King Arthur in a Dress, With Saints

Monty-Python-and-The-Holy-Grail-monty-python-16538792-845-468This week’s column at the Register is about appearances of King Arthur in the lives of saints:

Nine different hagiographies show us a figure quite different from the one depicted in legend. TheLives (known as Vitae) of the Welsh saints are as obscure as their subjects. Written in the 11th and 12th century long after the deaths of their subjects, their value as historical documents is nugatory, but their insight into medieval piety and attitudes about the past at the time they were written is valuable. There is a common strand binding five of these Lives: the monastery of Llancarfan, founded Glamorgan by St. Cadoc. This hive of hagiographic activity was basically aVita factory. Biographies from Llancarfan include those of Ss. Gildas, Cadoc, Illtud, Carannog, and Padern, all of which mention King Arthur, often in a less than flattering light.

Read the rest.

A Specimen Book of Pattern Papers Designed for and in Use at the Curwen Press (1928)


These gorgeous examples of decorated paper come from A Specimen Book of Pattern Papers Designed for and in Use at the Curwen Press (1928). While this paper most commonly would have been used as endpapers, Paul Nash explains in his introduction that he chose “pattern paper” as a more general term since this paper would also be used for book covers and jackets.

The 31 samples included in this book range from florals reminiscent of wallpaper to bold modernist wood engravings. They were designed by artists Lovat Fraser, Albert Rutherston, Margaret Calkin James, Thomas Lowinsky, E.O. Hoppé, Edward Bawden, Paul Nash, Enid Marx, Eric Ravilious, and Harry Carter.

OED Word of the Day: rubricism

The Oxford English Dictionary got Catholic with this morning’s word of the day. Note the first recorded example from Newman, as well as the nonsense 1978 quote:

rubricism, n.
The strict or overzealous observance of liturgical rubrics.

1840 J. H. Newman Let. 10 Mar. in Corr. with John Keble & Others (1917) ii. 62–Right views and practices are spreading strangely; nor do I think with you that they tend to nothing more than rubricism.

1862 Macmillan’s Mag. 5 203–Its congregational worship affected no revolutionary Rubricism.

1904 Amer. Pulpit Apr. 39/3–Pedantry and rubricism were augured, as now they are, when Christ assailed their..stuffy theories as so much superfluous baggage.

1978 C. Howell in C. Jones et al. Study of Liturgy ii. iii. x. 241–Trent ushered in four centuries of rigidity and fixation; it was an era of rubricism.

2003 Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Jrnl. Sentinel (Nexis) 26 July b5–There are some people who see this as a retrenchment, a going backwards into more of a rubricism.


Goodreads–Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life by Pope Benedict XVI

Eschatology: Death and Eternal LifeEschatology: Death and Eternal Life by Pope Benedict XVI
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ratzinger’s textbook on the last things is very strong on the debates swirling around the nature of the soul, the body-soul relationship, and the temporal aspects of eschatology. Purgatory is adequately treated and heaven inspires some of that fine Ratzingerian theological poetry, but hell is handled briefly and not in much depth. He seems to want to just get it out if the way. That said, it’s a good treatment of the subject, but probably not the introduction a novice should turn to.

View all my reviews

Buy Eschatology by Joseph Ratzinger at Amazon.

Instructions for Your Pope Panic Du Jour

Here’s your morning freak-out. The Pope puts out a perfectly genial call for dialog among people of different beliefs who are all children of God (obviously). The proper response is:

1. Set your hair on fire.

2. Run around screaming. Random squeals of outrage are fine, but it’s better if you pepper it with cries of “indifferentism!” A soupçon of Francis-hate is, of course, the spice that holds the dish together, but don’t overdo it or you just look crazy.

3. Copy and paste long blocks of text from previous popes anathematizing indifferentism and pointing out that Christ is the only way to salvation.

4. Post a link from a preferred traditionalist site. Rorate Caeli is optimal. They hit that sweet spot of rigid literalism without tipping over into the pure crazy of Novus Ordo Watch.

5. Take a deep breath.

6. Feel better now? Good. Then you can pause and realize that a 90 second call for religious toleration and dialog in a world riven by religious violence is not a call to indifferentism, and not a capsule summary of everything this pope thinks and believes about the Catholic faith. I’m not a fan of empty ecumenism, but we have a base line good-faith assumption with the POPE OF THE CATHOLICS that he believes what the church teaches, so when he says one thing we assume that he still believes all the other things.

Many choose not to give Francis the benefit of the doubt, even though he preaches Christ daily. People have decided to distrust his fidelity because they don’t like his politics. They’ve developed a habit of reducing everyone to their political views and sorting them into Them and Us as though they were the sheep and the goats. Our reactions to those within our faith are falling into the same knee-jerk responses we use for our political leaders and ideological others.

Christianity isn’t a philosophy or political movement, and that kind of response is not merely inappropriate, it’s poisonous to the body of Christ. As Pope Benedict said:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

We don’t fit simply into ideological boxes. We’re not a philosophy. We’re not even merely a set of dogmas and doctrines. We are so much more than that. We are the body of the living and incarnate God.

Do you think Buddhists are not children of God? If so, I’d be fascinated to hear who you think created them. We don’t invent gods by believing in them. Unless worship is of something obviously false and diabolical, then separated peoples of good will worship the One True God, even if they do so defectively or incompletely. Their salvation is in grave danger without the faith of the Catholic church, but charity should lead us to assume that their desire to encounter God is genuine if misguided.

We have to evangelize in the world we have, not the world of a hundred or five hundred or two thousand years ago. Anathemas and syllabi of errors are in no short supply–and I guarantee you I’ve read more of them than you have–but while their fundamental truths remain unchanged, their form doesn’t particularly speak to every time and place. For example, trying to apply the language forged at Trent in the fires (literal, not metaphorical) of the Reformation to a different situation in a different century in a globalized, interconnected world is not always going to be practical. Truth doesn’t change, but language and expression do, and our efforts to deal with other religions in a world where those religions collide on a daily basis, in ways the Fathers did not encounter, must take those changes into account.

archaicwonder: Ring of Æthelwulf, Anglo-Saxon, AD 828-858 Gold…


Ring of Æthelwulf, Anglo-Saxon, AD 828-858

Gold nielloed mitre-shaped ring, decorated with peacocks, crosses, rosettes, foliage and a tree. Found in a cart rut in Laverstock, Wiltshire, England.

Æthelwulf was the King of Wessex (r. AD 836-858) and was the father of Alfred the Great. The ring, a particularly ambitious piece, was not the king’s personal ring, but was presumably given as a gift or as a mark of royal office. Its fine Trewhiddle-style ornament would certainly fit a mid ninth-century date.

Boy Bishops and Dei Verbum at 50


I have two new pieces at the National Catholic Register:

Last week’s history column was about The Peculiar Christmas Custom of the Boy Bishops:

One of the stranger corners of medieval celebration was the installation of the Boy Bishop. The practice is often blended with the much-condemned Feast of Fools, and indeed there was overlap between the two. The Feast of Fools had different start days in different places, but traditionally began on the Feast of the Circumcision (January 1st). It was a time of disorder. Some historians attempt to trace it back to the upending of social conventions and role-switching during the Roman festival of Saturnalia. It’s possible we see in the Feast of Fools a dimly recalled folk memory of such a practice, and just as possible that it merely speaks to a natural human need for role reversal that echoes down to the 20th century in traditions like Sadie Hawkins Day. It may have functioned as a pressure valve for a hierarchical social order in which everyone had a role to play among the estates of man. It also had solid scriptural grounding in Matthew 20:26: “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

Read more.

And today, my retrospective on Dei Verbum, considered the finest document produced at Vatican II, went up:

Of all the documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum (The Word of God) is one of the most respected. Philosopher Germain Grisez called it the highlight of the Council. Cardinal Avery Dulles said it “stands among the principal accomplishments of the Council.” Scott Hahn calls it “a remarkable development — a positive, constructive, integral, holistic approach to the ways that God reveals himself.” The future Pope Benedict XVI had a hand in its creation and deepened and developed its major points over decades of analysis and official documents.

Officially called the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, it emerged from a difficult period in Catholic theology and Scripture scholarship and addressed the problem of the anti-Modernism debates by reaching beyond Modernism, past the First Vatican Council and back to the Council of Trent and the early Church Fathers to recover an understanding of revelation that had become encrusted over the years. It reoriented the Church’s understanding of Scripture and Tradition and inaugurated a new period of Bible study and a return to the original sources.

Read more.

A Face For Radio and a Voice for Print

I’ve been doing a lot of radio lately, despite that fact that, like many, I think my own voice sounds perfectly ghastly and grating. Like Erkel swallowed a kazoo. But, you know, someone has to laugh at Mark Shea’s jokes, and I’m just the Ed McMahon for that job.joc33iwhjoyh5isg3y4z

I co-host for Mark once a week on Connecting the Dots on Breadbox Media, formerly RealLife Radio. Every Tuesday from 5-6pm EST, I join his all-star rotating cast of toadies and lickspittles. Heyhoooo!

Last night we talked about Krampus and Vatican II, and I had a complete senior moment where my brain stopped functioning in the last 5 minutes of the show. I always love when these things happen live on air and then are preserved forever in MP3. It keeps me humble.

Here’s last night’s show.

I also did a spot on Halloween with my editor Jeanette DeMello for Register Radio on EWTN. I’m at the halfway point, after the useful stuff from Ed Pentin.

Holy Doors, Batman! Plus: Archaeology

Sealed holy door, St. Peter's

Sealed holy door, St. Peter’s

When The Anchoress asks, you can’t say no.

Elizabeth Scalia noticed that the Year of Mercy involved the opening of doors and thought, “Hm, I know I guy with a head full of useless knowledge who can explain this to Aleteia readers without putting them to sleep much!”

But that guy was busy so she wound up with me.

Here’s my FAQ on Porta Sancta, relevant this year and, er … in another 25 years: When is a Door Not Just a Door? When It’s a “Holy Door.”

Also, I’ve been gathering up little bits and pieces of archaeology stories that I might normally have put up in a quick blog post on the old site, but instead compiled as Archaeology Briefs, although I actually wear boxers.

Please remember to use my Amazon link this shopping season. Obscure theology books and Hammer movies don’t buy themselves.