Old King Log and the Synod

Reproduced from Catholic Voice (Ireland) with the permission of the Editor.

by Deacon Nick Donnelly

We owe Pope Francis our gratitude for stirring up the mud laid down over the past fifty years and allowing the poisons to hatch out…..

When I was a teenager I didn’t miss an episode of the BBC Classic drama ‘I Claudius’ based on Robert Graves’ novels about the life of the Roman Emperor. Surrounded by scheming officials jockeying for position and by betrayal, Claudius refers to himself as ‘Old King Log’, a character in one of Aesop’s Fables. In Graves’ version of the fable, Old King Log, at great personal cost, floats in a noxious pond to draw out all the bitterness and poisons in the Royal Court in order to return the pond to its pristine state of pure and sweet water. The Emperor Claudius says:

‘Yet I am, I must remember, Old King Log. I shall float inertly in the stagnant pool. Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.’  (Robert Graves, Claudius the God, p.391)

Re-reading the acts and documents of the Synod, and hearing the spin and expectations of Synod enthusiasts, it seems to me that we are now living through the time of ‘Old King Log’. The Extraordinary Synod has done the Church a great service by drawing out into the open for all to see the bitter divisions, wrongheaded thinking, vain egotism, and worldly compromise that have poisoned the Church during the aftermath of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. We owe Pope Francis our gratitude for stirring up the mud laid down over the past fifty years and allowing the poisons to hatch out. Though painful and distressing, this detoxification is necessary for the purification of the Church.


Challenging Heresy Helps the Church More Clearly Grasp the Truth


Fr Karl Rahner SJ, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, had some interesting things to say about the role of heresy in the Church that reminds me of the story of ‘Old King Log’. Rahner explains that heresy – deriving from the Greek for choice or preference – takes a truth of Christian faith out of the context of the whole of doctrine, thereby exaggerating, distorting, and misunderstanding it. Heresy, like Old King Log, serves a positive role in the Church because:

‘It is only by hearing contradiction and rejecting it as repugnant to her truth and her understanding of herself that the Church acquires a clearer grasp of her own truth’

(Karl Rahner, Concise Theological Dictionary, p. 207)

During the Synod we witnessed this process of the Church rejecting what was repugnant to her truth and her self-understanding, when a sizeable number of Synod Fathers rejected Archbishop Bruno Forte’s Relatio post Disceptationem. Forte’s report distorted the Church’s doctrine of salvation beyond recognition by focusing almost exclusively on God’s mercy and ignoring the deadly seriousness of man’s sin. According to Vatican observer John Thavis ‘At least one bishop asked what happened to the concept of sin. The word “sin” appears only rarely in the 5,000-word relatio.’

Cardinal Burke also explains how some of the Synod Fathers sought to rectify the serious implications of Archbishop Forte’s distortion and misunderstanding about sin:

‘Errors had to be corrected: for example, the one that positive elements can be found in sinful acts, such as cohabitation, adultery, or in sexual acts between persons suffering of the homosexual condition. This confusion was too grave.’ ‘How can one say that there are positive elements in an act which is gravely sinful, namely to engage in the marriage act when you’re not married? There can’t be any positive element to that. It’s against the divine, natural and revealed law.’

As a consequence of the Synod, we can now see clearly the danger of unbalancing the Church’s doctrine on salvation by over-emphasising God’s mercy to the point of laxity and downplaying the seriousness of sin to the point of omitting it. However, it is widely acknowledged that during the final week of the Synod faithful cardinals and bishops succeeded in regaining the Catholic balance between mercy and sin. Bishop Athanasius Schneider recently affirmed this:

‘Fortunately the Message of the Synod Fathers is a real Catholic document which outlines the Divine truth on family without being silent about the deeper roots of the problems, i.e. about the reality of sin.’


Unbalancing the Relationship between God’s Mercy and Man’s Sin


However, since the close of the Synod a number of bishops have been busy laying down markers for the 2015 Synod that again unbalance the relationship between God’s mercy and man’s sin. Cardinal Nichols has published his own written intervention at the Synod that contains this passage:

‘In describing the reality of our world we are surely called to rejoice ten times in all that we see as good and to comment only once on all that is a sign of our human failure. Our sins are widely felt and echo all too readily and strongly in our hearts. We do not need to be reminded repeatedly of our weaknesses.’

Following the logic of downplaying sin, according to the Voice of the Family Website, Cardinal Nichols at a press conference comes to the conclusion that a broken sacramental marriage ‘remains a source of grace’ for ‘remarried’ persons ‘as they carry on making the best of their lives with all sincerity and integrity’. Simply put, Cardinal Nichols is proposing that when a divorced and remarried couple commit the grave sin of adultery they receive grace from the original marriage they are betraying. This conclusion cannot be reconciled with the Church’s doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage and the importance of fidelity.

The fact is that in the light of Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross in atonement for our sins, there are no grounds for such a downplaying of sin in favour of the worldly good in our lives. Rather, Scripture and Tradition are clear about man’s primary identity as sinner:

‘But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God’. (Romans 5:8-9); ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.’ (I John 4:10).

Pope Francis does not share Cardinal Nichols approach to sin but instead teaches that it is only when we honestly and openly acknowledge our identity as sinners that we encounter the mercy of God, ‘Look to your sins, to our sins, we are all sinners, all of us … This is the starting point.’ The Holy Father even talks about the importance of feeling shame about our sins:

‘Don’t be one of the ‘”unashamed”, because they are people who do not have the ability to be ashamed and to be ashamed is a virtue of the humble, of the man and the woman who are humble and childlike before God’.


The Rise of the Unashamed


What we are witnessing seems to be a concerted effort to engineer a new version of Christianity that owes more to Person-Centred Counselling and Political Correctness than it does to Jesus Christ. Again, Karl Rahner is insightful here about the nature of heresy. He writes:

‘There are “secularizing” heresies, which retain more or less some formal structures of Christianity, but transpose them into attitudes and doctrines which are secular, i.e., without relation to God’.

(Sacramentum Mundi, vol.3. p.22).

Bishop Athanasius Schneider describes the secularising heresy exposed at the Synod as conforming to the insipid ‘neo-pagan spirit of this world’ with its ‘idols’ of gender ideology, second marriages and concubinage. Instead of Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘fully revealing man to man himself’ (Gaudium et Spes, 22) in this neo-paganism secular man, with his post-Freudian suppression of sin, guilt and shame, becomes the insipid measure of Jesus Christ.

The recommendation made at the Synod that the Church drops the moral language of ‘intrinsic disorder’, ‘living in sin’, and ‘contraceptive mentality’ has nothing to do with Christianity’s proclamation of God’s mercy. Instead it articulates the attitude of ‘unconditional positive regard’ fostered in person-centered counselling which rejects challenging and confronting immoral actions.

It appears that some bishops mistake ‘unconditional positive regard’ as expressing God’s mercy, forgetting that true love seeks to help us recognise that sinful choices are objectively harmful. A truly Christian understanding of mercy upholds the importance of challenging and confronting sinful behaviour to help people do good and avoid evil.


Fear of Causing Offence to Man but not to God


The endless positive affirmations about homosexuality and divorce and re-marriage reveal a ready deference to political correctness among some bishops. Political correctness rigorously stipulates that nothing must be said or written that upsets or offends certain groups prized by western liberalism, often those engaged in sexual activities that are gravely sinful. Therefore, Pope Leo XIII’s warning about the dangers of clergy conforming to secular values applies even more today:

‘You know the temper of the times—how many there are who love to live delicately and shrink from whatever requires manhood and generosity; who, when ailments come, discover in them sufficient reasons for not obeying the salutary laws of the Church, thinking the burden laid upon them more than they can bear. Among those whose principles are sound there are many who, through a misplaced timidity, are frightened, and have not the courage even to speak out their opinions boldly, far less to translate them into deeds; everywhere the worst examples are affecting public morals. Therefore those who speak to the people should lay it down persistently and clearly that according not only to the law of the Gospel, but even to the dictates of natural reason, a man is bound to govern himself and keep his passions under strict control, and moreover, that sin cannot be expiated except by penance.’

(Quod Auctoritate).


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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23 Responses to Old King Log and the Synod

  1. Deacon Nick Donnelly-so apt and so true.Your writing inspires!I miss your writing and blogging-keep writing and blogging!!You are a true defender of Holy Mother Church.Keep defending it from the lair of the liberals and heretics who abound in it.Yes the Bishop Of Rome has Made a Mess -but he aint going to win.He is an unwitting instrument in the chastisement to come.Let us,therefore ,pray for him.Thanks for your writing.God Bless.Philip Johnson.


  2. planechant2 says:

    Thanks for this clear and unequivocal post.


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    “…Cardinal Nichols is proposing that when a divorced and remarried couple commit the grave sin of adultery they receive grace from the original marriage they are betraying.”

    Instead of pontificating (as if !) about the special graces given people who break their marriage vows, might not His Expedience make better use of his time and talents writing a jacket blurb, or even a preface, for Lauren Brim’s new book, The New Rules of Sex ?? Ms Brim, 31, from La-La Land, California, is a ‘sex coach’ with “8 lovers on the go”!!

    Oh well, His Insouciance can believe and profess that “we do not need to be reminded repeatedly of our weaknesses”; but I prefer to believe and profess as the Church teaches, and as so brilliantly explained by the good Deacon Donnelly.

    …which reminds me – must rush off to Confession before it’s too late. I know it’s a sin to brag, but I think the place where I’m going to do so is one of the loveliest of cathedrals in all Christendom. Apologies for posting this photo yet again.

    Happy Advent to all CP&Sers !


  4. johnhenrycn says:

    …and I wasn’t even asked to recite an Act of Contrition! And my penance was only one Our Father. I was hoping for a pilgrimage to that place in Spain. Very let down, except for the fact that I’m now again in a state of grace. Mind you, this is a Novus Ordo cathedral, with only one very small (3″x3″) Holy Water font tucked away in a very discreet location that one must search for (beside the staircase inside the east doors leading to the restrooms, which are very well marked if you ever have need of them), no votive candles that one can light at the feet of the two tiers of saints who are gloriously represented 6 feet and then 12 feet above one’s head, not one sub-chapel – not even to the Blessed Virgin – within the main sanctuary, no St Vincent de Paul contribution boxes…no nothing except magnificent architecture, sublime marble sculptures and, for Novus Ordo, a very reverent and dignified celebration of the Mass, if one ignores the television screens enabling people behind the pillars in the sanctuary to see what’s going on. I’ve been behind those pillars before and resent the condescension of those screens.
    If any influential members of Hamilton diocese are looking in, please consider bringing my well intentioned and respectful observations to +Crosby’s attention.


  5. JabbaPapa says:

    Great article from good old Deacon Nick !!

    The secularizing heresy that has possibly been most active among the Synod Fathers is Americanism — which is the false (and condemned) belief that Church teaching should be constructed on the basis of a pluralist political debate following the American model of democracy.


  6. What troubles me about this essay is that it may be too optimistic about what will happen at the synod in 2015, except for this warning sentence: “(S)ince the close of the Synod a number of bishops have been busy laying down markers for the 2015 Synod that again unbalance the relationship between God’s mercy and man’s sin.”

    I think this heretical unbalance is what faithful Catholics – bishops, other clergy, and laity – have to continue to be on guard against. Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Forte and others like them will be working – and already are working – tirelessly to get what they didn’t get at the 2014 synod. Those of us who oppose their kind of thinking should not be lulled into complacency.


  7. johnhenrycn says:

    I like the fact that Deacon Donnelly quotes from Robert Graves. Without having looked up Graves on Wikipedia or elsewhere (honestly) since this post came up, I’m certain he was, if not a gender bender, seriously conflicted in his sex life, and was more the type of person Cardinal Nichols would quote; my point being that the old Index Prohibitorum is one anachronism that mature Catholics are well rid of, although the same doesn’t go for children or immature adults. Many of our favourite Catholic authors… oh never mind.


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    My next comment isn’t appearing, despite several attempts. WordPress glitch, I guess?


  9. I had the same problem a few weeks ago. Then I discovered I could post my comment by using the “comment with Facebook” or the “comment with Google+” option. If I was already using one of those options and wanted to continue using it, then I clicked on “Change” anyway and simply selected Facebook or Google+ again. If you’re not using Facebook or Google+, try clicking on “Change” just the same, and then see if you can post your comment. I don’t know if that explanation is very clear, or if it will be useful, but I hope it helps.


  10. johnhenrycn says:

    Thankee, my Yankee friend. Your advice was clear, concise and coherent; and I followed your “Change” suggestion to the letter, which seemed like it was going to work, but then WordPress intervened:

    “Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that.”

    Well, yes, I did try to say the same thing, but it looks like the world will never see it 😉

    Like Shakespeare’s minor protagonist, Coriolanus, I rage against populist rule and against “crows [like WordPress] who peck at eagles” [er, me], but what can one do?


  11. johnhenrycn says:

    23:50 EST… okay, this is your final warning, WordPress, you silly secularist website… either my comment now in limbo – which limbo, [sorry SS Abélard and Aquinas] doesn’t even exist – is posted forthwith, I shall take my custom elsewhere. Perhaps to Damiam Thompson’s Holy Smoke blog.


  12. johnhenrycn says:

    Sorrry, Damian Thompso’s blog is dead…


  13. johnhenrycn says:

    Now, I’m not going to ask for editorial mercy, but please don’t let Peggy Lee’s song be ruined by my dizzy fingers!


  14. johnhenrycn says:

    Liberace was not gay. He was a mama’s boy. What of it? Show me the video or be quiet.


  15. Again, the same thing happened to me. What I did was change the comment enough so that the WordPress computer didn’t recognize it as the same comment. I used different words, changed sentences around, etc. I had to do it a few times, until finally I no longer got the “duplicate comment” response and the comment was published. (When we defy the computer like that, I like to think that we are, in a small way, sharing in Coriolanus’ attitude of “There is a world elsewhere!”)

    (Signed) Your Yankee friend, but one who tends to be VERY critical of the Yankee government


  16. johnhenrycn says:

    Ha, ha, RJB! My wife’s family hails from Cape Fear, North Carolina. Her great (x4 or 5) grandad was a Loyalist militiaman during your Revolution. We don’t talk about his conviction and death sentence for rape, even though he received a pardon from the great King George III.


  17. johnhenrycn says:

    …the terrifying 1962 movie,
    Cape Fear
    , about another convicted rapist (played by Robert Mitchum) has nothing to do with Colonel David Fanning.


  18. Believe me, JH, that never occurred to me. I’ve always assumed that “Cape Fear” with Robert Mitchlum, like the later remake, was complete fiction. Anyway, according to the Wikipedia entry that you linked to, Colonel Fanning’s life was completely different. Despite the perhaps questionable allegation against him, he appears to have been a successful and admirable man.

    None of us, of course, can know how we would have acted if we had lived in different historical circumstances, but I doubt I would have joined Colonel Fanning and the other loyalists who went to Canada during the American War of Independence. Nevertheless, I admire them. And as it turns out, they may have done the smart thing. The comedian Robin Williams once said that Canada was a splendid country, that it was like a spacious, luxurious condominium that had the misfortune of being located over a run-down tenement apartment.

    As a Yank, though, I have to say that in the end I share Mark Twain’s sentiment: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”


  19. johnhenrycn says:

    Mark Twain’s way of looking at many things was very wise, RJB, and often very funny. Once, on a tour of the Holy Land with his wife, he asked a fisherman to take them out for a sail on the Sea of Galilee, which the fisherman agreed to do for $25. Twain’s response was: “Now I know why Jesus walked across !”

    As for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, my own experience during occasional forays is that people there are very friendly and helpful. Daughter and her husband often go to Montana to do their shopping because of the dramatic price differences, and even there, where it seems just about every adult male carries a pistol holstered on his hip, the welcome they receive is what one hopes for when visiting the next door neighbours.

    And you’re right to mention that the allegations against Fanning were questionable. Lots of political backstabbing in those days between the long time residents in New Brunswick and the newly arriving Loyalists from the States.


  20. Your Mark Twain anecdote is very fine. He must have been terrific to talk to – he’s on my list of people I want to have long conversations with in the next world (assuming we both manage to arrive at the place – heaven – where conversations like that can be carried on). One hilarious piece of his writing – and perhaps you know it – is called “The Awful German Language.” Even if you don’t live in Germany (as I do) or have never studied German (as I have), the piece is, I think, riotously funny. The US Embassy in Berlin has prepared a pdf version (with some elements in German, but these can be ignored) which they offer for download at: http://usa.usembassy.de/classroom/Mark%20Twain/Mark%20Twain%20Awful%20Broschuere.pdf

    The most amusing part of this document, perhaps, is a passage called “The Horrors of the German Language,” which is Twain’s literal translation into fractured English of a speech he gave in Vienna that turns out to have been in excellent German. (In this pdf document, the German version is printed just before Twain’s “translation”.)

    Yes, Americans can be very friendly, (although Germans, and perhaps Brits as well, always add, “But of course it doesn’t really mean anything; it’s all superficial,” and I tend to agree). I’m glad your daughter and son-in-law have had good experiences in Montana, however.

    I have to admit that my own feelings toward my country are quite ambivalent. I really have a sense that the country I knew when I was growing up there in the fifties and sixties has really disappeared. I know that if I went back there (I haven’t once set foot on American soil since 1985), I would feel like a foreigner. I find there is less cognitive dissonance for me in living abroad, where I really AM a foreigner!


  21. johnhenrycn says:

    Thanks for that Twain speech link, RJB, which I look forward to reading and savouring when I have siebenhundertsiebenundsiebzigtausendsiebenhundertsiebenundsiebzig seconds to spare 😉


  22. johnhenrycn says:

    777,777 milliseconds would have been a more accurate estimation of the time involved; but my arithmetic, like my German, is rusty.


  23. Well, JH, seconds, milliseconds, whatever. It won’t take long to read the two essays, and since you’ve studied some German, I think you’ll appreciate Twain’s comments even more, especially the part where he ponders the fact that the correct pronoun to be used referring to a girl in German is “it,” while a turnip is referred to as “she.”

    And here’s something else you might enjoy, a South African-born, naturalized American New York Times columnist discusses the differences between American and British English in today’s edition of that venerable newspaper. Fortunately, I was securely seated when I read this article, otherwise I might have fallen on the floor laughing:


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