Monthly Archives: June 2007

I can’t resist it…

I have to say something about Brian Coyne’s letter to the Papal Nuncio in Catholica. I have no news whatsoever about the rumours to which he refers (I’m not THAT well connected–and if I knew something like that it wouldn’t be worth my job to open my mouth about it!), but I was interested in his rhetoric. Try this on for size:

My own journal is principally not a news journal but a journal of opinion and an initiative from a group of like-minded lay people who are endeavouring to reach out to the educated sections of the 85% who have become highly disillusioned with the institutional Church.

I take it he means the 85% who put themselves down as Catholics on the Census but don’t go to mass. Is he saying that all of these 85% are the educated ones and the rest of us are the dolts? No, I don’t think so. But he is aiming only at the “educated sections” of these 85%. That’s good. Leaves the other 84% for us remaining 15% as we go about the program of re-evangelising the Church.

Archbishop Chaput — the extremist and fundamentalist Capuchin Bishop from Denver

I get it. Faithful, obedient, dutiful, evangelicalistic, magisterial = “extremist and fundamentalist”. Go Your Grace! Whoo, whoo!

I suggest to you, Your Excellency, that there are an increasing body of educated Catholics in this country who are no longer prepared to be treated as “little children” and idiots.

Well, there are days when I feel like an idiot, but in general, I will always be happy to be considered one of the “little children” for the likes of whom the Kingdom of Heaven is prepared.


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At last: A real date for the Motu Proprio on the 1962 Rite?

Fr Z. at What Does the Prayer Really Say has this:


On Wednesday afternoon the Secretary of State, Tarcisio Card. Bertone gave the Motu Proprio to 30 bishops from around the world on Wednesday afternoon in the Apostolic Palace. The bishops were explicitly chosen and invited for this. (I am guessing that they were heads of Bishops Conferences.) Pope Benedict XVI later came to the meeting. The document is three pages long, though what the format is in not revealed. The Pope’s accompanying letter is four pages.

It is clear from the way this was done that the Holy Father wanted to make sure that bishops got this document in this way, rather than having to read about it in the paper. I assume that what will happen now is that these bishops, if they are heads of conferences, will return home and distribute the document to the bishop members of the conference.

[UPDATE: They are not only heads of conferences: H.E. Archbp. Raymond Burke of St. Louis and H.E. Sean Card. O’Malley of Boston was there, whether because of this meeting or a coincidental meeting is not clear.]

The general publication is 7 July.

His source was for those of you who would like the original German (The Cafeteria is Closed has a full translation). The report says that Cardinal Lehmann was there as the head of the German Conference. I wonder if Archbishop Wilson was called in?


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Australian Census figures on Religion Released

The figures have been released from the Australian Census 2006 regarding religion (full details here). We will have to wait for the National Church Life Survey results to get the nitty gritty details, but here are the facts:

Buddhism……………………..418,756 (2.11%)
Christianity: ……………..12,685,836 (63.89%)

Anglican …………………..3,718,252 (18.73%)
Assyrian Apostolic………………8,189 (0.04%)
Baptist ……………………..316,738 (1.60%)
Brethren ……………………..24,232 (0.12%)
Catholic …………………..5,126,880 (25.82%)
Churches of Christ …………….54,822 (0.28%)
Eastern Orthodox………………544,160 (2.74%)
Jehovah’s Witnesses…………….80,919 (0.41%)
Latter Day Saints ……………..53,199 (0.27%)
Lutheran …………………….251,107 (1.26%)
Oriental Orthodox………………32,711 (0.16%)
Other Protestant ………………56,106 (0.28%)
Pentecostal ………………….219,689 (1.11%)
Presbyterian & Reformed………..596,671 (3.01%)
Salvation Army ………………..64,200 (0.32%)
Seventh-day Adventist ………….55,251 (0.28%)
Uniting Church ……………..1,135,427 (5.72%)
Christian nfd…………………313,190 (1.58%)
Other Christian ……………….34,093 (0.17%)
Hinduism ……………………..148,119 (0.75%)
Islam ……………………….340,392 (1.71%)
Judaism ………………………88,831 (0.45%)
Aboriginal Religions ……………5,377 (0.03%)
Other Religious Groups ………..103,645 (0.52%)
No religion…………………3,706,555 (18.67%)
Other religious affiliation…….133,820 (0.67%)
Not stated …………………2,223,957 (11.20%)

Total …………………….19,855,288(100.00%)

The really interesting thing is to look at the increases or decreases in respect to the increase or decrease of population. Here are those categoriest that have grown faster than the population growth (figures given here are the category growth since 2001 percentage minus the population growth since 2001 percentage, which is 5.79%):

No Religion………………..21.76%
Christian (no further detail)..17.86%
Other Religious Groups………16.71%
Religious affiliation not stated..15.37%
Assyrian Apostolic…………. 9.40%
Oriental Orthodox……………6.18%
Other Protestant……………0.96%
Latter Day Saints…………..0.79%

All that points to really interesting times ahead for the Australian religious scene.

Catholics only had a 2.50% rise–which is 3.29% less than the population. So effectively we went backwards. It might be tempting to say “Not as backwards as some”, but we should note that in the 2001 Census we had a 4.22% rise (still 1.50% less than the population rise), so we are going backwards even against our previous levels of growth.

The bottom line: We haven’t hit the bottom of the J-curve yet.
The bottom question: Is there going to BE a J-curve?


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Mr Marco Speaks of His Reception

We can’t call him Fr Marco any more. Or Pastor Marco as I knew him. He’s just plain old Mr Marco, Catholic (unemployed) layman. We have welcomed him and Penny already in a blog below, but I would like to draw you to his simple but firm statement on his blog here. Although he denies that what he has been through is a “conversion” (in this he is in harmony with many of us “converts”), yet there is an element of conversion involved. As Marco puts it:

Baptism – the first act of God in our life – calls for a response: faith. This faith, however, needs an object. My baptism calls me to completely surrender myself to Jesus. I am called to move from hearing to listening. My personal and individual response of faith outside of the context of God’s Church is bond to become subjective and based on emotion. Faith requires a context, the Church. My surrender to Jesus requires that I listen to his voice in the world, his Church.

Becoming a Catholic is a conversion of heart toward listening to Jesus speaking in his Church. It is an act of trust and faith–naturally only possible by grace alone–whereby one ceases to listen to the voice of the Catholic Church with an “hermeneutic of suspicion” and instead learns to listen with an attentive and docile heart, a heart willing to be taught, corrected and confirmed. To have a heart like this is to have the heart of Mary, and to have the heart of Mary is indeed to be converted.


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Why would you bother?

Its cold and wet outside today, so I am afraid that I will not be able to indulge myself in my favourite pastime–but there are plenty out there puffing away on their cigarettes.

I have never smoked cigarettes, personally. I had one once and wondered “why bother?”. Now that is a question that applies doubly to this thing:

An article in today’s The Age explains all about it.

Me? I’ll stick with one of these, thanks:

Comments Off on Why would you bother?

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The Limbo Document: A sterling example of how Catholics do theology

It is possible to speak endlessly about how Catholics do theology in theory, but (notwithstanding some legitimate criticisms here and here in the First Things blog) I have found the International Theological Commission’s document “THE HOPE OF SALVATION FOR INFANTS WHO DIE WITHOUT BEING BAPTISED” to be an excellent example of the way in which Catholics do theology in practice.

It is to be noted that this is a statement by theologians, and theologians do not (unless they are bishops) participate in the charism of infallibility given to the magisterium of the Church. They do, however, serve the Church’s magisterium through their scholarship. The statement was released with the approval of Pope Benedict, but that does not mean it is authorative or that it is a statement of the Church’s position. It is only what it claims to be: a reflection on a unclear matter by theologians.

For all that, it is striking the way in which this document handles Scripture, the Canons of the Councils, pronouncements of Popes, the writings of the Fathers, the opinions of the Scholastics and modern theologians as it discusses the question of the fate of infants who die without baptism. There has, throughout history, clearly been a “hands off” approach to the matter on the part of the Popes and the wider Magisterium–and for one good reason (as the document points out): the answer has not been revealed to us. Some things have been revealed to us (such as the doctrine of Original Sin and the Necessity of Baptism), and the document is quite clear that it regards these doctrines of the faith as rock solid and non-negotiable.

But what most fascinates me is the way in which these theologians handle two authorities–Scripture and the Sensus Fidelium–on the matter. Scripture is definitely used (in the final conclusion) to critique the doctrine of Limbo. But also, the whole motivation for the document is a pastoral one: the Faithful have shown that they are not completely satisfied with what the Church has said (or not said) on this matter up to this point. The Augustinian option (that all who are not baptised are damned to everlasting torment in Hell even if their only stain is original sin) is sensed by the Faithful as all together beyond what they know of God’s nature revealed to them in Christ. And so, while the Sensus Fidelium is a difficult beast to put one’s finger on (it doesn’t, for instance, manifest itself in democratic lay synods), nevertheless we see it at work here. It appears that the role which the Sensus Fidelium plays in the development of doctrine is not so much to give the answer as to ask the question.

Regarding the Development of Doctrine, the document has this to say in its introduction:

The treatment of this theme must be placed within the historical development of the faith. According to Dei Verbum 8, the factors that contribute to this development are the reflection and the study of the faithful, the experience of spiritual things, and the teaching of the Magisterium. When the question of infants who die without baptism was first taken up in the history of Christian thought, it is possible that the doctrinal nature of the question or its implications were not fully understood. Only when seen in light of the historical development of theology over the course of time until Vatican II does this specific question find its proper context within Catholic doctrine. Only in this way – and observing the principle of the hierarchy of truths mentioned in the Decree of the Second Vatican Council Unitatis redintegratio (#11) – the topic can be reconsidered explicitly under the global horizon of the faith of the Church. This Document, from the point of view of speculative theology as well as from the practical and pastoral perspective, constitutes for a useful and timely mean for deepening our understanding this problem, which is not only a matter of doctrine, but also of pastoral priority in the modern era.

Anyway, I commend the document for your reading. I especially commend it because, I agree with Robert T. Miller’s assessment:

It is in many ways unlovely, being excessively long and repetitious and full of sometimes unintentionally humorous irrelevancies;… For all its faults, however, the document gets right the essential point: “Our conclusion is that [there are]…grounds for hope that unbaptized infants will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision” (no. 102), but “the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants” because “the destiny of…infants who die without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed” (no. 79) [My emphasis].


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Scripture and Tradition in Catholicism and Lutheranism: A reply to Curtis

Pastor Weedon has supplied the text of an article which was published in the Lutheran Forum (Subscription only) (courtesy of the author) in the comments section of my second last blog post called “THE RELATION BETWEEN THE BIBLICAL AND CATHOLIC PRINCIPLES” by HEATH R. CURTIS (Lutheran Forum 39.4(Winter 2005): 20-24).

There is a great deal that is good and valuable in this essay, but I must say it had me running back to the safe arms of Mummy (Holy Mother Church) on more than a number of occasions. It reminded me of how, as a Lutheran pastor, I was really left to work it all out for myself “in fear and trembling” (as they say)–and often in open combat with my fellow Lutherans. As a Catholic, I have the blessed relief of simply pointing people to the Catechism. Call me lazy if you like, but the task of trying to form a personal infallible opinion on every article of Christian doctrine is simply beyond my human ability (even in the grace of Christ!).

What can be said about this essay? It is very complicated. I want to agree with a lot of it. I have put ticks next to the following statements (with the qualification that they are true as far as they go). Maybe this is one of those situations which really calls for the methods outlined by Pastor Pearce in his recent blog on polemical theology. Alas, I am too lazy and a blog post is not the best medium for such work. Here’s what I agree with:

    • The Word alone established dogma.
    • the point is not how Augustine or Chrysostom interpreted a given passage but how that passage has been received by the entire Church catholic.
    • The bible is the Church’s book and it cannot be understood or interpreted rightly outside the Church and neither can the Church stand apart from God’s Word.
    • How can I be sure that I have all the right books [in scripture]? The traditionalist Romanists [eg. me and Pope Benedict] answer this question definitively by the authority of the bishops and dogmatically declared the canon of scripture at Trent.
    • The tradition of the Church is our only link to the apostolic scriptures–the Church handed them down to us and they also handed down their interpretation.

But there is so much that raises questions for me. The WEAKEST point of the whole essay is that which addresses the actual definition of what is and is not “scripture”:

Lutherans are historical Christians taking the information that the Church handed down concerning the canon and accepting it. So, the Lutherans take seriously the doubt expressed by the Early Church about the apostolicity of seven of the books in the New Testament (the antilegomena books: James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation) and refuse to give them strictly equal status with the twenty sure and certain homolegoumena books of the New Testament (see Luther’s Prefaces to these books; Chemnitz Examen I,192; and Pieper, Christian Dogmatics III.330-338). Likewise, Lutherans express grave doubts about the Greek portions of the Old Testament (“apocryphal” or “deutero-canonical” books) yet encourage their reading and even quote one of them (2 Macc.) as “Scripture” in their confessional writings (Ap. XXI.8-9; see also Ap. IV.156ff.)

This is scarey stuff. Consider that the arguement of the paper is that Scripture alone determines dogma, but then Lutherans (according to this paper, which I think is a little skewiff on this matter) hedge their bets on certain books of scripture which have been unanimously accepted as Word of God since the early centuries of the Church.

Part of the difficulty is in the definition of what is and what is not “Word of God”. See the previous blog on this matter, but in short, the Catholic Church also believes that no doctrine can be established which is not clearly revealed in the Word of God, but does not restrict God’s revealed Word to the written scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The burden of proof remains with the Lutheran parties to demonstrate (yea, even on the basis of Scripture alone) that only the written scriptures may be regarded as Word of God and therefore as the foundation and source of all doctrine.

Another part of the difficulty is that the whole discussion is couched in relation to “Scripture and Tradition”. But the Catholic Church knows at least two (in fact three) other players in the determination of doctrine. The first is the living magisterium of the pastors of the Church. What gives the New Testament its authority is the fact that it is written and attested to by the Apostles. But while God’s revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, the apostolic authority to teach did not, and continues in the body of men we call “bishops”. Even Lutherans today struggle with the question of the degree to which their pastors (as a body) have authority and responsibility for teaching in the Church. We Catholics are definite about the matter: our bishops have the authority to judge authentic Catholic doctrine.

In fact, Curtis’ paper is overly concerned with the question of whether Scripture norms the Tradition or the Tradition norms the Scripture. At times he ends up in a circle: Tradition determines the authentic interpretation of Scripture, but “the perspicuity of the Scriptures reins in the fanciful interpretations” offered by the Tradition. He is at a loss to explain why the ecumenical councils of the “undivided church” (“in particular, the first four”–why exactly?) have pride of place in the Lutheran canon. He is at a loss to say what it means that “the whole church” receives a certain tradition. What he is grouping for is the doctrine of the authoritative living Magisterium. It is this Magisterium alone which has determined what elements of the Tradition are authentic and authoritative.

Furthermore, it isn’t quite true to say that Scripture gives us dogma and Tradition gives us interpretation. Scripture does have doctrinal/creedal statements, but such statements make up a small percentage of the scriptural material. On the other hand, the Tradition (or in fact, the Magisterium as recorded in the Tradition) is the “go-to” source of declarations and definitions of dogma. The Tradition did not “invent new doctrines” mind you, but throughout history has specifically declared what is to be regarded as the true Catholic faith.

Ah, there is so much here. It really can’t all be dealt with at once. By the way, you will have noticed that I said “at least two (in fact three) other players in the determination of doctrine” in the Catholic Church. They are:

1) The Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures
2) The Sacred Tradition
3) The Living Magisterium
4) The Successor of Peter
5) The Sensus Fidelium

The relationship between all these is an intricate one, and has worked mighty well over the centuries. I believe that it is the security of this matrix of authorities within the Catholic Church which has ensured its faithful survival against the gates of Hell to this day (Past Elder’s suspicions not-with-standing). Without all five of these authorities, the Catholic Church would have fallen to the forces of its enemies (most relentless throughout the 20th Century and not showing any sign of letting up in this new century). This is why it, and it alone, remains as the only universal communion of Christians faithful to the Apostolic Deposit of Faith today.


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