13 September 2016

(1) Anglican Patrimony and the importance of the Argumentum ad hominem

Blessed John Henry Newman, Patron of our English Ordinariate, made an observation which seems to me germane to the purpose of our Ordinariate. He was praising B Pius IX for the restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850; but I think it has an application particularly to ourselves: "... by giving us a church of our own, he has prepared the way for our own habits of mind, our own manner of reasoning, our own tastes, and our own virtues, finding a place and thereby a sanctification, in the Catholic Church".

In his review of Ian Ker's Biography of Newman, the maestro assoluto of Anglican writers, Henry Chadwick, called Newman "as supreme a master of irony and satire as any in our literature". It is the great gift of Irony and satire, which Newman developed first as an Anglican and then brought to its full flowering in the Catholic Church, which I wish to think about today. The capacity for Doing Divinity within the forms of Irony and Satire was not an invention of Newman's ... one only has to think of the admirable Dean Swift ... but I believe that Newman both formalised it and cast it in a form which has done good service since. It is pre-eminent among the habits of mind, manner of reasoning, tastes which, following him, we in the Ordinariate have brought into Full Communion with S Peter. It is part of us; we are not (just?) an eccentric group to whom, of its goodness, the Holy See has granted an unusual form of the Roman Rite. We have a culture, which no-one shall take from us. Reducing us to a community which simply has a distinctive Liturgy without its associated culture, is that "Uniatism" which is rightly so disliked by Orientals and is disowned by Catholic ecumenists who know what they are talking about. 

Blessed John Henry wrote about his controversial habits as a young don: "I was not unwilling to draw an opponent on step by step to the brink of some intellectual absurdity, and to leave him to get back as he could. ... Also I used irony in conversation, when matter-of-fact men would not see what I meant". He is here describing the argumentum ad hominem mode of controversy, a method used, according to Origen (so a friend tells me), by S Gregory Thaumaturgus. It was brought to perfection by another great Anglican Ironist and Satirist, the Benedictine Dom Gregory Dix, in the 1930s. Have you just proved ... Hooray! ... that the early popes did not exercise jurisdiction, in its modern sense? Dix will not contradict you ... nothing as crude as that. He will agree with you; and then spring his trap: neither, in those times did bishops. If you wish to assert episcopal jurisdiction, you won't be able to avoid the papal. If you deny the latter, you have cut the episcopal branch from underneath you. Do you assert, with tuttuttery and disapproval, that Vatican I defined papal primacy in terms of a modern Canon Law which did not exist in the New Testament period? Dom Gregory will pat you on the head ... and then enquire how you cope with the fact that Nicea defined the Nature of Christ in terms of Greek metaphysics ... which also had no place in the minds of the New Testament writers.
To be continued.

1 comment:

Oliver Nicholson said...

I think, Father, you mean "A method, used by Origen, so Gregory Thaumaturgus tells us..." It is in S. Gregory's Thanksgiving to Origen where he describes Origen's teaching methods.