This is me, Eccles

This is me, Eccles
This is me, Eccles

Saturday 30 December 2017

The mystery of the shepherds

Many writers have speculated about the identities of the Magi, most recently Fr Dwight Longenecker. Clearly, many questions are still to be answered, of which the key ones are:
  • were there three of them?
  • were they wise?
  • were they men?
Indeed, next Christmas's blockbuster by Fr James Martin SJ is expected to reveal that they were five women deacons wearing dalmatics.

traddy creche

A traddy nativity scene, unsuitable for modern use.

Traditionally, at least, there were three wise men, called Kasper, Müller and Baldisseri, but nobody knows how many shepherds there were, nor any of their names.

My own detailed research suggests that there were three shepherds (because Biblical stuff comes in threes, sevens, twelves and forties). I thought at first that Baa-lamb was a shepherd, but many scholars now say that he kept a donkey, and was nothing at all to do with the first Christmas.

Balaam and the angel

Shepherds only! Clear off!

A study of the Archers, a long-running religious radio programme broadcast by the BBC, suggests that one of the shepherds might be called Walter Gabriel, originator of the phrase, "Me old pal, me old beauty", although Gabriel is also the name of an angel, so one cannot be sure.

The Tony Hancock character Joshua Merryweather (another Biblical name!) is also a possibility, with his classic hymn of praise (now available in The Graham Kendrick Book of Hymns for Today):

I've got mangel wurzels in my garden, 
I've got mangel wurzels in my shed,
I've got mangel wurzels in my bathroom,
And a mangel wurzel for a head.

Tony Hancock et al

Were these the three shepherds?

Well, it's all very mystifying. Also, why did the angels summon shepherds to the manger? Why not celebrities - by which we mean actors, footballers, comedians, politicians, professors of zoology, professors of human flourishing, etc.? Or even celebrity clerics, bloggers, and professors of theology, who could have explained what was going on? It all sounds like an almighty mix-up.

Massimo Faggioli

"There will be a time for the canonization of King Herod," explains a distinguished professor.

Note: "While shepherds washed their socks by night / All seated round the tub" is © The Graham Kendrick Book of Hymns for Today.

Wednesday 27 December 2017

"Stop correcting me," says Pope Francis

"These days I can't say anything at all without some fool trying to correct me," said Pope Francis in his annual Odi et Omnes ("and I hate you all") address to Catholics worldwide.

A voice behind him immediately piped up, "Oh yes you can!"

Pope Francis and Spadaro

"Holy Father, I should point out that 2+2=5."

"It's getting very irritating," continued the Pope. "Letters, phone calls, e-mails, texts, faxes, tweets, bricks flying through the window with little notes attached, drums tapping out 'corrections' in Morse code, ... and all with the same message, that I got something wrong. I received five huge sacks of correspondence this morning."


A sell-out at Gammarelli's.

"I mean, this morning at breakfast I said 'It looks like rain later', and five minutes later Spadaro rushed in..."

"Ten minutes later."

"Ten minutes later, with a filial correction giving me the weather forecast for Rome."

doves, crow, seagull

"Now is not the time for peace." A crow and seagull join in the attack on the papal doves.

"Of course I have been used to receiving green-ink corrections from people like Sosa, Martin, Faggioli, etc. for years. For example, I said something in my sermon about Jesus being the Messiah, and Fr James Martin sent me a text explaining that 'Many New Testament Scholars' now believe that John the Baptist was the Messiah. But I am used to that."

At that moment an arrow flew up into the Vatican balcony and impaled the arm of the Pope's Master of Ceremonies Guido Marini. Attached to it was a note, "Don't say something infallibly, you're bound to get it wrong." Guido Marini, a man used to crises, calmly removed the arrow from his arm and said, "I think this is for you, Holy Father," before slumping to the ground.

Pope and Guido Marini

"'Tis but a scratch, Holy Father."

"It's been an odd year," commented the Pope. "Cardinals sending Dubia, wall posters in Rome, filial corrections, that book The Dictator Pope, ... anyone would think they were trying to tell me something."

Monday 25 December 2017

The Dictator Santa

The scandals surrounding Santa Claus show no signs of ending, and this week children were horrified to see that "Santa's Grotto" in the Rome branch of VaticoTM featured a nude elf. Moreover, there were allegations of corruption at the North Pole, where Maradona the Gnome was rumoured to have had his hand of God in the till.

Did Santa really slap the heretic Fr James Arius SJ?

The public image of Santa Claus is of a perpetually cheerful man, and his recent exhortation Amo Risi Laetitiam ("I like the joy of laughter") contains many cheerful passages such as "Ho ho ho, ho ho ho" (ARL 1) and "I know if you've been bad or good, but if you've been bad don't worry, you'll still get Christmas presents" (ARL 351, Footnote). However, a new book The Dictator Santa suggests that behind his public image there lies a bad-tempered old curmudgeon who torments his reindeer and shouts at his elves.

How did Rudolph's nose get so red? Did Santa punch him?

At this most holy time of Santa Mass, we don't forget that the season has one true meaning - eat and drink too much, buy lots of expensive presents, and have a good time. So it seems churlish to attack the Holy Father Christmas, who symbolises everything that is important about December 25th.

Still, we should warn the faithful that questions are being raised about the leadership provided by the big man, and that something is rotten at the heart of the North Pole. Some say that the man who came down your chimney last night and kicked your cat is not to be trusted.

The College of Cardinals meets to elect a new Santa.

A happy Christmas to both my readers.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

A nude man at the Vatican

It's O.K., this piece is nothing to do with you, Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, or you, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, so you can relax. No, it is about this year's Vatican Nativity Scene, condemned by the notoriously pure-minded Facebook as being sexually provocative, because it contains the figure of a nude man.

Vatican creche

Probably the first nude man to appear on this blog.

It's a very exciting creche this year, and manages to eliminate Mary, Joseph and Jesus almost entirely, giving preference to Works of Mercy. Some Works of Mercy are more natural than others: take Burying the Dead for example. (The part of the tableau that portrays Burying the Dead looks something like a scene from Dracula...) If my Great-auntie Moly expires behind the sofa after an overdose of gin, should I leave her there for a few years, or get her buried? (Actually, putting a match to her in the garden would be simplest, what with all that gin inside her...) It's true that explaining in Confession that I still haven't buried my great-aunt could be fairly awkward. But I digress.

At the Vatican Press Office, they keep their clothes on, no matter what Amoris Laetitia says.

Although I thought initially that the nude man was Fr James Martin SJ, and that he was in the nativity scene to publicize his latest theological idea - that Jesus was simply a disciple of John the Baptist - I may be wrong, since he (whoever he is) is apparently there to symbolize Clothing the Naked.

Terry Jones nude

A rejected design for the Vatican Nativity scene.

In the Eccles household, we don't include scenes of explicit nudity, but we go for a traditional, rigid, interpretation of the scene. The only oddity is that we have one extra king, who is the wrong size, but he was given to us by a priest, so that shouldn't be a problem.

creche with large king

We really don't have the heart to sack him.

Let's finish with a couple of Anglican nativity scenes from a collection assembled by Fergus Butler-Gallie.

tin man from Sheffield

Sheffield - the tin man from the Wizard of Oz, and his oddly-shaped tinned baby.

Teletubbies from St Alban's

St Alban's - hand-knitted Teletubbies.

Correction: even on a blog intended for family reading, there have been scenes of nude men before. See this piece about the Atheists' Nude Calendar and Richard Dawkins's reluctance to participate...

Thursday 14 December 2017

British values versus Christian values

Apparently School inspectors want new powers to tackle faith schools that 'clash with British values'. Let us take an in-depth look at what is meant by British values.


Britannia (or Britannius?) Keen on diversity, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.

British values were first developed in the age of Prehistoric Britain, which is supposed to have started in about 500,000 B.C. (give or take a few months). In those days schoolchildren were taught to paint themselves with woad - blue for boys, pink for girls - and any kid who wore the wrong colour woad was told to stop being silly.

Diversity was not really popular in those days. The ancient British were very worried about invasions of ancient Franks and Germans - which is why they dug the English Channel - but probably more worried about woolly mammoths.


MAMMOTHS KEEP OUT. Coming over here, eating our cabbages, ...

Presumably the exploits of Adam and Eve were known about, but Christian values were at a rather primitive state.

So let us go forward to 1707, when Britain arose from out the azure main (as the song has it), and became a kingdom including England, Wales and Scotland. What were British values then?

Well, same-sex marriage still wasn't very popular (it basically went out of fashion around the time of Nero, with occasional unsuccessful revivals, as in the time of Edward II), and transgenderism was limited to hairy Scotsmen wearing kilts. Equality and diversity were definitely continental notions (especially after 1789), and shunned by all decent people.

Scotsman and bagpipes

A despised member of society, but only because of the bagpipes.

Christianity was mainly of the Protestant variety, although not a lot like the modern Church of England. People got their ideas mostly from the New Testament, rather than "Thought for the Day". Tolerance and respect for idiots, not being a Christian virtue, was virtually unknown.

So far so good, British values were not all that far from Christian values. Possibly empire-building, fighting the French, and so on, were not entirely in accordance with God's plans, but they were more-or-less OK.

So what is the problem in religious schools these days? Well, at St Custard's we have this:


"Please sir, I want to be a girl." Six of the best for you, Molesworth, sa Headmaster GRIMES chiz chiz chiz

And at St Trinians Catholic School they found this practical way of dealing with an Anglican who enrolled by mistake:

St Trinians

I won't describe the scenes of carnage that followed when St Trinians played hockey against St Aisha's School for the Daughters of Muslim Gentlefolk. 11-0, with 8 Aishains retired hurt. Still, St Trinians girls met their match when the boys girls of St Bruce's Caitlin's Transgender Academy challenged them. It was not a pretty sight.

Anyway, given a choice between Christian values and modern "British values", I think it's time to change my name to Eccleczyk, and declare myself to be Polish.

Saturday 9 December 2017

What do you know about Christmas?

Our attention has been drawn by Archdruid Eileen to an article showing that 9 out of 10 Independent journalists know nothing about Christmas.

The problem, of course is that 99% of them haven't been in a church for more than 20 years ("Is it that big building with the minarets?") and 85% of them have never spoken to a Christian ("They're the ones in the turbans, aren't they?")

The Gherkin

This is probably not a church.

Although we haven't even got to the 2nd Sunday in Advent, it was clear to the Independent editor that we must already be on about the 35th Day of Christmas, which traditionally starts when Bonfire Night is over, and it was time for a "What we don't know about Christmas" piece.

Shockingly, when asked to name the 12 Apostles - not that they have much to do with Christmas - the Independent "Staff and Agencies" (a term they use when they can't find anyone prepared to take responsibility for an article) came up with the following list:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Adam, Eve, Esau, Jacob, David, Goliath, Pontius Pilate,

and as, mentioned on the Archdruid Eileen blog, they narrowly avoided naming Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen (or possibly Kasper and Cupich and Farrell and Tobin).

John Arnold being silly

Christians - except for "Jihadi John" Arnold - do not celebrate Mohammed's birthday.

Clearly, it is difficult to find the traditional Christmas story - either you need to find a Bible, and then it's a long wade through from Genesis until you get to the bit about Bethlehem, or else you need to do "research" (probably Google), and that sounds too much like hard work. Indeed, if you use traditional Christmas keywords such as "snowman", "robin" and "mince pie", you may never stumble across the story at all.

The Easter story is equally hard to pin down, and even a Biblical concordance won't help you if you type in keywords such as "egg", "bunny" and "chocolate". We Christians know that these are key parts of the Easter narrative, but traditionally these bits aren't even read out in church.

I don't think we can blame Pope Francis, who, when he has finished rewriting the Lord's Prayer, is definitely expected to introduce that beautiful old Christmas hymn "We all like figgy pudding" into the liturgy for Christmas Day.

snowman dressed as a priest

"And there came three snowmen unto Bethlehem..."

When asked what languages Jesus spoke, 80% of Independent staff said that, although of course He normally spoke in English (see the King James Bible for proof of this), he must also have understood Gaelic (the language of St Andrew), and probably also spoke whatever it is that Jews speak - probably Yiddish. Anyway, there's clearly no point praying to God (an obscure ritual that some traditional Catholics perform) in languages such as French and German, as HE WON'T UNDERSTAND YOU.

The journalists had heard of the Turin shroud, but most associated it with Alan Turing, the computer chappie, rather than Jesus. "Anyway, wherever Jesus's body is buried, He's probably still wearing the shroud."

Well, with this level of ignorance - and the Guardian is worse - we have a long way to go before we see surveys asking people to explain the Hermeneutic of Continuity, the difference between Modern Reformed Baptists and Reformed Modern Baptists, or the meaning of Eschatology. Let's start with something simpler, such as explaining the Gospels to Fr James Martin SJ.


Harry Houdini - a master of eschatology.

Friday 8 December 2017

The Book of Brexodus, Chapter 11

Continued from Chapter 10

1. So it came to pass that, as the children of Bri-tain had agreed, more or less, May-sis began to speak with the Pharaoh Junck-er at a place called the Table of Negotiation.

Juncker drinking

The Table of Negotiation.

2. And Junck-er spake unto May-sis saying, "Ye must give us riches beyond the dreams of avarice before we allow ye to flee the land of EU-gypt."

3. "Yeah, ye must send us cargoes of ivory, and apes, and peacocks, sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine (especially this), and diamonds, emeralds, amethysts, topazes, cinnamon, and gold moidores. Oh, and platinum statues of Neil Kinnock and Peter Mandelson, lest we forget them."

4. And May-sis, who had also read a certain poem, said "Nay, the most we can offer thee is Tyne coal, road-rail, pig-lead, firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays. Oh, and a cardboard cutout of King David Davis that is indistinguishable from the real thing."

5. Thus it was clear that the stay of May-sis at the Table of Negotiation might be a long one.

Egyptian treasures

The Brexodus bill.

6. So some urged May-sis to walk away from the Table and head for the Red Sea, that the children of Bri-tain might take their chances elsewhere, amongst the Americanites, the Canadiantes, the Australianites, and even the North Koreanites of the land that is called La-la.

7. And others said, "May-sis is not the one to lead us out of EU-gypt, so let us have another leader. Maybe Bo-sis or King David Davis, or perhaps Jacob, he that is called Mogg."

8. And the Dup-ites came to the great Table, speaking of hard borders. And they asked whether, if May-sis parted the Red Sea, it would become a hard border.

9. And others asked whether any EU-gyptians among the people of Bri-tain would be allowed to stay, saying, "If they go, then the children of Bri-tain will starve. For how will they survive without people who can feed them on pizzas, and moussaka, and sauerkraut, and muesli, and the leg of the frog?"


Alas, the croaking of the frog may be heard no more in the land of Bri-tain.

10. "The children of Bri-tain will wander into the wilderness feeding only on what the Lord provideth; namely, fish and chips, the toad that dwelleth in the hole, and the pie that is made of shepherds."

11. Thus May-sis and the Pharaoh Junck-er drank together at the Table for many months, until finally agreement was reached.

12. Possibly.

Continued in Part 12.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

The Dictator Pope

A new book by Marcantonio Colonna has revealed that behind the image of Pope Francis as a humble, merciful, foot-washing, baby-kissing uncle there lies the heart of a fiend.

Charlie Chaplin

A chaplain who once mocked Pope Francis disappeared without trace.

Amongst the revelations in this startling book are the following:

* General Galtieri never wanted to invade the Falkland Islands in 1982, but simply wished to devote himself to breeding llamas. However, the rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel, one Jorge Bergoglio, pushed him into a costly war.

Pope Francis and Matthew Festing

Francis issues threats against Fra' Matthew Festing's pet hamster.

* Pope Francis very humbly refuses to allow his friends to call him "Holy Father", preferring the term "Generalissimo Franco".

* Pope Francis refers to his Swiss Guards as the "Stormtroopers": there is a secret elite corps in the Swiss Guard that is responsible for assassinations.

Swiss Guard

Everyone fears the SG.

* The original title of Amoris Laetitia was Liber Terrae Dominationis - a manual of world domination - but the Pope was persuaded that this was too obvious.

* Two of the cardinals who submitted the Dubia to Pope Francis have died - as Oscar Wilde (or possibly Agatha Christie) put it, to lose one might be a misfortune, to lose two looks like a remarkable stroke of luck for someone.

Steve Colbert

Alt-comedian Steve Colbert swears allegiance to the Pope.

* All Jesuits are Licensed to Kill.

* Pope Benedict is being kept prisoner in an underground cell in the Vatican, emerging only for photo-opportunities with glasses of beer.

* The name "Francis" was chosen as a tribute to Francis Ford Coppola, the producer of the Godfather films.

Pope and Evo Morales

"I like the hammer and sickle, but could you remove the religious bits?"

Of course, I haven't read the book yet, and it may be about something else entirely.

A joke. Anyway, so Pope Francis goes to confession, and the priest says "Let's cut this short, Holy Father. I've read the book."

Sunday 3 December 2017

Has the Second Coming already happened?

Today's Gospel explained that nobody knows when to expect Christ's Second Coming. The newly-discovered Book of the Prophet Iveriah presents one particular theory: What if the Second Coming has already taken place?

Pope Francis

... and he will return to judge and insult the quick and the dead...

Only a fragment of the prophecy survives, but what there is, is fairly definite.

1. And when the Saviour returns he will appear in the humble town of Buenos Aires in the land of gauchos and corned beef.

2. And he will take control of his Church gradually, appearing in a cloud of glory - or at least, white smoke - having been led to the throne of Peter by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse - Murphy-O'Connor (Confusion), Martini (Scandal), Kasper (Heresy) and Danneels (Corruption).

3. His reign will on Earth will last for many years, and be a time of great trouble.

Four horsemen of the Apocalypse

The St Gallen Mafia will make us an offer we can't refuse.

4. For he will explain the scriptures, and bring out new meanings that were never found by the previous occupants of the throne of Peter.

5. And his lowly servants, bearing the names Spadaro, Martin, Faggioli, and many others, will explain that doctrine has evolved, and that which was Gospel Truth in the land of Judaea two thousand years ago is no longer "hip", "cool" and "groovy" (in the language of Vatican II). In short it must be replaced.

6. Thus there will be a New Testament, to be called Amoral Latitude, which will deliver a new message, but in as confusing a way as possible.

7. For the Saviour will not wish that the theologians and moral philosophers go out of business, by actually saying something clear and unambiguous.

8. For what else can they do? They cannot dig, and to beg they are ashamed. So they must continue to preach.

Dictator Pope

And all the World will rejoice. Or not.

9. And there will come doubters unto the Saviour, who will ask him what he means, and whether he really intended to contradict all the previous occupants of the Chair of Peter.

10. And he will utter not a word in answer, while at the same time stressing in his speeches the importance of dialogue.

11. But he will privily let it be known that his words are Magisterial, and of course much more Magisterial than anything previously seen.

It's good to talk

Offer does not apply to Cardinal Burke, the Filial Correction prophets, nor Fr Weinandy.

12. And people will speak out, saying "Surely he has gone mad?" and "Surely, he is an heretic?" and "What the Francis was all that about?"

13. But one day he will simply disappear, and the people will marvel, saying: "Was he really the Messiah, or did he just think he was?"