Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Hermit of Annaya (Re-Post)

As today is the feast of St. Sharbel on the General Calendar (the Maronites usually recognize today as a feast of St. Sharbel on their calendars, but actually celebrate his feast on the last Sunday of July), here is a re-post of a post from 2019.


 Today is the feast of St. Sharbel Makhlouf, or Charbel, monk, priest, and hermit of Lebanon. He joined the Lebanese Maronite Order in 1851, and was granted permission to enter the eremitic life in 1875, in which he stayed until his death on Christmas Eve in 1898. The Maronite Catholic Church began as an ascetic movement, St. Maroun himself having been an open-air hermit, so hermits are very important to it as part of carrying forward its heritage. A few months after his death, there were reports of a bright light shining over his grave, and people have ever since traveled to his grave at Annaya for healing.

A little-known fact: there is a fossil crustacean, Charbelicaris maronites, a probable relative of the modern-day lobster, named after him, due to its discovery in Lebanon.


Feast of St. Sharbel

O Christ our Light, You fill the earth with light;
You choose worthy teachers to teach Your Church,
securing the good of those who love God,
molding Your people into Your image.
You give Your saints the word of life and truth;
as flame to flame they kindle ardent faith,
each a star to show us the path of life.

From Sharbel's hermitage a great light shines:
through his prayers we receive salvation,
through his intercessions, health of spirit.
O Sharbel, you found the pearl of great price,
giving everything that you might have it.
Our Lord Jesus Christ called you to follow,
and without hesitation you followed.


Cedars grow tall on Liban hills,
life rooted deeper than human will;
flame is bright over muddy grave
of a hermit-saint who hid his face;
the heart is kissed by burning light
as cedar soars to sun and sky,
is charged with day without a night,
and burns but is not burned.

Monday, July 22, 2024

A Potato Is a Poem

 And if a man could ask for a potato in the form of a poem, the poem would not be merely a more romantic but a much more realistic rendering of a potato. For a potato is a poem; it is even an ascending scale of poems; beginning at the root, in subterranean grotesques in the Gothic manner, with humps like the deformities of a goblin and eyes like a beast of Revelation, and rising up through the green shades of the earth to a crown that has the shape of stars and the hue of Heaven.

G. K. Chesterton, "The Slavery of Free Verse", Fancies Versus Fads

I'm currently going through a rather brutal period of grading, so things will likely be light here and perhaps also next week.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Open Sea-Shore of My Soul

by Alice Meynell 

As the inhastening tide doth roll,
Dear and desired, along the whole
 Wide shining strand, and floods the caves,
 Your love comes filling with happy waves
The open sea-shore of my soul. 

 But inland from the seaward spaces,
None knows, not even you, the places
 Brimmed, at your coming, out of sight,  --
The little solitudes of delight
This tide constrains in dim embraces. 

 You see the happy shore, wave-rimmed,
But know not of the quiet dimmed
 Rivers your coming floods and fills,
 The little pools ’mid happier hills,
My silent rivulets, over-brimmed. 

 What, I have secrets from you? Yes.
But, visiting Sea, your love doth press
 And reach in further than you know,
 And fills all these; and when you go,
There’s loneliness in loneliness.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Huw Price on Princes

 Huw Price has an interesting, if quixotic, article at "Pearls and Irritations", Conscription and the Monarchy -- the infant in the room. In it he argues that the children of royalty aren't allowed normal choices in life and that they should have the right to them. He has made this argument before, and for some very difficult to discern reason he always seems to take it as an especially clinching argument against the Australian monarchy.

It's very difficult to pin down what exactly the right is that Price thinks princes and princesses are denied. "Normal choices in life" is not something children generally have; at least, the actual choices children have are extremely limited. For instance, Australian children are in some sense denied normal choices in life; if 'normal choices' are just choices that can usually be made, it's a statistical normality, and being born in Australia prevents you from making all sorts of choices that are normal around the world. The population of Australia is dwarfed by populations that have very different customs with regard to children and therefore very different choices. I can hardly imagine that Price thinks we should abolish citizenship as well as principality and republics as well as monarchies.  It's obviously some particular kinds of 'normal choices' that Price has in mind; but he never really tells us what they are, nor why these rather than other kinds of choices are the ones about which we should be concerned. And when he's ever actually pressed on it, what he actually talks about is not the child's choices but the parents' choices, as he does in this very argument when countering the objection that the children of the wealthy are often in analogous situations.

Likewise, he likes to use the word 'conscription', but never does anything to contrast it with other things that have been called the conscription of children, like mandatory schooling, which is almost always justified as making them suited to a what is in fact a public office, even if not always called such because of its fundamental nature, namely, that of citizen. In fact, that's where conscription, at least in modern societies, is found: in countries that have the draft, or like the United States leave open the option of the draft, actual conscription is based on the duties of citizenship. And this is part of the problem; he seems so taken with the argument that he never clarifies what we are to make of the fact that we are all born under duties and obligations that are taken to override our choices.

What I really find puzzling, though, is that he never discusses the actual reason for the situation he bemoans, in which princes and princesses have limited options. Why do they have limited options? Because the role of the Royal Family has been sharply curtailed so as to be nothing but a tool of the Crown. Being nothing but instruments of the Crown, princes and princesses are obviously going to be required always to do things in light of the interests of the Crown. There are lots of monarchies in which kingship is just a title with some responsibilities, in the way that being a landed baron is, but the British form of monarchy partly develops as a way to limit both the power of the king and even more sharply the power (and thus choices) of anyone around the king. Both the United Kingdom and Australia are sometimes called 'crowned republics'; this cannot be taken seriously (at all of the United Kingdom, which is not in any way republican at all, and for most things of Australia, which does have republican features but interwoven with clearly non-republican features), but the grain of truth in it is that much of how the monarchy currently works in Commonwealth countries has arisen not from the nature of monarchy itself but from continual attempts to force the monarchy not to act quite like a monarchy but like a state-dignity-machine.

He ends:

Many of us hope that we’ll have another chance to make Australia a republic—within our lifetimes, if we’re lucky. In pressing for that change, let’s remember that it is not just about our right to govern ourselves. It’s also about the rights of a few British children, presently conscripted to do the job.
Australians usually have their referenda on monarchy or republic when the reigning monarch dies, so I almost read this as Price wishing for King Charles to hurry up and die; but then I remembered that the Australians postponed the referendum after the death of Queen Elizabeth, so perhaps that is the one that he means.  Or perhaps he thinks it might happen by some other means. But in any case, what I actually find interesting is the phrase "make Australia a republic", which sums up entirely why republicans in Commonwealth countries are usually loons. You can't just up and make something a republic. That's not how republics work at all; a lot of things have to come together for them. The transition from monarchy to republic is a particularly harsh transition, because the habits of governance and self-governance have to change rather extensively in order to make it; no nation has ever made the transition without several severe stumbles, and remarkably few have even succeeded at all. Most attempts to "make monarchy X a republic" end up actually making a third-world dictatorship in which the tyrant calls himself "President" and the people are less free than they would be under a king. The consistent evidence of history is that monarchies are just easier to build and maintain than republics, so the move from the former to the latter switches a lot of things from 'easy' to 'hard', and every people who have ever made the change have struggled with some of the new hard-mode features. Actually rising to the challenge requires a complete change in politics, because in a republic everything that is a matter of national identity is a matter of politics. People abroad are often astonished at the insanities of American politics, but I tell you, my friends, this is how politics in an actual republic works; the formats and institutions may change, but there is a particular kind of mixture of patriotism and paranoia and chaos that is needed to make a republic work, and by the nature of a republic it infects everything.

Of all the Commonwealth monarchies (and indeed, I would argue all the Commonwealth nations, monarchy or not), Australia is the one best positioned to make the transition to a republic. A major part of that is that its hybridized form of government means that its habits of governance and self-governance are already adapted to at least some republic-like institutions. Since lack of this adaptation is one of the big stumbling-blocks, as far as history seems to tell us, that headstart counts for a lot. But 'republic' is not just a decal you slap on the chassis; it's an entire way of doing things. Even if Australians were to vote to become a republic, and start calling themselves a republic, Australia will not be a republic in our lifetime, but only some weird hybrid thing sliding erratically in a vaguely republican-ish direction. Republicans in Commonwealth countries are usually loons because they have somehow picked up the idea that you can just wave a magic wand of voting and transform, but republics are an immense amount of work.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Novelist Supreme

 Jane Austen died in Winchester on July 18, 1817; she was 41 years old. From one of the three prayers she wrote for family devotions:

Father of Heaven! whose goodness has brought us in safety to the close of this day, dispose our hearts in fervent prayer. Another day is now gone, and added to those, for which we were before accountable. Teach us almighty father, to consider this solemn truth, as we should do, that we may feel the importance of every day, and every hour as it passes, and earnestly strive to make a better use of what thy goodness may yet bestow on us, than we have done of the time past. 

 Give us grace to endeavour after a truly Christian spirit to seek to attain that temper of forbearance and patience of which our blessed saviour has set us the highest example; and which, while it prepares us for the spiritual happiness of the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoyment of what this world can give. Incline us oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves....

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Problem of Arthur's Battles

 It is fairly universal across the legends constituting the Matter of Britain that Arthur, after he became king, fought in a war of consolidation against the northern British kings and then fought a war against the Saxons. The former is fairly well developed, but the latter much less so. The primary text on the Saxon Wars is that of Nennius, in his Historia Brittonum (sect. 50):

Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was engaged, was at the mouth of the river Gleni. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linuis. The sixth, on the river Bassas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at the City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no strength can avail against the will of the Almighty.

This seems explicit enough, but runs into the problem that we don't actually know where any of these places are, and the only battle that has any date in any sources is Badon (516 in the Welsh Annals, although Gildas seems to suggest it was before 500). It's also worth noting that (1) Nennius doesn't actually say that these were all in a single campaign, and (2) it's not entirely clear that what the principle of his ordering is. Nonetheless, it's common to assume that this list is at least more-or-less chronological order in a single major campaign. If we do assume that, it's still unclear whether the campaign would have been in the north (Scottish border), or the center (the area around York and Lincoln) or the south (around Caerleon).

Suggestions are plagued by loose fantasies with names, so that pretty much every river in Britain with a name like Glein, Gleni, or Glen, gets to claim the first battle, and so on with the rest. Since many of the names are not distinctive -- Glen would just mean 'pure' and Douglas would just mean 'black water' --this doesn't help much. But on the other hand, it's true that we have very little more than names and basic descriptions. We have a fairly good mix of geographical identifiers, and he order of the battles in terms of geography is: river, river, river, river, river, river, wood, castle, city, river, mountain/hill, mountain/hill. But these are all so generic that they don't provide much guidance. The name that seems most promising is Caerleon (City of Legions); Caerleon in these contexts usually means Caerleon-on-Usk, in the south of Wales, which seems to suggest a southern campaign, and this is a common proposal. On the other hand, "the wood Celidon" seems to some to suggest the Caledonian Forest, which would put it in the north. The primary virtues of a more central campaign are the importance of York (Eboracum) and the ability of the central campaign to allow some northern or southern action if you like.

I suspect the southern campaign option is the most popular one today; one reason for that is historical -- it just does not seem historically likely that there were enough Saxons in the north to be that much of a threat. Nonetheless, the legendarium seems clearly to envisage a northern campaign. In the Vulgate Cycle, the main Old French sequence of stories, the northern kings fail to defeat Arthur in part because their war with him is interrupted by a Saxon invasion of their countries, thus giving them a more immediate problem; Arthur's wars with the Saxons grow causally out of this, so it seems he has to be fighting in the north. Wace seems to envisage a war spanning an impossibly large portion of the island: major waypoints are 'beyond York', York, Lincoln, Bath, and Totnes, but strikingly the whole thing ends at Loch Lomond, with Arthur having invaded Scotland to terrorize the Scots for supposedly having aided the Saxons.

If I want to fill out some of the framework here, I need to make some choice about where the battles would have taken place. The legends seem to push me to a northern campaign. My current tentative idea is something like this:

(1) The river Gleni: Sometimes 'Glein'. The mouth of the River Glen, overlooked by Yeavering Bell (Ad Gefrin, where there is an Iron Age hillfort)

(2), (3), (4), (5) The river Duglas in the region Linuis: Various locations around Douglas Water in Lanarkshire

(6) The river Bassas: This is generally recognized as the most elusive site, regardless of the assumptions one makes, and it's one on which I waver. I'm inclined to make it a minor tributary of the Clyde somewhere in the very broad vicinity of Fallburn Hill Fort or Crawford Castle. A suggestion that is sometimes made is that it is Cambuslang, up near Glasgow, which has some Arthurian associations (although perhaps not close enough to make it stand out) and a nearby Iron Age hill fort. It's also not a stretch for it to be a battle after some battles along the River Douglas. Thus it has some attractions; but then 'the river Bassas' would just be the river Clyde, and I am not sure why it wouldn't just have been called that, since it's one of the rivers with the most durable names.

(7) The wood Celidon: The Great Wood of Caledonia, perhaps near Drumelzier.

(8) Near Gurnion Castle: Near a Roman fort somewhere around Stow of Wedale.

(9) The City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion: I am strongly inclined to go well out on a limb with Carlisle, previously Luguvalium, in Cumbria. It would have been Caer Luel, not Caer Leon. But if Nennius saw anything described as 'the City of Legion', he may have just assumed that it was Caerleon, because this is what 'Caerleon' was taken to mean. York (Eboracum) would probably be safer -- it may have occasionally been called City of Legions, and comes into the campaign anyway, and the legendarium has the Saxons besieging York in the time of Uther. But there was a Roman legion stationed at Luguvalium, and a Roman fort (where Carlisle Castle is currently found); and Carlisle would have been in Rheged, one of the northern kingdoms that the legends suggest were invaded by the Saxons. Some people suggest the Roman hillfort of Trimontium, and it would have been a thriving place, although as far as I know, no one ever calls it 'City of Legion'.

(10) The banks of the river Trat Treuroit: Sometimes 'Tribuit' or 'Trevoit'. Hexham/Warden, where the North Tyne and the South Tyne join to become the Tyne. If one were to do Trimontium, the River Teviot would be the obvious choice.

(11) The mountain Breguoin: Sometimes 'Agned'. The Roman fort of Bremenium, near Rochester.

(12) The hill of Badon: Cockleroy Hill, near Linlithgow. Then Arthur and Hoel could march to Loch Lomond, as in Wace.

In Google Maps, the campaign would look something like this. Of course, many of the particular places are only approximate, and armies would not have been following modern roads except perhaps occasionally where the modern roads happen to follow much older Roman roads. Some of these overlap with places suggested by those who posit Arthur as 'really' a Scottish king; this is not consistent with the legends, but many of the places would make some kind of sense of the legendary battles. You might also notice the regular associations with Iron Age and Roman hillforts. (This would make sense of Nennius's list, I think; it might well be a list of hillforts of which he or his source knew, which then were associated with Arthur. And there does seem a sporadic impulse in the legendary traditions to associate Arthur with Roman and Iron Age hillforts, in much the way that Merlin is often associated with Neolithic monuments.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Links of Note

 * Rob Alspaugh, Cur Deus Homo II.10-15, and Cur Deus Homo II.16-18a, at "Teaching Boys Badly"

* Constantin Luft, What's in a Name? Legal Fictions and Philosophical Fictionalism (PDF)

* Menashe Chaim Roberts, Development in the Analytic Philosophy of Judaism, at "The APA Blog"

* J. Dmitri Gallow, Surreal Probabilities (PDF)

* Patrick Flynn, The Philosophical Attraction to a Simple God, at "The Journal of Absolute Truth"

* Tai-Dong Nguyen & Manh-Tung Ho, People as the Roots (of the State): Democratic Elements in the Politics of Traditional Vietnamese Confucianism (PDF)

* Shahidha Bari, What do clothes say?, at ""

* Rosanna Picascia, Our epistemic dependence on others: Nyaya and Buddhist accounts of testimony as a source of knowledge (PDF). This is a fascinating paper, well worth the time of anyone interested in the nature of testimonial evidence.

* Timothy B. Jaeger, Phenomenology's First Lady: Hedwig Conrad-Martius and Phenomenological Realism, at "JHI Blog"

* Felipe Nobre Faria & Andre Santos Campos, Social Evolution as Moral Truth Tracking in Natural Law (PDF)

* Darwin, No, It's Not 1933, at "DarwinCatholic"

* Susan B. Levin, Plato on Women's Nature (PDF)

* Carlos Fraenkel, Is a Public Philosophy Still Possible?, at "Liberties"