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Thoughts, musings, odds and ends.


❖ Just as this issue was being prepared for the printer, a friend passed along a comment from a writer for whom we have a great deal of respect. The author, whom we will not name, accused us of “making lemonade of [Pope] Francis’s lemons” (e.g., by daring to quote the only papal encyclical ever inspired by the writings of Martin Heidegger) and of “giving him the benefit of the doubt.” Furthermore, we were found guilty of being “effete” and of wanting to “sip tea and nibble on crumpets” during a doctrinal and liturgical crisis. In a word, he called us dilettantes.

We would not bother passing this along—all magazines get their share of hate mail, and this did not even rise to that level of enmity—if it were not for the fact that one reader felt we had been publishing too much of the sort of thing that the previous correspondent had found sorely lacking in these pages: “Get over the motu proprio,” one reader complained in the free-for-all section of our email newsletter. “You are just proving why Francis had to do T.C.,” said another.

This admixture has been typical of responses to the magazine. Some think that we are too progressive, too concerned with “woke” racial politics or the alarming (and alarmingly predictable) consequences of COVID lockdowns; for others we are worryingly reactionary and a threat to the ancient liberties of all free-born English speakers, Maistrean fossils or else harbingers of a new fideistic politics of the divine right of acting assistant deputy secretaries.

Some of these things could be true. It is just about possible, for example, that The Lamp is a horrifying new right-wing totalitarian project devoted to soft-pedaling the latest Bergoglian antinomies with articles about dead Anglican conductors or that we are a bunch of squishy antinomian leftists who hold painfully rigid views on the sacred liturgy that we express with articles about the joy of watching football in suburban chain restaurants. But to suggest that we are simultaneously too far to the right and the left, too deferential to authority and too eager to decry its abuse, too committed to an exalted view of the Church hierarchy and too eager to put ourselves at odds with it over liturgical questions seems to us not a bridge too far but a bridge to nowhere.

That said, we think we can understand the source of the confusion. As far as we can tell, it is that we are doing what we said we would in our first issue: trying to put aside factional considerations in order to think through difficult questions with the mind of the Church. Harold Wilson famously said that a week is a long time in politics. Some would no doubt argue that the same is true of ecclesiastical affairs, but we happen to think that since the Church measures her progress in centuries, not weeks or months, if this venture was worthwhile a year and a half ago, it remains so today. Which is why we intend to continue applying the Magisterium, the natural law, and such wit, urbanity, and good humor as we are capable of mustering to the problems of modern life, and doing so remarkably without regard for any established secular consensus. This doesn’t mean that we are going to pretend to a studied but ultimately false disinterestedness about Church politics, but it does mean that we are not a traditionalist gossip blog, that we do not publish rants, and that we will continue to resist the dictatorship of noise even on those rare occasions when some of it is music to our ears.

❖ “It’s not a thousand twinkling lights that makes the holidays special—it’s you.” We watch a lot of sports broadcasts during the early months of winter—who could pass up the Real.Com Boca Raton Bowl?—but this spot for Home Depot made us turn off the already overlong Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony. It was almost as bad as “Happy Honda Days!”

❖ Only nine young men in Ireland entered upon seminary studies this past fall. And in the entire country, which hosts some of the largest seminaries in Europe, there are only sixty-four currently discerning the priesthood. The Diocesan Priests Council in Ireland expects that by 2030 the number of priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin alone will drop by seventy percent. By that time, more than seventy-five percent of Ireland’s priests will be older than sixty. But 2021 was not the most disappointing year for Irish clerical matriculations: in 2017, just six men entered the seminary, a two hundred twenty-two-year low. Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, chair of the Bishops’ Council for Vocations, seemed to recognize the marked improvement. “God the all-powerful is always with us,” he said. “These formation figures released today offer us a sign of hope.”

❖ A Vatican commission has concluded that no certified miracles have ever occurred at Međugorje. The investigation, which began under the guidance of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, examined nearly five hundred healings attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary after her alleged appearances at the sanctuary in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The commission found that only ten of these incidents qualified for examination by medical experts at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Those experts determined that none of the ten defied scientific explanation. The Vatican report, which has not yet been made public, was leaked by an Italian journalist in January. Its conclusions come several years after a bishop in a neighboring diocese told Vatican officials that he does not believe that the Marian apparitions, which have been frequently reported since 1981, are in any way “credible.”

❖ While no one would rate him highly among the English prose stylists of the seventeenth century, Hobbes was rightly praised by Hugh Trevor-Roper for drawing upon “that wonderful, rich vocabulary of the early seventeenth century, the vocabulary of Milton and Donne and Sir Thomas Browne” in order to produce “a book which is as striking in its singleness of purpose, its defiant language, its inspired iconoclasm (and sometimes its dullness), as the poem of Lucretius.” We find a similar quality—hard, lucid, nominalistic, rational, agreeable, and, ultimately, absurd—in many of the Puritan divines. Consider for example (we cannot resist giving its full title) The Blemish of Government, the Shame of Religion, the Disgrace of Mankind; or, a Charge drawn up against Drunkards, and presented to his Highness the Lord PROTECTOR, in the name of all the Sober Party in the three Nations. Humbly craving, that they may be kept alone by themselves from infecting others; compelled to work and earn what they consume: And that none may be suffered to sell Drink, who shall either Swear, or be Drunk themselves, or suffer Others within their Wals:

That it were endless to repeat their vain-babling, scurrilous jesting, wicked talking, impious swearing and cursing: that when the drink hath once bit them, and set their tongues at liberty, their hearts come up as easily as some of their drink; yea, their limitless tongues do then clatter like so many windows loose in the wind, and you may assoon perswade a stone to speak, as them to be silent; it faring with their clappers, as with a sick mans pulse, which alwaies beats, but ever out of order. That one Drunkard hath tongue enough for twenty men; for let but three of them be in a room, they will make a noise, as if all the thirty bels in Antwerp steeple were rung at once: or do but pass by the door, you would think your self in the Land of Parrats.That it is the property of a Drunkard to disgorge his bosom with his stomack, to empty his mind with his maw: His tongue resembles Bacchus his Liber pater, and goes like the sayl of a Wind-mill: For as a great gale of wind whirleth the sayls about, so abundance of drink whirleth his tongue about, and keeps it in continual motion. Now he rayls, now he scoffs, now he lies, now he slanders, now he seduces, talks baudy, swears, bans, foams, and cannot be quiet, till his tongue be wormed. So that from the beginning to the end, he belcheth forth nothing, but what is as far from truth, piety, reason, modesty as that the Moon came down from Heaven to visit Mahomet: As oh! The beastliness which burns in their unchaste and impure minds, that smokes out at their polluted mouths! A man would think, that even the Devil himself should blush, to hear his child so talk. How doth his mouth run over with falshoods against both Magistrates, Ministers and Christians: what speaks he less than whoredoms, adulteries, incests at every word? yea, hear two or three of them talk, you would change the Lycaonians language, and say, Devils are come up in the likeness of men.

❖ Pope Francis recently made a rather uncontroversial observation. When people don’t have children, dogs and cats fill that role. “Yes, it’s funny,” he said. “But it is the reality, and this denial of fatherhood and motherhood diminishes us and takes away our humanity.” Francis has been making similar points for years. Once, he told an Italian journalist that the amount of money people spend each year on pet food is a “phenomenon of cultural degradation.” More recently, he criticized the young people who pamper their “purse dogs” as if they were babies. When an animal is treated in this way, Francis said, it becomes “a slave of the owner, who relishes this artificial relationship in order to replace human social relationships, which require dialogue and mutual exchange.” Ultimately, Francis said in his most recent remarks, the couples who choose pets over kids do so out of  “selfishness.” And it’s their loss: these men and women are excluded from the “richness of fatherhood and motherhood.”

Unlike the pope’s views on the best recordings of Beethoven and Wagner, these comments probably do not rise to the level of infallibility. But they would still seem to demand the assent of the faithful. Not everyone agrees:  “The idea that dogs are unlike children is ridiculous,” wrote one columnist in a New York-based tabloid. “Custody battles break out over dogs. Short of setting up a college fund, having a dog is as heavy a responsibility—one with an expiration date, with heartbreak for the human built into the deal. I’ve seen people grieve for their dogs harder and longer than they have for friends and family.”

❖ The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops would like us to know that the following seven spiritual gifts are to be cultivated most assiduously by the faithful: innovative outlook, inclusivity, open-mindedness, listening, accompaniment, co-responsibility, and dialogue.

❖ Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie brand (based, we were astonished to learn, in central Ohio of all places), recently announced that it had hired its first model with Down syndrome. In 2012, the most recent year for which we were able to find statistics, sixty-six percent of babies with Down were aborted in this country. In Britain and Denmark, the figure is closer to ninety percent; in Iceland, it is virtually one hundred.

❖ Story time. This issue’s bedtime reading is adapted from “A Fish Story” in Lang’s Lilac Fairy Book:

Perhaps you think that fishes were always fishes, and never lived anywhere except in the water, but if you went to Australia and talked to the people in the sandy desert in the centre of the country you would learn something quite different. They would tell you that long, long ago you would have met fishes on the land, wandering from place to place, and hunting all sorts of animals, and if you consider how fishes are made, you will understand how difficult this must have been and how clever they were to do it. Indeed, so clever were they that they might have been hunting still if a terrible thing had not happened.

One day the whole fish tribe came back very tired from a hunting expedition, and looked about for a nice cool spot in which to pitch their camp. It was very hot, and they thought that they could not find a more comfortable place than under the branches of a large tree which grew by the bank of a river. So they made their fire to cook some food, right on the edge of a steep bank, which had a deep pool of water lying beneath it at the bottom. While the food was cooking they all stretched themselves lazily out under the tree, and were just dropping off to sleep when a big black cloud which they had never noticed spread over the sun, and heavy drops of rain began to fall, so that the fire was almost put out, and that, you know, is a very serious thing in savage countries where they have no matches, for it is very hard to light it again. To make matters worse, an icy wind began to blow, and the poor fishes were chilled right through their bodies.

‘This will never do,’ said Thuggai, the oldest of all the fish tribe. ‘We shall die of cold unless we can light the fire again,’ and he bade his sons rub two sticks together in the hope of kindling a flame, but though they rubbed till they were tired, not a spark could they produce.

‘Let me try,’ cried Biernuga, the bony fish, but he had no better luck, and no more had Kumbal, the bream, nor any of the rest.

‘It is no use,’ exclaimed Thuggai, at last. ‘The wood is too wet. We must just sit and wait till the sun comes out again and dries it.’ Then a very little fish indeed, not more than four inches long and the youngest of the tribe, bowed himself before Thuggai, saying,

 ‘Ask my father, Guddhu the cod, to light the fire. He is skilled in magic more than most fishes.’ So Thuggai asked him, and Guddhu stripped some pieces of bark off a tree, and placed them on top of the smouldering ashes. Then he knelt by the side of the fire and blew at it for a long while, till slowly the feeble red glow became a little stronger and the edges of the bark showed signs of curling up. When the rest of the tribe saw this they pressed close, keeping their backs towards the piercing wind, but Guddhu told them they must go to the other side, as he wanted the wind to fan his fire. By and bye the spark grew into a flame, and a merry crackling was heard.

‘More wood,’ cried Guddhu, and they all ran and gathered wood and heaped it on the flames, which leaped and roared and sputtered.

‘We shall soon be warm now,’ said the people one to another. ‘Truly Guddhu is great’; and they crowded round again, closer and closer. Suddenly, with a shriek, a blast of wind swept down from the hills and blew the fire out towards them. They sprang back hurriedly, quite forgetting where they stood, and all fell down the bank, each tumbling over the other, till they rolled into the pool that lay below. Oh, how cold it was in that dark water on which the sun never shone! Then in an instant they felt warm again, for the fire, driven by the strong wind, had followed them right down to the bottom of the pool, where it burned as brightly as ever. And the fishes gathered round it as they had done on the top of the cliff, and found the flames as hot as before, and that fire never went out, like those upon land, but kept burning for ever. So now you know why, if you dive deep down below the cold surface of the water on a frosty day, you will find it comfortable and pleasant underneath, and be quite sorry that you cannot stay there.

❖ Getting beat up is no fun—except if you’re a writer. This is something Bill Buford realized several decades ago in Düsseldorf when he wandered into a massive brawl after a soccer game. Both the West German and British fans took turns wailing on him, and he leaned into their blows, trying to memorize the pain exactly for a book which would eventually be published as Among the Thugs. It’s a gripping account of soccer fanaticism as well as of crowd violence, and it inspired an entire set of less artful imitators. The latest of these is Adam Shatz, the American editor of the London Review of Books. He was recently the victim of an unfortunate—although rather routine—mugging in Manhattan. But in Shatz’s mind, the experience is a grand parable about class, race relations, and the sexual economy in New York City. “The young men who brutalized me were not targeting me so much as a symbol they took me to represent,” he wrote in the New York Review of Books. Maybe only half-consciously, he added, his muggers saw him as a symbol of white oppression, and by attacking him, they sought to fulfill their “fantasies of revenge against their oppressors, of taking their places, sleeping with their wives.” Shatz concludes that although the muggers didn’t take his wallet, they robbed him of his “New Yorker’s self-assurance.” Maybe he should reread his own work because that much is intact.

❖ In our earlier discussion of Victoria’s Secret, we neglected to mention that the Ohio-based fast fashion retailer’s decision to feature an intellectual disabled woman in its underwear advertisements comes two years after it previous campaign employing the likeness of one “Valentina Sampaio,” a biological male. The inclusivity wins just keep coming!

The Lamp would like to thank all of our readers who have provided us with generous financial support during the last calendar year. We are especially grateful for the assistance of Ryan Hamill, the founding member of our Leonine Circle, and the gentleman who insists upon being recognized as “Rakish Stubbs.” Finally, we would like to offer our sincerest thanks to The Institute for Human Ecology and the Neal and Jane Freeman Foundation.

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