Tsetse* and Viv

He has his place in the DDYDB Hall of Fame for a reason.

I lived the 24th year of my life in communion with T.S. Eliot, communion of the most intimate kind. The countless hours I spent in the Mullen Library at Catholic University, researching papers on “Four Quartets” and “Murder in the Cathedral,” rank among the happiest of my life.

Eliot’s poems still stand in my mind like a mansion, full of familiar rooms decked-out with beauties, with many more as-yet-unopened doors down the hall. One can live a life inside the work of T.S. Eliot, a long and vigorous life.

…Anybody see “Tom & Viv?” The movie came out in 1994. But I am slow on the uptake sometimes.

Anthony Blanche from “Brideshead Revisited” plays Bertrand Russell: one of the most truly absurd spectacles I have ever witnessed. Bertrand Russell has not fared well over time, in my opinion. But the sight of Nickolas Grace in a powdered wig, fondling a pipestem–even I find this sight offensive to the memory of the silly atheist.

Willem Dafoe portrays the Englishman from St. Louis. The New York Times reasonably opined that this was an odd choice. Willem Dafoe has enraptured me on a number of occasions, “Platoon” and “The English Patient” pre-eminent among them. But he was born to play T.S. Eliot about as much as I was born to play the Green Goblin.

Dafoe makes a wild gambit of trying to capture Eliot’s unique Amero-English manner of speaking. But anyone who has passed some time listening to recordings of the poet reading his work immediately perceives that Dafoe’s attempt amounts to an inconsistent, laughable sham.

Here’s the thing. This movie emerged as part of the T.S.-Eliot-Was-Really-a-Dreadful-Villian Movement. His poor wife had unruly high spirits. He styled himself a martyr for a decade of marriage, then put her away in a lunatic asylum. He repressed all his emotions, lived in a retrograde fantasy world, married her for all the wrong reasons, chose fame over love, left us a prissy and impenetrable body of work, etc., etc.

Granted: You could comb Eliot’s entire oeuvre (including Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats) with a hard-bristle lint brush, and not a single warm fuzzy would come off. Eliot longed for an “Ignatian” spiritual life–by which he understood “Ignatian” to mean intensely Counter-Reformation Spanish, dark, and penitential. Even beginning to understand anything Eliot ever wrote requires considerable effort.

But: Are you going to make a movie about him, portraying him as the basest unfaithful hypocrite, and leave the door to his poems closed, from the opening credits to the final copyright line? How can you possibly think that you have given us anything even approaching T.S. Eliot when your dimestore psychoanalysis of him comes up with nothing more substantial than, “Poems do not express emotion. Poetry enables one to escape emotion?”

Please! One line of this man’s poetry has more to it than this movie! You have got to be kidding me.

How about reading the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, Hamlet, and Paradise Lost (all of which Eliot had done by the time he was, like, six); how about meditating on every chapter of St. John of the Cross while simultaneously learning the complete lineages of every landed family since William the Conqueror; how about scraping out a single correct Petrarchan sonnet about something; how about doing this, and then making a movie in which you turn T.S. Eliot into an idiot?

Then I will give you the time of day. In the meantime, spend a few hours in a library, please. Amazing what you might learn.

…Every year, I try to read Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” on or around, of course, Ash Wednesday.

This year the music of the poem impressed me the most. I think he’s trying to evoke the desire for time to end in a blissful moment of eternal peace. Eliot makes his words move with the sound of days passing, one after the other, veering between easy rhythm and deadening monotony. The image of leopards crouched over the poet’s bones, which then begin to sing: unforgettable.

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* In his youth, Eliot was called ‘tsetse’ or ‘tsetse fly’ because he signed himself TSE (Thomas Stearns Eliot).

Heaven is Real

The place in Jerusalem from which the Blessed Mother was assumed into heaven
The place in Jerusalem from which the Blessed Mother was assumed into heaven
Today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and pattern of your Church’s perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people.

Justly you would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb,
because from her own flesh she brought forth ineffably your incarnate Son, the author of all life.

–from the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer in today’s Mass

Our little study of Bertrand Russell’s erroneous philosophy is now catalogued the among the Compendia.

madonna1We undertook our consideration of the Bertrand Russell Case as a penitential preparation for today’s Solemnity.

It is not reasonable to think that there is no life after death. The argument that the soul is immortal is more probable: No observable force of nature can annihilate a soul.

Moreover, we have it on divine authority that our Lord Jesus rose from the dead in His human body, and He took His mother with Him to heaven.

Happy Assumption Day!

Russell Files Closed: Veritas in Caritate

Baltimore Raven Michael Oher
Baltimore Raven Michael Oher

The truth is: the Ravens head-butted the Redskins last night in the preseason opener–without charity, pity, or mercy.

23-0? Yikes…

…Ephesians 4:17-18 reads:

Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Commenting on these verses, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

Existing without an expectation of eternal life, the pagans held for a mortality of the soul contrary to faith and hope.

In “What I Believe” (1925), Bertrand Russell wrote:

bertrand russell
I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive…

It would be ridiculous to warp the philosophy of nature in order to bring out results that are pleasing to the tiny parasites of this insignificant planet.

We can conclude that Russell’s doctrine is perniciously erroneous.

As Father Mowbray said of his obtuse catechumen Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited, Russell’s darkness of mind is so extreme that it does not even “correspond to any degree of paganism known to the missionaries.”

Nonetheless, I promised to explain why the New York Supreme Court’s action against this enemy of God was unjust.

Charles Keating played Rex Mottram in BBC Brideshead
Charles Keating played Rex Mottram in BBC Brideshead

Judge McGeehan did NOT conclude that there is a standard of Christian truth that must be met by the doctrine of professors at public colleges. If he had, he would have articulated a fact that awaits clear legal articulation in this great land of ours.

As it is, the judge indulged in an untrue ad hominem* attack. He accused Russell of moral turpitude, for which there was no evidence.

It is true that purveyors of false doctrine usually teach their errors in order to justify their sins. But in the case at hand, the teacher’s sins were private–if he was in fact guilty of any. In order to keep dangerous error out of City College, Judge McGeehan libeled a world-famous philosopher who lived a perfectly respectable life.

The answer to error is not more error. And the answer to error is not force. The answer to error is truth, patience, the benefit of the doubt, and humble love.

The only way for us to conquer Bertrand Russell’s disciples (who run the show in this country these days) is by proposing the truth in love, patiently. Slow and steady wins the race. Actions speak louder than words.

(And Preacher’s aphorisms/bromides will stop at this point, until the situation demands more.)

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*Nota Bene: This link is very much worth clicking.

Russell Files #3: The Ravisher Condemned

With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of the churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception.

bertrand russellThe knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.

It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion…

…There is reason to suppose that a hundred years hence Catholciism will be the only effective representative of the Christian faith…

–Bertrand Russell, “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” 1930.

As we can see, Bertrand Russell was a ravisher of altars, intellectually speaking. We should credit him with forthrightness–most of the enemies of the faith clothe themselves in sheep’s garments.

scales_of_justiceThe question is: Should Russell have been prohibited from teaching at the City College of New York by the Supreme Court of the state of New York? This is exactly what happened in 1940.

Judge John E. McGeehan acknowledged that no written law empowered him to grant relief to a concerned mother who sued the New York Board of Higher Education. The judge ruled under “the law of nature and nature’s God.” A miscreant like Russell could not be permitted to teach. His teaching the young–at taxpayer expense–would constitute an injustice to the God-fearing citizens of the state.

Judge McGeehan rightfully pointed out that teachers exercise an influence over the whole of their students’ lives. It was a red herring for Russell’s defenders to claim that as a philosopher of science he could not influence his students’ morals.

We also have to note Judge McGeehan’s empathy with the aggrieved taxpayer. He was on to something here: A judge who refuses to understand written laws by the light of the higher law of truth and justice will fail in his duty to the poor and defenseless.

Russell dismissed Judge McGeehan’s ruling as the ravings of a benighted, prejudiced, parochial Catholic mind.

Nonetheless, the judge was no friend of justice in this case. He did an injustice to Bertrand Russell. I will explain myself next time.

annunciation-altar1

The Russell Files, Episode 2

delpo2Today is the 1,751st anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence the Deacon. Last fall, we highlighted the Holy Father’s visit to St. Lawrence’s tomb

…Delpo managed an over-heated victory yesterday, dealing poor Andy a sweltering defeat…

bertrand russell…We will discuss the court case that led America magazine to call New York Supreme Court Justice John E. McGeehan “an American, a virile and staunch American.” But first, let’s consider one of Bertrand Russell’s reasons for not being a Christian.

Russell regarded the Catholic doctrine of natural law to be irreconcilable with human freedom. He confused natural law with scientific “laws of nature.”

All just law proceeds from the Eternal Law of God for the good of everything that is subject to it. Law liberates its subject to attain fulfillment and goodness.

Creatures that do not possess intelligence are governed by the intelligence of the Creator Himself. Flowers bloom because they follow the law that the Creator inscribed in their flower-ness.

New York Supreme Court
New York Supreme Court

Natural laws of this kind are laws of sublime intelligence, inscribed in unintelligent nature for the good of the governed.

Intelligent creatures, on the other hand, possess the capacity for self-government. This is the natural law for man: that we govern ourselves according to reason.

This does not give us unlimited freedom. We are not, after all, unlimited beings–only God is. Our scope of freedom is determined by our human nature: we are rational animals, destined for the glory of God.

In other words, we possess the degree of freedom which is good for us. We have the freedom to do good and avoid evil. By doing good and avoiding evil, we…

capt ryder1. Obey the natural law.

2. Act freely.

3. Advance toward our ultimate good.

There is no contradiction between the doctrine of natural law and the freedom of man…

…”Then, at the age of 39, I began to be old.” –Captain Charles Ryder, at the beginning of the BBC version of Brideshead Revisited (based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh).

Uh-oh.

Your unworthy servant was born on a hot summer morning in 1970.

The Russell Files, Episode 1

bertrand russellWhen I was a kid, my dad liked to watch “The Rockford Files.”

It will take a few posts to cover “The Bertrand Russell Case.” So, if you would like, you can imagine James Garner’s answering machine message and sweet Pontiac Firebird as these little essays come your way…

rockford files…Bertrand Russell styled himself a philosopher, a man of relentless reason and openness to truth. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Half a century later, his essays read like mean-spirited hatchet jobs. He credits “religion” with only one contribution to history–standardizing the calendar. He dismisses Jesus Christ as a deluded and malicious crank–if He even existed at all.

Russell does not support his arguments with evidence, and many of his assertions are simply untrue.

On the other hand, he occasionally raises an interesting question. For instance, at the beginning of “Why I am not a Christian,” he confronts the problem of defining the term ‘Christian.’ He acknowledges that the term has been watered down, and he calls the bluff of non-dogmatic, liberal Protestants who more or less insist that a Christian is a “good person.”

City College of New York
City College of New York

Russell’s work IS offensive to pious readers. He is a propagandist of anti-Catholic prejudices and a P.R. man for Darwin and Freud. He provided a generation of “cultured despisers” of Christianity with its half-baked ideas.

When the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York appointed Russell as a professor of philosophy at City College in 1940, was it an affront to the common good? More to come on this question…

brooklyn decker…At the Legg-Mason Tennis Classic, Del Potro and Andy are going at it in extreme heat, in front of a long-suffering crowd, including Brooklyn Decker Roddick.

Roddick looked like he had the match in hand. The tall Argentinian was wilting in the heat.

But Delpo just broke Roddick to win the second set, and now it’s anyone’s match.

Snowfall in August

Snow on Esquiline Hill on August 5, 366
Snow on Esquiline Hill on August 5, 366

Devoted readers know that we have often referred to the Roman basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, St. Mary Major. Some of us visited this beautiful church last fall.

SantaMariaMaggiore_frontThe location for the Roman basilica of Our Lady was determined by a small patch of snowfall which occurred in the heat of Roman summer. Fr. Zuhlsdorf has an excellent description of the Roman heat in his blog post of two years ago

…Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said that he will vote to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, in spite of ideological differences.

Six decades ago, there was another Carolina Senator Graham–Frank Porter Graham. He had been the President of the University of North Carolina.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
In that capacity, Graham had written to Fiorello LaGuardia, then Mayor of New York, supporting the appointment of philosopher Bertrand Russell to a temporary teaching position at City College of New York. Graham signed the letter along with a number of other University Presidents.

Meanwhile, Fr. Robert Gannon, President of Fordham, America magazine, and many others voiced their vehement opposition.

A clash of cultural presuppositions erupted. Russell was the author of, among other essays, “Why I am not a Christian.”

COMING SOON: Much more on this…