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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Per quem haec omnia

Per quem hæc omnia, Domine, semper bona creas, santificas, vivificas, benedicis, et præstas nobis.

Through whom, O Lord, thou dost alway create all these good things, dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us.

This prayer comes just before the concluding doxology in the Roman Canon. Jungmann and a few other scholars I have read seem agreed that it originally followed on a blessing of some kind - possibly produce on various feasts or seasons of the year - that once concluded the Eucharistic prayer. The idea was to bring the gifts offered for blessing into proximity to the gifts offered for the holy sacrifice. The "good things" that the Lord creates, makes holy etc. include both the offered bread and wine and the additional things brought for blessing.

What has puzzled me on hearing the words for the last five years every Sunday is their order. Why does bless come after sanctify, for example? And why does vivify come in between those two? Is there a reason for the sequence? On casting around to find a rationale, it might help to think of the context of (1) creation and (2) eucharistia or thanksgiving. We (1) take the things of creation, (2) offer them with thanksgiving, and then God raises them to another level.

Take (1) creation first of all. In the original account God creates: "In the beginning God created"; then makes living things (days 3, 5 & 6); with blessings of fecundity following on day 5 (the blessing of fish and birds) and day 6 (the blessing of mankind, male and female); and then bestows plants for food. The obvious creation order is therefore creas, vivificas, benedicis, præstas nobis. The sanctifying is done last, on day 7, the Sabbath, which God both blesses and sanctifies. The idea is that in the Sabbath rest (a rest from the work of creation) God is making holy the day of completion and enjoyment and therefore making holy the completed and perfectly ordered cosmos. The sanctifying comes at the end, after the bestowal and blessing and all the rest: whereas in the Roman Canon it is the second term.

However the context (2) of the Eucharist is different. Here the world is being re-made, re-created. The divine Image is being impressed on creation in a new and higher way.

First, creas. The new creation is begun on the eve of the Sabbath, with the pouring of the water and blood from Christ's side. We enter this moment of Christ's death in baptism, washing away our sin and dying, unmaking the old corrupted creation. Bread and wine - made from grinding down and crushing up the stuff of the old creation - are also an image of this moment, the bread being Christ's dead body and the wine the blood that has poured from his side.

Then (sanctificas) the Sabbath is the day when we have entered into the mystery of the death of Christ, beneath the waters of baptism, when the Spirit is hovering over the darkness of inchoate existence, ready to give it new life. In the Eucharist one can draw an analogy with the Spirit fluttering above the offerings that have been set apart as holy things, ready to impregnate them with the life of God.

Vivificas: in the original creation order the Word generates light, the land emerges from the sea, and life germinates and breeds upon it. This life is of two kinds: plants bearing seeds (from which we make bread) and trees bearing fruit (from which we make wine). In the new creation, the resurrection of Christ generates the divine light of faith, and with him the Church emerges from the grave and the waters of baptism, just as the dry land rises out of the sea. The bread and wine, the seed-bearing and fruit-bearing substance of the old creation, are now re-made in Christ, and given new life as the Bread of Life and Cup of Everlasting Salvation.

The blessing (benedicas) of the fish, birds, and then Man in the creation week is a benediction to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In the setting of the new creation the fish that multiply to fill the sea are the people of God who increase in faith, and in number, filling the nations. But there is an additional blessing given to Man who is also to exercised dominion over all creation. In the blessing of the new creation, Christ the last Adam weds his Bride, the Church; and so in the Eucharist the mystery of the making one flesh of Christ and his Bride is accomplished. The Church gives birth to many sons and daughters, and with her Lord produces the fruit of goodness, and rules the healthy but bestial parts of human nature. The blessing is ultimately a nuptial blessing, a blessing of the Supper of the Lamb and the Bride, and issues in God's committal of all things in heaven and earth to Christ's rule, and the nations to the rule of Christ's people.

Præstas nobis: the bestowal of the seed and fruit bearing plants upon mankind for food in the original creation is taken up to a new height of grace in the new creation, in which the divine life is given to us as bread and wine. This is a giving not just of life and nourishment, but is the pouring into us of the very life of God, in which we become partakers of the divine nature and everything else besides. He who delivered up for us his own Son, "how shall he not with Him also give us all things?"

The reason for this prayer's inverting of the original creation order (of God's first blessing and then sanctifying the whole at the Sabbath completion of his work) is because the Eucharist is a feast of the new creation: the order of re-making and restoration is necessarily different than that of creation. In the new creation God first makes his Son holy, and then through him restores and blesses and pours out gifts on the whole. In authoring the new creation the divine irony reaches a glorious height: God sets the new creation in motion by dying, by taking into himself the old and dragging it into death; he continues by sanctifying not the whole creation but its corpse; he then animates this with his own divine life, presents it as a King in marriage to the fallen world, and through that nuptial rite bestows his own life to the new world.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Abomination of Desolation

The case for the so-called "preterist" view of New Testament prophecy - the apocalyptic passages of the Gospels, a smattering of references to figures such as the "man of sin" in Paul, and the Revelation of St John - seems very plausible to me. The fall of Jerusalem was epoch-ending, startlingly violent, and ushered in a new heaven and earth: the Age of the Church and reign of Christ. If the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple's destruction is the coming Event for the early Church before A.D. 70, this gives a new angle on the apparent importance of the figure of James, the "brother of the Lord".  He is the one chosen to play a particular role in Jerusalem (by a specific post-resurrection appearance of Christ), possibly even as the righteous one who will be "taken out of the way". His murder at the hands of the Temple authorities removes the righteous figure from spiritual Sodom and precipitates the final destruction. This important but time-limited role allotted to James, to herald the coming destruction of Jerusalem, might explain why the Gospels apparently ignore him and concentrate instead on Peter and the twelve Apostles in the Gospel texts. James's prominent role as one of the three "pillars" of the Church with Peter and John was not meant to be a perpetual office or function in the Church.

As with Old Testament prophecy that seems to refer on its face to immediate dynastic concerns of the Kings, but has within it an excess of meaning and reference that only finds it fulfilment in Christ, so also the New Testament prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem carry a dual signification. Their expectation is met in part in the coming of the Age of the Messiah with the fall of the old apostate Temple, but the passages in the Gospels and Revelation are overloaded and burdened with a meaning that cannot be simply placed within the cataclysm of A.D. 70.

As such, I wonder if we should meditate on the significance of the abomination of desolation and the taking away of the sacrifice, and Christ's advice to flee to the hills. The original prophecy of Daniel referred to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, aided by the priests who had gone over to his side. The Temple sacrifices did not in fact cease, but were null and void because of the unholy alliance of the apostate priesthood with a religion that was not the religion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Likewise, the second iteration of Daniel's prophecy, reworked in the Gospels, refers not to the literal cessation of a daily sacrifice, but to the abomination of continuing void Temple sacrifices, because the final Sacrifice of the Cross had come. On both occasions - in Daniel and in the Gospels - the advice to flee to the mountains was quite literal.

A pattern is re-emerging in the Church which can be discerned to fit the narrative of these prior prophecies. An apostate priesthood is accommodating the religion of their Antiochus, the Spirit of this Age, and re-framing the worship and teaching of the Church to its liking. Could a corrupted faith and an apostate priesthood invalidate the sacraments, so that for God they are abominable, no longer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving? And could there come a point at which the faithful should forsake the apostate City and flee to the hills - meaning that they should leave behind the apostate worship in expectation of Christ's appearing?

If this is a possibility, then I hope and pray that when the moment comes that the way will be clear and our duty plain.

Friday, 28 September 2018

The Dreaded Door

Most people have been part of an institution - a school, a place of work, a family - in which there is a fear of a certain person or the consequences of breaking a particular set of rules. The walk down that corridor to the study door is invested with such a sense of dread or importance, that the entire social structure of the institution - its gossip, its unwritten rules and taboos, the unhallowed thrills of petty rule-breaking and the prim complicity of tale-telling - is innervated in all its tissues by this central brain.

One day, one catches a glimpse of a happy soul who does not give a fig for any of it. A person, not from mere self-asserting rebelliousness, but whose nerves are not attuned to the networks of the institution, who acts and behaves as if the motive-force behind everyone else's speech and act and silence isn't important. Someone without fear of that corridor and the study door. This can be shocking, and produce hatred from those whose authority depends on fear, or those who feed off it. But it can also be tremendously liberating, a breaking of a spell, and bring a lightness of soul and spirit to those who lack their bravery. It doesn't necessarily destroy the power of the person in authority, and the way of doing things that has grown up around them, but smashing a bit of the glass can mean a lot for the sanity of those who can now draw breath from the air outside the institution's sealed windows.

I think that Roman Catholics need to start asking themselves very serious questions about the organisational neural networks that govern the behaviour of the clergy and laity. There are a series of unnatural constraining rules, equivalent to the walk down the corridor to the study.

"First among equals" is a bit of a fiction with regards to the Pope. Why should the theological interests and personality traits of any particular Pope be regarded as particularly healthy, or what is needed just at that moment for the Church, reinforced by an encyclical production line? Why should the bishops just resign at a certain age because a previous Pope made up an arbitrary rule that they should? Why (having realised that a Pope can formally teach an awful pile of rubbish without support in tradition e.g. on the death penalty from John Paul II onwards) can Catholics not extend this critique to various doctrines recently proclaimed as necessary to salvation that were previously open to theological debate with Catholicism? Because, I think, part of the fear of the study door down that corridor is not only about doctrinal infallibility. It is enshrined in a whole tone of voice and practical understanding of "obedience" that is abusive. In other words the relationship is governed by an abusive pattern in which the lawgiver and superior is not expected by his subjects to give reasons for his rules, is obeyed implicitly and never defied publicly, and where natural reason (not to mention prior custom) is not allowed a place in deciding what is a sensible rule and what is an imposition. And this feeds into the idea of hierarchical obedience that governs relations throughout the whole organisation.

"Obedience to the bishop" can mean supinely and silently accepting the dictates of the person above you as the will of Christ even when you know that they are acting from malice or stupidity and are out to humiliate you or control your life in an inhumanly invasive way.

It is this kind of atmosphere that was a necessary condition for the scandals that have beset Catholicism - I don't say it is the only cause, but rather a necessary part of the background atmosphere - and have come to such belated prominence. What one can see being played out at present is how the Vatican's position as a state, its rules of diplomatic silence, and so on, are reinforcing and perpetuating this atmosphere of abusive authority at the top of Catholicism.

It won't be enough to address the abuse crisis by tackling the sins of McCarrick and his ilk. It won't be enough to force an early resignation from the Pope. It won't be enough for entire compromised regions to have mass episcopal resignations and to have uncompromised replacements put into office. It won't be enough to have a bunch of bishops who don't stand on ceremony and are good pastors. Part of the immunity of the papal office lies in the social and political norms that govern its exercise, and that lend a particular colour to the dogmatic pronouncements about infallibility and being supreme governor and all the rest.

(1) As long as the Pope lies outside any worldly jurisdiction as ruler of an independent Vatican state, the paradigm of the papacy - and its radical difference from "mere" episcopacy, of which it is supposed to be the full exercise and nothing more - will not change very much in the imagination of the faithful and clergy, and therefore nothing much will change in their mutual relationship. For our relations are defined by mutual perception and the constraint that this imaginal web gives to praxis. An untouchable Pope who stands apart from any law will continue to be seen as beyond and above challenge.

(2) As long as the legacy of papal pronouncements from 1854-1950 goes without a proper deconstruction by a broad Catholic consensus, and is put firmly in its place as in part an excess and in part a plain contradiction of apostolic Christian tradition, nothing much will change in the beliefs of the faithful and clergy about what the papal office is and can do. It will always seem as something that stands in judgement over and above Scripture and apostolic tradition, and is therefore above critique in a way that even Holy Scripture is not.

And so the potential and conditions for an abusive relation will continue as a pattern for the whole Catholic communion to follow, to manifest itself in some other time and place in some other way. All that one can ask in this situation is the courage to state clearly what one believes even if one can change nothing: to be able to walk down the corridor and through the door without hesitation and without fear, and to say without rancour to the person behind the desk: my parents will be coming to pick me up some day, and I'll be leaving behind all of these silly rules. In my real home we have a different life, and that's who I am: "for here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come".

Sunday, 23 September 2018

What a Load of Bollocks

Tendentious, hypocritical, deceitful, uncharitable, prideful.

Read this article The Catacomb Option of Rod Dreher on Rorate Caeli.

Tendentious, because the author is not engaging with Dreher's thought, just moving to a foregone conclusion, that Dreher must have nothing good to say because he is wicked apostate cut off from the source of grace. (Dreher was Catholic and became Orthodox in 2006.)

Hypocritical, because I believe that Rorate Caeli supports and is sympathetic to the Society of St Pius X, who (like the Orthodox) are technically "schismatic", i.e. are outside the canonical jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome.

Deceitful, because the article insinuates without any justification that Dreher suggests abandoning a public defence of the faith out of moral cowardice: that his idea of forming strong communities of faith and prayer for mutual support is borne from a desire to shun public combat for Christian truth.

Deficient in charity, in that it states that in becoming Orthodox, Dreher "lost the faith", and has no hope of "authentic supernatural grace". (Does the author think that the Orthodox don't have faith? Don't have sacraments? Are we to be offered the author's opinion on the praxis of shared provision of the sacraments to the faithful between Orthodox and Roman clergy in the Near East until at least the seventeenth century?)

Prideful, because it says that no Catholic has anything to learn from what Dreher has written.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Myths About Little Gidding

Apropos a book I have just read about Nicholas Ferrar who retired from Court, high politics and business with his wider family to set up a household for prayer in an out-of-the-way farm, here are some myths about Little Gidding that need to be dismissed. (And perhaps there is a note of warning in what follows for those of us who are thinking of a similar kind of structure to live out the so-called Benedict Option.)

(1) It was a rich family buying a nice farm where they could afford to live with servants and carry on hobbies and pray together.

They were financially straightened. Only one of Nicholas's letters goes into financial detail, an exasperated response to his wastrel younger brother who lived in London. His brother was asking yet again for more money, with protestations of deep repentance for having wasted the last installment. Nicholas tells him that his mother's legacy of £180 per annum is already providing him with £40 per year, that they are hundreds of pounds in debt, and face ruin without some unexpected providence. He also details that they have only two or three servants left (the household was probably around 30 people), have cut back drastically on daily food - his nieces Mary and Anna are weighing theirs out - and that his mother can just about afford the clothes on her back. It seems to me like the letter of a man trying hard to keep his temper, who says: right, you are asking for money, let me tell you just how much we are living on here in our opulence.

(2) Nicholas retired to Little Gidding because of the collapse of the Virginia Company through the loss of James I's favour, and his elder brother's financial ruin, which left his worldly and political hopes bereft.

He received offers of a powerful Privy Council post after the Virginia Company had its charter withdrawn, as well as an offer of at least one other diplomatic post, and when his friends found out that he had received deacon's orders and was retiring to Gidding they thought they would help him out by offering him lucrative livings if he would take priest's orders. He refused all offers. There is every reason to suppose from his letters that he had conceived the plan to retire to a life of prayer years before, and the fall of the Virginia Company was the signal that he had been waiting for to leave his London life.

(3) Life there was peace and harmony, secluded and cloistered.

Three things that I read dispel this idea. (i) They were scarcely a day without a caller, because the house - although in a remote village in Huntingdonshire - was only three miles' distance from the great North Road from London to Edinburgh. Many of these callers were strangers, turned up unannounced, and included a large number of the idle curious. (ii) Nicholas's sister-in-law Bathsheba (wife of his elder brother John) was not at all happy at Little Gidding, and perhaps deserves some sympathy although she certainly managed to make John's life a misery for much of the time, and cause considerable upset. (iii) Once the little school was up and running, some nobility would send their sons there for tutoring, and there are hints in Nicholas's letters that some of these youngsters needed a firm hand and had perhaps been sent because the kindly discipline and ordered round of life at Little Gidding was felt to be what they needed to give them some self-control and moral fibre.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Jesus Breaks His Silence, or If The Cap Fits, Wear It

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword... A man's foes shall be they of his own household.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

For Loyal Irishmen

An interesting genealogy of the Royal Family from John O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees (1892). A nice touch that it takes us right back to Adam, who was (as it sayth in St Luke his Gospell) the son of God.

Historically, I think there is a fairly good claim that the most ancient lineal descent of our Royal Family runs back through the patriarchal head of the Scottish royal house, Kenneth MacAlpin, to Fergus Mor MacEarca (see no. 90 on the list) who may have been a contemporary of St Patrick, and it is anyone's guess as to where the list prior to Fergus passes over from history into myth.

My own conviction is that Conn of the Hundred Battles (born in the fifth generation after Christ, c.200), has too cool a title to be written out of history; and it is cooler still that when a debauched man called Nero was president of the EU and the legions were building their horrid motorways all over the green English countryside, Ireland was ruled by a man called Fiacha of the White Oxen.

Monday, 16 July 2018

The House of Special Purpose

On account of the date, I was reading tonight about the last days of the Romanovs, and came across a few odd coincidences.

The last imprisonment of the family as Ekaterinburg was at Ipatiev House, designated "The House of Special Purpose" by the Soviets. Ipatiev (the Wonderworker) - Saint Hypatios in English - was a Bishop of Gangra in Galatia, in the north of Asia Minor, martyred in 326 on his way home from the First Council of Nicaea where he had sided with Athanasius against the Arian heresy.

The Romanov dynastic rule began at the monastery of Ipatiev (by Kostroma, close to the Volga) in the seventeenth century when Mikhail, staying there at the time, was chosen as the Tsar by the Russian parliament, the Zemsky Sobor. Mikhail was a nephew of the last Rurik Tsar, Feodor I, a dynasty that had founded Rus in the ninth century; therefore Tsar Nicholas had been heir to 1000 years of royal rule.

The brutal murder of the Romanovs, 405 years after the election of Mikhail at Ipatiev monastery, was in the basement of Ipatiev House. I wonder if anyone has written anything of these curious coincidences; are there any Russian poems or works that draw out the poignancy of this juxtaposition?

And another couple of questions: why doesn't the Orthodox church in Russia recognise the authenticity of the last two Romanov bodies? Is it just a matter of time before further tests are completed, or are there other complicating factors? And is there the remotest interest in Russia or outside it among emigres in re-establishing a Romanov dynasty?

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Blue Flower

Fr Anthony Chadwick has published the first Summer issue of The Blue Flower, for which I have written an article about William Morris, Romantic medievalism and the Tractarians. The starting point for my piece is Morris's Art and Labour, an essay that I came across in the Queen's University library in Belfast over 15 years ago, and that stuck with me. 

The governing Romantic motif of a return to a golden age or Eden by means of a transformed imagination is a secularised and internalised version of Christian redemption, and the Romantics' turn to the Middle Ages for inspiration is an aesthetic witness to this underlying Christian foundation for their philosophy. The argument in the piece is that the Tractarians - Pusey in particular, with a helping hand from Coleridge - re-Christianised the Romantic philosophy and aesthetic in their ideas of language and symbol.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Is and Ought

Is morality, right and wrong, a consequence of the essentially sacramental nature of reality, of creation? This is an idea that has been slowly coalescing in the back of my head for a long time, but I still don't know how to articulate it properly.

Just say Coleridge is right, and Imagination - an iteration of the divine creative act in us, that unites sense and ratio into sacramental symbol - is constitutive of what things are. In that case, morality and obligation flows from what things mean, what they are as symbols, and it requires an act of imagination. For example, the obligation to love our neighbours as ourselves is rooted in an imaginative grasp of who or what my neighbour is, as an image of God. The commands of the Decalogue begin with the rejection of all images precisely because God made them to reveal Him, in the sense that they are His creative acts (and by derivation, our creative acts). They do not reveal Him as objects that are severed from Him (and from us), standing over against Him as autonomous things; they reveal Him as living acts. Even the sacraments in which we are said to receive His life are acts with a divine meaning, accomplished by the symbols; and whatever hyperbole is applied to the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, Communion is properly eating and drinking. No worship ought to be done to the phenomena of bread and wine but to the noumenal Christ whose saving acts they both reveal and hide.

It was an axiom of Hume's philosophy that you cannot get an "ought" out of an "is". Natural law moral theorists try to overcome this by talking about the telos or goals of our actions, but are then driven to explain their ideas of the overall purpose of human actions to get back to an "ought" that is based in an ultimate right or wrong. But the overall purpose of human acts in the world is surely rooted in what we are, and what the things around us are. And so we are back to the "is" of the symbolic and sacramental nature of creation, to get the "ought" of ethics.

I have been reading bits and pieces of James Jordan's and Peter Leithart's commentary on the Old Testament, and the Pentateuch in particular, on the Biblical Horizons website. What strikes me about his typological readings is the principle that what is being revealed in the obscure Mosaic code of ritual purity and sacrifice is in fact a symbolical and sacramental approach to nature; the Christian's task is to uncover the spirit of the types as pointers to Christ, and then be transformed by that spirit in one's daily acts, encompassing both one's treatment of others and one's behaviour to "nature".

Monday, 28 May 2018

The High Calling

On reading about the Romantic idea of the poet as seer or prophet (an idea that Wordsworth found in Milton), I was struck by the notion of the poetic or prophetic vocation. The idea of a distinct, personal, inescapable calling, when one's inner and sometimes inchoate sense of purpose is awakened and given definitive form and moral certainty by an external event (sometimes an event that might seem trivial to anyone else) - this Romantic or even Augustinian idea of calling or conversion to a purpose has seeped into our ideas of what it is to have a purpose or calling in life in a broader sense. This becomes confusing and potentially misleading for many Christians, whose notions of vocation are influenced by this pervasive idea. They are then waiting for a moment of epiphany to tell them how they should live and serve in God's kingdom, under the impression that without such a Moment they have not yet arrived at a perfect knowledge of God's will for their life.

The problem is not that Christians should be sensible of having a vocation, the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus", but that their ideas of what "calling" is should be dominated by the paradigm of the prophetic calling: by the Temple vision of Isaiah, Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim, or Jeremiah's commission as the one ordained as prophet of the nations. And this is a paradigm of vocation that is reinforced in the New Testament by the notion of calling in Paul's letters, the Damascus road calling of Paul and his subsequent and unshakeable sense of divine mission: "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel".

The "high calling" of which Paul speaks, however, is not to be found in any particular set of dramatic internal or external events, or the satisfying of any particular emotional or psychological criteria. We have a calling "in Christ Jesus". Christ is not only Prophet, but is also Priest and King. It is instructive to give some thought as to how the idea of Christian calling and purpose is transformed, by thinking about our calling into the priestly and kingly offices of Christ, and on their own terms, rather than through the exclusive lens of the very personal prophetic vocation of a Jeremiah or a Paul.

There is a sense in which all God's people are called into Christ's prophetic office, apart from any special vocation to a prophetic role. The prophet is the one who has been given a word from God, a seer who must communicate the vision of the deep things of God that he has been granted, whose message unveils the judgment of eternity on his epoch and its worldly pre-occupations. A Christian's belief in the Gospel and communication of its message in life and speech is prophetic, for the Gospel of Jesus is God's word to Man, his judgment of the world, a revealing vision of divine things.

Certainly some Christians are specially called, chosen, seized by an eruption of the Holy Ghost into their life, and by which they become the destined bearers of a specific message to their Age, revealing its inevitable future judgment. Although this special calling is hidden from others, it can only be judged by the common prophetic calling of all Christians as witnesses of the truth of the Gospel, and the prophetic word will be greatly resisted when it is needed most and when Christians have succumbed to the spirit of the Age. There are also the deluded and the deluding, false prophets. But much more commonly, there are a large number of sincere and good Christians who imagine that they have a prophetic calling of some kind, a charisma, a vocation to a special mission - whether to an office in the church or whatever - because, under the impression of the Romantic idea of vocation, they have interpreted their life's circumstances and emotions to mean that the lightning of the Spirit has struck them. In the realm of calling to the priestly ministry, I think that this can be a harmful thing.

In talking of the calling to the priesthood, one must be clear that each Christian possesses priesthood as part of the priestly people. The mandate is there in Paul, the first verses of Romans ch. 12 in particular: "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service". I would not hesitate to say that the priesthood of the Church as a whole extends to offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist, and the passage quoted above is echoed in the words of the Roman Canon (quam oblationem... rationabilem). The Eucharist is primarily offered by the Church, the recurring "we" of the ancient Eucharistic prayer, and the role of the ministering priest is internal to that "we". The priest's action represents the people's; it is done for them because it is done with them. The word "ontological" with regard to the priesthood is misleading unless it is understood in relation to the people that the priest represents. A man becomes a priest with, as one of the people, his priesthood being an intrinsic sacramental role within the Church of which he is a baptised member: ministerial priesthood is not a permanent characteristic or essential difference in an individual apart from the people. There is not (I would argue) a straight line to be drawn from the divine High Priesthood of Christ to the presbyter; but one can draw a line to the priesthood of the Church in its offerings, from which the ministerial priesthood is derived. (It is important to note that this is not the same thing as to say that the graces of ordination are derived from the will of the Church rather than from Christ; the special anointing of the Spirit of Christ in Holy Orders is one thing, and the meaning and significance of the priestly role is another.)

The features of a vocation to the ministerial priesthood in the New Testament are threefold, (1) the individual's desire, (2) a series of criteria of fitness (holiness of life, monogamy, and so on), and (3) the responsibility of the Church for the choice: "choose out from among you". Because the priesthood is a role within the Church that a man is adopted into rather than being born into, its ritual and sacramental actions, enabled by the grace of ordination, must be learned and practiced. It is not an innate role. It is in that sense a professional role, in some ways similar to other professions like soldiering or medicine. It is even a bureaucratic or political role in a way in its service to the people through the bishop - the civil servant or politician is similarly appointed to perform a hierarchical role for a civitas or polis. It is internal to a "system" or ordering of the Church's life and therefore involves a certain amount of real-life compromise and diplomacy, and I think that this would hold true even where there was no such thing codified Canon Law, seminary and an absolute minimum of ecclesiastical organisation. This is not necessarily a Bad Thing: there could be no such thing as a Church Militant without order or organisation of some kind. The priestly role is not incompatible with a specific prophetic calling, nor should it ever be separated from the common prophetic office of all Christians in the Gospel. But the priestly and specifically prophetic calling do not necessarily run together and there is a certain tension between them.

How is one to discern a calling to the priesthood? I think, from what I have said above, that it will inevitably attract a certain kind of person, with a preponderance of extroverts, and the choice of men will require prudence on the part of those who are charged with discerning fitness. The additional responsibility of celibacy does complicate things, however, and makes the notion of discernment and vocation much more fraught, almost necessitating in most men a moment of epiphany to make the choice. When the distinct question of a calling to the ministerial priesthood becomes mixed up with a calling to celibacy, becoming a "eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake", the sexual and emotional urges are understandably in the foreground of any decision. I have my own opinion on this, and like many others think that this is not a good thing at all. I suspect that it tends to create a crisis in the man, which is either resolved in some moment of putative spiritual revelation, or sometimes not resolved at all, leaving a deep sense of guilt, destructive cynicism, or both. The discipline of a celibate priesthood therefore enhances the risk (already high) that the vocation to the ministerial priesthood will be confused with the special prophetic calling. Given the kind of life that most priests are forced to live - their time eaten up almost completely with ritual and administrative acts, when there is hovering in the air an expectation that they have specifically prophetic form of vocation - this can surely only create a deep dissonance in individual priests, and a general scepticism towards clergy, and frivolity about the whole notion of prophetic vocation. And when a seer emerges from either within or without their ranks, this scepticism and dissonance in people and priest could well work against acceptance of the prophetic message, and against an understanding of the role of the prophet in the Church and the world.

Christ as King is an office to which most men are called in a quite specific way. A king is the father and ruler of his people, a shepherd who stands over them and protects them. He keeps the peace, is the highest court of appeal, and acts as a symbolical figurehead. The role is hereditary, natural, innate: kingship is something a king is born into because of his intrinsic relation to those who go before and follow after him. Fatherhood is similar to kingship, and is the predominant way in which individual Christian men are called to hold Christ's kingly title. Kingship is also acquired in some sense, at coronation, when a king "marries" his people and vows are exchanged, vows of service on his side and of obedience on theirs. Similarly, a man acquires kingship through marriage, which sets up a new natural relation between a groom and his bride. The kingship of the father and husband is not so much learned technique (although one can learn a great deal about it) as it is a given thing. One is first a father, and one then tries to be a better father; one marries and then one tries to correct one's faults as a husband. Kingship is not the learning of a professional role but the perfection in love of a relation.

There are other specific roles besides fatherhood in which the Christian is called into Christ's kingship - one thinks of the pastoral role of the bishop, the role of a male teacher, the head of a business, large or small, or even a farmer or those who tend the earth. And likewise (as with the priesthood of all believers, and the prophetic power of the faith of all Christians) every Christian is a King, as a part of the "royal nation" that bears rule over Creation through the Cross. But my general point is that kingship as a specific function, or the discharging of a particular role as King, is the most common special vocation in which men will share of the three offices of Christ, that of Prophet, of Priest and of King. And it is the most natural and least "charismatic" in the sense that it does not require any special epiphany. People fall in love, and (one hopes) are happily married and have children. Men don't usually wait for a special revelation from above to do so.

Likewise, to wait for a special revelation for a vocation to the ministerial priesthood, or to encourage it, is I think to mistake the nature of what the priesthood is. Inclination and desire are one half of the process, the choosing by the Church is another - and sometimes it might be healthier if it were almost wholly the latter, when the choosing was done not by distant clergy primarily but by a group of faithful Christians who have had most opportunity to see the person's life and character. Instead of taking a priest off to a special school to become some kind of super-refined being endowed with special powers after years of psychological assessments (and do we really trust human methods and aims so much after seeing what can go wrong?) how about starting with the following premise: that every group of gathered Christians should have a bishop or his vicar a presbyter, aided by a deacon, and that these should be chosen out "from among them" for the role? I am not arguing against the need for special education in clergy, but perhaps the way priests were "apprenticed" before the reforms of Trent and the development of seminaries and houses of study in Protestantism is a better fit in some ways, with both the vocation to the ministerial priesthood and its presentation in the New Testament.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

After This

Was it Schubert who said of opus 131,
After this, what is there left for us to write?
I've recently found out about so-called late Beethoven, and this from the "Cavatina" is my one of my favourites so far - but my preference changes depending on which quartet I listen to again...

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Merely Habits

We are always faced both with the question 'what must be destroyed?' and with the question 'what must be preserved?' and neither Liberalism nor Conservatism, which are not philosophies and may be merely habits, is enough to guide us.
From T.S. Eliot's The Idea of a Christian Society, 1938

T.S. Eliot's observation could be extended beyond politics into any antagonism of progressives vs. conservatives.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Scylla and Charybdis

Just suppose one takes vows seriously (I for one don't think that perjury is a great start to a life in Holy Orders)....

If one is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Anglican church one must swear to uphold the 39 Articles and use only the Book of Common Prayer (deviations therefrom being permitted only by episcopal permission). If one is of an orthodox persuasion, one must invoke Tract 90 and accept that however deficient the Eucharistic Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, it is not so destructive of the patristic doctrine that it contradicts it. One would also most likely be aware that episcopal permission - at least implied - will almost inevitably follow on one's choice to use the so-called interim rite, the English Missal, or whatever one's preference.

If one is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Roman communion one make the following Oath of Fidelity, after assenting to the Apostles Creed:

"With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.
I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.
Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act."

The first paragraph seems to me to be very ambiguous. The "which" refers to what, in this rather tortured sentence? Is it referring to a qualified belief in the word of God, that is to be extended by the one who vows only to what the Church has "set forth to be believed as divinely revealed"? But if that is the case, then one vows one's faith in only those teachings that are contained in the word of God, and then subsequently taught by the Church universal, from the Fathers until now. And that qualified statement - "contained" in God's word - would rule out certain innovations that may have been taught by a supposedly solemn judgment, but that are neither found in the word of God nor taught by the Fathers and the Church as an organic whole.

The second paragraph binds one to an acceptance of what the Church teaches - not a particular part of the Church at a particular time, but the whole Church throughout the ages.

And as for the third and final paragraph, the words hinge upon that interesting term "authentic", which I take to be a qualification implying that there is a possibility that Popes and Bishops can teach what is inauthentic, to which one need not give "religious submission of will and intellect".

Further, for those of us who delight in religious submission of will and intellect, the current teaching about doctrinal development current among the high and mighty of the Church is something we can surely internalise. Take some words of our Lord and their constant re-affirmation throughout 2000 years of Christian teaching, "develop" them a little and Bing! they can mean their opposite. This possibility opens up a kind of quantum physics in theology and faith, the "indeterminacy principle". Any new-fangled doctrine (ultramontanism, whatever you like) can be or not be at one and the same time, and can be developed on a spectrum of alteration - a spectrum that runs from the subtlest tweak to flat out contradiction.

The previous paragraph may be discounted as an attempt at irony. But am I being disingenuous, I wonder? Or do legalistic formulae designed to "stitch you up" and leave you without any room for manoeuvre deserve to be read legalistically, dissected, and then interpreted in as wide a sense as the words will allow? Vide Tract 90.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

They Have Become Utterly Boring To Me

1) Articles about church politics and the Bishop of Rome, and liturgical polemic in all its forms

2) All news as reported by the media

3) The advance of equality - any kind of equality

4) Improving performance and "service" in my hospital workplace

5) Conversations about eating out, moving house, schools, weekends, holidays etc.

6) Diets - vegan, gluten-free, yeast-free, lactose-free - all diets whatsoever they be

7) The gymnasium, and exercise programs, as a way to get fit, get a certain body shape etc.

8) Professional sport, above all interviews with sportsmen

9) Trying to gain psychological insight into oneself

10) Trying not to look and sound utterly bored by all of the above

No. 10 means that most of my daily conversations have become very brief, thank heaven.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Back to the Bible

Reading this interview on Fr Tarazi's The Rise of Scripture, who preaches an almost Barthian notion of encounter with God in the sacred Scripture, I was surprised to find how much this resonated with a current in my thinking. Maybe my fundamentalist background predisposes me to this kind of thought, as I leave my reactionary twenties ever further behind and my inheritance comes back to claim me.

My discovery three or four years ago of Margaret Barker's "temple theology" and the realisation of just how deeply the various strands of Christian creedal orthodoxy might possibly have reached in the early Christian sect into a living liturgical temple tradition, have made me question just how necessary the "advanced" creeds really are to the life of the Christian. What I am driving at is the following: just supposing things like the divine sonship of Christ, his pre-existence, the Spirit (i.e. orthodox Trinitarian and Christological doctrines) are simply continuations of pre-Christian worship transfigured by the coming of Christ? The more conceptual creeds such as the Athanasian and the definitions of the early councils are in one sense an unnecessary and in certain respects a misleading Hellenisation of truths that we should be participating in and living out through the Scriptures primarily.

These statements of Christian orthodoxy ought to be relativised and questioned by the holy Scripture, once we have grasped the key to the whole (which is: Temple - Christ). Our understanding is not meant to terminate in a series of definitions that we grasp, but to appropriate and participate in the rich images of Scripture, being transformed in our minds in the mirror of the Word, and by participating in the sacraments.

I have read that in the debates leading up to the definitions of the council of Trent, that the decrees about holy Scripture and tradition were framed to fit in the arguments of some bishops that by "tradition" was to be understood only a handful of apostolic traditions such as the use of the sign of the Cross in baptism and the establishing of the threefold order - traditions which I think can probably be traced back to the temple and its rites in any case, but which had now been transfigured in Christ. For example, the sign of the cross "X" was originally the ancient form of the Hebrew letter Tau, with which the High Priest was anointed, and which was an abbreviation of the Tetragrammaton: the use of this sign in Christian baptism was a radical act, asserting (1) that the divine Name was in fact Jesus and had now been uttered and (2) that each of the baptised was being given the Name, being re-born as a child of God and declared to be one of the priestly people worthy to enter within the veil and offer the holy sacrifice.

There are a couple of points that I would like to have clarified in the interview given by Fr Tarazi, especially his characterisation of Platonist Christianity.

There are a number of tensions present in scholars' representation of the Old and New Testaments. Tarazi's is the latest I have come across: that of the pure prophetic shepherd's religion of Israel versus the urban, foreign philosophy of the Greek. There is also the tension explicit in a lot of Barker's work of the priestly Davidic king as a Son of God who is God made visible in the Temple, versus the Passover tradition of the Mosaic law of the Deutoronomist and the God who is utterly invisible.

The problem is that I cannot quite reconcile the New Testament as I find it with these scholarly tensions. In the Gospels Christ is the Son of David and the new Moses and the High Priest. He has a multi-valency so to speak, while contrariwise all the images point backwards in only one direction: to him. Similarly (and I look forward to reading Tarazi at some point to see what he has to say about the evidence running counter to his thesis) it seems that the Wisdom literature and the Prologue of St John come into contact with Alexandrian thought to put it mildly, although I am beginning to be persuaded that here the language whilst superficially Hellenised is pointing towards the temple primarily.

I am feeling my way towards something along the lines of Austin Farrer's thought as it developed from his 1948 The Glass of Vision to his 1967 Faith and Speculation. The images and story of Scripture are the primary revelation, the divine reason. The Apostles give the Christological key to the Old Testament - developed by Farrer in The Rebirth of Images (1949). What we need to develop is the understanding of the Temple and its iterations in the Old Testament (in the Pentateuch, Kings, Chronicles, the prophets and Ezekiel) - with the book of Hebrews as a model - along similar lines. The significance of the Fathers is not their philosophical framework but their development of the apostolic mode of reading the Scripture - traditionally known as the fourfold interpretation. We don't need so much to update Lombard's Sentences as to put the Fathers' approach back into practice, integrating some historical-critical findings along the way. The vast majority of this scholarship is neither historical nor sufficiently critical as it works within assumptions that are exploded one after the other by the next generation. The definitions of the councils are (so to speak) a side issue, a set of formulae to be understood afresh and brought into proximity to the primary images of Scripture.

A respect for the Scripture as primary argues for a form of life, a life not just of prayer within the ancient liturgy - meaning especially the Psalms as Christ's hymnbook - but with a respect for Creation as Christ's alphabet, which we should handle as if the bodily symbols participated in their author... because they do.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Irish option

Some of the reviewers of Dreher's Benedict option idea have suggested that it is actually early Irish monasticism that presents us with a practical outworking of his ideas, rather than the Benedictines. In some of these communities in Ireland there were monks and nuns, along with those who were married, in a common cenobitic life. There was often a threefold purpose: firstly worship, then scholarly pursuit including teaching of the young, and missionary activity.

I'm prompted to write this on hearing news of a community in formation who have the following blog, and who are drawing on this tradition:

It looks like the sort of thing I would aspire to - a loosely based community of prayer, working out a rough and ready Benedictine rule adapted to suit its own circumstances.

Columbanus was a monk of a then-thriving abbey in my native Bangor in Ireland, an austere man who wore himself out in missionary work in what is now Northern France, Switzerland and who died in Northern Italy. I once made a pilgrimage of sorts to Bobbio where he ended his life - one can reach it by a long bus journey from Piacenza, up a winding valley where the rocky Trebbia runs down to the Po. I tried to get to see the famous Antiphonarium Benchorensis (Antiphonary of Bangor in Latin - a clue as to my blog's web name) at the Ambrosian Library in Milan, but they more or less laughed at me. It's never on public display.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Roman Canon & the Interpretation of Scripture

I wrote a couple of pieces about the intriguing structure of the Roman Canon recently. I have found a dissertation on-line by Matthew Gerlach (now teaching at University of Mary in Ohio) who gives a very thorough, lucid and systematic treatment of the chiastic structure of the anaphora that I found persuasive. He uses the modern form of the Canon as the basis for his study.

He also correlates the theology underlying the Roman Canon with the spiritual exegesis of the Fathers, and the fourfold sense of Scripture (literal, allegorical, tropological and anagogical senses). The claim is that there is a strong parallel and even identity between the patristic understanding of the symbols of Scripture and the symbols of the Eucharistic offering. In addition, spiritual exegesis and the fourfold sense is not an arbitrary reading but is integral to the holy commercium or exchange between Christ and his Body the Church, between its past, its present and its future glory. On reading and re-reading this part of the thesis, I found this extremely stimulating and fruitful and will be returning to it again.

There is also a section about Aquinas's Eucharistic theology which is well worth the read. Acording to Gerlach's perspective, the Aristotelian substance/accidents distinction in Aquinas is utilised because it fits in with his Eucharistic theology of the consecrated gifts being sacramental signs (like the symbols of Christ in Holy Scripture). That is the right way round to read Aquinas; not through the lens of Aristotelian philosophy primarily. The substance/accidents distinction doesn't do justice to Thomas's thought on the importance of the figural significance of the bread and wine, the respect that he gives to the sign qua sign.

It is a while since I have read something that brought things together that I thought I already knew and created a sense of freshness and space for the mind and soul from their synthesis.

A couple of tentative ideas have surfaced as I have been reading about the Roman Canon of late, from various sources including Gerlach's thesis.

Chiasmus is a very good structure for memorisation. If one walks into a room to do something and forgets why one is there, the best way to remember is to try to think of what one was doing just before, and then just before that, i.e. to retrace one's steps in reverse. In memorisation of a text, a series of parallels that pivot on the centre of the text is a very helpful aid. Some people argue that chiasmus is a natural product of an oral tradition: linearity is more of a written textual phenomenon.

Might this be some help to solving the problem of the construction of the Roman Canon? If it was primarily a remembered and orally transmitted prayer initially, with at least some chiastic elements (the verbal and grammatical identity of the memorial of the living and dead in the first and second halves of the anaphora respectively is a case of chiasmus staring us in the face, surely), then might its later and final written form - say, in the fourth century - have been so arranged and augmented to preserve and reinforce its chiastic structure?

Here's a speculation.

Just suppose that there were a series of orally transmitted prayers used in the Eucharistic prayer of the Roman church from the early part of the second century, but not all of them in every celebration. Some of the prayers might therefore overlap and repeat what the others said (like the intial sentences of the Te igitur and the Hanc igitur, or the quasi-epicletic material of the Quam oblationem and the Hanc igitur) because they were once alternative formulations. Some (like the central parts of the anaphora) may have been simply invariable. Suppose the original recited formula was something close to the Alexandrian anaphora, with a rough rule of order in oral recitation, so that the celebrant would have improvised some less central parts of the anaphora from a choice of several traditional prayers that were not identical in wording but carried the same euchological meaning in around the same place in the anaphora. The "through Christ our Lord" at the end of each prayer would therefore have a function partly as a brief break from the effort of recall, to serve as a moment of recollection for the celebrant who would then follow the traditional sequence in his recitation of the next prayer.

Just suppose, when the Roman Canon came to be a written text, that several succeding bishops or their clergy, or just one particular bishop, augmented the natural, oracular chiastic form of the prayer as it already stood - there being some very strongly chiastic elements present already, viz. the central part of the prayer from Qui pridie to the Unde et memores, and the commemoration of the living and dead. Some of the variable prayers of similar euchological function were moved around or altered so that the naturally existing chiasmus of the anaphora would be completed as nearly as possible, without violating the integrity of the oral tradition overly, preserving the variable prayers within the new text.

What one would end up with would be a chiastic structure which had some clearly parallel elements, some not so clearly parallel, and a slightly untidy overlap and anticipation within the latter group (because of prayers with duplicate function having been moved from their original position, or two prayers of the same function being altered slightly so that they could both be included). Which is more or less how the Roman Canon reads.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Mueller on First Things

I've just skimmed Mueller's article about papal authority on First Things, which is obviously trying to outline some limits to make people feel easy about dissenting from Pope Francis, and to give them the tools (and to invoke their right) to critique him.

But... as an addendum to what I have already written in the last few articles, it struck me that even an attempt to limit the power of the Pope by means of the Tradition of the church by the conservative churchman falls short of what I have been trying to suggest. The hypostatising of the "Magisterium", or the "teaching authority of the bishops" and the Pope which "always" teaches the truth or "always" does this or that beneficial thing: this kind of talk is (or can be) a way of avoiding responsibility. Suppose bishops all act like sheep sometimes... suppose this isn't the first time they have... suppose that the hypostatised "Magisterium" turns out to have produced teachings that are the product of that mentality... shouldn't one object when one can't find these teachings in the Scriptures or the Fathers? One has to make up one's mind about whether Amoris Laetitia is traditional, and as Mueller has discovered "making up one's mind" can be caricatured as an act of private judgment by the papal party. One also has to make up one's mind about Vatican I, and lots of other things too.

The freedom that Mueller asks for us from Pope Francis's pronouncements, I ask from the sometimes stifling and stultifying consensus about who and what the Pope is, that has been hanging around since the West became collectively and insanely ultramontane. Find it in the Fathers, please.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A Conclusion to Some Cogitations

Thus far in these posts I have been feeling my way to an idea of papal infallibility that is (1) collegial, in which Peter of necessity speaks with the Apostles and their successors and not unilaterally, because they share in Peter's primacy and charism that is vere episcopale (2) ecclesial, according to which the unanimity of the Church catholic and the Fathers is needed to judge of the truth of any pronouncement, (3) provisional, in that the reception and interpretation of the entire Church of any papal pronouncement over the centuries following is of great significance, (4) prophetic, in the sense that the gift of the Spirit to proclaim the truth is not to be presumed by the Pope purely by a decision to make a self-consciously "infallible" proclamation according to a set form, but is to be discerned by the believer in the content of what is proclaimed, whether the proclamation has followed a pre-set form or not, (5) eschatological, because the image of Peter and the Apostles as the foundation stones of the Holy City is one of the images of the Bride in Holy Scripture, (6) not presumptuous, in that it is folly to suppose that a sinful man, as are all Popes, could not either feign to utter an infallible statement according to a set form, or fondly imagine himself possessed of the Spirit to make an infallible statement when he is in fact in error, and (7) not haughty, ergo the papal office has no power to raise a secondary teaching not revealed directly by God -- or taught plainly by Christ and His Apostles -- or taught unanimously in Tradition of the Church -- to the level of a creedal dogma which must be believed and proclaimed as part of the saving Gospel.

What is left after all these caveats? One is left with a teaching about infallibility as a gift to Apostles and Peter ("He will guide you into all truth", said Christ to the eleven), the occasions of the exercise of which are in the gift of the Holy Spirit and are not to be had simply by some kind of quasi-sacrament, a following of a particular set of forms and rules by which a statement is announced to the Church. And the recognition of infallible teaching is not to be found in the set form of a papal pronouncement - such a thing was unheard of until the 19th century - but (like the recognition of the teachings of a council as binding), by its consonance with Apostolic truth, and by its reception.

Infallibility is "in the mix", so to speak, of those gifts by which the truth of Christ is discerned by each Christian through the gift of the Holy Spirit - the Holy Scripture, the teaching of the Fathers, the Tradition that is manifested in the ancient and sacred liturgy, etc.

These are my thoughts about infallibility, and now a few thoughts about the authority of the Pope. If you want a full discussion of how the Pope gradually came to exercise such a monarchical role in the Church, you can find this explained and detailed much more fully elsewhere. Of course, nowadays - to take an example - when a bishop gets to 75 years of ago and proffers his resignation, and the Pope says, "Thanks yes, please do retire", it is assumed that this is within the Pope's right. His rule is supreme and universal and ordinary. Students of the words used in Vatican I ("supreme", "ordinary" and so on) know as well as I do that there are strict limits in the technical definitions of these words, but how it all plays out in the life of the Church is pretty much as it is sounds. No-one seems to have any idea about what kind of legitimate restriction might be placed on the Pope: he is legislator after all. If he says that bishops should retire at 60 from now on, so let it written, so let it be done. I have chosen what seems to me to be an extremely silly example of arbitrary legal positivism, and how the hale and hearty 75-year-old bishops who leave their flocks square it with the theology of the episcopate I haven't the foggiest, but no-one seems to have the nerve to face it down. But it is the tiptoeing down the Headmaster's corridor and all the standing cringing outside his door that makes this arbitrary nonsense have force; and it relies upon an interfering, slavish and unmanly notion of authority that has seeped into every modern bureaucratic legislative system. What one needs is a Prince Caspian to walk into His Excellency Gumpas' courtroom and to turn the table upside-down, sending all the pettifogging regulations flying.

All of the discussions I have read about liturgy on the internet over the last ten years, have given me a very strong notion of what de jure restrictions there are upon the exercise of papal power. Perhaps those who write about such things, and quote Benedict XVI's words to the effect that the sacred rites of ancient Christian prayer "cannot suddenly be forbidden", do not quite realise the far-reaching conclusions that their readers may draw from these words. For me, this principle has ramifications far beyond the rites themselves, into other traditions of a local church also.

The unity of the Church is a mystical and eschatological truth, and union with Christ precedes union with Peter; but episcopacy and the Petrine office are (as I have said above) part of the image of the Church. For those bishops and churches who are not in formal union with Peter, some of the thoughts that I have about infallibility extend - I believe - to this question also. The primary questions of the Gospel and of faith determine the question of unity, not those which are secondary: the last and least important questions with respect to unity with Peter are whether one follows the procedures issued by the Roman bureaucracy in the appointment of one's bishops and in the pettier details of church administration. Some people will say that the true Church subsists in the Catholic: I would reply with the Orthodox that the true Church subsists wherever the Eucharist is celebrated in unity with the Apostles and their successors. And as regards the status of episcopacy in Anglicanism and the continuing bodies, recent developments may have compromised a large number of Anglican ordinations (the mainstream part of the "two integrities"). However, I can't take Apostolicae curae very seriously, when it would damn almost the entire Catholic episcopate ordained since Vatican II. I certainly wouldn't tie myself in knots and write to an Ask Father column if I were attending an SSPX chapel or the right kind of continuing Anglican or Anglican jurisdiction before receiving Holy Communion.

These are my current thoughts about the whole business of church affiliation and true church claims, and the Pope and all the rest of it. I think it is important that I clear all this up for myself, and make it clear to others as well, if I am one day in a position where I will be asked to declare fidelity and obedience to a bishop as a candidate for the diaconate.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Some Cogitations: Secunda Pars

Infallible papal pronouncements are called "irreformable", but I confess that this term seems to carry a very limited meaning. Words and phrases are often intended in one way, but come to mean something quite different because the context changes, or the words themselves shift in meaning, or the ramifications of what has been said become clearer. Nothing that is uttered by man has a static meaning that cannot develop and gain significance and a deeper context with history and usage. All that irreformable can mean, I think, is that the original wording of a dogmatic papal pronouncement forms an integral part of the understanding of the doctrine, not that a particular understanding of a particular set of phrases at a particular time is the exclusive and final truth.

Holy Scripture contains a series of images in words that illuminate God's truth; even the Son (as the utterance of the divine Word) is Himself called the express Image (cf. the Epistle to the Hebrews). The visible Incarnation is both a revelation and a veil - note the imagery of the veil of Christ's flesh being torn at His death. The revealed images have been given in Scripture: but for those who read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, the river of the divine truth is always finding new channels to run in. Each Scriptural image, taken as an image of the divine which both reveals and veils the Godhead, is capable of taking on new poetic power as it works in our imagination by the power of Spirit, and as each revealed image masters ever more of the stuff of this mortal world.

There is therefore no power that can define not only an authoritative form of words but prescribe the significance of those words for all time. To argue that there is, would be (1) to take a particular image or set of images and set it or them up as an idol or idols, a fixed and static image of the divine, and (2) to give the power to divinise a particular image - or the power to create an idol to be worshipped - to a particular person or office.

What is therefore to be understood by the idea of papal infallibility? And by the dogmatic proclamations held to be infallible? My understanding of the doctrine of papal infallibility is that is quite simply a tautology. The Petrine office (as Vatican I says) is truly episcopal. It is not a fourth order in the Church, or an added charism of the See of Peter on top of the proper episcopal charism. Here an understanding of the traditional conception of who and what a bishop is, is helpful: he is Peter among the Apostles (his presbyters). Therefore each and every bishop shares in the Petrine office in his own diocese with his own clergy; each and every bishop shares in the charism of infallibility when he teaches ex cathedra and defines the truth in union with the faith of the Church Militant and Triumphant. The bishop of Rome, in the traditional understanding, possesses this charism when its bishop speaks with the voice of that church's faith diachronically as well as synchronically; of course the role of the Roman church gains added weight from the witness of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul at Rome, and from the very ancient tradition that its bishop is Vicar of Peter.

The only thing that Vatican I clarifies in this traditional understanding, is that the power of utterance of the truth comes to Peter and the Apostles by the gift of the Spirit and not from consensus. However, I wonder if we should consider the following.

Can a Pope err in any way when he supposes himself to be proclaiming an infallible truth? I believe on the authority of Holy Writ that the Church is holy and spotless but that doesn't prevent me from seeing that its members are sinners. That the Church is holy and immaculate is an eschatological image that is ultimately and (let me coin a word) anagogically true. Holy Scripture is inerrant: this I also believe. But how it is inerrant, when it contains a good deal of factual inaccuracy by the historical and scientific notions of error, needs a good deal of explanation. That the ex cathedra utterances of the Vicar of Peter are infallible is also an image; a collective failure to recognise this will make the papacy an idol set up at the centre of the church to dominate all the other revealed images. It seems to me that the papacy images the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads his Church into all truth, especially by means of the teaching of Christ's Apostles, with Peter their chief. But surely we shouldn't accord this image a higher status than Holy Scripture itself, and if the Vatican can cope with an inerrant Holy Scripture that contains mistakes, then I think it can learn to cope with an infallible Pope who isn't always right even when he thinks he is speaking infallibly.

Just as Holy Scripture is inerrant when its images are interpreted and orientated by the Holy Spirit to enlighten the revelation of Jesus Christ in its pages, so the Pope's ex cathedra utterances are infallible not when the Pope self-consciously proclaims them to be so, but when they are understood through the lens of the historic teaching of the Church. That unanimous teaching contextualises the truth of the Pope's utterances as they stand, not vice versa. And if some things in the "infallible" declarations cannot be obviously reconciled with the teaching of Fathers and the consent of the Councils, then I suggest that it would be safer to leave them quietly to one side and add them to some of the puzzling statements in Scripture which a lot of people struggle to understand.

So what about the declarations of Mary's Assumption and the Immaculate Conception and so on? I believe, for example, that Paul VI's affirmation of the historical teaching of the Church on contraception is a remarkable instance of Peter confirming his brethren in the faith - but one can make this judgment primarily because it was the teaching of the ancient Church, not on the basis of personal infallibility. Both the Marian dogmas, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, are arguably dogmas of the undivided Church (the East holds the Palamite doctrine of the Pre-purification of the Virgin) and have ancient roots. But to say that they have been revealed by God without qualification or nuance? And to suggest that they are necessary for salvation without stating their secondary and derivative character in Christian truth? And to proclaim them publicly as revealed dogma when they are not primary and essential to a public proclamation of the saving Gospel of the Cross? And to proclaim them unilaterally as a monarchical exercise (seemingly just because I'm Pope and can) rather than in council, as a theological necessity to safeguard against some truth under attack?

In Dulles book about the papacy (see previous post) he advances a degree of doubt as to whether or not these are even cases in which any definition could be held to be infallible, because of the lack of episcopal consent from the Orthodox churches. There may also be difficulties, because the images defined were secondary and derivative, and (particularly in the case of the Immaculate Conception), because the context and backdrop for the doctrine (original sin) remains under dispute. Perhaps, one could argue that in God's providence, what may have been an act of papal hubris may turn out to have a divine purpose: that we may in some way at this point in history have needed the affirmation that our frail human nature, revealed as capable of bearing God in the Theotokos, has been sanctified and chosen before eternity, and has been raised into heaven, with Moses and Elias. Only God knows.

I have got all this off my chest because we are supposed to speak with parrhesia these days; because I can't abide fearful silence on theological questions one which one has queries and doubts as I think it is profoundly unhealthy for spiritual maturity; and to clarify my own thoughts and to have the benefit of the thoughts of others. Of your courtesy, show me where and how I err.

I want to write one final piece about the exercise of papal authority.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Some Cogitations: Prima Pars

I was given a book by a wise man about ten years ago, Avery Cardinal Dulles' book on the history and theology of the papal claims and office. It is a slim, simple volume, and is ecumenical in a good way. I took a couple of things away from that reading that have leavened my thinking since, and have pushed themselves up into my consciousness again recently. Over the next couple of blog posts I will give a list of cogitations that have been with me since then, some directly influenced by Dulles' book, and others indirectly so. They all seem (to me) to be points largely overlooked in people's normal thinking about the papacy, and come under the following broad heading:

The problem of papal infallibility and the development of doctrine

Future developments in the understanding of papal dogmas, e.g. infallibility, may cause a dramatic retrospective change in how they are understood. As with any doctrine, if it is stated in an incomplete way, a more complete future statement can negate many of the conclusions that people will naturally draw from the present and incomplete understanding of the dogma. Take the OT understanding of the Temple, for example, and then consider how that was completely revolutionised by the words of Christ when he identified himself as the Temple. The symbols remained, but their reference seemed to be completely changed by what Christ was saying beyond all recognition for some, and yet remained instantly intelligible to others.

Dulles in his book does not shrink from suggesting that the dogma of the Assumption of Mary (and also the Immaculate Conception) may not have been infallibly proclaimed... because the conditions for the exercise of infallibility (from memory, he is referring to the lack of consent of the Orthodox bishops) may not have been met. Dulles does not dispute the content of these dogmas as such, but he does suggest that a future understanding of the need for consensus of East and West as a necessary (but not a sufficient) condition of infallibility would change the Church's evaluation on whether or not these papal pronouncement had been infallible.

This is (in general) a valid point. No-one supposes that the truth of any particular papal pronouncement depends on the consent of the world's episcopate. Truth isn't decided by a vote and is a gift of God to His Church. But the truth of any ex cathedra statement on faith and morals does require a kind of unanimity of Christian witness across the centuries and throughout the Church as a whole.

My main and fundamental objection to the doctrine of infallibility as it is commonly understood, is that it is either a tautology, or else it says too much. If a tautology: Christians have always believed this; the successors of the Apostles have always taught this; I proclaim it to be true as the successor of Peter; I'm definitely right! What work is the doctrine doing then? Merely confirming truths which are already believed? But it seems that it is understood to be doing something more, viz. defining truths which are under dispute - cf. the Dominicans vs. the Franciscans on the (Immaculate) Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And that isn't quite the same thing. Previously, during the Christological disputes for example, the people who ended up on the wrong side were plainly declared as heretical (even if it were posthumously). However the question about the Immaculate Conception involved an open declaration contra the doctrine from a Doctor of the Church (Aquinas). Here, it seems that two options lie open. (a) If the doctrine were always de fide then why is not Aquinas now denounced as holding heretical opinions? (b) And if it is not de fide in such a way as to be necessary for salvation, then why define it? A third possibility opens up, (c) the doctrine has not always been de fide because it has not been declared to be so by an infallible definition before, but now that it has been, it is de fide. But here alas, we have said far too much. Because to argue (c), i.e. that the doctrine of infallibility is now a dogma that demands the consent of the Christian because it is necessary for salvation, but it wasn't until now... well, here a host of problems raise their head.

I will try to put this into a colloquial form. X. You've got to believe in the Immaculate Conception! Y. Oh - but if Aquinas said it's not true, then, why?  X. Because it is necessary for salvation! Y. But is Aquinas not saved then? X. Yes he is! He was dead before all this happened. But now the Pope infallibly says that it is necessary for salvation. Y. So the Immaculate Conception became necessary for salvation because the Pope said so, just now, not because it was all that important? X. No! I mean yes! I mean just believe what you're told!

The difficulty is that it raises a papal definition about a theologically disputed statement that was once openly disputed without heresy into a statement that cannot be disputed without heresy, solely on the strength of the fact that it has been infallibly proclaimed by the Pope to be true, and not by virtue of the consent of Fathers and Christians across the ages, nor (crucially) by the intrinsic theological significance of the proclaimed dogma to the Christian Gospel. In other words an infallible pronouncement can raise a dogma into a position of being necessary to salvation when it wasn't before. This is either complete nonsense, or else it is puts the dogma of papal infallibility itself into a position of greater theological import than the dogmas that it supposedly defines. In effect: it is so, so important that you believe the Pope when he defines a dogma ex cathedra, that you will lose your soul even though you wouldn't have lost your soul if you had flatly denied the dogma if he had not so defined it, but not because of the necessity of the doctrine itself for your salvation.

The upshot of all this is to make the power to define dogma a greater matter than the dogmas it defines, and of the same power to save as the truths of the Holy Gospel. The Gospel - the blissful news - of our Lord Jesus Christ saves us, and the power of definition of what is necessary to that Gospel can only aid us by excluding certain understandings of that Gospel as intrinsically destructive of our salvation: it cannot change the import of teaching derived from the Gospel so that belief of derivative and secondary teaching becomes necessary for salvation when it was not necessary before. The medieval Church would have found this to be stark folly. To assert such a thing is surely to assert the priority of power over logic and truth, of force over meaning, of authority over wisdom. Heaven knows no such confusion: there the throne (dominion) is beneath the Word made flesh (the Divine Logos or Meaning).

There is a second, and not unrelated problem with the dogma of infallibility. Because it is a latecomer in the development of doctrine, the vast majority of papal pronouncements down the centuries, and the discussion of those pronouncements, have not utilised Vatican I's understanding of the definition of papal infallibility. So how is to apply the dogma retroactively? One can't, of course, with any precision. Prospectively, it is fairly easy to make it look scientific. The whole technical "Magisterium" terminology is an invention of the post-Vatican I church to give papal pronouncements an authority and infallibility ranking (it's a wonder someone hasn't thought of a 1-10 scoring system), in which one can back up the truth of any theological statement by quoting a papal document of the last 150 years, by a kind of "Papal Document Scoring System Calculus". But go back to the early middle ages and it is simply impossible to apply the infallibility dogma when the Popes themselves had no consciousness of utilising a charism to define something relating to faith and morals ex cathedra... they thought they were giving homilies or writing letters that affirmed Apostolic truth and betray no consciousness whatsoever that their pronouncements were on an "infallibility weighting scale".

People reading all this (I flatter myself) might ask - but do or don't you believe in the Immaculate Conception... and papal infallibility... which really isn't the point. I will state my beliefs about such things as clearly as I can at the end of the next post: what I am saying in this post is that there are certain ramifications of the doctrine of papal infallibility as it is usually understood that are very wrong, and that I find inherently unstable vis-à-vis the totality of Christian truth, and inimical to what I would call the rational life of faith. Mysteries, indeed, the Christian must embrace: but they issue in a depth of understanding of the world and human nature, they don't simply mystify. My aim is to air a series of thoughts and difficulties which I cannot really see a way around, and to let others decide what they think.

In a couple of later posts I want to write about the word "irreformable" with regards to infallible pronouncements, and also about the exercise of papal authority in general, and what I think it means to be in communion with the Vicar of Peter.