Cardinal Nichols Presides Over Reburial of Richard III

The remains of King Richard III, found under a parking lot 530 years after his death at Bosworth Field, were reburied in Leicester Cathedral yesterday. The Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, led the ceremony, which featured prayers, readings, plainsong, and a homily.

The Cardinal celebrated a separate funeral mass at Holy Cross Church in Wellington Street, Leicester.

The reburial closes the book on a dramatic three years that witnessed the rediscovery of the king’s remains under a parking lot where Greyfriars Church once stood before being destroyed during the Reformation.

Cardinal Nichols’ homily can be read here. An excerpt:

At the sprinkling of his coffin, the prayer expressed our faith that the baptised are joined to the death of Jesus so that ‘through his merits, who died and rose again for us’ we may ‘pass to our joyful resurrection’, the destiny of all who open their hearts and lives to the living God.

This faith was also vividly expressed in the incensing of the coffin of the King. Traditionally, words accompany incensing: ‘Let our prayer arise before you O Lord, like this incense’. So too we trust that even as the incense rose before our eyes this evening, so too our prayer will be carried to the throne of God. Indeed, incense signals to us the presence of God. It is a sign of his majesty. We pray that, being brought into the presence of that Divine majesty, Richard may be embraced by God’s merciful love, there to await the final resurrection of all things in the fullness of time.

This is the horizon against which our actions take place on this solemn evening. With God there is a different timescale, a day is like a thousand years. So our prayers for this King of our Land, our prayers for his eternal rest, are not impeded or made invalid by the passing of these years. We pray for him today just as those who prayed for him at the time of his death in 1485, those whose hearts were not filled with the vengeance of victory or the hatred of an enemy. Among those who prayed for him then was the community of Franciscan Friars, so nearby here, who surely buried him with formal prayer even if also in haste.

So much that has happened in these intervening centuries. In 1538 stone and building materials were taken from that Church of the Greyfriars and used to repair the nearby St Martin’s Church, now this Cathedral Church of Leicester. It is surely symbolic that materials from the first burial place of the King are in all probability still part of the fabric of this building in which his remains are again to be laid to rest. Our Christian histories have become intertwined in a way, we pray, that will now lead to us give a more coherent and united witness to the truths of faith which we proclaim together this evening.

A Phantom Army at the Fall of Jerusalem

In The Histories, Tacitus describes the supernatural events that accompanied the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Titus in 70AD:

Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departingAt the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, with the usual blindness of ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies of themselves, and could not be brought even by disasters to believe the truth. 

Of course, it wasn’t Vespasian and Titus who achieved universal empire, but Christ.

Why Obama’s Rhetoric About Christian Violence Was a Problem

Saturday morning I wrote some thoughts about why Obama was wrong to drag Christian sins into his speech condemning Islamic terror. I spent that afternoon debating my points on social media with Sam Rocha, Mark Shea, and others, so I thought I’d expand upon my rationale a bit.Barack_Obama_at_Cairo_University_cropped

I don’t really write about contemporary political events much. It’s not a subject of interest to me, not least because I find American politics simply disgusting. As a true conservative and Catholic who believes in the Permanent Things, I have no political home. The GOP is an abomination that needs to be dismantled now, and the Democrats offer only a toxic brew of anti-life militancy and ruinous economic policies.

Part of the problem with responding to Obama’s Crusades flap is that it’s following the course of all contemporary debate in drifting to the extremes. Thus, you get fools like Max Fisher at Vox proclaiming “Let’s be clear: The Obama Crusades controversy is over whether it’s okay to hate Muslims,” while Twitter fills up with people on the right simply crouching into a reflexively anti-Obama pro-Crusades position without taking care to acknowledge what I wrote at the beginning of by Catholic World Report piece:

The facts [of Obama’s comments] on their face are undeniable. During various Crusades and Inquisitions, some people did indeed do terrible things that no Christian should do, nor should any defend. But they also did great things in the name of Christ, and at the exact same time.

There’s a certain faction of the right and of Christendom that can’t see the Crusades any more clearly than the Muslims can. You find this faction ably summarized by HW Crocker III’s comment in Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, where he counts himself among “those who wish the Sack of Byzantium to be a feast day in the Church.”

What Obama said was not fundamentally inaccurate: it was its specific use in a particular place in a speech that made a mere fact into a provocative and offensive statement. It drew an inaccurate and inappropriate moral analogy between the violence of the past and the violence of the present.

Worse (and my larger problem) was the way it feeds an illusion in the Islamic world of the Crusades as unjust attacks on an innocent population, motivated by religious fanaticism and racism, rather than what they were: military operations with multiple motivating factors, self-defense among them. It’s a debate that could be simplified to the distinction between jus ad bellum and jus ad bello: the justification for war, and the justification (or “rules”) once war has started. The Crusades satisfied jus ad bellum but frequently failed to satisfy jus ad bello (a fact recognized by popes who condemned wanton violence).

That’s a stunningly fine point of law and theology to try to compress into a passing comment, and he clearly wasn’t attempting to do that. This was the Patronizing Obama. The Teacher Obama. The man who feels anointed to educate and uplift an ignorant population of racists and bigots always ready to burst into new acts of wanton and random violence against The Other.

In truth, the population of America, by and large, shows very little inclination to do this. The fringes may be loud, but they don’t represent the vox pop. The real poison in our civil body is the leadership class represented by both Obama and the GOP, which keeps its stranglehold on power by wars and inflammatory rhetoric. Obama almost certainly killed more people in drone strikes during his term than the Spanish Inquisition executed in 300 years, yet he never turns that laser-beam gaze of moral authority on his own actions.

Thus, my criticism was of rhetoric and its proper use. When I write about contemporary events, my critical lens is almost always Marshall McLuhan. I’m interested in how ideas and images are communicated, the intent of the communicator, and the effect on the receiver. Everything we say is shaped by multiple factors, not the least being the medium itself. When the speaker is a world-significant figure like the president, he becomes a kind of medium in and of himself. The Presidency is a medium, and it’s one that transcends the speaker and bears with it certain meanings and rules. His position shapes the way a mere fact is received, thus mere fact is sometimes (and most notably in this case) insufficient unto itself. Indeed, a truth can become almost akin to a lie in certain media or within a certain context.

Muslims found themselves, in the 20th century, in a ruinous situation after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Colonialism and partition made them bitter and resentful, and they reached into a myth of the past to find a justification for their present sorrow. That myth was one of constant persecution and imperialism from the west over centuries, conveniently ignoring Islam’s own imperialistic and bloody history and reducing the clash to one of mere racial and religious hatred.

That’s why Obama’s comments were so disastrous and tone deaf. In an attempt to chasten Christians, he used an obvious truth (bad things were done in the name of Christ) in the serve of a plain lie (the historical violence of Christians is morally analogous, or even relevant, to the present violence of Muslim terrorists).

Is Christian violence really that big of a problem that he needs to inject that history into this debate? As Bobby Jindal observed: “The Medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President.”

On the positive side, he managed to bring Catholics and Protestants together on the subject of medieval violence for the first time. The black lies about the Crusades and Inquisitions were fabricated and perpetuated by Protestants as part of their anti-Catholic polemic. I don’t recall anything like this kind of defense of Catholic actions by American Protestants. It’s wholly a byproduct of their contempt for this man and his dangerous and sloppy rhetoric.

I guess we should be happy with Obama: at last, he is a uniter!

Why Obama Was Wrong About The Crusades

I wrote something on the Crusades flap for Catholic World Report. Here’s the beginning:

It’s not hard for President Obama to stir outrage. Six years into his presidency, all he has to do is speak to make the opposition angry. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes not.

At the National Prayer Breakfast, following his condemnation of ISIS violence, the President had this to say: “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

The facts on their face are undeniable. During various Crusades and Inquisitions, some people did indeed do terrible things that no Christian should do, nor should any defend. But they also did great things in the name of Christ, and at the exact same time. Let’s look at one notorious incident and how it played out on both sides.

Read the rest.

A Game for Training Missionaries About Indigenous Cultures

The World of Playing cards is a terrific site with reproductions of historic cards from around the world. Most recently, they  shared Snapshots: A Missionary Card Game from the Church Mission Society circa 1910. It’s described as a basic set-building game of 48 cards with 12 sets from representing different cultural practices around the world. Each set has four cards, each of a different color, showing some aspect of culture in Japan, Sudan, and so on. The goal is to prepare the missionaries to work in these places as they preach the Gospel.



You can find more at World of Playing Cards.

Coventry Carol: A Bit of History

Pageant wagon, with trade symbol

One of the things ultimately killed off in the English Reformation were the regional “mystery plays”: local pageant cycles in which the common folk performed dramatized Biblical stories. (The York cycle is the most famous.) Many of the surviving texts derive from the flowering of Middle English in the wake of Chaucer and Langland, and are of a very high literary quality.

The performances were mounted by various guilds and professions, so the coopers would dramatize the Fall of Man, the shipwrights the building of the ark, the tile-thatchers the Nativity, the butchers the Crucifixion (yes, really), and so on. The plays were done on “pageant wagons”: essentially horse-drawn sets not unlike parade floats. It was a way for a largely illiterate population to learn their Bible stories, but it smacked too much of popery so the authorities forcibly repressed the practice. Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times.

One cycle of plays was the cycle for Coventry, and the play put on by the shearmen and tailors was the slaughter of the innocents. When Hamlet refers to an actor who “out-Herods Herod,” he’s talking about the over-emoting brought to the villainous role of Herod by amateur actors in these pageants.

After the slaughter of the innocents in the play, the women mourn for their lost children by singing them a final lullaby, and this is the origin of “Coventry Carol.” This performance is from the Mediaeval Baebes, and is the most delicate and haunting I’ve heard.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

“It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God”

Stuart-george-washington-constable-1797I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s remarkable George Washington: A Life, which makes a case that was once obvious: even with his flaws, George Washington was the greatest and most important man in our history.

He was more than a great man, however: he was a good man, and a man of deep Christian faith who was also remarkably tolerant, and clearly saw that America was a pluralistic nation that demanded new approaches to belief and tolerance.

Given the tenor of his times, Washington’s routine practice of attending religious services for all faiths–including Catholics and Jews–was a radical choice, and speaks to the importance the man placed on faith and freedom of worship.

His letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport shows him at his finest, saying

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

I’m trying to imagine any leader today putting his hand to Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. The outrage and cries of “Theocracy!” would be deafening.

We’re not giving thanks in some abstract way at Thanksgiving, or merely acknowledging squishy feelings of gratitude. We’re giving thanks to an Almighty God, who has made Himself known to us and continues to love and care for us.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and may God bless and guide our country in these dark and challenging times.

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Baal Cultic Complex Discovered in Israel

This is a pretty big find, and the connection to Baal seems likely:

A massive cult complex, dating back about 3,300 years, has been discovered at the site of Tel Burna in Israel.

While archaeologists have not fully excavated the cult complex, they can tell it was quite large, as the courtyard alone was 52 by 52 feet (16 by 16 meters). Inside the complex, researchers discovered three connected cups, fragments of facemasks, massive jars that are almost as big as a person and burnt animal bones that may indicate sacrificial rituals.

The archaeologists said they aren’t sure who was worshipped at the complex, though Baal, the Canaanite storm god, is a possibility. “The letters of Ugarit [an ancient site in modern-day Syria] suggest that of the Canaanite pantheon, Baal, the Canaanite storm god, would have been the most likely candidate,” Itzhaq Shai, a professor at Ariel University who is directing a research project at Tel Burna, told Live Science in an email.

The artifacts include fragments of two masks. “The burna mask fragments, both of noses, are quite interesting, because they are quite large, although as seen in [a photo], they were clearly meant to be worn,” Shai said.

“It is difficult to determine exactly who the masks are depicting and whether it is a specific image. In general, masks are known to have been used in cultic ceremonies and processions.”

The researchers also found massive “pithoi” vessels (large storage jars), some almost as big as a person. “Along the eastern edge of the exposed area of the building, a row of sunken pithoi, with several smaller vessels found inside of them, were found,” said Shai. Two of the vessels were imported from Cyprus, as indicated by their design.

Read more.

Worship of the Baalim draws the condemnation of God in Judges, 1 Kings, and elsewhere in the Bible. Baal was a Canaanite thunder god (Hadad), but the name could also refer to various local gods.

Remarkable Digital Reconstruction of the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II

The Metropolitan Museum of Art created this video flythrough of the spectacular Northwest Palace of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (reigned: 883 to 859 BC) in the city alternately known as Numrud, Kalhu, and, in the Bible, Calah. The ruins are about 20 miles south of Mosul, Iraq. The palace walls were covered n reliefs (many of them now scattered throughout the world in various museums) depicting his reign and conquests.

Genesis 10: 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naph-tuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (whence came the Philistines), and Caphtorim.