Vincent of Lerins and Organic Development

Perhaps it is time to move back to theology as a less provocative approach to this blog, since someone rightly observed that I have no real parish life (I live in France and proselytism to continuing Anglicanism is rather dimly viewed here, as we are not a cult). I can see how a discussion of men’s hairstyles can get up the noses of certain conservative Americans living in the southern States!

We continuing Anglicans have different approaches to things in order to distinguish ourselves from post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism. Our ecclesiology resembles Old Catholicism to an extent and we tend to consider ourselves as western Orthodox (ie: adhering to conciliar ecclesiology but worshipping like Roman Catholics before Vatican II). It is difficult to be coherent.

Coherence is the problem of many of us. Newman’s theory of development was never a perfect analogy, and the distinction between genuine organic developments and perversions – whether by way of heresy or “accretion” – is hard to make to any degree of scientific rigour.

We have the famous  “canon” of Vincent of Lerins (d. 450): We hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. The problem is that if everything is rigorously subjected to that test, very little would remain. We would have to find out whether something has been held by the RC Church and the Patriarchate of Moscow, but also whether it is held by the East Syrians, the Copts and the Syro Malabar Church. Such a criterion is difficult to reconcile with honest historical study. Embarrassing sore thumbs tend to get chopped off to keep the ever-narrowing orthodoxy more or less credible!

Protestant doctrines are variously perceived as innovations and restorations of the standards of the early Church. Which is it? Vincent’s canon is often bandied about by RC convert apologists, and they create more problems than they solve. Newman was confronted by the historical fact that Catholics were believing things that were not explicitly found in the Bible or the Fathers of the Church. On one hand, there is the liturgical life of the Church and the role of the Sacraments and iconography.  On the other hand there was the famous “development” of Papal infallibility that he had to justify in order to become a Roman Catholic with some intellectual integrity.

We seek stability, but we also seek coherence and a certain amount of freedom. Go too far along the development line, and just anything can be justified. Therefore, we get the qualifying adjective organic. There has to be growth, using the analogy of biology. An acorn becomes an oak tree, not a London bus.

The interesting thing about Vincent’s canon is that it is appealed to by some of the Protestants themselves. They justified their Reformation by the notion of cutting back developments and accretions to restore that pure and pristine faith and religious practice of the early Church. The canon is made to justify two radically opposing systems of theology and belief. “Good” developments are condemned because there are “bad” developments. The biggest problem with this approach is having a perfect level of historical scholarship. The elephant in the room is the fact that the early Church was a mess, a horribly divided mess.

There has to be some limiting mechanism for development, from whence the notion of organic development and identity of type. Newman’s criteria are very carefully thought out and quite convincing. He puts them in a nutshell before explaing them and expanding his reasoning:

Taking this analogy as a guide, I venture to set down seven Notes of varying cogency, independence and applicability, to discriminate healthy developments of an idea from its state of corruption and decay, as follows:—There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last. On these tests I shall now enlarge, nearly in the order in which I have enumerated them.

Since reading this book, I have found such notions a lot more credible than the notion that they had Sacred Heart devotions and the Tridentine liturgy in the second century, or that a Calvinist service really restored what they did in the early days. Newman’s theory really was the only one possible, other than debunking Christianity totally. The problem is using this theory for defending ideologies that cannot reasonably be defended – like Ultramontanism.

Newman was strongly opposed by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike, so we see the same appeal to the Vincentian canon and opposite conclusions. Newman’s theory is as imperfect as the Vincentian canon when it comes to continuing the reasoning to its logical conclusion. The more I read and think, the more I realise that much of “classical” Christian teaching reposes on a very weak intellectual structure. Both Newman and Vincent of Lerins are used to justify just about anything, including “pop” liturgies and women priests.

A considerable amount of time has been expended in the twentieth century to understand an essentially “immobile” tradition and the more dynamic notion encouraged by modern Roman Catholic theologians. The notion of development had been carried much further than what Newman intended. It, combined with  philosophical trends like historicism and immanentism, was the subject of the Modernist controversy under the pontificate of Pius X (1903-1914), condemned in the encyclical Pascendi. In varying degrees, men like Alfred Loisy sought to wrest the notion of tradition away from the restraining influence of the Vincentian canon to justify an evolving notion of the Church.

We will live with these contradictions for many generations to come, as the credibility of Christianity unravels in the eyes of our contemporaries. I have for a long time felt that Christianity cannot be justified and defended by apologetics, or by conservative ideologies, but by a profound vision of contemplative life.

There are no prizes for guessing who said:

The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendour of holiness and art . . . than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Vincent of Lerins and Organic Development

  1. Father Martin says:

    Father Anthony,
    You have made numerous remarks lately concerning Americans, generally they are of a derogatory nature and disparage those of us who consider ourselves conservatives. I am very proud to be a conservative American. I am a member of the National Rifle Association, I carry a concealed handgun (which has saved my life on two separate occasions) and I belong to the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Although I do not belong to the Tea Party, I do support their goals. Previously I have not remarked on these comments but this time you have gone too far, you have now insulted conservative Americans living in the South. My ancestors came here to the South settling in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia from the British Isles and German in the 17th and 18th centuries. My ancestors fought your ancestors to rid ourselves of British tyranny and an insane king. My ancestors also fought the United States when we attempted to free ourselves from the yoke of the Abolitionist Government of Abe Lincoln. My grand uncle was gassed in the trenches of World War I. My father and uncles along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans fought for the sake of freedom in general and your precious England in particular. Had the United Sates not entered the war you might be speaking German today. I need not remind you that the pro-cathedral for the ACC is in the Southern United States, to be more specific it is in Athens, Georgia. I have lived my entire life in the Old Confederacy and would not trade it for all of tired Old Europe. If you wish to avoid acrimony on this blog I would suggest see cease making these derogatory comments about people you do not know or understand.

    • I wasn’t talking about you, but a particular individual who remains un-named. I do, however, find that many of your countrymen forget that there is a world outside the USA. I am well aware that my Archbishop is in Georgia, but my correspondence received from him and his writings show no signs of triumphalism. I have been to Tennessee, and have found some very good folk.

      I have done some target shooting with a Lee Enfield .303 in my time, but we are unarmed in Europe. The police of my native country are also unarmed except for special assignments. There is a certain conservatism that tends towards some of the ideologies we got rid of in the 20th century over here (yes, the US sent their men over to liberate France and other countries, and that isn’t forgotten). If I am sometimes derogatory, it is that I take exception of being preached at, moralised, by those who have no idea or care about what things are like in our part of the world.

      Perhaps as many English people look at this blog as Americans. I have always spoken respectfully of the USA and its far superior notion of religious freedom than in revolutionary France and elsewhere.

      If some of the things I read are true, democracy and freedom are all too fragile, and shadows loom that cause a feeling of foreboding to any of us whose parents were children during the war and whose grandparents fought in it. Until we have some reassurance that things will not go for the worst, I suggest you spare me the gung-ho and your wagging finger.

      Tired old Europe is still Europe.

      • Dale says:

        “[B]ut we are unarmed in Europe”; Switzerland, most likely also considered part of Europe, is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world.

      • Of course, Swiss men are in the army and they keep their arms and ammunition at home. They are ready at a moment’s notice. Their ammunition is sealed in a hermetic tin, and the weapon may be used only under orders from the army.

    • Stephen K says:

      Father Martin, you are clearly such a proud Confederate that I’m afraid I couldn’t help wondering whether you also still support slavery or whether you accept the legitimacy of all modern democratically-elected US Federal governments! I myself prefer beer to tea.

      • Dale says:

        Confusing the Confederacy with the single issue of slavery is part of the anti-Southern propaganda machine that has been in operation in the United States since the end of the War Between the States; lest you forget, many, many Northern states also had slavery, and slavery continued in several border states that did not become part of the Confederacy even after the War.

      • I don’t think any of us can wag fingers. We British treated the Indians pretty badly until they got independence for the better or the worse. We were bad in the Boer War too, and it wasn’t Hitler who invented the concentration camp! Governments of all countries have committed evil deeds, and all sin calls for retribution from God.

        I won’t go into the intricacies of the American Civil War, for fear of starting a second one!

      • Stephen K says:

        No confusion at all, Dale. Don’t assume too much. Father Martin himself referred to the Abolitionism of Abraham Lincoln. Propaganda notwithstanding, or because of it, if someone today identifies as a Confederate, it potentially signifies certain things. And you will, of course, note, with a more careful reading, that both this question and the question of the Union, were both questions that occurred to ME.

      • Father Martin says:

        Stephen K,
        You are correct, I am a proud Confederate as are many of the Continuing Anglicans in the Southern States. Slavery is a dead issue due to the advances of industry, etc.. Brazil practiced slavery until 1888, it would have died a natural death had not the abolitionists intervened. I accept the Federal Government in its constitutional form and nothing more. I also firmly believe in a state’s right to secede. My loyalty is firstly to my state, secondly to my region (the South), and thirdly to the US (and only if the US doesn’t usurp the rights of my state). I expect the US government’s henchmen are monitoring this as I type,the NSA is listening.

      • I admire patriotism, and also a man’s ability to be critical of institutional evil in his country. I am made to think about the end of The Mission. Rodrigo takes up arms to fight the Portuguese slave traders. Gabriel takes the Blessed Sacrament and faces the enemy with prayer and self offering. They both get killed. I wonder who died a better death…

      • Father Martin says:

        Stephen K,
        To only confuse the situation further I’ll add a few more comments. During the 2012 presidential campaign I supported Herman Cain, unfortunately the liberals had him in their sights from the beginning. I’m hoping to see Colonel Alan West enter the 2016 campaign, if he does I’ll support him. Both men are black and Christian. I vote for a man based on the “content of his heart not the color of his skin”. By the way, we have black members in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It’s not a racial issue, despite what our enemies say.

    • William Tighe says:

      “My ancestors fought your ancestors to rid ourselves of British tyranny and an insane king.”

      Am amazingly silly and ignorant statement. George III was no “tyrant;” he was merely carrying out his obligations as a “parliamentary monarch,” who owed his Crown not to “the Grace of God,” but to the “grace” of the Revolution Settlement of 1688-89, one aspect of which was the assertion of the supremacy of Parliament over all English (“British” after 1707) dominions and colonies whatsoever – an assertion which was accepted, tacitly at least, by all those dominions at the time (cf. the Post Office Act of 1710 which enacted direct internal taxes in the colonies to establish and maintain a postal system), even though American revolutionists “reinvented history” in the 1760s to deny parliamentary supremacy. As to his alleged “insanity,” if this is a reference to his bouts of Porphyria, the first one occurred in 1788, some years after the conclusion of the American Revolution.

      What the American Revolution was, in a wider sense, was the Americans adopting and adapting the “revolution principles” of 1689 and turning them against the Hanoverian regime that owed its very existence to those principles, so that in a sense the American Revolution may be justified on the “principle,” however dubious historically and legally, that “one good turn deserves another.” Those of Jacobite sympathies may take some satisfaction in such a denouement.

      • Stephen K says:

        Indeed! And the book “Culloden” by John Prebble made a powerful childhood impression, though I recently discovered some informative criticism of his historical work at

      • William Tighe says:

        Stephen K, I’ve read the review and while it makes a number of good points, it is astonishing to read an article from 2001 that flings around hoary sub-Marxist or vulgar Marxist terms with such reckless abandon – e.g., the repeated use of the term “feudal” to characterize the Hanoverian regime.

      • William Tighe says:

        I wrote before realizing that the article appears on website of the Socialist “Fourth International.” They are certainly keeping the flag of “Marxist orthodoxy” flying!

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes, William, I did not myself expect to find the review on that site! But I am intrigued, and I am prompted to re-read the work, and also, if I can locate it, Prebble’s “Highland Clearances”. As a younger person I read quite a few historical works on Scotland but tended to accept what I read uncritically, and now I think I would bring to my maturer reading an awareness of other layers and nuances.

      • Father Martin says:

        Mr. Tighe,
        You stated you find my comment “Am amazingly silly and ignorant statement” (sic), I most add that on many occasions I have found your responses to Dale exceedingly pompous and arrogant. When one is so full of one’s self there is very little room for anything else.

      • I think we’re being way too sensitive about things and taking things personally. This is a blog, and we just discuss things like gentlemen. I’ve been working all day doing two urgent translation jobs. I would have loved to get out on my bicycle, since the conditions aren’t yet right for sailing! Sometimes, a breath of fresh air does an amazing amount of good!

        Be good!

      • Dale says:

        Dr Tighe, although some of what you have written about the historical reality is correct, the Americans were actually in rebellion against Parliament and not the King, but because people supposedly fighting against an elected assembly for the right to an elected assembly made very little psychological sense it was Thomas Paine who understood that the British in North America needed a figure-head that could be portrayed as a tyrant and hence, in the popular imagination, the King the reason for the rebellion. One may notice that in the Declaration of Independence Parliament, the real culprit, is not mentioned, only the King. This is still, in the United States, the accepted “truth” about the need for the Revolution, to throw out a tyrant, and you should be aware of this reality.

        To insinuate that Fr Martin’s statement was “amazingly silly and ignorant” was uncalled for and rude. Personally, although I do not expect it, I think that you owe him an apology.

      • Patricius says:

        A late and benign contribution to this debate but George III remains among my favourite British monarchs. He was very well liked and respected by the majority of his subjects.

  2. Father Martin says:

    I suggest the “conservatism that tends towards some of the ideologies we got rid of in the 20th century over here” will resurface in England and Europe as a reaction to the invasion of Islam, not to mention the Roma in England. European culture and its American progeny is superior to any in the world, sub-Saharan Africa is a prime example of a culture without the salubrious benefits of European civilization. The US is plagued by certain groups (their man is in the White House, unfortunately) who feel entitled to everything, free housing, free clothing, free food, free education (though very few of them take advantage of it) and free money, yet they give nothing in return. Unless they are stopped they will be the downfall of western civilization and culture. If it boils down to me or them, I assure you I will survive.

    • Multiculturalism is a difficult thing. It has a good side as well as a sinister side. It has happened here in Europe as a direct reaction against Nazism and the decline of the British and French empires. We sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. The spectre of an Islamised Europe is something very frightening, and it is sucking the welfare state dry. The welfare state will be sucked dry, and that may well be the best way.

      We will be observing the French municipal elections this spring, and the present Socialist regime is at an all-time low. There is a distinct possibility of a swing to the extreme-right (Le Pen’s National Front in France and UKIP in England). We are all fed up with corrupt politics, and we get it election after election.

      Indeed the US is facing a worse debt crisis than in October 2013, and the signs are there of great dangers. I take no pleasure in seeing the USA “go European”.

      I don’t think any of us will be able to do anything about it. The whole system might crash or be held together artificially for another few years. I dread China most of all. We live in fear, but we are in reality facing our own finiteness and mortality. Many people are “preppers” and it is a temptation to think we will survive when millions of others will die.

      We are called to pray, wait and have hope in something higher. Anything else is an illusion.

    • Jim of Olym says:

      Back when I was a young man we had practically free education in California. I had to pay for my housing and food, but tuition at state colleges and universities was with the reach of all who qualified. Now it’s not free for anyone anyhow.anywhere. Have things deteriorated? I think so. I’ll leave the rest out so Fr. Anthony doesn’t get mad at me again. But my ancestors came over just after the Mayflower. And I qualify as a Son of the Revolution.

      • Jim of Olym says:

        You have scolded me a few times, but I have accepted it humbly.

        What I had been tempted to say was in reference to Fr. Martin spending his entire life within the ‘old Confederacy’. I wanted to suggest that he should ‘get out more’….. Well, now I’ve said it.

      • Indeed, travel broadens the mind – not just going for a visit but living in places. I have only been outside Europe to go to the USA (3 times in the South), but I have many cultural influences from the Latin and Germanic countries. That can only be a good thing. Englishmen used to go to places like Ceylon and India. My brother has been as far as Nepal and he came back with the most amazing stories.

        After all that, one really appreciates home and the “old” country. I love going back to the Lake District and everything I saw and knew as a lad, but to see things differently.

      • ed pacht says:

        As a dyed in the wool Yankee, Mayflower heritage and all that, I was raised in a particular milieu to have particular interpretations of history and of the ways things should be. In my 72 years I’ve learned one important thing — that all these opinions and all these interpretations of history have to be challenged constantly. Humanity is finite, fallen, and flawed and can be expected to miss truth in sometimes crucial ways. All the classic BCPs contain a confession that says it directly and strongly: …and there is no health in us. I find that I need to remember that every time I set out to make strong statements.

        To accept uncritically the views of ones nation or ones region or ones family can be a serious mistake — unless one has thoroughly examined ones own opinions for flaws, listening well to those of other backgrounds and other opinions.

      • and there is no health in us.

        This is something that always struck me as we began Evensong when I was an adolescent, before we would sing the response to O Lord, open thou our lips.

        No health? Messages are often conveyed by exaggeration. I prefer to take the attitude of the humanists and believe that we are essentially good, though with a tendency to evil that can only be checked through God’s grace and constant conversion.

        We need to be able to have the kind of Christianity that doesn’t depend on political coercion or peer pressure to exist – but which comes from the desire of each one of us for union with God and the Sabbath of the soul.

      • ed pacht says:

        ” essentially good, though with a tendency to evil that can only be checked through God’s grace and constant conversion.”

        Right on, but ay, there’s the rub. Of course we are essentially good. We were, according to Scripture, made in the image of God — but there is that in us which sullies the good and misdirects it, unless, by the grace of God we realize the negative tendencies we have and accept His redirection. It is when I am sure that I am absolutely right that I drift most dangerously into error, the good in me hijacked and misdirected. It’s only in constant conversion, what some have called a life of repentance (metanoia, change of mind) that true health comes to be in us.

  3. Stephen K says:

    I believe that readers should be able to readily see that the subject of this post – the difficulty of identifying authentic Catholic belief or of defending any particular answer – is a very important one.

    To my mind, Father Chadwick has rightly highlighted the elusiveness of truth or creedal integrity. Attempts by apologists everywhere to proclaim or argue the rightness of their belief always seem to me to result in slicing religious truth and community like a salami, i.e. in ever-decreasing quantities. The situation as I see it is that if Vincent of Lerins’ dictum is correct, we are indeed hard put to ever locate THE pure “catholic” faith – all we have are the competing claims of the Romans, Orthodox etc. If Newman is correct, then we are hard out to ever agree on what is a true continuum of belief and what is a mutation. Even if it is thought that both Vincent and Newman are correct, then both problems remain.

    That is why I think that ultimately the notion of heresy is a purely selectively juridical one, not a spiritual one, and why I think that though religious organisation will, for interests of coherence and cogency of action, inevitably insist on a conformity of vocabulary and practice, religious faith itself is and must remain essentially idiosyncratic. We may find ourselves, perhaps, at different stages of our lives in a certain degree of conformity with others, but it is often skin-deep and much of our religious adherence is the result of cultural and nurturing accident. So much for our oft-vaunted confidence we have “THE” truth!

    I think this question lies at the heart of the clash between the motley assortment of traditionalists and that of modernists. It will probably never be resolved, by either persuasion or coercion. We humans will attach ourselves to what we think is the last word in authoritative religious truth, or to the freedom of unmoored possibility, for as long as either suits us or provides comfort, intellectual or otherwise. Nevertheless, it may be salutary to consider that, to some degree, we are all practising or potential syncretists.

    But what say my brothers and sisters?

    • Francis says:

      The elusiveness of truth…I think truth is elusive if we try to maintain to our nets – our intellectual frameworks, systems, etc, or worse, equate it with our nets.

      Yet, our faith, being an incarnational one, believes in the union of the human and divine natures in Christ, through whose grace, our nature is helped, propped, our reason ennobled in its quest for truth. We should certainly not confuse the means with the end, but we should recognised the means that have been sanctified.

      Obedience to Christ, and to the authority of the Church are important. A positive theology that would be autonomous, that would evade the loving authority of Christ and his Church, can only be an atheology.

      Ecclesial life, personal ascetic struggle and intellectual contemplation should ideally be one – conditions for hesychia truly, a stillness and serenity in the face of the Truth, a humility in its reception which passes understanding.

      Revelation, after all, is revelation of Truth, not of untruth. Truth eludes those who seek their own little truths, but always seduces those who seek her in her nakedness and are prepared to embrace her. All which requires courage, humility, sacrifice.

  4. ed pacht says:

    Thanks, Stephen, for pulling us back on track. Fr. Chadwick has raised an interesting and important question that simply does not need to be sidetracked. One place where I see a real problem is in the insistence by both ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’ that doctrine be comprehensible, completely self-consistent, and without contradictions. Frankly, I am suspicious of any doctrinal system to which such labels can be applied. A god that fits into what I can think is not really God at all, and certainly not worthy of real worship. If I do not find my logic challenged and my credulity strained, I am convinced that I’ve missed something, probably the most important something of all — and I run from anything that seems clear enough for me to comprehend. We believe in a God who is both one and three, in a Savior who is fully God and fully man, in a God who knows and predestines what has not yet come to be and yet values the free will of humankind and holds us responsible for our choices. We believe that we are saved by grace through faith without the works of the law and yet declare that faith without works is dead.

    I think the principal mark of heresy is that it attempts to resolve apparent contradictions by eliminating one or the other of the apparently contradictory thoughts, by emphasizing one truth at the expense of another truth. What we are called upon to do, what the careful phrasing of the Nicene Creed and of the Chalcedonian settlement attempt to do, is to affirm, strongly and distinctly, that both are true – and that neither is true without the other. Tradition, taken as a whole, is not so much the establishing of specific dogmas as the demonstration that, over time, Christian history does indeed present all these things in balance.

    • Stephen K says:

      Yes, ed, I think you articulated this beautifully. I find myself able to embrace what you have said. I really think this is the key to things. I don’t want to spoil what you have said by saying more here.

  5. Stephen K says:

    I’d like to pick up, if I may, on Father’s final thought that Christianity could only be justified or defended by a profound vision of contemplative life, in case others have thoughts about this, because I think this is also significant. I came across a commentator (elsewhere) who lamented that Thomas Merton had degenerated into Eastern mysticism after “being so Catholic”. I thought about this attitude and in attempting to think out what I thought about it, I came across what I thought was a partial answer to it.

    In his introduction to “The Way of Chuang Tzu” (1965), a collection of readings from the Chinese philosopher, Merton writes: “…I have been a Christian monk for nearly twenty-five years, and inevitably one comes in time to see life from a viewpoint that has been common to all solitaries and recluses in all ages and in all cultures…….I believe that Christian monasticism has obvious characteristics of its own. Nevertheless, there is a monastic outlook which is common to all who have elected to question the value of a life submitted entirely to arbitrary secular presuppositions, dictated by social convention and dedicated to the pursuit of temporal satisfactions….” A little further on, he writes: “If St Augustine could read Plotinus, if St Thomas could read Aristotle and Averroes (both of them certainly a long way further from Christianity than Chuang Tzu ever was) and if Teilhard de Chardin could make copious use of Marx and Engels in his synthesis, I think I may be pardoned for consorting with a Chinese recluse who shares the climate and peace of my own kind of solitude and who is my own kind of person.” Finally, after briefly comparing Chuang’s Taoist writings with Ecclesiastes, and the Gospels, he concludes, in speaking of the way of renunciation, that “Chuang Tzu would have agreed with St John of the Cross, that you enter upon this kind of way when you leave all ways and, in some sense, get lost.”

    This paradox, of finding the way by losing all “ways”, is at the heart of Taoism and, as Merton alludes to frequently, also at the heart of the Gospel. We can objectify anything, and idolise anything, even religion and the Church and our understanding or practice of virtue, if we become “attached” in the wrong way. I think a reading of Thomas Merton’s other books, e.g. “The Sign of Jonas”, and others, is also helpful in understanding why and how a Christian monk – “so Catholic” as the commentator put it – goes beyond the ordinary religious cultural boundaries to deepen his own faith understanding where, perhaps, just as there is no longer man or woman, Greek or Jew, slave or free man, there is no Catholic or non-Catholic, but the universal contemplative seeker of love.

    Merton gave a talk in 1968 on Eberhard Arnold’s (the founder of the Bruderhof) “Why we live in Community” where, distinguishing between institutional and “real” communities, he cautions: “People get into fights by preferring things to people…..” Later he writes, after approving Eberhard’s insistence that communities were based on love: “No one of us knows precisely what God wants. What we have to do is believe in the power of his love.”

    The commentator was, of course, correctly alluding to what in Merton’s monastic life might have been typical or characteristic of “Catholic” religious life, but implicit in her comment was the idea that somehow a spiritual journey is flawed or spoiled if it transcends or goes outside the usual cultural boundaries. I think this is an unfortunate implication, and no more correct than to suggest that a spiritual journey passed entirely within the confines of one’s native piety – aka one’s Irish great-grandmother – is somehow deficient in the eyes of God.

    I think we do indeed have to ever look to being more profound, to strip away the layers that with our attachment to certainty become barriers to perception and love.

    Just a few further thoughts.

  6. Neil Hailstone says:

    It seems to me that traditional Old Catholicism has much in common with some Continuing Anglican Churches but by no means all. In fact as I understand the situation, from a recent conversation with an Old Catholic Bishop and older conversations with Continuing Anglican clergy there is already some de facto inter communion out on the ground.

    As a regular reader of Sarum Use since it came into being I do not think that any suggestion of anti American bias from Fr Anthony can stand up to objective scrutiny.

    Being active as a Christian Democrat in UK and European issues I see references to Old Europe as being no longer commensurate with the current situation.

    There is a vibrant movement these days to reform the EU. This involves parties from across the democratic political spectrum. I won’t expand on that because this is not a political blog.

    Although sadly prevented by prescribed medication for the time being, I am a wine man myself with – Dare I say it? -a preference for French and Italian.

    • Dale says:

      Hello Neil, you stated, and I agree with you: ” I do not think that any suggestion of anti American bias from Fr Anthony can stand up to objective scrutiny.” But there have been a few, and very few, instances where Fr Anthony has inferred that both Evangelical fanaticism as well as Byzantine Convert syndrome are limited to the American experience; in my own case, the worst Evangelical Protestants I have ever met, with a very nasty temperament to match, were from Northern Ireland, and the worst and I mean the worst, the most nasty, the most “we and we alone are the True Church” Byzantine Converts I have ever met were at the ROCOR Cathedral in London. Now having said that, when I did point this out to Fr Chadwick, he immediately admitted that this was the case and that the disease of convertitis or Evangelical fanaticism is not geographically isolated to the North American experience. In defense of Fr Martin, I think that we need to see that he is using a type of, very Southern one might add, hyperbole which borders very much upon the British use of often caustic humor; one should mention that many Americans are sometimes offended by this humor by the way…perhaps too far over certain heads to really be understood?

      By the way, on the other issues that you mention, I too believe that the only viable Anglo-Catholic direction nowadays is indeed a traditional Old Catholic one.

      • I’ll just chip in. I am not anti-American, but I think that religious people in America would do well to get a dose of European-style secularism. From my limited information, it seems to be happening. Faith needs to be challenged for it to emerge purified and more personal.

        I have been to the USA four times, of which three were in the South. My social interaction was fairly limited. I came across people with arsenals in their houses so that they could “get the Feds” if their homestead was challenged by some unconstitutional political situation in the future. I saw no Klu Klux Klan folk, nor did I see black people getting beaten up, but I didn’t see everything that perhaps happens to this day. Here in Europe, when you get tyranny, you go under or you get out. Our countries are much smaller. At the same time, we should live from day to day – carpe diem.

        Catholic and Evengelical fundamentalism is that much more pronounced in America than in Europe. What our authorities call “sects” and “cults” are allowed by virtue of the right to religious freedom, but they are not encouraged. If you want to be Christian in France, you are Roman Catholic or Reformed. We “ethnics” can do what we want and still be “respectable”. Run-of-the-mill Europeans are “cultural” Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans or Reformed – with little interest in much other than the appearances. To be devout is one thing. To be fanatical is another thing, like a senator somewhere in the US who advocated executing troublesome children! Some things upset those of us who are far away from that mentality.

        Of course we get the far-right folk here in France who are traditionalist Catholics. In England, the militant liberals and the new atheists. In Italy and Spain, it’s the busloads of pilgrims who just seem to make a lot of noise. I have heard some of Ian Paisley’s sermons, and they are quite shocking. It isn’t an “American disease”, but there are more Americans than anyone else. We get people who blow up abortion clinics and cinemas here in Europe!

        I am the way I am, basically a Yorkshireman born on t’other side o’ t’country, at the gateway of the Lake District. We tend to be caustic and ironic, and my own humour is tempered by having lived in London and three European countries – France, Italy and Switzerland. When I feel that someone is waggling a knife blade under my skin or whatever other analogy you choose, I tend to react. We northern English of the Province of York are raw and ready, but we are down to earth and we say what we think. I have had problems with some Americans who don’t have our absolute loyalty and frankness – and our grittiness.

        So I’ll just clear the air, but none of us has the right to judge the world by our own standards. We Brits once had an Empire, and now it’s reduced to a few bits of rock in the world’s oceans. I took deep exception to being told to do real parish life, whilst I live in a part of the world where there is no “market” for it. Perhaps I should live where there are ACC parishes and people and material resources. I don’t have the money or desire to emigrate, and the US is by all accounts facing a very bleak future in terms of peace, democracy and freedom. I am not against anyone, but I take exception to being moralised and judged by a very particular set of standards. I have my pet peeves as we all do.

        I wish God’s blessing to my American readers. I wish them a happy Thanksgiving each year, whatever that celebration means to different people. I wish them peace and prosperity, just like my fellow English, the French, Germans, Israelis, Palestinians and everyone. We are all humans, good with temptations to evil. I admire patriotism and service of the family, village, town, city, county, country, state, federation, whatever – which gave us birth and our culture. We all bewail our countries when we see bad things happen. In the end of the day, our true Patrie is God’s kingdom which is sacramental and spiritual more than political.

        There, I think I have said all I can. I’m not anti-American, not anti-anything. We just have to learn compassion, tolerance and empathy – and many of our problems will just go away.

  7. Michael Frost says:

    Just caught up on all the comments… Seems like the thread got a little tangled and off target?

    However, there is a nice book review in the current issue of The Weekly Standard (1/27/14 issue) of Thomas Guarino’s Vincent of Lerins and the Development of Christian Doctrine (Baker Academic, 192 pp. $26.99). Review by Joseph Bottum. Guarino is a RC priest and professor at Seton Hall. I found this section from near the end of the review most interesting:

    “To some degree, Guarino is caught in a trap of his own making. If Vincent of Lerins is a kind of proto-Cardinal Newman, camping on the same sane middle ground as that great Victorian theologian, then why do we bother to read him? This isn’t a way to save Vincent; it’s a way to dismiss him. And to achieve this end, Guarino has to generally downplay Vincent’s probable Semipelagian leanings and accept him as an interpreter of tradition.”

    Being EO, my take on the book, entirely from the review, is that Guarino sees Vincent thru Newman’s systematic lens.

  8. ed pacht says:

    I give up. When I read Fr. Chadwick’s original post, I was looking forward to some thoughtful conversation on the points he raised. I’ve made one attempt to bring the discussion back on track, but that had no effect whatever. You know, it’s the height of rudeness to let ones own petty hurt feelings lead one to deny the opportunity for serious discussion like this – not only to the owner of the blog but also to his other guests. I still really want to discuss these issues and to hear what others have to say, but it looks as though the chance is denied to us all. Ah well …

    • Yes, I agree. How about writing some on-topic comments, and perhaps we’ll get around this issue. It all started with someone who wanted me to do parish work instead of blogging because I wrote on a subject he must have judged to be frivolous. I made a comment in the following posting before moving onto the theological subject proper – and I hit a nerve!

      The French call us Brits Le Perfide Albion for a reason. We haven’t always been nice to them. They haven’t always been nice to us. Countries go to war against each other for very little – like 100 years ago.

      The abscess is drained and cauterised. Now, I think we can move on.

      You’re welcome to write something and kick off a more theological discussion.

    • Father Martin says:

      Mr. Pacht,
      It appears, by your statement, that your “own petty feelings” have been hurt since your attempt to return this conversation to a more theological topic have been totally ineffectual.

  9. ed pacht says:

    Thank you, Father. I’ll attempt to resume where you and I and Stephen K were trying to go. As in most theological arguments, I think the real problem is in how we phrase the question. We always tend to think in terms of either/or, and that rarely yields a useful answer our tendency to see contradiction in every opposition leads us, as I said above, to the overemphasis of one truth at the expense of another truth. When we are dealing with the Infinite, with the Power that created logic and therefore stands above it, opposites are not necessarily contradictory. The real question in such matters is couched in terms of both/and — and what answers are found (or rather approached) are revealed in the interaction of these opposites, in a balance, to speak crudely.

    We’re faced with the opposing concepts of Tradition as the carrying down of immutable ideas and expressions, or else as a living, growing, changing thing. Both are true when both are believed and neither is true if either one be rejected. We do not obtain a logically simple and mathematically provable result from this questioning, or rather, if we do obtain such a result we can be certain it is false, because real truth has to be denied to get there.

    Tradition is indeed the handing down of eternal verities, of Truth that indeed cannot change. Any thought or speculation that is not firmly grounded upon Tradition fails to be true. If a theological idea is really new, it certainly has to be greeted with suspicion and probably with rejection. But who or what hands down this tradition? Is it some abstract machine that simply spits out what it receives in an unchanged form? Or is it perhaps (as Scripture says) a living body? Life involves growth. Life involves change. I am certainly not the same at 72 as I was at 7 — but I am the same person. Everything basic about me is unchanged. I have the same DNA I always had. However, the way in which this basic ‘me’ is expressed has certainly changed.

    An unchanging church, then, is a dead church. We are not the church of the First, or the Fourth, or the Tenth, or the Fifteenth or Sixteenth or Nineteenth Century, and we have no business trying to be. We are an ancient and continuous church, but our existence is in the time and the culture we now inhabit. Something will be different. A truth that does not touch the age in which it is expressed is no longer true.

    But a church with amnesia is a church that has no past, that has no idea where it came from or, indeed, why it exists, and might as well be dead. In a truly living church change will be gradual, will always be in dynamic relationship with its past, recognizably the same as heretofore — but there will be change. Doctrinal expression will change. The philosophy that underlies the way theology is thought will change. Liturgy will change. Even the living out of morality will change — because the world we are in (even if not of) will change and will need to be approached differently.

    The entire history of the Church is one of a struggle to find a truth that is never fully known and to learn how to live it and present it to a sometimes hostile but always hungry world as that world changes.

    Have I said anything that can be fruitfully discussed? Is this somewhere in line with the questions Father raised above? Does anyone want to speak to any of this?

    • You could look at the articles in which I commented on Mosebach’s book The Heresy of Formlessness. We are all having to become theologians just to repel two apparent extremes: one of dead immobilism and the other of arbitrary change. In the end, we have to “live and let live” and make our vision live as an example to be emulated if others find it to be inspiring. That sounds very “post-modern” but it is the world we live in.

      To attempt something of a response to Francis’ erudite comment as a result of reading Russian philosophy marinated in German idealism, I have been reading a few articles that present things as seen in the light of quantum physics. It is a branch of science that seems to call realistic metaphysics into question and shows a notion of our minds and consciousness being in a position to influence reality around us. Everything is linked. Perhaps this notion of reality is far more Platonic than Plato, let alone the nominalist and idealistic philosophy that have influenced our world since about the 13th century.

      I prefer Newman’s theory to that of Catholics like Bossuet, “pristine purity” Protestants and others who either think that everything was whole and complete in the first and second centuries, or that we have to keep cutting back to the roots because we are afraid of any growth. But, Newman’s theory is an analogy. Analogies are used to give some explanation to things we can never completely understand like the mysteries of the Faith – the things that “rationalists” dismiss as nonsense. Newman’s essay was a landmark in the history of theology, as was Möhler in ecclesiology.

      There is a lot of literature from the twentieth century. I have great esteem for Louis Bouyer who himself was a fan of Newman. This question of revelation and tradition falls under the discipline of fundamental theology, and has captured my interest at university as much as ecclesiology and liturgy, though Christology was not far behind. I hardly ever missed a dogmatic theology lecture at Fribourg!

      I recommend a good reading of Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman, Cambridge 1957. This book gives some rich bibliographical information on later research on this subject. This is a pet subject of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who went very deeply into fundamental theology. Cf. J. Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology.

      • Francis says:

        Father you are too kind. I think authors like Bouyer, Lubac, etc are very good, and I draw a line between them and the Balthasar and Rahner type. The first two, in my opinion, were still working within the framework of what Berdyaev would call “traditional philosophy” – what they were trying to do was to open the way to address problems and questions inherent in that traditional approach by appealing to the Church fathers and certain modern critical methods – which did not rankle too well with the hierarchy. That’s how, at least, I’ve read Bouyer’s meditations on the rites of Holy Week – at least in the 1945/6 edition- and his manuals on spirituality and scripture – for I think Bouyer, with Journet, was perhaps one of the last manualists.

        That’s also how I am wont to read Lubac on the supernatural and on augustinism, though not as a manualist, but as someone who poses questions and would not be satisfied with scholastic answers – that’s why, he goes back to the Fathers – the breath of the whole Ressourcement programme. I think Lubac is at his best in Méditations sur l’Eglise. Their style is modern but the questions and the substance, hardly so. In Balthasar and Rahner, not only is the style modern, but so is the content though it might be “dressed” with patristic learning. Is it a matter of personal taste or style or inclination that I believe Bouyer and Lubac to be more helpful than Balthasar or Rahner? I don’t think so. First, because in Bouyer and Lubac there is rarely the independence from the sentire cum ecclesia that we feel or indeed find in “Balrahner”(for the sake of convenience).

        The fact that people took it that Lubac was implicitly targeted in Humani Generis is paradoxically a good sign – while Rome may appear to condemn the use of modern philosophy “produced within such a short time”, it showed itself well au courant with the different strands of modern philosophy, and asserts the independence of dogma from philosophy in general, and the subordination of philosophy to theology (HG, 14-15).

        I would interpret this in the following way – what is given ancillary status in HG is not so much Philosophy itself (the Idea – after all, with Augustine and Eriugena – Conficitur inde, veram esse philosophiam veram religionem, conversimque veram religionem esse veram philosophiam) but the philosophical methods as instruments that have evolved and settled down during the centuries. Doubtless Lubac and Balthasar were friends and in deep theological conversation. However, the difference in style and substance of these two men is, for me, quite significant.

        I don’t know much about the theological and philosophical curricula in seminaries or divinity colleges, but it seems to me that it would be great mistake to make students who are training for the priesthood read modern authors before the classical ones. And this is not merely a question of a querelle des anciens et des modernes – but also one of having one’s education in whatever field it may be, first grounded in its classics, or even better, in the Classics.

        This, in turns, brings us to the question whether theology should be left to “professional” theologians- which notion is itself problematic if we take a view of theologia which is essentially ascetic, aesthetical and contemplative against which which is a technical reductio. The technical language and apparatus are there to help our own weakness on the way of spiritual life. They ought neither be absolutised, or relativised to the point that we dispense with them. The principle of prudence and the cultivation of humility are fundamental in this spiritual life – to refrain from much presumption either of our own capacity or of God’s grace. This is also the question of the difference in the positive and negative theologies, and of their role – dialectical or otherwise- in the development of doctrine.

      • Your knowledge and writing are indeed rich, but I felt it would be a good idea to introduce some paragraph breaks and change a word here and there for clarity. Readers will benefit. We all have our style of writing, but I do find that reasonable-length paragraphs make it easier to digest the text and get the impression of transparency.

        I very much agree. Seminarians need to be grounded in the classics, St Thomas Aquinas in particular, but also with the knowledge that this is a foundation and not everything. That being said, I think seminarians should first “let their hair down” (literally or metaphorically – or both?) at university and then enter a serious community life to make their theological learning mate up with their specifically priestly training, vocation, commitment and spirituality.

        For questions of the Ressourcement school and the likes of Rahner and Küng, I find Tracey Rowland’s Ratzinger’s Faith, The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI most illuminating.

    • Stephen K says:

      Dear ed, yes, there are several things you say that are important to respond to. The first thing is that although it seems accurate to say that we can discern a struggle within the Christian Church to find and present a truth that can never be known or accepted by a hostile world, there are many within the Church who insist that it can be known, is known completely and doesn’t need acceptance by a hostile world. This is a huge distraction to the spiritual endeavour. I often think of a tree. It is high in the sky and deep in the ground and no two or three sides of the trunk, can be seen by anyone at the same instant. We each see part of the tree only. And because we see only part of the tree at any one time, we may be wrong about what we think we see. I think religious truth is like a tree.

      The second thing is that I agree that change is inevitable and paradoxically a constant. It may be gradual or not, depending on the standpoint from which we observe it: it seems only in looking at the past are we able to discern its progress and order as if by time-stop photography. And in thinking about this, I think you are very correct in insisting on the balance of opposites as a fundamental dynamic in reality and truth. Change is by its very nature ordered and deliberate and inevitable, thus it is its opposite – stability – (thus Heraclites and Parmenides are reconciled) – and so traditionalists have nothing to fear from change, not even when their traditions are overturned, in the long run. Tradition might be thought just an ecclesiastical term for “evolution”, and if it does not involve change, then it is not tradition but merely conservation: the difference between an apple that is allowed to mature and ripen, and an apricot that is pickled and sealed up in a bottle.

      But however we try to express the process, the issue Father has raised is essentially the question of how do you know what is true, and how do you know what is Catholic belief? I believe that you cannot really know the former, but rather can only have working spiritual hypotheses, and that the second is elusive and pluralist, depending on the context. If you try to determine it by what Popes or Councils say, then you cannot avoid adopting a positivist approach to the substance of faith. We need to discuss this and tease out things much more.

      • You have some lovely things to say, Stephen. One characteristic of many Christians is to want complete uniformity in believe and practice, because only such could establish the credibility of Christianity. Hence the feeling that we have to propagate the faith by evangelisation, and not only as response to a divine precept. I like sailing, and encourage others to learn to sail and buy a boat. But, if everybody did it, the sea would become overcrowded and an unpleasant place to be. So, in the absolute, I neither encourage nor discourage, but show the joy I find in it.

        We dance the two-step between this desire to make everything uniform and objective, on one hand, and not caring what other people do and believe on the other. Surely, pluralism and relativism remove the apologetic credibility from revealed truth and the way that Revelation is conveyed by Tradition. Virtue is somewhere in the middle or towards one side or the other.

        This is a dilemma that will continue to haunt and plague us, but it is something we have to learn to live with in a world where non-believers and non-religious people, the “nones”, are increasing in proportion to the believing population. Again, we witness by our lives and not our degree of understanding doctrines and theories.

        The big problem is that an institutional Church needs money, buildings and infrastructures – and that can be obtained only by ideological coherence. It is tragic, but we have to consider the two-tiered approach that characterises Berdyaev’s work – the Church of the people and the Church of the spiritual “elite”.

        That being said, I welcome discussion and an attempt at some measure of progress. That’s what this blog is for.

  10. Francis says:

    I have been reading Berdyaev for the past couple of months now, and I must admit I did so because Father Chadwick refers to him every now and then. Being someone of a scholastical frame of mind, I am uneasy with some of his claims or rather the way he presents his claims. In Truth and Revelation (1953) he is trying, meseems, to articulate a view of Revelation that would be framed in a phenomenological way – against which view he opposes the “traditional philosophy upon which Christian philosophy and the interpretation of Christianity have rested”. The disqualifying property of the “traditional philosophy” would be the tendency to objectify the world and reality, that is, to treat their content as objects of thought to be ratiocinated about. Understanding revelation in the manner of Berdyaev would entail not considering its content in an “objectified” way, but in way such that our existence and this content form part of a phenomenological complex, presumably throughout history, and this process can be represented or symbolised in different ways – sacred architecture, music, etc. We find this phenomenological tendency in theology throughout the past century – Balthasar, Rahner, and closer to us, Marion, even Radical Orthodoxy in Britain, for all their profession of Neo-neo-thomism, which is perhaps, after all, phenomenological – such theology sometimes couched in almost Heideggerian language. What becomes important is more the engagement of the individual or community with the “event” of the Incarnation. A phenomenological view of doctrine would be able to integrate its various “developments” – organic or not- because what confers legitimacy are the phenomena themselves. Gone, therefore, in those articulations, are the analogies of being, the notion of authority and order.

    I would agree with Berdyaev and the others, that we should be wary of totalizing philosophies, ie, philosophies that purport systematically to circumscribe the whole of reality within the terms of propositions (even though I believe Eric Voegelin articulates this in a better way). One thing, though, it is to say that the philosophical language and apparatus used to talk of the Trinity does not exhaust the mystery of the Trinity – thus safeguarding also the mystery of God’s transcendence and incomprehensibility. But another, it is to argue that the means which the Church has always used and almost canonised are not adequate to the task of making sense of revelation.

    What is worrying is the nominalism inherent to many of those christian philosophies, thus following secular scepticism – ultimately casting doubt on the reality of the objects and articles of Faith, and emphasizing the individual processes produced by those beliefs, and their ethical and aesthetical expression.

    Yesterday, on Twitter, I read a tweet of Richard Dawkins which ran : “Did Jesus exist? Of course, lots of men called Jesus did. But who cares, since none of them was born to a virgin or rose from the dead.” Almost intuitively, and as a response, I recited the Nicene Creed, and reflected that what I was saying was not only a statement of faith, but also a set of propositions about the ultimate reality which I held to be true, and that, what I hold by Faith, I must also be prepared to explain with Reason, and in doing so, not be content with sighing about the ruins of Saint-Denis or reflecting on the social benefits of the Church’s teaching against slavery. This is not very coherent yet. But I believe that the Nicene Creed commits us to a concept of transcendental order and of an immanent order, with Jesus-Christ, the Logos, as Mediator between the two, and all attendant corollaries.

  11. Stephen K says:

    I have been considering further Francis’ and ed’s and Father’s comments. There are various statements which I comprehend, and even ‘approve of’ all the while remaining conscious that they assume a perspective or epistemological or metaphysical foundation that at some stage needs to be questioned or confronted. Francis, for example, wrote:

    I would agree with Berdyaev and the others, that we should be wary of totalizing philosophies, ie, philosophies that purport systematically to circumscribe the whole of reality within the terms of propositions (even though I believe Eric Voegelin articulates this in a better way). One thing, though, it is to say that the philosophical language and apparatus used to talk of the Trinity does not exhaust the mystery of the Trinity – thus safeguarding also the mystery of God’s transcendence and incomprehensibility. But another, it is to argue that the means which the Church has always used and almost canonised are not adequate to the task of making sense of revelation.

    What is worrying is the nominalism inherent to many of those christian philosophies, thus following secular scepticism – ultimately casting doubt on the reality of the objects and articles of Faith, and emphasizing the individual processes produced by those beliefs, and their ethical and aesthetical expression.

    Now, of course, every human theology rests on a foundation of some kind. If I say anything, it is derived from some preliminary values. Francis here is cautioning against any formulation or proposition that leads to or is founded on scepticism that ultimately doubts the “reality of the objects and articles of Faith”.

    But do readers agree that, in a sense, doubt is salutary in the religious dimension? That we must keep a division between knowledge and belief which in the latter case is more akin to a hope or act of will? That we must do so if we are to avoid ending down an ecclesiastical and religious cul-de-sac (under whatever name)?

    My formation naturally has meant that my mind tends to clothe religious concepts and feelings in the vocabulary of that formation. Father alluded to Platonic metaphysics. But something nags at me that this is just the raw material for a beginning and that there is more and other. I cannot help imagining God as a Man in the sky, but sense intellectually – even emotionally – that this is not anything like God and that I have to “imagine” Nothing. I have this idea that God is Person unlike any notion of person we usually discuss. And that so much of our religious discussion has nothing to do with our spiritual progress, or spiritual meaning. How many of us live God-focused lives? (I remember hearing many years ago, a story – probably aprocryphal for instructional purposes – of a young Jewish boy saying to Christians, ‘if you really believe God is in the tabernacle, why aren’t you spending your every possible moment before it?’)

    I have just discovered various posts on a blogsite at Now I suspect that my co-readers will not be sympathetic to the author’s theses, namely, that the articles of faith are metaphors (see “The Incarnation is a Metaphor”), or that God is better conceived pan-entheistically (see ‘Panentheism and Prayer’), but I found the author’s discussions of Arius and Athanasius very interesting. It may seem at first thought that Christianity can only be authentic or meaningful or understood in the traditional terms, but I’m not convinced. One of the time-bombs of post-modernist thought is, I think, that sooner or later, Christianity based on insisting that Jesus is God because he rose from the dead physically and not because we want a tangible contact with God, will be replaced by another, inevitably literalist, religion.

    No wonder we may instinctively seek apophaticism!

  12. Stephen K says:

    I may be moving a little further along the path of ideas than the scope of Father’s original post appeared to contemplate, but the germ of my thoughts is in it somewhere I think! The conversation has prompted me to attempt to articulate my thoughts about Jesus. I was going to say that we know he was a Jewish man. But immediately, I could hear someone object: how do you know that? If you are prepared to doubt the Gospel account of his resurrection, why are you not prepared to doubt his physical existence?

    Do the two things go together? Well, in a sense they do, of course: there is a logic we appear to adopt. I could say there are other non-Gospel references to Jesus that support accepting the one but not necessarily the other.

    But I think this is the point that the blogsite author, this Tony Equale, was trying to make in his article on Incarnational Metaphor: namely, that trying to argue religious truth as a variant of “scientific” truth is misconceived. It is not a case of “proving” anything. These religious ideas are not powerful or meaningful because they are “facts” but because they evoke in us a state of affairs and value. Viewed in this way, even God is not a “fact” but an idea, a state of affairs, a value.

    Sometimes I think Jesus is God, as I always have done. Sometimes I think he isn’t but that we have made him so. Sometimes I think that God is in my thinking and wondering and worrying whether Jesus is God. Sometimes I wonder whether in fact all my personal theism is just one side of the tree, and I consciously try to divest my thoughts of God of any form. But I pray the psalms, as they only can be, to a God who knows and listens.

    I think that Jesus, as progressively described in 2000 years of theology and ritual practice, is as good as any other incarnation of God, and, to my Western mind, better than most. After considerable reflection, I seriously think that Gautama is a voice of God, and though I am not accustomed to mixing my vocabularies in this way, just as much an incarnation as Jesus is or isn’t. I can understand the lives of Merton, Bede Griffiths and Raimon Pannikar. It is for that reason, amongst others, that I think we should not be so worried about labels and affiliations. I certainly do NOT believe that Christianity is a culmination of revelation, except in a subjective sense. It may be simply the best we were capable of making a fist of at the time, and we are now approaching a kind of crisis time, a kind of denouement.

    I am however, prepared and open to the idea that my idea about the reality of religious truth is itself inadequate. Somehow, my not knowing anything for certain, at any moment in time, does not perturb me unduly.

    How do my co-readers feel about this?

    • ed pacht says:

      Stephen K:

      I’d like to comment on some of what you said”

      But do readers agree that, in a sense, doubt is salutary in the religious dimension?

      Well, there is doubt, and there is doubt.

      There is the doubt that is looking for reasons NOT to believe. That I reject as unhelpful and ultimately destructive, an attempt to tear down rather than to build. To start with the assumption that something is untrue, or that, if true, it doesn’t really matter can easily become an attack upon the psyche of others, a removal of what is valued without pointing out anything more constructive. This kind of doubt only paralyzes.

      Then there is the doubt that is looking for reasons TO believe. This is a highly Scriptural stance: “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief,’ or Thomas unable to believe but seriously wanting to be able: “Unless I see … I will not believe,” yields to, “My Lord and my God.” Since we simply cannot KNOW the infinite, faith puts us in this second camp. We affirm, we proclaim, but from the standpoint of wanting to know. Faith is a gift of God, not a logical determination on our part, and humanly speaking, faith is no more than the desire for God. He supplies the rest – and our minds will continue to doubt.

      I’m afraid that conservative, fundamentalist, and traditionalist Christians (some, perhaps most, but certainly not all) end up having much in common with Atheists, being defined, at least publicly, more by what they deny than by any living belief – and that liberal Christians all too often give the appearance of wanting to disbelieve, becoming much like Atheists also. The Gospel is far more subtle than either.

      …that the articles of faith are metaphors

      Yes, they are – but they are not ONLY metaphors. A metaphor is ordinarily a fact, not a piece of fiction, but a hard, cold fact, that gains its usefulness from its reality, but then becomes able to say more than the fact. The articles of the Creed are bare statements, without explanation (or in the case of the Nicene Creed on the Incarnation, with the mere beginning of explanation). They are indeed presented as factual and always have been, but mere acceptance of the propositions means little if anything. It is the entrance into the unexpressed realities that lie behind the propositions, into the life of the ineffable God. The Cross is real. The Resurrection is real. But faith leads beyond the factual to something greater, something brought about by and pointed to by the facts – and that is the reality of the Cross and Resurrection in the lives of the redeemed.

      …trying to argue religious truth as a variant of “scientific” truth is misconceived. It is not a case of “proving” anything. These religious ideas are not powerful or meaningful because they are “facts” but because they evoke in us a state of affairs and value. Viewed in this way, even God is not a “fact” but an idea, a state of affairs, a value.

      Science itself is not a case of “proving” anything. It’s actually a secular illustration of what I’ve said about faith and doubt. Science is an asking of questions, an acceptance of what is being taught as science with a constant reexamination of what is thought to be true. The scientific method is to observe what is, to build on what has been found, even while challenging it, and always to admit that nether the authorities nor the seeker can manage to know it all.

      One last shot: I do indeed believe Christianity to be the capstone of Revelation, and I believe Jesus to be the source and foundation, the ultimate referent of all revelation – no matter to what people it has come. Yes, I do believe that the Hebrew Tradition, and the Christian Tradition flowing from it represent the principal revelation of God to the people He is calling – but that does not exclude others from that divine call, and it does not render others unable to speak to Christians in a constructive way. Catholic Christianity has certainly been enriched by the Classic Greek philosophers, and by many valuable insights gained from various non-Christian sources. God has also been speaking to and through them. But we need not forget the clear call of Christ: “Come unto me…” Those of every tongue and race and nation are recipients of that call, and a major purpose of our existence is to help them to meet and encounter the Christ of Calvary.

  13. Francis says:


    Your suspicions are indeed well-founded. I personally see many problems with panentheism. I read somewhere that Bulgakov subscribed to it, but haven’t yet found anything in his writings that actively promote it.

    If we take panentheism to be the belief that everything that is is, exists, subsists (already this list of words can introduce variations in the definition thereof) in God, we inevitably come to the question of evil, and how it can exist, subsist, be in God. Now, of course, if evil is privatio boni, but more specifically privatio, this is would imply that God contains within himself both good and its absence, and thus introduce duality of moral ends in the divine being. Or even a sort of dialectical moment which would be resolved in a synthesis along time and history, which are also contained within God. God thus becomes co-terminous with reality.

    (I must confess dreaming of becoming an impossibility one day: A Christian advaitin – Father Le Saux, for example, but it is doubtful how successful he was).

    Denys uses the word superessential to describe God, and I think that is piety. Piety for me is an act of justice, that is an act recognising that God is indeed present in this world but also over, above and beyond it and all our representations.

    Furthermore, in this way, and if we understand theology in a strict sense, piety is a theological act of justice. Thus, Piety is linked with theologia negativa. Theology is not a merely human enterprise, – it is truly a synergistic domain, in which human will and intellect supported and aided by Divine Grace, rises to the contemplation of the Ineffable.

    As Christian, and members of Churches, we should discharge our duties and obligations – however difficult this is, however much delay we put to the task. I know how the notion of obedience and submission to authority is hard to stomach in this world – especially when those to whom obedience is due act in reprehensible ways. But perhaps we should first discharge our duties to authority. Its difficult- perhaps the most difficult struggle of Christians in this day and age. Piety is after all a gift of the Holy Ghost.

  14. ed pacht says:

    Immediately after I finished my last comment, I had to write this poem:

    When I look at the world,
    when I look at my life,
    when I sit back in quiet contemplation,
    try to manage my own affairs,
    or reach out to help others,
    I feel small,
    and so deeply flawed,
    and there is so much to think,
    so much to say,
    so much to do.
    I cannot think the thoughts,
    I have not the words to say,
    I cannot begin to do the deeds,
    but I must try,
    and, trying, fail,
    and, failing, know that something is begun,
    and begin.
    There is so much to say,
    and I have often tried to say it,
    and I wish to say it now,
    but words cannot express it.
    They cannot scratch the surface.
    They can merely point the way
    to the Way, the Truth, the Life,
    the everlasting Word that ever was,
    the Word that spoke and came to be a man,
    the Word that shared the death of men,
    the Word that broke the bonds of death,
    and lives,
    and shall live,
    and gives us life.
    When I look at the world,
    when I look at my life,
    when I sit back in quiet contemplation,
    try to manage my own affairs,
    or reach out to help others,
    if I look aright,
    I see Jesus,
    and He speaks.

    • Stephen K says:

      Dear ed, thank you for your poem. if I look aright I see Jesus and He speaks

      A lovely ending, in counterpoint to the words that cannot scratch the surface but only point the way. Perhaps I might, in poetic response, like the other side of a choir, to you, share a poem I wrote a few years ago, one Christmas morning, but which still expresses that special value wordlessness and unprocessed experience I think has, to merge religious action with spiritual desire.

      O how I long for that land that, swath’d in green
      And bordered by the deep dark waters of the mere,
      Doth harbour nothing that is cruèl, cold or mean
      Nor ever need to wipe away a tear.

      O give me those valleys grassèd, sweeping, clean
      Where horses gallop to their hearts’ desire;
      Where kestrels soar aloft the tranquil scene
      And homes and hearths are lit by warming fire!

      And in that place, where live, unfettered, free
      The trees and animals that civilise our mind,
      The gorgeous emerald of the woodland, and the lea
      Shall soothe and salve the eyès of the blind.

      O how I long for a land all swath’d in green,
      And bordered by the deep dark waters of the mere,
      Where on each peak and o’er each sheer ravine
      The song of eagles’ wings upon the wind is clear!

      Some call it Tir n’an og, or sometimes Paradise:
      Some think it an exclusive end reward.
      I know it though as whence the stars arise
      Where God in nature truly is restored.

      Yes, how my heart doth long for perfect peace!
      Yet here is where our virtue must contend,
      That harsh and hateful human arrogance might cease
      For souls to merge in God at journey’s end.

      • Dear Ed and Stephen,

        I thank God for the freedom of your spirits and your inspiring writing. I have never found a talent in myself for writing poetry, but I appreciate it. Other than our English classics, I am also a fan of Walt Whitman, that great soul of the New World. You are expressing things that prose can only approximate.

        Whitman wrote this:

        Only in the perfect uncontamination and solitariness of individuality… Only here, and on such terms, the meditation, the devout ecstasy, the soaring flight. Only here, communion with the mysteries… The soul emerges, and all statements, churches, sermons, melt away like vapors. Alone, and silent thought and awe, and aspiration — and then the interior consciousness, like a hitherto unseen inscription, in magic ink, beams out its wondrous lines to the sense. Bibles may convey, and priests expound, but it is exclusively for the noiseless operation of one’s isolated self, to enter the pure ether of veneration, reach the divine levels, and commune with the unutterable.

        Stick around and help this blog bring others to both beauty and freedom!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s