18 December 2014

Are the Clergy properly formed?

Roman Pontiffs do not commonly sign their Magisterial documents on the High Altar of S Peter's in the presence of the body of Cardinals. But S John XXIII thus promulgated his Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia, 1962, in which he insisted that the Latin language must remain central to the culture of Western Christianity. What more could the good old gentleman have done?

That Letter was praised by B Paul VI (Studia Latinitatis, 1964, " ... principem obtinere locum dicenda sane est"), who was anxious that seminarians "magna cum cura et diligentia ad antiquas et humanas litteras informentur"; and S John Paul II (Sapientia Christiana) emphasised the requirement for knowlege of Latin "for the faculties of the Sacred Sciences, so that students can understand and use the sources and documents of the Church". More recently Benedict XVI (Latina lingua, 2012), praised Veterum sapientia as having been issued iure meritoque: it is to be taken seriously both because of its legal force and because of the intrinsic merit of its arguments; and in his Encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis wrote specifically about the need for seminarians to be taught Latin. We have, in other words, a coherent expectation in the teaching of popes S John XXIII, B Paul VI, S John Paul II, and Benedict XVI that all seminarians should become proficient in Latin, the language of the Church. And the attitude of the popes to the promotion of Latin studies in even broader contexts than that of the formation of the clergy is demonstrated in the establishment by B Paul VI of a Latin Academy; a foundation re-established and strengthened by Benedict XVI.

This papal teaching by no means relates solely to the language of worship; it desires Latin to remain a living vernacular for the clergy and not least for their formation; and it is explicitly based upon the belief that, by being latinate, a clerisy will have access to a continuity of culture. My post would have to be very long indeed if it quoted fully all the words of all four popes to this effect. Coming as I do from the Anglican Patrimony, I will instead share the witness of C S Lewis's Devil Screwtape, who confessed, "Since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another". And in his Pilgrim's Regress, Lewis suggests that the growing disuse of Classical languages is a Diabolical trick to isolate the educated classes from the wisdom of the Past. Both in secular culture and within the Church, there is a risk that the educated class will be cut off and imprisoned in the narrow confines of a particular culture - victims of its particular Zeitgeist. A literate clerisy is one that reads what other ages wrote, which means that it will at least be able to read Latin; and the sign of such a clerisy, in practical terms, will be that it can with ease read its Divine Office in Latin.

It is in this context that we must see the requirement of Vatican II (Sacrosanctum Concilium 101): "In accordance with the centuries-old tradition (saecularis traditio) of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in reciting the Divine Office". And it is highly significant that it goes on to make any use of the vernacular an (apparently very rare) exception which bishops can grant "only on an individual basis". One might plausibly surmise that this exception may have been envisaged as useful in areas where resources for clerical formation were limited, like the remoter parts of the 1960s Third World. I wonder how the Council Fathers - or a significant proportion of them - might have reacted to the information that in less than a decade the bishops of Western, Old, Europe (whose culture both religious and secular had been based upon Latin for nearly two millennia, the continent of the great universities in which the civilisation of the Greek and Roman worlds had been transmitted) would regard both this conciliar mandate, reinforced by the directions of the Conciliar Decree Optatam totius on seminary training, as an irrelevant dead letter. As early as 1966, B Paul VI was deploring (Sacrificium laudis) the habit of requesting dispensations for a vernacular Office.

Readers of this blog are probably familiar* with the other prescriptions of Vatican II for the retention of Latin, particularly in the Liturgy, and I will not labour the point. I emphasise that I am not basing an argument for the retention of a living Latin culture simply and nakedly upon the words of the Council. The auctoritas for that retention is very much more broadly based, as the Council Fathers themselves emphasised by calling it and invoking it as a saecularis traditio. The conciliar mandate is merely a dutiful affirmation, proper to an Ecumenical Council of the Church, of the continuity and abiding prescriptiveness of the Church's Tradition; the guarantee making explicit that in an age of revolutions the old assumptions are still in place. Without these words of the Council, it might have been plausibly argued by ill-disposed persons that a radical cultural and intellectual shift had invalidated previous assumptions. In view of the plain language of the Council, such a thesis can only be advanced as a deliberate repudiation of the explicit words of an Ecumenical Council ... as well as of the centuries preceding it and of the teaching of subsequent popes. 

But a few days ago I met a bright and recently ordained young priest who had been taught "a little Greek but not a word of Latin". And, early in 2014, one of our English Catholic archbishops, in an engagingly matter-of-fact sort of way, explained why he would not require all his clergy to learn how to celebrate the Vetus Ordo. After other (in my view, thoroughly understandable) reasons for his attitude, he also gave this one: "You have to be practical as well. There is the Latin to learn ...". Really? What a very interesting cat to let out of the bag! So, despite Canon 249 (in the post-Conciliar Code of Canon Law), the clergy have not all learned, and are not now all being taught, Latin as part of their seminary formation?

Well, of course they all haven't so learnt, and are not all being so taught. Everybody knows that. A priest of my acquaintance once wrote to me "When I was a seminarian in the 1980s, the very fact of having done a course in Latin at University was considered tantamount to a declaration in favour of Archbishop Lefebvre. A priest who gave a retreat (a prominent moral theologian of those days) searched our places in choir and denounced those who possessed Latin Breviaries as certainly having no vocation". One can hardly blame the present generation of English bishops for a problem which looks as though it arose more than half a century ago (in any case, blame is not my purpose). Indeed, I have heard that matters may now be a little less bad. But not, I believe, everywhere, and certainly not for all seminarians. Surely Catholic Bishops have some say about the syllabuses taught in seminaries? Surely they have some responsibility for the formation of their own clergy? Are they happy that seminaries are run in a way which pays only very selective regard to the Magisterium of S John XXIII, so recently canonised? And to the Second Vatican Council, which (vide Optatam totius 13) laid emphasis on the role of Latin in seminary education: or is that particular Conciliar document now to be consigned to oblivion? B Paul VI, so recently beatified, as the first in his list of academic priorities for seminarians, wrote "The cultural formation of the young priest must certainly include an adequate knowledge of languages  and especially of Latin (particularly for those of the Latin Rite)." (Summi Dei verbum.) There has long been a tacit assumption among some that the Magisterium of the 'pre-Conciliar popes' is to be quietly forgotten. Pius IX? Pius XII? Who were they? One might be forgiven for wondering whether the Magisterium of the Council itself, and the teaching of the 'post-Conciliar popes', are now also (when it suits) being treated with similar contempt. Are these more recent Pontiffs to be elaborately honoured with Beatifications and break-neck-speed Canonisations and facile rhetoric, while their actual teaching, emphatically and insistently given, is tossed aside as irrelevant or impractical?

"There just isn't room on the syllabus for any of that". Is there not? I have met significant numbers of clergy who have deplored the fact that, at seminary, they were robbed of what the Catholic Church regards as the first building block of a priestly formation. They seemed to have in mind quite number of useless topics which could profitably have been omitted so as to liberate syllabus time.

Cardinal Basil Hume, back in the 1990s, reminded Anglican enquirers that "Catholicism is table d'hote, not a la carte". Surely that gives an ex-Anglican some right to wonder whether this principle also applies as much to those who run or supervise seminaries as it does to Anglican enquirers?

A final quotation from S John XXIII. "The teachers ... in universities or seminaries are required to speak Latin (latine loqui tenentur) and to make use of textbooks written in Latin. Those whose ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for them to obey these instructions shall gradually be replaced by teachers who are suited to this task (in eorum locum doctores ad hoc idonei gradatim sufficiantur). Any difficulties that may be advanced by students or professors must be overcome (vincantur necesse est) either by the patient insistence of the bishops or religious superiors, or by the good will of the teachers."

And a final question: how many of those currently teaching in English seminaries are idonei?
*ADDENDUM  Somebody has written to me claiming that "Vatican II ... mandated more extensive use of vernacular languages in the liturgy". Sacrosanctum concilium para 54 says 'Linguae vernaculae in Missis cum populo celebratis congruus locus tribui possit'. Doesn't sound to me much like a 'mandate'. Not even 'potest'! It goes on to say 'praesertim' and mentions the readings. Then, much more cautiously, it raises the possibility of the vernacular 'even' (etiam) 'in partibus quae ad populum spectant' linking this with a specific requirement that the laity should also be able to sing and say those selfsame parts in Latin. One hell of a 'mandate' for the vernacular! Rather, a nervously tentative partial permission. In my 5th paragraph, I said that I presumed readers knew what the Council laid down about Latin in the liturgy. Apparently, I was very wrong. Ah, well, can't win them all! Take nothing for granted.

17 December 2014

Midwives, Conscience, and Abortion in the British Supreme Court

" ' Participate' in my view means taking part in a 'hands on' capacity".
Thus the Court dismissed the appeal of two Catholic midwives who are not prepared, even in a solely administrative capacity, to organise and supervise abortions.

What a shame these judges were not around in time to defend that poor Adolf Eichmann when the Israelis so unfairly tried and hanged him for organising the transportation of Jews to the Death Camps. And they would have been really in their element during the Nuremburg trials, defending the bureaucrats who masterminded the war crimes.

But stay: it is not too late. If the International Criminal Court ever finds itself trying former tyrants who gave orders for genocide, these judicial jokers will be invaluable to the defence teams.

Memo to all those contemplating crimes against humanity: OK, dears, as long as you aren't HANDS ON.

OZ and pervert priests and Celibacy

It is a sound rule never to criticise the words of others unless one has read them carefully and in full. So I Fess Up now, and apologise in advance, if my admitted failure to do this has led to my being unfair in what follows.

Rumour has it, back here in far-away Blighty, that a report  generated somewhere within the Australian Catholic Church has raised a question about a possible relationship between the law of Celibacy, the style of Formation of the Catholic Clergy: and clerical sexual abuse of minors.

If such possibilities were to be explored further and in greater depth, I am in the happy position of being able to suggest a number of extremely helpful lines of enquiry.
(1) It seems to me, anecdotally and from my own experience in my four decades in the Anglican Priesthood, that there is quite a bit of sexual abuse in the Church of England (and that it is by no means confined to unmarried clergy). Australian investigators might like to begin their researches by reading the reports about the scandals and cover-ups in the diocese of Chichester, and those relating to the former Dean of Manchester. Much of this is available online. And the Church of England has not imposed celibacy for some 450 years, and trains its clergy in quite a different way from the Catholic Church. Just as medical researchers like to have 'control groups', so might those researching clerical sexual perversion.
(2) Over here, recently, the Scouts have been paying out big time for abuse by Scoutmasters. Indeed, since the 1920s, if not earlier, 'scoutmasters' have been a common source of vulgar jocosity with regard to paederasty. No law of celibacy there. The Scouts could provide another 'control group'.
(3) Our own much loved Beeb has recently had ginormously large problems in this area. Sir Jimmy Savilles appear, in the past at least, to have carpeted the studios wall to wall! Another culprit sentenced just yesterday. Not much evidence of a law of celibacy in Broadcasting House! A veritably magnificent potential 'control group'.
(4) Our late Holy Father Pope Benedict advanced the theory that the promotion by those teaching in seminaries, during and after the 1960s, of 'relativistic' theories regarding ethical issues, in which nothing is per se wrong, may have contributed to the problem of what, rather neatly, he called 'the filth'. This intellectual fashion cannot be the entire cause of sexual delinquency among Catholic Clergy down the ages; after all, for centuries, Roman Pontiffs were obliged to legislate against Sollicitatio (although that seems generally to have applied to delicts with adult women). But, I would have thought, the suggestion is well worth going into.
(5) Since the 1960s, there has been much talk about mercy, and forgiveness, and similar very splendid things. It has been an era in which we have been urged not to be too preoccupied with sin, particularly sexual sin. A Catholic priest with much professional competence in this area has explained to me that one psychological reason for the bitter hatred of the Extraordinary Form among senior clergy of a certain age has been that they associate it with a cruel, rigid, sin-obsessed sex-proccupied form of Catholicism upon which they look back with fear and detestation. So: 'merciful' bishops were disinclined to 'ruin' a priest for 'just one lapse', or even two or three. Or four. After all, as we have been informed over and over again, sexual sins are not the only sorts of sins; spiritual sins such as Pride, and sins against Social Justice, are far more displeasing in the sight of God than mere lapses from Chastity. Our Oz friends could look into the problem of 'liberal' bishops as well.
(6) My own, again anecdotal, experience has inclined me to think that 'charismatic' leaders, admired by the media and surrounded by adoring groupies, can be peculiarly vulnerable to sexual temptation. J F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and, within the Church, bishop Eamonn Casey ... and Fr Macial Maciel ... and Fr Lelio Cantini ... spring to mind; and one bishop of my acquaintance in the Church of England was another. He was held in such tremendously high regard, not least in the very highest reaches of the British Establishment, that after acknowledging his guilt, accepting a police warning, and resigning his diocese, he immediately started spreading it around that he was completely innocent, but had pleaded guilty to save the Church the embarrassment of a public trial. This claim was accepted by people unwilling to face up to the fact that they had been gullible dupes. So plausible was he that his one-time diocesan superior, when he came later to write his own autobiography, roundly asserted the total innocence of his fellow-bishop and put the entire episode down to a Wicked Plot. I think psychometric experts should examine with even more than their usual acuity candidates for ordination who are at the extreme 'extrovert' end of the spectrum. Oz could look into this side of things as well.
(7) I sometimes wonder if somebody should keep an eye on the troubling question of false or possibly false accusations, sometimes, conceivably, financially generated.
(8) A competent historian might be able to unearth interesting parallels between the present atmosphere, and the use, by the National Socialists, of sexual allegations in order to discredit the clergy and the Catholic Church.
(9) Finally, a somewhat dangerous suggestion. Some say that the pervert priest phenomenon sometimes relates to activity with teenage boys rather than with those properly called children, and in some such cases should be seen as a product of a homosexual orientation. This suggestion creates great outcries of "Homophobia!!". Ideological promoters of homosexualism as a political cause mercilessly persecute anybody guilty of such talk (which, indeed, certainly ought not to be spread thickly around with an indiscriminate brush of generalisation). But if, down in Oz, they really do want to get this business sussed, they should leave no stone unturned. Brave the inevitable huffing and puffing and examine this one too!

Perhaps readers will be able to add (10), (11), and (12)? I'm sure the Wise Men from the Oz could do with all the help they can get.
ADDENDUM Somebody keeps writing to me about the iniquity of using the existence of abuse in other groups as a justification for the toleration of abuse in the Church. My point, which I made three times, was that anybody who wanted to do a scientific investigation about alleged links between Celibacy and Pedophilia should do what researchers in other disciplines do: use 'control groups' to discern whether there is a statistical correlation. If a reader can't understand this, then, frankly, there is little point in us dialoguing.

16 December 2014

The Papacy and Nuclear Deterrence

I have long felt uneasy about the state of the Church's Magisterium on the two moral questions (linked but very definitely 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 ('Bomb them') Spellman ... the one who said Mass but once a year and was dispensed from the Divine Office. [[UPDATE: a friend has queried this; and I have been unable to support these two assertions, which I thought I knew, via Google. Does anybody have any ideas?]] America and the Vatican 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 would not have been in the Spirit of that alliance. But I may very well be wrong. I so often am.

Under S John Paul II, the Church 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. But he was 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 an irruption of Russian tanks and infantry across the plains of North Germany.

And so I was rather 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 which the Roman Pontiff will return to, and, so to speak, firm up.

More than two decades ago, Germaine Grisez, John Finnis*, 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 are infallible; or that the magisterium of the Church has formally uttered such a judgement. I wish it had.

But I do suggest that those who disagree with me should first have read the Grisez/Finnis/Boyle book, and be able to explain to themselves ... and hoffentlich to others ... exactly where (in their view) its logical faults lie.
A part of a version of this piece appeared in 2010, and some of the comments on the thread date from that time.
*Finnis, in the letters columns of the Tablet, brilliantly hunted down Peter Hebblethwaite and proved that in his account of S John XXIII's inaugural address to Vatican II, Hebblethwaite had ... lied.

15 December 2014


(A slightly abbreviated reprint of a piece I published a year ago.)

Er ... yes ... sesqui ... well, according to my trusty Oxford Latin Dictionary sesqui is a conflation of sems, an earlier form of the word that became in Classical Latin semi(s), meaning half, and the enclitic (meaning you tack it on the end of the next word) -que, meaning and. So sesqui- is a prefix meaning "and a half". So


means 150 years on, a century and a half.

2014/2015 will be the Sesquicentenary of the Syllabus Errorum of B Pius IX.

 On December 8, 1864, B Pius IX issued his Encyclical Quanta cura; and, apparently at his direction, an (anonymous) collection of 80 theses, already condemned by Roman Pontiffs in earlier Magisterial interventions, was published simultaneously. In some circles "the Syllabus of Errors" is regarded as the quintessential epitome of reactionary ecclesiastical obscurantism; you have to say the very words in the same tones of hushed horror as "the Inquisition". But I am sure that a special Commission has been put together in Rome to organise this Year in which the Universal Church will be called upon to celebrate, to study, to reappropriate the teaching handed down on the instructions of Papa il Conte Mastai-Ferreti. This blog will, as ever, merely follow humbly the lead of the Magisterium, or, if that lead is a trifle late coming, will examine as best it can one or two hermeneutical questions arising from this laudable document.

I shall eventually come on to remarks upon the Syllabus from the pen of our own beloved Patrimonial Patron B John Henry Newman. But I would like to begin, again out of pietas, with a quotation from another, later, distinguished Anglican Patristic scholar, Dr Trevor Jalland, a predecessor of mine as pp of S Thomas the Martyr in Oxford (Ecclesia Sancti Thomae iuxta ferriviam, as the common folk call it). It was in his Bampton Lectures before this University in 1942 that Fr Jalland launched a public, academic, campaign of attrition designed to undermine the great edifice of anti-papal bigotry which lurked and still lurks today in the guts of so many million of our fellow-countrymen (good mixed metaphors, yes?). These are Jalland's words about the Syllabus:
" ...what many of its detractors failed to appreciate was that the real object of the Pope's attack was not freedom but licence, not reason but rationalism, not state sovereignty but secularism ... If the more determined critics of the nineteenth-century Papacy could have foreseen the present-day progress of secularism, they might have been more willing to recognise that the Syllabus, in spite of its evident limitations, had as its purpose that characteristic aim of Roman pronouncements, namely, the preservation of a via media amid the conflicting claims of modern society, between absolutism and anarchy, between theocracy  and atheism. Indeed, it is not difficult to find in this supposedly reactionary document a few at least of the principles on which a modern enlightened democratic regime is based."

I have no doubt that Dr Jalland is part of that great Anglican Patrimony which our Holy Father the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wished the Ordinariates to bring into the unity of the Church, for the benefit and enlightenment of the entire Church. Audite eum!

14 December 2014


Since our beloved Holy Father is reported to have enjoyed Mgr Benson's apocalyptic novel Lord of the World, I thought I had better read it ... truth to tell, His Holiness's ideology and strategy still leave me in a state of some incomprehension; if anything is going to help me, I thought, to acquire the key to his mind, perhaps this volume might; and so I ought to give it a try.

I don't know that it has helped. Pope Francis does quite often mention the Devil, and this novel certainly takes seriously the personal power of Evil. And, I think in future, I will keep my eyes open in case his utterances indicate a belief that the End is very imminent. But the novel's profound conviction is that, in the Final Apostasy, Mankind is to be divided very radically between those who fall for Satan and the Antichrist, and those who reject them and adhere to the Catholic Church; and I don't think this idea comes out in the current Roman Pontiff's utterances. Still, perhaps I have been careless and obtuse in failing to detect this subtext. I will examine what he says more carefully in future for signs of what, back in the 1960s, our lecturers used to call Unrealised and Imminent Eschatology.

Entertainingly, one can find a hint in Mgr Benson's oeuvre of the Ordinariates! In his world, Protestantism has evaporated, squeezed out, and all that is left facing the Antichrist is the Church. So, realignment has occurred: the 'Ritualists' went over from the Church of England when the Nicene Creed was abolished (no; Benson does not foresee the gender errors and dysfunctions symbolised by the Ordination of women) and, during the course of the narrative ... while clergy of the diocese of Westminster, and surviving old Recusant families, fall into apostasy and have to be excommunicated ... the Bishop of Carlisle and half-a-dozen of his clergy enter the Church. (It will be remembered that the Monsignore, God bless him, was an ex-Anglican ... one of us ...)

Benson did not foresee the rise of the Great Dictators and their passionate love-affairs with Death. His dystopia was written in 1907, and, true, his fantasy world is richly endowed with Euthanasia (which my OED indicates was first used in its modern sense of murder in 1869). But he could not know that Hitler was to give all that sort of thing a terribly bad name, and that it would be half a century or more after 1945 before the Death Movement fully got all its courage back.

I don't think this book is great literature, but it is a decided cut above most of what is offered for us to read nowadays. I'm extremely glad the Holy Father enjoyed it. If he wants to enjoy more of our very fine English-language fiction, and thus acquire a taste for our Anglo-Saxon sense of humour, I would recommend a Lenten retreat spent in the Close at Barchester and a tour around the Ireland of Miss Nugent and Castle Rackrent, followed by a sabbatical year or two in Shrewsbury College Oxford with long, lazy, bibulous vacations spent at Brideshead playing croquet, riding to hounds, and celebrating the Extraordinary Form in the Art Nouveau Chapel which Lord Melstead* has recently restored.

What would be your recommendations? (Comments nominating Blandings Castle will not be enabled; the current Lord Emsworth has not joined the Ordinariate.)
* Transpontine readers may welcome an explanation of who this gentleman is. Upon the extinction of the Hanoverian Marquisate of Marchmain and the Earldom of Brideshead, the 1415 Barony by writ of summons survived by having passed through a woman in a cadet (and Recusant) branch of the Flyte family. His Lordship is the 23rd Baron, and he inherited Brideshead (there being no entail) under the will of his fourth cousin twice removed, Lady Julia Flyte. His grandfather had recouped the family's finances by marrying a Transpontine heiress and his own daughter has married a Russian oligarch. Consequently, there are no financial constraints to force the House to open to the Public, and its Lodges are manned by heavily armed Slavic security personnel, rendering it a safe and agreeable residence for any Sovereign Pontiff where he would not be troubled by common ordinary folk.

13 December 2014

Veritatis Splendor and the CIA

Veritatis splendor is, surely, the high point of the pontificate of S John Paul II 'the Great'. In it he did what Roman Pontiffs are paid to do: he refuted and condemned the errors of the age; he maintained the Great Paradosis; and he showed himself a remora against heterodoxy and heteropraxy and their corrupting innovations.

The principal error that he cast down was in the ethical field. Since the sixties, there have been proliferating and fashionable ethical theories which converge on the notion that there are no moral absolutes. Proportionalism ... Situation Ethics ... Consequentialism ... the Fundamental Option ... But the Holy Pontiff robustly asserted that there are actions "which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed 'intrinsically evil [intrinsice malum]'; they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances" (para 80). Adroitly, he went on to give a list of such acts taken from Gaudium et Spes (para 27). We have at work here, quite clearly and unambiguously, the infallible Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, of the Successor of S Peter and, cum Petro et sub Petro, of the Bishops of the Oikoumene.

This is, surely, where we orthodox Catholics stand. For example: Abortion is wrong, period. Even if the foetus is abnormal. Even if it is conceived as a result of rape, incest, or abuse, or there appears to be a need to act in order to save the life of another human being. Because it is never licit directly to intend to take an innocent human life. Nothing is left to be said. Diximus.

But Abortion is not the only sin listed in that passage of Gaudium et spes which Papa Wojtila made his own. 'Physical and mental torture' is there too. In the last few days, since that Senate Report about the CIA came out, I have witnessed a number of people being interviewed on the British media, who, while deeming Torture to be not normally right, have said that, if torturing a terrorist could prevent another Twin Towers atrocity in which thousands of people would be killed and even more left damaged in mind and body, Torture would be the lesser of the evils.

No. No End ever justifies an intrinsically evil Means. And some acts are intrinsically evil, no matter how much good may prudently be foreseen to be the future likely result of committing them. That is the Catholic Faith. And it applies to the deeds perpetrated in the extra-legal Black Prisons maintained by the CIA ... or by anybody else in the service of any other country ... as well as to the killings of the unborn in those dark Satanic Abortion Mills.

Deeds that are done in secret ...

12 December 2014

December 26: Friday Abstinence in England and Wales?

On 16 October this year, the Catholic Herald announced that a spokesperson of the CBCEW had stated that Boxing Day, which this year is a Friday, is not a day of Abstinence. "To consider St Stephen's Day or Boxing Day as a day of abstinence would not be compatible with the festive and celebratory nature of the Christmas Octave ... An octave is an ongoing celebration of the two highest ranking solemnities of the Liturgical Year ... it is contrary to the mentality of what an octave is to consider one of its days as penitential ... Octaves are weeks of joy, not abstinence, even though the Easter Octave ranks unambiguously higher than that of Christmas."

Of course, this question of December 26 falling on a Friday had not arisen for a quarter of a century, since the Friday Abstinence was modified in 1985 and only restored by the English and Welsh bishops in 2011.

There are practical questions involved, not least the Domestic Duty of Eating Up the Remains of the Goose. But, interestingly, the statement makes clear that the ruling applies not just to a Boxing Day which falls on a Friday, but, every yearto whichever day in the Octave of Christmas is a Fridayas well as to the Friday within the Octave of Easter. In addition, of course, Canon 1251 makes clear that Solemnities falling on a Friday throughout the year are not days of Abstinence*.

It is, surely, a Probable Opinion that the Friday within the Octave of Pentecost would not be a day of Abstinence in communities and households in which the Pentecost Octave, surviving in the 1962 Missal and Breviary, is observed. On the other hand, it is an Ember Friday!
* So, in the Year 2015, the following Fridays are not days of Abstinence: April 10; June 12; December 25; January 1 2016. Where a National or Diocesan or Ordinariate or Parochial Patron is observed as a Solemnity and falls on a Friday, that Friday is not a day of Abstinence.

11 December 2014

Papa Coggan?

At a time when B Paul VI was dying, in 1977, Archbishop Donald Coggan made an official visit to Rome. Coggan, it seems, was in an emotional state. He had recently been to Papua New Guinea, where hordes of Catholics had received Communion at his hands, and the local Catholic Bishop, in floods of tears, had embraced him afterwards and said "It will be even better next time you come".

So, preaching in Rome, Coggan called, in effect, for 'Intercommunion' now. He did so as a good, deeply sincere and well-meaning Christian, of very Protestant origins, who had moved a great distance from his background. He simply did not realise how his peremptory, even if praiseworthy, call would be received. Perhaps he thought that this was the moment to cut through Gordian knots; a moment of Grace when a heart-felt call could move a 400 year old log-jam. Perhaps he believed in a God of Surprises!

I thought of Coggan as I watched those clips of Pope Francis seeking a blessing from the Ecumenical Patriarch, 'both for himself and for the Church of Rome'. Here was another good, deeply sincere and well-meaning Christian who was trying to make a dynamic gesture for that most worthy of causes, the Unity of God's people. My assumption is that he meant his request as a captatio benevolentiae: behold, the Successor of S Peter bows himself down to receive the blessing of another ... does not the Letter to the Hebrews make clear that the lesser is blessed by the greater? Had not his chum and 'fellow-bishop' Justin Welby been dead chuffed when he had been asked to bless the Bishop of Rome?

I do not think that this move had been checked out with His All-Holiness beforehand; the Patriarch's action of smiling and kissing the Pope's skull cap looked for all the world like the kindly, indulgent gesture of a wise parent whose impetuously unrealistic child had suddenly asked for a space-rocket in which to go to Pluto and back before nursery school tomorrow morning.

Why is this a tricky area?

There are sections of Orthodoxy which do not approve of gestural politics implying that Jorge Bergoglio is, for Orthodox, the canonical Bishop of Rome. Holding to their belief that Orthodoxy is the One (and only) Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, they neither understand nor sympathise with the whole ecumenical project. Some of them baptise converts from the Latin Church and even do this to former non-Orthodox who have already been received into another Orthodox jurisdiction by the sphragis. I wonder if the Experts of the Pontifical Council are keeping the Pope briefed on the progress of the petition which is at this moment collecting signatures from Greek clergy and academics who violently disagree with what did go on last month in the Phanar ... a document which has already secured the signatures of several metropolitans of the Church of Greece, and which raises the question of removing the name of Patriarch Bartholomew from the diptychs. Since a number of Greek bishoprics are still under the Patriarch and are not technically part of the Autocephalous Church of Greece, this could even involve contentious feelings among Orthodox Christians within Greece. One of these bishoprics is that of the Holy Mountain.

So, officially blessing the 'Church of Rome' (whether that means the Diocese of Rome or, by synecdoche, the whole 'Papic Church', is not very important) is an act about which any Ecumenical Patriarch might well wish to think extremely carefully. Francis probably intended his request to be seen as yet another example of his far-famed 'humility' without realising that there are Orthodox who would understand it as an aggressive and cunning plot to secure validation for the hairesis papike.

If the Holy Father did this without seeking professional advice from his ecumenical advisers in the PCCU, then I think that there ought to be someone in Rome with the guts to explain quietly to him, man to man, a few of the ecumenical complexities. Folks report that nobody says or does much in Rome these days because, if they are deemed to have put a foot wrong, they might find themselves in uncomfortable disfavour. When a game of musical chairs is going on among the Heads of Dicasteries, this may be an even more nervous time than usual. Fair enough. But is there nobody, apart from Burke, big enough to put the interests of the Church before their curial careers by making an individual approach to the Holy Father?

If, on the other hand, the Sovereign Pontiff had taken advice, and been given the OK, then I think some more curial heads, this time in the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, ought to roll.

10 December 2014

End of Marbles (4)

There is one, just one, rather interesting argument for the 'uniqueness' of the Acropolis Marbles which rises above the banal and the pathetic. At the risk of being accused of deftly constructing my own Aunt Sally so that I can triumphantly knock Her down, I will attempt a summary of what I understand the thesis to be.

"The art and architecture of Periclean Athens constitute precisely the triumphant and uniquely significant moment of the Classical Period in Greek Art. It soared above the rather wooden Archaic Period which preceded it. It was at its height until the brutally militaristic Macedonian Ascendancy destroyed Athenian democracy and independence. What followed it was simply 'Hellenistic decadence'".

The subjectivism of this attitude is, I would have thought, fairly obvious. Who says that any one Art History 'period' is superior (which is what 'classical' really means) to any other? Personally, I prefer the 'Hellenistic' period (Alexander the Great onwards), both in terms of Art (Pythocritos of Lindos) and Literature (Callimachus); and the continuities which link it to Roman Art and Literature. I am absolutely fascinated by the wonders emerging at this very moment from the soil of Macedonia; and I am still reeling from the enormous loan exhibition of 'new' Hellenistic art and artefacts from Macedonia which the Greek Ministry of Antiquities, with such immensely gracious generosity, sent to the Ashmolean two or three years ago. It is in Royal Macedon that great Palaces were designed and built which were imitated in the palaces of Rome and the Bay of Naples (and in Herod's seaside palace in Palestine, and in the palace of another client king at Fishbourne in Sussex).

Other Greek cities, besides Athens, were great political and cultural centres. Miletus had some 90 colonies ... far more than Athens. It was the birthplace of the Greek philosophical (which is to be taken to include what we would call Scientific) tradition called the 'Milesian School'. It is where Greek 'Town planning' was invented. It was a great city in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods; the birthplace, indeed, of the architect of Hagia Sophia (surely a much more significant architectural expression of the Hellenic spirit than the Parthenon?). It possessed a very remarkable structure of its own called the 'Market Gate' ... which was dismantled in toto and re-erected in a museum in Berlin. Why don't the Clooneys go and sit on Mrs Merkel's doorstep and demand its 'return'? What's that you say? ... that the site of Miletus is in modern-day Turkey? Well, of course it is. Everybody knows that. 'Hellas' was a very much bigger thing than the limits of the modern Greek Nation State. So what?

Let me explain where the myth of the uniqueness, and the effortless superiority, of Periclean Athens come from. Victorian Schoolmasters. British Imperialism, at its apogee, identified itself with Periclean Athens. Boys were set to read its texts ... Thucydides and Aeschylus and Sophocles and Aristophanes ... and to write prose and verse in Attic Greek of the 'Classical Period' ... you get the idea. That was the moment in Greek History which seemed so uniquely parallel to the grandeur of the high noon of the British Empire. Schoolboys were invited to absorb the moral Virtues held to be embedded in 'Classical Greek Civilisation'. They hurried from reading Xenophon to winning battles on the playing fields of Eton. Play up! Play up! And play the Game!

Just as ... I explained this in the previous part of this series ... I do not see why Greeks need to form their identity in the matrix of the Western European 'Enlightenment', I also fail to understand why some of them seem so helplessly entranced by the arrogant ideology of British Imperialism and bewitched by the fagging-and-flogging culture of the Arnoldian Public School. The World would respect them so much more if, culturally, they would just stand on their own two feet. In conclusion, let me remind you what those Two Feet are.

I hope that the recovery, in our own day, of an understanding of the marvels of the Royal Establishment in Macedonia, will stir up among Greeks proud and confident memories of when Macedon conquered the World ... well, as far as India, anyway ... and planted its culture in the Alexandrias and the Antiochs and Seleucias which crowd all over the maps of the Middle East; and then, intellectually and artistically, took Rome captive. It should remind the Athenians that 'Greece' is not synonymous with 'Athens' ... a very necessary lesson. And I pray for a realisation by its true heirs of how this scintillating civilisation formed a marriage with Byzantine Christianity, resulting in one of the most amazing syntheses the world has ever seen.

Callimachus and the Akathist Hymn! Both infinitely beyond the capacities of any lesser nation!

A henotikon: the BM could loan Athens half a dozen pieces at a time in rotating exhibitions, changing every 5/10 years or so. This would mean that, if Athens decided to break its word and not send one lot back, then, true, London would have lost six pieces, but it would know better than to send any more pieces across. And where London has tiny fragments 'belonging' to a large fragment held in Athens, perhaps they could be sent on semi-permanent loan (and ditto, mutatis mutandis, the other way round). And both the Athens museum, and the Acropolis, should be open to all, free of charge.

Then we could see how the arrangement developed ...

9 December 2014

Professor Peter Geach

There is to be an Anniversary Requiem in the Traditional Roman Rite for the late Professor Peter Geach. It will be at S Bede's, Clapham Park, at noon on Saturday December 20.

Many readers will be aware that Geach was a philosopher of distinction; he converted to Catholicism in the early 1940s while reading Greats at Oxford ... and married a no less distinguished philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe, who also converted while reading Greats. The Geaches formed a last link with one of the principal philosophers of the twentieth century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and helped to ensure that he had a priest at his bedside and received a Catholic burial. Quorum omnium animabus propitietur Deus.

Fuit Oxonia. Non sumus quales eramus ...

In reply to a query on the thread ... the young Geach did indeed proclaim King Robert I & IV, in 1937, standing on the steps of the Martyrs' Memorial, wearing his scholar's gown and doffing his academic cap. He was not arrested. Not even by a stray passing bulldog. Newspapers as far afield as Texas and the Malay Straits as well as in England covered the event. It would be very jolly to know whom the fifty-odd gathering of undergraduates included.

Marbles (3)

This series continues.
There are detailed reasons why the return of the Marbles to Athens would be pointless. Some people, for example, are under the impression that the metopes would be replaced upon the Parthenon, thus giving back its artistic integrity to an important building. But they would not. The Greeks plan simply to put them into a museum ... with a distant view of the Acropolis!! ... thus shifting them from one museum to another and leaving the gaps on the Temple itself still completely empty! And there is no reason why a Principle of Return should not apply to the contents of all the great museums of the West ... to the Venus de Milo in Paris, or the very classy exhibits secured by the Getty dollars. True, the Greek Government has given assurances that it would urge no such precedent. For myself, I do believe those who, in this generation, are giving these assurances. But such undertakings, hardly enforceable in, say, two hundred years' time, surely rest upon the pragmatic realisation that it is not a good idea to fight on too many fronts at the same time; and upon a policy of maximising international sympathy for their campaign against the Brits ... after all, who doesn't enjoy seeing the Brits getting a bit of grief? Certainly not FIFA ... but I digress ...

The widespread notion that the Marbles are somehow unique is based principally upon modern concepts of the Nation State. It implies that because Athens is the Capital of the modern Greek Nation State, therefore the Acropolis is the very heart of the identity of what it means to be Hellenic. But, far from being ancient, this idea is recent ... in fact, nineteenth century. Ancient Greece was not a Nation State. And Athens was not its capital. Athens was just one city-state among very many others (the Romans didn't even make it the capital of their province of Achaea, and Constantine set his new capital somewhere else). There was a time when Athens had a short-lived 'Empire', but that was a dominion ruthlessly exercised over a number of city-states who certainly did not all gaze with sentiment at the Acropolis Hill as the centre of their own self-identification. And other states in Greece waged long and bloody wars against Athenian aggression until that imperial arrogance itself died a sordid death in the quarries of Syracuse. If these marbles did not come from a temple in the middle of the modern Greek capital but, for example, from somewhere in a Peloponesian back-of-beyond, how keen would the government be for their return? Why don't they evince any wish to get the very fine Aphaia Marbles back to Aegina from the Glyptothek in Munich? Why so little interest in the Marbles from Bassai?* (Where on earth's that? Ask George Clooney. He's the expert on all this sort of thing.)

I cannot believe that I am the only philhellene to want the Marbles to stay exactly where they are. In their magnificent home in London, they are a superb shrine and monument to the most refined tastes of the French and British and Russian 'Enlightenment', and accessible free of charge to millions from all over the world. The Acropolis Hill in Athens, white, bloodless, and ghost-like, not to mention the shiny new museum some distance away, is now of very little cultural significance. After all, the original appearance of the Parthenon would have been dramatically polychromatic ... the passion for white stone is characteristic of 'Enlightenment' aesthetics (and a taste not even shared by some of the best informed 'Enlightenment' scholars). If the Greek Government badly needs a new, tasty exhibit to get its turnstiles clicking and to distract its suffering people from their financial woes, George Clooney and his current wife (I do hope they are both still together as I write this), both stuffed, mounted, and bleached ... then slightly foxed and with the sticking-out bits distressed to make them resemble Periclean statuary ... would be very suitable. And truly unique. What a tourist attraction!!
To be concluded.
*The German nobleman who packaged up Aphaia and Bassai in 1811 had to pay a (rather small)  bribe to the local Turkish Governor to get them out of the country. Surely that ought to make their removal even more 'illegal' than Lord Elgin's activities are alleged to have been?