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Presbyterian Moderator welcomes visit by Pope Benedict

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William Crawley | 12:19 UK time, Sunday, 4 July 2010

ian.jpgmod.jpgThe Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church says he welcomes the state visit to the UK by Pope Benedict XVI and feels no sense of threat from it. Dr Norman Hamilton was speaking on today's Sunday Sequence in response to Dr Ian Paisley's claim that invitation to the Pope was "a mistake".

Dr Hamilton, who leads Northern Ireland's largest Protestant denomination, said: "Her Majesty certainly doesn't think it was a mistake, otherwise she wouldn't have invited him ... I will accept Her Majesty's judgment on this rather than Dr Paisley's . . . Her Majesty will welcome the Pope and I am very content to go along with her welcome to the Pope to Scotland and England."

popetour.jpgWhen I asked the Moderator if he would accept an invitation to meet Pope Benedict during the state visit, he said he would have no difficulty meeting the Pope in a non-religious context. "If Her Majesty were to host a dinner at Holyrood, then as a loyal subject I wouldn't think it proper to decline her invitation," he said.

He continued, "As someone who is committed to Christ, I have no sense of threat or fear by the visit of any world leader to our country, whether he be a political or a faith leader or a cultural leader. I have to say I don't feel undermined, I don't feel diminished, I don't feel undervalued by any visitor to these shores. No am I diminished or undervalued."


  • Comment number 1.

    Sorry, William, but despite your best efforts you didn't get the Presbyterian Moderator anywhere near to welcoming the Pope's visit to Britain. You didn't even get him to disassociate himself from a single one of all the unlovely comments about Catholics that Dr Paisley has made over the years and still declines to revise. The Moderator made it perfectly clear that he might bring himself to sit at table with the Pope only if his Queen commanded him to do so. The Pope's visit to Britain he plainly regrets but will have to put up with rather than criticize a decision of the Monarch - not, I'm sure, that the Monarch had to think twice about it. No Ken Newell he, this new Moderator.

    By the way, what was the significance of Dr Paisley's comment about the Queen meeting the Pope only on Scottish soil and not on English soil? I should have thought that a meeting in Scotland would be all the more deplorable since on Scottish soil Her Majesty is, or so I'm told, a Presbyterian.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is the first time that I have heard Dr Hamilton speak and I was struck by how he couldn't give a straight answer to a simple question. He showed no sound leadership qualities in my view; instead he basically said that he was fine with whatever the Queen wanted.

    Isn't it great, however, to see the power of religion to bring people of different faiths together: Dr Hamilton would only meet the Pope in a non-religious context! Perhaps life would be much better if less prominence and taxpayers money was given to religion - more people might come together and get on with their lives?

  • Comment number 3.

    OK so it would have been great to get the Moderator to come out with a positive answer to the question. But to be fair he has a role to work within a "broad" church so finding a way to be gracious and positive while not getting into a position that reflects the ecumenical wing while rejecting those with a more traditional conservative theological position is a tight rope I felt he handled OK.

  • Comment number 4.

    Newlach: Isn't it great, however, to see the power of religion to bring people of different faiths together: Dr Hamilton would only meet the Pope in a non-religious context!

    I loved that comment when William said - 'so you're happy to have dinner with him but not communion*
    Just shows how religion in its current form promotes separation of humanity and not unification.
    Having dinner is communion! You don't need a church to have communion. I know people will say that it is specific to the blood and body of Christ etc but from where I'm coming from having dinner is/can be a more true form of communion with other people and with Christ (as I understand it). (esp if the pizza/dinner cooked with joy!! haha :-) esp for you Helio! )

    Reminds me of a wee saying:

    "Going to church doesn't make one a Christian any more than going to a garage makes one a car"

  • Comment number 5.

    Dr Paisley`s opinion is based on the Westminster confession used by Presbyterian Churches and why the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, the Reformed Presbyterian church of Ireland and the Free Church of Scotland have all issued similar statements to Dr Paisley as has the Orange Order.

    Westminster Confession of Faith

    Of the Church

    The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.

    II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    III. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.

    IV. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

    V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will.

    VI. There is no other head of the Church, but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church. against Christ and all that is called God.

  • Comment number 6.

    Kilsally thanks for that - explains alot!
    However statements like * out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.* are seriously flawed - one could even say it is a lie.

  • Comment number 7.

    Not all Presbyterians accept the Westminster Confession of Faith - a wholly man-made doctrine. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterians reject it; back in the 18th and early 19th centuries, Presbyterians were radicals and free thinkers, but unfortunately the church took a subscriptionist direction, and lost much of its edge. The history of the NSPCI is intriguing, and if there are open-minded Presbyterians (or others) on the blog who are interested in an alternative to dogma, they could do a lot worse than come along some Sunday to All Souls church on Elmwood Avenue. They will be surprised at what they find - I know I was.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm sure Dr Hamilton has no problems with the Pope after all his denomination were in bed with the Roman Catholic Church for years. Its only recently they have caught themselves on.

    "come out from among them, and be ye separate" 2Corinthians 6:17

  • Comment number 9.

    Seems like the Mod shares his heart and soul with both Jesus Christ and HM the Queen. What grovelling drivel from a man who should be capable of giving his answers as a leader of a faith community rather than as a British subject, which seems entirely irrelevant to the issues raised by your questions. Would he consider Benedict, along with Dr Paisley, a brother in Christ? I don't think so.


  • Comment number 10.

    As a communicant member in a Presbyterian Church I wouldn't agree with some of the comments made by our moderator. I personally am opposed to the Pope visiting the United Kingdom and I as a taxpayer having to foot the bill for his visit. I won't be out protesting about the visit however. The Roman Catholic Church down the years have carried out some dreadful acts on people who they classed as heretics and have never apologised for their actions. People like myself in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church wouldn't be proper Christians.

  • Comment number 11.

    On his appointment as Presbyterian moderator I was impressed with Dr Hamilton's commitment to tackle sectarianism but I fear he's fallen at an early hurdle. On the three occasions that he was asked to state his opinion on the Pope's visit he subordinated his judgement to that of 'her majesty'. He also sought to diminish the sectarian implications surrounding the visit by introducing the 'red herring' of the Dalai Lama's visit which was, of course, without such implications.
    I've no doubt that he was concerned not to upset those in the Presbyterian Church who epitomise sectarianism in considering the Pope to be the anti-Christ and Catholics as sub-Christian. It won't do, Dr Hamilton, but I'll not give up on you just yet.

  • Comment number 12.

    Helio, the history of the NSPCI is indeed interesting, if for no other reason than it informs us that they weren't all against the doctrines of the Westminster standards; rather they were opposed to the idea of having to subscribe to them. To this day, there are still those within the NSPCI who would agree with the WCoF, but don't think they should have to subscribe to it.

    It seems there are a lot of people who sadly are very swift to condemn here. I for one appreciate that Dr Hamilton was in an awkward position. Asked this kind of question it's all too easy to give a response that the media will take out of context or sample a soundbite from and before you know it, the church is being bombarded with all sorts of accusations that distract from its mission. I didn't hear the interview, but what Will has posted here seems reasonable.
    * Dr Hamilton doesn't feel that he or PCI are threatened by the arrival of a leader of another state or religion. Why should there be cause for fear?
    * Dr Hamilton could not meet the Pope in a religious context. There are fairly major incompatibilities between Roman Catholicism as Pope Benedict practices it and Reformed Christianity. That's hardly a surprise and not something that grown adults should be getting in a strop about. I can't picture the Pope sitting down for a Presbyterian communion and signing the WCoF, but then I wouldn't expect him to (though I'd hope he'd be open to changing his mind).
    * Dr Hamilton could meet the Pope in a civic context. Don't see a problem with that either. You didn't see Jesus or Paul running away form Roman authorities. It's not as if being in the same room is going to mean he gets contaminated by Catholic cooties or that he must be endorsing the Pope in some way. That's just daft. If anything, it's a chance to witness to the Pope and to others present.

    Basically it sounds like he's not terribly interested in the Pope being here, he could be in the same room if he was invited, but he couldn't join in worship with him. That's pretty much what I would have expected. Not sure what anyone else thinks he should have said that would have been consistent with being a Presbyterian (or any other Reformed Christian for that matter).

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi William - not sure if you are reading this but I tried to post it under the old testament lectures no.24 but would not post for some reason. Just wanted to say 'thank you' to you for running the course and providing the opportunity to access the lectures and hear the academic critiques and views re the old testament. Much appreciated.
    Are you running one on the New testament?
    thanks again

  • Comment number 14.

    Tullycarnetbertie - you say that the Catholic Church wouldn't regard you as a propter Christian. That's really not true. As a communicant Presbyterian, batized, we would of course regard you as a fellow Christian. Obviously you aren't a Catholic in communion with the Pope but you don't want to be.

    I think Paisley is wrong in all sorts of ways but he has his beliefs and he's allowed to express them. The Moderator has a difficult job. He's very little authority and is trying to hold together contradictory positions. His appeal to the Queen was a good one.

    Incidently, hopping through wikipedia the other day as you do, I discovered that when a British monarch dies, the first thing the new monarch has to do is swear an oath to protect and defend the Church of Scotland. This is done within the first couple of days and, obviously, long before the monarch takes his or her anti-Catholic coronation oath. Anyone know the history behind it?

  • Comment number 15.

    Am I the only one for whom the Darth Vader theme from the Star Wars films plays in their heads whenever they see the current Pope?

    He has a remarkable similarity with Palpatine.

  • Comment number 16.

    Ian Paisley's antipathy to Roman Catholicism, the Roman Catholic
    Church and the Papacy has been well to the fore throughout his public
    life, political and religious.

    In a Sunday Sequence interview on 3rd October 1999 he stated that
    Roman Catholicism was idolatrous and non-Christian because it
    celebrated the Mass and believed in Transubstantiation.

    This raises serious questions:-

    By Mr Paisley's definition, that Roman Catholicism is idolatrous and non-
    Christian because of the practice of the Mass and belief in
    Transubstantiation, the Lutheran Church, the Anglican High Churches,
    the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches
    are equally idolatrous and non-Christian. Was/is he seriously pontificating that Martin Luther, who apparently continued to exercise his priesthood after his public disagreement with Rome, was an idolator and not a Christian? (Martin Luther was a priest of the Roman Catholic Church.)

    Has it never occurred to Mr Paisley and others that Christianity in any form, Re-formed or un-Re-formed, is idolatrous and blasphemous? Endowing
    the concept of "God" with an anthropomorphic image and deifying a man, no matter how virtuous or inspired, blasphemes against the first and second Commandments of the Old Testament; and nothing can be more fundamental to Judeo-Christianity than those two Commandments.

    Mr Paisley also claimed in that interview that his brand of fundamentalist Christianity was a reflection of "primative early Christianity".

    The Fundamentalism to which he adheres is no doubt derived from the more extreme forms of the Re-formation of Western Christianity inspired by Calvin, Knox and others. One and a half millenia after the beginnings of the Christian Church where did these extreme Re-formers, or later Fundamentalists, get their image of "primitive early Christianity" which Mr Paisley says that Protestant Fundamentalism is? Surely not from the corrupt Scriptures of the despised Roman Church, which would have been the only available source of information. (John Calvin and John Knox were also priests of the Roman Catholic Church.)

    Were Luther, Calvin and Knox idolatrous non-Christians prior to the

    Did Christianity lay dormant and not come into being until the

    Mr Paisley's views then sounded similar to those expressed by some
    members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at their General Assembly
    a few months earlier in 1999, and discussed by their newly-appointed
    Moderator in a Sunday Sequence interview on 13 June 1999. The present
    Moderator Norman Hamilton's evasive replies to a repeated direct question on Sunday Sequence on 4th July 2010 suggests either that such views are still held by a substantial number of members and clergy of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland or that he holds such views contrary to more enlightened views possibly now held by some members and clergy or by the Presbyterian Church in general.

    Would Moderator Hamilton please enlighten us?

    Dennis Golden

  • Comment number 17.


    Just for you

    I think I have posted it before, but hey



  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks Eunice. A number of people have been in touch to say how much they enjoyed watching the Yale OT course, even though they didn't want to take part in a discussion thread. I do plan to run the New Testament course at the start of September. I'm glad you enjoyed the first course; sorry you've had some trouble trying to post comments on those threads.

  • Comment number 20.

    Thank you for your reply William. I look forward to hearing the academic critiques of the New Testament in September - its always good to hear other views and perspectives! So thanks again for providing the opportunity.


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