All Times Are Bad Times


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Gloriosus apparuisti inter principes Austriae, sancte Leopolde, ideo diadema suscepisti de manu Domini; ora pro nobis ad Deum qui te elegit. (Magnificat Antiphon for the Feast of Saint Leopold)

Earlier this month the Austrian Bishop’s Conference met here in Heiligenkreuz. By some chance the first day of the Conference coincided with the Feast of Saint Leopold, the great Margrave of Austria and founder of Stift Heiligenkreuz (November 15th). These are, shall we say, challenging times for the Church of Austria, and one could not but be struck by the contrast between our times and those of Saint Leopold. But perhaps there is more illusion than reality in the contrast.

Certainly the impression that one gets from the liturgical texts etc. for Saint Leopold is of a kind of golden age in which everything went right for the Holy Prince. The antiphon for the Dixit Dominus at vespers goes, “Dominus…

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The Dedication of the Lateran as the Feast of the Church Militant


Today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica by Pope Silvester I in the year 324. Following closely on All Saints and All Souls, which bring to mind the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering, we can see the Dedication of the ‘Mother of all Churches’ as the day of the Church Militant.

The texts for dedication of a Church are full of references to Jerusalem, the “city of peace”.

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A Series of Social and Political Liberations?

“The history of modernity, insofar as it has been a series of social and political liberations and emancipations from arbitrary and oppressive rule,” Alasdair MacIntyre writes in his latest book, “is indeed in key respects a history of genuine and admirable progress.” Twitter user @areyousurebruv brought this quote up as a challenge to traditionalists who make use of MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, but would not see a series of liberations in its history.

The traditionalist could respond by saying that modernity did not begin as a movement of liberation against arbitrary power. On the contrary, it began as a movement for arbitrary power: the movement that brought about the modern state, with its violent understanding of sovereignty (cf. A.W. Jones’s Before Church and State). Only in a secondary dialectical moment did it become a movement for liberation from absolutist state violence. But that secondary moment preserved many of the problems of the absolutist modernity against which it rebelled. And both in its totalitarian and in its liberal guises it brought about societies no better than the ones it overcame. The Reign of Terror and Stalinism were worse than the Bourbons and the Romanovs respectively.  And liberalism is worse than the Stewarts.

Vermeer’s The Art of Painting

Peregrine Magazine

By Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.[1]

In one of the smaller rooms of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna there hangs a small painting by Vermeer. It shows an artist sitting with his back toward the viewer, painting a girl dressed as Clio, the muse of history. The left of the painting is dominated by a curtain, partly flung back, which gives the viewer the impression of a scene suddenly revealed. The figures have not yet noticed his presence. He holds his breath not wanting to break the spell. What is the spell? It is not the spell of the Rembrandt self-portraits in the last room, which the viewer has already spent so much time looking at—those dark mysterious eyes like wells, those furrowed brows. No eyes look at the viewer from this painting. The girl, bathed in beautiful afternoon sunlight from a source obscured by the curtain, is looking dreamily down…

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Two Ways of Staging the Marriage of Figaro

Andrea Carroll as Susanna

There are two ways of staging The Marriage of Figaro. There is the old-fashioned way, as a comedy; and then there is a regietheater way of staging it as a tragedy. Both ways are legitimate. As I once wrote, “Mozart’s (and Da Ponte’s) Così fan tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro sparkle with comic brilliance on the surface, but under the surface is a deep sadness, and an unbearable pain.” To stage it as a tragedy one has only to take the background sadness and bring it into the foreground. A brilliant example of such an approach is the 2006 Salzburg Festival staging by Claus Guth  with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting. It is a wonderfully sad and moving performance and completely riveting. Like all regietheater, however, it is meant for an audience that already knows the opera well. It would be a pity to be introduced to Le Nozze through that performance. For first time listeners, the old-fashioned approach is better. Continue reading

Steven Wedgeworth’s Response to Thomas Pink


The Regensburg Forum is hosting a debate between Thomas Pink and Steven Wedgeworth (a Reformed Protestant) concerning the compatibility of Dignitatis Humanae with the historic teaching of the Church. Pink (famously) says it is compatible because it concerns only the coercive power of the state and Wedgeworth says it isn’t compatible. Pink’s opening argument is here. Wedgeworth’s reply is here. Wedgeworth’s argument is that DH is just too enthusiastic about religious liberty and the fact that it is a fruit of the Gospel for the Declaration to be merely a grudging concession that the state alone has no power to coerce in religious matters – but don’t you worry when we have our hands on the temporal power we will be burning heretics again by right of the spiritual power to coerce (via the temporal). DH does not, Wedgeworth contends, merely observe that modern secular states cannot coerce in religious matters in a…

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The City of God: An Introduction

The Josias

by Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

1. Occasion and Intention

The sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 shook the Roman world to its foundations. Although Rome was no longer the capital even of the Western Empire, nevertheless she was the symbol of the civilized world. To many Romans this catastrophe seemed to be a refutation of Christianity. Clearly, the Christian God was unable or unwilling to protect the city in which he was now honored. Christianity was unable to fulfill the function that political theology assigned to it of assuring the safety of the empire, and especially of that city from which the empire had originally sprung.[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo responded to this argument in The City of God.

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On Clerical Wigs

In discussing “spiritual worldliness,” the most recent Ratio Fundamentalis for priestly formation speaks (among other things) of “obsession with personal appearances,” and  “a merely external and ostentatious preoccupation with the liturgy.” Anyone who has moved in clerical circles knows that the description is not without fundamentum in re. One can recognize the type that Dumas père describes in Aramis: Continue reading

Pius XI: Mit brennender Sorge

The Josias

Introductory Note

Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical on the Church and the German Reich, Mit brennender Sorge (With burning concern),is today probably most known for the circumstances under which it was brought into Germany. Composed in German—allegedly by Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, then secretary of state, and Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber, longtime Archbishop of Munich—the encyclical was smuggled into Germany, distributed by the nuncio by courier, and printed in the utmost secrecy. Then, on Palm Sunday 1937, it was read out from the pulpit to German Catholics throughout the Reich. Hitler’s furious response came quickly: the Gestapo was sent out to round up those who participated in the distribution of the encyclical and to shut down the printing presses used. To Hitler and his circle, there was no mistaking what Mit brennender Sorge was: it was a declaration of war against the Reich by the Church.

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Lament for a Fox

Taking a walk after Mass today, I noticed a dead fox by the roadside. Apparently hit by a car, but still beautiful. I composed the following rhyme for poor beast:

Your cunning was no match, poor fox,
For the speed of the iron box.
Ban cars. Bring back cart and ox.