Monday, May 31, 2004

Those crazy Germans...

Just to prove that my interests extend beyond the field of Trinitarian Theology, I present German dancing birds. For those who don't read Italian, the caption explains that the intention is to provoke a good harvest. Vorsprung durch Technik !


The Anglican 'blogger Pontifications has an article on the Filioque clause. Needless to say he writes from neither a Roman nor an Eastern Orthodox point of view, but the tone of his article suggests that the Filioque is something that Anglicanism is undecided on! I would have thought that as part of the Western theological tradition that the Filioque would be fairly well established in Anglicanism, but it's not something I've ever considered before.

Anyway, I might put together a proper post on the Filioque controversy myself at some stage, but due to lack of time cannot now. However, the following are some points which (to my mind) help justify the Filioque as a doctrine.

1. It is well established that the Latin word 'processio' (procession) is used to translate a Greek work which does not exactly have an identical meaning. The Greek word for procession implies procession from one point, the Latin 'processio' does not require this. Imagine a train which leaves Milan, goes to Florence and then to Rome. A Roman might say that this train proceeded from Milan and Florence. In Greek one could not say this - the train proceeded from Milan, but not Florence. Our hypothetical Roman and Greek have exactly the same understanding of what the train does and where the train goes, but for valid linguistic reasons the Greek cannot and should not say that it proceeds from Milan and Florence.
This difference of meaning was already well known by the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, and formed the basis for the abortive agreement between East and West at the Council of Florence.

2. It is possible therefore to talk of a shared understanding of the Trinity with much of the Eastern Orthodox world, even if there are linguistic reasons which impede its expression. However, there are some Eastern schools of Theology which will not even admit the above. They deny our ability to deduce the dual procession from the history of salvation. The West argues that from the life of Jesus Christ and the early church we see that the Holy Spirit is the spirit both of the Father and of the Son, and that both the Father and the Son are said to send it. Therefore, without denying the Father's role as font of divinity, the Holy Spirit can be said to proceed from both the Father and the Son. Some strands of the Eastern tradition do not allow this argument from the story of salvation back to the immanent relationships within the Trinity, but this quickly leads us to ask whether we are also impeded from deducing the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity from the life of Jesus Christ?

3. There are also theological arguments regarding whether without asserting the Filioque clause we make of the Holy Spirit a 'second son' and deny the uniqueness of the Father-Son relationship, but these are not conducive to brief presentation.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Church Politics...

I was very struck of late to read the Third Epistle of St. John.

It's only 15 verses long, but it says a huge amount about human nature. We, perhaps, are sometimes capitvated by the picture of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles - we imagine the community of believers living together in harmony, converts streaming to join them and the apostles working wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sure, there are disagreements and St. Paul encounters more than his fair share of troubles, but it's hard not to draw unflattering comparisions with the Church of today.

St. John's Third Epistle should provide a corrective to this nostalgia. The Elder sends greetings to Gaius and bemoans the fact that he is unable to communicate directly to the local church due to the obstinacy and disobedience of Diotrephes, presumably a local Bishop or pastor. Diotrephes even refuses to provide hospitality to the elder's brethern and even tries to eject those who would provide such hospitality. So grave is the situation that the elder will not commit all his thoughts to paper!
Divisions, infighting, disobedience and a lack of charity - I'm sure that it's easy to identify these fruits of original sin in so many organizations today, and its a particular scandal to find them within the church.

It is customary to attribute the epistle to St. John the Evangelist, thus dating it within the first century AD. Modern scholarship suggests that it may instead be the work of one of his immediate sucessors of the 'Johannine School,' but still put a relatively early date on it, i.e. c.100AD. Somehow it seems easier to accept the latter - the idea of the Beloved Disciple being so shabbily treated by one of his daugher churches is most distasteful. Whatever the case, I am reminded of a priest who once commented that the church was only ever united for the 15 minutes after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Of course we shouldn't be downcast or (worse) fatalistic - whatever the shortcomings of Christ's somewhat motley flock on earth, today we remember that guided by His Spirit, nourished by His Word and sustained by His Sacraments the Church herself will be what she most fittingly is, His spotless bride.


1. New commenting system up and running, thanks to Haloscan.

2. The Italian police have issued a photofit of what they think Bernardo 'the Tractor' Provenzano looks like. This mafia boss is Italy's 'most wanted man' and has been on the run for the past 40 years! The Independent has an interesting article on how he has 'reformed' the Sicilian mafia.

3. It's not a rare thing to see the English language used in an unusual manner here in Rome on menus, shop titles, etc. However, it's nothing compared to what one finds at

30 May 1847

Not wanting to steal Quenta Nârwenion's thunder, but the fact that 157 years ago John Henry Newman was ordained to the priesthood in Rome serves as an excellent excuse to reproduce one of his best-known meditations:
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Dominica Pentecostes

In the current Liturgia Horarum for the period from the feast of the Ascension up to and including Pentecost the vespers hymn is Bl. Rabanus Maurus's great pneumatological work Veni Creator Spiritus.

Maurus predates the charasmatic movement by several centuries, being born in the German city of Mainz in about 776. A great scholar, he became a head-master (he was given the title 'Teacher of Germany') and later the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Fulda. Under his stewardship the abbey flourished, and eventually he was made Archbishop of Mainz (845), one of the most influential European sees. As well as for scholarship, Maurus was also known for his generosity to the poor. Apart from his hymnody, he was a well known theological writer and most interestingly also found the time to write De rerum naturis, also known as De universo. This is a fascinating encylopaedia (in relatively simple Latin) with entires on such diverse topics as 'God', 'Fish', 'Mountains', 'Gold', 'Marriage', 'Pagans' and 'Public Buildings'. He died near Mainz in 856.

As well as being sung as part of the office at this time of year, the Veni Creator forms part of the ritual for ordination ceremonies and may fittingly be used at any time when the invocation of the Holy Spirit is particularly appropriate. According to the 1968 Enchiridion of Indulgences a partial indulgence attaches to the Veni Creator, with a plenary indulgence for public recitation on Pentecost or New Year's Day.

According to the Catholic Encylopedia there used to be an alternative doxology at the end of the hymn which was suppressed in 1899. Curiously, the current Editio Typica of the Breviary does not include either doxology, presumably because the penultimate verse of the hymn is sufficently Trinitarian:
Per te sciamus da Patrem,
noscamus atque Filium;
Te utriusque Spiritum
credamus omni tempore.

However, anyone who has ever seen Poulenc's opera Dialogues des Carmélites will keenly miss the traditional doxology which is chillingly sung by Blanche de la Force as she suffers martyrdom at the guillotine.
Deo Patri sit gloria,
et Filio, qui a mortuis
surrexit, ac Paraclito,
in saeculorum saecula.

Courtesy of the Corriera della Sera

Chinese acupuncturist sets new world record - 2008 pins in his face to mark the upcoming Olympic Games in Peking. (Does it hurt? Only when I laugh...)

Further Anglican Difficulties...

Via Don Jim and Pontifications I came across the following lecture by Edward Norman.

Edward Norman first came to my attention in this Daily Telegraph article. This prompted me to buy his new book Anglican Difficulties - A New Syllabus of Errors.(With a title like that, Canon Norman's conversion is hardly a surprise!)
I'm ashamed to say that I derived quite some pleasure from reading the book - Anglican-bashing is a vice I fall into all too easily. Still, as one can imagine, this former Chancellor of York Minster and Fellow of Porterhouse has written a very erudite presentation of his thesis, i.e. that Anglicanism lacks a coherent basis of authority.

The book itself, in its arguments, is an expansion of Norman's essay above and is peppered with dry observations regarding Anglicanism's seemingly pathological aversion to conflict and the exercise of authority. It is interesting to note how much emphasis he puts on the loss of the Book of Common Prayer as the standard for Anglican Worship as being both a symptom of an exacerbating factor with regarding to Anglicanism's dissolution.

We are well aware of Anglicanism's current difficulties with regard to homosexuality amongst the laity and the episcopate. Norman takes up this point and unsurprisingly fingers the 1930 Lambeth Conference's position on contraception as being a key step in Anglicanism distancing itself from traditional Christian morality. He also mentions the lesser known 1958 Lambeth Conference which explicitly promoted 'responsible parenthood'.
He continues:
Debate on these occasions was much hedged about with consideration of possible medical conditions, or the size of exisiting families. After 1958, however, there was a rapid advance to the seperation of sexual relations within marriage from moral constraints of any sort, and in the era of AIDS, from the 1980s, churchmen were reccomending contraception to those engaging in promiscuous sexual encounters with no reference to married life at all. For a couple of years after the 1958 Lambeth Conference the largest manufacturer of contraceptives in England included the Lambeth resolutions in each packet - perhaps the last occasion in English history on which the Church will receive the endorsement of the popular culture. (Anglican Difficulties, 57, emphasis mine)

Whilst it may be more enjoyable to smirk over Anglicanism's confusion in the sphere of sexual morality, this, of course, isn't the key issue at all. When one considers the consecration of Gene Robinson for example, from a Catholic point of view the fact that he is a practicing homosexual is certainly a great scandal, but the consecration of notorious sinners as bishops is not without precedent and should not affect the validity of the 'ordination'. (I don't admit the validity of Anglican orders, but if one did one could hardly deny the fact of Robinson's ordination.)

To my mind, more telling issues (and Norman discusses these too) are the Gorham Judgement and the Jerusalem Bishopric controversy. This latter was a proposed alliance (for political reasons) between the Church of England and the German Lutherans (who had no episcopacy!) to erect a common see at Jerusalem. The occupancy of the see would alternate between the Anglicans and the Luterans. For obvious reasons this plan pressed Newman to consider that the bishops of the Church of England, by their behaviour, were revealing themselves not to be true successors of the apostles. As Newman descibes in his Apologia pro Vita Sua:

I think I am right in saying that it had been long a desire with the Prussian Court to introduce Episcopacy into the new Evangelical Religion, which was intended in that country to embrace both the Lutheran and Calvinistic bodies. I almost think I heard of the project, when I was at Rome in 1833, at the Hotel of the Prussian Minister, M. Bunsen, who was most hospitable and kind, as to other English visitors, so also to my friends and myself. The idea of Episcopacy, as the Prussian king understood it, was, I suppose, very different from that taught in the Tractarian School; but still, I suppose also, that the chief authors of that school would have gladly seen such a measure carried out in Prussia, had it been done without compromising those principles which were necessary to the being of a Church. About the time of the publication of Tract 90, M. Bunsen and the then Archbishop of Canterbury were taking steps for its execution, by appointing and consecrating a Bishop for Jerusalem. Jerusalem, it would seem, was considered a safe place for the experiment; it was too far from Prussia to awaken the susceptibilities of any party at home; if the project failed, it failed without harm to any one; and, if it succeeded, it gave Protestantism a status in the East, which, in association with the Monophysite or Jacobite and the Nestorian bodies, formed a political instrument for England, parallel to that which Russia had in the Greek Church and France in the Latin.

Accordingly, in July 1841, full of the Anglican difficulty on the question of Catholicity, I thus spoke of the Jerusalem scheme in an Article in the British Critic: "When our thoughts turn to the East, instead of recollecting that there are Christian Churches there, we leave it to the Russians to take care of the Greeks, and the French to take care of the Romans, and we content ourselves with erecting a Protestant Church at Jerusalem, or with helping the Jews to rebuild their Temple there, or with becoming the august protectors of Nestorians, Monophysites, and all the heretics we can hear of, or with forming a league with the Mussulman against Greeks and Romans together."

I do not pretend, so long after the time, to give a full or exact account of this measure in detail. I will but say that in the Act of Parliament, under date of October 5, 1841, (if the copy, from which I quote, contains the measure as it passed the Houses,) provision is made for the consecration of "British subjects, or the subjects or citizens of any foreign state, to be Bishops in any foreign country, whether such foreign subjects or citizens be or be not subjects or citizens of the country in which they are to act, and … without requiring such of them as may be subjects or citizens of any foreign kingdom or state to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and the oath of due obedience to the Archbishop for the time being" … also "that such Bishop or Bishops, so consecrated, may exercise, within such limits, as may from time to time be assigned for that purpose in such foreign countries by her Majesty, spiritual jurisdiction over the ministers of British congregations of the United Church of England and Ireland, and over such other Protestant Congregations, as may be desirous of placing themselves under his or their authority."

Now here, at the very time that the Anglican Bishops were directing their censure upon me for avowing an approach to the Catholic Church not closer than I believed the Anglican formularies would allow, they were on the other hand, fraternizing, by their act or by their sufferance, with Protestant bodies, and allowing them to put themselves under an Anglican Bishop, without any renunciation of their errors or regard to their due reception of baptism and confirmation; while there was great reason to suppose that the said Bishop was intended to make converts from the orthodox Greeks, and the schismatical Oriental bodies, by means of the influence of England. This was the third blow, which finally shattered my faith in the Anglican Church. That Church was not only forbidding any sympathy or concurrence with the Church of Rome, but it actually was courting an intercommunion with Protestant Prussia and the heresy of the Orientals. The Anglican Church might have the Apostolical succession, as had the Monophysites; but such acts as were in progress led me to the gravest suspicion, not that it would soon cease to be a Church, but that, since the 16th century, it had never been a Church all along.

On October 12th I thus wrote to Mr. Bowden:—"We have not a single Anglican in Jerusalem; so we are sending a Bishop to make a communion, not to govern our own people. Next, the excuse is, that there are converted Anglican Jews there who require a Bishop; I am told there are not half-a-dozen. But for them the Bishop is sent out, and for them he is a Bishop of the circumcision" (I think he was a converted Jew, who boasted of his Jewish descent), "against the Epistle to the Galatians pretty nearly. Thirdly, for the sake of Prussia, he is to take under him all the foreign Protestants who will come; and the political advantages will be so great, from the influence of England, that there is no doubt they will come. They are to sign the Confession of Augsburg, and there is nothing to show that they hold the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration.

"As to myself, I shall do nothing whatever publicly, unless indeed it were to give my signature to a Protest; but I think it would be out of place in me to agitate, having been in a way silenced; but the Archbishop is really doing most grave work, of which we cannot see the end."

I did make a solemn Protest, and sent it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and also sent it to my own Bishop, with the following letter:—

"It seems as if I were never to write to your Lordship, without giving you pain, and I know that my present subject does not specially concern your Lordship; yet, after a great deal of anxious thought, I lay before you the enclosed Protest.

"Your Lordship will observe that I am not asking for any notice of it, unless you think that I ought to receive one. I do this very serious act in obedience to my sense of duty.

"If the English Church is to enter on a new course, and assume a new aspect, it will be more pleasant to me hereafter to think, that I did not suffer so grievous an event to happen, without bearing witness against it.

"May I be allowed to say, that I augur nothing but evil, if we in any respect prejudice our title to be a branch of the Apostolic Church? That Article of the Creed, I need hardly observe to your Lordship, is of such constraining power, that, if we will not claim it, and use it for ourselves, others will use it in their own behalf against us. Men who learn whether by means of documents or measures, whether from the statements or the acts of persons in authority, that our communion is not a branch of the One Church, I foresee with much grief, will be tempted to look out for that Church elsewhere.

"It is to me a subject of great dismay, that, as far as the Church has lately spoken out, on the subject of the opinions which I and others hold, those opinions are, not merely not sanctioned (for that I do not ask), but not even suffered.

"I earnestly hope that your Lordship will excuse my freedom in thus speaking to you of some members of your Most Rev. and Right Rev. Body. With every feeling of reverent attachment to your Lordship,
I am, &c."


"Whereas the Church of England has a claim on the allegiance of Catholic believers only on the ground of her own claim to be considered a branch of the Catholic Church:

"And whereas the recognition of heresy, indirect as well as direct, goes far to destroy such claim in the case of any religious body:

"And whereas to admit maintainers of heresy to communion, without formal renunciation of their errors, goes far towards recognizing the same:

"And whereas Lutheranism and Calvinism are heresies, repugnant to Scripture, springing up three centuries since, and anathematized by East as well as West:

"And whereas it is reported that the Most Reverend Primate and other Right Reverend Rulers of our Church have consecrated a Bishop with a view to exercising spiritual jurisdiction over Protestant, that is, Lutheran and Calvinist congregations in the East (under the provisions of an Act made in the last session of Parliament to amend an Act made in the 26th year of the reign of his Majesty King George the Third, intituled, 'An Act to empower the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Archbishop of York for the time being, to consecrate to the office of Bishop persons being subjects or citizens of countries out of his Majesty's dominions'), dispensing at the same time, not in particular cases and accidentally, but as if on principle and universally, with any abjuration of error on the part {146} of such congregations, and with any reconciliation to the Church on the part of the presiding Bishop; thereby giving some sort of formal recognition to the doctrines which such congregations maintain:

"And whereas the dioceses in England are connected together by so close an intercommunion, that what is done by authority in one, immediately affects the rest:

"On these grounds, I in my place, being a priest of the English Church and Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin's Oxford, by way of relieving my conscience, do hereby solemnly protest against the measure aforesaid, and disown it, as removing our Church from her present ground and tending to her disorganization.
"November 11, 1841."

Looking back two years afterwards on the above-mentioned and other acts, on the part of Anglican Ecclesiastical authorities, I observed: "Many a man might have held an abstract theory about the Catholic Church, to which it was difficult to adjust the Anglican,—might have admitted a suspicion, or even painful doubts about the latter,—yet never have been impelled onwards, had our Rulers preserved the quiescence of former years; but it is the corroboration of a present, living, and energetic heterodoxy, that realizes and makes such doubts practical; it has been the recent speeches and acts of authorities, who had so long been tolerant of Protestant error, which has given to inquiry and to theory its force and its edge."

As to the project of a Jerusalem Bishopric, I never heard of any good or harm it has ever done, except what it has done for me; which many think a great misfortune, and I one of the greatest of mercies. It brought me on to the beginning of the end.

The Gorham judgement of 1850 (i.e. after Newman's conversion) was a decision of the Privy Council to overturn a judgement of a Church of England ecclesiatical court on a doctrinal matter - viz. whether a Church of England clergyman need hold to baptismal generation. This judgement resulted in a further stream of conversions to Catholicism, amongst them Henry (later Cardinal) Manning.

In addition to the above, Norman also tackles such issues as liturgy, leadership, relationships within the Anglican communion and provides an interesting take on establishment and the desacralization of society. His overall message for the Church of England is bleak - he predicts a merely skeletal remenant will survive 'in small numbers, mostly unnoticed'.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Jasper Fforde will be releasing a new installment of Thursday Next's adventures in just a couple of month's time.

Personally I can't get enough of this Dodo-related madness!

(Edited to note Flos Carmeli's review of The Eyre Affair!))

On the Feast of St. Philip Neri (Co-Patron of Rome)

As is our custom, we visited the rooms of St. Philip at the Chiesa Nuova and were pleased to see a stream of pilgrims, lay and clerical, paying their respects to the great saint so beloved of Ven. John Henry Newman. St Philip was canonized along with St Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St Teresa of Avila and St. Isidore the Farmer. The Romans at the time said that on that day the Pope canonized four Spaniards and a Saint.

Newman composed several verses about St. Philip, amongst them being St. Philip in his Mission.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Australian Hymnody

My thurible won't come back,
My thurible won't come back,
I've swung those chains all over the place,
Practised till I was black in the face,
I'm a big disgrace to the clerical race,
My thurible won't come back.

Julian the Apostate

We are currently reading Abbot Giuseppe Riciotti's biography of the Emperor Julian the Apostate. Particularly interesting is Riciotti's theory that Julian's attempted reform the pagan priesthood was modeled on the administrative structure and moral qualities of the Christian priesthood.

Riciotti describes the pagan priests before Julian's accession as follows:
The unemployed priests who were recognizable in public by their woebegone look, were compelled to find various means of supporting themselves. In his letters Julian occasionally deplores the fact that such individuals made up the courts of the civil magistrates, frequented wine shops, theaters and even less worthy places, and allowed themselves to be caught in actions warranting public prosecution, while at the same time they appeared only rarely in the temples and even then did not know how to carry out their sacred chants and duties. - Julian the Apostate (155)

Last Mafia Don on Trial...

Per the Daily Telegraph.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England

One of Newman's most under-appreciated works in present days is the series of lectures he delivered in 1851 on the Position of Catholics in England. Directed against the prejudices of his Protestant countrymen, these fiercely satrical lectures display Newman's wit to its fullest extent, whilst putting paid to many of the liberal myths about Newman's ecclesiology.

His commentary on 'The Prejudiced Man' still holds for any number of people these days:
The Prejudiced man, then—for thus I shall personify that narrow, ungenerous spirit which energizes and operates so widely and so unweariedly in the Protestant community—the Prejudiced man takes it for granted, or feels an undoubting persuasion,—not only that he himself is in possession of divine truth, for this is a matter of opinion, and he has a right to his own,—but that we, who differ from him, are universally impostors, tyrants, hypocrites, cowards, and slaves. This is a first principle with him; it is like divine faith in the Catholic, nothing can shake it. If he meets with any story against Catholics, on any or no authority, which does but fall in with this notion of them, he eagerly catches at it. Authority goes for nothing; likelihood, as he considers it, does instead of testimony; what he is now told is just what he expected. Perhaps it is a random report, put into circulation merely because it has a chance of succeeding, or thrown like a straw to the wind: perhaps it is a mere publisher's speculation, who thinks that a narrative of horrors will pay well for the printing: it matters not, he is perfectly convinced of its truth; he knew all about it beforehand; it is just what he always has said; it is the old tale over again a hundred times. Accordingly he buys it by the thousand, and sends it about with all speed in every direction, to his circle of friends and acquaintance, to the newspapers, to the great speakers at public meetings; he fills the Sunday and week-day schools with it; loads the pedlars' baskets, perhaps introduces it into the family spiritual reading on Sunday evenings, consoled and comforted with the reflection that he has got something fresh and strong and undeniable, in evidence of the utter odiousness of the Catholic Religion.

Next comes an absolute, explicit, total denial or refutation of the precious calumny, whatever it may be, on unimpeachable authority. The Prejudiced Man simply discredits this denial, and puts it aside, not receiving any impression from it at all, or paying it the slightest attention. This, if he can: if he cannot, if it is urged upon him by some friend, or brought up against him by some opponent, he draws himself up, looks sternly at the objector, and then says the very same thing as before, only with a louder voice and more confident manner. He becomes more intensely and enthusiastically positive, by way of making up for the interruption, of braving the confutation, and of showing the world that nothing whatever in the universe will ever make him think one hair-breadth more favourably of Popery than he does think, than he ever has thought, and than his family ever thought before him, since the time of the fine old English gentleman.

If a person ventures to ask the Prejudiced Man what he knows of Catholics personally—what he knows of individuals, of their ways, of their books, or of their worship, he blesses himself that he knows nothing of them at all, and he never will; nay, if they fall in his way, he will take himself out of it; and if unawares he shall ever be pleased with a Catholic without knowing who it is, he wishes by anticipation to retract such feeling of pleasure. About our state of mind, our views of things, our ends and objects, our doctrines, our defence of them, our judgment on his objections to them, our thoughts about him, he absolutely refuses to be enlightened: and he is as sore if expostulated with on so evident an infirmity of mind, as if it were some painful wound upon him, or local inflammation, which must not be handled ever so tenderly. He shrinks from the infliction.

However, one cannot always make the whole world take one's own way of thinking; so let us suppose the famous story, to which the Prejudiced Man has pledged his veracity, utterly discredited and scattered to the winds by the common consent of mankind:—this only makes him the more violent. For it ought, he thinks, to be true, and it is mere special pleading to lay much stress on its not having all the evidence which it might have? for if it be not true, yet half a hundred like stories are. It is only impertinent to ask for evidence, when the fact has so often been established. What is the good of laboriously vindicating St. Eligius, or exposing a leading article in a newspaper, or a speaker at a meeting, or a popular publication, when the thing is notorious; and to deny it is nothing else than a vexatious demand upon his time, and an insult to his common sense. He feels the same sort of indignation which the Philistine champion, Goliath, might have felt when David went out to fight with him. "Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with a staff? and the Philistine cursed him by his gods." And, as the huge giant, had he first been hit, not in the brain, but in the foot or the shoulder, would have yelled, not with pain, but with fury at the insult, and would not have been frightened at all or put upon the defensive, so our Prejudiced Man is but enraged so much the more, and almost put beside himself, by the presumption of those who, with their doubts or their objections, interfere with the great Protestant Tradition about the Catholic Church. To bring proof against us is, he thinks, but a matter of time; and we know in affairs of everyday, how annoyed and impatient we are likely to become, when obstacles are put in our way in any such case. We are angered at delays when they are but accidental, and the issue is certain; we are not angered, but we are sobered, we become careful and attentive to impediments, when there is a doubt about the issue. The very same difficulties put us on our mettle in the one case, and do but irritate us in the other. If, for instance, a person cannot open a door, or get a key into a lock, which he has done a hundred times before, you know how apt he is to shake, and to rattle, and to force it, as if some great insult was offered him by its resistance: you know how surprised a wasp, or other large insect is, that he cannot get through a window-pane; such is the feeling of the Prejudiced Man, when we urge our objections—not softened by them at all, but exasperated the more; for what is the use of even incontrovertible arguments against a conclusion which he already considers to be infallible?

Also of note, if somewhat too long to reproduce on a 'blog is his satire on a Protestant attending benediction.

Alternative Marriage - Venetian Style...

Same sex marriage may be all the rage in the States, but in Venice they hold fast to the Marriage of the Sea.

St. Augustine

Thanks to Rosa Mystica for bringing this excellent collection of Augustine's works to our attention.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

About Rome...

Give me a break... posters advertising an Italian version of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' are describing it as 'The Real Passion of the Christ'... I think not!

The Ascension

Here in Rome, (except in the Vatican) Ascension Thursday is celebrated today, Sunday.

In the same vein as the passage I quoted from Cardinal Newman yesterday, the feast is an ecclesiological as well as a Christological one. From the Catholic point of view it is unfortunate that Christ never called upon a lawyer (he seemed to have a difficult relationship with them) to draft the Articles of Incorporation of the Catholic Church. Instead we are met with the sometimes messy task of justifying Christ's 'founding' of the Church. (How many times do we hear 'Christ Yes, Church No'?) It is sometimes said that Christ proclaimed the Kingdom, but what we got was the Church.

Theologically speaking, it's difficult (and probably unhelpful) to pick one incident from the scriptures and cite it as 'when Jesus founded the church.' Did He do so when he called the twelve? Did the church come into being at the Last Supper when He gave us the gift of the Eucharist? What ecclesial significance do we give to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Historically, what do we make of the first Christians continuing to associate themselves with the synagogues and Jewish customs?
If we are honest, we can't put our finger on a single moment when we can unambiguously say that 'the church was founded by Christ at this time, in this place and for such-and-such a purpose.' Instead, we see that Christ brought the 'visible church' into being in stages, starting with the calling of the twelve and continuing after his Ascension under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (I say 'visible church' because we can speak of the ecclesia ab Abel.)
The Ascension therefore is important as it marks a new stage in the life of the Church. The Apostles have moved from being the co-workers and companions of Christ in His proclamation of the Kingdom to being His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.'
What does this mean in practical terms? A priest of my acquaintance tells of a time he visited the city of Calcutta and was appalled at the poverty and hunger he encountered. He was particularly moved by an emaciated young boy who lay by the side of the road. Unable to eat after seeing this, he brought what he could from his table to this boy who gratefully took the food and vanished into the crowd. Disturbed, the priest fled to the chapel and railed against God - 'Lord, in my ministry, I have preached your love and care for all mankind. How I can I do this after what I am seeing in this city. Why don't you do something to help these wretched people.' A few moments later he received his answer, 'I am doing something to help these people - I sent you, didn't I?'

Nicholas Lash and the Question of God

Now, I won't claim to be in agreement with everything that Prof. Nicholas Lash has written, but he's a fine scholar and his introduction to the Notre Dame edition of Newman's Grammar of Assent was of great help to me. He was also the first Catholic Oxbridge Professor of Divinty since the reformation, and that can't be sneezed at.

He's part of a Cambridge-based school of thology heavily influenced by St.Thomas Aquinas and Wittegenstein and this witty lecture (in Quicktime format) is a relatively painless way of dispelling misconceptions about what we (should) mean when we talk about God.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Venerable John Henry Newman

This is what it is to be one of Christ's little ones,—to be able to do what the Jews thought they could do, and could not; to have that within us through which we can do all things; to be possessed by His presence as our life, our strength, our merit, our hope, our crown; to become in a wonderful way His members, the instruments, or visible form, or sacramental sign, of the One Invisible Ever-Present Son of God, mystically reiterating in each of us all the acts of His earthly life, His birth, consecration, fasting, temptation, conflicts, victories, sufferings, agony, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension;—He being all in all,—we, with as little power in ourselves, as little excellence or merit, as the water in Baptism, or the bread and wine in Holy Communion; yet strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. - John Henry Newman (Plain & Parochial Seromns, Vol 6, Sermon 1)

It's typical to find in Newman's work elements which prefigure contemporary theology - we might compare the above to Vatican II's insight of the Church as Sacrament.

To my mind, Newman is one of the giants of Catholicism and I pray that I'll see him raised to the altars and subsequently proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

Where lies Newman's greatness? Normally this would provoke an interminable monologue, but I'll just mention a few points.

1. His theory on the development of doctrine (originally published in his 1845 Essay on Development has not yet been superceded.
2. His intellectual and spiritual biography, Apologia pro Vita Sua is one of the few masterpieces which can worthily be compared to St. Augustine's Confessio.
3. His passion for the truth provided us with some of the greatest controversial, spiritual and theological writing of the past 300 years.
4. His integrity, despite attacks from within and outside the church, make him a fitting patron for Catholic scholars who diligently and responsably hold and defend their faith.

The Commonplace Book

This 'blog is intended to serve as a receptacle for my thoughts on Philosophy, Theology, Roman life, John Henry Newman, Literature and whatever else catches my fancy.