25 October 2014

New Sins

In Mgr Ronald Knox's brilliant collection of Essays in Satire, there is a piece about a 'Professor' who invents a new sin. Now, even Knox's brilliance has been quite superseded. Now, you see, we have completely new types, genres, of Sin. The Third Millennium has branched out into a whole novel taxonomy of Sin.

Earlier this month I approached this subject and asked three simple questions, as tests to apply to any newly fashionable theory about Sin. Here they are again:

(1) Can you square it with the Sermon on the Mount and the ethical teaching of S Paul?
(2) Can you square it with the Lord's parables about not knowing 'the Day or the Hour'?
(3) Does it apply to murderers and paedophiles?

Let me remind you what the New Casuistries teach about Sin.
(a) Graduality. "People cannot give up their Sin instantaneously. They should be given the time, and the grace of the sacraments, to wean themselves off it gradually."
(b) Acceptance without Approval. "Remarried divorcees may be in a position to which the Church cannot give formal approval; but she may welcome them as they are into her Sacramental life."
(c) Elements of truth. "Outside the relationship of heterosexual monogamy, other models of relationship exist in which important elements exist of the values proper to Marriage itself: and it is these elements which we should emphasise (permanence; self-sacrificing love ...)."

Now apply Fr Hunwicke's Question (3).  Would you accept that, since a paedophile has very strong inclinations, his aim should be to work hard to abuse children less and less frequently? How do you feel about the Church accepting that some paedophiles are gentle and affectionate to the children they abuse, and that we should concentrate our attention on those good elements of gentleness and affection? Take someone with a pathological impulse to murder: would you want the Church to continue to maintain the teaching of the Ten Commandments about Murder, but, without approving of the murders, to accept the unrepentant murderer as he is?

Probably you wouldn't. Probably most people, even very liberal Catholics wouldn't, unless they are themselves paedophiles or murderers or both. Why not?

What we have is, in fact, the adoption by liberals of two quite distinct categories of Sin.  There are sins which (most people would agree) are really sinful. Such as abusing and/or killing children. The clever little games (a), (b), (c), would never be acceptable here. If somebody suggested that it really is in accordance with a nuanced Christian morality for a paedophile to abuse children as long as he does it gradually less frequently, most of us would probably kick him. However they contrive to control their behaviour, paedophiles should just give up, or genuinely try to give up, their vice. They should receive Absolution and then "Go and Sin No More".

But there is now, for the Liberals, an additional, quite different category of Sin. It consists of things which, because they are condemned by Christ or by long centuries of Christian Tradition, liberals might agree are in some sense technically sinful. But liberals do not feel that they are really wrong. So they devise sophisticated ways of avoiding the requirement of the Gospel: repentance and a firm purpose never to offend again and to avoid the occasions of Sin. Like children who have cheated and found out the answer to a sum, they start with the conclusion and then try to find the right 'workings' to get to the answer. "I want to argue that a homosexual couple may continue to live in a genitally sexual relationship: where can I find clever arguments to support that conclusion?"

                                    SO WE NOW HAVE

(I) REALLY WRONG SINS; they really turn me upside down in my tummy.

(II) SINS WHICH ARE ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG; my tummy feels completely OK about them. We've just got to find a way for the Church to shift her line without completely losing face.

Those are the two radically distinct categories of Sin in which Liberals now believe.

Neither in the Bible nor in two Christian millennia is there evidence for (II).


Bibliography: the important discussion here in the Church's Magisterium is paragraphs 79-83 of the Encyclical of S John Paul II Veritatis splendor, together with its footnoted sources. The Holy Pontiff quotes (para 81) a passage of S Augustine in which that Doctor discusses the 'absurdity' of any notion that sins done for good motives (causis bonis) might be thought of as 'sins that are justified' (iusta peccata: I think this would have to be S Augustine's Latin term for what my account above calls (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG).

The Holy Pontiff cleverly takes (para 80) the list of sins in para 27 of Gaudium et Spes and says that they are good examples of acts intrinsice mala, that is, always wrong, independent of circumstances. What is neat about this is that it includes sins which Liberals would consider (I) REALLY WRONG SINS (such as genocide, trafficking in women, slavery) and mixes them up with (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG (such as abortion). He then goes on to the intrinsically evil contraceptive acts and, in para 81, includes S Paul's condemnation (I Cor 6:9-10) of categories including the sodomised and the sodomites (malakoi, arsenokoitai).

Slips of the tongue: a frivolous interlude

How easy it is to make a slip of the tongue ... last Sunday morning, introducing Cardinal Nichols on the Radio, Edward Stourton mispronounced his name before hastily correcting himself. Ah, these freudian slips ... I've never liked Stourton ... or was it his pathetic, distinctly Lower Third Form, idea of a joke? Not a good advertisement for Ampleforth.

Incidentally, our Cardinal gave a characteristically sure-footed performance: no slips-of-the-tongue on his side. He corrected Stourton while always sounding quiet, laid-back, and reasonable. Stourton, for example, had quoted the Pope's speech at the end of the Synod as having a paragraph criticising Conservatives. Which it did. But, just like all the other journalists I have heard, Stourton did not go on to quote the following, balancing, paragraph criticising Progressives: dearie me No; that's not in their agreed narrative! Cardinal Vincent didn't let him get away with this seedy little suppressio veri cum suggestione falsi. And when, later on, Stourton, to the accompaniment of sarcastic pull-the-other-one background laughter, contrived to suggest that the Cardinal was a liar, His Eminence kept his cool. These may seem minor details, but I think it's very good for the English Church to have a Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster who is thoroughly media-savvy and thinks fast on his feet.

During Sunday's Beatification, the Holy Father referred to the Bishop of Brescia in the genitive case as 'Episcopi Brixiensi' (a mistake, actually, already in the printed Bollettino), and then seemed to say 'fratrorum' rather than 'fratrum'.

What I found interesting ... I'd never looked into this matter before ... was how much less dogma-laden the rite of Beatification is than that of Canonisation. There are none of those rather heavy suggestions that the act is pretty well guaranteed certainty by the Magisterium. Beatifications are very much more take-it-or-leave-it than Canonisations. All that we are given is the facultas of calling the candidate beatus. Presumably one may decline to avail oneself of a facultas?

Not that I would wish so to decline when the beatus we are talking about is the Pope who issued Humanae vitae, and Mysterium Fidei, and who eventually had the discernment to see through Pius XII's liturgical protegee Hannibal Bugnini and to send him packing to Tehran.

Trebles all round, as they say in Private Eye, in honour of Blessed Paul VI.

24 October 2014

Professor Roberto de Mattei and Papal authority

Writing in the aftermath of "the Synod", Professor Roberto de Mattei, perhaps the greatest Church historian of our time, wrote "Judgement, with its resulting definition of truths and condemnation of errors, is the jurisdiction par excellence of the Vicar of Christ, supreme guardian and judge of faith and morality".

These wise observations instantly put me in mind of some words of a man who had soaked himself in the history of the first Christian centuries, our own Blessed John Henry Newman:

"[I]t is one of the reproaches urged against the Church of Rome, that it has originated nothing, and has only served as a sort of remora or break in the development of doctrine. And it is an objection which I embrace as a truth; for such I conceive to be the main purpose of its extraordinary gift. ".

I feel supremely comfortable with these words; and I note that Newman is making exactly the same point as that advanced by Professor de Mattei. I have no problem with the idea of a pope who keeps anathemas under his camauro. A pontiff who issues a Syllabus of Errors seems to me a pontiff who is earning his paycheck. When Pio Nono, with the assent of Vatican I, issued his admirable negative, "The Holy Spirit was not promised to the Successors of Peter so that by his revelation they should reveal new teaching", I would have applauded. Three cheers for the author of Pascendi Dominici gregis. Cardinal Ratzinger's insistence that the Pope is but the humble servant of Tradition had me raising my glass to drink his toast. (Indeed, during his Pontificate I was rarely sober.)

Newman went on to write with approval about the the lack of creativity among the early popes: "The Church of Rome possessed no great mind in the whole period of persecution. Afterwards, for a long while, it has not a single doctor to show". The Roman Church and its bishop, long before the concept of Conciliarism was even a glint in the eye of the Emperor Constantine, were bulwarks against error, barriers against the brilliant and innovative theologians who dazzled the intellectual world, and whom we now call heretics; but those early popes were not mighty teachers. S Leo? Even he, Newman points out, was but "the teacher of one point of doctrine". S Gregory? He "has no place in dogma or philosophy". The great orthodox thinkers, writers and and preachers, the men who directed and influenced Councils, who ex consensu Ecclesiae are now its authoritative Fathers and Doctors, mostly lived far from Rome and, in many cases, were not even Bishops.

Let me put my cards on the table. The Papacy, as Dix loved to emphasise, existed before Councils, and it gave many of its greatest services to Christendom before the "Conciliar period". Its service as a remora against innovation has operated, in our own time, outside Councils and without didactic brilliance. Humanae vitae was not a great document; it was not full of the splendid and moving tropes of the inspirational teacher; it was more important than that. It simply held the line against developments which were destined to subvert the entire structure of sexuality hardwired into human nature. And its promulgation was done, against the advice of his very own Commission of Experts, by a pope whom his predecessor had described as not a little amletico.  (One might also mention his Mysterium Fidei, reaffirming Trent and putting down errors like 'Transsignification'.) Ordinatio sacerdotalis lacks any explanations whatsoever. It just makes clear, with a terseness and brevity which cannot often have been equaled in Papal documents, where error lies.

These two Papal interventions are more important than all the wordage of Vatican II. Because, unlike much of Vatican II, they do engage with, and judge, errors which were getting around and did need to be judged. "Judgement is the jurisdiction par excellence of the Vicar of Christ". (Vatican II, surely, cannot have the unbreakable for-ever authority of, say, Nicea or Trent, simply because it issued no anathemas, set in place no new doctrinal ROAD CLOSED signs, but simply addressed with openness and optimism what it called 'the World of today'.)

When B Paul VI condemned Contraception, and S John Paul II the attempted Ordination of women, this was the selfsame Papacy, acting in precisely the same way, which gave Marcion the brush-off when he turned up in Rome in the 140s with his proto-Nazi claptrap. The condemnation of Marcionism is not weakened by the fact that it rested on no "Conciliar Mandate", or by the complete absence of any brilliant teaching document issued by some wonderfully clever Roman Pontiff.

Very occasionally, a Pope is, in addition to being Pope, also an important Teacher. One thinks of Innocent III, Benedict XIV, Benedict XVI. Thank God for such rare and glorious exceptions, such uncovenanted coincidences. But they are not what the Papacy is about. At base, the Pope is the (life-saving) man who goes around sticking into the ground the notices which say BEWARE OF MINES.

That is what Pope Francis, like all his predecessors, is for. If he were ever to ask us, in his direct and unpompous way, "Hey folks! Who am I to judge?", our answer would be "THE POPE!!!")

23 October 2014

Francis on the Petrine Ministry

Towards the end of his speech concluding his Synod our Holy Father Pope Francis delivered the following very fine passage:

"Il Papa, in questo contesto, non e il signore supremo ma piuttosto il supremo servitore - il servus servorum Dei; il garante dell'ubbidienza, della conformita della Chiesa alla volonta di Dio, al Vangelo di Cristo e alla Tradizione della Chiesa, mettendo da parte ogni arbitrio personale, pur essendo - per volonta di Cristo stesso - il Pastore e Dottore supremo di tutti i fedeli (Can. 749) e pur godendo della potesta ordinaria che e suprema, piena, immediata e universale nella Chiesa".

This is reassuringly similar to the teaching I quoted recently from Cardinals Ratzinger, Burke, and Newman, and from Vatican I. Indeed, it so resembles the words of Benedict XVI that I have wondered if Francis, or his drafter, had a passage of Ratzinger before him. All splendid stuff. But there are perhaps a couple of Benedictine nuances left implicit rather than being fully expressed. I will begin with the passage about the pope as il garante.

Earlier in the speech, referring to his Synod, the Pope used similar terminology: "the presence of the Pope is the guarantee for everyone"*. In commenting on this, the great Father Zed, Archiblogopoios, acutely commented "I don't think [it is] the mere presence of the Pope that guarantees anything". I think this is a very good point to make. On Tuesday the 24 June this year, the Pope was addressing some of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Apparently (the account made available was very summary) one of the younger members of the Order, who had been moved from the FFI theological institute to study in the Roman universities, asked how he could be confident of the orthodoxy of what he was now being taught: that this was the young man's question is suggested by the statement that the Pope "then explained that the Church guarantees orthodoxy through the Pope".

But, as Fr Zed points out, the Pope is not some sort of talisman or magic totem or animistic fetich, the mere presence of which automatically sticks or stamps a guarantee onto something which is happening . The Pope must speak, write, or act to discharge his Petrine Ministry. This, I imagine, is why Cardinal Burke has opined that the Pope has done a lot of harm by not stating openly what his position is, and that a statement from him is long overdue. We may disagree ... many do ... with Cardinal Burke's personal prudential assessment of how matters stand, but we cannot, I think, dispute the categories within which he is working.

Secondly, this passage does not make explicit some interesting negatives and implied negatives which exist in the passages I quoted in my earlier post: negatives which ultimately go back to Pastor aeternus of Vatican I, reminding us ... and even reminding the popes themselves ... what they cannot do. There are cannots inscribed so deeply in the Tradition that not even Canon Law, not even papal enactment, can override them (as Benedict XVI pointed out when he issued Summorum pontificum). Even when backed by an Ecumenical Council (let alone by a mere Synod), there are very many things which Popes cannot do (not merely should not do.) After all, the Spirit is not given to them so that they can make known some new teaching (doctrinam), but so that they might religiously guard and faithfully set forth (sancte custodirent et fidelier exponerent) the revelation or deposit of Faith handed down by the Apostles (Denziger 3070). (So that if a pope were to teach error, as, for example, John XXII did, it would not be by the inspiration of the Spirit.) While clever people can often prove that black is white, prima facie the words custodirent and exponerent indicate preservation rather than daring openness to a Spirit Who can surprise us, or clever doctrinal innovation. The Commonitorium of S Vincent of Lerins, and B John Henry's Essay on Development still have much to teach us; as well as the term phrouria as used of episcopal and papal ministries; and Newman's interesting commendation of the Roman Church as a remora against innovation. 

So: I vigorously applaud the words of our beloved Holy Father with which I began this post. They are bang on, and admirably expressed. But we must understand them, as I am sure Pope Francis himself does, in their full context of (1) the need for the Pope to act/speak to guard the depositum, not just to 'be present'; (2) the need for the Pope to understand the very considerable limitations of his Office. He, and those from whom he accepts collegial or collaborative advice, are under a solemn obligation to be aware of all the things which are ultra his vires. 

The Sovereign Pontiff ended his speech with a quotation derived ultimately from Pastor aeternus; it is good to know that this is a document to which he pays careful attention. We should do no less.
*I owe to a learned correspondent this corrected version of the English translation put out by Rome. It all goes to show ...

22 October 2014

A snatch of autobiography

When the first wave of Anglican priests was in preparation to be admitted to the presbyterate of the Ordinariate, we all had to go, one by one, to a Church-run centre in Manchester for 'psychometric' evaluation.

During one of my interviews, the clergyman interviewing me asked whether there was any part of the Church's teaching that I had difficulty with. Bishop Newton had very strongly advised us all to be totally honest, so I said "Well, there is something. I have no trouble accepting it theoretically, but I do have problems internalising it, feeling it. To tell you the truth, I feel a little embarrassed mentioning this ... "

"Out with it", he invited, looking interested. So I explained.

"Particularly when I'm in a big, bustling crowd, I look at all those faces, all apparently with their own preoccupations, everybody pushing everybody else, and I get Big Doubts. I wonder if it really can be true that God has an individual and salvific and interlocking plan for each and every one of them. I know, intellectually, that He does ... but .... well ..... particularly in the London rush hour ......"

"No no no", he replied, perhaps a trifle impatiently. All interest had now faded from his face. "I meant Sex".

It became clear that the process of 'evaluation' had little interest in grilling us to check that we were not closet Monothelites, or a bit dodgy on the question of Usury, but a great concern about our complete conformity to the Church's official teaching on all matters sexual.

I entirely applaud this. How different things would probably have been in, say, 1974.

But I have been puzzling, during the last fortnight or so, as to why it was deemed so important to check that Ordinariate clergy are 101% orthodox on all questions sexual, while, apparently, Out There some bishops and even cardinals may not be quite so sound. (Do you think they gave Kieran Conry a Psychometrical? Keith O'Brian? Have all the Synod Fathers had one?)

I never did get an answer to my problem about the London rush hour. It is still with me.

21 October 2014

Further and further apart: the seal of the Confessional.

There was something in the Public Papers to the effect that the Church of England's General Synod is to debate modifying the Seal of the Confessional. This is all part of the anti-paedophile hysteria.

Occasionally one comes across people who think we left the Church of England because of quaint hang-ups about women ministers. Far from it. As long ago as 1944, Dom Gregory Dix, writing about proposals to accept the 'Orders' of Protestant bodies, observed "The Anglican Church and Ministry would have been equated with various Protestant societies and Ministries as slightly variant specimens of the same thing ... what these proposals amount to is an official Anglican admission that Pope Leo XIII was right after all in his fundamental contention in Apostolicae curae." But that is precisely what the Church of England did with the 'Porvoo' agreement (1996), and the Anglican-Methodist 'Covenant' (2003).

The ARCIC process began in the 1960s with an agreement that neither 'side' would put new obstacles in the way of convergence. The Anglican 'side' ignored this in the following decades, and an effective abolition of the Seal of the Confessional would be just another nail in the same old coffin. 

Will the C of E consult its 'partners in ecumenical dialogue' about the 'Seal' before deciding? It should, really, because for the C of E to abolish it would put the RCC under more pressure and lead to secularists accusing the Church of being motivated by a desire to 'protect' paedophile clergy.

I have fewer contacts now within the C of E. More's the pity. But I would bet on it not abolishing the Seal, at least this time round (even though the Australian Anglican Church unanimously did so), because even among what are called "Affirming Catholics" and among some high church ordained women, there are still a lot of memories of Catholicism. If I am wrong, this will prove that what Wilfrid Ward naughtily called Old Mother Damnable has deteriorated even further than I suspected!
 Footnote When the Canon Law of the Provinces of Canterbury and York was being revised in the 1960s, Crown lawyers advised that the C of E wouldn't be able to secure for the clergy the right to refuse to give evidence in court about confessions. Hence the Seal could not be included in the revised Code. So the C of E got round this by leaving unrepealed  one single canon of the 1604 code: the 1604 canon prescribing the Seal. So there it is, like a Stuart sore thumb, tacked on at the end of the 1960s code! The only problem about it is that it is not absolute: it allows for a priest to break the seal if observing it would result in his own life being legally forfeit. I've always suspected that detail of being included to prevent recusant clergy, accused of complicity in treason for not informing on Catholic 'plotters', from citing the Anglican canons in their defence.

20 October 2014

The Synod; and four cardinals: Burke, Ratzinger, Newman, Kasper ... on the Petrine Ministry

The Holy Father's speech at the end of the Synod contained a very interesting paragraph about his understanding of his office. I propose, soon, to discuss it. But first, some context.

Cardinal Burke is reported to have said "The pope, more than anyone else, is bound to serve the Truth. The pope is not free to change the Church's teaching with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the indissolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the Faith."

This is closely in line with the words of  Pope Francis' immediate predecessor: "In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith ... the authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition."

Thus wrote Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as part of his attack on that maximalising concept of the Papacy which, in the years after the Council, led to the notion that "the pope could really do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the the mandate of an ecumenical council". Let's be clear about this: he was explicitly criticising, not Blessed Paul VI, but an incorrect understanding prevalent during the Montini papacy, and doing so forcefully at a time when he was Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It is not often observed that our Holy Father the Pope Emeritus was apparently alluding to a controversy which arose after Vatican I. Chancellor Bismarck had accused Vatican I of creating a view of the Papacy under which the Pope was an absolute monarch ... to the detriment of political and other liberties. The German bishops replied (Denzinger 3114) by denying that the conciliar decrees had this sort of effect upon the the civil loyalties of Catholics; and went on to say that "praeterea neque quoad res ecclesiasticas papa monarchus absolutus nuncupari potest, quippe qui cum subordinatus sit iuri divino et obstrictus sit iis quae Christus pro Ecclesia sua disposuit ... ". B Pius IX subsequently, formally, approved this statement.

And all this is simply the rolling-out, the explicatio, of the Great Negative of Vatican I  in Pastor aeternus; its vitally important teaching that the Holy Spirit was not given to Roman Pontiffs so that they could teach novelties. Moreover, by defining the authority of Roman Pontiffs, that admirable Council automatically set limits upon it (this is a point emphatically made by Newman, LD. 170, 204). That is what the verb definire means.

In my view, the Petrine Ministry as defined by Vatican I and not as misused and misunderstood by the innovators of the 1960s is a vitally necessary gift to the Church, and far too precious for it to be damaged by being understood as something which it is not.

I wish I could be sure that the dangers of this happening, so alive and so destructive during the Montini years, have totally disappeared. I am not. Lecturing in Vienna last Wednesday, Walter Kasper chillingly asserted that the Wind, Spirit, of the Council (that icy*, withering, blast) was again blowing, within the Synod.

We all know what that means. Time to put on our overcoats, stoke up the fire, and listen to the wolves howling outside.
* I'm not calling the Council icy, but the so-called "Spirit" of the Council, engendered by a hermeneutic of rupture ad encouraged by what Benedict XVI called the parallel magisterium of the media.

19 October 2014

A Man to Watch?

One of the Holy Father's first nominations to episcopacy in 2013 was Victor Manuel Fernandez, Rector of the Pontifical Argentinian Catholic University; a post to which he had been appointed by Cardinal Bergoglio. He is only 52; his consecration was not followed by assignment to any pastoral episcopal ministry ... he remains merely Archbishop titularis of Tiburnia. He is thought to have collaborated with Bergoglio in the drafting of the Apparecida document from CELAM.

Fernandez was one of those specifically added to the recent Synod by act of the Sovereign Pontiff.

Before the Synod, the Holy Father very laudably urged the Synod Fathers to speak with parrhesia, a useful Greek term meaning completely unfearful boldness of speech. Immediately afterwards, Archbishop Fernandez was reported to have been heard saying "The pope told us to speak frankly. That means that we don't have to worry about Cardinal Mueller coming after us".

I think such words ... from such a person ... really are quite interesting, from quite a lot of different points of view. But I won't pompously spell it all out myself.

S Frideswide, Virginity, and the Synod (concludes yesterday's post)

... so Saint Frideswide prayed to S Margaret and S Catherine, who made a spring arise from the ground (the Holy Well can still be seen at Binsey, restored by a Tractarian Vicar) with the water of which S Frideswide cured her erstwhile suitor of his blindness (I bet he was more careful thereafter to practise Custody of the Eyes).

So were S Margaret and S Catherine the other two ladies in the arms of the See of Oxford (see yesterday's post)? Probably, but I'm not sure that my great predecessor at S Thomas's, Canon Thomas Chamberlain, thought so, since in his famous Eucharistic Window he portrayed S Frideswide, S Margaret, and S Etheldreda - another Saxon royal virgin who preserved her chastity against onslaught (this time, the importunities of no fewer than two husbands).

I don't know what you think about those female saints - some of them a tadge mythical - who sprawl all over the Analecta Bollandiana and whose sanctity appears to lie at least partly in their heroic and determined protection of their virginity. It's easy to call this dualist or paranoid; to complain about an unnecessary denigration of the holy estate of Matrimony; even to speculate along Freudian lines. Just possibly some of these points could have been validly made in earlier generations. But in our culture, surely, a quite different point has to be made. Our Zeitgeist has its own novel superstition: that everybody is inevitably going to express genitally the sexuality in which they say 'God has created them' ... whatever their circumstances, whatever their orientation (... er ... unless, of course, 'God has created them' as paedophiles, in which case, at least in this sceptred isle, our current instinct is to lynch them ... Oh, and of course, those 'orientated' towards violent rape). The point which these Armoured Virgins - even the mythical as well as the historical ones - make is that it is neither compulsory nor inevitable to be sexually active. Our Christian cult of Virginity teaches that if you want, or, rather, are called, to be a male or a female who is not committed irrevocably to pursue fruitfulness with another individual 'in bed and at board', the consequence is simple. You offer up to God a sexually abstinent life. The assumption all around us is that since mechanical means exist whereby sexuality may now be divorced from both fertility and commitment, we are all at liberty to be uncommitted, sterile, and promiscuous. This preposterous nonsense is now solemnly enshrined in the 'laws' of this land! It is one of the most superbly crafted of the deceits of the Evil One. Day by day, it becomes increasingly clear that it is only in a culture which values Virginity and Celibacy that Matrimony itself can flourish ... paradoxical as that may seem to us.

During the recent Synod, the suggestion was made that the modern debates within the Church about Gender and Sexuality may be our equivalent of the debates in the first six Christian centuries about Christology. I think this is quite an acute observation. If it is true, this means that we have several centuries of the present mayhem in front of us.

Those who observe the pre-Pacelli rules and celebrate today's solemnity of S Frideswide with a Privileged Octave, will have seven more days to meditate on these matters!

18 October 2014

Cardinal Burke

Today's news is an interesting example of how to control a narrative. It is quite a time since rumours about Cardinal Burke's sideways move began to circulate; and they have still not officially been confirmed. But, once you decide to move someone, and tell him, your control begins to slip away ...

Being Patron of the Knights will not be a full-time job. So it will leave Cardinal Burke free to follow a world-wide role in the 'Traditionalist' movement. He will be able to go anywhere in the world by virtue of privileges he enjoys as a Cardinal; local Ordinaries will not be able to sneer at or exclude a pater purpuratus. He will be available, to an even greater extent than at present, to lend grandeur to liturgical events, and erudition to conferences. As he did after the publication of Evangelii gaudium, he will be able to give the Universal Church nuanced judgements upon the magisterial status of papal utterances ... a much needed ministry in this Pontificate, and one for which Raymond Burke is well qualified. With his curial knowledge, he will be on hand to offer guidance and protection to groups, communities, and orders which were experiencing difficulties. Given his expertise in Canon Law, and being no longer silenced by judicial office, he will be there to give legal assistance to groups and individuals being unlawfully persecuted. Might he even become Cardinal Protector of the Ordinariates? Having the court status of a Prince of the Blood Royal, he can never be excluded from being admitted to the presence of the Sovereign Pontiff, either this one or the next one or two or three. To borrow two phrases popularly used of the globe-trotting Cardinal Pacelli in the 1930s, Cardinal Burke will be, for traditional, Wojtilan, Ratzingerian, hermeneutic-of-continuity Catholics, the vice-papa, the Cardinale volante.

It must be that the Holy Father has in mind for the Cardinal just such a role, for which he is so eminently well suited. We should welcome with much enthusiasm this guarantee that the World of Tradition is an important, growing, permanent and influential part of the ecclesial life of the entire Latin Church.

Viva il Papa! Viva il Cardinale!

The Demivirgins of Oxford

The Arms of the See of Oxford have a band across the middle (a "fess" ... francophone readers, be quiet) and above it three crowned demivirgins (yes, the term does afford scope for endless witticisms, but, believe me, most of them were made several hundred years ago), and in the base an Ox walking sedately across a Ford. The three demivirgins and their fess gave rise to the undergraduate joke that the shield represents three lady dons sitting at a table and giving a viva to a cow. Who the ladies actually are is not entirely clear.

Pretty certainly, one of them is S Frideswide. She was a princess who declined marriage, fled, and hid among pigs in a forest until her suitor was struck blind and gave up the quest, whereupon she became an abbess. Her shrine was in the chapel of S Frideswide's Priory, which later became the Chapel of Cardinal College (I believe trendy people now call it Christ Church, but it's still got Wolsey's hat and his coat of arms - which it uses as its arms and its flag - all over it). This chapel subsequently served as the cathedral church of the diocese which Henry VIII erected (and which was formally given Catholic legitimacy, by virtue of his legatine powers, by Cardinal Pole). Under the Tudor Spoliation, the shrine was demolished and, under Bloody Bess, S Frideswide's bones were mixed with those of a Protestant woman; subsequently an inscription informed the public that Religion and Superstition lay mingled there ...

( ... a bit of an ambiguity there, don't you think? Rather in the spirit of the naughty old Jacobite doggerel "God save the King! God save our Faith's Defender:/ God bless - no harm in blessing - the Pretender./ But who Pretender is, and who is King:/ God bless my soul! That's quite another thing!").

Anyway, S Frideswide now does cheerful duty as Patron of the City, University, and Diocese. (Under the old conventions, that would have made her Festival tomorrow a Double of the First Class with a privileged octave.) Back in the dear old days of the Church of England, the Lord Bishop celebrated Pontifical High Mass on her festival against a background of apprehension that somebody might be offended because of the niceties of Precedence. You see, there was the traditional Anglican frisson of uneasiness between the Bishop (and Diocese) and the Dean and Chapter, combined with the amour propre of the University and the capacity of the City Corporation, representing Town, to feel slighted by Gown. This was solved by having different processions simultaneously snaking into the Cathedral from different directions.

The Saint, when she heard that her admirer had been blinded, prayed to S Margaret and ... oh dear, tempus fugit. I'll try to finish this tomorrow.

17 October 2014

So what do we learn from all this?

Not to overreact. That Relatio was in no sense magisterial but simply an unsubtle attempt by a tiny faction to promote an extreme agenda; unsubtle because they attempted to land their paratroops at least one bridge too far ... far further than they could have realistically hoped to get away with. It is very good that they made such a bad mistake.

It is clear that the panic which followed the publication of the Relatio was right over the top. The publication of the comments of the circuli minores revealed that the Fathers themselves were determined not to let their Synod be kidnapped in the way that the First Session of the Council was.

One reason why I reproduced in red that passage recently from Newman ... itself reproducing a passage from S Gregory the Theologian ... was to make the point that the Church has been through ropy moments often before, and that Black Monday was by no means the ropiest of them. In fact, it was really quite low in the Richter Scale of Ropiness. Ask S Athanasius, when you get a chance.

As Newman found, it helps to keep ones nerve, having a bit of knowledge of the messiness of Church History. Joseph Ratzinger, also, showed that an examination of the messiness of earlier Councils enabled one to see Vatican II in a balanced way, and to avoid hysteria.

Unlike Fr Zed, I have no experience of Vatican politics. I merely spent three decades mastering the politics of an English Public School (and great fun it was too). But it seems to me that (exempli gratia) manoeuvring the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith into the position of being a rebel against the system just has to be one very serious piece of bad politics. The wise general selects a modest and attainable objective and then organises a broad coalition in support before he advances, keeping a prudent eye all the time on his lines of supply to make sure that the enemy doesn't snip them off with a pincer movement (as happened when poor Bruno Forte was hung out to dry by the Hungarian cardinal with the umlaut).

If I have a fear, it is that their next attempt (because, as somebody once said about a different gang of terrorists, "They haven't gone away") will show that they have learned elementary tactics from this particular dismal failure.