27 May 2017

Clio and Pope Francis

I am not a historian; and the time has perhaps not yet come to write the history of this pontificate. But a hypothesis has occurred to me which could easily be subjected to Freddy Ayer's Falsification Principle.

I propose that we have, so far, experienced two main periods in this pontificate:
(1) the Parrhesia period, in which our Holy Father repeatedly called for Parrhesia, a Greek word meaning "Speaking boldly without fear or favour"; and
(2) the "The Holy Spirit is guiding the Church through Francis" period.

My theory is this. At first, Papa Bergoglio really believed that a large majority within the Church and in the Ordo episcopalis secretly thought as he did, but were afraid to assert their views publicly. To achieve the 'reforms' he desired, all he had to do (he felt) was to enable and encourage them frankly and freely to speak out. This part of my theory is supported by the report that his friend and ghost-writer Archbishop 'Tucho' Fernandez glossed 'Parrhesia' as meaning "Mueller won't come after us".

Then there came that moment in the first Synod when a lot of the Fathers started ... er ... shouting because they realised that they were being manipulated. At this point, the Sovereign Pontiff realised that Parrhesia is very uncertain and unreliable as an instrument for advancing an agenda; and so, instead, the message began to come from his closest supporters that the Holy Spirit is leading the Church into things new and surprising, and doing it specifically through the mouth and person of the Holy Father. The Parrhesia-strategy had been discarded to be replaced by the Holy-Spirit-strategy.

This newer line had two practical advantages for its user:
that no objective evidence could be or needed to be produced to demonstrate that particular proposed innovations really do come from the Holy Spirit rather than from one of those other busy spirits against which the pages of Holy Scripture so wisely warn us ... all one needed to do was to assert it loudly and portentously (e.g. Mgr Pinto); and
that unruly dissident bishops and theologians can be condemned and dismissed as "rigid" and a few other rather unkind things as well.

So ... let us wrap this up ... after all, it's no more than an hypothesis adduced by a naive non-historian ... and can easily be binned by the production of contrary evidence. Accordingly I ask:

(a) Have there been any sightings of the now rara avis Parrhesia Parrhesia since the Synod; and
(b) were there any clear exempla of the topos "the Holy Spirit which speaks through Francis" before that moment?

26 May 2017

The Feast of S Augustine of Canterbury

Dom Gregory Dix (Shape of the Liturgy page 745) on the importance of using given liturgy:
"[There is] a certain timelessness about the eucharistic action and an independence of its setting, in keeping with the stability in an ever-changing world of the forms of the liturgy themselves. At Constantinople they 'do this' yet with the identical words and gestures that they used while the silver trumpets of the Basileus still called across the Bosphorus, in what seems to us now the strange fairy-tale land of the Byzantine empire. In this twentieth century Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara 'did this' with the same rite as Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfarne in the Northern seas. This very morning I 'did this' with a set of texts which has not changed by more than a few syllables since Augustine used those very words at Canterbury on the third sunday of Easter in the summer after he landed."

Greetings to all brother priests ... and, not least, to those who can repeat with me the last sentence of this paragraph!

25 May 2017

Please! HELP!

I have a recollection that, at one point, Paul VI wished to add to a Vatican II document a statement that the Pope was not subject to any superior authority, but he was (successfully) resisted by the Business Managers of the Council on the grounds that he was subject to Scripture, Tradition, previous Councils, previous popes.

Can anybody point to a reference?

The Ascension and the blessing of the beans

Through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create, sanctify, quicken, bless and bestow all these good things upon us.This paragraph near the end of the Canon can confuse people. They can take it as refering to the consecrated Elements upon the altar. But the language is highly inappropriate if the Sacrament is meant. The Blessed Sacrament is not Blessed Bread, like the Antidoron of the Orientals or the Blest Bread of Medieval England. It is the transsubstantiated Body of Christ our God. It is God Almighty, on earth.

This paragraph originally concluded the blessing of substances seasonally brought to the Altar: such as ... beans on Ascension Day! Not that beans have any liturgical association with the dogma of the Ascension that I can think of: it just happened that the bean harvest in Rome coincided with the Ascension (no, don't ask me how the bean-harvest fluctuated according to the varying date of Easter). And the first grapes were available to be blessed on the feast of S Xystus! On both these occasions, this form was used:
Bless, O Lord, also these new fruits of the Bean [or whatever] which thou O Lord by the dew of heaven and the showers of rain and the serenity and quietness of the seasons hast deigned to bring to ripeness, and hast given them to our uses to receive them with thanksgiving in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever ... etc..

The Latinity is workmanlike, I almost wrote banausic, even gauche and gawky, with little in the way of Renaissance elegance or theological sparkle. Old Roman, in fact, in its sobriety and earthiness and utter, utter matter-of-factness.

The Maundy Thursday practice of blessing oils at this point in the Canon survives, of course, even in the modern rites. (And the admirable, erudite Dom Benedict Andersen of Silverstream Priory in the County Meath ... a truly magical place! ... has told me of a French Benedictine Missal of 1781, Congregation of SS Vane and Hydulph, in which grapes are still blessed on the Feast of the Transfiguration.) So this old custom has still, by the the very tips of its fingers, kept a purchase upon Usage.

I sometimes feel sad at the opportunities the post-Conciliar reformers missed. In their keenness to spend long hours devising innovations ... such as new Eucharistic Prayers and lectionary systems yanked ex nihilo ... they rarely bothered to go for the organic development which the Council had actually mandated. They could have allowed local hierarchies to incorporate appropriate blessings at this point in the Canon, and thus also have promoted a genuine inculturation which yet was totally within the spirit of the traditional Roman Rite. No, don't panic: I'm not advocating this now. The moment has passed ... the moment for gentle, unflashy conservative enrichment was stifled by the culture of brutalism and rupture. So be it. They did it, the ..... Still ...

 ... I wonder if it would be nice, on some feast in August, to bless fragrant flowers at this point in the Canon of the Mass? The feast, perhaps, of Someone whose empty tomb when opened was found to be filled with fragrant flowers? (Until Pius XII set his pruning hook to the propers of August 15, we used to share all those delightful 'apocryphal' legends with the Orientals; as far as I am aware, they are now almost totally forgotten in the West. Very narrowing.)

That is the first Innovation I shall mandate when our Holy Father Pope Francis makes me Cardinal Sarah's successor. Perhaps I will aso restore the Beans to Ascension Thursday. Perhaps I will even restore the Ascension to Ascension Day.

24 May 2017

100,000 years (2): Are we Geocentrics after all?

Is there 'intelligent' or 'advanced' life elsewhere in the universe?

But hey ... are we an 'advanced' species? If you could be snatched up and then deposited into the environment of an earthworm, or a squid, or a gannet, how would you get on? You would be dead within minutes. Because you are not adapted to their environments. From the standpoint of those species, which are superbly adapted to their own environments, you are the very opposite of 'intelligent' or 'advanced'. These terms are, in fact, simply patronising and speciesist ways of saying how similar or dissimilar other species are to our own. They have no objective connotations.

Could we communicate with 'intelligent' and 'advanced' alien species? Heavens above, we cannot even communicate (except in one or two cases at a crude Pavlovian Dog level) with other species on our own planet. Living species on other and different planets are likely to be even more 'other' than the millions of species on our own planet with whom we cannot even begin to communicate.

But if we invoke the logic of a vast (but, we are told, not infinite) Cosmos having an inconceivably vast number of possibilities, and if we also grant argumenti gratia  the existence of species whom we would categorise as 'intelligent' and 'advanced', how could we possibly relate to them? The distances concerned would be the least of our problems. Remember that in the history of our species the capacity for electronic communication is very recent. We would need there to be an 'alien' species which had reached just such an identical window of capacity at just such a moment that, given the light-years involved in inter-stellar intercourse, their attempts to communicate with us reached us during our own little window of capacity. And, given the distances involved even for dialogue conducted at the speed of light, it would be next to impossible to have a dialogue with such beings.

It all seems to this poor befuddled Classicist a bit like playing darts blindfolded and without the tiniest assurance that we are even facing in the general direction of the darts board or even that there is a darts board.

Oh ... and I should have made this obvious point: it might not follow that because a species possessed such a capacity, it would have the same inquisitive desire to be in touch with us that we (or some of us ... at this particular instant in our intellectual history) have to be in touch with them. And if there are species out there longing to be in touch with us, they are almost certain, having evolved differently in a different planet, to be using forms of technology which are inconceivable to us.

The idea that the Earth is the physical centre of the Universe, 'Geocentrism', is regarded with derision. It may even be cheerfully termed 'Medieval'. But it seems to me that the preoccupations I have been touching upon imply de facto an assumption of a universe which is measured and judged by our planet and, even more narrowly, by our own species and, yet more narrowly even than that, by our own species at one particular tiny moment (this one!) within its development. Tellus is once again at the centre of everything! ... and we (!!) are (Doxa hemin!!!) the apex of Tellus!!!!

In other words, we have the 'old' Geocentrism, but even more narrowly focused. It has a smart new up-to-the-minute coat of paint, but remains happily intact in all its essential conceptual features.

Neo-Medieval but without the Neo.

Delightfully Dark Age. 

23 May 2017

Is the Pope a heretic? (4)

So, if the present Pope appears to imply that God's final Word was not already spoken in Jesus Christ, and that the Divine Priority now is to create and consolidate a New Age, the New Bergoglian Age of Mercy, does that make him a heretic?

Most certainly not. In structural terms, the polarity of orthodox versus heterodox is very often not useful because it is on a different page from the actual language which is being put under the microscope. If one were to take the pope's words seriously in a nakedly propositional way, one might have no alternative but to condemn them as most gravely erroneous. One might even have to condemn them as analogous to other claims made to the possession of a New Understanding which supersedes or completes the Old. Obvious examples are Islam, Montanism, and Mormonism. But the necessity to be rather more linguistically nuanced than this did not cease to have validity when Wittgenstein died. The analysis of 'language games' is every bit as necessary now as ever it was. Having a sensitive nose for differences of literary genre is as important for those who examine papal documents as it is for analysts of Horace and Ovid.

Intelligent readers ... which is to say, all readers who have diligently worked their way through these pieces ... I apologise for taking so long to reach my conclusion ...  will be longing to make an angry point to me: "You began by saying that Pope Francis should not be judged by the canons of precise and logical discourse. But that is precisely what you ... with your close and lengthy syntactical analysis of one rather silly passage in his 2017 Easter Vigil Homily ... have just wasted a lot of your time and our time doing."

You are quite right. Bergoglian discourse is agglutinative and impressionistic rather than linear. It is much more interested in deploying rhetoric incoherently to achieve a conviction in the hearers which will drive them to action, than it is in laying out an argument in such a rational way as to satisfy even a moderately fastidious logician. This Roman Pontiff finds it much easier to dash off a painterly spectacular in the style of Edvard Munch's The Scream than to design an architectural edifice which will actually - given the laws of Physics as they apply on planet Earth - stand upright.

In order to understand the rhetorical methods of the current bishop of Rome, illumination may be gained from the speeches in Euripidean tragedy. These have sometimes been analysed in terms of "the rhetoric of the situation". Vide the most interesting account of this in pp xxiv-xxix of her 1954 edition of the Alcestis by the late Amy Dale, of Somerville College in this University, the wife of Professor T B L Webster. It is the sort of point that women can sometimes grasp more readily than men.

And, dear readers, that is precisely why Papa Bergoglio cannot be deemed a heretic. To be definable as a heretic he would need to have advanced formally, with full understanding and responsibility, propositional errors. It is perfectly clear to me that he has, quite simply, not done so. Nor has he ever come close to doing so. Nor is he ever likely to. Not in a month of Sundays. He avoids precise propositional assertion like the very plague. It would get in the way of what he really wishes to achieve.

What he does is this: he has in mind a practical result, and so he gathers together assertions which appear to him to back it up. Those assertions do not need to be be mutually coherent (or, indeed, to sit easily with established dogma). Shocking? Frankly, folks, S Paul appears to me sometimes to do something very similar. When it suits the argument, the Apostle will tell us that no man can fufill the Torah; when it suits him, his line is that Gentiles do it rather better than Jews. This is one reason why 'Pauline scholars' have some of their problems. I have some (only some) sympathy with a Finnish academic called Heikki Raisanen, who regards S Paul's teaching as so incoherent as to be pretty well beyond reconstruction or comprehension. To judge Pope Bergoglio by the canons of formal logic is quite simply to make a genre-error. It is not illuminating; it is not helpful; it is not, in the profoundest sense, accurate.

Is this a dangerous pontificate? Not nearly as much as panicky people fearfully imagine. Come off it! And cheer up! The ease with which Pope Francis and his associated ideologues, while studiously "not changing doctrine", in fact over-ride and ignore the Magisterium of his predecessors, will make it pitifully easy for his successors to dump his 'teaching' with only the most perfunctory of formalities, and then to restore the simple lucidities of the Tradition handed down through the Apostles, the Deposit of Faith. He has already pretty well sawn off the branch he is sitting on. Or imagine him as a Humpty Dumpty sitting on an increasingly wobbly wall.

To the frightened and the fearful I add: Just hold tight whenever the roller-coaster seems to be going dangerously fast, and remember that her Immaculate Heart will prevail. This is Fatima Year!

I am now willing to consider any comments offered. I will not enable any that insult our Holy Father, or which simply rant while refusing to read what I have actually written.

22 May 2017

The Luna Caprese

The Luna Caprese was in North Parade which, Oxford being Oxford, is of course a couple of miles South of South Parade. It was an Italian restaurant, near Pam's college, where we ate for years; not least, on the occasions of celebrations, as on that 21 May when we went there after my deaconing.

The Luna never changed. Most of the Italian community, after a brief, bright flirtation with white tiles and the Terazza, lapsed into Pizzeriarity; but at the Luna the menu offered the same dishes in the same copperplate hand as it did when it opened in 1962 (two years after we both went up to Oxford and had met on the stairs outside the studies of Margaret Hubbard and Iris Murdoch doctissimae mulieres). You got old style classical Italian dishes, which naturally meant several ways with vitello. You sat there over your starter listening to them bashing the meat in the kitchen. Neither did the decor change; until the day it closed in January 2014, it was still the same faintly improbable set-up as it had been in the decade when ARCIC with its high hopes was setting sail and Rome and Canterbury had agreed to solve the old problems and, meanwhile, had covenanted not to put in place any new differences.

Old hopes; unforgivable deceptions. Never trust a liberal is the main lesson I learned in the C of E, and I pass it on to readers now that some in the Catholic Church are unwisely exploring the same treacherous swamps as Anglicanism did a couple of generations ago.

Drain the swamps!

After the Luna closed, I kept one of the old menus. They were very satisfying. After all, if a neodiaconos wants to, why shouldn't he settle down to Saltimbocca alla Romana and follow it with zabaglione and strawberries?

21 May 2017


Last Thursday, after dealing with my blog and emails, I turned the computer off  and went ... I am retired! ... for a walk along the river, stopping when I felt like it, to read a few hundred lines of Ovid's Metamorphoses (I hope readers are aware that, according to S Jerome, Publius Ovidius Naso died in the year 17 A.D.).

When I got back home, I turned the computer on ... but the screen was dead. I think the various pieces of jiggery pokery I attempted in order to get it going again made things worse ...

 ... at least, that is what a friend who was able to drop in this afternoon (Sunday) thought. He kindly gave me a new screen and, after much labour, was able to get the whole caboodle working again.

But it is even more hideously slow than it was before.

Happily, I had prescheduled some pieces to pop up automatically, which they obediently did. But I apologise to readers and friends for the results of its erratic and tardy operation. If things have been lost, either emails or comments, I am sorry. Please don't take it personally.

Another moral dilemma

You may be getting tired of being told that such a day is the Golden Jubilee of my something-or-other, but, who cares, here we go again. Today is the Golden Jubilee of my Deaconing, Trinity Sunday 1967.

In the first millennium, ordinations happened at those wonderful Ember Saturday Masses with the five Prophecies, the respective Orders being conferred one by one between the readings. Where suitable, one of each category of the newly-ordained then discharged his new ministry, for the first time, in that very same Mass. A beautifully edifying practice which, with predictably dogged determination, the post-Conciliar Coetus tasked with revising the Rites of Ordination decided to abolish (slavishly followed, of course, by the Church of England). But  my own Ordination to the Diaconate took place in 1967, before these new fads (which, incidentally, Vatican II had never mandated) had done their worst. Accordingly, in that blissful far-off age, the act of Ordination of Deacons still took place before the Gospel of the Mass, so that one of the neodiakonoi could then sing it.

The custom of the Church of England at that time was that the new Deacon given the honour of chanting the Ordination Gospel was the one whom the Bishop's Examining Chaplain deemed to have written the best 'Deacon's Papers'. Herein lies a moral dilemma I wish to put before you. You see, I thought it would be rather nice for Mummy if I myself had that honour. She liked to see her boy doing well. And I happened to know (I think we were given his address so that we could send our Papers  directly to him) that the Examining Chaplain that year was a priest who was a keen adherent of an organisation called MRA (Moral Rearmament); which tended to plant certain code-words in its propaganda literature.

You know what I'm going, tot post annos, to confess. Yes ... I planted a number of these expressions (entirely obiter, I hasten to add) in my essays. And, hey presto ...

Which of the commandments did I transgress? I knew you would be able to explain that to me.

I did get a sort of comeuppance. I am hopeless at liturgical chant, so all through the pre-Ordination Retreat ... and during the Ordination Mass itself ... I was consumed with nervousness. To this day, I can remember that wretched Gospel (from S Luke Chapter 12) with its ending " ... and find them so-o, blessed are those ser-ervants". But I did get through it, much to the surprise of Fr Michael Watts (Staggers), the Precentor (his ashes now in that little plot behind the Cathedral's Lucy Chapel, together with the remains of so many of the Patrimony ... quorum animabus propitietur Deus).

Then, off to the Luna Caprese for lunch with Pam, with Senior Daughter (the dear little mite was still in utero but I'm sure she enjoyed the food), and with the third female then in my life; Mummy, you will be glad to be reassured, was pleased.

Long time ago; long time passing. So very much water under Folly Bridge ...

20 May 2017

Is the Pope a heretic? (3)

So Bergoglio is presenting to our imagination a scenario in which, in 33 A.D., the Old Dispensation came to an end. No longer was it right for an Establishment to consider that the final word had been spoken and that it was up to them to apply it. So God suddenly broke in etc. etc. etc..  

AND  the same situation, argues Pope Francis, faces us now. Now, in 2017, there are again those for whom the final word has been spoken and it is up to them to apply it. The Pontiff clearly desires such people to repent and to accept that God is suddenly breaking in, upsetting all the rules, and offering new possibilities.

Just as AD 33 was the moment when true obedience required men to realise that the old rules given through Moses no longer applied, so 2017 is the moment when true obedience requires men to realise that the old rules given by Jesus through His Apostles no longer apply.

God did it once ... the Old Testament was replaced by the New; an Old Age was replaced by a New. Why should God not be capable of doing the very same thing again? And so, indeed, the Roman Pontiff goes on to proclaim just such a radically new dispensation: God once more comes to meet us, to create and cosolidate a new age, the age of mercy ... this is God's surprise for his faithful people.

The problem here is that we are being presented with a narrative that is difficult to reconcile with the narrative and with the narrative structures which have hitherto been deemed to be part of the fundamental grammar of Christian self-understanding. Vatican II (Dei Verbum para 4) interestingly and intelligently described this as the Oeconomia Christiana. It went on to explain, fairly briefly because it was then accepted as a common-place which hardly needed in polite theological company to be lengthily argued, that foedus novum et definitivum numquam praeteribit, et nulla nova revelatio publica expectanda est ante gloriosam manifestationem Domini nostri Iesu Christi [the new and definitive covenant will never pass away, and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ].

[It may occur to you to suspect that it is because Bergoglio has no intention of himself being restricted by the teaching of Vatican II that he has no anxieties about the luke-warm attitude towards that Council among the SSPX.]

True, Bergoglio has not explicitly proclaimed the replacement of the New Covenant with an Even Newer Covenant, what might be called the Bergoglian Third Covenant. But I cannot convince myself that this is not what his words actually and clearly mean. The tip-over from the Old to the New in the first Christian century is paralleled by the tip-over into a new age, the age of mercy in the pontificate of Bergoglio. In each case, the New sets aside the Old and the test of true obedience is acceptance of this displacement; acceptance of the 'New' and of the 'Divine Surprise'. If we cannot let the Spirit lead us on this road, Bergoglio assures us, then we are not Christians.

I shall return to finish this series after a couple of days in which I indulgently invite you to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of my Deaconing. Meanwhile, I will enable no comments.

19 May 2017

Is the Pope a heretic? (2)

So let us analyse how this pope does function, rather than trying to define him in terms which he repeatedly disowns. I will use and examine an example from his Homily at the Easter Vigil, this year (2017). He said:

When the High Priest and the religious leaders, in collusion with the Romans, believed that they could calculate everything, that the final word had been spoken and that it was up to them to apply it*, God suddenly breaks in, upsets all the rules and offers new possibilities. #God once more comes to meet us, to create and consolidate a new age, the age of mercy. This is the promise present from the beginning. This is God's surprise for his faithful people. ... if we cannot let the Spirit lead us on this road, then we are not Christians. Let us go, then. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by this new dawn and by the newness that Christ alone can give.

The Holy Father begins this passage by telling us Gospel truth. He is right to assert that the Priestly Jewish establishment did believe the final word had been spoken  and that it was up to them to apply it. Because they knew only the Old Law and the Old Word. They were wrong, because the Man on trial was himself the Law and the Divine Word, who had come to fulfill what was old. As the Church has incessantly taught, Newness put the Old to flight. The Old Testament ended and the New was begun when That Blood was shed.

But notice what happens at the point where I have inserted a *. The following words do accurately describe what happened in the Passion of the Messiah. God did suddenly break in, did upset all the rules, did offer new possibilities [although I think the anodyne flabbiness of that modern 'management' phrase about 'offering new possibilities' radically and infinitely fails to do justice to the cosmos-shattering wonder of both the Incarnation and the Atonement].

What we need to notice is how Bergoglio deftly changes tenses. He has begun in the past: The High Priest ... believed .... Past tense ... we were being told about the first century, circa 33 Anni Salutis. But after *, the tenses become present (breaks ...upsets ... offers). We hardly notice the transition ... it slips past our guard ... because there is an accepted convention that one can use a 'Historic Present' to render  more vivid a narative of past events. But as the next sentence gets under way at the spot marked#, the careful listener will notice that we are no longer in a first century A D. We are now in the present tense; we are being told about the year 2017.

In other words, Bergoglio, if we take his syntax seriously, argues that the situation of 33 A.D. is the same as the situation of 2017 A.D.. Those whom the Pope deems Baddies believe now, he says, as their predecessor Baddies did nearly two millennia ago, that the final word has been spoken and that it is up to them to apply it. 

Whom do you think Papa Bergoglio means by these present-day Baddies?

This series will continue. No comments will be enabled until it is finished.

18 May 2017

Is the Pope a heretic? (1)

To this question there can only be one answer: NO. And NO means, as Mrs Brexiteer May might put it, NO. Pope Bergoglio has NEVER, to my knowledge, formally enunciated doctrines which are unambiguously heretical. The claim one sometimes hears, to the effect that he has formally, as if from his chair, made doctrinal assertions which the Church has formally defined as heretical, is NONSENSE. When such assertions tip over further, into the idea that he has ceased to be pope because of his alleged errors, the mistake is even more grievously EVIL because it runs the risk of detaching souls for whom Christ died from the Ark of Salvation, from the One Fold of the Redeemer.

One easy reason for being confident that the Sovereign Pontiff has not formally taught heresy is the simple fact, confirmed pretty well every time he opens his mouth, that he despises theology and holds doctrine in not-even-barely-concealed contempt. To be a heretic, or, more precisely, to be a formal heretic, it is in practical terms necessary to operate within the respectable constraints of propositional discourse. The fact that Bergoglio does not do this is proved by the fact, written large over this whole pontificate, that nobody ever quite seems to be sure what he means. The DUBIA which the four Cardinals put forward provide a good example of this. Four men of erudition (not to mention seniority) thought they needed to ask the Bishop of Rome what he meant. His tardiness, so far, in exercising the Petrine Ministry of Confirming his Brethren demonstrates his resolute determination not to be tied down by propositions. I do not believe that it is possible to convict such a man, operating such a policy, of being a formal heretic. Those who wish to do this are walking up quite the wrong garden path. And I will argue that they are guilty of a genre-error.

Further parts will follow. No comments will be enabled until they are all finished.