Monthly Archives: November 2009

“Deviant Message” of the Twilight Series?

According to this report, Monsignor Franco Perazzolo of the Pontifical Council of Culture has said that the film of Stephanie Meyer’s New Moon “is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message and as such should be of concern.”

I wonder if Mons. Perazzolo has read the books? Cathy and I haven’t seen the film yet (any offers of baby sitters?), so we can’t comment on the “moral vacuum” of the cinematic adaption, but to desribe the books as “a moral vacuum” would be to overlook the very positive marriage and pro-life message that Ms Meyer has incorporated into her novels – albeit in a very unusual manner. Many critics have in fact commented on the very strict (Mormon?) morals that come through her writing. Is it perhaps just the fact that the film has vampires and werewolves in it that bothers the good Monsignor?

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Jesus’ death certificate on the Shroud of Turin?

Well. This is something.

Dr Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican secret archives, said “I think I have managed to read the burial certificate of Jesus the Nazarene, or Jesus of Nazareth.” She said that she had reconstructed it from fragments of Greek, Hebrew and Latin writing imprinted on the cloth together with the image of the crucified man.

The text supposedly reads:

“In the year 16 of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius Jesus the Nazarene, taken down in the early evening after having been condemned to death by a Roman judge because he was found guilty by a Hebrew authority, is hereby sent for burial with the obligation of being consigned to his family only after one full year”. It ends “signed by” but the signature has not survived.

I never knew about this “writing” on the Shroud. How amazing – if Dr Frale is right.

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An interesting Anglo-Catholic blog

I received an email from Bishop Louis Campese of the Anglican Church in America, alerting me to this blog which might be of interest to some readers: http://www.theanglocatholic.com/

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Dr Ian Elmer replies

Over on the Catholica forum, Dr Ian Elmer has replied to my earlier criticism:

Hi David,
Thanks for your reponse. It is always good to hear from someone who is willing to discuss issues without resorting to personal, anti-intellectual comments. So I will ignore your final paragrah…LOL!

I would like to make a couple of points. First, I would challenge the implied distinction between prophets and priests. To suggest that the impulse towards reform was merely a prophetic one belies the fact that most of the prophets were either priests or functionaries of the Temple. Isaiah and Ezekel were both priests. Hosea was also connected to the Temple in some fashion. Jeremiah was one of the architects of the Josian reform. Moreover they were all men. In short, the prophets who were the most vocal in their defense of monotheism and the Temple cult were part of the emerging male-dominated priestly or aristocratic elite.

Secondly, recognising that much of the emerging cultus in the years leading up to the Exile served the agenda of such men does not equate with wanting to restore the age-old pagan belief in a female deity; and it is certainly not out of any “misguided feministic concern” that I raise the issue. It is merely one of historical interest, and it served to introduce for discussion the question of orthodoxy with which I ended the commentary.

I’m sure you would agee with Rahner’s observations about the salvific effect of faith regradless of the level of orthodoxy therein – something which nuns at my old convent school regularly pointed out by telling us that the Protestants would get to heaven before us because the were blessedly ignorant of the true faith and, therefore, could not be held accountable for their misguided actions.

I suspect that you have missed the point – although you did recognize the fact that monotheism developed in ancient Israel. I would, however, point out that the persistence of asherah worship was not confined Canaanite folk religion, as you say, but was also pervasive throughout Israelite folk religion – which brings me back to my first point. The “Book” religion propagated by prophets, priests and kings represented the educated, literate, male elite and not the folk religion of the masses; which is as true today in Catholicism as it was then in the YHWH cult of ancient Israel.

Cheers,

Ian

Ian, like Kyle in the comments on the previous post, has correctly pointed out that I “missed the point” of his essay, which is, essentially, that ““Book” religion propagated by prophets, priests and kings represented the educated, literate, male elite and not the folk religion of the masses; which is as true today in Catholicism as it was then in the YHWH cult of ancient Israel.”

But I still object to the way in which the suggestion is that because later Israelite orthodoxy was driven by an “educated, literate, male elite” (which is, as Kyle points out, a pejorative way of putting it to say the least) its value as authentic and authoritative revelation is, for some reason, to be questioned.

I am reminded of Richard Dawkins’ comment that “the book of Genesis, after all, was not written by any philosopher or scientist of any great wisdom. The book of Genesis was written by tribesmen who had no privileged information at all.”

For Dawkins – who, like Dr Elmer, is a member of an “educated, literate, male, elite” – the fact that Genesis was written by “tribesmen who had no privileged information” (a point which itself is seriously to be questioned) is a reason for not taking the Genesis stories seriously. Dawkins and Elmer may be using different standards, but they are using the same method to question the authenticity of the Scriptures as authoritative revelation.

Which brings me to ask another question: Why, by either Dawkins’ or Elmer’s standards, should we accept the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as authentic and authoritative revelation?

After all, a good case can be made either for the fact that Jesus was a peasant “who had no privileged information” OR for the fact that Jesus was a member of a “educated, literate, male” who was (if we take his mother’s side of the family) was also a member of the priestly clan centred on Jerusalem. On this last point it is interesting to note, as an aside, that though Jesus critiqued both the Pharisees and the priests, he was, in a way, a member of both.

In any case, why should Jesus be taken any more seriously than the author of Genesis or the authors of the later Jewish scriptures?

The answer, as we all know, is because Jesus was “sent by the Father” and his words are “Spirit and Truth”. In other words, as the Gospel of John testifies with its lists of witnesses to Jesus, Jesus had authority to teach in the name of his Father.

For the same reason, the apostles – who were either, depending on who you are talking about, illiterate fisherman (eg. Peter) or Jerusalem educated literary elites (eg. Paul) – also taught authoritatively because they were sent by Christ who was sent by the Father and were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

By extension, today’s ecclesiastical magisterium (who, I think, are the real targets of Elmer’s critique) are also an “educated, elite, literate, male, priestly” class (although some of them had their origins in tribal and peasant communities too!). But does this in any way invalidate the authenticity of their teaching? Certainly not. The only question that matters is: are they authorised to teach their “orthodoxy” in the name of God?

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A dull moment? Or is it just lonely here?

Well, there seems to be a bit of a lull in ecclesiastical controversy for the moment, so I thought I would hijack a topic Pastor Mark raised over at his old manse to get your opinion (since I have more Catholic readers than he does).

Mark muses:

Now, I tread tentatively here, because lack of a sense of community can be a feature of congregational life in any denomination, but it does make me wonder if this [he lack of community life in Catholic parishes in the UK] is a feature of Roman Catholic culture, at least in Anglophone countries. The reason I say this is that when I began regular worship about 18 years ago it was largely in order to accompany my wife, who was then RC, to Mass. This I did for a couple of years in several parishes and experienced the same lack of community in each one that is highlighted in the story. I don’t mean to be unkind here, but I did get the impression that the goal of worshippers was to tick the “Mass attendance” box, thus avoiding the mortal sin of not attending Sunday worship, in the way which demanded the least effort whatsoever; so it was off to the typically half-hour Mass with the 4minute homily and out the door as quickly as possible.

Compared to this, the Anglican and Lutheran congregational life which we experienced after I started seeking a more permanent spiritual home seemed a veritable feast of worship and community experiences. I’m afraid the only thing I learned from this exposure to Catholic congregational life was how not to do church!

For what it is worth, here is my comment:

What you are possibly observing is the fact that after mass, just about everyone disappears, whereas in Protestant circles, people tend to hang around for the “third sacrament”, ie. coffee.

There might in fact be some cultural miscommunication here, since for the protestant this after service “fellowship” communicates “community”.

Catholic (and Orthodox) parishes do not (generally) have this after service time – although, it is slowly catching on here and there (in my own parish for example). And yet, for those who know what they are looking for and are sensitive to the different cultures, both Catholic and Orthodox have very strong communal networks.

Some history might help. Many of the Anglophone Catholics are Irish by origin. They come from a persecuted tradition where mass was something you said quickly and went home; showy processions and songs were not on, nor was lingering. Also, later, with the large numbers, many parishes had three or four masses every Sunday morning – so it was a matter of getting them in and out as quickly as possible.

So Catholic communal life tended to be through other channels than on Sunday morning over coffee after mass. There were all kinds of sodalities and societies to which members of the parish would belong, and through which they would form their social life. These still exist, although not in the same number or strength. St Vincent de Paul Society and Young Vinnies are an examples, as are the Knights of the Southern Cross, and the Australian Catholic Women’s League.

And of course, you can’t overlook the fact that most parishes are attached to schools, which are contexts of intense intra-parish fellowship during the week.

So don’t judge a book by its cover. Recognise that you are dealing with a culturally different fish when you come to a Catholic parish, with a different history and experience that has led them to where they are.

Sure, we can learn a bit from the Protestant “after service coffee”. It can be helpful.

But you know there is also a glorious liberty in being able to just go home after Mass, not having to spend an additional hour at church in chit chat, knowing that you will be making the use of many opportunities during the week for more vital engagement with the parish and the community it serves.

Mark reckons in return that he wasn’t just talking about the “third sacrament”. I will admit too that the general community life at my wife’s Lutheran parish (St Paul’s Box Hill) is way above anything I have experienced in the Catholic Church – but I admit also that it is way above anything I have experienced in any other Protestant Church either (all my previous Lutheran parishes included). And I do find a very rich community life in the Archdiocese in general, beyond the merely parochial. Anyway, I’m interested in your comments.

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Bach Cantate during Divine Service at St John’s Southgate this Sunday

There are not many places in the world where you can hear a Bach Cantata sung in the context for which they were originally intended, namely in connection with the Service of the Word in the Lutheran Sunday liturgy, but St John’s Lutheran Church in Southgate (Melbourne) is one of them.

And this Sunday, 22 November at 9am, in addition, you will hear it done in the context of a Bach Mass! And all for free!

Details:

1) BWV 235 Mass in G minor (one of the 4 Lutheran Masses)
2) BWV 26 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig (“Ah! how weary, ah! how fleeting”)
3) …and as a bonus, the Sanctus from BWV 325

St Johns Lutheran Church, Southgate
Nov 22 9am

Maddy’s godfather, David Goedecke, a long time friend of mine, is singing in the choir. We wish them all the best.

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“Yahweh’s wife”: a different way of looking at it

Speaking of Catholica, there is an essay there currently by Dr Ian Elmer, lecturer in Biblical Studies at St Paul’s Theological College (ACU). He quite rightly points to the fact that there is abundant evidence that in early Canaanitic folk religion (as in all Ancient Near Eastern religions), the High God (El or Yahweh) had a consort. It is also true that as the religion of Israel developed toward exclusive monotheism, this consort was vehemently and decisively excluded from Jewish cult and theology.

As he interprets this, it is because:

The “Book religion” was monotheistic, elitist, priestly, literary and male. It conferred prestige and power upon those who served it, the priests and the patriarchy of the exilic community. This process became even more firmly entrenched with the Restoration and, as Dever asserts, the emerging Scriptures became the excusive preserve of a tiny, but increasingly powerful, Jerusalem-based, male literary and theological elite.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. There is another way. He forgets to tell you that the main impulse for “killing off” El’s consort goddess came not from the priests in Jerusalem, but the prophetic movement, especially starting with Elijah, but continued with Isaiah and drastically rewritten by Hosea and others.

In particular, as the early chapters of Hosea show, by removing the goddess from the scene, a new theology was able to emerge which in fact reintroduced a consort for Yahweh: namely, Israel herself.

Consider this: if God has a divine wife, his love and attention is directed to her alone. God without a divine wife still seeks a bride, but now, not in the regions of heaven – where he alone is divine – but among human beings. And so Israel’s God enters into a divine marriage not with another “divine being”, but with his people. God’s love is directed to his human creatures, rather than bottled up and selfishly retained in heaven.

Of course, it is from this that the whole theology of Christ as bridegroom and the Church as Bride extends.

If, out of some misguided feministic concern, we try to restore the ancient pagan view of God and His Consort, we inadvertantly cut off ourselves from the love of God expressed in the Paschal Mystery (so often interpreted as a recreation story in line with Genesis 2:21-25) by which heaven is wedded to earth, and the Bride comes forth from the wounded side of Christ.

This is why Pope Benedict always reminds us of the necessity of interpreting the Scriptures within the faith of the Church. The high priests of “a tiny, but increasingly powerful, academe-based, male literary and theological elite”, such as “biblical scholars” like Dr Elmer, are not free to make up their own account.

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