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Iffy on New St. Patrick Documentary

So CBN has a documentary/dramatic reenactment thing coming out in theaters for St. Patrick’s Day. Yeah.

I don’t want to rain on anybody’s patristics parade. Protestants are allowed to talk about early Christian saints. There are Irish Protestants, too. Of course he is part of their heritage, too.

But… based on the promotional material, Patrick had to oppose the Church (the whole entire Catholic Church, from Gaul to Constantinople, no doubt) in order to get back to Ireland to do missionary work. Never mind the whole “Go to a really good theology school, train to be a missionary, and then be made a bishop and be sent back to Ireland when you are ready.”

Because Patrick had to obey God rather than man! He was totally a rebel! Who spent his whole apologia and confessio explaining that he did so dot all his i’s!

Of course, I am sure we will get a totally unbiased take on how Patrick’s main trouble was his buddy deciding to mouth off to everyone, about something personal and sinful in his past (probably some kind of teenage pagan rebellious phase) that he had revealed to him, in an attempt to get him taken off the bishop list. (Because Patrick’s friend had to serve God rather than man!)

Apparently this documentary is arguing that Patrick got ordered back to Gaul (or Britain, in this version which is Brit-centric) to answer allegations, and that he defied their orders — on orders from God!

Which is silly. He was a bishop, in the West. He did not have to answer to anybody (except maybe the Pope, who wasn’t pushing this). He was a local primate, and only had to obey himself. People could send him letters, sure, and he could just send letters back. The only real concern would be getting misunderstood. So he sent a letter explaining stuff. Hardly the stuff of defiant! drama!!!

I also expect a lot of blah-blah trying to prove that Celtic Christianity was somehow not Roman Catholic, or trying to make nice with the Eastern churches at the expense of the West, or the rest of the usual silliness.

Of course, it is also possible that CBN will do a straight up scholarly take. CBN has been known to be surprisingly Catholic-friendly at times, and they aired reruns of Ven. Fulton Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living for decades. There is plenty of interesting stuff to explore.

But in that case, they need to work on the promo material.


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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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Classical Greek Word of the Day

hekibolos means “far-shooter” (or also far-thrower).

It’s an epithet of Apollo, meaning an archer who can shoot someone or something from a long distance away.

So basically, Apollo Sniper.

hekibolos is pronounced “HECK-y Bowl-oss,” where HECK is the primary accent and Bowl is secondary.

Yes, I decided that I was having more fun with the Great Courses channel add-on to Amazon Prime than with Audible, and it’s cheaper too. So I’m back doing Greek 101 again.

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“De Corpore Domini” by St. Albert the Great

This is a work covering similar ground to “On the Most Sacrosanct Sacrament of the Eucharist”. But it’s a series of theological treatises, and it comes from the end of the man’s career.  More later.


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We Are Okay

Multiple tornados in the Dayton area tonight. We are okay.

My younger brother had two trees fall in his driveway, but they missed his car and house!


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Sorry for the Long Blog Silence….

I could have sworn I was posting regularly, but obviously not!

I have unearthed some old posts, as well as making a new one below.


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Eve Tushnet Likes Horror Movie “The Nun”

Eve Tushnet’s review. Still cracks me up that an essentially conservative woman has a gig on America magazine.

This is one of those unintended “alternate universe” movies. It’s set in Romania in 1952, under a Communist government that favored Orthodoxy (and took it over), while persecuting Latin Rite Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, and Orthodox who didn’t go along. But although certain Orthodox monasteries were not bothered, this movie shows a Catholic convent that is essentially unbothered by the change in government, and a Vatican that can easily send in emissaries. (In real life, no representative of a Latin Rite Catholic order was allowed to visit Romania until 1965, and that visit was a big deal.)

Yeahhhh, pretty alternate universe.

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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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Our Lady of Knock Documentary: Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village

There’s an interesting Irish documentary on Amazon Prime right now: “Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village.” (The name comes from one of the early newspaper articles about the Knock apparition.)

The 2016 documentary focuses on the modern history of Knock, and how the locals are trying to help renew the pilgrimages and the Irish love for the Catholic Church. Unfortunately a lot of Irish-Americans are more interested than a lot of Irish!

Anyway, there’s a great bit at the beginning where Knock villagers read from the original depositions made by their ancestors. I didn’t realize that the apparition was first heralded by the following words:

“When did the deacon put up those new statues?”

“I didn’t know we were getting statues.”

(Of course, they weren’t statues; they were mysterious images of saints that appeared strangely solid, but could not be felt with the hand.)

The documentary does get into a lot of the history later on, and you get to see a lot of the actual local sites and landscape. County Mayo is cool.

Knock’s story tends to be retold in a syrupy way, so I really like a more matter-of-fact retelling that doesn’t minimize the miracle. I also like the locals who are featured; they are the salt of the earth. You also learn that even in these softer days, there are young Irishmen who like to make a barefoot pilgrimage to Knock.

I also didn’t realize that at least one of the witnesses, Mary O’Connell Byrne, was found to be incorrupt in her coffin when they added a family member to her grave.

The annoying bit is that they have some goofy music moments when people are being serious and solemn. But overall it’s a very beautiful documentary, and you learn a lot about how hard people work together to keep up a nice shrine for God.

(And yes, of course there’s a bit where they talk to two nuns, and one of them is faithful and conservative but painted as obsessed, but the other gets into women’s ordination. Sigh.)

It looks like Knock isn’t all that crowded for most of the year, which is kind of a shame for them; but is probably nice for you if you go there.

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The Best Law Video You’ll See All Week

“The Magical Birth Canal”.

Safe for work, unless you have humorless coworkers scalded by conscience.

(So… maybe not safe for work.)

Anyway, a very cute and winning presentation of one of our society’s fundamental injustices.

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A Quote from the Real Life Judge Dee

“Man is like water. When water is penned up, it forms a pond. When the obstructions are moved away, it becomes a stream. Whether it is imprisoned or set free, water will flow just as far as it can.”

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Everyone Is Catholic Now…

Dollar General was recently carrying a “patriotic candle.”

It was one of those 12-hour prayer candles. But instead of Jesus or the saints, it featured readings from the Bible about praying for one’s country, Spanish translations of the same readings, George Washington’s Prayer, and a big photo picture of an eagle and a flag against a blue sky.

So basically, my impression was that it was an evangelical or non-denominational version of a Catholic prayer candle.

It was marketed for Memorial Day, and I’ll be interested to see if it shows up again for the Fourth of July.

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Pope Celestine’s Prayer for a Pregnant Woman

Pope Celestine composed this for his sister! It is found in a lot of old English missals for the Sarum Rite. I found it in Volume 2 of the Sarum Missal translation.

I think it is a very good prayer. It was designed for priests to use, as a Mass intention.


O God, Who didst sanctify the Blessed Virgin Mother, Mary, both in conception and delivery; and Who, by Thy mighty power, didst deliver Jonah from the belly of the whale:

Protect Thy servant who is great with child, and visit her with Thy salvation; so that the child she beareth may be safely delivered, and may attain unto the grace of the Laver of Salvation.

Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.


Receive, O Lord, we beseech Thee, our humble prayers and oblations; and preserve Thy servant under the shield of Thy protection. And as Thou hast ordained of Thy grace that she be with child, so when the time of her labor draweth near, graciously deliver her and mercifully keep her, and her child, from all disquietude.

Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

P. Comm.:

Almighty God, be present with our supplications, and grant unto Thine handmaid the gift of Thy bountiful protection. So that, when the time of her labor is at hand, she may receive the protection of Thy grace; and that the child she may have borne may be brought to the Laver of Salvation, and increase and grow in grace.

Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.


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The Great Courses Are Great, Except When They’re Not.

First off, I do think that, in general, The Great Courses series on Audible is a really good deal. Unfortunately, you don’t get any of the really heavy-duty courses (like taking Koine Greek as a language), but you can get some really good courses that are full of up to date research, stuff that is hard to get elsewhere. (Like the course on the Etruscans, or on Central and South American civilizations, or on the ancient civilizations of the Asian steppe. The “Medical School for Everybody” series is very useful and practical, too.) Many of the best ones cover multi-disciplinary material, so you get enrichment in several areas.

The best deal is during those months when Audible subscribers get two-for-one, or when Great Courses are on sale. There are also free short podcasts by Great Courses professors, treating various interesting short subjects.

The problem is that some of the Great Courses are… um… not so great. So you have to keep an eye out.

First off, make sure you listen to the audio samples. If a professor’s voice is going to drive you up the wall, don’t buy that course!

Second, be prepared to tinker with the audio speed. Most audiobooks today are provided to you at twice the speed they were recorded, because many listeners want to get through books fast. So be aware that, to get the actual normal speed, you will have to lower the speed to .75 or .50 on your player. (If you like fast listening, you may even turn up the speed, of course! Myself, I can’t absorb stuff at that speed.)

Obviously, there is no way in heck that you want to take “The New Testament” from Bart Ehrman. Ewwww. He’s a bad scholar, dishonest in argument and talking out both sides of his mouth. He’s bad about citation, saying nasty stuff about a primary source in one paragraph, and then using it silently as backup for his own argument. (And did I mention that he brands someone a liar and forger for being an ancient male victim of sexual harassment, and writing anguished autobiographical material about how harrowing it was? And then he uses other bits of the man’s writing as a source throughout his book, to prove how awesome and good the harassing groups were? Ewwwwww.)

Even other atheist scholars of classical and early Christian literature despise Ehrman. Every time he puts out a book, professors and other knowledgeable researchers put out page-by-page reviews of his mistakes and deceptive statements. So the chances are that you will actually lose knowledge if you listen to him, as well as providing money to an objectively evil man.

On the other hand, you probably would want to listen to “The Old Testament” course by Amy-Jill Levine. She was Brant Pitre’s professor, and she’s a big honking expert on a lot of Second Temple stuff. You will learn a lot of interesting info, as well as getting familiar with all the scholarly speculation you could ever want. You even get some rabbinical stuff thrown in.

The problem is that Brant Pitre was apparently more patient with professors than I am. Yes, you get lots of good information. Yes, she does discuss a lot of hot topics and important questions in Old Testament studies, and a lot of the whys and wherefores of why modern people think certain things about Biblical stories. But geez, sometimes she is annoying when she is trying to be engaging.

(Honestly, I do not care whether or not some professor likes or dislikes any character in any book, and I care even less about whether she likes a Biblical person. I certainly don’t want to spend five or ten minutes out of every “class” on professorial likes and dislikes. I don’t want people reading stuff into the text that isn’t there, or at least not for twenty minutes. Just tell me about the actual thing, thank you!)

(I realize that this is exactly what profs do in actual classes. Ptui. I’ve dealt with it before, yes. There are very few profs who are good at it, and even they are wasting their students’ time and money. It’s unprofessional, and it’s not edgy or cute. If you have to say it, say it in 30 seconds or less, and then move on.)

The more serious thing is that Levine tends to mention stuff that might hurt someone’s faith in the Bible, without mentioning stuff on that same topic that has been the usual explanations for these things. She doesn’t do this all the time; in fact, she is sometimes very interested in providing different exegeses from different times and different faiths. But it must be hard on younger, less experienced students.

So yeah, “The Old Testament” is a goodish class and a frustrating class, all at once. The advantage is that you can talk back to the professor all you want, and it doesn’t disrupt other students or affect your grade. 🙂

“Biblical Wisdom Literature” by Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., is just about the exact opposite. It’s a course taught from the standpoint of a scholar with specifically Catholic faith, but he is careful to give space for thought for Jewish, non-Catholic Christian, atheist, agnostic, and pagan students. (And not by saying that their faith traditions or unbelief are as valid as Catholicism, or more valid.) He wants people to learn and grow, not to be distressed. Since the Biblical wisdom literature does include a lot of material teaching civic virtue, natural law, and philosophical wisdom, he has room for this. He also encourages direct interaction with the original texts, as well as contemplation on how they can inform his students’ lives. He clearly wants the students to pay more attention to the texts than to him talking about the texts. Whenever he expresses personal opinion, it is clearly marked as such, and it doesn’t take long. The information is carefully expressed.

So that would definitely be a great course to take!

One final word. These are college-level courses aimed at adults, so the professors feel free to discuss mature or shocking material. You can’t talk about some topics at a college level without going into nasty details. There’s not going to be a medical course that doesn’t get a little gross. There’s not going to be a course about the Bible that doesn’t talk about sex and violence. So be careful about listening to these, where little ears can hear.


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