Tuesday, July 12, 2016

An old classic.

And the goode wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the merchaũt was angry. for he also coude speke no frenshe, but wolde have hadde egges; and she understode hym not
Circa 1490. Lower third of the image in this charming page. (I still wonder: why French?)

I'm pretty sure it was somewhere around St Pod's that I first heard this tale; it is a fun one!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Most Human Languages are not Associative.

(which I have also mentioned in the book of faces, today)

That is, semantics depends strongly on syntax, and especially on implicit bracketing.

Consider the two sentences, one of which will sound odd (almost as if it wasn't spoken in English!) and one of which will sound insane.

1) Because of this [wrong understanding], (most (sacramental marriages)) are (null).
2) Because of this [wrong understanding] most (sacramental marriages are null).

Note that most people can't reliably articulate or discern comma. Note that appart from parenthesis, the same words are present in both sentences. Try to find the main verb in the second sentence: it is actually absent; "sacramental marriages [ ] null" is a noun (an interrupted noun) in the second sentence.

What the first sentence suggests is that almost all the world is living a lie—and heaps of people have (reasonably-enough) asked things like "how would we know?". What the second sentence suggests is that there's a strong trend among those tribunals that find nullity. And... you know what, of course that's perfectly reasonable. And certainly the Pope, of all people, ought to know it.

Sentence 2, the one translated from what the Holy Father said in his Q-and-A, doesn't look like English because it wasn't spoken in English by an English speaker. To be sure it has been translated badly, perhaps because the translator thought he'd heard sentence 1. To be sure, His Holiness could have mentioned "tribunal" and "finding" and all that, (not to mention how a marriage cannot be null if it is sacramental, because if it is null, then also it is nothing else), ... but that's no reason to work your parsing of him (in translation!) on the assumption that he's off his rocker or any such.

"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", not "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen".

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Officers? or Gentlemen?

[Spoilers!] (image source)
Col. Marchpole's department was so secret that it communicated only with the War Cabinet and the chiefs of staff. Col. Marchpole kept his information until it was asked for. To date that had not occured, and he rejoiced under neglect. Premature examination of his files might ruin his private, undefined Plan. Somewhere in the ultimate curlicues of his mind, there was a Plan. Given time, given enough confidential material, he would succeed in knittng the entire quarrelsome world into a single net of conspiracy, in which there were no antagonists, merely millions of men working, unknown to one another, for the same end; and there would be no more war.1
This is what I think of when Soros Inan remarks that "national borders are the obstacle" as if that were a bad thing, and not actually the very purpose of national borders. Whether he is disingenuous or has quite lost all his faculties, I am not competent to judge; thank Heaven.

1) Officers and Gentlemen, by Evelyn Waugh.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What IS ... mercy?

“The Girl who was Saturday” relayed
An additional thought from my father-in-law (a theologian who's given some time to this issue): Perhaps we are to understand the unbaptized infants who reach heaven (if they do--and I certainly hope they do) as signals of God's MERCY as opposed to of his JUSTICE or his covenant.
To the extent that mercy and justice are different (even "opposed") things, I suppose this must be right. (Indeed, I have at times voiced a thought that it were more befitting humility to implore God's mercy than His justice).

We are as it happens, in the middle of a Year of Mercy, and so I think it perhaps good to consider what mercy really is (and justice).

We have a tendency to think of law and judgment when "justice" is mentioned, but I'd like to share an aspect of justice (and justification) that I learned from French: justice is about harmony. That is, when a violin student misses his notes (violins have no frets, remember!) or when his strings are out of tune, if the lessons are conducted in French, the teacher may well admonish the student to "justifier ses cordes" (strings), or to "justifier ses accords" (chords, harmonies). Justification, like typographic justification, is about modifying tension (in strings, or between lettertype) to acheive harmony.

Now, some strings do become untuneable: when a string is overstretched more in one place than others, it no longer vibrates in a true tone — it looses harmony even with itself. Some strings outright break without much warning. These strings a violinist must throw away. But there are other ways for strings to loose their tuning: there is slackness, there is accretion of weight of dust and oil and rosin... and justice can in those cases be restored by purging the string of its burdens. Strings can also go funny when their instrument (like our fallen world) shifts under abuse or accident, and justice is then restored by caring for the instrument, more than the strings.

Now, in many ways, people are not like strings (and in many ways people are not like programs); whether we finally break or irreversibly distort our natures, or allow ourselves to be cleaned and tuned to perfection in the venturus saeculi, is somehow within our own choosing.

But we cannot call this stew finished without some salt, without returning to the moral questions, to law and judgment. To attempt an answer to the title question, mercy is at the very least justice due to an injured person. And so a criminal (a sinner like me) may rightly be due some mercy when he becomes in spirit a victim of his own crime; but to do that, to own his misery as it were (help me at it O Lord!) he must repent, he must repudiate his former crime as wrong in itself. Contrariwise, to ultimately hold onto that which put discord between one and God is also to be out of harmony with oneself, to be unjustifiable.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Yesterday I sat down to listen to Sibelius' 5th Symphony; and what I heard reminded me so of Britten's Sea Interludes.

Today I'm listening to some Aaron Copland (you should certainly try his 3rd Symphony; it's called "Fanfare for the Common Man", but it could just as well be called "The Promise of Living"), currently, the "Billy the Kid" Suite... and what my brain thinks I'm hearing is Ottorino Respighi ("Pines of Rome" particularly).

Some have said that when you mix up people's names, it's because they're like family in your head. I don't want to mix up Respighi and Copland, but...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Adventures II

This shop is famous for its glazes; the α-ω above is in the architectural sample display room, and they proudly display pictures of other devotional works they have done. At the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in The District, is a crypt chapel roofed by Gustavino vaults1 constructed of this shop's tile.

Second visit (I wrote a little about the first a couple years back); this time with my whole family, to celebrate a cousin's wedding.

But, in short, Detroit is a nifty city, containing plenty of stuff well worth your praying for its preservation, not to mention the people living there.

1: Gustavino vaulting is assembled (unusual for masonry arches) unsuspended and without scaffolding. Instead it is constructed of units interlocking (a similar idea to Bruneleschi's dome) and self-supporting from the base up — something like the way igloos are built.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Type and Fulfilment

Today recall we when all first heard the Gospel in their own tongues.

It is an important point that this was in fact a miracle. In particular, there were different tongues and they were none of them universally intelligible. And that means it's well worth while to review the event from which several mutually unintelligible tongues have been spoken.
5 Descendit autem Dominus ut videret civitatem et turrem quam aedificabant filii Adam 6 et dixit “Ecce, unus est populus, et unum labium. Omnibus coeperuntque hoc facere, nec desistent a cogitationibus suis donec eas opere conpleant. 7 “Venite igitur, descendamus et confundamus ibi linguam eorum, ut non audiat unusquisque vocem proximi sui.” 8 Atque ita divisit eos Dominus ex illo loco in universas terras, et cessaverunt aedificare civitatem.
I have remarked before that the sin of Babel was not trying to reach Heaven, but to ecclipse God within it and over Creation. No good could come to men who sought to do this, and so the Lord God most mercifully prevented them, and set up a sign for a time to come.

What has happened, from Holy Week through Easter unto the Ascension, and finally made manifest, cum complerentur dies Pentecostes, is not the effacement of the curse of Babel, but its transformation into something still more wonderful. They who spoke different languages because Man sought to ecclipse the Divine, they have been enlightened by a Man Divine, and heard the Good News each in their own language; those who did not know the way to Heaven and thought to reach it with baked slime bricks (as was Adam formed of the slime of the Earth), they have been shown the Way to Heaven, and the keys to it are kept by Simon the Rock; and as God descended over Babel to prevent their perdition in vain follies, again God descended upon the Disciples who were gathered together with Mary, appearing as tongues of fire — the fire of Charity, fire to kindle the Light of the World, fire to bake firm the bricks of which the Church is built!

Happy and Holy Pentecost, everybody!