Thursday, May 27, 2010

Respice Turrem Davidicam!

I'm busy following Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman's devotions on Our Lady during the month of May. Today's is Mary as the Turris Davidica.

A TOWER in its simplest idea is a fabric for defence against enemies. David, King of Israel, built for this purpose a notable tower; and as he is a figure or type of our Lord, so is his tower a figure denoting our Lord's Virgin Mother. She is called the Tower of David because she had so signally fulfilled the office of defending her Divine Son from the assaults of His foes. It is customary with those who are not Catholics to fancy that the honours we pay to her interfere with the supreme worship which we pay to Him; that in Catholic teaching she eclipses Him. But this is the very reverse of the truth. For if Mary's glory is so very great, how cannot His be greater still who is the Lord and God of Mary? He is infinitely above His Mother; and all that grace which filled her is but the overflowings and superfluities of His Incomprehensible Sanctity. And history teaches us the same lesson. Look at the Protestant countries which threw off all devotion to her three centuries ago, under the notion that to put her from their thoughts would be exalting the praises of her Son. Has that consequence really followed from their profane conduct towards her? Just the reverse—the countries, Germany, Switzerland, England, which so acted, have in great measure ceased to worship Him, and have given up their belief in His Divinity while the Catholic Church, wherever she is to be found, adores Christ as true God and true Man, as firmly as ever she did; and strange indeed would it be, if it ever happened otherwise. Thus Mary is the "Tower of David."
There seem to be Protestants out there who just simply will not be told that Catholics do not worship Mary. If they will not listen to the simple words of the Blessed Cardinal, then I am clearly not going to do much better. However, if they accuse me of conservative intransigence, I can legitimately say "right back atcha!"

It's the last bit of this that intrigues me. Of course, by "Protestant" the Cardinal means those who are not Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox having decided that the Anglican Church of his time was more "Protestant" than Catholic. Yet I have friends who have a convincing claim on the word Catholic who rejoice in their Protestantism. The fluidity of adjectives always puts a spanner in the works. However, there is something in what he says. The investment of Europeans into their spirituality seems remarkably poor. In throwing out devotions to Our Lady, they have thrown out the veneration and sanctity of humanity. "Respect has to be earned" they say. Others describe Christianity as "one woman's lie that got really out of hand".

We have lost the skill of recognising the venerability of human beings, not in worshipping them, but in loving them as the Lord commands. It seems difficult for me to refute Cardinal Newman's correlation between lack of veneration of Mary and lack of religion. I would also notice a correlation between those who do not reverence Our Lady and the lack of love they have for their neighbour. Now correlation is not cause, but all this seems indicative of the lack of estimation that we have of ourselves.

We are nothing but dust. True. We are just fragile little soap-bubbles clinging to a film sandwiched between the past and the future on the currents of Eternity. Some say we are just biological machines. If that is all we are, then we are the greatest tragedy of them all, falling through space in an aether of hopelessness without a point or purpose but an illusion of failed possibilities.

However, if we realise that, in among our failings, fallings and falliblities as a race, God has bothered to be born among us, then it shows us our true worth as human beings - we mean something to God. Our Lady is truly venerable because she is one of us. She is no God and Human like our Lord, just a simple human being. Her venerability comes from her humanity - she was capable, worthy, affirming of receiving in Her womb God Himself, not just the Human bit of God which is the ancient heresy of Nestorianism and refuted by St Cyril.

"Respect must be earned" many say. What does that mean? That they only consider the contributions of others valuable if they meet up with their personal standards? Who made these folk boss of the world that their demands must be met on how much another is worth? Perhaps they should tell me how much they're selling Granny for and, if I have enough, I'll buy her just to save her from their materialistic tyranny!

Unless we realise that each human being actually has an innate worth that begins with the very moment of their conception, we are back to dismissing them as nothing, aborting them from our lives with a frightening ease.

You cannot love someone without respecting them. Respect comes from the Latin meaning to look at, to regard. It's the diametrical opposite of dismissal. Veneration is the act of recognising that affinity someone has with God, another instance of looking very carefully at someone's life.

Respect that is earned is not worth having. It will pass into Eternity on the soap film of existence. If we're looking for true permanence, then we will find it by looking very carefully into the faces and lives of those around us and realising their worth to us that transcends measurement. Perhaps then we might see it in ourselves.

If, by venerating Our Lady, we learn to venerate and cherish others then that, surely, is the worship, not of Our Lady, but of God because we follow His commandment to love.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Falling in Denial

The New Scientist has a very interesting article about the nature of denial as opposed to skepticism. Of course this article is aimed at examining (reasonably fairly in my opinion) the cases and arguments who deny that Evolution occurs, that HIV does not lead to AIDS, that there is no Climate change.

Now, there is a big difference between Denial and Skepticism. We can be skeptical about the claims of Evolution and reasonably doubt the evidence or the inferences made, but to deny Evolution is to take the more convicted position that Evolution doesn't happen in reality. Reasonable argument consists of claims supported by evidence and counterclaims which involve criticisms of that evidence. To take a position of denial is more risky because one ceases to doubt another's claim to be true and to be convinced of its falsehood. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but it can and does lead some into very dodgy ground, for example Denial of the Holocaust.

The trouble with conviction either for or against some claim is that one holds a position to be absolutely true and then find ever more outlandish ways to prove it. Their scientific theories will all have a confirmation bias and a selective nature. It is along this route that we begin to find the conspiracies: the Marriage of the Lord to Mary Magdalen, the Murder of Princess Diana, the Falsehood of the Moon Landings. A denialist will always have the same attributes of a Conspiracy theorist.

In discussing how to "beat" a denialist movement, Michael Shermer states:

We should not, however, cover up, hide, suppress or, worst of all, use the state to quash someone-else's belief system. There are several good arguments for this:

1. They might be right and we would have just squashed a bit of

2. They might be completely wrong, but in the process of examining
their claims we discover the truth; we also discover how thinking can go wrong, and in the process improve our thinking skills.

3. In science, it is never possible to know the absolute truth about anything, and so we must always be on the alert for where our ideas need to change.

4. Being tolerant when you are in the believing majority means you have a greater chance of being tolerated when you are in the sceptical minority. Once censorship of ideas is established, it can work against you if and when you find yourself in the minority.

Now, these are eminently reasonable and charitable. Would that Christians learn them more carefully. Mind you, we certainly begin to see Professor Dawkins in a more Denialist light.

But what of Christians. I suppose I now do have to ask myself the question "am I a denialist when it comes to the question of the ordination of women?" Folk who know me will know that I am very passionate about this. I am passionate about it because it is actually splitting the Church apart, and the decisions of Synod are not helping.

Well, I have posted before that no-one can escape bias. I do not believe that a woman can be ordained to the Diaconate, Priesthood or Episcopacy given the present Revelation of the Will of God through the Church via Scripture and Tradition. For the ordination of women to be valid, I would need to see a new and clear revelation from God because there is insufficient evidence for it in Scripture (more the reverse in fact) and Tradition has clearly demonstrated the opposite.

I concur that there is a diaconal ministry for women mentioned in Scripture, but there is no further evidence of women "Deacons". There is however, plenty of evidence of women ministry apart from Holy Orders which is much more pertinent: Deaconesses, Readers, Abbesses (who can forget the magnificent St Hilda?), even Doctors of the Church. To say that there is no room in the Church for women ministers is blinkered and foolish.

However, the burden of proof that Women can be ordained is firmly in the camp of proponents of W"O". It is true that St Cyprian says Consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est (custom without truth is the antiquity of error). So one must look at the truth in order to find the depth of tradition. The truth is that Christ taught women, bade them bring Good news to His apostles, venerated them, sanctified them and treated them more highly than any other Rabbi. Yet, even then, even from this, there is nothing more reported by disciples who still found it important to report the Lord's acceptance of women in the same class as men. Martha did make a confession of faith comparable to St Peter, but St Peter is the one taken aside and given the keys by the Lord. This to me points contrary to the ordination of women!

What have I denied? Have I been unreasonable in my denial? Have I not weighed the evidence of Scripture? If I haven't, then tell me; there are comment boxes below.

Arguments for and against Ordination and Women are long and protracted. However, the latest movements from the General Synod to end provision for those who cannot accept the priesthood of women demonstrate that they are willing to legislate against dissenters. They believe that they have won the argument and that Forward in Faith are the denialists. FiF are not denialists: we have simply not found the arguments put forward by the Feminists at all convincing. However there is a difference between winning an argument and being charitable.

If we set out to win souls for Christ by winning arguments, then that presupposes that all people are Vulcan, swayed by logic alone. If the goal is to engage someone in argument and then win that argument but in the process drive the other away by the language one uses, then one has in fact lost the greater prize. Intellectual brownie points mean nothing when the Lord asks us "Who art Thou?" If one makes provision for dissenters, then one at least retains the salt by which to make life tasty.

However, the Synod is in a difficult position. Either it accepts that Women "Bishops" in the CofE will simply not be recognised by a significant proportion of its membership and make a decent provision for us, or it adopts this "Code of Practice" which will not do - will not safeguard those in dissent - and thus lose that proportion. I am convinced that the Code of Practice will come in, in which case I would suggest that the hierarchy of the CofE show one once of Charity and help dissenters to part company on a more amicable and Christ-like basis.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Simply Complex

According to St Thomas Aquinas (Book I, Question 3 Article 7), St Augustine is correct when he says in De Trinitate "God is truly and absolutely simple."

By this, both saints refer to God not being comprised of identifiable bits. Of course the objection arises, "Well, if God is simple, then how can Christians believe in a Holy Trinity?" St Thomas replies (Question 30, Article 1, replying to objection 4)

Number is twofold, simple or absolute, as two and three and four; and number as existing in things numbered, as two men and two horses. So, if number in God is taken absolutely or abstractedly, there is nothing to prevent whole and part from being in Him, and thus number in Him is only in our way of understanding; forasmuch as number regarded apart from things numbered exists only in the intellect. But if number be taken as it is in the things numbered, in that sense as existing in creatures, one is part of two, and two of three, as one man is part of two men, and two of three; but this does not apply to God, because the Father is of the same magnitude as the whole Trinity, as we shall show further on (42, 1 and 4).

Got that?

My point is that when we think about things, even simple things, they can get very complicated, that they present logical consequences that can affect the way we live our lives. It is a fact of life that simple things lead to complicated behaviour. One only has to look at the simplicity of the rules generating fractals (q.v. the Mandelbrot set) the BZ reaction in Chemistry, Langton's ant to see that from a comprehensible rule, the patterns which are caused merge and convolve and self-interfere (feedback) to produce some staggeringly wonderful behaviour.

However, there appears to be among many Christians a desire to be simplistic. There is a desire to purify the faith, to make Christianity more simple by removing from it any problematic parts, so that everybody can climb on board the "Kingdom train" (please don't ask) without any baggage and thus avoid any argument or discussion. Many such folk hide behind the epithet that "we don't need religion, we just need a personal relationship with Jesus."

All Christians have a personal relationship with Jesus. If they don't then they should certainly be cultivating one. We cultivate this relationship clearly by Baptism, repentance, and accepting His rule. However, Christianity just isn't this simple. If one tries to be simple about this, then we remove from our understanding of Christ great swathes of how He relates to us. He is our friend, so we greet Him by embracing Him. But! Hang on a minute! He is our God, so we should fall on our faces before Him. But then, He is our Defender, so we can stand with Him. And then, He is our judge, so we need to approach Him with fear and trepidation.

If we start thinking like this, then we'll never get near Him!

Yes, He is near us. Yes, we can just sit down and be open to Him, and let Him tell us how we can approach Him. This is part of our "personal relationship with Jesus".

However, the Lord presents us with a life which needs must be relational. He bids us not only to have a relationship with Him, but with other people and affirm our belief in Him with other people. Other people make the simple life incredibly complicated.

There is is this idea of free-will (or free-won't if you're a neurologist). God creates us to be free to choose (within some limited sphere of influence) and that freedom to choose presents the logical necessity of that which is Good (i.e. following God) and Evil (i.e. not following God). Yes, that now raises all kinds of Kantian arguments - more complexity. In order to choose either Good or Evil, we have to see Good and Evil, hence the necessity for a Universe in which both Good and Bad things happen - or perhaps this is all philosophical rubbish, but it's more complexity. Simple ideas breed more complexity. Christians just cannot afford to be simple minded!

If we are to relate with others then we need to bind ourselves to each other. Binding of course restricts movement and freedom, and this creates religion, a voluntary renunciation of certain freedoms in order to relate with others who share the same belief, so that we can articulate and communicate that very belief in a language that can be understood by others. Even those who do not say they are religious are actually religious.

It's when people try to change the language of religion that the complications really fly about. Take this statement from Thinking Anglicans (whose very title seems to imply that Conservatives do not know how to think!):

"WATCH has argued for this for the last fifteen years, as there are sound theological reasons for it as well as scriptural warrant: the first chapter of Genesis says we are all made in the image of God, both male and female, and St Paul says that in Christ there is no male or female."
The trouble is that WATCH is trying to present a simple argument for the "ordination" of women from Biblical texts which say nothing of the sort. It is being simple-minded and trying to cut out the complications of the situation.

Both the passage from Genesis and St Paul are referring to common humanity, not common priesthood. Throughout Biblical History, God has made some baffling choices, discriminations which seem almost scandalous to inclusive eyes. Why did God choose Abraham? Why did He then persevere with the Jews? Why did he choose certain foodstuffs, certain ways of sacrificing? Why sacrifice in the first place? Why sacrifice in the first place if it leads to His only begotten Son suffering an agonising Death? Why, at the end of Time, is God going to choose some of us for Eternal Life and others of us for Eternal Death?

There are many and varied answers to these questions within Scripture and Tradition among the Church Fathers and from wise souls. God does discriminate - from the word "Go" he discriminates between Male and Female. Notice that He never discriminates in order to disadvantage anyone, but rather to propel folk into becoming whom He meant them to be. God's discrimination empowers us, and still further defines us more closely than any identity we would wish to give ourselves.

Still, in not one place in Holy Scripture, in not one place in Holy Tradition is there a woman conclusively ordained as a priest. It's simple, but it puts forward so many complications, so many stumbling blocks, so many tears, arguments, frustrations, schisms and hurt among Christians because they try to make things simple which are inherently complicated.

We Christians cannot afford to be simple-minded. We can, however, strive to be simple hearted, to live lives of simplicity by binding ourselves to each other in obedience, community, and constant re-orientation towards Christ. To develop a "personal relationship with Jesus" and also to express that relationship that the Church has with Christ to the world. If we truly trust God, then we accept humbly the limitations He imposes on us and accept that this will bring complications which we must live out in faith until He gives us the wherewithal to resolve them or, more likely, He resolves them Himself.