Dec 202019
 

Today features the fourth O Antiphon, O Clavis David (O Key of David)

Latin:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English:

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah had prophesied:

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Isaiah 22:22

“His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.” Isaiah 9:7

“…To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” Isaiah 42:7.

So . . . keys are the symbol of the day.  When I checked online for recipes and “keys” I, of course, got recipes for the Florida Keys – duh!  All right. That means you can make key lime pie, or do something with conch. Or . . . try this popular favorite: broiled fish Matecumbe. Upper and Lower Matecumbe are part of the Keys that have given birth to the recipe.  Main idea is to make the marinade/ seasoning the day before and refrigerate. This is the basic recipe with my own twists.

Combine the following in a non-reactive bowl:

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
8-ounce jar capers with vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
5 tomatoes, chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Refrigerate overnight.

Next day, select 8 fish fillets. Heat the broiler and place the fillets in a broiling pan in one layer.  Cook on one side, turn carefully, and divide the marinade between the fillets – spreading evenly. Broil this side until the fish is cooked through.  Serve immediately.

Dec 192019
 

Today features the third O Antiphon, O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

LATIN: O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.

ENGLISH: O Root of Jesse, that stands as a sign of the people, before whom kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.

Jesse is a slightly odd choice here as a name for Jesus, but it makes sense theologically. Jesse, also spelled Isai in the English translation of Hebrew Bible, was the father of king David, and the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. He was a farmer and sheep breeder in Bethlehem. David was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. The fact that he was the youngest is ideologically important.  Throughout Biblical narratives, it is the youngest (or near youngest) son who inherits (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph etc.). David’s youngest son, Solomon, inherited the throne, and the reason the older ones did not is the main topic of much of the book of Samuel.  I have written about this oddity in my forthcoming book, The Genesis Option.  The issue is a little complicated and you should read the book when it is published for the full story.  Briefly, David was king of Judah, and Judah was subordinate to the larger kingdom of Israel. Yet . . . it was Judah that ultimately survived and prospered, whilst the nation of Israel (the northern 10 tribes) was utterly wiped out and dispersed by the Assyrian empire when it got too high and mighty and refused to pay tribute. These are now called the Lost Tribes of Israel. Judah – the smallest and least significant – just submitted and hunkered down until Assyria went away. Thus . . . the youngest (and weakest) is sometimes in the strongest position overall.

The root of Jesse makes choosing a recipe easy – root vegetables!!  I would make a roasted vegetable stew. The trick will be to have a good variety of vegetables, including unusual ones.  So . . . by all means use parsnips, carrots, and turnips.  But make sure to include something along the lines of parsley root (a great favorite), and celery root.

Cut the vegetables into bite-sized chunks and place them in one layer on a baking dish (or two if need be). Coat generously with olive oil, and roast for 45 minutes in a very hot oven – as hot as it will go. Turn frequently to ensure even browning.

Sauce for the stew is cook’s choice. For Christmas, I set a rich beef stock on a slow simmer in a heavy pot. Then I season it with cloves and allspice.  I also add leeks and garlic. Thicken with breadcrumbs and then add the vegetables. They do not need further cooking, just heating through. So, stir them thoroughly in the sauce and serve. This is a mighty dish for a winter night.

Dec 182019
 

Today features the second O Antiphon,  O Adonai (O Lord) 

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, Who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush, and didst give unto him the Law on Sinai: come and with an outstretched arm redeem us.

The name of God most often used in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton יהוה (YHWH). Owing to the Jewish tradition viewing the divine name as too sacred to be uttered it was replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai (“My Lord”), which was translated as Kyrios (“Lord”) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. It is frequently anglicized as Yahweh or Jehovah. Ancient readers of the Hebrew Bible were signaled not to read YHWH aloud in the Masoretic text, by placing the vowels for Adonai (A O AI) under YHWH – making an impossible word YAHOWAIH. All readers understood that YHWH could not be spoken, but Adonai was acceptable. They did not write the word Adonai in the text itself because the text was sacred and unalterable.  Everyone understood.  Centuries later, non-Jews, who did not know the convention thought that YAHOWAIH was correct, and pronounced it Jehovah.  Jehovah has never been correct. In most English editions of the Bible YHWH is translated as “the LORD” (in caps).

Adonai (אֲדֹנָי, lit. “My Lords”) is actually the plural form of adon (“Lord”) along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic (“my”). As with Elohim [lit. “Gods” but referring to ONE God], Adonai’s grammatical form is usually explained as a plural of majesty (same as, “we are not amused”). In the Hebrew Bible, it is nearly always used to refer to God (approximately 450 occurrences). Owing to the expansion of chumra (the idea of “building a fence around the Torah”), Adonai itself has come to be too holy to say for Orthodox Jews, leading to its replacement by HaShem (“The Name”). The singular forms adon and adoni (“my lord”) are used in the Hebrew Bible as royal titles, and for distinguished persons. Using Adonai as a name for Jesus signals that he is also God.

I am not sure why, but in the US the use of Adonai in a business’s same usually signals that it is owned by an evangelical Christian.  I think this is an example:

Here is a recipe from a website called Adonai Natural Health (edited). http://adonaihealth.com.au/category/adonai/recipes/  It’s for a quick version of “baked” beans.  It’s not too bad.  I prefer slow-baked beans, but this can work. Anything homecooked is better than canned. By that token, the recipe calls for canned beans, but cooking dried beans yourself is better.

Ingredients

1 onion, peeled and finely diced
3 slices lean bacon, finely diced
½ red bell pepper, finely diced
1 tomato, finely diced
1 tsp yellow mustard powder
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups cooked canellini or butter beans
2 cups cooked red kidney beans
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley

olive oil

Instructions

In a saucepan heat a small amount of olive oil. Cook the onion until it softens then add the bacon and stir for 1 minute. Add the bell pepper and tomato and cook for 2 minutes or until just soft Add the mustard and tomato paste and allow the mixture to simmer for another 2 minutes. Add the beans and parsley to the pot and stir until combined and heated through.

To Serve: Top with sliced avocado or a poached egg.

 

Dec 172019
 
Dec 162019
 

The Bill of Rights 1689 is a landmark Act in the constitutional law of England that sets out certain basic civil rights and clarifies who would be next to inherit the Crown. It received the Royal Assent on this date in 1689 and is a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William III and Mary II in February 1689, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. The Bill of Rights lays down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament, including the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. It sets out certain rights of individuals including the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and reestablished the right of Protestants to have arms for their defense within the rule of law. It also includes no right of taxation without Parliament’s agreement. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights described and condemned several misdeeds of James II of England.

These ideas reflected the political views of John Locke and they quickly became popular in England. The Bill also sets out – or, in the view of its drafters, restates – certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament. In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act 1689, applies in Scotland. The Bill of Rights 1689 was one of the models for the United States Bill of Rights of 1789 (including the notorious 2nd Amendment), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

Here is a recipe for rich meat broth from A True Gentlewomans Delight of 1653 that is not only contemporary with the English Bill of Rights, but also puts me in mind of classic Christmas recipes, such as mincemeat.  Although it is a recipe for meat broth to be served as a savory dish, it contains currants, raisins, and prunes and spiced with mace, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It also has a great deal of sugar.  The recipe calls for Saunders which is red sandalwood (giving a yellowish-red tint).  If you do replicate this dish, you might want to reduce the quantities.

DESCRIPTION: How to make a rich broth of lamb or beef

To make stewed Broth.

Take a neck of Mutton, or a rump of Beef, let it boyle, and scum your pot clean, thicken your pot with grated bread, and put in some beaten Spice, as Mace, nutmegs, Cinnamon, and a little Pepper, put in a pound of Currans, a pound and a half of Raisins of the Sun, two pounds of Prunes last of all, then when it is stewed, to season put in a quart of Claret, and a pint of Sack, and some Saunders to colour it, and a pound of Sugar to sweeten it, or more if need be, you must seeth some whole Spice to garnish your dish with all, and a few whole Prunes out of your pot.

Dec 152019
 

Today is the birthday (37CE) of the Roman emperor Nero (Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius (on the urging of his mother Agrippina the Younger), who was Claudius’ fourth wife, and became Claudius’ heir and successor. Agrippina may have hastened Nero’s inheritance by poisoning Claudius, but the evidence is not clear. Nero became emperor at the age of 16, and during the early years of his reign, Nero was content to be guided by his mother, his tutor Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and his Praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. There is no question that Agrippina was a scheming, powerful woman, and her ambition seems to have been to rule Rome by making sure her son became emperor at a young age, so that she could hold sway as dowager. After five years of this, however, Nero had her killed so that he could rule in his own right.

I had to mull things over for several years before deciding in favor of celebrating Nero on his birthday because I have a tacit rule against posting about unpleasant people. In reviewing Nero’s life and career carefully, I have decided to give him his moment in the sun, not because he was a wonderful man and emperor, but because he was not all bad, and he was certainly not as bad as history paints him. He was about average for his time and culture.  The main contemporary historians, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Cassio Dio associate Nero’s rule with tyranny and extravagance. They offer overwhelmingly negative assessments of his personality and reign. Tacitus, for example, claims that the Roman people thought him compulsive and corrupt. Suetonius reports that many Romans believed that the Great Fire of Rome http://www.bookofdaystales.com/great-fire-of-rome/  was instigated by Nero to clear the way for his planned palatial complex, the Domus Aurea.

If you read my post on the fire you will see that I believe that Tacitus tried to be even handed about Nero and the fire, although his dislike of him shows through.  He does acknowledge that the legend of Nero playing the lyre whilst the city burned was certainly false, and he notes that he opened up his own personal lands for the dispossessed, and prevented the price gouging of food in the aftermath of the fire to protect the poor. Yet Tacitus also seems to accept the belief that Nero had the fire started so that he could rebuild the city to his own liking, including a massive palatial structure and gardens.  According to Tacitus, Nero was said to have seized Christians as scapegoats for the fire and burned them alive, seemingly motivated not by public justice but by personal cruelty.

Modern judgment of Nero is more measured.  There is evidence of his popularity among the Roman commoners, especially in the eastern provinces of the Empire, where a popular legend arose that Nero had not died and would return. At least three leaders of short-lived, failed rebellions presented themselves as “Nero reborn” to enlist popular support. It seems to be the case that Nero made many enemies among the ruling classes, but was mostly liked by the average citizens.  It is not average citizens who write histories, however, nor do they have great influence over the opinions of high-born historians.

After his mother’s death, Nero started to play a more active and independent role in government and foreign policy. During his reign, general Corbulo conducted a successful war and negotiated peace with the Parthian Empire. His general Suetonius Paulinus crushed a major revolt in Britain, led by the Iceni queen, Boudica. In 59, Prasutagus, leader of the Iceni, and a client king of Rome’s during Claudius’ reign, died. The client state arrangement was unlikely to survive the death of Claudius. Prasutagus’ will leaving control of the Iceni to his wife Boudica was denied, and, when procurator Catus Decianus scourged Boudica and raped her daughters, the Iceni revolted. They were joined by the Trinovantes, and their uprising became the most significant provincial rebellion of the 1st century CE. Under Boudica the towns of Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans) were burned and a substantial percentage of legion infantry killed. Suetonius Paulinus, governor of Britannia, assembled his remaining forces, defeated the Britons, and restored order. But for a while Nero considered abandoning the province. Julius Classicianus replaced Decianus as procurator. Classicianus advised Nero to replace Paulinus, who continued to punish the population even after the rebellion was over. Nero decided to adopt a more lenient approach to governing the province, and appointed a new governor, Petronius Turpilianus.

Nero focused much of his attention on diplomacy, trade and the cultural life of the empire, ordering theatres built and promoting athletic games. He made public appearances as an actor, poet, musician and charioteer. In the eyes of traditionalists, this undermined the dignity and authority of his person, status, and office. His extravagant, empire-wide program of public and private works was funded by an increase in taxes that was much resented by the upper classes. In contrast, his populist style of rule remained very popular among the lower classes of Rome and the provinces until his death and beyond. Various plots against his life were revealed; the ringleaders, most of them Nero’s own courtiers, were executed.

In 68 CE, Vindex, governor of the Gaulish territory Gallia Lugdunensis, rebelled. He was supported by Galba, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis. Vindex’s revolt failed in its immediate aim, but Nero fled Rome when Rome’s discontented civil and military authorities chose Galba as emperor. Nero fled Rome with the intention of going to the port of Ostia and, from there, to take a fleet to one of the still-loyal eastern provinces. According to Suetonius, Nero abandoned the idea when some army officers openly refused to obey his commands, responding with a line from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Is it so dreadful a thing then to die?” Nero then toyed with the idea of fleeing to Parthia, throwing himself upon the mercy of Galba, or appealing to the people and begging them to pardon him for his past offences “and if he could not soften their hearts, to entreat them at least to allow him the prefecture of Egypt”. Suetonius reports that the text of this speech was later found in Nero’s writing desk, but that he dared not give it from fear of being torn to pieces before he could reach the Forum.

Nero returned to Rome and spent the evening in the palace. After sleeping, he awoke at about midnight to find the palace guard had left. Dispatching messages to his friends’ palace chambers for them to come, he received no answers. Upon going to their chambers personally, he found them all abandoned. When he called for a gladiator or anyone else adept with a sword to kill him, no one appeared. He shouted, “Have I neither friend nor foe?” and ran out as if to throw himself into the Tiber. Returning, Nero sought a place where he could hide and collect his thoughts. An imperial freedman, Phaon, offered his villa, located 4 mi (6.4 km) outside the city. Travelling in disguise, Nero and four loyal freedmen, Epaphroditos, Phaon, Neophytus, and Sporus, reached the villa, where Nero ordered them to dig a grave for him.

At this time, a courier arrived with a report that the Senate had declared Nero a public enemy, that it was their intention to execute him by beating him to death, and that armed men had been sent to apprehend him for the act to take place in the Roman Forum. The Senate actually was still reluctant and deliberating on the right course of action, as Nero was the last member of the Julio-Claudian family. Indeed, most of the senators had served the imperial family all their lives and felt a sense of loyalty to the deified bloodline, if not to Nero himself. The men actually had the goal of returning Nero back to the Senate, where the Senate hoped to work out a compromise with the rebelling governors that would preserve Nero’s life, so that at least a future heir to the dynasty could be produced. Nero, however, did not know this, and at the news brought by the courier, he prepared himself for suicide, pacing up and down muttering Qualis artifex pereo (“What an artist dies in me”). Losing his nerve, he begged one of his companions to set an example by killing himself first.

At last, the sound of approaching horsemen drove Nero to face the end. However, he still could not bring himself to take his own life but instead he forced his private secretary, Epaphroditos, to do the deed. When one of the horsemen entered and saw that Nero was dying, he attempted to stop the bleeding, but efforts to save Nero’s life were unsuccessful. Nero’s final words were “Too late! This is fidelity!” He died on 9th June 68, the anniversary of the death of his wife, Octavia, and was buried in the Mausoleum of the Domitii Ahenobarbi, in what is now the Villa Borghese (Pincian Hill) area of Rome. His death ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty, sparking a brief period of civil wars known as the Year of the Four Emperors.

It is the third Sunday of Advent today (2019), so I have hauled out this quasi-recipe from when I was living in Lombardy at this time of year.  Lentils were common in ancient Rome, and this would have worked for Nero’s chefs:

I had no idea what to make for dinner this evening, so I went out to the market to get some ideas. By chance I found a piece of meat called “reale di vitello” which is obviously veal, but I had no idea what cut. A lot of digging eventually uncovered the fact that “reale,” which can mean “real” or “royal,” is a cut of veal similar to chuck in beef. So I treated it the same way with slow braising. To make it suitable for Christmas I used a braising stock laced with allspice and ginger. For accompaniment I made lentils with the usual additions – mushrooms and leeks – but I added sultanas, as well as some allspice, ginger, and hot pepper. It’s just a spur of the moment thing, but may give you some ideas.

Dec 142019
 

Today is the feast of St John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz); 1542 – 14 December 1591. He was a Carmelite friar and priest, ultimately of Marrano (converted Spanish Jews) extraction. He was a major figure of the Spanish Counter-Reformation, a mystic and Roman Catholic saint. He is one of thirty-six Doctors of the Church. John of the Cross is known especially for his writings. He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Avila – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/teresa-of-avila/ . Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and among the greatest works of all Spanish literature. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

John of the Cross lived a complicated life, fractured many times by his position on reform within the church that put him at odds with powerful factions.  At one time he was even imprisoned and tortured – not by nasty heathens, but by supposed Christians.  He was able to escape his tormentors, fortunately, and spent much of his life (both in prison and subsequently) writing mystical treatises.  I do not have space to review all of his life and works.  Instead I will focus on “Dark Night of the Soul” which is not the name John gave the poem; it was unnamed, but that is the name given by later commentators and is standard now.  The poem is short, but he wrote an extensive commentary on it, following the visions that evoked the poem in the first place.

In “Dark Night of the Soul” (8 stanzas of 5 lines each), the narrator describes the journey of the soul to mystical union with God. The journey is called “The Dark Night” in part because darkness represents the fact that the destination, God, is unknowable, as in the 14th century, mystical classic The Cloud of Unknowing, which, like St. John’s poem, derives from the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the 6th century. Not only is God unknowable, the path to God is also unknowable. The first verse of the poem can be translated:

    In an obscure night
    Fevered with love’s anxiety
    (O hapless, happy plight!)
    I went, none seeing me
    Forth from my house, where all things quiet be

At the beginning of his treatise on Dark Night (the Declaración), St. John writes: “In this first verse, the soul tells the mode and manner in which it departs, as to its affection, from itself and from all things, dying through a true mortification to all of them and to itself, to arrive at a sweet and delicious life with God.”

The “dark night of the soul” does not refer to the difficulties of life in general, although the phrase has understandably been taken to refer to such trials. The nights which the soul experiences are the two necessary purgations on the path to Divine union: the first purgation is of the sensory or sensitive part of the soul, the second of the spiritual part (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Ch. 1, 2). Such purgations comprise the first of the three stages of the mystical journey, followed by those of illumination and then union. St. John does not actually use the term “dark night of the soul” but only “dark night” (“noche oscura”).

There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas of the poem. The theme of the poem is the joyful experience of being guided to God. The only light in this dark night is that which burns in the soul. And that is a guide more certain than the mid-day sun: Aquésta me guiaba, más cierto que la luz del mediodía. This light leads the soul engaged in the mystical journey to Divine union.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is divided into three books that reflect the two phases of the dark night. The first is a purification of the senses (It is titled “The Active Night of the Senses”). The second and third books describe the more intense purification of the spirit (Titled “The Active Night of the Spirit”). “Dark Night of the Soul” further describes the ten steps on the ladder of mystical love, previously described by Saint Thomas Aquinas and in part by Aristotle.

The region of Spain where John of the Cross was born and lived for much of his life is noted for the dish Judías del Barco – locally produced white beans with spices and chorizo.  Seems like a suitable Christmas feast dish – even for an ascetic monk. Here is a video – in Spanish, I’m afraid.  You’ll have to just deal with it I’m afraid. The good news is that you can get the basics from observation only if you are Spanish challenged. It’s not complicated anyway.

 Posted by at 5:45 am
Dec 132019
 

Today is the birthday of Phillips Brooks (1835–1893), an Episcopal priest, who, when he was rector of Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia wrote the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He was inspired by visiting the village of Bethlehem in Israel in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church, and his organist Lewis Redner (1831-1908) added the music.

Redner’s tune, “St. Louis”, is the tune used most often for this carol in the United States. Redner recounted the story of its composition:

As Christmas of 1868 approached, Mr. Brooks told me that he had written a simple little carol for the Christmas Sunday-school service, and he asked me to write the tune to it. The simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure. We were to practice it on the following Sunday. Mr. Brooks came to me on Friday, and said, ‘Redner, have you ground out that music yet to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? I replied, ‘No,’ but that he should have it by Sunday. On the Saturday night previous my brain was all confused about the tune. I thought more about my Sunday-school lesson than I did about the music. But I was roused from sleep late in the night hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning before going to church I filled in the harmony. Neither Mr. Brooks nor I ever thought the carol or the music to it would live beyond that Christmas of 1868.

 My recollection is that Richard McCauley, who then had a bookstore on Chestnut Street west of Thirteenth Street, printed it on leaflets for sale. Rev. Dr. Huntington, rector of All Saints’ Church, Worcester, Mass., asked permission to print it in his Sunday-school hymn and tune book, called The Church Porch, and it was he who christened the music ‘Saint Louis.’

Growing up in England, I knew a completely different tune, which I – mistakenly – thought was the original (because I thought it was an English carol). I am well used to favorite carols having different tunes in England and the US.  I actually prefer the English tune which was composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and based on an English folk ballad called “The Ploughboy’s Dream” which he had collected from a Mr. Garman of Forest Green, Surrey in 1903. Henry Garman was born in 1830 in Sussex, and in the 1901 census was living in Ockley, Surrey. Vaughan Williams’ manuscript notes he was a “labourer of Forest Green near Ockley – Surrey. (Aged about 60?)”, although Mr Garman would have been nearer 73 when he sang the tune. It is called “Forest Green” now.

When I was a pastor, I frequently sang this as a duet with my late wife at Christmas (with me singing the bass line).

There are also two tunes by H. Walford Davies, called “Wengen”, and “Christmas carol.” “Wengen” was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1922, meanwhile “Christmas Carol” is usually performed only by choirs rather than as a congregational hymn. This is because the first two verses are for treble voices with organ accompaniment, with only the final verse as a chorale/refrain harmony. This setting includes a recitative from the Gospel of Luke at the beginning, and cuts verses 2 and 4 of the original 5-verse carol. This version is often performed at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Kings College, Cambridge.

Here is a Christmas recipe from my own YouTube channel, Juan’s Whirled (so you can hear my voice if this blog is the only way you know me).  It’s my take on mincemeat pie with actual meat in it – as might be prepared centuries ago.  Please subscribe to the channel if you are new to it.

 

Dec 122019
 

Today is the birthday (1833) of Matthias Hohner, a German musical instrument maker and founder of the musical instrument company Hohner. Hohner’s father was a weaver, but when he was 15 he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, watchmaker Johannes Kohler, in Trossingen. Because the watchmaking business suffered from competition from more established businesses, Hohner had to travel by foot great distances to sell watches from the training workshop. Unhappy with the development of the trade, he withdrew from watchmaking in 1855 and worked in his parents’ workshop, where, with the decline of the weaving mill, other handicraft orders were also carried out.

In his spare time, Hohner built his first mouth organ modeled after designs by Christian Messner and Christian Weiß. After the death of the mother in 1857, Hohner’s father handed over the property to his four children. Matthias received a share of 682 guilders, which he used to start an instrument making business which became his main occupation and henceforth called himself a Harfenbauer (harp maker). He married and had six sons and nine daughters, most of whom lived into adulthood.  From 1879 to 1885 Hohner was mayor of Trossingen.

Production expanded through the use of machine tools and assembly line production (with increased staff).  Hohner was known for high quality products and easily outstripped the competition.  By 1875 Hohner already had 85 employees, and the size of his company had already exceeded that of older companies such as Messner and Weiß. The main sales initially went to the US, until the economic crisis of 1893 required reorientation. Subsequently, main sales shifted to Germany. Hohner also owned a farm of about 25 acres in addition to the instrument shop. Proceeds from the farm supported Hohner’s 20 to 25 apprentices. In 1900 Hohner handed over the company to his five surviving sons: Jacob, Matthias, Andreas, Hans and Will, while he remained a partner. He died in 1902, one day before his birthday.

In the 20th century Hohner diversified considerably. The diatonic mouth organ is a free reed instrument that operates on the blow/suck principle (i.e. one note when you blow and a different note when you suck).  It was a simple step from mouth organs to button accordions that operate on the same principle except blow/suck is replaced with a push/pull of the bellows, and bass chords can be added with the left hand.  I played a G/D Hohner melodeon for 35 years, and would still play one if I had one.  Sadly all my instruments got put in storage when I moved from New York 10 years ago. Hohner also began making bandoneons for Argentine tango music and piano accordions for polka bands. Nowadays, the company also makes instruments besides the free reed family, including guitars, banjos, and kazoos.

Trossingen where Hohner was founded, and still headquartered, is in Baden-Württemberg, where there is a solid local cuisine.  Käsespätzle is a great favorite – a comfort food along the lines of US mac and cheese, but much richer and more flavorful.  This video is in German but with English sub-titles.

 

Dec 102019
 

On this date in 1968 two celebrated theologians died: Thomas Merton and Karl Barth.  Both are honored on this date by the worldwide Anglican community even though neither was Anglican, and neither has been beatified or canonized. Merton spent his active theological years (1950s and 60s) as a Trappist monk, and Barth was a member of the Swiss Reformed tradition.  Nonetheless, they have both been praised by denominations across the Christian spectrum, largely because they thought outside of traditional ecclesiastical boundaries.  For my money, neither went far enough ecumenically, but I’ll give them A for effort.

Barth first came to public notice in the theological community with his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans in the summer of 1916 while he was still a pastor in Safenwil, with the first edition appearing in December 1918 (but with a publication date of 1919). On the strength of the first edition of the commentary, Barth was invited to teach at the University of Göttingen. Barth decided around October 1920 that he was dissatisfied with the first edition and heavily revised it the following eleven months, finishing the second edition around September 1921. Barth argued that the God who is revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions.

In 1934, as the Protestant Church attempted to come to terms with the Third Reich, Barth was largely responsible for the writing of the Barmen declaration (Barmer Erklärung). This declaration rejected the influence of Nazism on German Christianity by arguing that the Church’s allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ should give it the impetus and resources to resist the influence of other lords, such as Adolf Hitler. Barth mailed this declaration to Hitler personally. This was one of the founding documents of the Confessing Church and Barth was elected a member of its leadership council, the Bruderrat. He was forced to resign from his professorship at the University of Bonn in 1935 for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler. Barth then returned to his native Switzerland, where he assumed a chair in systematic theology at the University of Basel. In the course of his appointment he was required to answer a routine question asked of all Swiss civil servants: whether he supported the national defense. His answer was, “Yes, especially on the northern border!” The newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung carried his 1936 criticism of the philosopher Martin Heidegger for his support of the Nazis. In 1938 he wrote a letter to a Czech colleague Josef Hromádka in which he declared that soldiers who fought against the Third Reich were serving a Christian cause.

Barth’s theology found its most sustained and compelling expression in his five-volume (multiple parts) magnum opus, Church Dogmatics (“Kirchliche Dogmatik”). Segments of Church Dogmatics were required reading for me at Oxford as a first year theology student. Fortunately, we did not have to delve into the whole work. Church Dogmatics runs to over six million words and 9,000 pages – one of the longest works of systematic theology ever written.

Thomas Merton followed a much more checkered career path than Barth.  As a youth he was a well-known profligate (much like so many legendary saints in early life before conversion).  After numerous missteps and false starts he determined to become a Trappist monk perhaps as a counterbalance to his misspent earlier life.  By coincidence, on this date in 1941 (the date of his death in 1968), Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and spent three days at the monastery guest house, waiting for acceptance into the Order. The novice master came to interview Merton, gauging his sincerity and qualifications. In the interim, Merton was put to work polishing floors and scrubbing dishes. On December 13th he was accepted into the monastery as a postulant by Frederic Dunne, Gethsemani’s abbot since 1935.

In his time as a monk, and later priest, Merton wrote 50 books, primarily on spirituality and social justice, and became an international celebrity.  He recognized many points of contact between other faiths, notably Zen, and Christianity, although he remained a dogmatic Catholic.  Here are some quotes, beginning with his famous prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Trappist monasteries are noted for their gardens, which they use for their own needs and also to support them financially. They are also known internationally for their beer production.  There are numerous cookbooks celebrating Trappist cooking (usually vegetarian), and I have mentioned their soups before.  Here is a mushroom and barley dish that I like (https://mepkinabbey.org/mushroom-risotto-with-barley-a-great-dish-with-an-easier-method-using-barley/ ):

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 cups broth
1 ¼ cups pearl barley
6 oz. mushrooms
2 teaspoons soy sauce
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat olive oil and add onion and garlic. Sauté until softened and beginning to brown.  Add broth, barley, mushrooms, and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until most liquid is absorbed and mixture is thickened. This will take about 40 minutes. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.