Bossuet sur la vie de Marie

Those who grow weary of Jesus, and are ashamed to see him spend his life in such total obscurity, weary also of the Blessed Virgin and wish to attribute an endless series of miracles to her. But the evangelist tells us: “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). The business of Jesus was to devote himself to his craft; the business of Mary was to meditate day and night on the secrets of God.

When she had lost her Son, did she change her occupation? Where do we see her appear in the Acts of the Apostles or in the tradition of the Church? She is named among those who were in the Upper Room and who received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), and this is all that is reported.

Was that not a sufficiently worthy occupation: to keep in her heart all that she had witnessed of her Son? And if the mysteries of his childhood were so sweet a subject of contemplation, how much more will she find to think about in the rest of his life!

Mary meditated on Jesus. Mary, who with St. John is the image of the contemplative life, remained in perpetual contemplation, melting, liquefying in love and desire. What does the Church read on the day of her glorious Assumption? The Gospel of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, seated at the Savior’s feet and listening to his words (Luke 10:39). In the treasury of the Scriptures, the Church found nothing more suitable for Mary the Mother of God and so borrowed the Gospel of divine contemplation from another Mary.

What then should be said to those who wish all manner of precious things to be declared about the Blessed Virgin? What should be said to those who are not satisfied by humble and perfect contemplation? For this is what satisfied Mary, and also Jesus himself for thirty years. The silence of the Scriptures about this divine Mother is the greatest and most eloquent of praise.

This then is the part for me: Mary “kept these things in her heart.” “One thing is needful,” and Mary chose the better part, which shall not be taken away from her (cf. Luke 10:42). Human pride, what are you complaining about with all your anxieties? That you are nothing in the world? What kind of figure was Jesus? What kind of figure was Mary? They were the wonder of the world, a spectacle for God and his angels, and what did they do? Of what consequence were they? What sort of name did they have? And you wish to be renowned and celebrated? You know neither Mary nor Jesus. You want a position that will show off your talents, not bury them. But Jesus makes use of you and gives you these talents, for which he tells us that he will demand an account. The talent that is buried with Jesus and hidden in him: is that not lovely enough in his eyes? Go. You are vain, and you are seeking in an activity that you think to be pious and useful only a pasture for your self-love.

I am stranded. I have nothing to do. My work is too lowly for me and brings me no pleasure. I want to leave it behind and to take my family with me. Did Mary and Jesus seek to advance themselves? Look at the divine carpenter with his saw and plane, his tender hands calloused by the use of those rude tools. He stands behind no podium: he would rather exercise a craft that is more humble and more necessary for life. He wields no pen and writes no beautiful words, but he stays at his work and earns his living. He works, he praises, and he blesses the will of God in his humiliation.

And what work did he do on the one occasion when he escaped from the custody of his parents and set himself to the affairs of his heavenly Father? He labored for the salvation of men. Yet you say, “I have nothing to do,” when in fact the work of the salvation of men is, in part, confided to you. Have you no enemies to reconcile? Quarrels to pacify? Differences to bring to end, so that the Savior can say, “you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15)? Is there no wretch who needs to be dissuaded from his complaints, blasphemy, and despair? And should all of these works be taken away from you, will you not still have the work of your own salvation, which for each one of us truly is a work of God? Go to the Temple, if necessary, run away from your mother and father, renounce flesh and blood, and say with Jesus, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day” (John 9:4). Let us tremble and humble ourselves if we think nothing in our work worthy of our time.


Some antinomies for Dignitatis humanae

Hermeneutic of Continuity
“[This council] searches into the sacred tradition and doctrine of the Church-the treasury out of which the Church continually brings forth new things that are in harmony with the things that are old […] it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”
Hermeneutic of Rupture
The church has fundamentally changed; what is now held contradicts what was before, and whereas current teaching is correct, previous teaching would (if maintained now) be in error. The curtain has fallen, the old teachings have been stripped from the mantle and rent asunder, and new teachings have been installed.
Coercing Faith
“[T]he human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.
Forbidding Unbelief
“[Unbelievers] should be compelled by the faithful, if it be possible to do so, so that they do not hinder the faith, by their blasphemies, or by their evil persuasions, or even by their open persecutions. It is for this reason that Christ’s faithful often wage war with unbelievers, not indeed for the purpose of forcing them to believe, because even if they were to conquer them, and take them prisoners, they should still leave them free to believe, if they will, but in order to prevent them from hindering the faith of Christ.”
Religious Freedom
“[T]he right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.”
Religious Toleration
“Those who are in authority rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred. […] [T]he rites of other unbelievers, which are neither truthful nor profitable are by no means to be tolerated, except perchance in order to avoid an evil, e.g. the scandal or disturbance that might ensue, or some hindrance to the salvation of those who if they were unmolested might gradually be converted to the faith.”

Interviews with Historians

Below I reproduce interviews conducted in the early 1990s with four major Anglophone historians: Hugh Trevor-Roper, Steven Runciman, Moses I. Finley, and Lawrence Stone. This sort of thing is delightful to me, so I’ve taken the time to convert them and upload them on the chance that someone else might delight in them, too.

Liberalism’s intractability problem

Liberalism (or modernity, or secularism, or whatever you want to blame) has lots of problems, most of which I don’t intend to rehearse here. What I do want to probe for a moment is its inability to solve any of them. Imagine item X. X has one or two intended effects which are quite potent. Some people need X to procure these effects; many many others want X, for better or worse reasons, to use it and abuse it as they see fit, and to weather both its intended and unintended effects. Those people who need X really do need it; those who want it, generally don’t.

How’s this apportioning to occur? Who makes sure those that need receive, and those that don’t, don’t? The market? Obviously not. The coincidence of one’s needs and one’s pockets can only be accidental, and more while you could restrict access to X to the very rich, and you’d be keeping it from widespread abuse, you’d also be keeping it from widespread use by those who need it, and might as well ban the thing outright if that’s the only effect you’re seeking.

Naturally, the needy from the greedy can be difficult to tell apart. The effects of the abusers of X are so destructive, though, that to let them slip through would be heinous; and yet the efforts required to sort them out can be so arduous that by the end of the process, though you may have strained out all the eels, the good fish remaining have been so molested and tormented that they wonder if it was worth the process. By adopting a posture of suspicion at the start in order to sniff out the bad, the good get filleted as they go along.

X can be any number of things: medical cannabis, Ritalin,  Adderall, legal separation from one’s spouse, medical intervention during pregnancy, you name it.

So the duty falls to the police. We can’t sort right from wrong and we can’t tell good from bad, but we can legislate legal from illegal. Valid licenses and prescriptions (attempt to) make sure that X falls into the hands only of those whose need for it is genuine, and the lack thereof sends its abusers to prison. On this view, naturally, all laws, all proscriptions, are evaluated on whether we want policemen kicking in grandma’s door to enforce them.

“Very well,” the line goes, “things cannot be un-invented, and once our technology is here it’s here; if we want it to go away, we’ve got to violence it out of our lives.” But violence is a term with an immense amount of unexamined baggage, and inevitably it comes again to mean policemen kicking in grandma’s door, shooting her dog, tasing her son, and sending everyone on the premises to jail for several years. We are unable to imagine that enforcement could occur in any other way, and if all our problems are permanent problems only to be house-raided and arrested out of our lives, it’s no wonder we don’t rush around trying to solve them.

The Name-Worshipers and the Name-Fighters

My friend Fr. Koczera has drawn my attention to the imiaslavie controversy at the beginning of the last century, which Tom Dysktra describes here:

On July 3, 1913 some four hundred monks of the Athonite monastery of St. Panteleimon fled to one of their dormitory buildings and set to work barricading the entrances with bed boards. Bayoneted rifles in hand, sailors of the Russian Imperial Navy surrounded the building while their officers exhorted the unarmed monks to give up peacefully. To no avail. Prepared for martyrdom but hoping in God’s help, the monks sang, prayed, did prostrations, and took up icons and crosses to defend themselves. Finally the trumpet rang out with the command to “shoot,” and the calm of the Holy Mountain was rent by the roar … not of firearms, but of fire hoses. After an hour-long “cold shower” dampened the monks’ spirits, the sailors rushed the building and began to drag recalcitrant devotees of the contemplative life out of the corridors.
These events took place on a narrow peninsula in northern Greece some forty miles long by five miles wide, named “Mt. Athos” after the 6,000 foot mountain towering over the end of it. Since the tenth century this stretch of land has been set aside for the exclusive use of Eastern Orthodox monks, a status instituted by the Byzantine Empire and maintained by the Turks after they conquered it in 1453. Though located in Greece it eventually became an international center for Orthodox monasti­cism, and the nineteenth century saw such a mass immigration of Russians that by the beginning of the twentieth the mountain was really more Russian than Greek. That situation was not to last long, and the events narrated above marked the beginning of the end. In 1913 the Russian government forcibly expelled more than eight hundred of its own citizens from Mt. Athos, and these were followed in succeeding months by as many as one thousand more who would have been expelled had they not left voluntarily.

Latin concessions to the Greeks at Reunion Councils

From the letter Sub Catholicae to the Bishop of Tusculum, of the Legation of the Apostolic See among the Greeks, March 6, 1254:

And so concerning these matters our deliberation has resulted thus, that Greeks of the same kingdom in the anointings, which are made with respect to baptism, should hold to and observe the custom of the Roman Church. But the rite or custom which they are said to have, of anointing completely the bodies of those to be baptized may be tolerated, if it cannot be given up or be removed without scandal, since, whether or not it be done, it makes no great difference with regard to the efficacy or effect of baptism. Also it makes no difference whether they baptize in cold or in hot water, since they are said to affirm that baptism has equal power and effect in each.

Moreover, let bishops alone mark the baptized on the forehead with chrism, because this anointing is not to be given except by bishops, since the apostles alone, whose places the bishops take, are read to have imparted the Holy Spirit by the imposition of the hand, which confirmation, or the anointing of the forehead represents. Also all bishops individually in their own churches on the day of the Lord’s Supper can, according to the form of the Church, prepare chrism from balsam and olive oil. For the gift of the Holy Spirit is given in the anointing with chrism. And particularly the dove, which signifies the Spirit Himself, is read to have brought the olive branch to the ark. But if the Greeks should wish rather to preserve their own ancient rite in this, namely, that the patriarch together with the archbishops and bishops, his suffragans and the archbishops with their suffragans, prepare chrism at the same time, let them be tolerated in such a custom of theirs.


Furthermore in the application of water, whether cold or hot or tepid, in the sacrifice of the altar, let the Greeks follow their own custom if they wish, as long as they believe and declare that, when the form of the canon has been preserved, it is accomplished equally by each (kind of water). But let them not preserve the Eucharist consecrated on the day of the Lord’s Supper for a year on the pretext of the sick, that with it they may obviously communicate themselves. It may be permitted them, however, in behalf of the sick themselves, to consecrate the body of Christ and to preserve it for fifteen days, but not for a longer period of time, lest through its long preservation, perchance by a change in the species, it be rendered less suitable to receive, although the truth and its efficacy always remain entirely the same, and never by any length of time or the mutability of time do they grow weak. But in the celebration of solemn and other Masses, and concerning the hour of celebrating these, as long as in the preparation and in the consecration they observe the form of words expressed and handed down by the Lord, and (as long as) in celebrating they do not pass the ninth hour, let them be permitted to follow their own custom.

From the decrees of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, Session 6, 6 July 1439:

Also, the body of Christ is truly confected in both unleavened and leavened wheat bread, and priests should confect the body of Christ in either, that is, each priest according to the custom of his western or eastern church. Also, if truly penitent people die in the love of God before they have made satisfaction for acts and omissions by worthy fruits of repentance, their souls are cleansed after death by cleansing pains; and the suffrages of the living faithful avail them in giving relief from such pains, that is, sacrifices of masses, prayers, almsgiving and other acts of devotion which have been customarily performed by some of the faithful for others of the faithful in accordance with the church’s ordinances.

Reprinting old books

Finding myself unusually pressed for time lately, I haven’t been able to keep on top of the one-post-per-weekday blogging schedule that I initially set for myself. What I have had time to do, which takes not much time at all, is put back into print (via CreateSpace, Amazon’s cheapo independent publishing platform) a couple good books that, unjustly neglected, have gotten too expensive and too hard to find. So far I have:

  • Ernst Kantorowicz’s biography of Frederick the Second. Written in 1927 and translated in 1956, this fascinating early work from the man who would later write The King’s Two Bodies has long been out of print.
  • Twenty-five sermons of Jeremy Taylor, the euphonious Anglican divine.
  • The History of Herodotus (first three books only), as translated in sonorous Gibbonian English by the 18th-century classicist John Lemprière.

Two others are still pending approval, but will soon be available (in the next day or two):

  • Also a 19th-century translation of Bossuet’s Universal History;
  • And an affordable reprint of Fr. Adrian Fortescue’s The Orthodox Eastern Church.

If you have any suggestions for out-of-print books that ought to be put back into print, and if you think there are clean, reprintable PDFs available thereof, I’d be happy to give them a go. I am pricing these at-cost, so I don’t make any money on them, and will be more than happy if just a few people are gratified to seem them made available once again.