A St. Peter’s Basilica Photo Quiz!

Here’s a little fun on this last Friday of Lent as we await the start of the Vigil of St. Joseph.

On my most recent Retreat, I took a few different books with me, but the one that surprised me most was Professor Warren Carroll’s Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness.1

I had little idea that a book about a 500-year-old Mexican apparition would provide such a wealth of insight for my travels in Turkey and Italy. I can’t even explain what caused me to bring it along, other than it was among the stack of books I’m perennially working to reduce.

Friend, if you don’t know very much about Our Lady of Guadalupe, or why the apparition is relevant to us today, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this book and read it. At a mere 115 pages, it is approachable for anyone, and you will find it enriching and also spiritually beneficial.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is important. Don’t take my word for it. Someone in the Vatican thinks so too. Imagine my surprise when, somewhere inside St. Peter’s Basilica, I stumbled upon this:

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Perhaps you can identify where this is inside the Basilica, and if you can, and if you read Carroll’s book (or know about Our Lady of Guadalupe), then you can begin to infer the meaning behind why it’s there. The placement, relative to things outside the picture and also in orientation to the other objects in the picture, is very unusual.

———–

1 Professor Carroll was the founder of Christendom College. I recently posted a review of his book on Our Lady of Fatima and the events 0f 1917, here.  I’m currently in the midst of his book on the French Revolution entitled The Guillotine and the Cross. Carroll may well be my favorite history writer of all time.

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A Reader Request for Holy Week

Hello
I read a piece that you wrote on your blog about the first-century Jews and the Paschal Sacrifice. I was hoping that you would repost that piece. I think about it at Holy Week.
Thank you
.

I’m happy to oblige! Huzzah for reader requests!

First-Century Jews and the Paschal Sacrifice: why “Lamb of God” should mean far more to us

(Originally posted April 10, 2014 here)

For those of us who lack multiple degrees in theology, ancient history, and sacred scripture, diving into exegesis isn’t much different than Aristotle recognizing a Nike “swoop” or President George Washington thinking the Apple Computer logo is just a cute drawing of the favorite fruit of the original owner of his teeth. While idioms and hidden meanings abound in any culture, it’s difficult — or nearly impossible — to extract all of the meaning that is present.

In this article, I hope to share just a bit of the missing context that would be helpful to understanding what we mean when we refer to Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God”, and to discuss how deeply important this term is to understanding what First-Century Jews and early Christians would likely have automatically perceived regarding Jesus, secondary to living in that age.

I. Jesus Christ is the “Lamb of God”.

At every mass, following the consecration, we recite the Angus Dei:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
grant us peace.

Francisco de Zurbarán, Angus Dei, c. 1635-40

Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei, c. 1635-40

As Catholics, we are familiar with the imagery — or at least we think we are. The Catholic Church teaches that St. John the Baptist, the “Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner” points out Jesus as “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (CCC 523). And, the lamb figures prominently in John’s Apocalypse, for example at Revelation 21:14, where the lamb is said to have twelve apostles.

Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

The Church teaches that “Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,’ and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the ‘blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ (CCC 613).

Ghent Altarpiece; The central "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" panel, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

Ghent Altarpiece; The central “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” panel, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

And, inasmuch as Jesus as Lamb of God is developed as part of the New Covenant, it draws from the shared understanding of God’s chosen people (the Jews) and the Old Covenant. In other words, there is more there to Jesus as Lamb of God than what’s found in the New Testament.

II. The Paschal Sacrifice began with the Jews

Much of God’s early relationship with the Jews concerns a sacrificial offering, and the lamb is singled out by God as a preferred form of offering. In Genesis, we see that God tests Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice his son Isaac, but Abraham is righteously obedient and faithful; he tells his son that “God himself with provide the lamb for a burnt offering.”) (Gen 22:8, CCC 2572).

Passover, engraving published 1670 in "La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain", 1670

Passover, engraving published 1670 in “La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain”, 1670

Then, in Exodus, God seeks to free his people, and orders that a year-old unblemished male lamb be sacrificed to God in each household, whose blood is to be placed over the doorposts of the homes of the Jews in Egypt so that the angel will know to pass over those houses in carrying out God’s command to take from the Egyptian captives their first-born sons.

It is from this sacrifice to God that Passover came to be celebrated in Jesus’ own time, and Jesus as an observant Jew would have been very familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of Passover in Jerusalem.

In How Christ Said the First Mass or The Lord’s Last Supper, Rev. James Meagher recounts how Josephus tells the story that to count the numbers of Jews present for Passover in Jerusalem, one year Herod Agrippa ordered the kidneys of the sacrificed lambs to be counted, assuming one lamb for ten people so that “…we learn that 12,000,000 persons offered the Passover sacrifice that year, which was known as the ‘large Passover.'” And based upon this, Fr. Meagher posits that “We can then imagine the vast crowds, who clamored for the death of Christ and what a multitude saw him die.” (p. 174).

III. First-Century Jews (including Jesus and his disciples) understood the Passover primarily as a Sacrifice

Passover of the Jews, Marcantonio FRANCESCHINI

Passover of the Jews, Marcantonio FRANCESCHINI

According to Brant Pitre’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, it would be difficult for the modern person (“who probably has never witnessed a single animal sacrifice”) to imagine “just how much blood would have been poured out by the priests at Passover.” But Pitre states that for the first-century Jews, including Jesus and his disciples, the fact of Passover as a sacrifice — with several thousand lambs slaughtered in one day — would have been impossible to forget.

Description:Full-page miniature, upper register: the slaughter and the preparation of the Passover lamb, smearing the posts of the doorway with blood (Ex. 12:22), lower register: two couples by spread Seder tables raising cups of wine.  Origin:Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

Description: Full-page miniature, upper register: the slaughter and the preparation of the Passover lamb, smearing the posts of the doorway with blood (Ex. 12:22), lower register: two couples by spread Seder tables raising cups of wine.
Origin: Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

According to Pitre, “No one living at the time of the Temple could have ever had any misconception about the fact that the first-century Passover was first a sacrifice and then a meal,” which is the reverse of the way that it is viewed by moderns today, due to the fact that the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., and ended ritual sacrifice under the Mosaic Law. (p. 61-2).

In terms of sacrifice, according to the Mishna, the paschal lamb would be roasted, on “a spit, made of wood of the pomegranate tree,” which “should be taken, put in at the mouth and brought out at the vent thereof. The paschal sacrifice must not be roasted on an iron roasting spit or on a gridiron.” (Pesahim 7:1).

This description is somewhat difficult to visualize, but Pitre explains (citing to the research of Israeli scholar Joseph Tabory) that after the lamb was sacrificed in the Temple, the Jews would insert “thin smooth staves” of pomegranate wood through the shoulders of the lamb and in addition to this, they would also “thrust” a skewer through the Passover lamb’s mouth “and brought out at the vent thereof,” i.e., the buttocks. (Pesahim 5:9, 7:1). Thus, “Tabory concludes, ‘An examination of the rabbinic evidence… seems to show that in Jerusalem the Jewish paschal lamb was offered in a manner which resembled a crucifixion.'”

IV. To First-Century Jews, Jesus would not be the only Lamb they had seen Crucified

Description:Decorated initial-word panel at the beginning of the Haggadah. Within the panel, beneath the initial words, a family is seated at a spread Seder table, while a servant is flaying and roasting the Passover lamb. The text is surrounded by an ornamental frame inhabited by animals and hybrids.  Origin:Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

Description: Decorated initial-word panel at the beginning of the Haggadah. Within the panel, beneath the initial words, a family is seated at a spread Seder table, while a servant is flaying and roasting the Passover lamb. The text is surrounded by an ornamental frame inhabited by animals and hybrids.
Origin: Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

According to Meagher, “The pomegranate, ‘grained apple,’ called in Hebrew rimmon, was extensively grown in the Jordan valley and around Jerusalem at the time of Christ. The stick was extended so that its lower end passed through the tendons of the hind feet, and the cross-piece of the same kind of wood passed through the tendons of the fore feet. The operation was called ‘crucifying the lamb.'” (p. 175).

John the Baptist identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God”, and the way that he was put to death by the Romans was visually consonant with the practice of paschal sacrifice in the Temple!

Meagher points out that “The lamb rested entirely on and was roasted on its cross, and foretold the dead Christ hanging from his cross. Seeing this crucified paschal lamb, a striking image of the Crucified, the Rabbis of the Talmud left out the details of the sticks passing through the tendons of the feet.” (p. 175). We can set aside for the moment why the rabbis might have done this, but the point remains that even without a more detailed description, First-Century Jews and early Christians would have recognized the connection between the lambs crucified in the Temple, and Jesus crucified at Golgotha.

V. In comparison to Today, the First-Century Jews and Early Christians recognized another dimension to “Lamb of God”, as shown by the Paschal Sacrifices in the Temple

Description:Full-page miniature of two Israelites roasting the paschal lamb.  Origin:Spain, Central (Castile)

Description: Full-page miniature of two Israelites roasting the paschal lamb.
Origin: Spain, Central (Castile)

Despite Meagher’s assertion that the Rabbis of the Talmud left out some of the details of visualization of the lamb as crucified, “…other writers (Justin Martyr and the early Fathers) describe the lamb thus roasted on his own cross, emblem of the crucifixion coming down from the days of the Hebrew kings.” (p. 175). Pitre also agrees and cites St. Justin:

For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of a cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 40). (Pitre, p. 63-4).

For the first-century Jews and early Christians like St. Justin, Jesus as Lamb of God was not mere metaphor, but was visually confirmed to them by their having witnessed the Passover sacrifices in the Temple.

And, while the lamb remains a powerful symbol for Jews celebrating Passover in these times, the only actual sacrifice that takes place today occurs upon the altars of the Church, where Christ is continually represented in an unbloody sacrifice to God, in unity with that day nearly 2,000 years ago, when Our Lord — among thousands or even millions of other sacrificial victims that were positioned in cruciform just as He was — offered Himself once and for all for our salvation.

Description:Full-page miniature, upper right: the Dance of Miriam (Ex. 15:20), upper left: the master of the house distributing the matzot (unleavened bread) and the haroset (sweetmeat), lower right: cleaning of the house, lower left: slaughtering the Passover lamb and cleansing dishes (hagalat kelim).  Origin:Spain, N. E., Catalonia (Barcelona?)

Description: Full-page miniature, upper right: the Dance of Miriam (Ex. 15:20), upper left: the master of the house distributing the matzot (unleavened bread) and the haroset (sweetmeat), lower right: cleaning of the house, lower left: slaughtering the Passover lamb and cleansing dishes (hagalat kelim).
Origin: Spain, N. E., Catalonia (Barcelona?)

G.K. Chesterton on the “Myth of the Mayflower”

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From “The ‘Myth’ of the Mayflower”, Fancies Versus Fads (1923):

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.32.57 PMhe “Mayflower” is a myth. It is an intensely interesting example of a real modern myth. I do not mean of course that the “Mayflower” never sailed, any more than I admit that King Arthur never lived or that Roland never died. I do not mean that the incident had no historic interest, or that the men who figured in it had no heroic qualities; any more than I deny that Charlemagne was a great man because the legend says he was two hundred years old; any more than I deny that the resistance of Roman Britain to the heathen invasion was valiant and valuable, because the legend says that Arthur at Mount Badon killed nine hundred men with his own hand. I mean that there exists in millions of modern minds a traditional image or vision called the “Mayflower,” which has far less relation to the real facts than Charlemagne’s two hundred years or Arthur’s nine hundred corpses. Multitudes of people in England and America, as intelligent and sympathetic as the young lady in Mr. Wells’s novel, think of the “Mayflower” as an origin, or archetype, like the Ark or at least the Argo. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that they think the “Mayflower” discovered America. They do really talk as if the “Mayflower” populated America. Above all, they talk as if the establishment of New England had been the first and formative example of the expansion of England. They believe that English expansion was a Puritan experiment; and that an expansion of Puritan ideas was also the expansion of what have been claimed as English ideas, especially ideas of liberty. The Puritans of New England were champions of religious freedom, seeking to found a newer and freer state beyond the sea, and thus becoming the origin and model of modern democracy. All this betrays a lack of exactitude. It is certainly nearer to exact truth to say that Merlin built the castle at Camelot by magic, or that Roland broke the mountains in pieces with his unbroken sword.

For at least the old fables are faults on the right side. They are symbols of the truth and not of the opposite of the truth. They described Roland as brandishing his unbroken sword against the Moslems, but not in favour of the Moslems. And the New England Puritans would have regarded the establishment of real religious liberty exactly as Roland would have regarded the establishment of the religion of Mahound. The fables described Merlin as building a palace for a king and not a public hall for the London School of Economics. And it would be quite as sensible to read the Fabian politics of Mr. Sidney Webb into the local kingships of the Dark Ages, as to read anything remotely resembling modern liberality into the most savage of all the savage theological frenzies of the seventeenth century. Thus the “Mayflower” is not merely a fable, but is much more false than fables generally are. The revolt of the Puritans against the Stuarts was really a revolt _against_ religious toleration. I do not say the Puritans were never persecuted by their opponents; but I do say, to their great honour and glory, that the Puritans never descended to the hypocrisy of pretending for a moment that they did not mean to persecute their opponents. And in the main their quarrel with the Stuarts was that the Stuarts would not persecute those opponents enough. Not only was it then the Catholics who were proposing toleration, but it was they who had already actually established toleration in the State of Maryland, before the Puritans began to establish the most intolerant sort of intolerance in the State of New England. And if the fable is fabulous touching the emancipation of religion, it is yet more fabulous touching the expansion of empire. That had been started long before either New England or Maryland, by Raleigh who started it in Virginia. Virginia is still perhaps the most English of the states, certainly more English than New England. And it was also the most typical and important of the states, almost up to Lee’s last battle in the Wilderness. But I have only taken the “Mayflower” as an example of the general truth; and in a way the truth has its consoling side. Modern men are not allowed to have any history; but at least nothing can prevent men from having legends.

We have thus before us, in a very true and typical modern picture, the two essential parts of modern culture. It consists first of false history and second of fancy history. What the American tourist believed about Plymouth Rock was untrue; what she believed about Stonehenge was only unfounded. The popular story of Primitive Man cannot be proved. The popular story of Puritanism can be disproved. I can fully sympathize with Mr. Wells and his heroine in feeling the imaginative stimulus of mysteries like Stonehenge; but the imagination springs from the mystery; that is, the imagination springs from the ignorance. It is the very greatness of Stonehenge that there is very little of it left. It is its chief feature to be featureless. We are very naturally and rightly moved to mystical emotions about signals from so far away along the path of the past; but part of the poetry lies in our inability really to read the signals. And this is what gives an interest, and even an irony, to the comparison half consciously invoked by the American lady herself when she asked “What’s Notre Dame to this?” And the answer that should be given to her is: “Notre Dame, compared to this, is _true._ It is history. It is humanity. It is what has really happened, what we know has really happened, what we know is really happening still. It is the central fact of your own civilization. And it is the thing that has really been kept from you.”

Notre Dame is not a myth. Notre Dame is not a theory. Its interest does not spring from ignorance but from knowledge; from a culture complicated with a hundred controversies and revolutions. It is not featureless, but carved into an incredible forest and labyrinth of fascinating features, any one of which we could talk about for days. It is not great because there is little of it, but great because there is a great deal of it. It is true that though there is a great deal of it, Puritans may not be allowed to see a great deal in it; whether they were those brought over in the “Mayflower” or only those brought up on the “Mayflower.” But that is not the fault of Notre Dame; but of the extraordinary evasion by which such people can dodge to right or left of it, taking refuge in things more recent or things more remote. Notre Dame, on its merely human side, is mediaeval civilization, and therefore not a fable or a guess but a great solid determining part of modern civilization. It is the whole modern debate about guilds; for such cathedrals were built by the guilds. It is the whole modern question of religion and irreligion; for we know what religion it stands for, while we really have not a notion what religion Stonehenge stands for. A Druid temple is a ruin, and a Puritan ship by this time may well be called a wreck. But a church is a challenge; and that is why it is not answered.

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Cardinal Morton, St. Thomas More, Beer and Ecclesiastical Heraldry

Although beer has always been a part of Catholic life in Europe since the Middle Ages, it is not associated directly with Jesus in nearly the same way as wine. This is because (1) Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana involved wine; (2) Jesus changed wine into his Most Precious Blood at the Last Supper; and as a result (3) only bread and wine are the necessary types of matter used at mass.

Because of this, ecclesiastical heraldry occasionally contains symbols relating to wine or grapes, most commonly with reference to a chalice or the Eucharist.

As noted above, while the Gospels clearly show that Jesus and his disciples consumed wine, there are no explicit references to beer anywhere in the New Testament. Beer is mentioned in various translations of the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 28:7, 56:12), but in our New American Bible, it appears as “strong drink”. Since beer was commonly consumed during biblical times, it is not unlikely that the disciples, or even Jesus Himself, quaffed the beverage on occasion.

With this in mind, consider the following somewhat unusual coat of arms belonging to John Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury (1420-1500):

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In 1486, Morton was made Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VII. The King appointed Morton the Lord Chancellor of England in 1487. In 1493, he was named Cardinal-priest of the Church of St. Anastasia by Pope Alexander VI (one of the “Borgia popes”, Alexander was reputed as one of the very worst popes in the history of Catholicism).

Morton was also a mentor to the young Sir Thomas More, who worked for Morton as a page and mentioned him in his later work, Utopia. Morton may have had a hand in the authorship of More’s history on Richard III, but that remains a subject of some debate.

A German rebus, c. 1620

A German rebus, c. 1620

The barrel/cask of beer at the bottom of Morton’s arms is referred to as a rebus (i.e., “an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words. It was a favourite form of heraldic expression used in the Middle Ages to denote surnames.”). While we in the modern age associate heraldry with a more serious form of expression, in fact the rebus illustrates the sense of humor and play on words present in family crests and other heraldic imagery.

In the case of Morton’s own coat of arms, another word for “cask” or “barrel” is “tun“, which is a term still recognized by brewers today. A “tun” emblazoned with an “M – o – r” comes out as sort of a pun on the Cardinal’s surname.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 4.07.27 PMThe rebus for Morton is repeated at Canterbury Cathedral, where he was buried before the altar of the Our Lady Undercroft. The tomb was badly damaged in the 17th Century, and Morton’s remains were removed and transferred to a more safe location, but there is still an eagle atop a barrel with “M – o – r” in the chapel.

It would be great if we could prove that Morton used the beer barrel reference to signify his own fondness for beer, but alas, while he may have been inspired to employ such a rebus in his heraldic arms upon drawing drafts of ale one evening, he may have simply liked the pun enough to use it.

While the “Mor-tun” pun is the most likely explanation, there is another possibility (or at least, an added meaning behind the rebus): according to The British Gazetteer, Political, Commercial, Ecclesiastical, and Historical, 142 miles from London, in Dorset, was a town called Beer-Heath, the “most distinguished” native of which was Archbishop John Morton. It could be that the Archbishop saw in the rebus a further reference to the place he was born.

In any case, if you know of more heraldic “beer references”, let me know and I will share them here.

Carroll’s “1917”: An Important Read for the Moment

On Saturday evening, Fr. A came over for a late dinner following the vigil masses, bearing a small white padded envelope that he was excited to tear open. Drawing out the contents, he gifted me with a copy of 1917: Read Banners, White Mantle (Carroll, W.H.; Christendom Press, 1981)(Amazon link), telling me that it was a “must read”.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.18.08 PMI started it yesterday, and couldn’t put the book down until I finished it today. Thankfully, it is short. But I would wholeheartedly recommend it even if it were twice as long.

According to the back cover, Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D. is a Columbia University-trained historian and Chairman of the History Department of Christendom College. He has also published a six-volume work on the history of Christendom, which, judging by the quality of 1917, is worth investigating.

Carroll’s fundamental premise is that the world events surrounding the beginning of the Twentieth Century, most specifically 1914 to 1918, cannot be properly understood without looking to several key (arguably supernatural) connections that were profoundly felt by all of Western Civilization, even if not exquisitely understood.

Carroll’s history does not neglect detail when it comes to identifying the central figures of the global crisis that was World War I, but it centers on a few prime characters: the saintly last Emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Charles II; the last Tsar and Tsarina of the Russian Empire; the impossibly demonic figure of Gregory Rasputin; His Holiness Benedict XV; Lenin and Stalin.

We also learn about Lucia Adobora, Jacinta and Francisco Marto — three young Portuguese shepherds — the oldest of whom (Lucia) was only 10, who were visited by Our Lady at Fatima over the course of the months of 1917, leading up to the “Miracle of the Sun” on October 13, 1917, described as the “most witnessed” miracle in history, because thousands of people attested to what happened.

Some of the connections that Carroll draws are beyond belief, and yet, from the Catholic perspective, are unmistakably true. For example, we are somewhat taken with apparitions such as Divine Mercy or Fatima, without always recalling their time and place in history. We can and sometimes do forget the context that would have been readily apparent at the time.

As Carroll points out, the visitations of Our Lady on the hillside near Fatima occurred at the height of armed conflict that was producing tens of thousands of casualties every month. Millions of soldiers died over what amounted to mere hundreds of yards (in best cases) of gained (or lost) territory.

Benedict XV was not soft-spoken about the terrors brought on by such violence, and he publicly prayed for the intercession of Our Lady. Carroll suggests Fatima constituted a response to those (and other) prayers. However, suggestion is not persuasion. The presentation is with an eye to historical accuracy, giving citations for basis. One can draw one’s own conclusions.

In another unforgettable example, Carroll describes a mangy fortuneteller/monk of sorts, who wormed his way into the good graces of the Last Tsarina of Russia. The man, usually filthy and reeking, with an unkempt beard and wildly penetrating eyes, was Gregory Rasputin (introducing him, the author pointed out: “early in his adult life his sexual promiscuity and prowess gained him the surname Rasputin, the Dissolute”).

Look for Rasputin's eyes

Look for Rasputin’s eyes

Carroll goes on to describe Rasputin’s disgusting behavior — exposing himself in public, speaking loudly in vile obscenity, seducing women of the court, habitual drinking and debauching). Yet, the Tsarina grows entirely dependent on Rasputin, who ingratiated himself by demonstrating capability in protecting the hemophiliac heir — Alexis — from physical injury. Through this opening, Rasputin becomes second only to the Tsar in wielding imperial power at the end of the Romanov’s reign.

The means Rasputin used to achieve this are unclear, and again, Carroll suggests, but does argue for the supernatural. But when one considers the account of Rasputin’s death provided by Carroll, and Rasputin’s own wild statements leading up to his murder, and finally, the shocking effects of Rasputin’s involvement in tearing down imperial Russia and ushering in Communist Revolution, a Catholic perspective would permit the inference of demonic forces. 

1917 was originally published in 1981, and while the latest printing occurred in 2000, it has not (apparently) been revised to reflect the new post-Cold War reality. It still very much reads like a story unfolding, where several intervening events have occurred (i.e., the release of the Third Secret of Fatima, the fall of Soviet Communism, the consecration of Russia to Our Lady). Thankfully, the book holds up and the time lock does not diminish the connection it draws.

Now that it’s been a full century since the events described in 1917, the book takes on a heightened tone of prophesy. Of particular significance to Catholics, it provides the context that forms the next major European conflict in the rise of national socialism, manifesting the demonic in the form of ethnic and ideological hatred that continues to confound and perplex, if for no other reason than that it is still going on.

Which is why, even though 1917 ably sets the table for World War II, and anticipates the not-yet-fully-baked dessert that was the 1989-1991 period that

ended the Soviet Union, Carroll’s work is most relevant now, because we see Europe once again at a new transition point, involved in a growing Islamization, where European communities and regions do exist that are impassible by infidels and unprotected by Western law.

This is the current moment, where the West threatens to cease being the West, and the threat is from within. Our failure to observe the refraining message found in 1917 dooms us — as they say — to repeat the same painful lessons. It wouldn’t hurt to heed the warning (considering the source credited by the book): “Repent! Repent! Repent!” And it wouldn’t hurt to take another lesson to heart: turn to Our Lady in times of crisis!

The “Fabric of Our Country” and the President’s Untenable Rhetoric

In just the past week, we’ve seen Islamic terrorists invoking the name of Allah and beheading Christians, burning hostages alive, and issuing promises to invade Rome while  burning, raping and pillaging all along the way. In an Op-Ed piece for the LA Times, President Obama writes, matter-of-factly, “we know that many Muslim Americans across our country are worried and afraid.”

You know who else is worried and afraid?

Me.

I’m afraid, because in addition to the near-daily stories of violence — perpetrated upon innocents by the likes of ISIS, Boko Haram, Mossad, al Qaeda, et al. — involving acts of cruelty and inhuman torture that sound more like the scenes from an Eli Roth film than real life, the President has manufactured his own reality, in which he can apparently (in earnest) stand behind a podium and say things like this:

Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.”

I’ll accept that the first Islamic center was opened in New York City in the 1890s. But that’s well over a century since the founding of our nation. I’ll accept that the first mosque was erected in South Dakota in the 1920’s. However, now we’re 150 years since the founding of our nation.

I’m afraid because I do not understand why it is necessary to say these things. Why is it important to perpetuate a fiction about Islam’s place in American history? We don’t pretend that anyone Chinese was a delegate at Independence Hall. We don’t make up stuff about regiments of Hindus at the Battles of Concord or Lexington. No one sane has ever plunked an Essene in the Lewis and Clark expedition.

That sound — those words — it’s all Newspeak. More than anything else, more than any terrorist attack, my fear, the thing that keeps me awake at night, is that the truth has become fungible, and is now entirely at the service of ideology.

EnterpriseTripoliThe reality distortion field is on, because while there were Catholics, Protestants, Universalists, Pantheists, Jews, and possibly even a few atheists or agnostics, at the founding of the United States, it entirely stretches beyond credulity to suggest that Islam has been part of the American fabric since its founding.

Unless President Obama means thisin which case, I agree with him.

October 7: 2 Days Late, or 363 Days Early

Iron shield presented to Don John of Austria by Pius V., in recognition of his services to Christendom by the victory at Lepanto (1571), with an inscription signifying, Christ has won the victory; it is He who reigns and governs.

Iron shield presented to Don John of Austria by Pius V., in recognition of his services to Christendom by the victory at Lepanto (1571), with an inscription signifying, Christ has won the victory; it is He who reigns and governs.

October 7 is (was) the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, or alternatively, Our Lady of Victory, commemorating the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto, possibly the largest naval battle in the history of the world, in which the Christians were vastly outnumbered and yet overcame the Ottomans. There is a very good narrative on the Battle here.

I also learned something from Fr. A that I had not heard before: there is a “New World” connection to the Battle of Lepanto. The “Right Division” of ships was commanded by Giovanni Andrea Doria, from Genoa. At the height of battle, Andrea Doria entered his stateroom to pray before an image given to him by King Phillip II of Spain — the image was a reproduction of the miraculous Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

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On Grotesques: Gargoyle and Chimera

Famous gothic or neo-gothic cathedrals feature ornate decoration: in addition to animals, statues and stained glass, there are also “gargoyles” stationed atop parapets and buttresses, peering down on us and surveying the landscape.

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Krzysztof Mizera

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Krzysztof Mizera

A “gargoyle” is actually a type of a “grotesque” that has a functional purpose: a true gargoyle directs rain water away from the roof and masonry of the structure, carrying the water through a decorated downspout. The word is from the French, meaning “throat” or “gullet”.

A “grotesque” that is not truly a “gargoyle” is actually called a “chimera”, or for the gamers out there, a “boss”. But nowadays we use the term “gargoyle” whether it carries water or not. It may be impish or devilish, fantastic or fierce, animal or supernatural, tortured or torturing, humorous or menacing.

The use of grotesques in architecture is not purely an innovation of the West, or the Church. Rather, various cultures have their own examples. But as it regards the Church, grotesques, apart from any practical function, also deliver a message to the faithful: evil exists, but is unwelcome insideEvil can’t stand to be any closer to God. The church is a sanctuary. 

York Minster; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Digital Designs

York Minster; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Digital Designs

Catholics understand that the church building is a “sacred place” that is designated for divine worship (1983 CCL 1214). Every church houses at least one tabernacle within which is contained the Eucharist — the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

A church is the ordinary place for the celebration of the Mass, which in the Eucharist brings about “our union with the Church in heaven” (Lumen Gentium, 50).

Heaven is literally brought to Earth inside a church, and we are accompanied not just by statues or images, but the company of angels and saints themselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV says that in God’s presence “are countless hosts of Angels,” serving Him “day and night”, gazing upon the glory His face, glorifying “without ceasing” so that “we, too” confess God’s “…name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven…..” Our celebration is not fully understood without acknowledgement that God’s angels and saints join us at every Mass.

The grotesques outside, as well as the saints and angels represented within a church are all human works, for the most part. But if eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, then the heart has at least imagined. At times the imagination glimpses upon Divine Inspiration, setting down by human expression a thing that is True.

20140729_100919_AndroidLikewise, the Catholic home is the sanctuary of the Domestic Church (N.B.: has a priest blessed your home? Invite him over, serve him a meal, and ask him to bless it).

A few years ago, my sister was an art student and took a pottery class where she sculpted a rather peculiar piece. Though not a true gargoyle, it could be called a chimera and is stationed outside our house. It scares the children. It scares me a little, too.

When I look at it, I think that it presents a good expression of Sin.

The face is beautiful, but anonymous. We cannot even be sure whether it is a man or woman. He is Adam. She is Eve. He is me. She is you.

Sin does not care who you are. You are the lowest common denominator to Sin: just another human soul. Depending on your holiness, you might be more or less a prize to Sin, but all that this means is that Sin thinks it gets to twist the lance a little deeper into the Lord’s side; for Sin, understanding is lost to its own hatred.

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Sin doesn’t necessarily prickle you with its claws or even alert you to its presence. It can climb on gently, like a trained rider on a willing stead. It lulls us into complacency so that it can easily install itself and get settled before making any announcement. The expression of the face suggests beguilement, a lack of awareness.

Sin shows you its own sight, a jaundiced eye that truly deceives. Sin filters what you hear, whispering dissension and anxiety. This chimera of ours serves as a reminder to set a guard against Sin, and never forget its potential, just like the ancient ones of medieval Europe.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Amazing Discovery #73125 regarding the Shroud of Turin

Shroud_of_Turin_1898_posterThere are so many things about the Shroud of Turin that suggest against the possibility that it is some kind of forgery. Despite our technological advancement, no one has been able to actually make one, while those who argue against its authenticity maintain that it is a medieval forgery. Fine. Just make one. Don’t even limit yourself to the materials available in the Middle Ages. Go ahead. Try it.

Thing is, the shroud contains things like pollens from plants that are only indigenous to the Middle East and not Europe. No one in the Middle Ages knew anything about microscopic particles. The image printed on the shroud cannot be explained. It wasn’t made using ink or paint, because the coloration is embedded through the fibers of the cloth itself, and not just on the surface as it would be with paint. The positioning of the nail marks at the wrist and ankles is inconsistent with depictions of the crucifixion, where the nails are placed in the hands and feet. The blood on the shroud belongs to a human male. Again, a medieval forger would have had no idea that modern science would be able to distinguish between human and animal blood.

There’s a thousand more things, each more interesting than the last. Most recently, a new study undertaken by a group of European scientists indicates that the man on the shroud “dislocated” arms and paralysis of his right arm, resulting in an otherwise peculiar placement of the arms across the body during burial.