Thursday, December 30, 2010


You know only/A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,/And the dry stone no sound of water. T. S. Eliot

"Who cares," an earnest correspondent insistently inquired, "if Work of Human Hands is a failure? What does it matter if the author is a faux scholar? Let Cekada pretend to be an expert: all this arguing about linguistic technicalities, style, and Latin is too arcane for the average layman to understand. Just let me have genuine sacraments. Why don't you stop all this detraction. Cekada can't help his bad education, and we need valid priests. Exposing his ignorance is not helpful in the present crisis in the Church."

Good question--and a fair objection. It's time for an answer. But first, we'll put away for good all this nonsense about detraction with the following quotation from McHugh and Callan's Moral Theology (2037 [b]), which we found on Cathinfo (page 194):

[T]here is no right to an extraordinary reputation, if it is based on false premises, for the common good does not require such a right, and hence it is not detraction to show that the renown of an individual for superior skill or success is built up on advertising alone or merely on uninformed rumor.

Now, back to the question.

Priestly carelessness in what laymen consider apparently arcane matters does have a deleterious effect on Catholics' access to the true sacraments. The inferior formation of priests spiritually affects every traditional Catholic's quest for sanctification. When the teachers of future priests are poorly educated and misinformed, then there is small hope that their students will be any better, especially when we realize that many young men enter their priestly training with severe educational deficits.

The formation of priests must be rigorous and underpinned by high standards. Instructors must be disciplinary masters of a complex and highly technical body of knowledge, not dabblers or even gifted amateurs (which Anthony Cekada certainly is not). The seminary's administration must uphold the institution's academic integrity and weed out the intellectually incapable, the spiritually unfit, and the socially backward.

Why? Because the content of the genuinely Catholic seminary curriculum is difficult to master. Because the salvation of our immortal souls may depend upon a priest's knowing his stuff from the moment he is ordained.

The intellectual life of the seminary, though joyous, is one of many hours of grueling study under the tutelage of exacting professionals with real academic credentials. It cannot be interrupted by special building-repair projects, disciplinary whims, and the cult of personality. The curriculum advertised must be the curriculum taught, and instructors must be held accountable to know and to teach the course of studies. Moreover, the core of a seminary education must be a solid grounding in ecclesiastical Latin.

The seminary is not the place to learn the art of pretending as modeled by the faculty. Clerical urbanitas is not the apple-polishing sufferance of humbugs in return for passing grades and an easy sinecure. The seminary must impart an ethos of real competence. It is no place for PR antics and spin machines, for winks, nods, and elbow pokes to the midriff.

Throughout the month of January, Pistrina will devote itself to pointing out to the faithful the examples of poor formation and the dangers they present to Catholics' spiritual health. With the help of generous outside assistance, Pistrina has been investigating the completers of Most Holy Trinity "Seminary." It has conducted interviews with those who have left it out of conscience. It invites others, who may have been inspired by Fr. Carlos Ércoli's courage, to send in their stories to

We promise complete confidence. We don't want names. We want facts so that we can warn the faithful. We want examples to advise young men who earnestly desire to serve God to look elsewhere.

Friday, December 24, 2010


A long line of case studies shows that it is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. Viscount Hewart

Pistrina has watched with convulsive amusement as the red-neck cult’s organ of disinformation, the St. Gertrude the Great Weekly Bulletin, tries in vain to prop up Anthony Cekada’s collapsed reputation as a man of learning. Hilariously, the cult’s Grand Panjandrum himself, “One-Hand” Dan, last week singled him out as “another hidden talent.” Now, let’s admit it: All anyone will find under Anthony’s bushel is a smoldering, fetid meadow muffin.

Still, cult leaders endeavor to convince us otherwise, with their strained (and contrived?) anecdotes of intellectual prowess. Yet no amount of spin will alter the opinion of honest men and women who know better. This Yuletide, thankfully, we have observed unmistakable signs that many people are coming to their senses. The best portent was the early arrival of St. Nick in the company of the very resolute Krampus. With the latest defection of a priest from the SGG cult’s miasmic influence, the Blunderer and the Pooh-Bah got a big bundle of switches and a stocking full of lumps of coal.

How satisfying is Santa’s justice!

Savor the moment, then, and join us as we congratulate the Reverend Father Carlos Ércoli on his recent escape from the West Chester-Brooksville cabal. We wish him a speedy recovery and every success in his new chapel. Father is a very talented man, who speaks four languages; he is also a decent priest deserving of everyone’s support. (Jolly old St. Nicholas knows who’s been good!)

If you are a traditional Catholic heavy laden under the cultists’ yoke, look to Father Ércoli for the inspiration to break free. If you are a traditional Catholic who views sedevacantist priests with a jaundiced eye, you now have proof that not all these men are ethically and intellectually challenged.

Our only question is, Why didn’t the Krampus take the bad children away in his sack?

Now that would have been the best gift of all.

Monday, December 20, 2010


"Oh, now you're taking me illiterally." Way Out West

Ed. Note: In the miry slough that is WHH, such a place as cannot be mended, we encountered the bumbling Stan Laurel of liturgiology on his impossible quest for a scholarly reputation. There we saw that among the many failings that bar his way to the Wicket Gate leading to academic esteem is his less-than-adequate Latinity.

Recently, we were astonished to learn that our blunderer was a pilgrim once in another region of Traddieland, at a time when he was against the Thc lineage before he was for it. There, on one "historic" occasion, he waxed bold enough to sneer at the aged archbishop's Latin. Therefore, we decided to see for ourselves whether his critical acumen was sharper than his dull, practical understanding of the language. (Preview: it wasn't.)

Inasmuch as the study is more detailed than the space we have for a post, we gave Reader #3 a separate page, with the same title as this post. Just click here to read "Pilgrim's Fine Mess."

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


You like poetry?”

“Ye-es, pretty well—some poetry,” Alice said doubtfully.

From Reader #2

Michaelmas term is merrily skipping to a close, so my fellow Readers invited me back. They are so occupied. (Unlike Anthony, they’ve all got several post-nominals, and so there's very much academic work indeed.) Just before end of term, together we’ll light Pistrina’s Yule log. Our copy of Work of Human Hands, with all its tallowy botches and brittle prose, will make such splendid kindling!

Well, as we wait on the lip of Yuletide, don't you think some narrative poetryand not an essay about Anthony and his enablers!might be very much in order? Why, we haven't heard poetry at Pistrina since the Invitation to "The Lobster Quadrille." I found a poem much like some verses I heard repeated in another eerie place. Oh, really, it'll sound utter nonsense, yes, I know. But I do love nonsense so. The title is The Pooh-Bah and the Blunderer. (Its ending, alas! is very sad.)

The sky was raining on the cult,

Raining like cats and dogs:

He did his very best to fright

Two clueless theologues—

By causing leaks to drip upon

Their travel catalogues.

The earth was growling angrily,

Because she thought the sky

Should have poured down hot thunderbolts

To get the clerks to fly—

“It’s very rash of him,” she soughed,

“To keep them high and dry!”

The cult was broke as broke could be,

The pews were void as void.

You hardly spied a soul, because

Most souls had been annoyed

By tales so drear they might be found

In cases known to Freud.

The Pooh-Bah and the Blunderer

Were talking balderdash:

They wept like usurers to see

Such scarcity of cash:

“If only we could write a Book,”

They wished, “we’d have a bash!”

“If chapels with fat building funds

Were closed by next full moon,

Do you suppose,” the Pooh-Bah asked,

“That you could publish soon?”

“Indeedy,” said the Blunderer,

And joined him in this tune:

“O Suckers, come and buy his Book!”

The Pooh-Bah did entreat.

“A silly read, a selfish need

Your dollars aye will meet:

We both can squander all you have

(But won’t give a receipt).”

The eldest Sucker gaped at him

And nodded his assent:

The eldest Sucker wiped his drool

And took out his last cent—

As token of his loss of will

Amidst such devilment.

A flock of Suckers bleating crawled,

All eager to be shorn:

Their coats were rags, their faces smudged,

Their shoes were scuffed and worn—

And that was par, because, you see,

They fell for Pooh-Bah’s corn.

But many faithful ran away:

The Book, each sensed, was junk,

And by the score, they found the door

(The Duo’s surely sunk!),

For from Pistrina’s just critique,

All learned the Book was bunk.

The Pooh-Bah and the Blunderer

—The twain…oh, so non-U—

Conspired to unload the Book

Outside their poor purlieu,

While empty-headed Suckers sank

Upon an empty pew.

“The time has come,” the Pooh-Bah hissed,

“To gainsay many things:

The goofs—and gaffes—and reeling facts—

And ugly misspellings—

And how the Latin’s tommyrot,

And whence such dreck up springs:

“The Book, why, it’s…a monument:

It’s magisterial!”

Pistrina cried, “You’re wrong, you louse!

You mean ‘bacterial’:

It has the inner density

Of soggy cereal!”

The Pooh-Bah forced his unctuous grin

(As oils from Canòpus);

He clenched his candle, book, and bell

And—like a lagòpus—

He croaked, “Ye fiendish Readers! mark:

TIS a magnum opus!”

“Contrariwise,” the Readers scoffed,

Bemused at his dismay.

“After such blunders, that would be

An untrue thing to say:

The dunce can’t write a paragraph

(He hasn’t the DNA)

“His pages are befouled with slang

No scholar would have writ!”

The Blunderer said nothing but

“I do not care a whit:

Folks mayn’t a dominie adjudge,

Though he be full of sh—!”

“You have a point,” the Pooh-Bah shrieked,

“Men durst not criticize!

If they see wrong, they must shut up

And disbelieve their eyes.

But should they not, soon I’ll step in

To shame and demonize.”

“We’ve spilled the beans,” the Readers chimed,

“You’ve scarcely been to school;

Of scholarship and deep, deep thought

There’s not a molecule

In that bad Book replete with flaws,

Which good men ridicule.”

“O Readers,” spurned the Blunderer,

“I shall not pay you heed:

There’re fools enough in Traddieland,

Who—though they cannot read—

Will pimp the Book in cyberspace:

And that is all we need!”

Thursday, December 2, 2010


“Ak! en lille Svovlstikke kunde gjøre godt.” (Oh! A little match could do well.)

Hans Christian Andersen

Ed. Note: The Reader loves a teary, holiday tale of an impoverished waif's affliction and ultimate redemption as well as the next mawkish sentimentalist. This post, you’ll be happy to learn, isn’t such a story. It’s a radical excision of the cockamamie assertion that Work of Human Hands has, or even could have, offered an authoritative contribution to the discussion of the Pauline reform. It’s also a corrective against the froward endeavor of the book's promoters to convince the Catholic world that Providence erred when it assigned to an ill-schooled outsider an excruciatingly modest role in life. The spectacle is pitiful, but it elicits our sense of dread and distaste, not our sympathy.

From Reader #1

Supporter or adversary alike will concur that Pistrina Liturgica has by now nullified the delusional notion that Work of Human Hands is scholarly. We will now demythologize any claim the book's fawning entourage might advance for its author's possessing liturgical expertise. Our analysis is based on the scientific research of K. Anders Ericsson and others, who have closely studied expert performance. It will become plain how no one in the academic world (including the isolated outcasts and feral interlopers on its periphery) can ever acknowledge the author as an expert. In addition, it will be clear that in this lifetime, the author can never attain the expertise that his claque undeservedly imputes to him, for he never enjoyed what Malcolm Gladwell calls "accumulative advantage."

The Science of Human Expertise

Ericsson's research informs us that experts are made, not born, after years of intense, deliberate practice and systematic training by determined, well-informed teachers, who are world-class achievers themselves. At a minimum, it takes about 10 years or 10,000 hours of sacrifice, effort, and self-awareness to become, say, a chess master or virtuoso musician. The practice must be highly concentrated and informed by coaching, both external (an “unsentimental” teacher) and internal (the self-driving “inner coach”). Furthermore, deliberate practice means stretching oneself to do something that is beyond one’s range. It's a continual effort to eliminate weakness and to avoid easy, automatic responses and “creeping intuition bias.” Another researcher on human expertise, M. L. Germain, has defined several behavioral dimensions of objective expertise, among which are discipline-specific knowledge, formal education, qualifications, and training to be an expert.

An Elemental Education

Savvy business executives and responsible public agencies use the fruits of human-expertise studies to evaluate candidates for employment and proposals for contract work. As Catholics—traditional, sedevacantist, or Novus Ordite—we have as great a stake in assuring that we have genuine experts as does a Fortune 500 company. Therefore, let’s apply these scientifically established principles to Fr. Cekada’s vita to see whether he’s up to our high expectations or overmatched by the complexities of the question and his irremediable preparation.

We’ll address the training issue first. From public sources (e.g., Wikipedia) and his own disclosures to our informants, Cekada graduated in 1973 from a Wisconsin diocesan seminary with a credential in theology. After a spell with the Cistercians, he studied for two years at the SSPX seminary in Écône, Switzerland, until his ordination in 1977, whereupon he returned to the U.S. as a seminary teacher.

Those of us of a certain age know that Catholic educational standards headed into a precipitous decline just before 1969. According to the Wisconsin seminary’s website, it even began offering degrees to laymen in the ’70s, so you can imagine that the curriculum was much adulterated during Cekada’s early formative years. Moreover, as Fr. Cekada has openly remarked, his vocal traditionalism antagonized seminary officials. Arguably, then, it’s highly improbable that he would have been afforded the kind of dedicated coaching required to prepare the career of an expert in the liturgy. Furthermore, in the '70s, the authorities were working overtime to erase from memory any trace of the Tridentine rite: Jungmann’s antiquarian The Early Liturgy, not his Missarum Sollemnia, was all the rage.

During his short two-year stint at Écône, seminarian Cekada would have been busy taking a slate of required courses in a foreign language that he was still trying to learn, so there would have been little time to begin specializing in the liturgy. In fact, at the time, well-informed sources say that the Écône liturgy was a hodgepodge of the new and old. Indeed, former seminarians from that time report that formal study of liturgy was not a high priority: The society's emphasis was on producing priests, not liturgists. Moreover, although Cekada attended the lectures of Guérard des Lauriers, it’s almost a certainty than the learned Dominican would have lavished his attentions on academic stars like the well-bred, urbane, confidently multilingual, and Cambridge-educated (now Bishop) Richard Williamson (ordained 1976), and not upon a parvenu.*

The Lost Decades

From 1979 to the present, Fr. Cekada spent his days in pastoral and administrative work with several chapels, wrote occasional short articles and tracts on sundry sedevacantist themes, initiated some noisy—and self-destructive—controversies (e.g., Leonine prayers, Feeneyism, the Schiavo case), dabbled on the edges of canon law, journeyed monthly to teach a course or two at a tiny traditionalist “seminary,” and actively participated in several building projects. There’s no disputing that his has been an active life, but not the kind of life that produces a disciplinary expert. First, there must have been no time to enroll in graduate school or undergo the daily, concentrated, sustained, specific, and deliberate practice required to satisfy the 10,000-Hour-Rule. Second, he had no universally recognized disciplinary expert to coach him regularly over the years. Moreover, his reactionary** ecclesiology coupled with the absence of formal training rendered him an untouchable in the world community of liturgical scholarship. In this respect, he’s always been the eternal other, a liturgical home-aloner. And as Gladwell mordantly observed, "No one ... ever makes it alone."

To be sure, during these years, Fr. Cekada did some reading and undoubtedly acquired a fair library on the subject. However, deliberate practice, correctly understood, means more than reading, even if the reading is attentive, painstaking, reflective, and thorough. Reading is only preparatory for intense, reflective, and systematic practice, coaching, and training. Admittedly, Cekada became more informed about the liturgy and the Pauline reform than the average American traditionalist Catholic priest, but he simply could not have become an expert under the circumstances of his life. From his self-reported humble origins to his unanchored and restless maturity, the opportunities just weren’t there.

Another Fly in the (self-an)Ointment

Even had Fr. Cekada been able to spare at least 10,000 hours over a 10-year period for deliberate practice in liturgiology, he still couldn’t have emerged an expert. Liturgics, unlike playing chess or the organ, is a multidisciplinary study, which demands solid background knowledge of other disciplines, especially sacred languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew [and Syriac, perhaps]), comparative linguistics, history and sociology, paleography, textual criticism, theology (post-graduate level), anthropology, and archeology. Pistrina has already demonstrated how ill equipped he is in Latin, the sine qua non for Roman-rite liturgical scholarship. If he couldn’t find the time to master Latin, then he wouldn’t have had the time to acquire the other content areas.

The Bottom Line

Work of Human Hands is the stillborn issue of a neglected intellectual orphan, who has not been able, even in a little way, to match insufficient endowments to an outsized, unwarranted hankering for admission into the exclusive circle of legitimate scholars. The author can never measure up: time, nature, and background will not allow it. Work of Human Hands, in spite of an occasional insight here and there, has no value for the serious student of the Pauline reform. Anyone who endorses this assortment of blunders has lost his way. The book is decidedly not "magisterial": it is pedestrian. It is no magnum opus; it's a maestum onus, a sorry load of squealing mistakes and thoroughgoing amateurism. Thanksgiving's over: time to throw out this turkey of a tome.

*The following anecdotes will be helpful in assessing Anthony Cekada’s actual relationship as a pupil with Fr. Guérard des Lauriers, who taught dogma: (1) Even seminarians with a very good comprehension of spoken French confide that the learned Dominican, owing to his advancing age, was very difficult to understand in the mid 1970s. (2) At the meeting of April 27, 1983, just before the expulsion of the Nine from the SSPX, Cekada was one of two priests who asked permission to speak to Archbishop Lefebvre in English; other, more educated Americans translated for him.

**Pistrina does not use this word in a pejorative sense. We are admiring readers of Nicolás Gómez Dávila; Readers often have occasion to quote his aphorism escritor sin talento; eunuco enamorado (Notas, p. 433, 2003 edition).