Home > Straws For The Camel's Back > November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014

Freke, Gandy and the Gnostics

They’ll be a bit dated, but from time to I’m giving a fresh airing to items from early back numbers of the Brandsma Review. These are “Straws for the Camel’s Back” from issue 42, just before the millennium:

Gnosticism—the syncretistic heresy first combatted by St John—is on the attack again. Its ideas have been promoted on television, and recently I was sent an expensive book by two English academics called Freke and Gandy who argue that early Christianity sat quite comfortably with contemporary belief systems in the Roman Empire. According to the authors, we Fundies (actually they call us “Literalists”) must drop our rigid ideas about the Incarnation and Redemption and form a synthesis with pagan religions. The book is nearly 350 pages long, but I think that’s a fair summary of its contents.

A Newman, Knox or C.S. Lewis would have destroyed this thesis in a trice; but today, unfortunately, there are Gnostics actually in positions of authority within the Church, proselytising without fear of rebuke.

Our English mole confirmed my thoughts on this subject when she reported on the London launch of a book with the encouraging title Poverty, Celibacy and Obedience by a Sacred Heart Missionary, Fr Diarmuid O’Murchu. The shop was crowded with elderly women, many obviously nuns in mufti. Father was in civvies, too. He began with some re-definitions:

Poverty is having just enough, so that no one is in need;

Celibacy needs a new appraisal in the light of modern scholarship;

Obedience means mutual collaboration.

Father quoted from Walter Wink, described as an American Scripture scholar, who wrote Engaging the Powers. This explores the “domination system started by the myth (sic) of Redemptive Salvation” Why, asked Father, was there so much violence in our society?

Original sin?” suggested one of the few Fundies present.

Father ignored her. The answer, he said, was that “our religion was born out of the blood of a slaughtered God and this leads to violence”. Moreover, this religion of ours had “murdered the goddess humans had worshipped for 30,000 years”. Our religion wanted to erode this memory and label it as paganism. Some people thought his books were pagan, too, he said.

He concluded by asking everyone to bear with him because he was searching for the truth, as many others were today. The “institutional Church” would have to take notice of them if it was to survive. This brought sniggers of encouragement from the sisters, followed by plenty of applause.

Our Mole suggested to Father that although what people had worshipped 30,000 years ago was interesting it was hardly relevant, as 2,000 years ago God became Man and revealed the Truth to us. Father said our Mole must broaden her outlook. When she asked him to explain what he meant by this, he told her about some ancestor worshippers he had met in Africa, who were very good people.

Our Mole sought out the shop manager, a nun, remonstrated with her about allowing paganism to be promoted in a Catholic bookshop, and suggested she should examine her conscience carefully. She didn’t answer, but merely gave our Mole a kiss.


Come Back, Pelagius…

Another heresy is also in the ascendant, it seems. Celtic Newchurch has rehabilitated the old heresiarch Pelagius—apparently because they don’t like the idea of original sin and think that good works are much more important than stuffy old faith. Pelagius has Pat Robson—a Welsh Anglican priestess—to thank for his rehabilitation. In her new little work The Celtic Heart (Harper Collins, London) we learn that men and women are created good and that even before the coming of Christ there had been people wholly without sin. “Even now,” she writes, “the old Celtic hatred of the concept of original sin and predestination lingers on in fiercely independent British hearts.” (Can I hear a Royal Marine brass band in the distance, playing Hearts of Oak?)

Ms Robson’s little book reminds me of Hilaire Belloc’s Song of the Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men’s Backs and the Very Robust Out-Thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual.

Pelagius lived in Kardanoel

And taught a doctrine there

That whether you went to heaven or hell

It was your own affair.

How, whether you found eternal joy

Or sank forever to burn

It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy

But was your own concern.

Oh he didn’t believe

In Adam and Eve

He put no faith therein

His doubts began

With the fall of man

And he laughed at original sin.

There’s lots more, but that’s all I’ve room for. It’s from The Four Men, Thomas Nelson, London (1952). St Jerome said Pelagius had dulled his wits by eating too much Scottish (read Irish) porridge. He was, in fact a Welsh monk, and his real name was Morgan. But some very good things do come from Wales: our contributor Robert Williams has pointed out to me that it took a Welshman to drive the snakes out of Ireland.


Timmy’s Vaccination

Dear Mom,

Gosh, can you believe it? 2023 already. I am still putting 22 on nearly everything. Seems like just yesterday I was sitting in first grade celebrating the millennium change. I know we haven’t really chatted since Christmas. Sorry. Anyway, I have some difficult news and I really didn’t want to call and talk face to face.

Ted’s up for promotion and I should be up for a hefty raise this year if I keep putting in those crazy hours. You know how I work at it. Yes. we’re still struggling with the bills. Timmy’s been “okay” at kindergarten although he complains about going. But then, he wasn’t happy about day care either, so what can I do? He’s been a real problem, Mom. He’s a good kid, but quite honestly, he’s an unfair burden at this time in our lives.

Ted and I have talked this through and finally made a choice. Plenty of other families have made it and are much better off. Our pastor is supportive and says hard decisions are necessary. The family is a system and the demands of one member shouldn’t be allowed to ruin the whole. He told us to be prayerful, consider all the factors, and do what is right to make the family work. He says that even though he probably wouldn’t do it himself, the decision is really ours. He was kind enough to refer us to a children’s clinic near here, so at least that part’s easy.

I’m not an uncaring mother. I do feel sorry for the little guy. I think he overhead Ted and me talking about “it” the other night. I turned around and saw him standing at the bottom step in his pyjamas with the little bear you gave him under his arm and his eyes sort of welling up. Mom, the way he looked at me just about broke my heart. But I honestly believe this is better for Timmy, too

It’s not fair to force him to live in a family that can’t give him the time and attention he deserves. And please don’t give me the kind of grief Grandma gave you over your abortions. It is the same thing, you know. We’ve told him he’s just going in for a vaccination. Anyway, they say it is painless. I guess it’s just as well you haven’t seen that much of him. Love to Dad…Jane.


Happy Earthday, Bishop Bill

How about this?

KERRY EARTH DAY 1999—JUBILEE 2000 PREPARATION…This day will be informative and will also be a day of celebration…There will be workshops dealing with some of the following topics: creation spirituality, environmental issues, development education, human rights, refugees, justice, recycling, heritage, composting, organic farming, fair trade, world debt, animal rights, trees talk, bird watching in Kerry, Kerry walks, etc….The day will include an opening interfaith liturgy and table quizzes…This day is organised by the Kerry Diocesan Justice Millennium Committee.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a rather feeble Kerry joke. It has the blessing of Bishop “Bill” Murphy, a begetter of the disastrous Children of God series before his elevation to the episcopacy.

In his Easter pastoral, “A stirring and challenging time for all” (the word “challenge” occurs nearly a dozen times) Bishop Murphy goes on about the necessity of right relationships. “This idea of right relationship offers us a liberating, invigorating opportunity to focus our lives on what is really essential for the new Millennium.” God gets a mention, but there’s nothing about the need for individual repentance and a good Confession. There’s lots about world debt, rain forests, the ozone layer, etc., and the bishop hopes “we will continue to debate with and challenge each other in relation to the questions that are before us”.

Lots more talking shops—that’s the way to usher in the Millennium!


More Grovel, Grovel…

In our last issue we published an apology check-list for the year 2000, covering everything from the Inquisition to red shoes and votive candles. From a report in the Sunday Telegraph, it appears we should have mentioned one very important matter to grovel about in 1999. It’s the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders, who liberated the Holy Places from the Saracens 900 years ago this July.

Where is this apology business going to end? Are the Irish going to have to say sorry to the British for carrying off St Patrick and making him a slave? Must the Italians send a contrite delegation to Colchester because the Romans beat up Queen Boadicea? Will we see Greek officials weeping tears of repentance at the site of Troy in present-day Turkey?

The report was accompanied by a photo of an Anglican minister wearing a tee-shirt with the words “I apologise” in Arabic. Personally, I’d rather wear the politically and religiously incorrect tee-shirt I saw advertised in L’Appel de Chartres, which showed a muscular Christian in chain mail with shield, spear and sword, over the words “14 juillet 1099”. The text translates as follows:

TRUE HISTORY offers you, on the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the deliverance of the Holy Places by the First Crusade, a red and black tee-shirt portraying a crusader before Jerusalem. You can order it for 60 francs from HISTORIA VERA, 51 rue du Mal Foch 78000, Versailles.

Yes, I do know the First Crusade was marred by an atrocious massacre. I also know that military conquest is not what our Faith is about. Yet it was an astonishing achievement to capture the Holy City from such a formidable power and hold it for nearly a century; and the enterprise was regarded as a sacred duty at the time by virtually all Christians. It has to be remembered, too, that the conflict with the Islamic world was not begun by the crusaders but with the Moslem conquest and 700-year occupation of Christian Spain, and attacks on Christian settlements in Lebanon. Anyway, it is absurd to condemn the crusaders from the perspective of the late 20th century.

One day soon, I hope, we will carry an article on Christianity and Islam. In the meantime, let’s just note that today, Moslems are welcomed in most Western countries, while Moslem states—notably Pakistan and Sudan—are persecuting their Christian minorities. Now there’s something our clergy should get indignant about…


In the Confessional

What can I do for ya?” asked the voice behind the optional, portable screen. Oh oh, this rather odd salutation had all the earmarks of one used by one of those priests who has but one goal in life: to be everybody’s buddy.

Well, I had hoped to confess my sins,” I responded.

Well, let’s do it up,” the incongruously cheery voice responded.

Deeply unsettled, I presented my list to him.

O.K., you sound like the type who might enjoy saying a whole rosary, like they used to do in the old days. So, how about it? Do you know the rosary?”

Ah… yes, Father.”

Super! Now, why don’t you go ahead and tell God—in whatever words you choose—that you’re not too thrilled about what you’ve done.”

You mean you want me to recite an Act of Contrition, Father?”

Oh, wow, whatever you say, Chief. Ya, an Act of Contrition will do fine.”

O my God, I’m heartily sorry,” I began.

I had not even finished, however, when Father Buddy chimed in: “I absolve you from your sins.”

That was it—“I absolve you”—I couldn’t believe my ears.

Excuse me, father, but isn’t it customary to absolve through the power of Jesus Christ and by the authority invested in you by the Church?”

What? Oh, ya, well, I said all that in my head. Don’t sweat it. Now, you have a real nice day.”

From “An Archdiocese on the Brink”, an article in The Remnant by Michael J. Matt, on his search for a confessor in St Paul, Minnesota.


Bless you, sister!

Have the dear New Age nuns gone totally potty? In recent issues we related how they consider themselves dying but vibrant, and how they want to turn themselves into compost.

Now I am told that a senior Irish Mercy sister sent the following New Year blessing to her colleagues. No mention of Our Lord or Our Lady, just: “May the greening life force (Virititas) moisten your soul, mind and spirit in 1999.”

What does it mean? Is it a new cult of triffid-worship? Or is it some ritual Wiccan curse, meaning: may you catch a particularly nasty cold?

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