Daily Archives: November 6, 2008

Subscribe to First Things…

…even if it is just to read Fr Richard John Neuhaus’ Public Square column.

The latest edition is no disappointment.

Here is just one snippet on three subjects – but the whole column is worth reading:

• For many years, Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne–South Bend has labored valiantly to maintain—or, as some would have it, restore—the Catholic character of the University of Notre Dame. Once again this year, over his protests, Notre Dame staged The Vagina Monologues. You can check the website of the diocese for exchanges between the bishop and the university president, Fr. John Jenkins. Of course, in making the case for the Monologues, Fr. Jenkins goes on about academic freedom, noting that a university has to deal with objectionable subjects. He cites the fact that documentary films on the early days of Nazism were recently shown on campus. To which D’Arcy responds: “There is an enormous difference between showing a Nazi propaganda film in 2008 and showing it in 1938. One is a matter of historic and scholarly interest in a long-past event, while the other constitutes active cooperation in promoting a current and threatening evil ideology.” Game, set, match to the gentleman with the purple beanie.

• Swiss couples are going to church to get divorced. The liturgy for finalizing a divorce, says Pastor Frank Worbs, “helps people get over the separation and achieve definite closure.” Ruedi Reich, president of the Zurich Reform Church, says, “Going through a ceremony like this is a way of showing God that the marriage is over.” So there, God. Now please stop bothering us with your antiquated ideas about marriage.

• Here comes the competition. Publishers Weekly announces that New Press, a far-left, not-for-profit publisher in New York, is launching a line of religion books. The first of eight books scheduled for this year is Daniel Maguire’s Whose Church? A Concise Guide to Progressive Catholicism. Maguire, an ex-priest, is best known for his work with Planned Parenthood in promoting “reproductive rights.” The second book is Whose Torah? A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism by Rebecca Alpert, who is described as “a lesbian and an ordained female rabbi.” “Our plan is to break down the stereotype of religion as a right-wing phenomenon,” says Rita Brock of New Press, which describes the religion books as “a political intervention.” That has at least the merit of candor.

What I really enjoy is those little comments on which he ends each paragraph. Such as the following from the above:

“Game, set, match to the gentleman with the purple beanie.”
“So there, God.”
“That has at least the merit of candor.”

Snide? Supercilious? Yes, perhaps. But very amusing.

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Continuing the Discussion on the Challenge of PE’s Ecclesiology

There was a lengthy and very enlightening (and generally civilised) conversation in the combox to my earlier posting “Getting a handle on PE’s Ecclesiology”. I was away for most of it, so I thought I would take up a couple of points here in a seperate post.

I’m just going to take stuff in the order it appeared in that conversation, and you can follow along if you like. It’s a free world, and this is my blog after all.

Tony said: “I find your bridge analogy very evocative but way too linear and way too … looking for the right word here … small.”

Yeah, well, it was only one image, and no image does full justice to the great mystery of the Church, so we have different images for different purposes. Since this was an image of the Church in history it is pretty hard for it not to be both linear and one dimensional.

But then Tony goes on to talk about “the Kingdom” – and that is a whole different kettle of fish. The Bridge (Schütz’s Bridge, if you like) was an image of the Church. The Church is related to the Kingdom but they are not the same thing. It is also true that the Kingdom is an eschatological reality, and in so far as the New Testament teaches a realised eschatology then yes, I can agree with Tony when he says that “the kingdom is not ‘over there’ it’s ‘right here’. It doesn’t have to be built first to be seen, it has to be seen first to be built. It’s not ‘then’ it’s ‘now’.”But the Church and the Kingdom are not the same thing, and the Church is something that is built rather than scene. Perhaps, in the case of Schütz’s Bridge, the suspension ropes connecting the Bridge-in-Progress to the other side is the Kingdom in the Present, which needs to be seen so that the Church/Bridge can be built upon it?

Tony also said: “I believe … the Catholic church, at it’s core, has the clearest vision of the Kingdom but we don’t have the keys to ourselves. The Kingdom is way bigger than our club.” Yes, the Kingdom is bigger than the Church, BUT surely you recall Jesus’ words to St Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19)? That’s pretty specific, I would say. It also gives someone “in the club” (to use your phrase) the right to decide who is in and who is out. That’s pretty scary, when you think about it.

When Past Elder said “Well, it seemeth to you more or less correctly” I rejoiced, because it shows that I am finally getting somewhere with this.

I thought it was notable that PE quoted the verse “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:11 – coincidentally the one passage in the NT which clearly speaks of the fire of Purgatory – which is none other than the post-death encounter with Jesus Christ himself!), because the one image in Scripture that speaks of the Church in terms of building doesn’t use Schütz’s Bridge, but the image of building a house or temple. That image comes from St Paul (Eph 2:19-22) where he uses the idea of Christ as a “cornerstone” (originating from Ps 118:22, applied to Christ in Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:6). But the Cornerstone or foundation image on its own does not have a very strong eschatological aspect – until you take into account the alternative translation of “cornerstone” in Ephesians, ie. “keystone” or “capstone”. In which case, Paul’s image is that of a Roman arch, with the Apostles and Prophets as the foundation, and Christ as the eschatological “capstone” which completes and holds the whole structure together. Not unlike Schütz’s Bridge, in a way.

Anyway, back to the main argument. PE approves of my three options (“So far so good? Assuming yes, then you ask, so why did you choose the abyss rather than stay on it [the Bridge/Church]?“), ONLY IF the Bridge is REAL and not just a figment of my Catholic imagination. But for him this was just the point: “Option Three does not exist, Options One and Two cannot be, therefore, the whole deal is a complete mistake from the start, there is no bridge at all, any time, ever.” When he ceased to be Catholc, PE rejected the entire idea that there was any such reality as “the Church”. He says:

My problem and your conversion — and you are right, you go on about this not to answer to me but to yourself, and I will add the same is true of me — rest upon an unexamined assumption. Which is, the bridge in the analogy is the Roman Catholic Church, the mother in the analogy is the Roman Catholic Church, the catholic church in the creed is the Roman Catholic Church. The whole contruct of the Options above falls apart entirely when one no longer assumes that the bridge is the Roman Catholic Church… You look at the whole Bridge and see Roman Catholic Church. I looked at the whole Bridge and saw a fantasy because the Roman Catholic Church that used to be visible is no longer.

Well, I need to confess “guilty as charged” when you say that I assume what you call “The Roman Catholic Church” is the “Catholic Church” of the Creed (I don’t use the term “Roman Catholic” except to describe the Catholic Church of the diocese of Rome). The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church and it is a visible reality in full continuity with the Church established by Christ. It includes (in a way not fully made manifest) the apostolic Churches of the East, but does not include the Protestant ecclesial communions (and yet paradoxically includes all the baptised members of those communions). It has to be a visible tangible reality to be an effective “Bridge” – you need something to put your feet on, something to support you over the abyss.

But in any case, PE goes on to describe his current situation:

Now I look and see the whole Bridge, it’s there after all, it just isn’t the Roman Catholic Church, and the mistake was judging whether there is a Bridge or not by whether the Roman Catholic Church is it or not. It isn’t. It’s part of it, mostly the rotting planks and ropes, …but it’s part of it nonetheless and the real Bridge can be found in it. Nor are the rotting planks and ropes confined to it, there’s other part[s] of the Bridge like that too. And God bless us ten times, even where the planks are rightly preached and the ropes rightly administered (like that one?) there’s a WHOLE bunch of jamokes thinking those shoddy ones look better!

The difficulty I have with this is that this is that it is very hard to understand how a Bridge can be part of a Bridge but not the whole Bridge, and how other Bridges that are different Bridges can really form part of the one Bridge. It all sounds a little too Platonic to me. Yes, there is a real Bridge but all the bridges you see in the world are just pale reflections of the one Real Bridge.

Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. In fact, it is where I was at nine years ago or so. I had the idea that all the different communions – Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox – were in some way self-authenticating. That each had its own understanding of truth that was true for that particular communion and operative within that communion. My good friends Fraser and Adam (both still Lutherans last I checked) helped me out of that dillusion. True is True, just as Catholic is Catholic, and the Church is the Church. There can only be one Truth, one Way, not many. There is one Christ, how can there be other than one Church? The Church is the body of Christ, and Christ was not the Invisible Man. The only way you can square the idea of one Catholic Church in many different and separated and mutually exclusive communions is by spiritualising and invisibilising the Church into a Platonic ideal.

You can’t cross a chasm by walking on a Platonic ideal.

Oddly enough, PE raises the subject of Platonism also:

But the Bridge endures…because the Bridge, while earthly analogies may be helpful to those who already see it, simply become Platonism for the people, as Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, said, when one begins to take them as reality itself.

Which is precisely my point. Either the Church is a Platonic ideal or it is “reality itself”. I go with the latter option. My guess is that PE goes with the former.


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Time away in King River…

I thought about keeping it a secret, but then I thought I should share it with all of you.

Do you have a big family? Do you have a tight budget? Do you have lots of friends you like to holiday with? Do you hate the touristy crowded areas and love to get out into the bush? Well, I have just the place for you.

King River Camp, 9kms south of the tiny hamlet of Cheshunt and about an hours drive south of Wangaratta in Northern Victoria, is nestled at the far end of King River Valley. The river winds through it, with mountainous national parks on either side, and, since tobacco farming was finally abandoned two years ago, the grape vine reigns supreme.

The Camp itself is fairly basic, with four bunk rooms (some with ensuite) each sleeping six to eight people, and one fully contained cottage (recently renovated). There is a large recreation/dining hall and kitchen included with a combustion stove for heating. A grassed area with a volleyball net, an open outside fire, and a creek for easy swimming (the River is okay too), and the whole place is perfect.

We were four families, the other three being Cathy’s pastor and his family, a chaplain from Luther College and his family, and another Lutheran pastor and his family who drove all the way down from Queensland with their four kids and a Dutch exchange student in their Tarago. All three clergy are long friends of mine, we went to Seminary together, and have remained friends despite my defection to the opposition seven years ago.

On Saturday a group of us climbed the mountain from the bottom of the valley to the lookout at top (Powers Lookout – we sang “For all the Saints” in honour of the day at the top of our voices over the valley), on Sunday we went wine tasting to local wineries, and on Monday we visited a local cheese factory.

But that was the extent of our touristy stuff. We had rain and sunshine in equal measure, but it was never too cold or too hot. On Saturday night the kids cooked damper on a stick over the fire outside (Damper = a simple dough made of flour, water and salt). After kids went to sleep, it was wine and cheese and nibbles for the parents.

In short, it was terrific.

Funny story about how I got to Mass on Sunday though.

The Lutherans, of course, had their own Eucharist at the camp, so this lone Catholic tootled off to Moyhu, about 30km away, where I had been informed, there would be a mass at 10am. I got there quarter of an hour late, only to find that on the first Sunday of the Month, the service is held in Whitfield – which was 20km back the way I had come! I arrived finally in time for the offertory, and for communion, deo gratias. And a pleasant surprise – I had met the priest, Fr Peter, once before. He is a delightful “Brother-Roger-ish” sort of fellow, a late vocation ordained two years ago, very gentle. I am sorry I missed his homily, because he said mass faithfully and beautifully. The congregation could sing too, despite not having an organist. And afterwards they all went to a local cafe owned by a member of the parish for morning tea.


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Transcript of Fr Peter Dresser’s Interview on Livenews.

Interviews don’t stay on the web forever, so in case it gets pulled off its original website at Livenews.com, here is the full transcript of Fr Peter’s Dresser’s rather lame defence of his sincerity as a Catholic and how much he cherishes his Catholic religion. No comments necessary.

Tim Brunero: Catholic Priest, Fr Peter Dresser, from Bathurst, has sparked a storm of controversy over his new book which claims that not only was Jesus Christ was not God but Mary is not a Virgin. He’s on the line. Ah, Father, what do you think of the controversy your book has caused?

Dresser: Well, I’m a little bit sort of dismayed that it has caused controversy, to tell you the truth, because I am a very sincere Catholic, I cherish my Catholic religion very much. Um, what I think has happened is that people have taken comments from my book in isolation, in other words, they’ve taken them out of context, and not understood fully what I was trying to get at. I think this is one of the problems. Ah, this is the main problem, I think.

Brunero: So it’s people being selective about what they—

Dresser: Yeah, and also its their own interpretation of what I’ve said. Ah, so without reading what I’ve said in context, ah, it will lack meaning, quite obviously, you know. I mean my intention was to mediate my Catholic faith and my catholic religion and the teachings of Jesus in a meaningful way for the world that we live in and the scientific world we live in, so that was my intention actually, in putting all of that material together.

Brunero: Can I just give you an example of some of the comments we’re getting on our website. This one says, and this is really interesting: “How can he (meaning you) get through the ordination procedure if he doesn’t accept Catholicism, the Trinity and the Resurrection?”

Dresser: Well I do, I accept the Resurrection, I accept the Resurrection entirely. What I said, and ah, what was said in, in, in, in a newspaper clipping that you’re referring to was that um I didn’t believe in um in a kind of um um you know a literal understanding of resurrection, in the sense of a bodily resuscitation. I think resurrection goes far beyond any kind of bodily resuscitation kind of idea. Um, and I think ah, I think ah this is born out in the New Testament I think that Resurrection means that Jesus was alive and well in the minds and in the community, ah, of his followers. I think that’s what resurrection means. Ah…

Brunero: So, so you say that when Christ was crucified it wasn’t a resurrection – explain, you also said that there wasn’t a virgin birth. Joseph was in fact Jesus’ father?

Dresser: Yeah, well, yeah, when we speak of virgin birth, we’re actually using ah, and this is another problem, I’m finding, I ah, I that a lot of people are misunderstanding what I’m saying because they’re taking literally something that I’ve said that really should be taken in a religious sense. I have no problems with the, with the virgin birth, provided we understand exactly how this concept came about and why it had to come about. Um, this is very theological stuff, and I’m sure a lot of people will find it very difficult going. Um, and I think that, you know, um, one of the problems is that I probably haven’t explained it as clearly and as simply as I, ah, as I probably would have liked to have done for the vast majority of people who would like to read what I have read.

Brunero: Why do you say that it’s necessary for the, um, virgin birth, um, story to, um, to have been promulgated? So what’s the goal then, what actually did happen?

Dresser: Well what happened, of course, was that in the um, um, the Council of Nicea, um, it was basically brought about, um, you know, it was basically brought about because of a political situation which developed. It came about at the Council of Nicea that Jesus was defined as being a divine person with a human and a divine nature. So he was a divine person. And, in order to explain the fact that he was a divine person, something had to be done regarding his birth. Um, you couldn’t say therefore, that he was simply, if you like, um, um, um, somebody, just an ordinary human being, if you like, or a human person when he was born, he had to have some sort of um , divine intervention in, in, in his birth, so there arrived, or there, there came about this doctrine of the, um, virgin birth. Um,…

Brunero: So they sort of spiced it up, they tabloided it up? They– Hullo?

Dresser: They tabloided it up?

Brunero: Well, they sort of spiced up the story to make it a bit more interesting? Is that what happened?

Dresser: In what? In, in, in,

Brunero: In the Council of Nicea?

Dresser: In terms of the virgin birth?

Brunero: Yes.

Dresser: Awh, awh no, I think that, um, they came to a conclusion that Jesus was a divine person with a human and divine nature and I think that in order to ah, in order to explain therefore how he came about in the first place there had to be some kind of other explanation than just the birth of a normal human being; there had to be some kind of, um, special presence of God in the um, in the actual um, in the actual um, prebirth and in the birth itself. You know. I think this, this, this is how the idea of the virgin birth came about. Umm…

Brunero: Well, what do you say, Father, what do you say to people who would say that you’re shaking people’s faith?

Dresser: No, on the contrary, I’m, I would say that I’m probably sort of asking questions, a lot of people are asking questions similar to the ones that I, er, that I am sort of asking, or suggesting, and, ah, sort of putting forward, um, mainly as discussion points, I don’t think, ah, you know, I don’t think there’s any necessity for people’s faith to be shaken. I think possibly there’s a point at which somebody’s faith will be challenged, I think that could be a good end result of the exercise. You see, my, my whole point is not to disparage, is not to disparage, ah, you know, the tenents of a faith which I, you know, that I hold very dear to me, ah, um, otherwise why would I become an ordained priest? You know, the whole thing is so bizarre, to be a priest belonging to a church that I really love and cherish, and you know, and go against the doctrines and the —

Brunero: Well, thats —

Dresser: What I have done, what I have done is try to explain and to explicate and to try and make meaningful in the world and scientific world that we live in. Now that is not going to be entirely satisfactory all the time because theology and science is two different kinds of differnt methodologies. And also use different data. And so in my attempt to combine or to marry as I like to say, to marry theology and science, there will be, there will be some tension, um, and um, but it’s interesting that, it’s interesting you know that, it is in that tension if you like, that, that people are finding a lot of meaning. Um, it’s very hard to explain. I think, I think, I think many people would probably go along quite happily with their faith and their religion without sort of questioning or without sort of um querying or without trying to sort of make these things meaningful in their lives, um, and I think that’s a bit of a shame actually, to tell you the truth, I think that we could sort of go around and say, well, yes, I believe in the resurrection and yes I believe in the virgin birth, and yes, I believe in this and yes, I believe in that, its all very very much black and white. It’s more beautiful, you know, I think, if we can make it into colour. That’s probably what I was trying to do. Probably a nice way of me trying to put it. Yeah.

Brunero: So you’re trying to start a conversation rather than be a heretic, I mean, let’s face it, I mean, you’re hardly going to try to trash the Church, you’ve had to give up a few things to be a priest, so you’re hardly likely to be going that hard. Look, can I ask you a question? Is there any expectation that you will be punished by your superiors or be excommunicated by the Church, or is this something that you’ve thought about in the last couple of days?

Dresser: No, not at all, not at all. And this brings about another point too regarding my book, or regarding my document “God is big. Real Big.” And it is this, that it is a personal appropriation, a personal appropriation of my faith, in its doctrine and ah dogma, which I personally have found meaningful for me in the scientific world that you know I live in, and in the beautiful universe that I live in, and also many other people have found it meaningful for them as well in their spiritual journey. And it’s because of this reason that I’ve put all these thoughts together and for this reason I am trying to disseminate this stuff to people who are interested in, um, you know, in, in, in, in, in, in kind of exploring their faith a bit more…

Brunero: Starting a discussion? Absolutely.

Dresser: The other point is, that I’d like to make is that I never publishe this book. I never published this book. And to do so would be, I think, would be possibly a bit arrogant, but what I did is I did print copies for people who might in fact be interested in reading it. Now it is my own personal appropriation of the doctrines and dogma of our faith, it is not the Catholic (laughs) mainline or what ever it is, you know. But if you want to go and find out what the decrees are and what the doctrines and dogmas of the Church are, then they can go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ok? It’s a big book and if they want to plough through that, they can, to find out what all these things are. What I have done in 50,000 words is try to make these things colourful and meaningful, um, um, and tangible, to people in their spiritual journey as Catholics in the world that we live in.

Brunero: Absolutely. Well, we now know that there’s no risk of you being defrocked. But can I ask you this question? Do you think that you’re part of a new breed of funky new priests like Fr Bob Maguire who’s on Triple J, who are out there engaging with popular culture?

Dresser: I wouldn’t say I was a funky priest, I’m sixty-five almost and you know, I’m coming to a period now where I wouldn’t sort of you know claim any title such as that. I, ah, I think that, ah, my life’s journey has been a very interesting one, and, ah, um, I’ve had the, I’ve had the glorious opportunity of of not only studying for the priesthood for five years after I left school, but I’ve also had the privilege of living, ah, so many different lifestyles, and enjoying living, you know, in the company of people who shared so many different lifestyles, and also I’ve had the opportunity of working in lots of different occupations, as well, and then, after all this and particularly my involvement with music and um, sport, particularly rugby league ha ha, I then turned to teaching, where I found an immediate raport with young people, then, as a result of all those things, I finally went back into the seminary and did another four years study to get a degree and then ah, was ordained priest. So I’ve had a beautiful life experience, and and beautiful occupations through life, so you know, yeah. So I’ve got a great love for the Catholic Church, I’ve got a great love for all people, and I’d like to see the message of Jesus and, ah, of God, and the compassionate message of Jesus, you know, mediated meaningfully to all the, ah, people, ah, that, yep, wander through this world.

Brunero: So if people want to be a part of this booklet and want to be a part of this, how do they get it? “God is big. Real big” is available on the internet, or is it in some churches around Bathurst for around $20. How do people get it?

Dresser: Well, the churches in Brisbane are selling it, some churches in Brisbane are selling it, or if people desparately wanted to get a copy from me, I guess they could, but I think that ah, its gone, and, yeah the churches in, the churches in Brisbane would probably like be the way to go, um, they’re selling it up there I think for twenty dollars, the book “God is big. Real big.” The names of the churches were in yesterday’s, in yesterday’s Australian newspaper, yeah, they’re St Mary’s in Brisbane, and Woolawind (is it?) and Windsor parish in Brisbane, so, because it’s not published, because it’s not published, um, its not available in ordinary bookstores, you know?

Brunero: All right, Peter, well, we can hear your phone going, we’d better let you go. Thanks for joining us today.

Dresser: Thank you very much for your call.


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