dimanche 28 juillet 2013

Newman, Thompson, Antichrist

Let us first cite a French translation of John Henry Newman's Idea of a University. Second Conference, paragraph 11. Last example but one in his list of the Relevance of Revelation to knowledge.

Que l'Antichrist doive venir représente, en tête d'un chapitre d'histoire, un intitulé aussi précis que l'énoncé du fait que Néron ou Julien furent empéreurs à Rome.

Lacking the English original here, I retranslate. I will not retranslate "doive venir" as "should come" but as "shall come". French "doive" can both be used for the unreal mood and for the simply subjunctive.

That Antichrist shall come constitutes a chap^ter heading of history as precise as the proposition that Nero and Julian were Emperors in Rome.

1852 this was accepted Roman Catholic Theology. Not in a far off monastery in Spain and even there far from Salamanca or Toledo or Madrid or Santiago, under some abbot close to Father Jorge in The Name of the Rose by Eco, but in England, under a brilliant priest who founded a Catholic University in Dublin, because he was the man for the task in the eyes of his superiors. A priest on whom all the eyes of the English non-Catholics clustered as much as on these days the Pope. A man who was chosen for that task, since he had been brilliant already as an Anglican, both his early days as a Puritan and his days as an Anglo-Catholic. A man who in the eyes of some was less sombre than the other great XIXth C. convert, Cardinal Manning.

1968, when the translation appeared, the translator feels obliged to add a footnote. "One will recognise that Newman here pushes his principle" - of revealed theology as being objective knowledge - "too far, at the risk of becoming unreal."

Same year Padre Pio had said "Antichrist is already in the world and he is doing good". Between Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, and an enthusiast for Newman who is less enthusiastic when he stated he believed Apocalypse 13 or a passage in II Thessalonians or Matthew 24 quite literally, I naturally side with Padre Pio. Not just because John Paul II claimed to canonise him - supposing he was Pope and had the power to do so - but because there may be very real evidence Padre Pio was a saint even if neither Gregory XVII of Palmar nor John Paul II (both of which claimed to canonise him) were Popes. The translator adds in the footnote some gas about the "role of Antichrist in the religious evolution of Jahn Henry Newman" but seems to be insensible as to the role of Antichrist in the accepted Roman Catholic Theology in the day of John Henry Newman speaking or writing down his second conference.

Now, let us look at Damian Thompson's record. Briefly, I have no access to his work thereon, but what I have read by him gives me no confidence in his judgement.

amazon : Damian Thompson Waiting for Antichrist: Charisma and Apocalypse in a Pentecostal Church

There is actually a preview I have not looked at yet.

Quoting book description:

How can people believe that the supernatural end of the world lies just around the corner when, so far, every such prediction has been proved wrong? Some scholars argue that millenarians are psychologically disturbed; others maintain that their dreams of paradise on earth reflect a nascent political awareness. In this book Damian Thompson looks at the members of one religious group with a strong apocalyptic tradition--Kensington Temple, a large Pentecostal church in London--and attempts to understand how they reconcile doctrines of the end of the world with the demands of their everyday lives. He asks such questions as: Who is making the argument that the world is about to end, and on whose authority? How is it communicated? Which members are persuaded by it? What are the practical consequences for them? How do they rationalize their position? Based on extensive interviews as well as a survey of almost 3000 members, Thompson finds existing explanations of apocalyptic belief inadequate. Although they profess allegiance to millennial doctrine, he discovers, members actually assign a low priority to the "End Times." The history of millenarianism is littered with disappointment, Thompson notes, and the lesson has largely been learned: "predictive" millenarianism--with its risky time-specific predictions of the end--has been substantially supplanted by "explanatory" millenarianism, which uses apocalyptic narratives to explain features of the contemporary world. Most apocalyptic believers, he finds, are comfortable with these lower-cost explanatory narratives that do not require them to sell their houses and head for the hills. He does uncover a handful of "textbook" millenarians in the congregation--people who are confident that Jesus will return in their lifetimes. He concludes that their atypical beliefs were influenced by their conversion experiences, individual psychology, and degree of subcultural immersion. Although much has been written about apocalyptic belief, Thompson's empirically-based study is unprecedented. It constitutes an important step forward in our understanding of this puzzling feature of contemporary religious life.

The fact of believing Christ may well return before one is biologically programmed to die, and of course the Last Tribulation will happen before that does not logicaly exactly require one to sell one's house. Or to renounce Christian marriage. Conversely, refusing certain jobs because they are immoral in their present state (teachers being immoral in schools that teach evolution and heliocentrism as hard facts and gender ideology as sound morals, cashier being less than ideally moral in shops where bar codes are used to hasten the counting of merchandise bought by each customer and the adding of their prices, any work being less than moral if it makes you collaborate with shrinks against the people considered to have problems) does not indicate Christ is about to return tomorrow either. Ireland is still there, and St Patrick asked it should sink in the waves seven years before Judgement Day. On the other hand if Francis is really Pope, he might be Peter Lastpope.

On the one hand we find signs that seem to promote the imminent arrival of Antichrist, on the other hand we find that these signs could still be reversed, in theory, could still, in theory, become bad memories for Christian Centuries yet to come. Christian centuries in which bar codes are illegal not just because of three sixes in beginning middle and end, but also because rationalising they put chashiers out of job and those with jobs into stress and customers into the risk of same merchandise being registered twice in the haste. Or where abortions are forbidden and sodomy is again a legal offense. In which Evolution is recognised as an error, due to mammalian chromosome numbers and heliocentrism at least as not proven. In which school is no longer a compulsion, but a luxury for certain classes or personal interests and talents. In which general public agrees Revolutions like the Russian or the German (1917, 1933) and Bank Crises like certain recent or less recent ones are manufactured by crooks. And in which such crooks are a dark but distant memory from the XXth century.

Not that I find that extremely likely, though. But I find that more desirable than heading for a time when I can be executed or apostate unless I keep very discreet about my whereabouts. Or contemplating a present and a recent past in which I have had already occasion to licit defense against psychiatry.*

We can gather even from that description just cited, unless the reviewer is as far from Thompson, as the French translator in 1968 was from Newman, that Thompson is not just sceptic about precise prediction of when Apocalyptic times may come, but also somewhat disdainful of any suspicion Apocalypse could be heading for chapters like 13 or 19. I do not know, I may have gotten him wrong.

Here is my reaction to two books and one essay of Thompson's that I have read (that is essay in full and books only review), with a news story on top of it:

HGL's F.B. writings : Do you know Damian Thompson?

We can however give him credit for not getting apocalyptically panicky about Christian apocalyptic panics. Even if he calls them panics (sort of), he does not call them totally panics and he does not panic about them. Unlike the man behind this video of Discovering Religion

youtube : Discovering Religion: Ep 01 - Ready-Made World

With a series of my comments on it, debating other commenters:

Assorted retorts from yahoo boards and elsewhere : ... on Apocalyptic fears of Atheists and some more

Now, back to Newman. Would he have agreed with Thompson, if I am right about the latter? The footnote I cited says:

Il avait eu une intuition plus juste et vraiment remarcable pour l'époque, dans le Sermon universitaire V 11 : "Le but de l'Écriture n'était pas de rpésenter un système intellectuel à la contemplation de notre esprit, mais d'assurer la formation d'un certain tempérament moral" ; ce qui n'enlève pas aux Écritures leur valeur de témoignage objectif, mais reclame une interprétation plus nuancée.

Let's break this down a bit:

Il avait eu une intuition plus juste et vraiment remarcable pour l'époque, ...

He had has a more just intuition and one truly remarcable for the epoch ... assuming there were a real discrepancy, should that not warn us that if we want him as a witness to Catholic tradition, we should rather stay with Conference II, 11? Since that is not "remarcable for the epoch"?

... dans le Sermon universitaire V 11 : "Le but de l'Écriture n'était pas de présenter un système intellectuel à la contemplation de notre esprit, ..."

In University Sermon V 11: the task of Scripture was not to present to the contemplation of our mind an intellectual system. Systems come and go, but some facts stick out in all of them. You can explain gravity as "pen falls to the ground because made of elements earth and water, which are heavy elements and their natural place is the centre of the earth, being centre of the universe". You can explain it as "pen and earth attract each other by forces each proportional to the mass exerting it and inversely proportional to the distance, and since the pen is so much less massive than earth, its attraction on earth is negligible but earth's attraction on it is seemingly the only force." You can explain it on Einstein's lines (rather than previous cited Aristotle and Newton) as "earth's mass creates a geodesic in space, a line which it is easy for the pen to follow." But in all these systems it remains a true fact that if you drop a pen, it falls downward, until stopped by a solid object stably in place, like a table or a floor or the ground.

The task of Scripture is not to provide us with a system, that is with a theory, I think Newman said. That does not mean it is not providing us with totally accurate facts. Nor do I think Newman tried in any way whatsoever to deny it does.

... mais d'assurer la formation d'un certain tempérament moral" ...

But to ensure the formation of a certain moral temperament. If among the accurate facts with which Scripture presents us there is this accurate fact of "Antichrist will come", is the literal belief therein, one which Newman endorsed, not also a factor contributing, and contributing very much to the formation of a certain temperament? And is it not closer to that of Rob Skiba II than to that of Damian Thompson?

...ce qui n'enlève pas aux Écritures leur valeur de témoignage objectif, mais reclame une interprétation plus nuancée.

Which does not subtract from the Scriptures their value of objective testimony ... Well, if one accepts they give us not directly a precise system but still do give us directly precise facts, then it does not. If one takes from the negation of precise systems the notion of denial of preciseness and extends it to facts, well, then it would detract from their value of objective testimony.

But requires a more nuanced interpretation. Know what? As this comes in the footnote, it comes out like blabla giving no precise meaning to "more nuanced". I will try to look up University Sermon V for you. BBIAM.

Right. University Sermons, V, paragraphs 10 and 11.

Pretty long, I will be content with a résumé. Christ always obeyed the inner light of conscience. We do not. Some of us get right down into the abyss, others play with their conscience hoping to distinguish lesser from greater evils and give themselves freedom in the lesser ones, misjudging the matter at times. Christ did not, we cannot really imagine how that is like to always grow in perfection and never slide back. However, every detail of life is in all probability subjected to and perfected in this perfect morality. So must it have been for Him. So was it also if not for each early Christian, at least for the early Church as a whole. That is why we should believe it when it teaches episcopacy and child baptism, even if those cannot be directly proven from Scripture since the task of Scripture was not to set before our minds a system to contemplate but ensure the formation of a certain moral temperament.

OK. Newman says Bible does not give us a clue about everything, only about how we should be, so we should trust the Church on institutions not directly proven in full from the Bible. A very Catholic thing to say, unless you would seek out the proof texts for child baptism (one of which would also apply to child communion and is so applied by the Orthodox, and in Carolingian times, mothers were not allowed to let their children have milk from their breast during forty hours before communion) or for episcopacy.**

That does of course not mean the Bible gives us no exact clues about anything. It does not mean anything in it apparently factual must have a purely moralising meaning. Parents do raise their children and they do tell them "if you put knitting needles in the electric plug, you can die", but that does not mean their is no factual reason for saying that, nor that the warning is a kind of boogey man scare tactic to make children believe and obey otherwise seemingly senseless orders from their parents. Parents do tell their children "you came out of your mother's tummy", but that does not mean the children were really found behind a cabbage or delivered by a stork and that the coming out of mother's tummy is some sort of gross joke intended to make childrern love their mothers.

The footnote on that other work quoted the last words out of context and basically twisted "everything that is true is not directly in the Scripture" into "everything that is in Scripture cannot be taken as true, unless you interpret it carefully". Something which Newman in that place said nothing about at all.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
BpI, Georges Pompidou Library
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

*Not going into details here, but on to principles:

Creation vs. Evolution : Why I have a Personal Grudge against Kenotic Heresy

**When I said that Newman did not know how to find conclusive proof texts in the New Testament for episcopacy, we need not agree it lacks them. One convert during the XXth C. in a booklet called One God, one Faith, one Baptism claimed the New Testament is pretty clear, once you clear up a terminological misunderstanding. According to him, in Apostolic times, when New Testament was written, Presbyter and Episcopus were both used of any priest, while those enjoying a sacramental privilege to ordain (and a juridical privilege to appoint the ones they had ordained) were known by various other names: Apostle, Evangelist, Angel (as in Apocalypse where the Angels of the Seven Churches are what would later have been called their bishops). That a privilege existed he proved from the obvious context of Timothy and Titus where they are so to speak given a monopoly of "laying hands on bishops" that is on priests. Can't recall right now the exact wording of the title or the name of this priest. Will ask and BBL about it.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire