November/December 2017

Pope John's New Pentecost

Anthony Towey

Although his lifetime crossed with mine, I have no memory of Saint Pope John XXIII. Instead I can trade that deficit for over 50 years hearing and reading tributes to 'Good Pope John' who seems to have transcended boundaries of denomination and religion as a global figure of faith. Within the Church he is undoubtedly most famous for calling the Second Vatican Council which has had innumerable repercussions within the Catholic community. I am becoming persuaded, however, that if that hasn't caused enough trouble already, the Good Pope may not be finished with us yet.

Let me explain. Pope John XXIII did not just summon a Council, he also prayed for a New Pentecost. All very well, but given the slightest familiarity with the first one, I do think that a successor of Peter might have offered fair warning of what was to come. After all, in large part the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles alternates between miracle and riot and while the recalibrated co-ordinates of ecclesial praxis at Vatican II have been as nothing compared to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the changes have inevitably caused upset and similarly heated debate. Moreover, the kind of theological contrasts one might witness these days between 'right and left' pale besides the differences evident among the apostles, as Paul's dispute with Peter and the companions of James attests (see Galatians 2.11-21).

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Advent cheer: the carol service as liturgy

Thomas O'Loughlin

The Carol Service seems so simple we often do not think of it as 'liturgy.' But it can be a means of bringing a community into the presence of the God who is revealed in Jesus.Thomas O'Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham, and President of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain.

as liturgyIf it's December, then, unless you live on a deserted island, you will hear Christmas songs on the radio. You may also hear some carols (a Christmas song, for example White Christmas does not mention religion) which mix religion and the tradition of popular singing, and you might even hear the odd Christmas hymn (e.g. On Jordan's bank) which is distinguished from the carol by the fact that you can spot that it was written by an expert and needs an organ to keep the tune going!

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Priesthood and power

Joe Fitzpatrick

Authority and decision-making in the Church belong to all the baptised, not just the ecclesial hierarchy, writes Joe Fitzpatrick, a retired priest of the Diocese of Motherwell.

priesthood and power

If asked the simple question: where do power and authority lie in the Catholic Church today?, most of us would answer with complete confidence: with the Pope, the Roman Curia, with national conferences of bishops and finally with individual bishops. The power exercised by priests tends to be limited - to parish life and worship, and that kind of thing. And what about the laity? No. The laity have little or no power; they are encouraged to pray, evangelise and lead good lives, but they are there to be instructed and to obey those who exercise power. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the laity are disempowered and, in many cases, infantilised.

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The story of Elijah

John Deehan

This article looks at the story of the great prophet and hero of Israel Elijah, as told in the Old Testament books 1 Kings and Sirach. John Deehan is parish priest of St Thomas More, Pinner, in the Archdiocese of Westminster.

City of Baal LebanonRabbi Jonathan Sacks in his recent book, Not in God's Name, writes of the Bible, 'The Hebrew Bible is the supreme example of that rarest of phenomena, a national literature of self-criticism. Other ancient civilisations record their victories. The Israelites recorded their failures. It is what the Mosaic and Prophetic Books are all about'1.

The story of Elijah is remembered for his great battle against the Baals, the gods of rain and fertility and their prophets on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18.21-46. Great praise is lavished on him by the author of Ecclesiasticus who portrays him as a tower of strength, able to 'drag kings down to destruction' (Sirach 48.6). However the texts with which Sirach was working, 1 Kings 17-19, 21, present a more rounded picture of this great prophet.

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Lessons from the Reformation: When papal power trumps legitimate debate

Anne Inman

This article compares the way in which an appeal to papal authority was used to stifle legitimate debate over Luther's Ninety-five Theses with the way in which a similar appeal was used at the Synod of Whitby to stifle legitimate practices in Anglo-Saxon England. Anne Inman is a retired lecturer in Theology.

whitby abbeyIn 1517 Luther was troubled by the effect that the peaching of indulgencies was having on his parishioners at the Castle Church at Wittenberg. In order to address the undoubted abuses that plagued the penitential system he wrote his Ninety-five Theses as a vehicle for debate. His concern all along was for the immortal souls of his flock. It has long been thought that the theses were posted on the door of the Castle Church on 31 October 1517. Yet recently there has been some debate over when and even whether these theses were posted. Peter Marshall's negative conclusion in his recent book: 1517: Martin Luther and the invention of the Reformation, seems compelling.

Luther seeks a debate among scholars
On 11 November 1517 Luther sent the Ninety-five Theses to Johannes Lang, prior of the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, where Luther himself had previously resided.  Luther asks that Lang and others in the Erfurt community comment on the theses, indicating honestly any faults they can find. Clearly Luther does not expect Lang to have come across the theses already, which he would have done if, as Marshall puts it, 'they had been posted with any panache in Wittenberg twelve days earlier.'1

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