Monthly Archives: October 2015

Modernism and the Synod on the Family

by Augustinus

My friend Mr Zoot Horn Rollo is outraged by the recent Synod on the Family, convened by Pope Francis, attended by some 250 Bishops from around the world and focused on issues concerning the family in the modern world….Questions addressed by the Fathers at the Synod include such burning issues like “Can divorced Catholics receive communion. Can gay people find a place in the church? Is birth control ok in all circumstances” and so forth. The church Fathers issued a document at synods end which did not go as far as Pope Francis or Cardinal Walter Kaspar wanted but they did emphasize the intent to be merciful to divorced, gay, and others in sin. The Pope for his part appeared to be disappointed with the Father’s statement lecturing them to be even more merciful than the document the Bishops issued seemed to allow. The Pope in a few months will issue an “apostolic exhortation” on all these issues concerning the family in the modern age. It is widely accepted that his exhortation will use the bland statement issued by the Synod’s Bishops as justification for changing church doctrine with respect to these issues of the family in the modern world.

if the Pope does change the church’s stance on these issues…if he says it is now ok to divorce and not seek annulment of the marriage; if he says that is is now ok to use birth control in all circumstances, if he says that homosexual unions and sex is ok and so on he will break with past church doctrine on all these issues. If he does so he will take a step down the path of the modernizing protestant denominations…all of whom are hardly recognizable as Christian anymore as they dissolve into a million tiny sects….or so says my friend Mr Zoot Horn Rollo.

The advocates like the Pope and Cardinal Kaspar of liberalizing trends within the church argue that we should be a church of inclusion rather than exclusion. They say “Look around you. The people in the pews next to you at mass all come from broken families. Two thirds of them have been divorced. Ninety percent masturbate regularly. One third are gay or have a close relative who is gay and practicing. Virtually all use birth control all the time. Upwards 50% of the priests are gay. Most Catholics have sex out of marriage on a regular basis. In short the sexual revolution has penetrated deeply into the lives of catholics and has established norms of Catholic family life for decades now.

Historians tell us that it has always been this way. Rome was a cesspool of sexual sin as was and is every other culture on earth down through the ages. The recent sexual revolution in the west that has reigned supreme since the 1960s is actually nothing new. The ubiquity of sexual sin, however, does not make it any less sinful. the question is how should the church deal with it?

The church has always avoided two extremes when dealing with sexual sins. First it avoids a puritanical stance that hates the body, sex, pleasure and so forth. The gnostic condemnation of the body and all its attendant pleasures and pains is an ancient heresy that the church will do battle with forever. The other extreme the church avoids when dealing with sexual sin is to breezily endorse the sin or look away and not call it a sin. It is not merciful to say to someone “You are not committing a sin” when they in fact are committing a sin.

but that raises the more fundamental issue of whether all these sexual acts, masturbation, gay sex, contraception and so forth are in fact sins. Thats the issue the church has not yet confronted despite its 2000 year history.




What is a sin?

By Augustinus

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin thusly:

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.

Part of the crisis of the modern church is exemplified by the split among members of the church with some advocating revision of old doctrines on sexual issues such as homosexuality, masturbation, marriage, divorce etc while others insist that revision of long standing church positions on these issues would be tantamount to the church endorsing sin. These very issues are being debated in this and last years Synod on the Family. So to find our way through these controversies it is not enough to rely on the Bishop’ reports or the Pope’s final “Exhortation” after the Synod ends. Instead we need to get clear what we mean by sin before we can decide whether something like homosexuality or divorce are sins.

The catechism defines sin as an offense against reason and God caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods and a failure of genuine love for God and neighbor. Now what makes an act an offense against reason and God?  Lets turn to St Augustine for an answer to that question…

Augustine on Evil in the “Confessions”

The Confessions of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430) were written when he was in his 40s and sometime after his conversion to orthodox Christianity. He was, at the time, Bishop of Hippo in modern day Algeria. He lived at a time when the Roman empire was in crisis. In the middle of his life around the year 410, the Goths sacked Rome itself. The sack of Rome led Augustine to write his massive City of God. Twenty years later, as Augustine lay dying, a second Germanic tribe, the Vandals, invaded North Africa and captured Hippo right after Augustine’s death. These conquests by the Germanic tribes that took place throughout Augustine’s life spelled an end to the 1000 year old Roman empire. Augustine very likely was affected by this world-historical change.

During his early adulthood Augustine was a member of the Manichean sect or religion. This was an interesting amalgam of Christianity, dualistic Gnosticism and old-world Zorastrianism. The Manichees solved the problem of evil by asserting that God was not evil, but evil was, like God, a primordial force opposed to God’s will for creation.

After his conversion to Christianity (chronicled in the Confessions), Augustine battled two other sets of religious ideas or heresies that nevertheless colored his theory of evil. These heretics were called the Donatists and the Pelagians. The Donatists believed that only sin-less or morally upright priests and bishops could legitimately administer the sacraments. Augustine argued that the grace-imparting efficacy of the sacraments did not depend on the spiritual state of the minister administering the sacrament. The Pelagians argued that human beings were not significantly enslaved by sin. Human free will enabled people, by their own concerted efforts, to attain to God without any special intervention from God. The Pelagians also downplayed the need for infant baptism and questioned the whole idea of original sin. Augustine argued that Adam’s sin introduced disorder and death into the human race and made it very difficult, but not impossible, for people to use their free will to will the good, the true and the beautiful.

In the Confessions Augustine presents a sketch of his views concerning the nature, origin and remedy for evil. The Confessions are composed of 13 books, with the middle book (book VII) most directly concerned with the nature, origin and remedy for evil. While the first nine books contain a narrative of Augustine’s life, they also are littered with philosophical asides and theological speculations. The last 4 books are more directly philosophical. They address topics that are central to Augustine’s theory of evil. These include memory, time, scripture and the nature of creation and the Church. I will return to the relation of these topics to the question of evil below.

Throughout the Confessions, Augustine introduces conceptual paradoxes that are relevant for the questions of God, evil and salvation. Although God is immutable, He changes everything we mortals are exposed to. Although we do not have God, we are aware that we do not have Him. We must therefore in some sense have him-else we would not be aware of the absence at all. Similarly, in the memory we may be aware that we have forgotten something but when we find it in memory we know that that was indeed the thing we had forgotten. So we must have had some knowledge of the thing in question—else we would never had recognized the thing when it came back to us out of our memories. Similar paradoxes abound with respect to our desires. We desire what we do not have. Yet how can we know that we desire something unless we in some sense already possess it or know it? We possess the desire in our memory and to that extent we know a simulacrum of the thing desired. Therefore memory both contains and does not contain all things. It collapses time and space insofar as it contains all that we have experienced. Yet it does not present a whole reality. Its being is intermediate between the real and non-being. Thus, matters related to the source and origin of evil might be placed in this intermediate space of non-being but oriented towards being; i.e. potential being.

In the case of desire the paradox is linked with the nature of evil itself. Much of the Confessions is given over to Augustine’s struggles with sexual lust and disordered desire or concupiscence. Augustine notes the paradoxical nature of being unfree and yet free when one is dominated by one’s own lusts. We feel compelled to return to the lust, the theater of our unfreedom-despite not wanting to do so, and despite having the power to avoid that fate. We willingly become will-less or depersonalized. We flee from rationality, awareness and freedom into ignorance, automatism, and non-being.

This I take is one of the strands of meaning concerning the nature of evil Augustine pursues in the story of how he (when he was a teenager) and his friends stole some pears from a neighbor’s tree. The crime was without motivation. He was not hungry, not angry at the neighbor, not bored and not attempting to get the fruit for anybody else. He stole the pears simply out of a perverse desire for disorder and malice. The urge to do the deed. Augustine argues, came out of nothing and was purely destructive. “What fruit did I ever reap from those things which I now blush to remember, and especially from that theft in which I found nothing to love save the theft itself, wretch that I was? It was nothing, and by the very act of committing it I became more wretched still.” ( Confessions Book II 16; p. 47 Boulding trs).

In Book VII Augustine develops the theme of the human penchant for nihilistic nothingness. He starts with the assumption that God is good; that His substance is the greatest good. God is Being for Augustine and Being is good. “What need is there to prove at length why that substance which is God cannot be corruptible. If it were it would not be God.” (Confessions Book VII 6; p. 167 Boulding trs). Augustine does not seem to consider that goodness cannot properly be termed a substance at all. All that God has created is also good because it all comes from God’s hand. “Evil, therefore, is not a substance; if it were, it would be good”(Book VII 18, p. 182 Boulding trs), because it would have come from the hand of God. But again, Augustine does not seem to consider the possibility that goodness is not a substance. Therefore if evil is the opposite of good then it is the opposite of something that is not a substance and therefore it may not be mere nothingness.

“Where then is evil where does it come from and how does it creep in? What is its root, its seed? Or does it not exist at all?” (Confessions Book VII 7, p. 168 Boulding trs)…“For you evil has no being at all, and this is true not of yourself only, but of everything you have created, since apart from you there is nothing that could burst in and disrupt the order you have imposed on it.” (Book VII 19, p. 182 Boulding trs)

If evil is a nothingness, then what is all this evil we all experience and do each day of our lives? “I inquired then what villainy might be, but I found no substance, only the perversity of a will turned away from you, God the supreme substance, towards the depths—a will that throws away its life within and swells with vanity abroad.” (Book VII 22, p. 185 Boulding trs). For Augustine then, the source of evil in the world is a turning away from God, a kind of involution of the will, a perversion of the will, an option for nihilation rather than being, a choosing of lower values on the scale of values/ being, rather than higher values.

Whenever we give into that choice for a short term reward over a long term higher value we are actually opting for non-being and nihilation rather than being. Thus, ultimately for Augustine the source of evil in the world is free will. To the extent we are free to choose the good and we do not engage that option, we voluntarily enslave ourselves and fall into oblivion, nothingness, disorder and corruption.

When we opt for the lesser being or for non-being, something that should have happened in the real world did not happen. The turn toward nothingness has the effect of preventing something good from coming into being. In this interpretation of Augustine’s theory of evil, evil, (even though it is a mere nothingness) has real effects on the real world, precisely because the world is deprived of something that ought to have happened.

How does memory, time, scripture and creation/Church fit into this theory of evil? When the present recedes into the past it does not slip into non-being. It is captured in memory. We can be converted away from the plunge into nihilation via proper use of the memory. Memory can change the meaning of a past event and therefore it is sovereign over time. Time has no meaning in eternity. Memory gives us consciousness and awareness of time and therefore sovereignty over time. There is only the eternal present. Augustine compares memory to God the Father, the creator. Scripture, especially Genesis, gives us knowledge about this creator God. God, via His word, calls creatures into being out of nothingness. Will His creatures consent to this call? Do they want to BE? The consent is not given once and for all. We have to continually say yes to being and we do this via cultivation of the our cognitional processes (in this case memory) and of the virtues and via the grace of God which we receive in the Church.

Does Augustine’s notion of evil as a perverse willing of nihilation work? His central claim, that the turn away from God and toward nihilation was essentially perverse implies that there is no rational reason for evil. Evil is essentially a flight from reason. But if this is correct then individuals cannot be held responsible for their actions as their actions had no rhyme or reason. The choice to opt for irrational nothingness is essentially irrational itself and groundless in Augustine’s theory. Augustine’s arguments are based on the questionable equation of God with being itself. But scripture argues that God is the creator of Being; the cause of being. The cause must always be different from and greater than the effect. Therefore God cannot be equated with His creation; Being. Aquinas later argues that God’s essence is equivalent to his existence. He is not Being per se, but pure ACT—a category beyond Being. ACT is not a substance and therefore the opposite of ACT (evil) may be some form of substance. Both Lonergan and Aquinas appear to slip back and forth between treating God as the supreme Being and treating God as beyond Being. Lonergan refers to Being as the unrestricted pure desire to know (Lonergan 1957/1992, p. 372 and following) and the totality of all that is. God is the uncreated light. Lonergan refers to God’s goodness as something different from Being which is created. As we have just seen Aquinas refers to God as the only being whose essence is the same as His existence and in this sense He is beyond Being. Yet both Lonergan and Aquinas also treat God as the supreme Being just as Augustine did. I prefer to consider God different in kind from his creatures, though we creatures can participate in God’s uncreated light. In any case, Augustine’s focus on evil as non-being due to the perversion of the will cannot be the whole story. The will that chooses oblivion still has to be explained.

Augustine himself seems to intuit that this question needs to be answered. In Book II chapter 8 right after the lines I quoted above (“I inquired then what villainy might be, but I found no substance, only the perversity of a will turned away from you, God the supreme substance, towards the depths—a will that throws away its life within and swells with vanity abroad.” (Book II 8, p. 47 Boulding trs) Augustine says: “And yet, as I recall my state of mind at the time I would not have done it alone. It follows, then, that I also loved the camaraderie with my fellow thieves. So it is not true to say that I loved nothing other than the theft? Ah, but it is true, because that gang mentality too was a nothing.” (Book II 8, p. 47 Boulding trs)…”What an exceedingly unfriendly form of friendship that was! It was a seduction of mind hard to understand, which instilled into me a craving to do harm for sport and fun.” (Book II 9, p. 49 Boulding trs) Here Augustine traces his penchant for stealing the pears to the seduction of Mind the group imposed on him with respect to doing harm. But surely stealing the pears was not for mere sport and fun as Augustine himself realizes. Stealing the pears was imposed on Augustine (via “seduction of the mind”) by the group/gang, and he stole them to increase the power and density (the fusion of wills of its members) of the gang. How did the gang corrupt Augustine’s mind and will? To answer this question we need to first understand what mind and will are and how they interact to produce moral and immoral acts, and for this understanding we will need, in a future post, to turn to Aquinas.

We can expect more of this…

By Augustinus

A man in Cambridge MA (caught on tape) desecrates church and performs lewd sex act on altar in middle of night

The Church is now experiencing the fury of both militant atheism and militant gay activism. both groups see the church as the epitome of oppressive, backward, hate-filled bigotry. Calls to jail priests, ban religious service, censor religious speech as hate speech and so forth are now commonplace. Militant activists read this drivel and then act. We can expect attacks on our churches and persons to increase in the coming years.

At some point the church needs to decide how it is going to deal with these attacks. They will become physical as a new persecution in the West gets underway. While we are not yet experiencing the annihilation of whole communities that our brothers and sisters in the middle east are experiencing these first signs of persecution in the West are harbingers of things to come.

The left wing of the church cannot deal with the new persecution because they largely agree with the ideology of its perpetrators. the right wing of  the church cannot effectively deal with the new persecution because its analysis of modernity is bankrupt.

What is to be done?


Father Edward Tomlinson’s Perspective

from Fr. Ed’s Blog – happily found by Allan Gillis


And so it begins

Oh dear. The Synod on the family begins and the climate could not be more depressing. Cardinal Daneels publicly reveals he is part of a cabal of modernists, who not only manipulated the last conclave but engineered the removal of Pope Benedict. Rather chillingly the main protagonists and their ilk are the ones chosen to be present at the Synod. Yesterday a priest of the CDF outed himself, telling the world he has a boyfriend, the timing of this announcement being far from coincidental.

Dear me it is depressing. The church is in crisis. It breaks my heart to watch it unfold. And it worries me deeply that the synod might be sham, a carefully orchestrated fait accompli; the aim being not to change doctrine but practice. The driving of a wedge between what is officially taught and what happens on the ground. That ground may be conceded in favour of modernism.

To really understand what is going on, at a deeper level than newspaper headlines, we must comprehend that the real debate has nothing much to do with how we treat the divorced and remarried or those in same sex relationships. That would be easy enough, I never met an authentic Christian who wasn’t accepting and pastorally kind.

No; drill down beneath the emotive polemic and it becomes clear that what is really under debate is the role of grace and sin, the nature of revelation and the way authority and fidelity are to be understood in the present age. *The modernists want to overthrow traditional Catholic teaching and methodology to conform to the Spirit of the age. And with the Synod deck stacked in their favour, and with it now being a matter of public record that they have control of the Vatican and have been manipulating the process for years, we stand at a moment of genuine crisis for those whose desire is to be faithful to Christ.

As I kneel before the sacrament at present a different angle comes into focus. The spiritual dimension. For always in the church we deal not with political issues of left and right but an eternal battle between Christ and forces of darkness. We lose sight of Satan at our peril. And it strikes me that, on the spiritual level, we find those who no longer love the Jesus of history and wish to substitute him for a faux Christ made in their image. A fake Christ who can accommodate the teaching of the sexual revolution. Why? Because they have fallen in love with the ideals of the sexual revolution. For them scripture is out-dated… precisely because it doesn’t espouse those revolutionary views, traditional teaching no longer pertinent… precisely because it doesn’t chime with the sexual revolution. It is time for change-they say- the church must conform to the world.

And tragically these people are now so in thrall to the ideals of the sexual revolution, and the modernist faith, they ignore or downplay its devastating effect; widespread abortion, the breakdown of the family, etc.. “What is truth?”, they ask- for with their relativist creeds they are the Pontious Pilates of our day. Washing their hands of the real Jesus because, to them, he has become an embarrassment. A figure to be derided and pitied. A man of sorrows. So they beat him afresh, spit and twist thorns on his head. Oh how painful it is to see. And how more painful still is the fact that, backed by the media and leaders of the modern world, they are in the ascendency; ready to bring the church to its knees. Repent and worship at the altar of political correctness, embrace the ideals of the sexual revolution, or face the wrath of our displeasure.

Those who stand by Christ, and the historic teaching of the church regarding the family, are in the minority. A remnant. I am not a very good Christian, truth be told, but I do want to stand by this number. No matter the cost, I want to support those who uphold the faith of the ages, not a bastardised form designed to suit the present. My deepest prayer then, at the start of the Synod, is that the Holy Father will opt for this too. My deepest fear is that we are heading for schism. That those who want to uphold the institution at any price will concede to the world- and the sexual revolution. Whilst those who want to uphold the true church will be driven back into catacombs and considered anathema. I hope I am wrong.

You can probably tell I am feeling depressed by it all at present. Perhaps, as stated before, my Anglican experiences exacerbate this. Perhaps I have it all wrong – I certainly hope so. But we do need to pray. And, to cheer me up, I received this wonderful document from the Confraternity of Catholic priests. A document that robustly defends the faith as historically understood. Lord Jesus please keep your promise that the gates of hell may not prevail. We may be losing the battle but help us remember we cannot lose the war.

This Star Wars clip rather sums up my feelings today. Or at least how I fear I might feel when the dust settles in three weeks time.

  • (* emphasis by your publisher)
  • ( please visit Fr. Ed’s Blog )

Signs of the Times Part 1

The recent article in CRUX about the gay priest who “came out” on the eve of the Synod caught my interest. Here is the article:

Here are my posted comments:

“Sexual orientation is not a choice, but becoming a priest and taking a vow of celibacy is a very serious choice. I have no problem with anyone stating their opinion on gay marriage or priestly celibacy. My problem is with taking a vow and then deciding to accept the dishonesty of living a shadow life in a relationship. I applaud Fr Charamsa for deciding to be honest about his situation, but I wish he took the steps to be released from his vows before establishing the relationship. This has nothing to do with sexual orientation or celibacy. It has to do with keeping promises.”

What’s going on here?

Augustinus’ article on homosexuality recognizes the worldwide, revolutionary change in attitudes on sexual orientation that have come about in the past decade and overturned popular opinion in just a few, short years. In my opinion, this recent change reflects a similar revolutionary shift in popular opinion on pre-marital sex, birth control and divorce that swept the world in the 1960’s. To me, the most fascinating aspect of these mega-shifts in popular opinion is the speed and universality of the changes, rather than the changes themselves (I am sure Sociologists are having a field day).  These changes, along with the equally dramatic departure of the faithful from Catholicism, reflect the incredible capacity for rapid change enabled by a connected society.  The Catholic Church now finds itself on the losing end of these changes due to it’s inability to react in real time to societal change and it’s continued reliance on a hierarchical structure that has been rendered irrelevant by a society that no longer believes in sin. This is the critical juncture for Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular. In a tug-of-war between Catholicism and popular culture, it is clear that popular culture is winning. I suspect Pope Francis sees this clearly and understands the urgency of the situation.

The major issues for the Church are not the issues of birth control, divorce, homosexuality, or marriage. The major issue for the Church is what to do when no one cares what the Bishops say about birth control, divorce, homosexuality and marriage.  After all, it is clear that a vast majority of Catholics practice birth control. It is also clear that many divorced Catholics still attend Church and receive Communion.  Now what?

The past 100 years will be remembered through history as the period where monarchies fell and the world experimented with new ways to govern themselves. I see the Catholic Church’s hierarchical irrelevancy as the last gasp of the ancient, monarchical system and the beginning of a rebirth in Christianity that will rediscover the centrality of Jesus Christ through the embrace of servant leadership. However, this can only happen if our Bishops recognize their inability to control through fear and recognize the signs of the times.






Homosexuality and the Church

By Augustinus

Homosexuality and the Church Crisis

Few would deny that homosexuality, same sex marriage and gay priests have been front and center issues that exemplify the embittered debates at the center of the crisis in the church since the 1960s to the present day. The “sexual liberation” of the 1960s unleashed a torrent of new groups from feminists to homosexuals to transgendered individuals, who claimed that they were persecuted in the past and that they would no longer tolerate such persecution in the future. All the major churches had up until then viewed homosexuality as a sin expressly condemned by scripture. But as these victim groups began to organize politically and articulate arguments for their full acceptance into the church, many protestant groups began to do so. But traditionalists within these protestant groups found this a complete betrayal of the Christian revelation. The debates soon spread to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions and have become acute points of dissension within the church today. Liberals within the church want to claim that homosexuality and other non traditional sexual orientations are not sins at all while traditionalists ask how we can blithely throw out 2000 years of scripture and tradition on these issue just to accommodate sinful people who claim they have been victimized? Aren’t we merely bending to the world’s priorities and abandoning Christ just to be popular in the modern world?

The homosexuality wars in the church are both a symptom and cause of the church crisis in the modern age. Traditionalists claim that not only is there no scriptural foundation for justification of homosexuality (never mind same sex unions), scripture expressly condemns it. So-called progressives within the church on the other hand argue that scripture demands interpretation and that history is the struggle of oppressed minorities to come into full communion with the rest of the society and church. In short traditionalists argue that redefining homosexuality as NOT a sin would be a corruption of church doctrine and tradition while progressives argue that ending persecution of homosexuals by redefining homosexuality as NOT a sin represents a valid development of Christ’s teaching of full inclusion of the “other” into the church.

Who is right? How does a conscientious Christian think through these complex issues. The Catholic magisterium would say “listen to us—we decide—the laity follow and obey period.” But even the magisterium needs to consult with experts, the laity and the rest of the church on matters dividing the faithful. How does one decide what is valid in terms of development of doctrine versus what is a corruption of church doctrine?

Protestants by and large argue that valid development only occurs when the new doctrine represents a clear logical unfolding or implication of something present in scripture. Despite this seemingly clear criterion for valid development recall that it has been Protestant churches who have taken the first steps in welcoming homosexuals, same sex unions, female clergy and so on.

But is that criterion an adequate or valid one to use in assessing whether a new development in church doctrine is valid or not? Take the case of the development of the trinitarian doctrine formulated in the first several ecumenical councils in the first few centuries of the Church. While the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are certainly mentioned in the New testament gospels there is no reason to suppose that they compose a trinity of 3 persons and one God. More parsimonious interpretations of those mentions would simply claim that the terms merely refer to differing modes human experience of the one God or differing ways of expressing one experience and so on. The strict monotheism of first century Jews would have militated against arguing for Trinitarian positions on the Godhead. That is one reason why it took centuries for the Trinitarian interpretation to win out over all the other more common sensical interpretations of these mentions of the names of the god experiences in the New Testament.

Clearly, then one cannot arrive at the doctrine of the Trinity by merely reading the gospels and following out logical implications of whatever it is you read there. The logical implications of gospel texts are literally endless. Constraints are needed in order to limit endless and destructive interpretations of these texts.

Where do these constraints come from? The orthodox and Catholic communions say they come from tradition which includes the magisterium and debates at Church councils. Tradition also includes input from the laity in the form of popular forms of piety as well as social, cultural and political influences.

While the addition of tradition to help gauge genuine doctrinal development helps it does not help very much. Tradition too can be interpreted in endless ways and the influence of popular and social forces are often inimical to the Christian revelation.

In the 19th century several theologians began to formulate tests for assessing whether a given doctrinal development was valid or a corruption of church doctrine. In particular Cardinal Newman argued that “There is no corruption if it (a doctrinal development) retains one and the same type (when compared to the earlier doctrine that serves as the origin of the new doctrine), the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last.” (Newman, 1845, Essay on development of Christin Doctrine, p171)

If we use Newman’s tests to assess whether the new doctrine “homosexuality is not a sin” is a corruption OR a valid development of Christina doctrine I think we just get more muddled. All of Newman’s tests depend on the original reference doctrine one starts with. If we start with literal reading of scripture then the original reference doctrine would have to be homosexuality is a sin. The “development homosexuality is NOT a sin” then does NOT retain one and the same type, organization and so as the original doctrine nor does it protect and subserve the original doctrine. In fact the new doctrine literally overturns the older one.

If on the other hand we start with a different base doctrine perhaps the doctrine of “Love your neighbor as yourself” then Newman’s tests on “homosexuality is not a sin” are no so clear. If I place myself in the shoes of my homosexual neighbor he has undergone severe affliction and condemnation simply because of his sexual orientation. This neighbor has never acted on his sexual orientation. Instead he became a catholic priest and is universally acclaimed a saint by those that know him. Except for his sexual orientation and his views that homosexuality is not a sin he is an exemplary man of the Church. He has single handedly kept alive the Latin mass at his parish, has served as hospital chaplain for decades, and has written very militant catholic apologetics. He opposes same sex marriage nut not same sex unions. He opposes marriage for priests and female ordination. He was decorated for bravery when a young combat solider in the Viet Nam war and has since then stridently supported all branches of the US military. He describes himself as a traditional catholic and a political conservative.

Extrapolating from the Christian doctrine of Love thy neighbor as oneself…does this man’s views that same sex attraction and unions (not marriage) are not sinful pass Newman tests? Including same sex attraction and unions in the family of acceptable practices in the church appears to be congruent with the original doctrine and certainly preserves and protects that original doctrine and so forth. But again this just proves that Newman’s tests depend entirely on the reference or base doctrine you use as the standard from which develop occurs.

We need something better.

One possibility that the modern age gives us is scientific input. Perhaps we can consult the science on homosexuality in order to assess whether or not it is a sin.

There are lots of papers on homosexuality because male homosexuality in particular is a puzzle. Given that male homosexuals rarely have many (or indeed any) children, the phenomena of homosexuality should disappear from the gene pool. But obviously homosexuality has not disappeared. Scientists therefore infer that it must be conferring some kind of genetic advantage to relatives of the homosexuals. The best evidence to date that that is indeed the case comes from studies of Camperio Ciani’s group in Italy. They (see Francesca Iemmola Æ Andrea Camperio Ciani Arch Sex Behav (2009) 38:393–399 DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9381-6 New Evidence of Genetic Factors Influencing Sexual Orientation in Men: Female Fecundity Increase in the Maternal Line) have demonstrated via several studies of the genetics of families with homosexual members that the average fecundity of the female relatives in the maternal BUT NOT THE PATERNAL line of homosexuals, was increased relative to families without homosexual members. In other words having a homosexual in the family significantly increases the chances that women vs the men in the extended family will have large numbers of offspring! Homosexuality might therefore be seen as one more strategy in the eternal battle of the sexes to immortalize their respective genetic legacies.

Even if these studies and data are replicated and later confirmed do they help us decide whether or not homosexuality is a sin? Obviously not. The data certainly are interesting but they are silent on the central question which of course is a theological question.

So where does this leave us? Biblical literalism cannot decide on whether homosexuality is a sin. Catholic and Orthodox traditionalism can’t do the job either. Nor can Newman’s tests or recent science tell us whether homosexuality is a sin.

I suggest that to intelligently debate the issue of homosexuality we need to start with an agreed upon definition of sin. That will be the subject of another post.

Rend Collective at Manchester Christian Church

I’ve been a fan of the Rend Collective for a while now. Their joyful worship music pleads with God to “build Your Kingdom here” and “set the Church on fire” with the Spirit. As members of the growing Evangelical movement in Northern Ireland, they also bring a rich heritage of Celtic music and instruments to their mix. Now, after years in the trenches and with a new album of worship music released, they burst onto the stage with the full force of a band on the rise and ready to play larger Christian venues with volume, power and professional lighting.

It was a great rock show at full concert volume that kept the crown on their feet with arms and voices raised in prayer. It was fun and I had a great time, but as a Christian musician and Music Director, I find I’m a bit more finicky than I was in my younger years. I expect more.

My biggest complaint was the mix. I love loud, but I’m obsessive about a mix that brings out all the quality of great instruments and voices working together to make a song truly moving. This concert had all the excitement, but mixed the drums and lead singer much higher than the rest of the band. They also did a lousy job of rolling off offending bass frequencies which made the sound muddy. Other instruments (lead guitar and keyboards, in particular) were lost in the mix along with the vocals from the rest of the band. This also led to a lack of dynamics and instrumental diversity that would have given each song it’s own voice. I could see each member playing a variety of instruments and singing their parts, but most of it was lost in the mix.

As they started into the songs from their new album, I started thinking about the pressure that comes with success. Their new songs had plenty of punch, but were clearly more aligned with the “formula” Christian music that comes across the airwaves now, than with their roots. I suspect that as with any type of music, the closer one gets to the mainstream, the more pressure there is to conform to what sells tickets and gets top billing.  This is why I love the Roots Worship music of John Barnett, who goes out of his way to connect on street level (more on John in a future column).

In retrospect, I recognize that there are lots of people out there who are looking for Jesus and one of the strongest tools of evangelization is music. For most people who are looking for a new church, music is the major factor in deciding to come back. This is why evangelical churches put so much money and effort in growing a music ministry that attracts their primary demographic of families with children. They recognize that you need to bring people in the door before you can form them into disciples and there are key demographic groups that are needed to keep a church growing and healthy.

I leave you with the Rend Collective version of “10,000 Reasons” which closed the show. It was moving, worshipful, joyful, Celtic version that made me so glad I got to hear them.