Thursday 28 February 2013

Goodbye, Pope Benedict XVI

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them should die for thee:

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

(H/T: Spirit of Teuchtar II for reminding me of the appropriateness of Faith of Our Fathers in the present times, and Bara Brith for the banner.)

Sunday 24 February 2013

Pope Benedict, Cardinal O'Brien and allegations

                                            Bellahouston 2010: Pope Benedict visit

I'd been thinking about making good my promise to say more about Pope Benedict's resignation this morning when I switched on the radio and heard:

Three priests and a former priest in Scotland have reported the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, to the Vatican over allegations of inappropriate behaviour stretching back 30 years.

The four, from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican's ambassador to Britain, and demanded O'Brien's immediate resignation. A spokesman for the cardinal said that the claims were contested. (From The Observer.)

'Oh what fresh hell is this?' I muttered over my toast...

I was utterly surprised by Pope Benedict's resignation and I was utterly surprised by the allegations against Cardinal O'Brien. There, I suppose, much of the analogy between the two events ends. No one has yet suggested that Pope Benedict himself has been up to no good (apart from the usual suspects) and no evidence has been provided that the allegations against Cardinal O'Brien have any basis. But they do have the connection that a) we feel an emotional connection to someone whom we don't really know very well; and b) people surprise us.

On a), the human capacity to identify with and feel an attachment to a public figure is well evidenced: Lady Gaga, Lady Di, Pope Benedict etc. It's all no doubt something to do with our nature as social beings and that propensity to philia (friendship/love) which Aristotle identifies as the foundation of human relationships. Catholicism is rather good at taking our instincts and natural appetites and directing them towards God. And so, when the wheels of the mechanism are running smoothly, we fall a little bit in love with the Pope, and the Pope gently prises away our propensities to violating the First Commandment against idolatry, and redirects our energies towards God. (And meanwhile the Dawkinsians kid themselves to be better than this, all the time worshipping their own idol, with no way of moving beyond him.)

I therefore think it's entirely natural that some Catholics have clearly felt let down when Pope Benedict resigned. My own interior life is a bit of a blooming, buzzing confusion at the best of times, and frankly I'm not sure quite what I felt: a bit of a let down, a bit of worry for him, a bit of telling myself not to be so silly. My strongest feeling just now is relief that we are simply saying goodbye to him as he departs for the Vatican monastery rather than preparing for his funeral: he is, after all, 85 and really Catholics should have been prepared for some sort of imminent departure. He has, so far as one can judge from what I have read and what I have seen, the sort of man I find easy to like: scholarly, retiring, patient...But there I go again exposing my philia.

A little of the same applies to Scotland's own Cardinal, Keith O'Brien. I confess to feeling slightly irritated at some of the reaction to his last interview, particularly from the more traditionalist Catholics: I think he was mistaken in advocating a revisiting of the rules on celibacy, but that is far from thinking that he is a heretic or an idiot or whatever... He has been a doughty fighter for the church in Scotland and deserves our loyalty, even if that loyalty does not require servile agreement to his every opinion. But again, that's philia speaking...

On to b): people surprise us. I don't really know Pope Benedict. I don't really know Cardinal O'Brien. But even those people I do know very well -friends, relations, myself- surprise us at times. I didn't expect Pope Benedict to resign. I didn't expect Cardinal O'Brien to be accused of 'inappropriate' behaviour. I don't expect these accusations to be proved. But who knows?  As I say, people surprise us and these are people that I might like to pretend I know well but really don't.

Which brings us to the photograph of the Papal Mass at Bellahouston above. At the heart of Catholicism is Jesus's death and resurrection and the daily contact with that miracle that we have in the Mass and the body and blood of Christ. Human flesh and blood will pass away, but that flesh and blood will not. Catholics are not papomanes. But there is indeed a constant temptation for the natural human tendency of love for public figures to fall into papolatry or even episcopolatry. (There is also the danger of a unreasonably negative reaction: the disproportionate hatred for a loved figure who you feel has let you down in objectively minor ways.) As in so much else, Catholics have a duty here to work on their hearts and their minds, purifying themselves of these vicious reactions and aiming for the mean of virtue: a proper love, a proper patience, a proper sorrow.

And so, so far as I can see things 'as though upon a lighted screen', the matters stand thus:

Pope Benedict had the right to resign and clearly believes it is better for the Church that he does. I certainly do not have any reason to question that judgment. So I pray for Pope Benedict. God bless him for his service to the Church and I simply would like to thank him for taking on such a herculean task for these years, and may he have a long and happy retirement.

Cardinal O'Brien has been accused of some sort of vague, homosexual inappropriateness. There is no evidence of those accusations but it would be naive to rule out completely the possibility of such accusations being true. So I also pray for him, for his service to the Church, and for the discovery of the truth in relation to these allegations. God bless him. And I also pray for his accusers, again that the truth will come out and that God will heal them, either in respect of their false accusations or in respect of the harms done to them.

Friday 22 February 2013

Cardinal O'Brien and married priests

It doesn't particularly surprise me that Cardinal O'Brien has suggested the possibility of married priests in a BBC interview. He's quite clear about the differences between matters of doctrine which are unchangeable and matters of discipline which might be changed, among them married priests. His remarks about married priests fall short of a ringing endorsement, and are more of an acknowledgment of a possibility, and the expression of a personal preference for that possibility of marriage in response to the interviewer's persistent questions on the subject. (The relevant portion is about 17mins into the interview.)

I'd be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should be married. It's a free world and I realise many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood, and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family (Here from The Guardian.)

When John Haldane called for this last year, I suspected that he would only have done so if he was sure that this view had a measure of support, particularly within the Scottish hierarchy. Unlike Haldane's intervention, Cardinal O'Brien focuses less on the direct benefits to the Church and more on the benefits to priests. Moreover, the issue seems of much more interest to the interviewer than to the Cardinal.

It is worth stressing again that such a change would be perfectly possible: married priests already exist within the Catholic Church and the extension of this would be a matter of a change in discipline rather than a change in doctrine. However, as I concluded after my previous rather lengthier discussion of Haldane's suggestion, I remain unconvinced:

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.

Thursday 21 February 2013

The Voice from the Mother's Womb

A number of Catholic blogs have recently publishing pro-life poems. I've noted the following:

J F Collins: The Cry of an Aborted Child (Linen on the Hedgerow)
G K Chesterton: By the Babe Unborn (Countercultural Father)
Spike Milligan: Unto Us (On The Side of the Angels)

This reminded me of the following poem which I came across a few years ago in the collection of modern Gaelic verse, An Tuil. It's written by Donald John MacDonald (translation by Ronald Black) and a version was first published in 1973 in the Stornoway Gazette:

The Voice from the Mother's Womb

Come close and give an ear to me,
  All of you who have your health,
Listen to me and take pity on me
  For you're about to have me killed;
Here I am, a developed child
  Wrapped around in my mother's womb,
And the murderer standing close to me
  With the Crown's consent to snuff me out.

He'll get no gallows, fine or prison
  And no court will sentence him,
Even if he murdered thousands
  He is quit of the country's law;
He will slaughter me tomorrow,
  Anyway my mother has asked him to-
Isn't she herself the murderer
  Of the very waif that's in her womb?

I have never harmed a creature
  Under the sun throughout the world,
All I wanted was to join you there
  And grow up and come of age there;
When my mother had conceived me
  And I was saying, "She will love me."
But giving pleasure to her flesh
  Was what she wanted, not a baby.

I'll never see a summer's day,
  Fields alive with calves and stirks,
Nor the primrose of the streamlets,
  Or flowers that grow in glen or garden;
I'll not hear in Maytime morning
  The sweetstringed choir high in the trees,
I won't run, or jump for joy
  With other children as they did themselves.

All my share came into being
  When, weak and tender, I was conceived,
And if people did right by each other
  No mouth on earth would suffer want;
But too many are amassing wealth,
  Eating, drinking, vomiting,
While their brothers lack even the mouthful
  To give them strength to reach maturity.

God made me in the usual way-
  It was His hope that I would grow,
It wasn't in His mind at all
  That I should be superfluous;
He created my eternal soul
  Though stained by Adam's living sin,
But the Sacrament of Baptism
  Was still going to show me glory.

But alas, my cause of sadness,
  My right to it has been denied:
I've now no hope of the Baptism
  Ordered for me by the King of the Elements,
But of course He will show me love-
  An innocent loveless child
Denied all admittance to the world
  And any chance to mature there in time.

Oh won't you take pity, mother,
  On me the child that's in your womb,
Listen to me and hear me cry out
  As a mother's love is denied me;
Since you so willingly conceived me,
  Bring me to the world and bless me,
And my tongue won't seek your torment
  When God comes in court to judge you.

And you who're waiting with the knife
  To finish off my childhood,
Mind, though I cannot see your face,
  I won't forget you, never-
When your soul's being sought from you
  And you crying, "God have mercy,"
With a crown about my head
  I'll shout, "Send him down to Hell, the fiend!"

"Thou shalt not kill" is what the Lord said,
    When He created the commandments;
"You'll give," He said, "all love to me
  And as to me, so to your brother."
And you who put the Act together
  That murders children by the thousand,
If justice triumphs in the end
  I pity you the day your die.


An Guth á Broinn na Màthar

Teannaibh dlùth is thoiribh cluas dhomh,
  Sibhs’ a shluagh a tha ’nur slàint’,
Éistibh riu is gabhaibh truas rium
  ’S mi air thuar mo chur gu bàs leibh;
Tha mi ’n-seo, ’nam leanabh saidhbhir
  Paisgte cruinn am broinn mo mhàthar,
’S am murtair ’na sheasnamh dlùth dhomh
’S aont’ a’ Chrùin aige mo smàladh.

Cha téid croich no càin no prìosan,
  Cha téid binn a thoirt le cùirt air,
Ged a mharbhadh e na mìltean
  Tha e caoiteas lagh na dùthchadh;
Nì e mis’ a mhurt a-màireach,
  Dh’iarr mo mhàthair air co-dhiù e-
Saoil nach murtair is’ I fhéin
  Don aon dìol-déirc a th’air a giùlan?

Cha do rinn mi cron air creutair
  Tha fon ghréin air feadh an t-saoghail,
B’e mo mhiann tighinn còmh’ ruib’ fhéin ann
  ’S a bhith ’g éirigh suas gu aois ann;
Nuair a ghineadh mi le m’ mhàthair
  Bha mi ’g ràdha, ‘Bheir i gaol dhomh.’
Ach se sòlas thoirt dh’a feòil
  A bha i’n tòir air, ’s cha b’e maoth-phàist’.

Chan fhaic mise latha samhraidh,
  Laoigh is gamhna ruith sna pàircean,
Chan fhaic mi sòbhrach nan alltan,
  Flùraichean an glean no’n gàrradh;
Ch chluinn mi air madainn Chéitein
  Còisir theudach nan craobh àrda,
Còmh’ri cloinn mar a rinn àsan.

Chaidh mo chuid-sa chur don t-saoghal
  Nuair a ghineadh maoth gun chlì mi,
’S nam biodh daoine ceart dha chéile
  Cha bhiodh beul fon ghréin is dìth air;
Ach tha cus a’ càrnadh stòrais,
  Ag ithe, ’s ag òl, ’s a’dìobhairt,
’S am bràithrean gun fiù an greim
A theireadh sgoinn dhaibh tighinn gu ìre.

Chruthaich Dia mi mar a b’àbhaist –
  Se gum fàsainn bha ’na dhòchas,
Cha b’e bha ’na inntinn idir
  Gun robh mise gu bhith chòrr ann ;
Chruthaich e m’anam neo-bhàsmhor
  Ged bha peacadh Àdhaimh beò air,
Ach bha Sàcramaid a’ Bhaistidh
  Dol a thaisbeanadh na glòir dhomh.

Och mo thruaighe, fàth mo dhòlais,
  Chaidh mo chòir rithe dhòmhs’ a dhiùltadh:
Chan eil Baisteadh ann dhomh ’n dòchas
  Mar a dh’òrdaich Rìgh nan Dùl dhomh,
Ach tha fios gun nochd E bàidh rium-
  Neochiontach de phàiste diùmbaidh
Nach fhaigh cead tighinn chun an t-saoghail
  ’S cothrom tighinn gu aois ri ùin’ ann.

O nach gabhthu truas, a mhàthair,
  Riums’, am pàist’ a th’air do ghiùlan,
Éist rium agus cluinn mo ràn
 Is gaol na màthar dhomh ga dhiùltadh;
Bhon a ghin thu mi le d’shaor-thoil,
  Thoir don t-saoghal mi le d’dhùrachd,
’S cha bhi m’theang’ ag eubhach pian dhut
  Nuair thig Dia thoirt breith na cùirt’ ort.

’S thus’ tha feitheamh leis an iarann
  Gus mo chrìochnachadh ’nam phàiste,
Cuimhnich, ged nach fhaic mi t’ìomhaigh,
  S mi nach dìochuimhnich gu bràch thu-
Nuair bhios t’anam ort ga iarraidh
  ’S tu ’g eubhach, ‘A Dhia dian bàidh rium,’
Bidh mise agus crùn mu m’cheann
  Ag eubhach, ‘Sìos don toll an t-À bharsair!’

Thuirt an Tighearna, ‘Na dian marbhadh,’
  Nuair a dhealbhaich E na fàithntean;
Thuirt E, ‘Their thu gaol gu léir dhomh
  Agus mar dhut fhéin, dha d’bhràthair.’
’S sibhse rinn an t-Achd a sgrìobhadh
  A tha murt nam mìltean pàiste,
Mas e ’n ceartas a their buaidh
  Och och mo thruaighe là ur bàis sibh.

Monday 18 February 2013

Tom Devine talks mince

                                       Tom Devine listening to a lemon...

In yesterday's Sunday Herald , historian Tom Devine and lawyer Brian Fitzpatrick call on the church to listen more, particularly to the young:

Most recent papal and episcopal pronouncements suggest little scope or readiness for compromise on these moral "fundamentals". Without a new pontiff somehow rekindling their hopes for change and open-mindedness, the West's most enduring institution is faced with an existential struggle if its younger members judge it not merely irrelevant but unfair. A good start might be a little more listening and a little less preaching.

Although Tom Devine has been relatively quiet on this front before, Fitzpatrick has shot his mouth off quite regularly. For example, in an article in Scottish Review, Fitzpatrick criticized Cardinal O'Brien's attitude to same sex 'marriage' and homosexuality in general:

Yet what is it that motivates this gospel of the genitals rather than the evangelising of the gentiles? 
     The psychoanalyst might point us to the overly strident heterosexuality of an all-male clerical cadre. But might it instead reflect a sense of corporate weakness and a lack of courage in a faltering church leadership increasingly out-of-touch with its members and which has never properly responded to the calls of the second Vatican Council for recognition of the vocation of Catholic laypeople? 

One of the irony's of Devine's position is that he has (rightly) become famous for his criticism of the 'virtual universal historical illiteracy' of Scots and for his lambasting of popular presentations of Scottish history such as the BBC series 'History of Scotland':

Why do they dumb down these things? Why can’t they have heavyweights discussing heavyweight issues?

But, fair enough. Perhaps he's had a change of heart and embraced his inner Neil Oliver. I look forward to his conducting future historical research by trolling round the nation's High Schools and listening to Standard Grade pupils explaining their views on the development of the Scottish economy since 1707. Or at least a little less lecturing and a little more listening to his students (or indeed Neil Oliver).

What is forgivable in dumb non-Catholics is less so in smart (self-described) practising Catholics. Catholic moral theology is as much a technical discipline as history. There is of course a sense in which listening is important in both disciplines: it is relevant to listen to what areas of history students find difficult to grasp; equally, it is relevant to listen to difficulties Catholics have in living out to the full the teachings of the Church. But the idea that (as Devine might put it) dumbing down in either discipline is a good thing is ludicrous.

Pastor in Valle is right.

Probably the most damaging thing was not the changes made to the liturgy, but what has been called the catechetical revolution. It robbed two generations (at least) of the ability to articulate and understand their faith. It took from them a standpoint from which to assess the assertions of the newspapers, and made them prey, like everyone else, to the murky world of 'feelings' without understanding. 'Securus judicat orbis terrarum' has always been a motto that made sense in the Catholic context—it was the thing that changed Newman's life. And now, having had the wind sown for us, we are reaping the whirlwind.

That damage is evident both in the 'young people' and in theological amateurs such as Tom Devine and Brian Fitzpatrick. 

Wednesday 13 February 2013

The beginning of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the season of preparation for Easter on Sunday, 31 March 2013.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou
hast made and dost forgive the sins of all them who are
penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our
wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ thy son our
Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(The Ash Wednesday Collect from the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham)

Monday 11 February 2013

The next Pope will be a Catholic

Having just seen David Willey doing his best to fill airtime on the BBC news, I was irresistibly reminded of Armstrong and Miller's Royal Correspondent, Terry Devlin. It is indeed quite possible that the next Pope will be a Catholic, and that he may be from Italy, or Nigeria, or Brazil or any number of other countries, and that some people are calling for a younger Pope, whilst others are calling for an old one. It is also quite likely that he will be elected by some or  more of the Cardinals...

I'll blog at greater length on the Pope's resignation in due course. For the moment, I'll just say that I'm both surprised and extremely sorry. He is owed many thanks by Catholics for his leadership, and he will be in my prayers.

Sarum Use in Scotland

                                          Photograph of the Sarum Use (-ish)

I'm not really that interested in the minutiae of liturgy. For a start, I have rather odd memories of evenings in a pub at university where, meeting with friends on a regular (I think) Tuesday evening, we would invariably be near a table where the 'Liturgical Society' would be assembled. Whilst we quaffed ale and discussed our chances of getting off with this or that girl (I wasn't a Catholic at that time otherwise I would have confined myself simply to composing expressions of undying love preferably in Provencal (which on reflection would probably have been rather more successful than my actual endeavours)), whispered discussions of lace and albs and cottas and sherry would drift over. It was all rather unsettling.

Anyway, just so long as I'm not subjected to clown masses or Barney the dinosaur blessing me, I'm reasonably happy. I'm also happy that others who are interested and have thought about this more deeply than I have are beavering away in getting those details right.

That said, my interest was piqued by the discussion of the Sarum Use in connexion with a Mass for Richard III, and, more particularly, with the claim (here) that there was a Use of Aberdeen apart from the Sarum Use.

So what was the state of the liturgy in Scotland prior to the Reformation? What follows doesn't attempt to do more than gather together the immediate fruits of a brief foray into the internet so that I (or others) can pick up the topic from a running start if interested. (So feel free to chip in and correct me.)

1. Sarum was pretty much standard in Scotland. I take this from a posting at Father Chadwick's Anglican blog on the Sarum Use in Scotland here.

2. To this basic Sarum Use, a number of additions had been made to reflect Scottish saints etc.

The liturgy of the Scottish secular cathedrals was probably the most confused in the Western Church. All had at an early stage adopted the widely accepted English Use of Salisbury (or 'Sarum'), though it appears that individual churches simply used whatever liturgical books they could get and some may have followed other English uses [particularly those of York, Chichester and Lincoln]. To these books, already overcrowded with the feast of English saints,   Scottish churches added those of their own local saints together with devotional practices from the Continent which were absorbed into Scottish practice more readily than in England. Since no attempt was made to provide for these additions, the result could be chaotic.

(from Galbraith, J. D., 'The Glamis Copy of the Aberdeen Breviary' , Archives, 14:63 (1980:Spring) p.141-2 [not openly available online but is available through university journal databases])

3. This hotch potch was subject to a revision which attempted to stabilize at least the breviary on a more systematic basis: a 'Scottis Use'. This was attempted by Bishop Elphinstone of Aberdeen in 1507 but seems to have failed, perhaps in part to the defeat at Flodden, and perhaps due to the unwieldiness of the Scottis Use as practised. (This is based on Galbraith 1980.)

4. It is not clear whether any attempt was made to produce a revised Scottis Use Missal along similar lines. (From Eeles, 1899 -see 5 below.)

5. A surviving Missal from St Nicholas Aberdeen seems to be from before Bishop Elphinstone's reforms and gives a sense of the chaotic state of Scottish liturgy.

In conclusion, the value of this missal to us is that it gives the old
traditional Use of Aberdeen, untouched by Elphinstone, and that it
proves that the great number of local and Celtic saints in Elphinstone's
kalendar were not of his own introduction, but the continuous tradition
of the place, continuous probably from Celtic times, though in a somewhat degenerate state. We see, too, how these saints, not being ousted
by the English kalendar, became super-imposed upon it, and brought
the Scotch services into a perfectly unmanageable state. Hence Bishop
Elphinstone's preface to the breviary, where he speaks of the legends
of the saints—quae sparsim in incerto antea vagabantur. We know that
in England at the time of the Reformation, without any great number
of local saints, " the number and hardness of the Rules called the Pie,
and the manifold changings of the Service, was the cause, that to turn
the Book only was so hard a matter, that many times there was more
business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was
found out," so overladen had the Sarum- books then become. Add to
this a local kalendar like the one we see here, and we get some idea
of the state of the Scottish services before Bishop Elphinstone's reforms,
and probably to a great extent afterwards in many places.

We also see further evidence of the general adoption of the Sarum
books in the mainland of Scotland; but, at the same time, we find that they
were freely supplemented, not only from traditional sources originally
Celtic, but also from non Sarum books, sometimes purely continental, but
sometimes possibly what were in use in Galloway, Orkney, or the Isles.

(from Notes on a Missal formerly used in St Nicholas, Aberdeen. (pp 440-60)
Eeles, F C, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 33, 1898-9: available online here.)

Valle Adurni comments on a revival of the Use of Sarum in Aberdeen in 2000:

The then Bishop of Aberdeen, Mario Conti, celebrated a Sarum Mass in 2000 in Aberdeen for the University. Quite apart from the fact that the Sarum Mass was never celebrated in Aberdeen before this (as I mentioned above, it had its own rite before the Reformation), it was an interesting thing to do.

In the light of the above, I think it's a bit unfair to say that the Sarum Mass was never celebrated before in Aberdeen. The pre-Elphinstone situation seems to have been Sarum, but with chaotic additions. The post-Elphinstone situation doesn't seem that different. Accordingly, taking Sarum as the basis for a pre-Tridentine Scottis Use doesn't seem at all unreasonable.

[Update 14/7/18: Thomas Innes, ‘Note on the Sarum Use in Scotland’, in, Spalding Club Miscellany, ed. J. Stuart (Edinburgh, 1842), 364–7 internet archive here. H/T Sacred Signs in Reformation Scotland, Stephen Holmes (2015). This paper argues that the Use of Sarum was prevalent in Scotland before the invasion of Edward I and widespread (if not universal) thereafter.]


I've gone back and forth on a number of blogs here, so apologies if I leave anyone out!

Protect the Pope: Sarum Use for Richard III.

Valle Adurni: Legal status of Sarum Use.

Project Canterbury: pictures of Anglo-Catholic liturgy based on Sarum.

Father Anthony Chadwick (independent Anglican): Sarum in Scotland and other posts on Sarum Use.

Liturgiae Causa (independent traditionalist) Post on Sarum Use.

New Liturgical Movement also seems to contain a number of items on Sarum, though nothing specifically on Scotland so far as I could see from a quick search.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Same sex 'marriage': the morning after the night before

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task  of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead -often not recognizing fully what they were doing- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another -doubtless very different- St Benedict.

The closing paragraph from Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue.

Oh, that's all a bit portentous, isn't it? Let's brighten things up with a tribute to marriage from another great reformer of the institution:

Monday 4 February 2013

The time is right for gay marriage...

In case the unwary reader assumes that I've done a volte face on this one, don't worry: I'm still the homophobic- bigoted-sky-fairy-worshipping-swivel-eyed-loon who opposes all right thinking people and rejects same sex 'marriage' as an act of legislative foolishness.

But putting that aside, there is a real question about why now the introduction of same sex 'marriage' seems for so many people to be an act of effortless commonsense while only a few years ago, it would have seemed (as it still seems to some of us) utterly ridiculous. Putting aside the bluster of liberal blowhards such as Patrick Harvie who go around like a crowd of latter day Nelsons pretending not to see any arguments against it whatsoever, there remains the question as to why arguments for same sex 'marriage' seem to have comparatively greater purchase on at least the chatterati than do arguments in favour of the status quo. Why is now the right time for same sex 'marriage' to be successfully introduced?

I suspect that at least part of the answer lies in a perfect storm of three ideas having achieved broad acceptance:

1) Marriage doesn't really matter and may even be harmful.

                                                     Down with that sort of thing...

Most of the combox arguments I've got into on this subject have usually involved the other side saying something like, 'Marriage isn't really that important for me but...'. Instead of being seen as the central social institution for bringing up children, it becomes little more than one way of doing this among many others and even (for some) an institution shot through with patriarchal values.

In short, if  marriage doesn't matter, it doesn't matter what you do with it.

2) Men and women are identical

                                                  With this ring...

This is an odd one, because I don't think that anyone who's actually met a member of the opposite sex for more than thirty seconds really believes this deep down. But we all pretend we do. Given this pretense that men and women can do everything as well as each other and don't have deep seated psychological and physical differences, it neither matters that the upbringing of children benefits from the input of two different, but complementary approaches, nor that homosexuals find it impossible to form intimate relationships with the opposite sex.

In short, it doesn't matter whether you love a woman or a man, and it doesn't matter whether you are brought up by a woman or a man because men and women are the same (apart from trivial plumbing details).

3) Homosexuality is just as good as heterosexuality

                    'The New Normal' (no that's not a snide remark: it's the name of the TV show)

Putting aside any question of moral responsibility, there is no difference in moral value between loving someone of the opposite sex and loving someone of the same sex. In large measure, this follows on from 2): if men and women are the same, then what difference could there be between the two sorts of love? But even if 2) is rejected, then 3) seems to be widely held as an independent truism.

In short, if it's just as good to be gay as straight, why shouldn't gays get the opportunity to formalize their love as well?

I'm sure there are other 'memes' that could be mentioned here (not least the reduction of marriage to romantic love) but I'd hazard that the above are perhaps the most important in providing the background to the irresistibility of same sex 'marriage': start from the above, and same sex 'marriage' does indeed start to look reasonable. But from a Catholic (and indeed 'traditional') viewpoint, those three points do not look like truisms at all. On the contrary:

1*) Marriage is important because it provides the best environment within which to procreate and educate children.

2*) Women and men are very different from each other even though they are equal in value. It matters which one you love and it matters who brings up children.

3*) The inability to be intimate with a member of the opposite sex is an impairment of human flourishing whatever the cause of this inability (eg nature or nurture).

Clearly, there is an argument to be had on the truth of these three presuppositions, but I suspect it is at this deeper level of presupposition that any successful rational engagement has to proceed between the two sides rather than directly at the level of the rights and wrong of same sex 'marriage': accept 1), 2) and 3) and you're probably right to accept same sex marriage; accept 1*), 2*) and 3*) and you're right to reject it.

But anyway, who am I kidding? 'Rational engagement'? Some chance. This is going to be forced through by the UK and Scottish governments regardless.