Where do we go from here?


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End times

Throughout the Western world the number of professing Christians is shrinking. Even within their ranks, the definition of what constitutes a ‘Christian’ is ambiguous, and even within the Catholic Church, in one way the last redout of orthodoxy, we have priests arguing for the acceptance of the ‘gay’ lifestyle and accommodation with this fundamentally anti-Christian culture. The siren voices of ”accommodation” are to be heard in the land. Homosexuality is not, after all, a subject on which Christ spoke, it is culturally conditioned, we know better, science tells us … etc., etc., etc. So, all we need is to ignore two thousand years’ worth of tradition and consistent Christian teaching, and the world will love us. After all, all you need is love and love wins! Ignore the reasons for which love exists, it’s all about sex, not the creation of a unit into which children can be born and nurtured, or a place where we learn to put our own needs second to those of others, and where we restrain some of our ‘natural’ instincts in higher cause; love is contextualised and the context is that it is not all about us. That runs so counter to our culture that it is no surprise that it would not get it. Everything is about ‘me’ and ‘my satisfaction’.

But orthodox Christians are not going to fall for such sophistry. We know Jesus stood by the moral law, and we know what that means for all sexual sins. We know that the consistent teaching of all churches until recently is not to be disregarded because of a combination of hireling ministers and a desire not to be ‘harsh”. But we also know that this world isn’t going to change any time soon – it is going to insist on having its way. Some want to go head to head – as though that is going to work. Others suggest withdrawing to a spiritual catacomb. Pugnacious by instinct, I’m in favour of fighting – but as I look at the line of battle, I come to the conclusion it isn’t worth it. The State has a right to define its version of marriage as it chooses, and non-Christians cannot possibly be expected to agree that they cannot have a State version of marriage because a minority group in our society wishes to deny them that opportunity. It makes no sense to them, and we cannot win that fight. Into the valley of death and all that – but the last ditch smells for a reason – it is full of dead bodies.

Better, I think, to continue to make the case that churches are not going to do this. If there are tax exemptions we lose, so be it; let Caesar have what he wants. Here, we don’t get this anyway, at least not for my lot, and it strengthens my view that having nothing to do with the State is the best way to be. We will get on, live our Christianity as an example to the world, resisting where it is necessary.

Crowns of Glory and Honor

It seems to me that marriage has a very specific historical and cultural, specifically religious, understanding that has never, at least until very recently, had anything whatsoever to do with interpersonal love and the like. Marriage, for most of human history, has been about child bearing, community building, legitimacy, and inheritance—affairs of the state, so to speak. Of course, within the Church, which was the state in the West and the East for a time, marriage was also symbolic, of salvation, divine love, the Trinity, etc, but even still St Paul thought it of little worth “it is better to marry than to burn with lust.” (1 Cor. 7.9)

Indeed the RCC didn’t make it officially a sacrament until the 12th century. The Reformers didn’t even think it worthy of being made a sacrament when they broke from the Church as it didn’t meet their requirements of being founded by Jesus, preserved by the Apostles, and codified by the early Church. And, moreover, outside of marriage’s symbolic function in the Church, while spiritually refreshing, was miniscule in importance when compared to the weightier matters of inheritance and procreation, which were the primary drivers of marriage’s societal significance.

So, this rather modern idea that marriage is about romantic love is nonsensical. It’s not. Never has been. Of course friendship and interpersonal love have a part to play in marriage, no question, but only insofar as they accompany any relationship worth having, sexual or not. But romantic love is to be distinguished from marriage in much the same way that a person’s appearance is to be distinguished from that person.

However, what is happening in modern society is the secularizing of a religious custom by re-defining marriage as solely constituted by romantic love, as if the historical, cultural, specifically religious, context matters not, and all the responses in protest to this idea by means of natural law and the like miss the boat entirely, for that approach concedes the initial assumption—that marriage is, entirely, about earthly or human love, that is, interpersonal love, romantic love, eros. Given that assumption, there is no compelling secular argument against gay marriage, unless I am unaware of persuasive sociological data that clearly demonstrates the adverse social effects of gay sexual relationships (some recent data has been interpreted as demonstrating the adverse social effects of gay sexual relationships, but it is not clear to me what that data says).

Of course, there is no need to concede the assumption because it is plainly false, not only as a matter of history and culture, but also as a matter of a logically consistent metaphysics. For romantic love, not only in marriage, but in itself, only makes sense within the context of a sensible metaphysics with an accompanying spiritual symbolism; that is, when sexual and interpersonal love is directed toward some transcendental end, some deeper truth—the Good, for instance.

Indeed the irony here is that the best articulation of marriage being about romantic love is a distinctly Christian or, at the very least, religious or Platonic or what have you apology. That is, human love apologetics is a coherent elucidation of marriage only within a sufficiently religious or mystical metaphysics, where the destination of all love and desire is love and desire as such, that is, Love itself, the Good itself, Beauty itself, that is, God, properly understood.

Now, sure, the religious symbolism of marriage can be appropriated for secular purposes, as much religious symbolism has been over the centuries, but love, as modern society understands it, only makes sense when operating within some appropriate metaphysical system, where the signposts of that system point, beyond themselves, to deeper, more transcendent truths. Otherwise, love is mere sexual attraction or the gratification of desire or sensual pleasure or what have you. Consequently, it is no longer love, at least not the sort of love that modern society talks about in bad novels and superficial magazines and dreadful romantic comedies—unifying, conquering, social-norm-defying, dignity bestowing, and so on, love, the love of the Beatles song lyric, “all you need is love,” the supererogatory, extraordinary, non-obligatory kind of love.

Naturally, most of modern society agrees—“these are consenting adults who love each other” is the popular sentiment amongst folks of my generation concerning marriage, love and private choice being emphasized here.

But that sort of love, the dignity bestowing kind, is not a lucid and coherent concept when stripped of its metaphysical referents, love is not a metaphysical signification that can be situated in just any old metaphysical system. For instance, how could a naturalistic, materialistic understanding of love preserve the popular, common sense conviction about marriage as a dignity bestowing, love obsessed, eternal institution? It could not, at least not and remain logically consistent.

Indeed it is not so much that marriage, as a legal and social custom, bestows dignity on the persons being married—that is not the secular understanding of marriage at all—but that interpersonal love, romantic love, constitutes marriage as such, and, as a result, bestows dignity on married couples. Modern society thinks that marriage is synonymous with human love, with some legal documents and societal rituals attached. And, although in practice that statement is difficult to justify, I understand the sentiment—in the Orthodox Church, for instance, marriage is not a legal contract. But my point is simply that that understanding of love and marriage is only clear and coherent within the appropriate metaphysics, particularly a religious metaphysic.

However, what I am not saying is that people cannot be non-religious and be in love or religious and not be in love or what have you. I am merely stating that any proper understanding of love, be it romantic or not, must have some element of the transcendent; some final end or purpose, some telos, towards which it is striving, and this directedness toward the Agape immanent in and beyond all things can happen for atheists and theists alike, if it could not, it would not be love.

But to strip love of its metaphysical referents is to strip love of its meaning and its power. It can no longer bestow dignity, mend broken families, give aid to the poor, help the sick, and so forth, because that sort of love requires some non-natural element, some Logos or Agape immanent in all things or at least some transcendental end to be the ultimate destination of all desire as such. For instance, we don’t say that sexual attraction or the gratification of desire or sensual pleasure is dignity bestowing or can change the world for the better, do we? No. In fact, we probably say the opposite. But we do say that love can do those things.

If love is nothing more than biology, it cannot be what we think it is, and it cannot do what we want it to do. It cannot change the world, because it can never point beyond itself to the true reality; it cannot fundamentally alter our vision of the world; it cannot escape the baser instincts and selfish tendencies of our species; it cannot act as our better angels.

Of course, evolutionary origins and genetic analysis and brain mapping may one day explain the neurophysiology of love, but that is just chemical sensations and neuropeptides and what have you, that no more explains love, properly understood, than a bicycle explains how to ride a bicycle. Love inspires self-sacrifice and total commitment to others. Love asks us to go beyond the call of duty, to act in ways that are not morally obligatory, to do the extraordinary, to do things that are not self-serving or instinctual. Indeed love asks us to rebel against our natural drives—to help the poor in Liberia or the dispossessed in Syria or criminals in prison; to love our enemies; to give to those who would steal from us; to love God and man. But scientific theories cannot ask these things of us because science cannot tell us what we ought to do. Scientific theories can predict and explain and unify natural phenomena, but scientific theories cannot act as the Cross on a hill pointing beyond itself to a world filled with love.

But if love carries with it ultimate significance, as the Cross intimates, then its power is limitless, on this point the modernists align themselves with Christ and St. Paul and St. John—love is a world-changer in the appropriate context.

Simply put, human love is not about Eros so much as it is about Agape. Eros is merely an instantiation of Agape, that is, Eros images Agape, Eros participates in Agape, to borrow from Plato. Agape is the essential nature of Eros; agape is the human loves’ essence. Human love, at least the common sense understanding of it, only makes sense within this metaphysical context. And, as such, any conception of marriage must account for this understanding of human love—one cannot infer the desired conclusion from any old set of premises. One cannot get the love of Christ, for instance, from naturalistic premises. And one cannot get marriage as entering a new reality without Christ—no matter the vows; no matter the promises; no matter the contract; no matter how much one person loves the other person.

However, modern society wants to do precisely that: to keep all the good stuff about love but not the metaphysical principles that justify it. Alas…any understanding of marriage that is built on so flimsy an understanding of love is doomed to collapse at the slightest breath of reality.

Of course, I should not be surprised at the banality of our age, where the insatiable thirst for more and more things and more and more desires is shaped and sustained. We are a society obsessed with buying stuff; with gratifying desires; with removing more impediments blocking the gratification of such desires. In such a society, ultimate goods give way to immediate goods. And such a society is, at least implicitly, non-Christian. Our holy texts are bad novels and Amazon; our religious duty is shopping and sex; our faith is private choice.

God becomes just another impediment standing in the way of our pleasure seeking. Christian virtues give way to greed and pride; lust and envy.

Transcendent values have no place in such a society, so they are replaced by price tags and pleasures.







Connecting with reality


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Now there’s a provocative title from an old Baptist – ho, ho, ho, a believer in the sky fairy calling for a reality check. Well, there’s not much you can do with a fellow who thinks Christians believe in a sky fairy; anyone who misuses their intellect to that degree isn’t going to be won over until the Spirit moves them. Anyone with any skills in introspection who cannot find original sin, is not looking and will not see what they do not wish to see. Good and evil we do, but why we incline so easily to the bad and find it so difficult to do the good, are questions more easily answered by Christian theology and anthropology than by a secular mindset.

Be that as it may, what reality do I think folk should be connecting with? The first and overwhelming reality is the flaws in our own nature. We see a lot of folk bandying the word ‘Modernism’ about without defining it – for Catholics it is first and foremost the belief whereby people imagine they’ve a right to pick and choose which of the Church teachings to follow, and which to reject – thereby setting up themselves as the highest authority. It’s something common across the spectrum, though, and not just confined to Catholicism.

We live in a society where freedom has become license, and where our natural disinclination to obey receives perpetual encouragement: ‘love’ that cannot express itself in personal sexual gratification is disregarded, which is why the various churches not only have trouble with homosexuality, but with heterosexual sins: fornication and even adultery seem fine as long as ‘you love each other'; in such a moral climate it is no wonder homosexuals feel discriminated against – why should they be the last group to feel the effects of traditional Christian teaching?

The reality we recognise is that of our fallen nature, and instead, as Christianity has traditionally taught, struggling against it with the help of God’s Grace, we are taught to relax into it – to ‘be ourself’. Which self? The self who, given half a hint of a chance will do whatever is easiest and most selfish, or that other self who will go the further mile? It’s not accidental that Jesus so often uses examples from family life, because it is there our best nature is so often revealed. We’ll do things for our children by way of self-sacrifice that we’d not do for anyone else. I can never read the parable of the Prodigal without tears welling up. We are so often at our best when we deal with our children, and the smaller, nastier, more selfish parts of us tend to fall away.

It is that, redeemed and restored reality with which we need to be in touch, it is the Grace working in us upon which we need to concentrate – then we can be who we really are – made in God’s image. It is to that we should aspire – not be ‘being ourself’ in this fallen world’s fallen vision.


Useful Idiocy


Let’s review the implications of Chalcedon’s disturbing errors on the subject of obedience.

From what I can gather of Chalcedon’s position, in particular what I gather from his unwillingness to accept even the most uncontroversial claims of Traditionalists in this matter, all Chalcedonites are surely bound to profess the following:

1. Everything that comes from any Pope as touching faith and morals, whether by word or example, no matter how dodgy it may sound to me, must always be regarded as true and above criticism, unless and until the Pope makes it untrue by a subsequent statement.

2. I must therefore believe it. If I doubted it, that would be disobedient (?!?!?). If it contradicts a dogma of the faith of which I am certain, it’s my Catholic Faith that needs to change, to accommodate what the Holy Father is saying.

CENSURE: Idolatrous and heretical. Idolatrous, because affording a man the absolute infallibility which is possessed by God alone. Heretical, because contradicting the definition of Papal infallibility given in the First Vatican council.

This doctrine is taught NOWHERE by the Catholic Church. It is non-existent. The Church teaches we have a duty of obedience to our lawful superiors, and that this must be an inward affair rather than a mere outward show of obedience in externals.

BUT THE CHURCH ALSO TEACHES in moral theology that an obligation of Faith trumps an obligation of obedience, because obedience – even in respect of the Holy Father – is a moral virtue, not a theological virtue. We should obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

I have expounded on this at great length several times before, and will not repeat the exercise again here.

Chalcedon and others like him are, alas, serving as Satan’s useful idiots, by perpetuating the false obedience that allowed the present apostasy so firmly to take hold in the first place. It has been truly said; Satan’s masterstroke was to introduce rebellion in the name obedience.

Obedience and its opposite


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Cardinal Napier arrives for morning session of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican

Cardinal Napier shows the right way to do this sort of thing

In his usual trenchant style, our friend quiavideruntoculi has offered some reflections on some aspects of magisterial authority and why now, is appears to him, that some bishops preach heresy. Let us examine these.

He sets out three phenomena which in his view have prevented Bishops teaching heresy. These, we should note, are randomly assigned, with no evidence to support them. Be that as it may, let us take them together. The first, the fact that Bishops are required to have studied some theology, is true, so we must assume that it is not this, but the other two criteria which have been undermined. The second is little less than a slander on our Bishops. We are airily informed from a position of something like omniscience that ‘some (few) bishops believe in God’. It seems to me that whatever credibility might attach to this line of thought falls away here. Any Catholic who begins from the assumption that his fathers in Christ believe in Christ less than he does, begins in rebellion; by all mean make a striking point to attract attention – if one must – but do not do so by insulting the faith of men who have devoted their whole lives to a Church of which you have been been a member for a few years; this is unworthy. And certainly do not go on to attribute venial motives to them in order to explain away your own postulate – which is that our bishops teach heresy and did not, in your own opinion, do so previously, but only for selfish reasons.

We then get to more assumptions which ignore the way the Church works. It is supposed that we, able to identify heresy when those set by God above us to do such things do not perceive it, should correct them. What, one might ask, are the canonical provisions for this? Do we email the Pope and tell him that as far as we are concerned he’s a miserable heretic? There is, in QV’s post a great deal about what we, as individuals ought to do, how we will decided what is heresy, how we will decide how to react to it, and how it is up to us as individuals to do what the Church wants. There is no mention here of Canon Law or the due processes of the Catholic Church, simply a Protestant style of reasoning whereby we, as individual sinners, have the right to judge our fathers in Christ.

What then, we might ask, when we have so judged and found the Church wanting, should we do when the Church disagrees, and when those qualified to pronounce on the Pope do not agree that he is an heretic? To that, there appears no answer offered. But I suppose if one can agree to believe all that the Church confesses, and find almost every bishop venial and the Pope an heretic, there is no real need to provide an answer – the sensus fidelium will surely rise up to recognise one’s own superior wisdom – after which someone else will rise up to denounce one, and so on and so forth. We know where this line of thought leads – from the time of Diotrophes, throught Arius and Luther and beyond, it leads to schism and disunity.

Quite what it is leads some to think, not least after the last Synod, that the Cardinals are simply going to roll over and disregard centuries of settle teaching, I don’t know, is their faith so weak? Loud as such critics are when it comes to liberals disregarding Church teaching, they seem prepared to do so themselves – even before there is a need to do so. Have faith, pray, and pray some more. An end to clamouring that one’s one definitions of the fulness of the faith are infallible, where those of the Holy Father are manifest heresies. If this is what passes for Catholic obedience, we are indeed in a parlous place.

Of course there is a huge irony here. In the sort of Church favoured by QV, his attitude would be denounced and he would find himself under censure, indeed, in his favourite of all eras, he might even have been burned at the stake. Fortunately, whether he sees it that way of not, this is not how the Church now behaves

Gospel for the feast of SS Peter and Paul


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The feast day of SS Peter and Paul is one of the most important in the calendar of the Church. The tradition of the Church tells us that both men were executed in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Nero; both were buried and honoured there. The early Church Fathers found the verses from Matthew which are the subject of this Sunday’s Gospel reading on which to comment extensively.

Matthew 16:13-19

St John Chrysostom (349-407) points out, in his homily on the Gospel, that the Lord takes the disciples outside the borders of Judea into the territory of the Gentiles where ‘being free from all alarm, they might speak with boldness all that was in their mind.’  Epiphanius the Latin (late fifth, early sixth century), takes up this theme in his ownInterpretation of the Gospels. It was here, in the lands of the Gentiles, that the Father revealed to Peter what flesh and blood had revealed to no man. This foreshadows the fact that it would be the Gentiles who, through faith, would come to acknowledge Christ as the Son of God, where so many of his own people in Judea, would not recognise that. Theodore of Heraclea (d. 355), whose works survive only in small fragments, of which the commentary on this passage is part, notes the didactic purpose in what Jesus does. He asks the question in order to discover what opinions about him were current among the Jews. His use of the term ‘Son of Man’, highlights the fact that Jesus is unchangeably man without ceasing to be God. Chrysostom takes this further, showing how Jesus leads his followers into a dialogue which will draw them into a ‘more sublime notion’ of who he really is. The dialogue comes after Jesus had performed many miracles and given many proofs of his divinity and his union with the Father, but even these had not lifted the veil of incomprehension from the eyes of his disciples. Only the Divine will could lift that veil, and here we see this truth. Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428), one of the founders of the exegetical school in Antioch, writes that at this stage his disciples were not all clear who he was, with some thinking he might be John the Baptist risen (as Herod did) or Elijah returned, or even Jeremiah.

St Cyril of Alexandria (c.376 – 444 -whose feast day we celebrated yesterday, 27 June) points out that Peter did not say ‘you are a Christ’ or ‘a son of God’, for many are they who have, by Grace, become these things by adoption; but there is only one who is by nature the Son of God. Peter indicates that Jesus is the one with power over life and death and in whom all authority lies.

Jesus says that Peter’s confession is the rock, and that on this rock he will build his church. This, according to Theodore of Mopsuestia, means that Jesus builds his church on this same confession of faith. For this reason, Jesus changes the name of the Apostle from Simon to ‘Peter’, which in the Aramaic means ‘rock’, to signify his authority. To him and the church are given the keys to the kingdom. He who is a member of the church has access to the kingdom; he who is not, does not.

Christ, Epiphanius, writes, is the rock which is never worn away of can be destroyed. Peter gladly receives his new name to signify the established and unshaken faith of the Church. The devil will forever seek to undermine the church, but he will fail because it is based on unshakable foundations.

Pope St Leo the Great (440-461) notes that in saying that the Father has revealed to Peter the truth of his identity, Jesus goes on to to invest Peter with authority. Of course Jesus is the cornerstone and the rock, but he now says to Peter: “you also are rock because you are made firm with my strength. What properly belongs to me, you share with my by participation”. This confession will not be restrained even by the very gates of hell, for it is a declaration of life. It lifts up to heaven those who confess it, and those who deny it sink into hell. The right to bind and loose is given to all the Apostles, but it is entrusted in a unique way to the one whose name is changed to signify he is the rock chosen by Jesus.


Submission of the Intellect and Will


Excuse the absurd paragraph lengths in some of this. There were more paragraphs. but it appears WordPress has eaten them.

Since Chalcedon has favoured us with some cautionary reflections on the excesses of some in respect of filial correction of the Holy Father and insubordination to magisterial authority, I want to advert to the dangers on the converse side. First, let us define our terms:

The magisterium  (=office of a master) is the teaching office of the Church, exercised continuously from the beginning by the Ecclesia Docens (=the teaching Church).  Supremely it is exercised by the Pope sui juris in a dogmatic definition ex cathedra, per the criteria set out in Vatican I. There are two modes in which the magisterium operates, extraordinary and ordinary. All extraordinary exercises of the magisterium (including dogmatic definitions of general councils in union with the supreme pontiff, and ex cathedra definitions) enjoy infallibility and the teachings so proposed are de fide (=must be assented to with the assent of Divine Faith by all Catholics on pain of heresy and eternal death).

Of the ordinary exercises of the magisterium, that is, the teaching of any bishop – including the bishop of Rome – in his capacity as bishop, and not e.g. as contributor to a doctrinal definition at a general council, or as the successor of Peter, only one is infallible, and that only per accidens. This is where a bishop teaches his flock definitively on a matter of faith and morals in accord with the moral unanimity of all bishops in union with the Pope, the so called ordinary and universal magisterium. Note that only where the unanimity of the ordinary magisterium on a given point is clearly visible is its teaching binding. A latent or doubtful infallibility is – for all practical purposes – no infallibility at all. To turn now to the topic at hand. In respect of other various non-infallible modes of the ordinary magisterium – including Papal Encyclicals, for example – the rule is that the faithful should offer the obsequium religiosum (=religious submission of intellect and will). This quite traditional teaching is summarised in chapter 25, subsection a) of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council which reads: “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” Now, in normal times, this duty of submission has not presented many difficulties to the faithful, at least, not to those among the faithful worthy of the name. Why? Because, in normal times, a prelate – even if he may turn out to have backed the wrong horse on a question (say, a question of moral theology), or, in fact, even if he is a rotten scoundrel and couldn’t care less about teaching the truth – would not seek to impose actual heresy. Why? Because:

  1. All bishops have been obliged to read theology to some level.
  2. Some (few) bishops believe in God and love Him and fear Him, and so transmit the treasures of the Eternal Word from the treasury of their own hearts to their flock.
  3. Of those who do not believe in God, or have no fear of Him, most – historically – have found the course of least resistance to teach the truth they have read in books in public and, if so inclined, use their position, in private, to line their own pockets materially. Open heresy or apostasy had, until very recently, meant manifold inconveniences, up to and including being burned at the stake.

But the former social and ecclesiastical restraints on the infidelities of ungodly clergy have been removed in our own day, and there is now no practical obstacle to Bishops Tom, Dick, or Kasper teaching more or less whatever takes their fancy. In fact, there is a strong incentive, in the cult of personality and favourable publicity they will garner for their overt prostitution of their offices, and – on the negative side – freedom from persecution and molestation by the powers of Satan operative in the World, who regard them as conquered territory. Besides, it feels so “affirming”. So what happens when we encounter apparent contradiction or heresy in some non-infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium? The first response is to check our own understanding, to ensure we have not misread or misparsed the teaching. To fail to do this would be to fail to pay due respect if only to the cleric’s credentials as a theologian [NB A cleric may by multiple public blunders destroy his own credibility, which naturally would obviate this obligation]. If we are competent and sure of our ground – normally one would have to be a qualified theologian, but in the case of a glaring error touching on a fundamental point of doctrine every mentally normal Catholic adult would be competent – we should use discrete, polite, filial correction, “Please  my Lord / your Eminence / Grace / Holiness, I looked at this and it seems wrong. Please could you clarify / correct it.” At which point His Lordship / Eminence / Grace / Holiness might say, “Oh dear, mea culpa, you’re quite right. A pox on these illiterate typists!” and retract the original text. He might stand his ground, in which case we would – where possible – appeal to a higher authority. If we are dealing with the Pope he might might ramp it up a notch and define the thing dogmatically, and we would be proved wrong, either on the point at issue, or – per impossibile – in adhering to the Catholic religion (!). Or he might just not say or do anything, which is what has been happening for 60 years now as a matter of course. In this case we must use prudence to determine whether the matter is of sufficient gravity to warrant more urgent or public action, always looking – ultimately – to the Pope to decide the matter definitively in God’s own good time. In all of this due deference is eminently preserved, and the intellect remains manifestly in submission to the magisterium. It is not a defect in obedience which prompts the individual’s filial response to his erring pastor, but rather obedience to a higher law – the infallible teaching of the Church, guaranteed by the authority of God Himself. From which we perceive, then, that failing to do this when the circumstances require it of us – however rarely, mercifully, those circumstances obtain – is most dangerous to our salvation, because it places our human respect God’s minister above our duty to God’s own Truth. This is a sin against faith. But what about publicly acting to discredit the Pontiff? It is never permissible to bring the office of the papacy into disrepute, because this would be blasphemous. It serves only Satan’s ends.  In addition, gratuitous or rash language about the Pope is also studiously to be avoided, inasmuch as these things are also sinful. If, however, a Pope is – by his own actions, private or official – bringing the office into disrepute, and especially if, moreover, that Pope is abusing his pontificate in a way most lethal to souls, namely, as an heresiarch and an infidel teaching and confirming others in their heresy,  it becomes imperative that he is exposed in his wickedness to all, and his errors shouted from the roof-tops. Why? Because the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls. If by our silence we contribute to the damnation of another, the Lord will require his blood at our hand. Conversely, if through the wickedness and folly of a prelate the faithful are forced to resist him, the sin will be on the prelate’s account, and the faithful will be blameless in the eyes of God.

The feast day of St Cyril of Alexandria


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 St Cyril of alexA Prayer of St Cyril

“O most holy Lady, Theotokos, light of my poor soul, my hope, my protection, my refuge, my comfort, and my joy! I thank you for having enabled me to be a partaker of the most pure Body and most precious Blood of your Son. Enlighten the eyes of my heart, O Blessed One who carried the Source of Immortality.

Enlighten the eyes of my heart, O Blessed One who carried the Source of Immortality.

O most tender and loving Mother of the merciful God; have mercy on me and grant me a repentant and contrite heart with humility of mind. Keep my thoughts from wandering into all kinds of distractions, and make me worthy always, even to my last breath, to receive the most pure Mysteries of Christ for the healing of my soul and body. 

Give me tears of repentance and thanksgiving that I may sing of you and praise you all the days of my life, for you are ever-blessed and praised. Amen.”

St Cyril of Alexandria (c.376 – 444) was the twentieth-fourth Patriarch of Alexandria in direct succession to St Mark. It is common now to preface any comments about him by saying he was a ‘controversial’ figure. In so far as he took a firm stand for orthodoxy in imitation of his admired predecessor, St Athanasius, and in so far as the modern world is uncomfortable with such certainty, that says more about us than it does him.

That said, he was, even in his own time, a figure of controversy. In so far as all history is coloured in what it selects as significant by its own obsessions, our time tends to focus on his treatment of the philosopher and mathematician, Hypatia. As I have written on this elsewhere here, I shall not add to what is there, but direct the interested reader to it. His battles with the strong Jewish community in Alexandria, and the Roman governor, are a part of the long story of conflict between Christians and Jews, and as Professor Wilken points out in his study, Judaism and the early Christian Mind (1971), Cyril’s quarrel with them was theological, not racial or anti-semitic: ‘The Jews became the natural and inevitable foil for the development of his thought’ (p. 226 of the 1971 edition). As I have attempted to survey the arguments here, I refer those interested in knowing more to that essay.

In the history of Christianity, it is his conflict with Nestorius over whether Our Lady was the ‘God-bearer’ which has taken centre stage. There are essays on this on this blog here, here and here, and elsewhere, so for those interested in the subject, there is much to chew over.

However, we might care to be reminded that St Cyril was not primarily a polemicist and theologian, these were by-products of his day job – that of being a pastor to his flock and an expositor of Holy Scripture. It is a mistake to think that our fathers in the faith were not deeply immersed in Scripture, not least in the Eastern Church in Cyril’s time, where there was a literate population and where argument over what Scripture meant was a commonplace, even in the markets and the streets. In our own time we are beginning to rediscover Cyril as a Biblical theologian, not least his commentaries on St John and St Luke, and latterly, with good editions of some of his many commentaries on the Old Testament. No one can read Cyril without being impressed by how steeped he is in the Bible – his Old Testament references are as many as his New Testament ones. This helps remind us of what Cyril thought was important, as opposed to what modern historians and theologians have found significant about him.

Professor Willken gets it right when he comments (p. 224:

He moves in what we today would call the world of religion – symbolism, metaphor, sacred scripture, liturgy, piety. His thinking is nurtured by a religious tradition and a sacred book; his is primarily a pastor, administrator and an exegete, not a university professor or a schoolman.

Thus after Ephesus, St Cyril continued to write on Christological issues. His three great Christological works: That the Christ is One; The Exposition of the Creed; The Three Books to the Monks, as well as the monumental Against Julian the Apostate all belong to this last period of his life. He died on 27 June 444, just short of his 70th birthday. He was the greatest biblical theologian of his time; one the the greatest of all time. It was fitting that he should have been called ‘The Seal of all the Fathers’.

St Cyril, champion of the Theotokos, pray for us.



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