Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine November-December 2007
OUR SACRAMENTAL VISION
Dear Father Editor
Thank you for the last issue of FAITH. I found Fr Nesbitt’s piece on baptism helpful and quite moving – speaking to mind and heart together.
I did have one or two questions concerning the editorial. On the whole it was impressive and presented a coherent vision of the sacraments.
1. Re “In the sacraments matter and spirit are linked in an effective instrumental union – ‘outward signs of inward grace’ but are never identified with each other.In the sacraments, as in the Incarnation,the natures remain distinct and unconfused yet are truly joined in the
person and work of God the Son.”
I can see the point of this and I think the point is well put in the piece concerning the integration of matter to spirit in a unity where neither absorbs the other – in a sense, this is the structural openness to higher unity that characterises all created things in the Unity-Law. But what about the Eucharist? In Baptism the water is the instrument used for the administration of grace but it still remains water in the administration. However in the Eucharist the bread and wine become fully Christ so the Council of Trent teaches us; they no longer ‘remain’ because now they have been assimilated to the Son of God made Man.
2. Re “...the sacraments as objective acts of God which function ex opere operato, rather than just subjective acts of humanity which yearn for, invoke and somehow evoke the divine. Before the coming of Christ that was precisely the situation with the religious rites of Israel. They were ‘sacramentals’ in the wider sense, but they were not guaranteed as saving actions.”
I do not think that we can say that the rites of Israel were subjective acts of humanity. The Passover, for example, was sanctioned by God. In the end the Passover is a type of the true Passover of Christ’s death and Resurrection and of the Eucharist of Christ. Even for the Israelites it was believed to have a participative function in the act of redemption which saved Israel and made them God’s people: it was an anamnesis in the founding event of Israel which continued to found them ever anew each year.
Now this would not mean that this was a Sacrament in the sense of those of the New Covenant: but it was an action sanctioned by God the Son-to-be-made-man in view of its completion in His Incarnation – it was a Rite in view of the sacraments. In that sense this was not the same as the rites of other religions which are, I agree, subjective acts (but care must be taken here too: these too are under the Unity-Law and will have an aspect of the evocation of the Word, though much subverted by the sowing of tares by the Devil). What is said about the Passover must also apply to the other rites of the Jews: they were more than just human formulations. They were part of what Fr Holloway termed “the evocation of the Word” and had some salvific value but only in terms of their prefiguring andparticipation in the plenary Economy instituted by Christ in Person.
3. Finally, the editorial rightly emphasises the sacraments as action of Christ but we do need to tease out more the role of the Spirit. It is a common concern of the Church in the West. It would be good if Faith Movementcould contribute to developing our understanding of the role of the Spirit in the sacramental economy.
Fr David Barrett
Via dell' Umiltà
Dear Father Editor
The recent Faitheditorial on Renewing Our Vision of the Sacramentsi n citing the teaching of “the Latin Father Tertullian” in defence of “the sacredness of matter” was, all things considered, infelicitous. Tertullian was the leading exponent of Montanism and died rejecting communion with the Catholic Church. Indeed, one learns that St Thomas Aquinas referred to him only as hæreticus, Tertullianus nomine, cf. Josef Pieper, Zucht und Mass, in Schriften zur Philosophischen Anthropologie und Ethik: Das Menschenbild der Tugendlehre[=Werke Band 4] (Hamburg 1996) 162.
Pieper goes on to emphasise that the extreme austerity of Tertullian as a Montanist, just like that of the Manichaeans and Cathars, is based on the presupposition that what is material, because it is not spiritual, is actually evil.
Having died in heresy, Tertullian was never venerated as a saint, much less recognised as a doctor of the Church. At best, he is considered an ecclesiastical writer, with a particular importance for having enriched theological Latin with numerous neologisms.
Tribunale Apostolico della Rota Roma
Piazza della Cancelleria
Editorial comment: Tertullian did indeed fall into schism at the end of his life, as most students of theology could confirm. But the phrase we quoted is self-evidently from his Catholic period and it sums up succinctly the orthodox vision of his day. Tertullian is freely quoted in Papal documents for the very reason that he expresses very well the patristic theology. We could have quoted St Irenaeus – who is indeed a saint, martyr and great teacher of the Church – at much greater length to exactly the same effect, but the succinctness of Tertullain’s style serves well to express the thought no matter that the man unfortunately left the communion of the Church at the end of his life. The major point still stands that we could do well to recover the patristic vision of thesacraments updated in the light of contemporary insights.
Dear Father Editor
Apropos Father Fleming’s article on Sex Education here are three points:
1. I am not ‘tempted’ to homosexuality. I am homosexual.
2. For those whose homosexuality is not a phase but a condition (Catechism 2358) sexual education needs to cover not only a blanket warning on genital acts, but practical advice on such matters as falling in love, touching, kissing – how much? how far? etc. Such matters might best be handled by someone who can speak from personal experience of a chaste homosexual life e.g. as one might hope, a priest.
3. Until the quite recent past Catholics and homosexuals shared a common experience of penal laws which made them secretive about their faith/condition. Catholics are now open about their faith, and so in today’s world are homosexuals about their condition, but there still seems to be something of a hush from homosexual Catholic priests. Frankly their best service to sexual education would be to come out and show the young that it is possible to be homosexual, chaste, and honest.
Editorial comment: We thank Mr Dell for his honest and open-hearted letter. His encouragement of others in his position to pursue chastity is very welcome. We agree with him that practical advice along the lines he suggests is much needed for all young people today. Actually most of the advice given would be much the same whether the temptation was to unchastity with the opposite sex or people of the same gender (see our November 2003 editorial at faith.org.uk).
We would be very careful about the phrase “I am homosexual”. It may, as Mr Dell seems to mean, indicate an abiding or deep seated psycho-personal condition, but we think it spiritually misleading to identify one’s whole being through sexual desires. What you “are” is a child of God. So-called “sexuality” is not an either/or orientation that specifies two different kinds of human beings. Sexual attraction is part of a process of affective integration, which for many reasons can be disrupted and disorientated. This is no judgment on someone who finds themselves so wounded.
There is a hint in Mr Dell's letter that he does not see condition of being attracted to a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex as in itself wounded. There are many un-asked for human conditions which limit our lives and our short term happiness. They must be faced with patience, resignation but realism and obedience to God’s will – such is the stuff of holiness. We believe that God would not give an orientation to an activity which is intrinsically disordered.
In England the Encouragegroup is gallantly tying to offer support along these lines.
Dear Father Editor
Congratulations on your July issue – which seriously addresses the virtues of chastity and the danger in schools when immoral sex education is taught.
It beats me why children/teenagers should have prolonged detailed sex education in schools. Basically all any child needs to know is that sexual activity is for adults in marriage. If a child develops inappropriate sexual feelings as they get older then these can be dealt with through God’s help, prayer, scripture, clergy, parents etc.
In my opinion it is grotesque and offensive to suggest to children and teenagers that chastity is unfeasible. A recent C4 TV programme about a school called Chavagnes (cf. www.chavagnes.org) had a presenter baffled at the idea that young people should be encouraged to practice abstinence. That’s what most young people who were brought up in Christian households used to attempt. STD’s and teenage abortion were massively less common.
In fact, chastity helps young persons build deep and profound connections to the Lord. Contrariwise, glib recourse to carnal pursuits (such as masturbation) definitely do not bring happiness, contentment or spiritual progress.
Keep up the good work!
PRAYING FOR THE LAPSED
Dear Father Editor
Many thanks for more enlightening issues of Faith for July/August and September/ October. I was particularly moved by Fr. Nesbitt’s article on baptism and his concern that people should not be denied the possible action of grace in their lives.
It is sad that there is so much to lament about the collapse of Catholicism in Britain. We are hearing so often about Catholic churches closing and parishes being merged as a consequence of ever diminishing numbers of practicing Catholics in a rising population. The emphasis of our bishops seems to be upon managing the decline. Too few of influence seem to be proposing that Catholics should pray for a reversal of this trend. The sparcity of coordinated prayer makes me wonder how many Catholics still truly believe in the priesthood. Fewer practicing Catholics must imply fewer priests which means fewer places where Jesus can be ‘with us until the end of time’.
Perhaps Faith Movement would like to organise a campaign of prayer for the conversion of ‘lapsed’ Catholics in Britain (not a popular adjective today). With the assistance of the prayers of Our Lady & the Saints surely such a campaign will be effective and the decline in the numbers of practicing Catholics will be reversed.
Y o urs Faithfully
Dear Father Editor
Thank you for the Cutting Edgecolumn on scientists and belief in God (Sept./Oct. 07). I wonder how many scientists, especially in the USA, have ceased to believe in God because they believe in evolution, and think that incompatible with faith in God? But in fact, Pope Benedict himself has linked evolution with the Creator, as you yourself quote him saying on p.15 of the same issue.
Dom Aldhelm Cameron-Brown OSB