« September 2023 »
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
You are not logged in. Log in
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Movie Review
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile
Open Community
Post to this Blog
Sunday, 8 July 2018
Topic: America

Alexander Hamilton was the embodiment of the Federalist party, the centrist party that grew out of the debates over the Constitution.  He was a walking contradiction insofar as he appeared to champion the tenets of a democratic republic and yet, ever just below the surface, were his tendencies toward the aristocratic.  While his contribution to the embryonic political discourse of our country is undeniable, nearly twenty years of teaching American history has made one thing clear about Hamilton above all others—he is decidedly my least favorite of the Founding Fathers.  He is the quintessential loudmouth of early American history, a trait which would land him in trouble on more than one occasion.


For all the elitism he espoused in adulthood, his beginnings were inauspicious to say the least.  He was born out of wedlock in either 1755 or 1757, to James A. Hamilton and Rachel Faucette, on the island of Nevis in the West Indies.  James abandoned them both allegedly to escape a charge of bigamy, as Rachel was married.  She took young Alex and his half-brother, but later died of yellow fever.  A wealthy New York merchant later took him in.  Hamilton proved a capable clerk in his firm, but was denied education in the church schools run by the Anglican Church due to the illegitimacy of his birth.  Private tutors were hired to round out his education, and he read on his own as well.


Young Hamilton entered study at Kings College—now Columbia—in New York as a private student in the fall of 1773.  Here he was not only studious but also exposed to the revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment.  Hamilton and many of his fellow students also joined the militia in anticipation for the coming conflict with the British.  He was forced to discontinue his studies in 1774 when the college closed as a result of the British taking and occupation of the city.  Upon the conclusion of the Revolutionary War Hamilton successfully passed the bar exam in 1782 and entered into a law practice.


During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton served with distinction in a number of engagements including the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.  He fought in both infantry and artillery units of the various New York guards.  As Hamilton’s talents brought him to the attention of the upper echelons of the Continental Army, he was offered a number of posts as aide to generals such as Greene and Washington.  However, he knew if his aspirations were to carry him to his lofty goals, Washington’s was the invitation he could not refuse, and thus accepted the position with the rank of Lt. Colonel.  Serving alongside other aides, such as the Marquis de Lafayette and John Laurens, Hamilton handled correspondence with Congress, diplomacy, and other such tasks as Washington needed.  What he desperately wanted was a field command, and when Washington refused, Hamilton threw a temper-tantrum and threatened to resign, going so far as to write a letter of resignation with his commission enclosed, all for which Washington reprimanded him.  Washington gave him new orders in the summer of 1781 and he finally did command in the field, perhaps most notably at the Battle of Yorktown in the fall of 1781.


Hamilton likely would have been more happy in the Early Republic had it not been for his main point of contention with his new country.  His own words best express this in an observation of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation: “The fundamental defect in Congress is a want of power.”  That just about sums up Hamilton: never enough central power.  He made vocal his critiques of the lack of centrism in the new government.  During the early 1780s Hamilton did articulate, amongst other things, two behemoth challenges to the new nation.  For one, the Articles of Confederation were wholly inflexible as a system of laws.  Secondly, paying soldiers who fought in the war their due pensions was critical, but the country was plunged into depression because of the absence of standardized currency, its overprinting, the sale of bonds that could now not be paid back, and the crushing debt of the states (and in 1784 Spain closed off access to New Orleans to American merchants, fearing the westward movement of the country).


In 1782, Hamilton went back to New York, where he undertook a number of enterprises, including the law.  In the ensuing years he served in the New York county and state legislatures, founded the Bank of New York, and reopened Kings College as Columbia University.  The state legislature chose him as delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  Here Hamilton wasted no time in making his monarchist ideas plain, by early on making a speech to the convention in which he advocated a president and senators be elected for life, contingent on their good behavior.  By his own admission Hamilton felt that the English hereditary model was the best, and the one the country should follow, an “elective monarchy.”  Having fought just that system, needless to say most present did not favor such extravagant and arepublican sentiments.

During the course of the convention, Hamilton aligned with the partisans known as Federalists, who favored a strong central government over strong state governments.  Along with John Jay and James Madison, he wrote the Federalist Papers, a collection of articles defending the Constitution.  Upon completion of the Constitution, Hamilton thought it incomplete but signed it anyway, thinking it superior to the previous Articles of Confederation.  The Anti-federalists, such as Patrick Henry, insisted that the document needed a Bill of Rights to ensure individual rights were proteted, which it did receive.


With the election of George Washington in 1789 as president, Hamilton served as the first Secretary of the Treasury.  His extreme Federalism stood in sharp contrast to the politics of Washington’s Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, which put them at odds for much of the time.  Hamilton wasted no time in plying his ideas to solving the bleak financial woes of the country, proposing that a national bank be created to assume the debts of the individual states, and better manage them.  This idea of course made the farming population and Jefferson’s followers reel, as they saw potential for a small group of elites taking control of the finances of the country to the detriment of the population.  Even Washington was hesitant over the idea, but eventually signed it into existence.  However, Hamilton illustrated his chronic inability to relate to the common American of the day in his over-arching economic solution, the Hamilton Plan.  In order to pay off debts more quickly, the plan enacted a number of taxes which Hamilton considered innocuous.  Now, if you were a big distiller, you would be less impacted, but if you’re a small farmer out on the frontier, distilling whiskey for personal and more importantly for taking to market (almost as currency itself), you’ll be much less apt to.  After all, you just returned home from fighting a war largely over—you guessed it: TAXES.  Now the government can’t pay your pension and they want you to pay a tax.  How would you feel about Hamilton’s Plan?  In 1794 farmers on the western Pennsylvania frontier revolted over this very issue, taking collectors captive, and organizing militia against the tax. Washington sent in federal troops and the rebellion ended without much bloodshed, but it fundamentally illustrates how ill-suited Hamilton was to the task.  His support of expansive tariffs only further illustrates how removed his interests were from the 97% of persons in America who were farmers, whom tariffs helped but little.


As his allegiance and leadership in the Federalist party intensified, Hamilton found himself increasingly at odds with Jefferson.  Jefferson wearied so of the conflict that he resigned his post in 1793.  Hamilton continued to favor trade and increased relations with Britain, and eyed the French and their revolution with increasing suspicion.  In 1795 he resigned from his post, pursuing his own political interests.  In 1797 he was involved in America’s first sex scandal, whose roots went back to 1791, when he had an affair with one Maria Reynolds, who had come to him under the auspices of needing help to escape an abusive husband.  James, the husband, was aware of the situation and used it to blackmail Hamilton for money.  Several journals covered the story when the evidence was leaked.


As the century drew to a close, Hamilton was certainly still in the public eye.  Indeed, President John Adams appointed him a Major General in the Army as the Quasi-War with the French escalated.  In the election of 1800 he not only worked against his nemesis, Democratic Republican presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson, but sought to undermine John Adams as well, using newspapers and pamphlets to attack both.  Adams’ standing amongst the Federalists was forever damaged as a result.


Thomas Jefferson was elected to the presidency in 1800, and it was actually under his presidency that the country righted itself economically.  In 1803, in an unprecedented act of executive privilege, Jefferson discovered Napoleon was selling Louisiana (recently reacquired from Spain), and bout if for fifteen million dollars, more than doubling the size of the country.  Fearing that this new portion of the country would draw farmers of the Democratic-Republican bent into its farthest recesses, and tilt the balance of power in their favor, a group of northern Federalists threatened to secede from the Union (yes, long before the southern states ever though about it) and form a new northern confederacy.  They believed that the winner of the New York gubernatorial election of 1804 would likely be the president of the proposed northern confederacy.  Morgan Lewis won, in no small part due to Hamilton, but Lewis’ opponent, Aaron Burr, believed Hamilton had besmirched his character.  Aaron deemed it a matter of honor and demanded an apology from Hamilton, who claimed he could not recall the insult.  A pistol duel ensued on July 11, 1804 on the west bank of the Hudson.  Burr’s shot fatally wounded Hamilton, and he died the following day.  Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, but neither charge stuck, and he completed his term as Vice President.  This series of events, consequently, heralded the beginning of the end for Hamilton’s beloved Federalist party.


There endeth Alexander Hamilton.  I don’t like him—I never have.  He was an effete snob of a politician, despite having made some contributions to our national foundation.  His elitist ideas and monarchial tendencies have left us with a national bank that indeed, is controlled by private interests to this day.  Hamilton had no faith in the American people and felt unless they were governed with an iron hand, they would break down into a mob.   His ambitions and beliefs certainly could have made him a tool in larger, more clandestine schemes to align the countries of the world under one banner.  In the end I suppose his legacy is that he had a talent for ending up on the right side of American causes, and the wrong end of the political and economic trajectories of the country.


Posted by anthrojudd at 5:59 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 9 July 2018 3:06 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 2 July 2018
Topic: America

*This is a continuation of the series on the Founders I began last summer.

John Adams always seemed to me to be the outspoken voice for the cause for American Independence.  If Thomas Jefferson was the soft-spoken and thoughtful voice, Adams was certainly the loud and emotive voice.  Benjamin Rush, physician and founder in his own right, once remarked that Adams and Jefferson were the north and south poles of the Revolution respectively.  I think Dr. Rush’s sentiment is accurate.


John Adams was born to John Adams, Sr. and Susanne Boylston Adams on October 30, 1735 in Braintree (modern Quincy), Massachusetts.  He had a fairly normal New England Puritan upbringing   His initial education began at age six at a Dame School for boys, and continued with a sound classical education at a Latin School under Joseph Cleverly and Joseph March, despite Adams’ own desire to become a farmer.  At sixteen John Adams entered Harvard College in 1751, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree.  After a few years of teaching school, and despite his father’s wishes that he become a Puritan minister, Adams determined to became a man of distinction and read the law, eventually becoming a lawyer.  Although he eventually became a Unitarian, he retained some elements of his Puritan faith.  He married Abigail Smith on October 25, 1764.


In 1770, tension between the British soldiers stationed in New England after the French and Indian War and the local colonists reached a climax.  Add to that over five years of egregious taxes levied to pay for a war that the colonists largely fought, and you have a recipe for bad blood between the two parties.  On March 5, 1770, a group of British soldiers fired into a group of Bostonians as the latter approached their garrison.  I find that many of my students—and many Americans indeed—don’t realize that John Adams was the attorney who defended the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre.  As you might imagine, his cousin and leader of the Sons of Liberty, Samuel Adams, and many other Boston patriots, were incensed over the issue.  John Adams was faced with the unenviable task of defending the soldiers in an incident that left six Bostonians dead, which his cousin had spun as “The Boston Massacre.”  His clients were acquitted, except for the two who had fired.  His defense not only increased his business, but in a round-about way, his devotion to the stubborn nature of the facts, convinced his cousin Sam that he was indeed a man of integrity.


Adams had been a staunch opponent of the Stamp Act and of course the fact that the colonies had no representation in the British Parliament.  He was well aware of the increasing disconnect between Britain and the colonies.  The British East India Company, the juggernaut corporation of the Empire that fielded its own army and navy, was on the verge of bankruptcy in the early 1770s and to pay for it—you guessed it—the genius of the Parliament was to tax tea in the colonies.  For the more patriotic groups like the Sons of Liberty, this was the straw that broke the camels back, and Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty dressed up as Iroquois Indians, stole onto an East India ship moored in Boston Harbor, and proceeded to dump 342 chests of tea into the icy water (millions of dollars of adjusted loss for a company on the verge of floundering).  This was actually one of several tea parties that took place in ports across the colonies, but the effect was the same—an angered mother country.  Parliament passed the Coercive Acts that effectively shut down Boston.  The following year, each of the colonies sent delegates to the first Continental Congress in 1774.  The Adams boys were among the Massachusetts delegates, as their precious Boston was the epicenter of angst between the British and the colonists.


In 1775, Adams attempted to move the Congress further away from reconciliation with Britain, especially after Lexington and Concord.  He passionately implored the Congress to support the militia, and eventually proposed the Continental Army, nominating then Colonel George Washington as Commander in Chief of such a force.  In 1776, he served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, along with Benjamin Franklin, and the author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson.  He refused to write the document, telling Jefferson that Adams himself was obnoxious, and that Jefferson was a better writer and a Virginian, and that a Virginian had to at the head of the effort.  On July 2, 1776, a draft was ready, and finalized on July 4, with member delegates signing as they could throughout the summer.  In 1778, he joined Franklin in France to press the cause of America in that country.  From 1779 to 1780 he continued his efforts in Europe, begrudgingly and often abrasively learning the language of diplomacy.  After the Revolutionary War, Adams continued to serve as Minister to Britain.


One sacrifice of Adams that has always stood out to me is the colossal personal loss of time with his family. He was away from Abigail and his children for years.  What more can be said of such commitment, and likewise the support of his family.


Adams, like his peers, recognized that America was on shaky ground—an economic depression in fact.  The first order of business was to replace the Articles of Confederation with a Constitution more adaptable and malleable.  When this was accomplished in 1787, it seemed as if the young republic could now move forward politically.  Adams became vice-president to the newly elected George Washington, and also found himself in the leadership echelons of the new Federalist party.  In 1796, Adams was elected president, inheriting many of the troubles of the previous administration, predominantly the tenuous balance of relations with Britain and France, and the potential war with the latter.  Adams’ ever-increasing favor for a more highly centralized government along Federalist lines set him farther and farther apart from his old friend, vice president, and new political enemy, Thomas Jefferson, who was the leader of the Democratic Republicans.


Adams lost the election of 1800 after a nasty campaign.  He and Jefferson both took shots at one another in the newspapers of the day.  Be that as it may, Adams was happy to return to his farm, Peacefield, in Quincy, to enjoy retirement.  In 1812, Jefferson and Adams were able to reconcile their differences, with much thanks to Dr. Benjamin Rush.  Abigail died in 1818, but John Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy become president.


John Adams passed away on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826.  In a supreme irony, Thomas Jefferson died earlier on the same day.  The north and south poles of the American Revolution left this life together: friends—enemies—and friends again.

Posted by anthrojudd at 12:01 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Saturday, 22 July 2017
Topic: America


My introduction to Benjamin Franklin was very organic, and took place amidst the backdrop of a farming and ranching community in West Texas.  I can remember very clearly reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin when I was about ten or eleven.  My late grandmother, Evelyn “Mimmy” Martin, had a vast library and I made good use of it.  On Sundays after church, we would go over to Mimmy’s to eat lunch.  After she’d fed us all like kings, most of the adults talked at the table and the kids were on their own for a couple of hours.  Generally, playing of some sort was in order, but I had been bitten by the reading bug.  One afternoon I spied an aging copy of Franklin’s testimony.  Those yellowing pages seemed to call out to me—not only had Franklin been a prominent figure in my Social Studies classes, but my father and Mimmy had spoken of him in the context of our founding, and of course, in our little town there was a chain of the small department store Ben Franklin’s, complete with its key symbol (an homage to Franklin’s famous electric experiment).  So, over the course of several Sundays, I would find a quiet spot and read Franklin’s story.  Needless to say, I was hooked, impressed, and inspired.  I still have that old copy, and read from it periodically.


Now, again, my aim in these essays is not to be wholly biographical, but rather to convey some observations that I have gained over the years against the backdrop of the lives of Founding Fathers.  In this case, the Elder Sage of the founders, teaches us almost at every turn of his life, and hence I must be selective.  From his childhood to the end of his life, Franklin has something to say on a myriad of subjects.


Benjamin Franklin was born to Josiah and Abiah Franklin on January 17, 1706 in Boston.  He had a New England Puritan upbringing.  His father indeed, had hoped he might apply his talents to the ministry.  He gave him a collection of sermons from Cotton Mather, renowned minister whom young Ben would eventually meet.  Ben was apprenticed to his brother as a printer, learning the trade of typesetting and publication, but ever a victim of his brother’s overbearing discipline.  During this time young Ben polished off his education by reading everything he could.  Perhaps his most cunning achievement while in Boston was that of the Silence Dogood Letters, in which young Franklin wrote a series of editorials as an older woman arguing for the expanded rights and freedoms of women.  When his brother discovered the source, he once again beat Ben, which convinced him he had to leave, and leave he did to Philadelphia.


Young Ben quickly put his talents to work in the printing trade, working first for an established operation, and eventually for himself.  He also established the junto, and organization of entrepreneuring tradesmen.  To say he was a prominent printer is a gross understatement.  His publications such as the newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette and especially Poor Richards Almanac made him both famous and wealthy.  Franklin was a self-made man, exemplifying the value of industry for generations of American entrepreneurs.


Franklin’s curiosity about the natural world was a reflection of the Enlightenment movement of which he was a part.  His trade may have been printing, but science was his passion.  His experiments in electricity are well-known, from the famous kite experiment to his development of the lightning rod.  His work on the Atlantic currents revolutionized Trans-Atlantic travel.  Population demography, meteorology, music, hydrodynamics, and much more all fell within the spectrum of his work and interest.


By the middle of the eighteenth century, Franklin like many other people in the colonies thought of the American colonies as British, but simultaneously unique.  With the advent of the French and Indian War, a testing ground of this ideology presented itself.  Franklin himself had proposed the Albany Plan of Union as a sort of mutual defensive league, but also to create a confederation.  The British government rejected it, but its proposal marked the articulation of a growing idea that the colonies were something other than what Britain considered them to be: an American nation.


From the mid-1750s to the mid-1770s, Ben Franklin spent much of his time in London, England, and also visiting various places in Europe.  He was a colonial agent of a kind, acting as a voice for the colonies, and conversely, a conduit for British policy conveyance to the colonies.  While in Britain, he continued his scientific work and travelled Europe with his son William.  Both the University of St. Andrews and Oxford University granted Franklin honorary doctorates in light of his scientific achievements.  He was quite the celebrity in Britain, and became known as “Dr. Franklin.”  However, the warm embrace of Britain would grow colder with Franklin’s gradual disenchantment with laws such as the Sugar Act and Stamp Act, ill-conceived measures for covering the costs of the French and Indian War.  While trying to convey the concerns of the colonies, Franklin was dressed down by an indignant parliament for his appeal to repeal the latter act.  At this point, Franklin was not only aggravated with the British system, but had come to the conclusion that Britain was growing increasingly more difficult to count on for rational governance of the colonies.  As such, he returned to the colonies from Britain in 1775, altogether giving up his office as colonial agent.


After the fiasco in Britain, and upon hearing more on the Patriot cause, Franklin had little moral or logical recourse than to throw his lot in with the fledgling movement.  His voice as a delegate from Pennsylvania to the meetings of the Continental Congress carried immeasurable weight.  He took his place amongst the philosophers of the American Revolution alongside Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  The work of those three in fact produced The Declaration of Independence in 1776, an amalgamation of Enlightenment ideas and grievances with the British government, and the product of correspondence between the three.  He was also the first postmaster general, and for the duration of Revolutionary War, plied American interests as ambassador to France, from 1776 to 1785.  Returning to America, he participated in the Constitutional Convention and the partisan debate that ensued, ultimately culminating in the creation of the Constitution.


Franklin, like Jefferson, seems to have been a man of his own religious persuasion, with Christianity being the basis.  He undeniably was a Deist, praying to a creator, and even extolling the moral system of Jesus as the best, but speculating on the nature of Jesus in relation to the creator.  Nonetheless, despite his tendency toward libertinism, he was a proponent of religion, and its various practices.  He was also a Freemason and a Grandmaster, and at least in the years leading up to the Revolution, seems to have been moderately active.


Posted by anthrojudd at 11:59 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Friday, 14 July 2017
Topic: America

Historian Joseph Ellis called Thomas Jefferson “the American Sphinx” in his biography of the same name.  Behind that subtle smile—a riddle to the rest of us—lay the intricate cloud of knowing and curiosity, and the wisdom garnered from triumphs and hardships.  The author of our Declaration of Independence and the architect of our society, Jefferson remains an inspiration, and a mystery to this day.


Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia on April 13, 1743 to Peter and Jane Randolph Jefferson.  He was born to the Virginia planter aristocracy.  His parents saw to it that Jefferson was classically educated with a round of tutors and church schools.  Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, distracting himself as many young men do at college, with all manner of extra-curricular activities.  After the first year in a moment of clarity, he was appalled at how much time he had wasted.  From then on, he was said to be at his books 15 of the 24 hours in a day.  I routinely remind my students of this Jeffersonian habit when they whine.  Jefferson’s capacity to absorb and master information from a broad array of disciplines is nothing short of intimidating.  Yet, he put in the time to master them, classics: romance languages, history, calculus, architecture, philosophy, politics, and the law.  Jefferson eventually read the law with prominent lawyer George Wythe and became a lawyer himself.


We professors of history often speak too lightly of the influence of the classics on the Founding Fathers.  It was more than mere influence—it was direction.  The literature of Greeks, Romans, and Jews proved to be a marked one, and perhaps no better illustrated than in Jefferson himself, who could read both Latin and Greek.  He made regular allusions to Athenian Democracy and the Roman Republic, and his favorite pastime was to read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey….in Greek.  How many of our politicians today can say that they are read in the classics, much less have the ability to read them in the original languages?  Perhaps that is part of the problem.


After college Jefferson returned to his recently acquired plantation, which included Monticello.  There were scant buildings on the premises of the estate initially, but Jefferson’s vision of a grand scientific plantation slowly took shape.  He practiced law and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, while he gradually expanded his classically-inspired Monitcello.  In 1772, he married Martha Wayles Skelton.  While Jefferson had a substantial number of slaves himself, he took a number of cases from slaves with the intent of acquiring their manumission.  He argued again and again against it, but Jefferson—in a world of slave-owning planters—could find no traction, and when the American Independence movement became a reality, he put emancipation on the back burner (to revisit), fearing he would lose his political voice with regard to independence if he pressed the issue.


With the passage of the Intolerable Acts, Jefferson’s sympathies with the Patriotic cause became increasingly clear with the publication of his “resolution for prayer and fasting” and a call for boycotting British goods.  This resolution later became known as A Summary View of the Rights of British America. In 1775 he became a Colonel and Commander of the Albemarle Country Militia, while continuing his service as a legislator.  Jefferson’s writing acumen quickly became recognized and revered by all, and he soon became the articulating voice of the Patriot movement.  He enumerated the sentiments of American independence from Britain in The Declaration of Independence, written by him, but with the help of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.  From 1779 to 1781 he was the wartime governor of Virginia.  All of Jefferson’s accomplishments must surely have been brought low when his wife of 10 years, Martha, died in September of 1782.  His loyalties and sense of duty pulled him away from home so often, it must have been a difficult sacrifice, because it is clear the two loved each other.  Martha, weakened by diabetes and host of other ailments, succumbed to them, and it devastated Jefferson.  His headaches and grief were so bad that he locked himself away for weeks.  He occasionally went for rides on the grounds, and burst into tears at the slightest thought of Martha.  This era of great achievement—America’s Independence, statesmanship, militia command—must have been cruelly tempered by the loss of his wife.


With the Treaty of Paris signed, and the new United States firmly underway, its infant government would need representatives abroad.  Congress chose Jefferson to be the Minister to France (and by proxy, Europe).  Jefferson’s time in France benefitted the fledgling United States.  He both admitted and loathed French society—though he reveled in the parlor culture, his disdain for the monarchy and gross overspending was immeasurable.  Jefferson travelled, purchased books, maintained a house in Paris, and through himself into his work at this time.  Jefferson was also a widower, and no doubt feeling the sting of Martha’s absence.  He had promised her on her deathbed that he would never remarry.  Be that as it may, when Maria Cosway entered his life, the absence was less felt.  Cosway was the Italian wife of an English aristocrat, a painter, musician, wit, and regular on the Paris scene.  Jefferson was helpless, and fell in love with her, though it must have been only a courtly romance.  The two remained friends throughout their lives, though they never saw one another again.  Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Jefferson’s stay in Paris was the presence of one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings.  To the critics who say that she was simply his property and that he raped her, I would say the following.  It was not in Jefferson’s character to force himself on any woman, even a slave.  Furthermore, it was a romance of circumstance.  I would add this for the critics as well:  if you think Jefferson’s intimacy with Sally Hemmings in Paris and later is one of insincerity and convenience, then I would say you have never felt the desolation and loneliness that comes in the wake of being permanently removed from a spouse.  I have, madams and sirs, and I can tell you from experience that melancholy hardly describes the effects.  Go through that and then see if you can judge Mr. Jefferson as harshly as you do, as you falsely assume the moral high ground to further your political and personal stances.  Thomas Jefferson was—thank God—a human being.


Thomas Jefferson’s return to the United States coincided with the birth of the Constitution.  All his heart desired was to return to Momticello and his books, but the new Washington administration would call on his expertise, and he would serve Washington as the first Secretary of State, until 1793, when his patience thinned after year of verbal sparring with his nemesis, Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.  Jefferson became the posterboy for the Democratic Republicans, and likewise, Hamilton that of the Federalists.  It seems every time Jefferson thought he was done with politics, his country called on him again.  He was John Adam’s Vice President, and in 1800, became president himself for two terms.  During his time in the White House he balanced the budget (a worry since the Early Republic years), purchased Louisiana Territory, and became the first president to take on Islamic radicals—namely the Barbary Pirates of North Africa during the Barbary War.


Jefferson’s attainment of the presidency allowed him to more fully indulge his scientific curiosity.  In many ways, Jefferson had been the consummate anthropologist, interested in every aspect of human life and its environments.  His interest in Native culture stretches back to his childhood, and his first encounters with Cherokee as a youngster.  Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, whose research began in 1780, was a complete ethnological study of Virginia, its history, and people up to the point of its publication in 1787.  In 1787, he also excavated an Indian mound on Monticello, keeping accurate records of strata and finds, making Jefferson the first scientific archaeologist.  During the Early Republic, it had been Jefferson’s wish to send scientific expeditions into the interior of the continent, even with so many competing claims on the region.  In 1803, when he was president, he bought the great expanse of Louisiana from Napoleon Bonaparte for 15 million dollars.  Now Jefferson need not worry about claims, so he sent three major expeditions to explore the various reaches of the land:  Lewis and Clark to survey the north (1804-06), Freeman and Custis to survey the south along Texas (1806), and Zebulon Pike to survey the middle region (1807).  Each troop had the same standing orders:  map the regions into which you enter, study and treat with the natives, collect biological and geological specimens, and make other significant notations and observations.  Even beyond the presidency, Jefferson’s scientific curiosity was insatiable, with perhaps the most visible expression of his philosophy found in the University of Virginia. 

If his scholarly zeal was much to the fore, his religious beliefs were less so.  Jefferson does seem to have been more of a Deist than some of his compatriots.  He maintained membership in the Anglican church, but it is clear that his ideas about Biblical theology diverged from the norm.  While he still felt there was no better place to learn morality than in the church,   Such exercises like The Jefferson Bible, which removed the supernatural elements of the story of Jesus and left only the moral and philosophical, give us some insight into his religious views.  Although rooted firmly in the Judeo-Christian tradition, In the end, Jefferson seems to have been a man of his own spirituality, embodying the ultimate expression of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment, and an author of our laws and way of life.  Yet for all his achievements as a polymath, he remained something of a contradiction.  He articulated American sovereignty with the Declaration of Independence, yet owned human beings as property.  He was fascinated by and spoke amiably to Native Americans, yet gradually created policies that would ultimately result in their removal.  He was born to Virginia planter aristocracy, but devoted his politics to the common man.  The easy thing to do is right him off as oppressor, racist, rapist, hypocrite, and heretic as recent critics have.  The more difficult and necessary analysis involves an appreciation for context, one not obscured by forcing 21st century mores and ideas on an 18th century world.  In doing so we find a Thomas Jefferson whose significant and contributions for the good are not overshadowed by any shortcomings he had as a human.  And so he remained “The American Sphinx” until the day he died, July 4, 1826 (fitting), and beyond.

Posted by anthrojudd at 8:01 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Friday, 7 July 2017
Topic: America

George Washington was born February 22, 1732 to tobacco planter Augustine and Mary Washington.  His role in the foundation of this country is unmistakable.  He led in politics, economics, and in the military, steering the course which America took in the early days.  Rightly so, he is remembered as “the Father of a Country.”


The Washingtons were not part of the upper echelons of Virginia aristocracy.  They were not yeomen as such, but more a kind of second tier gentry.  Nonetheless, the Washingtons were industrious and respected, and prospered.  Augustine Washington felt his sons deserved an education befitting their station.  While George’s brothers, including Lawrence, did receive such education, young George’s was cut short by the death of his father in 1743.  However, George saw this not as dissuasion, but only fueled his zeal to learn.  Having learned his basics through tutors and the Anglican school in Fredericksburg, he read everything he could get his hands on, notably translations of the classics.  He relied on his brother Lawrence, neighbors, and notably George and Sally Fairfax to help refine his behavior.  As the consummate autodidact, he also taught himself to use his father’s surveying equipment, which not only gave him a trade with which to earn a living, but also put him in a position to begin to stake land claims of his own and gain an ever-growing knowledge of the geography of the frontier.


As young George Washington was coming of age, Britain and France became embroiled in a conflict over the Ohio Country in the 1740s.  The Ohio Country was a great swath of territory between French Canada and British Colonies, appealing to the French trapping and British planter interests.  By the 1750s the two sides were in open war, The French and Indian War, as it came to be called (because the French had many Algonquin Indian allies).  Lt. George Washington, in command of a contingent of Virginia militia, was uniquely qualified to probe the region and engage the French, given his experience in the region as a surveyor.  While his engagement with the French was mixed at best, he did earn the respect of his fellow Virginians in his willingness to defend their homes.  Washington became senior aide to British General Edward Braddock, who became a mentor of sorts to Washington.  Braddock died in 1755, which made Washington’s ultimate goal a challenge.  He desired greatly to become an officer in the British Army, but despite his rise through the militia ranks to Colonel, the British refused Washington’s commission at every turn.  Washington stopped trying and retired his Virginia Regiment command in 1758.  However he learned some valuable lessons.  The British infrastructure tended to view the colonials as second-class British citizens.  He also learned much about the nature of African Americans and their nobility in military service.  Washington served alongside them in the French and Indian War, and watched closely—this was an experience that changed his views about race.  He was one of the few planters to make arrangements for the manumiision of substantial numbers of slaves, and he also later invited Phillis Wheatley, an African American poet, to his 1776 headquarters in Massachusetts (a gesture unheard of in those days).  Perhaps most amazingly, Washington was certainly fired upon (his trench coat was riddled), but was never hit, a fact which made him “big medicine’ among the Indians, and perhaps in no small part, reinforced his belief in God.  Altogether, the experience made Washington a different kind of Virginian than his peers like Jefferson and Patrick Henry.  While they were attending masquerade balls in Williamsburg, Washington was dodging musket balls on the Ohio frontier.


In 1759, Washington married Martha Custis (a top tier family), and returned to his farm, Mt. Vernon, to take up the life of planter and local politician.  Washington returned,convinced that the British system was inferior to that which existed in the colonies, and that if a man was industrious, he could be successful in his enterprises.  One of the problems staring Washington in the face was a mountain of debt.  Ever resourceful, instead of growing tobacco which depleted the soil quickly, he diversified operations at Mt. Vernon.   He began growing more grains, opened a flour mill, bred horses, entered into hog production, weaving, and opened a whiskey distillery that produced more than 1,000 gallons per month.  Though a Virginia aristocrat and legislator, Washington was famed for keeping his emotions in Stoic control (as evinced by his Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation).  In an age when some men still carried swords as part of their dress and duels—though illegal—could still easily happen, Washington was a master of speech and restraint—the consummate gentleman.  It was with this gentlemanly comportment that he took such offense at the parade of British taxes levied against colonists such as the Sugar and Stamp Acts.  They sought to pay for a war that the colonists themselves largely fought, and threaten the very system that had allowed Washington arrive at his current position.


The Boston Massacre of 1770, the Intolerable Acts, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 had all but solidified an armed response against Britain.  Washington sympathized with the patriot cause but remained cautious until the actual battles in New England.  He strode into the early meetings of the Continental Congress in full military dress and sword.  Even with other capable leaders, his reputation virtually guaranteed his appointment by John Adams, and subsequent approval as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.  This man threw his own money into financing early campaigns, coming to the aid of the New Englanders.  He continued to do so when Congress could not allocate proper resources to the army.  Washington also proved to be an unorthodox commander, utilizing the Continentals and militia, who used guerilla tactics.  He was also fond of espionage and was able on a number of occasions to use his geographical knowledge against the British.  Washington was also fighting another American Revolution at his various headquarters along the Hudson.  At intervals he would bring up slaves to staff the headquarters (often families), and would conveniently “”forget to return them to Mt. Vernon when he resumed march.  When Washington’s army converged with the rest of the Continentals and the French at Yorktown, it was less than a month (in October) when Cornwallis was defeated.  Cornwallis had his aide surrender his sword, which he offered to Rochambeau.  The French General shook his head and pointed to Washington.  Now, Cornwallis had obviously hoped to get one last slight in on Washington, but Washington refused, pointing to General Benjamin Lincoln, who had defended Charleston.  Washington’s second in command would eventually accept Cornwallis’ sword, but Washington refused to grant honors to a man bereft of them.


Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, commonly just Cincinnatus, was a Roman patrician general, and statesman who lived during the fifth century B.C. in the early days of the Roman Republic.  The historian Livy relates that he left his farm, and answered the call to defend Rome and lead the army, even in his old age.  Cincinnatus came to embody civic virtue, Roman manliness, and devotion to Rome.  In like manner, Washington left his plantation to answer the call to lead the Continental Army, and as such was seen as a kind of Cincinnatus.  When the Revolution came to an end in 1783, and the Treaty of Paris solidified our sovereignty, Washington went back to Mt. Vernon, thinking his duty to country was complete.  However, the Articles of Confederation had outlived their usefulness, and it was clear that a new set of flexible and better-articulated laws was needed.  Washington once again answered the call of his country to preside over the Constitutional debates.  Ultimately, Washington would be elected as the first president of this new system under the Constitution in 1789.  Much to his chagrin, the debates and the Early Republic period only seemed to polarize the nation.  To his credit, he refused monarchial sentiment, insisting on being called Mr. President.  When his second term was complete, he stepped down, resolved that the mark of power in a republic was the refusal of power, and not its executive expansion.  Cincinnatus indeed.


Washington’s faith has been a subject of some contention, mostly unnecessary I might add.  He is generally painted as a Deist in the period.  Nothing could be farther from the truth, as his actions spoke volumes about his faith in Christ.  He was a member of the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church, an avid attendee of several churches, and also subsidized the founding of Pohick Church near Mt. Vernon.  In a 1779 speech he gave to the Delaware, he encouraged them to “above all…learn the religion of Jesus Christ.”  While his public language was laced with Deistic parlance, his actions told the story.  The man again was never hit by musket in the Revolution, survived disease in the field, and all the horrors of war—how could you doubt God was looking out for him, or that his faith in the God of the Bible did not sustain him through it?  Most detractors will point to his membership in the Freemasons as proof that he was a Deist and only nominally Christian.  Washington became a Mason in 1752, and was later offered Master of Grand Lodge of Virginia, which he declined.  In all his years as a Freemason, we have record of four attendances—how much of a Mason could he have been?  He praised elements of the order he admired, namely those that reflected Enlightenment sentiment.  Washington must have been aware of the work of darker secret societies at work even in his own day.  Namely, he warned in a 1798 letter, that no less than the Illuminati had infiltrated American government and were at that time corrupting the embryonic political institution.  He referred to the Illuminati as “diabolical” and further stated: “That Individuals of them may have done it, and that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects—and actually had a seperation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.”  Given that he had watched the bifurcation of American politics with his own eyes, he was in a unique position to observe and confirm.  Arguments firmly tying Washington to the Freemasons or the Illuminati as some conspiracy to set up some Satanic New Atlantis is simply, historiographically absurd.  Washington loved God—it was later individuals who tried to make him a god.


It seems that the great statesman could only find but a few years of respite from the cares of his profession.  He did come back to his beloved Mt. Vernon to enjoy his twilight years with Martha.  On December 12, 1799 Washington took a ride to inspect his plantation.  He was caught in a sudden storm of snow and freezing rain.  The next day he awoke with a severe sore throat, which eventually made it difficult to swallow.  According to the conventions of the day, doctors bled him.  It may have been less the severe cold and more the hypervolemic shock caused by the bloodletting that finally did him in.  Washington died on December 14, 1799.

Posted by anthrojudd at 2:15 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
Topic: America

In the past I’ve taught a lesson on the Founding Fathers comparing them to the Justice League.  The students tend to love it, given that most of them at least like superhero movies, and some of them are die hard comic fans.  It helps to anchor the lesson, and it’s fun for me too.  As the buildup crescendos in the movies, with Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Wonderwoman, Batman is building the Justice League to defend against a looming threat to earth.  For me, because of my pedagogical style, it brings to mind the Founding Fathers, and the looming threat they faced.


In beginning this series, I thought to do something a little different.  Tome upon tome about the Founding Fathers has been written—a veritable endless stream of biographies have proceeded from the time of the Early Republic.  I thought, what I would do, is yes—give some basic biographical information—but share some things that I have observed about the Founding Fathers over a career of teaching history and the humanities that spans 17 years, but also as a human being and citizen of the United States..


Typically, the term “Founding Fathers” is a fluid one, applying generally to those who were most active in the foundations of American politics and society.  Traditionally, there have been a core seven, to which scholars have referred repeatedly in relevant literature.  These are—in no particular order—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.  To this list we could add any number of names of patriots during the period, including the likes of Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon, James Monroe, Henry Knox, Charles Lee, and hosts of others.  You get the idea.


Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers have come under some fire over the last several decades.  While most historians recognize their contributions, it has become increasingly common to relegate their pivotal accomplishments to the feats of self-interested “dead white guys.”  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that phrase applied to the Founders but also other important figures in Western and American history, simply because the color of the skin happened to be white, and they were fallible human beings.  It is a regrettable consequence of postmodernism, I’m afraid.


Were many of them wealthy?  Yes.  Did some of them own slaves? Yes.  Were some of them arrogant? Some, yes.  However, as I have told my students for years, you cannot jettison the contributions of a historical figure who has been a force for good simply because he or she has made mistakes.  In essence, you have to take them as they were—extraordinary human beings under extraordinary circumstances—the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Critics of the Founders who place all manner of imperialistic and colonial sins on their shoulders are largely guilty of presentism, one of the cardinal sins of the historian’s trade.  Placing current ideologies onto the socio-cultural settings of the past obscures the understanding of the events that transpired in and the persons who lived in the period under question.  To those critics I would say “shame on you—you besmirch and sully an honor to which you could never aspire.”


Consider the abilities of these men.  Washington, the capable military commander and largely self-made planter; Jefferson, the lawyer, philosopher, architect, musician, anthropologist; Franklin, self-made printer and renowned wit and scientist in his own day; the mental faculties of these men could be matched only by the sizes of their hearts.  All of them were intensely influenced by classical Greek and Roman literature and figures.  They realized the ancient regime of the old world had oppressed people for millennia and had outlived its usefulness.  These men made the society they wanted:  a more just version of the world.  At a time when absolutist monarchs ruled the nations of Europe, a Tsarina the Russian Empire, a Sultan the Ottoman Empire, and divinely invested Emperors China and Japan, these men did something that was, in a word, “revolutionary.”


For all of their faults, I would like to draw attention to Founders’ virtues, and the feat of mind and arms that it took to build the United States.  I think of these men, and I am reminded of not only their sacrifice but that of the Minute Man, and the militia, and the citizen soldier.  I’m reminded of my maternal grandfather who served in the U.S. Army, my paternal grandfather who fought in WWII and spent three and half years in Japanese prison camps, my father who served in the Army in Thailand during the Vietnam War, and my late friend Matthew Cravens, who served in the National Guard and did two tours in Bosnia.  I’m reminded of the commitment to an idea, to the American idea, and the gravity that such commitment engenders.


These men did not insist on apotheosis, as part of some pantheon of American gods.  That came in the years and generations after them, the work of artists, painters, authors, journalists, and politicians.  Any attempt to enshrine them as such, does them a disservice.  They themselves would have eschewed it.  However we might define their faith, they knew they were no gods, and that their place lay below the Creator, not as His equal.  So to the critics, I would say, we do not honor these men as gods, we honor them as founders, as the singular individuals who thought this country into being.


We live in an age when Thomas Jefferson is being taken out of discussions of the intellectual history of America in textbooks.  George Washington is written off as a slave-holding, ambitious planter.  History is being subtly rewritten under our very noses, by politicians and those who would obfuscate the truth in our educational system.   If it’s an act of defiance to teach the virtue of these men, then so be it.  I owe them, and this nation, no less.  I pray that there are enough of us who can remember and preserve the lessons and contributions of these great men, so that the present and future generations may benefit from their wisdom.


God Bless America, and indeed, the community of nations to which she is neighbor

Judd H. Burton, July 4, 2017

Posted by anthrojudd at 5:29 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 3 July 2017
Topic: Giants

So, this really did fire its way into my Twitter feed today.  It ever so rudely got me all hopeful about a potentially interesting giant find.  The article was entitled "Biblical Giants Unearthed in  Golan Heighs?" OK--I'm thinking "I know the Golan--I wrote my dissertation on a site there (Banias/Caesarea Philppi)--this could be good."  But  Don't get me wrong, I believe that the giants existed, but I also think its absolutely necessary to apply science to the problem.

Here's the link to the article on World News Daily Report (e-tabloid essentially).

I appreciate the zeal to find evidence, but I get really frustrated when people post things without looking into the source.  For some reason, sensationalists seem to fail to realize that this lampoons a very serious inquiry. 

The first suspect element of this report is its source.  World ews Daily Report s essentially a tabloid.  Its journalism should be weighed in light of this.  The second questionable element is the recycling of a photograph of two "giant skeletons" and ostensibly an "archaeologist" measuring the width of the lowest grave.  This photo is a hoax of some years standing.  Thirdly, the authors refer to the University of Tel Aviv, which one would think was meant to be the proper name "Tel-Aviv University."

But wait--it gets MUCH better. The article refers to a team of archaeologsists from the university that has been working on a new portion of Gilgal Refaim.  Enter mistake number four--the quote from a non-existent archaeologist.  A Tom Yiggur is credited with one of the article's quotes.  Nowhere on the Tel-Aviv University site will you find his name, nor will you find it in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures.  Fifth, the article makes mention of a Guntar Web, a scholar in the department of Biblical Studies.  Not surprisingly, Web appears nowhere on the university site or the department.

Folks, this is disinformation at its worst.  In the parlance of our day, it's fake news.  Keep looking though--the truth is out there, you just need to be discerning.  Keep searching!

Posted by anthrojudd at 4:13 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 3 July 2017 4:20 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 26 June 2017
Topic: America


As I listen to the album Waiting For the Punchline by the ever incredible Extreme, I’m reminded a little of the fact that many these days are waiting for a punchline for the joke that has become American politics.  Next week we will (hopefully) all be celebrating Independence Day.  We’ll fire up the grill, munch a burger, raise a cold one to Lady Liberty, and shoot off some fireworks, with perhaps a semi-nostalgic feeling or two about the founding of the country—Yeah ‘Murica!


What are we celebrating though?  Sure we pay homage to the Founding Fathers and those who have served our nation in civil and military duty.  But the America they built is passing away.  Virtually every institution of our society has eroded: education, political process, medicine, industry, popular culture, religion, economy—all of them have suffered detriment.  It’s what happens when people exchange freedom for license, liberty for libertinism.


Edward Gibbon, in his seminal The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, outlined five major reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire (and protracted, ostensibly other civilizations).  They are as follows:

1) Destruction of the sanctity of the home, accompanied by the rapid increase in divorce. The family was seen as the basis for the Roman state, and was sacred, despite what Hollywood portrays.

2) Increasingly higher taxes and the spending of public monies on “bread and circus.”  Currency issues and mismanaged funds caused the former, resulting in the latter—public distractions and abused welfare could not continue.

3) The “mad craze” for pleasure and sport, with sport becoming more brutal every year.  Generally more people, but especially the wealthy, sought all manner of gratification.  Gladiatorial matches became more elaborate and bloody spectacles of all kinds were held.

4) The building of gigantic armaments and increasing militarization of the state, while the enemy is within—the decadence of the people.  The Roman army expanded in an attempt to protect its borders, now taking on more foreign conscripts.  More Romans expected the Empire to meet their needs.  Christians were killed for spectacle in the coliseum.

5) Decay of religious faith deteriorating into form without substance.  More people sought initiation in mystery cults with exotic gods, many of which had orgiastic and debauched rites.

Now, much of this is based on the state of Rome during the crisis of the third century.  The western empire only survived until 476 because of the aforementioned reasons.  It created circumstances for the weakening of the west and its vulnerability to “barbarians,” many of whom had served in the Roman army.  Still many others had been given “refuge” and citizenship in an empire that could not subsidize them.


Now, does any of this sound familiar?  It should.  We’re a much younger nation that Rome was when it fell, and yet we approach these criteria with light speed.  Doubt me?  Consider how America shapes up:

1) Traditional definitions of marriage and family are being reshaped before us.  The divorce rate is roughly 55% and climbing.

2) It goes without saying taxes have steadily risen, with small businesses paying as much as 30% and more of their profit.  The average middle class professional pays up to 25% of his or her income in taxes.  Our welfare and social security systems are being abused daily with many people utilizing them who are more than capable of holding down on a job, but have learned to work the system.

3) We live in a society increasingly bent on instant gratification and what makes us “feel good,” not to mention that we crave our brutal sports (football, MMA).

4) For all the respect I have for the military, few will dispute that the DOD and Pentagon have expanded “discretionary” military spending, nor deny that we have been in an “ever-war” in the Middle East since 2003.  And yet, the real enemies seem to be members of the so-called “deep state,” many of whom are our elected officials.  Add to that growing apathy and decadence in our own populus and you begin to see the pieces of the frightening puzzle.

5) The decay of religious faith in American society is demonstrable on a number of fronts.  We have moved so far from the religious roots and foundations of this country that it is no longer the defining philosophy.  Where once the classical paradigms prevailed, a spiritual buffet of dizzying assortment sits in its place.  Even most churches have traded solid doctrine and theology for bands, light shows, and pithy homily. 


How do we avert the destruction of American civilization?   I give to you Alexis deTocqueville’s observations on America in 1831 from Democracy in America to consider:


“I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.  The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.  The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”


It will take a revolution of sorts, one of the heart, not one of arms.


Posted by anthrojudd at 2:59 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Thursday, 4 August 2016
"Last Days in the Desert" REVIEW
Topic: Movie Review



            This past weekend I saw a biblical pic.  Yeah it was one of those biblical movies.  Once in a while, a director will make one that just screams desperately for a critical review.  Such a movie is Last Days in the Desert, director Rodrigo Garcia’s highly stylized and reimagined take on the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  For reference, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness can be found in Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4.

            Garcia takes us all into the world of first century AD Palestine….sort of.  At least, they did make southern California look like the Negev desert.  I have to say, I was really excited about this movie initially, just on the merits of the cinematography and the cast.  Ewan McGregor (Star Wars, Big Fish) portrays Jesus of Nazareth, Claran Hinds (Rome, The Nativity Story) a stonemason and father, Ty Sheridan (X-Men Apocalypse) the son, and the lovely Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (Daredevil, Man of Steel) as the sickly wife and mother bring gravitas at all four corners of this ensemble.  It sounds positively epic, right?  Yeah, I thought so  too.

            This was the most asymmetrical treatment of the forty days in the wilderness you could imagine.  The trajectory of this movie made me question whether there was even a director on set.  It looked like an exercise in improvisational directing, in which the director was not even there.  Granted, the traditional story—or I should say, the legacy of the traditional story—carried this movie, while ironically not referencing much of that story, and dialogue didn’t need to be excessive. 

            Perhaps the most interesting contribution to the film is that Ewan McGregor also portrays the devil, who just so happens to look exactly like Jesus in this film.  I don’t even have a problem with this—in fact, this may be the most accurate element of the film.  Satan has traditionally mocked Christ and his vision is always a blasphemous reversal and bastardization of that of Jesus.  Had I been a fly on a rock in the desert, it would not have surprised me to see the devil mocking Jesus in such a manner.  McGregor’s taunting Satan in the guise of Jesus was the best part of the film….and here’s why:  OF ALL THE ELEMENTS OF THE MOVIE IT”S THE ONLY ONE THAT MAKES SENSE!!!

            That’s it—that’s the only good.  This story involving a harsh father, his dying wife, and their estranged young son, welcoming Jesus in for a brief stay, is not even apocryphal.  That, at least would make it interesting.  Garcia, apparently was not paying attention when Darren Aronofsy made his cinematic debacle Noah.  Aronofsy diverged from the story in Genesis, made a mishmash of apocrypha and his own vision, and produced a monstrosity of the traditional story that alienated the biggest part of his potential audience.  Last Days in the Desert follows the same formula.  Hey look, I love new takes on biblical stories, but there’s only so much you can tweak before you destroy the story.  What is it about Hollywood directors who feel their visions will be more popular than stories which have been popular in their traditional forms for thousands of years?  My advice to these artists is to take a page from the master of historical epics, Ridley Scott.  Consider his Exodus:  Gods and Kings, which was essentially true to the spirit of the Exodus story.

            In the case of the forty days in the wilderness, the story is already there.  Hey, do something with Jesus’ suffering from exposure as he fasts in the desert.  Use the imagery of all those grand temptations to weave a visual feast.  For crying out loud!  The story is there Garcia, all we require is for you to make the movie.  But you didn’t. 

            Terrible, awful movie.  Don’t waste your time.  Go see these actors in productions much superior in quality to the travesty that is Last Days in the Desert.   I’ll give it one star out of five, for McGregor’s mocking devil performance.

Posted by anthrojudd at 11:18 PM EDT
Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Thursday, 17 March 2016
Topic: Christianity


Apostle of Ireland, born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387; died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, 17 March, 493. Some sources say 460 or 461. --Ed.

He had for his parents Calphurnius and Conchessa. The former belonged to a Roman family of high rank and held the office of decurio in Gaul or Britain. Conchessa was a near relative of the great patron of Gaul, St. Martin of Tours. Kilpatrick still retains many memorials of Saint Patrick, and frequent pilgrimages continued far into the Middle Ages to perpetuate there the fame of his sanctity and miracles.

In his sixteenth year, Patrick was carried off into captivity by Irish marauders and was sold as a slave to a chieftan named Milchu in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim in Ireland, where for six years he tended his master's flocks in the valley of the Braid and on the slopes of Slemish, near the modern town of Ballymena. He relates in his "Confessio" that during his captivity while tending the flocks he prayed many times in the day: "the love of God", he added,

and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me.

In the ways of a benign Providence the six years of Patrick's captivity became a remote preparation for his future apostolate. He acquired a perfect knowledge of the Celtic tongue in which he would one day announce the glad tidings of Redemption, and, as his master Milchu was a druidical high priest, he became familiar with all the details of Druidism from whose bondage he was destined to liberate the Irish race.

Admonished by an angel he after six years fled from his cruel master and bent his steps towards the west. He relates in his "Confessio" that he had to travel about 200 miles; and his journey was probably towards Killala Bay and onwards thence to Westport. He found a ship ready to set sail and after some rebuffs was allowed on board. In a few days he was among his friends once more in Britain, but now his heart was set on devoting himself to the service of God in the sacred ministry. We meet with him at St. Martin's monastery at Tours, and again at the island sanctuary of Lérins which was just then acquiring widespread renown for learning and piety; and wherever lessons of heroic perfection in the exercise of Christian life could be acquired, thither the fervent Patrick was sure to bend his steps. No sooner had St. Germain entered on his great mission at Auxerre than Patrick put himself under his guidance, and it was at that great bishop's hands that Ireland's future apostle was a few years later promoted to the priesthood. It is the tradition in the territory of the Morini that Patrick under St. Germain's guidance for some years was engaged in missionary work among them. When Germain commissioned by the Holy See proceeded to Britain to combat the erroneous teachings of Pelagius, he chose Patrick to be one of his missionary companions and thus it was his privilege to be associated with the representative of Rome in the triumphs that ensued over heresy and Paganism, and in the many remarkable events of the expedition, such as the miraculous calming of the tempest at sea, the visit to the relics at St. Alban's shrine, and the Alleluia victory. Amid all these scenes, however, Patrick's thoughts turned towards Ireland, and from time to time he was favoured with visions of the children from Focluth, by the Western sea, who cried to him: "O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us."

Pope St. Celestine I, who rendered immortal service to the Church by the overthrow of the Pelagian and Nestorian heresies, and by the imperishable wreath of honour decreed to the Blessed Virgin in the General Council of Ephesus, crowned his pontificate by an act of the most far-reaching consequences for the spread of Christianity and civilization, when he entrusted St. Patrick with the mission of gathering the Irish race into the one fold of Christ. Palladius had already received that commission, but terrified by the fierce opposition of a Wicklow chieftain had abandoned the sacred enterprise. It was St. Germain, Bishop of Auxerre, who commended Patrick to the pope. The writer of St. Germain's Life in the ninth century, Heric of Auxerre, thus attests this important fact: "Since the glory of the father shines in the training of the children, of the many sons in Christ whom St. Germain is believed to have had as disciples in religion, let it suffice to make mention here, very briefly, of one most famous, Patrick, the special Apostle of the Irish nation, as the record of his work proves. Subject to that most holy discipleship for 18 years, he drank in no little knowledge in Holy Scripture from the stream of so great a well-spring. Germain sent him, accompanied by Segetius, his priest, to Celestine, Pope of Rome, approved of by whose judgement, supported by whose authority, and strengthened by whose blessing, he went on his way to Ireland." It was only shortly before his death that Celestine gave this mission to Ireland's apostle and on that occasion bestowed on him many relics and other spiritual gifts, and gave him the name "Patercius" or "Patritius", not as an honorary title, but as a foreshadowing of the fruitfulness and merit of his apostolate whereby he became pater civium (the father of his people). Patrick on his return journey from Rome received at Ivrea the tidings of the death of Palladius, and turning aside to the neighboring city of Turin received episcopal consecration at the hands of its great bishop, St. Maximus, and thence hastened on to Auxerre to make under the guidance of St. Germain due preparations for the Irish mission.

It was probably in the summer months of the year 433, that Patrick and his companions landed at the mouth of the Vantry River close by Wicklow Head. The Druids were at once in arms against him. But Patrick was not disheartened. The intrepid missionary resolved to search out a more friendly territory in which to enter on his mission. First of all, however, he would proceed towards Dalriada, where he had been a slave, to pay the price of ransom to his former master, and in exchange for the servitude and cruelty endured at his hands to impart to him the blessings and freedom of God's children. He rested for some days at the islands off the Skerries coast, one of which still retains the name of Inis-Patrick, and he probably visited the adjoining mainland, which in olden times was known as Holm Patrick. Tradition fondly points out the impression of St. Patrick's foot upon the hard rock — off the main shore, at the entrance to Skerries harbour. Continuing his course northwards he halted at the mouth of the River Boyne. A number of the natives there gathered around him and heard with joy in their own sweet tongue the glad tidings of Redemption. There too he performed his first miracle on Irish soil to confirm the honour due to the Blessed Virgin, and the Divine birth of our Saviour. Leaving one of his companions to continue the work of instruction so auspiciously begun, he hastened forward to Strangford Loughand there quitting his boat continued his journey over land towards Slemish. He had not proceeded far when a chieftain, named Dichu, appeared on the scene to prevent his further advance. He drew his sword to smite the saint, but his arm became rigid as a statue and continued so until he declared himself obedient to Patrick. Overcome by the saint's meekness and miracles, Dichu asked for instruction and made a gift of a large sabhall (barn), in which the sacred mysteries were offered up. This was the first sanctuary dedicated by St. Patrick in Erin. It became in later years a chosen retreat of the saint. A monastery and church were erected there, and the hallowed site retains the name Sabhall (pronounced Saul) to the present day. Continuing his journey towards Slemish, the saint was struck with horror on seeing at a distance the fort of his old master Milchu enveloped in flames. The fame of Patrick's marvelous power of miracles preceeded him. Milchu, in a fit of frenzy, gathered his treasures into his mansion and setting it on fire, cast himself into the flames. An ancient record adds: "His pride could not endure the thought of being vanquished by his former slave".

Returning to Saul, St. Patrick learned from Dichu that the chieftains of Erin had been summoned to celebrate a special feast at Tara by Leoghaire, who was the Ard-Righ, that is, the Supreme Monarch of Ireland. This was an opportunity which Patrick would not forego; he would present himself before the assembly, to strike a decisive blow against the Druidism that held the nation captive, and to secure freedom for the glad tidings of Redemption of which he was the herald. As he journeyed on he rested for some days at the house of a chieftain named Secsnen, who with his household joyfully embraced the Faith. The youthful Benen, or Benignus, son of the chief, was in a special way captivated by the Gospel doctrines and the meekness of Patrick. Whilst the saint slumbered he would gather sweet-scented flowers and scatter them over his bosom, and when Patrick was setting out, continuing his journey towards Tara, Benen clung to his feet declaring that nothing would sever him from him. "Allow him to have his way", said St. Patrick to the chieftain, "he shall be heir to my sacred mission." Thenceforth Benen was the inseparable companion of the saint, and the prophecy was fulfilled, for Benen is named among the "comhards" or sucessors of St. Patrick in Armagh.

It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the eventful assembly was to meet at Tara, and the decree went forth that from the preceeding day the fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until the signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The chiefs and Brehons came in full numbers and the druids too would muster all their strength to bid defiance to the herald of good tidings and to secure the hold of their superstition on the Celtic race, for their demoniac oracles had announced that the messenger of Christ had come to Erin. St. Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, in that year the feast of the Annunciation, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire. The druids at once raised their voice. "O King", (they said) "live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished." By order of the king and the agency of the druids, repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command. But the fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power came unscathed from their snares and assaults. On Easter Day the missionary band having at their head the youth Benignus bearing aloft a copy of the Gospels, and followed by St. Patrick who with mitre and crozier was arrayed in full episcopal attire, proceeded in processional order to Tara. The druids and magicians put forth all their strength and employed all their incantations to maintain their sway over the Irish race, but the prayer and faith of Patrick achieved a glorious triumph. The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness. Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene. Again by demoniac power the Arch-Druid Lochru, like Simon Magus of old, was lifted up high in the air, but when Patrick knelt in prayer the druid from his flight was dashed to pieces upon a rock.

Thus was the final blow given to paganism in the presence of all the assembled chieftains. It was, indeed, a momentous day for the Irish race. Twice Patrick pleaded for the Faith before Leoghaire. The king had given orders that no sign of respect was to be extended to the strangers, but at the first meeting the youthful Erc, a royal page, arose to show him reverence; and at the second, when all the chieftains were assembled, the chief-bard Dubhtach showed the same honour to the saint. Both these heroic men became fervent disciples of the Faith and bright ornaments of the Irish Church. It was on this second solemn occasion that St. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the sward, to explain by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. On that bright Easter Day, the triumph of religion at Tara was complete. The Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old would be fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished.

The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate", is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:

I bind to myself today
The strong
virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of
In the
hope of resurrection unto reward,
prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of
In preaching of
faith of Confessors,
In purity of
holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of
Against the seductions of
Against the lusts of
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my
Against the incantations of
false prophets,
Against the black
laws of heathenism,
Against the
false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of
Against the spells of
women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every
knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong
virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

St. Patrick remained during Easter week at Slane and Tara, unfolding to those around him the lessons of Divine truth. Meanwhile the national games were being celebrated a few miles distant at Tailten (now Telltown) in connection with the royal feast. St. Patrick proceeding thither solemnly administered baptism to Conall, brother of the Ard-Righ Leoghaire, on Wednesday, 5 April. Benen and others had already been privately gathered into the fold of Christ, but this was the first public administering of baptism, recognized by royal edict, and hence in the ancient Irish Kalendars to the fifth of April is assigned "the beginning of the Baptism of Erin". This first Christian royal chieftain made a gift to Patrick of a site for a church which to the present day retains the name of Donagh-Patrick. The blessing of heaven was with Conall's family. St. Columba is reckoned among his descendants, and many of the kings of Ireland until the eleventh century were of his race. St. Patrick left some of his companions to carry on the work of evangelization in Meath, thus so auspiciously begun. He would himself visit the other territories. Some of the chieftains who had come to Tara were from Focluth, in the neighbourhood of Killala, in Connaught, and as it was the children of Focluth who in vision had summoned him to return to Ireland, he resolved to accompany those chieftains on their return, that thus the district of Focluth would be among the first to receive the glad tidings of Redemption. It affords a convincing proof of the difficulties that St. Patrick had to overcome, that though full liberty to preach the Faith throughout Erin was granted by the monarch of Leoghaire, nevertheless, in order to procure a safe conduct through the intervening territories whilst proceeding towards Connaught he had to pay the price of fifteen slaves. On his way thither, passing through Granard he learned that at Magh-Slecht, not far distant, a vast concourse was engaged in offering worship to the chief idol Crom-Cruach. It was a huge pillar-stone, covered with slabs of gold and silver, with a circle of twelve minor idols around it. He proceeded thither, and with his crosier smote the chief idol that crumbled to dust; the others fell to the ground. At Killala he found the whole people of the territory assembled. At his preaching, the king and his six sons, with 12,000 of the people, became docile to the Faith. He spent seven years visiting every district of Connaught, organizing parishes, forming dioceses, and instructing the chieftains and people.

On the occasion of his first visit to Rathcrogan, the royal seat of the kings of Connaught, situated near Tulsk, in the County of Roscommon, a remarkable incident occurred, recorded in many of the authentic narratives of the saint's life. Close by the clear fountain of Clebach, not far from the royal abode, Patrick and his venerable companions had pitched their tents and at early dawn were chanting the praises of the Most High, when the two daughters of the Irish monarch — Ethne, the fair, and Fedelm, the ruddy — came thither, as was their wont, to bathe. Astonished at the vision that presented itself to them, the royal maidens cried out: "Who are ye, and whence do ye come? Are ye phantoms, or fairies, or friendly mortals?" St. Patrick said to them: "It were better you would adore and worship the one true God, whom we announce to you, than that you would satisfy your curiosity by such vain questions." And then Ethne broke forth into the questions:

"Who is God?"
"And where is
"Where is His dwelling?"
"Has He sons and daughters?"
"Is He rich in silver and gold?"
"Is He everlasting? is He beautiful?"
"Are His daughters dear and lovely to the men of this world?"
"Is He on the heavens or on earth?"
"In the sea, in rivers, in mountains, in valleys?"
"Make Him
known to us. How is He to be seen?"
"How is He to be
loved? How is He to be found?"
"Is it in youth or is it in old age that He may be found?"

But St. Patrick, filled with the Holy Ghost, made answer:

"God, whom we announce to you, is the Ruler of all things."
God of heaven and earth, of the sea and the rivers."
God of the sun, and the moon, and all the stars."
God of the high mountains and of the low-lying valleys."
God who is above heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven."
"His dwelling is in
heaven and earth, and the sea, and all therein."
"He gives breath to all."
"He gives
life to all."
"He is over all."
"He upholds all."
"He gives light to the sun."
"He imparts splendour to the moon."
"He has made wells in the dry land, and islands in the ocean."
"He has appointed the stars to serve the greater lights."
"His Son is co-eternal and co-equal with Himself."
"The Son is not younger than the Father."
"And the Father is not older than the Son."
"And the
Holy Ghost proceeds from them."
"The Father and the Son and the
Holy Ghost are undivided."
"But I desire by
Faith to unite you to the Heavenly King, as you are daughters of an earthly king."

The maidens, as if with one voice and one heart, said: "Teach us most carefully how we may believe in the Heavenly King; show us how we may behold Him face to face, and we will do whatsoever you shall say to us."

And when he had instructed them he said to them: "Do you believe that by baptism you put off the sin inherited from the first parents."

They answered: "We believe."

"Do you believe in penance after sin?"

"We believe."

"Do you believe in life after death?" Do you believe in resurrection on the Day of Judgement?"

"We believe."

"Do you believe in the unity of the Church?"

"We believe."

Then they were baptized, and were clothed in white garments. And they besought that they might behold the face of Christ. And the saint said to them: "You cannot see the face of Christ unless you taste death, and unless you receive the Sacrifice." They answered: "Give us the Sacrifice, so that we may be able to behold our Spouse." And the ancient narrative adds: "when they received the Eucharist of God, they slept in death, and they were placed upon a couch, arrayed in their white baptismal robes."

In 440 St. Patrick entered on the special work of the conversion of Ulster. Under the following year, the ancient annalists relate a wonderful spread of the Faith throughout the province. In 444 a site for a church was granted at Armagh by Daire, the chieftain of the district. It was in a valley at the foot of a hill, but the saint was not content. He had special designs in his heart for that district, and at length the chieftain told him to select in his territory any site he would deem most suitable for his religious purpose. St. Patrick chose that beautiful hill on which the old cathedral of Armagh stands. As he was marking out the church with his companions, they came upon a doe and fawn, and the saint's companions would kill them for food; but St. Patrick would not allow them to do so, and, taking the fawn upon his shoulders, and followed by the doe, he proceeded to a neighbouring hill, and laid down the fawn, and announced that there, in future times, great glory would be given to the Most High. It was precisely upon that hill thus fixed by St. Patrick that, a few years ago, there was solemnly dedicated the new and beautiful Catholic cathedral of Armagh. A representative of the Holy See presided on the occasion, and hundreds of priests and bishops were gathered there; and, indeed, it might truly be said, the whole Irish race on that occasion offered up that glorious cathedral to the Most High as tribute to their united faith and piety, and their never-failing love of God.

From Ulster St. Patrick probably proceeded to Meath to consolidate the organization of the communities there, and thence he continued his course through Leinster. Two of the saint's most distinguished companions, St. Auxilius and St. Iserninus, had the rich valley of the Liffey assigned to them. The former's name is still retained in the church which he founded at Killossy, while the latter is honoured as the first Bishop of Kilcullen. As usual, St. Patrick's primary care was to gather the ruling chieftains into the fold. At Naas, the royal residence in those days, he baptised two sons of the King of Leinster. Memorials of the saint still abound in the district — the ruins of the ancient church which he founded, his holy well, and the hallowed sites in which the power of God was shown forth in miracles. At Sletty, in the immediate neighborhood of Carlow, St. Fiacc, son of the chief Brehon, Dubthach, was installed as bishop, and for a considerable time that see continued to be the chief centre of religion for all Leinster. St. Patrick proceeded through Gowran into Ossory; here he erected a church under the invocation of St. Martin, near the present city of Kilkenny, and enriched it with many precious relics which he had brought from Rome. It was in Leinster, on the borders of the present counties of Kildare and Queen's, that Odhran, St. Patrick's charioteer, attained the martyr's crown. The chieftain of that district honoured the demon-idol, Crom Cruach, with special worship, and, on hearing of that idol being cast down, vowed to avenge the insult by the death of our apostle. Passing through the territory, Odhran overheard the plot that was being organized for the murder of St. Patrick, and as they were setting out in the chariot to continue their journey, asked the saint, as a favour, to take thereins, and to allow himself, for the day, to hold the place of honour and rest. This was granted, and scarcely had they set out when a well-directed thrust of a lance pierced the heart of the devoted charioteer, who thus, by changing places, saved St. Patrick's life, and won for himself the martyr's crown.

St. Patrick next proceeded to Munster. As usual, his efforts were directed to combat error in the chief centres of authority, knowing well that, in the paths of conversion, the kings and chieftains would soon be followed by their subjects. At "Cashel of the Kings" he was received with great enthusiasm, the chiefs and Brehons and people welcoming him with joyous acclaim. While engaged in the baptism of the royal prince Aengus, son of the King of Munster, the saint, leaning on his crosier, pierced with its sharp point the prince's foot. Aengus bore the pain unmoved. When St. Patrick, at the close of the ceremony, saw the blood flow, and asked him why he had been silent, he replied, with genuine heroism, that he thought it might be part of the ceremony, a penalty for the joyous blessings of the Faith that were imparted. The saint admired his heroism, and, taking the chieftain's shield, inscribed on it a cross with the same point of the crozier, and promised that that shield would be the signal of countless spiritual and temporal triumphs.

Our apostle spent a considerable time in the present County of Limerick. The fame of his miracles and sanctity had gone before him, and the inhabitants of Thomond and northern Munster, crossing the Shannon in their frail coracles, hastened to receive his instruction. When giving his blessing to them on the summit of the hill of Finnime, looking out on the rich plains before him, he is said to have prophesied the coming of St. Senanus: "To the green island in the West, at the mouth of the sea [i.e., Inis-Cathaigh, now Scattery Island, at the mouth of the Shannon, near Kilrush], the lamp of the people of God will come; he will be the head of counsel to all this territory." At Sangril (now Singland), in Limerick, and also in the district of Gerryowen, the holy wells of the saint are pointed out, and the slab of rock, which served for his bed, and the altar on which every day he offered up the Holy Sacrifice. On the banks of the Suit, and the Blackwater, and the Lee, wherever the saint preached during the seven years he spent in Munster, a hearty welcome awaited him. The ancient Life attests: "After Patrick had founded cells and churches in Munster, and had ordained persons of every grade, and healed the sick, and resuscitated the dead, he bade them farewell, and imparted his blessing to them." The words of this blessing, which is said to have been given from the hills of Tipperary, as registered in the saint's Life, to which I have just referred, are particularly beautiful:

A blessing on the Munster people —
Men, youths, and
blessing on the land
That yields them fruit.

blessing on every treasure
That shall be produced on their plains,
Without any one being in want of help,
God's blessing be on Munster.

blessing on their peaks,
On their bare flagstones,
blessing on their glens,
blessing on their ridges.

Like the sand of the sea under ships,
Be the number in their hearths;
On slopes, on plains,
On mountains, on hills, a

St. Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in Ireland. He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened them in the Faith and in the practice of virtue, and appointed pastors to continue his work among them. It is recorded in his Life that he consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops. He appointed St. Loman to Trim, which rivalled Armagh itself in its abundant harvest of piety. St. Guasach, son of his former master, Milchu, became Bishop of Granard, while the two daughters of the same pagan chieftan founded close by, at Clonbroney, a convent of pious virgins, and merited the aureola of sanctity. St. Mel, nephew of our apostle, had the charge of Ardagh; St. MacCarthem, who appears to have been patricularly loved by St. Patrick, was made Bishop of Clogher. The narrative in the ancient Life of the saint regarding his visit to the district of Costello, in the County of Mayo, serves to illustrate his manner of dealing with the chieftains. He found, it says, the chief, Ernasc, and his son, Loarn, sitting under a tree, "with whom he remained, together with his twelve companions, for a week, and they received from him the doctrine of salvation with attentive ear and mind. Meanwhile he instructed Loarn in the rudiments of learning and piety." A church was erected there, and, in after years, Loarn was appointed to its charge.

The manifold virtues by which the early saints were distinguished shone forth in all their perfection in the life of St. Patrick. When not engaged in the work of the sacred ministry, his whole time was spent in prayer. Many times in the day he armed himself with the sign of the Cross. He never relaxed his penitential exercises. Clothed in a rough hair-shirt, he made the hard rock his bed. His disinterestedness is specially commemorated. Countless converts of high rank would cast their precious ornaments at his feet, but all were restored to them. He had not come to Erin in search of material wealth, but to enrich her with the priceless treasures of the Catholic Faith.

From time to time he withdrew from the spiritual duties of his apostolate to devote himself wholly to prayer and penance. One of his chosen places of solitude and retreat was the island of Lough Derg, which, to our own day, has continued to be a favourite resort of pilgrims, and it is known as St. Patrick's Purgatory. Another theatre of his miraculous power and piety and penitential austerities in the west of Ireland merits particular attention. In the far west of Connaught there is a range of tall mountains, which, arrayed in rugged majesty, bid defiance to the waves and storms of the Atlantic. At the head of this range arises a stately cone in solitary grandeur, about 4000 feet in height, facing Clew Bay, and casting its shadow over the adjoining districts of Aghagower and Westport. This mountain was known in pagan times as the Eagle Mountain, but ever since Ireland was enlightened with the light of Faith it is known as Croagh Patrick, i.e. St. Patrick's mountain, and is honoured as the Holy Hill, the Mount Sinai, of Ireland.

St. Patrick, in obedience to his guardian angel, made this mountain his hallowed place of retreat. In imitation of the great Jewish legislator on Sinai, he spent forty days on its summit in fasting and prayer, and other penitential exercises. His only shelter from the fury of the elements, the wind and rain, the hail and snow, was a cave, or recess, in the solid rock; and the flagstone on which he rested his weary limbs at night is still pointed out. The whole purpose of his prayer was to obtain special blessings and mercy for the Irish race, whom he evangelized. The demons that made Ireland their battlefield mustered all their strength to tempt the saint and disturb him in his solitude, and turn him away, if possible, from his pious purpose. They gathered around the hill in the form of vast flocks of hideous birds of prey. So dense were their ranks that they seemed to cover the whole mountain, like a cloud, and they so filled the air that Patrick could see neither sky nor earth nor ocean. St. Patrick besought God to scatter the demons, but for a time it would seem as if his prayers and tears were in vain. At length he rang his sweet-sounding bell, symbol of his preaching of the Divine truths. Its sound was heard all over the valleys and hills of Erin, everywhere bringing peace and joy. The flocks of demons began to scatter. He flung his bell among them; they took to precipitate flight, and cast themselves into the ocean. So complete was the saint's victory over them that, as the ancient narrative adds, "for seven years no evil thing was to be found in Ireland."

The saint, however, would not, as yet, descend from the mountain. He had vanquished the demons, but he would now wrestle with God Himself, like Jacob of old, to secure the spiritual interests of his people. The angel had announced to him that, to reward his fidelity in prayer and penance, as many of his people would be gathered into heaven as would cover the land and sea as far as his vision could reach. Far more ample, however, were the aspirations of the saint, and he resolved to persevere in fasting and prayer until the fullest measure of his petition was granted. Again and again the angel came to comfort him, announcing new concessions; but all these would not suffice. He would not relinquish his post on the mountain, or relax his penance, until all were granted. At length the message came that his prayers were heard:

  • many souls would be free from the pains of purgatory through his intercession;
  • whoever in the spirit of penance would recite his hymn before death would attain the heavenly reward;
  • barbarian hordes would never obtain sway in his Church;
  • seven years before the Judgement Day, the sea would spread over Ireland to save its people from the temptations and terrors of the Antichrist; and
  • greatest blessing of all, Patrick himself should be deputed to judge the whole Irish race on the last day.

Such were the extraordinary favors which St. Patrick, with his wrestling with the Most High, his unceasing prayers, his unconquerable love of heavenly things, and his unremitting penitential deeds, obtained for the people whom he evangelized.

It is sometimes supposed that St. Patrick's apostolate in Ireland was an unbroken series of peaceful triumphs, and yet it was quite the reverse. No storm of persecution was, indeed stirred up to assail the infant Church, but the saint himself was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the druids and of other enemies of the Faith. He tells us in his "Confessio" that no fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives, and on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains, and his death was decreed. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by a benign Providence. It is on account of the many hardships which he endured for the Faith that, in some of the ancient Martyrologies, he is honoured as a martyr.

St. Patrick, having now completed his triumph over Paganism, and gathered Ireland into the fold of Christ, prepared for the summons to his reward. St. Brigid came to him with her chosen virgins, bringing the shroud in which he would be enshrined. It is recorded that when St. Patrick and St. Brigid were united in their last prayer, a special vision was shown to him. He saw the whole of Ireland lit up with the brightest rays of Divine Faith. This continued for centuries, and then clouds gathered around the devoted island, and, little by little, the religious glory faded away, until, in the course of centuries, it was only in the remotest valleys that some glimmer of its light remained. St. Patrick prayed that the light would never be extinguished, and, as he prayed, the angel came to him and said: "Fear not: your apostolate shall never cease." As he thus prayed, the glimmering light grew in brightness, and ceased not until once more all the hills and valleys of Ireland were lit up in their pristine splendour, and then the angel announced to St. Patrick: "Such shall be the abiding splendour of Divine truth in Ireland."

At Saul (Sabhall), St. Patrick received the summons to his reward on 17 March, 493 [See note above — Ed.]. St. Tassach administered the last sacraments to him. His remains were wrapped in the shroud woven by St. Brigid's own hands. The bishops and clergy and faithful people from all parts crowded around his remains to pay due honour to the Father of their Faith. Some of the ancient Lives record that for several days the light of heaven shone around his bier. His remains were interred at the chieftan's Dun or Fort two miles from Saul, where in after times arose the cathedral of Down.

Writings of St. Patrick

The "Confessio" and the "Epistola ad Coroticum" are recognized by all modern critical writers as of unquestionable genuineness. The best edition, with text, translation, and critical notes, is by Rev. Dr. White for the Royal Irish Academy, in 1905. The 34 canons of a synod held before the year 460 by St. Patrick, Auxilius, and Isserninus, though rejected by Todd and Haddan, have been placed by Professor Bury beyond the reach of controversy. Another series of 31 ecclesiastical canons entitled "Synodus secunda Patritii", though unquestionably of Irish origin and dating before the close of the seventh century, is generally considered to be of a later date than St. Patrick. Two tracts (in P.L., LIII), entitled "De abusionibus saeculi", and "De Tribus habitaculis", were composed by St. Patrick in Irish and translated into Latin at a later period. Passages from them are assigned to St. Patrick in the "Collectio Hibernensis Canonum", which is of unquestionable authority and dates from the year 700 (Wasserschleben, 2nd ed., 1885). This "Collectio Hibernensis" also assigns to St. Patrick the famous synodical decree: "Si quae quaestiones in hac insula oriantur, ad Sedem Apostolicam referantur." (If any difficulties arise in this island, let them be referred to the Apostolic See). The beautiful prayer, known as "Faeth Fiada", or the "Lorica of St. Patrick" (St. Patrick's Breast-Plate), first edited by Petrie in his "History of Tara", is now universally accepted as genuine. The "Dicta Sancti Patritii", or brief sayings of the saint, preserved in the "Book of Armagh", are accurately edited by Fr. Hogan, S.J., in "Documenta de S. Patritio" (Brussels, 1884). The old Irish text of "The Rule of Patrick" has been edited by O'Keeffe, and a translation by Archbishop Healy in the appendix to his Life of St. Patrick (Dublin, 1905). It is a tract of venerable antiquity, and embodies the teaching of the saint.

Posted by anthrojudd at 6:35 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink

Newer | Latest | Older