Tolkien on the Heresy of Soulmates

I have a lot of favorite blogs that I don’t read every day, but that I tend to explore every month or two. Video Meliora is one of them. I should read him more often, especially since he’s an Ohio blogger and thus has a lot of relevance to my immediate concerns. But I’m a slacker by nature, so I get my fun in widely separated doses.

Anyway, he pointed out a Time magazine essay that included some thought-provoking quotes from Tolkien.

“Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgment concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married,” Tolkien wrote. “Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.”

Tolkien blamed our “soul mates” obsession on the Romantic chivalric tradition: “Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake. . . . It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man’s eye off women as they are” — that is, “companions in shipwreck not guiding stars.”

Our old notion of soul mates is not helpful. “The ‘real soul-mate,’” Tolkien wrote, “is the one you are actually married to.”

The desert monks used to teach that anybody you happen to be living around or working with is someone God has sent to you. Okay, sometimes as a penance… but sometimes to learn from, to teach, to pray alongside. Married people obviously have a pretty serious connection. Even if the initial connection was a mistake, people shouldn’t waste time looking for a redo. They should make things better where they are. (Unless you’re actually in a situation of danger, of course.)

We fans tend to get caught up in the romance of young John and Edith Tolkien’s persistence against the odds, and of course the whole Luthien and Beren motif. But we forget that there was a lot of nitty-gritty living between them, for years and years after they were young. Romance only counts if you do something lasting with it — and they did.

There is a lot of sense in the idea of a joint sainthood cause for John and Edith, and this is why. There are a lot of saints who became great individually; but usually people come from families of saints and communities of saints. Mother Teresa learned almsgiving out of poverty at her impoverished widowed mother’s side, not in India.


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Quiz Bowl: The Anime

Yup. Starting July 5, the ultimate sports anime begins airing in Japan. Nanamaru Sanbatsu.

Better yet, the novice guy is guided in the way of Quiz by his classmate Mari, a young lady well aware of the necessity of buzzing in before the question is fully read.

Ah, the pleasures of driving the enemy before you, and effortlessly smashing the arrogant who do not take one seriously… mwahahaha! And the bitterness of being schooled by others… argh, the pain! Yes, truly the ultimate sport of geeks.

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Lucasfilm’s Strange Magic (2015)

I saw it last night on DVD from the library. Strange Magic is a remarkable animated film that blends fairy tale magic, Lucas’ love of strange creatures, and a pop music opera/singspiel. It takes a while to get focused, but the ending is worth any amount of wait. Seriously, one of the most romantic and memorable kisses in screen history. No joke.

If you have not seen it, you should.

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St. Colman’s Poem on the Divine Office

Probably not actually composed by St. Colman. It appears in the late medieval collection of Fenian poetry, lore, and stories, Acallamh na Senorach, as Colman’s explanation of the Hours when asked about them by the ancient hero, Caeilte.

Translated by Standish Hayes O’Grady.

The eight carnal imperfections that gnaw us to the bone;
the eight choice Hours that vehemently banish them:

Prime, against immoderate gluttony;
Tierce, against anger born of many causes;
cheerful lightsome Noon we constantly oppose to lust;
Nones against covetousness so long as we are on the breast of weary Earth;
pleasant and profitable Vespers we oppose to sore despair;
Compline, against perverting weariness: this is a fair partition;
cold Nocturns that equally divides [the night] against inordinate boasting;
Matins of God’s atoning Son, against enslaving sullen pride.

Mayest thou, O judicial King, O Jesus,
save me for sake of the Eight!

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Servant of God Emil Kapaun

During the Korean War, as US armed forces and other members of the UN were defending Korea against Communist attack, Fr. Emil Kapaun served as a US Army chaplain. He had previously done the same thing in WWII, but this time his unit fared worse, getting captured by the Chinese and Korean Communists. They were placed in a POW camp that didn’t even vaguely acknowledge the Geneva Conventions.

Fr. Kapaun took it upon himself to keep his flock alive as well as keeping their morale up. He found them food and made them socks, as well as consoling them. He also inspired other soldiers to do likewise.

Fr. Kapaun eventually sprained his ankle. It became infected. The North Koreans provided no medical care and removed him from the helping hands of his fellow prisoners, sending him to a remote unheated cell to die. He passed away on May 23, 1951.

His fellow prisoners immediately hailed him as a saint.

His prayers have been credited with many miraculous cures, as well as other miracles, and his cause is progressing.

There were also many other Catholics martyred by the Korean Communists and the Communist Chinese, both before and during the Korean War. But they weren’t members of the US military, so I’m highlighting Fr. Kapaun for Memorial Day.

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St. Brandy?

Nope. Not in the calendars I can find, anyway. That’s not surprising, since “Brandy” is a name of recent vintage (heh), and refers to the alcoholic beverage. (The word “brandy” comes from “brandywine,” a transliteration of the Dutch “brandewijn,” which is literally “burnt wine.” The drink dates back only to the 1600’s or so.)*

If you are already named Brandy, or you are naming your kid after her godmother, etc., it’s not really anything that you can’t use. The Catholic Church is pretty relaxed about baptismal names, these days, as long as they aren’t actually anti-Christian.

That said… there are some very similar names that are older, and which would allow you to use Brandy as a nickname.

“Brand” is one of the Germanic words for “sword,” and there are a lot of names using that as an element. Most are male or have become surnames (“Hildebrand,” for example, which means “sword hilt”). But you can either ignore that or pick a feminine form. “Branda” or “Brandelina” would be the simplest female version, but “Branniardis” and similar forms are also pretty.

The Irish name “Brendan” can also be spelled “Brandon”, “Brandan,” etc. In fact, a lot of old medieval Germanic folks did have the name Brandanus or Brandan, after the saint.

What kind of patron saints do we have?

The most famous would be the Sts. Brendan. There’s also St. Maria Cristina Brando, who founded an Italian order of nuns when she was unable to join an existing one; and the famous martyr, Bl. Titus Brandsma. (And if you really have to, there’s the magnificently named Bl. Bramidanula of Marckdorff, a virgin of pure life.)

* Tolkien makes a linguistic joke in Lord of the Rings. Apparently amused by the American placename of Brandywine Creek (and the important Battle of Brandywine), he put a Brandywine River in the Shire. This name was a worn down version of its original name, the Baranduin (golden-brown long river).

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St. Merida?

There are two names at issue here. One is Merida without an accent mark, as in the Disney/Pixar movie, Brave. The other is Mérida with an accent mark, as in the cities in Spain and Mexico.

So let’s look at them both. Are they okay as Christian baptismal names? Are there patron saints associated with them? What name day would you celebrate?

Let’s start with the newer one.

The Disney/Pixar Scottish princess, “Merida,” has (in some ways) a totally new name. Like Fiona and other names from literary sources, it’s not Scottish Gaelic (or it wasn’t, until now). If you give your daughter this name today, everybody is going to know that it’s a Disney princess name.

However. Disney/Pixar production sources have revealed that she was originally going to be named Mairghread, Mhairghread, or Mairead, all of which are Gaelic forms of the name “Margaret.” Staff decided that all those forms were too long, too hard to remember, or too weird to pronounce, so they coined the name “Merida” instead.

This is not a totally implausible form of Margaret for a native early medieval Gaelic speaker to come up with, especially as a diminutive form, baby mispronunciation, or nickname. Just as people got away with “Fiona” because it was similar to “Fionna,” it is likely that “Merida” will become a pretty normal form of “Margaret” in Scotland and around the world. So it’s not a bad name, and you can definitely use it as a baptismal name. (Might be better to call the girl Margaret and just use Merida as a nickname. Heck, she might turn out to be more of a a Meg or Peg or Margita, for all you know.)

You are spoiled for choice, when it comes to patron saints. There are a lot of St. Margarets, all around the world. The name means “pearl,” and is associated with the “pearl of great price” parable.

The most famous is the original St. Margaret, an early Christian martyr from Antioch in Pisidia (today’s Antakya, Turkey), who is also known as “St. Marina the Great” in the East. Legend shows her slaying a dragon with her Bible. Her feast is July 17 or July 20.

In Scotland, however, the most famous St. Margaret is St. Margaret of Scotland, the Scottish queen who helped the poor and raised good kings. She was a Saxon princess from England. Her branch of the family fled to Hungary to escape royal displeasure, and was later invited back by the saintly King Edward the Confessor. She was then sent north to Scotland to marry their king and bring peace, which she did. Unfortunately, William the Conqueror showed up pretty soon afterward… but hey, she did her part. Anyway, three of her sons were known for being good men and good kings, and that’s a pretty good record. But people really loved her because she helped the poor, acting as both a generous queen and a humble Catholic woman. Her feast day was June 10 (the translation of her relics and a nicer day for Scottish festivals), but has been moved to her death day of November 16 on the new calendar (so people can freeze instead of celebrating, I guess).

There must be something in the water in Hungary. A lot of pious queens have lived there.

Now for the Spanish Mérida!

Mérida with an accent mark is the name of the city of Mérida, Spain. It is also the name of a colonial city in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and a lot of folks with Mexican family are being named after that city.

“Mérida” comes from the old Latin name of the Spanish city, Emerita Augusta. The colonia city of Emerita Augusta was founded in 25 BC by the Emperor Augustus, as a home for retired (“emeriti”) legionaries. However, the feminine form of the name means that it is named for the Empress (“Augusta”) Livia Drusilla, aka Julia Augusta. In this context, and since she wasn’t retired, “Emerita” would mean something like “deserving woman” or “woman of merit.”

There were many land grant cities like this, typically created or enlarged, and with the soldiers given farmland all around in the surrounding countryside. Sometimes these were in undeveloped areas; sometimes they were an attempt to beef up Roman garrisons with a loyal and well-armed citizenry. Emerita Augusta was settled by members of the 10th Gemina and the 5th Alaude Legions, two legions which had done a lot of fighting in the area. (Guys from XX Valeria Victrix may have settled there, too.) Even today, Mérida boasts a huge Roman bridge and a really big Roman theater, as well as a lot of other Roman things.

Mérida in the Yucatan was settled by Spanish people from the Spanish Mérida, and it apparently is a very lovely and historic place.

So who is the patron saint for this kind of Mérida?

Obviously, St. Eulalia of Mérida (the patron saint of Mérida, Spain) has a pretty good claim, especially with all the Catholics naming kids “Siena” after St. Catherine of Siena. St. Eulalia was an early Christian virgin martyr, under the Emperor Diocletian. She was eager to be martyred and got her wish despite her youth, being burned alive. Her corpse was exposed to be eaten by birds, but a timely snowfall kept her body safe and uncorrupted until Christians could spirit it away. Her feast day is December 10.

However, there is also a very early St. Emerita or Emerentiana, who was the sister of an early Christian king in Britain, St. Lucius. She is listed in catalogs of Welsh saints. Some say she just lived out a holy life in Gloucester or Glastonbury. Others say that St. Lucius resigned his throne and went off with her as missionaries to Switzerland, where they became martyrs. (Diane Duane uses this story in her Rhaetian Tales.) Her feast day is May 26 or December 3.

The most famous St. Emerentiana is the one in Rome who was the foster sister of St. Agnes. She was a still-unbaptized catechumen when she was stoned to death by pagans, after being discovered in the act of praying at St. Agnes’ tomb. Her feast is January 23.

So if you want to use either “Merida” or “Mérida” as a baptismal name, you have a pretty good argument.

And if you are already named “Mérida,” you have some awesome patron saints and name days to choose from.

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