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Friday, July 30, 2010

Happy St. Ignatius Day

Friday is the feast of Ignatius of Loyola and I thought I'd post a bit from an article on Ignatian prayer by Philip Sheldrake. There are many things I like about Ignatius but one of the best is his style of prayer in the Spiritual Exercises - gospel contemplation/colloquy - in which one puts oneself in the company of God, allowing for interaction. When I first learned about this kind of prayer I was intrigued at the implications, but I have to admit that lately I've been skimping .... face to face conversations can be daunting if you're not sure all's well between you and the other person :/

The article is pretty long and I've only posted just the first four paragraphs of it, but it can be read in its entirety or freely downloaded if you search in the archives at The Way.


Imagination and Prayer
by Philip Sheldrake

IN RECENT YEARS many people, seeking to deepen or expand their experience of prayer, have found great help in what is called gospel contemplation. Stated very simply, this consists in taking a scene from the gospels, and 'putting oneself in the midst of the action', or making it present through the use of the imagination. Perhaps the easiest way to explain how gospel or imaginative contemplation proceeds is to begin by describing the experience of one retreatant, a school teacher, who had never tried this way of praying before. She was asked to use the incident of Peter walking on the water (Mt 14,22-33). When she came to describe this, she said that to start with she had no difficulty in imagining herself in a boat, as she had in fact been sailing as a youngster. She knew what it was like to experience the frustration and fear of fighting against a strong wind and current. This helped her to 'get inside' the scene. She recognized that Jesus was there, and found herself, like Peter, with a strong desire to join him, to be alongside him. However, she also felt unable to get out of the boat. Try as she might, she could not imagine herself doing this 'and so the prayer went wrong at that point'. Why did she feel this? 'Because, up to then I could identify with the actual story in the gospel, but when I could not get out of the boat, it all broke down'. And so, what did she do? 'I said to Jesus, "I can't get out of this boat" '. And then, 'I felt that Jesus asked why and I had to admit that I was scared. You see', she said, 'I can sail, but I can't swim very well'. Then she felt that Jesus was asking her whether she thought that he would make her do something beyond her capacity. 'Yes, you would . . . you often have'. This experience led the person to spend the remainder of the prayer sitting and talking to Christ about the fact that she did not really trust him because she did not know him well enough.

This example, it seems to me, underlines with great clarity some of the more important elements of the imaginative kind of prayer. Most importantly, the person was fully involved and was not just a spectator observing a picture, as one might contemplate a painting in a gallery. Quite instinctively she found herself identifying with one of the characters in the gospel scene. And yet she did not become Peter, she remained herself. In this sense she did not put herself back in time. Rather, the story became present, and became her story. In this case she found it easy to enter the scene by some initially detailed imagination of being in a boat. However, as the story progressed, the degree of pictorial imagination grew less and less. Those with a strong ability to picture details find the notion of seeing the people, or feeling the wind on the face, or smelling the fish in the bottom of the boat very easy indeed. However, this is not a necessary part of imaginative prayer. Pictorial imagination is only one way of imagining. Not all are capable of it, and not all find it necessary. This person, as the story progressed, found that this aspect was less apparent. She 'sensed' that Jesus was asking her something, rather than heard specific words coming from a figure whom she could visualize and describe. This fact is important because some people object to trying imaginative contemplation precisely because they feel unable to imagine pictorially, or because it is unreal. Likewise, for those who do find it possible and helpful, there is the danger of becoming too involved in the trivia which, if used at all, are only a means to an end. That end, of course, is some kind of personal encounter with the Lord which touches the deepest parts of my reality. And that encounter was really present for this woman in that the imaginative representation of a particular scene provoked a realization of something very vital to her relationship with Christ: that she did not trust. Did the prayer go wrong because it ceased to follow the gospel story in literal detail? On the contrary, the gospel was a medium for the revelation of something very important and true about herself. And yet the gospel story was not left behind entirely. It was this specific scene of walking on the water which formed the backdrop to everything else that was valid about the prayer. And the prayer certainly remained within the general parameters of the gospel passage.

Another characteristic of this form of prayer is that it can free the person to allow deep-rooted feelings to emerge which are blocking any further growth. Imaginative contemplation, when it works, takes on a life of its own -- and the life is that of the person praying. It therefore serves to bring the gospel into direct contact with the reality of this person's life, and frequently in a challenging way. Such prayer may also help a person come to terms with, and admit to, inner feelings which previously he or she felt were inappropriate before God. 'I should not feel angry'. A more distanced approach to scripture, where one asks 'What did Jesus say? What did he mean? How does this apply to christian action?' rarely does this. For when one is bringing only reason to the gospels there is a tendency to apply a priori limits to what is valid. Thus another retreatant, in praying the calming of the storm in Mark (4,16) was brought face to face both with what she felt about Christ, and how she herself behaved in life. Jesus, lying at the bottom of the boat, was in the way as she rushed around trimming the sails in the midst of the squall. At first she was politely apologetic at bumping into him, but eventually she shouted at him 'What do you think you are doing there? Lolling around when we have to do all the work? Why don't you do something useful?' To which the only reply was 'Who is in charge here anyway?' This brought the person to a halt and led her to reflect that this imaginative experience underlined both her feelings that God was generally uninvolved in her concerns, and that, in fact, she rarely let him act because she did not let go, or relax, either in life or in prayer. A similar realization came to the person who prayed the call of the first disciples in John (1,35-39). When Christ asked him 'What do you seek?' his instinctive response was 'To be with you'. Jesus then invited the person to follow, and set off at a rapid pace which prevented him from keeping up. When he cried 'Why do you have to go so fast?' Christ merely smiled and kept going, up hill and down dale and eventually into a town in whose winding streets the person finally lost sight of Jesus. Final panic set in, but with it the realization that the problem was that he felt that Christ was always too fast for him, and that consequently his life was always a struggle to keep up with impossible demands.

The realization of 'impossible demands' raises the question as to whether all images which emerge from such gospel contemplation are true. If we take the example of someone who felt in prayer that Jesus said to him 'I'm not going to start loving you, until you learn how to love me', it is clear that this is not a truly christian image of God. We all come to prayer with images -- of God, of self and of
our world 7 but none of them is perfect and some are radically unhelpful. Does this mean that the feeling just described (that God demands that we merit his love) is totally untrue? It is true, surely, in that it is what the person actually feels. Distorted images cannot just be repressed; they can only be refined if exposed, admitted to, and offered to God. But such an image is not from God for, if we follow the sound advice of St Ignatius's 'Rules for discernment', we can see that what produces joy, harmony and growth is the gift of the good spirit, and that which produces sadness, despair or fragmentation is (to use Ignatius's language) a temptation of the evil spirit ............


Viva Ignacio Viva!

Tomorrow will be the feast day of St. Ignatius so here's a little music for him, Viva Ignacio Viva! written by Gaspar Fernandes and Lux Æterna ......

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Joy can take us far

I usually don't visitthe Anchoress's blog because I find her so conservative, but today I was in the First Things neighborhood and so took a look. I came upon this post by her which reminded me so much of my cat Kermit. I was surprised she and I could feel so differently about some things and so much the same about others .....


It is the sort of day…
Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 10:25 AM
Elizabeth Scalia

Where you stumble out of bed, put the coffee together, and make a soft-boiled egg for the sick dog, who should now be trying food. You make one for yourself, too. The dog watches you create her egg-and-bread, then turns up her nose at it, once you place it before her.

As you prepare your own egg, letting the lovely hot yolk drip over a piece of crumbled rye bread, you gently try to coax the pooch into eating, “you must get strong,” you say. “I can’t give you your medicine in yummy pill pockets unless you eat…”

You dip your spoon into your own breakfast, and it tastes good. The dog is watching your every move, because she is a dog, and she is very attentive. You say, “okay, I’m going to take a bite, and you take a bite…”

And she still doesn’t eat.

This depresses you. You cannot enjoy your egg while the dog is sick, but you suspect that maybe–out of mere habit–if the dog has an opportunity to eat your food, she’ll go for it.

So you put your soft-egg-and-bread mess into her bowl.

And she tentatively eats your egg, and your bread, and leaves her own untouched.

Because she loves you so much that she would rather share what is yours than have her own. Or something.

Then you get a little moist-eyed because once again your dog has shown you something mysterious and vital which must be pondered. She’d rather have communion than singularity.

That’s love. It’s also pretty good theology.

You forget about eating breakfast, and give the dog her medicine. Fresh water goes untouched.

Then you go to get a cup of coffee, so your day can begin and you find…you never turned on the pot.

When you finally do get coffee, you come into your office, click on the email and turn your attention to work. The dog lays at your feet with a thud, because she is still weak; her back legs are giving out. You open your email to the rhythmic thwacking of her tail against the desk.

The first three emails are expressing hate for your religion, your political affiliation and your stupid family and stupid life. You are surprised that none of them end in, “and your little dog, too!”

You look down at the dog, who looks back lovingly, seeming almost to smile.

And you feel nothing but gratitude, for the dog, and for your life, and for the ability to raise a cup of coffee to your lips unaided, and the ability to walk to the kitchen to get another.

It’s the sort of day when giving thanks opens a route to joy, which speeds along God’s glory.

Joy can take us far.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Angelology in New York

I'm almost finished with Angelology: A Novel and finally I can see why some reviewers compared it to the movie National Treasure ..... the main characters (chased by bad guys) are following obscure clues left by someone deceased (Abby Aldrich Rockefeller) that lead to three well known public places (The Cloisters, the Museum of Modern Art, and Riverside Church), one of which might be the secret repository of an object that could transform the earth into paradise or hell - a lyre that once belonged to the archangel Gabriel :)

Some photos from the three places mentioned ...

- Head by Alexei Jawlensky at the Museum of Modern Art (website)

- The Unicorn in Captivity at The Cloisters (website)

- a gargoyle (Flicker) on Riverside Church (website)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A theology of friendship

There's a post at America magazine's blog about the pope's new children's book, The Friends of Jesus, and it quotes a story at NCR by Dennis Coday ....

The prologue, by Spanish Fr. Julian Carron, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, begins: ""One upon a time there was a small group of men who, one day two thousand years ago, met a young man who walked the roads of Galilee . Each had his own job and family but, in an instant, their lives changed. They were called Andrew and John, Peter, Matthew, Thomas, etc. They were twelve and we know them today as the 'Apostles'. ... In Jerusalem at that time everyone knew that they were Jesus' 'friends'. ... Later they were joined by St. Paul ..."

Carron writes that Benedict XVI "takes us by the hand and accompanies us as we discover who Jesus' first companions were, how they met him and were conquered by him to the point that they never abandoned Him." [What about that "three times you will deny me" bit and who went to the grave first on that first Easter?]

I guess left out of friendship are Lazarus and his two sisters (who Jesus loved but apparently liked not so much :), Mary M, and doubtless others, including everyone who follows Jesus' teaching.

I read an interesting paper on the subject of friendship with Jesus from The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University. Here's just a bit from the beginning of it ......


"I Have Called You Friends"
by Gail R. O'Day

[...] Friendship was an important topic in the Greek and Roman cultures in which the early Church took shape and the New Testament documents were written. For Aristotle and classical philosophers who followed him, friendship was a key social relationship. In the democratic ideal of the Athenian polis, or city-state, friendship exemplified the mutual social obligation on which the polis depended.

But it is also true the virtuous man’s conduct is often guided by the interests of his friends and of his country, and that he will if necessary *lay down his life in their behalf*…. And this is doubtless the case with those who give their lives for others; thus they choose great nobility for themselves. (1)

This quotation from Aristotle represents the classical ideal of friendship expressed by many writers. In the Symposium, Plato writes, “Only those who love wish to die for others.” Lucian, a Hellenistic philosopher and storyteller, promises to tell his readers of “many deeds of blood and battles and deaths for the sake of friends.” (2)

For modern readers, Jesus’ definition of love and friendship in John 15:13—to lay down one’s life for one’s friend—is completely unprecedented. Most contemporary language about friendship does not speak in terms of life and death. We celebrate our friends, we eat and drink with friends, we take vacations with friends, we are there when a friend is in need; but the modern ideal of friendship is not someone who lays down his or her life on behalf of another. In the ancient world, however, Jesus’ words articulated a well-known ideal for friendship, not a brand new idea. This does not mean that any more people laid down their lives for their friends in the ancient world than are inclined to do so today—but it does show that the ideal of doing so belonged to the ancient perspective on friendship.

An additional aspect of ancient friendship is important for understanding friendship in the Gospel of John. In the first-century world of the New Testament, discussions of friendship moved from a friendship ideal to focus on the more pragmatic realities of patron-client relationships and on the political expediency captured in expressions like “friend of the emperor” (see 19:12). One of the main distinguishing marks of a friend in this context was the use of “frank speech” (parrēsia). Philosophers counseled the patron to be on the lookout for whether “friends” were speaking honestly and openly or whether they were engaging in flattery to further their own ends:

Frankness of speech, by common report and belief, is the language of friendship especially (as an animal has its peculiar cry), and on the other hand, that lack of frankness is unfriendly and ignoble…. (3)

According to the Hellenistic philosophers, to be someone’s friend was to speak frankly and honestly to them and to hold nothing back.

The New Testament writings were not created in a social vacuum. These two dimensions of friendship in the ancient world—the gift of one’s life for one’s friends and the use of frank and open speech—informed the way that the Gospel of John and its readers understood language about friendship.

John 15:12-15 is the key passage in John for a theology of friendship. Jesus enacts friendship throughout the Gospel, but these verses provide the words to describe and name who and what Jesus is as friend. In John, Jesus is both the model and the source of friendship. As the model of friendship, he calls the disciples to love as he has loved. As the source of friendship, he makes possible their own friendship through what he has given them .......


(1) Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics IX.8 (1169a18–25), quoting from H. Rackham, ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), italics added.
(2) Plato, Symposium 179B, also 208D; Lucian, Toxaris 36. In the New Testament, Paul echoes this theme: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
(3) Plutarch, How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 51.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Talking mice :)

Here are some screen captures from parts 2 and 3 of The 10th Kingdom (my post on part 1 is here), but first the basic plot ......

The 10th Kingdom tells the story of an enchanted other place where Prince Wendel (Daniel Lapaine), the grandson of Snow White, is changed into a dog by the evil Queen (Dianne Wiest) who has been released from Snow White Memorial Prison by the Troll King (Ed O'Neill). The dog/prince escapes her clutches by passing through a magic mirror to present day Manhattan where he meets a young waitress, Virginia (Kimberly Williams), and her janitor father, Tony (John Larroquette). The Queen sends minions through the mirror after the prince - trolls and also a human/wolf named Wolf (Scott Cohen). Wolf becomes enamored of Virginia and they're all forced through the magic mirror into the enchanted nine kingdoms. They're then on the run from the Queen and the trolls, not to mention the scary Huntsman (Rutger Hauer), searching for a way back home, a way to return the Prince to his human body, and an answer to the question of who the Queen really is. The movie is kind of silly, but ... talking mice! :)

- Tony and Prince Wendel take a boat down the river to find a magic mirror

- Tony, Virginia, Wolf, and Prince Wendel trace the mirror to a small village

- Wolf is imprisoned, soon to be burned at the stake, for being thought to have killed one of the village shepherdess.

- a talking bird (is that a Golden-breasted Starling?) tells Tony and Wolf where the Huntsman has taken Virginia

- the evil Queen in an orchard of poisoned apples

- Virginia, Price Wendel, and Tony look for the dwarves magic mirror workshop in Dragon Mountain

- a fairy warns Virginia and Tony not to eat the singing mushrooms

- the talking mice (who can also read German) tell Tony how to escape the dungeon of Prince Wendel's castle

- they're so cute :)

- at the end of the story everyone converges at Prince Wendel's coronation, including the 200 year old Cinderella (Ann-Margret)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Philip Endean SJ on the Two Standards

Ignatius of Loyola's feast day is coming up (July 31) and I've been thinking about the Two Standards, a meditation from the Spiritual Exercises that describes two armies on a plain - Lucifer and those who follow him under a banner or standard at one end, Jesus and those who follow him under another banner across from him ....

[...] see a great field of all that region of Jerusalem, where the supreme Commander-in-chief of the good is Christ our Lord; another field in the region of Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer .... imagine as if the chief of all the enemy seated himself in that great field of Babylon, as in a great chair of fire and smoke, in shape horrible and terrifying .... So, on the contrary, one has to imagine as to the supreme and true Captain, Who is Christ our Lord ... consider how Christ our Lord puts Himself in a great field of that region of Jerusalem, in lowly place, beautiful and attractive .... get me grace ... that I may be received under His standard ...

I've been reading Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality by Philip Endean SJ in which he mentions the modern take on the Two Standards (p. 188) .....


How can we reconcile Rahner's 'immediate experience of God' with a conviction that such experience must be, in Ignatian terms, under the 'standard' of Christ. (18) If God is truly creator of all that exists, what is the place for a unique, saving Jesus Christ who seems to divide the world into those for him and against him, and who, in Augustinian fashion, appears to override the creation's original goodness? .....

(18) A key moment in the Exercises is the meditation on Twp Standards, one Christ's, one Lucifer's, encouraging the retreatant to become aware of insidious temptations to egoism, and to pray to be received in poverty under the standard of Christ (Exx, nn. 136-47). 'Standard' is the established translation for bandera. In the original, the connotations are purely military, but the suggestion that Christ provides a standard, or norm, for our choice is surely in keeping with Ignatius's wider concerns, whereas the military imagery has become embarrassing. A recent study of this meditation, tracing the ideas back to Augustine's City of God, is Stefan Kiechle, 'Die ignatianische Meditation der "Zwei Banner": Zu ihrer Traditionsgeschichte von Augustinus bis Ignatius von Loyola', Geist und Leben, 66 (1993), 188-201


I'm not sure why I'm attracted to the imagery of the Two Standards or what that says about my ideas of Jesus.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

David Hart to Keith Ward

I while ago I had a post about Nancey Murphy (We have no souls) dealing with the question of whether we're only material beings or whether we have a distinct spiritual component non-dependant on our brains.

Today I saw a review of Marilynne Robinson's book Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self by David Bentley Hart. The book is a critique of physicalism. I haven't read her book, only Hart's review (and a review in the Washington Post which provided more details), but it seemed to me defensive towards the scary duo of determinism and reductionism, to sidestep the latest info from brain science, and to use the beauty of language to win an argument that deserves more. But that's just me - here's some of what Hart wrote ....


In Self-Defense
By David B Hart
Friday, July 9, 2010

The chief purpose of Absence of Mind — the published version of Marilynne Robinson’s splendid Terry Lectures, delivered at Yale in 2009 — is to raise a protest against all those modern, reductively materialist accounts of human consciousness that systematically exclude the testimony of subjectivity, of inner experience, from their understanding of the sources and impulses of the mind. Its targets are all the major schools of reductionism (Freudianism, Marxism, Darwinism), but also all the currently popular champions of the reductionist cause (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, E.O. Wilson, and so on). It is, in simple terms, a robust defense of the dignity and irreducible mystery of human conscience, personal identity, and self-awareness; and, as such, it is a stirring success .........

Robinson’s central argument is, I think it fair to say, more or less indisputable — or, at least, it should be. It may be fashionable in certain circles, and very desirable for ideological reasons, to insist that our normal experience of consciousness is in some sense an illusion, begotten by one or another set of pre-conscious, purely material forces, which have merely dissembled themselves as personal motives, transcendental aspirations, moral principles, altruism, and so on. And it may well be the case that the “discourses of suspicion” that make these claims have spread wide enough through popular culture to have become a kind of tacit cultural orthodoxy. But, as Robinson acutely observes, there is one great problem that bedevils all the magisterial reductionist approaches to the mind, whether they be sociobiological, neurobiological, psychological, economic, or what have you: simply enough, all of them consistently prove extravagantly inadequate to what any scrupulous, unprejudiced examination of the complexity of consciousness actually reveals ........

What Robinson’s book shows perhaps most clearly is that reductionism is not a philosophy honestly distilled from experience, but a dogma imposed upon it. For roughly a century and a half, Western culture has been falling ever more thoroughly under the sway of the prejudice that modern empirical science is not only the sole model of genuine truth but also capable of explaining all things. It is a strange belief, but to those who hold it sincerely, nothing is more intolerable than the thought that anything might lie beyond the probative reach of their “mechanical philosophy.” And so the exclusion of interiority, and of the self’s consciousness of itself, from their understanding of our humanity is simply inevitable, no matter how irrational or arbitrary that exclusion may be. “Subjectivity,” writes Robinson, “is the ancient haunt of piety and reverence and long, long thoughts. And the literatures that would dispel such things refuse to acknowledge subjectivity, perhaps because inability has evolved into principle and method.” ..........


There's an interesting lecture by Keith Ward on this subject - Science and the human person, which begins like this ....

Hardly anyone speaks of the soul any more. Cartesian dualism – alleged to be the view that the soul is a thing that thinks, and is quite distinct from the body – is often only mentioned as an object of derision. It is often taken for granted that the soul has been displaced by the mind, and the mind is just a by-product of the workings of the brain. Is it still possible to speak of the soul in a scientific world?

I shall argue that it is. By that I mean that what is distinctive of human persons (and of any other persons there might be in the universe) is a non-material component that we may term a ‘soul’ or ‘self’ or ‘subject of experience and action’. I use these terms interchangeably. I shall argue that the self can be disentangled from its material embodiment, then that is what gives each person a unique individuality and that it is what makes immortality possible. And I shall argue that this view is entirely in agreement with the best contemporary science ......

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dream of Three Wise Men

- from the Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jesus and Mary M conversing over a campfire ...

Mary: If I were a man I would be your most loyal disciple.
Jesus: Those who speak for me are my disciples.
- from the movie Jesus

Tomorrow is the feast day of Mary Magdalene. I like her, in part, I think, because she's been wrongly portrayed as a prostitute for so long (thanks to Pope Greg), and because she didn't have the family-in with Jesus that Martha and Mary had .... I wonder if she wondered how Jesus felt about her. Maybe she found out when she was the first to see him resurrected.

If you want to learn more about her, you can listen to Duke NT professor Mark Goodacre's podcast - Mary Magdalene: the first Woman Apostle

What's this green stuff?

Lichen? ....

- berries in the shade

- the blue jay looks kind of tatty today

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some leaves

- not quite in focus but this was the best of 12 tries - It makes me think of the plant barrier around sleeping beauty's castle :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

From Balthasar on Rahner to Hart on felix culpa

Weeding my Firefox bookmarks of old saved pages and articles. Here are some outtakes before I disappear them ....


Catholic traditionalists complained that Rahner, especially since Vatican II, had relativised the radical demands of Christianity. A famous example of such adversarial reaction to Rahner's understanding of Christianity is that of Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Cordula oder der Ernstfall. This work seems to mark a significant shift in the relationship between Rahner and Balthasar. Balthasar's book is essentially a reaction to Rahner's anthropologically-oriented theology, which, in his view, tended to reduce Christian living "to a bland and shallow humanism." In particular, Balthasar claimed that Rahner's concept of the anonymous Christian had little to do with the message of the Gospel. This concept, moreover, overlooked what he called the "Ernstfall" or "decisive moment," which is the cross of Christ. Thus, Balthasar laid special emphasis on the readiness to suffer and on the value of martyrdom where the "Ernstfall," or cross of Christ, becomes the permanent pattern or form of Christian discipleship. Moreover, he felt that most forms of modern theology, including Rahner’s, were incapable of providing the grounding or motivation for such a vision of Christian living.
- Declan Marmion SM, Rahner and his critics: revisiting the dialogue, Australian EJournal of Theology


Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?
- David Foster Wallace, Just Asking, Atlantic Magazine, November 2007


The Declaration [the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith judges it necessary to recall that the Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination] claims that in refusing to ordain women the Church is following a perpetually binding “manner of acting” of Christ. Even if there were some criterion for ascertaining which actions of Jesus were normative for the sacramental activity of the Church (and if such a criterion exists it is not clear from the Declaration or Church practice what it is or how it can be applied) it would still be necessary in the question of the ordination of women to establish the fact that Jesus acted in such a way as to indicate his intention to exclude women, for all time, from priestly ordination ..... Let us leave aside completely the question of whether, in choosing only men to be among the Twelve, Jesus intended to exclude women as such, any more than by choosing only Jews he intended to exclude Gentiles as such, or in choosing only Caucasians he intended to exclude non-Caucasians as such, and so on.’’ A number of authors have already pointed out the invalidity of singling out sex as an object or as the only object of Jesus’ intentionality in his choice of the Twelve. St. Paul’s clear affirmation that the sexual distinction in matters salvific is abolished by Baptism into Christ (Gal 3:28) makes the Declaration’s position on this point even more questionable on theological grounds than it already is because of its lack of foundation in the historical attitude of Jesus.
- Sandra M. Schneiders IHM, Did Jesus Exclude Women from Priesthood?


Surprisingly many religiously serious people reject the doctrine of universal salvation on the pragmatic ground that it leads to moral and religious laxity. Withdraw the threat, and they doubt whether others--perhaps even themselves--would sustain the motivation for moral diligence and religious observance. My pastoral experience suggests, on the contrary, that the disproportionate threat of hell (see sections 2.2 and 2.3) produces despair that masquerades as skepticism, rebellion, and unbelief. If your father threatens to kill you if you disobey him, you may cower in terrorized submission, but may also (reasonably) run away from home.
- Marilyn McCord Adams, "The Problem of Hell: A Problem of Evil for Christians, from The New Christians blog


Joos van Wassenhove (active c.1460-80). Netherlandish painter, part of whose career was spent in Italy, where he was known as Giusto da Guanto (Justus of Ghent). He became a member of the Antwerp Guild in 1460, but by 1464 had moved to Ghent, where he was a friend of Hugo van der Goes. At some time after 1468 he went to Rome, and by 1472 had settled in Urbino, where he worked for Duke Federico da Montefeltro. Joos's only documented work is The Communion of the Apostles (also known as The Institution of the Eucharist, 1472-74), which is still at Urbino, in the Galleria Nazionale ......

Anthony Esolen - Thomas [Aquinas] does hold open the possibility of the felix culpa [For God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good ... O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.] .... Thinking of such grace, then, Francis de Sales can say, with a tad more assurance than Thomas says it but with no heresy, that "our ruin has been to our advantage, since human nature in fact has received greater graces by the redemption wrought by its Savior than it would ever have received from Adam's innocence even if he had persevered therein." (Treatise on the Love of God).

David Bentley Hart - Aquinas is wrong—the incarnation is the premise of creation, with or without sin. But that is another argument. In any event, Francis de Sales is speaking nonsense .....

1) Logically, the end for which an intellectual creature is intended—even though that end be supernatural and gratuitous—is the perfection of its nature in the highest good, which is to say union with God. It would indeed be a deficient creative act of God were he to will in the creature anything short of the consummate perfection of that union proper to the creature in its divinized state (in, that is, the condition of grace). To imagine that for a creature created in the divine image there could be a sufficient natural fulfillment proportionate to the creature's capacity that is anything less than the supernatural elevation of his nature to the highest knowledge of God is to fail to grasp what it means to be created in the divine image. Without final grace, human "nature" cannot be complete. True, Aquinas would not seem to agree; though Henri de Lubac is very good at showing that in fact he does. Also, God wills the highest good possible for his creatures because he must: not to do so would be to fail to will the infinite goodness of his own essence (which is the sole "real" object of his will) in the reditio of all created things to him.

2) The mathematical model of greater and lesser infinities is not germane here, obviously, inasmuch as the question is one of finite consciousness of the infinite simplicity of God, not one concerning the size of a set. As God is infinite, and cannot therefore be the object of a finite intuition proportioned to eidetic consciousness, the vision of God must always be of the same simplicity—communicated by grace—ever more deeply apprehended, without surcease, term, or limits. If this is the end to which rational creation is called, it becomes meaningless to speak of greater and lesser graces. God's very being is manifestation of his essence in his Logos, in the light of his Spirit, and our being as logikoi is to be joined in perfect living knowledge of the Logos, which can mean only one thing. Divinization is not an extrinsic accommodation between two objects set over against one another: it literally is our eternal act of "becoming God," which is not something that comes in greater and lesser versions. A mathematical model of the infinite is a philosophical red herring here. Better to discuss Husserl's discussions of intuitions following from an infinite intention, or Henri de Lubac's treatment (better than Marechal's or Rahner's I think) of how the prior orientation of God's infinity is the ground of all finite consciousness, even of finite things.

3) Whether one wants to accept it or not, the simple and incontrovertible truth is that, if sin can lead to a greater grace than would otherwise have been available, then sin and evil are positive elements of the divine will, of created nature, and even of the divine nature: there is no other actus in which creation participates, and so if evil can even occasion an increase in the good, then evil has real being and must participate in God. And since God is infinite goodness, and wills his own goodness infinitely, and since a higher good could be accomplished by means of evil, then we must believe God does in some sense will evil, and that evil therefore resides in the divine essence. I doubt you are following my argument here, as this really requires about 200 pages, and it is 1:18 a.m. as I write this; but what I am saying is simply correct. Either you believe in the privatio boni view of evil (and so in the convertibility of all the ontological transcendentals with the divine essence), or you do not; only in the latter case can you assert the "hard" version of the felix culpa, though you can no longer believe God or subsistent being is goodness as such ....

To my mind, all talk of the felix culpa remains always on the homiletic plane, where it does some good perhaps. I am only a student of classical Christian metaphysics and you could not pay me to give a sermon; within that metaphysical tradition, the notion that we will profit from evil more than we would have done from innocence is not only morally problematic, but renders Christian ontology and any coherently Christian understanding of God impossible.
- David Bentley Hart and Anthony Esolen, Esolen and Hart Finale, Touchstone Magazine, January 06, 2005

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Angelology: A Novel

- St. Rose

My latest book from the library is Angelology: A Novel by Danielle Trussoni. Here's the blurb about it from the back of the book ....

When 23 year old Sister Evangeline of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York discovers a letter dated 1943 from Abigail Rockefeller, the famed philanthropist, to the late mother superior of Saint Rose Convent, she uncovers a millennia-old war between the Society of Angelologists and the Nephilim (descendants of fallen angels). As Evangeline shares her discovery with angeologists, she assists them in their efforts to halt the Nephilim from overpowering humankind.

I've only a ways into the book, but I like it quite well so far as the writing seems good, the characters are likeable, and the religious bits are treated with respect .... I especially like the description of convent life and the info about Rose of Viterbo. I've seen the book compared to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in some reviews but I think it isn't like his book at all - I stopped reading Brown's book halfway through because of the cynicism and the disregard for factual truth (which I appreciate even in fantasy and science fiction). If the writing of Angelology: A Novel reminds me of any other book, it's maybe The Historian.

At any rate, the book is a novel on a subject that's rarely well done, in my limited experience, so it's hard not to give it a chance. I only know who the Nephilim were from watching an episode of The X-Files (All Souls) - it really does seem like I've learned everything I know from that series :) The subject of fallen angels is not new, of course, especially at the movies (see my past posts on the films Fallen and The Prophecy) so it should come as no surprise that a movie is already being made from this book - 'Da Vinci Code' Meets 'National Treasure' Novel – 'Angelology' – Sells to Sony.

For those interested, here's the first page of a two page review of the book from the New York Times ....


Fallen Angels
Published: March 3, 2010

There was a time in the 1990s when angels were impossible to escape. Guardians, muses, articles of trade, they covered T-shirts and bathroom accessories, bloomed on restaurant walls and peered from the edges of book jackets. Lately they may seem to have drifted away, but they’ve merely wandered into the literature of self-help and healing. It is now possible to buy “How to Hear Your Angels,” “Working With Angels,” “In the Arms of Angels” and “Angels 101,” as well as angel dictionaries, encyclopedias and art books.

Danielle Trussoni’s first novel, “Angelology,” should not be confused with any of these. Her rousing story turns on bad and fallen angels, particularly the offspring of matings between humans and heavenly beings. The hybrids known as Nephilim first appear in Genesis 6: “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose,” and when “they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” This might not sound so bad, but in Trussoni’s handling, the Nephilim are “beautiful, iridescent monsters” who belong in cages. With shimmering golden skins and vast white wings sprouting from their backs, they frighten a 9-year-old girl named Evangeline. And how much more terrifying to hear one of the creatures declare, “Angel and devil. . . . One is but a shade of the other.”

Trussoni’s previous book, “Falling Through the Earth,” was a memoir of growing up with a father haunted by his past as a “tunnel rat” who searched ­below-ground for guerrillas during the Vietnam War. As an adult, Trussoni took her own trip to Vietnam and envisioned his life there, writing a tripartite biography-­autobiography both redemptive and unsettling. With “Angelology” she revisits the subterranean burrows and the concern with paternity and inheritance, twisting them into an elegantly ambitious archival thriller in which knowledge dwells in the secret underground places, labyrinthine libraries and overlooked artifacts that have been hallmarks of the genre from “The Name of the Rose” and “Possession” to “Angels and Demons” and “The Historian.” “Angelology” is richly allusive and vividly staged, with widescreen-ready ­visuals, a dewy but adaptable heroine and a dashingly cruel villain.

One snowy day near the end of the last millennium, a young nun working in a Hudson Valley convent library discovers a secret correspondence between a former mother superior and the philanthropist Abigail Aldrich Rockefeller. After some further research and with a smitten art historian, Verlaine, at her side, the nun, Sister Evangeline, is drawn into a centuries-old struggle against the Nephilim — a fight in which both of her parents, now dead, were once engaged (hence the visit to the caged monsters). In under two days, she and Verlaine will quest after missing letters, books and an object so precious and singular that it has been commemorated in both angel iconography and the ancient myth of Orpheus. They will also find out what it means to wrestle with angels.

Despite their extensive scholarship, neither Evangeline nor Verlaine is prepared (who could be?) for the Nephilim. The modern-day “Famous Ones” are nasty, selfish creatures who live in opulent apartments. Gorgeous, sensuous and wealthy, they are jealous of humans and vindictive toward God, cold to one an­other and rude to their servants, who belong to lesser angelic orders. During World War II, they attended Nazi parties. But even angels decline; their wings, which may be extensions of their lungs, sometimes rot away to ugly black nubs stuck in open sores. It is happening now to the formerly magnificent Percival Grigori — who, at the height of his powers, fell for a woman.

Some of Trussoni’s most exquisite writing touches on that old love story, which takes place in a flashback to a dreamy Montparnasse that could have come from the pages of Anaïs Nin. In 1939, two teenage girls — one brilliant and beautiful, the other plain but harder working — receive special assignments at the Angel­ological Academy. One involves archival research, another an expedition to the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, where scholars hope to recover the golden lyre that Orpheus gave to angels imprisoned in a measure­less cavern. The repercussions of the girls’ activities, both academic and amorous, could keep the Nephilim in check or let them triumph definitively over humans. And both lives are tangled with Evangeline’s; the first girl will become her grandmother, the second a fellow nun with a story to share .......


Porphyry, verdigris, lapis lazuli

The names of colors, the history of colors, the color of colors all make me feel a feeling that's hard to explain - maybe I have synesthesia :) Anyway, here are a few colors I especially like ...

Porphyry, from the Greek Πορφύριος which means 'purple-clad' is a color I first learned of in ancient art history - the stone with its name was used often in Greek and Roman art and architecture and in Byzantine as well (Hagia Sophia).

- The Tetrarchs, a porphyry sculpture sacked from a Byzantine palace in 1204, Treasury of St. Mark's, Venice

Verdigris is the vivid green color of copper (and bronze) patina ..... "A color know as verdigris is green. It is very green by itself. And it is manufactured by alchemy, from copper and vinegar." - Cennino Cennini, Il Libro dell' Arte. You can sometimes find a patina on ancient coins and bronze statues.

- the Charioteer of Delphi

Lapis lazuli: I first saw the colored stone in slides of Egyptian artifacts in an ancient art history class, - it was said to be used (ground uo) by Cleopatra as eye shadow :) It was also used as a pigment in medieval art, especially manuscript illumination, and was more expensive than gold during the Renaissance. Now you can buy a small tube of that color (known as ultramarine) for a few dollars.

- a solar pendant with a scarab of lapis lazuli from the tomb of Tutankhamun

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 10th Kingdom: part 1

- Snow White Memorial Prison

This week's movie rental is the first part of The 10th Kingdom ..... American epic fantasy TV miniseries written by Simon Moore and produced by Britain's Carnival Films, Germany's Babelsberg Film und Fernsehen, and the USA's Hallmark Entertainment. It depicts the adventures of a young woman and her father after they are transported from Manhattan, New York, through a magical mirror into a parallel world of fairy tales, magical beings, evil stepmothers and self-discovery.

I remember this so well. It played on tv five nights in a row for two hours each night in 2000 and my mom and I sat transfixed through the whole thing. It wasn't profound and sometimes devolved to just silly, but we couldn't stop watching it :)

It tells the story of an enchanted other place where Prince Wendel (Daniel Lapaine), the grandson of Snow White, is changed into a dog by the Evil Queen (Dianne Wiest) who has just been busted out of Snow White Memorial Prison by the Troll King (Ed O'Neill). The dog/prince escapes her clutches by passing through a magic mirror that takes him to present day Manhattan where he meets a young waitress, Virginia (Kimberly Williams), and her janitor father, Tony (John Larroquette). The Evil Queen sends minions through the mirror after the prince - trolls and also a human/wolf named Wolf (Scott Cohen). I won't tell you all that happens, but Wolf becomes enamored of Virginia and all of them pass through the magic mirror back into the enchanted kingdom. They're then on the run from the Queen and the trolls, not to mention the scary Huntsman (Rutger Hauer) who has an ensorcelled crossbow that always shoots a bolt into a living heart once fired and who rules the forest through which they're passing as they meet up with gypsies who keep talking birds, and ....... too complicated :)

I'll post again when I see part 2, but meanwhile, here's a trailer for the movie, and then some pictures ....

- Wolf convinces Virginia's grandmother to let him into her apartment where he hopes to capture Virginia and Prince Wendel

- but then he gets sidetracked, deciding to eat grandma

- they spend the night in the gypsy camp and Tony gets a tarot card reading

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shakespeare, me, Maximos IV, Congar, Rahner and Schillebeeckx on Aquinas

I've been thinking about Thomas Aquinas ever since I read what Dr. Steven Shakespeare had said of him in a talk he gave about animals ....

[...] Thomas Aquinas. In his view, animals are dumb, soulless and irrational. They have no will to move themselves, but move as it were almost mechanically based on natural impulse. ‘By divine providence’, he writes, animals ‘are intended for man’s use in the natural order. Hence it is not wrong for man to make use of them, either by killing them or in any other way whatever.’ There is huge subtlety in much of Aquinas’ thought about how we can use analogy to talk about the transcendent God, about how nature is not abolished but finds its perfection in grace. And yet here he seems to take the crudest of domineering and objective approaches, with no real empathy for the worlds animals inhabit, for their own languages and inner life.

I was never a fan of his, given his beliefs about women, his support of the death penalty (including death for heretics), and his general appropriation of Aristotle's work, among other things, but this all reminded me of something Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh had written about him for Vatican II .....


Chapter 17 ― Catholic Teaching


A statement presented by the patriarch at the session of the Central Commission in June 1962.

It is our opinion that, in spite of the very high regard that one must have for St. Thomas Aquinas, it is not fitting that this council should declare that his doctrine is purely and simply the very doctrine of the Church or of the council. Therein is the risk that the Angelic Doctor be substituted for all the teaching and the entire Tradition of the Church. From the viewpoint of bringing Christians together, there is more than one disadvantage in the pure and simple adoption of the whole Thomistic system as the Church’s own doctrine. Here are a few examples:

1. The Thomistic system, in fact, cannot be called universal in the Church. The East, in particular, possesses another theological system, which must not be cast aside from Catholic thought.

2. Thomistic terminology does not always conform with that in traditional usage in the Eastern Church, especially on the subject of the sacraments.

3. There is an involuntary risk of giving St. Thomas’ doctrine more consideration than the collective thought of the Fathers who constitute the ecclesial Tradition. In addition, the patristic thought of St. Thomas, although commendable for his epoch, is deficient on certain points compared with modern research.

4. St. Thomas is of his epoch and shares a good number of the prejudices of his time in regard to Easterners. He must not be utilized in dialogue with the Orthodox except with discretion.

5. Finally, Scholasticism, which is dependant on St. Thomas, has gradually made certain positions of its master more inflexible, and renders dialogue with the Orthodox still more difficult.

However that may be, Thomism is perhaps the most perfect expression of the theological evolution of the West in the Middle Ages. But Eastern theology does not die easily. It is better to leave the framework of the Church’s universal theology open to a number of currents. Thus while recommending St. Thomas for the study of theologians, the council must avoid making it something absolute. Divinity is infinitely rich and varied. Nothing is more impoverishing than to contemplate it from a single viewpoint

Extracts from the “Observations of the Holy Synod on the Schemas of the Council” (1963)

It is impossible to accept in a text emanating from this council, and thus of universal significance both as to time and as to place, a constantly repeated call for the adoption in Catholic teaching of the doctrine, the method, and the principles of St. Thomas . Although dogma, as a revealed given fact, cannot change, its human expression, on the contrary, is subject to variation. It is the fruit of each people’s own cultural spirit, a result of its mental inclination, its traditions, and of the circumstances under which its history has unfolded. In right and in fact, a number of currents of theological thought have existed and will exist in the Church, without prejudice to the fundamental unity of dogma. To tie dogma to a human culture necessarily coexistent with the particular civilization of a people, is unlawful and actually impossible, because it is against nature. Besides, that is to impoverish it, reduce it, whereas it is the message of God to men, all men. It is agreed that Thomism, itself an heir of Aristotelian philosophic thought, has contributed much to the Church, and that present day theological expression owes much to it, and it is only just to recognize it; but one cannot impose it, bind it to dogma, above all in a conciliar document.


Oh well, everyone else seems to really like him - here are some sermons on him ....

St. Thomas: Servant of the Truth - Yves Congar

Thomas Aquinas: Friar, Theologian, and Mystic - Karl Rahner

Thomas Aquinas: Servant of the Word - Edward Schillebeeckx

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Poetry of Eyes

- Madeline DeFrees

In a dark time, Roethke writes,
the eye begins to see. But only with the heart.
The history of eyes, like their anomalies,
is written on the retina, in every image stored
and every stunning line of record.
Bogan’s ambition: a passion wholly of the mind,
Thought divorced from eye

and bone. The eye as horseman
passes by Yeats’s limestone epitaph,
casts a cold eye / On life, on death, and knows not why
faith strikes a bargain with the Tyger
burning in Blake’s song, its fearful symmetry
framed by immortal hand or eye.
God, too, burns bright in the Burning Bush

whose downward rush of flame demands a dimming of
the glare with filmy veils of gossamer:
that is, goose summer or even God’s summer—a spell
of fine weather in late fall. The fragile
cloth of Mary’s winding sheet as she goes back
to Heaven, and we celebrate our new-found vision:
the Indian summer of the eye.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mark Goodacre (and Ignatius) in Israel

Just the other day someone asked me if I'd ever been to Israel. I haven't but I wish I could go to see all the places where Jesus acted and preached, to see where Ignatius looked for Jesus' footprint :) and also to see the spots discussed in the Israeli agent novels by Daniel Silva. Now I have a chance to visit Israeli vicariously through the blog posts by Duke NT professor Mark Goodacre. He's made six installments so far (with photos) and you can read them all on this page - A Biblical Scholar's First Impressions of Israel : I through VI

For those interested, here's part of Ignatius of Loyola's autobiography in which he mentions himself (the pilgrim) going back one last time to see Jesus' footprint, after having been told that he would have to leave the Holy Land (thanks to Mark Mossa SJ) .....


Part 30

This done, he returned to where he had been before, and was seized with a great desire of again visiting Mount Olivet before leaving, since it was not our Lord’s will that he remain there in those holy places. On Mount Olivet there was a stone from which our Lord ascended into heaven and the print of his footstep is still to be seen. It was this he wished to see again. Without a word to anyone, therefore, or without taking a guide (for those who go without a Turk as a guide run great risk), he slipped away from the others and went alone to Mount Olivet. The guards did not want to let him in, but he gave them a desk-knife which he carried with him. After having prayed with deep devotion, he wanted to go to Bethpage, and while he was there, he recalled again that he had not noticed on Mount Olivet in what direction the right foot was turned, or in what direction the left. Returning, he gave his scissors, I think, to the guards for permission to enter.

When they learned at the monastery that he had left without a guide, the friars made every effort to find him. As he was coming down from Mount Olivet, he fell in with a Syrian Christian who worked at the monastery. The man had a large staff and showing signs of great annoyance made as though he were going to beat him with it, and when he came up with him, grabbed him roughly by the arm, and the pilgrim easily allowed himself to be led away. The good man never let go of him. Coming thus in the grasp of the Syrian Christian, he had great consolation from our Lord Who he thought he saw above him all along the way. This consolation lasted in great abundance till they reached the monastery.


Women bishops and Jeffrey John

While the leaders of my church tell us that a woman attempting to be ordained a priest is anathema, in England the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York have had defeated their amendment at the General Synod giving people with contempt for female bishops access to an alternative male bishop - Women bishop row compromise plan fails in synod vote ......

[...] The two most senior figures in the Church were urging synod members to support a last-ditch compromise deal aimed at avoiding a split over the introduction of women bishops.

They proposed that a female bishop would have full authority in her diocese but "in practice refrain from exercising" certain functions in a parish which objected to her.

A "complementary bishop" would have independent powers, and the powers of the two bishops would be "co-ordinate".

Some 216 members voted in favour of the archbishops' proposals, and 191 against. But the result in the House of Clergy was 90 against and 85 in favour, with five abstentions.

Under the rules, the proposals were lost as they failed to achieve a majority in each of the houses.

Impassioned speeches were made both in favour and against the proposals.

The concession would have strengthened the legal position of male bishops ministering in dioceses where parishes objected to women bishops.

But pro-women's ordination campaigners had claimed they could lead to a "two-track episcopacy".

The Venerable Christine Allsopp, Archdeacon of Northampton, told the synod she was "dismayed" by the compromise being put.

"We recognise their good intentions in trying to help us all to hold together but I do not believe that this is good news, I do not believe that this will deliver and it is certainly not good news for women clergy," she said.

The general synod also voted against an amendment that proposed three new dioceses to cater for objectors to women bishops.

Also proposed in the rejected amendment was the idea that male bishops appointed to minister in these dioceses would declare that they would not participate in the consecration of a woman bishop or priest.

Dr Williams is also under pressure after the Crown Nominations Commission blocked the appointment of the openly gay Dean of St Albans, the Very Rev Jeffrey John, as the new Bishop of Southwark.

Here's a short editorial on the subject at The Guardian with which I agree .....

The church should always put humanity before unity
The Observer, Sunday 11 July 2010

Sexual equality, rather than schism, should be the Archbishop of Canterbury's foremost concern

The task of preventing schism in the Anglican church has consumed Dr Rowan Williams's tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. But the split he tried to prevent had, in a fundamental sense, already occurred.

The general synod has been wrangling over women bishops. Again. Their consecration was made technically possible in 2008, but traditionalists have lobbied ever since for a men-only track within the church hierarchy.

Dr Williams tried to broker a compromise, mindful that elements on his conservative flank were mulling an offer from Rome to take in schismatic Anglicans. That compromise has failed.

Meanwhile, away from the synod, the archbishop has become embroiled in a row about the prospect of a gay man presiding in the Southwark diocese. Canon Jeffrey John was under consideration for the high-profile south London bishopric until his name was leaked. His candidacy was then effectively derailed by conservative evangelicals. Dr Williams has too often submerged his own liberal inclinations in what he sees as a higher duty to preserve institutional unity. Now, surely, his priorities should change.

Most of Britain has accepted that women can assume positions of authority and that homosexuality is a quite ordinary part of human experience. The explicit discrimination practised by the church is unacceptable in most non-religious settings and would be illegal if expressed by any other employer. There are, meanwhile, ample theological grounds for accepting that women are not created subordinate to men and that homosexuality is not hateful in the eyes of God. Dr Williams was determined not to go down in history as the Archbishop who split the church. He could have been remembered by future generations as a religious leader who stood unequivocally on the right side of a moral argument about sexual equality. Regrettably, that opportunity seems now to have passed.


For those interested, I have a 2008 post about Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, with one of his sermons here, and you can read more about what's up with him now in this Reuters story - Rejection of gay clergyman as bishop sends CoE into spin.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Robert Egan SJ on women's ordinarion

There's a post at US Catholic - Sex abuse and women's ordination? by Bryan Cones - about the Vatican's new norms on sex abuse and a newly added offense, the "attempted ordination of women" ......

[...] Why is that bad? First, the "attempted ordination of women" already brings with it automatic excommunication, so making it one of the "delicta graviora" is redundant. Second, it conflates two completely separate issues, and in effect, or at least in the minds of many people who will read the news, seems to equate the "attempted ordination of women" with the rape and torture of children.

Quite frankly, it is an outrage to pair the two, a complete injustice to connect the aspirations of some women among the baptized to ordained ministry with what are some of the worst crimes that can be committed against the least of Christ's members.

I agree with Bryan. This reminded me of a 2008 article by Fr. Egan for Commonweal magazine on women's ordination - Why not? Scripture, history & women's ordination - that I posted part of back then, in which he asks whether the tradition of excluding women from the priesthood has been faithful to the teaching and practice of Jesus. Today I came upon what must have been a commentary in Commonweal magazine on Fr. Egan's earlier article. The first part of this article - Continuing the Conversation: Women & the Priesthood - is written by Sister Sara Butler criticizing Fr. Egan's pro-women's ordination view, and the second part is Fr. Egan explaining his view. I've just posted below Egan's part of the article but you can find Butler's part at the link ........


Continuing the Conversation: Women & the Priesthood
Sara Butler | Robert J. Egan
July 18, 2008

Robert J. Egan

My article began with a specific question: “Why are women excluded from being deacons, presbyters, and bishops in the Catholic Church?” My main concern was to provide a clear, fair-minded analysis and evaluation of the reasons given currently for this exclusion, as they are expounded by Sara Butler, MSBT, in her recent book.

The focus of my concern was to maintain a respectful attitude and tone while being scrupulously honest about the current relevant scholarship and the cogency of the author’s arguments. In addition, I wanted to locate this discussion in the context of a deeply troubling situation of broken communication in the church today and a resulting tension at its very heart as a community of faith and love. It was my intention to avoid interjecting merely personal opinions about these issues in what was essentially a review essay.

My article also ended with a question: “Has the tradition of excluding women from the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopacy really been faithful to the teaching and practice of Jesus? Or has it been part of a mostly unexamined and partially unconscious bias for subjecting women to men’s authority and power?” This was not a conclusion, but a question: “a very important question,” one that “urgently needs and deserves an open, prayerful, learned, patient, and discerning conversation among Catholics today.” In such a conversation, we might learn new things, feel them in new ways, see them from new angles, or have new thoughts about them. Such experiences might help us understand each other better and make out more clearly what God asks from us today.

In her response to my article, Butler does not deal directly with my central argument. She leaves much of it out of consideration altogether. By making assumptions about my opinions and conclusions, and attaching these to passages culled from various parts of my article, Butler frequently portrays me as saying things I do not say. I would have to repeat much of my article to set the whole record straight. On the basis of her testimony, she tries hard to characterize my views as Protestant. This falls short of being a reasoned argument, and seems to me a type of name-calling one would like to think had become obsolete in an ecumenical age.

In her first paragraph, she speaks of my “doubts” and my “opinion” and talks about a “grave injustice,” though there is nothing about any of this in my article. She says that I deny “Jesus’ freedom from convention in relating to women,” though in fact I explicitly affirm it, while pointing out this doesn’t mean Jesus could communicate with his contemporaries in gestures or symbols they didn’t understand. She says I suggest that Vatican II “repudiates” the Council of Trent; but to notice that on certain subjects Vatican II clearly goes beyond Trent is not fairly described as “repudiation.” She says my appeal to Vatican II’s attempt “to provide new foundations for a theology of the presbyterate” is “genuinely puzzling.” Yet most commentators on the council speak explicitly of this new theology, which emphasized the presbyter’s relationship with his bishop, his leadership role in the community, his pastoral service to his people, and especially his ministry of the Word, in ways that go beyond what Trent emphasized.

Butler speaks of arguments she imagines I have advanced in favor of women’s ordination. She speaks twice of my concluding that the church’s traditional practice was dictated chiefly by “the conviction that women are not only different from men but also inferior by nature and destined to be subject to the authority and power of men.” These claims are false. I reported that the inferiority of women to men and their subjection to the authority of men (taken for granted throughout most of the church’s history) was the explanation often given for their exclusion from ordained ministry - something no one denies. Whether or not it was the main factor that dictated this exclusion is a question I suggested deserves prayerful discussion among us.

Butler writes, “Egan concludes that the ordained ministry evolved gradually to meet the church’s organizational needs. In his opinion, this took place under the prompting of the Holy Spirit but without reference to the commission Jesus gave to the Twelve.” This is not a coherent summary of anything I actually wrote, but the main idea is hardly “my” conclusion in any case. We know there were different forms of governance and types of ministry in the early Christian communities. There was no single structure, the same in every place. It isn’t my opinion but our common faith that the church’s life unfolds under the influence of the Spirit. It seems apparent that different kinds of assistance, leadership, and service evolved gradually, and only gradually became identified with particular offices, and subsequently with “priesthood.” But during these developments, references were, in fact, being made to several key biblical passages that became influential, including references to the commissioning of the Twelve.

To make all this an issue about me is misleading. None of this discussion is a personal idiosyncrasy on my part. It reflects aspects of the work—not just of Anglicans and Protestants—but of many Catholic scholars as well, including Paul Bernier, Raymond E. Brown, John J. Burkhard, John N. Collins, Bernard Cooke, Alexandre Faivre, Richard R. Gaillardetz, Daniel J. Harrington, Richard P. McBrien, John P. Meier, Nathan D. Mitchell, Thomas F. O’Meara, Kenan B. Osborne, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Carroll Stuhlmueller, and Francis A. Sullivan, among others. In particular, important work has been done in recent years on the meaning of “the Twelve,” the distinct category of “apostles,” and the origins and development of the roles of presbyter, overseer, and deacon, much of it in the years since the promulgation of Inter insigniores (1976). It is, I believe, mainly Butler’s neglect of this literature that is at the heart of the conflict between us.

Finally, Butler provides an astonishing list of my purported “objections” that she claims includes “the nature of Holy Orders as a sacrament, apostolic succession,” “the hierarchical structures of the church...the role of Tradition and the magisterium in determining the teaching of the Scripture and the church’s authority to teach in a way that commands the assent of the faithful.” These strike me as reckless claims: reckless in their choice of words, and reckless in their willingness to accuse. Any such interpretation is inconsistent with my intention in this article. As a Catholic theologian and a Jesuit, I do not dispute the sacramentality of ordination, the idea of apostolic succession, the hierarchical structure of the church, the role of tradition and the magisterium in the interpretation of Scripture, or the teaching authority of the church, although I think commanding the assent of the faithful is unlikely to produce fruitful results in our present situation.

Still, theology as a social practice has an obligation to examine the community’s faith as something living, challenged by new events and circumstances, adapting to different cultures and historical periods, and appropriating the questions, research, reflection, and discernment of each new generation. Theology has the vocation of working for the church in its own continuing development. This is why the world’s bishops, gathered at the Second Vatican Council, trusted the theologians they invited as advisers and collaborated with them in such a fruitful and historic way.

The church’s understanding and teaching has developed over two millennia. On some subjects it has remained substantially the same. On others, it has changed dramatically, in ways that could not have been foreseen: on slavery, women’s inferiority, the divine right of kings, the uses of torture, the status and dignity of the Jewish people, the execution of heretics, the idea of religious liberty, the moral legitimacy of democratic governments, the indispensability of Thomism, and the structure of the universe itself. New questions arise, and new horizons open, cultures themselves are transformed, and the fund of human knowledge changes.

Through all this, we are called to remain faithful to God, confident that God understands us and will remain faithful to us in our pilgrimage through time. Sometimes we disagree about what this faithfulness requires in regard to a particular issue. I think the best we can do, in our own day, is to remain in attentive, thoughtful conversation with each other, to speak and listen with respect and candor, and always with charity. These sustained conversations, rooted in hope, patience, and reasonableness, and nourished by prayer, are entrusted to the special care of our church’s leaders, who are missioned to inspire, protect, and guide them, in the communion of love made possible by the Holy Spirit.



Friday, July 09, 2010

Alizarin crimson ...

- Donovan rehersing with some singing nuns for the soundtrack of the movie about St. Francis, Brother Sun Sister Moon

Thursday, July 08, 2010


UPDATE: It appears that it was Fr. Dowling himself who asked his talk be removed from ICN -- a talk about how a climate of fear squelches honest criticism of the Vatican -- he being fearful of the possible repercussions .... see America magazine's post, Dowling modifiers.

I saw this post at US Catholic today ......


Are Catholic online news sites being censored?

Thursday, July 8, 2010
By M Scherer-Emunds

Two recent events have raised the specter of online censorship, or at least of undue pressure by Catholic Church officials on Catholic news organizations.

Today the British-based Independent Catholic News, a daily online Catholic news site set up by a group of Catholic journalists, apparently pulled down the reprint of a June speech by South African Bishop Kevin Dowling it had published yesterday.

That event followed on the heels of an incident in May when the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress was pressured to remove from its website a report on a speech by Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The Kathpress report on Schönborn's outspoken criticism of Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican shortcomings resulted in international headlines and eventually led to what the National Catholic Reporter described as "an almost surreal kiss-and-make-up session" between those two cardinals last week at the Vatican.

Like Schönborn's, Dowling's speech, delivered to a group of laity in Cape Town, included unusually frank criticism of the Vatican. Dowling, one of the few "liberal" Catholic bishops left in the English-speaking Catholic world, lamented "what has been happening in the Church especially since Pope John Paul II became the Bishop of Rome and up till today - and that is 'restorationism,' the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, indeed the 'opening of the windows' of Vatican II – in order to 'restore' a previous, or more controllable model of Church through an increasingly centralised power structure." ......

A friend had e-mailed me the ICN story yesterday, but when I tried accessing it again this morning, I was greeted by the following message: "Error accessing this article information. It may have been deleted."

In response to e-mail and voice-mail messages inquiring about the removal of the article from the website, ICN's editor Jo Siedlecka this morning replied that it was "too complicated to explain" and that she would be "putting it up again soon." ......


The talk by Kevin Dowling has reappeared at ICN here. For those interested, I have a past post from 2009 about Bishop Dowling here - Bishop Kevin Dowling