Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Pope celebrates sixty years of priesthood on the feast of St Peter...with a tweet!

From this:

To this:

Truly a Pope of and for our times! Please pray:

V. Let us pray for our Pontiff, Pope Benedict.
R. The Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him to be blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies

Our Father. Hail Mary.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon Thy servant, Benedict, our Supreme Pontiff, and direct him, according to Thy loving-kindness, in the way of eternal salvation; that, of thy gift, he may ever desire that which is pleasing unto thee and may accomplish it with all his might. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen (Roman Ritual).

Friday, 24 June 2011

Feast of the birth of St John the Baptist

Tintoretto, 1772
Today is the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist.  Also the anniversary of the ordination of Fr Michael McCaffrey FSSP of Adelaide (pictured centre below).  Congratulations!  Please keep him and all our priests, especially those ordained today, in your prayers!

And in honour of the feast, the famous vespers hymn Ut queant laxis (the 'doh a dear' song of the middle ages!)....

PS Enjoy the solemnity on a Friday exemption from abstinence!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Feast of Corpus Christi

Today is (in the Extraordinary Form at least) the feast of Corpus Christi, one of the great feasts introduced in the Middle Ages to counter the all too familiar problem of disbelief in the Real Presence. 

Much of the Office for the day was composed by St Thomas Aquinas.  Here is his sermon for the day:

The boundless favors of the divine goodness shown to the Christian people confer an inestimable dignity upon it. For there is not, nor has there been at any time, so wonderful a nation having its gods so near to it as our God is to us. For indeed, the only-begotten Son of God, willing that we should be partakers of His Divinity, has assumed our nature, so that, having been made man, He might make men gods. And still more, that which He has assumed from us He has offered in its entirety for our salvation. For He offered on the altar of the cross His own body as an oblation for our reconciliation; He shed His own blood both as a ransom and as a purifying laver, so that we, being bought back from wretched slavery, might be cleansed from all sin. And in order that the remembrance of such a great gift should remain constantly with us, He left His own body for food and His own blood for drink to be partaken of by the faithful under the species of bread and wine.

O precious and admirable banquet! Life-giving and filled with every sweetness! For what can be more treasured than this banquet? This banquet in which, not the flesh of bullocks and goats— as was formerly in the Law—but Christ, true God, is served to us to be partaken of! What is more marvelous than this Sacrament? For in it bread and wine are converted substantially into the body and blood of Christ; and He, perfect God and man, is contained under the species of a little bread and wine.

He is, consequently, eaten by the faithful, but He is by no means broken into parts; what is more, when the Sacrament is divided, He remains entirely in each particle. Moreover, in the Sacrament the accidents remain without their subject that faith may play its part when the visible is taken invisibly, hidden under a different ex¬terior form (that is, when the body and blood of Christ, which of themselves are visible, are received in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine), and the senses, which judge of accidents known to them, may be rendered free from deception.

Likewise, there is no sacrament more salutary than this by which sins are purged away, virtues increased, and the mind enriched with an abundance of all spiritual charismata. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, that what has been instituted for the salvation of all may be of profit to all. Finally, no one is able to describe the sweetness of this Sacrament by which spiritual sweetness is tasted at its very source, and there is recalled the memory of that supreme charity which Christ displayed during His Passion.

Wherefore, in order that the immensity of this charity might be more deeply fixed in the hearts of the faithful, Christ, when about to pass from this world to the Father, having celebrated the Pasch with His disciples, instituted this Sacrament at the Last Supper as an everlasting remembrance of His Passion, the fulfillment of the ancient types, and the greatest of the miracles worked by Him; and He left it as a special comfort for those who are saddened by His absence.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Winter equinox blues...

Today is the winter equinox in Australia, and here in Canberra the weather is doing its best to remind us that winter is well and truly here, even if not everything green in the garden is quite dead yet. 

The temperature gauge claims it has climbed to the great height of around 6 degrees Celsius (42.8F, shudder), but courtesy of freezing winds, the 'apparent temperature' was negative until mid-morning, and is now sitting at 0.5 degrees.  Wonderful!

Let's just say that this is not my favourite time of year (hmm, maybe I should join Joshua's Dormitionists and sleep the winter away in holy somnulence...).

In any case, in honour of the day, I offer my favourite Christmas Carol, which unfortunately never seems terribly appropriate at the correct time of the year in Oz (mind you visions of all that snow probably don't fit Bethlehem itself too well either, unless things were a lot colder back then)!

And if you would, say a prayer for a friend of mind who has just undergone an agioplasty following a heart attack and is stuck in hospital for an extra day or two due to heart pains after the op (and faces further surgery next week) - and for bloggers Hilary White and Fr Hugh OSB who haven't posted for quite a while...

You might also remember all those celebrating the feast of St Thomas More today (yes, I know its Ordinary Form not EF, but I'm not above celebrating great saints' days as many times as possible!), and ask his intercession.
PS For those waiting, I will get around to finishing my Scripture series soon, promise!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Maintain the rage on Bishop Morris?! For sheer unmitigated gall this takes the prize...

One of the most fundamental messages of Christianity is the idea that we must take up our crosses in imitation of Our Lord.

It is a message that seems to have gone missing in too many cases recently, most notably in the cases of Bishop Morris of Toowoomba and in the case of Fr John Corapi, a US tele-evangelist who has announced he is leaving the priesthood rather than submit to the process set up to investigate claims against him.

The Corapi case

The US blogs are dominated at the moment by the case of Fr Corapi, who, I gather appeared frequently on EWTN and operated as a televangelist.

I'm not particularly familiar with Fr Corapi (I've seen him briefly on tv once or twice but his style didn't much appeal to me), but the story as far as I can gather is that someone said they would set out destroy him, made some claims about him. He claims that his superiors were pressured into suspending him and set up a process which he considers does not accord him adequate rights to defend himself. He quickly went public to denounce his suspension, and three months in has now announced that he is leaving the priesthood to set up some kind of alternative ministry.

I can certainly empathize with his sense of outrage assuming the claims are false. One would certainly like to see at least some preliminary investigation of the bona fides and motivations of accusers before actions are launched. But in the end, protection of victims and potential victims is a high priority, and processes are there to protect everyone.

Are the current processes fair to priests? Perhaps not, if what he has said about them are true.

There are some real issues that need to be addressed in relation to the problem of false accusations and the right to defend oneself.

But walking away when they have barely even started does seem a very an odd reaction....

Bishop Morris...

One can perhaps see a similar pattern of failure to accept our crosses in the case of Bishop Morris.

Instead of working within the existing processes and, for example, going to Rome when called to discuss his Advent Pastoral Letter, he rejected the opportunity provided for dialogue and yet continues to claim lack of due process.

Instead of resigning as requested when it became clear that he was not going to budge on the key issues at stake in relation to Church teaching, he forced the Pope to dismiss him.

And instead of accepting the situation, he continues to argue the toss, claiming to be 'misrepresented', the latest installment being a letter to the editor of the Record.

Bishop Morris is not Gough!

But for sheer unmitigated gall, it is hard to go past today's reflection on the issue by Andrew Hamilton over at Eureka Street (who I gather is actually a Jesuit priest though there is no indication to that efffect in his article or on that website). Over there at Liberal-Jesuit HQ, Fr Hamilton compares the Morris situation with the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the Governor-General back in 1975, and wonders whether we should 'maintain the rage'!

Well no!

For starters, Mr Whitlam was elected by the people but dismissed by the unelected Governor-General. Bishop Morris, by contrast, was both appointed and dismissed by the same Office, namely the elected Pope!

Mr Whitlam was dismissed without warning; Bishop Morris knew exactly what was coming.

One could also suggest that in the case of Mr Whitlam, the processes of the Parliament arguably still had some way to go, and might have been able to resolve the situation. In the case of Bishop Morris, the processes had been worked through long since, and the only puzzle is why it took so long to actually sack him.

Moving on!

Fr Hamilton mixes up several quite different issues and puts them all on a par, claiming that the treatment of Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland, asylum seekers and Bishop Morris are all manifestations of the same 'unjust' 'lack of decency', all 'sold into exile'! But really all three cases are quite different - for one thing, whatever the merits of the argument, Mr Overland resigned with good grace when it became clear that he did not have the confidence of the appointing authority!

And Fr Hamilton responds to those who, such as myself, are trying to tell the liberals to get a grip:

"One of the difficulties we may have with moving on is that it's always the victors who counsel us to do so. They suggest we should accept what has happened, and go into the future not only with respect for the humanity of those who have engineered these events, but with admiration for their wisdom, courage, motivation and methods. [This is an over-the-top claim. All those concerned are actually asking is that Bishop Morris and friends stop vilifying them as 'temple police' and the like for the crime of insisting that their rights being respected!] We should leave behind any solidarity with the people who have been injured in these affairs.[No one is suggesting that we shouldn't be praying for and supporting Bishop Morris]

Fr Hamilton ponders but then rejects the idea of 'maintaining the rage', but then makes these truly astonishing comparisons, firstly to the Bible, secondly to fiction placing people in hell (do liberals actually believe anyone is in hell? But perhaps they are prepared to make an exception to the empty hell theory for those they label 'taliban catholics'?), and thirdly claiming a comparison to the Holocaust, a comparison that will surely garner righteous outrage from the Jewish community:

"A more constructive response is to weave abominable and piteous deeds into art. The Bible, which has fed so much of Western literature, is full of stories of good people undone and humiliated by scheming arrogance. The Book of Psalms particularly contains expressive prayers of complaint at the triumph of the unjust. Dante's Inferno, and the novels of Solzhenitzyn fix the protagonists of their era for all time in heaven or hell. The literature of the Holocaust remembers the reality of things done which were suppressed by their perpetrators."

Fighting the good fight?

Fr Hamilton argues that this is a case where we shouldn't move on, where Bishop Morris' name should be kept up in lights in order to advance the fight for church governance based on respect for transparency and due process. He claims:

To focus on what matters and to continue to press for it is a lonely path. It is easier to move back into silence or to move away from engagement in church or public life. Constancy needs to be supported and directed by good conversation. Winners always try to control the story and drown out conversation by censorship or ridicule. So to move on decently demands nurturing convivial conversation among like-minded friends. Ultimately moving on takes place in the imagination. The task is to keep the imagination fresh and decent.

Non serviam

This is truly sad stuff.

Because assuming there are any real issues to fight for in all of this (and personally I think there are some genuine issues of Church governance that need to be looked at, not least how the laity could be cheated of their rights to the Church's teachings and sacraments in accordance with the laws of the Church for nearly twenty years without any action being taken) they will surely be lost in this protestant attitude of disobedience to proper authority.

Man's instinct is of course always to prefer his own will, own way to that of God's which is often hard, often the path of the Cross.

But there are many Luthers out there today, pinning their demands metaphorically to the door of the Church, and demanding that their way prevail. Of course, the Church eventually excommunicated Luther...

***Postscript: Cath News, Eureka Street and the Jesuits. Sigh...

?Mr Michael Mullins, in his guise as the author of Cath News' 'blogwatcher' takes me to task this week for describing Andrew Hamilton as "Mr" instead of  "Father".

Had I known he was a priest I would of course have accorded him his proper title; now that I do I've corrected it accordingly.

Unfortunately his Eureka Street article (which is in fact edited by Mr Mullins) and the short bios on the Jesuit-owned website omit to mention this information...

The article itself didn't didn't include any indication that he was in fact a Jesuit, let alone a priest.

And if one searches the bios under the 'writers' button, while some of the bios do include a title, Fr Hamilton's reads only as follows:

"Andrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne."

But thank you for the information Mr Mullins. 

Good to know we should be praying for yet another errant Jesuit priest, not just another liberal layperson.

Perhaps Mr Mullins might also consider giving some time in his other guise, as editor of Eureka Street, to updating the bios there, and insisting that priests describe themselves as such when authoring articles on that site....

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Trinity Sunday

Eastertide is officially over, and so we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. 

And now for something completely different!  This youtube item is seriously weird, something I stumbled across looking for recordings of the Athanasian Creed, traditionally said at Prime on Trinity Sunday.  I have to say that while not the music I normally listen to, I found it kind of intriguing rather than offensive - the Athanasian Creed read in Latin with a heavy metal accompaniment (?!).  But if you think heavy metal/rock music is the work of the devil, skip over this one and listen to the next selection, for a nice version of the Vespers hymn for the feast, instead...

And now for something more like my usual fare, to help you recover from the shock:

Ember Saturday in the Octave of Pentecost

As well as marking the end of Whitsuntide, and thus of the extended Easter season, today is one of the traditional days on which to hold ordinations, so do pray for those being ordained today.

The Gospel for today is Luke 4: 38-44, Our Lord heals St Peter's mother-in-law.  The Matins readings are from St Ambrose:

See how long-suffering is the Lord our Saviour! His displeasure moved him not at all to desert Jewry, even though he was vexed by their guilt, and outraged by their insults. Nay, unmindful of insults, and remembering mercy only, he strove to soften their hard and unbelieving hearts, sometimes by his teaching, sometimes by freeing them from sin, sometimes by healing them. Rightly does Luke first speak of a man who was delivered from an unclean spirit, and afterwards of the healing of a woman. For the Lord came to heal male and female both; but that is fitly healed first which was created first; and then must not woman be passed over, for we should remember that her first sin arose rather from permitting the serpent to deceive her than from malice in her heart.

That the Lord began to heal on the Sabbath Day shows in a figure how the new creation begins where the old ended. It shows, moreover, that the Son of God, who is come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil, is not under, but above, the Law. For the world was not made by the Law, but by the Word, as it is written: By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made. Wherefore, the Law is not destroyed, but fulfilled, in the redemption of fallen man. Whence also the Apostle says: Put off, concerning the old man, and put on the new man, which after God is created.

Rightly then does he begin to heal on the Sabbath Day, that so he may show himself to be the Creator. He carries out his works in due order and succession. Wherefore he continues what he had already begun; even as a workman, setting out to repair a house, begins not by removing that which is old from the foundations, but from the roof. Thus does the Lord begin to lay-to his hand again, in that place whence last he left off. He begins with things lesser, that he may go on to things greater. Even men are able to cast out evil spirits by the Word of God. But to command the dead to rise again is for God's power alone. Perchance, also, this woman, the mother-in-law of Simon and Andrew, was a type of our nature, stricken down with the great fever of sin, and burning with unlawful lusts after divers objects. Nor would I say that the fever of passion is a lesser thing than bodily fever. Avarice and lust and luxury and ambition and anger: these be our fevers.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Ember Friday in the Octave of Pentecost

It always seems an oddity to have a First Class Friday as an Ember Day, and indeed it is entirely an artifact of the 1962 calendar - in the older one it was a 'semi-duplex', thus creating no (theoretical) conflict between the idea of an exemption from fasting and abstinence due to solemnity, and the tradition of it being as fast day!

Today's Gospel is Luke 5:17-26, the healing of the paralytic.  Here is the sermon on it by St Ambrose:

The healing of this paralytic was not unmeaning, nor its fruits limited to himself. It was for his sake that the Lord prayed before he healed him. Certainly it was not because he must needs ask the power to heal, but for example's sake. He gave a pattern to be followed, not a display of prayer on his own behalf. In the presence of the Pharisees and doctors of the Law, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem, many sick folk were healed, but among them is specially described the healing of this paralytic. Now, as we have said before, every sick man at the very first ought to engage his friends to offer up prayers for his recovery, that so the tottering form of our life, and the halting footsteps of our conduct, may be restored by the heavenly medicine of the healing word of prayer.

There ought also to be someone to counsel him, and to raise his mind to higher things, lest the sick body weigh down the soul with its languor. With the help of such friends he can, by means of prayer, be brought to Jesus, and (as it were) laid on the ground before his feet, so that the Lord may lift up his countenance upon him, who is thus laid low before him. Yea, the Lord doth countenance the lowly, for he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden Mary. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him: Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. Great is the Lord! For the merits of some, he forgives the sins of others. In commending the good deeds of one, he grants amnesty to another. Why, O man is thy fellow-citizen of nothing worth in thy sight, while before God the lowest slave has the privilege of pleading and the power to obtain his request?

O you who judges, learn to forgive; thou that art sick, learn to pray. If thou art doubtful of the pardon of thy sins, because of their grievousness, ask for intercessions. Get to the Church, that she may pray for you, and that the Lord, regarding her, may grant to her pleadings what he might otherwise refuse to you. And now, though we must not pass over the historical fact that the body of this paralytic was healed, yet let us remember also the inward cure, for his sins were forgiven. The Jews said: Who can forgive sins but God alone? And in these words they confessed the Godhead of him who forgave the sins of the paralytic, and themselves condemned their own unbelief in him whose work they acknowledged, but whose Person they denied.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Whit Thursday: On hospitality

Today's patristic readings for the Octave of Pentecost, relating to Luke 9:1-6, are from St Ambrose:

"We learn from Christ's precepts what manner of men they ought to be who preach the kingdom of God as the Gospel says: Take nothing for your journey; neither staves nor scrip, neither bread, neither money. Thus let the apostolic preacher (seeking no earthly help, and relying on faith) deem himself able to do all the more, as he needs all the less. And they who wish to do so, may interpret this passage as referring to the proper interior intention, to wit: A man may be said to have laid aside the encumbrances of the body, not only by abdicating power, and despising riches, but also by truly abandoning the allurements of the flesh. And first of all, Christ gave the Apostles a general precept concerning their manner: they were to be bringers of peace; not gadding about, but observing both the laws and ties of hospitality which were offered to them. To gad about from house to house, and to abuse the rights of hospitality, are things alien to a preacher of the kingdom of heaven.

But as the kindness of hospitality is to be met with courtesy, so also is it said : Whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet, for a testimony against them. Hereby is taught that hospitality meets with a good reward; for if, to those who receive us, we bring peace, then also it is true to say that, wheresoever there enter the feet of them that bear the Gospel, there the clouds of sinful vanities do flee away. And so it is not without reason that Matthew says: Into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till you go from there: thus avoiding any possible need of going from house to house. But no such caution is enjoined on him that gives hospitality, lest his hospitality should be lessened by showing partiality.

This passage, taken according to its plain meaning, instructs us in the sacred duties of hospitality, and charms us with a hint of heavenly mystery. When the house is chosen, it is asked if the master thereof be worthy. Perchance this is a figure of the Church, and of her Master, Christ. What worthier house can the apostolic preacher enter than holy Church? Or what host is more to be preferred before all others than Christ, who was wont to wash the feet of his guests? Yea, he suffers not that any whom he receives into his house should dwell there with unclean feet. However defiled they be from their former wanderings, he does vouchsafe to cleanse them for the rest of their journey. From his house ought no man ever to go forth, nor change his roof for any other shelter, for unto him it is well said: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life: and these words of yours we do believe.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Liturgical minimalism and combatting heresy...

Ingeborg Psalter c1200
Over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia David has a post on why taking up the highly untraditional option offered in the new Missal to ditch the Nicene Creed in favour of the Apostolic Creed might not be a great idea. 

Not least, he suggests, because the new Missal goes to a lot of trouble to restate some key doctrines (consubstantial, etc) left fuzzy by the old version of the text.  

Indeed, I'd add, the particular virtue of the Nicene Creed is its witness to the Tradition, that is larger than purely Scriptural formulations. There are almost twice as many lines about Our Lord in particular, for example, in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed as there are in the Apostles', possibly important when implicit or explicit rejection of the divinity of Our Lord, neo-Arianism, is rampant among priests and people alike. 

Indeed, the Pope spoke on the importance of belief in the divinity of Christ in some remarks for Pentecost:

"If mankind forgets God this is also because Jesus is often reduced to the status of a wise man, and His divinity is diminished if not denied outright. This way of thinking makes it impossible to comprehend the radical novelty of Christianity, because if Jesus is not the only Son of the Father, then God did not enter into the history of mankind. The truth is that the incarnation is at the very heart of the Gospel..."

Permission to use the Nicene Creed

Here in Canberra it is full steam ahead with the Apostles Creed option, as the archdiocesan website announces:

"Archbishop Mark Coleridge has given permission for use in the Archdiocese of the Apostles Creed in place of the Nicene Creed at the discretion of local pastors in light of the introduction of the new translation of the Missal. If the Apostles Creed is normally used, he asked that the Nicene Creed be sung or recited in English or Latin on the great feasts, especially Christmas and Easter."

What's the motivation for this?  Is it a conciliatory gesture to those who prefer the imagined golden age of the pre-nicene Church, divorced from subsequent ecclesial tradition?  Or is it a clericalism that asumes the benighted laity cannot grapple with the complexities of the creed traditionally used in the liturgy?  Or even an ecumenical nod to fundamentalists who can't find such schmancy words as "consubstantial" in their King James Bible?  Whatever the reason, it makes the new Missal a case of two steps forward and one step back!

Providentially, today's traditional Matins readings for Ember Wednesday in the Octave of Pentecost (or 'quarter tense of Pentecost' if one is into Irish antiquarianism) are not entirely irrelevant to these issues.

Consubstantial with the Father

St Augustine on St John 6:44-52 (I am the bread of life):

"Do not think that you are drawn unwillingly; the soul indeed is drawn also by love. Nor should we be fearful lest we be accused concerning the Gospel word of the sacred Scripture by men who place emphasis on the words and are far removed from understanding matters wholly divine, and it be said to us: "How do I believe by my own will if I be drawn?" I declare: "It is of little consequence that you are drawn by the will, for you are drawn by desire also." What is it to be drawn by desire? It is to delight in the Lord, and He shall give to you the petitions of your heart. It is a certain desire of the heart whose sweet bread is that bread from heaven. Furthermore, if it is allowed the poet to say, One's own desire draws one; not necessity, but desire; not obligation, but delight; how much more vigorously should we declare that that man is drawn to Christ who is delighted with truth, who is delighted with happiness, who is delighted with justice, who is delighted with everlasting life—all of which Christ is! Or do the senses possess their desires, while the soul is deprived of its own? If the soul does not possess its desires, whence is it said: "But the children of men shall put their trust under the covert of thy wings. They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house; and them shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure. For with thee is the fountain of life, and in thy light we shall see light"?

Propose this to one who loves, and he will sense what I am saying; propose it to one who desires; propose it to one who hungers; propose it to him who is journeying in this solitude and thirsts and sighs for the fountain of his eternal country; propose it to such a one, and he will sense what I am saying. But if I speak to one who is cold, he knows not whereof I speak. Such were those who murmured among themselves. He says: "He whom the Father draweth, cometh to me." What is this, "whom the Father draweth," when Christ Himself draws? Why did He wish to say, "whom the Father draweth"? If we are to be drawn, let us be drawn by Him to whom she who loves Him says: "We will run after the odor of thy ointments." But let us take note of what He wished to be understood, brethren, and grasp it in as far as we are able. The Father draws to the Son those who believe in the Son by reason of the fact that they believe He has God as His Father. For God the Father begot the Son equal to Himself, and whosoever thinks and feels in his faith and reflects that He in whom he believes is equal to the Father, him the Father draws to the Son.

Arius believed that the Son was a creature; the Father did not draw him, because he who does not believe the Son to be equal to the Father does not know the Father. What do you say, O Arius? What do you say, thou heretic? What are you talking about? What is Christ? "He is not," says he, "true God, but him whom the true God has made!" The Father has not drawn you, for you have not known the Father whose Son you deny. You think another thing— He is not His Son; you are neither drawn by the Father, nor are you drawn to the Son! "He is the Son" is one thing; what you say, another. Photinus states: "Christ is man alone; He is not also God." The Father has not drawn him who so believes. Whom has the Father drawn? Him who says: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Show a green branch to a sheep, and you will draw it. Nuts are shown to a child, and it is drawn, and because it runs, it is drawn—drawn by love, drawn without harm to the body, drawn without binding the heart. If then those things which are among earthly delights and desires, when shown to those who love them, draw them—because it is true that the desires of a person draw him on—does not Christ, revealed by the Father, draw? For what does the soul more vehemently desire than the truth?

And for your listening delight today, the Alleluia for Mass today (Verbo Domini caeli firmati sunt in Latin) in a Byzantine Rite chant setting from the Basilian Monastery of Gottaferrata near Rome, founded in 1004.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Tuesday in the Octave of Pentecost, Class I

Codex Egberti, c980
Today's readings at Mass are Acts 8 (Peter and John go to Samaria to confirm the Christians there) and John 10:1-10 (enter via the gate, do not climb over the walls like a thief).  St Augustine's sermon set for Matins today, deals with the importance of true conversion to Christ, and hence of evangelization:

"In today's discourse our Lord proposes a similitude concerning His flock and the door whereby one enters His fold. The pagans, therefore, may say, "We lead good lives," but if they enter not through the door, what advantage is that to them whereof they boast? For only to this end should it profit anyone to lead a good life, namely, that it be given him to live forever; for to him to whom it is not given to live forever, what profit is there in living a good life? Nor should they be said to live good lives who either from blindness know not the end of a good life, or from pride despise it.

And no one has a true and certain hope of life everlasting unless he know the Life, which is Christ, and enter through the door into the sheepfold. Now, there are many of such a nature that they seek even to persuade men to lead good lives, yet without being Christians. They wish to climb up another way, to rob and to kill—not, as the Good Shepherd, to protect and to save.

Accordingly, some philosophers have treated of many subtleties concerning the virtues and vices, making distinctions, defining, reasoning out the most ingenious conclusions, stuffing books with their ideas, advertising their wisdom with braying trumpets; and they even dared to say to men: "Follow us; embrace our way of life if you wish to live happily!" But they entered not through the door; they wished to corrupt, to plague, and to kill.

What shall I say of them? Behold, the Pharisees themselves read of Christ and talked of Christ; they looked for His coming. But when He was present, they knew Him not. They boasted that they themselves were among the Seers, that is, among the wise ones, but they denied Christ, and entered not through the door. Therefore if perhaps they seduced some, they seduced them only to afflict and to destroy—not to free. But let us pass these over, and let us see if perhaps they who glory in the name of Christ Himself (who pride themselves in the name of Christian) enter through the door. For there are countless numbers who not only boast that they are Seers, but who wish to be considered enlightened by Christ—but they are heretics.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Traddies Guide to Scripture, Part III: The ecclesial context

In the last part of this series on suggestions for the theology student in arming themselves to counter the modernism and worse that they will most likely encounter in a University-level theology course on Scripture, I suggested a thorough immersion in what the Magisterium actually teaches about how to approach Biblical exegesis.

In this part, I want to turn to some resources on how to approach the task of exegesis for yourself, picking up particularly on what I think is the absolutely key, central message of Pope Benedict XVI's Verbum Domini, namely the "ecclesial context".

Scriptural interpretation needs to start from the Tradition

The starting point for most modern exegetes is usually the text itself, taken as if sprung into being in  isolation from the Church.  The key to interpretation in this view, are the internal clues as to its construction and composition, and perhaps some contextual information on literary genre and historical context at the time of its composition and/or editing.

But the traditional starting point for approaching Scripture, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in Verbum Domini, is exactly the opposite: we should start, he argues, from "the ecclesial context", the Tradition:

"Here we can point to a fundamental criterion of biblical hermeneutics: the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church. This is not to uphold the ecclesial context as an extrinsic rule to which exegetes must submit, but rather is something demanded by the very nature of the Scriptures and the way they gradually came into being. “Faith traditions formed the living context for the literary activity of the authors of sacred Scripture. Their insertion into this context also involved a sharing in both the liturgical and external life of the communities, in their intellectual world, in their culture and in the ups and downs of their shared history...The Bible is the Church’s book, and its essential place in the Church’s life gives rise to its genuine interpretation.....Saint Jerome recalls that we can never read Scripture simply on our own. We come up against too many closed doors and we slip too easily into error."

What does this mean in practice?  I'm not going to attempt to be comprehensive here, but rather to highlight a few key points that I think tend to be frequently neglected, and point to some resources for further reading in relation to them.  Others may have other suggestions...

One important issue here is the question of languages and translation versions - but this is a controversial one, so I'll devote a later post to the topic by itself.

Scripture interprets Scripture

An obvious - but often neglected - starting point is to read any particular Scriptural passage in the light of the rest of Scripture, as Pope Benedict XVI also points out.  The New Testament frequently cites Old Testament passages in ways that both teach us how to interpret Scripture, most particularly highlighting the spiritual meanings of texts, and throwing additional light on both the Old and New Testament passages concerned.  Indeed, even the selection of a particular word to convey a particular concept is often significant, suggesting a host of associated allusions. 

So one of the first things to do as you read a passage is to read all of the associated passages to it.  One of the strengths of the Navarre Commentaries is that they do include a reasonably comprehensive concordance.  But you can buy concordances separately, or find them online. 

For individual words in the Vulgate, a very useful resource is Vulgate search. Another useful tool is Strong's Concordance which gives a link to the Greek or Hebrew for every word in the King James Version.

This is just a starting point however - we are not 'sola scriptura' believers!  We also need to look to the 'monuments of tradition' to tell us about how a text has been understood by the Church.

The witness of the liturgy

If one reads the biblical exegesis of the Holy Father, you will notice that he frequently draws on the witness of the liturgy, iconography, architecture and more.  We should too.

In particular we should look to the liturgy.  The texts (including the propers of the Mass) assigned to feasts and Sundays, and the structure of the (traditional) liturgical calendar are a key source of witness to what the Church has always believed, and how it understands particular doctrines and saints.

Take a look for example at the encyclicals promulgating the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption, which certainly looked at the liturgical history of these feasts for evidence of this.   Similarly, St Augustine suggests that the feast of the Ascension was apostolic in origin, thus giving witness to the Church's literal belief in the timetable set out in Acts!

And it is in this area that the poverty of the Novus Ordo calendar becomes particularly evident.  Take for example the identification of St Mary Magdalene as the penitent woman in Luke 7.  The Western tradition has always held that they are the same person, and this is reflected in the use of Luke 7 as the Gospel on her feastday in the Extraordinary Form.  In the Ordinary Form however the text has been changed...

My suggestion would be firstly if you are looking at a particular text, try and find out where and when it is used in the liturgy, and consider what can be learned from that context.  Secondly, if you are making an attempt to read the entire Bible (as every student should!), don't start at Genesis and read in order.  Instead, adopt an order that reflects the flow of the Church's calendar, such as one of these bible reading plans, which broadly follow the flow of readings at Matins.

The saints

A third vital source pointed to in Verbum Domni is what the saints - and particularly what the Fathers, Doctors and Theologians - down the ages have said about a particular text.

It is important to note here that the Fathers have a privileged status in the Church. 

Nonetheless, those who want to artificially reject anyone writing after a certain period, be it the post-Nicene Fathers, anything post William of Ockham (on the grounds of infection from nominalism), post-Trent or post-Vatican II, seem to me to be making the same mistake as those who want to reject anything written before a certain date (such as 1960!).

Key online resources for the student working in English are:
  • Text Week's Scriptural index provides links to pre- and some post-Nicene Fathers, and some other useful later ones commentaries in particular (ignore the protestant commentaries also there though!);
  • the Congregation for the Clergy's Bibliacerus is not exactly user friendly way, but does provide very vital links by Scripture verse(s) to selected patristic and later commentaries, as well as Magisterial references;
  • the excellent New Advent Fathers has many patristic commentaries available, worth taking a look through; and
  • a Dominican site provides comprehensive links to St Thomas Aquinas' commentaries.
There are also a number of series dedicated to putting out key commentaries in translation.  Of these, a very useful starting point compilation is the Ancient Christian Commentaries on Scripture series, which provides a selection of patristic commentaries arranged by chapter and verse.  While the selection of commentaries can, depending on the individual editors, be a little eclectic (this is after all an ecumenical project!) they are a very useful starting point.

How do you put this all together?

The key to pulling all of this material though, is above all the four senses of Scripture set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  One very helpful exposition of what the four senses are, and how to find them, is Roman Theological Forum series of 'lessons'.  I don't totally agree with their spin, but I do think the material there is well worth a read.

Whitmonday: Monday in the Octave of Pentecost

c15th Maitre de Rohan, Pentecost
So once again we come to one of those unfortunate disjunctions between EF and OF calendars that really needs to be reconciled in the direction of tradition!  In the Extraordinary Form, the importance of the great feast of Pentecost is highlighted by its Octave.  But the Octave was, unfortunately abolished in the Novus Ordo (OF).

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so few today take seriously the idea of the divine institution of the Church and its ongoing mission to convert the world to Christ....

Readings for the day

In the older form, today's readings at Mass are Acts 10:34, 42-48 (In those days, Peter, opening his mouth, said: Men, brethren, the Lord commanded us to preach to the people and testify....) and John 3:16-21 (God so loved the world, as to give us his only-begotten son...).

From traditional readings for Matins, St Augustine's take on the Gospel:

"The Physician comes to do all he can towards the healing of the sick. And the sick person who will not attend to the advice of the Physician brings on his own death. This Physician is come, as a Saviour, to the world. Why is he called the Saviour of the world, except that he came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved? Have you no desire to be saved through him? by your own  act you are condemned. Any why do I say, you are condemned? Because it is written: He that believes in him is not condemned. What then do you expect will be said to him that does not believe? This shall be said: He is condemned. Indeed he has already said more than that, to wit: He that believes not is condemned already. Though the condemnation be not yet openly pronounced, it has nonetheless already taken place.

The Lord knows them that are his. He knows them that will continue unto the crown, and likewise he knows them that will continue unto the fire. He knows the wheat on his threshing floor, and the chaff. He knows the field (which is the world) with its good grain, and its tares. He that believes not is condemned already. Why? Because he has not believed in the Name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation: That light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Whose deeds, my brethren, doth the Lord find to be good? None. He finds the works of all men to be in themselves bad. How then do we hear that some there be who do the truth, and come to the light? For it is written : He that does truth, comes to the light.

But he said: Men loved darkness rather than light. And here he makes the great point of difference between such as love darkness, and such as come to the light. There are many who have loved their sins. Also there be many who have confessed their sins. He that confesses, thereby denounces his sin, and is working already with God. God denounces your sins, and if you denounce them likewise, then you join yourself with God in his act. The man and the sinner are, as it were, two different things. God made the man; man made the sinner. Destroy what you have worked in yourself, and God will save what he has already made. You are required to hate in yourself your own works, and to love God's work. When your own works begin to displease you, then is it that you begin to do well, because you denounce your own evil works. The first thing to do, if thou would do good works, is to acknowledge your evil ones.

And from today's Mass, the Offertory:

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pentecost and the vocation of a bishop

Today we celebrate the birthday of the Church instituted by Christ. 

Institution of the Church

And the events of Pentecost as recorded in Acts attest both to its hierarchical nature, with Peter's sermon, given while 'standing with the eleven', and the 'priesthood' of all believers, manifested in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

So a good occasion, perhaps to highlight some important messages about the role of bishops made by Cardinal Pell in his sermon on the occasion of the episcopal consecration of Bishop Peter Camensoli (new Auxiliary of Sydney) last week.  It is worth reproducing in full.

Cardinal Pell on the role of a bishop

"Let us now consider carefully the office of bishop in the Church to which our brother Peter is about to be raised. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father to redeem the human race, in turn sent twelve apostles into the world. These men were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and gather every race and people into a single flock to be guided and governed in the way of holiness. Because this service was to continue to the end of time, the apostles selected others to help them. By the laying on of hands which confers the sacrament of orders in its fullness, the apostles passed on the gift of the Holy Spirit which they themselves had received from Christ. In that way, by a succession of bishops unbroken from one generation to the next, the powers conferred in the beginning were handed down, and the work of the Saviour lives and grows in our time. [The Catholic Church, in other words, is not something new, but something two thousand years old.  Its fundamental nature is what has been handed down to us, not something that can be invented to suit modern ideas].

In the person of the bishop, with his priests around him, Jesus Christ, the Lord, who became High Priest for ever, is present among you. Through the ministry of the bishop, Christ himself continues to proclaim the Gospel and to confer the mysteries of faith on those who believe. Through the fatherly action of the bishop, Christ adds new members to his body. Through the bishop's wisdom and prudence, Christ guides you in your earthly pilgrimage toward eternal happiness.[In short, without bishops (and priests) there is no church.]

Gladly and gratefully, therefore, receive our brother whom we are about to accept into the college of bishops by the laying on of hands. Respect him as a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. He has been entrusted with the task of witnessing to the truth of the Gospel and fostering a spirit of justice and holiness. Remember the words of Christ spoken to the apostles: "Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me." [This important but tricky in the current environment!  The current UK debate on the cancellation of Cardinal Burke's visit, not to mention the Toowoomba saga, illustrate the challenges in striking a prudent balance between respecting the Office of bishop, and calling individual bishops to account when they fail to witness to the truth, or worse, actively lead their flocks astray.] 

Tonight therefore the Church of Sydney welcomes Bishop-elect Peter as a new auxiliary bishop from the Diocese of Wollongong. Our gain represents a significant loss to Wollongong but offers new opportunities for service and leadership; and, after all, Sydney did give Wollongong your much loved bishop of today, Bishop Peter Ingham!

We have heard how the apostles were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and tonight, as we approach the feast of Pentecost, we pray that the Spirit will enter into you, once more and abundantly, as you take up your new task.[We should pray especially for Bishop Camensoli this Pentecost, but also for all our bishops, that they might be filled with the Spirit needed to renew the Australian Church.]

The readings you have chosen spell out the core of your Episcopal duties. Above all you are a teacher, as well as a servant, a leader and a sanctifier. Just as St. Peter retold the story of Jesus and his life work to the household of Cornelius so too in season and out of season you will be telling and retelling the story of how the one true God, who loves us, sent Jesus to the people of Judaea and Jerusalem to preach and to heal, to suffer, die and rise triumphantly. This message is congenial even to outsiders, but you are also called to remind gently that Christ will be the just and loving judge of everyone, of the living and the dead. This is not so much a threat as a promise, because you will also be preaching about the extraordinary gift of God's forgiveness for our sins, which Jesus explained to us. [Souls are at stake.  There is such a thing as hell.  These are important messages.]

Your task will be to teach and explain that Jesus is the Son of God as well as Son of Mary, possessing a divine as well as a human nature, which enables him to redeem us. No mere man could do this. Surveys show that even some priests, and certainly more people, Catholics too, are unsure about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and even of the Virgin birth, of Christ's divine fatherhood. This must mean that their faith in the divinity of Christ is under extreme pressure and this means that their faith in the redemption too is pressured. [The lack of faith of our priests is a continuing scandal.  Souls are at stake.  There is such a thing as hell!]

Paul told the Corinthians that it was Christ who reconciled us and the world to God, not holding our faults against us. As an ambassador of Christ, as a successor of the apostles, you will urge your people to be reconciled to God.

Your life as a bishop will be a continuation of the life you lived as a layman and as a priest. You will be driven along by the love of God and your love and service of others will continue to be shaped by the Father's commandments. You are commissioned tonight in a new way to offer your life in service and so bear much fruit; fruit that will benefit society in the here and now and in eternity.

You are committing yourself to defending and explaining the apostolic tradition of teaching which our predecessors nearly two thousand years ago received from Christ and which has been transmitted to us by generations of witnesses across the centuries. It is a precious and demanding inheritance, where the secrets of the good life, of human flourishing, are contained and revealed. [This is an important reminder.  Bishops are not free to just make it up.  Rather they are committing themselves to teaching the Tradition.  Souls are at stake...] 

Through the wisdom of a succession of bishops and through your own hard work you are unusually well qualified academically, as well as pastorally, to provide leadership in the struggle between good and evil, between the light of faith and the gathering darkness. You are called to be courageous, because Christian truths do not always win majority approval, but every stand for truth, justice and charity, for life and for goodness will strengthen your brothers and sisters in faith, and often in the wider society and inspire them to stand firm and make sacrifices too. [Too many of our bishops do keep quiet, avoid saying what needs to be said!  Where are the calls to confession, or even provision of adequate times for confession!  Where is the insistence that sex outside of marriage is a sin?  That contraception and abortion are sins?  Last year few of our bishops even managed to arrange the Advent Vigil called for by the Pope for the unborn, let alone to give it adequate publicity and make it a genuine teaching moment!]

If we bishops dodge every confrontation, or even most of them, we should not be too surprised when others go missing also.[Yes!]

I know you will answer these calls and rise to these challenges. The years ahead beckon and are rich with promise. May God continue to be with you and bless you for many decades, through the Spirit, in your new Episcopal role as teacher, priest and shepherd.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Feast of Pentecost

And so we close one liturgical season and start the next, with the great feast of Pentecost...

Rash judgment, calumny, detraction and worse: the problem of the internet

As a blogger I am of course all in favour of the internet.  But I have to say that there is a very nasty, deeply disturbing side of it that comes to the fore at times, even (perhaps especially) amongst Catholics who should know better.

Climate change commentator threatened...

The extremes to which words will stir some people is nicely illustrated by this story bought to my attention by a reader, relating to a satirical piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on the climate change debate.  When originally published, the article in question caused little stir in Australia; but when picked up by a right-wing US magazine the author was subjected to a deluge of hate email threatening all kinds of violence.

In the last week we've heard of assorted climate scientists having to upgrade their personal protection because of threats to their life.

Now the Catholic blogosphere doesn't usually descend to quite those depths.  But at times it comes pretty close, as witnessed by some of the commentary on the case of case of the deferral of the priestly ordination of  John Hunwicke.

Now some material is in the public domain, and therefore fair game for appropriate comment.  I've been taken aback, though not entirely surprised given past outbreaks of similar attacks, by some of the inappropriateness and lack of sensitivity of at least some comments on this subject!

Rash judgment and some sensitivity

Now I'm somewhat inclined to the view that a lack of a sense of humour and ability to detect irony and dry wit is the greatest sin of all, but this is I suspect a case of  quasi-'invincible ignorance' that in most cases is irremediable. 

But honestly, to suggest that telling an inappropriate joke (assuming you really think it was inappropriate) disqualifies one from ordination strikes me as just a little over the top.  Certainly based on many of the sermons I've heard over the years, if that were the criterion, the ranks of the priesthood would be considerably thinner than they are!

Secondly, this next comment may strike many as somewhat ironic coming from someone like me who is not exactly known for their advocacy of ecumenism, but I do think a little ecumenical sensitivity might be appropriate here in relation to titles! 

A number of bloggers and commenters have suggested the use of the title 'Father' is inappropriate for someone who is (not yet) a catholic priest.  I know many traditionalists will disagree, but although the conceptual content may differ, Father is a title used by a number of denominations including Anglicans. 
So ok we don't accept that anglican bishops are bishops, or that anglican priests are priests in the same sense as catholic ones - but common courtesy normally dictates according them those titles nonetheless. 

I think we also have to bear in mind the extremely short timelines involved here - ordinariate clergy resigned from the Anglican church but a few months ago, entered the Church during Holy Week and some have already been ordained as priests.  So a few months compared to nearly forty years...

Moreover it is the case that the Church does give some recognition to the previous ministry of those who previously served as Anglicans, Lutherans etc, both in terms of acknowledging the length of their service and other concessions (such as allowing them to be married).

Anglican Orders?

Thirdly, some have suggested that (?Deacon) Hunwicke is implicitly or explicitly rejecting Church decisions on the invalidity of Anglican Orders by referring to the anniversary of his Anglican ordination, continued use of his previous title, and more. 

In fact, on his blog at least, he has adopted a carefully nuanced position that I think is perfectly arguable, and indeed has been argued by some reasonably prominent catholic theologians who are by no means liberals!  The reality is, as some have pointed out, that Apostolicae Curae last century made a judicial (not doctrinal) decision about the lack of validity of Anglican orders, based mainly on the wording of the then (and past) Anglican Ordinal and the intention of a generation or more of consecrators. 

But some Anglo-catholic clergy took action to address its findings, such as finding bishops to ordain them who clearly were in the apostolic succession from a catholic perspective, and using ordination formulas that complied with catholic requirements.  The net result is that it is at least arguably that some Anglican priests may well have valid orders; the Church has in the past recognised this, including through conditional ordinations.

The then Fr Hunwicke's position on his blog was that it would have been possible for some clergy (presumably including himself) joining the ordinariate to go through the established processes to establish the validity of their original ordination - but doing so would have delayed the process by several years.   So instead they accepted the process of starting from scratch, including refraining from receiving the eucharist or saying anything resembling mass for a period.  In short, they were willing to live with the presumed invalidity of their Anglican ordination.

On the face of it, that seems a reasonable compromise to me at least.  And of course, if it were the case that they hadn't in fact been properly ordained previously, then sacramental grace would no doubt have its proper effect...

The cause of Christian unity

The Ordinariate, and attempts to reconcile the SSPX and the Orthodox are, it seems to me, wonderful initiatives of the Holy Father.  They don't involve compromising on doctrine, or the silly exercizes of the past (and it seems present with ARCIC III!) to try and persuade everyone that they agree on something when really they don't!

Moreover, in some cases, not least this particular one, there will be a net gain to the Church not just of a soul, but of real intellectual force for the recovery of the Catholic patrimony.

Those moving to full communion with the Church have been called on to make real sacrifices, take real risks. 

We should be urging our bishops to minimise those sacrifices and make things as easy as possible for Tiber swimmers. 

We should be extending every possible courtesy to them. 

And above all, we should be avoiding the sins of calumny, detraction and rash judgment particularly of those not currently in a position to defend themselves.

Traddies Guide to Scripture, Part II: The Magisterium

In the first part of my series on studying Scripture I pointed to some resources suitable for all Catholics - catechetical materials, sermons composed by the Fathers specifically for the laypeople of their congregations, and introductions to reading the Bible.

Ignore, avoid, reject?

Today I want to move now to the key documents for the theology student, and focus first and foremost on the teaching of the Magisterium on how to approach Biblical exegesis.

Most modern theology courses seem to adopt one of three approaches to Magisterial teaching on Scripture.  The first is to just ignore it.  The course may refer, briefly, to Vatican II's Dei Verbum (1965) - or more likely give a rendering of the 'spirit' of the document - that that will be it.   Not even a pretense at presenting it in a 'hermaneutic of continuity'. 

Another common tactic seems to be to focus on some of the useful but of a considerably lesser status documents, such as those put out by the modern Pontifical Bible Commission, particularly The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.

The third approach is to devote some time to arguing why older teaching no longer binds, assisted by vague references to Divino Afflante Spiritu (1947)

None of these approaches, alone or in combination, are sufficient in my view! 

Questions of authorship

Take for example questions of authorship and process of composition of the Gospels.

The Encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1894) argues that the witness of history and tradition should be given priority over any supposed internal evidence:

"There has arisen, to the great detriment of religion, an inept method, dignified by the name of the "higher criticism," which pretends to judge of the origin, integrity and authority of each Book from internal indications alone. It is clear, on the other hand, that in historical questions, such as the origin and the handing down of writings, the witness of history is of primary importance, and that historical investigation should be made with the utmost care; and that in this matter internal evidence is seldom of great value, except as confirmation. To look upon it in any other light will be to open the door to many evil consequences. It will make the enemies of religion much more bold and confident in attacking and mangling the Sacred Books; and this vaunted "higher criticism" will resolve itself into the reflection of the bias and the prejudice of the critics. It will not throw on the Scripture the light which is sought, or prove of any advantage to doctrine; it will only give rise to disagreement and dissension, those sure notes of error, which the critics in question so plentifully exhibit in their own persons; and seeing that most of them are tainted with false philosophy and rationalism, it must lead to the elimination from the sacred writings of all prophecy and miracle, and of everything else that is outside the natural order."

Following this teaching, the Pontifical Bible Commission made a number of rulings on the proper limits of what was and wasn't open to debate.

Now it is true that this paragraph from the encyclical itself is not infallible teaching.  And the PBC readings have a lesser status still.  So it could in principle be reversed, the rulings found no longer binding.  But have they been?  That is a matter of debate.

How much is open to debate?

Those claiming that the doors are wide open to debate of any kind rely primarily on Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu (and subsequent papal statements) which do acknowledge some place for historico-critical methods. 

But it is perfectly possible to read Divino Afflante (and Dei Verbum) in a way that is consistent with upholding that earlier teaching, and those earlier rulings, giving a much more limited permission to adopt these techniques than most modern exegetes in practice adopt.  It is worth noting that Pius XII himself attempted to reign in some of the claims made about Divino Afflante in Humani Generis (1950).

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the teaching of these texts in Verbum Domini (2010):

"The Church’s living magisterium, which is charged with “giving an authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of tradition”, intervened in a prudent and balanced way regarding the correct response to the introduction of new methods of historical analysis. I think in particular of the Encyclicals Providentissimus Deus of Pope Leo XIII and Divino Afflante Spiritu of Pope Pius XII. My venerable predecessor John Paul II recalled the importance of these documents on the centenary and the fiftieth anniversary respectively of their promulgation. Pope Leo XIII’s intervention had the merit of protecting the Catholic interpretation of the Bible from the inroads of rationalism, without, however, seeking refuge in a spiritual meaning detached from history. Far from shunning scientific criticism, the Church was wary only of “preconceived opinions that claim to be based on science, but which in reality surreptitiously cause science to depart from its domain”. Pope Pius XII, on the other hand, was faced with attacks on the part of those who proposed a so-called mystical exegesis which rejected any form of scientific approach. The Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu was careful to avoid any hint of a dichotomy between “scientific exegesis” for use in apologetics and “spiritual interpretation meant for internal use”; rather it affirmed both the “theological significance of the literal sense, methodically defined” and the fact that “determining the spiritual sense … belongs itself to the realm of exegetical science”. In this way, both documents rejected “a split between the human and the divine, between scientific research and respect for the faith, between the literal sense and the spiritual sense”. This balance was subsequently maintained by the 1993 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission..." (33)

So some reading...

Accordingly, the first task in my view, for any serious Scripture student is to read and make themselves extremely familiar with the key Magisterial documents on Scripture.  Apart from the texts I've mentioned above:
Have a look, also, through the key rulings of the Pontifical Bible Commission.

History and current state of play

And have a read of some of the articles on the debate on their status. You won't have any trouble finding the modernist case articulated.  But some helpful articles on the historical and theological context (noting that I don't agree with all of their conclusions) are:
Two particularly helpful articles putting the conservative/traditionalist perspective on the current situation available online are:
  • Dom Bernard Orchard on Dei Verbum and the Synoptic Gospels (1990); and
  • Donald Prudlo, The Authority of the “Old” Pontifical Biblical Commission (2004) - there are some subsequent exchanges on this which you can track for yourself.
More soon...and just to reiterate, just my opinion - feel free to suggest other sources, corrections or debate.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Liberals in a lather over altar girls!

OK so I wasn't going to bother to comment on this despite being promoted by a reader to do so, but having just read the hysteria on the subject over at acatholica, here goes.

Whatever happened to the idea of tolerance of diversity?!

For the last few weeks liberals have been upset over catholics insisting on their rights to a liturgical abuse free mass.  They consistently argue that conservatives should find a church they are happy with and let others get on with what they are happy with.

But now they are screaming long and loudly over a clarification that says that women can't be altar servers at Traditional Latin Masses (Extraordinary Form)!  Talk about hypocrisy.

Cath News: egging people on

Now I understand that liberals in Australia at the moment are in a world of pain, which is why I've refrained from saying much about the stream of venom and blatant dissent that have graced Cath Blog and Cath News' pages over the last few weeks.

Quite the most unintentionally funniest to my mind at least, was Mr Mullins' desperate attempt to find some defenders of the Jesuits (yep, an obscure liberal blog from Bangkok is just what I expect to find highlighted in a blogwatch column!).

But there have been a stream of others - advocacy of women deacons, yet another rant from Fr Arbuckle on the evils of what he sees as 'restorationism', the suggestion that charities can be 'too catholic' in carrying out their mission (!), pride of place to every liberal article going that criticises the Toowoomba dismissal (with little or no corresponding coverage of those supporting it), and it goes on.

Really, Cath News, get a grip.  This has got to stop.  It helps no one.

And really, as a reader suggested to me, the altar girls story just takes the biscuit.

EF Mass practices

It is not often (if ever) that Cath News publishes a story about a 'dubium' of any kind , a question to clarify a rather minor point  of practice.

Let alone a minor point of practice relating to the Traditional Latin Mass.

Because really, why should the vast majority of Catholics care about whether or not females can be altar servers at an Extraordinary Form Mass - it is not like they are ever going to get a chance to go to one!

And really, would you ever actually expect to see female servers if you did go to a Traditional Mass?  Of course not.  As far as I can gather, it has been tried on a couple of times, but happened really only at exactly one place, in the UK.

Anyway, it is not like female servers are compulsory or even necessarily ubiquitous at Ordinary Form masses.  There is no 'right' to be a server for anyone, whether male or female, the question in relation to any particular individual , and the question of whether female servers are permitted in general at an OF entirely in the hands of the priest.

So why include the story at all?

And why did 44 people feel the need to express their outrage over a restatement of the obvious! 

Well, unless they were really trying to express their outrage at the Church's inability to ordain women as priests...

Revival religious life

By contrast, a blog post by Beth Doherty which points out the obvious contrast between religious orders who are faithful to their original charism, and witness to their vocation by wearing a habit, and those orders that are dying out, has so far received a whole eight comments (including one weirdo one from a Josephite that explains exactly why they are dying out).

For some strange reason, mainstream catholics have, in the main, given up trying to comment over at Cath News. 

Well done Ms Hogan and all of the Cath News team!

Just remind me why our bishops are allowing this operation to continue?

The traddies guide to studying Scripture...Part I

Commenter Stella Orientis asked in relation to a previous post if I would suggest some orthodox writers on Scripture for someone studying theology, so here is a first installment on that front.

He rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven...

We live in times when Scriptural exegesis serves just as often to undermine the faith as to support it.

I've been responding this week mostly to those who claim that we shouldn't take the Ascension literally.  But today's news story on this front is of a plucky US High School student fighting against teachers insisting that one shouldn't take the Resurrection too literally either!

This distorted view of Scripture flows directly from erroneous biblical exegeiss as the Pope pointed out in his speech to the Synod on Scripture:

"...interpretations are proposed that deny the historicity of the divine elements. Today the so-called "mainstream" of exegesis in Germany denies, for example, that the Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist, and says that the body of Jesus remained in the tomb. The Resurrection is no longer seen as an historical event, but as a theological view. This takes place because of hermeneutics of faith is missing: a profane, philosophical hermeneutics is therefore asserted, denying the possibility of the entry and real presence of the Divine within history. "

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!

Catholics are notoriously ignorant of Scripture, and this is not a good thing.

Unfortunately, enrolling in a theology course won't necessarily help, as the story I've pointed to above suggests.  Indeed, theology graduates seem as likely to be taught erroneous views as not, and attempt to pass them on to their students in turn!

So I thought today I'd just point to a few key resources that I think all Catholic families should have in their house, and then in the next part I'll move on to materials for the more advanced student.  Theology students though, should start with the basics too!

Some disclaimers...

By way of disclaimer, this is just my own opinion.  Though I've studied the subject, I'm not ready to claim expert status.  So corrections and suggestions from others are welcome.

I'd also add that although I'm broadly a traditionalist I'm not (contrary to the perceptions of some!) at all a hardline one, so if you are, you won't like what I have to say.  Some traditionalists will suggest that one simply ignore pretty much anything written since Vatican II.  While that is certainly a safer approach, I don't think that is a tenable position.  The challenge is to develop the critical skills to work out for yourself what is and isn't orthodox, or to find authors or priests who will do this for you. 

Things every Catholic should know about Scripture

So the starting point for anyone, whether or not they are actually studying Scripture, is to actually read the Bible in the light of the Tradition. 

Everyone, in my view (yes, even Catholics!), should have read the whole Bible at least once, everyone should keep rereading at least key parts of it and be pretty familiar with which books are where in the Bible, and what they are basically about.  And everyone should have at least some understanding to how to approach the text -  an idea of the concept of typology, reading the Old Testament figures and stories as foreshadowing the New for example, and of how to look for the spiritual senses of the text.

Introductory material

So start by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church section on the subject, which I think is really quite good in this area.

A very good, sound, introduction to each book of the Bible is Fr Kenneth Baker SJ's Inside the Bible (1998). 

Peter Kreeft has published a similar book, You can understand the Bible (2005) which is an entertaining read, but while very helpful in places needs to be read with more caution than Baker's in my view (Kreeft is a little too ready, in my view, to accept modern takes on when books were written and so forth).  Still, if you are a student at least, both are worth a look as their insights complement each other.

But to actually understand the significance of key events and be introduced in a very straightforward way to typological readings and other key basics, I would highly recommend an oldie but goodie (the first English edition was in 1894), Bishop Knecht's A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture.  It is one of those books that looks very deceptively simple on the surface, but actually has quite a lot of depth when you sit down and read it.  It fits well with the summation of how to approach Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and I'd strongly recommend reading it before you try and tackle the full text of the Bible yourself.

Reading the Bible with the Fathers and Theologians

The second essential starting point, in my view, is to read the Bible with the guidance of the Fathers.

For the Gospels, St Thomas Aquinas' Catena Aurea, an anthology of patristic readings arranged around groups of verses is I think a really excellent way of getting started.  There are several new editions and reprints of it available, including the set put out by Baronius Press.

Another good approach is to start from the readings of the (EF) Mass, and read the sermons on them that are used in the Divine Office at Matins.  You can also find more extensive collections of the key patristic sermons keyed to the (EF) Mass texts for Sundays and major feasts.

The cultural and historical context

Ideally, the third basic would be a good guide to the cultural and historical context of Scripture, that digested the best archeological and other research out there, and combined that with things like information on the biblical imagery in a particular text.  Unfortunately, if such a thing does exist, I haven't found it!

There are lots of books that purport to do this, and do do some of it.  But nothing I've found that is thorough, comprehensive and orthodox in one book. 

The closest to what I'm talking about is probably the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible which does contain some helpful material.  But I have to say I find it a fairly annoying style and the content a very mixed bag indeed.  Plus the individual books are very very expensive for what you get!  Another possibility is the Navarre Bible series, but I personally find this series fairly turgid and boring and not that comprehensive.  Plus the lack of references to sources for follow-up is annoying if you are a serious student.

Eventually, the Bible in its Traditions project will hopefully go a long way to filling this gap, and providing a really comprehensive Bible resource for Catholics.  In the meantime, however, google searches will generally throw up useful books to answer particular questions.  The dictionaries, maps, concordances and other material available through sites such as Bible Gateway, Blueletter Bible and similar (non-Catholic) sites are also pretty helpful.

More soon...