Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Pope and Nuns in the Congo

The Annunciation. From the Rosary Walk at Aylesford Priory.
Here is a post of some rather technical ethical reasoning. But if you want to understand the debate on the 'Nuns in the Congo' case, read on.

The Pope referred to the famous case of the 'Nuns in the Congo' in the latest aeroplane interview. The case is about nuns who, fearing rape, take some kind of contraceptive pill. Pope Francis' exact purpose in making the reference was unclear, but not nearly unclear enough for the Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi, who relived his triumphs in obscuring the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI on the dangers of condoms for people with AIDS, and in throwing sand into the eyes of everyone trying to make sense of Pope Benedict's remarks about male prostitutes using condoms.

In the meantime, Sandro Magister seems to have uncovered the history of the 'Nuns in the Congo' discussion, which wasn't what pretty well everyone had assumed up to now, claiming that Pope Paul VI said nothing on the subject. Rahter, it had simply been discussed by some theologians under Pope John XXIII.

Being a moral philosopher rather than a historian or, for that matter, a mind-reader, I think the contribution I can best make here is to explain why the Nuns in the Congo case is important, regardless of whether Pope Paul VI or any other pope authorised any ruling about it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Social conservatism and social Darwinism: r/K selection theory

Among the various weird and wonderful things on the internet I've been directed this idea: r/K selection theory. Some people think it explains everything in the universe. Most people haven't heard of it. The second group are onto something. But at the risk of giving some rather strange ideas unwarrented publicity, I'm going to use this post to warn my readers about it. Because although presenting itself as a defence of the family, it is not just wrong-headed, but actually dangerous.

The theory, in a nutshell, goes like this. It is a truism that if you are a poppy, an insect, an antelope or a human being, you can have fewer offspring, and devote more resources to each one, or more offspring, and devote fewer resources to each one. Certain conditions favour one strategy over the other. The theory claims that the 'more offspring' strategy ('r') is favoured by conditions where the constraint on population is not resources, but predation, and the 'fewer but better offspring' strategy ('K') is favoured when the constraint on population is resources (or the 'carrying capacity of the environment'). So prey animals tend to be r, predators K.

The contrast is not an absolute but a matter of degree, so a species can move in one direction or another as conditions change, and different groups within a species can adopt somewhat distinct strategies.

Theorists then pile up a list of characteristics correlated to r and K respectively. 'r' organisms are smaller, have shorter life-spans, are less competitive and less cooperative, don't plan for the future (resources are plentiful), are less complex and sophisticated, than K. Because K want to invest more in each offspring, who are dependent on them for longer, they tend to mate for life and have more complex and enduring family structures.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Milton Manor this Saturday

The LMS Annual Mass at Milton Manor is on Saturday 27th February. Mass starts at 11am.

The celebrant will be Fr Daniel Lloyd of the Ordinariate, Priest in Charge of the Parish opf Hinksey in South Oxford.

The Mass will be the Ferial Mass of the day, with the ancient and very beautiful chants and readings of the day.

It will be a Sung Mass, accompanied with chant by the Schola Abelis.

Milton Manor is between Didcot and Abingdon, near the A34; the entrance to the house is off Milton Village's High Street. Postcode OX14 4EN. Click for a map.

High Mass at Milton Manor for the 250th anniversary.
Milton Manor is one of the historic Catholic houses where the Mass was said and the Faith preserved through the dark days of 'penal times'. The chapel at Milton Manor celebrated its 250 anniversary last year, which we marked with a particularly splendid High Mass.

The chapel was consecrated by Bishop Richard Challoner, and celebrants at LMS Masses often use Challoner's vestments, and always his his altar cards and chalice.

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Patriarchy and symmetry

Hierarchy. (In this case, a temporary, liturgical one.)

I noted in the last post in this series that neo-cons frequently prefer silence about the authority of the husband to outright denial of the teaching. The few brave neo-cons who address the question twist themselves into the most extraordinary knots about it, like this one.

To love IS TO SUBMIT. To love is to make oneself SUBJECT TO ANOTHER. To love is to freely choose to put another above yourself, to literally live for another. Within the context of marriage this dynamic of total self-gift obviously meant to flow in BOTH DIRECTIONS (as the love between God the Father and God the Son, and between Christ and the Church) and is equally expected of men vis-a-vis their wives.

So now Christ submits to the Church? Anyone who can write that, read it again, and not say 'Oh, no, that obviously doesn't work, I'll have to think of another argument'  has crossed some kind of Rubicon of cognitive dissonance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pilgrimage to Caversham


Last Saturday we had a splendid Mass for the Ember Saturday of Lent, at the Archdioce of Birmingham's Marian Shrine at  Caversham.


The celebrant was Fr Anthony Conlon, assisted by Fr Ian Verrier FSSP (from over the river in Reading), and Rev Keith Crocker. It was accompanied by the Schola Abelis and Cantus Magnus under Matthew Schellhorn.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

LMS Easter Triduum in London

Times of services in St Mary Moorfield's, Eldon Street, EC2M 7LS

Spy Wednesday: 9pm Tenebrae of Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday: 6:30pm Mass of the Lord's Supper
9pm Tenebrae of Good Friday

Good Friday: 5:30pm Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday
9pm Tenebrae of Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday: 4pm East Vigil

Friday, February 19, 2016

Is Patriarchy oppressive?

This series now has its own label: to access the full set, click here.

In this post I am going to address three questions.

What is Patriarchy?
Is is taught by the Church?
Is it oppressive?

I am going to define Patriarchy narrowly, as the view that within marriage the husband has authority over the wife, with certain limitations, and the wife the right of the support of the husband (ie he cannot chuck her out to starve in the snow). I want to use this narrow definition because it relates to references in Scripture, and also because in the Christian tradition it can legitimately take a wide range of specific forms in different social, economic, and cultural circumstances.

It fits in with a conception of marriage which is founded on the free consent of both parties, is indissoluble, and gives both parties the right to a common life - 'of bed and table' - and a duty of openness to life.

Although compatible with a range of cultural expressions, this definition is specifically Christian: it excludes some of the practices and attitudes found in Classical paganism and Islam, for example. I suppose I need to point out also that it is compatible with female ownership of property, participation in the workforce, and education. Indeed, these three things are normal in Christian societies, even if what married women have and do is not typically the same as what married men have and do. But I'm not going to write a blog post about married women's property or the history of female education; if you doubt me on this just think about Chaucer's Wife of Bath, Margery Kempe, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, etc. etc.. As for married women doing paid work, this was a victim of the Industrial Revolution, not of grim-faced Christian misogynists.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

SPUC Youth Conference

I'm delighted to post some information about this worthy event:

We are now exactly 3 weeks away from the first day of the 2016 International SPUC Youth Conference, which will take place in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire ( a 40 minute journey from central London) from the 11th to the 13th of March. This conference has been vital in educating, uniting and inspiring the pro-life youth of today to go out and be witnesses to the pro-life cause at university, school, at work, within their own families and amongst their friends.

The conference is a golden opportunity not only for young people to learn more about current pro-life issues, but also for them to network and socialise with other like-minded people. In this age, when so many fear vilification for valuing human life and the family, it is more important than ever that young pro-lifers keep in contact with one another and support each other’s work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Photos of Ash Wednesday in Oxford


At SS Gregory & Augustine's in Oxford. Mass was celebrated by Fr John Saward; Fr Richard Biggerstaff preached.


Monday, February 15, 2016

How Feminism made men into jerks

Continuing this series, I am going to try another way of approaching the central problem, to see if this is helpful.

Once upon a time, there was a certain masculine ideal, which had strength of character in a central position. The ideal man might be intellectual or practical, he might be introverted or extroverted, he might be dark or fair, he might have limitations and even serious faults, but he was not a weed. Let's leave reality for a moment, and think about perceptions, expectations, and fantasies: what we can see in fiction.

So what I have in mind are men like John Bold in Trollope (The Warden), Gabriel Oake in Thomas Hardy (Far From the Madding Crowd) - the names rather give the game away - Mr Darcy in Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), Shakespeare's Othello, and Duke Theseus (Midsummer Night's Dream) - you get the idea, there are masses of examples.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Should Catholic men be losers or jerks? A response to comments

Latin Mass Society Walking pilgrims enter Walsingham
My series of posts on chastity and chivalry (the most recent one is here) have been something of an experiment, in topics I have not previously tackled. The response in the comments box has been very interesting, with a lot of very positive feedback, but also a persistent tendency to misunderstand the issue in a particular way. In essence, when I say that it would really be quite a good idea for Catholic men (no less than for men in general) to avoid behaviour that brands them, without their realising it, as losers, a significant number of people respond by saying: oh, so you want them to be jerks?

I have avoided saying 'Catholics should be Alpha men' because the association between 'Alpha' and 'jerk' is so close. But the point of my most recent post was to argue that you don't have to adopt the morally bad behaviour of the jerk in order to stop being a loser. Let me make the point more explicitly.

The classic 'Alpha jerk' or 'Alpha bad boy' is someone successful with the ladies, while treating them badly. Promiscuity is part of the background to the discussion, but it possible for men to treat women badly in societies where promiscuity is not the norm (though the damage they inflict will be infinitely less). A century ago, in very different social conditions, these men were called 'cads', and two centuries ago it was all about 'leading on' women, and not (usually) going to bed with them, but the phenomenon was in essentials the same. It is a human universal, even if in some eras it is vigorously repressed. The question is: Why do women find these ghastly men attractive?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chastity, chivalry, and avoiding ridicule

Noli me tangere: Do not touch me.

One serious problem for young people attempting to live a chaste life, and therefore bucking the hugely powerful trend of modern western culture, is that they can too easily be seen as losers. A good deal of prestige goes along with sex and relationships, and those who miss out on these tend to lack prestige. I've been talking about women in the last couple of posts, in response to one article I quoted, but here I'm going to focus on men, and I am partly inspired by this article here.

The author, John Mallon argues that part at least of the reason some women don't get asked on 'dates' is because they are giving off some rather hostile vibes, quite probably without meaning to. He says that men prefer women who are 'kind', and these can be hard to find; a lot of women seem to make a point of negativity and cynicism in dealing with men. This is true. But his description of men and of their needs presents an image of the 'Beta' man. A man who can't really deal with women, who lacks the characteristics which women admire and find attractive. But this is a problem, and the ladies are not to blame for not giving off warm vibes to men they don't find attractive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Towards better arguments against promiscuity

Via dolorosa. From the Rosary Walk at Aylesford Priory.
In my last post I disuscussed the argument made by 'Jennifer Joyner' against promiscuity. Her article takes the form of a personal testimony, not relying on moral or religious arguments. Instead, it focuses on the the risk of pregancy, and the lack of pleasure.

I think such testimonies are helpful to see, and her essential point is true enough. One might add to it the risk of (let's use the proper term) venereal disease. Like pregnancy, people living the promiscuous lifestyle which our society regards as normal for the young and unmarried (at least) have a far greater chance of this than most of them imagine.

Such arguments from the perspective of the young person and what he or she wants for him or herself are related to the approach to apologetics which has taken hold in Catholic circles in the last half-century. The focus is not on the objective existence and provability of God, for example, so much as the lack one feels without God: instead of looking at the reality outside us, it looks at the feelings within us.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Not enough fun in the sack: a poor argument against promiscuity

The repentant Mary Magdalen
A lady calling herself 'Jennifer Joyner' has written an interesting critique of sexual promiscuity, without reference to religion. She makes many good points about the unsatisfactory nature of 'hookup culture', writing as a woman, and addressing women primarily. There's something I want to disagree with, however, which is encapsulated in the following paragraph.

In a culture claiming to promote gender equality, I believe hooking up has taken a dramatic step in the wrong direction. Whether we like it or not, sex is intrinsically biased against the woman: biological reality dictates that she carries the brunt of sexual risks while he wields the majority of the of sexual power. Make their coital relations mutually selfish—that is, primarily about fleeting pleasures and not about caring for the person—and she always loses. She plays a rigged game.

She goes on to specify that women bear the risk of pregnancy, and also of the experience not being a pleasurable one: in her phrase, it may not be that much fun in the sack.

She makes the common mistake, in assessing the costs and benefits involved in the 'sexual economy', of ignoring the cost to men of rejection. Men invest—or gamble, in you prefer—in advance of the actual 'hookup', and whether we are talking about honourable courtship or the utterly sordid way of life the unfortunate writer experienced, and then repented, they bear a significant risk of rejection. If they are rejected the investment—or gambling stake—is completely down the drain: the time and often money spent cultivating the woman. This is a very important factor in considering the incentives involved. However, I want to draw attention to a distinct, though related point.

From the article is seems almost incomprehensible that women behave as, sadly, they too often do. But if we don't understand why they do, we stand no chance of persuading them to stop. So at the risk of making a life of sin sound more attractive than Joyner does, I want to be a little more realistic.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Book of Gomorrah: a new translation

Another book which I was allowed to read in advance of its publication is this new translation of St Peter Damian's famous work, The Book of Gomorrah.

It is most famous because of its Jeremiah-like condemnations of unnatural sexual acts, like this from Chapter 20:
“Why, I ask, O damnable sodomites, do you seek after the height of ecclesiastical dignity with such burning ambition? Why do you seek with such longing to snare the people of God in the web of your perdition? Does it not suffice for you that you cast your very selves off the high precipice of villainy, unless you also involve others in the danger of your fall?”
But there is more to it than that. It is, in fact, a long argument for the seriousness of sexual sin, including the sexual exploitation of others, based on the Church's early penitential discipline. That discipline, which stipulated a certain number of days, months, or even years, of public penance for various sins, had long been superceded, from a canonical point of view, by the time St Peter Damian was writing, in the context of more frequent confession and other developments. However, St Peter argued that it continued to have relevance as the testimony of the earliest ages of the Church to the relative and absolute seriousness of sin. If we no long have to fast for seven years for adultery, for example, we should take to heart that such an act is worthy of such a penance.

I am quoted on the back cover:
“Hoffman has produced a highly readable translation of St Peter Damian's most famous work, with a scholarly and helpful commentary placing it into its historical context. As the Church once again confronts the consequences of a collapse of clerical sexual discipline, we do well to read St Peter's insistence on taking seriously the Church's early penitential tradition, and the Scriptural references which formed the foundation for this, as well as his zeal for the souls of both sinners and the victims of abuse. Hoffman has done a great service to his readers in preparing this edition.”

The publisher is offering a 15% discount on the book to Rorate Caeli readers, who can purchase the book by clicking here.

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Blessing of Throats in Oxford

Blessing of the Faithful at the end of Mass, on the feast of St Blaise.

The Catholic life is a round of blessings. Having taken home candles blessed in the Candlemas service - for use in emergencies, such as storms, childbirth, or the Three Days of Darkness, as well as for the visit of a priest with the Blessed Sacrament - the very next day a pair of candles is blessed in honour of St Blaise, and these candles are used to bless the throats of the Faithful.

Blessing of the candles to be used in the ceremony.
Using a blessed or otherwise holy object to confer a blessing is, of course, a logical thing to do. It gives the proceedings a special solemnity, and in this case keeps alive the memory of St Blaise, a bishop and martyr who cured a little boy with a fish-bone stuck in his throat.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Prayer or bedlam before and after Mass? Which would God prefer?

Cardinal Burke leads the Prayers After Low Mass following his Prelatial Low Mass in
SS Gregory & Augustine's, Oxford.
I love this letter from the pseudonymous 'Pastor Iuventus' in this weekend's Catholic Herald, who has a weekly column there. (A few years ago the priest in question came on one of the LMS Priest Training Conferences and wrote it up in his column.)

SIR – Chris Whitehouse (Letter, January 29) makes the same mistake as many others who, like him, seek to justify the bedlam in many Catholic churches immediately prior to and after Mass on the grounds that “God doesn’t mind”. Fortunately we do not have to rely on such intuitions about what would please God in his house, as God’s express position is an unequivocal: “My house is to be called a house of prayer.”

Candlemas in Oxford


With the church filled with incence and lit by candles, crystal-clear photos are not to be expected! But it was a beautiful Mass, accompanied, with chant, by Oxford's Schola Ablelis with eight singers.

Embroidery training 12th March in Oxford with the Guild of St Clare

Cross posted from Guild of St Clare blog.

I'm delighted to announce that we will be holding another embroidery training day with Jacqui Macdonald, the RSN tutor.

On Saturday, 12th March she will be coming to Oxford to teach us. She is happy to teach any of a wide range of embroidery techniques including crewelwork, goldwork, whitework, stumpwork and surface embroidery techniques. 

Friday, February 05, 2016

Feb 19th for the next Juventutem London Mass

The next Juventutem London Mass  will take place, as usual, in St Mary Moorfields in the City of London (the postcode is EC2M 7LS: click for a map), on the last Friday of February, 19th, at 7:30pm. It will be followed by a social gathering with food (pizza) in the basement of the church for young people. (Linke to the Facebook event page.)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Juventutem London Mass: photos

The photographs of the Juventutem Mass can be seen here; I'm posting a selection.

Fr Stephen Morrison was celebrant, Fr Ian Verrier deacon, and Fr Cyril Law subdeacon.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Helmut Rückriegel: obituary

His Excellency Dr. Helmut Rückriegel, one of the elder statesmen of the International Federation Una Voce (FIUV) and a great champion of tradition over many decades, died early on 25th of January, 2016.

Dr. Rückriegel has been actively involved in the Una Voce movement since 1967. He was head of Una Voce Deutschland in 1992–2005, member of the FIUV Council, and later one of the Federation’s Presidents d’honneur.



Dr. Helmut Rückriegel, an important and highly meritorious upholder for the traditional Latin liturgy has left us.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Does preaching the Gospel make you a sectarian?

St Ambrose excommunicates
the Emperor Theodosius
Prof Linda Woodhead is the foremost sociologist of religion in the UK, and her research is widely quoted. Her statistics tell the usual story - of decline among the Christian churches in the UK - and The Tablet, interestingly enough, wants to defend the Church of England's stance on immigration as in accord with the Gospel, despite not representing the view from the pews, which Woodhead characterised as 'sectarian'.

Will The Tablet going to apply the same logic to contraception, I wonder? And is this an indication they are beginning to realise that their liberal views can no longer count on popular support?

In any case, Prof. Woodhead objects to the way The Tablet represents her views, and has written accordingly.

Your leader regarding my survey of the sharp decline in church membership (“Follow the faith, not the polls”, 23 January) suggests that I think church teaching should be shaped by opinion polls. I have never in my life said or thought or implied such a thing.