Mortis portis fractis fortis

Harrowing of hell

The Harrowing of Hell, from a fourteenth century manuscript – wikimedia commons

I was looking for Easter Carols and came across this gem from an old Latin hymn by Peter the Venerable from the 12th century.

Lo, the gates of death are broken,
And the strong man armed is spoiled;
Of his armor which he trusted,
By the Stronger Arm despoiled.
Vanquished is the prince of hell,
Smitten by the Cross he fell.

Then the purest light resplendent
Shone those seats of darkness through,
When, to save whom He created,
God willed to create anew.

That the sinner might not perish,
For him the Creator dies;
By whose death our dark lot changing,
Life again for us doth rise.

Satan groan’d, defeated then,
When the Victor ransom’d men;
Fatal was to him the strife,
Unto man the source of life;
Captured as he seized his prey,
He is slain as he would slay.

Thus the King all hell hath vanquish’d
Gloriously and mightily;
On the first day leaving Hades,
Victor He returns on high;

With Himself mankind upraising,
When He rose from out the grave,
Thus restoring what creating
In its origin He gave.

By the sufferings of his Maker,
To his perfect Paradise
The first dweller thus returneth;
Wherefore these glad songs arise.

Peter the Venerable
translated by Elizabeth R. Charles

from Great Hymns of the Middle Ages

To The Googles!

The Latin title is fantastic, Mortis portis fractis fortis.  Magdalene’s Egg has the latin text in an article titled A Diamond in the Rough. There Fr Anonymous gives two English translations, the one above and another from S.W. Duffield. Looking at Duffield’s book we find a reference to yet another hymn, this time by Bishop Reginald Heber. Duffield finds an echo in some lines of Heber’s hymn God has gone up with a merry noise.

How about I type up Heber’s Easter hymn here, as it seems worth perpetuating:

God is gone up with a merry noise
Of saints that sing on high,
With His own right hand and His holy arm
He hath won the victory!

Now empty are the courts of death,
And crush’d thy sting, despair;
And roses bloom in the desert tomb,
For Jesus hath been there!

And He hath tamed the strength of Hell,
And dragg’d him through the sky,
And captive behind His chariot wheel,
He hath bound captivity.

God is gone up with a merry noise
Of saints that sing on high;
With His own right hand and His holy arm
He hath won the victory!

I like those hymns where the final “y” rhymes with “high”, “aye”, “bye”. He hath won the victor-eye!

Duffield quotes Heber’s second verse as : “Now broken are the bars of Death,”

Duffield’s own translation is maybe the most literal:

The gates of death are broken through,
The strength of hell is tamed,
And by the holy cross anew
Its cruel king is shamed.
A clearer light has spread its ray
Across the land of gloom
When he who made the primal day
Restores it from the tomb.
For so the true Creator died
That sinners might not die.
And so he has been crucified
That we might rise on high.

For Satan then was beaten back
Where he, our Victor stood ;
And that to him was deathly black
Which was our vital good.
For Satan, capturing, is caught,
And as he strikes he dies.
Thus calmly and with mighty thought
The King defeats his lies,
Arising whence he had been brought.
At once, to seek the skies.

Thus God ascended, and returned
Again to visit man ;
For having made him first, he yearned
To carry out his plan.
To that lost realm our Saviour flew,
The earliest pioneer,
To people Paradise anew
And give our souls good cheer.

Hymnary has a translation by Alexander Ramsay Thompson Broken are the gates of death.  I’ll type it up here as no one else seems to have done so yet.

Broken are the gates of death!
To the Stronger yields the strong,
And his kingdom perisheth
At the cross, while all along
Death’s dark dungeon streams the light,
Driving out the abysmal night.

What at first He did create
Pure and holy, now to save,
And to make regenerate,–
Though it cost the cross and grave,–
Comes the Maker from on high,
Dying, that man may not die.

Wondrous death, which gives us life!
Hell against the Champion lone
Rushes madly to the strife,
Only to be overthrown,
What can ever equal this!
Life is ours, for death is His.

He who led a captive train,
Is himself a captive led;
And the slayer now is slain;
Death is left among the dead;
Strong and glorious comes the King
From the conflict, triumphing.

Risen with Him, in Him restored,
Is the falled, guilty race;
Sinful man and sinless Lord
Now are one; his rightful place,
By His Maker’s will, man takes,
And His joyful worship makes.

DIY Missal and Hymnal

Photo from the Campion MissalCorpus Christi watershed have unveiled plans for their new St Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Extraordinary form of the Mass.

It is a great idea – an all in one pew book with everything you need to join in all the parts of the Latin Mass that people are supposed to – singing the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei. Yes, you guys in the pews are supposed to be singing along. As well as that it has all the propers so people can follow all the parts that change from day to day – praying with understanding!

After all that the hymns section is like icing on the cake.

What a great idea! In fact, such a great idea that here’s one I prepared earlier. I call it Congregavit nos in unum, or the Draft Traditional Hymnbook. Okay, it’s not quite so swish, it has no colour pages, the kyriale is abridged (leaving out Masses 3,5,6,14,15), and instead of the entire propers it only has the epistle and gospel of each Sunday and Feast Day. But it’s cheaper and the source code is available so it can be customised to suit your local circumstances.

But with all that, the Campion Missal still comes out ahead. With the advantage of a large scale project you can have finer paper in a hard cover to last longer. They are also working to keep the price down to make it affordable for parishes to purchase in quantity.

But the Campion Missal is not ready yet. You can get a copy of my pale imitation Congregavit nos in unum via Lulu right now. Printed and shipped from a country near you (Australian orders are processed in Melbourne). As I write this it is still at cost price, I don’t get a cut yet until I’m sure it’s all fine and hopefully it will one day have an Imprimatur and be all finished and stuff. It’s still a useful book as is, and you can check this all out by downloading the pdf version from the sourceforge page.

Trans Pacific relations

This post is putting together some bits and pieces resolving old grievances. Lots of people hate the spread of ‘American culture’ through television, internet, &c. That’s fair enough, but we must remember to keep things in perspective and not confuse the bad consumer culture which is not unique to America with the real living culture that comes from people pursuing good.

Recently I signed up for a certain US-based homeschool distance education thing. It’s a great course, but a couple of things jumped out.

Different Than/To/From

When young I was told that saying Different Than was illogical and a horrible Americanism and a betrayal of Good English. Different From was the correct phrase. Different To could be tolerated.

You may think this a persnicketty tiddly little point, but good to get it cleared up before it gets infected.

For treatment scroll down to the end of this Excerpt from Bill Bryson’s Book “Mothertongue” where he credits the stricture to one Rev Robert Lowth. The whole idea of a standardised, unchanging vernacular language seems to be an 18th century invention.

So don’t worry too much about the niceties of English grammar – English is renowned for not making sense. Learn Latin instead.

The Order of Declensions

When my parents learnt their Latin nouns they recited: mensa, mensa, mensam; mensae, mensae, mensa … Nominative, Vocative, Accusative; Genitive, Dative and Ablative. When their parents learnt Latin they did the same. When their parents learnt Latin, it was the same again, and so on out of living memory.

When I came to choose a Latin course, lo and behold, there was another word order out there: Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative. Mensa, mensae, mensae, mensam, mensa – losing the nice ternary rhythm. What’s this, said I, these Americans have the cheek to change the venerable declension order of my noble English ancestors?!?

Again, you may think it a persnicketty tiddly little thing, but good to get it sorted out before it can cause any trouble.

For treatment look at Wikipedia’s article on Instruction in Latin and Order of Declension.

Turns out my venerable declension order dates back only to 1866 when Benjamin Hall Kennedy rearranged the order to make them rhyme – a little like rearranging a library by the size and colour of the books. America’s order goes back to the Byzantine era. Trumped by a couple of thousand years.

So, in conclusion, I was a bigoted nationalistic idiot. Let this blog post help any other idiots like me find the truth.

Classical Liberal Arts Academy

The Classical Liberal Arts Academy was started in 2008 by a classical academic turned teacher with a young family of his own. It claims to be the only school providing a real classical liberal arts education. It is definitely unique.

For those not familiar with the concept of liberal arts, here’s a brief run-down. There’s the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The Trivium is a bit like English and the Quadrivium is a bit like Maths. The Trivium goes Grammar then Dialectic then Rhetoric. The Quadrivium goes Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy. You might see these terms decorating various centres of learning (like the Great Hall at USyd).

So what are the differences?

Their pre-readers’ course teaches Latin before English.

The first lesson in Arithmetic contains no numerical puzzles but bids the student memorise a catechism beginning with “What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the study of Quantity.” The catechism unfolds a categorisation of quantity that is just begging to be drawn on a white board with big curly braces like Alice Nelson and all the Doc Woodbury afficionados did in the Thomistic Sydney Underground.

The Grammar course plunges into John’s Gospel. The website contains sample translations written by the hand of a five and a seven year old.

There is no grade by age. A student starts at the beginning and works through at his own pace (I’ll use the male pronoun since I have all boys and anyway, we’re discussing a plan of learning centuries old, we can afford to be a little antiquated here). A teenager might work quite fast, while a five year old do the same lesson at a more relaxed pace. Each lesson has an online examination. Written work can be faxed or emailed to CLAA or signed off by a parent. There are no prescribed terms or school year’s to work to.

There is a lively discussion forum for parents to get advice. Mr William Michael, the director, encourages debate. He has strong opinions backed up by strong arguments. Although one may flinch at first by his forthright words, his reasoning is very sound.

Readers might be aware of John Taylor Gatto’s books on the problems inherent in modern educational theories. Although not a Catholic, he shows how the protestant reformation introduced a whole slew of rather evil doctrines into the world. Calvin, Darwin, John Dewey, Francis Bacon are the names I can spout without remembering the details. Mr Gatto’s answer points towards Unschooling – just forget the whole idea of controlling children and do real things together. Mr Michael has an even more radical idea – look at what they were teaching before the reformation. How can we do that? The books are still around! Ratio Studiorum is a Jesuit book from 1599. That’s what CLAA is using.

There are more courses being planned. Enrichment courses include World Chronology, Classical Vocab and Art and Music History. The Music course is being developed with help from the Ward Method. See Musica Sacra for more info on why that is an amazing thing. Gregorian Chant takes centre stage by the sounds of it.

If this was open courseware I’d be into it in a flash. But CLAA asks for commitment – and money. How much is this worth to me? Could I spend the money better? There are lots of local apostolates who could use that sort of support. Will my boys be significantly worse off if they never read Cicero in Latin? Wouldn’t it be wiser to finish cladding the house first?

Of course, as a difficult person I am wondering if I can do this myself. The Ward Method books are all online. Aristotle, Euclid, Cicero and the Baltimore Catechism are all public domain by now. There’s Ratio Studiorum mentioned earlier. Finding Saint John’s Gospel in Latin, Greek and English is not hard. I have little Latin and less Greek, but I’m still ahead of my children. Whatever little I can manage may still give them a good standing in finding out more themselves. Or would I put them off completely.

It does sound like a lot of work though. Learning from experts is a whole lot less frustrating than trying to nut things out for yourself. Reading Garrigou-Lagrange is slow work. Hearing one of the great disciples of Doc Woodbury explain it is joyful clarity. Doc Woodbury in turn studied under Garrigou Lagrange. I wonder who Mr Michael of CLAA learned from.

It looks like there will be a whole lot of disciples of Mr William Michael in the future. According to the website over 800 students have enrolled since they opened. Only time will tell.

Officium Divinum on an ebook reader

BooksIf you want an easy way to put the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours on an ebook reader see Universalis. You can read it online. They even have standalone software for Windows and Mac. You can try it for free for a month before you buy a registration code.

The program takes all the hassle of figuring out what to read for the day – it’s all sorted out by computer. The program spits out an ebook to take you through the week with the hours plus the Office of Readings.

All normal people happy with Novus Ordo liturgical things and proprietary operating systems can stop reading there.

The rest of the post describes the sort of complications that make it worth posting about.

For starters, Universalis doesn’t run properly under Linux. Wine doesn’t quite handle the graphical user interface, though it does generate an ebook. Also it uses the modern Liturgy of the Hours, which is great. It spreads out the psalms over a 4 week cycle – which is why you need a computer to keep track of which week it is! My soft spot for the traditional Latin Mass and the Douay Rheims Bible casts a rosy glow over the older Divine Office which gets all the psalms in just one week. Also my Free Open Source Software side baulks at the thought of paying for software – Universalis uses contemporary translations which require royalty payments.

Enter Divinum Officium. A free, open source program written in Perl which generates html versions of the hours according to whichever version of the pre Vatican II office you choose. From Pre-Tridentine Monastic to 1960, in Latin, English and/or Magyar.

The next step was getting the web pages onto my ebook reader. Next piece of the puzzle is Calibre – an open source ebook manager program which converts books between different formats.

My ebook reader only reads epub. It also reads pdfs, but is not so easy to navigate. Epub is basically a zipped up webpage. Html is supposed to be one of the easiest formats to make into an epub ebook.

Unfortunately Calibre had a hard time with Divinum Officium’s output. The webpages are formatted with tables and Kobo doesn’t handle tables very well. It won’t break them over a page so only the first page of each chapter is visible. It needed some tidying up.

UPDATE: Divinum Officium has been updated and now can produce html that Calibre can digest into good epubs that look great on my Kobo Reader – even with two columns!

With “Learning Perl” in one hand and a piece of paper in the other I managed to make up a script to strip the table tags. At the risk of losing all credibility as a programmer here’s my first perl program. I call it NOTA BENE: This code is now quite unnecessary with the new updated Divinum Officium, but I leave it here so the article makes sense.

## Here goes nothing!
## Made obsolete by the June 2011 update to Divinum Officium

$aday = "8-31";

opendir(ADAY,"$aday/") || die "can't open $aday";

while ($name = readdir(ADAY)){
print "$name\n";
$newname = $name;
if ($name eq '.'){
print "found a dot";
} elsif ($name eq '..') {
print "found two!;"
} else {

open(IN,"$aday/$name") || die "can't open $aday/$name";
open(OUT,">out/$name") || die "can't open out/$name for writing";
while ($line = ){
$line =~ s/<\/?(TR|TD|TABLE)[^>]*>//;
$line =~ s/<TD[^>]*>//;
$line =~ s/<BODY[^>]*>/<body>/;
print OUT $line;


open(IN,"Master-$aday.html") || die "can't open Master-$aday.html";
open(OUT,">Hours-$aday.html") || die "can't open Hours-$aday.html to write";
while ($line = ){
$line =~ s/<\/?(TR|TD|TABLE)[^>]*>//;
$line =~ s/<\/?(TR|TD|TABLE)[^>]*>//;
$line =~ s/<\/?(TR|TD|TABLE)[^>]*>//;
$line =~ s/$aday/out/;
$line =~ s/Master-out/Hours-$aday/;
print OUT $line;
print "That's Hours-$aday.html done!\n";

Divinum Officium can generate lots of days at a time. Then for each day I edit and change the $aday. The output is still rather rough with lots of deprecated FONT tags so I use Tidy from the World Wide Web consortium with this config file:

// Tidy configuration for converting to xml
output-xhtml: yes
add-xml-decl: no
doctype: strict
indent: auto
wrap: 76
clean: yes
bare: yes

Then call up Calibre to add the file Hours-8-31.html as a book. Then convert the book to epub. Then send the book to the Kobo.

UPDATE: Now I just cd into the Hofficium/officiumprog/ directory and type “perl” then note the tips for “Nook and Kindle” that appear in the lower part of the window. I generate the files and then open up Calibre to add the “books” and convert to epub and send to the Kobo as per usual. No scripting required.

Or buy Windows and an Universalis registration code – but where’s the fun in that?

Laszlo Kiss, the creator of, died unexpectedly but peacefully at his home on July 11, 2011. He was a few days short of his 73rd birthday.

Requiescat in pace.

Learn Latin

Learning Latin is becoming something of a lifelong saga here. I missed Latin at school and somehow ended up mothering 4 preschoolers miles from the nearest adult classes so online resources seem the most promising way.

Latin Appreciation Workshop
looks great. Lots of familiar things here for one who has been frequenting the Maternal Heart of Mary Church, Lewisham for the past 10 years or so.

And my book of latin hymns is one step closer to printing. On track for launch before the annual Christus Rex pilgrimage at the end of October.

There is a latin course especially for priests hoping to use the extraordinary Roman rite. Simplicissimus from the Latin Mass Society. Good for laymen too. Great for people with some familiarity with ecclesiastical latin – makes the exercises much easier.