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Archive for the category “Roman Catholic”

A tale of two women

When the Roman Pope visited the USA last week, two women made the headlines, and were all over the social media. One was a celeb, the other a saint.

Guess which one got more attention?

Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Kim Davis, a minor celeb, met Pope Francis briefly at a function, and dominated Facebook for the next three days.

I’m not exactly sure what her claim to fame is, but clearly it was sufficiently well known to many people in the USA that it needed minimal explanation, though it seems that the Vatican was moved to give a great deal of explanation, to judge by all the clarifications and denials and explanations and whatever.

And these things were plastered all over Facebook in great profusion. I don’t know about anyone else, but they certainly dominated my newsfeed.

And it was apparent that this was related to the current obsession with sex — in the media, in many Christian denominations, and in many other places.

And it was also apparent that all the fuss over Kim David drew attention away from the other woman, whom Pope Francis had held up as an example to the American government and people — Dorothy Day.

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day

Dorothy who? asked the mainstream media, and many on social media as well.

Unlike Kim Davis she wasn’t a celeb, and nobody knew much about her.

If you’re reading this, and don’t know who Dorothy Day was, read here, and follow the links Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya. I think she deserves more attention than Kim Davis, and I’m pretty sure Pope Francis thinks so too.

As I said, I don’t know much about Kim Davis and her claim to fame. It seems that a lot of people know enough, or think they do, to make judgements about whether she is a good person or a bad person, and think that that is sufficiently important to say so. I’m not saying anything about Kim Davis, and whether she is good or bad, or has done good or bad things. What does concern me, though, is that a lot of people seem to think it is worth making a mountain out of a molehill, stirring up a storm in a tea cup.

And this provides a marvellous distraction from the elephant in the room.

Dorothy Day was no saint, yet she is being considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. To understand why, you would need to read her biography Goodreads | All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest:

Dorothy Day (1897-1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and one of the most prophetic voices in the American Catholic church, has recently been proposed as a candidate for canonization. In this lavishly illustrated biography, Jim Forest provides a compelling portrait of her heroic efforts to live out the radical message of the gospel for our time.

The honour, the glory, the boredom and futility of war

The Sword of Honour Trilogy (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics)The Sword of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Guy Crouchback, lonely, divorced, and living in Italy, returns to the UK at the beginning of the Second World War, and tries to do his patriotic duty by joining the army. Because of his age, however, no one will have him. Eventually, though an acquaintance of his father’s, he joins the regiment of Halberdiers, and undergoes boring officer training. The war progresses, but nobody seems to want the Halberdiers either.

After training, they have a new commanding officer, who wants them assigned to Hazardous Offensive Operations, for which more training is required. Whenever he seems about to go into active service, Guy Crouchback is sidelined, by accident, injury or illness, or the need for further training for some new task.

This book was originally a trilogy of three novels, and was rewritten into one in the 1960s. While reading it, I wondered how Britain ever managed to win the war, as everything seemed to be stifled by red tape. At one level the novel is satirical, making fun of the military bureaucracy. But there is also something authentic behind the satire; this is indeed how many soldiers probably spent the war, with action brief and inconclusive, and much of the time just hanging around waiting for someone, somewhere, to give an order.

So the book is also something of a historical record. Many soldiers left diaries and memoirs, but what they told and what they chose to leave untold varied a great deal. Many may have recorded battles and action, but the logistics of preparing for the action gets omitted. Waugh seems to tell more of the story than most. This is what it was actually like, not in surreal fantasies like Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow or in the story of planning and carrying out of military operations, but in the experience of one soldier, and a few of the people he encountered, buth military and civilian.

I’m not an expert on military history, but some parts that touch on things that I have read about in history books, such as conditions in war-time Yugoslavia, seemed pretty authentic to me.

Guy Crouchback is a Roman Catholic, and so we are given a glimpse of the lost world of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, to which Evelyn Waugh was a well-known literary convert.

It reminded me in some ways of Waugh’s contemporary, Graham Greene, also a converet to the Roman Catholic Church, whose The power and the glory reflects on the challenge of being a saint. Guy Crouchback is nothing like the whisky priest in The power and the glory, in either his upbringing, his circumstances or his character. But he faces similar problems of conscience and ethical dilemmas, in which attempts to help others sometimes turn out well, and sometimes disastrously for all concerned.

As it is a concatenated trilogy, it’s a long read, and when I finally reached the end, the overwhelming impression was of the futility of war.

View all my reviews

It’s cool to be Christian again

I’ve seen various comments along the lines of “It’s cool to be Christian again”, pointing to recent statements by the Roman Pope and retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

There seemed to be something missing there, however, because the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury made some statements that were just as newsworthy, and just as widely reported, it seems, but were not, apparently, seen to be cool by the current arbiters of “cool”.

Here, for the record, are some of the blog posts and comments on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statements.

I suppose it depends on how you define “cool”.

Are Roman Catholics and Orthodox about to unite?

There has been quite a lot of talk in the blogosphere about an imminent reunion between Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Father Milovan writes about it in “The Arrogant Papal Brow” | Again and Again. The Roman Pope has visited several Orthodox countries recently, and there has also been a proliferation of Byzantine-style ikons in Roman Catholic churches, as this Orthodox writer notes OCA – Q & A – Orthodox Influences on Roman Catholicism:

Of course, it is difficult to objectively detail influences Orthodoxy has had on Roman Catholicism. Very often an individual or a small group of individuals may have contact with Orthodoxy, digest certain things which they discovered, and incorporated them into the life and thought of their communion, generally without the knowledge of the Orthodox. Last May I encountered a Roman Catholic priest from France who operates a school for young adults interested in missionary and evangelistic outreach. He gave me a copy of the school’s magazine, which sported photographs of the school’s chapel, the interior of which was completely frescoed in Byzantine iconography. Other pictures revealed another small chapel filled with icons, as well as the priest himself in Orthodox vestments celebrating the Eucharist. Odd as all of this might be — imagine how one would react to find an Orthodox church in which the Sacred Heart statue was prominently displayed! — it does show that, in many ways great and small, Orthodoxy has had some influence, even if it is only external.

The last point, about the Sacred Heart, indicates, however, that there is still a very long way to go. Why is it that, as an Orthodox Christian, I find this Byzantinised image of the Sacred Heart (found at Clerical Whispers: Prayer To The Sacred Heart) quite shocking, and almost a desecration?

I don’t mind if Roman Catholics use Byzantine ikons, but this image strikes me as abuse rather than use. It indicates that the gulf is much wider than we think.

Unity is a lot more than Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops visiting and being polite to each other. I’m all in favour of them doing that, and even doing the same thing with Anglican and Zionist bishops, but it doesn’t mean that reunion is imminent.

Some think that it is only a few minor theological issues that can be sorted out quickly. But it’s not just papal primacy and the Filioque that keep us apart, but a millennium of history. We differ in soteriology (Anselm’s theory of the atonement, which swept the west, never got much traction in Orthodoxy), ecclesiology (the Orthodox temple versus the Roman monolith and the Protestant heap of stones) and missiology (Roman missiologists believe that Orthodox missiology is derived from Origen).

All these have led to a different culture and ethos, and this is just as much theology as the kind of theology that is written in books. And so before there can be any reunion, these things must be faced and examined.

So if Roman Catholics want to have images of the Sacred Heart, I think it would be better if they stuck to ones like the one on the left.

Unlike some writers, I don’t think a hasty marriage is imminent. We are far closer to the Oriental Churches, like the Copts and Armenians, than we are to the Roman Catholics, and I don’t see reunion happening there very quickly. I’ll believe it when I see an agreement that the next Pope of Alexandria to die will not be replaced, but that the other one will simply move in to succeed him and that thereafter there will just be one. But I see no sign of that happening yet.


Some other posts that point to differences that need to be examined and sorted out before we can say that the time is ripe for reunion:

Media spin on the Vatican’s sins

I keep getting new confirmation of the thesis that the media just don’t “get religion“, or perhaps that they are out to “get religion”.

There have been numerous reports with moronic headlines like “Recycle or go to hell” about “the Vatican’s” or “the Pope’s” new “list of seven deadly sins”.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace: More bad religion reporting for this corrective.

Taki’s Magazine, edited by Taki Theodoracopulos:

To everyone who got exercised about the “Vatican’s” new so-called “list of deadly sins” for the modern age, I have some good news–or bad news, if you’re a jaded secularist looking to pick a fight: The Vatican didn’t publish anything of the kind. In fact, if I might explain a little about how things work here in Rome (just a few blocks away from where I’m sitting now, over at St. Peter’s): “The Vatican” rarely issues anything, other than parking tickets and stamps; that name refers to the government of the micro-state known as Vatican City, created in 1929 by the Treaty of the Lateran, to guarantee the Church’s independence of the Italian State.

And here’s the heart of the matter:

The list of new “deadly sins” came from none of these sources. In fact, it was compiled by a journalist, Nicola Gori, who was interviewing a bishop, Gianfranco Girotti, for the quasi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. In the interview, published March 9, the journalist teased out from Bishop Girotti his ideas on how to apply Catholic morality to contemporary questions, such as economics and the environment. Bishop Girotti has some competence to address these issues; as regent of the tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, he is in charge of offering guidance to priests around the world when they hear Catholics’ confessions. But the good bishop has no (and would claim no) authority to update the moral theology of the Church and re-orient it toward social issues, instead of one’s personal moral life. That’s just how the media spun it. It’s as if a prominent rabbi in Israel, in an interview, spoke about a serious moral issue, and the secular media presented it as “Jews Add 11th Commandment.”

But I think John Zmirak underestimates the media’s propensity for spin; that’s just how they would spin it.

Dorothy Day’s anarcho-Catholicism:the way of love

Dorothy Day rejected Western individualism and collectivism, and proposed a new way: communitarianism

clipped from

Dorothy Day – a radical pacifist who had been a member of the I.W.W., met Leon Trotsky, had an abortion, and raised a daughter as a divorced single mother – may be the next American canonized a saint in the Catholic Church.

November 29th marks the anniversary of the passing of Dorothy Day, the foundress of the Catholic Worker Movement.

In 1933, she founded the Catholic Worker movement with the itinerant French illegal immigrant Peter Maurin, a sort of modern Holy Fool in the mode of Saint Francis of Assisi.

However politically heterodox Dorothy Day was, she was always religiously orthodox, saying, “When it comes to labor and politics, I am inclined to be sympathetic to the left, but when it comes to the Catholic Church, then I am far to the right.”

blog it

The author of this article on Dorothy Day has his own blog The Western Confucian, where you can also leave comments.

Desmond Tutu barred from US Catholic university

Desmond Tutu barred from speaking at a Minnesota University

A peace and justice group at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota has been forced by the university president to cancel an appearance by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The cancellation was accompanied by the removal of the chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program, Prof. Cris Toffolo from her position as chair. She has tenure, but no longer heads the

The university president, Father Dennis Dease, decided against Tutu’s appearance after consulting one representative from the local Jewish Community Relations Council and several rabbis affiliated with the university. This, apparently, amounted to a Jewish “consensus” in Father Dease’s mind.

The rumor of Tutu’s alleged “anti-Semitism” is based entirely on a propaganda campaign waged by the extremist group, the Zionist Organization of America. Though he is outspoken in his criticism of Israel’s occupation regime, sometimes even bellicose, Tutu has never displayed anything other than deep concern for all peoples and his sympathy for Palestinians suffering under the yoke of occupation.

Please write to Father Dease and urge that he reverse this tragic course. Tell him you want to see Prof. Toffolo reinstated as chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program and that the words and views of Bishop Tutu are important ones for the students at St. Thomas University to hear.

Go to Jewish Voice for Peace to write to Father Dease.

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

No surprises here: Vatican: Non-Catholics ‘wounded’ by not recognizing pope.

A 16-page document, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict used to head, described Christian Orthodox churches as true churches, but suffering from a “wound” since they do not recognize the primacy of the Pope.

But the document said the “wound is still more profound” in the Protestant denominations — a view likely to further complicate relations with Protestants.

If it weren’t so, we’d all have been Uniate long ago. That’s one of those areas of disagreement that still has to be hammered out before the churches can be reunited. The Orthodox, of course, see it from a different viewpoint. The “wound” is the claim of the Pope of Rome to “universal ordinary jurisdiction”, and perhaps his claim to be “the” Pope. We have a Pope in Alexandria, and as far as we are concerned, he is “the” Pope. The one in Rome is just the head of a non-Orthodox denomination.

All sorts of people seem to be getting their knickers in a knot over this document. But that’s just silly. Would they rather that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pretended to be what they are not, or that their ecclesiology is other than what it is? How can we have dialogues and discuss differences in ecclesiology if everyone is pretending that their ecclesiology is something else? Christian unity is not brought about by papering over the cracks and pretending that differences don’t exist. We need to face the differences honestly. Let’s face it: Roman Catholic ecclesiology is dffierent from Orthodox ecclesiology, and different from most Protestant ecclesiologies. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is just being honest. Would we prefer it if they weren’t?

The image of Christianity in films

I’m approaching this topic from a personal point of view, commenting on the influence that some films have had on me, bearing some relation to the Christian faith.

Perhaps I should begin by saying that until the age of 11 I was a heathen. My parents were atheist/agnostic and we never went to church as a family. The first time I went to church was with a friend who took me to the local Anglican church on Christmas day. The next year I went to a Methodist school, but the maths teacher, who was also responsible for teaching us “scripture” did not believe much either, and fulfilled his responsibility by getting us to read the Bible aloud in turns, starting with Genesis 1:1.

By the end of the year I’d developed a taste for it, and surprised my mother by asking for a Bible for my birthday, and read it through in about 16 months, and started again with a new edition that had the Apocrypha. We also got some new teachers, ardent evangelicals, who organised voluntary Bible study groups and placed what I’d read in an evangelical framework, and convinced me of the need to make a conscious personal commitment to Christ as Lord and Saviour, which I did at the age of 13.

Soon after that I went with my mother to see a film called Lease of life. She wanted to see it because Robert Donat was in it. I had never heard of Robert Donat, but went along anyway because I had nothing better to do. It was about a school chaplain, and when it began I prepared to be bored. I was at a school that had a chaplain, and didn’t find any of them inspiring or interesting. I’ve forgotten most of the film now, but this chaplain bloke had some kind of incurable disease, and knowing that his time was short inspired him to preach more interesting sermons to the kids. That bit stuck with me, and I could say influenced my choice of career, a choice that horrified me every time I thought of it, and then images from the film would pop up in my mind, and I’d calm down.

The next one that made an impression was Dracula. This was a straightforward horror flick, and I’d read the book first, and enjoyed it. I’ve seen the film a couple of times since then, and read the book 4-5 times. One scene from the film and the book always returns to me whenever a certain theological point comes up. As C.S. Lewis points out, when considering the devil, there are two opposite errors to be avoided. One is to believe that he does not exist, and the other is to be excessively concerned about and afraid of demons and the devil. The devil has power over us only if we let him. Since the death and resurrection of Christ the final result of the conflict between good and evil has not been in doubt. The devil is an oxymoron, a powerless force. And whenever I discuss this point the image of Lucy Westenra in the house at Whitby comes to mind. Dracula is powerless to enter the house unless one of the inmates invites him, and Lucy Westenra does, partly because of the overprotectiveness of her friends and family.

I’ll now jump ahead, from my teenage years to middle age, when I was teaching missiology (the study of Christian mission) at the University of South Africa. There were two films that I recommended by students to see, both about Christian mission in South America. One was The mission, about Jesuit missions in the 17th century. The second was At play in the fields of the Lord, about Protestant missions in the 20th century. Between them these two films raised about half the issues that students were expected to deal with in the course, and write assignments on — mission and colonialism, mission and culture, inculturation. Ideally I would like to have had the students at a camp in the bush for a weekend (in South Africa we call that a “bosberaad” — bush council), show them both films and then get them to discuss them, then watch the films again and discuss them some more.

The Jesuit method, shown in The mission, was to create utopian Christian communities for their converts, where they were protected from the wicked world of both their pagan compatriots and those of the missionaries, the colonial capitalist exploiters. It was in some ways a magnificent vision, but also a misguided one. The new Christians lived a communal (and communist) life in an environment in which Christian virtues could be nourished — until the outside world, in the form of the colonialist exploiters, intruded. The power of secular businessmen got the Jesuits suppressed, and it was the Jesuits who resisted the genocide of the local people. But when the Jesuits were suppressed, the flower of Christianity they nurtured wilted and died. And the reason is not far to seek. They failed absolutely to raise up local leadership. Everything was under the absolute control of the Jesuit missionaries. When the missionaries left, the vision could not be sustained. They had failed to pass on the vision. They had failed to do what St Paul recommends in II Timothy 2:2 – find reliable men they could teach who could in turn teach others.

Their ideal Christian communities were ruled by an authoritarian paternalism. And the name of these communities has come down to us in the 21st century with more ominous connotations. The name reducciones has been translated as “protected villages“, but another name for them is “concentration camps”. They were used by the British in the Anglo-Boer War. They were used by the Portuguese in the Mocambique liberation war, and have been used by various 20th-century dictators to control their opposition.

At play in the fields of the Lord is based on a novel by Peter Matthiesen, but I only managed to find a copy of the novel to read long after I had seen the film. Two American Protestant missionaries are trying to evangelise indigenous people of the Equatorial jungle. One is more culturally sensitive than the other, which leads to tensions between them. Civilisation, in the form of the government, is encroaching, and wants to dispossess the indigenous people so they can exploit the land, and the missionaries, who understand a great deal less than the Jesuits, are torn between having to please the government officials, whom they depend on for permission to stay there, and loyalty to their home mission society and the people they are sent to, all of whom have conflicting interests. Into the equation comes a charter pilot, who had been involved in various activities of dubious legality. He is descended from North American Indians, and finds himself called to what he sees as his cultural roots by the South American Indians.

An interesting difference between these two films is the way Christianity is presented. The mission presents Christianity in a very positive light, as the protector of the indigenous people against the cruel capitalist exploiters. The negative aspects are played down.

At play in the fields of the Lord tends to accentuate the negative aspects, and the Christian missionaries are shown as largely ineffectual, unable to comprehend what is going on. They are a bit more savvy in the book than in the film, but that, if anything, makes it worse. But I must say I have met missionaries like that, and the ones shown in the film were quite true to life. The only thing is that they are not all like that.

So there you have it. Four different films, of different eras, each saying something about the Christian faith, yet quite different from each other in many ways.

See what the other synchrobloggershave to say on Christianity and film:

And a couple of late entry honorary synchrobloggers:

Three-fold ministry and five-fold ministry

My blogging friend John Smulo once posted something in his blog about the five-fold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, and he posted “job descriptions” for each of them.  His blog seems to have disappeared, so I can’t refer you to what he wrote.

I originally posted the following as a comment in his blog, and then thought I would post it here as well, in the hope of getting comments from my Orthodox readers (all two of them!), who might be able to point out whether I have allowed any heresies to creep in.

The Orthodox Church has a distinction between ministries of order, ordained ministries – the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and the charismatic ministries, of which the five-fold ministry is a sub-set (one could add, for example, healing).

It is quite possible for people to have more than one ministry, of both types. Philip, for example, was a deacon and evangelist.

I think John Smulo’s job descriptions are OK in practice, but not in theory. Good in application, but bad in principle.

Again, that might just be an Orthodox take on it, and it might look different from where he is. The thing is, the Church never “hires” apostles, prophets, evangelists etc. The Holy Spirit does. The Church never said “We have a vacancy for a prophet: here is the job description. Qualified candidates please apply.”

Jeremiah didn’t apply. God told him.

And so from the Orthodox point of view, the charismatic ministries are recognised by the Church, ex post facto. No one is “ordained” as an apostle. But when the Church recognises that someone has had an apostolic ministry (played an important role in church-planting), then they are called (usually after they are dead) “Equal-to-the-Apostles”.

So Nikolai Kasatkin, a 19th century missionary to Japan, is now called “Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Japan”. Mary Madgalene, first witness to the resurrection, is also called “Equal-to-the-Apostles” (sucks to The da Vinci code).

If you look at most of the people who are called apostles etc., you will find that they have fitted the job description. But they weren’t given the job description in advance and asked to sign on the dotted line.

When St Nina of Georgia was taken as a slave to Georgia she no doubt hoped that God would use her and be with her, but she never imagined that centuries later people would be singing about her as “Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia”.

By their fruits shall ye know them, not by their job descriptions.

For more on this, and how the “charismatic” ministries relate to other ministries, see Ministries in the Church | Khanya.

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