17 February 2007


Like all right-thinking people, I hope well of the deliberations between members of certain dikasteries, and representatives of the SSPX. Anything they can do to throw light on the conciliar texts, and especially upon the odder among them, will be a gift to the Universal Church. Though mind you, if the SSPX had had the benefit of our waspish Anglo-Catholic sense of humour, they would have put on the table the Question of the Implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. They would have demanded a time-table for the putting into effect of what the council actually did mandate in the field of Liturgy. For example: the Council required that all clergy (except for a few individual cases individually dispensed by their bishops) say the Office in Latin. When, SSPX could have asked, is that to be enforced?

But there is a broader question than that of textual minutiae which, sooner or later, will have to be grasped: the matter of discerning between Councils. Because a view of history suggests that not all councils have been equally significant, either in their treatment of the problems of their own days, or in the value of the legacy they have bequeathed to subsequent generations.

This is a difficult time to go in with all guns blazing on that topic. Two quite different motives exist for the over-estimation of councils: firstly, the view of some Orthodox that it is in councils that the Magisterium of the Church is uniquely discerned. Orthodox might forgive us Latins for an occasional suspicion that the prominence assigned to councils in some Orthodox ecclesiologies has something to do with needing an alternative to set against the Papacy. And Anglicans will recall Gregory Dix's insistence that, compared with the operation of the Roman Primacy, councils are johnny-come-latelies which have a slightly sinister connection with the growth of Caesaro-papism. We also tend to wonder why, if Orthodoxy is the Church and councils are so important, Orthodoxy itself seems to do so superbly well, in bad times and in good, without councils, and has done for so many centuries. I might go further: the glory days of Byzantine Christianity lie, at least arguably, in the period since it ceased to hold or receive 'Ecumenical' Councils. Don't accuse me of a crude attack on Orthodoxy: I am perfectly aware of Orthodox articulations of the Faith which avoid all the arrows that I have just let loose. But I think some more reflective Orthodox might concede to me that there are Orthodox polemicists, just as there certainly are Western apologists, who do promote over-simplifications.

The second factor which has led to an excessive estimate of Councils is the modern superstition that there is something God-given about Democracy. While many Orthodox may be conciliarists, they are conciliarists because they see councils as bulwarks of Tradition and of orthopraxy. But the Modern Churchperson is likely to see councils as an admirable simulation of secular democracy and as a way of making the Church vulnerable to the infections and corruptions of the Zeitgeist: in other words, the Modernist is likely to favour councils for a reason diametrically opposed to that which makes them attractive to some Orthodox.

But it is not my intention to attack Orthodox - I'm truly sorry if I have made any Orthodox irritable - or even Modernism, but to have a look at some characteristics of councils (particularly Western councils) and to suggest a discernment between councils ... not all of which, I may suggest, have been particularly beneficial either to their own age or to posterity, or have had a long-term effect upon the Church. One can obediently agree that those councils deemed Ecumenical by the Magisterium really were ecumenical, and that any de fide propositions they imposed under anathema are to be accepted with divine and catholic faith ... without seeing each and every council as a particularly good thing or as a particularly significant thing for the future life of theChurch.

And such a hermeneutic of councils must, in the broadest sense, have a relevance to our estimation of the place Vatican II has in the Church of 2011.


Councils have, like popes, have included some rum individuals among themselves. But perhaps I should begin by distinguishing between Dogmatic Councils and those whose dogmatic pretensions have been rather limited. So: as a Latin, I would see something normative about the first Seven Councils, which established orthodox belief with regard to the Blessed Trinity and the Hypostatic Union. But even here, the closer up you bring the microscope, the more some ragged edges tend to appear. Did Nicaea I end in 325 ... or was there another session in 327? Are we sure that its requirement of Standing as the posture for prayer in Eastertide has always been regarded as binding? How edifying were the proceedings of ... e.g. ... the Fifth Ecumenical Council?

Again, as a Latin, I would see the Councils of Trent and Vatican I as similarly dogmatic councils, laudably addressing the errors of their times, defining the truth for their own time in a way that is also definitive for all time. But when you look at some of the earlier Western medieval councils ... well, it can't be denied that they did address the issues of their day. But not all those issues are of lasting value to the Church. Medieval Councils were often, obsessively, concerned with the recovery of the Holy Land. Even if we disregard the mere details of their enactments and fall back on a rather generalising acceptance of [Anglican jargon] "the trajectories" which they suggested, or, to use a different phrase [RC jargon] "the Spirit of the Councils", we are in trouble: who now advocates ... even in theory ... the recovery of the Holy Land from the Jews and the Moslems by the military powers of Christian Europe (whoever they may be)? How important did the Deposition of the Emperor remain to the Church after Lyons I ... at which council, incidentally, there were fewer than 150 bishops, and those mainly from Italy, Spain, and France?

In 1308, the Council of Vienne concerned itself with the Templars. Historians are far from agreed that these gentry were guilty of sodomy and of the other crimes of which they were accused. But even if they were, would even the most doctrinaire supporters of the 'Spirit of the Council (of Vatican II)' give whole-hearted backing to the 'Spirit of the Council (of Vienne)': which would have to include the desireability of burning sodomites at the stake? How genuinely and permanently useful to the Universal Church was the commissioning of Philip IV to go on Crusade - a Crusade which he never discharged, although he did retain the tithe raised for that Crusade, as well as most of the Templars' property?

Perhaps a Council which lurched around Europe in the fifteenth century raises the most interesting questions. Convoked at Basle, how many of its sessions are 'ecumenical'? Theological historians disagree. It is best known for its sessions at Forence which resulted in unity (1439) with Byzantium. But this unity did not survive the Fall of the Great City in 1453 ... so it was a union even briefer than the Union which was 'secured' at Lyons II in 1274. Finally, this Council was transferred to Rome, where little is known of its activities. How rubustly central to the life of the Church is a Council with regard to which the experts cannot agree which of its sessions were authentic, the date of whose conclusion is unrecorded, and whose final decrees, if there were any passed in its later sessions, have been lost?

Those whose conciliarist enthusiasms lead them to an exaggerated regard for Vatican II seem blithely, absurdly, unaware of the preposterous historical conclusions to which their views would lead them ... were they but consistent.

Let me be blunt about this. There are strictly dogmatic Councils, the texts of which are admirably punctuated by anathemas. These are permanently, objectively, a part of the church's fundamental dogmatic structure, so that those exercising a teaching ministry should be able to give the most willing, enthusiastic, assent to them. But the other Councils ... they, I suggest, gradually merge into the background and, largely forgotten even by theologians, become simply part of the General Mind of the Church; a process which invoves a degree of weeding-out and corporate forgetting, as what is less valuable in their enactments is quietly, sometimes mercifully, erased from the record. Not that I exclude the possibility that they may include in their texts elements which will be permanently fruitful for the Church; elements which in a process of Reception the Church will discern.


Vatican II met for the first time in 1962. It set out to address the 'issues', 'concerns', of 1962. It did not ... pray forgive me for stating something so obvious ... get to work on what had been the needs of fifty years before: the year, say, of 1912.

So it did not deal with the Modernist Crisis or the question of the Papal States. Of course not. Vatican II is situated in the aftermath of two major wars which happened after 1912; in the period when Europe was just recovering its self-confidence after the disasters, (plural) holocausts, privations, of the period 1914-1945. It attempted to deal with the agenda of its own period: whatever else could it have done? Had it attempted to revisit and relive the controversies and talking-points, the problems and anguishes, of 1912, it would have been laughed out of court before it even began its deliberations. Both those who welcomed its convocation with exuberant joy, and most of those whose reaction was more guarded, would have combined in 1962 to describe the agenda of 1912 as a time-wasting irrelevance.

I again venture to test your patience with another statement of the obvious: I have pointed out that the world of 1962 was a very different world from that of 1912; that the Church of 1962 was a very different Church from that of 50 years before. And, in 2012, we shall be 50 years later than 1962. And I do not think that the changes, both in the World and in the Church, will have been any less significant in these fifty years than they were in the fifty years between 1912 and 1962.

Quite apart from minor details such as resurgent Islam, the Church now faces, at least in "the West", an aggressively secularised World. And this secularism is much more inimical than the secularism of the century after the French Revolution. That earlier secularism left largely intact certain ethical and social assumptions inherited from the Judaeo-Christian past. It has been well - and often - said that Western Society was living off the moral capital of its past. But the world of 1962 was a world which was on the cusp of passing from this sub-Christian culture to an aggressively Anti-Christian ideology. And Vatican II seems to have been totally unaware of this significant fact. Moreover, we were on the very edge of a precipice in matters of sexual ethics. The Pill was posing its questions; was presenting itself as a modest advance which, without even corrupting the structure of the sexual act in itself, would enable nice and responsible married people to Plan their Families in a convenient way. Of course we cannot blame the Council Fathers for not realising that in fact this was the beginning of an era in which the entire structure of sexual morality, as shared by Christians, adherents of most other major religions, and even the great bulk of the post-Christian citizens of Western Europe and North America, was about to become the victim of a lethal and very successful onslaught. The Fathers did not come to Rome equipped with crystal balls; I am not in the blame-game. But it remains a fact of history that they did not, in any of their teaching or any of their enactments, prepare the Church for the cultural onslaught which it was about to face. The Pill itself was relegated to a footnote explaining that this question was being left to the Holy See. Whether this happened because the Fathers lacked the courage to face the problem, or because the Roman Pontiff did not trust them to do so (I think each of those narratives could be made to stand up and run), the fact is that the Council gave no guidance.

And the Fathers had no inkling of the Paedophile Priest crisis. If one takes "Spirit of Vatican II" in its usual sense of something which, neither mandated nor envisaged by the Council, resulted from the fashions of the conciliar milieu (Benedict XVI has pointed out the plausibility of connecting it with the systems of relative and situational 'non-absolute' ethics taught at the time), then that crisis is very much actually a part of the Spirit of Vatican II.

And, as we know only too well, the next item on the Enemy's agenda was to be the confusion of the whole subject of gender. Questions of 'same-sex unions', and of the 'ordination' of women, are among the most obvious symptoms of this revolution. Again - and it is fact, not blame, that concerns me - the Second Vatican Council did absolutely nothing to prepare and to arm the Church for what lay ahead of her.


Vatican II was a validly convoked Ecumenical Council, a Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Whole Church. If it had chosen to do so, it could have defined dogmas de fide to which (Papal assent having been given) any and every Catholic would have been obliged to give the complete assent of Divine Faith. Laws, canons, which it enacted ... if it did ... bind the faithful for a long as they remain unrepealed by lawful authority or, through desuetude, cease to bind. Its pronouncements command respect, religiosum obsequium, just as those enacted by the Council of Vienne in 1311, did in 1361 and, for that matter ... I presume ... still do.

All this is compatible with certain other propositions. For example: that it would have been better unconvoked; that it did no good; that it encouraged, unwittingly, heterodox tendencies which have had a baleful effect upon the Church ever since. I do NOT wish, in this piece, to advance, attack, or defend, any of those propositions. The proposition which I now have in mind is a little different: that Vatican II is History; that its relevance is Not For Our Time, fifty years later, any more than its relevance was for fifty years previously. Vatican II itself claimed to speak to the World of its own time: fair enough; that time was not our time, is not our time.

Vatican II, like so many of its predecessor councils, is obsolete or, at the very least, obsolescent. Yes, there are elements in its texts which are well put and will have continuing value and use. But it did not foresee many of the the major problems of our age and, therefore, did not give us guidance for getting through them. Its silly optimisms are no more relevant to our very different, much harsher, age than is the proccupation of so many medieval councils with "Just-One-More-Crusade". The notion that it was some sort of super-council which displaced and replaced  - or even simply relativised - the Councils which preceded it is, in my view, a heresy: because it disregards Councils which did, dogmatically, bind, in favour of a council which did not even claim to bind. Worse even than heresy, it is historical twaddle.

Emphasis on Vatican II has a number of unfortunate side-effects. It means that other, worthier, councils are ignored; and, in saying this I am not only thinking of Trent ... and not even of the Synod of Bethlehem. I wonder if you remember the striking ... mind-blowing ... assertion of Cardinal Ratzinger that the West needs to receive the "fundamental lines of the theology" of the Council of Moskow in 1551. And I am far from sure that the Latin Church would come to much harm if it humbly, prayerfully, set itself to assess the teachings of the 'Palamite' councils of the fourteenth century as they bear on the central Christian mystery of theosis.

And the fetichising of Vatican II distracts attention from the real and significant and valuable actions of the Roman Magisterium, which deserve so very much better than the sneers directed at them by illiterate fools. Humanae vitae and Ordinatio sacerdotalis, slender volumes, are worth more than all the paper wasted at Vatican II. Documents of the CDF, keeping up with the errors proposed in areas of ethics by the World's agenda, represent the locus to which perplexed modern Catholics should turn for teaching and guidance.

Byzantine Christians have an elegant custom of keeping, a few days after a major festival, a Leave Taking of that feast. I rather think that 2012 would be a good year for an official Leave Taking of Vatican II (with either a solemn EF Requiem or a patriarchal concelebration of the Liturgy of S John Chrysostom - propers as on Orthodoxy Sunday - in S Peter's?). In practical terms, it is high time that we all stopped seeking help in the yellowing pages of Abbot's not-particularly-good translation of its documents. "Leave taking" would of course include a prudent discernment and recovery of what is continuingly valuable in the texts of the Council.

It is in this context that I view the dialogue between the Vatican and SSPX. I wish it well, very well. But it is really a little bit like the old ARCIC dialogues between Rome and Anglicans ... painstakingly and painfully going over the old controversies of a moribund past in purblind ignorance of the actual problems in the world outside the seminar-room windows. It is all thoroughly worthy and admirable; it is even quite fun to contemplate their lengthy verbal convolutions; for the people who like this sort of thing, this is precisely the sort of thing that they like. But it is of rapidly diminishing relevance to anything real.

If I had any influence with either the Roman dikasteries, or the SSPX, which I don't, I would advise both sides to stop taking this whole business so painfully seriously; to give each other a broad wink across the negotiating table; to drink deep together in whatever vintages the dikasteries keep in their cellars; and to sign up to some cheerful ARCIC-like semantic fudge which would enable the Holy See to get on with the urgent and joyful task of erecting SSPX Ordinariates all over the world. Droves of them. Ordinariates is the Future. Fresh Expressions of Church, as the dear old C of E used to say.

6 February 2007

Where have the Gesimas gone?

Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Paragraph 107:

The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons can be preserved

Well, the pre-Lent Season of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima somehow seems to have missed out on that.

or restored to meet the conditions of modern times; their specific character is to be retained

The pre-Lent Season certainly had a specific character. It entered the Liturgy at a time when Rome had been sacked ... have I got this right ... some seven times; catastrophic floods had, as they still do in some parts of the world today, led to typhoid; the Lombards were relocating the population of Latium to the slave-markets of the North. So the Bishop and people of Rome resorted to penitential supplication in the three basilicas of the three patrons of Rome, Ss Lawrence, Paul, and Peter, which stood like fortresses at the approaches to the city. They prayed in penitence, seeing their calamities as the punishment fo their offences, begging deliverance. As Dr Cranmer translated the ancient Septuagesima collect:

O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people: that we, who are justly punished for our offences; may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness for the glory of thy Name.

Has the world changed much? Has the theme of the Gesimas lost any of its topicality? Is there any reason for the Roman Rite to continue to deny its worshippers these instructive and relevant Sundays, which it would be so easy to restore

so that they may duly nourish the piety of the faithful.


The ancient usage of the Western Church suggests you should be reading the book of Genesis. And that you should have started reading Genesis in the Divine Office today, Septuagesima.

During Lent, of which Septuagesima is the preamble, we repent of the Fall and the mark which it has left on each successive age of human history and on each one of us. Lent leads up to Easter Night, with the great, the outrageous impudence of the Deacon's shout: O felix Culpa: O blessed iniquity (Knox's translation ... for use in the Patrimony?); the marvel of Adam's Trangression which deserved such and so great a Redeemer. And then Eastertide invites us to live the Risen Life with and in our New Adam.

The Pius V/Book of Common Prayer Eucharistic propers for Septuagesima and its season enhance this spirituality. The Introit is: "The groanings of Death have surrounded me". This recalls the Genesis theme that the pains, labours, and mortality of Man (and not least of Woman) result from the Fall. Yes, I know that the Gesimas were probably introduced by S Gregory the Great at a time of great distress, strife, and chaos in Italy - which does lie behind the sense of agony and helplessness in this and other texts. My point is that it was the Pontiff who discerned a connection between a world ravaged and disordered by the Fall ... and the realities of late sixth century Italy. How can anyone who reads the newspapers doubt that this connection is just as possible now?

I incline to believe that S Gregory has left us his own explanation of his liturgical creation, Septuagesima, in the passage from his writings of which the old Breviary gives us a portion in the Third Nocturn (Hom 19 in Evang.; the full text of which is handily available in PL 76 coll 1153sqq.). Speaking, according to the manuscripts, in the basilica of S Lawrence one Septuagesima morning, he explains the different times of the day referred to in the Sunday's Gospel (the parable of the Husbandman hiring labourers for his vineyard): "The morning of the world was from Adam to Noah; the third hour, Noah to Abraham; Sixth, Abraham to Moses; Ninth, Moses to the Lord's Advent; eleventh, from the Lord's Advent to the end of the world". The Epistle reading ends with the disobedience of many in Jewry in the time of Moses ("in many of them God was not well-pleased"); the Gospel concludes "Many were called but few were chosen". While there is no doubt that the Tradition has seen this applying to those Jews who rejected the Messiah's call, Bible and Fathers leave no room for complacency on the part of Gentile Christians. The whole point of I Corinthians 10, from which the Septuagesima Epistle is taken, is that the fall from grace which happened to some who were "baptized into Moses" is just as much a fall awaiting those who have been baptised into Christ. And the passage from S Gregory selected for Mattins ends sharply "At the Eleventh hour the Gentiles are called; to whom it is said 'Why are you standing here lazy all day?' " S Gregory goes on to ask "Look what a lot of people we are gathered here, we're packing the walls of the church, but, y'know (tamen), who can know how few there are who're numbered in the flock of God's chosen?" ... a year or two ago, the Principal of an Evangelical PPH in this University got into trouble for asking a question very much like that ...

Divine election; Human disobedience; its just punishment in the tribulations of the present age; followed by a call to Christians to recollect their own sinfulness before Lent begins: it looks like a very coherent Proper to me. Perhaps it is a trifle politically incorrect: the Journalist In The Street tends to ask fashionable bishops whether Disasters are a Divine Punishment (why do their right reverend answers always begin "Well, y'know ..."?). But my assumption is that this blog has a superior class of theologically literate readers who can do the theodicy stuff for themselves. It bores me to tears.

I urge those who can to read Gregory's entire homily; it ends with a lurid and lengthy account of an unrepentent sinner at the point of death; it is a real mission-sermon rant such as Fr Faber might have preached to his recalcitrant Irishmen before he moved to Brompton. Gregory wasn't half the Latin stylist that Leo was; but, to be regretfully honest, I doubt whether the plebs sancta Dei understood much of S Leo's lapidary periods and abstracted concretes. I bet you could have heard a pin drop when S Gregory got into a purple passage and the pontifical spittle was really flying.


I wonder if anyone knows exactly when the Byzantine preLent season was invented? It occurs to me that, if it was in place when S Gregory was apocrisiarius in Constantinople, he could have picked up the idea for the Gesimas there. You will remember that on his return to Rome and his election as Pope, he was much criticised because he made changes in the Liturgy which the admirably conservative plebs sancta Dei of Rome deemed to be Byzantinisations. But let us look at the Propers for tomorrow, Sexagesima.

That great liturgist G G Willis (funny, isn't it, how so much of the best work on the early history of the Roman Rite was done by Anglican Catholics) pointed out that the propers for Sexagesima in the Missal of S Pius V and the Book of Common Prayer manifestly relate to S Paul; his own account of his tribulations in the Epistle being matched by the Parable of the Sower, so appropriate to the work of the Apostle to the Gentiles. (You will remember that the Pope's Mass, on these three Sundays before Lent, took place in turn at the three basilicas of Rome's great saints, Ss Lawrence, Paul, and Peter, which stand like protecting spiritual fortresses outside the City walls; and today, Sexagesima, Pope and people were at S Paul's.)

I don't like to tangle with so great a scholar; but with diffidence and respect I point out that this is not quite what the Begetter of the Gesimas, S Gregory the Great, himself actually says. Again I recommend those with access and a little Latin (Gregory's Latin is very easy) to read not only the extract which the Old Breviary gave in the third nocturn for Sexagesima, but the whole text of Homilia 15 in Evangelia (Migne, 76, columns 1131 and following). The emphasis here again is on the need for a sense of sinfulness as Christians approach the penitential season of Lent. The Holy Father picks up the Lord's explanation of the parable (the section which the crass 'scholarship' of the twentieth century confidently and ludicrously assured us could not possibly be from the Lord's lips): i.e. the work of the Devil in frustrating the Gospel Word sown in our hearts, and the dangers of riches. It is this that becomes the basis of his attempt to stir up within his congregation an awareness of its sinful need to do penance.

[My incurable propensity to ramble inclines me to recommend the whole of the homily, not just the extract in the Breviary, if only for the sake of the (very 'modern') way S Gregory engages the congregation with his vivid account of the recent holy death of a devout cripple whom we all knew, who used to beg outside the Church of S Clement. Again, this is a classical, hands-on, mission sermon by a preacher who fears that his flock has lost its sense of sin. Plus ca change ...]

And, in the Divine Office, S Gregory's message is reinforced by the story of Noah. I hope you recall, from my post on Septuagesima, how S Gregory interpreted the parable of the husbandman hiring labourers for his vineyard. 'Morning' meant the period of Sacred History from Adam onwards [Septuagesima]; the 'Third Hour' was the period from Noah. So in the first nocturn of Mattins for Sexagesima Sunday we get the account of God's decision to punish human iniquity by a flood. Perhaps that Flood had, for S Gregory's generation, vivid memories of the Great Tiber Flood of 589, followed by the epidemic which ended the life of many Romans, including Pope Pelagius II, S Gregory's own immediate predecessor.

But ... had all those who suffered in the Flood (either Noah's or Rome's) truly deserved such punishment? I wonder if seminary courses dealing with 'Theodicy' take their starting points from Biblical and Patristic material. Poor Sentamu didn't seem to be aware of it last year when he made such an appalling mess as the media interviewed him after the Haitian earthquake. S Gregory, with the sort of realism from which we shy away, meets head on the fact that a lot of people do their best to do good, but find themselves clobbered by tribulations. They flee earthly desires, and all they seem to get in return is worse wallops (flagella duriora). The solution is humiliter purgationis flagella tolerare: humbly to submit to the blows which cleanse us.

When did you last hear a sermon on Submission to God's Will ... whatever it be?

5 February 2007


What a bore clergy find the 'Hymn to Love' in I Corinthians 13 (the EF/BCP Epistle in Sunday's Mass), as yet another wedding couple want Uncle Bob to read it at their wedding. Read, however, in the context of the blistering attack S Paul is making on the failings of the Corinthian Christians, its cutting irony, verging on sarcasm, is rather fun. Whenever S Paul says "Love is not X", he is mightily suggesting that the Corinthians are X. But it isn't irony Kevin and Sharon think they're getting ... I blame the late Thos Cranmer for the start of this vulgarisation. He abolished the fitting pre-Lent Collect for Quinquagesima and replaced it by a composition of his own, highlighting Charity. Since then, it has all been downhill.

If you look carefully at Quinquagesima's Epistle and Gospel (Luke 18:31-43), you may notice that the link between them is the idea of being made able to See. Then, if you turn to the Homily by S Gregory which provides an extract for the third nocturn in the Old Breviary, you will discover that this is exactly what the saint leads us to expect. (Migne, 76, columns 1081 and following; incidentally, as on the preceding two Sundays, the manuscripts tell us that this was preached to the people in the Stational Church - S Peter in Vaticano - on the Sunday we are examining. I will endeavour to amuse you by translating some of S Gregory's little words by means of our popular modern 'fillers'.)

"Now look (Ecce enim): who the Blind Man was according to History, we just don't know. But, y'know (tamen) what he signifies through a mystery, we do know. Y'see, (quippe) the Human Race is Blind, and it was chucked out in its First Parent from the joys of Paradise and it is ignorant of the brightness of heavenly light and it suffers the darkness of its own damnation. But, y'know (tamen) it's given a great dose of light through the presence of its Redeemer ...". S Gregory goes on to argue that, as the Blind Man asked for mercy, we have to keep doing that because memories of our sins keep returning and their phantasmata are hardly (vix) overcome by the laments of penitence. He insists that we recall our sins and consider what a terrible Judge is coming to punish; and, the Sunday before the start of Lent, he advises us that our life should have a temporary patch of being made nasty and bitter through penitence so that it doesn't have to endure everlasting bitterness in punishment (vita nostra ad tempus amarescat in paenitentia ne aeternam amaritudinem sentiat in vindicta). "Per fletus, y'see, ad aeterna gaudia ducimur", he adds.

On Quinquagesima Sunday we reach, as we read Genesis in the Breviary, what S Gregory called a couple of Sundays ago the 'Sixth Hour'; the period from Abra(ha)m onwards. Abram has arrived in Egypt; it turns out that his wife Sarai (the Old Testament has a weakness for such stories about the alleged weakness Gentile males have for Hebrew lovelies) is exactly the sort of totty that Egyptians warmly appreciate - and Pharaoh discovers that he can just about find room for her in his house. So, of course YHWH flagellavit Pharaoh plagis maximis together with - it goes without saying - his entire household. As the Old Testament, and events like the Christchurch earthquake endlessly remind us, suffering is to a large degree a corporate matter.

Hence, in this Age of the Individual, so much bewilderment about the way the world works; leading to the sort of questions about God's Way with Man by which so many fewer people in previous eras seem to have been worried (but see Luke 13 and read Jonah). But I hope by now I have made clear my own approach to those tedious questions about Theodicy which so worry Modern Man and so tax those Modern Clergy who feel compelled to answer Modern Man's questions without querying Modern Man's assumptions.