Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy New Year!: Advent 2011

St Matthew xxi.1

It's the beginning of a new year! Can we honestly say, in our heart of hearts, that we really feel that today is New Year's Day? Most of us would say not, preferring to wait for 1st January before we break out the champagne and blowing those buzzy things that make look like chameleons with a nasty case of glossitis. Advent Sunday seems a rather arbitrary time to start a new year anyway.

If we follow that line of reasoning then, the first day of the New Year would be the Circumcision of Our Lord which, while no less a Holy Feast and cause for pious observation, doesn't have the obvious sense of beginning and seems no less arbitrary. January 1st is just arbitrary a day to begin a year as Advent Sunday.

If we must rid ourselves of arbitrary beginnings, we must look to the Cosmic influences of our Kalendar. One of the glories of the Liturgical year is how the interplay between Sun and Moon colours how we worship the God Who made them. God put them in the sky "for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years". It's fascinating how these celestial resonances make fixed liturgies dance and play with nuances different from a simple prescribed programme of following a single calendar. A fixed day of Easter would destroy much that makes the Work of God beautiful. There would be no interaction of the Saints' and other Holy Days which are largely fixed by the Solar Year, and the Grand Moveable Feasts which follow the Lunar Year.

These great markers of the Sun and Moon which pan out our year provide non-arbitrary beginnings of years. The Ancients regarded the beginning of the year at the Vernal Equinox when the Sun crossed the plane of the Equator and new life began to spring forth. Harvest happened halfway through the year at the Autumnal Equinox. The Solstices where the Sun reaches its Zenith in the Summer and Nadir in the Winter also important days in which some cultures began and ended their years. In the Solar year, these days are not arbitrary.

The Winter Solstice is not far from the date on which we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, though it is not dead-on. Of course, we all know that Christmass is moved to the 25th December so that we can celebrate Our Lord's birth while all around us, the pagans are celebrating Saturnalia. Our Lord's birthday is fixed by the Solar Year. Likewise, the interplay of Equinox and Full Moon determine the date of the Feast of the Resurrection but Pasch does not always fall on the Full Moon, or the Equinox. God is not bound by the motion of Sun and Moon.

If we accept Christmass as being 25th December, why don't we begin our Liturgical Year then? Well, the reason for this can be seen when we consider the Gospel for today, the apparently anachronism of the Triumphal entry.

Jesus, who in obedience to the feast prescribed by Jewish lore and law rides "in lowly pomp" into Jerusalem ready to take his place in the Temple. What He discovers there is a complete lack of preparation for the sacred - a confused mess of animals, money changers, and people being distracted from doing what they came to do by things which, in the Cosmic Scheme, have only a fleeting relevance.

Is it any wonder that He is angry? The sacrifices of bullocks, kids, and birds is about to be abolished with the One Perfect Sacrifice that will take place within seven days outside the city in complete and abject disgrace, and then followed by another Cosmic event which transcends the rhythm of the planets and thrusts humanity to its destiny of Eternity. What stands between human beings and God is a clutter of irrelevances.

What happens next is an act of some force - Jesus throws (ἐξέβαλεν) this irrelevance out of the Temple. It is an act of physical activity and cannot have been achieved simply vocally. Does this shock us about Jesus? What do we make of a man of peace succumbing to anger and to such passion?

This will only shock us if we regard Jesus as being "meek and mild" a passive figure who tolerates all our naughty behaviour because He loves us. This is not the love that God shows us. The love of God is hot and active and intolerant of all evil. This is not a God who stands on the side wringing his hands impotently at our misdemeanours. This is a God who does not tolerate anything coming between us and Him. He demands his Temple to be cleared out, the seasons to be purged, He demands space.

Space for what? Breathing space.

We get caught up in our own rhythm, our own season, our own timings. We want things our own way. We see Christmas around the corner and that means going out and getting presents and getting trees and getting decorations and getting drunk. That is how our year goes. The Baby of Christmass was crowded out of the Inn and had to make do with the manger. Likewise, the baby in the Nativity display is being crowded out by the latest Xbox 360, inflatable caricatures of a long dead saint and rather odiously twee snowmen. The sound of God is being drowned out by jingle bells and the simpering affections of people trying to be "nice" once a year yet ignoring that directive on the other 364 days.

Our Lord Jesus Christ demands nothing less than intolerance for anything that stands between Him and us, and all that crowds Him out of our hearts. How then are we to respond? Well, the Church does help us, because it builds that preparation into her year in the season called Advent. In beginning the year with Advent, we than have a choice to make the appropriate preparations. This is the time to sit and examine our consciences, to make space for Christ -breathing space.

Yet, it is not for us to breathe first. The first person to breathe is God, and his breath is the Holy Ghost. In clearing space to breathe, we can breathe in Air that is truly good for us, not polluted by "the smoke of Satan" as Pope Paul VI put it. Christ wants us to breathe in His Spirit so that we can live. Thus Advent affords us the opportunity to see the Baby born in a Manger, not through a haze of materialistic detritus, but through clear air.

Before we begin the song of our year, we must take a breath and note the timing. This is why the year begins with Advent so that we can join our voices in a Cosmic hymn of praise to our Creator, accompanying the rolling spheres, and free from that which would encumber us.

How are you beginning your song this year?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wittgenstein, Anglicanism and Patrimony

A few years ago, I started to wonder about what it means to be an Anglican somewhat prior to the events of what happened a year later. As I've grown older and read more and tried to be a better thinker, it struck me that there are more ways of defining something than giving an axiomatic definition. Wittgenstein's approach of family resemblances gives quite a fresh take on the situation.

The idea is that in a large family, it is clear that now two members of that family are identical. In a mathematical/axiomatic framework, a definition would require that two things would have the same defining category if and only if they satisfied all the requirements. This doesn't work for Art, Poetry, or Religion. Not all Religions have gods, not all Art is beautiful, not all Poetry rhymes.

Wittgenstein notices that one recognises people from the same family by resemblances that, while not common to all members of the family are common to some. Think of the old lady at the bus stop who makes the Wittgensteinian definition of the new baby with the words, "aww, he's got his father's eyes!"

Art, for example might be defined by something which possesses features such as manufactured, designed to stir the emotions, to depict what's truly real, a painting, or a sculpture, or a manipulation of a medium, et c. The more of these features an object has in common with what we would recognise as being a Work of Art, the more easily it can indeed be identified as a work of art. Of course, we have to agree with what the resemblances of "Works of Art" are in the first place. I think it might be quite difficult to find anyone who would say that the Mona Lisa is not Art, so perhaps there is a general Wittgensteinian definition that would fit, at least in a sizable majority.

The same may well be true for this thing called Anglicanism.

In 2009, at the above link, I suggested that:

Listening to the people around me, I hear that one is Anglican

1) by continuing in the Apostolic Succession with Anglican Bishops;

2) by the continued use of Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason in
continuity with the great Anglican Divines – Hooker, Andrewes et al;

3) by agreeing with the principles ["of church polity" I should have added - a bit late now!] laid down at the Reformation;

4) by worshipping in the same places, in the same buildings as

5) by being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury;

6) by being a Christian subject of Queen Elizabeth II and her

7) by adhering to traditional Anglican liturgies;

I might also be tempted to add:

8) by seeking some via media between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism;

9) by taking the XXXIX articles as the basis of one's dogmatic system;

10) by rejecting Apostolicae Curae;

11) by holding to the three Creeds and first seven Ecumenical Councils;

12) by recognising the Anglican Church is part of the One True Church and is only part.

I am sure that there are other criteria that one could meet. I would say of course that there is a necessary condition

0) by being a practising Christian.

Criterion (0) is certainly a sine qua non though there are some who would reject even this.

The more resemblances one shares with that which is Anglican, the more one can be recognised as Anglican and vice versa. Of course this rules out absolute certainty as to who is or isn't Anglican and then perhaps we can see how, unlike a mathematical definition, there is room in a Wittgensteinian definition for the principle of Charity and the need for listening to others. Does this lend us to a 13th criterion?

13) by attributing the only certainties that exist are fathomable by a Transcendent and Immanent God.

Did I leave anything out?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Armistice and Armour

Epistle for Trinity XXI: Ephesians vi.10

In the view of many people, we are in dark times, another depression caused by so many factors, economic, ecological and spiritual. It is true that it is only by the grace of God Himself that there is any happiness in the world. All that human beings seem to do is struggle. As biologists have noted, all life is struggle: we struggle to be born and we have to fight to stay alive. There is no escaping it. But what about for us humans? What reason have we to fight to stay alive? Why do we have to struggle, labour and toil, agonise and shout. We clearly do, but for what reason? Isn't it time that we stopped fighting and just went with the flow? Isn't it easier than just working ourselves to death for no better reason than pass on our genes and die? Eat, drink and be merry...

St Paul reminds us that humanity is constantly at war, but often forgets who the real enemy is.In most cases we wrongly identify the enemy, eliminate him and then think that our job is done. Surely the world will be a better place now that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and Colonel Gaddafi have gone? Well, do we know who the monster of tomorrow will be? We can be sure that there will be another!

What we fail to see is that, in identifying evil with an organisation or a person, we're missing the fact that evil is a lot less material than we might like. Evil is non-material. It exists in principalities, powers, rulers of darkness and spiritually infests the high places of humanity.

While we can be sure that someone will make a choice to live life in such a way as to recruit followers who then spread evil in the cause of some "liberation" and thus become a figure of hate, we can fail to see this evil at work in our own society and crucially within our very selves. Can it be that the Western milieu is being unfairly forced on people who are no less human but have rather different views on how society works? Is it possible? Surely we need to look at ourselves closely to see what rule we impose upon others.

If evil exists, then it is the Christian's duty to oppose it in all its forms. We therefore will see battle both physical and spiritual. We will see things that will disgust us and haunt us all the days of our lives. We will be attacked and injured, sometimes physically. Indeed, some of us will fight and will lose our lives: our martyrologies are filled with such as these.

For what do our soldiers fight these days? What makes their cause any more just than their opponents? If we look at the First World War then the answer is not so clear. It seems more like a campaign of Imperial Honour spun wildly out of control. Yet, for the Second World War, there is much more of an objective. Surely, there is no moral society on Earth which could believe that the Concentration Camps were anything other than the foulest recesses of human evil? Can we honestly say that humanity is unanimous in this judgment? Why not?

The Evil we fight is not material. It does not possess an identifiable face, but yet it influences men who are prepared to go along with its flow rather than take a stand against it, actively searching for what is right and making their protests heard against what is wrong. It is the duty of the Christian to fight this non-material Evil and to rescue his brother from its clutches. However, if we are exposed to evil and its lure from the moment of our conception and find that we ourselves aren't just capable of doing evil, but do in fact do evil, what hope have we as soldiers?

St Paul reminds us that we have been given protection by God with which to arm ourselves. First he give us the Truth with which we examine ourselves, identify those vulnerable and weak areas which we then can protect with that same Truth. Our hearts are to be covered in God's Righteousness. How? By taking into ourselves the practice of righteousness through the works of mercy and charity. In that way we fill our hearts unequivocally with righteous living and make them more like the Sacred Heart.

Our feet are given protection by the Gospel which directs their way and carries us forward in our lives to God Himself. These same feet are made beautiful by transmitting that same Gospel and thus there is great strength being passed on to others who need it. We are responsible for helping others be clothed with the armour of Christ.

The enemy can fire at us from any quarter and thus we need a shield that is strong and tough enough, unyielding enough to prevent these wicked darts from hurting us. This shield is the Christian Faith which is indeed rigid so that we might be better protected. However, although the Faith be rigid and unyielding, we must use it with flexibility and wisdom. We need to be trained to use our shield effectively so that whole we may protect ourselves from evil darts, they may not be allowed to ricochet and hit others who are more vulnerable. Faith must be wielded with Charity. We cannot forget that in Christ there is much joy and thus by participating in the Faith of Christ, we make that joy available to others.

Finally, we are given an instrument to repel evil, the same double-edged sword that proceeds from the mouth of the son of Man as St John witnessed in his Apocalypse. This sword is the word of God and with lifelong training we can repel evil, not as single mercenaries fighting guerrilla tactics, but as an army coordinated by God Himself, not against any man, but against evil.

This is why we must give thanks for our armed forces and remember those who have given their lives so that we might continue in our own struggle against evil free from oppression and cruelty in the manner in which God intended. Their sacrifice has meant the relief of countless innocent people, many yet unborn, and this cannot be forgotten. However, is laying a wreath of poppies at the Cenotaph enough? For their sacrifice to be remembered appropriately, shouldn't we be seeking to cultivate in our society more of what they fought for? What did they fight for in the first place?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Communio in sacris and the Contrapositive

Consider the following problem.

You are trying to be a good Christian, obeying your conscience, the Catholic Faith and your bishop as the centre of the local Church. Suppose further that your bishop holds to a doctrine which, though in the majority viewpoint in the diocese and certainly in your parish, is nonetheless contrary to the Catholic Faith. Yet further, suppose that your bishop now tells you that because you belong to a parish which accepts the controversial teaching, you have no grounds to object to it. What do you do?

Well, look at the statement logically.

If you belong to a parish and that parish accepts the heterodox then you have no grounds to object to that doctrine.
This has form:

If A & B then C.

This is logically equivalent to the contrapositive:

If not C then either not A or not B.

so our original statement becomes in contrapositive:

If you have grounds to object then either your parish does not accept the heterodox or you do not belong to the parish.
Well, your parish does accept the non-Catholic doctrine, so for the bishop's statement to be true, you cannot be a member of the parish and have grounds to object. But since the doctrine is clearly contrary to the Catholic Faith, grounds to object exist regardless of your or the bishop's views.

Thus for the bishop's statement to be true you must either accept that which is not taught by the Church or you cannot be a member of the parish. What options do you have?

  1. You are obedient to your bishop according to the teaching of St Ignatius, so you accept that the statement must be true. You are obedient to the Catholic Faith so therefore you cannot be a member of the parish.

  2. You are disobedient to the bishop, then you can reject his statement as false. Disagreement with one's bishop is often not a problem provided that one is aware and respectful of the authority invested in him by virtue of the Catholic Church and acts with due humility, but wilful disobedience to your bishop on matters of faith disunites you from the Church through the contradiction of St Ignatius' criterion for Church membership, therefore you cannot be a faithful member of the parish.

  3. You accept the non-Catholic doctrine, but this is an effective denial of what you believe and to do so changes the faith which you have received which puts you outside what the Church has always believed. This endangers one's relationship with God - membership of a parish is irrelevant if one is not in harmony with the Divine!
In all three cases, you are sacrificing either your spiritual health or your membership of your parish and thus your spiritual health. Either way, your growth as a Christian is going to be profoundly affected by prolonged to exposure to doubt, a conscience deliberately uninformed (nay misinformed) by trying to sweep the matter under the carpet, and/or the loss of a worshipping community. We all have doubts and these doubts teach us to be faithful, but a prolonged doubt can quickly become wilful and turn into radical skepticism.

In accepting that which is contrary to the Faith, a bishop has endangered the spiritual health of his entire diocese irrespective of whether they agree with him or not. This includes the priests in his diocese who, while still remaining orthodox, nonetheless despite the validity of their sacraments are still in some danger because of the nature of their relations with the bishop.

For a recovery of one's health, there is only one course of action open to you - you have to find an orthodox bishop in order to guarantee one's membership of the Church.We have now seen that a bishop who equates membership of the church with a particular doctrine practically excommunicates all those who refuse that doctrine.

This is why the office of a bishop is very onerous and it behoves us to be loyal and support him in order that he may continue to guide us into a lively faith. A bishop is not a diocesan CEO: his investment into the diocese is vastly greater than just monetary. The fate of his soul depends on how he leads his flock.

So where am I going with this?

Well, I read more and more about the latest Diocesan results about the Women Bishops measure. The vast majority of Dioceses seem to have voted in favour, but they have also voted against any measure to protect those who in conscience cannot accept the ministry of a female bishop. They believe that a Code of Practice will do.

It should be now quite clear to dissenting bishops, priests and laity that there will soon be a pronouncement:

If you are in the Church of England then you have no grounds to object to women in the episcopate.

It is there in the Canons:

A 4 Of the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining,
and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons

The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, annexed to The Book of Common Prayer and commonly known as the Ordinal, is not repugnant to the Word of God; and those who are so made, ordained, or consecrated bishops, priests, or deacons, according to the said Ordinal, are lawfully made, ordained, or consecrated, and ought to be accounted, both by themselves and others, to be truly bishops, priests, or deacons.

(emphases mine)

Thus, at the level of Canon, in being a member of the Church of England, one has no canonical nor legal grounds to object to a female Priest and soon it will be the same for bishops when the resolutions for dissenters will be removed. This will lead to great problems.

A 8 Of schisms
Forasmuch as the Church of Christ has for a long time past been distressed by separations and schisms among Christian men, so that the unity for which our Lord prayed is impaired and the witness to his gospel is grievously hindered, it is the duty of clergy and people to do their utmost not only to avoid occasions of strife but also to seek in penitence and brotherly charity to heal such divisions.

What can be done if there can only be a schism if one genuinely dissents as we have demonstrated above? There can be only a Canonical paradox if one looks logically. If there must not be a schism then everyone must unanimously accept women in the Episcopate - a two-thirds majority cannot cut it!

This can only mean that (if they are not suffering already) Anglo-Catholics will simply not be able to exist in the CofE without severe spiritual damage which will come from a gradual erosion. It would be much better for an amicable departure to be arranged so that both sides can follow their own chosen paths to whatever ends there may be without interference and restraint from dissension.

This is a tall order for the poor priests whose living depends upon the CofE's Established nature. For them to make any move away from the Established Church will take much courage and a leap into physical uncertainty. However there is spiritual assurance outside the CofE that remains Anglican. They will find a very warm welcome in the Continuum, they can be very certain of that. They certainly have our prayers and humble petitions for their health and well-being and for their spiritual fulfilment.