Thursday, 30 April 2009

Archbishop Wilson's Pastoral Letter**

Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide's Easter Pastoral letter is now available online (thanks to a reader for the link). It deals with three basic issues:

  • the tetragammaton;
  • anti-semitism and Jewish jokes; and
  • reverence for the book of the Bible.
The name of God

The first section is a long explanation of why the term 'Yahweh' should be abandoned. The hand wringing on this going on over at Cath News notwithstanding, by itself it would all be very straightforward and unproblematic if it weren't for the context it is put in. I'm not sure why it warrants such prominence as an issue given that I don't really think this is an issue most catholics deal with on a day to day basis unless they use a Jerusalem Bible or are addicted to 1970s tacky hymns, but perhaps these are still de rigeur in Adelaide.

Catholicism, anti-semitism and the Holocaust

I found the section on anti-semitism rather disturbing however, as it buys into the 'black armband' view of history which the Vatican is attempting to counter in the context of the debate on Pope Pius XII:

"I raise this matter as we prepare to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ in Holy Week, out of deep respect for the Jewish people. Since the terrible crimes committed against the Jewish people in the twentieth century, Catholics must continue to search their hearts. In preparation for the new millennium, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission asked whether the terrible persecution of the Shoah “was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts…Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to the persecuted Jews?”
(Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past, 64).

[Undoubtedly a few catholics were and are anti-semites - we are a church of sinners as well as saints. But overall the evidence is that Catholics resoundingly voted against Hitler in Germany when they still could, were the main leaders of the resistance to him, did their best to save Jews, and were persecuted and killed for their efforts. Thousands of priests and religious died at the hands of the Nazis and Pope John Paul II canonised a number of martyrs exactly to recognise this. ]

I also ask you to be conscious of attitudes that are expressed through jokes and comments. While I know most of you would not tolerate the improper nature and offense caused by Jewish jokes, I sadly note that this has happened in our Church in the past. I know you will agree with me that this is unacceptable. Just as we desire respect for our faith, we will also be noted for our capacity to show the same respect for the faith of others."

The Word of God

While on the theme of respect and reverence, I would also like to draw to the attention of all
people in the Archdiocese a need to remind ourselves about the sacred character of the Bible as the printed Word of God.

[This comes out of the Synod on the Bible I suspect, and there is some Western tradition on this - just as icons are reverenced in the East as pointing us to a higher reality, so in the West beautifully ornate Bibles often served a similar function.]

In the Moslem tradition, great respect is shown for the printed word of the Holy Koran. In some cultures the Koran is held up by the mother of the house so that departing guests pass under it, as a form of blessing.

[I have a few problems with this line of argument. Catholics assert that our religion holds the fullness of truth, others only have parts of it, mixed in with errors. On the face of it therefore, an argument that religion x does something so therefore we should appears highly problematic. Moreover, there are, as I understand it, very significant differences in our beliefs about the nature of our sacred texts. Muslims believe that the Koran is holy because it was literally dictated to the Prophet by an angel - catholics cannot possibly accept such a claim (unless we think that the angel concerned was perhaps a dark coloured one, in which case it sure isn't holy!). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches that Catholicism is specifically NOT a religion 'of the book' as Islam is. Ours is rather a religion of the living Word.]

In some of the Protestant traditions, considerable respect is shown for the printed Bible, [because they assert Sola Scriptura?] so that it is put in a special position in the house. People do not throw other books or papers on the Bible but treat it with reverence for what it is, the revelation of God’s love for us. I commend such a reverential practice to our Catholic families also, that the Word of God in its printed form be situated in a place of honour in a house, and never treated like any other book, because of its sacred character.
[There may well be an argument for such practices, but Protestants reverence the Bible in this way because they don't have what catholics do, namely the eucharistic presence of Our Lord which trumps all other forms of God's presence in this world.] The same reverence should be accorded to the Lectionary and the book of the Gospels in liturgical celebrations. Seeing the reverence for the printed Word, will also be a positive example for our young people, so that they may be helped to cherish and study the Word."

Let me clear that I am not necessarily arguing against the Archbishop's recommendations in terms of practice - the traditional rite does reverence the Gospel books in various ways, and some reflection of that in our homes may well send a useful signal. But if there is a case, it must surely be in keeping with our own tradition, not those of others.

**This post has been substantially revised to focus more clearly on the substantive issues raised in the letter. Comments relating to earlier versions of it have therefore been deleted.

1 comment:

Son of Trypho said...


I hope I haven't misunderstood what you've written but it seems that you've written that Christians didn't give every possible assistance etc? Is this correct? (maybe you might want to make your highlighted point a little clearer?)

As to the earlier thread, I have to say that I don't think there is inherent anti-semitism in the conservative/traddie movements but I do think, and there is evidence to support this, that there is more than an isolated minority who espouse those views.

And with regards to Christian anti-semitism in WW2 - I think you have to look more broadly than the purely German focus you have drawn here - many other states who assisted the Germans in their crimes did have people who were motivated by Christian antisemitism.