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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