Pádraig Daly osa on Gabriel Daly RIP


(In memory of Gabriel Daly, Theologian. Teacher, Friend)

The last day I called

You talked of how your mother, a dentist,

Treated three German soldiers during the war

And women up along the house

Hung over the bannisters to get a glimpse

Of the arrival.

And of how, once, as a schoolboy in Bray,

A German plane, swooping low over the football field,

Came within inches of you.

We laughed at the recollection

And spoke, laughingly still,

Of how you used to teach us,

Who lived in softer times,

Of God, who is sweet God of all

And does not limit us.

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  1. Alan McGill says:

    From Creation and Redemption to his critiques of the biblical literalism evident in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fr. Daly’s writings have been a significant inspiration for my own teaching and writing. During this time of synod, much critical energy has been diverted towards issues of governance, practice, and moral teaching in relation to gender and sexuality, and reform is surely needed in such matters. Perhaps this has reduced the critical focus on current magisterial expositions of doctrine in areas including soteriology, eschatology, and sacramental theology that invite either cynicism or fundamentalism. The Catechism seems oblivious to its own teachings on the interpretation of scripture. To some extent, I wonder if there is less critical engagement with doctrine because it has become simply irrelevant to many and fewer voices could be bothered engaging it. Still, the sad news of Fr. Daly’s death makes me all the more determined to confront presentations of doctrine rooted in anachronistic exegesis, supernaturalism, and integralism – a far cry from “God, who is sweet God of all/And does not limit us.” I am deeply grateful for Fr. Daly’s spit and vinegar.

  2. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #1 Re. Fr Gabriel Daly’s ‘critiques of the biblical literalism evident in the Catechism of the Catholic Church’ – I have just asked Magisterium AI – the new app dedicated to processing official church documents – if the Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve were real historical characters, as opposed to characters in a theological allegory.

    Here’s the response:

    “The Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve were real historical figures, not allegorical characters. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice” and were created to share in divine life. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Desiderio Desideravi, affirms the parallel between the first Adam and the new Adam (Christ), stating that just as Eve was drawn from the side of the first Adam, the Church is born from the side of the new Adam. The International Theological Commission also emphasizes that Jesus Christ, as the new Adam, fully reveals man to himself, highlighting the connection between Adam and Christ as real historical figures.

    “It is important to note that the Catholic Church’s teaching on Adam and Eve as real historical figures is distinct from other interpretations. The Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Christian East explains that the Orthodox tradition does not refer to the praeternatural gifts received by Adam and describes the guilt of Adam and Eve as falling from the state of innocence, which impaired but did not destroy the image of God in humanity. Additionally, the Eastern tradition sees the Church as the new Eve born from the side of the second Adam, emphasizing continuity between the beginning and the new beginning for humanity.

    “In conclusion, the Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve were real historical figures, not allegorical characters. This teaching is based on the interpretation of biblical language in light of the New Testament, Tradition, and the parallel between Adam and Christ as revealed in Church documents.”


    The Catechism is referenced for this, along with other documents.

    The argument appears to rest on the assumption that an allegory could not be as reliable a source of truth about our human ‘original sinfulness’ as the supposed factuality and historicity of Adam and Eve, so that e.g. St Paul’s references to Adam and Jesus could not make sense if Adam was not historical.

    This completely underestimates the literary sophistication of not only Paul but of Jesus as well – who freely told parables to teach moral principles. Must we then believe that e.g. the Good Samaritan was a real historical character too, because if he wasn’t we must immediately conclude that the parable has nothing to teach us?

    This literalism lies at the root of the secular rejection of scripture as a source of truth, and makes ‘real history’ the only reliable source of truth. Nothing could be better designed to undermine the principle of the hierarchy of truth, and to multiply ‘doctrine’, when there is no need whatever to do that.

    Given that history as a discipline is impossible where there are no reliable sources that date from the time of the event in question, and that the evolutionary emergence of homo sapiens occurred aeons before there could be any such sources, it is inviting derision to insist that Genesis must be taken as history. Nothing could be better designed to bring ‘church teaching’ into disrepute.

    There is a very good reason that the Creed is economical when it comes to what we are required to believe. Jesus belongs to the historical record because literacy had long been established by his time. ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ could not be historical therefore, but the pattern of behaviour that the allegory illustrates has recurred throughout historical time, so the allegory is true and revelatory and endlessly provocative in that sense – just as is all great literature.

    Will the DDF under new leadership now get around to making everything ‘the church teaches’ reasonable and credible?

  3. Alan McGill says:

    “Magerterium AI” seems to be an invaluable tool in driving sane, reasonable people away from Catholicism. To teach that Adam and Eve were historical characters and not mythical characters is biblical literalism and ignores fifty years of magisterial teaching on the interpretation of scripture in light of the literary genres. Gabriel Daly likened the authors of the Catechism to “theological Rip Van Winkels” in this regard.

    Sean O’Conaill makes an excellent point regarding the presumed literalism of Jesus and of St. Paul – as though ancient people were not comfortable with myth and were party to the modern scientism shared by fundamentalists and the “New Atheists” alike, whereby every form of truth is dismissed other than empirical or historical truth in the most narrow sense.

  4. Sean O'Conaill says:

    You could try it yourself, Alan, and maybe see if it is ‘educable’.


    Right at the base of that page we are told:

    “Magisterium AI is in beta and trained on a limited, but growing number of Magisterial documents. Its responses are not always perfect. When in doubt consult a human.”

    But surely, in controversial matters, this cannot be just ANY human?

    If there is to be a respectable ‘Catechism’ that is truly up to date with the latest and best of magisterial teaching, shouldn’t it be educable, like Wikipedia, and not stuck at some date in the past, such as 1994? Maybe Archbishop (soon Cardinal) Fernandez needs to consider this?

    I think I have read of Bishop Leahy speaking of ‘essential’ church teaching, but nowhere is there an official summary of this – the ‘summit’ of the hierarchy of truth. ‘Church teaching’ has now therefore expanded to the same scandalous dimensions as the laws of Leviticus – and it may well be this (among other things) that has paralysed adult faith formation in Ireland. The ‘light yoke’ that Jesus offered has become a pedagogical minefield guarded by authoritarians.

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