Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Living Tradition and Dead Faith.

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jaroslav Pelikan

The other day, I overheard someone describe Anglican Catholics as people who want to preserve the English Missal in aspic. It was quite clear that they identify Continuing Anglicanism with Pelikan's traditionalist. This person certainly regards us as having a dead faith. Indeed, I was told by a former Director of Ordinands in the Established Church that I was loyal to a church that had passed away.

So is our Tradition dead? Are we merely observing traditional elements for the nostalgic sake of it? What growth can there be from something so fixed?

I argue that the Anglican Catholic tradition is not only living but living very healthily. There are 7 criteria for determining biological life: regulation of the internal environment, corporate organisational union, metabolism, growth, adaptation to the environment, response to stimuli, and reproduction. While these are biological criteria, it seems very reasonable, given the organic nature of Christianity and its association with a central biological entity (to wit: the Body of Christ), to apply these criteria correctly interpreted to Traditional Anglicanism.

1. Corporate Organisational Union
St Ignatius of Antioch gave the basic organising principle in "Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." There are distinct organs within church which function according to the needs. Every Anglican Catholic, like every Christian, is a unit which belongs to the Church and makes present the reality of Christ in the world.

2. Growth
The fact of Apostolic Succession (i.e. that there is a historical episcopacy according to Biblical principles) forms a principle of organic growth according to the Ignatian principle. This means that the Traditional Church does not grow by simply accreting matter (i.e. people who just call themselves Christians) , but that there is a principle by which the organisational structure of the Church replicates through the formation of parishes and missions. Priests are ordained according to Tradition and unified by adherence to the Church's traditional doctrine. But this is a little theoretical. We have a pattern for growth to occur, but is that growth actually occurring? The answer is yes. In the Eastern Province of the ACC and the African Dioceses there is indeed marked growth. Even in the tiny Diocese of the United Kingdom, there has been a decent growth for several years. The growth is real.

3. Homeostasis
This means that the internal environment of the organism is regulated to maintain a constant state. According to Traditional Anglicanism, the internal environment is maintained through corporate worship. The Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered as they always have been. The fact that people are receiving the same sacraments as the first Christians gives a good genetic link which gives the Church her character and identity.

4. Metabolism
What nourishes the Church and what does the Church reject? An organism requires the ability to take in nutrients by breathing and by ingesting. and then by excreting that which is waste or poisonous to the system. From the outset, the Church has drawn on the Breath of God, to wit the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost inspires but does not contradict what He has given us in Scripture and Tradition. The nourishment of course comes from the Mass and we receive nourishment from being part of the Vine that Christ spoke of. This Vine reaches throughout Christianity and the Lord explains how we need to be part of that Vine if we are to receive nourishment. The Traditional understanding of the Real Presence gives us that nourishment.

But the Church also rejects. It rejects Evil - full stop! The Traditional Church knows what Evil is because it trusts in what has already been revealed to it. A church which starts confusing what to accept and what to reject starts ingesting toxins which slowly poison the life of that church.

5. Response to Stimuli
When a child is born, it is embraced into the Church and incorporated into it through Baptism. When someone sins, they can find comfort in God's forgiveness through Confession. When a man falls in love with a woman, they are united in Holy Matrimony. For every life, the Catholic Church has something to offer: counsel and advice from the storehouse of ages, Sacraments to offer for the comfort of the soul, a Canon for living to help individuals find stability of life and a wealth of teaching to help one on the quest for the Divine. For every stimulus, the Church can make a response from its Tradition.

6. Adaptation
The critics of the Anglican Continuum would see this is where we might fail and the cause of our imminent demise. However, let us consider what it means to adapt. Adaptation means making an appropriate response to the external environment. One can look at History and see how the Church has responded. In many cases, the answer has been "not very well" and the reason for that "not very well" comes from a rejection of Tradition especially that vitally central part of Tradition of "Love thy neighbour" which comes straight from the mouth of God. However, this is where the Church has the potential of making more appropriate adaptation. However, this adaption cannot be radical. A cat cannot immediately adapt by becoming a dog when it finds itself trapped in a dog kennel. One doesn't open the windows to air the room in the midst of a roaring gale. The tenets by which the Church can adapt are at its heart. If those tenets are kept, there will be no be no further Crusades nor witch-hunts.

But the Traditional Church has had to adapt especially when it has been shunted out of the mainstream and Established Churches. Since Traditional Faith does not rely on impressive buildings and stipends, nor on robes, birettas and cruets, it can thrive wherever the will to do so exists. There is a will to do so. Anglican Catholics may find themselves worshipping in Cemetary Chapels and in housegroups, but those chapels and houses quickly become fitting places for the sacraments. There is adaptation in the Traditional Church, but without abandoning those traditions.

7. Reproduction
Ah the Church is sex mad! Well of course it is, though "mad" seems a bit of a misnomer, but then "sex-sane" doesn't sound so meaningful. The Church celebrates life, and life is brought forth through sex. Sex is a real part of humanity and the Church is real. The fact of the matter is that with human reproduction comes the great miracle of life that the Church celebrates. For the Church, there is great joy in seeing a tiny bundle of humanity brought into being out from the warmth of mum into the cold air of the world. What comes next is the responsibility - a hard, but potentially very joyful responsibility - for the nurture, development and happiness of that tiny little person. The Church is capable of reproduction via evangelism, but more through the development of family life. There is no better evangelism than presenting healthy and happy families who live out their faith. Again, is this happening? The answer is yes! The greatest growth in the Traditional Church comes from families. Many atheists would call this brainwashing, but why isn't what the atheists do called brainwashing? The Church that promotes healthy human sexuality can grow. The Traditional church binds together, and does not split things up in some kind of reductionist fallacy.

It seems to me that far from being dead, Traditional Anglicanism is actually alive and life-giving through the grace and provenance of Almighty God..

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A traditional game of pass the parcel.

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.

It’s Tessa’s birthday party
and you’re sitting in a circle
ready to play pass the parcel.
Tessa tells everyone that
 this is a very special game of pass the parcel
 as the final prize is very unique
and very valuable.
Considering that her dad is a billionaire,
you can be sure when Tessa says “valuable,”
she means valuable!

So the game starts
and after about 6 or 7 goes,
the parcel lands in your lap
 just as the tortured strains
of the Birdie Song stops.

just before you take off the next layer of wrapping,
you notice that it looks as if
someone has tampered with the wrapping paper.
 There seem to be some tears in the paper already – big ones!

Of course, you play your part
and take off your layer of wrapping
but, just as the music starts up again,
you notice that the next layer shows
 the same signs of tampering.
Those tears in the paper
may go all the way down
to the box containing the prize.

How confident are you that the special,
valuable prize is still there?
Can it have been stolen
or lost or replaced,
or is it just that the wrapping paper is torn?
How can you tell?


It would not be unreasonable
to lose confidence in this game of pass the parcel.
Your enjoyment of the game is a little tarnished
and the possibility that there is no prize at the end
spoils the point of the game.

What has caused you to lose confidence
in the first place?
Well, surely it is those tears
in the wrapping paper.
They are signs that something isn’t
as it should be.
They break with our expectations.


It is important for us to be able
 to be confident in our Christian belief.
 Every eleventh Sunday after Trinity,
St Paul hands onto us
that which he has received.
This is the blessing of possessing
 the Holy Scriptures as we do:
we are passed a most valuable prize,
 the Good News of Jesus Christ.

However, there’s a little problem with this Gospel.
 St Paul writes in Greek, not English,
so how do we know that the Gospel
has been translated properly?
Of course the translators of the Greek
passed on what they received
and produced the Gospel
in a language we can understand.

They did not tear the wrapping paper!

 They were steeped in the same Tradition
as St Paul and the Gospel writers,
 passing the parcel faithfully.
The prize is still there and intact.

 This is the beauty of our Tradition.
 If we are faithful to it,
 then the Word of God can go out into all lands
and to the end of the world His message.
Yet things aren’t as simple as that.


Every year,
usually around Easter or Christmas,
 there is some archaeologist
or Biblical translator coming in
pushing forward a new interpretation
 of the life of Lord Jesus.

Some will deny that Jesus was ever born;
others will deny that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah,
and still others will claim
that He married Mary Magdalene,
was crucified and died
without resurrection. 

Whom can we trust?
Are these scholars passing onto us
what they received intact
or are there tears in the wrapping paper?
 Is the prize still there?

We also are faced with the temptation
to change what we believe by making the liturgy
more understandable,
 by taking out the difficult bits of the Gospel
 which others think
are tricky to understand,
are not politically correct or,
to others,
 seem downright offensive.

We are also faced with the temptation
to reinterpret the Gospel to be in line with
modern thinking.

Many Christians do just that and,
 in doing so.
 fail to pass on all that they have received.
Are these all just tears in the wrapping paper,
 or has the long-awaited prize been lost?


Our Lord Jesus says to each one of us,
“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God”.

 How can we see God
 if we have muddied
the pure, clear waters of our Tradition?
St John tells us that
we shall be like God
for we shall see Him as He really is.
How can we be like Him
if we have completely changed the way we see Him
from what we have received
from the Christians who have gone before us
 in order to make Him fit
our way of thinking?

Can we be sure that our god
is the same God as for all the Christians
who came before us?

It is a fine and marvellous thing
 to hear God speak to us in our society
and in the context of our modern lives. 
It is quite another
to try and interpret His will
to fit our modern thinking and expectations.

Some modern scholars look down
on the thinkers of the past
and give thanks to God
for being more enlightened than they were.
But then. the modern thought trumps
 the thoughts of the past, doesn’t it?

Yet, the Pharisee looks down on the Publican,
and who goes home justified before God? 

Followers of the Gospel of Christ
are convicted of sin by that Gospel,
 but find in that same Gospel
the love and forgiveness of God
in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

In following the Traditions
and the patterns that God laid down for us,
we find ourselves receiving
 the prize of Christ Himself.

It is our duty then to pass
on to the next Christians
what we have received
with care and diligence.
Anything that we add or subtract may be
evidence of hubris and a complete lack of humility
 before God.

If we are faithful to what we receive,
 we will find ourselves
in the presence of the One
 whose Gospel we have spread.
There is no greater prize than that!


One day we shall peel off the last layer
of wrapping paper from the parcel.
What will we find beneath it?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

St Benedict's Priory Salisbury 2012: Service and Humility

As usual, I spend my retreat with the Monks formerly of Elmore now based at Salisbury. Although, I'm no longer technically in Communion with these gentlemen - one of the casualties of the CofE's break with Tradition - I received much kind hospitality and shared much with them in their Offices and in their day-to-day running of the monastery.

This year, with my ordination imminent, it was seemly that I make the focus of my retreat the nature of Christian Service and Humility. The trouble was that I didn't get much in the way of retreating. With Dom Francis away on holiday, I found myself insinuated into washing up, running errands and playing roles in the saying of the Offices. To be honest, I thought nothing of it until I began to write these words, but it strikes me that the best way is not to think about Christian Service at all but to do it and thank God for it afterwards. Perhaps too often, I think about what I should be doing than actually doing it and perhaps you do too. We can plan grand schemes for our lives based on our qualifications and experiences, but perhaps our greatest ever accomplishment in our lives will be to give a cup of tea to a lonely old soul, to wash up after a monastic tea party, or to make an anonymous donation to a charity.

It is clear that we are not saved by works, i.e. not by what we do. We are saved through the Grace of God and by cooperating with that Grace willingly. If we are given the package of salvation, then we do need to open it! What brings us to God is that we do works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal. This does rather sound that I am rather making more of my kitchen duties than perhaps I should: where's the humility in that?

Well, quite.

My main point is that we do not know what will be our greatest accomplishment in life in the eyes of God. God's vision of us is completely different from our own and levels our accomplishments so that the ones we think are least important turn out to be most so and vice versa. Our humility must be in recognising that we are limited even in the things we think we do well, but it also must be that we have the capability in every limited action of seeing God transfiguring that action into something dear to Him. It's not what we do, it's that we do.

Yesterday was the Feast of St Laurence the Deacon. When told by the wicked Roman Prefect to turn over the riches of the Church, St Laurence brought to him the poor and needy of the region explaining that these people were the riches of the Church. Tradition has it that this is the reason that the holy deacon ended up roasting on a gridiron for this effrontery.

But the point is clear. Things do not have worth in themselves. Money is just metal and paper, gold just a metal, possessions just things - all will disappear when the Sun goes nova. Likewise all the values that we hold, our degrees and knowledge, our sporting prowess, all will die with us. Our worth is extrinsic - it comes from bearing the image of God in our very selves. If we deliberately blind ourselves to this fact that we are of infinite value to God, then there can be no salvation from death.
Likewise our actions, what we do, can be given a worth more than we understand by allowing the Divine Will to consecrate them.

So what are you going to do now?

Friday, August 03, 2012

Worship Groups and Wesley's Rules

John Wesley's rules for singing:
1. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or 'mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

4. Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan.

5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
I have a lot of time for Wesley. Rule 7 is very typical of his deep passion for seeing God in all things and puts him very much in the company of Du Caussade, Brother Lawrence, St Francis of Assisi, and St Benedict himself. It is tantamount that before we do anything, we first do it for the love of God.

The final cause of a hymn is for the greater glory of God and not, repeat not, for enjoying oneself. If we sing hymns for sensual reasons only then we shall sow what we reap, mere superficiality. My recollection of singing in the last days of my involvement with the CofE was that people sang because they "liked the tune" or because it made them feel happy.
There is an affinity between today's CofE with the Church of the post-Restoration and before the Oxford Movement in that the singing of hymns is accompanied by a band. Often this band is called the "worship group", primarily because it saw itself as leading worship. Yet, what we can often see and hear of "worship groups" is the band doing all the work while the congregation bask in the atmosphere when really it is their duty to join in. According to Wesley's Rules, a true worship group should seek to be of a secondary nature, playing the notes that are written without standing out.

Before I am accused of being musically snobbish, the same is very true throughout the English Choral tradition. A congregation cannot ordinarily join in with the execution of a Mass by Byrd, Palestrina, Ockeghem or Striggio. Their raison d'etre, we are told, is to enhance the worship of the Congregation. But how? By using the typology of heavenly choirs? Given the nature of the Catholic Mass, every ceremonial action and ritual is indeed a sign to draw one closer to Heaven. The choir then must seek to fulfil that type, just as the priest should seek to fulfil the person of the alter Christus in his role.

A hymn or anthem must always begin with the words which have to be sound theological poetry. Too many modern hymns have succumbed to the skill of the prattler of pious platitudes and of the egotist in which the word "I" makes a more frequent appearance than addresses to the Divine. It must mean something and convey truth upon which people can build their lives as well as sing in Church. One can tell the spiritual health of a parish by the quality of the hymns that it sings. A parish that doesn't mind what it sings is not likely to be thinking carefully about how it is approaching worship.

Likewise, the execution of sacred music requires thought. A choir, or worship group, should not seek first for people's enjoyment but rather for their alignment with God. Music that will have them "bopping in the aisles" is distracting from the presence of God. While it is possible for hymns in church to be accompanied by a guitar, often the guitarist treats the situation like a jam session and again people enjoy the music for the music. Of course, music is a gift from God, and musical skill is a gift from God, but it is imperative that one tempers one's musical skill and restricts one's exuberance with careful thought on "how am I going to play in order to bring the reality of God and the truth of His words to the congregation here present?"

Finally, execution of sacred music must allow people to sing with it. Many hymns and songs tend to become solos for someone who tries to emulate the late Whitney Houston by warbling all kinds of melismata over a tune. Some modern songs seems to be written to accommodate these vocal meanderings. The Reformers imposed a "one note to one syllable" rule for Church Music. While this might be rather excessive, it is not a bad maxim. Melismata can be left to the singing of a good choir who can execute them with discipline and the desire to narrow the gap between Heaven and Earth.
Surely that is worth working for!