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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Foolish litigation

Fr Michael Clifton, long time pastor of the faithful, former archivist of Southwark, learned historian, kindly teacher of schoolboys (including me, nearly 40 years ago) cricket coach, model railway enthusiast, and warm friend and mentor of younger clergy now feels that he must close his blog because he has been threatened with legal action by Monsignor Basil Loftus who writes a weekly column for the Catholic Times.

Although the proposed litigation is unlikely to be taken seriously by courts in Britain (see my post Singh v Singh and the unlikelihood of a heresy trial in the British courts) I can understand Fr Clilfton's reluctance to be subjected to all the strain and anxiety that even the threat of such a process might engender but I am saddened to think that we can no longer benefit from his honest, good humoured comments.

Fr Ray Blake has also been threatened with legal action. He comments:
This is an important justice issue of freedom of speech that affects a fundamental right to debate in the Church, it should not be ignored!
Quite so!

In a recent article for the Catholic Times, Mgr Loftus speculated on the nature of Christ's risen body. He quoted St Paul's talk of a "spiritual body" after the resurrection and then quite wrongly drew the conclusion that Christ "was not physically present when he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection." Even a relatively inexperienced apologist would be able to refute that on the basis of the texts of the gospels:
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side (Jn 20.27)
and even more plainly:
See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have. (Lk 24.39)
The idea that Christ's risen body was not physical was refuted as long ago as the second century by St Irenaeus. (Adversus Haereses 5.7.1)

The second letter of Cyril to Nestorius was declared by the Council of Ephesus to be in agreement with the Council of Nicea. It stated:
So too, when his flesh was raised to life, we refer to this again as his resurrection, not as though he had fallen into corruption--God forbid--but because his body had been raised again.
The 4th Lateran Council (1215) states succinctly in its profession of faith:
He descended in the soul, rose in the flesh, and ascended in both.
St Thomas Aquinas deals skilfully with various questions related to Christ's risen body in the Summa Theologica, part 3, question 54. In the first article of the question, the Angelic Doctor replies specifically to the objection which Monsignor Loftus raises (as though it were new) about Christ's body entering through doors that were closed.

It would be tedious and unnecessary to detail all of the various ways in which Monsignor Loftus has contradicted Pope Benedict's project of the hermeneutic of continuity in his analysis of the second Vatican Council. Suffice it to say that his weekly articles for the Catholic Times are considered by many good Catholics a negative element in that otherwise worthy newspaper which features, for example, an excellent weekly article by my good friend Fr Francis Marsden.

A while back, during a controversy about traditional liturgy in my parish, Monsignor Loftus wrote to The Tablet (quae delenda est) to encourage my parishioners not to contribute financially to my parish. I suppose I would have had some ground to sue him in the civil or ecclesiastical courts for this, but I felt that it was more sensible simply to offer a reasoned refutation of the claims made in his letter and then carry on with my life.

Social interaction on the internet has its pitfalls of course, and we have all had some comments that we might consider offensive. The internet offers us the opportunity to reply according to the scholastic maxim "quod gratis asseritur gratis negatur". Litigation might be necessary in some extreme circumstances but it seems to me a foolish and, frankly, uncouth path to take in the face of the ordinary business of theological discussion.

Some other links
St Mary Magdalen's Brighton: Fr Michael Clifton's last post?
That the Bones you have crushed may thrill: Litigious Priests
Libera me: Contemptible . . . what else can you call it?
Bara Brith: Very Sorry
The Muniment Room: Support Fr Mildew
Mulier Fortis: Sad ...
Porta Caeli: From Lofty heights
Stella Maris: Fr Clifton's blog closes
Australia Incognita: The word we are not allowed to use: heresy
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