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This Is Not a Description of Pregnancy

Vita Sanctae Brigidae I, by an unknown author.

London, British Library, MS Additional 34124

ยง105, f 111v:

Alio autem die Sancta Brigita per potentissimam fortitudinem fidei aliquam feminam post uotum integritatis lapsam . et habentem pregnantem ac tumescentem uuluam benedixit : et decrescens in uulua conceptus sine partu et dolore eam sanam ad penitentiam restituit : illa sanata est et gratias Deo egit :

“And on another day, St Brigid, through the most powerful fortitude of faith, blessed a certain woman who had slipped after a vow of integrity [physical virginity], and had a swollen [“praegnantem”] and even ready to burst [“tumescentem”] vaginal opening; and the gathered-together thing [“conceptus”] in the vaginal opening having dwindled, without anything brought forth [“partu”], without pain, she restored her to healthy penitence. That woman was healed and gave thanks to God.”

This is not a story about abortion or even miscarriage. It’s a story about an STD being healed. And the wording is purposefully using sexual imagery for a rather yucky consequence of vowbreaking. The words are being used in an unusual way that is just barely inside literary usage.

The difficulty is that (as far as I know, anyway) there isn’t any early medieval STD like that. It sounds more like a tumor, edema, or cyst.

But there are plenty of early Christian and early medieval stories of male desert monks or Irish monks suffering from various bodily illnesses, which are seen as having been given them or allowed to happen to them as an object lesson. There are also stories about how certain bad things couldn’t happen to one, if one took precautions or acted properly. (For example, St. Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, with numerous stories showing that demonic possession doesn’t happen to people who earnestly say grace before meals.)

We’re supposed to get the moral of the story, then. This woman broke her vow of virginity. The word used, “integritas,” also can mean physical wholeness in the sense of a healthy, uninjured body, as well as physical virginity. So her vowbreaking was being punished by her health breaking; and the saint’s prayers did not just heal her body, but helped her become healthily penitent about her actions.

It’s also not clear that this woman was a nun; she could have been a laywoman. Girls and boys taking private vows of virginity before entering official religious life, or in lieu of being allowed to enter religious life, seem to have been pretty common throughout the early Christian and medieval world.

The interesting thing about St. Brigid folklore is that it echoes a lot of desert monk and Greek monk stories, not Celtic stories. For example, hanging your cloak on a sunbeam as a sign of purity and focus, as well as Eden-like powers over nature, is found in Greek monk stories.So it would be interesting to find out if this is another outside-of-Ireland monk motif.

That said… of course the presence of common story motifs does not mean that the event did not happen. Humans love to recount events in the style of their cultures or literatures, with the cultural moral of the story pointed out, or with a reversal of the culture’s usual point. And more to the point, God seems to like to echo specific motifs (BIblical or otherwise), as a way of explaining the miracle as a sign to humans, and making them think about the connections made by the motifs.

Article by David Howlett about the really strange, poetically nerdy way that the Vita Sanctae Brigidae I was written. His ideas about this passage are not the same as mine, but they don’t conflict with my interpretation in a way that would prove me wrong.

The Vita Sanctae Brigidae II, by Cogitosus, uses this same miracle story with very similar wording, but without the weird nerdy counting, and prose poem sentence structures, and rhetorical features. Migne leaves this specific story out, but the full Cogitosus text is on the internet. (In Latin, but not in the facing English translation, which is kinda annoying. I give my own translation, as with the translation above.) Here we go:

[12]  Potentissima enim et ineffabili fidei fortitudine aliquam feminam post votum integritatis fragilitate humana in iuvenili voluptatis desiderio lapsam et habentem iam praegnantem ac tumescentem uterum fideliter benedixit. Et evanescente in vulva conceptu sine partu et sine dolore eam sanam ad paenitentiam restituit. Et secundum quod omnia possibilia sunt credentibus, sine ulla impossibilitate innumera quotidie miracula operabatur.

“For with the most powerful and ineffable fortitude of faith, she faithfully blessed a certain woman who had slipped into juvenile desire of pleasure with human weakness, after a vow of integrity [physical virginity], and had now a swollen [“praegnantem”] and even ready to burst [“tumescentem”] belly [“uterum”: womb or abdomen/belly]. And after the gathered-together thing [“conceptu”] in the vaginal opening having vanished without anything brought forth [“partu”] and even without pain, she restored her to healthy penitence. And according to how ‘All things are possible to those who believe,’ (Mk. 9:22/23, VL) she was working innumerable miracles every day, without any impossibility.”

This is Chapter II, section 12 of the Vita Sanctae Brigidae II. It seems a little easier to mistake this one for a real pregnancy instead of a disease, because “uterus” is usually used for “womb” in a Christian context. But the adjectives still seem really to be pointing at an unnatural situation.

That said, you can see that it’s weird that everybody in the academic world just assumed that it was a pregnant nun story. I don’t want to say “prurient tropes” or “anti-Catholic tropes,” but….

OTOH, it may be as simple as that both stories were translated and discussed by the same academic person, S. Connolly, in articles published in 1987 and 1989; and it’s normal for one person to have the same opinion without examining alternate explanations, over the short term. (Unless you’re me, and you change your mind a lot in the middle of the night when the evidence suddenly looks different.) Everybody else is just copying Connolly on how to interpret, even when you have Howlett taking the structure of Vita Sanctae Brigidae I radically differently. And honestly, the 1980’s were not a high point of Latin study among academics, so maybe it just slid past any classics or medieval Latin experts that might have objected. (And usually academics are arguing about whether I or II is the older Life.)

There is only one other use of “tumescentem” that I found on a Google Books search that refers to a woman’s ladyparts at all — and this one talks about “uterum.” It’s in Seneca’s essay “Consolatio ad Helviam matrem,” 16, 3. This is a letter that he wrote to his own mother, Helvia, to console her for having heard that Seneca had been sentenced to exile, not long after one of Seneca’s children had died.

Medieval people respected and read lots of Seneca’s philosophy, and thought that he might have almost become a Christian. (There is even an early Christian epistolary fanfic consisting of letters between Seneca and St. Paul.) So it is very likely that Cogitosus’ wording is a deliberate reference.

In section 16, Seneca says that his mom should be strong enough to face grief with proper Stoicism, because she has no “womanish vices.” Specifically, he says that  “impudicitia,” shamelessness, “the greatest evil of the age,” has not been her problem, and:

“You have never been ashamed of your fecundity as though it were a reproach to your youth. You never hid your tumescent belly [“tumescentem uterum”] as though it were an indecent burden, nor did you ever tear up [“elisisti”] your conceived [“conceptas”] hope of children within your womb [“viscera”] after the custom of many other women, all whose esteem is to be found in their beautiful form.”

Probably I am reinventing the academic wheel here, but Seneca is a very “moral of the story” kind of guy to quote. And he was saying IN THIS VERY PASSAGE that abortion was wrong, so one assumes that Cogitosus was under no illusions that abortion by a saint could be right. It was probably another indication that it was a disease being healed, not a baby being eliminated. It’s also possible that this is proof that Cogitosus wrote first, and that the Vita I was written for different goals and thus left out more of the references. (But not all of them, in that case.)

Anyway, I’m discussing this story because it came up on Reason and Theology’s YouTube video, “Has the Catholic Church Ever Accepted Abortion?” (starting about 25 minutes in) as well as a highlight video about St. Brigid. It’s a very good video about the tricks that anti-Catholic writers use to fool people, or themselves, and how we can see through them.

I haven’t read these two articles that get quoted by everybody, and which are where the usual translations come from; but here’s the citations for them —

S. Connolly and J.-M. Picard, “Cogitosus’ Life of St. Brigid: Content and Value,” Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 117 (1987), 16.

S. Connolly, ‘Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae: Background and Historical Value,’ Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 119 (1989), 45.

The article linked in the Reason and Theology video does mention other Irish saints with similar stories, but where the literary “game” with extra meanings has been turned into something flatter and more problematic. There are two lives of St. Ciaran collected in Plummer’s Bethada Naem nErenn, both of which deal with the Bruinnech abduction story, and flatly say that she is torrach, pregnant.

I think the point here is the king’s disregard for Ciaran’s mother’s obligations as a fosterer, and his disregard for God’s power, and his assumption that an equally royal girl will be his low legal status concubine and that nobody can stop him. It might even be connected to war, because the girl was from Munster and the king was from Meath. But this sort of thing needs study, not assumptions.

What is clear is that Ciaran in the story just makes the Sign of the Cross over the girl, which would not generally be considered an aggressive act. He is turning the situation over to God. So what happens next is a reassertion of God’s order in human society. We are not told whether the child is dead, taken to Heaven, time traveled out of existence, never really there, or what.

The second Ciaran life gives no moral to the story. But the first one has Ciaran say to the king, “You have no power here. The God of Heaven is between us, and my weal or woe is not in your power.”

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Mustard Plasters and Poultices

Just in case you’ve always wondered how they work.

Making a Mustard Plaster (modern)

Colonial Classroom: Making a Poultice (living history folks)

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The Crusade of Padua

Pope Innocent IV actually called a (small) crusade to liberate Padua, not long after St. Anthony’s canonization. The Holy Roman Empire ruled the city through a guy named Ezzelino, who was a PITA to several other cities as well. One of the leaders of Padua’s part of the struggle was that same Lord Tisone who had built St. Anthony his own treehouse.

When Ezzelino was driven out of Padua, he also got driven out of Milan, Monza, and Trezzo.

Apparently he was one of those guys who was nice before he got power, but became a giant jerk afterward. St. Anthony warned him several times, which Ezzelino took penitently while the guy was there. But as soon as Anthony left, he went back to his old ways.

Anyway… the reason a crusade could be called was that he was a heretic, burned down tons of churches, and maimed and killed tons of priests and friars, including 60 Franciscans. He also imprisoned and starved to death a lot of people, including his own family. Lovely man.

So the papal legate and all the surrounding cities went crusading, and Ezzelino not only got beaten in war, he also got captured. He wasn’t killed; he actually managed to kill himself through neglecting his own health.

So yes, there were crusades against heretics as well as Muslims, and yes, there was at least one in Italy.

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St Irenaeus’ Day!!

He’s a Doctor of the Church, now, so he gets a different Mass said. Pretty cool!

His book Against Heresies was the first really long piece of the Fathers that I read, back when I was doing my Maria Lectrix podcast. So I’m very fond of him, as having been one of my teachers. I could tell that he was helping me from Heaven, to understand and learn, and I was very grateful for his prayers.

Since his book came out before a lot of things were defined by the Church, he’s in kind of a weird position. He possibly believed in some form of “chiliasm,” a material thousand-year reign of Christ before the end of the world and the new heavens and new Earth, and he had some very oddly written passages about the age of Christ. These things get brought up a lot online, mostly in a weird attempt to discredit the guy’s comments about the faithful continuity of the bishops of Rome. (Something that would seem to be beside the point… like attacking somebody’s comments on poker because he’s got a weird way of looking at chess.)

But he didn’t teach false doctrine. If you pay attention to him and his faithfulness to the Church, you will get the important gists without anything hurting you, because he is very clear on what you really need to know. And of course, no book by a saint in Heaven is a book that you read alone, without help — especially if you ask the author for his prayers.

Another interesting thing about him is that his Scriptural citations tend to go along with the Syriac (ie, Aramaic) versions of Scripture verses, as opposed to the Greek Septuagint, even when he is writing in Greek. He knows the Scriptures by heart, as he learned them from his bishop, St. John the Evangelist, who spoke Aramaic and (probably) Hebrew.

St. Irenaeus came from Asia Minor to Lyons (Lugdunum of Gallia Lugdunensis) , to a church where all the most notable people had been martyred, and became bishop only to be martyred himself. But his work goes on, a blessing to the world, as did the work of the amazing Martyrs of Lyons.

St. Irenaeus, pray for us!

O Doctor optime,

Ecclesiae Sanctae lumen,

Beate Irenaee,

Divinae legis amator,

Deprecare pro nobis

Filium Dei. Alleluia!

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Praise Be to the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

And happy birthday to St. John the Baptist, who is probably leaping for joy again.

As an ex-fetus, I applaud the defense of my natural human rights, which were never abrogated by the US Constitution and never can be — and the Declaration of Independence has always said that I have a right to life.

Anyone defending the abortion of helpless baby humans hates his past baby self, or is in denial.

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The Real Story about Buzz Lightyear

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, a TV movie and series from 2000-2001. It’s about Buzz (voiced by Patrick Warburton, because Tim Allen was busy), his newbie alien partner Mira Nova (who’s also a princess), Booster the giant farmboy alien (voiced by the late Stephen Furst), the Little Green Men, Warp Darkmatter… and of course, Emperor Zurg.

It was produced by the same guys who later wrote Kim Possible, so it’s full of humor and surprises, as well as a lot of character arcs and mysterious plot lines.

It doesn’t seem to be easily available for purchase, as apparently Disney/Pixar didn’t want the good old stories to compete with the cruddy new story.

But if you type in the search terms, you will easily find videos of the show. Enjoy!

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Dominican Linguistics Translation Sister

“So yeah, I took Syriac just for funsies, years ago, and who knew that I’d actually use it professionally?”

Or words to that effect….

A new translation of the Book of Revelation into English, also showing five major ancient versions of the book in various languages, and with notes on the word choices. Translation by Sr. Mary Dominic Pitts, of the Nashville Dominicans.

This should be a lot of fun, because Revelation uses Greek in all sorts of supposedly ungrammatical or unliterary ways, which generally are direct quotes from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. It’s a little more transparent about its poetic and prophetic references to other Bible books than you would think, if you look into it; but reference books make it a lot easier to understand the game being played.

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Quiet Bridezilla Flashback

Back in 1999, when I wasn’t paying much attention to royal news for a while, Sophie Rhys-Jones married Prince Edward (officially Edward, Earl of Wessex). They got married at the chapel at Windsor, which was very nice, I’m sure.

I vaguely remembered seeing Sophie’s beautiful, elaborate white dress and the tiara she wore with her bridal veil. Again, very nice.

However, what I didn’t remember hearing about was this: Sophie had decreed a dress code for guests of “informal” attire, and had said that women should not wear hats.

Well. Obviously, if you are wearing a full length expensive white wedding gown, and not a business suit or a cotton dress, you the bride are dressing formally. If you are wearing a dress tiara made of diamonds and money, you are definitely dressing formally. And if you very kindly are lent a diamond tiara by your mother-in-law the Queen, and then you tell her not to wear a hat…

Also, if a bride is dressing formally, everyone has to dress formally. To be dressed informally while attending a formally dressed bride would make a person either disrespectful, or the peasantry under the bride’s feet.

The other thing to remember is that this was a church wedding, the Queen was attending, and the Queen is head of the Church of England. She was raised to wear hats to formal occasions outside her own house or a ballroom; but she was also raised to wear hats to church. She was certainly not about to put her daughter-in-law above God.

So both the Queen and the Queen Mother apparently ignored this stupid, ignorant decree and wore somewhat formal dresses, and hats. Duh. Many of the other women seem to have also decided that “you can tell me what dress length to wear, but I’m still dressing up to the nines,” and quite a few had some kind of hat, fascinator, or hatlike object on.

And almost all the men were wearing morning dress , which is not exactly informal. No.

So basically, the moral of the story is that even a prince’s bride can’t pull a powerplay and try to be more dressed up than everyone else, just in order to have her day. Because that’s stupid, and your guests don’t want to feel stupid.

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Culture Is a Party, and Everyone’s Invited

A song by Rabindranath Tagore, to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.”

I like the grace notes being done totally differently… and the banjo.

A set of words for the tune in Spanish.

Robert Burns would be proud. Because the song that travels is a good song.

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Hypotasso Means – To Arrange Your Troops Well

To arrange your troops in ranks, or in a disciplined way. To cooperate voluntarily. To carry your weight when there’s a burden. To show respect, even. To arrange or place things properly.

The interesting thing is that “submit” is how it’s usually translated, with a lot of associated baggage. But also, there are a fair number of patristic texts where the English translation has women “submitting” to their husbands, but the whole community “giving honor” to their elders.

Uh huh.

In the Septuagint, it usually translates “dabar” and “shith,” which both mean things like “arrange” or “place.”

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St. Belcalis?

Belcalis is the original first name of the rapper whose stage name is “Cardi B” (meaning “Bacardi”). Her sister’s name is Hennessy Carolina (and Hennessey is a cognac brand founded by expatriate/refugee Irish), thus the alcohol nickname.

It’s not clear what her first name means. If it were spelled “Belcaliz,” it would mean “beautiful chalice” and be a reference to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

The usual explanation is that it’s a way of spinning out Balkis, the traditional name of the Queen of Sheba. “Belkis” is a known Christian name in the Caribbean, and there’s a famous Dominican singer named Belkis Concepcion. Since Cardi B’s family is partly from the Dominican Republic, this makes sense. There seem to be other Dominicans named Belcalis, although maybe only young kids or fictional characters.

(Interestingly, Allgemeines Historisches, in its entry on the illegitimate cadet branch of the House of Nassau, talks about Mauritia Margaretha van Nassau as being the wife of the Graf Belcalis, whereas the English/Scots spelling is Balcarres.)

(Her husband was Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres, and she died within a year. So much for Scottish romance novels.)

(To be fair, poor Colin had just become earl at the age of 12, but apparently at the wedding, he accidentally put his mourning ring for his father on the bride’s finger. She allegedly took it as an omen, poor woman. She was 33 or 34 at her death, so it’s like the old song: “You’ve married me to a man, but he is far too young.”)

(To be fair, Balcarres is one of those picturesque but chilly places. The name in Gaelic is baile carrach, stony settlement.)

Back to the name… well, Belkis, Balkis, and Bilkis are pretty names, but it’s a traditional Arabic name. So keep that in mind. But since “Belkis” shows up in the Bible as a “good guy,” it’s probably been found acceptable as a baptismal name, and is more likely to pass muster than Belcalis, as such.

Nobody really knows the etymology of Balkis. Some take it as coming from a Greek word for concubine, “pallakis,” possibly by way of the Hebrew loanword “pilegesh.” It could be similar to the Biblical name Balak, though he’s a baddie.

So it’s a mysterious name, Belcalis.

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More William Fairbairn WWII Martial Arts

If you’re feeling like you might have to defend yourself… kinda violently… then this is the video for you. “Fight Like Your Grandad.” William Fairbairn was the guy who trained the SAS and the Devil’s Brigade, and his real life was like some kind of steampunk anime or Milton Caniff action movie. And this is his martial arts system, which was highly successful against Shanghai Tongs and Nazis.

Also it might be a nice system for your D&D or Call of Cthulhu character to use, at least for things like killing sentries. Even if you just privately visualize this as your character’s system.

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Dr. John Cheng, Hero

If we lived in a world with a news media that wasn’t corrupt, we’d be hearing about Dr. John Cheng every minute of the last week or so.

As terrible as the church shooting of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church folks was, Dr. Cheng acted heroically and sacrificially. He epitomized the best of being a doctor along with the best of being a martial arts master. He shone as both a great American and a man of all the virtues, both natural and Christian. And he saved his mother’s life by attacking the shooter and attempting to disarm him, which was an act of great filial love. Reports differ on what happened, but apparently Cheng served as enough of a distraction that other churchgoers were able to join in the attack, knock him down with a chair, and bind him with extension cords.

But a Taiwan Communist who had worked with the CCP, trying to kill free Taiwan-Americans, has to be memory-holed by the mainstream media, and thus Dr. Cheng also has to be memory-holed.

In a way, it’s probably easier on the family. The people of Orange County, their friends and neighbors, know what happened and are helping, and so do the people of Taiwan and the martial arts community, especially practitioners of his own art, Seven Star Preying Mantis kung fu.

But the larger world and the larger American community also need heroes, and to be reminded that one good man can stop evil in its tracks, if he is willing to give his life for his friends and family.

Dr. Cheng was a grandmaster of Seven Star Preying Mantis, and was well known as an instructor. At one point, he had a chain of martial arts studios, but closed them to concentrate on his work as a doctor of sports medicine.

Seven Star Preying Mantis is a substyle of Northern Preying Mantis, aka Mantis Fist or Mantis Boxing. The ideal of Mantis Fu is that a small preying mantis can defeat a much larger cicada. The name “Seven Star Preying Mantis” refers to the Big Dipper asterism, which is shown in artwork to look somewhat like a preying mantis. In general, the name is said to mean that students of the art should try to spread it all over the world, so that it will be seen everywhere.

As with coaches in many sports, traditionally a kung fu master is supposed to understand a lot about sports medicine, in order to help his students if injured, and to improve their bodies to prevent injuries and maximize progress. So healing sciences and martial arts are not as weird a combination as one would think.

A video made in 2021 about Dr. John Cheng’s martial arts career. The compiler of the video, Dong Thai, was a student of Dr. Cheng. California Martial Arts Academy was Cheng’s studio/studio chain; he founded it in 2001.

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A Little Glimpse of John’s World

If you’ve read the John the Balladeer stories by Manly Wade Wellman, here’s the kind of event where John hung out. Exactly the kind of place.

Yes, that’s Obray Ramsey and Bascom Lamar Lunsford playing in the background. Real life friends of Manly Wade Wellman, and canonically friends of John. And it’s Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s house.

You will notice that the cloggers don’t have special shoes like today. They were just dancing hard shoes on wooden floors.

The camerawork is really nice, but what makes it great is that it’s obvious the filmmaker was having as much fun as the dancers.

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