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Thursday, 7 January 2016

No time to end the blog

You see how impossible this job has become? I have not even found the time to take the blog down when I promised!

A valedictory post is still in the making, and will possibly be delivered by the end of this weekend. We'll see.

Meanwhile, thanks for the various messages of support. Oremus pro invicem.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

A Sensible Ending

A new year and new resolutions. Time was when I had the time to think these through at length. Time was. Gosh, I thought nostalgia was a pre-31st December feeling.

As I go into the new year, however, as I prune back the deadwood in the hope of bearing some fruit again, I'm afraid my axe is about to fall upon this blog. It will have its last day on the Feast of the Epiphany on Wednesday 6th January, after which it will be gone. Vamoose.

First, let me say a big thank you to frequent and less frequent readers. I have known and even met some of you, and my life has been immeasurably enriched thereby. Several I am now able to count as close friends.

Second, let me say a big thank you to those who comment - sometimes at length, often very perceptively - on what I have been discussing.

I think that covers just about everyone.

Will I blog again? Possibly, and possibly even under this blog's name. Just not now.

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My aim is not to stop writing but rather to get on with writing other things that are frankly more important in the long run. I know regular readers will miss my often ironic contributions to the commentariat; this is a blog written by an eccentric for eccentrics, and it shows. Yet what can I say but that the more prolix the current Sovereign Pontiff gets, the more I have been turning against verbal jabberings of any kind, at least on the public life of the Church? Some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting. Our communion from here on in must be in prayer rather than in bloggerrhea.

And I say this with the words of my master Bernanos sounding in my mind: our Church is the Church of saints. There never was, is not now, nor will there ever be any other solution to our current ills than the deepening holiness of the Church's members. Only the wisdom of God can cure the rabid stupidity of our age. Only the love of God can counter its putrid spiritual frigidity. I'm afflicted by both these ills and, again, there is only one cure: as Bernanos says of St Francis, it is to plunge oneself again into the sources of holiness.

Well, that's it really. A sensible ending, I hope. Or as Porky Pig says ...


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The law of folly and time (update on interpreting the pope's remarks)

One of my favourite Flanders and Swann songs is The First and Second Law. Have no fear. If, like me, you would rather be listening to Flanders and Swann than reading this, I will provide the thing embedded at the end of the post. The song is a witty rendering of the first and second law of thermodynamics, all set to a jazzy beat. It's the way I like my physics anyway.

But this law sets me in mind of another 'law' that current events seem to illustrate with increasingly alarming frequency, and it is this:

the more frequent the incidences of folly, the less reaction time there is before another incidence occurs.

You just notice one act of folly, and before you can think through all the consequences, here comes another one (two, three?). I'm sure Paul Virilio would tell us that such are the laws of speed in a dromological world - a world whose principal characteristic has become acceleration. That helps us but not very much. It only tells us what to expect next: yet more incidences of folly with ever-decreasing increments of time between them.

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I am not going to spoil the start of Advent with reflecting at length on the latest foot-in-mouth remarks of the Sovereign Pontiff. Fundamentalists like me are full of meanness anyway, so it would not count.

But, you know who I feel sorry for? I have to suppose for a moment that there are on the ground in Africa priests, brothers and sisters who have been fighting off pressure to get with the condom distribution schemes. Of course there might not be. For all I know all such people might have caved in years ago. But just supposing such people are out there, daily struggling with the mess, under pressure to abandon the Church's line, fully aware of the moral turpitude which has accompanied the devastating spread of the disease on the continent, conscious of the leverage that such a change would give to the Church's enemies or its false friends, what do you think those people felt when they learned they had been effectively "refusing to heal" on a Saturday? Let us hope they have not the time to read the news. UPDATE Is this a hard reading of what the pope said? I took his remarks on the topic to be a clear concession to the pro-condom agenda, not least because he says that the problems to be fixed are firstly the physical ones. But what does the pope really mean in the end? As ever with Pope Francis, he is as clear as mud.

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I have actually spent most of the last few weeks - when not engaged in my usual duties of shovelling Olympic quantities of excreta and pretending to be Superman - trying to get my head around the attacks in Paris. The place where I work announced a minute's silence for the victims of the shootings on the Monday following the attacks. The boss was then inundated with emails asking why similar minutes of silence had not been organised to honour the memory of those who died in Beiruit on the Thursday before or in Kenya on the Saturday.

*Sigh*. As I say, the incidences of folly just seem to multiply exponentially by the week. And our ability to fend them off, to take stock and reflect, is accordingly diminished.

The machine gun changed warfare for good. An advancing battalion could now be cut down in a matter of seconds, rather than after hours of bloody fighting. Curiously, Richard Gatling who invented one of the first efficient models of this kind of weapon, believed that it would reduce the size of armies because not so many soldiers would be needed to fight. That's what I call offensive thinking. The defensive reality is that it reduced the size of armies by sending soldiers to meet their Maker sooner than expected. The savings in wages surely paid for the guns and the arms broker's bonus at the same time!

Whatever happens, we have got
The Gatling gun, and they have not


as I believe Belloc wrote. But my point here is that today we face a kind of information weapon than rains down its bullets of stupidity on us. It's not like being taken down by a sniper, robbed of our senses by a dum dum bullet to the brain. The information machine gun just rips through our guts. Remember you used to have a heart there? Yes, what happened to that? And the spleen, the spleen!

News story after news story after news story. We cannot process it all. We should not try to. Maybe the first tactic for reducing the effectiveness of the information machine gun is to refuse to break cover and give it what it wants: our attention.

I'm amused by the number of pieces I read these days of people going on a digital detox: staying away from the internet for a month at a time just to recover some mental balance. Well, of course that is a slightly different problem. But the effect is the same. Mental imbalance and moral folly sometimes follow hard on each other, as Lady Macbeth could attest.

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A last word here - since this is becoming a digest of recent unrecorded reflections - about Islam and Jihad. I might write about Islam at some point, but I'm struggling at the moment with how much there is to know and how little I currently know. This is a two-pronged task. It involves not only studying what Islam was meant to be originally, but also what Islam has become in the concrete. There is the Islam of essences and the Islam of history, and they are by no means identical. Not all its contradictions can be resolved as an inflection of Islamic belief. Mix any religion with a cocktail of accelerating events, multiple political agendas and lone wolf loonies, and you have a recipe for confusion. There is some metaphysical link between multiplicity and deceit, or at least multiplicity and error. Yet another reason not to blog too often, eh? There is the old saying:

Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses.

which Sir Humphrey Appleby, an old friend of this blog, translates brilliantly as:

If you'd have kept your mouth shut, we might have thought you were clever.

One for all of us to reflect on, from lowly bloggers to Sovereign Pontiffs.


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Meanwhile, I promised you a bit of Flanders and Swann to finish, so here it is.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Inconvenient Scalfarian Magisterium (now with added Vatican denial!)

The web is alive with the crackle of burning conservatism and, possibly, the odour of cordite (presumably from self-inflicted injuries), as news of the pope's latest telephone conversation with Eugenio Scalfari does the rounds.

Quick as a flash, I surf over to Twitter to watch the agonising contrecoup. And I am not disappointed. Here is the reaction of moral theologian and Catholic Herald columnist Alexander Lucie Smith:


Well, shoot the damn messenger then!

If we could only eliminate Scalfari, all this Pope Francis trouble would go away ...

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But then ...

This morning Fr Lombardi, a man who recently admitted to being confused by Pope Francis, has claimed that Scalfari's report on the pope's remarks is in 'no way reliable'.

As if we didn't know! That's the point of the Scalfarian Magisterium. It has perfect deniability, while confirming what we all suspected all along.

It remains to be seen whether actions - not words, useless, empty words - will contradict what Scalfari has now informed us about.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Familiaris contradictio: Nichols vs Aquila

Two snapshots this morning from the very different corners of the Catholic universe, currently in a process of seemingly unstoppable expansion (and shortly entropy) under the guiding hand of Pope Francis.

The first comes from Cardinal Nichols to whose remarks I linked yesterday. He stands alongside Cardinal Kasper and others in saying that the Relatio Finalis opens the door to Communion for the divorced and emarried. Here are the paragraphs in question that Cardinal Nichols refers to (taken here from Rorate Caeli's excellent coverage):

85. Saint John Paul II offered an all-encompassing criterion, that remains the basis for valuation of these situations: "Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid." (FC, 84). It is therefore a duty of the priests to accompany the interested parties on the path of discernment according to the teaching of the Church and the orientations of the Bishop. In this process, it will be useful to make an examination of conscience, by way of moments of reflection and repentance. Remarried divorcees should ask themselves how they behaved themselves when their conjugal union entered in crisis; if there were attempts at reconciliation; what is the situation of the abandoned partner ["partner" in the original Italian]; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and in the community of the faithful; what example does it offer to young people who are to prepare themselves to matrimony. A sincere reflection may reinforce trust in the mercy of God that is not denied to anyone.

[...]

86. The path of accompaniment and discernment orients these faithful to becoming conscious of their situation before God. The conversation with the priest, in internal forum, concurs to the formation of a correct judgment on what prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church and on the steps that may favor it and make it grow. Considering that in the same law there is no graduality (cf. FC, 34), this discernment must never disregard the demands of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church. In order for this to happen, the necessary conditions of humility, reserve, love for the Church and to her teaching, in the sincere search for the will of God and for the desire to reach a more perfect answer to the latter, are to be guaranteed.


Cardinal Nichols explains this pathway of discernment in the following way:


No one will set out on this pathway with the single aim of receiving Holy Communion. And nobody will be accompanied on this pathway with the single principle that they can’t [...]

You don’t (know?) where [the pathway of discernment] goes. I know people who have done this and have come to the conclusion themselves — to their mature conscience decision — that they should not receive the Eucharist, because they want to give a witness to the stability of marriage. But it’s their decision. That is not pre-judged or pre-empted. If anyone wants to walk this way, come, and we will walk with you.


If what Cardinal Nichols says is true - if there is no 'single principle that [the divorced and remarried] can't [receive the Eucharist]' - then what is clear here is that Familiaris consortio is being used to facilitate an opening of the pathway to a goal that John Paul's letter specifically condemns ... in the very same paragraph:

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.

If you want to talk about 'all-encompassing criteria', then surely this section of paragraph 84 is just as all encompassing.

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In my other snapshot, Archbishp Aquila of Denver published last Monday a wonderfully lucid and solidly orthodox essay against the very eventuality that Cardinal Nichols tells us the Relatio Finalis facilitates.

Here is Aquila at his rhetorical best:

Last May, Cardinal Kasper claimed in an interview with Commonweal that we “can’t say whether it is ongoing adultery” when a repentant, divorced Christian nonetheless engages in “sexual relations” in a new union. Rather, he thinks “absolution is possible.”

And yet, Christ clearly called remarriage adultery and said adultery was sinful (Mt. 5:32, Mk. 10:12, Lk. 16:18). In the case of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42), Jesus also confirmed that remarriage cannot be valid, even when informed by sincere feeling and fidelity.

When one adds to the equation the high failure rate of remarriages subsequent to a divorce, where Cardinal Kasper’s reasoning would lead, no one can say. For example, should sacramental communion be allowed only for the once-remarried? What about people remarried twice, or three times? And it is obvious that the arguments made for easing Christ’s prohibition on remarriage could also be made for contraceptive use, or any number of other aspects of Catholic theology understood by the modern, self-referential world as “difficult.”

Monday, 26 October 2015

Warring metaphors

Okay, so I was a bit strident yesterday. A close friend told me this morning we've dodged a bullet with the Relatio Finalis, and he gave several contextual reasons why this is how we should see it, including:

* Pope Francis's final speech was a sign of his fury against the opponents. He's mad because he's been blocked.

* The new Council of the Synod will be a brake on his using the Relatio Finalis to launch a change in Eucharistic discipline.

In addition, the Synod has polarized conservatives and liberals and is turning conservatives into traditionalists.

All of this is reasonable, and certainly has a more rational tone than I did yesterday. That said, have we dodged a bullet, or are we looking simple at unexploded ordnance? Or is it one of those delayed detonation missiles that are physically as destructive as regular missiles but add the element of psychological terror?

Meanwhile, Vin Nichols has confirmed his reading of the Relatio Finalis. I knew we could rely on Vin to clarify how the liberals are likely to use this document ...

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A case of bad language

I occasionally mention Mrs Ches on this blog. You will have the measure of the woman when you hear that tonight she has announced she is making a "MOSES" sign to stick on the back of my dining room chair, and is also inscribing a stone from the garden with a number 1. This projectile will sit over the crucifix in the hallway, so that it can be deployed rapidly in the event of any dissenters from our narrow-minded convictions walking by our house. That'll learn 'em.

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So, all the conservative bed-wetters greeted the final relatio of the Synod as a victory - small but indubitable - for righteousness. Kasper's Communion plan was, in their view, defeated because it was not approved. The fact that the final relatio has sufficient waffle to be easily read in a pro-Kasper sense appears to have passed them by. Moreover, the fact that what was voted on last night was simply what the Synod presents to the Pope for his consideration also appears to have passed them by. As if the pope is bound by what the Synod fathers have said anyway ...

This battle was lost fifty years ago when Churchmen decided that what was now needed was a new language in which the Gospel's message could pass afresh to a waiting world. The Council haunts us still, not because it has not been implemented, but because its 1960s' assumptions are like a deep cancer in the Catholic heart. What was so disastrous about this linguistic innovation? Two things really:

1) the enormous fiction, not to say fantasy, that the world cares about what the Church says (unless it says something to comfort the world in its ways).

2) the enormous fiction, not to say fantasy, that the rewording of ancient doctrines in the "modern language" is an exercise free of any dangers for the Faith.

The whole approach to the rewording had two immediate and disastrous effects:

1) it led to what the French call a 'déracinement' , an uprooting, such that the context in which essential things were born was grossly mutated. That many Catholics did not survive this "re-potting" exercise (like ill-fated saplings) is a fact many western Churches can give testimony to, if they are prepared to face facts. Step forward and take a bow, France, eldest dementia patient of the Church...

2) it enabled liberal clergy and others who didn't really believe what the Church said

to bury important clauses in the Council documents (such as the clause that states Latin is to remain the language of the liturgy, in Sacrosanctum Concilium) and

to distort clauses that enabled some liberal innovation (such as the assumption that the declaration on religious liberty is the end of the Catholic State).

I have read various commentators who state that this Synod is a 'linguistic event' like the Council because it is translating archaic dogma into understandable prose. It's the kind of pseudo-academic crap that makes me want to strike a passing adulterer. Any translator worth his salt will tell you there is no such thing as a 'linguistic translation'. The trouble is of course that most translators are still in hock to the myth of the possibility of linguistic fidelity in translation.

No, no, and no again, dear reader! All translation is a mediation, not only between two languages but between the two cultures that produce those languages. And both linguistic and cultural mediation open up the eventuality that the source text will not be faithfully translated. That is because fidelity to the source battles against adequacy for the target at every turn. Some "archaic or simply incomprehensible" language (to quote Pope Francis) just cannot be translated - like 'Trinity' or 'Transubstantiation'. But what would I know, being nothing other than a phylacteried lackey?

Churchmen have long since fallen in love with thinking that they can speak in a language that the world understands. That the world couldn't give two hoots what the Church says - unless it is either to confirm its stereotypes of the Church, or else to launch a 'revolution in the Church' - should be obvious to anyone who spends any time with the godless. Why write Church documents in a language that can be understood for an audience who is not listening? Well, quite. Nobody reads them anyway.

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And so, I approached Pope Francis's address to the Synod last night with some trepidation. He hardly disappointed. He simply set forth what he thought of the Synod: a grand work of the Holy Spirit, marred only by those who would '“indoctrinate” [the Gospel] in dead stones to be hurled at others.' And who are they, I wondered: these stone hurlers in our midst? The answer was not long in coming. They were:


the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.


Crikey, I thought. Anyone who believed this Synod was ending on a positive note ought now to be sitting up. The pope was setting out not only a pointed criticism of the conservative side; he was performing a papal defecation on them.

No doubt this thought occurred to him as well, which is why he then tried to mitigate the implications of what he had just said:

In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue;

Hang on, your Holiness. Is a rich and lively dialogue even possible with the superior and superficial? And if so, how? Why was it rich if one side were stone-hurlers in waiting?

Then came the coup de grâce from his Holiness. I more or less fell off my chair at this point:

And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.

Okay, so apart from dogmatic questions - because no bishop in the history of the Church has been known to depart from sound doctrine - we were now being told to accept that differences between bishops arose because they live in different places... Did those folk from Africa only object to the liberal agenda because they could not get beyond their inescapable cultural bondage? Should we conclude that even if they present their differences as a doctrinal issue, they are mistaken? Are they just suffering from a cross-cultural gap? Is there no need to fret, then, that they might have better theological grounds for their positions than the Germans?

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So many questions. So few answers. What certainties do I retain at the end of this Synod?

1) God is still in his heaven.

2) The Kasperites will not go away.

3) Some conservatives think they have won.

4) Pope Francis will do what he intended to do months ago.

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Well, there is no need to kick up a fuss. I wish I had remembered that fact late last night when my wife was peeling me off the ceiling after I read Pope Francis's post-Synodal address. But, as I quoted Bernanos just a few days ago, "Indignation never saved anybody". I believe I am classed in the party of people that moan about the workers of the eleventh hour. Well, as I told Mrs Ches last night (in perhaps more colourful language than I have used here), "Let the repentant adulterers get millionaire wages for turning up at 11.59pm; just as long as they work."

God knows what is coming next from this astounding papacy. I expect just about anything. I suppose while we await the bombs that must inevitably fall, we should dig in and keep ourselves cheery somehow or other. Oh yes, and pray for the man at the top. God knows we all need prayers, but he most especially.

As for the Germans? Well, let me give the final word to Noel Coward (hoping his gay credentials will earn me some credit with right-thinking people).

Listen carefully. The song is not about what it's about.