From the Telegraph:

“The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found.  Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning foetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat.”


It does not seem as if God was very keen to give the Israelites a king. The first man to call himself a king in scripture was Nimrod. God told the Israelites He was their king. When they insisted, He told Samuel they were rejecting God Himself and not just His prophet. Of course, in the end, He would assume human nature through the line of David and so cut the Gordian knot tied out of His complaint to Samuel and His promise to David. Jesus Christ, son of David and King of Israel is alive and reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Christians have no need for any other King. In fact, as if to confirm this line of reasoning, God chose the Roman Commonwealth as the vehicle by which He translated the covenant to the gentiles, the polity of a people with a very special loathing for the name of ‘King’ whose monarchical ruler, for all his vast power, did not dare to adopt the title.

One thing, however, troubled me about this analysis. Albeit the so-called ‘Divine Right of Kings’ is a particularly Protestant superstition, still there is a slightly Protestant ring to the argument given above. It is too similar to the argument against Christian priests: that Christ is the one true priest offering the all-sufficient sacrifice. Yet, it seems as if there is room for a Christian kingship just as there is room for a Christian priesthood without validating the Ancien Regime. Although we acknowledge that the Bishop possesses the fullness of the ministerial priesthood of the new covenant, it is not the Bishop but the Presbyter whom we habitually mean by the term Sacerdos. Christ is Prophet, Priest and King and the Christian is called to be Alter Christus. It would seem as if the religious, clergy and laity exemplify each of those charisms. On that basis it is the monk, the presbyter and the father who are, in the new dispensation, most properly, after Jesus, referred to as prophet, priest and king. Only secondarily do we apply these titles to the theologian, the prelate and the politician. As Leo XIII taught,

“The rights here spoken of, belonging to each individual man, are seen in much stronger light when considered in relation to man’s social and domestic obligations. In choosing a state of life, it is indisputable that all are at full liberty to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ as to observing virginity, or to bind themselves by the marriage tie. No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s authority from the beginning: ‘Increase and multiply.’ Hence we have the family, the ‘society’ of a man’s house – a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.”

- Rerum Novarum §12


I owe this reference to Gregory the Eremite. It is Venantius Fortunatus writing about St Paul. Venantius was born about the year 530.


Transit et Oceanum, vel qua facit insula portum,
Quasque Britannus habet terras atque ultima Thule.”
["Yea, through the ocean he passed,
where the Port is made by an island,
And through each British realm,
and where the world endeth at Thule."]

“And they came upon the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints, and the beloved city”


O God of Earth and Altar

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honor, and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation, 
a single sword to thee.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1906

Yesterday the German bishops started their annual spring conference.

On the GBC website, preparation for the October Synod of Bishops on the Family is only mentioned casually as one of the less prominent points of the agenda. Given recent utterances of certain German bishops, this does not quite allay my apprehension.

So, restlessly prowling around the internet, I only now discovered that the GBC’s answers to the Vatican questionnaire are online. Catholic World News summarizes the summary. Contrary to my first assumption, they did not quote the most extreme things out of context: the whole document breathes the same spirit.

Honestly, I did not expect something this blunt. One could, in fact, call this a ‘courageous’ document. I mean, how shameful and embarrassing (to say the least) to have to go to Rome and admit how fully and utterly you have failed in taking care of the immortal souls of your flock!

I was even starting to hope again: if you want to argue that changes in society necessitate some ‘development’ of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, presenting the situation as a wholesale pastoral and catechetical failure would not seem to be the most promising strategy. On the other hand, some passages seem to cross the border from bluntness to cynicism – at least, that is the best interpretation I have for sentences like this one:

Almost all couples who wish to marry in Church have already been living together, frequently for several years (estimates are between 90% and 100%).

The fact that even the bishops of my country see people like my married Catholic friends (who did not cohabit before marriage) as some barely existing freak group is somewhat disturbing.

Update: Today, the German bishops have voted for Cardinal Archbishop Reinhard ‘Who-is-the-head-of-the-CDF-to-tell-us-what-the-Church-teaches’ Marx as the head of the German Bishops’ Conference.

I recently read (or rather, listened to – thank you Librivox) Wuthering Heights, twenty years after my first reading of it. The first time round I was rather puzzled by it, I think because I was expecting Heathcliff to turn out in the end to have a magnanimous soul hidden under his harsh exterior: the same mistake that Isabella Linton makes about him, in fact. This time I was able instead to read the story that Emily Bronte wrote without expecting it to become a novel by Jane Austen.

What struck me was how consistent it is. Writing at such a pitch of intensity, it was almost inevitable that she should have fallen at some points into melodrama or bathos. But she never does. From chapter to chapter she proceeds, with never a false step, until she reaches the climax of all. And when she has told her story she stops, ‘abruptly as an epic ends’.

How did she do it, this girl living in her Victorian parsonage? How did she manage to write something so imposing, unforeshadowed and self-consistent that one spontaneously looks to the ancient world to find some analogy for it – the plays of Aeschylus, perhaps, or the Great Pyramid? I am glad that she never wrote another novel, for what could she have written that would not have been an imitation or an anti-climax? Chesterton says somewhere that the Bronte sisters came into a literary tradition which consisted mainly in writing ‘novels of manners’, and responded by writing novels in which no one, good or bad, has any manners at all. But Emily Bronte surpasses her sisters. I think it was Lord David Cecil, a superb critic, who wrote that Rochester is a pantomime villain in comparison with Heathcliff. It was certainly Cecil who said that if any other novelist had described two persons as locked in an embrace so close that the spectator wondered if they would come out of it alive, we would have found it merely comic, but that when Emily Bronte says it, we accept it quite naturally, just as we accept Jane Austen’s statement that Mr Collins was a clergyman. Yet she can use humour, too, as in the narrator’s dream about the dreary Puritan sermon on ‘the seventy times seven, and the first of the seventy first”; though this very humour only serves to quicken our horror when the dream turns to Cathy’s spectral presence at the window and the scraping of her wrist backwards and forwards over the broken glass.

If it is a love story, it is perhaps the most philosophical love story ever written. She has very little interest in describing anyone’s feelings. The kind of love that existed between Cathy and Edgar Linton, the theme of so many other novels of the time, appears unreal or trivial. We are impatient with it. Between Cathy and Heathcliff one might almost say that there is no love, in the usual sense of the word. They never make tender speeches to each other. They don’t go out of their way to do kindnesses for each other. Often they don’t seem to like each other very much. St Thomas Aquinas tells us that ‘mutual inhesion’ is an effect of love, and it is as if Emily Bronte had come across this statement in the Summa Theologiae and decided to write a novel simply to describe this property of love and no other.  Cathy’s famous line, ‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff’ sums it up.

David Cecil described Wuthering Heights as ‘the one perfect work of art of the Victorian period’. Yet does it have a flaw: not an artistic one, but a theological one? We are given to understand, or at least we are meant to feel, at the end of the book, that Heathcliff and Cathy will be re-united by the former’s death, and that whatever pains that may cause them both, it will still be the true fulfilment of each, and the deepest pleasure of which either is capable. Yet Heathcliff, as things look, is headed for hell. All his life he has been vindictive, unforgiving, cruel; he deliberately drives Hindley Earnshaw to kill himself with drink; he ruins Isabella Linton’s life as a way of spiting her brother; he seeks to ruin the younger Cathy’s life for the same reason, and only desists in the end because he is distracted by her mother’s ghost; he refuses Nelly’s Christian admonitions; he never repents. If he is to be reunited with Cathy, it can only be in the way that Paolo and Francesca are re-united in the second circle of Dante’s Inferno, forever clutching at each other and tearing pieces off each other.

Or has Emily Bronte here also seen a truth – a truth which it is perilous to consider apart from other truths, but which is nevertheless true in itself? I mean the truth that the lost also receive good things from God; they receive not the one great good of which their common human nature was capable and which they have eternally forfeited, but such goods as they have made themselves capable in their individual natures. “God, considered in Himself, communicates to all beings according to their capacity”, writes St Thomas in the De Malo. This is a truth of universal application, and holds good even beyond those doors where all hope, alas, must be abandoned. The lost too, therefore, receive from Him the perfection of which their maimed and stunted souls are capable. Does it bring them happiness? No: but it brings them less unhappiness than they would receive elsewhere. The greatest torment for a lost soul, were it possible, would be, still hating God, to receive the Beatific Vision.


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