Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Some... err... oddities...

I have blogged a couple of times (here and here) about my reading of Abbot Jamison's Finding Happiness. I am finding a lot of it very good.

However, there are some... err... oddities... And what worries me is that they all seem to be about the sacraments.

For example, he says: 'Jesus chooses food as the means by which his followers are to remember him in future.' (He then quotes Matt 26: 26-28, and continues) 'This eating and drinking continues to this day as the central act of Christian worship and remembrance.

Perhaps I am being over-picky in finding that so inadequate as to be troubling.  I would probably have overlooked it, had it not seemed, later, to be part of a pattern.

But he seems to short-change matrimony, too. Consider this, when discussing sexuality: 'The second choice is about status, where we can choose to be single, married or celibate (ie committed for life to being single). The status of long-term partners has also become common in recent decades, and while the Christian tradition does not sanction this status, it is nevertheless a sexual status choice made by increasing numbers of people. (...) the goal for true human fulfilment in sexual matters is chastity, remaining faithful to our chosen path.'

It seems to me that he is as inadequate in his treatment of marriage as he is in his treatment of the Blessed Eucharist: what he does not say, in both cases, is the really important stuff!

And then, I came across this: 'This desert practice of sharing thoughts would later evolve into the Catholic practice of Confession, known nowadays as the Sacrament of Reconciliation.'

That strikes me as very problematic: we believe that all of the Sacraments were instituted by Christ.

Again, perhaps I am being over-picky in my reading, and what he means is the way the desert monks shared their thoughts influenced the way in which the (already-existing) Sacrament of Confession developed.

But the impression given by the text is not that; and I find it sad - and troubling - that the three times (so far) anything sacramental has come up in this book, the treatment has been so inadequate.

It is increasingly clear to me that I will soon be leaving Abbot Jamison behind and going straight to Cassian. But I have got a lot from this book too - all I would say is caveat lector!


Sig Sønnesyn said...

I haven't read the book, but could it be said in the abbot's defence that he is writing primarily for an audience to which the sacraments are unfamiliar, and hence tries to focus on possible contact points rather than giving an adequate account?

Anyhow, Cassian is sound on this as on most things. At least, as long as we remember that he is not trying to give a distilled, systematic body of knowledge about the faith, but rather trying to give us what we need to live a life built on faith. It is only in living and practicing the faith, Cassian says, that the knowledge of what faith is can be attained. Happy reading, mr T!

Ben Trovato said...


Yes, I thought about that: the intended audience etc. So the first instance I overlooked, as it were. The second, I thought was a pretty inadequate way of talking about Sexual morality and marriage, and I started to wonder... The third, about Confession, I thought more problematic still, as it seemed actually to deny what we believe; and that made me remember the first two and wonder if there was a pattern of sacramental misrepresentation. The first and second instances then took on more (imagined?) significance.

I accept that for a general lay audience on may want to go easy on the theology. However, he could have written 'That is not all that Catholics believe about this Sacrament.' And possibly even added a suggestion for further reading for anyone interested. That would not have been too hard, or off-putting.

One of my favourite half-remembered quotations, the source of which I cannot trace, but I think may have been an Australian poet (?) is: 'What we omit, we teach will not be missed.'

Omission seems to me to be a significant problem in the way the Faith is presented in our days.

Ben Trovato said...

And at last I have found the poet - it was James McAuley, 'A Letter to John Dryden.'