Friday, 30 November 2012

St Andrew's Day, death and back to Dunbar

                                  Mel Gibson expounding the glories of Scotland's mediaeval past

Happy St Andrew's Day!

I suppose I'm pretty much a dyed in the wool cultural nationalist. Not that I feel bound to find, say, the Krankies funnier than Mike and Bernie Winters, or Irn Bru preferable to Tizer, but simply that it's both a natural human response to feel at home in a particular culture, and also that there's enough of Scottish culture that's objectively worthwhile for it to be preserved and celebrated -and if Scots don't do it, no one else will. I'd expect and hope that my non-Scottish friends would say similar things about their own local cultures.

Cultural nationalism is perhaps a little on the backburner up here at the moment. In an understandable effort to avoid any sort of 'blood and soil' racism, political nationalists tend to emphasize cultural Jetsonism: Scotland should go it alone not so much because of our Scottish cultural identity but because by breaking away from the UK and its archaic governmental structures, Scotland would be able to transform itself into a modern progressive, tolerant society where every citizen, of every race, gender or sexuality will be fully equipped with rocket boots and food replicators. To the extent that the past figures at all in modern political nationalism, it is perhaps the lingering rumour of Braveheart Nationalism: the sense that we should once again get the woad out and start shouting freedom a lot.

Between the twin idiocies of Braveheart Nationalism and Jetsonism, there of course lie various other possible engagements with Scotland's past. A relatively common one is to wax lyrical about the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly an Enlightenment stripped of any mention of the influence of Christianity. Moreover, even if the influence of the Church of Scotland is acknowledged, it is often in opposition to preceding mediaeval Catholicism, a narrative which goes something like: 'with the Reformation came universal education and the critical assessment of religion which led to...'

We don't hear much these days of Hugh MacDiarmid's cry of 'Back to Dunbar', and still less of the need to re-engage with all the cultural glories of mediaeval Catholic Scotland: Dunbar, John Mair, Robert Carver etc. Coupled with a lingering thuggish sectarianism and the Jetsonist tendency to dismiss any articulation of Catholic teaching as bigotry, we have a perfect storm where a variety of popular and elite narratives combine to prevent a serious engagement with Catholicism and thus with arguably the Golden Age of Scottish culture: an appreciation of mediaeval Scotland is impossible without an appreciation of Catholicism.

Anyway, it's November, and we sky fairy worshipping Catholics have been praying for the dead. Let's end with a reminder of why MacDiarmid was right to summon us back to Dunbar:

(For a version with notes and glossary see here.)

Lament For The Makaris

I that in heill wes and gladnes,
Am trublit now with gret seiknes,
And feblit with infermite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance heir is all vane glory,
This fals warld is bot transitory,
The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

The stait of man dois change and vary,
Now sound, now seik, now blith, now sary,
Now dansand mery, now like to dee;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

No stait in erd heir standis sickir;
As with the wynd wavis the wickir,
Wavis this warldis vanite.
Timor mortis conturbat me.

On to the ded gois all estatis,
Princis, prelotis, and potestatis,
Baith riche and pur of al degre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He takis the knychtis in to feild,
Anarmit under helme and scheild;
Victour he is at all mellie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

That strang unmercifull tyrand
Takis, on the moderis breist sowkand,
The bab full of benignite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He takis the campion in the stour,
The capitane closit in the tour,
The lady in bour full of bewte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He sparis no lord for his piscence,
Na clerk for his intelligence;
His awfull strak may no man fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Art-magicianis, and astrologgis,
Rethoris, logicianis, and theologgis,
Thame helpis no conclusionis sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

In medicyne the most practicianis,
Lechis, surrigianis, and phisicianis,
Thame self fra ded may not supple;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

I se that makaris amang the laif
Playis heir ther pageant, syne gois to graif;
Sparit is nocht ther faculte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes done petuously devour,
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bery, and Gower, all thre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

The gude Syr Hew of Eglintoun,
And eik Heryot, and Wyntoun,
He hes tane out of this cuntre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

That scorpion fell hes done infek
Maister Johne Clerk, and Jame Afflek,
Fra balat making and tragidie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Holland and Barbour he hes berevit;
Allace! that he nocht with us levit
Schir Mungo Lokert of the Le;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes Blind Hary and Sandy Traill
Slaine with his schour of mortall haill,
Quhilk Patrik Johnestoun myght nocht fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes reft Merseir his endite,
That did in luf so lifly write,
So schort, so quyk, of sentence hie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes tane Roull of Aberdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphin;
Two bettir fallowis did no man se;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

In Dumfermelyne he hes done roune
With Maister Robert Henrisoun;
Schir Johne the Ros enbrast hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

And he hes now tane, last of aw,
Gud gentill Stobo and Quintyne Schaw,
Of quham all wichtis hes pete:
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Gud Maister Walter Kennedy
In poynt of dede lyis veraly,
Gret reuth it wer that so suld be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Sen he hes all my brether tane,
He will nocht lat me lif alane,
On forse I man his nyxt pray be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Sen for the deid remeid is none,
Best is that we for dede dispone,
Eftir our deid that lif may we;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Women priests, women Hamlets?

                                             What do you mean I can't be a Bishop?

Having listened to various bien pensants fulminating against the Church of England for not immediately allowing women bishops, I can't help feeling glad to be well out of it. Apart from worrying that, should politicians really decide to override the Synod and impose 'equality', they might get a taste for it (did I really hear Frank Field on Radio 4's PM hinting that if ever the majority of Catholics wanted women priests then MPs should step in give effect to that view?), as a Scot and a Catholic, it's really not much of my business.

It's clear that the Synod decision is more about dissatisfaction with the protection offered to the minority opposed to women's ordination than it is directly about opposing women bishops. It's also clear that for any relatively straightforward Catholic like myself the matter is closed by the definitive teachings contained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the CDF's responsum making clear that the impossibility of women's priestly ordination is part of the deposit of faith.

It's impossible to convince non-Christians that women can't be priests. From an outsider's point of view, it's just another job, it's just another position of power. Women have historically been excluded from such positions in other areas, and the Church just needs to catch up. But I wonder if at least some of the point of the exclusion can be caught from looking at the theatre. As yet (and who knows what fresh hell awaits my children) we do not have crowds of demonstrators demanding that Hamlet is played by a woman or that Violetta in La Traviata is sung by Bryn Terfel. With the exception of rare cases of parody or deliberate playing with gender expectations (such as Asta Nielsen above), we accept that it matters that women are played by women and men by men. (Even where the roles are swapped, it doesn't cease to matter: it's just that we're playing with what matters.)

The prime task of a priest is not to organize the church raffle or raise money for the roof: he is there to impersonate Christ, particularly in the sacrifice of the Mass:

1548 In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:

It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).

Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ.

1549 Through the ordained ministry, especially that of bishops and priests, the presence of Christ as head of the Church is made visible in the midst of the community of believers.26 In the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father. (From the Catechism.)

Now I fully accept that it is one thing to note that priest acts in persona Christi, another to show that it is impossible for a woman to do so. (The argument goes back and forth until settled, as it has been, by Magisterial authority.) But why is it that we find it so easy to accept that Hamlet can normally only be impersonated by a man, but so difficult to accept that Christ can only be impersonated by a man?

In fine, gender and sex matter. A male Hamlet does not convey the same set of meanings as a female Hamlet. A female priest does not convey the same set of meanings as a male one. It is of course open to theologians to argue that the set of meanings conveyed by a female priesthood are better than those conveyed by a solely male one (open, that is, unless you accept the Magisterial authority of the Papacy), just as it is possible to argue that Hamlet is better played by a woman. But what it is not possible within a Christianity that bears any recognizable relationship to the catholic tradition is to argue that it is simply a matter of equal jobs for women.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Thinking academically, thinking theologically

                                    A fellow blogger engaging in theological reflection...

Well, here's how I spent an hour or so recently...

I started off by having a look at Professor Beattie's website page on 'Debate, dialogue and dissent'.Working my way through it, I came to:

If I hold an informed view which I believe to be reasonable, which I discover that I share with others whose views I respect, which belongs within natural theology rather than revealed doctrine (i.e. it has to do with social and moral issues and not with the sacramental mysteries of the faith), and which is highly complex (as these issues usually are), in terms of evaluating its benefit or harm to human well-being and the common good, I can in good conscience differ from what the current magisterium officially teaches and what some other Catholics might believe to be true.

I bridled a little at the suggestion that revelation was confined to 'sacramental mysteries of the faith' rather than 'social and moral issues', as it went against my understanding that the Church teaches authoritatively on matter of morals as well. So having looked at the Catechism (para 1960), I was sent from there to Pius XII Humani generis which seems to back up my initial understanding that revelation acts on morals as well:

 It is for this reason that divine revelation must be considered morally necessary so that those religious and moral truths which are not of their nature beyond the reach of reason in the present condition of the human race, may be known by all mean readily with a firm certainty and with freedom from all error.

OK. So I think, 'What would my reply be to this if I were arguing Beattie's position?' And I'd go for attacking the nature of revealed authority (ie don't listen to Pius XII) and I looked down to the extract from her coming book on natural law and found:

Thomas also makes clear at the beginning of the Summa Theologiae that only the authors of the canonical Scriptures can be considered ultimate authorities with regard to divine revelation. (ST I, 1, 8). 

Hhmm, I thought, only canonical Scripture? What about the teaching authority of the Church? I think back to the rite of reception where I had to stand in front of a packed Easter Mass and declare:

I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.

So had a quick flick through the online Summa and couldn't see much about the Magisterium, so filed Aquinas' views on that away for future research. (And then thought that all this showed something about the nature of Beattie's methodology: a) an absence of reference to Papal teaching; and b) an interpretation of Thomism that has ressourcement at its heart rather than developments of Thomism subsequent to Aquinas.)

Reading on, I find in her paper:

It is worth noting that the discussion of natural law forms a relatively minor part of the Summa Theologiae and there is some debate as to how far it can be lifted out of its theological context. Thomas has only one question that deals specifically with natural law, (ST I-II, 94) and he situates that question in a wider context that addresses human law, Mosaic law and the New Law of the Gospel (ST I-II, 90-108). Western philosophy and legal theory have focused disproportionately on Thomas’s account of natural law and have elided its theological context, thereby giving rise to distorted and misleading interpretations.

Now some of that fitted in with my general understanding of Aquinas: that natural law figures unclearly in the Summa (although that doesn't quite deal with the extensive coverage of Aristotelian ethics in IaIIae) but it also reminded me of the suggestion that insufficient regard has been paid to Aquinas' philosophical Commentaries etc on Aristotle. (So to claim that Aquinas is primarily a moral theologian rather than a moral philosopher is at least in part due to ignoring precisely those works in which he acts as a philosopher.) And when she pushes on to cite Jean Porter,

However, Porter argues that scholastics were more aware than many later natural law theorists of the constructed character of social conventions and institutions, which emerge not directly in response to the promptings of nature, but through historical processes of reflection and negotiation.

I find myself thinking that much depends here on what you mean by reflection and negotiation: Aristotle, for example, would agree that it depends on reflection, but this of the phronimoi -the practically wise- on the facts of human nature rather than the sort of horsetrading she seems to envisage...


And so on and so on. That's what academic reflection is like. You recognize threads of arguments you're familiar with and have a decided view on. You recognize hints of issues you are half familiar with and where you have to do some more research. You realize that there are alternative viewpoints, some of which are in fashion and some of which are not. You know something about some areas in great detail, and can be confident in disregarding the prevailing fashions. You know less about other areas, and may have your suspicions, but not in complete confidence. You go on. It is endless, although punctuated by the occasional need to pause in order to articulate temporary positions for teaching or publication.

There are two views of the Church at stake here. Rowan Williams in his book on Arius, talks about a Catholic view focused on apostolically ordained bishops as centres of unity, and the Academic view focused on the personality of a teacher or the ideas of a school (p.86). The CDF document. Donum veritatis on the Ecclesial Vocation of the theologian, seems quite clear in its support for the Catholic view:

 Freedom of research, which the academic community rightly holds most precious, means an openness to accepting the truth that emerges at the end of an investigation in which no element has intruded that is foreign to the methodology corresponding to the object under study.
In theology this freedom of inquiry is the hallmark of a rational discipline whose object is given by Revelation, handed on and interpreted in the Church under the authority of the Magisterium, and received by faith. These givens have the force of principles. To eliminate them would mean to cease doing theology. In order to set forth precisely the ways in which the theologian relates to the Church's teaching authority, it is appropriate now to reflect upon the role of the Magisterium in the Church (para 12). 

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the whole Church, when exercising their ordinary Magisterium, even should this not issue in an infallible definition or in a "definitive" pronouncement but in the proposal of some teaching which leads to a better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals and to moral directives derived from such teaching.

One must therefore take into account the proper character of every exercise of the Magisterium, considering the extent to which its authority is engaged. It is also to be borne in mind that all acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same reason, magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful. (para 17).

To the Academic view, however, reference to such authority begs the question: is authority located with the bishops (and especially the Pope) and their agents such as the CDF, or does it lie in Academic methodologies of power? If the answer is the latter, then every Catholic, however uneducated or unintelligent, is condemned to the vortex of academic reflection that I have sketched above. The Church becomes an institution for the intellectually elite, either in excluding anyone else from membership or, more likely, in teaching docility towards those who have the trappings of Academic power. If the former, it is a Church where the academy has a role in deepening our understanding, but where the basic tools of salvation are proclaimed clearly and simply by the teaching authority of those who have been entrusted with that task by the Holy Spirit.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Edinburgh times for Our Lady of Czestochowa

As previously blogged, the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa arrives in Edinburgh at 5pm today.

Although the Carfin and Glasgow schedules are now up on the Ocean to Ocean site, the Edinburgh times don't yet seem available anywhere on the internet. Anyway, for what it's worth, the following are taken from the details given out on Ocean to Ocean leaflets in the Archdiocese:

Monday 12 Nov:

5pm: Icon arrives Welcome ceremony
5.30pm Rosary (Joyful mysteries)
6pm Mass with Homily
7.30pm Exposition of Blessed Sacrament
8pm Act of Entrustment to the Blessed Virgin Mary
9pm-10pm TBC
11pm Church closes

Tuesday 13 Nov:

9am Church opens Rosary (Luminous mysteries)
10am Mass
10.30am The Jesus Prayer
11.30am Rosary (Sorrowful Mysteries)
12.45pm Mass
1.15pm Rosary (Glorious Mysteries)
3pm: Chaplet of Divine Mercy
3.15pm TBC Closing ceremonies
4.30pm (approx) Icon leaves for Carfin.

All times are marked as provisional and subject to change.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Are Catholic philosophers more orthodox than Catholic theologians?

Reading Joseph Shaw's typically firm take on Tina Beattie reminded me of a thought that has often crossed my mind over the years. Whilst almost every modern British theologian I've come across seems to hold (shall we say) 'interesting' views on core Catholic beliefs, almost every Catholic British philosopher I've encountered seems robustly orthodox.

Now I make little claim for the statistical validity of this observation: it's just an impression. Although there are a good number of practising Catholics among academic philosophers in the UK, there aren't so many (and I know the precise views of even fewer) that they form a reliable sample. Moreover, there are certainly blamelessly orthodox theologians at work who attract less publicity simply because 'Catholic theologian agrees with Church' is going to be less interesting as a headline than 'Catholic theologian thinks Pope is wrong on everything'. But here in Scotland, it's been the philosopher John Haldane who's done much of the heavy lifting in defending the Church on (eg) same sex 'marriage'. Last week's Catholic Herald carried a letter from a former University of Edinburgh philosopher suggesting the return of the Penny Catechism (moreover in its 18th century edition!) to Catholic schools. And then you have Joseph Shaw and Thomas Pink regularly arguing for traditional, Catholic doctrine. Beyond the UK, you have Ed Feser manfully fighting for scholasticism (and Steely Dan -but, hey, nobody's perfect!), and, beyond the living, you have Elizabeth Anscombe and Ralph McInerny.

OK. Assuming that my impression is true, it's rather an odd reversal of traditional, scholastic Catholic understanding of the relationship between, in particular, moral philosophy and moral theology. In essence, philosophers think about the natural end of human beings by using natural reason, and moral theologians add the truths and sources of revelation to add certainty to moral philosophy as well as the awareness of the reality of a life after death with God. You'd expect therefore moral philosophers to be jumping around all over the place like headless chickens, and regularly needing the firm guidance of theologians to remain on track. But if anything, the position seems to be the reverse. Why?

I'll offer two suggestions -although I do so without  much confidence in their truth. Firstly, certainly as far as most UK philosophers are concerned, their background will be in non-Continental philosophy. Their academic training will be in analytic philosophy (which encourages a certain scepticism about the possibility of knowledge and an awareness of the multiplicity of possible solutions) and in Classical philosophy (which gives an awareness of the fertility of old ideas and an appreciation of the specific methodologies behind Catholic scholasticism). From the scepticism of the former, there is an appreciation of the need for Magisterial authority. From the latter, there is an appreciation of the strengths of scholasticism and, in particular, Thomism. Most modern Anglophone theologians on the other hand will either have been trained in non-Catholic theological methodologies in the UK (and so will have imbibed either the implicit anti-theism of the social sciences, or whatever liberal Protestantism is the theological plat du jour) or, outside the UK, will have imbibed Continental philosophy and thus (whatever merits it may possess) have become acclimatized to the idea that there is something wrong with the metaphysics and methodologies of scholasticism. (I suspect the key here is the indebtedness of most non-Anglophone philosophers to Heidegger: whatever else may be said about him, I find it very hard to read him (and thus his successors) as doing anything else except engage in a 'polemic with Scholasticism'. Even if that doesn't imply a rejection of theism, it does imply a rejection of traditional Catholic ways of doing theology.)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Visit of Black Madonna of Czestochowa to Scotland

The copy of the icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa is visiting the UK on 5 November as part of a worldwide pro-life pilgrimage:

The peregrination of the Czestochowa icon "From Ocean to Ocean" through the world in defense of life is a joint initiative of pro-life movements from many countries and the international organization Human Life International.  The copy of the Czestochowa icon, which was touched to the original and blessed at Jasna Gora, is a gift of the Polish pro-life movement to the Russian movement.  The leaders of the movement in the east are Orthodox, while the majority in the west are Catholic.  They have gone to their bishops, asking for their blessing and acceptance of the pilgrim icon in defense of life.  For that reason, the Orthodox church is hosting the Czestochowa icon in Russia, but in Belarus, both churches together decided on the route and locations of meetings.  The Catholic Church will host it in Poland, Hungary, and in Spain.  To the extent possible, the icon will also visit Orthodox churches in the west.  The cult of the Mother of God in the Czestochowa icon and the defense of human life and its dignity are powerful elements uniting both churches. (From FAQ.)

The Scottish leg of the pilgrimage is scheduled (provisionally) as follows:

Mon 12 to Tue 13:  Edinburgh
Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption Mon, 17:00 Icon arrives Mon 18:00, Holy Mass (English) Tue, 17:00, Icon departs Other details to be confirmed

Cathedral website:

Tue 13 to Wed 14: Carfin, Motherwell
National Shrine to our Blessed Lady Tue, 18:30 Icon arrives, detail to be confirmed
Wed, 15:00, Icon departs

Shrine website:

Wed 14 to Fri 16 Glasgow
St. Andrew’s Cathedral Wed, 16:00 Icon arrives Detail to be confirmed

Cathedral website:

(The above details are taken from the From Ocean to Ocean website timetable  with a correction from the St Mary's Cathedral website (ie English Mass rather than Polish Mass 6pm Monday 12 November). At the time of writing (1 November) so far as I can see only the St Mary's Edinburgh website is carrying local details (under the 'news' section).)

Further information:

Worldwide pilgrimage website:
UK website:

Act of Entrustment of the Protection of the Civilisation of Life and Love Into the Hands of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary

O Blessed Virgin Mary, Chaste Mother of God, Immaculate Virgin.
Into your hands we entrust the great cause of protecting the civilisation of life and love.
We live in a difficult time of a massive global attack by the civilisation of death.
Very many innocent people are perishing - unborn children, the aged and the sick.
The number of victims already exceeds two billion human beings.
Each day an additional 50 thousand children die in their mother’s womb.
Many people do not want to have any children at all.
Means of destroying fertility and life are becoming more and more common.
Infertility of married couples is increasing.
The human child is becoming a product of modern technology, a donor of cells and organs.
Children “are produced” with designated attributes, subject to selection.
Hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos are preserved between life and death in liquid nitrogen.
International man made law denies legal protection to the life of the unborn child.
More and more countries are legalising euthanasia.
The attack on marriage and the family is increasing.
O Holy Mother, we promise you that we will defend human life,
Especially the small and defenceless, with all our strength.
We stand before you, Mother of Our Redeemer,
fully aware that alone we are unable to win that global struggle.
Stand at the forefront of the defence of life movements and lead us.
Protect life! Save the family! Strengthen us!
Obtain from your son the victory of the civilisation of life and love!