Daily Archives: May 29, 2010

“Challenge, Change, Faith: Catholic Australia and the Second Vatican Council”

Last Sunday night Compass featured a film which was mainly made in the Melbourne Archdiocese called “Challenge, Change, Faith: Catholic Australia and the Second Vatican Council”. It was produced for the Burke Family Trust by X-Ray Vision. It features a lot of people we know, and uses some film footage from the Melbourne archives that I have been lucky enough to see in full (you will see Rachel Naughton, our archivist, listed in the credits).

It starts with our own Archbishop celebrating an Extraordinary Form mass at Caulfield (pick the people you know in the congregation!), and then launches into a description of Catholic life in Australia in the 1950’s (predominantly Irish), the election of John XXIII, the Council, the changes to the liturgy, the aftermath of the Council.

It includes a real mixed bag of commentators – everyone from Cardinal Pell to Bishop Robinson to Fr Bob Maguire – but has the virtue of telling the narrative by stringing together excerpts from these interviews: it is “all in their own words”. For this reason, the documentary actually invites deeper study and conversation: you want to say “Yes, that’s exactly right”, or “No, that isn’t the way it was”, or “Yes, but…”. There is no almighty omnipresent invisible narrator who gives the authoritative interpretation – you are aware that you are dealing with impressions and personal stories and interpretations. While the interviewees are perhaps weighted more on the “left” than on the “right”, the producers are careful not play the stories off against one another. Nor are they heavy handed with the message. The archival film footage – both local and from Rome – is really excellent.

If you missed it, you can watch it all here on the Compass Website and find out more about it (or purchase a copy for educational purposes) by visiting this website.


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N.T. Wright on Freedom in the Spirit

I read this passage this morning from N.T. Wright’s “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vison“, on page 164. I thought it worth putting up the whole paragraph for your consideration.

When, by clear implication, I am charged with encouraging believers to put their trust in someone or something ‘other than the crucified and resurrected Savior’, I want to plead guilty – to this extent and to this extent only: that I also say, every time I repeat one of the great historic creeds, that I trust in the holy spirit.

Of course, within Trinitarian theology one is quick to say that this is not something other than trusting in Jesus the Messiah, since it is his own spirit; the Father who sent Jesus is now sending ‘the Spirit of the Son’ (Galatians 4.4-7). But the point about the holy spirit, at least within Paul’s theology, is that when the spirit comes the result is human freedom rather than human slavery. When God works within a community, or an individual, the result is that they ‘will and work for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13). The pastoral theology which comes from reflecting on the work of the spirit is the glorious paradox that the more the spirit is at work the more the human will is stirred up to think things through to take free decisions, to develop chosen and hard-woon habits of life and to put to death the sinful, and often apparently not freely chosen, habits of death. Sin is what bubbles up unbidden from the depths of the human heart, so that all one has to do is go with the flow. That has the appearance of freedom, but is in fact slavery, as Jesus himself declared. True freedom is the gift of the spirit, the result of grace; but, precisely because it is freedom for as well as freedom from [this emphasis, BTW, has always been a central emphasis in Ratzinger], it isn’t simply a matter of being forced now to be good, against our wills and without our co-operation (what damage to a genuine pastoral theology has been done by making a bogey-word out of the Pauline term synergism, ‘working together with God’), but a matter of being released from slavery precisely into responsibility, into being able at last to choose, to exercise moral muscle, knowing both that one is doing it oneself and that the spirit is at work within, that God himself is doing that which I too am doing. If we don’t believe that, we don’t believe in the spirit, and we don’t believe Paul’s teaching. Virtue is what happens – I know many in the Reformation tradition shudder at the thought of the very word ‘virtue’, but there is no help for it if we are to be true to scripture and to Trinitarian theology – when the spirit enables the Christian freely to choose, freely to develop, freely to be shaped by, freely to become that which is pleasing to God.


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Simon Shama on the “snares of history” for the Secular Humanist

Another TV history professor that I really admire is Simon Shama. I was totally engrossed by his “History of Britian”, both the series, and later the book. So when I saw a new audio book in the library, “The American Future: A History” by Shama, I pounced. By last Thursday night, I had listened to about half of it, and was surprised to look in the TV guide for the evening and see that the first episode of a TV series based on the book (or is it the other way around?) was showing that night. As it turns out, the book and the TV series seems to begin differently (probably because the book concentrated on Obama’s election, and his presidency is not exactly hot news at the moment), but it appears that from next week’s episode, the book and series will be back in sync with a concentration on the history of American beligerance… (it is very interesting, and a story well told, I assure you!).

Any way, yesterday, I was listening to the end of disc 7 – I don’t know what chapter or page that is in the book – and I came across this passage at the end of his treatment of the emancipation of the slaves:

The fervour of the abolitionist evangelicals complicates the way we might feel about the wall of separation erected by the Virginia Statute and the First Amendment between morality and politics.

Of course, it was entirely possible to arrive at an abhorrence for slavery from rationally derived ethics, the degradation of man to commodity, the violation of natural right to sovereignty over person and so on.

Historically though, both in the early nineteenth century and again in the 1960s, the force of shame directed at slave holders and segregationists was religious. Realistically, it was unlikely that the propagation of enlightenment views of humanity would have swayed millions of nineteenth century white Americans against slavery. After all such moral principles convinced Jefferson and Patrick Henry of the infamy of the institution, but still failed to move them to liberate their own slaves. So what hope was there of persuading less high-minded Southerners to make sacrifice of their property, or what Henry described as “inconveniencing himself”.

Both in the 1830’s and 1840’s and then again in the 1960’s, it was the determination of the Rankins and Finneys and Fanny Lou Hamers to cross the line between religion and politics and appeal to the country’s Christian conscience that brought white Americans into brotherhood with persecuted blacks.

For secular humanists like this writer this is an awkward historical truth to acknowledge, accustomed as we are to equating evangelical fervour with illiberal reaction. The abolitionist argument that some enormities were so vicious that they had to be made accountable to the principles of the gospel, even if that meant breaching the establishment clause of the first amendment in the interest of a higher good, is not all together different from the way that “right to life” evangelicals argue today

History sets such snares to make us think harder.


You can find a review of the book here, and if you missed the episode on Thursday night, you can watch it for the couple of weeks here on ABC’s I-View.


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