Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Goal of Perfection?

In a recent string, Terra made a comment about paragraph 168 in the Compendium of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church in reference to ecumenism. That paragraph reads:

168. Who belongs to the Catholic Church?

All human beings in various ways belong to or are ordered to the Catholic unity of the people of God. Fully incorporated into the Catholic Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, are joined to the Church by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government and communion. The baptized who do not enjoy full Catholic unity are in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.

Terra’s comment was:

But here is the problem – what does 168’s (who belongs to the Church) description of ‘imperfect communion’ really mean? It’s this kind of fudging (and I do think that is the right word) that has led to multiple interpretations of what the purpose of ecumenism is for example, and finally led the Holy Father to his recent attempts to clarify this and state clearly that full membership of the Church must be the real goal (as it always has been traditionally).

I don’t think it is “fudging” at all, if we give attention to the meaning of the word “imperfect”. There is no Latin version of the Compendium available on the Vatican Website, so we will use the original source of this phrase, which is the declaration Unitatis Redintegratio from the Second Vatican Council. In Chapter three of this document, the Council said: « Hi enim qui in Christum credunt et Baptismum rite receperunt, in quadam cum Ecclesia catholica communione, etsi non perfecta constituuntur ». The word “imperfect” actually translates the phrase “non perfecta”. “Perfectus” in Latin actually has precisely the sense of “complete, finished, done”. Something is “perfect” when it has reached its goal. If we consider that baptism is the the first sacrament of initiation, it is “completed” by the other two sacraments of initiation, confirmation and reception of the Eucharist. Baptism alone therefore is a sacrament which is pressing toward a goal of completion in communion with the Church (confirmation) at the table of the Lord (Eucharist).

Far from “fudging”, I think the use of the phrase “imperfect communion” to describe faithful baptised believers not in full communion with the Universal Church as “in quadam communione, etsi non perfecta” to be absolutely right on the money. The alternative would be to posit that baptism outside the visible boundaries of the Church’s communion is either ineffective or invalid – and this assertion would need to be explained somehow in terms of ecclesiology. The Orthodox do just this. I read in an article just the other day the following quotation from Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky:

The basic principle underlying its use is that the Church has been endowed by God with authority to manage the affairs of her household. She is therefore in a full sense the steward (oikonomous) and sovereign administrator of the sacraments; and it falls within the scope of her stewardship and ecomony to make valid – as she thinks fit – sacraments administerd by non-Orthodox, although such sacraments are no sacraments if considered in themselves and apart from the Orthodox Church. Becaue a person’s Baptism is accepted as valid – or rather made valid by economy – when he becomes Orthodox, it does not therefore follow that his Baptism was valid before he became Orthodox.

While there are some similarities here with our ecclesiology, the notion that the sacrament of baptism only becomes valid when the baptised person enters communion with the Church (we would say, “when he becomes Catholic” where Florovsky above says “when he becomes Orthodox”), is foreign to us. We follow the belief that if a sacrament is performed by the right minister, with the right intent, the right matter, and the right form, then by God’s promise it is a valid sacrament. In the case of baptism, we believe than anyone – even one who is not himself baptised – can, with the right intent, form and matter, validly baptise. For this reason baptism must be a valid sacrament wherever and by whomever it is performed. It is, as Florovsky states, the Church which gives it this validity, but we would not say that the sacrament only becomes valid when the baptised person has his initiation completed by the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist.

What I am getting at is this: the words “perfect” or “imperfect” actually apply to a goal, that goal being “full communion” and membership in the Church, ie. “joined to the Church by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government and communion”. However, Baptism, wherever it is validly celebrated, is a beginning of this initiation. The goal of ecumenism is “full, visible unity of all the baptised”. It is a goal which is in fact determined by the inner reality of baptism itself. We cannot therefore regard separated Christians as anything other than our brothers and sisters in Christ, destined with us to enter the fullness of divine life and communion – destined by their baptism, that is. [I recently was in conversation with a Russian Orthodox SCE reader who very politely informed me that as an Orthodox Christian he could only regard us Catholics in the same category as Jews and Muslims. We had a polite discussion about that, and agreed to disagree! 🙂 ]

Obviously this destiny is not fulfilled in each and every baptised person during this life, so we leave that in the hands of God. But the goal is perfection, and I trust that, while God may yet bring about the “ecumenical goal” either here in this world in his own way and time by his Spirit, he will certainly do so in the world to come.


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More on the emergence of infant baptism

A reader contacted me just today on a point we discussed some time back, namely, the prevalence (or otherwise) of infant baptism in the Post-Nicene Church. Our case in that instance makes this discovery from our reader all the more interesting.

A while back, there was a discussion on your blog about Infant Baptism, and when it came in. Apropos of that, I came across an intriguing little quotation from St. Gregory Nazianzen’s Orations 40.28:

“Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you to say about those who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we tobaptize them too? Certainly, if any danger presses. For it is better that they should be unconsciously sanctified than that they should depart unsealed and uninitiated.

“A proof of this is found in the Circumcision on the eighth day, which was a sort of typical seal, and was conferred on children before they had the use of reason. And so is the anointing of thedoorposts, Exodus 12:22 which preserved the firstborn, though applied to things which had no consciousness. But in respect of others I give my advice to wait till the end of the third year, or a little more or less, when they may be able to listen and to answer something about the Sacrament; that, even though they do not perfectly understand it, yet at any rate they may know the outlines; and then to sanctify them in soul and body with the great sacrament of our consecration. For this is how the matter stands; at that time they begin to be responsible for their lives, whenreason is matured, and they learn the mystery of life (for of sins of ignorance owing to their tender years they have no account to give), and it is far more profitable on all accounts to be fortified by the Font, because of the sudden assaults of danger that befall us, stronger than our helpers.”

Evidently, he feels the need to justify it, but it was moving further and further back.

Interesting, isn’t it?


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A good idea I learned from Steve Kellmeyer

I have been a little critical of Steve Kellmeyer in the past. But there was one thing I learned from something he said in one of his RCIA podcasts that I have taken to heart, for it is great advice.

His advice was this: “Every time you come out from Confession, make use of the opportunity that your state of grace gives you by seeking to gain an indulgence, either for yourself or from the faithful departed.” They may not have been his exact words, but it is the gist of what he said.

And I have tried to make this my own rule now too. An easy one is a partial indulgence that is granted for praying the “Anima Christi” after receiving communion. Plenary indulgences, by their very nature, take more effort, but one that is fairly straightforward (and for which the opportunity is now past for 2010) is this one: “on any of the Fridays of Lent”, a plenary indulgence is available to those who, fulfilling the necessary conditions of sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father, also “devoutly recite after Communion the prayer En ego, O bone et dulcissime Iesu before a crucifix.” For more information on this, and for the prayers, see here.

But now here are two that you should be getting yourself ready for right now: a plenary indulgence is available for those who take part in the Eucharist Procession on Maundy Thursday (details see here) and also for those who renew their baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil (details see here).

As I understand it, if you go to confession this week, you can obtain these plenary indulgences. I need a clarification on this from a reader, if you can. As I read it in the Manual, under the Norms N20, “a single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences…” and “the three conditions [including sacramental confession] may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work…”. I thought I had read somewhere that sacramental confession in connection with a plenary indulgence can be undertaken “15 days before or after” the prescribed work, but I can’t find where I read that now. That seems more than “a few days”. In any case, make your “Easter Confession” now, and make use of the opportunity on Holy Thursday and at the Easter Vigil for the Plenary Indulgences. One for you on Maundy Thursday and one for the Faithful Departed at the Easter Vigil!


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Still here, just – but Cooees is back!

Hi guys! Sorry that things have been a little slow around here for a bit. I have been very busy putting together our Interfaith Symposium on Death and Dying next week. It is going to be a great event, and I am really looking forward to it, but it does mean that I don’t have much time for blogging at the end of the day (or energy, for that matter)!

However, if you haven’t noticed, the guys at Cooees from the Cloister have come out of their period of self-imposed Lenten silence, so you might want to go and check them out until I resurface again! (I think we can forgive them, eh? and renew our loyalty?)

In the mean time, if you have three days free next week, you might think about coming to our Symposium!

Comments Off on Still here, just – but Cooees is back!

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Priceless: + Elliott + Lady Jaqueline + The Archibald

This finalist entry in the Archibald Prize competition this year has my vote. But I am not quite sure whether Bishop Elliott is qualified to canonise his cat, even if he believes her qualified for the recognition! Yi Wang, the artist, is, I understand, one of the Bishop’s parishioners.

Bishop Elliott and Lady Jacqueline, by Yi Wang Archibald Prize 2010 Courtesy of The Art Gallery of New South Wales

Maybe this painting was the inspiration? HT to a Dominican reader.


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On Removing Bishops

Just a quick thought. One of the main objectives of the current critics of the Catholic Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis is that the Pope has not “sacked” bishops who are revealed to have “covered up” or “concealed” cases of abusive priests.

This contrasts with another call that was heard more regularly in the past, namely a call for decentralisation that would allow a greater autonomy to local bishops, often in areas of morality or liturgy. Then, any action by the Holy See in the matters of a local Church were called “interferance”.

I wonder if one of the reasons we have seen few bishops “removed” from office is the fact that the Vatican has a high respect for the place of a bishop in a local Church. Bishops are not “employees” of the Vatican. The Bishop of Rome is not their “boss”. They bear the responsibility for the mission and governance of the Church in their diocese. If you are looking for where the buck stops, the Vatican seems to be saying, it stops with the local Bishop.

I wonder if a comparison with that infamous event in Australian political history – the 1975 dismissal of the Government (and Prime Minister) of the day by the Governor General – is not perhaps illustrative. While constitutionally it is the Governor General who appoints the Prime Minister, and constitutionally he had the power to act to dismiss the Prime Minister, the nation was horrified that such power be used for the latter purpose.

Should the Pope have exercise his real – but rare – power to remove a bishop? What are the historical precedences? It seems to me that the Holy Father would prefer the bishops to take responsibility for thier own actions – and their own mistakes – and to act justly on their own initiative. What do you think of the reading of this situation?


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An interesting article on the Pope

Here is an interesting article on the Holy Father (“Is this pope a reactionary or a prophet?”), from The Guardian by John Hooper. It isn’t available on The Guardian website for some reason. It repeats much that we know, but has some interesting quotes, such as:

“It would be interesting to know how he is viewed in a hundred years’ time,” muses a professional Vatican-watcher who also requested anonymity. “It will be either as a reactionary or a prophet. Benedict may be behind or ahead of his time, because one thing is certain – he certainly isn’t of his time.”

The idea that today’s Catholic church – hostile to abortion and contraception, antipathetic to homosexuality and dismissive of the idea of women priests – might be a bastion of enlightened values is one many Britons will find hard to accept. But then it is difficult to think of a society that provides Benedict with a greater challenge to his ideas than multicultural Britain


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