Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Divine Grammar

Now that I have been "noticed" I feel a certain liberating permission to blog on. I feel almost like my Lutheran days, blogging boldly! All right, Ogden, let's not let this get to our head, shall we?

In my "managed posts" section I have had a saved draft for ages called "Divine Grammar." This was something that occurred to me during the readings of the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time. Specifically, a much feared reading from Ephesians.

Well, I don't fear it, and instead ...

Well, I don't fear it, and instead I am going to proclaim what I think has been centrally missed during all the fretting. The Disputations Inspiration is prodding me to finish and post this, late though it is.

Now, by this point you're wondering what I am talking about, don't you? I am talking about the "wives be subordinate to your husbands" verses, Ephesians 5:21-32

The main charge against this passage, and what tends to embarrass our High, Enlightened sensibilities (the same sensibilities that have given a green light to abortion and the "contraceptive mentality", mind you) is that it appears to be unequal at best, misogynistic at worst.

My argument? It is neither. My argument is that since these Grand Statements have two different subjects, in the Divine Grammar, the "verbs" must be different, so that there is just agreement between the verb and the subject, just as in Human Grammar. The different subjects may have different verbs, but the action being asked of them is the same. They are both asked to imitate Christ.

Consider ... Since the Apostle began with the wife, I will begin with her. She is being asked to imitate Christ's fathomless Love, by emptying herself before her husband, as Christ did. Why? So that she can save her husband, as Christ saved Humanity. Consider Philippians:

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Total self-denial for the salvation of others. It is what Christ did for us, and it is what wives are called to do for their husbands.

But the husband too is asked to do the same thing. He is asked to love the wife as Christ loves the Church. And how did Christ love the Church? By suffering even death on a cross for the salvation of her members. How can the husband do so? By patient sacrifice out of love, working for her salvation.

Both, therefore, are being asked to do the same thing: save each others souls. But women and men are different, masculine and feminine in the Divine Grammar. Thus, in order to make the Divine Sentences "work" the subjects and verbs must agree, although the end is precisely the same. Husbands and wives must sacrifice in self-denial for the salvation of their spouses.

So this is why the "short form" make me cringe. We have become squeamish about the "wives be subordinate" part. We ought to rather proclaim it proudly, sloughing off this cowardice. There is something to fear in this? How can there be? When seen properly, it can only be celebrated.

This also reminds me to do a piece that has been running around in my head about "close readings" and why they are so desperately needed in regards to the Holy Scripture.

I will let the Apostle have the last word, "Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Trying to Out-Do Disputations

One of the blogs I enjoy reading is Disputations, where the blogger-author gives (among other things) his reflections and thoughts on Scripture as they appear in the Mass readings (or what have you).

His views and ideas are always provocative. I find I learn a very great deal simply reading them, although I do not necessarily always agree. Usually it's little words or grammatical points that attract his attention, and almost always from the NAB translation.

To that end, one thing struck me ...

To that end, one thing struck me in the reading from James today. James 5:4 in the NAB reads as follows:

Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

(Emphasis mine)

You see what's being modified here, don't you? The wages themselves are crying aloud. The RSV agrees with this:
Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

As does the New Vulgate (all emphases in the following quotes will be mine):

Ecce merces operariorum, qui messuerunt regiones vestras, quae fraudata est a vobis, clamat, et clamores eorum, qui messuerunt, in aures Domini Sabaoth introierunt.

And the old:

ecce merces operariorum qui messuerunt regiones vestras qui fraudatus est a vobis clamat et clamor ipsorum in aures Domini Sabaoth introiit

(I could do a whole blog post just on the differences between the old and the new in just this verse, but I won't ... not tonight. You'll notice the RSV more closely follows the Latin. If I need to convince people that this is in the Greek, too, I can quote that as well:
ἰδοὺ ὁ μισθὸς τῶν ἐργατῶν τῶν ἀμησάντων τὰς χώρας ὑμῶν ὁ ἀφυστερημένος ἀφ' ὑμῶν κράζει, καὶ αἱ βοαὶ τῶν θερισάντων εἰς τὰ ὦτα Κυρίου Σαβαὼθ εἰσελήλυθαν:

Now that is out of the way ... What does it mean? The wages themselves are crying out ... This reminds of the sins that cry out to Heaven. I couldn't remember the last one of the top of my head. For shame, Ogden! So, I looked it up in the Catechism, and lo and behold ...
1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner.

(Emphasis mine)

And there's even a footnote, "Cf. Deut 24:14-15; Jas 5:4.." (The emphasis is mine.)

So, this passage, and the Church, appear to be telling us that the sin itself had a kind of triggered response. If you engage in practice X the sin itself will "cry out" to God in a voice only He can hear.

But is it being figurative? Is it being literal? I suppose in a very real sense, it's both. The Living God in His Foresight, has known these sins would take place (and when, and how often, and by whom, etc) throughout all Eternity. Consequently, He has also known they would Offend his Infinite Justice. And in that sense, that knowledge in the mind of the Sublime is the actual "crying out." Because these deeds so offend against His Will that they are like the proverbial fingernails on chalkboard. Although He never fails to take note of anything, these things He takes note of in a very special way.

Just as this strange construction took me by surprise, I believe the Apostle intends the same thing for the "wealthy" whom he is castigating. Just as the implications awe and terrify me, I believe the Apostle intends the same reaction on the part of those whom he warns.

In any case, I welcome any thoughts on this anyone might have, and I hope to have done some justice to the methodology of the aforementioned blog.

UPDATE: As you can see from the links section below, the "aforementioned blog" has taken note of my little post. I am pleased as punch, but more importantly I learned something new from his take. I like the image. It puts me in a mind to say that if we could see excess wealth with the same perspective the Sublime has, we would be like those who could see their own lungs tainted by tobacco smoke. But by the same token, would they who have grown addicted to wealth, even if they could see it for the danger it is, give it up?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Inzamam Acquitted of Cheated, Docked for "Disrepute"

(from the BBC)

No surprises here. Inevitably, questions are now raised as to whether this will damage cricket. In my opinion it has not, and the sport is strong enough to rebound.

Was Inzy correct to do as he did? I believe so, personally, because he had no other appeal at the time. Really, a dramatic protest was his only option, in my opinion.

If anyone did bring the sport into disrepute, it was Hair.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Violent Protests Continue

Violence continues across Asia in response to the Pope's Regensburg speech (get the story here.)

Reading the above is a pretty sad affair...

Reading the above is a pretty sad affair. And it reminds me of a quote from an article I linked to yesterday:

One columnist, Abdelwahab Al Affendi, ridiculed those who demanded a retraction of the Pope's original remarks.

Mr Al Effendi wrote saying that nothing short of the Pope's converting to Islam will ever assuage the anger of those people!

(From the BBC; emphasis mine.)

Sad as it is, though, it does remind me of something humorous Fr. Richard John Neuhaus quoted in an article over at FIRST THINGS: On the Square:

Somewhat over the top but nonetheless not without interest is the following open letter to the pope from offended Muslims. I assume it is fictional.

Dear Pope Benedict XVI:

We Muslims are not at all violent, not that you said we were, but who needs to read your speech when the local imam, who hasn’t read it either, can tell us what it says? Since peaceful efforts to convince you of our commitment to peace have failed, we hope that the mass riots, burnt effigies, cries of “Death to the Pope!” and a smattering of grenades in assorted churches will exorcise every ghost of the rumor that we are violent, and prove that Mohammed pitched a tent big enough to include interfaith camels. It is hoped that you will rescind your position, even if it wasn’t yours to begin with, lest our peacefulness escalate even further.

While on the subject of humour ... I found this response to an upset Muslim who "truly was a Muslim who valued peace and actually does condemn violence."

“Nothing I say can convince you I am right, and nothing you say can convince me you are right.

Clearly Muslims and Catholics are going to view the Pope's remarks differently. I think our Pope is the Vicar of Christ (the son of God) and speaks the truth. Also remember that the Pope was quoting the Byzantine Emperor, so if the quote has people offended, why don't you just go protest against the nation of Byzantium?

Why don't you guys go picket in front of the imperial palace in Constantinople? Why don't you send a petition to the current emperor? Why don't the heads of state of Muslim nations tell the Byzantine ambassadors in their countries how "insensitive" these remarks were. Heck you could even go protest in front of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, after all, the man whose words offended you so much was not Catholic but Eastern Orthodox.

The Byzantines are a reasonable people; they have preserved much of the wisdom of the Ancient World, Socrates, Virgil, etc. They have wonderful art and architecture. They are the very epitome of a civilized society. Please lobby your protests against them, I am sure Byzantium and the Muslim world can reach some sort of understanding, a way to co-exist, without further insult.”

I thank Fr. Neuhaus and Fidei Defensor for the laughs. But the "yucks" underscore a deeper point, and that is the rage expressed against the Pope is so ridiculous, what is left for us but to laugh?

Superb Article About the Crusades

I commend a wonderful article to you about the Crusades by Jimmy Akin, via Insight Scoop. It really is a masterly run down of the history, with a section placing it in context.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Now for something completely different

Cricket News!

Before I go to bed, I thought I'd blog about something else that is important to me: cricket. Inzamam-ul-Haq heads back to London to the place where all the controversy started. He goes back to the Oval to defend himself against charges of ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute. As Captain, he was deemed responsible even if one of the bowlers is actually alleged to have tampered with the ball. (Get the story here and here.)

My own opinions on this are pretty simple...

My own opinions on this are pretty simple. Darrell Hair handled the ball tampering allegations extremely poorly. While I agree he had a right as umpire to do as he did (i.e. exchange balls without first issuing a warning through the Pakistani captain), it was poor form not to consult with Inzamam-ul-Haq, and poor form not to at least issue a warning. Darrell Hair's conduct after the affair only deepens my antagonism towards him and his conduct over this. I well remember that he was the one who repeatedly no-balled Murali. It is little wonder then that India have requested Hair play no part in the upcoming series. It's little wonder.

I also find this interesting. There are times I wish it were Hair and not Inzamam on trial here ...

The Pope and the Islamic World

As you can readily imagine, I have continued to follow the story of how the Holy Father's words are being interpretted -- for good or ill -- by certain elements of the Islamic Community.

Yesterday, Pope Benedict met with ...

Yesterday, Pope Benedict met with representatives of the Islamic world: diplomats and some Italian Muslim groups. Amy Welborn has the text, and AmericanPapist has valuable commentary.

My own take tends to centre on how the world's press interprets these things. The press tends to take the moral high ground, almost always attempting to say the Pope is hypocritical when criticising modern Islamist violence. Typical of this is in this post by the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Crusaders in 1099 captured Jerusalem and began wholesale attacks on its population, including Muslims and Jews, historians say. At the same time in other parts of the Muslim world, a golden age of science, medicine and learning was under way with its intellectual hub in Baghdad.

In the early 13th century, Crusaders sacked Constantinople, the ancient center of Greek-led Byzantium, in part to use the plunder to fund more forays into Muslim lands. The Byzantine Empire never fully recovered from the blow and Muslim forces took the city - now called Istanbul - in 1453 and it became the seat of the Ottoman Empire.

Religious scholars have noted that Ottoman policy did not demand conversion to Islam across its realm, which covered much of the Balkans at its peak. But some places, notably Albania and Bosnia, welcomed the faith. In Orthodox Christian Greece, an old saying is still widely used: Better the turban than the papal tiara.

It is the typical, one-sided "You Barbaric Catholics did some nasty things yourselves to those poor, innocent Muslims". Of course, many attrocities were committed on both sides. The sack of Jerusalem and Richard the Lionheart's massacre at Acre were met by Baybars' sacks and massacres at Tyre and Antioch. Moreover, the press tends to forget that Europe felt legitimately threatened (cf The Conquest of Spain which Fr Stephanos points out occured 300 years before the First Crusade), were invited to defend the Holy Land by an Eastern Orthodox Emperor, and went to secure the Holy Sepulchre, which had itself been destroyed by those poor, innocent Muslims. It was not -- strictly speaking -- a conquering enterprise, as is clear evident in the fact that they stopped after they secured the Holy Sepulchre and the rest of the Holy Land. The press tends to conveniently forget the immediate root causes of the conflict was a particularly cruel and nasty destruction of one of our holiest sites:

The turning point in western attitudes towards the east came in the year 1009, when the Fatimid caliph of Cairo, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem destroyed. His successor permitted the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it under stringent circumstances, and pilgrimage was again permitted, but many stories began to be circulated in the West about the cruelty of Muslims toward Christian pilgrims; these stories then played an important role in the development of the crusades later in the century.

(from Wikipedia.)

The point of this is that the press tends to get it lop-sidedly wrong, so as to self-righteously mock us. However, they also tend to forget something else ... The Crusades and other things which the World likes to smear us with happened in the past. And Pope John Paul the Great apologised for those times in which we sinned during those events. Islamist violence is, however, happening today. The Holy Father has a right and a duty to criticise it, especially in light of the fact that we have apologised for when we have not carried out the Will of Christ in these matters.

In related news

The criticism of the disproportionate reaction among many quarters in the Islamic world is no longer (it seems) restricted solely to the blogosphere. An Indian columnist has a very insightful piece. He also has an interesting quote from Gandhi:

"Mussalmans have an ordeal to pass through. There can be no doubt that they are too free with the knife and the pistol. The sword is an emblem of Islam. But Islam was born in an environment where the sword was, and still remains, the supreme law. The message of Jesus has proved ineffective because the environment was unready to receive it. So with the message of the Prophet. The sword is yet too much in evidence among the Mussalmans. It must be sheathed if Islam is to be what it means - peace."

I find that interesting, because Gandhi is almost always cited as having nothing but effusive praise for Islam.

Moderte Islam is finally speaking out, too. Over in The Phillipines (via Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B again) and around the rest of the Muslim world. It's about time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

NPR Interviews the Aga Khan

It's been a while since I blogged about anything from NPR. This morning they interviewed the Aga Khan. And it is interesting. He says it is not a clash of civilisations, but a clash of ignorance. Pretty interesting stuff.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Defending the Pope Against Claims of Heresy

I commend a wonderful article to you that addresses the attack leveled against the Holy Father that he is a Modernist Heretic. It is entitled The Hunt for Heresy: Dr. Droleskey vs. Cardinal Ratzinger.

There is one line out of all of this that seems especially topical:

"...and when dealing with an academic theologian, such as Ratzinger is, context is everything."


Saturday, September 23, 2006

First Things First: My Thoughts on Regensburg

To mark the end of my hiatus (I hope), I have decided to talk a little about my own take on the fallout of the Regensburg speech. Fr Tucker, on of my favourite blogs (Dappled Things), has two interesting articles (here and here) whose main point is that the real message of this brilliant lecture has been lost. I commend them to you.

In fact, one of the most important lines from this ...

In fact, one of the most important lines from this speech, and indeed what might be a defining moment for this papacy is the following excerpt:

The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application... Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.
(emphasis mine)

So let me explain. First, I found the speech fascinating. And I read it as soon as I read the initial BBC Online news item. Why? Because I always read what the Pope actually said rather than how it is reported. This is lesson I learned during the previous Pontificate of Pope John Paul the Great. Every time he would write an encyclical the most bizarre things would be reported in the British press. So, I stopped looking to the press to tell me what the Pontiff wrote, and instead I read it for myself. Admittedly, as a teenager, I was ill-equipped to decipher this genius's writing. In other words, I was just informed enough to work for the Times, the Guardian or the Telegraph.

In any case, pardon the digression ... I was captivated by his discussion of λόγος, and I too was struck by the implications of a God who could transcend his own logic. As an interesting aside, Drew at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping, has a superb analysis of the fundamental differences between the Catholic and Islamic understanding of the nature of God.

And this then brings me to the disproportionate rage that the loonies in the Islamic world has exhibited due to the Pope's use of Emperor Manuel's "evil and inhuman" characterisation. Incidentally, I have yet to hear someone comment on whether the Emperor was using good, old-fashioned Greek hyperbole here to hammer home his point. Khoury, alluded to it, in the interview you can read in Fr. Tucker's second article I linked to above.

So what can be done about the "rage," summed up neatly by Mark Shea? I have a novel solution. We must fight back with a weapon so powerful, no amount of suicide bombs can match its might. We must Love our Muslim brothers and sisters exponentially greater than their worst offenders hate us. Love is the ultimate weapon that defeated sin and death, and it is the weapon we must employ now to calm even the most ire-filled heart.

To that end, I have been saying full rosaries for the Pope, Conversions of Sinners, and the Calming of Passions amongst our Brothers and Sisters of the Qu'ran. Though I am but a simple minnow of little importance, I would like to make a request that the Sacrament of Love be offered wherever possible for these or other similar intentions. Because it is the ultimate act of Love, where our Saviour laid down his life for us, I think its power is more than sufficient to calm passions if even one such Eucharist is offered. Again, it is probably not my place, little minnow that I am, to make this request ... but if it can be made, I would that it were effected and soon.

Until the passions are calmed, and that genuine dialogue so needed takes place, I will continue to say my little rosaries ...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Happy Whitsun

I know I have been woefully remiss in keeping this blog up to date. The constraints of time being what they are, it is difficult to squeeze in everything one wants to do in a whole day. Still, I was inspired to write by today's second reading at Mass.

Paul's letter to the Galatians has ...

Paul's letter to the Galatians has a profound message for us.

live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. (Galatians 5:16-17)
This directly relates Pentecost to the latest encyclical by the Holy Father. As a digression, I had so desired to write about that at the time he published it, but alas for time. Back to the quote. Pentecost is the day we celebrate the birth of the Church, because the promised Paraclete came to rest with the Apostles. In turn, the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, confers certain gifts upon whom he is bestowed. One of the great gifts the Church has received, is the great ability to witness to Love.

In the Encyclical, the Holy Father discusses the fact that the Church tries to lead all Men from eros to caritas. Put simply, the Church speaking for the Holy Ghost, calls us to leave the passions behind to ascend to the selfless love of the other. As the Pontiff rightly points out, this has the effect sometimes of making us seem as if we enjoy going into the bedroom blowing a whistle on people's activities. The reality is that we desire to show Men the way upward.

Now, where do we get the idea that the carnal desires of the flesh will do little to save Man? Where do we get the idea that we must selflessly love our brothers and sisters as we love ourselves? Principally we learn it from the Inspired Scripture, like the one I quoted above. In fact, Paul has an important lesson here for us. It is the prompting of the Holy Ghost within us also that calls us to leave the warring with carnality behind. But the Church's view also comes from its long experience and its common sense.

Consider that at its most basic level, eros is the using of another person for one's own pleasure. Carnal desire is, at its most basic level, selfish love. Caritas, therefore, is the goal to which we are called, because it lifts us from same level as the brutes to a higher, more noble level.

That is not to say that eros is behind every ill, but it is behind many. When we desires others' bodies for own momentary gratification, it suggests a general disregard for our fellow brothers and sisters. This then helps to explain how it is Man can be so cruel to other Men, and why we seem to value others so cheaply.

And that is what the Church so desires, as does the Holy Ghost who guides Her. In order for their to be true selfless charity, Man must leave behind the passions of the beasts and take on the selfless love of others.

So, on this Whitsun, I was mindful of this idea, because the clarion call of the Paraclete is little discussed in our sermons and homilies. Indeed, the Paraclete Himself seems more notable for His absence than His inclusion is those sermons and homilies.


And now for something completely off-topic. There was a terrible, horrible crime committed at Mass today. It was a crime against the English language. The English language was brutally assaulted during the Sequence. Here is the translation as it appeared in my Missal:

In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

As you can see the rhyme scheme is pretty obvious ... aab ccb dde etc. So, what is that abomination "yours" doing there? It should be thine! Thine, you fools! This smacks of those condescending idiots who think that to make God more accessible, he must be made stupid. "Those poor, simple folk in the pews can't understand 'thine'! Let's make it 'yours'!" Of course "we have naught" is perfectly intelligible but "thine" is not. Idiots! Leave it alone! The English language is perfectly lovely when used properly. Abuse it like this, and all you get is a conviction for aggravated assault. Dreadful.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Thought on the Epiphany

So while I was at Mass, I had a thought about what else the Epiphany means to us today.

Epiphany means "manifestation" ...Epiphany means "manifestation," and we call it this because Christ was made manifest as King and Saviour to the Gentile Magi. And that's certainly the way it was portrayed in today's homily.

Generally, it is often pointed out that it was Gentile Magi using a method proscribed in Judaism (Astrology) to come to Christ. It is part of St. Matthew's wider purpose of showing that Jesus came to the Jews who did not always recognise the signs that point to Him, and then to the Gentiles of whose number some find it easier to see the signs. And while I think that's all well and good ... I think there's something even more profound about this image.

You see, I think this prefigures the Eucharist. Every time the priest says "hoc est enim Corpus meum," Christ becomes really present. That is to say, he becomes manifest. And just as Christ's full majesty was "hidden" by His human body, so too is the Majesty of Christ "hidden" from us by the accidents of bread and wine.

That is what I think is most profound in this historical instance. Not only did the Magi fulfill Old Testament Prophecy, as the Holy Father points out, by their coming. But they and we have a powerful image of Christ's lasting legacy to the World: his death which redeemed us. And this same redemptive death -- the one died once and for all -- is made present, made manifest to us each time the Mass is celebrated.

Pope's Epiphany Message

Story from Zenit

I gather Zenit doesn't always "permalink" their pieces, and so some disappear. For that reason, I will have the full text after the break.

Dear Brothers and Sisters ...

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, namely, his manifestation to the Gentiles, represented by the Wise Men, mysterious people who came from the East, of which the Gospel according to Matthew speaks (Matthew 2:1-12). The Magi's worship of Jesus was recognized immediately as fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures. "And nations shall come to your light," we read in the Book of Isaiah, "and kings to the brightness of your rising. … They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord" (Isaiah 60:3,6). The light of Christ, which the cave of Bethlehem contained, today expands in all its universal splendor. My thoughts go particularly to the beloved brothers and sisters of the Oriental Churches who, following the Julian calendar, celebrate today holy Christmas: I address to them my most cordial greetings of peace and goodness in the Lord.

It seems spontaneous to recall today World Youth Day. Last August, it gathered in Cologne more than 1 million young people, who raised as their motto the Magi's words in reference to Jesus: "We Have Come to Worship Him" (Matthew 2:2). How many times we have heard and repeated them! Now we cannot hear them without returning spiritually to that memorable event that represented a genuine "epiphany." In fact, the pilgrimage of young people in its most profound dimension, can be seen as an itinerary guided by the light of a "star," by the light of faith. And today I want to extend to the whole Church the message that I then proposed to young people gathered on the banks of the Rhine River: "Open wide your hearts to God; let yourselves be astonished by Christ! Open the doors of your freedom to his merciful love! Show Christ your joys and sorrows, allowing him to illuminate your mind with his light and touch your hearts with his grace" (Address of Aug. 18, 2005).

I would like the entire Church to breathe, as in Cologne, the atmosphere of "epiphany," and of genuine missionary commitment aroused by the manifestation of Christ, light of the world, sent by God the Father to reconcile and unify humanity with the force of love. With this spirit, let us pray with fervor for full Christian unity so that their testimony will become the leaven of communion for the whole world. For this reason, let us invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.

[After praying the Angelus, the Pope said:]

On the feast of the Epiphany, Children's Missionary Day is celebrated, established by Pope Pius XII, of happy memory. With the theme "Children Help Children," thousands of initiatives of solidarity are supported by the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood, teaching children to grow with a spirit of openness to the world and of attention to the difficulties of their more underprivileged contemporaries. For my ministry, I also count on the prayer of children and on their active participation in the mission of the Church.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at this Angelus. The Epiphany of Our Lord is the manifestation of Jesus as the divine Savior for people of all races and nations. May Christians everywhere deepen their personal communion with Christ, and bear constant witness to the Gospel of God's universal love!

Pope Named Anti-Gay Person of the Year

The story

There was, predictably, no response from the Vatican.

Probably because it's not terribly surprising.

Bartholomew Will Meet Pope

The Story

This is good news that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet the Holy Father. I pray earnestly for the time when East and West are one.

On John Burns' Piece Ridiculing the Church

I have decided to respond to the Times piece by John Burns "Irrational belief won't go out on a limbo"

The short response? Stupid.

The longer response will be after the break.

This is one of those pieces ...This is one of those pieces that causes me no end to exasperation, simply because very smart people can be so horribly ignorant.

If you've read the piece you know it is riddled with inaccuracies, ad hominem, and so forth. It represents a failure to apply critical thinking under precisely the opposite guise.

As I blogged earlier, Limbo has never been a tenet of the faith, but rather a construct to reconcile an apparent contradiction. John Burn seems unaware that the only other options available are a lot harsher than Limbo if we take seriously Christ's admonition that only by Baptism are we to enter into Heaven. Burns is aware of John Calvin's view of the matter? Here's a little hint, it involve a place with lots of fire, brimstone, adamantine chains etc. The Catholic Church's attempt to reconcile God's bountiful love with Christ's words is actually a pretty decent way of going about it, in my honest opinion.

In any case, let me take some of his points in detail.

For those who have forgotten their penny catechism, a quick recap. Your soul can go in five directions after death: heaven, hell, purgatory and limbo. That may sound like four, but limbo is actually a two-tier society. There's limbus patrum where holy men before the birth of Jesus are confined. Prominent residents would include Moses and Solomon. Then there's limbus infantium, where unbaptised children are sent because original sin excludes them from heaven.

This is wonderfully cartoonish view of Catholic belief. I must dispel Mr. Burns' views, but there are only two directions after death: up and down. Purgatory is a process or a place by which souls are purged, so that the admonition that "nothing impure may enter in" in the Apocalypse (Apoc 21:27) can be satisfied (or more technically, remitting the temporal punishment due to sin). But all those in or undergoing Purgation are going to Heaven, guaranteed.

All right, so limbus patrum is now closed the gates were shut around 33AD. But the other limbo won't be around for much longer either. An international commission of theologians will shortly recommend to Pope Benedict that it be abolished. The Pope is expected to agree.

Aside from the "won't be around for much longer" crack, so far so good.

It is instructive, both to Catholics and the rest of us, how easily the Vatican can discard tenets of the faith when it suits. In 1905 Pope Pius X, later canonised, said: "“Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer, either."” Now it seems this pope wasn't speaking infallibly; it may have been a case of papal bull. One of his successors, John Paul II, referring to the victims of abortion, said that the church actually "doesn't know the fate of unbaptised infants"”.

Emphasis mine.

Tsk tsk tsk. Now we have it. As I have said before, Limbo is not a tenant of the Faith. You won't find it in the creeds or any of the official pronouncements of the Church as dogmatically defined. You'll certainly find it in the Baltimore Catechism, but it's over a hundred years old, and has been replaced by the new Catechism. Therefore, if limbo is not a tenet, I don't see that Burns has a point here. He also confuses infallibility with the common misconception that anything the Pope says is treated as infallible.

Let's settle the matter, by showing what would constitute the conditions of the definition:

According to the teaching of the First Vatican Council and Catholic tradition, the conditions required for ex cathedra teaching are as follows:

  1. The pope must teach in his public and official capacity as spiritual head of the Church universal, not merely in his private capacity as a theologian.

  2. He must be teaching some doctrine of faith or morals in a manner that explicitly and solemnly defines an issue.

  3. His teaching cannot contradict anything the Church has taught officially and previously.

  4. It must be evident that he intends to teach with his supreme Apostolic authority. In other words, he must convey his wish to determine some point of doctrine in an absolutely final and irrevocable way. There are well-recognized formulas that are used to express this intention, such as "We declare, decree and define, . . .".

  5. It must be clear that the Pope intends to bind the whole Church. Unless the Pope formally addresses the whole Church in the recognized official way, he is assumed to not intend his teaching to be ex cathedra and infallible (unless he is reiterating what has always been taught).

We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable (see Denziger §1839).
-- Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Const. de Ecclesia¢ Christi, chapter iv

Now, onto the issue of "papal bull". That's a nice bit of ad hominem, but I think I've been able to sufficiently show it's not Papal bull we're dealing with.

I'll deal with the John Paul II bit later.

The teaching on limbo caused untold misery to millions of parents whose children died without being baptised. Sometimes they were even denied burial on "consecrated ground".

Sources? Citations? References? If one is able to quote Pio Nono, one is able to quote other things. And as I have written previously ... surely it is infinitely worse to say that "Sorry, Mary, your baby went to Hell" rather than "Your baby is in a realm of infinite joy." Incidentally, John Burns may be enlightened to know that the only thing Limbo doesn't contain that people in Heaven experience is the Beatific Vision of God. It's not a miserable, horrible place. (notwithstanding it's just a construct, for those who believed, this is what they believed.)

It wasn't just babies. As the Catholic church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, all fertilised eggs and unborn foetuses have souls. And those that don't go full-term and get baptised also languish in limbo. Consider how crowded it must be. It will be fascinating to hear Pope Benedict explain what is to become of these denizens of limbo when the church closes it down.

This is just being silly. If we really had infallibly taught that Limbo existed, then it would -- I guess -- be a case of "closing something down." But let's stop with the hyperbole and silliness, shall we? It really doesn't serve an argument well to be so sophomoric.

Why go to all this theological trouble? Why not, as it has done before, allow an out-of-date teaching to slip out of the catechism without telling anyone?

One explanation is that the Catholic church is heavily recruiting in Third World countries where rates of infant mortality are high. You won't win many converts in Africa teaching that unbaptised babies who die of Aids, malnutrition and malaria never get to heaven.

Now I understand, since all our motives are evil, we have a cynical reason behind this! I'm so glad I had John Burns to tell me this. On the other hand, a more evenhanded approach might be to acknowledge that this is part of a conversation that has been ongoing for millennia? Aquinas put his head to it, others and such, up to the present day. Hmmm. The latter seems to be more intellectually satisfying.

There is little doubt but that the sheer unpopularity of limbo among the laity is prompting the Vatican's rethink. Imagine how uncomfortable an unmarried priest or bishop would be explaining to a mother, grief-stricken by the death of her infant, that, sorry, but the rules say you can't be reunited with your baby in the afterlife, and the dead infant is never going to see God either. Try passing around the money basket after that.

emphasis mine

Source? Citation? Unpopular huh? I don't know how many people are even aware that Limbo is still an issue. I have been told by my own acquaintances that Vatican II did away with Limbo (it didn't). So, given that so few even realise it's still an issue, just how unpopular can it be? Or does unpopular mean "not held by the populace"?

His question that follows show a singular lack of knowledge about how Pastoral care is administered (and has been administered through the Ages). I think it's safer to say that anyone worth their pastoral salt would give out something along these lines:

As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God, who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children, which caused him to say, 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them' [Mark 10:14, cf. 1 Tim. 2:4], allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism.
CCC #1261; emphasis mine

Pssst, John, that's from the current Catechism. This is John Paul II's teaching on the subject.

Notice the cynicism again with passing the plate?

Of course many clergy bottled it, and told mothers that if they intended to get the child baptised, that was good enough. The infant would go to heaven on the strength of this "baptism of desire".

An oversimplification of baptism by desire. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia actually has a good article on the subject. The desire is on the part of the would-be recipient of baptism, not anyone else. What priests and bishops would have told parents is much closer to what I quoted from today's catechism.

But more importantly is that "Limbo" was really something created by Theologians to serve a purpose. It would not have been thrown out at parents like a hammer to bludgeon them with. That was not its purpose, and would not have been used for that purpose except by the greenest of curates (who would almost certainly learn quickly what not to do by more senior priests).

Dropping limbo is not without problems. Baptism is bound to decrease in popularity. There's a bit of theological housekeeping to be done; some catechisms to rewrite. But the church has figured out how to do it. In 1984, when the pope was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's doctrinal division, he said: "Limbo has never been a defined truth of faith. Personally, speaking as a theologian and not as head of the congregation, I would drop something that has always been only a theological hypothesis."

emphasis mine

Right, John, the only reason most Catholics get their babies baptised is over Limbo. Oh wait, most Catholics don't even know about Limbo, so uhhhhh ... your logic is kind of ... And of course, it's entirely impossible that parents would want to bring their children up in the Faith, beginning that process by sacramental process that not only removes the stain of original sin, but also makes them part of the community of believers? That last bit is completely impossible, right?

The rest of the paragraph is meant to indicate that the Church has had a wee rethink and declared a doctrine only an hypothesis. This would be shocking if it were not a lie. As I have said before, Limbo was never doctrinal, dogmatic, a tenet etc. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict) was not out on a limb; just woke up one day and declared it an hypothesis. This has been an ongoing conversation for decades.

So hypotheses can be dropped. But that begs the question: what else is disposable? Nonbelievers would say, of course, that it's all a hypothesis, and not a convincing one. But even using the Bible as a bedrock, it is clear that many of the church's more contentious doctrines were iffy interpretations of scripture, some as recent as the Middle Ages.

The word purgatory does not appear in the Bible. It, too, is a theological hypothesis. You won't find "trinity" there either. But what about the ban on women priests or the categorisation of homosexuality as evil? Both hypotheses which could be stuck in the bin with limbo.

This is misdirection without attribution. While purgatory may not specifically be mentioned by name, the process is mentioned by Christ himself, and later by St Paul: (Mt 5:26, and 1 Cor 3:13-15 to name but two of many). The same is true of the Trinity. Again, while not mentioned using that term, the concept is certainly present at Christ's baptism, during his Discourse in the Gospel of John where he promises the Paraklete ... etc. They are therefore in the deposit of Faith, and are not going anywhere.

Now that people power has been shown to work in the church, however slowly, can we expect other unpopular doctrines to fall by the wayside? The outright ban on artificial contraception is rejected or ignored by 99% of the laity. Some softening of this dogma over the next few decades seems inevitable. Similarly, the church’s opposition to divorce and remarriage is a source of dissatisfaction to many within its ranks, particularly as it runs a parallel system of annulment

I'd definitely like a citation for that 99% figure. Shall I just politely say, I think it is not substantiated by any scholarly findings?

I am still not entirely sure how this concept was a) unpopular and b) done away with via people power. It seems if his argument is based on this, then it is a weak argument, as I have shown.

Of course determined popes, such as the last one, can see off internal pressure to soften unpopular political stances. But the church must face up to the problem that, as science and technology push back the boundary of what is known, and as growing affluence and self-fulfillment increase personal expectations, more of its teachings will be ignored or rejected by members. Literal belief in tenets such as transubstantiation, the birth in the stable at Bethlehem, and hell is already low, are likely to decline.

Or increase. Science has in fact performed transubstantiation of a sort, John. Yes, you see "substance" in philosophy are all of those qualities which are necessary to an object. I like using the example of gold. Being a "metal" is a necessary quality of gold. Take away it's being metal, and it ceases to be gold. Similarly, Science tells us that the number of protons are a necessary quality. And Science has been able to change that "substance" by atom smashing. So I am not sure that Science is actually on course to disprove all that we believe, sorry. Nor is it the case that if 1 billion people stop believing that 2+2=4 it will cease to be true. So is it with those Truths which the Catholic Church has taught and held infallibly through the ages.

At some point in the future a critical mass of the church’s own members, still holding a basic belief in God and the afterlife, may reject enough of the church’s teachings to cause a general theological rethink.

We've tried this before, John. Look up Aryanism, Neopalagianism and others. And the Catholic Church? Still here.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But consider that Bishop Willie Walsh, who recently spoke out trenchantly against the imposition of celibacy on priests, has been disciplined by neither Rome nor Armagh. His comments could scarcely have been a more direct challenge, albeit to a "theological hypothesis." The priesthood should be open to both married and celibate priests, he said, urging a full debate on this "very serious question".

I don't know the circumstances of the specific instance he refers to. But celibacy isn't doctrinal; it's a discipline. One blessed by Christ, certainly (cf Mt 19:10-12) and recommended by St. Paul (cf 1 Cor 7:7-8). But disciplines like in what language the Mass is said or sung or priestly celibacy can be changed.

In any case, I can find where the Bishop of Killaloe speaks of about the sex abuse scandal, but I am unable at this time to see what he actually said about celibacy.

Ten years ago, one of his colleagues, Brendan Comiskey, was summoned to the Vatican for making similar comments. Walsh is unlikely to suffer this fate. If the Vatican doesn't already realise, then Archbishop Diarmuid Martin can explain to them that in the aftermath of the Ferns report on child sexual abuse, this wouldn't be a good time to discipline an Irish bishop for saying in public what many of the "faithful" believe in private.

Although I don't know the precise circumstances again about Bishop Comiskey, I do know this (from RTE):

In 1995, as the Father Brendan Smyth controversy raged, Bishop Comiskey challenged the Vatican's ban on married priests and was summoned to Rome. Before he could go, he created a sensation by leaving Ferns in September of that year, saying he was taking a sabbatical of three months.

That suggests he was summoned to Rome because of more than just the comments. It's also not clear just what "the faithful" believe in private, since no citations are provided.

Religious belief will always be with us. It doesn't just satisfy a deep human desire; belief may even be an evolutionary construct. More than anything, religion gives a sense of community; people coming together to celebrate and mourn at intervals in their lives. For centuries, the Catholic church heaped cruel "theological hypotheses" on their members' heads, insisting that they believe in everything from the eternal fires of hell to the sun going round the earth, to unbaptised babies floating for ever out of reach of God and their parents.

This is the current, en vogue materialistic explanation of "belief." Good thing Faith isn't just belief. Faith is any assent to the Truth, John. You can, you may be surprised to learn, arrive at it purely via human reason. That's just as much Faith as the "blind belief" so many equate with the word Faith.

Notice however, he combines three things under a heading of "theological hypotheses" when only one of those fits the bill. Hell is not an hypothesis; it's an essential tenet of the Faith. The whole heliocentrism/geocentrism is so casually dismissed as to be funny. John, you may be surprised to learn Copernicus was a churchman. No joke. Moreover other senior prelates encouraged him to publish his heliocentric observations. Amazing! Galileo's problems had as much to do with his personality as his science: saying his observations disproved the book of Joshua and therefore the whole Bible, and calling the Pope an idiot. His case wasn't helped that the senior scholar in the world called him a crank.

With limbo going the way of the geocentric universe and the Latin mass, we can presumably look forward to a more realistic and human church. And if you believe that, you'll believe in anything. Even limbo.

John final thought. We're not only a human Church, we're also sacramental. And it has worked well for us for millennia; so we're going to keep it. Thanks.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sharon has good chance of survival: surgeon

The story.

As you all know, this is being widely reported as the end of Sharon's political career at the very least (also). Such a tower of Israeli politics. The question will be this: is there anyone with the courage and willpower to make peace with the Palestinians? Sharon was the sort of person for whom "Only Nixon could go to China" would become "Only Sharon could make peace with the Palestinian."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

I wish you all a Happy New Year. And for your reflection, I give you the Holy Father;s words for the World Day of Peace, which also happens to be the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God ... which commemorates not only the fact that Mary gave birth to the Second Person of the Trinity, but also the definition of that dogma in 431 at the Council of Ephesus. There she was proclaimed at Theotokos - God bearer, to separate her from the claims that she gave birth to a mere human, an exceptional human, but only a human. The Church lifted her on high not to give her Glory alone, but to give Christ Glory while at the same time "honouring His mother."