Monday, January 16, 2012

Class: Complexity and Abstraction

I was rather taken aback by a comment on post a few days ago about what the Church has to say and how it says it to the "working classes".
In post Thatcherite Britain I am not sure what the "working class" means anymore. I know most parishes seem to have less plumber's and hod carrier's mates than IT specialists and on the whole, financially, even in these times, at the moment at least people seem to be better off and what is more, more people receive tertiary education than when I was ordained.
It is true the cloth cap and the headscarf are no longer a feature of our churches. Perhaps more noticeable are the absence of young people and men, we appear to have lost them. Another absence seems to be that of catechesis, those who stay do not seem to understand our faith.
There seems to be a growing gulf between what the theological elite (of either complexion) believe and what the man (or woman) in the pew believes. Survey after survey shows those in the pew do not believe what those in the sanctuary believe or are supposed to believe.
It strikes me again and again that the faith has become increasingly more complicated and most people are lost in its complexity and find the Churches teaching complicated and quite unrelated to real life.

Fr Bede Rowe doesn't speak about "complexity" but about "abstraction".
Modern theology moves this into a representational symbolism, which is not accessible, except to those in the know. If you like it is a kind of modern gnosticism. I know, of course, that symbolism has been used in Christian art and architecture for centuries, but only as something which gives an obvious picture an extra depth. In accord with classical Biblical interpretation, you should not just have hidden interpretation, or mystical interpretation, but also a plain meaning. One can go deeper if one has the time and the inclination, but one should also be able to stay on the surface.
A picture of the Annunciation can be filled with any number of hidden references that one is able to 'read' if one knows the key - symbols of virginity, of the presence of the Holy Spirit, of the crucifixion and death of the Son who is about to exist in her womb... but if it is not recognisably the Annunciation, then these other symbols only have meaning for the smug club who understands such things.
This is what I hate, anything that transforms our religion into a smug club for those who have the time (and education) to 'read' the hidden things.
Perhaps one of our chief difficulties is the failure to give clear teaching or to make a practice of  teaching in a way that is ambiguous.
I can't help wondering whether we teach too much, that we have a scatter gun approach today, that we are saying too much and using far too many words. "Words, words, words" could be an accusation against today's Church and churchmen.


Supertradmum said...

There are reasons why the Catholic Church for the last 150 years has stood up against socialism and communism. To desire or work for a classless society are to support the heresies of utopianism and materialism. Thank God for the Church!

God did not make us all equal.
To state there are no classes in England or America is simply to lie. Class has nothing to do much anymore with money, or necessarily with birth, but with good breeding and education. The problem is not that we do not recognize class, but that all modern educational systems have fallen into socialism and communist fallacies, including class warfare. These ideas have all been condemned for many reasons. Of course, we decry prejudice, but to deny differences is just plain deceit. I wrote about elitism on my blog two weeks ago. If Catholics want to be socialist, they fall away from the true teaching...

Lynda said...

In Ireland, for decades now, there has been practically no teaching, or preaching in the churches. Certainly, no clear references to how the Gospel applies in one's life in the moral and other realities of life in Ireland (or other Western country). The worst evils that have become normalised and acceptable, and in some cases officially endorsed, in society - killing of children prior to birth, contraception, killing of old, disabled or depressed, suicide, sexual promiscuity, perversions, adultery, divorce, desertion, etc. - are studiously ignored by the preacher. Priests, in general, do not try to teach the Gospel in real terms. Moral relativism has contaminated the Church - and is, I believe the biggest factor in the loss or abandonment of faith by those who were baptised. If a priest actually teaches in a clear, unhidden, unambiguous way, it becomes news, as it is so rare. Such a priest may be penalised by his Bishop for being so obvious and uncompromising in preaching the substance of our Faith, as bolstered by reason. For decades, truth has been out and meaningless, politically acceptable, vacuous, feel good mulch has been in. Therefore, we leave the church no better off for the "teaching" than when we entered. People get one message loud and clear from most priests - it doesn't matter how we behave or if we go to Mass, confession, practice the Faith. [By the way, Father, you seem to have a liking for extraneous apostrophes!]

Anonymous said...

Supertradmum, Yes those dreadful heretics like Cardinal Manning, Newman, Chesterton, Belloc & Ward.


Lynda said...

Apologies, Father! I see the apostrophes in this piece are effective - but what about using "fewer" rather than "less"?!! "few", and its related terms, are used less and less these days!

Michael Petek said...

John Cleese: "I am a Senator, and I look down on them because I am upper class."

Ronnie Barker: "I am a Decurion, and I look up to the Senator, but I look down on the slave becauuse I am middle class."

Ronnie Corbett: "I know my place!"

Malvenu said...

As a recent convert i have to say that there does seem to be something of a vacuum post-RCIA. Father Sean posted a while back on converts who never make it to their second confession. I would suggest that there is a strong correlation between converts disappearing and a lack of any further instruction once one is 'home'. The same is probably true of cradle Catholics, i don't know.

Personally, i wanted to do the RCIA (again) to make sure i knew my stuff, but still there is only so much that is taught in these classes and there is so much more that isn't. It seems to me that a lot of what it means to be a Catholic is learnt by experience over many years but the lack of continued instruction as one plumbs the depths of the mysteries of the faith (and gets to be an experienced Catholic) would surely cause some, if not many, to fail before they have got very far down the narrow road...?

Evagrius Ponticus said...

Giles - indeed, such awful heretics as St Basil the Great.

"Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from?


But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation?

The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong."

(Homily on Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed), §7; translation from here:

Supertradmum said...


Interesting comment, and I can say I have read everything by Belloc, as I taught him, and by Newman,as he was part of the subject of my doctoral thesis, and I have taught Chesterton, although not reading all his works, though most, not recalling one mention of supporting communism or socialism, which were the main isms I used as examples of the infiltration of Catholicism by heresies which redefine society. One quotation: from John Paul II, in Centesimus Annus-- "Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order. From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property.”

The classes are here for a reason and only those who want to benefit from a so-called classless society do so by bending the definition of society and the individual. We are simply not created equal in abilities or talents. Distributism does not destroy classes, but creates harmony among the classes, opposite of communism and socialism. The guild system favored by some distributists does not deny class. "Small is beautiful", the call of the distributist and those who favor subsidiarity, does not deny inequality. The artists at Ditchling were not communists, nor was one of my favorites,Schumacher, great friend of Derrick, if you are English and want another reference.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Lynda, quite right!
I deserve to be corrected!

Just another mad Catholic said...


It is idiotic attitudes like yours that sparked the french revolution. If your son is ever ordained then I hope that his teachers will have remedied the appauling views on class that he may have inherited from his mother and he will take after Mgrs Romaro and Myriel than you.

In case in the past 30 years+ you'e been asleep during Sunday homilies you should know that every man due to his human nature is equal in dignity before God.

One of the temporal duties of the Church is remind those who have more that they have a duty to the destitue and to protect the desitute against exploitation by those in power.

I second Giles and Evagrius

nickbris said...

I wonder who could be to blame for all this mess we are now in?. Was it that one who decided that we were worthless unless we owned our own houses? or destroyed manufacturing so we could all get into the wonderfully lucrative Financial Services?.

Unless we went to University we were to be unemployable,what they haven't figured out is that having a degree does not teach communication skills but just produces an abundance of snobby useless articles who call themselves MIDDLE CLASS

gemoftheocean said...

Supertradmum: Well said. Communism subsumes the individual to the needs of the state. They seek to replace God with themselves as the dispenser of all that is good. With them ones is only 'deserving' if one follows the herd mentality. [BTW, I don't think it's much read in England, but if you haven't read it I'd recommend a read of Witness by Whitaker Chambers.]

gemoftheocean said...

Malvenu: You bring up an interesting point. The RCIA pretty much takes all comers -- so I think given the diversity and spread of various levels of education, I think it will tend to the lowest common denominator. And sometimes, depending on where the RCIA was given, the person may or may not have been under entirely orthodox leadership. Not so much as teaching something wrong -- but more a failure, for fear?, sometimes to teach the whole truth. [On this point, I am mainly speaking of birth control but there are other 'controversial' topics where people fear to tread/or don't want to tread.]

I might suggest for the 'head learning' bits try -- which is Catholic Answers, a leading apologetics group. Also is excellent - it's got pointers to the Catholic Encyclopedia (the older 1912 one that is excellent) and many pointers to articles on the Church Fathers, etc.

Might I also recommend getting a copy of The New Jerome bible study? Pricey -- but you can find used and it carries many excellent articles and commentary.

For the 'community' / living life as Catholic bits -- try and see the different types of communities and groups available to you, and make as many friends with good Catholic families as you can. Such things as praying the rosary, celebrating advent, and various other customs are best experienced. Have you been to benediction, for instance? Gradually, you will absorb through osmosis, if you put yourself in those situations. Get a good foundation for the sacraments first, and then look around for what prayer circles, charities, or just plain fun activities there are to get involved in. Good luck, and don't become a stranger!

Welcome home.

LF said...

The devil's greatest triumph was convincing the world that the devil doesn't exist. Likewise, the bourgeoisie's greatest triumph was convincing the world that class does not exist.

shadowlands said...

a few words from Our Leader..........titled:
Evangelization is Rooted in a Personal Encounter with Jesus Christ

"Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ... Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians... Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world."
- Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, Sept. 3, 2008

Personally, I think regarding education of Catholics, the wisdom of God can be gleamed by the educated and uneducated as it pleases the Holy Spirit to reveal it.
But I understand from what the Pope is saying, that it is meeting Christ that ignites our search, if it is true conversion and not just passed down habits or rituals.

Supertradmum said...

I worked as an RCIA coordinator and teacher in three different parishes. We followed the Creed and the CCC. The problem was not the teachers or those coming in, so much as the preconceptions of those who were sponsors or family members, who themselves were not catechized properly. As to Catholic schools, Catholic education of the past does not work as there is a disjoint between the Teaching Magisterium and what is being taught. I had to take the Oath and Promise when I taught in Catholic institutions, not all, but some. This is not done in England that I know of...The Oath is to teach only what the Catholic Church teaches and the Promise is to live as a Catholic. Here they are at

If every school enforced these and if the parishes had Catholic Adult Education or Faith Formation, which has started up in such great places as Bishop Finn's diocese, there would be less of a break in the continuity of education and no second class Catholic citizens. But the ideas of modernism are so prevalent, I wish most Catholic schools would just fail and we would start over again. But, I blame the laity for not taking responsibility for their own faith...whatever class they are in...

Supertradmum said...

Can I add that as an educator, one has to use different methods to teach different types of students? One method is the Socratic Method, which helps people learn to think through questions. Another way may be more experience based. Some people learn from experiences and some from ideas and some from both.The Church provides all these means of education, but after years of working in the Church, I must say that most adults simply do not take time to learn their faith.They are children with regard to appropriating the teachings of the Catholic Church and expect Father to do it all. This is awful. Adult Catholics can always learn, in some way, shape or form. But, they have to want to do so and make learning the Faith a priority in their lives.

gemoftheocean said...

Just another...'In case in the past 30 years+ you'e been asleep during Sunday homilies you should know that every man due to his human nature is equal in dignity before God. '

All very nice, but Supertradmum would not disagree. I'm afraid you are so into the socialist mantra that your ability to distinguish various nuances of an argument are lacking.

NO ONE is denying that the wealthier have an obligation of noblesse oblige out of Christian charity but it is unwise to pretend that everyone's talents and abilities are the same. I expect you must have been snoozing whenever they read the story of the talents in Matthew 25 wherein the Master is angry at the low man on the totem pole who didn't even use what relatively little native brain power he was given and wasted his master's money by not even putting it in the bank and earning money on it. All that business of the master giving different sums of money to the different servants depending on their abilities. (you assume about supertradmum, so turnabout is fair play, yes?)

Not everyone wants or needs to be herded into your Socialist paradise. At any rate, you shouldn't be running it.

Supertradmum said...

I do not mean to clog up the com-
box, but I just remembered an excellent document on the formation of the laity which might help this discussion. It is not a new one, but came out in 1965. I remember discussing this in high school and college, as it was a call to the laity to grow up. Here is the link, but I want to refer to one part.

This quotation asks a lot from the laity which we seem to forget.

'...the lay person should learn especially how to perform the mission of Christ and the Church by basing his life on belief in the divine mystery of creation and redemption and by being sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit who gives life to the people of God and who urges all to love God the Father as well as the world and men in Him. This formation should be deemed the basis and condition for every successful apostolate.

In addition to spiritual formation, a solid doctrinal instruction in theology, ethics, and philosophy adjusted to differences of age, status, and natural talents, is required. The importance of general culture along with practical and technical formation should also be kept in mind."

In other words, to the best of each individual's ability, the Church calls us to spiritual, rational, emotional and individual involvement in the Church. As all the laity are to be accountable for spreading the Gospel, there should be none who sit back or let others take on what all should be doing, which is simply, being Adult in the Lord.

Just another mad Catholic said...


Although I have great sympathy with socialists, having been raised in socialist household and recognising that many of them (contary to the stereotype perpetuated by Fox news) are decent human beings, I would not count myself among them.

Instead I would cast myself as a distributionist which has more in common with capitalism than socialism

Indeed before accusing me of being a socialist I would suggest that you take issue with America's Founding Fathers (if they were socialists I'm a stuffed Badger) all of who preached equality of Man before God, even if they did not put their theories into practise (e.g. Jefferson owning slaves).

Anita Moore said...

Just another mad Catholic said...In case in the past 30 years+ you'e been asleep during Sunday homilies you should know that every man due to his human nature is equal in dignity before God.

It is a great mistake to conflate equality of dignity with equality of ability. Li'l Kim and Palestrina may be equal in dignity before God, but it would take a fool and a philistine to think they were equals as musicians.

(And, being mistaken, you might re-think whether it is fitting for you to accuse somebody else of holding idiotic attitudes.)

shadowlands said...

Before the creator and sustainer of the universe formed any of us (or our intellectual capacities), He knew us and IS prepapring a place for us, in eternity.

He wants to know and be known and desires us to love Him and be happy with Him (and each other), here and forever, there. So much so, that He sent His only Son to die for us, in order to make His plan for us happen.

We have nothing to be envious of each other for. He sees each person individually, loves each person individually and equally. Our stewardship on earth, may be of a greater or lesser amount. the more one is given, the greater the responsibility though! It is all on loan, even the bodies we stand up in, as my father often reminds me. Don't be envious of dust to be.
Desire the stuff that lasts, the stuff that was planned for you from the beginning of time!
And let's try and love as He does.
I mean Jesus, who is able to love the apparently unlovable.

Why not start today, with your least favourite 'type'? Pray for them maybe they will offer one for you too!

Education, especially Catholic teaching, if it is of God, should make us more able to reach all men, not begin to cause us to only be able to describe God to an exclusive set and unable to recognise Him, other than with our 'set'

Jesus spoke to all men, all classes.

The sermon on the mount was to lowly people, yet He amazed the men in the temple at the age of twelve, with His Wisdom.

This Wisdom is available to all to whom He chooses to reveal it. Sometimes He chooses what the world despises. He likes to keep us on our toes haha!

Just another mad Catholic said...

@Anita More

I never said that all men were equal in ability, you are putting words into my mouth.

My point was that I am under no obligation to tug my forelock to 'queen' elizabeth II just because Parliament made her ancestors rulers of the UK 260 odd years ago.

As your President John Adams is reputed to have said "I have no King but Christ", to which I would add "No Queen but Mary"

Anita Moore said...

Just another mad Catholic said...
I never said that all men were equal in ability, you are putting words into my mouth.

I did not put words in your mouth. What I did do was correctly identify (a) a flaw in your argument, namely, that you responded to (and got very excercised about) something another commenter didn't say; and (b) the source of that flaw, namely, the confusion of two totally different things.

My point was that I am under no obligation to tug my forelock to 'queen' elizabeth II just because Parliament made her ancestors rulers of the UK 260 odd years ago.

As your President John Adams is reputed to have said "I have no King but Christ", to which I would add "No Queen but Mary"

When you tug your forelock to Queen Elizabeth, you are not tugging your forelock to her personally, but to the office she holds. Your disrespect for the Queen (which seem to extend to more than just her, based on your tone in this combox) is actually very un-Catholic, because there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist were instituted by Him (cf. Romans 13).

Just another mad Catholic said...

@Ms Moore

Correct me if I am wrong but it would seem that you would have advised Washington et al to put up with the refusal of King George and Parliament to allow them due representation in the afformentioned Parliament.

As far as the equality of man before God is concerened I assert what Washington, Jefferson, Adams and the other 53 delegates affirmed, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights", if you are concerned about this idea when viewing it from a Catholic perspective then to Quote Fr John Ball (d: 1381)"When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the nobleman?”.

To correct any possible misunderstandings about my initial response to supertradmom, it was meant to criticise the idea that “we should all know our place” and respect people just because they were born into the ruling family, it was this idea in pre-revolutionary France (aided by the clergy one must remember) that enabled the tyrannical excesses of the House of Bourborn. The French people had been so brutalised by nearly centuries of foolish wars, inflation and royal absolutism that a spark was all that was needed to set the whole country ablaze (much to the detriament of Holy Mother Church).

Now I may not like the current President of the United States but at least you only have to endure him for a maximum of another 5 years, unless my dream of emigrating to America and becoming a Priest/religious there becomes a reality then I will be stuck with the House of Windsor for the rest of my life.

As for saying that all temporal institutions are instituted by God, are you seriously saying that the late Maummah “mad dog” Gaddafi was God’s regent in Lybia?, again I am with Jefferson et all when they proclaim “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, (key phrase) that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it”. Personally I prefer the idea of being a citizen to being a subject.