Dec 222017

On this date in 401, Innocent I was installed as pope and served until his death in 417. He was quite something of a stabilizing influence on the church at a time of doctrinal turmoil, with a wide-ranging influence on Catholicism that is still alive and well in the Catholic church today. Among other things, he is reputed to have been the son of the previous pope, putting the papacy on the path to being a dynasty (which never materialized, of course). That notion was short lived for all kinds of reasons. Celibacy was not actually the main issue at the time. From the beginning of his papacy, Innocent set himself up as the general arbitrator of ecclesiastical disputes in both the East and the West. He confirmed the prerogatives of the Archbishop of Thessalonica, and issued a decretal on disciplinary matters referred to him by the Bishop of Rouen. He defended the exiled John Chrysostom and consulted with the bishops of Africa concerning the Pelagian controversy. He was also the pope when the issue of the Biblical canon was settled for good. Until Innocent’s papacy the question of what books belong in the Bible and which ones do not was a hot topic. Pardon my dribble, but I do feel the need to write about the controversies that Innocent was involved in. They concern church dogma which is a sore spot with me. Spoiler alert: DOGMA SUCKS (says the ordained minister). I’d get into trouble with my presbytery if they read that remark. But I don’t care. I defended Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam during my examination for ordination, and they ordained me anyway. So, they knew what they were getting. In any case, I’m not a member of my presbytery in New York any more. I belong to Buenos Aires presbytery and most of them can’t speak English. Furthermore, they never showed any interest in me when I lived in Argentina, and I’m sure they care even less now that I live in Asia. I could, in theory, join a newly formed presbytery in Cambodia, but that seems a bit excessive. I’m retired from pastoral work, and the last thing in the world (anywhere in the world), I want to do is attend presbytery meetings.

We know very little about the early life of Innocent, and the sources are deeply conflicting. According to his biographer in the Liber Pontificalis, Innocent was a native of Albano Laziale (now a comune in the city of Rome) and the son of a man called Innocentius, but his contemporary St Jerome referred to him as the son of the previous pope, Anastasius I, a unique case (as far as we know) of a son succeeding his father in the papacy. According to Urbano Cerri, Innocent was a native of Albania (which sounds to me like a misidentification of Albano – but maybe it’s the other way around).

Innocent I was a vigorous defender of the papacy’s right to be the ultimate resort for the settlement of all ecclesiastical disputes, and he set the stage in that regard for centuries to come. His communications with Victricius of Rouen, Exuperius of Toulouse, Alexander of Antioch and others, as well as his actions on the appeal made to him by John Chrysostom against Theophilus of Alexandria, show that opportunities of this kind were numerous and varied. I’ll spare you the drama associated with Chrysostom. It has little to do with church dogmatics, and much more to do with politics in the empire, and power struggles in the church in the east. Pelagius is another matter.

Pelagius was a Celtic monk who was accused by Augustine of Hippo and others of denying the need for divine aid in performing good works. They understood him to have said that the only grace necessary was the affirmation of the law of God. He was further accused of saying that humans were not wounded by Adam’s sin and were perfectly able to fulfill the law without divine aid. More importantly, Pelagius denied Augustine’s theory of original sin, that is, all humans (with the exception of Mary and her mother) bear Adam’s sin and have to be baptized to remove the sin, otherwise they are denied entry into heaven. Well in my oh-so-humble opinion, the doctrine of original sin is nonsense. The doctrine, along with a whole raft of dogma clung to by the Catholic church, is the result of theologians like Augustine applying the logic of Aristotle to the Bible. When you start applying logic, spirituality goes out the window and you are left with dogma. I’ll go with spirituality.

Pelagius wrote two major treatises which are no longer extant, On Nature and Defense of the Freedom of the Will. In these, he defends his position on sin and sinlessness, and accuses Augustine of being under the influence of Manichaeism by elevating evil to the same status as God and teaching pagan fatalism as if it were a Christian doctrine. Manichaeism stressed that the (human) spirit was created by God, while material substance (the body) was corrupt and evil. St Paul probably believed this, so I’m not sure that all the shouting was about. Pelagius held that everything created by God was good, therefore, he could not see how God had made humans fallen creatures. (Augustine’s teachings on the Fall of Adam was not a settled doctrine at the time the Augustinian/Pelagian dispute began.) The view that humans can avoid sinning, and that we can freely choose to obey God’s commandments, stand at the core of Pelagian teaching. Pelagius stressed human autonomy and freedom of the will. Of course, as always in the case of teacher and disciple, there is a difference between what Pelagius taught, and what his followers believed. Most theologians now believe that Pelagius was completely orthodox in his teachings.

Pelagianism was condemned at the 15th Council of Carthage in 411. Afterwards, Augustine and four other bishops wrote a letter urging Pope Innocent I to condemn Pelagianism which he did. He also confirmed the decisions of the synod of the province of proconsular Africa, held in Carthage in 416, confirming the condemnation which had been pronounced in 411 against Cælestius, who shared the views of Pelagius. He also wrote in the same year in a similar sense to the fathers of the Numidian synod of Mileve. Augustine was shocked that Pelagius and Celestius were not denounced as heretics, however, and called the Council of Carthage in 418 (one year after Innocent’s death) and laid out nine points of dogma which Pelagius was accused of denying:

    Death came from sin, not man’s physical nature.

    Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.

    Justifying grace covers past sins and helps avoid future sins.

    The grace of Christ imparts strength and will to act out God’s commandments.

    No good works can come without God’s grace.

    We confess we are sinners because it is true, not from humility.

    The saints ask for forgiveness for their own sins.

    The saints also confess to be sinners because they are.

    Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

If I were you, I’d read the list, laugh, and forget about it. If you want to put it in a nutshell, Augustine and his ilk are saying that humans are bad through and through, but are saved by God’s grace. Otherwise, they will just be pure evil. Your free will is no help. Furthermore, if you are not baptized (properly – by a priest), you can’t go to heaven. Where’s my rubbish bin?

It is accepted that the canon of the Bible was closed c. 405 by Innocent, when he sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse, confirming the list approved by the Councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), and identical with the much later pronouncements of the Council of Trent (1545-63), except for some uncertainty in the manuscript tradition about whether the letters ascribed to Paul were 14 or only 13, in the latter case possibly implying omission of the Epistle to the Hebrews (which actually makes no claims to Pauline authorship anyway). Innocent’s canon is the current Catholic Bible which contains 73 books. Innocent did no more than assert that he was the final authority, and it was time to move on. Protestants later excluded 7 of the books that Catholics included (and Luther wanted to exclude many more). Like it or not, you have to accept the fact that the Bible was created by humans, with a great deal of debate about what should be included and what excluded, for several centuries. Innocent ended the debate for Catholics, but that should not be the end of the matter if you have a brain and actually use it. The supposed “authority” of the Bible – in ALL matters if you listen to some people – rests on accepting the decisions that clergy made over 16 centuries ago according to their ideas of what Christianity is, and should be. If you believe that their decisions were guided exclusively by the hand of God, you put more trust in them than I do.

Innocent died on 12 March 417. Accordingly, his feast day is now celebrated on 12th March, though from the 13th to the 20th century he was commemorated on 28th July. In 846, Pope Sergius II gave approval for the relics/remains of Innocent to be moved by Duke Liudolf of Saxony, along with those of his father and predecessor Anastasius, to the crypt of the former collegiate church of Gandersheim, now Gandersheim Abbey, where they now rest.

Gandersheim is in Lower Saxony, so I’ll go with a popular recipe from the region rather than a 5th century Roman recipe recreation (for variety’s sake). If you want to visit Innocent’s relics you have to visit Gandersheim, and you should try out the local specialties. They’re all based on peasant dishes and are hearty rather than refined (in the haute cuisine sense). I’ll go with Steckrübeneintopf (turnip stew). Despite the name, meat is an important part of this dish, but you can use almost all kinds of meat. You can use chicken, lamb, beef or pork, and local sausages may also be included, such as Bregenwurst, Kohlwurst, Pinkelwurst. In the recipe ingredient list I’ve just put 1 lb of meat. You choose, either one kind or a mixture.  “Turnip” (Steckrüben) here means swede or rutabaga.  You can cook this dish in a casserole in the oven after browning all the ingredients if you prefer, or use a slow cooker. I’m a stovetop kinda guy because it gives me more control. Cooking times will vary enormously depending on the meat that you choose.



1 lb meat, cut into serving pieces
8 oz bacon, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
¼ cup butter
5 cups broth (approx)
2 ½ rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery root, peeled and diced
1 lb potatoes peeled and diced
2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram
5 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh savory
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper


Melt half of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the bacon until lightly browned. Add the meat and continue cooking until it is browned on all sides, stirring regularly. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Set aside the cooked ingredients from the pot, melt the rest of the butter in the same pot, add the vegetables and sauté until soft.

Add back the cooked meats and onions, plus the broth to cover, and herbs. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, lid on, for about an hour and a half. Check the seasonings and make sure the meat is cooked through. Add cream if you wish, stir, and garnish with parsley. Serve in the cooking pot.

Aug 242017

Today was designated as International Strange Music day by contemporary US composer Patrick Grant whose works are a synthesis of classical, popular, and world musical styles that have been performed in concert halls, film, theater, dance, and visual media. He is known as a producer and co-producer of live musical events including a 2013 Guinness World Record-breaking performance of 175 electronic keyboards in NYC. The question for me comes down to: “What counts as ‘strange’ music?” The lead video here uses the theremin as the background music giving the suggestion that “strange” means eerie or spooky, but I think Grant meant something more like “unusual.” Here is the gist of the question: “Unusual (or strange) to whom?” Grant uses gamelan, microtones, synthesizers and so on to create layered soundscapes that some would consider strange, but gamelans are not strange to Balinese or Javanese people, and microtones are the norm in many world music styles. I think it comes down to taking the day to appreciate music that is strange or unusual to YOU. For me that’s a mighty tall order. I’ve spent my entire professional career traveling the world to listen to and record music from out-of-the-way places. I’ve yet to go to Tuva to hear throat singers, but it’s on the list – and I guess I would call it strange music:

I could embed a bunch of videos here for you to sample but I am mindful of disk space on my server so I’ll be a little frugal. Here’s some links instead.

This is Chinese brothers who make musical instruments out of fresh vegetables:

Here we have an extraordinary musical instrument that runs on thousands of ball bearings:

I’ve always found Baka women from Gbiné singing their traditional Yelli songs to be mesmeric, but you have to listen for a long time. They keep it up for hours.

Javanese gamelan has been a special love of mine for over 40 years:

I’ve always had a thing for the musical saw too:

Your turn. Post your favorites in the comments section.

I will give a musical recipe for homemade flavored Doritos in a second, but first one of my all-time favorites, the Taco Bell canon:

Now the Doritos:

Sep 012016


Johann Pachelbel, composer and organist in what is now known as the South German school, was baptized in Nuremberg (Nürnberg) on this date in 1653. His birth date is unknown. His is often considered to have brought this school of organ composition to a peak, although he is now chiefly remembered popularly for the canon in D major which was written as a chamber piece.  He composed a large body of sacred and secular music, and his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue have earned him a place among the most important composers of the middle Baroque era. Pachelbel’s music enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime. He had a great many pupils (including Johann Sebastian Bach’s elder brother, Johann Christoph), and his music became a model for the composers of south and central Germany.

Pachelbel’s music was influenced by the southern German school, as well as by Italian, and French composers. He preferred an uncomplicated contrapuntal style that emphasized melodic and harmonic clarity. His music is less virtuosic and less adventurous harmonically than his contemporaries but he experimented with different ensembles and instrumental combinations in both his chamber and vocal music, much of the latter featuring exceptionally rich instrumentation.

I’ll leave you to explore his music beyond the (in)famous canon. I don’t have space here, but you should find it rewarding. This link, for example, gives you a 90 minute sampling of his organ compositions:


Pachelbel’s Canon is part of what is more completely titled Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo (Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalbaß) (PWC 37, T. 337, PC 358). It is sometimes referred to as the Canon in D, which drives many musicians mental because it is in the key of D MAJOR, not D. I suppose a linguistic argument can be made for “major” being the “unmarked case.” That is, it does not have to be “marked” as major because it is assumed. Just as “nurse” assumes “female” (unmarked), so the “marked case” is “male nurse.” I’d call this quibbling. Call it the Canon in D major and there’s no confusion.   Neither the date nor the circumstances of its composition are known, and the oldest surviving manuscript copy of the piece dates from the 19th century.

OK, let me get my prejudices out of the way first. You’ll know from previous posts that I greatly value the formulaic and predictable aspects of ritual. They are the whole point of ritual. Weddings are no exception. I am a pastor and I have officiated at dozens of weddings. I want traditional words from the officiant and traditional responses from the couple. I’ll even tolerate some common music and readings, although 1 Corinthians 13 is completely misplaced because it’s about general Christian kindness, not the love between a man and a woman. Pachelbel’s Canon as the entry music for the bridal party, sometimes the bride, sets my teeth on edge. It was a fad that caught on in the 1980s and has persisted. First, it has no connexion with weddings whatsoever. Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” were at least written with weddings in mind. Second, it is a chamber piece, not an organ composition. Third, it is always played in a slow lugubrious style that cloys like syrup in my ears.

One can never be sure how the Canon was played in Pachelbel’s day, but this seems like a reasonable reconstruction:

The tempo is brighter than the usual dirge, and there’s a feeling of energy and exuberance.

The Canon (without the accompanying gigue) was first published in 1919 by scholar Gustav Beckmann, who included the score in his article on Pachelbel’s chamber music. His research was inspired and supported by early music scholar and editor Max Seiffert, who in 1929 published his arrangement of the Canon and Gigue in his Organum series. However, that edition contained numerous articulation marks and dynamics not in the original score. Furthermore, Seiffert provided tempi he considered right for the piece, but that were not supported by later research. The Canon was first recorded in 1940 by Arthur Fiedler.

In 1968, the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra made a recording of the piece that changed its fortunes in the popular mind in perpetuity. This rendition was done in a more Romantic style, at a significantly slower tempo than it had been played at before, and contained obligato parts, written by Paillard, that are now closely associated with the piece. The Paillard recording was released in France by Erato Records as part of an LP that also included the Trumpet Concerto by Johann Friedrich Fasch and other works by Pachelbel and Fasch, all played by the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra. The canon was also included on a widely distributed album by the mail-order label Musical Heritage Society in 1968.

In 1970, a classical radio station in San Francisco played the Paillard recording and became inundated by listener requests. Hence the piece gained growing fame, particularly in California. In 1974, London Records, aware of the interest in the piece, reissued a 1961 album of the Corelli Christmas Concerto performed by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, which happened to contain the piece, now re-titled as Pachelbel Kanon: the Record That Made it Famous and other Baroque Favorites. The album was the highest-selling classical album of 1976. By the early 1980s its presence as background music was inescapable. Pachelbel is sometimes called the “Godfather of Pop” because the harmonic progression of the Canon is used in any number of pop music songs.

The Canon in D major was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo and paired with a gigue. Both movements are in the key of D major. Although a true canon at the unison in three parts, it also has elements of a chaconne. All right, bear with me for a little analysis. The Canon combines the techniques of canon and ground bass. Canon is a polyphonic device in which several voices play the same music, entering in sequence. In Pachelbel’s piece, there are three voices engaged in canon, but there is also a fourth voice, the basso continuo, which plays an independent part. The bass voice keeps repeating the same two-bar line throughout the piece. The common musical term for this is ostinato, or ground bass. I pity the ‘cellist. In Germany, Italy, and France of the 17th century, some pieces built on a ground bass were called chaconnes or passacaglias. Such works sometimes incorporate some form of variation in the upper voices.

Now we get to the fun part. Somebody, as sick as I was of the dreary background music version of the Canon came up with the Taco Bell Canon:

Hilarious, and more in keeping with the original than most modern renditions. Scan YouTube and you’ll find a host of variants.

This brings me to tacos, also sadly misunderstood. In the US, the Tex-Mex version of the hard-shell, corn-tortilla stuffed with ground beef and salsa has become synonymous with “taco.” The Mexican taco is, in reality, a corn or flour tortilla wrapped around just about any filling you want. I gave a recipe for my favorite deep-fried tripe tacos here,  Let’s go with tacos al pastor instead, a central Mexican favorite. If you want the best go to a Mexican taqueria. Otherwise, this recipe is all right. A charcoal grill with a spit is best but you can make do with a broiler.


Tacos al Pastor


10 guajillo chiles, seeds removed
2 chiles de árbol
3 lb boneless pork shoulder, sliced thick
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp prepared or fresh achiote paste
3 oz kosher salt, plus a little extra
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into ½” rings
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 red habanero chiles, seeds removed, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
16 flour tortillas
lime wedges


Bring the guajillo chiles, chiles de árbol, and 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes to let the chiles soften.

Place the pork slices in large ziplock bags so that they can lie flat.

Purée the chiles and soaking liquid, garlic, vinegar, sugar, achiote paste, 3 ounces of salt, half of the pineapple, and half of the onion in a blender until smooth. Pour the mixture over the pork, divided evenly among the bags. Close each top except for a small hole. Squeeze out all the air and completely seal the top. Shake each bag to distribute the marinade, then refrigerate overnight.

Using a charcoal grill or a broiler, grill the remaining pineapple over medium-high heat, turning once, until charred. Finely chop the pineapple and combine it with the habanero chiles, mint, lime juice, and remaining onion in a small bowl. Season with salt to taste, cover, and chill until ready to use.

Remove the pork from the marinade and grill slowly until the marinade remaining on the pork has begins to caramelize and char on both sides. Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board and let rest for  10 minutes. Meanwhile, grill the tortillas until they begin to char.

Slice the pork against the grain into ¼” strips. Top each tortilla with a few pieces of pork and some pineapple salsa. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze on top. You may also serve chopped fresh cilantro to add as a garnish.