Tuesday 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!

On the Nativity of Christ (William Dunbar)

RORATE coeli desuper!
  Hevins, distil your balmy schouris!
For now is risen the bricht day-ster,
  Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
  The cleir Sone, quhom no cloud devouris,        
Surmounting Phebus in the Est,
  Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
  Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,  
And all ye hevinly operationis,
  Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
  Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
  That come in to so meik maneir;  
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
  And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
  To you is cumin full humbly  
  Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest—
  And only of his own mercy;
    Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,  
  And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
  To him that is of kingis King:
  Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,  
  Him honouring attour all thing
    Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
  Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair  
  Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
  For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
  The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
    Et nobis Puer natus est.  

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
  Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
  That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
  Lay out your levis lustily,  
Fro deid take life now at the lest
  In wirschip of that Prince worthy
    Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
  Regions of air mak armony!  
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
  Be mirthful and mak melody!
  All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird, and best,—
  He that is crownit abone the sky  
    Pro nobis Puer natus est!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The children's gaze and the liturgy

'Tis the season of Nativity plays. Well, if you're lucky. When my children were at non-Catholic primary schools, it was usually something along the line of, 'My Camel's got the Hump' or 'The Naughty Sheep': a play which gestured at Christmas themes without ever quite getting there.

Anyway, one of the pleasures of being a parent or even an indulgent uncle or friend is that you get to see the world through a child's eyes. Christmas is chock full of such moments: adults smiling benignly at children transfixed at meeting Santa or consumed by playing with a favoured toy. Admittedly these moments are often rapidly replaced by child screaming with fright at Santa or throwing the toy at sister, but still, it lasted for a moment, and for that moment, the world is seen afresh.

Quite a lot of children's Masses seem to aspire to be like that. Some of the churches we have frequented over the years have held a special children's Mass on a regular basis (and of course such Masses are an unavoidable part of life in a Catholic school). One aspect of these I was never quite sure about was the 'sermon slot' which often consisted of the priest chatting with the children. Quite apart from the liturgical propriety of this, I was always distinctly uneasy with the sense that this was really a performance put on for the benefit of the adults: instead of the priest really evangelizing the children, he was instead evangelizing the parents through the children. I'm not overly enamoured with Kant, but I was distinctly uneasy with the idea of treating children as means rather than ends...

But whatever the rights and wrongs of getting adults to see through a child's eyes in the liturgy on an occasional basis, it can't be right to do so on a permanent basis. Feminist theory over the years has made a great deal of the male gaze: roughly, the idea that much art in the western canon has been made to be seen by men (and thus either alienating or masculinizing the female spectator). Much modern liturgy seems to have been made for the child's gaze, in which adults are encouraged to see the world through a child's eyes.

Now I'm not sure of the exact reasons for this. Partly it may be due to the sociological fact that many parents seem happier letting their children indulge in religion than indulging in it themselves. (Christianity, like Santa, is 'nice for the kids'.)  Partly it may be due to an echo of Matthew 18:3:

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted , and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Who knows? But just as forcing women to see uncritically through men's eyes is a bad idea, it is a bad idea to infantalize adults by forcing them to adopt the child's gaze. If anything, we should be introducing children to the adult gaze: how to see the world from a fully mature point of view. It also produces the crassness of imperfect imitation: instead of getting what a child would really see, you get an aging hippy's version of what a child might be thought to see, an imitation about as convincing as RADA educated 1930s' actors imitation of cockney:

Monday 17 December 2012

The Killing III -the end

So goodbye Sarah Lund! Can't imagine how running off to Rekjavik is likely to work as a long term strategy for evading Danish justice (perhaps you could try the Ecuadorian embassy as they seem to have experience in dealing with Scandanavian extradition claims?) but still...

As I blogged on Borgen, Danish marriage seems a decidedly unstable affair. As far as the Killing III was concerned, it's hard to think of a single enduring marriage of any of the characters. Moreover, the constant dealing with grumpy ex spouses, jealous current partners and disgruntled children seems to get in the way of everything else. (Can't help thinking that Lund would have solved the crimes much more quickly if she hadn't been so distracted trying to deal with her estranged son, who spent much of the series acting like a complete plonker with his pregnant girlfriend.)

Although the son does seem about to do the 'right thing' (no, not marriage! just not dumping her and running off to sulk) with his girlfriend at the end, the general narrative about relationships is that they don't work. If you're watching these programmes as a young adult, you're being introduced to the expectation that the really hard work of any relationship is working out how to deal with the children and partners from the last relationship in the brief time you have together before rushing off with yet another partner.

If philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor are right, narratives form a central element in human flourishing. Human beings need challenges, and the key to interesting narratives is showing what those challenges are and how to deal with them. Judging by Scandanavian TV, the current narratives are creating an expectation of successive relationship failure and showing the interest of a life to lie in how we deal with picking up the pieces of that failure whilst juggling a career. This is opposed to more traditional narratives which focus on the everyday failures within a marriage, and take the interest of a life to lie in dealing with those failures whilst retaining the marriage.

I've noticed, talking to my children, that romantic break ups are really the key interest of much of their contemporaries' lives: the challenge seems to lie not so much in continuing a relationship but in screwing them up in interesting ways and enjoying the bittersweetness of romantic failure.

So is that the future or even the present reality? Rather than pouring one's energies into building a marriage (what I seem to remember Anthony Burgess describing as a 'little civilization') and thus a stable platform for work and contemplation, we are encouraged to create and enjoy failure...

Saturday 15 December 2012

Feliĉan Zamenhofan Tagon!

What??? (or, for older English readers, Hwæt!!!)

Today is Zamenhof Day when Esperantists round the world celebrate the birthday of the inventor of the artificial language Esperanto, Ludwig Zamenhof.

I can't really claim to be an Esperantist: it was something I was interested in as a teenager and can still just about make my way through a book or website in the language. (I thought briefly about trying to blog today in Esperanto but realized it was beyond me now.) It still strikes me as something of a lost opportunity (both for the world and me): it really is quite a remarkable invention with a simplicity in its design that is rather beautiful. Putting aside any fantasies about worldwide cosmopolitan conspiracies, the existence of an auxiliary language as a  means of communication that allows ordinary people to contact each other directly would be a good thing. A fascinating book, La danghera lingvo, (The Dangerous Language) describes, among other things, how Soviet Russia, having originally encouraged Soviet Esperantists to get pen-pals in capitalist countries as a way of distributing propaganda about the revolution, had to stop the correspondence when it became obvious that the Soviet workers were instead being given a direct insight into the rather better living conditions that existed under capitalism.

Anyway, did you know Vatican Radio broadcasts in Esperanto? (Three times a week according to their website.) Or that there is a International Catholic Esperanto Union? Or that there is a book called: Esperanto - The New Latin for the Church and for Ecumenism ? (English version here.) I can almost immediately hear the more suspicious among orthodox Catholics sharpening their knives at this point, and I suspect that there is indeed more than a whiff of the 1960s about some of this. On the other hand, there is also more than a whiff of self improvement and international solidarity about it too, and that's something that, despite its Communist perversions, has its good points.

Anyway, if you're really worried about international Zionist-Socialist-New-World-Order conspiracies to introduce a Newspeak, you could always try the older artificial language Volapük instead. It was invented by a Catholic priest after all...

The 'Our Father' in Esperanto:

Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo,
sanktigata estu Via nomo.
Venu Via regno.
Fariĝu Via volo,
kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.
Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,
kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoj.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,
sed liberigu nin de la malbono.


Wednesday 12 December 2012

Brendan O'Neill on same sex 'marriage'

                                                        Wot he said....

Brendan O'Neill (H/T Gregg Beaman) gets it right again about same sex 'marriage':

It seems clear that the radical civil rights imagery cynically wheeled out by gay marriage advocates disguises that this is in truth a highly elitist, debate-allergic campaign. That is because, fundamentally, gay marriage speaks to, not any public thirst for the overhaul of marriage, but rather the narrow needs of some of the most elitist strata in our society. The benefit of the gay marriage issue for our rulers and betters is twofold. First, it allows them to pose as enlightened and cosmopolitan, as bravely willing to to enact ‘civilising measures’, in contrast with the bigots who make up the more traditional, religious or lumpen sections of society. As one observer said yesterday, gay marriage has become a ‘red line’ in politics, determining one’s goodness or badness. Supporting gay marriage has become a key cultural signifier, primarily of moral rectitude, among everyone from politicians to the media classes to bankers: that is, members of an elite who have increasingly few opportunities for moral posturing in these relativistic times. And second, and crucially, gay marriage satisfies the instinct of the authorities to meddle in marital and family life; it throws open to state intervention previously no-go zones, including the very meaning of our most intimate relationships.

(Full article here.)

I'd only add, in the Scottish situation, that it allows a contrast to be drawn between bad old 'blood and soil' nationalism and shiny new 'Jetsonist' (ie modernizing! but I'm going to keep hammering on about 'Jetsonism' until it gets into the dictionary) nationalism, as well as, more specifically, between a nasty old Scotland dominated by gloomy Calvinists and tawse wielding nuns, and a nice new Scotland that abandoned religion in favour of long secular lie ins on Sunday and the gym. (The timing of the proposal here -as so often- was also influenced by a desire not to be seen to be behind England in introducing progressive policies.)

Monday 10 December 2012

Does SSM affect natural marriage?

The ever wonderful blogger Peter Ould has conducted some statistical analysis on declining marriage rates in Spain, based on figures originally published in Affinity bulletin. The original Affinity article states:

What is most striking about the above figures is that in the UK, where all marriages were
heterosexual, the number of marriages remained steady between 2006 and 2010, in contrast to
those in Spain, where, following the redefinition of marriage, the number of mixed-sex marriages fell by 48,039 (23%).

Some may argue that the number of marriages in Spain has declined for reasons not connected with same-sex marriage. Given that marriage was redefined in the middle of 2005, and that the number of marriages increased in each year prior to 2005, and has declined in each year since, this would be so remarkable a coincidence that any argument based on it would carry no credibility.

The Spanish marriage statistics are directly relevant in the current debate in Britain in connection 
with redefining marriage. The British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has consistently supported the redefinition of marriage, has given as his reasons "the importance of commitment" 
and the contribution the redefinition of marriage would make to the "strengthening of society."
The Spanish figures demonstrate that far from "strengthening society," the redefinition of marriage 
would be a social disaster. How exactly, it might reasonably be asked, would a loss of more than 
250,000 marriages demonstrate "the importance of commitment" or contribute to "the 
strengthening of society?"

So, what can we say from this. We are pretty certain that there are two different patterns in other-sex marriages registered in Spain pre and post the introduction of same-sex marriage. Those patterns are directly linked to the introduction of same-sex marriage and are not part of a general trend in the time period we have data for.

Whatever you finally make of the statistics, this is precisely the sort of evidence that SSM campaigners need to engage with. The handwaving response that 'if you don't want SSM, then just don't have one yourself' doesn't begin to grapple with the damage that the radical change from an institution based on the social interest in successful childrearing to an institution based on -well, what?- may produce.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Gerry Hassan, Alasdair MacIntyre and the future of Scottish politics

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the main Scottish public intellectual of them all...?

I confess to being a bit fascinated by Gerry Hassan. For non-Scottish readers, he's a sort of omnipresent talking head here whose shtick is going on about the need for a more intelligent engagement between progressive politics and nationalism. Or, in his own words:

Hailed by the Sunday Herald as ‘Scotland’s main public intellectual’ Gerry has written and edited a dozen books in the last decade on Scotland and the wider world: from the setting up of the Parliament, to its record, policy, in depth studies of the Labour Party and SNP, and looking at how we imagine the future. Gerry’s activities include facilitating events, discussions and conversations which bring people together in Scotland and across the world.

So why my fascination? Well, partly, it's because I think he does make the right noises: independence or no, Scottish politics has got to develop some more depth. That's partly about the SNP and the Labour Party no longer regarding each other as akin to something you've inadvertently brought into your house on your shoe, but it's also partly about widening and deepening the issues in the political debate away from short term party political tactics. (I don't agree with Lalland Peat Worrier's (surely mischievous) suggestion that the Unionist parties in Scotland are deliberately being rubbish as part of a strategy to undermine Scottish Independence, but it's certainly true that one of the strongest arguments against independence to me at least is the thought that a newly independent Scotland would have only one properly functioning political party, the SNP. It's ironic that the political competence of the SNP contrasted with the other Scottish parties becomes an argument against independence, but nonetheless, 'tis so.)


The deepest public political debate in Scotland seems usually to consist of two or more people arguing about how we can become more progressive than before. Even the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson tends to say stuff like:

I have said Conservatives never get enough credit for how progressive they can be and how anti-establishment in terms of picking candidates they can be (Guardian).

Amongst some good sense in a recent article, Gerry Hassan comes out with the following:

The myths of modern Scotland, what we could essentially call our foundation stories, are the democratic intellect, egalitarian impulse and popular sovereignty. As I argue in the introduction to the newly published book, ‘The Seven Wonders of Scotland’, an account of seven imagined futures of Scotland, we do not often act on these.

It is as simple and fundamental as this. Let us decide if the above myths are what we want to be defined by, and if they are then genuinely act upon them in a way we do not at the moment, in education, social justice and democracy. And we should then live by them as a set of ethics for a modern, progressive, democratic Scotland. A place that realises that its past, present and future are all interwoven and interconnected. That knows that the first step in creating a different future is imagining it. That’s what being a culture of self-determination entails.

Why should Scottish politics be founded on myths? (It's one thing to talk about the importance of narratives, quite another to think that those narrations are located in the neatness of myths, particularly when these myths are little more than slogans.) Who is going to decide on those myths? By what structure of power? (Should we have a sort of constitutional conference where our national myths are decided by the majority?) What about dissenting narratives? (My myth of a modern Scotland is that everything's gone wrong since the introduction on nominalism in the late mediaeval period, and that we all need to get back to Aquinas and spiritual disciplines such as wearing hair shirts. Am I going to be allowed that narrative?)

So my problem with Hassan is that he promises so much and delivers so little: his nostrums of progressive politics  ('learn how to use humour, play and irreverence, and encourage spaces and resources which sit outside the system' (here)) are really part of the same old, same old: an Enlightenment dream of a transparent rationality coming up with simple, explicit principles which can be imposed on the structures of civil society and the family by (party) politics.

Contrast this with someone who (in terms of eminence at least) might be thought to have rather more claim to be Scotland's leading public intellectual: Alasdair MacIntyre. In a recent lecture, (video here; review here (for non-Catholics, if you want the essence of his analysis, try starting about 23 minutes in)) he reflects on how American Catholics should react in a political landscape dominated by a 'vulgarized liberalism' and a 'vulgarized conservatism'. (Scots might suggest the introduction of even a vulgarized conservatism into public life here would be an advance.) His answer, in principle, is that we should focus on the deeper resources of metaphysics, poetry and narrative and not get entirely swept up into a debate structured by those twin vulgarizations. But behind it all, there are two principles. First, there is MacIntyre's strong sense (argued consistently from After Virtue) that thinking takes place within a tradition, and that there are competing traditions in the modern world. Second, there is, within the Catholic tradition, an emphasis on 'the mystery of things' and a consequent need to trouble and be troubled by those who are 'too much in love with their own beliefs'. 

Not only are these two elements of conflict between traditions and the inability of discourse ever quite to capture the ultimate nature of the world downplayed by Hassan, but he also ignores specifics which follow from this. In particular, there is the central importance of the family as a space where narratives are formed and children are inducted into that form of life that is Catholicism (or any other well formed tradition). Moreover, the absence of specific practices from Hassan's analysis (and contrast for how long at the beginning of the video MacIntyre spends talking about prayer and scripture) indicates just how far his own analysis falls into the same trap 'of talking a language of abstracts' rather than trying 'to link up individual stories and collective stories'. For a Catholic (and analogous things could be said about other religions and even the deeper sort of atheist), politics -the life of the city- emerges from and is secondary to specific practices such as prayer, and specific narratives such as scripture. But 'progressive politics', at least in Hassan's version, is absolutely blind to such specificities, preferring to focus on the sort of slogans and power structures that are visible to the secularized, party political mind.

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: http://www.stmaryscathedral.co.uk/

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: http://www.carfin.org.uk/home.aspx

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

Cathedral website: http://cathedralg1.weebly.com/

(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: http://www.fromoceantoocean.org/
UK website: http://www.fromoceantoocean.org.uk/

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!

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Nuclear weapons and Catholicism

Perhaps describing nuclear weapons as a 'hot button' issue for Catholicism would be a little tasteless. However, given the recent focus on the closure of the Faslane base as a consequence of Scottish independence, it's worth reflecting on the Church's attitude to them.

In Scotland, the Catholics Bishops and particularly Cardinal O'Brien have been clear in their opposition to the UK's possession of nuclear weapons. For example, in this (PDF here) study document produced in 2006 for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal O'Brien is quoted:

With the Trident nuclear weapon system fast becoming obsolete, and the debate concerning its replacement  promised by our government, now is the time for all men and women of Easter faith, men and women of good will, men and women of peace, to raise our voices. Enter this debate and demand that these weapons of mass destruction be replaced, but not with more weapons. Rather, replace Trident, as the Holy Father has said, with projects that bring life to the poor.

This opposition was reiterated in April 2011 by the Cardinal at Faslane:

Here at the gates of Faslane, there is no better place to say that it is not courageous of Britain to have these dreadful weapons of mass destruction. It is shameful to have them.

Trident is fast becoming obsolete, and we have the chance now to do the right thing and give it up. We have the chance to be peacemakers, echoing the Easter desire of Jesus Christ for a lasting peace.

I've been speaking of the teaching of the Catholic Church on nuclear weapons for many years now, telling our message to whoever is willing to listen, and I'm very pleased to repeat that teaching again today. As you'll see, it's a consistent teaching, a central part of our pro-life stance that has human dignity at its very core.

Moreover, the opposition is not new. In 1982, in an Easter statement by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, the UK government's policy of nuclear deterrence was clearly condemned as immoral:

According to the statement, if it is immoral to use nuclear weapons, then it is immoral to threaten to use them...Quoting from the Vatican Council, the bishops call the arms race "a theft from the poor" and "one of the greatest curses on the human race".
"Too much energy has been spent on preparations for war, too little on making peace," the statement said. The Church in Scotland is, therefore, in "an anguishing situation".

From the point of view of Scottish Catholicism, the condemnation of Trident has been loud and consistent. This condemnation rests primarily on the sacredness of human life, and on the difficulty in seeing how use of nuclear weapons could ever be regarded as a legitimate defence of life in accordance with the principles of a just war:

The use of force must be a last resort. We have a prior obligation to avoid war if at all possible.

The use of force must be discriminate. Civilians and civilian facilities may not be the object of direct, intentional attack and care must be taken to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians.

The use of force must be proportionate. The overall destruction must not outweigh the good to be achieved.

And there must be a probability of success.

As a comparison, although Catholic bishops in the US have not called for immediate and unilateral disarmament, their push towards disarmament has also been consistent:

Both the Holy See and our Bishops’ Conference have spoken about the strategy of nuclear deterrence as an interim measure. As the U.S. bishops wrote in 1983: “Deterrence is not an adequate strategy as a long-term basis for peace; it is a transitional strategy justifiable only in conjunction with resolute determination to pursue arms control and disarmament.

(For a discussion of the Catholic position and its application to the US, see here, from which the above quote is taken.)

The SNP has enough reasons to oppose nuclear weapons anyway with 70% of the Scottish public against the replacement of Trident. (For CND article see here.) But if I were an SNP Machiavel looking for ways to bring Catholics (and particularly the Catholic hierarchy) back on side despite the same sex 'marriage' debacle, I'd start by making vaguely anti-abortion noises and then follow up with a clear reminder of the party's opposition to Trident.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Sticking up for Tina Beattie (a bit)

Tina Beattie's been getting it in the neck again.

As regular readers of Catholic blogs will realize, Professor Beattie has become a bit of focus for orthodox Catholic anger at heterodox teachings in the modern Church. The latest wave has picked up some of her writings about the Mass and attacked her for describing it as an act of homosexual intercourse. (Here from Protect the Pope and here for the Bones' rather amusing take on it. )

Frankly, I'm pulled in two ways on this. I'm with the other orthodox bloggers in thinking it's pretty outrageous that someone who teaches heresy should be able to be described as a Catholic theologian with all the influence that carries. That's less directed at Professor Beattie (who's getting perhaps more than her fair share of the flak) than at the general run of things: there are far too many academics and literati running around with 'Catholic' as a description who seem to spend most of their time lobbing their dissenting opinions at the Church. (Many of them seem to be hanging out here.) One of the facets of the modern world is that many ordinary Catholics are well-educated in secular terms and rightly want to extend their knowledge of theology. To do that, there needs to be some sort of quality control so that they are not misled into thinking that all the smart Catholics are heretics and that any degree of intellectual sophistication is incompatible with orthodoxy. That's really down to the Bishops' exercising of their pastoral authority to lead and guide the faithful. It's not an easy task in a modern world of competing voices all claiming authority, and particularly not an easy one in a country such as the UK where most (Catholic) theologians work in non-Catholic institutions. However, easy or not, much more needs to be done to make it clear that the Church does make absolute claims to truth and there are some theological opinions, however sincerely held, which are false. (That said, such pronouncements need to explain their positions -and that's not always a straightforward thing to do to a laity often eager for novelty and impatient of judgments at odds with the familiar, secular world.)

On the other hand, the specific issue that Protect the Pope has raised is rather trickier than a straightforward teaching of heresy. In essence, it is a common theological approach (largely, I think, in the modern case originating from von Balthasar) to regard theology and sex as mutually informative: we should view sex theologically (so the Theology of the Body) and we should understand God through our embodiment, particularly through sexual differences. On the whole, I think that's rather a good thing. In particular, it restores the sexual differences between men and women to an important place in our thinking about the world: instead of seeing us as just human beings with different bits stuck on, we start to regard men and women as being equal and essentially different: broadly speaking, this is the position of the New Catholic Feminism (see here).

One particular application of this general line of thinking is in the restriction of the priesthood to men. What is just a ridiculous relic of sexism for someone who views men and women as identical becomes a consequence of the meaning of our sexual embodiment for someone who views men and women as essentially different. (Balthasar's reflections on the restriction of the priesthood to men is here. (PDF).) So the exploration of the meanings of maleness and femaleness in the Mass becomes very important theologically.

Now, Professor Beattie does exactly that. When she explores the symbolism of the Mass in this way, she find it wanting and thus uses it as an argument for women priests: in other words, when she talks of the (current) Mass as 'an orgasmic celebration of homosexual love from which the female body is excluded' (from Protect the Pope) that is a critique of how the symbolism is currently working rather than an ideal: by allowing women priests, she thinks to stop the Mass being so describable.

I should confess at this point that it was reading Beattie's God's Mother. Eve's Advocate a few years ago that a) drew my attention to von Balthasar b) eventually helped me understand why the priesthood was restricted to men; and c) made me appreciate the importance of Mary. None of those results (with the exception of c)) would be ones that Beattie would applaud, but such is the nature of academic reflection: reflections on objections and attacks are a necessary stage in the achievement of knowledge.

So here's my quandary. How do you ensure that the laity (and indeed priest and bishops!) are not misled by academics in a world where the sort of control exercisable in the past isn't physically possible, and where it's not clear that any obvious alternatives (such as warnings from Bishops) work terribly well either? On the other hand, how do you allow that genuine fluidity and openness of debate that is an essential part of theology in the academy, without allowing an imperfect (and erroneous) stage in that debate to achieve currency among the enthusiastic but half educated (and I include myself in that category)?

I really don't have much of a one stop solution here. Bishops should be clearer about articulating orthodox positions. Individuals -academics, laity, priests, religious, everyone- should reflect more on their responsibilities not to teach or believe falsehoods and how to respect the Magisterium. Perhaps the ideal is the finding of scholastically minded geniuses: the scholastic method of reviewing alternative positions before articulating and defending the orthodox conclusion allows a review and understanding of the alternatives without compromising final truth.

(As a practical interim measure, I suggest the cloning and distribution of Matthew Levering to every diocese in the UK. He's solidly orthodox but also soaked in the exploration of complex theological meanings in the Mass. (See especially his Sacrifice and Community.))

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Haldane, celibacy and crisis

Spotting a link (H/T Catholic Herald)  to John Haldane's article in the Tablet  which, among other things, called for the admission of married men to the priesthood, prompted me to go out and buy the wretched paper.

The shortened online version (which I've linked to above) perhaps gives a misleading impression of the whole article: the suggestion about celibacy takes up only a couple of paragraphs, the bulk of the article being a reflection on 'A Church in dire need'. On the other hand, those paragraphs form the conclusion to the article, and it's hard not to see them being offered as the single most important solution to the crisis in the Church.

This is not a case of simply increasing the number of clergy, nor is it a easy way to solve the decline in vocations. Rather, a married contingent can better resemble and reassemble the faithful and speak to people of what they know about their needs and difficulties. Married priests could also speak to celibates from within the brotherhood of the ordained. Even if it were only for the sake of providing a compelling argument against this proposal, the matter should be addressed as the Synod of Bishops, currently gathered in Rome, reflects on the challenge of the New Evangelization.

The crisis deepens and still we are waiting. Let it not be said of the synod, 'We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet, Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street."

The diagnosis of the crisis is that the Church is under two forms of attack: an elite, post Enlightenment attack on Catholicism as the most conspicuous opposition to secular values; and a popular attack on the institution as a result of priestly abuse. Implicit in the article is also a third element in the crisis: a weakness within the Church in part characterized by

...a rise in materialism marked at one level by an implicit adoption of a general consumerist culture, and at another by the politicization of religious thought and behaviour. The latter comes in two forms: 'conservative' and 'progressive', and although each opposes the other, they are united in seeking recognition and influence. The 'conservative' version is nostalgic and slavish; the 'progressive' variant is faithless and craven in its desire for secular acceptance.

Now although the article isn't entirely explicit about this, I take it that it's the second and third elements of the crisis (the popular disgust with the Church, and the weakness within the Church) that removal of compulsory celibacy is supposed particularly to remedy: it's hard to see how such a change would affect an elite attack that has been going on since the 18th century.

My problem with this is that, coming from an Episcopalian background, I've seen married priests in action. I've also seen the admission of candidates to priesthood on a '(shortened) formation' (Non Stipendary Ministers). (Come to that, I've even seen women priests.) Now my conclusion from this experience is that at best, such a change will make very little difference, and, at worst, it might even exacerbate the crisis. Let me concede one point immediately: it's quite likely that, by allowing shortened formation periods for married men, you would increase numbers of priests. And to the extent that there is a problem with numbers of priests -and there clearly is some problem here- you might have a remedy in Haldane's suggestion. However, I'm not convinced that the shortage of priests is, historically, quite as serious as is being made out: there have been periods (think recusancy) when access to the sacraments has been far more difficult than it is now; there are areas where the shortage is far worse than in Western Europe:

(Source: here.)

Certainly, the existing parish structure of the Church will not survive a further reduction in numbers of priests, but it's by no means clear that's a bad thing. The Episcopal Church in Scotland is dogged by the continuation of small parishes of exclusively elderly congregants, made financially viable by the free labour of non-stipendary ministers. I'm not at all clear that such an immunization to the pressures of changed demographics is a good thing: paradoxically, a measure intended as a 'bold initiative' may simply compound resistance to needful change in how a church engages with modern society.

But let's grant that ordination of married men would carry the advantage of increased numbers of priests. What of the other claimed advantages of being better able to 'resemble and reassemble the faithful and speak to people of what they know about their needs and difficulties'? I'm frankly not convinced by this. There are two aspects to this: a) one of the major problems within the Church is a lay complacency -a contentment with (indeed pride in) the conclusions of their own secularized education and inadequate theological understanding. We need priests who are not like us, but who can remind us of our deficiencies, particularly in catechesis. A priesthood which transcends us is at least as important as a priesthood which resembles us. b) To the extent that 'resemblance' is a desideratum, it's easy to overemphasize the difference that celibacy (or marriage) makes. Educational and class background as well as personality are as much issues here as marital status All in all, I have found rather more in common with some celibate priests than I have with some married priests: married priests in my experience lead to an embourgeoisement of the clergy which can be far, far more off putting than celibacy.

This is perhaps missing the main thrust of the article which, I suspect, at least implicitly, is the line that people within and without the Church will trust it more in the area of child abuse if it has married priests. But to state this is immediately to see that it's flawed reasoning. Everyone really knows that married men are just as likely to abuse as pretend celibates. The statistics show it. Commonsense and anecdote show it. At best, by introducing married men, you may get some people to acknowledge the beginnings of a (putatively positive) change in the Church. But no one coming from this line of thought will regard it as sufficient.

The Catholic Church is widely seen by non-Catholics as having a hang up about sex, and simply bringing in married priests won't cure that. When acquaintances tell me that I'm a member of the world's largest paedophile ring (and they do quite regularly), they know I am married and have children. I don't think they (usually) consider that I am actually abusing my own children, but they do think that I am part of a system which does. I see no reason to assume that having married priests will alter that: they too will be seen as collaborators. Of course, it will be said, if this is the first step, to be followed by allowing contraception, women priests, celebration of gay relationships... Then we'll know that everything is all right. But all that clearly isn't a real possibility for orthodox Catholicism.

In sum, married priests might solve the numbers issue, but even that isn't a clear gain. In regard to the 'softer' advantages such as resemblance to the laity and plausibility in the issue of child abuse, such advantages, even if they exist are small and doubtful; and there are clear disadvantages. (Ask divorced clergy.) Maybe married priests should be allowed: it's clearly possible in a way that allowing women to be priests isn't. But my own view is that the advantages are so unclear that it's an unwise step.

After all, it's not that the married ministry of the Protestant churches is so obviously successful...

But today the Church of Scotland, founded with such lofty ideals, looks to be a kirk in crisis.

Membership has fallen by more than two-thirds in the past 40 years. The number of baptisms, which could indicate future members, has plunged from almost 17,000 in 1991 to just over 6,000 in 2009.

(Full article here.)

[The rather nice photo of a married Greek Catholic Priest above is from the OrthCath blog which also has an interesting article on married priests in the Byzantine Rite.]

Thursday 18 October 2012

Happy blogoversary to me!

                                             It all started with a creepy clown....

One year ago, I started this blog with the above picture and a post that ruminated on the difficulties of getting the Church's message over in a society where the ordinary, decent person's view of Catholic teaching and spokesmen was that they were 'bizarre and a little scary'.

My blogging was born out of two related impulses: first, I had recently been spending (imprudently) large amounts of time defending Catholic views in (predominantly) Scottish comboxes around issues such as the Pope's visit and the introduction of euthanasia, and I wanted to provide a more stable platform for the expression of such arguments; second, Scotland and the UK as a whole were obviously entering into a period where Catholicism was going to be under increasing public attack. My main emphases were going to be the tradition of Catholic philosophical thinking and a  focus on external challenges to Catholicism rather than internal ones.

Well, anyway, here we are one year on. Many thanks to all of those who have interacted with me online in some way (including the Catholic Herald troll who gave the most enjoyable (and possibly accurate) assessment of my contributions to public debate as 'faux intellectual claptrap'). As a 'review of the year', here are the top five posts judged by viewer numbers. Happy reading, and I look forward to your company over the coming year!


Living together before marriage....


Borgen, marriage and deontology...


F is for Fake (and Feminine)...


Gerry Hassan, Cardinal O'Brien, and the future of Scotland...


Tom Holland -part deux...