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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Confessions of an Anglican Pope fan

Being a post in three loosely connected parts, starting with:-

'But what is most striking, as hundreds of thousands observe this Pope in person for the first time, is not the visual symbolism, the crowds or the made-for-TV events, but the imposing beauty and power of his words.

'It’s already a cliché in Rome that the crowds came to see John Paul but they come to hear Benedict. Among those familiar with his career, his reputation was always that of a fierce intellectual — the theologian and author of dozens of dense tracts on Christianity. But what was missing was an understanding of Benedict’s remarkable capacity to use words to speak to the emotional part of the human brain.'

- Gerard Baker in the Times.

How true this is. I feel immensely privileged to be able read him in the original - he writes like an angel in his native tongue - but I think the clarity of his prose is such that he also translates well. Apart from his two encyclicals (read them online) I'd recommend this (the only one you're likely to find in your local bookshop, sadly), this, this, this, this and this (we make no charge to Amazon for this service). Let's face it, I'm hooked.

Part Two

From the Pope's Pesah message to the Jewish community:-

'At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles” (Nostra Aetate, 4). In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the past forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.'

Which is important in view of the somewhat overwrought reactions there have been to the new prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Latin liturgy for Good Friday. It's been suggested that the very idea of conversion represents a regression to the bad old pre-Vatican days.

This article makes a good job of answering these concerns. For better or worse, the Pope is indeed a Catholic. He believes in the universality of the Christian Gospel. It is Good News for everyone. The way it has been 'preached' to the Jews in the past has, of course, frequently been anything but good news. Vatican II marked a clear repentant break with that shameful history. There must be no place for any form of coercion or manipulation in converting anybody, nor for defamation of their existing beliefs. But still we need to say that the Gospel is distinct from its past abuse and that we cannot agree to throw the baby out with the bathwater, even if that distinction is extremely hard for Jews to accept. To say the Gospel can't be, or need not be, preached to the Jews is actually to say that it's not much use to anybody else.

Part Three

I've recently been pointed towards a batch of German Catholic blogs. I hope the author of this post won't mind me taking the liberty of translating it in its entirety. You just need to know that 'Wir sind Kirche' ('We are Church') is a liberal Catholic pressure group. The quote from them, part of their appraisal of B16's first three years, could just as easily be from (for instance) the Affirming Catholics, fellow enthusiasts for a church as broad as the Zeitgeist - but no broader. Joseph Ratzinger's been the man these folk love to hate for a long, long time, and a rethink is not in prospect.

'Learning from Life

'"The Church and Catholics can learn from the world as well as just teaching it. Therefore they need to display a positive attitude towards encounter and dialogue, illuminated not by a rigid doctrine but by a faith which learns from life." (German source)

'Agreed, it's not altogether fair to use an extreme case against the simplifiers and muddlers of "Wir sind Kirche", and I am sure they find it just as repulsive as the rest of us. But is it not, perhaps, events like this which make it clear where we stand? The project in question received the blessing of one of the large and highly-respected institutions of the secular intellect, and thus, whilst it may be a little weird, it is evidently compatible with the mainstream of contemporary thinking and feeling.

'Aliza Shvarts, an art student at Yale University, New Haven, CT, will be presenting her senior art project in the next few days:

'"a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process." - Source: Yale Daily News via Creative Minority Report)'

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ed Stourton doesn't get it

'Stourton was interviewing Barbet Schroeder, who has produced biopics on Idi Amin and Claus von Bülow and has just made a film about the famous French lawyer Jacques Vergès. Like many lawyers who prefer to act for the defence, Vergès enjoys difficult cases. But he's a little bit more daring than Horace Rumpole in his client list: Vergès has, in his time, defended the Vichy collaborator Klaus Barbie (the Butcher of Lyons), Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (Carlos the Jackal), various Palestinian terrorists and members of the BaaderMeinhof gang. Oh, and we shouldn't forget Saddam Hussein's No 2, Tariq Aziz.

'Stourton was curious about this galère of clients, and confessed to feeling perplexed about what could possibly link Klaus Barbie and Palestinian terrorists. What on earth would unite these disparate people, and what would draw Vergès to them?'

- from an excellent piece by Michael Gove in the Times (I don't need to answer his question for you, do I?). Yes, that's right, the man's a Tory MP, boo, hiss - and would that this level of clearsightedness and decency was the norm on the Left (but here's a small reminder of what, alas, we get instead).

Nestling among the comments is my own 2p-worth.