Notes on Rotal Jurisprudence from 1912 concerning lack of form, force and fear

sententiaeIn a class on the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota, our professor was naming all the places to find published sentences and decrees, and also warned us of the danger of taking one sentence alone, as if that was sufficient to represent the constant and common jurisprudence of the Roman Rota. But then I wondered, “How much do we have to read? Surely we can’t read all of it?” I asked her and she recommended reading one sentence a week. If you do that 10 months out of the year, then you will have read 40 sentences within a year. Within two years, I could read 80 sentences, and she said that would be “sufficient” for obtaining some grasp of the common and constant jurisprudence which should guide all tribunals.

Eager to begin this project, I went to the library and found the earliest matrimonial nullity case I could find, and was pleased to discover it was only six pages long! It was easier than I expected, though I still had to look up about 20 words in the course of reading it. I was also curious to see which laws would be referred to, since this case was decided before the promulgation of the first Code of Canon Law in 1917. As an exercise, I will put some observations below. Continue reading


Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Sigrid_Undset_youngHow does one write a brief reflection on such a large work? Kristin Lavransdatter is the 1100-page, three-volume masterpiece of Sigrid Undset (1882–1949), a Norwegian novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. This novel follows the life of a girl growing up in 14th century Norway. Without giving away nearly anything of the plot, I want to highlight a few of the elements that make this novel excellent.

The interior life of a woman. A friend of mine once said, “If you want to understand women, you need to read this book!” I have consequently been told by female readers of the book that this is an overstatement, and yet they also back up the authenticity of Undset’s portrayal of Kristin. I myself found that this book sheds light on the mystery of the feminine interior life, without necessarily making sense of it. The narrator is not Kristin, and yet is so close to her thoughts and feelings that the reader is able to say “Ah, I see why she’s doing that”, while at the same time seeing all the irrationality and inconsistency which torments other characters who are not so close. You see the conflicts of love and jealousy, pride and tenderness, a willingness to suffer and a longing to be loved. Memory also plays a role throughout, unifying a narrative that takes place over decades.

Person, household, nation. In addition to giving so careful a portrayal of the interior life, Undset takes great care to develop the communities in which Kristin lives. First of all, there is the context of her family—both the family she comes from and the one she establishes. And not just the family, but the household, as the reader becomes aware of the servants, the land, the crops and cattle, family meals and visitors. The household is immediate context of the actions in the book and forms the concerns that arise—and there are stark differences from household to household. The less immediate context, but just as important as the book goes on, is the nation of Norway itself. Early on, one hears references to the king or invaders, but as the book continues, the reader discovers how the good of the characters and families are tied up with the much wider good of the nation, and how dramatically in can have an impact on how things turn out.

OlafA Christian world, indeed, a Catholic world. The world of Kristin Lavransdatter is one where Christ is king. This does not mean everyone is perfect, but there is a shared awareness that Heaven is goal of every man, that every sin requires penance, that saints intercede for us, that sacraments are efficacious, and that God will come again to judge the living and the dead. The time of year is marked by liturgical seasons and the feasts of saints, and the laws of the Church are known by all—even if they are not always followed. The book does not fail to represent the failures that exist among Christians and clergy, but at the same time shows how faith and the practice of it serve to unite a society and elevate it above merely individual preoccupations.

Sin and its effects. I won’t go into detail here, but there is much in this book that is not pretty. Perhaps Undset’s greatest achievement in the book is showing that sin has consequences. It is a common maxim that “You can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” This novel shows the foolishness of that thought. There is a not a single action without effects and how, even after making amends, the soul and the world continue to bear the marks of those who live in them.

If you’re not quite feeling up for a work of this size, I highly recommend Gunnar’s Daughter, a much shorter work (160 pages) by the same author which is set a few centuries earlier and covers many of the same themes. Another excellent book by Sigrid Undset, albeit non-fiction, is her biography of Saint Catherine of Siena, perhaps the best ever written.

[This is #15 on my classics reading list.]

Crowdsourced List of Funny Books

two women laughingSomeone asked me at dinner the other day for a book recommendation—a funny book recommendation. It was difficult to think of any right away! Although I laugh while reading many books, I haven’t read many books that I would characterize as comedies. So I turned to Facebook with the question, “What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?” I received quite a variety in the results! I have gathered them all here for convenience. (Note: I have not read most of these.)

  • Cervantes, Don Quixote (1615).
  • Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal (essay, 1729).
  • Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749).
  • Voltaire, Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759).
  • Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1836).
  • Edgar Allen Poe, «Never Bet the Devil Your Head» (1841).
  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
  • Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (1889).
  • Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband (play, 1895).
  • P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), generally recommended.
    • Psmith, Journalist (1915).
    • Leave it to Psmith (1923).
    • Summer Moonshine (1937).
    • World of Mr. Mulliner (1972).
  • O. Henry, «Ransom of the Red Chief» (1910).
  • Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall (1928).johnson
  • Evelyn Waugh, Scoop (1938).
  • Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1954).
  • W.E. Bowman, The Ascent of Rum Doodle (1956).
  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961).
  • Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth (1961).
  • Michael Green, The Art of Course Acting (1964).
  • David Lodge, The British Museum is Falling Down (1965).
  • Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979).
  • John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980).
  • Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes (comic strip, 1985-1995).
  • Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens (1990).
  • Terry Pratchett, Small Gods (1992).
  • Dave Barry, Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys (1995).
  • David Foster Wallace, «Shipping Out» (1996). Reprinted in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), or available here:
  • Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997).
  • David Sedaris, general recommendation. Best known for his essay collection Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000).Astounded
  • Augusten Burroughs (1965-present), general recommendation. Best known for his memoir Running with Scissors (2002).
  • Chuck Klosterman, essays. Best known for his essay collection Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto (2003).
  • Terry Pratchett, Going Postal (2004).
  • Michael Perry, Off Main Street (2005), especially «Rock Slide!», a story about kidney stones.
  • Mark Helprin, Freddy and Fredericka (2005).
  • Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006).
  • David Wong, John Dies at the End (2007).
  • Christopher Moore, Fool (2009).
  • Justin Halpern, S███ My Dad Says (2010).
  • Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011).

I also want to add Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and «Revelation» by Flannery O’Connor. Happy reading!

Eugénie Grandet: My first Balzac novel

ibalzac001p1Reading Honoré de Balzac, I asked myself the same question I asked upon reading George Eliot, “How is it that no one ever recommended this author to me?” Balzac is one of the great 19th century French authors, considered one of the founders of literary realism, and known for his series of over 90 works called The Human Comedy (La Comédie Humaine). The works in this collection (mostly novels) are divided into sequences which focus on a specific sphere of French life, such his “Scenes of private life” or his “Scenes of Parisian life”. The volume I just completed, Eugénie Grandet, falls into his “Scenes of provincial life”. Upon learning this, I was instantly reminded of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which bears the subtitle A Study of Provincial Life. Continue reading

Mrs. Dalloway: My first Woolf novel

woolfOverall, I did not care for Mrs. Dalloway. First of all, I was surprised by the way it was written, not having read anything about Woolf’s fiction before now. After reading for some time, I noticed that I hadn’t quite taken in what was going on, and one minute we were watching Clarissa prepare for a party, and then without pause, we were watching Septimus and his Italian wife, and there was so much apparent nonsense in between. What was I reading? I had enjoyed A Room of One’s Own (a prose work of Virginia Woolf) but Mrs. Dalloway had none of that work’s clarity or ease. I considered quitting after 30 pages, but a voice encouraged me to continue.

What made the book thoroughly unenjoyable was the meaninglessness of it all and the general unlikableness of any of the characters (with a few exceptions). These are the same reasons why I found The Trial by Kafka or Buddenbrooks by Mann thoroughly unpleasant (again, with a few exceptions). Perhaps one might say that there is much meaning and cleverness in the work if one takes the time to tease it out, but whereas I have a divine guarantee that I will find some fruit in the difficult words of Leviticus or Zechariah, I have no such assurance from Virginia Woolf, and so I do not anticipate returning to the work, at least not until someone has helped me see more clearly what she is trying to do. Continue reading

Overview of 2017 Reading

George_Eliot_by_Samuel_LaurenceBack in April, I started my Classics Challenge—a plan to read 50 classic works over the course of 5 years—but that was not the start of my reading for the year. Here is a quick overview of the books I finished in 2017.

The author that stands out this year is George Eliot. Having discovered Middlemarch in 2016 and loving it, I continued to read George Eliot throughout 2017:

Apart from The Lifted Veil, I could recommend any of these excellent novels. Middlemarch remains my favorite Eliot novel, but Daniel Deronda and Romola are not far behind. In addition to those books by George Eliot, I read 11 other novels in 2017. Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Some of these were excellent:

Some of them were quite good:

Some were good, but not as enjoyable as I had hoped:The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić

And there were a couple that I did not care for at all:

Toward the end of 2016, a classmate started a Shakespeare reading group which gave me occasion to read Henry VI, Parts 1-3 and Richard III, as well as the Sonnets. This group continued into 2017 where we read Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1-2, and Henry V. Apart from these plays and poems of Shakespeare, I also read the classic Metamorphoses of Ovid and the modern Rosmersholm of Henrik Ibsen.

mass photo maxThe most momentous event of the year for me was certainly ordination to the priesthood on June 24th, and with this came further reading about the saints and the liturgy. I read the Letters of St. Cyprian, the Lausaic History (about the desert fathers), biographies of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Dominic, Bl. John Henry Newman (both by himself and by another), and a handful of saints canonized in 1881. In the last month of the summer, having said Mass every day for a couple months, I wanted to read more about its history and how the prayers came to be as they are, and found the excellent Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid and Voice of the Church at Prayer by Uwe Michael Lang. Continuing my canon law studies, I have read all sorts of articles and books (in whole and in part) that I won’t list here. All the reading in canon law spurred my interest in other legal works, and so I read Cicero’s Republic and Laws, a huge chunk of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, and the Qur’an.

This last month, I have almost exclusively read about the history of canon law, especially in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic tradition. With Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather in my carry-on, I expect to read more literature as 2018 begins!