Hilarious To Pious Ears

The Dutch have produced a new theological review called Concilium – with what kind of a team?! Congar, of course, Kung, Rahner, Chenu, Lubac, Schillebeeckx and the others (and with what right does this wrecking-crew [ces naufrageurs] put themselves ‘under the sign of the Council’?) It’s a swindle.

(from a letter to Charles Journet, February 17th, 1955)


Brits who have visited the United States are usually familiar with the “I’m Irish!” phenomenon. The bewildered Brit is usually told this by a very American seeming person on the strength of a grainy black and white photograph of a great-grandfather who may or may not have been wearing a green item of clothing. This flimsy evidence is then used to justify a bewildering series of observances involving plastic leprechauns, green lager and corned beef that seem to have almost nothing to do with the fair Hibernia of actual experience. Of course, the Irish (particularly in the Republic) do tend to connive at this phenomenon, however disparaging they may be in private, as it pays serious financial and geo-political dividends.

Even more irritating for an English Catholic is the expression of admiration by American Catholics for the ‘wonderful’ Anglicans. Who are apparently ‘so English’ despite the fact that the English people (Catholic, Non-Conformist, godless and even many of the Anglicans themselves) have always held the absurd Anglican confection in contempt as a cultural substitute for Christian faith invented for the political, financial and sexual convenience of Caesar. As Tolkien put it “a pathetic and shadowy medley of half-remembered traditions and mutilated beliefs”.

One of the very few positive aspects of the “I’m Irish!” and ‘wonderful Anglican’ phenomena is that they prepare you psychologically for the even more ludicrous phenomenon of the American ‘Greek Catholic’. Usually we are talking here about ‘Ruthenians’ although the individuals in question often have no idea that the churches they frequent are, or were once supposed to be, Ruthenian. In this case there is seldom even the pretence of any ancestral or cultural connection to Eastern Europe. Mention of Uzhgorod or Mukachevo is met with blank stares. The best one can hope for is a nervous defensive supressed grimace from someone (perhaps a cleric) with a vague sense that he is supposed to have something to do with these places. Often, ironically, these ‘Greek Catholics’ actually are Irish (or at least of Irish descent). Often too one finds they are former Protestants who the eviscerated post conciliar liturgy and a residual desire to be their own magisterium has sent on a trip to Disneyland invent-your-own Byzantium.

Any ‘real’ familiarity the plastic-Byzantine may have with Byzantine tradition begins and ends with the schismatic ‘tradition’ of the ‘Orthodox’. They have read a few books by Kalistos Ware and are now ready to tell you all about what ‘we Byzantines’ do in ‘the East’. The music is terrible. A friend said to me in shock after visiting an American Greek Catholic church “I didn’t realise it was possible to do the Divine Liturgy badly”. Even more terribly they have attempted to create a Novus Ordo Divine Liturgy where the first third of the rite is abbreviated into a single paragraph and the veneration of the Gospel is thrown in as a coda to its proclamation.

The most dreadful thing of all for those who know and love actual Greek Catholics and actual Greek Catholicism is the veneration for and identification with the schismatics. Real Greek Catholics have preserved the flame of Byzantine tradition through centuries of persecution. Often their parents and grandparents have been imprisoned, tortured and killed by Communist and Tsarist authorities inspired and encouraged by the ‘Orthodox’, often too they have had to fight physically to retake their stolen churches from the schismatic Soviet stooges. Imprisoned Greek Catholic clergy were frequently offered their freedom and great advancement if they would only conform themselves to the schism. These are the descendants of the converts of Cyril and Methodius and of the people of Volodymyr, of the Romans who have lived and endured for centuries under Muslim domination in the Middle East. To now be told by some Anglophone colonials in fancy dress that they fall short because they insufficiently resemble Muscovite upstarts and Hellenic nationalists is impertinence and vulgarity that beggars belief.

Perhaps this vindicates the traditional disapproval for promiscuity of rite. There are many reasons why this may be best avoided but this obscene invention and appropriation (not to say desecration) of tradition is not the least of them.

Is there any remedy? Yes! Fasting, history lessons, penitential pilgrimages to Uzhgorod, the repudiation of all Agonyclite tendencies, singing lessons!, the restoration of the Filioque to the Creed (if they are Ruthenians), learning Old Slavonic, shredding their awful gender inclusive bowdlerised translation of the Liturgy, zeal for the true faith, horror of schism!

You couldn’t make it up. Unfortunately you don’t need to. Archbishop Fisichella, introducing the Year of Mercy, has suggested that people who criticise the pope may bring upon themselves the automatic excommunication of canon 1370:1.This problem is “widespread”, he says. Fortunately Edward Peters can tell us what the canon really means.

In my conversations with Aelianus, I have frequently been both annoyed and surprised at his strongly negative attitude towards ‘scientists’, and his pessimistic estimate of their intellectual vigor.

It may be, however, that I have been living in some sort of bubble. I am, as biologists would probably stress, not myself a full proper scientist, dealing with such mundane things as farming, and, as a consequence, may be dealing with more down-to-earth people professionally than your average proper scientist would. I do read ‘proper’ scientific papers, but then these tend to be matter-of-fact reports of experimental results, of varying quality of course, but rather innocuous. Media reports about ‘science’ I mostly ignore, as I know to what extent journalists tend to garble even my own, rather straightforward, field of research. But yesterday I read a bit in a magazine called ‘Cosmos‘. In spite of being a ‘Popular science magazine’, this one appears to be written to a greater extent by people who do have some clue about the field they are writing about, including reference to proper scientific studies with mentioning of the sources.

And then, besides ‘Decode your brain’, you get titles such as ‘Are we just numbers in a matrix?’

Now, I have learnt from Dorothy McLean that authors are often not responsible for the titles of their columns. But it was the content itself just the same as the title that seriously tempted me to hit my head on the desk.

I am no physicist, so do not expect me to put this utterly correctly, but here a wee summary: Starting from Newtonian physics, where the universe is made up of the fundamentals of matter, space and forces, Einstein’s general relativity joined space and the force of gravity together. He failed to develop a ‘unified field theory’ that added matter as well, but now the discovery of the Higgs boson seems to finally make that goal achievable. In fact, modern physics is not interested in the Higgs boson as such, but in its field, and field theory is now the thing in physics.

Over the past century and a half, field theory has transformed physics as a science. It has also changed our view of reality. As theoretical physicists now see it, the core of nature is nothing more substantial than waving fields. As Carroll told us, fields are ‘the true reality’ while the apparent substance of matter – its solidity and point-like concentration – is an artefact of our limited powers of perception.

And so we return to our original question: what exactly are these fields? If fields are ‘states of space’, what exactly is ‘the state’ that is changing here? At the end of Carroll’s lecture, I put this question to him. His answer, afer a considerable pause, was both illuminating and confounding.

Each state of space, he said, was a matrix of numbers, one number for each point in space. As a field changes, what is really changing is the value of the numbers.

Carroll seemed simultaneously elated and a bit dazed by this idea. For myself, I could not help thinking of the film The Matrix, in which Keanu Reeves’s character discovers that the world he has known all his life is actually a computerised simulation generated by the matrix.


But are we able to accept ourselves as flickers in a matrix of shifting sequences of numbers?

M. Wertheim, 2013, Are we just numbers in a matrix?, Cosmos 52: 60-65.

Is it too much to hope that this is really one more daft science reporting that does not reflect what goes on in the mind of the people who actually work on the topic?

Otherwise, how daft is this? I am sitting on a chair. Whether this chair ‘actually’ consists of uniform chair-matter, or of densely-packed atoms of some sort or other, or of tiny, tiny nuclei surrounded by a lot of nothing with some even tinier electrons racing through, or some fields having different states – does it make it less chairy?

As I am tired and still can plead jet-leg (account of adventures down-under to follow), I am not too sure of my analogies. But this seems to me as if you were to say that learning that a Beethoven symphony was ‘actually’ just sound waves generated in mechanical ways and reaching your ear would make the music less real or meaningful.

Moreover, not stressing the fact that given the image above, it would seem to have to be a set of numbers for each point in space, for the different fields, the only  connection to the Matrix seems to be, well, a matrix involved. All our vegetation samples form matrices: rows (sites) by columns (species) with numbers (abundances) – so does this mean we have no real vegetation. The thing in Matrix seems to be (Aelianus gave some brilliant interpretation on parts one and two, and I may be confusing everything here) that there is a real reality, and what people were experiencing was just a simulation.

It seems really odd to me that materialists appear to be able to put more meaning into a world made of particles (as if you could see them), than in a world of ‘fields’. This might denote a refreshingly naive sort of mindset. It does not, in my humble opinion, show great philosophical insight, but then, I am just a farmer.


Alyoshenka (appropriately enough) bought me The Brothers Karamazov a while ago. I am not very good at novels. Napoleon once said novels are for women while history is for men. Usually therefore, I have to find some long journey devoid of internet access and make sure I only have the novel with me and so have to read it. Ideally this then provides me with sufficient momentum to finish the thing when I get back. I was making a transatlantic flight a few weeks ago and I had ordered the most negative revisionist history of the American Revolution I could find to read on the way over. Alas! It did not arrive in time so, as it was at the top of the pile, I took The Brothers Karamazov instead. To be more specific, I took The Karamazov Brothers translated by Ignat Avsey for Oxford World’s Classics. Knowing no Russian I have no idea if this is a good translation, it certainly reads nicely. OUP is usually seen as a rather respectable publisher. I don’t know anything about Mr Avesy but I am pretty sure he is a theosophist. He not only translated the text he also provided the notes. I was already very suspicious when… on page 82 …in the course of an attack on the Church and an encomium of ‘Orthodoxy’ Fr Paisy (a minor character in the novel) remarks “The star will shine forth from the East”. There then follows a lengthy endnote by Mr Avesy. After correctly identifying Fr Paisy’s words as an allusion to Matthew 2:2 Avesy goes on to explain:

“It has been said that the current of culture arises in the East and moves West, eventually dying in the Americas. [fairy nuff] Thus Rudolf Steiner [uh-oh…]  claimed that, on the death of the Atlantean age and civilization [come again?], the Arians, under the leadership of Manu [wow], migrated to India, forming the pre-Vedic Indian culture. When that culture itself became decadent, a new culture was founded in Persia by Zoroaster or Zarathustra (the name means ‘Morning Star’ [how reassuring]). That culture was, in its turn, succeeded by the cultures of the Middle East, particularly those of Egypt and Babylonia. Following the decline of those cultures, the cultures of Greece and then Rome arose. Since the fifteenth century AD the Northern European or Germanic/Anglo-Saxon culture has emerged the culture which is still dominant today [thank you Mr Himmler!].”

Remember this the OUP edition of the greatest Russian novel. This is full-on National Socialist mumbo jumbo delivered as sober fact. Avesy then mentions that some Russians think that when the Californians have finished with Western Civ. it might get round to being their turn before giving us some references:

“See Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science and Lectures upon the Apocalypse; the several works of Valentin Tomberg (privately printed in Riga, 1936-9 repr. by Candeur Manuscripts, Spring Valley, New York, 1977-9); Maria Schindler, Europe a Cosmic Picture (New Knowledge Books, Horsham, Sussex, 1975-6) …”

Rudolf Steiner is, of course, a famous purveyor of mumbo jumbo but Valentin Tomberg has a special interest as the occultist for whose Introduction to the Tarot Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote his sinister forward. In the light of this connection I would dearly love to know if the Maria Schindler cited here has any connection to the Schindler dynasty of creepy Balthasarians. Given the ease with which Balthasar and his followers have managed to infiltrate allegedly respectable Catholic theological circles I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at a spot of kindred occultism in the endnotes of an Oxford World’s Classics volume.

So! Occultism and Nazism with Balthasarian connections – a long haul flight well spent methinks…


A BOOK was sent me the other day by a gentleman who pins his faith to what he calls the Nordic race; and who, indeed, appears to offer that race as a substitute for all religions. Crusaders believed that Jerusalem was not only the Holy City, but the centre of the whole world. Moslems bow their heads towards Mecca and Roman Catholics are notorious for being in secret communication with Rome. I presume that the Holy Place of the Nordic religion must be the North Pole. What form of religious architecture is exhibited in its icebergs, how far its vestments are modified by the white covering of Arctic animals, how the morning and evening service may be adapted to a day and a night each lasting for six months, whether their only vestment is the alb or their only service the angelus of noon, upon all these mysteries I will not speculate. But I can affirm with some confidence that the North Pole is very little troubled by heretical movements or the spread of modern doubt. Anyhow, it would seem that we know next to nothing about this social principle, except that anything is good if it is near enough to the North. And this undoubtedly explains the spiritual leadership of the Eskimo throughout history; and the part played by Spitzbergen as the spiritual arena of modern times. The only thing that puzzles me is that the Englishmen who now call themselves Nordic used to call themselves Teutonic; and very often even Germanic. I cannot think why they altered this so abruptly in the autumn of 1914. Some day, I suppose, when we have diplomatic difficulties with Norway, they will equally abruptly drop the word Nordic. They will hastily substitute some other–I would suggest Borealic. They might be called the Bores, for short.

But I only mention this book because of a passage in it which is rather typical of the tone of a good many other people when they are talking about Catholic history. The writer would substitute one race for all religions; in which he certainly differs from us, who are ready to offer one religion to all races. And even here, perhaps, the comparison is not altogether to his advantage. For anybody who likes can belong to the religion; whereas it is not very clear what is to be done with the people who do not happen to belong to the race. But even among religions he is ready to admit degrees of depravity; he will distinguish between these disgusting institutions; of course, according to their degree of latitude. It is rather unfortunate for him that many Eskimos are Catholics and that most French Protestants live in the south of France; but he proceeds on his general principle clearly enough. He points out, in his pleasant way, why it is exactly that Roman Catholicism is such a degrading superstition. And he adds (which is what interests me at the moment) that this was illustrated in the Dark Ages, which were a nightmare of misery and ignorance. He then admits handsomely that Protestantism is not quite so debased and devilish as Catholicism; and that men of the Protestant nations do exhibit rudimentary traces of the human form. But this, he says, “is not due to their Protestantism, but to their Nordic common sense.” They are more educated, more liberal, more familiar with reason and beauty, because they are what used to be called Teutonic; descended from Vikings and Gothic chiefs rather than from the Tribunes of Florence or the Troubadours of Provence. And in this curious idea I caught a glimpse of something much wider and more interesting; which is another note of the modern ignorance of the Catholic tradition. In speaking of things that people do not know, I have mostly spoken of things that are really within the ring or circle of our own knowledge; things inside the Catholic culture which they miss because they are outside it. But there are some cases in which they themselves are ignorant even of the things outside it. They themselves are ignorant, not only of the centre of civilisation which they slander, but even of the ends of the earth to which they appeal; they not only cannot find Rome on their map, but they do not even know where to look for the North Pole.

Take, for instance, that remark about the Dark Ages and the Nordic common sense. It is tenable and tolerable enough to say that the Dark Ages were a nightmare. But it is nonsense to say that the Nordic element was anything remotely resembling sense. If the Dark Ages were a nightmare, it was very largely because the Nordic nonsense made them an exceedingly Nordic nightmare. It was the period of the barbarian invasions; when piracy was on the high seas and civilisation was in the monasteries. You may not like monasteries, or the sort of civilisation that is preserved by monasteries; but it is quite certain that it was the only sort of civilisation there was. But this is simply one of the things that the Nordic gentleman does not know. He imagines that the Danish pirate was talking about Tariff Reform and Imperial Preference, with scientific statistics from Australia and Alaska, when he was rudely interrupted by a monk named Bede, who had never heard of anything but monkish fables. He supposes that a Viking or a Visigoth was firmly founded on the principles of the Primrose League and the English Speaking Union, and that everything else would have been founded on them if fanatical priests had not rushed in and proclaimed the savage cult called Christianity. He thinks that Penda of Mercia, the last heathen king, was just about to give the whole world the benefits of the British Constitution, not to mention the steam engine and the works of Rudyard Kipling, when his work was blindly ruined by unlettered ruffians with such names as Augustine and Dunstan and Anselm. And that is the little error which invalidates our Nordic friend’s importance as a serious historian; that is why we cannot throw ourselves with utter confidence and surrender into the stream of his historical enthusiasm. The difficulty consists in the annoying detail that nothing like what he is thinking about ever happened in the world at all; that the religion of race that he proposes is exactly what he himself calls the Dark Ages. It is what some scientific persons call a purely subjective idea; or in other words, a nightmare. It is very doubtful if there ever was any Nordic race. It is quite certain that there never was any Nordic common sense. The very words “common sense” are a translation from the Latin.

Now that one typical or even trivial case has a larger application. One very common form of Protestant or rationalist ignorance may be called the ignorance of what raw humanity is really like. Such men get into a small social circle, very modern and very narrow, whether it is called the Nordic race or the Rationalist Association. They have a number of ideas, some of them truisms, some of them very untrue, about liberty, about humanity, about the spread of knowledge. The point is that those ideas, whether true or untrue, are the very reverse of universal. They are not the sort of ideas that any large mass of mankind, in any age or country, may be assumed to have. They may in some cases be related to deeper realities; but most men would not even recognise them in the form in which these men present them. There is probably, for instance, a fundamental assumption of human brotherhood that is common to all humanity. But what we call humanitarianism is not common to humanity. There is a certain recognition of reality and unreality which may be called common sense. But the scientific sense of the special value of truth is not generally regarded as common sense. It is silly to pretend that priests specially persecuted a naturalist, when the truth is that all the little boys would have persecuted him in any village in the world, merely because he was a lunatic with a butterfly-net. Public opinion, taken as a whole is much more contemptuous of specialists and seekers after truth than the Church ever was. But these critics never can take public opinion as a whole. There are a great many examples of this truth; one is the case I have given, the absurd notion that a horde of heathen raiders out of the northern seas and forests, in the most ignorant epoch of history, were not likely to be at least as ignorant as anybody else. They were, of course, much more ignorant than anybody with the slightest social connection with the Catholic Church. Other examples may be found in the story of other religions. Great tracts of the globe, covered in theory by the other religions, are often covered in practice merely by certain human habits of fatalism or pessimism or some other human mood. Islam very largely stands for the fatalism. Buddhism very largely stands for the pessimism. Neither of them knows anything of either the Christian or the humanitarian sort of hope. But an even more convincing experience is to go out into the street, or into a tube or a tram, and talk to the actual cabmen, cooks and charwomen cut off from the Creed by the modern chaos. You will find that heathens are not happy, however Nordic. You will soon find that you do not need to go to Arabia for fatalism; or to the Thibetan desert for despair.

To see the London Times, a pro-abortion, energetically pro-euthanasia and also a pro-(excuse me) sodomy newspaper, solemnly invoke the authority of the second Letter of St Peter in its leading article today in order to chide the Church of England for the vote against woman bishops – well, it would be sickening if it weren’t hilarious.

The present position is worse than that before the time of Christ. It is not the ignorance of a child but the madness of an old, and at one time very cultured, man (R. Garrigou-Lagrange, ‘Priesthood and Perfection’, chapter 7).

How interesting, that Hallowe’en should also be Reformation Day…

Diary of a Catholic couple:

Him: I love you.

Her: I love you, too. But if you get me pregnant, I’ll stab you in the eye.

Him: I have two.

Simcha Fisher makes me laugh.

Seen on the sidebar of New Liturgical Movement. A whole new meaning to the term “liturgical pr0n”.

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