Monthly Archives: July 2006

Bishop Tom Wright answers Kasper on Women Bishops

Here’s one that has probably slipped under the radar of many Catholics. Most who have been paying attention to things ecumenical and the continued woes of the Anglican Communion will be aware of Cardinal Kasper’s frank but ultimately futile plea to the Church of England house of bishops not to go down the path of admitting women to the episcopate—although even he acknowledged that if you have already taken the step of ordaining women to the priesthood, consecration as bishops is logically the next step.

But what you may not be aware of is that a reply to Cardinal Kasper has been penned by no less a personage than the superlative historian of the New Testament and Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright (in partnership with Bishop Stancliffe of Salisbury).

Taken together, these two papers could form the basis of a week long seminar on the future direction of Catholic/Anglican relations. As it is, I intend, over the coming weeks, to make some comments on Dr Wright’s paper. I have a huge respect for his work—although I share some of the frustration that our Anglican brethren and Sistern in Sydney have with him: namely, that while he is generally a conservative and evangelical defender of orthodoxy (for eg. he opposes the ordination of practicing homosexuals), he is very much in favour of the ordination (and hence consecration) of women.

Lutherans who take the time to read his arguments set forth in this reply to Kasper will note with some amusement that the arguments he puts forward for the ordination of women differ in no way from the arguments of the pro-WO camp in the LCA. This does not stop him from accusing Catholics of opposing the ordination of women because they interpret scripture through tradition, rather than taking scripture at face value. Lutherans—who do attempt to take scripture at face value quite apart from any sort of authoritative tradition—are still far from agreed that the pro-WO position is “scriptural”.

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A New Way of Viewing the Question of Communion for Those who are Divorced and Remarried?

Worth a very close look is the proposal of Alberto Bonandi regarding communion for divorced and remarried persons, which Sandro Magister has translated and posted on his website “www.chiesa”. This is really ground breaking stuff, however I don’t feel that it will be the solution we are looking for.

In its favour, it takes seriously the meaning of conversion while at the same time paying much greater attention to the issues of personal responsibility. In the past, there has seemed to be some discrepancy in both areas in the Church’s practice in this area. I am especially interested in the question, but it would also seem to point to a way of dealing with the situation of the divorced and remarried baptised person who converts to the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, it could be a very difficult to apply Bonandi’s suggestions in practice. How would a pastor deal with a person who at the time he divorced his (her) spouse and entered a new relationship with a new partner actually calculated that the Church would be liable to show lenience towards his actions at some point in the future? How would a pastor deal with a situation in which a person who had been admitted back to communion (under the circumstances Bonandi proposes) left his second relationship for a third relationship? Would such a person be given the benefit of the doubt a second time?

Protestant churches such as the Church of England (as in the case of Prince Charles) and the Lutheran Church of Australia (as in my own case) have for many decades viewed divorce as a sin for which absolution could be granted in such a way as to annul the previous marriage and thus enable them to bless a new relationship as a marriage. This is emphatically not what Bonandi proposes, but his proposal does share some procedural similarities.

In any case, read Bonandi’s proposal for yourself and see what you think.


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Is the Creator’s Excess "Unintelligent"? Reflection on Robyn Williams "Unitelligent Design"

The Faith and Order Commission of the Victorian Council of Churches currently has its attention focused on the matter of “Intelligent Design”. I rather fear that, like the ship-board computer in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide which has all its memory circuits tied up in trying to work out what a “nice cup of tea” is for Arthur Dent when it should be working out some way of diverting the missiles that have been fired upon the space ship, this will be a time-consuming and, in the end, a rather inconclusive exercise when we could be focusing on something a little more to the point.

Nevertheless, it has meant that we have been doing some interesting reading. After reading this morning’s edition of The Age, we might want to put Robyn Williams new book “Unintelligent Design” on our reading list. The Age has published an extract from this book, and I quote a few lines below:

“If God s intention was to put man on Earth, made in his own image, surrounded by parkland, creatures and, eventually, a spouse, why make such a large planet? The Garden of Eden could not have been much larger than Central Park — enough to enable Adam and Eve to have an amusing existence — so why all those big continents, deserts and expanses of ice larger even than the whole of Australia? And why a vast solar system with planets enough to make our own look puny? And why a galaxy within which distances are so huge that the sermon on the mount travelling at the speed of light would barely leave the neighbourhood and could reach the galaxy’s boundary only after unimaginable eons. And then there are the billions of stars other than our sun in the galaxy and then … trillions of other galaxies extending as far as one can imagine. And beyond that too. This is over-engineering, surely. Intelligent design it isn’t.”

He continues:

“To sum up: once the universe is given the physical settings it possesses, then its size and age arise accordingly. If God’s prime focus was to produce human beings, he has certainly gone a very long way around. If he were all-powerful and deter- mined, he could have chosen one of the infinite alternatives Rees has on offer. Maybe God wasn’t fussed about time passing or materials wasted. However, it does appear to be an almighty diversion. Unless he happens to be awfully keen on astronomy, that is.”

That sent me back to Ratzinger (aka Papa Benny), in his classic work “Introduction to Christianity” (Memo to reader: buy this book and read it now if you haven’t yet done so).

In the section “Excursus: Christian Structures”, Prof. Ratzinger listed six “structures” which “summarise the basic content of Christianity in a few easily graspable statements.” No. 4 in this list is “The Law of Excess or Superfluity”. Ratzinger writes:

“Christ is the infinite self-expenditure of God … [which points back] … to the structural law of creation, in which life squanders a million seeds in order to save one living one; in which a whole universe is squandered in order to prepare at one point a place for spirit, for man. Excess is God’s trademark in his creation; as the Fathers put it, “God does not reckon his gifts by measure.” At the same time, excess is also the real foundation and form of salvation history, which in the last analysis is nothing other than the truly breathtaking fact that God, in an incredible outpouring of himself, expends not only a universe but his own self in order to lead man, a speck of dust, to salvation. So excess or superfluity—let us repeat—is the real definition or mark of the history of salvation. The purely calculating mind will always find it absurd that for man God himself should be expended. Only the lover can understand the folly of a love to which prodigality is a law and excess alone is sufficient.”

In the mean time, with regard to the question of “Intelligent Design”, I am drawn to the idea, not so much of “Intelligent Design” as a scientific method (because that seems to posit a divine “Designer” right from the beginning which seems to me to go beyond what science can say as science) but intelligible” design. In other words, there is something intrinsic in the world which matches, pairs or is correlated to something intrinsic in my own thinking processes, that is, it is “intelligible”. Is it not a marvellous fact that I can look at the world around me and make sense of it (even if limited)? This “intelligibility” is itself something that can be scientifically noted and reflected upon, even it in the end, it might lead us beyond science to philosophy, and yes, even theology.

This is surely what Schönborn was getting at in his First Things essay “The Designs of Science”

“Instead, my argument was based on the natural ability of the human intellect to grasp the intelligible realities that populate the natural world, including most clearly and evidently the world of living substances, living beings. Nothing is intelligible—nothing can be grasped in its essence by our intellects—without first being ordered by a creative intellect. The possibility of modern science is fundamentally grounded on the reality of an underlying creative intellect that makes the natural world what it is. The natural world is nothing less than a mediation between minds: the unlimited mind of the Creator and our limited human minds. Res ergo naturalis inter duos intellectus constituta—“The natural thing is constituted between two intellects,” in the words of St. Thomas. In short, my argument was based on careful examination of the evidence of everyday experience; in other words, on philosophy.”

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So what’s human anyway?

In today’s letters to The Age, Dirk Baltzley, School of Philosophy and Bioethics (Monash University) counters the claims of Professor John Martin (Letters, 25/7) that, “if it is human, it is wrong to destroy it”, with a declaration that “human in the moral context means the kind of being, that is wrong to harm because it is self-conscious and desires to keep on living.”

Baltzley then decides, having defined human in this way, that “it is clearer to call such beings persons, to avoid confusion between moral standing and biological specieshood”.

This should give us some cause for concern for at least the following reasons:

1.     Graham Harvey believes even rocks and cars are “people” (see previous blog)
2.     Baltzley seems to work under the Alice in Wonderland misapprehension that a word can mean whatever he wants it to mean.
3.     That this applies even more if what we are discussing is the moral meaning of the word.

I have no argument re the fact that a foetus is not a self-conscious being.  Just so, Baltzley can have no argument that a foetus is — in any objective scientific sense — human.

I do not believe and I don’t think Professor Martin argued that it is wrong to destroy something that is human, just because it is human in its DNA.  In fact, something may be part of a human and still described as human, for instance, my toe nail clippings.  But to say that something is a human being is to say that it is, in its essence and in all its parts, and in its entirety, human.  And it is a false limitation upon the meaning of the word human to ascribe it simply to those kind of beings that are self-conscious and desire to keep on living.

By Baltzley’s definition, I would cease not only to be a person, but indeed to be a human being, should I at any point cease to be self-conscious or lose my desire to continue living.  Such a definition therefore is not only dangerous but patently absurd.  One assumes that when Baltzley identifies himself as being from the Monash University School of Philosophy and Bioethics, he means he is just enrolled in Philosophy 101.

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Its Pius’s all the way down

Here’s a good blogsite that I encountered by flicking through the list of the B-Team (Amateur Catholic Blogsites): Totus Pius. At first I wondered if it might not be one of the schismatic or sede vacantes mob, but he’s kosher (if that’s the right word in this context). The papal authorship conceit is rather clever. Check out the personal details of the contributing “bloggers”.

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Why an exclusive return to Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony is not solution to the woes of Catholic Church music

Sandro Magister makes available to the English speaking world the interview with Domenico Bartolucci, the reinstated capelmeister of the Sistine Chapel, first published in L’espresso.

Regular readers of this column will know that I would be the first to blow the whistle on the current mess which is Catholic liturgical music (if it were not for the fact that there have been literally thousands before me who have done so, not the least of whom is Thomas Day, the author of the excellent book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing”).

But the solution cannot be that which Mons. Bartolucci seems to propse, ie. the restriction of Catholic liturgical music to Gregorian Chant and Polyphony. It is true that Pope Benedict himself, after a concert conducted by Bartolucci on 24th June, declared sacred polyphony “a legacy to be carefully preserved, kept alive and propagated, for the benefit not only of scholars and enthusiasts, but of all the ecclesial community”. Nevertheless, it cannot have been Papa Benny’s intention to abolish all other forms of music. What he said was that “a true aggiornamento of sacred music cannot be achieved except by following the great traditions of the past, of Gregorian chants and sacred polyphony” (my emphasis).

Indeed, polyphony was a development in the history of western liturgical music which ‘followed’ the tradition of Gregorian Chant, rather than slavishly reproduced it. More to the point, we do not today know how the music of St Gregory the Great actually sounded. The tradition of chant in the Church has always been one of development and fluidity as much as preservation and antiquity.

The interview with Bartolucci runs through a whole list of Western composers: Verdi, Palestrina, Beethoven, Puccini, Mozart, Brückner, Mahler, Bach, Lasso, Victoria—but the works of all these men were never the music of the masses, let alone “The Holy Mass”, as it was performed in the parish church by parish priest, choir and congregation. Is it ridiculous to suggest that one of the reasons why Catholic liturgical music has fallen into such a hole while music in Protestant churches continues to thrive is precisely this “professionalisation” of liturgical music? Bartolucci speaks of liturgical music as “art” at the end of the interview, but our parishes are not made up of artists. Our organists and choirs, even when we have them, are not artists. They are ordinary little old ladies, and earnest young folk who enjoy singing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am in full support of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony where it can be managed. Dr Geoffrey Cox, the capelmeister at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, has demonstrated very well what a local Church is capable of given the right resources. But we cannot believe that what works in the Cathedral will work in the parish except in very exceptional circumstances.

I am also all in favour of parishes learning to sing the liturgy of the Mass to simple and dignified Gregorian tones. I grew up chanting the liturgy in the Lutheran Church. It was strong and robust (even “manly”), but it was simple and unchanging. The Catholic Church needs again a standard Gregorian setting for the mass which all its people throughout the world can sing. If you want an idea of the sort of thing I mean, just listen to the Lord’s Prayer as it is sung in Latin, English, German, Spanish and just about every other language. For goodness sake, the version used by the Romans is only a little different from that which I grew up with in the Lutheran Church.

But we should not kid ourselves that our parishes are going to be able to perform Palestrina or Lasso, or even that they will be capable of more than one ferial and one festival Gregorian setting of the ordo of the mass. In the meantime, we cannot banish other forms of music that have come to serve us well, most particularly “the hymn” form which has, since the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, become a central part of the Christian repertoire. We also need to be open to new forms of liturgical music, such as that developed by the Taize community.

So what do we need in terms of liturgical music for the 3rd millenium? Let’s make a few suggestions:

1) Music that “follows” the tradition of Gregorian chant. Our liturgy was, for about 1500 years, synonymous with the chant. The Chant formed the liturgy and vice versa. We need to respect this symbiotic relationship.
2) Music that can be learned and sung, not by artists, but by ordinary worshippers. This does not mean that the music need not be skilful, nor that it should be effortless to learn, but it must be within the reach of bulk of the people.
3) Music that can be owned by the community and, to a certain extent, define the community in much the same way that the Gregorian Chant once did. It should be the “sound” of the community’s heart beat.
4) Music that is bi-lingual, ie. that uses both Latin and the vernacular and can switch between both. I am sick to death of hearing that Gregorian chant can only be used with Latin. I know from experience that this is nonsense. It is the opinion of “experts” who have never seriously attempted otherwise. It is this insistence that killed the Chant when the English liturgy was adopted. Lutherans went from Latin to German to English with the same unchanging tunes. They still sing the liturgy. Catholics don’t. Go figure.
5) Music that can be sung unaccompanied, and is strong enough to be memorable. Such music will be able to be used anywhere and will sing deep into the hearts of the people.

So, that’s the sort of music we need. Will the new St Gregory please stand up and invent it? You don’t have to start from scratch. The old Chant will do nicely as a launching pad. But unless we want to retreat into a situation where the liturgy is a museum piece, we can’t go back. We can only go forward.

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"You’re Loony!" Neo-Animism on the ABC

Sometimes the only sane response one can make to someone’s deeply held and most sincere beliefs is (in the words of the immortal “Goodies”): “You’re loony!”

Such is my response to the ramblings of (neo-)animist Graham Harvey, featured recently on “The Spirit of Things” on ABC Radio National.

For a saner view of primitive culture, see Spengler’s column, “The Fraud of Primitive Authenticity”.

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Key elements of Benedict XVI’s principles for inter-faith dialogue

Colin Patterson is a student at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family. As part of his course work, he completed an excellent and very readable assessment of the key elements of interfaith dialogue according to Benedict XVI, now available on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission website.

To be perfectly honest, it is more an assessment of Joseph Ratzinger’s approach to interfaith dialogue, based as it is largely on the works of Ratzinger collected in the volume “Truth and Tolerance”. As such, it is an very good summary, and worthy reading for all Catholics trying to get their heads around the way interfaith dialogue fits into orthodox Catholic teaching.

The next step (Colin and all other B16 watchers out there) would be to synthesise Benedict’s approach to interfaith issues since his election in April 2005. There is enough material there for us already to form an idea, but it would be interesting to “join the dots” with the theology of the man who was once Cardinal Ratzinger.

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Hope for Dreamy Ecu-maniacs: Methodists come in on Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ)

Yes, some of us still remain “slightly dreamy” in the hope of “full, structural unity among all Christians as anything other than an end-time objective”. John Allen has this to say in this week’s “All Things Catholic” column (the rebadged “Word from Rome”):

“Sometimes professional ecumenists, whose life’s work is reconciliation among the divided branches of the Christian family, are jokingly referred to as “ecu-maniacs.” The quip is usually one part satire, and one part grudging respect.

“In fact, given the experience of recent years — including ongoing tensions with the Orthodox over Ukraine and accusations of proselytism, and with the Anglicans and other Western churches over women’s ordination and homosexuality — perhaps one does have to be just slightly dreamy to cling to the vision of full, structural unity among all Christians as anything other than an end-time objective.

“Yet the ecumenists continue to plug away, exhibiting a rather remarkable confidence that everything will sort itself out in God’s time.”

He goes on to report that the Seoul convention of World Methodism has voted to enter into partnership in the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”.

The centre-piece to this statement is, as he points out, the following paragraph:

“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.”

Of course, not everyone is completely happy with the formulation. But its there on paper, and now has the agreement of a sizable chunk of Western Christendom. In a way, the JDDJ seems to be forming its own “Basis of Union” for an international “Uniting Church”.

Which leaves one to wonder what effect the decision of the World Methodist Conference will be locally. One assumes that the Uniting Church in Australia has some sort of connection to this group (info anyone?). Could there be some sort of future activity here in Australia in which the Catholic, Lutheran and Uniting churches all together recognise a joint position on the doctrine of Justification?

If so, this would give at least one dreamy ecu-maniac (moi) some cause for hope…


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The Effeminate Community vs the Bride of Christ

The first time I even became aware of this question was when a Catholic priest attended one of our Lutheran Synodical meetings and expressed his surprise at the robust male voices that dominated the singing. Not so in his own fold, he told us (and I have come to know only too well).

For some reason (or reasons) the Lutheran Church of Australia is a “blokey” church. That could be for any of the following reasons:
1) it has a strong patriarchal tradition
2) it is good at retaining its youngsters—male and female
3) it is a rural (ie. farmer) dominated church
4) it has robust theology, liturgy and music.

I would be interested in hearing from Lutherans out there what they think.

In any case, it is not the general experience of the rest of our Christian community, and Robin Russell, the managing editor of the US “United Methodist Reporter” believes she has some insight into the reasons why, in an article entitled “Are churches ‘too feminized’ for men?”. The article focuses on another work, by David Murrow, called Why Men Hate Going to Church. (You can read Murrow’s basic thesis in an article here)

Murrow believes the churches have actively followed an agenda that will drive men away while attracting women. He writes:

“Most churches offer a safe, nurturing community, an oasis of stability and predictability. Studies show that women and seniors are the groups most likely to seek these things. Our comforting congregations provide women with what they long for, so naturally they show up in large numbers.

“On the other hand, men and young adults are drawn to risk, challenge, and daring. While our official mission is one of adventure, the actual mission of most congregations is making people feel comfortable and safe… Church insiders routinely block anything challenging or innovative because it might make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This caution keeps the peace in the short term, but it drives men and young adults away over the long term.”

Or put it another way:

“Every Muslim man knows that he is locked in a great battle between good and evil… But most Christians today, he said, see their faith more in terms of “having an unconditional love relationship” with Jesus. And if that’s the punch line of the Gospel, then you’re going to have a lot more women than men taking you up on your offer, because women are interested in a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. Men, generally, are not.”

All this should be ringing bells with us Catholics too. How often have you heard your parish leaders tell you that they are trying to make the parish “community” a “safe place”, a “place of nurture”, a place where people “can experience unconditional love”, and where “they can feel free to open up and share their inner selves”?

I am also interested to note that in my “mass community”, all the leaders are women. I go to a pastoral meeting, and I am the only bloke there if Father doesn’t show. Sister, the Pastoral Associate, leads the meetings. Where are the guys? Even if the meeting is held in the home of a leading family, the husband doesn’t join the group. It’s a “women’s group” doing “women’s business”.

We need to ask ourselves too what the effect on the Christian message in the west has been of the push to ordain women as priests and ministers. Has this only contributed to the fluffiness of the Church? Mind you, some of our priests could do with a few courses about getting in touch with their masculine side…

Nevertheless, I am a little wary, because further down in her article, Robin Russell cites the work of Leon J. Podles in “The Church Impotent: The feminization of Christianity”. (There is a review of that work here). On the basis of his work, she writes:

“After all, churches didn’t become “feminized” overnight… Dr. Podles traces a feminine characteristic of the church back to the 12th century, when medieval female orders began to rise and mystic Bernard of Clairvaux popularized the metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ.”

I think there is a difference between being theologically, liturgically and typologically “feminine before God”, and actually being “effeminate” as a social community. The Church can be the Bride of Christ without being a community suitable for women only.

In any case, Murrow, Russell and Podles all give us food for thought. Especially in this day and age when we are scrambling like lemmings to toss out all masculine imagery in favour or de-sexed or feminine imagery in the Church. Take for instance the following two suggestions by Murrow for countering the feminisation process:

Principle three: Present Christ’s masculine side. Pastors often focus on Jesus’ tenderness and empathy. This is a good thing, but presenting soft Jesus week after week runs the risk of turning men off. What man wants to follow Mr. Rogers? Even more bewildering are today’s praise songs – many of which feature lovey-dovey lyrics set to a romantic tune. Guys may feel unnatural singing romantic words to another man. Men want a leader, not a love object.

Principle four: Avoid feminine terminology. Christian men use terms such as precious, share, and relationship — words you’d never hear on the lips of a typical man. We talk a lot about the saved and the lost; men don’t want to be either. And here’s a term that puzzles a lot of guys: a personal relationship with Jesus. Christ’s bold, masculine command, “Follow Me!” is now, “Have a relationship with Me.” We’ve recast Jesus’ offer in feminine terms.”

That’s strong stuff. Are we up to the challenge?


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