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Newman got it back-to-front.

2013 January 8
by Gordon Reid

“O that thy creed were sound: for thou dost soothe the heart, thou Church of Rome” said John Henry Newman in his Anglican days. Then he persuaded himself that Rome’s creed was sound and went over.

I think he got it back to front. As an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, I believe that the doctrines, the creed, of the Church of Rome are pretty sound. I’m not so sure as Newman was, that the doctrine of development can encompass Papal infallibility or the Missa Normativa (to take two extreme “developments”!), but on the whole, I have little problem in believing  the doctrine of the Roman Church.

But “soothe the heart” is the last thing I feel about RC moral teachings. Many of these teachings, I find abhorrent and Pharisaical. For example:

I believe people who have divorced should be able to continue to receive the Holy Sacrament and be remarried in church. I hate abortion, but am sure that it is often justified as the lesser of two evils (after rape, for example). I rejoice to see gay couples who live faithfully together coming to ask for the Church’s blessing on their union. I am quite sure that doctors who help their terminally ill patients to die peacefully are doing a good thing. And I think contraception should be regarded as a great blessing, both for married couples planning their family responsibly, and for the control of the explosion in the world’s population.

What does Rome say on these questions?

To take them in order: Rome says marriage creates a union which can never be dissolved. So if you get remarried after divorce, you may not receive Holy Communion because you are living in sin. But you can get round this – if you want to marry again, you have to apply to Rome for a decree of nullity, which says your marriage never existed, because it was faulty from the beginning. Poor little bastards of the first union!

Abortion is an evil, but so is killing anyone at all. Yet even the RC Church (and sometimes especially the RC Church) has supported going to war and capital punishment for some crimes, and justified this clear breach of the Commandments by calling these the lesser of two evils. But abortion seems to be all that some modern RC’s think about or care about. Yet, I would support abortion when someone has been raped, or if the birth process will kill the mother (My gentle readers will hardly believe that there are RC text books that say the mother must be allowed to die and the baby saved, because the mother is baptized and saved but if the baby is aborted unbaptized, it will go to Limbo – well, they used to say that till the Pope abolished Limbo Infantorum! What kind of a monstrous God do they believe in?)

Then there is the gay issue, and one hardly knows where to begin. The Pope has said that even to be gay is to be “intrinsically disordered” and therefore no gay man should be ordained. If a “rapture” of all the gay priests (and bishops and cardinals) were to take place, monasteries and seminaries would be able to relocate to small condos, Morning Prayer would have to take the place of Mass in many churches.

That’s how silly the whole RC stance is. But it is more than silly : it is hurtful and harmful to the vast number of gay people who long for a committed, loving relationship just as much as heterosexuals do. And I am proud to belong to a Church that is moving towards recognizing this and even making it possible for such unions to be blessed sacramentally with “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”.

On euthanasia, Rome says one may not hasten death, though one need not “strive officiously to keep alive”. I have seen officious striving to keep alive, but that was usually for fear of lawsuits! But when a person is in agony I am entirely in agreement with British and European hospice practice of increasing the doses of pain killers, even though this will kill the patient. RC doctrine says we have no right to end a life prematurely, as this is interfering in God’s plan and is unnatural. So no more antibiotics? no more heart by-passes? no more Caesarian births? It’s only at the end we have to let Nature (not the Christian God, by the way) take its course.

And finally poor old contraception – sorry “artificial contraception”,  because RC’s can use “natural” contraception (which I won’t go into, lest I make you queasy). Pope Paul VI nearly summoned up his courage to follow the advice of the majority of his commission on contraception, and allow the use of condoms, but in the end the stick-in-the-muds convinced him this would open the door to all sorts of other things (see above for what they were afraid of!). The fact that the vast majority of lay RC’s (ordained ones would never have to give this any thought of course – but see above) totally disregard this doctrine is good news for common sense, but bad news for the RC Church, because if one bit of the Law is seen to be an ass, then maybe much more of it is (see above!).

Now Newman is in heaven (and I am sure he is – we don’t need the modern canonization process to tell us this) I am certain he will be interceding for the Church he joined, that they may really begin to “soothe the hearts” of their faithful people and, without abandoning their nearly sound creed, may see that his doctrine of development applies to moral issues, just as much as to doctrinal ones.



14 Responses leave one →
  1. January 8, 2013

    Yup. And Amen.

  2. Jake Byrne permalink
    January 8, 2013

    I noticed that you didn’t actually address why the Church holds these moral teachings, you simply informed us of how abhorrent you find them. Your comments on abortion are the most confusing of all: why should you find it evil but allow it? If abortion is not the killing of a child then it needs no justification, but if abortion is the killing of a child then nothing can justify it. It makes no sense to say “it’s okay, but I don’t like it”. It’s either murder or it’s not, and if it is nothing can make that okay.

    In the end you’ll happily take the aesthetics and even some of the dogmas but leave behind anything that requires sacrifice. Anything that’s counter-cultural. Anglicanism really is Catholicism without the cross.

    I invite you to look into the claims of the Catholic Church, especially Her claim to teach with the authority of Christ, and pray about this. God willing you’ll follow the same path that Newman found.

    Blessed John Henry Newman, Pray for us.

    • January 8, 2013

      Sadly, killing children is what war does every day. And the Church teaches the doctrine of a just war. I abhor abortion, but allow its necessity on occasion as the lesser of two evils – as the Roman Church taught for centuries.

      • Sean W. Reed permalink
        January 8, 2013

        Come on, non-sense – the Roman Catholic has never taught it was ok, but rather, since the first century consistently affirmed the grave moral evil of every procured abortion.

        Extolling the virtues of your “I’m OK, you’re OK” religion and making fun of the Roman Catholic Church is one thing, spreading nonsense is beyond the pale.

      • January 8, 2013

        Indeed – so much of Roman moral teaching seems uninterested in teaching people to make actual ethical choices in a broken world. This notion that abortion’s tragic nature speaks for itself and precludes any mitigation (I deliberately do not speak of “justification,” with which this sort of moral reasoning is so preoccupied), does not address the many situations in which women find it the necessary evil. Likewise, pontificating in the abstract that God’s design for human sexuality is to fit within hetero-marriage tells nothing to the flesh-and-blood gay or lesbian family seeking the kingdom. Most perversely of all, affirming the permanence of marriage as a Christian ideal is one thing, but departing from the practice of the orthodox church wrt to second marriages is a bridge too far. My grandmother died under interdict because she remarried some years after her abusive and philandering first husband finally abandoned her, and himself remarried. Her “sin” was in remaining faithful to her vows to the only man I ever knew as “grandpa” because in Rome’s eyes she remained bound by some fanciful metaphysical bond to the man who abused her children.

        • Davis permalink
          January 8, 2013

          It is a curious thing, in my view, to make the hungry go without the food they so desperately need.

  3. Jeff Ezell permalink
    January 8, 2013

    These issues aren’t subject to simplistic and/or rigid answers, but are responsive – in part – to our God-given reason and our lived experience. The teaching of the Episcopal Church is that abortion always involves a tragic dimension. The majority of pregnancies end early via spontaneous abortions at a point when the miscarriage of the embryo is unlikely to be noticed at all. Various things go wrong in the natural world. Sometimes the zygote fails to implant on the uterine wall, instead becoming lodged in the fallopian tube, where it not only cannot ultimately be viable but can also ultimately kill the impregnated woman. Attempting to save the life of both entities – the fully human person who is the woman, and the nascent human life that is the developing embryo – is factually nothing but pretense. The embryo is not viable, whilst simultaneously threatening the life of the woman with this defective pregnancy. Reason and experience tell us that the pregnancy must be surgically terminated.

    On the opposite end of the continuum, you would have something like abortion for gender selection of the foetus, something that obviously cannot be morally justified.

    With regard to divorce, remarriage, and the sacramental life of the Church, I would submit that we do better to catechise people regarding the standards and ideals of Christian marriage and the difficulties of marriage in general, but as the Orthodox have long recognised, there is a place for the Church to apply economia in responding to the human condition.

    In regard to issues of human sexuality – involving both artificial contraception and same-sex relationships of human intimacy that include genital sexual expression – it would seem manifestly clear that the RC Magisterium is really off the rails, unrealistic and inhumane. Superficially, this is to do with its antiquated and rigid “natural law” moral theology, but at base is rather clearly rooted in the institutional contradictions, shame, and sex-phobic psychology of a Church that has wed itself to the worst, most neurotic elements that may be inferred from Paul and that were developed by Augustine, and which are more gnostic than incarnational. The Romish approach to human sexuality is a variant of the “Madonna and Whore” psychology, in which – in this case – sexuality is idealised unrealistically, whilst at the same time being hated and scorned in the real expression of its human realities.

    In any event, Rome waxes nastier, more bigotted and intransigent as it grows more insecure in a world in which its contradictions and hypocricy are ever more manifest.

  4. Murray Small permalink
    January 9, 2013

    Thank you Fr. Gordon for your comments on Newman and comments on Roman positions on social issues. Recent Roman pronouncements and actions on matters touching gays has added to my growing discontent with the Roman Church. Papal Infallibility was a step too far,even Newman was disquieted by that step. Unfortunately the Petrine ministry is set itself a stumbling block because it has evolved into an autocratic monarchy a far stretch from apostolic collegiality. I have never been overly happy with Newman’s ideas on development of doctrine,perhaps a rationale for his own decision.
    Where has the “sensus fidelium” gone? This played a role in the promulgation of the doctrinal pronouncements on The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
    Vatican II had much good to say on realignment to Christ, but it also let in many chill winds which did not soothe.
    I have often thought what sums up my position as an Anglo Catholic: it is summed up in the Summary of the Law as it appears at the beginning of the mass in BCPs subsequent to the 1928 version,simplistic but the rudder of my faith.
    Thank you one again Fr. Gordon for voicing the disquiets which are making victims of people to whom we should be bearing Christ as our Blessed Mother bore The Christ for our salvation.
    Meanwhile Our Lady Help of Christians and Blessed John Henry Newman pray for us sinners.

  5. Peter Baines permalink
    January 10, 2013

    What a strange post this is in managing both to demonstrate to the world how little difference there is between liberal Anglo-Catholics and the secular, largely agnostic western world, and a shocking level of ignorance of even the most basic elements of Catholic teaching.

  6. Bromartin permalink
    January 11, 2013

    The debate concerning these matters rages on and on. As happens here, we bring contradictions, personal dishonesty and “shame” upon ourselves in our pompous reactions to what have always been the very basic “ideals” of the faith, i.e. the Ten Commandments of Almighty God, and the Church’s prescription for compliance through the teaching of our Lord
    Jesus Christ, that is, the traditional six precepts of the Church. It’s really very simple…isn’t it?

    • Stephen permalink
      January 13, 2013

      Yes it is simple, Bromartin! Our Lord himself said that love of God and love of our neighbor is the esssence of what the law and the prophets were trying to teach us. For my part, I am grateful for priests like Fr Reid and Fr Jewett and for parishes like Saint Clement’s that preserve the life-giving Catholic Sacraments and Traditions while trying not to pass on the odious, toxic Jansenistic teachings that still so permeates Catholic thought , and still teaches us to hate these bodies which God made for us!

  7. Jeff Ezell permalink
    January 12, 2013

    No, it’s not really very simple, actually. Let’s take one of the Six Precepts, i.e., to comply with the Church’s laws of marriage. Well, there is the Church of Rome with one set of rules, and the Orthodox Churches with a different set of rules (even if the same ideal standard). Then there is a differing perspective amongst the Churches of the Reformation, especially in respect to the role of sexual reproduction and opennes to conception within the marital relationship. You may reject all but the Petrine authority, and that’s fine for a Roman Catholic, but it ignores the reality of differing praxis and theology in other parts of the Church, as well as realities of practice and viewpoint amongst the Roman Catholic laity (dissent amongst RC hierarchs and clergy having been systematically silenced over the course of these last two papacies).

    The interpretation and range of applicability of the Mosaic Ten Commandments have themselves been subject to differing views and practice over the course of history in the Christian era.

    Christianity or any other religion practiced without critical thought and the application of reason in respect to the realities of lived experience in the actual times and places of our existance has an established track record of supporting cruelty, injustice, inhumanity, persecution, exploitation, and the crushing of human lives and potential. That is most emphatically not the religion of Jesus, nor something that is compatible with any view of the Deity as the omnibenevolent Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of all that is.

    The Church is ever in need of reformation and renewal. The faith once delivered is the faith in the redeeming work of God, manifest and effected in the Incarnation and the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the immutable imposition of calcified theology and praxis stemming from archaic, patriarchal and pre-scientific world-views.

  8. Gary (NJ) permalink
    January 12, 2013

    I left the RCC in the early 70s when I was in high school for many of the reasons mentioned in Fr. Reid’s posting, but mainly because I am gay and knew in my heart that I was just as good as everyone else and not a worthless piece of $*^! like the Roman (and other) churches teach. And the despicable comment from the current Pope that we are “disordered” and “intrinsically evil”, is not only scientifically false (being “disordered”), but spiritually reprehensible. Some of the blame for LGBT teen suicides and the bullying that often precedes it can be laid directly at the feet of the RCC as well as fundamentalist Protestant churches.
    About 10 years ago, almost by chance (the Holy Spirit?), I started reading Marcus Borg’s books as well as a few other authors and to make a long story short, ended up joining a fully inclusive Anglo-Catholic Church in 2009.
    One final comment on the issue of divorce. In my readings, I read that in Jesus’ time and culture, a divorced woman was usually left destitute and defenseless and often would have to turn to prostitution, hence His strict forbidding of it. This is no longer the case in our society; but is one of many examples where the Bible must be read in the context of its time and place and then apply judiciously those moral and spiritual lessons to today’s world instead of elevating the Book and everything in it to the point of becoming an idol which is at the center instead of God.

  9. January 28, 2013

    Thank you Fr Reid for this post. It reflects many of my own views on Catholic social teaching. Raised in the Roman Catholic Church, it is only now that I am discovering this side of Anglicanism which preserves the great tradition and liturgy of the Church but does not adhere to the unnecessary and misguided social teaching.

    It’s a great help in my own faith journey to read articles like this which express views similar to my own and it’s strengthening to know these views are accepted within other churches. I don’t know where my own journey will lead but I find it difficult to remain in a Church that promotes oppressive social views.

    Thanks again for your post, it has been a great confirmation for me.

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