Introduction to Theology, Serial No. 01120

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of those who believe in you, and kindle within them
the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and it will be created.
Let us pray.
May the outpouring of your Holy Spirit, O Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful
by the inward sprinkling of His dew through Christ our Lord.
Today I'm going to try to give you a glimpse of the theological visions and Athanasius,
the idea of the word in person as the key to theology.
I suppose if we had to say very briefly what was happening as we examined the first question
of the Summa Theologica yesterday, we couldn't do better than go back to the simple words
of St. Thomas in his own preface.
Remember that, as I think I may have said incidentally, although a writer with an extraordinarily
penetrating mind, which is not then, it's not now really my purpose to demonstrate,
which could be easier done in other places in his writing I think, he managed to get
along with a vocabulary of roughly 800 Latin words, out of which later readers have been
able to construct things that would probably never even have occurred to him.
So, as you may perhaps remember, he had said by way of preface that his purpose was to
investigate concerning holy teaching what sort of a thing it is.
I imagine we are likely to have been left wondering what sort of answer he gave us really,
if one had to add it up, in so far as his way of thinking was not exactly ours and probably
never can become so again.
And so we should have felt here and there a sense of strain when it comes to introducing
into the attempt to give us an organised picture both the notion of a kind of wisdom which
is not simply that of man, with a well-developed mind, but supernatural wisdom.
And I suppose a sense of uncertainty as to whether our sources for this doctrine were
the articles of faith, a phrase specifically used in Article 2, or also the more frequently
referred to holy scripture, with as we saw at the end its many dimensions and meaning.
I think it's probable that I didn't actually mention the fact that the articula fidei are
mentioned in the objection to Article 2, the first objection, which simply said that all
kinds of science proceeds from self-evident principles, but sacred doctrine proceeds from
the articles of faith.
So it's quite clear that in one way one's got, although nothing like so subtle and complex
a picture as we've been getting from the Baptistic world, at least we've got some idea of a tradition
formulated in the articles of faith, as well as holy scripture, which is the main preoccupation
of this part of the work.
In fact, to answer all the sorts of questions which might arise in your mind, you really
have to know a great deal of the Summa, which I didn't think it right to bring in at this
I shall, from time to time in the lectures which follow, be referring to little bits
and pieces of St Thomas, but only because I think they sometimes help to formulate in
a rather simple way things which perhaps we need to say rather differently for ourselves
Now, if we look back at Vatican II's document on Revelation, we shall see, you'll remember,
that the Church still doesn't make a choice between these two, at least these two aspects,
and we felt, I think, that it was probably necessary to introduce the literature as
well, which is also mentioned in the course of the Vatican II's document.
But still, there is, we are left with some general conceptions, rather undefined, as
to the Church's conception of the subject matter of theology, insofar as it is certainly
broader than Holy Scripture taken simply as a book of books, but is Holy Scripture as understood
by the living Church.
And, of course, by saying in chapter 2, paragraph 10, that Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture
make up a single deposit of the Word of God which is entrusted to the Church, we then
got this conception of the complexity of what has to be dealt with.
And so, inevitably, somehow or other, one has to take it to pieces.
I'm trying to follow a method which is less complex and I think more congenial to us,
but certainly it is necessary to take things to pieces a bit, somehow or other, however
one organises it.
Anyone who is developing any theological sense will realise that every single word in that
single sentence of the Council's document is of importance, that Sacred Tradition and
Sacred Scripture make up a single deposit of the Word of God.
And this was why I was somewhat shocked to see that a useful little book by Pierre de
Lubach, which Brother Mark mentioned yesterday, Gordon Finch's L'Ecriture dans la Tradition,
Scripture in Tradition, was published in New York a year later, in 1968, under the somewhat
misleading title, The Sources of Revelation.
It's only necessary to open this book at the foreword to see, I hope, why I say this.
I quote, of course, from the English version.
This book is not the place to look for a complete history of biblical exegesis in the Church
or for a doctrinal explanation of the connection between Holy Scripture and Christian Tradition.
These are subjects too vast and too intricate to be readily compressed, and these sensible
and modest remarks naturally express my own opinion at this point in our work.
You can see better, better, I'm not going to talk about the complexity of this connection
between Holy Scripture and Tradition.
And I suppose really what I'm trying to do, as it were, is to help you to gather together
the threads, to give one a theological sense, without really attempting to justify this,
which would need a great deal more documentation than I can assemble and give you in this space
of time.
I can't give you in twelve or even twice that number of lectures an overall view of the
problems that Christian theology may present to the mind of the reflective believer.
What I might perhaps succeed in doing, with the help of your prayers and your patience,
is to give you a feeling for how at least two great early theologians formed what was
for them a coherent vision of the meaning of their faith.
I'm actually going to include one or two more, of course, before we've done, but these
are the two I'm going to take rather explicitly.
I choose two early ones because although they're not without influence behind them, as no writer
ever is, these two come fairly near the beginnings of theological treatises, and felt in their
own day a world of surrounding influences which has once again become real for us.
If I take Athanasius first, it's not just that I always feel so great an admiration
for him whenever I turn to him, but also because it looks as though his earliest work was an
attempt to throw up a different picture of the world, and of what it is to be human, from
that which was more familiar to pagan influences around him.
I think one must be acutely aware when one's reading Athanasius that he is still very much
surrounded by the pagan world.
It is in fact what we might call a two-decker work, which does not really ever explicitly
face when it goes over into being pure theology, if there ever is any such thing.
We should in any case remember that the kind of distinctions it's sometimes necessary to
make in books are never so easy to apply in life.
In fact, it would often be extremely dangerous to do so.
I think the more you'll come to share the conviction of a later writer like St. Thomas
that grace perfects nature, the stronger will be your practical suspicion as to how much
alike they can look.
So don't be too ready to identify as nature, or maybe it will be grace.
That's already perhaps overmuch by way of introduction.
Suffice it to say that it looks as though Athanasius' book against the pagans, and its
companion on the incarnation of the word, must belong to his youth.
That is to say, before the year 323.
That's the year in which Athanasius and his bishop began to be involved in the crisis
with Arianism.
And it shows that in advance of this, Athanasius already had a very clear mind on many of the
forthcoming issues.
Now, I think perhaps I ought just to say, having said so much, that there isn't really
full agreement among scholars exacted about the date of these pair of works which go together.
The incarnation of the word has, of course, constantly been translated.
You've probably got several translations in the library I haven't looked to see.
My old friend Cispronella did one of them, I remember.
But it's generally published separately, although the opening sentences do specifically refer
to the other work against the pagans as preceding it.
And I think one does need a kind of see-through of the whole thing.
I see that the scholar who has eventually done the Greek text in Soskreatiae for the
incarnation of the word, does think that both works probably date from Athanasius' first
exile in Tria, which would mean that already the Arian crisis was going on.
I suppose perhaps I oughtn't also to go any further without just making sure that everybody
knows what the Arianism was about.
Does everybody?
Do you Peter?
It's not a sin not to know.
Why don't you begin?
Well, it simply is the discussion of whether, it was the beginning of those long discussions
which led eventually to the Council of Chalcedon.
It's a discussion of whether, in fact, our Lord is simply a man upon whom the Spirit
of God comes in order to make him the sort of person he is, and is therefore opposed
by two rather different groups of fathers, the ones in Alexandria, to whom Athanasius
belonged, and his own Bishop Alexander, and the great Cyril later on, which believed in
a union of the two natures.
And there are some signs that in the Antioch, but one shouldn't really ever separate these
two quite so sharp, as is sometimes done in books, there was some feeling that the Logos
was inhabiting the person of the Incarnate Son.
So that you get something which is very nearly like Monophysitism, let's say, having only
one nature in the person of the Son, and the appearance of the Incarnate Son as being
rather like a veil.
Orthodox writers also talk like this very often, Felix and Bernard, but their meaning
to be Orthodox is always made quite clear.
If I may quote from a difficult but immensely valuable essay on Athanasius by a non-Catholic
with strongly ecumenical interests, I would agree with Thomas Torrance that the first
thing Athanasius sought to do in the Conte of Gentiles, against the pagans, was to lay
bare the inherent reasonableness of worship and faith in Christ the Saviour, and of knowledge
of the Father through him, by showing up the inconsistent, contradictory character of erroneous
approaches, and then by letting the truth shine in its own light, in such a way as to
command our faith in it.
It is truth itself that is the final judge of our rightness or wrongness about it.
This essay on Athanasius as a theologian comes in the volume, it says, by Thomas Torrance,
which is called Theology and Reconciliations.
I don't know what you've got.
If it's well worth having, I'll jump back to the end.
Thomas Torrance.
And the New York edition was 1976.
It was published in New York in 1975.
I forgot that sentence.
It's a fairly dense one, so perhaps I'd better just say it, either repeating it or saying
it another way.
Torrance is saying that it really was Athanasius' object to lay bare the reasonableness of worship
and faith in Christ, and knowledge of the Father through him, by showing up what difficulties
you get into, if you take some other view than that which he's putting forward, and then
to let the truth of what he's saying shine out of itself.
I don't think we shall really see exactly what that means until we've gone into about
the middle of next week.
But in this sense, it's not like a modern polemical work at all.
I think Athanasius feels a kind of confidence that if you really are confronted with the
person of Christ, you have to make up your mind about the truth in a way which is commanding
somehow, commands the mind.
I personally always feel that the Gospel of Mark is built up very much like this.
You get a series of build-ups in which the writer of the Gospel appears to be asking
what the Apostles sometimes ask in so many words, who is this?
I believe that if you will follow these two interrelated works with me, of which I shall
give a conducted tour as far as possible in Athanasius' own words, you will see indeed
how remarkable they are by any standards.
And this was a deacon, as far as we can tell, only in his middle or late twenties.
Let's see, even if we put the date of the writing a bit later, he would only have been
about thirty, about the same age as Bernard was when he began to write.
If we put the date of his birth, probably somewhere about the year 298.
The opening words are almost a statement of the program.
The knowledge of religion and truth has, above all things, the less need to be taught by
human beings to the extent to which it is able to manifest itself in and through itself.
Almost every day it cries out by its works and reveals itself clearer than the sun by
the teaching of Christ.
But, continues Athanasius, since his beloved Bishop Alexander has asked him to write something,
he will do so, even though he finds himself for the time being separated from the notebooks
in which he took down the teaching of his masters.
Whether he is on one of his trips to the desert, which were later often forced upon him by
management, we don't know.
At least he is a little timid that he should write anything facile, which might cause
laughter among the Greeks, or as being somehow naive and unreasonable.
I think we should notice from the very beginning, even though they may not have any systematic
theory about it, as we saw in the summer yesterday, that the Theologians of the Church
recognize the need to present their faith in a way which is not a shame to take advantage
of what is a valuable and ordinary human learning.
Even without the spoils of evil, the Theologians of the Church recognize the need to present
the Egyptian image, which we saw in Irenaeus and Augustine.
They will by and large keep their eye on not talking nonsense, even about a faith which
has at its heart a kind of folly.
Athanasius will say at 1.5a, against the pagans, that he wishes the pagans to see that the
cross has not been the ruin, but the healing of the creature.
Light, he says a little later, is lovely, and still more beautiful, the sun, origin
and source of light.
That's S-U-N, by the way.
Likewise, if it is something divine that the whole world should be full of the knowledge
of God, it is necessary that the origin and source of such wonder should be God and the
Word of God.
So he starts, as we might today, by looking out of the window at the sun shining down
on the world, and says that however beautiful it is, the source is more beautiful, the source
of the light is more beautiful.
And likewise, if it is something divine that the whole world should be full of the knowledge
of God, it is necessary that the origin and source of such wonder should be God and the
Word of God.
And so we shall speak as we can, beginning by convincing unbelievers of their ignorance.
Thus, once the falsehoods have been refuted, the truth will shine out of itself.
And so we come at once to a refutation of idolatry.
The fundamental contrast here is between man as he was created by God and man as he has
For, in paragraph 2, God in his goodness and infinite beauty created the human race according
to his image, by his own Word, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
By his likeness to him he made him capable of contemplating him and knowing the things
that are.
He gave him the notion and knowledge of his own eternity, so that by preserving this likeness
he should never stray from the thought of God and the company of the Holy Ones.
Thus, the first man, called in Hebrew Adam, had at the beginning, according to Holy Scripture,
his spirit turned towards God in the most flawless freedom, in the place which Holy
Moses figuratively called a paradise.
I think there we've got a very simple idea which keeps coming up and will be very, very
important also for St Bernard and for the cessation writers later.
The idea of freedom, the idea of liberty of soul as being one of the marks of the man
in his paradise condition.
For the purity of his soul made him capable of contemplating God in himself as in a mirror,
as to say, just looking into himself, he could in fact see himself as made in God's likeness.
According to the words of our Saviour, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see
As probably some of you know, some later writers like Gregory of Nyssa will talk about things
like cleaning or polishing the mirror of the soul in such a way that we can again see the
reflection of God in our own souls.
This is a much simpler conception than Gregory's, which I think has a lot of difficulties attached
to it.
But to begin with, Athanasius has a sense of the great simplicity of man.
It isn't quite so extreme a statement of simplicity as we get in Irenaeus, which I probably refer
to at some later point.
Irenaeus, of course, absolutely unlike the picture of Adam in Paradise, which we find
in the Summa, which I'm not going to go into at all, where Adam is somehow conceived of
as a kind of intellectual giant.
For Irenaeus, he is much more like a child who still has to grow up.
At least in Athanasius, it's a very uncomplex notion of complete simplicity, just like looking
through a window.
Then follows sin, which leads to man's preferring himself and immediate pleasures to divine
In other words, man is filled with desires and thinks that pleasure is the one desirable
thing, and seeks it in all its forms, even when these are wild inventions of his own
Human beings always have to be on the move.
So if they do not move towards the good, they move towards the evil.
This is a conception which is, of course, retained in the construction of the Summa.
In fact, St. Thomas begins the first of the second part of the Summa by saying he has
already looked a little bit at man in the early part, in a way which I shall mention in Varsity
next week.
And then he says, we're going to look at man on the move, now making decisions, acting
and so on.
So, the conception of the Fall is here a man being filled with desires and seeking all
kinds of pleasures, even when these are illusions of one sort or another.
We're going to come back to this in various forms, I think, next week when we're looking
at the idea of the image of God and man, because all writers have to say something like this,
I suppose.
And it's characteristic of the greater monastic night as the early period to warn us against
the danger of illusions.
The soul does not realise any longer that it is not being created simply for the sake of
movement, but for movement in a direction appropriate to it.
And it's about this that the word of the Apostle warns us.
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.
You can see, incidentally, of course, those are taken out of our present situation, those
particular words from 1 Corinthians 6, 12.
But they do refer back, of course, in a certain way to the state of man's primitive liberty.
But he sees so clearly in this unfallen state that he doesn't choose to do things which
are not helpful.
Instead of this, human beings become the victims of their passions which drag them where they
As a result of this, some Greeks come to think of evil as something that persists in itself.
This, of course, leads to the dilemma either that the Creator is not the creator of everything,
or that he is also the creator of evil.
Even among Christians, there are some who come to believe there are two gods, one of
good and the other of evil.
This, as paragraph 7 goes on to say, creates a philosophical impossibility, because these
two forces would require a third to be their maker, and so you would arrive at an infinite
regress, for how could this third one be the maker of the good and evil principles, and
so on.
And thus, continues Athanasius, it is necessary to proclaim the truth of the teaching of the
Church in all its clarity.
Evil does not come from God, does not exist in God, did not exist at the beginning, and
is without substance.
Especially the last point is an extremely important one.
Perhaps I ought just to pause on that now, because there may not be another occasion
to do it.
This has, of course, been the subject of a good deal of controversy about how we define
evil, but the classical theologians are going to insist that evil is always the deprivation
of good.
Let's say it's the lack of something that ought to be there.
So that, of course, there's one good thing even about the devil himself, isn't there?
Otherwise he couldn't be the devil.
He is.
He's an archangel.
That's why being deprived of all that he ought to be, he is evil.
Let's say whether you look at evil as something occurring in a physical condition or in a
spiritual one, it's always the absence of something that ought to be there, an incompleteness
of wholeness.
If you try to work out any other theory, you get into a two-truth theory of the world.
Somehow or another.
And evil doesn't come from God, although, of course, the fact that the devil exists
is due to the fact that God sustains him.
God goes on sustaining us even if we commit all kinds of things.
If we go and cut the abbot's head off before Vespers, it's quite likely we shall live unless
somebody else cuts our head off afterwards.
This doesn't mean that God will be the cause of the act, but he will be the cause of our
survival, and he will also be the cause of our capacity to do the thing, because then
we are using the liberty with which we were endowed to begin with to do something which
we ought not.
But it's human beings who, refusing to think of the good, give themselves over to conceiving
and imagining as they wished something which does not exist.
I suppose?
This is a very clear statement of the common Christian doctrine that evil is a privation
of the good.
I don't really want to discuss this with you very much now, perhaps we can take it up during
our discussion, and sometimes if it comes to you as a new idea, it may need a bit of
our discussion.
I think I've said just enough to make it clear what it means in words at the moment.
But I think you can see what Anathanasius is building up here is a conception of how
once you begin to devote yourself to illusory conceptions and illusory projects and ends
and so on, eventually you're lost in these.
For, Anathanasius continues, the human soul has been created to see God and be illuminated
by him.
But instead of God, it's perishable things and darkness that it sees.
As the Spirit says somewhere in Scripture, in fact it comes in Ecclesiastes 7, 29,
Ecclesiastes 7, 29, 30, God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices.
That, of course, the idea of God having made man upright is something which many writers
have something to say.
When talking about man as made in the image of God.
And you'll remember, of course, that a poet like Blake eventually uses the opposite of
this as the image of the fallen man.
He crawls along the floor on all fours.
God made man upright.
Anathanasius goes on to declare that he believes that idolatry is the logical consequence of
the situation, a divinization of human passions and perversions.
He sees all this as predicted and described in Wisdom chapter 14, verses 12 to 21, which
are quoted in paragraph 11.
I don't think we need to analyze this long section and refutation with the aid of the
texts which will be sufficiently familiar to us.
You know, things like their idols are silver and gold, and so on, which we see in Choir
and the Psalms.
Though I think we should be careful not to dismiss at out of date the ingenious idea
of Athanasius that idolatry in all its forms has its roots in inordinate passions.
I suppose idolatry is at its most tragic when idolatry takes the form of putting another
human being in the place of God.
We must never forget that, of course, this is, I suppose, one of the dangerous things
for us, for the fact that we are all made in the image of God, that it's easy to be
deceived about the nobility of each other in such a way that we can really idolize somebody.
It's, of course, one of the problems of human love, as even many non-Christians have been
and are able at times to recognize.
I may perhaps say here for the moment that this dilemma is possible because human beings
are made in the image and have the dangerous disadvantage that, as we saw St. Thomas mention
in connection with the discussion of scriptural imagery, pruder images for divine things are
safer than the nobler ones, because you don't think they're God.
You might think.
I was saying that, you remember St. Thomas was saying that in defense of the use of crude
images in scripture, that they're safer than the noble ones, because then you can't think
they are God.
And there's no doubt about it.
There is something to it.
For me this is a very, very real thing.
It may not be for all of you.
I think it varies according to one's temperament, but to me people are so absolutely wonderful
I can perfectly well understand why one might be so involved in someone who fascinated one
in every way, in such a way that it became really the center of one's existence.
And so he's really saying something which I think we can understand interiorly, even
in a time when idolatry is not a very common thing.
I remember my brother once telling me that he regularly passed a house in London where
he saw a man worshipping a cat, which is not incredible nowadays.
Nothing is incredible.
Not in the things that people do.
I think that we can see, if we examine ourselves, that the way to, if you like, to putting up
some kind of fantasy in connection with some creative thing, which becomes the center of
our existence, is by no means closed to us once we begin to get into the world of illusion,
which our passions may lead us into, even if it starts as a kind of chemistry.
Again, this is something I think for our seminar afterwards.
It's a very fascinating subject, I think.
And so Athanasius concludes this long section right up to the end of paragraph 29 by saying,
There remains to do what we said we would at the beginning of this discourse, to show
the path of truth and contemplate the author and maker of the universe, the word of the
Father, so that through him we may know God, his Father, and the Greeks understand how
far they have separated themselves from the truth.
Almost immediately, in paragraph 30, Athanasius will say something so striking that it will
perhaps take our breath away, though those who know the common doctrine of the early
Cistercian writers will find themselves in a very familiar country.
Athanasius says, To know the way and grasp it exactly, we need nothing other than ourselves.
And if God is above all things, the road that leads to him is not far from or beyond us,
but in us.
And it is possible to find in ourselves its point of departure.
As Moses taught when he said, did wrong with 30, verse 14, combined with Romans 10, 8,
The word of faith is in your heart.
Something which the Saviour also indicated and confirmed by saying, the kingdom of heaven
is within you.
Am I going too fast for you at the moment?
Would you go back?
Yes, certainly, clearly.
Would you tell where that's found, first of all?
This is paragraph 30 against the pagans of Athanasius.
And so he's saying, to know the way and grasp it exactly, we need nothing other than ourselves.
And if God is above all things, the road that leads to him is not far from or beyond us,
but in us.
And it is possible to find in ourselves its point of departure.
As Moses taught when he said, did wrong with 30, verse 14, combined with Romans 10, 8,
The word of faith is in your heart.
Something which the Saviour also indicated and confirmed by saying, the kingdom of heaven
is within you.
Of course, we can say that the opposite thing is true.
So is the kingdom of hell, if that's what there is there.
Hell begins in the heart.
Since we have faith and the kingdom of God in us, we can readily contemplate and represent
to ourselves the king of the universe, the saving word of the Father.
And if anyone asks what is this way, I say that it is our soul and the spirit that is in it.
For it is that alone which can contemplate God and form a notion of him.
Now obviously this is really why I'm working so slowly and carefully behind the scenes
at the moment for our next week.
Because this is very, very splendid stuff, I think.
It's very wonderful.
It's very, very real.
But it does depend on one's being prepared to go through the process of really penetrating
the meaning of what it is to be made in the image of God and likeness of God.
It's this doctrine of know thyself taken very, very seriously.
In which you see the movements of the heart and discern then how happy and free you can be
when you free yourself from illusions.
And then you know where you have to go, even though you have to go step by step.
In any case, since they've denied God, unbelievers will perhaps refuse to recognize the soul.
And this affirmation will be more plausible, no more plausible than the other.
For it's not to be intelligent to deny God, the author and creator of the understanding.
Athanasius then proceeds to give what he regards as some of the signs of the distinctively human
quality of reason, which separates us from animals.
He compares the use of our understanding when we are balanced in the use of our senses to
that of a well-attuned musical instrument.
We have a capacity to judge of distant things and make projects which animals have not.
We've also at least intimations of immortality.
I think this is so delightfully simple.
Please stop me if I'm still going too fast.
He's saying that if we just look at ourselves, if we simply get still enough and quiet enough
to be aware of what differentiates us from animals, it's very considerable.
I remember, those of you who've read Asking the Fathers, I think will remember that I quoted
a rather good thing from...
His name has suddenly gone from me.
The man who was a specialist on greggies.
On greggies, the pairing of greggies.
Criticizing Desmond Morris and saying that Desmond Morris goes much, much too far in
emphasizing the animal quality of man in the naked ape, because in fact he knows perfectly
well that the distinctively rational quality of man is very, very marked, even in relation
to the most complex animals we know.
I'll have to look at the book in order to find out.
It's down the road there somewhere.
We'll come back to it after we've had a break.
I can't tell you his name.
It'll come to me.
It happens to have opened up in the middle of the afternoon.
This is a contemporary writer who specializes in the study of birds and their habits.
He's an ethnologist, in fact.
And I suppose, as I say, that we have intimation of immortality.
It seems to me that one can never really quite have experienced nature, or some of one's
own moods in silence before nature, or the presence of people one is very fond of and
very deeply influenced by, without feeling the utter impossibility of their not existing
And I suppose if you've ever seen the corpse of anybody you've known alive, when they're
dead, the most striking thing is the complete absence of the person.
I should tell you that one of the experiences I found more frightening in my priesthood
life is that the first time I was a hermit, I was living in a deanery.
of a Belgian diocese, where, because he knew that I couldn't easily accept a public engagement,
the dean of the area where I was living put out a notice saying I was going to give a
day's talk on prayer, before asking me whether I was going to do it or not.
So that I couldn't very well say no.
And one of my friends, who was not actually able to be present on that occasion, but had
very good information about his fellow clergy, was able to tell me afterwards that nobody,
not even the most pious of them, had looked at a single Catholic classic in the course
of their training.
They had all seen an account of the spiritual life, which I was rather terrified to see
you had several copies up along the shelf there, the Tanqueray, which is a sort of 19th
century report on the spiritual life and life of prayer.
Please don't read it.
It's not on the index, but it wouldn't do it any harm.
But it really is rather frightening that very many men were brought up and they'd never
looked at any of the great books, and not even a work like the, like St. Francis of Savoy's
introductions about life.
There wasn't a single one who looked at any of these.
And then, when I went to teach in London, at the point when I was writing Asking the
Fathers, I was suddenly asked by the Dean of Westminster to join an afternoon discussion
on the life of prayer with a number of Anglican clergy in the Jerusalem chamber in Westminster
And there I found myself with a group of clergy around me, all of whom I could take for granted
knew the Treatise on the Love of God by Francis of Sales, John of the Cross and the Treatise
of Avila, and could go back further and further and so on.
Whatever we wanted to talk about, we could talk about it and assume they would have read
these things.
And it's very shameful if we who are involved in, as we are very directly in the life of
the Catholic Church, shouldn't know these things, but there should be outsiders who
feed on them more than we do ourselves.
Of course, this does raise one of the interesting theoretical problems, which I'm going to just
glance at a bit next week, I think, because I think we must, to some extent.
Again, I think we should be wise not to try to define ourselves too narrowly.
But I am presuming that since a great number of people in various countries, and perhaps
including this one, though less, I imagine, than others, because religion is still a success
in America, which it isn't in most other countries in the world, there are always a great number
of people who are really seeking God and seeking divine things who feel they can't get on very
well with any churches.
And perhaps these number of people really have the faith.
I was looking just before I came across to give this talk at an article by Father Ron
on faith, where he said that very often a priest can fairly safely assume that somebody
who approaches him for instruction probably already believes enough to be called a believer.
And certainly if I think of some of the people I've known on the few occasions when I've been
functioning as a parish priest, I would have been a little bit doubtful as to how far all
people who put themselves down as Catholics would have been able to give any very satisfactory
account of what their faith amounted to.
This is again, I think, why the contemplative dimension, which I imagine is still alive
in a country like the one you come from, because where the faith has been for many, many centuries
unbroken and where people have passed on instruction largely by example and word of
mouth and practice and so on, very often there is a theological sense which is more secure
than it is in places where people read far more books but don't necessarily take very
much in and don't use very much judgement about what it is they read.
What would you think, Ken, is the situation as you see it?
I mean, I'm naturally still looking at this country very much from the outside, but what
would you think would be the situation in an average parish?
I mean, on the couple of occasions when I've had to sit through a long harangue, I think
I might call it, during a Sunday Mass, I have often wondered why the people didn't rebel
a little tiny bit against the sort of thing the clergy were saying to them.
I guess that, I would say a handful of people, probably say a handful of the main Mass or
something, are really attentive, but most might just be going through the motions.
It must be a spark of hope.
Yes, I think so, yes, I entirely agree with you.
It certainly is very unsatisfactory to try to measure things by very awkward signs because
of course the fact of going to a Mass at all, it can sometimes happen in relation to the
I've often told one story about the confessional which I think can reasonably be told without
anything to conceal because I don't even know whether the person would even be alive
today now.
But I was once called to confessional late at night and somebody came in and said,
I've committed adultery ten times and I don't feel sorry.
And so I naturally said, well I suppose really what you're saying is that since you're
kneeling here saying this, you're not going to tell me that you didn't actually enjoy
doing this, but you think you ought to do something about it.
And perhaps if you think that, perhaps you ought to think about whether you could do
anything about it or not.
Perhaps you might be more comfortable thinking about it sitting on a chair.
And the person agreed to do this.
And in fact we did have a number of very, very fruitful conversations as a result of
And I think the sheer honesty of us going forward with the action of that kind, which
was done within a very conventional framework, because after all obviously people couldn't
I mean I've known one case, a similar case, of somebody coming and saying, look the man
who's coming after me hasn't been to confession for many years, you will be kind, won't you?
And I said, what do you think I'm sitting here for?
Then of course when the other chap came in I could smell the double whisky through the
grill, because he thought he was going to have a good lashing from me.
And there, obviously the muddle the chap has got into about his faith, there's something
very real, very alive there, and he wants to do something.
And the outward sign is a sign of grace or right, a sign that faith is really alive.
In fact I suppose, I would say from the point of view of, especially the pastoral aspect
of the work in the confessional, I found that my usual practice of saying to people, say
anything you want to ask about, has led endless times to people saying, well if you hadn't
said that Father, I wouldn't have asked so and so, and then they will sometimes ask what
is really the leading question for their life.
It may not necessarily be directly connected with a sin, but it may be something which
they barely need to rethink about their faith.
And that's very, very special. It's a very special moment of grace when that happens.
I've often been surprised at the results that this produces, but it is very extraordinary
how it sometimes will awaken, as I say, a very real need for some kind of new look at
their faith, which is I suppose what we all of us ought to be doing when we're studying
theology too. I mean, if we find that something is simply sending us to sleep, perhaps we're
not looking at it in the right way, and need to look at it in some other way.
But I suppose like nearly all these people who come with some special life problem which
is very central to their faith and to the practice of faith, in fact above all central
to their practice of being a son or a daughter of God, we ourselves are also going to have
special things that we're going to go on looking at again and again until we make, as
it were, our own theological approach to divine things through our own personal need.
Talking about the situation of the faith of the church today in our country or in Europe
or what not, do you think that if there is a problem it could be related to believers
not really belonging to a vibrant community of faith, that the believers feel somewhat
isolated from one another?
I think this is true.
And looking at my parish where I grew up, I think that was kind of the situation that
each family or each individual was not really, he was by himself in the faith.
Yes, I think this is why I mentioned to you yesterday, I think it was yesterday I mentioned
it, that in fact my most lively, not the most beautiful, but most lively experience of the
village were on the occasion when I was living in a village of peasant farmers because there
they were a natural community and they really had, they were dependent upon each other in
every kind of crisis and so on.
Life was, life was birth and death and marriage and so on and it all goes on, sickness and
all the rest of it.
And so they were very close together.
The average town anywhere now in the world is in a terrifying situation where old people
can even be dead for days and nobody knows about it.
I remember just before leaving Scandinavia I read of a case of a woman who died in Stockholm,
perhaps had been dead for some months in her apartment up five floors or something like
And when eventually the police broke in they found there was nothing but a pile of newspapers,
not even a single personal postcard.
So nobody had bothered to enquire about this at all.
And it's very easy to get into this kind of situation and I suppose clergy very often
have perhaps begun to feel like that too.
Even the clergy themselves are often too culturally separated from each other, too separated in
interest and so on.
On one of the occasions when I was giving a treat to a very big seminary in the north
of England, I was a bit concerned by the fact that so many of the younger clergy seemed
to be hoping that they were going to be able to work in a team and I knew very well in the
circumstances they were going to serve they wouldn't be able to.
They would have 25 miles to drive to the nearest priest, most probably, when they eventually
got out on the job.
And this I think would be a very serious difficulty for them.
You see one shouldn't forget that throughout the history of the church and right from the
Gerson onwards, there have always been attempts to try to get the clergy to live together
in groups as being an advantage for them.
Gerson had, as you know, what was in fact almost a small monastery around having their
meals together and so on and talking about things together.
And of course the Gregorian reforms from Gregor VII onwards were an attempt to promote these
groups of canons to run areas and so on and certainly the area where I was a hermit, where
it was simply easy for me to find an abandoned parish.
They hadn't had a priest for seven years and now I imagine the situation is considerably
And the obvious solution for such a big area is a small group of clergy who have a common
life in some form to run it.
And of course it could be grand, such a thing could have been and in the past would have
been run by a group of monks.
It's a dimension of monastic life which has been too much forgotten, I think, that after
all, St. Boniface had lived an ordinary, normal, enclosed monastic life until he was fourteen
before he went and became a missionary in Germany.
And these men carried behind them, of course, the enormous support of having had lived the
common life and shared it and were able to keep it alive.
And we have a correspondence of Boniface which shows that he was always trying to get books
and Bede, one of my great heroes, spent a lot of his time trying to find out how to
get the best text and saying, you know, what I try to do for you also here in preparing
this stuff which takes me all my time.
He says especially, I don't want my students to be deceived.
I don't want to throw away their time.
I want them to have the best that they can have.
And this was much, much more difficult when you wouldn't bring anybody up.
Nowadays, of course, often even that doesn't help because you find the phone has gone bust
and it isn't the right telephone number and all that sort of things.
It can be almost as difficult as it was in the 7th or 8th centuries to get hold of some things.
I expect whether John the Baptist has experience of this as a librarian.
Sometimes you know that books exist but you can't get them and so on.
Bede happened to be living in the monastery which had been founded by a man who originally
started as a pirate and in his old age became a very devout man but also still a collector.
So he collected books and brought back books and relics together so that, in fact,
Bede was actually able to get hold of one of the very special copies of the Bible
which a few people were producing at the time of Cassiodorus.
A very, very precious book indeed.
It had a very good text and you know the enormous trouble that St Stephen Harden took
with the great Bible of Ceto which is a very beautiful book.
You must have seen some pictures of it.
I hope all the Cistercians have anyway.
It's a splendid book.
I saw it in the great exhibition in Dijon.
I saw some pictures of it.
It's a very splendid book, isn't it?
It's a very splendid book and this is something to keep as an ideal for ourselves.
We can't perhaps any longer have books of such sheer physical beauty because this is
one of the things the Cistercian or Ceto didn't renounce.
At any point, I can assure you, because I spent a lot of time with Cistercian books
of the 12th century, both in England, above all in England of course, but to some extent
in France.
In one France I found an unknown sermon available which I published.
And they really were very splendid books and they do show the enormous importance that monks
in the best periods, the most lively periods of monastic life, attached to having sound
books and make sure that you've got a sound text.
Is this how we got it right and so on.
Sometimes of course you can't always know whether a book is valuable or not and monks
and doors know I think.
I think since Father Abbott has asked me to say something in the chapter on Sunday, I
may say a tiny little bit about this business of Cistercian books because all the early
abbeys, they may have had a very small number of books but they were used very much indeed
and they show signs of regular use where we can examine them and identify them and so on.
And certainly I think that going over and over again, which is what Gino's kind of tradition
means, is the thing that does produce wisdom in the long run because if we have too many
things in our head, then we don't tend to return enough, do the same things, don't tend
to hear the things.
It's so delightful to be seeing the office here with you occasionally and to be hearing
Melisa's which means so familiar to me and I sometimes look at the Latin word and then
I see why I know this particular hymn.
Even though the translations are not always very close to Latin, sometimes they are quite
near enough for one to say, oh yes, I know what this is and I know that this will even
call up a melody to me because one has been used to seeing a melody of that kind.
So although in St Thomas' the Soterian view of poetry is the lowest of all sciences, it's
a very, very useful one, isn't it, Ken, really, I think, because if you like the memorable
parts of the Bible, this is, I suppose, a bit of our difficulty with having to use
modern translations is that sometimes, even though they may be good as versions, they
are rather unmemorable.
Do you find that a problem, Paul?
I just don't know.
Do you find that a problem?
I certainly do.
I mean, I find that if I'm preparing something, John Baptist this morning when I asked for
the Bible, said, do you also want a concordance?
And first I said no, and then I said yes, perhaps I do, because I often find that if
I've got a mixture of a modern translation and perhaps an old Latin one in my head, I
may have to look in five places before I get the text I want.
And as I say, the sad thing, I think, we've got to say about all the translations which
were being done for Cistercian such that even the best of them can't altogether give you
the feel that many of the sentences which Bernard and his contemporaries would have
given to those who heard them, because they are full of little tiny allusions to the
You couldn't possibly give this feeling in any translation because we're not using any
standard text frequently enough for these echoes to be caught.
It's also the way the whole thing goes across.
Do we need perhaps just to, before we close, to say something about, which I promised,
yes, do you want to say, do you want to ask something?
No, no.
But then just to give you some idea about the faith in the Philippines, you were asking
about the faith here.
Well, it seems to me that what Brother Mark brought up is something relevant to the faith
in the Philippines.
Yes, because there's so much of this extended family, very close family ties from grandfather,
grandmother, great, down to the, they often live together in one big house.
In extended houses.
And so that often such extended family have only one, that is Catholic thing.
If the grandmother's grandfather is Catholic, it is all down to the child.
The great.
I see.
Yes, yes, yes.
And if one tends to, let us say, get away from, get married to a Protestant or whatever,
then the whole clan sometimes would reject that person.
There is such thing.
Not until, of course, there is also a sort of evolution.
Nowadays, there is not so much of rejection, but certain.
Perhaps because of the influence of mass media, Western culture and other things.
I think so, yes.
There's no doubt about it.
It does have a mitigating effect, doesn't it?
Because there's no doubt that I think that the more, presumably the more you take in the
mass media, the more your attention is going to be diverted, both from the things in nature
itself, which would be called spiritual things, and also explicitly from some of those things
which are directly to do with faith.
Now, going back to this scripture and spiritual books.
I have noticed that the younger generation, they have a real thirst for scriptures and
In fact, they could quote St. Francis and so on.
But the problem is that there is a great lack, a great, we would say, we don't have much
material as perhaps you do have here or in Europe.
Of such things as the books like that.
No, quite.
They're expensive to buy, probably.
Very expensive.
Just one paperback.
To make a real sacrifice.
It would cost 50 pence or 60.
And there are probably not many translated into Tagalog.
Very few are translated into Tagalog.
Although, of course, in general, they could read English.
Yes, but reading something in a language which is not one's own, especially when it's so
vital, is putting it slightly at one stage removed, isn't it, already?
The only thing I was really going to ask you was whether you wanted to talk a tiny bit
about this business of modern political studies in relation to this sort of world.
Because this is perhaps the one occasion, unless you think we're running too long, when
we just perhaps take five minutes on it.
Has anybody got something they feel they want to say very strongly about this?
I mean, because obviously somehow or other, if we're going to have a theological course
which functions, we must be able to relate to the kind of things the modern liberal scholars
are going to say to what we're doing in this sort of discipline.
Let's say, in other words, do you think that the kind of thing which Thomas is saying in
his division of scriptures is quite inapplicable to the modern situation?
I'm sure not familiar with most modern exegesis, but I know in a way I've been turned off with
some of them because, well, I'm not talking that playful thing I passed on to you about
the night before Christmas.
Some of them seem to analyze the thing to death.
I mean, they don't seem to find any real life in the scriptures.
They're just interested in taking it apart, holding it up, and missing everything in doing it.
Yes, exactly.
In other words, curious enough, I think it was Marx's remark about the interest in the
kind of literal sense of the scriptures.
In one way, it's not quite the literal sense in which Thomas understood his history.
That's to say, sometimes, the point you're making, surely, Isaiah, is that he was lost
in the old-fashioned sense of what is literal.
I mean, if this is a symbol or a parable or something, this ought to come out.
It ought to be the primary thing that interests you, and not some grammatical details or so on,
or even the establishment of whether you think this is the original form of the story or not.
It was sometimes an evolved story, even for ordinary historical purposes.
Quite apart from the script itself, it's of extreme interest as a cultural product.
Obviously, we've got to recognize the fact that there are strands of stories.
We've just been going through the early parts of the story of Samuel and so on,
where there obviously are two traditions about kingship and so on.
Nobody can miss this, I think, even if they are not a scholar.
But how far you have to get away from the story in order to study this is another question.
It seems to me that some measure of choice must be done about this.
I must say, as somebody who has to preach a bit, I do generally try to see what the scholars are saying.
Sometimes, in order to decide what I'm not going to say.
I think one ought to know the kind of difficulties they are finding,
and try to make up one's mind how seriously these need to be passed on to other people.
I think this is perhaps one of the reasons why preaching has become so dull amongst many of the Catholic Churches,
especially those who were trained in the way I was, some of the older men.
The sort of thing you were mentioning yesterday connected with the Trinity, for instance.
They sometimes had had such formal things, they tried to give ordinary people this kind of a homily.
And of course it just doesn't work at all. It was just simply passing on dead information.
And this is certainly not what theology is meant to be.
It's meant to be alive, and our scripture reading is meant to be alive.
Obviously we can't fail to use some of the modern tools of scholarship,
and sometimes we have to attend to the fact that we now know that certain Greek words have a specific kind of meaning,
or phrase has a certain kind of meaning which we must take seriously, and so on.
And yet, as I say, I think we've got to bear in mind the kind of thing which the Council, if you remember, was saying,
which I mentioned at the end of yesterday, and felt rather ashamed I hadn't actually included it in the lecture itself.
Towards the end of the chapter three, talking about the way to interpret your scripture,
and chapter four on the Old Testament, where, for instance, I immediately fall on the sentence which says,
the economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so orientated that it should prepare for, and declare in the prophecy,
the coming of Christ.
It does seem to me to be a very sad thing, actually for the very first time, I may say,
because this just shows what the world was, what the Ecclesiastical world was like when I was being trained.
It was the practice in the prior where I was doing my training,
that those of us who were eventually going to be preaching, should do so during, usually on a Friday meal,
when people were eating kippahs, which is not the best kind of thing to be doing while you're preaching.
And precisely because I have a particular attachment to the Books of Kings,
I tended to refer to the Books of Kings in these wonderful stories quite a lot,
because it's perfectly possible to do these for very real reasons.
They have a lot to teach us.
And I remember the people on the top table who always had to criticize these kind of things that we did in those early days,
said about me, oh you can't do all that kind of thing, people don't know anything about it at all.
Now this is quite contrary to my experience.
These stories are so good that anybody who listens to them, even if they've never heard them before,
if you tell them in the right way, they must be real for you first.
And if they aren't real for you, of course you can't make them real for anybody else.
But I think it is simply untrue that you can't preach about the Old Testament.
You can do it, and people always have.
The Fathers always did it, and they always were able to show the way it was relevant, focused, in mind.
Mark, did you want to say something?
I was just thinking about, I used to teach in high school, in girls' high school, Catholic high school.
I forget what the class was called in Scripture, but I assigned them in groups to make some presentation of the Gospel story.
And I remember these two girls did this little puppet show of Elijah and the 40 prophets of Baal,
and the two of them painted little faces on their fingers to make the 40 prophets of Baal.
And they dressed all their fingers like this, 20 little people dancing around.
That was marvellous, yes.
And then one of them would be Elijah, and say, what are you doing?
You have to shout louder.
Of course, it's a really splendid story, and a very, very contemporary story, isn't it?
This is really absolutely one of the things, one of the lovely experiences I once had.
I was suddenly asked, I didn't know what I was going to do,
suddenly I was to preach one of the university sermons at Oxford in the Catholic Chaplaincy.
And so I just did this same story you're referring to, but of course as a picture of a spiritual crisis.
Because remember, what happens is, what we should say nowadays is,
Elijah on top of the mountain with the prophets of Baal, where he slays the Lord,
the fire comes down from heaven and so on, terrific event.
Then he has a terrific depression, immediately afterwards,
goes down, lies down under a tree, has a nervous breakdown and says, I'm finished.
It's all over now.
Well, that's an entirely contemporary story, and we all need to know that the Bible tells us this kind of story.
It really is.
To feel that the Bible is really about us, and the kind of things we can go through,
is of absolutely vital importance.
And so I agree with you, absolutely I agree.
If scripture study gets to the point where you've lost the sense that this can be something that happens in your own life,
then of course the whole thing is as dead as it can be.
We have to be brave.
We have to believe what the Lord knows best.
Because I think the Lord goes on telling us this story.
Once the sorts of things, as I say, these very kind of academic minded people used to say,
was people don't see any sheep, they don't know.
But you'll get people in a nervous breakdown and so on, they know all about sheep,
and they have all these kind of dreams and fantasies about all the things that come into scripture.
They bore out of them.
They may have never had any contact with them at all, but everybody knows them,
because it comes from inside us.
God is speaking to something which is,
this is something perhaps we shan't be able quite to touch upon when we're looking at what man is,
as we can see him in Revelation,
but he's got something to do with the fact that God does speak to us in poetry,
which is the lowest of all the arts, isn't it?
He does. He really does.
And it goes through our heads, and my goodness what an enormous consolation it is
when it comes up to you in the moment when you need to hear it.
Because those are the words that have come back,
not some academic exercise.
Well God bless you all, let's rest until tomorrow.
And then we'll have an exciting time, I hope we'll have an exercise.