Monday, 26 September 2016

Toomas Karmo: Theological discovery: the witness of John Bradburne (1921-1979)

One of my four Debian GNU/Linux desktops. In upper-left hand corner are the usual operations clocks, disciplined via Network Time Protocol to  perhaps plus-minus 300 milliseconds, showing Ontario civil time in green and UTC in red. Then proceding anticlockwise: Dame Julia's hermitage table in Firenze, perhaps ready for the reception of visitors (Web provenance unknown, sorry, but photo used with her approbation); John Bradburne with patient Joshua (who, apart from being a bugler, kept Muscovy ducks; the photo is from, and bears the copyright notice "(c) John Bradburne Memorial Society", and permission for use has been kindly granted by Celia at the Society); my  photo from 2016-09-25 (SUN) of one, out of tens or hundreds, of honeybees foraging on Symphyotrichum lateriflorus in an Aurora municipal park; and an xterm ("glass Teletype") with some private theological notes. 
Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to develop most of the necessary points in reasonable detail.  

Revision history:

  • 20160928T1737Z/version 1.3.0; Kmo added a remark noting the daily Bradburne poetry feed on Twitter. Kmo reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.3.1, 1.3.2, 1.3.3, ... . 
  • 20160928T1723Z/version 1.2.0: Kmo added notes in photo caption, recording e-mail approvals received from Sister Julia Bolton Holloway and (via the representative Celia, a niece of the martyr) from the John Bradburne Memorial Society. Kmo reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3, ... . 
  • 20160927T0226Z/version 1.1.0:  Kmo added a remark on the man whose sight was restored upon imploring the intercession of John Bradburne. Kmo reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, ... . 
  • 20160926T2128Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded an adequately polished base version. He reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... . 

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some late points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears.]

This week, as last week, pressure from the DDO&P heritage-conservation file interrupts my normal rhythm of blogging. I am forced to upload a few hours early, to upload fewer words than is normal on this blog, and to delay once again my concluding remarks in praise of Moise's Elementary Geometry from an Advanced Standpoint. So today I upload nothing on mathematics, but only the necessary new DDO&P material (this task I completed earlier in the day), along with the present rather modest reflection on theology. 


We are told that to those who keep asking it will be given, and that those who keep seeking will find, and that to those who keep knocking the door will be opened. There are subtle differences among these three promises.

Indeed this is part of one's reason for taking Christianity seriously. The New Testament offers such numinous depths, or subtleties, as would indeed befit some powerful thinker - subtleties arguably befitting the figure depicted in the New Testament narratives, i.e., arguably befitting a person "who spoke with authority, not in the manner of the legal scholars and the Pharisees". 

Today, I comment not on all three of our Lord's just-cited promises, but on the middle one. 


I have for months or years been seeking an example of a Catholic hermit to support me in times of anxiety, sadness, or fatigue. I have drawn, and God willing may well in coming weeks, months, or years  continue to draw, solace from the public example and private e-mails of Sister Julia Bolton Holloway. Sister (or Dr, or in former times Prof.) Julia, or "Dame Julia" as I like to call her informally, is the Firenze-based contemporary authority on mediaeval mystic Dame Julian of Norwich. She now ministers to the socially disadvantaged Roma - the "Gypsies" - from her hermitage in the English Cemetery, a little outside the city walls. She writes on an astonishing variety of topics (though not, so far as I know, on Estonia, on mathematics, on physics, on stars, or on DDO&P!), both on Facebook and at

Dame Julia notwithstanding, I have been fretting: with my world in a heavy measure governed, from 1950s childhood to the present, by female figures, Dame Julia notably now among them, can I not find - can I not now be allowed to find, might I not now be graciously accorded - some male hermit mentor? 

I think that this past Saturday (I am writing two days later, on a Monday), some casual Web surfing brought in my case the vindication of our Lord's words "Seek and ye shall find." 


The essentials are laid out at John Bradburne (1921-1979) was educated at Gresham's in Norfolk (a school, I conjecture, of high and severe traditions). He was awarded, qua  member of the 9th Gurkha Rifles, the Military Cross - not for bashing people up in the Hitler war but for successfully escaping his captors, in operations in or near Malaya. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1947, in Britain. Moving to Africa, he worked with the leprous patients of Mutemwa, 140-some kilometres from present-day Harare. He died as a martyr, near his patients, in the Rhodesia-Zimbabwe military troubles of 1979.

John Bradburne's outlook can fairly be described as Franciscan. He thus has a special affinity both with our current, joyous Holy Father and with the Holy Father's luminous medieval namesake.

Not far from the isolated mountain pool where John Bradburne would take a daily dip stands a granite cross. This is a 1980s donation from a man who, having lost his sight in an accident, regained it upon imploring the intercession of the recently martyred John Bradburne. 

John Bradburne also enters English literary history, as a poet of stature. To my untutored eye, his verse, with its delightfully Victorian resort to rhyme, recalls in its sensibility, although not in its (perhaps timid?) technique, George Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Bradburne is playful, and to my ear rather demure, where Hopkins is even to the jaded 21st-century reader daring.

Details on the vast Bradburne poetic corpus can be had from a site, maintained by a linguist of high eminence, which I have for my part barely begun to investigate - namely I have additionally learned from the John Bradburne Memorial Society in Britain that a Twitter account, designated, supplies subscribers with a daily poetry line taken from the database. 

For John Bradburne's life and theological witness, I find value at, and above all in the 20-plus newsletters (as of today, I have carefully studied the most recent three) at


On 2016-09-12 or 2016-09-13, I blogged under the heading "Practical Civics: Pollinators in Richmond Hill Parks". Since uploading that blog entry, I have on one or two occasions managed to see just a single true honeybee here in Richmond Hill. As I remarked on 2016-09-12 or 2016-09-13, wasps and bumblebees are in our specific urban situation rather easy to find, but true honeybees hard.

Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux, it is said, nowadays likes to reveal her availability to people through the medium of roses. I have indeed a kind of vicarious personal experience of this, as I recount toward the end of "Utopia 2184" on my

1990s Toronto. Sainte Thérèse. A young man of excellent family. His uncle, or some such, is currently or was not too long ago a bishop, or some such, at no great distance from Toronto itself. When I say bishop or some such, you must understand me to mean definitely a cut above monsignor, no equivocation at all there.

This conversation is happening in a church basement at some not-too-hopelessly-silly Catholic support group, dedicated to meaningful discussions on ahem-ahem this and that. 

The young man intimates that said excellent family contains a husband and wife - not the parents of the young man, as I recollect, but perhaps aunt and spouse, or second cousin and spouse, or something. The couple had, as was common in the twentieth century, lapsed from the Church. Sightseeing in Paris (so the young man explains to us), they made their way to the vicinity of Notre Dame. Funny little shop, I imagine on some obscure side street such as you might get near Île de la Cité or the rue Saint-Jacques. Funny little girl in funny little shop. Selling roses. The couple buy roses, and on impulse enter Notre Dame. That cathedral visit is the beginning of their return to the Catholic faith. Knowing at once that something in their joint life has changed, they turn from Notre Dame to the funny little girl in the funny little shop to thank her. No such girl of course, no such shop. They do try hard, inquiring persistently of the locals.

The story may be true, since the young man telling it to me is, I stress, of excellent family.

As with Thérèse and roses, so for John Bradburne and (people seem to remark on this a lot) bees.

Would I have some encounter with bees, then? 


Yesterday, Sunday, I celebrated the cool and bright weather by for the first time exploring an urban flood-plain meadow park in Aurora, on the far side of the Oak Ridges Moraine from Richmond Hill. Would I, perhaps, having on the previous afternoon learned of John Bradburne through serendipitous Web surfing, see  a bee or two - perhaps some lone scouting bee, to match the lone, perhaps scouting, bee I had managed to find some days earlier in Richmond Hill, at a conspicuously colourful flower bed around the bend from my Gentry Crescent digs? 

Sunday's Aurora meadow park sported not goldenrod alone, but also asters - both purple ("New England";    Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, as I gather from the municipal authority's helpful signage) and white (Symphyotrichum lateriflorus). It was in one stand of Symphyotrichum lateriflorus that I first made Sunday's discovery - not a single honeybee, but a great, loud buzzing of them, in their tens, or even in their hundreds. 


John Bradburne's predecessor John Manley Hopkins has some lines known to everyone. They bear repetition here, as anticipating the variegated and soaring life of John Bradburne: 

Glory be to God for dappled things -   

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;     

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;   

Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.  

All things counter, original, spare, strange;  

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)     

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise Him.

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