Friday, October 18, 2019

A question of Quicunque

One of the drawbacks from being a user of the Monastic Breviary conforming to the Book of Common Prayer rather than the Book of Common Prayer itself is that one does not encounter all three Creeds with regularity. For example, on Christmas Day, according to the full Office of the BCP, the Apostles’ Creed will be said at Evensong, the Nicene Creed at Mass and the wonderful Quicunque Vult at Mattins: all three Creeds announce Our Saviour’s Nativity. I tend only to meet the Quicunque Vult at Prime on Trinity Sunday just as I don’t say the Te Deum daily but only on Sundays and Feasts.

The Athanasian Creed is not by St Athanasius: it does not seem to have come from Greek origins, nor do Athanasius or his contemporaries mention it. It does, however, bear some resemblances to St Vincent of LĂ©rins’ thinking and, if it is not his work, then it may be one of his contemporaries in Southern Gaul.

It is central to the faith of the Church of England.


THE Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

and to the Continuing Anglican Churches, as the Affirmation of St Louis says:

The Creeds

The Nicene Creed as the authoritative summary of the chief articles of the Christian Faith, together with the "Apostles' Creed, and that known as the Creed of St. Athanasius to be "thoroughly received and believed" in the sense they have had always in the Catholic Church.

We should, therefore, be thorough in our reception and belief of this statement of our Faith and, for those who have not met this Creed before, I append it below.

How is it possible that a good Christian does not know this work? The Athanasian Creed, is slowly being forgotten through its rarer use, the intricacy of its language and through some rather unpalatable statements about those who do not keep the Catholic Faith.  This is unfortunate, especially when we know that Faith is central to our salvation. In order to be saved from the disease of Evil, the Darkness of the soul and from the agony of being separated from God, we have to believe in God. Sadly, many people seem to think that believing in a god of their choosing will do. While the Quicunque Vult, like the Apostles’ Creed, does not possess the ratification of an Oecumenical Council, we can certainly see that it is utterly unequivocal in the Trinitarian nature of the Catholic Faith and in the correct understanding as to Who Jesus Christ is. It presents a challenge to us to ensure that we are on the right track.

Many Orthodox Christians would find within this Creed a statement which is tantamount to the filioque, to wit:

The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

Again, we find that St Maximos the Confessor’s understanding of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father through the Son still fits here. It is a single procession, but that single procession involves the other two Persons of the Trinity: the Father as the Fount of the Godhead, the Son as the Door of Salvation through which the Holy Ghost enters into Creation. Thus the Quicunque Vult has a perfectly Orthodox reading.

But what of the Hellfire and Damnation that this Creed possesses, and which many find unpalatable? First, we notice that the Creed warns against departure from the Catholic Faith. We need to keep the Faith “whole and undefiled”. Why?

Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (St Mark vi.16)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (St John iii.16-18)

He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (St John iii.33-36)

Our Lord is very clear: in order to be saved from Evil. We must believe in the only-begotten Son of God.

Of course, there are those who find this unpalatable because they find an incompatibility between the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent God and the issue of those who do good things but don’t have a right belief. Obviously, the judgement of God lies with the individual and I cannot enter into that because I do not have the right to interfere. However, there is no logical incompatibility between the existence of God and the existence of Eternal Hellfire, despite many protests to the contrary. We must remember that Omniscience also involves knowledge of all possibilities and this means all possible free-will choices that an individual can make. We must never despair of the Mercy of God, but then we must not despair of His Justice either – they’re probably the same thing.

It is my intention to read and reflect upon the Quicunque Vult at least once a month – probably at Prime on Sundays when it was supposed to be read. If other Christians did the same, especially those whose faith needs a bit of a boost, then I suspect the quality of our Christian witness would increase most satisfactorily.


QUICUNQUE VULT salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem: Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternum peribit. Fides autem catholica haec est: ut unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in unitate veneremur. Neque confundentes personas, neque substantiam separantes. Alia est enim persona Patris alia Filii, alia Spiritus Sancti: Sed Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, aequalis gloria, coeterna maiestas. Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, aeternus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres aeterni, sed unus aeternus. Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus. Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres omnipotentes, sed unus omnipotens. Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres dii, sed unus est Deus. Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus [est] Dominus. Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compellimur: Ita tres Deos aut [tres] Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur. Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus. Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus. Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens. Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres: unus Filius, non tres Filii: unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti. Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus: Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales. Ita, ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate veneranda sit. Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat.

Sed necessarium est ad aeternam salutem, ut incarnationem quoque Domini nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat. Est ergo fides recta ut credamus et confiteamur, quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus [pariter] et homo est. Deus [est] ex substantia Patris ante saecula genitus: et homo est ex substantia matris in saeculo natus. Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo: ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens. Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem: minor Patre secundum humanitatem. Qui licet Deus sit et homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus. Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum. Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, sed unitate personae. Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo: ita Deus et homo unus est Christus. Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos: tertia die resurrexit a mortuis. Ascendit ad [in] caelos, sedet ad dexteram [Dei] Patris [omnipotentis]. Inde venturus [est] judicare vivos et mortuos. Ad cujus adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis; Et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem. Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam: qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum. Haec est fides catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit.


WHOSOEVER will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.
Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
So are we forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say there be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood.
Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether, not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.
Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Political fleshy arms

Sermon for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Whom do you trust, these days?

Chances are that politicians aren’t going to be high on your list of trustworthy people at the moment. All kinds of accusations of corruption and abuse of power are being levelled at the most important people in our society. Perhaps we should be taking God’s word through Jeremiah seriously.

Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.

That’s what God tells us, and it’s true. If we trust in any human being to the exclusion of God, then we have made an idol of that human being and we will fall with them. It’s even there in our language: we idolise our heroes. Groups of Christians are named after their founders and leading lights – Luther, Calvin, Jansen, St Benedict, et c. If we rely too much on them then God says we must fall.


Our Lord Jesus does not mince words when he upbraids the Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of Israel. He lays into them because they love their power more than God to the extent that the people who follow them are suffering. It seems that political leaders are not people who deserve our trust.

Yet we can put our trust too much in our political systems. We know that democracy is a good form of government: we fight for it; we seek to make it available to all people; and we end up idolising it. Look how some churches value Democracy so much that they are willing to put the truth of Christian Doctrine to a vote. The democratic vote has damaged the politics of many of our strongest nations causing division and resentment.

If we make flesh our arm and depart from the Lord, then we will fall.


This is the problem that we have in the West. We have made idols out of ideals that are not God. Human Life, Human Liberty, Human Dignity, Human Justice, Human Prosperity – these are not from God. Only in God do we find true Life, true Liberty, true Dignity, true Justice and true Prosperity because all of these are aspects of God’s being. It is the belief that we have a right not to be controlled that is preventing us from accepting that we need to be ruled.

All of our politicians are flawed. Certainly all of the politicians whom we regard as great are flawed characters. Would the likes of Churchill or Lincoln be elected to office now? Chances are that, as soon as they stand for office, the Press would rake up sins from their pasts and whip up the crowds to demand that they stand down. That’s how our society works: we build up heroes and then knock them down. Perhaps we even build up heroes in order to knock them down.

If we have lost God in our society then we have lost the means by which we can escape this idolisation of our leaders. Churchill describes Democracy as the least worst form of government. If our leaders sin and repent then we should forgive and learn to trust again.


Our society is missing God. We want our own way and we want leaders who are perfect. We will never be satisfied unless we find the perfect leader and follow that leader. There is such a leader – the Shepherd of our souls. If we learn to trust God then political turmoil will pass us by. If we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then we learn how to vote responsibly and play a part in our imperfect Democracy.

But Democracy will fall because there is only One God and His Will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven. We have to prepare ourselves for that when He comes again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead.

In the meantime, we must learn to be Holy for God is Holy, and sanctify our politics through prayer and attention to God. We must accept who rules us and remember that we are merely passing through to a better Kingdom.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Sincerity and Society

Sermon for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it.

Is God talking to us in the same words as He uses with Jeremiah?


 It doesn’t take much to look at the way our society is and see clear parallels. Is God saying to us, “How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken Me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour's wife.”

While these sins are nothing new, we do live in a society which used to be proudly Christian and is now denying either that God does not exist or that He is not worth worshipping. Even within the Church many are more concerned about fighting for sexual freedoms than the worship of God. There are many who call themselves Christian but who will not believe in the physical Resurrection of Our Lord. There are many who call themselves Christian but who believe that the writers of the Bible made mistakes in conveying God’s message to us. There have been church leaders who have even scolded St Paul for not being inclusive of people’s lifestyle choices. There are many who call themselves Christian – even church leaders – but who do not believe in God!

If our society is committing the same sins as Jeremiah’s Jerusalem, can’t we expect to receive the same consequences as Jeremiah’s Jerusalem? After all, God doesn’t create one rule for one person and another rule for somebody else.


Preaching God’s Word, too, is getting more and more difficult. Why? Again, look at our society.

“[T]hey have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.”

God’s words through Jeremiah remain true.

To be honest, nothing much has changed. Many preachers have been saying the same thing through the ages that our society is a sinful, godless society. While we are troubled by this, we should not be troubled unduly. We might find ourselves fighting the tide of popular opinion, going against the flow and standing alone against the world but this is our calling as a Church.

Christians build their house on the rock that is called Christ and we cling to it like limpets. Our Lord Jesus Christ says very clearly that God is our Father and that He is a Good Father. God does not ignore the prayers of anyone who earnestly and honestly calls to Him. This does not mean that we can pray away our pain and suffering in this life but, rather, our pain and suffering for God become sacrifices by which we can reach out to our fallen society. The more that people swept along by the tide of the false god Progress see that there is a rock to cling to, the more they will find comfort in the Righteousness of God.


It is precisely the Righteousness of God that people need to see. If the Church wants Society to seek God then we need to seek Him first, to ask Him for the things needed to proclaim His Holy Word to generations that are deaf because they will not hear. A church that is concerned with the things of the world is no church because God is not of the world. Such a church will present dust to those made of dust.


The Living Church will say to God “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done” and suffer the consequences. But what are the consequences that the church of the world will suffer? In which church are we?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Where have all the angels gone?

Sermon for Michaelmas Day

Where have all the angels gone?

There are tales of angels fighting enemy forces during battles in the First World War, appearing out of thin air to aid tired and failing heroes. If an angel host fights on your side it means that your cause is just, doesn’t it? Unfortunately these just seem to be just wartime propaganda to justify – even glorify – the cause for warfare.

The precedent is quite clear. The prophet Elisha gets a whole host of angels to stand with him against the king of Syria. If Elisha stands on the cause of God then it must follow that anyone who fights for God’s cause must receive the same treatment.

Then where are they?


Elisha gets a host to stand with him, but Jonathan does not.

St Peter is loosed from his chains by and angel, but St James is not.

John the Baptist’s conception is announced by an angel, but Moses’ is not.

In times of despair today, some people are visited by angels and some are not.

Why? Are some of us just not good enough to receive angelic help?


This is exactly the same problem that we face when we ask where all the miracles have gone and the answer is the same. Miracles are happening and angels are visiting but we don’t see them and the reason is quite clear. If we had angels in constant visible attendance, the human race would automatically start treating them like genies. The human race would quickly become a collection of spoilt children unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions, unwilling to live the life that God gives us to live as ourselves, unwilling to be transformed into Children of Light.

The evidence for this is very obvious indeed, especially since we seem to regard Planet Earth as something to exploit rather than care for. And we seem to regard other human beings as things to exploit rather than care for. Why should the angels become visible based on this evidence?


Let us be clear. To ask whether we are good enough for angels and miracles makes no sense. You might as well have a birthday on October 32nd. You can be rich enough to own a top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz, but you can’t be good enough to own one.

The fact is that we do have angels looking after us all the time. God promises that He will give His angels charge over us to protect us lest we dash our feet against a stone.

Wait! Does this mean that God promises to send an angel to stop us stubbing our toes?

No. Clearly not. This is not what the Psalmist means when he tells of angels preventing us from dashing our foot against a stone. He is speaking of the angels clearing our way to God from obstacles.

This is where the battle lies.


We hear St John talk of war in Heaven where the good angels fight the bad. This battle is over humanity, and it is a battle that still rages in Time over each one of us. The angels have only one goal: to get the Children of God back to God. Their battle is unseen and unknown and it is best for us if it remains that way otherwise we would become mere spectators to our own lives.

There are times when God commands the angels to become visible, but only for His purposes and not ours. Someone might say, “that’s not fair! I could do with seeing my guardian angel now!” but who said that God was fair? God is not fair – He is generous, abundantly generous and kind and far above issues of human fairness. Human fairness is often self-serving unlike love and trust. God has His reasons to reveal angels to some and not to others. We need to trust that.

That's not to say that the angels aren't around us now. We could be entertaining angels and not know it.
The angels haven't gone anywhere. It's we who are on the journey back to God. Rather than worry about seeing angels, let us be thankful to them for clearing the way back to God Who created both Man and the angels.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Consequences for Marcion

Sermon for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

It’s very tempting to think that Marcion was right.

Who’s Marcion?

Marcion says that he is a Christian who does not believe that the God he reads about in the Old Testament is the same God that he reads about in the New Testament. Marcion thinks that it would be a good idea to cut out the Old Testament altogether as well as those bits of the New Testament which are sympathetic to the Old Testament?

But why?

Marcion hears the prophet Zephaniah declare that God says, “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling blocks with the wicked: and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord.” Marcion remembers how similar this sounds to God’s fury at the people in Noah’s time just before He wipes them off the face of the Earth with a flood.

And then Marcion hears Our Lord say, “Thy sins are forgiven. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

You can see the thoughts go around Marcion’s head. If Jesus is God, then he’s not the same God as the one that drowned the Earth in a flood. They have completely different characters. Hasn’t Marcion got a point?


The main trouble with Marcion’s argument is that Our Lord Jesus Christ was born a Jew and for the purpose of saving the people of God. Jesus Himself reminds us that He was sent first to save the people of Israel and then the Gentile. All Jesus’ acts of worship conform to the Jewish standards of worship. The Blessed Virgin teaches her little boy the Jewish faith that she has received from old time, and her little boy grows up in that faith as the Messiah – the one who fulfils that faith. His ministry is steeped in the words of the Law and the Prophets, only He reveals their true nature as laws for the heart, not for blind observance. Jesus is the Son of the God worshipped by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and there is no getting around this. The Father of Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, and therefore the God of the New. And Jesus and the Father are One.

So why is God so different between the two testaments?


It seems difficult to say that God is the same in both Testaments, but it is true. Our difficulty is that we tend to see God as we see ourselves. We hear phrases like “the wrath of God” and we see a furious bearded old man on a throne hurling thunderbolts. That image we have, though, is an old image of the Greek god Zeus and is therefore a distortion. God does not experience wrath in the same way we do – how can an Eternal Being be angry at things in Time? What we see in the “wrath of God” are the consequences of our sins.


Take a china plate and hold it at arm’s length above a stone floor. Now let go.

Take a glass tumbler and hold it at arm’s length above a stone floor. Now let go.

Take a plastic beaker and hold it at arm’s length above a stone floor. Now let go.

In each case, the object falls. The tumbler and the plate break, but they all fall down. That’s the way that God arranges the Universe. That is the law of Gravity. We can’t change that, and if God were to change the law of gravity then the whole Universe would be changed too.

The same is true. If we sin and keep on sinning then this will have effects on the world around us. Every little sin we commit goes out into the world like the butterfly flapping its wings. And, as the Butterfly Effect takes hold, this can whip up a storm that can destroy us. This storm is the wrath of God because it is the consequence of our sins according to the rules and laws with which God has created the Universe.

We look at the world that God destroys yet saving Noah. We see Israel taken into captivity in Babylon. We see the temple of Jerusalem destroyed. And we say that it’s the wrath of God. Indeed it is. These are the logical consequences of our sins and we have to accept those consequences. It doesn’t matter if we destroy the environment around us knowingly or unknowingly, the result is the same and we are punished by those consequences. We can’t blame God because He created the world and us and told us how to live in order to enjoy it – and we did not listen to Him.


Hold a plate at arm’s length over a stone floor. Now let go. Does the plate smash?

Not if someone catches it.

Not if we allow someone to catch it.

Not if we call out for help for someone to catch it.

Not if we, knowing how foolish we are to have let go of the the plate repent, call out for help.


We humans are a foolish race. We expect God to save us from the consequences of our sin by changing the Universe just to help us out. And we forget that God has the power over life and death itself. Even if we are broken by the consequences of our sins, we can be mended, transformed and recreated. Even death is not something to fear when God is with us.

And this is the God that Marcion rejects in favour of a god of his own making, torn away from Eternity and flattened into Time and Space.


This world is buzzing with the consequences of sin, but it also buzzes with the consequences of love. We must accept the consequences of both in order to respect the Universe and the One God Who created it, but work to send out into the Universe the love of the same One God Who will save it.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Walking the wrong talk

Sermon for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Every family seems to have a scandal. Somewhere along the line, someone upsets a brother or a sister or a cousin. You may have heard of parents disowning children or children divorcing their parents. We certainly know of many marriages which have ended badly.

Is it ever right for a family to break apart? There are certainly families so dysfunctional that they have to be broken up.

It seems that the Church is just such a dysfunctional family.


The Church has been riven with many schisms and factions. Even today, we witness congregations disowning their parent church and realigning themselves with others. Though many would deny it, this is true of all branches of the Church. It has happened in the Orthodox Church which has fractured most recently over the issue of Ukraine; the Anglican Communion is fragmenting along issues which boil down to the authority of Holy Scripture; and Pope Francis has recently said that he doesn’t have a problem with those who threaten to break away from the Church of Rome over issues his pontificate raises.

Surely this isn’t right. Surely there is only One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. How can that break apart?


First, we should realise that St Paul witnesses fragmentation in the Church. His letters to the Corinthians and to the Romans demonstrate that he is committed to resolving disputes. However, there are occasions when a split must occur. St Paul writes to St Timothy who is in Ephesus. His main concern about the church in Ephesus is that strange teachings are arising. St Paul tells him, “charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.”

These false teachers are Nicolaitans and Our Lord tells St John in the book of Revelation that the Church in Ephesus has done well to hate their teaching. We still don’t quite know what the Nicolaitans teach but several Church Fathers such as St Hippolytus and St Epiphanius suggest that the Nicolaitans are the followers of a deacon called Nicolas who has fallen into sexual immorality and impurity and changes the teaching of the Church to reflect that.

St Paul is very clear, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”

For the health of the Church, the Christian must walk away from anyone who changes the Faith from what Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us, from what He shows us and from what His disciples bear witness. St Paul tells us that those who change the Faith like to change and quibble about what words mean, and argue about what is really being taught. We have seen this before, because we know that the Devil likes to quote Holy Scripture but in such a way as to make it mean what it does not.

So, we must withdraw from those who change what Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches.



There is an important thing here that we must take care. Our Lord Jesus commends us for hating the teaching of the Nicolaitans, but not for hating the Nicolaitans. The one thing that can never change is that all humanity is one family and that we share this humanity with everyone, even evil doers. We have the same humanity as Our Lady, St Peter, St John, St Paul, St Theresa of Calcutta, even the same humanity as Our Lord. But we also have the same humanity as our worst enemy, the greatest schismatics, the Nicolaitans, and dictators such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. We cannot change that.

Each person is still our neighbour and still worthy of our love because they bear the same humanity as we do, and the teaching of Christ is that we love them. There is a difference between walking away from those who preach a false Gospel and hating them.


When we have to walk away, we must do so with tears in our eyes, feeling for the people who have been so deceived and remembering that we ourselves can easily be corrupted if we are not careful. We must pray to God vigorously begging Him to save those who have thing so badly wrong, and begging Him to show us of any false teaching that we might be holding onto. We must keep the door of the Church unlocked and a light burning in the window for those who leave the Church through false teaching so that they can see the way back and find God’s forgiveness and joy at their return.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Slave subversion

Sermon for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity

The Church has often been accused of endorsing slavery. You can see why. The Old Testament has passages which permit selling people into slavery. Even St Paul appears to be encouraging slavery when he writes things like “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” Further, St Paul sends the runaway slave Onesimus back to his master Philemon and he is proud of it!


The issue of slavery is a blight on Western Civilisation and we are still reeling from its effects. Over the centuries, under the pretence of civilisation, human beings have been bought and sold like cattle and treated as less than cattle. Slavery has been presented as acceptable by the ruling elite, even as statements of fashion, and the dreadful reality hidden away until recent times.


We know why slavery is appalling: a human being is being robbed of the dignity of being human and treated like a piece of property, no better than a bull, a goat or a sheep.

It has to be said, though, that this is a different form of slavery than that described in the Old Testament. In the Jewish Law, someone in dire financial difficulty could sell themselves or a child to another in order to work off the debt. Yet, let us be clear on this, this form of slavery had rights and was not meant to be permanent. Indeed, in the Old Testament, this form of slave would be better translated as bondsman – someone under a bond of debt.

In other cultures, and most notably, the Roman Empire, the slave was indeed a piece of property of another human being. While a slave could be freed, there was no guarantee of freedom, no guarantee of rights, not even a guarantee of kindness. Roman Law is designed to uphold this view. If a slave runs away to you, then you are legally required to return that slave to his master because he is not you property. If you keep that slave, then you are guilty of theft in the eyes of Roman Law.


And this is St Paul’s dilemma. Onesimus has run away from Philemon and found his way to St Paul. Under Roman Law, St Paul must return Onesimus. Does this sound familiar?

We know what the Lord says about the Roman Law: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. What we see in St Paul’s letter to Philemon is precisely how he does just that.

He creates a bond of brotherhood between Philemon and Onesimus. The Roman Law only has power over a slave for as long as long as there is a distance between master and slave. As soon as the master realises the dignity of the slave; as soon as the master realises his shared humanity with the slave; as soon as the master realises that the slave is his brother to be loved and cherished and adored, then the Roman Law is utterly meaningless. As long as the commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is in effect, any law which relies on one person being of lesser value than another is void.


It’s true to say that some parts of the Church have done better than others to stamp out slavery. Horribly, some parts of the Church have done better than others to endorse slavery. The fact is, however, whenever another human being is seen as the property of another, there is a violation of the commandment of God. It needs to be fought.

And yes, there is slavery today.

There is slavery in sweatshops where children are forced to make cut-price clothes for less than the cost of living.

There is slavery in car washes in which people are forced to wash cars by those who exploit their circumstances as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants.

There is slavery in the sex industry in which girls are being sold for their bodies. We don’t need to go further to think about the horrors that await them.

All this slavery can be stopped the moment we realise our duty of love to our neighbour. It means we need to be careful what we buy and where from. We need to be considerate of those who deliver our packages at night. We need to look into the eyes of those who wash our cars. We need to protect our young men and women from those who would seek to use their bodies in a vile and disgusting manner.

But above all, we need to become slaves of love.


We are God’s property through our creation and yet God would have us become like Him. His yoke is easy, His burden is light. To be a slave of Christ is to gain the world. To be a slave of Christ is to gain Christ. There are those who work in the darkness who need to hear that!