Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

FAITH Magazine July – August 2011


Dear Father Editor,

In response to the excellent article by Roy Peachey I should like to add my own thoughts to this continuing debate that, as Mr Peachey states, stretches further back than our own denouncements of the 'dumbing down' of examinations in general and English Literature in particular. It seems to me that what is needed is not only a reform of literary teaching but a recognition that what Pope Benedict calls the 'Hermeneutic of Continuity' be refocused upon our schools - for if not here, where? This must be our primary focus for passing on our Catholic culture or all shall be lost. We need to develop, or rather, re-appropriate that Catholic culture that seems to be lacking. It is this that stigmatises both Religious Education as a subject and those who take more than a passing interest init.

Mr Peachey is correct in calling for a broader Catholic curriculum but I would wish to make Catholicism normative within as many subjects as possible. How often do we see Catholic art, or interpretations of it, in our schools? Art from other cultures seems to hold sway in the corridors and it is rare that religious art is seen in lessons. History, Geography, Modern Foreign languages could and should pass on catholic heritage in their own subject-specific ways. What of the achievements of Catholic scientists? We must be more creative in developing our curriculum throughout the school. Naturally, there may be subjects where this is difficult but if we actively approach our shared heritage in this way the benefits for creating a more cohesive community are obvious.

However, there is some good news in English literature. From next year one examination board will be introducing a choice of Shakespeare for students of differing abilities: those with a higher ability will study King Lear and those with a lower ability, Romeo and Juliet. This in itself is nothing new - the main benefit is that they will have to compare and contrast certain themes within the chosen play with a large and diverse range of other authors. A clever choice by the Head of Department may lead to these plays being read in conjunction with Waugh, Greene, Spark and many other Catholic writers - we must pray that the opportunity will not be wasted in favour of an 'easy' author considered more relevant to the students in question.

A recent Times Higher Education Article suggested that a 'bitesize' approach to literature may be the only way forward but to allow this to happen would be a tragedy for both the student and the teacher. By passing on 'bitesize' knowledge the central point of literature, to develop the mind of the reader, is lost. We have a moral duty to ensure this does not happen throughout Catholic Education.

Yours faithfully
Dr. Miles Leeson
University of Portsmouth


Dear Father Editor,

In the January and February issue there is a quotation from a letter in which Newman explains why he does not fear Darwin's theory. Another of Newman's comments is quoted in Father Dessain's short biography of Newman (third edition, 1980, page 81), in which he says that "Newman found no difficulty in accepting the idea of evolution as long as it was theistic". The quoted passage, which was written in 1863 in Newman's Philosophical Notebook, seems to indicate that Newman was attracted by the conceptually simple way in which Darwin's theory accounts for the variety of natural phenomena:

"There is as much want of simplicity in the idea of the creation of distinct species as in that of the creation of trees in full growth whose seed is in themselves, or rocks with fossils in them. I mean that it is as strange that monkeys should be so like men, with no historical connection between them, as that there should be no course of facts by which fossil bones got into rocks."

Yours faithfully
Ian Devaux
Bear Street
Nayland, Suffolk


Dear Father Editor,

Your Cutting Edge article in the May/ June Faith is very misleading about Quantum Theory.

John Stewart Bell was a Belfast man and a physical scientist, as I am, but seven years older. I know his work on Quantum Theory very well. Bell derived mathematical equations which showed the way to carry out experiments to test aspects of the Bohr-Einstein debate. Bell died in 1990, but before that, and since, many experiments based on his mathematics, known as the Bell Inequality, have shown that Einstein was incorrect about the fundamental nature of Quantum Theory.

Bell derived his mathematics from just two assumptions. First, there exists a reality independent of the observer. This translates into a particle having a well-defined property such as spin before it is measured. Second, locality is preserved. There is no faster-than-light influence, so that what happens here cannot possibly instantaneously affect what happens over there. The results of the experiments showed that in Quantum Theory one of these two assumptions has to be given up. Bell was prepared to give up locality, a cornerstone of classical mechanics. He conceded that the experiments had shown that Einstein's world view is not tenable. Bell's Inequality and the experiments proved conclusively that if locality is relinquished, and non-locality accepted (instantaneous effects), thisapplies also to hidden variables, such as pilot waves.

However, the understanding of quantum effects is still incomplete. A scientist called Hugh Everett III who died in 1982 produced a quantum theory of mechanics that all quantum possibilities exist and that this leads to the same predictions for the results of experiments as the Copenhagen (Bohr) interpretation. Everett's rigorous mathematical theory was published in 1957. The theory is known as the "many worlds" interpretation, which is based on an infinite number of co-existing, parallel, alternative realities in which every conceivable outcome of every possible experimental result is realised. His Theory is now taken very seriously by quantum cosmologists such as Stephen Hawking, who are trying to explain what happened in the Big Bang beginning of the universe.

In 1999 at a conference on quantum physics in Cambridge some 90 physicists were asked which interpretation they favour. Only 4 voted for the Copenhagen interpretation but 30 favoured the modern version of Everett's many worlds theory. Some 50 ticked the box labelled "none of the above or undecided.

Your Cutting Edge article therefore does an injustice to Bell, and is not of any value to theology and science. You should consult Sir Roger Penrose or Sir Anthony Leggett about the modern understanding of quantum theory and Bell's fundamental contribution before publishing such a misleading article.

Yours faithfully
Professor John Rooney
Strenmills Road


Our presentation did indeed ignore other interpretations of quantum mechanics, including the popular many-worlds one. Hawking's preferred Copenhagen interpretation is a key representative of the indeterministic school which proposes that the fundamental laws of physics do not reign supreme. In contrast we suggested that a deterministic representative, namely Bohm's, has better philosophical credentials.

The many-universes formulation does not, in our opinion, compete philosophically. When we consider the human person, body and unique soul, special problems arise. When the universe splits (zillions of times per second), which version do "I" end up in? Or does my person split into many copies of itself? It would seem to be meaningless to talk about splitting or multiplying a person (or a soul).


Dear Father Editor,

Your editorial "The Wisdom of the Cross: Developing the Catholic Tradition" in the May-June 2011 issue was very helpful to me in deepening my understanding of this ultimately unfathomable mystery. May I offer a couple of thoughts in contrast to some of the points made?

As regards the aspect of suffering I perceived a strain of thought denying that the pain Jesus suffered was directly intended by the Father: "the terrible personal cost is not something demanded by the Father..." [p. 3]," the death of Jesus was neither desired nor demanded by the Father, otherwise we make an ogre of our God" [p. 5]. The idea of vicarious suffering is eschewed [p. 3].

We seem squeamish about the idea of pain being required for our Redemption. The (by no means negligible!) love the Son exercised in undergoing His Passion is focused upon the near embarrassed concealment of the suffering, as though it was some unintended, spurious byproduct like hydrochloric acid being given off in an experiment in the chemistry lab. It is as though the Father, in requiring the love involved in Christ's Passion, stands by, helplessly wringing His hands during His Son's travail, as though His omnipotence has limits. The context in which the statement, "Christ's sufferings were imposed by the conspiracy of demonic malice and human weakness" [p. 5], is made seems to imply this.

To conclude that the Father is an ogre because He requires suffering is to engage in a reductionism that attempts to judge the Divine by human standards. I do not intend to propound a nominalistic view, but can it be denied that there are times when analogy fails in matters addressing the Divine?

In Sacred Scripture (RSVCE translation used) there is clear warrant for the concept of there being no sacrifice without cost, cf. 2 Sam 24: 21 f:

And Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" David said, "To buy the threshing floor of you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people." Then Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him; here are the oxen for the burnt offering, and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "The LORD your God accept you." But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it of you for a price; / will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver, {emphasis added)

To refine the point, blood sacrifice is required for atonement, cf. Lv 17:11: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life."

As regards vicarious suffering, cf. Is 53:4-6, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed...the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." See also Jn 18:11 "...(S)hall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?" This cup of which Jesus speaks is nothing other than God's wrath, suffering. This imagery is common in the Bible, cf. Ps 75:8; Is 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15; Hab2:15; Rev 14:10; Rev 19:16.

In 1 Pet 2:21 the first Pope tells us directly "Christ...suffered for you..." We might want to restate this or "interpret" it in a way more consonant with our sensibilities by saying something along the lines of, "Christ exercised love which led to His suffering for you" but this would require engaging in semantical/ soteriological gymnastics.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has citations pointing to the direct willing of suffering:

599 Jesus' violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.

605 ... Jesus...affirms that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many."

609.. .In suffering and death His humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men. Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death.

610 ..."This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (emphasis added)

On p. 4 the editorial states, "The crucifixion, awful though it was, is not, arguably, the most physically excruciating martyrdom in history." I think that more than just the physical aspect of Our Lord's suffering needs to be considered. Our Holy Father recently cast light on the matter:

"First, there is the primordial experience of fear, quaking in the face of the power of death, terror before the abyss of nothingness that makes Him tremble to the point that, in Luke's account, His sweat falls to the ground like drops of blood (cf 22:44):...emphasises the dark depths of Jesus' fear... In this way (the Gospel of) John is clearly indicating the primordial fear of created nature in the face of imminent death, and yet there is more: the particular horror felt by Him Who is Life itself before the abyss of the full power of destruction, evil and enmity with God that is now unleashed upon Him, that He now takes directly into Himself...Because He is the Son He sees with total clarity the whole foul flood of evil, all the power of lies and pride, all the wiles and cruelty of evilthat masks itself as life yet constantly serves to destroy, debase and crush life. Because He is the Son, He experiences deeply all the horror, filth and baseness that He must drink from the 'chalice' prepared for Him: the vast power of sin and death. All this He must take into Himself, so that it can be disarmed and defeated in Him...Jesus' fear is far more radical than the fear that everyone experiences in the face of death: it is a collision between light and darkness, between life and death itself- the critical moment of decision in human history. With this understanding, following (Blaise) Pascal, we may see ourselves drawn quite personally into the episode on the Mount of Olives: my own sin was present in that terrifying chalice. 'Those drops of blood I shed for you,' Pascal hearsthe Lord say to him during the agony on the mount of Olives (cf, Pensees VII, 553)." [Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth-Holy Week Ignatius Press, 2011, pp154, 156]

Yours faithfully
Fr Robert Grabner
South St Paul


We thank Fr Grabner for his kind words and thoughtful response. In the editorial we were trying to answer the Calvinist excesses of a merely juridical and punitive view of Redemption, which for many people makes Christianity not only unattractive but incoherent. At the same time we tried to capture the Catholic truth of the Scriptural language of vicarious suffering and redemptive sacrifice.

We said: "The Word made flesh alone can restore the lost dignity of Man and make satisfaction to the glory of God in his own humanity for His corrupted brothers and sisters". Yes we did write that, "The crucifixion, awful though it was, is not, arguably, the most physically excruciating martyrdom in history", but we went on to say that the greatest and most incomparable suffering of Christ is found in his spiritual anguish, by which

"...He sets Himself to be a living apology for the blasphemy of our fallen state and medicine for our wounded lives. In this way He makes up the debt or deficit that comes from the corruption of being and the loss of God, which is the objective punishment of sin. 'By His stripes we have been healed' (Is 53:5)".

Of course all of this is foreknown and willed by the Father as the only way for man to be redeemed. Yet we must be careful not to give the impression that the Father flew into a rage at the fall and personally devised crucifixion as a cruel punishment, then laid it on his Son as the condition of our forgiveness. The "price" to be paid for sin is the objective price of derogation from the Divine Being, Goodness and Glory. This is indeed real and terrible, and Christ sets Himself to pay it with full understanding, and at the Father's behest, because he loves mankind and wants our objective restoration. The suffering is not an arbitrary demand of "wrath", but an existential demand of ontological healing.

The difficulty of expression here arises from that most challenging paradox of free will and Divine providence. The crucifixion was in one sense an act of great blasphemy and sinfulness and undoubtedly Satanic in inspiration. In that sense it cannot be willed directly by the Father, but the Father positively wills the Son to endure this Passion in atonement for fallen man, drawing the greatest good from the greatest evil. The apparent hour of the triumph of darkness is in fact the hour of the triumph of Charity. That is the sense in which we call that awe-full Friday "Good".

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