Yet again the pope has captured the headlines of the mainstream secular press, both in the UK and the USA, as elsewhere. The coverage is generally laudatory, with +Francis presented as courageously facing sacred cows that have had their day, or never should have had a day at all. The issue this time, as you know, is the Lord’s Prayer. Pope Francis feels that “lead us not into temptation” is “not a good translation”. A father does not “push” his child into temptation, but only Satan leads into temptation, and we can fall or not. Well, that’s his case in a nutshell.

Others, Christopher Altieri for example, are addressing this more comprehensively than I can. Some are more shrill than others. The points they raise are salient in the main.

There are just two things I would dare to note.

The first is that, Continue reading “Paternostergate”

Maundy Thursday: The Washing of Feet, Priesthood & an Ecumenical Imperative

Over at Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment, the good Father gives us a salutary refresher course in the real meaning of the washing of feet—what he terms the pedilavium in literal translation, but what we more commonly refer to as the Mandatum, the commandment. Or rather, he offers several meanings—for footwashing as a more general symbolic act such as king to his subjects; as a liturgical act within fairly strictly limited parameters such as an abbot with his monks; and (a relative novelty in the liturgical context) as a symbolic act of mercy and welcome to all, especially the marginalized, which is the only way to explain decently his allowing women’s feet to be washed on Maundy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

For what Fr Hunwicke rightly reminds his readers is that in its original context—Jesus at the Last Supper—the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday has a very particular meaning. The Lord Jesus did not wash the feet of his disciples per se, of whom there were many even then, though soon they would mostly melt away till after the Resurrection. Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve, the apostles including Judas Iscariot who Jesus knew was about to betray him (cf John 13). Jesus was in the upper room with his intimate circle, those (save for Judas who was about to break communion) whom he would shortly commission and send forth into the world to preach the Good News and repentance (for this is what the Greek word apostolos means, one who is sent with a message). Continue reading “Maundy Thursday: The Washing of Feet, Priesthood & an Ecumenical Imperative”

Recognizing the 21 Coptic Martyrs – an Ecumenical Opportunity

It is unnecessary to retell the horrific story of the disgusting martyrdom of the 21 Coptic men in Libya last week, gloatingly displayed to the world in an online video of the sort that ISIS  Daesh* is notorious for producing. Though I have not watched it, those who have say that many of the martyrs had the name of Jesus on their lips as they died. Despite the hair-splitting of the SSPX, whether or not their murder was in revenge for the killing of a senior jihadist is irrelevant: they were murdered because they were Christian, and in hatred of Christ.

*(a name hated by the ISIS jihadists themselves and so most appropriate to give them)

The second objection of the SSPX to granting the title of martyr to the 21 Coptic brethren is that the Copts are heretics. This objection has more weight to it, but how relevant is it to this situation?

Continue reading “Recognizing the 21 Coptic Martyrs – an Ecumenical Opportunity”

AWESOME ecumenical news

If you read here regularly (and my thanks to both of you!) you might remember that I spent a little time looking at the ecumenical reactions to Benedict XVI’s abdication. First I combined the reactions of a Lutheran, Russian and Greek Orthodox prelates and the leader of the Bruderhof (in the anabaptist tradition), and noted how remarkably positive they were, especially when compared to the venom dripping from some Catholic fangs. Then we looked at the official statement from Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (the Orthodox ‘pope’ to put it very crudely and loosely) who wrote in unprecedented warm terms about Benedict, including this wonderful jewel:

We Orthodox will always honor him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all.

It seemed to signal that Benedict had furthered ecumenism much more than he was credited with by most commentators, and I hoped aloud that his successor could continue to build on this authentic and strong ecumenical foundation. Then Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, even more remarkably given the Russian Orthodox mistrust of the Roman Church, wrote in terms barely less fulsome, and he ventured to declare a hope:

I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor.

BenedictBartholomewSo, imagine my stunned gaping when I saw a comment from the Restless Pilgrim alerting me to the fact that it has been announced that Patriarch Bartholomew will attend Pope Francis’ Mass of inauguration on Tuesday. This is BIG news. For the first time since the Great Schism began in 1054 the Patriarch of Constantinople, the acknowledged leading prelate among the Orthodox, will attend the enthronement of a pope. This is so immensely important I am speechless.

As discussed in an earlier post, the major obstacles to reunion between the Orthodox and Catholic communions of Churches are not essentially theological, though they certainly exist, but ecclesiological: the role of papal primacy in practice (for the Orthodox accept the principle already). While a brother priest among the Orthodox is not quite so upbeat about the theological differences, he highlights as the primary issue for now the need for mutual forgiveness between the two Churches before any theological reconciliation can be effected. Common worship is the sublimest forum for reconciliation and after almost 1000 years it seems to be upon us.

Benedict XVI has sown ecumenical seed of great richness; the opportunity now arises for Pope Francis to reap the harvest. Only God can give the growth of course, so let us pray for this encounter in worship on Tuesday. As the world grows ever more hostile to Christianity, the ancient churches should rightly seek to reconcile and confirm each other in Christian faith.

And if Patriarch Kirill will find it in his heart to come also next Tuesday, then I will renounce coffee till I die. This is so important that it is worthy of sacrifices that hurt. But for now, I will take what I can get. And Patriarch Bartholomew’s announcement is great gain indeed for us all. For now, I think I need a sherry…

Pope Francis – did you notice?

Slowly we can begin to notice little things about Pope Francis as we scrutinize and reflect. They may mean nothing or everything… or something in between! :-p

Schütz, over at Sentire cum Ecclesia, noted that in his first address to the people as pope, Francis did not use the word “pope” once, but he referred to himself as Bishop of the Church of Rome nine times. His article should be read for the context surrounding his observation. But the thrust of it is that Francis sees himself, so it would seem, primarily as Bishop of Rome. Of course he also made the point of saying that the Church of Rome presides in charity over all the churches.

Significant? It may well be. We must remember that in Argentina as archbishop of Buenos Aires Francis acted as ordinary for eastern-rite Catholics. Apart form suggesting that he may have more liturgical nous than the average Jesuit ( no offence boys), it suggest also that he has a strong awareness of the eastern Churches, and that this will colour his ecumenical approach. It was noted in posts here in the last couple of weeks that the Russian and Greek patriarchs felt that immense progress had been made in Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and hoped that this legacy would not be squandered. Perhaps Francis is precisely the man, with his eastern-rite experience, to further this ecumenical project. He is telling them he will not be the monarchical potentate of Orthodox nightmares, but preside in charity, first among equals, which is an understanding already established in Orthodox ecclesiology.

Schütz puts his own context as that of an ecclesiology fleshed out by a Lutheran friend of his, namely that the Church does not consist of churches, but in churches. In light of Vatican II we might say that the Roman Catholic Church is not the sum total of the true Church, but that the true Church, the Body of Christ, is en-limbed (to coin an ugly but useful word) in the various Churches that acknowledge the primacy of Peter and are in communion with his Successor. If this primacy could be clarified as primarily theological rather than of active governance, the Orthodox might be ready to resume communion. Indeed, the Orthodox would accept the Pope as court of final appeal with similarly relative ease. There is the filioque to consider, but that has been lived with before, and maybe it can be lived with again.

Today Pope Francis went to Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four papal basilicas of Rome, where he paid homage to Our Lady Salus populi Romani, or “Protectress of the Roman People”. Again, this emphasis on his being primarily Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis at Santa Maria Maggiore

But he also went to pray at the shrine of Pope St Pius V, revered by traditionalists as the pope who definitively established the so-called Tridentine Mass, or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be more precise. Was this a signal to liturgical traditionalists not to fear?

pius v

Pope St Pius V was a Dominican. Traditionally the Jesuits and Dominicans have been rivals in many fields, and occasionally a little dismissive of each other, to put it mildly. Is this Jesuit pope signalling a little intra-ecclesial ecumenism!? Probably not, but it is fun to think on it a little.

Pope Francis’ style continues in the vein in which he has begun. He went to Santa Maria Maggiore not in his papal limousine but in an ordinary Vatican police car! He entered the basilica by the side door. Some may be discomfited at his apparent refusal to assume the full stature (thus far) of the Roman Pontiff. But it can be argued that the spiritual power of the Pope, the power of the keys, does not need any worldly bolstering. In fact, it might be argued, the Petrine power is best shown in fidelity to Christ as Servant of the Servants of God. The pomp of the papacy might then be more a moral pomp and grandeur, a splendour found in papal doctrine and upholding of the truth.

But I may be wrong. For now, we must watch our new pope and pray for him.

Patriarch of Moscow’s Letter to Benedict XVI

patriarch_kirill_and_pope_benedict_5The Society of St John Chrysostom has translated the message sent by Kirill, Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, to Benedict XVI, on 1 March. Given that historically the Russian Orthodox have not had a whole lot of nice things to say about the Church of Rome, the warm and fraternal tone of this message is yet another example of the progress made in Benedict’s pontificate in the field of true ecumenism. Not so long ago this message would not have been conceivable. This follows after the equally warm message sent by Bartholomew, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. Patriarch Kirill’s message is worth reading, because one day it will be seen as a little but significant piece of history.

Your Holiness!

In these exceptional days for you, I would like to express the feelings of brotherly love in Christ and respect.

The decision to leave the position of Bishop of Rome, which you, with humility and simplicity, announced on February 11 this year, has found a ready response in the hearts of millions of Catholics.

We have always been close to your consistent ministry, marked by uncompromisingness in matters of faith and unswerving adherence to the living Tradition of the Church. At a time when the ideology of permissiveness and moral relativism tries to dislodge the moral values of life, you boldly raised your voice in defence of the ideals of the Gospel, the high dignity of man and his vocation to freedom from sin.

I have warm memories of our meeting when you were elected to the Roman See. During your ministry we received a positive impetus in the relations between our Churches, responding to the modern world as a witness to Christ crucified and risen. I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor.

Please accept my sincere wishes for good health, long life and help from above in prayer and in your theological writings.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13).

With love in the Lord,

+ Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

Gosh it’s good.

Revised Missal: an ecumenical point

A little while back I was asked to contribute a brief introductory note on the Revised English translation of the Roman Missal for Together, the bulletin of Churches Together in Berkshire. The latest issue has just been distributed but there does not seem to be an online edition of the bulletin. So, for the record, the text of the note is included here, below.

As yet there does not seem to be much ecumenical reaction to the revision of the English version of the Missal, though it is very early days yet. It will interesting to see what the various Christian groups say about it.

The third typical, or standard, edition of the post-Vatican II Roman Missal was promulgated in Latin in 2002, replacing the second edition of 1973. The English translation of the earlier (current) Missal has been in use since 1975, though the process of revising that translation has been underway for some two decades. That process has at times been troubled, not least due to the fact that English is both highly politicised and internationally diffuse.

The current Missal was translated according to the 1950s linguistic principle called dynamic equivalence, which aimed above all to convey the central meaning in the original language, and was less concerned with exact correspondence to its form. The problem with this method is that very often the English bears little resemblance either to the form or the meaning of the Latin original. Biblical imagery and references were obscured or weakened, and the rhythm and structure of the Latin prayers, many of them ancient and venerable, were sacrificed to the point that the logical sequence and balance of the original was lost. It is not so easy to separate the form, structure and vocabulary of a text from its meaning and its power to move.

This noble conciseness of the Latin prayers is an essential part of the heritage of the Roman Rite, much as the rich extravagance of language in the prayers of the Orthodox and Oriental liturgies is an essential feature of those rites. Ironically, the Book of Common Prayer, which translated many of the prayers of the Roman Missal of its day, managed to capture the structure, balance and meaning of the original Latin in often astoundingly beautiful English, which even then was somewhat higher a register of voice than the English of the street.

The English translation of the revised Roman Missal of 2002 has instead opted to rely more on formal equivalence, largely retaining the structure and vocabulary of the original in its translation. As a result, the scriptural allusions, the nuances and the emotive power of the Latin original are more clearly reproduced.

A fear often raised is that the new texts will undermine years of ecumenical liturgical sharing. One suspects however that Anglicans who look to the Roman Missal for inspiration in their worship will find in the new texts a register more familiar to that of their own liturgical tradition. From a Catholic point of view, a more fundamental unity is fostered by the new texts. They will be far more faithful to the original Latin, and so to the other language translations of the Roman Rite, thus making more explicit and substantial the unity of all Roman-Rite Catholics in their liturgy. When Latin was the sole liturgical language, this unity was a given. In the age of vernacular worship, concordance with the normative latin text is crucial to express this unity. Moreover, by retaining the form of ancient prayers, a unity is strengthened not only in space here and now, but across time, with fellow Catholics of centuries past who worshipped using these prayers.

Ordinariate Map

It is now possible to see a Google Map of Ordinariate groups throughout the world. Just click here.

What is remarkable is that they have not even begun to put the Australian groups on yet, which will apparently include at least Anglican cleric in Japan.

Google Map of Ordinariate Groups (so far)

A salutary blast from the past – on the Ordinariate and Vatican II

A bad cold has knocked me out these last 5 days, but now some clear-headedness is returning. Two issues have been in the Catholic press (and beyond) lately have caught my attention. One is the continuing momentum of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham for Anglicans who wish to enter collectively into full communion with the Catholic Church; the other is a call by a Catholic bishop for a new syllabus of errors focused on erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council.

Professor Tina BeattieThe Ordinariate has been picking up pace, and all over England Ordinariate groups are forming in which Anglicans can discuss the implications and desirability of taking up the Holy Father’s offer to return to the Church by means of the Ordinariate. Also there has been coverage of Professor Tina Beattie’s negative remarks about the Ordinariate on Radio 4 (and her blog). Of particular interest to me were her comments on Radio 4 regarding the Ordinariate. The first were that “many of us are perplexed about what this means in terms of the Catholic Communion, and indeed obviously for relations between our two Churches” (and here she seems to make the Anglican communion into a “Church” of equal validity with the Catholic Church).

The second comments were in answer to the question “And is your objection partly to do with the fact that you don’t like what they stand for? Particularly on the question of women’s role in the Church?” Her answer is revealing:

I’m not happy about that, no. And I think actually, dare I say it, it’s a peculiarly Protestant thing to join a church because of what one doesn’t like, as a gesture of protest – that’s where the word comes from. It would be wonderful if they were coming in for the positives, and the joy, and the wonders of being part of this worldwide Communion.

To be honest, with regard to the first comments, I do not understand her perplexity. It seems quite simple: it means that a goodly number of Anglicans and their clergy will be entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. Moreover, surely their arrival will only enrich the diversity of the Catholic Church, as they bring their own traditions, or “patrimony”, of liturgical worthiness, pastoral sensitivity and biblical engagement. They will speak an idiom clearly understood by Anglicans, who may then, we pray, feel moved to explore further the path to full communion by means of this familiar idiom.

Here, one suspects, is her problem. The Ordinariate reveals clearly that for the Catholic Church ecumenism is not about ongoing “dialogue” for its own sake. It is about encouraging and convincing Christians to enter into full communion with the Church, from which they are estranged due to actions centuries ago. If it means anything regarding the relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church it is that the Church has only one goal, ultimately, for ecumenical dialogue with Anglicans: that they return to the Church. This may disturb many Anglicans, for sure, but that is no reason to stop the progress of ecumenism.

Her second comments raised the eyebrows as she describes the actions of Ordinariate Catholics as “Protestant”. How it can be Protestant to enter into Communion with the Catholic Church is beyond me! Perhaps it has something to do with her description of the Catholic Church as “a church”, as if it were equivalent to one of the multitude of Protestant denominations. That she sees the Ordinariate as merely a group of refugees protesting against women’s ordination is an unfortunate refusal to engage with these people beyond her own narrowly-defined limits. These are people who have long considered the Roman option, and baulked at its consequences. For them, women’s ordination is not the only issue, but it is something of a litmus test for the validity of the claims of the Anglican communion. The Ordinariate has removed some of the sting of leaving their long-time spiritual home. And why should they not join the Church which they know will not ordain women, not because of prejudice, but because it has no power to do so? Perhaps here is the real problem for Professor Beattie: the Ordinariate increases the majority of Catholics who do not countenance women’s ordination.

Bishop Athanasius SchneiderThe second issue in recent weeks has been the call by Bishop Athanasius Schneider for a new syllabus of errors focused on the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. It is arguable whether a “syllabus of errors” in the style of Pope Bl. Pius IX’s original would speak to the people of today. But this is really the latest development in the ongoing debate about the Council, and whether it should be interpreted as creating a whole new vision for the Church (the “hermeneutic of rupture” with the past), or whether it is to be interpreted within the tradition of the Church (the “hermeneutic of continuity” with the past). The term “hermeneutic of continuity” became an established part of ecclesial vocabulary in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia in December, 2005, when he quite clearly stated the Council, like all councils, stands within the tradition of the Church and only within that tradition can it be validly interpreted.

So it was a curious thing when I stumbled upon an address made by Pope John Paul II to a conference of bishops, theologians, historians and catechists held in Rome in 2000 on the implementation of the Council. Here we find the hermeneutic of continuity presented in everything but that exact phrase; and we also find some reflections on the Council’s teaching on the Church as communion. It is a wonderful blast from the past.

Regarding the interpretation of the Council Pope John Paul II says:

The Church has always known the rules for a correct hermeneutic of the contents of dogma. These rules are set within the fabric of faith and not outside it. To interpret the Council on the supposition that it marks a break with the past, when in reality it stands in continuity with the faith of all times, is a definite mistake.

When Pope Benedict addressed the Curia in 2005, he was not re-orienting the Church according to an approach peculiar to himself. He was picking up on the teaching set forth by his predecessor. It is itself an act that exemplifies the hermeneutic of continuity, in this case particular continuity with the pope who preceded him. It is this principle of continuity that in part explains why the ordination of women is not possible – it would be a rupture in the theology of both the eastern and western Churches.

Regarding communion Pope John Paul, in the same speech, says:

Communio is the foundation on which the Church’s reality is based. It is a koinonia that has its source in the very mystery of the Triune God and extends to all the baptized, who are therefore called to full unity in Christ. This communion becomes evident in the various institutional forms in which the ecclesial ministry is carried out and in the role of the Successor of Peter as the visible sign of the unity of all believers. Everyone knows that the Second Vatican Council enthusiastically made the “ecumenical” yearning its own. The movement of encounter and clarification, which has been carried out with all the baptized brethren, is irreversible. It is the power of the Spirit who calls all believers to obedience, so that unity may be an effective source of evangelization.

Pope John Paul IIThis is a rich text. Pope John Paul holds communion – communio in Latin or koinonia in Greek – to be not only the foundation of the Church’s identity but also the goal of the ecumenical “movement of encounter and clarification” that has been part of the Church’s mission in especially strong terms since the Council, and which is “irreversible”. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the true “spirit of Vatican II”. Pope John Paul shows that since the visible sign of the Church’s communion is the Pope himself, as successor to St Peter, then communion with the Church gathered around the Pope is the end-game of ecumenism. He further teaches that only when that unity, that full communion, is realised will the Church be able to complete her mission of evangelising the world.

Pope John Paul’s speech led me to see that the Ordinariate is itself only able to be understood within the hermeneutic of continuity. It is a logical fruit of the renewed ecumenical endeavour inspired by the Council. This ecumenical endeavour is not something new, and itself must be seen in the context of the history and teaching of the Church, the hermeneutic of continuity. The Ordinariate is the fruit of this endeavour because it brings many more into full communion with the Church centred on Peter’s successor. It is the fruit of the irreversible work of the Holy Spirit. And it brings closer the day when the Church will be able to fulfill its mission from Christ himself, to proclaim the good news to all the world – a mission that is an essential part of the continuity of the Church. Until then, its evangelisation of the world is impeded by the divisions among Christians. In a world of increasing militant secularism and an even more militant Islam, the Church’s mission is ever more urgent, and thus so too is the ecumenism which will fully enable this mission.

Come back to the Church, and save the world. It is not so silly as it might sound.

Beelzebul, St Francis de Sales and the Unity of the Church

Not quite the title you might have expected to read, but bear with me…

The gospel set for today, Monday of the Third Week of the Year (1) is from St Mark 3:22-30. It deserves careful reading, especially in light of the fact that it coincides with the memoria of St Francis de Sales this year. The RSV version reads:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-el’zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus cures the man with a withered handSome context – immediately preceding this episode in St Mark’s Gospel we have seen our Lord heal a man with a withered hand on the sabbath (to the horror of the Pharisees), heal others as well as cast out demons, and appoint the Twelve to preach and “to cast out demons” (v.15) themselves. Our Lord is very much setting the pace as he overturns the status quo. The status quo had been that people with disease and possessed by demons were pretty much left to themselves, with little relief from the community or from the Jewish religious authorities. We need only think of the demoniac who lived “night and day among the tombs and on the mountains… always crying out, and bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:5), or the man who had been sick for 38 years and who could never get to the healing pool of Bethzatha when a space became free without another taking the place before he could (John 5:2-9). For all these, where others had failed, Jesus provides the remedy. And in doing so he upsets the comfortable balance of religion that had developed among the various factions in society at that time. Like most compromises, this status quo did little to benefit anyone except the adroit and the ambitious.

So the scribes and Pharisees seek to turn the tables by ascribing our Lord’s ability to cast out demons (when they could not, and would not) to the fact that he was in the service of demons himself. Beelzebul (or Beelzebub) was a pagan deity whose name meant “Prince Baal”, thus the reference by the Pharisees to the “prince of demons”. There was a belief among many at the time that weaker demons were subject to greater ones. So, Jesus must therefore be, at the very least, in the service of Satan himself in order to be able to cast out as many demons as he had – thus went the scribes’ argument.

The first thing our Lord does is to demolish their faulty theology… or rather, demonology! If Satan were to undo his own work, how could his kingdom stand? It is an illogical argument, and easily dismissed. Moreover, neither Satan nor any demon were in the habit of healing the sick, and certainly they would not have been preaching, as Jesus had been, that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ works were very clearly not those of the devil, but could only have been those of God.

It in light of this that our Lord decrees the gravity of the sin against the Holy Spirit. The nature of that sin is to ascribe to Satan, to evil what is demonstrably the work of God. It is in essence the sin of blasphemy, a direct insult to and rebellion against God, much like Lucifer’s rebellion. While ever this blasphemy is neither recognised nor repented of, it is outside God’s forgiveness. The blasphemy is the greater when it is from the mouths of those who should know better.

Yet there is, as so often, another possible level to this passage. For while Satan does not cast out his own demons, nevertheless his kingdom is divided. It is an irony that Jesus can see that Satan’s kingdom is divided not in the way the scribes’ made out, but in that its only unity is in hatred of God and his beloved creature, man. Unity built on hatred is no unity at all. The principle that my enemy’s enemy is my friend is one of short-term pragmatism, and not enduring truth or substance. This is the weak foundation of the unity of Satan’s kingdom, a house built on sand. And now that our Lord has come, Satan’s house is in fact falling, his reign coming to an end. When the disciples he sent to cast out demons returned to him reporting their success our Lord declared:

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. (Luke 10:18)

The kingdom of God, the seed of which is the Church, has a unity not based on the negative, the nothingness of hatred, but on the great positive, the true reality of God’s abiding truth and love. So it is very disturbing to see the fruition of ecumenism in such developments as the Ordinariate for ex-Anglicans being ascribed to Vatican attempts to take over the Anglican communion, or to see those seeking to come to the Church through the Ordinariate as misogynists or one-issue Christians who are merely seeking shelter from women clergy. Surely this comes very close to a failure to ascribe to God his own works. Indeed from the mouths of some it may be a blasphemy, perhaps – as they see their little fiefdoms crumbling around them. But they crumble not in vain; out of their ruins the Church is being added to, new accommodation built, as it were, for those who are seeking unity on the Rock, to be fully one with the Vine. Our prayer must be that they do not cling to the wreckage, but seek to enter into the enduring House of God, built on the Rock; and that they might see this clearly as the work of God.

St Francis de SalesSt Francis de Sales has appeared on these pages before, here and here. In light of the above he is a worthy saint to be calling upon today. In the early 17th century he laboured as Bishop of Geneva, in the heartland of Calvinist Protestantism, to bring the straying sheep back to the Church. He did so not through threats or denunciations but through preaching the Good News. On his last visit to Paris crowds thronged to hear him preach as they had never heard “such holy, such apostolic sermons”. He lived and dressed simply, and had a great concern for the poor, and was zealous in hearing confessions. He was also a powerful writer and his Introduction to the Devout Life is still as fresh and sound today as it ever was. In other words, he preached powerfully by both his words and his life. Due to his labours thousands of Protestants came back to the Church. And in this Week of Christian Unity, that is precisely what we are praying will happen again in our day. As indeed it is, as the Ordinariate shows us. It is fitting that St Francis de Sales is the patron of Church Unity, a unity that can only be built on truth and love.

So let us endeavour always to recognise the works of God, and give him glory for them. And if we cannot do so then let us at least obey the sound principle of St Francis de Sales:

Nothing is more like a wise man than a fool who holds his tongue.