Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A thoughtful piece on the Catholic "Conversion" of Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair

There is a thoughtful piece on the "poping" of ex-prime minister of Britain, Tony Blair on the America website (free registration required for whole article) "From Thames to Tiber". Of all that has been written on this not insignificant event, it is by far the most worthy of reading and is written by a bloke who should know, Austen Ivereigh, a former "advisor" (I wonder exactly what that means?) to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor (himself soon to be an "ex" - "ex-cathedra-ed" perhaps?).

Of greatest interest to me was the following:
If a Catholic can only serve a government whose every act chimes with his conscience and with church teaching, he cannot be a politician.
Students of church history will be aware that in the early church it was considered that one could not be a soldier and a practicing Christian--because of the inherant moral dangers of such work--and hence many soldiers put their baptism off until their retirement or deathbed (cf. Emperor Constantine). Perhaps--just perhaps, mind you--in the modern world the career of "politician" should be treated the same?

In any case, lest anyone under estimate the importance of Blair's reception into the Catholic Church (I prefer the word "reception" to "conversion", although in the case of many of us "converts", there was indeed a conversion required before we could freely assent to all that the Catholic Church teaches) here is Rocco Palmo's suggestion for a new Christmas Proclamation for use in Great Britain:
In the fifth century since Henry VIII's break with Rome /
the one hundred fifty-eighth year of the re-establishment of the hierarchy in England and Wales /
the eighty-second Advent from Graham Greene's conversion /
the twenty-fourth hour of Tony Blair's reception /
the whole Anglican Communion (and much of Catholicism) being at conflict...
...Britain has "become a 'Catholic country'.
He is, of course, refering to the news that in Great Britain today, despite the fact that there are (on the books) 25 million Anglicans and only 4.2 million Catholics, nevertheless on any given Sunday you will find 861,000 Catholics in Church compared with 852,000 Anglicans. I thought those figures a little low even for the Catholics and then did the maths: 20% attendance rate. Australia should be so lucky. We have 4.8 million Catholics with a weekly attendance rate of about 15%.


At Wednesday, January 09, 2008 3:06:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

“. . . Austen Ivereigh, a former "advisor" (I wonder exactly what that means?) to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor . . .”

Ivereigh was O’Connor’s Press Secretary, a role in which he had to concern himself with how the Archbishop’s statements and actions would be received and understood by a largely secular media. (By all accounts, he was a very good press secretary, navigating Murphy-O’Connor through some very difficult shoals when his actions with respect to a paedophile priest in his former diocese of Arundel and Brighton became a matter of public controversy.) It’s a role that makes his views on how Blair’s faith would be received and understood in the largely secular world of British politics of particular interest, because this is an intersection he has spent a lot of time thinking and dealing with.

It’s an excellent article, and thank you for the link. His central point – that, in the views of many, a Catholic politician must be either a hypocrite or a stooge – bears thinking about, and suggests that there is a widespread assumption that the Catholic take on “church and state” is somehow different from that of other Christian tradiitions, in terms of how the individual believer is called to exercise whatever politica power he may hold. Is that true, I wonder?

At Wednesday, January 09, 2008 4:55:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Thanks for the info on Ivereigh--I thought it must have been something like that.

Yes, the Catholic "take" on the relationship between Church and State is different from other Christian traditions--most notably the Orthodox tradition because of their very different histories (with the shift of the Capital of the Empire to the East and the rise of Ceasaro-Papism in the West).

Arising out of the Reformation are other quite different takes, especially the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms (although Benedict XVI comes very close to saying some very Lutheran things in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est--perhaps because of the common Augustinian tradition arising out of City of God?).

The Calvinist concept is different even again, and the best treatment of that which I have read is actually in Louis Bouyer's book which I am re-reading at the moment (Spirit and Forms of Protestantism).

Behind all doctrines of the relationship between Religion and State (even Islamic and modern non- or a-theistic approaches) is the question of legitimate authority and its claim upon the the individual conscience.

There is a doctorate there somewhere, I think. I will add it to my list of possible topics when I finally get a Round Tuit for my PhD.

At Wednesday, January 09, 2008 7:01:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I am rapidly wading out of my theological depth – anything above the knee is out of my depth, theologically - but this bit intrigues me:

Arising out of the Reformation are other quite different takes, especially the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms (although Benedict XVI comes very close to saying some very Lutheran things in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est--perhaps because of the common Augustinian tradition arising out of City of God?).

I’ve read comments before that Ratzinger is quite close to Luther on certain matters. Are you suggesting that “two kingdoms” might be one of them?

No offence to your heritage, David, but I’ve always thought that the Lutheran tradition could be a little bit supine on church-state issues. I’ve been inclined to attribute this to the fact that mainstream Lutheranism was an established church in so many places for so long, and that – as far as the organisation/institution went – national/provincial Lutheran churches lacked the strong transnational dimension of Catholicism, all of which put the local Fürst/Erzherzog/Margraf or what-have-you in a strong position to tell the church to butt out of what he regarded as his business, not the church’s.

But if there is a theological rather than simply historical/practical underpinning here, and if that is to some extent reflected in Ratzinger’s theology, it all becomes much more interesting. The pope has not been behind in making his views understood on subjects such as gay marriage but, now that I think about it, his concern seems to be not so much that the state has some kind of moral duty to enforce the law of God/the natural law as that the maintenance of a Catholic/Christian culture is a good, and the law has an influence on this. JPII would have been equally opposed to gay marriage laws, but possibly for slightly different reasons.

I’ll never do a PhD on church and state, or anything else. But when you finally get your round tuit, I’ll try to read your thesis. Or at least the abstract at the beginning.

At Wednesday, January 09, 2008 9:56:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Go on with you, Peregrinus, you know better than that! Just as there is no such thing as a complete split between "Church and State", so there is no strict split between the development of doctrine and the historical mileau (is that how you spell that?) in which the doctrine was developed.

There is most certainly a doctrinal issue behind what has been known as "Lutheran Quietism" (aka subserviance) in relation to the State. Simply put, it is that God's Authority is exercised in two realms or "kingdoms", known simply to Lutherans as "the Kingdom on the Right" (The Church) and the Kingdom on the Left (the State). The essential piont is that God is king in both kingdoms but that each has its particular role, the one to proclaim the Gospel, the other to maintain peace and order through the Law. (Yep, it all comes down to Law and Gospel in Lutheranism).

The historical mileau in which this came about was one in which (actually contrary to the doctrine itself) the local princes were called upon to exercise the role of "emergency bishop" in the absence of an evangelical bishop. Dr Tighe knows more about this than I do.

As for connections with Papa Benny's work, I will leave that for another blog.


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