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Happy Deathday

More More here.

Worlds collide, heads explode, film at eleven…

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two had lunch, says Bryan A. Garner, a lexicographer and legal-writing consultant from Texas who arranged the encounter.

Jimmy Goin

“Despite the massive destruction of property only one person was killed by the fire, a young boy named James Goin.” – Wikipedia, “Great Seattle fire”

They say I died that day Seattle’s
Ignited skyline vented sparks
Like starry palimpsests and riddles
Of fire, dispatches from the Sphinx
To night. Such conundrums continue
To linger – the greatest knot to
Untangle, though, is Jimmy Goin –
The other side of mystery’s coin:
How to go about setting fire
To ghosts? First, telegraph the poets
With arson-odes and firebug-sonnets;
Then put Calliope on the wire –
For when she whispered out my name
My pants erupted into flame.

More or Less

Ed. Note: Yesterday was the Feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, Martyrs, and the first day of Fortnight for Freedom as called for by the U.S. Bishops in response to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring religious institutions to pay for contraceptive drugs and services through insurance health coverage.

Before the bells struck nine times on the morning on July 6, 1535, a man renowned for his talent in philosophy, law, politics and even theology, stood before a crowd, seconds away from the most important speech of his life.

Those who had gathered weren’t there to hear a lecture on metaphysics, divine grace or a keystone legal principle. Nor were they there to hear a speech which sought to guide the ship of state on a prudential course of action.   Rather, they were there to see this philosopher-lawyer-politician-theologian lose his head over a single idea.

By the world’s reckoning, it was a cheap price for one’s life.

But it was an idea which would touch on all these disciplines which not only defined his public life but perhaps even prepared his life, public and otherwise, for this one moment on his final rostrum.

 This condemned man was none other than Sir Thomas More, until recently the Chancellor of England (a post only second to the king himself), a close friend of King Henry VIII, a welcomed guest of royal and legal courts alike, and one of the most brilliant minds of his day not only in England but in all of Europe.

But, having been stripped of honors and wealth alike, this late medieval celebrity would soon be known by a different, more exulted title – St. Thomas More, Martyr.

As he stood before the crowd, perhaps he took some comfort in the fact that he was abandoned by all but his family and closest friends. It would have to have been a consolation. After all, did not his master and savior have at least that much as he clung to his last labored breaths, hanging from the midday cross outside the gates of another famous city far to the east of London?

Of course, More’s fine mind would have made the proper distinctions: Christ was without sin and therefore died in complete innocence. He, More, while guiltless in this particular case, was as flawed as any man born of original sin.

No matter, though – for he knew that even that primal flaw – the same shared by every king and pauper, nobleman and commoner, all the players on the stage of history – had been provided a remedy through the blood and mercy that God spilled on that other hill far east of London’s time and place, more than 1,500 years ago – that same blood and mercy which, with the fall of the executioner’s axe blade would come, he prayed, to his assistance now that the hour of his death was upon him.

Nor did he ever lose the calm which stood as testament to the easy commerce of faith and reason within his mind and soul.  Even  Joseph Addison, not the first but perhaps one of the best to reside over Caesar’s inkwell, willingly renders unto Christ what was Christ’s: he would have willingly agreed with the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) which declared that “no martyr ever surpassed [More] in fortitude.” 

Indeed, as he notes in the retrospective Spectator, Addison observes, “that innocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in [More’s] life, did not forsake him to the last . . .his death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced or affected. He did not look upon the severing of his head from his body as a circumstance that ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind“.

 As he stood there before the crowd – it was a brief interim between his ascending the scaffold and his head making the return trip – even then, he was not without mirth (“I pray you, I pray you, Mr. Lieutenant,” he was heard to say, “see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself!”). Perhaps as he stood there, though, he thought for a split second of that other Thomas who stood at the noonday of the medieval age and on the edge of a more peaceful yet equally joyful death.

Already the medieval age had been in full decline with the “new learning” that More, his friend and fellow mega-scholar Erasmus and even King Henry had helped popularize. In many ways, the medieval age, already in its twilight, would meet its midnight with More’s death.

And perhaps in thinking of Aquinas, More also thought about the mystic-philosopher’s final revelation, that all the wealth and wisdom of the world is “like straw” compared to the vista of heaven’s riches that was permitted to him in his own final days.

The philosopher in More could as ably distinguish the chaff of accidents from the essential wheat of being which Aquinas had gleaned to the benefit of Church and history.  After all, weren’t More’s own final words the same notion uttered by Aquinas, only reset – like the lines of block type in that contraption already become popular in More’s day, the printing press – in his own field of expertise, the political order?

For all his devoted service to secular thrones and powers of England, this servant recognized that his earthly duties were no more than straw compared to his obeisance to the true throne and only power that rules all nations.

Standing on the sill of heaven itself, awaiting the fall of the blade which would separate his head from his body, More would see his earthly pilgrimage come to an end.

And what, to get to the bottom of it, washis crime?

The particulars matter greatly – and give the bracing pulse and beat to historian and playwright alike. But for our purposes, suffice it to say that More’s crime was part of the same drama that governments and secular leaders had rehearsed on countless saints before and since Sir Thomas ascended the scaffold, More’s last place on earth – which he no doubt saw as a mere stepping stone to God’s mercy and a bitter yet brief prelude to the sweet hope of heaven.

A prominent wooden gantry, solidly built and firmly set in the middle of the square served as the stage on which More and his executioner played the only two roles necessary in this drama.

It’s only action was the fall of an ax (or in other variations – the drop of a trap door to allow the law of gravity to make its final ruling, the fixing of flesh by steel to wood, the slow mutiny of the human body itself tortured in extremis).

Yet after the blade’s fall, expert and precise, its sound reverberates like a song through the centuries even to our own time.

And leave it to More to add words to the song.

Before genuflecting to the chopping block, More’s final speech, the shortest of his life, also rang out across the square that day – his last day on earth and first in heaven.

“I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first!”

Perhaps more effectively than any other words written or spoken by Thomas More, these last words stand as a eviscerating critique of those who would subordinate the individual conscience (formed by its adherence to the teachings of the one, true and apostolic Church) to the corporate wishes or collective whims of any earthly power.

These words defy and refute the worldly and misguided motives of history’s politicians who have allowed for an unholy space within the conscience to accommodate a law or laws reprehensible to God and nature and evacuate justice and mercy, truth and righteousness  – even (as Thomas More himself might say with his famous sense of humor – in turns bawdy and scatological) as a harlot would accommodate her customers by evacuating her bowels.

From Korrektiv’s Lost and (Re)Found Department

 

 

“The Bavarian State Library in Munich announces that Origen’s homilies on the Psalms have been discovered in an 11th century Greek manuscript,” reports Patristics blogger Alin Siciu.

Most of the rest is in German, but  – (They got pictures!) – check it out anyway.

This exciting news of course immediately raises a practical question which classicist blogger Roger Pearse is on top of like Alciabiades on top of a …well never mind.

It all sounds rather originel, if you ask me.

The Great Seattle Fire

June 6, 1889

A pot was cooking down to havoc
And mucilage and everything
Became unglued. Seattle’s maverick
Adherence to its soul would bring
A yield, though – dividends beyond that
Which sizzling ruin spares and gets
A mayor to flee from fanning winds – what
Had vacated his cabinets….
(Some cabinets will hold possessions
And others hide the truth from sight;
From some will come enlightened lessons –
Like flames that strike and stick to night.)
Within a year the folk who heard
Returned, their stock increased a third.

Canticle: A Lamentation of Lamentations

for Jonathan Potter

Telling it ruins it.- Walker Percy

If time’s axes could be measured by x’s and y’s,
Weightlessness would hit the moon and comes up short
As typical astronauts would goof on graffiti
That beats them to the punch – “Clapton is God,”
The lunar lithograph exclaims. The pretensions
Are less than literary and more than time allows.
This message from the stars came back as reverb,
A name renamed, distortion, a bending of chords….
And
The same for seeing Israel dimly touching goatskin
On a TV talk show – “That’s Esau, or my name’s not Ishack!”
He touches his nose and suddenly all of Egypt knows
The shivering of naked bodies, all twisted by weird news –
Assemble on a hardwood bench before a swimming pool,
Olympic-sized, its water cold with catharsis. A sauna
Awaits an answer, scalding hot with cleansing steam.
The swimming instructor presumes to know their ἕποι
And
Let’s count them off – a madwoman who bent herself
Into a chimney and another into a ventilation shaft:
Both waited to die, discovering what we’ll never find out
Unless we interpret their deaths as more akin to life;
A man who chewed away at the face of another man,
Strong with the urge to prove that human flesh must eat,
Faceless, drug out from shadows, out into light,
Miami’s hot sun, in plain view, faceless, nothing new….
And
A boy who burnt his parish church down to see Christ
The night He was born. His innocent match lights the hay,
The statues, altar, body, blood, soul and divinity.
Still another boy who greeted mother as a corpse
Every day for seven weeks after school, alone, together,
And not knowing death, only sleep and love;
He took direction from her ghost until the matrix
Decided enough was enough; then there was the last,
And
So lost in numbers among forceps and lawful blood,
The airlock of bickering rhetoric, a silent scream,
This one, he or she, counts, observable, if only for Rachel.
Remember Rachel? “Who is Rachel? What is she?”
And

My guitar gently weeps.

“Do Pre-Persons Dream of Algebra?”

Well, look at that, Alphonse (and other attempts at getting at the infinite mystery and fragile pricelessness of personhood through fiction) isn’t kid’s stuff, after all… At least, not if we’re to believe what the esteemed and delightfully grumpy Thomas Fleming has to say about Philip K. Dick…

image credit

 

A Wager for the Sanguinoid

If you’ve been around the Catholic blogosphere for a while you know there’s a guy named Chris Sullivan who is from New Zealand (I think) and who always signs his comments with “Peace.”

This is the other Chris Sullivan. (my uncle, so watch yourself.)

Back in the ’90s, I coined the word “sanguinoid” to describe a mental disorder that causes the sufferer to believe that everybody is out to help him; sort of the opposite of paranoia. It seems that this disorder afflicts many people at election times.

and

The election just past (meaning the 2010 election) brought out lots of people who believed the “throw the bums out” mantra of the Tea Party and others. This is sort of understandable with young voters who haven’t seen the same performance over and over again, but I was talking to a 72 year-old man that thought the Republicans were going to come in and clean house. If he had adopted my “wager that they’re lying” principle he would not now be disappointed.

Now, clearly it’s in my blood to believe there are liars on both sides, but this bit of mendacity from the president’s official Tumblr is particularly egregious.

Is this supposed to be cute?

The fact that the election is being presented as some kind of referendum on contraception pushes me to despair over how easy it is to manipulate popular opinion in today’s instantaneous-soundbite-world.

And I also wonder – if I can tell that the media is this inept in correctly representing my own belief system, why should I trust in their competence to accurately report on anything else?

Blessed are the poor…

…in America, for they shall inherit a refrigerator, a plasma TV, a DVD player,  cable or satellite TV, Internet, video games, a car or truck, a microwave, and air conditioning.

Something to think about in this season of taxgiv- I’m sorry, I mean almsgiving… 

Best tip: give to Catholic Charities/CRS, the most efficient domestic/overseas organizations going. BONUS: It’s been run by an organization that’s been in the charity business for well over 2000 years…

Soothe the Despondent Beast (Audience Participation)

Is it just me? Or is there more conflict in the air – more stormclouds on the horizon? I’ve been feeling so anxious lately. It’s time to come to the aid of the nation and make another Pandora station.

The question: What do you listen to when it’s time to calm your bad self down?