A Confession

I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening–any evening–would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.
To me each evening looked far more
Like the departure from a silent, yet a crowded, shore
Of a ship whose freight was everything, leaving behind
Gracefully, finally, without farewells, marooned mankind.

Red dawn behind a hedgerow in the east
Never, for me, resembled in the least
A chilblain on a cocktail-shaker’s nose;
Waterfalls don’t remind me of torn underclothes,
Nor glaciers of tin-cans. I’ve never known
The moon look like a hump-backed crone–
Rather, a prodigy, even now
Not naturalized, a riddle glaring from the Cyclops’ brow
Of the cold world, reminding me on what a place
I crawl and cling, a planet with no bulwarks, out in space.

Never the white sun of the wintriest day
Struck me as un crachat d’estaminet.
I’m like that odd man Wordsworth knew, to whom
A primrose was a yellow primrose, one whose doom
Keeps him forever in the list of dunces,
Compelled to live on stock responses,
Making the poor best that I can
Of dull things . . . peacocks, honey, the Great Wall, Aldebaran,
Silver weirs, new-cut grass, wave on the beach, hard gem,
The shapes of horse and woman, Athens, Troy, Jerusalem.

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I saw a report a few years ago, I think from the Lepanto Institute, about a former ‘Satanic high priest’ called Zachary King who had become a Catholic, and who reported having conducted sacrifices in abortion clinics, even involving cannibalism on one occasion. I reserved judgment about it at the time; since these ‘clinics’ are strongholds of the enemy, it wouldn’t be surprising if open witchcraft broke out inside them from time to time.

Recently I listened to a long talk that Zachary King gave at a Catholic church in the USA. He is not a credible speaker. He claims that after having been involved in a coven from the age of 13, he entered the ‘world church of Satan’ when he went to college. He says that this organisation is plotting world domination, and that he rose to be one of the highest members of it; a high wizard, no less. He also states that he was the most successful high wizard in the world, having a success rate of 92%.

Despite his eminent status in the society for world domination, High Wizard King was given the relatively humdrum task of attacking Baptist churches in the United States. His method of carrying out his mission was to infiltrate their soft furnishings’ committee (I am not making this up.) He would show up at a church and impress their pastor with his vast wealth, having 14 smart cars in his garage, and from there it was but a small step to the coveted place on the choir robes or church carpet commission. Then he would subtly turn the members of the committee against each other by spreading false reports of what they had said about each other. A moment would come when the committee would burst apart; and since, as everyone knows, a Baptist church stands or falls by its soft furnishing committee, the church itself would split, with 51% of the members going away, and 49% remaining – or it may have been the 51% who remained: anyone it was always the same proportion, which seems curious. He said repeatedly that he had carried out this operation 120 times.

I do not know how long it takes to infiltrate a Baptist soft furnishing committee. I would expect that a pastor wouldn’t invite a new member of his congregation onto a committee until he had known him for at least a year. But it may be that the world of Baptist fabric and haberdashery is a volatile one. Suppose, then, that the High Wizard had been voted or co-opted onto the committee after only 3 months of moving to a new church. To destroy it by cunning gossip (did he get the connection between diabolism and gossip from some early sermons of the present pope, I wonder?) would surely take at least 6 months – but let us say just 3. That would make a total of 6 months from his arrival at the church to its explosion. Doing this 120 times would require 60 years; except that to cover his tracks, he only destroyed every other Baptist church that he went to, always spending long enough between his acts of sabotage at another church to allay suspicions. So he must have required about 120 years to do his work. He was about 40 when he supposedly converted to the Catholic faith.

There are other features of the talk which are also incredible. He alleges that his conversion came when he was visited by an elderly Catholic lady in the jewellery store which he managed (does a High Wizard with 14 smart cars and an enormous house work in a shopping mall?), who told him all about his past life, and then challenged him to accept a miraculous medal. When she put the medal into his hand, nothing happened, but as soon as he closed his hand over it, the store disappeared and he had a vision of our Lady who took him by the arm and turned him round to show him Christ. This sounds like something from Medjugorje. Several people from the woman’s parish started calling her on her cell phone about the High Wizard because ‘the Spirit’ had told them to. Then he went to Mass and could see our Lord at the consecration every time and was surprised that other people couldn’t.

The whole talk is delivered in a calm, initially convincing, but ultimately banal manner. It is full of tropes designed to impress pious Catholics, such as the devil being like a barking dog chained up and how sad it is that more people don’t go to exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, while also playing on a merely human tendency to think of one’s ‘opponents’, in this case Baptists, as more ridiculous than they are: at one point he says that he not longer challenges people to say whether the bible makes a distinction between white magic and black magic, because some Protestants would produce such a distinction from their bible.

His web-site is similarly specious. The ‘Links and Resources’ section on the home page advertises four sites: two of them are to the FSSP and to Courage, neither of which things has anything to do with theme of the web-site, but both of which would tend to reassure the casual visitor. The section marked ‘References’ proudly boasts: ‘I have 4 reference letters from priests, including a Bishop’s Letter, that I will gladly make available upon request.‘ The name of the bishop is not mentioned, nor is any of it quoted, nor is any explanation given of why it is not made publicly available. A lists of interviews is offered, but most of them either have no link or a broken link.

I do not know if Mr King’s main aim is to make money, to have fun, or even eventually to reveal the hoax so as to discredit Catholics. In any case, don’t go there.

Rather prescient too…

“The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of Divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.”

~ Pope Benedict XIV

RESTITVTOR REIPVBLICAE

St. Augustine most wisely says: “I think that you can see, at the same time, that there is nothing just and lawful in that temporal law, unless what men have gathered from this eternal law.” If, then, by anyone in authority, something be sanctioned out of conformity with the principles of right reason, and consequently hurtful to the commonwealth, such an enactment can have no binding force of law, as being no rule of justice, but certain to lead men away from that good which is the very end of civil society. Therefore, the nature of human liberty, however it be considered, whether in individuals or in society, whether in those who command or in those who obey, supposes the necessity of obedience to some supreme and eternal law, which is no other than the authority of God, commanding good and forbidding evil. And, so far from this most just authority of God over men diminishing, or even destroying their liberty, it protects and perfects it, for the real perfection of all creatures is found in the prosecution and attainment of their respective ends; but the supreme end to which human liberty must aspire is God.

These precepts of the truest and highest teaching, made known to us by the light of reason itself, the Church, instructed by the example and doctrine of her divine Author, has ever propagated and asserted; for she has ever made them the measure of her office and of her teaching to the Christian nations. As to morals, the laws of the Gospel not only immeasurably surpass the wisdom of the heathen, but are an invitation and an introduction to a state of holiness unknown to the ancients; and, bringing man nearer to God, they make him at once the possessor of a more perfect liberty. Thus, the powerful influence of the Church has ever been manifested in the custody and protection of the civil and political liberty of the people. The enumeration of its merits in this respect does not belong to our present purpose. It is sufficient to recall the fact that slavery, that old reproach of the heathen nations, was mainly abolished by the beneficent efforts of the Church. The impartiality of law and the true brotherhood of man were first asserted by Jesus Christ; and His apostles re-echoed His voice when they declared that in future there was to be neither Jew, nor Gentile, nor barbarian, nor Scythian, but all were brothers in Christ. So powerful, so conspicuous, in this respect is the influence of the Church that experience abundantly testifies how savage customs are no longer possible in any land where she has once set her foot; but that gentleness speedily takes the place of cruelty, and the light of truth quickly dispels the darkness of barbarism. Nor has the Church been less lavish in the benefits she has conferred on civilised nations in every age, either by resisting the tyranny of the wicked, or by protecting the innocent and helpless from injury, or, finally, by using her influence in the support of any form of government which commended itself to the citizens at home, because of its justice, or was feared by their enemies without, because of its power.

–  Leo XIII, Libertas

As we wait for Spring, here’s a game to while away the wintry evenings. Which event from the past would you most like to have witnessed? It can be something public or domestic, famous or homely (I except the events of our Lord’s earthly life, as being too sacred to set into the balance with others.)

Someone, I suppose, might choose the founding of the city of Rome, or else, going maybe further back, desire to have heard Homer sing the Odyssey or the Iliad to his lyre. We might have heard great Homer in his hall, begins one of Belloc’s ballades. Or would you choose to have seen Joseph discover himself to his brethren; or further back by far, our common father when he came forth from his mighty ship and saw a whole world made new?

Or to return to a more recent antiquity, what about watching the 300 take up their places at Thermopylae, and hearing one of the Spartans say to General Leonidas (trying to keep the fear from his voice), ‘The Persians are so many that their arrows will blot out the sun!’, and hearing Leonidas answer, ‘So much the better – we shall get to fight them in the shade’?

It would have been fine, too, to have heard Socrates and the others at the world’s most famous dinner-party discussing the nature of love; or to have been at the Academy on the day when a promising young student from Stagira ventured to put up his hand and ask Professor Plato whether there weren’t some difficulties involved in the theory of the forms.

What would one not give to have been in Rome on the Christmas morning of 800, when like the lightning that come out of the East and passes even to the West, the Pope translated the empire to the brows of Charlemagne, and then, as if awed by the boldness of his own deed, threw himself to the ground before the monarch of the world?

Or perhaps one would choose to have been present three centuries later when another pope preached the first Crusade in the heart of France; or when the French knights whose faith and imaginations he had kindled scaled the walls of Jerusalem? Or on into the very heart of the middle ages, dining at the same table with St Louis and St Thomas Aquinas, seeing the friar bring down his fist upon the table with a bang, and the king, amused, called for pen and paper to be brought him?

What a scene, too, in Augsburg, when Cajetan met Luther! Will there ever again be so perfect an encounter of reason and anti-reason? Some good Protestant who plays the game might like to have been a spectator when Friar Martin nailed his theses to the castle door. Alas, it seems it never happened. Or again, some bold republican might wish to have been in Paris on an August night in ’92 to hear the tocsin sound and watch Danton set to work; or even to have shivered by the guillotine a few months later when a blameless king knelt beneath the blade, and an Irish priest murmured holy words into his ear: Fils de Saint Louis, montez au Ciel!

Turning back to peaceful England, how I should like to have sat in a church in Oxford in the 1830’s and listened to the silvery voice reading the sermon from the pulpit of St Mary’s, as the shadows began to lengthen down the High; but even more to have heard Newman himself afterward talking with Keble and Pusey and Ward and Froude, late into the night; yes, and to have joined in too.

Yet if I must make my choice, I think I must settle upon the Council of Nicaea. To have been there when the 318 came in, so many of them noble and saintly confessors; brethren of the martyrs; men who had come through the Great Persecution and washed their robes therein. To have seen Constantine the Great enter, and kiss their scarred and mutilated limbs, expiating thus the crimes of his forebears, and refusing to sit until they had first sat down. Then to have heard the debates, as bishop after bishop bore witness to the truth handed down from the apostles, of the true divinity of the Son. To have seen St Alexander of Alexandria, or St Nicholas of Myra, and, combining the freshness of youth with the gravity of age, the deacon Athanasius. And the men sent from the west, from the throne of Peter, presiding over the discussions by undisputed right.

To have beheld the Eusebii, also; seen faithless Nicomedia confuted, and ambiguous Caesarea disconcerted. And the poor Novatian bishop silenced by the emperor’s wisdom:

For aiming at ecclesiastical harmony, he summoned to the council Acesius also, a bishop of the sect of Novatians. Now, when the declaration of faith had been written out and subscribed by the Synod, the emperor asked Acesius whether he would also agree to this creed to the settlement of the day on which Easter should be observed. He replied, ‘The Synod has determined nothing new, my prince: for thus heretofore, even from the beginning, from the times of the apostles, I traditionally received the definition of the faith, and the time of the celebration of Easter.’ When, therefore, the emperor further asked him, ‘For what reason then do you separate yourself from communion with the rest of the Church?’, he related what had taken place during the persecution under Decius; and referred to the rigidness of that austere canon which declares, that it is not right persons who after  baptism have committed a sin, which the sacred Scriptures denominate ‘a sin unto death’ to be considered worthy of participation in the sacraments: that they should indeed be exhorted to repentance, but were not to expect remission from the priest, but from God, who is able and has authority to forgive sins. When Acesius had thus spoken, the emperor said to him, ‘Place a ladder, Acesius, and climb alone into heaven.’

Then to have heard the great Symbol recited by all save a wretched few, and to have watched as they processed into the basilica, to sing some liturgy even more ancient than those of St Basil or St Chrysostom; for these men were not yet born. Yes, I should be glad to have seen those things.

 

Prime_Jedi[This is full of spoilers for The Last Jedi]

I walked out of the Last Jedi a bit bewildered. There are some excellent scenes in it. I actually quite like the disillusioned Luke idea. The Snoke death scene is great (except if it turns out in Episode IX that he has no interesting back-story). Talking of which, the Rey-is-just-a-complete-random decision is also quite courageous and, in a way, interesting. Many ideas unfortunately are just terrible. The comic elements on Ahch-To deflate the significance of the entire sequence rather than making it seem real (as with Yoda in Episode V). In fact, Luke’s faliure to realise who Yoda is and the Master’s eccentricities in The Empire Strikes Back are genuinely funny but very Arthurian in tone so they work brilliantly. The roasting of the Porgs, the mocking of the nuns and the blue milk sequence on Ahch-To are just unpleasant. While, as I said, I think the idea of Luke realising there was an essential misconception behind the Jedi is quite good, the concept is badly underplayed. We don’t learn what this problem was or its true significance and, with the general bathos of Ahch-To, the whole journey of Episode VII ends up seeming as if it was a waste of time. Although the final confrontation between Kylo and Luke is quite good the stakes feel too weak. Why do these few survivors matter? Rey seems to be the only really important person and she is already safe. I suppose this is worsened by the fact that we know Leia will not be in the next film anyway. Perhaps if we thought Episode IX would be all about her the emotional impact would be greater. I’m afraid that from the Leia = Mary Poppins scene onwards the space pursuit, mutiny and Canto Bight story lines are incoherent, clunky and cringeworthily preachy.

In summary The Last Jedi is a failure with one or two good scenes. This is sad as I like the character of Rey and Kylo Ren improves in this film. I don’t want the sequel trilogy to fail. I thought The Force Awakens was weakest when it seemed like a remake of Episode IV and best when it concentrated on the new characters. J. J. Abrams now has an Episode IX to film with none of the original three protagonists (unless Luke isn’t really dead). If Luke appears as a force ghost that shouldn’t be too big a problem as Mark Hamill has been the best actor out of the original three in the sequel trilogy so far. J. J. Abrams needs to fix Episode VIII by making meaningful things which Rian Johnson has left banal. I don’t know what to do with Rose and Finn. They can’t be just dropped but perhaps some sort of sub-plot ending in heroic self sacrifice that exposes the stupidity of Rose’s obstruction of Finn’s attempt in this film might be in order. Poe Dameron needs to emerge as the leader of the Resistance to make up for the stupidity of his ritual humiliation in The Last Jedi. Something has to be snuck in to explain why hyperspace cannot in general be weaponised (and thus why no one had attempted this very obvious tactic before).

Most important of all the reason the Jedi went wrong needs to be explained. Star Wars – Rebels has already reintroduced the Bendu from the Legends chronology and he has referred to the ‘Ashla and Bogan’ as the two sides of the Force (which in the old canon were the two moons of the Je’daii homeworld of Tython which symbolised the two sides of the Force). In the teaser trailer Luke told (presumably) Rey that ‘the Balance’ is ‘so much bigger’ than either the Light or the Dark Side of the Force but this was cut from the film. My suggestion is this: The idea from the Legends chronology should be revived that the original Je’daii (the predecessor order of the Jedi) pursued the Balance between the Light and Dark Sides not the Light alone. The idea in the Legends chronology was that some of the original Je’daii turned exclusively to the Dark Side and the rest were so appalled that, when the devastating civil war this caused came to an end, the remainder decided to embrace only the Light.

Yoda tells us “Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they” but anger, fear and aggression are not evil. They are passions, one end of a continuum in the centre of which lies a mean in which virtue is found. The idea that anger, fear and aggression are mala in se is the central error of Stoicism. Perhaps therefore the Je’daii were Peripatetics who understood this. The first Dark Side users were Sophists who believed in succumbing to and indulging the passions to which we are most inclined and employing reason as the passions’ slave. The Jedi were Stoics, so shocked by the corruption of those who turned to the Dark Side that they either convinced themselves that our leading passions are evil in themselves or that it is best to devote oneself to the contrary inclinations because balance is too prone to give way to the domination of the Dark Side.

My suggestion is that the Prime Jedi – the founder of the Jedi order wrongly thought to have died tens of thousands of years ago (a mosaic of whom appears in The Last Jedi) – should be revealed to be Snoke. It should turn out that the leader of the original Dark Side devotees who triggered the civil war that rendered Tython uninhabitable was consumed by the Dark Side not because he sought it, but because he sought to embrace the Light Side alone and the reaction of his nature corrupted him entirely and led him to the Dark Side. When he realised that his revolt would fail and, while his war would destroy Tython, the Je’daii would prevail, he instructed his most talented pupil (Snoke) who had already long previously infiltrated the Je’daii, but at too junior a level to change the course of the war, to persuade the victorious Je’daii that the Dark Side must be abandoned forever. Snoke’s master realised that however good the Light Side Stoic method might be it could not suppress the tendency of some Light Side users to react and turn to the Dark Side. This would ensure, so long as the reformed order never realised their mistake, a steady flow of Jedi turning to the Dark Side and replenishing the ranks of the Sophists despite their seeming annihilation at the end of the war.

This would be the fatal error of the Jedi which Luke has half realised and which Snoke foresees Leia will discern in the ancient Je’daii texts if she ever sees them (hence the importance of killing her before she meets Rey). Snoke emerged from his millennia of concealment when Luke founded the new Jedi Academy because he feared that Luke would be the chosen one who would discern the original error of the Jedi and restore balance to the Force thus he needed to destroy him. In fact, Rey and not Anakin or Luke is the chosen one who engages with the Dark Side with no temptation to be dominated by it. She shows anger without wrath, desire without lust. Dark Side devotees are thrown up by the Force only because no one exists in whom the balance is maintained. Anakin brought balance to the Force by reducing the number of Force users to four: two Jedi and two Sith. The reason the Jedi were celibate (despite the transmission of the Force harnessing midichlorians by descent) was that the Jedi had discovered the children of exclusive Light Side Force users were far more prone to turn to the Dark Side. Rey will bring balance to the Force by achieving it in herself and her disciples. How this message should be elaborated in narrative terms I am as yet unsure…

Leo XIII Arms

“Every one knows the power and resources of the British nation and the civilising influence which, with the spread of liberty, accompanies its commercial prosperity even to the most remote regions.”