Saturday, December 24, 2016

L'Heure Solenelle

In 1843, the little parish church in Roquemaure, France, installed a new organ, and the priest wanted to do something special to celebrate. So he asked Roquemare's most famous literary figure, Placide Cappeau, to write up something Christmas-y to mark the occasion. Cappeau was probably even then an anti-clerical socialist and almost certainly an atheist, but he agreed to write something appropriate. And since he was an excellent poet, we got "Cantique de Noël". Cappeau himself liked it so much that he eventually got a friend of his, Adolphe Charles Adam, to set it to music.

Cantique de Noël
by Placide Cappeau

Minuit, chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle,
Où l'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d'espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.

Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur!

De notre foi que la lumière ardente
Nous guide tous au berceau de l'Enfant,
Comme autrefois une étoile brillante
Y conduisit les chefs de l'Orient.
Le Roi des rois naît dans une humble crèche:
Puissants du jour, fiers de votre grandeur,

A votre orgueil, c'est de là que Dieu prêche.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.

Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave:
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n'était qu'un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu'enchaînait le fer.
Qui lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu'il naît, qu'il souffre et meurt.

Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!

Roughly translated:

Midnight, Christians: it is the solemn hour
when the God Man descends to us
to erase original sin
and to stay the wrath of His Father.
The whole world thrills with hope
on this night that gives it a Savior.
People, kneel down, await your deliverance:
Christmas, Christmas, behold the Redeemer;
Christmas, Christmas, behold the Redeemer!

By the ardent light of our faith
may we all be guided to the infant's cradle,
as elsetime a beautiful star
drew the kings of the east there.
The King of kings is born in a humble manger
O powers of the day, vaunting in your greatness,
God preaches to your pride.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer.

The Redeemer has broken every chain:
The earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where once was a slave;
love unites those who were chained by iron.
Who will tell of our appreciation;
for all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People rise up! Sing of your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, we sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, we sing of the Redeemer.

The most famous translation, of course, is John Sullivan Dwight's version, "O Holy Night", published in the midst of the American Civil War; it still uses a version of Adam's original music.

Brought for Us So Low

Christmas Eve
by Christina Rossetti

Christmas hath darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.


Therefore, O lover of this festival, when you have considered well the glorious mysteries of Bethlehem — which were brought to pass for your sake — gladly join yourself to the heavenly host, which is celebrating magnificently your salvation. As once David did before the ark, so do you, before this virginal throne, joyfully lead the dance. Hymn with gladsome song the Lord, who is always and everywhere present, and Him who from Teman, as says the prophet, has thought fit to appear, and that in the flesh, to the race of men. Say, with Moses, "He is my God, and I will glorify Him; my father's God, and I will exalt Him." Then, after your hymn of thanksgiving, we shall usefully inquire what cause aroused the King of Glory to appear in Bethlehem. His compassion for us compelled Him, who cannot be compelled, to be born in a human body at Bethlehem.

St. Methodius of Olympos (attributed), Oration on Simeon and Anna

Friday, December 23, 2016

Born a Stranger

A Christmas Carol
by Christina Rossetti

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
Kept a watch together,
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother's breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
To hail the King of Glory.


Christ willed to be born in Bethlehem for two reasons. First, because "He was made . . . of the seed of David according to the flesh," as it is written (Romans 1:3); to whom also was a special promise made concerning Christ; according to 2 Samuel 23:1: "The man to whom it was appointed concerning the Christ of the God of Jacob . . . said." Therefore He willed to be born at Bethlehem, where David was born, in order that by the very birthplace the promise made to David might be shown to be fulfilled. The Evangelist points this out by saying: "Because He was of the house and of the family of David." Secondly, because, as Gregory says (Hom. viii in Evang.): "Bethlehem is interpreted 'the house of bread.' It is Christ Himself who said, 'I am the living Bread which came down from heaven.'"

St. Thomas Aquinas, ST 3.35.7.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Radio Greats: Christmas Bonus (The Whistler)

Within the human character, the line between good and evil is a thin and waving one.

The formula used by The Whistler is a highly flexible one, but if you are a show lasting thirteen years without summer breaks, you occasionally need to break or subvert the formula. "Christmas Bonus" has a structure very much like a typical Whistler tale: someone's done wrong, the net tightens, something triggers a shift, they get their comeuppance. But it takes it in a different direction from the usual, recognizing that there is another story in the vicinity, and that sometimes the more interesting story is not how the fallen get their punishment, but how the unfortunate are saved from a fall. We all need a little unexpected help sometimes, a little protection from ourselves and the terrible mistakes we can make. And a Christmas message of being able to rise above the darkness inside packs a special punch coming from a series that so often focuses on the darkness itself.

Mike Cobb fell in with the wrong crowd when younger and did time for it. Now, he has been trying to go straight and build a solid life with the woman he loves. But when the store he works at has a series of thefts that certainly indicate an inside job, and he is the obvious suspect, he is locked in a chain of events that can take him down a very dark road. Merry Christmas, Mike; the police detectives will be coming to talk to you....

You can listen to "Christmas Bonus" at the Internet Archive (number 63). The episode has a famous mistake -- the announcer announces the title as "Lie or Consequences" rather than the real title, "Christmas Bonus".


2:7. And she laid him in the manger.

He found man reduced to the level of the beasts: therefore is He placed like fodder in a manger, that we, having left off our bestial life, might mount up to that degree of intelligence which befits man's nature; and whereas we were brutish in soul, by now approaching the manger, even His own table, we find no longer fodder, but the bread from heaven, which is the body of life.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Sermon 1

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pieter Kanis, Apostle of Germany

Today is the Feast of St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church, famous for his catechetical work. From a seventeenth-century translation of one of his catechisms (I have modernized spelling and some punctuation):

16. What is the sum of the Articles of the second person in Deity?

This: that Christ is true God and man, who began and brought to pass the wonderful work of man's Redemption, so that he is unto us the Way, Truth, and Life, by whom only, when we had all perished, we were saved and restored, and reconciled unto God the Father.

Of the benefit and true of such Redemption, we find thus written: The grace of God our Savior has appeared to all men instructing us, that, denying impiety and worldly desires, we live somberly, justly, and godly in this world, expecting the blessed hope and advent of the glory of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These be the words of the Apostle S. Paul; and in another place: We are the work of God, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God has prepared that we should walk in them. And again Christ died for all: that they also which live, may not now live to themselves, but to him that died for them and rose again.

Wherefore we must take diligent heed of the erroneous opinion of those, that do confess Christ not wholly and perfectly, but as it were, lame and maimed, whilst they do only acknowledge him as a Mediator and Redeemer, in whom we may trust, but do not withal admit him for a Law-maker, whose commandments we must obey, and a pattern of all virtue, which we must imitate, and a just Judge, who surely is to repay the due reward, or punishment to the works of everyone.

Georgette Heyer, A Civil Contract


Opening Passage:

The library at Fontley Priory, like most of the principal apartments in the sprawling building, looked to the southeast, commanding a prospect of informal gardens and a plantation of poplars, which acted as a wind-break and screened from view the monotony of the fen beyond. On an after noon in March the sunlight did not penetrate the Gothic windows, and the room seemed dim, the carpet, the hangings, and the tooled leather backs of the books in the carved shelves as faded as the uniform of the man who sat motionless at the desk, his hands lying clasped on a sheaf of papers, his gaze fixed on a clump of daffodils, nodding in the wind that soughed round the angles of the house, and passed like a shadow over the unscythed lawn.

Summary: It is a curious feature of falling in love that we tend to fall in love not with people but with Ideas of them; and all too often these Ideas are really more about how they might add extra interest to our own lives. We often fall in love more with the adventure, or pleasure, or stability a person suggests to us than with the person; and not uncommonly we reach a point at which the Idea and the person are really in jarring conflict.

Adam Deveril, Viscount Lynton, is in love with Julia Oversley -- beautiful, gracious, charming. But his father has left debts so great that any marriage with her is quite out of the questions. To shore up his accounts, and, more importantly, to provide for his sisters and mother, he makes an arrangement with Jonathan Chawleigh, a fantastically wealthy financier and businessman, and marries his daughter, Jenny. Jenny, plain and unaccomplished, has in fact been in love with Adam already, a love she regarded as hopeless -- and continues to regard as hopeless, because while Adam is kind and courteous, she knows he is still in love with Julia. But all of this is really a matter of Idea; it has nothing to do with reality, but with airy romantic dreams of a particular kind of life.

One of the nice things about this work is the richness of the characters. Mr Chawleigh is vulgar and overbearing -- but has the shrewd generosity of a self-made man, the paradoxical kind that can be simultaneously proud of having spared no expense for you and of having driven a hard bargain in doing so. Adam is courteous and thoughtful, but is regularly tripped up by his pride. Even Adam's mother, the ever-complaining Dowager, eventually shows that she can rise nobly to the occasion -- however short the occasion might be. The real people go beyond the Ideas we have about them; and that is an important thing in a book of this sort.

There are a number of Austenish themes that run in the background, but stay in the background. Both Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park are mentioned in passing, in what simultanously gives us something of the chronology of the work and flags these themes. Jenny's good sense is contrasted with Julia's sensibility. Likewise, improvement (in the landscape sense) serves to suggest points about improvements (in the moral sense), as Fontley moves from a romantic ruin to something that actually works. But these are, again, generally in the background, giving an extra color to the work; they are not carry-overs from Austen, but put to somewhat different uses. I think they are (besides the importance of marriage) major contributors to the Austen-like character readers often talk about when talking about this work.

Favorite Passage:

Toward the end of the month, Mr Chawleigh arrived at Fontley to attend the birth of his grandchild. He found Jenny in good health, calmly awaiting the event, all her preparations made, and her house in order, but this in no way assuaged his too-evident anxiety. Adam though that it would have been better for Jenny had a he remained in London, but he had not had the heart to close his doors to him, and could only hope tht he would not make Jenny nervous. But two days before Jenny began to be ill the household was cast into astonishment by the wholly unexpected arrival of the Dowager, who had come (she said) because she felt it ot be her duty to support dear little Jenny through her ordeal, and lost no time at all in bringing both Mr Chawleigh and Adam to a sense of their folly, uselessness, and total irrelevance.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Winter Solstice

The Egyptians adored the sun and inappropriately referred to it as the visible son of the invisible God. But Jesus is the true sun who looks upon us with the rays of his light, who blesses us with his countenance and who rules us by his movements. He is the sun we should always behold and adore. Jesus is truly the only begotten Son of God and neither the sun nor any other created thing, whether in heaven or on earth, is his equal. Jesus is the only begotten Son and the visible Son of the invisible Father....Let us say for now that he is not the sun of the Egyptians, who were deceived by their myths, but the Sun of the Christians, who have been instructed in the school of truth, in the light of this sun, who is the light of the supernatural world. He is a sun who chose to depict and represent himself by the natural sun, which is only his shadow and symbol.

Pierre de Bérulle, Discourse on the State and Grandeurs of Jesus in Bérulle and the French School, Thompson, ed. Glendon, tr. Paulist (New York: 1989), 115.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wherein Unconcern Laughs Divine

'Tis the Feast of the Corn
by Paul Verlaine
tr. by Gertrude Hall

'Tis the feast of corn, 'tis the feast of bread,
On the dear scene returned to, witnessed again!
So white is the light o'er the reapers shed
Their shadows fall pink on the level grain.

The stalked gold drops to the whistling flight
Of the scythes, whose lightning dives deep, leaps clear;
The plain, labor-strewn to the confines of sight,
Changes face at each instant, gay and severe.

All pants, all is effort and toil 'neath the sun,
The stolid old sun, tranquil ripener of wheat,
Who works o'er our haste imperturbably on
To swell the green grape yon, turning it sweet.

Work on, faithful sun, for the bread and the wine,
Feed man with the milk of the earth, and bestow
The frank glass wherein unconcern laughs divine,—
Ye harvesters, vintagers, work on, aglow!

For from the flour's fairest, and from the vine's best,
Fruit of man's strength spread to earth's uttermost,
God gathers and reaps, to His purposes blest,
The Flesh and the Blood for the chalice and host!

Aaron Taylor has a nice article on sin in the life of the Church:

If we tried translating Verlaine’s spiritual writing into the language of accompaniment and integration, we would be exchanging great religious art (in contemplating which we understand something vital about the human condition) for soulless bureaucratic jargon.

The disappearance of the Verlaine-style “bad Catholic” from the contemporary Catholic landscape is not a sign that everyone became holy in the 1970s. It is a serious impoverishment. Those who are forgiven little, love little. Sin is ugly, but it is part of the moral economy that makes grace intelligible. Without it, the narrative of salvation history looks somewhat ridiculous, for what do we need saving from? There can be something beautiful about the life of someone who genuinely struggles with sin instead of making excuses, and beauty is indicative of truth.

Monday, December 19, 2016

And to the Next Stage...

The United States has basically a three-step election process for the Presidency. The first consists of the fifty-one popular votes, which took place on November 8, and which are counted and certified by the State governments. The second step consists in the Electoral College vote, which can be seen as a review and confirmation of those popular votes, and it took place today, December 19, in the various States, and its votes are then certified by the States and passed on. And then the Electoral College vote must be officially counted by Congress on January 6. Thus the election of a President involves the popular vote, undergoes review by the States, is taken into account in the Electoral College, and is sealed by the U.S. Congress. Every level of our federal system is involved.

The Texas Electors just voted: For the Presidency, 36 for Donald Trump, 1 for Ron Paul, and 1 for John Kasich. (They are still in the middle of the Vice-Presidential vote right now. I'll update with the numbers. UPDATE: And it is 37 votes for Mike Pence and 1 for Carly Fiorina.) Interestingly, the Texas EC was the most troublesome for Republicans. Four Electors simply didn't show and had to be replaced, leading to the Texas meeting taking forever. (It started at 2:00 and was doing procedural maneuvers until the Presidential vote a bit before 4:30.) Then it delivered what seems to have been Trump's only two defections. Texas Republicans are apparently a little wary of the Yankee real estate mogul. In any case, Trump already had 268, so the tardy Texas voting puts him over the top; he is confirmed by the Electoral College as our forty-fifth President.

Clinton had more trouble -- in Washington she lost 3 votes to Colin Powell and 1 to Faith Sitting Eagle, the NoDAPL activist, and there were several other attempted defections (although the electors in question were replaced).

UPDATE: And the final total seems to be:

Donald Trump 304
Hillary Clinton 227
Colin Powell 3
Faith Sitting Eagle 1
Ron Paul 1
John Kasich 1
Bernie Sanders 1

The Sanders vote seems to be from Hawaii. It's an unusual day in many ways: Clinton has lost the most EC votes of any candidate in the past century. The last time this many people received EC votes was 1796 (and then there was one slate for President and Vice President both). An elector in Maine tried to vote for Sanders, but changed his vote to Clinton on second ballot when told that it wouldn't be counted; an elector in Minnesota tried to vote for Sanders rather than Clinton and an elector in Colorado tried to vote for Kasich rather than Clinton, but were replaced. And thus the total of 'faithless electors' is now at 164.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Music on My Mind

Postmodern Jukebox ft. Mayre Martinez, "Como La Flor". A Selena tribute, of course.

I have been grading, and finally have finished the basics -- still some late work to do, as well as a review-and-check, but the bulk of it is done -- and I am sitting here drinking green tea, eating a pint of avocado ice cream (my favorite flavor), and taking it easy. I'll have the next fortnightly book up in the next day or two.