Letters to the Editor
|FAITH Magazine September-October 2008|
REALISM AND MYSTERY
Dear Father Editor
This sentence is part of your Editorial in the May/June number of Faith: “The perennial paradox of existential epistemology is to be definitively against the realism of definitive statements.” The problem to which this sentence refers is of interest to many besides those who are acquainted with philosophical language. It touches on the question, ‘In what sense do we know God?’
The existentialist view may seem to be supported by scriptural texts such as, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18) and “Now we are seeing a dim refection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know him as fully as I am known” (1 Cor 13:12). And from the Fathers we have this, “Through his love and infinite kindness God comes within the grasp of man’s knowledge. But this knowledge is not in respect of his greatness or his true being; for no one has measured that or grasped it” (Irenaeus: Adversus Haereses, III, xxiv, I).
To say, as these statements do, that until we have been fully sanctified and have entered into the life of the resurrection our knowledge of God is imperfect, is not to say that we cannot make meaningful and correct theological statements, couched in the concepts of human intelligence. What they do imply, however, is that all propositional statements, however true, are limited in what they achieve.
Doctrinal propositions guide us safely on the way to sanctity, but they never let us see “him as he really is” (1 John 3:2).
The development of doctrine in the early Church – the emergence of the creeds – is the story of how people tried to explain mysteries, that is to draw them down into the grasp of human imagination. The doctrinal propositions which rejected the heresies do not explain, but insist on, the truth of the mystery. Thus these statements, although intelligible at the human conceptual level, are presented to, and accepted by, faith. When I profess that I believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I know what I mean, but I do not clam to understand how God is one and yet three Persons.
At a deeper level, however, and kept on the right track by the doctrine given through the Church’s magisterium, I learn through prayer to know the God who exceeds the grasp of my imagination. “By his love (for this is it which leads us to God through the agency of his Word) we ever learn, in obeying him, that this great God exists, and that he himself by his own will and act disposed, ordained, and governs all things” (Irenaeus: Adversus Haereses, I V, xx, I). The beatific vision is reached gradually through a life of contemplative prayer.
Fr Ronald Walls
EDITORIAL COMMENT: As a contribution to this important discussion we would recommend David Barrett’s discussion of Fr Holloway’s approach to Mystery on page 21 of this issue.
GALILEO AND MODERN CATHOLIC FEAR OF SCIENCE
Dear Father Editor
John Farrell, in your July issue, brings out the modern Catholic Church’s devaluation of science. What appears to be a certain fear before science is surely another example of the crisis of confidence, which have characterised the reception of Vatican II. The insightful Peter Hodgson, in the same issue, surprisingly displays something akin to this in supporting the fashion for Church apologies, in this case with regard to Galileo.
He somewhat misrepresents the clash between Galileo and the Pope. It was not primarily a theoretical one, concerning Galileo’s desire to reconcile the Bible and science against the Pope’s desire to defend the Bible from possible incursions by unproven scientific theories. It was more to do with a clash of personalities.
It has needed an agnostic Jew, Arthur Koestler (in The Sleepwalkers), and more recently John Gribbin (Science – a History, Penguin, 2003), to show the Church’s role in the ‘Galileo Affair’ in a favourable light, because Catholic scholars and scientists have been too timid.
As Hodgson points out, Aristotelian scientists started the so called ‘witch hunt’. The draft copy of the Dialogue Concerning The Two Chief World Systems only reached Urban VIII by a tortuous route. He handed it over the Dominican, Fr. Riccardi whose community were favourable but pointed out that since one was dealing with a hypothesis this should have been noted in a preface to the Dialogue together with a revised ending. This is where Galileo made his fatal mistake.
Galileo was a brilliant scientist, philosopher and mathematician, but his use of sarcasm against his opponents made him many enemies.
Unfortunately when he turned it against the Pope he picked the wrong man. The draft of the Dialogue was given the required preface, but in a different printing format to the rest, thus showing that Galileo did not believe it. To make matters worse he placed the Pope’s own words in to the mouth of a negative protagonist.
When the Pope realised he had been challenged he went into ‘Henry II’ mode and handed Galileo over to be judged by a panel of ten cardinals. They found him guilty by a majority of 7 to 3. Due to the infuence of his chief defender Cardinal Barberini, he was allowed to live in ‘internal exile’ in his own villa. This allowed him before he died to write his greatest work The Dialogue Concerning Two New Sciences. The Church was not against careful science.
DIOCESAN PRO-LIFE WORK
Dear Father Editor
I’ve always been greatly edified by Eric Hester’s letters and articles in Faith magazine. Might I take up one point however from his most recent letter to the Editor regarding the lack of emphasis by diocesan Justice and Peace groups on pro-life issues.
I agree that unless we understand the right to life as an issue of fundamental justice all the other claims for justice somewhat ring hollow. However, it’s not strictly correct to imply that Westminster diocese (by virtue of the work of the Justice and Peace Commission’s omission in this regard) does not give any attention to right to life issues or pro-life activity. That is something which comes in under the remit of my department under the supervision of an auxiliary bishop.
We work extremely hard at defending the right to life of the unborn (for example working closely with LIFE and SPUC amongst others) as well as doing what we can with limited resources to promote anything and everything that proclaims the Gospel of Life in parishes and to individuals.
Westminster and other dioceses can and should do so much better. But, in support of diocesan employees faithful to the magisterium of the Church, I would not want Faith readers to get the wrong impression from Mr Hester’s letter as to what is really being achieved on the ground, against all the odds.
Were his implications correct concerning diocesan Justice and Peace commissions in general one would think that their members have not read the Compendium of The Social Doctrine of the Church from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace where in paragraph 233, paragraph 14 of Humanae Vitae is quoted in full to reinforce, within the context of justice and peace, the prohibition of abortion.
Director, Department for Pastoral Affairs
Diocese of Westminster
Might I comment on Comment on the Comments in the current July/ August Issue?
I am sure the decision to move the three Holy Days of Obligation, when they fall on weekdays, to the nearest Sundays was made with the best intention, with the faithful in mind and for building up the Body of Christ. This is the only reason the hierarchy exist in the frst place. To suggest otherwise serves no good purpose.
Of course the changes have a down side but also it must bring the feasts to the attention of those who could not get to church on a weekday. What other motive could there be for the move? The decision was not made unilaterally but with the approval of Rome.
Surely what matters is that Christ manifested Himself to the gentiles, ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us and left behind the Eucharist for which we show gratitude on the feast of Corpus Christi.