Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Heresy, Heaven and Hope - a few thoughts

This may be more of a rambling than a musing, but let me try to gather a few random thoughts.

It's interesting, and not a little unsettling, to be called a heretic, but at least blogging has taken the place of burning at the stake as a way for orthodoxy to assert itself - for that I am more than a little thankful.

I'd rather come before the seat of judgement and mercy as an honest heretic than as a dishonest conformist, and only then will we know who the heretics are, for only then will the goats be separated from the sheep. I ask myself in what ways might I be a heretic, given that I believe in all the core doctrines of the Catholic faith. Is one a heretic for criticising the Pope? Then I am happy to be in the good company of Catherine of Siena. In fact, I can think of few happier fates than to share a corner of heaven in the company of erstwhile heretics. Imagine an eternal conversation at the heavenly banquet with confirmed heretics Origen, Tertullian, Meister Eckhart, Peter Abelard, Joan of Arc, Galileo, Marguerite Porete and Martin Luther (the Church changed its mind about some of these, eventually), and with those who have at various times been suspected if not accused of heresy (John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Karl Rahner, John Sobrino .... an unfinished list).

Absolute faith is not something I can lay claim to, but this I will say: I have absolute faith that, if the Kingdom of God exists, it is more forgiving, compassionate and wise than the Catholic blogosphere, so one way or the other, I'm happy to take my chances.

I have said all I intend to say about the Ordinariate (for now). I believe it's right to create space for a variety of views, concerns and hopes to emerge at the beginning of the process, but now we must allow ourselves time to adjust and get to know one another. I'm sure we're all in for some surprises.

So here's a change of perspective. Yesterday evening, I stopped to take a photograph of the sunset over the Thames at Richmond. From a distance, this is a scene of perfect tranquillity - it seemed like a moment when the windows of heaven were flung open and the light of God's glory streamed through. But this is earth, not heaven, and that glorious sunset in all its serenity expresses a seething ebullience of life: every atom and cell, every creature and life-form, is caught up in a jostling, exuberant expression of being in which to live is to struggle and to give up is to die.

From a distance, the earth is a jewelled orb suspended in the glitter of space - beautiful, serene and timeless. But zoom in, and today especially zoom in on Egypt, and one sees that this beauty is home to such urgency of hope, such inspiration and vision, such fragility and vulnerability. Thomas Aquinas says that all of creation participates in God and bears a trinitarian likeness. The sunset, the earth, the Church - ultimately, the struggle, the beauty and life itself are inseparable.

God's creation, like the new creation of the Church, is struggling in birth pangs to bring the future into being. We don't know the fullness of truth, and when we do it will astonish and overwhelm us in its unexpected and unimaginable possibilities. But until then, we can be truthful, we can be honest, we can be penitent, we can be prayerful, and we can keep our sense of humour and solidarity. We're all in this together. Look again at what a small and wondrous planet we share with all those other jostling life forms. Last night, a pair of swans folded in their necks and slept outside the window of my houseboat, and this morning the geese and the ducks squawked and quacked their greetings to the dawn. How amazing this world is, and our human squawking and quacking is part of that wonder.

Let me give the last word to Cardinal Newman. This is from his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Perhaps it's a fitting comment on which to close my own contribution to the debate about the Ordinariate, for the time being:

But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change. It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become wore vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.


  1. Love it..."I'm being called an heretic...Look everybody! It's a sunset!"

  2. Pachomius the Sophist1 February 2011 at 12:46

    "Imagine an eternal conversation at the heavenly banquet with confirmed heretics Origen, Tertullian, Meister Eckhart, Peter Abelard, Joan of Arc, Galileo, Marguerite Porete and Martin Luther (the Church changed its mind about some of these, eventually),"

    Eckhart and Galileo, to name but two, were never declared heretics. Galileo at his trial pointed out that the Church had failed to convict him of heresy, and while 22 of Eckhart's propositions were condemned by John XXII (who was later himself in theological hot water). But Eckhart said himself that he retracted any statement the Church deemed heretical.

    This, of course, does not go into the sheer presumption of counting yourself, even implicitly, among the company of Eckhart, Galileo, and Joan of Arc. You may be a master-theologian, Dr Beattie, but evidently either your history is defective, or your honesty is lacking.

    "Absolute faith is not something I can lay claim to, but this I will say: I have absolute faith that, if the Kingdom of God exists, it is more forgiving, compassionate and wise than the Catholic blogosphere, so one way or the other, I'm happy to take my chances."

    Ooh, get you!

  3. Tina

    You are wacko. I really think its time you took out that Catechism of the Catholic Church you've got at home, read it from beginning to end, and decide whether you really want to be a Catholic or not. There's a book out there called "The cruelty of heresy" and you need to ponder that thought. Either you were very badly instructed when you came into the Church or you just didn't care. Which is it?


  4. Dr Beattie, I like the photos here- especially the one of the sunset. Perhaps Laurence is merely envious you have a houseboat LOL.

  5. The sunset, walks by the river, watching the swans and the geese swim by - these lend a sense of perspective to life. I think maybe some bloggers would do their souls good if they turned off the computers and went for a long walk in the country. If I were them, I'd also stop reading heretics' blogs. I'm sure it's not good for their blood pressure.

  6. Mr Rubio

    I'm not complaining but I live in a studio flat, so just a house would suffice.

  7. My limited experience suggests that anonymous/pseudonymous bloggers are more intolerant in their opinions whether political or theological. Can someone explain this to me? Is it time to move on and ask that people identify themselves with their opinions? This would certainly devastate many faith blogs where the "Truth" sets people free to be very aggressively anonymous.
    Peter Rodgers Leicester

  8. Tina

    Don't try and wriggle out of this. Which is it?. Are you badly instructed or you couldn't even careless if you had?. You keep referring to either the Roman Catholic Church or the Catholic Communion - I know of no Catholic who would do this.


  9. Thank you Tina. Lovely.

    Not the stake perhaps but you have emerged unbruised from the rack, ready to refresh. The sun has set on this interview for a while but I am keeping my radio tuned!...

    To a friend writing an article, Mother Teresa urged... "finish with a star". You will know from your time in India working on her life for the BBC that Mother stressed hope even though surrounded by intransigence. The type of star I will conclude with will be an A* to all the bloggers who made this a valuable experience for religious broadcasting, especially Kenny.

    Can I tell you about the Samaritan "Brenda" line which, years ago, was our telephone specifically dedicated to those who, for whatever reason- disabled,housebound,lonely,ignored- felt the need to make agressive or sexual "nuisance" calls. It was felt that by accommodating their needs we might save others from their compulsion to communicate in this way. The idea failed. Nobody wanted to be Brenda! In the end we had to tell them to go away. They were blocking the line for more urgent needs.

    How are the pink beans doing? (Posting 2010 with photos)? One bean was sprouting. Amazing how the soft tip of the shoot can shatter concrete!

    Until the next radio news flash remember-programme planners read Blogs!

  10. BJC - I'm sorry, I don't answer anonymous questions. If you want a response, would you ask me a sensible question and sign your name so that I know who I'm conversing with?

    Many thanks, and best wishes,

  11. I was once impressed, reading a book called 'How to live with a neurotic', by its author's hypothetical example of a person walking on a high street and, hearing loud abusive comments, turning to see who was making them and why. The author suggested that most of us would, on learning that the comments were directed at us, react with alarm & other negative feelings. He then invited the reader to consider the same scenario but with this twist- that the walker turns & sees the face of the abuser peering through the iron bars of a secure mental hospital. The author speculated that most of us would experience this less unpleasantly.
    I believe that there may be value in applying the perspective in a general sort of way to other species of abuse.

  12. Tina

    I think you've just answered the question. There is something wrong here but you aren't going to tell us.


  13. Laurence, I happen to believe that a studio-flat in Kensington trumps a house-boat in the vicinity of Tedddington Lock! Location, location, location.

  14. Disgusted of Cheltenham2 February 2011 at 14:28

    To BJC and Tina. (-: (TLTR, but no time to edit)

    "Chance is perhaps the pseudonym used by God when he does not wish to sign for his work"
    Anatole France

    Pen names; pseudonyms; nom de plume have been used since 16th century France,not necessarily to hide a personal problem, but to express an opinion without damage to the reputation. I have used a popular one above.
    I wonder if BJC should be rewarded for his perseverence by allowing me to offer an answer thus avoiding a kind response from Tina Beattie setting a precedent that would liberate the religious blogoshere to innundate the blog with ephemera.

    I love your Freudian slip BJC, referring to the ODINariate (don't you hate the absence of spell-check and smiley faces in the Comments software.I do!) ODIN was associated with wisdom, war, prophecy and victory.
    I suspect that the use of "Roman Catholic Church" and "Catholic Communion" reflect the place of usage. "Catholic Communion" is used by the clever clogs to be open and inclusive. If Tina used it in the interview I expect it was because the programme is aimed at popular piety in all faiths. We need a depth discussion on the radio (or TV) and I am working on it.

    So... challenging questions, couched in accessible language, will, I suspect, be answered by Tina even if a pseudomym continues to be used. We shall see.
    Hers is a fun,philosophical,topical,friendly, informed and arty Blog. ENJOY!
    Tina. Do you think you get correspondence from America because your nice photo has a look of Sarah Palin? (Wish I did) (-:

  15. Happy Roehampton Heretic or HRH2 February 2011 at 17:31

    To HRH Tina, the best Roman Catholic and most orthodox Christian I know.

    "Pope Benedict said that social networking websites had become “an integral part of human life” as a part of his 45th anniversary speech. He also hopes that Christian users of the web would communicate in ways that are “honest, open, responsible and respectful of others."
    The Pope has previously warned of the addictive nature of the World Wide Web and thinks that Catholic web surfers should not get too attached to the net and their computer hardware and should keep real life as their focus, not letting their online communication become of higher importance."


    Tina Beattie said...
    The sunset, walks by the river, watching the swans and the geese swim by - these lend a sense of perspective to life. I think maybe some bloggers would do their souls good if they turned off the computers and went for a long walk in the country.
    (1 Feb 4.15)

  16. Marginal Musings reader2 February 2011 at 19:23

    To PMR Peter Rogers
    My deep concern for a Blog of this nature which has, to date, been unspoilt and relatively free of manipulative comment from bloggers with their own agendas, is not pseudonymous/anonymous bloggers but the one who assumes the name of a celebrity or takes over a name so that the reader cannot know if the original was genuine. This discourages partipation. The original blogger whose name has been used, is unlikely to return.
    The integrity and ethic of the Blog and its author is to be considered and I urge Tina Beattie to be very aware of a sadistic element on WWW.
    If the Blog is to continue its high quality, perhaps Dr. Beattie should make registration a requirement.
    It is possible to identify false use of names by noting any deviation from style or tone in the writing, or evidence of details the person should not have known if they are who they are claiming to be.
    Alarmingly, some use multiple aliases. Pathological gratification is probably gained from this which, in other circumstances, might be illegal. Perhaps pleasure is gained from the sense of power in trying to force a reaction from the author or diminish his/her reputation.
    I have gained spiritually from this joyful Blog and would not wish it to be hyjacked by "spoilers" whatever their motives, religious or otherwise. Should elements of this arise I would encourage the author to write her articles and exclude the Comments element which seem such a temptation and addiction to some. A local Anglican priest has removed his PC and relies on others for emails etc because he found himself typing through the night, enraged by what he was reading and feeling compelled to reply.
    Without wishing to sound pious I would go so far as to categorize any use of the Internet which promotes this sad,addictive response as, at the very least, unkind, certainly unethical and probably sinful. Thank you.

  17. There's much food for thought in these contributions - thank you so much (but if the glasses suggest any resemblance to Sarah Palin, I think it's time to get contact lenses).

    So far, my policy in moderating comments has been to publish everything but the most unacceptably abusive ones - and I can honestly say that there are very few that I haven't published. Questions of pseudonyms and anonymity are interesting, and it may be that eventually I shall have to find a better way of restricting access through registration or some other means. For now though, I think this forum is working fairly well as it stands, and I'm reluctant to do anything that would inhibit people from contributing. The range of opinions is a sign of life, and it's because we're discussing questions that matter so deeply to us, that we sometimes express our ideas in ways that are antagonistic or overly defensive.

    So, in the interests of maintaing that level of openness, here is a response to BJC. Am I badly instructed or is it just that I don't care?

    Yes, I do care, otherwise why would I be doing this? I care very deeply about the Christian faith, the Roman Catholic Church, and my own place within these complex worlds. So am I badly instructed?

    Well, I converted to Catholicism from Presbyterianism when I was living in Zimbabwe in 1987 at the age of 32, shortly after the birth of my fourth child, and I did so through the usual channel of the RCIA. Soon after that we moved to the UK, and when my youngest child started school I went to university. I graduated with a BA First Class Hons. in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Bristol in 1994 and went on to do a PhD, also at Bristol. My research was in Mariology and continental philosophy and theory, and since then my research has been mainly in the encounter between Catholic theology and various philosophical and theoretical questions, particularly those to do with ethics, gender and human rights, but also including theological arguments for and against the ordination of women. For the last few years the main focus of my theological study has been Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae.

    My theological education is therefore both academic and domestic. If I read and study academic theology, I do so through a lens honed by years of marriage and motherhood, but also through many years of living in Africa. All those experiences bring a particular perspective to my work. In my theological formation I have never had the luxury of intensive study free from distractions and interruptions, and therefore I shall never have complete mastery of the texts I study as some more single-minded scholars might have. But I bring different insights to theology, and I believe that these are also valuable.

    By the way, I don't call myself a theologian. The reason I call myself Professor of Catholic Studies is because I don't want to be embroiled in these tedious battles as to what makes a Catholic theologian. The name really doesn't matter to me. I love what I do, I love sharing what I do with others, and I learn a very great deal from this rugged process of dialogue, debate and occasional confrontation. Sometimes I wish it were less abusive, but each of us is responsible for what we choose to put on the Web, and I am not responsible for other people's choices.

    I'm not sure if this is an adequate explanation, but it's the best I can offer.

    Best wishes,

  18. Perhaps a little "Auto Da Fe" is called for...lol.
    Only Joking Tina!!

  19. RCIA? Well no wonder you are at the very least a dissenter. I refused that course, and was instructed by a superb Priest of the old school. We had many robust discussions, but it was all good.
    I have had friends who have converted since me, some through RCIA and some with a Priest doing it alone. The diffrerence in their attitudes and thoughts and indeed practices is very telling.

  20. I don't know about 'Auto Da Fe', but having offered a response to BJC's persistent questioning, I'd like this blog to move on. It's becoming far too much about me and not enough about dialogue and the sharing of ideas. I'll post again in a few days, but in the meantime perhaps a fallow period would be helpful.

    Best wishes, and thank you for all the contributions,

  21. Hi Tina,

    Fascinating to read about your education. One thing that strikes me though is that it seems that all your "Catholic education" has been in a secular environment, and my experience as a student in Cambridge was that relativism and skepticism (obviously incompatible with Catholicism) were the dominant philosophies, and this combined with the fragementation of knowledge that most of our universities promote means that solid Catholic formation is necessary.

    I'd be interested to know whether you have been taught by people with Catholic licences or secular theologians, and where your actual formation has come from rather than qualifications. From my personal experience a solid formation would be hugely helpful before engaging in the secular world. I did not have this myself, but am now studying part-time at Maryvale Institute. Doing a philosophy degree there has exposed the huge chasm that exists in my formation and, in addition, the underlying continuity of the course is at odds with my studies at school, Cambridge and law school.

    I also wonder whether you make it clear when you teach and put forward an opinion that is at odds with the teaching of the Catholic Church that this is the case and provide an explanation of why the Church teaches as it does? Would you ever mention to a student what the Church teaches about the frame of mind that one should read a Papal Enyclical with, rather than an ordinary journal article. I have personally witnessed the benefits of this myself and the stark difference in the fruits of my reading.

    Finally I also wondered what you felt about being received into a Church and then being a public voice of dissent within it. Do you ever feel uncomfortable about this? Obviously, you do represent the voice of many dissenting Catholics, but you also upset many who have been Catholics all their lives, try to be obedient to the Magisterium, and yet for whatever reason do not have the public platform that you have, and it is upsetting. However, I must add that I do rejoice for every convert to the Church and I find most to be bastions of orthodoxy having done much soul-searhing and often taking a painful decision to cross the Tiber (something which your comments on the Ordinariate seem to neglect).

    I note your comments above about the blog getting too much about you, but I do think these questions are of relevance on a wider level.

    For example in Catholic schools in this country is the validity of our faith endorsed across the curriculum, or is being Catholic something that we just study in RE and something we are when we go to Mass? Should we seek to change this?

    Should Catholic higher education institutes in this country follow Ex Corde Ecclesia? We should engage with other ideas, but why should dioceses fund the teaching, as truth, that which is contrary to the faith? There are a number of colleges in the States which with great success are following Ex Corde Ecclesia, and afterall as Aquinas so powerfully pointed out; both Revelation and our reason come from God and our God is not a deceitful God, and thus there need not be any conflict between the two.

    God Bless,


  22. Marginal Musings reader3 February 2011 at 13:39

    In haste. Thank you Dr.Beattie. I look forward to the next Musing.
    My poorly constructed final sentence, hastily posted, is illustrative of the dangers it was trying to expose. I apologise that it was misinterpreted. It was directed towards those who would hound an author committed to open debate. It was well meant.
    Before closing the Comments will you do me the kindness of publishing this less pompous amendment correcting the sentence to read-
    "Without wishing to sound pious, I would go so far as to categorize any abuse of the Internet's capacity for good by the use of personally offensive commentary from the general public as, at the very least unkind,certainly unethical, possibly sinful".

    Forgive me, but the Anglican patient,a Canon,was badly affected, guilt ridden if he did not respond to commentary to defend his position. He was hospitalized for some time and eventually found relief.
    Perhaps my comment will not be entirely useless and you could use it as an essay question following the sentence with "Discuss". I would like to read the results but,in future I will contact you by fountain pen to avoid the remorse I felt this morning. Writing this has been cathartic.
    Very Best Wishes

  23. Tina

    I asked the question that I did out of truth and charity. I did it not only for your benefit but for the benefit of others. It seems to me as if somebody has to knock some sense into you and if no one else is willing to do it then I guess it will have to be me. A few points...

    Hersesy is cruel Tina, cruel. It damages not only the purveyor of it but all the people who come into contact with it. You don't seem to see this and somehow you see it as fun and exciting almost an adventure. It isn't. Its poisonous and ugly and the more a person is immersed in it the more they become confused and slip into the quicksand. It's dangerous stuff and you take it way too lightly. If you ask me you've damaged yourself with it.

    Finally, all the qualifications in the world don't mean you'll have a proper understanding of the Catholic faith. You have to read the right books and pray to God for that one. Can you say hand on heart you've read truly Catholic books yet? I doubt it. No wonder you've got hetrodox views.

    One other thing. If you think people like me have got it in for you you're wrong. I prayed a rosary two nights ago for your conversion. I hope in time you will see the beauty of our Holy Faith.


  24. Thank you, and just a word of reassurance to 'Marginal Musings Reader'. I'm more than happy to post this second comment, but your first posting I'm sure would have caused no offence to any sensible person and I certainly read it as entirely well-meant. No remorse needed!

    'Toby's' familiar critique and questions merit a careful response, and I shall consider them in my next posting which may not be for a few days, but hopefully in a way that shifts the attention from me personally to some of the deeper issues his posting addresses.

    As for BJC,thank you for your prayers.

    Best wishes,

  25. Wonderful to read a serious academic who can relate to ordinary catholics. Also good to see your cheerful charity in the face of some nasty so called religious types

  26. A beautiful, thoughtful and wise piece Tina. Thank you.

  27. A Hindu sage from 2000 years ago wrote what is called the Four Gates of Patanjali. They are, before speaking think:
    1. Is it true?
    2. Is it necessary?
    3. Is it kind?
    4. Is it the right time?
    If it fails at any one, don't say it. If it passes all, you MUST say it.


    When she felt her own words didn't reach these standards she had the humility to change them.

    This saying should also apply to commentary on any blog.
    Noted that the photograph which headed the Blog now takes second place probably in keeping with her hope that thoughts and insights will take precedence over personality.

  28. Ah well, as Alice Thomas Ellis would say, " it all comes of living in Islington and reading "The Tablet"!

  29. I see you've put a picture of St Mary Magdalen telling the Apostles the news of the Resurrection. Is this because you have a devotion to St Mary Magdalen or because you think she was a great feminist role model and you secretly think she was some kind of priestess?

  30. Hope you like my nom de blog.
    Hindu sage had a point when you think of some of the things that have appeared on this and earlier blogs like "wacko" and "load of rubbish" BUT, think of the sunset article and the good comments we'd have missed if Laurence hadn't called Tina a heretic.
    God moves in mysterious ways! (-:

  31. So relevant to the current debate. Wise and funny-
    Mark Tully's SOMETHING UNDERSTOOD today on blunt speaking. Repeated tonight and on BBC Radio 4 replay.

    Lively, well-presented SUNDAY programme again this morning.
    Congratulations to our Liberal Jewish brothers and sisters and all of our "Fathers (and Mothers) in Faith" for their growth in inclusivity.

  32. "This little light of hers
    she's going to let it shine"

    Let it be.

  33. For the attention of Brother Laurence.
    "More than 140 Catholic theologians from Germany, Switzerland and Austria called for an end to clerical celibacy as part of sweeping reforms in the wake of the priestly abuse scandal. In a letter published in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the group said the German Church had suffered an "unprecedented crisis" last year and that "2011 must be a year of departure for the Church." "The Church needs married priests and women in the ministry,"

  34. @Laurence England

    You decide Laurence, but I think you'll find I've never used the word 'priestess' anywhere. She was of course Apostle to the Apostles.

    Best wishes,

  35. @LaurenceWatch!

    See my next blog entry for the theologians' statement.


  36. Tina, "a long walk in the country" -- how lovely! -- getting there is the problem (Kamakura is the nearest place for me).

    I fear that some of the cranks this thread attracts would be delighted to take part in an auto da fe!

    Query: Is that splendid Newman quote from the first or second edition of the Essay on Development? -- if the latter it might reflect his experience of the ghetto church of Pius IX/

  37. @Joe O'Leary
    Hello Joe,

    The Newman quotation is from the first edition - 1845.

    All best wishes,


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