Meeting Mascall

Have you met the Rev. Canon Eric L. Mascall, OGSMascall

He was affectionately named the “greatest living 13th-century theologian”. In his profound writings, he was often, simply styled, E. L. Mascall. If you have not made his acquaintance, the arrival of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday is an excellent opportunity. Mascall would have us see these feasts, as with the entire liturgical year, as an ongoing, living part of the Incarnation of our Lord. This past Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, was the twenty-fifth anniversary of his departure from this life.  He left a legacy, in print and in his person, that continues to affect the Anglican Patrimony.

I never knew Eric Mascall in the flesh but I remember the first time I “met” him. I encountered Eric Mascall by contemplating the foreheads of his friends, colleagues and contemporaries.

Whenever discussing a subject touching upon Anglicanism or 20th Century theologians with someone over forty-five, I will usually ask, “Did you know Eric Mascall?”  The reaction remains fairly universal; a pause, a thoughtful bow of the head, followed by a slow intake of breath that gives way to a warm smile, then these or similar words follow, “Oh yes, Eric Mascall… You know, he was the finest…” and as the freshly reflected face rises to normal bearing it is always a happier countenance. In all cases of this inquiry: faces warmed, eyes softened, voices went up an octave and a wonderful, blessed remembrance would follow. This involuntary homage would consistently replicate itself, be the interlocutor a cleric, scholar, former student or parishioner. Indeed, the only time I witnessed the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon ever get moist in the eyes is when he spoke of “my esteemed teacher”. The reflective bow of the head got me every time.

Eric Mascall continues to stand out for a number of pleasantly peculiar reasons. He was a Thomist in the Church of England, a gentle and pastoral priest, he found he was best suited for teaching and writing Theology.  Devotion and doctrine were happily wed in this celibate man who involved himself in the controversies of the time, retaining his gentleness without compromising fundamental beliefs of historic and creedal Christianity. According to the Proceedings of the British Academy, “Thus in his latter days some of his strongest rebukes were administered to those Anglican theologians who undermined belief in Christ’s deity and resurrection.”

Fr. George Rutler, in a wonderful excerpt concerning Mascall from his book, Cloud of Witnesses – Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, warmly commends Mascall to us, “As the finest Thomist among the dying breed of High Anglicans, he was called the greatest living 13th-century theologian, but he had been trained as a mathematician and was prepared for the 21st century…” Of particular interest to members of the Ordinariate, Fr. Rutler adds, “Eric foresaw the decline of his ecclesial Communion and left me with no doubt that, had he lived, he would have acknowledged the infallibility of the pope.”

Eric Mascall was something of an autodidact. According to his obituary in the Independent, Mascall tended to make a slight boast of the fact that he had never had formal theological training. His degree was in Mathematics, he took a First in the subject at Pembroke College, Cambridge.  Yet he held such learned posts as Lecturer in Theology Christ Church Oxford 1945-46, Student and Tutor 1946-82 (Student Emeritus), University Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion 1947-62, Professor of Historical Theology King’s College London 1962-73 (Emeritus), Dean Faculty of Theology London University 1968-72.  Honorary Canon of Truro Cathedral 1973-84.

Mascall HandsRecently, one of Mascall’s earliest works, Christ, the Christian, and the Church: A Study of the Incarnation and Its Consequences has been happily republished by Hendrickson on October 1, 2017, and available at Amazon and other booksellers. Gerald McDermott in his Forward to the republished Christ and the Christian Church notes that Mascall’s theology was hailed for being wide-ranging, incisive, and elegant, and more importantly, “Mascall’s balanced focus on the Incarnation eliminates the false binaries that bedevil so much of the Church today.” For Eric Mascall living in the Church was living in the Body of Christ. The Incarnation is the ultimate and ongoing unitive event in human history, the very meeting place of God and Man.

(This edited and enhanced posting appeared previously on this blog)

Ecclesial or Fundamentalist Catholic

Austen Ivereigh, the author of a most interesting biography of Pope Francis entitled The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope tweeted a link the other day to this post at the blog  Where Peter Is There is the Church.

Mike Lewis writes:

Those who support the position of Pope Francis, and accept his authority on matters of faith and morals to be binding take what can be called an ecclesial approach to Church teaching. In this context, ecclesial is defined as someone who gives a pride of place to the Magisterium: the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops in communion with him. The ecclesial Catholic assents to the teachings on faith and morals handed down by legitimate authority in the Church, and trusts — based on Christ’s promise and with the help of the Holy Spirit — that the Church and the see of Peter will remain faithful to Christ in perpetuity. Along those lines, the ecclesial Catholic respects the pope’s role as guarantor of obedience to the Word of God, and the authentic interpreter of Holy Scripture and Tradition. In addition, the ecclesial Catholic attempts to think with the Church, rather than to criticize the Church.

I found this description of “ecclesial Catholic” interesting, because this is basically what we were taught in our preparation for entering the Catholic Church.   “Where is Peter, there is the Church” was an essential part of ecclesiology we had to accept in order to come into full communion with the Successor of Peter and rightfully, juridically call ourselves Catholic.   No more could we say, well, I’m catholic, just not Roman Catholic, as if official membership and communion with the Bishop of Rome was not essential.

Then, however, I think Mike Lewis sets up a false dichotomy.

Many of those who reject Francis’s position, and instead appeal to earlier teachings or scriptural understandings as the higher authority can be said to have a fundamentalist approach. For the fundamentalist Catholic, the highest Magisterial authority is the Tradition itself, as understood by the Church as handed down from the Apostles. The fundamentalist will reject Petrine authority or new doctrinal developments promulgated by the Holy See, if, in light of their understanding of Tradition, they determine that the new teaching does not conform to it. If the teaching of the current pope does not appear to them to align with the traditional understanding, they will appeal to the teachings of prior popes that they believe contradicts the new teaching.

While I do think there are people who take a fundamentalist approach —who use proof texts from papal encyclicals the way Protestant evangelicals can sometimes use Scriptural proof texts to defend their positions, this is a stereotype and borders on smear.

I do not think one is necessarily either in one camp or the other, but there is a spectrum, and many nuances where one might find oneself.

I admit, it was much easier to be an ecclesial Catholic under Pope Benedict XVI!  I also think Catholics who hold to Tradition also believe in the teachings regarding Peter as the sign of unity and, guided by the Holy Spirit, the guarantor of the faith.  So one who truly holds to Tradition is also an ecclesial Catholic.

But, we are living in a state of tension right now, because Peter seems to be contradicting Peter or at least opening up the possibility and what does that say about the Catholic faith?  Does it mean Tradition is meaningless and we are all merely legal positivists now and therefore no matter what comes out of a Pope’s mouth is what we must believe, until the next Pope and then we must just as docilely accept what he says, even if he totally undermines the magisterium of his predecessor?

Your thoughts?





Fr Hunwicke and Anglican patrimony

Fr. Hunwicke didn’t get invited to speak at the Anglican Patrimony Conference at Oxford and he’s striking back on his blog by sharing what he would have written about had he been there.

Because we have been on the subject of Anglican Patrimony, you might find his post interesting.

The fact that [Newman] had been converted to Catholicism by Oxford and the study of the Church Fathers, not by any personal friendship with Roman Catholics, meant that everything he wrote and said sounded almost Anglican.

That’s the Patrimony: Anglican tone. Including, of course, Newman’s old Anglican gifts of Irony, Satire, and especially, above all, and pretty well daily, the Argumentum ad hominem. And an adherence to Blessed John Henry’s belief in the iniquities of Liberalism and of Ultrahyperueberpapalism. And his emphasis on getting one’s guidance from the Fathers. And doing one’s humble best to write decent English. That’s what I would have concentrated upon if I had been asked to read a paper at last week’s Staggers Conference on The Patrimony. (I hope it went well without me.)

I am very much tempted to think that Ordinariate members should see themselves, not as “former Anglicans”, but as “Anglicans”, yet more proudly qualifying that already proud term by the phrase “in full communion with the Holy See”.

I gather Melkites rather like calling themselves “Orthodox in communion with Rome”.

United but not absorbed … coat of many colours … multiple lungs …

More thoughts on Anglican Patrimony

The papers delivered at a recent Anglican Patrimony conference at Oxford are now up at this website.

What is interesting is this conference included both Catholic and Protestant perspectives on Anglican Patrimony. For example, I’m told different views of Mary and of the intercession of the saints were discussed.

Some of us here in North America would like to replicate such a conference that would include thinkers from the Catholic Church, the Continuing Churches and maybe the Episcopal Church and/or the Anglican Church of Canada.   Would something like this be interesting?

Also, I had some thoughts in response to Fr. Seraiah’s post Working on the Patrimony.

Of course defining Anglican Patrimony is difficult, after all, we are speaking about something that was formed without the moorings of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Yes and no.

The worst aspects of Anglican patrimony —that have led to schism, to greater and greater novelties in doctrine and practice; to a synodal approach run amok so doctrine is made up by “democratic” processes; congregationalism; and “experience,” i.e. the latest social science pet theories trumping Scripture and Tradition—I am pleased to cut loose as a Catholic.  I am rather sad to see, however, similar trends working on the inside the Catholic Church to de-centralize decision making on moral issues  to national bishops’ conferences.  We know how that kind of devolution works out.

As many of my conservative Catholic friends told me before we came into the Catholic Church,  “We need you on the inside.”

Which brings me to my second point.  The beautiful, good, and truthful Anglican patrimony we wish to preserve, while developing unmoored from the Catholic Church, at least in a juridical sense, never lost its rootedness in the faith of the Church or its Catholic DNA, otherwise, Pope Benedict XVI would not have made a provision for it and called a treasure to be shared with the wider Church.

For example, the high sacral language we have preserved in our liturgy was rebellious at the time, but one thing about Archbishop Cranmer—-he knew his Latin and he knew how to translate it into beautiful, poetic English.  He understand the importance of having prayers that could also be chanted.

When the decision was made by the wider Catholic Church to use the vernacular in the liturgy, translations were done in an era where dynamic equivalence was all the rage.

In the ecumenical wake of the Second Vatican Council, the Anglican Communion followed suit with their own “contemporary English” translations of liturgies.

Dynamic equivalence; teams of translators with tin ear for poetry; a minimalist approach in liturgy that either ignored or was ignorant of Old and New Testament resonances made for a pretty banal new Mass.  Thankfully, some of the deficiencies were corrected in the English translation of the Ordinary Form of the Mass in 2011.

Those of us who retained a Catholic sacramental theology and preferred the old-fashioned Book of Common Prayer language, the Cranmerian collects; the English missal tradition for Anglo-Catholic Masses were staying in a sense more true to the Catholic sense of the Mass as sacrifice rather than a meal, Cranmer’s personal views notwithstanding.

I think our Divine Worship: the Missal is and example of what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council intended for the reform of the liturgy, far more so than the kinds of liturgical innovation that occurred in the 1970s.

Because of all the turmoil in the Anglican world on faith and morals, on sacraments, and so on, those in the Anglo-Catholic side of things had to temper their arguments and firm up their faith.   As Bishop, now Msgr. Peter Wilkinson said to me years ago about the Catholic Church’s Magisterium, “We have no other Deposit of Faith.”

So the Anglican patrimony I was introduced to was already aligning itself with the Church’s teaching.  I remember being awed by the reverence showed to the Blessed Sacrament by the priests and the faithful, and scandalized by the lack of reverence I would then see in Catholic parishes.

As traditional Anglicans we had kept up the regular praying of Morning and Evening prayer, with many lay people also praying the offices either at church or at home.  And we have beautiful translations of the canticles most of us know by heart.

I have attended evening prayer, or vespers at a rare Catholic event, and no one knows the Magnificat translation in English, so everyone has to rely on a hand-out.  Most of us know the canticles such as the Magnificat and the Te Deum by heart.

These are aspects of Anglican patrimony that were seeded by the Catholic Church before the schism and preserved there that retained a catholicity and beauty despite being unmoored.

We have work to do to unearth more of the treasures of our patrimony, including our English Catholic patrimony that preceded Henry VIII as well as the legitimate the beautiful patrimony that developed afterwards that retained Catholic faith.

We have our beautiful hymns and music; our tradition of choral singing.  All kinds of things we can be proud of as part of Anglican Patrimony, now given a home in the Catholic Church.

Working on the Patrimony

After hearing an Anglican critic complain that the Catholic Church will never understand Anglicanism, and therefore the Ordinariates will fail, I was forced to think a bit deeper about what we are trying to preserve in the Ordinariates. In a moment of weakness, I had the thought, “if this Anglican Patrimony thingy is so important, then why does it sound like we still don’t have a clear definition of it even after six and a half years?” And then, in “blinding flash of the obvious”, the light in my head went on. Of course defining Anglican Patrimony is difficult, after all, we are speaking about something that was formed without the moorings of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

I am not trying to state any disagreement with what has been said about Anglican Patrimony in the many posts, conferences, articles, etc. (of which, I am only aware of a small portion) that have shown up over the past few years; especially any of the things said by my own beloved Bishop, Steven Lopes. I have heard many good things, as well as many things that I wish I knew more about so that I could acknowledge the goodness in them as well. For that matter, maybe this has already been said somewhere else, but I believe that it should be stated in these specific terms.
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A Great Martyr’s Day Book

Forgotten Shrines by Dom Bede Camm, O.S.B.  is an excellent entry into the shadow world of the English recusants, and its surviving remnants at the time he wrote, back in 1910. Himself a product of Keble College and a convert, Dom Bede became a monk and developed a strong devotion to the English martyrs. Apart from writing about them, he was instrumental in the founding of Tyburn Convent. The man and his work, as well as the Saints he loved, popularised, and venerated, are an important part of the Patrimony worth thinking about to-day.

The New Evangelization Summit

In my work as a journalist, I am usually extraordinarily busy in the spring and the fall, when the House of Commons is in session and many organizations hold conferences.

Thus, please excuse my light blogging.  But I thought some of you might be interested in my coverage of the New Evangelization Summit, an annual event here in Ottawa carried by satellite to more than 40 host sites.

George Weigel gave an interesting talk about how the Church is in a period of transition from the Church of the Counter-Reformation to the Church of the New Evangelization. This makes it  “exhilarating” but also disorienting.  In a conversation afterwards, I told him about the Anglicanorum coetibus Society and asked whether he saw any danger of the Anglicanization of the Catholic Church with current tendencies to decentralize decisions on discipline regarding the sacraments to bishops’ conferences.  Weigel is optimistic this will not happen.

Here’s a link to my story on his talk.

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