Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poor Richard III, still getting the short end of the stick


"Richard III" Society of Antiquaries, ca. 1515 AD


Imagine you are the devout Catholic king of a famous country until one day you are killed in a battle, which your side loses.  Imagine further that the guy who led the other side in the battle becomes king.  That much seems seems fair enough.  The other guy's son also becomes king after him, which also seems fair.  However, one of the most important things the son does is to start a new religion that everybody in the kingdom is forced to join.   Meanwhile, your body is never recovered from the battlefield, and remains lost for centuries.  Finally, your body is found, under a parking lot.  [A reader kindly points out that Richard's body was indeed recovered from Bosworth field and buried in Greyfriars church, Leicester.   Henry VIII, the son of the guy who defeated Richard, dissolved the friary in 1538 and sold the real estate to developers.  The developers demolished the buildings and sold off the stones, making it much harder to figure out where Richard's body lay, which is how eventually a parking lot came to be placed above it.] 

Everyone agrees that your bones should be interred with suitable ceremony.   Would you want that ceremony to be according to the rites of the Catholic religion, the religion you practiced devoutly, or according to the rites of some crazy new religion started by the son of the guy who defeated you in the battle in which you got killed?   You'd want Catholic rites, right?   Well, so undoubtedly would King Richard III (1452 - 1485 AD), to whom all the things in my imaginary story actually happened, but that's not what he's going to get.

Hail, St. Jerome, translator and scholar




"St. Jerome", El Greco ca. 1600 AD

St. Jerome (347 AD - 420 AD) was the leading Biblical scholar of his day, and St. Jerome's translation of the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate, was not only a tremendous contribution to the Church but also a remarkable scholarly achievement, which displays not only deep knowledge of Biblical languages, but also a thorough understanding of the geography and history of the Holy Land.

The Vulgate formed an important part of the framework from which the Romance languages grew.   Words borrowed from Greek such as episcopus, presbyter, diaconus, Christus, Paraclitus, baptisma, anathema and Christian coinages such as Salvator, Incarnatio, Resurrectio, Trinitas, compassio, ingratitudo, immortalilas, impossibilitas would not have gained universal currency without the Vulgate.  More on the literary influence of St. Jerome here.


St. Jerome was a prickly man who did not relish criticism, a trait which made him many enemies and which shows clearly in his correspondence.  The following is taken from a letter from St. Jerome to St. Augustine of Hippo concerning the Septuagint.   St. Augustine considered the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek made by 70 translators in the 2nd century BC, to have been inspired, whereas St. Jerome believed only the scriptures themselves to have been inspired, not the translation. 

" ... [Y]ou ask why a former translation which I made of some of the canonical books was carefully marked with asterisks and obelisks, whereas I afterwards published a translation without these. You must pardon my saying that you seem to me not to understand the matter . .  . Do you wish to be a true admirer and partisan of the Seventy translators? Then do not read what you find under the asterisks; rather erase them from the volumes, that you may approve yourself indeed a follower of the ancients. If, however, you do this, you will be compelled to find fault with all the libraries of the Churches; for you will scarcely find more than one manuscript here and there which has not these interpolations."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mortification and Self-Denial - Still good for you

"St. Francis of Assisi," Church of San Francesco, Brescia 1235 AD
St. Francis was a big believer in mortification and self-denial


The Redemptorists, the religious order founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori, compiled selections from the great saint's ascetical writings into a single volume with 12 chapters called "The School of Christian Perfection," which you can buy here.   Each chapter is organized around a particular virtue or salutary spiritual practice, and there are 12 chapters so that a reader can focus on a different one every month of the year.  This is what the Redemptorists themselves do (or, perhaps, used to do).

If you'd started "The School of Christian Perfection" at the beginning of the year and concentrated on a different chapter each month by now you'd be up to Chapter 9, which is entitled "Mortification."  Although we don't hear mortification discussed much nowadays, according to St. Alphonsus, "[i]n as far as it is necessary to avoid sin, every Christian is bound to  practice mortification."  St. Alphonsus compares mortification to a somewhat bitter and distasteful but necessary medicine, and notes that "[o]ur Lord once said to St. Francis of Assisi: 'If you desire me, take the bitter things of life as sweet and the sweet as bitter.'"

What's the point of mortification?  St. Alphonsus says it "elevates the soul," citing St. Francis de Sales, who wrote: "[t]he soul can never ascend to God unless the body is brought into subjection by penance."  Mortification also helps us master our self will, which is the destroyer of all virtues.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux said: "he who ... follows the suggestions of self-will subjects himself to a veritable fool."

Mortification and self-denial may be out of fashion, but you may be surprised to learn that the Church continues to recommend these practices.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (published 1992 AD), “[t]he way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes” (n. 2015)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Very rare bird sighted

Lady Amherst's pheasant
(also a rare bird)


That rarest of birds on primetime network tv, a character who is a practicing Catholic, has, according to reliable reports, been spotted recently.   The character even quotes St. Thomas Aquinas.  The show is called Madame Secretary, and the executive producer, Barbara Hall, is a convert, which helps to explain this marvel:  more here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Archbishop gives "Calvary" thumbs up!

Archbishop Chaput


Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, like most archbishops, doesn't review many movies, but he has reviewed "Calvary" and recommends the movie emphatically.   "Calvary" stars Brendan Gleeson, and it's the story of a good priest in Ireland in the wake of the sex abuse scandal.  From Archbishop Chaput's review:

From the first frame to the last, “Calvary” has an understated power – a blend of everyday pain, faith, despair, humor, candor, bitterness, and forgiveness – that brands itself onto the heart with spare simplicity. It’s also the best portrayal of a good priest in impossible circumstances I’ve seen in several decades.

Full review here.


I don't go to the movies often, because I find they're usually not worth the ticket price, but Calvary may be an exception.



Which pilgrimage should you make?


Cool people get Holy Land

From Crux, a quick quiz to help you figure out where you should make your next pilgrimage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Converts - why do they do it?

Evelyn Waugh and family, circa 1949 AD
Parts of this family look happy


Philip Trower, English author and convert, has written an essay about his conversion in which he suggests that all converts become Catholic for the same reason:

"…they come to realise that the Church is what it claims to be: the sole authorised guardian and disseminator of the one true revelation of God to men through which they can know with certainty the purpose of their existence and their final destiny.”

The English poet Sally Read says something very similar:

“I realized that there was only one Church and the way to be closest to Christ was to be a Catholic, because it’s the Eucharist and taking Communion.”

Evelyn Waugh, a far more famous English author and convert, substantially concurs.  Waugh, who converted in 1930, once explained that he had concluded by the age of 16 that “Catholicism was Christianity,” but then ignored religion for the next decade.   Finding that life was “unintelligible and unendurable without God,” Waugh converted.   For Waugh, his faith was not merely a source of comfort; it was, in his view,  “the essence.”

There have been many converts and we can never know all of their reasons for converting, but, at least amongst English writers, the reasons do appear remarkably alike.