Thomas F. Bertonneau In Memoriam

TomTom was a person of truly prodigious learning.  He valued sincerity and enthusiasm. He was the opposite of the academic hack who writes contrived articles designed for career advancement and to pass “peer review,” that most worthless of (recent) inventions. He published in “recognized” journals at times partly to prove that he could do it and that it was not through lack of ability that he mostly chose other venues.

Tom was by nature an independent thinker and saw himself as a dissident surrounded by a hostile academe which he regarded as a lost cause. This has been confirmed by the State University of New York headquarters, governing over sixty campuses, decision to abandon any courses in Western Civilization and to replace them with DIE – diversity, inclusion, and equity. This is a nationwide phenomenon first seen at more prestigious places like UC Berkeley and Stanford. Western Civ was a course that Tom was qualified to teach like almost no other, and he did, many times over the years. While a normal person might read one book, if at all, about Mycenaean Greeks, or the historical origins of King Arthur and its cultural significance, or the myth of Atlantis, all things Tom loved, Tom would literally read an entire bookshelf on such topics. Continue reading

Hijinks in Excelsis

“We have clowns in constant practice among us who are as far above the clowns of any other great state as a Jack Dempsey is above a paralytic . . . . Here in this Eden of clowns, with the highest rewards of clowning theoretically open to every poor boy . . . we found and cherished a clown dynasty.”

H.L. Mencken, “On Being an American,” Prejudices, Third Series (1922)

“It is very difficult for a dunce to obtain the reputation of a wit; yet . . . a bawdy blockhead often passes for a fellow of smart parts and pretensions.” 

Oliver Goldsmith, The Citizen of the World (1760-1761)

I have previously had occasion to mention that I produced a course of videos on world regional geography, and that this now runs each semester for the edification, or perhaps mortification, of a few hundred on-line students.   I follow the university’s instructions and stream these videos through YouTube, as this economy allows the university to spend its money on mercenary athletes and meretricious scholars.   After some semesters had passed and the views of my videos had multiplied, YouTube attached advertisements to the videos in order to grub some money for itself. Continue reading

burden of faith

In his Accompanying Letter to Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis makes the astounding claim

To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard before that Catholics are obliged as a matter of faith to credit the intentions of Council Fathers. Ordinary charity and the piety we owe our bishops demands we give them the benefit of doubt (although in any other context, I would be accused of “clericalism” for saying so), but to extend them unconditional trust on pain of “doubting the Holy Spirit” (presumably in this context meaning His efficacious guidance of the Church, rather than His existence)? This seems to be a new burden of faith, unimagined, I dare guess, by the Fathers of Vatican I.

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Under what sort of a tyranny do we live?

It certainly feels like tyranny of the particularly nasty, totalitarian sort when one’s employer, bank, professional society, and cultural centers are all sending out political manifestos on the need for “equity” and the villainy of “whiteness”, in eerie unanimity with all journalists and government officials, with these bodies promising to punish dissent in their respective spheres. However, it is not tyranny as we are used to thinking of it. It is not that a single central authority has seized all power and dissolved the intermediary institutions. The centralization is rather of a spiritual sort; there are still a plurality of institutions, but they are all controlled by people with the same beliefs, sympathies, and (anti-)culture. One could say that all power is with the government, media, large corporations, and academia, but stated like that, it hardly sounds anomalous, hardly more than the statement that the powerful are powerful. The feeling of oppression comes from the sense that these elite are all part of a single cabal. Yet, the fact that there is some degree of consensus among a society’s elite is also hardly anomalous or sinister in itself. Every society has a consensus; every society recognizes some beliefs as beyond the pale.

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Do the Rulers Know Indeed?

“So that in this spiritual warfare we do not contend like the warriors of this world for a triumphal wreath that will wither upon our brows, or for fame and renown which is nothing but the breath of a company of talking people, or for the enlarging of our empire over the next handful of turf; but we are contending with enemies that are pursuing us to Hell, and binding us in chains of everlasting darkness.” 

John Scott, Christian Life (1683)

I am picking my way through John’s gospel and in this morning’s portion read the account of Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles.  I have since been chewing rather sourly on what I have decided to call the Appalling Question.  This is the question asked by “some of them of Jerusalem” in John 7, verses 25-26.

25: Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?

26: But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing to him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?

The Appalling Question is the question in verse 26.  Jesus was indeed the man that the rulers (the chief priests and Pharisees) sought to kill, and as a simple violation of the law against murder, this was appalling enough.  Jesus had just said as much in John 7: 19-20.  But the truly Appalling Question is in verse 26, where “some of them of Jerusalem” ask, do our rulers seek to kill Jesus because they do not know he is “the very Christ,” or do our rulers know he is “the very Christ” and seek to kill him for that very reason? Continue reading

Our Strength Destroyed by this New Age’s Ways

The lament of universal ruin is as old as man himself, so it is not without reason that the carping greybeard is a figure of fun and contempt.  Times change, and youth will always delight in the violets that sprout from the manure pile the old bequeath them.   Times don’t change, and the old will always observe that the stink of the pile is much stronger than the scent of the violet. Continue reading

The Real Land of Beings that Have Been Burnt

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark . . .”

T. S. Eliot, “East Coker” (1940)

Men have always wondered where a thing is when it is no more.  That a being should be simply subtracted from the world of beings offends our reason, since a being that can be not would seem not to have been in the first place.   A world of things that can cease to be real must itself be an unreal world. Continue reading

Requiescat in Pace Thomas Bertonneau

I bear the sad news that longtime Orthosphere author Thomas Bertonneau died last night in his sleep.   He had been suffering from a wasting disease and knew that death was near at hand, but he resolved to accept his end with a manly mix of Stoical reserve and Christian insouciance.  As Tom wrote to me in the first part of June,

“As soon as the neurologist made the diagnosis, I instructed her that I wanted to know nothing – absolutely nothing – about the details of the disease’s progress or about the timeline of my foreshortened future. I resolved to live – as happily as possible – one day at a time.”

For those who understood the happy warrior that Tom was, these words will come as no surprise.  He had the faith and the philosophy to know that a man should not worry about the hour that Death will knock at his door, but should rather worry about the man who must open that door and allow Death to enter in.

Please say a prayer for Tom’s dear, departed soul.  We will post a longer tribute to his life and work sometime soon.  I’ve pasted below a poem that seems to suit the circumstances.  It is by the Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and it describes the way that men pass through our lives on their way to the life where there is no more passing through.  The second stanza describes men whose bright minds rain rich beams down on those they pass.  It would seem to have been written with Thomas Bertonneau in mind, since he has been for all of us an intrepid lantern-bearer in this dark and dolorous world.

The Lantern out of Doors
(1877)

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mold or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

On Oligarchs and Their Alien Allies

“They have many cries and various modes of conduct; but they have only one object—the establishment of an oligarchy in this free and equal land.” 

“While they aim at oligarchical rule, they apparently advocate popular rights.” 

“We find . . . a powerful section of the great nobles ever at war with the national institutions.”

Benjamin Disraeli, The Letters of Runnymede (1836)

Whatever fictions it may employ to conceal the fact, every society is governed by a minority or ruling elite.  All government is therefore oligarchical in the simple etymological sense of rule by the few.  But rule by the few is not the true essence of oligarchy, since that would make the title of oligarchical government redundant.  The true essence of oligarchy is, rather, rule by a rapacious few, and a concomitant and barely disguised hostility of these rapacious robber-barons for the nation of rubes over which they so rapaciously rule. Continue reading

Richard Cocks is Not Narrow-Minded and Should Not Consent to Become So

“For the narrow-minded man, though worthy of  good things, deprives himself of what he is worthy of.”

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (350 B.C.), iv. 3.

Richard’s latest post set me to puzzling over the meaning of the word narrow-minded.  I poked around and discovered that I had unknowingly swallowed the word as a liberal slogan, that the word narrow-minded has another meaning in ancient philosophy, and that Richard is the very opposite of narrow-minded in the ancient sense when he is most narrow minded in the liberal sense. Continue reading