Somebody sent me the link to Fr Cantalamessa's address at the Alpha Leadership Conference a couple of weeks ago, and wanted my view.
Fr Cantalamessa is, of course, the preacher to the Holy Father, an office he has held since 1980, when appointed by Pope John Paul II. So he is clearly someone to listen to with respect and interest.
And indeed much of this address is very good. I do not agree with all the sentiments he expresses, but that is fair enough. For example he sees a huge movement of the Holy Spirit in all of the pentecostal and charismatic branches of the different denominations that is completely fresh and drawing Christianity back together. I can't say that I have noticed that, but maybe it hasn't reached Cumbria yet...
But there are some parts of his address that do trouble me, too. And I find myself wondering if I am troubled by him in the same way that I am troubled by the Holy Father on occasion (a reaction I explore here.) That is, I wonder if he uses language in a more impressionistic, and less precise, way than (say) the Pope Emeritus. For occasionally I was brought up short by some of the things he said. For example: 'Man has not changed: it is God who has changed.'
I thought that God was immutable, unchanging, and that that was Catholic dogma. Likewise, he talks of the 'Churches born of the Reformation.' In Catholic theology, there is One Church. In official documents, the Protestant denominations are referred to by some courteous descriptor that avoids calling them 'churches' for that very reason.
But perhaps I am being over-picky here.
More troubling still, though, was his saying, to an Albert Hall full of people from various protestant denominations: '‘it is not a matter (…) of changing one’s Church affiliation, of course…’ And he smiles. And he is applauded. And isn't that lovely. But it is not, it seems to me, the Catholicism that it is his responsibility to preach.
He also says: 'This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichments that came from the Reformation…’ I would love to know what he thinks they are. Unless he is referring to the Council of Trent, (and I don't think he is), which did indeed offer great theological and spiritual enrichments in response to the heresies of Luther et al, I fear he has strayed from the path of wisdom and truth quite substantially. But it does win a lot of applause.
Indeed, his whole drift in the end of the speech is that it really doesn't matter what denomination we belong to, as long as we all believe in Jesus and proclaim the Good News to the world, which so desperately needs it.
Where I have trouble with that is that the protestant denominations, to a large extent, collude with many of the world's current dangerous errors: with regard to marriage (divorce, contraception, same sex unions), with regard to abortion (which many see as a regrettable option, at most) and so on.
We have a duty, I think, to work with all Christians where we can; but to minimise the importance of the Catholic Church is an error - not least if we purport to love our fellow Christians. For they are deprived of the whole sacramental economy. It is true that many achieve lives of love and holiness that leave many Catholics looking very mediocre; but think how much more they could achieve with the grace of a full sacramental life.
I should add that I have only watched this video once, and that with various interruptions. If others watch it and see it differently, I would be very interested to hear of that. But for me, it seems that Fr Cantalamessa has drunk too deeply from the heady wine of good fellowship with our separated brethren, to the extent that he seems to think Sts Thomas More and John Fisher were misguided victims of a trivial misunderstanding. I cannot follow him there.
A Chartres Surplice - a school and God's own county - The first of the final two coats of arms is that of Chavagnes International College, of whose Scouts I am privileged to be chaplain. Fine and brave Scout...
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