Tuesday 31 May 2011

Rough Games

I read in this morning's paper that two seven-year-old boys have been disciplined by their school (which also demanded that the parents reinforce the lesson) for making 'guns' with their fingers. I would be interested to know whether the teachers responsible for this particular act of absurdity have children of their own.

I have a friend who is an evolutionary anthropologist. Until she married and had two boys, she uncritically accepted the dogma she had been taught, that the difference between the sexes was simply a matter of plumbing. Her boys almost from the moment they could see and grasp scorned the cuddly toys and went straight for the tractors and planes, and that was only the beginning.

It is a natural instinct to protect children from becoming horrible adults, and a good one. We want our children to be 'free' when they grow up, but the trouble is that freedom is now being confused with licence. Against this, I prefer to call freedom 'the ability to act in accordance with my nature' which, since my nature is fallen, may require not a little self-discipline. So far, I am in agreement with the educators. Some actions are good for children to learn, some are not good.

 The difficulty is when our real nature is poorly understood. As I mentioned in the last post, there is a notion of how some people think we 'ought' to be, rather than beginning from where we actually are. Can you make a boy a 'new man' by forbidding him to play soldiers? Is there no way that male natural instincts can be turned to good rather than by being completely suppressed?

CS Lewis had a strange opinion on this: I'm not sure I go all the way with him, but I can see what he is saying. I wish I could find the passage, but I don't have my books with me; it might even be from Mere Christianity. Lewis was not, of course, in favour of war as a thing in itself, but he lamented that a soldier was no longer entitled to see war as glorious in some way, that he had to see it as a sad necessity. In some way this is emasculating; a man ought to be able to rejoice in his masculinity. It's Lewis' opinion, and perhaps goes a bit far, but I can see what he is saying.

Among various differences, men are generally physically stronger than women. Instead of denying that strength, it needs to be focussed on a good end. It ought to be possible in childhood to enable a boy to see his strength as service for the good of a higher cause. It's the old crusader thing; to have some higher aspiration to which one gives oneself, and he who loses himself will find himself. That is the essential paradox that is fully in accord with human nature.

We talk about child-centred education, but that is not the same thing as educating in the child's best interests. In the same paper I read this morning, I also read about school trips costing the parents four figures. Add to that the designer clothes and electronics, and everything else now considered indispensable to a child. It is all of a piece with the lessons that encourage pupils to express how they feel all the time, to sit in judgment on great minds and say what they think about Shakespeare, whether he 'got it right'. Children are encouraged and helped to get what they want out of their education, so that they can get what they want out of their career, and get what they want out of their marriage—sorry, relationships—simply, we are educating people for disappointment. And, in my opinion, that is why so many of our young people look so sulky. And why they lapse from the practice of the faith. People admire the dedication and self-sacrifice of the Queen, but have no inclination to imitate it.

 Instead of considering 'what can I get out of life', our young people should be encouraged to consider 'what can I do with my life'. We should begin with our teenagers asking themselves 'what am I, and what are my gifts and inclinations for?' Christianity gives the answer: to love God and my neighbour as myself.

Rough games are natural to boys; let's teach them how to use their strength for good, and not simply repress it, which is far more likely to result in its misuse.

On a lighter note, did anyone notice during the latest royal wedding that crass BBC announcer (a woman) asking a group of teenage boys 'so, boys, what did you feel when you saw the dress?' The poor lads were completely nonplussed. I imagined phalanxes of grim, grey, Guardian-reading pedagogues tutting to themselves at what young people are becoming these days……

I once was chaplain to a primary school that wouldn't number its classes because numbers are 'hierarchical'; even the children in the classes were of mixed age, lest a younger child feel disadvantaged by having a lower number (age) than an older. The classes, instead of being numbered, had tree names, 'Oak', 'Beech' and so on. The headteacher (no headmaster, he; and yes, he was a man [I assume]) told me one day that they were going to add a couple of classes, and could I suggest some nice trees to name them after. I am ashamed to record that I suggested 'Cane' and 'Birch'.

Looking for the pic at the top of this post, I came across this site, dedicated to educational idiocy.

Sunday 29 May 2011

The bleedin' obvious

Just about the oldest joke in the book is about the little Catholic boy and the little Protestant girl who took their clothes off and went for a swim. Both of them went to their mothers afterwards and said, worried, 'Mummy; I didn't know there was such a difference between Catholics and Protestants!'

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, I was struck yet again the other day at what a difference there is. From time to time I have a look at the Ugley Vicar's blog: he's usually got something interesting to say from a different perspective to mine. The particular post that interested me was one on the 1975 decision of General Synod that 'there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood', which he describes as 'perhaps the most stupid thing General Synod has ever done'.

Well of course it would be impertinent of me to comment on General Synod's decisions, though as an outsider it looks to me to have had pretty catastrophic consequences. (Sorry if that's impertinent!) The Ugley Vicar comments, rightly, that to say that there are no fundamental objections is simply wrong. One might say that there are fundamental objections and they are wrong objections, and anathematize them, as a General Council might, but to say that they do not exist is simply untrue. Well, quite. It suggests that any objections that exist are merely shallow, unworthy of consideration.

The whole Evangelical method of reasoning, however, is fundamentally different to the Catholic one. For our friend the Ugley Vicar, the matter is a moral one. One should obey God's will, and one derives one's knowledge of God's will from God' Word; which is to say, from the Bible. Whether a woman can be a priest or a bishop is a matter of right and wrong; of fidelity or infidelity to the word of God as revealed in the Bible. Since most Evangelicals take a symbolic view of the sacraments, (many indeed would favour 'lay presidency' at the Eucharist), the question of whether a woman might preside at such a celebration would be a moral one; ought she to do so? Is she being disobedient to God's Word, and is the Church of England being disobedient to God's word in permitting a woman to exercise headship in the Church? The successive Synod votes on the subject of women's orders since 1975, then, have been successive mistakes, but mistakes can be put right again. All you have to do is wait things out, keep the pressure on, and get the decisions reversed in due course.

To a Catholic mind, the question is not just a moral one, but an ontological one. Priesthood and a fortiori Episcopacy are about more than just headship or leadership. This is because we believe that sacraments actually do what they say on the tin, and we ask not just 'may' or 'should' somebody do it, but 'can' they do it? To make a priest you have to do more than simply putting a vestment on and calling them a priest; a bishop is more than a pointy hat and a curly stick.

As a sort of reductio ad absurdum, I remember going to the plumbing-in of Cormac Murphy-O'Connor as the Archbishop of Westminster. There were present several leaders from Pentecostal communions, and some of them had clearly felt that on such an occasion they ought to dress appropriately, to fit in, I suppose. There were about three or four, men and women, who had clearly gone to Vanpoulles or somewhere, and, basically, bought various bits of liturgical bling which they draped about their persons and greeted the new Archbishop as equals. If cucullus non fecit monachum, then mitra non fecit episcopum either.

I think that it was Ronald Knox, when an Anglican, who believed that Anglican orders must be valid, because God would surely not have left the Church of England so long without the comfort of the sacraments. That too is a moral argument not an ontological one. If God the Son regularly obeys the words of the priest to substantially make Himself present under the forms of bread and wine because He is faithful to His promises, then is it not reasonable to assume that He does not dispense with His own laws simply because human beings have shifted the goalposts?

If we cannot (rather than should not) modify our celebration of the Eucharist with bread and wine, then we cannot make changes to the sacrament of Order without seriously worrying whether we have moved the goalposts on God's promises.

This ontological view is all of a piece with our view of the world. Some years ago, when I was, for some eighteen months, a priest in Oxford, I was privileged to attend a course of lectures given by the eminent physicist and daily Massgoer, Dr Peter Hodgson. A remarkable man, he was never afraid to nail his colours to the mast even when this courted unpopularity; at the height of the arguments against nuclear power, he was a passionate advocate—I think he even wrote a CTS pamplet on the subject—demonstrating how the arguments against nuclear power caused (appropriately) more heat than light. Hodgson was long on the lecture circuit; I discovered in the course of the preparation of my book that he had visited St John’s Seminary to lecture on ‘Science and the Priest’ as far back as 1955 or 6, I forget which, and he was already described as ‘eminent’ then.

In his old age, he turned his mind to another problem he saw emerging; the Church being perceived as the enemy of science. That is still, of course, a challenge, with the old chestnut of Galileo being trotted out regularly as it if proves the point without further need of discussion.

Hodgson’s point was that, precisely, the development of science as we know it would not have been possible without the Catholic Church. There were many strands to this, but one is, of course, the development of the Aristotelian method beginning with Albert the Great, and continuing. Secularists are quick to point out, quite correctly, that the Church got that from the Moslems, but they do not then go on to show how the Church developed it over the ages. It is all about understanding how reality works; about categories, and about how one thing observably and regularly leads to another. Whether in physics or metaphysics, things happen regularly and one can therefore deduce that they will continue to do so. As Chesterton said in Orthodoxy, the fact that the sun rises regularly each day is a recurring miracle; the point is that it does so faithfully because all the universe is subject to regular laws of behaviour, because there is a Lawgiver. This regularity makes science possible. Even particle physics which seems to reveal a certain antinomianism may well have laws which we do not yet understand.

A couple of years ago, Gem of the Ocean put on her blog a list of the eminent scientists who ‘just happened’ to be Catholic priests. I wish she would repost it, because it was very interesting. I remember that I added Gregor Mendel, the father (as it were) of genetics, to the list. Galileo is embarrassing, I suppose, but for every Galileo there must be twenty, fifty, a hundred, eminent Catholics who see no contradiction between their science and their faith.

For a Catholic, as for a scientist, we need to know whether if I do x, y will follow. We know a male priest can do the biz: why introduce variables that we cannot be assured will work at all? When I die, I want to be properly absolved, not simply to be comforted by somebody (of either sex)  saying that surely God wouldn’t (read ‘oughtn’t’) to send me to hell. I want assurance that my sins are forgiven, not warm words and a comforting opinion that just might be rubbish, and dangerous rubbish.

‘If I were God, I would organize things this way rather than that way’ is not a meaningful principle of action in either theology or science. We struggle to understand a fact (we are not omniscient) but do not deny its status as a fact. Somebody may well know why copper sulphate is blue and not pink; I don’t, but I accept that it is so, that all my wishing won’t change it, and get on with my life.

Some of this, I suppose, must go back to old William of Ockham; a thing is what I say it is. I say it is a baseball bat, you say it is a club. I suppose it’s Berkeley, too, trees falling in woods making no noise and all that. When Ronald Knox answered that amusing limerick about the tree that continued to be when there is no-one around in the quad, he said something very important. For the Catholic, and, indeed, for the theist, the fact is that things have their ontological nature not because you, or I, or Parliament, or a General Synod say so, but because God says so. This is what gives stability to human thought and society; and to science too. It assures me that the cosmos is a unity subject to ‘laws’, that its functioning is not an accident, but is both observable and reliable. This makes science possible, and makes theology something equally stable that I can have a growing relationship with.

The Catholic point is that you cannot hive off part of reality and make it subject to a vote. Phrases such as ‘it’s my truth’ are meaningless.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Iam finita sunt proelia!

The book is finished!

yes, really.


That's a bottle of Lanson champagne on the left, and Brunello di Montalcino on the right.

Thanks to all who have got me here today.

In Hope of Harvest, the 502-page history of St John's Seminary, Wonersh, will be available to all who suffer from insomnia or have too much time on their hands in mid-June. I wouldn't bother, if I were you.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Welcome back…

…to His Patrimoniality. 'Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes' is, to our great relief and universal rejoicing, up and running again—and is now an indisputably Catholic blog!

On this front, I've been a little exercised as to how I should order my sidebar. Would Catholics of the Ordinariate prefer to have their own little enclave, as at present, or join hoi polloi in the Catholic Links section?

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Strange times

I have assisted at a Mass where an auxiliary bishop sang the responsorial psalm (he is now the Archbishop of Birmingham, and has a very beautiful voice—in fact, when still a priest, he sang at my ordination). In Rome in the old days, when the Pope celebrated, senior curial officials would act as the altar servers; however, I have never before seen a choir directed by a cardinal in choir dress, especially in St Peter's! It is, I assume, Cardinal Bartolucci.

h/t John Paul Sonnen here

Saturday 14 May 2011

Two steps forwards, one step back

It has indeed been wonderful to get the news about Universæ Eccclesiæ, the restored Friday penance and the possible restoration of Epiphany and Ascension.

In France, however, there is one piece of startling news. It concerns this man:
His name is François Fonlupt; a used car salesman, perhaps, or a rep for some company?

Nope; he's the new bishop of Rodez, the only diocese in the South-West of France that has been getting back into an objectively more healthy state, according to the site Chrétienté Info, largely due to the work of the outgoing bishop Bellino Ghirard; at least, it says, Rodez was the only diocese not entirely in a coma. I notice that on its diocesan webpage it even notes where one may find the Extraordinary Form. That will probably change under what is likely to be the 18-year reign of Mgr Fonlupt (he being 57). As the photograph suggests, he is an opponent of the EF, being described as the liberal's liberal. Gloria TV news noted that he recently denied the 'material presence' of Christ in the Eucharist, and said that our Lord was as much present in the congregation. Chrétienté Info also notes that he celebrates 'second' marriages for the divorced, refuses to oppose artificial contraception because it's what people are doing anyway, and has no problem giving general absolution.

I have to say that I don't really get the strange things on his face—no, not his glasses.

How on earth could this happen today?

Has the eldest daughter of the Church gone nuts?

A very handy postscript here from the French Oasis.

Monday 9 May 2011

How Popes Should Travel: The Holy Father in Venice

How cool is this! So much better than the refrigerator-on-wheels they usually make him sit in; even the motorized version in Venice was open.

Photos: Corriere del Veneto
The Latin Mass Society magazine, Mass of Ages is looking for a new editor. If you are interested, email here: michael@lms.org.uk