Saturday, December 26, 2009

Feast of Stephen, Protomartyr

Good King Wenceslaus
by John Mason Neale

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

St. Stephen's Day
by John Keble

As rays around the source of light
Stream upward ere he glow in sight,
And watching by his future flight
Set the clear heavens on fire;
So on the King of Martyrs wait
Three chosen bands, in royal state,
And all earth owns, of good and great,
Is gather'd in that choir.

One presses on, and welcomes death:
One calmly yields his willing breath,
Nor slow, nor hurrying, but in faith
Content to die or live:
And some, the darlings of their Lord,
Play smiling with the flame and sword,
And, ere they speak, to His sure word
Unconscious witness give.

Foremost and nearest to His throne,
By perfect robes of triumph known,
And likest Him in look and tone,
The holy Stephen kneels,
With stedfast gaze, as when the sky
Flew open to his fainting eye,
Which, like a fading lamp, flash'd high,
Seeing what death conceals.

Well might you guess what vision bright
Was present to his raptured sight,
E'en as reflected streams of light
Their solar source betray -
The glory which our God surrounds,
The Son of Man, the atoning wounds -
He sees them all; and earth's dull bounds
Are melting fast away.

He sees them all--no other view
Could stamp the Saviour's likeness true,
Or with His love so deep embrue
Man's sullen heart and gross -
"Jesus, do Thou my soul receive:
Jesu, do Thou my foes forgive;"
He who would learn that prayer must live
Under the holy Cross.

He, though he seem on earth to move,
Must glide in air like gentle dove,
From yon unclouded depths above
Must draw his purer breath;
Till men behold his angel face
All radiant with celestial grace,
Martyr all o'er, and meet to trace
The lines of Jesus' death.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Stalled Ox Knelt

A Christmas Carol (On the Stroke of Midnight)
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Thank God, thank God, we do believe,
Thank God that this is Christmas Eve.
Even as we kneel upon this day,
Even so, the ancient legends say
Nearly two thousand years ago
The stalled ox knelt, and even so
The ass knelt full of praise, which they
Could not express, while we can pray.
Thank God, thank God, for Christ was born
Ages ago, as on this morn:
In the snow-season undefiled
God came to earth a little Child;
He put His ancient glory by
To live for us, and then to die.

How shall we thank God? How shall we
Thank Him and praise Him worthily?
What will He have Who loved us thus?
What presents will He take from us?
Will He take gold, or precious heap
Of gems? or shall we rather steep
The air with incense, or bring myrrh?
What man will be our messenger
To go to Him and ask His will?
Which having learned we will fulfil
Though He choose all we most prefer: –
What man will be our messenger?

Thank God, thank God, the Man is found,
Sure-footed, knowing well the ground.
He knows the road, for this the way
He travelled once, as on this day.
He is our Messenger beside,
He is our door, and path, and Guide;
He also is our Offering,
He is the gift that we must bring.
Let us kneel down with one accord
And render thanks unto the Lord:
For unto us a Child is born
Upon this happy Christmas morn;
For unto us a Son is given,
Firstborn of God and Heir of Heaven.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I will be in Montana over Christmas, and will not be back before next Wednesday. I probably won't be online, but I have a few small posts set up to come out automatically here and there.

Some links:

* The 101st (or ninety-eleventh) Philosophers' Carnival is up at "MandM".

* Jim S. on philosopher William Urban Marshall

* Eugenia Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation (downloadable PDF; ht)

* Douglas Wolk summarizes Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgment in five minutes using comics.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Two big new items on the canonization front: both John Paul II and Pius XII are now Venerable. The canonization process has to do with how the remembrance of a person is incorporated into the overall liturgy of the Church; those undergoing it go through four different statuses, each represented by a different title:

Servant of God

'Servant of God' just means that there's prima facie reason to start the investigation. The primary issue in the first part of the phase is to determine whether the person in question lived a life of heroic virtue -- that is, practiced virtue in an eminent degree. Contrary to what is usually thought, this does not mean having lived perfectly; virtues are reliable by definition, not infallible, and even heroic virtue is liable to occasional lapse. Someone with heroic virtues is someone from whose life one can learn more about the theological and moral virtues, someone who can be a moral role model or hero to many. When the investigation has concluded that the person did, in fact, live a life of heroic virtue, they are recognized as Venerable. Such people do not have a feast day, and churches can't be named in their honor; the only thing that changes is the mode of investigation for canonization. Up to this point the investigation concerned the person's character; after this point the investigation begins to look into not just heroic virtue but holy intercession, and that typically means the inquiry is into one of two things: proof of martyrdom or proof of miracle. Martyrs for the faith do not need an associated miracle for beatification; everyone else does. Thus when someone is declared Venerable, the next step is for people to pray for a miracle through that person's intercession; if any reported miracles bear up under investigation, the person can be called Blessed, and are, in some sense, already considered a saint, since the distinction between beatification and canonization is not, in fact, as sharp as is usually thought; the major difference at present is that feast days for beatified are not universal, but usually restricted in some way. Canonization, requiring additional proof of holy intercession, even for martyrs, removes these restrictions.

The more controversial of these two moves, of course, is Pius XII; he has been sharply attacked in the past decade or so for having failed to help Jews during the Holocaust. It's difficult to know what to make of these things; at the time Pius XII had exactly the opposite reputation (with only occasional exceptions outside of the Soviet Union), and the shift in views against him can clearly be traced back not to original historical evidence, which is very limited either way, but to an anti-Catholic play in the 1960s, Hochhuth's The Deputy, which fictionalized Pius XII as an anti-Semite. That certainly isn't true, whether he did enough to help Jews escape the Holocaust or not; and Hochhuth is notorious for not playing nicely with the facts of history -- a number of his plays are conspiracy-theory-type things, like the one in which Winston Churchill arranged the murder of the Polish Prime Minister. Such is folk history; and this is why so many people were up in arms about The Da Vinci Code, since it is virtually guaranteed that thirty years from now something that Dan Brown just made up will be repeated as gospel truth because people remember things long past the time that they remember where they read it.

At the same time, the Vatican has an immense amount of discretion as to how quickly or slowly they do these things, and it would have been entirely possible to allow a longer period of fact-airing. I don't know if it would have done any good, given that most people making the criticism want it to be true just as most of the people rejecting it want it to be false, which is a recipe for some nasty politicking, not reasonable discussion; but it was entirely possible. Perhaps it would give more of the open-minded a chance to be convinced; perhaps it wouldn't. These things are difficult to estimate.

John Paul II is much less controversial, and much less of a surprise, of course; I disapprove of how quickly it's moved in his case, but this is a matter of taste, and nothing really depends on whether I approve or disapprove. Certainly there will be plenty of people who will be enthusiastic about it.


'The horn of Heimdall
I hear ringing;
the Blazing Bridge
bends neath horsemen;
the Ash is groaning,
his arms trembling;
the Wolf waking,
warriors riding.

The sword of Surt
smoketh redly;
the slumbering Serpent
in the sea moveth;
a shadowy ship
from shores of Hell
legions bringeth
to the last battle.

The wolf Fenrir
waits for Ódin,
for Frey the fair
the flames of Surt;
the deep Dragon
shall be doom of Thór -
shall all be ended,
shall Earth perish?

If in day of Doom
one deathless stands,
who death has tasted
and dies on more,
the serpent-slayer,
seed of Ódin,
then all shall not end,
nor Earth perish.

On his head shall be a helm,
in his hand lightning,
afire his spirit,
in his face splendour.
The Serpent shall shiver
and Surt waver,
the Wolf be vanquished
and the world rescued.'

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, Christopher Tolkien, ed. HarperCollins (2009) pp. 62-64.