It is not only the possibility of keeping God’s commandments when in a state of grace which is undermined by this document, but other parts of the revealed word of God also:


 Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesus’ imminent return and he wanted everyone to concentrate only on spreading the Gospel: “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). . . . Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another (AL 161)

The first part of this passage is contrary to the teaching of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, in the days when it was an organ of the magisterium, that St Paul “said nothing at all in his writings that is not in perfect harmony with the ignorance of the time of the Parousia which Christ Himself declared to be part of man’s condition” (Dz. 3629).

The second part is contrary to the 10th definition of the 24th session of the Council of Trent: “If anyone says that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity than to be joined in marriage, let him be anathema”. The only way that you could save the pope’s words here from the charge of heresy would be if you were to understand ‘it should be enough to point out’, as meaning ‘it is enough for our present purposes to point out’; this may be how it got past the CDF. But what a shocker, to mention a dogma, and then to refuse to assert it.

Capital punishment

 “…The Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia”, but likewise “firmly rejects the death penalty”. (AL 83)

The quotations in this passage come from the final report after the 2015 synod, which itself, absurdly, cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2258. CCC 2258 says that no one may directly destroy an innocent human life. This has nothing to do with capital punishment, which the CCC, in line with the universal and ordinary magisterium of the Church, explicitly declares lawful in para. 2267.

Headship of the husband

 Every form of sexual submission must be clearly rejected.  This includes all improper interpretations of the passage in the Letter to the Ephesians where Paul tells women to “be subject to your husbands” (Eph 5:22).  This passage mirrors the cultural categories of the time, but our concern is not with its cultural matrix but with the revealed message that it conveys. . . .

The biblical text is actually concerned with encouraging everyone to overcome a complacent individualism and to be constantly mindful of others: “Be subject to one another” (Eph 5:21).  In marriage, this reciprocal “submission” takes on a special meaning, and is seen as a freely chosen mutual belonging marked by fidelity, respect and care (AL 156).

Again, this is absurd, though to be fair it is the same as what John Paul II did in Mulieris Dignitatem. As if only the ‘be subject to one another’ counted as the word of God, and ‘wives, be subject to your husbands’ were just words ‘mirroring a cultural matrix’, and of no more relevance now than the kind of ink that the scribe of the Letter to the Ephesians used when he wrote them.

Enough is enough. These errors need to be publicly denounced by bishops before this parallel universe anti-magisterium gets any stronger.

We must enquire why, when he is describing the night of our Lord’s resurrection, the evangelist says, On the Sabbath evening which was growing on towards the dawn of Sunday, when the customary order of time would have the evening darkening into night, rather than growing on toward dawn. Speaking mystically the evangelist was striving to suggest the great dignity this most sacred night acquired from the glory of victory over death, when he mentioned that its inception had already begun to grow on toward the following dawn. Our Lord, the author and ruler of time, He who rose during the final part of the night, surely caused the whole of it to be festal and bright by the light of His resurrection.

From the beginning of the world’s creation until this time, the course of time was so divided that day preceded night, according to the order of its primeval making. On this night, because of the mystery of our Lord’s resurrection, the order of time was changed. He rose from the dead during the night, and on the following day showed the effect of His resurrection to His disciples. Most properly was night joined to the light of the following day, and the order of time so settled that day would follow night. It was once appropriate that night follow day, for by sinning the human race fell away from the light of paradise into the darkness and hardships of this age. It is fitting that day follow night now, when through faith in the resurrection we are led from the darkness of sin and the shadow of death to the light of life by Christ’s gift (St Bede, Homily for the Paschal Vigil).


The first was of Saint Gabriel;

On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;

And as he went upon one knee

He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.

Today would be the feast of the archangel Gabriel, were it not Holy Week. As a matter of fact we perhaps still commemorate him today, though unnamed. For many people think it was he that was sent from heaven to comfort our Lord during the Agony. His name, according to the usual interpretation, means ‘strength of God’. So it would be fitting that he should be sent down to ‘strengthen’ Christ; confortans eum, as the Vulgate puts it. According to the oldest traditions, it was the anniversary, or the eve of the anniversary, of the day on which he had been sent to announce the Incarnation to the blessed Virgin.

St Gabriel has been called ‘the legate of the economy of Christ’. It was he also who was sent to Daniel as he lamented in exile over the state of the holy city, and fasted in sackcloth. “Flying swiftly, he touched me at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Dan. 9:21). He told the prophet that the Christ would appear when 69 weeks of years were past, and would be slain by His people in the midst of the 70th week. And now those words which must have been read and heard so often were coming true at last, and the true Daniel was kneeling in prayer at the time of a greater evening sacrifice. In what manner did the angel strengthen Him? Some say it was by speaking to Him of the great glory that He would render to the Father by His death, and of the innumerable souls that would enter heaven thereby. Or perhaps also it was by an imaginative vision; if Satan were permitted to show Him the kingdoms of the worlds and the glory of them, much more might Gabriel be charged to set before Him the glory of the only true Kingdom, where Christ, as man, had never yet gone.

“And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.” St Bernard says that our Lord wished, as it were, to weep not just with His eyes, but with all His members, so that His whole Body which is the Church might be more efficaciously purged. And others say that the angel represents all contemplative souls, the thought of whom also comforts Christ in His agony. Arise, then, let us go hence, and on into the Garden, where the greatest deeds are done.

St Augustine:

As the ointment on the head, which descended to the beard, to Aaron’s beard, which descended to the fringe of his garment. What was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and the Holy Spirit came from the head. Whither? To the beard. The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man. Thus that ointment descended first upon the Apostles, descended upon those who bore the first assaults of the world, and therefore the Holy Spirit descended on them. For they who first began to dwell together in unity, suffered persecution, but because the ointment descended to the beard, they suffered, but were not conquered…. (in Ps. 132)


St Thomas Aquinas:

It is becoming for those who apply themselves to the Divine ministry to be shaven, and to be tonsured in the form of a crown by reason of the shape. Because a crown is the sign of royalty; and of perfection, since it is circular; and those who are appointed to the Divine service acquire a royal dignity and ought to be perfect in virtue. It is also becoming to them as it involves the hair being taken away: both from the higher part of the head by the tonsure, lest their mind be hindered by temporal occupations from contemplating Divine things, and from the lower part by shaving, lest their senses be entangled in temporal things (Suppl. 40, 1).

I’m not sure how to overcome this aporia, unless we think that Hanon in 1 Sam. 10 had the right idea by shaving off one half of the beards of David’s servants. However, Cornelius a Lapide says that this episode represents the Jews plucking off hairs from Christ’s beard during the Passion, or the devil stripping religious men of their courage, so that does not seem promising. I suppose we have to say that per se it is better for a man, especially a Christian, to possess a beard, at least in this life, but per accidens, e.g. because of a particular need to signify something else, it may become better to be shaved (and tonsured). I say ‘in this life’ because Aelianus tells me that the earliest depictions of our Lord present Him as risen and beardless, in token of eternal youth, and suggests that this may be the ‘other form’ which hindered people from recognising Him after the resurrection.

I presume that the historical reason why priests in the west have generally been shaven is Romanitas. Eastern rite priests of course often have beards, and I have a theory that the East-West division here is a providential counterbalance to the characteristics of their respective liturgies. That is, the Eastern liturgies put before us in particular the glory of the resurrection, so it is fitting that their priests be bearded, to preserve some suggestion of the trials and labours of this life as well, lest we float off into unreality. On the other hand, the Roman rite is more stark and sacrificial, so perhaps there is a danger that adding beards as well might make it too much for some people to take. I hope these are not irreverent thoughts.

Today, the Ember Wednesday of Lent, there is an extra reading before the gospel, about the miraculous feeding of the prophet Elijah:

He cast himself down, and slept in the shadow of the juniper tree: and behold an angel of the Lord touched him, and said to him: Arise and eat. He looked, and behold there was at his head a hearth cake, and a vessel of water: and he ate and drank and fell asleep again.

The Hebrew phrase translated as ‘a hearth cake’ is literally ‘bread of coals’ or ‘bread of embers’. So although the English phrase ‘Ember days’ is, according to the learned, simply a corruption of something else (the learned aren’t quite sure whether ‘Ember’ is a corruption of the Latin ‘tempora’, as in the Quattuor Tempora i.e. the four seasons, or of the Old English ‘ymbren’ meaning a circuit), it was a happy coincidence or happy instinct that produced it. As the prophet was fed from the embers and was able to go fasting for forty days and forty nights till he reached the mountain of God, so we draw our strength from these penitential days, and though we ourselves may be but embers in comparison to the great fire of the Holy Ghost that was poured upon the Church at Pentecost, we have still heat and fervour enough to bake from our penitential practices the nourishment that we need.

The Vulgate describes the bread that fed the prophet as panis subcinericius, literally ‘under-the-ashes bread’. The Septuagint version means the same: it uses the word ἐγκρυφίας, which contains the root that gives us the word ‘cryptic’, or hidden. The bread was baked inside hot ash, which would then have been brushed off. St Bonaventure sees in all this a type of the Holy Eucharist. Just as Elijah’s bread was hidden beneath the ashes, so our Bread is hidden beneath humble appearances. As the outer layer of ash had to be stripped away to reach the nourishment within, we must strip away the accidents by faith to reach the substance that will feed us.

Or perhaps also we could say that the ashes are the Passion of Christ, when He became disfigured for us beyond the sons of men, and His beauty was hidden beneath His sufferings. The fire of charity produced those ashes, and by that fire and beneath those ashes He made Himself our bread, to be eaten bodily in the mystery of the altar, to be eaten spiritually in the reading of the gospel. Yet Elias, after he had eaten and drunk, fell asleep again and had to be wakened a second time by the angel and fed a second time. The sleep of forgetfulness threatens us, even when we have received great benefits. May God in His mercy never cease to rouse us this second time until we come to His mountain where there will be slumbering and even sacraments no more.

One of the strangest stories in the whole bible comes in 3 Kings 13. An unnamed man of God comes by divine commission from the southern kingdom into the new, schismatic, northern kingdom that Jeroboam has just set up. He comes to the sanctuary at Bethel while the king is burning incense there and prophesies that a son of David will defile the altar. In proof of this, the altar cracks; and when Jeroboam stretches out his hand to motion to his guard to seize the prophet, the king’s hand withers, only to be restored to vigour at the prophet’s prayer.

Having caused this sensation, the prophet then starts on the return journey. God has told him not to eat or drink anything while he is in the schismatic kingdom, and to go home by a different route from that by which he came. Presumably this is so that he will not by fraternizing with the northerners lessen their sense of their perilous state. However while he is resting beneath a tree, a prophet whose home is in the northern kingdom finds him, and invites him to his house for a bite to eat. The holy man of Judah explains that God has forbidden this, whereupon his northern brother explains that he too is a prophet, and says that an angel has spoken to him telling him to invite the brave Judaean back for some refreshment. But this is a fib.

The man of God decides to accept the offer, and goes with the other. However, while they are at table, the northerner receives a true revelation, and says to his guest: “Because thou hast not been obedient to the Lord and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee, and hast returned and eaten bread, and drunk water in the place wherein he commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat bread, nor drink water, thy dead body shall not be brought into the sepulchre of thy fathers.” The holy man then gets back on to his donkey and departs. I imagine that the leave-taking must have been somewhat awkward, on both sides.

Almost immediately, a lion meets the man of God as he goes back toward Judaea, and kills him. But the lion does no harm to his dead body, or to the donkey on which he had travelled. The northern prophet hears of what has happened, and going to the place, finds the body lying by the way, untouched, with the lion and the donkey standing next to it. He takes the dead body onto his own donkey and buries it in the tomb he had prepared for himself, lamenting over him. And he charges his sons to bury him in the same tomb, when his time comes.

Not without mystery, as the Fathers would say, are so many details recorded. It is a type of what happens when one carries out some great work of preaching and yet also compromises on the rights of God. The holy man did not rebel against his commission: as Challoner notes, we may hope that he committed only a venial sin in allowing himself to believe, hungry, thirsty, and tired as he surely was, that the other’s message was true. Moreover, he had done bravely in going into the shrine and telling the king to his face that God was angry with him and would bring his designs to naught. Yet he obscured the truth of his message by that brief repast among the schismatics. And so he received the penalty proper to such a sin: not death, though he did die, but rather burial in a foreign tomb.

Am I wrong to be put in mind of Pope John Paul II? He too was a man of God who was not afraid to rebuke the powerful ones of this world, to tell them, for example, that abortion is a crime against God and man. He proclaimed Jesus Christ as the one Redeemer of mankind, without whom man’s plans and dreams will finally all fail. He was attacked, but could not be silenced. Yet did he not weaken his message by certain actions, fraternizing beyond the demands of charity with those who contradicted it?

After the holy man died, a miracle was seen. The lion that had killed him did not touch his body, but stood by it, as it were guarding it, nor did it touch the donkey on which he had ridden. God vindicated in this way the courage and holiness of His prophet, and the truth of his message. Even so, we are told, miracles have been worked after prayers to the late pontiff, and the Church of Rome has defined that he is in heaven. Christ, the Lion of Judah, honours His prophet and the faith that supported him on his long and painful journeys. Yet he was buried not in his proper tomb, but in another man’s. For we do not, I think, enshrine him in our memories in the way that might seem to befit his greatness, as we enshrine St Leo I, St Gregory I, St Gregory VII, St Pius V, St Pius X. Even as we admire, we hesitate and are puzzled. We do not recall him as we should wish to recall a holy, Catholic pontiff; we give him as it were a strange tomb within our minds. Maybe all this is just an illusion caused by our proximity in time; yet I think it is something else. But however that may be, there let him lie in peace, till all tombs are opened, and dead men live once more.

In his delightful book Enthusiasm, Ronald Knox remarks on the Jansenist belief that the Church is destined to decline continuously from her pristine excellence until the end of the world. He says that this opinion would be as hard to justify from history as it is from theology. Newman in Loss and Gain puts the same Jansenist view in the mouth (if I remember correctly) of Campbell, the Scotch Protestant, but without giving any indication of whether he himself endorses or opposes it.

Chesterton, I think in his book on Chaucer, recounts how he was once asked by a very intelligent agnostic whether he thought that the human race improved as time went on, or degenerated, or stayed about the same, and that the questioner seemed to think that he had covered all the possibilities. In reply he asked the other chap whether he thought that Ebeneezer Brown of 22, The Beeches, Tooting Bec, improved, degenerated or stayed about the same between the ages of 30 and 40 (I quote from memory, and invent the names.) Chesterton says that it then seemed to dawn on his interlocutor that the answer rather depended on Mr Brown and how he chose to behave. In other words, for Chesterton, because man has free will there is no necessity for the human race to go in any direction in particular. This is certainly an invigorating way to answer our question, but I’m not sure the conclusion follows. There is such a thing as having moral certainty about future events that will depend on free will; St Thomas says somewhere that in a town full of irascible people, you can be sure an argument will break out at some point, even though you can’t tell in advance when or between whom. In the same way, one could hold that the human race will go in a certain direction even though each man is free to go where he wants.

Maritain throughout his writing has a theory that both good and evil increase in the human race as time goes by, like the wheat and the cockle growing side-by-side. I suppose this means that the just will on average be more just, and the unjust on average more unjust from one century to the next. I don’t think he really tries to prove this, though he does make the point that if persecutions intensify, those who resist them will need to have a correspondingly greater holiness. On the other hand, even if his theory were true, it could still be the case that an increasingly large number of people became unjust in every age. Also, since the cockle on his account can be within the Church as well as outside, it wouldn’t help to answer the question about how the Church on earth was destined to fare.

Tolkien, in a private letter from 1956, wrote: “I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat.” I like those quotation marks around ‘history’. Presumably they signify that the subject as usually studied is defective, as abstracting from the supernatural truths that alone allow us to understand it. But why ‘a long defeat’ rather than a series of victories and defeats? Presumably he was thinking of history as tending toward the reign of the antichrist, which he must have considered as the final period of history, ended only by the eucatastrophe of the second coming.

St Thomas, speaking about how the articles of faith have grown over the years from Abraham onwards, says this:

The final consummation of grace came about through Christ, and so His time is called ‘the fullness of time’. Consequently, those who were closer to Christ, whether before, like John the Baptist, or after, like the apostles, knew the mysteries of faith more fully. We see the same thing in regard to the condition of a man, who has {bodily} perfection in youth, and a man is the more perfect in proportion as he is close to youth, whether before or after (2a 2ae 1, 7 ad 4).

He is not speaking here about an increase in the articulation of the mysteries of faith, I think, since then it would not be true that knowledge declines after the apostles. After all, we have their writings, and we have the commentaries on them made by the Fathers and doctors which make explicit many things contained only implicitly in Scripture. He must therefore be speaking of the depth of understanding, or intensity of faith. But this comes about, as he explains elsewhere (2a 2ae 6, 1) through the grace given to intellect and will; by charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But this apparently implies that sanctifying grace is poured out more abundantly insofar as people are closer in time to the Incarnation and Pentecost. If the mysteries of faith are more keenly understood the closer people are to the time of Christ, this must be because charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which are proportioned to one’s degree of sanctifying grace – are given more abundantly, the closer one is to that time. This would be fitting, as emphasising the central place of the Incarnation within history. It would also fit in with some remarks of St Gregory the Great which I have quoted elsewhere in these chronicles:

By the awful course of the secret dispensation, before this Leviathan appears in that accursed man {antichrist} whom he assumes, signs of power are withdrawn from holy Church. For prophecy is hidden, the grace of healings is taken away, the power of longer abstinence is weakened, the words of doctrine are silent, the prodigies of miracles are removed

St Bede, like St Jerome, thought that the overthrow of antichrist would come before the end of the world. But he still thinks that there will be very little true faith left at the end of the world. Commenting on Luke 18:8 (“When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”), Bede writes:

When the almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be that not so much the cries of the faithful as the torpor of the others will hasten the world’s fall.

Were the Janensists, then, correct? Is the Church a kingdom gradually sliding into decay, which will be saved from extinction only by the coming of the Lord? Things are more complicated. For one thing, not only has the Church on earth expanded in numbers from about 120 on Pentecost Sunday to its present membership, but also there have been periods since Pentecost when the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace was surely increasing; for example, from AD 33 to AD 133. This is certainly a victory for the city of God over the city of man. The Church has also progressed in the ever more perfect elaboration of sacred doctrine and the possession of more splendid liturgical rites (whether these are used is another question). Also she has progressed in having an ever greater treasury of merit and satisfaction on which to draw, and more examples of holiness, through the lives of the saints who have passed to their reward. Moreover, as Vatican I taught, her continued existence is in itself a sign of her divine mission, and this sign in the nature of things becomes more striking with the passage of time. All these things are triumphs over the kingdom of darkness.

Nevertheless, it could still be true, as seems to be implied by the words of St Thomas, that the average level of grace of those in the Church is lower in every generation; it could also be true that the percentage of those in the Church living fervent lives is in continual decline. Yet even this could be a tendency rather than an iron law. St Thomas uses the analogy of the human body, which is more perfect the closer it is to youth. Yet while this is true others things being equal, it may be that a particular man exercises more or has a better diet, and so is stronger or has more stamina, at some time earlier or later than at his natural peak of health. So it could be that the exercise demanded by the stress of particular events, for example, universal persecution, will temporarily raise the average level of holiness in the mystical body; or it could be that the intake of many new members to whom God wishes to attach a special blessing (for example the Jews, for the sake of their fathers) will have the same effect. But all the same the underlying trend would be downwards. Yet any given Christian may still achieve heroic sanctity, if he wants. And the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace can increase even if the average level of their sanctity decreases; though other things being equal, for example if there are no new pagan lands to evangelise, this seems less likely than likely.

A happy and fervent new year to all the saints at Laodicea.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down the just; let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour, and let justice spring up together.

(Cornelius a Lapide: “‘Opened’ is a metalepsis for ‘bring forth’.”)

I recently read a book called Unveiling the Apocalypse, by Emmett O’Regan. It’s an attempt to interpret the prophecies of the Apocalypse in the light of private revelations, e.g. the authorized messages of La Salette, the prophecies of St John Bosco, etc. It’s sane, even though sometimes the author seems to fall into a style of interpreting the bible whereby anything can be made to mean anything.

He has, though an interesting and disconcerting suggestion about the famous “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:18. He points out that the Greek letter which has the numeric value of 6 is the digamma, ϝ (no longer used in writing, by the classical period), and that this is generally transliterated as the letter “w”. Hence the abbreviation www works out as the correct number.

The Apocalypse says that “no man might buy or sell but he that has the mark: the name of the beast or the number of its name”. As Regan points out, it’s perfectly likely that in some not too distant future, physical money could be abolished as an unnecessary encumbrance, with all transactions carried out by crediting and debiting accounts accessed by the internet. In that case, anyone who was not attached to the internet would be unable to buy or sell.

He also considers some of the obvious objections. One is that the number six hundred and sixty six would not have been rendered by three digammas, but by three different letters, one equivalent to 600, one to 60 and one to 6. This however overlooks the fact that the question is not how a Greek speaker would have represented the number in letters, but with what number he would have represented the letters ϝϝϝ. In fact, ϝϝϝ doesn’t represent any number; but if he’d had to choose one, it might have been six hundred and sixty six, since the Greek practice did have room for using the same letter to indicate a shift to another order of magnitude (e.g. β, which is 2, is also 2000 when it comes before three other digits.)

Then there is the question of having the number (or the name) on one’s right hand or forehead. He suggests plausibly that this is a diabolic parody of the practice of wearing phylacteries (little leather boxes containing portions of Scripture) bound around the forehead or the right arm or hand at times of prayer. In another words, the prophecy of the Apocalpyse should not be imagined as involving a tatooing or branding, but as having something bound round the forehead or contained in the hand. He then suggests that internet-enabled mobile phones might be the anti-phylacteries for the hand. What about the forehead? Apparently there are already LCD glasses available which provide the user with the illusion of a 32″ TV screen at two metres away from the face, though they are not yet commercially viable.

An interesting feature of the passage in the Apocalypse is that there is no statement that people are forced to have the mark in their hands or foreheads, as they are forced to worship the image of the beast under threat of death. So it’s conceivable that it could be achieved first by guile. Then, when everything is in place, some token of loyalty to the totalitarian state – perhaps presented as an anti-terrorist measure – could be required in order to let people be connected to the internet, and bingo! No more buying or selling unless you’re on board.

I’m not sure I believe any of that. And he doesn’t give any explanation for how the number is “the number of a man”. Still, it is rather disconcerting…

“The spittle of David ran down upon his beard” (1 Sam 21:13). St Augustine comments:-

Spittle signifies folly, spittle signifies weakness. But if the folly of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men, let not the spittle as it were offend thee, but observe that it runs over the beard. For as by the spittle weakness, so by the beard strength is signified. He covered then His strength by the body of His weakness, and that which was exteriorly weak appeared as it were by the spittle; but within His divine strength was covered as a beard (in Ps. 33).

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