A Jesuit and his faith (2)


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This is the second, and concluding part of  William Doino’s article on Fr Frederick C Copleston, SJ (1907-1994). It was first published in the Fall 1996 issue of Sursum Cordaand is reproduced here by kind permission of the author. I reiterate my thanks to Francis Phillips who suggested it and secured the permissions. C451


Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Copleston’s Memoirs is

his description of how he was able to maintain his religious faith

despite encountering constant challenges against it. Secular

philosophy, by its very nature, is a discipline that lends itself

to doubt, relativism and irreligion. It is a rare scholar who is

able to immerse himself in its precarious world without somehow

being affected-usually for the worse. Copleston acknowledges that

his prolonged study of a wide spectrum of philosophical thought

“could hardly fail to exercise some influence” on his mind. He

admits to having experienced doubts-even serious ones- about his

religion, but realizes that this is a common temptation among

Christian believers, even for the most committed. Indeed, the

saints themselves have not been immune to doubt. One thinks

particularly of St. Therese of Lisieux, who underwent a profound

crisis of faith during her short life. The year before she died,

she told her Mother Superior that the worst kind of atheistic

arguments had entered her mind-specifically, the notion that

science, by making ever-increasing progress, would eventually

explain everything away naturally and would provide a

materialistic answer for all that exists, thus destroying the

basis for Christianity. According to Fr. Guy Gaucher, the foremost

authority on St. Therese, some anti-Christian literature

apparently fell into the hands of the young nun, and when she read

it, her faith was shaken to its core. Only after undergoing an

intense psychological struggle, culminating in a profound mystical

experience, was St. Therese able to secure the peace that

permitted her a tolerable death. (For a full account of the

saint’s religious travails, consult Fr. Gaucher’s definitive

biography, The Story of a Life: St. Therese of Lisieux, Harper &

Row, 1987.)

On a more intellectual level, Fr. Copleston experienced a similar

crisis of faith. Fortunately, he was able to overcome it, as he

tells us-

by employing a distinction, well known to moral theologians and

spiritual counsellors, between doubt and difficulty, a distinction

which had been made by J.H. Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua

(chapter 5), when he stated that “ten thousand difficulties do not

make one doubt.” He had certainly been conscious of difficulties,

but a hundred difficulties, he claimed, do not amount to one

doubt….[This] can be explained easily enough by an example…

Consider a student of theology, who in the course of his studies

is introduced to a number of difficulties or possible objections

to this or that Christian doctrine. The lecturer, let us suppose,

offers solutions of the relevant problems. The student, being a

bright youth, finds the alleged solutions intellectually

unsatisfactory or inadequate. For him, the difficulties or

problems remain unsolved. But it does not necessarily follow that

he therefore doubts the truth of the relevant articles of belief.

For in spite of difficulties, problems or puzzles which can be

brought against certain doctrines, he may still accept the

doctrines on faith, as revealed by God through the mediation of

the Church. Again, many people have seen in the evil and suffering

which permeate human life and history a powerful objection to

belief in the existence of God as conceived in traditional

Christianity. But even if a Christian is quite ready to

acknowledge an inability to provide any complete solution of the

so-called “problem of evil,” he or she may nonetheless cling to

faith in the divine love and providential care.

These reflections are reminiscent of Cardinal Newman’s line of

argument in his famous essay, “Faith and Doubt.” Newman held that

Christian faith is invalid if it does not have the courage of its

convictions, and that no true Christian could believe that his

faith might someday be undermined by a scientific discovery or

scholarly argument. For if he believed such a thing, his faith was

empty to begin with. As the Cardinal remarked:

If it is true that God became man, what is the meaning of my

anticipating a time when perhaps I shall not believe that God

became man? This is nothing short of anticipating a time when I

shall disbelieve a truth. And if I bargain to be allowed in time

to come not to believe, or to doubt, that God became man, I am but

asking to be allowed to doubt or disbelieve what I hold to be an

eternal truth. I do not see the privilege of such a permission at

all, or the meaning of wishing to secure it:-if at present I have

no doubt whatever about it, then I am but asking leave to fall

into error; if at present I have doubts about it, then I do not

believe it at present, that is, I have not faith. But I cannot

both really believe it now, and yet look forward to a time when

perhaps I shall not believe it; to make provision for further

doubt, is to doubt at present. It proves I am not in a fit state

to become a Catholic now. I may love by halves, I may obey by

halves; I cannot believe by halves; either I have faith, or I have


Once in possession of a secure faith, Fr. Copleston waged

intellectual warfare against the errors of his age, engaging the

most influential minds of the twentieth century. The most famous

of these battles was undoubtedly his legendary debate with

Bertrand Russell over the existence of God. Aired by the BBC in

1948, the debate culminated in a technical knockout for the Jesuit

philosopher. In his Memoirs, Fr. Copleston is far too humble to

gloat over his victory, but he does expose Russell’s viewpoint as

morally bankrupt. Commenting on how he cornered Russell into

defending an extreme brand of relativism, Copleston writes:

“Russell agreed, of course, that he felt this way. But he found

some difficulty, he admitted, in squaring the implications of this

admission with his professed ethical theory. He even said: ‘I find

myself in a dilemma. On the one hand I certainly want to condemn

the Nazis’ behaviour towards the Jews as wrong in itself. On the

other hand, my ethical theory does not allow me to say this.”‘

Father Copleston is equally adept at detecting the errors within

his own community-exposing charlatans like Teilhard de Chardin,

and arguing against Modernists who try to “redefine” or “re-

formulate ” Christian doctrine until they empty it of all supernatural

content. But Copleston is at his finest in expounding the

necessity of orthodoxy. Copleston on the ecumenical movement, for

example: “Christians should certainly be prepared to recognize the

values present in other religions. Short of embracing all mankind

there can be no limit to the reach of the out-going love which

lies at the heart of the Christian religion, and which can be seen

as demanding the extension of the ecumenical movement to relations

between Christians and adherents of other religions…. [But] one

should not close one’s eyes to the danger of abandoning Christian

belief in the unique status and role of Christ and treating him

simply as one among other prophets and religious leaders, a danger

which is by no means illusory.”

Copleston on dissenting theologians: “We are sometimes told by

‘progressives’ that we should think of the Church as seeking the

truth, rather than as being in possession of the truth. That the

Church’s theologians seek truth is not a claim which I would

venture or wish to deny. But they discharge this function as

members of the Church, not simply as lone individuals. And the

final court of appeal in doctrinal issues can hardly be anything

but the Church herself, speaking as a teaching authority, through

what is called the <magisterium>… My point is simply that if a

theologian claims to be a ‘Catholic’, he or she should act as

such, operating within the Church, as one of its members.”

Copleston on the afterlife and the reality of Hell: “The ideas of

Heaven and Hell are complementary… if the one idea expresses

revelation, so does the other. The orthodox Christian can be

expected to accept both; and I do accept them…. Possession of

freedom implies that a human being can accept or reject God…. I

do not see how one can exclude the possibility of a human being

persisting in his or her choice against God and so remaining in a

state of alienation from God. Given this possibility, Hell would

be more something chosen by the human being in question, than

simply imposed by a ruthless judge.”

Copleston on the current-and apparently weakened-state of

Christendom: “The Christian is not committed to believing that if

Christianity finds itself widely regarded as moribund and as

unable to act as an effective source of inspiration, this shows

that Christ has failed. Where in the Gospels is He “recorded as

having assured His followers of a triumphal march through history?

Perhaps I may add that Christ did not claim that if His followers

encountered difficulties and opposition they should set to work

revising His teaching and adapting it to the spirit of the age. He

called for persevering loyalty.”

Looking back over his career, Fr. Copleston’s Memoirs express

profound gratitude for a life richly blessed. He had no regrets

about devoting his life to the study of philosophy, despite its

inherent risks. Indeed, Copleston maintained that, far from

weakening or confusing his Catholic faith, his conflicts with

alien philosophies ultimately sharpened and strengthened it. He

also provided a measured defense of historical study, arguing that

“it is rash to assume that the study of the past is necessarily

irrelevant to life and action in the present. After all,

historical study is study of some aspect of the one developing

world in which we live and act.” Yet as valuable as academic

scholarship was to the success of his life, Fr. Copleston never

lost sight of his true goal. For as he movingly states in the last

sentence of his book, “The only really important evaluation of

one’s life and work is God’s evaluation. And in the closing years

of one’s life it is just as well to bear this in mind.”


A Jesuit and his faith (1)


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I am greatly indebted to our good friend Francis Phillips for her intercession with the author of this piece, William Doino Jr., through which we have permission to publish it here. 

Frederick C. Copleston, SJ (1907-1994)

In its long and illustrious history, the Society of Jesus has

produced many outstanding figures who have made a unique impact

upon Western culture. One thinks of the Society’s founder and

leader, Ignatius of Loyola; the great missionary and ‘Apostle of

the Indies,’ Francis Xavier; the famed Catholic apologist and

bishop, Robert Bellarmine; St. Isaac Jogues and the North American

martyrs; and the eminent poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is

undoubtedly true that the twentieth century, with its rampant

secularism, has proven less fertile ground for the role of such

men. Yet even here, numerous Jesuits have risen to modernity’s

challenge, and brought the treasures of Christianity to an

unbelieving world. One such priest was Fr. Frederick C. Copleston,

SJ, who recently passed into eternal life at the age of 83.


Born on April 10, 1907 in Taunton, England, the future Jesuit was

the son of Frederick Selwyn Copleston, a distinguished judge, and

his demure wife, Nora. Both adherents to the Church of England,

they raised their son to be a strict Anglican; so it came as quite

a shock to both when Frederick Jr., soon after reaching his

eighteenth birthday, announced he would be entering the Church of

Rome. The elder Copleston was so appalled by this decision that he

threatened to disown his son; fortunately, his anger soon passed,

and he saw to it that Frederick Jr. received a proper education at

Oxford University. Upon graduating in 1929, the young Copleston

entered the Society of Jesus; he was ordained a priest in 1937.


Always concerned with the deeper questions about life, Copleston

became a professor of philosophy and joined the faculty of

London’s Heythrop College in 1939. It was there, where Fr.

Copleston taught for over thirty years, that he undertook the

project that was to forge his reputation: the nine-volume A

History of Philosophy, which covers the entire span of philosophy

from ancient Greece to the present day. So lucid and superb are

Copleston’s explanations of the most complex intellectual matters

that his work is still the first place many philosophy students go

to comprehend their subject. Indeed, the nine books that

constitute A History of Philosophy are as popular today as when

they first appeared, if not more so. As The Washington Post Book

World recently commented: “Copleston’s volumes are still the

place to start for anyone interested in following man’s

speculations about himself and his world.”


Fr. Copleston’s intellectual achievements earned him many

accolades and honors throughout his career, including visiting

professorships at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome

(1952-1968), and the University of Santa Clara (1974-1982);

selection as a lecturer for the British Council in nine European

countries; and membership in the Royal Institute of Philosophy,

the Aristotelian Society and the British Academy. Remarkably,

despite a full-time schedule of teaching, lecturing and writing

his History, Fr. Copleston found time to publish separate

studies on Nietzsche (1942), Schopenhauer (1946) and Aquinas

(1955), as well as volumes entitled Contemporary Philosophy:

Studies of Logical Positivism and Existentialism (1956); A

History of Medieval Philosophy (1972); Religion and Philosophy

(1974); Philosophers and Philosophies (1976); On the History of

Philosophy (1979); Philosophies and Culture (1980); Religion

and the One (1982) and Philosophy in Russia (1986).


Shortly before his death, Fr. Copleston received the Queen’s

“Commander of the British Empire” honor (1993), and also published

his long-awaited Memoirs (Sheed and Ward, 1993). It is in this

latter, autobiographical work that we discover Fr. Copleston’s

profound spirituality, and learn of his lifelong commitment to

Catholic orthodoxy.


Spanning the greater part of the twentieth century, these

Memoirs provide a moving and fascinating account of Fr.

Copleston’s eventful life. He begins by recalling the earliest

reservations he had about the Church of England, which coincided

with his growing interest in the Church of Rome.

When I was still a boy… about fourteen or possibly fifteen… I wrote an essay in which I castigated the Church of England for reducing Christianity to bourgeois mediocrity and for failing to uphold the ideals of the New Testament. I do not remember precisely what I wrote, but I have no doubt that I compared the Church of England with Catholicism to the former’s disadvantage…. My main point was that though the Church of Rome certainly had its dark aspects (Torquemada, the fires of Smithfield, some of the Popes, and so on), it had at any rate upheld ideals of sanctity and otherworldliness and had not equated true religion with being an English gentleman. At the time I had not heard of Kierkegaard, but my line of thought bore some similarity to his in his attack on the State Church of Denmark.

The reference here to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is

relevant, since his famous blasts against his country’s Lutheran

establishment were frequently contrasted with his high regard for

the Catholic Church.


Indeed, Kierkegaard’s biographer, Walter Lowrie, as well as Fr.

Henri de Lubac, maintain that the officially Lutheran Kierkegaard

was in many respects ‘Catholic’-at least in thought, if not in

practice-and that he would have converted had he not died so

young, or been placed in different circumstances. As Fr. de Lubac


In spite of… a body of thought strongly marked with the heritage of the Reformation, M. Paul Petit observes that, in the last years of his short life, Kierkegaard seems to have increasingly followed a course which was clearly taking him towards positions not far removed from Catholicism. He is ready to admit, in the realm of critics like Brandes and Hoffding, that if Kierkegaard had been born later he would have been a Catholic…. That, with slight shades of difference, is the contention of the Rev. Fr. Przywara also. In his book Das Geheimnis Kierkegaards he “proposes to show that in Kierkegaard an anonymous Catholicism is to be found”; by his call for objective authority and by his views on the ordination of priests as an intermediate objective authority, Kierkegaard is asserted to have crossed the border-line of Lutheranism and pointed the way to “Holy Mother Church.”

It was precisely this “objective authority” that Fr. Copleston

found in the Catholic Church; an authority that he eventually

recognized as emanating from the will of Christ. He writes: “It

seemed to me that if Christ was truly the Son of God and if He

founded a Church to teach all nations in His name, it must be a

Church teaching with authority, as her Master did. Obviously, one

might deny that Christ was the Son of God, and one might reject

the claim that He founded a Church. But if these two claims were

accepted, it seemed to me that in spite of all its faults the

Roman Catholic Church was the only one which could reasonably be

thought to have developed out of what Christ established.”


Ultimately, what played a decisive role in Fr. Copleston’s

conversion was the spiritual pull he felt toward the Catholic

saints and mystics:

“St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross opened up for me vistas of a new world, which exercised a powerful attraction on my mind,” he writes. “I was indeed aware … that some Anglicans had written profoundly spiritual works. At the same time it seemed to me that mystical religion was a foreign body, so to speak, in the Church of England, and that religiously inclined Anglicans were inclined to turn to Catholic writings, such as the Imitation of Christ and books by Pere Grou. The atmosphere or tone of Anglicanism, as I had experienced it… seemed to me to be far removed from the sort of ideals which had been exhibited in a concrete manner in the lives of Catholic saints.”

Father Copleston’s reflections on the Anglican and Catholic

communities call to mind those once voiced by John Henry Newman.

Shortly before his conversion, Newman remarked: “If the Roman

Catholic Church is not the Church of Christ, there never was a

Church established by Him.” Later, as an esteemed Catholic

prelate, Newman wrote: “From the time I became a Catholic, I have

been at perfect peace and contentment. It was like coming into

port after a rough sea.” Despite such clear and unequivocal

statements, Cardinal Newman often had to endure rumors and

insinuations-planted by disgruntled Anglicans-that his conversion

was insincere. When the London Globe published a report

suggesting that he had become disillusioned with Catholicism, and

was preparing to return to the Church of England, the Cardinal

could take no more, and retaliated in kind. In a widely publicized

statement, he declared:

“I have not had one moment’s wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I have no intention, and never had any intention, of leaving the Catholic Church and becoming a Protestant again. And I hereby profess ex animo with an absolute internal assent and consent that the thought of an Anglican service makes me shiver, and the thought of the Thirty-Nine Articles makes me shudder. Return to the Church of England! No! I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if in my old age I left ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’ for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.”

In his Memoirs, Fr. Copleston makes his commitment to Rome equally

clear, albeit in a less combative fashion:

“If anyone feels prompted to ask whether I have ever thought seriously of returning to the Church of England, the answer… is a decided ‘no.’ …I have great respect for sincere Anglicans, whether clerical or lay, and I have been much impressed by devoted Nonconformist and Presbyterian Christians whom I have come across. But I still believe that the centre of Christian unity is to be found in the Catholic Church, and that though Anglicanism certainly has a contribution to make to Christian life (as, indeed, have other Christian religious bodies too), this contribution should be made through some form of real communion with the Holy See.”

part 2 will appear tomorrow



A Pastor’s Job


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fatherhamelThis is from Hans Fiene, a Lutheran Pastor in Illinois, writing for The Federalist.

“What is a pastor’s job?” When you don’t know the answer to this question, it’s hard to understand why agents of ISIS would want to murder an 84-year-old priest. Sure, ISIS enjoys terrorizing people at random. But why target such a small group of people when larger crowds were available all over Normandy?

Sure, ISIS wants to conquer the world, but how much earthly glory could they possibly gain by taking the life of a frail octogenarian? When you don’t fully understand what God called Father Jacques Hamel to do, the answers to these questions don’t come easily.

Some people grew up in churches with Pastor Dweeb, who walked into the pulpit each week to tell us, golly-gee, how great it was that we are all so nice to each other and, gee-golly-gosh, how happy Jesus would be if we could all try being just a little bit nicer from now on. Every Sunday, Pastor Dweeb gave people the impression that a sermon was nothing but a slightly churchier version of your mom’s annual “I love you all, now please get along” Thanksgiving dinner toast. […]

Others grew up in churches with Pastor Hip, who bounced around an altar-less stage while singing promises of financial abundance and victorious living. Pastor Hip taught Christ’s sheep that a pastor’s job was to be a prosperity guru, to be the guy who uses Jesus-words to propel us down the path of health, wealth, and happiness.

Still others had their understanding of a pastor’s job formed by Pastor Justice, who would praise Jesus as a social reformer, rattle off a list of contemporary societal ills, and then implore his people to follow Christ’s example and tear down the institutions of oppression—in all of this, teaching his hearers that a pastor’s job is to sic Christian soldiers on the purveyors of modern injustice. For those who believe these teachings, it’s hard to understand why ISIS would look past bigger targets to silence the voice of a man who was simply telling people how they could end their own poverty or the poverty of their neighbors. […]

Father Hamel Was Murdered Because of His Confession

But despite the false impressions given by Pastors Dweeb, Hip, and Justice, Martin Luther’s Small Catechism offers a far more biblical answer to the question “What is a pastor’s job?” Speaking about the office of the keys, the catechism states, “the Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”

What is a pastor’s job? His job is to exercise the office of the keys. His job is to do what Christ commanded in John 20, to show those who won’t repent their need for forgiveness, and to say to those who fear God’s judgment, “Fear not, because God has now covered you in the sin-killing blood of His Son and judged you to be worthy of eternal life.”

A pastor’s job is to stand before Christ’s bride, the church, and speak the words Christ has put onto his lips: words of pardon, words of mercy, words that cast out fear, because those words cover us in the perfect love Christ made manifest on the cross. Whether his parishioners call him father, reverend, or any other title, forgiving sins is what Christ has called all pastors to do. That’s why Father Jacques Hamel was murdered by apparent agents of ISIS on Tuesday morning.

via: No Matter How Many Priests ISIS Kills, They Can’t Win Do read the full article.

Yup, I’ve had Pastor Dweeb, Pastor Hip, and Pastor Justice, over the course of my life. Some of them I liked, some I didn’t, and they have much to do with why I left the church for a few (too many, really) years. I suspect many of us have similar stories.

But I’ve also had the Pastor with the keys, and it has shaped me, and my outlook on many things. We often say that we are in the world, but not of it. Is that so? Really? Do we worship the Christ and Him crucified, or do we worship the ‘gods of the marketplace’, with all their shiny baubles? Yes, of course, we all fail often, that is why we confess, to our pastor, or to our God, often if we are wise.

Chalcedon is wont to speak of people who know the price of everything, and the value of nothing, he’s correct, nothing in this world is worth selling your soul for, and that is what many of our people do, although, with the first three pastors spoken of above, they may not even know they are. That is a terrible surprise coming for them, and even more for those so-called pastors who are responsible for their ignorance.

To fulfill the final task of his job, all he’d need to do was look at the sheep he’d forgiven throughout the years and tell them, “Don’t be afraid. These men have come here to take our lives, but they’re too late. Our lives already belong to Christ.”

Rest in Peace, Father Hamel, your job here is done, and your work lives on.

International Politics in the Middle East

The EU could be considered a “pseudo-empire”. It does indeed exercise a certain kind of central control over a collection of nations. But that control is limited to certain areas and is ratified by referenda and national governmental assemblies. The EU was not created through conquest (although it was in part a response to the conquest of Europe by the Nazis).

It was hoped that this kind of peaceful “pseudo-empire” or “pseudo-federation” would serve as a model for political “progress” in the Middle East. Turkish “democracy” was to serve as the shining example of a meeting between East and West, between Islam and the post-Enlightenment liberal political tradition. In time, economic and political development would lead to a real peace between the nations of the Middle East that transcended ethnic and religious lines, a peace built on co-operation and tolerance. No such hope materialized, of course – at least not in the way that Western liberals had hoped.

Closer co-operation between Turkey and Iran (e.g. Turkey’s desire to be a mediator between Iran and the West over her nuclear aspirations), has proved a source of fear – fear that Turkey is embracing a neo-Ottoman narrative as outlined by Ahmet Davutoglu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A vexing question regarding this co-operation is both countries’ imperial aspirations in the Middle East. The presence of Iranian soldiers acting as military advisors in Iraq has led to speculations regarding a possible Iranian attempt to annexe Iraq or to control Iraq through a puppet-government. Turkish troops sent to Syria to protect the (empty) tomb of Suleyman Shah was widely regarded as a thinly veiled attempt to establish Turkish sovereignty over Syrian territory (or to provoke a reaction from Syria that would serve as a pretext for invasion).

This question of political boundaries in the Middle East will not go away. For the present ISIS holds its territory while the Kurds, Syrians, and Iraqis chip away at it. But the regime cannot last forever; while many disaffected Muslims are still flocking to their banner, they lack legitimacy in the eyes of leading Islamic authorities – and these authorities still have influence in the Islamic world. At some point they will be defeated or collapse, and that will provoke the question of what should be done with northern Iraq.

The narrative of the Western political elite tends towards nationalism rather than empire for this question. “Create an independent Kurdish state!” is a common enough cry. But will the Kurds and the West be in a position to obtain this “solution”? Neither Turkey nor Iran would support this move – they fear that the Kurds within their own political borders would move to secede and join the new Kurdish state in Iraq. Under the current political climate we have no stomach to upset Iran, and Turkey’s place in NATO limits the ability of the West to restrain the aspirations of Erdogan. Indeed, as Turkey’s democratically-elected leader, the West cannot oppose Erdogan without appearing as hypocrites.

Russia, as Turkey’s long-standing enemy, is the only one in a position to oppose Turkey. But the West has chosen a path of antipathy towards Russia and neither side possesses the humility to admit to this foolishness. We might accuse the East of intransigence over “honour”, but actually our own governments and diplomats have shown the same tendency.

The result of these policy failures of recent years is a set of misalignments. Part of Trump’s popularity springs from the supposition that he and Putin would be able to work together, that they would have a better relationship than Putin and the current administration have experienced. It is not that Putin appears to be a good man to such people – rather, they value a positive relationship with Russia more than other considerations.

The future of our relations with the Middle East is impossible to predict. It is important that governments and electorates in the West consider hard what their real values and principles are, and where they should be flexible. As Christians we need to remember that political constitutions are not the primary consideration for our political theology. Peace, security, justice – these things are more important. S. Paul advised the churches to pray for the well-being of their political leaders, and to respect their authority and power. He told the Romans that leaders were provided by God to administer justice and to protect people.

When asked to give an account of my antipathy towards the current regime in Turkey, I am not concerned if my opponents label me as “undemocratic” – I am concerned about the intentions of the government towards minorities, towards Christians, towards their neighbours in the Middle East.



A geographical concept?


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Writing in 2000, the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that ‘Europe is a geographical concept only in a way that is entirely secondary. Europe is not a continent that can be comprehended neatly in geographical terms. It is a cultural and historical concept’. At its heart were States where Roman Catholicism had played a notable historical and philosophical role. Their experience of the Nation State had said more about its frailties than its virtues, and the experience of war, occupation and defeat had done enough to convince its founding fathers that there had to be a better, more cooperative, way forward. It was out of that that the EU would emerge. Not having shared any of these experiences, the UK did not join the initial group, and never felt comfortable with the larger one; its culture and history, whilst intimately linked with ‘Europe’ were not sufficient to make up for the different experiences of modernity. The English had no experience of the nation state as a failure; the Scots and the Ulstermen had different experiences still. As for the Welsh, well I pass by without comment.

The founding fathers of the EU assumed what was true for them was true for others, and that what was true of the past would be true of the future – that is that there was a fundamental compatibility between the moral heritage of Christianity and that of the European Enlightenment. That turned out to be somewhat optimistic. What is sometimes called the ‘European model’  – that is a social order which combines a sound economy with social justice, political pluralism with tolerance, generosity and openness – actually depended on the values of a Christian civilization, and without the latter, it is far from clear why the former should survive. Speaking of this to the diplomatic corps in 2007, Benedict XVI said that Europe’s Christian roots represented a ‘dynamic component of our civilization as we move forward into the third millennium’ – the leaven, if you like, in the loaf. It is fine to be open to other cultures, but we should not forget the values of our culture; it is good to be rational, but we should not make the mistake of thinking that only things which can be measured are valuable.

The countries which came into the EU after the fall of Communism did so on the back of the failure of a whole system. Much is said about its economic failure, but it is equally clear that it was a social and moral failure – and that these things are linked. Much work has been done on the economic failures of communism, but less on its social and moral failings. It was not simply that it was based on a false economic dogmatism, it also failed utterly as a moral system: there was no respect for human rights or the liberty of the individual, and no recognition that man was more than a cog in an economic machine. As the Pope said back in 2007, the moral failure saw the drying up of souls and the destruction of a moral conscience.

The EU which they joined had, by that time, also come under the sway of secular materialism, knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. If we are to judge by the Referendum campaign, even the ‘Remain’ side saw it primarily in economic and not moral terms. Economics is not a science which wins hearts and minds. It remains to be seen whether, without the UK, it will be easier for those in the EU who do believe in its Christian heritage to reaffirm it, but it may well be that things have gone too far for that.

The Catholic Church and the State


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The relationship between the State and the Church has always been a vexed one. Splendid though it would be if both sides could agree on what is God’s and what is Caesar’s and stick to their respective sphere, this side of the Second Coming it is not going to happen. Where the Eastern Orthodox Church lived side by side with the Emperor for centuries and became part of a theocratic polity, this was not the experience of the Roman Catholic Church – the reason why is in the name ‘Roman’. By the time the Church was tolerated, and even more by the time it became the approved religion of the Empire, power had moved from Rome to Constantinople. As the Council of Chalcedon showed, Rome was wary of attempts by the new Imperial Capital to muscle in on its position of primus inter pares, and with the decline and fall of the Empire in the West, the Pope found himself often confronted with rulers who were sometimes hostile, sometimes heretics – and occasionally both; sometimes, as in the case of Leo the Great, with an enemy of the calibre of Attila the Hun. During what we call the Middle Ages, the Popes found themselves involved with disputes with the rulers of the Plantagenet Empire, the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire. This experience bred a healthy distrust of the power of the State, as well as the desire that the Pope should have his own State so he would never be entirely at the mercy of other rulers. That, of course, dragged the Popes into wars between States, but was still a better option than being the hostage of a single powerful ruler, even if, at times, that happened – and, as with Henry VIII’s expected annulment – could have serious consequences.

In modern times, the Papacy continued to struggle, not least with powerful nation States who expected all within their orbit to come under State control. The locus classicus of the modern Catholic experience was in Bismarck’s Germany, where the powerful Chancellor launched what became known as the kulturkampf in an effort to force the Church to bow to his will. He did not succeed, any more than did Hitler, and the Church in the West never, thank God, encountered an opponent as bloody and barbarous as Stalin, and so, however badly it was treated, as for example during the early stages of the French Revolution, the worst treatment it ever received was at the hands of Henry VIII’s commissioners.

This healthy distrust of the State shaped the Catholic view on the nature of the relationship between Church and State. The former preferred the latter to have a series of checks and balances, with mediating institutions existing within a society which could act as buffers between it and the State; such things prevented tyranny and gave the Church spaces in which it could operate. Where, as was the case in southern Europe for a long time, the monarch was a Catholic, it gave the Church a special place, but that was cemented as much by the role it played in education and welfare as much as it was by influence at Court. As secularisation took effect, and as parties hostile to the Church cut into its traditional roles, difficulties once more came to the fore. But the EU, with its system of checks and balances suited the Church – not surprisingly really since its founders were Catholics.

More recent developments, such as the refusal to acknowledge its Christian roots in the abortive constitution prepared a decade ago, and its attitude towards abortion and euthanasia, certainly caused some anxiety for the Church, bit both Pope Benedict and francis have emphasised the role Christians can play as the ‘leaven’ in the loaf. The British have opened out of this, but they are, at least in England and Wales (the two parts of the UK where ‘leave’ won) used to a State Church.

The USA, of course, has had a different model and experience, but there too, the balance of powers within the Constitutional settlement has provided the Church with the room it needs and freedom from an overbearing State.

In the final analysis, whatever theorists who fantasise about a Catholic State, might think, a system in which the Church is free to operate without the tyrannical State at its back, is as good as it gets this side of Heaven.

Moving on


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The observant may have noticed a change in the blog’s icon, as well as in its subject matter, so a word might be in order. Jessica, the ‘onlie begetter’ of AATW, will continue to contribute as the Spirit moves her, but isn’t going to do so on a regular basis. That leaves things up to those of us who think it worth continuing to do so. I am grateful to Neo and Nicholas for filling gaps this last week, and am more than happy if others can do so.

We have been through some travails in the past four years, and latterly some of our Catholic commentators withdrew, feeling that the tenor of some posts was not something with which they wished to associate. Whilst not agreeing with some of the conclusions in those posts, they seemed to me to raise questions well worth discussing, and since their author was not a member of the Catholic Church, it seemed, as it still seems to me, fair enough that those posts did not reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church. As with all blogs, tone can be hard to get right, but we move on – and since my Church, like many others, values symbolism, I thought having the famous Newman portrait by Millais, a good symbol of that. I have updated the ‘About’ section to make it more up to date.

The change in subject matter reflects my own somewhat different interests. Jessica is interested in theological debates and knotty problems of Apologetics, which whilst not alien to me, are not my natural home. The teaching of the Catholic Church satisfies me, and I am happy to defend it when it is challenged and misrepresented, but feel no urgent need to test it myself; I did that before, as it were, signing up. The intersections between history, theology, politics and international relations are, however, my natural home, and as recent posts suggest, I feel that the Church, and Christianity in general, has an important part to play if our society is to survive the perilous experiment of trying to create one without an agreed moral base. Catholic social teaching has much to offer those who are dissatisfied with our political groupings, and who feel that existing political parties have more to say about past trends than they do about future needs.

My own political views are broadly conservative, but in the older sense. I found Mrs May’s words on entering Downing Street much to my taste, and if she can follow through, I shall feel happier than I have of late voting Conservative. I am not blind to the moral appeal to the young of some of Mr Corbyn’s positions, but having spent many years watching the virtue signalling of his type of left-wing politics, am impressed more by the chasm between rhetoric and practice than by the practicality of what he proposes. Were I am American (and I am a great Americanophile, having had the great good fortune to live there for a while) I do not know for whom I would vote. Mrs Clinton seems to embody much of what is wrong with the current system, whilst Mr Trump seems to me to show why it needs real reform; he channels the anger of the many who feel they have been left behind and forgotten – but I am unconvinced he offers any solutions in the real world. Yet it is plain that ‘the people’ cry out for ‘solutions’. As a conservative, I am sceptical of long-term solutions, and of too much State intervention; but, as Catholic social teaching suggests, there are sometimes areas in which the State needs to intervene – Christ did not say to ask whether the poor and the needy were ‘deserving’ before feeding and clothing them.

The values on which Western civilization have been built owe much to Christianity, and in abandoning the latter, it remains unclear to me that we shall be able to retain the former. Christians should beware of thinking that their faith offers any policy proposals, but it does offer broad ethical and moral considerations which ought to inform a decent political system. Recent posts have offered various riffs on that theme, and I have no doubt future ones will do the same. I look forward to your comments, and, I hope, your continued readership.

Afraid of Islam?


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One of our commentators, Annie, reminded me that Cardinal Burke would disagree with my post yesterday because he is firmly of the opinion we should be ‘afraid of Islam’. It is always with huge reluctance that I find myself at odds with a Prince of the Church:

“There is no place for other religions…as long as Islam has not succeeded in establishing its sovereignty over the nations and over the world,” Burke said in Hope for the World.

“It is important for Christians to realize the radical differences between Islam and Christianity in matters concerning their teaching about God, about conscience, etc.,” said Burke. “If you really understand Islam, you understand that the Church really should be afraid of it.”

“Islam is a religion that, according to its own interpretation, must also become the State”

I was reminded of the reaction of some Protestants to my own Church here, not to mention the reaction of some Catholic traditionalists. I am not terribly sure that either group would necessarily agree with the Cardinal that teaching about freedom of conscience is something on which the Church has majored; Protestants would say this in one type of anxiety, remembering the fires of Smithfield, whilst traditionalists would say it with another form of anxiety, remembering fondly the days of the index of forbidden books. Quite how ‘radical’ the difference between our two faith is, historically, in matters of freedom of conscience and the right of people in a State to dissent from Islam/the Church, seems to me a more vexed question than the Cardinal allows for. St Pius IX would not, I suggest, have concurred with him on that issue.

It seems to me that Cardinal Sarah gets closer to the truth when he talked about the dangers of fundamentalist Islam – but it ought to be noted he also referred to the dangers to be apprehended from the ‘mentality of the secularized world and individualistic West.’ It is not from Islam that the dangers of ‘”gender ideology”, and groups like FEMEN and the LGBT lobby’, come, which, he argued ‘leads to the “subjectivist disintegration in the secularized West through quick and easy divorce, abortion, homosexual unions, euthanasia”.’ It is surely closer to the mark to identify extreme forms of Islam as the danger we should fear?

One commentator on yesterday’s post thought it a product of wishful thinking and directed me to a lecture by an American Muslim professor to put me right. I listened with interest, but remain uncertain what it was supposed to put be right about, as he did not seem to be saying anything vastly different than I was, which is that whatever dangers are to be apprehended from individuals purporting to be speaking in the name of Islam, we should beware of doing them the honour of taking them at face value as the main representatives of Islam.

It might, of course, be that I am guilty of wishful thinking here, and if so, it would be interesting to know what those who think that would counsel in terms of how we live with the millions of Muslims in our countries, the vast majority of whom seem to me to have interests very similar to those of most of their countrymen and women in terms of life, and do not appear to be bent on allying themselves with Jihadists. Were I an advocate of that sort of Western ‘freedom’ of which Cardinal Sarah was so critical, I suppose I might think somewhat differently. I might look across Europe at the tactic of filling the population gap left by mass abortion and contraception by mass immigration, and wonder whether my faith that religion was in decline was going to be justified when so much of that immigration comes in the form of people who take their faith very seriously. As a Catholic, I might legitimately wonder why my own Church appears to be less effective at getting its people do do likewise – but that is another debate for another time.


NT Readings 17th Sunday in OT Year C


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The Gospel reading for this Sunday can be found here along with a beautiful rendering of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic.

The Epistle is St Paul to the Colossians 2:12-14

We are told by St Ambrose that our flesh could not eliminate sin unless it were crucified in Christ Jesus; he is crucified in us that our sins might be purged by him, he, who alone can forgive sins, nails to his Cross the handwriting that was against us.

Death, Augustine reminds us, is the common lot of all men, but for the believer it is a passage from corruption to incorruption, for baptised in Christ, we rise with him. For the Christian it is the death of vice and the awakening into virtue. The Gentiles were dead because they refused to receive the Law which had been given as a witness to God, and as a means of condemning vice. With Christ comes the forgiveness of sins. And Augustine reminds us that if we find these passing days, in which we recall his passion and resurrection with special devotion and solemnity exhilarating, then how much more blessed and blissful shall we find that eternal day which dawns when we see him face to face. What exultant joy will God give to his Church on that day.

Chrysostom discusses the nature of the debt we had to pay, which is that of Adam, for by eating of the fruit of the tree he and his successors forfeited God’s favour and the devil held them in bondage. It is from that bondage we are redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But we need to see to it that we do not again become debtors to that old contract with Satan. Theodore of Mopsuestia thought the bond is the one we incurred by our inability to keep the whole of the Law, but says that once we pass through baptism the Law is not needed for our hearts will incline toward God.

St Ambrose reminds us that Christ was without sin, yet he took on himself the burden of our sin – he freed us from the bond of sin. The Cross is not the death of the Son of God, but of Sin, it is Sin which is nailed to the Cross.

The whole scheme of salvation is, Augustine wrote, one by which God became man for the sake of finding us and redeeming us. The bond of sin is obliterated in the Saviour’s blood. In him and through him we are saved.

Islam and the West


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It seems as though we cannot have a few days going by without there being a fresh atrocity. There is already an established set of reactions. There are social media reports that the attacker shouted a Muslim slogan; there are tight-lipped official sources who will say nothing about the origin of the attacker. Then comes the suggested the person was acting alone, a ‘crazed gunman’, and even that he must in some way have belonged to a right-wing group. Finally comes the revelation that the perpetrator had some links to radicalised Islamists. On the one hand is an anxiety to say something bad about Islam, on the other an anxiety not to make a bad situation worse. Underlying this curious dance are two different world-views: one sees Islam as an existential threat, the other sees it as part of a multi-cultural world, and between them, it seems, there is is no middle way.

The history of the relationship between Christianity and Islam has certainly been one of considerable violence, with the latter erupting into the Eastern Roman Empire with a spasm of violence which would conquer the whole of the southern Mediterranean Coast, from which an invasion of the Iberian Peninsula would follow. It took the victory of Charles Martel at Poitiers in 732 to put an end to the prospect of Western Europe falling under Islamic rule. In the east Islam spread to the borders of India, and by 1453 the capital of the Eastern Roman empire fell under Ottoman control. It was not until John Sobieski turned the Ottoman back from the gates of Vienna in 1683 that the prospect of central Europe falling under Ottoman control faded; it would take another century before Tsarist Russia would begin a process of pushing back the Ottoman domains which would end in 1922 with the fall of the Caliphate. Historical ignorance and a concentration on the Crusades has left many with the false impression that the Western Powers were the aggressors in the relationship between Christianity and Islam when for most of the time, it was the other way round; and, of course, the Crusades failed and the Christians lost.

In short, it is easy to fashion a narrative which says that because for most of the time Islam has been the aggressor, this is true again today. That is to ignore the period from 1774 through to today when, for much of the time, it was the Christian Powers who have been the aggressors – a narrative which has left some in the Islamic world arguing that the ‘Crusaders’ are out to destroy Islam. In fact it is only a minority on both sides against whom the charge of trying to destroy the other can be made – but because these minorities are very noisy, and, on the Islamic side, violent, they occupy much of the public square on the issue.

We get cries that all Muslims should renounce extremism and denounce the extremists, as though, in some way, that would help anything and somehow prove that they were ‘loyal’ to their host country. I can remember when the same demands were made in some quarters about the Irish on the Mainland of the UK during the ‘Troubles’ – as though somehow even being a Catholic meant you were sympathetic to blowing up British soldiers and innocent civilians. It was an insulting suggestion then, and is equally so now when made of our Muslim neighbours. From the evidence we have, it seems unlikely that most members of ISIS have any great grounding in Islamic teaching and more likely that they use their imperfect understanding of it as an excuse for their homicidal impulses and their lust for sex and power. To demand that real Muslims dissociate themselves from such people would be rather like demanding that Christians dissociated themselves from the old (or new) Ku Klux Klan. It is to surrender to the narratives peddled by the extremists.

There are millions of Muslims living in the West, and they are not going to go away. Most of them, the vast majority, want simply to coexist in peace with their fellow countrymen and women, Christian, atheist, Jew, agnostic or whatever. On the whole, I have found Muslims less antipathetic to other faith groups than many secularists. However much the knee might jerk when we have atrocities like the latest one in Munich, or horrors such as what happened in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, it is not going to help anyone to allow it to do so uncontrolled. To take an unexpected line, just as it is not guns who kill people, but killers, so, too, it is not Islam that kills people, but killers. If we give any credence to the narrative from some of those killers that they are authentic representatives of Islam, they win.

None of that is to say that relations between the West and some Islamic States are not problematic, but it is interesting that we appear to have managed to cope well enough for a long time with a state like Saudi Arabia – one of the most Islamic of States. Just as secularists in the West are having to get used to the idea that religion is not going to die, so they, and Christians, need to get used to the idea that among those religions not dying is Islam. We are living together, and we are going to go on doing so. It is the height of irresponsibility to give in to the narrative peddled by extremists on either side.


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