We are within the five days that pass between the selection of the Lamb and the sacrifice. Moses orders the lamb to be chosen on the tenth day of the month of Nisan, and so our Lord enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Moses orders the lamb to be sacrificed on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, and so Christ will be mystically sacrificed by the sword of His own voice on Holy Thursday after the supper has been eaten. Moses commanded that if a man’s family was not sufficient to eat the lamb, he must bring his neighbour into his house to eat it with him. So because the twelve were not sufficient to receive all graces, Christ has brought into His house many others, His neighbours according to the flesh, who will eat of this Lamb until the end of the world.

It could be chosen from the sheep or from the goats, because if we consider Christ as He is in Himself, we confess ‘no guile was found in His mouth’; but when we think of the roughness of our transgressions that cover Him we admit ‘God has made Him sin for us’. The lamb must be a male, because Christ is the head of every man as man is the head of the woman. It must be one year old, for in that time the material sun prefigures the Sun of justice rejoicing like a giant to complete his course, nor is there any who can hide from His heat.

In these five days, though the Lamb had been set apart, the Sacrifice was unaccomplished. Even though the apostles had some dim awareness of what was to come, they enjoyed no clear perception of it. So in the Roman Mass, though Host and Chalice have now been offered, the priest continues to speak so quietly, that even those who stand nearest to him cannot distinctly make out his words. And immediately before the consecration he makes five crosses over what has been set apart and what is now to be sacrificed to recall the five days that passed so long ago.

These are the five days foreshadowed at the beginning of the world, when there was as yet no rational voice to offer a sacrifice of praise. Only on the sixth day was man formed who might praise his creator with words; only on the sixth day was the silence broken and the centurion being newly created cried out as the Lamb was offered, ‘This indeed is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world!’

These are the five days of which Ozias foolishly said, ‘let us wait these five days for mercy from our Lord, for perhaps he will put a stop to his indignation, but if after five days there come no aid, we will yield ourselves to the Assyrians’, and he was rebuked by the faith of her who was the glory of Jerusalem for presuming to put God to the test. Yet he had said this not from himself, but being a ruler of the people he prophesied that after five days the anger of God would be extinguished by the severing of the devil’s head.

These are the five porches of the sheep’s pool, through which the rational Lamb is passing to sacrifice. Whether or not we may follow Him wherever He goes, we may follow Him there at least, and so coming to the foot of the Cross recognise the fulfillment of the word spoken by father Abraham on that same mountain, exclaiming with him:  Deus providebit sibi victimam holocausti, ‘God Himself has provided the Lamb for the offering’. For He stands as One who was slain before the foundation of the world, and from Him come forth the rivers of living water.



There has been a lot of buzz recently around the June 16-29th St Albert the Great Summer School in Norcia. Norcia is a sort of Catholic paradise. The town itself is beautiful, situated next to the Sibylline Mountains it looks like a scale model of Western Civilization. In the centre of the town square is a statue of St Benedict who (with his twin sister St Scholastica) was born there in 480. Around the square there is an imposing sixteenth century fortress, a renaissance cathedral, a fourteenth century town hall and the Basilica of St Benedict. The Basilica is built over the fortified former Roman secular basilica where the holy twins were born. Behind the Basilica is the wonderful observant monastic community of English speaking Benedictines who sing the full office and the Mass in Latin according to the pre-1962 books. The crypt of the Basilica where the monks sing most of their offices is constructed out of the very room where Ss Benedict and Scholastica were born. The Monks also brew the most wonderful beer. The gastronomic delights do not end there either because Norcia is the centre of Wild Boar and Pork butchery (and truffles) in Italy and is full of splendid restaurants and pizzerias. The previous Albert the Great summer schools involved the close study of the text of St Thomas in seminars, spiritual conferences by the superior of the Monastery Fr. Cassian Folsom, ending with a scholastic disputation presided over by another of the monks. It seems the same format is planned for this year when they will be studying the Letter of St Paul to the Romans with the commentary of St Thomas. I know at least one Laodicean is going. It all sounds rather splendid.

No particular reason for this, I just like the passage. He is talking, of course, about the Pickwick Papers:-

{Dickens’s portrait} of Sam Weller has produced one particular effect in the book which I wonder that critics of Dickens have never noticed or discussed. Because it has no Dickens “pathos,” certain parts of it are truly pathetic. Dickens, realising rightly that the whole tone of the book was fun, felt that he ought to keep out of it any great experiments in sadness and keep within limits those that he put in. He used this restraint in order not to spoil the humour; but (if he had known himself better) he might well have used it in order not to spoil the pathos. This is the one book in which Dickens was, as it were, forced to trample down his tender feelings; and for that very reason it is the one book where all the tenderness there is is quite unquestionably true.

An admirable example of what I mean may be found in the scene in which Sam Weller goes down to see his bereaved father after the death of his step-mother. The most loyal admirer of Dickens can hardly prevent himself from giving a slight shudder when he thinks of what Dickens might have made of that scene in some of his more expansive and maudlin moments. For all I know old Mrs. Weller might have asked what the wild waves were saying; and for all I know old Mr. Weller might have told her. As it is, Dickens, being forced to keep the tale taut and humorous, gives a picture of humble respect and decency which is manly, dignified, and really sad. There is no attempt made by these simple and honest men, the father and son, to pretend that the dead woman was anything greatly other than she was; their respect is for death, and for the human weakness and mystery which it must finally cover. Old Tony Weller does not tell his shrewish wife that she is already a white-winged angel; he speaks to her with an admirable good nature and good sense:

“‘Susan,’ I says, ‘you’ve been a wery good vife to me altogether: keep a good heart, my dear, and you’ll live to see me punch that ‘ere Stiggins’s ‘ead yet.’ She smiled at this, Samivel . . . but she died arter all.”

That is perhaps the first and the last time that Dickens ever touched the extreme dignity of pathos.

God knows some things that He might not have known. For example, He knows you and me. Of course He would always have known us at least as possible beings, but He need not have known as actually existing beings. If He had not created us, He would not have known us as actual beings; but He did, and so He does.

So God knows some things that He might not have known. This is a remarkable thing, which has perhaps not been sufficiently pondered among perennial philosophers. It might seem at first to destroy the assertion that God is Actus Purus, pure act. Surely, one might think, if God knows something that He might not have known, then He must have had a potentiality to know this thing, and this potentiality must have been realised, so that He now knows it. But of course this is impossible.

Why do these things that God knows, but which He might not have known, not introduce potentiality and the realisation of potentiality into God? It is because none of these things that He knows but might not have known – for example, no creature – goes to constitute God’s own act of knowledge; no creature ‘shapes’ the divine act of understanding, making it to be like this rather than like that. To use the technical phrase, nothing other than God is the specifying object of God’s act of knowledge. Creatures are real objects of His knowledge; God really knows you and me, not just an idea of you and me. But we are not the specifying objects of the one, eternal, simple, divine act of understanding. We are secondary objects of the divine knowledge. The only specifying object of the divine act of understanding is God’s own essence.

What brings it about that God knows certain objects that He might not have known? In the case of real beings, such as you and me, the answer is simple. It is because He wills to create and sustain us. The divine will, or the divine initiative if you like, brings it about that He knows us. Because He wills to create, His eternal, simple act of knowledge is not only a knowledge of Himself but also a knowledge of us. But it is important to notice that it is not the fact that His knowledge of us is the result of His free initiative which explains why His knowledge of us is not the realisation of a potentiality in Himself. We also can take an initiative and come to know things that we need not have known. For example, I can choose to learn Spanish. But however free this initiative may have been on may part, my learning of Spanish will necessarily be an actualisation of potentiality within me. Likewise, it is not the fact of the divine initiative in creating which is the formal reason why His knowledge of us is not a realisation of potentiality, but simply the fact that we are not the specifying object of His act of knowledge.

Now, what about God’s knowledge of sins? Sins also are ‘things’ which God might not have known, since He might not have created free creatures capable of sinning. But He does know them, since He forgives and punishes them. Sins are, like creatures, ‘secondary objects’ of the divine knowledge. So how does a given sin, for example the fall of Lucifer, or the sin of Adam, become a secondary object of the divine knowledge?  A priori, there seem to be two possibilities. Either it becomes such an object because of God’s initiative of choosing to create a world of which it will certainly be a feature, or it becomes such an object in virtue of the creature’s initiative.

Does this latter alternative introduce passivity, that is potentiality and the realisation of potentiality, into God? Only if the formal reason why God’s knowledge of things which He might not have known is His having the first initiative in their coming about. But as I have argued in the last paragraph but one, this is not so. The formal reason why God’s knowledge of such things introduces no passivity into God is that they are not the specifying object of His act of understanding. So if we posit that Adam’s fall becomes an object of divine knowledge not because God chose to create that universe in which Adam would fall, but simply because Adam did in fact fall, we thereby introduce no passivity into God. Of course there are other things to be said about the causal relation between the first mover and creaturely free will. But this is enough for one post.

October 8th, 451, that is, at Chalcedon:-

On the entrance of the reverend Theodoret, the reverend bishops of Egypt, Illyricum and Palestine cried out, ‘Have mercy on us! The faith is destroyed. The canons cast him out. Cast out the teacher of Nestorius!’ And after the reverend bishop Theodoret had sat down in the midst, the Egyptians and the reverend bishops who were with them cried out, ‘Do not call him a bishop! He is not a bishop! Cast out the fighter against God! Cast out the Jew! Cast out the insulter of Christ! Long years to the empress! Long years to the emperor! Long years to the orthodox emperor! The canons cast out Theodoret. God has turned away from him.’

All of which is a little hard on poor Theodoret, who was basically a good egg and had long since repented of his brush with Nestorianism. If the same thing were to happen to Cardinal Kasper, on the other hand…


Besides abusing freeborn boys and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. The freedwoman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife. And the witty jest that someone made is still p133current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero’s father Domitius had had that kind of wife. This Sporus, decked out with the finery of the empresses and riding in a litter, he took with him to the assizes and marts of Greece, and later at Rome through the Street of the Images, fondly kissing him from time to time. That he even desired illicit relations with his own mother, and was kept from it by her enemies, who feared that such a help might give the reckless and insolent woman too great influence, was notorious, especially after he added to his concubines a courtesan who was said to look very like Agrippina. Even before that, so they say, whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, he had incestuous relations with her, which were betrayed by the stains on his clothing.

He so prostituted his own chastity that after defiling almost every part of his body, he at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had sated his mad lust, was dispatched85 by his freedman Doryphorus; for he was even married to this man in the same way that he himself had married Sporus, going so far as to imitate the cries and lamentations of a maiden being deflowered. I have heard from some men that it was his unshaken conviction that no man was chaste or pure in any part of his body, but that most of them concealed their vices and cleverly drew a veil over them; and that therefore he pardoned all other faults in those who confessed to him their lewdness.

- Suetonius, The Lives of Caesars Life of Nero 28-29.

Walking recently in a country that was Catholic until the Council, I saw a large, medieval village church and tried to go in. The nave was barred by a locked iron gate, but from the narthex one could see the high altar with its fine marble baldachino. In front of it stood a little altar set up to face the congregation upon which, I suppose, the holy sacrifice is offered on days when the nave is not locked. And I marveled, as I always do, at the silent testimony these things bear to a revolution; and I mused on how many Catholic altars there are throughout the world, once consecrated by a successor of an apostle, now gathering dust.

What would Pope Innocent III have said of it? Writing of the mystical meaning of our ceremonies, he says that the altar-stone in which the relics of saints are enclosed represents the Church; the priest kissing it when he begins Mass, is the Bridegroom showing his love for the Bride. How many of our altars never receive this mark of tenderness, but remain unreverenced from year’s end to years end? Some serve as stands for pot-plants, or worse. Some stand naked, as if a decree had gone forth that it should be always Good Friday and never Easter. Others again, if little heeded by the priests, are tended still by some faithful sacristan who waits in silence for a change of days. But alongside each unused altar, a heavenly power stands, untroubled yet unforgetful.

And as I thought of these things, and thought also that he spoke rightly who said one should kindle a light rather than bemoan the darkness, I determined to compose a prayer for the restoration of our altars; and you also, good reader, may recite this prayer if you think like me about these things:-

O God, who hast granted to thy Church to set up altars throughout the world consecrated by holy oil and by apostolic power, and hast commanded thy angels to stand guard beside them until the end of time, grant we beseech thee to thy bishops and priests a new love of these holy altars, that the everlasting sacrifice of thy Son may daily be perpetuated upon them, and that thy girded people may ascend to that sublime altar which is in heaven, Christ thy self-same Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

And a Latin version, mostly literal:-

Deus, qui dedisti ecclesiae tuae ut potestate apostolica oleoque sanctissimo altaria per orbem terrarum erigat, quique angelis tuis praecepisti ut usque in saeculi finem iuxta eadem adstantes pervigilent, tribue quaesumus episcopos sacerdotesque tuos altaribus ita nova mente delectari ut Filii tui sacrificium crebrius in dies offeratur atque ad sublime altare in coelis populus accinctus tuus ascendat, eundem Iesum Christum Filium tuum Dominum nostrum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.


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