Monday, September 27, 2010
As a Christian, I do not know that God exists. Formally, I suppose that this makes me an agnostic, but then there is something in what Keith Ward (Why there almost certainly is a God) says when he argues that Personal Experience can give us a good reason for accepting the existence of God. However, my problem is that I cannot give voice to what I can only perceive as some giant wandering about in my soul. When I peer into the darkness of my interior, putting aside all thought and worry, going deeper than words, trying to make as little of myself as possible, there is still something there, or rather someone. And that someone, I somehow know to be God.
As a rational man that is somewhat disconcerting to be unable to find a language to describe it, and “I just know” is not an argument that I can really get away with unless you know me personally and trust me.
So where is all this leading? Well, I got round to thinking about sacraments and Magic following my criticism of Fr Clatworthy’s argument about magic. Often I’m presented with the notion that sacraments are like magic spells, that you just wave your hands and say the magic words and – poof – something happens. Now Sacramental theology is quite a deep area and one can plunge into it via history, or metaphysics or by mysticism or even by ecclesiology. Of course being both Anglican and Papal I come at it from both viewpoints and neither. Actually, there isn’t that great a difference. Anyway, let’s see how good my understanding of sacraments is.
As far as I can make out a Sacrament is simply an expression of Divine Love impinging on our observable reality through the Community of the Church. As the Anglican Catechism would say, an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. The Roman Catholic Catechism says something similar that a sacraments are “perceptible signs accessible to human nature” and “by the action of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit make present efficaciously the grace they signify”. The Role of the Church is vital here since this forms as St Paul would say the “Royal Priesthood” namely that the Church as a a united body of Christians (male and female) transmits the grace of God to the world through acts of Divine Love.
So what makes a Sacrament like magic? Well, this really comes from a misunderstanding of how a sacrament appears to be effected. A sacrament needs matter, form, a minister and a recipient; it will then bestow a certain grace onto that recipient which has a specific effect.
The Holy Eucharist is one of the obvious Sacraments. The matter comprises of the bread and wine – visible elements – and the minister presents them to God with the form of (i.e. the intention) of re-presenting the Sacrifice of Christ Himself during the Last supper which is utterly inseparable from His death upon the Cross. In John chapter 6, Christ Himself demonstrates the intention of the Eucharist that we are to consume Him and thus allow Him to become part of us and thus obversely we become part of Him.
What the unaffected observer sees is the ritual of the sign of the cross being made over the elements and the words of the anamnesis – the (more than) calling to mind the events of the last supper. It looks like this is all there is.
If you think about it, it really differs from magic, doesn’t it? If a magician pulled an invisible rabbit out of a hat, you wouldn’t be particularly impressed, much in the same way as Lisa Simpson wasn’t impressed by the mathemagician who used a “magic” seven to divide into 28 three times. Perhaps then it is even more tempting to suggest that, because it is all words and bread and wine, that’s all it is.
But you see it has to be more than that.
If we honestly believe in a Transcendent God, then clearly this presents communication problems. How does a temporal being communicate with One for Whom Time is not even meaningful? If human beings exist to a Transcendent being then they exist in some kind of entirety much like a reel of film in which past present and future exist all at once. Of course, God decides that He wants to communicate and, in the glorious paradox of the incarnation, presents Himself as Christ in order to present us with the Truth. Is there any other way that God can do this? If you concede that He exists as a living being who is responsible in some way for all that exists and why it continues to be, then this is a question that needs an answer.
For the Christian, the answer is the Incarnation. So powerful is the Incarnation that it casts ripples back in Time which we see as things that “prefigure” such as the Passover as well as the effects into history. What evidence is there for this? Well there is no evidence – I’m trying to demonstrate why Sacraments are happening a priori as a reasonable hypothesis. If you think I can be absolute about things like this, then I suggest you watch me try to hold the tide in. We read the words of Christ and, in St John’s Gospel in particular, we are met with the extraordinary promise that we will become like God, that we will become Transcendent. Christians already believe in the existence of the soul, so the concept of human beings being more than observable is no problem. If we believe ourselves only to be a biological machine and our consciousness as nothing more than some electro-chemical interactions in the brain, then this seems ridiculous.
So Christ presents us with the way to become Transcendent – to be like Him by consuming Him, taking Him inside ourselves so we can become like Him. No, of course this is unobservable – we are becoming Transcendent.
Then of course, you have to realise that this consumption of God can only come about because of Christ’s sacrifice. The sacrificial system has already been prefigured in the Jewish system as an atonement (at-one-ment) for sins –i.e. those ways in which we fail to be like Him – another set of future echoes? We have to participate in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Now there was only one sacrifice which means that we who are 2000 years after the event are going to have difficulty sharing in that one sacrifice unless there is something to bind us with that sacrifice. Well, this is the Grace of Transcendent God. The Sacrament of the Eucharist provides us with the means to participate in that one sacrifice provided that we meet it in the same manner in which He showed us. Jesus does command us to “do this in remembrance of” Him. Thus we are given the form, i.e. intention, the matter, i.e bread and wine, and the minister a priest chosen by Christ to re-present the sacrifice and effectively become Christ Himself at the Last Supper. Olivier Clément writing in On Human Being describes the celebrating priest as “the image of Christ, and Christ, while undoubtedly possessing human nature in its fullness, is a man and not a woman and not a hermaphrodite”. Likewise St Paul himself describes man as the image of God and the woman as bearing the image of man.
Obedience to the pattern set by Christ, leads us to the conclusion that provided that the priest is valid, i.e. integrated “into the orders…which permit the exercise of “sacred powers”… which comes only from Christ through the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1538)
If a sacrament is not validly performed then the grace cannot be conferred (or at least there is reason for grave doubt that it has been conferred). If one receives the flu-jab from the nurse, clearly one does not receive the effect if she fills the syringe with water and injects you (wrong matter) or injects you into your blazer pocket (wrong praxis) or waves the needle at you chanting “inoculate, inoculate” (wrong form). God of course is merciful and who can tell what He does: no-one, not even Stephen Hawking, can know the mind of God.
Thus I present what I hope can be seen as a reasonable worldview on the nature of Sacraments from what I perceive from my study of the Catholic Faith to which I subscribe, though I suspect that I have made some glaring errors and omissions. I hope that I have shown that validity is important, why sacraments are not valid and given at least some reasonable, if not entirely convincing thoughts as to why things are the way they are. I hope that you’ll let me know where my faults lie – but be gentle, I’m not a proper spokesman for the Catholic Church.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Nick, Martyn, Jo and Gabby
are dancing around,
clapping and cheering,
the like of which has not been seen
since the invention of the McFlurry.
Gerrard, of course,
is sitting grumbling into his coffee,
whilst trying to handle the disappointment
and the ribbing from the others.
Jon watches on,
completely bemused by this behaviour.
it helps to know that the date
is 12th September 2005
and Gerrard is an Australian.
How many of you can explain this?
Jon turns to Nick.
“So what’s happened, then?”
Silence falls suddenly,
like a dropped bowl of porridge.
A cold breeze whirls around the office;
a tumbleweed rolls abjectly by.
In the distance, a bell tolls sullenly.
“Where have you been
for the last 3 months?
England have just won the Ashes!”
“Ah,” says Jon,
“is that better than or worse
than the wooden spoon?”
“Well, we obviously didn’t get
gold, silver or bronze.
So we were in the bottom two, yes?”
“What are you talking about?
Do you even know what sport this is?”
“I assume Rugby since Gerrard isn’t looking too happy.”
There follow some interesting words and phrases
designed to demonstrate to Jon that
perhaps he ought to pay a little more attention
to the folk chasing
a hard, leather object
around a field in front of
two little wooden edifices
one would usually find in a prehistoric henge.
It’s a strange life when you simply
don’t understand the fuss about sport.
Why is it that people get cross
when you don’t know
how many runs there are in a wicket;
or why baseball is not the same as rounders;
or why the referee in a football match
never gets snogged after a goal is scored?
For the non-sportsman,
the exultation and elation of a win
and the misery
and almost physical pain of a defeat
can seem as relevant as
an acute accent in physics.
If Manchester United lose
to Bishop Stortford at bowls,
it’s just hard to care.
Heresy, you may say!
Is there any common ground
for the Athlete and the non-Athlete?
Of course there’s plenty of common ground:
the fear that you’ll end up
like one of the contestants
in “Young, Dumb and Living off Mum”
However there is a common ground
that runs deeper than that.
Indeed it is common
not just to humanity
but to all forms of life.
For every form of life,
there are three certainties:
Life, Death and Competition.
All life is in competition with itself
for some resource:
trying not to be dinner
The vast majority of animals
die in their virginity
usually by suffocation
complicated by digestion
–they get eaten when they’re young.
There is not a day in the life of any organism
without some titanic battle just to stay alive.
All this seems a far cry from the hockey court,
Does this really apply to human beings?
Well, of course and you know that.
But how aware are you
of the struggles that you are facing each day?
We’re not talking about
realising that you have the ball
and the larger lads in the rugby squad
are thundering towards you
like belligerent wasps
to a discarded Curly-Wurly.
If you think about it,
we’re engaged in a struggle
with every other human being we meet
– not all the time –
but at some point.
If we’re all different people - individuals,
then at some point
we’re going to disagree somewhere.
The struggle then is
how do we live peaceably alongside people
who differ from us in many ways?
If we take a purely sporting view,
then we can attribute
win, lose or draw to every struggle.
in so doing, we miss vital information
about ourselves and whom we are opposing.
Rudyard Kipling reminds us
that “winning” and “losing”
merely superficial labels
that we stick on the outcomes
of our struggles.
In the grand scheme of things
there are no such things
as win, lose or draw.
Christians believe that a careful review of
what it means “to win”
is of paramount importance.
If we win,
we need to interpret that win
in the light of what we have struggled to do,
and consider its impact
on the people around us.
A win that does not
take the wellbeing of others into account
is selfish and,
in the long-run,
likely to prove to be a loss.
If we lose,
then we need only
to regard it as a true defeat
if our struggle has given us
something of less worth
than what we have struggled for.
what we gain from “losing” is bigger
and better than what we are trying to win.
The cross of Christ may be seen as a defeat
in the eyes of the world.
To the Christian, it is more than a victory.
It is how we struggle
and compete that makes us truly human beings,
not what we achieve
or fail to achieve.
To the Christian,
“winning” is about finding the meaning
of our lives in the context of living with God.
The non-Christians too must reflect on
what goals they have set for their lives.
These are struggles which
we meet day to day,
and we deal with them
according to our religion.
All of you will see struggles this year.
You all have public exams to take
which will make big influences
in your lives to come.
You may see this as a worry;
you may not even know
which goals you are aiming for;
but, your experiences in sport
have taught you that
there is a bigger picture.
You have a team to support you,
coaches to guide you
and the lessons in life
that you have already learned.
Your struggles are not worth nothing,
indeed, whatever difficulties you face in life,
it is how you approach them
which will show who you really are.
You have already achieved much of worth,
and you have many more brilliant achievements
ahead of you,
but what system of scoring are you using?
Sunday, September 19, 2010
"I shall be glad to see you," reads the invitation, "please be yourselves."
Eric says: "This is a fancy dress party - I'll come as Dame Edna Everage."
Kevin says: "This is a karaoke party - I'll sing Bohemian Rhapsody."
Sheila says: "I'll bring my rock-band with me."
Clarence says: "this is a formal dinner - I'll wear my robes of state and bring my entourage."
Moira says: "This is a nudist party - I won't wear anything at all."
Alice says: "This is a drinking party - I'll bring lots of barrels of beer."
Michelle says: "What a lovely invitation. I'll bring a gift."
And so the dinner happens. It's a shambles. There are arguments between Sheila and Kevin, who then try to do their thing at the same time. Clarence is clearly upset with both Moira and Eric (who, incidentally, cannot stop staring at Moira) and Alice is busy throwing up in the pot plants while the other guests get louder and rowdier on booze. Michelle is sitting there quietly and, looking at the tears in their host's eyes as he sits there wanting to talk to his guests, wanting to share with them, she puts down her knife and fork and waits for calm to be restored.
How long will she have to wait?
Now they are in the car on the way home. John is feeling really happy, delighted with how his speech has gone down. Joyce smiles at him, "John, you were brilliant tonight. I'm so proud of you. You've shown those chauvinists that we women are just the same as men. You've shown those bigots that homosexual relationships are just the same as heterosexual relationships. You've shown that twentieth century thought is so much better than anything that has gone before. I feel so liberated! Let's have a lovely evening together."
And so when they get home, John and Joyce do have a lovely evening together with the most passionate night they've had since the were married. As he falls asleep, John looks happily at the beautiful naked body of his girlfriend and passes a quiet night.
The alarm goes off the next day, and before he even opens his eyes, he reaches out for Joyce. His arm brushes her cheek, but it feels different - it's stubbly. Confused he opens his eyes and sees something which shocks him to the core. There next to him in bed, stark naked, is a man. He looks very much like Joyce's elder brother, but subtly different. John cries out. The man awakes.
"Who the Hell are you?" asks John, somewhat conscious of his nudity. "John, what's the matter?" says the man, "it's me, Joyce!" "No, you're not. Don't be a fool!" The man looks confused and reaches for the mirror. As he does so, John notices on the man's back the same little birthmark that Joyce had, the same birthmark that John had kissed so passionately the night before. The man-Joyce cries out as he catches sight of his face in the mirror. "John, I'm a man!"
So what now for John and Joyce? Does it matter to John that his girlfriend is now male? Why should it? Men and women are equal. Can he continue to live with him-her? Well of course, homosexual relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships. Will John's modern thought allow him to continue like this, or will the instinct of ages drive him away from Joyce?
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Behold , I stand at the door, and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Apoc. iii.20
The questions is why there is a door there in the first place. There can only be one answer. This door is the barrier thrown up by Original Sin, what else would stand between our Lord and God? Notice that this isn't the gateway blocking us from Eden with an angelic guard standing with flaming sword. No, this is our door and it stands because of Man's first rebellion. We slammed the door, and it shuts Our Saviour out.
And He knocks, and knocks, and knocks...
Perhaps we do not think that we have the ability to open the door. We may think it heavy, a large iron gateway that will take teams of Egyptian slaves centuries to open even a tiny crack. But we forget that doors, however rusty, or large, or stiff, or weighty are designed to be opened.
The key to the door is one of the Keys that belong to the Church. The Church possesses the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and one of these keys precisely fits the doors of anyone and everyone. It is the Key of Baptism. This is the key that renders the door from being unopenable - unlocking the door is not a problem. One may think that the lock is immovable, but the waters of Baptism are able to free the lock here and render the door less of a barrier. It remains for us now to open this door. On the other side, the Saviour waits to be admitted.
By what process is the door opened? I would venture that this door is opened by the combined efforts of ourselves and Christ. If we both push at the door from both sides, then we get nowhere - we have to go in the way directed by Christ. The effort of opening the door is our daily conversion through prayer and repentance, for only by cooperating with Christ will we overcome the stiffness of the hinges and the hardness of our hearts. The more that we open the door, the more are we able to engage in dialogue with Christ, to hear Him speak the words that will give us ways to open the door wider still.
If we are lukewarm like the Laodicians then it is clear that we have not got the commitment to persevere at opening ourselves up to Christ. If we turn away with the door barely open, then how can we entertain God within us? Only a constant effort will ensure that we answer the insistent knocking from the other side.
But yet, if we reflect further, when we get the door open, we have this promise that Christ will come in and make His home with us. The Eucharist has its full effect when our door is fully open. I suspect that, for me, the door is never fully open - never quite wide enough until the last day. Purgatory will certainly open any door that has begun to be opened, and then the feasting will begin. A door that is open now allows movement in both directions, and with God, one can never be quite sure whether we were truly inside at the beginning or in fact outside. Enstasy has a habit of turning into ecstasy.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings
have such kindly judgment given.
There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this.
There is room for fresh creations
in that upper room of bliss.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
'Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
it is something more than all;
Greater Good because of evil
Larger Mercy through the fall.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take Him at His word;
and our life would be all sunshine
for the sweetness of Our Lord.
It seems we have failed to integrate head and heart sufficiently. We are certainly not supposed to be hard-hearted as Ezekiel reminds us when he reminds of the need to have a heart of flesh, but St Paul and St James remind us that we should remain firm in our belief and our reasons for believing what we do lest we be blown about by winds of doctrine. Does this mean that Biblically we should be hard of mind and soft of heart?
The trouble with being hard of mind, as St Paul reminds us, is that we become conceited with intellectual pride. Now, it is one thing to say extra ecclesiam nulla salus, but quite another to condemn someone to Hell with the coolness of the intellect. It is true to say that there is no salvation outside the Christian Church. Does this mean to say that I have now condemned all Moslems, Sikhs, and Atheists to Hell? Believe it or not, this does bother me greatly. Hell is such a terrible place that I wouldn't wish anybody at all, no matter who they are or what they've done, to even spend a moment there. I still hope that Hell will be empty.
However, there's a wideness to God's mercy, and thankfully it is not any one of us who will be the one who makes that decision. Those who wilfully reject God are destined to spend Eternity without Him, and they will find out just how unpleasant that is, for that is Hell indeed. My hope is that, by living our faith as best we can and praying fervently for the salvation of those who appear to be outside the Church, they will be able to see what we see and find their Salvation with us. We should certainly pray for those who do not believe, but first let us pray that the light of God should shine in our lives and work to that end, so that our brethren without the Church may see something of the Truth which we profess to seek.
Saturday, September 04, 2010
That which has particularly caught my attention is this article by the Reverend Jonathan Clatworthy, lecturer in Ethics, and General Secretary to Modern Church.
It's a very carefully reasoned article claiming that Anglo-Catholic concerns about Sacramental Validity are unfounded and that the Anglo-Catholic worldview needs to be challenged and shown to be untenable.
Actually, I found it rather interesting to read, Fr Clatworthy writes rather well. But he's so very wrong. I had hoped that a theological brain vastly more superior than mine would have made a response to him, but I've not yet seen it. I thought then that I'd better have a go in the hope that if I make a pig's ear of it, one of my more capable readers would be inspired to address these arguments more coherently.
Fr Clatworthy’s argument runs as follows:
- The concept of Sacramental Validity is a construct of a 19th Century answer to the atheistic Rationalism of the Enlightenment.
- The 19th Century answer establishes the reality of the spiritual realm without physical evidence.
- Since Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, there is no need to separate physical from spiritual.
- God does not need our rituals and gives His grace freely.
- There is no traditional theology which leads us to expect that God would withhold His grace if the minister was a woman.
- Natural phenomena are open to scientific investigation.
- If God created everything so that the effects of a Sacrament were the natural results of the Sacrament were being performed correctly then Science would be required to justify this.
- There are no observed effects of valid or invalid sacraments.
Conclusion 3. The Validity of Sacraments cannot be understood in a naturalistic framework.
Main conclusion: We cannot understand the Validity of Sacraments either naturally (which would require scientific justification) or spiritually (which is a pointless 19th century invention), thus it doesn’t matter if the minister of a sacrament be male or female.
I hope I’ve got that right.
So here goes…
As I say, I find the argument rather lovely. The problem lies in Fr. Clatworthy’s premises.
Although Fr Clatworthy does actually demonstrate that there should be some reasonable conditions that a sacrament to be ministered faithfully: “a room with a visual focus and minimum of distractions…”, “suitable music at the right moments”, something for the children…, his arguments against validity, however, seem to make it possible for a trained parrot to produce a valid sacrament. This is decidedly worrying to say the least. What if, in 500 year’s time, a convincing android ministers the sacraments? Would people be untroubled by this? No? Is it then the personal faith of the one who receives? So then the one who does not receive because it’s an android is a heretic and not to be associated with? Rather un-Anglican, methinks. Nonetheless, it’s produced a question of validity, hasn’t it?
To reject the natural view of sacraments and the spiritual world of the 19th Century on the grounds of lack of evidence seems rather to follow the line of Dawkins. Indeed doesn’t Dawkins’ argument for the non-existence of God follow Fr. Clatworthy’s worldview?
Fr. Clatworthy does say that “our host society has a worldview in which Christianity can sit comfortably.” Of course, Scripture says that it can’t in several places (St Mark viii.36, St John viii.23, St John xiv.20, xv.19, xvii.16, xviii.38, I Cor i.17-end, …) Christians are called to be in the world not of it. If Christianity is sitting comfortably with the world and not challenging its science, then it has lost its saltiness. The Bible is filled with references to an unobservable part of reality, why else with the Bible end with an Apocaylpse – an unveiling of the spiritual realms. That’s not 19th century, that’s always been.
Fr Clatworthy does not believe in a “picky” God who chooses one person over another. He clearly does not believe in the God who appears in the Bible, a God who demonstrates His personality (or personalities?) and even His humanity by selecting people for tasks, not to belittle the unselected, but rather for the edification of all. Does one need a worldview to see that in Scripture? I notice that there is no reference to scripture in his arguments.
He does, however, believe that modern worldviews of science and reality trump those of the folk who have gone before. What happens when the aforementioned android priest shows him to be wrong and thus denounces all his understanding as “old-fashioned” and “out-of-date”? If there is a figment of Eternal Truth, where is it in Fr. Clatworthy’s argument that will stop it from becoming out of date? If it is an Eternal Truth, where is the argument for women priests before the 20th century?
So where does Sacramental Validity come from? Fr Clatworthy seems to think it an invention of the 19th Century. However, the question must naturally appear in the History of Christianity in regard to any schism. Of course the Schism that he will be most interested with is the 16th Century Schism whence sprang the XXXIX articles. Before any schism, there was no need to question the validity of the sacraments because everyone could be sure that they were being correctly ministered.
As soon as there is a substantial change in praxis, people are going to wonder about why the change was necessary. (Fr. Clatworthy, like most liberals has not demonstrated why the change is necessary outside their own worldview). Some will accept the change, others won’t. The peculiar aspect of the Anglican Church was that it tried to hold together two opposing view points, and the XXXIX articles came about to try and bind Anglo-Catholic and Anglo-Puritan together. All the more reason then why Anglo-Catholics want to stay in the Church of England in honour of that aspect of Anglicanism. Of course, other Anglicans opposing Fr Clatworthy are leaving the CofE for the Continuum or for Rome. Will Fr Clatworthy not bless any of them? Those Anglo-Catholics who wish to remain in the CofE recognise that their opponents are at least sharing some common heritage with them. We are trying to continue in fellowship, even if that doesn’t make logical sense.
In order to ascertain the conditions for Validity, it is necessary to look into Church History and see what was established before the Schism. Folk on either side of the Schism will justify their arguments therefrom. The probability is more likely that only one is right, though in God the possibilities remains that both are wrong or (less likely but possible) both are right. Thus, there needs to be a Christian generosity and accommodation from both sides.
Further in discussing the notion of “contract”, Fr. Clatworthy seems to fall into the same trap as those who say “God does not need our worship”. God needs not our rituals, nor our prayers, nor our worship, but we do. The rituals, prayers and worship affect us and help us to be ready to receive the grace of God fully. Fr. Clatworthy will want me to demonstrate the evidence for this because it is essentially a naturalistic view of sacrament. All I can offer is from what I believe from Scripture that in performing the ritual I am being “transformed by the renewing of [my] mind, that [I] may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans xii.2). That is, after all, what Communion is supposed (in part) to achieve.
I hope that I, as a confused and largely uneducated Anglican Papalist, have done justice to this argument. I would welcome your thoughts.