Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Integrity and Politics

The Dangers of a Hung Parliament

As I write this (May 11, 2010) Liberal Democrat MP's are meeting with Labour representatives to discuss a possible "Lib-Lab Pact" or, as it has been named by others, a "Progressive Party". Some people (myself included) are a little worried about this possibility, but much more alarming is the possible collapse of political integrity.

The Present Situation

Some partisan commentators and party members have suggested that the people voted for a hung parliament. This is bad logic. To begin with, we cannot get inside every one's head to see what his/her intentions were. Secondly, the outcome itself does not prove that voters wanted this outcome. What we do know is that many people voted for either Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat MPs, and that the majority voted either Labour or Tory. The majority did not vote for a hung parliament or (and even this has been suggested) for some change in the voting system. There is absolutely no evidence for any such conclusion. One Labour MP went so far as to suggest that because voters have created a hung parliament situation and have NOT voted for a majority Tory government, anything is possible, and whatever emerged would be more or less what the people wanted. That some Liberal Democrats are apparently insisting that there be more movement towards a form of Proportional Representation suggests that some of them are not really concerned with what the Electorate wants. The only fair and logical position regarding that proposition is the one already suggested by the Conservatives i.e. a referendum.

Another thing that is clear is that the Electorate has not voted for a Liberal Democrat government, which means that the majority have NOT voted for Liberal Democrat policies. The negotiations now taking place are at least partially taken up with what the Lib-Dem's can wring out of either of the other two main parties. This is dishonourable. They need to be reminded that their negotiating position does not mean that they at liberty to insist on their own policies being adopted. If they insist on some further guarantees regarding PR they will have to explain - perhaps in a future election - why they were apparently ready to push this idea irrespective of the views of the Electorate.

Political Ideology

Presumably those who belong to a particular party accept and support its philosophical outlook. How far will Labour members go in the attempt to remain in power? Some Labour spokesmen and women seem to be saying that there is not much difference between Labour and the Lib-Dem's. Is this really true? If it is, then why have they not joined before? Why have Labour politicians fought elections against them? At the same time, how far will Conservatives go to please the Lib-Dem's? Clearly, as has been said, there are more serious differences between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, but when we listen to Labour MPs there now seems to be almost nothing separating them. Where has the Labour Party gone?

Another Matter

If the Liberal Democrats form an alliance or create a coalition with Labour, the government will have to rely on the support of other parties. In the General Election, English and Welsh voters did NOT have the opportunity to vote for Scottish Nationalists, so how can they now become involved in governing Britain to the extent of shoring up an unstable coalition? How could Welsh or Northern Ireland MPs - who have not been returned through any involvement of the English Electorate - have such a stake in government? This is surely dishonourable. We see how shaky democracy has become. The party with the greatest votes may well be pushed back into opposition and, on top of that, we may have another unelected PM.

A Travesty

The most unbelievable part of all of this - to me, at least - is that we had presidential-style debates involving the three main party leaders where the personalities were clearly important. Mr. Clegg impressed everyone to begin with (though this fell off somewhat later on). it became clear through the opinion polls and the interviews with people on the street that some were drawn towards the Liberal Democrats because of his performance. Add to that the overdone reputation of Vince Cable ("Honest Vince") and we had some formerly undecided voters going over to them. Gordon Brown, on the other hand, began to appear tired and repetitive, and one of the reasons for his resignation is precisely that many Labourites saw him - and his "personality" - as their chief liability (fair or not). His behaviour towards those who disagree with or challenge him has long been a subject of concern for party workers and journalists. His famous Lancashire gaffe into a lapel mike only served to highlight this problem. Some commentators said it was fortunate that he did not use four-letter words (as he has been known to do on some occasions). With all this in the background how is it possible that Labour could make a moral case for another unelected Prime Minister? In my view this is also dishonourable, and a travesty.

We can only hope - and pray, that the call for a "new politics" which we hear from time to time will result in a politics that pays more than lip-service to integrity and honour.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Why the Ordination of Women is a Tragic Mistake

Some Background.

When I was a seminarian, and well on in my studies, I decided that I could see no objection to the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more reasonable and acceptable it seemed, and I fully expected to see it in my lifetime. I can't remember what I thought about it as I prepared for ordination, and as a newly-ordained priest I had too much to think about as I began life as the curate to a rather difficult parish priest. At some point, I began to think again, and I found the idea uncomfortable. I had no personal objection to women priests, and I could see arguments in favour of them, so why was I now reluctant? The answer lies not in any newly-discovered prejudices but in my Catholic faith. I knew that the Vatican was against the ordination of women, and when the document Inter Insigniores was issued in 1976 (a year or so after my ordination) I knew that I had to rethink the matter. If asked at the time (and I cannot remember being asked) I suppose I would have said that the Vatican has issued a statement and that the "Church" is against it - meaning, by that, the Magisterium. I later read Fr. Manfred Hauke's book (against) but, to be honest, I was disappointed. I suppose I was looking for a clinching argument and, unfortunately, he doesn't provide one. At this point - and I really felt this - the really big argument against the ordination of women was that it was simply not allowed. As a loyal, obedient Catholic priest, that was enough for me. However, I still kept looking for that clinching argument. For some, the fact that Our Lord only chose men is enough, but that argument has been challenged, and keeps being challenged, which means that those in favour of women priests simply do not accept it. Leaving aside their suggestion or belief that Jesus was limited by His cultural background etc (an argument that does not stand in my opinion), there is a reluctance to accept the usual anti arguments, and, in any case, they are often simply dismissed as the arguments of "men".

A Breakthrough?

I was reading St. Matthew's Gospel 20:20-28. Beginning at verse 24 we read;

"When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' " (Jerusalem Bible)

I was struck by the phrase; "the rulers lord it over them" I remembered reading a very similar phrase in Genesis. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God tells Eve,

"I will multiply your pains in childbearing, you shall give birth to your children in pain. Your yearning will be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you" (3: 16)

Thinking about these two texts and realising that the sometimes scandalous inequality of the sexes is a consequence of original sin, I then looked again at the words of Christ and began to think about the priesthood. Other texts came to mind, especially Ephesians 5:21-33 where St. Paul wrote;

"Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy"

The headship of the husband is compared to the headship of Christ, but as Jesus says in the Gospel, he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life. The ministry of the Apostles is a ministry of service. Its model is not the old Adam, but the new Adam. Since Christ's priesthood cannot be separated from any other aspect of his humanity, what we are talking about is the Priesthood of the New Adam. Whereas the old Adam "lorded it over" Eve, the New Adam lays down his life. The Church is seen in Ephesians as the "Bride of Christ". The Christian priest is called to follow Christ in laying down his life for the Church. To maintain this understanding, the Christian priest must be male.

I will try to make it clearer. The renewal of the relationship between men and women, husbands and wives, requires a male priesthood, otherwise an important aspect of the economy of salvation is distorted. In Christ the consequences of the Fall are reversed. In Christ men and women are made equal, but the cost of that is the sacrifice of the New Adam. Sexual identity is key to all this. The male is no longer "lord" over the female. Although Christ is Lord, He lays aside his glory and becomes "like sin" so that we might become "the righteousness of God". St. Paul's theology of the New Adam requires that the ministerial priest be male. In the daily living out of the faith and the exercise of the priesthood of all believers there is need of a sign of this sacrifice of the New Adam. The bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ must be truly identified as the Body and Blood of the New Adam who gave his life for the Church (the "Bride"). To make this clear, the ministerial priest MUST be male.

I cannot see how anyone can put up a convincing argument against this without dismissing the traditional interpretation of the Bible. In fact, one of the consequences of the ordination of women is precisely the reworking of Holy Scripture, even, in some cases, to the point of regarding much of Scripture as optional or quaint, so that its authority is lessened.

Further Points.

Catholics are encouraged to develop a devotion to the Mother of Christ. We need her to help us in our understanding of the priesthood. To begin with, we should note that as in Genesis the order of creation of humanity is man first and woman second, in the order of the Redemption it is the woman who is called first. In fact, as St. Bernard famously noted, so much hangs on Mary's "yes". Where Eve effectively said, "No" to God, the New Eve said "Yes!". This was the beginning. She then became pregnant with the Saviour of the world. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception takes its place in all this. As Eve was the first to sin, so in the human order, the Mother of Jesus was without original sin at her conception. In the order of the Redemption it is woman first and man second. As it is expressed in an old Marian hymn, the Stella Maris, the Archangel's "Ave" is the reversal of "Eva" (Eve). The restoration of humanity in Christ does not come about just through words. The very Word of God himself becomes flesh, and this flesh - male flesh - is given, sacrificed, offered, poured out. The rejection of the sinful lordship is a total rejection. The new Adam is "servant". The ministerial priesthood which is a sign of this, is therefore necessary for the equality of the sexes, and, properly understood and lived, is NOT in any sense a denial of women's rights, but a guarantee of them. For this to work, the ministerial priest MUST be male.

There are other things to say and there are other texts that can be quoted in support of this case, but the basic argument is given above. Enough has been said, I think, to make the case clear. Ultimately the only argument against this is an argument against the analogy of Holy Scripture and a re-reading or rewriting of the Word of God. However we may discuss Genesis, it is either the Word of God or it is not. This is not a fundamentalist position; the case against women's ordination outlined above does not depend on a literalistic interpretation. Genesis, like all Scripture, is inspired by The Holy Spirit. Some may want to write out references to the consequences of original sin; it cannot be done. We are not dealing here with historical accuracy, but with the work of The Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin. Genesis was written partly from the common experience of humanity and, given the inequalities of the Ancient Middle East, and the inequalities we can still see in the "unredeemed" Arab culture, it would surely be almost unbelievable that Genesis 3 could have been written without divine help.

Arguments referring to ancient Palestinian culture have been used to promote the possibility of women priests. If cultural arguments are to be accepted, then the one I am presenting here is surely worthy of consideration.

Postscript: The Basic Cultural (from Scripture) Argument in Favour of Women Priests

I want to finish with a few remarks about one of the arguments most often advanced by proponents of the ordination of women, namely that Christ would have been unable to choose women at that time because of the cultural background etc. This argument does not stand. St. Paul makes absolutely clear, in 1 Corinthians, that it is the Cross, above all, which is a "stumbling block". This word is scandalon. A scandalon was deadly. It is not just a piece of wood or a stone in your path; it is not like a speed bump or even a fallen tree or a mound of earth that you have to climb over. A scandalon was the kind of obstacle that could kill. It was like the rock that would send you over a cliff or the sharp stick in an animal trap that would very likely cause the death of the victim. This is not just something you step over or walk around. A scandalon is a grave offence, just as the drinking of blood mentioned by Jesus in Chapter 6 of St. John's Gospel caused many to walk away. The idea that the choosing of women to be Apostles would have been seen in this light is a nonsense. As Bouyer pointed out years ago, Palestine was not a totally isolated area without contact with other cultures. Galilee itself had been influenced by the Greeks. The existence of women serving in pagan ttemples was known to some in Israel, and certainly beyond the confines of the borders of Israel there would have been no major problems with women Apostles. No, it is an argument that does not stand. But this is not the only reason for rejecting it. We need to revisit the doctrine of the Incarnation and the fact that Jesus truly was and is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made flesh. Is it really to be considered a serious argument that in matters relating to the establishment of His Church He would have allowed Himself to be limited by cultural concerns? Jesus broke with many customs and cultural taboos. He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden. She effectively became the first one to announce the Resurrection -BUT - she was not one of the twelve. Christ's meeting with the Samaritan woman is another example. . It is really time that the argument about His supposed cultural limitation with respect the choice of male Apostles was placed where it belongs - in the bin!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Henry V111, The Divine Right of Kings and The Church of England

A Window in Bristol Cathedral


When did the Church of England begin? Some people claim that the Church of England, extending to the Anglican Communion, is part of the world-wide Catholic and Apostolic Church. Some will say that it is a continuation or development of the ancient Celtic Church (at least up to the Synod of Whitby), and some say that it is the Church of St. Augustine of Canterbury. There are still those in the Anglican Communion who see their Church as part of an ecclesiastical trinity: The Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion. There are many questions here, but I want to discuss what most historians, secular and ecclesiastical, will agree was the actual beginning of the Church of England; Henry VIII's break with Rome and the declaration of his Royal Supremacy in matters spiritual.

One of the best recent books on Henry is, "1536", subtitled, "The Year that Changed Henry VIII", by Suzannah Lipscomb (Lion 2009). Historians have long puzzled over the changes in Henry's character that occurred in that year. But the aggressive and moody behaviour that became more obvious had a long history, and the two years before 1536 saw events which had a profound effect not only on Henry's emotional stability but on the whole country. Lipscomb writes that it was when Sir Thomas More and Archbishop John Fisher were beheaded that the break with Rome was complete. In a particular way their deaths signalled the final rejection of Papal authority in England.

Henry's rejection of the Pope was tied in with his need to divorce Queen Katherine, but it would be a mistake to simplify by saying; "It was all about the divorce". Lipscomb makes clear that Henry was a scholar and something of a theologian. Although it is clear that he sought advice from others, he also meditated, read and annotated the Bible and thought through his ideas in great detail. He is known to have sent for theological opinions from some of the best places of learning in Europe. He became utterly convinced of his position as the divinely appointed King of England, and he saw this kingship embracing the spiritual well-being of his people. However he began this enquiry, there seems little doubt that he became convinced (or convinced himself?) of the rightness of his position. He was heavily influenced by Tyndale's "The Obedience of A Christian Man" (a gift from Ann Boleyn) which argued that a Christian prince ought not submit to the Pope or any church authority, since he was "ordained" by God and was answerable to Him alone. Henry said that all kings ought to read this book.

In exalting his position Head of the Church, Henry was going against the book he had written (with help) against Luther, Assertio Septum Sacramentorum. This book was also a defence of Papal authority. The Pope gave him the title "Defender of the Faith" which was strangely kept by the English crown after the break with Rome. Henry turned about face. He so exalted his own position that he was soon to correct the Bishops' catechism, and the front piece of the Great Bible of 1539 shows Henry sitting immediately below the glorified Christ, handing out the Word of God which then, as from his hands, descends from both ecclesiastical and secular authorities to the people at the bottom. It is an hierarchical order with Henry clearly taking the place of the Pope, but no Roman etching had quite exalted the Papacy in such fashion. In that front piece, Henry, like a giant on his throne, is more prominent than the Pope ever was in England. This fits in with Henry's need to enlarge almost everything about himself (including his codpiece in the famous Whitehall Mural and subsequent copies). There could be no opposition to Henry's rule over the English Church. Everyone had to be told - it had to be preached in every church - that he was the divinely appointed Head of the Church in England.

Where did the theory of the "Divine Right of Kings" come from? Is it truly scriptural? Is it truly Christian? It seems to me that these are important questions when thinking not only about the Anglican Church, but the the history of the Russian Orthodox Church and the position of the Tsar.


The doctrine of the divine right of kings has a long history. It is impossible to focus on one date or event as a beginning. It is tempting to go back as far as the Emperor Constantine who called the Council of Nicaea. There seems to have been an understanding, taken from Holy Scripture, that Christians were expected to honour and obey the emperor or the ruling authority (1Peter 2: 13-17). The Lord Jesus Himself told Pilate that his authority had been given by God (John 19:11). However it is also clear from Scripture that no earthly ruler has absolute authority in all things. Whatever side of the Reformation fence people choose, Christ's own authority was passed to the Apostles and through them to the whole Church. The order in which authority was given by Christ is important. Although in Chapter 10 of St. Matthew's Gospel Jesus gives the authority to cast out demons and to heal to "his disciples" the "power of the keys" is given first to Peter (Chapter 16: 13-19). It is clear that teaching authority (including overseeing the local Church) was passed on from one to another, and it is also clear that this involved the "laying on of hands", so there was a physical expression of this. Not wanting to digress, the physical expression of what came to be called Apostolic Succession is important. The Word became flesh, and the full implications of the Incarnation for the life and organisation of the Church include the physicality of the transmission of the Gospel, from the use of the voice, to the actual active ministration whether that means baptising, healing or the laying on of hands in the sense of ordaining someone.

A search for the roots of the doctrine of the Divine right brings us to the Papal Bull, "Unam Sanctam" of Pope Boniface VIII. This was issued in 1302. It is considered, by some, to be an extreme statement of papal authority. The so-called doctrine of the "two swords" is especially connected with this document. Boniface insisted that the secular powers must submit to the spiritual authorities and that this submission went beyond matters spiritual. He seems to have taken much of his theory from the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh St. Victor and Thomas Aquinas. We could go farther back and look at St. Augustine's "City of God" which speaks of the "Two Cities", the spiritual being the most important.

Whilst the Pope and the King shared authority, the king or emperor being anointed and therefore authenticated by the Bishop, there was some sort of balance. Admittedly there was always a tension between authority given from above and authority accepted, or even granted, from below. This was resolved to some extent by the idea that a Christian monarch would be considered genuine only in so far as he was virtuous. This point was made by Erasmus in his, "The Education of a Christian Prince" (1516). The implications of this were to be historically far-reaching and opened up a wider debate about just how far a king (or queen) could go in asserting royal authority. The post-Reformation development of the divine right theory led to an imbalance. The monarch had to claim rights over both secular and spiritual matters, and given the widely-recognised accent on royal virtue this could only cause further problems. It might be argued that the extremes of Louis XVI (aided by Bossuet) have nothing to do with the Reformation, but they are rooted in a dispute between king and Pope and so, by way of reaction, there was an imbalance that led to further tragedy.

My main point in this essay is to focus on the beginnings of the Church of England in relation to the divine right theory as developed and expressed by Henry VIII. To lay the groundwork of my argument I want to ask whether we can agree that the theory is actually Christian. Henry deliberately identified himself with King David but, cutting the first part of my argument short, the Davidic kingship was fulfilled in Christ, and the Lord did not give His authority to a secular ruler - He gave it to His Apostles and to His Church. From that Christians are right to assume that the Church can, and should, recognise the legitimacy of secular authority. Problems may have arisen when the Pope or bishops, by virtue of a coronation rite, ritually and publicly recognised one ruler over against another. Fallen human nature being what it is, mistakes were made, and Popes and bishops were often manipulated, threatened or even bought. As long as a given ruler had the Pope on his side, he might be able to wave his sceptre over others when it came to disputed territories. The political corruption inevitably led to other forms. A strong Pope or bishop might well resist the threats and bribery, but it took a strong will and stomach, and some paid for non-compliance with their lives (as in the case of Becket) or through enforced exile and even captivity.

Leaving aside the dangers of political and spiritual corruption - because of human weakness and not necessarily because of the doctrine - we still need to ask how far Henry's idea of divine right can be squared with Scripture. If Davidic kingship is fulfilled in Christ, and Christ did not appoint a secular ruler, how can Henry's claim of spiritual headship be justified? To appeal to the Old Testament in this matter is as wrong as appealing to Holy Scripture to justify revenge. The old order changed. The new order is different. There is a strong argument to be put against Henry's exaltation of his own spiritual authority, and therefore an argument to be put against the legitimacy of the Church of England. In the end we can ask by what right, exactly, did Henry usurp the position of the Pope? By right of interpretation? I think this is the answer, and it reveals the Protestant root of the problem. The interpretation of Holy Scripture and the presentation of this as Scriptural truth is precisely at the heart of the problem. Henry's seeking of theological opinion regarding the divorce and the influence of people like Tyndale on his own understanding of royal authority are part of what became a national tragedy which still has far-reaching implications. In Europe we associate the Reformation with "The Diet of Worms"; in England especially, with Henry VIII we are still struggling with a "can of worms".

One of the problems now being faced by some Anglo-Catholics who are tempted to look to Rome is how to deal with long-held opinions and beliefs regarding "Popery" and the necessity of the Reformation in England. We know from our own recent experience that political spin causes more problems than it is meant to solve. Propaganda is not a new invention. I often think about Shakespeare's "Richard III" which is partly based on Thomas More's treatment, in support of the Tudor claim. Recent research has brought more balance to the Richard III debate, and it now looks as though More's portrait was not many miles from the truth. Still, it is a piece of propaganda, and Henry himself was heavily involved in embellishing his own image and acheivements. As the Tudor period advances we go deeper into this kind of illusion and trickery, especially with Elizabeth's re-invention as the "Virgin Queen". We are constantly in search of the truth in all these things, but if we are committed to Christ we must be committed to Truth, whatever the cost. Newman is one of the heroes of the Truth. When we discover it, it really does mean "buying the field" and giving all that we have. Those who truly commit tmemselves to the Truth know what interior peace is. In spite of persecutions, apparent doubts, lost friends and a thousand difficulties, there is always a still centre, and it is like standing on the Rock of Peter's faith.


About Me

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I was born in Sheffield and brought up in Halifax, Yorkshire.I was trained at Ushaw College, attended Durham University and was ordained in 1975. I am a member of the Marian Movement of Priests and a Secular Carmelite(ocds). I am also a reader of "True Life in God"