Monthly Archives: October 2008

Getting a handle on PE’s Ecclesiology

In the combox to the previous posting, Past Elder expounds further on his reasons for rejecting the (“Roman”) Catholic Church and for criticising what he calls “the new religion”, ie. the Post-Vatican II Catholic Church.

We’ve treated this topic before (eg. here), of course, and you may wonder why I (and he) keep coming back to it. From my point of view it is because a) I am still trying to get a handle on the rationality or logic of his argument, and, more importantly, b) because his accusation is a profound challenge to me personally. He himself has said as much:

But thanks for yet another, as if more were needed, confirmation of why I am not Roman Catholic any more, or rather, why Roman Catholic no longer exists to be any more. If you had headed East, at least you would have found Orthodoxy…

So in nuce, I’m not saying here you ought to drop this crap and resume your call to the Office of Holy Ministry (though as a Lutheran I say you should), I am saying here that, unlike our converts to Orthodoxy who get Orthodoxy when they convert, what a convert to Roman Catholicism gets when they convert, speaking as one who once believed that religion, is nothing but a barge of bilge lying peddled under the same name and while I would now question your decision, nonetheless if Roman Catholicism is what you want then run from this pile of dung precisely because what you want is Roman Catholicism.

So you see, I can’t leave this alone. It is not that I have to answer PE. It is that I have to answer myself, and I myself have to take into account what happened in the Catholic Church post-Vatican II.

Another thing to add, of course, is that I did not become a Catholic seeking the “pre-Vatican II” Church. The only Church that I knew then, and indeed, the only Church that I know now, is the Church of Vatican II (and the other 20 ecumenical councils, of course). It was to this Church that I “converted”, or rather, it was this Church that drew me. I don’t know if things would have been different if there had never been a Vatican II – that isn’t the reality. Certainly, as a Lutheran considering the Catholic Church, I was not aware of the existence of a “hermeneutic of rupture” – I saw only the Church which was established by Jesus Christ founded upon the Rock of the Petrine Ministry and which has existed in continuity ever since.

But in any case, here is PE’s case “in nuce”:

My position on the postconciliar RCC in re the real RCC derives from the faith I was taught by the RCC, which in turn could not be what I thought it was, the true faith and church of Jesus Christ, since it lost to such a monstrous perversion of it at Vatican II, and there being nothing else with any valid claim to being the true faith and church of Jesus Christ, Christianity itself must then have been false all along. Hence twenty years as a Righteous of the Nations.

Of course, we thank God that PE was eventually able again to find his faith in Jesus Christ. But I am trying to get a handle on that original impulse to abandon the Church he founded.

I found today a picture – an analogy – which might help. It is in part suggested by the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulos who has suggested that the Catholic Church would benefit from an ecclesiology that was more consciously eschatological. In other words, the Church (and indeed the Eucharist, which is the basis for this ecclesiology as in most Orthodox reflection on the Church – it realies greatly on the image of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb from the book of Revelation) is a present reality that ultimately gets its real being from the future goal of the eschaton. This contrasts to the rather “backward looking” emphasis of the Catholic Church which usually emphasises the founding of the Church, the apostolicity of the Church, and the Succession of the Petrine ministry (as I did above).

From this point of view, we need a picture that connects the “back then” with the “what will be”, ie. the future eschatological fulfillment. And thus came to me the analogy of a BRIDGE.

If we view the historical establishment of the Church as one side of a vast chasm, and the Marriage Feast as the other side, then the Church is the concrete (incarnate) structure that spans the chasm. From one point of view, this chasm is already spanned – the “suspension ropes” are already in place, so to speak, which support the bridge as it is being built, but from an historical point of view, the bridge is still a work in progress. Stone by stone, the permanent structure is being constructed upon which the People of God can journey step by historical step toward the goal of the other side of the chasm.

Now, the curious thing about this Church-Bridge is that the builders use what comes to hand at the time, and build in the style that seems appropriate to the times. (Visually, it would be a very odd structure indeed!). But it is important to stress that it is one single structure heading in one single direction. There have been times in the History of the Church when the bridge is built with shoddy materials and with shoddy workmanship. But it has always been in the nature of the Church (the Bridge Builders) to go back and patch up the dodgy spots, to repair mistakes, and to press on with the task at hand.

One recent “dodgy spot”, we would all agree, was the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. In the long history of the Church, 40 years is not a long time, nor is it in the span of this bridge, but the workmanship in this time has definitely been of such shoddiness that many have lost their footing and fallen. Still a great many have maintained the project, and today we are in a period when the shoddy workmanship of the last 40 years is being repaired and strengthened in line with the whole structure from the beginning.

But let us think back to those who, like PE, found themselves on the dodgy work, with planks missing and sometimes deliberately removed. What to do?

The options were limited. You could have tried to start the project all over again from the beginning (sort of like some Reformation sects attempting to “get back to the NT”). You could have tried to start a new bridge in mid air – half way across the Chasm (sort of like the Sedevacantists). Or you could do what PE did. You look back at the Bridge that has brought you safe thus far, and say: what a load of crap this bridge is. It looked so solid, but now it is dodgy and unsafe. It doesn’t look as if it will ever reach the other side – and more to the point, I see now that it never was going to. It was always only ever “half a bridge” – which is useless. It has left me hanging in mid air. So I think I will just jump off from here.

Mmm. That’s the way it seemeth to me, anyway.

In my case, however, I looked at the whole Bridge. I looked at the people who were working on it now, repairing the past damage and building a sure and certain path into the future. I looked at the suspension ropes that were still in place linking the Bridge-in-progress (the Now but Not Yet Bridge) to the other side (the promises of our Lord, the Eucharist etc.) and I thought: This Bridge is going to get there. In fact, it is the only Bridge that has even a hope of ever reaching the other side. Even if it were just a ricketty suspension bridge of rotting planks and ropes, I would still use it. In short, eschatologically speaking, it is a real Bridge – not because it is a glorious and beautiful structure, but because it is the only Bridge that will ever cover the entire span.

So I stick with it. I never had a head for heights or bungie-jumping. I am sticking with the Bridge Builder. (Which, coincidentally in Latin, is Pontifex).


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John Allen publishes the Propositions of the Synod in English

If you have been waiting for all the propositions from the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church in English, you can stop holding your breath, because here they are thanks to the girls and boys at National Catholic Reporter and especially the one bright boy of the pack, John L. Allen Jnr.


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"Archaeologists dig up dirt on Luther"?

So proclaims the headline in Cathnews today. Story and comments follow:

German archaeologists have stoked controversy by unearthing evidence that Reformation leader Martin Luther lived well and did not die as a pauper as commonly believed. [Who ever thought that? We all know he lived in a big house (the old Wittenberg Augustinian monastery), had tons of kids (whom he presumably fed well enough), ate well (just look at the portraits of the “young Luther” as a monk compared the “late Luther” after Katie had been feeding him for 20 years!), and enjoyed a beer as much if not better than the next bloke.]

The Taipei Times [Taipei??? You’ve got to be joking. Wasn’t there a source for this story closer to home? Nb. The byline in the Taipei Times says the story comes from the Guardian in London.]reports German scientists have reconstructed a detailed picture of the domestic life of Martin Luther by trawling through his household waste uncovered during archeological digs on sites where he used to live.

Beer tankards, grains of corn, cooking pots, his wife’s wedding band and even his toilet are among the finds dug up during the five year project in the three places in Germany he spent his life. [Yep, well, those items would pretty well sum up his domestic and health life… But that all seems pretty normal to me… not evidence of being “flush with cash”.]

But the Protestant Church in Wittenberg has called “religiously irrelevant” the evidence that the peace loving family used to throw dead cats into the rubbish bin [what else do you do with a dead cat?] and that the nails Luther used to secure his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg – which led to his excommunication from the Catholic Church and launched the reformation – were in fact drawing pins [Um? They found the NAILS he used to post the 95 Theses? That might just start a Lutheran relic frenzy! Anyway, I guess if the Church door was the local notice board, the “nails” could be called “pins” – but you would still need a hammer to get them into the thick oak!].

“We’ve been able to reconstruct whole chapters of his life’s history,” said Harald Meller, one of the main researchers. [Good for them. Not as if we were short on info though.]

Protestants from around the world were expected to flock to an exhibition at the history museum in Halle, where the best of the discoveries are to go on display starting on Friday. [Like I said – the new collection will rival those of the Elector’s at the Castle Church on All Saints Day 1517. Listen out for the sound of a Luther’s ghost hammering drawing pins into the notice board of the Halle Museum…]

Despite the widespread belief that Luther lived in poverty, evidence suggests he was a well fed man, weighing a hefty 150 kilograms when he died in 1546 at the age of 63. [Have these guys never heard the German saying “As fat as Martin Luther”?]

The most extensive research carried out at the family home in Wittenberg showed that Luther wrote his celebrated texts with goose quills under lamps lit by animal fat, in a heated room, which overlooked the River Elbe. [When he wasn’t in the Wartburg Castle throwing inkpots or down at the printers shop correcting providing material as quick as the printer could print it.]

It debunks something of the Luther myth to know he wrote the 95 theses on a stone toilet, which was dug up in 2004. [Que? He wrote them on a stone toilet? It takes some imagination to picture him then using drawing pins to fix the stone toilet to the Wittenberg Church door… I think what they mean is that in 2004 the stone dunny in the Luther home was dug up, and that LUTHER was on this toilet when he wrote the 95 Theses. And to correct even THAT story, we need to point out that Luther said he was on the toilet when he realised his principle of JUSTIFICATION, NOT when he composed the 95 Theses. Good grief, journalists garble stories some times…]


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On being a (Scriptural) Theologian

One of the really odd things that struck me when I left the little pond known as the Lutheran Church of Australia for the big ocean of the Catholic Church was how often I came across Scripture scholars teaching in our Catholic institutions who would begin their address by saying “I’m not a theologian, but…”

Que? That didn’t compute with my Lutheran theological education. When I did my humble Bachelor’s degree in Theology, I did two years each of biblical Hebrew and Greek. This was followed up by at least three exegetical studies in each of Old and New Testament books. Suffice it to say, that “Sola Scriptura” meant that even in Dogmatic (or what was known as Systematic) Theology, the first qualification was to be a Scriptural theologian.

So what gives? Why have Catholic Scripture scholars universally given up the right to call themselves “theologians”? This is the very essence of an issue raised at the current Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church – by no less a personage than the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, himself:

Where exegesis is not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology and, vice versa, when theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Scripture in the Church, this theology has no foundation anymore.

Therefore for the life and the mission of the Church, for the future of faith, this dualism between exegesis and theology must be overcome. Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of the one reality, what we call Theology.

And the bishops have listened! The new propositions have taken this issue very seriously in four of the propositions:

25. Need two levels in research exegetical
26. Enlarging the prospects of the current study exegetical
27. Overcoming dualism between theology and exegesis
28. Dialogue between exegetes, theologians and pastors

As soon as a proper English text is available, I will put up some of this material.

Comments Off on On being a (Scriptural) Theologian

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Synod on the Word "Boring"?

Yes, well, His Eminence George Cardinal Pell may have described the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church (which closed on Sunday) as “least interesting” of all the synods he has attended, but that is only judging by the “Crittenden Criteria” that to be interesting religious news has to be controversial.

But things will really become interesting when (and, sad to say, IF) the fruits of the last three weeks find their way into the life of the Church.

I am currently working through the Synod Propositions (currently only available in Italian, but you can use Google Translation to come up with a tolerably readable text). I am only half way through, but there are some very interesting suggestions for liturgy, catechesis and exegetical/theological study.

In particular:

1) The proposal for a CDF study of “inspiration and the truth of the Bible” which highlights the particular Catholic hermeneutic of scripture.

2) The proposal (#14) of giving a special “visible place of honour” to the book of the Scriptures “within the church.” Lutheran Churches used to (not so common any more) have an open copy of the Scriptures always upon the altar itself facing the people. I don’t think that is a good idea (the altar is the table of the Eucharist, not of the word), but why not in association with the Ambo from which the Word is proclaimed? Of course, it is usually the Lectionary or the Gospel book that usually has pride of place there. But it is something to think about.

3) The proposal for a true “gospel procession” (#14) being reinstituted in the ceremony of the Liturgy of the Word – perhaps along the line of the Eastern rites?

4) The suggestion originally made by Archbishop Mark Coleridge for a “Homiletical Directory” is taken up in proposition #15.

5) The suggestion (#16) for a revision of the Lectionary ditching the forced connection currently existing between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel. This would be very opportune.

6) The suggestion of promoting the ministry of women in the reading of scripture in the liturgy. I haven’t seen the latin text, so I don’t know if the Synod is actually proposing that ordination to the office of “Lector” should be open to women. I would be surprised by this and even more surprised if the Holy Father actually agrees with this suggestion.

7) Work on the Sunday “celebrations of the word of God” so as to prevent confusion with teh Eucharistic liturgy (#18)

8) An official “simple form of the Liturgy of the Hours” for laity (#19)

9) support for “small ecclesial communities” (#21). This would have to be handled carefully given the history of BEC’s in the church, but could be beneficial.

10) I am glad that suggestions for devotional reading of scripture are much broader than the classical “lectio divina” every one talks so much about today. (#22)

11) The emphasis on the connection between Catechesis and Scripture (#23) suggests that there should be a kind of Post-RCIA course following baptism especially deepening the newly baptised adult’s connection with scripture and the catechism.

12) A number of propositions directly addressing the catastrophic division between academic scriptural exegetical study and the study of theology (#24-28).

That last mentioned set of propositions could, in the end, be the most significant outcome for the whole Synod. I had started to blog on this but didn’t finish the entry. I will get around to it.

I expect that the propositions will be available on Zenit in English by tomorrow.


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On Homilies and the Sunday Eucharist: A little reminder of why I am Catholic…

…and the fact that being Catholic doesn’t solve everything.

Years ago, one of the catalysts that set me on the road to Rome was the fact that I could not always be certain, when attending a Lutheran Church on Sunday, that I would get the Eucharist. Often, what was served up in place of the ancient liturgy of the Church was some home made didactic “liturgy”.

What I could generally be certain of was getting a good sermon which proclaimed the Gospel accompanied by good hymns and music.

On the other hand, as a Catholic, I can always be assured that I will get the Eucharist on Sunday, generally without too much alteration to the set piece.

What I can never be assured of is hearing a homily that actually proclaims the Paschal Mystery of what God has done in Jesus Christ.

This is a real problem, but one that I think could be rectified (it is certainly a major theme at the current Synod of Bishops in Rome – hopefully we will see some improvement in Catholic preaching in years to come as a result). Also, one always hears the readings from scripture proclaimed well, and if one is listening, the Gospel is there. And certainly the Paschal Mystery is truly present in the valid celebration of the Eucharist.

So I generally swallow my concern and console myself with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist if not in the Homily.

But last night I finally realise that perhaps one reason Catholic homilies are so bad is that we rarely give our priests any feedback on how they are doing. So I decided (in the Spirit of the Synod of Bishops) that I am not going to listen to another bad homily (or a good one for that matter) without offering the homilist some constructive but critical feed back.

I made this decision after returning from the Vigil Mass in the town we are currently visiting while on camp with my wife’s Lutheran parish. The Gospel (as you will known) was on Matthew 22:34-40, the question of the Greatest Commandment. The message of this pericope, according to the homilist, was simple: if you don’t love yourself you can’t love others. So, Jesus is telling you to love yourself.

In short, it was pop psychology without an ounce of Gospel in it. About half way through I thought to myself: “If he doesn’t say at least once in this sermon something along the lines of St John’s epistle (1 Jn 4:19) that we love others because God first loved us, I’m going to have a word with him afterwards.” Well, it didn’t happen. No where in the entire homily did he say anything about God at all really, let alone Jesus or what God has done through Jesus for us. Very, very sad. I often have protestant friends who say that Catholics just don’t get the Gospel, and, while I must affirm that no-one gets the Gospel like the Catholic Church, in the case of a very large number of individual Catholics, they are tragically right.

After the mass, the priest was engaged in conversation with parishioners and I had to get back to camp for tea, so I sent him my comments by email.

But in case I was getting to nostalgic for Lutheranism, I was brought up against the hard reality this morning. Although we have one of the parish pastors with us at the camp, this morning, instead of a Eucharist, they had a children’s hour of scripture and song (piloting their new Sunday School program). It was very enjoyable, but it wasn’t liturgy let alone Eucharist. Why? I don’t know. While the Lutheran Church get’s Liturgy and the Lord’s Supper, perhaps individual Lutherans just don’t get the idea that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and without the Sunday Eucharist we would die.

So, there you have it. No perfect experience of the Una Sancta this weekend. I am Catholic because their Eucharist is authentic and the Truth may be found there – not because it is a perfect human institution. I stopped being Lutheran because I couldn’t find the Eucharist in the Lutheran Church – not because they didn’t preach the Gospel clearly and purely.

In any case, in the new year we will receive a new parish priest in my home parish. I will inform him of my new “sermon criticism” apostolate as soon as he arrives.


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Rattling the bones – or the potential transplant organs at least…

Have you noticed how rattled the Live Organ Transplant Industry is becoming over the latest questioning of their practices? I say “live organ” because a dead organ is good to no one. Whether the patient to whom those organs belong is dead or not is the matter under discussion…

On Thursday, Dr Nick Tonti-Filippini (of our local John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family fame) had an op-ed piece in The Age “Why I have refused a renal transplant for 20 years”. He began this column by saying:

THE claims made by Associate Professor James Tibballs about brain death — reported in The Age this week — are well founded and are not a threat to organ donation as some have claimed.

Yet the Industry is running scared (is that how you spell “scared”? Or is it “scarred”? Perhaps both might be appropriate in this context…). In today’s edition of The Age, there is a letter from the members of ANZICS. No, not the boys from Gallipoli, but the Australian & New Zealand Intensive Care Society. The letter is headed “Brain Death Facts”. Here is a part of it:

WE WRITE to correct misinformation and vigorously disagree with Nicholas Tonti-Filippini (Comment & Debate, 23/10).

First, the Australian & New Zealand Intensive Care Society (ANZICS) has clearly stated that when X-rays have shown a devastating brain injury, brain death can be determined by clinical testing with 100% accuracy. ANZICS also provides clarity on those circumstances when brain blood flow imaging is required to diagnose brain death.

Second, the determination of death by clinical testing of brain function does comply with Australian law.

…The public can have full confidence in the determination of brain death. ANZICS believes that it is unethical for others to raise doubt in the public mind regarding the certainty of the determination of death.

So, there you have it. Once again we have the assurance: You know you are dead when the law says you are dead.

Dr Tonti-Filippini, in his article, suggested that:

Death of the brain stem alone is not death. Diagnosis of death requires evidence of the damage to the other parts of the brain such that all function of the brain is destroyed. I advise families to ask for an image showing loss of blood supply to the brain. They can then be confident that death has occurred.

The ANZICS boys respond:

Fifth, it would be unethical and unnecessary to submit every patient to a brain blood flow scan simply to show the patient’s family a picture.

Why? Because it would use up precious time when we need to get access to those living organs.

Now will everyone just please shut up about people not being dead when we start chopping them up and just let us get on with the job? Afterall, we ARE the doctors. Not you.


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