A Bad Day For Harold, An Important Day For the World
by Walter Russell Mead
History is so long and so many events have occurred that Via Meadia rarely takes note of particular anniversaries. But October 14 is different. The Battle of Hastings was fought on this day back in 1066. King Harold of England, fresh from defeating a Viking invasion in the north, marched through the heart of England to encounter the invasion of the Normans—a southern branch of the Vikings who had settled in a part of northern France.
King Harold died in the battle, killed by an arrow through his eye. The English were divided and the nobles were bickering; there was no other leader capable of resisting the invasion, and the Duke of Normandy went on to be crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas of that year.
It was one of the most consequential battles ever fought. It would set England on a course that eventually led to the establishment of the British Empire—and the foundation of the United States. The Norman Conquest left its stamp on English culture and politics in ways that are still with us; its impact on the development of the English language was especially strong. The Norman conquerors brought the French language with them, and while the English of the majority would ultimately triumph, the language that emerged from the Norman dominion would be profoundly changed. For two hundred years, English disappeared as a language of learned and powerful people. In the royal court and the palaces of the nobility, French was spoken. The Church continued to use Latin. English was the language in which rich people spoke to their servants. By the time the French conquerors began to assimilate to the language and culture of the people they had conquered, English had changed.
Modern English speakers can’t make any sense out of the Anglo-Saxon dialects spoken in England before the Conquest. The vocabulary and grammar in many ways are more like modern German than anything we recognize as English. But by the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, something like modern English began to emerge and it had three traits that still mark it today: a stripped down grammar, an unusually rich and subtle vocabulary, and utterly irrational spelling.
Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, had a very Germanic grammar. Verb conjugations were complicated, nouns and pronouns had different endings depending on how they were used in a sentence, and adjectives “agreed” with their nouns in number, case and gender. (If we hadn’t cleared all this useless rubbish out of the language we would still be spouting nonsense like this: I sit on thi biggi rocki, I throw thum biggum rockum, tho rocko is bigo. Tha girla, however, is biga and I go with thai biggai girlai to thi picturi showi. And so on.) That all changed after the Conquest, and by the time Chaucer was writing, English was well on the way to becoming the sleek and simple grammatical engine that it is today, freeing up untold billions of braincells for more useful tasks.
This grammatical simplicity is one of the reasons that English has become such a global language. Spelling aside, it is much easier to learn than languages with more complicated grammatical structures. Irregularities and verbal complexities are continually being eroded as the English language continues down the path of grammatical simplification on which William the Conqueror quite unintentionally set it.
At the same time, the presence of two languages side by side not only gave English a bigger stock of words than most languages have, it made English a language of subtle connotations. Animals in the field where the peasants dealt with them were known by their Saxon names: cow, pig, sheep. Killed, dressed and served up at feasts to the nobility, they became beef, pork and mutton — all based on the French words for those animals. English had parallel sets of words for body parts and functions, the “couth” ones usually coming from French, the uncouth ones from plain Saxon. Today’s English still follows this pattern: there are more words in our vocabulary than in most languages, and word choice can mean everything in English prose. In the famous examples from Time magazine, “Truman slunk from the room to huddle with his cronies,” while “Ike strode from the chamber to confer with his advisers.” We have our blunt Anglo-Saxon epithets and our precise Norman-French euphemisms, and the habit of hospitality, the openness to loan words from many languages, continues to enrich English to this day.
Unfortunately, the Conquest struck a mighty blow against sensible spelling in English as well. With Germanic and French sounds mingling in the vocabulary and pronunciation changing from generation to generation as the two language streams reacted on one another, vowels changed their quality and consonants did strange things. The two letter combination “gh” once meant something; now we pronounce it like an “f” (tough), like a regular “g” (ghost) or like nothing at all (Hillsborough). French vowel sounds mutated into English ones, gutteral Germanic sounds got frenchified, consonant clusters rose and fell, accentuation wreaked havoc with vowel quantities and bit by bit we created the insane orthographic mess that we thrash about in today.
An ear for the difference between Saxon and Norman-French based words remains important even in popular literature. In the Harry Potter books, the good characters often have trustworthy Saxon or Celtic surnames (Weasley, Dumbledore) while you can tell the bad guys by their evil French names like Malfoy (bad faith) and Voldemort (flight of death). “Muggles” is about as Anglo-Saxon as an invented word can get, and to English ears it sounds like a word that ought to exist even if you have never heard it before.
The historical roots of modern English play an even larger role in Tolkien’s work. Tolkien is one of those rare writers who can give you good Anglo-Saxons like the Riders of Rohan (whose vocabulary and poetic meters are pure Anglo-Saxon) and good people who use a more Norman and Latinate vocabulary—like the people of Gondor and the elves. Tolkien’s own sense of the evolution of the English language influences the Lord of the Rings at almost every level.
That’s what a major historical event does; almost 1000 years later two of the biggest phenomena in our popular culture still bear its imprint. Understanding the marks that big events make on our lives is in my mind the essence of a true education in the liberal arts. That kind of education changes the way you see the world around you, it changes your relationship to the language you speak, it helps you understand the cultural structures and expectations that you and the people around you.
I certainly find that my knowledge of the history of the English language and of the relationship between linguistic history and social and political history helps me wield that language more effectively in my work—and it vastly increases my pleasure and insight when I read English poetry and prose. Knowing where your words come from and how they came to mean what they do is part of the knowledge young writers need to develop it. In English, precisely because we have such a wide choice of words, knowing how to choose your words wisely can make all the difference in the world.
[Image: King Harold is slain in one of the last panels of the Bayeaux Tapestry.]
As we are making preparations for the feast of Pentecost, don’t forget to set aside a few minutes to prepare your mind and heart for the graces the Holy Spirit has in store for you on this great feast.
Fr. Bramwell has provided some thought provoking questions to prepare us for his presentation this Sunday!
1. How does Bernini’s architecture of the Altar of the Chair capture the meaning of Pentecost?
2. Why are praying and believing so closely intertwined?
3. How do the Scriptures capture the idea of the time being ready for the descent of the Spirit?
4. What do the Scriptures explain about the way the Spirit works?
5. How do the the Scriptures explain the way the Incarnate Son works?
Do you want some extra material to think and pray about before we come together this Sunday for this exciting presentation? If so, Msgr. Charles Pope has submitted these discussion questions for your reflections. Feel free to pray through them, journal about them, and maybe even discuss them during dinner at the event this Sunday!
1. Since we should all be ready for our own death and cannot know the time, why should the details of the Last days excite or interest us?
2. Regarding Protestant interpretations, what about the Last Days do you think they are in error about?
3. Given the return of our bodies to the dust and the fact that some bodies are lost, how will the body rise?
4. What does it mean to say that Jesus will come on the clouds? Are these real clouds?
5. What are you doing to get ready to meet God?
Discussion Questions for Our Upcoming Talk – Living Bread: A Defense of Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist
Want to prepare yourself to get the most out of Tim Staples’ upcoming talk? Spend some time thinking through these discussion questions. Make sure you use your Bible for this!
1. What is the Biblical evidence for the Catholic belief in the Eucharist, beyond John 6?
2. Are there any Old Testament texts that help us understand the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist?
2. What does Jesus mean when He says in John 6:63, “My words are spirit and life”?
3. How does Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist restore us to God’s original plan for man in paradise?
4. How can we best explain the mystery of the Eucharist to those who say it is just a symbol?
For those interested in diving deeper in their adult education, we have some discussion questions for you to ponder before our talk this upcoming Sunday – On the Eigth Day: Appearances of the Resurrected with Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo. Quiz yourself and discuss what you think with a friend!
1. What does it mean that Jesus “appeared” to the Apostles?
2. How was it possible for Jesus to both eat and walk through walls after the resurrection?
3. Who did Jesus appear to first: Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, the Mother of God or the Apostles?
4. How many times did Jesus appear after the resurrection?
5. Why did the people that he appeared to “not recognize him”?
6. Where were Jesus and the apostles when Jesus ascended into heaven?
ICC scholar, Robert R. Reilly, writes in the Wall Street Journal about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS. You can read the article here.
You can watch or listen to presentations he has given to the Institute of Catholic Culture on the subject of Islam through the links below.
Ryan T. Anderson will be speaking for the Institute of Catholic Culture on September 15 on Liberty, Religion & Matrimony: The Future of Marriage & Religious Freedom. He has also just published a new book: Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.
There was a bit of a controversy over Dr. Anderson’s book on Amazon, with many gay activists posting negative reviews (without having previously read the book). Clearly, he has touched a nerve. Read the article here.
Make sure you mark your calendar to join the ICC for Ryan Anderson’s presentation on Tuesday, September 15! Details can be found here.
We have a number of new audio files up for your listening pleasure. Since our last update, we have posted over 50 hours of audio, but I wanted to highlight the following 6:
Spirits of Light & Darkness: A Study of Angels & Demons with Peter Kreeft
Encountering Christ: Discussion on the New Evangelization with Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo
Dream of the Rood: A Poetic Vision of the Cross of Christ with Prof. Ben Reinhard, Ph.D.
Science and Faith: The Myth of Conflict with Prof. Stephen M. Barr, Ph.D.
Pange Lingua: Celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi with Fr. Paul Scalia
Men Should Be Men: Combating Androgyny with Our True Identity with Fr. Eric Bergman
There are many, many more newly posted as well, so please browse our Media Library for more audio recordings.
Also, we have two 3 lectures coming up, dealing with the issue of communism. For all of those history lovers out there, you wont want to miss these talks! Coming up first we have Reagan, Thatcher & the Pope: The Fall of the Soviet Union with Prof. Rafael Madan, J.D., and then the two part series Catholicism, Communism & the Common Good with Prof. Patrick Bracy Bersnak. These lectures will examine the conflict between Catholicism and Communism at the level of doctrine and politics, with special reference to their rival conceptions of the common good, as well as how three individuals — Reagan, Thatcher, and the Pope — saw beyond the deadlock of the Cold War and dared to move against an evil empire forged in blood and rejection of God.
As always, these lectures are free of charge, open to the public, and for our out of town viewers, available to watch live in our Live Broadcast Studio!
We have new audio posted! Please check out:
Kingdom of the Cults: Scientology, Baha’i, & the Masonic Lodge, with Fr. Randy Sly
From Corruption to Christ: Saving Society with the Salt of Sanctity, with Bishop Robert Morlino
Jolly St. Nick? Reclaiming Christmas for Christ, with Christopher Check
A friend of the Institute from Winchester, VA sent us a challenging article posted at the Patheos Blog about the crisis in children’s catechesis. A snippet:
When you monkey around with Church teaching, bad things happen. We’ve identified a problem — kids whose parents aren’t disciples — and we’re so busy “solving” the crisis by heroically stepping in to replace the parents, that we’ve overlooked a small detail: Doing so is contrary to the Catholic faith.
Parents, not catechists, are the people ordained by God to pass on the faith to their children. The mission of the Church is to make disciples of those parents, and equip them to teach their children. If we have to choose between programs for adults and programs for children, adults are the priority. Not because we don’t care about kids, but because we want what is best for kids.
What is best for kids is what is best for adults and what is best for the Catholic faith: Adult disciples passing on the faith within their families.
Read the whole blog post here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz/2015/03/the-hero-complex-that-is-destroying-the-catholic-faith/#ixzz3VJJBSd1n
We have a number of new audio files posted to our website for your listening pleasure:
Galileo on Trial: Why the Church Was Right, with Christopher Check, President of Catholic Answers
The Armenian Death March & the Formation of the Modern Middle East, with Prof. Rafael Madan, J.D.
Born Without Sin: A Study of the Immaculate Conception, with Msgr. Charles Pope
Jews, Christians & Christians – Praying to the Same God of Abraham?, with Robert Reilly
Peace on Earth & the Sword of Christ: Understanding Authentic Peace With the Church Fathers, with Fr. Francis Peffley
Catholic Answers has a new podcast – Focus. The aim of the podcast is to highlight “in-depth conversations with Catholic leaders, newsmakers, and unsung heroes of faith.”
Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo, executive director of the Institute of Catholic Answers, was recently profiled on this great new podcast. Click here to listen to the podcast!
As we approach the end of February, I thought it would be helpful to review the education the ICC has provided over the last month. If you’ve missed any of these – visit the event pages (all the titles below are hyperlinked) to watch the videos! Since it’s Lent, what better occasion do you have to sit down and spend some time learning about Our Lord and the Faith he has entrusted to us?
Our major weekend event in February was “Confronting Attila the Hun: the Life of Pope St. Leo the Great.” This was a great event, beginning with a hearty chicken soup supper. The hall at Our Lady of Hope was packed! But once everyone was fed, Chris Check told a powerful story, outlining the life and influence of Pope St. Leo the Great, the world of the 5th century Roman Empire, including the barbarian invasions and Christological controversies occurring at the time.
We also hosted a two-part series with Professor Steve Weidenkopf on “The Baptism of Clovis & the Conversion of Europe.” (A special thanks to Prof. Weidenkopf, who filled in for Dr. McGuire at very late notice!) Prof. Weidenkopf covered an enormous amount of history, outlining the early Roman world and the other major tribes – Goths, Burgundians, Vandals, and Franks, as well as the growing Christian influence over the Roman Empire. Prof. Weidenkopf then led us through Clovis’ baptism (influenced by his wife, St. Clotilda), and how the newly-baptised Clovis led to the conversion of the tribes and the conquest of Gaul (modern-day France). Prof. Weidenkopf concluded with a reflection on why Clovis’ baptism matters – not only for the future of Europe, but for each of us as Catholics baptized into the Body of Christ.
Finally, Msgr. Charles Pope gave a beautiful Lenten retreat this past Sunday – “Carrying Our Cross: An ICC Lenten Retreat.” Msgr. Pope spoke to those present about the Cross – and how we are each called to take up our own cross and follow Christ. Msgr. Pope didn’t mince words, acknowledging the tremendous difficulties of living as a Catholic in our post-modern world, but exhorting all present to live out their faith in the midst of their struggles. Following Msgr. Pope’s remarks, the 200 attendees retired to the Church, where we prayed Compline (a special thanks to members of Chorus Sine Nomine for helping lead Compline!). At the end of the evening, about 50 young adults and Msgr. Pope returned to the hall to have a special Young Adults Reception, where Msgr. Pope answered questions about “Living Lent in a Hostile World.”
Msgr. Pope will be giving the second part of his retreat this coming Sunday at St. Agnes – so please make your plans to attend!
I hope this was a helpful review! Make sure to mark your calendars for all the phenomenal events we have coming up during Lent – please click here to view our upcoming events.
Rorate Caeli posted a translation of a recent commentary by Italian journalist Alessandro Gnocchi, who has some hard words to say regarding the state of our Church today.
Truth, with a capital T, succumbs to expediency. Pilate, who prefers to remain a friend of Caesar, never stops looking for fellow travelers….we are in a battle to preserve the Catholic faith, and all the battles being fought on various fronts, even those that are so important like moral truth, are only the terrain of confrontation in a war that is much deeper, involving metaphysics and religion. The most important thing in play is faith. But faith is preserved whole and intact or it is lost. You cannot preserve just parts of it according to taste or expediency.
As mother and shepherd of our spiritual lives, the Church places before us the holy season of Lent, opening the way for repentance and reform. How our human nature revolts against such ideas! Sitting on our comfortable couches and enjoying the luxuries of modern life, our fleshly nature cringes at the least encroachment or inconvenience. As anyone who has taken the season of Lent seriously knows well, the war between the flesh and spirit is real. In light of this war, our Holy Mother, the Church, takes steps to guide her children toward repentance and restoration of communion with God by little steps, always vigilant that she not lose even one of her little lambs.
Thus, as we enter into the great season of Lent, the Church places before her children what can only be called the “at least” goals. Having not only Saints, but also sinners in her hands, the Church guides her adherents with a gentle hand, being careful not to overwhelm the least among us with a teaching that is too difficult to follow. We must “at least” go to Church on Sundays. We must not eat food for “at least” one hour before communion. And during the Lenten season, we must “at least” abstain from meat on Fridays, and keep the sacred fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. How many of us, hearing these “at least” teachings, take them as our ultimate goal, rather than taking them for what they are? …[Continue Reading]