Monthly Archives: April 2009

“No” Doesn’t Apply to Hollywood. Only to the Little People.

Ron Howard authorized surreptitious filming at the Vatican, after the Vatican quite logically refused him permission to film his untrue and anti-Catholic flop’s sequel, Errors and Lies.*

Gosh, Ron. I guess this means you’re okay with paparazzi sneaking onto your property and casing the joint. We’ll keep that in mind.

You stay classy, Ron.

* (What? That’s not its name? But it was going to be its name, until the Eevul Hollywood Robed Masters realized that it was too Sexy and True a name to be used, and that it would end the oppression of women forever when they knew that Mary Magdalene was really supposed to be the One True Studio Head.)

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Belarus (that’s White Russia or Byelorussia, for those of you with old atlases) is the last outpost of Stalinism in the classic style. Its ruling dictator, Lukashenko, came to power and has held power in the good old-fashioned USSR way — as a strongman with some secret police. People who speak out get arrested all over the place, although apparently they mostly get released again for lack of prison space. The mysterious murders and executions are apparently also not all that common, mostly because it’s a small country that needs all its manpower. But yeah, it’s considerably less free than Russia, and its people don’t get to travel freely even to Russia.

But all is not well in Minsk. Lukashenko used to be one of Putin’s most honored allies. Now, not so much. The pipeline that runs through Belarus is not the only one anymore. The protesters keep on protesting, and Belarus isn’t attracting industry and money.

So the new game for the EU diplomats is to try to detach Lukashenko from Putin, and to get Lukashenko to clean up his act so that EU businessmen can invest in strategically located Belarus. In pursuit of this, they have lifted the EU restrictions on Lukashenko traveling to Western Europe, so that he can attend an EU trade conference. Lukashenko has been trying to show Putin he doesn’t need his support, and thus going along with this. Meanwhile he is apparently trying to show his softer side or train his successor, because he has been hauling his five-year-old son, Nikolai, to every diplomatic meeting.

So Lukashenko went to Rome (with his son in tow) and visited the Pope today. You may remember that last year or so, there was a Vatican event where they had rolling prayer in a bunch of different churches throughout the world, and that astonishingly, the Catholic cathedral in Belarus was part of it. That was probably part of the “in your face, Putin”. But it may also have been calculated to annoy Belarus’ Orthodox leaders, and to try to put tension between Catholics and Orthodox in the opposition/protest party. Catholics only make up 14% of the population in Belarus. Having a dictator show favor to them might not be the best thing. Also, Lukashenko has always been very definite that he’s an atheist, although apparently he has joked that he’s an “Orthodox atheist”.

Be that as it may, Lukashenko made a great show of visiting the Pope to bring unity between Catholics and Orthodox in his country, and even invited the Pope to come visit Belarus. Interestingly, he claims that he was also bringing the Pope a communique full of questions from the current Patriarch of Moscow, who heads up the Russian bits of the Russian Orthodox Church. If true, this would definitely annoy Putin.

OTOH, you never know. Maybe Lukashenko has had an attack of sense. But if he has, will Putin really let him wander away from the fold? Georgia has certainly had its troubles with Putin. But the Russian military itself has bad morale and is apparently pretty weak. Maybe Lukashenko is looking for the strong horse.

But hey, at least Nikolai got to go on a trip to Rome, wave to Swiss Guards, and peer up at the painted ceilings. So somebody is getting something good out of it. 🙂

Some interesting news articles and news releases.

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Please Pray for Adoro

She’s having a hard time right now. Serious downer thoughts.

(And yet, she is taking cool classes and I am not! Envyenvyenvy!)

I’ve had my downer thoughts, of course. I never really was into the whole “fall in love and get married” thing, much less having kids. And yet, there’s that early middle age moment when you suddenly feel sad that you will never have kids and that you’ll probably die alone. Similarly, when it becomes obvious that you aren’t going to have any religious vocation jump up and bite you, even if you never really got very serious about looking for one and strongly suspected you had no call.

So yeah, for anybody who’s actually been looking hard at both the other states of life, for many years, downer thoughts are pretty natural.

I don’t really have any advice here. (Although I do think the comments on divorce are overly paranoid. People can stay contentedly married to just about anyone, if they’re even half willing and the culture is friendly. Marriage is only rocket science if the culture is unfriendly and people are programmed wrong. Warfare and the Black Death didn’t cause this high of divorce rates, so you can’t go blaming abortion if savage barbarian war doesn’t do it.*) But I’m sure prayers would be appreciated by Adoro and all your other favorite embattled singles, fighting for chastity and meaning despite a total lack of support by their parishes and cultures (not that we’re bitter or anything).

We shall just have to found a beguinage in Florida or Arizona, and all turn into little old beguines together.

*(Although savage barbarian war is really great for rapid language change. Ask the Proto-Welsh.)

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St. Nuno Alvares Pereira: Knight, General, Hero of Portugal, Carmelite

One of the new canonized saints today was not a new name to people in Portugal, but rather one of their medieval founding fathers. On August 14, 1385, Don Nuno Alvares Pereira defeated a huge force of Spanish/Castilian troops with only a few thousand Portuguese (who were all fasting for the next day’s Feast of the Assumption). It was part of a whole campaign of such unbalanced battles, which ended by securing Portugal’s independence.

One of 26 acknowledged illegitimate children of the powerful prior of the Portuguese “tongue” of the Knights Hospitaller (a military religious order founded to run hospitals, protect pilgrims and fight Muslim aggression) who was himself the illegitimate son of an archbishop who’d been prior, he certainly didn’t come from a saintly family. (To be fair, all high offices in the order were reserved for knight-brothers, and you couldn’t be one if you were a priest-brother. So the bishop guy must have gotten ordained after being prior. And to be even more fair, there weren’t any Moors around. Most of the job of this powerful Prior of Crato was administering the Hospital’s huge Portuguese flocks of sheep and sending the money to Malta.)

But he got a good education and he married Donna Leonor Alvim, known as the most virtuous and richest girl in Portugal. Made Constable of Portugal at a young age for his valor and leadership during the first desperate days of the Castilian invasion and his support for the new king, he wielded power for many years. He even founded Portugal’s future royal family, the House of Braganza, through his only child, his daughter Beatriz.

But he also knew personal sorrow. Two of his brothers fought with the invading Castilians, as leaders; he told his troops that he would not think of them as his brothers. He said he believed it was right to be severe in a just cause.

In the end, though he was the richest man in Portugal, he gave it all up in 1423 after the death of his wife, Leonor, to become a barefoot, contemplative Carmelite , renaming himself Nuno di Santa Maria. He joined as an oblate lay brother, with the most work and least status. He insisted that this was the only way, because if the Castilians came back he would be able to leave the monastery to lead troops. Indeed, he received permission from his superior to wear his armor every day under his habit, and showed this to both his king and a delegation of Castilians. The rest of the time, he acted as the community’s porter (a job notoriously full of saints) and hence the feeder of poor visitors.

He had had a sudden attack of fever which began right after the final treaty signing between Castile and Portugal. Apparently his work was done. He died in 1431 on All Saints’ Day, while listening to someone reading him the Passion according to St. John. At the exact words “Behold your Son”, he closed his eyes and died.

Since he had lived a lot like a saint even on the battlefield, devotion to him began in his own time and has continued to this day. The Portuguese Carmelite homepage cites his military virtues of courage, loyalty, and generosity; his chivalrous service to widows, orphans, and the poor; his social virtues of courtesy, humility, and charity; and his religious virtues of faithfulness, obedience, and chastity.

Naturally, Portuguese people are very happy about his canonization. It is a big deal.

(I’m surprised that the Mass wasn’t held in Portugal by a Portuguese cardinal, as this pope prefers canonizations to occur close to the saint’s earthly home. I suppose the Portuguese wanted a reason to go to Rome, or there might have been some problems transferring the beatification ceremony from the Latin Rite to the Bragan Rite used in Lisbon. Or, since St. Nuno is popular in many former Portuguese colonies, they might have wanted a more neutral site. Or it could be the “ancestor of the ex-royal family” thing. However, since April 23 is the feast of St. George, Portugal’s patron, this is well-timed.)

Famous quotes:
“The more Castilians there are, the more honor for the Portuguese!”

When urged to attack — “It’s not the moment. Let me finish praying.”
(He went on to attack at just the right moment.)

“I came to the religious life to perform the humble ministries of those who profess the active life; and I do not want another habit than that of the servants.”

“If the King of Castile turns war against Portugal again, until I am buried I would serve both the religion that I profess and the homeland that has been mine.”

“I could sink a lance in Africa, if it were necessary to expose lives to danger, for the honor of the homeland or in defense of the Faith.”

His cause hung fire for centuries. He was beatified in 1918. But in 2000, a woman burnt in her kitchen with boiling oil had her eye miraculously cured through his intercession. (I feel that the boiling oil lends it that nice medieval warfare touch.) Apparently the Portuguese government made diplomatic objections to his canonization (the royal family thing made them uneasy, one assumes), but now he’s canonized for good and all. (Although not in Lisbon.) His feastday is November 6.

Many Portuguese feel that this is a summons to remember their history of proud and virtuous ancestors, and to stop losing their identity and pride in the modern world. Apparently, God deemed it time that the knight/Carmelite should charge to the rescue one more time. 🙂

But there are also Americans with a devotion to this guy, the Blessed Nuno Society. And he’s one of the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II of England. 🙂

More about the new saint

A really good portrait of him at a Portuguese blog. A statue of him as the young knight who saved Portugal on another blog. Equestrian statue of him in Lisbon, in an article about him in Portuguese.

A Gothic church financed by St. Nuno in gratitude for victory at the Battle of Valverde, Our Lady of the Scapular of Mount Carmel, Lisbon. This is also where he became a Carmelite. He was also buried there, but the tomb was swallowed up in the horrendous 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The church and convent has only been partly restored from the earthquake damage.


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The Secret Power of Crochet!

And this is why you don’t mess with nuns or crafters.

Man, between St. Rafqa for knitters and St. Faustina for crochet, not to mention all the embroiderers and lacemakers et al, you crafty folks have got so much saintly company….

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Sita Sings the Blues — IS FREE!

Turn off the Saturday morning cartoons, download this fantastic animated musical by Nina Paley and a long-dead jazz singer, and find out why all the lucky critics who’ve gotten to see it have given it nothing but love and acclaim.

(Man, folks, why didn’t you tell me at the beginning of the month!? You break one lousy arm and have Lent, and everything happens while you’re not looking!)

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The Newman Newman Song!

(Miracle Approved; Cardinal Newman’s Beatification Coming)

To the tune of “Numa Numa”:

Ora pro no-o-bis
Ora pro Anglia-a!
(repeat 3 more times)

“Christ rears
His throne
Within the se-
-cret heart.”
“Hid are
The saints of God”,
“They gleam a-
-mid the ni-ight.”

“Fret not…
On Truth’s
grey height! …Fierce though the foe…
Our weakness shall
Prove Heaven’s, Heaven’s might.”

Blessed, Blessed,
Newman, Newman, yay!
Newman, Newman, yay!
Newman, Newman, Newman, yay!
Still a blessing on the Church today,
Still for us, with us, you pray!

(Repeat chorus)

“Still is
The might
Of truth as
It has been.
Lodged in
The few, obey’d, and yet

“His saints
Their watch-
Flame bear, and
The mad world see the wide-circ’ling blaze,
Vain searching whence
It streams, and how to quench
Its ray-ays.”

Blessed, Blessed,
Newman, Newman, yay!
Newman, Newman, yay!
Newman, Newman, Newman, yay!
Still a blessing on the Church today,
Still for us, with us, you pray!
(Repeat chorus)

New lyrics by Maureen S. O’Brien and Trad.. Verses from “The Hidden Ones”, “The Watchman (A Song)” and “The Course of Truth” by the Venerable (soon Blessed!) Cardinal Newman, and arranged by Maureen S. O’Brien. And yes, I have been planning this one for a while, but the verse lyrics wouldn’t come. Guess the good Cardinal wanted to write them himself…. 🙂

Just remember this — you can’t sing it in public church occasions yet, because he’s not a Blessed yet. Private devotion is okay, though. 🙂

(That was a joke, btw. This is not a liturgical song. And you knew that, right? Okay.)

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All Right-Minded People Are Philologists.

Apparently, when the mysterious old man came up to Justin Martyr and began to convert him, Justin Martyr was thinking about philology.

Yet another reason to love Justin Martyr, as if we needed one….

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ABC Is Canceling Cupid. Again.

And this time, I didn’t even know that it was on yet! I swear to you, I thought they weren’t showing it until this summer.

OTOH, not having an episode about a linguist is probably what doomed them this time.

You can watch the new Cupid incarnation over on Veoh.

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Reason #627 Why Nobody Asks Me to Teach CCD

On the penitential nature of abstinence from fleshmeat, in one of Fr. Z’s comboxes:

“It’s not that it’s a luxury; it’s that it’s bloody red flesh. Like Jesus’ flesh.
“(Not to gross you out or anything.)”

I should also add that one of my cousins once told me that I look scary when I say things like this.

Ah, well. But it does explain to non-Latin-speakers why we don’t abstain from fishies or eggses. Not much chance of confusing Jesus’ wounded body on the cross with a nice flaky whitefish or a chicken ovum served sunny side up.

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That Tecumseh Show on PBS

Mostly pretty good.

It did rather underplay Tenskwatawa killing several Wyandots (one of them a former chief, IIRC, and several of them Christians) as witches. It presented Tensk’s resulting alienation of his own tribe as a matter mainly of politics rather than of a gruesome, psycho-in-charge killing of members of allied tribes. Mentioned Tensk trying to get rid of European things, but didn’t talk about his command that all dogs be killed. Oddly, it quoted Tensk’s prophecy that the earth would turn over and bury US people, but didn’t talk about the New Madrid earthquake seeming to confirm that. (Although it did make much of the earlier solar eclipse.)

On the Tecumseh side, I was very surprised that it didn’t mention his famous intervention to save US prisoners of war during the whole Fort Miami/Fort Meigs mess, and his associated lecture of the British on proper standards of care for prisoners. (It wasn’t that Tecumseh had anything against torture — Shawnees didn’t — but he did have something against uncontrolled warriors and Brits leaving instead of controlling the situation and facilitating the exchange of prisoners with the US not turning into a bloodbath.) The US prisoners were not just grateful for their lives but amused by this, and it’s one of the major reasons Tecumseh came into US folklore as someone to admire instead of a villain. So why leave it out?

On the Shawnee side, they only mentioned the previous generation’s fights during the American Revolution, and never mentioned that in Tecumseh’s grandfather’s time, the whole tribe and many others were forced to flee the Ohio Country in scattered bands, always pursued by Iroquois death squads all the way to the Southern seaboard or the Tennessee mountains, just so that the Iroquois could use the whole area as a fur farm. One suspects that was a tad bit influential on the Shawnee psyche.

Anyway, the whole thing would have been worth it just for the presentation of classic Shawnee oratory, and getting to hear spoken Shawnee. Good stuff.

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Stuff I Hate: Super-Speshul Heroines of Historical Mysteries

On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with a sleuth being quirky and bizarre. Such qualities were part of the detective story tradition long before Sherlock Holmes; and he certainly cemented it.

On the other hand, one goes to a historical mystery for entertainment and enlightenment in a world not like ours. One therefore would like a sleuth who is part of that world as well as investigating it, unless the story is actually about time travel. The sleuth should be able to bridge the gap between the reader and that world, yes. But there’s no point advertising someone as a medieval sleuth if he never has any medieval thoughts or feelings.

Which brings me to The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin, a good example of fairly common problems across the whole genre. It’s a sequel, so it may suffer from sophomore sequel-itis — suffering a big drop in quality from the first book, which was the book the author put all her efforts into writing and selling. But the author recaps the original story several times within the first few chapters, with excruciating thoroughness. Indeed, I daresay the only thing I don’t know about the plot of the first book is whodunit.

Anyway, despite all the research that went into the setting (England, Henry II), the heroine keeps pulling you right out of it. She is super-speshul, you see. It’s not enough that she be a woman physician trained at Salerno’s university and expert in the forensics of the day. No. Because that would be too ordinary. How can the heroine of the book be only a skilled practitioner?

No, she has to have been found on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and improbably named Vesuvia. (Which name she never uses.) She has to have been found and adopted by a Jewish doctor who married a Christian woman. (But the heroine doesn’t believe in God at all, so this goes unused also. She might as well have been found by Yazidis or Shinto/Buddhists.) She has to have not just an Arab associate, but one who’s a castrato. (And I’m sure he has other super-speshul qualities.) She also has a middle-aged lower class Englishwoman to associate with her, but just as you get relieved to encounter somebody normal, the heroine tells you that “Despite being middle-aged, she still had a sense of adventure.” You couldn’t just find that out, you see. You had to be told.

But the heroine sleuth’s more super-speshul than that. She’s not just an atheist. She’s fervently anti-religion as well, and not for any of the standard medieval reasons of being anti-hypocrisy, anti-clergy without vows of poverty, or anti-fundraising. No, both the Church and Judaism are actively evil organizations designed to stop Progress. She says this a lot. And yet she deigns to be friends with such a high-ranking Minion of Evil as an abbot, and not in some kind of resistance movement, either. One concludes that she’s really okay with Evil, on the whole. Maybe she thinks it’s like having contacts in the Mob.

We do actually get to spend some time inside the head of Abbot Minion of Evil. You don’t enjoy it, though. You get told that the Church is a gnostic organization, believing that the body is nothing and only the soul matters, including in a medical sense. (Well, I guess all those hospitals and herb monks were just figments of my imagination, then. Not to mention Jesus as Good Physician.) You also learn that only Super-Speshul Sleuth had been the only one who taught him about reason and reasoned argument, because high ranking monks never know anything about anything intellectual. And he doesn’t just like the heroine or think of her like a daughter. Nope. He loves her and would do anything at all for her, except that actually he doesn’t because that would make the backstory inconvenient.

As for the backstory, between books she got driven out of town and is now living in the fens. Not because land was cheaper, there was less competition, she got a suggestion from her abbot friend, and the patients had need, so she moved. That would be too easy and sensible. No, no, she had to be driven out, because Super-Speshul People are always Persecuted by envious lesser beings.

As Michael Flynn did a good job of pointing out in his novel Eifelheim, the whole reason that experimentum and other bits of the scientific method caught on was that it fit neatly into the earlier medieval way of thinking about scripture and philosophical/moral topics. It wasn’t at odds with the Church or with Christianity at all; and the same goes for Judaism’s intellectual/spiritual traditions.

Now, it’s entirely possible that you could write a medieval atheist woman doctor who struck one as real instead of super-speshul. Heck, you could see Dr. House doing his thing in any age. But the things that such a person would dislike and protest would not be the same things a modern atheist doctor would dislike and protest. She would know that the Church was Learning’s good right arm, and might resent being forced to associate so much with them. Or more likely, she would just make nice with Church and Synagogue, and not think the matter much worth quibbling about unless asked directly. The conflict between Christian and Jewish cultural background when thrust into a less cosmopolitan place — that would be more of a concern to her.

I also think it’s entirely possible that a good editor would have red-penciled every piece of dialogue and narration which annoyed me, because I didn’t see anything essential to the story in any of them. They could also have suggested rewrites of the more over-modern pieces of dialogue. You don’t have to write historical books in total states of forsoothness, but the dialogue ought to reflect some medieval mindset. “These people are coming with me or I won’t go” is modern, and a cliche to boot. “I’m sure your lord didn’t mean me to leave behind my retinue of assistants” is more what a medieval person would be thinking.

The sad thing is that when the author’s bad habits get out of the way, she writes clean and interesting scenes. I’m sure there’s a mystery underneath there somewhere, if I had the patience to dig it out. Since editors nowadays don’t bother to do this for authors, the author is going to have to hire somebody who will, or learn to do it herself. Until that time, I won’t be reading her again.


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Medieval Recreation – The Pilgrimage!

Sometimes, folks in the SCA are accused of being not quite as hardcore as your medieval reenactors. Heck, sometimes even the Renfaire folks get uppity about having more historic cred — and this from people who think adding Pirates of the Caribbean stuff is in period.

However, the honor of the Society is to be upheld in fine style this summer, as they walk the walk.


The Finns of Drachenwald are organizing a pilgrimage, in garb, to Santiago de Compostela.

Of course, we immediately run into the elaborate and somewhat lame justifications and explanations, lest anyone confuse a non-profit educational organization with either a mere club or a group doing something (horrors!) religious. And the ten foot rule. And going to church is not listed, except under the bland label of “free time”. But hey, this is the hazard of joining a group founded in Berkeley. 🙂

What does impress me is that they’re holding a one-day pilgrimage practice, so people can find out early if their sandals are going to give them blisters or their backpacks be too heavy.

Anyway, if anybody out there is an old Scadian and has a week this summer that just cries out for walking through Spanish mountains and penitence, you now know a group you can go with. 🙂 Here are the Mass times. 🙂

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Great Hymns of the Middle Ages, compiled by Eveline Warner Brainerd

This is a really nice collection of poetic translations, but there’s no point even trying to read it at Google Books. They totally messed up the formatting over there. Just go over to and download the pdf.

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