Tuesday, 17 July 2018


Tsar-Martyr Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, Tsarevich Alexei, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. Pray to God for us!

Sunday, 15 July 2018


"For us, however, we accept no innovations, but choose the ancient, proven way, the way in which true Christians have chosen to serve God for two thousand years. We choose the way of fidelity to the true faith, and not the 'modern way.' We choose faithfulness to the true Church with all her canons and dogmas which have been received and confirmed by the local and universal councils. We choose the holy customs and traditions, the spiritual riches of that faith transmitted complete and entire to us from the holy Apostles, the holy Fathers of the Church, and the Christian heritage of our venerable ancestors. This only is the faith of the true Orthodox, distinct from the counterfeit "orthodoxy" invented by the Adversary. We receive only the Apostolic faith, the faith of the Fathers, the Orthodox faith." Vladyka Averky of Jordanville, +1976.

Saturday, 14 July 2018


The centenary of the martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family and Grand Duchess Elizabeth approaches and already thousands of pilgrims are gathering in Ekaterinburg for Tuesday's twelve-mile procession. My own confessor is among them. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill will lead the procession and celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Ganina Yama monastery, and it's my understanding that the head of the House of Romanov, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, will also be present. I expect the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will send a representative too.

It's a sobering occasion. Kings, caesars and presidents have been done in before; some shot at from a distance by a madman, others immured in some damp, tenebrous dungeon. But only once before like this. We in England have our royal martyr in the person of Charles I, a sinner like all of us but made pure in the Christ-like sacrifice of his death; but at least the revolutionaries had the decency to spare his family. With the Tsar, however, it was not enough for him alone to expiate for the perceived injustices of pre-revolutionary Russia. Oh no! Being the vicegerent of God on earth, the Tsar represented everything that was most hateful to the Christ-hating revolutionaries, and so to make a permanent end of Tsardom, of Christian Kingship, and to subvert and abase the Orthodox Church, was their design. Nihil sub sole novum, quoth Solomon, and just as the lawless nation cried out to Pilate "crucify him, crucify him," so the godless revolutionaries murdered the most exemplary Christian family in the world.

But it was not the end. The Church in Russia suffered terribly, first from persecution, then from the infiltration of craven careerists and spies. Nonetheless, the blood of the martyrs is the strength of the Church! After an hundred years the Church in Russia is growing apace, and waxes among the Russians where the failed schismatics of the West wane. There is still much to do, and under the sun of this world there will never be a Church entirely free of corruption, but against the coming of Antichrist the Orthodox Church stands alone. And who knows, there may yet be a new Tsar, the last and greatest, to whom all believers will come in time and in whose dominions the Church will be free. Unto that day, may the commemoration of the martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Tsarevich Alexei on Tuesday bring God's blessing on all Russians and all Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Romanov Victory on the Isle of Wight...

The unveiling and blessing of a monument to the Imperial Martyrs and Grand Duchess Elizabeth in East Cowes. H/T Fr Andrew Phillips.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Uniate website...

What a reprehensible and unnatural motto for a seminary! "Forming leaders for the Church?" I thought the old maxim for pastors of churches was nolo episcopari?

Friday, 6 July 2018

A dwarf and an homosexual...

Activity and passivity.

I recently read Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf by Peter Madsen. The book reminded me in parts of The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp, sharing flashes of insight which are humorous in nature and even having a similar worldview. Now that is interesting given that Quentin Crisp and Giuseppe Amadonelli (or "Peppe," Madsen's protagonist) are diametrically opposed. More on that later. I reckon Madsen is familiar with Crisperanto and may even be an homosexual himself. This is based not only on the many detailed and flattering descriptions given of the artist Raphael (and I have to say that this book rekindled my own interest in Raphael), but also a moment in which Serapica, Peppe's own effeminate counterpart, surrounded by antique statuary in a Florentine palazzo and looking rather Greek himself, tells him that he is in a state of being, and that that was his private hobby; a very Crispian thing to have said. This scene also brought to my mind an image of a 1940's art studio, a nude Crisp, pale and thin from his ascetic life, hennaed hair, celery and paintbrushes. It also brought back personal memories from childhood. Except I didn't paint myself white and imagine I was a Greek athlete; I was a saint in a church wrapped in bath towels; loved rather than despised, and prayed to rather than shunned.

There is a conscious duality throughout the book; order against chaos; dogma against heresy; matter against spirit. It's even difficult to properly categorise the book as it reads like both an historical fiction, in grandiloquent prose, and a trashy novel! Madsen’s investigation of Gnosticism takes both a serious and frivolous form (which I imagine is deliberate); truth and falsehood; pain and delight; things lofty and things sordid, all enveloped in a kind of bawdy, somewhat camp, style. The most interesting theme for me is the view implicit in the characters that hypocrisy and integrity are the same thing. For example, Leo X (ironically, for me, the most likable of all the characters!) can rise from his bed in the morning, sore from another night of buggery, and pray to God in silent lacrimation. Whereas Andrea de' Collini, patrician of Rome and oracle of esoteric "wisdom," can engage in sadistic sex acts, the trafficking of ruined lives dumped by the Inquisition, and even murder. The question as to who is superior is a redundant one since the corruption of Renaissance Italy is taken for granted. In other words, few people actually care. The few who do care, fanatics such as the Dominican inquisitor Tomaso della Croce, are just as hypocritical in their own way since they turn a blind eye to all kinds of situations when it suits them. I would put that down to Original Sin, the futility of aspiring to morality in a world of moral relativity, but the Gnostic view is that the forces of good and evil, spirit and matter, are equally opposed. Nonetheless, the fact that not one Gnostic character depicted in the book could be described as a good person, even by their own exalted standard, has not escaped my attention.

There was something fay, perhaps even androgynous (at least facially), about Raphael. I shewed the image to my mother, who considered for a second, whereupon she said: "looks like a poof!"

The Gnostic brotherhood, a Renaissance revival of mediaeval Catharism of which Peppe is a member, is made up of undesirables; they're all deformed or pathetic in some way. Peppe, the eponymous dwarf, was stunted and twisted from birth, lives in constant pain, and had an abusive mother. The master of the Gnostic brotherhood, under a veneer of deep learning and noble dignity, is actually raving mad. There are others too, miserable so-and-so's on the slag heap of human depravity, rejected by society. In a sense, the Gnostic brotherhood is the counterpart of the travelling freak show for which Peppe performed for seven years. In both cases Peppe was just one of a number of "freaks;" renegades and criminals who performed in obscene acts garlanded with anecdotal or liturgical fantasies in front of a crowd. Whether the crowd were fellow Gnostics or just rustics makes no moral difference. The essence of both the Gnostic liturgy and the "Tragedy of Nature" (Peppe's freak show act) is the opprobrium heaped on the idea of sex as the regenerative force in this world. And so, be he a patrician of Rome, clad in argent-gold and wanking into a chalice in a parodic ritual or a misshapen midget performing felatio upon a beast-man for vile spectators; both are equally orgiastic and ultimately nihilistic. Quentin Crisp said that sexual intercourse is a poor substitute for masturbation. Giuseppe, who said that prurience is one of life's equalizers, would undoubtedly agree.

There's something bogus about all this. Contrast the Gnostic view of sex with the monastic ideal of chastity and it just looks insidious and hypocritical. The Gnostic liturgy, as described in this book at least, seems less a lofty ritual of profundity and true knowledge than a sordid coven in which reprobate persons indulge their jaded sexual appetites, and from which, in their pretended disdain for things material, they derive a perverted pleasure in desecrating something ordained by God (whom they confuse with Satan). Quentin Crisp at least had the integrity to admit that he was a materialist. It seems to me that for the "perfect ones," beneath the esoteric rubbish the animal lusts just seethe away! And the fact that the Gnostic brotherhood is made up of "freaks" makes this even worse; not in the sense that the concupiscence of the flesh is any more or less reprehensible in a freak than in somebody else but because by implication the "freaks" have been driven into this kind of perversion by the prejudice of the majority. Perhaps we ought to reflect not on what that means for them but on prevailing attitudes in society.

Religious fanaticism is a prominent theme in the book. The interesting thing here is that this is not a majoritarian matter. The impression I get from the freak show audience, the miasmal taverns and alleyways of Trastevere, and even the pope's kitchen staff is that such things as fornication and homosexuality are generally accepted; whereas piety, as the untimely end of Girolamo Savonarola bears witness, is, for most people, more like an embarrassing piece of furniture. Quentin Crisp observed the same pattern in England, saying: "In 1653, when God took a turn for the worse, the gusto with which the English took to a life of self-restraint undoubtedly contained an element of debauchery." Integrity, hypocrisy; I'm quite sure that puritanism and prurience proceed from the same source. And then there are the machinations of the unholy Inquisition, personified by Tomaso della Croce. I saw a lot of my adolescent self in della Croce. At a time when my contemporaries were seeing (to) pretty girls, I was the most appalling, homicidal Papist. I would have set up an Inquisition over night and burnt anyone who disagreed with me! You'll be pleased to know that I have moved on from worldly utopianism (or dystopianism) even if the contrary feelings of irritation and resignation about the world remain. But della Croce is a pitiful case; just like Cromwell or Lenin. Who mourned when they died?!

The Inquisition burnt Peppe’s friend and lover Laura Beatrice de' Collini for heresy. This event colours much of the book, from the grievous turn of Laura's father Andrea, patrician of Rome, who became bent on personally killing Tomaso della Croce, to the (somewhat incredible) conclusion of the book. Given the Gnostic attitude to capital punishment, it's ironic that the scene is so beautifully described:
"She was a human salamander, so that even in an unimaginable agony her beauty demanded veneration – from the flames themselves it seemed, for they flickered and darted and sucked around her like desire-maddened tongues, craving an appointment with private, vulnerable contours, spitting love-burns, their deadly caress all consuming seduction; then she was a goddess of some exotic pantheon, a numen whose devotees worshipped her with living images of death, the sun and the moon and the stars her garment, and she moved, smiling, in the heart of the fire; then a star itself, a distant orb glowing between tenebrous spaces in which stirred not the vast ethers of the heavens, but the sickening, convulsive appetite of an inhumanity that gorged itself, satiated, on her expended light. Then – and then, again! – oh then, she was just a poor, dying girl tied to the Inquisition’s stake."
From ravished girl to exotic goddess, Peppe clearly idolised this woman. Howbeit, before we get carried away, it behoves me to remind you that Peppe himself says at the beginning of the book that "it would take someone with a very peculiar vice indeed to find anything sexually attractive about a crook-back dwarf." That speaks volumes about the patrician's daughter. But the terrible beauty of her death contrasts with the vulgarity and sadistic yearning of the crowd, voyeurs who were less idle spectators and rather active participators in the brutal and sanguinary penal code of the Inquisition; people who otherwise might not care that much about dogma. It's a very lively combination. Public executions of this kind throughout the Middle Ages and into the late 18th century served almost exactly the same purpose as the Liturgy, other state events, or Da Vinci's planets. Compare the Two-Minutes Hate from Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Peppe writes with sullen contempt of the ecclesiastical procession to the stake, with acolytes, thurifers, fat friars and merciless monks chanting hypocritical bilge in a "plangent threnody of her hour of death," all to "enrich the lurid liturgy of her death-rites. Oh yes, why yes, if there's to be a show, make it a damned good one!" These days I have come to agree with Quentin Crisp, who like me and at about my age, gave up on culture and literature, when he said that beauty is a complete waste of time. But there's an interesting paradigm here, a double helix pattern of simultaneous progress and regress. Nowadays I'm sure that most people would be horrified by a public burning, and some are even appalled by a swift, merciful hanging, for the crime or sin of holding an opinion; and yet in such a time of swift death and little bliss, we have Master Raphael's Transfiguration. In our own time, of banality and bureaucratic ugliness, we have conceptual art. It's ironic that so much grandeur and beauty should come down to us from savage ages. Perhaps, as Crisp implied, beauty and ugliness are the same thing? Or perhaps true beauty demands a refiner's fire; the palpable knowledge of sorrow and suffering to fulfill its own quality?

One reason I have made the comparison between Giuseppe Amadonelli and Quentin Crisp is because of something Crisp said in the World in Action programme broadcast about his life in the early 1970's. You can listen to it here in Crisp's patrician tone:

Crisp was by no means suicidal; indeed, he lived at least another thirty years after telling this harrowing story. But the sentiments he expressed are echoed by Peppe in chapter two of Memoirs. It's interesting that for a Gnostic as much as for a Materialist the ultimate aspiration is exactly the same: release from prison, escape from the dreadful doom of life. Perhaps it's because they share a frontier, the same error. Or perhaps it's because life under the Sun of this world had dealt unkindly with them and so they were driven to the polar opposite (or "perfect") heresy against the Truth? Aesop might call that sour grapes. Nonetheless, I don't actually believe that either of them were purists. Peppe lived at the Papal court and despite his commitment to the Gnostic creed he was scandalised by the more extreme perversions of his master and confesses to a certain kinship with his friend, pope Leo X, who somehow managed to separate the lustful, worldly prince from the tearful, devout, indeed rather simple, supplicant. As for Crisp, he often spoke of a personal God (he was probably raised Anglican) and later in life embraced a kind of ascetic chastity, deploring the gay movement. We're all hypocrites and come short of the glory of God.

As for me, while in moments of ambivalent despair I have questioned the fundamental goodness of the flesh, I believe that our present suffering will end and the least of our godly desires, begotten of faith, will have fruit. Because of my belief, Gnosticism, or at least the extreme form of dualism explored in Madsen’s book, seems a ridiculous notion because it holds up an ideal that is by definition unattainable; with the inevitable hypocrisy and hysteria that come from that. Just because a particular form of a particular portion of matter can be defiled or abused doesn't mean that matter itself, hallowed by Christ’s Incarnation, is evil. Our experience of the Divine cannot but be a posteriori, and I take great comfort in the scripture: "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Luke 3:6.

Monday, 2 July 2018


When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!

This rhyme, "garbled in the memory of old wives," was spoken by the Gondorian apothecary in the Houses of Healing. It's interesting that he refers to "old wives" here. In Book II of The Lord of the Rings Celeborn admonished Boromir of Gondor not to "despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know." That's uncharacteristically verbose of Tolkien but one of the more sober and realistic aspects of Númenórean culture in Middle-earth is it's noticeable declension from the days of the building of Orthanc and the Argonath, monoliths of mythical, almost Egyptian proportion, to the near-ruinous state of Minas Tirith and the corresponding waning of knowledge at the time of the War of the Ring. Faramir speaks at length about that in Book IV.

The apothecary's ignorance of the true virtue of Athelas was a token of decline, perhaps specifically of the end of the line of Kings in the south. Athelas, or Asëa aranion in Quenya, was known in the Common Tongue as "Kingsfoil;" a plain herb that grew in the woods nigh to the ancestral dominions of the Dúnedain. It was brought to Númenor, along with many other fragrant flowers and song birds (c.f: Akallabêth), by the Elves of Eressëa to enrich the island. It was brought to Middle-earth by the Númenóreans, perhaps by the early seafarers as gifts to the men of darkness; perhaps by the Exiles fleeing the Change of the World. When steeped in hot water, its fragrance was wholesome and refreshing, with a scent that varied depending on those standing by. For Ioreth it reminded her of the roses of Imloth Melui; to those that attended the lady Éowyn it seemed that a keen wind blew through the window with no scent at all, as of an air wholly clean, like a keen wind from snowy mountains or from silver shores washed by sea foam never before breathed by living men; to those who stood by Merry, the scent was redolent of orchards and of heather in a sunshine full of bees.

It was said in the lore of Gondor: "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so shall the rightful king be known." This is clearly influenced by the mediaeval tradition of the Royal Touch. This was a sign of divine favour and dynastic legitimacy, but also a kind of folk memory of the Coronation service, which turned the king into a kind of priest and mediator. In England it was begun by Edward the Confessor and continued by the Plantagenets, and the order of Royal Unction (the Eighth Sacrament) was altered to include the hands (the older English Coronation Order, that of the Pontifical of Egbert, only included the head, shoulders, breast, and the bend of each arm), with the accompanying prayer: Unguantur manus, &c. Sometimes the ceremony of "touching the King's Evil" would follow the Coronation service. The sick, generally those with scrofula, fever or blindness, were brought into the King's presence where he would make the Sign of the Cross over them, recite prayers and verses of Scripture, and give them a coin. It may have had a liturgical form similar to the Royal Maundy, or even the Expulsion of Public Penitents. There was no analogous liturgical form in Minas Tirith or in Rivendell. There are strictly no rites or ceremonies in Tolkien's legendarium since he writes of a pre-Christian, Patriarchal era. Instead, Aragorn went from bed to bed throughout the City, took the sick by the hand and called upon his or her name, and then anointed the head of the sick with Athelas water. When Frodo heralded the coming of Aragorn from the North to Faramir and the Southern Rangers, Faramir said that clear proofs would be required. I was very moved when I read this, though:

"Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. 'My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?'" LOTR, V,8.

So it was not for naught that in the High Elven tongue Aragorn was named Envinyatar, the "Renewer." By establishing the legitimacy of his Kingship with healing, even with the basilean herb Athelas, Aragorn dispelled the ignorance of old and renewed the ancient affection of the Dúnedain for the traditions of the Elder Days, and his law passed into the barren north once more.

Art: King David from the Vespasian Psalter. It doesn't quite fit the post but I've always liked it.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The Blue Flower...

Fr Anthony Chadwick, a Continuing Anglican and friend of long standing, has finally published the first issue of the much-anticipated "The Blue Flower," a journal exploring romanticism and the Christian tradition. Go over and have a look. I wonder if there'd be room for a Tolkien article in the next issue?

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Vegetarianism in Tolkien...

"And from that time forth he ate no flesh nor slew any living thing that was not in the service of Morgoth." The Silmarillion, chapter 19.

As we prepare for the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul through fasting, our minds turn inexorably to thoughts of food; food understood not as mere corporeal sustenance but something spiritual. We think especially of meat. The Tradition of the Church teaches that God blessed meat after the Flood due to Man's infirmity. Before the Flood, Man ate no meat at all, which was reflected in his almost Númenórean life expectancy. Thus, through the discipline of fasting, the Church calls us back to our common ante-diluvian state, that is to the state of our first parents Adam and Eve. While Christ, consubstantial with us in respect of His Manhood, ate meat before His Crucifixion, when He rose again and appeared to His Disciples He ate only fish, and I think this has a significance beyond the typical exegesis of the apostolic commission to become "fishers of men." I've often thought about becoming a vegetarian, or at least a pescatarian, for the Kingdom of God, but I fear that, as with most people, meat is an integral part of my diet. Roast beef and Yorkshire puddings; sausage and mash; the smell of bacon frying; I love all that! At Easter I look forward as much to a dinner of roast lamb and a good claret as to a cup of milky tea after the marathon of the Holy Night!

What about Tolkien, though? What did he think of all this? If he was anything like my father, he would have seen vegetarianism as a kind of poncy, intellectual thing! That kind of preconception notwithstanding, Tolkien was a pious man and would have fasted assiduously at the proper times according to the discipline of the Roman Church, as it was in the first half of the 20th century. Inasmuch as his faith influenced his work, food in general has a significance in Tolkien which is just as important as his poignant and vivid descriptions of landscapes, characters and times past. Concordantly, one of the things I cherish most about Tolkien is the sensation of residual enchantment and the integration of basic, homely things (such as food) into a romantic wilderness. How could you fail to look afresh at good bread, fruit and wine having read of the hobbits' supper with the High Elves in the woods of the Shire? "There was bread, surpassing the savour of a fair white loaf to one who is starving; and fruits sweet as wildberries and richer than the tended fruits of gardens," (LOTR, I,3). Or how could you not see the value of friendship and hospitality in the simple lunch of the three hunters with Merry and Pippin at Isengard? A lunch that consisted of salted pork and bacon rashers, and toasted stale bread, butter and honey, with beer and wine salvaged from the flotsam and jetsam. Contrast Pippin's meagre breakfast in Minas Tirith of bread, butter and what to-day we would call semi-skimmed milk! I have never seen loneliness more keenly expressed. And most touching of all, perhaps, was Sam's decision to throw away his cooking gear on the road to Mount Doom:
"The clatter of his precious pans as they fell down into the dark was like a death-knell to his heart," LOTR, VI,3.
This may seem melodramatic on first reading but Sam was the simplest and least-traveled of the Fellowship; what could he offer, practically, to the others besides his ability as a cook? His cookware had become, then, his primary means of holding communion with them, even with Gollum. And so food, and the social rituals of food, are an integral part of Tolkien's legendarium, expressing in the most palpable way comfort and refreshment, solidarity and succour in wanhope, as well as loneliness or the way of pilgrimage. The greatest gift of Galadriel to the Fellowship was the eucharistic lembas.

As always, I digress. I have as yet spoken only of food in general, not meat or vegetarianism. I was inspired to write this post when, the other day, I read these words in The Silmarillion:
"Now Melkor began the delving and building of a vast fortress, deep under Earth, beneath dark mountains where the beams of Illuin were cold and dim. That stronghold was named Utumno. And though the Valar knew naught of it as yet, nonetheless the evil of Melkor and the blight of his hatred flowed out thence, and the Spring of Arda was marred. Green things fell sick and rotted, and rivers were choked with weeds and slime, and fens were made, rank and poisonous, the breeding place of flies; and forests grew dark and perilous, the haunts of fear; and beasts became monsters of horn and ivory and dyed the earth with blood." Quenta Silmarillion, I.
It may mean nothing at all but I like to think that this is a legendary retelling of our Orthodox Christian tradition. As the iniquity of mankind precipitated the great flood, so we might say that the delving of Utumno (or Udûn) caused carnivorism. We read that when the Great Lamps were destroyed, the harmony and symmetry of the world were also destroyed, and the earth was dyed with blood. The Valar retreated into the West, and Melkor with his host was free to wander in the lands "east of Eden," to put it into the language of Genesis, like Cain. There was, however, a mysterious and whimsical character who was there from the beginning. To the Shire hobbits in later ages he was known as Tom Bombadil, a primeval nature spirit whose true origin is deliberately enigmatic (in The History of Middle-earth he is described as a kind of "aborigine"). In his own words, "he knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from Outside." There is some debate among Tolkienists as to what Bombadil meant by "Outside." I am of the view that this refers to Melkor's return to Middle-earth from "the outer darkness" after the establishment of the Isle of Almaren, when the delving of Utumno began. If we understand Bombadil's residing in his little realm from before this time, then his marked vegetarianism must indicate what was once universal during the Spring of Arda. In The Lord of the Rings, it's said that while staying in the house of Tom Bombadil, the hobbits ate: "yellow cream and honeycomb, and white bread, and butter; milk, cheese, and green herbs and ripe berries gathered," and they drank only water; albeit water that "went to their hearts like wine." Of most interest to me is Frodo's vision of Paradise while staying with Bombadil:

"That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise." LOTR, I,8.
The text also implies that "under the spell of Tom's words" the hobbits missed several meals. Perhaps Frodo's dream came to him because his mind was free of the idle comfort of food? As St John Chrysostom said: "As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul; imparting it an easy flight, it makes it able to ascend on high, to contemplate lofty things, and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life."

Of course, there are other peoples in Middle-earth who abstain from meat. Among Men, the Beornings were vegetarians. Gandalf famously admonished Bilbo not to use unfortunate words like furrier, rug, tippet or muff within a hundred miles of Beorn's house! Beorn's diet was, in fact, remarkably similar to Bombadil's, except that he drank mead. The Drúedain (or Woodwoses) were probably vegetarians too. Beren's vegetarianism was undoubtedly linked to his suffering in the wild, and the succour of the beasts whom he befriended. Hobbits were meat-eaters but there were some things seen as taboo. Sam Gamgee looked aghast at Gollum when he returned covered in black mud and chewing God knows what; and neither Merry nor Pippin would eat the rind of flesh thrown at them by the Orcs on their baleful journey through Rohan. Gimli the Dwarf felt much the same about the flotsam of Isengard. He was of Durin's folk (the "Longbeards") so his aversion cannot be said to be true of all Dwarves. I wonder at times whether the Beornings' mistrust of Dwarves had anything to do with their diet.

The Elves did not universally practise vegetarianism. The Gnomes in Eldamar and Beleriand ate meat. In the The Silmarillion we read of Finrod Felagund hunting with the Sons of Fëanor in the woods of Ossiriand. It's said that the Elves were greater in stature in that time, new-come to Middle-earth and not yet weary of the world. Perhaps as the ages past and they "faded" they ceased eating meat in token of this? The Laiquendi (Green-elves) were vegetarians from the beginning. A silvan tribe, they besought Finrod Felagund to move on the tribes of Men in Ossiriand as they were fellers of trees and hunters of beasts, which roused their enmity. Legolas was of the Laiquendi, of northern Mirkwood, although we read in The Hobbit that these elves provided meat for Thorin and company in prison. Perhaps they ate meat uniquely among the Laiquendi? Or, as seems more likely to me, they provided meat for the Dwarves purely because they were sick and half-starved. I wonder what they fed Gollum!

I don't think we need mention the Orcs! I'm sure they ate anything they could get their hands on; horses, men, and not seldom their own kind!

Whether there is something theological about the practice of vegetarianism in Tolkien, we cannot say. It's surely not consistent enough, and each race or tribe would have its own reasons and traditions for doing so. For the Beornings as much as for the Woses, the Green-elves, and Bombadil, it was a sort of naturalist tendency. With others, such as Beren, it was different. I like to think that, like Beren, Frodo lost his appetite for meat when he returned to the Shire. Having passed from the material world into the world of shadows (by means of the Ring), perhaps he felt in himself the kind of "fading" of the Elves? Perhaps, as with our Orthodox discipline, he wanted to recover himself? Or perhaps these are just ravings?

What do you think?

Friday, 15 June 2018

Spanish Mattins...

Continuing with our series on the Old Spanish Liturgy, here is a service of Spanish Mattins and Lauds for the Sunday before Epiphany. It corresponds (naturally) to Vespers of the same day. My commentary will follow.


Introductory (as at Vespers): + In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ, light with peace. R. Thanks be to God. V. The LORD be always with you. R. And with thy spirit.

Hymn: Aeterne rerum Conditor.

Maker of all, eternal King,
Who day and night about dost bring ;
Who weary mortals to relieve
Dost in their time the seasons give.

Now chanticleer proclaims the day,
And calls the sun's awakening ray-
The wandering pilgrim's guiding light,
That marks the watches night by night.

Roused at the note, the morning star
Heaven's dusky veil uplifts afar ;
Night's vagrant bands no longer roam,
But from their dark ways hie from home.

The encouraged sailor's fears are o'er,
The foaming billows rage no more ;
Lo! e'en the very Church's Rock
Melts at the crowing of the cock.

Oh let us then like men arise ;
The cock rebukes our slumbering eyes,
Bestirs who still in sleep would lie,
And shames who would their Lord deny.

New hope his clarion-note awakes,
Sickness the feeble frame forsakes,
The robber sheathes his lawless sword,
Faith to the fallen is restored.

Look on us, Jesu, when we fall,
And with that look our souls recall ;
If thou but look our sins are gone,
And with due tears our pardon won.

Shed through our hearts thy piercing ray,
Our soul's dull slumber drive away ;
Thy name be first on every tongue,
To thee our earliest praises sung.

All honour, laud and glory be
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee ;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

Collect: Almighty, everlasting and merciful God, who appointest times and seasons, and bestowest upon each season its accompanying grace : lest the mind should be exhausted by the lengthened darkness, thou dost gladden us by the cock-crow, that the herald's announcement of the day may awake in us the thought of the daily round : do thou, therefore, look upon us continually and help us, that we may not be overcome by the darkness of sin and so forget the everlasting day ; but raise us up when we slip amidst the shadows and chasten us by thy look, so that with Peter we may recover ourselves from our falls, and with tears like his bewail the sins which we have committed. R. Amen. Through thy mercy, O our God, who livest and reignest, and art blessed for evermore. R. Amen.

Antiphon A: Salvation belongeth unto thee, O LORD : and thy blessing is upon thy people. Psalm 3.
Antiphon B: Put out all our misdeeds, O LORD : and cleanse thou our hearts from our sins. Psalm 50.
Antiphon C: I will call unto the Most High God, even unto the God that shall perform the cause which I have in hand. Psalm 56.

Collect: Only begotten Son of the unbegotten Father, dispel from us the sleep of the body and mercifully spare our offences ; that that which is now sown in the weakness of our vile body, by the gift of thy divinity may rise in glory : do thou therefore, O LORD, bestow an abundant assistance on all that trust in thee, and by the overshadowing of thy wings draw us to our Fatherland on high. R. Amen. Through, &c. R. Amen.

Antiphon I: The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his ways. P. Before the mountains were settled ; before the hills were brought forth. V. My heart is inditing of a good matter : I speak of the things which I have made unto the King. P. Before the mountains were settled : before the hills were brought forth. V. Glory and honour, &c. P. Before the mountains, &c.
Collect: Eternal Wisdom of God the Father, who bearest witness that thou wast with the Father who begat thee before he made the world or settled the lofty mountains or created all the hills ; we pray and beseech thee, that we who joyfully celebrate thy pure nativity may, by faith, attain to the reward which thou hast promised : that thou who wast begotten before the foundation of the mountains, and in the fullness of time wast born of a Virgin's womb, wouldest so sanctify us who believe in thee that thou mayest reward us hereafter in glory everlasting. R. Amen. Through thy mercy, &c. R. Amen.

Antiphon II: The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light. P. They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. V. O ! clap your hands together, all ye people ; O ! sing unto the God with voice of melody. P. They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. V. Glory and honour, &c. P. They that dwell, &c.
Collect: Only begotten Son of God, who hast caused them that dwell in the land of the shadow of death to see a great light, and hast made the light to shine by the mystery of thy Incarnation : grant us who joyfully celebrate the day of thy nativity such clear vision of thy shining light that we may be gladdened by the perception of thy divine nature. R. Amen. Through thy mercy, &c. R. Amen.

Antiphon III: The LORD of Hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah. P. He hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle. V. Like as we have heard so have we seen in the city of the LORD of Hosts, in the city of our God ; God upholdeth the same for ever. P. And hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle. V. Glory and honour, &c. P. And hath made them, &c.
Collect: Almighty LORD, who hast visited thy flock the house of Judah ; visit us who lie in the sleep of sin : that whilst by thy lightning thou dispersest the darkness of our sins, by the might of thy death thou mayest deliver us from their power, that we may be so enlightened by thy appearing that by thy combat with death we may be delivered from the empery of death. R. Amen. Through thy mercy, &c. R. Amen.

Respond: This is my Righteous one, my Saviour. P. He shall deliver his city ; and shall remit the sins of his people, not for price nor reward. V. Lift up your eyes to the heaven and see who hath created these things : it is the LORD God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. P. He shall deliver his city ; and shall remit the sins of his people, not for price nor for reward. V. Glory and honour, &c. P. He shall deliver, &c.
Collect: This is our Righteous one, in whom by faith we have hoped at the Prophet's word : to whose appearing we have attained through grace : therefore, let us entreat his clemency, that he would deliver us and forgive the sins of his people, for whom he vouchsafed to hang upon the Cross. R. Amen. Through thy mercy, &c. R. Amen.


Canticle. Antiphon: He is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well : he giveth goodly words. Canticle: And Jacob called his sons (Genesis 49:1-27).

Benedictus es. Antiphon: Blessed art thou, O LORD, and blessed is the name of thy glory. P. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his chosen : may his holy name be blessed for ever and ever. Canticle: Blessed art thou, O LORD, &c. (Song of the Three Children, vv. 29-66, multis praetermissis). P. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his chosen : may his holy name be blessed for ever and ever. V. Glory and honour, &c. P. Bless ye the LORD, &c.

Sonus: (As at Vespers).
Laudes. Antiphon: O praise the LORD of heaven ; praise him in the height. Psalm 148.
Lesson: The lesson from the book of Proverbs of Solomon. R. Thanks be to God. The LORD possessed me, &c. (Proverbs 8:22-33). R. Amen.

Hymn: Splendor Paternae gloriae.

Thou Brightness of the Father's ray,
True Light of light and Day of day :
Light's fountain and eternal spring :
Thou morn, the morn illumining!

Glide in, thou very sun divine ;
With everlasting brightness shine :
And shed abroad on every sense
The Spirit's light and influence.

Thee, Father, let us seek aright -
The Father of perpetual light,
The Father of almighty grace -
Each wile of sin away to chase.

And Christ our daily food be nigh
And Faith our daily cup supply :
So may we quaff to calm and bless,
The Spirit's rapturous holiness.

All honour, laud, and glory be
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee :
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

Supplicatio: Let us pray our LORD Jesus Christ (as at Vespers). P. Grant this Almighty, everlasting God. V. Kyrie eleison. R. Christe eleison. V. Kyrie eleison.

Oratio completoria: O God without beginning, &c. (as at Vespers).
The LORD's Prayer, with Embolismus (as at Vespers).
Benediction (as at Vespers).
Conclusion (as at Vespers).

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Kallistos Ware on homosexual unions...

"Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" Job 38:2.

For personal reasons, I usually try to steer well clear of this debate. I have been openly homosexual for about ten years. I have come to accept the misunderstanding and opprobrium that inevitably goes with openness as part of my cross to bear, but I don't mean "open" in the sense that I go about telling all and sundry that I am attracted to other men (despite the risk of doing so via the Internet). I mean simply that I no longer lie about it when asked. I remember having a painful conversation with an open and practising homosexual called John Paul whilst in Germany in 2005. I found his shrewd and leading questions difficult to answer but also felt shamed and embarrassed that I had to lie in order to conceal the fact. And then there was the nasty Blackfen business in March 2011, which precipitated my final renunciation of Roman Catholicism. Of course, one of the coins with which I have tried to buy back the respect that I lost was to live a chaste life, but that's none of your business; that's between me and my confessor.

So it was with mixed emotion that I read Kallistos Ware's foreword to the latest edition of "The Wheel." You can read it here. I welcome Ware's extrapolation of doctrine from liturgy but I found his treatment of the problems (or "anomalies," as he calls them) inherent in the pastoral care of homosexuals casuistic. Specifically this:
"A second anomaly is to be found in the way homosexuals are commonly treated in the sacrament of confession. All of us recognize that there is an important distinction to be made between those homosexuals who engage in casual encounters, seeking out in some “gay” bar a partner for a single night; and on the other hand, those homosexuals who are committed to a permanent relationship, faithful and monogamous, in which deep love is involved. Surely no Christian is in favour of sexual promiscuity. Yet what frequently happens in confession? Let us suppose that the one who is promiscuous comes to feel a sincere revulsion for his way of life, and with genuine penitence resolves to pursue a life of purity in the future. In that case, he will probably be given absolution by the priest and will be permitted, perhaps with certain restrictions, to receive holy communion. For a time, he refrains from sexual activity, but then from frustration and loneliness he relapses into another casual encounter. After that he repents, and is absolved, and is once more blessed to receive communion. Then after a time he again lapses. So the cycle continues. 
"What happens, by contrast, to the faithful and monogamous homosexual? Perhaps the priest says in confession, 'Are you willing to give up your homosexual relationship?' The penitent may answer, 'I cannot do that.' The priest may rejoin, 'You can continue to share a common life, marked by mutual affection; but will you abstain from further sexual activity?' The other may well reply, 'I am not yet ready to undertake that.' (Yet I have known homosexuals who have indeed transformed their relationship in this way.) The priest, faced with this refusal, may well feel that he cannot bless the penitent to receive the sacrament. Now here certainly is a paradox. The homosexual committed to a stable and loving relationship is treated more harshly than the homosexual who is casual and promiscuous, and who is seeking not true love but passing pleasure. Something has gone wrong here."
The only meaningful difference between the promiscuous homosexual and the presumably monogamous homosexual described here is that the former has the conscience to confess his sins and to make at least a temporary resolve to amend his life, ("Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," Matthew 26:41). The other, with whom it is implied that Ware has more sympathy, is full of pride. He lives a lifestyle ostensibly at variance with the laws of God and is not resolved to amend his life. Of course, that's rather simplistic, and no doubt each case of such an unnatural union has its complexities, but the fact remains that the sin of Sodom is precisely the act of two men or two women engaging in sexual activities together in crude imitation of the natural union of a man and a woman in marriage. It is idolatrous (Romans 1:26-27).  Nonetheless, it's easy for me to overlook the sins of the promiscuous homosexual described here; his sin holds no interest for me, and it is between him and his confessor.

On the other hand, I cannot accept the latter. The teaching of the Church, the unanimous consent of the Fathers and the witness of Scripture, are unambiguously clear. Homosexuals are called to lives of chaste celibacy (whether that can be realised in a sexless male relationship, I am not prepared to say). This teaching would seem to be unacceptable to the "monogamous" homosexual described here because it tells him that there are certain things that he cannot rightfully do, but which he would like to carry on doing, without feelings of guilt. So, in my view the priest is right to treat the homosexual "committed to a stable and loving relationship" more severely than the "casual and promiscuous" one. Passing pleasures are forgivable; habitual, unnatural vice is not.

What do you think of the arguments? It seems to me that the word of God as He spake to Job out of the whirlwind are justified, and Ware darkens counsel by words without knowledge.