Monday, July 14, 2008


by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Returning to the book, the first Chapter contains the following statement:

There have been many examples of gods who appeared to veer from angry justice to loving mercy and back again in a quite contradictory manner. It must be said that the Hebrew bible, often called the Old or First Testament, contains many such contradictions.

During the last millennium the Catholic Church reflected far too much of the angry god.
(p. 26-27)

When we present a masculine god, we limit God; and whenever we limit God, we turn God into a very large human being rather than a true god. (p. 29)

On page 31 he refers to Tchaikovsky's music as a "divine spark", and claims that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual, and then makes the following statement about flaws:

We live in an age when people have unrealistic ideas of perfection and consider themselves failures if they do not achieve them. The reality is that we all have disabilities. Indeed, those who are called disabled can often be the true realists, for they more frequently accept their disabilities and learn to live within them, while the rest of us can deny our limitations and seek an unrealistic perfection. (p. 38)

In Chapter 2 Robinson provides his picture of Scripture from which, I presume, his theology flows.

What we find in the bible...is neither a literal account of exactly what happened nor a pure fantasy, for the authors told of a real and divinely-assisted escape from slavery, but they did so by "talking in pictures". The evidence we can gain from all sources supports this view and is so strong that it can no longer be sustained that Christians must believe that each one of these stories tells the literal truth of what happened. The ancient Hebrews, like many other peoples, told their factual history through pictorial stories, and many Christian problems began only when people began to reverse this process and take the stories as factual history. ...

...the stories were not to be taken literally.
(p. 52-53)

Chapter Three deals with the two sources of knowledge--Scripture and Tradition. He defends the traditional view that Scripture flowed out of Tradition in the early centuries of the faith, and discusses how the books of the Bible were chosen. In response to the Protestant claim of Scripture alone, he writes:

I have heard Christians from "Scripture alone" churches speaking passionately about the events of the reformation as though they had happened yesterday, and it has been crystal clear to me that many words and events of that period are a powerful source of their beliefs, attitudes and customs today. If these are not "traditions", then they are simply using another word to describe the same reality. (p. 72)

I found little to argue with in Chapter Four, where bishop Robinson lays out the plan of salvation or in Chapters Five and Six where he discusses the history of the Church via the reign of the various popes and the impact of the Second Vatican Council. In Chapter Six, though, he begins to discuss "creeping infallibility"; and this is the start of what must have been the source of objection to his material:

...the argument that constantly repeated opinions become infallible is exactly the argument that has been applied to the two most controversial papal statements of the last forty years--those on contraception and on the ordination of women. It is a claim used to add further authority to two papal teachings that, as simple matter of fact, have failed to convince by the force of the arguments used in them. I find it strange that, if I were to tell a cardinal in the Vatican that I was struggling with doubts about the existence of God, I would receive sympathy and support. But if I were to tell the same cardinal that I had doubts about papal teaching on contraception and the ordination of women, I would receive a stern lecture on loyalty to the pope. (p. 122)

People want simple certainties, they demand simple certainties. (p. 123)

Before his ordination every bishop is required to take an oath of fidelity to the pope, so rebellion is breaking an oath made to God. ...

No bishop would wish to create an atmosphere of the bishop on one side against the pope on the other side...

All bishops had a genuine admiration for the greater strengths of the pope of the last quarter of the twentieth century--his early courageous story under Nazi occupation and his later courage against Communist domination, his great intellect, his obvious holiness. No bishop has wanted to present himself as in any way better than this pope. In these circumstances, the identification between the rock and the particular pope has blunted all criticisms....

Bishops love the church and gave their lives for it, and they are aware that a stand-up, knock-down fight between a group of bishops and the Vatican would bring great harm to the church.
(p. 126 - 127)

In reading that last statement, thoughts of Milingo and Lefebre came calling. Near the end of the chapter Robinson writes:

Within a church, as I have noted, the first tension is between rule by God and rule by human beings. There have been churches that had too much human authority (e.g. the Catholic Church) and they have encountered serious problems.

I'll pick it up here next time.

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