Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Of blogs, hats, ordinariates and Wittgenstein

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. (Wittgenstein)

Thank you to all who took time to comment on my last blog on the ordinariate. After much thought, I've decided to withdraw that posting because I think it was untimely and yes, I admit it was a tad bitchy about the bishops' wives (it really was a very nice hat).

Blogging is an ephemeral and spontaneous medium. Those of us who do it shouldn't take ourselves too seriously and we need thick skins, but I don't think we should expect others to be equally thick-skinned, and we should avoid being unkind. I think I was unkind, and I'd rather write a more considered piece when time allows.

But there's something else. Those looking in from the outside tend to see the Catholic Church as more authoritarian and homogenous than it actually is. For some this is undoubtedly an attraction. But in reality, there's a chaotic abundance to Catholic life, and the mystery of the Church is surely bound up in that capacity to hold together so many millions of human beings across time and space in a shared communion that far exceeds all niceties of association and like-mindedness. If you can't cope with human mess and contradiction, this isn't the church for you.

But of course, one doesn't preserve that inclusive spirit by being mean and unwelcoming to those who want to join, whatever their reasons. There's room enough for all of us in this vast Catholic world, and we don't preserve our threatened and cherished diversity by refusing to accommodate those who think differently. The issues remain and the debates must go on, but for now, I've decided to take a quiet step back from it all.

Here are a few lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, 'Inversnaid'. Maybe they can serve as a prayerful metaphor for the continuing fecundity of Mother Church:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Difference is the very essence of God's creation. What abundant jubilation of life there is all around us, and how easily we funnel our own minds and spirits into claustrophobic tunnels of bigotry and judgement.


  1. Iread the previous post, and wanted to comment and thank you for your courage and spontenaity. i visited some catholic blogs which frequently scare me with the attitudes I find there. I believe it is important to understand other points of view, so I was concerned when I could not get into the post this morning to support you. I want to thank you even more for the second post and the lovely poem.

  2. Censor this if you wish but the ceremonial involving those women was deserving of comment and your observations on the whole issue are relevant and well-argued based on experience and learning.

    Please do not lose your fire. The response you got was in reply to the sincerity of your totally human reaction. Some female theologians abandon Christianity or lie low, putting their career before their insights or, particularly in the case of Anglicanism, become passive, burying their beliefs in abstract language lost to all but the most erudite of academics.

    I can't help thinking of the "luke-warm" directive. Rev. 3:15-16

    Edit, alter, withdraw it if you must but stay with us. X

  3. Oh Tina - I am so sad to read this! You are absolutely right to say we need to be kind ( I, too, was guilty of being unkind when I said that I hope Jesus would have compassion on 'them' because I didn't) Sometimes, when we feel very strongly about something we can tip over the edge of reasonableness and lash out and we should rightly be hauled back. But you are at the cutting edge of radical change (women's ordination) and when radical change is on the cards it draws people from each extreme of the spectrum. As a radical you will NEVER please all of the people all of the time. The job description says "will provoke extreme reaction" and the person specification says "requires great courage in the face of harsh criticism and even vitriolic reactions". I don't know you personally but from what I know of you, you know this and you stand firm in your beliefs and speak from an intelligent mind and an authentic heart. Women like you are needed - oh how they are needed - articulate, well informed, strong and passionate. And if we are looking for a middle ground, it will occupy a very tiny space unless we can widen its extremes. It always needs people courageous enough to push the boundaries.

    I thought your piece WAS considered and you raised so many important points. Who is going to keep this debate open unless people like you continue to express their views. All of us will form our own views on your posts and on the comments that are made. We're big people. Surely we can handle it.

    Your voice is as important as any one else's and you are quite entitled to express it (especially on your own blog!) I happen to think your views are shared by many, like me, who are grateful for your ability to explore the topic and express a particular viewpoint. People who disagree will either comment or 'click' away from your site.

    You say that "There's room enough for all of us in this vast Catholic world, and we don't preserve our threatened and cherished diversity by refusing to accommodate those who think differently." Ironically, the reason for the debate in the first place is that the Catholic world is NOT being inclusive - but as a double irony - we can surely apply the principle to the issue of debate can't we?

  4. Thank you dear friends for your encouragement. Please let me reassure you, this wasn't a response to pressures or criticisms. I'm well aware that my views on this blog provoke some quite extreme reactions, although I also glimpse a glimmer of affection in some of my more negative critics. One way or the other, I won't stop speaking out, and I accept that sometimes I'll get it wrong. Our faith is after all about forgiveness and risk. I hope I wouldn't withdraw anything simply because it had attracted criticism or because I'd been prompted to rethink, because that surely is what the whole process of dialogue and thinking aloud is about - and a blog is thinking aloud in a way?

    The only reason for withdrawing this particular blog (the first time I've ever done that) was because I felt mean-spirited about the way I'd expressed a couple of the things I'd said, and I thought I'd like to write something which said the same things, but in a more considered way.

    But just for the record, I do think the church will become more bourgeois as a result of this - more like the Tory party at prayer, less like that motley crew of immigrants, recusants and eccentrics who have in the past made English Catholicism so colourful, literally as well as metaphorically.

  5. I think I can see why you withdrew it--there was stuff about the women that may have been a bit over the top. But you were saying really important things about the contradiction between a Church which grants exemption from the discipline of celibacy to ex-Anglicans who can't cope with the ordination of women. You were also very good on the messages being sent to ordinary Catholic priests.

  6. Like Geraldine, Tina is not a personal friend but for several years I have known her integrity and consistency indirectly and am a student of her fine work.

    So suprised was I that the piece was withdrawn that I checked through the many photographs of the ceremony thinking, perhaps, that "the Hat" covered the results of chemotherapy or some other misfortune, Not the case.

    The concept of "kindness" is examined in Tina's writing (see below).

    Here is one whose every thought has been open to scrutiny by the media, from total editing, interruption of reasoned arguement, to the picking on a single word.

    In my opinion the ostentation of the move from the Anglican church in this ecumenical age and the servility of the women, observed by faithful celibate priests justified a robust comment.

    Watch the replay of the Papal Retropective TV programme if you can. See Tina's legitimate views expressed with a gentle informed confidence and the flash of defiance only visible in her eyes when the response is unsatisfactory, patronising, even unkind.

    Read the books again. Listen to any recordings that are still available on Radio 4. How easy it would have been to use her gift to write a "self-help" book on the shared narratives of religion and maybe make thousands of dollars but this would have required leaving the Church she so loves as others have done and downgrading the woman she has written about so brilliantly.

    "My concern is not with debates about God but with creation and nature, with language and meaning, with people, and with kindness".

    Tina Beattie. The New Atheists. p.16.

  7. An edited Catholic Herald comment online ...

    "I am an RC woman, well into my seventies. My question is why not set up an ordinariate in the Anglican church for those of us in the RC Church who want women priests and Bishops and more democratic decisions in local churches on some questions of morality.
    It would be good to take the nest of RC Catholicism, especially its mystical spirituality into the centre of the Anglican church, then we can learn from Anglicans the best part of their traditions." ...


  8. It is indeed - but my, how attractive that Anglican Ordinariate sounds! (To be honest, I've lost track of how many of my Catholic friends now attend Anglican Masses, and I expect a few more will follow as this latest development works its way through the ranks).

  9. Hello again from Florida!
    May I tentatively suggest a middle ground for the author of the previous blog article? Excise the bits that mature reflection has led you to re-consider and re-post. Then supporters will get the benefit of your gift and any mean-spirited opponents won't feel they can force you into immediate withdrawal. Imagine the witness you could give to sincere anglicans considering coming over.
    Above all, don't withdraw into Wittgensteinian silence. I suspect it is not a fruitful place.

  10. Thank you Mr. Rubio, and thank you so much for your earlier comment too, which unfortunately I couldn't post because I had removed the link to the blog. I am working on the piece and will post it again as soon as I get a chance. It will not be too much altered but a little less waspish!I suspect I'm not very good at Wittgensteinian silences, so I'm glad you counsel against retreating to such a space.


Comments and contributions are welcome so long as they respect the rules of courtesy and respect, which is not to inhibit robust disagreement.