Monday, 11/16/15

  1. Re-imagined, newly invented
  2. A defect in our national character
  3. The “top-down” English Reformation
  4. Keeping Christmas out of Advent
  5. Remembering many a grievous deed


Modernity believes that the world, even human beings, can be re-imagined and newly invented. Gender-experience, it is suggested, can be self-defined (along with a continual string of new “rights”). But these inventions are not discoveries. They are nothing more than the assertion of power. They become oppressive inasmuch as they cannot be discovered in a manner independent of their brutal assertion. And they will be maintained as an invention, only through the continuing use of coercion.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, God by the Numbers)

In fairness to Fr. Stephen, I note that this pull-quote was not the point of his blog entry. The point was that, like mathematics (which is probably discovered, not invented), God is discovered, not invented, atheist musings notwithstanding. But I’m glad he swerved when this analogy occurred to him.


I grew up on street where my family has lived for four generations and in a city that was home to my ancestors before the Civil War. As a Benedictine monk, I will eventually take vows to live out the rest of my life in the same city, on the grounds of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Louis. When I die, my body will be buried in the community’s cemetery just beside the abbey walls. I have inherited and now freely embrace a wonderful gift: permanence. I have learned, furthermore, that permanence is not merely a matter of taste—something to be embraced by the sedentary and eschewed by the restless—but a deep societal value. It is the guardian of family, tradition, practical wisdom, environment, and culture. I will argue, therefore, that the American disregard for permanence is not merely a national idiosyncrasy. It is a defect in our national character.

… Tradition is a conduit of wisdom. It allows us to inform our decisions with more knowledge than any individual could fit into his own head, and more experience than any lifetime could afford. Tradition makes the least educated among us knowledgeable, and the least experienced among us prudent. We would be foolish to cast it aside.

… In a world in which every generation moves away from its hometown, its ancestors, and even its living family members, we risk becoming mere “flies of a summer, unable to link with dead generations or those yet unborn, lacking memories or high hope.” Severed from home, family, and history, we risk joining the ranks of those who “live only for themselves, ignoring the debt they owe to the past and the responsibility they owe to the future.”

A final benefit of permanence is the enrichment of culture. According to Eliot, “Ideally, each village, and of course more visibly the larger towns, should have each its particular character.” Eliot favors differences in local character not because diversity is an absolute value, but because it is of “vital importance for a society [to have] friction between its parts” and differences bring friction. The cities of a nation should all compete and oppose each other in small ways in order to invigorate the nation as a whole. A nation too united is a menace to itself and to other nations. Eliot uses fascism as an example: “In Italy and in Germany we have seen that a unity with politico-economic aims, imposed violently and too rapidly, had unfortunate effects upon both nations.”

(Justin Hannegan, Why You Should Stay in Your Hometown)


Conventional wisdom has always viewed the English Reformation as an altogether Good Thing, indeed the very headwaters that gave rise to the refreshing torrents of Enlightenment and Progress.  In this telling, the pious and godly Englishman threw off the oppressive yoke of the Pope of Rome, rejected the superstitions and foolery, turned their backs on the intercession of the saints, and for the first time, truly embraced the word of God.  Or not.  A parallel narrative does exist, one less self-serving and triumphalistic, as it is considerably more rooted in fact and less dependent upon propaganda. In this telling, the English were largely satisfied with their Church, that Henry VIII’s mad obsession with obtaining his divorce drove all other considerations, that the Reformation was a decidedly top-down affair that was preoccupied with the dismantling of the monasteries and their considerable influence, the confiscation of church properties and treasures to reward political supporters, and bailing-out an English government bankrupted by Henry’s wars.

(John, Notes from a Common-place Book, Aidan’s Fine Horse and the Loss of Memory)

John is an infrequent blogger, which I attribute to his depth. He gives the reader a glimpse of his “historical enthusiasms” to introduce the story of Aidan’s fine horse, from the Venerable Bede. But then he surprised my by closing with some quotes on the very current topic of the Benedict Option, which is in at least one sense a prophylactic against “the Loss of Memory.”

All in all, a fine piece of work.


Launching from the non-issue of Starbucks coffee cups, Media Critic Terry Mattingly tried to redirect attention to something that might be a real topic — a deeper look at the perennial “keep Christ in Christmas” stuff:

On Facebook, I offered this mini-rant:

Is it acceptable for me to be very upset that millions of Xians think that it’s already Christmas and we haven’t even started Nativity Lent yet? I mean, who runs their churches, the god of the local mall?

In a parallel podcast, he observed that he heard his first distinctly “Christmas-themed ad” before Halloween, and that Churches are pushing their “Christmas” concerts back as far as early December because everyone will be too damned busy later in Advent.

Oh: as for Starbucks, they notably are aware both of Christmas


and Advent.


Granted, I’m not sure they know about Nativity Lent/Fast in the East or that my Barrista could distinguish Christmas and Advent (any better than she could distinguish immaculate conception and virgin birth), but they remember something corporately that a lot of Churches have quite utterly forgotten (and that most Christians in the U.S., myself not excluded, have de facto abandoned even if they still remember).


And wicked men seek for people with whom to spend their days, and shun themselves; for they remember many a grievous deed when they are by themselves, but when they are with others they are disposed to forget.

(Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, IX, via John Cuddleback)

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

2 thoughts on “Monday, 11/16/15

  1. Thanks for your kind words, John. I am an infrequent blogger simply because I have been sucked into the black hole that is Facebook. I know I should step away, and return to my first love–real writing. And yet, I waste time stroking my ego on FB and letting my blogging languish. Like so many of the passions, I have good intentions, but the follow-through is weak!

    1. I, too, spent too much time on Facebook – way too much time. Then a few weeks ago, it seemed that everyone on Facebook had gone crazy — there were a lot of manufactured stories like the Starbucks Christmas cup, and I found the whole thing stultifying.

      So Facebook no longer is an open tab every time I load the browser. I pop in a couple of times a day, check on my “family” group, show new family pictures to my wife if she’s around, click on the other groups just to clear the unread count, and then close the tab again. It has freed up a lot of time. And apart from the terrorist attack in Paris, which I probably could have stopped had I been on Facebook more, the world seems to be getting along not much worse than usual.

      Your mileage may vary, just as not everybody finds stop-smoking plan A effective and has to try B through Z until something clicks.

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