September 29

Even more historical wisdom:

I reveal myself in my true colors, as a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time. I believe order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men have not changed much in the last two thousand years; and in consequence we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves. I also hold one or two beliefs that are more difficult to put shortly. For example, I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people’s feelings by satisfying our own egos. I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole, which for convenience we call nature. All living things are our brothers and sisters. Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible. – Kenneth Clark, Civilization

The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest. – Martin Luther

It is always disagreeable to say: “I do not know. I cannot know.” It must not be said except after an energetic, even a desperate search. But there are times when the sternest duty of the savant, who has first tried every means, is to resign himself to his ignorance and to admit it honestly. – March Bloch, The Historian’s Craft

In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to. – Theodore Dalrymple

September 26

St. Cyprian the Magician

According to Chambers’ Book of Days: 

This saint, so surnamed from his having, previous to his conversion, practised the arts of a magician or diviner, has been coupled in the calendar with Justina, a young Syrian lady, regarding whom a young pagan nobleman applied to Cyprian to assist him with his arts in rendering her more favourable to his suit. Justina was a Christian, and opposed, we are told, through the aid of the Virgin, such an effectual resistance to the devices of Cyprian, that the latter was convinced of the weakness of the infernal spirits, and resolved to quit their service. He consulted a priest named Eusebius, who encouraged him in the work of conversion, which he ultimately consummated by burning all his magical books, giving his substance to the poor, and enrolling himself among the Christian catechumens. On the breaking out of the persecution under Dioclesian, Cyprian was apprehended and carried before the Roman governor at Tyre. Justina, who had been the original mover in his change of life, was, at the same time, brought before this judge and cruelly scourged, whilst Cyprian was torn with iron hooks. After this the two martyrs were sent to Nicomedia, to the Emperor Diocletian, who forthwith commanded their heads to be struck off. The history of St. Cyprian and St. Justina was recorded in a Greek poem by the Empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius the Younger, a work which is now lost.

The two were struck from the saints’ calendar in the papal reforms of 1969, but since that purge also demoted Saint Nicholas we need pay no attention to it.

September 25

Some assorted historical wisdom today:

The parable of Pythagoras is dark, but true; Cor ne edito; “Eat not the heart.” Certainly if a man would give it a hard phrase, those that lack friends to open themselves unto are cannibals of their own hearts. But one thing is most admirable (wherewith I will conclude this first fruit of friendship), which is, that this communicating of a man’s self to his friend, works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in halves. For there is no man, that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less.  – Francis Bacon, “Friendship”, Essays

It tickles human vanity to tell us that we are wiser than our fathers; and it is one of those propositions which is likely to pass without contradiction, from the circumstance that all those most interested in denying it are dead and gone. But if the grave could speak, and the churchyards vote upon the question, we living boasters would be in a most pitiful minority. – James K. Paulding, The Merry Tales of the Three Wise Men of Gotham.

Someone asked Diogenes why people gave to beggars, but not to philosophers. He answered, “Because they think it’s possible that they themselves might become lame and blind, but they don’t expect that they’ll ever end up philosophers.” – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers.

There are two phases for each period in history. The first phase is called “What Can It Hurt?” and the second is called “How Were We to Know?” – Mark Shea

September 24

1890 Mormons renounce polygamy

It’s amazing how many heretical groups start off with changes in sexual behaviour among their tenets: the nudism of the Adamites, the antinomianism of the Ranters and the multiple wives of Islam and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints. With the exception of Islam, it usually ends, or ends badly. In 1890, under pressure from the U.S. government and eager for Utah statehood, the LDS Church forbade future multiple wife taking. Existing polygamous unions were left unaffected and covert evasion of the decree continues to this day among some sects.

1957 Little Rock Schools integrated by the 101st Airborne

Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus opposed integration of public schools and ordered his state’s National Guard to prevent black students from entering Little Rock Central High School. President Dwight Eisenhower countered by sending in the paratroopers. Though admitted, the first nine black students were subject to shameful verbal and physical abuse by townsfolk and their fellow students.

September 22

It is often forgotten that the decision by Nazi Germany to invade Poland in September 1939, and thus to start the Second World War, was only made possible by a secret agreement with the government of the USSR. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of the previous month contained clauses that partitioned Poland into German and Soviet zones of influence and allowed Russia to drive into Poland from the east with the Wehrmacht struck from the west.

On this date in 1939 German and Soviet forces met, and in token of their victory over Poland, held a celebratory military parade in Brest-Litovsk (ironically the site of a humiliating capitulation by Lenin’s Bolshevik government to imperial Germany in World War I). Standing on the platform in the photo above are two geniuses of tank warfare, Germany’s Heinz Guderian and the Soviet Semyon Krivoshein.

The Soviets occupied eastern Poland until 1941 when Hitler’s surprise attack, Operation Barbarossa, broke the peace treaty with the USSR and opened up a new front in the war. In the interim the Soviets had taken hundreds of thousands of Polish prisoners and massacred the officer class in the Katyn forest in 1940. The Red Army would return in 1944 and drive out the Germans. Their stay would last until the fall of eastern European communism in 1989.

September 21

1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie’s first victory

In 1689 James II, King of England and Scotland, was deprived of his throne in what came to be known as the Glorious or Bloodless Revolution. His desire to bring about religious toleration for Catholics (he was one) and his abuse of constitutional norms to do so united much of the political class who summoned James’s daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William to assume rule. William and Mary died childless and were succeed by James’s other daughter Anne. When she died in 1714, the English looked about for a Protestant heir and found one in George I who became the first of the Hanoverian line.

The descendants of James II were not willing to let the Stuart claim to the throne lapse. In 1715 James the Old Pretender launched an invasion of England with French help but was repelled. In 1745, his son (the grandson of James II) Charles Edward, known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland and found a small army of supporters to rally around him. His men (called Jacobites after the Latin translation of James) quickly took Edinburgh, forcing the British army to try and bring him to open battle.

This they did at Prestonpans, east of the capital. The redcoats outnumbered the Scots and were better armed but the Jacobites were made of sterner stuff than the ill-trained and inexperienced Englishmen. A sudden and savage Highland charge broke their opponents in less than fifteen minutes, killing hundreds and taking even more prisoners.

Charles Stuart’s success here led him and his generals to believe that such a charge could win them more battles but the Highlanders were massacred at Culloden when they faced disciplined troops and artillery fire.

September 20

1871 Martyrdom of a missionary bishop

On this date, churches of the Anglican communion celebrate the life of John Patteson (1827-71), the first Bishop of Melanesia. Patterson was the great-nephew of the poet Samuel Coleridge, educated at Oxford, and ordained a priest. He was a devoted student of languages and a country curate when he was recruited in 1854 to become a missionary in the Southern Pacific.

Based in New Zealand, Patteson sailed through the island chains of Melanesia trying to spread Christianity. To enable himself for this task he learned 23 native languages, wrote grammars for these tongues and translated parts of the Gospel. His job was made immeasurable harder by the presence in those areas of “blackbirders”, essentially kidnappers from British ships who would recruit islanders as indentured labourers and treat them as slaves on plantations. Patteson’s desire to offer a boarding-school education for native youth seemed to many of the locals as just another way of taking away their young men who would never return. Despite his opposition to this slave trade Patteson was attacked on more than one occasion. On this date in 1871 Patteson was killed on an island in the Solomons; his body was found floating at sea in a canoe with a palm leaf in his hand.

His death spurred a crack-down on black-birding and steps were taken to better protect islanders. Patteson is buried in Exeter Cathedral’s Martyrs’ Pulpit.

September 19

Saint Januarius

Should you happen to be in Naples on this date, or on December 16, or on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May, make it your business to drop in on the cathedral where you may be fortunate enough to see a miracle. At these times, the dried blood of St Januarius (or San Gennaro to the locals) will liquefy.

Januarius was the bishop of Naples during the time of the persecution of Christianity by the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century. In 304, he was thrown to the bears and then beheaded. His relics were preserved and it was noted in 1389 that when the ampoule containing his blood was brought near the reliquary containing his head, liquefaction occurred. This miracle came to occur regularly on his saint’s day (today), the anniversary of the translation of his relics, and on the festival of his patronage of Naples.

On March 21, 2015, the blood in the vial appeared to liquify during a visit by Pope Francis. This was taken as a sign of the saint’s favour of the pope. The blood did not liquify when Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited nor when Naples elected a Communist mayor. Make of that what you will.

Januarius is the patron of Naples and blood banks and may be invoked against volcanic eruptions.

September 17


An account from Butler’s Book of Saints of the life of a churchman during the turbulent rule of the Merovingian Franks.

St Landebert, called in later ages Lambert, was a native of Maestricht, and born of a noble and wealthy family between the years 633 and 638. His father sent him to St Theodard to perfect his education. This holy bishop had such an esteem for his pupil that he spared no trouble in instructing and training him in learning and Christian virtue, and he was a credit to his master: his biographer, who was born soon after Lambert’s death, describes him as, “a prudent young man of pleasing looks, courteous and well behaved in his speech and manners; well built, strong, a good fighter, clear-headed, affectionate, pure and humble, and fond of reading”. When St Theodard, who was bishop of Tongres-Maestricht, was murdered, Lambert was chosen to succeed him; but the tyrannical Ebroin was reinstated as mayor of the palace when the Austrasian king, Childeric II, was slain in 674, and he at once began to revenge himself on those who had supported Childeric. This revolution affected St Lambert, who was expelled from his see. He retired to the monastery of Stavelot, and during the seven years that he continued there he obeyed the rule as strictly as the youngest novice could have done. One instance will suffice to show how he devoted his heart to serve God according to the perfection of his temporary state. One night in winter he let fall his shoe, so that it made a noise. This the abbot heard, and he ordered him who was responsible for that noise to go and pray before the great cross, which stood outside the church door. Lambert, without making any answer, went out as he was, barefoot and covered only with his shirt; and in this condition he prayed, kneeling before the cross, three or four hours. Whilst the monks were warming themselves after Matins, the abbot inquired if all were there. Answer was made that he had sent someone to the cross who had not yet come in. The abbot ordered that he should be called, and was surprised to find that the person was the Bishop of Maestricht, who made his appearance almost frozen. 

In 681 Ebroin was assassinated, and Pepin of Herstal, being made mayor of the palace, expelled the usurping bishops and, among other exiled prelates, restored St Lambert to Maestricht. The holy pastor returned to his flock animated with redoubled fervour, preaching and discharging his other duties with wonderful zeal and fruit. Finding there still remained many pagans in Kempenland and Brabant he applied himself to convert them to the faith, softened their barbarous temper by his patience, regenerated them in the water of baptism, and destroyed many superstitious observances. In the neighbourhood of his own see he founded with St Landrada the monastery of Munsterbilzen for nuns. 

Pepin of Herstal, after living many years in wedlock with St Plectrudis, entered into adulterous relations with her sister Alpais (of whom was born Charles Martel), and St Lambert expostulated with the guilty couple. Alpais complained to her brother Dodo, who with a party of his followers set upon St Lambert and murdered him as he knelt before the altar in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian at Liege. That is the later story of the circumstances of St Lambert’s death, but his earliest biographers, writing in the eighth and tenth centuries, tell a quite different tale. According to them, two relatives of Lambert, Peter and Andolet, killed two men who were making themselves obnoxious to the bishop. When Dodo, a kinsman of the men thus slain, came with his followers to take revenge, Lambert told Peter and Andolet that they must expiate their crime. They were killed on the spot; and when the bishop’s room was found to be barred, one of Dodo’s men climbed to the window and cast a spear which killed Lambert too, as he knelt in prayer. This took place at a house where is now the city of Liege.

Lambert’s death, suffered with patience and meekness, joined with the eminent sanctity of his life, caused him to be venerated as a martyr. His body was conveyed to Maestricht. Several miracles which ensued excited the people to build a church where the house stood in which he was slain, and his successor, St Hubert, translated thither his relics. At the same time he removed to the same place the episcopal see of Tongres-Maestricht, and around the cathedral which enshrined the relics of 8t Lambert the city of Liege grew up. He is to this day the principal patron of that place.

September 14

1523 Death of a Dutch pope

Pope Adrian VI, born Adriaan Florensz in Utrecht, in the Netherlands in 1459, was the last non-Italian pope for over 450 years. He was born into a humble family but received an excellent education at a school run by the Brethren of the Common Life, who were pioneering humanist teaching for lay people. He went on to the University of Leuven on a scholarship provided by the Duchess of Burgundy. He became a teacher of theology and eventually taught that subject at the university where one of his students was Erasmus.

When the Habsburg princess Margaret of Austria became Governor of the Netherlands in 1506, she chose Adrian as an adviser. He soon became tutor to her nephew Charles, the son of Emperor Maximilian, a boy who would himself become Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. He was employed frequently by the Habsburgs, who ruled almost half of Europe, as a diplomat. He served for a time as Regent of Spain and as head of the Spanish Inquisition.

In January, 1522 he was elected pope in the midst of the burgeoning Protestant Reformation. He condemned Luther as a heretic but his own attempts at reform were viewed with suspicion and resistance from his conservative cardinals. He died in September 1523.