Come, Lord Jesus 1 December, 2008

ANNOUNCEMENT. The recession is causing a delay in the production of the Fall 2008 issue of Second Spring (issue 11). It will be printed and mailed as soon as possible in the new year. We apologise to our readers. Subscriptions will, of course, be carried forward, and we hope to resume production early in 2009. Watch for further announcements. — S.C./Thomas More College


First and foremost, the Nativity is simply a birth, which is the bringing forth of the secret that Mary has cherished within her for nine months – the face that God has fashioned for himself in the womb of the world. This is nothing less than a re-making of the world, for the world as it existed before was perishing, falling into nothingness, whereas now it is united through this tiny child with the divine life of the Trinity.

Into relation with this child all people and things are being drawn, and in this relationship they will pass through death into a new existence. The seed of this life began to grow in the earth’s soil at the Annunciation, but now it shows itself above ground, at Epiphany it will be acknowledged by the Wise, and on the Cross it will spread its branches over the earth. In the image of Madonna and Child is represented the drama of the human personality, coming to birth in the meeting of two gazes and of two smiles, the mother’s smile kindling the child’s, the child’s spontaneous smile evoking this sign of love from the enfolding cosmos. The Mother here is the purely human, the Child is God. It is Joseph’s mission to protect and raise this Child, which means first of all to shelter the Mother who is the Child’s first home. Icons of the Nativity show him weary, perhaps doubting his fitness for the task, puzzling over God’s plan. He is appointed to represent the heavenly Father and become an Icon of the Invisible.

[Extract from the meditations on the Rosary in the Mystagogy section. The illustration by Daniel Mitsui is from]


Scripture and Liturgy in Church and Cosmos 3 November, 2008

I want to thank all those made our 1 November conference in Oxford on “Scripture and Liturgy in the Theology of Benedict XVI”, cosponsored by the St Paul Center for Biblical Theology, such a great success. The Zenit news report can be read here.  We estimate around 300 people attended, many of them coming from a considerable distance. Follow-up will be announced on this site in the weeks and months to come. Conference participants may be interested in our web pages devoted to Mystagogy and Liturgy.

As I said in the programme for the event, back in 1996 our Centre for Faith & Culture organised an international conference on Liturgy at Westminster College under the title “Beyond the Prosaic”. (The conference proceedings were published by T&T Clark.) Thanks to the timing of the event, and the extraordinary range of brilliant speakers who came together for it, the conference marked the coming of age of the new liturgical movement or “reform of the reform”. The conference issued the Oxford Declaration on Liturgy which received a great deal of publicity, and we subsequently heard that Cardinal Ratzinger himself had referred to this as a “sign of hope”. Some time later, in 2001, I was also privileged to be able to stand in for Aidan Nichols OP at a conference at the Abbey of Fontgombault with Cardinal Ratzinger as the chief speaker. This may have been the occasion where the policy of reviving the Tridentine Mass alongside the Novus Ordo was first formulated and justified – a policy which later resulted in the recent Motu Proprio. At that conference Cardinal Ratzinger told us, “it would be fatal if the old liturgy found itself in a refrigerator, rather like a national park, protected for a certain species of persons, to whom one would leave these relics of the past. The classical liturgy should also be a liturgy of the Church, and under the authority of the Church. And only in this ecclesiology, in this fundamental link with the authority of the Church, can it offer all it has to offer.” The future Pope Benedict also spoke at that time of enriching the missal of 1962 by introducing new saints – such as Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, the Spanish Martyrs, and the Ukrainian Martyrs – and by adding some of the ancient prefaces for Advent from the Church Fathers. Dr Alcuin Reid edited the book of the conference proceedings (Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger), which apart from its specific recommendations explores the nature of Catholic liturgy and the principles that guide its organic development from a range of orthodox viewpoints.

Ratzinger enunciated one principle we particularly need to remember: the liturgy, including the classical liturgy, is “not something of the past to be protected, but a living reality of the Church, much respected in its identity and in its historical greatness. All the liturgy of the Church is always a living thing, a reality which is above us, not subject to our wills or arbitrary wishes.” It is a failure to understand and remember this principle that lies behind the tragic mistakes that have been made in the course of liturgical reform in the last forty years.

Now, in 2008, with successive Synods on the Eucharist and on the Word of God, and with the motu proprio, the reform of the liturgical reform is entering a new phase, and our gathering today in Oxford was intended to mark the coming of age and flowing together of the Liturgical movement with the Biblical movement in the Catholic Church; a reintegration of exegesis and theology, of spirituality, catechesis and evangelization. These things are united in the living example of Pope Benedict himself, in the examples he offers of liturgical practice, and in his book Jesus of Nazareth which reunites the Jesus of faith with the Jesus of history.

The organic development of the liturgy requires a deeper understanding of the event of the Incarnation and the love of God revealed in Christ. It is this deeper understanding to which we are called by the voice of the Church in our time.

It is no secret that Catholics are still deeply and painfully divided over liturgical questions, and these tensions will emerge whenever a public forum is created in which to discuss them. The message of our conference was that before any real healing of these wounds can take place, the nature and meaning of the Church’s liturgy needs to be more widely understood and lived.

– Stratford Caldecott

The privileged place for reading and listening to the word of God is in the liturgy. By celebrating the word and rendering the Body of Christ present in the sacrament, we bring the word into our life and make it alive and present among us.

– Pope Benedict XVI

Is the Writing on the Wall? 3 October, 2008

And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon! In one hour has thy judgment come.” – Apoc. 18:9-10.

It probably isn’t the end of the world just yet, but who am I to say?  It is in any case becoming hard to avoid the conclusion that Chesterton arrived at:  “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”  Perhaps it is time to correct some of the mistakes.  A Distributist perspective can be found here.

In the meantime, we pray.  And maybe we read the Book of Revelation, not to find out what will happen next, but to remind us of what history is all about.  In fact Revelation is less about predicting the future than about Liturgy, according to Dr Scott Hahn, who expresses a growing consensus among theologians that the last book in the Bible was intended to be read as a kind of commentary on the Mass.  For the Eucharist on earth is a participation in the Heavenly Liturgy that St John glimpsed in his visions on Patmos.  As Scott writes, “The new Jerusalem came to earth, then as now, in the place where Christians celebrated the supper of the Lamb.”  We will be exploring this vision of the Cosmic Liturgy in our Oxford conference on 1 November with Scott Hahn, Aidan Nichols, Adrian Walker and Michael Waldstein, Scripture and Liturgy in the Theology of Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict is our inspiration. The following is an extract from an online article by Sandro Magister:

‘Benedict XVI … has identified his mission as successor of the Apostles precisely in being the celebrant of a “cosmic liturgy.” Because “when the world in all its parts has become a liturgy of God, when, in its reality, it has become adoration, then it will have reached its goal and will be safe and sound.”

‘It is a dizzying vision. But Pope Ratzinger has this unshakable certainty: when he celebrates the Mass, he knows that the entire action of God is contained in it, woven together with the ultimate destiny of man and of the world. For him, the Mass is not a mere rite officiated by the Church. It is the Church itself, with the triune God dwelling within it. It is the image and reality of the entirety of the Christian adventure. …

‘Easter, or the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is an action that took place once in time, accomplished once and for all, but it is also an act carried out “forever,” as the Letter to the Hebrews highlights well. And this contemporaneousness is realized in the liturgical action, where “the historical Passover of Jesus enters into our present, and from there its goal is to touch and embrace the lives of those who celebrate it, and, therefore, all historical reality.” As cardinal, in the book “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” Ratzinger wrote evocative pages about “Church time,” a form of time in which “past, present, and future penetrate one another and touch eternity.”

‘… But the structure of the Mass also demonstrates this in a striking way, as Pope Benedict recalled in a commentary on the supper of the risen Jesus with the disciples in Emmaus, at the Angelus on Sunday, April 6, 2008. In the first part of the Mass, there is the listening to the Holy Scriptures, and in the second there are “the Eucharistic liturgy and communion with Christ present in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood.” The two tables, of the Word and of the Bread, are inseparably connected.

‘The homily is the bridge between the two. The model is Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum, in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Luke. When he rolled up the scroll of the Scriptures, “the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them: ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’.” In his homilies, Pope Benedict does the same thing. He comments on the Scriptures, and says that “today” they have been fulfilled in the liturgical act that is being celebrated. With the repercussions that follow from this for the lives of all, because – as he has written – “the celebration is not only a ritual, it is not only a liturgical game, but is intended to be ‘logiké latreia’, a transformation of my existence in the direction of the Logos, an interior contemporaneousness between me and Christ.”‘

Body Language 15 September, 2008

BODY AND SOUL – A FORUM FOR YOUNG PEOPLE. On Sunday 2 November 2008 there will be a Forum in Oxford on communication, friendship, respect, relationships and the Good News about sex. ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHURCH’S TEACHING? Ask our Panel: Adrian Walker, Ruth Ashfield, Brigitte Rowland and Fr Joseph Welch.

2.30-5.30pm, ending with tea, at the Parish Centre, the Oratory Church of St Aloysius, 25 Woodstock Rd, Oxford OX2 6HA.  No charge – just come and put your questions (anonymously if you prefer).  Any queries to Fr Daniel at <[email protected]> or <[email protected]>

This event takes place the day after the exciting conference on Scripture and Liturgy with Scott Hahn, at which Adrian Walker will be one of the speakers.  Further details below (under ‘August’).

Also, attention teachers at secondary schools and sixth form colleges! Recommended speakers on love and sexuality from a Catholic perspective can visit your school from Family Choices.

Please also note there will be a conference of hope for young people and families at St Albans on 25-26 October.  Called The Faith, The Family… The Future it is a way of

– Fostering and exploring the beauty of the Church’s vision for marriage and the family;

– Passing on the faith to the next generation and the role of the family in this work;

– Promoting the growth of Catholic culture and vocations through the family;

Over the weekend there will be many eminent speakers, representing a broad panorama of Catholic thought and culture. With programs specially tailored to each age group, combined with the opportunity for retreat, spiritual reflection and renewal, the weekend provides a great opportunity for Catholics to renew their spiritual life, strengthening their families through meeting other young Catholics who share their hopes and views.

Illustration: William Blake, ‘Satan watches the caresses of Adam and Eve’, engraving for Paradise Lost. The inscription reads: ‘Ah! gentle pair, ye little think how nigh / Your change approaches.’

A Conference with Scott Hahn in Oxford, 1 Nov. 08 1 August, 2008

Scripture and Liturgy in the Theology of Benedict XVI. This important theological conference with Dr Scott Hahn, the popular American writer and biblical scholar, which also features Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols, leading Biblical scholar Michael Waldstein, and Adrian Walker the translator of the Pope’s book on Jesus Christ, will take place at the Catholic Chaplaincy of Oxford University opposite Christ Church College on Saturday 1 November 2008. It is organized by the Centre for Faith and Culture in Oxford and cosponsored by Dr Hahn’s ‘St Paul Center for Biblical Theology’ in Steubenville, Ohio.

The purpose of the conference is to focus attention on the principles underlying the Pope’s ongoing ‘reform of the reform‘ of Catholic liturgy. The relationship between SCRIPTURE AND LITURGY underpins the Pope’s teaching. The Pope reminds us that ‘The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is in the liturgy.’ Furthermore, that liturgy is cosmic, for the love of the Trinity moves the stars. These principles are inspiring a new liturgical movement.

On the previous evening, 31 October, Dr Hahn will give the annual CTS Lecture in London.

Dr Hahn is Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. In 2005, he was appointed as the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The author of numerous books and articles, he speaks widely in the United States but only rarely in the UK.

The conference also provides a rare opportunity to hear Dr Michael Waldstein, who will have been attending the Synod on Scripture in Rome as a peritus. Formerly the President of the International Theological Institute of Cardinal Schonborn in Gaming, Austria, he is currently the Max Seckler Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University in Florida. Dr Adrian Walker, a member of the editorial board of Communio, is also rarely in England: after teaching for some years at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, he now lives in Germany and works as a translator. Aidan Nichols OP is, of course, well known as writer of numerous books on theology and liturgy, including the leading study of the thought of Pope Benedict XVI.

Meanwhile, for World Youth Day follow-up see the official Vatican WYD site, as well as the Catholic Herald blog. Oh yes, and Sophie Caldecott’s article on Zenit!

The White Light of Wonder 14 July, 2008

Read the World Youth Day blog.

“Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.” – Pope Benedict on arrival in Sydney.

But on another matter…

The New Yorker magazine recently lent its prestige to the 100th anniversary of G.K. Chesterton’s popular introduction to Christianity, Orthodoxy, by publishing a major article by Adam Gopnik called ‘The Back of the World’ (7 and 14 July 2008). The article is appreciative of GKC’s genius, although the author’s bias is clear from his description of Chesterton’s most strenuous advocates as ‘conservative pre-Vatican II types who are indignant about his neglect without stopping to reflect how much their own uncritical enthusiasm may have contributed to it.’ It would be fairer, I think, these days to describe GKC’s main advocates as ‘post-Vatican II radicals’.

Gopnik describes Chesterton, rightly, as a ‘hearty mystic’ who saw all things in what he once called the ‘white light of wonder’; and as the ‘grandfather of Slow Food, of local eating, of real ale, the first strong mind that saw something evil in the levelling of little pleasures’. He locates Chesterton’s masterpiece (or the nearest he came to one) not in Christian apologetics such as Orthodoxy but in a novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, written with ‘nightmarish intensity’ on a theme that has recently become all too relevant – Chesterton’s ‘anarchists’ are today’s ‘terrorists’. The novel has a profundity that stands the test of time. Insightfully, Gopnik goes from there to Chesterton’s Catholic conversion in 1922: ‘If you want a solution, at once authoritarian and poetic, to the threat of moral anarchism, then Catholicism, which built Chartres and inspired Dante, looks a lot better than Scotland Yard. If you want stability allied to imagination, Catholicism has everything else beat.’

Yet the article is leading up to a serious accusation – the mild anti-semitism even Chesterton’s admirers must recognize in him (and which was commonplace in England before the Second World War) not only became an ‘ugly and obsessive’ hatred after 1918, but ‘is not incidental’ and in fact arises from ‘the logic of his poetic position’ – his love of the local. That simply does not wash, for locality does not imply homogeneity in Chesterton’s vision, but rather variety. If as Gopnik claims he viewed all Jews as in some sense ‘aliens’, and even English Jews (including his own friends) as essentially ‘foreigners’, it came from taking seriously the image of a Chosen People temporarily deprived of a Promised Land, and from mixing up religious with ethnic identity. I would not want to defend all of Chesterton’s opinions on the Jews, but it is a slur to say he hated them, and indeed his Jewish friendships and even his writings point in quite another direction. Gopnik himself admits that Chesterton was no fascist, spoke out against the persecution in Germany, and was emphatically opposed to any kind of genocide.

Gopnik does not understand Chesterton’s Catholicism, or the ‘conversion sickness’ which made him see his newly adopted faith as ‘a shining, perfectly balanced system, an intricately worked clock where the cosmos turns to tell the time and the cuckoo comes out singing every Sunday’. It is true, I suppose, as Gopnik argues, that English writing changed after 1918, leaving Chesterton’s accounts of Christianity looking a bit too boisterous and blustery to be taken seriously. Perhaps today we need a more nuanced apologetic – even, at times, a more apologetic apologetics. But not all change is for the best, and sometimes Chesterton’s apparent crudity marks a deeper subtlety, as Aidan Nichols recently argued in a series of lectures at Oxford.

Gopnik refuses to dismiss Chesterton, even though he thinks his beliefs (localism, Catholicism) would eventually lead most people to intolerance and authoritarianism. Chesterton’s personality was too genial, his love of life too infectious, his mystical appreciation of reality too profound, his aphorisms too funny. But those of us who have come to share Chesterton’s ‘conversion sickness’, and who can admire without idolizing him, need to demonstrate both by words and by deeds that faith is more than a mood, and that it leads in a direction even the sceptics of the New Yorker need have no reason to fear.

Which brings us back to World Youth Day. Read the Pope’s wonderful addresses to young people here.

Post-Human Britain 2 June, 2008

Read what our young people are doing on the World Youth Day blog.

Baby at 10 weeks Baby at 10 weeks old

With the recent fertility and embryology legislation in Britain, Britain has proved itself once again in the vanguard of the culture of death. This was a cluster bomb of devatating decisions, hotly contested in parliament and in the media. The upper limit for legal abortions was kept at 24 weeks despite a popular campaign to reduce it, the need for a legal father was dispensed with, animal-human hybrids approved for medical experimentation – it was an all-out assault on traditional notions of the family and human identity.

The Archbishop of Birmingham summed it all up: ‘On the night of Tuesday, May 20 the House of Commons refused to change the 24-week limit on abortions. Not even the vivid pictures of a human being stretching, yawning and smiling in the womb convinced the majority of a need for change. So the deliberate killing and dismembering of innocent human beings will continue. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of NHS doctors refuse to carry out such abortions. They are left to the profit-making private sector. A brutal reality in a brutal world. The Government’s argument in favour of these abortions was based on scientific evidence. Its logic is clear: if a baby is not viable outside the womb, it may be killed. Nothing else matters. Earlier, on Monday evening, Parliament extended its 1990 decision that a human life, in its first 14 days, in limited circumstances such as IVF, could be created, used and destroyed for the benefit of others. Now it will be legal for human life in its earliest stages to be subjected to a wide range of selective testing, experimentation and intermixing with animal DNA, eggs and sperm.’ Another bishop has spoken of the way Britain has now moved from a post-Christian to a post-human era.

For a detailed and intelligent look at bioethical issues, take a look at the articles on the site of the Linacre Centre, and for the ethics specifically of human-animal hybrids, read David Albert Jones. Austen Ivereigh’s coverage of the recent parliamentary debate on Godspy has also been helpful. Among other things, he mentions that the lowering of the age for viability of the embryo puts science and popular opinion increasingly on the side of a lower limit for abortion, with the politicians on the back foot. This is a point worth exploring further. It is sometimes said that the Catholic Church pits faith against reason in the embryo debate. But it was advances in science that first persuaded the Church to abandon the assumption that human life begins only when the unborn child begins to kick. It was science that made it clear that a new human life can be traced back to the very first moments of fertilization. Now it seems likely that before long it may be possible to develop an artificial womb, so that an embryo could be carried to term outside a woman’s body altogether. Whatever we think about that as a procedure, it essentially means that a foetus is potentially ‘viable’ outside the mother from the very beginning. At that point a major part of the pro-abortion argument collapses completely.

Philosophy is not just for specialists. All of us (including newspaper headline-writers) have a philosophy, even if it is unexamined and incoherent. We need to become more conscious of our assumptions and where they come from. And we should not be content with basing our moral decisions on convenience or emotion. That is why the late Pope John Paul II wrote one of his greatest encyclicals, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) on the importance of philosophy. It seems to me that modern campaigns against whole categories of human life, whether Jews or embryos, became possible largely thanks to a philosophical revolution back in the 14th century. Sweeping aside the common-sense realism of St Thomas and his predecessors, the new “Nominalist” philosophers in places like Oxford taught that the word “human” is only a label. Does a blob of cells in the womb, or a slave, or a member of another race count as “one of us”? Not if we need a convenient source of stem cells, or someone to do the dirty work, or a scapegoat for our troubles.

As Bishop O’Donoghue said recently, ‘From the moment of conception the unborn human being is genetically unique from his or her mother and father. The unborn child is a completely new and different living being. During the 19th century, slavers said black people weren’t human. They were wrong. During the 20th century, the Nazis said the Jews weren’t human. They were wrong. Since 1967, the House of Commons has said the unborn are not human. They, too, are wrong.’

I realize philosophical debate is not going to carry the day, but sometimes it helps to know what we are up against. For more on the practical prolife work being done in Britain see SPUC and LIFE – not forgetting the Sisters of the Gospel of Life in Scotland.

There is currently a petition being sent to her Majesty the Queen. It reads:

21st May 2008

Your Majesty,

For the defence of your most vulnerable subjects, for the future of the Realm, can I beg Your Majesty not to give Royal Assent to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

By legalising animal-human hybrids, the Bill disregards the distinction between man and other animals. In this it denies our immortal soul.

By legalising the creation of saviour siblings, the Bill proclaims that man and science can deliver us from suffering even by violating fundamental ethical norms such as no person is to be used (or created) as a means to somebody else’s end.

By allowing the creation of fatherless children the Bill enshrines an extreme rejection of the Father. Fatherhood is intrinsic to life, encoded in the deepest reality not only of creation but first of the uncreated Trinity.

By resisting all attempts to lower the upper limit for abortions from 24 weeks the Bill proves itself to be against God’s own gift to us: life itself.

Your Majesty is the only person in the world with the temporal power to prevent this Bill from becoming an Act. Please help us.

Fr Aidan Nichols, OP, wrote of your Coronation: “Taking the orb, surmounted by the cross, [the Queen] was reminded that “the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer;The sceptre, the supreme symbol of royal power, the ensign of kingly power and justice, was handed over simultaneously with the dove-headed rod, as a sign that justice and mercy are never to be put asunder.””

In this Fr Nichols gives your subjects tremendous hope that whenever Parliament fails grievously, our monarch may protect us from evil. Please defend us.

Yours most sincerely,

James Mawdsley and The Undersigned


CARDIFF, Wales, OCT. 28, 2008 ( A British archbishop is expressing alarm that a last-minute amendment to a U.K. embryology bill allows for tissue to be used for experimentation without donor consent.
In a statement today, Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff said it is “deeply disturbing that the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill will allow the creation of human animal hybrid embryos and cloned human embryos.” But, he added, “To make matters worse the government is now proposing that this can happen without the consent of the person whose cells are used.”

According to an article in the Telegraph from before last Wednesday’s House of Commons approval of the bill, “a government amendment, agreed after the main parliamentary debates, would allow tissue to be used from people who lack the ‘mental capacity’ to give consent, children whose parents give permission, and anyone who has previously donated samples to hospitals for medical research but can no longer be traced.”
Archbishop Smith affirmed that to “use someone’s gametes or cells to create a human embryo without their consent is an infringement of basic human rights.”

“It is an affront to human dignity,” he added. “It shows disregard for the consciences of people who may not want their cells to be used to create an embryo. It is appalling that scientists could take cells from vulnerable people who cannot consent and use them in this way. There has been no public consultation on this question. Indeed even the House of Commons have not had an opportunity to debate this, so short was the time given to the third reading of the bill. People have not been given a chance to say what they think of scientists using their cells, their DNA, without being asked, to make human animal hybrids.”

The Cardiff prelate affirmed that when this situation comes to light people “will rightly react.”  “Who can trust scientists, if they can do this with your cells without asking you? This is neither ethical nor beneficial for science. It will harm public confidence in science and will thereby harm the progress of science,” he said.

The archbishop urged the House of Lords to reject the amendment and “to restore to the law the strict requirement for effective consent before human or human admixed embryos are created.” With a vote of 355-129, the bill passed through its third reading Wednesday in the House of Commons. The bill passed through the House of Lords earlier this year. After a debate on the amendments introduced by the House of Commons, including this one on consent, the bill could become law by November.

The ART of GKC 1 May, 2008

From Saturday 17 May 2008, items from the G.K. Chesterton Library will be part of an unprecedented exhibition of the Art of GKC in Oxford. The exhibition will be open to the public for two weeks only. [It has since been extended for another week, until Saturday 7 June.]

We think of him as a man of letters, a journalist, philosopher-at-large, playwright, detective story writer, apologist, but Gilbert Chesterton as a young man studied painting and drawing at the Slade, part of the University of London. From an early age he showed a huge natural talent. Aidan Mackey, who created the Chesterton Library, has an example of his skill from the age of seven. Other items in the collection include pencil sketches, numerous drawings in the margins of his books, published book illustrations, and a multitude of figures and backdrops from a large toy theatre he made to entertain the local children in Beaconsfield.

Opening times can be found on the new Art Jericho web-site. Do come if you can, and invite others to drop by.

Named after Jericho, the district in Oxford where the building can be found, the new gallery will later host other exhibitions and seminars, slideshows and talks, some in association with the Centre for Faith & Culture, located upstairs in the same building (at 6a King Street).

Acquired last year by the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire to develop its Oxford programme, for the last ten years the Centre has been the custodian of the Chesterton Library, some of that time with the generous support of the G.K. Chesterton Institute at Seton Hall University. Numerous researchers have come to do research in the archive (and no doubt also to try on his hat and sit on his chair, since the collection contains many unique personal items of Chesterton’s on permanent loan from the British Library). Apart from its Chesterton-related work, and the hosting of American students, the Centre edits and publishes the international journal Second Spring, and will soon be launching a book imprint for Thomas More College called “Second Spring Publications”.

UK subscribers can now find Second Spring on the brand-new CTS web-site.

What Do Catholics Believe? 12 April, 2008

There are well over a billion living Catholics. What do they believe? What is the Catholic Church? In recent years there has been a wave of great apologetic writing, much of it by former Evangelicals, aiming to explain and defend Catholic beliefs, but relatively few of those books are directed at complete outsiders to Christianity. Leonie Caldecott’s new book was commissioned by the secular publishing house Granta as part of a series that aims to introduce the beliefs of different communities to each other. It pays particular attention to those aspects of the faith which make Catholicism distinctive, including the doctrine of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and the saints, especially Mary.  She also emphasizes the importance to Catholics of a sense of the history of their Church (in both its positive and negative aspects) traceable back to St Peter, the first Pope, and the central role of the Papacy ever since, and she looks at the challenges the faith has to confront in the twenty-first century.

Leonie Caldecott is co-founder of the Centre for Faith and Culture in Oxford, and of the journal Second Spring.

Liturgy, Sex, Economics 3 March, 2008

I wonder how frequently these three words are put together. Yet Lent and Easter are about all of them. LITURGY because this is the sacred season at the heart of the Church’s year (more so even than Christmas), in which we prepare for and then celebrate the overcoming of death by our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross and in the Tomb. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper, the first Mass, and on Good Friday the sacrifice which that Mass anticipated. The Easter mysteries are cosmic mysteries, as the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck based on the Book of Revelation hints. The whole of creation is involved, implicated, and transformed by what happens here. Heaven and earth are brought into a new relation.

SEX is involved because Christ’s Passion on the Cross is a ‘nuptial’ act, the act of the cosmic Bridegroom giving his body to and for the Bride, so that she might be made fruitful and bear many children. The male gender of the priest is surely something to do with this, because God is nothing if not sensitive to symbolism.  The mystery of the Mass has the same root as marriage, a mystery of complementarity which is written into the essence of human nature. As I argued in an article called ‘Liturgy and Trinity’, the crisis over sexuality in the Church, brought into the open by the reaction to Humanae Vitae in 1968, ‘stems from the mentality that fails to understand the true nature of the “asymmetric” relationship between man and woman. This is the same mentality that fails to understand the relationship between priest and people in the liturgy. This failure may express itself either in a clerical domination of the laity, or in a reversal of that relationship that eliminates all sense of the transcendent. On the one side, we find a poisonous cocktail of clericalism, aestheticism and misogyny. On the other, we observe “politically correct” liturgies devoted to the themes of justice and peace: everyone sitting in a circle, praying for the homeless and passing the consecrated chalice from hand to hand, with the priest improvising parts of the eucharistic prayer in order to make it more relevant and friendly.’

ECONOMICS is involved because the Church’s social teaching has the same root. It is all about love and gift, about our dependence upon each other to cultivate the common goods of the earth. As Pope Benedict stressed in Deus Caritas Est, and willl again in the forthcoming Social Encyclical, it is the task of the lay faithful, animated by charity, to shape a society and social structures that serve the good of the human person. The person is intrinsically related to others and to the natural environment, to past and future generations, and cannot be understood in isolation. Therefore an ecological perspective as well as an economic and political one flows from the Easter liturgy, which ‘fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling’ (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

The Spirit of Christian Humanism 1 February, 2008

Here at Second Spring, which is the adopted journal of Thomas More College and its Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford, we are trying to encourage and develop new expressions of the Christian Humanist tradition that lies behind the foundation of the College thirty years ago this year. The latest issue of the journal, issue 9, is devoted to the ‘Genius of Woman‘ and features all women authors. The phrase we used as a title was a favourite of Pope John Paul II, and his ‘new feminism’ is the inspiration of the issue, which started with a conference we ran in Oxford a few years ago as part of a series unpacking the Pope’s legacy.

As Carol Zaleski writes in the Introduction to the issue, ‘What woman wants, according to JPII, is to be truly herself: to live out her specific genius for loving and being loved, to find herself by giving herself to others [as all of us do]. In this issue a group of Catholic women meditate on what this mystery, this genius, this vocation of being woman is all about. As they make clear, the “genius of woman” is not a mere gallantry on John Paul’s part, nor a self-eulogism on our own, but a concrete and practical idea full of implications for the way individual women negotiate the demands of daily life.’

The issue is more tightly focused than we usually have been on one specific theme, but it explores that theme as usual in the spirit of creative fidelity to the Catholic and Christian humanist tradition, of which the philosopher-pope was an eminent representative. We hope you enjoy it, and we would encourage you to engage with us in a discussion of the theme elsewhere on our web site. There are many divisions within the Church, and that between feminists and anti-feminists is one of them. Our approach is to try to avoid polemic and division, not by compromise on any significant issue, since we do have our own editorial line, but by looking for the truth that transcends and the friendship that unites people who may, at the level of ideas, be quite opposed.

In a very different context, in his Moto Propriu relaxing restrictions on the use of the 1962 Missal, Pope Benedict XVI has expressed this spirit most succinctly as follows:

‘I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.’

Epiphany 1 January, 2008

A personal God governs the stars

What was the star the wise men saw in the East? (The story can be found at Matt. 2:1-12.) Some say it was the symbolically highly appropriate conjunction of Jupiter and Venus (Kingship and Love) on 17 June in 2 BC, when Jesus may have been two years old. The dates work less well if Jesus was born in 6 BC and Herod died two years after that, as the standard chronology suggests. Besides, how do we explain the part of the account that says the star ‘went before them’ and ‘came to rest over the place where the child was’? It seems that Matthew was less interested in astrology than in showing the fulfilment of ancient prophecies and correspondences – a theme that runs right through his Gospel. Jesus was the new Moses, the new David. So the phrase ‘went before them’ is meant to recall the book of Exodus, when in order to lead the Israelites out of Egypt the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night ‘went before them’ to ‘lead them along the way’ to the Red Sea (Ex. 13:17-22). This pillar is the manifestation of the Lord’s presence, an angel sent to guide the people. Matthew is telling us that the ‘star of Bethlehem’ is essentially an angel. Immediately afterwards, in Matthew’s account, Joseph is asked to take the Holy Family into Egypt to keep them safe from Herod. This reinforces the association with Exodus. Thus the child Jesus is kept safe, for a time, in Egypt, just as Moses was kept safe by the Egyptian princess from that other ‘massacre of the infants’ initiated by Pharaoh, until the time came for him to take up his destiny. And then again, immediately after the return of the Holy Family from Egypt in Matthew’s account, we find the preaching of John the Baptist, and the baptism of Jesus in the waters of Jordan, the new ‘crossing of the Red Sea’, signifying the way in which the mature Jesus will lead his people through the sacrament of Baptism to their liberation from sin and death.

In his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, on Hope, Pope Benedict quotes St Gregory Nazianzen. “He says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ.” This means that “within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.”

The staff at Second Spring wish all our readers a happy and blessed new year!

The Pope’s Spe Salvi shows us Christ, the good shepherd, the true philosopher, who ‘tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human.’ He shows us ‘the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life.’ The Pope integrates spirituality with metaphysics in his extraordinary analysis of how faith is truly the ‘substance’ of what we hope for, in the sense of a real basis for a new existence.

In this Information Age, the Pope reminds us that the Gospel is not mere ‘information’ that can be filed away, any more than the sacrament of Baptism is just a way of inducting someone into a society where they can carry on being as they were before. Faith gives eternal life. But, he asks, do we want that eternal life? ‘In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown “thing” is the true “hope” which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity. The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown.”

‘Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal,” in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it. To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality – this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time – “the before and after” – no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.’

Life in this full sense is the opposite of self-centred or self-enclosed. It ‘presupposes that we escape from the prison of our “I,” because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself – to God.’ Yet the Pope is aware that the opposite impression is often given. He asks: ‘how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?’ In order to answer this question, he has to analyse the foundations of the modern age, and the process by which faith in God was replaced by faith in progress.

What better way to begin the new year than by studying this wonderful encyclical!

‘It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere… We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good…. We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose. This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces.’

Stratford Caldecott