Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine January-February 2013
IMPLEMENTING GAUDIUM ET SPES
Dear Father Editor,
Thank you for your November editorial. I was interested to read your thoughts on how the Church in general has failed to fulfil the call of Gaudium et Spes, which task the Faith movement has tried to do in its presentation of the relationship between science and the teaching of the Church. I feel have received much wisdom from attending Faith conferences and reading Faith magazine over the years.
Your editorial has made me realise that I have been very fortunate to have had this chance to engage so constructively with themes so clearly presented by the Church's most recent Ecumenical Council. I am very grateful to the priests and lay leaders of the movement who have given of their time to help young people properly understand, appreciate and live the beautiful truths and life of our faith.
RETRIEVING RONALD KNOX
Dear Father Editor,
I am so glad that you have published an extract from Ronald Knox's book God and the Atom ("Apologetics in the Atomic Age", Faith November 2012). I look forward to the lifting of the damnatio memoriae on this brilliant scholar and convert, whose writings have been unavailable for half a century. It is amazing that he has been consigned to the dustbin of history, along with Belloc and to a lesser extent Chesterton. It almost seems
as if nothing before Vatican II is worth noticing any more.
In 1950 when I was received into the Catholic Church I bought a Catholic bible - the Knox New Testament, which had recently been published to great acclaim. I carried his small volume around the world with me until it literally fell to pieces. I had extreme difficulty in getting a replacement. It was not republished in the UK, only in the US. I never managed to get hold of the Knox Old Testament.
At some point derogatory criticism began about the Knox translation because it is based on the Latin Vulgate. Never mind that for centuries it was the official scriptures of the Latin Church, and St Jerome was neither a fool nor an ignorant charlatan. Ronald Knox had both the Latin and the Greek beside him as he worked on the New Testament, referring to the Hebrew where relevant. His is the only translation that I know which comments on the difference between the Latin and Greek manuscripts, with most useful footnotes.
At last, after 50 years, thanks to Aid to the Church in Need, I have the whole Knox Bible. They also offer his excellent book The Belief of Catholics. I hope more volumes will soon be available. We need Ronald Knox.
Dear Father Editor,
The term "Woman" used by Our Lord when addressing Our Lady at the marriage feast of Cana and mentioned by Joanna Bogle in her article in the Nov/Dec issue needs to be carefully understood. Like so much in John's Gospel it is highly significant. Calvin thought it was a rebuke but that could not have been further from the truth. The term "woman" refers to that "woman", announced by God in Genesis 3:15 (the verse known as the Protoevangelium), when condemning the devil: "I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; it will bruise your head and you will strike its heel." A better translation of "bruise" is "crush", as we shall see.
The Church Fathers say that this woman is the new Eve, Mary, and that her seed is Christ, who has indeed crushed the devil by his victory on the Cross. And victory it was, as the first depictions of Christ on the Cross showed him fully clothed and triumphant. It is only later that the suffering side took precedence. That is why they covered the Cross during Passiontide, because it did not focus on the suffering but on the triumph. It is, of course, an anachronism that our suffering crucifixes are now covered during Passiontide!
And it is appropriate that we stay at the Crucifixion for it is then that the word "woman" is used again: "Seeing His Mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to His Mother, 'Woman, this is your son'. Then to the disciple he said, 'This is your mother'" (John 19:26, 27). Clearly Our Lord would not address His mother other than with the greatest respect at that crucial time.
So when Our Lord used this term it was to remind her of her part in the grand plan of God to help in repairing the fracturing of humanity caused by Adam's sin. It was loaded with meaning for both of them. That is why Mary, having understood the term and its full implications, was able to turn to the stewards at the wedding feast in Cana and tell them to do whatever her Son would tell them.
So, what Our Lord is saying when he uses that one word "Woman" is: "You who were destined to be essential to the plan to save mankind,... you who were kept free from sin so you could freely consent,... you who did say 'Yes',... you who will watch over My Mystical Body,... you who I will bring into my heavenly kingdom as soon as your role on earth is complete,... you who have enabled me to help the Father solve the problem of man's sinfulness"!
That is why we have a devotion to Mary and that is why she has elevated all women to a very high level. When things went wrong God turned to a woman, not to a man!
Ark of the Covenant, Mystical Rose, Cause of our joy! Pray for us!
THE ADVENT OF MAN
Dear Father Editor,
Many thanks for your considered reply to my letter (Nov/Dec 2012) and the suggestion for further reading. I have perused Fr Roger Nesbitt's pamphlet on original sin and there are many helpful and clear comments within. It was particularly helpful to read his description of monophyletism (several people from the same stock) in connection with the debate about monogenism or polygenism. This scenario is exactly that envisaged by C S Lewis in his work The Problem of Pain, which I mentioned in my letter. One clan in one area was specially chosen and elevated to spiritual, soul-bearing humanity and they fell.
However, Fr Nesbitt does not close the case against polygenism, and neither has the Vatican. He admits that it would be difficult to reconcile this with traditional doctrine, but not impossible. The question is left open and even Pius XII did not absolutely rule it out. He stated only that it was difficult to see how original sin could be explained other than through monogenism.
He stopped short of declaring that polygenism was against Church teaching. That was a humble, honest and interesting hesitation. It would be good to see speculative theologies (what I have called theological play) to look at how a polygenistic explanation might hold to true doctrine. It is also true, as Fr Nesbitt recounts, that our evidence as scientists and archaeologists is scant and that vast time periods separate us from the days that we are considering. We dance the dance of a thousand mysteries and speculations.
I do feel, however, that the "party line" held in Faith Movement about everything before humanity being purely instinctive and materially driven is questionable. It reminds me of Descartes and his view of the animal kingdom as automata, a term that has often been misconstrued.
He never denied that animals felt pain, for example, and did not deprive such creatures of sensation, only of rational thought and self-reflection. Call this intellect and will from another angle, but the ability to think for oneself and to create speech without external stimuli are essential differences between humanity and the material creation. However, the tendency is to speak of animals as though they are sophisticated machines.
Fr Nesbitt asks what spiritual life an amoeba might have, mockingly, and whether rabbits could ever fly to the moon. There are two considerations here:
a) Living things have the gift of life. Is this not a spiritual quality to a greater or a lesser extent?
b) There are grades of awareness, response and personality among the animal kingdom. An amoeba would have next to nothing of this, but still has the spark of life. A dog or a cat is hugely more advanced and shows flashes of personality, as do the greater apes or dolphins. Animals can respond to a spiritual presence, too, whether showing fright in the presence of evil, or becoming docile and peaceful in the presence of holiness. This gradation, this emerging sophistication, should be noted and celebrated. However, rabbits were not called to "come up higher" and commune with their Creator as rational beings.
My final point is that I do not feel that you have grasped the value of using both "from above" and "from below language" together. Your reply was "from above" and spoke great truth. Yet, the sense of emergence within living beings, the very presence of God within the world, is also at hand. We can approach things from both angles and capture a more whole view of a great mystery, rather like light behaving as waves and particles. Wherever an emergence happens, there is something new that cannot simply be accounted for by what went before.
That there is an amazing difference in human beings cannot be discounted. What we call "soul" is very different from the gift of life and perception possessed by other creatures, but is there no level of connection?
Something new happened with the rise of the homo species, but this was within a grand and aeons-old scheme of the rise of life, in which the Creator has always been immanent as well as transcendent. But we dance the dance of a thousand speculations and mysteries.
Fr Kevin O'Donnell