Daily Archives: December 2, 2008

Schütz and Past Elder reach agreement

Finally at the end of a long comments discussion here, PE and I reach a point of agreement:

First, he makes it clear that when he says “the Catholic Church is a preposterous and monstrous sham” he is not saying that it is a “preposterous and monstrous sham of the church of the Creed”. That clarification helps a lot.

And he also helpfully points out the fact that our different perspectives come from differing but parallel experiences:

“You joined [Catholicism] because in the post conciliar Church you found the church you learnt in Lutheranism; I left the post conciliar Church because the church I learnt in Catholicism I could not find there.”

That seems to be about as good a summary of both our agreement and differences as one could possibly get.

See how helpful dialogue can be?



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Past Elder – the only Commentator worth reading?

No, of course not – so please don’t get offended, Louise, your Eminence, Athanasius, Tom and all others who participated in (are still participating in?) the discussion going on here.

But the only commentator who I didn’t engage with there (because it would have led us off topic wie gewoehnlich) was Past Elder’s comment, reminding us that in 1864, Pope Pius IX condemned (inter alia) the following statements:

#15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

#55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.

#77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.

#78. It has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.

#80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization.

To which, as ever, PE (the Artful Dodger) concludes:

Ah Catholicism. It is whatever you want it to be. A statement is condemned here, but not there, condemned then, but not now, means this, but also that, once was that, but now is this and never changed — all made perfectly clear to the faithful by the magisterium Christ instituted for that purpose, themselves!

We admire consistency of argument on this blog, and have to hand it to PE that he keeps whistling the same tune.

But the issue he raises is a serious challenge. What can explain the fact that the institution which claims to speak with Christ’s authority in a reliable (nay, infallible) way on all matters of faith and morals can

– condemn something here, but not there
– condemn something then, but not now
– and teach that something was once that, but is now this?

This is the sort of thing that can really unsettle someone committed to the ideal of “The Catholic Church, the same, today, tommorrow and forever.” [It did unsettle PE himself once, before he realised that the whole thing was a “perposterous and monstrous sham”.]

The fact is that I could pick any number of similar issues:

eg. “Condemn something then, but not now”
The classic case is that of slavery. St Paul once sent a run-away slave back to his master because he was his master’s rightful property. Today we would condemn the master and defend the slave’s right to emancipation.

eg. “Condemn something here, but not there”
The classic case is of justification by faith apart from works – vigourously defended by St Paul and equally condemned by St James.

eg. “something was once that, but is now this”
Well, I will pluck one out the hat. In the early apostolic era when the Christians were weak they viewed it as a violation of justice that they were persecuted by the Jews of the Synagogue (eg. Rev 3:8-9); but when the tables were turned it was the Christians who used their power to persecute the Jews in their weakness.

It is not a difficult game to play, my dear Past Elder. And anyone could point out endless difficulties. But, again as the Venerable JHN himself said, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt!

In all the three cases I have cited above, the first two can be explained by a simple case of difference of context (my third example is unjustifiable – it is simply an example of how easily, with human beings, something which “was once that” easily becomes something which “is now this”.)

I propose that Pius IX differs from Benedict XVI for the simple reason that 1864 differs from 2008. Our Popes, learning from the faith of the past, always speak to the present. Except when he prophecies (which happens from time to time, eg. Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae), we cannot expect that the Pope is able to foresee what shall come. His magisterium are therefore always conditioned by the simple limits of time and space. He is not an oracle, whose words may be taken from there and transplanted to here and interpreted like the words of Nostradamus. All this should be too obvious, but I have to say it. You can say “A fire is a good thing” and you would be right if the fire was in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night. But you would be wrong if you said it in the middle of the Australian bush on a hot windy summer’s day…

So, 1864 is different from 2008. Staggeringly different. When we (in 2008) read in our context what he (in 1864) wrote in his, we need to recalibrate our thinking (as it were) by the light of the context in which he spoke. To get a handle on it, here is a paragraph from the Wikipedia entry on Pius IX:

Politically, the pontificate after 1848, was faced with revolutionary movements not only in Italy but throughout Europe. Initially Pius was very liberal, freeing all political prisoners of his predecessor, and granting Rome a constitutional framework. He turned conservative after assassinations (e.g. of his Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi), terrorist acts, and the 1848 revolution in Italy, France and Germany. He had to flee Rome in 1848 for a short time and lost the Papal states permanently to Italy in 1870. He refused to accept an Law of Guarantees from Italy, which would have made the Vatican dependent on reliable Italian financing for all times to come. His Church policies towards other countries, such as Russia,Germany and France, were not always successful, due in part, to changing secular institutions and internal developments within these countries. Concordats were concluded with numerous states such as Austria-Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Tuscany, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti.

Turbulent times!

Keeping that in mind, are the propositions he condemned really those now espoused by the Church? I think not. Let’s look at them:

#15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

You can understand why, in the light of the revolutionary period in which Pius IX was living, he might condemn this proposition. But does the Church, in fact, defend such an idea today? I think not.

The hermeneutical question here is: “Free before whom?” The answer is different if you are saying “Free before God” or “Free before the State”. Today when we speak of freedom of religion, we mean that the State (and much less the Church) cannot with justice force someone to “embrace and profess” a faith which they do NOT “consider true”. Can we suppose that Pius IX was proposing that it could? Of course not. Such a thing was an infringement upon the dignity of the human being then as much as it was now, and Pius IX knew it.

What he was saying is that it is wrong to say that such freedom exists existentially “before God”. Reason alone cannot be relied upon to lead one to the truth. Revelation is necessary. Those who ignore the revelation that God has given to them, claiming instead to have found their own path by the light of reason, will need to give an account to God (and God alone) of their actions.

#55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.

Today we use the slogan “separation of Church and State” very sloppily – often in the sense that one should not allow one’s convictions of faith to impinge upon one’s life as a citizen of the state. This is, of course, quite wrong, and in that sense we today would also condemn a notion of “separation of Church and State” (you see, even today, the same words can be taken to mean different things by different people in different contexts).

In Christian societies, such as in Europe of Pius IX’s day, it is easy to see that a good working relationship between Church and State would be seen as a positive thing – and since the “separation of Church and State” being proposed by the revolutions was rather a demolition of the Church in the favour of the State, you can see why Pius IX condemned it. But you can also see that there was no way that Pius was thinking about the Catholic Church in Japan at the time. Or Mumbai. Or the highlands of New Guinea. His words only make some sort of sense in the context of a Christian society. Outside of that context they make no sense at all.

#77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.

It goes without saying that this statement is itself time conditioned – a condition of time is built into the very statement itself: “In the present day”. The statement only makes sense (and therefore can only be condemned) when and where the religion of the State “in the present day” currently IS the Catholic religion. The condemnation of this statement certainly not advocating the establishment of a “confessional Catholic state”.

#78. It has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.

Perhaps of all the statements condemned by Pius IX, this is the hardest to reconcile with the current conviction of the Church that it IS a matter of simple justice that aliens within our borders should “enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.” We shall look at it from two directions to show that these Pius IX was not condemning this current conviction.

First, today the Church vigourously speaks up for the principal of “reciprocity”, ie. we expect that if we give your guys the freedom to worship in our country (eg. Italy), you should give our guys freedom to worship in your country (eg. Saudi Arabia). We call this justice. It is more than obvious that Pius IX did not have this context in mind.

Secondly, Pius IX explicitly confines his condemnation of this sentiment applied only to “some Catholic countries”. He is not condemning those who express such sentiments about the laws of countries that are not “confessionally Catholic”.

#80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization.

Well, it ought to be obvious enough that the Roman Pontiff today, Benedict XVI now gloriously reigning, acknowledges no more obligation to “reconcile himself, come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization” than Pius IX did in his day.

But we can raise the issue of whether the Pope can reconcile himself with these things. I would say that he can and may (never “must” or “ought to”) only if he does so on the Church’s own terms, not on the terms of these ideologies. And thus our most loved pontiff of the present moment (and his predecessor of blessed memory) have done exactly this. John Paul II, for instance, took the secular idea of human rights, gutted it, refilled it with a biblical and theological anthropology of man made in the image of God, and handed it back to the world.

So, there we are. Not one of Pius IX’s condemnations apply to the Church’s modern defence of the freedom of religion.

You will say, PE, that this just goes to show how clever we Catholics can be – how artfully we can dodge your every accusation! But I never thought I could convince you on the matter.


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William Cooper: The Voiceless Speaking for the Voiceless…

Well, that was a surreal experience. I went directly from debating the merits (or mainly otherwise) of a “Confessional Catholic State” (see blog below) to a gathering where the Jewish community of Melbourne were gathered together with members of the Yorta Yorta indigenous nation, the State Premier, the Israeli Ambassador, and the German Consul General, to honour an aboriginal man who, in 1938, led a delegation of indigenous people to the German consulate to protest against the persecution of the Jews of Germany in the infamous “Kristellnacht” attacks.

William Cooper was 77 years old at the time. He was nearing the end of his life, much of which he had spent fighting for the rights of his people to have a voice as citizens of this nation. And when no-one else said a word for the voiceless victims of the Nazi horror, he spoke up. You can read the whole story here in Sunday’s Age.

The politicians present quoted a lot of well known quotations, and offered a good many platitudes appropriate to the occasion.

But the words really worth listening to were those of Mr Cooper’s (now elderly) grandson and a local well known member of the Jewish community who, as a 17 year old lad, came to Melbourne in 1939, having experienced Kristellnacht in Vienna.

The comment was made many times tonight that William Cooper had no reason to speak up for the Jews of Europe. He did so because, as a man who was denied a voice, he recognised himself to be a brother of others without a voice.

(P.S.: One could say that here was an aboriginal brother who “got off his arse” and did something… when the rest of us where sitting around on our arses doing nothing.)

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The Social Reign of Christ – Not a Call for A Confessional State

Two regular SCM readers and quality bloggers in their own rights are Cardinal Pole and Louise.

In response to this blog by His Eminence, Louise has suggested that “it should be pretty obvious by now that what we need is a Catholic Confessional State”.

Bad idea, Lou. VERY bad idea. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and I don’t know of any “confessional state” in history or in the present which has successfully maintained and defended this right for all its citizens and the strangers dwelling within its borders (except perhaps the Vatican City State! Or maybe the United Kingdom, which could – at a stretch – be called a “confessional” state in so far as it has a religion which is established by the State, but that would be stretching the meaning of the word “confessional” to breaking point…)

But Louise suggests it would be all OK if “no-one is forced to observe the confessional religion if they do not wish to.”

Then what do you mean by a “Confessional”state? And what would be the purpose of it?

How would a Catholic Confessional state defend itself against the charge of forcing others to observe the dictates of a certain religion against their wishes, when its governing power (acting as a confessionally Catholic body) is obliged to uphold the moral teachings of the Catholic confession?

And if there were no such obligation for the governing power to uphold the Confessional religion (eg. as in the UK today), what would be achieved by having such an official state religion in the first place?

The separation of church and state is a “good thing” in our society. In case you disagree, just take a look at the various Islamic confessional states where Sharia holds sway. (and for an interesting article on that, see this article by a Muslim author in the latest First Things issue).

What is a “bad thing” is the separation of Christians from the State, or Christians who separate their Christianity from the State. OR, for that matter, when anyone at all feels the need to leave their religious convictions (whatever they may be) indoors when they venture out into the public square.

IOW, what we need is not a “Catholic Confessional State” but simply more confessional Catholics involved in our State.

This is not to deny that Christ is King over the State as well as the Church (not even the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms denies that).

But his reign over the State can only be recognised by those who accept his reign over their hearts. And those in political power who do recognise Christ as King of their own hearts must also recognise that he is King over the State. In this they will recognise their duty as subjects of Christ the King to enact His Reign in their society by defending the human dignity of each and every human being within it. This includes protecting their religious freedom.

May I recomment re-reading the second half of Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical (or in fact anything he has said before or since his election on this matter) for an understanding of the proper relation between Church and State in Catholic teaching.


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