Autocracy and authority

What is the most misused word in the debates which surround the Church’s actions and relationships? My prime candidate is the word “authority”. With menacing inevitability it is always reduced to command and obedience. In doing so we condemn ourselves to live in a mindframe which the better elements in the secular world began to abandon by the mid 20th century, and which carries all the penal overtones of medieval autocracy. But true authority is not like that at all.

We get a glimmer of true authority by recalling that God who sustains us in existence from moment to moment by his constant omnipotence did not bear down on us: he gave us free will. When we thoroughly messed that up he did not abandon us but gave himself in total sacrifice to redeem us from our arrogant misuse of his gift, and then provided us with every means to flourish as sons rather than servants.

If that is a flavour of authority at the divine scale how would it translate on the human scale of, say, an ordinary secular, commercial organisation?

This is certainly not a democracy. The owners may, within the constraints of the law, exercise full authority – from setting the objectives, the standards, the routines, the rewards and the sanctions. But that authority may be exercised in radically different ways.

Well into the 20th century it was accepted wisdom that workers were primarily responsive to rewards and punishments. They were not of the calibre to take responsibility or to think for themselves, and thus tasks had to be set out in detail, and timed to ensure the appropriate level of outcome. In a sense the worker was a machine who happened to be human. It was called “scientific management”.

From the middle of the century onwards it began to be understood that, generally speaking, an enterprise was far more successful if the workers were treated as intelligent human beings who reacted well to responsibility. Authority became primarily a leadership activity, inspiring and co-ordinating the willing and co-operative workers – who brought their minds as well as their bodies to the task.

This change was not a result of increased virtue on the part of management but partly because more and more jobs actually required active thought, and primarily because enterprises run in this way tended to be much more successful. If you do not immediately recognise names like Maslow, Herzberg, Likert and McGregor, it is because the battle between worker as machine, and worker as human being, was won far enough in the past for it to be taken largely for granted.

Certain characteristics of these new organisations are worth noting. The first is that the leadership was clear about the ethos and objectives of the business. It had its key success factors and values: for the most part they could be summarised on a sheet of paper. But they would be communicated and applied in a variety of different ways – by example, through the questions asked or in general formal or informal discussion. Rarely, if ever, were they issued as orders, there was no need. There was greater emphasis on encouraging successful behaviour than on fault-finding.

Second, communication – upwards, downwards and sideways – was encouraged. This enhanced the sense of participation, and the organisation benefited continually from the experience of staff at different levels.

Third, the organisation tended to be very open. Naturally there will always be some confidential information but the leadership instinct was to keep everybody as well informed as possible. (Keeping quiet only when you had to, as opposed to telling people only when you had to.)

Of course, for brevity, I have painted a bad guy/good guy picture. The reality was more complex. The application of worker responsibility would differ between an accountancy office and an advertising agency, for instance. And considerable ingenuity would be required when much of the work was mechanical by necessity. Many firms claimed to promote worker responsibility while disingenuously reducing it in other ways. Other firms had bad initial experiences – a residue of past habits – and abandoned change. There were organisations who took the new thinking as an excuse for eschewing active leadership; we see this particularly in organisations where the discipline of the market does not apply. And, naturally, there were, and remain, managements who feel that the workforce cannot be trusted, and so the business remains in a constant state of tension and high personnel turnover.

The question of authority in the Church is sensitive at the present time, in view of the reports on abuse in Ireland. There can be no doubt that the misuse of authority played a large part in the sorry history. Not only was it employed to protect the strong against the weak, but it was employed in the interests of secrecy rather than openness. Even the Holy See has been accused of a culpable blind eye.

We should start off of course by considering whether this was simply an aberration of time, circumstance and place. But then we must consider to what extent it might relate to the way that the Church exercises authority. Do we see the organisation communicating its core values in an effective and inspirational way – with an emphasis on what we get right rather than what we get wrong? Are the members of the community seen as responsible, trustworthy, and focused on the same objectives? Is the Church an example to the world of openness and good communication? Do outsiders still say of us, as Tertullian claimed, “Look how they love one another.”

I do not doubt that I will one day feel motivated to answer that question with more concrete detail. But I shall be grateful if you tell us what you think.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Autocracy and authority

  1. Robert Hartness says:


    Full maks for hitting the nail squarely on the head.

    If I may point out that the first method of exercising authority you describe amounts to “do it this way because I tell you”. It involves a low level of risk for the employer who can more or less guarantee the outcome.

    The second observation you made of allowing the worker freedom to ask questions and be treated as a human being rather than a machine racks up the degree of risk considerably.
    This is acceptable because workers are happier and production improves.

    So far so good, then if the pendulum swings too far the result is anarchy as the worker and boss do battle to establish who is actually running the show.

    It is because of this fear that many organisations still operate in Mode 1 even though they pretend they believe in Mode 2
    style leadership, which is of course, the ideal.

    Your analysis and my caveats most certainly can be applied to the Church and how it exercises authority.

    Perhaps it is inevitable, given the nature of ritual, that the Church sees itself as so different from worldly organisations that it has little hesitation in being a “telling” authoritarian body, in other words firmly in mode 1. We can see so many examples of how this management sytle has generated poor decisions taken insecrecy by ill-informed clerics.

    A side-effect of such a style is a workforce(the laity) who can’t see the point of asking questions, so they end up, over the centuries, as intellectually stilted and quite unable to evangelise anybody. They simply do as they are told.

    We need more Mode 2 influence in the affairs of the Church.
    Vatican II documents provided the basis for such a revolution in thought, and for a time did produce healthy debates on many aspects of our faith, the echoes of which still reverberate weakly among the more resilient members of the laity.

    However, it is clear that the church has been and still is run by those who see the risks of opening up honest debate in matters of faith and morals as too risky. One feels that the Church still mistrusts intellectuals unless, of course, they happen to be priests. It is this desire to control everything and everybody that poses the greatest danger to the development of the Church of the future.

    The nature of any organisation is largely determined by the leadership style of the boss. If he is authoritarian, the organisation follows. The most generous-hearted wise leader with his finger completely on the pulse of desired church development was, in my view, Pope John XXIII. Pope John Paull II was cast in the same mould, but became rather protective and stern too early in his Papacy.

    If we are to grow and develop as the Holy Spirit intends, we must not stifle freedom of expression and lively debate through fear of the consequences. Don’t we say “The Holy Spirit blows where It will”; that being so , the Church must have the courage to follow

    Well, that’s my twopenneth, for what it’s worth.

    Robert Hartness

  2. claret says:

    As with many things the notion of ‘authority’ has many aspects to it and therefore there is always a case of ’cause and effect’ for good or bad depending on which side of the fence you are stood.
    However in general terms posession of authority is something to be prized and therefore is often seized with a firm grip. With that comes a flawed ‘certainty’ that the holder of this prize also konws what is best for those who are the ‘benefecaries’ of this all-knowing authority.
    Taken to its extremes we have many of the ‘isms’ of the world. Nazism and Communism being two of the most obvious ones. Of course both of these eventually failed when enough people decided that the authoritarian state did not know what was best after all.
    Regretably the more insiduous nature of Government authority is to learn from previous mistakes so now many if the ‘isms’ have re-created themselves under different guises that give a veneer of freedom while in fact being almost as authoritarian as before.
    Even in our democracy in the UK could anyone have foreseen such restrictions on our basic freedoms imposed by authority. Freedom of the Press, freedom of action, freedom of thought, freedom of speech or to even write a letter, freedom of conscience etc. have all been eroded because of our recognition of the authority of the law. So laws can be written and complied with because we are a law abiding but these same laws can have devestating and insidous effects on our freedoms.
    We cannot now even rent out a Church Hall to who we want! Write a letter complaining about abuse received from participants taking part in a Gay March and you get a visit from the Police for a ‘hate crime.’
    Moving on to our Church then the same comfort in authority exists. The Reformation was to some extent a re-action to ill used authority and the Church has still not learnt a lot from
    that sorry experience.
    It still knows best. The laity ( all one billion of them , ) have scarcely a brain between them so cannot be trusted. Better all round to keep the laity in its place by not allowing for any structures that would allow for scrutiny, inspections, or accountability. Talk about these things. Pretend they are encouraged but carry on regardless.

  3. Vincent says:

    Robert, I am absolutely with you on this. It really matters.
    Just one point: the Mode 2 approach does not, in my experience, lead to a struggle for power. Of course the workers expect to be listened to – and their views taken seriously – but in fact Mode 2 authority tends to carry much greater influence than Mode 1. I suspect that this is because trust exists.

    I don’t know the inside details of the British Airways dispute, but it would seem that the absence of trust is the real block to progress. And that is probably the fault of both sides. However the initiatives that lead (eventually) to trust must originate from the authority side.

  4. John says:

    I’m new to this column, so please excuse any clumsiness or naivety of expression.
    For me, at the core of a long-standing weakness within our church is a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between authority and power.
    Jesus had/ was authority per se. He is The Word incarnate. He reveals the Father to us. Likewise, the bishop and priest in His footsteps are commissioned to carry on this same authoritative instruction. They too, as they communicate to us Christ’s Body and Word, have divine authority.
    But in his day to day life Jesus demonstrated (and so modelled for all His followers) the very opposite of exerting power over people.
    He rejected in His temptations in the wilderness the (offered gift of the devil of) control over the kingdoms of this world. He washed his disciples feet (literally; not as a liturgical rubric). He had nowhere to lay His head. Far from any regalia of office He had nothing but the robe He stood up in. He taught His followers humility and meekness of spirit. He Himself accepted insult, abuse and criticism, even to the cross – laying down His life for His sheep.
    His call is a call to service. The call to ministry is a call to service. But this word has become emptied of its true meaning. The frequently photographed mitre and crozier and cathedral chair, in their very prominence, stand in utter contradiction to the message which needs to be taught.

  5. Vincent says:

    I am reminded by John’s note that Jesus was recognised as speaking with authority and not ‘as the scribes and pharisees’. The word ‘authority’ stems from the idea of originator. So, since Jesus’s hearers did not know him to be God, he must have communicated that he was speaking in the spirit of God.
    Thus I think it follows that the Church, or its immediate representative, must be speaking in the spirit of God (that is, the Gospel as John summarises it) if it is to communicate authority.
    If this is John’s first contribution, let’s hope it isn’t his last.

  6. st.joseph says:

    Yes John’s comment has brought in a sense of Spirituality into the Word Authority!.I just wonder when we speak of the Bishops are we only speaking about the Bishops of England and Wales. I believe that we do have Bishops all over the world speaking in the Spirit of God-and I dont judge them all on the experience we find in England ,and the few in Ireland that who have brought their office into disgrace. Bishop O’Donoghue who has now retired to Ireland- the work he has has produced before he retired is certainly the work of The Lord. It is a great pity that it isn’t yet promoted yet by the Bishops Conference. We can all live in Hope.Although ‘Fit for Mission’ series is being used in the Lancaster Diocese where he has retired from.

    This is my body- a Programme for Catholic Primary Schools will be used in his Lancaster Diocese and is recommended by Bishop O’Donoghue. It is a scheme of work for Catholic schools assisting parents in the personal relationships in education of their children. ,in year six. This is where it will help combat the
    sex education laid down by the Government.

  7. Ion Zone says:

    This brings up thoughts on the nature of Free Will, and how every group of opinionated individuals claims that they are the sole benefactors of freethinking. Gun nuts do it, anarchists atheists, and Born Again Christians do it.

    It is the nature of most people to seek an authority figure or concept to hate, while standing behind another, after all, you can’t be a ‘freethinker’, whatever that means, unless you are One Of Us….

    We crowd around leadership because leadership brings authority and authority brings security, and because it is safe in the group, it’s comfortable. The people who rail against the establishment of today are the establishment of tomorrow. Yesterdays hippies tell today’s youngsters to ‘cut their hair and get a job’.

  8. Ion Zone says:

    You may now emerge from your cynicism bunkers!

  9. eclaire says:

    A large number of Catholics today do not go to Mass on Sundays. A good 75% do not believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament is almost non-existent. Many catholic school children do not know how to make the sign of the cross correctly and reverently(if at all); they cannot recite the Hail Mary from start to finish. Many bishops often do their own thing and are far too worldly (that’s the problem, not their vestments which are richly symbolic and therefore necessary). At a Mass recently attended by a friend of mine, the priest informed the congregation that the Creed was not going to be recited because they babbled it. The same priest also said at the beginning of Mass that he was waiting for someone in the congregation to say Mass. So much for the priesthood! (His ‘authority’ was not questioned here!). Many priests do as they please having been taught in some seminaries that this is just fine and dandy (thank God for the few who continue to be obedient to authentic Church teaching and holy with it – and no, that does not make them machines). Catholic men and women abort their babies. The list goes on and on.
    Authority (commanding and obeying) in and out the Church? Let’s not flatter ourselves!! So much for the authority the Church is supposed to wield – what an impact it’s had in the last sixty years or so! The (brainy) laity have chosen and haven’t they chosen well!

    There is a place for commanding (firmly and with conviction, but with humility, too) and obeying (without question Church dogma). These need not be shocking words as long as they are used in conjunction with the Truth, and the Church founded by the Truth (for Catholics, at least). Trust is paramount and regrettably, trust has been eroded by evil. I think it is high time to stop fashioning the truth to our own (individualistic)liking and giving it an ever new rationalistic meaning so that our faith (and that of others) dies altogether? Need it be repeated, too, that we were given ‘Ten Commandments and not ten suggestions’.

  10. Vincent says:

    I am sorry that eclaire should have such a sad picture of the Church. I do not doubt the truth of his anecdotal experience; I can only say that my, equally anecdotal, experience has been different – and much more encouraging.
    I am not sure what he means by the “brainy” laity. For most of the Church’s history the assumption has been that the laity should be passive recipients of hierarchical teaching – too uneducated or too stupid to understand. Today, many of the laity are well educated and thoughtful. Naturally they ask questions, and they have actually noticed that the hierarchy has frequently been wrong in the past. Is it just possibly that some laity are disaffected because the authorities insist on treating them as they always have?

  11. eclaire says:

    I am pleased that Vincent has such a positive view of the faithful at Mass and (presumably) in the way they live out their faith, too – I just wish I could share it with him; harmony and unity (not to mention love!) is what we should aim for. In all honesty, however, I cannot…it is just not possible for me to deny the facts and those facts are confirmed, time and time again, in Catholic and national newspapers, by good priests and religious themselves, by the observant laity and by all those who have eyes to see and whose standards have not been lowered, or eroded away until they no longer resemble catholic standards. ‘We act and pray as we believe’. How many catholics stay behind after Mass to offer a prayer of thanksgiving, or indeed, when entering a catholic church acknowledge that they are in the presence of the Lord by genuflecting, or by making some other sign of reverence? How many catholics tell us that they do not need to go to Mass on a Sunday? How many catholics get divorced, remarry and then re-divorce? How many catholics live together before they are married? How many catholics follow the Church’s teaching regarding contraception (we may not like it, it might be difficult to put into practice, but we cannot deny that it’s not part of the authentic teaching of the Church). It is quite dishonest to claim that what I wrote above is mere anecdote.
    Having said all that, however, there are indeed small areas where authentic Church teaching is still respected, where Church doctrine is actually taught and discussed openly, where devotion is always encouraged, where the Blessed Sacrament is indeed revered and adored, because those who adore Him firmly believe that Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. These are the faithful who have refused to accept (and still do) the poisonous teaching that belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is just an ’empty phrase’, the very words used by a priest (and there were/are many like him) in the early eighties to a relative of mine who was studying for the Catholic Teachers’ Certificate! These faithful were not frightened off by the arrogant and disdainful manner these ‘sophisticated’, disobedient priests and their laity adopted towards them. The few, courageous ones who continued to be obedient to authentic Church teaching were often humiliated as a result because it was thought they were backward. And what an irony! – in their own turn, these so-called intellectual priests also stated categorically that the laity who did not follow their new word were stupid and naive and would need to be weaned off the childish beliefs of yesteryear because they could not possibly accept it all at once!

    It is true to say that in the past the laity were expected to accept church teaching without ever exploring it, and that, regrettably, they were deemed incapable of learning by the Church, but we are greatly mistaken if we think that the majority of catholics today are more knowledgeable about their faith than they once were. What I would suggest, is that they are a great deal more confused than ever before, though they may not think so. It is, of course, good to question; indeed it is necessary in order to have an informed conscience, but for a long while now we have been encouraged to question even before we know what it is we are questioning! Question for the sake of questioning. There are questions, and there are questions, and questioners have a variety of motives for asking their questions – not all of them honest and some of them destructive, not constructive. The pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Woe to anyone who dares not question! Our Lady asked a legitimate question in all humility and then she obeyed. Jesus chose twelve, uneducated men to be His apostles; He did not choose twelve intellectuals.

  12. eclaire, I would hate to get in between you and Vincent, but I thought you might be interested in the large survey of parish clergy which was carried out in 2002 (as far as I know the latest of its kind and scope).
    It was a pretty frankly answered survey. For instance a majority felt unable to support the Church’s total ban on contraception. However 99%,whether young or old, affirmed their belief in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine.

  13. Ion Zone says:

    On authority, the headlines today are ‘Catholic Church in Ireland creates anti blasphemy law’.

    Though if you read deeper, which even the BBC article doesn’t it turns out they are really just grandstanding about name of the law without really finding out what it is about. To sum up, it’s just a more specific, though slightly old-fashioned, version of our law that treats blasphemy, by which it means ‘anything highly offensive to a large number of people’ a bit like racism.

    Of course if it was the other way round, they would never, *ever*, do whatever they could to spite us.

  14. Ion Zone says:

    Forgot this link which I intended to put after the word ‘racism’, sorry.

  15. st.joseph says:

    eclair, don’t feel despondent. There are many who feel like you . We are a ‘suffering’ Church and will be until the end of time.

    Quentin’s mention on the survey on the belief of the Real Presence maybe correct, but neverthless they may not have a proper understanding of it. If a survey on our understanding of our bodies being the Temple of The Holy Spirit when we receive Our Lord – perhaps catholics would think diffirently before using
    abortfacients as a contraception.Just one example.
    We can always offer it up to Our Lady of Consolation and She will cosole us

  16. eclaire says:

    Thank you, st joseph for your kind words of support and encouragement; your tone is one of humility and what you say is true.

    Quentin, if the survey you mention regarding the 99% is meaningful, I am as delighted by the result as any Catholic should be, but to think we need to have a survey – on this point in particular (but also on other matters relating to Church teaching), and especially amongst the parish clergy, is very telling in the first place. How far do these surveys (similar in size) go back?

    I do not wish to labour the point (even though belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is central to Catholic belief – and is very relevant to the authority/power/general consensus discussion), but one can still walk into some Catholic churches (there is one such church not far from where I live) and find that the tabernacle is nowhere to be seen; it is hidden away in a side chapel, or elsewhere. The ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ states clearly that ‘the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church,’ (1379) and yet, there again, many clergy took it upon themselves (for whatever reason), to ensure that the tabernacle should be placed out of sight, watering down devotion, weakening belief in the Sacraments. Enter Ealing Cathedral and you will find the same scenario (and I don’t accept the argument that the tabernacle should be removed to the side in our cathedrals because the many tourists who visit are generally unaware and therefore -unintentionally – disrespectful).
    It is true that things are improving, but this is NO THANKS to those, who after Vatican II thought they had a right to re-interpret Church teaching in all areas according to their own likes and dislikes. This attitude has not dwindled away (even if some Catholics persist in looking through their rose-tinted spectacles); it is still rife in many areas and indeed, encouraged by the secular world and by the likes of dissident theologians who remain disobedient to this day. If there is a ‘return’ to observing true Catholic faith and teachings, it is because some faithful and courageous Catholics never stopped affirming the supremacy of Peter; they accepted that the Church is the guardian and interpreter of God’s law without question.
    They have never received any apologies from those who humiliated them so viciously before; those who were wrong have never admitted that they made serious errors in their proud questioning and personal judgement… these upstarts just changed their mind quietly hoping nobody would notice and many, many gullible catholics lost their faith as a result.

    We have a duty, as Catholics, to follow the decisions of the Pope, the Vicar of Christ in matters of doctrine. Protestants believe that each one must decide by his/her own private judgement – that’s up to them: Catholics do not. To be blunt, if we cannot accept Church teachings (and that includes the Church’s teaching on contraception in its entirety) then perhaps we should be honest about it and seriously consider becoming a member of a Protestant denomination (though it is always very sad when this happens and it is always hoped that disobedient Catholics will change their minds). What is very frustrating is for so-called Catholics to introduce doubt about the faith at almost every opportunity and to persistently undermine Church teachings under the spurious excuse that they are profound thinkers and can do a much better job than any Pope, or Church.

    Of course, there are legitimate developments of ideas within the Church and Cardinal Newman, for example, was ‘most insistent on the part to be played by individual (educated and HOLY) minds in theological inquiry…Indeed, Newman often drew attention to the fact that it is these individuals, not the Holy See, who have taken the initiative and given the lead in theological inquiry,’ BUT…these ‘must not use private judgement AGAINST the Church’s judgement.

    We must also (as most of us know) make a distinction between the Church speaking doctrinally and when she doesn’t. The teachings in ‘Humanae Vitae’ are doctrinal and these teachings have to be obeyed (even if one is a bishop!). If people do not observe the Church’s teaching on a total ban on the use of contraception, it is either because they have not understood (or refuse to understand) the Church’s teaching on human sexuality – and do not follow the argument through to its very end, or because they want to follow the ways of the world because these are easier. Some people question Church teaching not because they are genuinely interested in exploring objective truth, but because they are fighting for a different outcome – one that suits them (directly, or indirectly). [The mention of the word ‘total’ is interesting and one guaranteed to raise blood pressure. Let’s be clear about this; the majority of Catholics do not accept the Church’s teaching on the use of contraception – full stop – never mind the ‘total’ bit. They do not trouble themselves about arguing for, or against cases where use of contraception might be permissible!] The Church states that using contraception in all cases does not lead to man’s fulfilment, but rather enslaves man and diminishes his dignity.

    ‘God has the right to be obeyed’. Christ is the Head of the Church. We have to accept the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the Universal Church. He is the Successor of Saint Peter; he is the head of the College of bishops. There should never be general consensus here and if I go to some length to write all this, it is because I wish to redress the balance in this discussion.

  17. eclaire, you make a very clear statement on a number of points, and it is of great value to the Blog to have to your thoughts recorded. Just a couple or three points.

    I quite agree with you about the Eucharist. I am fortunate to worship in a parish which puts the highest importance on the Eucharist, not only in the way that Mass is said but in the use of Exposition etcetera.

    The survey to which I refer covers a range of questions to parish clergy, and it’s published as a book: The Naked Parish Priest by Continuum.

    With regard to your remarks about contraception, I don’t want to get into the pros and cons here as we have covered it elsewhere. But I think we must take the Church at face value. It is quite clear that she does not regard strict adherence to HV as necessary for continued membership of the Church (assuming of course that conscience has been prudently informed). And I don’t think we can properly take a harder line than she does.

  18. st.joseph says:

    I would like to put my penny woth in on the subject of contraception. I dont think I was blogging when it came up.

    Humanea Vitea ought not to be thought of as an order of do’s and don’ts’ It is the voice of Wisdom explaining to the whole world the beauty of the relationship between husband and wife and God,aTrinitarian Love within Marriage. As catholics we are very privileged to be able to underastand this If I dare say it- from a male celibate Pope.To back this up we have the means to co-operate with this with -the use of Fertility Awareness
    The knowledge that our grandparents and parents didnt have. Since the Sixties now with proficiency. I can sympathise in those days long ago with the lack of knowledge and misinformed use of N.F.P how couples would then resort to artificial contraception. We also have the further knowledge of abortifacients. We can now understand what God is speaking through His Chuch, offering us a Divine Gift which is not a voice of Authority or disobedience but common sense and trust in the Lord. We as catholics ought to be a leading Light in the world, with encouragement from our Bishops!

    ProfessorJanet Smith in her Lectures ‘ContraceptionWhy Not’ has a saying to her audience Quote ‘If you dont want to go to Miniapolas-Why are you sitting on the train? unquote. and one of mine is-Why have you got your umbrella up when it has stopped raining?
    It may take a time for someone to work that out but the common sense is in the quotes.

  19. eclaire says:

    Quentin, thank you for your comments. I certainly don’t wish to ‘take a harder line than the Church’ and I never have done. I am not some sort of fist-thumping reactionary. I merely wish to re-affirm that the Church is Holy (despite her sinning members – indeed Satan targets priests and bishops and ‘loves’ to pervert them), that she is not an organisation like any other and that we should all love her, defend her and respect her far more than we do. She is rightfully powerful (her intercession especially at our death is powerful and I thank God for that) and she takes her authority from Christ and the Holy Spirit. (She also needs to be powerful in the material sense in order that her voice is heard in a world that only undertands materialism). She is, and should be hierarchical (hierarchy exists even amongst those who claim they despise it). As for the Church not ‘regarding strict adherence to HV as necessary for continued membership’ well, if that is the case (and using contraception is still a grave sin), it proves that she is not as tyrannical as some would have us all believe. She also permits Hans Kung, for example, to continue in his priestly ministry…in fact, she allows and tolerates many things…perhaps we could remember that when we discuss her power.
    St Joseph you are right when you say that the Sacrament of Marriage is a Divine gift and that it reflects the love of the Trinity, but I am afraid there IS a right way, and a wrong way and that is why the Church also has the Sacrament of Penance (confession and absolution).

  20. st.joseph says:

    Eclair you are quite right. It is good to hear the Sacrament of Penance mentioned!. A lot of instruction on the Sacrament of Marriage could be given in Confession by well instructed Priests.
    N.F.P. instruction could be given by Marriage Care with the preparation for Marriage. My experience is that it is not an issue.!It is their duty to inform conscience. Of course this could begin in the 6th form in our schools,instead of teaching students
    what kind of contraceptives are on the market. Of course we could take this further and say it is the responsibility of the – parents.,but then how many are using Fertility Awareness themselves. I hope I dont sound too condeming but I feel these points have to be made It would be good if the Holy Father made next year the year of the Holy Family, the where attention would be shown in this area as a Pastoral care The family is the backbone of our society and so much under pressure at the moment.

  21. Superview says:

    I have returned to Second Sight after a couple of weeks without logging on and want to make a response to the last few comments. I apologise for the length.

    Since I joined the second sight blog just over five months ago I have found it a stimulating experience that has led me into theological, philosophical and historical realms that I certainly didn’t anticipate. The high quality of the contributions, stimulated by Quentin’s indefatigable fortnightly efforts to get us thinking, have often been inspirational. Thanks to Second Sight I have read more, thought more, and written more about matters Catholic than I could have imagined five months ago. It has fitted well with my renewed spirit of enquiry, as a life-long Catholic, into the nature of the Church. I try and approach each topic in a simple, direct way, and weigh the findings as even-handedly as I can. I do it on a canvas of my life experience, and I hope I am always conscious of its limits.

    One difficulty is the sanction against questioning the authority of the Church. I have consciously suspended regard for this, not least because of recent events. My perspective is also unequivocally modern. For most of present-day adults the 20th century was our century. It saw many terrible and evil events, but also progress on many fronts. It produced monumental changes in culture and society, and scientific achievements in fields integral to our knowledge of our human development on the planet, and in the universe. The 21st century is accelerating the progress. Much of this seems to be challenging to the Church, fearful as it is of the modern world.

    The blog has covered some of these areas, and human evolution is one example (Chattering Chimpanzees). We addressed questions such as the emergence of the soul, the development of language, and the ability of our earliest ancestors to distinguish between good and evil – and, in the context of the Fall, I tried to envisage a stage at which our primitive ancestors could have had a conversation with Almighty God, chose with full knowledge to disobey Him, and thus brought judicially justified terrible consequences down upon all future generations. (The words of the Catholic Catechism, para 398, are truly categorical: “man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good.”).

    Unfortunately, the blog stalled on the implications for the doctrine (or is it dogma?) of the Fall. Yet it would seem that the science has led the Catholic Catechism (the authoritative voice of the Church) to accept that Genesis is only a figurative account of the appearance of Man on earth (see para 390), while insisting that, to quote, it “affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.” It does not seem to me to be unreasonable therefore to ask which bits still stand? Presumably no rib? No serpent? No tree of knowledge? No apple? No Eden? Given its fundamental importance to the concept of the Fall and original sin, isn’t there a serious deficit if no more is said about this?…and in a voice consistent with the science?

    Other paragraphs in this section are no more helpful. Take paragraph 400, speaking of Adam and Eve, which I quote in full:

    “400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.”

    Am I, as a Catholic, duty bound to submit to the authority of the Catechism, and therefore to believe this description of the relationships between man and woman (“marked by lust and domination”), between us and the earth, and the timeline for the introduction of decay and death on our planet? As one frequent contributor to Second Sight commented, death and decay has been around since life itself began. So why is all this offered to the world as truth? Or is this question being too rational?

  22. Superview, I’m delighted that you have found the Blog stimulating. I have to say that it is a great pleasure to write, and then to study and be influenced by reactions.
    You raise some very pertinent questions about Adam and Eve, the Fall etc. As it happens I have been doing some research on the hominid line – which has brought me back to that area. I have had in mind a possible column which should bring us into that area. Should be interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s