Friday 24 December 2010

What did the Archbishop really say?

Following the indications of these two posts - one and two - I listened to some sections of this morning's Today Programme on the i-Player and not just to the "Thought for the Day" by Pope Benedict.

Catherine Pepinster was put up against Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, and, from the part that I listened to, seemed to be scoring some good points off him. The Today presenter caught out Mr Porteous Wood's claim of unfair coverage for religion by pointing out that he was on the programme and so allowed to present his point of view.

At 8.10, Archbishop Longley was interviewed by John Humphries, and it is this interview that caused the two bloggers linked to above to be somewhat unhappy. Having listened to this interview in full, I agree with those commenters at Fr Ray's post who feel that Archbishop Longley did a good job in a challenging media slot. There were some clear traps there in John Humphries questioning (though I do not believe John Humphries displayed any malice in his conduct of the interview), and, in avoiding them, Archbishop Longley did well in resisting the direction in which John Humphries was trying to lead him. It would, for example, have been a PR disaster if Archbishop Longley had said that Church was never going to change its teaching (ie is and is going to stay out of touch with society and progress as a whole, in the media translation that would have taken place following the provision of such a sound bite) or that the Church was going to change its teaching (which would have been picked up by the media without need of any translation had that sound bite been provided).

So exactly what did Archbishop Longley say by referring to Cardinal Newman's notion of development of doctrine, and by his references to "adaptation" earlier in the interview?

As far as "adaptation" goes, I think a careful listen to the interview shows that Archbishop Longley was referring to adaptation in the way in which Catholic teaching is presented. This is, understood properly rather than just by taking the word "adaptation" and ignoring the word "presented", quite unproblematical (in my view, anyway). Indeed, in the context of the events of the day, the question of how Catholic teaching is presented to the world of today was quite to the point. It has a certain parallel in Pope Benedict's book Light of the World (pages 146-7), where the Holy Father says after affirming the validity of the teaching of Humanae Vitae:
The basic lines of Humanae Vitae are still correct. Finding ways to enable people to live the teaching, on the other hand, is a further question.
An answer along these lines might have been useful for Archbishop Longley when he was challenged by John Humphries about the numbers of Catholics who do not accept the Church's teaching against contraception, abortion, women priests.

By referring to Cardinal Newman's theory of development in Christian doctrine, Archbishop Longley avoided providing the two alternative and unhelpful sound bites mentioned above. If we recall that three of the marks of true development that Cardinal Newman identifies in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine are preservation of its type, continuity of its principles and conservative action upon its past, the substance of Archbishop Longley's citing of the theory was that the Church's teaching would not be changing. But he was saying this in a way that recognised that the keeping of that teaching was a question of a living encounter rather than just a traditionalist adherence to the past. The following quotes are from Newman:
An idea then does not always bear about it the same external image; this circumstance, however, has no force to weaken the argument for its substantial identity, as drawn from its external sameness, when such sameness remains....

... the continuity or the alteration of the principles on which an idea has developed is a second mark of discrimination between a true development and a corruption....

As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.
Being aware of this implication of Archbishop Longley's reference to Newman is really quite important to understanding his remarks properly.

I did not listen to the "hand bags at dawn"/"catfight" between Polly Toynbee and Christina Odone.

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