Monday, 8 January 2018

Bishop Nolan's Letter on Refugees and Asylum Seekers

 In his letter for Justice and Peace Sunday (7 January 2018), Bishop William Nolan, President of the Justice and Peace Commission reflects on his recent visit to Calais and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We like to think that we are a welcoming people, and indeed we are. Towns and villages throughout Scotland have shown a warm welcome in recent months to asylum seekers and refugees seeking safety and a new life.

But many never get to set foot in our country to experience that welcome. The UK government controls immigration and that control ensures that many who wish to come here are hindered from doing so.

Last month I visited migrants in Calais and met people who have fled war and persecution. They hope for a better life in the UK, but meanwhile they endure harassment from the authorities designed to chase them away. Police remove their tents, confiscate their sleeping bags and move them on during the night as they sleep rough in the woods. There are unaccompanied children among these migrants. Their welfare is of particular concern.

Thankfully there are some who recognize a fellow human being in need and treat migrants with the kindness their human dignity demands. Sécours Catholique and volunteers from a variety of aid agencies supply food and clothing. Many of the volunteers are not Christian, but they certainly act as Christians should.

The number of those in France wanting to get to the UK is not large compared to the great number of refugees in Europe and the vast numbers throughout the world.

There have always been refugees. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were refugees in Egypt. But we have a refugee crisis for our time that is on an unprecedented scale worldwide. Perhaps if we spent less money funding war and more funding peace; perhaps if we put less effort into selling arms and more effort into eradicating poverty; then fewer people would be forced to leave their homeland and their families.

Military spending worldwide is $1.7 trillion annually. If that was reduced by only 10%, and that money spent on development, then the United Nations’ development goals could be reached and poverty and hunger eradicated.

Meanwhile, there are many in our country who would like to welcome refugees. I know of people who, at no cost to the state, would happily house and support refugees while their asylum application was being heard. This is something the Scottish Government should seriously consider.

But it is the UK Government which controls the numbers allowed to enter the country. So far the UK response to the global refugee crisis has been less than generous.

Pope Francis speaks of the world as being our common home, may the part of that common home where we live be a place of welcome for those in need.

May I wish you every blessing as we begin this New Year, and may God bless our efforts as we work and pray for peace and justice for all.

Yours in Christ,

+ William Nolan
President of the Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission

(from Justice and Peace Scotland site)
Stephen Watt writes:

Further material on Catholic views in this area can be found

-on the USCCB site here
-on the Justice and Peace Scotland site here

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all at the Albertus Institute!

[Details of image: Master of Vyšší Brod, 1350. Full details here.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Feast of St Albert the Great

Happy Feast Day of St Albert the Great, our patron!

Albertus Magnus, also known as Albert the Great, was one of the most universal thinkers to appear during the Middle Ages. Even more so than his most famous student, St. Thomas of Aquinas, Albert’s interests ranged from natural science all the way to theology. He made contributions to logic, psychology, metaphysics, meteorology, mineralogy, and zoology. He was an avid commentator on nearly all the great authorities read during the 13th Century. He was deeply involved in an attempt to understand the import of the thought of Aristotle in some orderly fashion that was distinct from the Arab commentators who had incorporated their own ideas into the study of Aristotle. Yet he was not averse to using some of the outstanding Arab philosophers in developing his own ideas in philosophy. His superior understanding of a diversity of philosophical texts allowed him to construct one of the most remarkable syntheses in medieval culture.

[Read more here from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article]

The influence exerted by Albert on the scholars of his own day and on those of subsequent ages was naturally great. His fame is due in part to the fact that he was the forerunner, the guide and master of St. Thomas Aquinas, but he was great in his own name, his claim to distinction being recognized by his contemporaries and by posterity. It is remarkable that this friar of the Middle Ages, in the midst of his many duties as a religious, as provincial of his order, as bishop and papal legate, as preacher of a crusade, and while making many laborious journeys from Cologne to Paris and Rome, and frequent excursions into different parts of Germany, should have been able to compose a veritable encyclopedia, containing scientific treatises on almost every subject, and displaying an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology which surprised his contemporaries and still excites the admiration of learned men in our own times. He was, in truth, a Doctor Universalis. Of him it in justly be said: Nil tetigit quod non ornavit [he touched nothing which he did not adorn]; and there is no exaggeration in the praises of the modern critic who wrote: "Whether we consider him as a theologian or as a philosopher, Albert was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary men of his age; I might say, one of the most wonderful men of genius who appeared in past times" (Jourdain, Recherches Critiques).

[Read more here from the Catholic Encyclopedia article]

Podcasts from History of Philosophy without any gaps:

Albert on nature here

Albert's metaphysics here

[Details of image: Fresco of St Albert by Tommaso da Modena 1352 (full details of image here)]

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

New events for 2017

Welcome to the beginning of the 2017/18 academic year!

Forthcoming events:

1) More Slaves Today than at any Time in Human History - Human Trafficking
10:00 – 17:00, Sat 7th Oct, 2017

 Martin Hall, New College, University of Edinburgh, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX

'More Slaves Today than at any Time in Human History’ - Exchanging Scottish and International Perspectives on Human Trafficking

Along with the ACTS Anti-Human Trafficking Group and The Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI) at the University of Edinburgh we are pleased to co-host this one day conference, exploring current issues related to human trafficking, from different contexts and perspectives. There will be keynote speakers, parallel sessions for short research papers, an exhibition and to conclude the day, a panel discussion.

More details and booking on our main website here.


 2) The Albertus Annual Lecture – 12 October 2017

The first Albertus Annual Lecture will take place on Thursday 12 October at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 22-26 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2PQ, at 6.30pm.

To mark the Luther Quincentenary, Professor Andrew Pettegree, FRHistS, Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews will speak on:

Print and the Reformation. A drama in three acts. 

The power of the printing press was a major contribution to the spread of the Reformation. The Reformation both revolutionised the market and stimulated crucial innovations in the design and selling of books. This began in Wittenberg, where the partnership of Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach played a critical role in shaping the Reformation pamphlet.

The event is being jointly hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and will be chaired by Dr Brian Lang CBE FRSE, a former Chief Executive of the British Library and a former Principal of the University of St Andrews.

Booking is through the RSE website Please note there has already been considerable interest in this event and you are strongly advised to book early as places are limited.

The event is free but there will be an opportunity to make a voluntary donation to help cover costs.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Feast of the Ascension

'...Christ's Ascension to the right hand of God is marvellous, because it is a sure token that heaven is a certain fixed place, and not a mere state. That bodily presence of the Saviour which the Apostles handled is not here; it is elsewhere,—it is in heaven. This contradicts the notions of cultivated and speculative minds, and humbles the reason. Philosophy considers it more rational to suppose that Almighty God, as being a Spirit, is in every place; and in no one place more than another. It would teach, if it dare, that heaven is a mere state of blessedness; but, to be consistent, it ought to go on to deny, with the ancient heretics, referred to by St. John, that "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh," and maintain that His presence on earth was a mere vision; for, certain it is, He who appeared on earth went up from the earth, and a cloud received Him out of His Apostles' sight. And here again an additional difficulty occurs, on minutely considering the subject. Whither did He go? beyond the sun? beyond the fixed stars? Did He traverse the immeasurable space which extends beyond them all? Again, what is meant by ascending? Philosophers will say there is no difference between down and up, as regards the sky; yet, whatever difficulties the word may occasion, we can hardly take upon us to decide that it is a mere popular expression, consistently with the reverence due to the Sacred Record.

'And thus we are led on to consider, how different are the character and effect of the Scripture notices of the structure of the physical world, from those which philosophers deliver. I am not deciding whether or not the one and the other are reconcileable; I merely say their respective effect is different. And when we have deduced what we deduce by our reason from the study of visible nature, and then read what we read in His inspired word, and find the two apparently discordant, this is the feeling I think we ought to have on our minds;—not an impatience to do what is beyond our powers, to weigh evidence, sum up, balance, decide, and reconcile, to arbitrate between the two voices of God,—but a sense of the utter nothingness of worms such as we are; of our plain and absolute incapacity to contemplate things as they really are; a perception of our emptiness, before the great Vision of God; of our "comeliness being turned into corruption, and our retaining no strength;" a conviction, that what is put before us, in nature or in grace, though true in such a full sense that we dare not tamper with it, yet is but an intimation useful for particular purposes, useful for practice, useful in its department, "until the day-break and the shadows flee away," useful in such a way that both the one and the other representation may at once be used, as two languages, as two separate approximations towards the Awful Unknown Truth, such as will not mislead us in their respective provinces. And thus while we use the language of science, without jealousy, for scientific purposes, we may confine it to these; and repel and reprove its upholders, should they attempt to exalt it and to "stretch it beyond its measure." In its own limited round it has its use, nay, may be made to fill a higher ministry, and stand as a proselyte under the shadow of the temple; but it must not dare profane the inner courts, in which the ladder of Angels is fixed for ever, reaching even to the Throne of God, and "Jesus standing on the right hand of God."

'I will but remind you on this part of the subject, that our Lord is to come from heaven "in like manner" as He went; that He is to come "in clouds," that "every eye shall see Him," and "all tribes of the earth wail because of Him." Attempt to solve this prediction, according to the received theories of science, and you will discover their shallowness. They are unequal to the depth of the problem.'

(From Blessed John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, volume 2, sermon 18 here)

[Image: Ascension of Christ, ivory, c.400. Details here.]

Monday, 22 May 2017

Fake news: talk on 23 May 2017

Suitable for Framing or Wrapping Fish: the Inevitability of Fake News

17:30, Tue 23rd May, 2017
The Chaplaincy Centre, 1 Bristo Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AL
The talk will be given by Professor Stephen Brown who is Professor of English Literature at the University of Trent, Canada. His talk proposes that the phenomenon of “fake news” is nothing new. Looking at examples from the early evolution of the Edinburgh press, he will explore if news has ever been separate from business and political interests and whether the ephemeral nature of the press on page and screen encourages fakery. The talk will be chaired by Nick Bibby who has a background in political journalism and works for the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Scottish Bishops' letter on election

From the SCMO website here:

General Election 2017

A letter from the Bishops of Scotland
To be read and/or distributed at all Masses on 20/21 May 2017

This General Election presents us with an opportunity to reflect on Catholic social teaching. As Christians, we have a civic and moral duty to engage with our democracy. As Catholics, we believe that the primary goal of society should be the common good; that is the good of all people and of the whole person. Indeed, the common good is the very reason political authority exists.

This election provides an opportunity to reflect on the beauty and goodness of Church teaching and to keep that teaching at the forefront of our minds as we engage with candidates across all parties. During elections, a range of issues compete for your attention; we highlight some of them here in the hope that you will reflect on them and raise them with your candidates.

Human Life

Human life at every stage of development is precious and must be protected. Any laws which permit the wilful ending of life must always be rejected as reprehensible and unjust. We must create a culture of life where the most vulnerable are valued and their dignity respected. The undeniable value of human life, created in the image and likeness of God, is fundamental to the Catholic faith. We should remind our politicians that abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are always morally unacceptable.

Marriage and the Family

Society relies on the building block of the family to exist. The love of man and woman in marriage and their openness to new life is the very basic cell upon which society is built. The wellbeing of society depends on the flourishing and health of family life and those in authority should respond to this with policies that create economic and other advantages for families with children.


Sadly, poverty continues to be a scourge for many at home and abroad. Too many people still struggle to make ends meet. This sad reality cannot and should not endure in our country in the twenty-first century. Our concerns should also extend to providing international assistance, while ensuring that aid is not used to support immoral practices such as those which compromise the basic right to life.

Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Immigration

The United Kingdom should be a place where the most vulnerable are welcomed and given the resources necessary to rebuild their lives. At the same time, we should provide for those people living in and around conflict zones, and commit to working towards the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Living in Europe

There are millions of EU citizens living in the UK and millions of UK citizens living across the EU. Mindful of the uncertainty affecting them, candidates should commit to working towards delivering stability and security for them in future. Our politicians should forge and renew international partnerships and establish rights for those who wish to work in the UK, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.

Freedom of Religion and Conscience

Millions of people worldwide are persecuted for their beliefs. People of faith, including Christians, should be able to freely practise their faith and bear witness to it in their lives, without fear of prejudice, intolerance, abuse or violence. Candidates should be committed to the right of people not to be forced to act against their conscience.

Nuclear Weapons and the Arms Trade

The use of any weapon that causes more than individual and proportionate harm to civilians is immoral and, thus, rejected by the Church. The use of weapons of mass destruction is a serious crime against God and against humanity. While states are entitled to possess the means required for legitimate defence, this must not become an excuse for an excessive accumulation of weaponry which becomes a considerable threat to stability and freedom.

Respectful Politics

Often, politicians are tempted to score points or resort to insults. We need politicians who are willing to change this and to take politics in a new direction, where dialogue is respectful, and where different points of view, including those of a religious nature, are tolerated.

As we cast our votes this election, let us bear in mind the words of Pope Francis when he said, “The greatness of any nation is revealed in its effective care of society’s most vulnerable members.” Our nation, our Parliament, and our Government will be judged on how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

Yours devotedly in Christ,

+ Philip Tartaglia, President, Archbishop of Glasgow

+ Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh
+ Joseph Toal, Vice-President, Bishop of Motherwell
+ Hugh Gilbert, Episcopal Secretary, Bishop of Aberdeen
+ Stephen Robson, Bishop of Dunkeld
+ John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley
+ William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway
+ Brian McGee, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles