So here he lies as he has lain in state
These ninety years in this cathedral crypt
At Westminster. We come to venerate
The relics of a martyr: his heart, ripped
Out of his chest at Tyburn for a priest,
Was sewn back in at Cromwell’s stern behest.
Four times arrested and three times released,
That blessèd little man four times confessed.

His derring-do his daring deeds display,
This doughty representative of Christ.
Our fathers’ faith, so compromised today,*
A travesty for all he sacrificed.
With face behind a silver mask he lies
And if he cries we cannot see his eyes.


*Poet’s note: Thanks in no small part to the present incumbent of the Bishopric of Rome and Supreme Pontiff at the Vatican. Bergoglio is an anagram, I’ve only recently noticed, of the “bigger loo” presumably required to accommodate what comes out of it.

Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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41 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    A brilliant ending and so a brilliant poem, as is the alliteration in the opening line of your last verse.

    A scathing anagram of Pope Francis who, in light of the most recent revelations about the communist Chinese government, is becoming more and more difficult to defend.

  2. Mike Bryant

    The poem is brilliant. You’ve highlighted this man who took a stand despite the threats of death, because he knew the truth of Christ’s message. Those puritanic times were only for the meek. Now, those times are here again, no one’s allowed to speak out or defend their chosen path. (except here at SCP and a few other sites) I wonder who’ll stand up against the iron hand of bland conformity.

    • Peter Hartley

      Mike – many thanks for your very kind remarks about my St John Southworth, who was born and lived only a few miles from me in South Lancashire, and it is strange that I think he must be the only one of the (representative selection of) forty martyrs of England and Wales to end up at the very nucleus of the Catholic Church in England, at Westminster.

      • Mike Bryant

        I take your point. Strange indeed since he was initially canonized by the Anglican Church, I believe, which makes it stranger still.

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    An adeptly crafted, eloquent and educative sonnet that makes a powerful point. The volta is spot on and the closing couplets are magnificent.

    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Many thanks for your thoughtful remarks about St John Southworth.South Lancashire where I live was a hot-bed of recusancy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in Manchester there is even the odd road named after a martyr. Last year I had a short bloodthirsty period writing about five other contemporary martyrs.

  4. Peter Hartley

    Joe – the last time I saw St John Southworth I can only remember thinking, illogically, how tiny was his body to have endured so much excruciating pain in his dying. I suppose we were all made of much sterner stuff in penal times and few of us could ever be called upon to make such sacrifices today. But we do have to make an exception for Pope Bergoglio and any apparent lack of enthusiasm for the glory of martyrdom, should the matter ever arise. His monstrously busy time schedule, the utterly stupendous gravitas he is called upon to maintain in his little two-bed flat at the Vatican and his never-yielding commitment to interfaith dialogue and being prepared to suck the toes of small Muslim babies must all take their toll. We’ve had the word oecumenism and others relating to it since the sixteenth century at least in English but I don’t think they can have meant quite the same thing then, viz cringe, grovel, fawn, kowtow, as they do now. Dialogue, I suppose, is a bit like addressing issues. Nothing much necessarily comes out of it.

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    A very fine sonnet that pays tribute to a courageous martyr. We often speak of “The Forty Catholic Martyrs” in Britain, but let’s not forget that there were far more than just forty, most of them anonymous and shoveled into mass graves: those slaughtered in The Pilgrimage of Grace, and those killed in the Cornish Rebellion against Cromwell’s new prayer-book.

    • Peter Hartley

      Joe S – Many thanks for your kind remarks about my little poem, just one of several other sonnets on a similar theme. I had mentioned to Mike in my reply to him that the so-called forty martyrs were only a very representative selection of the hundreds or thousands who died for their faith between the reign of Henry VIII and the 1680s (Oliver Plunkett was one of the very last but he was Irish). Many years ago I bought a “tester” (sixpence) dated 1581 for £5.00 and over and over again it used to exercise my imagination to think that my clipped coin at the beginning of its 400 year history might have been in the pocket of somebody attending the triple executions of Briant, Sherwin and Campion in that year. It is a mistake to assume that the crowds tended to be antagonistic – there would have been a tremendous out-pouring of sympathy for those convicted of so-called “mind crimes” in those turbulent times, whatever their faith. How they managed to have the presence of mind to deliver reasoned coherent speeches from the scaffold I cannot understand.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        You are right about the reactions of the London crowds at such executions. When the first three Carthusian monks from the London Charterhouse were hanged, drawn, and quartered, the onlookers were so horrified at the savagery of the punishment (as contrasted with the totally submissive piety of the three men who endured it) that a sudden flare-up of sympathy for the monks spread widely throughout England, along with hatred of the vicious government that killed them for nothing more than “thought crime.” Henry VIII was so worried by this negative reaction that he murdered the rest of the Charterhouse monks in secret, by starving them to death slowly in the Tower of London, so as to avoid a public spectacle and sympathy.

        I’ve written a poem about the three Carthusian Priors who were the first to die: St. John Houghton, St. Robert Lawrence, and St. Augustine Webster. The poem is called “London Charterhouse.” It’s a bit too long for the SCP website.

        But here is one poignant note: When the executioner hacked open John Houghton’s chest and pulled out his throbbing heart, the Prior said:

        “Good Jesu, what wouldst Thou do with my heart?”

      • Peter Hartley

        Joe S – When Everard Digby the gunpowder plotter was hanged the executioner is alleged to have torn out his heart and said “Here is the heart of a traitor” to which Digby replied “Thou liest”; and there is John Stubbs and his publisher who each had a hand cut off on account of a seditious pamphlet, I think, when Stubbs managed “God save the Queen!” before he fainted. I don’t suppose there’s much reason to think such tales are apocryphal either when these occasions attracted such massive crowds. And isn’t Foxe’s “Acts and Monuments” (to introduce the Protestant side), full of such tales of courage and bravado, one of the longest publications in Britain behind the OED and the DNB?

    • Margaret Coats

      Please give us the news on how and where to read “London Charterhouse” when you publish it!

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        It’s already been published, under a pseudonym, in TRINACRIA, Issue No. 6 (Fall 2011). I’ll send you a copy of the magazine if you give your mailing address to Mr. Mantyk, and tell him to e-mail the address to me.

  6. Sally Cook

    Dear Peter Hartley –
    Sent a previous comment and was sorry to see it never went through. I will try once more to say that this poem is smooth as silk; clear as glass and unequivocal.
    Martyrs are strange beings, in that they choose their ground and may not be moved. They are here to move us.
    Thank you for reminding us of this in such an elegantly crafted way.

    • Peter Hartley

      Sally – Thank you for the little thoughtful insight into the mind of a martyr. It is scarcely to be believed that some of these people could be capable of such courage, And they weren’t even necessarily martyrs. Chidiock Tichborne was one of the co-conspirators in the Babbington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth l in the 1580s. His execution even made ERI blench, but he wrote a beautiful poem the night before his death.

  7. Margaret Coats

    Peter, poems like yours encourage those trying to be faithful Catholics at present. When I first read the sonnet, I wondered whether the contemporary reference would make it a weaker poem in honor of the martyr. I believe, however, that your artistry makes that part work quite well, and creates a solemn meditation on martyrdom. During this time when we must assist at Mass online, I have also received much encouragement from Warrington in your area at The priests there do not seem to be compromisers. Hope you know them.

    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – Thank you for your kind and perceptive comments. Surely no poet could wish for a greater compliment than to be told that his or her work has brought inspiration and encouragement to others. Although I am unable, for various reasons, to go as far from my house as Warrington, and my IT skills are simian (I WILL write the complete works of Shakespeare eventually), a relative of mine was riveted to her I-pad and the solemn liturgy from this wonderful A W N Pugin church from Maunday Thursday to Easter Sunday. She would agree with all that you say.

  8. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    What I find missing in the poem is any mention of the martyr’s victory—no crown, no palm, no signifier of triumph. And St. John himself would have told you that the most important thing about him is his priesthood, which should have opened the poem to that larger universe of meaning contained in the Most Holy Eucharist to which it is ordained.

    Martyrdom is more than corporeal.

    I would have had the many souls St. John baptized and converted through his earthly ministry greeting him in heaven. There are all kinds of amazing possibilities other than forensic indulgence in how he was tortured.

    For me, this poem falls dead flat.

    I know, I know: I’m out of line. Poetry is about beats and rhymes and nothing more.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Joseph M., a single poem can’t handle EVERYTHING. This is a Shakespearean sonnet, which by its nature is a limited genre with only a few resources (octet, sestet, volta, closing couplet). Why demand that the poet pack the thing with all kinds of extra stuff?

      Of course poetry is not just about beats and rhymes. But not every poem has to be weighted with theology. Besides, perhaps Mr. Hartley is composing a sequence of sonnets about martyrs, and this is only one of them. In such a sequence as you — being an author of such sequences — know, there is more scope for wider commentary.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Yes, personally speaking, the sonnet is not at all the form I would have chosen for the subject.

        While it is true that a sequence can, in certain special cases, give “force of numbers” to a subject, I hold that each and every individual sonnet within a sequence must manifest the greatness of the whole, even if the sonnets are not strictly unified by subject which is also possible in a sequence.

        A string of wooden beads will not have the luster of a string of pearls.

        A mistake in the first decisions will be exaggerated by a series.

        “Parvus error in principio, magnus in fine.”

    • Peter Hartley

      Mr Mackenzie – I don’t think I have been honoured with a comment from you before, and I am indeed surprised that something as apparently innocuous as this little poem should induce your first. I can’t remember now my impulse for writing it but Dr Salemi was correct in his surmise that it was intended to be part of a small series, of which I have written five. I certainly had other objects than “weighting them with theology” which I am perfectly happy to leave to the likes of you and to the more pious and more pietistic contributers to these columns. I don’t know quite how fourteen short lines have induced so much vituperation from you. My “forensic indulgence in how he was tortured” is restricted to six words, not really an indulgence when you consider that we have sought inspiration from subjects like the Dies Irae, the Harrowing of Hell, the Martyrdom of St Cecilia for two thousand years. I think you were half a step away from calling me a sadistic pervert in your comment, in which case “Honi soit qui mal y pense” which I’m sorry I can’t render into the favoured church Latin which it is your indulgence to spout as often as you can on these pages. Poetry for me, by the way, is about appealing to the emotions in a way that poetry and music can and prose can’t.By the way I hope I have not for a moment suggested that martyrdom is no more than corporeal. I only had fourteen b****y lines!!!

  9. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    The greatest, most enduring, achievements in human arts and letters are “weighted with theology.”

    And yes:

    Poetry has the supreme right not to be great—the only right I see today’s poets exercising with any enthusiasm.

  10. Joseph S. Salemi

    I hope we won’t have another flame-war here. A great many accounts of the lives of martyred saints do give horrific details of their sufferings, and there has never been an objection to this sort of focus. It generates pity and devotion in the hearts of those who read or listen. In any case, I don’t think Mr. Hartley overdid it.

    • Christina

      Dr. Salemi, you have touched on something that has been on my mind here, namely that a sonnet such as this may be a fruitful aid to devotion

      Like many people who would, I think, be drawn to read this poem by its title, I am not ignorant of the theology pertaining to martyrdom, the sacred priesthood and the Holy Eucharist, and this knowledge formed a background in my mind as I read the sonnet and found it deeply meditative – this aspect being greatly helped by the excellent choice of illustration. I sought this ‘blessed little man’s’ right hand there and thought of how he had brought the Mass and Holy Communion to a scattered, persecuted flock, hiding in mortal danger in a ‘priest’s hole’. The contemplation of the martyr’s pain, as you say, rouses pity, and it also leads one to think at length about one’s own commitnent to Christ compared to this.

      All that from ten lines and a photograph, for the last four lines are a separate meditation on the present sad state of the Church that St. Jòhn Southworth suffered and died to preserve for us.

      A question for Mr. MacKenzie.

      Do you think it is ‘forensic indulgence’ to meditate on the Crucifixion of Christ?

      Sorry for any typos.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        It can be. Moderns have a taste for blood.

        By the way, I was speaking generally about this problem, not at all about Mr. Hartley’s sonnet, so I found myself a bit surprised by his emotional, ad hominem attack. My problem with his sonnet pertains to what it lacks. If anything, Mr. Hartley does poetry a far greater service than the myriad leaf and sap poems we have been getting lately. We should all do well to raise our pens in praise of the martyrs.

        But as for contemplation of the martyrs, they are a good deal more than pitiable.

        For, there is only one pitiful, and that is the soul of the sinner.

        It is because WE are to be pitied that Christ was crucified.

        Notice, that in the least spiritual period of history has given us the forensic indulgence of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” whereas the most spiritual period in history has given us the highly stylized crucifix engraved on the Cross of Lothair.

        In other words, as man becomes less spiritual, his contemplation of the Crucifixion becomes more corporeal.

  11. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Please excuse me for returning always to a Scottish cleric, but we might do well to remember Richard de Saint-Victor’s distinction between cognition, meditation, and contemplation. The last of these is infused by the Holy Ghost and is therefore an operation ab externo. It cannot arise as a mere act from within as an act of the will alone.

    Personally, I have always found the entire school of Saint-Victor quite worthwhile (I have the “De gratia conteplationis” in my edition of Migne and, of course, we sing the hymns of Richard’s master, Hugh, everywhere in the Office.)

    The preparation of the soul desiring to enter the contemplative state is quite intense and takes place in many stages. We see St. Theresa of Avila, for example and to a large extent mirroring the contemplative masters of the Middle Ages in her “Castillo Interior,” which is also one of the preambula of my own poetic practice.

    Contemplation is the soul’s utterly free dwelling upon truth. In modern parlance, however, we all too often confuse it with meditation or mere cognition.

    It goes well beyond “forensic reconstruction of an event” and well beyond sensationalism. It is a relation between truth itself and the human soul and must be given as a free gift.

    Many are the common errors and difficulties. Probably best discussed elsewhere.

  12. Joseph S. Salemi

    Joseph M., I must beg to disagree. Certainly the medieval period was one of deep and genuine devotion, but that period also gives us examples of vivid “forensic indulgence,” to use your words. What of the immensely widespread devotion to the five wounds of Christ, seen both in simple representations of these five open wounds in popular iconography, and in elite literature like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? What of the common representation of the several “instruments” of the Passion, known to every Christian in those days? What of the Stations of the Cross, taking persons through every agonizing step from the condemnation of Jesus to his entombment? What of images that show angels using a chalice to catch the Precious Blood that flows from His pierced side? Longinus was the patron saint of Mantua, and everywhere in that city you would see depictions of him thrusting his spear into our Savior’s flank.

    I don’t see how you can complain of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, as the film has inspired intense devotion world-wide, and been an occasion of actual grace for thousands if not millions of viewers. Gibson may be a poor sinner (who of us isn’t?), but he is a sincere Catholic who produced an amazing tribute to God, and a shattering vision of what the Atonement cost. Was it realistically “corporeal”? Sure. But that’s what film as an art form does.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      I am not referring to popular devotions, but to contemplation sensu stricto.

      As to the Stations, the purpose of this devotion is not forensic indulgence, but repentance. These are not said to a 95-decible Dolby drum beat in a theatre, but to the graceful singing of the Stabat Mater with an acolyte, thurifer, cross bearer, and priest moving from one beautifully carved or painted Station to the next. The devotion is Marian par excellence.

      In fact, each of the devotions and works you refer to have as their purpose the conversion of sinners, as opposed to gratuitous pleasure in Christ’s suffering on the Cross.

      Mel Gibson’s “Passion” has only inspired the usual fleeting emotions that Hollywood is expert in producing in viewers. It is categorically unrealistic to assert that there is more devotion to the Via Crucis now than 60 years ago as a result of the film. If some claim to have received graces from watching it, so much the better, keeping in mind, of course, that Protestants typically conflate emotion with grace.

      Mr. Gibson’s film is a work of capitalist sensationalism, just like every other film he ever made.

      The artifactual record shows that the men of the Middle Ages did far better by leaving the production of sacred art to anonymous huomini religiosi whose motives were without admixture.

      A true film on Christ’s Passion has yet to be made and shall not be made in our lifetimes.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Not every simple soul is fitted for the higher levels of contemplation, or for reading Richard of St. Victor. But simple souls can be drawn to devotion via imagery. Did not the soaring cathedrals with their stained glass and statuary and fresco paintings show the illiterate something of the divine?

        Of course devotions and religious artworks are meant ultimately to convert sinners. Who’s denying that? But a direct appeal to the human senses is a signature hallmark of Catholicism, as opposed to the word-and-sermon-based scriptural fixations of Protestantism. Our thurifers, our vestments, our stained glass, our litanies, our candles, our ashes, our holy water, our chrism, our gestures of benediction, our liturgical complexity, our Gregorian chant — all these things appeal directly to the human senses primarily, and of course after that to the soul’s longing for holiness and union with God. And no one can leave out the repentance and amendment of life that are intrinsic to the same.

        Good Catholics aren’t saying the Stations of the Cross out of some bloody-minded fascination with the details of the Crucifixion. No one is taking “gratuitous pleasure in Christ’s suffering.” And neither did the millions of persons who were deeply moved by Mel Gibson’s film. Was it a capitalist money-maker? Sure. Popular films always are. But Gibson is a devout sedevacantist, and his motives were not primarily in that direction.

  13. Peter Hartley

    Mr Mackenzie – You were “a bit surprised by my emotional and ad hominem attack. But you had the element of surprise on your side, not me, and I was more than “a bit surprised”. But one thing that didn’t surprise me? Do you know I had a wager with a friend that the two words “ad hominem” would figure somewhere in the first paragraph of your reply to my last. Dr Salemi has gone into some detail over the nature of religious contemplation in response to some of your own fatuous assertions, and he speaks infinitely more eloquently than I. On a personal note I well remember while still a student I had the privilege to work on the restoration of a fifteenth century chancel screen. At one end of the screen we had St Blaise being raked with a carding comb, and at the other St Erasmus having several feet of his intestines drawn out with a winch. It was quite an experience to contemplate these by proxy, as it were, through the eyes of the late mediaeval hayseed. You say that you were surprised by my emotional “attack” because you claim you were not having a go at my sonnet in particular. That is sheer hypocrisy. The whole of your first paragraph is a broadside directed at my poem, NOT to poetry in general, culminating in FOR ME THIS POEM FALLS DEAD FLAT”. Ad hominem or not I’d rather you just told me I’ve got a big nose. And believe me my first comment to you was very far from “emotional”. I felt as cool as a cucumber then and I do now: the word “cucumiform” could have been made for me.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Had I known, Mr. Hartley, that my wee little opinion would have the effect of destroying your fragile peace so easily or cause such a massive explosion, I never would have expressed it. My very humble apologies.

      • Peter Hartley

        Mr MacKenzie – You will be relieved to hear that you did not “destroy my peace,” highly though I hanker after your approval. May I refer you to my last sentence above. And I doubt if there is anything “wee” in YOUR opinions or very humble about your expressed apologies.

  14. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    I’m glad we agree that the devotions are not forensic indulgences.

    As for the liturgy, it does not exist to appeal to the senses, but to the mind THROUGH the senses. The distinction could not be more important. Pope St. Pius X, by the way, rejected the crass sensationalism of Romantic music in the liturgy and, as you may recall, was a ardent reformer privileging the Gregorian chant. In fact, the tendency in the Church’s visual manifestation rather more to chastity and purity of form that brute sensationalism. This does not discount realism, but it is never a “realisme scabreux.”

    Here is something that may shock you. When the great Gothic cathedrals were built, one third of the population of Europe lived in monasteries and was literate. The rest were mostly schooled at Church. The old Protestant saw that the windows of Chartres were for ignorant Catholics is false. Try interpreting the windows of La Sainte Chapelle without having actually read quite a number of things.

    I generally avoid judging the piety of others. As for Mr. Gibson, I have long ago lost track of which of his non-Catholic, 20-something girlfriends has fathered what baby or what his latest payouts are for his divorces. But, if you insist that he is a devout sedevacantist, that is your decision.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The windows of Chartres and La Sainte Chapelle exist both for the well-read and for the illiterate, who are equally members of the Body of Christ. You can’t possibly argue that every shepherd or plowman who entered a medieval church was as well trained in the intricacies of doctrine or scriptural typology as a theologian. It was no more true then than it is today, or in any century.

      I will not judge Mr. Gibson’s private life, which is no doubt as sin-ridden as anyone else’s. Despite his failings he is still a Roman Catholic, and he is aware enough to see that the Vatican 2 Church is a fraud. I wish that were true for all the doubletalking Recognize-and-Resist apologists.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Both plowman and cleric would say in one voice that the real purpose of the windows of Chartres is the worship of God.

        Dulia, hyperdulia, and latria.

        Moderns of all stripes are infected with a man-centered notion of sacred art. While the divine liturgy confirms the truths of the faith and is certainly edifying to man, it is directed toward the worship of God, the veneration of the Blessed Virgin and the adoration of the Trinity as its actual purpose.

        Why? Because we owe God the worship of art.

        I was not arguing that membership in the Mystical Body was closed to the literate or the illiterate.

        But hey, in this very thread we seem to have an expression of scorn for the Church’s Latin, which, by the way, was the very language of St. John Southworth…

        …who did not, to my knowledge, spend all his time in the arcanes of Livius.

        I know, I know, back to obsessing over bloody entrails…

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Mel Gibson has a lot of girlfriends and illegitimate children? So did Pope Alexander VI.

  15. Joseph S. Salemi

    Joseph, when in this thread did I ever say or suggest that the purpose of sacred art is NOT to lead us towards the worship of God?

    No one here is “obsessing over entrails.” But several persons here have pointed out, quite rightly, that sacred art dealing with martyrdom or the Passion of Christ must present vivid imagery of suffering in order to teach the mind through the senses. That really isn’t different from what you have argued. The iconography of the five wounds of of Christ; the Mater Dolorosa with her heart transfixed by swords; the crown of thorns embedded in the Sacred Heart of Jesus; the martyrdom of St. Cecelia, St. Erasmus, and St. Blaise; the imagery of Longinus with his spear; the instruments of the Passion; St. Sebastian at the pillar — what more evidence do you need that you have made a mistake with this argument against “forensic indulgence”? Bodily torments are a part of martyrdom, and they naturally lend themselves to iconic depiction. All Mr. Hartley did was speak of St. John Southworth’s torment in two lines, and you insist on reading it as if it were a piece of S&M pornography. This is unfair.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Again, the treatment of these themes in sacred art tends to be elegant, canonically tasteful. Look at Caravaggio’s Martyrdom of St. Matthew. Look an anything Titian.

      It is not simply the two verses, but the fact that the rest lacks spirituality, in my humble opinion. I would have taken the subject in a hundred different directions. Granted, the sonnet is limited, but I have learned to put a good deal into those limits, to speak of a sonnet that summarizes St. Theresa’s “Castillo Interior.”

      Look, you two can go on pouting and simpering in defense of this supremely mediocre attempt until the Apocalypse arrives, you will never convince me that it is anything other than empty. I am sorry that men have become snowflakes and can’t hear any opinion other than praise.

      And you will never convince me that modernist film exploitations of Christ’s Passion can ever hold a candle to a single crucifix of Cimabue, not in power, not in spirituality, not in reverence, not in devotion.

      Nice chatting, bye.

  16. C.B. Anderson

    Guys, please! We’re talking about a lovely sonnet here, NOT our judgment before God. Gruesome details do not matter much — such things are commonplace here on earth. And remember, had Jesus Christ not been tortured and crucified, you wouldn’t have any worthwhile religion at all. Would we still be making sacrifices to Zeus? I don’t know; maybe we’d be in Odin’s corner. A war among gods or a war between different interpretations of God’s will are campaigns to which I would rather remain a conscientious objector. As this battle goes on here below, I am sure that a parallel conflict is being waged in Heaven, so this discussion is not without merit or relevance. For now, though, I am most worried about the lib-tard governors who want the populace to stay off the streets. The living “progressive” shits are loving this manufactured crisis.


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