Monthly Archives: February 2008

Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Kidnapped After Way of the Cross

Today in Mosul, one of the notorious kidnapping gangs preyed upon the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, right after he had done the Stations of the Cross. They killed three of those with him. Please pray for all involved.

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Standing Athwart Valedictory

Today, William F. Buckley, Jr. passed away. He was a man of the right, but not always right. For being the man who wrote God and Man at Yale, his opinions were not always faithful to church teaching or his own principles; and sometimes he was just plain contrary.

But he was a great and essential man for the moment he was given. He buttressed things which many Americans felt or noticed with intellectual clout, and helped such people find each other. He provided a forum, both in his magazine and his TV show Firing Line — and  not just for his brand of politics, but for all brands of reason. In his spare time, he wrote novels, sailed, lived life well, was faithful to his wife — and kept going to church, even when he was most in disagreement with a pope he thought should die quicker and “Mater? Si! Magistra? No!” A man could do worse.

He stood athwart history and yelled, “Stop!” — and the Cold War ended, and the Wall fell, and the thoughts of many hearts were revealed. May we all have such courage, when our moment comes.

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The Lancet Also Advocates the Crippling or Chaining of Smiths to Their Forges

Apparently, it’s a crime for health care organizations to recruit doctors, or for doctors to move away from home.

I thought the Lancet was a magazine meant to help doctors. Of course, probably most sub-Saharan doctors don’t subscribe to the Lancet, so presumably they won’t cancel their subscriptions for being told that they are medical serfs tied to the land. And if people want more doctors but don’t have the money to compete with offerings abroad, maybe they should just be nicer to doctors, give them more status, and make their communities safer and more attractive to professionals. It worked for the wild west.

None of this is to say that there’s no virtue in serving the poor, or living in dangerous places where it’s easy to get sick and there are few resources. But you can’t put a gun to people’s heads and force them to be saints.  Besides, if someone has a calling to a sort of medicine he can’t practice in Podunk, Africa, it’s not surprising that he’d go where the MRI’s and high tech research labs are.

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The Answers to Math Problems Are Floating Up in the Air!

Our brain represents different kinds of numbers in different areas of space, just like you always thought — and other cool developmental and neurological discoveries. Reported in The New Yorker, of all places.

And multiplication is a verbal process, so all that drilling out loud really was necessary. I will have to call my mom and tell her that!

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Review: The Honorable Marksley, by Sherry Lynn Ferguson

The first question one must answer in reviewing any book, in these benighted days, is whether the prose is readable. I am glad to tell you that Ferguson’s prose is not just acceptable, but pleasant. Since this is a historical romance, one then passes to the question of its credibility. Do these people talk and think in a way compatible with their time period, or are they making the reader’s eyes roll too much for comfortable perusal of the text? Again, I am glad to report that Ferguson’s characters are not jarring.

This taken care of, what about the novel? The Honorable Marksley is disappointing. Not because it’s a bad book; because it ought to be better.

It presents us with a hero who founded a literary journal and a heroine who writes good poetry — under a male pseudonym and a veil of mystery. It also presents us with a heroine’s family that is determined to see her wed to the man who didn’t compromise her, and a hero’s family that constantly relies on him to pull them out of the fire. Misunderstandings occur from the start and continue, and eventually there’s a happy ending. So far, pretty good.

The problem is that Ferguson seems undecided as to whether she is writing a sprightly romance to make the reader laugh, a good old Heyeresque story with plenty of comedy and angst and a few Gothic touches, a tale that focuses on the heroine’s male pseudonym and flirts with being queer in the modern or academic sense, or a serious short novel about two interesting characters. So the book constantly wriggles shapelessly and awkwardly, never totally committing to anything. There are a few scenes which are totally realized, unifying theme, characters and plot. But the others just flail about, wasting their force.

There is also a great deal of time wasted on characters thinking about their plight, which might have been spent having things happen. Many minor characters were introduced, developed, given plot hooks — and then never seen again. The heroine apparently was quite proactive before the book began, but you couldn’t tell that from what happened during the book. At least one pivotal scene (for the hero) occurred offstage. In fact, just when you thought the heroine was going to get us in on it, the writer struck the heroine unconscious. (This is not necessarily a flaw in a Regency, given the literary conventions of the 1800’s. But those literary conventions demand that the reader be let in later, and we never really are.)

Finally, the ending line was more than a tad creepy. I hate to have to point this out, but one reads a romance between two heterosexual persons with the expectation that the ending will have them engaging in heterosexual behavior together. “I didn’t show any of this in the novel, but now I want to make sure that the heroine knows that the hero would have kissed her even if she’d been a homosexual man”? No. That’s not a good ending.

On the good side, the game of quoting poetry was nicely done. The writer managed the difficult feat of providing someone who’s supposed to be a really good poet with enough solid poetic lines to make her status believable. The literary journal idea was also carried out well. The minor character Archibald Cavendish was realistically appalling in the quote scene. (Though I was disappointed in his later appearances.) Whenever the writer quit being so self-conscious or over-explanatory and let her characters speak for themselves, they were quite interesting.

What I would like to have seen was more plot, more letters from “Mr. Beecham” to help with plot structure, and revelations that didn’t require dishonorable behavior from a character supposed to be defined by honor. In fact, I’d think Ferguson would have leaned on the concept of honor in this book: fiduciary, literary, family, military. There’s a rich vein there left unmined, which might have helped plot construction no end. If both “Mr. Beecham” the poet and Hallie the lady were accused of dishonorable behavior, shouldn’t they both have been trying harder to clear their names? With a fishy poet and an impressionable poetry-loving girl around, shouldn’t plagiarism have happened, or a medieval poem been faked? And oh, it would have been awesome if “Mr. Beecham” had been called out! But I don’t insist on any specifics. The same plot could have worked better, given a little more unification or a better editor.

Finally, one minor nitpick: there was no “linguist” (in the linguistics sense) in England just after Napoleon. I don’t think there were any professors of etymology, either, although certainly it was a field of study. But the word back then was “philologist”, and etymology just one part of “philology”. (I would not make so big a point of this, had the author not named her minor character of this profession “Partridge” and based him on the author of Lavengro. If she knew that much, she should have known more. She also should have let us spend some time with the man, instead of inventing him, dangling him before us, making us wait for him to arrive — and then making us miss out on every bit of drama in which he participates! What a waste!)

None of this is crippling, oddly enough. Ferguson is still better than 80% of the Regency writers one encounters. But I do expect better from her. She is capable of it. When she provides something that’s more unified, I’m sure readers will respond with joy — and money.

A brief search reveals that Ferguson’s previous books were: Headline Romance, Raise a Tiger, and The Other Brother. The first two were contemporary romances, I believe. She doesn’t seem to have a website.

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The Latin Declension Song!

A Really Useful work of genius. A thing of beauty and a joy forever. Brought to you by the Judge Report and his late great Latin teacher, the Servant of God, Sister Anna Roberta, who wrote this beautiful thing!

To the Tune of the MARTINS AND THE COYS

1. Now in Latin there are only five declensions
All the endings you must memorize and say:
“a” is for the NOMIN-A-TIVE.  “ae” GENITIVE AND DATIVE
“am” ACCUSATIVE. The ABLATIVE long “a”.

Start with
a-ae-ae-am-a…….then ae – arum – is – as – is
And repeat the first declension every day:
“a” is for the NOMIN-A-TIVE, “ae” GENITIVE and DATIVE
“am” ACCUSATIVE,The ABLATIVE long “a”.

2. Now the second one is very very simple:
us – i – o – um –o…….i – orum – is – os – is
And the neuter starts with bellum – belli – bello – bellum – bello
Plural: a- orum – is -a -is.

Chorus :
Start with:
us-i-o-um-o. Then i – orum – is – os – is.
It is masculine. Remember five apiece.
And the neuter starts with bellum – belli – bello – bellum – bello
Plural a- orum – is –a- is.

3. You will find that when you come to third declension
Nouns’ll end in l….and . . . .r….and….s….and….x
Dux and ducis duci ducem duce…….lucis, luci lucem luce

Start with:
blank -is -i -em -e.  Third declension for today
es – um – ibus – es – ibus. Say it next:
dux and ducis duci ducem duce…. .lucis luci lucem luce.
CONSUL. . . . ..IMPERATOR….. MILES. . . . .REX.

4. One….two….three….and then we come to Fourth Declension
us – us – ui – um – and – u. It’s Just a ball
Plural us – uum. – ibus – us accusative and ibus.
Now we’re ready for the fifth and that is all.

Start with:
es – ei – ei – em – e……then the plural right away:
es and erum ebus, es – ebus……..too
First you SAY IT then you PLAY IT. But be sure you EVERY DAY IT
And with all the five declensions you are through.

Present o – as -at and -amus -atis – ant.
The imperfect starts with -abem –abes -abat.Then -abamus
-batis, ending up third plural vocabant.

Start the future
vocabo … .vocabis … and vocabit
Vocabimus, vocabitis, vocabunt.
Start the perfect: with vocavi… .vocavisti. …. and vocavit
Vocavimus.. ..vocavictis, and -erunt.

6. To the perfect stem add: -eram -eras -erat
Then -eramus.,. then -eratis….. then -erant
When you’ve ended the pluperfect——Future Perfect:
-ero -eris -erit –erimus  -eritis and erint

ille, illa, illud…..qui, quae, quod….and hic, haec, hoc
Is and ea id….acer, acris, acre
Ego, mei, mihi, me, me…Tu and tui tibi te te
That’s the end and now it’s time to shout HOORAY!


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Free Novel Writing/Organization Software

I wanted to let folks know that I’ve found a very good piece of freeware called yWriter. It was created by a programmer who’s also a published writer, and it seems very useful. (And probably for more than just writing novels or books.)

The idea is that you want to be able to organize novel writing, like software programming, into modules that are easy to tackle individually. In the case of a novel, this would be scenes within chapters. Every conceivable tab is provided for each individual module: a description so you can tell it apart from other scenes (or use the description as a placeholder till you write the thing), what the scene is supposed to accomplish, what kind of conflict is occurring, what characters are involved, what items show up in it (so you can keep track of who has the murder weapon or whatever), notes, and of course the actual scene that you write. You can track POV for each scene. It automatically tracks things like word count, and there are tons of other features and reports and logs you can generate or fill in or use. It will even estimate how much more time it will take you to finish the bits you have left.

Basically, the idea is that every single part of your book is at your fingertips, without having to spend too much time rooting around in a big long file. You can work on the bits you want to work on, but be reminded of which parts you haven’t done. You can move scenes around, or decide not to use them without deleting them. You can see what’s going on with your pacing, and which characters are getting what amount of screen time.

And obviously, you could also use it as organizational software for complex projects other than writing, if you plan out each mini-task as a “scene”; so this software is even more useful than advertised.


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Carmen Paschale!!

As we know from the treatment of our poet friend Prudentius, academia over the last few centuries has not been kind to the poets of late antiquity. They get dismissed for not keeping grammatical rules that don’t exist anymore, or not preserving pronunciations that would sound ridiculous in their day. In short, they get no love for not being Classical Latin writers. What makes it worse is that they are usually very interested in Christian and Catholic doctrine, whereas many of the scholars dismissing them were not. In short, there was a basic lack of sympathy for their projects and worldviews.

Caelius Sedulius’ work was well known throughout the Middle Ages. He wrote the five part Biblical epic called the Carmen Paschale. (And that’s an interesting couple of words. Passover or Easter? Song or charm or binding oath?) I always heard it described as grindingly boring, in the books that deigned to mention it. But he’s the author of the Christmas hymn “A solis ortus cardine”, so how could he be all that bad? But how could I find out what his work was like, when there’s no translation in English?

Lo! Book One, as a PDF file, side by side with a translation by Patrick McBrine. It’s really not very long, and the translation is very clear and readable. I think you’ll enjoy it. Also, Sedulius is possibly the only poet ever to describe his magnum opus as being not an elaborate feast, but rather, bitter greens in a terracotta pot. 🙂

McBrine says on his webpage that he’s translated all 5 books of the Carmen Paschale, all of Avitus’ De spiritalis historia gestis, and the first two books of Juvencus’ Evangelia. He says really wants to publicize this kind of poetry and make it more widely available in English.

Paging Ignatius Press….


Filed under Church, History

Head. Hurts.

I just ran across a humorous historical romance novel on Amazon, described as being about a neatnik medieval Englishwoman marrying a Scots laird, who only bathes twice a year. So she deploys her chastity belt.

1. No such thing as a chastity belt. Never existed back in the day. And yet people buy it, just like the left-handed sneezle wrench.

2. Scots and Irish people, like a lot of other Northern European (and Southern European) cultures, were addicted to bathing. They had tiny little bathhouses outside their houses, just like Finns have tiny little saunas. Bathing was one of the basic elements of life, like food and water. Basic hospitality demanded that you give a guest soup and a bath before you even asked his name. Swimming was one of your basic heroic skills; you were a pretty lame warrior if you didn’t swim.

So if anyone was smelly in this relationship, it would obviously be the Englishwoman. Although, in medieval England, they still had a lot of bathing going on. Yes, even in cities. Yes, even in small villages, a lot of them put up small bathhouses. I believe it wasn’t until the end of the period when people forgot their Roman Empire training and decided that frequent baths would make you get sick. (Possibly associated with cholera getting into the water supply, to be fair. And all the prostitutes frequenting city bathhouses to solicit customers did kinda drive honest women away.)

Anyway, I don’t want to rain on anybody’s comedy parade, but that’s why my head hurts.


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It’s Good to Be the King… and the Bishop?!

I got a good giggle yesterday night from a book about bishops, which isn’t something you often can say!

Walsh’s History of the Irish Hierarchy: with the Monasteries of Every County is one of those books that I had no clue even existed. Some guy went through all the annals and chronicles, and teased out all sorts of history and bishop lists. There’s no real table of contents, the index is not particularly great, but who cares? It’s chock full o’ stuff, and we live in an age of search engines! (Mwahahaha!)

Anyway, I went trolling through the book looking for my beatified bishop of Emly and found edifying quotes. But I also found the list of bishops of Emly. It seems that, back in the days before Cashel was an important diocese, Emly was pretty much the important Munster diocese. Keep this in mind.

Also keep in mind the fact that kings in Ireland were chosen by vote, from among the derbfine (a four-generation group of the previous king’s close kinsmen of eligible age and fitness).

Now get this: At three points during the history of the diocese of Emly, the serving bishop of Emly was also a member of the king of Munster’s derbfine, and was not only considered a good and eligible choice, but was in fact was elected and served simultaneously as Munster’s king and Emly’s bishop!

The three were Olchobair MacKinede (died AD 850/851), Cinfelod/Cenfaelod/Mane-Confelad (died 872), and Tiobruide (killed in battle in 908 by a herdsman named Fiacha, in a battle of Munster’s troops vs. the forces of Flan Sionna, high king of Ireland, and Cearbhall, king of Leinster).

This cracks me up no end. I mean, sure, there are plenty of places where bishops held sovereignty or high temporal rank. There were tons of bishop princedoms in Germany, for example, and of course the Pope is also a temporal head of state. But these guys’ temporal authority was by virtue of their church office, not a temporal office held simultaneously! Consider what an administrative nightmare it would be, to hold two jobs that were more than full time to begin with! Consider what a pain in the butt it would be to have to deal with all the ceremonial obligations of an Irish king, and all the special rights pertaining to your servants! Consider your new king’s poet insisting on the right to sleep in your bed!

OTOH, this does seem to indicate that in the Christian period, Irish people had a clear separation in their mind between kingship and fertility; the symbolism was nice but just symbolism. Even in Ireland, bishops didn’t marry as far as I can see, and no queens seem to have emerge during the reigns of these bishop kings. There doesn’t seem to be any “and then the crops all died and the cows wouldn’t calve” narrative in the chronicles about these guys.

What I would suspect was that the bishops were elected king because they made good caretaker kings, until somebody in the derbfine that the clan had in mind was old enough or rich enough or experienced enough to take on the kingly job. The bishops were old guys, they were experienced administrators, and they wouldn’t mess up the situation.

However, An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland claims that Olchobair actively campaigned for election, and ended up vigorously warring against the Norse raiders. So who knows?

Of course, I don’t know anything about it, so take me with a grain of salt and look for somebody with more recent info about the scholarship. But it’s interesting stuff.

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“Ibunt Sancti”

Apparently, one of the surviving fragments of notated Irish chant is an antiphon: “Ibunt sancti de virtute in virtutem: videbitur Deus deorum in Syon”. Obviously there’s no way of knowing if it’s exactly the same music, but when St. Columba and St. Kentigern met, the monks of Iona chanted “Ibunt sancti”. Also, in the Betha Fursa, St. Fursa had an out of body vision and heard the angels sing “Ibunt sancti”.

It’s the concrete details I like. Knowing history and legends is nice, but having the lyrics and music to their soundtrack is even nicer.

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Something Else by Maol Iosa O’Brolchain

The busy man who wrote “Deus Meus, Adiuva Me” also wrote a litany to St. Michael. Nice one, too! Translation by the Rev. Charles Plummer from a book called Irish Litanies, apparently.

O Angel!
Bear, O Michael of the mighty powers,
My cause before the Lord.

Hearest thou?
Ask of the forgiving God
Forgiveness for all my monstrous ill.

Delay not!
Bear my fervent longing
Before the King, the great King.

To my soul
Bring help, bring comfort,
In the hour of my departure from the earth.

In power,
To meet my waiting soul,
Come with many thousands of angels,
O Angel.

O warrior!
Against the crooked, foul, contentious world
Come to help me in very deed.

Pour thou not
Contempt on what I say;
While I live, forsake me not.

I choose Thee,
To free this soul of mine,
My reason, my sense, my flesh.

O Advocate,
Triumphant, victorious in war,
O angelic slayer of Antichrist!

O Angel.


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Music for Monday of Holy Week That Isn’t St. Patrick’s Day

So how not to disappoint the masses of non-churchgoers who somehow don’t get the news that St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t get celebrated during Lent?

I think we need DARK PENITENTIAL CELTIC MUSIC. Oh, yeah. Because though we Celts love to party, we also love to feel sorry for ourselv… our sins, I mean! Our sins! So the daily Mass folks and the parochial schoolkids and the folks who don’t normally go to church — of course they really want to cry like babies! How else will they know it’s almost Good Friday! So make them cry!

In a restrained, non-theatrical way, of course. (*cough*)

Seriously, though, I do think that if you can put in some music from Celtic sources, it’s likely to soothe people a bit who are mad at themselves for not remembering, or at the Church for moving the feast. Also, they’ll maybe learn something about the other side of a Celtic and Catholic identity — that it’s not all about drinking and dancing and having a good time. It’s also the land of saints and scholars, ascetics and mystics, and where people have never been afraid to get down on their knees and beg God for mercy.

The entrance antiphon is “Defend me, Lord, from all my foes”. Singing the antiphon and psalm would be very cool, especially if you were a schola using some of the old Irish or Scottish chant tunes. But if not, there’s always “Deus Meus, Adiuva Me”, which has text in Latin and Irish by Abbot Maol Iosa O’Brolchain. The tune you normally hear is very simple and easy to learn; it was apparently written by one Oliver Hynes in 1977.

Communion: “Sancti, Venite”. It’s one of the most ancient hymns of the Church, and very likely was written by St. Sechnall, one of St. Patrick’s most well-known disciples (also allegedly one of the poetic family called Ua Bhaird or Ward). You can sing it in Latin to what’s probably the original tune, in Fortescue’s translation to the same tune, or you can use Neale’s translation to an entirely different tune. But the original tune is incredibly catchy and super-easy to learn. It was used during Communion back in the early Middle Ages, according to the Bangor Antiphonary and other sources, which include an elaborate explanation as to why they sang it.) I recommend it highly, and wonder where it was all my life.


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St. Patrick’s Day Is April 1

So March 17 is during Holy Week. During most of Lent, this wouldn’t be a problem, as a victory celebration for a great saint trumps Lenten observance. (If your bishop thinks it’s a big enough deal, he can even dispense you from abstinence and fasting.) But Holy Week, Passiontide, is different.

In Ireland, the bishops decided to be nicey-nice to all the secular celebrations and move St. Patrick’s feast to March 15. Like the secular celebrations shouldn’t be nice and move instead, eh? But this is what happens when you make a religious holiday into a secular day off. (Likewise, I haven’t heard that Massachusetts is moving their state holiday on March 17 of “Patriots’ Day” to the Catholic day.) A lot of dioceses are doing similarly, so as not to be partypoopers.

However, following the rubrics, you’re supposed to move an important feast to the next available date after Holy Week and the Octave of Easter. Ah, you think. March 31.

But no, because March 31 is where the Feast of the Annunciation gets moved. It’s not just Mary and a messenger angel, remember. It’s Christ’s conception day and hence, his actual incarnation. Beginning of the medieval year in many places. Traditional date of the original Good Friday, Passover, and the Creation of the World. MUCH bigger feast.

Which makes St. Patrick’s Day April 1st, and St. Joseph’s Day (for the Italians and zeppole lovers among us) April 2nd.

This means that pranks become a religious duty, right? 🙂 Or does it mean that beer and pranks go together, but only in the morning? Or are we supposed to pull pranks in the morning, and then go drinking, dancing, and eating corned beef in the afternoon?

It also means a big headache for music directors in parishes, I’m sure, especially those that normally hold Irish themed Masses for St. Patrick’s Day that attract people who don’t normally go to church. More on that in the next post.


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