Friday, 31 July 2009

Lux Occidentalis...

I am fascinated by the Eastern Orthodox Church. I admire their rich liturgical tradition; the exquisite plethora of Saints, Fathers of the Church, monks and martyrs that come from those regions are some of the dearest and most beloved that the Church has known. There is something really mysterious, almost ''holy'' about them - even if this is marred by their obstinate preference for schism rather than a desire for union with Rome, the mother and mistress of all the Churches.

I am particularly interested in so-called ''Western Rite Orthodoxy;'' which is also a source of much amusement. I have known few Orthodox in my life, but the ones I have met have disliked Rome with an astounding bitterness - indeed, a Copt I met once thought much the same of the Papacy as Ian Paisley. This sheds an interesting light on the use of the Latin (or in some cases, Anglican) liturgical rites within Orthodox circles. This article is worth a read. Particularly amusing is the reference to the Novus Ordo as ''infamous!''

It has often been alleged that the Novus Ordo is closer in ''ethos'' to the Eastern liturgies. People who champion this view cite things such as the use of the vernacular, the practice of concelebrations (commonplace in Orthodox churches), and the restoration of the permanent diaconate, which Lumen Gentium states is of ''supreme necessity.'' But these apparent similarities go no deeper than the surface, and are mere red-herrings. The Orthodox liturgies have indeed used the vernacular in their liturgies, but this is generally, and was traditionally, a more archaic and ''courteous'' form of a ''vernacular'' tongue - comparing, for instance, the modern use of English with that used in Elizabethan times, or even earlier. For example, the Greeks use the Greek of St John Chrysostom, the Russians Church Slavonic. The bizarre practice of concelebrations is peculiar to the Eastern churches - that is their tradition. I do not see that the introduction of the practice into the Western Church achieves anything, since it is liturgically unprecedented.

I know a Russian Orthodox who attended a Midnight Mass in Austria some years ago, and he told me that the Liturgy there was wholly alien to him; with no visible signs of devotion among the congregation, the priest having his back on the East (orientation in the liturgical posture being reversed from Godwards to manwards), and sitting upon some sort of ''throne'' as though he were somehow ''in charge'' of it all. The brevity of the Mass, the poverty of its ceremony, the irreverent use of the vulgar tongue, little or no sense of the Sacred at all left him with a strong impression of the weakness of the Novus Ordo in the presentation of Catholic teaching.

Indeed, the apparent similarities of the New Rite with the liturgical rites of the East are overshadowed by a greater number of anachronisms and discrepancies. I would say that the New Rite seems more consonant with the ''liturgical'' uses and customs of Protestant denominations. And whenever I think of this, I call to mind that oft-heard quote by the chief architect of the New Rite, Bugnini: ''We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren that is for the Protestants.''

I think that the Ecumenical dimension of the New Rite is a ''stumbling block'' for any Orthodox who is genuinely interested in the Catholic Church, precisely because the Old Rite seems more redolent of the Eastern liturgies. The Old Rite is inspired by the same faith, the same profundity, the same longing.

As an aside, I wonder why the Eastern Orthodox church has had no liturgical crisis, or Reformation? It seems to me that such things are logically more suited to schismatics...but maybe one day they will.

The above image depicts an expunged icon of the Saviour from the famous church of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople.

Assisted Suicide ruling...

I heard the grievous news today that the House of Lords has ruled in favour of ''assisted suicide.'' Since when was anyone at liberty to decide the hour of their own death? Just think of the ghastly implications of this ruling, and where it will logically lead - I see it now: anonymous doctors and clinicians, handed documents about someone they deem to be disabled, or a ''burden,'' and they stamp the form with red ink - ''let him be killed'' - in the interests of ''human dignity'' of course. This is going to be worse than Nazi Germany, or the purges of Stalin. I am not one bit surprised by the ruling though, if I am quite honest - for as I told my parish priest this evening, I have always had a pessimistic view of life, particularly as regards the Church in the Modern World, you know, fighting the ''long defeat'' and all that...

The ruling put me in mind of a quotation from The Lord of the Rings:

''He calls,'' said Gandalf, ''but you cannot come to him yet. For he must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not. Whereas your part is to go to the battle of your City, where maybe death awaits you. This you know in your heart.''
''He will not wake again,'' said Denethor. ''Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?''
''Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,'' answered Gandalf. ''And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter VII, The Pyre of Denethor. Emphasis my own).

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Silver Jubilee of Fr Timothy Finigan...

I was privileged today to attend (and serve) the Votive High Mass of the Holy Ghost at the parish of Blackfen to mark the 25th year of Fr Timothy Finigan's ordination. Jonathan (the parish Liturgy expert and Master of Ceremonies) and I were the first there (among the Servers) and we arranged the church, Altar, choir stalls etc for the proper and smooth conduct of the elaborate ceremonies that are part of the Church's Traditional Liturgy. The Mass itself was beautiful; the Mass Propers and Ordinary were sung very well by the parish choir and the visiting schola, and the organ accompaniment was played exceptionally well also. Many familiar faces were in choro and in the Congregation, among them Fr John Zuhlsdorf, Fr Ray Blake, Dr Alcuin Reid and a good many other Clergy such as Fr Patrick Hayward, a most worthy priest (who celebrated his Golden Jubilee recently).

After putting the church ''back to normal'' and setting everything up for the New Rite in the morning, we joined the parish for celebrations in the specially set up marquee and parish club. I grabbed a beer from the bar and collapsed in a chair briefly, but then Fr Finigan delivered a well-thought-out and moving speech about his life as a priest. It put things into ''perspective'' (as the saying goes - and my mother often says that I lack perspective) for me in a way; I am often vindictive and very selfish, but Fr Finigan is a man who has devoted himself wholly to his vocation as priest of God and to the service of his parish. I wish him every blessing, both temporal and spiritual, from Our Lady of the Rosary, and pray God that I too may come in the end to some notion of what (if any) vocation I may have.

The day has been altogether wonderful, and shall remain engraved in my memory as one of the chief events of my life (rather like Samwise Gamgee's first impression of the Elves, although others may see that differently). So congratulations Fr Finigan, and may I say this: Sic Hobbitur ad astra! (Thus he is Hobbited to the stars!)

I have found no decent pictures to supplement this post, but I am sure that tomorrow and the next day there will be plenty on other, more famous blogs.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Stop-gap post...

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about that post I had promised in my previous post, but owing to other pressing demands on my time at the moment, such a long post will have to wait I'm afraid. I am going to bed now, as tomorrow and the next day promise to be quite hectic. Numquam otiosa sum!

Friday, 24 July 2009


As has been told, Morgoth escaped Ungoliant with the aid of the Balrogs, and when they had pursued her into the Mountains of Shadow, he recalled them. Together they returned to Angband, and Morgoth set up his seat in the fastness of Hell, reared the threefold reeking peaks of Thangorodrim above his doors, and wrought for himself a great Iron Crown, in which he set the three Silmarils. He proclaimed himself King of the World, and all evil things crept back to him from far and wide - a reversal (in a certain sense) of Aristotle's metaphysical notions of love and order, the chief concerns of the Demiurge; the idea that the Dark Lord threw forth his hatred and monstrous influence, and called it back to himself.

When Fëanor burned the Telerin ships at Losgar, the eyes of the servants of Morgoth were watching, and message came swiftly to him in Angband of all that was done, and Morgoth desired to drive them back into the sea. Now the Noldor marched east and north through Hithlum (not so-called yet) and came to Lake Mithrim, and there set their encampment by the shores of the lake. But on a sudden, the hosts of Morgoth's Orcs came upon them at unawares, ere their camp was full-wrought, but the Noldor were swift in their counter, and there in Mithrim was fought the Second Battle of the Wars of Beleriand, Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the Battle-under-Stars (for the Sun and Moon had not yet arisen). The hosts of the Noldor drove the Orcs back over the Mountains of Shadow with great slaughter, and they were pursued over Ard-galen. But another host of Orcs, the Orcs sent by Morgoth to lay siege to Círdan at the Havens, came hastening from the Vales of Sirion, and they pursued the Noldor from the south. But they were no match for the Elves, for Celegorm, son of Fëanor, came to the aid of his father with a host and drove the Orcs into the Fen of Serech. Evil indeed were the tidings that eventually came to Angband, and Morgoth was in doubt.

But Fëanor would not hault, and he pursued the remnant of the Orcs, thinking in the impetuosity of his wrath so as to come at Morgoth himself. And he was fey, and the joy of battle was upon him; for he had dared the wrath of the Valar, the perils of the Sea and he thought that he would see soon the hour of his vengeance. Fëanor knew nothing at all of Angband, nor that his unaided war upon Morgoth was without final hope, and coming into the very realm of Morgoth, Dor Daedeloth, he was overcome by Balrogs. Still he faught on, undismayed, and he was burned and wounded with many wounds; but Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, was come, and cast the Elven-king down, and would have slew him, but the Sons of Fëanor came up in that moment with a host, and the Balrogs retreated to Angband.

The Sons of Fëanor then lifted up the body of their proud father, and they retreated to Eithel Sirion, the spring of the greatest river of Beleriand, and there he bade them set him down. With the eyes of Death, Fëanor looked towards Angband, and he saw afar the great peaks of Thangorodrim, and he knew then that the Noldor would never overcome the Dark Lord; but he cursed Morgoth three times, and charged his sons to keep to their oath, and so he died. But he had neither burial, nor tomb, for as his soul left his body, and went to Mandos* his body fell to ashes, and was blown away on a cold wind.

* This is an interesting point, which I shall address in the next post.


...lectores, quantum inter nos silentium! (Well, only since Wednesday!) I had started to write a post on ''Perfectionism'' and people with Asperger Syndrome, but I decided to delete it after the third pargraph, as it would not be publishable. All my ''personal'' posts tend to be regarded as arrogant or condescending anyway. One of my Irish cousins is in London today (for the first time in fact). She is part of an orchestra, and they are performing ''Ulysses: A Musical Odyssey'' and it is a ''post-modern'' embellishment of Homer's classic apparently. I shall go to hear it tonight, but I don't altogether relish the prospect, as I feel rather depressed and disinclined to do anything (plus it means I shall miss the advertised ''blognic''). I haven't seen her for about five or six years, so it will be a chance to catch up.

In the meantime, I shall crack on with my essay - another unutterably tedious and depressing prospect, thrust upon me. Someone at my parish told me to treat it as a penance - easier said than done though...One good thing though; I found my glasses! I lost them during the power cut that we had here earlier this week, and they must have rolled off my bed when I fell asleep on Monday. Orate semper pro me, lectores dilectissimi.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Of starlit Beleriand...

It has been a while now since I posted about The Silmarillion, and so I shall continue my ridiculously long ''synopsis'' (it has long ceased to be one!).

Since matters have been somewhat focused upon the Eldar in Valinor during Melkor's captivity, I shall return now to the matters that I prefer to treat - that of the Grey Elves (my favourite kindred) of Beleriand before the return of the Dark Lord. Since the Vanyar, Noldor and many of the Telerin hosts had departed from the western shores of Middle-earth, those that remained (except for the mariners along the coastlands, under their lord Círdan the Shipwright - who incidentally, at the time of The Lord of the Rings was probably the oldest Elf still extant in Middle-earth) dwelt rather in the woods and the hills, than by the sea, which filled them with sorrow for their departed kin, and they named themselves the Eglath, the Forsaken.

Now, as has been told, Elwë Singollo wandered long years before into the enchanted woods of Nan Elmoth, and there was spellbound by the Maia Melian, most beautiful of the Maia (conjectural) and stood with her while long years were measured by the wheeling of the stars above. And the Teleri who sought for him found him not; but then he came forth from the woods with Melian, and he appeared to them as the lords of the Maiar, for he was tall, and grey-haired and his wisdom had increased. Then, the Teleri gathered about him in joy, and they dwelt then in the woods of Neldoreth and Region (pronounced ''reg-ee-on'') in the midst of Beleriand, and the land had peace for long ages. Elu Thingol Elwë was named anew in the tongue of that land, and the Sindar his people became, the Grey Elves of starlit Beleriand; and under the lordship of Thingol and the teaching of Melian, they became the wisest and most skilled of all the Elves of Middle-earth. Thingol never saw the light of the Two Trees again (well in a sense he did, but that comes many thousands of years later) but in the light of the face of Melian he was long content. And it came to pass that in the First Age of the Captivity of Melkor, there came forth into the world Lúthien the fair, the most beautiful of the Children of Ilúvatar that was, or shall ever be, and the white flowers of Neldoreth, the niphredil, opened at her coming to greet her.

During the Second Age of the Captivity of Melkor, there came over the Blue Mountains the Dwarves, and the Sindar were amazed, for they had thought that they were the only beings to speak with words or to make with hands. Their mansions were east of Beleriand in the Blue Mountains, and they were called Nogrod and Belegost in the Sindarin tongue. When the Second Age of the Captivity of Melkor was drawing to an end, Melian counselled Thingol that the peace of Arda would not long endure, and so Thingol called upon the Dwarves of Belegost; and together the Elves and Dwarves fashioned the subterranean halls of Thingol, Menegroth, the Thousand Caves, which was said to be the fairest dwelling of any king east of the Great Sea. Of those caves, this is said in The Silmarillion:

''...and Elves and Dwarves together, each with their own skill, there wrought out the visions of Melian, images of the wonder and beauty of Valinor beyond the Sea. The pillars of Menegroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough, and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers. And as the years passed Melian and her maidens filled the halls with woven hangings wherein could be read the deeds of the Valar, and many things that had befallen in Arda since its beginning, and shadows of things that were yet to be.''

But soon the Dwarves were unquiet amidst the peace of Beleriand, and they spoke darkly to Thingol concerning the lands beyond the Blue Mountains, where many of their kindred yet dwelt in Khazad-dûm, and many wild Elves yet wandered. And they spoke of shadow-shapes that stalked the woods, and Wolves, and fell beasts that haunted the primeval hills, and that the Elves were filled with fear. And they spoke also of the ancient Orcs - but though they knew not what what these creatures were, for they were furtive and did but smell out the ways of the land, they thought that they were wild Elves who had become evil in the wild - a shrewd guess, as the Wise afterwards declared. And so the Dwarves fashioned for Thingol great store of weapons, and the armouries of Menegroth were well stocked in those days - and because of the skill of the Dwarves, the hauberks and swords rusted not, but remained as though they were new-burnished.

Now, as the years passed, one Denethor, son of Lenwë, lord of the Nandorin Elves, passed over the Blue Mountains and came into Ossiriand, fleeing the fell beasts east of the mountains, and they dwelt by those rivers in peace. Nothing much else of note happened for the rest of the age, but it soon ended, for in the far north of the world befell the battle of Morgoth and Ungoliant, and the great cry of Morgoth was heard all throughout Beleriand; and though the Elves knew not what it was, they heard then the herald of Woe. And when Morgoth returned to Angband, he reared above its doors the reeking towers of Thangorodrim of molten slag from his vast subterranean furnaces, and he sent forth hosts of the Orcs, bred long in the dark by Sauron, and they assailed King Thingol. Dear-brought was the victory of the Elves in this First Battle of the Wars of Beleriand, for Denethor came hastening from Ossiriand with a host armed with bows, but upon the hill of Amon Ereb he was slain, and the Green Elves returned in sorrow to Ossiriand and went never forth to war. Few of the Orcs returned to Angband, and the Green Elves were avenged, but now Beleriand was a land of fear and darkess, and only in Doriath (the realm of Thingol) and in the Havens by the Sea was there a watchful peace.

After the First Battle, Thingol summoned all the wandering Elves to come and dwell in Doriath because of the danger of the wide lands about, and Melian wove about that land an unseen wall of shadow and enchantment, the Girdle of Melian, that none could pass save by her will, or the will of the King; unless someone should come with a greater power. But later, and with no warning, there came to the west shores of Middle-earth Fëanor with the hosts of the Noldor, and there at Losgar, he burned the ships of the Teleri.

I think that the period between the birth of Lúthien and the return of Morgoth is my favourite in the history of Middle-earth. Beleriand was dark and peaceful, with the unclouded stars shining overhead. I often dream of it.

St Mary Magdalen...

I have only just got in from work, so I have had no chance at all today to comment on St Mary Magdalen (one of my favourite Saints, and my Latin teacher's patron). She was a Penitent, and is liturgically treated as one of the Apostles - since she witnessed to the Resurrection (well she used to be at least). I was always in love with St Mary Magdalen, she is the archetypal penitent - having led a life of sin, she ''turned her life around'' (sorry about the cliché). I think that sorrow for our sins is one of the most beautiful aspects of Catholicism - sorrow for our sins, and joy in the great mercy of God seem to interpenetrate; and in this sense, St Mary Magdalen is one of the great models to us. But alas! Our sorrow is sometimes not sufficient, and we lapse. Would that there were a kind of ''resting place,'' where charity and humility came easily - but perhaps sorrow, and the awareness of sin, enrich the infallible dimension of God's Wisdom and Mercy (afterall, He is wise, we are foolish).

I shall cease rambling now. Sancta Maria Magdalena, ora pro nobis.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Back online... seems. I mentioned earlier today that we had a power cut, which was quite serious. My mother and I went to a local shopping centre (just to get out) and most of the shops were closed because of it. I sincerely hope the vandals responsible are brought to book for inflicting so much boredom on me - I think that labour camps should be brought back for such people. It was one of those days where I felt completely disinclined; I did virtually no work today, not even a Latin translation (which I am extremely fond of doing) - and worse still, no Tolkien. I looked up the word Boredom in two dictionaries of Philosophy and Psychology that I own (published by Oxford) but strangely they had no entry.

It is strange how boredom affects us. It makes me angry and irritable. My usual method of dealing with it is by going to sleep for a few hours, but last night I couldn't sleep because of the alarms going off relentlessly (and with much noise). I looked out bleakly over a sullen world; it was the middle of the night, and it was not really dark, in spite of the street lamps, but was heavily overcast and the atmosphere seemed to have a brooding, dull-red hue about it - with much throbbing on account of the alarms. I went downstairs several times, and wandered about - patted my sleeping dogs, the elder one making a loud noise to indicate she was trying to sleep, so I left them alone. There was no vanilla ice cream left worth eating. I drank lots of water, and then went back to bed, with much tossing and turning in evidence. There was no light to read by - I wanted at this point to read something profound to take away the throbbing.

Years ago, when I was little, power cuts used to be exciting adventures - my mother would rummage through the cupboard and bring forth tealight candles, and we would all gather in the living room to play a board game or something. We don't have board games in the house anymore. Before I went to bed though, my parents told me that when they were younger in the '60s and '70s, power cuts were more frequent and scheduled - and people just used to go to bed earlier. Sounds terribly boring to me, but what do I know?

Power cut...

Sorry for the lack of posts (that may or may not be interesting) yesterday, but there has been a massive regional power cut here. It happened at around 1:30pm yesterday, my mother was on the computer, and I was reading whilst listening to music, and it all just switched off suddenly. We decided to go out, in the hope that in the three hours or so that we were out, the problem would be rectified. No such luck! In fact, the power only came back on at Midday today (which I think is rather disgraceful for this day and age). I am thoroughly ticked off about it. Not so much for the inconvenience, as being just thoroughly bored! I can't remember the last time I was so bored! Imagine, it's dark, all you can hear outside are people's alarms going off incessantly, no computer, no light to read anything by, you can't make a cup of tea (well you can, but you have to use the stove, which takes longer, so you just don't bother); in fact, the only thing to do is go to bed! Then you wake up to the sound of an even louder alarm going off (which I think was the next door neighbour's) at 11:30pm, and you can't get back to sleep again until the early hours of the morning (I was still awake at 4:00am!)

I woke up this morning feeling tired and rather sour about it all. I had left my light switch turned on, and waking up to see that the light wasn't on, I just rolled over and went back to sleep. At midday, the light came on and I got up - only my mother beat me to the computer (grrrr!). When my father came in from work (he has to, despite his convalescence, for pecuniary reasons), he told us that a local power station was set on fire by youths (although I am not sure as yet whether this was arson or an accident - probably the former) and that the power will be switched back off in precisely 12 minutes! So I am squeezing in a quick post to at least maintain a steady readership (checking my sitemeter earlier, to my surprise, I had more readers yesterday than I have had for ages, 39 in the whole day in fact, yay for me!)

Well, I am going now, as I have other important things to do (which I really need a computer to do, but owing to the unfortunate circumstances, I shall have to do without). I think that last night and yesterday afternoon, I caught my first glimpses of Hell - never mind about eternal pain and brimstone, I am more daunted by the prospects of everlasting boredom! Well, take care!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

An old new Bible...

I just dug out one of my old Bibles - a much used (well no longer used) copy of The New Jerusalem Bible, given to me when I left Primary school on 15th July 1999. I was reminded to do so because a young lad at my parish has just finished Primary school, and will be enrolling at his new Secondary school in September. The Bible itself was presented to me by the Headmaster, after a kind of ''Mass of Thanksgiving,'' celebrated in the School Hall, and is all dog-eared and very frayed at the edges, I even had recourse to sellotape the binding together about three years ago. I can't say that I enjoyed Primary school all that much, although I did enjoy Mrs Grandon's trip to the Royal Opera House when I was in Year 4, and I shall certainly keep this Bible. Actually going through it, I found a prayer card with the likeness of the then new Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI (may his wrist heal swiftly), which a priest friend of mine brought from Rome shortly after his election.

J.R.R Tolkien translated the Book of Jonah for The Jerusalem Bible (and his was probably the only accurate and melodious translation) and was demonstrably rather embarrassed by it, as his aversion to being named among the ''principal collaborators'' proves from letter 294 of The Letters...

Setting the Altar Missal...

I set the Altar Missal this morning before Mass. I enjoy doing that. When I get time, I also sit down to read the Proper texts. Today's Introit was easy-peasy, as was the Gradual and Alleluia, but I stumbled when I read the Epistle. St Paul wrote: ''Fratres: Humanum dico...'' which looked to me like ''Brothers: I say 'of men;''' Humanum looked to me like the Genitive Plural...Father told me it was the wrong Declension! It was actually quite hard to render into English, as the Latin was a direct translation of the Greek (rather like the Asperges, where it says ''et super nivem dealbabor'' - which is not great Latin). After Mass, he got out one of his Greek Bibles, and a commentary, and we sorted the problem (well he did actually, my contribution was pointing out that I recognised Θεός!) . I can't remember what the Greek said, but it was gracious of him to take the time to sort it for me.

I kind of like Erasmus' idea that moral and linguistic purity interpenetrate; and that therefore the acquisition of a real Classical education, grounded in Latin (and Greek - alas, still to come for me) is not only intellectually stimulating, but a moral activity. It is a great privilege to know Latin, even if it is very little. It is also one of the reasons I love the Latin Mass - not just for the profundity and mystery, but the aesthetic and ''intellectual'' quality too. I heard today's Gospel and understood - at least the words of the Latin took shape in my mind in an ineffable way; the feeling was somewhat reminiscent of Frodo's experience of hearing the Exiles chant their song to Elbereth in the woods of the Shire. Frodo knew little Elvish (and the little he knew came from Bilbo) but the words of that song were strung together into fair visions in his mind. The feeling is blunted, though, in the New Rite - where everything is verbose and understanding paramount.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Appropbet, si hic esset?

In the early 1950s, J.R.R Tolkien was presented with a dictation machine when he was asked to record part of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, I expect that this very recording was probably the same one that I posted a while back. When he took it, he eyed it suspiciously, and to exorcise demons from it, he whispered the Pater Noster into it in Gothic! And so the cogent question: would J.R.R Tolkien approve of blogging (let alone this silly blog!)? Hmmmmm, well that is hard to say; harder than I thought, when I first conceived of this post. I am quite sure that he wouldn't approve of some blogs; if they're poorly written, or they're just frivolous or something; but I can say with confidence that he would approve of many good Catholic blogs; probably because they are personal endeavours to the glory of God, and are not liable to be edited in order to conceal something important.

To be on the safe side, I too shall perform a mini exorcism on my blog, with these words!

Atta unsar þu in himinam, weihnai namo þein, qimai þiudinassus þeins,wairþai wilja þeins, swe in himina jah ana airþai. Hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gib uns himma daga, jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima, swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim, jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai, ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin. Amen.

Friday, 17 July 2009

A new lay blog...

Have a look at the new blog Apostolate of the Laity, written by Daniel Blackman, a graduate from the University of Bristol. The blog takes its impetus from the Vatican II document Apostolicam actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People; and the blog seeks to do two things: first, to set this decree into action online, and second, to inform readers of the blog with primary and secondary sources. Although new, this blog promises to become among the great, and is certainly very readable. Do add him to your blogrolls, and encourage others to do so too.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Pluit tonatque!

I must be running out of ideas at an alarming rate if all I can think of blogging about is the weather! But there it is, it's raining heavily and thundering outside, and I have just got in from Benediction. Fortunately, I got in before the rain started to come down in bucketfuls, and I only got a bit wet.

It has been a rather bad day; I have a meeting tomorrow (for which I am not prepared), and I am running out of blog ideas. I think that by this post, I am officially the blogosphere's most boring blogger too...

Lord give me the patience and will to sit down and eventually finish these essays!! At least this boring post has given me an excuse to post one of my favourite Constable paintings; Salisbury Cathedral seen from a distance.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel...

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is sad for me, because on this day some years ago I lost my grandfather's brown scapular, which was almost as old as he. But I guess we all loose things of sentimental and spiritual worth from time to time. Anyway, I post here Tolkien's translation of the Sub Tuum Praesidium into Quenya:

Ortírielyanna rucimme, Aina Eruontari. Alalye nattira arcandemmar sangiessemman, ono alye eterúna me illume ilya raxellor, alcarin Vénde ar manaquenta.

We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

Happy Feast Day readers!

Of the Sun and Moon...

Fingolfin, seeing that he was forsaken in Araman, led his host by perilous paths into the far north of Arda, and he took the desperate counsel of traversing the Helcaraxë by foot, which none had yet dared, save the Valar only, and Ungoliant. Many perished in that crossing, and the Noldor were hard put to it, but at last they reached the Outer Lands, for they were a mighty people.

Meanwhile, the Valar, hearing the tale of their heralds of the rebel Noldor, were filled with sorrow; but when at last Fëanor set foot again upon the Outer Lands, they began those counsels for the redressing of the evil of Morgoth. And Manwë bade Yavanna and Nienor to put forth all their powers of growth and healing upon the Two Trees, but they availed not to recall life to them. But, even as hope failed, there appeared on a lifeless branch of Telperion a silver flower, and upon a branch of Laurelin a single fruit of gold, and these the Valar took, and Manwë blessed them. Aulë the Smith and his people wrought for them great vessels to preserve their radiance, and these vessels were filled by Varda, that they might become lamps of Heaven, and the Valar resolved to succour the wayward Noldor in Middle-earth with light, to confound the malice of Morgoth, but also the Valar were aware of the coming of Men long foretold.

Isil was made ready first, and the Moon arose first in the West, guided by the Maia Tilion, even as Fingolfin set foot again upon the Outer Lands and blew his trumpet. Then the Grey Elves of Beleriand were delighted, for the world had Moonlight; and the slaves of Morgoth too were amazed. Then, when Isil had traversed the heavens seven times, Anar the fire-golden arose flaming in the West, guided by Arien, and the clouds of Middle-earth were kindled, and there was heard the sound of many waterfalls; and there then awoke many things that had waited long in the Sleep of Yavanna. Then Morgoth was indeed dismayed, and he descended into the deepest dungeons of Angband, recalling his slaves, and sending forth great reek and fumes from Thangorodrim to conceal his realm. And he assailed Tilion, sending shadow-phantoms against him, and there was strife in the paths of the Sunset, but Tilion was victorious and the phantoms were sent back quaking to Morgoth. But the Sun Morgoth feared with a great fear, and dared not assail her, having indeed no longer the power.

But seeing the assault upon the Moon, the Valar were afraid, fearing what the evil of Morgoth might yet accomplish against them. And remembering the ruin of Almaren in the collapse of the great Lamps, the Valar purposed that the like should not befall them in the West. And so they fortified their realm, and raised the mountains of the Pelóri to even greater heights; and they set about their realm the Enchanted Isles, that the Exiled Noldor might not find the way back to the West. And anyone who sailed those seas became lost, and developed a loathing of the sea, and if perchance he disembarked upon one of those isles, he laid down to sleep and awoke not until the Change of the World...

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Of the Exile of the Noldor...

Seeing that pursuit was unavailing, the Valar, the Maiar and the Vanyar remained seated in great concourse about the Ring of Doom, but the Noldor returned as best they could in the darkness to Tirion, and mourned for the darkness and the marring of Fëanor, and mists and shadows from the Great Sea drifted in on dark winds from the East and mantled the towers of Tirion and coiled about its streets, and the lamp of the Mindon Eldaliéva burned pale in the gloaming.

But on a sudden Fëanor returned to Tirion, marching boldly into the courts of the high city, and thus he broke the ban of the Valar and rebelled. A great many of the Noldor gathered about him to hear him speak, and there were his Sons, the sons of Finwë, Fingolfin and Finarfin, and many others. And he spoke to them in wrath and bitterness, conjuring in their minds visions of war and conquest of Middle-earth and defiance of the Valar, and none who so listened were unmoved. He spoke long, and ever urged his people (for he now claimed the Kingship of the Noldor, since Finwë was dead) to follow him to the Outer Lands. And he spoke a terrible oath, and straightaway his seven Sons leapt to his side and spoke the same oath; and they said that they would pursue with hatred anyone who would take, withhold from them, or even name in desire one of the Silmarils that Fëanor had wrought.

Many there quailed to hear the dread words spoken, and there arose a great tumult. Finarfin spoke wisely and calmly, as was his wont, and he sought to dissuade the Noldor from rash deeds, but the greater part hearkened to Fëanor and were eager to be gone from the West, which was not secure from the malice of Morgoth, and was altogether dark. And so they prepared a great faring forth, and set out from Tirion in pursuit of Morgoth; but at length, heralds came even from Manwë, and they spoke before Fëanor, saying that by his oath he and his sons were exiled, and that they would unlearn the lies of Morgoth in bitterness. But Fëanor's voice arose in wrath and power and he dismissed the heralds, saying that he was eager to be gone, and that although the Valar would not aid in their pursuit, ere long they would follow him. And so the Noldor marched on.

At length the hosts of the Noldor came nigh to the Telerin haven of Alqualondë, and Fëanor purposed then to persuade the Teleri, ever friends of the Noldor, to aid them in his cause; moreover he needed the aid of ships, and the building of many vessels to ferry the hosts across the Great Sea would take long and would be toilsome. Therefore he spoke to Olwë much as he had done in Tirion, but Olwë was unmoved by aught that he would say. And Olwë would lend the Noldor neither their own sons in conquest, nor their fair ships, and so Fëanor departed and sat brooding beyond the confines of Alqualondë.

When he deemed the time to be ripe, he returned to the Haven with a great many of his host, and he began to man the ships that were anchored there and to take them away by force. But the Teleri withstood them, and there was fought a bitter fight upon the ships and the quays of that Haven. And the host of Fingolfin, coming up and seeing the Noldor in battle with the Teleri, joined in the battle and thus were the Teleri overcome, and many were put cruelly to death. But when many of the ships were put out to sea, Uinen wept for the fair mariners slain unjustly, and the sea arose in wrath and engulfed many of them, and thus many of the Noldor perished. But the main host marched on by land (under the lords Fingolfin and Finarfin), and Fëanor led the ships north.

But at length, many caught sight of a tall figure standing upon a rock upon the beach, and he commanded them to halt, and perforce they did so, even Fëanor among the ships. Some say that this was Mandos himself, and no lesser herald, and he spoke in a strong and terrible voice the Doom of Mandos. He foretold much that the Noldor understood not until the things came to pass, and many shuddered to hear him. But when all was said, and the figure departed, many quailed, and Finarfin with a great many marched back in sorrow to Tirion, and they cursed Fëanor. But Fëanor was unmoved and held the main host only by the constraint of his will.

After a time, the Noldor came to the cold regions about the north of Araman, and they saw the first iceburgs of the Helcaraxë, and many of the Noldor, though a mighty people, suffered anguish of the cold, and they were weary as with a great burden; and many of the host of Fingolfin cursed Fëanor, naming him the cause of all their woes. And knowing all that was said, Fëanor took counsel with his Sons, and with his own host, they departed out of sight and sailed to Middle-earth with a wind from the north-west, and Fëanor set first of the Noldor back upon the shores of Middle-earth, at the Firth of Drengist. Now Maedhros desired to return to Araman so that they might ferry the other host to the Outer Lands, but Fëanor forbade this with a bitter laugh, and caused fire to be set into the fair vessels of the Teleri. And seeing the burning of the ships far away in the West, Fingolfin knew that he was betrayed, abandoned to perish in the cold and dark lands, and thus he desired more than ever to come by some way to the Great Lands...

Forgive the length of this post, but I have tried to keep it as succinct as possible - it is afterall a great tale in the telling, and I have actually left out much! The above image is of course by Ted Nasmith and depicts the Kinslaying at Alqualondë.


I don't usually comment on Politics (knowing little about it - despite doing Political Philosophy for A Level!) but I fear that this is important. Harriet Harman's ponderous ridiculousness is gradually becoming a fixed manner, as this article shows. I sometimes wonder whether politicians have any notion of what their constituents actually think - or if they do, why they don't take any notice of them. Still, we are in the Last Days I guess, and this sort of thing is to be expected. Kind of makes me wonder what the Anti-Christ will really be like - hardly the Beast from the Sea, or the Dragon of Scripture - perhaps a crippled homosexual in a wheelchair with a nasty attitude?

Many thanks to Auntie Joanna for this article. What did I say a few weeks ago about the future of the Church on Earth? That she will be driven into new catacombs...this new egalitarian nonsense is merely a stepping stone down to that horrible day. Sin is already triumphed by most people (they think nothing of using contraception for example) and obscenity and promiscuity promoted by Governments. Imagine this once fair and Catholic country 100 years from now...

Missa Defunctorum...

Today I MCd my first Requiem Mass, and competently according to two MCs and a few others. I hadn't counted on being the Master of Ceremonies, as Gordon said that he wanted to do it last week - but it was thrust upon me when I walked into the Sacristy and he told me that he wasn't feeling up to it. Naturally, I was nervous, but it went altogether smoothly. Jonathan pointed out one or two mistakes that I made, the amusing one being that at the Introit, I made as to make the Sign of the Cross but adjusted my glasses instead! I also knelt in plano at the end of Mass expecting a Blessing, but of course there isn't one at a Requiem Mass.

The Dies Irae is my favourite Sequence. I told a friend of mine this once, and he said to me: ''isn't the 13th century a bit modern for you!'' But no! It is always a joy to hear it sung. It is so full of pious longing and terror (quite rightly) at the Divine Majesty, painful sincerity, sorrow for our sins. It is in fact the dominant tone of traditional Catholic piety, art, literature and music - a tremendous longing for God's love and infinite mercy - a longing for things that cannot be found in this world, least of all provided by any secular proponent of ideologies or philosophy. Go to a traditional Catholic Requiem Mass, however, and just feel the other-worldly beauty of God which transcends all sentiment and feeling. Literal understanding seems superfluous. I have been to many New Rite Masses of Requiem and the feeling is entirely different - not so much moved to an eucatastrophic state of penitence and sorrow, thinking that this is so much greater than I am - but rather a feeling of ''yawn, how much more of this do I have to sit through?'' That may sound terrible to some people, but I have always found New Rite Masses (even in Latin) to be quite verbose and boring.

I did a translation of the Dies Irae last year (it was never marked, so forgive any solecisms). Here are some of my favourites:

Rex tremendae maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.
O King of tremendous majesty,
Who dost graciously save those to be saved,
Save me, font of piety.
Preces meae non sunt dignae:
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.

My prayers are not worthy:
But do Thou good kindly,
Lest I burn in everlasting fire.

Pie Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen.

The above photo is of the central portal of Notre Dame de Paris' Western facade, depicting the Last Judgement. I am in love with Gothic architecture, it is far superior to Classical and Baroque styles in my opinion, and more expressive of Catholic theology. But that is just my opinion...

Monday, 13 July 2009

A Elbereth Gilthoniel!

Going through my blog archives, I have realised that I haven't explained the quotation in the Header. It was invoked by Samwise Gamgee in the Pass of Cirith Ungol when he was faced by the monstrous spider Shelob (probably the last of the foul brood of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world). It says:

A Elbereth Gilthoniel o menel palan-díriel, le nallon sí di'-nguruthos! A tíro nin, Fanuilos!

Which means:

O Queen of the Stars, Star-kindler [in the perfect tense: the title comes from very ancient days, when Varda kindled the ancient stars with the dews of Telperion, and does not refer to a permanent function] from Heaven gazing-afar, to thee I cry now in the shadow of the fear of Death! O look towards me, Ever-white!

''Ever-white'' is a compromise, poetic translation. The element ui, from the Quenya oio (as in Oiolossë, another name of Taniquetil) means ''ever;'' both fan- and los(s) mean ''white,'' but two different kinds of white; fan connotes the whiteness of clouds in the light of the Sun; whereas los refers to the whiteness of snow (seen either in darkness or in sunlight). So it sounds better to say ''ever-white,'' rather than ''ever-white-as-snowy-clouds-seen-in-the-Sun,'' or however it could be rendered.

This very invocation was one of the chief edits made by Tolkien to the First Edition of The Lord of the Rings in preparation for the Second (1966). I say ''chief'' edits, but I don't think that it needed to have been corrected. The matter was the use of the letter O, instead of A, by Sam in the invocation. I say that it never needed to have been ''corrected'' because he was a Hobbit, and while he knew no Sindarin whatsoever (in spite of his love and reverence for the Elves), and the words were ''given'' to him in his plight, this sort of ''solecism'' is to be expected. Since, however, the invocation is entirely Elvish, the inaccuracy was his own. Notice that it is reminiscent of the style and metre of the other Marian ''hymns'' in the Tale, such as the one heard in Rivendell. It was a clever literary device employed by Tolkien to blame his oversights on the characters in his story!

Very Marian isn't it? Which is, incidentally, why I chose it...
The above painting is of course by Ted Nasmith, and depicts Amon Uilos (Taniquetil) in the sunlight.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Carthusian Office...

Psallite Sapienter has an excellent post on an old 1717 edition of the Carthusian Breviary. Click on the link to have a nosey!

The travail of Fëanor and the Thieves' Quarrel

After a while, the Valar sat on the ground in the Ring of Doom (for their thrones were broken or defiled) and the Maiar and Eldar were gathered about them in sorrow, for it was dark. But the reek of Ungoliant was driven now far away by the winds of Manwë and the stars of Varda shone overhead. And Yavanna went to the Trees and essayed to cure their deaths, but at her touch the branches fell lifeless to the mound, and many voices cried out in grief. Then Yavanna turned to the Valar and spoke before them, and she urged Fëanor to relinquish his jewels, that she might rekindle the Trees and thereby the malice of Melkor would be for naught. But Fëanor was bound to the Silmarils, and he was unwilling to unlock them, for by doing so, he thought, he would break his heart. But at that moment, the lies of Melkor returned to Fëanor, that the Silmarils were not safe with the Valar, and he thought that he was beset within a ring of foes. And he cried aloud that he would not relinquish the Silmarils of his own volition.

Then, the Vala Nienna went up to Ezellohar and mourned for the hardness of the World, and for the marring of Fëanor. But even as she did so, messengers came in great haste from Formenos telling how Melkor came north and broke open the doors of Fëanor, slew the High King Finwë (crushing his head with a great mace and burning his body as with a lightning stroke) and that all the treasures, even the Silmarils, were stolen. Then Fëanor cursed Melkor, naming him Morgoth, the Black Foe of the World, and he fled into the night in grief. Then many there wept, for the hour was full of grief and evil.

Meanwhile, Morgoth (for so he is now called in all the histories of the Eldar) with Ungoliant came to the barren shoreland regions of Araman, and passed northwards through the mists of Oiomúrë, and passed over the Helcaraxë, the Grinding Ice, and so came back to the Outer Lands. Together they went on in haste, for Morgoth could not escape her, and all her eyes were upon him. But drawing nigh to the ''ruins'' of old Angband (the account given in The Silmarillion is that they were ruined and that Morgoth rebuilt them, but what was Sauron doing all this time!) he grew more hopeful, seeing his chance to escape her, and she, perceiving his mind, stayed him, demanding that he fulfill his promise to her.

''Blackheart!'' she cried (calling him ''Master'' no more), ''I have done your bidding. But I hunger still.''
''What wouldst thou have more?'' groaned Morgoth, ''Dost thou desire all the world for thy belly? I did not vow to give thee that. I am its Lord.''
''Not so much,'' said she, ''But there was a great treasury, of which you said naught to me, and would have said naught even now, if I had not watched you. I will have all that. Yea, with both hands you shall give it!''
''Thou hast had the half already,'' replied Morgoth. Indeed, for when she was with him during the sack of Formenos (against his will), he had let her devour somewhat of the treasury, so that she should not espy him at the chamber of iron where the Silmarils were kept. ''I hunger,'' she said though, ''I will have the other half!'' And so perforce, Morgoth surrendered to her the gems that he had in his possession, one by one, and she devoured them all, but she was unsated.
''With one hand you give,'' said Ungoliant, ''with the left only. Open your right hand!''

Now in his right hand Morgoth had the Silmarils, and although they were within a casket of crystal, they had begun to burn his hands with unbearable pain. ''Nay!'' said he, ''These things thou shalt not have, nor see. I name them unto myself for ever. Thou hast had already more than thy due. For with my power that I put into thee thy work was accomplished. I need thee no more. Go, filth! Gnaw thy lust in some hole far away, or I will put a fire in thy maw that shall burn thee for ever!''

But Ungoliant was unafraid, for she had grown monstrous and strong, and he was less because of the power that had gone forth from him, and she rose against him, and she cast upon him nets of thick and sticky web to strangle him. Then Morgoth cried aloud in anguish, and the cry of Morgoth in that hour was the greatest and most terrible that was ever heard; for the mountains shook, rocks were riven asunder, trees were split apart and the earth shook. Therefore that region (which was west of Ered Lómin and north of the Firth of Drengist) was afterwards named Lammoth, the Great Echo, for anyone who cried aloud in that region awoke those voices, and the plains between the mountains and the sea were filled with a terrible noise as of a multitude in anguish. That cry was heard all throughout Beleriand, and in Angband it was also heard. And arising from slumber, the Balrogs, those demons who first gathered about Melkor in the days of his primeval splendour, passed swiftly over Hithlum and came to Lammoth. Ungoliant trembled at their approach, and she turned to flight, belching forth black shadows to cover her, and with their whips of flame they pursued her into the Mountains of Shadow until Morgoth recalled them. Then, freeing their Master, they returned to Angband.

But Ungoliant went down into Beleriand, and would make in the direction of Doriath, but she was stayed by the power of Melian, and turning north she went to Ered Gorgoroth. In those dark valleys, she mated with other creatures of spider form, and devoured them, and she brought forth a hideous brood. Nothing is known of the fate of Ungoliant, but the Elves speculate that she ended long ago, when ''in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.''

Friday, 10 July 2009

Virgil and the Tome of St Leo...

This post is for Zephyrinus, following on from my previous post. I have decided to translate; Non equidem invideo, miror magis: undique totis usque adeo turbatur agris, as I begrudge not for my part, rather do I marvel: all the while the whole countryside is disturbed so much on all sides. It was easier, as my parish priest and I agreed, to translate agris as countryside instead of fields, as it could be a poetic device of some sort, and a plural noun cannot agree with a singular verb in any case. Phew! I am still on the first page, but I only have another page and a half to go before I finish the first Eclogue. I shall be glad of it when I finish, as three Classicists have told me that Virgil is especially hard! I think I shall post my completed translation of the first Eclogue when I am eventually done with it.

When I got bored doing it yesterday, I went to do some fun and easier stuff instead. And I was reading St Leo's famous Tomus ad Flavianum (in which he calls the heretic Eutyches an idiot!) which is some of the most beautiful Latin and christology I have ever read. The Tome was read out by the Pope's Legates at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Church, after which the Council Fathers (all of them) stood up and shouted: ''This is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo. So taught the Apostles. Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught Cyril [of Alexandria, the so-called ''yardstick of orthodoxy'' at the Council].'' Here is some of the Latin with my translation:

Nativitas carnis manifestatio est humanae naturae; partus Virginis divinae est virtutis indicium. Infantia parvuli ostenditur humilitate cunarum: magnitudo Altissimi declaratur vocibus Angelorum. Similis est rudimentis hominum, quem Herodes impie molitur occidere; sed Dominus est omnium quem Magi gaudent suppliciter adorare.

Which says:

The birth of the flesh is the manifestation of the human nature; the bringing forth of the Virgin is the indication of the Divine power. The little infant is shown in the humility of the cradle: the magnitude of the Most High is declared by the voices of the Angels. He is like the beginning [as in, innocence] of Men whom Herod strives impiously to kill; but He is the Lord of all whom the Magi rejoice humbly to adore.

Isn't it melodious? It would make a great Christmas present if I could get a copy of this letter in the original Latin - I have only seen an old edition of The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon in the Library, and in the office of my tutor before today (I have an English edition of these Acts, but as Reginald Foster once said ''you get a translation, you get nothing!'') and this Latin edition I found online. But alas, I must get on now with tedious academic stuff...

Sic Ecclesia Hobbitur ad astra!
The above image is of St Leo going to meet Attila the Hun outside Rome. He single-handedly dissuaded Attila from sacking Rome. When I told a friend of mine that story, she said (cynically) that he was paid off! Of course such an attitude won't do. It was a special power given him by God that did the job.

What happened next Part II...

Ungoliant's many eyes gloated upon the gems that Melkor had shown her, and he told her of his diabolical plan. But when all was told, she was torn between lust and great fear, for she feared the Valar even more than the hatred of Melkor. And so Melkor said to her: ''Do as I bid, and if thou art still hungry when all is done, then I will give thee whatsoever thy lust may demand. Yea, with both hands.'' Of course he lied, and had no intention of keeping the promise. Indeed he would deliver her to the Valar to escape himself if he were in peril of capture.

There are many conflicting accounts given of what happened next; the one in The Silmarillion is succinct and a tad boring, but since this is supposed to be a synopsis of those tales, I shall (now!) remain faithful to what they say. A cloak of darkess Ungoliant spun forth to conceal them, an Unlight which was void, and they left that cleft in the mountains besides the dark sea and they scaled Hyarmentir, the highest mountain in that region, and at last reached its summit. Then Melkor looked forth and his eyes passed over the beech woods of Oromë, the green fields of Yavanna, and eventually he beheld the city of Valmar and the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, the Gold and Silver. Then he laughed aloud, and leapt from that high place into the valleys below, and with Ungoliant he made northwards with great speed.

Meanwhile the Valar, Maiar and the Eldar of Tirion were upon the Holy Mountain within the Halls of Manwë and Varda, or upon the green slopes of the mountain, and they were singing and dancing and praising God, seeing no end to their mirth. It is said that even as Fëanor and Fingolfin were reconciled before the Throne of Manwë, Melkor and Ungoliant came hastening over the fields of Yavanna. And at last they came to the green mound Ezellohar, and Melkor sprang upon the mound. Then, he brandished his great black spear, and with it he pierced each Tree to it's core, and from the Trees there came forth sap, as it were their blood, and Ungoliant went from Tree to Tree and sucked them dry, and her poison went into the Trees and withered them, and they died. Meanwhile, Melkor went forth from the Trees and came to the places of his humiliation with vengeance, and he was back with triumph, Lord of Utumno, a monstrous misshapen spectre of Hate, and he defiled the Judgement seat of Manwë, and he threw down the thrones of the Valar, and he cursed the Ring of Doom. Then, whilst Ungoliant drained the Wells of Varda, he escaped in secret, making for Formenos, but she espied him and came after him in the growing darkness, and Melkor was aghast, for she had swollen to a shape so monstrous that he was afraid; but he could not contend with her, even if time allowed, without aid.

Thus the land of Valinor foundered in the Unlight, indeed the Blessed Realm now shared in the darkness of the World. The Silmarillion has this to say of what followed:

''So the great darkness fell upon Valinor. Of the deeds of that day much is told in the Aldudénië, that Elemmírë of the Vanyar made and is known to all the Eldar. Yet no song or tale could contain all the grief and terror that then befell. The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing with a being of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.

''Varda looked down from Taniquetil, and beheld the Shadow soaring up in sudden towers of gloom; Valmar had foundered in a deep sea of night. Soon the Holy Mountain stood alone, a last island in a world that was drowned. All song ceased. There was silence in Valinor, and no sound could be heard, save only from afar there came on the wind through the pass of the mountains the wailing of the Teleri like the cold cry of gulls. For it blew chill from the East in that hour, and the vast shadows of the sea were rolled against the walls of the shore.''

Then Manwë looked north and east from his lofty halls over the Sea and he saw the Unlight hastening, and he knew that Melkor had come and gone. But the pursuit was unavailing. Melkor had come and gone, and his vengeance was achieved.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Stuck again...

I have been wading through Virgil today. Wading is such an astute word for this sense of literary and linguistic struggle; for it feels very much like wading into the sea in, say, a coracle, and struggling against the tides and the strong current with such determination, overcoming one wave (one sentence, or even just a clause!), fine; now comes the next one, bigger and more potent; great, that one is safely behind, and then I look up at this insurmountable wave coming at me with impetuous and unswerving force, and I flounder...eheu! The description of Gandalf given by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings when faced by the onset of the Balrog reminds me of this too: ''...he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter V, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm).

In this case it is this sentence: Non equidem invideo, miror magis: undique totis usque adeo turbatur agris. I have translated the first part easily: I begrudge not for my part, rather do I marvel. But the next part is gnawing away at my patience like a canker. Whenever I translate a difficult work, I go through the dictionary (if at University, the Lewis & Short, if at home, my cheaper, but less worthy Oxford edition) and look up every single word (even if I know them) to get every single possible meaning of the word. I then check the case endings, whether it is singular, plural, a deponent verb, in the subjunctive, indicative or whatever, and I then write out the sentence again, and try my best to string together a comprehensible sentence. This is how I did Cicero and St Bede, and this is now how I am doing Virgil. But as I say, it is frustrating; because I am not sure about ''turbatur'' and ''agris.'' Turbatur means ''it is disturbed,'' or ''confused;'' it is a passive verb in the third person singular; whereas ''agris'' means ''fields,'' being a plural noun in the dative or ablative. Now, turbatur is the only verb in the clause (adeo could be a verb, but I am not sure, the dictionary has two entries, one of them a verb, the other an adverb - it's probably an adverb) and it is in the singular; agris is in the plural - how then does turbatur agree with agris?

By the time I have any comments on this (presuming that I get comments) I shall probably have translated it already! I am so tempted to look at an English translation (I do have one) - what is disadvantageous about that, though, is that it all looks so simple afterwards!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

What happened next Part I...

The Valar sat long in thought upon their thrones in the Máhanaxar (the Ring of Doom), when at last the messengers from Finwë arrived. Upon hearing the news that Melkor had departed beyond their sight and vigilance, the Valar ordered the defences along the Mountains of the Pelóri to be redoubled, and the pursuit sent out. But their pursuit was in vain, as shall be seen later...

Now, since the departure of Melkor, Manwë had desired to heal the divisions among the Princes of the House of Finwë, and so he ordained a great feast, greater than any that had been held since the coming of the Eldar to Aman. Thither came all the Valar, the Vanyar, the Noldor of Tirion, and the Maiar were gathered together in splendour. Alone among the Eldar Fëanor was commanded to come, but he left the Silmarils at Formenos, and before the Throne of Manwë he was reconciled (in word) with Fingolfin. And to all it seemed good.

But Melkor, escaping the pursuit of the Valar, came to the wastes of Avathar. For even before the pursuit was begun, he had turned south and hastened along the eastern shores of the Blessed Realm, cold and uncharted lands the further south one goes. And the Valar heard no rumour of his passing beyond the Mountains, for he was as yet still Vala and could walk unclad (though with pain) but this power he was about to loose forever. And coming to a dark and narrow ravine far south of great Taniquetil, he called upon Ungoliant; and he assumed then the form that of old he had worn in Utumno, that of a Dark Lord tall and terrible. In that form he remained ever after.

Now Ungoliant, I must explain, was one of the foul creatures (probably fallen Maiar in origin, although even this is uncertain - I expect that like Tom Bombadil, she is an anomaly) of Melkor, who had been drawn to the primeval splendour and power of the Dark Lord when first he looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Arda. But at some point (no one knows) she had disowned her master, and fled from the terrible battles in the North and came to the far South of the World. From there she crept towards the light of the Blessed Realm, for she hungered for Light and hated it. There, she assumed the form of a monstrous Spider, and spun forth vast webs in the gloaming, and she sucked up all Light until no more came to her, and she was famished, for all living things had fled far away. And Melkor came to her, for he knew of her whereabouts, and she, seeing his coming, was filled with great fear, knowing his hatred for all who forsook him. ''Come forth!'' he cried, but she did not answer and wove about herself thick shadows. Then in wrath (and indeed fear, for he was in dire peril of capture) his eyes pierced through her shadows (for who could confound the dread lord of Hell with shadows?) he sought her out crying: ''Thrice fool: to leave me first, to dwell here languishing within reach of feasts untold, and now to shun me, Giver of Gifts, thy only hope!'' And Melkor offered her gems that he had stolen from Valinor in earnest of his diabolical plan. And she, filled with lust for the jewels, came forth saying: ''What is your bidding Master?''

The above image is by John Howe, a Tolkien artist, and depicts the coming forth of Ungoliant. It isn't quite as I imagine it (in fact it's nothing as I imagine it!) but its the only image to liven up the post which doesn't give away what happens next! I imagine that Melkor was much bigger for a start...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Silmarils

I expect that many of you have been wondering what ''silmarillion'' means. Well, we come now to that moment in the history of the Eldar which marks the highest achievement of all their arts and lore. For Fëanor bethought him of how he might preserve unsullied the blended Light of the Two Trees of Valinor forever, and he began a secret labour - calling upon all his subtlety of skill, his lore, his extraordinary gifts, and his power, and at last he made the Silmarils, the three ''perfect jewels.'' Tolkien describes them thus:

''Like the crystal of diamonds it [the substance of which they were made] appeared, and yet was more strong than adamant, so that no violence could mar it or break it within the Kingdom of Arda. Yet that crystal was to the Silmarils but as is the body to the Children of Ilúvatar: the house of its inner fire, that is within it and yet in all parts of it, and is its life. And the inner fire of the Silmarils Fëanor made of the blended light of the Trees of Valinor, which lives in them yet...Therefore even in the darkness of the deepest treasury the Silmarils of their own radiance shone like the stars of Varda; and yet, as were they indeed living things, they rejoiced in light and received it and gave it back in hues more marvellous than before.'' (The Silmarillion, Chapter VII).

All in Valinor, Valar, Maiar and Eldar alike, were filled with wonder at this most marvellous work of Fëanor, and Varda hallowed the jewels so that thereafter, nothing evil could touch them; and Mandos foretold that the destiny of Arda, earth, wind and sea, lay locked in the jewels. But Melkor was filled with a fierce lust for the Silmarils, and the very memory of their light was a torment; and therefore he sought in his inner counsels how he might kill Fëanor, destroy the House of Finwë, ruin the Blessed Realm and permanently estrange the Eldar from the Valar. And so with cunning, lies and evil whisperings, Melkor poisoned the peace of Valinor. He would walk among the Eldar, conjuring visions in their minds of the vast realms that they might otherwise have ruled in the Outer Lands, had the Valar not brought them to the narrow land of Valinor. Oft would those that hearkened to his words recall afterwards that the ideas arose fresh and original in their own minds. Melkor told them that the Valar had brought them to Valinor because they feared the Eldar, saying that had they been left in Middle-earth to themselves, the beauty and power of the Quendi would have been too much for them to govern.

In those days the Elves first heard of the Coming of Men. The Valar had told them nothing of the designs of God in this matter, and Melkor used this to his advantage, saying that the silent Valar would have the Elves supplanted of their just-deserves in Middle-earth. Melkor himself knew little of Men, for he was so engrossed in his own obscenities in the Great Music that he gave small heed to the Third Theme of God.

And so, the peace of Valinor was ruined, even before the Valar were aware. The Noldor, those Elves who gave especial heed to Melkor (profitting much from his counsel), indeed began to murmur against them. Fiercest burned the pride of the elder sons of Finwë, Fëanor and Fingolfin, being both jealous of eachothers' rights and honours. Fëanor indeed began the forging of vast armories, and first spoke out openly against the Valar, saying that he would depart from Valinor and deliver the Noldor from thraldom. There was unrest in Tirion, and breaking in upon the King's council, Fëanor drew his sword upon Fingolfin, and Fëanor was brought to the judgement of the Valar. Many were brought to that judgement, and speaking before Mandos, the Noldor told of all that they knew, and at last the root was laid bare and the malice of Melkor was revealed, and straight away Tulkas went to seize him. But since Fëanor had threatened his brother in the courts of the King, he was exiled, and with him went his Seven Sons, and Finwë the High King.

Now Melkor, knowing that he was at last revealed, hid himself and fled invisibly from place to place, until at last he came to Formenos, the fortress built by Fëanor in the north of Valinor, and he came to the doors and spoke long with him. Ever he urged Fëanor to his former thought of flight from the West, and he exerted the fullness of his cunning upon him. But his cunning overeached his aim, and he said: ''Here is a strong place, and well guarded; but think not that the Silmarils will lie safe in any treasury within the realm of the Valar!'' And Fëanor, his mind free at last, perceived Melkor's desire for the Silmarils, and he cursed Melkor saying: ''Get thee gone from my gate thou gangrel, jail-crow of Mandos!'' and he shut the doors of his house in the face of Melkor. And Melkor departed in shame, though in great wrath, for he was in danger. And Finwë was filled with dread, and sent messengers to Manwë on Taniquetil.

But Melkor departed from Valinor and went whither he would, before the Valar were prepared...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor...

We come now to that era in Valinor called in The Silmarillion the ''Noontide'' of it's ancient glory. For Melkor is yet captive in the duress of Mandos, the Eldar are content (the Vanyar have long since removed from Tirion, and Ingwë sits now at the feet of Manwë on Taniquetil) and all is well. In that time was born in Eldamar the greatest of all the Eldar in arts and lore; the son of Finwë and Míriel Serindë, Curufinwë, who would be ever remembered in the songs of the Eldar as Fëanor, the Spirit of Fire (for so he was called by his Mother). But in the bearing of her mighty son Míriel languished and yearned for release from the labour of living. And so, since they were then in their youth (in the long years of the Eldar), and they were in the land of the Valar, Míriel was taken into the care of the Vala Irmo in Lórien, and there she laid down to sleep. But she died indeed, first and only of the Eldar to have done so, and her spirit passed in silence to the Halls of Mandos; but her body was tended by the maidens of Estë, and it did not rot. And oft would Finwë sit beside the body of his wife, and call her by her many names; after a time, though, he went to Lórien no more.

And so Finwë devoted thence forth all his love and attention upon Fëanor his son; and Fëanor grew to become masterful and wise. In his youth, he surpassed the lore of Rúmil, and devised fairer characters for the recording of speech (these would afterwards be used by all the Eldar). He it was who first discovered the art of making gems greater and more beautiful than those of the earth with skill. I expect that at this time, he forged the famous Palantíri - the lost Seeing Stones (those of you who have seen The Lord of the Rings film ''trilogy'' will perhaps remember that Saruman used one of these - incidentally, this is the first time I have mentioned those films). At this time also, he wedded Nerdanel, the daughter of Mahtan the Smith (who taught much to Fëanor) who bore to him his Seven Sons.

It came to pass that Finwë, seeing no hope of the return of his wife, married a second time - this time to Indis of the Vanyar. The theological complexities of this seem to be trivialized by the succinct account given in The Silmarillion, but Tolkien remedies this with a series of very long and highly interesting essays in The History of Middle-earth called ''Laws and Customs among the Elder'' - or in full:

''Of the Laws and Customs among the Eldar pertaining to Marriage and other matters relating thereto: Together with the Statute of Finwë and Míriel and the debate of the Valar at its making.''

It makes fascinating reading, particularly the stuff about the unnatural separation of hröa and fëa (body and soul - in this case, that of Míriel). Since this is a Synopsis, I shan't go into great detail - one quote from Laws and Customs may suffice: ''Permanent marriage was in accordance with elvish nature, and they never had need of any law to teach this or to enforce it...''

Understandably, Fëanor was ill-pleased with the wedding of his father, but all loved Indis, in all ways unlike Míriel, for she was tall and fair, golden-haired as are all the Vanyar, and close kin of Ingwë the High King. Fëanor had no love for Indis, nor for her sons Fingolfin and Finarfin, but remained apart from them, and devoted his time to the increase of his arts and lore in subtlety and greatness.

But, it came to pass that Melkor had completed the term of his bondage in the duress of Mandos and he was brought before the feet of the Valar. Then, looking upon their glory and splendour, and looking upon the Eldar of the Blessed Realm, and all their fair works and jewels and hatred and envy filled him, and he lusted after all that he saw (it was ever his intent to corrupt or destroy anything that did not derive solely from his mind - which is why it was his sole ultimate object to completely destroy the World, because he had not himself made it, and it was filled, or corrupted, as he saw it, with the thoughts of others. Even the miserable Orcs, when they had served his purpose, would have been destroyed by him, because they were not in origin of him). But he dissembled his thoughts and abased himself and begged to become the least of the free peoples of Valinor, and he vowed to aid the Valar in their labours to heal the hurts that he had done to the World. The Vala Nienna aided his prayer, but Mandos, the Doomsman of the Valar who knows all fates, remained silent.

And so it was done. Melkor was released, but some (and among them Ulmo and Tulkas were the chiefs) thought it clemency to peril. Melkor was at first constrained to remain within the gates of Valmar, for the Valar would not yet suffer him to depart beyond their Realm, but this soon changed. For fair-seeming and wise were then all the words and deeds of Melkor, and Valar and Eldar alike had much profit of his counsel, if they sought it. And the form that he took was very beautiful, so much so that he was given leave to go freely about all the land of the Valar.Melkor hated the Eldar most of all, because in them he saw the reason for his downfall; and therefore all the more did he feign benevolence towards them, and he aided them in any great work that they began (if they sought it). In his lust and envy, Melkor declared afterwards that Fëanor had been instructed by him in the greatest of all his works; but he lied in this, for of all the Eldar, Fëanor hated Melkor most of all, and he took the counsel of none - except, for a little while, that of Nerdanel his wife, but they were afterwards estranged.

Alas, there are no decent Tolkien paintings for this post.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Another day in London...

Forgive the lack of recent posts, but I have been quite busy since Tuesday. I was at the University again this afternoon, for yet more meetings and yet more work. Now I have to review of an article that was published in The Tablet (that anti-Catholic periodical that should be burned by any respectable Catholic - I did in fact handle a copy out of curiosity this evening, but promptly went to cleanse my hands with holy water afterwards!) some years ago - a lecture in fact by a certain Jacques Dupuis on Inter-religious dialogue. I am in two minds as to whether or not I ought to approach it in truth, from a traditional Catholic perspective; or to dissemble my opinion of the article (and the subject in question) with contrary sentiments (done in order to gain better marks). The only difficulty with such an approach though is that it would obviously be spurious. I could well imagine the tutor reading it and thinking: ''he doesn't believe a word of this!'' But, if I were to obviously disparage the article as entirely meaningless, I would have to produce a review that was so cogent, so succinct and well-argued that I fear that I am less than capable - precisely because I have no interest in Inter-religious dialogue (a topic that the article says is very ''critical'' these days)...

I did, however, spend the afternoon in more worthier pursuits. I translated another ten lines from Virgil's Eclogues in the 30 minutes that I allowed myself. Earlier, I had I bumped into my Latin teacher in the corridor, and she told me briefly about the etymology of the word ''eclogue'' and mentioned a few 18th-19th century commentaries on Virgil. I gave her the copy that I was working from, and she promptly turned to Eclogue IV (the so-called Messianic prophecy), which she told me about. I told her of the rather scathing Introduction given by the editor, and she that it was nonsense. Indeed it was. I don't see how he, as an editor, has any right to unload his nonsense here...

After all that research, I decided that enough was enough and I got the Central Line along to Chancery Lane where I disembarked and walked to St Etheldreda's, Ely Place, known chiefly as the ''oldest'' Catholic church in the country (it is not actually, most of our ancestral churches are ''borrowed'' - to put it nicely - by our separated ''brethren'' the Anglicans). I spent a good deal of time contemplating Virgil, and the rather splendid East window of the Chancel (also the rather crude statues that lined the walls of the church, and the Altar itself which was rather plain). Mass over, I went to join my parish MC (and two of the Servers of the Mass, one of whom is part of an excellent Schola) outside. After exchanging pleasantries, we went to the pub (The Mitre), which was rather nice. As it was Friday, the place got rather packed, but the conversation was good and interesting. It was in fact the MC's idea that I blog about today. I am not certain as to whether or not people find my posts about ''days out'' interesting - they appear, with hindsight, to be almost identical - involving research in the Library, going to various Masses, and then doing something else.

One of the highlights of today, however, was reading on a notice board that a friend of mine got a First Class Honours for his degree, so congratulations to him. He did, however, start his degree the same year that I did...I wonder if I can get a First? I am certainly more than capable (at least according to friends and well-wishers). The only difficulty lies in the fact that I am not so interested in Theology as to enjoy absolutely everything! My chief interests are Latin, Liturgy (liturgical theology, history and rubrics), Church history and that's just about it! It was more or less expected of me to do a degree - the idea was (on my mother's part) that ''oh, you're good at 'religion,' why not do a degree in it?'' - and that was that. I wanted to go to Oxford, but I couldn't. I cannot leave home (as yet). Perhaps to do my Masters and D.Phil...

I have so much to do over the Summer that I fear that my blog may be side-lined. I shall certainly not give it up (yet) but maybe the longer posts can wait until I have a time of leisure in some far-distant day. The agenda for the Summer is: write the review, write another essay, write another essay (or two, I can't quite remember how many are outstanding), and revise for two exams. I also plan to have Virgil's Eclogues translated in entirety by September too, so I have quite a lot to be getting on with. I only pray God that I don't collapse under the strain of it all...My next post, which I have been preparing (among other engagements) since Tuesday, shall be devoted to The Silmarillion.

Happy Feast of St Leo II, within the Octave of Sts Peter & Paul, by the way...I mean St Irenaeus minus the Octave!