Saturday, November 07, 2020

George du Maurier, Peter Ibbetson


Opening Passage:

The writer of this singular autobiography was my cousin, who died at the ——- Criminal Lunatic Asylum, of which he had been an inmate three years.

He had been removed thither after a sudden and violent attack of homicidal mania (which fortunately led to no serious consequences), from ——- Jail, where he had spent twenty-five years, having been condemned to penal servitude for life, for the murder of —— ——, his relative.

Summary: Pierre Pasquier de la Marière, known to everyone as Gogo, spends his early, happy childhood in Paris playing with a little girl, Mimsey Sesarkier, imagining that they are looked after by the Fairy Tarapatapoum and the Charming Prince. But little Gogo's mother dies, and he is taken away to England by his uncle, Colonel Ibbetson, who insists that he be renamed Peter Ibbetson and become a proper English gentleman. Uncle Ibbetson himself, however, is a crude and crass womanizer. Peter will grow up tall and handsome, and his life will change when one day he meets in passing at a party the beautiful Duchess of Towers, who, he will discover, is Mary Sesarkier, who had known in her childhood in Paris a little boy named Gogo.

Peter Ibbetson lives a life that is turned inward. He is quiet, generally gentle, and good-natured. And he is telling us the story of his life in a lunatic asylum for the criminally insane, having savagely beaten Uncle Ibbetson to death. We see warning signs that there is something dangerous about Peter's inwardness, here and there before the terrible event, a sort of ungrounded snobbishness that looks down on the sociability of others, an occasional flight into rage over someone's cruelty to another, and unhealthy preference for his own mind rather than the world around him. And there is a quality to the book -- I don't know how to describe it except to say that it is a kind of subtle weirdness -- in which, as Peter Ibbetson becomes more and more internally driven, one sometimes wonders how much of what we get in the story is real and how much of it is Peter Ibbetson losing himself in dreams, or else looking back at himself having already lost himself in dreams. But Peter Ibbetson does not wonder; he has no doubts; he knows that he has a special connection, which he finds in dreams, with Mary Seraskier, and that they are both able to 'dream true' and revisit their memories together. And the sheer force of his sincerity in this regard goes a long way toward making the reader suspend disbelief.

And there is another side to it. It is not for nothing that one of the descriptions we give for our closest relationships with other people is 'sharing dreams'; dreams let us step outside our lives and their circumstances; and dreams are what keep Peter Ibbetson alive through his long decades of imprisonment. Our dreams at least remind us that there is more to us than our immediate surroundings.

In some ways, the work reminded me of Le Grand Meaulnes, except that book builds on a pessimistic nostalgia of memory, whereas this one builds on an optimistic nostalgia of dreams.

I also watched the 1935 movie adaptation, starring Gary Cooper and Ann Harding, which I thought very well done, particularly in its use of visual echoes to tie Gogo's childhood interactions with Mimsey to Peter's adult interactions with Mary. They simplify the course of the story, which I think makes the story somewhat blander, and they are mostly interested in the dreaminess of the tale as an opportunity for cinematic effect, but it does capture some of the sense of the story, in which there is a distinction between dream and waking, but none at all between dream and reality, because it is a story in which dreams are, or at least can be, a kind of reality.

Favorite Passage: 

We have even just been able to see, as in a glass darkly, the faint shadows of the Mammoth and the cave bear, and of the man who hunted and killed and ate them, that he might live and prevail.

The Mammoth!

We have walked round him and under him as he browsed, and even through him where he lay and rested, as one walks through the dun mist in a little hollow on a still, damp morning; and turning round to look (at the proper distance) there was the unmistakable shape again, just thick enough to blot out the lines of the dim primeval landscape beyond, and make a hole in the blank sky. A dread silhouette, thrilling our hearts with awe—blurred and indistinct like a composite photograph—merely the type, as it had been seen generally by all who had ever seen it at all, every one of whom (exceptis excipiendis) was necessarily an ancestor of ours, and of every man now living.

There it stood or reclined, the monster, like the phantom of an overgrown hairy elephant; we could almost see, or fancy we saw, the expression of his dull, cold, antediluvian eye—almost perceive a suggestion of russet-brown in his fell.

Recommendation: Recommended, although you have to go in expecting a quiet and leisurely story.

Friday, November 06, 2020

The Human Body

 To the question "What is a human body?" I intend to propose seven preliminary answers: that it is an animal body with various powers of movement, some voluntary and directed; that it is a body whose movements afford expression to intentions and purposes that thereby possess a certain directedness; that, as an expressive body, it is interpretable by others and responsive to others; that, as an interpretable body, a variety of its characteristics are signs whose meanings others can understand; that its directedness has the unity of agency; that it cannot be adequately understood except in terms of the social contexts in which it engages with others and others with it; and that it is in certain respects enigmatic, a source of puzzlement, since alone among animal bodies it occasionally emits the question "What is a human body?" and directs its powers towards giving an answer to that question.

[Alasdair MacIntyre, "What is a human body?", The Tasks of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press (New York: 2006) p. 86.]

MacIntyre takes all of these as prephilosophical; that is, they are not an explanation of what the body is, but they are what we find the body to be in experience, and that of which a philosophical account would need to give an explanation. On this basis, MacIntyre argues that common modern philosophical accounts of the body fail by not adequately explaining precisely what they would need to explain about the body.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

On the Electoral College (Yet Again)

 The NY Times has an "explainer" for the Electoral College. It's not the worst I've seen -- indeed, it is better than a lot that I've seen. But there are problems. The framing of it highlights one of the major ones:

It remains one of the most surprising facts about voting in the United States: While the popular vote elects members of Congress, mayors, governors, state legislators and even more obscure local officials, it does not determine the winner of the presidency, the highest office in the land.

There is nothing surprising about it. Members of Congress, mayors, governors, state legislators, and local officials are all elected by popular vote within a single state. None of them are elected by a national popular vote, and none needs to be, and indeed, it would obviously be stupid for any of them to be. The President cannot be elected this way for the obvious reason that the President doesn't represent a state but the union of states. Thus the President will necessarily always be elected by a completely different kind of election, governed by different rules, and this would still be the case if the President were elected by national popular vote.

This leads to an intense focus on battleground states, as candidates look to boost their electoral advantage by targeting states that can help them reach the needed 270 votes of the 538 up for grabs.

The Electoral College doesn't lead to "an intense focus on battleground states"; all election systems have battleground regions, and in the United States, campaigns naturally structure themselves by states because it's a convenient already-existing unit. What the Electoral College does is create a situation in which the battlegrounds are not just the highest-populated states, but shift around from election to election.

Can a president lose the popular vote but still win the election?

No, because there is no national popular vote at all in the United States, and therefore none to lose. Each state runs a different election under different election laws. If you vote in California, who can vote, how you vote, and how the vote is counted depend on Californian election law, and if you voted in another state, all these would be different. In some states, felons in prison can vote. In others, they can't. Means of voting that are allowed in one state are not allowed in another. If you fill out your ballot incorrectly in most states, you spoil your ballot; in another state, like California, they will attempt to contact you in order to see if they can get a correct ballot in time. There are broad similarities, for the obvious reason that they are the same general kind of election, but votes in one state cannot be added to votes from another state without violating the unit rule of addition. Add the votes of a state like California, which is not very strict about voter identification, not very strict about how you have to fill out your ballots, very generous in attempting to make sure that your vote will be counted if you tried to vote (even if you bungled it), to a state which is none of these things, and you aren't adding equal things and the number you get does not, on its own, mean anything at all. You might as well try to add votes in Delaware to votes in Japan and pretend that the number gives you a precise measure of support for something. Votes are legal constructs: they just are what the laws make them in a jurisdiction, and a different election-law jurisdiction has completely different votes -- votes which cannot coherently be added together across jurisdictional lines.

What happens in the Electoral College is that we run not one but fifty-one distinct Presidential elections (fifty states plus the District of Columbia). Each of those elections can be seen as a simulation that answers the question, "Who would be President if the whole country were like this state?" We then partly weight those according to population in the same way that Congressional representation is partly weighted according to population. Thus the Electoral College votes. The apportionment of these votes is going to have to be done either by the state government agencies, as automatically following from their official vote tally, or by another body that has the room to assess whether the official vote tally accurately gives the sense of the state. As it happens, we use the latter, although attempts to restrict the room for assessment have been common over the history of the institution. Congress then counts the vote, so that the election of the President is not in the hands of any one government power: it requires the state governments, independent bodies created particularly for the purpose, and Congress.

There are arguments that the states with smaller populations are overrepresented in the Electoral College, because every state gets at least 3 electors regardless of population. In a stark example, sparsely populated Wyoming has three votes and a population of about 580,000, giving its individual voters far more clout in the election than their millions of counterparts in densely populated states like Florida, California and New York.

Again, the voters in Wyoming are voting in the Wyoming presidential election, which counts for less than the California presidential elections; voters in California are voting in the California presidential election, which counts for more than the Wyoming presidential election. This is, of course, generally true; voters in sparsely populated states are voting in elections that count for less, voters in more heavily populated states are voting in elections that count for more. There is no way to compare them as to 'clout' at the individual level. When political scientists attempt to pin down something like this, they use a very abstract and roundabout way of doing it, like the probability that an individual vote will affect a vote in the Electoral College that will decide the election. Needless to say, or it should be needless to say, this is an entirely artificial way of looking at votes, and in any case necessarily depends in reality on a number of variables that vary over time.

The idea has public support, but faces a partisan divide, since Republicans currently benefit from the electoral clout of less populous, rural states.

This is entirely false; you have only to look at the less populous states to find that they divide about evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with some shifting over time, but not much. Whether a state counts as 'rural' depends entirely on how you are defining 'rural'; perhaps the almost-truth in the above claim is that Republican political rhetoric is more closely tied to supporting the heartland, farmers, miners, etc. Republicans are also under no illusions: The reason why Democrats are so likely to support abolishing the Electoral College is entirely that they think that by doing so they could more easily leverage their control over the dense population centers of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles in presidential elections, and, whether or not this is true, Republicans are not going to go along with what would transparently be a Democratic attempt to gain electoral advantage over Republicans.

The Babylon Bee on Pollsters

 The Babylon Bee:

U.S.—After grossly miscalculating the election results in almost every possible way, pollsters are insisting that their polls were indeed 100% correct except that everyone just voted wrong.

"We stand by our polling 100%," said Ned Boop, who is a very smart pollster who wears fancy-looking glasses. "Our methodology and results were entirely correct and we're also very intelligent. It's just that all the stupid people we polled voted incorrectly like dumb-heads."

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

The Tumultuous Wait

 So now that Election Day has moved us from the Campaign phase of the US election to the Recount and Litigation phase, a few thoughts as we continue not to know for sure whom we have elected.

(1) This election has been a disaster for polling as a profession. It's not that they were wrong -- projections from polling are always going to be messy and even the best practices will get wrong answers. It's the combination of the following two:

(a) They were consistently wrong, repeatedly suggesting massive blowouts in favor of Biden time and again that were already large enough to make people suspicious on purely causal grounds.
(b) The polling that turned out to yield much more accurate projections than usual (Trafalgar being the most notable case) was actively disparaged and mocked by mainstream pollsters.

(2) It was a great night for pro-legalization movements, and a good night for Republicans. Both Biden and Trump had good turnout, Biden's less than had been hoped but still quite good in general.

(3) COVID Election will certainly end up crazier than the Hanging Chad Election. Recounts and litigation make everybody crazy, but they serve an important function in the process, namely, maintaining election integrity over time. Voter fraud and voter suppression do occur; indeed, in an election as large as the American election, they are guaranteed to do so. The scale gets exaggerated by the parties according to their convenience, but they do happen, and the issues need to be addressed, even while recognizing that the exaggerations will happen as well. There will be a lot of litigation this year; there will be a lot of recounts.

(4) Trump's showing among both Blacks and Latinos was impressive; it will no doubt boggle the minds of many college-educated whites, but the evidence consistently suggests that Trump is the most minority-supported Republican presidential candidate in quite some time.

(5) The US has a multi-stage election. The statutory Safe Harbor deadline, when states have to give their conclusive tallies, is December 8. The Electoral College meets to determine who will be president on December 14. Keep in mind that if the presidential election is within two or three Electoral College Votes, which this election will very likely be, it is actually too close to call until the Electoral College actually votes. The end of the presidential election comes only when the official Electoral College count occurs in Congress on January 6.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Superabundance of Love

But, in reality and truth, it was out of love that God made the worlds ; and indeed out of a superabundant love. This we may well venture to assert, and even to call it a fact; and that the divine love is also the final cause, as well as the beginning of creation. A superabundance of love in God we must, however, call the final cause ground of creation, inasmuch as He stood in no need of it; no need of the love of the creature, nor absolutely of the world itself, or created things. For in His inmost essence, where one depth of eternal love responds fully and eternally to the other, He was perfectly sufficient for himself. And yet it is even so: there is in God this superabundance of love, for He has created the worlds, and it is the divine will to be loved by His creatures. For this end and purpose has He created them; and because He would have their love, He has created them free, and given both to the pure spirits and to men a free will. The whole secret in the relation subsisting between the creature, and man especially, and the Creator, lies even in this great fact, that He has created them out of love, and requires in return the service of their love. There is perhaps something awful in this requisition, and in the relation thus found to subsist between a weak and imperfect creature and the infinite and omnipotent Being. But it is even so: we are really free, and are really required by God to give him our love.

[Friedrich Schlegel, The Philosophy of Life, Lecture VI, p. 128.]

Monday, November 02, 2020

Nobody Knows

 So, tomorrow is Election Day, the consummate symbol of the perpetual fact that all Americans have an innate belief in snake-handling, in the idea that if they are only righteous enough, they can handle vipers without being poisoned. Of course, with early voting and and mail-in voting, especially this year, Election Day itself is less important than it often has been. But it's still a fitting time to reflect before things get really interesting.

We do not know who will win. Biden has been polling well, but it's a 'once bitten, twice shy' situation. And it's even worse than that, since no one can honestly believe that pollsters have any certain and reliable way of modeling how lockdown affects their polling methods or the demographics of actual voters. And while Biden has consistently done well in the polls, he has not done consistently well in them; they have bounced around a lot. What is worse, other common indicators are all over the place. Economic indicators have been bouncing around due to COVID; new voter registrations are all over the place (but tend to favor Republicans in swing states); variants of the neighbor question -- who do you think most of the people you know will vote for? -- tend to favor Trump; polls asking whether people have lied or hidden whom they are voting for from pollsters have shown remarkable percentages of people willing to admit that they sometimes mislead pollsters because they don't trust them. We may have our suspicions, but nobody knows.

My own suspicion is based on the sense that, while Biden is a much better campaigner even under these weird conditions than Clinton ever was, Democrats have generally failed to shore up their weaknesses from 2016: they continue to assume without evidence that Blacks and Hispanics will come out enthusiastically in their support, and they continue to assume against all evidence that the working class will hand them key swing states while receiving relatively little in return. I suspect we are in for four more years of Trump. But I do not know; it could be, for all I can be sure, that some other issues will stir up the numbers Democrats need in the right states.

In any case, the Senate is the real focus of this election, not the Presidency. To be absolutely sure of Senate dominance (overcoming current Republican dominance and compensating for losses), the Democrats need to seize six new seats. Fortunately for them, it's a weak year for Republican candidates, so they might do it. Regardless of who is elected president, the next two years will look very, very different depending on whether the Senate is held by the Democrats or the Republicans.

What we can be sure of is that if Republicans do badly we'll have several months of vehement complaints about voter fraud, and if Democrats do badly we'll have months of vehement insistence that due to voter suppression the normal Constitutional procedures are illegitimate, because (as I have noted before) these are the go-to excuses by which the leadership in those parties try to shove off the blame on other people. In both cases people will try to explain that they didn't 'really' lose, due to some set of ad hoc rules they've made up by which they think they would have won. In both cases, people will perform some loosely related symbolic gestures to communicate how serious they are about such things and then do nothing practical to prevent this supposedly grievous problem from happening again. The point is always to find things to complain about, not to solve any real problems. People have never really internalized the idea that participating in an election means accepting the possibility of your loss because elections are more important than your victories. Every loser wants the election to be stolen; many will jump on anything that even vaguely suggests to them that it was. All of this is entirely toxic to a free society, of course; but there are always people who cannot see beyond their own factional concerns to the requirements of a free society.

And it is worth having a bit of proportion. This election year has not been any wilder and more unsettling than any of the times Andrew Jackson ran for president; a single election will not magically turn our country into a totalitarian state (which can only occur, very slowly, from people of whatever party eroding bulwarks against totalitarianism); and, no matter how common naysayers may be today, the US Constitution still provides a structurally sound framework based on much more experience and careful thought than can be found in a thousand pundits and armchair statesmen who may criticize it. Perhaps that is an act of faith, but upholding the ideals of a republic is indeed an act of faith: it is a trust that there is still something deeper and more reliable than any partisan interest.

Whatever ends up being the case, the Gods of the Copy-Book Headings will still continue their work. Partisans come and partisans go, but some things endure forever, and our tasks remain fundamentally the same: to strive to do good for ourselves and for others, and to seek the highest things in whatever way, however muddled and flailing, that we can.

All Souls

 From Newman's The Dream of Gerontius:

 Nor touch, nor taste, nor hearing hast thou now;
Thou livest in a world of signs and types,
The presentations of most holy truths,
Living and strong, which now encompass thee.
A disembodied soul, thou hast by right
No converse with aught else beside thyself;
But, lest so stern a solitude should load
And break thy being, in mercy are vouchsafed
Some lower measures of perception,
Which seem to thee, as though through channels brought,
Through ear, or nerves, or palate, which are gone.
And thou art wrapp'd and swathed around in dreams,
Dreams that are true, yet enigmatical;
For the belongings of thy present state,
Save through such symbols, come not home to thee.
And thus thou tell'st of space, and time, and size,
Of fragrant, solid, bitter, musical,
Of fire, and of refreshment after fire;
As (let me use similitude of earth,
To aid thee in the knowledge thou dost ask)—
As ice which blisters may be said to burn.
Nor hast thou now extension, with its parts
Correlative,—long habit cozens thee,—
Nor power to move thyself, nor limbs to move.
Hast thou not heard of those, who after loss
Of hand or foot, still cried that they had pains
In hand or foot, as though they had it still?
So is it now with thee, who hast not lost
Thy hand or foot, but all which made up man.
So will it be, until the joyous day
Of resurrection, when thou wilt regain
All thou hast lost, new-made and glorified.
How, even now, the consummated Saints
See God in heaven, I may not explicate;
Meanwhile, let it suffice thee to possess
Such means of converse as are granted thee,
Though, till that Beatific Vision, thou art blind;
For e'en thy purgatory, which comes like fire,
Is fire without its light.

A good day to listen to Elgar's arrangement of The Dream of Gerontius:

Sunday, November 01, 2020

All Saints

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

André de Soveral, Domingos Carvalho, and the Martyrs of Cunhau

Born in São Vicente in the Governorate General of Rio de Janeiro, André de Soveral joined the Society of Jesus in 1593 and was sent on the Jesuit mission to the Portiguar tribes of Rio Grande do Norte. Not long after, however, he was made pastor in the parish of Cunhau in Natal. Cunhau was a local hub of the sugar industry, and thus a major point of contention between the Portuguese and the Dutch. On July 16, 1645, a group of Dutch soldiers, accompanied by Dutch allies among the local tribes, came into the church while André was saying Mass and murdered him and the nearly seventy parishioners who were celebrating it with him. Of the lay martyrs, we know the name of only one: Domingos Carvalho. André de Soveral and Domingos Carvalho were beatified by St. John Paul II in 2000 and canonized by Francis in 2017. They are celebrated on October 3, the feast of the Holy Martyrs of Natal, along with other saints from the Natal region who were martyred by the Dutch and their allies.

Henry of Uppsala and Eric IX the Holy

Only the most basic lines of Henry's life are known. He was born in England in the twelfth century. He was an associate of Nicholas Breakspear, who later became Pope Adrian IV. At some point he ended up as a bishop in Sweden, but, because there was a civil war going on, he did a lot of missionary work toward converting Finland. Of Eric IX of Sweden we know almost as little. When King Sverker was murdered on Christmas Day in 1156, probably by servants of Magnus Henriksson, Sweden split, with Magnus getting the allegiance of some nobles and Eric getting the allegiance of others, and Sverker's son Karl getting the allegiance of yet others. According to legend, during a lull in conflicts, Eric and Henry entered the nearest regions of Finland to protect Christian Finns from pagan Finns; while there, they won battles, built churches, and consolidated the conversion of various areas. Eric returned to Sweden to look after his kingdom there; Henry, out of compassion for the Finns, remained in Finland. According to the legends again, Henry attempted to give a canonical punishment -- perhaps excommunication or required penance -- to a murderer named Lalli, who, angered at being punished, compounded his crime by murdering the bishop with an axe. Eric is popularly remembered as a major supporter of the Church, although there is record that he only consistently did so toward the end of his reign. Magnus and Karl seem to have joined forces against Eric and to have caught up with him on Ascension Day in 1160. Eric was attending Mass; he waited until Mass was finished, then went out to meet his enemies. According to legend, he was pulled from his horse, stabbed, and beheaded, and recent research on his bones has suggested that something like this was probably true. Henry's feast day is January 19 and Eric the Saint, patron saint of Sweden, is commemorated on May 18.

Adelaide of Burgundy

Adelaide was born the daughter of Rudolf II of Burgundy and Bertha of Swabia in about 931. Her family was engaged in an extremely complicated political struggle with Hugh of Provence and also with Berengar I over control of Lombardy. Eventually an arrangement was made in which Adelaide was married to Lothair II, Hugh's son, and thereby became, nominally, at least, queen of Italy. They had a daughter, Emma of Italy. Lothair, however, was assassinated, probably poisoned by Berengar, a few years later. Berengar attempted to force her to marry his own son, Adalbert, but Adelaide wasn't having it; she fled, and eventually was caught and imprisoned by Berengar. Somehow or other she escaped and appealed to Otto the Great for protection. Adelaide and Otto were soon married, and it seems to have been a very good marriage. Otto was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962 and insisted that Adelaide also be crowned Holy Roman Empress. Their son, Otto II, would eventually be crowned co-emperor. When her husband died, Adelaide had a rocky time for a while -- her son's wife, the Byzantine princess Theophanu, seems to have hated her and managed to get her removed from court -- but she eventually became regent for her grandson after Theophanu's death. When Otto III reached legal majority, she entered the convent at Selz, where she died December 16, 999. She was canonized by Urban II in 1097. Her feast day is December 16.

Junípero Serra y Ferrer

Born on the island of Mallorca, Miquel Josep Serra i Ferrer  joined the Franciscans and took his religious name after Brother Juniper, the 'jester of the Lord', who had been one of the companions of St. Francis of Assisi. He became a priest in 1737 and at the age of 35 petitioned to be sent on foreign missions. By 1749 he was in Mexico. Almost immediately he received an injury to his foot and leg that required him to spend some time recuperating. His first major task was to organize the Sierra Gorda mission in Querétero, which was in complete disarray. This took eight years of hard work. In 1767, however, King Carlos expelled the Jesuits from the entire Spanish empire. As the Jesuits had had extensive missions in Baja California, this left a major vacuum that had to be filled, and Serra was appointed president of the missions of Baja California. It was not an easy position; Serra had already had trouble with the interference of the colonial government in Sierra Gorda, but it was nothing compared to the strict military control of Baja California. He was not in the position long, though, since a new line of missions was being opened up in Alta California and he was appointed to take charge of them. The expedition had to set off without him, as his foot and leg, which had never been quite right since he had been in Mexico, again began causing him severe pain. He slowly followed after, however, and on the way founded his first mission, Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá, the only Franciscan-founded mission in Baja California. He eventually reached San Diego in 1769 and founded his the first Spanish mission in upper California, Misión San Diego de Alcalá. Life was very hard at the mission, but by perseverance over time twenty-one missions would be founded under Serra's presidency. His leg continued for the rest of his life to give him serious problems, often nearly crippling him, but he continually traveled in order to see to the missions. He died on August 28, 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo in what is modern Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. He was beatified by St. John Paul II and canonized by Pope Francis. His feast day is usually the day of his death, but in the United States is July 1, in memory of his first arrival at what would become San Diego.

Maria Restituta Kafka

Helena Kafková was born in an area in modern-day Brno in the Czech Republic on May 1, 1894; her father was a shoemaker. The family moved to Vienna when she was very young, and once she was old enough, she entered employment, first as a housemaid, then as a salesgirl for a tobacconist, then finally as a nurse in Lainz Hospital. It was there that she met the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, with whom she was immediately impressed. She entered the order at the age of twenty, and took the name of Maria Restituta, after the Christian martyr, St. Restituta. She continued to work at the municipal hospital until 1919, when she was transferred to a nearby hospital in Mödling. She became known for her quality surgical work. She was there when, in 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria. She became known for criticizing the authorities, but the authorities were slow to move directly against someone who was known to be so essential to the functioning of the hospital. However, on Ash Wednesday, 1942, after having been formally denounced by a local doctor, she was arrested by the Gestapo while leaving the operating theater. On October 29, she was convicted of conspiracy to commit treason and sentenced to death. She was sent to the guillotine on March 30, 1943. She was beatified by St. John Paul II.

Venantius Fortunatus, Radegund, Junian of Maire, and Gregory of Tours

Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus was born in the sixth century in Treviso in Italy. We don't know a lot about his early life, but he had a classical education and eventually made his way to Metz in 566, where he arrived just in time to recite his poetry for the wedding of King Sigibert and Queen Brunhild. He was instantly famous. He eventually moved to Paris where Sigibert's brother, Charibert, was king. He had to flee after Charibert's death, and arrived in Poitiers, where he met Radegund. She was a Thuringian princess, daughter of Bertachar, who eventually married, largely through having no choice, the Frankish king, Clotaire I, as one of his six wives. When Clotaire had her brother murdered, she had fled to Poitiers, where she founded the abbey of Sainte-Croix and devoted herself to caring for the sick. She became good friends with Junian, who had been gifted a set of lands by Clotaire to found a Benedictine monastery, which he called Mariacum (later 'Maire'). Radegund managed to obtain a relic of the True Cross from the Emperor Justinian II, and Venantius Fortunatus wrote a series of hymns for her to celebrate the occasion. One of these is among the most famous hymns of all time, the Vexilla Regis, which was first sung at a procession for the relic on November 19, 569:

Vexilla regis prodeunt:
Fulget crucis mysterium
Quo carne carnis conditor,
Suspensus est patibulo.

O Crux ave, spes unica,
Hoc passionis tempore
Auge piis justitiam,
Reisque dona veniam.

Te, summa Deus Trinitas,
Collaudet omnis spiritus:
Quos per crucis mysterium
Salvas, rege per saecula.

Radegund and Venantius Fortunatus became good friends, and it is perhaps through Radegund, who seems to have had a knack for making friends, that Fortunatus became friends with Gregory of Tours. Born Georgius Florentius, eventually adding 'Gregorius' to his name in honor of his grandfather, Gregory had become bishop of Tours and the foremost historian of his day, and is our primary historical for the Merovingian dynasty. Radegund and Junian died on the same day, August 13, 587, and August 12 became the feast day for both. Both Fortunatus and Gregory attended her funeral. Gregory died in the 590s, and his feast day is November 17. Fortunatus eventually became bishop of Poitiers. It's uncertain exactly when he died but it was probably after 600, and his feast day is December 14.

Magdalene of Nagasaki

In 1606, the persecution of Christianity in Tokugawa Japan formally began; Christianity had been illegal for some time before, but the decrees against it had not been consistently enforced. That would change, and the Catholics of Japan would enter one of the most severe persecutions in history. It was in this context that Magadurena was born in Nagasaki in 1611, and it would characterize her entire life. Her parents were martyred when she was nine. Magdalene became attached to the Augustinian Order, and became a tertiary, catechist, and translator assisting the Augustinian fathers. It was a constantly changing task because the Augustinian priests she assisted were repeatedly captured and killed by Japanese authorities until there were none left. She then spent some time helping a Dominican priest. At some time in 1634 she dressed herself in her Augustinian habit and turned herself in to the authorities, declaring herself a Christian. She was subject to the tsurushi torture in an attempt to make her repudiate the faith. In this form of torture, the victim was hung upside-down in a pit whose bottom was covered with excrement. Over time, blood would begin pooling in the head as the heart could not pump it back up the rest of the body efficiently enough. A cut was put on the forehead or behind the ear to provide some release to reduce the chances of the victim becoming unconscious, and over time the victim would begin to bleed, painfully, out of the membranes of their eyes, ears, and mouth. Strong men were known to break in a matter of hours. St. Magdalene hung in the tsurushi pit for thirteen days, slowly dying by bleeding in the most painful way, and she did not break before her death on October 15. She was beatified and canonized by St. John Paul II, and is commemorated on October 20 with the rest of the Holy Martyrs of Japan.

Jeanne-Antide Thouret

Born on November 27, 1765 in Sancey-le-long, France, Jeanne-Antide eventually joined the The Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, where she worked at several hospitals run by the Vincentians. It was the time, however, of the French Revolution and the forcible dissolution of Catholic religious orders and societies in France; Thouret was at one point beaten on order of the secular authorities because she refused to stop participating in the work of the society. She was eventually forced into exile in Switzerland. She attempted to continue her work for the sick, but Protestant anti-Catholic sentiment eventually forced her to move around for the next several years. The Vincentians eventually asked her to return to France to found a school and hospital. The rise of Napoleon opened up opportunities that had not previously existed, and Thouret founded her own congregation of sisters, usually known as Thouret Sisters, in the Vincentian tradition of devotion to the sick. While they got papal approval, they had problems with the local bishop at Besançon and had to move to Naples. There Thouret died, on August 24, 1826. She was beatified and canonized by Pius XI. Her feast is August 24 on the general calendar, but the Thouret Sisters themselves celebrate it on May 23, the anniversary of her beatification.

Louis IX 

Born to Louis the Lion and Blanche of Castile in 1214, he was crowned king at the age of twelve, after his father died. In practice, of course, his mother served as regent until about 1234. He married Margaret of Provence, with whom he got along very well, and they both engaged in extensive public works and support of the Church. In 1248, however, King Louis resolved to go on crusade. At the time, the Holy Land itself was regarded as something of a military mire; Louis decided to aim a little higher instead, at Cairo, where the Ayyubid powerbase was located. The Seventh Crusade did cause a considerably degree of disruption, in part due to coming at an awkward time for the Sultanate, which was undergoing a major power shift; but time worked for the Ayyubids, as well, since the season of summer heat and Nile floods is just the wrong time for a military campaign in Egypt. Final disaster occurred at the Battle of al-Mansurah, where the Mamluks, just coming to power, showed their military savvy as their general, Baibars, set a trap and ambushed the Crusaders. Caught in a bad position, the French army was no match for Egyptian numbers, and Louis was captured and had to be ransomed. He spent some time helping the Crusader Kingdoms build up their defenses in Syria and finally returned home in 1254. He spent most of his remaining years focusing on charitable works and diplomacy, but in 1266 he got the crusading bug again, and set out on the Eighth Crusade. The original plan was to support the Crusader Kings by going through Cyprus, but a last-minute change of plans, whose rationale has never been fully understood, led them to head to Tunis first. Militarily there was no problem, but it was bad timing again, as it was summer and a pestilence was sweeping through the area. King Louis died of dysyntery on August 25, 1270. His brother Charles managed to withdraw everyone and even get a favorable trade treaty out of it, but there's no question that it was almost as much of a military disaster as the previous crusade. St. Louis was canonized by Boniface VIII, and is the only king of France ever to have been canonized. His feast is August 25.

Peter Nolasco

Peter Nolasco was possibly born in Mas-des-Saintes-Puelles, but we find him very early on living in Barcelona. While there, he seems to have joined the army. We know almost nothing else until about 1203, when he began his charitable work of ransoming captives of war. He and St. Raymond Pennafort eventually formalized this work, and in 1218, Peter founded the Royal and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy of Redemption of Captives, more commonly known as the Mercedarians. When they were given final papal approval in 1230, Peter became the first Superior and Ransomer of the order. Most of the members of the order were either knights or friars. St. Peter himself was never ordained; given the nature of the order, while priests did become involved, the most important participants were primarily laymen of the knightly layers of society. All members took the standard three vows, but added another: to devote their substance and even their liberty to the ransoming of slaves. They took this quite seriously; many Mercedarians volunteered to trade themselves as hostages in order to make it possible to free those who had been taken prisoner or enslaved. St. Peter Nolasco died in 1253. He was canonized by Urban VIII and his current feast is May 6, which is currently thought to have been the day of his death. 

Tarasios of Constantinople

From a noble family in Constantinople, Tarasios eventually became imperial secretary in the court of Constantine VI. He flirted with iconoclasm for a while, but repented and became a monk and a defender of icons. Probably through the influence of the Empress Irene he was selected to become the new Patriarch of Constantinople in 784. He was not a priest at the time. He accepted, but only on the condition that efforts be made to heal relations with the other patriarchates, particularly Rome. On Tarasios's advice, Irene wrote to Pope Hadrian I in order to invite him to a church council on the disputed subject of icons. Hadrian agreed. The council had a rocky start; troops in favor of iconoclasm broke up the first attempt in 786, and it had to be reopened a year later in Nicaea. Once it managed to begin, however, things went more smoothly, and the Second Council of Nicaea condemned iconoclasm. Things afterward were mostly quiet for Tarasios, although there were still pro-iconoclasm flare-ups, and Tarasios was generally considered too indulgent to inconoclasts. In 795, Constantine VI decided he would divorce his wife, Maria of Amnia, and marry Theodote. Tarasios, who did not support this and refused to officiate at the new wedding, looked at his options and decided that of all the bad options on the table, not interfering was the least bad. This led to major protests, headed by St. Theodore the Studite and others. He managed to weather this, but also spent the last years of his last constantly criticized for what was seen as his excessive tolerance of corruption and simony. Perhaps there was no avoiding it; it was a time of endless controversy and trying to be gentle and merciful was bound to look weak even to many reasonable and decent people. There are times when it's hard even for saints to draw that line correctly. He died on February 25, 806, which is his feast on the Julian calendar in the East (which would be about March 10 on the Gregorian calendar these days), but his feast is celebrated on February 18 in the West.

 Albert Chmielowski

Born in Poland in 1845, Adam Chmielowski joined the January Uprising, in which Polish insurgents attempted to break from the Russian Empire and restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In a battle in 1863, a Russian grenade severely wounded him in the leg, forcing him to undergo an amputation without anesthesia. He would live the rest of his life with a wooden leg. Chmielowski had to leave Poland; he went to Belgium and discovered there that he had a talent for painting. He gained a fair amount of fame as a painter, but when he resettled in Poland, he found that the fame just depressed him. To try to work his way out of this depression, he began helping out at homeless shelters, and eventually began to consider the possibility of a religious vocation. He eventually became a Third Order Franciscan, taking the name 'Albert', and in 1888 founded the Servants of the Poor, also known as the Albertine Brothers. The community grew very slowly, but St. Albert spent the rest of his life devoted to it. He died of stomach cancer on Christmas in 1916. He was beatified and canonized by St. John Paul II, whose own decision to enter the priesthood had been partly inspired by St. Albert's story. His feast day is June 17.

Painting by St. Albert Chmielowski, Ecce Homo (1881)


2019 All Saints Post, Part III
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2019 All Saints Post, Part II
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2019 All Saints Post, Part I
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