Monday, May 30, 2011

Kath holicism and Reduction

Diarmaid McCulloch describes himself as a "candid friend of Christianity". He can't describe himself as a Christian because, according to his History of Christianity, he doesn't see how The Bible is any different from any other book, and that, when subjected to the same scholarly scrutiny as any other book, it doesn't really possess any obvious power over humanity.

His television programme was certainly a fascinating hurtle through the complicated life of the Church. The final programme, as is natural, asked about the future of Christianity in the face of all that attacks it: the ruling authority of the Church is attacked by the revolutionaries; the moral authority of the Church is attacked by the ethicists like Voltaire; the veracity of The Bible is attacked by Science and the rational approach made by Spinoza, Strauss and the German schools of theology and philosophy in the 19th Century. These attacks continue.

It is true that the Church seems to be rather beleaguered at the moment with loud scientific skeptics, and the media who are out to make a cheap story. Every time Pasch or Christmass come round, there's always a programme about "the Truth behind the Myth" or "one woman's fib that got a bit out of control". Most of this is opinion based on speculation - the Christian needs to arm himself with the facts.

The Church has to be concerned with the Truth. Sometimes, Truth be told, it has not presented that Truth very clearly. One can certainly see that in the Crusades or in the Inquisitions and in the way it has allowed its condemnation of sin spill over into condemning people. Though it has to be remembered that these were the products of their time, that doesn't justify these actions. There is no particular time in the History of Mankind, past, present or future in which Jesus Christ would ever approve of the murder of innocents in His Name, nor would He ever allow the abuse of children to be covered up as it has in recent years.

The fact of the matter is that people seem to misunderstand what the Church really is. Indeed many people's rejection of God is because they believe that the Church is so corrupt. That's a bit like not believing in the existence of Mr and Mrs Hitler senior because of the antics of their son Adolph.

The Church is made up of sinners. I cannot personally comment on the state of my fellow human beings, but I know that I am a sinner. I am also sure that there are other sinners within the Church because there is a prayer of Confession asking for God's forgiveness for misdeeds and bad intentions. That this prayer is said at all Masses even by bishops, archbishops and the Pope himself indicates that there is sin within the Church and that it is widespread irrespective of position. We can therefore conclude that the Church is comprised of sinful human beings. Thus Church members cannot honestly be better than anyone else. However, our sinfulness does not negate the message of the Gospel, that Christ is the way to salvation. This makes the Incarnation of Christ even more meaningful in that here we have God who is willing to be made man in order to be with human beings.

The Church is the sum of many parts. Its authority to be seeking the Truth comes from Divine Revelation through Scripture, Tradition and Reason, not three separate entities but all inextricably bound together. While it is possible to attack each of these sources individually, the fact that the Church still remains despite major attacks on its existence is evidence that it is greater that the sum of its parts. It is a Catholic Church - a Church that is a whole unit. In the reductionism of modern society - the statement and restatement of " nothing but..." - the idea of a holistic view of a body such as the Church is alien. This is a Church that seeks to be united with itself, uniting itself past, present and future along the lines of the Eternal Truth of God.

The Church believes itself to exist in three places at once - here, "Purgatory " and Eternity. I have placed the word "Purgatory" in inverted commas on the grounds that the Bible supports the existence of an intermediate space between this world and Heaven, and that it is a space of purification. The nature of this space is contested. Again, we have a problem with the Catholicism of the Church - it is in these three states simultaneously. The word "is" becomes a problem because it has a tense (namely present) and Eternity exists without Time. To say the Church contains all Truth is a belief in the infallibility of the Church. In asserting this belief, the believer is saying that from the Eternal viewpoint, there is not a point in Time where the Church has taught any other doctrine than the Truth of God and Jesus Christ. Any statements of Infallibility can only be made from an Eternal viewpoint since no one living knows the future. If the Church believes itself to possess all Truth then it must be clear that it is speaking Eternally and not at any specific point in Time. Believers have Faith in what the Church teaches with regard to its Salvation.

This belief in the Eternity of the Church binds believers, thus making Christianity a religion in the proper sense of the word. The Truth does not change because it is eternal. While many facets can be revealed through the ages, this doesn't mean that Truth changes. The Church may only hold the entire Truth in its Kath-holicism, not at a particular instant of Time because this is another instance of reduction.

Likewise the sacraments too can either be considered in their Kath-holist sense or reduced to their component parts. This latter produces precisely the tensions between believers in the Real Presence depending on the way that they view the transformation of Bread and Wine into Body and Blood. What matters most is that Bread and Wine ar brought forward at the Offertory and following the Eucharistic Prayer, the recipient says "Amen" affirming that he receives the Body and Blood of Christ.

If the Church wishes to move forward into the future then it must hold to its past and Tradition with tenacity but with humility, acknowledging its failures; affirm its present as a body of fallen human beings with the possibility of salvation in corporate union yet not presuming to have all the answers to all questions; and look to the future in hope knowing that God does not contradict Himself and that the Church will continue to exist in order to bring the love of God into the World.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Extraterrestrial Extraordinariates

I've tried to be very quiet about the Ordinariate, largely because I've never really been part of a parish that was sufficiently Roman to worry about this sort of thing. Lately, it seems to me that there is a lot of misdirection between parties which are very for the Ordinariate and those which are very against the Ordinariate. Some say that the Ordinariates have been "indefinitely put on hold" in America and Canada, others say that talks are still going on and any hiatus, if it exists, is merely temporary. The fact of the matter is that I do not know the full truth and I am beginning to find much of what is reported thoroughly unreliable. I prefer to listen to the judgement of friends who are involved in the processes and aware of what goes on.

In some sense, what is going on in the large will always remain a mystery. Of course we must look for the big picture in order to get a balanced view but in this situation what appears to be the bigger picture is complicated with politics and negotiations and extenuating circumstances and instances of sine qua non and non plus ultra.

The trouble is that this bigger picture is just not big enough. I'm always minded of some of those wonderful tracking shots which ascend rapidly upwards looking back on the Earth. People become houses become streets become towns become regions become counties become countries become continents until that familiar cloud suffused blue sphere of our planet becomes the focus. Sometimes the tracking shot goes further: the moon hoves into view, as do Venus, Mercury, the Sun. Still further the shot tracks, as our planet becomes insignificant against the light of the Sun and the orange-brown bulk of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and the darker, colder gas giants of Uranus and Neptune, then Pluto. Further and further still into the mysterious Oort Cloud and it prospective comets, long forgotten by mankind. And still we can go on, our Sun becomes part of a group, a cluster, an insignificant yellow dot of not much worth. The spiral arm of the Galaxy appears, then the Galaxy itself as our tracking shot, now travelling at many millions of times the speed of light steps back further and further until the galaxy becomes part if a supercluster of galaxies speeding around into the blackness of the Universe. All becomes simplicity in the eyes of the Divine.

At each change of scale, we see the same picture, something seems chaotic until the reason for the chaos becomes clear. Then as the scale keeps peeling back, more chaos ensues.

As a prime example, at the scale of an Earth dweller, the planets seem to rove erratically across the sky, back and forward, looping the loop. They appear to be true wanderers, their motion not entirely predictable. Once we step back at the Solar System itself, we see that these loop-the-loops are a necessary consequence of the simple behaviour of planets orbiting the Sun.

However, if we step back further, we see that the behaviour of the planets is not clockwork. The equation of motion may be quite easy to state in a Newtonian principle of conservation of energy, but the effects of planets one on another add up. It is possible that we may lose Venus or Mercury in the future due to gravitational tidal effects. We have moved from chaos to simplicity back to chaos again, largely because of our change of viewpoint.

So what does this have to do with the Ordinariate?

I believe that there is a very simple rule behind this and all the other Anglican Difficulties: it is nothing less than Man's search for Authentic Communion with Christ. Catholics believe in the sacrosanctity of the Holy Mass where the Communicant comes into full and intimate contact with the One Who willed that very Communicant's creation. Once one realises what one is saying "Amen" to when receiving the Body of Christ, the more important it becomes that the experience be authentic, that we are in reality participating with every other Christian soul and the Holy Saints with the same Eternal (i.e. timeless) Christ. This is the content of Catholic Tradition. If anything breaks that Tradition, the authenticity is impaired.

As soon as impairment arises, it is here that chaos begins to reign, the turbulence of the sea that the Jews feared most. The Christ-seeking Catholic has no option but to move apart from the impediment and to move faster and further the greater he perceives that impediment to be.

This is what has happened to Anglicanism: it is going supernova over the impediments that are being built into its mainstream. The Catholics are propelled away from this out into a desperate search for the Authentic Christ apart from all modern notions of experience, equality, and "go with the flow".

It isn't where a Catholic is heading that should be the cause for judgement or suspicion, but rather whether that Catholic has taken steps to seek the Authentic Christ beyond the impairments that are being flung into his way and even then this can only be done by One Who truly sees the heart and motives of the individual - the One Who Knows on all scales. I doubt very much that the Catholic knows where he is headed any way, but by holding onto his simple rule can he find some reassurance through his fervent prayers and obedience to the faith that has been handed onto him that he will find his Beloved.

So then, what do I think of the Ordinariate? I cannot speak highly enough of those who have heard God's call to make the leap, to become the pioneers of something entirely new to reconnect with that which is entirely old. They will have my support, prayers, admiration and love that what they are trying to do may indeed work, provide a comfortable home for lost souls and bring all to Christ.

However, I'm afraid I cannot accept the conditions for the Ordinariate. The time is not right for me, even though I am between jurisdictions. I still would say that I am an Anglican Papalist, though I am much more wary of labels than I used to be. Perhaps I am not an Anglican Papalist - I don't know - things change. I still regard the Holy Father as the Head of the Church, the Successor of St Peter and especially, though he might deny it himself, the Patriarch of the West and have every desire to be in communion with him. However, I still regard Apostolicae Curae as being not just wrong but irrelevant. I have good personal reasons for believing in the integrity of Anglican Orders because of what happened to me at my Confirmation. It is this belief that makes me an Anglican Papalist and yet separates me from being in communion with the Holy Father.

But things change. I cannot see the bigger picture and if I could, it would only confuse me. I cannot shoot out faster than the speed of light to see the Divine simplicity. I trust that it's there though. What I do not trust are disjointed and confusing reports that come out of those for whom the Ordinariate is a be-all-and-end-all either as a hobby-horse of hatred as some blogs love to disparage with their "more-knowledgeable than thou" attitude or those who would seek to force everyone to abandon what Catholic aspect of Anglicanism they hold dear in order to get everyone to toe the line.

Ultimately, all Christians have only one direction in which to travel. The Authentic Christ exists and His gravity will draw to His embrace all those who seek Him.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Same old same old

I can't tell you how glad I was to be able to start preaching again after so long a drought. I may not be licensed. I may not even regard myself as within the jurisdiction of the Church of England, but I am still a Reader. This is my first since leaving the C of E, directed, as usual, to the students.

Homily preached at Eltham College on 9th and 10th May 2011, based on Ecclesiastes i.1-11

Are you looking forward
to a nice new school day?

Are you ready and energised
for a fun seven or eight hours of learning?

Are you all excited
at the prospect of double maths
and all those exercises and problems
you’re going to be set?

Are you looking forward
to learning all the tenses,
moods and participles
of the word agere in Latin?

What about all that homework tonight?

Looking forward to it?

Why not?

Perhaps there’s something better for you
to be doing with your time?

Let’s think...

A World of Warcraft tournament,
perhaps, for the whole school?

That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Watching your history master
and your geography master
battling Deathwing the Destroyer
in an instance on Mount Hyjal,
before crushing them
both yourself with a horde of Night-Elves.

We could start immediately after chapel
and go through til midnight?


That would be fun!

And you wouldn’t get bored with that, now,
would you?

That might be fun for today,
but what about tomorrow?

A whole school Talent Contest, like the X-factor?

Not the fiddly little one
we had a while ago,
which was obviously rigged
when the head boy won,
This time, everyone takes part.

Just think how brilliant it would be
with the Deputy Head
doing Tiny Tempur’s Pass Out
and the English masters
wailing their ways through
the collected works of Lady Gaga,
dressed appropriately with a wardrobe
provided by Ginsters.

Yes, all 800 or so of us
would have to take part
and it would take about 2 days
to get through them all without a break,
but it would be fun.

It wouldn’t get boring, would it?

And instead of the usual meals in the Refectory,
we could have pizza every day
for all the years that you’re here.

Cola on tap, et c. That wouldn’t get boring would it?


You’re obviously very aware
how easily the novelty wears off.

When you started at here,
you were no doubt excited
and a little bit frightened as
to what would happen next.

All these new sensations,
all these new sights, sounds and,
if you’re walking through the Chemistry department,
smells were part
of this new wonderful school.

But how do you feel about it now?

Do you find it boring?


The feeling of boredom
is quite unmistakable,
and you probably have
your own experiences to describe it.

It’s that sensation of really not wanting
to be where you are now,
wanting to do anything else
other than be forced to sit there
in some task which you perceive
as being quite meaningless
or difficult or annoying.

You feel trapped and restless
and your attention hurtles about
like a Justin Bieber fan after 10 cups of coffee,
searching desperately
for something better to latch onto.

Finally, your eyes settle onto the clock:

10:09 and 30 seconds,
10:09 and 31 seconds… 32,…. 33…
32… 31… 30…
31,... 32… 35… 36… 37…
24… 23…

Curse you, Second Hand!

Ah! Zeno has got nothing
on a bored schoolboy waiting for Break.

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself
why you get bored in the first place?


Surprisingly, that’s not an easy question to answer.

You really have to think hard
about why you’re finding something
boring in the first place.

Let’s say you find maths boring.

Patently ridiculous, but let’s pretend.

Why might this be?

The most common reason
is that you are stuck
and don’t know what to do now.

Your boredom is then a symptom of frustration.

The second most common reason
is that you’ve managed
to understand what to do
quickly and easily after the first 3 questions,
your boredom then is a result of an intelligent mind
seeking some stimulation.

The first point is easy to deal with,
with a raising of the hand
and a polite request to your teacher.

The second is much more subtle.


Without exception,
you are all intelligent beings,
and intelligence requires something to nourish it
– sights, sounds, ideas, challenges,
arguments and mysteries
– for it to thrive.

Just like our bodies,
our minds require a balanced diet
in order to function properly.

If we fill our minds with junk,
then junk is all they’ll crave
and junk is all that’ll come out of them.

A daily diet of four hours
of World of Warcraft
is equivalent to a daily intake
of Big Macs, Hot Wings, and Stuffed Crusts
all washed down with a gallon of Galaxy Crushem.

If the desire for entertainment
is causing us to question the benefits
of interacting in a classroom,
absorbing information
and practising our intellectual skills,
then it is clear that our minds are not
as healthy as they could be.


Boredom is a part of everybody’s life.

It’s even mentioned in the Bible,
especially in the book of Ecclesiastes.

For the Christian,
boredom is a sign to reflect on who we are
and to contrast that with God who,
while never-changing can always present Himself
in ever new ways through
the same prayers,
the same readings
and the same silences.

Whether Christian or not,
to face up to boredom is to face up to
the possibility of the transformation of our lives,
to become someone even better.

Indeed, boredom can teach us
a great deal about ourselves,
about who we are
and contrast that with the people
that we are meant to be.

Facing up to tedious chores
can make us better people
if we learn to control our desire to give up
and find something more interesting.


Just look at the day ahead of you.

What do you think is going to be boring?

How is that going to change your life for the better?