Thursday, July 30, 2015

The king of the jungle


The Internet outrage factory is once again in full swing. The unlucky lottery winner this week: Walter J. Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who paid a pretty penny to go on a lion-hunting safari in Zimbabwe and ended up killing the subject of a University of Oxford study by the name of Cecil. Two Zimbabweans, whose names only matter as much to us as Cecil's did to the Zimbabweans, led the lion out of Hwange National Park by loading a dead animal onto the back of a truck, whereupon Palmer shot the lion with a crossbow. Cecil escaped and limped on for another 40 hours until his hunters finally caught up with him and shot him dead. In typical white-guilt fashion, the Rhodesians are of no account, but Palmer has already had people here in the States swamp him with death threats, personal house calls, and have flooded his practice's Yelp page with bad reviews. 

Though these keyboard warriors' stirrings of rage are certainly misplaced, some conservatives and traditionalists have taken it upon themselves to play the caricature: if liberals are mad about something, it must be good. I came across the following comment by a fellow traditionalist earlier today, for instance:
"Funny how liberals and the population at large throw themselves into such a tizzy over THIS, a stupid irrational animal being killed by some guy. But the murder of 1.5 million human babies per year in this country, by their own friggon mothers, does not move them.

"I'm fairly certain that hunting for sport has been a hobby of the wealthy for centuries. Weren't there many kings who hunted for fun? And I seem to recall during the colonial era, privileged men paid big money then for the opportunity to hunt exotic big game.

"Another element of traditional life being deplored by libs I say!"

But a greater evil, such as rampant abortion in this country and elsewhere, doesn't make a lesser one, such as poaching exotic animals, now good. In any case, the Modern Medievalist points out that poaching was once punishable by death, or worse; Richard the Lionheart's Assize of 1198 threatened deer-hunters with blinding and castration. The Norman kings' draconian game laws were reviled by the commons because they reserved hunting in the royal forests to the king alone, or his tenants by permission. Deforestation, or even the cutting of individual tree-branches were also subject to harsh penalties. Though the bottom line, as with most other things in this world, was about the vast sums of money that the royal treasury could collect with these laws, there is nonetheless a conservationist streak to their logic. So the court said:
"The king's forest is a safe abode for wild animals, not of every sort, but of the kind that lives in woodland and not everywhere but only in suitable places... in the wooded counties, where wild beasts have their lairs and abundant feeding grounds. It makes no difference who owns the land, whether the king or the barons of the realm; the beasts have freedom and protection, and wander wherever they will."
The exploitative "hunts" of the colonial period in Africa and Asia bore little resemblance to those practiced by the kings and princes of medieval Europe. In one, all the real work is done by local bushmen until the man paying for the expedition steps in to take a last shot. In the other, the greatest honor was accorded to nobles who could kill boars with close-combat weapons during their mating season, when the males were like to be most vicious. There, the boar was both meat for the feast, and an opportunity for warriors to hone their martial skills; not only English kings, but even Byzantine emperors sometimes perished in the chase. Palmer's latest excursion, as with most hunts from the colonial period to the present, amounts to a $50,000 photo op... but we can credit him, at least, for his insistence on using bowed weapons in most of his past hunts.

There is one thing we can learn from westerners' passioned, if also manufactured, outburst at the unfortunate dentist: that we are still monarchists at heart. Why does one lion, who lived most of his life in a natural state in the wild, matter more than the millions of livestock we raise every day within our own borders, never to see the light of the sun, born only to die and be served up as fast food? Thousands of us are paid to kill animals all day long without the slightest need to worry about death threats or bad Yelp reviews.

The answer to this contradiction is simple: because Cecil was, in our hearts, the king of the jungle. The lion is the heraldic symbol of the kings of England, the tribe of Judah, and Christ Himself. The people of Zimbabwe have responded to all this hubbub with "what lion?" They're confused that we care more about Cecil than the fact that the vast majority of people in that country are unemployed and sometimes even suffer from wild animal attacks. They kill lions and other exotic animals all the time, but when a westerner does it, it's international news. What the Zimbabweans don't understand is that the lion, to us in the west, is a majestic beast, one we humans have seen fit to ascribe more value to than other animals. Like Adam, we have given all the beasts of the earth a name and place in the world. The Modern Medievalist is quite comfortable with this. But let's not also forget that our first parents were appointed stewards and guardians of creation, not just its masters.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Interview with Regina Magazine

For anyone who's stumbled upon my site thanks to the interview recently featured on Regina Magazine (here), welcome! Our daughter's first birthday is coming up this week, so I'm mostly occupied with that, but I hope to have another post whipped up by Friday. In the meantime, please feel free to sift through articles in the backlog, such as the ones I've highlighted on the right-hand column. See you soon!

Also, be sure to "like" Modern Medievalism's Facebook page. It's the easiest way to see when I've made a post and share it with your friends. I also sometimes make posts there that are too short or unworthy of writing full-fledged articles here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Anglican Ordinariate and the gift of sacral English worship


Two weeks ago, I wrote my impressions of an Ordinariate community I visited for Sunday Mass. For some reason, that article ended up being one of the most widely shared pieces I've ever done; so much that when I came to see Blessed John Henry Newman's sister community in Mount Airy (a northwest section of Philadelphia) this past Sunday, at least three people there recognized me as the Modern Medievalist.

To the people of Saint Michael's consternation, I won't do a full-fledged review because there's not too much I could add which hasn't already been said for Newman. This community, which is slightly larger than Newman, was formed a couple years earlier. The two groups share the same priest and organist. Most of the liturgical practices are the same, though I observed that Saint Michael's omits the sign of peace and adds the Last Gospel at the end of Mass. As at Newman, everyone uses their "The Hymnals" to full effect. I was a tad surprised when we used a recessional hymn set to the Old Hundredth (I believe it was "All People That on Earth Do Dwell"); I don't remember singing anything to that tune since I was in my mother's Seventh-day Adventist church. 



The community borrows the parish church of Holy Cross, a sturdy stone building in the Gothic revival style. I wasn't able to find anything online about its history, but it fits in surprisingly well with the Gothic churches of the old Protestant establishment. That is to say, there isn't any of that Continental/Baroque fru-fru when you step inside. Everything from the reredos, to the confessional booths, to the wonderful, wooden crossbeam ceiling falls in sync with the Gothic revival and Pugin's "true principles of Christian architecture". They even remembered to paint the doors red. The edifice is marred only by (as you could expect) an unsightly marble freestanding altar that must have been placed there following Vatican II.


Saint Michael's isn't the only community to borrow this church. As I later discovered, Holy Cross is now also home to two other nearby parishes whose churches have closed down. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been hemorrhaging since the Council, and paired with sexual abuse lawsuits, has been obliged to shut down scores (hundreds?) of churches over the past few years. This is a foretaste of what's in store for Catholic dioceses around the country, even the so-called healthy ones in the Midwest. I suspect even with all the consolidating, these churches are merely forestalling the inevitable. The institutional Church's lack of willpower to pass the faith on to the next generation will cause even Holy Cross, now home to three parishes and an Ordinariate community, to be shuttered or turned into apartment space before I bite the dust.

I chatted with virtually every member of the community in the basement after Mass, hearing their stories and struggles. As at Newman, nearly all were former Episcopals. I learned that the founding members originally came from an Episcopal church called Saint James the Less. That parish actually separated from the Episcopal Church over a decade ago and finally lost a bid against the Episcopal Diocese to keep their property in 2006. They had floated adrift for a time until 2012, when they were received into the Catholic Church and their leader was ordained as a Catholic priest. I hope the current pontiff hasn't been giving them too much buyer's remorse.


Looking back, the most valuable thing I learned about this entire visit was that people who drive long distances to church for a specific liturgy or community (and here, I mainly have some, though thankfully by no means all traditional Latin Mass groups in mind) have no excuse for being standoffish and disinterested in newcomers. The usual excuse is that Latin Massers are cranky because they drive a long way and spend most of their lives besieged by modernists or whatever other negative influences there might be out there. Which is true, but at Saint Michael's, I talked to an elderly woman who drives over a hundred miles each way to make it to this church, and she still made a point to say hello to us and personally pour us coffee. Quite a few members drive in from other states. These people had to endure the realization that something was horribly wrong with their previous church, leave that sect and all their property behind, and float in limbo for years until arriving home in the Catholic Church, still to be treated like second-class citizens among many parties in the hierarchy and elsewhere.... and despite all that, it's not too much of an obstacle to make a visitor feel welcome.

Confessional booths

At last, let's ask ourselves: why does the Ordinariate even matter to those of us non-Anglicans or Episcopals? And what does this have to do with your theme of Modern Medievalism?

The Personal Ordinariate and other Anglican Use communities are among the only people in the Catholic Church willing to give English-speaking people beautiful worship in a common, though sacralized, tongue. While I certainly prefer the traditional Latin Mass and maintaining the use of Latin in the western liturgy as far as possible, I need to make an uncomfortable reality check for fellow "traddies": no one else cares. We can't revive Latin the way that Jews were able to bring Hebrew back from the dead and make it the functional language of an entire country because, frankly, they just care about it more than we do. Hebrew in Israel comes from a culture which, since its beginning, insisted that all young men learn the rudiments of the ancient tongue as a rite of passage into adulthood. Could a man dare call himself a rabbi without having learned Hebrew? Could a Muslim call himself an imam or Islamic scholar without even bothering to read the Koran in Arabic?

But a Christian priest isn't really the equivalent of a rabbi or imam, is he? The latter two are scholars and interpreters of their holy books, but they're not priests. The Christian priest could be a scholar as well, but for most of Church history, the average parish priest presumed no such role. They trained to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and celebrate the sacraments. The priest's job is chiefly a sacramental one. And so, it sufficed for so many centuries for priests to be trained to fulfill their vocations by rote memorization or reading prayers from a book. This shouldn't imply that most medieval country priests could actually compose letters in Latin or freely translate verses from Scripture on demand. No, the priest needed to know his Latin only enough to "say the black, do the red". Most priests in these Middle Ages weren't even authorized to preach sermons or hear confessions. Those pastoral duties, which we now take for granted, were formerly assigned to specialists.


The Protestant Reformation, of course, challenged the old expectations of a priest's duty to his flock and found them wanting. Guildsmen in Germany, for instance, took to suing their chaplains for not providing them with "evangelical" sermons; the priests cited their contractual obligations, which only ever expected them to offer Masses and prayers at the appointed times (the Office). Yet the people of northern Europe decided it was no longer good enough. Entire nations revolted against the Latin Mass and all it stood for. In those kingdoms which remained faithful, seminaries were established to reform the clergy into a body of scholarly professionals that could go toe-to-toe against the likes of "Dr. Luther" and his followers. Latin was taught in these institutions to bolster their defenses. And yet, it never really left seminary grounds. There was never a concerted effort to make the study of Latin a universal precept for all young men; even for altar servers and choristers, their parts were learned by rote or reading, but without much emphasis on understanding or translating. Meanwhile, the common people grew further and further apart from the liturgy and the culture that built it until, finally, in the 1960's, Pope Paul VI and nearly all the bishops in the world said goodbye to the Latin Mass with nary a peep of protest from either clergy or congregation; not even in Italy itself! It was almost as though a few non-Catholic intellectuals, writers, and classical musicians were more perturbed by the jettisoning of nearly two thousand years of tradition than the faithful themselves.

We can walk away from Vatican II with one of three conclusions: either,

a.) the gates of hell prevailed against the Church after all;
b.) Paul VI wasn't a true pope, and the real Church is actually in hiding, or;
c.) Latin was never really that important to begin with.

A sounds flippant, but I know of, and have personally spoken to more than a handful of old-timers who gave up being Catholic altogether because they believed all of the liturgical and social changes that followed the Council proved that the Church was no longer the infallible institution it had spent so long cultivating itself as. B is, of course, the "sedevacantist" option. But for the rest of us, we have to concede with C to some degree or another. Therefore, if Latin was never absolutely integral to Catholic worship, then traditional Catholics are doing outsiders a disservice by insisting such things as "only the Latin Mass matters", "Mass in the vernacular is displeasing to God", or "if you want to pray in the vernacular, go to the Novus Ordo". These dichotomies make the great the enemy of the good, and when the dust has settled, no one wins except the devil.

Latin isn't analogous to Hebrew for Jews and Arabic for Muslims because traditional Christians aren't "people of the book". Scripture is just one, not the sole source of revelation. The Latin liturgy is worth preserving because it represents a nearly two-thousand year tradition in the West... but it's not worth making an idol of, and certainly not posing as an obstacle to conversion or a barrier to entry. This is where the Anglican tradition comes in. Whereas the Catholic Church went directly from Latin to the most plebeian, uninspiring form of English it could concoct (and I understand the Church's translations of the Mass to nearly all other languages are just as bad, if not worse), as though it held back from total mediocrity solely by the pains of canon law rather than any real sense of reverence, the Church of England, at least, had a real interest in using its native language to uplift its flock as far as possible. Cranmer was, if a heretic, still also one of the greatest wordsmiths in the history of English; his version of the Lord's Prayer persisted even in English-speaking Catholics' private prayers and survived in the Novus Ordo Mass as a sole anachronism of sacral prose in a sea of contemporized banality. The King James Bible sounded antiquated even in 1611, for it was composed not for absolute fidelity to the text, but to sound beautiful when read from the pulpit or during the liturgy.

Holy Cross is one of the only western churches I've seen with Greek, rather than Latin lettering over the entrance.
Today, the Catholic Church has a crisis of ugliness and irreverence in her worship. The traditional Latin Mass, despite its resurgence in recent years, will unfortunately never be restored as the normative rite because Pope Paul VI already drove the last nail in the coffin by forever breaching us from the continuity of earlier Christian civilization. It's like that butler in the PBS documentary on Highclere Castle who prides himself on setting the Earl of Carnarvon's table exactly as his predecessors had done for so many generations: because he knows that as soon as he lets standards slip, the tradition will be gone forever. Now, in 2015, we have a generation of younger people who can see past the foolishness of the hippie Masses, clown Masses, and other "experimentations" of the later 20th century and yearn for a serious approach to God, but most will never get past the hurdle of a Mass entirely in Latin. We would have better luck rebuilding the Roman Empire first.

Fortunately, the Ordinariate can show us another way. It shows that we can have God-centered worship facing the altar together. We can take the Gospel seriously, adore the Blessed Sacrament, and sing to the Lord all in a sacral English that commands awe and respect, yet is accessible enough for the seeker or long-lapsed Catholic unexpectedly walking through the door one Sunday. By the time our prelates figure out how sensible (how English!) a model this is, it'll be too late for all but a sliver of what the Church once was; but at least the Ordinariate communities, who by then will boast some of the largest and most faithful congregations around, will be able to say, "we knew we were on to something good all along. Now, would you like to join us for some coffee after Mass?"

A view of the neighborhood around the church

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Latin Mass in Pennsylvania's capital


Last weekend, we sojourned out to central Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother-in-law, so while we were out there, we thought it would be a good idea to visit the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter's (FSSP's) chapel in Harrisburg for Sunday Mass.

The chapel of Saint Lawrence is situated beside the muddy--err, mighty Susquehanna River, as well as the foot of a grand avenue leading up to the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building. The Capitol looks quite magnificent from the outside (when President Teddy Roosevelt dedicated it in 1906, he called it "the handsomest building I ever saw"), and I intend to visit it the next time we're in the city. It bewilders me that Madame, a lifelong Pennsylvanian, hasn't yet done her duty as a loyal citizen of the Commonwealth and toured the place. (A native Texan wouldn't dare dream of reaching their 20's without visiting the State Capitol building in Austin.)

Pennsylvania's Capitol complex is so big, in fact, that the Commonwealth bought up the old Saint Lawrence, a parish church built by a German Catholic community, and demolished it for expansions. The current Saint Lawrence was finished in 1918 in the same Gothic style as its predecessor, but as far as I can tell, was never returned to parish status. It became a chapel for the nearby cathedral of the Harrisburg diocese. Over the years, that old German community fizzled out and the chapel collected dust until 2005, when the bishop that year gave the building to the FSSP. Unofficially, I've read that the primary motive was mostly to allow the diocese to compete with an independent priest in York rather than for altruism, but I can't confirm it. Whatever the reasons were, the Fraternity has made good use of the property and placed the old Latin Mass right in the middle of a busy metropolis; a refreshing change from the usual state of affairs, where bishops or the laws of economics sentence Latin Mass communities to death by suburbia.

Wonderful iconography around the Mary altar.
We arrived early enough for me to take a look around the building. The church appeared to be a sturdy Gothic edifice of plaster and stone, and filled with stained-glass, altarpieces, and all the other usual furnishings that we've apparently forgotten how to make over the last century. My only gripes were with the floor tiling which looked like those you'd find in an old Pizza Hut, and the small sanctuary; though, to be fair, even ugly tiling is better than the carpeting I got used to at so many Latin Masses in Texas, and virtually no Catholic parish in America has a properly sized sanctuary with a chancel. As I studied the architecture, the congregation was praying the Rosary, and a few were in line for confessions. It wasn't packed to standing room only, but all the pews were respectably filled out with few gaps in between. Throw in a bunch of lace veils, and it was like stepping back into a Catholicism that virtually no longer exists, even though these sights and sounds were still the norm within my mother-in-law's memory.

Yes, these signs are here for a reason!
At 10, sung Mass begun with the priest and servers processing from the front door of the church to a processional hymn from the Collegeville Hymnal. As with most other Catholic churches in our country, hymnody wasn't one of the more cherished traditions here, so only a few people actually sang. With that done, the celebrating priest began the Asperges and Mass flawlessly. The choir, an all-male schola of five or six guys, made all the responses alone. Though I knew they existed, this was the first time I actually attended Mass with an entirely silent congregation (save for the ones at Clear Creek Abbey, an unusual circumstance). Even at the diocesan TLM where I lived previously, where the vast majority of people weren't much interested in singing the Ordinary of the Mass as a congregation, you could still squeeze some et cum spiritu tuo's out of them. Even the basic responses at Saint Lawrence, though, were sung by the schola alone, albeit done well. They also sang the complete Missa Orbis Factor, even the Gloria, and all the minor propers according to the full melodies in the Liber Usualis.

To be honest, I spent the greater part of Mass in the narthex holding our daughter, who was by far the noisiest person there. From what I could tell going in and out, though, Mass proceeded just as you would expect from a society of priests dedicated to preserving the traditional liturgy; no funny business whatsoever. Another priest, not the celebrant, preached the homily. The substance was a solid, hold-no-punches tour of the errors of religious liberty and the French Revolution, probably timed to precede France's annual celebration of that jailbreak in 1789; perhaps so punchy and replete with quotes going back to Pope Pius VII that one who wasn't already well-formed in the Church's traditional teachings would lose a tooth. I didn't have the heart to ask my mother-in-law, who Madame dragged out with us (and hadn't even attended a TLM since Vatican II), what she thought of the homily afterward. In fact, if such homilies are a normal occurrence at this chapel, I'm surprised the bishop still allows them to operate at all.

The beautiful, but small, sanctuary.
After the last Gospel, the priest and servers exited the church to another English hymn. This time, I made sure to grab a hymnal and turn to the right page, even with baby in tow, but again, not too many other singers. There was, however, still a fundamental difference between how the recessional hymn was treated here versus my old diocesan TLM community back home. In San Antonio, everyone starts filing out as soon as the priest passes the last pew while the choir alone sings two verses of the hymn. There's not even a pretense of trying. But in Harrisburg, although only a few people bothered singing, everyone still stayed standing in their places until all four verses were done. There was, at least, a respect for the hymn's place.

Servers putting the sanctuary in order after Mass.
Following the thanksgiving prayers and so on, I took a few pictures of the church and followed the congregation to the basement, where a farewell reception was being held for their outgoing chaplain, the same one who celebrated Mass. Other than the priests themselves, the people weren't very chatty with newcomers, so I only got to ask two laypeople about the church's history. The schola director actually looked about the same age as me, and I learned he started singing chant around the same time I did. We talked a bit about music, I had a dessert or two, then headed out.

Look at this excellent wooden ceiling!
In leaving, I realized the most unusual thing of all about this community, compared to other TLM venues: there were no female choir members. Usually, the music for sung Masses is provided by a mixed choir of adult men and women (more women than not), or a choir mostly of women augmented by a small men's schola for the proper chants. Although I'm a big proponent of congregational singing, I thought on my way out that perhaps the reason this church was content to leave all the singing to the schola was because the all-male responses, combined with the reverberation from the stone walls and non-carpeted floor, gave the sacred music a strong air of the monastic. I can't say I blame them for not wanting to "ruin" it, at least.


It's not every day that you see even the organ's pipes adorned in Gothic at an American Catholic church.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Who made the first résumé?

Settling into a wholly new area, as I have, presents a host of challenges, such as figuring out what a "hoagie" is (a northeastern term for a sub sandwich), remembering that it's not always legal to turn right on a red light, and being careful not to run over Amish buggies. (I just looked up why you never see Amish people ride on horseback. It's apparently considered immodest; I actually see the rationale behind that.) Fortunately, I can at last dispense with the southern pretense of asking of how your day is, because as you and I both know, no one actually cares.

I recently crossed off another item on the to-do list: I finally gave in to corporate America and created a profile on LinkedIn. I'll be honest, even to those prospective employers out there who are, even now, scanning my blog for reasons not to hire me, that I find the entire site's philosophy irksome, not least because of all the articles I had to read in order to "maximize my hireability". Add a picture to increase your chances of being clicked on by 14 times. Make sure you're smiling, but don't look too happy. A slight scrinching of the eyes is best. See that your chosen photo features you alone; this isn't Facebook, and we wouldn't want to think you have anything to live for beyond the company. 


Perhaps I'm too skeptical of my fellow man to be a hiring manager, because I don't understand why they wouldn't see right past all the corporate jargon, e.g. résumé fluff:
-Whenever I look at someone's page, if their job title has the word "engineer" but isn't preceded by "electrical", "mechanical", or "petroleum", my mind instantly replaces it with "lackey". 

-I mentally cross out all instances of the word "professional" (for instance, LinkedIn's default headline for me was "education management professional"), no matter the context. No one would sign up for a LinkedIn account in the first place if they didn't imagine themselves to be a "professional" of some sort or another. Would you rather describe yourself as amateur?

-If you "think outside the box", you're actually well within the box and just don't know it.

-Everyone's likelihood of getting a job is directly proportional to how many obfuscating words with Greek or Latin roots they can use to make their past jobs positions and deeds accomplishments look more important than they really were. All these "innovative" thinkers with their "solutions" for "managing multiple projects" makes me want to take up Anglo-Saxon to cast these foreign loan words out of our tongue and speak in full barbarian from here on out. But in the meantime, at least it looks like there is some use for all the fancy book-learnin' in that classical liberal arts degree, after all.
Anyway, feel free to email me if you want to add me to LinkedIn. Or, if you find me on the site directly, be sure to say it's because you read my blog.


And now, to where I meant to start: as I off-handedly mention somewhere on my LinkedIn profile, "Did you know, for instance, that the first person to use something akin to a résumé as we know it was Leonardo da Vinci?" It was more a cross between a résumé and a cover letter, but it's true nonetheless. When our favorite ninja turtle was but 30 years of age, he wrote to Ludovico Sforza, Regent (and later, Duke) of Milan in the hope of getting a job. What's interesting is that, although he had already accomplished more in many disciplines in 1482 than most of us get around to in our whole lifetimes, Leonardo's letter only references his artistic acumen in passing, at the end:

"I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may."

The rest of the letter focuses on what Leonardo could do for the Sforzas as a military engineer and inventor of weapons of moderate destruction. Here's the full piece in translation:

    Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

    1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

    2. I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.

    3. If, by reason of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place and its position, it is impossible, when besieging a place, to avail oneself of the plan of bombardment, I have methods for destroying every rock or other fortress, even if it were founded on a rock, etc.

    4. Again, I have kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with these I can fling small stones almost resembling a storm; and with the smoke of these cause great terror to the enemy, to his great detriment and confusion.

    5. And if the fight should be at sea I have kinds of many machines most efficient for offense and defense; and vessels which will resist the attack of the largest guns and powder and fumes.

    6. I have means by secret and tortuous mines and ways, made without noise, to reach a designated spot, even if it were needed to pass under a trench or a river.

    7. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

    8. In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance of fine and useful forms, out of the common type.

    9. Where the operation of bombardment might fail, I would contrive catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvellous efficacy and not in common use. And in short, according to the variety of cases, I can contrive various and endless means of offense and defense.

    10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

    11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.

    Again, the bronze horse may be taken in hand, which is to be to the immortal glory and eternal honor of the prince your father of happy memory, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

    And if any of the above-named things seem to anyone to be impossible or not feasible, I am most ready to make the experiment in your park, or in whatever place may please your Excellency - to whom I comment myself with the utmost humility, etc.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Same-sex unions and interracial marriage: does one really follow from the other?

The only "anti" people of interest in any debate are invariably Amerifats with ill-fitting clothes and redneck accents. True story.
Nothing wakes me up from my usual break-of-day stupor like reading an article as insidiously misleading as the Weekly Sift's "You Don't Have to Hate Anybody to Be a Bigot". Until today, I judiciously refrained from directly commenting upon last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage because I didn't think I could contribute anything to that debate beyond what I had already said in "Why Oklahoma's House Bill 1125 should make everyone happy (or equally mad)" last March; that anything further would be merely agitprop or preaching to the choir.

The Modern Medievalist as Hollywood villain.
Of course, what you and I both know is that, at least for the foreseeable future, history will not look back kindly on those who have resented the idea of same-sex marriage as anything other than a constitutional right that naturally follows the path of social progress. The Onion, that most truthful of media outlets (and I say that completely unironically), published the headline "Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito Suddenly Realize They Will Be Villains In Oscar-Winning Movie One Day" back in 2013! I add to it my own prediction that Thomas will be played by a white actor to more easily categorize the forces of good and evil into, pardon the pun, black-and-white terms. My only consolation is that, when the said movie premieres, I won't have to watch myself caricatured onscreen by the next generation's Keanu Reeves because I, as a "homoskeptic" who is neither a redneck nor above the age of 50, will be written out of the accepted narrative entirely.

Up to this point, the author of the offending Sift article will nod his head in agreement. In his comparison of today's great gay debate to yesterday's controversy over interracial marriage and racial equality, Doug Muder isn't interested in the cross-burning Klansmen, the white trash throwing hot coffee and screaming obscenities at black patrons occupying a lunch counter, or other such extreme outliers of their day. He's speaking of the "sedate and thoughtful people who were not aware of hating anyone", the bigots who were wholly rational in their opposition to otherness and who were doomed to be forgotten by history because, most likely, they were our grandparents: in Muder's words, "The thoughtful, intellectual, devout defenders of an unjust status quo are forgotten, because their memory embarrasses their heirs."

I would even go so far as to agree with Muder that he builds a strong case against the idea of social conservatism itself. The word "conservative" inherently suggests a desire to preserve the status quo. The trouble with that for someone concerned with the capital-T Truth above all is that, if the social mores of, say, 1950's America were bankrupt (and they were), then today's conservative is merely yesterday's liberal, and conservatism is really part of the problem. The Modern Medievalist's goal here has always been to analyze problems with a mind to the greater picture of western history, thereby liberating ourselves from the prison of seeing everything in terms of the past ten, thirty, or even three hundred years. 

So, let's get down to business: is the right for a man to wed another man, or a woman to wed another woman, truly on the same continuum of social progress and conservative resistance as was interracial marriage, civil rights for people of color, or even slavery itself? Muder wants us to believe so, and in all honesty, that version will win the day. But for those interested in the facts of history, this simply isn't the case; and while I have no qualm with drawing from my own Christian worldview to make the case if I feel it necessary, a simple outlining of facts suffices below.

First, why did the United States have laws against interracial marriage to begin with? Was it an established doctrine of Christianity? Was it even a latent prejudice that always existed in western society, backed up by out-of-context prooftexts from holy writ? In truth, the opposition to miscegeny is of a much later vintage; even an innovation in the greater story of the west. In 1944, the California Law Review journal published an excellent essay on "Statutory Prohibitions Against Interracial Marriage", which you may read for yourself here. The comment eruditely points out that "at common law there was no ban on interracial marriage". The first laws against interracial marriage in the entire English-speaking world didn't come about until 1661 in Maryland.

Saint Maurice as patron of the Holy Roman (German) Empire, complete with imperial flag!
Let me make this as clear as possible: laws against interracial marriage did not exist in medieval Christendom. They had to be invented, and even then, only two full centuries after the re-introduction of slavery in the west. I assure you as well that their late arrival isn't merely because there were no black people in medieval Europe, because there were, even if they were few and far between. But common law, the body of English jurisprudence which the United States inherited, had no place for either slavery or bans on interracial marriage. Lord Mansfield, one of the greatest judges in the history of Anglo/American law, is attributed with saying "the air of England is too pure for any slave to breathe". In any case, Mansfield's ruling in Somerset vs Stewart (1772) was that slavery had no basis in common law, nor had Parliament or any other body ever legalized it in the realm. On the contrary, in 1102, the church synod of Westminster, convened under Saint Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, explicitly outlawed the slave trade as inconsistent with Christianity: "Let no man, for the future, presume to carry on the wicked trade of selling men in markets, like brute beasts." The consequence of Somerset vs Stewart was that all 15,000 slaves in England and Wales at that time were to be immediately emancipated, though its effect on the other domains of the British Empire was uncertain.

Muder's article admits that in our own country's debate over slavery, there was a split among the churches between abolitionists in the north and slavery apologists in the south; but is that in any way comparable to that of liberal and conservative Christians today over same-sex unions? Liberals will concede that 50 years ago, it was unimaginable for any church, even the Unitarian Universalists, to endorse same-sex marriage. By contrast, Christians were divided over the morality of slavery from the very moment in 1493 when Christopher Columbus brought men from Hispaniola back to Spain in chains, beginning the triangular trade. Reflect, for a moment, how extreme it must have been for Queen Isabella, of all people; who had grown up in a culture of intermittent warfare against the Moors for over five centuries--more closely resembling the nightmare of George R.R. Martin's Westeros than the comparably idyllic kingdom of England--who led her realm in the final act of the reconquista, the capture of Granada, just two years prior, and accepted that there were conditions in which Moors on the losing side of war who also refused to convert to Christianity could be enslaved; nevertheless rejected Columbus's gift of native American slaves and had him return them to their homes in the West Indies in 1498, on the basis that the the natives too were now citizens of Castile and immune to enslavement.


From there, Christian outrage against the slave trade continued with Dominican friars such as Bartolomé de las Casas returning from the plantations of the new world with one horror story after the next, demanding immediate reform and recognition of native Americans as humans with equal rights and dignity as Spaniards. These theologians and moral authorities persuaded Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (whose rule also included the Spanish Empire), to pass the New Laws of the Indies for the Good Treatment and Preservation of the Indians in 1542. The Leyes Nuevas abolished slavery in the Spanish colonies and provided for the gradual abolition of the encomienda system. Unfortunately, they stood in the way of profit, spurring plantation owners to open revolt against the viceroys and royal agents; as a result, the laws ultimately had little lasting effect. With the passing of time, slavery had become a "new normal".

Another hundred years would need to go by in order for laws against interracial marriage to even be conceived. Unlike the Spanish Empire, where miscegenation was widely practiced and accepted from the beginning, the English colonists in north America gradually came to see skin color as the most useful differentiator between "free" and "slave". Even in Virginia's earliest days at Jamestown, the first twenty black laborers who arrived in 1619 were regarded only as indentured servants because English law acknowledged no slavery. They joined one thousand white indentured servants on equal terms. 

1662 was a watershed moment for the institution of slavery as we know it in America. In direct contradiction to the received common law, Virginia passed a law whereby the children of slaves would take on the mother's condition in law, not the father's (common law does just the opposite). In this, fathers were now lifted from the past obligation of regarding their slave-born children as free.... and since most sexual affairs between slave and free were, by far, between free men and enslaved women, this ensured the perpetuation of slavery among mixed-race children. Again, a "new normal" had been attained, which was important to keep up by the passage of laws against interracial marriage that would have seemed nonsensical in any other place and time in the course of Christian civilization. By the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, slavery was so entrenched in the culture and economy that any talk of abolition threatened to abort the Union.

Still, people like Muder would mistake the widespread acceptance of slavery for an endorsement by the tenets of the Christian faith. One might even be tempted to see the abolitionists of the north as the forefathers of our generation's gay-friendly Christian denominations (such as the modern Episcopal Church), who also happen to be concentrated in the north today. Appearances can be deceiving; for just as the Democratic Party was once the party of slavery and the "solid south", so too was the north, not the south, the hub of fundamentalist Christianity. 

Now, naturally, even the mildest and least committed of 19th century Christians could easily come off as zealots if they were transplanted to the year 2015. But in broad strokes, Americans of the antebellum South had a more lax approach to their religion than their Yankee counterparts. It was a genteel kind of religion which, as in Europe, played its part in the ceremony of statecraft but was awkward at the parlor and dinner table. The religious justifications for slavery in the South, in other words, were very much a liberal view to accommodate the spirit of the times and counter the firebrand arguments against it by the "fundamentalists" of the north. Compare the secular, freespirited lyrics of Dixie ("There's buckwheat cakes and Injun batter,/Makes you fat or a little fatter") to the apocalyptic militancy of the Battle Hymn of the Republic ("Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord/He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored"). 




When I look at our present time, I see, among the most ardent, secular supporters of same-sex unions a kind of evangelical zeal that's very distinctly American and would make our Puritan forefathers in Massachusetts Bay proud, though perhaps for entirely different reasons. Here, their fight for "LGBT equality" has taken on the form of a crusade with corporate sponsorships, banners of war, and a sustained media campaign, wholly unrecognizable from the ways in which gay marriage has been legalized with more of an apathetic shrug in the nations of Europe (France being, as always, an odd exception). And, of course, one can't escape the irony that gay marriage is still couched in the ethics of a Christian framework: we speak of a man's right to wed another, singular man, not two or three. 

Nonetheless, to compare conservative resistance to same-sex unions in 2015 as being somehow on par with attitudes to racial equality in 1965 or slavery in 1865 is intellectually dishonest and absurd. Interracial marriage was regularly practiced in areas of medieval Europe, such as Moorish Spain, where cultures and ethnicities collided. The people of Malta, where the Knights Hospitaller made their headquarters and turned it into a bastion of Christian resistance to Ottoman incursions in Europe, were descended from miscegeny between Italians and Arabs. Same-sex unions or even the desire to establish them, on the other hand, have no precedent whatsoever in western history, even in those societies such as ancient Athens where homosexuality was widespread. No, Muder's "new normal", to the historian, is much more aptly compared to the social changes, the "new normals", that led to the re-establishment of slavery and the creation of new classifications of people, backed by the interests of commerce above all else, at the end of Europe's Middle Ages. Unfortunately, even though a column on Slate, of all places, has made a critical distinction between the two, this uncomfortable conclusion will not be permitted in polite company within a few years, if it even is now. The only thing I ask is this: to all you casting directors out there, if you absolutely must cast someone to play as me in the role of Rational Homoskeptic #4 for your upcoming, Oscar award-winning biopic on Obergefell v. Hodges and the triumph of marriage equality for all, I think Benedict Cumberbatch would be a good fit if you can't get Rufus Sewell or James Frain. I'll even take Keanu. Just, whatever you do, don't choose Rob Schneider just because you saw him on a list of half-Asian actors and he was the cheapest option. Then I would be forced to write a bad review for your movie.


P.S. Earlier this week, I published an article for Independence Day on English liberty and common law, which is of some relevance to today's discussion and which you may read here: English liberty: the tradition of rebellion, America as it could have been, and America as it should be.


P.P.S. The article I linked to on interracial marriage laws from the California Law Review early in this article was published just a few years before Perez vs. Sharp (1948), where the California Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in that state. Interestingly, one of the arguments used to strike the laws down was that they infringed upon the couple's First Amendment freedom of religion. The couple, a black man and Mexican woman, were both Catholic. Since the Catholic Church was willing to witness their marriage complete with Mass, the miscegenation laws were deemed to impede their right to marry in the Church. Bet no one saw that coming.


P.P.P.S. In one of the comments to Muder's article, someone shared this thought-provoking op-ed titled A Really, Really, Really Long Post About Gay Marriage That Does Not, In The End, Support One Side Or The Other By Jane Galt. I recommend it if you still have time after reading everything else up to this point.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Some old time religion: the lives of ex-Episcopal refugees on the Main Line


It so happens that the nearest sane place for us to go to church on Sundays in our new home is with a tiny new Ordinariate community named after Blessed John Henry Newman. In 2012, following the publication of Pope Benedict XVI's Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Catholic Church established a nationwide entity throughout the United States called the "Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter" for the purpose of allowing former Episcopalians and Anglicans to convert to the Catholic faith while keeping their congregations intact and ordaining their clergymen, even if they are married men, as Catholic priests. This little fellowship on the Main Line (a collection of small townships west of Philadelphia, where we now live), numbering maybe 25 souls or so, is one of the first fruits of Benedict's labors. More on that in a moment.


Assisting at Mass

We arrived late, so I can only recount my experience at Mass from the Gospel onward. Mass was celebrated at the church of Our Lady of the Assumption, a standard Roman Catholic parish borrowed by the Newman Fellowship for evening worship. Assumption, with its handsome Gothic exterior of stone, was built in the 1920's to serve the immigrant Italian railroad workers of the time. (I also spotted an Italian-American newsletter in the narthex.) The interior is a bit too Continental for my taste, what with the rosy-cheeked frescoes, though I feel bad even mentioning it since, given the state of Catholic architecture elsewhere in this area, it's like complaining about one's steak being overcooked in the midst of a famine.

When I walked in, a greeter handed me a service order, an insert for the Sunday's readings and prayer intentions, and an ominous red hardcover book titled only "The Hymnal". This was the first sign that I was walking into a slightly different world than I was used to. Though a Protestant convert myself and a member, on and off, of an Anglican Use Catholic parish for nearly ten years, I've never been a member of the Episcopal Church. My former parish draws heavily from this hymnal, but they print the verse texts directly onto disposable bulletins, so this was the first time I've ever had the Hymnal of 1940 in hand. The book's reputation did precede it, though. I knew it was the definitive hymnal in Episcopal-dom for forty years until political correctness struck in the '80s and the Hymnal of 1982 was issued. Flipping through its pages, I saw many hymns I had never heard of and probably never will. 


The homily was quite solid. The priest, who I understand was only ordained in the Catholic Church a few years ago himself, had the air of a learned divine of the Scriptures. (I have never once gone to Mass at a mainstream Catholic parish and heard words like "concomitant" used in a homily, as it was yesterday.) His puffy white beard reminded me of the time I met Dr. Rowan Williams, the previous "archbishop" of Canterbury. I hope to one day learn why Anglican ministers have an affinity for facial hair.

We recited the Creed in the sacral English I grew used to at my old Anglican Use parish in San Antonio, Texas. The whole order of Mass was almost entirely the same as Our Lady of the Atonement's use of Rite I in the Book of Divine Worship, but I'm not sure what the Ordinariate's variant is properly called. It's essentially an adaptation of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, re-ordered to more closely follow the Roman Mass and with the Roman Canon. In other words, you respond to "The Lord be with you" with "and with thy spirit", say that the Son "shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead" in the Creed, and begin the confession with "Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men, we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against Thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly Thy wrath and indignation against us". 

About half of the liturgy was recited and half sung. I was told later that it would be fully sung if the choir were not out for summer break. There was still an organist to accompany the hymns. During the Offertory rite, everyone in the paltry congregation of 15 or 20 dutifully whipped out their The Hymnals and turned to the page noted on the signboard without any prompting whatsoever, singing every verse (a few also attempting harmony, it seemed). For Madame, who says she has managed to never attend a Protestant service her entire life, this must surely have been a bizarre sight. You see, elsewhere in American Catholic-dom, including most traditional Latin Mass communities I've visited, hymnody is foisted upon an uninterested and unwilling congregation with predictable results: either a cantor must stand in the sanctuary to whip a few dedicated parishioners into action with exaggerated hand gestures Mussolini would be proud of, or else the hymnals are used only by the choir and otherwise left to collect dust in the pew racks as a testament to the sentiment, "at least we tried". For most cradle Catholics, to see more than a handful of the most devout in the pews actually sing from the hymnals is unfathomable.

On the right, the hymn chosen for the Offertory rite. On the left, Chesterton's "O God of Earth and Altar", which, though a spectacular hymn written by one our most celebrated convert authors, I've never actually seen in a Catholic hymnal.

The priest sung the Preface and the people sang the Sanctus to a tune I was unfamiliar with. The priest proceeded with consecrating the sacred species using the Roman Canon, and Mass proceeded almost entirely the same as at Our Lady of the Atonement back in Texas. Communion was distributed to all while kneeling along an altar rail. The priest left the sanctuary only to bring the Sacrament to an elderly lady in the pew before me, and the young man assisting her (a dutiful grandson, perhaps) knelt in adoration as the priest approached. Madame commented to me later at how odd it was to see people receiving in the hand even while kneeling, since in Catholic churches, it's usually entirely one way (standing and in the hand) or the other (kneeling and on the tongue). I don't know how prevalent hand Communion is among the Piskies, but in my very limited experience at Episcopal churches, it seems the idea of queueing up in a single file line to receive Communion while standing never caught on, even among those who don't even pretend to have any belief in the Real Presence. I still don't understand how or why it was adopted universally almost overnight in Catholic-dom after Vatican II.

During the recessional hymn, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of traddies cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Since it was the day after Independence, we turned to page 100-something to sing The Star Spangled Banner; and not just the usual ballgame anthem, but even the second verse that no one below the age of 80 ever knew existed. Despite being a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, I'm of the camp that singing the national anthem at church is a major faux pas at the least, though I concede that it never sounded better in my whole life than with an organ accompaniment. I'm not sure if this was a glimpse into the remnant of the old northeastern WASP establishment; the Main Line is an area with a venerable old Episcopal or Presbyterian church every mile, and you don't have to drive far from here to see posh prep schools on every corner; or if I just live in a bubble and singing the national anthem after Mass is normal in the rest of the American Catholic world, too. 


After-Mass refreshments

Like any other proper church, there were refreshments in the form of lemonade and pastries waiting for us in the hall after Mass. The priest was among the first to talk to us, and from there, we ended up gabbing with most of the congregants for an hour or more. They were exceedingly friendly and even started offering to help me find a job in the area. Mostly, I asked about the members' conversion stories or how the community came to be. Merely mentioning having come from Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio seemed to confer instant street cred. It turned out that my old pastor had visited them some time ago, was something of a minor celebrity among their ranks. Being former parishioners of his was probably akin to saying we once had dinner with Peter O'Toole.


It slowly dawned on me that we were likely the most senior Catholics in the room, priest not excepted. Nearly everyone was a new convert from the Church of the Good Shepherd, a property of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). The following recap of their story, as gleamed in these after-Mass chats, is sure to be lacking and may err in one or two small points, but here is how I understand it: Good Shepherd was once a crown jewel of the Anglo-Catholic sphere of Episcopalianism in the Main Line. Relations between this parish and the Diocese began straining since the '70s when the Episcopal Church at large began ordaining women into the clergy, and have only gotten worse since then. A few of the members pointed to the Episcopal Church's latest moves in favor of same-sex unions as a shining example of why they're glad they left. At any rate, their rector, after a decade-long lawsuit and loss against the Diocese, eventually came to the conclusion that the only way forward was to seek union with the (Roman) Catholic Church under the provisions given by Pope Benedict XVI.

It must have been a humbling experience for the rector since I learned that, though he been conferred the status of bishop by the TAC (Traditional Anglican Communion, a breakaway group), Rome decided neither to recognize any of his orders as valid nor place him as a candidate for ordination as a Catholic priest (at least at present); he decided to proceed with his conversion to the Catholic faith as a layman, anyway. The priest who celebrated Mass when I visited had been ordained for another Ordinariate community in Philadelphia, Saint Michael the Archangel's, just a few years ago, and was doing double-duty for Blessed John Henry Newman as well on Sunday evenings.

I was even more inspired when listening to the lay faithful here, who were mostly older folks, about their conversions. It was easy for me to decide to join the Catholic faith at 18, when one naturally begins to question the boundaries placed before them their whole lives. To be a lifelong Episcopalian since the Eisenhower Administration and then, in the latter years of one's life, decide to pack up and move to Catholicism without even a church building to call your own, must be a wrenching experience. Most seemed to believe that, even though the congregation that stayed behind at Good Shepherd was even smaller than they were and are doomed to bankruptcy and closure in a matter of years, the Newman Community's chances of buying their old property back were slim to none. "The Diocese would sooner sell the church to Muslims or turn it into apartment space!", one exclaimed. I hope I didn't discourage that gentleman when I remarked that most Catholic dioceses are prone to doing the same thing when faced with offers by groups like the Society of Saint Pius X.


On the way out, I mused that, despite the bleakness of the situation, it could just be the beginning of a bright new future for them. I wasn't alive yet during my old parish's foundation in the early '80s, but I imagine Our Lady of the Atonement wasn't much different when it first started, either. Today, that parish is not a ragtag band of ex-Anglican refugees, but rather has four very well-attended Masses every Sunday in a splendid church building, a full K-12 parochial school, a wide range of spiritual and musical events throughout the year, and all sorts of active ministries in the larger Catholic community.

I look forward to visiting other churches in the Philadelphia area, such as Saint Michael's (the other Ordinariate community), the traditional Latin Mass communities, perhaps a few Eastern-rite churches, and posting my thoughts on those as I see fit.