Monday, June 30, 2008

Paul wants to speak with us today

ROME, JUNE 30, 2008 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's homily from Saturday afternoon's vespers for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The service, held at the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, was the inaugural ceremony of the Pauline Jubilee Year, which runs through June 29, 2009.

* * *

Holiness and Fraternal Delegates,
Lord Cardinals,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are gathered before the tomb of St. Paul, who was born 2,000 years ago in Tarsus of Cilicia, in present-day Turkey. Who was this Paul? In the temple of Jerusalem, before an agitated crowd that wanted to kill him, he introduced himself with these words: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but educated in this city, instructed at the feet of Gamaliel in the exact observance of the Law of our fathers; I was full of zeal for God."
At the end of his journey he would say of himself: "I have been made a herald and apostle, teacher of the Gentiles in the faith and in the truth."
Teacher of the Gentiles, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ, thus he characterized himself in a retrospective look over his life. However, he did not look only to the past. "Teacher of the Gentiles" -- this word opens to the future, which we recall with veneration. He is, also for us, our teacher, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we have come together not to reflect on a past history, irrevocably surpassed. Paul wants to speak with us today. That is why I wanted to convoke this special "Pauline year": to listen to him and to drink from him, as our teacher, in the faith and truth, in which are rooted the reasons for unity among the disciples of Christ. In this perspective, I wished to light -- for this bimillenary of the apostle's birth -- a special "Pauline Flame," which will remain lit during the whole year, in a special niche placed in the portico of the basilica. To solemnize this event, I have also opened the so-named Pauline Door, through which I entered the basilica accompanied by the patriarch of Constantinople, the cardinal archpriest and other religious authorities.

For me it is a motive of profound joy that the opening of the Pauline year assumes a special ecumenical character, given the presence of numerous delegates and representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities, which I welcome with an open heart. I greet first of all His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I and the members of the delegation accompanying him, as well as the large group of laymen from several parts of the world who have come to Rome to participate in these moments of prayer and reflection with him and all of us. I greet the fraternal delegates of the Churches that have a special bond with the Apostle Paul -- Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus and Greece -- that form part of the geographic environment of the apostle's life before his arrival in Rome.
I cordially greet the brothers of the different Churches and ecclesial communities of the East and West, together with all of you I have wished to take part in this solemn opening of the year dedicated to the Apostles of the Gentiles.

We are gathered, therefore, to questions ourselves about the great apostle of the Gentiles. Not only do we ask ourselves, "Who was Paul?" Above all, we ask ourselves "Who is Paul?" "What is he saying to me?" At this hour of the beginning of the Pauline year that we are inaugurating, I would like to choose three texts from the rich testimony of the New Testament, in which [Paul's] inner physiognomy appears, that which is specific about his character. In the Letter to the Galatians, he has given us a very personal profession of faith, in which he opens his heart to the readers of all times and reveals what is the most profound source of his life: "I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me."
All that Paul does starts from this center. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a totally personal way; it is awareness of the fact that Christ faced death not for something anonymous, but for love of him, of Paul, and that, risen, Christ still loves him, has given himself for him. His faith is having been captured by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that affects him in his innermost being and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an option about God or the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. So, this faith itself is love of Jesus Christ.

For many, Paul appears as a combative man who knows how to use the sword of the word. Indeed, in his path as apostle, there was no lack of disputes. He did not seek a superficial harmony. In his first letter dedicated to the Thessalonians, he himself says: "We had the courage in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in face of great opposition. … For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed."
The truth was too great for him to be ready to sacrifice it in view of an external success. The truth he had experienced in his encounter with the Risen One merited for him struggle, persecution, and suffering. However, what motivated him in the depth of his being was being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to transmit this love to others. Paul was someone able to love, and all his work and suffering is explained from this center.
The concepts underlying his proclamation can only be understood on the basis of this. Let us take only one of his key words: freedom. The experience of being loved to the end by Christ opened his eyes about truth and the path of human existence; that experience embraced everything. Paul was free as a man loved by God that, in virtue of God, was able to love together with him. This love is now the "law" of his life and, precisely thus, was the freedom of his life.
He speaks and acts, moved by the responsibility of love; he is free, and given that he is one who loves, he lives totally in the responsibility of this love and does not take freedom as a pretext for pleasure and egoism. He who loves Christ as Paul loved him, can truly do what he wills, because his love is united to the will of Christ and, therefore, to the will of God, because his will is anchored in truth and because his will is no longer simply his will, arbiter of his autonomous I, but is integrated in the freedom of God and from it receives the path to follow.

In the search for St. Paul's inner physiognomy, I would like, in the second place, to recall the word that the Risen Christ spoke to him on the road to Damascus. Earlier the Lord asked him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He answered: "Who are you, Lord?" And he received the reply: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." By persecuting the Church, Paul was persecuting Jesus himself. "You are persecuting me." Jesus identifies himself with the Church in a single subject.
In this exclamation of the Risen One -- which transformed Saul's life -- is contained the whole doctrine of the Church as Body of Christ. Christ did not return to Heaven, leaving a handful of followers to carry his cause forward. The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ, who also as Risen remained "flesh." He has flesh and bones," affirms the Risen One in Luke, in face of the disciples who thought he was a ghost. He has a body. He is personally present in the Church. "Head and Body" form a single subject, said Augustine. "'Know you not that your bodies are members of Christ?' wrote Paul to the Corinthians, and he adds: 'That, according to the Book of Genesis, man and woman become one flesh?'"
So Christ becomes one spirit with his own, one subject in the new world of the resurrection. In all this, the Eucharistic mystery is visualized, in which Christ constantly gives his Body and makes of us one Body: "Is not the bread we break communion with the body of Christ? Because, though being many, we are only one bread and one body, as we all share in one bread." He addresses us with these words, at this moment, not just Paul but the Lord himself: "How were you able to lacerate my Body?" Before the face of Christ, this question becomes at the same time an urgent appeal: Bring us together again from all our divisions.
Make this again a reality today: There is only one bread; therefore, we, despite being many, are only one body. For Paul the word Church as Body of Christ is not just any analogy. It goes far beyond a comparison. "Why do you persecute me?" Christ attracts us continually to his Body, he builds his Body from the Eucharistic center, which for Paul is the center of Christian existence, in virtue of which all, as well as each individual can experience in a totally personal way: "He has loved me and given himself up for me."

I would like to conclude with a later word of St. Paul, an exhortation to Timothy from prison, in face of death. "Endure with me sufferings for the Gospel," said the apostle to his disciple. This sentence, which is at the end of the roads traveled by the apostle as a testament, leads us back to the beginning of his mission. While, after his encounter with the Risen One, the blind Paul was in his room in Damascus, Ananias received the order to go where the feared persecutor was and lay his hands on him, so that he would recover his sight. To Ananias' objection that this Saul was a dangerous persecutor of Christians, this answer was given: "This man must take my name to the Gentiles, to kings and to the children of Israel. I will show him all he will have to suffer for my name."
The task of proclamation and the call to suffering for Christ are inseparably together. The call to be teacher of the Gentiles is at the same time and intrinsically a call to suffering in communion with Christ, who has redeemed us through his passion. In a world in which lying is powerful, truth is paid for with suffering. He who wishes to avoid suffering, to keep it far from himself, will have pushed away life itself and its grandeur; he cannot be a servant of truth and thus a servant of faith. There is no love without suffering, without the suffering of denying ourselves, of the transformation and purification of the "I" for true freedom. Wherever there is nothing worth suffering for, life itself also loses its value.
The Eucharist -- center of our Christian being -- is based on the sacrifice of Jesus for us; it was born from the suffering of the love that found its culmination on the cross. We live from this love that gives itself. This gives us the courage and strength to suffer with Christ and for him, thus knowing that precisely in this way our life becomes great, mature and true.
In the light of all of St. Paul's letters we see how on his journey as teacher of the Gentiles, the prophecy of Ananias was fulfilled at the hour of the calling: "I will show him all that he will have to suffer for my name." His suffering makes him credible as teacher of truth, which does not seek its own benefit, its own glory or personal pleasure, but is committed to him who loved us and gave himself up for all of us.

At this hour in which we thank the Lord for having called Paul, making him the light of the Gentiles and teacher of us all, we pray: Give us also today the testimony of the Resurrection, touched by your love, and [make us] able to carry the light of the Gospel in our time. St. Paul, pray for us. Amen.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Project Make McCain Exciting: Gray Ambition

Oh my goodness, I'm on the floor!!!!!

Sent as missionaries to the world

Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, 2008:

Today begins a historic chapter in the history of the Church: The Jubilee Year of St Paul. Pope Benedict has declared this a year dedicated to remembering this great saint as we commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of his birth. The pope calls every Catholic to get to know St. Paul better during this year. Why? Because he is simply an extraordinary example of what God can do when we cooperate with His plans.

Paul is a man of great transformation. Through the grace of God, he went from being a murderer of Christians to being a martyr for Christ. Paul was first a devout Jew bent on crushing this Christian movement. At the height of his violent campaign, Jesus appeared to Paul, while he was on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there. That encounter completely changed his life, and the course of his history and ours.

He became the great missionary who tirelessly traveled for almost 30 years, starting Christian communities in city after city, preaching and suffering, and writing a major portion of the New Testament. Next to Jesus, Paul is the most prominent person in the New Testament. Of its 27 books, 13 are letters attributed to Paul. More than half of the Acts of the Apostles is devoted to his conversion and his activities spreading the good news about Jesus to the world.

Just think of the legacy that St. Paul has left us in Scripture alone. Many of the most well known texts of Scripture were those that God inspired St. Paul to write. Of the many, let me just share perhaps his most well known, the reflection on love from 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Thank you St. Paul.

So, why has Pope Benedict dedicated this year to St Paul? The deeper reason comes from the urgent need all Christians have today to be reminded of our most basic identity: every Christian is meant to be a missionary; to spread Christ’s Kingdom, as St. Paul did at the dawn of Christianity. Pope Benedict said yesterday in his homily beginning this special year: “Paul is not simply a figure of the past, who we remember with veneration. He is also a teacher, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ for us as well. We are gathered not to reflect on a past history because Paul wants to talk to us today. That is why I have desired to convoke this Pauline Year: to listen to him and to learn from him today, as our teacher. We ask ourselves: ‘Who is Paul? What is he telling me? His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a completely personal manner. His faith is the recognition of the fact that Christ has confronted death not for someone unknown, but for love of him, Paul, and that, since He is Risen, He loves him still.”

The Pope wants us to be moved in the same way and become like St. Paul in our world today. That’s what this year is about. We are all called by God to be his missionaries, his ambassadors. Being a missionary means always being ready to talk about Christ and explain Church teaching. But it also means being like Christ, letting His saving goodness shine through the way we live.
In that sense, we all have at least three mission territories to work in. First, we are called to be missionaries in our families. Every Christian family should be a mini-church, a place where peace, forgiveness, and harmony reign. That takes constant prayer, effort, and sacrifice from parents and children alike. But the mere effort, yields joy, wisdom, and fulfillment, even when the results aren’t perfect.

Second, we are all called to be missionaries at work or school. We show God’s glory and goodness by being the very best and most dependable students, athletes, workers, and professionals that we can be. God wants us to develop and maximize the talents He has given us. He wants us to be trees producing the most excellent fruits.

Finally, we are all called to be missionaries here in our parish. A parish is meant to be a light for the community, a spiritual task force that builds unity, combats evil, and spreads virtue as the sun spreads light. Everyone is needed to complete this great mission.

As we begin this Year of St. Paul, let’s pledge to get to know him better. Read the words he left us. He wrote 13 letters, that’s just more than one a month for the next year. Ask Jesus to show each one of us how we can live our mission better, so that at the end of our lives we, like St. Paul, can say: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

May God give you peace.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Year of St. Paul

Today marks the beginning of the Year of St. Paul declared last year by Pope Benedict. Here is some more information on this year-long celebration:

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has declared June 2008-June 2009 the year of St. Paul in celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the saint's birth.

The Pope decreed the year in a vespers celebration held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The Holy Father explained during his homily: "This 'Pauline Year' will take place in a special way in Rome, where for 2,000 years under the papal altar of this basilica, lies the tomb that according to experts and undisputed tradition has conserved the remains of the apostle Paul."

The Pontiff said: "In the papal basilica and Benedictine abbey attached to it, there can take place a series of liturgical, cultural and ecumenical events, as well as various pastoral and social initiatives, all of them inspired by Pauline spirituality."

Special attention can also be given to pilgrims who from various places will want to go to the tomb of the Apostle in a penitential way in order to find spiritual benefits."

Benedict XVI explained that this year must have an important "ecumenical dimension."

"The Apostle of the Gentiles, who dedicated himself to the spreading of the good news to all peoples, spent himself for the unity and harmony of all Christians," the Pope said.

"May he guide us and protect us in this bimillenary celebration," he added, "helping us to advance in the humble and sincere search for the full unity of all the members of the mystical body of Christ."

Here is a great practice that I found online to get to know this great saint better:

A 30-Day Walk With Saint Paul

Prayer: Dear Holy Spirit, come into every part of my being and make it a temple for Jesus Christ, to the glory of the Father. Pray for me, Saint Paul to be a worthy instrument of the Gospel. Amen.


Step 1: Please observe silence for at least two minutes asking the Holy Spirit to meet you where you are now.

Step 2: Read God's word from Saint Paul or the Acts of the Apostles. You may repeat what you have read once or twice.

Step 3: Meditate on the word, words or phrases and sentences that touched you.

Step 4: Name the action to be taken.

Step 5: Ask the Holy Spirit to help you put into action what He wants of you today.

Step 6: Please feel free to write some of the above in your journal at the close of the day.

Daily Reading

Day 1: Love of God, Romans 5: 8-10
Day 2: Love of Neighbor, Romans 13:8-10
Day 3: Reconciliation, 2 Corinthians 5:19-20

Day 4: Sin and grace, Romans 3: 23-24
Day 5: Faith, Romans 3: 25-26
Day 6: Hope, Romans 5: 5
Day 7: Joy, Philippians 4:4
Day 8: Peace, Philippians 4: 8-9
Day 9: Mission, Romans 10: 14-15
Day 10: Baptism, Galatians 3:27-28
Day 11: New life, 2 Corinthians 5: 16-17
Day 12: Patience, 1 Corinthians 13: 4
Day 13: Kindness, Titus 3: 4-7
Day 14: Faithfulness, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-25
Day 15: Family, Ephesians 3: 14-18
Day 16: Humility, Philippians 2: 5-8
Day 17: Gentleness, 1 Thessalonians 2: 6-9
Day 18: Self-control: Romans 8: 14-17
Day 19: Resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15: 20-21
Day 20: Wisdom, Colossians 1: 9-10
Day 21: Counsel, Romans 11: 33-36
Day 22: Fear of the Lord, 2 Corinthians 7: 1
Day 23: Understanding, Colossians 2: 1-3
Day 24: Knowledge, Philippians 3: 7-9
Day 25: Unity: 1 Corinthians 3: 5-9
Day 26: Gospel: Romans 1:16
Day 27: Death: Romans 6:19-23
Day 28: Freedom: Galatians 5: 13-14
Day 29: Persecution, Romans 8: 35-39
Day 30: Prayer, Acts 16: 25-31

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On vacation

Two priests decided to go on vacation.

They were determined to make this a real vacation escape by not wearing anything that would identify them as clergy. As soon as the plane landed they headed for a store and bought some outrageous shorts, shirts and sandals.

The next morning they went to the beach dressed in their tourist garb.

They were sitting on beach chairs, enjoying a drink, the sunshine and the scenery when a woman came walking straight towards them.

As the woman passed them she smiled and said, 'Good Morning, Father. Good Morning, Father,' nodding and addressing each of them individually; then she passed on by.

They were both mortified! How in the world did she know they we're priests? So the next day, they went back to the store and bought even more outrageous outfits.

These were so loud you could hear them before you saw them. Once again, in their new attire, they settled on the beach in their chairs to enjoy the sunshine.

After a while, the same woman came walking toward them.

Again she nodded at each of them, she said, 'Good morning, Father. Good morning, Father,' and started to walk away.

One of the Priests couldn't stand it any longer and said, 'Just a minute young lady.'

'Yes, Father?' she said.
'We are priests and proud of it, but I have to know, how in the world did you know we are priests, dressed as we are?'

'Father, it's me, Sister Margaret.'

I will be on my annual vacation with my family at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire this week, so probably won't post too much. If you see me on the beach in my outrageous beachwear, it's okay to say hello!

Eucharistic Congress in Quebec

The Eucharistic Congress in Quebec ends tomorrow, but there have been a lot of great talks on the Eucharist. I invite you to watch this interview with Archbishop Donald Weurl of Pittsburgh.

There are lots of great resources on the official website:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer Spirit for everyone!

FRIAR'S CORNER (June 22, 2008):

At long last school is out for summer! I know at that statement our young people rejoice and (some of) our adults cringe. But, summer is such a wonderful time to change the normal pace of life. For the kids hopefully the summer brings with it some rest and relaxation, time for fun and games, perhaps to go off to a camp; to do the things that they want to do and just be for a while. For families, there is usually some vacation time during the summer months – a chance to get away some place relaxing like the Jersey Shore or Cape Cod, or even just stay home and do some fun things.

Even for Fr. Mike and I, while the parish never seems to get less busy, the summer does bring with it a different kind of busyness. We have a lot of fun youth events during the summer starting with our vacation Bible school, Summer Spirit. We will have camp outs, the Steubenville East Summer Youth Conference, Fan the Fire and more. And, hopefully, by the time September rolls around, we’re all feeling a bit more refreshed and renewed.

I hope all of this is true for you and your family this year. One of the things I like about our Summer Spirit program, and other youth programs, is that these provide an opportunity, not just for rest and relaxation, but also for retreat and a time to feed the soul. My hope is that we all find some time during these summer months as we do things to refresh our bodies and minds to let God refresh our souls. So, what can we all do? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Go to Mass during the week. As I always say, we’re here every day. Coming to Mass during the week is a great way, in a quiet environment, to fill yourself up with the grace that comes from the Eucharist. I love our summer Masses. There’s nothing nicer on a hot summer day than to enter our wonderfully air conditioned Church and spend 30-45 minutes in prayer with the community. You’ll be amazed what the Eucharist can do for you the more it is part of your daily life.

2. Make a retreat. You know all of the great retreats that we have for our young people, but taking time to retreat – literally, to get away from all of the day-to-day – and just be present to God is so critical. There are retreat centers all around us – Wisdom House in Litchfield, St. Edmund’s on Ender’s Island, Mount Alvernia in Wappingers Falls, NY – where you can go and make a retreat. If you can’t afford that, come and spend a morning in our Church before the Blessed Sacrament. Go for a prayerful walk and pray the Rosary. Whatever you can do, we need that time away from it all in God’s presence to renew us.

3. Spiritual Reading. If you’re like me, you are lining up your summer reading. There is nothing better than sitting down with a good book in the summer. Every year, I always look for three books. I like one of them to be a biography or autobiography, one of them to be just-for-fun (mysteries are a favorite). And the third is always something spiritual. Find that spiritual book that will feed your soul this summer. I always recommend anything by Dr. Scott Hahn. If you’ve never read him, I recommend starting with The Lamb’s Supper. His books will change your life.

So, the question is simply this: What will you do for your spirit this summer? I pray that for every member of our parish this is a summer of rest, relaxation and a renewal of body, mind and spirit.

Have a great summer!

Love, Fr. Tom

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Remembering Tim Russert

Tim's son Luke gave a beautiful reflection about his father. I hope you take a moment to watch.

Celtics win!!!!!

What a game! What a series! What a team! Boston is a dynasty city!!!
Way to go Celtics!!!!!
It was worth the wait!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Latin Mass coming to EVERY parish?

Here's another one that caught my eye today. The possibility that the Pope may ask that the Latin Mass (the Tridentine Mass) be offered in every parish. I can tell you that if this happens a massive training effort will need to take place. There are very few priests today who know how to celebrate this Mass; and a lot of others (myself included) who've never even experienced it. We'll see what happens.

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI would like every Catholic parish in the world to celebrate a regular Tridentine-rite Mass, a Vatican cardinal has said.

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos also told a June 14 press conference in London that the Vatican was writing to all seminaries to ask that candidates to the priesthood are trained to celebrate Mass according to the extraordinary form of the Latin rite, also known as the Tridentine Mass, restricted from the 1970s until July 2007 when Pope Benedict lifted some of those limits.

The cardinal, who was visiting London at the invitation of the Latin Mass Society, a British Catholic group committed to promoting Mass in the Tridentine rite of the 1962 Roman Missal, said it was "absolute ignorance" to think that the pope was trying to reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council by encouraging use of the rite."

The Holy Father, who is a theologian and who was (involved) in the preparation for the council, is acting exactly in the way of the council, offering with freedom the different kinds of celebration," he said.

"The Holy Father is not returning to the past; he is taking a treasure from the past to offer it alongside the rich celebration of the new rite," the cardinal added.

When asked by a journalist if the pope wanted to see "many ordinary parishes" making provision for the Tridentine Mass, Cardinal Castrillon, a Colombian, said: "All the parishes. Not many, all the parishes, because this is a gift of God.

"He (Pope Benedict) offers these riches, and it is very important for new generations to know the past of the church," said Cardinal Castrillon, president of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei," which works to help separated traditionalist Catholics return to the church.

"This kind of worship is so noble, so beautiful," he said. "The worship, the music, the architecture, the painting, makes a whole that is a treasure. The Holy Father is willing to offer to all the people this possibility, not only for the few groups who demand it but so that everybody knows this way of celebrating the Eucharist in the Catholic Church."

He also said his commission, which also is responsible for overseeing the application of "Summorum Pontificum," the 2007 papal decree authorizing the universal use of the Tridentine rite, was in the process of writing to seminaries not only to equip seminarians to celebrate Mass in Latin but to understand the theology, the philosophy and the language of such Masses.

The cardinal said parishes could use catechism classes to prepare Catholics to celebrate such Masses every Sunday so they could "appreciate the power of the silence, the power of the sacred way in front of God, the deep theology, to discover how and why the priest represents the person of Christ and to pray with the priest."

In "Summorum Pontificum," Pope Benedict indicated that Tridentine Masses should be made available in every parish where groups of the faithful desire it and where a priest has been trained to celebrate it. He also said the Mass from the Roman Missal in use since 1970 remains the ordinary form of the Mass, while the celebration of the Tridentine Mass is the extraordinary form.

The document did not require all parishes to automatically establish a Tridentine Mass schedule, but it said that where "a group of faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition exists stably," the pastor should "willingly accede" to their request to make the Mass available.

Cardinal Castrillon told the press conference, however, that a stable group could mean just three or four people who were not necessarily drawn from the same parish.

Later in the day, Cardinal Castrillon celebrated the first pontifical high Mass in the Tridentine rite in London's Westminster Cathedral in 39 years. The event drew a congregation of more than 1,500 people, including young families. None of the English or Welsh bishops attended.

President Bush may convert to Catholicism

This is an interesting day, lots of interesting news out there. On the heals of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's conversion to Catholicism, I wonder if this is a new trend in world leaders. Anyway, read on with interest:

Vatican City, Jun 13, 2008 / 05:50 pm (CNA).- Today as President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI met at the Vatican, the English newspaper, The Telegraph reported that Bush may be considering converting to Catholicism at the end of his presidential term.

The Telegraph indicated that various Italian newspapers have been commenting on the news, especially Il Foglio.

Il Foglio explains that the circulating rumors could be correct: "anything is possible, especially for someone reborn like Bush.” Yet, similar to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, "if anything happens, it will happen after he finishes his period as president, not before. It is similar to Blair's case, but with different circumstances."

A friend of President Bush, Fr. George William Rutler, who converted to Catholicism in 1979, stated that Bush respects how Catholicism was founded by Christ who appointed Peter as the first Pope. "I think what fascinates him about Catholicism is its historical plausibility," said the priest. "He does appreciate the systematic theology of the church, its intellectual cogency and stability." Fr. Rutler also mentioned that the president "is not unaware of how evangelicalism -- by comparison with Catholicism -- may seem more limited both theologically and historically."
According to the Washington Post, President Bush currently belongs to a Methodist church in Texas and attends an Episcopal church in Washington, D.C.

However, in recent years, the head of state has developed a strong relationship with the Pope and has made known his deep respect for Catholicism. The Telegraph noted that prior to his presidency, Bush's political advisor invited Catholic intellectuals to Texas to explain the teachings of the Church to the president. Bush has also appointed Catholic judges to the Supreme Court, has selected Catholic speech-writers and consultants, and has read the Pope’s theological books.

In April, prior to the Pope’s visit to the U.S., the Washington Post quoted William McGurn, one of Bush’s former writers who stated, "I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than on any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century."

The Post’s story detailed the likelihood of Bush's possible conversion to Catholicism by quoting those close to the head of state. Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator, labeled Bush as a Catholic president. “I don't think there's any question about it. He's certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy."

While President John F. Kennedy struggled to balance his Catholic upbringing and politics, many of Bush’s positions on ethical matters such as gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research are in line with the Church.

Also, the Post mentions that prior to the war, the president met with Catholics to discuss just-war theory. “White House adviser Leonard Leo, who heads Catholic outreach for the Republican National Committee, says that Bush ‘has engaged in dialogue with Catholics and shared perspectives with Catholics in a way I think is fairly unique in American politics.’”

The music of Michael John Poirier

I just wanted to share with everyone something wonderful - the music of Michael John Poirier. Michael John led our parsh in an evening of stories, prayer and song followed by a time of Eucharistic Adoration last night here at our parish ( It was such a wonderful evening, I hope you all have a chance to learn more about Michael.
I have to say before he came to our parish, I had not heard of him other than overhearing some of his CDs that Fr. Mike would listen to from time to time. But, he came and led our congregation in Eucharistic meditation at all of our weekend Masses and then lead us in an incredible few hours of prayer Monday night. Literally, there are all ready conversions happening in our parish because of this night of prayer.
Michael is a fantastic musician, but his real gift is in being a man of deep prayer and profound conviction in faith. His goal is not to be a Christian rock star, but to be someone who uses his gift of music to help build up and strengthen Catholic families - something so desperately needed today.
He has a wonderful family of his own (pictured here). His wonderful wife Mary and their three children Joseph, John Paul and Therese. Plus, they are Red Sox fans!! So holy!
Theirs is a ministry of trust. They travel the country in their big RV going where the Lord leads and parishes allow to share their faith with others.
I invite you to check them out on their website: and we hope to have them again at our parish the next time they come through these parts.
We wish them the greatest blessings as they journey forward in faith.

Monday, June 16, 2008

In vino sanitas

I saw this on my friend's blog today (Fr. Damien Ledoux) and it was too funny not to share:

To my friends who enjoy a glass of wine.. And those who don't, but should re-consider their decision!

As Ben Franklin said: In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. In a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have demonstrated that if we drink 1 litre of water each day, at the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo of Escherichia coli, (E. Coli) - bacteria found in faeces. In other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop.

However, we do NOT run that risk when drinking wine & beer (or tequila, rum, whiskey or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through a purification process of boiling, filtering and/or fermenting.

Remember: Water = Poop Wine = Health

Therefore, it's better to drink wine and talk stupid, than to drink water and be full of poop.There is no need to thank me for this valuable information: I'm doing this as a public service.


"Gibbets" and the language of the Mass

This is for any of the liturgy geeks out there (like me). There has been ongoing debate over the (challenging) translation of the new Sacramentary, or Roman Missal. The US Bishops continued their debate last week at their meeting. This is a good recap by John Allen of NCR:

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.Orlando, Florida

Perhaps it’s only fitting that a meeting held in Florida, the state that made the hanging chad famous, should feature a dramatic cliffhanger vote, which, as election day ended, remained inconclusive.

Heading into the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in Orlando, it didn’t seem likely that a proposed new translation of the Proper of Seasons, part of the prayers and other texts for the Catholic Mass, would stir up much dust. Following a decade and a half of impassioned argument over such texts known colloquially as the “liturgy wars,” many bishops privately expressed fatigue and a desire to move on – suggesting to most observers that approval of this text ought to be more or less a given.

In one sign of that mood, only seven bishops out of 250 Latin Rite prelates in the United States even bothered to propose amendments to the text, a clear sign that most felt the handwriting was on the wall. Like it or not, many concluded, Rome has made clear that the new translations must be closer to the Latin, both in structure and word choice, thus producing a more “sacral” language sometimes remote from ordinary English usage.

All that changed this morning, however, when Bishop Victor Galeone of Saint Augustine, Florida, rose to oppose the proposed text -- despite, he said, fear that doing so may be "in vain." A former Latin teacher who still reads Thomas Aquinas in the original language, Galeone made a forceful argument that the new translation is simply too unclear and awkward to be effectively used in American parishes.

Among other things, Galeone cited the text’s use of the phrase “the gibbet of the Cross.”
“The last time I heard that word was back in 1949, during Stations of the Cross in Lent,” Galeone said.

“I challenge anyone to proclaim what’s given here at Mass,” he said. “It’s very difficult.”

“A good translator has to understand not just the original language, but also one’s own into which these texts are being put,” Galeone said. Despite assurances to the contrary, he said, the new texts are “slavish” with respect to the Latin originals.

“I’m an obedient son of the church, and if these texts are passed as they stand, I will pray with them,” Galeone said. “But I feel that the vernacular has been a blessing to our people.” Galeone added that with “all due respect” to the recent ruling from Pope Benedict XVI authorizing wider celebration of the old Latin Mass, he hasn’t celebrated the old rite since 1970. If he were asked to do so today, he said, he would instead celebrate the new rite of the Mass in Latin.

Galeone’s speech seemed to open the floodgates, as other bishops rose to voice reservations about the new translations.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, for example, said, “If I have trouble understanding the text when I read it, I wonder how it’s going to be possible to pray with it in the context of worship.”

Sklba warned that if the proposed text were adopted, “our priests and our people” will press the bishops to come back to it “again and again” to remedy perceived defects. “This is not yet mature,” he said.

Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, a longtime critic of the new translations, said the texts contain a number of “archaic and obscure” terms, pointing to words such as “wrought,” “ineffable,” and “gibbet.” He also said that the text’s preference for mimicking the sentence structure of Latin, featuring long sentences with a large number of dependent clauses, impedes understanding in English. Trautman cited one prayer in the new Proper of Seasons presented as a single 12-line sentence with three separate clauses.

“John and Mary Catholic have a right to have prayer texts that are clear and understandable,” Trautman said. “The document before us needs further work.”

Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, Florida, thanked Galeone for giving him the “courage for this moment.” Lynch then told the bishops that he had recently taken the new Mass texts back to his presbyteral council, composed of 26 priests. Two were in favor of the translation, he said, and 24 were opposed.

He reported their reaction as, “Bishop, do whatever you can, because we can’t pray these texts.”
“It’s a good thing that we’re supposed to pause before the orations,” Lynch joked, “because we’ll have to gather enough breath to pray the prayers.”

Other bishops, however, argued that admitted imperfections in the text don’t justify further delays in the process.

“It’s an imperfect sacramentary for an imperfect people, to be prayed by a celebrant who is also imperfect,” said Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco. “I respect those who say let’s move forward and get a new sacramentary, before they all fall apart in the sacristy.”

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, the retired archbishop of Mobile who sits on the Vox Clara Commission that advises the Vatican on liturgical translation, said that he doesn’t find the new texts “unacceptable or unproclaimable.”

“Our genius in celebrating,” he said, will make up for any deficiencies. Further, he said, the average Catholic will receive the new texts “with the eyes of faith,” rather than focusing on its problems “like an English teacher or a Latin teacher.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said that “with all its difficulties, the translation should go forward,” adding that he believes the new Mass texts “become stronger after Advent, into Lent and Easter.”

Responding to the “let’s move on” argument, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati warned that it “depends on what you’re moving forward to,” arguing that the new texts would be “a linguistic swamp.”

Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland made another argument in favor of the text, noting that four other English-speaking bishops’ conferences have already approved it. If the Americans reject it, he said, it could jeopardize the goal of a common text.

“Admittedly, we’re the big ones, but that doesn’t allow us a terribly privileged position,” Vlazny said. “We need a measure of humility in this.”

Echoing a point made by others, Vlazny also argued that today’s texts may seem more “proclaimable” simply because they’re familiar. With time, he said, the new texts will also become familiar, and the issues of syntax and word choice cited by critics “will be a non-problem.”

Bishop Arthur Seratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Divine Worship, defended the texts.

“On whole, the translation is a marked improvement,” Seratelli said. “As we use it, as we ourselves and our priests become more familiar with the new language of the liturgy, it will not pose as great a problem as we fear.”

After all that the bishops were unable to reach a decision, largely because of the electoral math.
The rules of the conference require that the text be approved by two-thirds of its members, not just those physically present. Since there are 250 Latin Rite bishops in the United States, 166 “yes” votes are required to approve it, while 83 “no” votes are necessary to reject it.

As it turns out, the Orlando meeting was sparsely attended – one headcount yesterday found just 178 voting members. As a result, this morning’s ballot failed to get enough “yes” votes to approve the text, or enough “no” votes to block it.

As a result, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the conference, announced that bishops who were not present will receive ballots in the mail in order to settle things one way or the other.

The bishops did reach a decision on a couple of other points.

If the text is rejected, they decided, all members of the conference will have the opportunity to submit observations and proposals, not just those who have already expressed concerns.

Further, if the text does have to go back to the drawing board, the bishops decided not to send it to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, a translation agency which is a joint project of 11 English-speaking bishops’ conferences, for comment. Since ICEL was restructured under Vatican pressure several years ago, some bishops feel the agency has not been receptive to proposed changes to its texts. In a voice vote, the bishops opted this morning to bypass any reaction from ICEL and simply bring a new version of the Proper for Seasons back to the U.S. conference.

That, however, assumes that the text does not pass once all the mail-in ballots are counted. Some veteran conference observers believe that once all the votes are in, the new text stands a good chance of being approved – noting that a number of likely “yes” votes, such as Cardinals Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Edward Egan of New York, were among those absent in Orlando.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

He qualifies the called

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 15, 2008:

Fr. Mike and I, along with some of our staff and volunteers, had the great opportunity to attend the annual Life Teen Convention this past week. It was a wonderful week of renewal and prayer. During the week, I had one of those moments of epiphany where God revealed something to me. This past week, I came to the realization that I could have easily been one of the Apostles. Now before you think me too vain, let me explain what I mean.

We have before us today in Matthew’s Gospel, the calling of the 12. While at Mass at the convention, one of the priests out there shared with us a letter written to Jesus that sheds some light on the process he went through in selecting the 12. Here it is:

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph, Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop, Nazareth
From: Jordan Management Consultants, Jerusalem

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the 12 men you've picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now been given a battery of tests. We've not only run the results of these tests through our computer but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultants.

The profiles of all the tests are included, and you'll want to study each one of them carefully. As part of our service and for your guidance, we make some general comments, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation and comes without any additional charge.

It is the staff's opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the “team” concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualifications of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. And Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that could tend to undermine morale. We also feel that it's our duty to tell you that Matthew the Tax Collector has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, son of Alpheaus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He's a man of ability and resourcefulness. He meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. And so we are pleased to recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All the other profiles are self-explanatory. We wish you every success in your new venture.

Signed: Jordan Management Consultants.

So, you see, given that line up of who Jesus called to begin the Church, to carry forward His mission, I’m confident in saying that I easily could have been an Apostle. I’m sure that when I first became aware of Jesus call in my life nearly 20 years ago, that I would not have received an evaluation much better than any of the 12. But, with the Lord, when you are called, it is not for what or who you are already; it is for what and who you can become only with and through Christ. When Jesus looks at us, He sees right past our personal faults and failings and He sees to the core of who we are in His sight; who He has created us to be from before time began.

We remember that Jesus doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. As we read of the calling of the 12 Apostles today, we know this isn’t a mere historic reminder of an event long ago; but that Jesus is calling us again, here, today, now. Today, He once again summons us and sends us out to be the bearers of His message of good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. If you feel unworthy of that call, let it go – the only qualification you need for this mission is that the Lord has called you. He will give you the strength you need; the courage you need; the words you need. All you have to do is say yes and let God to transform you into the person you are destined to be in His sight.

So, where do we begin? Well, Jesus instructed the apostles to start from familiar territory. Later on he would commission them to go and make disciples of all nations, but for now they must limit their outreach to within their own people. Mission, like charity, begins at home. And so, the place for us to begin would be with the lapsed and lukewarm members of our own families and our own parishes.

The word “apostle” means “a messenger; one who is sent.” Jesus is sending us today to be the messengers to those around us that He loves us, we belong to Him, and the glory of His kingdom awaits all who would follow. Let us say “yes” to Jesus again.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

RIP: Tim Russert (1950-2008)

Tim Russert was a truly inspirational man. He was the last of a dying breed: a true journalist, unbiased, in search of the truth. More important to him than his tremendous career was his Catholic faith and his family. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace. FT

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Bible

As we head off to the Life Teen Convention in Phoenix today, I thought I'd post a little LT content. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to blog this week, but we shall see.

God bless!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

A note to young couples

FRIAR'S CORNER, June 8, 2008:

This is the wedding season, and I've been meeting with couples and there are things that come up regularly that are challenging. What is the challenge? I'm sure you already know it. Most couples approaching the Church today are not church-going people; most are already sexually active; most are already living together; and many already have children. What's worse is that most think this is all good and right and wouldn't have it any other way.

This is truly astounding. I sometimes joke that a few years ago, at least couples would have enough respect to lie to the priest about living together and give us their parents address. Today, they boldly tell us about their living situation, about who's a grump in the morning, about who snores in their sleep, etc. as though we think that is great. In other words, very often, couples aren't even aware that the Church frowns on this.

Give it a try!

Couples often tell us that they live together so they will know if this is the right person for them. "It makes sense to try it out first and see if you like it." They are often shocked when I point out to them statistics showing that couples who live together before marriage are four times more likely to divorce than couples who wait. Why? There are certainly many factors, but one simple question I often ask cohabitating couples is this: how will the day after your wedding be any different than the day before?

This "give it a try" attitude says something about the nature of commitment. What it is really saying is, "I'm not totally committed to you if I find you annoying to live with." What a real commitment says is, "I love you. I want to spend my life with you. And, I'll do whatever it takes to make that work." That doesn't need "a try." It needs work. Bottom line: cohabitation weakens marriages, it doesn't strengthen them.

From celebration to reconciliation.

The reality is that we have distorted even the sacrament of marriage. What should be a celebration of love has become a sacrament of reconciliation. Instead of being the holy union of two people, it becomes a sacrament that reconciles an otherwise sinful situation.

Somehow, I don't think this is what God intended. God has a plan, and our goal should be to cooperate with that plan. That plan is quite simply: be a person of faith, a person of the Church, a person who gathers with the community in worship every week; remain sexually pure until you are married so that the incredible, intimate gift of your sexuality is the most special gift that you can give to your spouse; wait until you have brought the grace and the power of God's sacrament to your relationship before you begin living as though you are married. Not that this is perfect, but people who do this are four times less likely to get a divorce. That's not an opinion, that is a statistical fact.

Maybe God's on to something after all.

My plea today is to all young couples. Consider not the false message that our culture wants to sell you. Recognize it for the lie that it is. Instead, embrace God's way and it will be so good for you. I promise. God promises. It may sound "old fashioned" to some. But, wouldn't you love to find yourself one day in a good, old-fashioned marriage that lasts "until death do us part"?

Love, Fr. Tom

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Octava Dies - 18/05/2008

Hey, I'm on Vatican Television at the Pope's Mass at St. Patrick's in April. You'll see me about 13:50 into the video and it is all in Italian!

Ask Fr. Tom: Why do we pray to Mary?

Question: I have some questions about Roman Catholicism. First of all, I am not sure if I am misinterpreting this or not, but why do you say the Hail Mary? It seems like worshiping another person other than God? I am confused about that.

As for the Hail Mary, you are right, worship is properly directed ONLY at God. We do not worship Mary. But, we revere her as an important person in the history of salvation. After all, she had the unique role in all of creation of being selected to be the Mother of Jesus. When we pray to her, or any saint, it is not in worship, but in intercession. Just think of your own life. If you are going through a tough time, you might likely say to a friend or loved one, "Would you pray for me." When you do that, you aren't worshipping them, but rather asking for their help, or their intercession.

The saints are simply those people who we believe lived the good Christian life and are now with God in Heaven. If we would ask an ordinary person here on earth to help us, why wouldn't we ask a saint, who is in the very presence of God for help? Praying to Mary or the saints is simply saying, "As someone who lives eternally in God's presence, please intercede for me before God."
We also pray directly to God, of course.
Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about praying to Mary:
2673 In prayer the Holy Spirit unites us to the person of the only Son, in his glorified humanity, through which and in which our filial prayer unites us in the Church with the Mother of Jesus.27

2674 Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son "who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties."28 Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she "shows the way" (hodigitria), and is herself "the Sign" of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.

2675 Beginning with Mary's unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their prayer to the holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries. In countless hymns and antiphons expressing this prayer, two movements usually alternate with one another: the first "magnifies" the Lord for the "great things" he did for his lowly servant and through her for all human beings29 the second entrusts the supplications and praises of the children of God to the Mother of Jesus, because she now knows the humanity which, in her, the Son of God espoused.

2676 This twofold movement of prayer to Mary has found a privileged expression in the Ave Maria:

Hail Mary [or Rejoice, Mary]: the greeting of the angel Gabriel opens this prayer. It is God himself who, through his angel as intermediary, greets Mary. Our prayer dares to take up this greeting to Mary with the regard God had for the lowliness of his humble servant and to exult in the joy he finds in her.30

Full of grace, the Lord is with thee: These two phrases of the angel's greeting shed light on one another. Mary is full of grace because the Lord is with her. The grace with which she is filled is the presence of him who is the source of all grace. "Rejoice . . . O Daughter of Jerusalem . . . the Lord your God is in your midst."31 Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is "the dwelling of God . . . with men."32 Full of grace, Mary is wholly given over to him who has come to dwell in her and whom she is about to give to the world.

Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. After the angel's greeting, we make Elizabeth's greeting our own. "Filled with the Holy Spirit," Elizabeth is the first in the long succession of generations who have called Mary "blessed."33 "Blessed is she who believed. . . . "34 Mary is "blessed among women" because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord's word. Abraham. because of his faith, became a blessing for all the nations of the earth.35 Mary, because of her faith, became the mother of believers, through whom all nations of the earth receive him who is God's own blessing: Jesus, the "fruit of thy womb."

2677 Holy Mary, Mother of God: With Elizabeth we marvel, "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"36 Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother; we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her: she prays for us as she prayed for herself: "Let it be to me according to your word."37 By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: "Thy will be done."
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the "Mother of Mercy," the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender "the hour of our death" wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son's death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing38 to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise.

2678 Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same.

2679 Mary is the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus' mother into our homes,39 for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.40

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Primacy of Christ in John Duns Scotus: An Assessment

Many of you enjoyed the post on Blessed John Duns Scotus that I put here in April. This article was referred to me by one of our men in formation and I thought you might enjoy it as well:

Phillippe Yates, OFM (FAITH Magazine January-February 2008)

The theology of John Duns Scotus places Christ at the centre of a universe ordered by love. Christ is presented as the basis of all nature, grace and glory – the most perfect model of humanity. He is at the beginning, the centre and the end of the universe.

Lack of AppreciationIn this writer’s opinion Scotus has been greatly misjudged and misunderstood. The learned Jesuit, Father Bernard Jansen, once wrote that “rarely has the real figure of an eminent personage of the past been defaced as has that of the Franciscan John Duns Scotus.”[1] The philosopher Etienne Gilson, wrote “Of a hundred writers who have held Duns Scotus up to ridicule, not two of them have ever read him and not one of them has understood him.”[2]

There are several reasons why Duns Scotus has been so misunderstood and maligned. One of them is his own self-effacement that led him to shy from the limelight and work modestly and humbly in the background. Another is the subtlety of his thought, which sends teachers into despair as they try to mediate his ideas to their students and leads many to abandon the attempt as too difficult. This very subtlety which is the strength of his theology and philosophy fights against the diffusion of his ideas. A third reason is his passion for the truth that led him to oppose error wherever he found it and approach each question with an intense objectivity – an attitude that gained him enemies in his own day and has continued to gain him opponents down the ages whose pet theories are attacked by his penetrating intellect. But perhaps the chief reason why he has been so attacked, and the saddest to recount, is because he is not St. Thomas Aquinas and indeed his system of thought disagrees with that of St. Thomas on some key points. Among those who refuse to admit of the possibility of a number of orthodox ways of expressing the mysteries of our faith, to affirm the greatness of Aquinas has all too often seemed to require denigrating the thought of Scotus.

The Rise of St. Thomas

At the end of the 19th century the Church was beginning to recover from the persecutions and suppressions of the Enlightenment, the French revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the liberal revolutions throughout Europe. Not one country had been spared these ravages in one manner or another and it was only when a relative peace between the Church and the world was established towards the end of the 19th century that the Church could begin once more to reconstruct its intellectual and physical structures. Pope Leo XIII surveyed the intellectual landscape and sought a Catholic system of thought upon which this renewal could be based. He found the system of St. Thomas to be eminently rational, defensible and proclaimable. In the encyclical Aeterni Patris Leo XIII wrote that “a fruitful cause of the evils which now afflict, as well as of those which threaten us, lies in this: that false conclusions concerning divine and human things, which originated in the schools of philosophy, have crept into all the orders of the State, and have been accepted by the common consent of the masses.”[3] He went on in detail to describe the way that Christian philosophers, with reason guided by faith, have down the ages opposed the errors of their time. As a remedy for the errors of the nineteenth century Pope Leo recommended above all St. Thomas, saying “among the scholastic doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because ‘he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of them all.’ The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith.”[4]

Leo supported his recommendation of the teaching of St. Thomas with an impressive list of sponsors of the Angelic Doctor. Corporate sponsors included the Dominicans, of course, but also the Benedictines, Carmelites, Augustinians, the Society of Jesus and many others who bound their members in their statutes to follow the teaching of St. Thomas. To these endorsements he added a list of Popes who have recommended St. Thomas: Clement VI, Nicholas V, Benedict XIII, Pius V, Clement XII, Urban V, Innocent XII and Benedict XIV are all quoted as supporting the teaching of St. Thomas. Leo finally quotes the testimony of Innocent VI who says “His teaching above that of others, the canons alone excepted, enjoys such an elegance of phraseology, a method of statement, a truth of proposition, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error.”[5]

Not only Popes but councils have held St. Thomas in singular honour, with the Council of Trent even keeping a copy of the Summao n the altar along with the scriptures and the decrees of the Popes, to consult for enlightenment.

Buttressed by such a phalanx of support Leo XIII ended his encyclical with a ringing exhortation, “We exhort you, Venerable Brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defence and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences”[6]It was an exhortation that was welcomed and followed by many in the Church so that it has been written “We are accustomed to consider Saint Thomas, Thomism, and Aristotelianism as the predominant points of orientation and the most favourableto the Church.”[7]

Given such a series of endorsements it is not surprising that many who naturally look for certainty in their faith and seek a rock on which to build that certainty, look to St. Thomas and see in him not only a guarantee of orthodoxy, but almost the only guarantee of orthodoxy, raising Innocent IV’s suspicion of those who disagree with St. Thomas, almost to a declaration that they are outside the bounds of faith.

A Different Emphasis

Now it is well known that within the Church there has been for centuries a series of disputes between the school of St. Thomas and that of Blessed John Duns Scotus. At a certain point the disputes became so acrimonious that the Pope had to impose silence on the two schools, forbidding them to speak of each other. At the root of the dispute lies the philosophy of the two masters. For while Aquinas embraced the philosophy of Aristotle and rendered it Christian, Scotus sought a synthesis of Aristotelianism with the traditional Augustinian philosophy of the Church Fathers. Scotus calls St. Paul the Christian philosopher and seeks in his philosophy to find a balance between Augustinianism and Aristotelianism in such a way that he often agrees with Aquinas but sometimes disagrees where the rigour of his thinking leads him in other directions.

Perhaps one could sum up the differences in this way. Where the genius of Aquinas was to distinguish and make divisions, the genius of Scotus was to unite and order. Where Aquinas has each angel a separate species, Scotus has the angels united in several species but distinguished numerically. Where Aquinas made a distinction between the soul and its faculties, Scotus refused to admit such a division. Where Aquinas taught that in every human conception there are three souls, the vegetative, the sensitive and the rational, Scotus would have but one rational soul with virtual distinctions. Where for Aquinas justification is explained by two distinctive forms in the soul, grace and charity, Scotus would have the form consist only of charity. So while in Aquinas we find clear distinctions, in Scotus we find a luminous unity. You will find in Scotus a consistency throughout his doctrine that gives witness to that sense of unity in all things.

Blessed John Duns Scotus is famous in medieval thought for the ruthless application of the principle that entities are not to be multiplied without necessity. For him it was better to have a minimum of realities that ennoble the nature of a thing than to multiply realities when they are not necessary and do not ennoble nature – or as we might say today “keep it simple” and elegant! So even the universe has one universal order and one first cause. Scientists today are still following his intuition as they seek the grand unifying principle that will unify quantum theory with the theory of relativity to give one overarching explanation of the nature of the universe.

In this article I want to try to express why it is that I feel Scotus’ theology and philosophy are attractive, but, in the light of the some who find its unfamiliarity suspicious, I also want to allay those doubts.

Synthetic Theology

In his theology Scotus seeks to build everything on his Christology – a Christology that is at the same time Pauline, Johannine and Franciscan. Pauline, because it develops the insight that Christ is the “image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature. For in him were created all things... through and unto him” (Col. 1: 15-17). It is Johannine since it sees love at the root of God and of creation. “I say therefore that God first loves himself”, Scotus says in the Paris commentary. Finally it is Franciscan in that it seeks to harmonise all things in Christ according to the divine plan so that the bond between all creatures is recognised with each being assigned its own place in God’s loving creation.

Scotus’ theology, like his character, is that of the via media, treating all opinions with respect and then seeking a synthesis that draws out the best from each one examined. Often does his summation of an outline of different doctrines begin with the words “I hold the middle course.”His theology was not merely theoretical. He lived what he believed. In 1303 the King of France forced the University of Paris to accept his convocation of a Council to judge the Pope and declare the King’s right to administer church property. Scotus’ signature was tenth on the list of those opposed – earning for himself exile from Paris and the foremost university of the day. So he was willing to risk life and reputation to defend the primacy of the Pope. For his defence of papal supremacy Scotus later was given the epithet “Hercules Papistarum” (Hercules of the Papists).[8] In this defence of papal authority he followed and contributed to a Franciscan tradition espoused by Bonaventure and Olivi. Scotus’ teachings in turn helped inspire the Franciscans who outlined a theology of papal infallibility in the decades that followed.[9] Once the Pope and King had been reconciled Scotus was permitted to return to Pairs and resume his teaching.

The Immaculate Conception

During his time at Paris Scotus took his well known stand on the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It was a risky doctrine to defend, especially for a young theologian early in his career. For in defending the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception Scotus was defending a doctrine that the most eminent theologians of the age from St. Bernard of Clairvaux to St. Thomas Aquinas had declared to be suspect. Even the Franciscan St. Bonaventure, while recognising that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not contrary to Scripture, had opposed it as being less safe, reasonable and common than the maculist position. There were some 200 objections to the doctrine raised by theologians. However, while the learned objected, the people of God, with their inspired sense of right doctrine, continued to promote the doctrine of Mary’s singular privilege. This was especially true of the Church and the faithful in England. There were theologians who defended the immaculist position, St. Anselm was thought at the time to have done so, although now we know that the defence was written by his biographer Eadmer and not by Anselm. William of Ware, Scotus’ teacher at Oxford, devised the argument “it was possible, it was fitting and therefore God did it” in order to defend the Immaculate Conception (an argument sometimes erroneously attributed to Scotus himself) but it is not certain whether this was before or after his pupil had so brilliantly defended the doctrine in public disputation in Paris. In John Duns Scotus, the faithful masses found a theologian who could articulate their faith and show to sceptical intellectuals the truth of their intuition.

John Duns Scotus dealt with the objections of the theologians in a masterful manner. In essence the objections were based on concern to defend the redemptive nature of Christ’s passion and resurrection. For it was felt that to accept that a human being had been conceived without sin was to deny that all redemption came through Christ. Thus, argued opponents of this Marian privilege,to affirm Mary’s Immaculate Conception was to belittle the redemption won by Christ. So Scotus set out to prove before the Masters of Paris that this objection had no foundation. He began by affirming “If it is not contrary to the authority of the Church or of the Scriptures, it seems that what is more excellent is to be attributed to Mary.” The objection was raised that scripture did indeed oppose this Marian privilege for in the letter to the Romans St. Paul says “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” (Rom. 5: 12). This apparently irrefutable text, Scotus argued, proves nothing against the Marian privilege. All agree in universal redemption in Christ, but why should this universal redemption necessarily rule out the Immaculate Conception of Mary? In fact it follows from Christ’s universal redemption that Mary did not have original sin. The most perfect mediator ought to have the most perfect act of mediation in regard to the person in whose favour he intervenes. Mary, his mother, is the person in whose favour Christ intervenes the most as mediator of grace. This wholly perfect act of mediation requires in the one redeemed preservation from every defect, even from the original defect. Therefore the Blessed Virgin was exempted from every stain of sin. Instead of belittling Christ and circumscribing his power, Scotus argues, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception exalts him, attributing to Jesus the most perfect and sublime redemption. This redemption is most perfectly won for Mary, because of her role as the Mother of God, the one through whom the Incarnation would occur. So Mary, far from being outside the realm of redemption, is more indebted than the rest of us to our Saviour Jesus Christ for she has received a more radical redemption.

By this argument Scotus won over the University of Paris, which decreed that from thence forward the 8th December would be a feast day in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary and every student at the university would have to swear to uphold the Immaculist thesis before taking their decree.

The Primacy of Christ

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which the Church definitively approved and declared infallible in 1854, was predicated upon the primacy of Christ. For it is precisely because Christ is the summit of creation and the first-born among creation that it is fitting that his mother should be preserved from all stain of sin. It is only fitting that the one for whom creation was made should be born of the holiest of the saints, indeed anything less is scarcely conceivable.

But to understand the primacy of Christ and the novelty of what it means, we should first contrast with it the doctrine that is more familiar. The doctrine that the deacon proclaims in the Exultet on Easter night is what we might call the anthropocentric doctrine of the Incarnation. Adam and Eve were created good, but sinned and fell into the grip of the devil. Their sin cut them off irrevocably from God and so God decided to repair the damage done by sending his Son to take that sin upon himself and so restore human beings to righteousness. But the redemption won by Christ’s death was greater than the original state of innocence for it brought humanity to an intimacy with God that they had not known in Eden, for in the person of Christ humanity was brought into union with God. This is the doctrine that Anselm proclaimed and Aquinas followed. It is a doctrine that is perfectly orthodox.

But there is another manner of looking at the Incarnation, that is also permitted by the Church, although you will find it less widespread. It is a Christocentric thesis, which includes creation and Incarnation in one great theory of the love of God that underlies all existence. This is the theory proposed by Blessed John Duns Scotus in which everything that is is viewed through the lens of the primacy of Christ, the freedom of God and the contingency of the world.

The Purpose of Creation

God is absolutely free and therefore if he creates it is because he wants to create. He wants to create in order to reveal and communicate his goodness and love to another. So creation is a freely willed act of our God who loves and who, St. John tells us, is love. Only a Christian can say that God is love, none of the other religions, monotheistic or other, could possibly make such a claim. But a Christian can, and in order to be true to revelation, must affirm this about God. For God to be love he must be more than one person, for love requires a lover and a beloved. In Scotus’ theology God is the Trinity in a communion of love – an eternal movement of the lover (the Father), the beloved (the Son) and the sharing of love (the Spirit). This Trinity who creates is the model of all reality and especially of human relationships.

God’s love is the cause of creation and it is also at the root of all creation. Because God loves, he wills that the creation he makes should also be infused by love. Since love must go out to another, it is only right and good that the highest object of creation’s love should be God himself, for nothing within creation could be a more fitting object of love than the God who lovingly created.

So God made creation in such a way that it should love, and above all love the divine nature that is the object of love of all the persons in the Trinity. Now for creation to be able to love to the highest extent, there must be at least one created thing capable of the highest love. That created thing is the human nature of Christ. The human nature of Christ was predestined by God to that highest glory of the beatific sharing in the inner life of the divine persons. Once God had decided upon this predestination of Christ’s human nature, then he willed the union of Christ’s divine nature with his human nature in the person of Christ since only a human nature united to the divine nature in one person could love to the highest extent, the extent to which God loves. St. Paul tells us that Christ was the first-born of all creation, and Scotus’ theology makes sense of this affirmation. Scotus did not believe that the acts of creation and Incarnation were separate, but part of one divine plan. So rather than the Incarnation being a sort of “Plan B” to rescue humanity after the fall, in Scotus’ theology it is the whole purpose of creation. Christ is the masterpiece of love in the midst of a creation designed for love, rather than a divine plumber come to fix the mess of original sin. Thus the Incarnation is placed by Scotus in the context of creation and not of human sin.

Since all of creation is made for Christ, then for the coming of Christ there had to be within creation a nature capable of understanding and freely responding to God’s love. Humanity is free to love and has the capacity to understand God, precisely because such a nature is desired by God to be united in Christ to the divine nature of the Son. Creation is a preparation for the Incarnation which is the outcome that God willed from the very outset. St. Paul puts it like this “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now” (Rom 8:22)

Christ and Creation

Aquinas emphasised the material and formal causes in creation, but Scotus placed his emphasis on the final cause as determining the work of the artist. In other words it is the purpose of creation that determines its form. Since creation is created to love, it is ordered to allow it to fulfil the role for which it was created. So we find ourselves in a universe united around its purpose – which is to reflect in love the loving God who created it.

The highest expression of this purpose is the one who loves most perfectly, Christ who is the goal of creation and to whom all of creation tends. For Christ is the meaning and model of all that is created and every creature is made in the image of Christ. Every leaf, stone, fruit, animal and person is an expression of the Word of God, spoken in love. Christ’s entry into creation is not then an entry into an alien environment, but the culmination of all that creation is and means. The Incarnation completes creation rather than supplementing it, as the anthropocentric view of creation would have us believe. Scotus’ theology is an expression of the insight that St. Francis of Assisi expressed in his poem the “Canticle of the Creatures”: God is praised through creatures, precisely because all creatures have life through Christ, in Christ and with Christ. For Christ is the Word through whom all things were made.

This Christoform theology of creation presents Christ as the blueprint for creation. In Christ the divine-human communion reaches its culmination and so in Christ the meaning and purpose of creation reaches its highest point. In Christ, what all of creation is ordered towards, that is the praise and glory of God in a communion of love, finds its centre and its highest meaning. With the Incarnation at its centre, creation becomes a cosmic hymn to the Trinity, in which the universe, bound together in and through the cosmic Christ, offers praise and glory to God.

One Order of Being

So we know God through the created world, but we have not yet looked at howw e know God through the created world. Scotus teaches that the path to knowledge of God runs through our being. For our being and God’s being are of the same order. That is to say that there is a common meeting ground between the Creator and his creatures since all possess being. This doctrine is called that of the univocity of being. For Aquinas God’s being and created being are of a different order and so while we can in some way participate in God’s being we will always be separate from it. Thus, for Aquinas, created reality can teach us what God’s being is like but can never show us what God’s being is. Scotus teaches, by contrast, that there is only one order of being. The first principle of being is one, true and good and all beings are related to it in a way that brings out the unity of all that is. So it is not that there is God on one side in His state of being and creatures on the other in a separate order of being. Instead all being is related in the order of being of which God is the first principle but is not inherently separated from created being.

Scotus does not teach that God’s being and created being are one and the same thing but God’s being and created being are two different modes of being. God’s being is infinite and created being is finite. We can see the sense of this intuitively – for the most surprising thing about existence is that there is anything. What is striking about all that is is that it exists at all, that it “has being”. The only alternative would be for there not to be anything. So it seems reasonable to say that being is one concept.

Because things are, because there is being, we seek to know. What we get to know when we know being, is not just being as created but, because there is but one concept of being, we get to know the first principle of being, God Himself.

Thus our seeking to know creation is not something separated from our seeking to know God. All created things have a dignity in that they all share being not only with one another but with God. So the ineffable being of God is made known through the known existence of creation. In this way, through our contemplation of creation we can apprehend the divine mystery – it is no longer beyond reason. Although of course, since God’s being is infinite and created being finite, the fullness of the mystery still lies beyond reason. Thus in Scotus’ theology creation is endowed with a light that is of the same order as the light that shines in God. Just as looking at a fire we understand what light is so that when we see the sun we can know that it is light that we see – so by looking at creation we can see a spark of life that radiates something of God’s life. Or as Ilia Delio puts it “Creation is not a window but a lamp, and each unique created being radiates the light of God.”[10]

It follows from the essential univocity of being that the divine mystery can be perceived from within the created order. In the Incarnation what is true in the basic created order of things (that God is at the root of all that is and all that is shines forth with the light of God) becomes even more explicitly expressed when a created nature becomes united in one person to the divine nature of the Word. In this way creation reaches its fulfilment.

The Specificity of Being

But if Christ is the pattern of everything in creation, does this not make creation too uniform, too bland, too samey? In Scotus’ philosophy each particular being has its own intrinsic, unique and proper being. Thus everything has an inherent dignity, an essential “thisness”[11] that makes it itself and not something else. So while univocity of being provides a philosophical basis for the unity of all created things his understanding of “thisness” ensures that within that unity each created thing has its own place, a place that can be taken by no other. We tell one thing from another by perceiving the “thisness” that each thing possesses.

When we combine the notions of the primacy of Christ with those of univocity of being and the essential thisness of each thing then we can see a powerful ecological message emerging for the people of our day. For if all things are rooted in a being which is of the same order as the being of God, if all things are predicated on Christ as the first-born of all creation, and if each thing expresses this in a unique, and uniquely beautiful way – then we are forced to contemplate our created order with awe and reverence. For each creature shines with something of God that can be expressed by no other. Each sun, star, proton, grape and grain is charged with a divine meaning – a meaning that no other can express. And each creature speaks to us of Christ who is the first among creatures.

Poetic Inspiration

The significance of this doctrine has not been lost on poets and theologians, and especially on one of the greatest of English religious poets Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins, writing in Oxford in the 19th century, considered it a privilege to be in the city in which Duns Scotus had lived six hundred years earlier.

“Yet ah! This air I gather and I release
He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace.
Of realty the rarest-veined unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.”[12]

Scotus’ theology inspired some of my favourite lines from Hopkins. In this extract from the Wreck of the Deutschland we hear Hopkins expressing the univocity of being in his poetic language of “instressed” meaning:

“I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting him out of it; and
Glow, glory in thunder;
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west;
Since tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless whenI understand.”[13]

In “God’s Grandeur” we hear Hopkins telling of the manner in which we perceive something of God in those moments in which we are open to the reality of nature. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like a shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.”[14]

And from the first poem I ever loved, Hopkins delights at the majesty of a windhover in the early morning skies and perceives the fire of Christ in the beauty of the creature’s actions:

“Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!”[15]

In this poetry we discover that when a grain of sand is being a grain of sand, it is doing what it is. And if we enter closely enough into what it is doing/being (Hopkins called it do-being) we see Christ. Trying to express it in prose is difficult and so it is not surprising that it is the poet Hopkins who best interprets it for us. Nor is it surprising that many theologians, numbed from the effort of trying to figure out what this subtlest of scholars is on about, retreat with gratitude to the clarity and simplicity of Aquinas’ assertion that whereas God has true being, we have being only by analogy. One who has stopped and stared at a cloud or a tree or a brick or a stone or a twig or a bird or anything – and felt that in doing so he was in touch with God, might understand better Scotus’ philosophy of univocity of being. It provides a key to understanding the fascination we have for nature and the relationship between our scientific curiosity and our faith that few other theologies can deliver.

The Jesuit palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had just such a moment when the Franciscan scholar Fr. Allegra explained to him Scotus’ doctrines of univocity of being and the primacy of Christ, for these were insights that Teilhard’s own intuition had led him to. He declared “Voila! La theologie de l’avenir.” (There it is! The theology of the future.)

Synthesis with Science

It is not just theologians and poets who benefit from exposure to Scotus’ theology. For the physicist who searches for a unifying principle for our universe can find his insight reflected in his faith and so nourish his relationship with God by understanding that his science is intimately connected to it. The biologist who looks with fascination at the structure of a beetle can see in the thisness of each beetle the glory of Christ peeking through. The child watching with fascination as the ant carries a leaf 50 times its size is undergoing a moment of contemplation. This should not really surprise us for Scotus was raised in the same intellectual milieu of Franciscan Oxford that had produced Roger Bacon, the father of modern scientific methodology.

We can grasp the attractiveness of such a theology, but its unfamiliarity sometimes puts us off. Is there not something of pantheism in this? Does Scotus not devalue Christ’s saving work by positing that the Incarnation is not a result of the need to rescue us from the folly of our sin? Is it really Catholic?

Church Teaching

Well, one could justify the orthodoxy of Scotus’ doctrine from patristic and biblical sources and there are books that do so. One could also subjectively point to the conformity of Scotus’ theology with personal experience of God and observation of creation. I could say, and it would be true, “Scotus speaks to my soul as he spoke to Hopkins and Teilhard de Chardin and as he has spoken to so many down the ages.” But such a justification for following his theology lays one open to charges of subjectivism. Fortunately, there is an objective authority that urges Catholics to look to Scotus as a source of orthodoxy: the magisterium of the Church.

Down the ages much has been written and preached to discredit Scotus in the eyes of the faithful, largely in the misguided view that to do so was to protect the authority of Aquinas. But there has never been a need for this, and the Church has never approved it. Instead in our day we have seen a great affirmation of the value of Scotus’ teaching by the ordinary magisterium of the Church. On 20th March 1993 Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed John Duns Scotus, whose cult has always been observed in Cologne, Edinburgh and Nola. In his sermon on that day the Holy Father invited “everyone to bless the name of the Lord whose glory shines forth in the teaching and holiness of life of Blessed John, minstrel of the Incarnate Word and defender of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.”[16] He also quoted his predecessor Pope Paul VI who said that the doctrine of Blessed John Duns Scotus “can yield shining arms for combating and chasing away the dark clouds of atheism which casts its shadow upon our era”, and continued to state that the doctrine “energetically builds up the Church, sustaining her in her urgent mission of the new evangelisation of the peoples of the earth.”[17] In 2003, when the Scotus commission presented to the Pope the 20th volume of a critical edition of the Opera Omnia of Blessed John, John Paul was fulsome in his praise of the subtle Doctor saying:

“Duns Scotus, with his splendid doctrine on the primacy of Christ, on the Immaculate Conception, on the primary value of Revelation and of the Magisterium of the Church, on the authority of the Pope, on the possibility of human reason to make, at least in part, the great truths of the faith accessible, of showing the non-contradictoriness of them, remains even today a pillar of Catholic theology, an original Master and rich in ideas and stimuli for an ever more complete knowledge of the truths of Faith.”[18]

If we look at his predecessor’s declaration which Pope John Paul quotes, we get an even more explicit affirmation of the doctrine of Blessed John Duns Scotus and its truly Franciscan nature.

“Saint Francis of Assisi’s most beautiful ideal of perfection and the ardour of the Seraphic Spirit are embedded in the work of Scotus and inflame it, for he ever holds virtue of greater value than learning. Teaching as he does the pre-eminence of love over knowledge, the universal primacy of Christ, who was the greatest of God’s works, the magnifier of the Holy Trinity and Redeemer of the human race, King in both the natural and supernatural orders, with the Queen of the world, Immaculate Mary, standing beside him, resplendent in her untarnished beauty, he develops to its full height every point of the revealed Gospel truth which Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Paul understood to be pre-eminent in the divine plan of salvation.”[19]

Supported by such eloquent and authoritative statements I have no hesitation in affirming that the theology of Blessed John Duns Scotus is not only attractive, but eminently sound and worthy of study and proclamation – for in it we find answers to many problems of our times.

A British Vision

As an Englishman and a Franciscan I would dare to go further. The English, like Hopkins, instinctively warm to Scotus’ theology because it grew and was nourished in the English thought of the Oxford Franciscan school. This school, the only orthodox theological tradition to have originated in this country, drew not only from the mystical insight of Saint Francis but also from the pragmatic Anglo-Saxon theology of its first lecturer Robert Grosseteste, whom Richard Southern describes as “an English Mind in Medieval Europe”.[20] It originated in the aftermath of and under the influence of the Magna Carta which underlies so much of the modern political development of Britain. The Oxford Franciscans, with their links to the barons’ party, were among the keenest promoters of this constitutional settlement that led to our current Parliamentary democracy.[21] Similar ideas are also present in the Declaration of Arbroath, the founding document of Scottish nationhood. Scotus’ philosophy and theology dominated the pre-reformation Scottish church.[22] The Oxford school produced figures such as Roger Bacon and Scotus himself who are crucial to the development of English and Scottish thought. Given the solid English and Scottish pedigree of scotistic thought, it is arguable that the loss of the scotistic tradition in Catholic theology has contributed to the alien feel of Catholic thought to many in these countries. It is, perhaps, not the fact that our theology is Catholic that makes it feel alien to many of our compatriots, but the fact that it derives from a continental tradition (Parisian/Italian Thomism) that is uncomfortable with our traditions of individualism and pragmatism. If this is correct then the recovery of Scotus’ theology into mainstream theological discourse in this country can make a crucial contribution to an evangelisation that does not require abandonment of our national heritage but instead taps into the deepest intellectual and cultural instincts of the English and Scots. Now there’s a prize worth running after – a Catholic, orthodox theology that appeals to both English and Scots culture.

[1] B. de Saint Maurice. John Duns Scotus A Teacher for Our limes. Franciscan Herald Press: Quincy II, 1958. p. 12.
[2] Quoted in A. Wolter and B. O’Neill. John Duns Scotus Mary’s Architect. Franciscan Herald Press: Quincy II, 1993. p. 1.
[3] Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter. Aeterni Patris, 4 August 1879. In John Wynne (editor) The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII. Benziger Brothers: Chicago, 1903, p. 35.
[4] ibid., p. 48.
[5] lnnocent IV, Serrn de St. Thomas. In ibid. p. 51.
[6] Leo XIII. Aeterni Patris. p. 56.
[7] B. Jansen quoted in: B. de Saint Maurice. op. cit. p. 13.
[8] Histoire religieuse de la nation frangaise. Paris, 1922. p. 274. Cf. E. Longpré. “Pour le Saint Siège et contre le gallicanisme.” In France franciscaine 11 (1928) 145.
[9] Cf. B. Tierney. Origins of Papal Infallibility1150-1350 A Study on the Concepts of Infallibility, Sovereignty and Tradition in the Middle Ages. Brill: New York, 1988.
[10] l. Delio. A Franciscan View of Creation: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World. Vol. II. The Franciscan Heritage Series. The Franciscan Institute: St. Bonaventure NY, 2003. p. 36.
[11] Scotus invented the Latin word “haecceitas” which translates literally as “thisness” to express his insight.
[12] Gerard Manley Hopkins. “Duns Scotus’ Oxford.” In: W. Gardner. Poems of Gerard Maniey Hopkins. OUP: Oxford, 1948. p. 84.
[13] “The Wreck of the Deutschland”. Ibid. p. 57.
[14] “God’s Grandeur.” Ibid. p. 70.
[15] “The Windhover: To Christ our Lord.” Ibid. p. 73.
[16] John Paul II. Sermon. Con queste parole. In The Pope Speaks 38 (July/Aug 1993) 245.
[17] lbid. 246.
[18] John Paul II. Discourse. With lively joy. Vatican, 16th February 2002. Cf.
[19] Paul VI. Apostolic Letter. Alma parens. Rome: St Peter’s. 14th July 1966.
[20] cf. R.W. Southern. Robert Grosseteste The Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Paperbacks, 1992.
[21] Grossteste excommunicated those in his Lincoln diocese who repudiated the Magna Carta and his friend and successor at the Franciscan school Adam Marsh was on good terms with Simon de Montfort. Little describes the Oxford Franciscans as “The spokesmen of the constitutional movement of the thirteenth century.” cf. A.G. Little. The Grey Friars in Oxford. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892. p. 32-33.
[22] ln his 1994 Gifford lectures, the philosopher Alexander Broadie described Scotus as “Scotland’s greatest philosopher” and outlines the influence of his philosophy on pre-reformation Scottish philosophy. Cf. A. Broadie. The Shadow of Scotus: Philosophy and Faith in Pre-Reformation Scotland. T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1995. p. 1

Changing the impossible

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