From my diary

The big news is that Dr Isabella Image has today very kindly sent me a rather wonderful draft translation of an anonymous 4th century text, De solstitiis et aequinoctiis, about which I have written before.  It’s never been translated before into any modern language, and it is full of interesting things.  The author suggests that Christ and John the Baptist were conceived and born on the solstices and equinoxes, and argues this from the bible.  The argument made is not entirely convincing to modern eyes, but it is very revealing of 4th century thinking.  I hope to make this available online very soon.

The other news is that the postman brought me a copy of a French PhD thesis which I ordered from the ANRT last weekend.  It comes handsomely bound, in standard softback academic book format.  It’s certainly a huge step up from the pile of letter-sized photocopies that ProQuest send out.  Indeed it is almost worth the huge sum that I paid for it.  It contains an unpublished translation, about which I will post further another time.  I wish I could have had a PDF, tho.

I’ve also placed my first inter-library loan for some time, for a volume of Charles W. Jones on Bede.  This apparently contains a discussion of the manuscripts of the Irish computus forgeries.  This was a loose end from my post a little while back about “Theophilus of Caesarea”, and I’ll post if I find something interesting.  It will be interesting to see if ILL’s are working again.  It will also be interesting to see what they charge me!


A problem with “scrupulositas”

I learned a word this week.  The word is “scrupulosity”, meaning a self-tormenting and obsessive worry about committing minor sins.  I learned of it from a twitter thread here, where some devout Roman Catholics were discussing some less than ideal behaviour by religious orders:

@jdflynn: When I was in college, I knew a lot of guys who heard Legionaries of Christ vocations directors tell them that: a: they definitely had a vocation b: the only way to meaningfully live that vocation was to join the Legion. That’s not spiritual advice. That’s manipulative coercion.

@LeahLibresco: A friend of mine was entangled by a women’s order that counseled everyone that if you wondered about a vocation, that meant you *did* have a vocation, and any other questions or doubts were from the devil. They were placing thorns in her path and millstones round their own necks …

@RCPreKTeacher: Good grief. Speaking as someone who has struggled with scrupulosity in the past, I cannot imagine what a terrible situation it would be going to the priests of such orders as your regular confessors, if that’s the kind of spiritual advice the order is giving regularly.

@LeahLibresco: It is terrible spiritual abuse. It does serious harm to the person counseled and puts the counselor in intense spiritual danger

The term seems to originate in the Roman Catholic world. There is a useful article, “Scrupulosity: What It Is and How to Overcome it” by Charlie Johnson at the Catholic Stand website (21 May 2016) here, referencing Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century.

The Wikipedia article suggests that this religious problem in some cases may be the manifestation of a form of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).  Under the “History” section of that article we find this interesting statement:

Scrupulosity is a modern-day psychological problem that echoes a traditional use of the term scruples in a religious context, e.g. by Catholics, to mean obsessive concern with one’s own sins and compulsive performance of religious devotion. This use of the term dates to the 12th century.[14]

14. Taylor CZ (2002). “Religious addiction: obsession with spirituality”. Pastoral Psych50 (4): 291–315. doi:10.1023/A:1014074130084S2CID 147184112.

There’s no mention of Bernard. But I was interested in the idea that the term “scrupulosity” dates to the 12th century (the careless wording of the Wikipedia article might lead the unwary to suppose that “scruples” is meant here).  So I looked up the Taylor article, which contained the following statement on p.297:

Scrupulosity actually dates back to the twelfth century. It is derived from the Latin word scrupus. Scrupulus is the diminutive form, meaning a small stone. The neutral form scrupulum is the smallest division of weight, about the twenty-fourth part of an ounce. This tiny amount could tip the balance of a scale (Rapoport, 1989).

This claim, in varied wording, appears all over the place.  So what is the reference?

“Rapoport” turned out to be Judith L. Rapoport, The boy who couldn’t stop washing: The experience and treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. New York: E. P. Dutton (1989).  No page number was given.  A borrowable version of this book may be found here, which I consulted.

The page is actually page 237, an appendix on “The Religious Perspective”, beginning with “The Catholic Church and OCD”.  The text began:

The Catholic perspective on OCD constitutes a vast literature which has remained untapped by mainstream psychiatry. The Catholic concept of scrupulosity dates back at least to the twelfth century. It is derived from the Latin scrupus, whose diminutive form scrupulus means a small sharp stone. The neutral form, scrupulum, means the smallest division of weight, the twenty-fourth part of an ounce. A minute weight could tip the scales of a sensitive balance: the scales of conscience.

Scrupulosity, in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) signifies “habitual and unreasonable hesitation or doubt, coupled with anxiety of the mind, in connection with the making of moral judgments.”

The Rapoport volume is, I believe, the founding text of the study of OCD, and contains anecdotal “cases” of various sorts.  In 1989 there was little understanding of the condition.  Much of what Rapoport suggests has simply been repeated word-for-word in later publications.

There is often a tendency for unbelievers studying mental illness to conflate normal religious experience with mental illness.  This does not always happen by accident.  Those of my own generation remember how the old Soviet Union used to confine believers in mental hospitals, and subject them to “treatment” in order to “cure” them.  It has been many years since I have heard mention of this charming practice, but then so much of the past that I remember has disappeared, or been disappeared, in the last 30 years.  The Rapoport volume seems to strive to avoid this, which is perhaps one reason why it received wide acceptance.

It took me some searching and a happy accident to discover that the first edition of the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) is actually accessible on, although only in “borrowable” form.  The article on “Scrupulosity” appears in volume 12, p.1253 f.  It is, in fact, the last article in the book.  Unfortunately it is vague and useless.  It does not refer to the “12th century” claim.  Bootleg copies of the second edition (2002) are readily accessible on the web, but the article is no better.

It is therefore impossible to say from where Rapoport drew her statement.

The word “scrupulositas” itself is ancient.  The Logeion site here shows usage by Columella, Tertullian, and Jerome.  Indeed I find that it appears in Bernard’s Letters, Letter 101 (PL 182, col.236).  A translation from the PL text may be found in the old Life and Works of Saint Bernard, vol. 1 (1893), p.342-3 online here.

I’ll give the relevant bit of Latin, and the whole of letter 101.

Fratrem Lambertum, quem in aliquibus forte fluctuantem suscepimus, orantibus quidem vobis pro ipso constantem remisimus, et nulla jam, ut opinamur, scrupulositate pristina laborantem. …

101.  Bernard asks that a monk who had departed without permission should be received with kindness.

I send back to you Brother Lambert, whom I received, in some respects wavering in mind, but to whom your prayers have restored calm, so that he is not, as I think, labouring any more under his former scrupulosity. I have carefully questioned him about the cause of his coming, and also about the reason and manner of his departure. He does not seem to me to have had any bad intention in acting as he has done ; but his reason for leaving in such a manner, that is, without permission, was plainly insufficient. I took occasion from this to blame him as he deserved, to chide him sharply, to remove his hesitations and doubts, and to persuade him to return to you. Now that he is returning, I entreat you, my very dear brethren, to receive him kindly, and to be indulgent to the presumption of a brother in which there is more simplicity than malice, since he turned neither to the right nor left, but came straight to me, whom he knew for certain to be the devoted servant of your Holiness, a very sincere lover and faithful imitator of your piety. Receive him, therefore, you who are spiritual men, in a spirit of gentleness ; let your charity be confirmed towards him, and let his good intention excuse his bad action. Therefore, receive him back with joy, whom, when lost, you grieved for; and let gladness at the return of your brother speedily chase away the grief caused by his transgression and departure. I trust that, by the mercy of God, all the bitterness which his irregular departure occasioned will be soon softened by this improvement in his life.

But there is nothing in this letter indicative of anything like the modern OCD-like condition.  But I am slightly reminded of the twitter thread with which we started: “Another one has gone over the wall!!! Call out the dogs!”  We do not learn what the poor monks’ scruples were.

At this point a search in the Corpus Corporum site gave a proper lead: to Hugutius Pisanus, Derivationes, written in 1190.  We could perhaps call him some version of Hugh, or Huguccio, or Uguccio of Pisa. The text is a dictionary of Latin terms.

He starts with scrupus, “a small sharp stone”, also called scrupulus.  And by similarity these are called “molestia, sollicitudo, anxietas et dubietas animi, difficultas, subtilis questio”.  From scrupus he gets scrupeus -a -um, and scruposus -a -um, full of scruple, and thus scrupulositas, and promptly quotes Plautus (!).  From scrupulus he gets the verb scrupulo -as, the adjective scrupulosus -a -um, from which scrupulositas, anxiety, difficulty, etc.  Here’s the Corpus Corporum text, from the SISMEL text (ed. Cecchini, 2 vols, 2004) p.272:

Et a scrupus scrupeus -a -um et scruposus -a -um, idest scrupis plenus et abundans vel asper, difficilis, nodosus, obscurus, et comparatur; unde hec scrupositas; Plautus in Captivis ‘nec meus scruposam victus commeat viam’.

Item a scrupulus scrupulo -as, idest sollicitare, molestare, et scrupulosus -a -um, scrupulis plenus vel asper, anxius, dubius, difficilis, nodosus, obscurus, et comparatur; unde hec scrupulositas, anxietas, difficultas et cetera.

This 12th century text, perhaps, lies behind whatever source Rapoport was looking at – which clearly had some Latin grammatical element -, and thus is still reflected in all those who copied her.

Whether scrupulosity is the right word for a form of OCD may reasonably be doubted, however.  It seems to have a broader, less obsessive context.


A brief yet very nice description of the calculation of the date of Easter from … a PHP manual!

Computer programs need to calculate the date of Easter sometimes.  In the PHP programming language, there is a function, easter_date, which is used for the purpose.  The manual page is here, and is really rather good!

The date of Easter Day was defined by the Council of Nicaea in AD325 as the Sunday after the first full moon which falls on or after the Spring Equinox. The Equinox is assumed to always fall on 21st March, so the calculation reduces to determining the date of the full moon and the date of the following Sunday. The algorithm used here was introduced around the year 532 by Dionysius Exiguus. Under the Julian Calendar (for years before 1753) a simple 19-year cycle is used to track the phases of the Moon. Under the Gregorian Calendar (for years after 1753 – devised by Clavius and Lilius, and introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582, and into Britain and its then colonies in September 1752) two correction factors are added to make the cycle more accurate.

Well, we’ve all seen very much worse explanations than that!

  • The date is the first full moon after the equinox.
  • The “equinox” is deemed to be March 21st (it wobbles a bit in reality).
  • The phases of the moon are calculated based on a 19-year cycle.
  • Dionysius Exiguus produced the modern version of the calculation, for the Julian calendar.
  • The Gregorian calendar tweaked it for accuracy.

I could only wish that our succinct author had also stated what are these “correction factors” in the Gregorian system.

The big omission from that page is any indication of why we want the first Sunday after the full moon after the equinox.  The reason is that the first full moon after the equinox is passover.  This festival predated the solar calendar, so is calculated by the moon.  Jesus was executed on passover, and rose on… the Sunday after.  Easter celebrates that event.

It is so uncommon to see all these details put together, that there are many people who suppose that a weird date based on the moon must be prehistoric pagan or something.  Nobody is taught this.  It is never explained.

Of course the PHP function is purely concerned with the mathematics.  But at least it states these very correctly.

It is rather a delight to see a clear and concise statement of the main points of the calculation.


From my diary

I work a lot with Latin texts.  So I use my own QuickLatin tool a lot, in order to do so.  Over the last few weeks I have found myself drawn to work on it some more.  I’m adding in some context-sensitive syntax information, as this is the area that my schoolboy Latin is weakest in.  I’m also working on the parser some more.

A couple of days ago I ran the whole of the Vulgate through the program, to see what happened.  This took a ridiculously long time – speed has not been my priority for a long while – but I was glad to find that only a few dozen words were not recognised.  So I’m looking at these.  In some cases this simply requires an addition to the dictionary.  In others it reveals subtle problems.

Most of the Latin texts that I am working with at the moment are medieval, and their authors knew the Vulgate very well indeed.  So making sure that QuickLatin can handle late Latin usage is time well-spent.

At some point I ought to do another release of the tool online.  It’s been a very long time since I have done so.  But again the priority is to work on the code.

Meanwhile my backlog of items which I hope to blog about grows ever longer!  But while I feel in the mood to do some programming, then I will go with it.


Is the Latin infinitive a “mood”?

Recently I found myself wondering about the Latin verb, and specifically the “mood” – indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and so on.  Partly this came about after I read a blog post on the Dyspepsia Generation blog, on “Latin by the Dowling method”, whatever that might be. The blog as a whole is a long-running US right-wing politics blog and aggregator, which is always to be found at, but often is not found in Google search results.  The author incidentally offered this advice:

With respect to verbs, whenever you see ‘mood’ pronounce it ‘mode’ out loud; eventually when you see ‘mood’ you will hear ‘mode’ in your head and the amount of confusion in your life will dramatically decrease. (If I ever find the guy who tagged this aspect of the verb with such a confusing name, I will smite him with a mighty smite.)

I confess that I often find “mood” a confusing label, and I think that’s quite a good precept.

Equally odd is the question of whether the infinitive is a mood or not.  If you use QuickLatin or Whitaker’s Words, you find it treated as if it is.  But a google search reveals disagreement.

Much of our Latin grammar vocabulary comes to us from antiquity.  So, in such cases, it can be illuminating to examine Donatus, the 4th century grammarian – and teacher of St Jerome – whose Ars Minor was a standard Latin teaching text for a millennium.  Intratext have the Latin here.  If we look in De Verbo, we find:

Modi qui sunt? Indicativus, ut lego, imperativus, ut lege, optativus, ut utinam legerem, coniunctivus, ut cum legam, infinitivus, ut legere, inpersonalis, ut legitur.

That’s pretty clear, but usefully there is a 1926 English translation, which is public domain and freely downloadable (for once) at Hathi here.[1]

Verbum quid est? Pars orationis cum tempore et persona sine casu aut agere aliquid aut pati aut neutrum significans. Verbo quot accidunt? Septem. Quae? Qualitas coniugatio genus numerus figura tempus persona. Qualitas verborum in quo est? In modis et in formis. Modi qui sunt? Indicativus, ut lego, imperativus, ut lege, optativus, ut utinam legerem, coniunctivus, ut cum legam, infinitivus, ut legere, inpersonalis, ut legitur. Formae verborum quot sunt? Quattuor. Quae? Perfecta, ut lego, meditativa, ut lecturio, frequentativa, ut lectito, inchoativa, ut fervesco calesco. Coniugationes verborum quot sunt? Tres. Quae? Prima secunda tertia. …

What is a verb? A part of speech with tense and person, without case, signifying “to perform some action,” or “to suffer,” or neither. How many attributes has the verb? Seven. What? Quality, conjugation, gender, number, inflection, tense, person. In what does the quality of verbs consist? In modes and in forms. What are the modes? Indicative, as lego; imperative, as lege; optative, as utinam legerem; subjunctive, as cum legam; infinitive, as legere; impersonal, as legitur. How many forms of verbs are there? Four. What? Undefined, as lego; desiderative, as lecturio; frequentative, as lectito; inchoative, as fervesco, calesco. How many conjugations of verbs are there? Three. What? First, second, third. …

How interesting to see that Donatus knows nothing of our “mood”; to him it is simply “mode”, just as the Dyspepsia Generation blogger suggested.  I wonder if perhaps our English word has suffered damage through the spelling and vowel changes that have affected our language since the 17th century, leaving behind a now-meaningless “mood” which was once simply “mode”?

Likewise we find that, for Donatus, the infinitive is indeed a “mode” or “mood”.  No doubt this is the origin of the tendency to so classify it in English, because it really doesn’t fit well with the indicative and subjunctive.

Before we leave Donatus, let’s take a quick look at a few remarks from the Noun, De nomine, the “name”:

Casus nominum quot sunt? Sex. Qui? Nominativus genetivus dativus accusativus vocativus ablativus. Per hos omnium generum nomina pronomina participia declinantur hoc modo:

magister nomen appellativum generis masculini numeri singularis figurae simplicis casus nominativi et vocativi, quod declinabitur sic: nominativo hic magister, genetivo huius magistri, dativo huic magistro, accusativo hunc magistrum, ablativo ab hoc magistro; et pluraliter nominativo hi magistri, genetivo horum magistrorum, dativo his magistris, accusativo hos magistros, vocativo o magistri, ablativo ab his magistris.

The cases of nouns are how many? Six. What? Nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, ablative. Through these, nouns, pronouns, and participles of all genders are declined in this way:

Magister is a common noun of masculine gender, singular number, simple form, nominative and vocative case, which will be declined thus: in the nominative, hie magister; in the genitive, huius magistri; in the dative, huic magistro; in the accusative, hunc magistrum; in the ablative, ab hoc magistro; and in the plural in the nominative, hi magistri; in the genitive, horum magistrorum; in the dative, his magistris; in the accusative, hos magistros; in the vocative, O magistri; in the ablative, ab his magistris.

Here again in English we have a funny word, “noun”, when Latin simply has “name”.

Those funny words like “nominative”, “vocative”… and “decline”; they are the Latin terms, brought straight across.

It’s fascinating to see.  These are examples of one of the commonest things in our world: many things in our own day make no sense at all, unless you happen to know just how they came about, and the path by which we came to them.

  1. [1]W. J. Chase, The Ars Minor of Donatus: For one thousand years the leading textbook of grammar.  translated from the Latin with introductory sketch, Madison (1926)