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Download this letter as aNAword document.

13th April, 2001

Margaret Throsby,
ABC Classic FM,
700 Harris Street,
Ultimo 2007

Dear Margaret,

Six months or so ago I heard your interview--perhaps it was the replay of an interview--with Dr Ian Guthridge, a former Catholic priest.  I listened with particular interest as the then Jesuit scholastic, Mr Ian Guthridge, had been my sportsmaster and idol when I was a schoolboy at St Ignatius College, Norwood, South Australia in the 1950s.

Dr Guthridge expounded his thesis about Christianity with a certain erudition.  But I thought his reasoning simplistic.  I borrowed his book The Rise and Decline of the Christian Empire to study his views more carefully.  The reading confirmed my impression.  His thesis holds a certain attraction for minds closed to any but material explanations but it is naïve and superficial.  He does not weigh the evidence but moves quickly to conclusions which favour his thesis; he relies too much on current historical opinion, subjecting the conduct of past ages to the doubtful mores of 20th Century secular humanism; he contradicts himself regularly; there is no profundity.

Of the many erroneous views he puts forward, whether on your programme or in his writings, a few deserve to be answered.

The view which is the most important to his thesis is the claim that Christ was not God but, nevertheless, a great man.  His attempts to show that Christ never claimed to be God are, with respect, laughable.  Since he cannot deny the words of Christ he has to attack the writers of the New Testament and in particular the evangelist St John because Christ's claims in the fourth gospel are so explicit, as e.g., Amen, Amen I say to you, before Abraham ever was, I am [Jn.8:58].  Even if his contention was true (and what reasonable mind would concede it?) that someone other (and later) than St John wrote the gospel that bears his name, the fact is undeniable that the Jews killed Christ because he claimed to be God.  Even if the modern biblical scholars, upon whose theories he places such reliance, are in doubt about this claim, the Jews of the time certainly were not!

The second limb of this contention is really tied up with the first.  Whatever Christ was, he was not simply, as Dr Guthridge would like him to be, 'a great man' like Buddha, Confucius or Mohammed.  Why not?  Because he claimed to be God!  Either Christ was God then, or he was a liar.  There is no third.  Christ's claim, substantiated by the evidence of credible witnesses (pace 'modern biblical scholars'), is the reason his 900 million or so followers continue to follow him today.

In truth Dr Guthridge's claims of admiration for Christ are all humbug.  The only Christ he admires is one of his own devising, one who does not exist in reality but in the Guthridge mind.  His attitude to the real Christ--which he disguises as benevolent concern for the welfare of misguided believers--is one of attack and of hatred for what Christ taught.

He endeavours to explain how Christianity managed to enthrall the western world and whence it got its enormous energy.  His explanation, because limited to the material and the natural, is unconvincing.  That the rise of Christianity might have been the result of Divine intervention in human history or that faith in a Christ who was truly God might have given his followers strength to overcome insuperable obstacles presented by the pagan world he discounts as 'simplistic' because of the given of his personal position--that he had erred in believing in God and in believing that Christ was God.  He forces reality to fit his thesis rather than basing his thesis upon reality.

The most compelling reasons for the energy and influence of Christianity as of the truth of the resurrection of Christ are found in the words of St John Chrysostom, the music of Rachmaninoff in praise of whom Dr Guthridge admires so much--

Here were men who failed to stand up to the Jews when Christ was alive.  Yet when he died and was buried they arrayed themselves against the whole world.  How came this if as you say Christ had not risen again from the dead, conversed with them and put heart into them?  Would they not have said to themselves: What is this?  He had not strength to save himself, will he protect us?  He did not defend himself when he was alive; will he reach out his hand to us now he is dead?  When he was alive he did not conquer a single nation--shall we convince the whole world by speaking his name?  Would it not have been folly even to conceive of such things let alone to do them?  Hence it is clear that, if they had not seen him risen and received this mighty proof of his power, they would never have risked such a gamble.

[Homilies on I Corinthians, 4:3-4]

Lest there be any doubt as to the consequences of the apostles' faith in Christ here is Bishop Fulton Sheen's summary of what became of them--

Matthew suffered martyrdom by the sword in Ethiopia; Mark was dragged through the streets of Alexandria unto his death; Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece; Peter was crucified in Rome with his head downward; James was beheaded at Jerusalem; James the Less was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple and beaten to death below; Philip was hanged against a pillar in Phrygia; Bartholomew was flayed alive; Andrew was bound to a cross, and he preached to his persecutors till he died; Thomas had his body pierced; Jude was shot to death with arrows; Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded.

Life of Christ, London, 1959, p.351

An indication of Dr Guthridge's precipitancy of judgement is his treatment of the proper translation of Luke 1:28--the Annunciation.  "In the Greek text of Luke's Gospel . . when the angel addressed Mary with the title kekaritomene this word does not mean 'full of grace' but simply 'favoured one' (sic). . this in no way implies that Mary was sinless . ."  In case there may be any doubt about it he adds: 'Moreover, all reputable translations of the Bible today, Catholic and Protestant alike, translate the word kekaritomene in terms of 'favour' rather than in terms of sinlessness . ." [The Rise and Decline etc, p.130]

The Greek words chaire kecharitomene were translated by St Jerome into Latin as Ave, gratia plena--'Hail, full of grace'.  This sense was found also in ancient Syriac and Arabic translations of the New Testament.  While the words may be translated 'Hail, thou highly favoured one' that is inadequate to convey the meaning in its fulness for kecharitomene denotes something which had already happened to Mary in the past and was still effective.  The footnote to La Sainte Bible, the French Jerusalem Bible, says that the literal sense of the Greek is "You who have been and have continued to be filled with grace".  The passage is translated comblée de grâce--'crowned, laden or filled with grace'.  The weaker translation in the English version of the same bible is a sop to Protestantism.

This attack on the mother of Christ is simply part of his attack on Christ since all her titles (such as Full of Grace) are derived from the merits of her Son.

Yes.  All Christ's followers have been misled!  All those who have followed Him down twenty centuries have been misled.  All the martyrs who shed their blood; all the bishops and pastors who laboured in the name of Christ, who left everything to preach Christ's doctrine and died thousands of miles from their homes; all the maids who forsook family life to live in religion and dedicate their bodies and souls to Christ--all misled!  Dr Guthridge is right and they were all wrong.

Dr Guthridge gives the impression that he is presenting something fresh, something new, something that those who follow Christ have not considered before.  But what he presents is the (now) old theological disease called Modernism, a heresy which seeks to gut Catholicism of all that is transcendent in an endeavour to explain materially and humanly what is immaterial and Divine.  The disease was delineated and condemned in 1907 by Pius X in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis.  Because its attack is aimed not at a particular belief but at the very basis of belief itself the Pope called it 'the synthesis of all heresies'.

All the Modernist buzz words and phrases are there in the Guthridge narrative--'the Gospel stories', 'the need for one's faith no longer to be childish but adult', the typifying of Catholic definitions as mythology.  Of a piece are the assertions made on your programme that Christians do not read the New Testament, that theologians do not know their history and the trivialising of the Book of Genesis as 'the western dreamtime'.  There is the standard Modernist attack on the Resurrection and on the Virgin birth; the pontificating on the sources of biblical writings so as to re-invent their authors through the wisdom of 'the higher criticism' (itself a species of Gnosticism); the utter subservience to the claims of modern science--(the Pope is not infallible but apparently modern science is); the denial that sacred scripture is inspired by God, etc, etc. . .

The truth is that Dr Guthridge lost his faith 30 years ago in the maëlstrom which followed the Second Vatican Council and his writings and reasonings are simply an endeavour to justify that loss to himself and to the world.

The ultimate tragedy in Dr Guthridge's life is that in his naïvety he cannot see where all this is leading.  He thinks he retains some sort of faith--a secular humanist version of religious faith.  But if there is nothing transcendent there is no religion: it is all a chimera.  He is unable to see the truth of St Paul's words--If Christ has not been raised . . all who have died in Christ have perished.  If our hope in Christ has been for this life only we are the most unfortunate of people [I Cor. 15:17-19].  Justly did Pope Pius X say--Modernism leads to atheism and to the annihilation of all religion.

What lies ahead of Dr Guthridge is oblivion--belief in nothing, the arrival at nothing.  He has given up faith in the living God and all that is left is himself and his opinions unsupported by reality.

*                                                 *

The only subjects where I found myself in agreement with Dr Guthridge were music and composers.  It is a pity he hadn't let himself be influenced by the argument of Chrysostom.  He might have retained his faith in God as well as his taste in music.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Baker