21 April 2015

Ad cenam agni providi/Ad regias agni dapes

Low Sunday has passed; we are now again using hymns in our Office. If you are accustomed to the Liturgia Horarum, and if you look in a 1961 Breviary, you will get a shock when you got to the Office Hymn for Vespers during Eastertide. Instead of Ad cenam agni providi you will find Ad regias agni dapes. This text is the piece of elegant Renaissance Latinity which Urban VIII substituted for the the fifth century text previously in use. The problem Pope Urban had with the original is that it was written when Latin was still a spoken language, a living and vivid vernacular, and its text is therefore, from the point of view of classical purists, full of irregularities. For example, it treats stolis albis candidi [bright with white garments] as if it were istolis albis candidi (eight syllables): ist- is how they pronounced st- in the 'Vulgar Latin' period*. Like many popular and subclassical texts, strongly influenced by a basically 'oral' culture, the original form of this hymn has anacoloutha, diminutives, and 'intolerably' erratic systems of accented syllables. All this is why I like it. I even have a personal theory that the author was a considerable poet who actually used 'irregular' accentual patterns to emphasise words.

Urban's gang of resurrected Horaces so rewrote the second stanza that not a word of the original remained ... but perhaps by this point I have lost non-latinists. Never mind. If you have your English Hymnal [the finest English Language hymnal there is; one of the Patrimony's principal gifts] to hand, you can find the original, translated by the incomparable John Mason 'Patrimony' Neale, at 125. You will find the Urbanist replacement at 128. You may feel that both, in their different ways, are good hymns. In my opinion, you are right, at least as far as the Latin original of 128 is concerned (the great Adrian Fortescue disagreed: for him, there was not one single good word to be said for Pope Urban's hymns, and their elimination, he felt, should be the first element in a reform of the Breviary). I just happen to feel that Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II was indeed wise to mandate the restoration of the original texts of the hymns (although the Dom Anselmo Lentini's 1968 revisers, foolishly, did straighten out the rhythms a bit). The Benedictines, incidentally, never did adopt the Urbanist texts.

Moreover, the Renaissance version can miss things. Neale was convinced that the old text's description of Christ's blood as 'rosy' (roseo: 'light pink', because Roman roses were not modern cultivars) is explained by that fact that if a body is totally drained of blood, the last few drops are ... pink (how did he know? Was he right?).

*Grandgent writes thus about this prosthetic vowel: "The earliest Latin example is probably iscolasticus, written in Barcelona in the second century; it is found repeatedly, though not frequently, in the third century; in the fourth and fifth it is very common: espiritum, ischola, iscripta, isperabi ..." Isidore of Seville in the seventh century was the first to comment on it. It has, of course, left innumerable marks upon the lexicography of the Romance languages (e.g. stella became istella which became estaile which became etoile).

20 April 2015

Episcopal leadership

It is, I feel, distinctly courageous of the Scottish Bishops to question the "Trident" nuclear deterrent at a time when doing so might appear to favour one party in the imminent British General Election. They deserve very great praise; as do those English bishops who, a few months ago, appended their signatures to a petition with a similar purpose. Honoris causa, I think these English prelates should be named:
The bishops of Nottingham, Salford, Northampton, Brentwood emeritus, Leeds, Portsmouth, and Bishop Kenney auxiliary of Birmingham.
 (I should declare personal interests: Bishop Egan is the admirable bishop within whose jurisdiction I am domiciled, the very model of a pastoral and teaching bishop; and Bishop Kenney, when he realised an injustice that was being done to me a couple of years ago, sorted it out within a couple of days; subsequently at his request and to my enormous pleasure laid hands on me; and spoke in a far kindlier way about me in his homily than I could possibly deserve).

I have long felt that some development is due in the matter of the Church's Magisterium on the two moral questions (linked but not identical) of the (1) Use; (2) Possession; of Nuclear Weapons. I feel its development may have suffered from the ethos of the Cold War and the close collaboration between Pius XII and Cardinal Spellman. That America and the Vatican should be seen to be in a holy alliance against the powers of Evil was the order of the day, and any suggestion that America ought not to possess a Nuclear Deterrent might not have been in the Spirit of that alliance. But I may very well be wrong. I so often am. Notwithstanding this factor, some very remarkable individuals realised that a positive answer to neither of these two moral questions could be reconciled with Catholic teaching about the Just War. I have in mind the mighty figure of Cardinal Ottaviani, the Lion of the Council, mocked and harried by the Modernists, Defender of the Faith against the Liberals of Northern Europe, wise critic of the Novus Ordo. Elizabeth Anscombe of this University, distinguished Catholic philosopher, a penetrating intelligence who tried to prevent the award of an honorary degree to Harry Truman on the grounds that he was a War Criminal. And the speeches of Enoch Powell against the policy of Deterrence were such masterpieces of elegant rhetoric and incisive logic that I used to set them for rendering into Latin by my more able Latin Prose Composition students.

Under S John Paul II, the Church, happily, moved closer and closer to a position in which war itself was seen as an increasingly difficult option to justify in the conditions of the modern world. The Holy Pontiff's tendency to distance himself from military adventures in the Middle East became increasingly insistent, and increasingly a problem to his sad neocon admirers such as George Weigel. But he seemed unwilling to adopt a definitive position on the Possession of Nuclear Weapons. Yet the Church's Just War teaching, with its principle that, for a war to be just, it must (among other conditions) be prudently foreseen that it would do more good than harm, seems quite irreconcilable with what is known about the effects of nuclear explosions on dozens of future generations; and there is very little doubt that Western leaders did intend to use a nuclear option to counter any irruption of Russian tanks and infantry across the plains of North Germany.

And so I was distinctly glad to read the message of our beloved Holy Father on this subject (9 December 2014). "The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are predictable and planetary. While the focus is often placed on nuclear weapons' potential for mass-killing, more attention must be given to the 'unnecessary suffering' brought on by their use. Military codes and international law, among others [is this a delicate way of including the teaching of the Church?] have long banned peoples from inflicting unnecessary suffering. If such suffering is banned in the waging of conventional war, it should all the more be banned in nuclear conflict ... Nuclear Deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethic of fraternity and peaceful coexistence ..."

I would hope that this may be a theme to which the Roman Pontiff will return, and, so to speak, firm up. I think the time of all prelates, from top to bottom, would be much better spent on this and similar moral questions, including global questions of wealth and poverty, than on attempting to adapt Christian sexual moral principles to the libertine cultures of Northern Europe and North America. I gather some cardinal called Madariaga appears to hope that Synod will just keep on following Synod until a 'correct' conclusion is secured (which is exactly how the Anglican Establishment got the Ordination of Women through). As if the Church and her bishops have nothing more worthy to devote their energies to than the delicate feelings of wealthy adulterers.

More than two decades ago, Germaine Grisez, John Finnis of this University, and Joseph Boyle wrote their (in my opinion) definitive treatment of the ethics of nuclear deterrence (Nuclear Deterrence, Morality, and Realism, 1988). In the days of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, it was easy to write off those who marched against the Bomb as long-haired subversives and crypto-Russkies. And there were all those rather iffy women at Greenham Common (but, in God's great mercies, iffy women are sometimes right). So the important thing to remember about this trio is that they are the ethical thinkers who, in our time, most consistently, coherently, and vigorously have defended the traditional Catholic teaching on sexual matters, 'Life' matters, and every aspect of traditional teaching which has been attacked by the modern secular establishment. These writers not only subscribe to the whole gamut of Catholic teaching, but delve deep into philosophy, law, and every kind of moral discourse, to sustain it in the fora of modern discussion. They are not just yet another trio of wet modern lefty liberals masquerading as Catholics. They are firmly on the side of traditional Christian morality in all its aspects and irrespective of whether or not it is found attractive by 'modern' thought.

They concluded that the concept of Nuclear Deterrence is indissolubly linked with a real intention, in certain contingencies, actually to use nuclear weapons. And they demonstrated, in my view conclusively, that such a contingent intention stands condemned by the traditional doctrine of the Catholic tradition on the Just War.

I do not suggest that these three writers, or Cardinal Ottaviani, are infallible; or that the magisterium of the Church has formally uttered such a judgement. I wish it had. But I do not understand on what grounds their arguments may be refuted (and I do not propose to entertain Comments from readers who wish to contradict them without having actually read the book).

19 April 2015

Sweet little lambs and family memories

We walked up to the Trout, passing on the way fields with new lambs. Ah ... memories ... when our family was young, and all the other kiddies were Ahhing and Ooing at the sight of the lambs, our five, who had not been brought up to be sentimental, were climbing up the field gates and yelling "Mint Sauce! Mint Sauce!" at the lambs.

How tempus does fugit. Trinity Term is about to start with what is nowadays called Noughth Week, and Senior Granddaughter is coming up again today. At the end of last term, she got 88% in her Koine Greek paper; I gather that anything above 70% is currently reckoned first class.

It's all in the genes, y'know. In this case, her Grandmother's.

Ovid a liturgist?

I have remarked before how strange it is that not even a single one of the old Roman collects for the Sundays after Easter survived the post-Conciliar 'reforms' for use on an Eastertide Sunday. This is, surely, a great historical curiosity. (Incidentally, an identical fate befell all the Sunday Collects for Lent and Advent.) Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II had limited change to points where it is truly and certainly clear that the benefit to the Church demands them (23). Another such oddity is the fact that the OF collect for today is a modern composition. Whatever is wrong with an old collect for this Sunday? Can it really be true that no Western Christian knew how to pray to God on a Sunday within Eastertide until 1970?

The Vatican 'reformers' did in fact keep this prayer and re-assign it, ejected from Eastertide, to one of the 'green' Sundays. So, even in their view, it cannot be totally beyond all redemption. But in doing so they (you know what I'm going to say) changed it; out went the reference to 'perpetual death' (replaced by 'slavery of sin') - and since that had to disappear, the parallel reference to 'perpetual joy' had to be changed to 'holy joy'. How exactly does vera et certa utilitas demand (exigat) the excision of the wonderful truth that the Father has rescued us from everlasting death? Or that the 'joy' He promises us will be for ever?

Here is the preconciliar text: Deus qui in Filii tui humilitate iacentem mundum erexisti: fidelibus tuis perpetuam concede laetitiam; ut quos perpetuae mortis eripuisti casibus, gaudiis facias perfrui sempiternis. God, who in the lowliness of thy Son didst make upright a prostrate world: grant to thy faithful people perpetual joy; that to those whom thou hast snatched from the falls of  perpetual death, thou mightest give the fruition of everlasting joys.

I simply love the sophisticated interplay of words in the opening phrases. Humilitas comes from humus, the ground, and so it has an etymological sense of flat-upon-the-ground (as did the Greek tapeinos). So we are offered the elegant paradox that the lowliness of Christ raised upright, erect, a world which was prostrate or, literally, lying. As a frivolous Classicist, I am reminded of the similar word-play at VIII 526 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, where all Calydon is grieving at the death of Meleager: Alta iacet Calydon, lofty Calydon lies prostrate, where, as the late (and lamented) Adrian Hollis of Keble College in this University pointed out, the 'sportiveness' of this combination of the literal and metaphorical is enhanced by the fact that 'lofty' is a traditional epithet (aipeinei Kaludoni Iliad XIII 217). Hollis rightly described the humour as 'whimsical, almost Callimachean' (it was Callimachus of Cyrene, greatest of all the Hellenistic poets, who elevated verbal fun to be the highest art form). The concept of flat-on-the-ground is neatly taken up yet again in our collect when perpetual death is said to result from falls, casibus, unrepented sins.

And then there are the antitheses and assonances. They raise my spirit in the same sort of way as do the brilliant firework-displays of that great gift of Byzantine Christianity to the Catholic world, the Akathist Hymn. Why do the killjoys, gloomily lugubrious, want to rob the Liturgy of the Latin Church of its sparkle, its fun? Why, after Vatican II, are only Byzantines allowed to enjoy their Faith?

But, underneath the sheer fun of the classical prayers of the old Roman Rite, there is the saving and glorious truth that it is the Lord, weakened by scourging, falling under his Cross deep into the grime and filth of a fallen world, who alone raises up that world and conveys to us an endlessness of joy. Christian euchology renders soteriological the Classical humour.  

18 April 2015

Two cultures, two languages: Bishop Egan and the MP

Sometimes, when the Media are interviewing Catholics on controverted issues, they tell us the religion of the person they have with them, as if to say "Of course, you should take account of the fact that X is a devout Catholic, and so what he says must be taken with a pinch of salt".

The BBC, in the person of Ed Stourton, a Catholic remarried after divorce, gave radio space on Sunday March 22 to the RC MP for Bournemouth, Conor Burns, to make another attack on Bishop Philip Egan, Burns' own diocesan Bishop.

I think it would have been helpful to listeners to mention Stourton's own status, so as to remind them that he is himself not impartial and unbiassed when it comes to Christ's teaching on Marriage and associated matters.

Burns is described by Wikipedia as "openly gay"; surely, it would have been appropriate to inform listeners of this? Perhaps Stourton could have introduced him with something like:

"Mr Burns, who is said to be openly gay, first attacked Bishop Philip last year when the bishop gave his opinion that legislators who voted for homosexual marriage 'shouldn't be receiving Holy Communion'".

This point of mine is pure Common Sense. We all know the phrase "I see where you're coming from". For the members of the Media Establishment to be so coy about letting us know where they and their darlings are "coming from", amounts to a culpable and deceitful suppressio veri.

Readers will remember the occasion of Burns' first attack on Dr Egan. The bishop made it clear that he would not himself deny Communion to legislators voting for laws which contradict Catholic moral teaching unless this were the common policy of his episcopal conference. Some Bishops' Conference employee called "Greg Pope" promptly issued a statement which, while formally eminently correct, effectively cut the ground from beneath Bishop Philip's act of witness. And I am also sure that readers will also remember Cardinal Mueller's recent observations that Dioceses and their Bishops are not 'branches' of Episcopal Conferences or of their bureaucracies; still less should a bishop be subject to the implied supervisory correction of Conference employees. Gerhard Mueller's observation that the diocesan bishop and the Roman Pontiff have a direct and unmediated relationship is not so much pastoral as it is theological: it is the local Particular (i.e. diocesan) Church, and the Universal Church (with their circumincessio), that are, for Catholics, the basic ecclesiological realities.

Let me describe the occasion of Burns' second, Stourton-facilitated, attack. Recently, Bishop Philip, in response to appeals for advice, put out a carefully argued statement on the complex subject of support for 'charities' which have varying degrees of involvement in controverting Catholic teaching. As a bishop has a duty to do, he warned against "formal cooperation in gravely immoral acts". Burns called this "legalistic" [the second time he used the term, he expanded it into "highly legalistic"]  and "rigid".

Now that is an interesting word. Would he describe those who with unflagging determination worked for the passage of the Gay Marriage legislation as "rigid"? Or is this another of those Irregular Verbs ... "I am resolute, You are rigid ..."?.

Burns went on to attack the bishop's paper for causing "worry and anxiety". Having damned his Bishop with faint praise for being erudite, he then waffled on about "the World as it is". He referred to Bishop Philip's "absolute logic" (but, very strangely, these words do not seem to have been intended as complimentary but as a sneer). He revealed that a "couple of priests" were upset and were wailing "What on earth are we to do?". He was clearly enraged about the copious footnotes which support all Bishop Philip's statements. Imaginary "conflict" with Pope Francis got dragged into this load of nonsense.

Bishop Egan does indeed invariably footnote his utterances with great care. Far from being "legalistic", this practice is in the very highest degree reassuring to the ordinary, faithful, cleric or laic. Indeed, it is profoundly humble. A bishop's duty is, very obediently, very humbly, to teach the Deposit of Faith handed down from the Apostles in accordance with the Church's Magisterium; and footnoting exemplifies the authenticity of his teaching as well as drawing his readers more deeply into the authentic sources of the Faith. I hope that there is no Catholic bishop anywhere in the world who, instead of teaching what the Church teaches, uses his office to promote his own divisive whimsies. If there is, then there must be a relevance in Cardinal Brandmueller's recent observation that people who "insistently demand" change in the Church's dogma are "heretics" even if they happen to wear the purpura of a Cardinal. (I am glad, incidentally, that his Eminence has revived this useful analytical category.)

Nor do I like the cheap game of attempting to judge and condemn a bishop by deploying Media fantasies about what the 'policy' of Pope Francis is. Quite apart from the fact that these fantasies are grotesquely garbled, Leo XIII taught ... and so did Vatican II ... that the Bishops are not mere vicars of the Roman Pontiff, but themselves Successors of the Apostles. Here again, we have journalists assuming that maximalising view of the Papacy which I dealt with (yet again) in a recent post. Of course there isn't any "conflict" between the Bishops of Rome and Portsmouth ... the very suggestion is absolute and unmitigated rubbish ... but even to raise the possibility is to be asking a wrong question on the basis of a faulty understanding arising from a false theology.

17 April 2015

A footnote on the Armenians and Holocaust Denial

After the Holy Father's admirable words on Sunday, it would be good to hear just a few Admirable Words from a lot of others. (I apologise in advance if what follows demonstrates that I am not quite up-to-date with the utterances of politicians.) After all, this is the Centenary of the Armenian Holocaust, and everybody all over the world clamours to observe Centenaries. Why do we hear so little on this one?

Successive British Governments of all parties, highly principled in all things, full of moral courage, anxious to lecture other governments all over the world about their poor records on human rights, fortified by a self-confidence based on the sublimely High Ground which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office invariably occupies, have never dared to say anything which Ankara might take amiss.

Obama, before he became Divine Emperor, spoke about the Armenian Holocaust, but since his Apotheosis has done a good line in weasel words and diplomatic ambiguities. Come on, Mr O, this is Centenary time!

Some Israelis have spoken very Admirably indeed about the Armenian tragedies. There have been others who have felt that enormous moral imperatives, like not upsetting a country whose airline does a lot of flights in and out of Tel a viv, counsel prudence. An odd line for Zionists, of all people, to take. Or is it that some of them think they hold the copyright on being victims of a Holocaust? Netanjahu could clear these uncertainties up for us, with the same clarity that Pope Francis used.

I wonder if the Masonic tradition has examined its conscience in this matter? Have there been Apologies which I have missed?

Lombardi boobs again

Outrageous, Wednesday's Bollettino. It refers to someone called "Lord Chris Patten". A totally non-existent person. There is another major Vatican scandal here. Heads should roll.

For there to be any such person, he would have to be the younger son of a Duke. Let us suppose that there is a Thirteenth Duke of Chalice, descendant of King Charles II by his mistress (a very physical girl) Nelly Corporal. His family name is Patten; and, as well as his dukedom, he has some subsidiary titles. So, in full, he is something like this: Charles Patten, Duke of Chalice, Earl of Pall, and Baron Purificator (in fact it would be more complicated that that, but let's not go there). His Grace's personal friends probably call him Charlie Chalice.

Let us imagine he has children and grandchildren. As a matter of courtesy, Chalice's eldest son takes his father's second title and is called "the Earl of Pall" or, more colloquially, Lord Pall. Pall's eldest son, again as a courtesy, bears his grandfather's title of "the Baron Purificator" or, more briefly, Lord Purificator.

Chalice's three younger sons are respectively called (so let us fantasise) Lord Andrew Patten, Lord Benjamin Patten, and Lord Christopher Patten. The duke's daughters are called the Ladies Yolanda and Zuleika Patten. That's how it is with Dukes' children in civilised countries. How dukes organise matters in Lombardy, I just hate to imagine. There are things that don't bear thinking about. Do the Lombards still rampage around Italy looting and kidnapping people to sell into slavery?

Chris Patten is not the fourth son of a Duke. Fr Lombardi, by implying that he is, might even be committing a libel by suggesting that Patten's Mother once comforted a duke. I would suggest that it could be extremely dangerous for Fr Lombardi ever to set foot within these Three Kingdoms, because he would very probably find himself instantly served with a writ and dragged off to the Tower of London, there to be photographed daily by Japanese tourists and pecked at by ravens. Or perhaps the delinquent is not Fr Lombardi, but that Fr Rosica, the cut of whose jib I have never liked. Is he aware that the Tower is where, in English tradition, prisoners are racked?

Patten is a Life Baron; his patent of creation makes clear that his peerage dies with him. Although the College of Heralds designed for him arms with a Supporter each side of the Shield, as befits a peer, they, poor wee beasties, will be sent off to the abattoir the moment their owner dies ... the Supporters, that is, not the Heralds.

And in correct English usage he is just called Lord Patten or, if you feel like being completely  formal, "the Lord Patten of Barnes". And he is the Chancellor, and a very good one, of this University. Italian and Canadian priestlings, hands off!

16 April 2015

Our love for a great Pontiff; on this festival of a great Martyr

A day of great whooppee for all good men and women and true, a day marked for us by the birthday of our Holy Father the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, the Pope of Unity to whom we in the Ordinariate owe so much; to whom the Whole State of Christ's Church Militant here on Earth owes so much. The erudite Pope who was able to set the problematic decades since Vatican II into a conceptual framework which enabled us to make sense of the Divine purpose during those difficult years; the Pope who made clear that it is theologically impossible for a Catholic Rite to be abolished - and went on to legislate that, whatever any nay-sayer of whatever dignity might wish, any presbyter of the Latin Rite has an inalienable right to celebrate the Mass we associate with the name of his great predecessor, S Pius V. How can any of us tuck into our lunches today without thinking of that gentle old pastor and wise scholar tucking into something Bavarian, in the company, one hopes, of his brother?

This day will always remind me of my unforgettable visit to Papa Stronsay last year; a break in my journey enabled my kind hosts to take me to visit the exquisite rose-coloured Romanesque Cathedral at Kirkwall in the Orkneys. At the Reformation, the relics of the martyred Earl Magnus were removed from their shrine but carefully preserved behind a stone in the transept arch; so his presence is still living in his own Church. Because, you see, today is the Feast of S Magnus the Martyr! I think of my dear friends on Papa Stronsay solemnly celebrating the Patronal Festival of the Orkneys in their wind-swept but immaculate chapel.

It doesn't end there. We in the Ordinariate owe our present laetitia in large measure to the work and witness of Fr Henry Joy Fynes Clinton, Rector of S Magnus the Martyr by London Bridge, Founder of the Catholic League, Apostle of Romanita within the Church of England; Confessor of the Faith; another devoted lover and upholder, against whatever Anglican episcopal persecutions, of the liturgy we used to call "the Western Rite". One of those intimately involved in the restoration of the Holy House of the Mother of God at Walsingham, to whom our Ordinariate is dedicated.

So it is surprisingly unsurprising that, upon this day of days, the Particular Calendar of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham offers us this Nordic Saint to celebrate, enabling us Caecubum depromere in honour of a great Pontiff; to celebrate our fellowship with the Redemptorists on Papa Stronsay whose regularisation, like ours, is the fruit of that great Pontificate of Christian Unity, and who, like us, suffered in their journey into full canonical status; to remember with affection and prayer our own Anglican Fathers in the Faith who did not live to see the the new dawn of Anglicanorum coetibus.

Sancte Magne, quot habes et quales filios tuos et clientes tam vivos quam defunctos pro quibus ut preces effundas deprecamur! Ora pro nobis, ora pro omnibus!

15 April 2015

A splendid day for PARRHESIA

When, after spending Sunday morning saying a couple of Masses (Novus Ordo but, of course, with the Roman Canon) for a brother priest who wished to pay a post-Easter visit to his native Poland, I had a look at the video of the morning's Liturgy in S Peter's, I was much edified and gratified.

The Holy Father's decision to validate with his authority the memory of the Armenian Church and People, despite knowing the rage this would stir up, is heroic. Perhaps it is a new kind of Papal Parrhesia. Pius XII has been unfairly criticised because, although he very clearly condemned the murder of people by reason of their race, and did what he could in Rome to save large numbers of Jews, he did not speak with undiplomatic clarity about who exactly was doing exactly what to precisely whom. Francis has. His action may have repercussions on Catholics in Turkey; I think I recall that S Edith Stein was arrested by the Germans when they decided to collect and exterminate the Dutch baptised Jews after the Dutch episcopate had issued an unambiguouis Pastoral Letter condemning the rounding up and deportation of the Dutch unbaptised Jews. And so now, it may be some time before the Holy See, or Turkish Catholics, are in a position to ask a favour of the Turkish government. But if Francis has decided that Parrhesia is more important than Diplomacy, I think his judgement is to be respected. It certainly fits my own feelings.

And his action negates the spirit of the Ostpolitik of an earlier pontificate: delicate and deferential treatment of unfriendly regimes in the hope of securing concessions. Not that modern Turkey is an enemy to Christianity in anything remotely like the way that the Stalinist puppet regimes in Europe were; but it remains true that there is something seedy about refraining from speaking the truth out of prudence. What advantage did we ever gain from being so careful in what we said about the Katyn massacre?

This is a time when atrocities very much like the Armenian Genocide are again happening in the Middle East. It is a time when Western 'Enlightenment' governments are shy with regard to talking about the extermination of Christians, even when it is Christian who are being exterminated. The mobs who roamed through Paris chanting Je suis Charlie have not been moved by the most horrendous videos to march with the cry Je suis Chretien or Je suis Copte. There was a time when the Yazidis were being destroyed ... and journalists very properly reported those horrors with explicit naming of names. The shameful and cowardly mass murder by jihadis of Shia prisoners of war is properly reported. Those same journalists, however, having spent their professional lives deriding and attacking Christianity, feel very reticent about headlining with equal explicitness the fate of the Middle Eastern Christian communities. The Holy Father's frankness is a splendid rebuff to this whole, sick, 'liberal' mentality of airbrushing the C****t word out of the News. It gives a new meaning to the phrase 'Pope Frank'!

Moreover, it shows the Pope as the Father of the entire Christian world, and his Church of Rome as the Mother Church of all the Particular Churches. As well as the hierarchies of the Armenian Christian Communions, the President of Armenia was there. The proclamation of S Gregory of Narek as Universalis Ecclesiae Doctor highlights, in a particular way, the solidarity between the whole Catholic world of Particular Churches in Communion with S Peter, and those other bodies which, having preserved Hierarchy and Sacraments, are true, but wounded, Particular Churches in which the Universal Church is herself manifested (Communionis notio 17).

I think, for the first time in this pontificate, I felt my spirits rise and had a real sense of pride in the present Pope!

Viva il Papa!

RITUAL FOOTNOTE: I thought the liturgy was appropriate. The use of the Third Eucharistic Prayer, with its Orientalising elements, reminded me of Aidan Nichols' valuable suggestion that the Novus Ordo should be renamed as the Ritus Communis. It is not, indeed, authentically the Roman Rite but, as Fr Aidan suggests, could function as a common rite for use among Christians of different rites and traditions. On Sunday, it very fittingly had Armenian elements, particularly musical, worked into it; the Gospel Procession, with two clerics walking backwards in front of the Gospel Book so as continually to cense it, was very memorable (did I hear one of the deacons chant Proskhomen before the Gospel?). On such an occasion as last Sunday, this Ritus Communis might even, surely, include an actual Eucharistic Prayer from an Eastern Rite. The formal proclamation of the status of S Gregory was in Latin, reminding us that enactments which bind all Catholics need to be shown as such by being in the Language of the Church. (I am waiting for Misericordiae vultus to be issued in its official Latin before investing religiosum obsequium in the reading of it.)

14 April 2015

Regensburg (3)

So the LXX is not just a translation of the Hebrew OT; it is in itself a divinely given moment in the process of divine revelation; in a sense, rather like the discernment by the Church of the Canon of Scripture. It therefore deserves respect for and in itself, and is neither only nor even mainly a means to a different end (such as the reconstitution of a Hebrew 'original text').

But that concept of an 'original text' is, as I observed earlier, an idea characteristic of the Enlightenment but in itself questionable and now questioned. I think it can be sustained best in relation to an epistle of S Paul (there must presumably once have been one particular document which physically was taken by Phoebe from Corinth to Rome). But, even here, there is the overwhelming probability that all our existing textual forms go back to an early collection or edition of the Apostle's writings. Once you move beyond the Epistles, you run up against the relationship between Orality and Literacy in cultures predating the invention of printing, and particularly in the ancient world. Work has been done on this subject, both by secular Classicists (such as Rosalind Thomas of Balliol) and by NT specialists (such as Loveday Alexander at Sheffield). To put just one part of this briefly: in a fundamentally oral society, the written word often served as back-up for business which was mainly done orally. If you taught somebody cookery, this was basically done on the job, by word of mouth, in the kitchen. Books about cookery were supports, but they presupposed the oral and, in reaction to the oral, were texts that tended to fluidity. (You may yourself have a cookery book in your kitchen which, over the decades, you have modified, corrected, augmented as the result of your own practice of the culinary art.) Even in the letters of S Paul one finds hints that the person who (physically) carried the letter will fill it out, will explain it to the recipients.

So the 'Enlightenment' idea that, if only you had enough evidence and sufficient skill to deploy it, you could in principle reconstruct an 'original text', is dubious (it also puts disproportionate power into the hands of those who proclaim themselves to be Experts, and whose 'scientific' conclusions will probably be overturned by the generation which succeeds them). Even more dubious is the common Protestant superstition (a superstition because it erroneously makes into an idol, reifies, what should be one functioning element in ecclesial life) or fetich (a fetich because it is a paraphilia rather like being erotically fixated on your husband's ears rather than on his totality) that there is a static 'Bible' which stands as a test of doctrine over and above the life of the Church, and to which that life is subject and, even forensically, needs to be made answerable. 'Bible' is simply a vitally important element within a whole, within a traditio or paradosis. And this should, in my opinion, lead us to a privileging of those biblical editions which have fed and do feed the Church, have been cited by Fathers and Councils, and have been sanctified and authorised by sustained liturgical use. So: three cheers for the LXX. 

And ... my final point ... three cheers also for the Vulgate*. And I would include in my cheers the passage about the Adulterous Woman, in John 8, even if it is not an 'original' part of the Gospel, and 1 John 5:7b, even if that is not part of the 'original' text of its Epistle, and the last part of Mark 16; such passages, whatever their history, are still canonical Scripture. Incidentally, by Vulgate (Vg) I do not mean the NeoVulgate of S John Paul II, which I regard as subordinate to the 'real' Vg because of the 'Enlightenment' methodology of its production. There is most certainly nothing bad about it; it has the Church's formal approval. It just does not have the status, the auctoritas, of the LXX or the proper Vulgate (I suppose, a thousand or two years of intensive use might enhance the status of the NeoVulgate!). And, happily, the LXX and the Vg present us with texts which have considerable similarities. It's not nearly so often a matter of LXX versus Vg as it is of LXX+Vg versus The Rest. (The day, incidentally, when Orthodoxy abandons the Textus Receptus will be the day when, I hope, my Orthodox friends will become Old Believers!)

So don't throw away your English translations of the Vulgate, whether they be Dr Challoner's revision of the Douai-Rheims Bible, or Mgr Knox's translation, sadly underrated as it nowadays is. There is certainly no harm in the RSV (make sure that it is either a 'Catholic Edition' or else contains the 'Deuterocanonical Books', and do not ever use the feminist "New Revised Standard Version") ... it is probably the best of the modern Anglophone Bibles and it is certainly better to read the RSV than to read nothing ... but ... well, I've given you my own preferences!
* I do not include in the same three cheers the MT as used in the medieval and modern synagogue, because its text-type has been formed, for nearly two millennia, independently from and, to a degree, probably in reaction against, the Church. It has in its own right, of course, immense value and interest as a witness to the history of the post-Jamnian rabbinic Judaism of our present world, the product of that radical reconstruction which Diaspora Judaism needed after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple had rendered so much of the Jewish Bible obsolete.

13 April 2015

Francis follows Benedict; what will the Wolves make of it?

As an unashamed admirer of the emeritus Roman Pontiff, I feel dead chuffed that his successor has chosen to follow right in his footsteps in two highly significant ways ... and on the same glorious day!

(1) Pope Benedict fearlessly delivered his Regensburg lecture, undeterred by the probability of uproar from the Wolves. And now our beloved Holy Father Pope Francis has shown his fearless solidarity with the magnificent Christian Armenian people by refusing to be be bullied by the Turkish Government into Holocaust Denial. Let us hope that pusillanimous Western governments will have the guts to follow his courageous lead. It will be amusing to see if the Wolves who attacked Benedict after Regensburg will deploy the same splenetic malevolence against Francis. I'm betting that they won't, because so many of them were endlessly devising flimsy pretexts for attacking Benedict XVI, but have invested a lot of their own tenuous credibility in their confected image of "Good Pope Francis". Armeniagate, of course, will be argued to be subtly different from Regensburggate!!

(2) Pope Benedict also received endless flak from the Wolves for Mercifully remitting the excommunications upon the four bishops consecrated by His Excellency the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. They particularly went into paroxysms of their usual simulated fury about the Merciful inclusion in this package of Bishop Williamson, reputed to be a Holocaust Denier. More recently, His Wykehamist Excellency has re-incurred, only last month, the same excommunication latae sententiae for consecrating another bishop absque mandato Apostolicae Sedis. But now Pope Francis, even more Merciful than Pope Benedict, is to send out confessarii with extensive faculties to absolve even the matters most specially reserved to the Holy See. So all that Richard Williamson will need to do is to catch an early train in from Broadstairs (just eighty minutes to S Pancras) and get into the queue in Westminster Cathedral when one of these Grand Penitentiaries is installed there hard at work absolving ("And finally, Father, I have performed Episcopal Consecration without a Mandate from the Holy See". "Male or female, my son, and how many times?" "Male ... once." "... te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis suspensionis et interdicti, in quantum possum et tu indiges ... "). Just the cost of a single train ticket! Can ripping up into tiny pieces a major reserved papal excommunication ever have been such a total doddle? Oodles of Mercy for Williamson toties quoties!!! How will the Wolves handle that possibility? By discovering, d'you think, some handy canonical small-print meaning that the Jubilaeic Mercy will be just a trifle less all-embracing than the Holy Father clearly intends? Wait for it!

12 April 2015

Regensburg (2)

So when Benedict XVI said that the LXX is "an independent textual witness", he was saying that, in any attempt to reconstruct an 'original text' of the Old Testament, the LXX is just as respectable piece of evidence as the MT (the Hebrew texts used in modern synagogues). The Reformation view that the 'Scriptures' should be translated from the 'authentic Hebrew Original' is a gross oversimplification. That's Common Sense, if you think about it: why should Hebrew manuscripts which date from hundreds of years AD be prioritised above the now lost Hebrew manuscripts which the Jewish translators in Alexandria two or three centuries BC had in front of them on their desks? Why should the LXX, 'the Bible' which S Paul knew and used, be viewed as inferior to the much later MT? Indeed: let me digress from the main thrust of my argument to say that it may well also have been Christ's Bible: the assumption that the Lord Himself always spoke Aramaic (or Hebrew) is dubious in view of the fact that he lived very near a large Greek city in a bilingual Palestine. (And did you know that the notices in the Temple at Jerusalem were in Greek?) S Mark records, in his Greek Gospel, that Christ spoke in Aramaic to the girl he raised to life and to the dumb man whom he cured. The most obvious conclusion to draw from that is that he normally spoke Greek but reverted to the local language, Aramaic, when raising a young girl or curing a handicapped man. In bilingual societies, it is common for the cosmopolitan international language of the world of men and of great affairs (English; Greek; French) to occupy a different sociological niche from that occupied by the old local language of hearth and family (Welsh; Aramaic; S Bernadette's Gascon). It was as a toddler that the Incarnate Word would have heard from his Mother the Aramaic term for Daddy, Abba. It was the language of mothers and children.

The LXX, then, is not a bit like old uncle Bob, of whom in polite company we are rather ashamed because of his uncouth manners ("It's the way he burps and dribbles as he eats his rice pudding with his mouth open ..."). And Alexandria (with which the LXX is associated) symbolises the height of Greek culture and civilisation. Athens had in comparison become something of a backwater. Alexandria was wealthy and sophisticated and it sucked into itself the artistic and literary resources of the Greek world. Its library, founded and sustained by royal patronage, was the greatest in the world. Its Librarians were the great scholars of Hellenistic antiquity. And its Jewish community was wealthy and humane and powerful and a patron of the arts. This is why Pope Benedict was right to see the LXX as a synthesis of Greek and Jewish erudition. And he was right to see this cultural marriage as "a distinct and important step in the history of Revelation".  It is not without the hand of Providence that S Paul was soaked in the LXX; that Christianity rode around the Mediterranean on the back of the LXX.
One more section of this to come.