For those who like a challenge, get a hold of N.T. Wright’s New Testament theology. It is a five volume job (I’m not sure if it’s complete yet), and I am only half-way through the first volume.
Bishop Wright, as opposed to a number of previous Bishops of Durham, believes in the Resurrection of Jesus, and his theology is aimed at showing why you can believe in it too. Its not easy going conceptually (although it reads very well; he has a preacher’s facility with language) because he starts at first principals (eg. “How do we know anything at all?”) and builds from there. For instance, the second part of his first volume (“The New Testament and the People of God“) deals with the following topics:
- Knowledge: Problems and Varieties
- Literature, Story and the Articulation of World Views
- History and the First Century
- Theology, Authority and the New Testament
Read Mark Mattison’s review. Are you ready for that? Take the plunge!
What have these three got in common: Cardinal Walter Kasper, Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright, and Ango-American travel writer Bill Bryson?
They were all at Durham University for the mega-pow-wow of mega-ecumenists last week (read John Allen’s report in the National Catholic Reporter or in Word from Rome and another report in the Tablet).
Bill Bryson, who just happens to be the Chancelor of Durham University conferred an honoury doctorate on the good Cardinal, and Bishop Wright (Anglican Bishop of Durham) conferred a blessing upon the same at an Anglican Eucharist. Cardinal Kasper addressed the crowd. I emailed him in Rome today requesting a copy of his address, or alternatively that he may be able to publish it somewhere on the ‘net for us all to see, so when I have a reply I will let you know.
(What? Yes, I do regularly correspond with the Vatican. Cardinal Kasper doesn’t personally answer his own email, but Archbishop Fitzgerald, President of the Pontifical Council for Interrelgious Dialogue, does. I have had the pleasure of meeting both gentlemen. Please keep them both in your prayers. Cardinal Kasper is working very hard, and he isn’t young any more. He is off to Armenia and Georgia next week for the first meeting of the new round of Catholic/Orthodox talks. And I rather hope that Bish Fitz–as he once told me he was known around the office–gets a red hat at the next consistory.)
While we’re on the topic of the Encyclical, there’s another surprising thing that should not miss our attention. We are used to talking about the Church in terms of the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. But Papa Benny emphatically adds a third essential duty and mark of the Church: Charity!
“The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word. ” (para. 22)
“the exercise of charity is an action of the Church as such, and that, like the ministry of Word and Sacrament, it too has been an essential part of her mission from the very beginning.” (para. 32)
Here is a curious thing that no-one has commented on. In “Deus Caritas Est”, the Pope doesn’t mention “sin” once. Check it out yourself. Do a search. I’ve checked the Latin too, so it isn’t the fault of the translators. Even “grace” only gets two mentions. What does this mean? Is this the explanation for his rather positive take on eros?
But he does use the word “purify” a lot. Two things come up for “purification” in this encyclical: eros and reason. Both “purifications” indicate that there is something amiss in the human exercise of these passions/faculties. So sin is there after all, lurking just behind the text.
I think this explains some reactions to the “eros” part of the Encyclical:
In the New York Times: “The Encyclical…did not mention abortion, homosexuality, contraception or divorce.” Gee, they must have been disappointed!
Dr Janice Crouse, of Beverly LaHaye Institute: “When a pope defines love and sex in terms of a married husband and wife, there’s going to be plenty of controversy.”
Father Joseph Fessio, SJ: “What is he doing here? He is saying no divorce. He is saying no promiscuity. He is saying no multiple wives. No homosexuality. He’s completely positive, but if you accept the teaching, consequences follow.”
And what about the “purification of reason”? Lutherans (hullo to you all out there!) have always distrusted human reason–not so much because they doubt the powers of reason, as that they do not underestimate the power of human sin to sully the waters of rationality.
When the pope talks about the need to purify reason in the realms of politics and the media, however, one is tempted to ask “What reason?”. Have you noticed how many people today are content to say “That’s what I think” or “That’s my opinion” without applying any reason or logic to their statements at all? Before we can “purify reason” there has to be some rationality there in the first place…
Cardinal Schönborn’s July 7 2005 article in the New York Times caused a stir last year (“Finding Design in Nature”) especially in the context of the Intelligent Design debate. While the debate rages across the world (and you can read some very considered Australian essays on the subject in the latest edition of Ethics Education), the editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has begun a series of catechetical lectures on the subject of Creation in his archdiocese of Vienna (that’s something you don’t see every day, a bishop, ordained to teach, actually teaching!). So far he has produced three such addresses, and they have all been “provisionally” translated into English because there is such a high demand for them. If you can read German, have a look at his other catechetical material on the site. The new Panzer Cardinal? Perhaps not (was there ever an old one?), but if the Church can ever see its way to having two German popes in a row, he could have a great responsibility ahead of him…
Here are the lectures. Read, learn and inwardly digest:
Creation and Evolution: To the Debate as It Stands
“In the Beginning God Created…”
“He created each thing according to its kind”
One of the recent presenters at Pope Benedict’s meeting with his past doctoral students was Dr Christian W. Troll, S.J. The private meeting addressed various aspects of Islam, and raised questions about the pope’s own view of the Qu’ran. You can read more about it here and here (and Spengler’s view here) if you haven’t caught up with this story yet.
In any case, Dr Troll has a really useful site called Muslims Ask, Christians Answer from which you can download a really useful little book called “Christian Responses to Muslim Questions”. This excellent book grew directly out of many years of face to face Muslim Christian dialogue. The presentation is very clear, and strives first to understand exactly what the Muslim question or criticism of Christianity is before jumping in with the Christian response. There are lots of Christian apologetics books addressed to Muslims, but none as good as this from the dimension of serious engagement. Christians reading it will learn a great deal about Islam.
I am currently reading a book that faces similar issues, called “No God but God” by A. Christian van Gorder that’s also fairly good, from an Evangelical perspective rather than a Catholic one. You can read a review of it on the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue site.
For those who have finished B16’s Encyclical and are hungry for more, may I suggest that you dig up Paul VI’s encyclical “Mysterium Fidei”? It was written just after the promulgation of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy in 1965. As the title suggests, it is about the Eucharist. Paul had noticed that the infamous “Spirit of Vatican II” was making an early and unwelcome appearance and that some theologians were ditching the traditional teaching of the Eucharist, so he wrote this as sort of “memo” to remind Catholic theologians, priests, bishops and faithful of what its all about. It is a very short encyclical by recent standards, but it is a real corker.
I came across “Mysterium Fidei” while in discussion with a priest who asserted that the “The Church does not teach that Christ is physically present in the Eucharist”. I acknowledged that the Church usually prefers to speak of a “substantial”, “ontological”, “bodily/corporeal” presence, rather than a “physical” presence per se, nevertheless, I wondered whether his assertion was correct. He quoted Aquinas who taught that Christ was not present in the Eucharist “per modum loci”–ie. as if Christ was “located” in the Eucharistic elements, and asserted that Christ was only “physically” present in heaven. That seemed a little close to the old BCP “Black Rubric” for my taste, so I went searching. Here’s what I found in PVI:
“Once the substance or nature of the bread and wine has been changed into the body and blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and wine except for the species–beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in his physical “reality”, corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place.” (MF 46)
So, Thomas A. was right, but Father was wrong: The Church does teach that Christ is physically present, but not “per modum loci”.
Read the whole thing here: Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei