Off to the Society for the Study of Theology conference, at Durham, with my half-finished short paper ‘The Whole Christ and the High Priest’ which, as usual, attempts to summarise what I have learned from everyone in the last 12 months. I’ll post it when I get back, and those Holy Week pieces too.

Family at Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture Fall conference 2008 is on

The Family: Searching for Fairest Love

Only the truth will prepare you for a love which can be called â??fairest love.â?? Pope John Paul II Letter to Families

We are mindful of the fundamental role played by the family in civil society, in the political order, and in the life of the Church. The conference will celebrate the anniversaries of two papal documents, Mulieris Dignitatem and Humanae Vitae.

Curious that theology, that is, the Christian doctrine of God, does not appear in the list of possible topics for papers. I presume there is room for some actual theology of the body, and not all by Angelo Scola ?

On the same subject, have you seen Robert George’s remarkable Law and Moral Purpose?

Bodily union is thus personal union, and comprehensive personal unionâ??marital unionâ??is founded on bodily union. What is unique about marriage is that it truly is a comprehensive sharing of life, a sharing founded on the bodily union made uniquely possible by the sexual complementarity of man and womanâ??a complementarity that makes it possible for two human beings to become, in the language of the Bible, â??one flesh,â?? and for this one-flesh union to be the foundation of a relationship in which it is intelligible for two persons to bind themselves to each other in pledges of permanence, monogamy, and fidelity.

So, then, how should we understand what marriage is? Marriage, considered not as a mere legal convention or cultural artifact, is a one-flesh communion of persons that is consummated and actualized by acts that are procreative in type, whether or not they are procreative in effect. It is an intrinsic human good, and, precisely as such, it provides a more than merely instrumental reason for choice and action.

The bodily union of spouses in marital acts is the biological matrix of their marriage as a comprehensive, multilevel sharing of life: a relationship that unites the spouses at all levels of their being. Marriage is naturally ordered to the good of procreation (and is, indeed, uniquely apt for the nurturing and education of children) as well as to the good of spousal unity. At the same time, it is not a mere instrumental good whose purpose is the generating and rearing of children. ­Marriage, considered as a one-flesh union, is intrinsically valuable.

Fit for Mission II

The Goal of a Catholic School is the Promotion of the Fully Human Person

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10)

The Church’s recent teaching on the purpose of Catholic education states clearly that its goal is the promotion of the human person. What does thismean for the schools and colleges of our diocese? I think it means the following:

The fundamental needs of the human person are the focus of Catholic education – intellectual, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual, and eschatological (Our eternal destiny).

These fundamental needs can only be truly fulfilled through a rich and living encounter with the deepest truths about God and the human person.

This is why Christ and His Gospel must be the foundation of the educational project of each school and college, because He is the ‘the perfect Man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection’ (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School).

Therefore, the Catholic school or college is called to keep the Gospel whole and alive amongst pupils, families, and staff.

Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster Fit for Mission?

Robert Spaemann

One clue about the significance of Robert Spaemann is that Oliver O’Donovan translated his Persons: The Difference between ‘Someone’ and ‘Something’.

Now have you seen

Das unsterbliche Gerücht. Die Frage nach Gott und die Täuschung der Moderne and at ?

Das unsterbliche Gerücht
Gottesbeweise nach Nietzsche
Deszendenz und Intelligent Design
Christentum und Philosophie der Neuzeit
Funktionale Religionsbegründung und Religion
Religiöse Identität
Sollten universalistische Religionen auf Mission verzichten?
Religion und ›Tatsachenwahrheit‹
Über einige Schwierigkeiten mit der Erbsündenlehre
Die christliche Sicht des Leidens
Über die gegenwärtige Lage des Christentums

And there is also Grenzen: Zur ethischen Dimension des Handelns (Klett-Cotta 2001) and Der letzte Gottesbeweis (Pattlock 2007)

And his Begotten nor Made? (PDF). There are more articles by Spaemann at Das Portal zur katholischen Geisteswelt. You can see a video of the man himself. The interviewer asks Spaemann to comment on his own father’s (Heinrich Spaemann) saying that ‘We drift towards what we see and become what we look at’. Robert Spaemann responds by quoting from the Eucharist, ‘Looking up, Jesus gave thanks’.

Learn more about him at

(For something between the gist and gibberish, paste the words “Robert Spaemanns Vater, Heinrich Spaemann” into Google and click on ‘Translate this page’) Spaemann is not hard to read either. Other great Germans for PhD purposes? Try Oswald Bayer, Ingolf Dalferth or Hans Ulrich

The Grandeur of Reason

The Centre of Theology and Philosophy


The Grandeur of Reason: Religion, Tradition and Universalism
1-4 September 2008 Rome

The Popeâ??s argument for an enlarged sense of reason is an argument for a re-hellenization of reason. In this context the universalism of Christianity has a concrete role to play as that particular cultural exemplar of the symphonic synthesis of the spirit of rational human inquiry with faith in divine revelation. Therein Christianityâ??s universalism is a universalism grounded in a cultural tradition that cherishes at once the â??grandeurâ?? of human reason and the personal revelation of the One God.

Oliver O’Donovan
Robert Spaemann
David Schindler
Bentley Hart
van Inwagen
Fergus Kerr

A mix of saints and rascals, and a bit short on talent from the Catholic hierarchy. Still, â??guests of honourâ?? – I wonder who they can have in mind?

We are interested in papers that cover any topic relevant to the conference theme, but are especially interested in questions of religion and empire, Christianity and Islam, humanism and universalism, the reunification of the Apostolic Churches, and Scripture and Metaphysics.

Cardinal O'Brien – the government has no mandate for these changes

At this time as well as thinking of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are asked to consider again what I have described as the â??essential aspect of a Christian vocation â?? namely to be a missionary peopleâ??. I think that there is a greater need than ever before for each and every Christian to be aware of that call at this present time.

I think that a fundamental concern of all of our people at this present time and one which we ourselves as Christians must take very seriously is that concerning the future of human life itself. The beliefs which we have previously held, and the standards by which we have lived throughout our lives and by which Christians have lived for the last 2000 years are being challenged at this present time in ways in which they have never been challenged before!

The norm has always been that children have been born as the result of the love of man and woman in the unity of a marriage. That belief has of course long been challenged. However I believe that a greater challenge than that even faces us â?? the possibility now facing our country is that animal â?? human embryos be produced with the excuse that perhaps certain diseases might find a cure from these resulting embryos.

What I am speaking of is the process whereby scientists create an embryo containing a mixture of animal and human genetic material. If I were preaching this homily in France, Germany, Italy, Canada or Australia I would be commending the government for rightly banning such grotesque procedures. However here in Great Britain I am forced to condemn our government for not only permitting but encouraging such hideous practices.

Our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has given the Governmentâ??s support to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which, more comprehensively, attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular Bill.

With full might of government endorsement, Gordon Brown is promoting a Bill that will allow the creation of animal â?? human hybrid embryos. He is promoting a Bill which will add to the 2.2 million human embryos already destroyed or experimented upon. He is promoting a Bill allowing scientists to create babies whose sole purpose will be to provide, without consent of anyone, parts of their organs or tissues. He is promoting a Bill which will sanction the raiding of dead peoples tissue to manufacture yet more embryos for experimentation. He is promoting a Bill which denies that a child has a biological father, allows tampering with birth certificates, removing biological parents, and inserting someone altogether different. And this Bill will indeed be used to further extend the abortion laws.

This Bill represents a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life. In some other European countries one could be jailed for doing what we intend to make legal. I can say that the government has no mandate for these changes: they were not in any election manifesto, nor do they enjoy widespread public support. The opposite has indeed taken place â?? the time allowed for debate in Parliament and indeed in the country at large has been shockingly short. One might say that in our country we are about to have a public government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion â?? without many people really being aware of what is going on.

Today as we celebrate in the resurrection the triumph of life over death I urge you to ensure that life continues to triumph over these deathly proposals. Being a Christian and acting as a Christian must be one and the same thing. Gathered here on this Easter Day we realise that we are indeed followers of Jesus Christ and with that comes responsibilities. May God indeed help us all to be missionary at this present time and to hand on the saving message of Jesus Christ in a world which does not seem prepared to receive it

Cardinal Keith O’Brien bishop of Edinburgh and St Andrew’s

Another bishop without his own website, who has only the Daily Record by which to communicate with his flock. But, this time, in Scotland, the whole sermon is faithfully reproduced.


Finally – a website. Marvellous.


In his Easter Sunday message, given at Durham Cathedral, Rt Rev Tom Wright issued a rallying call to all faiths to object to the “1984-style” proposals.

As pressure from religious leaders mounted on prime minister Gordon Brown to allow a free vote on the issue of embryo research in the Commons, Bishop Wright warned that society was in danger of learning nothing from the “dark tyrannies” of the last century.

He told his congregation: “Our present government has been pushing through, hard and fast, legislation that comes from a militantly atheist and secularist lobby. “In this 1984-style world, we create our own utopia by our own efforts, particularly our science and technology.

“The irony is that this secular utopianism is based on a belief in an unstoppable human ability to make a better world, while at the same time it believes that we have the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people, and to play games with the humanity of those in between.

“Gender-bending was so last century; we now do species-bending.

“It shouldn’t just be Roman Catholics who are objecting. It ought to be Anglicans and Presbyterians and Baptists and Russian Orthodox and Pentecostals and all other Christians, and Jews and Muslims as well.”

BBC report of Bishop Tom Wright’s Easter Day sermon

Dear bishops, get your sermons out on your own diocesan websites.

How do we know that this is an accurate report of what you said? A bishop who relies on the BBC to communicate with his people cannot wonder at the hurt and confusion that flock experiences when the BBC’s interpretation introduces distortions. We want to read the whole sermon in order to see how all this ethics fits within the theology, that is, how the resurrection frees us from the fears of which this legislation is the expression. Sermons of this sort should be simultaneously pastoral letters read from every pulpit at each mass on the Sunday they are issued.

Death is defeated

Easter Sunday
Fear is natural, and so is grief at the death of another (Jesus, remember, shed tears for the death of a friend). Don’t attempt to avoid it or deny its seriousness. On the contrary, keep it in view; remind yourself of it. When the tradition of the Church proposes that you think daily about death and prepare for it, it isn’t being morbid but realistic: get used to it and learn to live with the fear. And meanwhile – Shakespeare was being entirely Christian in this respect – get used to loving and valuing things and persons irrespective of the fact that they won’t be there for ever. Love them now, and what you would want to do for them, do now. ‘Night is coming when no-one can work’, says Jesus. (John 9.4)

So what does it mean to say that, despite all this, death is ‘defeated’? When death happens and growing stops, there are no more plans, no more hope of control: for the believer, there is only God left. Just as at the very beginning of creation, there is God, and there is the possibility that God has brought into being by his loving will. When death has done all it can do, God remains untouched and his will is the loving and generating will that it eternally is. When we look at death, we look at something that can destroy anything in our universe – but not God, its maker and redeemer. And if we accept that we shall die and all our hopes and schemes fall into the dark, we do so knowing that God is unchanged. So to die is to fall into the hands of the living God.

Archbishop Rowan Williams Easter Day sermon

Bishops, would you kindly follow your Archbishop in getting your Easter Sunday sermons out on Easter Sunday through your own websites? It makes all the difference

The wood of the cross

Easter Saturday
The wood of the cross – that is the world. The wood is dead now, but look again and see this wood sprouting shoots and bursting into life again. That is what you see on the mosiac on the north transept side of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. There is Christ on the cross, but the cross is supported by him, as though strapped to his back like an easel. He is carrying this world on his back, and the dead wood of the cross has started to push out buds and become a tree.

The cross is all the antagonism and aggression we direct at one another. The cross is this world of cutting-off, letting-go and letting-die, in miniature. And it is the end, refusal and overcoming of this world of letting-go. Christ has taken all our cutting him-and- one-another-off, and absorbed it; he has refused to cut us off, or to let us go or in any way to reciprocate. He took what we gave, without limit, until we had for our part, cut him off entirely. We cut him off, but he did not cut us off. But what we gave him, he took, without giving back, and so he took it away from us. He took what we meted out, and held on, to us. We refused him our humanity, stripping him of every human relationship; all humanity stripped him and removed itself from him. But even our entire act of removing from him the sum of our ‘humanity’ did not result in any diminution of his divinity, that is, of the Father’s determination that this was his Son, and that this Son was us and is us. The sum of our humanity turned out not to conceal any divinity; divinity turned out not to be the sum of our humanity. When we lump all humanity together, all our history, achievement and civilisation, it turns out that divinity is entirely transcendent of it. Divinity is his, not ours, and so life is his to give, and not ours to withhold.

All our refusal of for him, and of one another, and all our effort in cutting him off, and in cutting one another off, proves unable to prevent his divinity from holding us and bringing us back to life. From him life seeps into us. The invincible unity and communion of the Holy Spirit that secures Christ from us and exalts him, will also raise us. Though we put him in a hole in the ground, and the earth closed over him, neither we nor the earth could hold him there. We are unable to prevent this divinity, the life of God, which to us is resurrection, from pulling him out of our grasp and exalting him. We cannot prevent God from exalting this human, and we cannot prevent God from deciding that in Christ all our humanity is safe and secure. For all our cutting ourselves off, from him, from one another, none of us is lost. We are not able to make our refusal stick or to carry our own destruction through. However I cut you off, Christ will raise you to me again, until at last I am ready for you. In him and from him the whole human race will sprout and grow again. The truth of this dead wood is its future as this tree. Joined to him we are this living tree, for on Christ’s back all humanity and all creation is bound to life, and I am bound for you and you are bound for me.

Christ sings along with us, we sing along with him

Good Friday

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Why did Jesus quote these specific lines during his suffering, â??unless he was somehow trying to catch our attention, to make us understand, â??this psalm was written about me?â?? (Exp 2.3 of Ps 21). Augustine draws the attention of his congregation to Christâ??s utterance of these verses to explicate the meaning of their Good Friday service, a service designed to make present what took place in time past, and in this way it moves us as if we were actually watching our Lord hanging on the cross, but watching as believers, not mockers (exp 2.1 of ps. 21 (ie. Psalm 22). Christ prayer on the cross continues today in the commemoration of the church. He emphasises that the world and his congregation both stand before that cross, either as mockers or as those who groan with the sufferings of Christ. â??The chaff on his threshing floor mocks him and the wheat groans to hear its Lord deridedâ?? (exp 2.1 of Ps 21).

Augustine is unpacking for his congregation what it means to sing this psalm, as Christâ??s body, part of the Totus Christus). Christ was praying the prayer of his church, presenting their fear and trial as he carried their sin, and quoting the very words that they too sing today as a memorial of his passion.

Brian Brock on Augustine in Singing the Ethos of God

And from Matthew Baker

God created man in the year 33, on a hill in Palestine called Golgotha. On the sixth day of the week â?? on Holy Friday â?? the true man in the image of God is heralded by Pontius Pilate, as he brings forth the thorny-crowned, purple-robed Christ and announces â??Behold the man!â?? .