Good King Wenceslas, Saint Stephen and Martyrdom

Monday, December 26, AD 2016

But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

              Cosmas of Prague, writing in 1119 about Saint King Wenceslaus

It has always seemed appropriate to me that the hymn Good King Wenceslas, written in 1853, ties together Saint Stephen and Saint King Wenceslas.  Saint Stephen is the original martyr of Christ, the first of that glorious line of Christians who have testified to their Faith in the God who died for them by surrendering their own lives for Him.  The Apostles had cut poor figures indeed on the night when Christ was betrayed, and Saint Stephen heroically and unforgettably demonstrated a better example, that would be followed by the Apostles themselves who later died as martyrs.  Bravery in the face of a martyr’s death takes a great deal of courage and faith, and we Catholics have ever honored our martyrs.

 

Wenceslas was born in 907 into a turbulent time and place.  The eldest son of Duke Vratislaus I of Bohemia, Bohemia was a country that was only beginning to convert to Christianity and was riven by conflicts between pagans and Christians, Germans and Czechs.  His mother Drahomira was the daughter of a pagan tribal leader and had only converted at the time of her marriage.  His father’s father was a Christian convert.   

At the death of his father, in battle, in 921, his paternal grandmother, Ludmilla, briefly held the regency.  His mother, Drahomira, who was a real piece of work, remained a pagan at heart, and had Ludmilla strangled. (Ludmilla, who had always been noted for her charity and her strong Christian faith, was canonized shortly after her death.)  Wenceslas was now under the control of his murderous mother.  In 924 or 925 Wenceslas began to rule and exiled his mother, understandably enough. 

During his reign he was noted for his charity and the strong impetus he gave to the evangelization of Bohemia.  He placed great reliance on Catholic missionary priests from Germany and this stirred resentment not only among his pagan subjects, but among some Czechs.  Taking advantage of this opposition, his brother Boleslav had Wenceslas murdered as he was walking to mass in 935.  From the instant of his death, Wenceslas was hailed as a martyr, popular devotion to him spurred by miracles that began at his funeral, and swiftly became the patron saint of Bohemia.  Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, bestowed the title of king upon him, posthumously.  His brother, who would reign for almost four decades, now remorseful, helped spread Christianity throughout his kingdom during his reign and venerated the man he had murdered as a saint.  His feast day on September 28 is celebrated as a national holiday in the Czech Republic.

 

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Video Clips That Bring Tears to My Eyes: Churchill and the Pilot

Monday, December 26, AD 2016

 

 

But the Consul’s brow was sad,
And the Consul’s speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall,
And darkly at the foe;
“Their van will be upon us
Before the bridge goes down;
And if they once may win the bridge,
What hope to save the town?”

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods,

“And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame,—
To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame?

“Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three:
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?”

Horatius at the Bridge
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

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December 26, 1776: Washington Saves the American Revolution

Monday, December 26, AD 2016

 

 

Washington crossing the Delaware is ingrained in the American psyche, and well it should be.  Without Washington’s brilliant attack at Trenton against the Hessian garrison stationed there on December 26, 1776, his subsequent maneuver around the reacting British force under General Cornwallis, and his victory at Princeton on January 3, 1777, it is likely that the American Revolution would have died during the winter of 1776-1777, Washington’s army dissolving in the gloom and pessimism brought on by the string of American defeats of 1776.  Instead, Washington’s victories brought out fresh levies of patriot militia from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, strengthening Washington’s army and causing the British to retreat from New Jersey.  In the span of a week, Washington and his men altered the likely outcome of the American Revolution, and all subsequent history.  Here is Washington’s report to the Continental Congress on the victory at Trenton:

 

 

Sir: I have the pleasure of Congratulating you upon the success of an enterprize which I had formed against a Detachment of the Enemy lying in Trenton, and which was executed yesterday Morning. The Evening of the 25th I ordered the Troops intended for this Service [which were about 2400] to parade back of McKonkey’s Ferry, that they might begin to pass as soon as it grew dark, imagining we should be able to throw them all over, with the necessary Artillery, by 12 O’Clock, and that we might easily arrive at Trenton by five in the Morning, the distance being about nine Miles. But the Quantity of Ice, made that Night, impeded the passage of the Boats so much, that it was three O’Clock before the Artillery could all get over, and near four, before the Troops took up their line of march.

This made me despair of surprising the Town, as I well knew we could not reach it before the day was fairly broke, but as I was certain there was no making a Retreat without being discovered, and harassed on repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events. I form’d my detachments into two divisions one to March by the lower or River Road, the other by the upper or Pennington Road. As the Divisions had nearly the same distance to March, I ordered each of them, immediately upon forcing the out Guards, to push directly into the Town, that they might charge the Enemy before they had time to form. The upper Division arrived at the Enemys advanced post, exactly at Eight O’Clock, and in three Minutes after, I found, from the fire on the lower Road that, that Division had also got up. The out Guards made but small Opposition, tho’ for their Numbers, they behaved very well, keeping up a constant retreating fire from behind Houses. We presently saw their main Body formed, but from their Motions, they seemed undetermined how to act. Being hard pressed by our Troops, who had already got possession of part of their Artillery, they attempted to file off by a road on their right leading to Princetown, but perceiving their Intention, I threw a body of Troops in their Way which immediately checked them. Finding from our disposition that they were surrounded, and that they must inevitably be cut to pieces if they made any further Resistance, they agreed to lay down their Arms. The Number, that submitted in this manner, was 23 Officers and 886 Men. Col Rall. the commanding Officer with seven others were found wounded in the Town. I dont exactly know how many they had killed, but I fancy not above twenty or thirty, as they never made any regular Stand. Our loss is very trifling indeed, only two Officers and one or two privates wounded. I find, that the Detachment of the Enemy consisted of the three Hessian Regiments of Lanspatch, Kniphausen and Rohl amounting to about 1500 Men, and a Troop of British Light Horse, but immediately upon the begining of the Attack, all those who were, not killed or taken, pushed directly down the Road towards Bordentown. These would likewise have fallen into our hands, could my plan have been compleatly carried into Execution. Genl. Ewing was to have crossed before day at Trenton Ferry, and taken possession of the Bridge leading out of Town, but the Quantity of Ice was so great, that tho’ he did every thing in his power to effect it, he could not get over.

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One Solitary Life

Sunday, December 25, AD 2016

All the armies that have ever marched All the navies that have ever sailed All the parliaments that have ever sat All the kings that ever reigned put together Have not affected the life of mankind on earth As powerfully as that one solitary life

From One Solitary Life

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

H. G. Wells

O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem

Exsultet, Easter Vigil

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A Proclamation

Sunday, December 25, AD 2016

 

The twenty-fifth day of December.

In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;

the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;

the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;

the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;

the one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;

the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;

the whole world being at peace,

in the sixth age of the world,

Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,

desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,

was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh.

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Norad Tracking Santa

Saturday, December 24, AD 2016

 

 

When I was a kid, perhaps because I was the son of an Air Force veteran, I always thrilled to the tracking of Santa by Norad (North American Air Defense).  I am happy to see that Norad is still doing it.  Go here to their Santa tracking website.  Sleep well tonight America!  Santa and your Air Force will both be wide awake!

 

 

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Change of Heart

Friday, December 23, AD 2016

 

 

I think the antics of the crazed left since the election of Trump are costing them supporters.  Case in point, Rod Dreher publishes a letter from a young mother:

I’m a secular/agnostic Californian and longtime reader of your blog. I’ve enjoyed your books beginning with Crunchy Cons, and have valued your insights over the years.

Though you don’t know me, I feel like I know you and your family. And I want to share with you, from the liberal bastion of Northern California, that I am officially tired of the type of people who have surrounded me my entire life. In the wake of Trump’s election, I am experiencing “tribe fatigue.” I’m not tired of The Other, Detestable Tribe. I’m tired of my own.

A bit about me: I am a [deleted] with two young children. My parents were non-religious Democrats, and my ex-Catholic mom loathes organized religion to this day.

So I was raised a secular liberal. My college professors were secular liberals. During my journalism phase, my newspaper colleagues were secular liberals. My law school professors and peers were – in the vast majority – secular liberals. Almost everyone at my corporate law firm was a secular liberal. My California neighbors and friends are secular liberals, as are my colleagues. My mother, siblings, and their spouses are all secular liberals.

By all rights, I should be a member in good standing of their tribe, “liking” their Facebook posts and joining their candlelight vigils against the evil Trump Administration. But November 8 and its aftermath revealed to me that I am just so tired of these people. I can’t be like them, and I don’t want my kids turning into them.

I am tired of their undisguised contempt for tens of millions of Americans, with no effort to temper their response to the election with humility or empathy.

I am tired of their unexamined snobbery and condescension.

I am tired of their name-calling and virtue-signaling as signs of supposedly high intelligence.

I am tired of their trendiness, jumping on every left-liberal bandwagon that comes along (transgender activism, anyone?) and then acting like anyone not on board is an idiot/hater.

I am tired of their shallowness. It’s hard to have a deep conversation with people who are obsessed with moving their kids’ pawns across the board (grades, sports, college, grad school, career) and, in their spare time, entertaining themselves and taking great vacations.

I am tired of their acceptance of vulgarity and sarcastic irreverence as the cultural ocean in which their kids swim. I like pop culture as much as the next person, but people who would never raise their kids on junk food seem to think nothing of letting then wallow in cultural junk, exposed to nothing ennobling, aspirational, or even earnest.

I am tired of watching them raise clueless kids (see above) who go off to college and within months are convinced they live in a rapey, racist patriarchy; “Make America Great Again” is hate speech; and Black Lives Matter agitators are their brothers-in-arms against White Privilege. If my kids are like that at nineteen, I’ll feel I’ve seriously failed them as a parent. Yet the general sentiment seems to be these are good, liberal kids who may have gotten a bit carried away.

I am tired of their lack of interest in any form of serious morality or self-betterment. These are decent, responsible people, many compassionate by temperament. Yet they seem two-dimensional, as if they believe that being a nice, well-socialized person who holds the correct political views is all there is, and there is nothing else to talk about. Isn’t there, though?

I am tired of being bored and exasperated by everybody. I feel like I have read this book a thousand times, and there are no surprises in it. Down with Trump! Trans Lives Matter! Climate deniers are destroying the planet! No cake, we’re gluten-free!

These are good people in a lot of ways. But there has got to be a better tribe.

That leads me to . . . drum roll . . . the Christian Right. It is no small feat, switching tribes. It feels stressful and weird to abandon your tribe for the Detested Other Side.

Since November 8, my husband and I have been taking the kids to church. (He is politically conservative with a religious bent, so no argument there.) I have come this close to buying a giant poster of the American flag for the living room. I may do it still.

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Thirty Five Years Ago: Reagan Christmas Address

Friday, December 23, AD 2016

On December 23, 1981, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation.  The video above is an excerpt from that speech.  The portion of the address dealing with the attempt by the then Polish Communist regime to crush Solidarity, the Polish labor union leading a movement for freedom that would ultimately be the spark that destroyed Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, is omitted.  A few things struck me about the address:

1.  When is the last time a president quoted G.K. Chesterton?

2.   Reagan’s reference to children as a gift from God.

3.   His reference to Christ’s first miracle being His coming to humanity as a helpless babe.

They don’t make them like Reagan anymore, and more is the pity.  Here is the text of his address:

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The Bishop’s Wife

Friday, December 23, AD 2016

 

A fine Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947.    David Niven is an Episcopalian bishop of a struggling diocese;  Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife;  and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand.  The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene when undercover angel Dudley, Cary Grant, uses his powers to summon a tardy boy’s choir for an unforgettable rendition of O Sing to God:

 

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Virgil

Thursday, December 22, AD 2016

Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh,
Dear child of gods, great progeny of Jove!
See how it totters- the world’s orbed might,
Earth, and wide ocean, and the vault profound,
All, see, enraptured of the coming time!
Ah! might such length of days to me be given,
And breath suffice me to rehearse thy deeds,
Nor Thracian Orpheus should out-sing me then,
Nor Linus, though his mother this, and that
His sire should aid- Orpheus Calliope,
And Linus fair Apollo. Nay, though Pan,
With Arcady for judge, my claim contest,
With Arcady for judge great Pan himself
Should own him foiled, and from the field retire.

Virgil, from the Fourth Eclogue (37 BC)

 

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Christmas “Nuts!” at Bastogne

Thursday, December 22, AD 2016

 

 

Seventy-two years ago at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

 

Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather. The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.

 

 

 

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. Massively outnumbered, battle weary from already having done more than their share of fighting in Normandy and Operation Market Garden and short on food and ammo, they stopped the advancing Germans cold in their tracks.

On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101st troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.

General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops:

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December 21, 1866: Fetterman Fight

Wednesday, December 21, AD 2016

 “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one–They promised to take our land…and they took it.”

Red Cloud, Lakota Chief

Next to the battle of the Little Big Horn, the worst defeat of the US Army in the wars against the Plains Indians was the Fetterman Fight of December 21, 1866.  Fort Phil Kearney was built by the Army in the summer of 1866 to safeguard passage for settlers in Wyoming and Montana over the Bozeman Trail. This touched off what the Army called  Red Clouds War with an alliance of Northern Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho fighting to maintain the last hunting ground of the northern plains largely untouched by white settlement.   Skirmishing was constant between the Indians and the garrison at Fort Phil Kearney.

Captain William J. Fetterman arrived at the Fort in November.  He had an extensive combat record in the Civil War, rising to the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel of volunteers, but no experience fighting Indians.

On December 21, 1866 Red Cloud, leading a force of Indians, perhaps 1,000 in total, decided to stage an ambush.  Attacking a wagon train sent out from the Fort to cut timber, Red Cloud successfully ambushed a relief force, infantry and cavalry, of 81 men set out from the Fort under Captain Fetterman, completely wiping them out.  The Indians stripped and mutilated the corpses of the soldiers.  Here is the report of Colonel Henry Carrington who commanded the Fort:

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Debate in the Age of Francis

Wednesday, December 21, AD 2016

 

Law professor Stephen Bainbridge brings to our attention the one sided nature of debate within the Catholic Church in this pontificate:

 

There’s going to be a third meeting at Catholic University on “the relationship of Catholicism to libertarianism.” As with the others, there are no libertarians (or, indeed, anyone remotely right of center) on the docket. Instead:

There will be three major talks. The first, by Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, will examine three faces of erroneous autonomy in the current political climate, and author Thomas Frank will give a presentation of the political landscape from a liberal, and populist, perspective. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston will speak about the dignity of work, and Trumka will give concluding remarks.

McElroy is a progressive unlikely to articulate libertarian or conservative views. Thomas Frank, of course, is a darling of the progressive movement and sharp critic of capitalism. And the Trumka in question is Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

One would have hoped that CUA would have included representative voices of pro-capitalist Catholic social thought thinkers such as Michael Novak, Fr. Robert Sirico, or, for that matter, yours truly.

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Of Course A Pope May Be Heretical

Tuesday, December 20, AD 2016

 

 

Edward Feser is a philosopher not a historian, but he reminds us of a piece of Catholic history that the powers that currently be within the Church seek to ignore:

 

The Church has for centuries allowed among theologians free discussion of the possibility of a heretical pope.  Cajetan, Suarez, and Bellarmine are among the eminent theologians who have entertained this possibility and debated its ramifications.  (Canon lawyer Ed Peters offers a primer on the matter.)   Once again to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia:

[An] exceptional situation might arise were a pope to become a public heretic, i.e., were he publicly and officially to teach some doctrine clearly opposed to what has been defined as de fide catholicâ… [I]n this case many theologians hold that no formal sentence of deposition would be required, as, by becoming a public heretic, the pope would ipso facto cease to be pope.  This, however, is a hypothetical case which has never actually occurred…

In an earlier post I discussed in some detail the conditions under which a pope speaks infallibly, the many ways a pope may fall into error when his words do not meet those conditions, and many further examples of popes who have fallen into error and done grave damage to the Church.  As I there emphasized, one cannot properly understand the authority of the pope and the doctrine of papal infallibility unless one also understands the limits of papal authority and the ways in which a pope is fallible.

I have quoted extensively from the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia for a reason.   There is a certain kind of well-meaning but overzealous and under-informed Catholic whose theological horizon does not extend beyond the debates that have riven the Church since Vatican II.  When you tell him that it is possible for a pope to fall into doctrinal error, his hackles rise and he assumes that you simply must be either a Lefebvrist traditionalist or a dissenting theological liberal.  As the example of the Catholic Encyclopedia shows, nothing could be further from the truth.  The Encyclopedia predated by many decades Vatican II and the progressive and traditionalist movements that arose in reaction to it.  It was an ecclesiastically approved work by mainstream Catholic scholars loyal to the Magisterium, and intended to be a reliable resource for the faithful.  And it quite matter-of-factly allows for the possibility of popes committing doctrinal errors when not speaking ex cathedra.

Nor is the possibility of correction of the pope by his subordinates some post-Vatican II progressive or traditionalist novelty.  As Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val wrote in his 1902 book The Truth of Papal Claims, responding to caricatures of the doctrine of papal infallibility:

Great as our filial duty of reverence is towards what ever [the pope] may say, great as our duty of obedience must be to the guidance of the Chief Shepherd, we do not hold that every word of his is infallible, or that he must always be right.  (p. 19)

After noting that St. Paul “had resisted even Peter” and then recounted this resistance in the Letter to the Galatians, the cardinal says:

[E]ven to-day a Bishop might… expostulate with a Pope, who, in his judgment, might be acting in a way which was liable to mislead those under his own charge, and then write to his critics that he had not hesitated to pass strictures upon the action of the successor of S. Peter… The hypothesis is quite conceivable, and in no way destroys or diminishes the supremacy of the Pope.  And yet an individual Bishop does not occupy the exceptional position of S. Paul, a fellow-Apostle of the Prince of the Apostles.  Even a humble nun, S. Catherine of Siena, expostulated with the reigning Pontiff, in her day, whilst full acknowledging all his great prerogatives.  (p. 74)

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