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On the Society for the Glorification of Savonarola, Scotch Freemasons, and Lawrence Stone.


❖ A friend of the magazine wrote after learning in a survey that the most patronized charity in his city, which had recently suffered a natural disaster, was a dog shelter: “At a certain point, I don’t understand engaging with the modern world. Two-tiered Thomism is too nice. It’s one tier too many.”

❖ We were recently made aware of something called the Society for the Glorification of Savonarola. This pious association, which as far as we are aware still awaits ecclesiastical approbation, is dedicated to the fifteenth-century friar, whom they consider a worthy candidate for canonization. From their website:

We are a Catholic devotional society whose aim is to provide education about the much maligned Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola and to work towards his Beatification and eventual Canonisation by the Catholic church. We will be providing devotional texts, prayers, and other devotional material about the great friar as well as organising many events (liturgical and non-liturgical) to further both his cause and a wider knowledge about Savonarola! We are so glad that you have chosen to join us in this holy and godly venture and we pray that God may bless it fervently. Savonarola, pray for us!

This is not as strange as it might appear. In 1583 the future Pope Leo XI complained that Dominicans were reciting the office of a martyr in honor of Savonarola and preserving his relics. Saint Philip Neri kept his portrait, and he was nearly declared a saint by Pope Clement VIII. Since then the Order of Preachers has affirmed its pursuit of his cause in countless general chapters. Our own view is best summarized by a follower of Saint Philip:

A true son of Saint Dominic, in energy, in severity of life, in contempt of merely secular learning, a forerunner of the Dominican Saint Pius in boldness, in resoluteness, in zeal for the honour of the House of God, and for the restoration of holy discipline, Savonarola felt “his spirit stirred up within him,” like another Paul, when he came to that beautiful home of genius and philosophy; for he found Florence, like another Athens, “wholly given to idolatry.” He groaned within him, and was troubled, and refused consolation, when he beheld a Christian court and people priding itself on its material greatness, its intellectual gifts, and its social refinement, while it abandoned itself to luxury, to feast and song and revel, to fine shows and splendid apparel, to an impure poetry, to a depraved and sensual character of art, to heathen speculations, and to forbidden, superstitious practices. His vehement spirit could not be restrained, and got the better of him, and—unlike the Apostle, whose prudence, gentleness, love of his kind, and human accomplishments are nowhere more happily shown than in his speech to the Athenians—he burst forth into a whirlwind of indignation and invective against all that he found in Florence, and condemned the whole established system, and all who took part of it, high and low, prince or prelate, ecclesiastic or layman, with a pitiless rigour. ... Such bold language effected for the moment a revolution rather than a reform. The eloquent preacher became the political partisan.

❖ In a previous issue we drew our readers’ attention to a biography of Sister Mary Wilhelmina, foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. As we were preparing this issue for the press, we learned that these sisters were attacked on several occasions during Lent. Please visit their website,, and consider donating to their worthy appeal for funds.

❖ The Times reported recently that Scotch Freemasons have been accused of “plundering” the lockdown relief funds provided by the British government. The Lodge’s Grandmaster himself has insisted that the money could be used for “run-of-the-mill expenses.”

❖ We would like once again to thank the Institute for Human Ecology for helping us to train the next generation of orthodox Catholic journalists by supporting our summer internship program.

❖ We can’t leave out a story. Here is “The Rat’s Daughter,” from Lang’s Brown Fairy Book:

Once upon a time there lived in Japan a rat and his wife who came of an old and noble race, and had one daughter, the loveliest girl in all the rat world. Her parents were very proud of her, and spared no pains to teach her all she ought to know. There was not another young lady in the whole town who was as clever as she was in gnawing through the hardest wood, or who could drop from such a height onto a bed, or run away so fast if anyone was heard coming. Great attention, too, was paid to her personal appearance, and her skin shone like satin, while her teeth were as white as pearls, and beautifully pointed.

Of course, with all these advantages, her parents expected her to make a brilliant marriage, and, as she grew up, they began to look round for a suitable husband.

But here a difficulty arose. The father was a rat from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, outside as well as in, and desired that his daughter should wed among her own people. She had no lack of lovers, but her father’s secret hopes rested on a fine young rat, with moustaches which almost swept the ground, whose family was still nobler and more ancient than his own. Unluckily, the mother had other views for her precious child. She was one of those people who always despise their own family and surroundings, and take pleasure in thinking that they themselves are made of finer material than the rest of the world. Her daughter should never marry a mere rat, she declared, holding her head high. With her beauty and talents she had a right to look for someone a little better than that.

So she talked, as mothers will, to anyone that would listen to her. What the girl thought about the matter nobody knew or cared—it was not the fashion in the rat world.

Many were the quarrels which the old rat and his wife had upon the subject, and sometimes they bore on their faces certain marks which looked as if they had not kept to words only.

“Reach up to the stars is my motto,” cried the lady one day, when she was in a greater passion than usual. “My daughter’s beauty places her higher than anything upon earth,” she cried; “and I am certainly not going to accept a son-in-law who is beneath her.”

“Better offer her in marriage to the sun,” answered her husband impatiently. “As far as I know there is nothing greater than he.”

“Well, I was thinking of it,” replied the wife, “and as you are of the same mind, we will pay him a visit to-morrow.”

So the next morning, the two rats, having spent hours in making themselves smart, set out to see the sun, leading their daughter between them.

The journey took some time, but at length they came to the golden palace where the sun lived.

“Noble king,” began the mother, “behold our daughter! She is so beautiful that she is above everything in the whole world. Naturally, we wish for a son-in-law who, on his side, is greater than all. Therefore we have come to you.”

“I feel very much flattered,” replied the sun, who was so busy that he had not the least wish to marry anybody. “You do me great honor by your proposal. Only, in one point you are mistaken, and it would be wrong of me to take advantage of your ignorance. There is something greater than I am, and that is the cloud. Look!” And as he spoke a cloud spread itself over the sun’s face, blotting out his rays.

“Oh, well, we will speak to the cloud,” said the mother. And turning to the cloud she repeated her proposal.

“Indeed I am unworthy of anything so charming,” answered the cloud; “but you make a mistake again in what you say. There is one thing that is even more powerful than I, and that is the wind. Ah, here he comes, you can see for yourself.”

And she did see, for catching up the cloud as he passed, he threw it on the other side of the sky. Then, tumbling father, mother, and daughter down to the earth again, he paused for a moment beside them, his foot on an old wall.

When she had recovered her breath, the mother began her little speech once more.

“The wall is the proper husband for your daughter,” answered the wind, whose home consisted of a cave, which he only visited when he was not rushing about elsewhere; “you can see for yourself that he is greater than I, for he has power to stop me in my flight.” And the mother, who did not trouble to conceal her wishes, turned at once to the wall.

Then something happened which was quite unexpected by everyone.

“I won’t marry that ugly old wall, which is as old as my grandfather,” sobbed the girl, who had not uttered one word all this time. “I would have married the sun, or the cloud, or the wind, because it was my duty, although I love the handsome young rat, and him only. But that horrid old wall—I would sooner die!”

And the wall, rather hurt in his feelings, declared that he had no claim to be the husband of so beautiful a girl.

“It is quite true,” he said, “that I can stop the wind who can part the clouds who can cover the sun; but there is someone who can do more than all these, and that is the rat. It is the rat who passes through me, and can reduce me to powder, simply with his teeth. If, therefore, you want a son-in-law who is greater than the whole world, seek him among the rats.”

“Ah, what did I tell you?” cried the father. And his wife, though for the moment angry at being beaten, soon thought that a rat son-in-law was what she had always desired.

So all three returned happily home, and the wedding was celebrated three days after.

❖ The mail-order catalogs and subscription services of yesteryear sold Sea-Monkeys to children and cassette tapes to music fans; today, with something called the “masculine identity” in America (whether it was ever real or just a nostalgic figment of the mid-century imagination) in mind, they sell themed “subscription boxes” to grown men. You may have seen advertisements for them: for a monthly fee, you receive a box stuffed with miniature hatchets, cigars, gadgets for cooking bacon in whimsical ways, household items reproduced in leather or dark wood, whiskey, beard grooming products, or whatever else the company managed to get a bulk discount on that month. What interests us is the “manly” quality that these items are presumed, as if it were only so obvious, to possess: the American man, reduced to his consumptibles, fitted into a U.P.S. package, twelve times per year.

❖ An overlooked aspect of the life of Saint Anselm, whose feast this issue commemorates, is explained by Dom Prosper Guéranger:

As bishop, his whole life was spent in fighting for the liberty of the Church. Though gentle as a lamb by nature, he was all energy for this great cause. He used to say: “Christ would not have his Spouse be a slave; there is nothing in this world that God loves more than the liberty of his Church.” There was a time when the Son of God allowed himself to be fettered with bonds in order that he might loosen us from the chains of our sins; but now that he has risen in triumph from the dead, he wills that his Spouse should be, like himself, free. She cannot otherwise exercise the ministry of salvation confided to her by her divine Lord; and yet there is scarcely a single hundred years of her existence in which she has not had to fight for this holy liberty. The rulers of this earth, with very few exceptions, have ever been jealous of her influence, and have sought to lessen it by every possible means. In our own times there are numbers of her children who do not even know that she has any rights or privileges; they would be at a loss to understand you, if you told them that she is the Spouse of Christ, and therefore a queen; they think it quite enough of her, if she enjoy the same amount of freedom and toleration as the sects she condemns; and they cannot see how, under such conditions as these, the Church is not the kingdom he wished her to be, but a mere slave. St. Anselm would have abominated all such theories as these; so does every true Catholic. He is not driven into disloyalty to the Church by the high-sounding words progress and modern society; he knows that there is nothing on earth equal to the Church; and when he sees the world convulsed by revolutions, he knows that all comes from the Church having been deprived of her rights. One of these is that she should not only be recognized, in the secret of our conscience, as the one only true Church, but that, as such, she should be publicly confessed and outwardly defended against every opposition or error. Jesus, her divine Founder, promised to give her all nations as her inheritance; he kept his promise, and she was once the Queen and Mother of them all. But nowadays, a new principle has been asserted, to the effect that the Church and all sects must be on an equal footing as far as the protection of the State goes. The principle has been received with acclamation, and hailed as a mighty progress achieved by modern enlightenment: even Catholics, whose previous services to religion had endeared them to our hearts and gained our confidence, have become warm defenders of the impious theory.

❖ In a review of A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman’s painfully bad history of the fourteenth century, Lawrence Stone wrote:

Why has this student of the modern world suddenly decided to throw herself into the fourteenth century? She explains in the preface that she regards it as a period not dissimilar in character to our own: “After the experiences of the terrible twentieth century, we have greater fellow-feeling for a distraught age whose rules were breaking down under the pressure of adverse and violent events. We recognize with a painful twinge the marks of “a period of anguish when there is no sense of an assured future.”

The premises behind this proposition deserve some scrutiny.

In the first place, it is very doubtful whether contemporary perceptions of the two periods are comparable. Today, although things seem to be drifting out of control, we know that we possess the technical knowledge, administrative skills, and financial resources to put most of them right. What we lack is the will and the wisdom to mobilize ourselves without becoming slaves to our technology or bureaucracy. The fourteenth century had no such grounds for optimism since they did indeed lack the knowledge or resources to control their destiny; instead they looked (in vain) to God to provide the solution. We know what to do, whereas fourteenth-century man did not, which makes a profound difference, even if in practice we both turn out to be equally ineffective. If it is perception that we wish to compare, and the quotation just referred to certainly suggests that it is, then the two centuries do not bear much relation to each other.

It is typical of Stone to get things exactly backwards regarding both the fourteenth century and his own.

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