Monday, 22 September 2008


Looking at the Futurechurch website, one is struck by how the name is a misnomer. It looks not to the Future of the Church but to certain present day difficulties, for which it seeks to provide a quick fix.
As Augustine said long ago, much heresy begins with one idea that is good or OK in itself, but becomes concerned with that to the exclusion of all else.

Sr Chris Schenk, of Futurechurch, argues that because the Eucharist is the most precious gift we have been given then it must be the will of Christ that we should all be able to receive it frequently, and that we are therefore justified in doing anything to achieve this laudable goal. This is argument is obviously faulty taken simply as a pice of logic. For example, suppose that something seemed clearly to be the will of Christ but we could only achieve it by some immoral means, then clearly it would not be right to bring it about. We would have to seek other means, or else we would perhaps come to see that although Christ might want it, He might not want it at any cost.

No doubt it is the will of Christ that all His people should benefit from the Eucharist, but time and again throughout history in many parts of the world, the faithful have bee deprived of the Eucharist. We might think of penal times here in England, or of the centuries in Japan when there was no priest in the whole country. At such times the faithful kept faith alive by other means - by obedience, prayer and devotion - not by seeking to change the structure and nature of the Church in order to bring about the end they desired.

Futurechurch does not seem inclined to examine the past any more than it considers the future. A knowledge of what Christians have done in the past is surely likely to be a helpful guide when we find ourselves confronting similar problems. In the pontificate of Innocent III of blessed memory there was a remote village in France that had been without a priest for some years. Eventually the villagers had had enough of this and they appointed the village blacksmith (he being regarded as a man of repute and position in the community) to say Mass for them. Effectively this is the Futurechurch solution. And what was the result? When things came to the Bishop' notice, he asked Rome for guidance. The Pope said that this must stop. Nobody can simply set themselves up as a priest in this way. Yet he also emphasised to the bishop that neither villagers or blacksmith were guilty of sin, since what they had done had been in no way sacrilegious but was born out of a love an desire for the Eucharist.

So, we might ask, faced with a shortage of priests what would be wrong with the Church deciding to ordain men (though I think futurechurch would like to ordain women also) in such situations who could serve as part-time priests while gettin on with their family life and work at the same time. Would this not be a good way of meeting a very real need?

This is where we need to think about the future consequences of our actions. If we were to respond to a fall in vocations by saying that we will ordain anyone on such a basis, many who might like to be priests would think: this is fine. I don't need to make it a commitment of my whole life; I can do it anyway! We would find numbers of vocations falling even faster! It would also totally change the work and role of a priest. A priest is not simply a machine for sacraments. Those to whom he is sent to minister are his family - hence the title of 'Father.' He is there to serve them in a whole range of situations and needs - and frequently at any time of day or night. The work Catholics expect from a priest cannot be done except by a full time and totally committed priesthood.
And there is more in the way of consequenes. With a drastic fall in vocations we would in time find ourselves without bishops - hence the Church would no longer be Apostolic. Without that central bond of communion each community would be reduced to doing its own thing and making its own decisions, and so the church would no longer be One or Catholic. With us all making decisions for ourselves rather than seeking to discern the will of God, the Church would no longer be Holy (that is, belonging to God).
And if the Church of the Future is not to be One, Holy, Catholic or Apostolic then what is left?

The people of Futurechurch may not intend or desire such results, and I have no doubt that their love for the Eucharist is as sincere as that of those thirteenth century French men and women, but if we seek a quick fix solution to our problems we may very easily find we have made them worse, even to the point of destroying what we profess to love.

What then is the answer? First, of course, to pray. Second, not to convince ourselves that the results of our prayer are infallible. Listen to others, and to the results of their prayer - because if our insights have come from the Holy Spirit, He will be giving them to others - we can be sure of that. Sr Chris didn't wish to reply to the above points, simply observing that we would not agree. Sadly that sounds so much like a mind that is wholly made up in advance of any argument. Because we don't debate simply in order to win, but in order to clarify our thoughts and test our own ideas - to test spirits so as to discern the one that is the voice of God. And if our thoughts converge into His thoughts then we are all winners!

Friday, 19 September 2008

Multum in Parva... the motto of the County of Rutland, the smallest of all the English Counties and perhaps unsurprisingly one with a very fierce sense of its own identity.

Having a day off today, the first for a month, I headed north up the A1 to see what treasures might be found in Rutland and East Leicestershire, to be rewarded by the amazingly sumptuous Norman Chapel at Tickencote. Multum in parva indeed! The little church was restored and partly rebuilt in 1792 when the West Front and South tower were added. The extraordinarily ornate exterior is buttressed in French style rather than English with demi-shafts. The first picture is of the unusual west front, done in a Romanesque style with a touch of Hawksmoor. This is the plainest aspect of the Church. By contrast the East front is highly decorated with intersecting arches, friezes, bland recesses and mouldings. It also reveals a room above the sanctuary - a feature of a number of Norman churches - though it is not certain whether this upper room overlooked the Church as at Compton or Melbourne. Here, the puzzle is, as at Iffley, why was such a sumptuous church built here?

Inside the mystery deepens as we find a sexpartite vault over the chancel. Traditional wisdom is that the sexpartite vault came to England after 1175 with William of Sens - but the church itself seems to be older than that - probably c1160. A clue may be found in those French style buttresses, for sexpartite vaults had been used in Normandy from very early in the century. So this appears to be a French Church rather than an English Norman one, hidden away in a quiet Rutland village.

But the true glory of the interior is the incredible triumphal arch that marks the entrance to the Chancel. This fivefold arch is described by Pevsner as being 'wildly overdone and in addition incompetently executed.'

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Church and State

One of the items of 'received wisdom' in our 'liberal' society is the separation of Church and State. In many ways, of course, this is a thing which is good and desirable. We need to recognise that in many - perhaps most - modern states there is no single religious belief which holds a general sway, and it is plainly not right to demand people of one religious belief to live under the sway of another. It is questionable how far a religion such as Islam recognises this truth, but nonetheless it is a truth. Those who are not Christian plainly should not be bound by laws which are made by Christians for Christians.
Of course there are those general laws, based on the concept of natural law, which are to be considered binding upon people of all faiths or none - as the current jargon has it. Prohibitions on Rape or Murder are examples of this.

Our own society, typically, takes things too far. It sees the separation of Church and State as indicating that there is no common standard of morality - and that therefore morality is not the concern of the state, but is something left to the judgement of each individual. Religious opinions, far from being seen as important, are things to be perhaps politely listened to, and then set aside as the enthusiasms of a small minority.

Because this is the 'received wisdom' it can be easy for Catholics to go along with this - not out of any wish to deny the faith, but because we do not wish to be imposing our views on others. The trouble with this view of things is that the result is the secular state ends up imposing its views on everybody. But separation of Church and State has not always been seen in this light. It has not always been seen as a denial of any common basis for morality.

In our society morality is seen as a matter for Church, not State - officially! In practice this is not alwayys the case. Increasingly the state comes to impose its own substitute morality for the morality of religious belief. But this is the opposite of what the true liberal democratic state should be doing.

Consider the words of Alexis de Tocqueville from his study 'Democracy in America' first published in the 1840s, approving the separation of Church and State, but not the isolation of one from the other:
Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of mind. Free and powerful in its own sphere, satisfied with the place reserved for it, religion never more surely establishes its empire than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its native strength.
Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles and its triumphs, as the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the safeguard of morality, and morality as the best security of law and the surest pledge of the duration of freedom.'