Ecclesiastes, Pell, and recycling

08 Jun

Back in September 2005 I wrote an entry on Blogspot referring to Cardinal Pell’s plea at that time for a “return to the classics” in schools. This entry: 1) recycles that entry; 2) looks at one of my Bible favourites; 3) quotes Pell’s article from today’s Sydney Morning Herald and advocates heresy.

Pell wants return to the good books (recycled)

Right on, Georgie babe! Cool guy, love the dress!

OK, let’s really get into those good books and get rid of this 21st century crap, eh! For laughs, we should start with Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale, for the fart jokes and the hilarious red-hot poker up the bum scene. Always goes well, that does. And the General Prologue before that, of course:

For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.

Shakespeare, of course. Othello to see the corrupting effects of racism and distrust. And why not a gobbet or two from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, eh? Cool stuff that. And the preface to the 1611 Bible.

…And now at last, by the mercy of God, and the continuance of our labours, it being brought unto such a conclusion, as that we have great hopes that the Church of England shall reap good fruit thereby, we hold it our duty to offer it to Your Majesty, not only as to our King and Sovereign, but as to the principal mover and author of the Work; humbly craving of your most Sacred Majesty, that, since things of this quality have ever been subject to the censures of ill-meaning and discontented persons, it may receive approbation and patronage from so learned and judicious a Prince as Your Highness is; whose allowance and acceptance of our labours shall more honour and encourage us than all the calumniations and hard interpretations of other men shall dismay us. So that if, on the one side, we shall be traduced by Popish persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make God’s hold truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by self-conceited brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil, we may rest secure, supported within by the truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked the ways of simplicity and integrity as before the Lord, and sustained without by the powerful protection of Your Majesty’s grace and favour, which will ever give countenance to honest and Christian endeavors against bitter censures and uncharitable imputations.

The Lord of heaven and earth bless Your Majesty with many and happy days; that, as his heavenly hand hath enriched Your Highness with many singular and extraordinary graces, so You may be the wonder of the world in this latter age for happiness and true felicity, to the honour of that great God, and the good of his Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord and only Saviour.

That’s really cool. Now let’s leap ahead a bit and introduce the students to a real Enlightenment writer, like Edward Gibbon. We could of course do Voltaire, but he is French and we would have to read him in translation. Can’t do that in an English course, can we? Or can we? Ah Gibbon.

The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people. A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince…

The condemnation of the wisest and most virtuous of the Pagans, on account of their ignorance or disbelief of the divine truth, seems to offend the reason and the humanity of the present age. But the primitive church, whose faith was of a much firmer consistence, delivered over, without hesitation, to eternal torture the far greater part of the human species…

It was with the utmost difficulty that ancient Rome could support the institution of six vestals; but the primitive church was filled with a great number of persons of either sex who had devoted themselves to the profession of perpetual chastity…

It was the fashion of the times to attribute every remarkable event to the particular will of the Deity; the alterations of nature were connected, by an invisible chain, with the moral and metaphysical opinions of the human mind; and the most sagacious divines could distinguish, according to the colour of their respective prejudices, that the establishment of heresy tended to produce an earthquake, or that a deluge was the inevitable consequence of the progress of sin and error. Without presuming to discuss the truth or propriety of these lofty speculations, the historian may content himself with an observation, which seems to be justified by experience, that man has much more to fear from the passions of his fellow-creatures than from the convulsions of the elements. The mischievous effects of an earthquake or deluge, a hurricane, or the eruption of a volcano, bear a very inconsiderable proportion to the ordinary calamities of war, as they are now moderated by the prudence or humanity of the princes of Europe, who amuse their own leisure, and exercise the courage of their subjects, in the practice of the military art…

Yep, I am all in favour of studying the classics.

Take William Blake, towards the end of the 18th century.

I went to the Garden of Love.
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not, writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

No need for all that postmodern crap, eh! Right on, George! Let’s read Wordsworth instead:

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Meanwhile, back in the Bible

My following the US Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office has led me again to one of my favourite books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, which also happens to be a work of high literary value. Not everything in the Bible is. Ecclesiastes often comes with a warning, as that Wikipedia entry says: “According to Orthodox Judaism however, the holiness of Kohelet [= “Ecclesiastes” = “Preacher”] was never in doubt. The discussion was only if, because of the possibility that a superficial reading will lead to heretical beliefs it would be preferable to keep the book out of the hands of laymen.”

The book purports to come from Solomon, though hardly anyone still believes that: “The Hebrew of Ecclesiastes was not common in the era of Solomon’s reign, and the book contains words borrowed from other languages. For example, the book contains several Aramaic and two Persian words. The influence of Aramaic is characteristic of late Hebrew.”

It is true that you need to read the whole book rather than take bits out of context. But here is a sample — last night’s Daily Office reading in fact — from a book that positively discourages literalists, in my view.

Everywhere on earth I saw violence and injustice instead of fairness and justice. So I told myself that God has set a time and a place for everything. He will judge everyone, both the wicked and the good. I know that God is testing us to show us that we are merely animals. Like animals we breathe and die, and we are no better off than they are. It just doesn’t make sense. All living creatures go to the same place. We are made from earth, and we return to the earth. Who really knows if our spirits go up and the spirits of animals go down into the earth? We were meant to enjoy our work, and that’s the best thing we can do. We can never know the future. [Chapter 3]


I looked again and saw people being mistreated everywhere on earth. They were crying, but no one was there to offer comfort, and those who mistreated them were powerful. I said to myself, “The dead are better off than the living. But those who have never been born are better off than anyone else, because they have never seen the terrible things that happen on this earth.” Then I realized that we work and do wonderful things just because we are jealous of others. This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.

Fools will fold their hands
and starve to death.
Yet a very little food
eaten in peace
is better than twice as much
earned from overwork
and chasing the wind.

Once again I saw that nothing on earth makes sense. For example, some people don’t have friends or family. But they are never satisfied with what they own, and they never stop working to get more. They should ask themselves, “Why am I always working to have more? Who will get what I leave behind?” What a senseless and miserable life!

It Is Better To Have a Friend

You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble. If you sleep alone, you won’t have anyone to keep you warm on a cold night. Someone might be able to beat up one of you, but not both of you. As the saying goes, “A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break.”

You may be poor and young. But if you are wise, you are better off than a foolish old king who won’t listen to advice. Even if you were not born into the royal family and have been a prisoner and poor, you can still be king. I once saw everyone in the world follow a young leader who came to power after the king was gone. His followers could not even be counted. But years from now, no one will praise him–this makes no more sense than chasing the wind. [Chapter 4]

— Translation Contemporary English Version

Pell has written for the Sydney Morning Herald

And I have to say he uses English rather well. See It’s all about human life: the real message in the stem cell debate. I could start unpicking it point by point to show where I agree or disagree, but one passage suffices to prove that I am gladly a heretic, as are most Catholics I know:

…Finally, however, have the Pope and some bishops gone one step too far in even hinting at sanctions for Catholic legislators who reject important teachings? Does this imperil the separation of church and state? Perhaps legislators should be above church laws and immune to sanctions for lapses of moral judgement?

Certainly a Catholic church without sinners would be like a hospital without patients. That is why the blunt instrument of excommunication has hardly ever been used in Australia, as we are a church of the imperfect, not a sect for the elite.

But all of us who wish to remain Catholics have to be measured against Catholic teaching.

To be a disciple of Christ means accepting discipline because the Catholic church has never followed today’s fashionable notion of the primacy of conscience, which is, of course secular relativism with a religious face.

In a pluralist democracy bishops are free to explain Catholic doctrines and discipline, while all individuals and legislators are free to accept or reject what is proposed. But actions have consequences, some of which follow naturally, some of which are imposed and just as members of a political party who cross the floor on critical issues don’t expect to be rewarded and might be penalised, so it is in the church.

On May 9, Pope Benedict explained one Catholic teaching quite succinctly. Speaking about abortion, he said: “It simply states in canon law that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with going to Communion, where one receives the Body of Christ.”

At least he is clear on his fundamentalism, because that is what it is, though much more sophisticated than Ken Ham. But then we are all heretics at South Sydney Uniting Church, it would seem.


For fundamentalism of a different kind in another time and place, see Marcel’s Teacher beaten to death.

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7 responses to “Ecclesiastes, Pell, and recycling

  1. AV

    June 8, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    THE world is too much with us; late and soon,

    I remember rote-learning that one for my TEE English Lit exam.

    To be a disciple of Christ means accepting discipline because the Catholic church has never followed today’s fashionable notion of the primacy of conscience, which is, of course secular relativism with a religious face.

    If “relativism” means taking a considered and reasoned approach to an important issue, rather than blindly following religious dogma, then call me a proud relativist!

  2. ninglun

    June 8, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    I trust you were not corrupted by Wordsworth’s youthful advocacy or paganism, Arthur.

  3. AV

    June 8, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    I haven’t done much bounding o’er mountains like a roe (sadly), if that’s what you mean.

  4. Davo

    June 10, 2007 at 12:15 am

    There is, somewhere on the internet, some research that links those weird hats that Popes wear back to fish and vaginas .. now I can’t stop laughing everytime i see the costumes..

  5. ninglun

    June 10, 2007 at 12:26 am

    I can kind of understand the fish possibility — it’s an early Christian symbol. Not sure about the other though. I do know quite a bit of the gear derives from high ranking Imperial Roman/Byzantine stuff. “The camelaucum or καμιλαύκιον, the headdress both the Western mitre and the Papal tiara stem from, was originally a cap used by officials of the Imperial Byzantine court. In the late Empire it developed into the closed type of Imperial crown.” (Wikipedia — where else?)

  6. Davo

    June 10, 2007 at 12:47 am

    Why does everybody seem to believe that “religion” began with “christianity”?

  7. Legal Eagle

    June 10, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Oooh I love the Book of Ecclesiastes. It has to be my absolute favourite.

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