“One of the great papist characters in modern fiction”

At the UK’s best Catholic weekly, the Catholic Herald, there is a fun piece about books I often mention here, the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, who would be 100 years old this year.

Which I would that he had lived to 100, so that we could have more tales of the nautical duo!

The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Vol. 5 volumes) (Aubrey/Maturin Novels)  UK link  HERE

Here is the piece, which is not available online. You can, however, subscribe to the digital version of the weekly.

The ‘reptilian’ Catholic who misses nothing

By Mark Benbow

The quick-witted Stephen Maturin is one of the great papist characters in modern fiction. His faith is so vivid you’d be forgiven for thinking that his creator was himself a Catholic

Dr Stephen Maturin is an unlikely Catholic hero. He is a ship’s doctor during the Napoleonic Wars. Half Catalan, half Irish, he is “reptilian” in appearance, casting a suspicious eye on everyone he meets. He is short, ugly and a spy – for the British government, fortunately, since nothing escapes him.
Maturin is the junior partner in one of
the great double acts in British fiction: the Aubrey-Maturin seafaring novels by Patrick O’Brian, who was born 100 years ago. Maturin’s surreptitious Catholicism is a theme in many of the 20 novels, beginning with Master and Commander, which was published in 1969 but acquired cult status only in the 1990s. O’Brian himself, though extremely reticent about his past, hinted that, despite his refined English voice and old-fashioned snobbery, he was an Irish Catholic from Dublin.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Aubrey-Maturin series is much loved by many Catholics, who relish the dynamic between Captain Jack Aubrey, brave, impulsive and naïve, and the dry wit of his papist confidant. O’Brian plunges his readers into the life of the sea, with few concessions to their ignorance of nautical jargon (except when Aubrey is explaining things to the land-lubber Maturin). Some of the writing is beautiful, as in this excerpt from The Surgeon’s Mate, which takes Aubrey and Maturin from the fogs of Novia Scotia to a French jail:

“There,” cried Stephen when Jack appeared in the frail topgallant-shrouds, “are you not amazed?” He pointed cautiously with one finger and Jack looked out to the south-west. At this height they were above the low blanket of fog that covered the sea: clear sky above, no water below; no deck even, but a smooth layer of white mist, sharply cut off from the clean air; and ahead, on the starboard bow and on the starboard beam the surface of the soft, opaque whiteness was pierced by an infinity of masts, all striking up from this unearthly ground into a sky without a cloud, a sky that might have belonged to an entirely different world.
“Are you not amazed?” he said again.

If you do not know what “topgallant-shrouds” are, then buy a nautical handbook (as some devotees do). O’Brian takes pleasure in meticulous accuracy, and not just in his accounts of naval warfare. The early 19th century was a time of religious change in England. Catholics fell under suspicion as Britain went to war with France again – and, indeed, the Benedictine-educated Maturin was a supporter of the French Revolution until the Terror and the subsequent tyranny of Bonaparte. Yet we were also on the verge of Catholic Emancipation: papists moved in elevated social circles and O’Brian expertly captures the half-surreptitious, half-proud spirit of Maturin’s Catholicism.

In Fortune of War, set in 1812, Maturin is apprehended by the Americans in Boston and attends Mass during his captivity:

The priest was already at the altar by the time they reached the obscure chapel in a side-alley, and crept into the enormously evocative smell of old incense. There followed an interval on a completely different plane of being: with the familiar ancient words around him, always the same, in whatever country he had ever been (though now uttered in a broad Munster Latin), he lived free of time or geography, and he might have walked out, a boy, into the streets of Barcelona white in the sun, or
into those of Dublin under the soft rain.

The reference to the old Mass will have appealed to one of O’Brian’s biggest fans, the traditionalist priest-blogger Fr John Zuhlsdorf, who in one post seems to take mischievous delight in the unflattering portrayal of the Jesuits as “[making] a sad nuisance of themselves again, turning out atheists from the schools by the score”.

Catholic readers should be warned, however, that these bracing, colourful and cluttered novels were written by a very strange and dishonest man. Patrick O’Brian was not Irish, not Catholic and not called Patrick O’Brian. Shortly before his death in 2000, the BBC revealed that he was born Richard Russ, the son of a doctor from Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire. He had changed his name after an unhappy first marriage and probably deceived people into thinking that he was a spy during the war (he was actually an ambulance driver). His faith was as fictional as Maturin’s. But don’t let that put you off. The books, if you like that sort of thing, are terrific.

Which terrific ain’t in it, as Preserved Killick would say.

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Posted in O'Brian Tags, Preserved Killick | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

ADVENTCAzT 16: Love always includes an inexhaustible willingness to forgive

Here is a 5-minute, daily podcast – today for Monday of the 3rd Week of Advent – to help you prepare for the upcoming feast as well as for your personal meeting with the Lord.

These podcasts are a token of gratitude to my benefactors who donate and send items from my wishlist.  Thank you!

Have some Mystic Monk Coffee and have a listen! PS: The wavy flag is how I’m trying to get to Rome for the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy meeting in January.  This one’s on me.


I have a little of the wonderful Advent disc by the Benedictines. You will remember that Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.  They have chart topping discs. HERE

Chime in if you listened.  Today’s podcast was tricky to pull off.  As I was preparing to post it, I noticed a flaw in the project.  Since I am on the road, I had to go into my computer at home, remotely, and fix it from afar and then upload it.

PS: These podcasts should also available through my iTunes feed, though in years past I have had problems with it. Let me know how you are listening.  Through the plug in on this post? Through iTunes? Downloading?

Posted in ADVENTCAzT, ADVENTCAzT, PODCAzT | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

ASK FATHER: Mistake about minister of Sacrament of Matrimony and validity

From a reader…


When making vows at a Catholic Wedding in a Catholic Church if a Groom genuinly beleives that the officiating priest at a wedding is the minister of the Sacrement of Matromony, and not the bride and groom (as the Chuch teaches), is it possible that the groom would \ may lack the intention to do what the Catholic Church dose rendering the marriage null and void in all but Civil Law ?

One need not be fully aware of the profundity of one’s own actions for those actions to have effect.

If Bob consents to marry Betty, but Bob does not fully understand the Church’s theology of marriage, all things being equal, he does, in fact, marry Betty.

The Church’s understanding is that the average 14 year old female, and the average 16 year old male has the mental wherewithal to consent validly to marriage.  I will add that perhaps the Church is a bit optimistic in this matter, given my conversations with young people.

Bishops Conferences have the right to set a higher minimum age, taking into consideration the cultural situation of the country.  However, the US Bishops have not done so… yet.

Failure to understand, precisely, the sacramental efficacy of one’s consent does not render that consent invalid.  Failure to grasp that the priest is not the minister does not render consent invalid.

Posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, One Man & One Woman | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

Succisa virescit: Another parish church reborn after destruction

The other day I posted about the rebuilding of a little parish church which had burned a few years ago on Christmas Eve.  The rebuilding was quite the success.  E cineribus resurgit.

I see now that another parish church, destroyed – 47 years to the day that it had been dedicated – in the horrible tornados that struck Joplin, MO some time ago, has been rebuild as well.  Rebuilt and significantly amplified. I wrote about that parish HERE

And now… from the Joplin Globe:


Friends, it is possible to build better than we have been building for the last few decades.  It really is.

I congratulate the parish on their new church.

Succisa virescit.

Posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Fr. Z KUDOS, Just Too Cool | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Nota bene: Apostolic Visitation of US sisters and CDF scrutiny of LCWR are NOT the same

There is some speculation about what may be said on 16 December in Rome about the Apostolic Visitation that was conducted of communities of women religious in these USA by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (aka Congregation for Religious).   Some suggest (hopefully, even triumphantly) that a rosy picture, or at least not a black picture, will be painted of religious life in female institutes and orders.  Or, perhaps, there will be the usual positive comments about the many “fruits”, just like all the “fruits” we have obviously been granted since the Second Vatican Council.  Then, there could be a small bite of the lip, tilt of the head, and lift of the hand, while, with furrowed brow someone says, even with all the “fruits”, there are points to work on (like the fact that most communities are going to be extinct in 20 years).

Whatever the outcome, whatever the statements, be careful not to fall into a trap.  Don’t let media outlets lead you astray.  Don’t let, especially liberal catholic commentators blow smoke into your eyes.

Do not conflate – as so often happens – the Visitation of the communities of women religious and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s scrutiny of the LCWR.   These are separate issues and actions.  The exoneration or praise of or even criticism that might come from the report on the Visitation, is NOT the same as what the CDF is doing in examining the formation and spirituality of the LCWR.

But watch.  Some will say, “Look! The Pope himself (even though it’s the Congregation) has said the nuns of the LCWR are groovy! So, everyone now has to listen to the Nuns on the Bus!”   No. It will be the Congregation and it won’t concern the CDF and the LCWR, and the Nuns on the Bus are yet another group (though the Venn Diagrams start to overlap heavily).

Posted in The Drill, Women Religious | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

My View For Awhile: last trip edition

Off again, hopefully for the last trip of the calendar year!


And boarded…


I’m reading Peter Kwasniewski’s new book. HERE





I’m reminded of the big band song from WWII. “You’re 1-A in the Army, but you’re A-1 in my heart!”


The (Delta) screen is promising free text messaging for T-Mobile customers. Given that and the far better overseas data rates, I’m think I’ll explore switching.

Posted in On the road, What Fr. Z is up to | 6 Comments

ADVENTCAzT 15: Creation holds its breath – “Will she say ‘yes’?”

Here is a 5-minute, daily podcast – today for the 3rd Sunday of Advent – to help you prepare for the upcoming feast as well as for your personal meeting with the Lord.

These podcasts are a token of gratitude to my benefactors who donate and send items from my wishlist.  Thank you!

Have some Mystic Monk Coffee and have a listen! PS: The wavy flag is how I’m trying to get to Rome for the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy meeting in January.  This one’s on me.


I have a little of the wonderful Advent disc by the Benedictines. You will remember that Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.  They have chart topping discs. HERE

Chime in if you listened. Today I give you some thoughts from Divine Intimacy on prayer. PS: These podcasts should also available through my iTunes feed, though in years past I have had problems with it. Let me know how you are listening.  Through the plug in on this post? Through iTunes? Downloading?

Posted in ADVENTCAzT, ADVENTCAzT, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, PODCAzT | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Blog problems – UPDATES

I reverted to an older version of my theme while we do some work on the problem.

UPDATE:  We isolated the pesky problem that was causing a redirect from the blog to some stupid hack page.

See my Litany for the Conversion of Internet Thugs 2.0

The next stage is a complete backup and then complete overhaul.  This should happen during the next couple days.

UPDATE 10 Dec:

Okay… the hack is back.  I may have to restore an older theme to get rid of it if it persists.  Again, some work will be done to the blog and server in the next day or so.

UPDATE 10 Dec:

Everything has been updated.   The blog should load faster now.   I hope we have exorcized the attacks.

UPDATE 13 Dec:

I solved a couple problems yesterday.  There were two two preview buttons preview buttons.  Now there should only be one.

Also, we lost the “mobile” view for your phones.  That should be restored now.

Next: Some people (I included) have noticed that sometimes, not all the time, the blog hangs a bit when loading.  This is a cache problem.  (It’s also a cash problem.)  Hopefully today we can do something with that.

Posted in SESSIUNCULA | Leave a comment

St. Lucy and Advent Ember Week

St. Lucy

13 December was the darkest day of the old Julian calendar.  Thus, today in the Gregorian calendar is the feast of St. Lucy, whose name from the Latin lux, for “light”, reminds us who dwell in the still darkening northern hemisphere that our days will soon be getting longer again.

Lucy will usually be depicted in art with a lantern, or with a crown of candles, or – most commonly – with her own eyes on a platter.

Some accounts have Lucy slain by having her throat thrust through with sword.  Other accounts say that to protect her virginity she disfigured herself by cutting her own eyes out and sending them to her suitor, a plot likely to discourage him.  St. Lucy is therefore the patroness of sight.

St. Lucy shows up fairly often in Dante’s great Divine Comedy.  She is first in the Inferno.  It is Lucy who asked Beatrice to help Dante.  In Purgatory the eagle that bears Dante upward in a dream is actually Lucy who is bearing him to the gate of Purgatory.  Eagles, of course, are “eagle-eyed” and see very well.  In the Paradiso she is placed directly across from Adam in the Heaven of the Rose.  She can gaze directly at God.  It seems that St. Lucy was something of a patroness for Dante and that he was devoted to her because, as we glean from various works, he may have had a problem not just with his eyes but also struggling with sins of the eyes.

Next week we also have Ember Days, which in Advent come after the Feast of St. Lucy.   Do you remember the little mnemonic poem?  “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy”, or else “Fasting days and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.

Ember Wednesday will be the Missa aurea.

In the meantime, let’s have a look at Lucy’s Collect in the Ordinary Form.

This prayer was not in the pre-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum. It is based on a prayer in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary for St. Felicity (VIIII KALENDAS DECEMBRIS).

Intercessio nos, quaesumus, Domine, sanctae Luciae virginis et martyris gloriosa confoveat, ut eius natalicia et temporaliter frequentemus, et conspiciamus aeterna.

First, you will have immediately caught the elegant hyperbaton, the separation of intercessio and the adjective that goes with it, gloriosa.  There is also a nice et… et construction.

Confoveo is “to cherish, caress, keep warm.”  It is a compound of foveo which essentially is “to be hot, to roast”.  It obviously deals with heat, flame, light.  This is a good word for this time of year in the northern hemisphere (unless you are in, say, Florida).

Conspicio is “to look at attentively, to get sight of, to descry, perceive, observe”. We are obviously dealing the seeing and sight.  This word should ring mental bells for the throngs of you readers who attended Holy Mass in the Novus Ordo celebrated in Latin.  Conspicio is in the Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, used in a an extremely clever way juxtaposed to exspecto.  They share a common root.  But I digress.

Natalicia refers to birthdays.  In the Christian adaptation of this word, we are always referring to the saints being “born” into heaven.


Lord, give us courage through the gracious prayers of Saint Lucy. As we celebrate her entrance into eternal glory, we ask to share her happiness in the life to come.

Here is the usual clunky parataxis we know so well from the dreadful obsolete translation.  As usual, the translation is dumbed-down.  Do you see anything of the concept of vision?  Sight?  Is there anything in there that harks to the time of year?


May the glorious intercession of the Virgin and Martyr Saint Lucy give us new heart, we pray, O Lord, so that we may celebrate her heavenly birthday in this present age and so behold things eternal.

We are obviously much closer to the Latin in this new version.  Also, that behold at the end is consoling.

Reason #7569320 for the new, corrected translation.

Perhaps you might say a prayer today to St. Lucy, that she will intercede with God and implore Him, for us in the vale of tears, to open the eyes of so many of our elected officials – and voters – and our Church leaders too, while we’re at it.

Posted in Saints: Stories & Symbols | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

CD of beautiful Christmas music – VIDEO

I told you about the great new Christmas music CD from the only Catholic boy’s choir school in these USA, St. Paul’s near Harvard University and posted a video about the choir.  HERE

The Christmas In Harvard Square.   It is available also in MP3.

UK link HERE

There is another video about the choir.

It’s not too late to order!

Posted in The Campus Telephone Pole | Tagged , | 3 Comments