December 2014

Illustration by Artus Scheiner (1924). Prague.

With liturgical regularity, Christmastide brings the magic of The Nutcracker. This is the perfect season for it. By December, the year’s worth of adult disdain for all things enchanted has reached a crescendo. “No, Virginia, you’ve been had,” galumph uncomprehending gradgrinds who dismiss fantasy as lying. Childhood’s sensitivity to wonder is put to the test this time of year. Children are made to suffer obtuse grown-ups who refuse to believe that toys come alive, that mice have queens, or have forgotten that nightmares, too, have their bewitchments. Continue Reading
H.G. Wells indoor game

Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books. Full title of H.G. Wells’ 1913 rule book for playing with tin soldiers
Old toy soldiers were a fixture in the local bookshop window when I was growing up. The store owner was Frank Womrath, a veteran of World War II. His affection for the military history represented by those hollow-cast lead figures had been well and truly earned. Continue Reading
Jules Adler. Rough Weather on Open Seas: Sailors of Etaples (1913). ©RMN-Grand Palais, Paris.

The conjugal act. I wince when I hear that phrase or see it in print. It is a wooden expression that trumpets discomfort with sexual expression, even distaste. A standard textbook phrase, it reduces marital sexuality to genital activity and an exchange of body fluids. The shrinkage is subtle but real. Last month, Chiesa broadcast an encomium to Neocatechumenal families. It regretted their omission from vocal participation in the Synod because “they are the most engaged in putting the model of Catholic marriage into practice.” It printed an ostensibly confidential extract of a catechesis developed for internal use by Fr. Continue Reading
Alfred Delp

The life and witness of Alfred Delp are less familiar among First Things readers than I had thought. Several wrote to say they had not heard of him at all. Others asked why he should have been executed for refusing to resign from the Jesuits. Father Delp’s own letter, written from his cell to fellow Jesuits after sentence had been passed, answers that question. The letter contains the marrow of the man, the grandeur of his steadfastness and greatness of heart. Continue Reading
The guillotine was a fixture in Reich prisons. This, in Plötzensee, was identical to Brandenburg’s.

Before bishops take possession of their dioceses they are to take an oath of fealty either to the Reich Representative of the State concerned, or to the President of the Reich, according to the following formula: “Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich . . . . In the performance of my spiritual office and in my solicitude for the welfare and the interests of the German Reich, I will endeavor to avoid all detrimental acts which might endanger it.”  Article 16, Reich Concordat, 1933
Two books hold pride of place on my shelves. Continue Reading