Monday, May 28, 2012


We have all perhaps heard that life today has become too complex.  One of the better advocates of simple living is an Englishman of the 19th century: the Reverend William Barnes, who besides being an Anglican priest was also a linguist, mathematician, farmer, poet, and many things else.  In short, a genius.  His effort to free English speech from thralldom to the tongue of the Norman invaders is worthy of study in and of itself, for language is a more important part of the life of a people than we often credit it.  That effort is evident in the poem below (and in all his poems written in the Dorset dialect).  But more immediately, we should take note of just how content we could be with a very few things that we valued greatly:  good company, a warm fire, a sword, sturdy furnishings.  More will be friendly to this point of view during our self-made economic crisis, but we should remember it well in good times also.

‘The Settle an’ the Girt Wood Vire’

Ah! naïghbour John, since I an' you
Wer youngsters, ev'ry thing is new.
My father's vires wer all o' logs
O' cleft−wood, down upon the dogs
Below our clavy, high, an' brode
Enough to teäke a cart an' lwoad,
Where big an' little all zot down
At bwoth zides, an' bevore, all roun'.
An' when I zot among em, I
Could zee all up ageän the sky
Drough chimney, where our vo'k did hitch
The zalt−box an' the beäcon−vlitch,
An' watch the smoke on out o' vier,
All up an' out o' tun, an' higher.
An' there wer beäcon up on rack,
An' pleätes an' dishes on the tack;
An' roun' the walls wer heärbs a−stowed
In peäpern bags, an' blathers blowed.
An' just above the clavy−bwoard
Wer father's spurs, an' gun, an' sword;
An' there wer then, our girtest pride,
The settle by the vier zide.
Ah! gi'e me, if I wer a squier,
The settle an' the girt wood vier.

But they've a−wall'd up now wi' bricks
The vier pleäce vor dogs an' sticks,
An' only left a little hole
To teäke a little greäte o' coal,
So small that only twos or drees
Can jist push in an' warm their knees.
An' then the carpets they do use,
Ben't fit to tread wi' ouer shoes;
An' chairs an' couches be so neat,
You mussen teäke em vor a seat:
They be so fine, that vo'k mus' pleäce
All over em an' outer ceäse,
An' then the cover, when 'tis on,
Is still too fine to loll upon.
Ah! gi'e me, if I wer a squier,
The settle an' the girt wood vier.

Carpets, indeed! You coulden hurt
The stwone−vloor wi' a little dirt;
Vor what wer brought in doors by men,
The women soon mopp'd out ageän.
Zoo we did come vrom muck an' mire,
An' walk in straïght avore the vier;
But now, a man's a−kept at door
At work a pirty while, avore
He's screäp'd an' rubb'd, an' cleän and fit
To goo in where his wife do zit.
An' then if he should have a whiff
In there, 'twould only breed a miff:
He cant smoke there, vor smoke woon't goo
'Ithin the footy little flue.
Ah! gi'e me, if I wer a squier,
The settle an' the girt wood vier.

A Brief Guide to the Dorset Dialect:
aï=‘ah’ followed by long ‘e’
eä=long ‘e’ followed by long ‘a’
wo=long ‘o’
Settle=high backed wooden bench


All of Rev Barnes’s poems are now part of the public domain.  The best collection of his poems per Father Andrew Phillips, who has written a biography of Rev Barnes, a study of his thought on various subjects, and has examined in detail his attempt to revive the Anglo-Saxon/Wessex form of English (The Rebirth of England and English: the Vision of William Barnes), is the two-volume set The Poems of William Barnes (1962), edited by Bernard Jones.  This version of ‘The Settle an’ the Girt Wood Vire’ comes from this web site:

Some changes have been made so that it follows the Jones edition.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Authoritarian Subsidiarity? Roman Catholic Social Theory

By David Rockett

Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. The concept is applicable in the fields of government, political science, cybernetics, management, military (Mission Command) and, metaphorically, in the distribution of software module responsibilities in object-oriented programming. Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism, where it asserts the rights of the parts over the whole. (Wikipedia)

John Naisbitt's 1982 best seller Megatrends ( heralded that one approaching trend upon the world was decentralization. Soon we would be rid of old-stogie, centralised and often heavy-handed corporate structures and institutions. After all, had not anti-trust actions recently broken up AT&T? Nor did IBM seem to be faring well against smaller niche rivals. Perhaps the trend in technological miniaturisation would yield forth Naisbitt's megatrend of institutional fragmentation and decentralisation? To the chagrin of millions, E. F. Schumacher had zealously argued in his own popular Small Is Beautiful, ( 9 years earlier in 1973.

Of course, size and structure are only two aspects of a social theory. We might first, before delving into the details and interplay of localism and authority (Roman Catholic in particular) be wise to consider setting Social Theory in its cultural context. From where does a Social Theory come? The secularists amongst us will no doubt argue modern societies' social theories, despite their diversity, arise ultimately from the natural rights of man devised in the late European Enlightenment. Of course, this betrays a Western presuppositional posture or world view. It sees the world as having all lived through a class in Western Civilisation, having adopted most if not all its notions of the flow of history, and especially the modern philosophies of progress.

It is likely the very act of parsing out the particular minutia of a social theory is of itself a distinctively if not peculiar western habit. Richard Weaver might say it grew out of our scientific method which insists upon breaking all things down into their particular parts, and thus forever fragmenting the whole unity of a praxis. (Ideas Have Consequences, first published in 1948.

Yet the truth for millions these days is the shocking realisation that much of the world never experience early or Medieval Roman Catholicism, the Italian Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, or what our secularists insist upon calling the West's Age of Reason and Enlightenment.  This is a Medieval European experience and history which certainly Asia, Middle Eastern Byzantium and most of Africa, were content to miss out completely on. Yet adding amazingly to our shock, most of these people experience civilisation, in some form, without them! Considering this comprises the large part of the world, especially in terms of population, we might pause for a strong dose of cultural humility.

Nevertheless, growing out of Greek philosophy, we find a natural if not curious bleed over. How we think about reality, philosophically, will ultimately influence how we think about man, life and society. That the Greek struggled to balance the One and the Many – that is, the Universals with the Particulars – shows up in social theory. If the Universals prevail, the One is likely to swallow up the many particulars. Yet if the Many particulars prevail – the threat of anarchy and losing the centre of unity of things might lead to chaos. So we see at least conceptually, the various threats, and need to balance Unity and Diversity, One and Many, Universals and Particulars.

Though not often set in historic and philosophical context, most students in the west stumble over these issues as they relate to Western democratic theory. How does a society balance authority and liberty – yea Authoritarianism and Libertarianism? In the U.S. this often arises in discussion of the constitutional sharing of powers. We call this Federalism. Certain rights and powers belong rightly to the federal government, then state governments, city and local government – and ultimately to family and self government. We jokingly admit that we don't want to make everything a federal matter or case. Some issues are State and local issues, while others are even more intimate family, if not personal, matters.

Protestants typically will contend that this U.S. Federalism grew out of the Reformation’s respect for Scripture, especially the decentralised Judicial and Tribal divisions modeled in the Old Covenant Law God gave to Israel before they insisted upon a King. From Martin Luther and John Calvin onward, just how the Church was to relate to the State, and the State to the Church, was of supreme importance. We must remember that these discussions (which ultimately lead to numerous wars and thousands of deaths over the next several centuries) occurred within a European context dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, and a dozen or so Monarchies – Kings. It is more difficult than we imagine, to set aside our modernist presuppositions, especially our notions of democracy and Individualism, to consider late medieval Europe at the time of the Reformation and Counter Reformation.

This effort is made far easier for us if we avail ourselves of Robert Nisbet's 1953 classic and invaluable work The Quest For Community, ( Nisbet gives the careful reader an excellent sense of what Medieval societal structure was like – and the disruptive nature of structures in life in that grand transitional century from 1660-1760. This 100 years saw the old Medieval, Monarchical world dominated by Roman Catholicism, yield in most every cultural nook and cranny, to the Modern world of Enlightenment Individualism. This secularization of Life would go on to reach it's crown of Naturalistic Optimism in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

This optimism was largely deflowered and dashed by two bloody World Wars, a eugenics Holocaust (compliments of Charles Darwin), followed by another half-century  of smaller wars, abortion and euthanasia. Those of us who came of age on the tail end of a fading optimism of Enlightenment modernism have difficulty imagining its former secular and rational glory. Ours has been a reluctant transition to the Post-Modern era, which is now dominated by a technological and existential ethic of Personal Peace and Affluence, to borrow a phrase from the late protestant theologian Francis Schaeffer. Speaking of the early 1960s Schaeffer says:

And the great majority of people had come to the place where they had only two horrendous values. Absolutely horrible values: Personal Peace and Affluence. Now, because I'm going to use terms over and over again in this episode let me define them carefully, and I'd urge you to please listen with care. As I use the term personal peace, I mean, I want to be left alone. And I don't care what happens to the man across the street, or across the world. I want my own lifestyle to be undisturbed. Regardless of what it will mean even to my own children and grandchildren. Now that's what I mean by personal peace. Affluence means things, things, things, always more things. And success seen as an abundance of things.”  [From How Shall We Then Life video”]

But let us not rush ahead of ourselves. We did not arrive here at this point in a day, or even a single century. Nisbet teaches us an important truth in the transition Europe trod from is Monarchical and Roman Catholic era, to our Modern and quickly dominant Post-Modern world. So, before our modern era of rank Individualism Nisbet says:

“Amid all the interpretations and judgments of historians regarding medieval society...The first is the pre-eminence in medieval society—in its economy, religion, and morality—of the small social group. From such organizations as family, gild, village community, and monastery flowed most of the cultural file of the age. The second fact, deriving from the first, is the centrality of personal status, of membership, in society. In the Middle Ages, Jacob Burckhardt has written, 'Man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation—only through some general category. The reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power.”

”It is a different story when we come to the sixteenth century. We are now at the beginning of a world in which the individual—the artist, scientist, the man of business, the politician, and the religious devotee—become steadily more detached, in area after area, from the close confinements of kinship, church, and association. This is preeminently the century of the beginnings of secularism, religious dissent, economic individualism, and of political centralization. And in these massive institutional changes we can miss the decline of much of the communalism that flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.” [pages 73 & 77, Nisbet, The Quest For Community]

It is from these various “subsidiary structures” in old European society Nisbet argues that modern Secularism and the democratic State has over the past several hundred years sought to liberate society. Thus, “subsidiary structure” like state or local government, church, gild, fraternity, and family would stand in the way of man's sole identity and allegiance to the modern unitary State.

The Pope of Rome & Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity is...the idea that problems should be solved at the smallest and most intimate level possible. For example, the federal government shouldn't be solving problems states can solve, states shouldn't be solving problems that communities can solve, and so on. This is another aspect of charity. Charity isn't a faceless international bureaucracy doling out tax dollars. It's a soul exhibiting the love of Christ. This also means that our moral obligations to tend for our family are higher than our moral obligation to care for our neighborhood, or community, or city, or state, or country, or planet. We have some degree of moral duty and responsibility towards each of these, but it's best understood as concentric circles. (How to Understand Catholic Social Teaching: Solidarity and Subsidiarity, Joe Heschmeyer.)

One might think that given the strong hierarchical structure and administration of the Roman Catholic Church, that all notions of subsidiarity would militate or rub against this real subsidiarity. After all, the Bishop of Rome is the absolute Pope, or Papa of the Church, with authority over all other Cardinals, Bishops and Priests, to say nothing of local parishioners. This is not an easy thing for any outsider of the Church (Protestants in particular) to keep straight.

But my good Roman Catholic friends will argue that absolute Papal authority only pertains to matters of faith and doctrine. Such authority does not extend to all matters equally. After all, the Pope of Rome has no jurisdictional authority to tell those same Cardinals and Bishops what car to purchase and drive, much less which blender for the kitchen is best for all parishioners!

In other words, there is at least no current reason to expect some future evolution of Papal authority to extend to such lengths as to supplant all notions of subsidiarity, which of course, always existed in seed form from the very beginning. The temptation here is to delve too deeply into ancient ecclesiastical disputes where my Eastern Orthodox friends would argue most Papal claims from the Great Schism (1054) are indeed evolutionary innovations not found in Holy Tradition, all the while appealing to an earlier historic Conciliar Church. But that would take us too far adrift, and into grander disputes than apropos for this article.

As it stands, it appear at least in our day, that Roman Catholic social  theory is more than broad enough to accommodate its historic ideal of subsidiarity. After all, Roman Catholic Libertarians will argue it is they who are closer to authentic Catholic tradition than are others who just as zealously hold to a more Paleo-Conservative Distributism (not to mention far more leftist Liberation Theology and its millions of adherents). So our answer is No. The hierarchical authoritarianism of the Roman Papacy is no threat to a vibrant cultural and societal Subsidiarity...yet. []
A fully registered Stock Broker/Financial Planner for over 16 years, Mr Rockett has worked as The Charitable Steward in planned Charitable Giving the past 15+ years, leveraging or super-sizing assets with a creative use of Life Insurance. A committed advocate of Southern Agrarianism, Mr Rockett has also been a studied reader in Christian theology the past 40 years.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

In Defense of Monarchy

Though kings and queens are often portrayed today as wicked and overbearing, this is not quite the right view of them, especially as they lived and ruled during the Middle Ages in Europe and Russia.  Saint Tamara, Queen of Georgia, provides a compelling example of this sort of virtuous ruler.  Her story is recounted below, via the Orthodox Church in America.

In 1166 a daughter, Tamar, was born to King George III (1155–1184) and Queen Burdukhan of Georgia. The king proclaimed that he would share the throne with his daughter from the day she turned twelve years of age.

The royal court unanimously vowed its allegiance and service to Tamar, and father and daughter ruled the country together for five years. After King George’s death in 1184, the nobility recognized the young Tamar as the sole ruler of all Georgia. Queen Tamar was enthroned as ruler of all Georgia at the age of eighteen. She is called “King” in the Georgian language because her father had no male heir and so she ruled as a monarch and not as a consort.

At the beginning of her reign, Tamar convened a Church council and addressed the clergy with wisdom and humility: “Judge according to righteousness, affirming good and condemning evil,” she advised. “Begin with me--if I sin I should be censured, for the royal crown is sent down from above as a sign of divine service. Allow neither the wealth of the nobles nor the poverty of the masses to hinder your work. You by word and I by deed, you by preaching and I by the law, you by upbringing and I by education will care for those souls whom God has entrusted to us, and together we will abide by the law of God, in order to escape eternal condemnation…. You as priests and I as ruler, you as stewards of good and I as the watchman of that good.”

The Church and the royal court chose a suitor for Tamar: Yuri, the son of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal (in Georgia Yuri was known as “George the Russian”). The handsome George Rusi was a valiant soldier, and under his command the Georgians returned victorious from many battles. His marriage to Tamar, however, exposed many of the coarser sides of his character. He was often drunk and inclined toward immoral deeds. In the end, Tamar’s court sent him away from Georgia to Constantinople, armed with a generous recompense. Many Middle Eastern rulers were drawn to Queen Tamar’s beauty and desired to marry her, but she rejected them all. Finally at the insistence of her court, she agreed to wed a second time to ensure the preservation of the dynasty. This time, however, she asked her aunt and nurse Rusudan (the sister of King George III) to find her a suitor. The man she chose, Davit-Soslan Bagrationi, was the son of the Ossetian ruler and a descendant of King George I (1014-1027).

In 1195 a joint Muslim military campaign against Georgia was planned under the leadership of Atabeg (a military commander) Abu Bakr of Persian Azerbaijan. At Queen Tamar’s command, a call to arms was issued. The faithful were instructed by Metropolitan Anton of Chqondidi to celebrate All-night Vigils and Liturgies and to generously distribute alms so that the poor could rest from their labors in order to pray. In ten days the army was prepared, and Queen Tamar addressed the Georgian soldiers for the last time before the battle began. “My brothers! Do not allow your hearts to tremble before the multitude of enemies, for God is with us…. Trust God alone, turn your hearts to Him in righteousness, and place your every hope in the Cross of Christ and in the Most Holy Theotokos!” she exhorted them.

Having taken off her shoes, Queen Tamar climbed the hill to the Metekhi Church of the Theotokos (in Tbilisi) and knelt before the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. She prayed without ceasing until the good news arrived: the battle near Shamkori had ended in the unquestionable victory of the Orthodox Georgian army.

After this initial victory the Georgian army launched into a series of triumphs over the Turks, and neighboring countries began to regard Georgia as the protector of the entire Transcaucasus. By the beginning the 13th century, Georgia was commanding a political authority recognized by both the Christian West and the Muslim East.

Georgia’s military successes alarmed the Islamic world. Sultan Rukn al-Din was certain that a united Muslim force could definitively decide the issue of power in the region, and he marched on Georgia around the year 1203, commanding an enormous army.

Having encamped near Basiani, Rukn al-Din sent a messenger to Queen Tamar with an audacious demand: to surrender without a fight. In reward for her obedience, the sultan promised to marry her on the condition that she embrace Islam; if Tamar were to cleave to Christianity, he would number her among the other unfortunate concubines in his harem. When the messenger relayed the sultan’s demand, a certain nobleman, Zakaria Mkhargrdzelidze, was so outraged that he slapped him on the face, knocking him unconscious.

At Queen Tamar’s command, the court generously bestowed gifts upon the ambassador and sent him away with a Georgian envoy and a letter of reply. “Your proposal takes into consideration your wealth and the vastness of your armies, but fails to account for divine judgment,” Tamar wrote, “while I place my trust not in any army or worldly thing but in the right hand of the Almighty God and the infinite aid of the Cross, which you curse. The will of God--and not your own--shall be fulfilled, and the judgment of God--and not your judgment--shall reign!”

The Georgian soldiers were summoned without delay. Queen Tamar prayed for victory before the Vardzia Icon of the Theotokos, then, barefoot, led her army to the gates of the city.

Hoping in the Lord and the fervent prayers of Queen Tamar, the Georgian army marched toward Basiani. The enemy was routed. The victory at Basiani was an enormous event not only for Georgia, but for the entire Christian world.

The military victories increased Queen Tamar’s faith. In the daytime she shone in all her royal finery and wisely administered the affairs of the government; during the night, on bended knees, she beseeched the Lord tearfully to strengthen the Georgian Church. She busied herself with needlework and distributed her embroidery to the poor.

Once, exhausted from her prayers and needlework, Tamar dozed off and saw a vision. Entering a luxuriously furnished home, she saw a gold throne studded with jewels, and she turned to approach it, but was suddenly stopped by an old man crowned with a halo. “Who is more worthy than I to receive such a glorious throne?” Queen Tamar asked him.

He answered her, saying, “This throne is intended for your maidservant, who sewed vestments for twelve priests with her own hands. You are already the possessor of great treasure in this world.” And he pointed her in a different direction.

Having awakened, Holy Queen Tamar immediately took to her work and with her own hands sewed vestments for twelve priests.

History has preserved another poignant episode from Queen Tamar’s life: Once she was preparing to attend a festal Liturgy in Gelati, and she fastened precious rubies to the belt around her waist. Soon after she was told that a beggar outside the monastery tower was asking for alms, and she ordered her entourage to wait. Having finished dressing, she went out to the tower but found no one there. Terribly distressed, she reproached herself for having denied the poor and thus denying Christ Himself. Immediately she removed her belt, the cause of her temptation, and presented it as an offering to the Gelati Icon of the Theotokos.

During Queen Tamar’s reign a veritable monastic city was carved in the rocks of Vardzia, and the God-fearing Georgian ruler would labor there during the Great Fast. The churches of Pitareti, Kvabtakhevi, Betania, and many others were also built at that time. Holy Queen Tamar generously endowed the churches and monasteries not only on Georgian territory but also outside her borders: in Palestine, Cyprus, Mt. Sinai, the Black Mountains, Greece, Mt. Athos, Petritsoni (Bulgaria), Macedonia, Thrace, Romania, Isauria and Constantinople. The divinely guided Queen Tamar abolished the death penalty and all forms of bodily torture.

A regular, secret observance of a strict ascetic regime--fasting, a stone bed, and litanies chanted in bare feet--finally took its toll on Queen Tamar’s health. For a long time she refrained from speaking to anyone about her condition, but when the pain became unbearable she finally sought help. The best physicians of the time were unable to diagnose her illness, and all of Georgia was seized with fear of disaster. Everyone from the small to the great prayed fervently for Georgia’s ruler and defender. The people were prepared to offer not only their own lives, but even the lives of their children, for the sake of their beloved ruler.

God sent Tamar a sign when He was ready to receive her into His Kingdom. Then the pious ruler bade farewell to her court and turned in prayer to an icon of Christ and the Life-giving Cross: “Lord Jesus Christ! Omnipotent Master of heaven and earth! To Thee I deliver the nation and people that were entrusted to my care and purchased by Thy Precious Blood, the children whom Thou didst bestow upon me, and to Thee I surrender my soul, O Lord!”

The burial place of Queen Tamar has remained a mystery to this day. Some sources claim that her tomb is in Gelati, in a branch of burial vaults belonging to the Bagrationi dynasty, while others argue that her holy relics are preserved in a vault at the Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem.

St. Tamara is commemorated on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women in addition to her regular commemoration on May 1.

Scourge of Modernity

Father Matthew Raphael Johnson gives a strong rebuke to modern man and his shallow, materialistic attitudes as he examines the writings of Konstantin Leontyev.  A presentation not to be missed.