Category Archives: Art

SEEKING CHRISTENDOM Now Available

I’m very proud to announce our third publication for SPIRIT OF CECILIA books, SEEKING CHRISTENDOM: AN AUGUSTINIAN DEFENSE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION.

This was a book–roughly 82,000 words–I wrote over Christmas break, 2002-2003, and then revised four times between 2003 and 2008. I wrote it in between writing the biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson as a way to understand Christian Humanism. I wanted to know its scope as well as its limits, hoping to find something to move well beyond the simple and deceptive left-right spectrum.

Here’s the opening to the original version:

The nineteenth century witnessed the flourishing of progressivist thought in social relations, politics, religion, and biology.  Everything was evolving, or so it seemed, toward the better.  Smiles were more frequent, and lives just kept getting happier, as the citizens of the world were becoming one, homogenized, contented mass.  The blessings of modernity entangled everything, East to West, claiming that no more perfect offerings needed to be made.  Once properly educated and the childhood superstitions of the race outgrown, the prophets of modernity assured us, the masses collectively would speak as a god.  In a word, according to intellectuals such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, it would soon be “utopian.” 

It was a lie.  

Modernity was a trap, and we were its greatest victims.  We failed to resist, and it greedily fed on us.  In democratic regimes, the brightly colored and candy-coated machines of bureaucracy and large corporations mechanized us, making us far less than human.  In non-democratic regimes, the damage proved much worse, nearly irreparable.  Beginning with the assassination of a relatively minor figure by an equally obscure terrorist group in 1914, the twentieth century drowned in its vast killing fields, gulags, holocaust camps, trench warfare, and weapons of mass destruction.  Whether in the camps of the European or Asian ideologues, some humans, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, viewed all other human persons as nothing more than a collection of parts, ready to be dismembered and reassembled in a Picasso-esque fashion, or perhaps simply quartered and then quartered again.  Armed with the ideological doctrines of fascism, National Socialism, and Communism, the twentieth-century became a century of the inverted vision of Ezekiel: wheels within wheels, endlessly spinning, the abyss ever expanding, ever within reach.  All that was sacred became irrelevant.  All who remained relevant were shot.  And, the State and its faithful companion, War, demanded the sacrifice of much blood to the restored gods.  Demos, Mars, and Leviathan became ascendant, taking possession of the field, and claiming victory, their appetites insatiable.

And, the Logos wept.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the amazon Kindle version ($4.99). If you’re interested in a copy to review for a print or online publication, please let us know through the contact button.

Thanks! And, enjoy.

This Strange Engine by Marillion (1997)

This Strange Engine (1997)

Twenty-two years ago, Marillion released its album, THIS STRANGE ENGINE.  It should be remembered that this is the fifth album to feature the voice and lyrics of Steve Hogarth.  As such, reviewers still had to compare the Marillion of Fish to the Marillion of Hogarth.  While THIS STRANGE ENGINE earned its just share of good reviews, it also had reviewers crying that while Fish had innovated, Hogarth rested. 

AllMusic went so far as to label THE STRANGE ENGINE “ordinary.”

If only.

Granted, Marillion had just come off two of its most powerful and unrelentingly intense albums–BRAVE and AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT–but this should not lessen the power of THIS STRANGE ENGINE.  Rather, it should add context.

Sermon: Feast of St. Stephen

From: T.S. Eliot’s MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL.

The Archbishop preaches in the Cathedral on Christmas morning, 1170.

Sermon
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate on the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overcome by mourning or mourning will be cast out by joy; so that it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word “peace.” Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples: “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbors, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember that He said also, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” So then, He gave to his disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of his first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

End of Sermon

Yes’s 90125: My Favorite Christmas Album

Ok, ok, it makes no sense. I know, I know. Yes, 90125, Christmas? What the heck, Birzer?

And, if you pushed me, I still couldn’t tell you why with any reasonable explanation why 90125 is my favorite Christmas album, but it is.

I can feel no sense of measure

No illusion as we take

Refuge in young man’s pleasure

Breaking down the dreams we make real

Like almost every male of my generation, I purchased 90125 within a week or two of its arrival in the music stores. Combining old Yes, Trevor Horn’s growing signature new wave production, Trevor Rabin’s soaring and BIG guitars, libertarian, ponderous, and (mostly) optimistic lyrics, plus some of the best vocal harmonies of the 1980s, 90125 was a wonder.

I had grown up with Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Yessongs, but I had no prejudice against the new direction of Yes. This was crisp excellence and nothing less. Granted, I missed the intricacies of Roger Dean’s artwork, but the Apple graphics were pretty good and interesting–especially given the Jobs-ian minimalist trends of the day.

Music, good for you!

Music, good to you!

So, why Christmas? Well, because once I bought the album in early November of 1983, I couldn’t stop listening to it. Long before digitized music, I listened to the vinyl with headphones, over and over again. And, one of my most vivid memories of 1983? Laying down on my bedroom floor, staring out the window into the night sky, listening to 90125 with my huge and glorious headphones on Christmas Eve.

Reasonable? No. After all, 1983, Yes, Christmas, 90125. . . Stranger Things, indeed.

Jigsaw puzzle traitors
Set to spill the beans
Constitution screw up
Shattering the dreams
Blood flows in the desert
Dark citadels burning too
Watch! Look over your shoulder

For Christmas Midnight: “What Sweeter Music” by John Rutter

What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our Heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night fly hence away!
And give the honour to this day
That sees December turn’d to May.

Why does the chilling winter’s morn
Smile like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like a meadow newly shorn,
Thus on a sudden?  Come and see
The cause why things thus fragrant be:
’Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and lustre, public mirth,
To heaven and the under-earth.

We see Him come, and know Him ours,
Who with his sunshine and his showers
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is we find a room
To welcome Him.

The nobler part
Of all the house here is the heart,
Which we will give Him; and bequeath
This holly and this ivy wreath 
To do Him honour, who’s our King
And Lord of all this revelling.

— Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

The O Antiphons: O Emmanuel

The O Antiphon for the Magnificat at Vespers on December 23:

O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed of the nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.

Healey Willan (1880-1968), professor at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and organist at St. Mary Magdalene Church in the same city, composed a setting of The Great O Antiphons of Advent for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia Publishing House in 1957.  Here’s Willan’s setting of “O Emmanuel,” as sung by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

— Rick Krueger

(Image: O Emmanuel by Linda Witte Henke, Te Deum Designs.)

The O Antiphons: O King of the Nations

The O Antiphon for Magnificat at Vespers on December 22:

O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay.

For their 2016 debut recording Drop Down, Ye Heavens, the London-based student-formed choir Siglo de Oro commissioned a new set of O Antiphons from various British composers, sung in English and set for choir and saxophone.  Here is Gareth Wilson’s yearning setting of “O King of the Nations”:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

— Rick Krueger

(Image: O Rex Gentium by Linda Henke, Te Deum Designs.)