Monthly Archives: February 2007

No Antidote to the Poison Woman: Juliette Hughes Damns the Church with Faint Praise

It’s good to see The Age being “balanced” for once. I jest of course. They have published a reply by Juliette Hughes to Catherine Deveney’s column bagging the church (see my blog here).

Hughes is quite a decent writer (see her article here on euthanasia), but this is way from her best piece. As a defence of the Christian faith it fails dismally, giving little reason for belonging to the Church other than that they are nice people and they do good work. She agrees with Deveney that the church hierarchy are guilty of “misogynistic and regressive policies”–although at least she does not subscribe to the “recipe for grumpiness” (as John Allen called it) ie. mistaking the hierarchy for the Church. She says that the Bible isn’t a problem for her, because

taking the Bible literally is pointless, for it contains many different stories by many different authors that are easily taken out of context.

“For the instance,” she says,

most Catholics don’t feel they need to believe that the Bible’s account of creation is historically and scientifically accurate.

She is right that the scriptures are not “simply reportage”, but like “most Catholics”, she misunderstand what is meant by a “literal” reading. The Catechism says:

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal”

It is precisely because the Bible “contains many different stories by many different authors that are easily taken out of context” that it is so important to maintain the literal reading which is achieved by scholarly “exegesis” and “sound interpretation”. But Hughes blithely declares that she

can’t really take seriously someone who believes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Well, either she does not know what the Church means when they say the Word of God is “inerrant”, or she “can’t really take seriously” the Second Vatican Council which declared:

“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” DV 9

“We must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation [nb. not scientific or historical curiosity], wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures” DV 11

But of course, Hughes does not believe that “salvation” is something universally required. She makes the rather curious little statement:

I certainly don’t believe that someone who isn’t a Christian needs “saving”.

I know this is politically correct — for goodness sakes I work in interreligious affairs where the only sin greater than suggesting that your dialogue partner needs to be saved is to suggest that he can only be saved “in the name of Jesus” — nevertheless it is a curious statement to make in a defence of the Christian faith. I take it that she does believe that Christians need “saving” — or at least that she herself needs “saving”. Perhaps the difficulty is with the word “save”, which really seems to have lost any real meaning. The alternative translation of the biblical word “to save” is “to heal” or “to be made whole”. And I think everyone would agree that we all need healing to some degree or other, that we are all seeking wholeness of some sort or other. The suggestion — in fact the call witness — of Christianity is that real healing and wholeness can actually be found in Jesus Christ.

In this is my real beef with Hughes’ article. From beginning to end, it doesn’t mention Jesus Christ once. It certainly doesn’t mention his resurrection. And is there any other reason for being a Christian than faith in Jesus Christ and believe that he rose from the dead? As saint Paul said, “If Christ be not raised we are the most miserable of all people.” Deveney would be absolutely right to say that all Christians — including Hughes — are completely mad, if in fact Jesus never rose from the dead.

So if you want to find a real defence of Christianity, don’t bother reading Juliette Hughes’ defence. I suggest you read The Spanish Bishops Conference’s latest statement as translated on Sandro Magister’s website. Here is what they have to say about the resurrection:

34. The resurrection of Christ is an historically substantiated event, which the Apostles witnessed and certainly did not invent. This was not a matter of a simple return to earthly life; on the contrary, it was the greatest “mutation” that has ever taken place in history, the decisive “leap” toward a profoundly new dimension of life, the entry into a totally different order, which concerns Jesus of Nazareth first of all, but together with him ourselves, all of the human family, history, and the entire universe. For this reason the resurrection of Christ is the center of Christian preaching and witness, since the beginning and until the end of time. Jesus Christ rises from among the dead because his entire being is united with God, who is love that is truly stronger than death. His resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love that broke the chains of sin and death. His resurrection inaugurated a new dimension of life and reality, giving rise to a new creation that continually penetrates our world, transforming it and drawing it to itself.

Now there is the real reason for being Christian.

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Getting Catholic Ecclesiology and Ecumenism Right

Peregrinus has been having a long conversation with me in the comments section to my blog about the Universally Inclusive Club.

I had penned a long reply to his last comment, and then thought it was too long for a comment and should be a blog all on its own. We are continuing the question of whether the “house” metaphor is faithful to Catholic ecclesiology and ecumenism.

Here are some of Peregrinus’ comments:

Lumen Gentium tell us that Christ establshed, and continually sustains, his Church. But pointedly (and I think to the dismay of some) it does not equate the “Church of Christ”, professed in the Creed, and the “Catholic Church”, governed by the Bishop of Rome and the bishops in communion with him. It says that the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic church, but it does not say that it subsists only in the Catholic church. In fact it points to “elements of sanctification and truth” which are found outside the Catholic church, which it describes as “gifts belonging to the Church of Christ”.

People with better qualifications than me have written reams on exacly what “subsists in” means, but in my simplistic way I understand it this way:

– The Church of Christ and the Catholic Chruch are both realiites – or, better, they are both expressions of the same complex (and mystical) reality.

– The Church of Christ is called to unity in the Catholic Church, but that unity has not yet been achieved.

– The call to unity is addressed to the entire Church of Christ, not just to those parts of it which are outside the Catholic Church.

– Such barriers to unity as may exist are not made and maintained exclusively by non-Catholic Christians (or, of course, exclusively by Catholic Christians).

– The call to unity requires us to identify barriers to unity, and to work for their removal.

Yes, the house metaphor has it’s limits, yes. No metaphor can really do full justice to the mystery which is the Church. But the bulk of biblical metaphors for the Church – household, vine, body etc. – are metaphors with a clear delineation of who belongs and who doesn’t.

The confusing thing about our current state is that:

1) there are many who, because of baptism and faith in Christ are in a real but imperfect communion with the Catholic Church
2) there are local Churches which are Churches in the true sense because they have retained the sacraments and the apostolic succession, and yet are not in communion with the Catholic Church

Both these situations indicate that such individuals and Churches cannot be covered by a clear “in or out” category. In both these situations, true elements of the One Church exist in outside the boundaries of that visible society which is the Catholic Church. But in both cases there is a “fullness” lacking—that fullness of communion in the One Christ which comes through full communion with one another and with the Petrine See. This lack of “fullness” is a serious wound to their existence as individual Christians and as local Churches.

There has been a basic error of interpretation common since Unitatis Redintegratio was promulgated in 1965. The authentic interpretation of the Council by the magisterium since (in particular, a study of JPII’s Ut Unum Sint, the Directory on Ecumenism and the Declaration Dominus Iesus) should have cleared this misinterpretation up, but people have not been paying attention. In addition this false interpretation has been muddied by a certain irenic approach in ecumenical dialogue.

It was Garuti’s book that alerted me to the fact that although the Council used the term “subsists in” rather than “is”, it never affirms that the one Church of Christ “subsists in” any where else, ie. in any other ecclesial communion or communion of local Churches. Thus, although at first I reacted negatively to this, he is right when he insists that

1) the one Church of Christ does not “subsist in” the communion of Orthodox Churches
2) there are not “two” Churches, one East/Orthodox and one West/Catholic
3) there is not one Church “split in half”, into East/Orthodox and West/Catholic
4) There is no such thing as the “Orthodox Church”, only the Orthodox Churches
5) The Catholic Church is not a “Sister Church” to the Orthodox Churches, because the Catholic Church is the Universal Church whereas the Orthodox Churches are local Churches
6) The Catholic Church is not to be thought of as a “part” of the One Church of Christ
7) The Catholic Church is not to be identified with the Western Church (as it includes many Eastern Churches) and the office of the Pope as supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church does not equal his office as the Patriarch of the West (a title still in use when Garuti was writing)

But above all, we must always keep in mind that the goal of Catholic ecumenism is not “the full visible unity of the Church“—something which already exists–but the full visible unity of all Christians. There is no other way to make sense of the opening line of Unitatis Redintegratio:

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only.”

Thus the unity of the Church, the Church of the Creed, is not something to be sought as if it does not currently exist. Moreover, if the Church is indeed One (and the Creed tells us that it is, not that it will be), then we have only two choices:

1) It is already One, made up of all those who have been baptised and truly believe in their hearts—who they are is known only to God and therefore the Church is an invisible reality (the Protestant option)
2) It is already One, made up of the baptised faithful who are in communion with the bishops who are in communion with the See of Peter—thus a visible society (the Catholic option)

(Note, as far as I can gather, the Orthodox option is a variation of the Catholic option: It is already One, made up of all those in communion with the bishops who hold the true Orthodox faith and are not in communion with the See of Peter).

As for the fact that Lumen Gentium tell us that the church “coalesces from a divine and a human element”, it is important to read this in the context of the whole paragraph (LG 8). When you do this, you find that it cannot mean, as you make it to mean, that there “the human element” is “therefore fallible.” On the contrary, the paragraph makes clear that the human and divine realities are not two, but one reality, as closely connected as the divine and human realities in the Incarnate Word. It specifically says that:

“the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element.”
Therefore we cannot say of any part of the visible institution that “this is of human origin” and therefore does not belong to the spiritual reality.

Of course, I say all this without pride. I was once “on the outside”—a true member of the Church of Christ by baptism and faith, but lacking the fullness of that communion to be a fully initiated member of the Church let alone a valid minister of its sacraments. I myself have had to eat the humble pie to say “I was wrong”, that God’s will for me and for all others was and always will be to accept the invitation and to enter through the door, to sit at the table and by the fire, and enjoy the hospitality which the Father gives through our Lord Christ and the Spirit. It is because I have tasted of this hospitality that it pains me to see so many who are attempting to live full Christian lives without it, and that it gives me great joy every time one of my separated brothers or sisters in Christ gives up wandering in the desert or the forest and comes in to share the good things that God has prepared for them since the foundation of the world.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouraging genuine Charisms

Having begun a little salvo on the use of the phrase “Baptism in the Spirit”, I don’t want any of you out there to get me wrong. I am all in favour of people discerning and using their Holy Spirit given charisms, and also in favour of new (and old) movements in the Church that promote specific charisms. But I believe that all Christians receive charisms for ministry through the Sacrament of Baptism. The reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens and confirms these charisms, as can a later subsequent experience of the Holy Spirit, but even those who have not received valid Confirmation (eg. Protestant Christians) or this subsequent experience (eg. non-Charismatic Christians) have received charisms for ministry. Whether they have discerned their charism or have put it to use is another matter, of course. That’s why we have programs such as “Called and Gifted”.

The Pope has just recently made comments in his latest “question and answer” session with the Roman clergy. Here he gave two rules for ecclesial movements to flourish in the Church:

1) As St Paul says, “Do not extinguish charisms.” If the Lord gives us new gifts, we must receive them with thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit gives us new initiatives with new aspects of Christian life.

2) But if the movements are really gifts from the Holy Spirit, then they will seek to unify, edify and serve the Church.

He used, as an example of the past, the Fransciscans, and as an example of the present, The Neo-Catechumenal Way. I believe that CCR has demonstrated in an exemplary way both these qualities, however, I believe there is also need for what the Pope calls “patient dialogue” which can overcome the “many complications” which occur with the rise of new movements and the recognition of new charisms. However, CCR ought not to assume that their undergirding theology has been given the imprimatur of official Church teaching, just because the Church has received their movement and charism as a gift from God.

What the Pope had to say on this matter is very wise, and I often wonder what today’s Church might have been like if a) on the Roman side, the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the early 16th Century had had the ears to hear what Martin Luther was saying to the Church, and b) on Luther’s side, if he had been a little more concerned about serving the unity and edification of the Church.

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"Is it true? Or is that just something you saw in the Times?"

John L. Allen Jnr has struck a blow at what he calls “the original sin” in journalism: “willful indifference to the facts.” The guilty party in this case? The British press, and in particular, The Times, which, by his account, has shown itself to be worse than either The New York Times or The Age when it comes to reporting on religious matters.

(Actually, he didn’t mention The Age–and to be honest, the fact that Barney Zwartz is theologically educated and literate makes a huge difference in that sphere. It’s their editorial stance that gets me.)

What gave rise to his unusual outburst against his British colleagues is this piece by Ruth Gledhill, but in fact he catalogues a whole series of journalistic furphies published by the British press with regard to the Vatican. His strong opinion is that this sort of stuff, in today’s climate, “is not merely irrating, but dangerous”.

Gledhill’s piece, is, he opines, not only a deliberate sensationalising, but also a deliberate misreading of the leaked IARCCUM text to make it say the complete opposite of what it says.

Here’s the first line of paragraph seven, which appears on page five of the report: This present context, which adds to existing differences between our two communions, is not the appropriate time to enter the new formal stage of relationship envisaged by the bishops at Mississauga.” That’s a reference to a meeting in Canada in 2000 when representatives of the two groups had discussed the possibility of greater structural unity. In other words, “Growing Together in Unity and Mission” unambiguously says that now is not the time for reunion under the pope. There is simply no other way to read the document — unless, that is, you’re inclined to distort it.

Interestingly, Gledhill herself leaves a comment on Allen’s column, defending her piece:

Thank you John for your thoughtful article. I can only urge people to read the entire document for themselves. It can now be purchased from SPCK. One of the most pertinent paragraphs on which I based my story was this:
114. We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.
Given the theology of reception, ie women priests, Catholic reception, I find that par pretty unambiguous and nothing like that was in any of the Arcic documents, although Gift of Authority came close.

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"Baptism in the Spirit" and the Teaching of the Catholic Church

I was intrigued to read John Allen’s recent series on Fr Cantalamessa, the Preacher for the Papal Household (here, here, and here). I was especially intrigued to read about the former Archbishop of Newark’s antagonism toward the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement in his archdiocese. I was also spurred on to read some more of Fr Cantalamessa’s teaching (especially No Need to Fear Charismatic Renewal Cantalamessa CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 26, 2003 and Baptism in the Holy Spirit by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap). And I have become especially concerned about CCR’s use of the term “Baptism in the Spirit”.

[Side note: Here’s a pet theory of mine. There are many Catholics who belong to Charismatic Renewal who are not really interested in the full suitcase of Charismatic spirituality, but who are more accurately “evangelical” Catholics. They are attracted to CCR because of the vibrant faith, the seriousness of their religion, their zeal for spreading the gospel. But often these folk are not long term adherants to CCR because in the end they don’t swallow the “Baptism in the Spirit” stuff. It’s a real pity there isn’t a CER (Catholic Evangelical Renewal), but then that should be the whole Church–and yes, I know that the CCR thinks that the whole Church should be charismatic too.]

As a Lutheran I was strongly alerted against the incorrect interpretation of this phrase. Lutherans had a strong and healthy distrust of anyone claiming to have had an experience of the Holy Spirit apart from the Sacraments and the external Word of God. Thus, Luther railed against the “enthusiasts”, and modern day Lutherans railed against the new Holy Joes in the Pentecostal movement. Bottom line for Lutherans: When the Scriptures talk about being baptised “in/with” the Holy Spirit, they were refering to the Christian sacrament of baptism with water in the name of the Holy Trinity, which conferred the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the recipient.

As a Catholic, I have found that I have only had to modify this thinking in two respects:

1) Confirmation is the completion of Baptism, and in this respect is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the active and mature ministry of the Christian. The Second Vatican Council taught that “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” [LG 11; cf. OC, Introduction 2].

2) In the free sovereignty of God, the Holy Spirit can and does act apart from the sacraments and the ministry of the Church. Again, Lumen Gentium 12: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues…” — although this statement is not followed with a “but also through” statement. What that “also” might be is thus left open. I, in my Lutheran spirituality, would say “but also through the Word of God”.

I am disturbed therefore to read stuff like this:

[We should make an] uncompromising distinction between a “pre-charismatic” Christian and a charismatic Christian – a distinction that seems to needle many non-charismatics, and raises the hackles of some theologians whom I love to challenge. The Pentecost experience of becoming charismatic by being “baptized in the Spirit” (Acts 1:5) is something clearly distinct from and beyond the experience of becoming a Christian by being “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3) by water.

…Dissenting theologians [my emphasis] claim that it was the Church that corporately received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and all Christians partake of that general outpouring… In this view, the baptism in the Spirit is not an additional experience subsequent to becoming a Christian, but a privilege that everyone experiences by simply being a Christian and thus partaking of the fullness of the Spirit-presence of the Church from the time of water-baptism. What makes a Christian Charismatic? Fr. John Hampsch

Well, shoot me, but I’m a “dissenting theologian” in this case. This interpretation of the meaning of the phrase “baptised in the Spirit” is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, whatever Fr Cantalamessa or Fr Hampsch might have to say on the matter. In fact, you can search all you like, but you will find no reference to “baptism in the Spirit” along these lines anywhere in the Catechism, the Second Vatican Council, or the teaching of the Popes. Do a search on the new (excellent) search engine on the Vatican Website for “Baptism/Baptized in the (Holy) Spirit”, and you will turn up diddly-squat on this topic.

Over the next few week’s I hope to post more on this subject, outlining why I do not accept CCR’s interpretation of the Scriptures with reference to what they call “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I do want to stress, however, that I am not calling into question the experience of the Holy Spirit which CCR folk claim to have had. I believe in the experience, and I have seen its effects. I am simply questioning the wisdom and rectitude of calling this experience a “Baptism in the Spirit”, and linking it to scriptural passages in which such terminology appears to be used and in which a similar experience appears to have taken place.

For now, I leave you with the question Cardinal James Hickey addressed to the “Mother of God Community” on September 23, 1995:

More specifically, I believe there is a great need to clarify the meaning of “baptism in the Spirit” as it relates to all the sacraments, but especially in relationship to sacramental baptism and the sacrament of confirmation. Sacramental baptism is recognized by all Christians — Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant churches as the principal sacrament of initiation and the foundation of the Christian life. “Baptism in the Spirit,” a gift characteristic of the charismatic renewal, helps one live out the call to holiness received in baptism; it helps to revivify the divine gifts received in sacramental baptism, in the other sacraments and in the entire tradition of the Church. However, “baptism in the Spirit” is not essential to the Christian life; those who do not receive “baptism in the Spirit” are not second-class Christians! James Cardinal Hickey Address to Mother of God Community September 23, 1995

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David B. Hart crucifies Daniel Dennett

You will all, by now, be familiar with the masterful rebuttle of Richard Dawkins by Terry Eagleton. Well, David B. Hart has done a similar (but perhaps even more devastating) job on the recent book by Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

Hart’s approach is really very clever. He casts Dennett as the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s absurdist poem “The Hunting of the Snark”, except that the “Snark” in this case is “religion”. Just as the characters in Carroll’s poem are doomed to search for a beast which they neither know or understand or really have any idea about at all, so Dennett is setting out to hunt down a vague thing called “religion”, which (Hart claims) he not only does not define or understand but is in fact incapable of either defining or understanding.

This is the fatal flaw in Dennett’s project: he never makes it quite clear what he is arguing against. The nature of “religion” is simply assumed to be known by all, and therefore Dennett can use whatever weapons in the hunt he likes, as he variously defines his quarry. Like the Snark in Carroll’s poem, he ends up seeking it “with thimbles”, “with care”, “with forks and hope” while trying to “threaten its life with a railway-share” and “charm it with smiles and soap”.

The world of faith is all a terra incognita to Dennett; the only map he knows of it is, like the map used by the Bellman, a “perfect and absolute blank!”-though, in Dennett’s case, bearing a warning that “Here there be dragons.” Or, perhaps, “Here there be Boojums”.

My only criticism of Hart’s essay is that it is perhaps a little to long. His point is well made by about half-way through. Nevertheless, once he has Dennett down, he keeps on kicking.

I haven’t read Dennett’s book, but I am not likely too either. The only people likely to read it (at least to the end) are those who already sympathetic to Dennett’s animosity toward religious faith, and the only one’s who will think that it is a good book are those who do not need to be convinced by any kind of argument.

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St Thomas More: Patron Saint of "The Age"???


Imagine my surprise (or you might not need to if you read the editorial in today’s Sunday Age) when I found a picture of St Thomas More staring at me from the top of the Opinion pages in today’s Age. What odd company he’s keeping, I thought. After reading the editorial, I found myself not a little incensed that this newspaper would have the audacity to claim St Thomas’ patronage for their “Bring Hicks Home” campaign. Not that I think St Thomas’ principles are irrelevant to the case, but they are certainly misused by the Sunday Age for its own purposes.

The relevant passage is this:

“This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast,” playwright Robert Bolt has Sir Thomas say in A Man For All Seasons, “and if you cut them down … do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

For more than five years the Australian Government has been flaunting its willingness to sacrifice the law in the case of David Hicks. While the British and US governments refused to allow their citizens’ rights to be trampled at Guantanamo Bay and by the US military commission set up to try inmates, the Australian Government has had no such scruples. The Government not only presumed Hicks was guilty, it showed an enthusiastic disregard for his human rights, too.
But if any government is willing to fell a forest of Australian law to ensure the conviction of Hicks, then we are all in serious trouble.

In this editorial, the Sunday Age confuses “THE LAW” in the sense of the Natural Law, the unchanging law, written on the hearts of every human being, which St Thomas defended and died for, and the juridical positivism that passes for law in our modern democracies, which allows laws to be created to serve the convenience of governments and interest groups regardless of whether they are inheritantly true and just. Had More really been a stickler for the “law” in this latter sense, he would have gone along with Henry VII’s new “law” of ecclesiastical supremacy without a qualm.

In fact, a very good case can be made for linking St Thomas More’s true understanding of law to the David Hick’s case, but it is not exactly the same as the use that the editors of The Age make of it. Moreover, if they were really sincere about championing More’s principles, they would find themselves having to reverse many of their own publically declared positions, especially in regard to same sex marriage, euthanasia, and embryonic research.

If you want to get a handle on what all this natural law stuff is about, then have a look at this recent address by the Pope to a conference held in Rome.

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