7 January 2017

Right-thinking people do not commonly recommend reading of the Tablet, but today I wish to commend to you a letter printed there on December 14 1991, and written by John Finnis, Professor of International Law in this University. Or, rather, this post will extensively plagiarise his letter, so you may feel you need not bother to search it out.

CONTEXTCardinal Hume had quoted the words of B John XIII at the opening of Vatican II:  "The substance of the ancient deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another". The cardinal went on to claim that this "was considered at the time to be quite controversial"; and the [2012] Bishop of Guildford had, quite separately, claimed that these words caused "nervousness" in Rome and that by the time the pope's words were published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis six weeks later, they had been substantially changed, to something reactionary, 'curial', and objectionable. The Tablet, as you might expect, had weighed in with an editorial.

PROFESSOR FINNIS' LETTERFinnis with waspish elegance suggested that "A form critic would ... opine that behind both of these statements stand" words published by Peter Hebblethwaite in his biography of the beatus, and went on "The facts discoverable by anyone with access to a library are quite inconsistent with the grave allegation".

Professor Finnis pointed out that Osservatore Romano had printed, the very day after the Pontiff had spoken, his (Latin) words in the form in which AAS subsequently printed them, and my - perhaps imperfect - recollection is that John Finnis later secured clinching evidence from a radio recording that B John XXIII did indeed utter these words.

Which words? eodem sensu eademque sententia. Finnis translated the Latin text of the passage concerned as "This certain and unchangeable teaching, to which faith assent [or: submission] should be given, needs to be explored and expounded in the way our times call for. For the deposit of Faith, i.e. the truths which are contained in our venerable teaching, is one thing; another thing is the manner in which those truths are enunciated, keeping the same meaning and the same judgement [or: opinion]".

HEBBLETHWAITE, I should explain to younger readers, was a former Jesuit who had cornered the narrative of that period and whose account continues even today to go the rounds, fuelling a hermeneutic of rupture with regard to Vatican II. You may have seen his widow being filmed by the TV cameras as the crowd outside S Peter's watched the white smoke rise from the chimney during the [2005] conclave. She yelped in anguish as she realised that such a speedy end to the papal election could only mean that "Ratzinger has been elected".

Win some, lose some.


Conchúr said...

Margaret was with Joan Chittister at the time. If I recall correctly her exact words of dismay, addressed to Chittister, on realising what the early appearance of white smoke meant were "Oh God, it's Ratzinger!".

bob said...

Perhaps a 20-year old Tablet and the letters page at that, might be acceptable!

Good to have you back.

Nicolas Bellord said...

John Lamont's article may be long but it is well worth reading by non-theologians, like me, as he nowhere those long words such as 'existential', 'ontological', 'kenosis', 'epistemological' etc. Words which mean I have to rush to a dictionary only to forget the definition almost immediately which suggests to me that they do not have much meaning! It can be done!

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

It has been routinely claimed that Pope Saint John XXIII's speech was written by the then Milano Archbishop, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montin.

Is that an accurate claim?

Thanks again Dear Father for yet another splendid and crucial post.