Student fraternities called Studentenverbindungenwith their elaborate ceremonies involving the drinking of beer, the singing of 19th century patriotic songs, and the wearing of colorful uniforms, have long been features of German university life.  Their remote origins are in the nationes of the medieval universities— student guilds organized according to place of birth (natio). Some elements of the ceremonial of modern Studentenverbindungen are taken from the medieval (and ultimately monastic) ceremonial of medieval university. But the proximate origins of modern Studentenverbindungen are in the Burschenschaften of the 19th century. These adopted some of the older traditions of student life, but were dedicated to the idea of German unification, and infected liberal ideology. They wore quasi-military uniforms (on the grounds that medieval students had had the privilege of bearing arms), and engaged in a form of ritualized sword-fighting, the so-called Mensur.

During the Kulturkampf Catholic students responded by founding their own Catholic Studentenverbindungen devoted to combating liberal ideology, and promoting the political and social teaching of the Church. These were organized in the so-called Cartellverband (CV)which still exists today, and which was one of many exemplary Catholic organizations founded at the time, such as the Zentrumspartei. Continue reading

Charles De Koninck in the House of Commons

In yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, Sir Edward Leigh gave a remarkably well informed reading of Laudato Si’. He even mentions our very own Charles De Koninck:

The Pope is repeating the philosophy of the 20th century philosopher, Professor Charles De Koninck, who understood that the person, the individual, could not be neglected. He differed from the personalists because he knew that the person had to be integrated within a vision of the common good. In the encyclical, the Pope constantly concentrates on our common good and our common nature: the good of the individual, the good of the family, the good of the village, town, province and country, and the good of the whole world. People—you and I—have to be understood, De Koninck argued and the Pope now argues, in the context of our place in the universe as a whole. That is one thing that the Pope is trying to do with the encyclical. Like De Koninck, the Pope understands the truth expressed by St Thomas Aquinas that the greatest perfection of the created person is the good of the universe.

One might almost think that Sir Edward has read my blogposts on the matter— such as this one or this one.

‘Reasoning is worse than scolding’

david copperfield housekeeping

I have been listening to an audiobook of David Copperfield, and one scene reminded me of the moral laxism promoted by certain contemporary ecclesiastics. In the scene David is trying to persuade Dora to be stricter with the servant, but she will have none of it:

‘No, no! please!’ cried Dora, with a kiss, ‘don’t be a naughty Blue Beard! Don’t be serious!’

‘My precious wife,’ said I, ‘we must be serious sometimes. Come! Sit down on this chair, close beside me! Give me the pencil! There! Now let us talk sensibly. You know, dear’; what a little hand it was to hold, and what a tiny wedding-ring it was to see! ‘You know, my love, it is not exactly comfortable to have to go out without one’s dinner. Now, is it?’

‘N-n-no!’ replied Dora, faintly.

‘My love, how you tremble!’

‘Because I KNOW you’re going to scold me,’ exclaimed Dora, in a piteous voice.

‘My sweet, I am only going to reason.’

‘Oh, but reasoning is worse than scolding!’ exclaimed Dora, in despair. ‘I didn’t marry to be reasoned with. If you meant to reason with such a poor little thing as I am, you ought to have told me so, you cruel boy!’

Dora’s opposition to reason with its apparently harsh demands is clearly infantile. She doesn’t want to have any unpleasantness, but the unpleasantness that follows from her indulgence toward servants, and her refusal to be reasoned with on the subject, ends up being much greater than any unpleasantness that might have followed from being a little stricter to the servants. Later in the novel her indulgence leads to a servant being transported to Australia for stealing her watch. This leads David to the following reflection:

‘My darling girl,’ I retorted, ‘I really must entreat you to be reasonable, and listen to what I did say, and do say. My dear Dora, unless we learn to do our duty to those whom we employ, they will never learn to do their duty to us. I am afraid we present opportunities to people to do wrong, that never ought to be presented. Even if we were as lax as we are, in all our arrangements, by choice—which we are not—even if we liked it, and found it agreeable to be so—which we don’t—I am persuaded we should have no right to go on in this way. We are positively corrupting people. We are bound to think of that. I can’t help thinking of it, Dora. It is a reflection I am unable to dismiss, and it sometimes makes me very uneasy. There, dear, that’s all. Come now. Don’t be foolish!’

As Fr Hunwicke recently remarked, “Anti-intellectualism is a stance people very often adopt when they propose to do something irrational,” and it is even more the stance that people adopt one when they do not want to have the unpleasantness of being rationally strict with others. But in the long run such a stance always leads to misery. Happiness can only come from conforming human life to right reason, and a cowardly and infantile refusal of the demands of reason leads to misery in this life, and eternal punishment in the next.

In Commemoratione Omnium Defunctorum Qui Sub Regula Sancti Patris Nostri Benedicti Militaverunt

In the Cistercian and Benedictine orders November 14th is the Commemoration of all the departed souls of the monks and nuns who lived (or “fought” [militaverunt] as the breviary puts it) under the Rule of Our Holy Father St Benedict. I celebrated a Requiem Mass (OF) on the high altar of the parish Church in Trumau. During Mass I thought of all my departed confréres whom I knew: admodum rev. PP. Alban (who died before I entered the monastery, but whom I met when I was a guest), Adolf, Cornelius, Sighard, Ansgar, Franz, Alberich, Raynald, and Gottfried.

I also thought of the persons killed in Paris yesterday (though as far as I know none of them lived according to the Holy Rule). The collect for the Mass addresses us to the the divine mercy, which we never invoke without hope: “Deus, cui numquam sine spe misericodiae supplicatur.” Coincidentally, the Islamic State’s statement on the Paris attacks also begins with a reference to the mercy of God: “Au nom d’Allah le Tout Miséricordieux, le Très Miséricordieux.” I’m afraid that reminds me of Hilaire Belloc’s book, The Mercy of Allah.

Gerard Kilroy’s Book on Saint Edmund Campion

Edmund Campion

Fr John Hunwicke of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and of the blog Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment, is surely one of the most witty and learned bloggers in the whole ‘blogisterium’— I quite agree with Elliot Milco’s judgement. Moreover, I had the great pleasure of meeting Fr Hunwicke in person at the Roman Forum in Lake Garda in the summer, and found him quite as brilliant in person as he is through the medium of the blog.

It is good that Fr Hunwicke’s eminence precludes envy, or I might have felt a twinge of it at the way in which he got a copy of Gerard Kilroy’s expensive new book on S. Edmund Campion. In a post on some entirely different matter, Fr Hunwicke asked whether anyone would like to give him the book as a gift, and a few days later he was able to write his thanks for having received a copy. Envy in such circumstances would be as ridiculous as Kitty’s envy at Lydia’s being invited to got to Brighton in Pride and Prejudice:

….the luckless Kitty … repined at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her accent was peevish. “I cannot see why Mrs. Forster should not ask me as well as Lydia,” said she, “Though I am not her particular friend. I have just as much right to be asked as she has, and more too, for I am two years older.”

I can see perfectly well why I should not be given Kilroy’s book as well as Fr Hunwicke, even though S. Edmund Campion is  my patron saint, for I am not such an excellent blogger (whatever certain persons may think) as he. So I will not presume to ask my readers for any such gift (though I will point out that the expensive Kilroy book is currently at the top of my wish list).

Update: Some gentle relations of mine, who also read my blog, have sent me the book. Grateful blessings.

“The great silliness of highly intelligent and perceptive people”


Portia from The Merchant of Venice—looking a bit like the way I imagine Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

In discussing the Bloomsbury Group’s enthusiasm for the ethical theories of G.E. Moore—his intuitionism, his utilitarianism, and his conviction that “personal affections and aesthetic enjoyments include all the greatest, and by far the greatest goods we can imagine”— Alasdair MacIntyre writes: “This is great silliness of course; but it is the great silliness of highly intelligent and perceptive people.” He therefore takes a careful look at sociological reasons that made Moore’s theories should be so plausible to Bloomsbury. He goes on to argue that Moore’s was a key influence on the emergence of emotivism (the theory that moral judgements are merely expressions of emotional approval or disapproval) as the dominant ethic of our time,  and then argues that the triumph of emotivism was due to the same sociological factors that made Lytton Strachey compare Moore favorably to all previous ethical thinkers, including “Aristotle and Christ.” Continue reading


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Some time ago the fantasy cartographer Ben Milton posted the following idea on his Facebook wall:

You know what I want? A simple service where all you do is post a list of links that you’ve been reading recently. No pictures, videos, games or clutter, just lists of links. Follow the right people, and you’d get really interesting, eclectic, high-quality reading material on a regular basis. I guess I kind of use Facebook for this purpose already, but something dedicated to this would be really nice.

The reaction to the idea was immediately enthusiastic. And philosophy blogger and amateur computer program writer Socraticum put together the new social medium Marrow, now in beta.  I immediately joined (I immediately joined: here is my list). RSS readers are wonderful for following consistently good sites (I have been using Digg Reader since the much lamented demise of Google Reader), but RSS is not very good for getting the best material (the “marrow”) from high-volume sites. This is one of the things that social media such as Facebook and Twitter do much better. As Alan Jacobs once wrote of Twitter:

I like Twitter for several reasons. I primarily use it from day to day as a guide to what’s worth reading on the internet: it has largely come to be a more personal supplement to (increasingly a replacement for) my RSS feeds, with articles and posts and books not “fed” to me automatically but recommended by people I already know to be thoughtful and interesting.

But of course Twitter and Facebook are not dedicated to the function of “guide to what’s worth reading on the internet”— they have all sorts of other functions that interfere with that function. Hence the need for Marrow. Marrow is still very much in its infancy, and will doubtless improve as it increases the number of users, but it’s already a helpful site.

Recently Socraticum has also started an offshoot of Marrow with a different function: is a collection of RSS feeds of Catholic blogs— a Catholic Aggregator Site, as Elliot Milco puts it. In a way the Marrow aggregator takes the opposite approach of the Marrow platform: a high volume, automatic stream. It can be viewed as Headlines, or as a kind of endless group blog. I doubt I will use it much, as I already use Digg Reader for that purpose, but it is interesting to glance at now and again.

On Contemporary Critiques of Ultramontanism; With a Comparison of Recent Supreme Pontiffs to Liverpool FC Managers

Jürgen Klopp’s appoitment as Liverpool FC’s new manager may not be “the most exciting event … ever,” but it is certainly terribly exciting. I have been a Liverpool supporter ever since my youth, when, not having a TV, I started looking for soccer clips online and found Timbo’s Goals, a now long defunct LFC fan site that featured clips from the glory days of the 70s and 80s, as well as the most recent games. The clips took ages to download on our dial-up connection, but it was worth it. From Keagan and Toshak to Kenny Daglish to John Barnes and Peter Beardsley to Robbie Fowler and Steve Mcmanaman, I got to know all the greats. Gérard Houllier was Liverpool manager in those days, and the first stomach-turningly exciting moment that I had as a Liverpool supporter was watching Houlier’s team defeat Deportivo Alavés in the 2001 UEFA Cup final (on a TV at the house of philosopher Peter Colosi).

Watching Jürgen Klopp’s presentation  was a little bit like watching clips of Pope St. John Paul II emerging on the loggia of St Peter’s after his election to the papacy. The comparison might seem not only to be in bad taste, but also to be misleading. “A pope’s rôle in the Church is not much like that of a manager in a football club,” my readers are presumably thinking. A lot has been written recently in the sort of Catholic blogs that I read— especially ones that to some degree share my integralism— about what popes are not. The pope is not a Soviet style dictator, or oriental tyrant who’s slightest whim is law. He is not the incarnation of the Holy Spirit delivering new revelations and so and so forth. Such warnings against exaggerated notions of the Pope’s rôle are all very well as far as they go.  The Holy Father is the servant of the truth, not its creator. And the pope’s very importance as Vicar of Christ on earth can easily lead to exaggerated ideas about his power. As one of the best of the recent treatments of what the pope is not, Elliot Milco’s series against certain forms of excessive ultra-montanism, puts it: Continue reading

Wounded and Consumed

I was moved by the following words from the Holy Father’s address to the American bishops in Washington:

[W]e fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).

That is very deeply true. And it is a truth that integralists, such as I, have to be especially careful not to forget. I can say that my own limited experience as a priest has born the truth of this out: there is a strength that comes realizing one’s weakness and helplessness in the face of sorrow and pain, and offering it to God. It is often not when I have gone into a situation full of confidence, but rather when I have gone in with dread and interior resistance that have seen God at work. A while ago my godmother gave me a book by Fr. Vincent Nagle that is mostly about this strength of weakness: Life Promises LifeIt is mostly about Fr. Nagle’s experience as a hospital chaplain, and it’s a truly wonderful book. Here’s one passage that I often think of:

Something breaks open my heart again, so that I go in begging Jesus for His graces for myself. I’m there as a beggar in the first place, and therefore I’m begging with them; I go in small and vulnerable to be with them and their vulnerability. […] I’m very grateful for this job because it makes me pray. […] When people’s consciousness, including my own, is of what they’re doing and not of what God is doing, everything is confusion and uselessness. When one is habitually conscious that life is isn’t a matter of what I’m doing but of what God is doing, then there is the possibility that it isn’t against us, or at least one is anxiously looking for signs of what He is doing. If I go in without that desire, I’m there to say some words I think will give comfort. If I go into that room needy because I need to see what God is doing and participate in it, then I’m there with them and for them. (pp. 110-111).

Difficult to Coopt

Alexandre Kojève’s “Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy,” is singularly fascinating, and full of unintentional comedy. If Hilaire Belloc had been a Russian nihilist with a soft spot for Hegel he might have written something like this. My favorite part is when Kojève talks about the Catholic Church:

The political and economic investment provided by France in view of the creation of a Latin Empire cannot, and should not, occur without the support of the Catholic Church, which represents a power which is immense, although difficult to calculate and even more difficult to coopt.