Monday, March 14, 2016

Captain Bear

Having reversed course and walked "the second mile" with the amiable Brother Gunther, the Bear intended to turn back toward his original destination, his home near the abbey. However, a sudden encounter with a dangerous killer bear forces the Bear to a decision: will he react as a bear would and face near certain death, or think like a man and out-wit the beast? Victorious, the Bear agrees to not only to accompany Brother Gunther to Rome, but to carry a pack, as well.

"Good news, Brother Gunther," the Bear announced as they traveled toward the place where the Bear had made a promise to Prior William he had not kept. "They've collected your horses. And made a fire."

"And how do you know this, friend?"

The Bear pointed to his nose with a paw. "Dogs wish they had a nose like this. Bear can smell a female one hundred miles away when --"

"That will do, Bear!" Brother Gunther interrupted.

"A straight line, turning neither left nor right," the Bear finished.

"Very impressive, I am sure," Brother Gunther said. "May we please leave something to the imagination, though? You were talking about your nose."

The Bear and Brother Gunther walked quietly for several minutes. The Bear broke the silence. "Um, that was when Bear was just a Bear. Before Father Corbinian. Ever since,  Bear does not follow his nose in season. It is difficult."

Brother Gunther made a wry smile. "Indeed."

After a long walk in silence, the Bear stopped. "Bear hears singing." Sure enough, a good half-mile further they found Prior William's party sitting around a fire, with a half-dozen empty wine bottles scattered about, and the horses secured along a picket line.

"Corbinian's Bear!" one of the men cried out. "It took you long enough, but you delivered on your promise and then some!"

"A song for the Bear," another man shouted.

"Bear did not --" the Bear began.

"The Bear did not rest until he delivered on his promise," said Brother Gunther loudly. "I swear that this is all the Bear's doing. Prior William." Brother Gunther walked up to him and they exchanged the kiss of peace.

As the men sang a drinking song that had nothing to do with Bears, as far as the Bear could tell, Prior William spoke to Brother Gunther. "I am surprised to see you, Brother. What business brings you here?"

"I am going to Rome to have my election to abbot confirmed, Prior William."

"I should have guessed," Prior William said. "You will fail."

"That will be Pope Gregory's decision," Brother Gunther answered with a slight smile.

Prior William made a weary face. "Very well. Of course, I will control all the supplies you brought, and will continue to be in charge of this expedition."

"Of course, Prior William," answered Brother Gunther with a bow. "I am your obedient servant."

"Then there is the matter of my Bear," Prior William said. "You will see to it that he is once again muzzled and chained."

"As far as it lies within my ability, I shall follow the Prior's orders, of course. May he be fed, first?"

"No. Muzzle and chains. Then you may feed him some scraps of the bear meat we recovered."

"He may feel he's earned the right to walk freely."

"What he feels is not my concern, nor yours, Brother Gunther! And for your impertinence, I am binding you to silence until I decide to release you."

Brother Gunther bowed again and searched for the hateful apparatus. Meanwhile Prior William cajoled his men into surrounding the Bear with spears, although they looked none too happy. There was grumbling about "our Bear." Brother Gunther stood before the Bear in silence, holding the muzzle.

None of this made sense to the Bear. What spell had Prior William cast over Brother Gunther?

"Brother Gunther?" the Bear ventured.

The only reply was stony silence as Brother Gunther again offered the humiliating and painful iron muzzle. What allowed an evil man like Prior William to be in charge, while a good man, so very like Father Corbinian, must obey him, and betray the Bear? The Bear was not worried about the men. It was doubtful they would fight very hard against him. If only Brother Gunther would give the word, the Bear would put him in charge, and the Bear was certain that then there would be no muzzle. "Bear begs you. Take charge. The Good God would want that, Bear is sure! Do you not see that Prior William is just like a killer bear?"

"The Good God," Prior William said with a sneer, "values obedience in his monks. You would do well to imitate good Brother Gunther. See, he is your friend, and he offers you the muzzle of obedience. Do not presume to judge me, Bear. Recognize my authority, as does Brother Gunther. Please God with your obedience. It is what Abbot Corbinian would want you to do. Holy Scripture says animals are subject to men."

The Bear thought a moment, and reached a decision. He stood up and roared more loudly than he had ever roared before. He slowly turned in a circle, rejoicing in the fear he saw in the men's eyes. He seized one of their spears in his jaws and broke the shaft. The men started backing away from him. He knocked another spear out a man's hands with a swipe of his paw, and broke it as well. "Lay your spears at my feet," he commanded with another roar. They complied without hesitation. Some of them even seemed pleased. The Bear then methodically broke every one of the spears, and tossed the pieces into the fire for good measure.

"Now sing," he ordered. "Sing Bear the song you were singing before."

The men quickly began a ragged tune.


They sang louder.

As the men sang, the Bear turned on Prior William, and was on him in three quick steps.

"Bear sees fear in your eyes, wicked old man. You are nothing like Father Corbinian. It is impossible that you would be in charge of anything, except... a dishonest sausage stall at the market." The Bear let his gaze linger on Prior William's terrified face, then he half-turned. "Men, stop singing." He picked up Prior William off the ground. "Would you follow this miserable creature to your deaths? Or would you be men of the Bear? The Bear who provides a feast out of snowy darkness? Who can lead you safely to the great Rome and back. The famous Corbinian's Bear! What say you?"

"The Bear!" they began cheering, and the Bear was surprised that it sounded genuine.

"What shall we do with this bad man?" the Bear asked them, giving Prior William a slight shake.

"Kill him! Put the chains on him! Make him wear the muzzle!" The men shouted different suggestions. "He mistreated our leader, Captain Bear! We serve no one but Captain Bear!"

"Seize him!" the Bear ordered as he dropped his prisoner, and stepped back. The men rushed Prior William, and despite his bitter orders to the contrary, they held him roughly, looking at the Bear expectantly. "Brother Gunther, bring Bear the muzzle." But Brother Gunther stood still, and gestured with the muzzle toward the Bear. "One of you," he addressed the men, "take the muzzle from Brother Gunther." He resisted, and eventually it took three men to wrench it away from him. He looked at the Bear with sadness, as the Bear gazed back with incomprehension.

Shortly, Prior William was bound, gagged, and the heavy iron muzzle was more or less fastened to his head ridiculously. "Behold your superior, Brother Gunther. This is what you take orders from? Still no answer? Chains." The men eagerly draped one segment of the heavy chains over Prior William's shoulders and around his waist.

"Brother Gunther, friend, Bear offers you command. You are the better man. Will you not speak?" Brother Gunther continued to look sadly at the Bear. Finally, the Bear snarled. "Fine. Between a crook and a good man who will do nothing, Bear will lead. Bear is not a monk. Bear is not an animal. He does not owe obedience to any man. Men of the Bear! Are we ready to continue at first light?"

"Yes, Captain Bear," said one of the older men. His face bore a diagonal scar. The Bear saw a strange, hot light in his eye.

"What is your name?" the Bear asked.

"Angest, sir. I had my own company when we fought the Lombards."

"Men will obey you, and you obey Bear," the Bear said.

"Yes, sir!" Angest answered smartly. Under the Bear's intense gaze, the other men nodded.

"Keep Wicked William on his feet where he stands until we set out," the Bear ordered. "Dawn is not far off."

"Aye, Captain Bear," said Angest. "And we'll be wanting to keep those spear heads. They might prove useful yet with new shafts."

The Bear nodded. Captain Bear. That pleased the Bear. He wondered how many men might follow Captain Bear.

The Bear tried to sleep, but Brother Gunther had moved next to Prior William, and stood beside him in the moonlight, in silent solidarity. Humans. Just when the Bear thought he had them figured out, they always did something like this.


  1. Permit the Bear to prime the pump. There's a lot here, obviously. Anything timely? In particular, what do you think of Brother Gunther? Admirable? Sadly deluded? Weasel? What about the Bear? Is his Alpine coup d'etat justified? Contrast their approaches.

    Why would the clerical leader desire to have the Bear "muzzled?" (And Brother Gunther, too.) Do we see the same thing happening today? Are their limits to obedience when the goals and results are clearly evil?

    Is there any way out of this mess? Does anyone think the Bear should just suck it up and face pain, humiliation and starvation so Prior William can enjoy his power trip? Is the Bear's mistreatment of Prior William so far justified as an object lesson, and demonstration of his complete removal from leadership? Is it ever justified to criticize clerics, or should we always respect the office?

    Is the Bear screwing up his Lent, or are his actions justified? What would you like to see happen next?

    1. P.S. why is Prior William insisting on dragging the Bear along with him?

    2. Certainly there are limits to obedience. St Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Theologica "On the contrary, It is written (Acts 5:29): 'We ought to obey God rather than men.' Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God. Therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things."
      "Reply to Objection 3. Religious profess obedience as to the regular mode of life, in respect of which they are subject to their superiors: wherefore they are bound to obey in those matters only which may belong to the regular mode of life, and this obedience suffices for salvation. If they be willing to obey even in other matters, this will belong to the superabundance of perfection; provided, however, such things be not contrary to God or to the rule they profess, for obedience in this case would be unlawful."

      So why does Prior William want the Bear to travel with him? And does Brother Gunther know, or think he knows, the reason?

    3. Great comment, Elizabeth. As for your question... the Bear will let someone else take a shot, if possible. It's not for the Bear's charming company.

    4. Well then, Elizabeth, there being no answer to your question provided by the small number of remaining readers of this saga, maybe this will help.

      Prior William intends to take Corbinian's place as abbot. But his ego seeks more. He wants to steal the miracle of the Bear by repeating the Bear's journey to Rome as a pack animal. In his twisted mind, eventually, people will come to associate him with the Bear, and then him with the miracle.

      Obviously, he doesn't get it.

      Brother Gunther is, like Prior William, going to Rome to be confirmed as abbot by the Pope. (That's the way they did things back then.) So the obvious question arises, how did two abbots somehow get elected by the monks? What makes each man think the Pope will recognize him, and not the other? There is an implication that rests on whether you trust Brother Gunther, for all his block-headedness, or Prior William.

    5. That does seem very stupid of Prior William. I hope the Pope will see through the attempt. Brother Gunther, while not perfect, looks like the better choice.

  2. Brother Gunther is obeying his superior who ordered him to muzzle and chain Bear. He did what he thought was right though he had grave misgivings about it.

    Bear is rightfully defending himself against Prior William in having refused muzzle and shackles.

    However, once having succeeded in defending himself, Bear lost the moral advantage by visiting on Prior William the punishment which he was going to get.

    In other words, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth does not work, and is contrary to what Jesus said.

    No, Bear should not "just suck it up and face pain, humiliation and starvation so Prior William can enjoy his power trip."

    Neither should Bear mistreat Prior William to give him an object lesson in humility.

    In other words, we have no right to remove clerics from authority who do wrong, but we have a duty to disobey wrongful orders, and therein lies the difference.

    Criticizing a cleric's wrongful actions and words is NOT disrespect to the office, but rather respect of the utmost when delivered dispassionately and in charity.

    Now with regard to the Pope, Melchior Cano said at the Council of Trent:

    "Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See - they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations."

    This same lesson is true, by the way, with respect to Obama. Romans 13:1-7 says we must obey the Magistrate of the State (and when St Paul wrote that, was not evil Nero on the Throne?). But when Caesar errs, then we have a duty to point it out and resist. Loyal dissent (that is to say, dissent to wrongfulness but loyalty to one's Church and one's Country) is the hallmark of true religion and true patriotism.

    So, Bear was right to resist the muzzle and shackles - self defense. Bear was wrong to punish Prior William. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay.

    BTW, when Jesus said you should turn the other cheek after someone slaps you, it doesn't mean you should be a door mat. It means that you are not supposed to return evil for evil. There is however no prohibition against defending yourself. And in Jewish custom, supposedly turning the other cheek to the slapper meant that he had to defile himself again by touching your unclean self with his hand. The act of cheek turning was supposedly insulting to the slapper, and that is what Bear should have done - turn the other cheek towards Prior William by throwing down the muzzle and shackles, and then offering to help the group get to Rome.

  3. If ratings mattered, "A Bear's Lent" would be canceled mid-season. Not that I'm complaining. You get what the Bear likes to write here, not always what you like to read. That is the nature of an amateur ephemeris. He may run a horse recipe once a week.

    Hopefully once in awhile someone will like something enough to toss the Bear a fish. A small one, perhaps.

    The broader character and story arcs are being revealed and we are far from Bear's simple Lenten problems and St. Corbinian. New characters are introduced. Still, there are moral challenges, and for the first time, Bear is without guidance. We're going to see which of his lessons have stuck with him.

    The author must admit to a quandary, however. The story culminates in Rome. But they can't get to Rome before their (and our) Easter. The Bear's adventures must therefore be unceremoniously cut short by Easter, or extended several episodes beyond. Or, the author could just stop now with an 8th century talking Bear version of the end of Twin Peaks.

    1. My vote is for extending for several episodes beyond Easter. Perhaps that will be more influential than my Presidential primary vote tomorrow?

    2. One more thing. This is an experimental ephemeris ("blog"). I want it to be a three-ring circus. I want the very real character of the Bear to be accepted given your kind suspension of disbelief.

      Do other Catholic ephemera run serial fiction? [Shrug.] Probably somebody, but I've never run across it. Maybe that is an experiment that failed, and serial fiction just doesn't work on an ephemeris. If so, well, that's the nature of experiments. Maybe I should package the whole thing up in various formats, including Amazon, and keep it out of the ephemeris. I don't know. The numbers are what they are, and I try to figure out what they're telling me, so I can make a better ephemeris for my dear readers.

      I don't link much. Nearly everything you get here, every day, is original content, and even if I link, you can bet you're going to get an original riff from me.

      The Ernie Kovacs show is the inspiration for this ephemeris, as I think I've said before. Frankly, a lot of Ernie's short takes and sketches flopped. Why? It was an experimental show. But there was always the next thing that would be hilarious. And Ernie talked directly to his television audience, smoking a cigar, from the control room. Just like I do in the comment boxes. And should I stay out of them on the theory that I get to say my piece in the article, and the comment box is yours? I decided long ago that I would engage readers, and sometimes elaborate on an article, in the comment box. I probably overdo it. I'll probably cut back. But you never know what you'll get. I try to throw out the occasional Easter egg about the Bear. I try to acknowledge nearly every comment in some way. To me, that strengthens the woodland community feel.

    3. Yes, Elizabeth, your vote counts heavily. Thank you! I am also considering the option of an avalanche that kills the Bear, and running a normal blog where I write in the first person.

    4. For what it's worth, although I came to the ephemeris several times since this post went up, I saved it to read until today. I wanted to be able to ponder it before going to Adoration.

      I very much enjoy the tale, and I vote for an Easter hiatus (television talk from the L.A. woman) rather than a cancellation.

      And I love the fact that you interact via the comments ... so few do; it makes one wonder if they care about their readers.

  4. Dear Bear, No avalanche please. Extend the series as you extend the life of Bear to continue his ephemeris for the enjoyment and heartfelt ponderings of this woodland creature. Thank you for this Lenten journey.

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you. The avalanche is doubtful unless the Bear succumbs to a distemper.

  6. " out your own salvation with fear and trembling "

    Philippians 2:12


    1. "Hope without virtue is presumption"

      St. Bernard.

  7. The Bear is just fine as his instincts are from God.
    Praise the Lord and pass some salmon to the Bear.

    1. Thanks, Michael. Sometimes some salmon will snap the Bear out of the beginnings of a distemper.

  8. Please don't kill the bear in an avalanche or any other way, that would be terrible....

    1. Your pleas are quite eloquent, Maria. Thank you!

  9. No, don't kill the bear! I love the way this blog is written by a bear and I love the background stories you share.

    Writing in the first person would make it just like zillions of other blogs and commentary. Besides that,
    I have a great fascination and respect for bears and spend a lot of time watching them on live cams, especially the cams from Alaska and Canada. Bears do not have an easy life. But they are very clever and resourceful.

    Thank you for what you share here. I always look forward to your posts.

    1. What a sweet post Sheep 1. It greatly encourages the Bear!

  10. I'll make a couple of observations beginning with the chaining and muzzling of Bear.

    Bear consented to that and did so out of attachment to the (purported) writings of Corbinian. There's a lesson there on how attachment leads to enslavement--not just attachment to sin, but attachment to material goods or human respect. I can't offer sympathy to what happened to Bear at the hand of William.

    Other than perhaps making reference to the original promise of Bear to William, Bear was not under obedience and could certainly defend himself and choose to leave at this point. But he went further and instigated mutiny against authority. God abhors rebellion and the moral bar for rebellion against authority is extraordinarily high.

    The Bear, as author, has not explained the metaphysical state of Bear and has certainly taken Bear well beyond anything described in the original story. That's fine; it's fiction. However, as the Bear is not a man, but Bear and thus beast, the men in choosing to follow Bear have thrown off reason in choosing to follow the Beast--not rational authority, even if corrupt, but irrationality and might. There's plenty to consider along those lines about the predilection of men.

    1. The metaphysical state of the Bear is indeed important, and has always been part of the meta-narrative of this ephemeris as a whole. Is the Bear, not only back in the 8th century, but now, a man? A Beast? Both? He is certainly smarter than the average Bear. The Bear's encounter with Killer forced a choice between responding instinctively or exercising his rational human powers. You may attach whatever symbolic significance to the defeat of Killer you wish. But it is a turning point.

      The Bear did not consent to be muzzled and chained, but did so because he was surrounded by armed men. Why did he not resist then, as he did under the same circumstances during his coup? Is it because what he tolerated as "mostly Bear" is different if he has crossed the line to "mostly man?"

      Before, his temptations were simple, like eating ponies. Why now is he facing a whole new set of temptations? Power. Vainglory. Exquisite cruelty. To answer that question, you must solve the mystery of the Bear's metaphysical state and what it illustrates. A hint will be found in Romans, where St. Paul writes about the flesh. St. Corbinian wanted the Bear to "become less Bear and more man." How does the Bear's striving to become less bearlike and more like a man correspond to our experience?

      The original chaining and muzzling of the Bear was accompanied by much cruelty. Blows to his face, spitting, mocking. He accepts it without rancor or resistance. Now, we know he could have successfully fought back, but he didn't. (Ironically, these are the same men who will later hail "Captain Bear," and cry "We serve only Captain Bear! in a sort of reverse Palm Sunday.)

      Are you assuming that the Bear is merely an animal because he looks like one? The miracle of St. Corbinian had far-reaching and mysterious effects. But the story is yours.

      The tone is very different now. The first part dealt with common difficulties during Lent. As Lent draws near its end, the Bear must be abandoned and face a whole different set of temptations, as I said. That, and I wanted an epic ending ;-)

      In any event, whatever you make of it, the Bear was there, and remembers it clearly.

  11. I have finally managed to catch up with this story. I'm loving the ride, and I must admit that I have much sympathy for the men putting Prior William in chains. Very curious where it is going next.


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