Friday, November 23, 2012

Erastian Edicts and Popular Principles

"When the decision-making body of the established church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society which it represents then its position as the established church must be called into question." Eleanor Laing MP
Thus speaks a member of the British House of Commons following the Church of England's failure to reach agreement on the legislature on women in the episcopate. There are several rather interesting questions that arise from Ms Laing's statement:
  1. What does it mean for a Church to represent a society? To whom is that society being represented?
  2. What are the "general principles" of the British Society? Are they Christian? How are these "general principles" made and who has the authority to make them?
  3. Is the British Society actually sufficiently Christian in the first place? Does the idea of Established Church make any sense to those who do not live in a Christian milieu?
The problem is that there is an cognitive dissonance inherent in the (famously uncodified) British Constitution between what is truly authoritative, Church or State, and it is the archetypical Erastian dilemma. It is because of this dissonance that the Established Church has come under fire following the failure to provide coherent legislation to allow women to "become bishops". The voices that make the loudest railing against the CofE are those who believe that the principles of Society must be the principles of the Church. The CofE Traditionalists say that the reverse is true, that the principles of the Church must be the principles of Society. The dissonance goes away if the principles are truly agreed by both sides. Clearly, they are not otherwise this furore would not exist.
Our Lord Himself says:
"No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (St Luke xvi.13)
So are there two masters here? There are certainly two sets of authority that potentially vie for obedience: State authority and Church authority. Now the Christian believes that the Church does hold all the doctrine necessary for Eternal Life - extra ecclesia nulla salus. The Church will be saved through the blood of Christ, but only God decides who is truly within it because Christ is the Head of His Body, the Church. The State controls the legislation and enforcing of those laws. What it must do is be clear as to what the principle sources of legislation are. If there is a State Church, then the implication is that there is some confluence between the principles of legislation and the Moral Doctrine of the Church. Where there is a divergence, there must be dissonance and the Christian finds himself presented with two authorities. The Lord bids him to go with the Doctrine of the Church.
Well, what are the General Moral Principles of the Church? What does the Lord command us?
"Thou shalt love the Lord thyGod with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it , Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (St Matthew xxii.37-39)
St Paul tells us, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Galatians v.14) but he is not decoupling the second commandment from the first as he is already talking to Christians for whom the first commandment is a given.

These are the General Principles of the Church: love God first, then men. Perhaps this is rather better expressed as: love men by loving God. It is God which is the source of love and who is also the source of true authority. Thus any agenda must be ratified by God first, for, if loving one's neighbour is a necessary condition, to ratify it through God as principle of Love first will be to ratify it through the second commandment too. God defines what "to love" means and then bids us demonstrate it to our neighbour. How does God tell us how to love? Well, God shows us how by example - just look at the whole life of Lord Jesus!

To remove the existence of God from the equation means that the principle of what true love is has been removed, and thus the possibility of noble sounding but potentially erroneous principles can be added. Without the Authoritative word of God, the principles become questionable and indeed questioned. As the U.K. has become a multicultural, and subsequently pluralist, and then secular society, the principle of God as an authority is indeed being removed. It is true that the legislature of the British Constitution no longer requires attendance at Mass because of the freedom of expression of Christianity different from the Established Church. With the influence of other religions and the freedom to believe in no god at all, the primary Commandment of the Decalogue ("I AM the Lord you God. Thou shalt have no other God but me") is breached. Already there is a dissonance between Church and State.

The Principles have changed and that is the key. Democracy is now the major authority, and any word of God is assumed to speak through the democratic process.

To have an Established Church means to have an automatic presence of the Church Hierarchy in the governing body and legislature qua Christian Governance. This essentially means that the Prophetic ministry of the Church has an automatic place in Government. Unless the principles of legislation are Christian, there will be dissonance between what the Church says and what the State says. This cannot be avoided. To assume, therefore, that because the Church dissents from the principles of government imposed by the State does not mean that the Church dissents from its own principles. The Government may push for some res nobilitatis but if there is no adequately corresponding concept of this in Church Doctrine, then it will mean nothing beyond trying to foist temporal philosophy onto Eternal Truth. Many will try to reconcile the philosophy with the Truth, but in so doing they will ultimately find themselves trying to serve two masters.

To criticise the decision processes of the CofE from outside the CofE is not entirely fair if one does not hold to the Governing principles of the Established Church. One might as well criticise an apple for not holding to orange principles. Whatever one might wish the CofE to do, the CofE will only truly accord it if it adheres to CofE principles. However, it is clear from the results of the General Synod's vote on Tuesday that the CofE herself is not entirely sure what her principles are. Her understanding of what ordination is is at least 75% Protestant and it is not clear whether the remaining 25% ascribes to a properly Catholic understanding of ordination.

Nonetheless, the Established Church has, largely through her own capitulation to Democratic Doctrine, been the butt of many a hysterical outburst from those who really really do not understand the problem largely because they either catcall from the outside or grouse as they try to serve two masters on the inside. It is, however, interesting how the General Principle of Charity is the first to go. May the CofE be guided along the right path by Almighty God, and by Him alone.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Magic, Miracles and foot-long carrots.

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the 24th Sunday after Trinity.

It’s Jim’s ninth birthday party.

Tubbo the Clown bursts through the curtains
                 to make his appearance
                    and perform his special magic tricks
                        – the amazing disappearing bunny;
                          the milk that turns into a white silk scarf;
                                  doves from nowhere.

At one point,
         Tubbo pulls a foot long carrot
                   out of Stephanie’s ear!

The majority of the children sit agog,
        but Eric has that smug look upon his face
            – the smug look that can only come
                   from that particular sort of boy
                       whom you know will proclaim
                          with a voice shriller
              than a parrot with whooping cough,
                    “I know how it’s done!”

What is your opinion of little Eric?

Are you irritated by his revelation
       of how the tricks work?


Does his behaviour
        ruin the trick for everyone?

Or are you impressed
      by Eric’s clarity of thought
        and his ability to figure out
                   how the magic trick works?

Does it even matter?


It’s easy to forget that a magic trick
     is meant to entertain.

 For some people,
     the entertainment may come
             from the mystery.

For others, the entertainment
        will come from figuring
                 it out how it’s done.

Either way, Tubbo is using his skill to entertain.

That is the purpose of his magic.

 If he is clever enough,
          his jokes and his tricks
                   will make the children laugh,
                         enjoy themselves
                            and bring a lot of happiness
                                   into Jim’s birthday party.

What would you say to Eric’s father
      who is of the opinion that
            “magic is just lies to children”?


For many people,
          magic and miracles seem to go hand in hand. 

Look at Moses standing before Pharaoh, staff in hand.

He throws his staff down and it becomes a snake.

 Pharoah’s court magicians laugh out loud
            and perform the same trick
                  – their staves become snakes
                             when they hit the ground.

 Of course, the get a bit put out
         by the fact that Moses’ snake eats all theirs.

However,  is Moses performing a magic trick,
             or is it a miracle?

Whatever it is,
        it is God who tells Moses
            to turn his staff into a snake
                for the enslaved people of Israel,
                 “that they may believe that the LORD,
                  the God of their fathers--the God of Abraham,
                   the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob
                         --has appeared."

This is not a trick to amuse Pharaoh.

It’s not even a trick to scare Pharaoh.

This is a sign to the children
       of Israel that their deliverance
             is at hand if only they will trust in God.

Does the trick need to be explained?


The court magicians can replicate that staff-snake illusion,
        and a few others that Moses does,
             but their ability to do so soon stops
               when they fail to call down lice upon the people.

It does not alter the fact
      that the Israelites can see
          their deliverance
              is at hand.

Can you see a difference
      between miracles and magic?


If you think about it,
     Our Lord is certainly
            not a magician.

Tubbo the clown is dressed in multicolours
         and makes a big deal of his magic.

Pharaoh’s sorcerers are ostentatious
      in their performance  of the same magic tricks as Moses,
              but Our Lord Jesus shows
                no form of showmanship whatsoever.

He performs his miracles in private.

Look at how He sends out the mourners
       from the dead child’s bedroom in order
              to raise the dead.

Look at his reaction
       when the woman with the haemorrhage
               touches His cloak and is healed.

He talks directly to the woman
    and to no-one else about it.

 What’s the point of doing magic
        to one or two people?

Well, this is it.

Our Lord Jesus is not performing magic!

He is performing miracles.

The Greek word for miracle just means a sign.

The word “miracle” itself
     comes from the Latin miraculum
            which literally means something
                   that causes wonder.

They have a purpose.

A man’s daughter is raised from the dead.


We don’t know, but that isn’t the point.

If we trust in what Our Lord says,
       then we know that
            He has power over life and death.

A woman’s flow of blood is stopped.

Could medicine have helped her?

Not at that time certainly,
      but possibly with modern medicine.

Again, this is missing the point.

 If we have faith in Our Lord,
         then we have witnessed the care
               that God has for us as individuals.

There is a tendency in our modern thinking
       to dismiss miracles all too quickly
             based on our scientific method
                   and understanding.

The woman and the father of the dead girl
        aren’t seeking a miracle
                for the sake of a miracle.

The woman wants to be healed;
         the father wants his daughter back.

 Their humility opens them up
             to the possibility of something wonderful. 

They recognise their utter need for Christ.

Their faith in Our Lord Jesus
          gives them their heart’s desire.

So where are our miracles?

If we are looking for miracles
      for the sake of miracles,
               then we will never actually see them
                       because they will always be dismissed
                             or explained away.

The crowd of mourners laugh Jesus
       to scorn for daring to raise the dead
                  and so they are shut out from the miracle.

Their pride blinds them to the glorious
        and they go on their way
                 literally none the wiser.

But when life is painful and horrible,
      when there is suffering and misery,
            when our loved one lies dying,
                  then where are our miracles?

 Don’t forget that the woman and the father suffer too.

 Their pain is as real and as agonising as ours.

All they had to go on was their humble faith
       in the face of an oppressive,
              dark, painful and miserable existence.

It is that clinging to their faith in God,
        even by the fingertips,
              through excruciating agony,
                     yet trusting, always trusting in Jesus,
                           that they find true joy.

Where are our miracles?

Well, where is our Faith really?



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Branching out of Yggdrasil

Norse Mythology is very rich in its imagery and has inspired much that still has a cultural reference today in Britain. The days of the week are still 6/7 Norse and 1/7 Roman in origin; the stories of the Wild Hunt still enthral rural areas of England and Wales; we still describe long running affairs in life as sagas.

At the centre of Norse mythology is the great tree Yggdrasil, the Ash Tree which supports the nine worlds and at the roots of which, the great dragon Níðhöggr lurks gnawing away at the Great Tree. Does this cosmic dragon living at the bottom of the world not chime with popular views of Hell being "down there" somewhere? Even in English Churches and Cathedrals we still see the remains of Norse Theology, woodwoses and Green men, runic writing and Saxon windows. The images are very green, very mossy, and even very English.

Also unique to the English Church is the notion of the Branch theory of Anglicanism's relationship with other Apostolic Churches as a branch from the great undivided Church. The idea is that, though there is schism between Churches, one may still be part of the Catholic Church provided that there is conformity with the undivided Church. Now, this is not accepted by the Orthodox Church who see that can only be Schism from the Church and not within it. It is certainly not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church since the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states in Dominus Jesus:
there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.
These two Churches certainly agree that the Anglican Church is not part of the Catholic Church. But they do not really recognise each other in their claims to be the One True Church! There are clear doctrinal differences between the Churches and these differences need to be assessed as to whether they do indeed result in endangering the souls of the people within.

Not to accept the Authority of the Pope as Supreme Monarch of the Church is clearly a heresy to the Roman Catholic Church, but to accept it is indeed a heresy for the Orthodox Church and for many Anglicans. The Anglicans are excluded from Communion with the Orthodox Church for precisely the same reason that Roman Catholics are. Indeed, to the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church is just as Protestant as Baptists and Methodists, Apostolic Succession or no.

There is clear division between the Churches today who hold to the Apostolic Succession, these being Romans, Anglicans and the Orthodox, all claiming that they hold fast to the roots of the Undivided Church. If the larger two Churches hold that Branch Theory is false, does this mean that it is indeed false?

To check on what is Catholic, we do need to go back to the great Vincentian Canon which is part of the Undivided Church, St Vincent of Lerins himself dying in the 5th Century.
Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike. (Commonitorium Cap ii)
The Canon was written after the Council of Ephesus and before the death of St Cyril of Alexandria and this places it in about 434AD before Pope St Leo the Great.

So what needs to be established for Branch theory to be true? What do we need to do to show that one can be part of the Catholic Church, despite being in schism, provided that one holds to the doctrine of the Universal Church and preserves Apostolic Succession?

Well, there is a principle of continuity: holding to the Catholic Doctrines and consecrating Bishops with the same consecration as the Holy Apostles in principle guarantee true doctrine and valid sacraments no matter what the age. All is passed on securely. The sticking point is the state of being "in schism". If it can be shown that the origin of the schism is due to the difference between accepting and rejecting a truly Catholic dogma, then those who reject the Catholic dogma are schisming themselves out of the Church and are necessarily heretical. If the dogma is not Catholic, then the schism is over issues of piety which are insisted upon. While this should not be the cause of schism, human nature is fallen and still both parties could be described legitimately as branches until an eventual reconciliation exists.

Now the Schism between East and West is apparently over the West adopting the filioque, the double procession of the Holy Ghost. However, the person of the Pope as Patriarch or Supreme Pontiff is in doubt. One will have it as Catholic Dogma, the other will not. Both sides appeal to the Vincentian Canon here to prove their point. Thus, we now have another factor entering into the mix - doubt!

The issue cannot be proved absolutely to be black or white. I, like my Bishop and my dear colleagues in the Anglican Catholic Church, are convinced by the historical evidence which shows the Pope to be the Patriarch of the West and Successor of St Peter as Bishop of Rome, being worthy of much honour, respect and deep affection in this Office. However, we are unconvinced by (in my case, I grew to doubt) the evidence for the claims to universal jurisdiction which constitutes the Supremacy of the Pope.

Doubt is not the enemy of Faith here. It is an admission that we do not have Divine Knowledge. The Body of Christ is not the Head for that is Jesus Our Lord. We are not complete without Him. While the Holy Spirit does inspire us, there is still room for doubt as to whether things are as they appear.

There is recognition between many Orthodox Churchmen and Roman Churchmen that they are hewn from the same rock, that they have a commonality as Christians which they share deeply. They see in their worship something which they agree is common and they feel the sense of God’s presence. The same is true of Roman and Orthodox visitors to the Anglican Catholic Church who recognise that same numinous sense. While all three might be in schism, there is still the recognition that there is the same stuff at our roots. This is not doubt in Christ, nor doubt in the Doctrine of His Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, this is doubt about the truth of the separation of Christians who share an understanding of what it means to be Holy Catholic and Apostolic. It is certainly doubt that the other is truly condemned to the utter sterility and eventual damnation of those who wilfully reject the Love of God.

It is this very doubt that reinforces the idea of Branch Theory. If we cannot prove absolutely that the schismatic parties are indeed outside the Church – a judgement that is surely reserved for God alone on the Day of Days) – then, out of simple charity, we must regard them as part of Christ’s body and treat them accordingly.

True English Catholicism holds to its claims that it is apostolic and subscribes to the Undivided Church. These assertions are disagreed by the Romans and the Orthodox, who themselves mutually disagree about the other. Yet, there is a growing recognition and respect between these three that there is something fundamentally common as truly Catholic. With no absolute decree on the nature of our schisms, save in the mind of God Himself, the idea of branches still holds, though perhaps not in the eyes of those who stick to the letter of Canon Law.

Rather than allowing Níðhöggr to gnaw at the Church and at the roots of our Charity, let’s just keep praying for each other, administering the sacraments, and holding fast to the Faith of Christ. Perhaps the branches join at the End.