Friday, July 23, 2010

Desertion, desolation and deprivation

I'm a terrible Benedictine - I'm always complaining. Usually, as you've probably noticed, it's to do with my apparent homelessness in the Church. I don't think for one minute that I'm alone. Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Communion have to consider their position very carefully. As Bishop Jarrett has said, there's no point in being precipitous in our actions. Things have been moving very fast in the last thirty years - that does not mean that we should rush our actions until we hear the still, small voice speaking to the Heart of the Church.

There are a lot of confusing factors here.
  1. What is the Anglican Continuum? Are these groups of schismatics with a tendency to schism among themselves, or are the Continuing Churches better exponents of Anglicanism than has been demonstrated by the infighting of Liberal, Conservative and Anglo-Catholic over the various issues? Is it inevitable that Anglicans schism?
  2. Are the Ordinariates safe for Anglicans? Again, there are lots of arguments both ways here. See my earlier post.
  3. Is the Doctrine of Taint viable? By this I mean, the following reasoning:

    (1) Women cannot be ordained.

    (2) When a bishop attempts to ordain women, he claims that he "ordains" a woman into the same order as he ordains a man.

    (3) If (1) and (2) are true then the orders established by that bishop must be as invalid for the male as for the female.

    (4) From (3), doubt arises about the validity of any sacrament in a jurisdiction which supports W"O".

    (5) From (4), to remain fully Catholic and Apostolic, one cannot be communio in sacris with any jurisdiction which admits W"O".

    If this is the correct reasoning by some Anglo-Catholic bodies, then I query statement (2) and the weight of its implication into (3). If a bishop "ordains" a women and claims that the orders he bestows are the same as for a man, can he not be mistaken in his belief? A priest can claim to baptise a bell, but, if our understanding is correct that bells do not have immortal souls, the baptism is useless, ineffectual and quite null. Would that therefore mean that any baptism that the priest performs on a baby is therefore invalid?

    If the Ordination of Women does introduce doubt into Anglican Orders, then is it not reasonable to seek certainty by conditional re-ordination by Rome, or the Orthodox Church?
  4. What about the Heretics? Shouldn't one be concerned with hate the Heresy, love the Heretic? Scripture bids us walk apart from Heretics, but how far should we walk apart? If we are ministers to the world, then we are ministers to the Heretic as well as anyone else. If we have lived in the C of E for a long time, can we just honestly turn to our long-serving and gently disposed priests and utterly reject every good they have done in our lives just because they have been beguiled by the Zeitgeist into accepting W"O"?
    What of Religious orders that have accepted W"O" when their Oblates have not?

    It is God alone who judges the integrity of an individual's Christianity, and nonetheless do we have the challenge of how we can minister with those who profoundly disagree with us. However, supporters of W"O" must show that they understand Anglo-Catholic difficulties if they are maximise the level of communion between us. At present many don't and are unwilling to make the conceptual leap, judging from the self-righteous and arrogant comments made on the Thinking Anglicans blog.

    If we do separate, then what are the conditions that need to be met for coming back together again?

These are the questions that worry me at the moment as I suspect they worry many of us. What is the worst case scenario?

I suppose that it depends on your definition of "worst". For me its the prolonged homelessness that comes from not finding any spiritual stability in any of the above options. We're back to my desert analogies here. The worst thing may well be for good Anglo-Catholics to be forced to fulfill their Obligations by attending Mass in a Parish with a woman in a chasuble. Anglo-Catholics have that sense of obligation, but we could be faced with a choice between two apostasies (go to such a Mass or stay at home) or the loss of our Anglican identity (by becoming Roman Catholic). The latter may be a necessary sacrifice in order to meet our obligations, but then what do we make of "to thine own self be true"?

The desert, however, is not an entirely fruitless place to be. One can consider the Desert Fathers who managed to eke out lives of great solitude and asceticism. I would recommend reading the sayings of the Desert Fathers as they provide some extraordinary attitudes to living in the most inhospitable places in order to free the spirit from the shackles of this world. Consider:

Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius, 'Why do you avoid us?' The old man said to him, 'God knows that I love you, but I cannot live with God and with men. The thousands and ten thousands of the heavenly hosts have but one will, while men have many. So I cannot leave God to be with men.'

Perhaps this sort of existence is necessary for the Anglo-Catholics in order for them to manifest their saltiness to the World. The worst thing is that we become isolated individuals without priest or bishop living to some personal commitment to our Faith via Breviary or Common Prayer Book and Works of Mercy but hearing Mass in a Roman Catholic Church but never physically receiving the Sacrament again, staying away from the worldliness of a Communion that has become Apostate but desiring still to walk with other Christians.

That's the worst case, and I suspect (though I pray not) it may become a reality for some unfortunate souls. They still have the examples of the Desert Fathers to help them through.

In God we trust.

Of course we do, an thus we know that our future with Him may not be easy, but our striving for fidelity will lead us under His guidance to find a place in the Church where we can exist well, though relying on Him alone for contentment, nourishment and stability. I doubt that we will be comfortable for the next thirty years, but let us carry God with us into our future and let Him have the control over it. We cannot control our future, but God is faithful.

Anglican Patrimony

This is my three hundredth post! I'm dedicating it to what I see as vitally important, the search for Anglican identity with a view to its re-union with Rome. Deacon Andy Bartus put me onto this blog and I am very grateful.

Since Synod has effectively shown that Anglo-Catholics are not welcome within its Communion and has cast grave doubts now upon three of the four marks of the Church, it does make the quest for unity more urgent, especially since the Holy Father has re-opened some substantial dialogue with Anglo-Catholic dissenters.

Now, I'm not saying that all the problems are solved. There are still many questions to be asked, and many details to be sorted out. There are still questions of what the Ordinariates will really mean, who will be allowed to be Ordinaries and what relationship Ordinariate Anglicans will have with other Anglicans. If we really mean for this to be a godly enterprise, then we have no alternative but to bring God with us at every meeting, discussion and argument as well as just our prayer meetings, and fall back on Him, trusting in His guidance and Holy Spirit to inform our consciences and feeble intellectual powers.

Trust is the first expression of Love that needs to be fostered here, and while there are groups of Anglicans seeking to destroy any trust between any bodies which disagree with their opinions, we cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of being part of One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the Ordination (or otherwise) of Women

I'm getting lots of friends asking me why I object to the ordination of women and why I am so passionate on the issue. I do admit that I get hot under the collar about this, the reason for that is quite simple. Despite the fact that there are simply millions of people who follow this teaching of the Church, I appear to be the only one in the area who subscribes to it. Little wonder that in defending the faith, I am defending myself as well - is it any wonder that I get agitated? I have blogged on this before though a little obliquely; see here and here for just a couple of examples.

Let me see.

I'll start with the obvious.

Men and women are different.

You've got to accept that whether or not you regard one as being the head of the other or not. They are different. They share the same humanity, but that same humanity is expressed in different ways. Crucially though, both are needed in order for children to be born and raised and loved and nurtured into good, loving and happy human beings. I cannot deny that there are those who are brought up happily in a single parent family, but nonetheless, someone important is missing from that family for whatever reason.

If men and women are different, then they have different roles to play in Creation. It is clear that men and women think differently, prize different qualities in each other, excel at tasks in different ways. They lead projects differently, they teach differently, they live their lives in different ways as determined by their physical, mental and spiritual make-up. Surely this is a difference that God takes pride in (Man and Woman made He them), and in which we too should rejoice. Why not rejoice in one's manliness or womanliness? They are good things meant to be together by a Creator God who loves both without preference.

Now let's move into Christian Theology of the Church (what little I understand).

Scripture is abundantly clear that salvation is meant for everybody, without any exception. For example: I Corinthians xii.13 states

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made
to drink into one Spirit.

by which we can see that the fullness of the Christian Faith is open for all who love the Lord Jesus Christ, hold to His teachings and submit to his Kingship. Our salvation does not depend on WHO we are but rather HOW we relate to Christ Jesus.

In that sense the Church is inclusive.

However, again, one can look at Holy Scripture and see that God plays pick and choose. Yes, it's true, the same God who says He has no favourites engages in discrimination. He chooses one man, Abraham, to be the Father of Jews and Moslems and the spiritual Father of Christians. What about the others? Was there no-one else who believed in God? He chooses one tribe - the Levites - to be the priests and only the males. Why? Weren't the women good enough? And so it goes on, there is a choice made by God. He chooses Moses, a stammerer and stutterer, to be his mouthpiece, Jonah to be a reluctant prophet, Job, His devoted follower, to be the one who suffers one of the worst misfortunes known to humanity. All these choices have a point and reveal more and more the unfathomable nature of God.

Speeding on to the ministry of the Lord, here we have a Rabbi who tolerates women more than any other man of His day. He teaches them at his feet numbers them among his disciples and allows them the marvellous privilege of being the first witnesses to His Resurrection. Why is it then that He chooses only men to be His Apostles, headed by St Peter? Why is it that St Paul writing Biblically decrees that it is only men chosen to serve as Episkopes and Diakonoi whilst separating out the ministry of women in I Timothy iii?

Yes indeed, women can say the words of Eucharistic prayers, and wave their hands in precisely the same manner as men, but this is not an issue of "I can do it, therefore God wants me do it". As St Paul says, everything might be permissible but it is not always that which builds up the Church. Ordination is God's choice, and God has revealed how He makes His Choice, in the only two places where He makes Revelation - In the Church through Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition.

Despite supporters of women priests looking very hard, there are no women priests and no women bishops. They will try to cite the Mitred Abbess St Hilda, but although a mighty and powerful lady chosen by God to lead communities, she wasn't a priest, she didn't administer sacraments. They will also try to cite Paul's lesson to the Romans xvi.7:

ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνιᾶν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ.

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

as being evidence for a female apostle, until one realises that the phrase "among the apostles" is taken in the same way as "Pope Benedict is of note among the Protestants," the Protestants know Pope Benedict (and many hold him in high regard) but he is not a Protestant - at least in the conventional meaning of the word. It is not even clear whether this Junia, Junian, or Junias is even female.

I have also noticed supporters of women's "ordination" use again and again texts which refer to issues of salvation, not issues of Church policy, organisation and sacramental theology. I make reference to that here as I already mentioned above.

And now this is where I really get confused by the supporters of women ordination. They say that there was a full, church-wide acceptance for women "priests" but that it was suppressed by a male dominated society. Well, which is it? There is no hard evidence for the former, why not? Because it was destroyed by the latter. But if it was church-wide acceptance, and remember that the Church has managed to pass through being a minority before, how was the female priesthood suppressed?

What about the Gamaliel principal in Acts V:33-39?

Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves : who was slain ; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered , and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished ; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed . And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone : for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought : But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

If the female priesthood had existed, it was certainly non-existent very quickly in the Church.

It is therefore a reasonable belief, according to the two organs of God's revelation, Scripture and Tradition, that there is no female ordination, and indeed any attempt to ordain a woman is an active denial of her femininity because of the masculinity of the priesthood.

Then I hear various arguments
"The Holy Spirit can do what He likes and He is ordaining women." I agree. God the Holy Ghost does whatever He wills, but He is God and Faithful God at that. Why would He thus send mixed messages to His disciples? God does not contradict Himself.

"Well, the view in the Bible is old-fashioned and out-of-date, a product of a male dominated society! God will put all wrongs to right and hates discrimination." Yes, God hates any discrimination that makes anyone a second-class citizen, a lesser being, a slave, a wretch or a sub-human. But we see that God Himself does discriminate, but not to set one person above another. Look at how Christ the King washes His disciples' feet, the King is equivalent in the eyes of God to a servant and the servant to a King, though both have different roles. If we are going to reinterpret the Bible according to our own philosophies (and this idea of female ordination is a result of a modern philosophy) the we risk running foul of St Peter who said that we are forbidden to make our own interpretation of Scripture especially when it deviates from the worship of the Church. The moment that we start using our own way of thinking to judge God's choices, we set ourselves up to be His judge, and thus our own. I would prefer to be faithful to what I have received through the teaching of the Church, than to rely on my own philosophies which have lead me astray in the past.

The current climate of chauvinism versus feminism gives a false dichotomy which does far more harm than good. I am labelled a sexist just because I say that men and women are different and that women are never priests. To say that there is no difference between male and female denies the reality which is present, not only in the obvious sexual differences, but in the heart of every cell of the body. The species depends on the interdependece of the two sexes and their different roles, and this is true down to the physical level. To say that there is no difference between the sexes is to produce a Frankenstein monster, a man-made man, and the philosophy that seeks to create this awful hybrid is steeped in this philosophical hubris.

There is still the question of why God choose male priests. So far, I think I've presented a mainly Evangelical argument with a few Catholic twists. Here I delve into more Catholic Theology. The maleness of the priesthood is because of Christ. God the Father is so called because that is what Jesus told us to call Him. Even so, we cannot attribute a sex to God the Father. Now if we look at the Mystery of the Incarnation, we see that Our Lady Mary had to be female because God had ordained women to be the bearers of children. God the Father, who has no physical sex, conceives Our Lord through the Holy Ghost (again, no identifiable sex). If then, the Lord were not male, there would have been no male involved in the Salvation of Mankind and Salvation is for everybody, male and female.

Now then, it was the act of the priesthood to intercede between man and God for the sins of man and procure the forgiveness of sins and thus the salvation of mankind from the Eternal effects of those sins. God prefigured Christ in the Jewish sacrifices by choosing the Levite men, thus setting them apart for this job. When Christ came, He offered Himself (i.e. as a priest) as a Sacrifice (i.e. as a victim on the Cross) in order that we might be saved from our sins for all Eternity. In order to pass on that common salvation, He instituted the Holy Eucharist where He presented Himself in the sacramental form of Bread and Wine, to establish a substantial Communion with all people in all time. He thus, in One Sacrifice became for all people a One Perfect Offering which requires re-presenting (not re-sacrificing because that is unnecessary) for all of us even 2000 years later. This Eucharist is instituted to bind people together and bind them together in God in full and perfect Communion in Eternity.

For this to happen, someone has to stand in (a vicar!) for Christ as priest so that Christ the victim can be re-presented for us now. This is our priest, who, in keeping with the maleness of the Levites and the maleness of Christ is male.

Now that I have written this, I hope people can see where I'm coming from even if they cannot agree. I'm not trying to force people to agree, merely to give a statement of why I stand in a minority within the Church of England. I'm not being sexist, I don't look down on women, but I will not accept their ordination. I refuse to regard a woman "priest" as not-Christian unless she shows unChristian behaviour, but I regard her as gravely mistaken about her status in the Church and cannot worship with her if it means accepting this status. However the Church of England is forcing me and my ilk to accept Women as bishops and thus that the people they ordain as being validly ordained. We simply cannot do this: either they make provision for us in the C of E, or they help us to walk away in an amicable fashion.

Any clearer?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I must write this post NOW, that's why it's got a rotten title! Still I'd better put up with it.

If you look along a railway platform of a small town in the early rush hour before the arrival of a train, you'll see quite a wonderful expression of human behaviour. Travellers do not line up in a single line along the platform, they bunch up at surprisingly regular intervals. When the train comes along and stops, these bunches are lined up exactly with the doors of the train. It seems obvious how this happens: the most experienced travellers know where to stand in order to be first to enter the train and grab the seats, the reimaining travellers who arrive later know where to stand then.

Experienced travellers also know where to stand in order to get on the right coach of the train so that they don't have to walk so far to the exit of the station. It's all rather clever in its way. We've answered the question "how does the phenomenon happen?" and we have an understanding of the first level of why this happens (answer: because it's convenient) but there is the question of why we need the convenience. Why is it imperative to shave off a couple of seconds from our journey, to make the walk to the office shorter, to find short cuts, cut corners, make things more convenient?

Is it as simple as just saying that it's laziness? I suppose that would depend on what one would define "lazy". However (and correct me if I'm wrong), I tend to say this as impatience rather than laziness. There is nothing lazy about the latent anger one sees seething in a commuter who has been displaced from his place at the head of the bunch. The tension is quite palpable.

Impatience to me seems a rather funny thing, possibly because Impatience and I are old "friends", I do not think that I am alone. Of course, you are aware that impatience means the inability or unwillingness to suffer or to bear. We all have our limits to what we can truly tolerate, so in that sense we all suffer from impatience, and yet suffering is a fundamental part of living. The funniest thing about impatience is that it isn't one of the Seven Deadly Sins (or Eight if you're John Cassian). Why should this be? Aren't Christians affected by impatience as they are the other deadly sins?

Impatience is complex in both senses of the word. It produces complicated behaviour (such as commuters getting on a train); it also has many factors which contribute to it.

For the commuting example we can see these factors at work. There is an element of laziness, certainly, because there is a desire to minimise the work that needs to be done. There is an element of pride in that one's own will needs to be served first, and one-up-manship in seeking the optimum place to be. There is an element of envy in the stress that one receives when someone else gets the optimum place, and the subsequent irritability, resentment and anger. These are quite extraordinary feelings, and yet they can be harboured by people who are decent, hardworking, gentle and kind. These feelings are the symptoms of a society that is making heavier and heavier demands on the time and resources of little human beings. Yet these demands are coming from ourselves. Impatience has selfishness at its heart.

It's a vicious cycle, consider a Fast-food outlet. A stressed worker has only a little time, so demands fast-food. The demand for fast-food puts a stress on the teenagers behind the counter to get things right. The need to keep up with the demands alerts the attention of managers in the fast-food industry who then devise more "efficient ways" of using the time. This takes time away from the workers who become more stressed and demand faster food...

We become more impatient because we are stressed. We become more stressed because of greater demands made on us. We have greater demands placed upon us because society is becoming more impatient. Society is becoming more impatient because we are becoming more impatient.

And it's having terrible effects.

The Anglican Communion is on the brink of collapse because of impatience. Desperate to show how "inclusive" they are, ECUSA has been trying to force the issue by consecrating two openly gay bishops. (I'd like to leave aside the theological issues of homosexuality in this post) So convinced are the ECUSAns of their rectitude that they have ignored pleas from other members of the Communion in order to demonstrate what they believe to be right.

In the CofE, so convinced are the Liberals that it is right to have women "bishops" that they want full recognition of this "fact" from everybody and therefore seek to remove anything that would prevent this. Their impatience with those who dissent is quite obvious in the way that they seek the abolition of those policies which would protect dissenters from ministries that they cannot entertain.

Both of these cases are those of impatience. It's tearing our church into pieces and affecting the lives of good clerics. Whatever issues one may have with Dr Jeffrey John's lifestyle, one must admit that he has become a victim of the political wranglings between liberal and traditional. This rashness to deviate from the status quo which has yet to have been demonstrated to be wrong, is hurting gays and lesbians as well as evangelicals and catholics. This cannot be from God to multiply such misery.

No one seems interested in using the Gamaliel principle any more. If, as the liberals believe, that the conservative element of the Anglican Communion is dying out, then surely it would be better to wait for that to happen. If the conservatives do not die out, then perhaps there must be provision made for them to be protected from ministries they cannot accept.

However, suffering is a fundamental part of being human. The need to suffer is a direct result of having to live with other people. In that sense alone, Sartre was right with l'enfers c'est les autres. Of course, other people aren't Hell, Eternity with oneself alone for company is. If God creates other people, then they need to be seen as a gift to us, no matter what they do. Humanity of course produces truly great suffering, and God has shed many a tear over this suffering. The Cross stands at the centre of this suffering for all Eternity in order to demonstrate that our suffering is not ignored, our struggles are not worth nothing to God and that, if we are patient, we shall see what He does with this suffering to make it our joy, and His joy too.

If we change the focus of impatience from the self to the other, then we have this thing called zeal. I think that zeal is the antidote to impatience in that the concerns of others being met first builds a framework into society which softens deadlines, and the need to have things now. If we accept other's failings as expressions of their vulnerable and quite beautiful humanity, then we lose that stress which demands nothing but absolute commitment to the clock and Chronolatry.

So, where will you stand next time you catch a train?