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October 2013

The Plight of Anglo-Catholics

I'm not sure how many readers of this blog are interested, but here is an interesting piece on the situation of Anglo-Catholics since the establishment of the Ordinariate. One word summary: untenable. The author is addressing the Church of England, but what he says is broadly applicable to American Episcopalians of Catholic inclination as well. 

I thought the Anglo-Catholic position was untenable thirty or more years ago, when I was wrestling with the idea of turning to Rome. You can't reasonably or in any substantial way consider yourself to be Catholic without being part of a body which as a whole believes itself to be Catholic, because it is a pretty clear and fundamental aspect of historical Christianity, both Western and Eastern, that the Church is a visible body. The Roman Catholic Church and various Orthodox communions may disagree about what constitutes that body and who is or is not part of it, but they agree that it is something more than mere like-mindedness cutting across boundaries which are held to be insignificant in comparison.

I'm not sure that Anglo-Catholicism ever was tenable, because I think Anglicanism was always fundamentally Protestant. But if it was tenable, it was to the degree that corporate reunion with Rome was something for which it could reasonably hope. That time is past. The absolute best that a Catholic party in either the Church of England or the Episcopal Church can hope for is to be tolerated, and not required to formally affirm teachings which it cannot accept.

So it seems to me that a self-styled Catholic who chooses to remain in one of those churches, not for some overriding and extenuating personal reason, but for theological reasons, declares himself thereby to be Protestant, albeit with Catholic sympathies. Or else is in the position of trying to assert that his faction within a larger and non-Catholic body is actually the Catholic Church.


A Very Fine Poem

Update: My apologies: I thought this poem was available to non-subscribers, but apparently it's not. I'll leave the post here because you can still enjoy the anecdote. It's even possible that you may run across a copy of the magazine somewhere. Thanks to Louise for pointing this out to me.


I don't find most of the poetry published in The New Criterion (or anywhere else, for that matter) very memorable. Well-crafted, always, and sometimes enjoyable, but rarely anything I would wish to read ten years from now. But there's one in the May issue which I've read several times with no lessening of the pleasure of the first reading. It's based on an incident in the life of Samuel Johnson:

After breakfast we walked to the top of a very steep hill behind the house. When we arrived at the summit, Mr. Langton said, 'Poor dear Dr. Johnson, when he came to this spot, turned back to look down the hill, and said he was determined "to take a roll down". When we understood what he meant to do, we endeavoured to dissuade him; but he was resolute, saying, "he had not had a roll for a long time"; and taking out of his lesser pockets whatever might be in them--keys, pencil, purse, or pen-knife--and laying himself parallel to the edge of the hill, he actually descended, turning himself over and over, till he came to the bottom.'

The poem is by Joseph Harrison, and it's called "Dr. Johnson Rolls Down A Hill". Read it when you're not in a hurry.

I read the anecdote upon which the poem is based many years ago in The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes (which by the way is a treasure). There it's attributed to Personal and Literary Memorials, published by Henry Digby Beste in 1829. But the speaker is not identified. Thanks to the web and Google, I find a very similar recounting in Leslie Stephens's 1900 biography. It's so similar to Beste's that I suppose Beste to have been Stephen's source. Beste, interestingly, was a Catholic convert, an early instance of what would become the Oxford Movement.

More Wet Guitar

Weekend Music

Musicians and sound engineers use "wet" and "dry" to mean more and less reverb. What came to be called the "surf" guitar style always featured very heavy reverb. I'm pretty sure the sound predates the association with surf, which seems to have been pretty much originated by Dick Dale in the early 1960s. But Duane Eddy used it in 1958.


The Ventures' "Walk Don't Run" came out in 1960.


Jorgen Ingmann's "Apache" was released in 1961.


I recall hanging around in a pinball arcade at the Birmingham State Fair, not to play the games but so I could hear the jukebox, and in particular wanting to hear this song. I think I may even have gotten up my nerve to put my own nickel in the jukebox for that purpose. At any rate I distinctly remember hearing it there. I was either twelve or thirteen, depending on what time of year it was.

The Ramrods' instrumental version of "Ghost Riders In the Sky" is also from 1961.


Another memory: standing around on the gravel playground at my elementary/junior-high school,  hearing this song in my head and thinking about the title, which moved and fascinated me. As this was the first recording of the song I heard, I had no idea of the lyrics, or even that there were lyrics, but I mused on the marvelous image of the title, and wondered what it might mean. I suppose it was an early experience of the power of poetry.

 And here's the best-known tune by the King of the Surf Guitar, Dick Dale:


If you think that sounds Middle Eastern, you're right. It is in fact a Middle Eastern folk song, and the title means "Egyptian." And "Dick Dale" is Richard Anthony Mansour, born in Boston of a Lebanese father and Polish mother, and he grew up on Lebanese music. He didn't move to California until he was a senior in high school. But he did learn to surf. His Wikipedia biography is interesting.

And here's a very good one I hadn't heard before.


Christian morality is not a titanic effort of the will, the effort of someone who decides to be consistent and succeeds, a solitary challenge in the face of the world. No. Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, "unjust" mercy.... The surprising, unforeseeable, "unjust" mercy...of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a never falling down but an always getting up again.

--Pope Francis (before he was pope)

Breaking Bad

So I finally watched the series that has been creating such a stir for several years now. It's very good. It's extremely good, in fact, in every technical sense: well-written, well-plotted, well-acted, well-photographed. And it's extremely gripping. I know at least three people who have watched a few of the roughly 60 one-hour episodes and stopped there, but I don't see how they did it. If it were a book, you'd call it a page-turner. 

As most everybody probably knows, it's the story of a fifty-year-old high-school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who leads a frustrating life, barely getting by financially, a bit hen-pecked, knowing that if he hadn't felt obliged to bail out early from the company he'd helped to found many years earlier he'd be a billionaire. Into this dreary situation comes a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Wishing to provide for his family after his death, he decides to go into the business of making methamphetamine, with a former student and current meth-maker and dealer, Jesse Pinkman, providing the sales outlet. His intention is to make a quick bundle and get out before he dies. 

Well, of course it gets considerably more complicated. 

The series is sometimes compared the The Wire, of which I am a great fan. One could argue that Breaking Bad is superior in an architectural way: it's one long story that spans six seasons, with some sixty episodes which maintain a  consistent level of quality and continuity, whereas each of The Wire's five seasons was a somewhat distinct story, although they involved many of the same characters. But I like The Wire better, mainly because it has more characters for whom I had more affection. There aren't many people in Breaking Bad that I liked very much, certainly not Walt, as one quickly begins to refer to him. And most of it is in some way painful to watch. There are many psychologically excruciating scenes involving Walt's attempt to keep his family in the dark about what he's doing, and to shield them from its effects, and many more which I can't mention without giving away too much. Suffice to say that very bad things happen to a lot of people, and although that was also true of The Wire, there is less humor and less light in Breaking Bad. And there's a fair amount of serious violence that some people--for instance me--may have trouble getting out of their heads afterward.

I don't want to give much away, but here's a link to the opening scene. It may give you some idea of the way the narrative pulls you in. Or maybe you'll just shrug. And if you've seen it and want to discuss it, spoilers allowed, in the comments, I'd certainly like to hear what you have to say.

On Mary

She is the garden enclosed and the solitary place, the nave all quiet and the lamp of recollection, the triumphal apse and the translucent altar.

She is the living tabernacle and the eternal altar of repose.

--Fr. Maurice Zundel

And that would certainly be an intolerable situation

"...most faculty wanted to keep full coverage [for abortion in the school's insurance plan], and felt that a total ban would signal that the university 'values diversity less than our Catholic affiliation.'"

Good thing I long ago got over being impressed by doctoral degrees. I must say that this deserves some kind of special mention for the great stretch of logic required to claim the academy's most highly prized virtue-word for the speaker's view.

Full story (Los Angeles Times)