Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The Moral Law: (Ten Theses)

Some time ago, I wrote a post containing 'Twelve Theses', searching for a Universal Truth. Now, in time-honoured fashion, I present a sequel: a set of Theses demonstrating - I hope - the existence of a Universal Moral Law and considering the consequences of such a conclusion. I would love you to dispute it with me.

Two notes I would add, however before I start:

Once again, I will use the terms 'Thesis' - a proposition to be discussed, and 'Scholium' - a marginal note or explanation to the Thesis.

Gavin: do try to read this one....



In everyday life, there is a basic moral standard to which everyone implicitly agrees. How can this be seen? When one argues, there is never a debate over the definition of 'correct' actions.

If a man accuses me of breaking a promise with him, what do I say? I do not say 'It doesn't matter if I did lie to you and break my promise'. What I do is that I try to prove that I never promised anything to him, or I in fact promised something else, or that there are extenuating circumstances which excuse me from my promise.

Another example is theft: if a man walks into my house and steals the computer, I will say 'What are you doing? That's my computer!', or more vehement words to that effect. If he replies 'So what, I want it', one would think him very strange, if not insane. He is in fact much more likely to run.

Note: In this argument, I hope to use everyday examples. Paedophilia, rape and murder are much stronger examples of utterly 'deplorable' actions. I'll leave you to consider their influence of the question, at least for the moment.


Such actions are not a matter of personal commodity. Whilst a promise broken is inconvenient, it is not the inconvenience which causes the anger we feel. There is a sense of abstract 'propriety' which has been broken. For example, if someone beats me to a seat, I am disappointed. But I do not feel angry at the fact that he has 'stolen' my seat. Yet if he takes the seat from me, by force or deception, I am angry. Similarly, if someone trips me up accidentally, I am not offended, though I be bruised. Yet if he tries deliberately to trip me, I am angry, even if he fails and I am not hurt. The 'propriety' contravened is not a matter of personal interest, but of something more absolute than that.


Similarly, a recognition of such 'proper' actions is seen through our consciences. If I lie, I feel guilt. Like any inter-personal argument, I will often try to make excuses. The ability to make excuses requires a knowledge of the rules we have contravened. Our perception of the Moral Law is innate.


It might be suggested that this morality is innate because it is a question of one's own will. It has been suggested that our moral conventions are essentially individual, and thus there is no absolute moral law. We are limited by what we are content to do. Yet this cannot truly account for the nature of our morality. Such a morality is no limitation at all. A gaoler who imprisons himself with the keys to the cell is not imprisoned; a man who limits himself according to his own ideas is not truly limited t all. Further more, what role does guilt play in such an answer? If I do only that which I am comfortable with doing, why should I ever act in such a way as to feel guilty? All too often I know that I will feel regret before I take such actions. Yet I still act, and feel remorse. Thus one's own will cannot account for the moral law that exists innately.


This innate Moral Law is also universal. It is seen in all times and all places, in various forms. Why should we assume that it changes due to different geographical or temporal positions? Humans are human, regardless of race, colour, creed, or epoch.


This is perhaps the most controversial of the Theses so far. Thus it requires some particular attention.

The first objection raised to it is that the 'Moral Law' is merely a social convention which we learn from our parents. The objectionable word here is 'merely'. The Moral Law is a fundamental part of civilised society and that society's conventions, because we cannot have civilisation without it. And we do learn it from parents and teachers. We learn the 2 + 2 = 4 from our teachers. Yet that does not mean that it is only there because we learn it. The laws of mathematics exist without humans: if a squirrel has 2 nuts in each hand, he still has 4 overall. Similarly, if I were born alone on a desert island, morality would still exist, whether or not one was taught it. Whether or not it would be used, it would still exist.

The second objection is that the moral law is demonstrably different in different times and places. This seems absolutely to disprove my Thesis. It is called cultural relativism, and is very popular indeed. However, there are several flaws.:

Firstly, the differences between cultures are not as large as many proponents of such a theory would have us believe. Western and eastern cultures have different definitions of what is acceptable. This is true. But try to imagine what a culture would be like with a completely different morality. One where cowardice in battle was rewarded with golden medals, or where disloyalty and betrayal of one's friends was seen to be the apotheosis of 'goodness'. Such examples simply do not exist.

What we have instead are cultural differences on how to fulfil the universal moral law. Some societies permit a man to take only one wife. Some say two, three, or even many more. Yet all agree that a man cannot have any woman he pleases.

Furthermore, there always remains the problem that accepting different morality differing moral judgments. Let us assume that there are different moral standards for different societies. The Holocaust, then, becomes absolutely acceptable. The Nazis believed the Jews were deplorable scum, and inferior humans. Thus they killed them off. It is perfectly right for them to do so. It is also perfectly acceptable for a foreigner to rape, abduct and murder a three-year-old girl, because he has a different morality to us. It is exactly the same as if he had saved her from drowning.

It is right to accept that different cultures strive towards the Moral Law in differing ways. Yet it is not right to say that the whole Law is different.


If humans perceive this Universal Moral Law, they also break it often. It is not like the laws of nature such as gravity. When a stone is thrown, it falls. And when a human eats nothing for too long, they will die. Such laws cannot be disobeyed. yet the Universal Moral Law can be. This means it must be treated differently.


Since we do not obey the Law, it cannot be a human invention. Humanity cannot be the origin of a Law which it proves itself always incapable of fulfilling. Neither can we have invented it as an 'ideal' to strive for, despite failings: if it were, where would the inspiration for that ideal come from?


Just as a stone has no control over gravity, we have no control over the stipulations of the Moral Law. The difference is that we can choose whether or not to obey it. We never choose to feel guilt.


Morality is not a question of science, or of mathematics. There are two alternative origins for such a Moral Law, since it cannot be human. The first is the almost Platonic idea that the moral absolutes we perceive are ideals which we try to bring into daily life. They are timeless, unchanging, and uncaused.

However, such a theory leaves much to be desired. Firstly, why is there a compulsion for us to follow these abstract, timeless, unchanging ideals? If such a theory is to be used, some additional explanation must be given to tell us quite why we feel the presence of unworldly ideals every day. Secondly, how do they become part of our daily life? What is it which means that humans are moral creatures, when cabbages are not? For this to be explained, the unchanging ideals would have to show an interest in humans specifically. That is an absurdity, since an ideal is abstract. Abstract things cannot have emotions.

The second answer is theism. A theistic solution means that there is compulsion to follow the Moral Law. If a god created us, he can command us. Secondly, theology always includes punishment for wrong-doing and reward for goodness, be it a paradisaical or tormented after-life, or reincarnation as a greater or lower being. Thirdly, there is an easily notable link between the Moral Law and our lives: we are commanded to obey, whether we do or not. This is the better course by far: it gives us a power and a cause behind our observations, whereas the 'Platonic' view merely refuses to yield itself to questioning.

The consequences of our conclusions

Do not start to think that I'm going faster or further than I am. I have not yet reached a religious viewpoint, let alone concluded that we need the viewpoint of any particular religion. We have simple established - if I am right thus far - the presence of a Being beyond and greater than ourselves (a god, if we like) who has set out this moral code. Here then, we have the next group of Theses, dealing with consequences:


What can we learn of the 'god' from our observations? Firstly, that it is a brilliant artist: the Universe is beautiful. Secondly, we can conclude that it is not gentle towards mankind: the Universe is a cruel and terrible place at times. Flowers and earthquakes are respective examples. The third piece of evidence is the Moral Law. This re-affirms our judgment that 'god' is not a gentle being. The law is as incontrovertible as nails. It is not easy to fulfil. It is impossible to fulfil utterly. Yet we must also conclude that this 'god' is fundamentally 'good': that is, it is extremely interested in fair play: justice, kindness, courage, truthfulness, etcetera.

This God must also be a 'person', in order to fulfil the requirements of the seventh thesis. If it were not, it could not command, create, or punish and reward us. An impersonal God is little more than an abstract ideal with a different name.


If we are right thus far, we should be very afraid indeed. We have ascertained that there exists a 'God' who has created us and has authority over us. We have ascertained that He has established a Universal Moral Law for humanity which we must all follow, and that he can punish us if we do not. And we have ascertained that we cannot follow the Law utterly. So this absolute 'Goodness' that is God must hate much - if not most or even all - of what we do. Thus, as C S Lewis put it, 'God is the supreme comfort, he is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from... Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger - according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way'.


In choosing to approach the question of religion this way, we see the questions that any set of beliefs must answer. How they answer them is an entirely different question which I will not attempt. You cannot truly attempt to understand any religion until you understand the state of mankind that it appeals to. As one atheist put it, 'if there are objective [moral] values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them'. We must accept a universal morality because it demonstrably exists, and life is absurd without it. This provides an important pillar in the argument for God's existence.

"Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. "

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Martin Luther

I really like some of Martin Luther's work. Much of what he wrote is pure genius. So I thought I'd share a snippet with you:

"Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence. Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips. Women ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon, keep house, bear and raise children."


Tuesday, 22 May 2007

An Update

"Judges fail to back new ministry

Lord Phillips is concerned about the independence of the judiciary

Senior judges have refused to back government plans to set up the new Ministry of Justice, it has emerged.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, told MPs it had proved impossible to reach a deal with ministers.

The judges fear their independence will be compromised as the Lord Chancellor takes responsibility for prisons and probation as well as courts.

The Conservatives have urged the government to sort out what they called a "serious constitutional problem".

Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary Oliver Heald said: "This represents a very serious constitutional problem, and a situation which requires prime ministerial intervention, whether by Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.

"They should not be going on roadshows. They should be sorting out this serious issue."


The government says it will push ahead with splitting of the Home Office in two - creating a new Ministry of Justice (MoJ) - even if it cannot get backing from senior judges.

Senior judges fear the new ministry, which took on responsibility for prisons, probation and sentencing policy from the Home Office on 9 May, will place less emphasis on the courts.
They are also concerned they will come under pressure to make decisions based on prisoner numbers and other non-judicial factors.

Lord Phillips said creating the MoJ move - which he told MPs he first learned about in an article in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper - would cause a "serious constitutional problem".

He wants an inquiry into the issues raised by the new ministry - and he called for "constitutional safeguards" to ensure the continued independence of the judiciary.

"We have now reached the firm view that there is a need to have a fundamental review of the position in light of the creation of the Ministry of Justice," he told the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, had hoped to reach an agreement but he told the judges a number of topics were off limits, including the executive agency status of HM Courts Service and the possibility of ring-fencing its budget.

Sticking point

Lord Phillips told the committee: "We've tried very hard to reach an interim agreement to tide over the period that will elapse before a review, and any implementation of it can take effect."

He said the Lord Chancellor did not agree there was a need for a review.

"This has become a fundamental difference between us," he told the committee.

A particular sticking point was the executive agency status of the courts in England and Wales, he said.

The judiciary's chief negotiator on the working group, Lord Justice Thomas, said they wanted to secure a review of the current position, adding: "We wouldn't have thought it was an awful lot to ask."

Following the split, the Home Office will be left to concentrate on dealing with terrorism, security, immigration and policing. "


"I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again."

Sunday, 20 May 2007

The Middle East

The answering hills of Palestine
Send back the glad reply.

The Palestinian Problem

I'm sure you all know of the general problems of Palestine and Israel. But what may have escaped your notice is the sudden revival of fighting in the past few days. Here's a synopsis: over the past week, numerous ceasefires between the rival Palestinian factions have been declared and broken. Palestinian militants have begun strikes on Israel once more, and thus Israel has begun retaliatory attacks.

After a six-month period of relative peace and stability, the violence has started again properly. More than 20 have been killed by Israeli air-strikes launched in retaliation to the scores of rockets which have struck Israeli towns.

The real violence, though, is actually between the Palestinians. There are two groups of Palestinian militants and politicians: Fatah and Hamas. Fatah was instrumental in the fight against Israel for a degree of independence, but have at least officially renounced arms. When they started to compromise, Hamas took over, as a much more extreme militant group. Unlike the IRA and Sinn Fein, Hamas doesn't even pretend to have any separation between terrorists and politicians. They belong to the same group. This has led the West to cease aid to Palestine, but that's a different story.

In Palestine at the moment, the President is a member of Fatah. But Hamas won the recent elections. Since then, there has been a fraught and bitter power-struggle between the two rival groups. Thus, Fatah gunmen are loyal to the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas; Hamas gunmen to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya.

Yet the solution is not even that simple. The politicians do try to work together. They have a 'unity government', and have declared many cease-fires this week. But their militant 'followers' don't follow too closely. According to the UN, more than 150 Palestinians have died and more than 650 have been wounded in internal violence since the beginning of the year. In the past week, 40 have been killed. On Tuesday, 500 Fatah loyalists rejoined police ranks after military training in Egypt, amongst the growing violence. And the violence has continued to grow.

So what can we actually do about this crisis? For once, I do not think we can do anything at all. I think that for once, the blame lies squarely on the side of the Palestinians. Perhaps His Eminence would disagree. But how can any progress be made when Gaza is in such chaos? Consider the situation, as described by the honourable BBC:

Gaza is not an easy place to live at the best of times.

One of the most crowded areas of the world, where unemployment is high, people are poor and the economy crippled by an international boycott and Israel withholding desperately-needed Palestinian tax-revenues.

More than 50% of Gazans are 17 years old or younger. Most feel they have no prospects at home but no way to get out.

Foreign powers control all of Gaza's borders; opening and closing them at will. Gaza is also awash with illegal weapons.

This is an ongoing, explosive mix of internal and external pressures, all of which need to be addressed.

In this situation, there is nothing to do but to rally round and get on. And I don't mean get on with one's own life. I mean get on with one's neighbours. If a country is in chaos and crisis, co-operation is needed. If the Tories and Labour declared a civil war, would that save the Pensions fund? Altogether unlikely.

Perhaps it will be that the air-strikes will help the Palestinians work together in the face of a common foe. But that can only be cold comfort.

Alan Johnston banner

Monday, 14 May 2007


In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines,
lived twelve young girls in two straight lines;
They left the house at half-past nine...
The smallest one was Madeline.

I remain increasingly perturbed by the press coverage of the plight of young Madeleine McCann. For those of you who have spend the last ten days living either under a hole or in Shoebury, she's a young girl abducted last week from her holiday apartments in Portugal whilst her parents were at dinner. I pray you will forgive for being controversial, but I have a few concerns...

Where were her parents?

I admit that I know little of parenting. But what has been said to me by many adults is that they would never have left her alone in an apartment on holiday. I questioned Mother as to whether it was reasonable to force parents to plan their holidays on the assumption that there was an abduction threat all the time. her answer shocked me: "yes". I wouldn't have left them alone for fear of illness of accident. But the media hasn't questioned their actions. It;s just all sympathy.

What's the fuss?

My other major concern is the media attention on this one case. Tragic abductions happen. So do tragic murders. So do tragic rapes. Do all of them achieve the same media attention: headlines every day for over a week?

A few examples:
  • Today, two men have been arrested over the murder of a 15 year-old in London in February.
  • Today, a powerful bomb blast in Pakistan has killed at least 24 people.
  • Today, ten have been killed in Gaza in factional fighting, whilst the sides arm themselves rapidly.
  • Today, ethnically-motivated violence has claimed at least two lives in Assam, in Northern India.
  • Today, it has emerged that the Angolan Government has unlawfully evicted thousands of its poorest citizens, leaving them utterly destitute.

I do not wish to say that we should not be concerned for Madeleine, and for her family. The story is tragic. Yet it is only one life. I have mentioned 37 dead and thousands ruined - today. And I suppose I should add the 45 killed in Makhmur, in Iraq. And the 10 in Iraq.

So why is it that Madeleine has a reward of some 2.5 million, donated by celebrities? I do not wish to criticise either the celebrities or the reward system. But the answer is that it's caught the public imagination. Just like the Soham Murders. Just two deaths.

What we should do is recognise the others' suffering. As Nick wrote, it is not that Madeleine and her family do not deserve news, attention, care, concern, and support. But so many others do as well. We must have more perspective.

I'd like to leave you with a summary given earlier this year. No prizes for guessing it's provenance, except a pat on the back if you do. I've italicised the places and situations for your notice:

"How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons. I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighbouring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis...

Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country’s political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy."


Wednesday, 9 May 2007

A Trio of Twits

It seems to me that our political scene is the domain of fools and system breakers. I'm feeling intolerant this evening, so I'm going to criticise three members of Parliament: - One a commoner, and two 'Lords'.


Our illustrious leader of the 'Conservative Party'. There's something about his face that evokes in me the sense of his policies: soft and useless. Many of you will now be surprised that I'm criticising a Tory. I'm not. He's not a Tory. He simply calls himself a Conservative. What policies has he come up with so far?

That one left me struggling to think. He's not suggested tax breaks. He's not suggested a harsher law and order policy. He's not opposed the iniquitous reforms to the Lords. All he seems to have done is given us rhetoric. And told us to hug a thug. Clever man. You'd have thought he went to the University of East Sussex!

The Lawyers

Where do I start? In our country, the independence of the legal system is very important indeed. Yet it must be responsible to Parliament. So a member of the Government should oversee the judicial system. That makes perfect sense.

What was wrong with our system before? It worked for hundreds of years! The Crown - then the PM - appointed the Lord High Chancellor - the head of the judges - and also appointed the Law Officers of the Crown - the most important of whom is the Attorney General.

I was asked this week whether that was not an absurd system. Simply, it's not. I would favour a Lord Chancellor appointed by the senior judges. But that would be highly undemocratic. So in a democracy, it makes sense that a democratically appointed expert appoint the judges.

But it's all gone horribly wrong. Why? Well, let us have a look at the noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer of Thoronton L.C. and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General. One is the old flatmate of the P.M. He was appointed after the PM's old pupil-master, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was ousted from his post for speaking out against the Government. Independant judiciary? Not of course, that I believe it to be a case of 'jobs for the boys'. But it could be perceived as such. This would be a disaster - one must have confidence in our legal.

So what about the other chap? Lord Goldsmith. As the Attorney General, he has the final decision on whether prosectutions are launched. So the cash-for-honours scandal may well come down to him. And he's refused to stand aside if it does. The problem is that he's a Labour donor. And a peer. Same problem there then. No confidence.

So what's the answer? Blame the Labour Government for pulling it apart. No we have a Lord Chancellor who's not a judge, and will become just a Minister for Justice with a poncy title. And an Attorney General who few trust. And a Supreme Court Act, spending millions of pounds creating a Supreme Court tgo do the same job as the House of Lords does at the moment.

They say politicians use activity as a replacement for achievement.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

A General and Unacademic Rant

I've just spent hours this evening filling in my student loan application. For them to give me some money for some tuition fees. And the website - I did it online - is ridiculously ponderous. I dislike filling in details four times muchly. Is it not what computers are there for? To extrapolate and to make things easier. Ah well.

I would advise any teachers happening to read this to look away now: don't read the next paragraph.

Takky. I'm actually seriously vexed. Much more so than usual. I was considering early talking to PTC about him. You all know the grounds. But I'm worried. And the school should know.

Safe again!

On a more positive note, I realised that it's Tuesday today. And I dislike Tuesdays. Which means tomorrow's Wednesday. I like Wednesday. So I'm pleased.

As you may have noted, I'm absolutely shattered.


Tuesday, 1 May 2007

It's a fine line....

This blog war is becoming increasingly heated (Francis and Greg). Possibly a good thing. But it makes it incumbent upon me to state fully - rather than just in replies and comments - where I stand. But before I do, I'd like to establish the parameters of my comments:
  • These are my beliefs. They do not have to be yours, nor will I judge you for differing. That would be contradict the fundamental principles of the faith of which we are discussing fine details.
  • This post is written in an amicable, if serious tone. Ecumenism is a duty of the Faithful, and we must follow it. More of this later....
Denominational Relativism

The theme of my blog posts - attacking relativism in all of its forms - is becoming more pronounced than I hate expected. No matter. It seems that many commentators in this debate seem to hold to what I'll call 'denominational relativism': that is, that all denominations are equally good and valid. This is the principle that Greg launched the first strike at. His comments were thus:

"it doesn't matter which kind of church you go to because they're all the same... Sorry, it does. Non-denominationalism is worse than Protestantism....Why am I not a Quaker? Because they're Unitarians, which is heresy........"

I'm not happy with the statement that one set of beliefs is 'worse' or 'better' than another. That sounds judgmental, which we must avoid. Nonetheless, it is necessary to say that the different sets of beliefs are not equally true. Follow the argument with me:
  • True relativism is incompatible with the Christian Faith. The statement 'there is no truth' denies the existence of Christ, since He is Truth (cf St. John, 14 v 6: "I am the way and the truth and the life.")
  • Thus truth as an absolute exists.
  • Therefore, the statement 'Mary was Assumed into Heaven' is either true, or it is false. It may be partly true, or partly false, but it cannot be true and false at the same time. I take that example as a very Catholic statement which the Protestant churches reject utterly. But there are many others
  • Thus the Doctrine of the Assumption must either be right or wrong.
  • Therefore, denominational relativism cannot be correct.
  • This means that denomination is important.

The importance of this question

This is where I get onto ground in which - perhaps - I express those beliefs stemming from my Protestant upbringing.

What really matters in one's Faith is this 'relationship' issue. Now I don't deny the importance of the other issues, but the God's Love is the crucial bit. As the Holy Father wrote in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, the statement ‘I have come to believe in God’s Love’ is the fundamental statement of the faith.

That’s the bit that’s necessary for salvation. If we love God, we are saved. ‘Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (The Acts of the Apostles, Ch 2 v 21). But it’s not simple: in the second epistle of St John, it is written: ‘And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment: That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it… Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.’

Thus it’s written in Sacred Scripture that love of God means following His Commandments. Given that they must be absolute – not relative – we thus need to find out – and follow – what these Commandments truly are.

Now some Commandments are easy to find. ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ for example. Hard to follow, but easy to recognise. Others are harder to find, and much more controversial: what of these? These ‘peripheral’ questions may not of the first importance, but they are still enormously important by general standards. It’s just that the importance of Faith is beyond reckoning.

Scriptural Comments

Francis raises Scriptural quotations to support his concerns for this blog war. The first is from the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 7: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye and pay no attention to the plank in you own eye?”

I would dispute the relevance of this passage to the question of denominational disagreement. We are not judging others. At least we should not be. We are simply guiding our brothers to better their faith, in the way we perceive that they should. This is in complete according with Pauline teachings: that we should correct errors amongst the Faithful. Incidentally, I do not mean to do so myself with any authority. I simply believe that there exists an authority with the power to do so. The ‘questionable’ existence of such Petrine Authority really underpins this whole debate.

The second important issue Francis raises is: "Keep reminding God's people of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.' (2 Timothy 2, 14-15)" This is perhaps a more threatening problem that we face. But, put simply, we must always make sure it's not petty quibbling over terms, but is of at least some importance. I suggest that the above reasons make such a discussion as this legitimately important.

I would also agree with Francis that no denomination is utterly perfect. it never will be, because it has humans in it. But we must not accept our imperfections as a fact of life. We must strive to root them out one by one, in order more efficaciously to further God's work.


The problem, put simply, is that denominational relativism seems to me to be incompatible with Biblical teaching. That means that even protestants cannot truly accept it. After all, they cannot surely accept the truth of Catholicism and remain Protestants. We become hazy, doctrinally impure Christians, at great risk of losing the faith for the sake of unity. After all, why not be united with all of the other religions? That would get the Church to be larger and more united....

Ecumenism: a duty of the Church

That’s the negative bit out of the way. Now to be positive. Ecumenism is a duty of the Church of God. This was re-iterated in Pope John-Paul II’s encyclical, Ut unum sint (That they may be one). As such, I hope none of the Catholic side in this argument will dispute what I am about to say:

Simply speaking, the challenge of ecumenism is to work together in spite of what differences there are, whilst simultaneously resolving those differences. How can we achieve such an impossible task?

St. Paul wrote: ‘Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.’ (1 Corinthians, Chapter I, v. 10)

Nonetheless, it is possible to take unity too far. We cannot agree with those who err. We cannot give ground on truth in order to be united. This is not what St. Paul says should happen. He says that we should be ‘perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment’. One can unequivocally state that this must be the correct judgment. It is nonsense to suggest that St. Paul would suggest it is better for us all to be heretics than to guard the Faith in its pure and proper form. How do we reconcile co-operation with correctness?

The answer, according to the encyclical, is prayer and grace. I wish to share with you two quotations, from the introduction and conclusion to the document:

"Nevertheless, besides the doctrinal differences needing to be resolved, Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse. "

"I am reminded of the words of Saint Cyprian's commentary on the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of every Christian: "God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
At the dawn of the new millennium, how can we not implore from the Lord, with renewed enthusiasm and a deeper awareness, the grace to prepare ourselves, together, to offer this sacrifice of unity?

I, John Paul, servus servorum Dei, venture to make my own the words of the Apostle Paul, whose martyrdom, together with that of the Apostle Peter, has bequeathed to this See of Rome the splendour of its witness, and I say to you, the faithful of the Catholic Church, and to you, my brothers and sisters of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities: "Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in harmony, and the God of love and peace will be with you ... The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:11,13)."