Category Archives: History

The Deal with St. Francis Borgia

Finally I got some good gen on St. Francis Borgia, the good guy of the Borgia family. He’s an interesting figure, but a lot of Catholic books don’t really tell you much about him.

First thing: He was from the Borgia family (Borja in Spanish), and he was a great-grandson of Bad Pope Alexander VI. But frankly, the rest of his family on the Spanish side was no great shakes, either — illegitimate sons of kings getting appointed to be bishops of Zaragoza, getting quietly allowed to have pseudo-wives and tons of illegitimate kids in exchange for not messing with Spain and Portugal’s ridiculously tangled successions, and then having to get stuck into royal power as regents for legitimate heirs. (Yes, yes, they were in a big war against Muslims, but that’s no excuse.)

But Francis was a good kid, and the kings of Spain had finally decided it was more appropriate to give his family a dukedom than all these bishoprics. (His dad and mom may have come from bad homes, but they made a good one and set a good example.) So all he had to do was have a good career at court, marry a good woman, succeed to his father’s duchy of Gandia, and enjoy his nice Valencian town and his totally legitimate kids.

Step One worked out fine. He was well-regarded at the Spanish court. The empress regent, Isabella of Portugal, set him up in 1529 with her close friend and chief lady-in-waiting, Leonor de Castro Mello y Menezes, the daughter of the Portuguese King Manuel I’s captain-general of Africa. (He was nineteen, she was seventeen. She was known for being unpretentious, pious, and humble, despite her high birth; and like St. Catherine of Siena, she made it her practice to get her prayers done mentally during her work.)

The marriage was suggested by the queen, agreed to by Francis and Leonor, and then proposed by way of a letter from the king to the Duke of Gandia. But then it almost collapsed, because the Duke said he was looking for a Spanish princess for his boy, and he had reason. So the Duke got a lot of royal concessions, the barony of Llombay became a marquisate, the Spanish succession got a little less tangled, and young love ensued.

They had eight kids, and everything was great. Francis was made Chief Equerry to the Empress, and he got to use his famous horse knowledge and riding skills for his work.

He was also a pretty darned good amateur musician and composer, btw. In fact, he was so good that he could have been a professional; and he wrote a lot of sacred music that was well-regarded. Many of his motets, hymn tunes, and sequences are still around. He was also famed for falconry. (He found hunting to be a very philosophical and edifying pursuit, and he thought you could learn a lot about life from dogs and falcons.) Unlike most of the court, he sensibly refused to gamble, saying that he feared to lose four things: time, money, piety, and peace of mind.

He was strict but kind to his family and his servants and knights. He paid attention and gave praise when his kids did well. He took his marriage seriously, and his valet later testified that even before marriage, he wore a hairshirt any time that he thought he might be tempted at a party or other social occasion. (And boy, isn’t that a reflection on the Spanish court.)

He didn’t let anything slide in his household, and required daily prayer and Mass; and he always stopped to inspect the male servant quarters before going to bed, to make sure nobody was up to no good. (There’s another reflection on the Spanish court.) But he also paid well, minded his manners even to servants, and gave lots of bonuses for good service. People either left his service quickly or stayed for years. His wife and he both delighted in finding talented, trustworthy people without patrons, and getting them good posts; and in tactfully helping people in need, including those who had run into trouble through casual sex. He gave away a purse of alms every day. But he also found time to study higher math and military science, and to serve his lords in political matters. He displayed personal courage in war, as well as quick, correct, and decisive judgment.

Also, he was darned good-looking, rich, smart, popular, kindly, and had a happy marriage. What more could a man want from life?

During service in Africa when he was lent out to one of the princes of Portugal, Francis caught malaria and almost died. He used his many months of convalescence in the country to study the Bible and the saints. He went back to war in 1536 when Charles V invaded Provence, and again distinguished himself. But he also suffered the death of one of his best friends, the poet Garcilaso de la Vega, who died of concussion after leading an assault by siege ladder.

Not long after, Francis’ paternal grandmother died. She had joined the Poor Clares not long after Francis’ birth, where she lived unassumingly but did tons of penances and became a mystic, though her sisters mostly didn’t know this. She died in great sanctity after suffering a horrible fever, coming out of it with a perfectly clear mind, and giving true prophecies about her friends and family. Both the nuns and many of their visitors at the funeral heard angels singing from time to time, for days afterward.

(One of her daughters, Frances, was also a Poor Clare, and her granddaughter Dorotea (one of St. Francis’ kids) soon joined the order.)

On May 1, 1539, Isabella of Portugal died in Toledo at the age of 36. Francis Borgia organized and ran the procession that escorted her coffin to the royal tomb in Granada. Isabella was considered one of Europe’s most beautiful women (in an extended family that included some really unattractive and even deformed people). She was the grandchild of Ferdinand and Isabella, and niece to Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, and Isabel of Asturias, Queen of Portugal (also her dad’s first wife – not kidding about that royal family).

According to Francis, the death of his wife’s friend (and his friend and benefactor at court) made a big change in him. He felt that her death was the occasion of his deepest conversion of heart, and he remembered and prayed for her every year in his diary “for what the Lord worked in me by her death.” He was saddened by seeing her face so decomposed at her burial that he could not really swear it was her beautiful self, and he told his diary that he could never again serve any lord who could die. (There are some famous historical paintings of this moment.)

But then Francis succeeded to the dukedom of Gandia while trying to negotiate a marriage between the Spanish and Portuguese courts, to unify the countries. Negotiations collapsed and he was blamed. He left court, occupied himself with his lands and family, and started to study religion more seriously on the side. He and his wife helped support the big Hieronymite monastery of San Jeroni de Cotalba near Gandia. They also took an interest in the Jesuits. He was a good duke to his subjects, and interested in developing his towns. He even put things in train to found a college in Gandia for his Jesuit friends.

And this is where things went slightly pearshaped.

In 1546, Leonor died while trying to rest and recover at Cotalba. Francis was heartbroken. He found new meaning in his love of God, and decided that it was time to turn his back on worldly things and start working harder for God. With royal permission, he gave his duchy to his sixteen-year-old son, and joined the Jesuits.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was still alive. He apparently knew or knew about Borgia, and he ended up meeting with him. Like the commander of any early modern army, he was delighted to grab a general- or colonel-level recruit for his company, already trained and ready to go. So obviously the thing to do was to process his paperwork and put him in charge of something.

Unfortunately this was not obvious to a lot of Jesuits. He was not trained by lots of boot camp time with us! How can he understand the spirit of the order if we don’t make him go through seven zillion years of training? Isn’t this favoritism? When the local university in Gandia granted their duke a doctorate of theology in three months, the whining increased. (Even though Borgia was known to be very learned, and had been studying for years on the side, as well as founding the college.)

Of course, he was an older man with a closer expiration date, and so it only made sense to Loyola to put him to work right away. As it was, he only gave the Jesuits 26 more years. And Loyola himself was very aware of having started out the Jesuits as the old guy, playing catch up. Why would he make life harder for someone in the same position?

There was more trouble. Various popes thought Borgia would make a great bishop or cardinal, as well as drawing the Jesuits into a traditional pattern of religious orders providing bishops. Loyola wanted to avoid that, and keep the Jesuits mobile. There was also a heretical book that came out in Spain under the duke’s now-trendy name, but which actually was by an unknown author who had grabbed a short essay by the duke and put a bunch of crazy stuff on top of it.

So for a while, Loyola had Borgia hiding out in a small Jesuit group in his own Basque stomping grounds. Borgia got a little bit hazed by doing scut work, and by being told to apologize for his clumsiness in playing waiter at the refectory. But Borgia put up with it cheerfully, and had probably had worse as a royal page or a young knight.

And then, just to make things crazier, Loyola appointed Borgia to be some kind of roaming troubleshooter, with authority separate from various Jesuit superiors. He didn’t tell the Jesuit superiors about this. So of course people were all whiny about him being disobedient or uppity, and about him having been assigned a separate staff full of other Jesuits.

In 1554, Borgia was made commissary-general in Spain for the Jesuits, and founded a dozen colleges to deal with Jesuit educational needs. In 1556, he was put in charge of the Jesuit missions in the East and West Indies, in his copious spare time.

Things eventually settled down a bit, and then he was elected the third superior general of the whole Society of Jesus in 1565, for the last seven years of his life. And he changed things, like giving people a general idea of how Jesuits should dress instead of having no particular habit. He didn’t actually impose a habit, mind you, but it still didn’t go over well. He also had Jesuits living in houses start saying the Office in the morning, but only if it didn’t interfere with other assignments. Since St. Ignatius de Loyola had deliberately not imposed the Office on his people, this caused bad feeling, even though it wasn’t mandatory and was in response to a papal request.

The other factor was that there was a big stink in the 1920’s when a German Jesuit wrote a hostile-ish biography of Borgia. His idea was that Borgia didn’t understand Loyola and the Society, and so that everything he had done was not really Jesuit, and that he had helped ruin everything. The bio came out at the same time that the Jesuits had a really strict superior general, and a big stink ensued which ended in the biographer leaving the Jesuits. He came back on his deathbed in 1976. This was also part of why some Jesuits were all about “Pedro Arrupe becoming superior general saved the order!” So this also damped some of the devotional enthusiasm to him that you would otherwise expect.

Nowadays, the way Loyola had Borgia avoid becoming a cardinal or bishop is bound to be a litte tad bit inconvenient… when we have a Jesuit bishop and cardinal who has become a Jesuit pope…. So yeah, there’s that too. But religious orders are allowed to change if they want; it’s not like Loyola was God Himself. The Franciscans and Dominicans got their members grabbed for bishops, too, and within the first couple “generations” of members. St. Albert the Great, for example.

(And if you really want to support a religious order that never has let its members become bishops or popes… well, that’s every female religious order, heh heh.)

St. Francis Borgia died at midnight on Sept. 30, 1572, and his feastday was originally on Sept. 30. But after Vatican II it was moved to October 10 — today!

So happy St. Borgia Day!

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More Halloween/Hallowtide Stuff

I found an interesting book online that had some Halloween historical references.

Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night by Nicholas Rogers is actually an Oxford University Press book, with footnotes and everything. There’s the obligatory first chapter about Samain, but then the second chapter points out that the history of All Saints sorta contradicts the idea that Halloween is pagan. (Okay, he says it in just one sentence that is easy to miss, but that’s better than most holiday history books.)

The main focus of the second chapter is how Hallowtide stuff was celebrated in England, before and after Henry VIII.

One interesting fact is that Hallowtide was a popular time for the Church to urge marriage, since Advent was coming up and you couldn’t get married in a fasting period like Advent.

Also, Hallowmas included a Gospel reading (possibly in the Office?) about the seven faithful virgins waiting for the Bridegroom to come and the wedding feast to begin. Rogers has a source that says a monks’ choir sang the antiphon about this with their hoods up, to look more like the girls waiting in the dark and cold. The online source didn’t include this footnote, but it sounds fun! Anyway, he points to this as the first move in the autumn and winter “masking season” of various fun parties and occasions for guising.

Before the Reformation, it was common to have prayer vigils on Halloween. These included the ringing of bells all night (which persisted even after it was outlawed by Edward VI), bonfires on hilltops, torchlight processions, praying for good fortune and good crops for the coming year and for the dead; as well as actual poor people going begging for food (so that they could eat better the next day, and throughout Hallowtide). (Shakespeare even talks about this in Two Gentlemen of Verona.) All Souls’ Day was the big cemetery visit day throughout most of Europe, and often involved eating a picnic or leaving food instead of flowers.

After the Reformation, customs splintered in England. In Catholic areas, there was still a lot of praying for the dead, fires, and candles throughout Hallowtide. (Up north, Catholic people would go out and pray for the dead in the middle of a field, in lieu of a church. One custom was to light a fire, and pray for the dead until it burned out.) In Protestant areas, sometimes the torchlight processions and other customs kept going, but it was sometimes about “scaring off witches” instead of encouraging prayer. “Souling” and giving out soulcakes was encouraged in Catholic areas, but “doling” tended to move to other November days in Protestant parts of England. (Guy Fawkes, St. Clement’s Day, St. Catherine’s Day, etc.)

Soothsaying on Halloween seems to have been connected originally with the marriage motif — part of games encouraging giggling, speculation, and courtship by the bashful. Girls would put rosemary under their pillows and hope to dream of their future sweethearts, or put nuts together in a fire in the name of a local couple, to see if the nuts would stay together or jump apart.

But with the transfer of praying for the dead to fearing witches and demons, there is an idea which emerges that you might be able to see visions or doppelgangers of those doomed to die in the next year. There was also divination by egg whites in water, in much the same fashion as reading tea leaves later on.

Less seriously, there were also lots of weather predictions based on Halloween weather.

On the benign side, since animals were slaughtered during Hallowtide (after the field harvest was over, and before you needed to worry about winter fodder), pig and cow bladders also became available for kids and young people to inflate and play with. And that’s why November is football season.

On the not so benign side, Hallowmas month was also the month of charivaris, grudge-settling, and pranks. People had time on their hands, it wasn’t winter yet, and it got dark early. Since it was a time of “misrule” fun leading up to Twelfth Night, and since there were lots of opportunities for wearing masks, you could get beat up, serenaded, or made to ride a rail by your exasperated or bullying neighbors.

Halloween in America, until somewhere in the 1950’s, was mostly about the romance and the pranks, with only a little bit of Scottish ghosties and ghoulies. Until trick or treating was made an activity for little kids, it often used to be much more about mild mischievous extortion than about doling or souling! So there’s a lot of applicable English material.

Highland Superstitions by Alexander Macgregor has a fair amount of Halloween material. It’s one of those read between the lines books, though. Why are young men running around the boundaries of their family farms at night, in the deiseil direction, with a “samhnag” torch? Is it a superstitious prehistoric magical ritual? Or is it a Scottish legal claim to land on the law-holiday of Samain? Is it the remnants of a really fast torchlight prayer procession, done to evade fines for practicing Catholicism? Or is it just a way to burn off energy and show athletic prowess? Who knows? He’s just reporting folkloric stuff in his time (in a disapproving way).

At any rate, the carrying of the torches was supposedly done to protect the farm from either crop failures and diseases, or the fairies. Then the samhnag torches, after being carried around the bounds, were supposed to be kept alight at the house, thus protecting pregnant women and babies on Halloween night from being stolen away.

Hallowe’en, much like May Eve, was one of the traditional nights when people could be stolen or returned. (Probably because traditional yearly work contracts started on the Celtic New Year, Samain, and ended on All Hallows’ Eve.) As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, Samain was the day when legal issues were settled by the local king and his assembly of nobles; and therefore the roads were more fully protected during the time before and after Samain, anybody could come see the king, and inter-kingdom travel was less of a legal problem. Even after Ireland and Scotland’s old legal system went away, supposedly the fairies still traveled on Samain and the way into their hills was left open.

There’s also a very sad story about why you shouldn’t play pranks on a poor girl throwing her blue clue into an unlit kiln.

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The Real Reason Halloween is on October 31

Muslims, of course. And iconoclast emperors.

Okay, let’s recap the status of All Saints’ feasts.

Back in the day, the celebration of all the martyrs not otherwise celebrated, or all the saints not otherwise celebrated, usually took place in the spring. In Edessa, it was on May 13, from AD 320 on. In Lebanon and Syria, you have celebrations in Lent, or on the first Thursday after Easter from 411 on, a celebration of all martyrs. In Antioch (from the days of Ss. Ephrem and John Chrysostom) and in Wurzburg, All Saints (ton Hagion Panton) was the first Sunday after Pentecost. In the West, it was on April 20.

When the Pantheon in Rome was turned into the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres in 609, the building was dedicated on May 13, and Rome began celebrating All Saints’ Day on May 13. There was some spread of the new date, but it was all voluntary changes. Rome did not push it on other areas. Ireland, for one, still celebrated on April 20. But it was a big feast, and Pope Sergius I wrote a long litany in Greek for it in AD 690.

And then, in 731 in Rome, the date changed again.

It was a sad time in Church history. Emperor Leo III, Leo the Isaurian, was a skilled general and governor from Syria, who had overthrown Theodosius III with the help of other military officials. His strong governance had brought peace to the Empire and driven back the Bulgars and Muslims. But he had also brought in forcible Baptism of Jews and Montanists, and then decided that he could smoothe things over with the Muslims by scrubbing Christianity of images and saints. He declared icons illegal in a series of laws that came out from 726-729. Much of the aristocracy supported him, but most theologians, monks, and normal laypeople hated it.

Over in the West, people just ignored Emperor Leo’s dumb edicts. In the East, people who defied the new laws got punished — or they got the heck out, moving to places like Rome with less economy and more freedom. Ironically, one of the strongest voices against Emperor Leo was St. John of Damascus — who lived in Damascus and other places in the Muslim caliphate, and thus could not get silenced by Emperor Leo.

Emperor Leo III also had a feud going with Pope Gregory II. In 722 (the year of the forcible baptisms), the Emperor demanded more tax money and tax food from Rome and the papal estates, because there were war expenses. But Rome was having trouble feeding its own people, and had no surplus money or food to send. The imperial governor got insistent, and the Roman populace threw the rascal out. (And the Pope didn’t object or anything.) Since imperial forces in Ravenna were busy holding off the Lombards/Longobards, and since Emperor Leo was too busy to send troops from elsewhere, the Romans got away with it.

In 725, Emperor Leo sent a new guy, Marinus, to be Dux of his Roman lands. Things might have smoothed over, but Marinus made a serious attempt to put a hit on the Pope. He got recalled, another guy was made Exarch of Ravenna, and the plot continued. It got discovered, the plotters talked, and nobody in Rome loved Constantinople.

Then the iconoclasm laws came along. The East says that Gregory II excommunicated the Emperor. The West says that he sent some strongly worded letters telling the Emperor to butt out of religious matters, and that iconoclasm was evil and stupid. Emperor Leo sent a new Exarch, who started a new plot to kill the Pope and the major notables of Rome. This plot got discovered, too. The Exarch then made a deal with the Lombards to attack Rome as a joint force, but the Pope managed to get the Lombards to change their minds. Gregory stayed openly courteous to Exarch Eutychius, and helped him fight off a non-religious revolt. Eutychius was grateful, and things were looking up. Then Gregory II died on February 11, 731. He was later declared a saint; his feastday is on February 13.

Since he was such a saintly guy and had led the fight against iconoclasm, a lot of people showed up for Gregory II’s funeral. One of them was a Syrian priest, Gregory son of John. He seems to have been something of a scholar and a holy type of guy, but he must have really made an impression.

Because on February 22, 731, this visitor to Rome got elected Pope. By acclamation of the people of Rome.

He was so flabbergasted that he followed an old custom, and asked permission from the Exarch of Ravenna. (Because he was from the East, where bishop was more of a government bureaucratic position.) It was granted, and he was consecrated bishop and Pope on March 18. (No telling what his old bishop thought about it.) He was the last pope until Pope Francis to have origins outside of Europe.

Pope Gregory III started things off with a bang, by sending nice letters to the exiled/deposed Patriarch of Constantinople, and nastygrams about iconoclasm to Emperor Leo III. The emperor put the pope’s messenger in prison.

Pope Gregory III doubled down. He put up a full ikonostasis at the base of the two-story main altar structure of the old St. Peter’s Basilica. He called a synod against iconoclasm and for devotion to Mary and the saints, to be held in November 731. And he also ordered a new oratory to be built in the main nave, all the way down front, and just to the left of the doors going to the main altar. The oratory featured two altars (one honoring Mary, the other St. Gabinius) with a big arch covering them, and a consolidation of saints’ bodies and relics, buried all around the floor and under the altars. And with images and statues, of course!

On November 1, 731, just before the start of the synod against iconoclasm, the new oratory was dedicated. Pope Gregory III announced that from now on, the feast of All Saints in Rome would be celebrated on November 1. (Which of course made the eve of the feast a time for fasting, prayer vigils, and whatever stuff you do to stay awake during fasting and prayer vigils.)

Emperor Leo III sent a fleet to punish Rome, but it was wrecked.

The new date of the feast was still promulgated by free choice; but a lot of kings and missionaries were interested in it because it was a blow against iconoclasm. (And overbearing Byzantine emperors.) Ireland doesn’t seem to have picked up the new date for a long time.

Pope Gregory III reigned until his death on November 28, 741. (He and Emperor Leo III died in the same year.) He was buried in his oratory of Mary and the saints. Unlike Leo, Pope Gregory III was later declared a saint, and his day is December 10.

So there’s no Celtic pagan holiday. The reason we have Halloween is an emperor who was soft on Muslims and hard on icons, and a Pope who fought back.

Everything else is just decorations and candy.

* Other achievements by Pope St. Gregory III — Appointed St. Boniface the archbishop of Germany, and a papal legate, in order to support missionary work among German pagans and lapsed Christians. Founded and perpetually funded a hospital for the poor, dedicated to the Eastern Ss. Sergius and Bacchus. Founded a monastery in Rome named St. Chrysogonus. Restored Rome’s walls. Built, restored, re-roofed, and decorated many churches in Rome. Put a lead roof back on the Pantheon. Helped recapture Ravenna from the Lombards.

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I Love Time Team, But Sometimes….

I’m watching an old episode of the UK Time Team. They are excavating a joint convent, with houses of Gilbertine nuns and canons. One of the archeologists is set up to do living history by dressing up in a nun outfit and trying to live nun life.

The “experts” explain that having your hair cut short or shaved, and wearing an outfit that is identical to all the others in your community, is all about stripping away your individuality, sexuality, and humanity. You’re not supposed to be a person anymore, ever.

They say this on a military base.

With men and women enlisted and officers helping at the dig, in uniform.

You also have her eating a fair-sized bowl of barley pottage, a fair amount of small beer, and a piece of hard dark bread for lunch. That’s a very nice, filling lunch that could keep you going for a whole day, but the expert describes it as “holy anorexia.” They don’t mention what the men ate, which would have been the same thing!!

(Also, the archeologist does not do the obvious thing, and soak part of the bread in the soup or the beer, and use the rest to clean the bowl.)

They have her listening to a reading while eating in the refectory, which is compared unfavorably to conversing with your co-workers. Nobody compares it to audiobooks, or BBC audio dramas and book readings — even though many kids traditionally listen to stories over the radio at teatime or lunch.

(You can find the episode online and on Amazon Prime. Chicksands is the place, and “The Naughty Monastery” is the title.)

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Research Fail: Dave Duncan Edition

Everybody who writes historical fiction, or any other book that needs research, will have a failure somewhere.

In Dave Duncan’s otherwise excellent medieval alt-history fantasy, Ironfoot, his failure comes in his description of Old English grammar. It’s hard to write about the future in Old English, he says, because it has no future tense.

Um. Dave. Neither does Modern English. Not the conjugation-within-the-verb kind. We have “compound tenses,” which use a helper verb like “will” or “shall.”

It’s also possible to talk about the future in English by using time markers.

“Tomorrow, we go to the Moon!”

“As soon as the rocket finishes refueling and fires up, we go to the Moon!”

I blame elementary school grammar classes. They don’t actually teach people the rules of English grammar; instead, they focus on an idealized version based on Latin.

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Young Judge Dee TV Show on Amazon Prime

Tsui Hark’s third Detective Dee movie (Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings) is due for release in July 2018. So it’s not surprising that there’s a 2014 live action TV show on Amazon Prime about young Judge Dee and young Empress Wu, with lots of martial arts, magic, and detective deduction.

The catch is that it’s not called anything resembling “Judge Dee,” “Detective Dee,” or even “Magistrate Dee.”

Yup, it was uploaded by the production company as:

Clip: Young Sherlock.

(Also, whoever did the uploading has classified each of the series episodes as separate movies. And there are 40-some episodes in a season. My advice is to search for the show on your desktop, and then click each of them onto your watchlist in episode order.)

It turns out that the official English title really is Young Sherlock. Presumably this is using “sherlock” as a generic word for a sleuth.

Anyway, it’s a pretty typical Tang Dynasty detective/martial arts show.

(Heh, I just wanted to write that sentence.)

So there’s a hotblooded hero destined to make nonfictional history and become a Chinese god, Di Ren Jie. He is a gifted young scholar and martial artist, but his dad finds him unserious. It’s almost time for him to get married off and take the bureaucrat exams, but he just wants to have fun. He’s crazy for beautiful girls. But he doesn’t want to marry his cousin and childhood friend, a girl with a sharp tongue and a mean right whose nickname is “Tigress.” He also doesn’t want to marry the other leading candidate, a rich and well-educated government minister’s daughter he’s never met, because her nickname is “Ugly.” But on his way to visit the capital, he falls in love instantly (as one does) with a gorgeous young woman who doctors the poor while hiding her face (as one does).

He also has a faithful family servant/sidekick who spends his time being ordered around by both the future Judge Dee and the aforementioned Tigress. (Though they treat him with careless generosity as well, since they were all raised together.)

And Tigress is also destined to meet mysterious love interests, as well as dressing up like a guy. Because that’s what young female martial artists of good family do!

Anyway, the first episode sets up the show with a lot of info about palace intrigue and the Emperor’s troubles, as well as introducing us to a mysterious group of magical ninja terrorists, led by a guy wearing a Western-style helmet. Emperor Gaozong gave up hope of marrying his childhood friend and true love (Wu Mei, the future Empress Wu) upon taking the throne, for an important reason. She had been married off to the now-dead emperor as a concubine, so marrying her himself would count as incest. Further, an imperial consort who didn’t have kids by an emperor was supposed to remain celibate afterwards, to avoid succession confusion, and was to be booked off to be a nun. Therefore, she became the abbess of a Buddhist shrine to the dead emperor’s memory. But for various reasons, the gods don’t seem to think this is good enough, and the omens are bad. So the young emperor, depressed and lonely, contemplates going back on his decision… and of course, there are courtiers trying to get him what he wants!

But the second episode starts with mystery, as a theater accident turns out to be no accident, and Dee shows even the gentlemen of the court just how deadly serious he can be.

On the whole, I think it’s okay for mystery-reading kids… if they are okay with lots of subtitles, scary stuff and mystery murders, as well as pagan and Buddhist Chinese altars and temples. There’s some earthy humor too. (For instance, Tigress complains that, since they were little kids together, Dee has already seen her naked when they were in the bathtub together. Since she complains about this in public, the public misinterpret it!)

There’s also a frequent repetition of a famous Chinese love poem about longing for the beloved so much that she confused green and red, which is written to a married Emperor. (Yes, maintenance of the imperial concubine system is a plot essential.) If your kids already know about King Solomon, there’s nothing shocking.

The main question, as ever, is why the evil Empress Wu has been rewritten as the purehearted Empress Wu in so many recent historical works. Obviously people really really want her to be a positive historical model for women, because many of her policies were beneficial; but that doesn’t mean she can’t also have been a model of dictatorship, cruelty, extravagance, and excess. Heck, that seems to be most Chinese rulers of note — a bunch of powercrazed weirdos, with good administrators doing all the work.

As the linked article above says, Young Sherlock was produced in Hong Kong under Communist Chinese control. Dee is played by Bosco Wong, and Empress Wu by Ruby Lin. Yuan Hong is the Emperor, Ma Tianyu is the sidekick (whose name is Wang Yuanfang), Cindy Sun Xiaoxiao is Tigress (Tong Mengyao is her actual name), and Stephy Qi is the mysterious doctor, Li Wanqing. The director is Lin Feng, and the show was produced for Hunan TV.

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When a PSA Lies

The CDC is running a PSA that is shockingly exploitative. I just saw it today on a cable channel.

The PSA is labeled “A Tip from an Ex-Smoker.” A young mother explains that she smoked during pregnancy, and that therefore her baby was born two months premature and had to live in an incubator. Her tip (given in a despairing, post-partum depression voice) is to speak through the incubator’s hand opening, so that the baby can hear you better.

The PSA then runs a screen acknowledging that smoking during pregnancy means “a chance” of premature birth and low birth weights; but the implication during the PSA is that smoking will definitely cause that, and that any pregnant woman who smokes is an evil monster!

Now, obviously it’s better not to smoke, so it’s obviously better not to smoke during pregnancy.

But seriously, what is that BS? I grew up when pretty much every pregnant woman smoked, and the chance of mothers having a preemie baby was just about the same as it is today. (Maybe it’s higher today, because preemie babies actually get born alive at younger ages, instead of being counted as miscarriages and stillbirths.)

My mother never smoked, and she had one of her kids be a preemie. Other women smoked like chimneys — big chain smokers — and had big full-term babies. For two generations, almost everyone born in America was the child of a woman who smoked several cigarettes a day.

(Let’s not even get into pregnant women drinking and having smart healthy kids. Because they also did that, all the time, for centuries. I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to drink like a fish, but sheesh.)

So basically, the CDC can take their guilt trip for pregnant ladies, and insert it where they pulled this out of. Premature birth is a complicated medical issue that is caused by many factors and conditions, and there’s no telling who will get lucky and who will not. A lot of those factors are genetic, or are the baby’s own individual characteristics. Encouraging mothers to do healthy things is fine; lying to them and using BS threats is disgusting.

Most of all, I hope that if that mother on the commercial is a real person and not an actor, that somebody explains to her that her baby just had bad luck.

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Precious Blood Sisters Doing Stupid Stuff.

The Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood were once a thriving order, but now are dying — except in South America. Apparently Peru is far enough away to avoid stupid Sixties junk.

Back when there were plenty of Precious Blood sisters, mostly working as teachers for schools or housekeepers for Catholic institutions, some of the sisters wanted to follow their spiritual charism of keeping up a Perpetual Adoration schedule into becoming a full-fledged contemplative order. This wasn’t too strange, as one of the Missouri offshoots of the order does this; and then-Archbishop Alter thought it would be a good idea in the crazy modern world of 1956 Cincinnati. The contemplative nuns could pray for the active nuns, and any active nuns who got tired could go recharge with the contemplatives.

It didn’t work out. Most of the younger sisters in the main order got caught up in stupid Sixties craziness. They decided that the original work of the order, housekeeping, was not feminist enough; and that they were too smart to be schoolteachers. They should be principals of schools or administrators of Catholic institutions. They should stop wearing the habit or living in community. And of course they would have to destroy the contemplative offshoot group, because all the more conservative nuns were fleeing there for peace; and there were a lot more Baby Boomer votes in the active side of things.

Before all this really started rolling, there was one Precious Blood sister who was really attached to contemplation, and had been one of the reasons the contemplative group was created. Mildred Dumezil, known in the order as Sr. Mary Ephrem, had a deep spiritual life. She began to have visions of Mary as Our Lady of America, as well as of various saints and of Christ. The archdiocese ended up investigating this informally, and was generally positive about it, although nothing too definite was done. (The title was officially approved for those seeking healing. Eventually, bishops in the Philippines got a lot more enthusiastic about the title; there are churches there using it.)

So yeah, you’ve got a lady of Middle Eastern heritage in the midst of German-Americans. That hadn’t been a source of friction before, but now it became one. You’ve got conservative contemplatives surprised with something new, and liberal actives who suddenly find something really edgy going on — that’s not them.

A lot of stuff happened, and most of it was shameful. Women can be very crued to other women, and a nun gone wrong is very nasty indeed.

In the midst of all this, the famously liberal political radio priest, Fr. Charles Coughlin, died. He had been used and thrown away by the FDR liberals, and most of his political work was forgotten. What survived was the beautiful Detroit shrine he built to St. Therese of Lisieux. He had been planning to set up some kind of religious center out in the middle of nowhere, and he had bought land there. Since the contemplative sisters lived nearby at New Riegel, Ohio, he had gotten to know them. He left the property to them, asking for their prayers to continue in perpetuity as they used the land to live on.

Over the course of the next few years, as the active sisters dismantled the contemplative offshoot and kicked them out, the active sisters also grabbed this land. (Of course they did.)

The stunning part is this: they sold the land to The Way International. That’s not a Catholic group. It’s not a mainstream Christian group. It’s a group that has even been called a cult, and which teaches that Jesus is not God. Its founder also claimed to have had visions (of Christ), but the whole group’s history was nothing but wall-to-wall scandals with money and sex, obsessive control of members’ lives, and credible accusations of abuse and cultism. This was not a secret, even back when the Precious Blood Sisters sold the land to them. They helped The Way International build their creepy heretical, sinful management headquarters on the land that was supposed to be a home for contemplative nuns.

So yeah, that’s not petty behavior anymore. That’s just disgusting.

This is no reflection on the other orders in the Precious Blood “family,” mind you. And of course a lot of the active nuns had nothing to do with this crap; there was a lot of tyranny of numbers going on, with Baby Boomers forcing their will on everyone else. (And then, for the most part, they left the order after they could do no more harm. The outvoted are sitting around in the order’s nursing home, insisting on wearing their habits.)

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True Crime in Regency Ireland: The Colleen Bawn

This one has everything.

Ellen Hanley was born in 1803, at Bruree, County Limerick. When her mother died while she was still a little girl, she was fostered out to her maternal uncle John Connery (a shoemaker) and his wife, who lived at Ballycahane, Croom (also in County Limerick). They loved her as their own and took good care of her, and she grew up a gentle, kindly, lively young girl whom all the neighborhood thought well of. Her local nickname was “An Cailin Bhan” (the Fair Young Woman). The Anglicized spelling is “the Colleen Bawn.”

But since everybody she knew loved her, she assumed that nobody would do her harm.

In May 1819, when she was still only 15 years old, she met up with a member of the gentry, one John Fitzgibbon Scanlan or Scanlon, who had come to live at Ballykehan or Ballycahane House in Bruff, also in County Limerick. (As seen by the house name, he was a neighbor, not a stranger; but his people lived at Loghill or Loughill, also in County Limerick, but on the banks of the River Shannon.) He was the eldest son and heir. He had actually been a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, but had left or been dismissed after Waterloo.

John apparently persuaded Ellen that he loved her, that the differences in social status didn’t matter, and that they should marry and live happily ever after. She went with him.

But… she wasn’t all good. In the sort of thing that happens in other murder ballads, but is glossed over in most retellings of this tale, our Ellen apparently decided that she would take along a hundred pounds as her dowry. (And since her uncle was reasonably well-off for a shoemaker, it’s possible that the hundred pounds was her legit dowry. But running off without telling her uncle and aunt was definitely not legit.) Scanlon was apparently all for it, because he needed the money.

She thought they had married, but it turned out at the trial that there were no marriage records. So it would seem that he had hired a fake clergyman, in order to have his fun without ties. In any case, Ellen was under the age of consent, so there could be no legal marriage without the consent of her parents or guardians. He also didn’t inform his parents, which should have been a red flag for Ellen.

So they lived together for five or six weeks, with her fake wedding ring on her finger, and with her skeevy husband living off his teenage squeeze’s money. Then John Scanlan’s mother summoned him with letters, informing him that she’d arranged him a good marriage with a nice fat dowry. But Scanlan had apparently found out that his sweet bride was not a pushover, because he didn’t just up and leave her, or drop her off somewhere. (Which he legally could have done, because they weren’t married by the laws of church or state; but it would have made a stink for him.)

No, he decided that she had to be got rid of.

But he didn’t intend to do it. No, that was going to be a job for Stephen Sullivan, his manservant. So in July, the couple traveled to Glin, a village on the banks of the River Shannon. He sent Ellen out to cross the River Shannon in a boat, with Sullivan to row and dump the body.

But Sullivan couldn’t do it. He rowed on back, with the charming Ellen still alive.

So on July 15, Scanlan got his servant lit on whiskey, and sent them out on the river another day. And this time, she didn’t come back. Sullivan had shot her with his musket, stripped off the ring and her dress (which might identify her), weighted down her body with rocks, and dumped her in the deepest part of the river. And since the Shannon is deep, wide, and leads to the sea, they would never have to worry about her ever again. Then Scanlan went to Cork and enlisted again.

But on September 6, 1819, Ellen’s shift-clad body washed up at Moneypoint, near Kilrush, County Clare, on the tiny bit of land owned by a farmer named Patrick O’Connell. His brother, Peter O’Connell, was a well-known poet, linguist, and schoolmaster in the neighborhood. The musket shot was very evident, and apparently the girl was still recognizable. An investigation began, as well as a good deal of indignation toward the murderer. The more people found out, the angrier they got. Scanlan deserted his new regiment and fled, but there was a massive manhunt. Both John Scanlan and Stephen Sullivan were eventually apprehended and put on trial.

Scanlan’s family hired Daniel O’Connell, one of the all-time great defense lawyers and orators. Even he couldn’t get the scum off. Scanlan was sentenced to be hanged at Gallows Green in County Clare, but the horses shied at the bridge and wouldn’t take him across. He ended up having to walk to the gallows, and he died in disgrace on March 16, 1820.

Scanlan died still claiming his innocence, and saying that the murder was all his servant’s idea. His claim was that his plan had been to have Sullivan dump Ellen on an immigrant ship, unable to get off until she got to America. (This may seem farfetched, but it had actually happened to a local girl, Judith Lynch, who was impregnated by a married man of wealth. When she got to America and protested, the government sent her back and there was a trial.)

Daniel O’Connell is quoted as having written to his wife on March 15, 1820:

“I had a client convicted yesterday for which I fought a hard battle, and yet I do not feel any the most slight regret at his conviction. It is very unusual with me to be so satisfied, but he is a horrid villain….”

Peter O’Connell had compiled the most complete dictionary of the Irish language up to that time, and took the opportunity to approach his clansman for help in getting it published. Daniel O’Connell apparently didn’t feel interested or equal to doing it. The dictionary never was published, although it did survive its lexicographer. There are copies at Trinity College, the British Museum, and the Royal Irish Academy. His dictionary entries have been used by later lexicographers as a source.

Scanlan’s manservant, Stephen Sullivan, had managed to elude the law for four months longer than his master. But after being caught he had a separate trial. Sullivan was also hanged, but he gave a full confession first with details that hadn’t come up at the trial.

As for Ellen Hanley? The poet Peter O’Connell had just bought himself a plot in Burrane Cemetery when his brother Patrick discovered her remains. He saw this as a sign, and offered his grave as her resting place. After the famous trial, some admirer paid for her to have a fancy Celtic cross gravestone. Unfortunately, souvenir hunters eventually chipped it to pieces.

And when Peter O’Connell died seven years later, in 1826, they laid him to rest in the grave of the Colleen Bawn.

And this is the privilege of a poet: to sleep on the same bed as his lord.

The story of the murdered Cailin Ban is sometimes confused with the story of the “Polly Vaughn” song, about the girl accidentally killed by her sweetheart “who took her to be some swan.” In that story, Polly’s ghost appears in court to clear her true love’s name. Obviously, none of this happened to the Colleen Bawn!

However, she does have her own opera, The Lily of Killarney. She also has three novels and a play by Dion Boucicault, “The Colleen Bawn,” which (like the opera) is based upon Gerald Griffin’s three-volume novel, The Collegians, that used a Killarney adaptation of her story. Boucicault’s play featured a character called “Myles na Copaleen.” (This name was later taken as a pseudonym by Brian O’Nolan, also aka Flann O’Brien.) There was also an Irish silent movie of “The Colleen Bawn.” (The actress’ hairstyle is scary, though.)

The huge amount of fictionalization was apparently also done to avoid Scanlan’s family putting the kibosh on things, and partly because a lot of the writers knew the families involved and wanted to draw a veil over it. However, this didn’t spare Griffin a lot of criticism for causing people pain with his book!

There’s a very good modern ballad, “The Colleen Bawn,” that was written by the Wolfetones.

A short 1974 news story from RTE about the Colleen Bawn, showing her uncle’s house where she lived.

There’s a true crime book about the case called The Poor Man’s Daughter: A Return to the Colleen Bawn, with an introduction by Janet Murphy and Eileen Chamberlain, which points out that news coverage at the time (and afterward!) avoided pointing out John Scanlon’s exalted antecedents, even though the locals knew all about it. It’s embarrassing to have a murderer in the family. On the other hand, it is possible that Scanlan was convicted of murder on very little evidence, because there was fear of popular resentment if one of the gentry appeared to have gotten away with murder. Most of the info in this post comes from this book, which otherwise reprints a period account of the case by a local clergyman.

Ballycahane House was inherited by Scanlan’s brother, a sea captain. It was destroyed by fire in 1822, and rebuilt on a much smaller scale.

Bruree = Brugh Righ. (Modern spelling: Bru Ri.) “Fort of the king.” A village on the River Maigue.

Croom = Cromadh. “Riverbend.” Another village on the River Maigue.

Bruff = An Brugh. (Pronounced a different way, but the same word for “fort.”)

Moneypoint: Now the site of a hydroelectric power station.

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Recycling Old Fake News

This example is from The New York Times. In a late-breaking news story, they allowed an essay pointing out the Times’ refusal to report things like the Communist-made Holodomor famine in the Ukraine.

At the bottom, however, they linked to “The Lost Children of Tuam.”

Accompanied by moody black and white photos (including a cheesy animated GIF of trees blowing in the wind), the Times reporter proceeded to rehash Ireland’s best Victorian era, private religious order, funded on a shoestring, try at providing a home for unwed mothers and their kids — who’d been dropped by their families and had nowhere else to go. The story admits that the kids went to the same public schools as other kids, and that the doors of the homes were never locked.

It has been proved that, although there were abuses typical of large charitable organizations, most of the homes were safe and healthy, and many of the surviving denizens look back with affection at their time with the nuns. It was careless and stupid to lose track of one of the home-associated cemeteries. But it happened a bunch in England with Victorian stuff, and you don’t hear fantasies about serial-killer bureaucrats slaughtering entire secret cemeteries full of kids.

(If you want to have nightmares, though, the English “baby farms” will do it.)

Kids and moms who died at the homes died of the same things that killed kids living on farms or in towns: tuberculosis, influenza, measles, diphtheria, and so on. But everywhere in the world, including the US, kids died at a higher rate in charitable establishments. Why? Because they were full of kids whose moms weren’t healthy, spreading germs to each other; and because the more kids you have in one place, the less care each one is going to receive. (Need I mention American daycare, where the ratios and numbers are lower, but the illness incubation and dirt is endemic?) You also had a situation where the more you followed progressive medical ideas, the more likely you were to do harm inadvertently. (It was dangerous to be warm in the winter, don’t you know?)

Now, all that said… there is actually something behind all this that was worth being upset about. It turned out that there were over 300 swaddled bodies of babies and toddlers that had been buried in a repurposed septic tank out back of the Tuam home. It is not clear whether the septic tank had been properly consecrated as a tomb, or whether the children received proper funeral Masses. If everything was carried out properly, it was done in a hole-and-corner way without proper records and markers. (Or the records were destroyed, in an excess of bureaucratic discretion.) Forgetting about them and building around them was definitely wrong.

However, it does appear that proper death records were kept for these kids, and the local government properly notified. So if they weren’t keeping tabs on the kids’ burials, they bear a good chunk of the blame. My county does better than that, with all the pioneer cemeteries that require tending and protection.

But it’s easier to shift blame to the dead, or to ignore your own sins.

PS — There is a nice picture of olden days Irish First Communion kids. No, the girls aren’t wearing veils. Instead, they are wearing fitted frilled bonnets, with little strings tied in a bow.

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Ornery Saints Vs. Ornery Popes

If you read a lot of Church history, you notice that popes were usually respected by the saints, and their maintenance of good doctrine was praised to the skies. But on temporal matters, or at times when good doctrine was in danger?

Well, let’s just say that a lot of saints quoted St. Paul, and “withstood Peter to his face.”

One of the more unusual examples of an ornery saint was St. Clare of Assisi. Sweet, gentle, kindly, and a big pope fan. When Princess Agnes of Bohemia wanted to join the Poor Clares and live their rule, the deceased St. Francis’ old friend Cardinal Ugolino had become Pope Gregory IX, and he was a friend of St. Clare, too.  So the princess consulted the pope… who told her to become a Benedictine instead.

St. Clare wrote a very nice, very pretty, very heartfelt letter to Princess Agnes… telling her not to let anyone stand in the way of her vocation to the Franciscan life. Anyone. And if you need advice from a guy, write Brother Elias — who was then the head of the Franciscan order — and obey him.

Clare never explicitly says, “Don’t obey the pope in this, because it’s none of his business,” but that was the strongly implied gist. (And heck, St. Clare had already disobeyed her parents and her entire family when they overreached their authority over her.)

Medieval Catholics had a very strong sense of obedience to superiors, as far as their right to command extended. But right after that point, they had no hesitation telling their superiors where to go.

Now, there are a lot of saints out there who did obey their superiors on matters that weren’t their superiors’ business. But it was their choice to obey, as a form of ascetic mortification. And usually it was the superiors who were being taught and tried by it.

In all times that the popes have lived in Rome, the Roman people have regarded it as their special task to let the popes know if they are messing up. Their attitude is reverential in regards to papal liturgies and processions, but they have always reserved the right to talk about the popes however they feel like, and to talk to them with great freedom, including anonymous nasty poems and drawings, and even the odd riot. He is their bishop, after all, and they know they should be able to talk freely to their spiritual father, no matter how much drama it takes.

Many of the popes have not particularly appreciated this. But Pope John Paul II acknowledged it in a sidelong way, when he ostensibly asked for them to correct his dialectal grammar, but actually talked about them correcting him. But then, he was too savvy to fight against the sensus fidelium of his own local flock.

Which brings us to the recent correctio filialis. Of course priests and bishops have a right to correct Pope Francis, or to ask for him to clarify his words and stop confusing the world on doctrinal matters. They don’t have fewer rights than laypeople on this subject.

In modern life, obeying and supporting the pope in general is still very important. But if the pope is being unfair or not doing a good job, it is — and always has been — the right and duty of good Catholics to let him know.

 

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Michael Heiser Books

[Previously posted, in somewhat different format, as a comment over at Crossover Queen.]

Michael Heiser is a pretty solid Bible scholar. His POV is that he is trying to understand the Bible solely based on the text while ignoring theological tradition. (Hence the title of his podcast, The Naked Bible Podcast.) Of course, you can’t necessarily do that, so he spends most of his career trying to understand the Bible via archaeological, cultural, and historical info. As for his religious POV, I think he’s some flavor of evangelical.

I really enjoyed his podcast series on the Book of Ezekiel. It gave a very nice explication of the literal sense of the text, along with a lot of secondary cultural material that greatly helped. He also had pictures and articles to download from his site, such as pictures of various archaeological discoveries of “chariot thrones” with angel and wheel supporters, found in countries around Israel.

Anyway, the guy has a couple of books out on supernatural angel-related stuff in the Bible, and comparing it to various Phoenician, Sumerian, etc. materials about the same thing. The Unseen Realms is the first one, and it’s available for free on Kindle Unlimited. Reversing Hermon is his more recent one. I read Unseen Realms too fast and missed some of his more startling/iffy bits, until he quoted them in Reversing Hermon.

The downfall of drawing your own conclusions is that you can be led into things like “Hit the button on the astro software, and decide what must be the Star of Bethlehem!” My older brother is an astronomer, so I’ve seen huge numbers of theories about the Star of Bethlehem. I was not impressed by his “Rosh Hashanah must be the real Christmas!” theory, mostly because I’ve seen a lot of the same astronomical material used as an interesting coincidence with the Virgin Mary’s traditional (East and West agree) birthday in September. His theory is a much better grade of “just suppose,” but interesting and academic doesn’t mean closer to reality.

The basic deal with Reversing Hermon is that a lot of Near/Middle East cultures had this idea that they got civilization skills from seven minor deity/angelic sages (who came from heaven or from the ocean). The sages taught humanity all sorts of things, married human women, and had kids who were human on the outside but minor deities/angels/spirits on the inside. And the same thing was true of their grandkids and so on. All the divine-descended people were taller than regular mortals, stronger, great warriors and sorcerors, etc., and had all the awesome skills that the sages taught. Various folks like Enkidu and Gilgamesh had this background.

But they didn’t live forever, and if you killed them their deity/angel/spirit half took over and became a vengeful spirit, punishing humans and haunting various spooky places. They also had their own realm, “the Great Land,” which was underground under various sacred mountains, the Dead Sea, etc. The Canaanites were very big into this, and very big into appeasing them or getting a specific Baal “Lord of the Dead” to keep them under control, because the giant dead running back and forth from their Great Land were a lot more dangerous than normal human dead people in Sheol.

Heiser shows that a lot of the stuff in the Bible about giants is from the POV of Israel putting a different spin on their neighbors’ stories. The sages were really evil rebel angels. The skills taught by the “sages” included a lot of things that Jewish people saw as inimical to good life and civilization, not foundational to it. Giants were mostly not good guys in life, either; they are people possessed by evil spirits or allowing themselves to be used. God was in the process of defeating the rebel angels, their evil descendants, and the evil Rephaim spirits. Heiser also theorizes in Reversing Hermon that a lot of Jesus’ actions, and His Incarnation, were part of showing humans the truth about the ultimate defeat of said rebel angels, giants, and evil spirits.

I thought the thesis was pretty interesting, and the gathering of sources was, too. Obviously Jesus did have a fair number of agendas going on, and spiritual warfare was clearly one of them. What I objected to was the conclusions and uses he made from the material. There was a lot of stuff that had me rolling my eyes and looking dubious, including the Rosh Hashanah Christmas thing.

And then, when you work your whole book up to “And Catholics totally don’t understand the rock/gates of Hell speech, but my theory won’t give satisfaction as to why Peter gets called Rock,” you are going to make us Catholics start looking like an eye slot machine. (Because there’s always another theory about how we’re wrong, and they’re all different except about how we’re wrong this time.)

Also, a lot of his pointing out that various “mighty men” references could also be giant references (based on some good Septuagint translation weirdness), led up to an assertion that the “gebirah” (great woman) stuff in the history chronicles, and the “valiant woman” stuff in Ruth and Proverbs, was not about Israel and Judah’s kings having their moms act as queen mother councilors or about smart ladies doing cool things, but about giantesses with wicked skills. (Okay, he didn’t come right out and say that, but that’s what I was seeing.) Possibly this was on purpose, possibly it was a consequence of his thesis. But either way, it ended up as an indirect swipe at recent Bible scholarship (mostly by Catholics) about how queen mother gebirah imagery relates to the Virgin Mary, among other Bible ladies. I have read a lot of gebirah research stuff, and other scholars have found that there is tons to relate it to similar stuff in neighboring cultures. It is the sort of thing that Heiser would normally like, or at least want to integrate with the giant interpretation thing. I could think of several ways to do that, on my way to the refrigerator.

So yeah, several places strike me as him having a minor Catholic allergy that is getting in the way of his thinking. Disappointing, but maybe he’ll get over it and come up with some fun stuff in a few years. He does make good use of Catholic scholars like Bergsma, Pitre, Hahn, etc., so he’s not suffering from anything serious.

My real problem is that, by separating Bible studies from doctrine or interpretation, he is basically creating an interpretation that is at odds with Christianity. Pagan ideas about the nature of things like the seven (or nine, or twelve) sages are not just morally wrong; they are factually incorrect. So just because Bob and Tanith Canaanite may have believed in vengeful rephaim ghosts, and some Biblical times Jews may have also believed in them, isn’t it somewhat important to point out that demons are full of BS, and stories about them also tend to be factually incorrect? Doesn’t it seem more like Jesus was striking against the BS, rather than worrying about descendants of giants roaming the earth? The fact that all this kind of lore has become very minor and forgotten would tend to argue that the Church didn’t really want to focus people’s attention on this stuff.

I was also not happy about his podcast interviewing some people going out and doing various kinds of “deliverance ministry” and spiritual warfare based on his books. I mean, you can like a scholar’s work pretty well without being willing to trust your life or your soul to his conclusions! He’s not trying to be a cult leader and I don’t find anything creepy in his work, per se; but there are some kinds of materials that just attract… overly enthusiastic… responses. I don’t know that he’s really taking that into account enough. (To be fair, however, he’s starting some kind of anti-Bible-conspiracy-theories video series soon, so maybe he is thinking about this stuff.)

But as a sourcebook for Near/Middle East mythos material and fiction ideas, The Unseen Realms is good and so is Reversing Hermon. And it is Bible fun, which is always fun to consider. Just don’t take it as Gospel.

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Awesome Churchill Deal!

If you like Winston Churchill, you may know that he also wrote history books.

You may not know that, during his “exile” years between the wars, Churchill wrote Marlborough: His Life and Times, a four volume biography of his famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. It is extremely informative on a wide range of subjects and a broad expanse of English and European history. You meet royal mistresses and Puritan widows, D’Artagnan, the Duke of Monmouth, and all manner of other people of note. You meet the original Winston Churchill and find out about his descent from a blacksmith who married well. You also hear from Marlborough’s redoubtable wife Sarah, a woman of strong opinions who, in old age, talked back to the historians.

But you also see our Churchill being quite open about drawing comfort from the lessons of history. He celebrates the stubborn persistence of John Churchill in the long years of disappointment after early success, and his readiness to respond to his country’s need after all that time. He draws parallels between WWI and the various messy European wars, often fought at the same messy places. He describes Marlborough’s long changeover from hardcore Tory to Whig. Finally, he points out that you don’t become the winningest general in a big swath of history by being lazy or an idiot.  (Throughout the entire book, he conducts a big feud against Macaulay on this point. Yeah, it is family pride, but backed up with documentation.)

By defending Marlborough, Churchill seems to work off some of his ire against his own critics. But he also seems to measure himself pretty sternly against his peers in the past, along with all of modern times. In short, it is the old concept of history as a mirror or a yardstick, but Churchill’s use of it is a little more naked to our eye than Tacitus or other great historians.

We sometimes forget that Churchill was a socialist of sorts. His blended admiration of France under the Sun King as collectivist, and hatred of it as anti-liberty, will strike you as weird. This is balanced by his Whig/Protestant view of history, which is equal parts old-fashioned and wrongheaded, but also very devout and sincere. Finally, his defense of some of Marlborough’s less glorious moments is downright eyeroll-worthy. “Betraying the king while you live under his roof is totally justified if your heart is pure.” Sure, Churchill, just keep telling yourself that.

(After hearing this detailed account of the work done before the “Glorious Revolution,” I don’t want to hear anybody from the UK talking about the American Revolution as treacherous. Our folks were extremely open and aboveboard about their actions. The lords who threw the Glorious Revolution were snakes.)

OTOH, you really can’t beat a Parliament politician’s insider ideas about Parliament’s history of wheeling and dealing. If he’s wrong about this stuff, it’s a very knowledgeable way of being wrong. You also learn a great deal about his sources for writing about Marlborough and his contemporaries. He is excellent at using period sources to make his portrait of Marlborough more accurate and more human, and he delights in the odd coincidences and fun bits of history.

You won’t be sorry if you get this book. You may spend large parts of some chapters having to listen to the book somewhere that you can growl back at Churchill, but you won’t lose by it.

If you already subscribe to Audible, you can get all four volumes of Marlborough: His Life and Times for one credit. That’s 81 hours, folks.

The downside of the audiobook is that you do not get footnotes.

The upside is that the narrator does a really good job with Churchillian prose, without being super-blatant about the fact he is doing a Churchill imitation.

So consider checking it out.

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A Guide to the Laws of England Affecting Roman Catholics

A Guide to the Laws of England Affecting Roman Catholics, by Thomas Chisholme Anstey.

This 1842 compendium of the English laws affecting Roman Catholics, past and present, is extremely enlightening. It doesn’t include the laws that were also against other sorts of religious dissenters, but only the specifically anti-Catholic ones. It also includes the text of a loyalty oath that was required of Catholics wishing to be covered by the various “Relief Acts” and Catholic emancipation laws. Yup, you didn’t even get your basic civil rights without doing some groveling.

One thing that shows up is that a lot of laws which Irish people tend to think about as being against “the Irish” are really against all Catholics. For example, the infamous rule that a Catholic could not own a horse worth more than five pounds.

I’m pretty sure that we all know about all the death penalties and imprisonments for horrible things like “being a priest” or “saying Mass,” and about all the crushing fines and terrible imprisonments visited upon recusant Catholic laypeople, both men and women. But here are some laws you might not have heard about:

Catholics could not possess any arms or even gunpowder, but they had to pay people to maintain arms at their own expense, for royal use. Nice, huh?

Recusant Catholics could not go to court, and could not go within ten miles of London unless they were natives there. At one point they could not even go five miles from home without losing everything they owned and then being kicked out of England.

Under Elizabeth I, any Catholic leaving England to go to school was to be deprived of the ability to hold real estate, and all contracts made with him were voided. Sending a person out of England to school meant a 100 pound fine. Going overseas was forbidden to any woman or minor under 21, except by special government permission from the queen and her ministers. Later, even sending money overseas to a seminary or Catholic charity made you a person unable to hold offices or real estate; you lost everything you owned except your heir’s right to inherit your lands after your death.

In general, under various laws, Catholics could own real estate but could not do anything with it. Their Protestant kindred were given the legal right to “enjoy” their houses and land and to keep any profits that arose. This lasted until Catholic emancipation in 1829, under George IV.

Under William III, any Catholic keeping school or found teaching kids was to be sentenced to perpetual imprisonment.

Under Queen Anne, it was decided that if a Protestant child of a Catholic or Jewish family ever complained of “want of fitting maintenance,” they were to be given money, lest the kids reconcile with their parents and their religion. The age of the children did not matter as long as the parents were still alive, and most of the applicants seem to have been adults. At least one was a middle-aged adult.

Anglican canon law also called for the punishment of all recusants and dissenters. There were Anglican churchwardens, constables, high constables, questmen, and questmen’s assistants, all of whom could arrest you for being Catholic, basically. They would be paid 40 shillings for everybody they listed as not attending the Anglican parish church at least once a month.

All marriages had to be celebrated in Anglican parish churches by Anglican priests. Even if you were Jewish or Catholic, or a Protestant of another group. The idea of being able to register your marriage by going to a strictly secular registrar, and then celebrate it in your own religious group, was new to England in 1829. In general, the building had to be registered, or a registrar had to be present, or there had to be a special license. But this was progress.

There’s also an interesting discussion of how the Anglican seal of confession was considerably weakened by Anglican canon law in comparison to Catholic canon law. Anglican clergy were allowed to reveal confessions of anything that went against the realm or anything that was dangerous to the clergyman’s life; but any talking about secret confession contents was considered an irregularity and nothing more. (Which doesn’t mean that individual Anglican priests didn’t act differently; but you can see how corrupted the canon law was made by its government status.)

There’s also a lot of discussion of how charitable bequests to Catholic causes were frequently voided by the decisions of judges, even after 1829 made those bequests totally legal in the UK. A lot of times, this was explicitly done to benefit Protestant heirs, or the money taken over by the government.

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