Monthly Archives: January 2008

New Post on Year of Grace

Yes, and I thought it was about time to update my Year of Grace blog as well. Exciting revelations in this entry

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The Benefits of Living under a Constitutional Monarchy?

A royalist aquaintance of mine, George Bougias, draws some interesting conclusions from the recent publication of the United Nations Human Development Index. He writes:

Six of the top ten nations are Constitutional Monarchies. I am happy to live in Australia – number 3 on the list and a Constitutional Monarchy!

1. Iceland R
2. Norway CM
3. Australia CM
4. Canada CM

5. Ireland R
6. Sweden CM
7. Switzerland R
8. Japan CM
9. Netherlands CM

10. France R

All very interesting. Probably proves nothing in particulur, but I like to think he has a point. Actually, there is no reason why he could not have continued the list to the top twenty, as that would have made it 12 out of 20:

11. Finland R
12. United States R
13. Spain CM
14. Denmark CM

15. Austria R
16. United Kingdom CM
17. Belgium CM
18. Luxembourg CM (or CGD strictly speaking)
19. New Zealand CM

20. Italy R

While none of this proves that, as a political system, Constitution Monarchy is necessarily any better than Republicanism (since the real common denominator among all these nations is European-style democracy), at least, I think, it does prove that Constitutional Monarchy as a political system does not have a negative impact upon the well-being of a nation. One would not be able to argue on the basis of these figures that we in Australia would be better off if only we ditched our constitutional monarchy for some kind of republic.


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Where was this picture taken?

The picture above was posted by the Cooees crowd in a blog complaining about the shoddy journalism of the Brisbane Catholic Leader. The story relates to Archbishop Denis Hart (“our +Denis”) launching the Australian Association of Catholic Bioethicists at a dinner held recently.

However, the picture does not seem to fit. I am fairly sure that the person in the centre of the picture is none other than Melbourne-born-and-based Progressive Rabbi Gershon Zilberman. Here is a picture of the Rabbi which I took myself a year or two ago:

I am not exactly sure what he would be doing at a dinner for Catholic Bioethicists… I would be very interested to know if a) this photo was really taken at the dinner, or b) where and when it actually was taken. Has Cooees been guilty of a little shoddy reporting themselves?


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“Let us declare that God is dead…”

… and then we ourselves will be God. (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p.257)

No, I don’t think he is actually suggesting this as a good idea. He is suggesting that this is “the logic of the modern age, of our age”.

It comes as a part of his reflection on the parable of the vineyard (Mk 12:1-12), in which the “tenants” of “the vineyard” who rejected and killed each messenger the King sent them.

The King had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

“If we open our eyes”, writes Pope Ratzinger, “isn’t what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world?”

How true. Papa Benny, of course, had to endure the great “God is dead” debates in the 1960’s. But today, it’s less of a declaration than a plan of action: “Let’s kill God, and then we will be free.”

We saw this in Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, where a rather pathetic angel-like “god” is put out of his misery so that the Kingdom of Heaven can be replaced by something Pullman styles “The Republic of Heaven”.

I saw it again during my recent break when I borrowed from the library the English TV mini-series The Second Coming.

The blurb on the back says:

What if there was a Second Coming and the Son of God arrived on earth? What would he say? What would you do? Are you ready for Judgement Day?…

Christopher Eccleston [Yep, the same bloke who played the penultimate Dr Who in the new series] plays Steve Baxter, a video shop worker, who is found wandering the Yorkshire Moors after 40 days and nights, mumbling that he is the Son of God.

Steve isn’t mad—he is the Second Coming. He…performs a miracle that brings northern England to a complete standstill. The world’s media kicks into a frenzy. Steve has a simple purpose—mankind must produce a 3rd Testament, or face Judgement Day in five days time.

So. That’s the basic plot. The “Final Solution” (so to speak) is reached by one of his (more reluctant) believers—she offers him a plate of pasta cooked up with a generous helping of rat poison and tells him that it is his destiny—as God incarnate—to kill himself off so that the human race can finally be free from God, take responsibility for itself, and find a peaceful existence without religion. He accepts this, eats the pasta, and dies. Hurrah! Everyone lives more or less happily ever after.

I doubt that Papa Benny has watched this drivel. But his conclusion is fitting:

At last we can do what we please. We get rid of God; there is no measuring rod above us; we ourselves are our only measure. The “vineyard” belongs to us. What happens to man and the world next? We are already beginning to see it…


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Louis Bouyer “Spirit and Forms of Protestantism”

Well, I finally finished reading this classic volume, first published over fifty years ago. I’m not going to do a very long blog on it, as to do it justice would not only require several thousand words, but also many more years of reflecting on his ideas.

I was surprised to read here that Bouyer died only very recently. Bouyer was one among the the small spate of conversions of European Protestant clergy to the Catholic faith in the middle of the 20th Century (which, among other things, led to the current practice of the Catholic Church granting dispensation for married clergy converts to enter the priesthood). Bouyer was French, and, from what I can gather, Lutheran, but very well versed in Calvinism also. His book is an attempt to offer a just explanation of the “spirit and forms” of the tradition he left, but also to point out where, in the evaluation of the Catholic Church, that tradition had failed.

He does this in quite a different way from the traditional and common approach of comparing and contrasting specific protestant doctrines with corresponding Catholic positions, and tries to get at the very heart of the matter.

Essentially he identifies four aspects of Protestantism (some Lutheran, some Calvinist): Sola gratia, sola fide, solo Dei gloria (Calvin’s “sovereignty of God”), and sola scriptura. He demonstrates how each of these are thoroughly orthodox, thoroughly Catholic doctrines also, and then proceeds to ask the question “So why did the protestant churches end up not only in schism but actually in heresy?”

In so doing he works his way through Protestant Orthodoxy, Pietism, Methodism, and into the twentieth Century to the theology of Karl Barth.

He draws three main conclusions:

1) That the reformers—both Lutheran and Calvinist—unconsciously adopted as the very basis of their whole theological method the one great anti-Christian corruption of the medieval church which should have been their first priority to eradicate: namely the nominalist philosophy of Duns Scotus and the other late scholastics which held almost universal sway among the theologians—Catholic and Protestant—of the early 16th Century (including folk like Erasmus et aliter).

2) That, unlike the Catholic Church, Protestantism has been unable to purge itself of the effect of this nominalism due to the systematisation of the Reformers insights during the period of Protestant Orthodoxy; nominalism thus became synonymous with the very “system” of Protestantism itself.

3) That the best hope Protestantism has of rediscovering true Christianity is to pay attention to the elements of “revivalism” in its history; and that correspondingly these “revivalist”, “pietistic” and “mystical” elements (which keep cropping up in Protestantism) might also become bridges back to authentic Catholic Christianity. He notes, however, that Neo-Orthodoxy and Neo-Confessionalism always tend to fight against such trends.

It is all very interesting, and I rather think that if I had picked up this volume twenty years ago, it would have accelerated my entrance into the Catholic Church. I see in it a clear validation of those elements of Lutheran spirituality that I still treasure, even as a Catholic, but also a warning of those lingering aspects of nominalism of which I still honestly have to work hard to divest myself!

I have also been a bit surprised to find this book of particular relevance to a lecture I am preparing for our School of Prayer in the Archdiocese on the place of Luther and the Lutheran Pietists in the history of Christian Prayer and Spirituality. More on that later.


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Saying for the day…

“It’s a whole lot easier to get through life if you don’t expect much from it in the first place.”

It’s an original Schützism, so I give you permission to use it. A little nihilistic, perhaps? Or cynical? I often have regard for the saying of Thoreau, that “Most men live lives of quiet despation”.

I have experienced this desparation today just trying to get my latest toy (my work laptop) connected to mobile broadband. After actually buying a 3 Network plan, at a fraction of the price of Telstra, I now returned from my holiday (expecting to be all wireless by the end of the day) to find that 3 Network canceled my order because it doesn’t cover my home area. Deep Sigh.

So, I’ve just trudged in the summer heat down to the Telstra shop, who will now end up with my (or rather, the Archdiocese’s) megabucks. And I am trying to get my other new toy (an iPAQ personal organiser) to talk to my Lotus Notes email at work. We’re slowly solving that one. Even Deeper Sigh.

Of course, as Papa Benny never tires of pointing out, both in his latest encyclical “Spe Salvi” and in his book “Jesus of Nazareth”, man’s deepest longing is for life, real life, and life in abundance. He says, of this “eternal life”:

We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown “thing” is the true “hope” which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity.

“All forms of desparation and also of all efforts”. Yes, I can identify with that.


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Retreating Again (or "Run Away! Run Away!)

It’s the last week of January, and here in Australia, that means the last week of the summer school holidays and the last week before everybody starts expecting you to actually start doing something productive while at work, so between now until after the Australia Day Long Weekend (for foreign readers, that’s until Jan 29) I will be giving all my attention to my family.

As per usual, that means that I will not be blogging during this time. Check back in again at the end of the month for more insightful commentary and wit.

Go on, now, children. Run away and play.

P.S. The picture above is for the Monty Python congnoscenti among you. Get it?


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If the Pope can’t go to the Mountain, the Mountain will go to the Pope!

A neat little conclusion to the business about the La Sapienzia University’s rudeness to Pope Benedict came at yesterday’s general audience.

You can watch the report of the Weekly Audience at Rome Reports here.

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"Hermeneutic of suspicion" has no place in Interreligious Dialogue

The story that a NSW priest has criticised the important development in Catholic Muslim relations that has taken place at the Australian Catholic University shows just what damage an “hermeneutic of suspicion” can do to in inter-religious relations.

It also shows how mistaken it can be to interpret a religious movement outside of its context. Fethullah Gulen’s movement arose in the anti-religious, ultra-secular, context of 1960’s Turkey. It is Islamic in the same sense that (for eg.) Opus Dei is Catholic. (In fact, in very many ways, the Gulen Movement and the Opus Dei movement are similar culturally and religiously, just in different religious and social contexts. Opus Dei has itself often been attacked by its enemies with exactly the same sort of “hermeneutic of suspicion”). As a movement, its intention in Turkey has always been to enable ordinary “lay” folk to live out their Islamic faith in daily life of business and service.

In the original article to which the news story refers, the author quotes from one of Gulen’s sermons:

You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centres, until the conditions are ripe.

This statement in its context clearly relates to the way in which Gulen encouraged his followers to work against the discriminatory anti-religious system of his own country. It has never been the intention of the Gulen movement to move into other countries and “take over”, as the author of the article seems to suggest.

Unfortunately, the author of the article attempts to interpret the situation in Turkey vis a vis Islam (and religion in general for that matter, including Christianity) through paradigms that we are familiar with in the Western world. Even on the basis of my very brief experience in Turkey (which you can read about in my diary here), I have come to realise that this is not possible. To understand the Gulen movement in its context it is necessary to be familiar with the specific history of the relations between state and religion in the Turkish republic during the 20th Century.

There is much that dialogue with Muslims can achieve in our world today. The establishment of the Muslim chair at ACU gives us an opportunity to work very closely together, in an open academic context. There is no place for the hermeneutic of suspicion here. Only for generous engagement and rigourous academic investigation.


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Well, no skin off the Pope’s nose…

There is a classic line in Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” where the philosophers threaten to go on strike. “And who will that inconvenience?” asks the mega-computer, Deep Thought.

The protest by some students and faculty at the La Sapienza University that caused the Pope to call off his visit falls into the same category. As demonstrations go, all it demonstrated is how small minded some people can be. I’m sure the pope will enjoy having a blank hour or two in his diary.

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