Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Five Quick Takes


Snow always brings the mid-Atlantic to a standstill. I’ve never understood this. It comes literally every year. And every time, native Marylanders, Virginians, and Washingtonians behave as though radioactive, intelligent, self-locomoting fangs are falling from the heavens, and the only way to repel them is with milk-soaked toilet paper.

Come to think of it, I suppose it’s equally ridiculous that I manage to be driven to the brink of criminal insanity by this every time it happens, since it’s literally as predictable as the snow that provokes it. Maybe I should work on that.

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Lent will be upon us soon; just a smidge over two weeks till Ash Wednesday. I’m thinking that I may reread Theology of the Body this Lent; I did a couple of years ago, and it was very nourishing, but I don’t think I understood more than half of it. It’s a demanding read, but it’s fairly manageable in the forty days the season gives you.

This particular Lent is a special one for us in the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter. On Candlemas (February 2nd), we will be getting our first bishop! His name is Monsignor Steven Lopes, and he will be consecrated at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, which will then become a cathedral proper. This is the first time that an Anglican Ordinariate will receive a bishop anywhere in the world; hitherto, all our ordinaries have been married men, who can’t be made bishops in the Catholic Church. Msgr Lopes has taught theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, served in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and been the personal chaplain to Pope Benedict XVI. I’m looking forward to having such a creditable figure as our first bishop.

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I assume that the sort of person who reads Mudblood Catholic is likely to be the sort who takes an interest in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages, and perhaps knows already of Ardalambion, an online encyclopædia of all the known tongues of Middle-earth. I’ve been thinking a good deal about Nandorin, or Silvan Elvish; it’s a problematic aspect of Tolkienian linguistics, as the material is so sparse (there’s almost no record of Silvan grammar, and the wordlist has only about thirty entries).

Now, I can’t be sure about it, since my knowledge of linguistics is about as amateur as it comes, but I’ve hit upon a theory I’m liking more and more, that might not only straighten out the awful tangle that is the Silvan corpus, but even allow us to expand on it. Quenya and Sindarin, the best-known and most filled out languages Tolkien constructed, were modeled on Finnish and Welsh respectively, at least in terms of sound. Well, looking at some of the phonological trends in Nandorin, I think it shows evidence of being modeled on Old English, another language Tolkien was fond of.

This may explain a lot of oddities in Tolkien’s work on Silvan: the weird vowel mutations in certain words, unparalleled in any other Elvish language; the existence of the æ sound (like the a in cat), which dropped out of the others; the apparent preservation of kw as cw or c, though all other close relatives of Silvan change it to p; the preservation of sp at the beginning of words, where Quenya and Sindarin alter it to f. If I’m right that my readers enjoy thinking and reading about this stuff, tell me so, and I may write a piece about it! (And if not, tell me that too, because for the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy it, I can understand why linguistics would be dull as balls.)

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I’ve been praying to and thinking about the Blessed Virgin Mary more than usual lately. Not sure why. I wouldn’t say that she’s more approachable than God; I mean, in one sense she is, since God is unimaginably Other, while Mary is at least a human being even as the Mother of God. But praying to God is easy enough in its way, since He is more intimately present to us than anyone or anything else is or ever could be: In Him we live and move and have our being.

Anyhow, I’m finding it easier to address her. When I pray to God, there’s this feeling of muteness, almost like emptiness. It isn’t an unpleasant feeling, though it is odd. Speaking to the Blessed Mother, I can formulate words at least, and I feel I’m growing into my relationship with her somewhat. I tend to hold her at arm’s length: I have always found it natural to venerate her as the Queen of creation, even when I was a Calvinist, but being affectionate and open with her as the Mother of Christians is threatening. Intimacy is always threatening. Love contains every kind of pain except the pain of damnation in it (and, who knows, it may be that the anguish of the damned consists largely in the rejection of that pain which, in a fallen world, is always the cost of love), and the more people you love and the more deeply you love them, the more vulnerable you are. Even being perfect is no defense—it may defend you from the pain of a wounded ego, but neither holiness nor wickedness can defend you from the pain of your beloved mistreating you, or their just being caught in some kind of brokenness. The Mother of God, conceived without sin, is also the Mother of Sorrows; and her Son, the ‘desire of the everlasting hills,’ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

But it is worth it. Few passages in literature are as stirring as Ransom’s speech to the Green Lady (the Eve of Venus) and the tempter-possessed Professor Weston, in C. S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra. When he is asked whether Maleldil, i.e. God, brought good out of the Fall of Man:

‘I will tell you what I say,’ answered Ransom, jumping to his feet. ‘Of course good came of it. Is Maleldil a beast that we can block His way, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost forever. The first King and first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing; and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good; and what they lost we have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor ever will come.’ He turned to the body of Weston. ‘You,’ he said, ‘tell her all. What good came to you? Do you rejoice that Maleldil became a man? Tell her of your joys, and of what profit you had when you made Maleldil and death acquainted.’1

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Rev Franklin Graham’s appalling performance at Focus on the Family recently2 (part of a trend on his part, unhappily) seems to have reëstablished the homophobia of conservative Christians for some people. Among a host of hideous remarks, his asinine assertion that bisexuality ‘means orgies’ would be funny if it weren’t so damaging to those bisexuals who are just trying to, you know, live their lives (including, ahem, some believers). It is offensive, and it’s hypocritical—that any believer, let alone one who is in professional ministry, should say ‘We have to be so careful who we let into the churches’ is a profoundly shaming fact.

But I find that for me, it’s more dismal and sad than angering. I was raised in a conservative household and an evangelical Protestant culture; and the way that culture seems to have spiritually decayed in the past decade or so borders on the tragic. Or maybe I had the good fortune to have been brought up in one of its better enclaves. The idea of barring people from church would have been not only wrong but incomprehensible to the churches that I grew up in, and conservatism, even when it meant a culture war, didn’t (always) mean demonizing people who weren’t Christians or Christians who disagreed with us. I still have a good deal of sympathy with many conservative ideals, though I’ve moved far from others; watching people like Graham, Trump, Palin, and Santorum become the face of the right has been a gloomy coming-of-age. I expected better even of opponents; after all, you can be opponents without being enemies—like Chesterton and Shaw. God grant this is a barbarous interlude only, and not a harbinger of a deepening descent.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.3

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1This is from Perelandra, the second and finest novel of the Cosmic Trilogy; unfortunately I don’t know what page it’s from, as I got this from Gutenberg Canada (I haven’t a copy of my own). But you can find the novel at this link.
2I prefer, when at all possible, to report people’s own words rather than quoting other news sites, since all media comes with spin. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a transcript of Rev Graham’s comments as such, so I chose this link because it does at least quote him at some length and include a recording.
3W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming, ll. 1-8.

1 comment:

  1. You are quite right about the (specifically phonological) influence of Old English in Tolkien’s invention of Nandorin; well observed! (It’s been noted more than once before, and has been known in Tolkienian linguistics for quite some time; but don’t let that stop you from writing about it!)