventually become known as “God’s Country” for its many churches, and serving the German-speaking immigrants there. They would soon be joined by a large chunk of the Precious Blood sisters, who proceeded to grow like nobody’s business.

But first, they had to survive… St. Alphonsus Parish! (Dun dun dunnnnn.)

St. Alphonsus Parish was founded by the same pious group of German settlers who founded Peru, Ohio, and in the same place. (Btw, the parish was originally named “St. Michael”. Later on, it was changed to St. Alphonsus, probably referring to St. Alfonso Turibio Mongrovejo, bishop of Lima in Peru. But I’ll call it St. Alphonsus here.) The catalyst for the parish was the “Waldschwester”, Sr. Francisca Bauer, once a Sister of Holy Providence but who left and went to America with her brother and his family. She continued to live like a sister, in a log cabin hermitage, and was certainly hard-working, charitable, and devout. Like the Ohio sisters who would follow her, she was skilled with axe, hoe, and gun as well as rosary and asceticism. She helped many people and donated the land for the church, and many felt that she died in sanctity.

But man, do you get the impression that she was a pain in the butt to live with. She helpfully designated herself cook and housekeeper to the Redemptorist priests; but apparently felt she had the right to be parish administrator, too, since after all she’d got the thing going. She apparently also felt that when Sister was fasting or performing austerities, so should the priests….

She and her fussing and feuding community did not drive off young Father John Neumann, who was made of sterner stuff (and would eventually become Bishop of Philadelphia, die far too young, and in 1977 be declared a saint). But after Neumann’s term of duty was done, the next priest apparently got sick of the whole thing and pleaded to be sent somewhere else.

Just at that point, the Bishop of Cincinnati was presented with fresh missionary meat. Since the new Precious Blood priests were yet fully trained, Brunner wanted them to stick together in community for a while. So the entire American wing of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood ended up in St. Alphonsus, the Parish from Hell.

And since the Precious Blood Sisters weren’t in America yet, guess who acted as cook and housekeeper? Why, the Waldschwester, of course!

There was tons of other stuff going on, too — feuds with English-speaking Catholic priests, feuds with priests or schoolteachers wandering around from parish to parish making trouble,  internal tensions in the orders, cholera epidemics…. Ohio went from being all Cincinnati to adding the Cleveland diocese (at the poor Cincinnati bishop’s request), and the Missionaries of the Precious Blood incorporated in Ohio!

All in all, it was very enlightening reading. We never learned about any of this stuff either in Ohio history or in parochial school. If people realized that the Church always had a lot of challenges (and infighting), and that it’s not just us who are specially unholy, I think they’d feel encouraged.


Filed under Church, History

RIP Robert Jordan

But may perpetual light shine upon James Oliver Rigney, Jr. — the man behind “Robert Jordan”, “Reagan O’Neil”, et al.

Don’t much care about the Wheel of Time, but I know people who do. So I’m glad to hear that he left notes and an outline for finishing his current book — which was meant to be the end of the series. It shows a care for his fans and his legacy.

(BTW — I’m kinda sorry that Bellisario’s Airwolf period didn’t intersect with the Jordan fame days — and this becoming broad public knowledge earlier, of course. Imagine Hawke running into his old chopper buddy who’s now a fantasy writer, and what havoc might ensue! It’d make for a great “ripped from the headlines” story idea, yet another excuse to make gentle jokes about sf conventions with cameos from fans, or even one of the odd Bellisario fantasy/horror eps. Heck, it would have been cute even back in the non-AU eighties, because Jordan was writing pretty good Conan novels and there’s a lot of story gold there.)


Filed under fandom

Augustinian Rule Online

No purty pictures on this academic site, alas. However, I’ve never seen the Augustinian Rule before, and it’s tons shorter than the others I have. Also, since the Augustinian Rule has its own Irish monastic quest legend attached, I naturally wanted to take a look!

Of course it’s in Latin.

UPDATE: But it’s also available in English and French. (Sorry for the confusion.)


Filed under Church, History

Semi-Olden Days Latin

I feel weird recommending Latin books, but I really do think they’ll start seeing more use and interest. As with every other language, the main thing holding someone back in Latin is lack of basic instruction and lack of exposure to Latin. (Also, the pictures are pretty, and the little end-of-chapter decorations are a great source of clip art for you clip art fiends. Spend some time poking around; you’d be surprised what you’ll find.)

The more I work on translating Latin for one of my projects, the more I understand how it works. The more I check references against the Vulgate, the more I understand ecclesiastical and medieval Latin. (This helps a lot when going to an extraordinary form Mass or when listening to classical/medieval music. Once you make out the scriptural reference, you know where you are.) It’s not the same as classical Latin, but it’s got its charms and dignity.  I just wish I could study it more formally, now that I could make use of a teacher and textbook. 🙂

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Breviary Online!

If you want to check out an older edition of the Breviary (in Latin), has the Breviarum Romanum from 1861. It’s pretty nice; it’s got all those accent marks for chanting and stuff, and the font is very readable. (Once you get beyond all the forewords and tables, anyway.)

The only bad thing about is the lousy job usually done of scanning. I don’t know who they employed, but they weren’t particularly concerned with keeping things aligned. And yes, I know not everyone is as picky as me; but in the work world, I guarantee they don’t want you sending out crookedly aligned stuff to customers. Work done for scholars and the future should be done with due care.

1 Comment

Filed under Church, Recommendations

Catchy Title

Take a look at Currus Israel et Auriga Ejus (The Chariot of Israel and His Charioteer), published 1735, and online courtesy of the Bodleian Library and It’s some sort of weekly meditation/Bible study book marketed toward priests and religious. It also comes with some kind of exhortation on how best to read Holy Scripture. (The word used for exhortation was “paraenesis”, which I shall have to remember.)

At the front of the book there’s quite a nice frontispiece and title page. But the whole book is designed very well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Scenes from the Life of a Vatican Librarian

“For the record, the Vatican Library has acquired a certain reputation for manuscripts it does not possess or that have never existed. Among the requests for information are questions about the decrees of the Roman Senate concerning the trial of Jesus (in fact these are Medieval remakes taken from an ancient apocryphal text, the Acta Pilati), or the Necronomicon, a sort of “book of the next world” that the American writer H.P. Lovecraft mentioned as the presumed source of his “Gothic” novels. The author of one modern apocryphal work even maintains that he “transcribed” it from a “Nestorian manuscript” that the Library has never possessed.”

From an article on the Bodmer Papyrus. You have to scroll all the way to the end for the Lovecraft thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, fandom, Humor

Lead Not Bookdealers into Temptation

Well, I can’t blame the bookseller for his business acumen. Certainly he had no particular business incentive to be nice, if they were going to sell off every old book they had and never buy any more until he was dead and gone; and if he was going to be able to retire wealthy off the profits.

But geez, this is sharp practice. And geez, the people who run Truro Cathedral must never had heard of selling books piecemeal. Even on E-Bay.

Umberto Eco wrote a novel about this, but I guess the Truro folks aren’t big on Eco.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Smells Like Gooseberries, You English Kin-iggit!

The good news is that there’s an article about this nifty medieval French legal arrangement called affrèrement — “brotherment”. It allowed brothers, relatives, or even unrelated persons to pool their goods and share a household on an equal basis, instead of designating one person as the owner and master of the household and everybody else as a dependent. It was most helpful for several people inheriting a single house and farm, since it permitted them to get use of their inheritance without having to cut up the farm into smaller pieces or sell; and it preserved both wealth and the family homestead. But since several people can afford a bigger place than one, and since there are always economies of volume when several people live under one roof, you can definitely see the value of pooling resources with a friend or farming businesspartner to buy land and a single house. It even represents a sort of tiny corporate model, without having to worry about tangling with guilds. You might also compare it with founding a monastery, or writing out the terms of service on a ship or in a merchant venture company — particularly apropos to a custom which began in the 1500’s. (Except you get equal shares in the company — share and share alike! So affrerement was a pretty good deal.)

There was a certain danger. The worldly goods of everyone involved became joint goods, which none of them could dispose of without consent of all the others. They also became each others’ heirs, which guaranteed some fun when wives and children, or other relatives, came into the mix. (Did we mention that France had lots of lawyers and courts from fairly early in the Middle Ages?)

But is this what the article is interested in?

No, of course not. It wants to claim that this was used as a sort of homosexual civil union. Although they admit that there is absolutely no evidence for this interpretation, they claim this lack almost as a proof. Argumentum ex nihilo, I guess. They do note that affrèrement agreements shared similarities with marriage contracts; but they don’t mention that French marriage contracts even down to this century were a lot like corporate merger contracts. (Notoriously so. The English were always mocking this in novels, even though they had their own mysterious “settlements” that they were too refined to mention.)

One rolls one’s eyes and passes on.

(One also shudders to think of this gentleman’s persona story, did he join the SCA. No doubt he would have visited Tenochtitlan and there invented the Reese’s Cup. After all, they had peanuts in Mexico as well as chocolate, and besides, there’s no evidence that Reese’s Cups didn’t exist in period, right?)

Anyway, the other nifty thing is that the good frères, natural or adopted by choice, swore to share “one bread, one wine, and one purse”. Sounds like the Three Musketeers. 🙂

UPDATE: Sherman Logan saith, “A considerably more logical explanation is that, in a society structured by kin-groups, those without relatives did what they could to invent artificial kindred.”

Also, the Orthodox are bringing up adelphopoiesis (“brother-making”), which has also been described (stupidly) as a form of civil union, when in reality it’s more like blood-brotherhood or becoming someone’s anama-chara (mutual spiritual director or confessor, aka “soul-friend”). Apparently it still goes on today. One poster recalled knowing a businessman and monk who became such brothers; the businessman stayed in the world, donated money to the monastery to support his new “brother”, and came to visit him. You can also read this First Things article on adelphopoiesis, by a woman who was made a sister.

1 Comment

Filed under History

Paging Roger Pearse…. is down. I hope everything is okay.

UPDATE: Obviously, I didn’t find the man’s blog, where he announced that the site would be offline for the rest of the month to avoid further charges by Ye Olde ISP.

Thanks, Mike, for saving me from fretting. (I did run a search before posting, but obviously not a good enough one.)

Btw, Roger is not only responsible for perhaps the best patristics site on the Net, but has written a computer program called QuickLatin. (Which I probably need.) That site’s not down.

And the man needs money! So buy his program and send him money, quick! The Google cache and the Internet Archive just aren’t as good as the real thing. *snif*

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized