Monthly Archives: February 2006

Schönborn’s fourth Creation catechesis

Those who have been following Cardinal Schönborn’s catecheses on Creation and Evolution will want to read the fourth presentation in this series:

“He upholds the universe by His word and power”

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Abbott’s "Voice of Reason" on Multi-Culturalism

Now who is the voice of reason?

It will come as a surprise to some to find “hardliner” Tony Abbott coming to the defence of multiculturalism in Australia. Lest it seem that he is trying to pick a fight with the Federal Treasurer, we should note that his article was published in the Quadrant before Mr Costello’s Sydney Institute speech.

But should we be surprised? Again and again, Catholics have been able to recognise in the experience of today’s Muslim migrants their own past experiences. Whether in the 19th Century when the Protestant establishment looked down on the second class Irish Catholic community, or in the post WWII immigration when Italians and Eastern Europeans brought their very non-Anglo peculiarities to these shores along with their peculiar faith.

Here’s just a bit of what Tony had to say:

“Several centuries after theocracy was rejected in the West, it can be a shock to find calls for sharia law in Australian places of worship. Still, it would be a big mistake to dismiss this as “un-Australian” rather than to begin the kind of engagement that eventually made Christianity less bloody. Indeed, talking to the more hard-line Muslims, rather than ostracising them or shouting them down, could be one of the greatest services Australia can render to the wider world. Why shouldn’t the Muslim version of the Enlightenment and an Islamic doctrine of the separation of church and state be fostered in Australia? Especially as the task is so urgent.

“Keeping faith with Australians of every background and opinion means strictly impartial law enforcement. In a pluralist society, appearing to take sides is a recipe for disaster.”

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Update in "Year of Grace"

I have posted a new episode in my “Year of Grace” retro-blog about my conversion to the Catholic Church.

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Call no man your father…

Just last night, I was listening to a program on EWTN in which a caller rang up and asked about the passage “Call no man your father” (Matt 23:9). The explanation given was that Jesus was talking about the various factions among the Pharisees of his day, who distinguished themselves from one another on the basis of which rabbi they claimed as their “father” or “teacher”. Thus the various human authorities became excuses for divisions among those who should be following God. [Thus also, incidentally, Jesus was not referring to addressing someone “father” as a mark of respect.]

Then a friend alerted me to the following passage in Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology:

“Thoma Aquinas and the other great Scholastics of the thirteenth century are “Fathers” of a specifically Roman Catholic theology from which the Christian churches of the Reformation consider themselves completely separated and which, for the churches of the East, also express an alien mentality… On the other hand, it is evident that Protestant theology is also not without its “Fathers”, insofar as the leaders of the Reformation have, for it, a position comparable to the role of the Fathers of the Church… Indeed, we must go a step farther and say that the division in the Church is revealed above all in the fact that the Fathers of the one side are not the Fathers of the other. And the ever more observable inability of the one side to understand the other even in language and mode of thought stems from the fact that each has learned to think and speak at the knees of totally different Fathers. The differences among the sects do not have their source in the New Testament. They arise from the fact that the New Testament is read under the tutelage of different Fathers.” (pp. 140, 142-143)

Yes, indeed. Call no man your “father”…

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Mr Costello feels guilty about dentention of migrants

“The point is reasonable but the presentation provocative”, says Michelle Grattan about the Treasurer’s Sydney Institute Speech. We agree. Of course citizenship means embracing the values of the nation (which are currently a subject of debate in themselves). But why the needless provocative statements about a particular faith/cultural group within Australia? Why not, as Grattan suggests, target “sophisticated globalised workers”? Why not those immigrants who bring gang warfare and organised crime to Australia? Is there another agenda here?

In the speech, Mr Costello described a citizenship ceremony he attended.

“One of the speakers this year extolled the virtues of multiculturalism telling those attending that becoming an Australian did not mean giving up culture or language or religion or opinions and it certainly did not mean giving up the love of their country of birth. The longer he went on about how important it was not to give up anything to become an Australian the more it seemed to me that, in his view, becoming an Australian didn’t seem to mean very much at all – other than getting a new passport.”

While I support Mr Costello’s call for newcomers to embrace “Australian values” (which, as far as I can tell, are the humanitarian values of people of good will everywhere), may I suggest that this still need not necessitate the renunciation of the peculiar cultural practices and values of the place of origin. The only exception, of course, would be where those peculiar practices and values conflict with Australian law. Did Mr Costello need to attack a particular segment of the Australian migrant society to get this message across?

As an aside, I wonder if Mr Costello is aware of the double meaning behind his thoughts at the citizenship ceremony: “At this point, I was feeling quite guilty that we had detained these good people so long.” Is this the apology we have been waiting for so long?

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The Letter of the Conscientious Dissenters

Thanks to Pete for this link to the text of the letter to the CDF about George Pell.


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Where did Vatican II say you would find the Word of God?

This morning, on the Stephen Crittenden show, we received further enlightenment about the agenda of the “Conscientious Objectors”. It seems that in thinking their argument with Cardinal Pell was simply over a misunderstanding of meaning of the word “conscience” in Catholic theology, I had underestimated their capacity for obfuscation . It now seems that what they really don’t understand is what the Church (yes, even the post-Vatican II Church) means when she speaks of “The Word of God”.

Cardinal Pell has insisted that above and beyond any doctrine of the “primacy of conscience” must be a doctrine of the “primacy of the Word of God”. I would have thought that this was fairly uncontroversial. Not only in the Catholic tradition, but even—or should I say “especially”?—strong in the Protestant tradition is the conviction that one’s conscience is not simply what one thinks or prefers, but is ultimately bound by the objective Word of God. When Luther declared (if he ever did declare) “Here I stand, I can do no other”, it was because he felt his conscience bound by the Word of God, which had the primary claim upon his conscience and to which he submitted his conscience.

Now what did Luther mean by “Word of God”? Did he mean the Word of God as he found it in his family, in his community, in his soul, in himself? Did the word come to him from through listening to his wife [yes, I know he wasn’t married until 1525, but bear with me here], his mother, the ABC [or whatever its 16th Century equivalent was]?

No? Strange about that, because that’s where Judge Chris Geraghty claims to look for the Word of God. Moreover, he insists that the Church teaches that Word of God is to be found in all these places, in addition to the Church, the liturgy, and the Bible. Moreover, he challenges Cardinal Pell “to deny that the Second Vatican Council said that the word of God is in the community, it’s in the world, in the signs of the times, as well as in the Bible, as well as in the church”.

I think the onus of proof is on Judge Geraghty’s side, rather than Cardinal Pell’s. According to the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum §10:

“Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. …But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ… It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”

There is, therefore, only one deposit of the Word of God, written in the scriptures and transmitted by sacred tradition, which the bishops (such as Cardinal Pell) have been authorised exclusively to interpret.

Judge Geraghty challenges Cardinal Pell’s definition of the Word of God. I challenge Judge Geraghty to come up with any passage in either the documents of the Second Vatican Council or the Catechism of the Catholic Church that uses the term “Word of God” to refer to anything other than either 1) the Second Person of the Trinity who became Incarnate in Jesus Christ; or 2) the “single deposit” of God’s Word found in Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

I do not deny that the Word of God can be “in the community”, “in the world”, or even “in the words of my wife”, but it is “in” these places in the same sense that the Word of God could be said to be “in” a forest, if perchance Christ should be walking through the forest, or if the Scriptures were to be read and proclaimed in such a place. For the Word of God is not simply “in the Bible” in the sense that the Bible contains the Word of God. Rather it is the Scriptures, in the same sense that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus Christ and does not only contain it. Thus, just as the Church teaches that Christ is present in many places other than the Eucharist, nevertheless, Christ is said to be present in the Eucharist in a way superior to all others. Thus the Second Vatican Council taught that the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired really are the word of God.” (DV §24, my emphasis). Thus the Scriptures truly are the Word of God in a “supreme” manner.

Against this clear teaching of Vatican II, Judge Geraghty asserts that the idea that “the Bible remains supreme” is simply “fundamentalism”, like that of “the fundamentalist Muslims and the fundamental Christians”. It disturbs me that a man who has proven himself to be a highly respected and competent member of the legal profession can so easily have misinterpreted the clear written words of the Second Vatican Council on such a fundamental issue.

This blog has gone on long enough. But here’s your chance to do a little role play. Pretend that you are Archbishop Levada. It is your job to respond to the letter of complaint from the Australian dissenters. All you have at your disposal by which to judge their complaint is the section on the “moral conscience” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now write your letter of reply.


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A real hoot! Cardinal Pell and the New Inquisitors

It has a certain logic.

You belong to the Catholic Church, but you believe orthodox Catholic doctrine allows you to dissent from the teachings of its magisterium on the basis of the “freedom of conscience”.

A prominent local bishop teaches that “freedom of conscience” does not excuse voluntary members of the Catholic Church from the obligation to conform their public life and teaching to Catholic doctrine.

You believe that such a position dissents from orthodox Catholic doctrine.

So you lodge a complaint about the said bishop’s “dissent” to the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose responsibility it is to pull such dissenters into line.

To add even more charm to this logic, the bishop against whom you are complaining was for some time a member of the CDF.

And they wonder why they haven’t received a reply…

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a read of this article in today’s edition of THE AGE.

Frank Purcell says that “the issue was an important question of religious freedom”. I would suggest that one excercises one freedom in this regard by a choice of whether to belong to the Catholic Church or not. When I became a Catholic, there were a number of points on which my views differed from the views of the Church. My conscience, however, required that if I were embracing the Church because I recognised her teaching authority, I could not then pick and choose which of her teachings I would regard as authoritative.

I’m not going to go into all the questions of the primacy of conscience here at this point—it is not a simple argument. One of the main difficulties is that moderns tend to think of “conscience” to mean either “what I want” or “my opinion” or “what I feel”. When the Church talks about conscience, she means none of these things. Cardinal Pell knows that, but I don’t think his complainants do.

If you want to read what Cardinal Pell has written on conscience, have a look at: “The Inconvenient Conscience” (First Things). If you want to read the opposite view, have a look at: “A Catholic Social Conscience: Can it be reclaimed for our time” by Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who, at the launch of the ACBC Pastoral Letter on the Media, stated that it was possible for a Catholic in good conscience to support the RU486 bill.

As the good Cardinal himself has said: “This is a real hoot. Such well-known defenders of orthodoxy as Paul Collins, Veronica Brady and Max Charlesworth appealing to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

We too enjoy the joke.

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Archbishop Fitzgerald Reassigned: What does it mean?

I arrived at work this morning to the news that Archbishop Fitzgerald (President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue) has been reassigned as Nuncio to Egypt. There has been a good deal of speculation about this, but the reports that I find most interesting are in Catholic World News and John Allen’s Word from Rome.

Even before I read Allen’s comments, I asked myself “Is this to be read as a vote of no confidence in Mons. Fitzgerald?”, and answered “No, not possible” for two reasons: 1) as Allen reports, Fitzgerald is very moderate in his approach, and I would say that he has always represented the Church in interfaith affairs with the greatest fidelity; 2) he would have to be the Vatican’s most expert theologian in the dialogue between Muslims and Christians. When I put the last consideration together with the fact that the Al-Azhar University is in Egypt, and the Vatican relates to Al-Azhar as the major partner in the dialogue with Islam, the whole thing “clicked”, and (if you will excuse my lack of humility) I felt confident that I could see what Benedict is thinking on this.

CWN reports that “his departure may be a signal that the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue will be eliminated”. That may be the hope of a certain element “right-of-centre” Catholicism that has never accepted the fact that the Church is committed to interreligious dialogue, but I don’t believe a word of it. It would certainly be a very counter-intuitive move in a “post-Sept-11” world. The work of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission in Melbourne has more than doubled in the last five years and all because of the importance that interfaith dialogue has on the Melbourne scene. I believe this is mirrored in other dioceses, and can’t for the life of me see how it does not apply to the Vatican. I also can’t square this forecast with the Pope’s own stated commitment to interreligious relations.

I had the pleasure of being a part of a conference in which the Archbishop was the key facilitator back in 2002. I credit him with “converting” me (a very conservative convert to Catholicism) to the value of interfaith dialogue. I have been hoping ever since that he would be recognised with a cardinal’s hat, and acknowledge that his redeployment to Egypt will at least put this development on hold. I hope, however, that John Allen is right in suggesting that this may simply be a “detour” rather than a “roadblock” along that road.

It could well be that Pope Benedict is less concerned with his prelates’ career paths, and more concerned with getting the right man for the job (ie. putting people where their Spirit-given gifts can shine for all the world to see). For which we would all be thankful.

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Schönborn, Barr, and William of Baskerville

First came Cardinal Christof Schönborn’s New York Times essay last July. Then came Stephen Barr’s critique in the October edition of First Things. Now Cardinal Schönborn’s response from the January edition of First Things is available for online reading. Keep an eye on the First Things website for when they make Stephen Barr’s response in the February edition available online. The discussion is one of the most fascinating to and fro’s since America carried the Universal/Local Church debate between Cardinals Kasper and (then) Ratzinger.

What intrigued me most about Cardinal Schönborn’s reply? The simple statement that:

“Modern science first excludes a priori final and formal causes, then investigates nature under the reductive mode of mechanism (efficient and material causes), and then turns around to claim both final and formal causes are obviously unreal, and also that its mode of knowing the corporeal world takes priority over all other forms of human knowledge.”

The illogical circularity of the argument is more than evident, as is the hubris involved. I also appreciate the good Cardinal’s insistence that he is not arguing theology over against science (which would, he demonstrates, be simply positing deism over against positivism, when in fact the two tend to coexist quite happily) but rather using philosophy to critique both the positivistic approach of ideological “science” and deistic theologies which claim that intelligent causation in nature can only be known by faith (which, he notes, is a curious new application of the dictum “sola fides”).

Schönborn also raises the point that the notion of “randomness” plays a “quite different role in thermodynamics, quantum theory, and other natural sciences” compared to “the randomness of neo-Darwinian biology”. In the case of the first, he says, “the random behaviour of parts is embedded in and constrained by a deeply mathematical and precise conceptual structure of the whole that makes the overall behaviour of the system orderly and intelligible.” “Randomness” in Neo-Darwinian biology, however, is supposed to be completely unrelated to anything. “Yet”, he points out, “out of all that unconstrained, unintelligible mess emerges, deus ex machina, the precisely ordered and extraordinarily intelligible world of living organisms.” As Fr Neuhaus would say: “Go figure.”

Schönborn takes up Barr’s excellent example of the randomness of numberplates observed on a transcontinental road journey. Yes, the state of registration for each successive numberplate is “random” in the sense of unpredictable, but when one stands back, one can detect a pattern, viz. that in each state through which one passes, numberplates from that state predominate. Thus, the Darwinian “takes a very narrow view of the supposedly random variation that meets his gaze”, whereas, “if he steps back and looks at the sweep of life, he sees an obvious, indeed an overwhelming patter.”

Now I just happen to be rereading Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose at the moment, and I came across the following passage. The context is this: Br William and Adso have been lost inside the maze of the library, but once outside the library, they survey the aedificium from outside, and use their reason to solve the puzzle of the labyrinth. Br William observes that:

“Thus God knows the world, because He conceived it in His mind, as if from the outside, before it was created, and we do not know its rule, because we live inside it, having found it already made…The creations of art [such as the aedificium, can be known from the outside], because we retrace in our minds the operations of the artificer. Not the creations of nature, because they are not the work of our minds.”

While, William of Baskerville seems to deny that which Cardinal Schönborn insists upon, nevertheless there is a connecting point on which they agree. Whereas the physicist can (to a certain extent) stand outside of any (for eg.) thermodynamic system he may create, the neo-Darwinist (like the rest of us) is hindered in the search for an observable design or pattern in biology simply from the fact that he too is a part of the biological labyrinth. Br William observes that “the creations of art” can be known from the outside “because we retrace in our minds the operations of the artificer”, that is, we have enough in common with the artist that we can understand the making of brush strokes and the mixing of paints. But do our intellects have enough in common with the Intellect that designed the world in which we live to be able to detect the “intelligent design” within that universe? Cardinal Schönborn insists that the Catholic tradition answers this question an emphatic “Yes”. We shall wait to see what Stephen Barr has to say…

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