Some translations from Belli

Since somebody seems to think Belli is due a revival, I dragged up some translations of his work I did years ago. Somebody might like them.

The Lord’s Circumcision

About seven days later in the birthing room,

Wrapped up for warmth in a pile of old hay,

Lay Mary the virgin, undefiled ’til this day,

With the beasts of the field and her blessed son.

Joseph, who to her assistance had come,

When she’d found herself in the family way,

said “Chop, chop, now, we’re off. Today is the day

When we throw a small scrap to the synagogue doves.”

John the Baptist presided in thirty years time.

In the Jordan His soul was washed bright and clean.

Swept away were original sin and earth’s grime.

Some shout “Hosanna”—they make me quite sick—

That He became Christian. I can’t toe the line.

He was a turncoat. I rate Him a prick.

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So now engineers are jihadis too?

[This post is to be treated as a draft rather than a fully-developed position: so I welcome comments, and requests to expand points, and may well change my mind about certain things.]

Not for the first time, the argument is being made that STEM turns its graduates into uncultured oafs, recoverable only through the application of the mind-soothing balm of the humanities. This time, however, it’s serious: Paul Vallely, citing a British Council study, claims that there is `“an engineering mindset”, which makes science students easier prey for terrorist recruiters.

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Preventing radicalization in universities

The government’s guidance to universities in England and Wales on the `Prevent duty’ contains the following paragraphs (120,1):

Universities have a clear role to play in the welfare of their students and we would expect there to be sufficient chaplaincy and pastoral support for all students.

As part of this, we would expect the institution to have clear and widely available policies for the use of prayer rooms and other faith-related facilities. These policies should outline arrangements for managing prayer and faith facilities (for example an oversight committee) and for dealing with any issues arising from the use of the facilities.

The use of the term `prayer rooms’ does make clear which faith is being targeted here. A few years ago, however, Bristol University’s Christian Union barred women from speaking unaccompanied at its events:

We understand that this [women teaching] is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our CU:Equip meetings [its principal weekly meeting], as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away or as our main speaker for mission weeks.

If such a thing happens again, is an academic or other member of university staff expected to note this affront to the `fundamental British value’ of `individual liberty’ and report the Christian Union for extremism?


Roman a Clerc

[Declaration of interest: Kirsty McCluskey is a friend of mine, and I read the book in various drafts.]

Ruritania is not Greeneland, but the Catholic geology of both should be mined properly, if it is to be mined at all. Kirsty McCluskey’s new novelette, The Royal Confessor, is built around the relationships between the ailing monarch of Santa Teresa, his niece, and his Jesuit confessor. Fernand, veteran of Borodino, is prey to some unnamed terror which increasingly extreme religious devotions cannot ease; Sophie, his widowed niece, lives on the charity of the royal household, where the heir apparent Lucien is powerless to protect the island’s autonomy secured by Fernand’s skillful diplomacy decades earlier; Father Neri, the confessor, can offer no consolation to the old soldier, but duty obliges him to come when called.

Catholicism has taken on some of the otherness once reserved for distant tribes of which we knew only that we ruled them, and can be an easy gimmick for a lazy writer. This is especially true of confession (strictly the Sacrament of Penance), whether the use of the `seal’ to set up a thriller, or as a form of therapeutic talking cure (“Fr Eud will see you now.”).

The (A) point of Penance, which distinguishes it from secular therapies, is the relationship to the world outside the penitent. Simply unburdening oneself of one’s concerns is not enough: to be fully reconciled, after forgiveness, the penitent accepts some penance which is commensurate with the sin. Fernand has seen and done terrible things at Borodino; he wants his confessor to reconcile him with his God; his confessor can find no way to bring him to confess the sins which weigh upon him; no penance is possible.

Among the pleasures of the book, then, is an intelligent fictional treatment of a genuine dilemma, and probably one which has been set as an essay question in theology exams: how to absolve a penitent who will not confess his sin. Fernand believes himself damned, but cannot take the only refuge open to him; Neri does not believe him damned, but cannot offer him the only consolation of worth.