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Anchoring the Altar

Christianity and the Work of Art

ISBN13: 9781853905995

ISBN10: 1853905992

Publisher: Veritas

Extent: 156 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 20.6 x 14 x 1.6 cm

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  • When we talk about the connection between art and religion, the most basic similarity is clarity of vision. Art teaches us how to see what is, rather than what is real for us. It tries to banish the innate blindness of vision that religion also tries to dispel. In Anchoring the Altar Mark Patrick Hederman, in his clear and imaginative style, explores the relationship between the work of art and Christianity.

    An Ireland in the twenty-first century closed to any aspect or variety of humanity or to the possibility of divinity should be an Ireland too narrow for us. Anchoring the Altar makes a plea for Christianity as an important opening in this direction, and tries to persuade the Irish people not to abandon a very deep and ingrained devotion to the Eucharist. The fact that most of our population has become highly educated should mean, not that we abandon our dearest and deepest practices, but that we try to understand them more fully. Anchoring the Altar is the final book in Mark Patrick Hedermans trilogy.

  • Mark Patrick Hederman

    Mark Patrick Hederman has been a monk of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick for over thirty years. Formerly headmaster of the school, and currently academic dean, he did his doctorate in the philosophy of education. He studied in Paris under Emmanual Levinas. He has lectured in philosophy and literature in America and Nigeria as well as Ireland, and was a founding editor of the cultural journal The Crane Bag. His first book, Kissing the Dark (Veritas, 1999) was a bestseller.

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    Christianity is not a political party, a social system, a club, a union or a league. It is not founded on a concordat, a manifesto, a policy statement or a creed. There is no such thing as a national church. Any allegiance to some ethnic, political, social or cultural subgroup must be eliminated or attenuated to the point of being acknowledged as something secondary. Christianity is a way of life; life at its fullest. Like most lives lived to the full, this is achieved through love. Christianity makes available the love-life of the living God. Access to that life, its source in our world, is established and guaranteed through a certain kind of liturgy.

    This book is, therefore, about worship. It is about making sure that when we do wprship we are surrounding the right altar in the right way and using the correct forms of worship. Otherwise we are deluding ourselves. Otherwise we are omitting from our lives the most important primary relationship we are capable of accomplishing. Without genuine and immediate contact with the living God we are living only half a life. Christianity proposes, to anyone who wishes to avail of it, a form of worship which guarantees such contact on a daily basis.

    Many people today suggest that Christianity, as a religion, has done more harm than good to the planet and to humanity. They hold that the Judaeo-Christian tradition is responsible for the inhuman manner in which we have treated each other in the past and, more especially, for the irresponsible and greedy way we have treated planet earth. Some who exclude Judaism from this blanket condemnation, who even hold Christianity responsible for the crime against humanity of the holocaust in the last century, claim also that Christianity turned Judaism into a rape of the natural world.

    Much of what has happened during the two thousand year history of Christianity is open to such accusation. Crimes and horrors have been perpetrated by its members and in its name. However, the point of view being presented in this book is that in spite of the aberrant behaviour of many of Christianitys adherents the truth which it embodies and which is its direct source and origin is still the truth that can save us and save our world. And by save I mean accomplish for us, in us, through us, the highest form of life possible to imagine, both now and in eternity.

    Before Judaism, most religions were natural: they were both a worship of nature and a natural worship. Their basis was fear. Fear that fragile human beings, the least likely species to survive on the planet, would be thwarted, starved, suppressed, by the Power or powers of Nature. Religion was a strategy devised to appease, seduce, captivate, harness, delude, distract, disarm the overriding thraldom of these gods of the natural world, on which human beings depended for the air they breathed, the food they ate, the water they drank, the crops they cultivated, the herds they kept, the prey they hunted, and the health that allowed them to undertake and enjoy all of the above.

    Judaism was the first atheism. It cut the roots of that sacral connection with the earth which tied humankind into a slavery of service to greater and lesser gods. Judaisms fulmination against every form of idolatry was an attempt to free humanity from slavery to divinity at whatever level. Every time primitive human beings heard a clap of thunder or a flash of lightning they fell to the ground in terror. They imagined powerful gods behind each manifestation of elemental fury. They had gods of fire, of water, of earth and of air. It was the genius of Judaism which released them from such fealty. The Jewish religion was built from an experience of liberation. The Exodus was the essential movement and foundational origin of the Jewish people and the Jewish religion. Textually it can be shown that the book of Genesis and the account of creation in the Hebrew Bible are based upon more ancient accounts of the Exodus that are more primitive and original.

    The essential movement of this religion is to detach deity from the earth and place it in a realm beyond, which is untouchable, unreachable. The account of creation is intended to show that God created everything in heaven and on earth. In other words that everything in the world we inhabit is the same as ourselves, a created object, a thing. God is essentially other than such created stuff. Primitive humanity thought there were descending orders of divinities that inhabited the heavens, the stars, for instance; that there were gods of the ocean and gods lurking in every bush and tree in the countryside. Judaism swept away all those deities and squarely determined the essential difference between the created world and the other world where the glory of the Lord dwelt in inaccessible splendour.

    God put human beings in charge of this universe as his representatives as his image and likeness. This was not to give them licence to destroy or diminish the rest of creation but to ensure that they realised their own full potential and nobility as sons and daughters of God. They should be free from all inferiority complexes, calling no one or no thing master.

    Judaism also changed the relationship with the divinity into a relationship of love between equals. This monotheistic God was not a whimsical tyrant who slaughtered and punished at will. He had entered a covenant with his partners on earth and this was embodied in the Law: The great intuition of the Jews was that the Law in this sense was greater than God. That God was in fact subject to the law, which was what established the equality of all of us, including God. The law; the Torah, was that great invention of an omnipotent God which allowed Him to abdicate his sovereignty and allowed us to establish our independence. It was the mortising conduit, like a lock in a river or canal, which allowed two levels to align with each other. Later, the law became hardened into a barrier and had to be replaced by the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ who carried in his person the everabiding link between us.

    The Jewish religion not only established a new relationship of responsible stewardship with nature and the created world, it also changed the relationship of each of us as human beings to each other. Each one of us became a unique infinity, in short, a God. We were all placed on that pedestal and became Gods by adoption, which means equality with God and with each other, because there is no greater or lesser in unique. It is like zero, it is unmatched and equal to itself.

    Love your enemy, welcome the stranger, treat everyone as your equal; treat them as you would treat yourself. All this ran contrary to the natural order where most tribes thought of themselves as the chosen people, the place where the world began, and every other tribe as lesser and less favoured by the Gods. All human evaluation was hierarchical. Such is the basis of most sacral religions, which for the most part, condoned human sacrifice and found aliens and strangers the least troublesome of these necessary propitiatory offerings. Better no religion at all, Judaism would proclaim, than a natural religion that demands the sacrifice of the alien on the altar of the incumbent.

    There is a tendency today, both in ecologically sensitive observers and anthropologists, to demonise the Judaeo-Christian religious insight as having led to the domination and destruction of the planet, and to idolise the aboriginal and indigenous religions of the world as having had more respect for nature. This is, like every heresy (which word comes from the Greek word meaning to or to choose), an exaggeration of one half of the truth to the exclusion of the other half. Because truth is always complex and comprehensive, it contains the correct elements in both sides. Most primitive religions were indeed respectful of nature but at what price? It was mostly a dehumanising fear that caused it. So, the step forward towards freedom, the Exodus from the slavery of Egypt, led by Moses and accomplished by the Jews, was essential and definitive. Humanity was different from that time forward. Now; I agree that they took it too far, that humanity abused this privilege, or rather certain dominant tribes of humanity overreached their mandate, and that with the gargantuan growth of technological power, this became, in the last few centuries, the technological rape of the planet. But that eventuality must not blind us to the truth which made this option possible. We could have used such freedom more beneficently, and could still do so, but the ultimate value is that freedom itself.

    Let me take an example that is parallel and which shows something of the nuance which I am trying to establish. The infamous (Spanish) Inquisition, which has become the caricature of the Catholic Church at its very worst, and which no one could possibly defend and everyone should repudiate in the name of humanity, was actually begun for humanitarian reasons that are understandable. Its original intention was to prevent the horrific injustice of mob hysteria and lynch law which spread like a plague all over Europe. The fear of witchcraft and of sacral religious powers of one kind or other produced a reign of terror whereby anyone even mentioned as a witch was mobbed and lynched without trial. People could further their careers, appropriate lands, wreak revenge and
    settle scores, by falsely accusing neighbours or enemies of being witches or wizards, and the unfortunate victims were cruelly tortured and murdered. It was to counteract such unsupervised lynch law that the Church introduced a tribunal which would give some objective recourse to those accused of heresy of whatever kind. The later aberrations and abominations of the inquisition should not distort the fact that it was begun to offset an evil even greater than it later became in itself.

    Now such arguments might seem somewhat academic if it were not for the fact that these realities still exist today. There are still tribes, peoples, nations who have not been liberated by the Judaeo-Christian cutting of the umbilical cord with the earth. They are still living in sub-human fear of some deity, some principality or power, which reduces them to trembling non-entities when they should be walking tall and taking their place as equals. One Nigerian leader of the recent past has said of his own country: Nigeria is the one true giant of Africa. Her peoples constitute nearly one half of the black people of the continent and two in five of all black people in the world. The resources concentrated within her borders would be the envy of most countries in Europe and the Americas, her landmass is huge, her climate largely benign. All this should have made her not only the most powerful country in the black world, but among the dozen most powerful nations on the globe. This is the view of the former leader of the Biafran war of secession. He communicated his views to the then BBC correspondent covering that terrible war which Biafra lost. The then BBC correspondent, who was Frederick Forsythe, said he had rarely met a more gifted human being. He wrote a book about him called Emeka, which was his first name. Obviously Emekas analysis of Nigerian failure to measure up to its potential includes both its crippling history and geography which were both fashioned by its colonial past; it also results from more recent bad government and corruption: Without organization a society is destined to seize up, choke and eventually die. A state where the services do not function, where the citizenry is not disciplined, where crime at every level runs unchecked, where leaders are not accountable to the led, and where justice is available to the highest bidder - such a state cannot inspire in others outside that confidence needed for leadership abroad. But there is more than that, he thinks, and this is where his argument touches the need for the Judaeo-Christian revolution at the heart of every persons liberated humanity. Emeka sees himself as inheriting a religion of another kind: Being Black means having a certain concept of life, of which the major strain is of being close to nature. But this also has a concomitant weakness in lack of technology and fear of the supernatural. . . . The Black mans God is a God of retribution; awesome, unapproachable and merciless. The White mans God is a God of love, mercy and forgiveness.... Faced with a strange mountain.... the Black man turns his back on this terrifying monster, seeks out a calf from his miserable herd and begins the regular sacrifice to the god of the mountain. Very soon the mountain has become sacred and therefore impenetrable. For me, Black means in a word "disadvantaged". The moral and emotional fabric of Western Civilization is based on the concept that Black and inferior are synonymous."(1)

    So, what I am saying is not that Judaeo-Christianity has had a benign influence on planet earth. I am admitting that its influence has led to unspeakable crimes and inexcusable exploitation. However, I am maintaining that such aberrations were not necessary; were not Judaeo-Christian in essence; they simply resulted from the dangerous freedom which these specific religions instituted. And I am defending that freedom and the Judaeo-Christian tradition for alone effecting such freedom in an otherwise irretrievably cowed and terror-stricken humanity.

    It took several centuries for humankind to work out the mind-blowing extent of that freedom. In Christianity itself, it was the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE) which defined it most accurately. The key verb here was the Greek Sozein, meaning to save. The incredible awareness dawned on these Fathers of the Church that God came on earth not just to save us from ourselves but, more importantly; to save us from God. The scope and extent of that freedom accomplished by Judaeo-Christianity has only become apparent in the last century where we developed it sufficiently to allow ourselves to destroy; if we wished to, the whole planet. This life, this freedom, willed for us by the living God, has put our life definitively, and ever so vulnerably; into our own hands.
    The fact that we have used this freedom to become genocidal monsters, technological murderers, planetarian devastators, is certainly attributable to Judaism and Christianity; but only because these were the instruments of our liberation, the teachers of our autonomy, the mid-wives of our freedom. Nothing must prevent us from recognising the irreplaceable and incalculable value of that freedom. Judaism and Christianity snapped our chains; what we began to use our hands for after that liberation is a different story; is our responsibility.

    We have to understand that Judaeo-Christian tradition properly if we are to judge it and if we are to live by it. Anything less, as St Paul warns is:

    According to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (Col 2:8)

    When dealing with Christianity as well as everything else we must follow the precept: test everything; hold fast what is good (1 Thess 5:21). And when we are separating the chaff from the wheat we must be careful not to throw out customs and rituals which were natural and yet can be adapted to the worship aligned to our new found freedom. On the other hand we must be careful not to erect false idols and worship these on a Christian altar. Anyone who would seek to place the living God on the same altar as their deposed idol without a change not only in the subject and the object but also in the movement of religious fervour, says Martin Buber, another great twentieth century Jewish philosopher, is guilty of idolatry. Religions of sacral power are sedentary, nationalistic, partisan, racist and earthbound. They can never be substituted for the religion of Christianity. Nor can this Christian way of life be used to bolster them.

    The origin of Christianity is outside our world, beyond our understanding, above and beyond our nature. It comes to us through revelation. It is the living God who makes this presence known and felt in our world as something that comes from elsewhere, as a meteor might come to earth from outer space. Except that both the meteor and outer space belong to our natural world. Christianity is, therefore, a mystery religion. It is founded on a mystery, transmitted through a mystery, understood, in whatever way that is possible, as a mystery.

    The milieu in which Christianity took form was one quite familiar with mystery religions. The cults of Eleusis, Dionysus, Attis, Isis, Mithras for example offered their devotees, their initiates (mystes), salvation (soteria) by dispensing cosmic life through various sacramental actions which allowed for essential change through participation with the deity. These mystery religions comprised both cultic actions such as meals, fertility rites, baptisms, investitures and symbolic journeys, and they involved hidden teachings, an arcane secret tradition with regard to which the initiates took vows of silence. Such secret knowledge differentiated them from outsiders.
    St Paul uses much of the terminology of a mystery religion when introducing his converts to the essence of Christianity. Mysterion, the mystery, is the eternal counsel (wisdom, sophia) hidden in God (Eph 3:9) before ever the world came to be (1 Cor 2:7) whose eventual manifestation will mean the end of this world (Eph 1:10). The apostolic mission is part of the unfolding of this mystery (Eph 3:2,9) and Paul himself as steward of the mystery must be acquainted with these secrets, the gift of a prophet being to penetrate the mysteries of God (1 Cor 2:10; 4:1) and become acquainted with all the mysteries. Mysterion (the hidden mystery) is connected with Kerygma (the proclaimed message) as the Father is manifested by the Son, who is an epistle (trom the Greek epi + stellein, meaning to send) trom God. The words used by Paul in at least one of his own epistles (2 Cor 4:6) are still causing difficulties of interpretation, coming as they do after his description of the Christians of Corinth as in themselves a letter of Christ prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on human hearts (2 Cor 3:3). The verse in question uses the Greek words photismos tes gnoseos tes doxes tou theou, the true "gnosis" owed to an action of the divine light, and is translated in the new revised standard version: For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So, all knowledge of God is a mystery both in the way it is communicated and the way it is received. No human agency has proprietory claims, production control, or distribution rights in this regard. The way a mystery is handed on is itself a mystery.
    Tradition in the early church was a fund of unwritten customs and mysteries making up the sacramental and religious life of the community (ta agrapha tes ekklesesias mysteria), necessary for understanding the truth of revelation and pointing to the mysterial character of Christian knowledge as a gnosis of God (gnosis theou) which is a gift conferred through such traditions.

    Later, very much later, this oral tradition was written down and eventually hammered into dogmas and a credal formulas which became the breviatum verbum (the abridged version) as John Cassian (2) calls the Symbol of Antioch, making allusion to St Paul in Rom 9:27-28, who in turn is alluding to Isaiah 10:22. It was in the fourth century that the preferred rendering of the Greek term for mystery became Sacrament which referred most especially to Baptism and the Eucharist.

    Gnosticism became the first heresy with which Christianity had to contend, and from which it had to differentiate itself. It is understandable that every attempt was made at that time to rid the newly established mystery religion of all connection with, and all ambiguous terminology redolent of, the circumambient local cults which threatened to invade, dilute or dissipate the originality which Christianity incorporated into its liturgy and sacraments. However, the bitterness and intensity of the struggle between Gnosticism and early Christianity was owing to their proximity rather than their difference; was caused by the similarity which threatened to absorb, rather than any heterogeneity which might define them as contradictory opposites.

    Whatever the dangers of misinterpretation or of identification with alien religions, Christianity remains essentially a mystery religion. And this means that its substance, its secret core, can never become comprehensively enshrined in any work of human hands of whatever variety or intricacy.

    Christ came on earth to reveal the mystery of that life which is lived eternally by the three persons of the Trinity. He replaced one mystery with another mystery. The only reality as mysterious as the three persons in one God is the reality of the human person. And this is the basis of our religion, the mystery on which it is founded. When Pilate asked Jesus, What is truth? the answer was silence. The truth, in person, was standing in front of him. No more accurate or comprehensive embodiment of truth could have been present to him. The person is the only reliable expression of truth. Jesus Christ never wrote anything down himself. The only recorded account of his writing was with his finger in the sand in front of the woman taken in adultery. So, any account of his life or his teaching is second-hand. And all such accounts display glaring inconsistencies and irreconcilable disagreements.
    The resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the essential mystery upon which any faith in Christianity is based, was an unwitnessed event. No human person was present. Witnesses have testified to having seen his empty tomb; others claim to have met Jesus Christ in his resurrected humanity; but no one knows how or when his dead body was brought back to life.

    Tradition for Christianity is the process whereby the mystery of Jesus Christ, the revelation of Gods love in person, is transmitted by his followers. These followers are now organised into an official body called the Church. However, the truth which they transmit is ultimately derived from an oral preaching by the original bearers of this truth (which is no more and no less than privileged contact with Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord in person) passed on in many different ways through the ever-present agency of the Holy Spirit.

    The word tradition comes from the Latin for handing on, or handing over. In Greek the word is paradosis which is used in the New Testament both for the way in which Judas handed over Jesus as betrayal in the garden (Mark 14:10; 1 Cor, 11:23) and the way Christians handed down their beliefs (1 Cor, 15:3; 2 Thess, 2:14).
    Every form and variety of tradition must travel the narrow path between these two translations. At every moment we can be betraying the truth and preventing people from seeing it. Tradition itself is free of every determination and cannot be contained in any formula, locality, or cultural manifestation; any historical embodiment limits it. Tradition in itself is silence and every word of revelation has a margin of silence. Certain nuggets hewn from this great silence have come down to us in both the Scriptures and Liturgical tradition but, as Ignatius of Antioch says (Ephesians 15:2), The person who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear also its silence. If all the great silence of tradition had become scripture, St John tells us, then the world itself would not be able to contain the books that would have to be written (John 21:25). The silence is our turning towards the great abyss of divine love, towards which every scrap of revelation, every detail of tradition, points.

    Tradition as silence and as incomprehensible mystery translates itself into various traditions which help us to gain access to it. These can be found in certain human organisations, structures, documents, dogmas, formulae, creeds, etc. They can materialise through Councils of the Church, writings of theologians and doctors of the church, canonical prescriptions, liturgical practices, devotional practices, iconography, and so on. But they are all secondary tributaries of the original silence of Tradition, which remains unwritten and mysterious. Tradition as such can never be found in itself in the horizontal tapestry of local and cultural traditions. In fact, Tradition is the way in which the Holy Spirit allows each one of the faithful to detect the mystery of Christianity within the length and the breadth of the horizontal pattern of traditions. St Paul prays for the Ephesians (Eph 3:18) that they may be able to comprehend with all the saints not only what has become the length and the breadth of Revelation but also its height and depth which are never captured in the earthly forms.

    Tradition from our point of view is more the unique way in which each of us is prompted to receive the words of either scripture or liturgy, the symbols or the images of our cultural traditions, than it is any of those particulars in themselves. Ignatius of Antioch tells the Magnesians (8:2): It is not the content of the Revelation but the light that reveals it; it is not the word but the living breath which makes the words heard at the same time as the silence from which it came. In this sense, tradition becomes more the Holy Spirits gift of discernment to each of us, so that those who have ears to hear with, may hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Tradition is no more or no less than the life of the Holy Spirit in the church communicating to each one of us as persons, bestowing on us the faculty of hearing, of receiving, of knowing the Truth in the light which is divine. This is the knowledge of the truth that will make us free.

    In his novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky shows us inThe Grand Inquisitor some of the great temptations which beset every human being as a religious person. The story imagines that Jesus Christ returns to earth in Seville, Spain, in the sixteenth century and is personally confronted by the leader of the Spanish Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor explains why Christ is so unwelcome back here on earth and why on the next day he is going to have him burnt at the stake as a heretic. His harangue is long-winded and intelligent. But as in former circumstances the Christ figure remains silent.

    "People, so long as they remain free, have no more constant and agonising anxiety than to find as quickly as possible someone to worship. But they seek to worship only what is incontestable, so incontestable, indeed, that all human beings at once agree to worship it all together . . . the absolutely essential thing is that they should do so all together. It is this need for universal worship that is the chief torment of every person individually and of humankind as a whole from the beginning of time" (3).
    "You knew; you couldnt help knowing this fundamental mystery of human nature, but you rejected the only absolute banner, which was offered to you, to make all people worship you alone incontestably - the banner of earthly bread, which you rejected in the name of freedom and the bread from heaven. And look what you have done further - and all again in the name of freedom! I tell you human beings have no more agonising anxiety than to find someone to whom they can hand over with all speed the gift of freedom with which the unhappy creature is born. . . For the mystery of human life is not only in living, but in knowing why one lives. . . And instead of firm foundations for appeasing our conscience once and for all, you chose everything that was exceptional, enigmatic, and vague, you chose everything that was beyond our strength, acting consequently as though you did not love us at all.

    ..... Instead of taking possession of our freedom you multiplied it and burdened the spiritual kingdom of human beings with its sufferings for ever. You wanted our free love so that we should follow you freely, fascinated and captivated by you. Instead of the strict ancient law, we were in future to decide for ourselves with a free heart what is good and what is evil, having only your image before us for guidance. . . . It was you yourself, therefore, who laid the foundation for the destruction of your kingdom and you ought not to blame anyone else for it. So . . . we have corrected your great work and have based it on miracle, mystery and authority. And people rejoiced that they were once more led like sheep and that the terrible gift which had brought them so much suffering had at last been lifted from their hearts. Were we right in doing and teaching this? Tell me. Did we not love humanity when we admitted so humbly its impotence and lovingly lightened its burden and allowed that weak nature even to sin, so long as it was with our permission?"

    When the Inquisitor finished speaking, he waited for some time for the Prisoners reply. His silence distressed him. He saw that the Prisoner had been listening intently to him all the time, looking gently into his face and evidently not wishing to say anything in reply. The old man would have liked him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But he suddenly approached the old man and kissed him gently on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man gave a start. There was an imperceptible movement at the corners of his mouth; he went to the door, opened it and said to him: "Go, and come no more - dont come at all - never, never!" The Prisoner went away.
    And the old man?
    The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man sticks to his idea (4).

    What Dostoevsky is so graphically describing is not just the churchs inclination towards totalitarian authority, but, more importantly, our conniving penchant for such authoritarian rigidity also. Whether we are aware of it or not, everyone loves to have a strict governing authority somewhere in the background. And, indeed, as far as the church is concerned, there has to be one. Someone has to be responsible for saying yes or no on various questions and in difficult situations and this has to be one person, in the idiom of Christianity, the person with that particular charism and gift of discernment. The buck has to stop somewhere, as we all seem to agree everywhere, even today! The bishop is meant to be that person in each constituent diocese of Christianity. But even, and perhaps especially, among bishops there has to be one head. It is quite clear, from even a cursory glance at the New Testament, that Peter is primus inter pares (first among equals), even if it is also clear that he was by no means the most intelligent, the most sensitive, the most diplomatic, the most talented of the apostles. However, the way in which such priority and such leadership should be exercised is open to interpretation. Above all it must be a primacy of service.

    We are perhaps fortunate over the last quarter of a century to have had a Pope who is so willing to be one. Someone who gets up every day for twenty-five years and is ready, willing, and able to be everyones shadow daddy. And anyone with any spirit of fairness will have to admit that he has done it with panache.

    Margaret Thatcher only lasted half that time. Ian Paisley is probably the only politician in Ireland who has been with us and shouting at us for as long.

    Irish people too, in the meantime, have grown up and are not quite as biddable as they used to be, not quite as overshadowed by the father archetype. Despite all the papal ranting about contraception the school-going population is decreasing by eight thousand every year, nationally. These are facts not entirely owing to the rhythm method, which Pope Paul VI thought compatible with Catholic pra
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Anchoring the Altar

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