Archive for September, 2011

Rereading Objections to Christian belief (1963) turns up treasure after treasure. This salient text was put together by four great old men, each of whom I was honoured to meet a few years later.  Their demolition job on outdated assumptions, lazy thinking and fundamentalist wrong-headedness is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago.  Here is Alec Vidler at his most generous:

“… whether a man decides to become or to remain a Christian believer may also be settled by what I would call his participation in the Christian mystery as a present reality: by what he finds, or by what finds him, in the shared experience of the community of believers – it may be in the eucharistic sacrament or in the Friends’ meeting house: by whether or not he is convinced that there is something there which, despite all his puzzlements, holds him and speaks to the deepest levels of his being.”  (p76)

That is as good an account of divine unknowability as anything I know besides John ch1.

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A cynical, talented English aristocrat touring Italy in 1830 manages to get into the Sistine Chapel and reports on everything he sees:

Creville portrait

Charles Greville

April 4th, 1830

To the Sistine Chapel for the ceremonies of Palm Sunday; we got into the body of the chapel, not without difficulty; but we saw M. de la Ferronays in his box, and he let us in (Morier and me). It was only on a third attempt I could get there, for twice the Papal halberdiers thrust me back, and I find since it is lucky they did not do worse; for upon some occasion one of them knocked a cardinal’s eye out, and when he found who he was, begged his pardon, and said he had taken him for a bishop. Here I had a fine opportunity of seeing the frescoes, but they are covered with dirt, the ‘Last Judgment’ neither distinguishable nor intelligible to me. The figures on the ceiling and walls are very grand even to my ignorance. The music (all vocal) beautiful, the service harmoniously chanted, and the responsive bursts of the chorus sublime. The cardinals appeared a wretched set of old twaddlers, all but about three in extreme decrepitude—Odescalchi, who is young and a good preacher, Gregorio, Capellari [afterwards Pope Gregory XVI.].

Pope Gregory

Gregory XVI

On seeing them, and knowing that the sovereign is elected by and from them, nobody can wonder that the country is so miserably governed. These old creatures, on the demise of a Pope, are as full of ambition and intrigue as in the high and palmy days of the Papal power. Rome and its territory are certainly worth possessing, though the Pontifical authority is so shorn of its beams; but the fact is that the man who is elected does not always govern the country, and he is condemned to a life of privation and seclusion. An able or influential cardinal is seldom elected.”

From Charles Greville’s Journals vol 1 ch8 p310.  As usual, I am indebted to that wonderful treasury, Project Gutenberg for making it possible to read this ouotstanding volume of memoirs online.

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