30 May 2017

Patrimonial Pins

I recently sang an EF Sunday Mass for a priest who, like me, spent some years in that now-defunct organisation called "the Church of England". So, like me, he lives in enjoyment of the two Sacraments of Matrimonium and Sacerdotium and of the Church of England Pensions Board.

As, murmuring Merear ... , I took up the maniple, I noticed with interest that it had obviously been found to be too loose. It had been slightly tightened by the deft use of an old-style decade-of-Vatican-II nappy pin.

Philological Note: The 'Nappy' is what, I gathered half a century ago from Dr Spock, North Americans call the 'Diaper'.

Historical Note: In this much more ecological age, nappies/diapers are 'disposable', that is to say, made of a material which after use is sent off to enrich land-fill sites. In the unreconstructed 1960s, however, they were made of cloth and were reused after careful washing and sterilisation in a substance called, if my memory serves me aright, 'Milton'. Laudato si, as our Holy Father would say if he were a Family Man.

Technological Note: The nappy/diaper was secured by a pin, which had a clever little metal attachment which slipped into place so as to make it impossible for the pin to come undone and penetrate the baby. This was called "a Nappy Pin", and those of us now well into our seventies probably have several of these surviving in odd cupboards and drawers.

Trip Down Memory Lane Note: Ah, how it all takes one back! How well I recall laying three nappies out in a row, placing a minute daughter on each of them, then going along as if along a factory production line and 'doing them up'. And how also (Ah!) I  remember the subsequent processes of extricating the depositum ventris from the fabric; and subsequently wringing out (or 'mangling') the washed nappies and hanging them up on the washing line at the back of the Curate's House. On a January morning, how cold, numb, red, chapped, and crinkly ones hands ended up! Ah, Happy Days. Ah, how well (etc.etc. ad nauseam).

Liturgical Note: How wonderful the operations of Providence, that, so long after the 1960s, Nappy Pins should be reusable as Maniple Tightners! Clearly, even in that dread decade, as the altars fell and Dr Calvin's dark and terrible hand fell upon the sanctuaries of the Catholic Church, Providence already had in mind the provisions both of Summorum Pontificum and of Anglicanorum coetibus.

Optative Note: Long live the Ordinariates! Vivat Benedictus XVI!  

29 May 2017

Cardinal Mueller

I believe that Gerhard Cardinal Mueller deserves much more wholehearted sympathy and support from orthodox Catholics than he often does get.

At a time when his Eminence is having to struggle to maintain orthodoxy at the heart of an unsympathetic regime, he cannot afford to be attacked on the grounds that he has failed to defend the magisterial documents of Vatican II in his dealings with the SSPX. So his current praxis is to edge close to de facto reconciliation, step by step, rather than to make a big public splash. His Excellency Bishop Fellay was given faculties to deal canonically with an errant SSPX priest; Society priests can absolve with undoubted validity; the recent rules with regard to Marriage do provide, in a somewhat tortuous way, for Society priests to conduct Marriages which diocesan tribunals will not find it easy to annul; and (most recently) the Society's bishops are allowed to perform "illicit" ordinations (!). (Giving it the power to incardinate clergy from outside itself might be a valuable next step.) There is much to be said for such an approach.

Surely, "step by step" is also a policy which has the advantage of preserving the internal cohesion of the Society. Given the importance of this admirable Society in the work of evangelisation, that is no mean consideration. And, as long as there is no formal canonical reconciliation, there continue to be no restrictions to prevent the Society from setting up missions in dioceses where an obstructive Ordinary might not want them.

With regard to Amoris laetitia, Mueller has made clear that a change in the Church's teaching and practice with regard to "remarried" divorcees would be so monumental that it could not be done by an inference embedded in a footnote, but would have to be done explicitly. As I have several times explained, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Mueller has maintained Catholic orthodoxy, even if his way of doing so is not the way that some others deem best.

And his Eminence is a resolute defender of the important dogmatic fact that Episcopal Conferences, and their Chairmen, have no doctrinal, ecclesiological status: an insistence at the very heart of the  crucially important Ratzingerian teaching about the ontological priority of the Universal Church. This teaching is our great bulwark against Kasperism and its disciple Cardinal Marx. Without this insistence, which is one of the most important monuments of the Ratzinger years, the Catholic Church, in purely human terms, would face the same slide into fissiparous heterodoxy which has destroyed the once proud Anglican Communion.

And, not least, Cardinal Mueller has recently pointed out, publicly, that the current regime fails to live up even to the rhetoric of its own PR machine ...  as in the matter of the unfair treatment of Vatican employees, who ought not to be sacked without proper and decent process. To do so is the action of an Absolute Prince in a Renaissance Court!

28 May 2017


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?

I am immensely grateful to readers who sorted this out for me. You know who you are!

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!

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.

16 May 2017

Communion in both kinds

Mgr Edwin also raises the question of those who avoid the Chalice. Again, he has a point. Reception of the Chalice is part of the Patrimony ... when proposals circulated in the 1630s for the reconciliation of the Provinces of Canterbury and York with the See of S Peter, my recollection is that 'the Chalice' was one of the 'concessions' offered.

But there is a problem here. Some people are rather fastidious nowadays. It is a shame ... but mores do change. Between 2001 and 2007, in one of my Devon churches, a growing number of women retained 'their' Host until the Minister with the Chalice came along to them, and then 'dunked' 'their' Host before receiving It. This had a number of practical disadvantages which I do not want to describe in detail.

I have little sympathy with such fastidious apprehensions. I suspect that such precautions do in fact make only a very tiny contribution ... if they make any at all ... to the risk of picking up infections from the Chalice. But the existence of the apprehensions is a fact.

I'm not sure that there are matters of rigid principle involved here. Little more than a decade ago, there was a national panic about a certain infection ... I recall that the Bishop of Oxford issued detailed and hilarious instructions about the running of the diocese ... when I die, Bishop X takes over; when he dies, Bishop Y ... with copious information about how to conduct mass funerals! At this time, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, having taken legal advice, ordered (not advised) that Communion only be in one kind.

And there are practical circumstances where a general reception of the Chalice is to be discouraged. I remember a big Do at Lancing at which a lot of people were stumbling around with loaded chalices, upstairs and downstairs and in and out of marquees ... happily, there was no disaster, but it was a practical nightmare. I think I remember a big Forward in Faith event in that Methodist place in central London (having heard what the policies of F in F were, the managers decided to charge us their rate for non-Christians rather than their 'Christian' rate!) at which there were similar problems. I think it would be very sensible for Communion to be in only one kind at large, messy eucharistic celebrations.

Beyond that, I am minded to leave matters to the judgement of individual communicants.

I refer throughout, of course, to Ordinariate Rite and Novus Ordo Masses, where such options are allowed. In the Extraordinary Form, the burden of deciding between options is not imposed on the laity. 

15 May 2017

Communion in the hand

The admirable bishop emeritus of Richbourough, Mgr Edwin Barnes, in his admirable blog Antique Richborough, has raised the question of how 'traditional' receiving in the mouth is.

The short answer is in Jungmann Volume 2 pp374 ff; summarised thus: "the method dates substantially from the ninth century".

More than a millennium is quite a long time ... and I might add a point made by Dom Gregory Dix, when he was dealing with Reservation in a Tabernacle on or behind an Altar: that a common custom which has grown up separately in both the East and the West has a lot to be said for it. This also applies to the feeling that it is safer to put the Sacred Species into the mouth of the recipient. I say 'safer' because I get the impression from Jungmann that fear of the Host being taken away, rather than 'reverence', has a lot to do with the evolution of both the Western and Eastern customs.

[That is explicitly why Cranmer, in his 1549 Prayer Book, ordered the retention of Communion directly into the mouth (I suspect that, in 1552, the Communion Service was so desacralised that such apprehensions lost their force).]

This is still a reasonable apprehension. Perhaps not so very much in an ordinary stable congregation of decent devout people, but in some other circumstances. At Lancing, at Confirmations, one had to be constantly on the look-out for people from the extended families of the confirmati trying to take the Host away as a memento of the occasion. I remember once having to follow a recalcitrant woman down the church, insisting that she either consume or return the Host. I have heard of  'albums' from Weddings and Confirmations with Hosts neatly preserved behind sellophane! And the scrimmage that happens at big out-door papal Masses ... I watched the Fatima ceremonies on Vatican TV Player ... well, the less said about all that the better.

As we of the Patrimony might put it, "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance to be included in collections of souvenirs, but to be received with Faith".

So what about 'reverence'? I agree with Mgr Edwin about the complete decency of the traditional Anglican practice ...

... did I say 'traditional'? That's not really quite right. Pre-Tractarian prints make clear that earlier Anglican practice was to take the cube of leavened Bread from the Minister with the fingers. The more modern way represents an originally Anglo-Catholic appropriation of the practice described by S Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catecheses Mysticae (but shorn of the fancy bits about touching your eyes with the Host before consuming It). The custom spread, like so many things, from Tractarian practice to being the normal C of E custom.

Accordingly, Anglicans have commonly come up to the Communion Rails, knelt down, and received the Host onto the right hand which is supported by the left hand as by a throne, and received by lifting the palm of the hand to their mouths, and then checked, as S Cyril insists, that no crumb remained ("be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with what is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no particles are lost?").

That culture just has to be judged reverent, seemly, and decent. There, I agree with Bishop Edwin 100%.

However, to be completely frank and entirely personal: I find the 'mainstream' English Catholic practice quite upsetting. I am well aware that it is not for me to judge others, to whose devout interior dispositions I have no direct access. But the practice of approaching Holy Communion, making no act of reverence, receiving It onto the hand and then strolling away, meanwhile nonchalantly transferring the Host to the mouth, seems to my subjective Anglican eyes totally, and grossly, irreverent.

14 May 2017


Did anybody recognise who comprised the bevy of Anglican bishops processing among the Portuguese Catholic bishops at the Canonisations?

Most "Anglo-Catholic" bishops use "Catholic" choir dress when officiating in the Church of England, and Anglican choir dress in Romish contexts.

Bewildering others is so essentially a part of the Patrimony.

Interesting, that Guido Marini still prints the genuflections at the Consecrations in his libelli; and puts out a prie Dieu which is never used. (I have some sympathy for the Holy Father's incapacities in this respect.) Is all this so as to maintain, with a view to future pontiffs, the position as to what should happen, pontifical health permitting?

I thought it did Pope Bergoglio some credit that, after the blessing of the sick, when he went with the Monstrance and was giving Eucharistic Benediction to some other layfolk, and a proportion of them started clapping, waving, and shouting Viva il papa, he did look disconcerted. Perhaps little telling details like this may help him to understand the questionable nature of the 'papal international celebrity' cult which he did not invent but has done so little to counter.

Dai Thomas

I knew Bishop David Thomas, who has died suddenly at his home, as a fellow seminarian at Staggers; and, before that, as a contemporary in the Honour School of Litterae Humaniores in this University. He was Welsh and affable; anxious that we should be aware of his ability to speak Welsh; immensely proud that his father was a bishop and distinctly ambitious to follow him in that ministry. When he eventually became the Welsh 'Flying Bishop' he delighted in explaining to the unWelsh that PAB, the acronym for Provincial Assistant Bishop, was Welsh for Pope.

Dai was enormously interested in Liturgy and, I think, played a major role in that area in the counsels of the Church in Wales; but ... Oh dear, this shows me in a poor light ... I have always enjoyed recalling that as a student he failed, by quite a margin, to win the Shaftoe Prize (for Liturgy; the previous winner had been David Hope, now Bishop emeritus of London).

He and I and Michael Reynolds went off in our different directions to get married on the Saturday in the Octave of Easter in 1967, because that day fell between the tempus clausum of Lent, and imminent Ordination to the Diaconate on Trinity Sunday. So Dai and Ros will have celebrated recently their Golden Wedding. Please God, this will be a comfort to her; and may God bless and mercifully console her and their family.

May he rest in peace.

9 May 2017

Clement XIV

28 May will be the Anniversary of the election ad summum pontificatum of Pope Clement XIV. Still plenty of time to secure your Clement XIV mug from Fr Zed, so that you can drink to this discerning pontiff. Do it now before you forget.

28 May 2019 will be the 250th anniversary of this great event. I trust that even now the event is being prepared for by interdicasterial committees! Might there be, by then, a Pope Clement XV?

6 May 2017

The protohistory of the Ordinariates

Bishop Steven Lopes, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, delivered, on 28 March, a most interesting lecture in Vienna, entitled "Unity of Faith in a Diversity of Expression: The Work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith". I commend it to you ... it is fascinating!

Bishop Steven explains that "from 1960 to 2005 there were no fewer than 7 serious attempts to effect a corporate reunion of an Anglican Ecclesial Community with the Catholic Church". As far as details are concerned, the 'Pontifical Secret' forbids him to be specific. But he does then go on "if the Holy See worked with a group of Anglicans to elaborate a proposal, and if that proposal was then entrusted to an Episcopal Conference for implementation, and if that Episcopal Conference then simply killed the proposal in committee, then a new approach might involve consultation with local Episcopal Conferences but reserve the actual oversight and direction of the implementation to the Holy See itself".

If you are really interested, I suggest that you read Bishop Steven's narrative alongside a piece by Dr William Oddie, in the Catholic Herald of November 22 2010 ... around the time when Pope Benedict's intention to erect Ordinariates had just been made public.

Dr Oddie, in 1997, had published a meticulously researched book, The Roman Option, in which, making use of minutes of meetings which had been leaked to him, he told the story of the events of the mid-1990s, when the CBCEW had sabotaged a previous plan to effect a corporate reunion in England. (This was the celebrated occasion on which Cardinal Ratzinger asked "What are the English bishops afraid of?" and S John Paul II had asked why the English bishops were so unapostolic.)

Cardinal Hume had begun by welcoming our attempted move in the mid-1990s as being the Conversion of England for which English Catholics had so long prayed. But, sadly for his reputation, he lost his nerve under pressure from some of his colleagues and issued a categorical denial of Oddie's account and a condemation of his book; which condemnation was actually issued as being a statement by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales. After correspondence with the actual writer of the statement, who was one of the Westminster auxiliaries, Oddie secured its retraction, but only after having to threaten that he would publish his documentary evidence, to show that he had been speaking the truth. "Since I was very unwilling to imply that Cardinal Hume had himself been lying ... I was profoundly relieved when this was agreed".

Read Oddie's very jolly account yourselves to find out about the secret dealings which spanned these events and the initiative of Pope Benedict (I think one of those anonymously involved will have been Archbishop diNoia). We won! And today is marked on our Ordinariate Calendar as the Feast of S John the Apostle in Eastertide (antiquius 'ante Portam Latinam') because it marks the day when a group of Anglican parish priests started a secret series of meetings among ourselves which led to our leaving the Church of England and availing ourselves of Pope Benedict's offer.

Very happily, the CBCEW is, of course, a radically different body now from what it was twenty sad years ago. There are now some very fine bishops whose attitude to the Ordinariate is everything ... and more ... that could be hoped for. But, ad perpetuam rei memoriam, I hope that Dr Oddie's collection of documents ends up in the Archives of the Ordinariate. And ... just to be on the safe side ... with copies in the Archives at Pusey House and the Palace of the Holy Office.

One detail which somebody could suss out ... someone who knows how to burrow around in the files of the Catholic Herald and the Tablet ... who was that Westminster auxiliary whom Oddie forced into a retraction?

5 May 2017

Uncreated Light?

In the Matthaean account of the Lord's Baptism there is a delicious varia lectio in a couple of manuscripts of the Vetus Latina. After S John Baptist permits the Lord to be baptised, these mss add: and when he was baptised, a great light shone around from the water, so that all who had come there were fearful.

This reminds me of Pseudo-Hippolytus (PG 10, 862), "The one who with faith goes down into this washing of rebirth ... returns from Baptism brilliant as the Sun, shining rays of righteousness". (S Justin Martyr (Trypho 88:3) talks of the Fire entering the Jordan when the Lord was baptised.) After all, we all know that the baptised are Illuminati; and perhaps that word is not intended in the merely subjective sense of having his understanding enlightened. I draw your attention also to the passage of S Gregory Nazianzenus which the Liturgia Horarum offers for the Patristic Lection on the Feast of the Lord's Baptism.

As Old Testament students, we recall the Pillar of Fire passing through the waters of the Red Sea. And as liturgists, we remember standing by the font at the Easter Vigil and plunging the candle into the waters of Regeneration. Our typological mathematic is that 1+1+1=a whole lot more than 3.

I think we need often to remind ourselves of the importance of Typology in our theologising - a typology which embraces Old Testament, New Testament, and Liturgy.

And don't forget the question of what Scripture is. We all know the old arguments about "What is the Canon of Scripture?", at their fiercest when the 'Reformers', with their horrible legalism, wished to erect Scripture as a forensic engine for discerning true doctrine, and therefore needed to know what is Scripture*. But an awareness of the fluidity of the texts of the Scriptures has grown in the last century: the more early NT papyri we discover, the more we find a strange phenomenon. You might expect that, as we press earlier and earlier, backwards towards an 'authorial text', we might find that variants in the text get fewer. But we find the opposite is true (something similar could be said of the textual critcism of Homer). So scholars increasingly, and rightly, wonder if the concept of a stable monomorphic authorial text is in fact anything but a mirage in the desert. And when we turn to the Old Testament, mss from Qumran and elsewhere reveal to us the precarious status of the claim that the Masoretic text is in some sense normative for Christians.

So ... we know, for example, that the pericope de adultera is not part of the 'original text' of S John; manuscript evidence is here supported by stylometric and lexicographical evidence. "But that doesn't make it any less canonical" ... we say. But when we get down to details, things get murkier. If we are to select those readings in the Hebrew, Aranaic, and Greek texts which are supported by an authoritative Vulgate ... then Vulgate or neoVulgate? If Vulgate, then Sixtine or Clementine? There are differences. What about the Vetus Latina? What about the psalter reading "The Lord has reigned from the tree"? ... which left its mark, not least upon a hymn of Venantius Fortunatus.

Moi, I'm terribly liberal. I think that even that jolly little interpolation into Matthew with which I began this post is Part Of The Great Rich Wholeness Of Scripture. Like some Englit chappies, I believe that Reception is Part of the Text. I am set free to take this view by the fact that I am not, like the Prods and the Liberals, bogged down by some grim need to discern some sort of entrenched minimum which some magisterium (Calvin's or the CDF's) enforces and guarantees. I bob along in a warm, welcoming, and enriching sea called Tradition.

Which, of course, is the direct opposite of what the idiot who is now the Jesuit General does, with his curious, untraditional, and heterodox observations to the effect that we do not really know what Jesus said, and accordingly are at liberty to disregard his every word if this will suit the novel Bergoglianist agenda. ANATHEMA SIT!!

1 May 2017

What is the Diaconate?

This month, the Diaconate is rather on my mind. It is a question of Jubilees! It involves the precious metal called gold!! And that essential of civilised life, Wood!!!

On May 21, 1967, I was ordained, so the accompanying documents assured me, to the Diaconate in the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford. True, the rites of Ordination used had, sadly, been mangled during the events which followed Henry Tudor's split from Rome, but, well, there you go. Can't win them all!

On May 26, 2012, I was ordained, so the accompanying documents assured me, to the Diaconate in the the Cathedral Church of the Most Precious Blood in Westminster. True, the rites of Ordination used had, sadly, been mangled during the events which followed the Second Vatican Council, but, well, there you go. Can't win them all! But that was the day upon which I had the happiness to be incardinated into the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham.

Fifty Golden Diaconal Years ... or is it just Five Wooden Years!! What's a decimal point among friends?

Gaudete mecum!!!

To assist your Joy, I am going to reprint the result of my studies about what the Diaconate actually, really, is, in the august and ancient Roman liturgical tradition. Deo volente, they will occur on alternate days (so as not to over-irritate those who are rather bored by this sort of thing), with their original threads.

Please do not allow yourselves to get so cross that you submit dismissive two-line Comments containing typographical errors. This phenomenon rarely convinces me that the writer has something useful to say. Because later portions of this series may well answer points that occur to you, the less impetuous among you may prefer to wait until the end of the series (May 12), when I shall moderate any accumulated comments.