11 October 2012

TUTISSIMUS INDEX: eodem sensu eademque sententia

The Holy Father, in his letter Porta Fidei, has described the Second Vatican Council as a tutissimus index, a profoundly safe pointer for our age (index means your index finger which you point with when giving directions; vernacular translations have employed the term compass .... readers may wonder whether this is quite the same thing). As we prepare for the Year of Faith, I suspect that many of us will be meditating upon what lies at the heart of the significance of Vatican II. An understanding of this is essential; for example, by using the phrase hoc tempus in the heading of Gaudium et spes the Council itself makes clear that much of the detail of that document will inevitably be of less immediate relevance in a world, fifty years later, whose problems were undreamed of a couple of generations before. Illud conciliare tempus non est hoc nostrum tempus! Amidst so much that is bound to be transient, where can we find the safe and enduring dogmatic heart of the Council? Its tutissimus index?

Pope Benedict XVI gave us a pretty tutus index here in his celebrated 2005 Discorso ai Membri della Curia. He referred us to and quoted from the Discorso d'apertura del Concilio of Blessed John XXIII, delivered on the Feast of the Maternity of our Lady, October 11 1962. But ... what did Blessed John actually say? Here there is a most lamentable confusion which is still extant and which is even perpetuated and accentuated by - it appears - current Vatican employees. Let me explain ... even if this does take me into some intricacies.

I presume that the authentic text of the Holy Father's Address to his Curia, since I cannot find a Latin version, was delivered in Italian. In this version, he cites the words of Papa Roncalli about expressing the Faith in ways adapted to our own time, concluding, as Pope John did, with the phrase conservando ad esse tuttavia lo stesso senso e la stessa portata. In the original Latin of Pope John, this is eodem tamen sensu eademque sententia.  But the English version of Pope Benedict's quotation from Pope John concludes "The substance of the ancient doctrine of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another ..." In other words, the quotation is cut short in such a way (after "another ...") as to imply that Pope John did not say eodem sensu eademque sententia. Then, after  those quotation marks, the English quotation continues retaining the same meaning and message. This is indeed, in my view, a fairish, if not particularly good, rendering of eodem sensu eademque sententia. But the point is that the English translator implies .... and presumably thought ... that those words were not part of Pope John's original text but had been added by Pope Benedict.

It then becomes clear why the English translator has made this rather significant and profoundly deplorable mistake.  In brackets, he gives his source: "(The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p 715)". Abbott's English translation of the Conciliar documents was what my generation put upon its bookshelves. But here, Abbott is not giving an accurate rendering of the Latin. In fact, Abbott omitted the words eodem sensu eademque sententia from his rendering of what the Pope had actually said. I think, I hope, that I should blame the English translator of Pope Benedict's words for simple error rather than for conspiracy. Here is what must have happened.

He had, on his bookshelf as I do on mine, Abbott's yellowing little paperback, and he looked at that rather than bothering himself with silly old Acta Apostolicae Sedis. But, in doing so, he has, as far as Anglophone readers are concerned, considerably muddied the waters for anybody who is trying to trace the lineaments and history of a phrase which is of very considerable Magisterial significance, and he has badly blunted the intended impact of the Holy Father's teaching with regard to the Second Vatican Council and the hermeneutic by which it should be understood.

9 October 2012

Blessed John Henry Newman

Back from a wonderful trip; to the Shrine of Blessed John Henry, in Birmingham. You might think that just being in such a place on such a day as his Solemnity would be wonderful enough; but there is more to it than that. Just before First Vespers of the Solemnity, I was privileged to be invited to witness the reception of the Habit of S Philip by a former pupil of mine, Mr Andrew Wagstaff. And the next morning, the feast itself, I offered the Holy sacrifice.

Andrew and I go back quite some time. He was one of the very ablest of my theological students at Lancing; then he shone equally in the Theological Faculty in Oxford. He managed the serving at Pusey House in Oxford (I had the title of Senior Research Fellow there while I was priest in charge of S Thomas's); then he became a barrister. Now ... well, you see where it has all led. But I had better come clean about something else: a month ago I spent a week in the Birmingham Oratory, lending a very inadequate hand with the clerical work of the House. And what a welcoming, vibrant place it is; both in terms of the Fathers and Brothers, and of the congregation. (Ah, and Pushkin the Cat as well!) Youth and Enthusiasm mark both! There was a good congregation at the (Extraordinary Form) High Mass on the Sunday, at which I celebrated and preached. During some of the other Sunday Masses, a couple of which were packed out, I occupied a confessional; one of those nice Baroque confessionals, in which there is a sliding panel each side and as the penitent to your left departs, you slide the shutter back, heave over onto the right buttock, and hear the confession that side, thus rocking back and forth non-stop. The queues lasted until after the end of Mass.

Incidentally, you can find on the internet lovely pictures of the Ordination and First Mass of Fr Martin Stamnestroe in Oslo ... he is another former Anglican, another graduate of Pusey House. I remember happy days sitting in his study chatting and and admiring his superb collection of liturgical books. And there is the news of the profession of a new novice in the now formally erected Redemptorist community on Papa Stronsay, very dear friends of mine. No lack of signs of growth, at least as things seem from my viewpoint in the Church; and a fair bit of that growth seems to happen among the very able. Oh, and the Ordinariate's first two new home-grown seminarians are getting under way. We really do seem to be moving on from the arid years. Vivat Papa.

But back to the Birmingham Oratory. Fr Anton, the Parish Priest, very kindly made me free of 'the Cardinal's' study (with adjacent chapel). Little discoveries can be as satisfactory as large ones; we all know that on Monday December 3, Newman left Oxford for the foreign travels which led him to Sicily, serious illness, and the writing of Lead kindly light. The day before, he preached a University Sermon which could be regarded as the start of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. But what was he doing on the preceding Saturday? I can now reveal the Truth. He was shopping ... for books. Devout tomes? Deary me, No. He bought a pocket copy of Thucydides; and one of Pindar. Isn't it a lovely mental picture; the slender, donnish, very English figure, sweat pouring down his face as he plodded round the bumps near Syracuse and traced (Thucydides in hand) the footprints of the ill-fated Athenian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War; then sitting in a cafe (I think I detected slight wine marks on some pages) and reading Pindar's mannered encomia upon the equestrian victories of Sicilian rulers in the Games.

Newman once said, I think, that he could never be a saint; because he loved literature too much. But Classicists, evidently, can become saints!

How very fortunate the inhabitants of Birmingham (and its surrounding areas) are, to have such a wonderful shrine in their midst; to be able to go to Mass in such a flourishing and well-run church. And one with such a large car-park behind it!