Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Happy Black Poetry Day

October 17, 2007

Yep, it’s October 17th again!

Go read about Jupiter Hammon, born on this day in 1711.


More “diversity”, less Catholic dogmatism, would have prevented the Holocaust (or something like that)

September 1, 2007

Fighting Modernists, a Decree Shaped Catholicism. By Peter Steinfels. I’ll give the opening paragraph, the final paragraph, and then sum it up.

One hundred years ago next Saturday Pope Pius X issued a papal encyclical, “Pascendi Dominici Gregis,” that would have a huge impact on the Roman Catholic Church and consequently on its role in the blood-drenched history of the first half of the 20th century.
[. . .]
In the short run, in other words, “Pascendi” was a success: it stopped risky new ideas dead in their tracks. In the long run, however, it failed abysmally — and at a very high cost.

The argument of this editorial is that the encyclical “Pascendi” of 1907 engendered an authoritarianism in the Church, which resulted in a purge of a number of progressive theologians. The result of this purge was an authoritarian group-think that made the Church favorably disposed to the secular authoritarian regimes that rose after World War I, which meant that when the mass murders began, the authoritarian spirit that the Church shared with these regimes made it reluctant to speak out against them.

The moral of the story is twofold: (more…)

Where the broom comes from: vocabulary from 16th-century English

August 11, 2007

Do you know what a knop is? How about a snoffet ? A habergeon ? The kall of a calf? The lap of the ear? What is a besom ?

If you answered No, you would have a hard time reading the Bible in English—the Geneva Bible of 1562, anyway. It uses all these words in Exodus 25 ff. where God gives instructions for the Tabernacle, its accoutrements, and the priestly garments.

I had no idea what any of these were, so I looked them up.
* knop = a knob
* snoffet = something you snuff out a candle with or in
* habergeon = “A sleeveless coat or jacket of mail or scale armour, originally smaller and lighter than a HAUBERK, but sometimes app. the same as that.” (OED) —Exodus 28:32 says the the priestly garment should have a hole for the head which is designed “as the coller of an habergeon that it rent not.”)
* kall = modern-day “caul” . . . “The fatty membrane investing the intestines; the epiploön or omentum” (OED)
* lap = lobe

And a besom is a bundle of twigs bound around a handle and used as a sweeping implement. We call these things “brooms” but broom was just one of many plants used to make besoms.

But today, through the constant evolution of language and its usage, we use this specific word “broom” for the general concept of “sweeping implement.” Pehaps people got tired of saying “where’s the broom besom?” and started abbreviating. The reverse logic applies to the shortening of “motor car” to just “car”—in this case, the general term is preferred over the specific type. Unless you’re really hoity-toity.

Who knows what we’ll call brooms in the year 2462?

Museological assumption: The Cloisters

June 12, 2007

One of the places I’m considering seeing in New York is the Cloisters Museum, which houses medieval European art in buildings taken from five different French monasteries, cobbled together and joined by cloisters. Their web site comments on these covered, colonnaded walkways:

Just as cloisters provided sheltered access from one building to another within a monastery, here they act as passageways from gallery to gallery. They provide as inviting a place for rest, contemplation, and conversation as they did for their original monastic population.

Inviting for conversation amongst the “original monastic population”, that is, if their monastic order didn’t observe a vow of silence . . . but since they know which monasteries these buildings came from, I’m guessing that they know whether this was the case or not.

Paul Krugman, amateur revisionist historian

June 8, 2007

Paul Krugman’s op-ed piece, “Lies, Sighs and Politics,” published today on the TimesSelect site, decries the media’s failure to call Mitt Romney on his “lie” he told during Tuesday’s Republican presidential candidate debate. According to Krugman:

Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.”


“The Catholic Boom”: some observations

May 25, 2007

David Brooks, writing in the Opinion section on the TimesSelect website (subscription required), argues that the “quasi-religious” have economic and sociological advantages over the truly religious and the truly unreligious.

In making this argument, he seems to insult both Protestants and Catholics even as he praises them for their great financial and educational achievements. You see, quasi-religious people respect history and tradition, and benefit from the stability these afford, but because they are always questioning and dissenting, they don’t get stuck in productivity- and income-quashing ruts.


Short history of Protestant contraception

May 22, 2007

Why did Protestants forbid contraception, side by side with Catholics, for 400 years, only to repudiate this teaching in the 20th century? Allan Carlson, a self-described “cradle Lutheran”, founder and president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, addresses this question in “Children of the Reformation“, the cover story of the new issue of Touchstone Magazine.


The Rosslyn Motet

May 1, 2007

CNN reports that a musical score has been decoded from carvings in the arches of Rosslyn Chapel. The chapel apparently shows up in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, though I wouldn’t know anything about that, having only been able to read to page 145 before I just couldn’t take any more. Don’t get me started.

But Rosslyn Chapel is awesome. And it doesn’t surprise me that it holds encoded mysteries: the Renaissance was a great age of numerology, arithmology, allegory, and all types of esoteric symbolism.

One quotation seems to criticize the music, and deserves some elucidation:

Simon Beattie of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust said he was delighted to have the mystery finally solved, and was intrigued by the music itself.

“It’s not something you would want to put on in the car and listen to, but it’s certainly an interesting piece of music,” he said. “It’s got a good mediaeval sound to it.”

What they don’t mention here is that in the Middle Ages, in order for music to be considered “beautiful,” it did not need to actually sound good to the ear. Now, they probably don’t mention this because it takes many books to fully describe the aesthetics of the Middle Ages, but in a nutshell, mathematics was considered one basis for beauty. The Rosslyn music is based on Pythagorean intervals and proportions—ideas which were transmitted from the ancient Greeks through Galen, Vitruvius, Augustine, and Boethius. Boethius saw music as essentially mathematical, and this was a very typical medieval approach (so says Umberto Eco in Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, page 30).

In the case of the Rosslyn “composer,” all that mattered seems to have been that the numbers were “true”—they had to jive with “numerical beauty.” Strange notion to us today, but that’s how it was.

Over at the website of the tune’s discoverer, we get a good dose of Dan Brown-ness:

Why would anyone want to hide music? Could it be threatening or dangerous to someone or something? Unless it was very special piece that contained magical, harmonic and resonant properties that resonated in sympathy with spiritual beliefs. Was this music ‘outlawed’ by the Catholic church for some reason?

Yeah, it was probably the music-hating Catholic church that forced this piece to be carved in stone rather than written down on paper.

Come on. Just stop, please.

But do visit the site and watch the video—fascinating!

Quotation for Easter Week

April 7, 2007

From Terry Eagleton’s review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.

Jesus, who pace Dawkins did indeed ‘derive his ethics from the Scriptures’ (he was a devout Jew, not the founder of a fancy new set-up), was a joke of a Messiah. He was a carnivalesque parody of a leader who understood, so it would appear, that any regime not founded on solidarity with frailty and failure is bound to collapse under its own hubris.

If God chose to dignify not only humanity, but weak, suffering, and despised humanity, by allowing Jesus to go experience it, that is a sign of the way we ought to treat the weak, suffering, and despised. Not by trying to stamp them out, but by practicing “solidarity with frailty and failure.”

Two S-words (suffragan, suffragette)

March 15, 2007

suffragan: An assistant or subsidiary bishop, performing episcopal functions in a certain diocese but having no jurisdiction; in the Church of England, since the passing of Act 26 Hen. VIII, c. 14, a bishop appointed to assist a diocesan bishop in a particular part of his diocese.
suffragette: A female supporter of the cause of women’s political enfranchisement, esp. one of a violent or ‘militant’ type.

Both come from suffrage, which comes from the Latin suffragium, which means literally “a ballot” or “voting tablet,” but by extension of sense it means “the right to vote” or “approbation, applause”. In English, suffrage for a long time meant “intercessory prayers,” especially for the dead.