Wednesday, 31 October 2007

John Henry Newman - All Saints Day

So many were the wonderful works which our Saviour did on earth, that not even the world itself could have contained the books recording them. Nor have His marvels been less since He ascended on high;—those works of higher grace and more abiding fruit, wrought in the souls of men, from the first hour till now,—the captives of His power, the ransomed heirs of His kingdom, whom He has called by His Spirit working in due season, and led on from strength to strength till they appear before His face in Zion. Surely not even the world itself could contain the records of His love, the history of those many Saints, that "cloud of Witnesses," whom we today celebrate, His purchased possession in every age! We crowd these all up into one day; we mingle together in the brief remembrance of an hour all the choicest deeds, the holiest lives, the noblest labours, the most precious sufferings, which the sun ever saw. Even the least of those Saints were the contemplation of many days,—even the names of them, if read in our Service, would outrun many settings and risings of the light,—even one passage in the life of one of them were more than sufficient for a long discourse. "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?" [Numb. xxiii. 10.] Martyrs and Confessors, Rulers and Doctors of the Church, devoted Ministers and Religious brethren, kings of the earth and all people, princes and judges of the earth, young men and maidens, old men and children, the first fruits of all ranks, ages, and callings, gathered each in his own time into the paradise of God.

Parochial and Plain Sermons, II

Happy All Saints!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

There's Something About Jesus, I

Christ Among the Doctors
Giotto, 1304-6, Cappella Scrovegni, Padua

Beginning our series of excerpts from Pope Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus' wisdom does not proceed from learning, but from His constant dialogue with the Father:

Jesus' teaching is not the product of human learning, of whatever kind. It originates from immediate contact with the Father, from "face-to-face" dialogue - from the vision of the one who rests close to the Father's heart. It is the Son's word. Without this inner grounding, his teaching would be pure presumption. That is just what the learned men of Jesus' time judged it to be, and they did so precisely because they could not accept its inner grounding: seeing and knowing face-to-face.

Again and again the Gospels note that Jesus withdrew "to the mountain" to spend nights in prayer "alone" with his Father. These short passages are fundamental for our understanding of Jesus: they lift the veil of mystery just a little; they give us a glimpse of Jesus' filial existence, into the source from which his action and teaching and suffering sprang ... (p. 7)

Final causation

Why does the movement of natural bodies, like the planets,
give us reason to know that God exists?

Today, my sixth formers were all convinced by St Thomas' fifth 'way'. Just to remind you:

Quinta via sumitur ex gubernatione rerum. Videmus enim quod aliqua quae cognitione carent, scilicet corpora naturalia, operantur propter finem, quod apparet ex hoc quod semper aut frequentius eodem modo operantur, ut consequantur id quod est optimum; unde patet quod non a casu, sed ex intentione perveniunt ad finem. Ea autem quae non habent cognitionem, non tendunt in finem nisi directa ab aliquo cognoscente et intelligente, sicut sagitta a sagittante. Ergo est aliquid intelligens, a quo omnes res naturales ordinantur ad finem, et hoc dicimus Deum.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The Vocation to Blog

Cardinal Ruini, vicar of the Diocese of Rome and leading ally of Pope Benedict, has turned his thoughts to bloggers.

"A priest from Novara told me that the theme of 'Jesus' is very much discussed by youth in blogs. The focus, though, comes from destructive books that are widespread today, and not from Benedict XVI’s book ‘Jesus of Nazareth.'"

"I don’t understand the Internet, but especially young religious ought to enter blogs and correct the opinions of the youth, showing them the true Jesus.”

Countering the hermeneutic of rupture

Being an RS teacher means that I am constantly coming up against the 'hermeneutic of rupture' (if you don't know the lingo, you need to read this).

Recently, during a talk about the Council, a colleague explained how Vatican II changed the Church's understanding of marriage. Before the Council, the Church said that the purpose of marriage was to have children. After the Council, the Church finally acknowledged the place of love in marriage, and said that love was the purpose of marriage. Wow, what progress!

To make a long story short, a little research reveals that this is based on a misinterpretation of what the pre-Conciliar Church meant by primary and secondary goals. The Church used to say that procreation was the primary goal and the perfecting of the spouses was the secondary goal. Now secondary is taken to mean of secondary importance, less important.

But it doesn't mean that. Secundum est quod sequitur. The secondary is what follows. So procreation and the perfecting of the spouses are joint goals, with the latter flowing out of the former. It's about order, not importance. (Think of the processions that exist in the Trinity, for example; the processions are crucial doctrinally, - the Spirit must be seen to proceed from the Word, not vice versa- but the Persons are co-equal.)

If you invert this, and emphasise love over procreation, you end up with a contraceptive mentality.

The Church had a beautiful understanding of the sacrament of matrimony before the Council, perhaps best shown by Pope Pius IX's inspiring encyclical Casti Connubii (1930).

I'm in the debt of Romano Amerio again.

That's more like it

Thanks to Jeffrey Tucker at the NLM for this link to a library of images. Useful for teaching handouts.

Normally our resources contain

If it's about the Mass - a picture of a female extraordinary minister

If it's about Marriage - a picture of Elton John and his partner

If it's about the Church - a picture of a Protestant church

You get the picture.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

John Henry Newman - 30th Sunday of the Year (C)

Beginning a series of excerpts from the homilies of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, a great Christian teacher. In this homily, from volume VIII of the Parochial and Plain Sermons, Newman explains the proper disposition for worship.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)

Samuel was a little child who had never fallen away from God, but by His grace had ever served Him. Let us take a very different instance, the instance of a penitent sinner as set before us in the parable of the Publican and Pharisee. I need hardly say which of the two was the most pleasing to God—the Publican; whereas the Pharisee was not accepted by Him. Now what did the Pharisee do? He did not even go so far as to behave in an unseemly, extravagant way: he was grave and solemn, and yet what he did was enough to displease God, because he took too much upon himself, and made too much of himself. Though grave and solemn, he was not reverent; he spoke in a haughty, proud way, and made a long sentence, thanking God that he was not as other men are, and despising the Publican. Such was the behaviour of the Pharisee; but the Publican behaved very differently. Observe how he came to worship God; "he stood afar off; he lift not up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." [Luke xviii. 13.] You see his words were few, and almost broken, and his whole conduct humble and reverent; he felt that God was in heaven, he upon earth, God All-holy and Almighty, and he a poor sinner.

Now all of us are sinners, all of us have need to come to God as the Publican did; every one, if he does but search his heart, and watch his conduct, and try to do his duty, will find himself to be full of sins which provoke God's wrath. I do not mean to say that all men are equally sinners; some are wilful sinners, and of them there is no hope, till they repent; others sin, but they try to avoid sinning, pray to God to make them better, and come to Church to be made better; but all men are quite sinners enough to make it their duty to behave as the Publican. Every one ought to come into Church as the Publican did, to say in his heart, "Lord, I am not worthy to enter this sacred place; my only plea for coming is the merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour."


The selections I propose to be giving each Sunday are based upon Fr James Tolhursts's book, The Newman Compendium for Sundays and Feastdays (Gracewing)

For the text I am in the debt of those who have produced

Ghosts and G. K. Chesterton

Children are sometimes - especially around the age of thirteen - more interested in ghosts than in God. Chesterton's position - "I do not see ghosts; I only see their inherent probability" seems to me an entirely sensible one. I am agnostic about ghosts; but a defender of them in theory. Do people agree with me?

Chesterton, it is fair to say, is a defender of popular superstition, which he saw as the rich soil of true religion. This all ties in with Chesterton's view of the middle ages. With Hallow E'en coming up this seems especially timely:

If we ever get the English back on to the English land they will become again a religious people, if all goes well, a superstitious people. The absence from modern life of both the higher and lower forms of faith is largely due to a divorce from nature and the trees and clouds. If we have no more turnip ghosts it is chiefly from the lack of turnips.
The first quote is from Tremendous Trifles, the latter is from Heretics.


I heartily recommend this beautiful prayer book, published in parallel Latin-English by Sophia Press, containing the prayers and hymns of St Thomas Aquinas. For us teachers, we can especially say this line from 'A Prayer in Time of Death':

si quid male dixi, totum relinquo correctioni Ecclesiae Romanae

If I have taught anything false, I leave correction of it to the Roman Church.

It has always struck me that as a teacher of religious doctrine in a Catholic school, I am subject to the local bishop, who should take pains that I teach right doctrine. I wonder what procedures exist to ensure this.

The prayer book is nicely produced and very affordable. For English readers, it can be bought here.

The True Teacher: the Word in the Spirit

"In the Catholic system ... the true teacher is the universal spirit, that is, the divine Word, "that enlightens every man coming into the world" (John 1:9), and manifests natural truth; but this Spirit is other than the human spirit and transcends the latter, whereas the modern pedagogy holds that there is no transcendence of Spirit over spirit, or of truth over the intellect or of teacher over pupil."

Iota Unum, ch. 12, para 127.

For a recent article on Amerio, see here.

How To Explain Active Participation in the Mass to School Children

This might help

Realism, or capitulation? And what about Knox?

Photo credit: Andrew Cusack

I have recently begun to re-do my biblical handouts. For obvious reasons I don't like the New Jerusalem Bible, which we have copies of in school. For equally obvious reasons I like the Douay-Rheims translation, and so I used that in my teaching materials. But this year I have reluctantly decided that it is too hard for my modern pupils. So I'm using the NAB, because it's online and easy. I know Fr Neuhaus has slated this in First Things, with good reason. Unfortunately the online edition of the Catholic RSV seems to have survived online for only a short time.

Was I right to compromise? I need an online edition that is suitable for young pupils whose levels of literacy are not high enough for the D-R version. The Knox translation must be out of copyright soon? Ronald Knox died in 1957 + 50 years = 2007. Or will the copyright extend to 70 years after his death?

Or perhaps I could just go down the road to Mells and ask his permission?

What is religious education? Romano Amerio visited

I still find this a tricky question. From the outset it seems sensible to distinguish between (1) what the PRIEST does from the pupil (exhortation, I guess we could call it); (2) what the CATECHIST does when preparing children or adults for the sacraments (instruction, I suppose); and (3) what the TEACHER does in the classroom (which is what I call education).

Now I do not deny that each of these three touch on one another. Nevertheless, it seems to me sensible for the lay teacher to refrain from preaching. I remember a member of the Catholic Evidence Guild saying that they were trained (in the pre-conciliar days) to present the faith but not to preach it.

In one respect, the RE teacher should conform his style to that of the other academic subjects; in another, however, it seems that personal faith and conviction play a part. My current thinking (I don't mean to pretend that this is profound) is that in order to teach the faith in an objective way the teacher needs faith and conviction. I phrase it like this because I don't think that the delivery should be overtly conviction driven. This makes it seem like what is being taught is personal opinion, instead of divine revelation passed on infallibly by the Church.

From a practical point of view, the Catholic teacher protects himself by teaching in this way. The Catholic teacher refrains from saying "Let me tell you ..." and says instead "our holy Church teaches us that ...", which is really what he should be saying anyway. Why should my pupils listen to my opinions?

The extreme liberal position is, however, very common, though it is not always deliberately adopted. In many schools the idea is promoted that everyone, teacher and pupils, is part of a journey of learning and discovery, and that this journey proceeds through experiment. We begin from "where I am now" and I ask the questions and find the answers that are "relevant" to me in "my own personal circumstances". Teachers become co-learners, with no authority; pupils have every authority to their own conclusions.

Is the Church partly responsible for this pedagogy? Romano Amerio says in Iota Unum's chapter on Schools (ch.7, para125) that the Congregation for Catholic Education stated in 1982 that

"..... a school is a relation between persons, that is between teacher and learner. The Church used to say that it is a relation of both to the world of values. It is not the teacher that the pupil has to know; both have to know the world of values and direct their common attention towards it. But just as one man's face is turned towards another's in the reformed liturgy, so is it in the
reformed pedagogy....."

I will comment in a further post about how pupils get frustrated by the new pedagogy because they do not have the equipment to form their own views, or even to ask the right questions.

There's Something About Jesus

Surely every religious studies teacher of any faith must read Pope Benedict's book, Jesus of Nazareth. Reading this book is a great reminder of the primacy of the person of Christ in religious education. Everything else is secondary, in the sense of flowing out from Him. This book helps us to re-source our instruction to the incarnate Word.

As a teacher I find myself sometimes teaching more about the pope than about Christ. Perhaps this is because it is easier to do so. To teach well about Christ is incredibly difficult, but in Pope Benedict's 'personal search for the face of the Lord' we have a great resource.

In a sense the work is incomplete: This volume takes us up to the Transfiguration, and the pope is currently working on the next installment.

In subsequent posts I will give passages from the book that I have found especially illuminating and plan to use in the classroom.

Church History resource

Prof Eamon Duffy on Ten Popes Who Shook the World. Here is the link to his broadcast on St. Peter. It's quite good, though it is worth remembering that Duffy has in the past been accused of Gallican tendencies.

Catholics on the Design Argument

For anyone teaching the philosophy of religion at A-Level: I recommend listening to John Haldane here (Haldane is a Catholic and a theist, professor of philosophy at St. Andrews), and the recent talk given by Fr Tim Finigan at my old chaplaincy which is here. Both concern the argument to design.

Note that whilst Haldane backs ID, Finigan backs evolution, saying that ID falls back on a weak 'God of the Gaps' argument.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

The Scope of Catholic Education

Christian education embraces the sum total of human actions, because it pertains to the workings of the senses and of the spirit, to the intellect and to morals, to individuals, to domestic and civil society, not indeed, to weaken it, but according to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ, to elevate regulate, and perfect it.

DS 2224
Pope Pius XI, Divini illius magistri (1929)

Education and the task of 'handing on'

Itaque fratres state et tenete traditiones quas didicistis sive per sermonem sive per epistulam nostram

Therefore, brethren, stand fast: and hold the traditions, which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle.

2 Thess 2.14