The encounter with the Spirit

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First, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who contributed to yesterday’s discussion; it showed what this blog can be at its best – that is a genuinely ecumenical place where Christians of all varieties can, without insult or acrimony, discuss their experiences of the Faith and try to at least gain a level of mutual understanding. Naturally, large differences remain, and we’re hardly likely to solve the problems besetting Christendom for a millennium and a half here – but we can provide a template for how not to make the problems worse, as well as one showing how to discuss serious differences in a manner befitting those who claim the name of Christian. If one of the fruits of the Spirit is long-suffering, and another kindness, then yesterday’s discussion showed both; so thank you one and all.

The heart of the disagreement with Bosco (to whom special thanks are due) was expressed by Servus Fidelis here:

I don’t expect you to understand as your perspective does not seem to have any adherents among the Christians that have survived these 2000 years

By this, he meant Bosco’s references to being guided by the Spirit to know Christ and to know how to interpret his word and who was and was not a Christian. But perhaps we have, indeed, seen this sort of thing many times in Christian history. Is it not precisely what we see in St John’s letters?

St John had told his church that Jesus was the Word Incarnate, that Christ had come in the flesh. This was at the heart of the Christian message. Scholars tell us what we could deduce for ourselves, which is that John’s Church was what we might now call ‘charismatic’, and that it relied a great deal on the promptings of the Spirit. However, by the time John was writing his letters, a problem had arisen. Some of the brothers, inspired they said by the Spirit, denied that Jesus was the Christ come in the flesh. We can see this in John’s second epistle. Indeed, we see from the third epistle that a local elder, Diotrephes, was denying fellowship to John himself, and those who adhered to him. Here then was a man, brought to Christ by the Spirit through St John himself, who claimed that the Spirit taught him other than the word preached by St John. Who was right? John claimed he was Diotrephes claimed he was. How was this resolved? The short answer is that it wasn’t – the Johannine church went into schism. It is no wonder that Paul, Jude and Peter all warned, in their epistles, about the dangers of false teaching and dissent – as St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Galatians showed, even among the new saints, the works of the flesh – especially dissension – were to be found.

St Paul disclaimed any claim to novelty, saying that his teaching could be tested by reference to the oral and written traditions he had inherited, and this is the model adopted in the early church, as we can see from the writings of the early Fathers. No one denied – how could they? – that the Spirit inspired – but since there are many spirits in this world, some test was needed to see which spirit was inspiring the believer. This is the reason why Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans will quote from the ancient writings. We give our ancestors a vote, as the Orthodox put it. We do not suppose ourselves to be uniquely inspired, and we look to see what those who have lived and died in the faith before us have had to say. This does not preclude life in the Spirit, far from it, but it does provide some check on the tendency to tell even St John what Jesus really meant.

I should be most interested to know how our Evangelical brothers and sisters here deal with the question of how far their inspiration matches ‘the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.’

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing Jesus?

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As though any proof were needed that a change of tack can produce results, we get our brother Bosco posing one of the best comments made here:

if THEY DONT KNOW jESUS  they are lost. You can religion all you want. But you wont have Jesus.

Our good friend Theopiletos (whom it is good to see back here again), thanking Bosco for the change of tone commented:

You’re entirely right that knowledge alone (whether of the Bible, or of theology, or of doctrine) does not bring salvation or holiness. That was the mistake of gnosticism in the early days of Christianity, and it is a very easy mistake for educated Christians today to slip into. Only Christ saves, and only the Holy Spirit changes hearts.

I am guessing, but I doubt any of us would disagree with the sentiments expressed here. That raises, though, the interesting questions of what it means to ‘know Jesus’. I have a suspicion that some of the communications problems which bedevil us as Christians stem from different answers to this question.

Bosco, and if I read them right, Rob and Geoffrey have all had what might be called ‘conversion experiences’ – by that I mean some direct encounter with Christ which saw them dedicate their lives to his service in whatever way he guided them towards. For others among us, or perhaps it is just for me, the experience was less dramatic, but if I was asked if I know Jesus and know that the one route to salvation is through him, I would say yes.

I was first introduced to Christianity through the Methodist church my mother sometimes attended. My father was a fiercely atheist socialist whose life experiences had left him with the firm view there was no God and that all religion was the opiate of the masses. So my mother, who came from a Methodist family, went to church almost on the sly, taking me with her, and my father turned a blind eye – at least for a while.

At the church, i felt instantly at home, and what I learned in Sunday School made sense in a way I could never explain, and never felt the need to explain. I knew Jesus was my Saviour. He never came to me to tell me in any supernatural way, I just knew it in the way I knew I breathed air; it was part of the world in the way the sun was. At some point, I suspect it was when he found himself having to take care of two younger children n a Sunday morning, my father put his foot down and there was no more going to church.

That did not stop me believing in Jesus or wanting to know more about him, but it did leave me rather like a ship-wrecked sailor seeking a ship. At University, when I was free to do as I chose, I went to the Anglican chapel in College and the local Anglican church and became an Anglican. In the church and in its fellowship, I found a way to a deeper knowledge and experience of Christ. If I had to characterise it, it I would say it was like the deepening of a relationship. But something stalled and, as it can with relationships, for a long time there was a familiarity without any deepening, and even periods when he felt very far away; in retrospect, it was me who was very far away.

An urge (from where?) to do something about this separation, led me to seek to deepen my prayer life. A friend had given me a Rosary, and I thought it might be a good way in, as my Orthodox prayer rope, which I had been using, was not helping. Cutting a long story short, in that prayer a route to Jesus opened up, or the barriers in the way vanished, whichever, it felt as though once more, the old channels were not only open, but deepening.

Now it may be to others this just looks odd, and it may be that those with a more vivid encounter wonder what sort of ‘knowing Jesus’ this is. To that I can answer only, it is the way he has made himself known to me. Would I have liked something more dramatic? No, I am deeply grateful for what he has given me. I find my church a place which encourages my prayer life and which provides an opportunity for me to deploy my gifts, such as they are, in his service.

So, thank you to Bosco for raising a good point.

Seasonal reflections on the Irish Referendum

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Pentecost marks the foundation by the Holy Spirit of Christ’s Church here on earth. In his letter to the Galatians, St Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit

This comes after a list of the works of the flesh

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Let us consider, in humility, which set of attributes we, as Christians, exhibit on vexed issues such as the recent referendum in Ireland. That our society is awash with evidence of the works of the flesh is clear enough; but are we, as Christians, awash with the fruits of the Spirit?

In an era when communication was never easier, mutual understanding seems further away than ever. How quickly ‘discussions’ become ‘arguments’ in which the effort to understand the other is abandoned in favour of a closed insistence on our own point of view. The very frequency with which the word ‘dialogue’ is invoked is, I suspect, simply evidence of its absence in reality: digging trenches, erecting the intellectual equivalent of barbed-wire, and then lobbing explosives at one another are all fruits of the flesh – and when we fall so quickly into that mode, we perhaps fail to reflect the fruits of the Spirit; and if we do not exhibit them, who will?

Western Christians need to come to terms with the reality of our situation. We do not even ask the question which our opponents ask – why should the State favour the views of one part of the population at the expense of the “rights” of another?’ So used are we to assuming the State is ‘on our side’ that we do not ask why concepts such as ‘marriage’ and even ‘mother’ should be defined as we define them; it has always been so, it makes sense. But it does not make sense to some of those who do not hold our views, and when they ask the State for ‘equality’, the State is rather perplexed as to why it should not yield to their cries. We can stamp our little feet, we can go to the secular courts for redress, but the first makes us look pathetic, and the second is a route to failure; secular courts will go with secular laws.

Here is where Geoffrey Sales has an excellent point. The reliance on the State which has been a part of Christian life in the West since the time of Constantine is over. The Churches have, over the years, succumbed to the temptations of power, and much of what our opponents throw at us comes from that. We can complain all we like when the power of the State is turned against us, as we see it, but others simply see old wrongs being righted and a privileged caste complaining. Down that road lies nothing but further disappointment – as well as some of the fruits of the works of the flesh.

The impotent fantasies of a few Catholic monarchists apart, the days when the State felt an obligation to uphold the truths of the Christian faith have gone, and no one can foresee how or when they will return. We have a voice in the public square, and we can use it to defend our liberties – but as long as we persist in the claim that the State should protect our views on things such as marriage against the views of others, we shall sound unconvincing.

In this country we made a great fuss about marriage, but, with the exception of Catholics and some non-Catholics, we’ve made far less of a fuss about the killing of infants in the womb, and when it comes to issues such as fornication and even adultery, we have been a trifle on the quiet side – again, allowing our opponents to hurl a convincing charge of hypocrisy at us, arguing that we are obsessed with homosexuality. They have a point, their sin is only one of those St Paul singles out. We can jump up and down all we like and call it one of the sins that cries out for vengeance – and we sound more and more like ISIS in the ears of those who have no idea what we are talking about, but do not like the sound of it. What is the point of criticising the secular world for its views when the Church does nothing about those within its ranks who have misled their flocks. If bishops and priests who failed to follow the teaching of the Church, like Catholic politicians who do likewise, suffer no sanction, then we have come a long way from the days when St Ambrose excommunicated an Emperor until he repented of his ways. There is some sound sense on this subject here.

The choice is ours. We either concentrate on getting our own house in order, on good catechesis and good practice in the parishes and in our own spiritual lives, or we continue to ignore these things which are essential if we are to bear the fruits of the Spirit, or we demand that an indifferent State fulfil (to it) an out-dated conception of its duties. For sure, it is easier to do the latter, but I wonder if it is not better for us to concentrate on the former? The State will still be there, those who believe that having it legislate for them will find, as we have, that that is no path to real happiness – or the blossoming of the fruits of the Spirit. If we provide an example of what it means to be Christian which is even half as convincing as the early Christians did, we may yet have something which the world will be willing to listen to; it certainly needs it.

Bede

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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.’

VENERABILIS BEDA ORA PRO NOBIS

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Bede’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral credit: http://www.durhamworldheritagesite.com/

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

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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.

 

 

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