• July 22nd, 2014Joseph Conrad’s Prince Romanby Daniel J. Heisey

    Thirty-one years ago in the journal Conradiana, C. F. Burgess had an essay, “Conrad’s Catholicism.”  As Burgess noted, critics tend to dismiss the notion of Joseph Conrad’s Catholicism, preferring to see him as a secular unbeliever.  As with any great artist, Conrad can get projected onto him the image of many of his admirers.

    Born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in a part of Poland then dominated by Russia, Conrad (1857-1924) was baptized Catholic and had a funeral Mass, but for much of his life, he was not a practicing Catholic.  All the same, he identified himself as a Catholic and identified with Catholic culture.  In his fiction Conrad explored moral themes, such as in Victory (1915), where he drew upon the biblical imagery of man and woman in a Garden of Eden haunted and hunted by malevolent forces.

    In his non-fiction work, Conrad also reflected upon Catholic culture and gave a glimpse into his own religious beliefs.  In Notes on Life and Letters (1921), Conrad observed that “What humanity needs is not the promise of scientific immortality, but compassionate pity in this life and infinite mercy on the Day of Judgment.”  He also declared that “Mankind has been demoralized since by its own mastery of mechanical appliances.”  In contrast to those machines, he sketched Krakow by moonlight:  “The unequal massive towers of St. Mary’s Church soared aloft into the ethereal radiance of the air, very black on their shaded sides, glowing with a soft phosphorescent sheen on the others.”

    A scene drawn from his family history became a short story, “Prince Roman,” written in 1910 and first published the following year.  In it Conrad dealt with the theme of patriotism, “a somewhat discredited sentiment,” he mused, “because the delicacy of our humanitarians regards it as a relic of barbarism.”  Nevertheless, he noted, “St. Francis blessing with his last breath the town of Assisi” was not a barbarian.  The prince of the title was Prince Roman Sanguszko (1800-1881); as a boy, Conrad had briefly met him, and the prince featured in the memoirs of Conrad’s maternal uncle.

    The tale is told by a man of late middle age who recalls a day in his boyhood when he had met Prince Roman.  The narrator contrasts his boyish knowledge of princes in fairy tales, “in which princes always appear young, charming, heroic, and fortunate,” with the elderly personage presented to him.  The aged prince was tall, stiff, bald, his face having “harmonious simplicity of lines” yet a “deathlike pallor.”  Moreover, the old man was stone deaf.

    From that encounter emerges a description of the prince’s tragic yet heroic youth.  In 1831, the time of the November Uprising, when Poles rebelled against Russian rule, the prince was newly married and an officer in the Guards.  Prince Roman possessed “something reserved and reflective in his character,” and he was “a rather silent young man.”  Here I will say only that his strength and silence sustain him during his long exile to Siberia.

    As we have seen in the life of Saint John Paul II (1920-2005), a Pole’s love for his native land and literature runs immeasurably deep.  Conrad shared that love, and however far he sailed or imagined himself, his heart returned to Poland.  “It requires a certain greatness of soul to interpret patriotism worthily,” wrote Conrad in “Prince Roman,” “or else a sincerity of feeling denied to the vulgar refinement of modern thought which cannot understand the august simplicity of a sentiment proceeding from the very nature of things and men.”

    It seems that almost every high school student in the United States is required to read Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness,” and as a result Conrad seems in danger of being remembered for that tale alone.  While it can be interesting to connect the dots between that story and T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” (1922) and the film Apocalypse Now (1979), one might not be getting the best first taste of Conrad.  Besides, some readers are put off by the narrative device of Marlow rambling on for more than a hundred pages; others, of course, are put off by anything mandated by a syllabus.

    It would be better to begin with a story like “Prince Roman,” a sketch of duty and what Conrad called “quiet intrepidity,” or “The Secret Sharer,” a study of loyalty, friendship, and risk.  Novels like The Secret Agent (1907), about the grotesque folly of revolution, or Lord Jim (1900), about a flawed hero, can come next.  Like “Heart of Darkness,” Lord Jim employs the storyteller Marlow, so a mini-course for deeper Conrad studies could be built around those two works.

    All the while, despite a reputation for brooding melancholy, Conrad displays dry humor and clever touches of irony.  The passage in The Secret Agent about the need for an Act of Parliament to order houses to move round the corner to their correct addresses could have come from G. K. Chesterton.  Likewise, the serenely stupid Captain MacWhirr of Typhoon could have stepped out of something by Charles Dickens.

    On his many travels in Africa and the Middle East, the great explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) had with him volumes of Conrad.  One could do worse than follow his example and spend time with Conrad’s often wry meditations on the complexity of our unchanging human nature.  Thesiger appreciated Conrad for seeing not only that continuity, but also the permanent truths of life that transcend modern fads.

    Both men saw that there is much more to life than “the vulgar refinement of modern thought.”  For them, vitality came from the “august simplicity” of elemental realities.  Tellingly, Thesiger called a collection of his writings Desert, Marsh, and Mountain.  Conrad loved the sea and Poland and his adopted home of England, where he and his family lie buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery outside Canterbury, granite monuments preserving their ancestral name in a foreign land.


    Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

  • July 22nd, 2014Stratford Caldecott: Go With Godby Michael Lichens

    On July 17th, Stratford Caldecott fell asleep in the Lord after a long battle with prostate cancer. Already, many have written great words of mourning for one of the most powerful voices of Catholic cultural renewal. The author of several books (and a contributor to many more) and the co-founder and editor of Second Spring, a Catholic journal he and his wife Léonie long edited along with the UK/Irish version of Magnificat; it is hard to put into words how much of an impact this man of Christ had on so many. This is especially hard for me, as Mr. Caldecott was a friend who greatly encouraged my own work and how I view Christ in the world. In short, I am of the opinion that we will never be thankful enough for the great work of Stratford Caldecott.

    A Chance Encounter

    I was a Catholic for a mere three years when I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Caldecott at a pub in Nashua, NH. The meeting was planned by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, where I was studying, and I was invited along to meet a few G.K. Chesterton scholars. Upon meeting him we were quickly singing the joys of Chesterton and the Inklings. I was impressed with his intellectual calibre and he was kind enough to invite me to Oxford to view the Chesterton Library.

    I twice accepted his invitation and each time I was graciously given a view of Chesterton's personal effects which included his hat, cloak, chair, typewriter, among other assorted books and items that personally belonged to the bombastic journalist and great Catholic writer. It was, for me, like being a reliquary. What I did not expect, was how much the man showing me the items would change my view of faith and my vocation.

    When I returned in the Summer of 2008 I was as a part of TMC's Oxford Programme where I was to study the great works of the Catholic Literary Revival and see the sites of GKC, Newman, St. Edmund Campion, and even Lewis and the Inklings.

    Love and Intellect

    As part of the Oxford Programme, I had the pleasure of being a guest of Stratford and Léonie in their home just outside of Oxford. In our courses, dinners, and walks I got to see first hand what a loving couple they were and how their love for each other and Christ enabled them to accomplish so much. They were partners in everything, from parenting to publishing. No doubt that there were struggles, but they endured them with a rarely-seen grace that allowed them to do so much for the Church in England, the United States, and beyond. Along with running the Oxford Programme, they seemed to have a hand in running dozens of programs that involved sharing and understanding the faith. From that family they created more work for the glory of God than most of us will accomplish in a lifetime.

    In my own work and intellectual pursuits they were encouraging, but honest. They cared about a revival of Catholic culture and the conversion of all, and that meant encouraging writers and editors. The number of writers that they have encouraged and had a hand in developing is staggering, even among the writers here at CE. As well as mentors, they became my friends and were a joy to know.

    StratTheir greatest lesson was the unspoken one of the centrality of the love for Christ in all that we do and how much that love was so badly needed to be shown to the world. For them, Christ was not merely a thing to gaze upon and consider but He was a light that illuminated the world. Literature, art, and even the most everyday pursuits became something beautiful for God and they delighted to show people this joy.

    When Stratford was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, it shook many of us to our core. Even with the battle that he was enduring, he still published a great deal of work and he and his wife continued in their endeavours with editing, publishing, and the fantastic work at the Center for Faith and Culture. Across the world, many prayers were offered and they demonstrated love, charity, and kindness to all who encountered them. When I was going through a rough patch, they even took time to write encouraging messages to me. Seeing their strength amidst their sufferings had given me the resolve to keep carrying on.



    A few months ago, with the Caldecott family gathering to offer comfort to Stratford, Sophie, his daughter, launched a hashtag campaign called #CapforStrat with the intention of bringing some comfort to him. The plan was to tweet images in support of Stratford and to hopefully get celebrities involved to allow him to watch The Winter Soldier in his home. Stratford had long been a fan of comic books, especially those by Marvel, but was unable to make it to the theaters to see their latest film. Sophie was successful and Marvel agreed to show the film. So many people gathered in support of one man, some of whom were his friend but many others were strangers who wished to bring some comfort to a good man. It was as if the world was giving him a final embrace.

    As his name went viral and as he came closer to death, Stratford would demonstrate great courage and hope in the face of death. In one of his last articles, Stratford reflected on his love of comics and the mystery of facing death. Realizing this challenge, he still saw the work of Christ in all things, even the tragic. Seeing Christ's hand in all, he wrote,

    God entered deeply into the world—so deeply that we can call it a merging, a uniting of his own nature with the world itself. It is no illusion, but a real uniting. We can participate by joining in the rhythm of life and death. God hides himself deeply within the world, not as an extension of life, such as an experience or two, but as the totality of being. At first it all seems inaccessible and impossible. The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.


    Go With God

    So it is that we now say goodbye to a good man, a fine scholar, a loving father and husband, and truly one of the most brilliant writers of our era. This is hard for many, but we do not mourn like those who have no hope. Stratford served Christ well, and we now pray that he continues to do so and that he will finally be in a place where there is no pain and where joy quickly replaces all sorrow.

    Goodbye, Stratford, thank you for all the great conversations and good words of wisdom. Thank you for being a reflection of the love of Christ for so many throughout the world. Thank you for all the lessons, especially the lesson that Christ really wants to reveal Himself to us and that all that is required is for us to open ourselves up to Him. Thank you for showing us that God really has united Himself with us to make all things new. Let us never forget.

    This originally appeared at Catholic Exchange and is republished with permission. 

  • July 21st, 2014The Arabic Writing on the Wallby Joseph Pearce

    In between travels. Just back from Florida and soon destined for California. In haste. Here's my latest for the Imaginative Conservative:


  • July 21st, 2014It’s that business of pronouns again…by Dena Hunt

    …and I keep coming back to it. As ridiculous as it sounds, sometimes it seems that what we need most of all is a good lesson in grammar. Okay, so I’m a caricature of an old maid English teacher. I wear reading glasses on the bridge of my nose, and I even wear my hair in a bun sometimes (though I never stick a pencil it.) But look at all the woes that could be remedied if we paid attention to our pronouns. What is this third-person we use so reflexively? Ever notice reflex> reflexive> reflexive pronouns? Well, it’s a stretch, I admit, but-- Every single complaint one has against one’s mate, friend, parent, child, or anyone “other,” has to be—first of all—recognized. How does recognition happen? It is a re-; i.e., repetition, of cognition—which means knowledge, knowledge in the sense of familiarity, something we know by personal experience of it. We must first possess cognition before we can go for recognition.

    So, the childhood expression we used to employ to answer a taunt, “Takes one to know one!” is absolutely true. Now, let’s look at the accusation: “He is a hypocrite.”  Really? How is it you recognize a hypocrite? You have to have prior personal knowledge of hypocrisy; whence comes that knowledge? Before any such accusation can be made, prior personal knowledge must exist. So, let’s identify the realreflexive (though unspoken) pronoun (-self, selves) here: I am, myself, a hypocrite. I recognize myself in you. Such recognition should lead more to fraternity than to condemnation.

    This little reflection provides a new way to look at “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” No stone was cast. No stone could be cast. Everyone who accused the poor sinner of adultery was himself an adulterer. The Lord makes the reflexive pronoun the operative determiner of guilt, because it is the revelation of real guilt.

    I tried an exercise one Lent that was so successful I have kept it up (or tried to), and I’ve observed its near-universal success when others have tried it. Every critical thought I had about another person or persons, I changed to I or We.  It works. Whatever unkind thing I have to say about anyone, I say about the mirror instead.

    Today’s Gospel about the parable of the wheat and the tares reminded me—and I admit I needed reminding. Why is it necessary to leave the harvesting of the field to the angels? Because, like the adulterers who would stone an adulterer, the only ones among us who can recognize tares are other tares.

  • July 21st, 2014Tsar Nicholas II—Saint or Egomaniacby Brendan D. King

    It is far from uncommon to find admirers of both the House of Romanov and of Tsar Nicholas II. He is seen as a loving family man and a well meaning, but ineffectual ruler. As this post shall reveal, however, there was also another side to the personality of the Last Tsar.

    Throughout the Great War, the French Ambassador to the Russian Imperial Court, Maurice Paleologue, kept a detailed diary. Following his return to France, M. Paleologue published his diary in three volumes. In 1925, George H. Doran & Company published an English translation under the title, "An Ambassador's Memoirs." 

    M. Paleologue's diary remains a priceless primary source for anyone who wishes to study the sunken Atlantis of Tsarist Russia. Among the most fascinating entries, however, describes Paleologue's audience with Tsar Nicholas during the fall of 1914. The Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary had just asked to open peace negotiations through neutral channels. As Paleologue's diary reveals, the Tsar and his Foreign Minister, Count Sergei Sazonov, had no desire to accept. 

    In his recent book, "The Russian Origins of the First World War," historian Sean McMeekin has written that M. Paleologue has provided, "a precious glimpse into what Russia's 'Little Father' thought his peasant children were fighting, bleeding, and dying for." Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomon Empire were to be dismantled into smaller states -- almost certainly under Russian political and cultural influence. The Hapsburgs were to be shorn, not only of their Empire, but of Vienna itself and reduced to ruling only Salzburg and Tyrol. The Prussian Hohenzollerns were to be dethroned as Kaisers of the German Empire, which the Tsar intended to divide again into minuscule Princely States. Constantinople was to be under Russian rule and Turkey was to be reduced to the province surrounding Ankara. 

    When reading M. Paleologue's description of this audience, I was shocked by the similarity between the hubristic statements of the Last Tsar and those of Napoleon Bonaparte. Tragically, the Tsar and his family would pay with their lives for his decision to commit his country to a war for which the Russian military had neither the supplies or the training to fight. Even more tragically, so would millions of others. For if Russia had not entered the Great War, there would have been no October Revolution, Red Terror, or Stalinist Purges. Therefore, I must say, with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "I feel sorry for Russia."

    From, "An Ambassador's Memoirs," Volume I.

    Saturday, November 21, 1914

    This morning Sazonov said to me: "The Emperor will receive you at four o'clock. Officially he has nothing to say; but he wants to talk to you frankly and without restraint. I warn you your audience will be a long one.

    At three o'clock I left in a special train for Tsarskoïe-Selo. Snow was falling heavily. Under the wan light from the sky the great plain in which Petrograd is set lay pale, misty and drab. It made me feel gloomy with its reminder of the plains of Poland where at this very moment thousands of men are dying and thousands others suffer the tortures of wounds.

    Although my audience was a private one I had to put on my full-dress uniform, as is fitting for a meeting with the Tsar, Autocrat of all the Russias. The Director of Ceremonies, Evreinov, went with me. He also was a symphony in gold braid.

    From Tsarskoïe-Selo station to Alexander Palace is a short distance, less than a verst. In the open space before one reaches the park a little church, mediæval in style, raises its pretty cupola above the snow; it is the Feodorovsky Sobor, one of the Empress's favourite resorts for private devotion.

    Alexander Palace showed me its most intimate side, for ceremonial was reduced to a minimum. My escort consisted only of Evreinov, a household officer in undress uniform and a footman in his picturesque (Tsaritsa Elizabeth) dress with the hat adorned with long red, black and yellow plumes. I was taken through the audience rooms, then the Empress's private drawing-room, down a long corridor leading to the private apartments of the sovereigns in which I passed a servant in very plain livery who was carrying a tea tray. Further on was the foot of a little private staircase leading to the rooms of the imperial children. A lady's maid flitted away from the landing above. The last room at the end of the corridor is occupied by Prince Mestschersky, personal aide-de-camp. I waited there barely a minute. The gaily and weirdly bedecked Ethiopian who mounted guard outside His Majesty's study opened the door almost at once.

    The Emperor received me with that gracious and somewhat shy kindness which is all his own.

    The room in which he received me is small and has only one window. The furniture is plain and comfortable there are plain leather chairs, a sofa covered with a Persian rug, a bureau and shelves arranged with meticulous care, a table spread with maps and a low book case with photographs, busts and family souvenirs on the top shelf.

    As usual the Emperor hesitated over his preliminary remarks, which are kind personal enquiries and attentions, but soon he became more at his ease:

    "Let's make ourselves at home and be comfortable first, as I shall keep you some time. Have this chair. . . . We'll put this little table between us: that's better. Here are the cigarettes: Turkish. I've no business to smoke them as they were given to me by a fresh enemy, the Sultan. But they're extremely nice and, anyhow, I haven't any others. Let me have my maps. . . . And now we can talk."

    He lit his cigarette, offered me a light and went straight to the heart of the subject:

    "Great things have happened in the three months since I saw you last. The splendid French army and my dear army have already given such proof of valour that victory can't fail us now. . . . Don't think I'm under any illusion as to the trials and sacrifices the war still has in store for us; but so far we have a right, and even a duty, to consider together what we should have to do if Austria or Germany sued for peace. You must observe that it would unquestionably be in Germany's interest to treat for peace while her military power is still formidable. But isn't Austria very exhausted already? Well, what should we do if Germany or Austria asked for peace?"

    "The first question," I said, " is to consider whether peace can be negotiated if we are not forced to dictate it to our enemies. . . . However moderate we may be we shall obviously have to insist on guarantees and reparations from the Central Powers, demands they will not accept before they are at our mercy."

    "That's my own view. We must dictate the peace and I am determined to continue the war until the Central Powers are destroyed. But I regard it as essential that the terms of the peace should be discussed by us three, France, England and Russia-and by us three alone. No Congress or mediation for me! So when the time comes we shall impose our will upon Germany and Austria."

    "What is your general idea of the terms of peace, Sire?"

    After a moment's consideration the Emperor resumed:

    "What we must keep before us as our first object is the destruction of German militarism, the end of the nightmare from which Germany has made us suffer for more than forty years. We must make it impossible for the German people even to think of revenge. If we let ourselves be swayed by sentiment there will be a fresh war within a very short time. . . . As for the precise terms of peace I must tell you at once that I accept here and now any conditions France and England think it their duty to put forward in their own interest."

    "I thank Your Majesty for that intimation; I am certain that the Government of the Republic in turn will meet the wishes of the imperial Government in the most sympathetic spirit."

    "What you say encourages me to tell you all I think. But I m only giving you my own view, as I don't like to open questions of this kind without consulting my ministers and generals." 

    He drew his chair close to mine, spread a map of Europe on the table between us, lit another cigarette and continued in an even more intimate and familiar tone: "This is more or less my view of the results Russia is entitled to expect from the war, results failing which my people will not understand the sacrifices I have require of them. . . . In East Prussia Germany must accept a rectification of the frontier. My General Staff would like this rectification to be extended to the mouths of the Vistula. That seems to me excessive; I'll look into the question. Posen and possibly a portion of Silesia will be indispensable to the reconstitution of Poland. Galicia and the western half of the Bukovina will enable Russia to obtain her natural frontier, the Carpathians. . . . In Asia Minor I shall have to consider the question of the Armenians of course; I certainly could not let them return to the Turkish yoke. Ought I to annex Armenia? I shall only do so if the Armenians expressly ask me to. Otherwise I shall establish an autonomous regime for them. Lastly, I shall be compelled to secure my Empire a free passage through the Straits."

    As he stopped at these words I pressed him to enlighten me further. He continued:

    "I am far from having made up my mind. The matter is of such grave importance. But there are two conclusion to which I am always being brought back; first, that the Turks must be expelled from Europe; secondly, that Constantinople must in future be neutral, with an international regime. I need hardly say that the Mohammedans should receive all necessary guarantees that sanctuaries and tombs will be respected. Western Thrace to the Enos-Midia line should be given to Bulgaria. The rest, from that line to the shores of the Straits but excluding the environs of Constantinople, would be assigned Russia."

    "So if I have understood you correctly, the Turks will be confined to Asia---as in the days of the first Osmanlis--- and have Angora or Koniah for their capital. The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles will thus form the western frontier of Turkey."


    "Your Majesty will forgive me for interrupting again to remind you that in Syria and Palestine France has a precious heritage of historical memories and moral and material interests. May I assume that Your Majesty would acquiesce in any measures the Government of the Republic might think fit to take to safeguard that inheritance?"


    Then he spread out a map of the Balkans and indicated broadly his view of the territorial changes we should desire:

    "Serbia should annex Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia and Northern Albania. Greece should have southern Albania with the exception of Valona, which must be assigned to Italy. If Bulgaria behaves properly she should receive compensation in Macedonia from Serbia."

    He carefully folded up the map of the Balkans and as carefully returned it to its exact place on his table. Then crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair he fixed his eyes on the ceiling and asked in a dreamy voice:

    "What about Austria-Hungary? What's to become of her? "

    "If the victories of your armies develop beyond the Carpathians and Italy and Rumania enter the field Austria-Hungary will hardly survive the territorial sacrifices the Emperor Francis Joseph will be obliged to accept. When the Austro-Hungarian partnership has gone bankrupt I imagine the partners won't wish to go on working together, at any rate on the same terms."

    "I think so too. . . . When Hungary loses Transylvania she'll have some difficulty in keeping the Croats under her sway. Bohemia will demand its autonomy at the least and Austria will thus find herself reduced to her ancient hereditary states, German Tyrol and the district of Salzburg."

    Hereupon he lapsed into silence for a moment, his brows contracted and his eyes half closed as if he were repeating to himself what he was about to tell me. Then he cast a glance at the portrait of his father on the wall behind me and continued:

    "But it is primarily in Germany that the great changes will take place. As I have said, Russia will annex the former Polish territories and part of East Prussia. France will certainly recover Alsace-Lorraine and possibly obtain the Rhine Provinces as well. Belgium should receive a substantial accession of territory in the region of Aix-la-Chapelle; she thoroughly deserves it! As for or the German Colonies, France and England will divide them as they think fit. Further, I should like Schleswig, including the Kiel Canal zone, to be restored to Denmark. . . . And Hanover? Wouldn't it be wise to revive Hanover? By setting up a small independent state between Prussia and Holland we should do much towards putting the future peace on a solid basis. After all, it is that which must guide our deliberations and actions. Our work cannot be justified before God and History unless it is inspired by a great moral idea and the determination to secure the peace of the world for a very long time to come."

    As he uttered these last words he sat up in his chair his voice quivered a little under the influence of a solemn religious emotion. In his eyes shone a strange light. His conscience and his faith were visibly at work. But neither in his attitude nor his expression was there a suggestion of pose: nothing but perfect simplicity.

    "Doesn't it mean the end of the German Empire?" I said.

    He replied in firm tones:

    "Germany can adopt any organization she likes, but the imperial dignity cannot be allowed to remain in the House of Hohenzollern. Prussia must return to the status of a kingdom only. . . . Isn't that your opinion also, Ambassador?"

    "The German Empire, as conceived, founded and governed by the Hohenzollerns, is so obviously directed against the French nation that I shall certainly not attempt its defence. France would have a great guarantee if all the powers of the German world ceased to be in the hands of Prussia. . . ."

    Our talk had already lasted more than an hour. After a few moments of reflection the Emperor remarked, as if he had suddenly remembered something:

    "We mustn't think merely of the immediate results of the war: we must consider the remoter future, too. . . . I attach the very greatest importance to the maintenance of our alliance. The work we have set out to do and which has already cost us such efforts and sacrifices will be permanent only if we remain united. As we know we are striving for the peace of the world it is essential that our work should be permanent."

    As he delivered himself of this finale, an obvious and necessary finale, to our conversation, I could see in his eyes the same strange, mystic light I had observed a few minutes earlier. His ancestor, Alexander I, must have worn this fervent and inspired expression when he preached to Metternich and Hardenberg about the Holy Alliance of kings against peoples. Yet in Madame von Krüdener's friend there was a certain theatrical affectation, a kind of romantic exaltation. Nicholas II, on the other hand, is sincerity itself: he endeavours to contain rather than give rein to his feelings, to conceal rather than deploy his emotions.

    The Emperor rose, offered me another cigarette and remarked in the most casual and friendly way: "What glorious memories we shall share, my dear Ambassador! Do you remember? . . ."

    And he reminded me of the days immediately preceding the war, that harassing week from July 25 to August 2; he recounted even the most trivial details and laid particular emphasis on the personal telegrams which had passed between the Emperor William and himself:

    "He was never sincere; not for a moment! In the end he was hopelessly entangled in the net of his own perfidy and lies. . . . Have you ever been able to account for the telegram he sent me six hours after giving me his declaration of war? It's utterly impossible to explain what happened. I don't remember if I've ever told you. It was half-past one in the morning of August 2. I had just received your English colleague who had brought me a telegram from King George begging me to do everything possible to save peace. I had drafted, with Sir George Buchanan's help, the telegram with which you are familiar, which ended with an appeal for England's help in arms as the war was forced on us by Germany. The moment Buchanan had left I went to the Empress's room, as she was already in bed, to show her King George's telegram and have a cup of tea with her before retiring myself. I stayed with her until two in the morning. Then I wanted to have a bath, as I was very tired. I was just getting in when my servant knocked at the door saying he had a telegram for me. 'A very important telegram, very important indeed . . a telegram from His Majesty the Emperor William; I read the telegram, read it again and then repeated it aloud . . . but I couldn't understand a word. at on earth does William mean, I thought, pretending that it still depends on me whether war is averted or not! He implores me not to let my troops cross the frontier! Have I suddenly gone mad? Didn't the Minister of the Court, my trusted Fredericks, at least six hours ago bring me the declaration of war the German Ambassador had just handed to Sazonov? I returned to the Empress's room and read her William's telegram. She had to read it herself to bring herself to believe it. She said to me immediately: 'You're not going to answer it, are you? ' ' Certainly not.'

    "There's no doubt that the object of this strange and farcical telegram was to shake my resolution, disconcert me and inspire me to some absurd and dishonourable step. It produced the opposite effect. As I left the Empress's room I felt that all was over for ever between me and William. I slept extremely well. When I woke, at my usual hour, I felt as if a weight had fallen from mind. My responsibility to God and my people was still enormous, but at least I knew what I had to do."

    "I think, Sire, I could give a somewhat different explanation of the Emperor William's telegram."

    "Really! Let me have it! "

    "The Emperor William is not a man of courage

    "He is not."

    "He's a comedian and a braggart. He never dares to go right through with what he undertakes. He has often reminded me of an actor playing the murderer in melodrama who suddenly finds that his weapon is loaded and that he's really going to kill his victim. How often have we not seen him frightened by his own pantomime? When he ventured on his famous Tangier pronouncement, in 1905, he stopped quite suddenly in the middle of his scenario. . . . I am inclined to think that the moment he had issued his declaration of war he got frightened. He realized the formidable results of his action and wanted to throw all the responsibility on you. Perhaps, too, he clung to some fantastic hope of producing by his telegram some unexpected, inconceivable, miraculous event which would enable him to escape the consequences of his crime . . . . "

    "Well, your explanation is quite in keeping with William's character."

    The clock struck six.

    "My word, it's late!" the Emperor said. " I'm afraid I've wearied you, but I'm glad to have had an opportunity of talking freely to you."

    As he led me to the door I asked him about the fighting in Poland. "It's a great battle," he said, "and raging with the greatest fury. The Germans are making frantic efforts to break our line; they won't succeed and they can't remain long in their present positions. So I hope that before long we shall resume our advance."

    "General de Laguiche wrote to me recently that the Grand Duke Nicholas still keeps a march on Berlin as his one and only objective."

    "Yes, I don't yet know where we shall be able to get through. Between the Carpathians and the Oder, perhaps? Or between Breslau and Posen? Or north of Posen. It depends a good deal on the fighting now in progress around Lodz and in the neighbourhood of Cracow. But Berlin is certainly our sole objective. The fighting is equally violent on your side. This furious Yser battle is going in your favour. Your marines have covered themselves with glory. It's a serious reverse for the Germans, nearly as serious as their defeat on the Marne. . . . Well, good-bye, my dear Ambassador! Once more, I'm very glad to have been able to talk so freely with you! "

  • July 17th, 2014Memory Eternal, Stratford Caldecottby Michael Lichens

    I just received word that Stratford Caldecott, a good friend to many of us here at StAR, has fallen asleep in the Lord. There will be many more good words and articles written about this amazing man. He was a true man of faith, a lover of theology and comic books, and a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Please join us prayer for him and for his dear family. 

    Christ our eternal King and God, You have destroyed death and the devil by Your Cross and have restored man to life by Your Resurrection; give rest, Lord, to the soul of Your servant, Stratford Caldecott,who has fallen asleep, in Your Kingdom, where there is no pain, sorrow or suffering. In Your goodness and love for all men, pardon all the sins he has committed in thought word or deed, for there is no man or woman who lives and sins not, You only are without sin. 

    For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and Repose of Your servant Stratford, departed this life, O Christ our God; and to You do we send up glory with Your Eternal Father and Your All-holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; both now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen


  • July 17th, 2014To Live is To Loveby Kevin O'Brien

    I have been hired to write a short biographical drama on the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

    And although I believe she had a strong influence upon me (behind the scenes) at the Chesterton Conference in Emmitsburg, Maryland four years ago, it has taken her a while to grow upon me.  But the more I read of her, the more I like her.  She was, among other things, a woman who valued Friendship most highly among all earthly blessings.

    And this insight of hers in particular strikes me.  She wrote it as a note to herself on the back flyleaf of a book she was reading, The Following of Christ.

    To live according to the Spirit, is to love according to the Spirit.  To live according to the flesh, is to love according to the flesh.  Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body ... To live according to the Spirit is to act, to speak, to think in the manner the Spirit of God requires of us ... To live then according to the Spirit is to do what faith, hope, and charity teach - either in spiritual or temporal things.

    Let me unpack this a bit for you.

    First, she is playing around with Flesh vs. Spirit, which is not body vs. spirit, but the ways of the selfish  soul vs. the ways of the enlightened soul.  She is using "flesh" here at St. Paul does (Greek: sarx), meaning all that mean, nasty self-centered lust for power that emanates from that narcissistic little petty tyrant that is inside of every fallen human being; while Spirit means Holy Spirit, the work of God within you.

    And St. Elizabeth compares the unfolding of love lived according to either principle.  Compare what St. Paul tells us in Galatians (my emphasis and commentary) ...

    For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
    So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh ... The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    [Clearly, Paul is not using the word "flesh" to talk only about bodily urges, for "idolatry", "hatred", "jealousy", "ambition", etc. are spiritual things - but darkly spiritual things.  The acts of the flesh are the things we do when we are motivated by nothing beyond our basest desires - whether those desires are physical or spiritual.  However ...]
    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:14-22)

    And Mother Seton points out that one can live according to the selfish old man within or, or one can live according to the redeemed new man within; that is, according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.

     But to live is to love.  "Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body".  What a great insight!


    So what is the difference between loving according to the flesh - the sarx - and loving according to the Spirit?

    I think we can see the difference in something as simple as Friendship.


    My son Colin, who's a film buff, insisted that I watch the movie The Master the other night.  It's a Paul Thomas Anderson film that's kind of about a Scientology type cult, but is really about love and friendship.

    The main character, Freddie Quell (played with amazing skill by Joaquin Phoenix) is a psychologically disturbed drifter whose life is Disconnected.  Without any real relationships in his life, he floats from job to job and from psychotic episode to psychotic episode, until he is befriended by the Cult Leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman - and theirs is indeed a friendship, despite the fact that they both make a habit of using other people.

    "Use is the opposite of love," as St. John Paul used to say.  And, although Freddie Quell in The Master is willing to use, by means of sex, any woman who moves (or who doesn't move), he harbors one true love - a girl whose innocence he would never dream of offending.  And The Master himself, though he's making a career out of using others in a way that is typical of the Great American Scam Artist, is drawn to Freddie with a simple kind of loyalty.

    The climactic scene of the movie (spoiler here) is when The Master describes his love by singing a romantic song to Freddie - but somehow it's far from a homosexual moment.  Freddie breaks down in tears, not so much because he has the sense that The Master is trying to seduce him as he seduces everyone else, but because the song somehow communicates a real love between the two that has nothing to do with romance, homosexual or otherwise.  Or at least that's how I saw it, though the scene (and the whole movie) is very hard to pin down.

    At any rate, the opposite of love is not hatred.  The opposite of love is use.


    Sometimes friendships die when one or the other party moves on to other interests, when the air goes out of the tire and nothing can be done to patch it and inflate it back up.

    But quite often, it seems, friendships die when one party betrays the other, or when an undercurrent of use and even abuse rises to the surface.

    When we are used by others to fulfill their selfish needs - which can include sex, attention, affection, money - when this happens and we wise up to it we feel incredibly, terribly, horribly abused, as well we should.

    We feel victimized by someone who was loving according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit.


    St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gave her life to educating young women at a time in America when this was simply not being done - at least not being done for women outside of a wealthy social class.  But Mother Seton took in the poor, the destitute, the desperate; she founded an order that helped orphans, that ministered to the needs of the simple common people, of the poorest of the poor.

    Hers was a life lived - and loved - according to the Spirit, and it therefore bore the fruits of the Spirit (as St. Paul describes above).

    If all of us began to love in that way, our friendships would flourish, and we would find that instead of behaving with "knavish imbecility" (as our bishops do), the Church would revive and the world would begin to heal.  Suffering would certainly be our lot, as to love is to suffer - but this is, after all, our great and only call.

  • July 16th, 2014The Gleam in the Eyeby Pavel Chichikov

    A few days ago I clicked on a radio interview concerning Siegfried Sassoon, the English poet who wrote so powerfully about his combat experiences in World War One. The specific subject was a poem called Atrocities, which was edited before publication to remove some of the most blunt and brutal lines. It was, after all, war time. Here is a reading of the poem and the interview:


    As the BBC writes: [The original] “version was heavily censored by publishers, with euphemisms such as 'How did you do them in?' replacing 'How did you kill them?', and other lines removed altogether.”

    The subject is the slaughter of prisoners.

    The story of Sassoon’s poem reminded me of an experience of an uncle of mine who fought in another war, in another time, in a different part of the world.

    When I was a small child, when he came home from this “different” war, I distinctly remember him saying that in that war, in that campaign, they took no prisoners because they were short of rations and would have had to share them.

    And then, with a gleam in his eye that I have never forgotten, he told us that the enemy were killed with knives. I don’t recall exactly why this was so, but I remember the gleam.

    My uncle was rather a docile sort who was known for meekly taking orders from his strong-willed wife. People always described him as good natured and a hard worker, if not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

    God bless his soul, he passed on some years ago. And he was good natured.  I don’t recall him ever behaving aggressively towards anyone, or even raising his voice.

    I really believe that if he had never been a combat soldier that gleam would never have arisen in his eyes.

    What then had happened to him during those years of war? Was it fear, hardship, semi-starvation, the pressure of kill or be killed combat? Of course. But it was something else, I believe: The innate ferocity of Cain, a latent or if you will original streak of bloody murder in the human soul.

    In some of us it never comes out, even in murderous circumstances, and in others the setting ignites the gleam in the eye.

    We are not through with that gleam yet. Read the news today, and prove it to yourself.  Pray for peace.

  • July 16th, 2014Famous Film Stars and the Faithby Joseph Pearce

    I've received an e-mail from Spain suggesting that I write a book about film actors and directors who are Catholics. Here's my reply:

    I think your idea for a book about Catholic actors and film directors is excellent. Unfortunately, as a British literary scholar, I know very little about American films. There are, however, two new books that overlap with your suggestion. The first is Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten (Our Sunday Vistor, 2013), which focuses on several famous film stars and directors and which is reviewed in the latest issue of the St. Austin Review; the second is The Mississippi Flows into the Tiber by John Beaumont, a comprehensive study of American converts to Catholicism: 


  • July 14th, 2014Hilaire Belloc on EWTN?by Joseph Pearce

    No, he has not been reconstructed through computer generated images.  Actually it is Scott Bloch of the Belloc Society on EWTN's "The Journey Home" this evening. I understand from Scott that a good portion of the program is dedicated to his conversion story (from Hollywood kid to John Senior godson) but that a surprising portion of the show is dedicated to Belloc because the host, Marcus Grodi, is quite the Belloc fan. 

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