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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Justice, the 4th lecture

Harvard philosophy professor Michael Sandel’s fourth lecture in his popular course on Justice is out. In the last lecture he and the class discussed libertarianism ... this week, the first part of class is devoted to John Locke and his belief that individuals have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, given to us in the the state of nature, from God, and appreciable through reason ... the second half discusses why Locke believed those rights aren't harmed by the paying of taxes, due to acceptance of the social contract (so there, libertarians!). Also brought up at the end of the lecture - the question of whether Locke's views of property and consent were influenced by his investment in the English colonization of America.

Here's the video -

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jesuit final vows

Fr. Martin SJ has a post at America magazine's blog today about taking his final vows ...... Final Vows? What's That?

Here's a bit of his post ....


If you’re at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York on Sunday, and able to dodge the marathoners, you’ll see something that few people ever see: a Jesuit final vow Mass. After 21 years as a Jesuit, I've been "invited," as we say in the Society of Jesus, to pronounce final vows .....

After "solemn" vows, the "fully professed" take five "simple" vows, privately--after Mass, in a side chapel or a sacristy. These vows show how well St. Ignatius understood human nature. First, we vow never to change anything in the Jesuit Constitutions about poverty--unless to make it "more strict." Second, a vow never to "strive or ambition" for any dignity in the church, like becoming a bishop. Third, never to "strive or ambition" for any high office in the Jesuits. Fourth, if we find out that someone is striving for these things, we are to "communicate his name" to the Society. (A friend calls this the vow to rat out someone, but it's another indication of how much Ignatius wanted to eliminate ambition, as far as possible, from the Jesuits.) Finally, we take a vow that, if we are somehow made bishop, we will still listen to the superior general. And, by the way, you’ll notice that the famous “fourth vow” to the pope is regarding “the missions,” reflecting Ignatius’s understanding that the pope had a better view of where in the world the Jesuits were needed. As John W. O’Malley, S.J., has written the fourth vow, often misunderstood in Catholic circles, is about worldwide mobility .......


Congratulations and best wishes to Fr. Martin :)

Book of the Names of the Dead

- Procession of Souls by Louis Welden Hawkins

After my mother died a few years ago, one of the things I did which made me feel better was to place her name in Creighton University's page, the online Book of the Dead .....

The Church has a long tradition of remembering those who have died, to the love and mercy of God. We do this in a special way on the Feast of All Souls Day, and throughout November. In many churches around the world, there is a Book of the Names of the Dead, as a continuing reminder of our prayer. We offer this online Book of the Names of the Dead, so that we might be in solidarity around the world in prayer for our loved ones.

- grandpa and grandma

- mama

- Kermit, Data, Grendel, and Spot

Some good news

President Obama signs The Matthew Shepard/James Bryd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law ....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beauty, truth, nature, and Lars von Trier

I'm wary of Natural Law theory where what is natural is considered inherently good or right (see David Hart and Nature). What brings this up is Lars von Trier"s new movie, Antichrist, in which a couple who, after the death of their child, retreat to a cabin in the woods where they encounter strange and terrifying occurrences.. I haven't seen the movie, and after watching the trailer I'm pretty sure I never will .... it looks both scary and extremely disturbing on a whole number of levels ..... but I did see an interesting review of it at Religion Dispatches. Here's just a bit of the (pretty long) review, Mother (Nature) Will Eat You: Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, by S. Brent Plate:


[...] The ancients, as well as many moderns, have concerned themselves with beauty and its attendant formal dimensions of symmetry, wholism, and proper ratios. In the third century CE, Plotinus suggested that all beautiful things produce “awe and a shock of delight, passionate longing, love and a shudder of rapture.” These words could easily be applied to many parts of Antichrist, just as modern day renditions of “shock” and “awe,” and “shudder” are far beyond what the ancients were imagining. Even so, the ancient Greeks, and groups like the National Socialists who pretended to be unearthing an ancient tradition, saw beauty as a property that prompts holiness and ultimately salvation, purifies its recipients, and promotes social harmony and prosperity. Which is why Riefenstahl employed it and Hitler enjoyed it. Beauty, it has been thought, leads to goodness and truth.

Throughout Western philosophical and theological history, one of the key sources for the encounter with beauty has been found in nature. The father of modern philosophy, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), was big on it, as are many in the Germanic and English philosophical traditions: nature is awe-inspiring, overwhelming even, leading to an encounter with the sublime, something uncontrollable, something that makes us realize the tremendous (making us tremble) forces that are beyond our human grasp, leading us to believe there might be gods and goddesses behind it all.

Von Trier seems to know this and in Antichrist we get nature in a big, bad way: leeches sucking blood off a hand, dead and dying animals, falling trees, falling acorns, and falling birds from nests (mimicking falling children, the “Fall” from original grace), and, finally, animals who prey on their young. Nature here isn’t the pristine, verdant world revered by eco-warriors. Von Trier and his production designers make sure that trees and grass may be “green,” but they are simultaneously rotting, decaying, and falling.

The film’s natural world is not unlike that described by Annie Dillard in her marvelous Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Early on in her reflections, Dillard describes her experience walking along a shoreline in a beautiful environment and coming across a frog that was moving very slowly:

And just as I looked at him, he slowly crumpled and began to sag... his skin emptied and drooped. He was shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football... I gaped bewildered, appalled. An oval shadow hung in the water behind the drained frog; then the shadow glided away. The frog skin bag started to sink.

Dillard goes on to realize that this “shadow” was a giant water bug that bites its victim, piercing its skin, and then proceeds to suck its prey dry. The image given is gruesome, and Dillard goes on to think of the theological implications: “Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created.” In the end, Dillard affirms a creation theology that appalls von Trier. For the latter, God is the malicious water bug ......

In this light, Antichrist is full of paradoxes, a confusion of opposing forces. Nature and nurture are toyed with, just as left and right shoes are mixed up—perhaps having something to do with the son’s death. Left and right, right and wrong, are nowhere delineated in the film, but confused throughout, and grand mythologies are intertwined with children’s stories and fairy tales. Mythos has a showdown with logos once again, but now in the dead of night instead of high noon. As is usual in von Trier’s films, there is a key character who is a doctor, a medicine man (and it is always a man), and a female character who disbelieves the logos of the medical establishment. They are pitted against each other again and again.

In Antichrist, He (the unnamed character played by Willem Dafoe), the pedantic therapist, lays on the wooden floor of the shack in the woods in Eden, emasculated and half dead, yet even so cannot give up his so-called rational outlook. He looks up at the stars exclaiming, “There’s no such constellation,” regarding the purported “three beggars” from “her” (Charlotte Gainsbourg) research, even though He seems to see them. What He overlooks is the fact that there is no such thing as a constellation anyway. Stars do not somehow “choose” to be together, do not immediately coagulate with each other. Constellations are always created by the observers, a subjective deciding process. There is no logical reason to link one star to the next, and from what we know via modern astronomy, some of those stars might not even exist anymore since their light takes so many years to reach us. What is thought to be natural is nothing of the sort ...........

No married priests after all?

A post by Fr. James Martin SJ at America magazine's blog - Married Priests Holding Up Anglican Move - would seem to indicate that those married Anglican priests who take up the Pope's offer will be the last of their kind. Here's a quote from the post ....

[...] publication of the new Apostolic Constitution establishing the entrance of Anglicans into the Catholic Church is being held up by a canonical debate over the ordination of married priests. "In these days the text has been revised by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and it (seems) that this point will be defined more clearly, specifying that future seminarians of the Anglo-Catholic community will have to be celibate just as their colleagues in the Latin Catholic Church," he writes ...

No strings :)

The Colbert report on the Pope's offer to Anglicans, with a visit by Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, and an Episcopal priest. .....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

St. Jude and Bertel Thorvaldsen

- statue of Saint Jude Thaddeus by Bertel Thorvaldsen, Vor Frue Kirke, Copenhagen

St. Jude Thaddeus is invoked in desperate situations because his New Testament letter stresses that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh, difficult circumstances, just as their forefathers had done before them. Therefore, he is the patron saint of desperate cases. - Wikipedia

When I began this post, it was supposed to be about St. Jude, but while looking for a picture of him I got sidetracked by Bertel Thorvaldsen (19 November 1770 – 24 March 1844) , the a Danish/ Icelandic sculptor who did the statue of Jude shown above. Here's some more of his work .....

- The Lion Monument (Löwendenkmal) in Lucerne, Switzerland, commemorating the sacrifice of more than six hundred Swiss Guards who died defending the Tuileries during the French Revolution .... I actually saw this on my one trip to Europe :)

- a baptismal font at Vor Frue Kirke

- the statue of Jesus at Vor Frue Kirke. This statue has been extensively copied, one copy ending up, of all places, in Salt Lake City with the Mormons

- the monument to Pius VII at St. Peter's

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


- mother and baby flying fox fruit bats which, unlike the bats philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote of (see below), don't use echolocation. I learned of them when reading about Oliver Sacks

Here's a past sermon by Steven Shakespeare, Anglican Chaplain of Liverpool Hope University, where he also teaches philosophy (hat tip to Jonathan/MadPriest) .......


Sermon for the annual service of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals
Durham Cathedral, Saturday 26th September 2009
Steven Shakespeare

I want you to imagine something. I want you to imagine that there is another world above us. I’m not talking about a heavenly or spiritual world. It exists, like ours, in space and time. But it is a world fundamentally different from ours. The inhabitants of this world – because it is not a lonely place - have a rich experience. But their experience of dimensions, of colour and sound, of desire and satisfaction, of communication – all of this is so far detached from anything we might recognise, as to be unrecognisable. We would find it hard – impossible even - to know what it would be like to live in this other world or to be one of its inhabitants.

Let’s say that, somehow we had contact with this other world. We couldn’t talk with its inhabitants or understand their point of view, we couldn’t enter into their experience – but we were aware of them. What attitude should we take towards them? Should we pity them because they are not like us? Should assume that the only way we can understand them is to assume that at some level they really must be like us after all? Should we fear them, try to keep them out of our world? Should we even do what we could to destroy them?

I hope you might agree with me that all of these reactions – of pity, assimilation, of fear and hate – all of them have more to do with our own insecurity and need for boundaries than anything else. None of them is really warranted by our contact with this other world.

Now you might already have worked out that I am not talking about anything particularly far fetched or exotic. That other world I asked you to imagine is very real, and very everyday. In fact it is quite literally above our heads right at this moment. For in this great cathedral, there is a thriving colony of bats.

Now why should we be interested in bats? Aren’t those of us who think there is a valid reason to be concerned about the moral status of bats and other nonhumans just a bit well, batty - a word that just means having bats in your mental belfry?

I now teach philosophy and ethics, and one of my courses looks at the whole issue of what it means to be a person. What defines a person? Is it reason, language, community, emotion? Can persons be explained as nothing more than neural processes, behavioural responses, chemical reactions? And – crucially – are human beings the only ones who qualify to be persons?

One of the seminal articles on this topic came out in 1974. Written by the philosopher Thomas Nagel, it was entitled ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ In essence, Nagel’s argument was simple. Few would deny that bats have some kind of experience. But because they find their way around the world through sonar, a system of subtly modulated shrieks and echoes, their world is experienced by them in a way we can hardly begin to conceive. Our bodily and mental structures are so wholly dissimilar. Just imagining what it would like to have membrane wings, or be the size of a bat: none of this helps. We cannot get into their heads.

And still, we have good reason to think that bats do have experiences, that they do have a world and that they do communicate with it and each other. Nagel’s point is that, however much we might come up with elaborate physical explanations of bat behaviour, something will still escape us: the felt quality of actually being a bat, actually living in that strange world so different from ours.

As far as I know, Nagel wasn’t setting out to make an argument for treating bats kindly. His purpose was to reject the idea that experience – including our own – could ever be reduced or explained away physically. There is something unique, something irreplaceable about the quality of what each of us experiences. It can’t be captured by abstract definitions or by science, however helpful science is in revealing the wonders of life around us. Scientists cannot become bats, despite what the films might pretend.

This might seem a far cry from what motivates each of us to think that nonhuman animals are worthy of our moral attention, of our care, concern and compassion. But I believe there is a very strong link.

We are often inclined to think that we are at the centre of the world. Perhaps not us as individuals, but our species. Human beings are the reason creation exists, the hub around which everything revolves. It was an image of our importance that was underlined by the classical idea that the whole universe really did orbit around the earth – and that only human beings had the reason and language and soul to contact the higher spheres.

The church has at times supported that vision, as it has bought into other exclusive and colonial assumptions. But it is not true to the radical heart of Christian existence. Christian faith exists because these exclusive boundaries have been crossed. The Word becomes flesh: not simply human, but flesh. The scandal of Christianity is that the eternal God identifies with the matter of the world. And one of the first things Jesus does, after the Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove is to go to the desert, beyond all human waymarks and ownership – to be with the wild animals.

God so loves the world that he gives his only Son. Not just human beings, the world. In Greek: the cosmos: the whole complex, rich and startling universe which unfolds around us in myriad forms of matter and life. For all that the drama of salvation is described in terms of human sin and faith, there is another text to be read: the Word made flesh comes to disturb our thrones and empires. The world is no longer ours to fear, dominate and control. There world is many, with voices we cannot hear and lives we cannot understand – but all of them included with us in the creative love of God. In our reading from Revelation, when we come to the heavenly throne, what do we find? A picture of the divine as a lamb, an image of sacrifice and animality. How subversive is that?

We should not be surprised by this, even though we might struggle with what it means. We have a hard enough time grasping that for God our little hierarchies of race and gender and sexuality crumble before the breath of the Spirit. Fortunately, there have always been voices in our traditions who have witnessed to God’s solidarity with the world and with all life. Scientific study of nonhuman animals has enriched our appreciation of their wonderful diversity and intricate adaptation. We know we are not alone in possessing the power to make signs and communicate, have social bonds and rituals, use tools and show compassion.

But for all this, we still need a change of heart and mind. Knowledge alone is not enough. We need to experience a shift in our picture of the world no less radical than the one which displaced the earth at the centre of the universe.

I hope I’ve said enough to persuade you that this is about more than animal rights. Don’t get me wrong: the call for animal rights has played a key role in combating cruelty, and Christians have a role to play in animals rights movements now as ever. But even as people have gradually accepted that animals have some kind of rights, we still meet with barriers. European legislation on animal experimentation is watered down, numbers of animals used in UK experiments is on the rise; zero grazing is still a reality; Tesco resists high profile campaigns to eliminate factory farmed chickens. You may have seen some of the disturbing imagery inside slaughterhouses filmed in an undercover operation by Animal Aid. What lingers is the sense of callousness, the way sentient creatures are treated as objects to be kicked, trampled and discarded.

But the slaughterhouse is only the graphic reflection of our own society, of our own minds. The callousness is bred into us. And we have to ask which is worse: the tired out worker who can’t be bothered to stun an animal properly before it is killed, or the well-fed consumers who chuck the packaged product into their trolleys.

We need a change of heart. Not only animal rights, as if animals are lesser versions of ourselves, but a sense of wonder at the mystery of nonhuman life. Shock and outrage at cruelty can move us to change. But we also need to feed and educate our desires, our connectedness with the worlds around us, our humility in the face of so much mystery that lives and breathes without reference to us.

That is why its crucial for services like this to happen, for all the resources of symbol, tone and texture to be used. One of the themes put forward for this year’s Animal Welfare Sunday is that animals are ‘not forgotten by God’. Remembrance for Christians is not just a mental thing. It is physical, emotional, spiritual. The primary remembrance we celebrate is when we break bread and share wine in memory of him who gave his life for the world. God’s body is remembered, is able to reach and touch the earth. Wounded and abused, it identifies with all tormented and enslaved creatures. Risen and glorious, it affirms that the life of the flesh can be liberated and renewed.

The liberation theologian Johannes Baptiste Metz calls our remembrance of Jesus a dangerous memory. It is dangerous because it challenges the power structures of our world, the stories of power and exploitation we live by. It calls us out of the comfortable centre to walk with a subversive Lord. And who knows which worlds he will take us into?

Of course there are those who say that this is all a diversion from our central concern: human suffering. I disagree. There is no absolute dividing line between human and animal. Cutting the world up in that way is an act of violence. There is really no such thing as an animal standing over against human beings. How can we force the sublime diversity of nonhuman life into such a narrow straitjacket? And how can we ignore our own evolved and animal selves?

Even on its own terms, this idea that attending to nonhuman welfare is a distraction just doesn’t add up. There are well documented links between violence done to humans and violence done to animals. And we have only to look at the ways in which excluded groups are labelled as bestial and subhuman to realise that the whole language of human and animal is weighted down by powerful acts of exclusion which affect people as much as other sentient life. Consider just one example, from the biologist Ernst Haeckel, who was an influence on Nazi ideology. He wrote that non-European races are ‘psychologically nearer to the mammals (apes and dogs) than to civilized Europeans, we must, therefore, assign a totally different value to their lives’. The divide between humans and animals is never neutral. It is a link in the chain of enslavement, colonisation and ethnic extermination which has reached such a pitch in the last hundred years.

How can we be freed from this legacy? I believe grace draws us into another space, one which is not dominated by our gaze, made solely for our needs, one that is a strange new creation. I remember one day walking in the Peak District in a valley filled with abandoned millstones. These markers of human industry were being reclaimed by moss, soil and grass. As we looked for somewhere to sit, we saw a line of ants was marching across the path. As we watched them, we realised that we were in the middle of a huge network of anthills, each connected by busy roads full of insects going backwards and forwards. Suddenly, the whole place was changed. It was no longer just scenic backdrop for our leisure. We had come across a world, a complex world with its own geography and lines of communication, a world totally indifferent to us. The valley was no longer simply ours. It was a revelation.

Cynics will ask if ants have rights or if they are worth as much as human beings. Such questions miss the point. It is not enough to define the world with legalities, however important these may be. The starting point must simply be to stop and wonder. And wonder can be an opening to the traffic of grace, even a grace carried along the beaten tracks made by insect feet. Grace creates a different geography of the heart.

Nonhuman animals do not have to be like us, or of use to us in order to be remembered by God, to be touched by the saving body of God. We do not have to be bats and they do not have to be us for them to be included in God’s care. It is the radical difference and strangeness of the world of the bat – of the bird, of the ant, of the eel – which should make us pause. The boundaries of our imagination and understanding are not the boundaries of reality.

When we travel in awe and trepidation to those boundaries, we should treat them as holy places, not final limits. This does not mean that there will not be conflicts between our plans and projects and those of other animals. But dealing with conflict is very different from the wholesale assumption that animals exist to be caged, eaten, worn and experimented upon for our own benefit.

The bats above us are a reminder that there are creative ways for different lives and different worlds to be held together. At the limit, at the boundary – God awaits us. With a gift of mystery and of love, God holds the worlds in outstretched wings.





- Eric Bana's character watches the Munich hostage situation on tv

Stayed up too late watching a movie .... Munich, the 2005 film by Steven Spielberg, starring Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, which tells the story of the real life Wrath of God operation. I hadn't been interested in seeing it when it first came out, but after having recently read the novels by Daniel Silva about art restorer/Israeli agent Gabriel Allon, the main assassin of that project, I thought it worth a watch.

It's hard to know what to say about the movie - there were many parts I disliked but some other parts were compelling. I did find the historical stuff interesting .... how Black September came to be, the Munich massacre, the release on demand by Germany of the surviving hostage takers when a Lufthansa aircraft was hijacked, and Golda Meir's authorization of the operation. The movie dwells mostly, though, on the details of the operation itself, and even more so on the moral ambiguity of, and moral devastation caused by the assassinations. No one was really good, no one was really bad, or actually everyone was alternatively both, and the members of the Israeli team were shown slowly deconstructing as they went about their grim task. One of the creepiest parts, I thought, was near the end when Eric Bana's character finally came back to Israel and visited his mother after having spent years tracking down and killing his targets while losing almost all his team, his faith in human nature, his moral compass, and his mind.... he asked her, so tentative and somewhere between hope and dread, if she wanted to know the details of what he'd done, but she just smiled brightly and told him nope, but not to worry, it had all been worth it - yikes!

- talking to mom

I've read that some critics of the film thought it was anti-Israeli for showing those involved in the Wrath of God operation as having qualms about it .... I don't know if those criticisms are valid or not, but I do know, and I'm not being flip, that while Gabriel Allon would not have undone what he'd done, he was never the same after having done it.

Here's part of a review of the film from Slate .....


Death of a Hit Man

[...] Steven Spielberg's Munich (Universal), from a script by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. Grim and tightly wound, the movie's tension unrelieved by warmth or humor, it turns on the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic games, and on the Israeli government's alleged response, which was off the books, hush-hush: to bankroll a squad of covert operatives to assassinate the Palestinians believed to be behind the killings.

It's hard to imagine a better motive for vengeance than the killing of national heroes (and civilians) on a world stage. And, like any good thriller, the first part of Munich catches you up in the Mission: Impossible, nuts-and-bolts, "procedural" aspect of bringing the bad guys down: surveillance followed by shootings and colossal bomb blasts. Take that, terrorist vermin! Afterward, the team celebrates with buoyant back-patting over brewskis; you can almost hear them say, "And now, it's Miller time."

Even in the midst of the assassins' exultation, there are dissonances ..... The coldness of this universe is reinforced by Spielberg's uninflected storytelling. His tone is flat and his visual texture rough; the film is full of unobtrusive hand-held camerawork and quick zooms. The exceptions are the flashbacks to the Munich murders, the events revealed gradually, in fragments, through Avner's daydreams and nightmares. Those flashbacks accelerate—hurtling toward the actual Munich bloodbath—as ambivalence and then revulsion seep into the present action. The men Avner kills don't seem like monsters. They're presented as cranky poets and loving fathers and fierce idealists, and they regard their cause as righteous. (It is a powerful irony that the Palestinian who is said to be the Munich mastermind, who looks and acts like your garden-variety terrorist scumbag, is forever evading assassination.)

Is Munich an apology for Palestinian terrorists—for men and women who barbarously murder civilians? I don't consider a movie that assigns motives more complicated than pure evil to constitute an apology. The Israeli government and many conservative and pro-Israeli commentators have lambasted the film for naiveté, for implying that governments should never retaliate. But an expression of uncertainty and disgust is not the same as one of outright denunciation. What Munich does say—and what I find irrefutable—is that this shortsighted tit-for-tat can produce a kind of insanity, both individual and collective. As members of Avner's own team (played by a blond Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Hanns Zischler) are picked off in chilling ways, his escalating paranoia—and his hunger for absolutes, for a "world of our fathers" that is long gone—transcends his time and place.

There are sequences in Munich that make you sick with fear, that are impossible to shake off—among them one in which a Palestinian professor's little daughter is on the verge of answering a booby-trapped telephone. Most horrible of all is the movie's one pure vengeance killing, which is among the most appalling things I've ever seen. We want that revenge—we want it fiercely. But it's staged with such ugliness—as a sexual violation—that we choke on it.

Munich reinforces the idea that—great Miltonian allegories notwithstanding—the notion of evil has become profoundly maladaptive. Today, saying our enemy is "evil" is like saying a preventable tragedy is "God's will": It's a way of letting ourselves off the hook for crimes committed in our name. Not incidentally, it's also a way for our enemies to let themselves off the hook.

Munich has been regarded in some quarters as an affront: How does Spielberg have the audacity to make a commercial thriller that questions the very concept of retaliation? And while we're on the subject, how does he have the audacity to make a sci-fi picture like War of the Worlds, which uses a Martian invasion to evoke the trauma of 9/11?

Well, it's too bad we don't have more mainstream narrative filmmakers with that kind of audacity. Munich is the most potent, the most vital, the best movie of the year.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Ecumenism and the Spiritual Exercises

I came across a 1995 article today by Ronald Modras, a professor of theology at St. Louis University ..... The Spiritual Humanism of the Jesuits. Here's just the beginning of it .....


This past August the U.S. Episcopal Church's house of bishops added to their liturgical calendar--of all people!--St. Ignatius Loyola. Though the action was reportedly taken without much debate, there were questions about appropriateness. Jesuits, after all, had been banned from Anglican England under penalty of death. And, along with the Council of Trent, what group more than the Society of Jesus had come to symbolize the Counter-Reformation, with its anti-Protestant, anti-Anglican defensiveness?

Bishop Frank Griswold of Chicago championed the inclusion of Ignatius in the Episcopal prayerbook. He described himself as but one of many Anglicans nourished by Ignatian spirituality. The prayer authorized for the feast encapsulizes what he meant. It reads in part: "Almighty God . . . we thank thee for calling Ignatius of Loyola to the service of thy Divine Majesty and to find thee in all things. . . . "

Apparently Jesuit spirituality is not just for Roman Catholics any more. Maybe it never was. Back in 1954 Yale Professor Louis Martz pointed out in his book The Poetry of Meditation that Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises had a marked influence both on the spirituality and popular culture of Elizabethan England. Ensuing 17thcentury English verse bore a similar Ignatian imprint. One finds it in the meditative poetry not only of Jesuit Robert Southwell but of such Anglicans as John Donne, George Herbert and Richard Crashaw.

It seems that Jesuit treatises on meditation enjoyed the same widespread popularity in late 16th-century England that they had on the continent. In England, however, the treatises had to be anonymous or falsely attributed. The Society of Jesus was outlawed, and its members were constrained to work underground. Given those undercover operations, it is not surprising that the Oxford English Dictionary gives as a secondary meaning to the word Jesuit "a dissembling person; a prevaricator."

The Jesuits have come a long way from the connotations of "Jesuitical," and not just because there are Anglo-Catholics who make Ignatian retreats. For some time now Jesuit spirituality has not been just for Catholics or even just for Christians. In my 15 years teaching theology alongside Jesuits at Saint Louis University, I have found my Jewish and Muslim students affected by it as well, not by becoming Catholic but by becoming more religious, more devoutly Jewish or Muslim .......


The Vatican and untra-traditionalists

No, not the Anglican conservatives, the other ones - the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Saw this at Reuter's FaithWorld blog today ....

"The Vatican began talks on Monday with an ultra-traditionalist Catholic splinter group, one of whose bishops has denied the full extent of the Holocaust, with the aim of re-integrating it fully into the Church .... The group, numbering several hundred thousand members, insists that it represents the true faith, and opposes the way the Church has evolved over the past 40 years ..... Pope Benedict wants to try to bring the traditionalists back into the fold and heal a schism that began some 20 years ago. The two sides, far apart on many issues, will meet every two weeks and the negotiations could last months, if not years. Earlier this month, one SSPX leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, said bluntly: "The solution to the crisis (in the Church) is a return to the past." ......

Last January the group was put in the international spotlight after the pope, trying to start the process of bringing it back into the fold, lifted the excommunications of four of its bishops. One, Richard Williamson, caused an international furor by denying the full extent of the Holocaust and stating that there were no gas chambers. Jews have pointed to comments by SSPX leaders, including one by Rev. Franz Schmidberger who said Jews would be "complicit in deicide" -- the killing of God -- until they rejected "their forefathers' guilt" by accepting Christ and being baptized ....."

David Gibson has a post on this at dotCommonweal - Breaking news: Vatican III opens today in Rome! - which mentions the Society of Pius X could be made into a personal prelature similar to Opus Dei.

Yikes! :(

There was a comment to David's post (one with which I agree) by Eric Stoltz, a deacon for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles ......

Odd. All the rest of us are commanded to bow before every scrap of paper that emanates from a Roman dicastery, no matter how our intelligence is insulted. But if you deny a Council of the Church, well then,the doors are open and you’re welcome to tea and cookies; let’s find a way around your objection. We’ll come up with some vague statement you can sign and then ignore.

I suspect this is because the Vatican believes that because the Lefebvrites are “traditional,” they are somehow kindred souls that can be accommodated and “brought along” so they can become eventual allies in the restorationist movement. Boy, are they in for a surprise. The Lefebvrites have absolutely no incentive to give an inch; in fact, they have actual incentives not to. But Rome will grovel before them and seek anything that looks even remotely like reconciliation, just to add to the number of ultraconservatives in the Church and to be able to declare the schism “healed.” It’s all about appearances, and that’s distressing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Three poems by John F. Deane

Words of the Unknown Soldier

He stumped us, this Jesus of yours, with his
walking on water, fandango, entrechat, glissade;
birthing, imagine! in a dark cave, out of all knowing; then
he walked the hard-baked earth of Palestine, but not
as you walk, or as I, for behind him the healing flowers grew,
the rosebay willowherb, chamomile, the John's Wort;
we noted, too, that he could walk through walls,
appearing suddenly in the midst of folk as if
he were always there, waiting that they might notice him;
oh yes, this too, he walked on air
leaving them gawping upwards as he rose
higher and higher, like a skylark, walking
into the invisible. That was later. But humankind
will not be cheated of its prey for we claimed him,
hailing him fast to a tree, that he could not move
on water, earth or air, and we buried him in the underearth.
Where, it is said, he took to walking once again,
singing his larksong to the startled, to the stumped, dead.

As Yet

I have found no language
I am confronted always
with the weight of body
and the spirit’s blank
half-willed ascendancy;

in the dark night I wake,
uncertain if the sounds I’ve heard
are insinuations from the dead
or smallest creatures scurrying
somewhere between slates and ceiling.
I suffer

an irremediable
muscular decline and dry-joint
restiveness; sleep
is not won easily; the night
is long and treacherous
while I hear the stars

go whistling on their way; vision
blurs, perhaps
from too much seeing
and it comes easier to settle
the body’s heaviness
in a fireside chair. My living

has been words
and love, I will leave
islands of love, and archipelagos
of words; will it have been
sufficient? will it have been

Slievemore : Big Mountain

Before the tender God came, quizzical,
back out of the tomb, human still though resurrected,
before our fingers found a way to probe
the ghastly wounds for our forgiveness, giants
strode and fought across the slopes of the island's
big mountain; we have found their graves still kempt
under giant stones, the kestrel's piercing scream
sounding above, the bumble bee gladdened
among the heather bells; beasts, we suppose,
ranged against them, and the battles that they fought -
blood-inundated - were crushing to the flesh
as are ours; they went down, too, as we do, knowing life
a puzzlement, the only miracles they shared
were the colour-patterns shifting on the slopes, the sea's
berceuse-music from beyond the head, the graced
inebriation of their love-making when a goddess-moon
lay low and languid on the shoulder. We have a language
to sunder the apathy of boulders, and we have word
of a victory achieved, to still the blood, to move the mountain.

What is ecumenism?

Due to a comment to a dotCommonweal post about the Anglicans and the Catholics and ecumenism, I was reminded of a past paper by Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham and David Stancliffe, Bishop of Salisbury - Women Bishops: A Response to Cardinal Kasper. it is really worth a read.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Susan Neiman

I had a past post about Susan Neiman (who I came upon while looking up virtue ethics) and what she'd written about Sodom and Gamorrah, but I seem to have deleted it, so I thought I'd repost about her. Here's a little from Wikipedia ....

Susan Neiman (1955–) is an American moral philosopher, cultural commentator, and essayist .... Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Neiman left home as a teenager to join the anti-Vietnam War movement. Later she studied philosophy at Harvard University, earning her Ph.D. under the direction of John Rawls and Stanley Cavell. During graduate school, she spent several years of study at the Free University of Berlin. Slow Fire, a memoir about her life as a Jewish woman in 1980s Berlin, appeared in 1992. From 1989 to 1996 she taught philosophy at Yale University, and from 1996 to 2000 she was an associate professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University. In 2000 she assumed her current position at the Einstein Forum ....

Here are two mini-videos -

this one is a short intro to her book, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy .....

abd this one is her talking about the Einstein Forum .....

The Anglican Centre in Rome on the Vatican plan

A few days ago I had a post - Spiritual ecumenism - which mentioned the cooperation between Jesuits and the Anglican Centre in Rome. Today I saw a post at the Episcopal Cafe that gives an in-depth Q and A by the Anglican Centre in Rome on the recent Vatican announcement about the setting up of “Personal Ordinariates” for Anglicans ..... Vatican-Anglican relations: what just happened. Here's a bit of the post .....


The Rev. Dr. R. William Franklin, Academic Fellow of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Visiting Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Angelicum University in Rome and Associate Director of the American Academy in Rome explains it all .........

We here in Rome have received many questions about the Vatican announcement on October 20 about the setting up of “Personal Ordinariates” for former Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion now with the Roman Catholic Church. Here are some answers to those questions posed by many:

1. What exactly happened?

On October 20 there were two simultaneous press conferences in Rome and in London announcing that Pope Benedict XVI has approved an Apostolic Constitution that will set up a new canonical structure within the Roman Catholic Church that will allow for Personal Ordinariates which will make it possible for groups of Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, preserving within the Ordinariates distinctive aspects of the Anglican liturgical and spiritual tradition.

In Rome, Cardinal William Levada, President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which prepared the Constitution, which Pope Benedict has approved) and Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, of the Congregation for Divine Worship, announced that the Constitution would be forthcoming.

In London, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, announced the Constitution with their view that it brings to an end “a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church.”

2. What is new about the “Personal Ordinariates?

The Apostolic Constitution clearly authorizes something “new” in the Roman Catholic Church and it provides “a new way” to enter into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church. For many centuries individual Anglicans have converted to the Roman Catholic Church. There have been, however, a few previous cases in the past in which groups of Anglicans have entered the Roman Catholic Church and have been allowed to preserve some corporate structures of Anglicanism. Examples of this have been the Anglican diocese of Amritsar in India, and some individual parishes from the Episcopal Church in the United States which maintained an Anglican identity when entering the Roman Catholic Church under a “pastoral provision” adopted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

When this development took place in 1982, the Ecumenical Officer of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Rev. William Norgren, wrote:

“In pluralistic America we are accustomed to Christians moving from church to church. It is quite a different matter for one church to organize parishes and institute liturgy taken from another church—all to satisfy the individual wishes of a very few people who have moved. Comments in my hearing from individual Episcopalians, including some bishops, about parishes and proposed Anglican rites have been uniformly negative. This is simply a fact.”

What is new in 2009 is that this provision will be universal in its application. It provides for groups of parishes that will be formed into “Personal Ordinariates” which may be presided over by former Anglican priests, or unmarried bishops, and it provides for distinctive forms of priestly formation for former Anglicans which incorporates aspects of the Anglican tradition.

3. What is the origin of the Constitution?

According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Constitution emerged as a single model for the world-wide church in response to requests coming to the Holy See from various Anglican groups over the last years seeking to enter into full communion with the Roman See. Cardinal Levada has said:”We have been trying to meet the requests for full communion that have come to us from Anglicans in different parts of the world in recent years in a uniform and equitable way. With this proposal the Church wants to respond to the legitimate aspirations of these Anglican groups for full and visible unity with the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter.”

4. Were we at the Anglican Centre in Rome surprised by this announcement?

For more than a year, we at the Anglican Centre in Rome have heard rumors of groups of former Anglicans meeting in Rome with representatives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But we were neither informed nor consulted about these conversations, nor was the staff of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the ecumenical office of the Holy See, who are our closest dialogue partners in Rome. The Pontifical Council did not draft the Constitution, nor did it participate in the press conference announcing the Constitution. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he was informed of the announcement “at a very late stage,” and the Archbishop’s Representative to the Holy See, the Very Rev. David Richardson, has said that he was “taken aback by the Vatican’s decision.”

5. What are the ecumenical implications of the “Personal Ordinariates”?

We at the Anglican Centre in Rome expect and hope that the ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church will continue. We look forward to a response from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on the proposed Apostolic Constitution. This will help us to understand how the ecumenical dialogue can continue in a context which has obviously been made different now. As Dean Richardson has said,”It doesn’t seem to me to help the ecumenical dialogue, but perhaps it will galvanize the dialogue.”

6. What are some unanswered questions?

There are four unanswered questions that need to be addressed before we can evaluate the ecumenical future:

a. What does the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have to say about the Apostolic Constitution?
b. What does the text of the Apostolic Constitution actually say ( the document has been announced but we have not seen it), and particularly on the following points, what are the details? What specifics of the Anglican patrimony will be allowed? Will it be more than “spiritual” and “liturgical”? Will it be “ecclesiological” and “theological”? What will seminary formation for former Anglicans entail? How will the “Personal Ordinariates” relate to the authority of the local Roman Catholic bishop?
c. What are the names of the groups of former Anglicans who seek reunion with the Roman See? Names of various groups have been put forward and denied in Rome, so it remains unclear to us what former Anglicans we are talking about. Knowing the identity of those who seek to move will help in our evaluation of the significance of this development.
d. And finally, what will be the response to this development in the many provinces of the Anglican Communion where there is a national Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue?

7. What will our continuing relationships be like?

With this announcement the shape of things to come for Anglican—Roman Catholic relations is at this time unclear. But in a letter of October 20, 2009, Archbishop Rowan Williams has said:”It remains to be seen what use will be made of this provision, since it is now up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution; but, in the light of recent discussions with senior officials in the Vatican, I can say that this new possibility is in no sense at all intended to undermine existing relations between our two communions or to be an act of proselytism or aggression.”



Yesterday my sister and I walked to a park to look for acorns to feed to the blue jays in the yard. Almost no acorns in the park, strangely, though we did see some odd looking mulberry trees, but we found lots of acorns along the street to and from the park. I wouldn't know this if my sister hadn't told me, as I can't see well enough, but the jays in the yard often hop around with acorns in their beaks and then bury them in the ground in caches (Planning for the future by western scrub-jays, Nature). So I thought, let's find some acorns for them .......

Free speech

- philosopher John Searle at a Berkeley free speech rally

I saw today that this year is the 45th anniversary of a speech given by Mario Savio on the UC Berkeley campus as part of the Free Speech Movement in which students demanded the university lift a ban on on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students' right to free speech and academic freedom. You can read what John Searle, who was a Berkeley philosophy professor there at the time, has to say about it here.

Here's just a bit of the speech given by Mario on the Sproul Hall steps, December 2, 1964 - it still seems relevant today .....

"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Becoming Anglican

I saw a post at the Georgetown blog by Fr. Thomas Reese SJ on the Pope's move to invite conservative Anglicans into the Church. He sees it more positively than I do, as I think true ecumenism = respecting and finding commonalities with other denominations (why was the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Holy See left out of the new plans? Check out the history of uniatism) but what I found interesting was something at the end of Fr. Reese's post .....


[...] Despite all the Vatican attempts to downplay the acceptance of married Anglican priests, many people will ask why not married priests for other Catholics? Cardinal Levada said that not only married Anglican priests will be ordained but also married Anglican seminarians who join the Catholic Church. The Vatican has made clear that married Catholic priests will not be welcomed back to the priesthood, but could a married Catholic man join the Anglicans, enter an Anglican seminary and then return to the Catholic Church? If so, this could become a rich source of priests for the Catholic Church.

The Vatican also says that the Anglican ordinariates would have their own seminarians who could have houses of formation but would study with other Catholic seminarians. I presume this means married seminarians, otherwise the Vatican will deny these former Anglicans what they see as an essential part of their spiritual and liturgical tradition. Married and celibate seminarians in the same course of studies will certainly be an interesting experiment. It will either strengthen a celibate's vocation or break it.

More importantly, could married Roman Catholic men from the traditional dioceses join the Anglican ordinariate and become seminarians and priests? If so, we have just solved the priest shortage problem and within a generation there will be more priests in the Anglican ordinariates than in the traditional dioceses. The rest of the people will soon follow and the Anglican ordinariate will hold a majority of Roman Catholics.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Discernment of Spirits as an Act of Faith

Here's just the beginning of a long article by William A Barry SJ. It sort of spoke to me. You can find (most of) the article here at Google books (and you can read more about the discernment of spirits at


Discernment of Spirits as an Act of Faith
- William A Barry SJ

Recently, while directing a retreat, I realized that discerning the spirits requires an act of faith. One of the retreatants had stated early and quite openly that she hated retreats. I asked her why she continued to make them if this was the case. She said, "Because religious have to." She could pray in short periods, she said, but the idea of spending an hour at a time in prayer sent her into a tizzy. At the same time, she desired to experience the presence of God. The desire was strong enough to bring tears to her eyes as she spoke of it. Nevertheless, she did not have much hope that her desire would be fulfilled.

When I asked her what she liked to do, she told me that she enjoyed listening to music, doing puzzles, and going for walks in the woods. I suggested that she spend the day doing those things with the desire that God make his presence felt. She was afraid that she would feel guilty if she spent her retreat time in this way; it did not seem like prayer. Over the next day or so I prevailed on her to give enjoyment a try. She later recounted that on the evening of the third day she said to herself with a laugh, "I'm actually enjoying this retreat." She also had the sense that God might be enjoying it too. But the guilt feelings did not disappear; she still felt that this could not be the way a good retreat should go. During the session after this day we looked at the two different experiences: the enjoyment of the retreat and the feelings of guilt. I then asked her, "Which of these experiences are you going to believe in?" At that moment I had the insight that the discernment of the spirits is not complete until it ends up in an act of faith. I thanked her for helping me to arrive at this clarity. By exploring this insight I hope to help spiritual directors and others.

In Jesus and the Victory of God, the second of a projected three or four volumes on the New Testament and the question of God, N. T. Wright develops a historical hypothesis about the nature of Jesus' vocation and his self-consciousness. It is a Christology from below, as it were, but it arrives at a very high Christology. One of his statements concerns our topic. He notes that to speak of Jesus' vocation is not the same as to speak of Jesus' knowledge of his divinity. "Jesus did not ... 'know that he was God' in the same way that one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His 'knowledge' was of a more risky, but perhaps more significant, sort: like knowing one is loved. One cannot 'prove' it except by living it." In other words, Jesus had to take the risk of faith that any human being takes when he discerns a vocation from God. But Jesus' vocation, as he saw it, included within it actions that Israel's God had reserved to himself. Jesus, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, symbolically enacted the return of Yahweh to Zion; Jesus took upon himself the role of Messianic shepherd, God's role. Jesus' discernment of his vocation, in other words, required an act of faith in a unique relationship with God. He "proved" it by living it. I am going to argue that every discernment of spirits is like this; it is not complete until we prove its truth by acting on it .......


Making explicit the implications

A bit from a post at A Thinking Reed .......


Vegetarianism without foundations

[...] I don’t think you need a fully developed philosophical view to find vegetarianism compelling.

Almost everyone admits, in practice if not theory, that animals can suffer. And nearly everyone admits that it’s a moral truism that you shouldn’t cause unnecessary suffering. From those two simple, commonsense premises, it follows pretty quickly that you shouldn’t cause animals unnecessary suffering.

Throw in a few basic factual premises about the conditions under which animals are raised for food, and I think you arrive in short order at the minimal conclusion that our current system for raising animals for food (and probably most other feasible systems) is morally objectionable to say the least.

None of this requires you to make any major conceptual shifts in your worldview, such as accepting a particular theory of value or animal “rights” or whatnot, merely to draw a conclusion from premises that you (probably) already accept. It’s true that there are some people who claim to believe that animals don’t suffer, or that their suffering doesn’t matter. But the widespread revulsion at, say, the antics of Michael Vick indicate that this is a minority position.

In this sense, vegetarianism is like a lot of other reform movements: it doesn’t offer new values so much as try to make explicit the implications of values that people already accept ........


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spiritual ecumenism

My last couple of posts were about the Anglicans and the Pope's offer - as I've mentioned, I think the move was unfortunate, not in the true spirit of ecumenism, but by coincidence I saw a post today at Thinking Faith about Anglicans and Catholics (Jesuits :) and spiritual ecumenism - a course on Ignatian spirituality being given by the Anglican Centre in Rome - Spiritual ecumenism at work?. The page has a link to an audio interview (and transcript) with Anglican priest David Richardson and Jesuit Gerry Whelan. Here's a quote from Fr. David Richardson ....

Rev David Richardson: The Anglican Centre has, in the past, run courses on different approaches to spirituality and prayer. There are of course Anglican Franciscans and so to run a programme on Franciscan spirituality was very obvious, and we’ve done that twice. We’ve also run courses on Benedictine spirituality twice. I arrived here last year and thought that, although there are no Anglican Jesuits, nevertheless there are many Anglicans who have been helped deeply in their spiritual journey by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. So there was that principle, and secondly, over the years the most open and supportive group, in terms of ecumenism, that I’ve encountered in the Roman Catholic Church has been the Jesuits, and so I thought that to do a course on Ignatian spirituality that allowed Anglicans, and anybody else of course, to dip their toes in the water, might be an exciting thing to do .......

The notion of ecumenism that is done by hospitality and prayer and spirituality is a really key initiative, I think. The reality is that over the last forty-something years, since the Second Vatican Council, there have been lots of ticks given to things we can actually affirm together, but every time we affirm something we find something that is harder to affirm; or we find that when we can say one thing together, it just opens up a new set of things that we can’t quite say together! But the spiritual life is something that belongs to the whole tradition.


I believe spirituality trumps church politics.

Angling for Anglicans

Some in the blogosphere are still talking about the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans ..... you can watch/listen to videos and podcasts of the news conference with the archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster at the Times, and there's a new post by David Gibson at dotCommonweal on it too - Angling for Anglicans: Empty nets?, and here's an interesting post from the Episcopal Cafe ........


They said it

A quote tasting from the firehose of reactions to Rome's announcement:

"The two questions I would want to ask are 'why this and why now ,,,, Why the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decided to embrace that particular method remains unclear to me. ... If it's for former Anglicans, then it's not about our present difficulties, then it's people who have already left. ... [If it's current Anglicans] there is in my mind an uncertainty for whom it is intended."
- The Very Rev. David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Holy See

After the news that the Vatican is effectively carving out a special church-within-a-church to shelter traditionalist Anglicans upset at gay priests and women bishops in their own church, one has to wonder if the cafeteria line isn’t forming to the right. While both Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI have been known as staunch conservatives, they have in fact shown a remarkably liberal willingness to bend the rules when it comes to certain groups.
- David Gibson, author of “The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World”

The auspices for the present Pope’s visit are now less good, and suddenly so owing to yesterday’s announcement. Pope Benedict may preside at the beatification service in Birmingham for Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Victorian divine, who is an important figure in the intellectual and cultural life of the nation as well as of the Church. As the most prominent of all converts to Rome, Newman advised Anglicans that their Church had “left the centre of unity in the 16th century”. Newman’s name is one that could be attached to the new ordinariate for Anglicans. Such disputation was the temper of his times. It should not be the tenor of ours. The Church of England’s witness to the life of the nation is a valued and historic civic resource. Its position has been dangerously weakened.
- Editorial in The Times

I am sorry that there has been no opportunity to alert you earlier to this; I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage, and we await the text of the Apostolic Constitution itself and its code of practice in the coming weeks. ... It remains to be seen what use will be made of this provision, since it is now up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution; but, in the light of recent discussions with senior officials in the Vatican, I can say that this new possibility is in no sense at all intended to undermine existing relations between our two communions or to be an act of proselytism or aggression.
- Rowan Williams in a letter to the Bishops of the Church of England, and the members of the Primates Meeting of the Anglican Communion

Vatican 2.0? In IT terms, that would be equivalent to Microsoft inviting Linux users to run the Windows kernel while retaining .debs & .rpms
- twitter by Asteris Masouras

“I don’t want to be a Roman Catholic. There was a Reformation, you remember.”
- Martyn Minns

"Not all Anglo-Catholics can accept certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, nor do they believe that they must first convert to Rome in order to be truly catholic Christians."
- Jack Iker

Anglican orders are not accepted by the Vatican. Anglican “priests” joining Anglican Personal Ordinariates in order to function as priests will have to be ordained twice (or at least conditionally ordained twice). ... Married priests in Anglican Personal Ordinariates will have to marry prior to ordination to the diaconate. They will not be able to marry after ordination. Should his wife die, or he gets divorced (sorry – his marriage is annulled) he will not be able to marry. Roman Catholic deacons can be married, but in order to do so, must be married prior to ordination.
- The Rev. Bosco Peters

Both Catholic and Anglican churches prefer that disaffected Anglican groups belong to the Catholic Church than float freely. Dr Williams, remember, has a fundamentally Catholic ecclesiology. ... Rome has not "given up" on the Anglican Communion -- even though it knows that unity is impossible at present. Rome has been closely involved, and remains so, with the "covenant" process initiated by Dr Williams in 2004, which aims at tightening the bonds within the 80m-strong worldwide Communion.
- Austen Ivereigh, former press secretary to the (Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster

I worry, too, that some of these newcomers will also be nostalgists, anti-feminists, and anti-gay bigots.
- Michael Sean Winters, author of "Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats."


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Disaffected Anglicans

Just saw in the news Benedict's decision to establish special ordinariates for disaffected (conservative) Anglicans - Roman Catholic church to receive Anglicans. I can't speak for how those in the Anglican Communion should take this, but as a left-leaning Catholic, I'm not happy. Here's a bit from a post at America magazine's blog by Michael Sean Winters - The Anglicans and Us - that expresses some of my feelings ....


[...] why now? Were they not disturbed by their communion’s indifference to papal primacy all these years? When John Paul II sought some way to establish the validity of Anglican orders, but came up empty because the apostolic succession was clearly broken, why did they not seek incorporation into the Church of Rome then? I am sure that many of those who are now motivated to seek communion with Rome do so now primarily because the fractured nature of their own communion has become so manifest.

But, I worry, too, that some of these newcomers will also be nostalgists, anti-feminists, and anti-gay bigots. The ordaining of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire is not something I would have advised, but after all these centuries of schism, I am not sure why that should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The first email I received this morning was from a Jewish friend who saw this aspect of the development when he wrote: "Do you think Pope B- might set up a Jewish rite if we asked him? We could call it Judaism. He could call it unity with church. Everyone's happy." .....


Oh well, now the un-excommunicated SSPX bishops will have new friends to play with :(

Monday, October 19, 2009

Living in hope

The British Jesuit journal of spirituality, The Way, has a new issue out, and though I'm no longer a subsctiber, they usually have one article that's free for all to read. The free article this month was on the subject of universal salvation. ..... Road Narrows at the Vatican? Did Christ Die ‘For Many’ or ‘For All’? by Wolfgang Beinert, professor of dogmatic theology and doctrinal history at the University of Regensburg, Germany. I've pasted some of his article below and you can download the whole article from the July 2009 issue, Found in Translation, at The Way.

I've posted a lot here about universal salvation, and many theologians I admire seem to believe in it, from Keith Ward and Marilyn McCord Adams to Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner. Not everyone believes in universal salvation of course - Ignatius didn't, I'm sure, and even CS Lewis seems to have believed that God "allows" people to go to hell of their own free will.

I think the person I've been trying most to convince with all my posts about universal salvation is me, fearing I'll be cast into the outer darkness. But Kant felt that if you imagined the very highest good, that would be God, that God can't disappoint. And lately I've been trying something new - to trust that God really is as good as I hope he is, that God wouldn't let anybody end up in hell, even if they'd already pre-booked a room and were looking forward to it, not even me.

Anyway, here's part of the article mentioned above ....


Road Narrows at the Vatican? Did Christ Die ‘For Many’ or ‘For All’?
by Wolfgang Beinert

In 2006 a note, dated 17 OCTOBER, was delivered to the presidents of bishops’ conferences from Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Liturgical Congregation. It said that the Congregation was writing, on the Pope’s instructions, to the following effect: by 2008, in all new translations of the Missal, the words spoken over the chalice in the institution narrative, pro multis, should no longer be translated as ‘for all’, but as ‘for many’ .......

This last point raises a fundamental question concerning the basic teachings of the Christian religion: who can hope for final salvation? Did Christ die on the cross for all people, or only for some? Have we resurrected Augustine’s teachings according to which humanity is a massa damnata, condemned to Hell collectively, with only a few being picked out for mercy? Is the Roman Catholic Church once again to be presented as the ‘only source of holiness’, even though it has distanced itself from this understanding since 1854, and particularly clearly in the last Council? Or is there finally a ‘universal reconciliation’—in Greek apokatastasis—as Origen maintained in the early Church? (Long after his death, Origen was condemned by the Church for this opinion.) Will absolutely everybody get to heaven—even Hitler, Himmler, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein?

Such questions are far from abstract and academic. They always involve asking ‘What about me? What chance do I have?’ Countless people suffer indescribably under the threat that they might be destined for eternal damnation ..... Arinze writes ‘at [the Pope’s] direction’. Is this only a standard formula, or is it meant literally? According to his own statement, Joseph Ratzinger’s Eschatology, published shortly before he became Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, and printed in a new edition in 2007, is one of his most important works. In it he discusses the teaching of Origen on universal salvation (a teaching which is also to be found in Buddhism). This, he concludes, does not follow ‘from the biblical witness …. The irrevocable takes place, and that includes ... eternal destruction.’ This conclusion is surprising, since Ratzinger’s close theological friend Hans Urs von Balthasar thought quite differently and was very sympathetic towards Origen .......

The real significance of the debate set in motion by the letter lies in its dogmatic background. It concerns God’s saving power and humanity’s hope for salvation ..... It may well be that God wills the salvation of all people in Christ—but does God put this will into effect? Many theologians, including one as eminent as Hans Urs von Balthasar, incline to an unqualified yes. Others, such as Joseph Ratzinger, cast doubt. They fear, paradoxical though this may sound, for human freedom if God is so free as to bestow salvation on all people. What happens if creatures, with full knowledge and complete consent, refuse God’s salvation for themselves? If God were free to force it on them all the same, God would take away their humanity with this freedom. So God must leave them free to go to hell .......

The reality of God’s infinite freedom, the existence of limited human freedoms: these seem to be in conflict, in competition. Resolution comes from God’s side, so the scriptures imply—a resolution that occurs only because God suffers this conflict within Godself ..... the descent of the one who was God and human into the realm of death—death here understood as complete inability to communicate, not being able to express oneself at all, not being able to want anything any more. The reality of salvation derives, then, from God’s subjection to humanity’s ‘no’. Yet, even as human will prevails against God’s will, God’s will prevails against human will—not because of God’s superior power, but because of God’s suffering. This is possible because God’s infinity, with its ‘yes’, is greater than the provisionality of any creaturely ‘no’, any creaturely refusal. Hans Urs von Balthasar sees here, with justification, a mitigation of the doctrine of the two possible outcomes of judgment, so that ‘hope outweighs fear’.

Once again: these are speculations, not conclusions that can be absolutely proven. But, if we can take von Balthasar as an authority, they are certainly well grounded theologically. Moreover, these speculations also affect our understanding of the Eucharist, and still more of the Eucharistic assembly. We live in hope precisely when we celebrate the Eucharist, the ‘sacrifice of reconciliation’. The Eucharist is addressed not to ‘many’ but to ‘all’. Why should we not be allowed to include this in what we profess when we celebrate? Sometimes God’s ways seem like wide streets. They should be left open .......


A basic lack of empathy

Today I saw a post at by Glenn Greenwald about the account by The New York Times' David Rohde on his stint as a Taliban hostage .... David Rohde on the "why do they hate us?" question. Here's a bit of it .....

[...] Note, too, the vast gap between how Americans perceive of their actions [secret prisons, torture, civilian casualties, etc.] (mere "aberrations") and how so much of the rest of the world perceives of it, especially those in the targeted regions. So much of this disparity is explained by a basic lack of empathy: imagine if every American spent just a day contemplating how they'd react if some foreign army from a Muslim nation invaded and bombed the U.S., occupied the country for the next several years with 60,000 soldiers, killed tens of thousands of citizens here, set up secret prisons where they disappeared Americans for years without charges or even contact with the outside world, imposed sanctions that blockaded food and medicine and killed countless children, invaded and ransacked our homes at will, abducted Americans and shipped them halfway around the world to island-prisons, instituted a worldwide torture regime, armed their allies for attacks on other Western nations, and threatened still other invasions. Do you think Americans might be seething with rage about that, wanting to kill as many of the people from that country as possible? ....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Eastern Promises

The movie I saw tonight was a loan from my sister .... Eastern Promises. The 2007 film is directed by David Cronenberg (of The Dead Zone and Dead Ringers fame), and stars Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts.

- midwife (Watts) and orphan baby

Below is The New York Times review of the movie, but I wanted to give my own opinion too - I found the acting really good, the storyline grimly compelling, interesting cinematography, but I also found the film pretty disturbing ..... guys get their throats cut, there's a graphic forced sex scene, an extremely brutal knife fight, and the the length to which the good guy is willing to go to make eventual good on good ends is chilling.

- Viggo's character getting some new tattoos

Here's the review ....


On London’s Underside, Where Slavery Survives

Published: September 14, 2007

The story told in “Eastern Promises” is a grim and violent one, set in London’s expatriate Russian underworld. The film, directed by David Cronenberg from a script by Steve Knight, revisits a number of themes and motifs that are staples of the genre: the ties of family and culture that bind criminal organizations; Oedipal drama; honor among thieves. The audience stumbles into this realm in the company of an innocent outsider (Naomi Watts) who finds herself at once fascinated and repelled by it, as well as in considerable danger.

But even as the turns of its narrative and the contours of its characters are recognizable, very little about “Eastern Promises” feels predictable or secondhand. From his early days making low-budget horror movies in Canada to his current ascendancy as a favorite of the international critical cognoscenti, Mr. Cronenberg has always been a master of estrangement. He and his cinematographer, Peter Suschitzky, shoot the dark, rain-slicked London streets in tones that turn the city into a sinister, palpitating presence. Mr. Cronenberg’s deliberate, almost stately pacing — the way he lingers in scenes for an extra beat or two, as if studying the faces of his actors for clues — transforms what might have been a routine thriller into something genuinely troubling.

Mr. Knight deserves a lot of credit as well, since he is clearly as interested in the social and ethical implications of the story as he is in its twists and reversals. Among the other screenplays he has written are those for “Dirty Pretty Things,” another peek into the murky byways of multicultural London, and “Amazing Grace,” a stirring biography of the 18th-century British abolitionist William Wilberforce.

“Eastern Promises,” like those earlier movies, is fundamentally about the moral scandal of slavery, the traffic in human bodies and human misery that persists, in secret and in the shadows, even in the modern, cosmopolitan West.

The plot of “Dirty Pretty Things” turned on the sale of organs for transplant. “Eastern Promises” glances at the consequences of the global sex trade, particularly as it involves women and girls from the former Soviet Union. Ms. Watts’s character, Anna, is a midwife at a London hospital — the daughter of a Russian father and a British mother (Sinead Cusack) — obsessed with the background of a baby she has delivered. The infant’s mother was a teenage girl who died in childbirth, leaving behind a diary that chronicled her horrific exploitation and that may contain information about the identities of her tormentors.

Rather guilelessly, Anna follows a trail that leads her to an elegant Russian restaurant, whose proprietor, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), is a soft-spoken monster with twinkly blue eyes. When he is not decorating birthday cakes for exiled dowagers, Semyon leads a local chapter of the Vory v Zakone, the Russian Cosa Nostra, born in Stalin’s prison camps, whose members are known, like Japanese yakuza, by the tattoos that cover their skin.

Anna, who speaks no Russian, is innocent of the ways of the Vory, but her irascible uncle Stepan (played by the veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski), warns her to steer clear of them.

Several forces combine to pull her into their orbit, though. In addition to her desire to honor the dead girl and protect the baby, there seems to be a trace of the sentimental curiosity that an assimilated, second-generation immigrant might feel about the old country. And then there is Nikolai, the well-mannered, ambitious ex-convict with slicked-back silver hair who serves as driver and wingman for Semyon’s impulsive, unhappy son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel).

Nikolai, who presents himself to Semyon as both loyal and ambitious, is played, with flawless control, by Viggo Mortensen. The immovable hair and the deep dimple in his slightly crooked chin suggest a young Kirk Douglas, but Mr. Douglas was never this quiet. In “A History of Violence,” Mr. Mortensen seamlessly impersonated an ordinary, decent small-town guy who was also a cold, professional killer. Nikolai is a similarly ambiguous — or perhaps divided — character. He is all hard, tense muscle, and yet an almost subliminal hint of compassion occasionally shines through his icy, impassive face.

“Eastern Promises” is itself an intriguing, not always stable mixture of moods and attitudes. There are, as usual in Mr. Cronenberg’s films, scenes of intimate brutality that you almost absorb physically, rather than with your eyes. (One, a grisly knife fight in a steam room, with Mr. Mortensen wearing only his tattoos, is likely to become a touchstone for cinema fetishists of various kinds.)

The rigor of Mr. Cronenberg’s direction sometimes seems at odds with the humanism of Mr. Knight’s script, but more often the director’s ruthless formal command rescues the story from its maudlin impulses. Mr. Knight aims earnestly for your heartstrings, but Mr. Cronenberg insists on getting under your skin. The result is a movie whose images and implications are likely to stay in your head for a long time.

“Eastern Promises” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has profanity, sex and extreme violence.