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Bede ora

Today is the feast day of the Blessed St, Bede (672?-735), the patron Saint of historians, so I am particularly devoted to this great soul.

Bede is one of the few saints honored as such even during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a Church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches.
At an early age Bede was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the Monastery of St. Paul, Jarrow. He entered the monastery at the age of seven and never left monastic life. He was one of only two survivors from a severe attack of the plague which decimated Wearside in 686, and with the exception of visits to other monasteries, he spent his entire life in Monkwearmouth-Jarrow. Of himself, Bede wrote modestly that he “devoted [his] energies to the study of the scriptures, observing monastic discipline, and singing the daily services in church”, he was, he wrote, a man for whom “study, teaching, and writing had always been [a] delight”.

From the time of his ordination to the priesthood at 30 (he had been ordained deacon at 19) till his death, he was ever occupied with learning, writing and teaching. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed 45 of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.

It has been said of him:
“We have not, it seems to me, amid all our discoveries, invented as yet anything better than the Christian life which Bede lived, and the Christian death which he died” (C. Plummer, editor of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History).

St Bede’s most famous work is his “Ecclesiastical History of the English people”. Still widely read, the work is one of the most important primary sources for the history of Anglo-Saxon England. His other works included scriptural commentaries, two lives of St Cuthbert, books on chronology and nature and the first martyrology. He was the first writer to adopt the AD dating system. His last work was a translation of St John’s Gospel into Old English and a touching account of his death in 735 AD exists in a letter by Cuthbert, who became Abbot of Jarrow.

Though his History is the greatest legacy Bede has left us, his work in all the sciences (especially in Scripture) should not be overlooked. During his last Lent, he worked on a translation of the Gospel of St. John into English, completing it the day he died. But of this work “to break the word to the poor and unlearned” nothing remains today.

Bede died as he had lived, in Christ. His last work was a translation of St John’s Gospel, which he dictated to a young assistant. He struggled manfully to the last, and the ending is recorded thus:

‘Dear master, there is still one sentence that we have not written down.’

Bede responded, ‘Write quickly.’

After a little while the boy said, ‘There, now it is written.’

‘You have said well,’ replied Bede. ‘It is at an end. All is finished.’


Bedes tomb 704

Bede’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral credit:

St Bede is buried in Durham Cathedral. The present tomb, built in 1831 is inscribed with Bede’s own words:

“Christ is the morning star, who when the night
Of this world is past brings to his saints
The promise of the light of life & opens everlasting day”

Blessed St. Bede, through whom God showed us the wonders of the Faith in the world, pray for us.

Free Reality Check for Irish Bishops


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Come back St Patrick – you’re needed again!


One of the Irish bishops has said the Church needs a ‘reality check’. As recent events suggest the hierarchy of that Church is, by its own admission, out of touch with reality, I thought it only right to offer the services of a superannuated Baptist school-master.

Here’s the reality. The Irish Catholic Church, once so dominant in Ireland, is now all but an irrelevance. Its catechesis is so bad that despite the fact that most Irish people went to Church schools, they voted for same-sex marriage; in fact it is so bad, that even some of its bishops seemed unable to advise their flocks to vote in the way the Church teaches. Why is this? Very largely because in the days of its power the influence, the Irish Church and the political establishment were at one: the power of the latter would be underpinned by the Church, and vice-versa. This meant that the elite were happy to ignore or go along with the various cover-ups which members of the Church hierarchy engaged in to hide the scandals of paedophile priests, and priests who were abusing women. The notion that a Church so tarnished would have any moral authority at all is, when you look at it from that point of view, a quaint one. That nearly 40% of those who voted opted for ‘no’ is remarkable tribute to the persistence of a Catholic moral conscience. The Church might ask why it has done to deserve even that loyalty, and how it is going to retain it?

Reality check number two. Most Irish people were taken with the argument for ‘equality’. Presented with an argument which went ‘why should not people who love each other be allowed to marry, whatever their gender?’, a majority of those who voted could see no reason why not – and the Catholic Church failed to present one. Now, the Bishops and Archbishops might care to ask themselves why they were unable to present one in a persuasive way? The short answer, as a help to them, is that most Irish people seem not to have heard of the ‘natural law’ or the idea that male and females are complementary, or the notion that marriage is a sacrament. There is only one reason for this – the utter failure of the Catholic education system. The hierarchy should ask serious questions about that system and how it can be made fit for purpose. A supplementary question might be whether it is possible for it to be made fit for purpose?

The third, and hardest reality check, is for the hierarchy to ask itself how it came about that the trumpet gave such a hesitant bleat? If, as seems to be the case, some bishops actually agree with the Irish political establishment, should they not have the intestinal fortitude to say so and take the consequences? Why do those who agree with Church teaching not do something about those so-called Catholic politicians who support same-sex marriage and abortion and euthanasia? In what sense can these people be fit to receive Communion? I won’t ask when the last time a Catholic politician in either Ireland, the UK or the USA was barred from Communion for supporting such policies because I suspect the answer is not for a very long time. In which case, what message is the hierarchy sending out?

I have little doubt that what the hierarchy mean by a ‘reality check’ is ‘how can we align ourselves with the mood of the people?’ – and if that is the case, then the only thing to do with the Catholic Church in Ireland is to close it down now, turn the buildings over to someone who believes in what those who paid for those buildings believed, and for the hierarchy and many priests to join the social work profession – where many of them would be very much happier – and a deal more useful.

The words Cromwell addressed to Parliament seem apt for these bishops: “you have sat here too long for any good you are doing – in the name of God, go!”

If, as some suggest, the next target for the progressives is Ulster, bring it on. Ulster Protestants are used to be talked down and despised by the Mainland and the media – and my father’s people, whatever their defects, aren’t lacking in courage. Ulster will say ‘no – however much cowards flinch and traitors sneer – we’ll keep Christ’s banner flying here!’ – to adapt a phrase.

The Feast of the Pentecost: Year B


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John 20:19-23

Peter Chrysologus, like Chrysostom and other Fathers, sees the darkness in verse 19 as spiritual as well as literal; minds clouded by the grief of what they had seen on Good Friday had not yet been cleared by contact with the Risen Lord. Both fathers point out the locked doors as signifying the fear in which the Apostles still lived. The resurrected body of Christ gives us, St Augustine comments, a foretaste of our own resurrected bodies. St Gregory the Great adds that he shows us that our resurrected bodies will be incorruptible and yet real bodies

St Gregory the Great draws a parallel between Christ entering now through the closed doors, and his coming into the world through the closed doors of the Virgin’s womb. He stands before the Apostles, Gregory of Nyssa tells us, as True God. We see, St Cyril adds, by the marks of the wounds that this is indeed the same body which suffered on the Cross for us – that Temple was, as he promised, raised up after three days. As we saw from the transfiguration, the sight of his heavenly body could not be endured by sinful man, but as yet he had not ascended. In his greeting, he bestows that peace – the tranquillity of soul – which his presence always brings. It is the same Grace Paul desires for believers when he writes to the Philippians. The peace of God which passes all understanding is, in fact, the spirit of Christ, who fills those who share in him with every blessing.

After he has comforted his followers, Jesus commissions them in love. St Cyril comments that even as he was sent by the Father, so his disciples are now sent by him. Now, and only now, is their real mission revealed. They are to go to the ends of the earth calling sinners to repentance; they are to minister to all those caught in the chains of the slavery of sin. It is not their own will they must now follow, but that of Christ. As he and St Gregory the Great note, they are being sent not into the joy of the world, but to suffer, as he had suffered.

St Gregory Nazianzus notes there were three occasions on which the disciples were able to receive the Spirit: before he was glorified by the Passion; after he was glorified by the Resurrection; and on the day of Pentecost. They first of these manifested itself in the healing of the sick and the casting out of devils; the second does so as he breathes his spirit upon them here; and the third will come in the form of tongues of fire.

It is through the Spirit that love comes, St Augustine comments in his book on the Trinity. This, St Cyril of Jerusalem notes, is the second breathing of the Spirit, the first being in Genesis where it was stifled by wilful sin; this one will will enliven them and enable them to preach the Gospel to the very ends of the earth. The authority of the Apostles. St Cyprian reminds us, is found only in Christ, and in their united action, and in the unity of the Church that grew from their missionary efforts, and is traced back to their one Lord who is the bond of unity.

St Cyril of Alexandria comments that the Son, sharing the same nature as the Father, has the Spirit in the same manner that the Father would be understood to have the Spirit – this is why Jesus breathes on the disciples. It is through the Spirit, he and St Athanasius note, that Christ gives power to his followers.

Consulting the faithful





I hope that new readers and visitors will pardon a little piece of internal house-keeping, and, if they feel so inclined, let me have their view too.

Yesterday, Bosco wrote:

Good brother Jeff asked me to give it a rest. I will honor his request. Just for a little while. Do you have the guts to just ban me? Do you graven image cathols have the nards to ban me? Ban me and bow to your idols in peace.

There have been calls in some quarters for a long time to ban Bosco. His comments tend to repeat themselves more even than historians do. His themes are few and persistent: Catholics worship idols (though at times he says he does not say this, and at times he admits it); Catholics worship Mary, who is really Diana (he clearly has no concept of the goddess Diana); the Catholic Church is the great harlot in Revelation. Time and again, and with exemplary patience, it has been explained to him that none of these things is true, at which point he resorts to cut and paste jobs on the subject which obsesses him most, homosexuality.

One of our newer contributors, the excellent ginnyfree, recently put in a nutshell why these comments have been allowed:

He is a large challenge to my charity and I marvel at the patience you and others have shown him. He obviously relishes his ability to throw verbal stones all the day long at persons whose religion he thinks little of. It is as if he comes here just to make others mad. He is most definitely NOT here to grow in faith or understanding of God or to share a valid viewpoint. Yet, I do find some of the things he says useful in providing opportunities to speak the Truth in charity. I know he doesn’t desire to know it, but others may gain something from seeing his assertions challenged. That is a bonus and I’m sure he cringes when he actually furthers the ends of the Church in that regard.

The question I am asking now is whether the time has not come to say that whatever good can be done has been done, and continuing contributions of this type are beginning to do harm, not only in so far as they usually derail the comments by having nothing to do with the post, but also in giving casual readers the impression that this is an annexe of bedlam. As our long-term contributor, Servus Fidelis puts it:

I agree with the last statement. For Ginny, she is only making arguments against Wayne Griffin (a.k.a. Bosco) that every reader has made at some time or another these last 3 years. It is perhaps time to (if not totally ban) moderate his comments. If they are pertinent and are a new line of argument then nobody, I doubt, would mind very much.

Our other long-term contributor, and in many ways the keeper of Jessica’s flame of mission, Neo, who has, as I have, argued for tolerance, has recently commented:

I also note that I, like you and Jessica, have long championed letting Bosco run off at the mouth
But there comes a point where unsupported (and often untruthful) polemics have an adverse effect on our mission, and repeating them ad nauseum serves no point at all. I have noticed that when Bosco appears on a thread, he often dominates it to the detriment of whatever the topic was, since his comments are almost never on the topic of the post.
I also noted that he openly challenged you yesterday to ban him, well, we’ve known for years that that is his goal, for whatever perverted reason. I hate to give him the satisfaction, and yet, I begin to see it as a choice between Bosco and our mission, and as always the mission comes first.
All of that said, it is always a hard decision, to ban somebdy who clearly needs our help, if he is to save his soul but, as with chemotherapy sometimes we must damage the body to kill the cancer a bit quicker than we kill the body.
I think that perhaps the time has come. I note that Jessica says the same thing, although she is not reading, we both learned much about this from her, and I, like her, say do whatever you think is proper. I will support you in that decision, without qualm or question.
But I do wish he would shape up and think, he’s a smart guy and fully capapble of learning, and occasionally has worthwhile insights but if he can’t control his disruptive influences, I don’t see many choices left.

I have already suggested to Bosco that he should clean up his act and show us something of the Spirit he claims is within him. Perhaps devoting a whole post to him shows the time for censorship has come? I am inclined to that view, and at least to put him on moderation so that, if it is just the same old stuff, we forget it, but if he has, as he does from time to time, something worth hearing, that is allowed.

I should welcome your views – including those of Bosco himself.



Dissent and a contribution to debate?


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It is splendid to have Geoffrey back. The simple fact he now has the time, because Mrs Sales is better, is, in itself, a cause for celebration; but it is for what he calls his ‘contrarian’ point of view that we most appreciate him. He has, if he will forgive me, a gift for cutting through cant to the heart of the matter. Where many of us would have debated the rights and wrongs of the Ashers’ bakery case, Geoffrey points us to a broader picture – with a lesson for us on how we have, too often, behaved. It is not a pleasant message to receive, but it is a necessary one. His comments about the Irish Catholic hierarchy made uncomfortable reading, but for that very reason were essential reading. How should the hierarchy deal with these hot button issues, where the societal elite, of which they are part, take one view, and the Church another?

The fear of being thought to be censoring free speech is a very real one for many religious. In my own Parish we have had an active discussion on this very theme. One of our number holds, in essence, what might be called a Congregationalist Catholic point of view. A man of a certain age (mid 70s) and of the ‘spirit of Vatican 2/we are the Church’ ilk, he would like to be able to use our website to put forward views which question the teaching of the Catholic Church, and our priest (a man of similar vintage, but slightly different views) is, rightly, uneasy about that. But he is equally uneasy at the idea he would be seen as ‘authoritarian’ were he to simply use his veto and say ‘no’ to the idea. I therefore found myself leading the ‘simply say no’ line, and, somewhat to my surprise, found most people agreed with me, but had not wanted to say so for fear of being thought to be ‘authoritarian’.

Pope Benedict, as so often, expressed it best:

 it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate

I have no problem with anyone saying what they want to say in their private capacity. If someone wants to contest the teaching of the Church, they are free to do so – but not, in my view, on a parish website. As regular readers know, I make catechetical contributions to that website, but I do so under my real name, and with the approval of the ecclesiastical authorities. I am pleased that not once has anything I have submitted been questioned or rejected, but if it were, that, too, would be fine. My priest and my bishops have spiritual authority, and I do not regard their perusal of my work as censorship. If I want to make a contribution to debate, I have other avenues, and will take them; the same is true for anyone in the age of the Internet. But if I am writing for the Parish, I steer clear of obviously controversial issues, and I ensure that, as far as is possible, what I write is in line with the teaching the Church. I do the former because a parish website is not the place to disturb the faithful, and the latter because it ought to be a place for good catechesis.

Is that to submit to censorship? No, it is to acknowledge two things which we often forget: that the Church is not a doctrinal free-for-all where every opinion has equal validity; and that those set by God to guard the faith do, indeed, have that duty, and that all Catholics wishing to write on the faith should remember that, especially when writing in any sort of official capacity, which includes writing for any publication calling itself Catholic.

None of that is to deny the freedom of speech we all enjoy, but it is to distinguish between licence and license. The Church does not deny its members the right to question, but it does try to draw a line between a mature contribution to debate and dissent for its own sake. That is not, some of us would say, a difficult distinction to make.



The Irish referendum: a contrarian’s view


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Today Ireland will vote in a referendum on whether to approve of ‘same sex marriage’, and this, in the same week that a bakers in Northern ireland were told they had discriminated against a customer who had asked them to bake a cake with a ‘pro-gay’ slogan; so much for the slogan that ‘gay marriage’ wouldn’t be a bother to you if you didn’t want to marry a homosexual. It is painfully clear that the main consequence of the lobbying on this issue is the suppression of the freedom to express the traditional Christian view of marriage and sexual relations. In the hierarchy of made up ‘rights’, those of a tiny minority of vociferous homosexuals trump those of a minority of vociferous Christians.

By all accounts, the attitude of those on the ‘yes’ side of the Irish campaign has been intolerant in the extreme – tearing down ‘no’ posters and hounding those who expressed the counter view. If that side of the argument is filled with ‘passionate intensity’, then the same cannot be said for the formerly dominant Irish Catholic Church. Archbishop Martin of Armagh could not, it seems, find a way to express a view on how Catholics should vote in the referendum, and his fellow Bishops have not, on the whole, been much better. After the tremendous damage done to the Church there by the Paedophile scandals, it may well be that the hierarchy’s backbone has been so effectively filleted that it no longer exists. Protestantism, the great bulwark against the the tide in the North, does not really exist in any meaningful form in the South, and has had little effect on the referendum. The centre does not only ‘not hold’, in Ireland, it scarcely exists – if the polls are to be believed.

There’s the rub of course. With so much of the media on one side, and with the voices on that side being both clamant and nasty, no one can be sure how far the man and woman in the street is willing to express their view to a pollster. We saw this in the UK election a few weeks ago.

Ironically, a campaign which began in support of freedom of expressiona and against discrimination has ended by exhibiting exactly the characteristics its original supporters fought against. There’s a lesson in that for Christians. The professional tolerance merchants who tolerate any opinion as long as is one with which they agree, did not invent that way of being. Look at what the Catholic and the Anglican Churches did when they held the whip hand with the political establishment – exactly the same. My own ancestors, having being persecuted by the Catholic Church for Lollardy, then by the Anglicans for nonconformity (I come from a long line of awkward customers), would not have been surprised by the intolerance of the new Establishment, even though its intolerance of other views is not based on an interpretation of Christianity. Power tends to corrup, as Lord Acton noted. It has, in its time, corrupted Christians, and now it corrupts liberal atheists.

We are called to bear witness to the truths we receive from Christ. We are not called to impose them on other people by force of the law. Those Christians whose churches have spent hundreds of years doing just that, claiming it was in God’s name, are ill-equipped to garner sympathy when they protest against non-Christians doing it in the name of the god called equality.

The Irish must look to their own consciences. If the Catholic Church has done the job it should have done in helping form those consciences in a Christian way, the result should be a clear no. If it is not, then that Church and its hierarchy should hang their heads in shame, admit they have failed utterly in catchesis, and enter a period of prayer and repentance before beginning the process of rebuilding.

My ancestors stayed true to Christ when men in pointed hats and robes living in palaces persecuted them, and they will stay so when men in rainbow-patterned hats living in media palaces do so. We have not sought to impose our way of life on others, and we shall turn the other cheek, as we always have, and we shall dwell with the Lord. If the State wishes to enact godless laws, I am neither surprised, nor deterred. The State is not God’s, and attempts by Catholics and Anglicans to use it for their ends have failed utterly, leaving the State able to quote past Church support for its intolerance, and the two main Churches in these islands with nothing useful to say. They should try prayer, and they should try repentance. They sowed the wind and they shall, assuredly, reap the whirlwind.

Outside the Church?


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Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. What does that mean? For me it means faith that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity, and that his flesh redeems my flesh, and that his once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross acts as atonement for my sins and the sins of the world – but the world has to follow and repent and walk in his ways. That, for me, is that. What, then, about the Catholic Church and its claims that outside of it there’s no salvation?

Unlike some Evangelicals, I’ve moved from a position of extreme hostility to the Catholic Church to one where I am saddened by some of the brainless attacks on it. Contrary to what young Bosco appears to believe, no Catholic worships statues, or Mary, or saints, or anything else other than God. So why do so many think otherwise? Part of it is clearly historical; a few centuries of anti-Catholic State propaganda will not vanish in short while; and secular societies are ones in which anti-religious prejudice will always run wild. But here I want to offer a couple of suggestions as to other reasons – not in the spirit of carping, but in order to stimulate reasonable discussion.

One problem with Catholicism is part of its appeal – that is its long continuity. Take, for example, asking Mary and the Saints for intercession. Protestants point out that we have one mediator – Christ Jesus, and he is the propitiation for our sins. But in the Middle Ages, and now in monarchical or authoritarian States, it is common enough to approach the top man via some influential underling. In the Middle Ages, if you could get hold of the ear of the bishop, or a cardinal, or an important courtier, you could get privileged access to the Monarch. Now, and I’m happy to be corrected here, it seems to me that’s the model for what Catholics do in asking the Mother of God for her services as intercessor – that she has some form of privileged access to her Son, above all others, and is, therefore, a most useful intermediary. My question would be this: is there any reason to suppose this is how Jesus works with us?

The same thing applies with the Pope. It’s good to have an arbiter on matters of faith, but, as many traditional catholics are discovering, it can be a double-edge sword when the Pope appears to be a garrulous old fellow with a thin grip on what his own Church teaches. It may be, as Chalcedon has argued here, that the way the papacy is developing isn’t over, but it surely has to develop away from the monarchical model?

Being headquartered in one of the more backward parts of Europe (in political terms) the RCC has retained too many of the attitudes and characteristics of an Italian princely state. Princely States encourage byzantine intrigues, cabals, patronage and all the rest of that sort of thing, and that, naturally, spills over into a view of how God’s kingdom operates. So it is natural to go to the mother of the King, or one of his favoured advisers, and to buy oneself influence; that’s how kingdoms (and democracies to some extent) work. But, and here’s the nub of my problem, I see no ground for thinking that God is some kind of earthly king writ large.

Jesus calls him ‘father’, not ‘king’, and encourages us to do the same. We don’t, in a proper family, need to take a sideways approach to dad to get him onside (though it never hurts to have mum onside). We need to develop a loving relationship, and one in which we, on our side, know the limits, and, when we transgress them, apologise.

Now, from outside, I cannot tell is the RCC has evolved or is evolving in that direction, but I do know that if it is, and when it does, some of these problems will fall away. I hope I’ve not offended anyone, and am happy to be corrected, but I thought this perspective might get us away from some of the barren discussions of late.


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