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Saturday, July 29, 2006

not-so-great silence

The laodiceans are working very hard. Expect me when you see me... Top tip: don't do a PhD. Ever.

St Martha, pray for us!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

MaterCare updating to old friends...

Please forgive me for neglecting friends so badly... I've been concentrating mainly on the Polish side of things and MaterCare. A small achievement would be the fact that I have led to there being an interest in NaPro technology in Poland - if you know Polish see thisarticle from Ozon. Something similar, in fact, has already been developed in Poland but is in its beginning stages.
I'm also trying my hardest to keep the heat wave from killing all that is left of my enterprising spirit and working on my dignity of motherhood paper. Any suggestions?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Carthusian fever

Die Grosse Stille at last comes to the UK - two showings at the Edinburgh Film Festival in August! Be there or be - um - somewhere else.

Large-scale hat-tip to The Glaswegian. (Sunhat replacing mantilla for summer.)

Something I don't get: Die grosse Stille means 'The Great Silence', doesn't it? Which refers quite precisely to the silence kept between the end of Compline and the beginning of Lauds, no? So why is the English title Into Great Silence? It doesn't seem a great deal more self-explanatory, and it loses the precise liturgical echo. Is there something I'm missing?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Positive-article-about-priesthood-in-Scottish-media shocker!

In the Evening News. The first priest featured is happily known to the laodiceans and friends. (Which sounds like a dubious trying-too-hard Christian kids TV series, doesn't it? 'Laodiceans and Friends' - every week our chums find new areas of lukewarmth in their hearts to challenge, while making new friends and enjoying a variety of educational activities. Or something.)

Some stuff

I think I'll leave the intellectual posts to Aelianus!

A very good and edifying piece about a young priest who met sudden death prepared. Requiescat in pace. (Vie Mark Shea.)

A friend pointed out that Paisley diocese has a very good website. God bless Bishop Tartaglia.

Go and see this completely lovely film! Pictures and stuff randomly on some Dutch website.

Friday, July 07, 2006


What is the origin of sovereignty (if the concept is legitimate at all)? It would seem to be the juridical expression of autarchy. Autarchy takes two forms: economic and military. If economic or military autarky dies then the concept of sovereignty becomes empty. One could render a city or a kingdom economically or militarily prostrate by burning its crops, poisoning its wells and slaying its army and depending on circumstances and intentions be praised or condemned. But what if one strips a city or kingdom of its autarky simply by discovering it? What if one crosses a hitherto un-navigated ocean or penetrates into an uncharted region and discovers a people so technologically or culturally (they are not necessarily convertible) distant from one's own people that they who were once proudly independent or even the rulers of other peoples are suddenly rendered helpless before gunpowder and horses, battleships and machineguns?

Let us for now ignore the question of the Gospel and the Natural Law. Let us suppose that these people are evangelised and exemplary in their conduct. Should one return to the jungle or set out once more upon the seas and restore to them their sovereignty by default, hoping that no less-scrupulous traveller of advanced resources comes upon them? Or, does one acquire the obligation to arm and instruct them? And, what if the necessary instruction could not possibly be carried out in a few months or years but is a generational undertaking? Has one not already taken on governmental duties and functions? Certainly defence is now your task and not that of the conventional rulers of the people. You must insure that weapons from your civilisation do not fall into the hands of the ordinary population and that the legitimate guardians of the civil peace are equipped to employ these means to bring their society to a position where it is autarchic again. The explorer is already, if not the King, then the Emperor or Proconsul of this new world.

The situation is immensely complicated if the Gospel has not been preached and there is the possibility that it will be received with violence or if there are grave violations of the natural law in the newly discovered society. So far I have imagined a situation in which the explorer and/or his own society is himself a faithful adherent of the Gospel and of the Natural Law. But of how many individuals and societies is that ever truly the case? The issues are therefore made more complex again. The explorer may fulfil these conditions but not his own society or its rulers or some other combination of the three. In most cases it is the technological and cartographical advances occurring in the explorer's society rather than an exceptional chance find which lie behind the encounter between the two peoples. In few cases will it be legitimate or plausible to flee and hope the newly discovered nation, city or tribe is not discovered by someone else very soon after.

Perhaps the only real choice on offer will be whether the explorer sails back to Charles V, Henry VIII or Francis I. The idea of a 'benign' Emperor who declares the new region a cultural quarantine zone and preserves its people from any contact with the 'outside world' is impractical and misplaced. The fundamental solidarity of mankind means that we have an obligation to share the fruits of our own knowledge and experiences with each other. The real consequence of such an experiment would be the reduction of an entire culture to a pastiche and the careless discarding of a potential opportunity for mutual enrichment. The preaching of the Gospel is just the most extreme instance of this duty.

We live in a fallen world and the usual consequences of such encounters are well known: enslavement and exploitation, corruption and contempt; but the issues are real. The fact that these considerations have been made the mask of hypocrisy again and again may poison the discussion but it does not render it invalid. Too often anti-colonial polemic implies the 'quarantine zone' non-solution without having the courage to assert it directly for fear of unmasking its absurdity. Too often these debates really have nothing to do with Cecil Rhodes or Hernando Cortés and the real agenda behind such polemic is a desire to establish the dictatorship of relativism in modern society by the misuse of collective western guilt for the crimes of the colonial era. In the past westerners betrayed the beliefs upon which their civilisation was built to exploit the other in the service of greed; now the greed and exploitation of the past is used as an instrument to uproot those beliefs and erect a new civilisation where exploitation is so structural that no coercion is required. We save up to buy our own chains.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Death to Newsnight Scotland!

Whatever your position is on Scottish Independence/Devolution/Football no rational person can deny it is sooooo boring. About 10% of it is worth watching and that cannot possibly make up for the feeling of frustration when the signature tune comes back on and you realise that, while the population of England and Wales find out the chances of us being nuked by the North Koreans or of Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister, we will get to hear another discussion of the West Lothian question, the price of fish, the structural problems of the bloody Holyrood Parliament or whether the First Minister filled in the expenses claim properly for his last tuna sandwich. Aaaaaaaargh!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Heart of Darkness

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and... "

Four reflections on the moment when it all began to go wrong.

1946 Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange

1950 Pius XII

1950 David L. Greenstock

2000 Aidan Nichols

(Laodicea is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.)

With regard to yesterday's linked article

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
all those people all those lives
where are they now?
with loves, and hates
and passions just like mine
they were born
and then they lived
and then they died
which seems so unfair
and I want to cry.

(How often are The Smiths quoted on St Blogs?) ‘Cemetery Gates’ is truly the historian’s theme song. Not only is the chorus is a warning against plagiarism; there is also this rather (strangely) beautiful arrow to the heart of why we bother - or at least, why this historian bothers: they were real. Those serfs named once in a twelfth-century charter. Those men slightly too far down the scale to have a seal of their own, borrowing the local laird's seal to attach to an indenture. All my dear families endowing Masses to be said 'in perpetuity.' Those German merchants with their named mis-spelled in Scottish customs records. That agent of the Hanse who killed himself in the late fifteenth century. they were born and then they lived and then they died This does not mean that masses of cells guided by a cocktail-shaker of genes did their thing, wore out their regeneration mechanism, and subsided into their constituent elements. This happened, of course. But what really happened is that real human beings lived real human lives, which are of value whether or not anyone ever paid or pays any attention to them.

The re-use of graves is not a problem in itself. As Eamonn in the comments box noted, in other places it is established practice to transfer bones to charnel houses. Naturally it is fitting to treat the human body with honour, which admits of a diversity of customs; equally naturally, whatever is done to the corpse will not stand in the way of Resurrection. Aquinas pointed out (Supp. q. 71 art. 11) that burial services do not benefit the dead, but rather the living, except inasmuch as burial in a sacred place spurs prayer and suffrages for the dead. In any case, this new London proposal will not involve disturbing bodies as such, which would still be illegal - the novelty applies to graves deep enough that new burials can be made on top.

The disturbing element in the plan reported by the Telegraph seems to me to be the approach to the monuments - 'the names of the dead are simply scoured from the monuments to allow for new inscriptions.' The cemetery reporter defends this as 'it's better to use old English stone that's been quarried already than to use stone that's imported from all parts of the world and does not really fit.' Graves and headstones over seventy-five years old, 'if there are no surviving relatives who object', are candidates for the makeover. Now there is no particular reason why one should be buried with a stone declaring one's name and rank. Monks tend to be buried anonymously; most medieval people could not have afforded a monument. All prayers offered for 'all the faithful departed' will benefit them. 'I don't want to be remembered, I want to be resurrected!' said one friar of my acquaintance. However, deliberately and consciously wiping out the memorials of human creatures seems quite different to not making memorials, and is an offence against the dead. 'Let the memory of him perish from the earth and let not his name be renowned in the streets!' (Job 18:17) '... they shall be utterly laid waste: they shall be in sorrow, and their memory shall perish.' (Wisdom 8:13) Yes, we know that memory among men on earth is not immortality, and that such a pale shadow of immortality is not the only thing to which men may aspire. Nonetheless, to preserve memory is proper and fitting, as the human community - and more certainly still, the communion of saints - extends through time as well as space; indeed, it is necessary for our salvation inasmuch our salvation was wrought in a particular time and place, which must be recalled. Actually to attack the very vehicles of memory is intrinsically inhuman. In the past (indeed, in the present), the wiping out of memory has been employed with this knowledge: forced linguistic change, toppling of monuments, re-writing history and destroying earlier versions.

The London cemetery authorities' plan, however, suggests something almost worse: quite apart from forgetting about prayers for the dead, they seem to think that human memory of human individuals actually does not matter. A seventy-five year gap, with no objecting relatives... Two generations for someone to be forgotten - perfectly likely, especially as families get smaller and local ties weaken. Now there seems to be an implication that once this has happened, the tangible monument has become surplus, useless, meaningless. What connection could the named dead have to a generation who have never known them personally? What is the use of keeping the form of a name of a creature which has long lost its physical existence, and to which no currently-living creature happens to attach subjective value? It seems to me that such concrete attacks on memory imply that the dead do not exist: that there is no real connection between past humans and present humans; that the dead may have been of interest to others who knew them, but have no possible meaning to those who did not; that a gravestone may offer some solace to a certain group of creatures after another creature has disintegrated, but there is nothing actually of value in the mere fact of a human existence which might be conveyed to successive generations by the written fact of a name... We are - the originators of this plan seem to assume - only what we make of ourselves, or what others make of us, and if we are not here to validate ourselves or be affirmed by others, what real connection does our past existence have to the modern world, what use is it to be remembered, what can be contained in the empty shell of memory afforded by a name on a stone?

In short, wiping names off gravestones suggests the loss of a grip on reality: the reality that human beings really exist, and have a real nature and value, whether or not anyone is paying attention.

(You may all think I am over-reading this, in a hysterical historian's way, and I'm not quite sure I've pinned down why the careless willingness to extinguish memory is quite so chilling. All clarificatory suggestions would be most welcome.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


This seems deeply horrible. (Once I've worked out exactly why, I'll post something. Must work on horrid thesis...)

Monday, July 03, 2006


A fortnight ago I came back from Israel and Jordan whence I had wandered to contemplate the changeable nature of most things and the unchanging nature of one thing. To my modest surprise the trip has turned me into a teeny weenie bit of a Zionist. The argument goes like this. The Jews were kicked out of the Holy Land by the Romans unfairly from a this-worldly perspective but really because God was punishing them for having rejected the Messiah. They were left to wander the earth for 1900 years and everyone picked on them because they were different and consoled themselves that this was ok (which it wasn't) because they had rejected the Messiah. Other people moved in. The new inhabitants of the Holy Land converted to Christianity along with the rest of the Roman Empire, apart from the Jews. Then the Persians invaded and trashed the place but the Romans rallied and roundly defeated the Persians. Then an Arab bloke founded a new religion where everyone has to invade the entire world and subject it to his laws and to the government of his successor the Caliph. The Muslims invaded and ethnically cleansed the entire southern Mediterranean forcing everyone else to accept Islam or death or taxes. The Christians were extremely annoyed but too weak (as a result of the Germans having messed up Western Europe) to do anything about it. The Emperor managed to hold on to Asia Minor and stop the Muslims getting Constantinople. The Franks (who were clearing up after the other Germans) managed to stop the Muslims getting any further than the Loire and eventually pushed them back into Spain. The Muslims got nasty(er) and trashed the Holy Sepulchre and nearly captured Constantinople. The Emperor (now a schismatic) got worried and asked the Pope if he could send any of the Franks to deal with the Muslims. The Pope explained to the Franks that if they went and attacked the Muslims and got back Jerusalem he would arrange for the temporal punishment to be waved for all the years them had spent attacking each other and everyone else. This being quite a good deal lots of Franks went off to the Holy Land and behaved rather badly but did manage to get Jerusalem back off the Muslims. Bad organisation and not enough permanent migration meant that after slightly less than a century we had lost it again and eventually the Franks were driven out of the Holy Land again. Then the Muslims invaded Constantinople and the rest of the Balkans and repeatedly tried to invade the rest of Europe but couldn’t get past Vienna. In the meantime they were finally kicked out of Spain and the Emperor started trying to drive them out of North West Africa but didn’t get far because he was distracted by a virulent new heresy invented by the Germans called Protestantism. Then the Poles drove the Muslims from the walls of Vienna and the Austrians and the Russians began pushing them back bit by bit until they only had Constantinople left. As a result of the virulent new heresy Europe was slowly becoming godless. In the meantime the Europeans had conquered the entire world apart from some of the Muslim bits and China and Japan. Then the Austrians and the Russians got into a war with each other and everyone else joined in and millions of people died and Britain conquered Jerusalem and Constantinople and instead of giving it back to the Greeks we stupidly gave it back to the Turks and all the remaining Christians and Greeks in Asia Minor and Constantinople were ethnically cleansed. We said the Jew could come back to the Holy Land and so they did and they looked after things a lot better than the Muslims who started getting annoyed and rebelling against us so we tried to stop too many Jews coming and then the Germans elected a lunatic as their ruler who hated the Jews for no particular reason and imagined all sorts grudges against them. He started invading all the countries around Germany and we had to fight another massive war. We wouldn’t let anymore Jews into the Holy Land and turned back boatloads of them and then they and millions of others besides were murdered by the Germans. We beat the Germans. And it bankrupted us. We couldn’t afford to look after the Holy Land, the Muslims refused to share it with the Jews. We had to go. In was 1948. The Jews declared the state of Israel. The Muslims expelled all the Jews from their lands. Many of the Muslims fled Israel and some were expelled by the Jews. About the same number of Jews was expelled from Muslim lands as Muslims fled Israel. All the Muslim countries attacked the Jews. The Jews won. The Muslims prepared to attack them again so the Jews attacked first and they conquered Jerusalem and the whole of the Holy Land. The Muslims attacked again and the Jews won again. The Jews are invincible. The Jews have offered the Muslims most of what they conquered in the second war back but not Jerusalem. The Muslims won't take it. They want all of what they have lost since 1948 back including Jerusalem and they want all of those who fled or were expelled to be allowed back plus their descendents. This would destroy the state of Israel because there would be more Muslims in it than Jews. Some of the Muslims say they want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. The Muslims left in the Holy Land live in areas occupied by the Jews with no state. They live in uncomfortable overcrowded conditions with no resources. The Jews are God's chosen people. Their promises have been suspended until they recognise the Messiah but one day they will recognise the Messiah and then all the promises come back on line. The Muslims are the followers of a false prophet who have oppressed the Christians for a thousand years and destroyed some Christian nations for ever. We also owe the Jews for crapping on them for centuries and not saving them from the Germans. We must not allow the Muslims to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. We must not let them get Jerusalem back. There is nothing the Israelis can do because the Muslims won't accept a deal that falls short of the destruction of Israel and/or the surrender of Jerusalem. If two sides refuse to do a deal there has to be a war and the winner gets to decide. That is what has happened. The Jews have offered as much as they can be reasonably expected to offer and they have been turned down.

Iberia and Britannia

Two of the individuals mentioned in my last post have something in common. Neither of them had ever left the United Kingdom in their lives at the time of the incidents in question (one of them had never left Scotland). In fact, as coincidence would have it one of them is now abroad for the first time in his life. And where has he gone in order to broaden his horizons? Ibiza! He had probably been lynched by now for cheering at Portugal's victory in the penalty shoot out. Could it be that a lack of perspective is part of the problem? I have an extremely right-wing great aunt who has a very dim view of foreigners and hasn't left her (very small) village in France for fifteen years. When I was walking to Santiago a few years ago I was struck by how fissiparous Spain seems to be. I knew about the Basque Country, but Leon seemed to be covered in graffiti demanding its administrative separation from Castile. In Santiago on the road leading up to the youth hostel someone had painted "THIS IS NOT SPAIN" and one village in Navarre seemed to have a terrorist group all of its own. It is odd really as Spain (with the exception of Portugal) seems to be almost as geographically well defined as Britain. Perhaps just as the Irish question destabilises Britain so the independence of Portugal destabilises Spain. For part of the way I was accompanied by an Irish Priest and we were both marvelling at the graffiti and comparing it to various well known insular phenomena. "God!" said the Priest "it shows you how bloody self-indulgent it all is". And, at the risk of sailing into dangerous waters, it is remarkable how utterly insignificant the difference would be in terms of everyday life between Ulster administered by the Irish Republic and Ulster administered by the United Kingdom. Obviously there were serious human rights issues in the 1960s but for most of the last thirty years they have been blowing people up over whether their post boxes should be red or green. It strikes me (and now I will get into trouble) that the Irish problem was always a religious and not a national problem. All lands under the English crown resisted the Reformation and the territories least under Royal control did so with the most success. Ireland accordingly remained Catholic. Because of the danger of invasion from that quarter the Protestant government responded with draconian measures and plantation. The response of the Irish until the death of the Jacobite cause seems not have been to seek independence but to place a Catholic monarch on the British throne. Only later did the issue become one of secular nationalism. If the Irish had stayed and helped in the conversion of Britain (which was proceeding apace until the 1960s) perhaps Mr Paisley would face a Catholic majority on both sides of the Irish Sea. Instead the issues of Nationalism and Religion have become hopelessly intertwined. The Irish flag is supposed to represent peace between Catholics and Protestants and instead it is the symbol which most divides Ireland, another episode in the glorious history of ecumenism.