Author Topic: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis  (Read 1016 times)

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Offline Iconodule

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A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« on: September 26, 2017, 02:26:37 PM »
This book, coming out next month, looks fun.

The description:

Quote
Weird, decadent, degenerate, racially mixed, superstitious, theocratic, effeminate, and even hyper-literate, Byzantium has long been regarded by many as one big curiosity. According to Voltaire, it represented "a worthless collection of miracles, a disgrace for the human mind"; for Hegel, it was "a disgusting picture of imbecility."

A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities will churn up these old prejudices, while also stimulating a deeper interest among readers in one of history's most interesting civilizations. Many of the zanier tales and trivia that are collected here revolve around the political and religious life of Byzantium. Thus, stories of saints, relics, and their miracles-from the hilarious to the revolting-abound. Byzantine bureaucracy (whence the adjective "Byzantine"), court scandals, and elaborate penal code are world famous. And what would Byzantium be without its eunuchs, whose ambiguous gender produced odd and risible outcomes in different contexts? The book also contains sections on daily life that are equally eye-opening, including food (from aphrodisiacs to fermented fish sauce), games such as polo and acrobatics, and obnoxious views of foreigners and others (e.g., Germans, Catholics, Arabs, dwarves). But lest we overlook Byzantium's more honorable contributions to civilization, also included are some of the marvels of Byzantine science and technology, from the military (flamethrowers and hand grenades) to the theatrical ("elevator" thrones, roaring mechanical lions) and medical (catheters and cures, some bizarre). This vast assortment of historical anomaly and absurdity sheds vital light on one of history's most obscure and orthodox empires.
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“A goose to hatch the Crystal Egg after an Eagle had half-hatched it! Aye, aye, to be sure, that’s right,” said the Old Woman of Beare. “And now you must go find out what happened to it. Go now, and when you come back I will give you your name.”
- from The King of Ireland's Son, by Padraic Colum

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2017, 02:35:05 PM »
Awesome. Now in my amazon cart. Amazon.uk seems to be releasing it one month later (Nov.)... is that to avoid direct competition for a month with the OUP website?

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2017, 01:45:53 PM »
I got the kindle version, which I think was available last month? Anyway, about 15 pages in and so far so good.

Quote
A lawyer had a child with a slave woman. His father advised him to kill it, whereupon the lawyer angrily replied, Why don’t you worry about killing your own kids, and let me worry about killing mine? (Philogelos 57).

The erection of one’s rod counts as a form of glory (Theophylaktos of Ohrid, A Defense of Eunuchs, p. 329).

Is that the famous commentator St. Theophylact, or another?

There've been a couple troubling passages though, especially the 50 year old guy marrying the 5 year old girl.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2017, 01:47:59 PM by Asteriktos »

Offline Iconodule

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2017, 01:50:51 PM »
Wow, that's fantastic stuff. Yes, St Theophylact of Ohrid is the famous commentator.

Thank you for sharing!
« Last Edit: September 29, 2017, 01:51:01 PM by Iconodule »
Quote
“A goose to hatch the Crystal Egg after an Eagle had half-hatched it! Aye, aye, to be sure, that’s right,” said the Old Woman of Beare. “And now you must go find out what happened to it. Go now, and when you come back I will give you your name.”
- from The King of Ireland's Son, by Padraic Colum

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2017, 04:51:53 PM »
Have to admit, I never would have thought that the first book I'd see "WTF?" in would be something published by Oxford University Press  8)

Offline thenerdpaul

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2017, 06:35:32 PM »
I am reading the preview right now. What a bizarre little book! I have to get it now to read more of this. :P
I have now seen two baby spiders over the last several days, each perhaps 2mm long. Sure they're harmless now, but what about when they grow up? They probably know that I killed their mom.

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2017, 10:08:55 PM »
Quote
In his wandering days, Saint Lazaros (eleventh century) wanted to climb Mt. Argeas in Cappadocia, but when he was halfway up, a thick fog fell upon him and he had to get on all fours to keep climbing. In this state he met a bear, and neither was aware of the other until they bumbed into each other. They both froze, paused momentarily, then went quietly on their way. (Life of Saint Lazaros of Gelesion 25)
« Last Edit: September 29, 2017, 10:09:23 PM by Asteriktos »

Offline RaphaCam

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2017, 12:26:16 AM »
The erection of one’s rod counts as a form of glory (Theophylaktos of Ohrid, A Defense of Eunuchs, p. 329).
LOL, I looked after the text to check it, but couldn't find it. It seems to have been translated so far only to French and Serbian.
"May the Lord our God remember in His kingdom all Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, which heralds the Word of Truth and fearlessly offers and distributes the Holy Oblation despite human deficiencies and persecutions moved by the powers of this world, in all time and unto the ages of ages."

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Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2017, 06:47:18 AM »
.......
« Last Edit: October 01, 2017, 06:51:14 AM by Asteriktos »

Offline thenerdpaul

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #9 on: October 01, 2017, 02:20:10 PM »
Here's a fuller quote:

Quote
Personally, I estime even higher the absence of seminal emission in a man in love with purity and who does not even tolerate being soiled by the involuntary and natural (extravasations). We who enjoy this advantage avoid the splinter that conscience engenders while you, even if reason persuades you not to consider that as soiling and not to make a fuss about the [erection] of the penis [teen tou kurtou kauleesin(?)], which a straight reason makes into a sort of honor, you will not deny that your conscience is harassed by it, and especially if you let yourself be persuaded in this regard by the words of the great Basil. It is certainly not unwillingly that we are continent - our virtue will not be compensated - as I hear many people assert; on the contrary, our purity proceeds from our will, which is evidently seconded by this state of our body, and therefore it receives a compensation. And I offer myself as a witness, since I have shown that in the cases where, you yourself said, many eunuchs are indecent, the continent ones are chaste by will. Would you like me to continue?"
"That is sufficient for now," the other says, "do not persuade me too to become a eunuch in time."
And he said: "Let me at least add this. I do not conclude from my exposition on eunuchism that one cannot maintain continence otherwise: the thing is possible with the aid of numerous struggles and a rigorous abstinence, which is encountered too rarely with respect to the crowd of those who promise to maintain priestly celibacy, but I show that this state is irreproachable, when it is found, and I reduce to silence those who condemn it outright, by proving that it does not deserve to be criticized. For in the eyes of an impartial judge, those who attack eunuchs right away seem to do it either recklessly and unconsiderately, or by sensuality and envy.

Source: https://www.well.com/~aquarius/theophylactus.htm
I have now seen two baby spiders over the last several days, each perhaps 2mm long. Sure they're harmless now, but what about when they grow up? They probably know that I killed their mom.

Offline rakovsky

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #10 on: October 01, 2017, 02:55:51 PM »
Quote
Byzantine bureaucracy (whence the adjective "Byzantine"), court scandals,
Despite being "world famous", I haven't been able to find much material on their bureaucratism and court scandals.

Could you please post some information on those two topics?

Regards.
The ocean, infinite to men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Lord. ~ I Clement 20

Offline Antonis

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2017, 03:02:16 PM »
Quote
Byzantine bureaucracy (whence the adjective "Byzantine"), court scandals,
Despite being "world famous", I haven't been able to find much material on their bureaucratism and court scandals.

Could you please post some information on those two topics?

Regards.
Probably the most infamous text is Procopius' Secret History.
You sound like a professional who knows what he's talking about.  That's because you are.

"This is the one from the beginning, who seemed to be new, yet was found to be ancient and always young, being born in the hearts of the saints."
Letter to Diognetus 11.4

"The human being is earth that suffers."
Letter of Barnabas 6.9

Online Volnutt

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #12 on: October 01, 2017, 03:52:26 PM »
Quote
Byzantine bureaucracy (whence the adjective "Byzantine"), court scandals,
Despite being "world famous", I haven't been able to find much material on their bureaucratism and court scandals.

Could you please post some information on those two topics?

Regards.
Probably the most infamous text is Procopius' Secret History.

Procopius's accuracy is a little questionable though, isn't it?
Quote
The breath of Thine Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Thy supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Thy laws, who reveal the depths of Thy creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of Thee. How great art Thou in Thy creation! How great art Thou in man!
Akathist Hymn- Glory to God for All Things

Offline Iconodule

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #13 on: October 01, 2017, 04:01:25 PM »
Well, the bit about Justinian and Theodora's heads appearing and disappearing might be over the top.
It's generally hard to ascertain his reliability- at the same time he was writing sycophantic histories for public consumption. It's fun reading regardless.
Quote
“A goose to hatch the Crystal Egg after an Eagle had half-hatched it! Aye, aye, to be sure, that’s right,” said the Old Woman of Beare. “And now you must go find out what happened to it. Go now, and when you come back I will give you your name.”
- from The King of Ireland's Son, by Padraic Colum

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #14 on: October 01, 2017, 04:27:26 PM »
Quote
Byzantine bureaucracy (whence the adjective "Byzantine"), court scandals,
Despite being "world famous", I haven't been able to find much material on their bureaucratism and court scandals.

Could you please post some information on those two topics?

Regards.

Regarding civil bureaucracy, I'm not sure if there is an affordable overview of this; what exists seems to be mostly specialist in content and price...? There are also books on activities and ceremonies of the court which can give a taste of how complicated things could get, but again I'm not sure about a cheap and readily accessible version. Regarding court scandals, if you're really curious I'd suggest just skimming wiki articles till you come across an interesting one and then look for books on that period. For example I read Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium (mostly 9th century) earlier this year, and it described homosexuality, adultery, plotting and assassinations, arranged marriages as political deals, blinding and torturing people, plots and schemes and backstabbings, and so on, but this book wouldn't show up if you search for something like "byzantine intrique" or whatever. I'd second reading the Secret History of Procopius for its entertainment, if nothing else; it can be got easily and for free.

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #15 on: October 01, 2017, 04:30:29 PM »
Here's a fuller quote:
...
...

Source: https://www.well.com/~aquarius/theophylactus.htm

Huh. Thanks for posting this. (Will have to read through it all later)

Offline rakovsky

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #16 on: October 01, 2017, 06:53:33 PM »
Byzantium was very Christian.

It's strange to suppose it was one of the most depraved places of it's time. Don't you think this could be a western caricature?
The ocean, infinite to men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Lord. ~ I Clement 20

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #17 on: October 01, 2017, 06:57:57 PM »
I recommend you read some history then. Of course there were very holy people but the empire has all the craziness of old Rome and more.
Quote
“A goose to hatch the Crystal Egg after an Eagle had half-hatched it! Aye, aye, to be sure, that’s right,” said the Old Woman of Beare. “And now you must go find out what happened to it. Go now, and when you come back I will give you your name.”
- from The King of Ireland's Son, by Padraic Colum

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #18 on: October 01, 2017, 07:24:18 PM »
Medieval russia had intrigue, but it wasn't really depraved. The West saw it as barbaric though.

In contrast, Byzantium was seen as an enlightened center of World learning and civilization. It's strange to imagine it as one of the most depraved places of the medieval world. When I look at the Ottomans and Muslim conquests, it seems that the Islamic armies and gender relations were more depraved, having numerous wives, harems, child brides, sexual relations with female slaves...
« Last Edit: October 01, 2017, 07:26:19 PM by rakovsky »
The ocean, infinite to men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Lord. ~ I Clement 20

Offline Antonis

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #19 on: October 01, 2017, 07:34:42 PM »
In sum, it was probably about the same as any other place, with the saints (in the broad sense of the term) being a notable exception.
You sound like a professional who knows what he's talking about.  That's because you are.

"This is the one from the beginning, who seemed to be new, yet was found to be ancient and always young, being born in the hearts of the saints."
Letter to Diognetus 11.4

"The human being is earth that suffers."
Letter of Barnabas 6.9

Offline Mor Ephrem

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #20 on: October 01, 2017, 08:10:13 PM »
Byzantium was very Christian.

It didn't last very long. 
Please don't project meta-debates onto me.

Quote
The erection of one’s rod counts as a form of glory (Theophylaktos of Ohrid, A Defense of Eunuchs, p. 329).

Offline thenerdpaul

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #21 on: October 01, 2017, 08:21:21 PM »
Byzantium was very Christian.

It didn't last very long.
The Roman Empire lasted for about another thousand years after Christianity was legalized. That's nothing to sneeze at.
I have now seen two baby spiders over the last several days, each perhaps 2mm long. Sure they're harmless now, but what about when they grow up? They probably know that I killed their mom.

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #22 on: October 01, 2017, 08:25:23 PM »
Byzantium was very Christian.

It didn't last very long.
The Roman Empire lasted for about another thousand years after Christianity was legalized. That's nothing to sneeze at.

I was referring to its Christianity, not to its institutional endurance. 
Please don't project meta-debates onto me.

Quote
The erection of one’s rod counts as a form of glory (Theophylaktos of Ohrid, A Defense of Eunuchs, p. 329).

Offline mcarmichael

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #23 on: October 01, 2017, 08:31:06 PM »
Byzantium was very Christian.

It didn't last very long.
The Roman Empire lasted for about another thousand years after Christianity was legalized. That's nothing to sneeze at.

I was referring to its Christianity, not to its institutional endurance.

I report you. Am Russian spy.
"Mouth make trouble, mouth make no trouble." - Sun Tzu

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"Horses are animals." - Gebre Menfes Kidus

Offline thenerdpaul

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #24 on: October 01, 2017, 08:35:21 PM »
Byzantium was very Christian.

It didn't last very long.
The Roman Empire lasted for about another thousand years after Christianity was legalized. That's nothing to sneeze at.

I was referring to its Christianity, not to its institutional endurance.
I'm not sure what you mean.
I have now seen two baby spiders over the last several days, each perhaps 2mm long. Sure they're harmless now, but what about when they grow up? They probably know that I killed their mom.

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #25 on: October 09, 2017, 10:45:27 PM »
Quote
Georgios, a ship owner from Rhodes, spent two years at the shrine of Saint Artemios in Constantinople, hoping for a cure of the hernia that had developed on both of his testicles. At one point he was having lunch with the priests of the shrine when he urgently had to run off to answer the call of nature. In the dark latrines there was another man, whom he could see only dimly. They struck up a conversation about their ailments. The other man said, “Let me see your testicles, whether they are more swollen than mine or not .” But it was too dark to show him, so Georgios said, “Reach your hand over to touch them, but do so gently, because I am in great pain.” So he guided the other man’s hand over to his testicles, but the other man grabbed them firmly, causing him wrenching pain. “Oh, man, what have you done? You killed me with your nails!” He got up, thinking that he was injured, but in fact his condition had vanished— and so had the other man (Miracles of Saint Artemios 35).

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #26 on: October 09, 2017, 11:05:49 PM »
This book sounds amazing! Is it available in English?
"Mouth make trouble, mouth make no trouble." - Sun Tzu

"Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few." - Ecclesiastes (NASB)

"Horses are animals." - Gebre Menfes Kidus

Offline thenerdpaul

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #27 on: October 10, 2017, 07:09:54 AM »
This book sounds amazing! Is it available in English?
Yep! In fact I think it's available only in English. ;)
I have now seen two baby spiders over the last several days, each perhaps 2mm long. Sure they're harmless now, but what about when they grow up? They probably know that I killed their mom.

Offline Iconodule

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #28 on: October 10, 2017, 09:48:32 AM »
Quote
Georgios, a ship owner from Rhodes, spent two years at the shrine of Saint Artemios in Constantinople, hoping for a cure of the hernia that had developed on both of his testicles. At one point he was having lunch with the priests of the shrine when he urgently had to run off to answer the call of nature. In the dark latrines there was another man, whom he could see only dimly. They struck up a conversation about their ailments. The other man said, “Let me see your testicles, whether they are more swollen than mine or not .” But it was too dark to show him, so Georgios said, “Reach your hand over to touch them, but do so gently, because I am in great pain.” So he guided the other man’s hand over to his testicles, but the other man grabbed them firmly, causing him wrenching pain. “Oh, man, what have you done? You killed me with your nails!” He got up, thinking that he was injured, but in fact his condition had vanished— and so had the other man (Miracles of Saint Artemios 35).

Thank you! I need to get this book.
Quote
“A goose to hatch the Crystal Egg after an Eagle had half-hatched it! Aye, aye, to be sure, that’s right,” said the Old Woman of Beare. “And now you must go find out what happened to it. Go now, and when you come back I will give you your name.”
- from The King of Ireland's Son, by Padraic Colum

Offline Asteriktos

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #29 on: October 14, 2017, 05:33:26 PM »
So I finished this today. I was tempted to post a bunch more excerpts as I was reading it, but figured the above was enough. For those wondering (or worrying or hoping): the stuff dealing with sexuality takes up a substantial portion, but nowhere near a majority; a lot of it is interesting, but only bits here and there are very vulgar. I have no idea how faithful most of the translations or notes are; they're almost all those of the author/editor himself (fwiw he is chair of the Classics department at OSU). According to the preface the book is intended as entertainment, dinner-party conversation type stuff, and "ideal for bathroom reading." Nonetheless it did get me thinking along more serious lines from time to time.

Definitely worth picking up.

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Re: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis
« Reply #30 on: October 14, 2017, 09:33:42 PM »
So I finished this today. I was tempted to post a bunch more excerpts as I was reading it, but figured the above was enough. For those wondering (or worrying or hoping): the stuff dealing with sexuality takes up a substantial portion, but nowhere near a majority; a lot of it is interesting, but only bits here and there are very vulgar. I have no idea how faithful most of the translations or notes are; they're almost all those of the author/editor himself (fwiw he is chair of the Classics department at OSU). According to the preface the book is intended as entertainment, dinner-party conversation type stuff, and "ideal for bathroom reading." Nonetheless it did get me thinking along more serious lines from time to time.

Definitely worth picking up.
I'm sure many of us would be eager to read it.
"May the Lord our God remember in His kingdom all Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, which heralds the Word of Truth and fearlessly offers and distributes the Holy Oblation despite human deficiencies and persecutions moved by the powers of this world, in all time and unto the ages of ages."

Check my blog "Em Espírito e em Verdade" (in Portuguese)