“How Jesus the Faithful Jew became the Christ of the Christian Faith”

Well, here we are: a new post on the SCE blog. Hell may indeed be freezing over in this chilliest of Melbourne winters, but the time has come for me to put something up.

On the weekend I had the great pleasure of attending a Council of Christians and Jews (Victoria) meeting at which Prof. Paul Forgasz of Monash University presented on the topic “How Jesus the Faithful Jew became the Christ of the Christian Faith”. It was a very well attended event – I would estimate about 100 people, an even number of both Christians and Jews, at the Toorak Uniting Church hall for the event.

Paul’s presentation was a short prolegomena to his his full eight week course that he gave at the Jewish Museum of Australia last year. I enrolled in that course, and was very surprised to see about forty members of the Jewish community (and a couple of Christians) had also enrolled. I believe a similar number had turned up for his repeat sessions in the evening. Paul did a very good job of summarising the Christian origins and historical Jesus studies of recent times, including an excursus on Paul. Especially he showed both in their Jewish context, which I think was very helpful for the Jewish students of the course (many of whom had understandably had little connection with the texts of the New Testament) to enable them to approach both characters with rather more sympathy than they might previously have felt.

In any case, Paul was kind enough before the event to grant me a ‘right of reply’ at the end of the event yesterday, and I prepared a little paper giving a Christian perspective on ‘how Jesus the faithful Jew became the Christ of Christian faith’. If you click here, you can read what I had to say. You can also click here for an email question that came from a secular Jewish friend who attended the event, and my response to him.

On August 2nd, a local Christian scholar, Dr Sean Winter, will give his own presentation on the historical Jesus and Paul. Sean did his doctorate under N.T. Wright, so you should know what to expect if you are, like me, a Wright fan! Here are the details:

Council of Christians and Jews ( Victoria)

‘To the Jew First’?: New Perspectives on Paul and Judaism

Revd. Associate Professor Sean Winter

Sean Winter teaches New Testament Studies at Pilgrim Theological College (Uniting Church), where he is also Academic Dean. His teaching and research focus on the letters and theology of the apostle Paul with a focus on 2 Corinthians and Philippians. He has studied at the Universities of Bristol and Oxford, and completed his DPhil under the supervision of N. T. Wright. Before coming to Melbourne, Sean taught at the Northern Baptist College in Manchester in the UK.

The period from the 1970s-2000 saw a fundamental shift take place in the discipline of Pauline Studies. The ‘New Perspective on Paul’ has succeeded, in many ways, in placing Paul back firmly into a plausible Jewish context and articulating the ways in which his theology constitutes a reworking of basic Jewish convictions. Since 2000, however, new emphases in Pauline studies challenge the view that Paul’s theology was intended ‘for the Jew first’ in ways suggested by the New Perspective. In this presentation I will give an overview of three such developments: Paul and apocalyptic; Paul and empire; Paul and contemporary philosophy, and argue that in each case Paul’s theology remains firmly Jewish, even as it extends the covenant promises made to Israel to the whole of humanity.

Sunday August 2nd  3.00pm

Shira Hadasha Synagogue 222 Balaclava Rd Caulfield North 3161

$10.00 members $12.00 non-members

If possible please advise attendance by ringing the CCJ office  326 Church Street Richmond 3121 Tel 9429 5212 Email ccjvic@bigpond.net.au

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Homiletical Directory?

You might be aware that the Church has a thing called a “General Directory of Catechesis”. It was issued by the Congregation for the Clergy (interesting) back in 1997, and is a significant document for understanding the place of catechesis in the Church’s ministry of evangelisation. Significantly, it has been used most widely in the area of Catholic education, and many teachers who have been specifically trained in Catholic eduction are familiar with it. In my teaching on Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I have had reason to highlight his references to “the kergyma” and “the first proclamation” (cf. para. 164 of EG). When I ask my class if anyone has ever heard these phrases (let alone knows they mean), it is always the teachers who put their hands up, and it is always the General Directory of Catechesis where they first encountered this language.

Now, I like to make a distinction between three types of communication of the Gospel (effectively, three modes of evangelisation): 1) Kerygma, 2) Didache (or Catechesis), 3) Dialogue. We will leave the third one to one side for the moment; the other two are completely different, and yet, when it comes to “preaching” (one possible translation of the Greek word “kerygma”), it is surprising how many homilies are almost 100% catechesis/didache, rather than proclamation.

So I have for some time been particularly interested in the plan, first put forward at the Synod of the Word in 2008 and in Pope Benedict’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (cf. para. 60), that “a Directory on the homily, in which preachers can find useful assistance in preparing to exercise their ministry” should be prepared. In a similar vein, we read this in 9th proposition of the Propositions of the 2012 Synod on Evangelisation: 

The Synod Fathers propose that guidelines of the initial proclamation of the kerygma be written. This compendium would include:
– Systematic teaching on the kerygma in Scripture and Tradition of the Catholic Church;
– Teachings and quotations from the missionary saints and martyrs in our Catholic history that would assist us in our pastoral challenges of today; and
– Qualities and guidelines for the formation of Catholic evangelizers today.

I wondered – I hoped – that the 2008 call for a directory on the homily might morph into something much more extensive, something that would take its rightful place alongside the Directory on Catechesis, namely a “Directory of Kerygma”.

Well, now, at long last, we have the “Homiletical Directory”, this time released by the Congregation for Divine Worship. As the source would have it, the directory is particularly concerned with preaching in the form of the liturgical homily. The word ‘preach’ is used over 100 times, and the word ‘proclaim’ 43 times. ‘Catechesis’ is used 5 times, and ‘dialogue’ twice. But, tellingly, the word ‘kerygma’ never occurs at all.

Which is a huge disappointment as far as I am concerned, because in my own humble opinion the one thing most needed for priests to recapture the vitality of the Gospel in their preaching is an understanding of the mode of communication which IS ‘kerygma’, proclamation, preaching. It is not the same thing as teaching (catechesis/didache). It is not the same thing as dialogue. To proclaim the Good News is the enact through performative speech the breaking in of the Kingdom of God. It is to make possible, through direct 2nd person forms of address, the encounter between the hearer and Christ himself which ‘which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (cf. Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est para. 1). The ‘first proclamation’ is, as Pope Francis puts it in Evangelii Gaudium (p. 164), the continually repeated message that

“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”

Whatever the Homiletical Directory might be, it doesn’t plumb these depths. It is not the directory on kerygma that the Synod on Evangelisation called for. And, for that, it is the poorer as a potential aid to the improvement of Catholic preaching.

For two contrasting reviews of the new Directory, see

1) Fr William Skudlarek OSB at the PrayTell blog (he doesn’t like it either, because he is comparing it to an earlier USCCB directory on the homily that started with the life situation of the congregation rather than the exegesis of the scriptural passages; hence his reason and my reason for disappointment at the new Directory is actually poles apart);

2) the review in by Fr Shane Crombie in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

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Farewell to Milli – our old cat

Today our 15 year old cat Milli had to be euthanased.

She had a stroke about 3 weeks ago, and while I was away on Camino, she lost most of her sight and her hearing. I suspected kidney failure, and the vet, who at first wanted to try various treatments and tests, concurred after an examination. With extremely low blood pressure, and dehydration from failure to drink, her organs were shutting down. 

I feel very conflicted doing this to an animal. God knows how anyone can do it to a human being. Yes, it is a “good death” in the sense that it is relatively painless and is done in a controlled context, but it is death: the ending of a life. And whether that is done with a bullet (as was the case when I was a kid on the farm with excess cats), or drowning (which I knew many people did with unwanted kittens), or with sedation as in Milli’s case, it is not a good way to treat an animal with whom one has built a bond of trust and care. Again, as I said, God knows how anyone could advocate this for a human being.

I get the whole “go when you choose”, and “free from pain”, and “with music and chocalates and champagne with my family around me” etc. etc. But the thing you are doing is taking away life. Life that is a gift, a should always be valued as such. The lives of cats, rats, plants, and human beings all have different values (the last of these being an infinite value) and of course we expend resources accordingly, but it is still a hard thing, a profoundly against-the-grain thing, to put an animal to death just because they are dying and we don’t value their life highly enough to spend megabucks on them until they die a natural death.

Milli had been a member of our family for many years. She was a year younger than our eldest and our a year older than our youngest. She found it hard to adjust to our new cat, Meeshi, who live indoors and has the run of the back yard (Milli slept in the garage and had the run of the front yard). She was really put out a few months ago when we hosted a stray cat and her three kittens who also took up residence in the garage until we finally decamped them to the RSPCA for adoption. 

Now the garage is empty. The pet cemetary out the back is getting rather full… I cried my way through the Burial Service for a Pet with my youngest daughter. There are fresh flowers on the mound. Thanks be to God for these animal animae. 


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When is persecution not persecution? “Jesus: Rise to Power” Episode 2

Last night I watched the first two episodes of “Jesus: Rise to Power” on SBS on Demand (you can get an app for that on your ipad). Apparently these two episodes are on YouTube too, so you can look them up and watch them for yourselves.

Any historical program about Jesus that has both Elaine Pagels and Karen King as guest commentators already gives its agenda away, but I was prepared to give this one a chance. I was just setting myself up to be disappointed. The episode on Jesus claims that the crucifixion of Jesus was the most important event in the Christian story, which it is, but not without the next part of the story, the part which this documentary skips entirely: the Resurrection. Well, I’ve come to expect that. (For a couple of interesting books on the ‘historical’ Jesus, you might want to consider two that I am currently reading: the first is James Carroll’s “Christ Actually” – a rather idiosyncratic work but worth looking at – and, from a more orthodox perspective, Ben Witherington III’s “What have they done with Jesus?”.)

But what really got up my nose was the whole thrust of the second episode on martyrdom. Now I know that there is some of evidence that some early Christians created a cult out of martyrdom – I don’t mean the veneration of the relics, but rather a cult out of actively seeking martyrdom. This was, as far as I understand, discouraged by the bishops and other church leaders. And I know too that in the popular imagination the persecution of Christians by the Romans is sometimes exaggerated (although it must be said that the persecutions by Diocletian in the decade before the Edict of Milan was so severe that had it continued, Christianity might not have survived). This article is not a bad summary of the topic. 

“Jesus: Rise to Power” Episode 2 makes these points but then goes on to take another tack which I fiind perfectly consistent with modern secular thinking and, to be frank, a bit insulting to sincere religious believers. The thesis is this: The Roman Empire was actually a very tolerant and accepting regime. They were happy to let Christians believe what they like and read their scriptures and do their other funny little things – as long as they were good and reasonable Romans, which included participation in the pagan sacrificial cults (curiously, they don’t actually spell out and specify that it was the cult of Caesar that was at the heart of the problem). So, it was really the fault of the Christians that they got themselves imprisoned and killed in such great numbers. It was the Christians who were the extremists, and who were being intolerant and unaccepting etc. 

The explanation for the Christian opposition to the pagan cults is very poorly explained in “Jesus: Rise to Power”. The suggestion is simply that because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for all sin, therefore no other sacrifice was necessary. Well, that could have explained why they might not have participated in the Jewish cult (although that only actually ended when the Jewish cult itself ended in 70AD with the destruction of the temple), but Christians didn’t participate in pagan sacrifice for the same reason Jews didn’t – idolatry. On top of that, they refused to acknowledge the Emperor as Lord because Jesus was Lord. Faith was not just something “personal” or “interior” – it affected how you lived in the world.

In the same way, the modern western secular empire doesn’t understand persecution or religious freedom.  Western secularism doesn’t persecute Christians (or any other religious community – this could apply equally well to Jews, Muslims, Sikhs etc). “Christians are quite free to do whatever they like in their churches and believe whatever they like in their heads,” goes the argument, “as long as they accept the laws of the land as they are, including legalised abortion, contraception, same sex marriage, gender ideology, etc. If they get penalised for opposing these laws then that is their problem, we aren’t persecuting them because they are Christians.” 

And so the Church in the United States (not just the Catholic Church, but also evangelicals and Lutherans and others) is being penalised and pilloried for opposition to the requirements of the HHS contraception and abortion mandate. Archbishop Cordileone of San Fransisco is being attacked for not “sharing the values of the community”. And Jews and Muslims are being denied their religious freedom by governments passing laws forbiding ritual slaughter of animals or circumcision and so on. And none of this is supposed to be anti-Christian, or anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic – its their problem, not ours.

So, “Jesus: Rise to Power” is a perfect fit with the Zeitgeist. While Christians are suffering true martyrdom in the middle east at the hands of ISIS, our commentators are continuing to build a narrative which puts the blame on the victims of persecution rather than the persecutors.

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It was the Gerbils what did it, Guv!

The Rats were innocent!


See: http://www.smh.com.au/world/have-we-been-wrongly-blaming-rats-for-the-black-death-for-eight-centuries-maybe-it-was-gerbils-20150224-13nvoe.html

And: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerbil

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Australia Day Reform: A modest suggestion

From time to time, I make “modest suggestions” for the political reform of our nation (see in the side bar of this page my suggestion for an Australian Constitutional Monarchy). Not many (ie. none) have been taken up by those in charge (ie. the people of Australia).

Well, here’s another one. It concerns the date of Australia Day. For good reason, many have agitated for a change from January 26 to something a little less historically and ideologically charged. However, no other date seems to work.

This blog post makes a number of suggestions for alternative dates. But none of them really work. Think of January 1st, “Federation Day”. It’s already a public holiday, and it is smack bang in the middle of Australia’s “off season”. 9th and 27th of May are just as ideologically charged as 26th January – from the opposite direction. Or what about the suggestion of the Monday of Melbourne Cup weekend? Sorry, again, for many of us it is already an unofficial holiday – and do we really want to make a horse race the focus of our national day?

One reason for the inertia in doing anything about Australia Day is that the timing of the holiday works – perfectly. It concludes the January break. After the Monday holiday for Australia day, everybody is back at work. And school begins that week. It is the last great “hurrah” of the Summer shutdown.

So here is an idea. Why should we have a “fixed” date for Australia Day? There is no fixed “Melbourne Cup Day”, or Queen’s Birthday holiday, or even Easter. The day itself is special, not the historical date it commemorates. So here is my “modest proposal”: why not simply make the last Monday in January “Australia Day”? That would cut it loose from the events of 26th January 1788 as “Invasion Day”. It would solve the silly fact that we often have the public holiday on a day other than Australia Day itself. AND (most importantly for Ozzie culcha) it would preserve the most iconic Long Weekend in the Australian calendar.

What think you?

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Understanding Islam through its Origins (Part 2): Of Hawks and Doves

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an introductory post on the topic of The Origins of Islam. If you have not read Understanding Islam through its Origins (Part 1): A Counterfeit Religion? then please do so before reading this post.

Having embarked upon this series of blog posts, I have been somewhat reticent to continue, and only do so now because a) people have continued to ask me about this, and b) I promised to give an answer. My reticence comes from the fact that I am by no means an expert in this area. But I guess that if we all put off writing or saying anything about anything until we had gained a PhD in the subject, nothing would ever get said or written. So here goes. Just remember, I am an amateur in this area.

In my last post I expressed an idea about the intention of the original founders of Islam. Contrary to the suggestion made in the sermon I heard – ie. that Islam was developed as a “counterfeit of Christianity” (far less as a completely “new religion”) – what I have learned of the origins of Islam seem to suggest an intention to restore, combine and extend the existing monotheistic faith(s) of the world of Late Antiquity in such a way as to serve the purposes of the new Arab empire. (Okay, I may not have said it quite so clearly in the previous post, but that’s what I have been getting at.) If this is true (and that is, admittedly, a big if) we non-Muslim monotheists can learn to respect Islam for what it preserves of our faith, even while acknowledging that it differs in many respects. This, I suggest, was the intention of the Second Vatican Council’s statement in Nostra Aetate.

My second suggestion is that the current scholarly studies into the origins of Islam, the history of Late Antiquity and the rise of the Arab Empire support my first suggestion, and that if this history were better known at a popular level we would be far better equipped to understand present geo-political and geo-cultural developments in relation to Islam.
So let’s talk about history.

It is amazing the number of things we actually assume we know when we don’t know anything of the sort. We state these “facts” as facts and don’t even think to give them a footnote. For instance, in his very informative book “Trent: What happened at the Council”, John W. O’Malley writes:

The next pope, Alexander VI (1492-1503), stirred up resentment on a broad scale because of his shifting political alliances, his reckless promotion of his children, and his amorous affairs. As Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia he fathered seven children and, most scandalous, he fathered two more while pope. (Trent, p33)

Of course, we know nothing of the sort, but everyone thinks they do, and so we can simply state it as if it is fact.

Let’s give you another example: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem”. Now, of course I know that two of the canonical gospels clearly state this and a third makes a telling allusion to it and a host of Christmas carols confirms it, but of course we don’t know this – at the level of academic certainty – such that we can call it an historical “fact”. What we can say is that his birth in the “City of David” is a very strong early Christian tradition attested in these sources.

So we come to the question of the origin of Islam. This will bring us to things in particular:

A. The life of the Prophet Muhammad
B. The origin of the Qur’an

About these, most people who know anything about the origin of Islam assume they know the following: that the Prophet Muhammad was born around 570AD and died in 632AD, living in Mecca and Medina in Arabia, and the Angel Gabriel revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad in a cave by telling him to “recite”.

And yet as often as the latter “fact” is repeated by history books and books about Islam, self-evidently only Muslims actually believe it to have happened. Any non-Muslim who arrived at the conclusion that the Qur’an originated as a revelation of God via the archangel and the prophet would be 9 steps out of 10 on the way to becoming a Muslim themselves. That doesn’t mean that the Qur’an didn’t originate with Muhammad. It had to originate with someone, someone, somehow. It just discounts the divine aspect.

But what about Muhammad? Can we actually be certain about his identity, or about the details of his biography as Muslim tradition relates it or, indeed, his very existence? The 19th Century French historian Ernst Renan once famously opined that “In the place of the mystery under which other religious traditions have covered their origins, Islam was born in the full light of history.” Or, to quote a more recent author,

The degree of authority one can give to the evangelists about the life of Christ is relatively small. Whereas for the life of Mohammed, we know everything more or less. We know where he lived, what his economic situation was, who he fell in love in with. We also know a great deal about the political circumstances and the socio-economic circumstances of the time. (Salmon Rushdie, Critical Essays, Volume 2, p199)

Oh, really? Scholars today are not so sure.

And so this is where my recent story actually begins. All I can really do is relate my conversations, reading, listening and viewing history of the last couple of months. You can find what you like in it.

A bit before Christmas, a friend of mine asked about a recent book by Karen Armstrong “Fields of Blood” that he saw reviewed in the Financial Times [http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/154f1b1e-4285-11e4-9818-00144feabdc0.html]. “Why do you want to read that?”, I asked. The answer was because he wanted to understand more about current world events involving ISIS and other Islamicist terrorists, and more about the nature of the religion that such terrorists could claim as the basis for their actions. “There are better books”, I suggested, and proceeded to nominate a couple that I had some familiarity with, including Jonathan Berkey’s “The Formation of Islam” (2002) and Sidney H. Griffith’s “The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque” (2008). These books are, however, on the scholarly end of the spectrum of writing on Islam, and may not be easily accessible to the lay person. Still, both books have something important to offer non-Muslim readers: access to the fruits of a study now over a century old, viz. the historically scientific study of the origins of Islam.

“There are two extremes in non-Muslim writing on Islam,” I told my friend, “both of which should be avoided: the doves and the hawks.” I had this idea from a 2006 article by John L. Allen Jnr, in which he described the “doves” as those who write to encourage:

outreach to moderates, a critical examination of conscience by the West for the various ways its past and present have stoked Muslim resentment, and a determined effort to solve the roots of anti-Western sentiment today. The premise of this approach is that the tensions between the Muslim world and the West often only appear to be religious and cultural; at bottom they are usually political and economic.

On the other hand, there are the “hawks”, those who

believe this approach is naïve. Ultimately, they say, the most determined Muslim leaders believe that Islam is destined for global supremacy, which means that Islam is not really interested in making its way in a pluralistic world. For those who take this view, only a determined reassertion by the West of its traditional Christian identity will have the inner strength to resist the pressure. From this point of view, politics and economics are secondary to the real forces of history, which are intellectual and cultural.

Karen Armstrong is an excellent example of a “dove”. One reviewer of her “Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet” (1993) on goodreads.com [http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27310.Muhammad] writes:

I could rant forever about all the ways in which this book rubbed me the wrong way and what a disgrace it is to the genre of “history”, but I will try to be brief… The texts she uses as sources for Muhammad’s life are written 125 years after the death of the Prophet, and, … she seems to take everything they say as fact. She believes in every miraculous event related, despite her professed attempt to find the “historical” Muhammad. There is no critical component to her work. She clearly has an agenda and accepts anything that supports her agenda without giving it the objective, critical eye of a historian. Every chance she gets, she will pass moral judgement on “Western society” and its history, portraying it as this sinkhole of ignorance and depicting the world Muhammad created as this wonderful new land of enlightenment and total social justice…

On the other hand, I warned my friend off other writers such as Robert Spencer. Many conservative Christians take everything Spencer writes and says on Islam as Gospel (including, sadly, Catholic media groups such as EWTN). Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and may safely be categorised as a “hawk” in Allen’s analysis. That is, he has the stated motif of discrediting Islam as a false religion that poses a real and present danger to the future survival of Western society as we know and love it. The subtitle of his book “The Truth about Muhammad” sums up his assessment of his subject: “Founder of the World’s most Intolerant Religion”. In this book – which ostensibly sets out to do the same thing that Armstrong’s book does (ie. inform readers about the person of “The Prophet” of Islam) – Spencer acknowledges much of the current critical and revisionist scholarly work done by historians of early Islam, but goes on to say:

These historical speculations have had virtually no effect on Islamic doctrine or practice. For our purposes it is less important to know what really happened in Muhammad’s life than what Muslims have generally accepted as having happened, for the latter still forms the foundation of Muslim belief, practice, and law. It is important to know the Muhammad of history, but perhaps even more important to know the Muhammad who has shaped and continues to shape the lives of so many Muslims worldwide…elaborated from his words and deeds in the Hadith that orthodox Islamic schools of jurisprudence and clerics consider authentic. It is this picture of Muhammad that inspires Muslims worldwide…” (The Truth, p31-32)

…and therefore it is “this picture” that he relates and uses as fuel for his polemic throughout the rest of the book. And so the very next chapter opens with a restatement of the “assumptions” that we assume to be true: “Muhammad introduced Islam into Arabia”, his tribe were the Quraysh, who were “based in the city of Mecca, which was a centre of trade and pilgrimage” etc. etc. We are back where Karen Armstrong was.

Let’s be clear about this. I applaud the “dove’s” intention to be irenic and their commitment to dialogue – but I deplore their moral and historical naiveté. On the other hand, I applaud the “hawk’s” readiness to offer a critical approach, but deplore the fact that their driving motive is hatred for the religion of Islam and that their works make hardly any more use of the historical scholarship available to us than do those of the “doves”.

You can be assured that, among liberal Catholics and those involved in the so-called “interfaith movement”, I have gotten to know a lot of “doves”. At the same time, among traditionalist Catholics and through ecumenical contact with some of our Pentecostal and Evangelical brothers and sisters, I have gotten to know my fair share of “hawks”.

So, while we are at it, let’s mention our own local Melbourne “hawk”, the Anglican minister Rev. Dr Mark Durie. My wife recently reported that she heard a Lutheran pastor say in a sermon that Drurie was his “go-to” source for information on Islam. Durie has written a number of books and articles on the topic of Islam, which can be accessed through his website. There is a 2012 interview on that page which tells you something of Durie’s scholarly background and motivation for writing about Islam. I advise you to read all of it, as it helps you understand the context for his writing, but here is just a snippet which gives his interesting history:

Durie: I began studying Arabic in Leiden in 1985 with Professor G. W. J. Drewes, who had been a student of Snouck Hurgronje. …During the 1990’s I also apprised myself of Bat Ye’or’s writings on the dhimma. I did not commence my systematic study of Islam until after the 9/11 atrocity. At that time I researched through many volumes of hadiths, studies of the Qur’an, revised my Arabic, and engaged in a systematic exploration of what Islam teaches, and how this is changing the world today. For the past three years I have also been undertaking a second doctorate – this time in Islamic Theology. My research focus is on whether the Qur’an can be considered a continuation of Biblical faith, or a clear break from it.

So, on the positive side, Durie’s scholarly encounter with Islam began through actual personal contact with Acehnese Muslims in Indonesia (his PhD in 1984 was on their language). However, his renewed interest in Islam as a religion was spurred by the negative writings of Bat Ye’or and the horror of September 11. Since then, his studies (enabled by his knowledge of Arabic) have been in the Qur’an, Hadiths and other Islamic traditional material – but not, unless I am mistaken, at the feet of Muslim teachers themselves. I am not sure where he is doing his current PhD “in Islamic Theology”, but he is an Adjunct lecturer at the Melbourne School of Theology, Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths, a school which is not a member of the University of Divinity. In sum, Durie’s stance, over against the religion of Islam as a whole, is negative and polemical, and his writings are widely read by Australian Christians.

One thing Mark Durie says in the above interview is very interesting: “My research focus is on whether the Qur’an can be considered a continuation of Biblical faith, or a clear break from it.” In a sense, that is the question at the heart of my initial suggestion: what is the relationship between the Muslim religion and that which went before it? Durie talks in terms of “Biblical faith” – does he mean Judaism or Christianity or both? If the latter, then does he take into account the fact that at the time of the rise of the Arab empire in the Seventh Century, there were many different “Christianities”, and even different “Judaisms” (not to mention Zoroastrianism and Samaritan religion and Gnosticism and everything else in between and beyond) swirling around in the religious mix in the Middle East?

And, as far as “continuity”/“discontinuity” goes, is there any phenomenon in history which can be described purely as a “continuation” of what went before or “a clear break from it”? Thus the question of the relationship between Islam, Christianity and Judaism cannot be answered simply from studying the respective scriptures of the three religions and doing doctrinal comparisons. Surely a linguist like Durie should at least be interested in the historical antecedents to the Arabic of the Qur’an? Who were the peoples who spoke these languages? What cultures did they belong to? What springs of knowledge did they drink from?

There is perhaps another question that remains to be asked, and it a question asked by an author by the name of Tom Holland whose work I will discuss in the next : “What if it wasn’t Islam that gave birth to the Arab empire, but the Arab empire that gave birth to Islam?”

Time to bring this post to an end, and to begin writing “Understanding Islam through its Origins (Part 3)”, where I begin to tell you about what I’ve actually been reading…

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I am the very model of a…

I love Gilbert & Sullivan. And I love modern adaptions of their songs. In particular, “I am the very model of a modern Major-General”. Many years ago, when I was a Lutheran pastor trying to start a new congregation in a developing outer suburb of Melbourne, I went along to a “Church Planting Conference” which inspired the following text:

I am the very model of a modern Luth’ran mission’ry,
my methods are biotic and my leadership is vision’ry.
I cultivate the ministry of those with special giftedness,
and have a team of laity to save me lots of busyness.
I’ve statements that are visional and statements that are missional,
I’ve got a list of values that are solidly foundational,
and yet in my confession and in word and sacrament you see
I am the very model of a modern Luth’ran mission’ry.

I haven’t got a church and so I’m using rented premises
between a buddhist temple and a kingdom hall of witnesses.
I’m targetting intention’lly the unchurched and post-modernists,
our choruses are varied so they don’t become monotonous.
Chorus: our choruses are varied so they don’t become monotonous.
our choruses are varied so they don’t become monotonous.
our choruses are varied so they don’t become ….

[stop–look sheepish–carry on, “Now where was I? Oh yes!”]
I’m touching people where they’re at, my small groups are relational.
My services are relevant, my talks are inspirational.
And yet in my confession and in word and sacrament you see
I am the very model of a modern Luth’ran mission’ry.

I’ve studied demographics and prevailing ideologies.
My principles are biblical, just like my methodologies.
I’m reaching generation X, the boomers and millennials…
[“Oh…ah…um–Ahah! I have it!]
I’ve just redone the garden in both annuals and perennials!
I face opponents one and all with spirit quite irenical
and never will I stoop so low as to become polemical,
and yet in my confession and in word and sacrament you see
I am the very model of a modern Luth’ran mission’ry.

In a similar vein, but far surpassing my meagre attempt, I recently came across this particularly fine version of the genre, “I am the very model of a biblical philologist”. Enjoy!

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Time for a Lutheran Ordinariate?

In response to a posting at The Catholic Thing “Time for a Lutheran Ordinariate?”, a friend wrote the following on an email list::

I do not know what to think of this. While there are aspects of what might be termed the Lutheran “patrimony,” particularly, perhaps, in the area of music, which could be incorporated into Catholic practice, it seems to me that the fundamental “patrimony” of Lutheranism is doctrinal, based on the belief that Catholic teaching on a particular doctrine of (in their view) transcendent importance (Sola Fide; articulum stantis aut cadentis Eccleiae) is erroneous and that therefore they constitute a doctrinally sound reformed remnant of the Catholic Church. If some Lutherans should cease to believe, either that what the Catholic Church teaches on this locus is mistaken, or that it is the articulum stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae, then (1) what is to prevent their becoming ordinary Western/Latin Catholics and (2) if there were to be an Ordinariate for former Lutherans, would music alone be a sufficient thing to justify its existence? No particular Lutheran “Mass Rite” or worship formulary has ever occupied anything like symbolic place of the Book of Common Prayer for Anglicans, and just as the BCP rites have had to be supplemented and corrected to suit them for Catholic use, so one imagines that the same sort of thing would have to be done for a Lutheran Ordinariate (e.g., no Eucharistic consecration by use of the Verba alone, outside the context of an anaphora/eucharistic prayer).

I have naturally thought about this matter a great deal – especially while sitting with my family in a service at St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Box Hill where they worship (my “Church-in-law) as I like to call it. How it saddens me each time to think that this and many other faithful Lutheran congregations remain separated from the joyful unity with the Bishop of Rome and the Catholic Churches in communion with him. 

Naturally it has occured to me that the Anglican Ordinariate might provide a model for reunion between Cathoic and Lutheran churches. However, I do not think we can simply take the model of the Anglican Ordinariate and apply it to Lutherans. And I think the article in The Catholic Thing reads Pope Francis correctly. He is not, as far as we can tell, even a fan of the model as it exists. 

There are similarities in the situation. Just as a future reunion between the Catholic Church and the Church of England, Episcopal Church, and other liberal communities of the Anglican tradition is now tragically out of the question, so there can be no hopes of future unity with liberal Lutheran synods and national churches. On the other hand, I do think something needs to be done to facilitate the dialogue with traditional/conservative Lutherans. The International Lutheran Council should not be alienated, for it is with them and their friends that the Catholic Church has most in common doctrinally. However, they are also less likely to be ecumenically minded toward Rome (or anyone else for that matter). 
The Catholic Church must approach Lutherans committed to their tradition with a “white flag” approach: a truce, a readiness to address divergent doctrinal issues rigorously but eirenically, recognising that there is a fundamental brotherhood between us and that future unity is possible. If it happens that “groups of Lutherans” (eg. parishes with their pastor, or, could it be imagined, whole synods?) desire to seek communion with the Catholic Church, then some way of enabling them to maintain their identity as a distinct community must be sought. Should it, for instance, be a Church divisive matter whether or not a community prays the Rosary or seeks the intercession of the saints in their liturgy (as long as to do so is not opposed)? Should Lutherans in communion with the bishop of Rome be required to adopt celibacy for the clergy? Would communion under both kinds be regarded as standard in such congregations? Could less divisive ways of talking about Purgatory be found – a little less St Margaret Mary and a little more Spe Salvi, for instance? Could Synodical government and lay parish councils be maintained? 
There are things that belong to the Lutheran patrimony beyond just music. Perhaps the greatest patrimony, which the Catholic Church would certainly benefit to receive in a spirit of receptive ecumenism, is the centrality of the proclamation of the Good News. In addition, modern conservative Lutheranism has developed a quite startlingly strong spirituality of baptism (almost equivalent in emphasis to the spirituality of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church), and have a proven track record in catechetical formation of their young people. Not to mention their deep tradition of scriptural spiritualiity and preaching. 
So, you see, a different approach for a different circumstance is required. That doesn’t mean that we do nothing, however.
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Eamon Duffy “The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians” (2013)

This morning I received a Christmas card from the Centre for Catholic Studies & the Ushaw Project at Durham University. I am on their mailing list because we hosted Dr Paul Murray (the ecumenist, NOT the Irish Dominican) some years back. On the back cover was a prayer that struck me as very appropriate for our present times in the Catholic Church – and perhaps a good “New Year” prayer for everyone:

if this be not your will, frustrate it:
frustrate it fully and frustrate it quickly,
and move our heart’s desire
closer to the heart of your desire for us.
But if it be of your will,
then continue to open for us
the generosity of heart, mind, and means
that are needed,
and may this generosity begin with us.

I thought it a beautiful prayer – containing similar sentiments to the traditional “Prayer for Serenity” – but I loved the strength of the word “frustrate”, and the request for “generosity”. Think of any single issue, debate, proposal, plan or trend in the Church today – one, perhaps, that really gets under your skin and up your nose and hot under the collar – and slowly and with great conviction pray this prayer. By the end of it, I think you will find yourself in a different place.

Liking the prayer so much, I went online to try to find who had authored it. And thus I made a second happy discovery for the day. My google search threw up this:

The heart in pilgrimage

The Heart in Pilgrimage: a Prayerbook for Catholic Christians (Google Books link – for Amazon, click here).

Yes, now I am intrigued. First, my search took me to the page on which the prayer above was included. And the author is Paul Murray himself. So (a) Big thank you, Paul!

But the other surprise is this excellent little prayerbook itself.

First: it is edited by Eamon Duffy, he of “The Stripping of the Altars” fame. This is a bloke with good liturgical and historical sensitivity.

Secondly – what was a cause of attraction to me but may not be for all readers – the Foreword and Preface are written by Rowan Williams (“the Right Reverend and Right Honourable the Lord Williams of Oystermouth” as he is now styled) and by Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. So while the title says “Catholic Christians”, it is not written solely for Roman Catholics. Included prayers are taken from the traditional Anglican and Eastern Patrimonies as well. This ecumenical approach has a plus side: the prayers are aimed at a truly Catholic sensibility, something with which not all Roman Catholic prayerbooks (or Roman Catholics for that matter) are endowed. Nevertheless, there is nothing here that an orthodox Roman Catholic will find doctrinally or spiritually foreign, and it is clear that the book as a whole is mainly intended for use by Roman Catholics, as evidenced by the inclusion of the full ordinary of the new translation of the Roman Mass.

Thirdly, the language of the prayers is dignified and natural – sometimes employing the more traditional forms of English (“O God, make speed to save us”) or sometimes more modern forms. Either way, nothing I have read thus far “jars”. For someone brought up on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible as I was, the language is “just right”. And indeed, other than the Psalms (Grail) and the Benedicite, all biblical quotations come from the Catholic RSV. Bits of Latin are included when appropriate.

This may well be the best Catholic prayerbook out there, folks. I recommend it wholeheartedly. Thank you, Paul Murray and The Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham for leading me to it.

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