High Priest David: The Census

In II Samuel 24 David fires up the bureaucracy and takes a census of the people of Israel.  It’s an arduous process of over nine months having your pencil-pushers comb the land to count noses.  It’s also a high crime against God’s law that leads to the climactic moment of intercession in II Samuel.

Wait, what?  How is counting noses a crime against God?  Well, you could glance over to Chronicles, where the parallel version of the story makes Satan the instigator of the census.  There’s also the suggestive fact that only God takes a census of Israelites before this, and that His Abrahamic promise explicitly makes the Israelites “innumerable.”  There’s a strong rabbinic tradition that grows out of that line of reasoning.  And of course there is this very story, and the consequences that follow from the census here.  Remember, the Old Testament teaches by consequences.

But say you don’t remember your rabbinic traditions as well as you should.  Or, horribile scriptu, you are not up on your covenant history.  What then?  How can such a handicapped reader tell that David’s action is bad, bad, bad?

Joab, that’s how.  When David commands the census it’s his bloodthirsty, hot-headed, solve-with-violence commander-in-chief who tries to stop him.  Joab never met a problem he couldn’t solve with cunning, steely resolve, and a stab in the back.  When you order Joab to murder someone, he immediately sets about improving on your proposed method because murder ain’t for amateurs.  If Joab cautions you to think twice about something, you’re basically two steps from Sodom. Continue reading High Priest David: The Census

Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Brandimart

Canto VIII, XII (trapped in villa), XX (released from villa), XXIV (name-drop), XXVII (name-drop/prolepsis), XXXI (Paris, Rodomonte’s Bridge), XXXVIII (name-drop), XXXIX (Orlando), XL (Biserta), XLI (Lampedusa), XLII (dies), XLIII (funeral)

Raised in The Sylvan Fort by Bardino, Best Friend of Orlando, Lover of Flordelis, son of Monodantes, Brother of Gigliantes

Classical Type:



Noble Second Tier Knight Dies Exactly As You Would Expect If You Read Epics Continue reading Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Brandimart

RSB: Dinner

Rule of St. Benedict: How Should I Eat Dinner?

One of the interesting features about St. Benedict’s Rule is how it envisions the ritual of dinner.  After prayer, the monks eat in silence while one designated brother reads aloud through the entirety (or near entirety) of the meal.  As elsewhere in the Rule, St. Benedict takes the reading of the text very seriously: not just anyone can read, but only those well-suited to the task and always on some kind of schedule so as to avoid chaos.

If we contrast this with some earlier monastic practice, it becomes the more interesting.  Earliest monks observed complete silence at table, giving the meal an unearthly quality as a time of meditation or reflection, or merely as the avoidance of garrulous distraction.

St. Benedict’s most direct influence, the Rule of the Master, goes in the opposite direction.  That rule specifies that the table reading be from the Rule of the Master itself, as a kind of training.  The training goes a step further: the abbot will put his monks to the question on what they read, like a lunch-table seminar.

St. Benedict himself insists that there be reading and that there be no distractions, but that’s it.  Most feel safe in assuming that he means reading from Scripture, but centuries of practice have broadened the standard Benedictine table-reading to be anything thoughtful or edifying.

Kardong’s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, to which I have finally returned after a long pause, raises an interesting question which regrettably goes unanswered: what are the merits and demerits of having the communal meal in some kind of silence?  We tend to take for granted that conversation is a natural and healthy part of the meal.  Why do all the monastic legislators seem keen to change that?  Is that such a good idea?

I have two practical interests in this regard:

  1. How should I conduct the dinner table at home with my own children?
  2. How should a Benedictine school conduct the table at lunch with students?

Continue reading RSB: Dinner

My Old Friend Hawthorne

It’s been a barn-burner of an academic year for me.  I retreated to an old friend and laughed at myself:

So little adapted is the atmosphere of a Custom–house to the delicate harvest of fancy and sensibility, that, had I remained there through ten Presidencies yet to come, I doubt whether the tale of “The Scarlet Letter” would ever have been brought before the public eye. My imagination was a tarnished mirror. It would not reflect, or only with miserable dimness, the figures with which I did my best to people it. The characters of the narrative would not be warmed and rendered malleable by any heat that I could kindle at my intellectual forge. They would take neither the glow of passion nor the tenderness of sentiment, but retained all the rigidity of dead corpses, and stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin of contemptuous defiance. “What have you to do with us?” that expression seemed to say. “The little power you might have once possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone You have bartered it for a pittance of the public gold. Go then, and earn your wages” In short, the almost torpid creatures of my own fancy twitted me with imbecility, and not without fair occasion.

It was not merely during the three hours and a half which Uncle Sam claimed as his share of my daily life that this wretched numbness held possession of me. It went with me on my sea–shore walks and rambles into the country, whenever—which was seldom and reluctantly—I bestirred myself to seek that invigorating charm of Nature which used to give me such freshness and activity of thought, the moment that I stepped across the threshold of the Old Manse. The same torpor, as regarded the capacity for intellectual effort, accompanied me home, and weighed upon me in the chamber which I most absurdly termed my study. Nor did it quit me when, late at night, I sat in the deserted parlour, lighted only by the glimmering coal–fire and the moon, striving to picture forth imaginary scenes, which, the next day, might flow out on the brightening page in many–hued description.

If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hour, it might well be deemed a hopeless case. Moonlight, in a familiar room, falling so white upon the carpet, and showing all its figures so distinctly,—making every object so minutely visible, yet so unlike a morning or noontide visibility,—is a medium the most suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his illusive guests. There is the little domestic scenery of the well-known apartment; the chairs, with each its separate individuality; the centre-table, sustaining a work-basket, a volume or two, and an extinguished lamp; the sofa; the book-case; the picture on the wall;—all these details, so completely seen, are so spiritualized by the unusual light, that they seem to lose their actual substance, and become things of intellect. Nothing is too small or too trifling to undergo this change, and acquire dignity thereby. A child’s shoe; the doll, seated in her little wicker carriage; the hobby-horse;—whatever, in a word, has been used or played with, during the day, is now invested with a quality of strangeness and remoteness, though still almost as vividly present as by daylight. Thus, therefore, the floor of our familiar room has become a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other. Ghosts might enter here, without affrighting us. It would be too much in keeping with the scene to excite surprise, were we to look about us and discover a form, beloved, but gone hence, now sitting quietly in a streak of this magic moonshine, with an aspect that would make us doubt whether it had returned from afar, or had never once stirred from our fireside.

The somewhat dim coal-fire has an essential influence in producing the effect which I would describe. It throws its unobtrusive tinge throughout the room, with a faint ruddiness upon the walls and ceiling, and a reflected gleam from the polish of the furniture. This warmer light mingles itself with the cold spirituality of the moonbeams, and communicates, as it were, a heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms which fancy summons up. It converts them from snow-images into men and women. Glancing at the looking-glass, we behold—deep within its haunted verge—the smouldering glow of the half-extinguished anthracite, the white moonbeams on the floor, and a repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picture, with one remove farther from the actual, and nearer to the imaginative. Then, at such an hour, and with this scene before him, if a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth, he need never try to write romances.

But, for myself, during the whole of my Custom–House experience, moonlight and sunshine, and the glow of firelight, were just alike in my regard; and neither of them was of one whit more avail than the twinkle of a tallow–candle. An entire class of susceptibilities, and a gift connected with them—of no great richness or value, but the best I had—was gone from me.


Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom-House.”

There.  Now I feel better.


Here’s an ode to a truly excellent word in Latin: formido.

Verb, root meaning to become firm or rigid, means something like “to be paralyzed with fear” or “to dread.”

Noun form is this dread, dread of an extreme intensity, and very often associated with the fear we properly have of the divine, the transcendent, God and his angels and the demons. What we feel when Jove hurls his lightning or we climb the mountain to stand in the presence of Apollo.

But a fun twist: formido is also a hunter’s gauge or bogy set up to frighten prey, to flush it toward the hunter or the net.  And so the formido is also an object that causes formido.

You can cross up these meanings.  St. Anselm/John of Fecamp uses it to describe the service of the priesthood–a great formido!–and the fear of contaminating the sacrament of the altar.

It is of course where we get the English word formidable, but “daunting” or “imposing” is not intense enough for how the word stands in Latin.  “Utterly petrifying” is better.

How is the priesthood “utterly petrifying?”  Anselm/John has the priest trapped by a fear that either reaction is to his doom.  Dare I approach the altar of God despite being so unworthy?  Do you know what happens to those who defile the sacraments?!  But then again, do you know what happens to those who disobey the commandments of God?!  Why have I been placed in this untenable position?  What do I do?  Is my service to my destruction or my salvation?



What Ever Happened to Tamar?

I wrote this draft many months ago but wasn’t happy with how it turned out.  I left it to rot in my drafts, but a funny thing then happened.  When I started trashing drafts to clean up my work space, I remembered that I owed Mrs. Darwin a post on Tamar and that this draft, while imperfect, isn’t so terrible after all.  Many birds, one stone:

As I’ve said before, one of the strengths of the books of Samuel is the attention to character motivations and detail.  The actors on the stage are far more complex and realized than in any other books of the Old Testament.

There are strengths and weaknesses that go with this approach.  Here’s a weakness: the narrator presents characters we can invest in, only to drop them when they no longer serve the goal of the narrative.  We are left with loose ends and unanswered questions.

Personally I think this gives the books an added charm or appeal.  But it does also mean that we don’t get to find out what happens to, say, Jonadab.  Here’s an inscrutably wicked fellow whose two appearances are almost indescribably base…and then he disappears.  If anyone deserves to have something awful happen to him, it’s Jonadab.  In a novel or a movie, he would need to meet the most grisly fate minds can imagine.  But in II Samuel, poof.  Gone, just as sadly happens in real life all too often.

The character this most affects is Tamar.  Continue reading What Ever Happened to Tamar?

Translating Psalms (25)

A sixth of the way there.  If I’d started at the beginning of Lent I may have finished the whole thing.  As it is, I think it’s time for a break after this one.

“Judica me, Domine” (Psalm 25)

1 In finem. Psalmus David. Judica me, Domine, quoniam ego in innocentia mea ingressus sum, et in Domino sperans non infirmabor.

Unto the end.  A Psalm of David.  Judge me, O Lord, for I in my innocence have I entered, and hoping in the Lord I shall not be infirm.

2 Proba me, Domine, et tenta me; ure renes meos et cor meum.

Test me, O Lord, and try me; burn my kidneys and my heart.

3 Quoniam misericordia tua ante oculos meos est, et complacui in veritate tua.

For Thy mercy is before my eyes, and I have been pleased in Thy truth. Continue reading Translating Psalms (25)

Translating Psalms (24)

I’ve been using Douay-Rheims Bible Online (www.drbo.org) as my source for this little Vulgate project.  Just happened to stand at the head of Google’s list of a “psalms vulgate” search.  When you need a quick Septuagint check, just head over to www.newadvent.org

“Ad te, Domine, levavi” (Psalm 24)

[1] In finem. Psalmus David. Ad te, Domine, levavi animam meam.

Unto the end.  A Psalm of David.  To You, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul.

[2] Deus meus, in te confido; non erubescam.

My God, in You I trust; may I not be put to shame.

[3] Neque irrideant me inimici mei : etenim universi, qui sustinent te, non confundentur.

Nor may my enemies ridicule me: for indeed all who rely on You shall not be confounded.

[4] Confundantur omnes iniqua agentes supervacue. Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi, et semitas tuas edoce me.

Let them be confounded, all those doing iniquities pointlessly.  Thy ways, O Lord, show to me, and Thy paths teach me. Continue reading Translating Psalms (24)

Translating Psalms (23)

No, not the famous one.  That’s Psalm 22 by Vulgate/Septuagint numbering.  This is a pretty famous one too, though…and not just because Stephen Colbert famously danced to a modern rendering of it.

“Domini est terra” (Psalm 23)

  1. Prima sabbati. Psalmus David. Domini est terra, et plenitudo ejus; orbis terrarum, et universi qui habitant in eo.
  2. Quia ipse super maria fundavit eum, et super flumina praeparavit eum.
  3. Quis ascendet in montem Domini? aut quis stabit in loco sancto ejus?
  4. Innocens manibus et mundo corde, qui non accepit in vano animam suam, nec juravit in dolo proximo suo.
  5. Hic accipiet benedictionem a Domino, et misericordiam a Deo salutari suo.
  6. Haec est generatio quaerentium eum, quaerentium faciem Dei Jacob.
  7. Attollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini, portae aeternales, et introibit rex gloriae.
  8. Quis est iste rex gloriae? Dominus fortis et potens, Dominus potens in praelio.
  9. Attollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini, portae aeternales, et introibit rex gloriae.
  10. Quis est iste rex gloriae? Dominus virtutum ipse est rex gloriae.

First of the Sabbath.  A Psalm of David.  The Lord’s is the earth, and its fullness; the orb of lands, and all who dwell in it.

For He above the seas has founded it, and above the rivers prepared it.

Who shall ascend unto the mountain of the Lord?  Or who shall stand in His holy place?

Innocent in hands and clean heart, who has not accepted in vane his own soul, nor sworn in deceit to his neighbor.

This one shall accept blessing from the Lord, and mercy from the God of his salvation.

This is the generation those seeking Him, of those seeking the face of the God of Jacob.

Lift up the gates, you princes, yours, and be elevated, eternal gates, and he shall enter, the king of glory.

Who is this, the king of glory?  The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up the gates, you princes, yours, and be elevated, eternal gates, and he shall enter, the king of glory.

Who is this, the king of glory?  The Lord of virtues, He Himself is the king of glory.


I hate the verb praeparo.  Paro means prepare.  Praeparo means pre-prepare…?  Nah, just prepare.  But like, really fast.  Actually, I guess I just hate English for using praeparo to translate paro…  Those Anglo-Saxons did some weird stuff.

Translating Psalms (22)

Super-famous, super-short, and super-cool that it follows on the heels of Psalm 21.  Of course most people know this one, or the opening line at least, under the title of Psalm 23.  The Latin doesn’t shake out quite the same but you can still hear all the echoes:

“Dominus regit me” (Psalm 22)

  1. Psalmus David. Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit:
  2. in loco pascuae ibi me collocavit. Super aquam refectionis educavit me,
  3. animam meam convertit. Deduxit me super semitas justitiae, propter nomen suum.
  4. Nam, etsi ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es. Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt.
  5. Parasti in conspectu meo mensam, adversus eos qui tribulant me; impinguasti in oleo caput meum; et calix meus inebrians quam praeclarus est!
  6. Et misericordia tua subsequetur me omnibus diebus vitae meae; et ut inhabitem in domo Domini, in longitudinem dierum.

A Psalm of David.  The Lord rules me, and nothing shall be lacking to me:

in the place of pasture there has He gathered me.  Above the water of restoration He has led me out,

my soul He has converted.  He has led me above the paths of justice, on account of His name.

For, even if I shall walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall not fear evils, for You are with me.  Thy rod, and thy staff, these have consoled me.

You have prepared in my sight a table, against them who trouble me; You have anointed my head in oil; and my chalice intoxicant how splendid it is!

And Thy mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and so I may dwell in the house of the Lord, in length of days.