31 May 2014

COUNCILS: Why I sympathise with Taft

Taft's big mistake, I suspect, is to fetichise Councils and, by expecting too much of them, to have problems when they fail to live up to the standards he has set them. This is not surprising; given a lifetime of scholarly work on Byzantine Christianity, it is natural that he should have some of its unspoken assumptions rubbed off, as it were, upon him. And an extremely high regard, even an adulation, of councils, seems, to the poor and ignorant Westerner who is writing this, to be a marked feature of Orthodoxy (I am humbly open to correction from Orthodox readers). I have two reasons for wishing to enter qualifications.

(1) I believe such an attitude gives all councils a status which is exaggerated.
(2)* I believe it leaves insufficiently regarded some councils which were not formally 'ecumenical'; and undervalues the profound significance of the Magisterium of the Roman Church.

(1) I believe that it is not only 'post-schism' councils which Joseph Ratzinger had in mind when he wrote Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis many of them have been just a waste of time. And I would add that sometimes they have been corrupt, venal, and violent; sometimes they have been open to excessive influence by secular influences, whether of Roman or Byzantine Emperors, or of French kings. Sometimes, in the words Newman angrily used of Vatican I, they have been dominated by an aggressive insolent faction. And some even of the Great First Seven Councils were sparsely attended and unrepresentative of the Oikoumene. Just as we are not required to like the Sovereign Pontiff or to approve of his obiter dicta et obiter acta, though we are required to be humbly and completely subject to his authentic Magisterium, so we are not required to admire the proceedings and the participants of Ecumenical Councils but simply to accept their dogmatic Magisterium. I have said before that I dislike the absurd personality cult which surrounds a modern pope. I dislike equally an uncritical and historically uninformed enthusiasm for councils.

Furthermore, as I have argued previously, those conciliar enactments which are not definitions of dogma definitive tenendum are marked with an implicit sell-by date. Addressed to the circumstances of a particular era, they are less relevant when that era has disappeared ... they pass, as I believe I once wrote, into the general background noise of the Church. Our decade is so profoundly different to the 1310s and the 1960s that I believe we have reached this stage with regard to the Councils of Vienne and of Vatican II (but not, in as far as they defined, with attached anathemas, authentic Catholic dogma, with regard to Chalcedon, Trent, or Vatican I).

But I would regard as just and appropriate the censuring of a writer who called into question whether either Vienne or Vatican II was a fully authentic (in Ratzinger's word, 'valid') Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church.

That is why I would like to see Robert Taft censured, while being quite sure that there is no need to censure Joseph Ratzinger.

*(2) will, DV, follow later.

30 May 2014

COUNCILS: Archimandrite Taft

Robert Taft, a scholar of immense reputation and influence, asked, last year, "Are the purely Roman Catholic post-schism councils to be considered ecumenical councils of the undivided Church? If so, says who?" (er ... was Florence 'purely Roman Catholic'? But we'll let that pass.)

Taft is a Byzantinist and, therefore, might naturally have the Byzantine Orthodox in his closest view. But others would also have the right to benefit from his new hermeneutic. I am sure the Copts are dying to get an answer to the question Are the councils which excluded our Fathers to be considered ecumenical councils of the Undivided Church? If so, says who? So much for Chalcedon. And the Arians, God bless them, will want to know this: Are the councils which excluded Arius to be considered ecumenical councils of the Undivided Church? If so, says who? We will know where to put Nicaea. The Orthodox, of course, will have to eliminate Orthodoxy Sunday and other liturgical commemorations of purely Chalcedonian post-schism councils from their calendars.

Taft's unstated assumption appears to be that 'the Church' exclusively means 'Chalcedonians'; that is to say, the Latin West in combination with the Byzantine East. So the first millennium (whether the Copts and the Assyrians like it or not) was, for him, that of the 'undivided Church'; thereafter, 'post-schism', the 'Church' was divided. All seven of the first seven ecumenical councils, common to Chalcedonian Latins and to Chalcedonian Byzantines but unacceptable to 'Oriental' communities, were truly ecumenical councils of the undivided Church ...... were they, Dr Taft? If so, says who? Does the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria say so? For somebody with a distinguished academic reputation to fall victim to such preposterously circular logic is a dreadful warning to us all.

Going off at a tangent ... does anybody know the exact text of the document on Vatican II to which the Franciscans of the Immaculate were required to subscribe? (And, incidentally, was that text given an OK by the CDF?)

Is it fair for them to be asked to subscribe to such a document when Professor Taft has a free rein to question the status of the great majority of the Church's councils? And, indeed, was it fair for Kueng to have his licence to teach as a Catholic Theologian removed, because of his lack of enthusiasm for Vatican I, when Taft can say whatever he likes? Should the excommunication of Doellinger be now, with profuse apologies, rescinded?

And if Roman Authorities who leave Taft unmolested have a problem with the SSPX, what is it?

But, having said so much, I admit to a certain sympathy for Taft, quite wrong though he is on this point. More about this later.

29 May 2014

COUNCILS: a Missed Opportunity

Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis many of them have been just a waste of time. Joseph Ratzinger, 1987.

The missed opportunity to which I refer in my heading was the 700th anniversary, in 2011, of the Convocation of the Holy Ecumenical Council of Vienne. (Oh dear, what is the proper term for a 700th anniversary?)

This great event could have been celebrated throughout the Church; and, particularly, in her educational life. Pushy young clerics aiming to advance their careers by the acquisition of a JCD could have written dissertations on The Magisterial significance of the lost Decrees of the Council of Vienne. Seminarians could have been set essays on The Spirit of the Council of Vienne: a sure guide for the Church in her Third Millennium. Sixth Forms would have been enlightened by examination modules (taught by a collaboration between the Theology and Economics Departments) on Embezzlement: its theological basis and its practical implementation. In the Church's Primary Schools, where the education is less conceptual and more vivid, teaching materials from the Bishops' Conference education offices would have concentrated on How to burn your own Templar.

I feel an urge coming on to devote a few posts to Ecumenical Councils. They may probably be in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger's wise words. Or of Gregory Dix? Or of John Henry Newman? No; of all three.

27 May 2014

Splendid Gestures

What a splendid pair of Gestures by the Holy Father: praying at the Temple Wall ... and then going on to pray at the Wall of Separation, in such a way that the world's cameras picked up the graffiti written upon it. Absolutely masterly. I won't comment further because my favourite Catholic Theologian, S Paul of Tarsus, has already got in first (Ephesians 2:11-22), as he so often does.

Splendid, too, that the Holy Father has referred to the Jewish People as the 'Elder Brother'. This is theologically important and significant: it alludes of course to the Narrative of Esau and Jacob, in which God's Election rests with the Younger Brother. I wonder how long ago it was that a Roman Pontiff spoke in such laudably 'supersessionist' terms.

Splendid, too, that he has invited victims of clerical abuse to join him at the Lord's Table. Such gestures are immensely useful; while he is still enjoying something of a Media honeymoon, it is right that the Pope should exploit it ... most of the worthy hacks will, of course, be unaware that his two immediate predecessors also met with victims and so they will see this latest gesture as another wonderful 'Franciscan First'. Fair enough, if their ignorance and the Pope's gesture combine to do the Church's image some good.

Splendid, too, that he should put clerical abuse and Satanic sacrilege on the same level.

However, sooner or later it may be necessary for the Holy Father to move beyond gestures. If there is any action which the Church should be taking with regard to the vile problem of clerical paederasty, then she should put a hold on further gestures and take such necessary actions; even, if necessary, ruthlessly. If, on the other hand, she has done everything (and more) that can be done, then she should say so robustly and call the bluff of her enemies by (1) asking what else she can do; and (2) raising the question of other organisations with a much poorer record than her own. Perhaps, too, she should address a hypothesised Elephant In The Room: the question of an alleged possible relationship between paiderasteia, epheberasteia, and some varieties of the homosexual orientation. This is not a question on which I have either views or even the competence to entertain views; but the Church could set up a group of academics with the competent skills, to work on the subject, for the benefit of humankind in general. Even if, as is likely, they were unable to present a united report, the exposition, with supporting evidence, of different positions, would be immensely valuable. It is generally useful to enquire about the roots of problems rather endlessly to get excited about symptoms.


I am in the middle of a few days when I could look through some comments on posts on my blog. So if, after this last couple or so weeks, there is something you really wanted to write and you feel really irritated about not having been able to offer it during the period of Comments not accepted, I suggest you do so now, appending it for convenience to this post and mentioning to which post it is relevant.

No? Nothing? Just shows how ephemeral all this stuff is, doesn't it.

By the way, if you emailed me about something and got either a very brief reply or no reply, I do apologise. I returned to a couple of hundred emails and, with the best will in the world ... I am only less than human.

26 May 2014

May 26 ... ROMANITA

In the Calendar for England in the years before the post-1962 events, today was the feast of S Augustine (Double of the Second Class) with a commemoration of S Philip Neri. The Common Worship Calendar of the Church of England still combines these Saints on this day (let's pass over the third name it plonks onto May 26). Another missed opportunity here in the Ordinariate Calendar ...

It would be very easy to write a sermon on these two Saints together; the great link being Romanita. It was S Augustine who ignored the advice of S Gregory to foist upon the English Church an eclectic liturgy; S Augustine simply used the books of the Roman Rite which he had brought from Rome and thus bequeathed to Ecclesia Anglicana its wonderful tradition of being a distant island of the Roman Rite, the Ritus ipsius Urbis, a Liturgy of exquisite and majestic austerity, at a time when when most of Europe worshipped in styles marked by florid imprecision. And S Philip was the great Second Apostle of a Rome which stood in need of a reformation; who blessed the young men of the English college as they set out in S Augustine's footsteps to bring the Roman Rite, now standardised by S Pius V, back to England

Two intercessors for the restoration of Christendom, and of Romanita, to England. And two intercessors for a vibrant group of Christian women whose communal liturgical life exemplifies that Romanita and who are going through a time of trial.

I mean the contemplative Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate at Lanhearn in Cornwall; a young flourishing community occupying an historic Recusant House in which the continuities are unbroken. If this community were to go under, the risk could be that the House will end up as a Golfing Hotel or something similar. But I say this merely for context; it is of course for Mother Francesca, Mother Rosa, and their sisters that our prayers and Masses are needed.

25 May 2014

Where does this come from?

Dr Pusey: Newman's conversion was "perhaps the greatest event which has happened since the communion of the churches has been interrupted ... If anything could open their eyes to what is good in us, or soften in us any wrong prejudices against them, it would be the presence of such a one, nurtured and grown to ripeness in our church, and now removed to theirs".

(Thanks to Mgr Wilkinson for this gem.)

23 May 2014


Sometimes we moderns instinctively feel that 'White' is not a colour; that White is a neutral blank sheet before we put upon it the red, the blue, the purple, the 'colours'. But No; White is not only a colour; it is a difficult colour to produce. The Transfiguration Lord wore robes "white as no fuller on earth could bleach them". In the ancient world, 'fulling' consisted of the use of chemicals most easily accessed through urine. This was why, in towns and cities, outside a fuller's shop were groin-high receptacles so that passers-by could provide fluid for recycling. The mixture fullers concocted was sometimes used as a punishment ... troublesome slaves were made to drink it.

White, I am saying, is not the absence of colour; it is itself a colour. And it is a colour which easily shows dirt (another clerical blogger recently described noticing that the S John Paul's cassock was rather grubby). Personally, I rather dislike white. My beard tends to wear away the black linen of a clerical shirt ... and, to stiffen the collar, the manufacturers put a band of plastic round the inside. And the b*****s always make it white plastic. Shirts would last me very much longer if the makers didn't have  this fetich for white. Black plastic backing would give me a couple of years more wear than the Transfiguration White which begins to show through a couple of months after I start a new shirt. Or perhaps the makers craftily want shirts to wear out fast ... If any brother priest knows of shirts which have black backing to the neck-band ...

There have recently been pictures doing the rounds of Cardinals wearing completely plain black cassocks. Am I being cynical in suggesting that they may be signing up thereby to the new 'Francis' ethos of 'simplicity'? If so, good for them; I have no problems with it. I wish I'd known earlier so that I could have bought shares in Gamarelli's before this Cardinalitial rush dramatically enhanced their profits. But it does raise the question of whether the Holy Father himself ought to follow their lead. As Benedict XVI pointed out, red is the historical colour for popes*. The increasing use by Roman Pontiffs of Transfiguration White is a recent fad (modo) closely associated with the rather questionable Personality Cult of the popes since Pio Nono.

Now that Cardinals are too nervous to wear red, the decent thing would be for the Pope himself to give up his rather ostentatiously flashy Transfiguration White, which seems to shout "Look how unique I am! Look how pure I am!", and to revert to the historically correct papal Red. It would be ecological, too. His cassocks wouldn't need to be cleaned so often, and so he would be saving on expenditure and demonstrating an ecological instinct. Go on, Jorge! You know it makes sense!

Red is the new Green and the new White!
*See my Narcissistic Butterflies, especially Episode the Third.

21 May 2014

I'll let you into a secret

With regard to those two posts, taken of course from Fr Bernard Walke's Twenty years at St Hilary, there is one detail which he omitted. He wrote "other images were substituted for those carried off". The detail? Aware that a raid might be imminent, Fr Walke had removed from the church some very fine statues, and had replaced them by cheap plaster statues. When the mob had cheerfully taken away the latter, the former were put back in place ... indeed, in the precise words he wrote in his account, "other images were substituted for those carried off"!!!

When the organisers of the Protestant mob realised what had happened, they were immensely indignant and accused 'Fr Ber' of deceit!

Ah, the wonders of Proddy morality! Shall we ever understand it?

18 May 2014

Epigraphy (2)

Die XVII Septembris MMX Benedictus XVI in Britanniam a Regina Elizabeth invitatus Missam Pretiosissimi Sanguinis hic celebravit fides in societate quod commodum fit beatifici J H Newman exemplo illustrans.

Oremus gives this translation of the last bit: "showing what advantage faith may be to society through the example of Blessed J H Newman".

I would express the sentiment in the purple bit by something along the lines of "rei publicae relligionem prodesse etc." ... if I had to.

But, frankly, I dislike the implication that 'Faith', meaning 'the Christian Faith', can be some sort of advantage or adornment or assistance to the post-Christian State or community. Of course, in a sense it is; but if your liner had been holed, and were going down fast, you wouldn't say "a lifeboat would be something of an advantage" unless you had iron nerves and couldn't resist going to your watery grave with an ironic litotes or meiosis on your lips. Individuals need Faith for Salvation; and states need the Kingship of Christ ... totally, urgently. Not as an advantage but as a necessity. And before SSPXers among you start crowing, I invite you to read the text of Pope Benedict's sermon, where you will discover that he says nothing remotely like what the 'translation' of the inscription alleges.

I don't like fides or societas in the senses apparent here; I don't understand the point of fit rather than est; and I don't like the quod ... construction. Apart from that ...

17 May 2014

Epigraphy (1)

                   DIE XVII SEPTEMBRIS MMX
                             BENEDICTVS XVI

This is what you walk over now as you cross the lintel into Westminster Cathedral. It's all very straightforward, it seems to me, except for line 5. A 'translation' is offered in the November 2013 number of OREMUS, the Westminster Cathedral Magazine, but I wonder if you might care to consider three questions before you look at that. The plain meaning seems to me to be "because keeping ones oaths in an alliance becomes an advantage", but I have a suspicion that this rather military and Livian sentiment isn't what the author thought he was saying! Questions, then:
(1) What did the author want to say?
(2) How would you put into Latin what you think he wanted to say?
(3) Does (1), in any case, fairly summarise the sermon that our Holy Father did preach on that occasion?

In a couple of days, I'll publish my own answer to those questions.

[BEATIFICI is odd. I mean, Blessed John Henry Newman does make us happy ... or me, at least ... but 'happy-making' is a strange epithet to assign to him. I wonder if someone was under the impression that it meant 'beatified'.]

14 May 2014

But are Cuckoos' Eggs Roman? (3) (WARNING Contains some irony)

Fr Aidan suggested that the 1969 Missal should be renamed the Ritus Communis instead of the Ritus Romanus, since it "contains more features of Oriental provenance than the Roman rite has ever known historically"; he thinks it might be useful  for "new ritual families" in, for example, India; or for converted Western Evangelicals (who, unlike former Anglo-Catholics, do not share a passion for the Roman Canon). But, as my favourite liturgist, Lenin, would put it, what is to be done? It is obviously important to do something fast, before the Advertising Standards people realise that they should be prosecuting the publishers for printing a misleading description on the spines of all our ROMAN MISSALs. Perhaps the simplest solution would be to use small razors to cut the cuckoos' eggs, Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV, out of this sadly invaded (and overcrowded) nest. Probably Mr Cameron would be glad to take Fr Aidan's advice and ship the cuttings out to India as part of his Foreign Aid programme. When visiting a strange church, keep a razor handy.

(1) It will have to contain the Cuckoo Canons, so as to conform canonically with the Editio Typica. But their pages should be perforated at the inner edge, so as to make them easily removable without any need for a razor.
(2) Could it, please, have bound in with it, as the previous translation did, the Missale Parvum: which comprised Latin texts of the Ordo Missae with a basic working minimum of Latin propers? This was for priests finding themselves celebrating in countries where they had no knowledge of the dominant language used liturgically. It would also be useful for clergy who, in accordance with the clear expectation oSacrosanctum Concilium para 54, wish to celebrate in a mixture of Latin and the vernacular. Our old English Missal, dear old volume, had the Offertory prayers, and everything from Te igitur onwards, in both Latin and English on facing pages or columns.
(3) The tabs are wrongly placed. For example, as you move on from the Preface to the Te igitur, the relevant tab ought to be on the left page, the one with the picture. And so on.

2 May 2014


I am coming up to a busy period, involving visits, Deo volente, to Cornwall, Texas, Italy, Wales, and Sussex. Not being very computer literate ... and not having a mobile phone or any of those little machines one sees people clutching on trains ... and not knowing how to access my blog or my emails from other people's computers ... I shall be able neither to write any new posts from the places I shall be in, nor to read and moderate Comments. I have accordingly disabled the capacity of my blog to receive Comments. This is not permanent; but is likely to remain so for a number of weeks. Since it is rather arrogant to set oneself above criticism, when I return to normal I shall make it possible for any who wish to comment on the posts of the previous period, to do so.

However, being fond of the sound of my own voice ... as we say ... I have, over the last few weeks, built up quite a 'bank' of precomposed pieces which are scheduled to pop up automatically. You will probably find that a lot of them give the appearance of commenting on what were the burning issues of some weeks previously! This is because, I am afraid, that is precisely what they will be.

I am sorry to be going incommunicado, and will myself miss the worldwide sense of daily contact, and of tolerant or even kind appreciation, which is provided by dealing with comments and contacts. I hope to get back to that when the Conference Season is over.

Over, then, to Autopilot! Roger, or whatever they say, and out!