Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Letter-to-the-Editor String?

I rarely see published replies to any of my published letters-to-the-editor (LTTE), but today there was a published reply to a published reply to one of my recent LTTE in The Age. Here it is:

Homophobia hoax

ALEX Carnie (Letters, 30/12) may have read between the lines, but he has also read far too much in there about the Pope and homosexuality (which, as he rightly says [actually, it was my point in my original letter], the Pope did not mention in his Christmas address).

A week ago, so concerned was I at what I now consider to be perhaps the biggest journalistic hoax I have encountered in the homophobia attributed to the Pope, that I did a print-out of the original speech in Italian from the Vatican site and analysed the whole document (the 3590 words, not just the 580 of the offending paragraphs).

The Pope’s reference to “gender” is to a philosophic theory of many hues and is not a veiled reference to homosexuality as such.

A pity I cannot fit my 3000 word analysis into these columns.

John N. Collins, Seaford

A pity indeed. And this is exactly what I was getting at in my original letter. It was a journalistic hoax to make the Christmas address into a “diatribe against homosexuality”, all done with mirrors. At least John (who can read Italian) went to the source. We all have to do this. For eg., whenever a new story comes up that I want to put on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Newsblog (eg. in Cathnews), I always track it down to the original source to verify it. Often this means original documents or reports from journalists who have proved themselves trustworthy (eg. John Allen or Tom Heneghan – never trust something that gives the Telegraph or the Hong Kong Times as an original source). The fact is that on this story, no-one really bothered to do that and just went straight from reading the newspaper reports to writing letters to the editor to stick in the boot.

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My Daughter: On the Sacrifice of the Mass

I hope readers of SCE would realise by now that I have a couple of budding theologians for daughters. My oldest daughter, Maddy, commented to me today that she finds it strange that at her school the existence of other Christian Churches and other religions is not acknowledged (she knows she is a Lutheran – and has a friend at school who is a Sikh).

Is that surprising for a Catholic school, I asked?

No, but they should still recognise it, she replied.

Well, I answered, one of the things we are doing at work at the moment is asking the question of how religious pluralism is tackled at a primary school level in our schools.

But she went on.

I know I am a Lutheran, she said, because I don’t think Holy Communion is a sacrifice.

Really? How so?

Well, I know that the body and blood is Jesus’ sacrifice, but it’s God’s sacrifice for us, not ours for him.

Oh. Who have you been talking to about this?

No one. You just said the other day when I asked that one of the differences between Catholics and Lutherans is that Catholics think Holy Communion is a sacrifice we offer to God and Lutherans don’t.

Our conversation then went on to why it was necessary for us to offer sacrifices to God.

Well, she said, that’s just our idea. God doesn’t want us killing any of his animals to give to him.

But it was his idea originally, wasn’t it, in the Old Testament? (she hadn’t thought of that). A sacrifice has to be made for our sin, but animals aren’t enough. Not even our life is enough to pay for anyone’s sins but our own. So what if God wanted to give us the perfect sacrifice for us to offer to him for our sin? Wouldn’t he have to become one of us to make that offering back to God?

She thought she would think about that a bit more.

Please do, I said. And keep doing exactly what you have been doing. Anything I tell you, you think about it and try to work it out for yourself whether it is right or wrong. You have to do that with anything I tell you, or anything anyone else tells you, Lutheran or Catholic or otherwise. That’s how you will learn what is right for you to believe.

So why did you become Catholic, Dad? asks daughter number two who has been eagerly listening.

Because I found that my beliefs were closer to the Christian beliefs of Catholics than the Christian beliefs of Lutherans, I answered.

Yeah, I’m not sure yet, was her reply. And number one said: At the moment, I think I am a “Catholutheran”.

Keep working at it, my darlings.

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Reading Between the Lines? At Least Someone Read the Text…

There is an answer to my letter to the editor in today’s edition of The Age. Someone at least was annoyed enough by what I wrote to go to the bother of finding an English translation of the Pope’s address and READING it!

Pope’s message between the lines

DAVID Schutz (Letters, 29/12) is either trying to deceive people or needs to brush up on his reading comprehension skills. While there is no official English translation of the Pope’s address to the Curia, there are English translations available. The one I found while searching for a translation was on Schutz’s own blog.

In this translation, the Pope clearly refers to homosexuality even though the word itself is never used. If anything, it is the reference to climate change that was taken out of context.

Nevertheless, the media reports and subsequent commentaries got the underlying meaning correct. Before telling people to check their facts, maybe we should learn to read between the lines.

Alex Carnie, Brunswick West

Hmmm…

“Trying to deceive people”? Nooo… not exactly. By pointing out that there was not even an official english translation available yet, I was simply trying to draw attention to the fact that the critics were generally relying on journalist reports of the speech rather than reading the primary source document. If Alex was able to find an English translation via my blog as he said he was, that means that a) he at least now has a copy of the source document, b) my blog has served a useful purpose!

Need “to brush up on [my] reading comprehension skills”? Nooo… I don’t think I have a problem there either. I wasn’t, of course, denying that the Pope “clearly refers to homosexuality [inter alia] even though the word itself is never used”. I was pointing out that to describe the Pope’s address as a “diatribe against homosexuality” was clearly inaccurate, since such a “diatribe” would at least have required the use of the word “homosexuality”. “Diatribes” do not usually require “reading between the lines”.

In fact, no deception exists nor is reading between the lines necessary. His meaning was plain enough to all who read the text as it stands. And anyone who does so will realise that it was NOT a “diatribe” against homosexuality.

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When the "God beyond all names (and metaphors)" becomes personal…

In my previous blog regarding the use of the terms “metaphor”, “symbolism”, “model” etc., Anon (who comments here quite regularly) commented that “Aquinas’s treatment of metaphor and analogy and their role in talk about God is as pertinent today as the day it was written”. That may well be so. I am not a scholastic. To tell the truth, as a Lutheran (ex-Lutheran?), I have deep suspicions of the scholastic method. My reading of Tracey Rowland’s “Ratzinger’s Faith” has only made me more aware of how scholastic (or neo-scholastic) theology has led the Church up a garden path on more than one occasion in history.

I have, for instance, often been told by Aristotelian/Thomistic types that God is beyond suffering. Poppycock. The God who is “beyond suffering” may be a perfectly satisfying philosophical “model” of God, but it bears little resemblance to the Biblical God of the Old and New Testaments.

I was struck by the way in which Pope Benedict took this usual picture of the God who is “infinitely beyond us” and brought the whole discourse down-to-earth (so to speak) in his Christmas address. Note how far the God he describes is beyond the God of the Philosophers. Note how personal such a God gets. When one has a “personal faith” at this level – based on the knowledge of God that comes from personal experience and trust – it is very hard to fall into the trap of modernistic liberal gnosticism.

The folk such as Fr Dresser have such a problem with the idea of God becoming a man because they are stuck more with a neo-scholastic idea of God than the real God who reveals himself in the Scriptures – the God who actually becomes man, the God who actually suffers, the God who is NOT “beyond all names”, but who actually has a human name: Jesus.

Anyway, here is the first paragraph of the Pope’s Christmas Eve Homily:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?” This is what Israel sings in one of the Psalms (113 [112], 5ff.), praising God’s grandeur as well as his loving closeness to humanity. God dwells on high, yet he stoops down to us… God is infinitely great, and far, far above us. This is our first experience of him. The distance seems infinite. The Creator of the universe, the one who guides all things, is very far from us: or so he seems at the beginning. But then comes the surprising realization: The One who has no equal, who “is seated on high”, looks down upon us. He stoops down. He sees us, and he sees me. God’s looking down is much more than simply seeing from above. God’s looking is active. The fact that he sees me, that he looks at me, transforms me and the world around me. The Psalm tells us this in the following verse: “He raises the poor from the dust…” In looking down, he raises me up, he takes me gently by the hand and helps me – me! – to rise from depths towards the heights. “God stoops down”. This is a prophetic word. That night in Bethlehem, it took on a completely new meaning. God’s stooping down became real in a way previously inconceivable. He stoops down – he himself comes down as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity’s neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable. In the Old Testament the Temple was considered almost as God’s footstool; the sacred ark was the place in which he was mysteriously present in the midst of men and women. Above the temple, hidden, stood the cloud of God’s glory. Now it stands above the stable. God is in the cloud of the poverty of a homeless child: an impenetrable cloud, and yet – a cloud of glory! How, indeed, could his love for humanity, his solicitude for us, have appeared greater and more pure? The cloud of hiddenness, the cloud of the poverty of a child totally in need of love, is at the same time the cloud of glory. For nothing can be more sublime, nothing greater than the love which thus stoops down, descends, becomes dependent. The glory of the true God becomes visible when the eyes of our hearts are opened before the stable of Bethlehem.

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"Metaphor" + "symbol" + "model" = Gnostic Nonsense

This article from the National Catholic Reporter, recently critiqued by Fr Z at WDTPRS.com, has a paragraph which perfectly demonstrates my abhorence of the words “metaphor”, “symbol” and “model” when used in discussions of Christian dogma:

But rather than reject a lifetime spiritual path, perhaps I need to get more comfortable with the idea of metaphor in Catholic doctrine and look beyond the literal pronouncements; then it becomes easier to see Christ as a symbolic son of God, as a presence that helps me find the divine spark (God) within myself, and more importantly serves as a model for truly compassionate living.

Simply amazing how all three concepts can be used in such a short paragraph to express such Gnostic nonsense.

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Whose Version of the Gospel?

My little letter to the editor of The Age re Pope Benedict’s Curia address (still not available in English on the Vatican Website) has been published (see the very end of this page) at the very end of the main letters section. The only other letter on the matter was from one “Pat James” of “North Balwyn” (that would be Fr Hodgen’s old parish, no?) which read:

If the Pope wants people to listen to him he should preach the Gospel of Jesus, not his version of it.”

Which surely raises an interesting question – in fact THE “interesting question” with which much of the discussion on this blog is concerned: What is the authentic Gospel of Jesus and what is simply someone else’s “version of it”?

If we concede the fact than any expression of “the Gospel of Jesus” is going to be someone’s “version of it”, surely it is not unreasonable to expect that the Pope would preach the Catholic “version of it”?

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A thought provoking letter from a Lutheran Bioethicist

The following letter to the editor was published in “The Lutheran”, the official magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia, in the December edition. I thought it would be worth republishing it here:

Let’s Celebrate Jesus coming as an embryo

Christmas is coming, and we Lutherans are good at celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus.

25 December is often the best-attended day at our churches, as we sing welcome to the holy infant in the manger. Few of us seem to remember that Jesus chose to enter this human world nine months before that birth.

Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are better than we at celebrating the annunciation, the announcement of the incarnation made by the angel Gabriel to Mary, and the festival marking it (Lady Day) on 25 March. In all your years of attending Lutheran services, has your pastor ever mentioned the annunciation?

I believe that in making the deliberate choice to come as na embryo, as the most tiny and defenceless member of the human family, Jesus was teaching us to respect life from conception onwards. Has your pastor ever mentioned the human embryo in a sermon?

Does all the 2008 lack of respect for the embryo in reproductive technology, in stem-cell research, in cloning human embryos and in abortion law reform just roll by you and your church?

Perhaps pastors (and we) feel awkward in defending the human embryo because we are aware that some women in the pews will have had abortions. And yet in 2008 the major Christian churches do not condemn women who have abortions. Rather, we see them as victims pressured into a non-choice by othe rpeople or by circumstances beyond their control.

Fortunately, as with all our sins, we can rely on the grace and mercy of our loving God.

This Christmas please consider asking your pastor to celebrate in March 2009 Jesus coming to earth as an embryo.

Dr Rob Pollnitz
Glenside SA

It is, I think, a good letter with a good intention.

But it does raise the question of why (especially since the death of the late great Rev. Dr Daniel Overduin, the Lutheran pastor and bioethicist who worked closely with Fr John Fleming in the 80s), bioethical issues are not as high on the radar of the LCA as they once were. I understand that the last Lutherans For Life National Convention – which used to be very well attended twenty years ago – was attended by less than a dozen people.

I wonder, for instance, whether there might be a connection between the failure of the contemporary Lutheran Church to clearly proclaim their public teaching on the sacredness of human life from conception till natural death (a teaching they share with us Catholics) and the Lutheran support of artificial contraception? I think this could be so. Dr Pollnitz might have added that many pastors might feel “awkward in defending the human embryo” because many in their congregations are using contraceptive devices or medicines that result in very early abortion of the embryo.

In the same way that the LCA’s teaching on the sacredness of human life is clearly attested in their documents but less so in their preaching, so also the feast of the Annunciation is on the Lutheran calendar but rarely celebrated and proclaimed publically in Australia. (My wife’s parish of St Paul’s Box Hill is an exception – they often observe this feast with a choral vespers).

In this context, Dr Pollnitz’s suggestion that Lutherans could raise the prominence of their celebration of the Annunciation is certainly a suggestion in the right direction. Certainly it is an area of shared faith and doctrine between Lutherans and Catholics which could result in a fruitful alliance for our society at this time.

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