All posts by AKMA

Kenelm, King and Martyr

17 July — Here followeth the Life of S. Kenelm, King and Martyr.

S. Kenelm, martyr, was king of a part of England by Wales. His father was king tofore {61} him, and was named Kenulf, and founded the abbey of Winchcombe, and set therein monks. And when he was dead he was buried in the same abbey. And that time Winchcombe was the best town of that country. In England are three principal rivers, and they be Thames, Severn, and Humber. This king Kenelm was king of Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Gloucester shire, and the bishop of Worcester was bishop of those three shires, and he was king also of Derbyshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Nottinghamshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, and Lincolnshire. All this was called the March of Wales, and of all those countries S. Kenelm was king, and Winchcombe, that time, was chief city of all these shires. And in that time were in England six kings, and before that, Oswald had been king of all England. And after him it was departed, in S. Kenelm’s days. Kenulf, his father, was a full holy man, and Dornemilde and Quendred were sisters of S. Kenelm. And Kenulf, his father, died the year of our Lord eight hundred and nineteen. Then was Kenelm made king when he was seven years of age, and his sister Dornemilde loved him much, and they lived holily together to their lives’ end. But Quendred, that other sister, turned her to wickedness, and had great envy of her brother Kenelm, because he was so rich above her, and laboured with all her power to destroy him, because she would be queen and reign after him, and let make a strong poison, and gave it to her brother. But God kept him that it never grieved him. And when she saw that she could not prevail against the king in that manner, she laboured to Askeberd, which was chief ruler {62} about the king, and promised to him a great sum of money, and also her body at his will, if he would slay this young king her brother, and anon they accorded in this treason.

And in this while, and at that same time, this young holy king was asleep, and dreamed a marvellous dream. For him seemed that he saw a tree stand by his bedside, and that the height thereof touched heaven, and it shined as bright as gold, and had fair branches full of blossoms and fruit. And on every branch of this tree were tapers of wax burning and lamps alight, which was a glorious sight to behold. And him thought that he climbed upon this tree and Askeberd his governor stood beneath and hewed down this tree that he stood on. And when this tree was fallen down, this holy young king was heavy and sorrowful, and him thought there came a fair bird which flew up to heaven with great joy. And anon after this dream he awoke, and was all abashed of this dreme, which anon after, he told to his nurse named Wolweline. And when he had told to her all his dream, she was full heavy, and told to him what it meant, and said his sister and the traitor Askeberd had falsely conspired his death. For she said to him that he had promised to Quendred to slay thee, and that signifieth that he smiteth down the tree that stood by thy bedside. And the bird that thou sawest flee up to heaven, signifieth thy soul, that angels shall bear up to heaven after thy martyrdom. And anon after this, Askeberd desired the king that he should go and disport him by the wood’s side named Clent; and as he walked, the young king was all heavy and laid him down to sleep, and then this false traitor purposed to have slain the king, and {63} began to make the pit to bury him in. But anon, as God would, the king awoke, and said to this Askeberd that he laboured in vain, for God will not that I die in this place. But take this small rod, and thereas thou shalt set it in the earth, there shall I be martyred. And then they went forth together, a good way thence, till they came to a hawthorn, and there he pight the rod in the earth, and forthwith incontinent it bare green leaves, and suddenly it waxed to a great ash tree, the which standeth there yet unto this day, and is called Kenelm’s ash. And there this Askeberd smote off this holy young king’s head. And anon, his soule was borne up into heaven in likeness of a white dove. And then the wicked traitor drew the body into a great valley between two hills, and there he made a deep pit and cast the body therein, and laid the head upon it. And whilst he was about to smite off the head, the holy king, kneeling on his knees, said this holy canticle: Te Deum laudamus, till he came to this verse: Te martyrum candidatus, and therewith he gave up his spirit to our Lord Jesu Christ in likeness of a dove, as afore is said. Then anon this wicked man Askeberd went to Quendred, and told to her all along how he had done, whereof she was full glad, and anon after, took on her to be queen, and charged, on pain of death, that no man should speak of Kenelm. And after that she abandoned her body to wretched living of her flesh in lechery, and brought her own men to wretched living. And this holy body lay long time after in that wood called Clent, for no man durst fetch him thence to bury him in hallowed place for fear of the queen Quendred.

And it was so that a poor widow lived thereby, {64} which had a white cow, which was driven in to the wood of Clent. And anon as she was there she would depart and go into the valley where Kenelm was buried, and there rest all the day sitting by the corpse without meat. And every night came home with other beasts, fatter, and gave more milk than any of the other kine, and so continued certain years, whereof the people marvelled that she ever was in so good point and ate no meat. That valley whereas S. Kenelm’s body lay is called Cowbage.

After, on a time, as the pope sang mass at Rome in S. Peter’s church, suddenly there came a white dove, and let fall a scroll on the altar whereon the pope said his mass. And these words were written therein in letters of gold:

In Clent in Cowbage, Kenelm, king born,

Lieth under a thorn,

His head off shorn.

And when the pope had said his mass, he showed the scroll to all the people, but there was none that could tell what it meant, till at last there came an Englishman, and he told it openly tofore all the people what it meant. And then the pope with all the people gave laud and praising to our Lord, and kept that scroll for a relic. And the feast of S. Kenelm was hallowed that day solemnly through all Rome. And anon after, the pope sent his messengers into England to the archbishop of Canterbury, named Wilfrid, and bade him, with his bishops, go and seek the place where the holy body lieth, which is named Cowbage, in the wood of Clent. And then this place was soon known, because of the miracle that was showed by the white cow. And when the arch- {65} bishop, with other bishops, and many other people came thither and found the place, anon they let dig up the body, and took it up with great solemnity. And forthwith sprang up in the same place, whereas the body had lain, a fair well, which is called S. Kenelm’s well unto this day, where much people have been healed of divers sicknesses and maladies. And when the body was above the earth, there fell a strife between them of Worcestershire and of Gloucestershire, who should have this body. And then a full good man that was there among them gave counsel that all the people should lie down and sleep and rest them, for the weather was then right hot. And which of the two shires that God would first awake, they to take this holy body and go their way. And all the people agreed thereto, and lay them down to sleep. And it happed that the abbot of Winchcombe and all his men awoke first, and they took up the holy body, and bare it forth toward Winchcombe till they came upon an hill a mile from the abbey. And for heat and labour they were nigh dead for thirst, and anon they prayed to God, and to this holy saint to be their comfort. And then the abbot pight his cross into the earth, and forthwith sprang up there a fair well, whereof they drank and refreshed them much. And then took up this holy body with great solemnity. And the monks received it with procession solemnly, and brought it into the abbey with great reverence, joy and mirth, and the bells sounded and were rung without man’s hand. And then the queen Quendred demanded what all this ringing meant. And they told her how her brother Kenelm was brought with procession into the abbey, and that the bells rung without man’s {65} help. And then she said, in secret scorn: That is as true, said she, as both my eyes fall upon this book and anon both her eyes fell out of her head upon the book. And yet it is seen on this day where they fell upon the psalter she read that same time. Deum laudemus. And soon after she died wretchedly, and was cast out into a foul mire, and then after, was this holy body of S. Kenelm laid in an honourable shrine, whereas our Lord showeth daily many a miracle. To whom be given laud and praising, world without end. Amen.

William Caxton, trans. The Golden Legend, vol. 4 (J. M. Dent), 60-65.

Squire, But Not Valerienne

And after this, on a time died the holy woman Susanna, and tofore her death she recommended to S. Marcial her daughter, that was called Valerienne, which had promised and avowed to our Lord chastity as long as she lived. After, when the holy maid knew that there should come to Limoges a lord named Steven, which was lord of all the province from the river of Rhone unto the sea, she was sore afraid lest he would do to her any grief or noyance against her vow, and gave away all her riches to poor folk for the love of God. When the said Steven was come to Limoges, he made to do come tofore him the holy maid, to the end to have his will of her; but when she was come and he saw that she would not consent to do his will, anon he made her head to be smitten off. Then the squire that beheaded her heard the angels sing, that bare the soul of the holy virgin into heaven, with much great joy and solemnity, and anon he returned unto his master and told him all that he had seen and heard, and sith fell down dead at his feet. Then the duke and all his company had much great dread, and the duke himself clad him next his flesh in a sharp hair and hard, for great repentance, and prayed S. Marcial that he would pray God that it might please him to raise his squire from death to life, and he would believe in the faith of Jesu Christ and be christened. Anon after that S. Marcial had prayed, our Lord raised the squire; then the duke and well fifteen thousand persons in his company were baptized.

So, Steven has holy Valerienne beheaded, and the squire who executed her informed Steven, then dropped dead — and Steven prayed to St Martial to raise the squire. Mmmmm hmmmm.

I Love Her, That’s Why!

Thirty-five years ago, Margaret answered my promises by pledging to stand by me through thick and thin, for better or worse, richer or poorer, as long as we both should live. In the intervening years I’ve gone from thin to thick and, awkwardly, have never quite been able to offer her a glimpse of what ‘richer’ would be like, but I think it’s fair to say that I’m a better man now than I was when we married (and I’m sure I’m a better man than when we met). We have spent altogether too much time apart, and have not yet ridden through Paris in a sports car, with a warm wind in her hair (though we have in a coach with forty choristers); but if God grants me another few years, perhaps we can arrange even that. Even if not, mark me down as a man blessed beyond measure by the love and companionship of a beautiful, wise, generous, constant spouse.

Margaret on Nantucket


Kara Slade likes to refer to us as ‘the George Burns and Gracie Allen of theology’, an appellation that tickles me no end — my father and I were ardent George Burns fans (George Burns Classic, as you might say, the vaudeville and radio/TV Burns, before his late-career emergence in Oh God and other such profitable ventures). I especially love it ’cos Gracie Allen was herself a brilliant practitioner of comedy, very far from being a sidekick; I’d be flattered to be compared to George or Gracie, and (whichever role you assign me) always happy to step aside so that Margaret has more room to shine. I’m unbearably proud to be her husband, in the way George Burns manifests throughout his (ghost-written) autobiography that he’s besotted with and proud of Gracie.

Cover of George Burns's autobiography, I Love Her, That's Why

S Peter of Milan

The Life of S. Peter of Milan
Here followeth the Life of S. Peter of Milan, and first the interpretation of his name.

Peter is as much to say as knowing or unhosing, or Peter is said of petros, that is constant and firm, and by that be understood three privileges that were in S. Peter; he was a much noble preacher, and therefore he is said knowing, for he had perfect knowledge of scripture, and knew in his predication what was behoveful to ever each person. Secondly, he was pure and a virgin, and therefore he was said unhosing, for he unhosed and did off his will from his feet, and despoiled all mortal love, insomuch that he was virgin, and not only of body but also of mind. Thirdly, he was a martyr glorious of our Lord, and therein he was constant and firm, to the end that he should suffer steadfastly martyrdom for the defence of the faith.
Of S. Peter of Milan.

S. Peter the new martyr, of the order of the friars preachers, was born in the city of Verona in Lombardy. His father and mother were of the sect of the Arians. Then he descended of these people like as the rose that cometh of the thorn, and as the light that cometh of the smoke. At the age of seven years, when he learned at the school his credo, one, his eme, which was a heretic, demanded of him his lesson, and the child said to him: Credo, till to creatorem coeli et terrae; his uncle said to him that he should no more say so, for God hath not made temporal things, the child affirmed that he ought to say none otherwise, but so as he had learned, and that other began to show him by authority his purpose; but the child, which was full of the Holy Ghost, answered so well and wisely that his uncle departed all confused, and all achauffed, said to the father that he should take away his son from school, for he doubted when he shall be great that he should turn against their law and faith, and that he should confound them. And so it happed, and so he prophesied like as Caiaphas did, but God, against whom none may do, would not suffer it for the great profit that he attended of him. Thenafter, when he came to more age, he saw that it was no sure thing to dwell with the scorpions. He had in despite father and mother, and left the world whiles he was a clear and a pure virgin. He entered into the order of the friars preachers there, whereas he lived much holily the space of thirty years or thereabout, full of all virtues and especial in defending the faith, for love of which he burnt. He did much abstinence for to bring his flesh low, he fasted, he entended to wake by night in studying and in prayer when he should have slept and rested, and by day he entended to the profit of the souls, in preaching, in confessing, and in counselling, in disputing against the heretics and Arians, and in that he had a special grace of Jesu Christ, for he was right sore founded in humility. He was marvellously piteous and debonair, full of compassion, of great patience, of great charity, and of steadfastness. So ripe and so well ordained in fair manner that every man might behold as in a mirror, in his continence and in his conversation. He was wise and discreet, and so emprinted in his heart that all his words were firm and stable. Then he prayed many times to our Lord that he would not let him die but by sufferance of martyrdom for him and for his faith. And thus as he prayed God accomplished in the end.
He did many miracles in his life, for in the city of Milan, on a time when he examined a bishop of the Arians that the christian men had taken, and many bishops, religious, and great plenty of other people of the city were there assembled, and was then right hot, this Arian said to S. Peter tofore them all: O thou Peter perverse, if thou art so holy as this people holdeth thee for, wherefore sufferest thou this foolish people to die for heat, and prayest not God that he would shadow them. Then S. Peter answered and said: If thou wilt promise that thou shalt hold the very faith and thou wilt leave thine heresy, I shall pray therefor to our Lord. Then all they that were on the party of the Arians cried that he should promise him, for they supposed that he should not get it specially, because the air was so clear and no cloud was seen, and the christian men doubted that their faith might thereby come to confusion, but the bishop, the heretic, would not bind him thereto. S. Peter had good faith and trust in God, and made his prayer openly that he would convey over them a cloud, and he made the sign of the cross, and anon the cloud came and overspread them like a pavilion that there were assembled, and abode as long as the sermon endured, and it stretched no further but there.
There was a lame man which had been so lame five years and might not go, but was drawn in a wheelbarrow, and brought to S. Peter at Milan, and as S. Peter had blessed him with the sign of the cross, anon he was whole and arose. Yet other miracles God showed for him by his life. It happed that the son of a gentleman had such a horrible disease in his throat that he might neither speak ne draw his breath, but S. Peter made on him the sign of the cross, and laid his cope on the place where the sore was, and anon he was all whole. The same gentleman had afterwards a grievous malady and supposed to have died, and made bring to him the said cope, which with great devotion laid it on his breast, and anon he cast out a worm with two heads which was rough, and after he was brought in good health and anon all whole. It happed that a young man was dumb and might not speak a word, wherefore he came to S. Peter, and he put his finger in his mouth and his speech came to him again. Now it happed that time that an heresy began much in Lombardy, and that there were much people that were fallen in this error, and the pope sent divers inquisitors thither of the order of the friars preachers, and because that at Milan there were many in number of great power and engine, he sent thither S. Peter as a man wise, constant, and religious, which doubted nothing. And by his virtue he reproved them, and by his wit he understood their malice, and when he had enterprised the office of Inquisition, then began he, as a lion, to seek the heretics over all, and left them not in peace, but in all places, times, and all the manners that he might, he overcame and confounded them. When the heretics saw that they might not withstand the Holy Ghost that spake in him, they began to treat how they might bring him to death. Then it happed on a time, as he went from Cumea to Milan for to seek the heretics, he said openly in a predication that the money was delivered for to slay him. And when he approached nigh the city a man of the heretics, which was hired thereto, ran upon him and smote him with his falchion on the head, and gave and made to him many cruel wounds, and he that murmured not ne grudged not, suffered patiently the cruelty of the tyrants, and abandoned or gave himself over to suffer the martyrdom, and said his credo, and in manus tuas, commending his spirit unto the hands of our Lord. And so the tyrant left him in the place for dead, and thus told the tyrant that slew him, and friar Dominic which was his fellow was slain with him. And after, when the tyrant saw that he removed yet his lips, the cursed and cruel tyrant came again and smote him with his knife to the heart, and anon his spirit mounted into heaven. Then was it well known that he was a very prophet, for the prophecy of his death that he had pronounced was accomplished. After, he had the crown of virginity, for as his confessors witness that in all his life he had never done deadly sin. After, he had the crown of a doctor, because he had been a good fast firm preacher and doctor of holy church. After, he had the crown of martyrdom, as it appeared when he was slain. The renown thereof came into the city of Milan, and the friars, the clergy, and the people, came with procession with so great company of people, that the press was so great that they might not enter into the town, and therefore they left the body in the abbey of S. Simplician, and there it abode all that night and so he said the day tofore to his fellow. The passion of S. Peter ensued much like the passion of our Lord in many manners, for like as our Lord suffered for the truth of the faith that he preached, so S. Peter suffered for the truth of the faith that he defended ; and like as Christ suffered of the Jews, so S. Peter suffered of the people of his own country, and of the heretics; Christ suffered in the time of Easter, so did S. Peter. Jesu Christ was sold for thirty pence, and S. Peter was sold for forty pounds. Jesu Christ showed his death to his disciples, and S. Peter showed it in plain predication. Jesu Christ said at his death : Lord God, into thy hands I commend my spirit; right so S. Peter did the same. There was a nun of Almaine, of the abbey of Oetenbach, which had a grievous gout in her knee, which had holden her a year long and more, and there was no master ne physician that might make her whole. She had great devotion to S. Peter, but she might not go thither because of her obedience, and because her malady was so grievous. Then demanded she how many days’ journey was from thence to Milan, and she found that there were fourteen journeys. Then purposed she to make these journeys by her heart and good thoughts, and she said for every journey one hundred paternosters. And always as she went forth by her mind in her journeys, she felt herself more eased, and when she came to the last journey in her mind she found herself all guerished. Then she said that day all the Psalter, and after returned all the journeys like as she had gone by her thoughts in her heart, and after that day she felt never the gout.
There was a man that had a villainous malady beneath, in such wise that he voided blood six days continually; he cried to S. Peter devoutly, and as he had ended his prayer he felt himself all whole; and after he fell asleep, and he saw in his sleep a friar preacher which had a face great and brown, and him seemed that he had been fellow to S. Peter, and verily he was of the same form. This friar gave to him a box of ointment and said to him: Have good hope in S. Peter which late hath shed his blood for the faith, for he hath healed thee of the blood that ran from thee, and when he awoke he purposed to visit the sepulchre of S. Peter.
There was a countess of the castle Massino, which had special devotion to S. Peter and fasted alway his vigil; now it happed that she offered a candle to the altar of S. Peter, and anon the priest for his covetise quenched the candle, but anon after the candle was light again by himself, and he quenched it again once or twice, and always as soon as he was gone, it lighted anon again; then he left that and put out another candle which a knight had offered in the honour of S. Peter, which knight fasted also his even, and the priest assayed two times if he might put it out, but he might not. Then said the knight unto the priest: What, devil, seest thou not well the miracle, that S. Peter will not that they be quenched? Then was the priest abashed and all the clerks that were there with him, in so much that they fled out of the church and told the miracle overall.
There was a man called Roba which had lost at play his gown and all the money that he had. When he came into his house and saw himself in so great poverty, he called the devils and gave himself to them; then came to him three devils which cast down Roba upon the soler and after took him by the neck, and it seemed that they would have estrangled him, in such wise that he unnethe might speak. When they that were in the house beneath heard him cry, they went to him, but the devils said to them that they should return, and they had supposed that Roba had said so, and returned, and after anon he began to cry again; then apperceived they well that they were the devils, and fetched the priest, which conjured in the name of S. Peter, the devils, that they should go their way. Then two of them went away and the third abode, and his friends brought him on the morn to the church of the friars. Then there came a friar named Guillaume of Vercelli, and this friar Guillaume demanded what was his name, and the fiend answered: I am called Balcefas; then the friar commanded that he should go out, and anon the fiend called him by his name as he had known him, and said: Guillaume, Guillaume, I shall not go out for thee, for he is ours and hath given himself to us. Then he conjured him in the name of S. Peter the martyr, and then anon he went his way and the man was all whole, and took penance for his trespass, and was after a good man.
S. Peter whiles he lived, it happed that he disputed with a heretic, but this heretic was sharp, aigre, and so full of words that S. Peter might have of him none audience. When he saw that, he departed from the disputation and went and prayed our Lord that he would give to him place and time to sustain the faith, and that the other might be still and speak not; and when he came again he found this heretic in such case that he might not speak. Then the other heretics fled all confused, and the good christian men thanked our Lord.
The day that S. Peter was martyred, a nun that was of the city of Florence saw in a vision our Lady that styed up to heaven, and with her two persons, one on the right side and that other on the left, in the habit of friars, which were by her, and when she demanded who it was, a voice said to her that it was the soul of S. Peter, and was found certainly that same day he suffered death, and therefore this nun, which was grievously sick, prayed to S. Peter for to recover her health, and he gat it for her entirely.
There was a scholar that went from Maloigne unto Montpellier, and in leaping he was broken that he might not go. Then he remembered of a woman that was healed of a cancer by a little of the earth of the sepulchre of S. Peter, and anon he had trust in God, and cried to S. Peter in such manner as she had done, and anon he was whole.
In the city of Compostella there was a man that had great legs swollen like a barrel, and his womb like a woman with child, and his face foul and horrible, so that he seemed a monster to look on. And it happed that he went with a staff begging his bread, and in a place where he demanded on a time alms of a good woman, she saw him so swollen that she said that it were better for him to have a pit to be buried in than any other thing, for he was no better than dead, yet nevertheless, said she, I counsel thee that thou go into the church of the friars preachers, and pray S. Peter that he make thee whole, and have in him very faith and I hope he shall make thee all whole. This sick man went in the morn to the church, but he found it shut and closed. Then he slept at the door, and he saw in his sleep that a man in the habit of a friar brought him into the church, and covered him with his cope, and when he awoke he found himself in the church and was perfectly whole, whereof much people marvelled because they had seen so short time tofore, him like as he should have died forthwith. There be many more miracles which were over great a labour to write all, for they would occupy a great book. Then let us pray to this holy martyr S. Peter that he pray for us.

[from Caxton’s translation of The Golden Legend, Dent edition, vol. 3, pp. 146-155]

Just For the Record

Back when Sam Tongue’s and my edited volume from Glasgow-associated biblical interpreters came out, I was browsing about for last-minute fact checks and so on. It occurred to me to check on my claim, initially made in 2005 at the Ekklesia Project annual Gathering, to a trademark/copyright/prior art for the portmanteau ‘Sacramerica’. At the time, Google reported no other sources; when I rewrote the essay, there other results were nugatory (or references to my Ekklesia talk, transcribed here and reported elsewhere).

On that fateful morning, though, I discovered that there was another iteration of Sacramerica forthcoming, and that it was virtually guaranteed to have a higher media profile than anything I have ever done or am likely to do. Italian novelist and film director Angelo Cannavacciuolo is planning a novel to bear the title Sacramerica, and apparently there are cinematic possibilities (as would seem obvious, since the novel concerns California). Dr Gregory Pell of the Italian Department in Hofstra University is preparing the English translation.

So with a bit of curiosity, a bit of gentle innovation-preservation, I wrote Dr Pell a couple of years ago to check in and say, ‘Oh, by the way…’. A pleasant academic exchange followed, and in short order Sig. Cannavacciulo himself wrote me (or, to be more precise, ‘his Anglophone wife wrote me’) to assure me that he thought up ‘Sacramerica’ independently (inspired by Sacramento, one of the locales of the novel). The book apparently still awaits publication, but when it reaches press I have been promised copies in Italian and English, with perhaps even a nod of acknowledgement on an obscure page that no one will read.

In the meantime, Avanti, Sacramerica! (The novel, that is, not the signifying practice of deified nationalism.)

Source?

There’s a snippet of text that bounces around the ’net at irregular intervals — it concerns the latest development in digital gadgetry, called ‘Built-In Orderly Organised Knowledge’ (B.O.O.K.). Nowadays it strikes me as a bit precious and predictable, but here’s the thing: I remember having read it (or something very like it) in the late 60s, at which point I thought it was exceedingly clever.

I thought I remembered that it was written by Stephen Leacock, partly because I was on a big Leacock kick in those years, fuelled by my father (who was a connoisseur of astringent humour in essays). So to satisfy my bibliographic obsession, I began googling searching the Web for “built-in orderly organized knowledge” and “leacock”, but came up with no results. I then searched for Leacock with various parts of the title phrase, likewise to no avail. At length I decided that the most important aspect of my search was the date of my first encounter with the phrase, jettisoned my Leacock search terms, poked around a bit, and discovered what must be the ur-source of the meme.

The document I found is ‘The Education of the Gifted Child: An Annotated Bibliography’ by Maurice G.Verbeke and Karen A. Verbeke (you can try to order a bound copy from Amazon, though it’s currently not available) — but that’s not where the B.O.O.K. originated. Rather, the Verbekes list the publication in 1965 (the chronological sweet spot for my having had access to it) of an article by R. J. Heathorn, entitled ‘New Teaching Machine — Great for the Gifted,’ in Gifted Children Newsletter 8:23-24, September 1965. And the annotation that the Verbekes so providently supply reads ‘Article describing the new teaching machine called BOOK (Built-in Orderly Organised Knowledge). It is quite adaptable and covers a lengthy program of information.’ It has been reprinted several times, and you can read it here. It differs from the more recent meme, but the later version has evidently been rewritten (to suit actual technological developments) on the basis of Heathorn’s.

But wait! It turns out that, on further searching, the Gifted Children Newsletter has lifted Heathorn’s essay from his column in the April 1963 edition of Harper’s — here entitled ‘The Ultimate Teaching Machine.’ I don’t have access to Harper’s, so I can’t check, but the title and the illustration (visible in the thumbnail provided) match the essay.

But that’s not all! Apparently Harper’s got Heathorn’s essay from Punch (May 9, 1962) (thank you, Brian!)

So, several lessons learned. One, I can afford to trust my memories in general, if not in particular. The essay I remembered was more subtle and clever than the internet-ified version that now dominates the Web, and it was indeed written by a professional humorist (though not Stephen Leacock himself). Two, don’t stop searching at the first positive result; add elements from that first result to the search and find more, deeper, older results. And three… I have forgotten the third thing, but it was good, trust me.

I’m All Right, Jacques

Since everyone knows that ‘postmodernism’ means ‘anything goes, nothing is true, everything is permitted’, the latest outbreak of unmitigated flagrant prevarication from the new inhabitant of the White House has engendered an unseasonable tsunami of the threadbare ‘see what happens when postmodernists blah blah blah’ fustian and twaddle. I thought — having lived through it once in the 80s and 90s, when Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s evasiveness and lies were blamed on the likes of Derrida and Foucault — this canard of popular rhetoric had flown north for good. Honestly, can you imagine W. sitting in a classroom at Yale reading Of Grammatology and saying, ‘I understand this well enough to put it into practice by claiming that there actually are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’? Honestly?

Of course, the ironic advantage of the ‘blame it on the French’ trope is that it plays on exactly the ignorance and the suspicion of complicated ideas that fund the post-truth propaganda brigade. And the denunciations of Parisian intellectuals come, to a large extent, from the same constituencies who support the political fraudmongers.

Let’s take a slow, deep breath and recollect a few things (we won’t call them ‘facts’, lest someone have a seizure).

    • Politicians did not invent ‘lying’ only after reading Discipline and Punish. Emperors, tyrants, kings, presidents, premiers, prime ministers, duchi, and Führer have propagated bald-faced lies pretty much as long as there have been political leaders.

    • Has anyone read Machiavelli lately? Or the Bible?

    • Perhaps somebody is confused and thinks that French theorists developed a complicated positive rationale for lying. Not much to say about this except ‘if you care so much about truthfulness, I strongly recommend that you read some of the relevant sources carefully and base your ciritcism on, you know, something they wrote rather than your general impression of rilly compluhcated stuff’.

    • To the specific point: are there ‘facts’ any more? Sure there are. Sorry to pop your ballon. But ‘facts’ may be more complicated than you want them to be — even the most obvious, most basic, most fact-y facts. Many matters one or another of us wants to call a ‘fact’ has been questioned by thoughtful, intelligent people on the other side of whatever aisle. Simply calling it a fact doesn’t advance an argument, nor does insisting in a loud voice that it really is a fact. Calling something a ‘fact’ works only if one’s interlocutor agrees, in which case it’s trivial.
    If we disagree about whether X or Y is a fact, we may just shout at one another and call each other names. Or, more productively, we can specify the reasons we regard X as a fact. We can cite the studies on the basis of which 97% climate scientists assert that the earth’s temperature is rising to dangerous levels, and our interlocutor can say… whatever it is people say when 97% of scientists think they’re wrong.

    • What if, instead of getting our undergarments knotted, when we want to talk about ‘facts’ we were to talk about ‘evidence’ instead? We know from the start that ‘evidence’ is a contested category (ask Johnnie Cochrane and Marcia Clark); but we can argue about evidence, about what it is and what it isn’t, about which evidence outweighs what). Talking about evidence leads us into arguments, the good kind, the kind where we exchange ideas and interpretations, the kind that can clarify the premises we are starting from, the warrants on which we’re relying, the pros and cons of the various interpretations of things on which we agree.

Philip K. Dick famously defined reality as that which, when you don’t believe in it, doesn’t go away. That should do well enough for ‘facts’ as well; if you don’t step off a ten-floor building expecting to waft gently to the ground, we can safely treat gravitational attraction as a fact (even though gravitational attraction is a lot more complicated than we learned in secondary-school physics — if I wanted to, I could write a little piece about ‘there’s no such thing as gravity’, but I don’t have the energy and someone might think I actually was arguing that there’s no such thing as gravity).

Does that mean everything is only someone’s perspective on facts (no ‘facts’ as such)? Maybe, if you’re in an actual argument about whether something counts as a fact. But no, not if you and your interlocutor both stay on the safe side of tenth-floor roofs, both eat apples but not arsenic, both wash with (mildly alkaline) soap rather than battery acid.

Getting back to the number of people at the US presidential inauguration on Friday, let’s set aside the terminology of facts for a moment. We can talk about evidence that the National Mall was more crowded Saturday than Friday: photographs, use of the public transit system, eyewitness accounts. If we agree that some of these count as evidence, we can weigh and compare the bits of evidence to see whether we can come up with agreed ‘facts’. But if, hypothetically, you refuse to acknowledge anything I introduce as evidence — my photos are faked, even if they come directly from the federal government itself, my transit statistics reflect a big, huge sale on waterbeds at a local department store and not the Women’s March, the eyewitnesses are all liars — then the language of reality or factuality doesn’t do any work any more. But that’s nothing whatsoever to do with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak or Jean-François Lyotard.

Let’s ask ‘evidence’ to do some of the heavy discursive lifting. And let’s start by asking what evidence there is that French theory is in any way more implicated in contemporary political codswallop than is the time-dishonoured tradition of lies and the lying liars who tell them. Show me a single reason to think that there’s more of a connection between Bill Clinton and Baudrillard than between Clinton and the dozens of other elected officials who have lied about having affairs. Show me a trace of evidence that Deleuze and Guattari influenced the Bush and Blair administrations’ determination to sex up reports on the missile capabilities of Saddam Hussein’s government. Show me a single reason to think that the world was more inclined to truthfulness in the days of Richard Nixon, or John Profumo, or Joe McCarthy, and that French theory can be implicated in that decline from honesty.

I can wait.

* Note: I am not a French person, or a fully-credentialled philosopher, and although people who know about me in a general way often associate me with ‘postmodernism’ I have no stake in being regarded as ‘a postmodernist’ nor even in composing an apologetic for a thing you might call ‘postmodernism’. I care about careful reading and thinking, and I have been positively impressed by many writings that casual observers lump together under the artificial category heading of postmodernism, but my interest and allegiance depends solely on the extent to which so-called postmodern ideas help me explain philosophical and theological puzzles I encounter.

The Revd Richard A. “Dick” Bamforth, Pastor and Teacher 1930-2017

The Rev. Richard Anderson Bamforth, 86, of 17 Brooklawn Avenue, Augusta, died peacefully, at home, on January 6, 2017.

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, January 7, 1930, the son of Captain Charles N. Bamforth and Dorothy Anderson Allan, Dick Bamforth grew up in Swampscott where he completed high school in 1947. He majored in French and Classics at Bowdoin College and graduated in 1951. After further study at Middlebury College he taught French, Latin, and Social Studies at Cony High School for one year before enlisting in the U. S. Army during the Korean War. In the Army Security Agency he studied the Russian language in Monterey, California and spent the rest of his tour of duty in communications reconnaissance on the border between the American and Soviet Zones of divided Germany.
Inspired by a German Lutheran pastor who reached out to American GIs, Bamforth shifted his direction and, upon release from the Army, entered Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. He graduated with the degree of Master of Divinity in 1958 and was ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. He served in two Missouri parishes: Grace Church, Kirkwood, and Holy Cross Church, Poplar Bluff. In 1959, he married Patricia Anne Pennington of Kirkwood. Their two daughters were born in Poplar Bluff.
In 1966 Bamforth was called as Rector of St. Mary’s Church, Rockport, Massachusetts where he served until 1992. Forever a student of language and literature, he took many evening courses at Harvard and, in 1982, earned an additional master’s degree from Boston University in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages. While ministering in Rockport, he tutored numerous refugees and foreign students in English and taught courses in Russian language and culture in the continuing education program of North Shore Community College.
Bamforth retired from full-time parish ministry in 1992 and moved with his wife, Pat, to Augusta. For nine years he was a regular substitute teacher at Cony High School, served as Interim Rector of St. Mark’s Church, Augusta, from 1993 to 1994, and was for 20 years a frequent supply priest in many Maine parishes. More recently he served as Assisting Priest at St. Mark’s. His book reviews and articles have appeared in several church periodicals and, with his brother, he co-edited the autobiographical journals of their sea-going father, Iron Jaw, A Skipper Tells His Story, published in 2002.

An avid gardener and photographer, Bamforth enjoyed his kayak and canoe at “Someplace Else,” his summer camp on Damariscotta Lake. Dick and Pat enjoyed traveling in Great Britain, where he sought out English and Scottish relatives, and in Russia, where he twice visited seminaries of the Orthodox Church. A spiritual director and small group Bible Study leader, he also did tutoring in the Russian language. In recent years, he taught a variety of courses in the UMA Senior College, focusing on literature, art, history, and religion.
In Maine, he served on several diocesan committees and was a member of both Veterans for Peace and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
Bamforth delighted in the nicknames others gave him. His grandchildren call him “Pa Moose,” high schoolers called him “Abe Lincoln” or “Colonel Sanders,” and parishioners often called him “Father Bam-Bam.” In addition to the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer he considered both Celtic and Russian Orthodox spirituality, together with the classical Anglican theologians, to be great resources for his faith and life.
Bamforth is survived by his wife, Patricia of Augusta; daughter Jeanne Bamforth of Topsham; daughter Margaret and her husband Andrew K. M. Adam of Oxford, England; three grandchildren: Nathaniel Adam and his wife Laura of New Haven, CT, Josiah Harris-Adam and his wife Laura of Watertown, MA, and Philippa Adam of Bristol, ME; sister-in-law Janice Bamforth of Belmont, VT; niece Judith Jervis of Danville, N.H.; and nephew Charles H. Bamforth of Kingston, N.H.
A memorial Eucharist was celebrated at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 9 Summer Street, Augusta on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 1:30pm, followed by a public reception. Interment of ashes will follow at a later date in Forest Grove Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are invited for St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 209 Eastern Ave., Augusta, ME 04330.
Arrangements are by Plummer Funeral Home, Augusta.

Richard Bamforth Obituary from the Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic

What Does It Mean To Be “As Objective As Possible”?

HoopoeIt’s become commonplace for biblical critics to concede readily that no one is truly objective — “but” (they say) “we must strive to be as objective as we can.” In the shower this morning I was wondering what this means. On one hand, if objectivity is impossible, striving for it amounts to an empty gesture. I may strive for universal acclaim, but I know that haters gonn’ hate, and “being applauded by a great many people” differs in significant ways from “universal acclaim.” How could one more precisely get at what people hope for when they say “we must strive to be as objective as we can”?

One may begin with the obvious: we mean that interpreters should aim at impartiality*, at not allowing commitments more remote to the interpretive question at hand to outweigh considerations more immediate to the question. (I prescind from saying “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” to avoid complicating one problem with another.) When an advocate of penal substitution says “This particular passage clearly draws on Christus Victor motifs,” I’m more inclined to believe her than if she says “This appears to promote a Christus Victor perspective on atonement, but really if you look at it correctly, it too requires a penal-substitution interpretation.” When somebody allows that this or that bit of evidence tells against their own interests, I’m more inclined to trust them than when they insist that all the evidence points their way. So, the discernment of the weight of considerations (“impartiality”) should matter greatly to interpreters. Is that most of what the common usage of “objective” gets at, or should I add further considerations?

[Later:] OK, “humility” should also matter. Interpretations demonstrate humility by acknowledging the good reasons that people have for arriving at divergent conclusions, and by avoiding the presumption that today’s best reading will endure forever as the definitive account of a particular text. I can trust an interpreter more if she has the sense of history and of human limitations that equips her to propose and advocate an interpretation on specified grounds, without explicitly or implicitly advancing the claim that now, the puzzle has been solved and we can hereafter move on to different issues.** Contrariwise, a responsible interpreter ought to be able to address a problem without disrespect to predecessors, without implying a claim on transcendent eternal correctness, without a tacit affirmation that one’s native culture has attained the only intellectual pinnacles worth ascending.


* “Impartiality” seems to share the characteristic of unattainability with “objectivity.” I doubt that I can make a case that there’s a fundamental difference, so I’ll reluctantly move away from using “impartiality.” If I did want to stick with “impartiality,” I might differentiate it from “objectivity” by according impartiality more of a practical significance: I may not be objective about the Baltimore Orioles, but if I were to serve as umpire for a baseball game I could impartially refuse to allow my lifelong support for the O’s (the first-place O’s) to affect my ball-and-strike calls. But some would probably dispute that usage and distinction, so I can opt out of using the terms.

** Except that everything I write about hermeneutics applies across all disciplines, forever, and resolves all problems in the field. I am deeply embarrassed (both intellectually and spiritually) by my failure of humility.

Good Friday 2016

HoopoeLast time, I said I’d begin posting sermons from the past few years. I had expected to fulfil that promise gradually over the course of my weeks of study leave, but Tasha asked to see Friday’s sermon here, so I’ll put it up as soon as I finish typing these notes. I worked on getting the best balance between the horrible risk of perpetuating and underscoring anti-Jewish presuppositions (on one hand) and accepting the catholic tradition that sees continuity between the sacrifices of Israel and the sacrifice of Jesus (continued in the Mass). Likewise, the text from Hebrews wants very much to relegate Israel’s covenant to obsolescence (even as Hebrews insists that neither Israel nor those who enter the heavenly sanctuary through Jesus is to be complete without the other). As a result, I aimed at associating and juxtaposing the two scenes without prejudice to either.
Continue reading Good Friday 2016

Not Dead Yet

HoopoeI had a small breakthrough in my thinking about my hermeneutical project yesterday morning before church, perhaps the most frustrating time for such an insight, since I absolutely had to be present at the beginning of the Blessings of Palms before the procession and Palm Sunday liturgy. I managed to scribble down what I think were the key notions, and — as my study leave begins sometime in the near future — I’ve made a plan to renew my blogging about “meaning”, along with posting some of the backlog of sermons and devotions I had left unposted.

One of the ideas that’s been rattling around my mind for ages has involved my not having a catchy label for what I’m about. That is in part a matter of stubborn vanity: I don’t want my ideas to gain a toehold (or a casual rejection) based mostly on the adjective appended to “hermeneutics” in a convenient tag. If you’re going to agree or disagree with me, I want you to have thought through my premises, not just ridiculed/embraced a fad. That’s almost pure vanity, of course; the world has lots to do, and keeping up with my random thoughts is not necessarily one of them. It’s my job to earn attention, not just stomp my tiny foot and demand it.

But I resist a label for other reasons as well. Whenever I think of a possible label, in the same moment I conceive a reason for that not being an apt characterisation of my project. “X Hermeneutics” — but it’s not really X, since people generally understand X to refer to this set of premises and activities that I’m calling into question. “Y Hermeneutics,” but Y isn’t a positive value for me, just an adventitious outcome. If someone suggested “Neti neti hermeneutics,” I’d have to concede that that might be the best alternative.

But as I think through the topics about which I want to write [eventually, if God permits me time], I realise that one way to wrangle the problem would take the shape of an essay/chapter that simply catalogues all the vaguely applicable alternatives I can imagine, and explaining their negations. So that’s now on my list (along with about fifty other things I need to write. Mercy, I hope I live long enough to write at least most of them.)

I realise after writing that last paragraph that I should note that the title of this post was meant to refer to the blog, not to me — but both senses do fit.