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  1. Jim Stack says:

    I hesitate to get involved in these latest discussions about reform of the Catholic Church. Contributors to these discussions tend to have formidable intellects and strongly held opinions, and can be very (and sometimes brutally) articulate. I may be inviting criticism and derision on myself by daring to participate at all. Yet I am fairly confident that I speak for rather a lot of Catholics in what I am about to say here, even if most of them opt to maintain a diplomatic silence on these matters.

    I am going to talk here about apparitions, visions, and mystical experiences of the Church’s canonised saints. The Church did not start with Vatican II, and its teachings and practices have developed over the centuries based on Scripture and Tradition -and spiritual experiences of its holiest of saints.

    I do not pretend to expert knowledge in this area, but what little I do know, about what the Lord Jesus or Our Lady communicated to these visionaries, seems almost totally at odds with modern suggestions from would-be reformers of the Church. Over and over, the messages conveyed to the mystics have to do with prayer, repentance, turning away from sin, turning back to God. Hell is frequently mentioned, as are God’s love and readiness to forgive. If sin is not utterly repugnant to God, then what was the purpose of Our Lord’s Passion?

    We have directly from the Gospels that we are to love God, love our neighbour and not judge. Any harshness in how the Church deals with, say, LGBT people is not in conformity with the Gospel, and this should be acknowledged and repented. But if Jesus Himself, and then the Church’s greatest saints, century after century, all say that what God wants for all of us is that we turn back from sin, it would not constitute reform for the Church to start changing these teachings, it would be betrayal.

    I respectfully suggest, therefore, that the Church should concentrate on its mission to bring the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to the people. Suggestions for change, based on a selective approach to Vatican II proceedings, should be avoided. I do not think the Church needs a synod at this time, I think it just needs to get back to basics.

  2. Paddy Ferry says:

    We are Church will host a Zoom…

    Thank you, Soline for sharing the link to the article which is an excellent piece as you would expect from Gerry.

  3. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #1 “ If sin is not utterly repugnant to God, then what was the purpose of Our Lord’s Passion?”

    Here, Jim, you are asking a question that has never completely ‘settled’ in terms of the answers given by theologians through the centuries.

    For the early church the answer was in terms of liberation from the grip of Satan, i.e. for the Jews of Jesus’s time from the oppression of Roman imperial culture which had in the end found Jesus guilty of a capital crime and been proved wrong by the Resurrection – and from the Jewish Temple religious system also, which had been complicit in that legal process.

    That is what redemption originally meant – not simply the promise of life after physical death – but freedom right then from the fear that the God of Israel was not powerful enough to overthrow the mistaken judicial verdict and condemnation of the world’s greatest political power of that time. For the twelve and for Paul, the Resurrection of Jesus restored their belief that the Father God of Israel was still in charge of history, and all that was wrong in their own time was passing away. In the end the power of Satan, which had misled Rome and those Jewish elites who had rejected the kingdom of God, had been overthrown. For St Augustine of Hippo also – late 300s and early 400s – Satan had fallen into a trap set by the Trinity – to prove he could not win.

    For St Anselm in the 1090s the world he knew was totally different and, in his view, fully approved of by God in its political system. He therefore did not see that world, ruled in Europe by baptised Christian monarchs, as oppressive – even though it surely was for most of those alive at that time. Sin, for him was no longer to be attributed to political ambition and rivalry – the root still of most violence – as much as to the sphere of sexuality. So, for him, Jesus had died to pay back the debt of honour that was owed by us for sin, now predominantly understood as the breaching of the sixth commandment.

    That was why, for example, Henry II of England could get away with arguing that when he invaded Ireland in 1171 he was doing that for pious reasons – the reform of the Irish church and of our Irish morals – even though it is now clear he was driven mainly by what the apostle James calls simply wanting what others want, i.e. the covetousness banned by not one but two of the Ten Commandments. What else underlies all imperialism and selfish ambition?

    It would surely be a mistake to believe that Our Lady’s understanding of sin does not embrace breaches of all of the commandments, not just the sixth – and especially the imperial and covetous ambitions that provoked the Great War of 1914-18 out of which the war of 1939-45 and the Holocaust arose also. What also of the rivalrous ambitions of churchmen and the financial malfeasance in the Vatican that had so much to do with Pope Benedict’s retirement in 2013?

    We have to face the fact that there are far, far more church rules relating to the sixth commandment than to e.g. pride and covetousness, the first two of Pope Gregory’s seven deadly sins, and to ask why that is. The answer surely has to do with the clerical church’s need for the support of those social elites who ruled society under Christendom, the nominally Christian political and social system that developed after 312 and did not visibly collapse until 1914-18.

    By what are we oppressed today if not still by pride (egotism) and covetousness, the root of competing desire for today’s symbols of superiority – as well as by sexual violence. Secularism does not see the first two of these clearly as it should, so that blindness is oppressive too. It is not just the sexual discipline of Jesus and the saints we need to imitate, but their humility and generosity of spirit also.

    For St Thomas Aquinas God hates sin for OUR sake, and that was why Jesus’s sacrifice ‘satisfies’ God – because he set a moral example of simplicity and self-giving that can also set us free. To think of God as making up rules simply to suit himself is a huge mistake – but over-emphasis upon the sixth commandment and comparatively far less emphasis upon pride and covetousness has led to that mistake. These were the sins of the monarchs and elites of Christendom that scandalised the modern world and gave rise to secularism.

    How could Our Lady not approve fully of Vatican II – which calls all to holiness, i.e. to the imitation of her Son? To try to make any distinction between Marian devotionalism and Vatican II is a huge mistake, proven by the respect shown by the Vatican II bishops when they stood in respect for our own Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary.

    That Irish Catholics have never yet been convened for the discussion of Vatican II is the root of our problems, for what else could Our Lady most desire if not the consecration of the world to God the task given to us lay people by Lumen Gentium article 34 (Vatican II)?

    Now, half a century later, we are being called again to that task. To answer we cannot shirk the task of reform – because it is the absence of reformed structures of synodality (togetherness) that is keeping us from responding to the challenge of this time, and of Lumen Gentium. Walking apart since 1965 has given us the very worst internal scandals, and almost completed the victory of secularism, so what could possibly be the argument for going on like that?

  4. Jim Stack says:

    Firstly, I want to thank you for taking the trouble to reply to me at such length. A fascinating reply. However, I think at times you misunderstood what I was saying in my original post, so I will try to clarify.

    I had mentioned LGBT issues by way of example because there have been quite a lot of recent posts on these issues on the ACP website. I take for granted that ACP members will figure prominently in any synod or discussions about synod, and I assumed that the issues they would raise on these occasions are the issues that they raise here on this site. I was trying to make the point that what they are already saying on these issues seems very much at odds with what Jesus said. I never meant to elevate sexual sins as being more important than other sins. Reading the Gospels as a layman,I can find no evidence for that, but neither can I find evidence that Jesus in any way condoned sexual sins. Sin, all sin, makes us slaves – that is the clear message of the Gospels. But it is not always the clear message on the ACP website, and I fear it will not be the clear message when a synod takes place.

    My reference to apparitions and visionaries was intended to remind everyone that the messages associated with these, throughout the centuries, have so often been about turning away from sin. There is a world of difference between saying that God forgives sin, and saying that something is not sinful.

    I would never presume to say what Our Lady thinks of Vatican II! My own opinion of it has changed over the years. I still prefer Mass in the vernacular, but I understand more and more where the TLM adherents stand, having seen reverence for the Eucharist, and understanding of the Mass as Sacrifice, gradually dissipate in so many churches in recent decades. And the constant questioning of Church authority has undermined people’s faith, and they are leaving in droves. The reason I am against holding a synod is because it will just become more of the same, and we will emerge from it, I fear, with an even more watered-down version of the faith of our fathers than we have at present. This revisionism will be called compassion, and inclusivity, and things like that, but what it will amount to, in my view, is a betrayal of Jesus’s teachings.

  5. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #5 “ I was trying to make the point that what they [ACP members] are already saying on these issues seems very much at odds with what Jesus said.”

    Can you be specific here, Jim? I cannot think just now of an instance of this, and am at a loss to identify what exactly you may be referring to. With what teachings of Jesus do you recall a clear contradiction here?

    My own priority for synodal discussion would be the issue of creedal faith continuity, centred on promoting reliance on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in family prayer. Restoration of the faith-forming role of the family in the context of the growing unreliability of our school-centred faith formation system, with parents sidelined, seems to me to be a shared concern of e.g. Cardinal Grech, so I do not see why synodality should not be expected to advance that cause, given that Share the Good News (2011) is perfectly in line with that cause also.

    Quite obviously others here have other priorities, but an early task of the synodal process will be to decide how that problem of differing priorities can be fruitfully tackled – perhaps via parallel discussion fora. The fact that some priorities seem to you to be incompatible with the faith as you understand it should not be a reason for opposing synodality in total. Must we never discuss anything for fear that some discussions will breach what you consider essential?

    If you listen to Brendan Hoban’s talk to ACI you will see that synodality in Killala focused especially on the need to develop Mass liturgies that could interest and involve children and young people. Why should that development be frustrated by fear that other more contentious issues would also be discussed?

  6. Jim Stack says:

    In a job interview decades ago, when I was trying to change my teaching job from second level to third level, I was asked by one of the interviewers to explain why I was leaving secondary teaching. So I told him, talking in particular about how much energy is expended at secondary level just trying to keep discipline. The man who asked me the question then had the gall to remark that I was coming across very negative. All I had done was answer the question he had asked me.

    This memory came back to me, after reading the request on this site for me to give specific examples to back up my earlier post. Please bear the above in mind as I now attempt to answer the questions I was asked. I have been asked to talk about mainly negative things here.

    In Matthew 5 27-30 Jesus speaks quite vehemently about the standard of sexual behaviour required of us. In verses 31-32 He speaks strongly against divorce. In Mark 10 2-12 He also speaks strongly against divorce. In John 8 Jesus’s compassionate treatment of the adulteress ends with the admonition to “sin no more”. It seems clear also e.g. from Romans 1, that the early Church took the teachings on sexual behaviour very seriously.
    On sin in general, Jesus admonished us to enter through the narrow gate, He admonished us to be perfect, He said that not one letter of the Law was to be removed, He said that sin comes from within a person, He spoke of slavery to sin, He warned His listeners three times that they would die in their sins if they did not repent and believe. He spoke openly about the Day of Judgement.

    Those are some of the things I had in mind when I wrote what I did. I am not a Scripture scholar, or a theologian, but do I need to be in order to say, as I did, that these things are difficult to reconcile with the stated position of ACP members? Or to say that the ACP position on these issues has little or no support from visionaries and doctors of the Church through the ages?

    As for stifling discussion, I think we have been experiencing the very opposite in the Church for the last fifty years. Priests have been given unbelievable latitude to question just about everything. More than that, some of them insist on going public in the secular media, sneering at Church members who insist on holding on to the faith of our fathers, and simultaneously ingratiating themselves with those who have left the Church, essentially telling them they were right to go. But that is not what Jesus did. When His listeners found His teachings hard, he let them go their own way, and instead turned around to the disciples and asked “Will you also go?” It is crystal clear from John’s Gospel what Jesus saw as His mission, He came to do the Father’s will, to speak only what the Father told Him to speak, and He was prepared to suffer the consequences. He was single-minded and clear in His teachings. His Church should be the same, emphasising God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, certainly, but also emphasising the need to turn away from sin.

    My fear is that this synod will further demoralise an already-demoralised Faithful, and will do more harm than good. Have the last fifty years of dissension not done enough damage to the Church?

  7. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #7 Sorry, Jim – I am still mystified as you have not specified which ACP position is in contradiction to any specific teaching of Jesus – who also warned against judging others and not seeing the beams in our own eyes. As for his saying that the whole of the law is to be observed he was clearly speaking of the great commandments of love of God and of neighbour and the ten commandments given to Moses that follow from those – not the over 600 minute regulations of the Levitical code which, applied legalistically in his own time, breached those great commandments of love. Time and again Jesus warned against unloving application of the law of God, because love is always the whole of that law.

    As the synodal processes in Limerick and Killala did not have the negative effects you speak of, and did make progress on important issues of the greatest concern – as well as forward mutual understanding among the participants – there is no evidence to support your worst fears.

    You also have avoided my question re the progress made in Killala re children’s liturgies. Why? Worst case scenarios imagined prior to an event don’t impress me when the Holy Spirit can clearly assist any synod rooted in prayer to avoid them, and to help priests and people to work fruitfully together to tackle the most serious crisis of continuity the Irish Catholic church has faced since the mid-seventeenth century.

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    It does in fact take a certain level of theological sophistication to answer Jim Stack (and the CDF and the Catechism) on the issues he raises. (Scriptural hermeneutics, the lessons of natural law and modern insight, the doctrine of freedom of conscience, the primacy of love, are among the matters invoked.) Clergy generally have been inhibited and paralyzed by the massive weight of authorities pitted against them.

    But meanwhile the people of God move on, and follow their godgiven wits, their understanding hearts, and the guidance of the Spirit. In particular the success of gay unions has been a surprise of the Spirit that our society more and more recognizes, as the weight of a centuries long oppression is lifted (an oppression alas continuing unabated in many parts of the world, using clobber texts from Scripture and from sacred texts of Islam).

    A while back it seemed impossible to change the church attitude to the Jews (it took the Holocaust to prompt a rethink). That landscape has changed utterly. So mighty phalanxes of authority are not as imprisoning as is imagined.

  9. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #9 It also took the appalling scandal of the inquisitions to alienate the modern world and change the the church’s mind on how truth conveys itself – only without violence or oppression. (Declaration on Religious Freedom article 1)

    That the loving truth can convey itself now without us even meeting together ‘synodally’ seems to be Jim’s position, despite the widespread indifference of younger generations and the complete lack of evidence for the synodal doom he forecasts. That love – i.e. the experience of mutual respect and care – must always precede the acceptance of the disciplines that perfect love will lead us to is surely the basis of all communion and evangelization, a basis that has been eroding in Ireland since 1968.

    Jesus never made long-distance rules for anyone, promulgated by decree. First came his unconditional love for those he was addressing. The rule-bound promulgators always forget that.

    The ‘capitulate to our rules first’ approach is simply another form of coercion, in breach of that first article of that key Vatican II declaration. What a price has already been paid for that mistake.

  10. Jim Stack says:

    seventeenth century.
    I did not intentionally avoid any of your questions. I did not respond to what you wrote about children’s liturgy and formation of faith in families, for example, because I have no issue with them. If those things were all that would come up at a synod, then I would welcome a synod.

    I do not know if there is a unanimous ACP position on anything, and in fact it has been refreshing to see some contributors here (including you Sean, on various posts) dissent from majority views. But, rightly or wrongly, I suspect that a majority of ACP members support gay marriage, and remarriage after divorce, and some ACP members have also made it clear that they are in favour of legalised abortion.

    That is the root of my difficulty with synods at this time. There will likely be synod streams discussing each of these topics, and many of those participating will be arguing strongly for these precise changes to the Church’s position. And I cannot see this in any other way than the Church being asked to declare that certain acts are not sinful when Jesus Himself said no such thing. That was what I was trying to convey with my Scripture references, and I genuinely thought I was responding to your request for clarification when I wrote as I did.

    Perhaps you are right that I should trust the Holy Spirit to guide any synod proceedings to the right conclusions. But I struggle to understand why some of these things are even on the agenda. It often looks to me that our anti-Catholic media are setting the agenda for the Church on these matters. Demand for these changes is certainly not coming from people like me.

    I think this will likely be my last post on this topic. Thank you Sean for your responses, which were informative and courteous.

  11. Jim Stack says:

    Sean @ 10
    I had not expected a second post from you before I had answered your previous post, and I certainly was surprised and disappointed at the sudden harsher tone of this latest post from you.

    I think we will just have to accept that we are not communicating here in any meaningful way. If anything I posted here caused you distress, then I am truly sorry.

    God bless.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    In this interview between Raymond Arroyo and Chuck Pecknold Pope Francis is portrayed as contesting the ‘settled’ interpretation of Vatican II by John Paul II and Benedict XVI and as motivated by romantic nostalgia for the libertinist 1970s. I feel sad for Catholic University of America, who cast Charles Curran to the wolves, and are now linked with right wing Catholic media.

    Again and again, the thought of gay couples is the issue that sticks in the craw of these folk. Yet Jesus did meet a gay couple on one occasion, a heathen centurion and his pais, and his attitude was very much in the ‘who am I to judge?’ mode.

    In that interview the most Christian statements come from the Pope and Pecknold affects not even to understand what the Pope is talking about.

  13. Joe O'Leary says:

    ‘I certainly was surprised and disappointed at the sudden harsher tone of this latest post from you.’

    Sean has been a model of patience and does not deserve this sort of response.

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    Zoom We Are Church…

    Janet Smith lambastes the pope for saying the vaccine in morally mandatory. But he did not say that. He said getting vaccinated is an act of love.

    Of course she makes no mention of the 700,000 deaths from Covid in the USA, due exactly to the kind of confusion she is sowing.

    Trump’s recent boast that he always did the opposite of what Dr Fauci recommended also glosses over the 700,000 deaths.

  15. Paddy Ferry says:

    Zoom. We Are Church…

    Sean, I want to thank you for your learned contributions to the debate above with Jim and, perhaps, I should thank Jim too for initiating it with his post @1.

    I have long been uneasy with the idea of our being responsible for the sins of our ancient, perhaps mythical, ancestors, Adam and Eve and Jesus having to suffer this awful death to save us from punishment for their and, as Joe expertly explained in the other thread discussing Original Sin, our sins through generational transmission.

    The first confirmation of my own unresearched unease came when I read The great Joseph Fitzmyer SJ “…Paul never said that Christ was sacrificed for our sake. That notion enters the later theological tradition.”

    I have now also read in Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s (a Nenagh man) excellent book “The Last Week” their explanation of what Jesus was opposing and why he had to die. He was opposing the so called “domination system”, the domination of the many by the few which still, I suppose, remains with us. The Jews had suffered this since just after the time of King David, 950 BC, which had been their halcyon days and they longed for a messiah to restore those idyllic times. This was also the main theme of many of the prophets during those years too.

    The latest manifestation of that domination system in Jesus’ time was Roman Imperialism. You confirm that, Sean by referring us to:

    ” … the Jews of Jesus’s time .. the oppression of Roman imperial culture which had in the end found Jesus guilty of a capital crime and been proved wrong by the Resurrection – and from the Jewish Temple religious system also, which had been complicit in that legal process.”

    In the Jewish Temple system were the local collaborators and, hence, Jesus’ disdain for the priests of his day.

    In the “The Last Week” Borg and Crossan describe to us the contrast on Psalm Sunday between the peasant procession with Jesus on a donkey down the Mount of Olives and, on the opposite side of Jerusalem, the imperial procession of Roman cavalry and columns of soldiers led by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

    “The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ death.”

    In your paragraph below, Sean, you fill in for me an important final part of my jig saw puzzle of understanding of this when you write.

    “For St Anselm in the 1090s the world he knew was totally different and, in his view, fully approved of by God in its political system. He therefore did not see that world, ruled in Europe by baptised Christian monarchs, as oppressive – even though it surely was for most of those alive at that time. Sin, for him was no longer to be attributed to political ambition and rivalry – the root still of most violence – as much as to the sphere of sexuality. So, for him, Jesus had died to pay back the debt of honour that was owed by us for sin, now predominantly understood as the breaching of the sixth commandment.”

    I wonder is this what Joseph Fitzmyer referred to as “the later theological tradition”.

    To question the reason why Jesus died is fairly fundamental, I suppose, and I can imagine Jim being upset by this. However, I think we all have a right, in fact a duty, to use our God given intellect or as Joe quite rightly said:

    to “follow their God given wits, their understanding hearts, and the guidance of the Spirit”.


  16. Sean O'Conaill says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    #12 Apologies, Jim, for that ‘harsher tone’. I had become annoyed by the possibility that not only you but many others had settled into outright opposition to the Irish synodality process simply because of one particular issue. The EWTN background to opposition to Pope Francis – the apparent reliance on mere legalism when that very posture is damaging for so many of the young – had taken over in my head.

    From your response at #11 I can see this is not necessarily so for you. Trusting as I do in the near presence of the Holy Spirit to all of us, and in the inevitability of the victory of the cross, I hope that we can all be joyfully surprised by what lies ahead.

    We all need to be praying these times, in the midst of so much suffering. Synodality, rooted in prayer, can communicate that truth to all who turn up, when mere secularism has obviously nothing more to offer.

  17. Jim Stack says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    A very gracious response, and I thank you for it.

    You are of course correct, about trusting in God and about prayer. Please God, when the synod does take place, everyone involved will approach it with a similar attitude.

    God bless.

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    Paddy, I don’t see how Fitzmyer can say that. Paul says, ‘Christ our Pasch is sacrificed.’ An axial text in Romans says, ‘God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.’

    In a text crawling with emotive red herrings I found this concession: ‘The synoptic gospels contain plenty of atonement talk, as do several Pauline letters. In Matthew 20:28 Jesus himself says that he came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” In Romans 8:32 Paul says God “did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us,” and in his first letter to the Corinthians, he states plainly that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3). And many of the New Testament writers also adopted from Isaiah the image of the “suffering servant.”’

    The author quotes Fitzmyer: ‘Even other references in the epistles to atonement through Jesus’ death or blood “should not be understood to give the idea a sacrificial connotation,” says Father Joseph A. Fitzmyer in The Catholic Encyclopedia (HarperSanFrancisco). He notes that mistranslations of Jesus as the “atoning sacrifice” (in 1 John 2:2, for example) should really refer to “expiation for our sins,” which implies reconciliation, not necessarily sacrifice.’ This sounds like a distinction without a difference.

  19. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    Fitzmyer is also quoted in this (which can be read free of charge): The author presumes that the notion of atoning sacrifice belongs to the past and is meaningless to Christians today. But Christians sing hymns about it all the time. ‘Thy life-blood all O Jesus was shed to set us free.’ ‘Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me’ (a hymn I have heard sung in hushed tones in modern, liberal Episcopalian services).

  20. Sean O’Conaill says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    #20 The difficulty with sacrifice disappears as soon as we realise that with Jesus the meaning of sacrifice has itself been transformed – from killing to a refusal to kill.

    Quite obviously, the Mass cannot be a celebration of the killing of Jesus, but of Jesus offering of himself – as an alternative to the expected messianic denouement, the killing of his enemies and his mistaken judges.

    Still today, the cinematic narratives of super-heroism wrestle with the paradox of the hero as both victor in the overthrow of embodied evil and as self-sacrificer, ready to die to save others. If all are to be saved who is it that can be virtuously killed? Unknowingly Hollywood is struggling towards the realisation of the definitive heroism of Jesus.

    The kingdom of God cannot be founded on the killing of anyone other than the one who declared it. That was why Constantine’s offer of the patronage of the imperial state initiated a long hiatus in the coming of the kingdom, which obviously was not Christendom.

    Yesterday, Frances Haugen gave evidence, as a whistleblower, against Facebook et al – as profiteers at the expense of teenagers led towards e.g. suicide through self-starvation. This also is the coming of the kingdom, the simple telling of the truth in hope that truth will prevail. So it will when we can all fully grasp the heroism of the Cross.

    We need to believe in the Resurrection as the Father’s deliverance of ourselves also. It is not wrong to believe that Jesus’s self-sacrifice honours the Father, but it is a huge mistake to think of the Father as self-absorbed – because that is obviously not what Jesus thought. The Father is to be honoured for his equal love of all of us, and his invitation to the imitation of his Son.

  21. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: WE Are Church…

    I note an effort to translate the hilasterion of Romans 3:25 as ‘ceremonial gift’ (Weihegeschenk)’ rather than ‘propitiation’ or ‘expiatory sacrifice’ (see ZNW 2006). But even if that were persuasive it would still leave us with Romans 8:32, ‘who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.’

  22. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    But of course we celebrate Christ’s death not as an act of killing but as nonviolent acceptance of death out of love: greater love than this hath no man, etc. (John 15:13). That ties up with the many acts of self-sacrifice, even unto the shedding of their blood, that are enacted by people out of love for family, country, or a good cause.

    Why is Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ a ghastly travesty of this? Simply because of the apparent loss of perspective, nourished by similar masochistic passion-devotion in some parts of Christian tradition.

    The topic of ‘refusal to kill’ lies at the heart of the sermon of the mount and pervades the passion narratives. But it would be odd to sing hymns saying ‘you refused to kill for me’ instead of ‘because you died for me,’ or ‘your blood was shed to set us free.’ The socially oriented categories that the impact of the Cross can well be framed in (despite the irony of Constantine and his warrior followers throughout the ages embracing the Cross as the sign of conquest) do not exhaust the reception of the Cross in Scripture, in the sacraments, in preaching, and in daily prayer.

    The church has sanitized its language by abolishing the feast of the Precious Blood (amalgamated with Corpus Christi) and by putting on ice the term ‘Holy Sacrifice’ of the Mass. But have we found an equally eloquent language? If we reduced the message only to heroes of conscience, non-violence, the struggle against injustice, and so on, a lot of the most central Pauline and Johannine texts would fall off the radar screen.

    ‘Who is it that can be virtuously killed?’ Well killing is always an evil, and it’s horrific that we are supposed to cheer when terrorists are ‘taken out’ by drones, etc. But killing can be licit in self-defence even against an innocent aggressor, or to protect others, for instance to stop a bomb that will blow up an entire village, even if the bomber is an innocent proxy such as the IRA demonically used. Ontological evil and moral evil do not always coincide. And neither have much to do with notions about who are destined for ‘salvation.’

    Anselm’s thought on the offended honour of God (which I do not know very well) no doubt makes more sense in a medieval perspective; we do not really understand what their notion of honour meant. I do not have the impression that Anselm was particularly obsessed with the ‘sixth commandment’; he’s much cited now as an affectionate gay monk.

  23. Sean O'Conaill says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    #22,23. ‘ Romans 8:32, ‘who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.’

    Gave him up to whom or what? There is a universe of difference between ‘gave him up to appease his own anger’ and ‘gave him up to an unjust lynching process to reveal its injustice and his own greater power over life and death’. The first makes no sense whatever.

    As you must know, Joe, the original understanding of the ‘ransom’ was that it was paid not to God the Father but to the ‘prince of this world’, Satan – to buy us out of slavery to sin. That was what redemption originally meant, an experience of rescue in this life – not merely the ‘meriting’ of a future-life heaven that Anselmian theology has bequeathed to us

    To say we can’t understand the medieval idea of honour today is, frankly, obfuscation. The human desire for positive rather than negative ‘social feedback’ (repute, renown, glory, celebrity) is a constant throughout history, and was always critical for the politically eminent – because they had far further to fall. What else explains David’s murder of Uriah, Henry VIII’s murder of e.g. Anne Boleyn and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the agents of a Saudi prince of whom he was critical just a year or so ago?

    A king’s ‘honour’ was associated with military bravery and victory into the early modern period – the reason the same Henry VIII engaged in jousting and nearly killed himself doing it in Anne’s time.

    Scandalously Anselm argued that God the Father could also justly seek revenge. This was to explain why in his view the Father could not be faulted for being less forgiving than the father of the prodigal son – although it could not be clearer that this parable was Jesus’s theology of the Father.

    For centuries after Anselm Christian ‘gentlemen’ were expected to seek ‘satisfaction’ for impugned ‘honour’ – if necessary by sword or pistol at dawn – so Hollywood hasn’t the slightest difficulty in grasping the medieval idea of honour. We are to get another Ridley Scott movie on the same theme shortly. Do you remember Charlton Heston in El Cid and the trial by combat in that – again to prove innocence and honour by struggle to the death? What of the legendary Arthur/Lancelot rivalry over Guinevere – the notion that Arthur’s honour demanded the banishing of Lancelot? Medieval kingly honour had never anything to do with ‘sucking it up’.

    How could Jesus have died ‘for all’ if he had simply been a would-be liberator of Israel on the model of e.g. a Zealot? To compare Jesus with those who die only for their ‘own country’ was Patrick Pearse’s mistake also. Hence the diabolical proxy bombs you mention – and the Irish tricolour once tied to a bomb to entice a British officer.

    As for ‘Holy Sacrifice’, why are you apparently insisting that ‘sacrifice’ has an historically constant and clear single connotation when there is such an obviously radical difference between non-violent self-sacrifice and the sacrifice of someone else – as in the Abraham and Isaac narrative? If Fitzmyer dismisses the notion of atoning sacrifice isn’t that because he is identifying sacrifice with what the Romans did TO Jesus, and NOT with what Jesus did by way of the non-violent giving of himself? If the Father gave us the Son, wasn’t he also ‘atoning’ i.e. moving towards us, and ‘making sacrifice’ in that sense of giving up something one especially values for the sake of others?

    For a clear explanation of why there is no ‘scandal’ whatever in thinking of the Mass as a Holy Sacrifice see an article by Anthony Lusvardi SJ, summarised and accessible at the link below. Franz Jagerstatter’s submission to the Nazi guillotine in 1943, in preference to killing for Hitler on the Russian front, was also a protest against nationalistic violence, and a holy sacrifice for that reason.

  24. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    I would like to add that anthropological studies like René Girard’s are of great help in demythologizing representations of atoning sacrifice. Jesus is ‘a ransom for many’ not in some magical way but as undoing the violent dynamic of sacrifice prevailing in human history by taking it on himself and opening channels of grace and love that had been blocked. This is his self-emptying, which empties out the structures of power and oppression.

    God ‘sent’ him for this purpose, as a saving sign for the whole world.

  25. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    The ‘wrath of God’ is the phrase used by St Paul to describe the wretched condition of unredeemed humanity. St John uses it also, “the wrath of God rests on him” (Jn 3). The Good News is that Christ frees us from this and reveals a gracious God whose righteousness is expressed as mercy rather than vengefulness. Luther is great on this.

    The whole Bible tells us that God’s anger burns against wicked oppressors. But the current popularity of damning people to hell does not reflect the ultimate character of God ‘whose nature is always to have mercy.’ If the Law condemns, that is God’s alien work (opus alienum), but the Gospel of forgiveness is his proper work (opus proprium).

    Sean, it is not obfuscation to recognize that a single word, such as ‘honour,’ will cover a multitude of varying conceptions across history. The honour of 19th century duellists and the honour of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo come from very different contexts. Michel Foucault invites us to overcome the mystifying power of such synonyms. Serious study of medieval literature might give one a good feeling for the texture of medieval conceptions of honour, an idea that meant a lot to people then. It is not to be conflated with Hollywood representations.

  26. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    I must confess that the idea that Jesus in his original context (in Mark 10:45) and the Suffering Servant that he is quoting (Isaiah 53) are a ransom to Satan is one that never occurred to me. Such an idea sounds more like the lore we find in Origen and other Fathers. Hebrews talks of Christ freeing us from Satan but not as paying a ransom to Satan. Isaiah did not even have the notion of Satan.

    When people talk of making their lives a sacrifice (’till death thine endless mercies seal, and make the sacrifice complete’), of course they mean a sacrifice to (the glory of) God, not to Satan.

    Looking up what the exegetes say, as usual they complicate things:

    And yes, of course, sacrifice is a historically plural concept; here again we must avoid the tyranny of synonyms. The sacrificial language of the New Testament is itself multi-layered, and not reducible to a single model.

  27. Paddy Ferry says:

    Zoom: We are Church.

    Joe and Sean, thank you for continuing this really fascinating conversation.

    Joe @4 you stated “Paddy, I don’t see how Fitzmyer can say that”

    Well, I suppose he can say it because of his great scholarship, years and years of study and research. Someone of that calibre would cover all the angles before finally reaching a position he was completely confident with.

    I should perhaps have shared the whole paragraph. ( P.122 in his book on Romans.)

    “…Paul never said that Christ was sacrificed for our sake. That notion enters a later theological tradition, but it is not one that can be traced directly to Paul… The notion of Christ’s death as a sacrifice is more tributary to Hebrews and to the Deutero-Pauline Ephesians 5.2 than to the uncontested Pauline letters.”

    I think I have mentioned before that the fact that there are such things as contested and uncontested letters of St. Paul was a great revelation for me.

    So, you can understand, Joe the cloud of unknowing or deep fog of ignorance in things theological that I am trying to extricate myself from. However, somewhere in that dark fog there was always a small glimmer of light –my own common sense, I think, — which told me that the idea of the gates of heaven being closed to us all because of the sins of our ancient ancestors: that Jesus had to die this horrible death in order to appease his Father’s rage and to open the gates of heaven again to allow all of us to enter as that ancient sin was generationally transmitted — was simply not credible. Absurd, in fact.

    And, we may dress it up in whatever way we wish but that was the belief for most of the two millennia of our church. Now, we are asked to believe in a God of love — in fact, God is love — but that is a fairly recent innovation.

    (The next question would be what is our understanding of the reality of God –but, for another day, I think)

    I have held each of my three children in my arms minutes after their birth in the labour suite here in the hospital in Edinburgh and nobody will tell me that those beautiful babies have somehow been stained or sullied by some ancient ancestors’ sin –whatever name we may give that sin. It is obviously a completely ridiculous idea.

    Tony Flannery makes an excellent point in his essay ” The Language of Doctrine” when he asks if those humans who lived on the earth thousands of years ago –Sean Fagan mentions 40,000 years ago in “What happened to sin” but there is evidence that Homo Sapiens was around 150,000 years ago –had to remain in some kind of limbo, shut off from any relationship with God and denied access to heaven until Jesus came to save them. I have yet to hear any response to Tony’s question.

    You both refer many times to scripture in the discourse above and I absolutely admire you knowledge. I am always so impressed.

    However, there are a few things that concern me in our trusting of what we read in scripture.

    Now, I am aware of the great Cardinal Franz Konig debunking the whole idea of biblical inerrancy during the 3rd session of Vatican II but that was purely a matter of Mark and Matthew getting their prophets mixed up.

    However, I am now aware that there may be some more serious and disturbing misrepresentations to be found in scripture.

    I attended a lecture a few years ago by Helen Bond, Professor of Christian Origins at New College, here at Edinburgh University on woman’s ministry in the early church. What she said really fascinated me. Women were prominent at the first Easter, she explained, and in the early church when they all thought the end of the world was nigh so they were all in it together.

    However, when that did not happen it all went back to type and women were, once again, expected to know their place.

    She mentioned in particular Paul’s letter 1 to the Corinthians 14.33-35 which was, she said, an example of earlier texts being altered as these verses are almost certainly a latter addition to the letter as it makes no sense for him to allow women to prophesy in Chap. 11 only to ban them from speaking at all in Chat.14. ( I wonder is this a contested or uncontested Pauline letter.)

    Another example I have recently found in Mark’s gospel is where words are actually put into Jesus mouth that he did not say. When Jesus enters the Temple in Holy Week, Mark has him quoting Jeremiah 7:11 ” a den of robbers”. Fair enough. But Mark also has Jesus quoting the words of Isaiah 56:6 “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”.

    Now, Herod had built a great new platform for the temple, a platform which was the length of five football fields and the width of three, we are told And, that included a New Court of the Gentiles separated from that of the Jews.

    So, when Jesus entered the Temple in 30CE he could not have said –definitely did not say –that it was not a place of prayer for all the nations because at that time it was a house of prayer for all the nations. Mark was writing around 70CE when the Zealots had invaded the Temple (66CE) and ejected the Gentiles. So, by then, things had changed dramatically and now it was, indeed, not a place of prayer for all the nations. Misrepresenting what Jesus actually said must surely be a very serious thing.

    Now, I am not well enough read in scripture study to know if there are other examples but I think I would be surprised if there are not.

    I always considered the expression, the Gospel Truth to be the ultimate confirmation of what is true. But now I am not so sure.

    Good night and God bless.

  28. Joe O'Leary says:

    Zoom: We are Church…
    Just now I am looking at Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, in the Sources Chrétiennes edition of 1963, with the thorough 192pp. introduction by René Roques. To do justice to Anselm is no easy matter. HIs God is not vengeful, but concerned with order: the number of fallen angels must be replaced by an equal number of redeemed humans; these must be cleansed of sin, but cannot be so by their own best efforts; so Christ must freely step in to pay the debt incurred by sin, which Anselm sees as a very grave matter not to be solved by a simple blanket absolution; actually a similar argument is already found in Athanasius’s De incarnatione seven centuries earlier. All this concern with order and reasons will try the patience of some modern readers. But Anselm remains quite biblical, in his stress on God’s merciful purpose of restoration and on our need of grace and more concretely of a Saviour. His God is very benevolent.

  29. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Zoom: We are Church…

    #26 “The honour of 19th century duellists and the honour of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo come from very different contexts.”

    If you look it up, Joe, you will find that 19th century duelling lies at the end of more than a millennium of recorded duelling history – with early sources in the 8th century referencing the ‘judicial duel’ – otherwise known as ‘trial by combat’.

    It follows that in Anselm’s time the duel was an established last resort in much of western Europe in the event of a quarrel that was not resolvable by a non-violent legal process – to defend the honour of the parties concerned. The Wikipedia article on ‘Honour’ refers to Anselm’s postulating of a divine concern for divine honour underneath an illustration of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (1804).

    The connection between shame and violence is also very well established. See, for example the prison psychiatrist James Gilligan who insisted that in his own experience ‘all violence is an attempt to replace shame with sell-esteem’. (You will find the precise source of this if you Google it.)

    That e.g. a backhanded blow to the right cheek would have been a sufficient trigger for a struggle-to-the-death, historically, is therefore obvious, as is the origin of Saul’s murderous anger against David in David’s defeat of Goliath and subsequent greater adulation by the women of Israel.

    So the entirety of the human ‘story’ recounted in the Bible, from Cain and Abel onward, is backgrounded by the dimension of honour (perceived worth) and shame (perceived lack of worth) that necessarily began with human self-consciousness (the awareness that one is observable by others and therefore subject to their judgement and possible ‘scorn’).

    If it is true that God the Father is most truly revealed to us by Jesus, as Jesus himself averred, the option is then open for us of believing that the Father is not in fact ‘arousable’ by insult, and that it was Jesus’s awareness of the constant esteem of the Father (for all of us) that allowed him to ‘suffer’ (put up with) the extreme of human rejection (shaming).

    I choose to believe that, and that the Christian challenge is to believe it and suffer with it if necessary, never forgetting that everyone else is equally loved (esteemed) by the Father, at all times.

    Where exactly do you stand? You seem to see every possibility, but to be in and then out again on the question of God’s concern for his own ‘honour’, and his ‘arousability’. Can we ever truly love a God who is as unpredictable as an abusive parent?

    We two obviously won’t get to duelling, but what if I were to make a never-ending meal of your pronouncing on duelling as a merely 19th century phenomenon, without looking it up? We both have the option of provoking one another here, but know that to be truly ‘honourable’ we mustn’t. Why?

  30. Eddie Finnegan says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church..

    A fortnight ago, Jim@1, your very wise words were: “I hesitate to get involved in these latest discussions about reform of the Catholic Church.” Maybe you should have stopped there! Your worries were about ‘formidable intellects’ and opinions somewhat ‘brutally articulated’. No, I don’t think we had the latter in most of the subsequent ‘comments’ but, being rather lacking in the formidable intellect department myself, I cannot see how this incessant duelling (and it is mainly a duo) can prepare the way of the Lord or make the paths straight for walking together in any of the diocesan, national or universal synods of the next five years or so. He who hesitates is not always lost, of course, but that young chap, Bishop Paul Dempsey, may well hesitate to join in if he thinks that most comments here have less link with We Are Church than with that well known Irish duellist, ‘Sin O’Dality.

  31. Joe O'Leary says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    I don’t think Anselm sees God as ‘arousable’ at all, but only as concerned with the right order of creation including the rehabilitation of sinners.

    His effort to deduce every aspect of the incarnation by rational argument has almost seemed questionable to me, but it would take a lot of time to engage critically with that.

    Biblical inerrancy has to be rethought. The periti at the Council knew that but thought that since the theological spadework had not been done it was best to stick with the status quo.

    Result: the hardline views of Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus in 1893 remain enshrined in Dei Verbum and have been given a new lease of life for another 70 years.

    Biblical inerrancy has two evil effects: it turns those who believe in it into fanatics, and it undermines the faith of those who realize there are errors in Scripture.

    Best solution is Karl Barth: the Bible is not the Word of God but it attests the Word of God.

  32. Sean O’Conaill says:

    ZOOM: We Are Church…

    The following dialogue from Cur Deus Homo? will suffice to show that Anselm was a Summit rather than a Liberation theologian.


    “Anselm. But it is not fitting for God to pass over anything in his kingdom without dealing with it.

    Boso. I cannot disagree without the risk of sin.

    Anselm. It is therefore not proper for God to pass over sin unpunished.

    Boso. That follows.

    Anselm. There is also another thing which follows if sin is passed by unpunished, — that with God there will be no difference between the guilty and the not guilty. That would be inappropriate for God.

    Boso. I cannot deny it. But God commands us always to forgive those who sin against us. It seems inconsistent to tell us to do something it’s not proper for him to do himself.

    Anselm. It is not inconsistent for God to forbid us to do what only he should do. To take revenge belongs to none but the Lord of all….”


    So the crucifixion was an honour killing sure enough – by Roman proxy – and perfectly reasonable in the cause of keeping order. Breakfast in the palace cannot do without the tower and the axe.

    So much for Jesus’s insistence that ‘he who sees me sees the father’.

    We need to choose between seeing the crucifixion as the Trinity’s solidarity with the victim and seeing it instead as proof of the Trinity’s need for victims, for divine honour’s sake. Will we ever know where Joe stands?

  33. Paddy Ferry says:

    Zoom: We are Church.

    Joe, I presume that the Anselm whom I have seen referred to as Gregory VII’S forger in chief is a different person from the Canterbury man.

    I first came across Anselm in Hans Kung’s wonderful little masterpiece, Infallible, in which I discovered for the first time the importance of the fraudulent Decretals of Pseudo Isodore. These played a major part in Gregory’s reinvention of the papacy as a monarchial model of power.

    Then in the first half of the next century, the 13th century, Gratian, the founder of canon law, wrote his first law book which laid the foundation for all that would follow in later times, including the 1918 Code of Canon law. In this he quoted 324 passages from popes of the first four centuries of which 313 are definitely forgeries.

    It was finally left to Yves Congar to expose the fraud which must be on a par with the Donation of Constantine. And, of course, Yves did not exactly receive great applause for his excellent work.

    Hans Kung’s point was that without the Pseudo Isodorian Decretals the idea of papal primacy would have been a non-starter and so we would never have heard of papal infallibility.

    PS I am now thinking that perhaps I read the description of Anselm as Gregory’s forger-in-chief in Garry Will’s Papal Sin.

  34. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Zoom: We Are Church…

    I’ve always suspected that Francis keeps a close, critical, even cynical eye on some of our ‘discussions’ on this forum:

    ‘Identifying the second risk (to the Synod) as intellectualism, Francis said the Synod “could turn into a kind of study group, offering learned but abstract approaches to the problems of the Church and the evils in our world. The usual people saying the usual things, without great depth of spiritual insight, and ending up along familiar and unfruitful ideological and partisan divides, far removed from the reality of the holy People of God and the concrete life of communities around the world.”‘

    Francis’s pre-synod reflection, 9 October 2021. Yes, he does quote Yves Congar, but not a word about Anselm or even Kung.

  35. Joe O'Leary says:

    Zoom: We Are Church…

    ‘Anselm.. There is no inconsistency in God’s commanding us not to take upon ourselves what belongs to Him alone. For to execute vengeance belongs to none but Him who is Lord of all; for when the powers of the world rightly accomplish this end, God himself does it who appointed them for the purpose.’

    While it is true that in using biblical language (‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord’) Anselm does not directly anticipate ideas of punishment as rehabilitation, this does not exclude that in the final analysis he sees God as punishing only in order to rehabilitate.

    ‘Boso. Since God is so free as to be subject to no law, and to the judgment of no one, and is so merciful as that nothing more merciful can be conceived; and nothing is right or fit save as he wills; it seems a strange thing for us to say that be is wholly unwilling or unable to put away an injury done to himself, when we are wont to apply to him for indulgence with regard to those offences which we commit against others.

    ‘Anselm.. What you say of God’s liberty and choice and compassion is true; but we ought so to interpret these things as that they may not seem to interfere with His dignity. For there is no liberty except as regards what is best or fitting; nor should that be called mercy which does anything improper for the Divine character. Moreover, when it is said that what God wishes is just, and that what He does not wish is unjust, we must not understand that if God wished anything improper it would be just, simply because he wished it.’

    If God said to Hitler ‘all will be forgiven, no questions asked,’ we would naturally say that this makes God an anarchist, indifferent to justice. Anselm’s question is why the Son of God became incarnate and died and his answer is that this was necessary for our salvation. Then he must answer the old objection, ‘couldn’t an all-merciful God have done that by simple fiat?’The answer he gives is that it is more fitting and proper and respectful of all the values in play that the Son of God take on himself all the punishment due to sin. The language of ‘due’ and ‘debt’ is no doubt a bit offputting: ‘If it be not fitting for God to do anything unjustly, or out of course, it does not belong to his liberty or compassion or will to let the sinner go unpunished who makes no return to God of what the sinner has defrauded him.’ But note that this is actually a cooler version of the language of Scripture itself. ‘The wages of sin are death’ etc. The Bible does not used the calm language of paying off a debt, but the stronger language of sacrifice: ‘But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’ (1 John 2.1-2)

    Re Ps.-Isidore, discredited long before Congar, if St Anselm of Lucca helped Gregory VII use his false decretals, that was a different Anselm:

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