Julian of Norwich is Herself and Not Another

Today* many will be celebrating Julian of Norwich (c. 1342 – c. 1416), but I wonder which Julian they will be celebrating: the theologian and mystic, firmly grounded in the reality of late medieval England, or the construct of more modern times, the feminist avant la lettre with some eminently quotable things to say about the motherhood of God which can be (mis)used to undermine the patriarchy as part of a secularist agenda? I must confess to a personal interest because my community of profession played an important role along with the Bridgettines in the transmission of the so-called Long Text, and Julian’s Revelations were among the works that Fr Baker recommended the Cambrai nuns should study, as they and their descendants have done to this day.

For most of us, the world in which Julian lived is unfamiliar. The sights, sounds, smells, the way people wore their clothes, the way they spoke, the way they thought about authority and obedience and the differing roles of men and women, their very understanding of the earth they trod, was different fom ours. For a Catholic, there is the enormous advantage of sharing the same theological understanding of the sacraments and an awareness of the kind of devotional artefacts that were part of Julian’s everyday life — the crucifix, for example, that the priest held before her eyes.  But the differences are important. We have to make an effort to enter her world and understand what she was about.

I think Denys Turner is spot on when he says that Julian’s central concern is the problem of sin, which she called ‘behovely’ or expedient — in the sense that the Exsultet proclaims it ‘necessary’ on Easter Night, or as a scholastic theologian might call it conveniens or ‘fitting’. Too many people seem to assume that Julian was soft on sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. ‘And to me was shown no harder hell than sin. For a kind soul has no hell but sin.’ No hell but sin, it is worth thinking about that. How very different from our own tendency to excuse or play down the sinfulness of our lives!

This concern with sin is not at odds with what many find Julian’s most exciting idea, her emphasis on God as both mother and father. The idea is not unique to Julian, although she expressed it more memorably than most. Earlier in the twelfth century St Bernard and others had advanced the notion in characteristically inventive ways (see the excellent Caroline Walker Bynum,Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Age). It is here that the temptation to see Julian in purely contemporary terms most frequently arises. I think that is to do an injustice to the subtlety of her thought and to make the mistake of reading backwards into the past the preoccupations of our own day. Ultimately, the Revelations are not a manifesto, they are a meditation on the Passion, to be prayed over, thought over, savoured. Her vivid sense of God’s mercy and tenderness is one we all need to cultivate. We are not sinless, we are forgiven; and God waits for us to grow in grace so that sin and evil will no longer hinder us. In the meantime we have the promise of God’s infinite love and care: ‘Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith . . . and  at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time — that all manner [of] thing shall be well.’

*Anglicans tend to celebrate Julian today, 8 May, while Catholics usually commemorate her on 13 May. I won’t be blogging on 13 May so I’ve followed the good old Catholic custom of anticipating.

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The Henrician Act of Supremacy and Other Matters

On this day in 1534 Parliament passed the first Act of Supremacy. The Act recognized Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church of England and required an oath of loyalty from his subjects regarding the legality of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. My ancestors were no more given to martyrdom than I am, but some were just as obstinate as their descendant and preferred to stick to their principles rather than obey the king’s will. Over the next few decades they paid the price, which leaves me with a slight conundrum. Do I forget them and their sacrifice, taking the lofty view that we understand things differently now? Or do I allow them to prick my conscience and ask myself what it was they thought they were defending, and why they considered it so important? As often happens, we end up with a question of ecclesiology when we thought we were merely considering politics.

The question of ecclesiology (how we understand the Church) was given fresh emphasis yesterday when Pope Francis announced a commitment to seeking a resolution of the differences between the Catholic and Lutheran Churches. Excellent, one would say — except that commentators have homed in on two points that are going to cause some confusion and much theological heart-searching. Pope Francis reaffirmed the othodox Catholic view that it is impossible for a woman to be ordained to priest’s orders, then later talked about working towards a shared Catholic/Lutheran Eucharist. As some Lutheran Churches permit the ordination of women, there is clearly a major difference in the understanding of Holy Orders which will inevitably affect our understanding of other sacraments, including the Eucharist.

At this stage, it is difficult to see how such differences can be resolved; and if they are resolved, what the implications would be for the Catholic Church (I am not qualified to ask what the implications would be for the Lutheran Church). Already we have received a trickle of questions from ‘confused Catholics’ of various kinds. One thing I think we can assert with some certainty is that the resolution of Catholic/Lutheran differences will take a long time. It will not be ‘top priority’ for many people; and though it may not be so evident in Rome, it is not possible to pursue a policy of liberalism (if it is fair to call it that) in one area while demanding strict conservatism in another without some unintended consequences. Maybe the all-male panellists of tomorrow’s Core Values Conference in Rome will provide us with some indications of how the circle can be squared? Whatever happens, much prayer, deep learning and serious thought is required.

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Nothing Wrong With Thinking

A few days ago, I was surprised to find someone attacking philosophy as an ‘airy-fairy’ discipline and lamenting its effect on contemporary theology. Personally, I would argue that it is precisely the abandonment of philosophy as a necessary discipline that leads to the weakness of much contemporary theology (no names, no pack drill). Woolly thinking does not give glory to God. On the contrary, thinking about God, asking questions about God and  the things of God can only contribute to our love and wonder. I often think of monastic life as doing theology on our knees, but reading, thinking, meditating are an essential part of the process that leads to prayer.

Of course, we are not all philosophers. I’m not one myself; but anyone who is serious about their following of Christ must surely be concerned with discovering more and more about truth, what the early Church believed about Christ, how that belief has developed over the centuries, how we are to understand and apply it nowadays. And we can’t do any of that without ways of thinking, questioning, arguing, using a language that expresses and defines even as it admits its limitations. We seem to be so concerned sometimes to be, on the one hand, ‘doctrinally lite’ or, on the other, ‘ritually exact’ that we miss something important: not only the utter transcendence of God but also his infinite tenderness and compassion. We will never succeed in articulating God, so to say, but surely it is a worthwhile endeavour to try to do what we can.

Tomorrow we shall be celebrating the feast of St Hildegard, Benedictine polymath and Doctor of the Church. Many people know something of her music, but I wonder how many have read her Scivias or engaged with some of her more difficult texts? She is a worthy patron of International Buy a Nun a Book Day (see here for an explanation of BANAB-Day): a reminder that in seeking to know more about God, we are seeking to know God himself.

Note
As I have explained, we ourselves are not publishing a wish-list for books this year. People have been very generous to us, and we would like others to benefit from the idea.

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The Challenge of the Chilcot Report

Today many people in Britain will be recalling the events of eleven years ago, the 7 July bombings. For those most nearly affected, who live with the injuries the bombs inflicted or the loss of someone they love, the memory of that day must be deeply painful. Yesterday’s publication of the Chilcot Report brought another kind of pain to the people of the U.K. as a whole. Along with the grief, the regret, the acute awareness of the senseless loss of life, there is a deep and terrible shame. The very people we elected to represent us in Parliament, who were charged with decision-making, made catastrophic errors of judgement, and none more so, it would appear, than Tony Blair. If Sir John Chilcot is right, we continue to pay for the mistakes that were made then. The world is not a safer place, and death and destruction continue to haunt us. Can we salvage anything from this?

I think first of all we should be grateful that we live in a society where such a report can be commissioned and published. It shows that there is some degree of reflection and self-awareness in the body politic. The published extracts I’ve seen show Sir John to have been polite but damning in his assessments. There is a coolness in his remarks that has much more impact than super-charged emotionalism. Secondly, I think we should remind ourselves that exploding with anger or seeking vengeance (e.g. against Mr Blair) is contrary to the intentions and scope of such a report. If we are to learn its lessons, we need to react less and reflect more. That doesn’t mean that we utter a mealy-mouthed ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ Rather, it means we get to grips with the memories that the Report has stirred up, however hard or painful that may be.

Philosophers, theologians and psychologists all have different things to say about  memory. We borrow terms from the digital world to describe what happens: we encode, store and retrieve our memories, and we talk of short-term, intermediate and long-term memories. What we sometimes forget is the connection that Augustine made, for example, between memory, intellect and will. It is not enough to remember; it is not enough to understand; we must also act.

To a Christian, the Chilcot Report presents a very great challenge. Contemporary theologians have questioned classical Just War theory, and there seems to be a definite movement towards rejecting the permissibility, even in the abstract, of modern methods of warfare. There is also the question of how far, and on what grounds, it is legitimate to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation-state. Sovereignty, democracy and the role of law are something the population of Britain has recently been quite vociferous about. We would surely do well to remember Iraq and the fact that Tony Blair was the democratically elected Prime Minister of this country when he made the ‘flawed decision’ to engage in hostilities there and, later, Afghanistan. We cannot claim rights for ourselves that we refuse to others, can we?

Please join me in praying today for the victims of the 7 July bombings and all who have died or been scarred for life by the Iraq War and subsequent hostilities. Let us pray also for those burdened with guilt about the role they played or failed to play in the processes involved.

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St Catherine of Siena: Mistress of the Sound-Bite

Catherine of Siena: Photo by Jim Forest
Catherine of Siena: Photo by Jim Forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People often lament that no one really argues anything any more. They opt for the sound-bite instead: something short, snappy and hopefully memorable. You might think that I, as a Benedictine and therefore a proponent of the slow meditative reading we know as lectio divina, would be hostile to the whole idea of the sound-bite. Certainly, I am uneasy at the way in which politicians often try to simplify arguments, reducing them to absurdity, but today’s saint, Catherine of Siena, was very good at producing wise, pithy sayings one can spend the whole day thinking and praying about. Take, for example, her insight into the crucifixion: ‘All the nails in the world could not have held Christ to the cross had love not held him there.’ Isn’t that theology in a nutshell, and doesn’t it lead naturally to prayer— a perfect sound-bite, in fact?

If you know nothing about St Catherine, Dominican tertiary, mystic and doctor of the Church, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_of_Siena (or you could do a search of this blog, using the search box in the sidebar). I hope it will encourage you to read Raymond of Capua’s Life of the saint and then go on to read the saint’s own letters and important Dialogues.

Catherine played a major role in returning the papacy from Avignon to Rome and wasn’t afraid to say exactly what she thought — but always with courtesy, something today’s critics of Pope Francis might usefully dwell on. She had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, was given the gift of tears, and experienced a mystical marriage to Christ which was to dominate much of her subsequent thought and teaching. Yet she remained always firmly grounded in the realities of everyday life and was much sought out for her guidance and practical wisdom. It is not surprising that she was opposed by some of the authorities of her day and had to undergo interrogation by the Friars of her own Order six years before she died.

This morning, however, I am thinking chiefly of the wonderful way in which she expressed old truths as though new-minted. Take, for example, her image of Christ as a bridge flung between earth and heaven. This bridge consists of three great stairways constituted by the feet, the side, and the mouth of Jesus. Rising by these stairways the soul passes through the three stages of every path to sanctification: detachment from sin, the practice of the virtues, and of love, sweet and loving union with God. It is an image easy to grasp, easy to remember. Best of all, though, is her warning to perfectionists — those of us who never get anything done because we are always wanting to do things better: ‘God does not desire a perfect work but an infinite desire.’ There’s a sound-bite to take us through today and every day.

Image licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

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In Memoriam René Girard

Yesterday died René Girard, a giant among men, whose thought defies narrow classification. He rarely called himself a philosopher although many philosophical implications can be derived from his work in literary criticism, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, biblical hermeneutics and theology. If one had to try to sum up in a single phrase the range of his interests, the focus of his intellectual enquiry, I think I’d say it was nothing less than what it means to be human. I have myself been profoundly influenced by his work on mimetic desire, the nature of violence and the role of the scapegoat, all of which have illuminated my understanding of the gospels and, I hope, affected my conduct, too. Here are a few of my favourite quotations which you may like to ponder:

The goal of religious thinking is exactly the same as that of technological research — namely, practical action. Whenever man is truly concerned with obtaining concrete results, whenever he is hard pressed by reality, he abandons abstract speculation and reverts to a mode of response that becomes increasingly cautious and conservative as the forces he hopes to subdue, or at least to outrun, draw ever nearer. (Violence and the Sacred)

Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them. (The One by Whom Scandal Comes)

Our world is filled with competition, frenzied ambition in every domain. Each of us is acquainted with the spirit of competition. This spirit is not a bad thing in and of itself. Its influence has long been felt in personal relations within the dominant classes. Subsequently it spread throughout the whole of society, to the point that today it has more or less openly triumphed in every part of the world. In Western nations, and above all in the United States, it animates not only economic and financial life, but scientific research and intellectual life as well. Despite the tension and the unrest it brings, these nations are inclined on the whole to congratulate themselves for having embraced the spirit of competition, for its positive effects are considerable. Not the least of these is the impressive wealth it has brought a large part of the population. No one, or almost no one, any longer thinks of forgoing rivalry, since it allows us to go on dreaming of a still more glittering and prosperous future than the recent past. Our world seems to us the most desirable one there ever was, especially when we compare it to life in nations that have not enjoyed the same prosperity. (The One by Whom Scandal Comes)

In a truly global world, the renunciation of violent reprisal is bound to become, in a more and more obvious way, the indispensable condition of our survival. (The One by Whom Scandal Comes)

The experience of death is going to get more and more painful, contrary to what many people believe. The forthcoming euthanasia will make it more rather than less painful because it will put the emphasis on personal decision in a way which was blissfully alien to the whole problem of dying in former times. It will make death even more subjectively intolerable, for people will feel responsible for their own deaths and morally obligated to rid their relatives of their unwanted presence. Euthanasia will further intensify all the problems its advocates think it will solve.

and this, from Bro Duncan PBGV’s collection:

We don’t know if there’s a heaven for animals, but we know for sure there’s a hell.
Tuesday, 6 January, 2015

May he rest in peace. Amen.

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St Augustine: a Very Contemporary Saint

St Augustine of Hippo, Doctor of the Church, wrote so much and so well that it is almost impossible to get him into any kind of focus. Most people know and love his Confessions; many will have read his City of God; a few more will have read some of his treatises or his reflections on the psalter; I myself acknowledge having plundered his sermons on many occasions for readings in choir; but it is perhaps those who live according to his Rule who know him best. It is very short, and full of north African sunshine. His theme is love and his words simple, but I don’t think his thought is; and that’s the great challenge of reading Augustine today.

We have a tendency to assume that the way in which we read a text is the way the writer intended. Unfortunately, because most of us are not schooled in rhetoric or are unfamiliar with many of the references and allusions contained in his works  — even the text of the Bible he quotes is different from any we customarily use — there is often a gap in our understanding. Perhaps that is why his speculative theology is so attractive. One does not have to beaver away at understanding the context of North African Christianity but can attempt to follow his mind as it ranges over the created universe in pursuit of the Eternal Uncreated. (A propos of which, modern physics enhances one’s understanding of his treatise on the Trinity rather better, in my opinion, than all the footnotes of Augustine scholars, but that’s a dangerous point to argue!) Is that enough? Don’t we have a duty to get to know the Augustine who has been so influential in Christian history?

I think we do, and that is where his life-story becomes important and very contemporary. The profligate youth; the sudden conversion at the age of thirty-one; the thinker and teacher who engaged with the important issues of his day; these different aspects of Augustine helped determine his opinions and proved to have a long currency. His concept of Original Sin, for example, and his understanding of the workings of grace have made the Church of the West very different from the Church of the East. Today we tend to concentrate on his anthropology: his condemnation of abortion and slavery, his strict sexual morality, etc.; but to his contemporaries, Augustine’s teaching on the nature of the Church, her sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist, and free will were possibly of greater moment. He became the pre-eminent Doctor of the Western Church, and it is not without significance that, as Augustine lay dying in 430, the Vandals were laying siege to the city of Hippo. The brilliant Christian culture of North Africa was about to sustain its first destructive blow. Everything was to change.

Today, when Christianity in North Africa is only a shadow of its former self, when the Churches of East and West are divided and secular morality has moved very far from the positions held by St Augustine, one might argue that it would be vain to look to him for any guidance. Yet there is a perennial freshness about Augustine’s work that makes him as relevant to us today as he was to his fifth-century contemporaries. He makes us think, and he makes us pray. Who could ask more of him than that?

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A Church Divided?

The Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul, which the Catholic Church in England and Wales celebrates today rather than on 29 June, was always, for me, a celebration of the unity in diversity of Catholicism. The Preface of the feast expresses this with beautiful economy, by comparing and contrasting the two ministries of Peter and Paul:

 . . . by your providence
the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul bring us joy:
Peter, foremost in confessing the faith,
Paul, its outstanding preacher,
Peter, who established the early Church from the remnant of Israel,
Paul, master and teacher of the Gentiles that you call.

And so, each in a different way
gathered together the one family of Christ;
and revered together throughout the world,
they share one Martyr’s crown.

Like Martha and Mary, Peter and Paul show us two aspects of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Both are necessary; both express something of the unity of the Church. Why, then, have I become less and less convinced that many who call themselves Catholic have any interest in maintaining the unity of the Church? Could it be because of the hate-filled rhetoric that distorts much public discourse and the extraordinary (as it seems to me) position of those who believe everyone, from the pope down, to be in serious error if they happen not to believe the same things that they do on any given subject? Only this week I have had to ‘unfriend’ one person on Facebook for making gravely defamatory accusations against Pope Francis while at the same time having to defend myself privately for not thinking exactly as another does on the subject of ‘assisted dying’. To one I am a liberal spawned in hell, to the other a reactionary bound for the same destination. The idea that someone might (a) be sincere in her opinions and (b) have come to whatever conclusions she has after years of prayer and study (which are on-going) is, apparently, irrelevant. Many others have experienced the same. I hold no particular brief for Fr James Martin SJ, but I was dismayed to read on Facebook some of the criticisms he has received, not to mention the terms in which they were expressed. There is more here than mere disagreement. There is a fundamental disregard for the Church herself.

One doesn’t need to know much Church history to know that theological disputes have often been attended with heated language and even physical violence (St Nicholas of Smyrna, for instance, allegedly punched the heresiarch Arius on the nose). But most disputes were conducted with a little more theological awareness than many display nowadays. There was a sense of the Church, of the importance of establishing what was true rather than assuming that truth was a weapon to batter others into submission. Perhaps I am guilty of idealising the past, but I think people were ready to die for their beliefs because they were also ready to live for them. In our comfortable existence in the West, we tend often to compartamentalise things, putting religion into its slot (a slot, moreover, defined by ourselves) and forgetting about it most of the time. Inevitably, therefore, because we have privatised religion, it seems to affect less and less of life. It has become an intruder, and as such, ‘the Church’ can be blamed for everything we dislike or disagree with: she says too much about some subjects; too little about others; and exactly what we don’t want to hear on some that touch us most nearly. The Church in such circumstances is always something other, something we either have no part in or, conversely, that we feel such a deep sense of ownership of, that we feel betrayed when she does not speak or act as we think she should.

What is wholly new, I think, is the way in which modern media, above all, blogs and Social Media, have given everyone the opportunity to voice his/her opinion, irrespective of their knowledge, understanding or commitment to Christian living. It is worth thinking about that in relation to our own lives. When I express opinions about the Church (such as this one), what am I hoping to achieve? What motivates me? It can be shocking to discover that one’s views on certain subjects have more to do with ‘I’d like it to be that way’ than with any real conviction of the truth of one’s viewpoint. I’d argue that I care about the unity of the Church and believe that thinking with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia) is the only sure way to avoid devising some more or less loopy heresy of one’s own.

And that is the crux of the matter. Our western society places great value on freedom of choice, on personal autonomy and the like. They are undeniably great goods, but they are not necessarily the greatest or truest. Perhaps only a pedant like me would want to remember that the roots of the word ‘heresy’ are to be found in the Greek word ‘hairesis’, meaning ‘choice’. Today’s feast is a reminder that we should be careful what we choose.

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How to Lose Friends and Irritate People

There are times when I feel quite expert on this subject. I have only to be slow answering an email or disagree with someone else’s opinion and I find myself in the Outer Darkness, weeping and gnashing my (metaphorical) teeth. Someone decides to enlighten me on Twitter, and instead of meekly accepting the enlightenment (meekness is a quality people associate with nuns), I drop a little pearl of (usually borrowed) learning before them. Off they flounce, grunting disapproval. If they see the smile playing round my lips, they assume (wrongly) that it is cynical or sadistic. The thought that it might be sheer amusement never crosses their mind. It is the same on Facebook — or even here on the blog, where you will find a number of readers have ridden off into the cybersunset, vowing never to visit these pages again, because I have disagreed with them, challenged their interpretation of words or events, or poked gentle fun at them and myself. Truly, it is easy to lose friends and irritate people when the medium of communication is the written word.

I am doubtful whether the spoken word is any better. When persuaded of some position or argument, we can be so keen to share it that we can be anything but tactful. I am not sure that Trypho, for example, would have thought St Justin Martyr, whose feast we celebrate today, particularly diplomatic in the way in which he rubbished his, Trypho’s, opinions; but Justin is one of those lovable people who delighted in learning, and assumed everyone else did, too. We have only two apologies and one dialogue of his works extant, but if they are not yet familiar to you, I can only urge you to read them. Justin the philosopher, the learned man, the professional seeker after truth and wisdom, was convinced by the arguments of an aged man he met on the seashore who spoke, simply and powerfully, of the prophets:

There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him: which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom. (Dialogue)

Instead of losing friends and irritating people because of the desire to instruct or correct others, how about making new ones and winning them to Christ through shared enthusiasms?

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The Problem With Internet Apologetics

Those who use the language of insult and derision will not agree, but Christianity is a reasonable religion. By that I mean that we have centuries of articulation of what the Church believes, and why she believes as she does. We call such a reasoned explanation and defence of Christian belief apologetics. The early Christians were particularly good at it, and anyone who is ignorant of Justin Martyr or Origen, for example, is missing something really good. It is not of these that I am thinking today, however, but of the self-appointed defenders of Christian orthodoxy who rage and rant all over the internet. Often what they say is (largely) true, but sometimes it is given a little twist of their own — and a large dollop of venom is not infrequently added to the mix. In the Catholic Church we have seen this at work in the discussion of same-sex unions, the re-admittance of the divorced and re-married to Holy Communion, Pope Francis’s decisions, and so on.

My problem with all this is very simple. I believe — with every ounce of my being — that exploring Christian orthodoxy is the most exciting and fulfilling activity we could ever undertake because it means exploring the beauty and holiness of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. In other words, it is all about Christ and seeking to know and understand him. Rancour, attempts to denigrate others, trying to force them into believing as we do, has no part in this. We cannot argue anyone into belief. We may argue someone into thinking more deeply about faith and acknowledging the inadequacy of previously-held beliefs. We may even succeed in prompting them to see aspects of Christian faith and practice in ways they had never dreamed possible; but faith itself, the ability to believe, is a gift, at no one’s beck and call.

So, what is the secret of good apologetics, of effective evangelisation? I’d say it was not only intellectually-satisfying apologetics as such but also the experience of Christian love. No matter how brilliant our words, no matter how wonderful our understanding of Christian subjects, unless we can, in some measure, reflect the love of God to others, it avails nothing, as St Paul says. This can be quite hard to do on the internet because the comment sections on blogs and, even more, Social Media both invite instant reaction rather than the fruits of reflection. I’ve always been an advocate of ‘contemplative computing‘ and never more so than where apologetics are concerned.

St Francis de Sales was bishop of Geneva at one of the most difficult periods of Christian history. His insistence on quiet, courteous dialogue with those who held contrary views is an example to all of us. No matter how ‘fired up’ we may be about some particular subject, charity is as important as clarity. That doesn’t mean that we water down or deny truth. Rather, it means ensuring that it is truth in all its fullness that we share with others, not some shrunken version of our own. We need to read more, pray more, and listen more. God deserves nothing less.

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