I stated my own view strongly. …he saw only one side, I another. …He said something like ‘Who are the laity?’ I answered (not in these words) that the Church would look foolish without them.

O memorable time, when St. Aidan and the Irish monks went up to Lindisfarne and Melrose, and taught the Saxon youth, and when a St. Cuthbert and a St. Eata repaid their charitable toil! O blessed days of peace and confidence, when the Celtic Mailduf penetrated to Malmesbury in the south, which has inherited his name, and founded there the famous school which gave birth to the great St. Aldhelm! O precious seal and testimony of Gospel unity, when, as Aldhelm in turn tells us, the English went to Ireland “numerous as bees;” when the Saxon St. Egbert and St. Willibrod, preachers to the heathen Frisons, made the voyage to Ireland to prepare themselves for their work; and when from Ireland went forth to Germany the two noble Ewalds, Saxons also, to earn the crown of martyrdom!

Such a period, indeed, so rich in grace, in peace, in love, and in good works, could only last for a season; but, even when the light was to pass away from them, the sister islands were destined, not to forfeit, but to transmit it together. The time came when the neighbouring continental country was in turn to hold the mission which they had exercised so long and well; and when to it they made over their honourable office, faithful to the alliance of two hundred years, they made it a joint act. Alcuin was the pupil both of the English and of the Irish schools; and when Charlemagne would revive science and letters in his own France, it was Alcuin, the representative both of the Saxon and the Celt, who was the chief of those who went forth to supply the need of the great Emperor. Such was the foundation of the School of Paris, from which, in the course of centuries, sprang the famous University, the glory of the middle ages (‘Idea of a University’, Introductory).

Telling the truth about Ireland is not very pleasant to a patriotic Englishman; but it is very patriotic [. . . .] The truth about Ireland is simply this: that the relations between England and Ireland are the relations between two men who have to travel together, one of whom tried to stab the other at the last stopping-place or to poison the other at the last inn. Conversation may be courteous, but it will be occasionally forced. The topic of attempted murder, its examples in history and fiction, may be tactfully avoided in the sallies; but it will be occasionally present in the thoughts. Silences, not devoid of strain, will fall from time to time. The partially murdered person may even think an assault unlikely to recur; but it is asking too much, perhaps, to expect him to find it impossible to imagine. And even if, as God grant, the predominant partner is really sorry for his former manner of predominating, and proves it in some unmistakable manner – as by saving the other from robbers at great personal risk – the victim may still be unable to repress an abstract psychological wonder about when his companion first began to feel like that (‘The Crimes of England’, chapter V, AD 1914).

In his delightful book Enthusiasm, Ronald Knox remarks on the Jansenist belief that the Church is destined to decline continuously from her pristine excellence until the end of the world. He says that this opinion would be as hard to justify from history as it is from theology. Newman in Loss and Gain puts the same Jansenist view in the mouth (if I remember correctly) of Campbell, the Scotch Protestant, but without giving any indication of whether he himself endorses or opposes it.

Chesterton, I think in his book on Chaucer, recounts how he was once asked by a very intelligent agnostic whether he thought that the human race improved as time went on, or degenerated, or stayed about the same, and that the questioner seemed to think that he had covered all the possibilities. In reply he asked the other chap whether he thought that Ebeneezer Brown of 22, The Beeches, Tooting Bec, improved, degenerated or stayed about the same between the ages of 30 and 40 (I quote from memory, and invent the names.) Chesterton says that it then seemed to dawn on his interlocutor that the answer rather depended on Mr Brown and how he chose to behave. In other words, for Chesterton, because man has free will there is no necessity for the human race to go in any direction in particular. This is certainly an invigorating way to answer our question, but I’m not sure the conclusion follows. There is such a thing as having moral certainty about future events that will depend on free will; St Thomas says somewhere that in a town full of irascible people, you can be sure an argument will break out at some point, even though you can’t tell in advance when or between whom. In the same way, one could hold that the human race will go in a certain direction even though each man is free to go where he wants.

Maritain throughout his writing has a theory that both good and evil increase in the human race as time goes by, like the wheat and the cockle growing side-by-side. I suppose this means that the just will on average be more just, and the unjust on average more unjust from one century to the next. I don’t think he really tries to prove this, though he does make the point that if persecutions intensify, those who resist them will need to have a correspondingly greater holiness. On the other hand, even if his theory were true, it could still be the case that an increasingly large number of people became unjust in every age. Also, since the cockle on his account can be within the Church as well as outside, it wouldn’t help to answer the question about how the Church on earth was destined to fare.

Tolkien, in a private letter from 1956, wrote: “I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat.” I like those quotation marks around ‘history’. Presumably they signify that the subject as usually studied is defective, as abstracting from the supernatural truths that alone allow us to understand it. But why ‘a long defeat’ rather than a series of victories and defeats? Presumably he was thinking of history as tending toward the reign of the antichrist, which he must have considered as the final period of history, ended only by the eucatastrophe of the second coming.

St Thomas, speaking about how the articles of faith have grown over the years from Abraham onwards, says this:

The final consummation of grace came about through Christ, and so His time is called ‘the fullness of time’. Consequently, those who were closer to Christ, whether before, like John the Baptist, or after, like the apostles, knew the mysteries of faith more fully. We see the same thing in regard to the condition of a man, who has {bodily} perfection in youth, and a man is the more perfect in proportion as he is close to youth, whether before or after (2a 2ae 1, 7 ad 4).

He is not speaking here about an increase in the articulation of the mysteries of faith, I think, since then it would not be true that knowledge declines after the apostles. After all, we have their writings, and we have the commentaries on them made by the Fathers and doctors which make explicit many things contained only implicitly in Scripture. He must therefore be speaking of the depth of understanding, or intensity of faith. But this comes about, as he explains elsewhere (2a 2ae 6, 1) through the grace given to intellect and will; by charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But this apparently implies that sanctifying grace is poured out more abundantly insofar as people are closer in time to the Incarnation and Pentecost. If the mysteries of faith are more keenly understood the closer people are to the time of Christ, this must be because charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which are proportioned to one’s degree of sanctifying grace – are given more abundantly, the closer one is to that time. This would be fitting, as emphasising the central place of the Incarnation within history. It would also fit in with some remarks of St Gregory the Great which I have quoted elsewhere in these chronicles:

By the awful course of the secret dispensation, before this Leviathan appears in that accursed man {antichrist} whom he assumes, signs of power are withdrawn from holy Church. For prophecy is hidden, the grace of healings is taken away, the power of longer abstinence is weakened, the words of doctrine are silent, the prodigies of miracles are removed

St Bede, like St Jerome, thought that the overthrow of antichrist would come before the end of the world. But he still thinks that there will be very little true faith left at the end of the world. Commenting on Luke 18:8 (“When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”), Bede writes:

When the almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be that not so much the cries of the faithful as the torpor of the others will hasten the world’s fall.

Were the Janensists, then, correct? Is the Church a kingdom gradually sliding into decay, which will be saved from extinction only by the coming of the Lord? Things are more complicated. For one thing, not only has the Church on earth expanded in numbers from about 120 on Pentecost Sunday to its present membership, but also there have been periods since Pentecost when the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace was surely increasing; for example, from AD 33 to AD 133. This is certainly a victory for the city of God over the city of man. The Church has also progressed in the ever more perfect elaboration of sacred doctrine and the possession of more splendid liturgical rites (whether these are used is another question). Also she has progressed in having an ever greater treasury of merit and satisfaction on which to draw, and more examples of holiness, through the lives of the saints who have passed to their reward. Moreover, as Vatican I taught, her continued existence is in itself a sign of her divine mission, and this sign in the nature of things becomes more striking with the passage of time. All these things are triumphs over the kingdom of darkness.

Nevertheless, it could still be true, as seems to be implied by the words of St Thomas, that the average level of grace of those in the Church is lower in every generation; it could also be true that the percentage of those in the Church living fervent lives is in continual decline. Yet even this could be a tendency rather than an iron law. St Thomas uses the analogy of the human body, which is more perfect the closer it is to youth. Yet while this is true others things being equal, it may be that a particular man exercises more or has a better diet, and so is stronger or has more stamina, at some time earlier or later than at his natural peak of health. So it could be that the exercise demanded by the stress of particular events, for example, universal persecution, will temporarily raise the average level of holiness in the mystical body; or it could be that the intake of many new members to whom God wishes to attach a special blessing (for example the Jews, for the sake of their fathers) will have the same effect. But all the same the underlying trend would be downwards. Yet any given Christian may still achieve heroic sanctity, if he wants. And the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace can increase even if the average level of their sanctity decreases; though other things being equal, for example if there are no new pagan lands to evangelise, this seems less likely than likely.

A happy and fervent new year to all the saints at Laodicea.

IT is a miserable time when a man’s Catholic profession is no voucher for his orthodoxy, and when a teacher of religion may be within the Church’s pale, yet external to her faith. Such has been for a season the trial of her children at various eras of her history. It was the state of things during the dreadful Arian ascendancy, when the flock had to keep aloof from the shepherd (from Newman’s ‘Idea of a University’)

The Vatican announced on Monday that Heiner Koch would be the new archbishop of Berlin. He was one of the bishops who participated in the ‘Shadow Synod’ in Rome the other day which according to one of its participants (and the fact is well-known, in any case, and denied by no 0ne), sought “a pastoral opening on issues such as communion for the divorced and remarried, and the pastoral care of homosexuals”.


In a February interview with a German newspaper, Bishop Koch called for changes in the pastoral care of homosexuals, saying that to “portray homosexuality as a sin is hurtful,” adding that the Church “needs a different language when it comes to homosexuals … I know gay couples who value reliability and commitment and live these in an exemplary manner.”

The archbishop of Berlin knows ‘gay couples’ who live their ‘commitment’ to each other in an exemplary way? Clearly we are not talking here about people who suffer from but resist temptations to unnatural lust, or how could he speak of ‘couples’. I don’t see how any reasonable person can think that Koch accepts the Church’s teaching about the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts. Yet this teaching is infallible in virtue of the ordinary and universal magisterium, and whoever denies it is a heretic.

So, what should Berlin’s Catholics do now? If we read in a history of the Church that some Catholics of the mid 4th century had blockaded the door of a cathedral so that the Arian bishop appointed to that see might not take possession of it, we should admire their initiative and determination. I suggest that it would be a good idea for Berlin’s Catholics to do the same. Not to stand to one side and hold placards; to keep him out. They are soldiers of Christ, in virtue of their confirmation. Let them fight for Him, and against Sodom.


Newman, writing still as an Anglican, defends the traditional idea that the Roman Empire is the the power alluded to by St Paul as ‘that which restrains’ the coming of the antichrist. He raises the difficulty that the Roman empire has apparently passed away, as the Greek, Persian and Babylonian ones did before it. He replies

It is difficult to say whether the Roman Empire is gone or not; in one sense, it is gone, for it is divided into kingdoms; in another sense, it is not, for the date cannot be assigned at which it came to an end, and much might be said in various ways to show that it may be considered still existing, though in a mutilated and decayed state.

Of course one might suggest dates for the end of the empire: AD 476, AD 1453, AD 1805, AD 1918 – though perhaps this very multiplicity of possible dates supports Newman’s contention. Yet in what sense, if any, can the Empire be said still to exist: to be ‘dormant’, as he says, rather than extinct? Is it not just special pleading to claim that this empire has not vanished like the three preceding empires?

The first thing that could be said is that no other empire has succeeded to the Roman one as earlier ones succeeded to it. Newman, and the Fathers, are vindicated here. But that by itself is not enough to show that it somehow still exists. So should we say that it has left an indelible mark on the memory and imagination of Western man, as a hot iron could brand someone’s face with a mark that would remain after it was taken away? Is it in this sense that the Empire remains? Or might we say that its laws, language, measures, divisions of land, tools and architecture are the foundation for ours: that despite the the revolutions that have taken place here and there in many of these things, the organic link joining us to our Roman past has not been wholly snapped?

Or are we to say that the Roman empire has indeed now gone; and that the hour is later than we suppose?

I am still pondering Aelianus’s response to my last post on ‘formal and material heresy’, which was that if Charles doesn’t think there is a reliable way of knowing what God has revealed, even he must be a heretic. I suggested that Charles might not be a heretic, since he believed that the creeds and the bible were such a reliable guide. In fact, this doesn’t seem adequate, given St Thomas’s characterisation of faith, as a disposition to inhere to the first truth as manifested in the scriptures according to the infallible teaching of the Church. If one denies there is an infallible church, then one does not have faith. That certainly seems to follow. The same applies if one formally doubts that there is such a church (as opposed to simply feeling inclined to doubt it).

But what if one thinks that there must be such an infallible, living Church, but does not know what or where it is: can one have faith in these circumstances? Yes, providing one knows some revealed truths. This is the normal situation of those who are brought up in other Christian denominations and who become aware, as Newman puts it,  of the impossibility of having faith in the word of their church.

Such a person has the habit of faith, if he has been validly baptised and has not sinned against the light. Whilst he still imagined, for example  as a child, that the teachers within his church enjoyed a divine mandate, and that his church was an infallible guide to divine truth, then presumably he received actual graces that enabled him to make acts of supernatural faith when they taught him Catholic truths {see the post ‘Was St Thomas a Feeneyite? (part II)} When he becomes aware that they have no such mandate, then he does not by that fact lose the habit of faith.

But the question is, does he go on to say that there is no such infallible guide on earth? If so, then he does lose the faith, even if he continues to profess, for example, the divinity of Christ. If he does not go on to say this, but rather says to himself, ‘God must have given us some way of knowing’, then he retains the habit of faith.

Can he still exercise it? Yes, if he believes that the Church of Christ was acting infallibly at some point in the past, for example at the Council of Nicaea or Chalcedon, or when she canonised the gospel of St John. For in that case he can still ‘cling to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule’, even though he is uncertain where that teaching is now.

I think that Charles’ state of mind in the extract quoted in the last post, and no doubt Newman’s own state of mind at a certain period, was that he knew in his heart that his own church was not an infallible guide, that he felt sure that there must be some such guide, and that he couldn’t yet bring himself to suppose that it was the Roman Church.

All this raises the question: how many non-Catholics suppose that there own church is an infallible guide? And of those who don’t, how many suppose that any such guide exists?

I’ve discussed before the question of the criteria by which to judge whether a person is truly a heretic or simply in error about revealed truths. I quoted three criteria, any one of which, according to an ‘approved author’, was by itself a sign of an error being simply an error, not a heresy.

None of the three criteria mentioned seems entirely satisfactory. The first – would the person be ready to accept the Catholic Church’s ruling if he knew it? – certainly applies to the Catholic who is simply in error, but it doesn’t apply to those in other denominations. If they had this disposition, they wouldn’t be in the other denominations (unless some other motive like human respect intervened).

The second – ‘if he knows nothing about the Catholic faith and has never wondered about it’ – is a sufficient proof that the person’s failure to join the Catholic Church is not culpable per se, but it hardly establishes that he has the virtue of faith. He may know nothing about the Catholic faith and yet still culpably reject certain revealed truths taught him by his non-Catholic preacher, and which he finds distasteful, thereby becoming a heretic in God’s sight.

The third suggested criterion – ‘if, wondering about the Catholic faith, he has sought the truth as far as he is able’ – seems like a good one, but it is difficult to apply. How does one judge of someone else, unless one knows him extremely well, whether he has sought the truth as far as he is able?

Yet it seems useful to make some kind of judgement in this matter when dealing with non-Catholics who profess a faith in Christ: not a definitive judgement, since that belongs to God alone, but at least something that can guide one for practical purposes: to form at least a suspicio, if not an opinio

The problem is that there are two considerations that seem to pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, we are bade think as well of other people as we can. St Thomas tells us that, even though most people are bad, we should still attribute good intentions to other people in particular cases ‘unless manifest signs of their malice appear’; we will be wrong most of the time, he says, but the mind suffers no harm in being wrong about such contingent matters!  This principle suggests that we should think of separated brethren as merely erring.

On the other hand, it is to the honour of God and of Christ that the Church should not be difficult to recognise; that it should be, as our Lord has foretold, a city set on a hill. This principle suggests that we should think of separated brethren as culpable.

How can we resolve this antinomy? Perhaps by judging, according to the second principle, that culpable error is more likely in general; while in particular cases refraining for as long as possible from making any judgement, and making a favourable judgement if some judgement is necessary and no ‘manifest signs of their malice’ appear (for example, when a priest agrees to anoint an unconscious non-Catholic).

Yet there is perhaps one other criterion that could be applied effectively. Does the person desire that there should be on earth an infallible guide to the truth that Christ taught to the apostles? The virtue of faith is an inclination to believe all this truth. So whoever has the virtue would surely welcome the idea that there was an infallible guide to what this truth is, as this will make it much easier for him to realise his inclination. He may regretfully think that there is in fact no such guide; but if he desires that there should be, that is a good sign. On the other hand, if he is clear that he doesn’t want there to be any such guide, that he thinks such a thing would be contrary to his own dignity, then we seem to have the ‘manifest signs of malice’ which on St Thomas’s principle would allow the judgement that someone is a heretic.

An example of what I mean by a desire that an infallible authority should exist even while not believing that one does is found in Newman’s 1848 novel, Loss and Gain. In this passage two friends, Charles and Sheffield, both Anglican ordinands, are lamenting the conversion of a third ordinand to the Roman Church. Sheffield speaks first:-

“The idea of his swallowing, of his own free will, the heap of rubbish which every Catholic has to believe! in cold blood tying a collar round his neck, and politely putting the chain into the hands of a priest! … And then the Confessional! ‘Tis marvellous!” and he began to break the coals with the poker. “It’s very well,” he continued, “if a man is born a Catholic; I don’t suppose they really believe what they are obliged to profess; but how an Englishman, a gentleman, a man here at Oxford, with all his advantages, can so eat dirt, scraping and picking up all the dead lies of the dark ages—it’s a miracle!”

“Well, if there is anything that recommends Romanism to me,” said Charles, “it is what you so much dislike: I’d give twopence, if some one, whom I could trust, would say to me, ‘This is true; this is not true’. We should be saved this eternal wrangling. Wouldn’t you be glad if St. Paul could come to life? I’ve often said to myself, ‘Oh, that I could ask St. Paul this or that!'”

“But the Catholic Church isn’t St. Paul quite, I guess,” said Sheffield.

“Certainly not; but supposing you did think it had the inspiration of an Apostle, as the Roman Catholics do, what a comfort it would be to know, beyond all doubt, what to believe about God, and how to worship and please Him! I mean, you said, ‘I can’t believe this or that’; now you ought to have said, ‘I can’t believe the Pope has power to decide this or that’. If he had, you ought to believe it, whatever it is, and not to say, ‘I can’t believe’.”

Sheffield looked hard at him: “We shall have you a papist some of these fine days,” said he.

“Nonsense,” answered Charles; “you shouldn’t say such things, even in jest.”

“I don’t jest; I am in earnest: you are plainly on the road.”

Sheffield, I think we are meant to judge, is a formal heretic; Charles merely a material one.


Everyone upon earth might, without any verbal evasion, be saved, as far as God’s assistances are concerned. Every man born of Adam’s seed, simply and truly, might save himself, if he would, and every man might will to save himself; for grace is given to every one for this end (‘Discourses to Mixed Congregations’, VII)

God moves the human mind towards the good in such away that the mind can nevertheless resist this motion; and so it is from God that a man prepares himself to receive grace, while if a man lacks grace, this does not have its cause from God but from the man, according the word of Hosea XIII, ‘Destruction is thy own, O Israel’ (‘Quaestiones Quodlibetales’, I, 4, a.2 ad 2)

It is good for human beings to die as infants, before they have known good or evil, if they have but received the baptism of the Church; but next to these, who are the happiest, who are the safest, for whose departure have we more cause to rejoice, and be thankful, than for theirs, who, if they live on, are so likely to relapse into old habits of sin, but who are taken out of this miserable world, in the flower of their contrition and in the freshness of their preparation…

We have all heard of the scene of impiety and profaneness which attends on the execution of the criminal in England; so much so, that benevolent and thoughtful men are perplexed between the evil of privacy and the outrages which publicity occasions (‘Difficulties of Anglicans’, VIII, 8).

(In the second paragraph he is contrasting England with the papal states, where he says that the condemned were often brought to die piously.)

…that laymen may suggest their opinions, and that unasked, and that, too, on a point of clerical discipline, is most extravagantly novel.

(letter to W.G. Ward, November 8th, 1860)