The Beauty of Catholic Order

We didn’t dance.

It was an ironclad rule of the schools and religious communities of my youth that dancing was forbidden, a prohibition enforced with the same rigor as the edict to not “drink, smoke, or chew. Or go with girls who do.”

Consequently, I first danced during my graduate school days at Boston College, although enthusiasm far outstripped skill, I’m sure, and my friends’ suppression of laughter was a kindness. Dancing became such a part of our companionship—along with study and billiards—that I overcame family hesitations and there was a dance floor at my wedding. I first danced with my mother then. A beautiful thing, that, even if somewhat ungainly.

With age and children, dancing at the local college bar has lost some of its luster, I’ll admit, and my musical tastes have developed considerably. While the kitchen sees its fair share of box steps, I rarely dance in public anymore.

Recently, however, my wife and some friends threw a party culminating in traditional line dancing. I’d not done that before, and went to the party somewhat hesitant. But there we all were, about sixty of us, jammed together in an overheated room, stomping and clapping, bowing and twirling to the fiddle and guitar.

Mostly, though, we were exulting. I held my youngest daughter—to her shrieking delight—as her beaming older sister and I do-si-doed and promenaded, movements sometimes made awkward by the toddler bouncing in my arms. Another daughter happily paired with a friend while a triumphant son somehow convinced an older (and pretty) partner to stoop for him. My wife danced with one of her students, and he was just young enough to seem entirely unselfconscious about it. Unlike other days, teenaged boys could not escape their mother’s arms—and I saw moms so jubilant and merry and relieved at this feat that they were paraphrasing Simeon: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” Grandfathers and granddaughters, husbands and wives, friends; a few yearning adolescents with hearts beating time to another, more ancient reel.

In that sweltering, overcrowded room, you could hear the music and see us leaping, joined in circles, feet rising and falling in mirth, the association of man and woman, holding each other by the hand or arm. We were—I was—drunk with it. Flushed of body and soul, delighted with the others, thrilled with reality; we were not, as I feared, ironical or skeptical but approving. We approved, in the old sense of the term, in that we recognized goodness—probus—and loved it, willed that it should be, should exist, should continue. In the handing off of one partner to the next, we handed on—traditio—the rhythms of the good reality that preceded us, following the patterns long set down by others. And it was good.

Later that evening, back in my own living room, although long past bedtime, my children kept dancing, insistent that I should join their youthful joy. It was, I thought several times, so normal. Compared to the wastelands of our culture, we were surrendered to norms revealing the way things ought to be, unveiling the goodness deep down in things, and reminding us that a universe created by the God of communion is abundant.

By happy coincidence I had just finished Anthony Esolen’s admirable new book, Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching. In exploring the writings of Pope Leo XIII to articulate Catholic principles of marriage, family, and the state, Esolen presents a profound and winsome picture of a genuinely flourishing life; a humanism beautiful because thoroughly Christian.

It’s been heavy on my mind that while the Gospel exudes a “deep amazement at man’s worth and dignity” our cultured despisers have painted us as dour killjoys. Since its beginning, the Faith has defended humans, for since God in Christ has become one of us, we are, each of us, of inestimable worth. The early church defended the status of women, cared for the poor, refused the exposure of infants, and restrained the powerful while empowering the weak; the monastics offered shelter and hospitality to others as if the guest were Jesus himself, and in time schooling and employment; the guilds taught a trade, protected fair wages, and provided for widows and orphans; religious orders created hospitals, schools, orphanages, ransomed captives, and visited the imprisoned. The Faith compels us to be for persons, for their dignity and worth, for their salvation and well-being.

How did Belloc put it?

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

We are the people of Merrie England, the people who created a wealth of art and music and architecture and cities in order to adorn and shelter the Mass. The people devoted to hope, commanded to avoid despair; a people for whom nihilism is impossible because all things, visible and invisible, were created and declared good. A people who, following St Augustine, insist that evil cannot be a real thing because all real things are probus and worth approving.

Yet, we are so endlessly portrayed as against. Against emancipation and experimentation, against choice, against science, against technological prowess, against equality—ultimately against freedom and human accomplishment. In a diabolical reversal, our amazement and approval of the world is recast as an antihumanism, a brake on human progress and happiness.

Of course, as Esolen explains so well, the contemporary vision of happiness “refuses to respect the nature” of things, and in the name of a misguided freedom builds “a wreck, a monstrosity”

… materialist in all its assumptions about a good life, bureaucratically organized, unanswerable to the people, undermining families, rewarding lust and sloth and envy, acknowledging no virtue, providing no personal care, punishing women who take care of their children at home, whisking the same children into vice-ridden schools designed to separate them from their parents’ view of the world, and, for all that … mired in dysfunction, moral squalor, and poverty.…

We know that the culture of our despisers is a paltry thing, limping and gelded, even though arrogantly asserting a superiority it cannot defend or maintain or even populate.

Leo XIII traces a far richer way for human dignity, liberty, marriage, the family, social life, the Church, work, and the state. This way values the person and their home, cherishes the loveliness of marriage and children, maintains property as a sign of hope for generations yet unborn, nourishes and cares for the week, orders acquisitiveness, and provides beauty. In short, loves and approves of everything fair and noble. And Catholic order must be beautiful because it is centered upon and deriving from the Eucharist and the splendor of Christ.

In the final pages of Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, Esolen turns from analysis to an imaginative description of what a Catholic order might look like. It’s a lovely image, full of humanity and life. Schools, homes, clubs, theatres, benevolent societies, civic groups, parks, and children everywhere. Also, because this is a vision of the good, dance:

So there are dances, dances all the time, and song. And little children learn to dance, with the old people taking part or watching, the lads and lasses in the bloom of youth, flushed with happiness, or wistful longing, or the pangs or love, or sheer innocent mirth.

The culture of death claims to be true life. It is not. The children of God, possessing the very breath of God as our own, are caught up into life abundant. But we need to show this, to teach it, to incarnate it, to light up the pathways of the world with this life. Does anything do this more evidently than a dance?

For years I sat paralyzed at the edge of the Tiber, never quite able to muster the will to swim to Rome. Three things gave me courage at the end. First, a painting depicting the unity of all truth coming from God through theology to all the other studies. Second, a talk on the Catholic understanding of friendship with Christ. Third, pictures on our parish website of the wonderful Mercedarian community dancing at a parish party, each in scapular and capuche, and each approving of the normality of Catholic order.

I saw them dance, and was taught that life resided here. Many others are looking for life—both those inside and outside the Church—and perhaps it’s time to show them. For what do we wait?

Editor’s note: The image above titled “Wedding Dance” was painted by Pieter Brueghel the elder in 1566.

R. J. Snell


R. J. Snell directs the Center on the University and Intellectual Life at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a senior fellow at the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good. He is the author (with Steve Cone) of Authentic Cosmopolitanism: Love, Sin, and Grace in the Christian University. His latest books are Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire and The Perspective of Love.

  • Alan Napleton

    Doctor Snell,

    I want to thank you for such an uplifting article. What a wonderful lift your words gave my spirt allowing me to realize what a blessing it is to be Catholic.


  • Clare

    Nice article. Just one observation: “…This way … nourishes and cares for the week…” – I hope it does it for longer than that! 😉

  • Hildegaard

    Good article. You piqued my curiosity. What painting was it?

    • els

      The Wedding Dance by Bruegel

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    These days ‘joy’ is a brave and Catholic thing of which the world has lost the art.

  • samnigromd

    Any culture without Catholicism especially offers little but savagery…because there will not be a right to childhood—you will have “harem creation” instead…

    Sex Education for Children

    March, 2014

    By Samuel A. Nigro

    …Nature and Nature’s God

    Humans need
    to relearn what genuine sexuality is for the planet, the animal kingdom, and
    the universe, because Nature’s laws for sexuality are as clear as laws for gravity.

    norms for sexuality for subhuman creatures are very clear, in that higher
    creatures are bio-chemically governed by pheromones. In nature, pheromones, unless biochemical
    disturbance, confine sexual activity to a time of likely reproduction between
    two adult opposite sex members of the same species. There is basically no sexuality with the
    immature, with same sexed creatures, or with other species.

    Humans have
    unconsciously recognized this and complied with nature’s norms for the most part. But there are no biochemical pheromones for
    humans so the pheromones have been psycho-social – marriage. Every culture of any substance has
    established rules for copulation embracing marriage or something
    comparable. This was important because
    if humans had biochemical pheromones, they would be like subhuman animals
    without “love” as the basis for human relationships. Love would be impossible if biochemical pheromones
    control sexuality. Instead, love and
    marriage became the psycho-social “pheromones” and the Nature based
    law of human copulation.

    This has
    been overwelmingly so, until the mid-1900s when television, movies, and other
    electrono-celluloid-ink offerings became available proving humans to be
    extremely suggestible including abandonment of human nature, traditions and
    cultures. At the same time, the sex act
    itself became exaggerated and deformed to self stimulation any way, anywhere,
    with anyone. Whatever became their
    method of sex pleasure became one’s identity–one’s “gender”. Thus masturbation became the major method of
    “sexuality” with a grotesque abandonment of nature’s reproduction consistent copulation with
    opposite sexed mature members of the same species. Today’s masturbatory culture could not be more
    out of synchrony with nature, the animal kingdom, the planet and the
    universe. It turns girls and women into
    a community harem.

    It takes
    only a moment to realize Nature’s wisdom:
    Subhuman animals without pheromones to control sexuality, would be doing
    what humans are now doing without marriage and love–The planet would be
    nothing but masturbating animals. And if
    humans forced animals to do what humans now do sexually, it would be animal

    It is
    important to know that the unNatural sexuality of today’s humanity is due to
    the acceptance and promotion of abortion and contraception. Abortion and contraception enable the
    consequences of unnatural sexuality: (1)the
    loss of one’s identity by not being true to oneself as born and to Nature; (2) the unNatural creation of many so-called “genders” of one’s
    self-proclaimed preferred way of sexual pleasure; (3) the destruction the family, especially due
    to loss of paternity and good fatherhood; (4) the destruction of childhood as
    children are subjected to adult sexuality and violence; (5)the conversion of
    women into betrayers of other women by seeking sex with other women’s husbands;
    (6) the diminishing of genuine femaleness as naturally reproduction-consistent
    on the planet; (7) the creation of a psychotic-like society of obsessive-compulsive
    genital squirt-slime maniacs and body dysmorphic disorders; (8) the conversion
    of press and media into betrayers of Nature by genitalized or violent
    excitement in order to manipulate the people to be clones of editors; (9) and the perversion of politicians and
    government law into betrayers of the Constitution by the promotion of abortion and contraception which
    remove humanity from Nature; and (10) abortion and contraception remove mankind
    totally from evolution with destruction of millions of potential “natural

    Love based
    marriage was human sexual education, but now, unnatural dupes of the gay cult
    have taken over. Under the guises of
    free speech and open criticism of society, the gay cult imposes its subculture
    all the while intolerantly refusing free speech by prohibiting open criticism
    of itself as an obvious disease for society.
    Most just want to “make nice” so they succumb to obedience to
    authority proclaiming “evil can be good” if you follow the latest
    propaganda and public relations promos.
    And the consequences of disagreeing with the gay cult is like dealing
    with soccer hooligans.

    Sex Identity of Children

    Most children are genetically and biochemically
    designated male or female at birth and will develop consistent with nature
    unless deformed and tricked by the gay cult.

    A few children are anatomically defective and not
    clearly defined at birth. The parents,
    with medical advice, will provide a surgical correction consistent with genital
    understanding as a male or a female.
    Such children are not left bisexual or undefined.

    A few children are biochemically disordered but
    anatomically intact. This is usually due
    to unforeseen impact of female hormones in the environment and food and the
    contraceptives used by the child’s mother prior to the pregnancy. These children are biochemically disturbed
    and consider themselves to be homosexual.

    Most children are healthy with their maleness or
    femaleness. Many go through immature
    confusional states with little difficulty being aware that “love” is not
    “sexual behavior.” The most common
    confusion has to do with “best friends” during childhood and early
    adolescence. These best friends are
    loved and even thought of briefly as “marriage” fleetingly is thought. Normally, such is quickly discarded unless
    preyed upon gay cultists eager to recruit into homosexuality by the
    longstanding gay tactic called “chicken hawking”. As normal age occurs, if left in childhood
    without coercive adulteration or the gay cult, the children will pass through
    to full genuine maleness for boys and femaleness for girls, all of which is in
    their best interest by nature, family and culture.

    All ages from childhood through adulthood are susceptible,
    in varying degrees, to body dysmorphic disorder which is the chronic abnormal
    use of a body part. Basically, the body
    offers self pleasuring for itself, i.e., almost anybody can be a focus of
    habitual self stimulation. A minimal
    extreme is the pleasant scratching oneself.
    A maximal extreme is the “pleasure” of full hand vaginal or anal
    “fisting” of lesbians and homosexuals.
    When habituated to an obsessive/compulsive degree, such body dysmorphic
    disorder is clearly an abnormality because of inappropriate misuse of a body part
    from its natural function. Gay body
    dysmorphic disorders are an epidemic because of the habituating impact of body
    pleasure. But it becomes a cultural
    delusion and a political force of derangement.
    Nevertheless, when presented in public, body dysmorphic disorders should
    be illegal because they are truly “disturbances of the peace”–at least in
    terms of the violation of norms of privacy.

    Sexual activity is anatomically related for the most
    part in a normal fashion with the excretory system. Indeed, the genitals comprise excretory and
    reproductive functions as anatomically related and nearly identical. Thus it is not inappropriate to recognize
    genuine sexuality as the copulations between the adult opposite sex members of
    the same species. But when sex acts do
    not meet that criteria, the acts are excretory
    functions, i.e., appropriately named “sexcretion”–a pseudo sex act for relief
    and not consistent with reproduction in Nature.
    Non-marital sex acts are “sexleting” (analogous to


    conclusion, children need to hear the facts of sexuality on the planet. Humans have a better culture, society and
    family life when sexuality is kept as much as possible consistent with
    planetary norms, and with “…Nature and Nature’s God”. Humans need to be warned that there is a psychosis
    of masturbation and body dysmorphic disorder epidemic which are politicized by
    the gay cult eager to recruit them, seduce them, parade with them, and disturb
    the peace with them as they act out their body obsessions and compulsions
    pretending that what is basically evil and wrong has been authoritatively
    decreed to be “good.” Children
    need to know that sex outside of marriage is basically unnatural and anyone
    telling them otherwise is trying to exploit them and should be told that
    “I refuse to be your toilet.”
    “I will not be in your harem.”
    “I will not exploit you.”

    (The best
    study for “nature and nature’s God” are to look up on theWorld Wide
    Web the following: “Nature and
    God–University of Notre Dame”; “Teilhard de Chardin”; and

    • egalitrix

      I see you believe in mutilation for intersex individuals.

      • John200

        I see you practice hit-and-run clownishness and, by implication, believe in it.

  • St JD George

    Indeed RJ, I enjoyed and thought your last paragraph sums it up simply and perfectly. While we wait for the coming of our Lord, what are we collectively afraid of in waiting to share his good news with others beyond our friends and confidants.

  • Thanks for this meditation on joy and beauty. As a child, religion was taught to me as something oppressive and driven by fear. I am learning now that we were doing it wrong. God is beautiful and the creation reflects this. Religion should work to preserve this beauty and cultivate joy. There is the problem of evil, but that is not the natural state of the world.

    • GaudeteMan

      Paraphrasing Chesterton, if the Church seems to build walls around us, remember that they are the walls of a playground. Walls that keep the evil, of which you speak, away.

      • Toadspittle

        I see Saudi Arabia is doing the exact same thing now.

      • Right. Walls serve a legitimate purpose, but to extend the metaphor, they needs gates too. It’s a balance that wasn’t achieved well in my experience but I get what you’re saying.

  • Tamsin

    We know that the culture of our despisers is a paltry thing, limping and gelded, even though arrogantly asserting a superiority it cannot defend or maintain or even populate. Well said. A bit of encouragement, for the dark days ahead.

  • Tony

    Thank you, R. J. Thank you for helping us to see the beauty of the normal and the normality of beauty!

  • hombre111

    I think of life in the parish that adopted me as a place where I can still minister into advanced old age. It is a happy, laughing place. The Hispanics are the best example. They bring this energy into the Mass. But the Anglos? A minority think that the only good Mass is one long solemn silence where noisy children are frowned at, with pointed glances at parents to take the offenders out of the room. This is usually an evening Mass, which priests have long dubbed “the Mass of the dead.”

    • GaudeteMan

      Are these the same Hispanics that energetically flock in masse to the voting booth to support pro-death candidates? That’s shocking considering that your poignant and passionate sermons constantly remind them of the eternal consequences of such acts.

      • hombre111

        They vote for the party that seems to understand their plight and support rational immigration reform.

      • hombre111

        Apples and oranges. For a guy who calls himself “rejoice man,” you seem to be put off by people who know how to rejoice at a level rigid Anglos seem unable to reach.

        • GaudeteMan

          How does one rejoice knowing they played a part in enabling the gruesome slaughter of our most defenseless and innocent members of the human family?

  • Toadspittle

    “We are the people of Merrie England, the people who created a wealth of art and music and architecture and cities in order to adorn and shelter the Mass.”
    The Middle Ages in England (and all Europe) was a time of utter fear and terror, not joy. Terror of the ever-present plague, of leprosy, of demons which meant you didn’t go out after dark, of murder on a scale unimaginable today. Merrie England. Best of luck.

    • Anglicanæ

      Where do you teach Medieval history?

      • Toadspittle

        Why should it be necessary to teach something in order to have a bit of knowledge of it? Try reading a few books on the subject. If you can. You will find them in libraries. Oh. and I forgot the lice and fleas. People back then could not.

        • Anglicanæ

          Because you sound ignorant when you espouse ignorance.

          • Rob B.

            Welcome to my world, Anglicanae. People like this read a little and think they know everything…

            • Toadspittle

              Not at all, Rob B. But can you deny the existence of, say, “The Black Death,” in Merrie Olde England, which wiped out virtually half the population?
              …And what an incredibly trite reply. How can you know how much I read, and how much I think I know?
              Are you God? I see you have a halo, so maybe you are.
              In which case, I apologise.

              • Anglicanæ

                Your words were: “The Middle Ages in England (and all Europe) was a time of utter fear and terror, not joy.” That’s an ignorant way to characterize an entire epoch simply because the plague affected a century in the late middle ages.

                • Toadspittle
                  • Anglicanæ

                    My point exactly. It was primarily a 14th century devastation. Your words were a huge broad brush. Go back and read what you wrote.

                    • Toadspittle

                      The weasel word here is, “primarily.” You you really think the centuries either side were all that different?
                      Sure, my words were a broad brush, but no more huge than “Merrie England, “I’d suggest.
                      Broadly speaking, the Middle Ages were frightful.
                      The main consolation was people didn’t live very long.
                      However, if it were in my power to ship you back there to enjoy a bout of leprosy, or Herod’s Evil, for yourself – I would do so with pleasure. Sadly…

                    • Anglicanæ

                      Are you claiming the plague spanned multiple centuries?

                    • Toadspittle

                      (By the way, don’t take all this seriously, will you? I’m just teasing, to amuse you)

                    • Anglicanæ

                      Oh, I’m amused. Your comments struck me as so much artifice upon a heap of discontent with traditional Christianity. But, if it makes you any better, I wasn’t fooled for a moment.

                    • Cody

                      If you look at the painting by Bruegel, you will notice the people are delighted, active and well fed. He painted in the late 1500s, but his work is saying something about peasant life which was true across a span of centuries and such is what inspired the writer of the article.

                    • Toadspittle


                      On the other hand, Cody, you might see – and read – the above. I note everyone else has quit on this one.

                    • Cody

                      Yes, I read the page you linked to. It is true that Black Plague of 1348 did influence some depictions of Jesus, but the images on the linked page were done long after the plague of 1348 and reflected general sermons on sin and damnation and had little if anything to do with that plague. The plagues came to Europe with the brown rat from China by way of Justinian, wiping out most of the population of Europe in the 6th century. There’s another book called The Abacus and the Cross by Nancy Marie Brown which dispelled a lot of the caricaturist portrayals of the 11th century and the early middle ages. I hope to read the book recommended by the earlier link myself. There were public bath houses in the middle ages and people did eat a fair amount of poultry, even if meat was rare. I never heard of any great shake out of artists from the plague of 1348, between Giotto and say Bruegel and would have been glad to have been given some examples. 1n 1527, Rome was sacked and 50% of its 32,000 inhabitants were killed. There were not 80 million people living in Europe in 1348 or during any of the plagues prior to or after 1348.

                    • Toadspittle

                      As you write so reasonably Cody, you deserve a reasonable reply. My original comments here were to suggest that “Merrie Olde England” was, to put it charitably, a misnomer – and largely a fantasy of the likes of Fat Boy Gil, as Chesterton’s chums affectionately him, and Belloc. Of course the era had its good points, but in general, my contention is that it was much more miserable than merrie.
                      Matter of opinion, of course.

                    • Cody

                      The Elizabethan era, the battles with Scotland and submission of Catholicism were not happy times and executions became a regular part of life. But prior to the confiscation of Church lands, the peasantry lived as part of this medieval world. It was after the confiscation when the landlords threw the people off the lands to raise sheep that things really went south for the peasantry who gravitated to the cities and lived in squalor.

                      As for the commentary in the article, the writer makes a fair point that Catholicism is life affirming, citing Belloc’s happy line. By comparison, atheism cancels out the self and the nihilism of eastern philosophy, which many bought into in the last half century, does the same and the writer astutely implies nihilism as an enemy of life and affirmation, including freely dancing, etc. It’s a happy article and many who delight in the Eucharist will attest to His tender affirmation of life as well.

                    • Toadspittle

                      Well Cody, as someone who is ancient and decrepit enough to remember the arrival of Rock and Roll, in the mid 1950’s – much to my teenage delight – my experience as a Catholic boy, was that the Church was not in favour of “freely dancing,” considering it depraved and sinful.
                      Utter nonsense, of course, as you obliquely point out.
                      Naturally, my friends and girlfriends and myself, rocked and rolled as much and as often as we could.
                      In fact, as I mentioned earlier, the nuns and priests didn’t even seem too keen on the foxtrot. Not when the pelvic areas were in “dangerous”proximity.
                      A bit too “life affirming, ” perhaps?
                      Once again, a matter of opinion. To me, back in those days, the Catholic Church seemed virtually entirely composed of blue-nosed, celibate, bigots, obsessed with “immodesty,” and constantly on the look-out for glimpses of girls knickers as they joyfully danced.
                      But I was young. And things are totally different now, as our mutual friend, Anglicanæ, approvingly pointed out, citing Miss Miley Cyrus as a shining example of life-affirming youth.

                    • Cody

                      TS, If you look in the Bruegel you will see some earthy things going on. Few would call Miley Cyrus life affirming, but she does qualify as a dysfunctional sensualist. I think if one looks at old photos going back a hundred years, almost everyone looked deadly and yes there was far more emphasis on rearing or disciplining children than today, but since these are not those terrifying days of planting potatoes and chopping wood for winter, perhaps you might take a cue from the article and younger people here, and rediscover the life affirming depth of beauty in the Eucharist, which they testify to by their presence.

                    • Toadspittle

                      “TS, If you look in the Bruegel you will see some earthy things going on.”
                      Yes, Cody, that’s because it is an earthly painting, of earthly events, as interpreted by the artist – and a very magnificent one at that.
                      If you look at any painting of the crucifixion you will see some earthly things going on there, as well. What does it all “prove”? Nothing. …But then, you already know that.

                      Regarding Ms. Cyrus – it all depends on what you mean by “life affirming, ”
                      I suppose.
                      One man’s “life affirming” may well be another man’s “life denying.”
                      Nobody has a monopoly on these metaphysical notions, I suggest, whatever anybody tells you.
                      Oddly enough, I’ve spent the afternoon “chopping wood for Winter,” though I must admit to using a power saw. And planting potatoes need not be “terrifying,” provided, of course, you wear potato-proof armour and stout gardening gloves.

                    • Cody

                      I’ve lost you. What do you mean it proves nothing? It proves that Catholicism is not a gnostic or earth hating faith, it proves that we believe in the redemption of the body, this world we live in, as well as the spirit through Christ. It proves an affirmation of the future, not just the now. It proves a ton of things.

                      Miley Cyrus is a poster girl for dysfunctional sensuality and narcissism. She takes by leading others into her lonely world where there is no past and no future. She is grabbing life for what it’s worth, a lust for life, or a lust for lust, to be more accurate. It’s shallow rubbish and Europe has discovered its rewards in its own front yard.

                      Look at it now, with so few children to carry on amidst the lovely newcomers. Nobody has a monopoly on these metaphysical notions? Yes, the people who force themselves into the future with something called children have a monopoly on these notions.

                      I was just joking about the wood and potatoes being terrifying, since terrifying is how you described the middle ages.

              • Rob B.

                Is your experience of medieval history limited to the fourteenth century? Because you might want to read just a bit more.

                I also don’t need to be God to see that you don’t know much about the era: your very words betray your ignorance of the complexity of the period.

              • Anglicanæ

                You might want to remedy some of your ignorance by starting with this book, by a trained Medievalist:


        • Tony

          The plague hit Italy in 1348, and took a couple of years before it spread to England. The Middle Ages were almost over when it came. Dante died in 1321; Petrarch, supposedly the first Renaissance Man, died in 1378.

          There aren’t any books of demonology written in the Middle Ages. That too is a phenomenon of the Renaissance — the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Germany, for example. The most famous Demonology written in English was by James Stuart, that is, King James, writing at the turn of the 17th century. Medieval portrayals of demons render them as scary but also stupid, ugly, and clumsy. The more popular the portrayal, the stupider they are. See for example Cantos 21-22 of Inferno, or the stooge demons in the Wakefield Harrowing of Hell.

          In most places in Europe before the plague hit — say from 1000 to 1300 — the weather was quite warm and harvests were good, and population doubled. Medieval people had holidays — in many places, well over a hundred days out of the year. They had plenty of communal celebrations, of wonderful cultural creativity — they revived the drama, that had lain dormant for more than a millennium. There is no word for “lonely” or “loneliness” in Middle English; people were not lonely, because they lived among their fellows all the time. Meanwhile, we do not even know our next door neighbors.

          The people of the Middle Ages built the most beautiful structures ever to grace the earth — without diesel engines. They decorated them abundantly and gloriously, with what can only be called folk art. They invented the University. They invented the guilds. They invented charters for towns and home rule. They established small republics everywhere. They placed limits upon the rapacity and violence of noblemen. They invented the hospital and the orphanage and the hospice. If you read their literature, 1000-1300, sadness is the LAST impression you get of it. There are no lonely malcontents like Hamlet. There are no snarling nihilists like Don Juan. If they were so miserable, HOW COME ALL OF THEIR ART IS SO LIVELY AND COLORFUL? And if we are so happy, why is all of our art fifty shades of grey?

          • michael susce

            Could you recommend books that document what you assert. I do not have any such literature in my library. Would greatly appreciate some suggestions. Thanks in advance

            • Tony

              The arrival of the Black Death in 1348 is a firm and universally acknowledged date. Everything else I asserted is pretty much common knowledge among medievalists. A good book to look at first, very readable, and meant for a common readership, would be Regine Pernoud’s Those Terrible Middle Ages. She has mainly France in mind, but what she says applies to England also.

              To get a good feel for literary / theological art in the High Middle Ages in France, read the Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes; though they are sophisticated Christian allegories and therefore not easy to interpret straightaway. Or see the Arthurian romances of Marie de France. Or look at the “charters” that were establishing zones of local authority everywhere: Magna Carta was called Magna Carta, the Great Charter, because there had long been a whole lot of charters everywhere … This charter applied to the whole of England, so they called it the Great Charter …

            • Toadspittle

              Try “The Age of Pilgrimage, by Sumption, Michael. Very entertaining read.

          • Toadspittle

            Nicely put, Tony. Of course the Middle Ages were not entirely horrible, from start to finish. No era is. A bit of licence on my part. But neither were they all that “Merrie,” for the serfs who toiled in slavery for “Nobles” (The ones whose rapacity and violence had to be limited, where possible – and often wasn’t) and whose only consolation was dying young, often of disease or starvation. And yes, the cathedrals and works of art, that somehow got made, are amazing.
            You admit demons were “scary.” One way of putting it. Stupid or not, they were utterly terrifying to the mass of people, who were afraid to go out at night, because the devils roamed and would snatch them and drag them down to Hell, as you know.
            Incidentally, as you have decided we are talking of life up to 1300, how do Hamlet and Don Juan come to get derogatory mentions? What have they got to do with it? Why not quote Montaigne and kick his scepticism around a bit?

            • Tony

              Mr. TS: You aren’t well informed about the actual details of medieval life from 1000-1300. Who the heck was “utterly terrified” to go out at night, because there were devils around? Where do you find that stuff?

              • Toadspittle

                Tony, I got it from the book I mentioned here earlier, “The Age of Pilgrimage,” by Jonathan Sumption. Here is a sample bit from his introduction: “Unreasonable fear of the dark was one of the popular superstitions condemned by the 11th Century canonist Burchard of Worms; ‘many men dare not leave their houses before dawn, saying that evil spirits have more power to harm them before cock crow than afterwards.’ ” …There is more in the same vein, but you must look it up for yourself. You can, of course, simply refuse to believe it – and go on your Merrie Olde way. Which is what I will do on this dreary topic.

  • Toadspittle

    I remember the Catholic dances of my youth, 60 years ago. A nun walked around making sure the girls’ and boys’ bodies didn’t touch, “…below the waist.”

    • Anglicanæ

      And you prefer the Miley Cyrus school of boy-girl grinding, erm, dancing?

      • Toadspittle

        What a very dirty mind you have, Anglicane. You’ve been watching very carefully haven’t you? Naughty old thing. (Must stop this nonsense and get on with some work now. And you should turn off the rude video and do the same!)

        • Anglicanæ

          Yes, I do have a vulgar mind. Tell me something I don’t know.

          Your humor is a bit abrasive, but over all harmless as much as it is hollow. Carry on.

  • Senior lady

    I remember the fun dances at our parochial high school, and none of the nonsense of seeing how close you were dancing. They were more concerned we didn’t wear strapless formals sand boys sneaking out to smoke. Also we had wonderful wedding celebrations with live bands and dancing. Our parish even had record hops outside for the teens during the summer. However the nuns did teach us square dancing in elementary school but I never cared for it too much, although I might now. It seems things were more innocent then, and the kids growing up now are missing most of that. I also belong to an Anglo/Hispanic parish but for the most part our Anglo Masses aren’t as described by another poster, but we do have a cry room. I’m not disturbed by babies crying, just grateful that the mothers chose to have them and they’re learning at an early age what church is all about. Suffer the little children.

  • Nanci

    What a wonderfully written piece. My four young adult children and I spent a fantastic New Year’s Eve first at our parish’s Adoration Chapel then on to some dear friends for a merry time of dancing, laughter and delicious food and drink. There were about 15 families of various aged members all enjoying themselves in a most Delightful way to bring in 2015. I pray many more folks would have opportunities like this- hopefully your article as well as Mr. Esolen’s book, will help others to make this happen!

  • MK

    This is the most beautiful, inspiring piece I have read in years! Thank you! =)

  • SWF77

    As a teenager in South America, we had raucous masses meant for teen. There were hundreds of us, arriving to the park in front of church maybe an hour before to chat, socialize, some of us smoked cigarettes and drank beer. No one was getting drunk and acting foolish, though. The priest would come to the park and tell us we shouldn’t smoke because our bodies are gifts of God. He would also come chat with everyone as a friend, as someone to trust, genuinely interested in our lives, our grades, our families. He did’t scream, he didn’t order or condescend. In church, we sang, we danced, and we focused on making choices that are just, true and lesses suffering. Mass was never oppressive, it was a place that welcomed all and encouraged us to make the right choices, to grow, and to learn how to be good people to each other.

  • Karen

    Great article! Can you tell me what painting you talked about of all knowledge coming from God to all the sciences? Thank you for such a good piece.

  • Toadspittle

    …And we Catholic men should strive to emulate the bagpiper on the extreme right. Fine upstanding fellow!