Frequent readers here will recognize the name of Cui Pertinebit, which has appeared here as both a commenter and as the subject of an article. I have received a letter from him, which takes the form of a Christmas benediction to the ROK community. While it is always pleasurable to receive a letter from a friend, that satisfaction is doubled when the sender is a man of learning and sincere devotion to the virtuous arts.
Intelligence and a patient devotion emerge from his words, as a incipient flame gleams from a bed of smoldering coals; and we are warmed by the energy emitted from these embers. His letter begins below. My response appears below the line after his letter. Readers should be aware that in correspondence, Cui uses the name of Augustinus.
Letter of Cui Pertinebit to the ROK Readership
Ut bene valeas hoc in tempore adventus Domini nostri, Augustinus Exiguus
Incipit tractatellus Augustini de Adventu Domini Nostri:
Why We Need A More Masculine Approach to the Spirituality of the Holiday Season
Recently was the beginning of Advent, the period of preparation for Christmas. Now, I’m sure that all the good fellows on ROK have noticed Christmas decorations in stores ever since Halloween or slightly before, and you watch in horror as the season that seemed so merry and bright as a child, has been transformed by feckless, effeminate consumerism into a suitable occasion for Mariah Carey to shake her festive ass at underage youths while hocking the foreign wares of our degenerate overlords. In fact, that reminds me: Advent is the time in the Liturgical year for remembering the Last Judgment!
While we await the much-deserved destruction of the cosmos in a blaze of empyrean glory, you may want to take some tips from our forefathers for keeping the season with a more masculine focus. Much of the information will be of specifically Christian focus, of course, but the principles may be generally applied by all men of good will (peace be upon them).
While the norm, now, is to burn one’s self out with a lot of shopping and social events until Christmas Day, when suddenly Christmas is over and the festivities drop off the face of the Earth, the traditional way of preparing for Christmas was to keep a very strict discipline and sober mentality leading all the way up to Christmas, and then to feast very, very merrily for 12 days (until Epiphany, and then moderately for another week after that). I find that this approach keeps the season very happy indeed, without the month of pointless stress and the sudden evaporation of Christmas cheer on December 26th.
As to the sober preparation: the season commemorates both the First and Second Comings of Christ, the first in seeming frailty so as to judge the devil’s power and to cast it out of mankind, the second to pass final judgment on all who chose to remain subject to evil despite the offered liberty. As St. Paul points out in the epistle to the Hebrews: if God commanded the death of those who neglected the decrees of God when mere angels ministered the Old Covenant to Moses atop Mt. Sinai, how much greater judgment will overtake those who have trampled the New Covenant with the Son of God underfoot?
One is immediately struck, upon observing many of the oldest traditions and carols, by how they present a lively tension between the themes of mankind’s greatest hopes and fears being revealed at once; slavery and liberty, judgment and redemption, fear and hope, all combine. There is a “bright sadness” to many of the oldest carols, which often use musical modes such as the Dorian, that allow “minor” and “major” feels to blend in the carol. The focus of Advent is not one of peace and joy and togetherness, still less of boozy asininity, but rather, the sober mentality which awaits the great manifestation of God with bated breath. The main prayers for the weeks preceding the feast beseech God to “stir up Thy power” and come, they express the anxious expectation of redemption and assistance.
The ascetic discipline becomes more severe from the 13th on (the feast of St. Lucia), and the “Great O Antiphons” begin on the 17th of December (the 16th in the usage of Catholic England); these O Antiphons are solemn hymns upon the Magnificat at Vespers that address God the Almighty Redeemer and Legislator in awe, forming the acrostic “(V)ero Cras,” “truly, I shall come upon you tomorrow.” In Advent, we await the judgment of Christ Incarnate upon our souls, and we recall the liberty, with which He has set us free to be ready for this Second Coming. We thus repent and set ourselves in order, to await His arrival in our midst.
In the season leading up to Christmas, then, let your minds be sober. There is a fast during this season, which traditionally begins on 15th November to mirror the 40 day Lenten Fast before Easter (but the first week of Advent is a good time to start it, as well). Though the Advent Fast is called the Winter Lent, it is not kept quite so strictly as Lent for the first portion. Men who want to discipline themselves to prepare for Christmas in the traditional way, may wish to abstain from meat, eggs and dairy until Christmas itself. Italians may be accustomed to a seafood dinner on Christmas Eve, which is a last vestige of this practice.
Until December 13th, try to wait until 3:00 PM to eat each day, if you can; it you need to eat something early in the day, try to keep it light and not to have a full meal until 3:00 or 6:00 PM. Beginning on the 13th, keep this practice up on every day except Saturday and Sunday (though do observe the Ember Saturday fast after St. Lucia’s day). Pray more at this time; if you can, pray the Divine Office, especially Vespers. Try to favour the carols that look forward to the Advent of our Lord with expectation: Veni, veni Immanuel, The Angel Gabriel, Riu Riu Chiu, etc. If you can convince your friends and family to keep Advent and Christmas this way, you may be able to avoid being invited to too many little parties here and there before Christmas.
If the discipline seems strict before Christmas, it is only so that the Feast itself may seem more joyous: trust me, when you have kept a strict fast like this, even a simple piece of cheese or a bit of beef seems like a morsel fit for a King. When Christmas itself arrives, make as much merry as you can stand, but remember that a little will go a long way, especially at first as you come off of the stricture of the fasting period. Traditionally, the Tree is decorated on Christmas Eve, and is lit upon returning from the Midnight Mass.
Have your favourite foods and observe your favourite traditions. Let the Lamb’s Wool, Wassail, Egg Nog, etc., flow freely – don’t cheapen your manhood with excess, but feel free to land just an hair on the side of being more merry than is necessary! Try to go to the Midnight Mass – if you are fortunate enough to live someplace where the Three Masses of Christmas are offered, go gladly (provided godless hippies aren’t ruining the services). Chant the parts of the Masses and read the readings at home, yourselves, if need be. You’re going to keep partying all the way until Epiphany, January 6th. This is when the Magi actually arrived, and many Catholic countries actually exchange gifts then. The Eve of Epiphany, “Twelfth Night,” is another night of special mirth and customs.
I respect so many of the chaps at ROK, and I like the focus the site has on general self-improvement. In my opinion, our forefathers kept a better Christmas than we currently do, and so I wanted to share what I considered their chief insight with ROK members: rather than a crash-and-burn, high-stress, low-spirituality skid into the anti-climactic wall of Christmas Day, try instead to keep a mounting expectation and sober discipline until Christmas Day, and then let the joy of the season keep you company for a good long while in low-pressure (and low budget) merriment.
Both in the austere march to the feast, and in the gladsome merriment thereafter (which also has the Feasts of the First Martyr Stephen, the Holy Innocents, the Apostle John, Thomas Becket, the Circumcision of our Lord, the Epiphany, etc.), keep the mind fixed on the spiritual significance of the observations and let these things communicate joys of the highest order to you. Christmas is a time of year when many people stumble around in a deadened, boozy stupor, buying crap while “Jingle Bell Rock” blasts in their ears, only to collapse in depression on December 26th. I have better hopes for the men of ROK.
I wish you all a peaceful and sober Advent, and as joyous a twelve days of Christmas as possible.
Response Of Quintus Curtius
Quintus Curtius Augustino fratro amplissimo suo salutem dicit,
I have read your letter here with great interest, and expect that it will be as well received by the community as was our last dialogue. You should know that your favors and counsel here are valued, and their positive reception speaks to the interest that many readers have in matters of spiritual devotion; and although human power is rarely granted except in accord with destiny, we strive to approach the ideals set for us, and let others worry about what will happen.
To exert effort towards these ideals which you speak of is to be privy to some splendid human achievement, one that assures us both reward and sustenance. Let us congratulate ourselves—if we may be so presumptuous—on our shared search for these Divine Principles, a search which infuses our worldly labors, and draws us steadily upwards.
Know, then, that men of whatever station and standing seek out each other, and take comfort in shared goals and struggles; the activity of one inspires the other, and so the progress of man is assured. And let us not forget to be patient with our younger brothers, as the racket and din of inexperience may sometimes overwhelm the voices of Reason. Time and life lived are the two prerequisites for wisdom.
I find the counsel of Angelo Poliziano, when writing to the Bishop of Segni, to be most wise. He said, Amici vitia noveris, non oderis.
This means, as you know: Take note of a friend’s shortcomings, but do not despise them.
Read More: A Dialogue With A Pious Monk