Monday, June 27, 2022

Matariki, Constantine, Christmas

We'll get to Constantine and to Christmas before the end of the post. Bear with.

Last Wednesday (22 June) in our weekly Diocesan e-letter, I wrote:

We are on something of adventure as a nation as we make significant steps forward in the 2020s (compared to any other decade I recall) to becoming a bicultural and bilingual society. So, this Friday is our first ever public holiday which acknowledges something of importance in Te Ao Maori: Matariki.

In this holiday we are invited to share together in celebrating the appearance of the astronomical sign which heralds the turn of the year and to remember with thanksgiving those who have gone before us. Matariki refers to both the cluster of stars called Pleiades in ancient Greece (and continued as a term in modern English) and to one of those stars. Potentially we can see seven stars, though one may be hidden. The Bible refers explicitly to “Pleiades” (e.g. NRSV) or Matariki (Te Paipera Tapu) on three occasions: Job 9:9; Job 38:31; Amos 5:8.

There is an intriguing possibility of an implicit reference to Matariki in the Book of Revelation where reference is made to the exalted Jesus holding in his right hand “the seven stars” (1:16; also 2:1; 3:1). For further intrigue on this reference and its possible connection to the geographical location of the seven churches of Revelation, see this blogpost .

This cluster of stars (about which you can read more on Wikipedia and for our local Kiwi flavour, here) consists of many more stars than seven (it has been named "The Seven Sisters") or nine or even fourteen potentially viewable to the naked eye (depending on your location and atmospheric conditions).

This picture gives us both a picture of Matariki (the cluster, but one of the stars is also called Matariki):

Matariki (as an event or festival) signals with the reappearance of the Matariki, which disappears from sight before the winter solstice and reappears soon after (this year, 24 June (also "John the Baptist"), but next year 14 July, etc), the beginning of the Maori new year, and thus a time for remembering what has gone before and for looking forward to what lies ahead.

As a celebrated festival, Matariki fell away by the 1940s but since the 2000s has been revived, and now to the point where we will have an annual holiday each year to mark this important calendrical event.

I was intrigued to hear in a report on TV One news last night (though it is not actually mentioned here in a written version of the item) that an offering of food was part of the pre dawn ceremony. A Stuff report confirms this,

"Lee Johnson (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kuia) was charged with preparing the food that will be offered at the pre-dawn hautapu. “If the food is cooked then that’s a good sign, so I’ll be putting my best foot forward to make sure it’s cooked, if not overcooked.”"

Now I do not mention this to get into a debate about whether such ceremony takes us away from the God of Jesus Christ and closer to the traditional gods of Te Ao Maori - that is a complex and nuanced matter which involves understanding of Te Ao Maori (the worldview of Maori, including the use of personifications and metaphors in the connections made between the natural world and human life and its cycles of planting and harvesting, of life and death), that I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about to engage in discussion.

But the reference to the offering of food got me thinking that here in real time, Christians in Aotearoa New Zealand are experiencing a moment of cultural and religious change which is challenging (how will we respond?) and opportunistic (can we respond well?). 

There is no doubt that Matariki is a revival of an ancient and pre Christianity (as conveyed through the first missionaries) set of incantations and rituals, as well as a contemporary bicultural, local recognition that matters of calendar, celebration of seasonal/annual change need not be exclusive to the Christian world of our ancestors in the northern hemisphere (perhaps, notably, Christimas as a festival close to the northern hemisphere Winter solstice and New Year close after that; as well as Easter as a festival near the beginning of Spring). 

Further, as my comments cited above recognise, Matariki as a star cluster is a familar part of the night sky around the whole world, and features in many cultures, including the culture of the Bible world itself.

A moment of cultural and religious change?

Yes, and one which Christianity in our blessed islands has a choice to:

- ignore and do nothing about, save to enjoy a new public holiday weekend;

- embrace, and fuse ancient and present ideas and beliefs into a new (or renewed) Christian celebration of the cycles of God's creation, so that no part of life in this locality is beyond the prayers and thanksgivings of God's people.

Thus Constantine and Christmas!

There is a critique of Christianity in relation to Constantine which says that lot of things about Christianity have been perfectly dreadful since Christianity became the faith of the Roman Empire and Christendom arose out of that fusion. The radical vision of Jesus for a new, egalitarian kingdom died with the bishops harnessed to the needs of "the establishment", etc.

Yet, reflecting from our local cultural and religious moment which - to be clear - I think we should embrace and not ignore, did Christianity have any reasonable, viable choice than to take the road of Constantinian fusion?

There is a critique of Christmas (from within and without Christianity!) that it is pretty much a Christianization of a pagan festival, conveniently attached to celebrating the birth of Jesus. (I am aware that there are various arguments about how accurate this is, etc, etc.) But, here's the thing: assuming that Christianity saw a need to transform and not ignore pagan celebrations of the Winter solstice, was there much choice, in reality. To ignore and hope such pagan festivities would go away, not be attractive to Christians, and so forth: would that have worked? 

I think not. Better to embrace and transform, surely.

In our case, bearing in mind the biblical texts cited above, we have much to embrace (aspects of the starry heavens and the earth beneath) and much to transform (an ancient celebration of life, death and new life in which we are inspired to offer thanks and praise to the God of all life, in sea, earth and sky).

Perhaps you think otherwise. Discuss!

Postscript: here Down Under we are not unaware that this weekend is also a cultural, religious, political and (for millions of women) personal moment in the USA as Roe v Wade is swept away and the legal status of abortion now varies from state to state. So far, my reading of Twitter and other responses is less than inspiring, other than to inspire me to make no further comment from afar.


  1. Peter, you should try reading Justice Alito's judgment- it runs for abour 45 pages and is really very clear on English common law from Henry de Bracton and Blackstone on abortion, through to the laws in the States prior to Roe v. Wade and Casey (1992), and the profound inadequacies of Roe as Constitutional Law - largely the fault of Justice Blackmun - which even supportrs of abortion recognised in 1973. Roe was wrong from the brginning and Casey onky muddied the waters further.
    It seems clear to me thet the finest legal minds in the United States are Catholics formed in the natural law tradition, along with Episcopalian Neil Gorsuch. Justices Alito, Kavanagh and Barrett are profound Christian intellects as well as constitutional scholars.The poverty of Protestant ethical thinking is almost entirely due to lack of philosophical substance. Without a grasp of natural law, Protestantism degenerates into proof texting, leading to absurd results.
    But this is not a problem for Protestants alone. How bizarre that politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi loudly proclaim their "Catholicness" and also their determination to destroy whole dimensions of Catholic social teaching. Of course this faux-Catholicism is nothing new - Gerry Adams spouted it all the time.
    May God teach Christians in New Zealand to have courage and wisdom in the defence of pre-born human life.

    Pax et bonum
    William Greenhalgh
    on the Feasts of SS Peter and Paul

  2. Yes, saving Mediterranean civilisation was an authentic choice. But also yes, it was a costly choice.

    Today, some disciples accept secular order in order to be free to investigate, retrieve, and renew what the early church lost. It's hard to both defend say US military policy and also wholeheartedly follow Jesus's anti-militarism.

    By implication, truly Christian being is always bicultural. If we try to navigate life in Christ with only a worldly mind, then we have lost the plot and will fail...

  3. Dear Bishop, in this post you have mentioned the need for 'A cultural and religious change'.

    Apart from the celebration of Matariki, in which all New Zealanders are encouraged to accept the FACT of the cultural and spiritual heritage of our Māori sisters and brother of Aotearoa/New Zealand; there is a wider sphere in which we Kiwis need to adjust our sights - that of Biblical exegesis and its reference to cultural adaptation in our modern world. In his excellent Address to the Brisbane provincial Church Synod, Archbishop Philip Freer has this to say, touching on our situation of division in New Zealand:

    "In 2019 when the Anglican Church in New Zealand decided to allow each diocese in New
    Zealand to choose to have a liturgy to bless same sex relationships - note they didn’t change their law about marriage - about 12 parishes in New Zealand decided they couldn’t live with the national church’s decision and broke away to form the Church of Confessing Anglicans. Six Australian bishops eagerly participated in the consecration of a bishop for that breakaway Church. On what authority no-one is very clear."

    Drawing in part on his reflections from a publication by theologian Dr. William Loader, Archbishop Philip questions the culture of 'Sola scriptura' which virtually rejects any attempt to relate the texts of the Scriptures to what is actually happening in today's world of scientific discovery - especially in the realm of human genetic complexity - that renders the need for an updated understanding of human relationships, including that of the status of marriage and its place in the lives of same-sex attracted persons.

    For those interested in the text of Dr. Aspinall's recent Synod Charge, here is a link:

  4. According to Maurice Manawaroa Gray, Anglican priest and Kai Tahu kaumatua, who I remember fondly at this Matariki time, the hills around where I live (Ohinetahi/Governor's Bay) were once called Matariki. This is the older Waitaha (first Maori settlement) name for the seven rocky outcrops at the head of the harbour. Later waves of Maori settlment renamed these peaks as places of conquest and death.

    After Pakeha colonization, the peaks were given at least three subsequent names: (1) individually, after wealthy farmers and important colonials (e.g. "Cooper's Knob", "Cass Peak"); (2) "the Seven Sleepers" (possibly to Christianize - and masculinize - the seven sisters), and (2) finally as "the Seven Sisters" (of Pleiades) again.

    The Seven Sleepers, also called the Sleepers of Ephesus or Companions of the Cave, is a curious medieval legend. It is the story of seven young men who hid in a cave outside Ephesus to escape Roman persecution of Christians...and emerged 300 years later! Another version of this story appears in the Quaran and is venerated in Islamic tradition.

    Peter, I really appreciate your careful, integrative message here. It deserves a wider audience, no offence to ADU readers, and I wonder about next Matariki giving it a wider hearing.

    Yes, there are parts of Matariki - as there are parts of everything - that Christians can participate in, find resonance with, and remember within the signs of our own tradition, while also acknowledging this taonga is of Te Ao Maori. And there will be parts of Matariki that Christians may find difficult or unwise to embrace, that we should pause and think about, including our reactions to these. I use some karakia that Maurice gave me, although it feels inauthentic to use prayers that invoke specific Maori atua (even after Maurice carefully explaining what these gods signify - i.e. elemental forces).

    The common ground between Matariki and Christianity that I see is reading and celebrating the book of nature (which Maori are often more intimate with than us), and remembering our tipuna and whakapapa lines, including those strange men emerging from the cave.

  5. do more than pass as churchgoers.

    But when we acquire minds in Christ that need and desire no validation from secular states and societies, then we have spiritual freedom, not only to progress in him, but also to be salt and light with his love to those around us. Especially here up yonder, a modern who did the work of a disciple could find brisk secularity so invigorating that s/he pitied the weakness and confusion of those still dependent on the kindness of godless strangers.

    Hence, as + Peter says, it was easy for modern disciples to look on the Edict of Milan almost as a second Fall of Man. Once faith depended on the sword, they inferred, those who did what the faithful do seemed superhuman to the spiritually...

  6. The SCOTUS abortion ruling is firmly anchored in the jurisprudential maxim: if you drive over your neighbor's dog, backing up the car will bring it back to life.


  7. ...half-witted.

    This notion that the churches of secular societies would be more authentic than the churches of Christendom had some evidence in its favour. For decades, US churchgoing continued to increase whilst it declined where the ancien regime had persisted longest. Churches contributed to the debate and reform of secular states. And...

  8. A thought provoking post +Peter. I personally think in regards to honouring the Treaty of Waitangi recognising Matariki, the Maori New Year, is another positive step towards partnership. Like yourself I see the connections with scripture and creation and the stars; and drawing attention to those in winter is appropriate timing, like Mark I see the drawing of the line in terms of my personal celebration and the involvement of Churches being when festivities err into the realms of worship of te atua of te Ao Maori and the created rather than the Creator. Since our New Year date with European roots is all but secular in nature could the church in kiwiland recognise Matariki also in a secular sense as the passing from one year to another? Or do we decide to drop one of the New Years 🤣

    Thanks BW for your posting on the previous thread regarding ‘demons’ which I have just caught up with. You have a gift of articulating things well! Also I enjoy your dialogue about walking with the mind of Christ or walking as Christian within rather than aside the secular arena. I get the sense the choices between these trajectories will become more and more challenging. Recently, while watching the news downunder I have growing sense of no longer being on the ‘same page’ on many things society at large now assumes as a given.

    While recognising the grey in the issue of abortions, seeing the playing out of one sided perspective here in our land with little mention of the difference between abortions done for the sake of ‘convenience’ rather than due to the mental or physical health ramifications for the mother .. (ie: little acknowledgement that some women who have had abortions suffer years of emotional turmoil because of them) is concerning. To have a politician needing to make a public apology because they do not support abortion is also concerning. Seeing the reactions on both sides of the fence in the U.S. well that just looks like a world gone mad! : ) ....

  9. Thank you, Jean, not only for your kind words just above, but for all of your refreshing comments. Your walk with Jesus is always there between their lines.

    The abortion mess will be tedious to fix, but it is not confusing. I’ll divide my answer into two, this on policy and another tomorrow on politics.

    "the grey in the issue of abortions"

    The great majority of American citizens have found two points of view half-witted. Proponents of each hate proponents of the other too much to think well about public policy. Both will have outsized influence here and there for a while, but neither has any chance of making settled national policy for the long run. That will eventually reflect the rather strong consensus at the centre of American public opinion.

    From one perspective, which you mention, zealots with a secular ethic of rights alone cannot see either the objective evil of abortion or the hazard of moral injury to women who get them. The gun lobby, for whom our right to bear arms includes even ownership of military weapons, has a similar POV.

    In defending the reality of their constitutional rights to a sceptical public, happy warriors for both of those causes have exaggerated them into personal guarantees and then hardened them into moral absolutes. Those for abortion rights-- also those against them-- believe that the two rulings that the SCOTUS just struck down supported their expansive notion of them. They did not.

    From the other perspective, opposing zealots are so angry at abortions-- and contraception, morning after pills, gay sex, and SSM-- that they demand in the name of God Almighty that the godless state-- legislatures, regulators. police, courts, jailers, etc-- punish women who get them and physicians who supply them. If abortion is a kitchen fire, they want to pour the grease of state power struggles onto it.

    Obviously, a secular liberal democracy does not enforce religious norms as such. And criminal laws should be reasonable attempts to modify some behaviour that harms a public interest. Happy warriors who oppose abortion have promoted baroque, fantastic laws that express their grandiose feelings but outrage norms of polity and would not be effective on the ground. If those for abortion rights have exaggerated rights as such, those against abortion rights implicitly oppose the secularity, liberality, and democratic character of the United States of America. At the far extreme, some who explicitly oppose all that admire the ethnonationalist regimes of Putin, Orban, Erdoğan, Modi, and-- if not, why not?-- Xi.

    So those are the half-witted points of view from which the grey that the majority of voters see and understand is invisible. As in other polarisations observed around the world, the blinkered happy warriors at each extreme are detached from reality and pay most of their attention to the no less blinkered and detached happy warriors at the other.

    Why? Some are power-seeking leninists who ignore the calm centre because they believe that only another incandescent cadre like themselves can block their path. But most think too hatefully, and so too crudely, to hold all the facts in mind at once as the charitable centre does.

  10. So how does the wiser majority between those poles do it?

    Simply, they do see, undogmatically, that abortions are not good and late ones are evil, but they neither romanticize nor disparage women who get them. Understanding the spectrum of their circumstances makes it clearer to them that states-- our secular liberal democracies anyway-- cannot stop them all with reasonable and proportionate criminal penalties. So where the first extreme exaggerates and hardens personal rights, the centre recognises the limits of state interest and effectiveness. And where the second extreme dreams of draconian and unstately theatrics, the majority will only consider customary practices reasonably applied.

    Centrists prefer that contraception be used; that abortions be rare, early, and safe; that they precede viability; that they be available to victims of incest or rape; and that state power be used sparingly. Since nearly all abortions are had within fifteen weeks of conception, few would object to a requirement that procedures after that be subject to medical or judicial review and regulation.

    Hard legal rights for embryos? No. Prohibition of abortifacients? No. Weird state intrusions into pregnant women's minds and bodies? No. Enforcement by private individuals or across state lines? No. Abortion on demand for nine months? No. Absolutist talk about abortion rights? No.

    In this, the American majority is not far from the mind of other Western democracies. In fact, it is not very far from the holdings (not the reasonings) of the rulings just overturned.

    Ultimately, our citizenry is too diverse, too resistant to state paternalism, and too intolerant of corruption to reinvent the Union as a loose alliance of ethnonationalist states enforcing feminist absolutes or papal scruples. Even amid postmodern scepticism about liberalism per se, the rocks that have made us what we are will remain. But all that is tomorrow's topic.

    It was good to hear from you.


  11. "... few would object to a requirement that procedures after that be subject to medical or judicial review and regulation."

    I don't think you've been watching your own TV, BW.
    I don't think you heard Senator Charles Schumer threatening the Supreme Court Justices on the steps of the Courthouse.
    I don't think you heard the Mayor of Chicago's profanity-laced denunciation of Justice Clarence Thomas.
    I don't think you heard the mob threatening the home of Justice Kavanagh.
    I don't think you have heard of the firebombing of Catholoc churches.
    The Left has lost all reason and believes only in coercion, and Biden and Pelosi are fanning the flames. Still, they are Mass-going Catholics, aren't they? What did the great man say - A republic, if you can keep it?

    Pax et bonum,
    William Greenhalgh

  12. Postscript

    Any given abortion fits up to four classes of private behaviours that legal prohibitions do not reliably stop-- those driven by distracting fear; those driven by nature, dependency, or addiction; those that enrich organised crime; and those hidden from lawful enforcement.

    If women are terrified of a pregnancy, then they fear that more than the penalties. If women lack self-control or even control of their bodies, then they are not making a calculation that penalties can influence. As with prostitution, banning abortion attracts entrepreneurs who will charge a premium price, scale their business to other markets, and find ways to promote it to new customers. Detection that leads to punishment may have unacceptable incidental costs in corruption, surveillance, incarceration, and trust.

    So if a trafficked woman with bad English has had an abortion in Houston, will she run to the police or from them? Bans can likely influence the incidence and prevalence of abortions only as they already influence the incidence and prevalence of prostitution.


    Centrists usually take abortion opponents at their shouted word that they want to stop women from having abortions. But the latter ignore discussions about what laws can acrually do. And anti-abortion fantasies about regulations and bans are less informed criminology to achieve a governmental purpose than performance art or theater of cruelty.

    Several years ago, the legislature in Virginia passed a law-- pocket vetoed by the governor there-- that would have required women seeking an abortion in the Commonwealth to have their vaginas probed for high-resolution sonograms that they would have been obliged to watch. The humiliation of the pregnant woman was as much the point of this ritual as whatever deterrent effect it might have had on her decision. If we deplore the risk of moral injury to a woman getting an abortion, this was not a way to reduce it.

    Since 2016, other weirdly punitive laws have been proposed and sometimes passed elsewhere. But is it more telling that even street protests have grown more in-your-face and garish in recent years? They have always been near the local Planned Parenthood office, but now they are on city streets alongside university campuses. Protesters spend hours propping up huge signs on windy sidewalks so that students, teachers, researchers, administrators, and towns folk will have to walk past pictures of abortions in progress.

    Most opponents of abortion rights would be sincerely pleased by a drop in the number of abortions. So would we all! But I hypothesize: some among them would also be ecstatic to see a public execution for, really, any crime at all. What has radicalized these opponents is, not the number of abortions in a community to which they belong, but the disappearance of retribution-- stigma, scapegoating, and shaming-- from societies like ours.

    Rene Girard anyone?


  13. Quite so, BW, beacause 2000 years of Christianity have given nothing at all to the world in the way of moral guidance: zip, zilch, nada.
    Let's admit the failure of Christianity and go back to the Greco-Roman world where unwanted children, if they were not aborted, could be left on a hillside for wolves to eat. After all, that's what they do in China, and President Biden thinks we should learn from them.
    I mean, what's so wrong with infanticide after all? Governor Northam thinks it just dandy to let an unwanted newborn die (suitably sedated, of course - we're not savages, after all). And abortion up to birth, pioneered in China, will be the law in New York and California soon.
    And why not show big pictures of abortions? After all it is just a clump of cells, isn't it? It's not a he or a she a human life, is it? Is it? Isn't an abortion no different from extracting a malignant tumour or the kind of stuff Dr Pimple Popper does on TV?

    You outline very clearly how utterly threadbare liberal Protestant "ethics" are - and you demonstrate exactly why Natural Law is based on science. I encourage readers to follow not post-Christian sociologese but consistent Christian bioethics, such as the work of Francis Beckwith or Edward Feser. Kyrie eleison.

    Pax et bonum,
    William Greenhalgh

  14. I am a bit unclear on your point in your last email, William.

    I understand Bowman to be articulating a case which is not to be crfitiqued as liberal Protestantism writ large (and very bad compared with the wonders of natural law Catholicism) but as to whether it fairly expresses where the centre of a post Christian (but with many Christians in it) society might reasonably land - a case which readers here might be comfortable with.

    If you think this to be an unreasonable landing, does that mean you are committed to societies having no legal access to abortion ever?

    I myself cannot go that far because of a basic human observation that abortions are sought and the question then is whether a society will provide a safe means for abortions to take place or relegate them to “back streets”, the result of which is a terrifying history, as, of course, some resolutely Catholic countries such as Ireland unfortunately have.

    Where do you stand?

  15. Hi Jean

    Today, politics. And Christ.

    America's two main political parties are led by fringes out of touch with the broad centre that I described yesterday. As I've explained in so many past comments here, polarised *happy warriors* do not truly engage the complexity at the center of opinion.

    (Notice, for handy example, how William's 7:20 on 6/30 and 5:28 on 7/1 respond to my 5:48 on 6/30. Whatever we think of 7:20 and 5:28 as opinions, they identify 5:48 with a position that it actually opposes. From too far out on any extreme, the whole center just looks like more of the opposing extreme. This is the cognitive problem of polarisation: happy warriors out on some edge do not charitably acknowledge and engage the centre where the people and the complexity are. At 7:14 just above, + Peter nudges William to read accurately and maybe engage my 5:48. Can William do that? We'll see.)

    If they would calm their amygdalas, hear others' arguments patiently, forget stereotypes, see humanity in those who disagree, argue from common ground, etc then anything they eventually concluded would be nearer the broad centre. But some prefer alienation and even hostility to unity and peace. Others are not cognitively capable of charitable deliberation. A few are crying for help between the lines, and they truly need it.

    So the fringe ye shall always have with ye. Because it is loveless, it is also christless. As we have seen lately in some stirring testimony about evil in high places, disciples with a living and hence loving faith are not taken in by malicious schemes. If you have seen that testimony, you have also noticed that the Christian witnesses have been far more calm and sane than the broken souls that were fooled. In polarised times, our faith, hope, and love in Christ draws the conversation back to the living centre.


  16. Dear Bishop Peter, in asking some people "Where do you stand", may be tantaount to inviting them to actually speak for themselves - rather than just utter the official stance of their Church's hierarchy's current declaration on a particular matter.

    As I grow older - with perhaps less time for equivocation on important issue of faith in my own life - I have to set aside some of my learned responses in order to try to figure out what my own conscientious response might be to some of the more important public issues of the day. This means, for me at least, that I must set aside my instinctive distaste for clinical abortion in order to examine what I, if I were a woman, might have to contend with in a situation of 'unwanted pregnancy'.

    Here, I am not thinking of an 'inconvenient' pregnancy - which, for me, is not a good enough reason to resort to termination. I am thinking, rather, of a situation where the family is denied the use of artificial contraception - either because of poverty or a faith-based injunction against it. If the family is struggling to meet financial obligations by the addition of another mouth to feed, or if the health of the mother is too frail to go through with a full-term pregnancy, I feel there could be a case for early termination. I also think that in a case where a woman who has gone through the process of abortion, and who suffers mental and maybe spiritual angst as a direct result; might receive spiritual benefit from a more compassionate response from the Church to which she feels she ought to be able to look for counsel and advice.

    I think that the recent statement by the Presiding Bishop of T.E.C. in the United States presents a cogent case for a rational cosideration of the problems that will, almost inevitably, occur - especially for poor women - with the recent overturning of the former Wade/Rowe judgement by the Trump-stacked U.S. supreme Court.

  17. Peter, the essence of Christian living is to live not by lies but to live in truth. Perhaps I can put it this way: if you support Roe v. Wade as constitutional law, you should support Dredd Scott and school segregation.
    I am not an American or a constutional lawyer but I have read Alito's opinion and he understands the US Constitution perfectly well. Maybe even better than BW. If BW wants abortion up to birth, he can have that in the post-Christian north-east United States,
    What makes BW a liberal Protestant is his failure to confront directly and truthfully what abortion is: the taking of an unborn human life. He doesn't evince any understanding of natural law. I recommend less Girard and more Beckwith, more Feser and less Freud, more John Paul II and less Marcuse.
    He spends acres of pixels never engaging the actual issues but in claiming the moral high ground - as well as superior soiritual vision - with condescending de haut en bas faux psychologising of the traditional Catholics and evangelicals he disagrees with because above all, American Episcopalianism must be found to agree with whatever Wall Street and Dartmouth College want. See for example how passionately woke capitalism has taken up the cause of "Pride". See what that has done to Disney.
    Can BW read natural law accurately, along with wicked sonograms? Can BW do that? We'll see.
    The essence of good medicine is informed consent. Live not by lies.

    Pax et bonum,
    William Greenhalgh

  18. Hi William,
    I note you still do not say whether you accept that abortion should be legally accessible to women [setting aside arguments about accessibility to which week of pregnancy, which differs from nation to nation]?!

    I agree with you that abortion is the taking of life, but do you agree with me that legally accesible abortion is preferable to abortion only being accessible illegally?

    For all your remonstrance about not living by lies, could we please find in your reply a straightforward statement?

    I read BW differently to you: I read him as surveying the landscape of varieties of convictions and practices across Christianity, or specific domains within it (such as US Christianity); and I am helped by seeing the trends and themes he elucidates to better understand the shifts in the shape of the landscape. In all his posts here the last thing I have thought he was doing was defending the Episcopal Church at its most liberal margins.

  19. "where the centre of a post Christian (but with many Christians in it) society might reasonably land"

    + Peter has understood my comments.

    They are about American and European public opinion, not the private teaching of any church, and still less the theology behind that teaching, or the philosophy behind that theology.

    Broadly speaking, Western civil societies find abortion to be more evil the later it happens. Churches, of course, are free to teach whatever else they believe, but none dispute that widely shared sentiment.

    Voters in these societies are also sceptical of the equity, safety, and effectiveness of criminal bans. They do not support bans that merely make a public statement about abortion or shame women who end pregnancies. They nearly always do support increasing restrictions on abortion that protect nascent life as a pregnancy approaches term.

    Women who end pregnancies have roughly the beliefs about abortion that others around them do.


    News reports about the politics of abortion in the US often give a shallow or false impression of public opinion about it.

    Abortion laws proposed in Republican states are more symbolic, criminalising, and restrictive than most Republican voters would prefer, and those proposed in Democratic states are more symbolic, procedural, and permissive than most Democratic voters would prefer.

    US politics have a shape-- polarisation-- with institutional causes-- candidate selection, district boundaries, social media algorithms-- that explain why political actors here take positions on abortion that are extreme and symbolic when most voters here are as centrist and pragmatic as their European counterparts.

    Polarisation is a well known process that, because of its association with civil violence, has been studied in societies around the world. Here up yonder, it has infected, not only US politics, but US churches, either by shunting them to one pole or the other or by dividing the few churches that bridge our divides of class and region.

    American civil society struggles to resist polarised politics because recent changes in it have radicalised old divisions of race, class, and region, changing the agenda from affairs of state to identity and culture.

    On both sides, the partisans least motivated to vote or give parties time or money are the ones who are most suspicious of society at large and most agitated by issues of identity and culture. Where a party cannot win without their support, its politicians do more fear-mongering and shambolic performance to keep it. The craziness of some abortion proposals is precisely their point.


    Therefore, an evaluation of the act itself does not prepare one to deal with abortion as a Christian.

    Amid polarisation, it is important for a Christian to remain grounded in the creeds and a spirituality of faith, hope, and love.


  20. I worry that Catholic fundamentalism maybe entering a new phase.

    I’m not talking abut Roe versus Wade in itself, but the frothing denunciation of Pope Francis’s lack of triumphant endorsement of the latest cultural war victory, and, especially, that Nancy Pelosi was recently allowed to walk into a Vatican service and – wait for it – receive communion!

    The hate rhetoric is fizzing. Extremist commentators on the popular, extremist “John Henry Westen Show” (you don’t really want to watch this: talk about making a choice, almost a last stand, between John Paul II and Francis, between Archbishop Cordileone and Francis.

    The sense of existential threat and sudden impotence will only grow. Two thirds of voting Cardinals are now Francis appointees. God forbid, could we begin to see actual threats to Pope Francis’s life?

    Age 45, I am starting to get why reform is so slow in the Catholic Church: how do you retain unity, evade schism, not fan the flames of cultural wars, and let the Spirit keep working its transformative process?

  21. The sense of existential threat and sudden impotence will only grow...

    Jean-Claude Hollerich, the Jesuit cardinal in charge of the Vatican’s synodal process, recently stated: “I believe that the sociological—scientific foundation of [the church’s teaching on homosexuality] is wrong.”* Of rainbow Catholics employed in his diocese, he confirmed: “they know they have a home with us.” On remarried and divorced Catholics employed in his diocese: “I can’t just kick them out. How would such a thing be Christian?”

    The results of national synodal consultations in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Germany have already recommended: that women’s ordination should be allowed, laity should have more influence on election of bishops, the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexual ethics should be reformed (including homosexuality recognized as naturally-occurring variation), married priests should be allowed.

    * Hollerich: “What was condemned in the past was sodomy. At that time, it was thought that the whole child was contained in the sperm of the man, and that was simply transferred to homosexual men. But there is no homosexuality in the New Testament. There is only the mention of homosexual acts, which were partly pagan ritual acts. That was, of course, forbidden. I think it is time for a fundamental revision of the doctrine.”

  22. A reminder to William: Pax et Bonum - the traditional Franciscan geeting given by him to ALL he met (even the Caliph), meaning Peace and All Good, already requires a quality of sincerity to be injected into any conversation surrounding it. Sometimes the assertions we make on blogs may not be totally altruistic; requiring - as they do - the assumption that what we are saying is 'the Truth, the Full Truth, and Nothing But The Truth. That's why I am not readily disposed to mark my poor efforts with such a lofty greeting. (Just saying).

  23. Thanks, Mark, for interesting thoughts.

    I've always thought of Francis as a conservative Catholic with three ideas that upset other conservative Catholics.

    (1) There was a Council; Catholics were confused; Joseph Ratzinger sorted everything out; now Catholics are not confused; Francis can move on to other things.

    (2) In Western societies, the RCC must adapt to being, not the Voice Of Society, but the leader of a faithful plurality.

    (3) Rome defines a magisterium so that all the other sees can be, not little popes, but truly local pastors.


  24. Thanks for showing interest, Bowman, amidst fighting to save your nation's political and religious centre. We all seem to have forgot about the stars.

    Well anyone appointed a cardinal under JP2 is going to be somewhat conservative. In the Catholic world there's no true "liberals"...I don't think that name ever applies well. Everyone is a traditionalist.

    But he's certainly a reformist, stylistically and symbolically quite different to JP2 and Benedict, including his theological emphasis, the way he's read and promoted Vatican II, and his overall vision.

    So much so that a chunk of Benedict conservatives were threatening to break off and form a sort of insular, Latin-speaking, Real Catholic Church at one point.

    The trouble is Francis is so popular, and such a decent human being.

    Theologically, or spiritually, I think of him as a Christocentric Latin-American Jesuit - the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius meets Liberation Theology, and always centred around the Gospel of course. But you can't get all of that from what he writes or even says. He is a master of potent, symbolic communication....carrying his own briefcase, preferring to be simply called Father etc. He actually wants the church to be poor.

    Politically he's been so different to JP2 and Benedict who both took their stance in opposition to communism and secularism, respectively. For Francis it's more of an opposition to de-humanizing, eco-toxic capitalist consumerism.

    His biggest impact may not be felt until many years later, and might be the work on synodality - the very earthy, radical empowering of Catholic laity, and the willingness to listen, debate, and dialogue. That's really got potential to put a bomb under clericalism, because the bishops and popes have been unable to sort out their own corruption so far.

  25. "His biggest impact may not be felt until many years later, and might be the work on synodality."

    Yes, Mark. So far as the continuing Vatican II reform is concerned, Sean Cardinal O'Malley (Boston), one of Francis's inner circle of six, has said that this is indeed the plan and expectation. From his perspective, syndodality is right there in the most central conciliar document The Church in the Modern World, but earlier popes could not get to it while the RCC was as confused as it was in the 1960s and it has taken time to stabilise things.

    Did it really take that much time? Some well placed to observe this have said that, after the death of John Paul II, an Argentine Jesuit named Jorge Bergoglio was the strong favourite to succeed him. But a late-breaking scandal in his home country pre-empted that, so the cardinal electors turned instead to Joseph Ratzinger. Despite tendencies today to contrast Francis to his predecessors, there we had a College entirely appointed by John Paul that was at least equally well-disposed to the likely trajectories of Benedict and Francis. And so Benedict's synods broke the ice, even though only Francis or his successor can clear it.

    Usage Note: When I occasionally refer to "Vatican III Anglicans," I have most in mind the constituency in TEC that take their ecclesiology from the The Church in the Modern World rather than anything said on the Body of Christ by Anglicans. Many are former Catholics who were too free-spirited for the above-mentioned period, and others are intellectually unprepared to understand anything said about the Body in more traditional sources. Usually good Christians, and some of my favourite people, but this position exacerbates some flaws in TEC's peculiar polity.



    Pope Francis’s willingness to consider structural reform and innovation:

    “If we want to speak of a synodal Church, we cannot remain satisfied with appearances alone; we need content, means and structures that can facilitate dialogue and interaction within the People of God, especially between priests and laity. This requires changing certain overly vertical, distorted and partial visions of the Church, the priestly ministry, the role of the laity, ecclesial responsibilities, roles of governance and so forth.”

    (Pope Francis, “Moment of Reflection”, Oct. 9, 2021, 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the theme of which is, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” Oct. 2021–Oct. 2023.)


    Pithy quotes from “Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church” (International Theological Commission, Rome, 2018), especially relevant to Anglicans:

    “Although synodality is not explicitly found as a term or as a concept in the teaching of Vatican II, it is fair to say that synodality is at the heart of the work of renewal the Council was encouraging.”

    “The fruits of the renewal promised by Vatican II in its promotion of ecclesial communion, episcopal collegiality and thinking and acting ‘synodally’ have been rich and precious. There is, however, still a long way to go in the direction mapped out by the Council.

    Hence the new threshold that Pope Francis invites us to cross. In the wake of Vatican II, following in his predecessors’ footsteps, he insists that synodality describes the shape of the Church that emerges from the Gospel of Jesus, which is called to become incarnate today in history, in creative fidelity to Tradition.

    In conformity with the teaching of Lumen Gentium, Pope Francis remarks in particular that synodality ‘offers us the most appropriate framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself’ [2015 speech] and that, based on the doctrine of the sensus fidei fidelium [sense of faith of the faithful], all members of the Church are agents of evangelization.

    Besides, synodality is at the heart of the ecumenical commitment of Christians: because it represents an invitation to walk together on the path towards full communion and because — when it is understood correctly — it offers a way of understanding and experiencing the Church where legitimate differences find room in the logic of a reciprocal exchange of gifts in the light of truth.”

    “Dioceses are called to keep in mind that the main subjects of this synodal experience are all the baptized. Special care should be taken to involve those persons who may risk being excluded: women, the handicapped, refugees, migrants, the elderly, people who live in poverty, Catholics who rarely or never practice their faith, etc. …

    Together, all the baptized are the subject of the sensus fidelium, the living voice of the People of God. At the same time, in order to participate fully in the act of discerning, it is important for the baptized to hear the voices of other people in their local context, including people who have left the practice of the faith, people of other faith traditions, people of no religious belief…”

    “Pastoral conversion for the implementation of synodality means that some paradigms often still present in ecclesiastical culture need to be quashed, because they express an understanding of the Church that has not been renewed by the ecclesiology of communion. These include: the concentration of responsibility for mission in the ministry of Pastors; insufficient appreciation of the consecrated life and charismatic gifts; rarely making use of the specific and qualified contribution of the lay faithful, including women, in their areas of expertise.”

  27. Mark, it sounds as though "synodality" is standing in for "laicism" in those quotes. Still useful for Rome, but no longer for Canterbury.

    Despite the Quicunque Vult, both traditions have a feeble Western awareness of the Holy Spirit. Absent a spiritual sense of the proper work of the Paraclete, neither has a sense of what ordinary life inspirited looks like.

    Now when sacramentalism is a substitute for that life, the inexorable result is a distorting clericalism. Against that, power-sharing with the unordained in synods is a very blunt axe, but it can somewhat counterbalance that identification of churches with their magical, miracle-working clergy. Besides, loosely synodical governance is not unpleasant and has several practical advantages.

    But you cannot truly worship the Holy Spirit without knowing what it is to be led by him. The problem before the two communions is not that clergy are regarded too highly, or that non-clergy are insufficiently powerful, but that the sanctity of ordinary saints living in the Holy Spirit by the spiritual sense is nearly inconceivable in Western churches. Hence they oscillate between extremes of institutionalism and subjectivism, unholy inquisition or speaking unprofitably in tongues.

    If either had a notion of what a contemporary saint is, that would correct any excesses of clericalism or laicism that it had. As things are, Francis has just canonised ten founders of religious orders, and TEC's official hagiography reads like Ivy League class notes.

    When Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian, attended the World Council of Churches, the hosts tried to seat him by the Anglicans. They thought that, after all, Anglicans and Orthodox have several distinctives in common.

    But no. Schmemann asked to be seated by the Quakers. Why? "We have both thought through what it is for the Holy Spirit to indwell the Church. We have a lot to talk about."


  28. Indeed, Bowman. Read on which picks up some of the perceptive points you are making….

    This is far and away the best presentation I’ve read or heard – this one’s a YouTube talk – on what synodality might mean to Francis (a talk here by an English Catholic journalist, Austen Ivereigh, who co-wrote Let us Dream with Pope Francis).

    He explains:
    1. The roots of synodality in terms of the early church, Acts especially.
    2. Francis’s radical notion of *synodality as a constitutive dimension of the church* (St. John Chrysostom: “‘Church and Synod are synonymous”).
    3. How Francis’s understanding of synodal process is heavily based on charismatic Latin American synodal experiences (the ‘Aparecida’ approach), and how these are marked by a hermeneutic of compassion (my phrase) in reflecting on the world, a listening to the people, and a radical *listening to the Spirit*.
    4. The difference, then, between the more structured, intellectual ‘battle of ideas’ synodal processes of, say, the German church, and the messy ‘overflowing’ charismatic energy of synod as event such as has been experienced in Latin America. The synod is not a voting parliament; “where the spirit unities us, he/she/it unites us in our differences” (Francis).
    5. Synodality as marked by ‘incompleteness of thought’ that allows room for the Holy Spirit.

    6. His willingness as Pope to listen to where the Spirit is leading and bringing consensus and make decisions through this process.
    8. Synodality as challenging on all sides – ‘speak boldly, listen carefully’. Disappointment and frustration as needing to be held within a spiritual process.

    Obviously, some of this will be familiar to Anglicans, including Anglicans in Aotearoa who have experience in marae process.

    Obviously this is not new in Christian history – certainly not for Quakers! – but unprecedented for 1 billion plus Catholics.

    Interesting question at the end regarding the difference between Catholic synodal process (whatever that turns out to be) and Anglican ‘parliaments’.

  29. Recently, as you know I think Bowman, I was drawn to the Quakers because of this promise of spirit-led group process. But, personally, I didn't experience that there.

    And this is the hole that, in my opinion, sinks all liberal Protestant ships...

    and turns human process, including church process, into a battle of ideas rather than a listening to spirit.

    I feel that tension here on ADU sometimes. I make myself go away and let what Peter or someone has said really sit and settle deeper in. I'm such a reactionary hothead by human training!

  30. Thanks, Mark, I'll check out the link.

    From his days at Durham, Tom Wright tells a story about an Orthodox prelate who was invited to the General Synod. He was fascinated as he watched committee meetings, plenary debates, presentations of reports, votes on procedure and main motions, etc. His thoughts? "Well, it was all very interesting. It seems to work. But it was not a synod."

    There seem to be two sorts of meetings for business. In some, a more or less fixed proposal is put before a body that is made to debate and divide in response to it. In others, a body hears testimony about some concern, its members severally respond to that testimony, and then the body tries to find words on which all or nearly all agree.

    The former are conflict-prone but ubiquitous. The latter are more or less analogous to discernment.

    How is Christ's presence in a given assembly imagined? Several traditions have good if partial answers to this question. (If they didn't, would they be Christian?) None is clearly worst or best.