Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Monday, May 29, 2006
Saturday, May 27, 2006
The Church has never permitted the use of violence as a means of conversion to the Faith. The Crusades were not aimed at the forced conversion of anyone. They were aimed at recovering Christian territories conquered by Muslim powers (who did indeed intend to forcibly convert their inhabitants to Islam or at least subject them to civil penalties for failing to do so). They were conducted in response to the danger of Constantinople falling into the hands of the Islamic powers. Many of the re-conquered territories still had majority Christian populations.
The Church has permitted the application of civil penalties, including execution, to persons who pervert or abandon (these are actually the same thing) the Faith and then propagate their errors. St Thomas justifies this practice in the Summa
"It is our desire that all the various nation which are subject to our clemency and moderation, should continue to the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one diety of the father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that the shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation an the second the punishment of our authority, in accordance with what the will of heaven shall decide to inflict. " Theodosian Code XVI.1.2
In 407 it was established that heretics "offend against the sacred majesty of the emperor" and that accordingly heresy was treason, for which the penalty was burning at the stake. Torture was used (in the first instance by secular officials attached to the Inquisition) to obtain information not conversion. This was in line with the practice of secular law enforcement at the time. It was extremely unfortunate and I assume falls within the scope of John Paul II's apology for the uses of violence in the defence of the truth. No doubt he was also averting to the sinful manner in which the Crusaders conducted themselves in the prosecution of their just defence of Christendom.
The Church has also considered it acceptable in principle to prohibit idolatry by law. Even a secular state could do this as the wickedness of idolatry is demonstrable to the natural light. None of these penalties apply to the Jews as they have not been baptised and worship the One True God. The Spanish Inquisition which was something of a loose cannon, as it was under royal rather than papal jurisdiction, has an ugly record of going after Christian Jews or their descendents who converted out of fear of popular violence and were suspected of secretly continuing to observe the old law. It is important to emphasise a) that the Spanish Inquisition was in an irregular situation in regard to the Holy See and that b) the whole problem resulted from a gravely immoral act(s) of forced conversion which the Church has always repudiated.
Introdotto dall’indirizzo di omaggio del Cardinale Primate Józef Glemp, il Papa pronuncia il discorso che pubblichiamo di seguito:
TRADUZIONE IN LINGUA INGLESE
"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you ... For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine" (Rom 1:8-12).
Dear priests, I address to you these words of the Apostle Paul, because they perfectly reflect my feelings and thoughts today, my wishes and my prayers. I greet in particular Cardinal Józef Glemp, Archbishop of Warsaw and Primate of Poland, to whom I extend my most cordial congratulations on his fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination this very day. I have come to Poland, the beloved homeland of my great Predecessor Pope John Paul II, in order to inhale, as he used to do, this atmosphere of faith in which you live, and to "convey to you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened by it." I am confident that my pilgrimage during these days will "encourage the faith that we share, both yours and mine."
I am meeting you today in the great Cathedral of Warsaw, every stone of which speaks of the tragic history of your capital and your country. How many trials you have endured in the recent past! We call to mind heroic witnesses to the faith, who gave their lives to God and to their fellow human beings, both canonized saints and ordinary people who persevered in rectitude, authenticity and goodness, never giving way to despair. In this Cathedral I recall particularly the Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, whom you call "the Primate of the Millennium." Abandoning himself to Christ and to his Mother, he knew how to serve the Church faithfully, despite the tragic and prolonged trials that surrounded him. Let us remember with appreciation and gratitude those who did not let themselves be overwhelmed by the forces of darkness, and let us learn from them the courage to be consistent and constant in our adherence to the Gospel of Christ.
Today I am meeting you, priests called by Christ to serve him in the new millennium. You have been chosen from among the people, appointed to act in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Believe in the power of your priesthood! By virtue of the sacrament, you have received all that you are. When you utter the words "I" and "my" ("I absolve you ... This is my body ..."), you do it not in your own name, but in the name of Christ, "in persona Christi", who wants to use your lips and your hands, your spirit of sacrifice and your talent. At the moment of your ordination, through the liturgical sign of the imposition of hands, Christ took you under his special protection; you are concealed under his hands and in his Heart. Immerse yourselves in his love, and give him your love! When your hands were anointed with oil, the sign of the Holy Spirit, they were destined to serve the Lord as his own hands in today’s world. They can no longer serve selfish purposes, but must continue in the world the witness of his love.
The greatness of Christ’s priesthood can make us tremble. We can be tempted to cry out with Peter: "Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man" (Lk 5:8), because we find it hard to believe that Christ called us specifically. Could he not have chosen someone else, more capable, more holy? But Jesus has looked lovingly upon each one of us, and in this gaze of his we may have confidence. Let us not be consumed with haste, as if time dedicated to Christ in silent prayer were time wasted. On the contrary, it is precisely then that the most wonderful fruits of pastoral service come to birth. There is no need to be discouraged on account of the fact that prayer requires effort, or because of the impression that Jesus remains silent. He is indeed silent, but he is at work. In this regard, I am pleased to recall my experience last year in Cologne. I witnessed then a deep, unforgettable silence of a million young people at the moment of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament! That prayerful silence united us, it gave us great consolation. In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the Host. Be assiduous in the prayer of adoration and teach it to the faithful. It is a source of comfort and light particularly to those who are suffering.
The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life. With this end in view, when a young priest takes his first steps, he needs to be able to refer to an experienced teacher who will help him not to lose his way among the many ideas put forward by the culture of the moment. In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revealed word. Solicitude for the quality of personal prayer and for good theological formation bear fruit in life. Living under the influence of totalitarianism may have given rise to an unconscious tendency to hide under an external mask, and in consequence to become somewhat hypocritical. Clearly this does not promote authentic fraternal relations and may lead to an exaggerated concentration on oneself. In reality, we grow in affective maturity when our hearts adhere to God. Christ needs priests who are mature, virile, capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity. For this to happen, priests need to be honest with themselves, open with their spiritual director and trusting in divine mercy.
On the occasion of the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II frequently exhorted Christians to do penance for infidelities of the past. We believe that the Church is holy, but that there are sinners among her members. We need to reject the desire to identify only with those who are sinless. How could the Church have excluded sinners from her ranks? It is for their salvation that Jesus took flesh, died and rose again. We must therefore learn to live Christian penance with sincerity. By practising it, we confess individual sins in union with others, before them and before God. Yet we must guard against the arrogant claim of setting ourselves up to judge earlier generations, who lived in different times and different circumstances. Humble sincerity is needed in order not to deny the sins of the past, and at the same time not to indulge in facile accusations in the absence of real evidence or without regard for the different preconceptions of the time. Moreover, the confessio peccati, to use an expression of Saint Augustine, must always be accompanied by the confessio laudis – the confession of praise. As we ask pardon for the wrong that was done in the past, we must also remember the good accomplished with the help of divine grace which, even if contained in earthenware vessels, has borne fruit that is often excellent.
Today the Church in Poland faces an enormous pastoral challenge: how to care for the faithful who have left the country. The scourge of unemployment obliges many people to go abroad. It is a widespread and large-scale phenomenon. When families are divided in this way, when social links are broken, the Church cannot remain indifferent. Those who leave must be cared for by priests who, in partnership with the local Churches, take on a pastoral ministry among the emigrants. The Church in Poland has already given many priests and religious sisters who serve not only the Polish diaspora but also, and sometimes in extremely difficult circumstances, the missions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other regions. Do not forget these missionaries, my dear priests. The gift of many vocations, with which God has blessed your Church, must be received in a truly Catholic perspective. Polish priests, do not be afraid to leave your secure and familiar world, to go and serve in places where priests are lacking and where your generosity can bear abundant fruit.
Stand firm in your faith! To you too I entrust this motto of my pilgrimage. Be authentic in your life and your ministry. Gazing upon Christ, live a modest life, in solidarity with the faithful to whom you have been sent. Serve everyone; be accessible in the parishes and in the confessionals, accompany the new movements and associations, support families, do not forget the link with young people, remember the poor and the abandoned. If you live by faith, the Holy Spirit will suggest to you what you must say and how you must serve. You will always be able to count on the help of her who goes before the Church in faith. I exhort you to call upon her always in words that you know well: "We are close to you, we remember you, we watch."
My Blessing upon all of you!
Friday, May 26, 2006
God is gone up with a triumphant shout!
(Sample of Finzi here!)
Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus : ut, qui hodierna die Unigenitum tuum Redemptorem nostrum ad cælos ascendisse credimus; ipse quoque mente in cælestibus habitemus. Per eumdem Dominum...
I could do with a lot of help on that one. St Bede, St Gregory VII, pray for us!
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
File under 'mediocrity'
Meanwhile, a chap in the Economist has stirred up a storm in a quaich with an article on why post-devolution Scotland is even more self-obsessed and over-sensitive than before. Annoyingly, he may have a point, if the absurd over-reaction from the Scottish media is anything to go by. Actually most of it seems to be a measured critique of Holyrood's practices and people, little different to what one could find in the Scotsman or Herald on a regular basis; the appearance of the word 'numpties' in the Economist should surely be a cause for general celebration in itself; and not many people in Scotland, I think, would honestly deny that there can be a slightly hysterical edge to Scottish self-examination. But one musn't say it aloud anywhere that Englishmen might hear it...
(This does not, Aelianus, mean that things would have been better if Scotland had become a province of England in the 1290s.)
Separated brethren mk ii
The Legal Questions Committee debate was more interesting. The Convener of that Committee strongly insisted that the proposed Declaratory Act (see previous post) did not constitute an innovation, particularly as a previous Assembly, in 1993, had rejected a motion moved which declared that ministers could never bless gay unions: the Convener argued that ministerial freedom of conscience on this issue was essentially already Kirk policy. This is not an entirely indefensible position, but it became clearer in the course of the afternoon that it was really a rather perverse one to maintain - not least because the novel development of civil partnerships in Scots law, which can give gay partners the same legal and financial privileges as married people, would make the religious marking of a civil partnership a considerably stronger statement by the minister in question. It could be taken (at least) to imply not only that the minister was willing to acknowledge the relationship as valid, but also that he was prepared to allow it to be analogous to marriage in its standing within society.
First, someone from the Mission and Discipleship Council proposed that the Act not be passed, and that instead consideration of the matter be deferred until the publication of that Council's forthcoming report on human sexuality, due next year. This amendment was narrowly defeated.
A counter-motion was then offered, which affirmed that marriage was between one man and one woman, and that ministers should not offer services marking civil partnerships. A different amendment was also tabled, to invoke the 'Barrier Act': this concerns innovations, which should be sent to presbyteries (local bodies) for consultation before consideration at the next Assembly. The Assembly therefore had several options: it had to decide which (if either) of the motions it supported, and decided whether either should be sent to the presbyteries. Debate on the real issues ensued before voting. It was a reasonably well-conducted debate. What was very noticeable was that all those in favour of ministerial freedom of conscience (as they saw it) tended to stress compassion and inclusiveness, God's compassion and inclusiveness (often in terms of the characteristics of 'my God'), their own strong feelings about the matter, and their own personal experiences (some of which were indeed heart-rending). Those in favour of the counter-motion tended either to say simply that Scripture and Judeao-Christian tradition had never doubted that the only proper sexual relationship was marriage; or to point out how isolated the Kirk would be in world Christianity if it decided that gay unions were acceptable (not, of course, an argument in itself). There is no doubt which speakers had the more cogent case. The Legal Questions Committee Convener seemed to want the debate to be about 'freedom of conscience', claiming that the Kirk had a long tradition of this (an ingenuous formulation), and ended up declaring that while it was the Word of God which was to guide the Kirk, it was the Word as read and prayed over by each individual minister. It was a particularly horrible moment, as one suddenly saw private judgement turned into a value in itself - unsurprising, and perfectly consistent which the development of Protestantism, but horrible nonetheless. One liberal speaker indeed said - when explaining, essentially, why he felt free to depart from the word of Scripture, although that may be an unfair phrasing - that Jesus did not leave a book to the Apostles, but promised to send the Spirit to lead them in all truth. Indeed so! But are you so sure that you find the Spirit's leading when you feel inclined to conform to the patterns of the world...? This is a tragedy of liberalism within the Reformed tradition, which had never struck me before: they have quite legitimate criticisms of Reformed orthodoxy, or at least some correct intuitions, but they do not know where to go with them...
The voting was a complicated business. The Assembly first voted that each of the motions could be sent down to presbyteries; but then it had to decide which motion it favoured, and thus which would actually be sent. 314 commissioners voted for the counter-motion, and 322 for the motion. So the Legal Questions Committee motion will go to presbyteries, and for the moment I presume that Kirk has no opinion on whether or not it is a disciplinary offence for ministers to 'bless' civil partnerships. (This, incidentally, was reported in the headlines on Radio Scotland as a decision 'that the blessing of gay unions should be a matter of conscience for local ministers' - not exactly...) Eight votes in it! I was very surprised, I must admit, that it was so close; I had expected the liberal faction to have a much larger majority. Maybe there is not so much madness in the Kirk as it sometimes seems; and perhaps grass-roots opinion will turn out to be more traditional than the high heid-yins expect. At the same time, as Aelianus has said, in a way it does more harm if things for the moment look maybe not quite as bad as all that - it will be that much longer before many folk start seeing the peril of the Kirk, and perhaps encounter the fullness of Faith...
There was then a final vote on the Legal Questions Committee motion. This has been reported by the Scotsman as a vote which 'saw the committee's motion carried by 372 for to 240 against.' This may be a little misleading - it was not entirely clear to commissioners (one of them said afterwards) whether they were a) voting on the motion as such; b) again voting on whether it would indeed be sent down under the Barrier Act, now that the Assembly's preference for the motion over the counter-motion had been expressed; or c) expressing their opinion on the motion for the guidance of presbyteries once the consultation began. These numbers therefore may not represent the Assembly's opinion as such, depending on how many commissioners thought they were voting on b). More helpful report in the Herald.
I'm sorry - ish - if this bores all of you (whatever tiny group of readers we have). The Kirk was my foster-mother, or perhaps my wet-nurse, and I still feel I should pay attention to her!
Monday, May 22, 2006
This year the big issues are to be found in Appendix H of the Legal Questions Committee report (link to Word document), and Appendix III of the Church and Society Report, which is the Society, Religion and Technology Project summary report mentioned earlier on this blog. The Legal Questions committee suggest passing a 'declaratory act anent civil partnerships', which would mean it would definitely not be a disciplinary offence for meenisters to 'bless' gay relationships, while stating that no minister had any obligation to bless such things. (I am not entirely sure what the Kirk understands by blessing.) Evangelicals within the Kirk are naturally not too chuffed with the idea that the Kirk would implicitly acknowledge the validity of gay unions, and have put forward an alternative declaratory statement (which can be found on p.26 of the Daily Papers for Saturday to Monday, linked to here). This states that, since marriage is what it is, 'And whereas diversity of practice on this matter will lead to confusion in the Church and in the nation', no minister or deacon should bless civil partnerships. I have no idea whether the Assembly is more likely to pass the original declaratory act, or this amendment; I fear it may be tempted to settle for fudge. However, interestingly, while chatting to a very liberal Kirk youth worker whom I happen to know, he indicated opposition to Appendix H precisely because it is fudge, and it allows to Kirk to avoid (again) discussing its views of gay unions. I wonder, then, if liberal and conservative opposition might at least mean that the matter is referred to... another committee, probably... for proper examination. There is considerable politicking going on, however - see here and here.
The Church and Society Council's report, meanwhile, includes various statements on stem cell research which would be adopted if the report were received as it stands.
Stem Cell Research
17. Recognise the differences of view which exist within the Church on the moral status of the embryo and the acceptability of embryo research on stem cells, serious
genetic diseases and infertility.
18. Strongly urge HMG not to weaken the provisions of the UK legislative framework on embryology, and to ensure that in any future legislation the concept of the special status of the human embryo be maintained and protected.
19. Urge HMG to ensure in any future legislation that embryo research is allowed only under a specific licence from a regulatory authority, on a strict case-by-case
basis, only where there are significant expectations of the relief of human suffering, and for which no realistic research alternative exists.
20. Recognise that surplus human embryos arising from in vitro fertilisation or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis may be used in medical research with a view to eventual treatments involving stem cells, subject to the 14-day limit.
21. Oppose the deliberate creation of human embryos for research by IVF methods or nuclear transfer cloning methods, except into serious diseases and only under exceptional circumstances.
22. Oppose the creation and use of human embryos as a source of cells in the treatment of diseases, and urge HMG, in any revision of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, not to include a legislative provision which would allow this.
23. Urge HMG to encourage research into stem cells derived from adult tissues and placental cord blood, and to work to find therapeutic solutions which avoid embryo use.
24. Oppose the creation for research or therapy of parthenogenetic human embryos, animal-human hybrid or chimeric embryos, or human embryos that have been deliberately made non-viable.
25. Call upon the stem cell research community to ensure a more rigorous peer review of stem cell research, and greater honesty in presenting the significance of its discoveries, aware of the harms caused among vulnerable patients by publicising premature or false expectations.
26. Commend this report to churches for study, encourage its wide distribution, and encourage the Society, Religion and Technology Project to continue its examination of
contemporary issues in human genetics and embryology, and to bring a report to a future General Assembly.
Emphases added. As evangelicals have pointed out, given the legislative framework in Britain, the notion of the embryo's 'special status' has become completely meaningless - it has little or no effect on policy formation. The restrictions upon research suggested by the report are also pretty empty, particularly in no 19, which really says, 'let's only allow embryonic stem cell research when it looks as though it might work.' Which particular moral principle is that based on, please?
Again, amended versions of this have been put forward.
On one level, this is pretty unimportant - the Kirk is not institutionally opposed to current abortion legislation, and pro-lifers have upon occasion had a very hard time in the Kirk. It does look as if the evangelicals are waking up and fighting harder than before to keep the Kirk from a complete and utter departure from traditional Christian views, though, so do pray that things don't get worse.
And, of course, that lots of them notice the amazing coincidence that the Catholic Church preserves traditional Christian moral teaching, and doesn't look like she's planning on departing from it any time soon...
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
For oat-cake lovers:
'I say, for my part, that I would rather eat that British oaten bread than bread made of barley or of wheat. I nowhere remember to have seen on the other side of the water such good oats as in Britain, and the people make their bread in the most ingenious fashion... When my fellow-countryman, David Cranston, was taking his first course of theology, he had as fellow-students and bosom friends James Almain of Sens, and Peter of Brussels, one of the order of Preachers, who along with him attended the arts class under me. These men one day, in the course of a discussion on Founder's Day in the courtyard of the Sorbonne, brought this accusation (based on the report of a certain religious) against the common people in Scotland, that they were in the habit of using oaten bread. This they did, knowing the said Cranston to be a man quick of temper, and to the end that they might tease him with a kindly joke; but he strove to repel the charge as on that brought a disgrace on his native land. We hear besides of a certain Frenchman, who brought this bread with him to his own country on his return from Britain, and showed it about as a monstrosity...'
John Major, History of Greater Britain (1521), tr. A. Constable (SHS 1892), Bk I Ch ii.
I think I might like Major better than Hector Boece (though I haven't tried his Latin yet - that might change everything). Maybe I should change my nom de, um, blogge?!
Monday, May 15, 2006
Incidentally, is anyone else getting really annoyed with the use of the phrase, 'helping someone to die'? The term you're looking for, duckies, is 'killing'. Possibly 'putting down', if you want a time-honoured euphemism. As far as I know - though as ever, am open to correction on sciency matters - an ill person is not (physiologically) struggling to die and being cruelly thwarted. He is rather having great difficulty in living.
Anyway. Meanwhile a pensioner has been imprisoned, and removed from the waiting list for a hip replacement, because he sent pictures of aborted babies to hospital staff. One may well disagree with his tactics - for several reasons, it's not something I'd do - but, when it comes down to it, refusing a man medical treatment because he showed hospital staff images of a procedure which is legal and which is performed at the hospital in question does not seem remotely reasonable. As a pro-abortion commentator in the Times, indeed, points out.
Friday, May 12, 2006
WHAT ARE YOU DOING MAY 19TH?
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Ruth Kelly's good voting record.
Telegraph writer on suicide in Oregon: I left Oregon with mixed feelings. While I am not opposed to the concept of those who are dying being allowed to speed up their death, it is vital that safeguards ensure patients' decisions are entirely their own, made without pressure from loved ones, doctors or out of any misguided notion they are a burden to others or that adequate relief of their symptoms is not available. As one opponent put it: "The biggest decision you can possibly make is to end your life. It is the only truly, truly irreversible decision."
Another Telegraph writer on an interesting-sounding film about the Stasi. If you're ever in Berlin, go to Hohenschoenhausen. Incredibly depressing, of course, but worthwhile. (And on the German film front - anyone know if 'Die grosse Stille' will ever see the light of British day? Anyone?)
Joby Talbot, formerly of the Divine Comedy, gets serious. A piece inspired by the Santiago pilgrim route. I caught the end of it on Radio 3 on CD Review Saturday morning, and it's worth a listen (available until the coming Saturday).
And, more importantly: today is the Translation of St Andrew. In the old calendar, at any rate. Though I can't remember which translation, I'm afraid.
Oh, apparently when he got nicked for Constantinople. And an angel specially told St Rule to take some relics to Scotland. But it doesn't say that in the Roman Breviary. Shocking.
St Andrew, pray for us! Pray for Scotland's people, priests, bishops and rulers!
Friday, May 05, 2006
More pro-life activity in Scotland
And another bruiser at Home.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
While conceding that those Catholics who oppose any restriction on the use of condoms have a robust argument, under Church teaching, Archbishop Conti said: "Should we really be saying that it is in the benefit of the couple to refuse one another because one of them is infected with a disease and to be living as brother and sister when the whole nature of their marriage pushes them towards sacramentalising their marriage?"
He said: "It seems to me that it is a legitimate question. A more commonsense view. Even St Paul spoke about a couple not refusing one another."
He said when he had raised the issue before he had got "stick" from people within the Church. "I feel much more comfortable now."
However, he added: "But two things need to be said. It is not contraception, it is not allowing people to use contraceptive practices. You are using the condom as a sheath against the spread of infection, but it should be said that that is not an infallible means of preventing infection and the Church must be very careful not to encourage something that can result in the death of even one or two people."
This doesn't seem like a very good time to be airing (at best) dubious opinions to the media, given the media's oft-demonstrated inability to report with basic accuracy, let alone subtlety, on matters Christian.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Dr Yeoman said: "William Sinclair built this beautiful church for the saying and the hearing of Mass.
"He built it for his soul and the souls of his family, yet it has been taken over by a rabble of conspiracy theories, many of them anti-Catholic and absolutely ludicrous.
"The level of misunderstanding and ignorance you need to think this is some sort of pagan, occult conspiracy is huge.
"It is like a biologist being faced by people who think you could actually get all the animals on Noah's Ark.
"There needs to be some sort of proper interpretation telling people that this is a medieval Catholic church, and telling people more about Scottish medieval piety.
Well, apart from the Noah's Ark thing (I'm not saying anything one way or the other; I'd have to think about it) - hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!
Not that it'll have any effect, but.
Scene: Lecture by pretentious antique would-be guru.
No one spoke immediately; then: 'I was not quite sure whether you said that the Demiurge was an Aeon.'
'No, madam. It was one of the aims of my poor discourse to demonstrate that he was not.'
'Oh... Thank you.'
Minerviana nodded as though to say: 'I couldhave told you that, and I should have done so rather more sharply.'
There was a further pause; then in clear, schoolroom tone, Helena said:
'What I should like to know is: When and where did all this happen? And how do you know?'
Minervina frowned. Marcias replied:'These things are beyond time and space. Their truth is integral to their proposition and by nature transcends material proof.'
'Then, please, how do you know?'
'By a life-time of patient and humble study, your Majesty.'
'But study of what?'
'That, I fear, would take a life-time to particularize.'
That evening Helena sent for Lactantius and said: 'I went to the lecture this afternoon. I found I knew the man quite well. He used to belong to my father in Britain. He's put on a lot of weight since then. I couldn't understand a word he said. It's all bosh, isn't it?'
'All complete bosh, your Majesty.'
'So I supposed. Just wanted to make sure. Tell me, Lactantius, this god of yours. If I asked you when and where he could be seen, what would you say?'
'I should say that as a man he died two hundred and seventy-eight years ago in the town now called Aelia Capitolina in Palestine.'
'Well, that's a straight answer anyway. How do you know?'
'We have the accounts written by witnesses. Besides that there is the living memory of the Church. We have knowledge handed down from father to son, invisible places maked by memory - the cave where he was born, the tomb where his body was laid, the grave of Peter. One day all these things will be made public. Now they are kept a secret[...].'
'Well, that's all most interesting. Thank you, Lactantius. Good night.'
'Good night, your Majesty.'
'No one has seen him for nearly three hundred years?'
'Some have seen him. The martyrs see him now.'
'Do you know anyone who has?'
'Your Majesty, I must beg you to excuse me. THere are things that must not be spoken of to anyone outside the household.'
'I should not have asked. All my life I have caused offence to religious people by asking questions. Good night, Lactantius.'
'Good night, your Majesty.'
Helena meets mysterious chap (Waugh quasi identifies him with the 'Wandering Jew').
'What happened to the cross?' asked Helena.
'Oh they threw those away, all three of them. They had to, you know, by law.'
'Where did they put them? Do you remember?'
'I want that cross.'
'Yes, come to think of it I expect there'll be quite a demand for anything to do with the Galilean now that he's suddenly become so popular
'Could you show me where it is?'
'I reckon so.'
'I am rich. Tell me your price.'
'I wouldn't take anything from you, lady, for a little service like that. I shall get paid all right, in time. You have to take a long view in my business. How I see it, this new religion of the Galilean may be in for quite a run. A religion starts, no one knows how. Soon, you get holy men and holy places springing up everywhere, old shrines change their names, there's apparitions and pilgrimages. There'll be ladies wanting other things besides the cross. All one wants is to get the thing started properly. One wants a few genuine relics in thoroughly respectable hands. Then everyone else will follow. There won't be enough genuine stuff to meet the demand. That will be my turn. I shall get paid. I wouldn't take anything from you now, lady. Glad to see you have the cross.It won't cost you a thing.'
Helena listened and in her mind saw, clear as all else on that brilliant timeless morning, what was in store. She saw the sanctuaries of Christendom become a fair ground, stalls hung with beads and medals, substances yet unknown pressed into sacred emblems; heard achatter of haggling in tongues yet unspoken. She saw the treasuries of the Church fillied with forgeries and impostures. She saw Christians fighting and stealing to get possession of trash. She saw all this, considered it and said:
'It's a stiff price'; and then: 'Show me the cross.'
Once the Cross has been found:
'Your highness, ma'am, dear lady,' said Macarius. 'You really must not expect miracles every day.'
'Why not?' said Helena. 'There wouldn't be any point in God giving us the cross if he didn't want us to recognize it. Find someone ill, very ill,' she said, 'and try the cross=beams on him.'
It worked, as everything had worked for Helena on this remarkable tour. The beams were carried up to the room of a dying woman and laid one at a time beside her on the bed. Two made no difference. The third effected a complete recovery.
'So now we know,' said Helena.
Evelyn Waugh, Helena (1950)
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
In honour of St Athanasius
In Tarbes or Nimes, or over the sea,
You never shall have good words from me.
Caritas non conturbat me.
But Catholic men that live upon wine
Are deep in the water, and frank, and fine;
Wherever I travel I find it so,
On childing women that are forelorn,
And men that sweat in nothing but scorn:
That is on all that ever were born,
To my poor self on my deathbed,
And all my dear companions dead,
Because of the love that I bore them,
Dona Eis Requiem.
(The first verse seemed vaguely relevant, anyhow; though one must take the last line with oceans-full of salt...)
St Athanasius, pray for us!
Monday, May 01, 2006
Fr M's Sunday homily
'The risen Jesus was not a ghost, a trick of the light, or a kind of psychological group hug...'
Amy Welborn, it notes, 'ends a trenchant defence of the scriptures with a dismissal of credulous Dan Brown fans that suggests a blissful ignorance of the irony that her own religious beliefs are based on ancient testimonies which remain no more verifiable than Brown’s goofy conjectures. "To be honest," she writes, "there is not much that an intellectual discussion is going to do to change these people’s minds. They are truly True Believers and largely immune to reason."'
It is (as you all know) quite false to suggest that the various Gnostic-ish traditions (including, as plenty of people have pointed out, modern misreadings of Gnosticism) upon which Mr Brown draws are of equal credibility to the Gospel texts and the tradition of the Church. I won't go into the usual spiel about early manuscript transmission, the witness of post-Apostolic Christian writing, etc etc. If the journalist in question had given any serious thought to whether and how we know about the beliefs of the early Church, he would have seen that it is more plausible (at least) to suppose that the Apostles, their successors, and the majority of Christians, held and preached orthodox Catholicism. Yet the journalist seems (I hope I do not do him a disservice) to imagine that everything from two thousand years ago is so obscure as to be impenetrable to critical thought. I suspect that, in this, he may have been influenced by the commonly-held idea that religion involves, at some level or another, irrational belief in propositions which have no rational content.
Whether or not Mr Phelan does hold these opinions, the evil mode of thought upon which Mr Brown's opera feed is in any case precisely the abdication of discernment: the assertion, or rather the assumption, that no claim can be discerned to be true, and that every statement is of equal authority - which is to say, none at all. As Aelianus pointed out recently in a quite different context, this is easily short-circuited with the example of the Holocaust. No-one denies that we have definite historical knowledge of its happening. When it comes to the claims of Christianity, it is really just as useless to say that it is all a matter of opinion. We ought to be attracted, like Helena, to facts, not to airy fairy (or, in the mithras case, bloody and bullish) bosh. But if apparently quite intelligent people are happy to work on the assumption that, when it comes down to it, we don't know anything remotely certainly - what on earth is one to do?
Oh. Yes. Fast and pray.