Monthly Archives: May 2007

When even "Sentire Cum Ecclesia" has to whisper…

Spengler (a writer whom I enjoy reading immensely) wrote a piece some time ago called “When even the Pope has to whisper”. Now he has a related column entitled “The Koranic Quotations Trap”. Both peices are well worth reading. I point you too them because, while I would also like to explore such questions in this forum, “I do not want rocks thrown through my window” (as Nino Culotta, the pseudonymous author of “They’re a Weird Mob“, wrote in his preface)…or worse.

Since reading Sandro Magister’s “Final Appeal” to save Christian Iraq on Monday and listening to >Rosie Malek-Yonan and >Fr Kahil Samir SJ on the Religion Report yesterday, the volume has been turned up for me on what has long been a vague twinge of the conscience–the fact that I work in the area of interfaith relations, and yet (just as Palestine-Israel questions are usually out of bounds for Muslim-Jewish dialogue in this country) so in our Christain-Muslim dialogue in Australia, the current treatment of Christians in many (not all) predominantly Muslim countries goes without mention.

But I don’t know exactly what to do about it. Sure, I get the advice about what I should tell “those people“, but our dialogue partners would (rightly) protest that they are not the ones committing these atrocities. See for instance the article about Hirsi Ali and her fight against female circumcision in yesterday’s edition of The Age. The Islamic Women’s Welfare Council here in Melbourne is right to protest that “we don’t do that” and “it isn’t Islamic”, but the problem is that it IS being done by people who ARE calling themselves Muslim (and, as she points out, Christian also, but I have no facts to know whether that is true or not). Blaming Melbourne Muslims for the atrocities committed in the name of Islam against Christians overseas is obviously not the way to go. That will achieve nothing.

I guess the thing that we have to say to our dialogue partners here in Melbourne is: We know you are not the ones doing this. We know you are not intending to introduce such practices in Australia. And we hear you when you say of atrocities against human rights “this is not authentic Islam”, and when you say “Islam is a religion of peace”, and when you quote the Koran as saying: “There is no compulsion in religion”. But what we want to know is what can we do together to help those members of the Ummah (the Muslim Brother/sisterhood) overseas to understand this in the way that you do. We want to know what we can do to foster the same interpretation of Islam overseas that we see you modelling here in Australia.

Now in actual fact, things are happening in this regard, thanks to the Islamic Council of Victoria. In just the last six months, the Commission has welcomed three groups of young muslim scholars (six men and four women) from Indonesia brought out to Australia by the ICV. These young people–philosophers, lecturers, youth workers, public thinkers–were all associated with Islamic reform movements in Indonesia. They are up against a huge battle–against fatwahs that they believe go totally against the grain of authentic Islam–but they are beginning to do the work that is necessary to allow Islam to find a way of peacefully coexisting with and contributing to human society as a whole. They are, in fact, beginning to address just those issues that Spengler raises in his articles. I hope they don’t get rocks thrown through their windows…or worse. More than that, I pray that God–Allah–will give them courage to continue their witness to “authentic” Islam.

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More on the Fallible Pope Honorius

My thanks to Fr Richard John Neuhaus for this reference which is surely helpful in our assessment of Pope Honorius–who had the misfortune to go down in history as having his (possibly) monothelitist opinion condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. It comes from a letter by Pope Pelagius II (d. 590 — before Honorius, so it establishes something a point of view against which Honorius’ theological slip up may be evaluated) in which he is explaining to the Bishops in the West why he changed his opinion on a certain matter:

Dear Brethren, do you think that to Peter, who was reversing his position, one should have replied: We refuse to hear what you are saying since you previously taught the opposite? If in [this] matter one position was held while truth was being sought and a different position was adopted after truth had been found, why should a change of position be imputed a crime to this See which is humbly venerated by all in the person of its founder?

The application is that Honorius made his comment about Christ having only one will in a letter to Sergius BEFORE the Church had made a definitive pronouncement on the matter. While the theology which is reflected in his opinion was later found to have been heretical, he could not at the time have been (and was not later) considered to be a heretic. And of course, as Pope Pelagius points out, even Peter himself was corrected by Paul with regard to the role of the Jewish law in the Christian faith. The point at issue is that, when corrected, Peter (or his successor as in later history) changed his opinion and adopted and continued to defend the truth which “had been found”.

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"Was heisst Lutherisch", Pastor McCain?

Over on Pastor Weedon’s Blog, Paul T. McCain makes the following comment:

Lutheranism is the pure and true confession of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith. We name this confession “Lutheranism” to hold it in contradistinction from every other confession, but Lutheranism is nothing more, nor anything less, than the one true faith. And all those confessions that, to whatever extent, also contain or exhibit this same one true faith, to that extent, are Church, in spite of their particular confession’s error.

Oh. Well. I’m glad we got that clear. Now all we need to know is (in Sasse’s words) “Was heisst Lutherisch”?

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Pastor Weedon, Pope Honorius, and Errors of the Church

I was visiting Pastor Weedon’s blog as I do from time to time to keep up with things at the saner end of Lutheranism in the States, and there read his post “On the Platonic Church”. Here is the gist of it:

“The Church doesn’t err. Never has and never will. Bishops may err. Priests may err. Christian people may err. Whole dioceses may err. But the Church never can err.” Hold that thought.

“The problem with you Lutherans is that you have a Platonic notion of what the Church is.” Um. Houston…?

Let’s see: can anyone point to this “visible” church that cannot err? Oh, not that bishop! Oh, not his diocese! Oh, not this parish or that priest and certainly not that layperson!

…[Roman Catholics] put all their “church cannot err” eggs into the papal basket, though they try to make it clear that it’s not about the pope per se, but about the whole church, the infallibility given to the whole. But there sits Honorarius… Granted he didn’t make his monothelite leanings an infallible pronouncement ex cathedra, but then again Rome didn’t TALK that way then. But, wait a minute? Oh, never mind.

Luther’s solution was rather simple…: “Therefore the holy church cannot and may not lie or suffer false doctrine, but must teach nothing except what is holy and true, that is, God’s Word alone; and where it teaches a lie it is idolatrous and the whore-church of the devil.”

In other words, the Church by very definition is she who has and speaks the Word of God and it is that Word that does not err, lie, or deceive. When “church” presumes to speak what is NOT God’s Word alongside God’s Word, well, to the extent she does, she forfeits her claim of infallibility, because alongside of the inerrant Word she’s mixed in stuff than can be quite fallible indeed.

etc. His basic point is that rather than having faith in the inerrancy of the Church (and therefore trusting that what the Church teaches is God’s Word), we should trust in the inerrancy of God’s Word and look for the ecclesial community that teaches it in its purity.

Well as far as the argument goes, I have no problem with that. In fact, oddly enough, I believe I have found that visible society upon earth which has unerringly taught God’s Word throughout history (and we all know who that is, don’t we, dear Reader?).

But for the record, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following about the Church’s inerrancy:

91 All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] and guides them into all truth [cf. .Jn 16:13].

92 “The whole body of the faithful… cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” [LG 12; cf. St. Augustine, De praed. sanct. 14, 27: PL 44, 980].

93 “By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium),… receives… the faith, once for all delivered to the saints… The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life” [LG 12; cf. Jude 3].

In addition to this, the Catechism teaches that:

869 The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.

and that

889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith” [LG 12; cf. DV 10].

890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals.

For the record, the Catholic Church does not teach that popes cannot err. She does not teach that bishops, priests, theologians, or even councils which proclaim themselves to be ecumenical cannot err.

She does teach that the scriptures “firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation” (DV 11), and that “the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys [infallibility] in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.” (LG 25)

And if you have stuck with me this far, it is probably very significant to note that the same passage in Lumen Gentium teaches that this infallibility “extends [ONLY] as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded”.

So, yes, Pastor Weedon, Catholics believe that the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church as a whole cannot err. And if you ask me to point to this Church, I can: it is that whole body of the faithful which was established by Christ and the Holy Spirit, which has existed throughout history from the day of Pentecost, and which is governed by Christ through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.

And I for one find it hard to know how one could ever give assent to the teachings of community which does not believe in such inerrancy (here at least Pastor McCain–see the post above–is consistent). For without this, how am I to know that the measure by which I am judging the truthfulness of the Church’s teaching today (the “purity” of its teaching, as Lutherans would say) is in fact a true measure?

And why does Pastor Weedon keep going on about Honorius? Catholics are quite capable of reading history, and the Fathers of the First Vatican Council were well aware of the case of Honorius (if you aren’t, take a look at this Catholic Encyclopedia article which is fairly detailed). The Church has never taught the personal infallibility of the pope (cf. Pope Benedict’s note in the preface to his new book “Jesus of Nazareth” that no-one should regard his personal book as infallible!). The charism of infallibility is something quite different from being a good or bad theologian. I think the most that can be said of Honorius is that he was the latter. We know from history that he was a good and faithful pastor. In any case, Honorius rather proves the point than not: the Church was not derailed by his error; the sixth Council, which condemned the theological opinion expressed by Honorius in that one letter, got it right in the end; and the Church went merrily on its way into the future built upon the solid Rock of Truth.

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Hound of Heaven wins the prize…

Hound of Heaven has sent a cooee from the Cloister which merits a repeat of this papal photo moment–this time together with HoH’s suggested caption. I think you will enjoy it.

Will you people be quiet! I’m tryyying to watch the movie!

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A Cruel Joke by Eureka Street editors? A critique of Amnesty International’s new Abortinon policy and Ad for Bishop Spong on the same page????

This is either a really cruel joke in incredible bad taste by the editors of the Eureka Street website, or… I don’t know “or” what.

There is an excellent article by Father Chris Middleton in the current edition of Eureka Street entitled “Pro-choice Amnesty means no choice for members”. In it he deplores the unhappy situation in which the change of policy for Amnesty Internation from a neutral position on abortion to a “pro-choice” position leaves Catholic members no choice but to renounce membership in the organisation. In it he quotes English Catholic Bishop Michael Brown (a member of AI for 30 years) as saying:

The world needs Amnesty International. It has touched the lives of countless numbers of people across the world who have been wrongly imprisoned for their beliefs or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Long may it do so – hopefully with the active support of Catholics worldwide. But this will be seriously threatened should Amnesty adopt a policy supporting the right to abortion. Those involved in decision-making at international level need to ponder this very carefully indeed.

BUT ON THE VERY SAME PAGE we find THIS advertisment:Readers of “Sentire Cum Ecclesia” will be familiar with the retired Bishop John Shelby Spong. He is no friend of the Catholic Church (or of orthodox Christianity full stop?), and recently on the ABC Religion Report he said:

the abortion battle is basically the last gasp of a white male attempt to control women.

So what gives, you guys at Jesuit Communications? Do you have an explanation, Fr Andrew Hamilton or Robert Hefner?

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A "U-Turn" for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican? How a little comment is beaten up into a news story…

Many newspapers and agencies (eg. here and here and here) are carrying the Reuters report about a comment made by Cardinal Bertone to the Italian newspaper “La Stampa” in which he reportedly said that the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue will return to being “a dicastery in its own right, whereas previously it had been merged with the Pontifical Council for Culture.”

That is perhaps a bit of a beat-up–and probably Cardinal Bertone himself is to blame because of the way in which he worded his comments (although there has been no publication of the entire interview in English, so it is hard to know the context in which he was speaking). As Rocco Palmo correctly notes,

the councils [for Interreligious Dialogue and Culture respectively] were never “downgraded,” but simply shared a head; both maintained separate officials and staffs. Their status and competencies continued unchanged.

I am skeptical that Archbishop Fitzgerald will be returned to the role. Contrary to popular accounts, his appointment as papal nuncio to Egypt was not an “exile” but rather a case of fitting the best person for the job, since fluent Arabic is a sine qua non for the position and Cairo is home to the most authorative seat of Islamic teaching–the Al-Ahzar University.

But Cardinal Poupard (who currently wears both hats as president of both Pontifical Councils) is past retirement age and will need replacing soon. His appointment to both positions was only ever seen as a stop-gap measure to give time to find a proper direction for the presidency of both Councils. Papa Benny did the same with the Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and the Council for Justice and Peace shared the same president, Cardinal Stephen Hamao. The Pope has not been rushing about in a panic chaning the deck-chairs of the Holy See since his election to the See of Peter.

So is this a news story? Has the Bark of Peter done a complete 180 degree turn? Or is it simply a case of “steady as she goes”? My guess is that it is the latter.

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