Merton the Rigid?

On Facebook this evening I posted a quotation, asking people to guess its author without recourse to Google. There were some interesting guesses, but one canny lady got to it by a clever process of questioning and reasoning.

The author was none other than Fr Thomas Merton OCSO (or O.C.R. as it was), from his 1950 pamphlet “What is Contemplation?” as published by Burns & Oates as title 7 in their Paternoster Series. This is early Cistercian Merton, grappling intellectually and manfully with spiritual things. Reading this particular little section, I was stopped in my tracks on page 13: Continue reading “Merton the Rigid?”

Ecclesiastical hysterics

The interventions, two of them now, of Fr Pio Pinto against The Four Cardinals i Quattro Cardinali have probably been a little exaggerated in their reporting. However reading excerpts of his answers is enough to realise that Fr Pinto was verging on the hysterical in his support-of-the-pope-by-attacking-the-cardinals. In a second interview he has stepped back from any suggestion that the pope could strip the cardinals of their scarlet. He extols the pope’s mercifulness, twists the two synods on the family into conclusion they did not make, and makes a nasty ad hominem attack against Cardinal Meisner. The tone of Fr Pinto stands in stark contrast to the measured and respectful tone of the cardinals’ letter. Fr Pinto is getting on and some may be wondering if he is hoping for a little sacred purple to cushion his retirement. Chi sa? Continue reading “Ecclesiastical hysterics”

The Holy Grail of Holy Medals

Some time earlier this year I was on the hunt for a medal of St Benedict. Not one of the vin ordinaire cheapies (though they are not unworthy) and certainly not the mass-produced Chinese ones (I kid you not) that do not bear close inspection. A few decades ago there were some natty ones made in France (I think it was) that had one charming if un-traditional image of Our Holy Father St Benedict. They can be found you look hard enough, but second-hand and over-priced.

You might protest that since I wear the habit of a consecrated Benedictine the medal is a little outré, or at least superfluous, for a monk. Well, monks too like sacramentals: their imagery, their feel, their blessing, and (in this case), their text. I would also like to give some to friends. Continue reading “The Holy Grail of Holy Medals”

The viva—update

To all those who visit here but do not follow me in on Facebook, my apologies. If you have been wondering how things went before the inquisitors, I can say that it turned out to be a very rewarding and even consoling experience. Not once did they “show the implements” to me, and in fact we had a lively and searching discussion on topics in and arising from the thesis. Professors Bullivant and Muessig settled me down very quickly, and my supervisor Professor D’Costa successfully and fruitfully distracted me both before and immediately after the viva, as I waited to be recalled for the examiners’ decision.

In short, they passed the thesis without requiring any corrections. Unless the research degrees award committee has decided to be as contrary as modern politics, both civil and ecclesiastical, I should be graduating as a MPhil in February. It is not impossible that something further might be done with the thesis. Time will tell.

To all who prayed on my behalf, my thanks and blessings. It worked, and it was rather cheering to enter the day in question knowing that others were praying for me.

And life rocks on…

thug-life-meme-glasses

 

Popes, cardinals and ambiguity

A brief thought on the ongoing, and troubling, impasse over Amoris Laetitia, and the dubia  submitted by i quattro cardinali seeking clarification of controverted formulations in and implications of the papal exhortation.

Sandro Magister today wrote of what he described as “the calculated ambiguity of the text, which has opened the way to a multiplicity of interpretations and applications, some of them decidedly new with respect to the age-old teaching of the Church.” This was part of his introduction to an essay by Claudio Pierantoni which finds a parallel to the current crisis of confusion in the early Church.

However it strikes me that we can find not merely a parallel with but also the origin of the present situation. Magister is almost certainly right in detecting a deliberate ambiguity in Amoris Laetitia (AL). However, it is probably not so very surprising that this is so. AL seems to embody a hermeneutic of ambiguity that can find its roots in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. One does not need to be a scholar to recall the many ways in which ambiguity has been read into conciliar texts, or extracted form them, in order to justify innovations in liturgy, theology and ecclesial life that the majority of the Council fathers would not have countenanced if they had been presented to them at the Council itself.

This conclusion is easily reached even without recourse to the new historiography and hermeneutics which are upsetting the deeply entrenched status quo when it comes to interpreting the Council. One need only read the 1966 classic, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, by the Divine Word missionary, Fr Ralph Wiltgen SVD. Released while the dust of the Council was still settling, and written from a liberal perspective, it is disarmingly frank in its innocent-faced revelations about the machinations of the northern European faction at the Council, including “compromises” in drafting the texts of the conciliar documents. The ambiguity of these documents was clearly planned by their theologian drafters, it not by their episcopal promulgators.

This “calculated ambiguity” in the conciliar documents begat the ambiguity today in AL. This time, however, lessons have been learned and it seems that some are prepared to confront the ambiguity in order to nip its deleterious effects in the bud. No one of sound mind wants to revisit the chaos and trauma of the post-conciliar confusion.

More often than not, magisterial formulations allow room for future doctrinal reflection and elaboration (not change) by stating the barest minimum necessary to counter error and safeguard truth. The Magisterium never tries to say more than is necessary. It has a most un-German terseness and economy of language. Words are carefully chosen, having often been fought over, precisely in order to avoid ambiguity and the chaos that would almost certainly arise from it in the future.

If the Council fathers can be said to have failed, or made a mistake, at all it is certainly in this, if not elsewhere: that they failed to do the work of thrashing out the formulations to the extent they should have. In order to prevent an ever-lengthening Council, and the atrophy that might arise from this, they accepted all too readily the compromise texts placed before them by the periti, in which, as is now often admitted, “time bombs” of ambiguity had been carefully hidden. Desperate to keep up with the swinging sixties, they raced ahead of God.

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Cardinal Kasper is but the heir to Hans Küng
The fathers ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth have been set on edge. Or what they sowed we have been painfully reaping ever since. AL is part of this conciliar harvest. It seems prudent at the very least that some pastors of the Church have learned the bitter but prophetic lesson afforded by Cardinal Ottaviani and are politely but firmly working to ensure that the teeth of the next generation will not also be set on edge, that they will a richer and more abundant harvest to reap than that sown with studied ambiguity, however good its intention. We all know that adage will tells us which road it is that is paved with good intentions. And would that Pope Francis might note the bitter lesson afforded by Pope Paul VI.

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Cardinal Ottaviani: a prophet not recognised by his own?
Pax!

Spare a prayer

Please spare me a prayer tomorrow morning. At 11am, in Bristol, I will front two professorial inquisitors appointed to conduct the viva for my MPhil thesis on the ecumenism of blood and the Coptic martyrs of Libya.

The last couple of days re-reading critically the thesis I have found a regiment of typos and stylistic infelicities which escaped the notice of two pairs of eyes and which would not have troubled the spell-check. While I think the argument fairly sound I wonder if I have actually carried it off adequately. No doubt this is fairly natural pre-inquisition nervousness, and I am assured they are very nice inquisitors. Yet, mmm…

In the global scheme of things this is pretty inconsequential, yet it in such things we find that our personal horizons tend ineluctably to narrow and our world to shrink. It is very hard to resist.

So a prayer would be nice. At the very least I would hate for it to happen that I wasted more of the monastery’s money!

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Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals

The Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has designated today as Red Wednesday. Mancunians know this tag for another reason, but it is being coopted and elevated by ACN to signify the day on which we take time for special remembrance who are persecuted for their faith. We are encouraged to donate if we can, or to pray and ideally to attend Mass, and as a sign to the world, to wear something red today.

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As much red as this monk can reasonably manage today

Given the headlines in the Catholic press and blogosphere the last week or two, it is hard not to think of certain red-clad cardinals. The letter of i quattro cardinali—Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner—seeking papal clarification of five dubia, doubts, that have arisen as a result of the conflicted and confusing reception of the Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation (following last year’s Synod on the Family), Amoris Laetitia (“the Joy of Love”, not “The Joys of Love” as The Week put it, which makes it sound like an instruction on sexual technique. Of course, the choice of amor(-is) does refer to the fact that it is sexual love being discussed, not the more supernatural caritas). Continue reading “Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals”