Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What does that mean?

Via the Telegraph:
Teenagers should be given the right to medically assisted suicide and the parents of terminally ill younger children should be able to choose euthanasia under proposals from members of Belgium's coalition government.
The plans to extend rules allowing doctors to perform euthanasia on terminally ill people suffering "constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" comes amid heated Belgian debate on the issue.
Under existing Belgian laws, in place since 2002, patients, other than newborn babies, must be over 18 to qualify for assisted suicide, a situation that Bart Tommelein, leader of Belgium Liberals, wants changed.
Mr Tommelein, whose party is a key member of Belgium's coalition government, has pledged to bring forward new legislative proposals extending euthanasia to children and old people suffering from such severe dementia that they are unable to choose for themselves.
Presumably in this latter case, someone else would have to make the decision on behalf of those who 'are unable to choose for themselves'. I'm pretty sure we have a name for that already...
Shockingly, I also read:
There are more than 39 cases of euthanasia declared by doctors in Belgium every month, but the true figure is thought to be double that.
Euthanasia is currently permitted on infants and more than half of the Belgian babies who die before they are 12 months old have been killed by deliberate medical intervention.
In 16 per cent of cases parental consent was not considered.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Surrexit Cristus hodie

Easter Greetings to my much-neglected readers.
Will be bloggging regularly again in a few weeks.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Caritas in Veritate

Reports have been circulating that the Holy Father's next encyclical will be entitled Caritas in Veritate and it's supposed to deal with social doctrine. The strange thing is that the suggested title doesn't immediately seem to square up with the reported contents. Deus Caritas Est was about the particularly Christian sort of love which is 'Caritas' in Latin. Spe Salvi was about hope and salvation. However, Caritas in Veritate would seem to suggest an encyclical dealing with the relationship between truth and Christian love.

What's going on?

My guess is that this 'social encyclical' is going to draw on a theme that's very close to the centre of the Holy Father's thoughts. He's consistently argued that the praxis of Christian charity and social reform must be preceded by confronting the question of the truth about God and man... namely in the contemplation of Jesus Christ. Ratzinger has been arguing this for decades. In fact, I think that this is where his fundamental objection to Liberation Theology lies - the huge problem with this movement in was in its prioritising of action over the question of truth. Ratzinger rejects such an approach as failing to respect human dignity and a betrayal of the concrete nature of God's revelation in and through the person of Jesus Christ, Truth-incarnate.

Applause in the Alexandrian Church

It was a longstanding custom for the congregation to applaud in church, or to shout out signs of their disapproval, when bishops preached to them. There are several indications in the fifth century patristic homilies of the bishops strugling for control over their audience. In the Alexandrian cathedral one of Cyril's avid followers, the lay professor Hierax, had the function of leading the applause during Cyril's sermons. Hierax was a well-known figure, a prominent Christian and a highly visible member of Cyril's entourage. - pp 10-11, St Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, John Mc Guckin

New Augustine Sermons?

Via Fr Z:
I just got word that some new sermons of St. Augustine have been discovered in Vienna.
I don’t have details yet.

How is this possible, you might ask? Well, there are thousands of manuscripts scattered about in monasteries and libraries throughout Europe. It's quite a task to compare the contents of these books with each other for variant readings, etc... Every now and again, scholars discover previously unknown works in these manuscripts.

In recent times, perhaps the most significant finds in the Augustinian field have been the Dolbeau sermons and the Divjak letters:
The prolonged peace of Europe, combined with the phenomenal development of computer technology, encouraged scholars to examine the manuscripts stored in the libraries of Europe more intensively than ever previously. In 1975, Johannes Divjak of Vienna (on mission from the Austrian Academy, to catalogue all manuscripts of Augustine in European libraries) found a mid-fifteenth century manuscript in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Marseilles. Produced in around 1440 for King René of Anjou, a rich but unfortunate monarch, the author of a courtly novel in the best late medieval manner, The Story of a Heart Caught by Love, the manuscript had been known, but had not been closely examined. It was assumed that an elegant late medieval manuscript could hardly contain any new work of an author as frequently copied as was Augustine. Hence the surprise of Johannes Divjak when, on examining the text, he found that it contained, added to a standard collection of Augustine’s letters, twenty nine other letters, of which twenty seven (many of them very long) were utterly unknown. Known now as the Divjak Letters, these twenty nine letters tell us in great detail about hitherto unknown events and about the activities of Augustine as a bishop in Roman North Africa in the last decades of his life: the longest and most vivid of them range from between 419 and 428.
Yet again, in 1990, François Dolbeau perceived that an apparently uninteresting, badly-copied manuscript of the late fifteenth century, recently catalogued in the Stadtbibliothek of Mainz, contained groups of sermons known previously only through titles in Possidius’ Indiculum and through Carolingian library lists of sermons and a few, short extracts. They were first announced to the learned world as the Mayence Sermons (from the French word for Mainz, the place of their discovery) and are now known as the Dolbeau Sermons, from their discoverer. One cluster of these sermons represents Augustine’s preaching at Carthage in the spring and summer of 397—that is, in the crucial year of the beginning of his career as a bishop, at a time when the Confessions were already forming in his mind. The other group of sermons takes us to Carthage and the little towns outside Carthage in the late winter and spring of 403-404, at a time of urgent reform in Catholic worship combined with new Catholic aggression against pagans and Donatists.
Can you imagine the excitement a scholar must feel in making such a find?

Italian Politics...

Via the Telegraph:
Silvio Berlusconi has stumbled badly in the Italian election campaign after telling a woman to solve her financial problems by marrying a millionaire.
The gaffe came during a Thursday night television show when a 24-year-old woman asked him how she was supposed to get a mortgage or start a family without a permanent job.
"You should perhaps look to marry a millionaire, like my son, or someone who doesn't have such problems," the perma-tanned billionaire told Perla Pavoncello. "With that smile of yours, you could even get away with it," he added.
His comments attracted criticism from Italy's unions and from Walter Veltroni, his opponent in next month's election.
"There are lots of things you can joke about, but the problems in Italy's economy are not among them," said Mr Veltroni. Mr Berlusconi responded by saying that Mr Veltroni "does not have a sense of humour".
Italy has a grave problem with youth unemployment, which runs as high as 40 per cent in areas such as Naples. Many Italian employers also only offer short-term contracts to youngsters since it is nearly impossible to fire employees.
Before the gaffe, public frustration with the failure of Romano Prodi's government has resulted in a commanding lead of up to 10 points in the polls for Mr Berlusconi whose new nickname is "psycho-dwarf".
It's moments like this which occasionally make me think I should play closer attention to Italian politics.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

RIP Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho

Via Reuters:
ROME (Reuters) - Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop in Iraq who was kidnapped last month, has been found dead, an Italian Catholic news agency quoted an Iraqi bishop as saying on Thursday.
"Archbishop Rahho is dead. We found his lifeless body near Mosul. The kidnappers had buried him," Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad was quoted as telling SIR, the news agency of the Italian Bishops' Conference.
Rahho was seized on February 29 after gunmen attacked his car in eastern Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, killing his driver and two guards.
Asiannews has more:
Mosul (AsiaNews) - The Chaldean archbishop of Mosul is dead. Archbishop Faraj Rahho was kidnapped last February 29 after the Stations of the Cross. His kidnappers have given word of his death, indicating to the mediators where they could recover the body of the 67-year-old prelate. "It is a heavy Cross for our Church, ahead of Easter", Rabban al Qas, bishop of Arbil, tells AsiaNews in response to the news.
I've heard that Archbishop Rahho died in captivity due to necessary medication being denied to him.

Lord have mercy on your Crucified Church in Iraq!

Edited to add: The English-speaking media don't seem to be saying much about this at the moment. The Corriere della Sera has more details in Italian. The Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad isn't able to confirm how Archbishop Rahho died - whether he was killed or whether he succumbed to his illness in captivity. Fr Lombardi reports the deep sorrow of the Pope and the Holy Father's desire that this event will remind the international community of the necessity to bring peace to Iraq.

Edited again: AFP has this report:
ROME (AFP) — A Chaldean Catholic archbishop kidnapped last month in northern Iraq was found dead on Thursday, the information service of the Italian Catholic Church said Thursday.

The body of Paulos Faraj Rahho, the archbishop of Mosul who was kidnapped on February 29, was found near the northern city, the Church said, quoting the auxiliary archbishop of Baghdad, Shlemon Warduni.

It was unclear if he died of natural causes or was killed.

The kidnappers had telephoned to inform the Baghdad prelate that Rahho, who was in poor health, had died and that they had buried him, the Church's news agency SIR reported.

"The kidnappers had told us already yesterday (Wednesday) that Monsignor Rahho was very ill, and yesterday afternoon they told us that he died. This morning, they telephoned us to say they had buried him," Warduni said, adding that the kidnappers indicated the location of the body.

"We still don't know whether he died from his poor health or was killed," Warduni said. "The kidnappers only told us that he was dead."

Rahho was kidnapped in Mosul after a deadly shootout in which three of his companions were killed.

Pope Benedict XVI reacted with "deep sadness" to the news of Rahho's death, a Vatican spokesman said.

"The most absurd and unjustified violence continues to afflict the Iraqi people and in particular the small Christian community whom the pope ... holds in his prayers ... in this time of deep sadness," Father Federico Lombardi said.

"This tragic event underscored once more and with more urgency the duty of all, and in particular of the international community, to bring peace to a country that has been so tormented," Lombardi said.

Iraqi forces in Mosul had fanned out to search for Rahho, who was the latest in a long line of Chaldean clerics to be abducted in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Two priests were kidnapped in the city in October, and last June a priest and three deacons were attacked in front of their church.

Iraq's Christians, with the Chaldean sect by far the largest community, were said to number as many as 800,000 before the 2003 invasion.

Associated with the "Crusader" invaders and regarded as well-off, they are now victims of sectarian cleansing, killings and kidnappings at the hands of both Sunni and Shiite Islamists, as well as criminal gangs.

Edited to addDespite the rumour circulating earlier that the Archbishop had died of illness, CNN reports
Nineveh Deputy Gov. Khasro Goran, in Mosul, told CNN that the kidnappers had been in touch with the church and the relatives and wanted to be paid a ransom for the archbishop's release. The contacts ended a few days ago. He said that his body had gunshot wounds:He said the apparent kidnappers had contacted relatives on Thursday and told them the body was in the eastern part of town. Relatives and authorities went to the location and found the body, which had gunshot wounds.

Promotions at Ecclesia Dei

There's been some movements at the Pontifical Commission 'Ecclesia Dei' which is responsible for matters concerning the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The secretary Mons. Camille Perl has been made Vice-President - a new post, whilst his under-secretary Mons. Mario Marini (not to be confused with either of the Papal MCs of the same surname) has been made secretary. This obviously reflects the increased workload and importance of the commission.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What did the Archbishop Really Say?

Fr Z has posted the interview with Archbishop Girotti and it just serves to confirm that he did not - officially or unoffically - come up with a list of the 'New Seven Deadly Sins'. Indeed, most of the interview has nothing to do with these 'new sins'. It's primarily about the work of the Apostolic Penitentary (where the Archbishop is second-in-command), with some answers concerning abortion and indulgences as well.
Anyway, I'll translate the mis-reported question and answer:
According to you, what are the new sins?
There are various areas within which we recognise sinful attitudes concerning individual and social rights. Above all, in the area of bioethics, we must denounce certain violations of the fundamental rights of human nature, by means of experiments and genetic manipulations, the results of which are difficult to predict and regulate. Another area, properly social, is the area of drugs by means of which the psyche is weakened and the intelligence is clouded, leaving many young people outside of the ecclesial circuit. Again, there is the area of social and economic disequilibriums in which the poorest become ever more poor and the rich become ever richer, aggravating an indefensible social injustice; the area of ecology which is of ever more relevant interest today.
It seems to me that all the Archbishop was doing was pointing to the reality and existence of sin in various areas in which many people would not immediately use the word sin.
There is a tendency on the one hand to reduce morality and the language of sin to sexual matters... frequently accompanied with the attitude that the Church (and by extension God) has no business saying anything about what might or might not be sinful in that area. On the other hand, there are other commentators who do have a broader understanding of sin, but seem to think that it's confined to purely personal and individualistic matters - they raise the objection that the Church has no business pronouncing on the existence of sin in economic and environmental matters. That's just as illogical and unCatholic as those who would argue that the Church has 'no business in people's bedrooms'.

That's not to say that there aren't legitimate areas of debate... Radical environmentalism must not be allowed to usurp a Catholic theology of man as the steward of God's creation and a due concern for justice and equity in social and economic matters cannot be understood as simply meaning socialism. On the other hand, it can be very easy to persuade ourselves that the Church has not the authority to 'meddle' in areas which might cause us to re-evaluate our lifestyles in concrete ways.

Anyway, it's pretty clear that the Archbishop did not come up with a list of new sins, he didn't propose rewriting the list of the 'Seven Deadly Sins' and he certainly didn't suggest that we risk eternal damnation if we don't recycle our plastic bags. Sheesh!

Monday, March 10, 2008

More ridiculous religion reporting...

Via the Times:
Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell, the Vatican said after drawing up a list of seven deadly sins for our times.
Gah! 'The Vatican' said this? That tells us nothing... Plus, you can be sure that Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell represents a huge over-simplification/misrepresentation of what was actually said.
The seven, which include polluting the environment, were announced by Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, a close ally of the Pope and the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Roman Curia's main court.
The "sins of yesteryear" - sloth, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath and pride - have a "rather individualistic dimension", he told the Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.
The new seven deadly, or mortal, sins are designed to make worshippers realise that their vices have an effect on others as well.
Announced? Why is this made to sound like an official act? I don't have the Osservatore Romano to hand, but I'm willing to bet that this was an interview or a homily or an article written in a private capacity rather than the 'announcement' of anything remotely official.
"The sins of today have a social resonance as well as an individual one," said Mgr Girotti. "In effect, it is more important than ever to pay attention to your sins."
According to Roman Catholic doctrine, mortal sins are a "grave violation of God's law" and bring about "eternal death" if unrepented by the act of confession.
They are far more serious than venial sins, which impede a soul's progress in the exercise of virtue and moral good.
Now, these three paragraphs are actually worth reading. As long as one realises that Archbishop Girotti isn't for a moment suggesting that 'the sins of today' somehow replace or supercede the 'sins of yesteryear', this all makes perfect sense.
Mgr Girotti said genetic modification, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, becoming obscenely wealthy and taking drugs were all mortal sins.
Again, one can agree with that. Needless to say, some qualifications would need to be made. For example, wealth in itself isn't bad, but we'll assume that 'becoming obscenely wealthy' implies a misuse of wealth and a sinful attitude to money. Again, polluting the environment is certainly sinful - but again, it would need to involve grave matter for it to be mortally sinful.
That's what's objectionable about the headline and the opening of this piece. I find it hard to believe that a failure to recycle plastic bags is grave matter. However, ignorant reporting is used to make the Curia and the Papacy look both ridiculously trendy and simultaneously 'out of touch' by threatening hell-fire for something relatively minor. Mgr Girotti is a senior member of the curia and, as Regent of the Apostolic Penitentary, what he has to say about sin is worth listening to. If it were reported properly.
However, it's not. And therefore, people who have legitimate concerns about the excesses of the environmentalist movement are given reason to believe that the Vatican has adopted an untenable position.
Is it ignorance or malice that's responsible for the poor standard of religous reporting?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

14th Century Frescoes from SS Quattro Coronati

Click to enlarge any of the images

Three saints

St Peter


St Bartholomew - martyred by being flayed

Note the two monks talking at the bottom of the picture. One of them is Magister Rainaldus. It seems that this might be a picture of the rector of the church discussing things with the architect.

St Bernard and a little Cisterican

The Jerome K Jerome Fresco

From the Church of SS.Quattro Coronati.


Apologies to all those who used to be linked on my blogroll. It seems to have vanished into the ether. I'll be restoring it (from memory!) in the very near future.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Italian Approach

This will, no doubt, become a classic example of the difference between the Italian and the 'Anglo-Saxon' approach to morality and law:
In a victory for Italian adulterers, the country's Supreme Court has ruled that it is acceptable for wives to lie in order to cover up an affair.
The court said that a 48-year-old woman from Orbetello in Tuscany, named only as Carla, was within her rights to lie to police over having a lover.
The case arose when her boyfriend, Giovanni, was arrested by police for making abusive phone calls to her husband, Vincenzo.
When the police asked Carla whether she had lent her mobile phone to her lover, she said she did not have a lover and that she had not lent him her phone.
In court, her lawyers argued that she was trying "to save herself from a grave and inevitable stain on her honour".
Her defence said that she was in the process of separating from her husband and that the admission that she had taken a lover could be used in the divorce proceedings against her.
"Her husband has already threatened to bring up testimonies from lovers against her," said her lawyer.
The judges of the Supreme Court agreed, saying that "the fact of having an affair is a circumstance that could cause damage to her honour in the minds of her family and friends."
They added: "It is clear that one does not deny the loan of a mobile phone to police unless one has a serious reason to do so."
The Supreme Court, which is made up of elderly male judges, regularly causes uproar with its controversial judgements. They include the ruling, which was later rescinded, that a woman could not be raped if she was wearing tight jeans, since they could only be removed with her consent.

Friday, March 07, 2008

What is Mannerism?

The ever-erudite Cranky Professor explains with the help of a Vasari fresco in Rome's Palazzo della Cancelleria... the Sala dei Cento Giorni to be precise:
The name of the room comes from the funniest anecdote in Renaissance art history (a field of striking solemnity and self-importance, I usually find). Vasari, now better known as a biographer than a painter, showed the room to his old master MIchelangelo and bragged that he had completed the work in 100 days. Michelangelo said, "It shows." I rather liked it, but then I have decadent tendencies. Paul III surveying New St Peter's dressed as the Jewish High Priest really made me happy! There was a scene of the distribution of cardinals hats to semi-nude men in advanced states of ascetical skinniness that made no sense at all - that's Mannerism for you!
Not finding any pictures of that on the web, I managed to snap one myself. Apologies for the quality... the lighting in the room is really unusual and my primitive digital camera did the best it could. Click on the picture to enlarge.
Note the little stack of mitres and galleros in the bottom right hand corner, the cornucopia pouring forth gold coins and the unusual snake-eating nude. Anyone willing to explain this picture of Paul III creating Cardinals is welcome to do so in the comments.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Theologian Quiz - Answer

Karl Barth - who introduced de Lubac to shark-fin soup at a Chinese restaurant in Paris - is for this reason prevented, de Lubac argues, from giving a 'proper consistency to the human spirit considered in relation to God'. - De Lubac - A Guide for the Perplexed by David Grumett, p.108

Taken out of context, it sounds as though the soup has something to do with the 'proper consistency of the human spirit'.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Random Theology Stuff...

Firstly, my weird theologian trivia quiz is still ongoing. All but one of the questions have been answered:

2. Which Father of the Church suffered from haemorrhoids?

St Augustine - Correct answer from Lauren, with Quantitative Metathesis providing the reference in his epistles.
As for my spirit, I am well, through the Lord's good pleasure, and the strength which He condescends to impart; but as for my body, I am confined to bed. I can neither walk, nor stand, nor sit, because of the pain and swelling of a boil or tumour. But even in such a case, since this is the will of the Lord, what else can I say than that I am well?
Thank you QM! I'd remembered reading it in a biography of Augustine, but didn't fancy trying to track down exactly where.

3. Which figure in the Early Church was prevented from handing himself over for martyrdom by his mother? How did she stop him?

This was Origen and the correct answer came from Gengulphus
In 202, Origen's father was killed in the outbreak of the persecution during the reign of Septimius Severus. Origen wished to follow in martyrdom, but was prevented only by his mother hiding his clothes.

4. Which medieval spiritual writer was prominent in the court of the Scottish King before becoming a monk?

Aelred of Rieveaulx - well done to Bill7tx.

5. Which Doctor of the Church craved fish on his deathbed?

St Thomas Aquinas - answered correctly by StMichael.

This means that there's one outstanding question, and I'm not at all surprised that it's taking a long time to answer.

1. Which famous theologian introduced Henri de Lubac to shark-fin soup in a Parisian Chinese restaurant?
We've had plenty of sensible, but incorrect, guesses so far: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Danielou, Hugo Rahner, Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, and Angelo Cardinal Scola. Also mentioned were Avery Cardinal Dulles and Karol Józef Wojtyla. None of these are correct.

Yesterday I added a clue - the theologian in question was neither French nor German.
I'll post another clue before the end of the week if no one gets the correct answer.

Finally, is it my imagination, or does Church history just become exceedingly weird when the Monophysite controversy broke out. Take this (not-quite) random paragraph from Chadwick's The Church in Ancient Society:
Timothy Salofakiolos (Wobblecap) against Peter Mongos (Stammerer)
In 477 Timothy the Weasel died peacefully in Alexandria; a decision to exile him again, already taken at court, arrived just after his death. News of his impending demise may have reached the capital since control by the government ensured that a Monophysite successor, Peter Mongos, could be consecrated only in secret at midnight and then by a solitary bishop (Theodore of Antinoe) before Timothy Salofakiolos returned from his refuge making baskets in the Pachomian monastery at Canopus. The dead hand of Timothy the Weasel was laid on Peter Mongos' head - by old Alexandrian custom, otherwise attested, and older than the Nicen canon requiring three bishops for a canonical consecration.
Almost like something you'd read ever at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping.
Edited to add: One wonders whether future Church historians will be using the nicknames of Revs John 'Zed' Zuhlsdorf and Hermeneuity Finigan when speaking of the Westminster Succession of 2009.