After his recent Cambridge lecture – and other interventions – nobody could be under the illusion that the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago is an intellectual. Quite to the contrary. But (along with Cardinal Tobin) he is rapidly becoming flavour of the month with the Bergoglian authorities. Not content with snubbing Cardinal DiNardo’s request for a Pontifical visitation to address the American abuse crisis, Francis has now continued the humiliation by appointing Cupich to head-up an alternative scheme.
Blase is the man to watch. He perfectly fills the category recently described by Cardinal Mueller: of ‘theologically uneducated people [who] are being promoted to the rank of bishops who, in turn, think that they have to thank the pope for it by means of a childish submission … “
Kind readers have emailed me in defence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ‘gender’ of God in the Scriptures and in the tradition, they say, is focused on authority. God is called ‘King’ and ‘Lord’ only in order to express his power and sovereignty. But such language only holds in societies, like the Graeco-Roman world, which privilege men in this way. Times are changing; we know better now. This view, I am told, was recently voiced by the LGBT Church historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, in the Daily Mail, of all places. It is hard to know precisely what is being said.
Does it follow, for example, that in a matriarchal society, the incarnation would necessarily be female? Of course, we have no record of societies which were not patriarchal, but even if we had, the proposition would remain unverifiable, since the incarnation is unique by definition. I am put in mind of an old joke.
An astronaut lands on a previously unknown planet and is accosted by its inhabitants. Since he is a good catholic he has been schooled by his parish priest in the questions he must ask. ‘Has there been a Fall?’ If the answer is Yes: ‘Has there been an incarnation?’ If the answer is Yes: ‘Then kindly direct me to the nearest Catholic church.’
Such attempts to second guess the divine Wisdom can only seem comic.
Perhaps, then, the argument leads us elsewhere. Perhaps it simply reminds us that religions bolster established hierarchies, and that we have a duty to reverse that malign influence. But surely today’s feast says the same? It demonstrates that, in Scripture at least, the language of lordship and sovereignty is not merely analogical but also paradoxical. Jesus is only King because he is a willing victim; and it is as a male in a patriarchy that his humiliation and victimhood is most poignant and most apparent. Surely to turn the paradox on its head and to use it to ’empower’ women, rather than to humble men, would be to subvert the kenotic message at the heart of Scripture?
At every point in such arguments we are made aware that it is foolish and dangerous to disturb the settled ecology of images which constitutes the core of the faith. That is where angels fear to tread.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has been flexing his theological muscles recently.
‘God is not a father in exactly the same way as a human being is a father. God is not male or female. God is not definable…. It is extraordinarily important as Christians that we remember that the definitive revelation of who God is was not in words, but in the word of God who we call Jesus Christ. We can’t pin God down.’
Such language is commonplace among the advocates of the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood, which is presumably why he used it. These people never miss an opportunity. But it is hard to see how it advances their argument.
The fact that language is analogical does not licence or sanction the equivalent use of other analogies, even when both analogies are draw from the same group or set. For example: if someone describes something as ‘like an oak tree’, that does not entitle me to assert that it is equally ‘like a magnolia’. More often than not, analogies are intended to be exclusive; that is to say they exist to indicate that something is more like one thing than the other: that God, for example is more like a man than a woman, or, more specifically, more like a father than a mother. If this were not the case analogical language would collapse into nonsense.
The biblical attribution of fatherhood to God is, moreover, not merely analogical. It is grounded in the language of Jesus himself. When Christians pray ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name’, they are (on his insistence) appropriating Jesus’s name for God to themselves. ‘Father’, in the Paternoster, is not a generic term (such as might be applied to any deity thought to have created the cosmos), but a proper name, such as I use when I refer to my own father, knowing that in the nature of the case there is only one person to whom it can refer.) In Christ the unspeakable name of YHWH has been supplanted by the intimate name of ‘Father’. It is the relationship of the incarnate Son to the Father which breathes life into the analogy.
The prime difficulty for those who seek to embrace genderless language about God is the incarnation. In the iconoclast controversy of the eighth century the opponents of icons based their arguments on the ineffability of God. He could not, they claimed, be described (perigraphein – circumscribed, drawn, held in a pattern of words). The iconodules countered with the observation that such could not be the case, since God was made flesh in Jesus. To deny that he could be described or represented would be to deny his individuality, and so to deny the incarnation itself. They went as far as to insist that the incarnation required graphic representation.
When the slippery and doubtful connection is made between the supposed ‘genderlessness’ of God and the maleness of the ministerial priesthood (often with the careless assertion that the priest ’represents the people to God and God to the people’ – with an unspoken assumption that neither party is gender specific), it is routinely forgotten that in Catholic theology the priest represents neither side in this essentially Protestant formula. On the contrary, he represents Christ, the only mediator between God and man, the Head of the Body, the Church (in persona Christi capitis).
Whilst, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, we should never let go the awareness that theological language is always analogical, there is no excuse for basing upon that important fact speculations which impinge upon cardinal doctrines of the faith and the constitution of the sacraments. The iconodules of the eighth century very rightly pointed out that the maleness of the incarnation adds an imponderable depth to our language about God. Our task is not to question or to wrangle with that revelation but, in the words of Milton, to seek ‘to justify the ways of God to man’.
It was announced today that, as a result of Vatican intervention at the highest level, the author of this blog, Cesare Borgia, has been expelled from the Boy Scouts and stripped of all his badges and insignia. The expulsion was announced at a special meeting convened by the Chief Scout. The blog was deemed “gravely offensive and disrespectful to the person of the Holy Father” and its author’s conduct “gravely incompatible with the high ideals of scouting”.
Our lawyers are considering appropriate action.
*In view of recent revelations in the Catholic Church we should point out that no double entendre was intended.
Don’t be taken in by all the guff we Anglicans talk about them. ‘Episcopally led, Synodically governed’ is the official line. But I can tell you as the Archbishop at the receiving end of this ecclesiological nightmare, it is no joke.
Synods rapidly become Parliaments, with established parties and partisan cabals – all of them vulnerable to outside pressure groups and soi-disant think-tanks. The women were the first; now it’s the LGBT+ lobby. To be honest I can see no way of resisting: they have effectively hijacked the agenda before it has even been formulated.
I know you think (on recent experience) that you are now an expert at manipulating Synods and getting what you want. But, frankly, you have seen nothing yet. The more synods you have (and we, God help us, sometimes have three a year), the better organised the malcontents will get – like the St Gallen bunch who got you the job. Every Synod a little Conclave – that’s what you re in for. And the only rule of the game will be that you cannot win.
I never thought I would be saying this, but what possible sense can there be in allowing Europe’s last surviving autocracy to be gnawed away, piece by piece, by shoals of marauding piranha fish?
My advice is to cut your loses and let them know who is boss – you know it makes sense.
So what price ‘Synodality’, the latest neologism in the inventive vocabulary of our esteemed Pontiff?
The notion was that local conferences of bishops would be accorded more autonomy in the regulation of their own affairs – a sort of ‘Anglican Communion lite’. But the reality proves to be very different from the PR.
Minutes before the American Conference of bishops was to debate two important motions on sexual abuse and the role of bishops (including the erection of a panel of lay assessors), came the phone call from Rome instructing Cardinal DiNardo to abort the proceedings. The matter, it was asserted, must be shelved until a February meeting of Chairmen of Episcopal Conferences world-wide. Meanwhile, as conductor for their retreat, the American bishops were graced by the offer of Fr Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal household: an offer they probably could not refuse.
Just as ‘synodality’ threatened to take hold in the most powerful (and most scandal-ridden) Conference in the world, Vatican control-freakery took over – with obedient little Cardinal Cupich (who else?) primed to leap to Francis’s defence. (Blase Cupich is one of two Americans on the Congregation for Bishops, which issued the prohibition. The other – let the reader understand – is Donald Wuerl.)
The conclusion which all reasonable people will have reached after this authoritarian behaviour, is that nothing which is said or proclaimed in this pontificate is to be trusted or relied upon. All is smoke and mirrors.