Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Mabinogion


Opening Passage: From Pwyll Prince of Dyved

Pwyll Prince of Dyved was lord of the seven Cantrevs of Dyved; and once upon a time he was at Narberth his chief palace, and he was minded to go and hunt, and the part of his dominions in which it pleased him to hunt was Glyn Cuch. So he set forth from Narbeth that night, and went as far as Llwyn Diarwyd. And that night he tarried there, and early on the morrow he rose and came to Glyn Cuch, when he let loose the dogs in the wood, and sounded the horn, and began the chase. And as he followed the dogs, he lost his companions; and whilst he listened to the hounds, he heard the cry of other hounds, a cry different from his own, and coming in the opposite direction.

Summary: The Mabinogion is a very diverse set of stories, but there are connecting links: Pryderi threads through the stories of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi; Manawyddan ap Llyr, Taliesin, Geraint ap Erbin, and Pryderi are mentioned in Kilhwch and Olwen; King Arthur is a character in five of the tales. Perhaps more important than even these obvious threads is the pervasive atmosphere of the Welsh fantastic. Practically every maiden is the fairest one has ever seen. There are continual casual mentions of extraordinary deeds that no doubt had their own legend cycles once, as when we are told, without fanfare and without explanation that certain knights of King Arthur "came forth from the confines of hell" or that Gwrhyr Gwastawd Ieithoedd was the same one who knew all languages or that Ellylw the daughter of Neol Kynn-Crog is the one who lived for three ages. There is also that curious feature of Welsh fantasy, what might be called the practical impossible, as when we learn that Kai has the curious feature that nothing he carries in his hands will ever get wet from rain, or the usefulness of Caswallawn's veil of illusion.

The tales in brief:

Pwyll Prince of Dyved: Pwyll makes friends with Arawn, one of the kings of the underworld, and marries Rhiannon, with whom he has Pryderi, who only gets his name with some difficulty.

Branwen the Daughter of Llyr: Tensions arise between Ireland and Britain, the latter of which is under the rule of Blessed Bran, after the Irish king tries to build an alliance by marrying Bran's sister, Branwen. She is mistreated, and Bran invades. The British beat the Irish, but only at terrible cost. Bran's giant head is buried in London to stave off invasion.

Manawyddan the Son of Llyr: Manawyddan and Pryderi find themselves in a curious situation when a magic mist descends and everyone but themselves, even including the domesticated animals, vanishes. Pryderi solves the problem by threatening to hang a mouse.

Math the Son of Mathonwy: Gwydion and his brothers, who are nephews of Math steals the pigs of the underworld from Pryderi, leading to Pryderi's death. Math revenges Pryderi by turning his nephews into animals. Arianrhod gives birth in a rather peculiar way to Llew Llaw Gyffes, who also only gets his name with some difficulty. Since Arianrhod has placed a geis on Llew that he will never have a human wife, Gwydion and Math make Llew a wife out of flowers, Blodeuwedd; she is as shallow as you would expect a woman made from flowers to be, and she has an affair, which causes all sorts of problems for Llew.

The Dream of Maxen Wledig: Maxen Wledig, Roman Emperor, has a dream of a lovely maiden and sends his men to find her.

Lludd and Llevelys: Lludd, king of Britain has a few problems; he is invaded by people who can hear anything spoken on the wind, a terrifying scream ravages the country every May Day, and all the provisions for his court keep disappearing. He asks his brother Llevelys, king of France, for help using a brass tube, and they destroy the invaders with an insect potion, discover that the scream is actually a pair of dragons and get those dragons drunk, and then figure out that the provisions are all being stolen by a magician.

Kilhwch and Olwen: Kilhwch is in love with Olwen, daughter of a giant, despite the fact that he has never seen her. He gets help from his cousin, King Arthur, and they discover that the giant will let Kilhwch marry his daughter if Kilhwch and Arthur's knights do forty impossible tasks. So they do them, and Kilhwch marries Olwen.

The Dream of Rhonabwy: In a dream, Rhonabwy travels back in time to the court of King Arthur, who is obsessed with playing chess with Owain. This is the most bafflingly fantastic of all the tales in The Mabinogion, often reaching the point of being surreal.

The Lady of the Fountain: Owain marries the Lady of the Fountain, but loses her because he is married to his job. He gets her back with the help of a lion, though.

Peredur the Son of Evrawc: Peredur, a country bumpkin, turns out to be very much better at being a knight than most knights. One of his uncles has a man's severed head, who turns out to be Peredur's cousin, killed by the Nine Witches of Gloucester. Peredur avenges his cousin.

Geraint the Son of Erbin: Geraint marries Enid, and enjoys it so much he stops acting like a knight; Enid bemoans this fact while Geraint is sleeping, but he overhears her and assumes she is having an affair. So he goes out and fights a lot of people while taking her along and repeatedly telling her not to talk to him, until they finally make up.

Taliesin: Gwion Bach gains extraordinary wisdom from Ceridwen's cauldron; he runs away, but Ceridwen chases him. Eventually Gwion Bach turns himself into a piece of grain and Ceridwen becomes a hen and eats him. She gives birth to a boy, whom she puts in a bag and throws into the sea. He is discovered by a fisherman, Elphin, who calls him Taliesin. They have a number of adventures together as Taliesin shows himself to be the greatest bard of all time.

Favorite Passage: From Geraint the Son of Erbin:

Thereupon she raised a loud and piercing shriek, and her lamentations were much greater than they had been before, for she considered in her mind that had Geraint been alive, he durst not have struck her thus. But, behold, at the sound of her cry, Geraint revived from his swoon, and he sat up on the bier, and finding his sword in the hollow of his shield, he rushed to the place where the Earl was, and struck him a fiercely-wounding, severely-venomous, and sternly-smiting blow upon the crown of his head, so that he clove him in twain, until his sword was stayed by the table. Then all left the board, and fled away. And this was not so much through fear of the living as through the dread they felt at seeing the dead man rise up to slay them. And Geraint looked upon Enid, and he was grieved for two causes; one was, to see that Enid had lost her colour and her wonted aspect, and the other, to know that she was in the right.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXIV

No man can conquer the passions except by the palpable virtues; and no man can conquer the wandering of the mind except by the study of spiritual knowledge. Our mind is light and swift, and if it is not tied down by some reflection, it never stops wandering. Without attaining perfection in the aforesaid virtues, a man cannot acquire this safeguard. For if a man does not vanquish his enemies, he cannot be at peace.

Homily 34 (p. 283).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXIII

Beware of the freedom that precedes an evil slavery. Beware of the consolation that precedes warfare. Beware of the knowledge that is acquired before an encounter with temptations; but especially beware of the ardent love that is prior to the completion of repentance. If we are all sinners and no man is superior to the temptations of sin, it is certainly true that no virtue is more pre-eminent than repentance. For a man can never complete the work of repentance. It is always suitable for every sinner and righteous man who wishes to gain salvation. There is no limit to perfection, for even the perfection of the perfect is truly without completion. And for this very reason, repentance is bounded neither by periods of time nor by works until a man's death.

Homily 32.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sui Juris Churches I: The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church

In doing the previous post on sui juris churches in the Catholic Church, I realized that, despite a longstanding interest in them, I'd never really done anything organized or systematic about that interest. So I thought it would be interesting to do an occasional series on the 24 sui juris churches; some of them I know a fair amount about and some of them very little, but they are all worth knowing a bit about -- a lot of the history of the Church is bound up in them. So I start out with a small but very distinctive church with an interesting history: the Italo-Albanian Greek Catholic Church.

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Languages: Albanian and Greek

Juridical Status: Eparchial (directly subject to the Pope)

Approximate Population (Rounded to Nearest 10,000): 60,000

Basic History: The way to think about Italo-Albanian Catholics is to recognize that they are the Eastern Catholics of Italy. We tend to associate Italy with Western Catholicism because of Rome; but in fact Italy has been a notable bastion of Byzantine Rite Christianity since very early days. For much of its history, Northern Italy was 'western' and Southern Italy was 'eastern'. Southern Italy and Sicily had been Greek-speaking for centuries before any church came to them; they are littered with what were originally Greek colonies. Thus Christians in these areas tended to speak Greek, have liturgies in Greek, and in general to have lots in common with Greek-speakers generally. Because they were on the peninsula, their patriarch was the Bishop of Rome, the Pope; but they did things the Greek way.

In the eighth century this amicable understanding was broken from the outside due to a major crisis in the Church: the Iconoclasm Controversy. The Popes were all opponents of the iconoclastic movement, but the Emperors, in Constantinople, were often themselves iconoclasts. One of the strongest of the Iconoclast Emperors was Leo III the Isaurian, who had seized Constantinople from his predecessor, whose abdication he forced, and then scored some important victories repulsing the invading Umayyad caliphate. This then gave him time to engage in a number of major administrative reforms, and, unfortunately, one of his reforms was to ban the veneration of images. Revolts broke out. St. Germanus I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, refused to cooperate and (depending on the story) was deposed or resigned. He was replaced by Anastasius in 730, who was against, then for, then against icons. In Italy the same refusal manifested itself: Popes Gregory II and Gregory III refused to cooperate with the imperial edict. Pope Gregory II's opposition led to rebellion against the Imperial government in Italy. After Gregory II's death, Gregory III, who was himself an Easterner from Syria, continued the opposition with a will. In retaliation, Leo seized control of Sicily and Calabria (Calabria is Italy's 'toe'), and by military force transferred authority over much of Southern Italy from the Pope to the Patriarch of Constantinople. This would have the result of massively strengthening the Greek and Byzantine character of Christianity in Southern Italy, which continued even as authority slowly slipped back to the Pope and iconoclasm lost ground.

A new external force enters into the picture: the Normans. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Normans began invading Southern Italy, eventually -- but only eventually -- uniting them into the Kingdom of Sicily. As they advanced, they did what they often did: as bishops died or went into exile for this or that reason, they slowly replaced the bishops of the area with bishops more favorable to them. The Greek-speaking bishops were slowly replaced by Latin-speaking ones. The Byzantine Rite in Italy never completely died; there still seems to have been scattered pockets of it several centuries later.

After the Council of Florence, the great Bessarion attempted to revive the dwindling community. But what really revived the Byzantine Rite in Italy was immigration, and again an external factor intervened. The Turks invaded Albania, and many Albanians fled the Turkish advance. Northern Albanians were Latin Rite; but Southern Albanians tended to be Byzantine Rite. Over the years, there were several notable Albanian influxes. Most of these Albanians were what we would think of Eastern Orthodox rather than Catholic, but (1) many of them came shortly after the Council of Florence in 1439, during the brief period in which it was in many places thought that Catholics and Orthodox had been conclusively reunited; and (2) Constaninople fell to the Turks in 1453, which massively reduced the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus the Albanians in Italy had Byzantine Rite churches in communion with, and under the jurisdiction of, Rome.

In the wake of the Council of Trent, as the Counter-Reformation picked up steam, the Byzantine Rite communities in Italy began to have increasing difficulties -- they were often looked at with suspicion, and Rome tended to prefer to strengthen Latin Rite influence over these Byzantine Rite communities. Again the Byzantine Rite in Italy began to dwindle. A reversal began, however, under the great Pope Benedict XIV, in the eighteenth century, and the popes of the nineteenth century (most notably Leo XIII) supported the Byzantine Rite communities to an even greater extent. The recognition of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church as sui juris began in the twentieth century with the recognition of official eparchies (dioceses) devoted specifically to Byzantine Rite Catholics in Italy.

Notable Monuments: The Monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata near Rome, founded by St. Nilus the Younger in the eleventh century and confirmed in the Byzantine Rite by Leo XIII in the nineteenth; also the church of San Basilio agli Orti Sallustiani in Rome.

Notable Religious Institutes: Order of Grottaferrata (Basilian monks); Figlie di Santa Macrina (Basilian sisters).

Notable Saints: St. Nilus the Younger (September 26).

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: Eparchy of Lungro (mainland Italy), Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi (Sicily), Territorial Abbacy of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church. In this case, one can find scattered Italo-Albanian liturgies elsewhere, although only under the patronage of bishops of other particular churches.)

Online Sources and Resources:

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXII

Although the Lord is always near the saints helping them, He does not manifestly show His power by some work and visible sign without need, lest the help we receive should be made ineffectual and turned to our injury. Thus does the Lord act when He provides for His saints, though indeed His hidden care is not absent from them even for a moment. In all things, however, he leaves them to exhibit a struggle and to labor in prayer in accord with their strength.

But if they encounter something that is so difficult as to overcome the degree of their knowledge, and they grow weak and fall short of it because their nature is not sufficient for the task, then He accomplishes it Himself, according to the greatness of His dominion, and according to what is profitable for them....

Homily 60

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thou Wept'st, Meek Maiden, Mother Mild

The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by John Keble

And the Angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. St. Luke i. 28.

Oh! Thou who deign’st to sympathise
With all our frail and fleshly ties,
Maker yet Brother dear,
Forgive the too presumptuous thought,
If, calming wayward grief, I sought
To gaze on Thee too near.

Yet sure ’twas not presumption, Lord,
’Twas Thine own comfortable word
That made the lesson known:
Of all the dearest bonds we prove,
Thou countest sons and mothers’ love
Most sacred, most Thine own.

When wandering here a little span,
Thou took’st on Thee to rescue man,
Thou had’st no earthly sire:
That wedded love we prize so dear,
As if our heaven and home were here,
It lit in Thee no fire.

On no sweet sister’s faithful breast
Wouldst Thou Thine aching forehead rest,
On no kind brother lean:
But who, O perfect filial heart,
E’er did like Thee a true son’s part,
Endearing, firm, serene?

Thou wept’st, meek maiden, mother mild,
Thou wept’st upon thy sinless Child,
Thy very heart was riven:
And yet, what mourning matron here
Would deem thy sorrows bought too dear
By all on this side Heaven?

A Son that never did amiss,
That never shamed His Mother’s kiss,
Nor crossed her fondest prayer:
E’en from the tree He deigned to bow,
For her His agonised brow,
Her, His sole earthly care.

Ave Maria! bless├Ęd Maid!
Lily of Eden’s fragrant shade,
Who can express the love
That nurtured thee so pure and sweet,
Making thy heart a shelter meet
For Jesus’ holy dove?

Ave Maria! Mother blest,
To whom, caressing and caressed,
Clings the eternal Child;
Favoured beyond Archangels’ dream,
When first on Thee with tenderest gleam
Thy new-born Saviour smiled:—

Ave Maria! thou whose name
All but adoring love may claim,
Yet may we reach thy shrine;
For He, thy Son and Saviour, vows
To crown all lowly lofty brows
With love and joy like thine.

Blessed is the womb that bare Him—blessed
The bosom where His lips were pressed,
But rather blessed are they
Who hear His word and keep it well,
The living homes where Christ shall dwell,
And never pass away.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXI

Thus it is the will of God that they who draw night to Him should live amidst adversities, humbled and brought low with all their soul and their body. Some of them abide in voluntary afflictions, others in toilsome warfare against the passions; some bore with bitter diseases in their bodies, some with miseries, and with persecutions of men; in peril from passions, in peril from demons, in peril from sicknesses, in peril from poverty. Some were persecuted, some were slain, some were sawn asunder, some were stoned, some were drowned in the sea, some while living had their limbs cut off; some were delivered up to sport and mockery; some entered into a hole of blazing flame, others into chains and mighty scourgings; some fell by the edge of the sword, others went about clothed in sheep-skins and goat-skins, and were as wanderers in the desert. The saints were in afflictions in mountains and caves and in dens of the earth, according to what the Apostle testifies, 'Of whom the world was not worthy.'

Homily 60 (pp. 434-435)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Music on My Mind

Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show, "Sylvia's Mother". This song was written by Shel Silverstein, who is better known for his comic poetry. It's probably the second or third most widely known song written by Silverstein (the most widely known is surely "A Boy Named Sue", and "Cover of The Rolling Stone" is arguably second), but I think it's his best. This is how you evoke a story in song; and it's how you manage to convey something timeless even if you are doing it with timebound lines like, "And the operator says, 'Forty cents more for the next three minutes.'"

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXX

Trial is profitable for every man....The diligent are tried, that they might add to their riches; the lax are tried, that they might guard themselves from what is harmful; the sleepy are tried, that they might be armed with wakefulness; those afar off are tried, that they might draw near to God; those who are God's own are tried, that with boldness that they might enter into His house.

Homily 61 (p. 437).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cassam on Conspiracy-Theory Thinking

Quassim Cassam has an interesting article at Aeon on conspiracy-theory thinking, arguing that it is rooted in intellectual vice. The argument as it stands seems to me to have a serious weakness, though: the particular vices he takes to exemplify conspiracy thinking seem to be gullibility and closed-mindedness, which seems rather implausible. He understands the terms as follows:

Oliver is gullible because he believes things for which he has no good evidence, and he is closed-minded because he dismisses claims for which there is excellent evidence. It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that what counts as good evidence is a subjective matter.

What counts as good evidence for this purpose is certainly not a subjective matter, but it is a matter relative to context, including other evidence available. One of the unusual features of conspiracy-theory thinking, distinguishing it from many other kinds of bad thinking, is that conspiracy-theories tend to be unusually evidence-rich. I guarantee you that the average 9/11-Truther knows massively more real and genuine evidence about the collapse of the towers than your average person who rejects 9/11-Truth conspiracies. Very, very few people who are not inclined to believe some conspiracy are motivated to dig into the details to the extent that believers in the conspiracy are -- usually, in fact, it's only people who are irritated enough by the conspiracy theory to spend massive amounts of time and effort answering the arguments that conspiracy theorists multiply. What is more, conspiracy theorists tend to be open to changing their conspiracy theories, whereas most people who are not conspiracy theorists go around rejecting conspiracy theories out of hand without even looking at the evidence. For this reason, I think that if Oliver, accused of being closed-minded, replies that the accuser is in fact a better candidate for closed-mindedness than he is, he will often -- not always, but often -- be right. In intellectual as in moral matters, we are sometimes saved not just by virtues but also by vices on the opposite side.

What is more, most conspiracy theorists seem not to be more gullible than anyone else. Contrary to the common stereotype, most conspiracy theorists are not conspiracy theorists about everything, but only about a family of things; and I know of no evidence whatsoever that they are more likely to be duped across the board, which should be the case if gullibility were a common vice associated with conspiracy theories.

What vices might more plausibly be named as contributing to conspiracy-theory thinking? The vices have to be associated with major features that tend to structure conspiracy theories generally: suspicion of supposed expertise, hypothesizing, and emphasis on detail. Conspiracy theories tend to involve a refusal to accept the explanation that most people would accept on the testimony of someone else, and to be built by elaborate hypotheses based on minute details. Thus the intellectual vices associated with conspiracy theories will usually be the vices that oppose the ones in Cassam's Oliver example. Conspiracy theories tend to result from the vices of excessive suspicion of authority, excessive confidence in their ability to hypothesize well, and deficiency in willingness to abstract from the evidence in order to remove mere noise. All three of these seem more plausible, because they relate to typical structural features of conspiracy theories themselves.

But perhaps there might be even better candidates?

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXIX

The more a man's tongue flees talkativeness, the more his understanding is illuminated to be able to discern deep thoughts; for the rational mind is bemuddled by talkativeness.

Homily 15 (p. 205).

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Written in the Sands

Terence Stamp narrating "The Tale of the Sands" from Idries Shah's Tales of the Dervishes:

Stamp is an example of something I've often thought. In a full acting role he sometimes comes across as a bit over-the-top, but it's exactly the same qualities that make him excel in storytelling mode, whereas an actor with more realistic rather than expressive presentation would certainly come across as wooden.

A Poem Draft

Fifth Week of Lent

I desire to do, but I fail to do:
rough wind tangles the sail,
the kernel hides in tough shell,
the poem spoils to doggerel.
I desire to do, but I fail to do,
true heart is veiled by lie.
New grace needs old self to die,
nailed on rough wood, crucified.