Friday, October 24, 2008

Are you worried?

Yes, lots of us are today. Back in 1571, the Pope was worried too... he was facing a war of terror and the "allies" weren't willing to work together; it seemed that everyone he asked for help gave him some excuse or other.

So what did he do? He asked everyone to pray the Rosary. In particular he asked the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary to pray.

You never heard of it? You need to read Chesterton's poem "Lepanto" if you want to know more about the war. But if you want to know about that Confraternity, here you go:
(An Archconfraternity)

A World-Wide Movement of Prayer Entrusted to the DOMINICAN ORDER by the HOLY SEE More than 500 Years Ago.

The Rosary Confraternity is a spiritual association (of the Catholic Church), the members of which strive to pray the entire Rosary during the course of each week. They form a union of countless hundreds of thousands of the faithful throughout the world who, along with their own intentions, include the intentions and needs of all its members, while they in turn pray for them.

Since the Holy Father has recently added the five luminous mysteries, we encourage members of the Confraternity to include that extra weekly Rosary. However, we have as yet received no official statement regarding this matter. Those who recite only the fifteen traditional mysteries will continue to share in the benefits of the Confraternity until some official source declares the contrary.

As Pope Leo XIII said in his encyclical on the Confraternity, "whenever a person fulfills his obligation of reciting the Rosary according to the rule of the Confraternity, he includes in his intentions all its members, and they in turn render him the same service many times over."

Each member includes deceased fellow members as well; and thus he knows that in turn he will be included in the prayers of hundreds of thousands both now and hereafter. This led the Cure of Ars to say: "If anyone has the happiness of being in the Confraternity of the Rosary, he has in all corners of the world brothers and sisters who pray for him." The deceased cannot be enrolled in the Confraternity.

Those who pray the Rosary regularly would do well to be enrolled in the Confraternity to gain extra spiritual benefits for each Rosary they pray. Visit here or write to:

The Rosary Center
PO Box 3617
Portland, OR 97208 USA

[above is quoted from the Rosary Center web site]
No dues, no meetings, no hidden fees or complications. Loads of benefits. The only cost is your own personal commitment to prayer: 15 decades every week, that's all.

Yes, I'm a member. Why don't you join? (No, I'm not the "rush chairman"; I have no official connection but membership.) If you are worried, then do something - something that matters, something "military" - something that will have a real effect on the world:
Therefore, take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth and having on the breastplate of justice: And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit: and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints...
[St. Paul to the Ephesians 6:13-18]
Pray. It's high-tech, too - infinite bandwidth, available anywhere, even where lower technology can't work, easy to use, doesn't require complex training, powered by your own personal energy... And it connects to the best and most wonderful Resource of all.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

GKC, Puns, and the Blessing of an Electrical Generator

Well, that's a mouthful of a title. I hope I can live up to it.

The pun, or play on words, has been a nuisance and a delight to those who speak and write for perhaps as long as we have spoken and written. As Chestertonians will recall, GKC makes a breakthrough worthy of Tolkien:
...none of these makers of imaginary scenes have tried to imagine what it must really have been like to see those things as fresh which we see as familiar. They have not seen a man discovering fire like a child discovering fireworks. They have not seen a man playing with the wonderful invention called the wheel, like a boy playing at putting up a wireless station. They have never put the spirit of youth into their descriptions of the youth of the world. It follows that amid all their primitive or prehistoric fancies there are no jokes. There are not even practical jokes, in connection with the practical inventions. And this is very sharply defined in the particular case of hieroglyphics; for there seems to be serious indication that the whole high human art of scripture or writing began with a joke. There are some who will learn with regret that it seems to have begun with a pun. The king or the priests or some responsible persons, wishing to send a message up the river in that inconveniently long and narrow territory, [Egypt] hit on the idea of sending it in picture-writing, like that of the Red Indian. Like most people who have written picture-writing for fun, he found the words did not always fit. But when the word for taxes sounded rather like the word for pig, he boldly put down a pig as a bad pun and chanced it.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:198, emphasis added]
Yes, I know this will be a bitter pill for some, but read it again:
Writing seems to have begun with a pun.
What a great line. Of course I might make a grand digression into the pun about Peter-the-Rock, but Fr. Jaki already has a whole book on that, called And On This Rock; it is a study of the biblical use of the word and some interesting aspects of that place "near Caesarea Philippi" where it all happened... but I will let that go for today.

Being a computer scientist who has to pick over every last bit about words, especially those which contain 32, or even 60, I ought not get into the matter of puns - but why not? I poked around to see what else Chesterton had to say, and found him slamming Samuel Johnson for once on the
...much controverted question of puns. I know all about the judgments regularly cited as if from dusty law-books in the matter. I know all about the story that Dr. Johnson said, "The man who would make a pun would pick a pocket." How unlucky that the lexicographer and guardian of our language, in the very act of purging himself of puns, should have plunged so shamelessly deep into the mire of alliteration!
[GKC The Well and the Shallows CW3:345]
But I have no time to study this just now, as I have something else to bring up about the matter.

I was poking through my copy of the Roman Ritual and considering the "Blessing of a Machine for the Generation of an Electrical Light". It is such homely things that make a Catholic so delighted, and cause the outsider such confusion: the bishop or priest, processing to the substation or generating plant, with the choir chanting the great Benedictus canticle first sung by Zachariah at the birth of St. John the Baptist, so apt for the thought of artificial illumination: "the Dawn from on high has visited us, to illuminate those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death"... but that is only part of the pun.

That comes a little later. After the Benedictus is completed, the bishop intones the antiphon:
Lux orta est justo: rectis corde laetitia.
that is,
"Light has risen for the just; joy for the upright heart.
which you quickly identify as coming from Psalm 96, which the choir then chants.

Now, in that psalm, comes this great line:
...Nubes et caligo in circuitu ejus...
...clouds and darkness in his circuit...
Yes. There it is. Biblical support for electrical engineering. Or is it just a pun?

Well, perhaps a little of both. The Roman Catholic Church is our mother, but she definitely smiles a lot too, and she does get her little jokes in from time to time, if you watch carefully.

But let us consider the actual blessing itself, which deserves a lot of study:

Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
Qui fecit coelum et terram.
Domine exaudi orationem meam.
Et clamor meus ad te veniat.
Dominus vobiscum.
Et cum spiritu tuo.

Concede nos famulos tuos, quaesumus Domine Deus, perpetua mentis et corporis sanitate gaudere: et gloriosa beatae Mariae semper Virginis intercessione, a praesenti liberari tristitia, et aeterna perfrui laetitia. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Domine Deus omnipotens, qui es conditor omnium luminum, bene+dic hanc machinam ad lumen excitandum noviter conditam; et prasta, ut ad te, qui es lux indeficiens, post hujus saeculi caliginem pervenire valeamus. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
which, approximately is:
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Who made heaven and earth.
O Lord hear my prayer.
And let my cry come to You.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray.
Grant to us Your servants, we ask, O Lord God, to rejoice in perpetual health of mind and body: and by the intercession of the glorious blessed Mary ever virgin, to be free from present sadness and to throughly enjoy eternal happiness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, almighty God, Who is the maker of all lights, bless + this machine newly made for the generation of light; and grant that after this age of darkness we may merit to come to You, Who are Light unfailing. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Very wonderful: perhaps all electrical engineers and electronics workers ought to remember Who is the "unfailing Light".

Yes, there are several other blessings in the Roman Ritual: of eggs, of butter and cheese, of bread, of beer, of telegraphs (I wrote about that previously), of horses, of animals, of seeds, of bees - and on and on. Chesterton had some wonderful words about such homely and tender concern:
The whole point of this last position might be expressed in the line of M. Cammaerts's beautiful little poem about bluebells; le ciel est tombé par terre. Heaven has into the world of matter; the supreme spiritual power is now operating by the machinery of matter, dealing miraculously with the bodies and souls of men. It blesses all the five senses; as the senses of the baby are blessed at a Catholic christening. It blesses even material gifts and keepsakes, as with relics or rosaries. It works through water or oil or bread or wine.
[GKC The Thing CW3:258]
But even more relevant is this:
The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead. It had hung upon a gibbet. It had risen from a tomb. It was no longer possible for the soul to despise the senses, which had been the organs of something that was more than man. Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it. The senses had truly become sanctified; as they are blessed one by one at a Catholic baptism. "Seeing is believing" was no longer the platitude of a mere idiot, or common individual, as in Plato's world; it was mixed up with real conditions of real belief. Those revolving mirrors that send messages to the brain of man, that light that breaks upon the brain, these had truly revealed to God himself the path to Bethany or the light on the high rock of Jerusalem. These ears that resound with common noises had reported also to the secret knowledge of God the noise of the crowd that strewed palms and the crowd that cried for Crucifixion. After the Incarnation had become the idea that is central in our civilisation, it was inevitable that there should be a return to materialism, in the sense of the serious value of matter and the making of the body. When once Christ had risen, it was inevitable that Aristotle should rise again.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:493]
I would like to call your attention to the line "Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it." You might compare it with the verse in the Te Deum: "Non horruisti virginis uterum" = "You (God) did not despise the Virgin's womb." Which is exactly what GKC was saying.

Yes, that quote should be emblazoned on the walls of power plants and engineering offices to remind us of the real materialism which is the serious value of matter and the making of the body. Let us not forget this as we journey on towards the source of Unfailing Light.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Well, I'm back."

Yes, with those words, the greatest work of fiction of the 20th century concludes. I mean the great and massive story usually called The Lord of the Rings. Thirty years ago I read it for the first time; I have just completed reading it again. It was even more rich, more inspiring than it was that first time. But I am not going to review it, or even try to comment further today. But at least this time I added a couple of notes to my collection of important quotes, and may try to fill you in on that someday... And I have two ideas for things to write about if I run out of my own story lines, which (at the present rate) will be somewhere in the middle of the 23rd century.

Yes, because (like Bilbo) it seems I have so much to do, writing, poems, and meals...

But you will be glad to know that I have completed a new short story:

That's the cover for the as-yet unpublished book - but you don't have to wait for that - you can read it now! It is called Special Guests and is a gift for my young friends over at ChesterTeens who are now known as Flying Ins.

And I have added two new chapters to the novel.

(So I guess I have to get busy on that Black Hole sequel now.)

But you may have come here wanting some Chesterton, and I am very glad to oblige. It will reveal to you my true motive in busying myself with writing, like Atreyu churning out the Collected Works of Bastian Balthazar Bux:
In the East the professional story-teller goes from village to village with a small carpet; and I wish that anyone had the moral courage to spread that carpet and sit on it in Ludgate Circus. But it is not probable that all the tales of the carpet-bearer are little gems of original artistic workmanship. Literature and fiction are two entirely different things. Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity. A work of art can hardly be too short, for its climax is its merit. A story can never be too long, for its conclusion is merely to be deplored, like the last halfpenny or the last pipelight. And so, while the increase of the artistic conscience tends in more ambitious works to brevity and impressionism, voluminous industry still marks the producer of the true romantic trash. There was no end to the ballads of Robin Hood; there is no end to the volumes about Dick Deadshot and the Avenging Nine. These two heroes are deliberately conceived as immortal.
[GKC "A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls" in The Defendant; emphasis added]
No, I do not have a carpet and travel from town to town. Like Treebeard, I don't - uh - bend easily. But one never knows. (Maybe the invitations have gotten lost in the mail? Alas.)

An interesting note: we here see another link between Tolkien and GKC. In JRRT's preface to the edition I just read, he mentions that he has one criticism of his own work: he finds, like so many others, that it is too short. See the emphasized phrase above quoted! You need not fear I will be stingy either. And now, to work!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Growing younger as the years go by

Well, of course that's a paradox, but it does truly apply to two things - the two things which (as GKC says) are the only two "that really progress; and they both accept accumulations of authority. They may be progressing uphill or down; they may be growing steadily better or steadily worse; but they have steadily increased in certain definable matters; they have steadily advanced in a certain definable direction; they are the only two things, it seems, that ever can progress. The first is strictly physical science. The second is the Catholic Church." [GKC, The Ball and the Cross]

Yes, only physical science - in its true form, where it remains humble before reality, no matter what - is perennially young - for it is always seeing something new in the world. I need not explain how it applies to the Church - that was explained quite clearly in that bit about changing and becoming like little children.

One of the great changes in the life of the Church was the "reformation" - which led to something called the "counter reformation" - which actually accomplished what some of the reformers weren't able to do. And today is the feast day of a great Doctor who was one of the great Reformers of the Church - St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), who was the foundress of the discalced Carmelites and a Doctor of the Church.

(I used to get these two (Therese/Teresa) mixed up, but my mother always referred to her as "Big Saint Teresa" - since the other one is always "little", this is the big one, obviously! N.B. the Little one - the one with the "h" and all the accents - is also a Doctor. Friends call her "Doctor Flower". Ahem.)

Usually when we talk about the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation, we think of people like St. Robert Bellarmine (yes, the one who had to deal with Galileo), or Pope St. Pius V (yes, the one who had everybody pray about the battle of Lepanto) or St. Peter Canisius (who wrote a famous catechims). But there was other kinds of work going on, and some of it was a bit more hidden. But it was most assuredly alive, and the work that was begun more than 400 years ago is still busy. Here is what Chesterton had to say about it:
The Reformation grew old amazingly quickly. It was the Counter-Reformation that grew young. In England, it is strange to note how soon Puritanism turned into Paganism, or perhaps ultimately into Philistinism. It is strange to note how soon the Puritans degenerated into Whigs. By the end of the seventeenth century, English politics had dried up into a wrinkled cynicism that might have been as old as Chinese etiquette. It was the Counter-Reformation that was full of the fire and even of the impatience of youth. It was in the Catholic figures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that we find the spirit of energy and, in the only noble sense, of novelty. It was people like St. Teresa who reformed; people like Bossuet who challenged; people like Pascal who questioned; people like Suarez who speculated. The counter-attack was like a charge of the old spears of chivalry. And, indeed, the comparison is very relevant to the generalization. I believe that this renovation, which has certainly happened in our own time, and which certainly happened in a time so recent as the Reformation, has really happened again and again in the history of Christendom.
[GKC Where All Roads Lead CW3:33-34]
People like to talk about strong women - in certain contexts - but they always seem to omit the truly strong ones who were hidden. Mothers always leap to mind, and certain very hidden saints who only show up at serious things like death (I think of the Marys on Calvary, or St. Catherine and the man about to be executed.) Don't they know that the strongest parts of buildings usually are hidden? But here is another part of the paradox: they make visible the ancient youthful Beauty cried to by St. Augustine, and teach us why we always call the Church our Mother. For the Church
is newer in spirit than the newest schools of thought; and it is almost certainly on the eve of new triumphs. For these men serve a mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed. [cf. Lk 1:48] We might sometimes fancy that the Church grows younger as the world grows old.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:401]
It's rather a different meaning of "change" than the world likes, but it's the only one that works. Wouldn't it be nice to know you'll be young tomorrow and next year and all the rest of the time? Yes. It's real. It's how the real strong women live.

(And even some strong men, too.)

St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor and Carmelite, pray for us, and help us become young like you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


As I wander through this world, there are so many things which keep me amazed. It would be easy enough to make a list - of course, that is the essence of poetry, as Chesterton wrote: "The greatest of poems is an inventory." [Orthodoxy CW1:267]

But I am not writing a poem just now. (I don't have time.) But if I wanted to write one, and were stuck for a starting point, I would take the greatest of all inventories - the one which we might call God's Own Inventory - which we know as the Periodic Table of the Elements. When I was younger, I had "inherited" two very old editions of the extremely famous CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, one of the great master references always sitting very near to me, and a heavyweight up there with the great Lewis and Short (Latin) and Liddell and Scott (Greek) Lexicons.... but the older one of the two was very much smaller, almost insigificant among such massive references, as if it were one of the lesser Rings (oh, sorry, I just got to the eucatastrophe in my reading of Lord of the Rings, hee hee!!!)

But I mention that because I love to read about the various elements, and their properties, their history, their uses, their strange powers and unspeakably clever characters... remember, these are elements, almost the maximum possible restriction which we can put on matter and yet still have it be recognisible to us. (I am not sure if even the most powerful tricks can bring any non-atomic particles into visibility, at least not yet.) And now I have to actually suppress the tendency to produce poetry, or to attempt formulating a song - or something - since the whole glory of these wonders has been known for such a short time, and so few people will ever get the chance to see them at all, except maybe for some of the very common ones like carbon, iron, or copper. Alas. Or study them, or explore their uses, or delight in their powers - and yes, even in their dangers, and honour the memory of people (like Marie Curie) who laboured so long and even gave their lives for their work.

But you are wondering why this posting is called "Africa".

Yes, it is about Africa. In one of my books on the elements, there is mention of a strange and most unusual situation which occured some time ago in Africa. I will not go into the details of that today, since it would take too long and may get some people unduly worried. Rather, I take it as an inspiration to talk just briefly about that huge and interesting land.

There are bizarre mountains, unbelievable rivers, vast stretches of barren desert, vast stretches of teeming jungle, terrifying storms. There are strange animals, strange plants, terrible diseases, storehouses of minerals.

There are some 5000 years of recorded history in Africa. There are some of the tallest people, some of the shortest people, dozens of strange and often very difficult languages, and many unusual cultures.

One of the strangest things I recall reading in the last 10 years or so was the fact that even in the 1860s (when America was fighting the Civil War) there were still parts of Africa which were truly unknown. The many forbidding aspects of the physical geography - the mountains and waterfalls and rapids and swamps and deserts - made exploration all but impossible, so the acquisition of simple facts - like the real origin of the Nile River, or of the Congo River - had not been made. Even if all the rest of the strange and remarkable things of the continent were removed, any one of its rivers would be enough to overwhelm you. Part of that strangeness comes from its placement so as to straddle the equator, thereby having rainy seasons which span the entire year.

I am not going to delve further into the details; there are books and references around if you want them. And I will not be writing a poem about Africa today - but at least I have begun roughing out the inventory.

Maybe in another week or two I will be able to tell you a little about the element which led me to think of this great continent, and why I am busy thinking of it at the present time. But for today I will leave you with just a little sample of GKC's own comments about this remarkable place, which - as is fitting - have to do with its art:
The rock-drawings of prehistoric Africa, reproductions of which recently appeared in this magazine, are the sort of things that are really much more sensational than the sensational headlines of the daily Press. The daily Press generally tells us only that politicians are going on as usual, and that journalists are also going on as usual; that is, they are trying to pretend that there is something quite unusual. But the new light that is being thrown on the beginnings of intelligent humanity by reproductions like these really is unusual. That is, it is not what the modern reader has grown used to reading, or even what the modern discoverer has grown used to discovering. The Romans had a proverb which ran, "Out of Africa there comes always something new." It is especially true in those examples, such as the present example, in which something is very new because it is very old.

In the Roman or traditional sense, it is doubtless true that there have come out of Africa many strange exceptions, monsters or mysterious novelties; there was the African elephant and many other extraordinary creatures; there were the higher apes and the South African millionaires. Nevertheless, there has been a general impression, in spite of some highly civilized men of genius such Hannibal and St. Augustine, that Africa is, upon the whole, the savage continent, unlit by the learning and culture either of Asia or of Europe. That is what gives its extraordinary interest to the discovery of an African prehistoric art which, however prehistoric, is most unmistakably art; that is, an art that is really artistic.

[GKC ILN Dec 10 1932; special thanks to Frank Petta and my mother for this essay]
Alas, I do not have the actual ILN itself to examine the art GKC is talking about. But the essay has quite a bit more about African animals and art, serving as a lead-in to a discussion of "Progress" - yes, a completely different topic. Gee, that seems strange, imagine starting an essay about one topic by writing on something else!

But I will defer all that for another time or place - and merely add "art" as another exotic element in my periodic table - er - I mean inventory. I do not know if I will ever visit Africa - there's so much even nearby which I have not yet seen - but even the taste one gets from such an essay, or from more distant works like that on the chemical elements - yes, these help open the eyes of the mind to the glory of God's world.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Homage to Dorothy Sayers

I might have called this "On the Women In My Life" but thought that might give you the wrong idea. It's not about my mother, or my aunts or grandmothers, or my teachers - I can never be sufficiently grateful to them for all their kindness and hard work. Nor is it about Mary and Anna and Mary Magdalen and Agatha and Lucy and Cecilia and Catherine and Therese and Margaret and Clare... the holy and great women's chorus of saints. Someday it might be fun to talk about them. And again, it is not about Marie Curie or Maria Gaetana Agnesi or Alessandra Giliani or Grace Hopper, all great scientists and intellectuals and polymaths.

No; today I recall Dorothy Leigh Sayers - a woman who was a great intellectual; I cannot speak about her personal character, but I have reason to think she struggled and indeed longed for holiness, based on her books like Creed or Chaos? or the very interesting The Mind of the Maker (which talks about the connection between divine and human creation) and the wonderful radio-play series "The Man Born To Be King" (No, that doesn't mean Aragorn!) and her amazing translation of Dante's Divine Comedy.

But not merely for those do I reverence her. It is for her work in the writing of "detective fiction" - of mysteries. About them Chesterton had this to say: "I am glad to note that Miss Dorothy Sayers ... is one of those who do write murder stories as if they could write something else." [ILN Aug 17 1929 CW35:149] Like GKC, she did write "something else" besides "murder stories" and they are well worth reading. Someone might claim this is mere professional courtesy; rather I think it reveals the richness of such writers. Consider this:
Let anyone recall for himself the very finest passages in the Book of Common Prayer, and he will soon see that they are concerned specially with spiritual thoughts and themes that now seem strange and terrible; but anyhow, the reverse of common; " the hour of death and in the day of judgment." Who talks about the hour of death? Who talks about the Day of judgment? Only a litter of shabby little priests from the Italian Mission. Not certainly the popular and eloquent Dean of Bumblebury, who is so Broad and yet so High. Certainly not the charming and fashionable Vicar of St. Ethelbald's, who is so High and yet so Broad. Still less the clergyman helping in the same parish, who is frankly Low. It is the same on every page, where that spirit inspires that style. "Suffer us not, for any pains of death, to fall from Thee." ... "Ah, that's what gets you" (or words to that effect), as Lord Peter Wimsey truly said of this phrase, in the detective tale of Miss Dorothy Sayers; who, like Lord Peter, knows a good deal about other things besides poisons; and understands her hero's historical traditions very well.
[GKC "My Six Conversions: IV. The Prayer-Book Problem" in The Well and the Shallows CW3:374]
Yes, that is what gets you - authors who not only know and reference other authors, but who dare to know and reference the Author.

In one of her best murder stories Sayers wrote this most Chestertonian phrase which is the perfect description of her work:
"...she writes detective stories and in detective stories virtue is always triumphant. They're the purest literature we have."
[DLS Strong Poison]
I shall honour her today in two ways. First, by quoting a very famous essay by Chesterton which illumines the true and most Christian nature of detective fiction, and binds it intimately to the Great Mystery called the Gospel:
Generally, instinctively, in the absence of any special reason, humanity hates the idea of anything being hidden - that is, it hates the idea of anything being successfully hidden. Hide-and-seek is a popular pastime; but it assumes the truth of the text, "Seek and ye shall find." [Mt 7:7] Ordinary mankind (gigantic and unconquerable in its power of joy) can get a great deal of pleasure out of a game called "hide the thimble," but that is only because it is really a game of "see the thimble." Suppose that at the end of such a game the thimble had not been found at all; suppose its place was unknown for ever: the result on the players would not be playful, it would be tragic. That thimble would hag-ride all their dreams. They would all die in asylums. The pleasure is all in the poignant moment of passing from not knowing to knowing. Mystery stories are very popular, especially when sold at sixpence; but that is because the author of a mystery story reveals. He is enjoyed not because he creates mystery, but because he destroys mystery. Nobody would have the courage to publish a detective-story which left the problem exactly where it found it. That would rouse even the London public to revolution. No one dare publish a detective-story that did not detect.
[GKC ILN Aug 10 1907 CW27:523-4]
Yes, GKC's work on the metaphysics of "Story" in general and "Detective-Story" in particular is still awaiting serious study. (But we have no time for that today; we are too busy writing stories. Hee hee.)

The second way I honour her is by announcing the posting of the next chapter of my novel, which bears as subtitle one of her own chapter-titles: "The Great Nutrax Row", which comes from what GKC called (in his ILN essay of Feb 25, 1933) an "excellent crime novel", Murder Must Advertise, and which I thoroughly recommend. It will in no way spoil my story for you; there is no "Nutrax" in my story though there are drugs, and there is advertising, but the world changed a little since the 1930s. Then, advertisements were in newspapers, and spacing and font size and illustrations were of concern, my advertisements are thirty-second spots played on ad inserters for the networks of cable TV... Even the world I describe has changed, if not utterly vanished - but the people are still the same, as much as they were for Sayers and Chesterton - or even for Daniel - in chapters 13 and 14 you will find two of the earliest known detective short stories! (Oh, yes; even Sherlock Holmes used Daniel's techniques. It's elementary.)

You will not find a lot of cross-links from her (or GKC) to my story, except in the general flavour, which multiple readings of such writers cannot help but impart to any non-trivial writing effort. But just as she followed Chesterton as president of the Detection Club, for me she follows him in importance as a writer. And therefore I express my gratitude for her work, and her wonderful stories, which I, like GKC, have enjoyed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Three new pictures...

Our poor overworked illustrator has finished three more pictures for chapters 29, 30, and 31 in my novel. Here's one just as a sample:

Here we see our hero's good friend Andy (with the black leather jacket) being tricked by Paul, the master-trickster of the Tech Shop. Yes, Joe (in the blue shirt, he's not through his probation/training period yet) bought a box of DOBS and the Field Techs are happily eating them. He also bought donuts, recalling the famous Sherlock Holmes quote, "It's only goodness that gives extras."

No doubt you would rather that I post more text, or perhaps explanations of the larger matters connected to the story, or perhaps the source code for the transport software that does Subsidiarity, but - er... Anyway, I have to proceed with some care. I still have editing to do, and of course no one is pushing me to do it. (It might be different if I had a publishing deadline to worry about, I don't know.) Please bear in mind that the story is complete - two people have already read it all the way through. There is even a completed short-story sequel, which is also a prequel. (You have to be a computer scientist with strong ontological leanings and sleep on a heap of Tolkien books in order to do such things. Hee hee.) And if you are interested - though I am sure you, like me, would rather be reading Chesterton - there are other stories now under development: the sequel to the Black Hole (a rare edition is available from Loome but you may want to wait until the paperback edition comes out), and a special request for my friends over at ChesterTeens or whatever they are calling themselves now.

But you wanted some Chesterton. I had a bit of a quandary to pick something suitable for this great day, the day of the single greatest discovery in history, when the long-sundered halves of the world were united: as the great naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, "Not since the birth of Christ has there been a night so full of meaning for the human race." I have previously posted the poem I wrote at 2AM October 12, 1992, which you can find here if you wish to read it. But after some pondering, I found an interesting paragraph which provides the proper Chestertonian vantage point, especially when someone wishes to debate the discovery:
Nobody knows, perhaps, how many people have discovered America. In a very interesting little book of essays from Dublin, called "Old Wine and New," by Conall Cearnach, I have just read the suggestion, which seems not without support, that an Irish missionary discovered it in the Dark Ages. Anyhow, the Mexican Indians had an ancient tradition of a white man in long robes who taught them to offer bread on the altar instead of their customary human sacrifices. But it seems clear that, if so many people did discover America, an even larger number of people must have managed to undiscover America. It does not sound at first sight so very easy a thing to do. I do not mean to insinuate that any splendid distinction, in the style of a statue of Columbus, is due to the man who undiscovered America. Even the verbal formulation of his claim is open to criticism. I suppose the true opposite of discovery must be covery. And it certainly seems that even the claim of Columbus is less colossal than that of a gentleman who should boast that he had covered America. To have hidden the continent from the human race, when once it has been noticed, would seem a secrecy calling for no little art. Nevertheless, I can easily believe that the frontiers of human geographical knowledge have often expanded and contracted like a tide; and the thing which had once been a matter of knowledge only lingered as a legend. That is one of the many reasons for believing in legends. Long before the continent had been discovered and called America, it had been undiscovered and called Atlantis.
[GKC ILN July 22 1922, CW32:411-412]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dailey's Brewery and the Other Control Room

Today I posted two more chapters of my novel, 37 and 38. The famous Dailey's Brewery is just across the river from another famous place, Rose's Restaurant, which is where Andy and Joe go for breakfast after they attend Sunday Mass at the... but I mustn't spoil it. You'll have to read it. You will read it eventually - and besides, you really ought to, before the movie comes out. Hee hee.

I also added the illustration for chapter 36, which shows Joe in the driver's seat of Bob Ringgold's strange "motley" car:

Again I apologise if there is no Chevy on earth which actually looks like that - I've said before how much trouble we have with our illustrator, we're still missing the pictures for several chapters I've already posted! Though you must bear in mind that Bob's garage buddy Matt has modified it significantly, both inside and out. Yes, Bob races it, in the Pennsylvania regional hillclimb races; the races are real (for information see here but please don't try to learn any technical specifics from my story. Yes, I've gone up one of the courses in my own car, though at a normal driving speed - that part is quite real. No, I have not raced, nor expect to do so. But I've been to them, and they are fun to watch.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Holy Rosary and Lepanto

Today is the feast day of our Lady of the Holy Rosary, established on the day of the great naval battle and victory where the Holy League under Don John of Austria defeated the Islams/Moslems/Turks/Mohammedans in the bay of Lepanto in Greece, freeing thousands of enslaved captives. You may wish to consult Chesterton's famous poem and its annotated version available from the ACS.

Yes, the Turks (the Mohammedans, or Moslems, or forces of Islam) were the foes. It would be odd to omit such a detail. And I am not going to elaborate on the dividing issue, either of that battle or of the larger war, which (as the author Jack Beeching puts it) Don John knew was "a war of ideas, the hardest of all wars to win" - and so he, following the Pope, turned to prayer - and then to the work at hand.

But since I mentioned "fighting" a few postings ago, I think I might post something helpful for you to consider:
It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men - so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell's chapel. "I say God is One," and "I say God is One but also Three," that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship. But our age would turn these creeds into tendencies. It would tell the Trinitarian to follow multiplicity as such (because it was his "temperament"), and he would turn up later with three hundred and thirty-three persons in the Trinity. Meanwhile, it would turn the Moslem into a Monist: a frightful intellectual fall. It would force that previously healthy person not only to admit that there was one God, but to admit that there was nobody else. When each had, for a long enough period, followed the gleam of his own nose (like the Dong) they would appear again; the Christian a Polytheist, and the Moslem a Panegoist, both quite mad, and far more unfit to understand each other than before.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:49]
Which brings up an even more interesting issue: how would G. K. Chesterton handle an Islamist? Now I am well aware that he carried a sword-stick, but I strongly doubt that he would have wielded it, unless the other pulled his scimitar first. (Please remember GKC was friends with those whom he disagreed with, like H. G. Wells and G. B Shaw!) No, rather I think he would have tried a combination strategy, the strong dogmatic sense of St. Thomas Aquinas (with a blow on the table!) and the marvellous Christian approach used by Saint Francis, who
...arrived at the headquarters of the Crusade which was in front of the besieged city of Damietta, and went on in his rapid and solitary fashion to seek the headquarters of the Saracens. He succeeded in obtaining an interview with the Sultan; and it was at that interview that he evidently offered, and as some say proceeded, to fling himself into the fire as a divine ordeal, defying the Moslem religious teachers to do the same. It is quite certain that he would have done so at a moment's notice. Indeed throwing himself into the fire was hardly more desperate, in any case, than throwing himself among the weapons and tools of torture of a horde of fanatical Mahometans and asking them to renounce Mahomet. It is said further that the Mahometan muftis showed some coldness towards the proposed competition, and that one of them quietly withdrew while it was under discussion; which would also appear credible. But for whatever reason Francis evidently returned as freely as he came. There may be something in the story of the individual impression produced on the Sultan, which the narrator represents as a sort of secret conversion. There may be something in the suggestion that the holy man was unconsciously protected among half-barbarous Orientals by the halo of sanctity that is supposed in such places to surround an idiot. There is probably as much or more in the more generous explanation of that graceful though capricious courtesy and compassion which mingled with wilder things in the stately Soldans of the type and tradition of Saladin. Finally, there is perhaps something in the suggestion that the tale of St. Francis might be told as a sort of ironic tragedy and comedy called The Man Who Could Not Get Killed. Men liked him too much for himself to let him die for his faith; and the man was received instead of the message. But all these are only converging guesses at a great effort that is hard to judge, because it broke off short like the beginnings of a great bridge that might have united East and West, and remains one of the great might-have-beens of history.
[GKC St. Francis of Assisi CW2:111]
Indeed, if there is a solution in this world to the matter of Mohammed and his followers, I firmly believe it is a Chestertonian one, and requires the simultaneous strengths of such saints, but also an unwavering appeal to Mary the Mother of God, as Pope St. Pius V begged for - and obtained, and saw accomplished.

We are still beset by evil, which does not come with only one "religious" flavour. Let us use the Rosary, the grand prayer of the Gospels, to beg for the grace to defeat evil, to love God (Who is One but also Three) and our neighbor, yes, the Mohammedan and the Christian and the agnostic, and be willing to throw ourselves into the fire to prove it - with a blow on the table.

PS: if you already say the Rosary frequently you ought to join the Confraternity. It's been up and running for over 500 years, yes they were part of the victory of Lepanto!

Monday, October 06, 2008


Please finish your food and drink before reading!

Like the lady in the Gospels, I have to hurry and tell my neighbours! I found something I thought was lost...

I used to have a PC, it was a 386, I bought it in 1989 and did my whole doctorate on it, among other things. It was a lot of fun... anyway I thought I had left a very important file on that machine, and somehow never brought it over into the "new world" when I got the next machine in 1996.... but I found it, made the needed revisions and printed it. Hurray!

What file? Just a little handbook of prayers I made long ago. Yes, I put in the three "useful prayers" I posted recently.

So that was what I was up to on Saturday, and yesterday I worked on a new story for the ChesterTeens, though I was supposed to be working on the sequel to my "Black Hole" story, or something. Oh well.

But telling you about what *I* do is boring. What about other stuff? Where's the Chesterton? Oh, my. Well, one of the things I want to do is finish off the commentary on Orthodoxy, though I don't see how I will be able to finish it this year. And there are long lists of other projects waiting for spare time between the rest of the things I have to do... For example, one of the little booklets I would like to see is a "Chesterton Joke Book" with all the funniest things he wrote. The problem is there are lots of things he wrote that *I* will laugh about, and few others will - and vice versa. Sometimes he is funniest when others think he is being serious - and vice versa. But there are certain lines, and certain essays which just reach out from the page and get you laughing, no matter what. Several of these come to mind as I think about this, and strange to say, they always seem to deal with animals. I wonder why that is. One of the best is the essay about pigs as pets, (in The Uses of Diversity) which is a bit longer than I wish to post here. Then there is the famous joke in Orthodoxy:

Q. What did the first frog say?
A. Lord how you made me jump!
though I do not mean to imply that GKC invented this joke, just as there are other lines he is known for, but which originally came from someone else. And that phrase suggests something funny... but let me finish the animal idea before I go there.
Another rip-roaring bit is the famous "triangular camel" in Heretics, which is best in context:
If the two moralities are entirely different, why do you call them both moralities? It is as if a man said, "Camels in various places are totally diverse; some have six legs, some have none, some have scales, some have feathers, some have horns, some have wings, some are green, some are triangular. There is no point which they have in common." The ordinary man of sense would reply, "Then what makes you call them all camels? What do you mean by a camel? How do you know a camel when you see one?"
[Heretics CW1:167]
Then there is the even more famous "the giraffe is a lie" quip:
When first the giraffe was described by travellers it was treated as a lie. Now it is in the Zoological Gardens; but it still looks like a lie.
[GKC ILN Oct 21 1911 CW29:176]
And, as I hunt though my memory (I mean my memory, not AMBER!) I recall another quote which may give the formal philosophical answer - OK, it's not formal, but it's Chestertonian - as to why animals are funny. This comes at the end of a very serious discussion about being generous - specifically, giving poor people a turkey at Christmas:
A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished.
[GKC ILN Jan 4 1908 CW28:21]
So there you have GKC's explanation, such as it is. (I take this opportunity to remind my readers that the word "occult" in this phrase means "hidden" and not "satanic".)

And now, to take up the deferred thread of thought that arose from the word "else" above, we will turn to the even more occult matter of funny human jokes. I will just mention two, since there are others to be found, but I do have other things to do today, and I also wish to leave some of the delight of discovery for you.

The first is the very famous ILN essay which digs into theology (and science, a little) but mostly pokes fun at a very strange article GKC had read. It has several hilarious lines, and is very wonderful for its insights, but also for the care that GKC always lavished on his enemy, even when he was about to hold him up for very serious criticism:
The following words are written over the signature of a man whose intelligence I respect, and I cannot make head or tail of them -
When modern science declared that the cosmic process knew nothing of a historical event corresponding to a Fall, but told, on the contrary, the story of an incessant rise in the scale of being, it was quite plain that the Pauline scheme - I mean the argumentative process of Paul's scheme of salvation - had lost its very foundation; for was not that foundation the total depravity of the human race inherited from their first parents? ... But now there was no Fall; there was no total depravity, or imminent danger of endless doom; and, the basis gone, the superstructure followed.
It is written with earnestness and in excellent English; it must mean something. But what can it mean? How could physical science prove that man is not depraved? You do not cut a man open to find his sins. You do not boil him until he gives forth the unmistakable green fumes of depravity. How could physical science find any traces of a moral fall? What traces did the writer expect to find? Did he expect to find a fossil Eve with a fossil apple inside her? Did he suppose that the ages would have spared for him a complete skeleton of Adam attached to a slightly faded fig-leaf?
[GKC ILN Sept 28 1907 CW27:559-60]
Yes.... "boil him until he gives forth the unmistakable green fumes of depravity". Oh gosh.

And now, one of the funniest of these matters - I say funniest because we will all recognise the name of GKC's opponent:
Mr. Edison as reported does not say much about whether we "live again," but in a few well-chosen words he disposes of the soul: "My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it. What a soul may be is beyond my understanding." So far, so good; all right; amen. But I ask the reader to remember this agnostic statement in considering what follows. He then goes on to deal with the origin of life; or rather, not to deal with it. The following statement is of such fearful intensity and importance that the interviewer prints it all in italics, and I will so reproduce it. "I believe the form of energy that we call life came to the Earth from some other planet or at any rate from somewhere out in the great spaces beyond us." In short, there will henceforth be branded upon our brains the conviction that life came from somewhere, and probably under some conditions of space. But the suggestion that it came from another planet seems a rather weak evasion. Even a mind enfeebled by popular science would be capable of stirring faintly at that, and feeling unsatisfied. If it came from another planet, how did it arise on that planet? And in whatever way it arose on that planet, why could it not arise in that way on this planet? We are dealing with something admittedly unique and mysterious: like a ghost. The original rising of life from the lifeless is as strange as a rising from the dead. But this is like explaining a ghost walking visibly in the churchyard, by saying that it must have come from the churchyard of another village.
[GKC ILN May 3 1924 CW33":321-2]
Poor Mr. Edison. The sad thing is that there are still people around who claim this "explanation" that life came from another planet.

Unfortunately, one really must laugh at this. (No, not at them! At GKC's paraphrase of the explanation. Remember: Distinguo.)

Last but not least, now that you have stopped laughing uncontrollably, I posted another chapter of my novel. There is no animal humor there, but you can find that in chapter 23...Maybe you need to go stare at a parrot for while... Hee hee!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Prayers for the Dying #3

The third of the high tech and Chestertonian implementation of subsidiarity in the most generous manner - that is, the last of "three tender and useful prayers for the dying" - the Latin from the 1898 Rituale Romanum, with my attempted translation. (I have also tried to indicate the changes to plural.)

Tres piæ et utiles morientibus Orationes cum tribus Pater noster, et tribus Ave María, in agone mortis recitandæ.

Tertio dicitur: Kyrie eléison. Christe eléison. Kyrie eléison.

Pater noster. Ave María.

Oratio. Dómine Jesu Christe, qui per os Prophétæ dixísti: In caritáte perpétua diléxi te, ídeo attráxi te míserans: óbsecro te, ut eámdem caritátem tuam, quæ te de cœlis in terram ad tolerándas ómnium passiónum tuárum amaritúdines attráxit, offérre et osténdere dignéris Deo Patri omnipoténti pro ánima hujus fámuli tui (animis horum famulorum tuorum) N., et líbera eum (eos) ab ómnibus passiónibus et pœnis, quas pro peccátis suis timet (timent) se meruisse. Et salve ánimam ejus (animas earum) in hac hora éxitus sui. Aperi ei (eis) jánuam vitæ, et fac eum (eos) gaudére cum Sanctis tuis in glória ætérna. Et tu, piíssime Dómine Jesu Christe, qui redemísti nos pretiosíssimo sánguine tuo, miserére ánimæ hujus fámuli tui (animis horum famulorum tuorum), et eam (eas) introdúcere dignéris ad semper viréntia et amoéna loca paradísi, ut vivat (vivant) tibi amóre indivisíbili, qui a te, et ab eléctis tuis numquam separári potest (possunt). Qui cum Patre et Spíritu sancto vivis et regnas Deus in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.

Which is, approximately:
Three tender and useful prayers for the dying, with three "Our Fathers" and three "Hail Marys" for recitation in the agony of dying.

Third is said: Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Our Father... Hail Mary...

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Who through the mouth of the Prophet said, I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have drawn thee, taking pity on thee, [Jer 31:3] I beseech Thee, that through Thy same love which drew Thee from heaven to earth for the bearing of all Thy bitter passion, Thou would deign to offer and show to God the Father Almighty for the soul of this Thy servant, and free him from all punishment and suffering, which he fears he has merited for himself by his sins. And save his soul in this hour of its departure. Open to him the gate of heaven and grant him to rejoice with Thy saints in eternal glory. And Thou, most tender Lord Jesus Christ, Who has redeemed us by Thy most precious blood, have mercy on the soul of this Thy servant, and deign to lead him in to the ever fresh and delightful place of paradise, that he may live with Thee by love indivisible, which from Thee and from Thy chosen can never be separated. Thou Who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
It will be our turn one day. Perhaps by this publication someone will say these prayers for us.

PS: if you can supply a better translation, or corrections to mine, please do so - especially the alterations for the plural.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Little Doctor To Remember!

In the almost giddy delight of today's feast of the Little Flower, St. Doctor Therese of Lisieux, I have been given permission by the Editor-in-Chief to post this awesome excerpt from the exceedingly famous (and rare) journal called Something Good To Read.

It's very funnny, and if that Black Hole story doesn't get me on the Index, this surely will. (Though all I am doing is posting it. I am in enough trouble already. The E-i-C wanted to know how I got an electronic copy. Whew.)

--Dr. Thursday.

Odd Things The Saints Said

We were looking over some recent religious journals and newspapers, and we saw that St. Therese, who sometimes writes her name with accents, and who is called the Little Flower, was awarded her doctorate last October [this was October 1997]. We don't quite recall where we were, but we wish we had been invited to the heavenly commencement, as we think it must have been very interesting: all the other doctors struggling into their official robes (Aquinas complaining that his is too small again, as usual), the Trinity signing the diploma, Mary helping Terry with her hair, and the choirs of angels bringing her robe, hood, and doctoral beanie (Whatever is the name of that thing? You know, like St. Thomas More always wore.) The choirs and all the celestial musicians playing "Pomp and Circumstance" or whatever it is they play at doctoralizings. (I still can never tell the difference between a pomp and a circumstance; can you?)

Well, she processes up the central aisle of heaven, all the choirs and saints arranged in perfect order, and cheering fit to wake the dead. She passes all the other doctors who smile at her warmly. The last two in the row are St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena, who give her high fives.
At the end of the aisle stands her committee, who are smiling, and she shakes their hands. On a table just beside the throne is her dissertation, all signatures appended, neatly bound, and completely free of typos.
She hands her dissertation to the Trinity, Who smile at her with love. The Trinity pronounces the words of conferral, Their voice sounding a lot like John Paul II's, and the heavenly PA system working perfectly, as one would expect. Just as the exit music is about to start, before the party resumes, one of the messengers rushes up.
"Special Delivery for the Little Flower," he says, holding out an envelope. "Sign here, please."

The court gasps.

"That's Doctor Flower, now," she says, with a rosy smile, as she signs the clipboard and opens the envelope. She nods, handing it back to the messenger, who darts off, his embarrassment already vanished. Everyone breaks up with laughter, and goes off to the celebration.

* * *

Of course, I have no way of knowing if that is what really happened - I mean, word for word. But it is odd, and saintly, and I don't know that all the other little stories reported of saints have exhibited unambiguous proof that they really happened, either. So I got out our standard reference, Twisted Haloes [by Father Robert Eimer], and looked to see if I could find something relevant. How about the time St. Francis de Sales showed (by rigorous proof) that sanctity does not consist in an astronomical number of devotions? Here's what he said:
"It's rightly said that we must advance in perfection, but our advcancement must not be through a multiplication of spiritual exercises as you think, but by the perfection in the way we do them. Last year you may have fasted three times a week. If you wanted to double this exercise, you would have to fast the entire week. Then what would you do the next year? You would have to make a nine-day week, or else fast twice a day."
I apologise if this sounds very technical. I guess I was thinking about Doctor Flower. Here's a simpler one from St. Francis:
A young lady once asked him whether or not it was sinful to use rouge. Francis cocked one eye, and said, "Well, some theologians say it is perfectly all right, but others disagree."
But she was not satisfied - as who would be? and she asked him "So, what do I do? Use rouge or not?"
He told her, "Why not follow a middle course, and rouge only one cheek?"

In concluding, I would like to mention a very witty line from Giuseppe Sarto, who went on to become Pope Pius X, and later Saint Pius X. People saw his extraordinary holiness and started saying he was a saint, going so far as to say he could obtain
miracles. He replied, "So now it's miracles they want from me. As if I didn't have enough to do already."

Another piece of advice given by another Pope (though I am not sure who) to his assistant, who wondered what he should do if God Himself should look in the window.

The Pope ordered, "Look busy."

Reprinted with permission from Something Good To Read Volume CXIV Number 230 (February 11, 1998). Yes, I have a signed note!