This past Autumn Last Testment in his own words, an interview of Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald was released in its English translation. It is full of fascinating and tantalising, almost teasing, tidbits. Scattered through the book are several passing comments on the Church in Germany, Benedict’s native land. Put them together and one finds a sobering reflection on this powerhouse of European Catholicism.
First, a quick reminder of the German Church. It has proved aggressively liberal, not least in some of its most prominent prelates, such as Cardinals Marx, Lehmann and Kasper. They cam into their own at Vatican II when they successfully pushed their liberal agenda onto the Council by means of their wealth and organisational savvy. The title alone of the classic (and approving!) contemporary history of the Council, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, reveals that perfectly. Continue reading “God or Mammon: Benedict XVI’s Twilight Reflections on the Church in Germany”→
The flu has hit me, and sitting at a desk for more than 10 or so minutes has been nigh impossible. That has been all the more galling seeing some of the latest developments in Dubiagate. Even prelates for whom I had conserved some respect are managing the amazing feat of supporting the insupportable.
In fact, one wonders if irony is finally dead. Thus, from America magazine,
Archbishop Mark Coleridge thinks some of his fellow prelates are afraid of confronting reality.
Now one might have assumed he was going to state the obvious: that those prelates and curial apparatchiks chiding i quattro cardinali for publishing their five dubia regarding the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia in the wake of their being ignored by Pope Francis are very much out of order, and refusing to face the reality that pragmatic perversion of general pastoral policy cannot supplant the teaching of Christ. Continue reading “Discerning the really real: dubia, popes and dissent”→
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?”→
The interventions, two of them now, of Fr Pio Pinto against The Four Cardinalsi 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”→
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”→
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.
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.
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.