Monthly Archives: November 2006

But is it true?

“Is it true that God created the world in six days?”

That was the question rather bluntly put to me the other night at the Intelligent Design meeting. They asked me whether I believed that Genesis 1 was true. I said, of course (because I believe the whole bible to be God’s true and inerrant word), but not in the sense of modern historical or scientific textbooks. Rather more in the sense that a poem is true. In fact, I tried to tell them, sometimes a poem is more deeply true than any forensic description of “the facts”. But they didn’t buy it. Truth, pointed out the young pastor, according to St Thomas Aquinas and to Aristotle before him, is defined of “That which IS the case”. So then the question: “Do you think it is true that God created the world in six days?” Is it the case that God created the world in six days or not?

Well, they had me in a corner, because I wanted to say that Genesis 1 was true, but not true in such a way that I could say (historically and scientifically speaking) that the world came into being in 6 days.

Now, today, it came to me in a flash. What is Genesis 1 (and Genesis 2-Revelation 22, for that matter) about? Is it about what “was”? Or what “is”? If that which is true is THAT WHICH IS, then indeed the whole bible, all its stories, all its poems, yes, evening its histories, ARE TRUE, because they tell us the way that things ARE. The story in Genesis 1 (and, for that matter, the whole book of Revelation which is a different but related topic) are not about what WAS (or, in Revs case, what WILL BE) but what IS, right now. It is more true to say that the world IS created in six days than to say that it WAS created in six days. That is what the rhythm of the week is about. Even more, that is the meaning of the week in the light of Christ’s resurrection. The new creation is a seven day (actually, an eight-day–and again there are links with Revelation) creation. We are living in the present Creation. There is no past or future to God, but in him everything IS. He is the Great I AM. He is the “Right Now”. He is “The case as it is now”.

Do you get it? Yes, Genesis 1 (and especially 2-3) is TRUE because it speaks truly about the CASE AS IT IS right now. And that is more true than getting hung up about how it happened billions (or 6000) years ago.


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Joint Declaration follows Divine Liturgy at the Phanar

Well, I just finished watching EWTN’s coverage of the Divine Liturgy for the Festival of St Andrew (and the Translation of the relics of St John Chrysostom and St Gregory the Theologian) at the Cathedral Church of St George at the Phanar in Istanbul has just finished with the signing of the joint declaration between the Patriarch and the Pope.

I cannot find the text on the Internet yet, but I heard it read twice, and caught what will probably hit Turkey’s media in about a minute or two, namely that the Holy Father may not be quite as enthusiastic about the entry of Turkey into the EU as PM Erdrogan tries to make out. I am refering to that paragraph of the text that reiterates that all members of the European community must be committed to full religious freedom, and secondly that “while remaining open to other religions” the Christian identity of Europe must not be compromised. Now, nothing there explicitly, but you would have to be stupid not to understand what they are saying.

There always was speculation about how the Pope would raise the issue of rights for the Christian minorities in Turkey, and now we have seen it in no uncertain terms. It remains to be seen now whether there is a change in evaluation of the Apostolic Journey in the Turkish Newspapers. Up until now they have been rather positive because the Pope has seemed to endorse Turkey and all she stands for. Well, that endorsement just received a big qualification. I wonder how it will go down?

PS. As a footnote, after watching the entire divine liturgy, I couldn’t help but think “I know now why I am a Catholic–sometimes I like the liturgy just to last 20 minutes!” There were a few closeups of the Holy Father at times looking like he might drop off. My children said “Turn it down, Dad”–I don’t think they like Greek chanting. And it does seem to be something of a spectator sport. Compared to the somewhat homespun liturgy at the House of Mary in Ephesus yesterday (with Taize Chants, Hymns sung to Old One Hundredth, “Seek Ye First” Alleluias, and “Nearer My God to Thee” in Turkish–or was it Greek?), the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom really is for the experts. I was rather thrilled though to be able to follow the chanting of gospel in my Greek New Testament!

PPS. Top moments: The Kiss of Peace between the Holy Father and the Patriarch, and the Balcony appearance where the Patriarch lifted the Holy Father’s hand into the air in a sort of “victory” sign!

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My turn for a funny pope picture, Marco!

“Hey, this is fun, isn’t it?”


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What Gives? Archbishop of Canterbury Celebrates Eucharist in Catholic Basilica

When Anglican Rowan Williams was visiting Rome last week, the Vatican Information Service announced that “On the afternoon of Sunday, November 26, prior to his departure, Archbishop Williams will preside at an Anglican liturgy in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill.” The event duly went ahead and was reported by Rocco Palmo on his website. Among other things, he reports that:

Representing the Holy See was Kasper’s #2, Bishop Brian Farrell, LC, vested in choir dress. Canadian Fr Donald Bolen, an official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity with responsibility for the Reformed churches, proclaimed the Gospel at the Mass after having received the archbishop’s blessing.

Now comes the aftermath. One priest commented: “Of course, the Dominicans would have to be involved. I cannot imagine that the Pope would have allowed this. What is to stop any layman going in there and performing some ritual at the altar after this disgrace?!” A layman writes: “How can it be that an Anglican clergyman – with access to his own Anglican church building in Rome – can so publicly use a Catholic altar dressed in a chasuble and carrying a crosier? And what of the reportedly extraordinary participation of Catholic curial officials?”

What does it all mean? Has a sacrilegious crime been committed? or is this now the new policy of “eucharistic hospitality” in the Catholic Church?

There are two issues here. I won’t address the issue of the Archbishop of Canterbury, wearing vestments and carrying his crosier–what does one expect him to do in a liturgical celebration? Wear suit and tie? Nor will I address the accusation against the Dominicans–the letters “LC” after Bishop Farrell’s name stands for “Legionaries of Christ”, and when I last checked there was nothing liberal or unorthodox about them. Nor will I suggest the Holy Father didn’t know this was going to happen (is there anything in the Vatican, which he doesn’t know about?).

The first real issue is whether or not a Catholic Church should be used for a Protestant Eucharist. Here the “Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism” (PCPCU, 1993) is to be consulted:

137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship. However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services.

Note the highlighted section. There is an Anglican Church in Rome. Possibly not a very large one, and since this was a public occasion, maybe the number of worshippers was larger than could possibly have fitted into the Anglican Centre. Let us be charitable, and presume that the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity was not unaware of this paragraph in their own directory.

The second issue is the question of whether or not Catholic clergy should have been involved in the Anglican liturgy. The Directory on Ecumenism says this in regard to participating in the sacramental liturgies of the Eastern churches:

126. Catholics may read lessons at a sacramental liturgical celebration in the Eastern Churches if they are invited to do so. An Eastern Christian may be invited to read the lessons at similar services in Catholic churches.

The first edition of the ecumenical directory in 1967 expressly forbade both the involvement of Protestants in a Catholic eucharistic liturgy and the involvement of Catholics in a Protestant eucharistic liturgy. The 1993 directory on the other hand, says the following:

133. The reading of Scripture during a Eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church is to be done by members of that Church. On exceptional occasions and for a just cause, the Bishop of the diocese may permit a member of another Church or ecclesial Community to take on the task of reader.

However, unlike the reciprocal ruling with regard to the Eastern churches, there is no ruling in the directory as to whether
Catholics can be involved in a similar way in Protestant eucharistic liturgies.

Our local ordinary here in Melbourne, takes the view that unless an earlier prohibition is expressly abrogated, it remains in force. For this reason, in 2004, when the Lutheran and Catholic students of Melbourne, met to mark the fifth anniversary of the Joint Declaration On the Doctrine of Justification, we marked the occasion with Lutheran vespers rather than holy Communion, so that the Catholic visitors could also participate in the readings and prayers.

However, it is quite clear that this is not the universal interpretation of this instance. Cardinal Kasper himself has often been involved in Protestant eucharistic liturgies by reading the Scriptures. There are many instances here in this country and in others, where bishops have authorised clergy to be involved in (or have themselves personally been involved in) Protestant Eucharists. Of course, whenever this happens, the Catholic clergy usually retire from the sanctuary for the eucharistic section of the liturgy.

So there it is. That’s the law of the Church in this regard. I think there are still questions to be asked, but it seems to me to be a matter of interpretation for episcopal authority.

The only other thing I might mention is that there has been some discussion on 1) whether the Protestant Eucharist, lacking the certainty of the real presence due to the lack of validity of holy orders, is not a form of idolatry or sacrilege, and 2) what it can possibly mean for a Catholic to receive a blessing from an invalidly ordained bishop, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In both cases, I would counsel charity. While Eucharistic liturgies celebrated and blessings given by Protestant clergy lack certainty and validity, they are not empty acts or acts of sacrilege. They are “not nothing”. Often a true and correct form and intention are present (they may even be celebrated with much more dignity than our own liturgies); all that is lacking is validity of orders.


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Get over to Ecumenical and Interfaith Newsblog to follow Papal Journey to Turkey

If you are trying to follow the Holy Father’s trip to Turkey, you can’t do better than get over to, the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission’s new Newsblog. Here you will find all the commentary and the news (almost) as soon as it happens all in one spot. Click on the category “Turkey” to get just Turkey stuff, although honestly, there won’t be much else there for a day or two.

Of greatest interest will be the various live webcasts and podcasts of the liturgical events.

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"Intelligent Design": A strategic wrong turn…

Was it Bugs Bunny who used to say “I must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque”? Well, Intelligent Design is a theological Alberquerque if ever there was one.

I have just returned from a presentation on ID made to a parish group (not Catholic). I don’t think there was anyone there who didn’t believe that the world was created by God, or that the Bible wasn’t true, but there were a fair number who were quite happy to continue through life accepting that there was no contradiction between this faith and an acceptance of the scientific validity of the theory of evolution.

But the speakers told us there was. You can’t believe in evolution, because evolution is atheistic and “doesn’t leave room for God”. If you “believe in evolution” (note how this phrase puts acceptance of evolutionary theory into the same category as faith in God) you can’t believe that the Bible is God’s word, because the teachings of evolution contradict the teachings of the Bible. Thousands have lost their faith because they think evolution has shown that “there is no need for God”. But wait: we can scientifically prove that there must have been an “Intelligent Designer”, and therefore faith in God is possible because evolution is false.

How wrong-footed is this strategy? I would have thought that the truly responsible way of handling the situation (although it requires a degree of philosophical sophistication) would have been to show that there is no theological contradiction between faith in God as Creator and in the claims of evolutionary theory (whether Darwin was correct or not). By taking the line that evolution really is by necessity atheistic, you play right into the hands of Dawkins and co. You buy into their argument, you accept the “tiny God” who tinkers with his creation on weekends like we tinker with our car engines.

What worries me even more is that you buy into a theology of revelation which downplays the incarnation, the paschal mystery and the sacraments, and beats up the Scriptures until they look like the perfect book that came down from heaven. I have never lost my Lutheran emphasis (indeed, as a Catholic, I find this emphasis enhanced) which sees an analogy between the Incarnate Christ, the Eucharist, and the Scriptures. Luther used to say that the scriptures are like the “swaddling clothes” that Christ was wrapped in. I always took this to mean that, just as Christ was 100% human and 100% divine, and just as the bread and wine of the Eucharist are the true body and blood of Christ (this analogy works rather better in the Lutheran consubstantiation than in Catholic transubstantiation), so too the Scriptures are 100% human (with a fully human history and development and fragility and limitations) and yet 100% divine Word of God (thus the doctrines of inerrancy and plenary-inspiration).

When you begin to do some study into the ancient hebrew texts, you begin to realise just how intertwined the sacred text is with the very human history of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, it is the “Word of the Lord”, as we say after every reading in the liturgy. In a sense, the words of the Lord to St Paul sums up everything about the way in which God chose to reveal himself: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). In the weakness of the scriptures, in the weakness of the babe of Bethlehem and the crucified one, in the weakness of the bread and wine of the Eucharist–there God reveals himself. That’s the God for me. That’s the God I believe in. And evolution? Well, that’s pretty messy as well, but even that I believe was 100% God’s creation.

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A Papal Visual Joke on Marco’s site

I have to hand it to Marco, this one is really funny.


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