Friday, July 26, 2013

Articulating Identity.

Recently, I've had to leave a couple of Facebook groups for the simple reason that I am tired of the squabbling that seems to surround questions of Anglican identity. I note with interest Father Chadwick has set up some "blow out" pages so that people can get into heated but polite discussion about how Anglicanism relates to Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy. I prefer to stay out of such polemics because they soon fall into insults or beating others over the head with the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the XXXIX Articles.

From the point of view of the Affirmation of St Louis, the principles of doctrine neither include the Catechism of the Catholic Church nor the XXXIX Articles, neither are they included in the Canons of the Anglican Catholic Church. Of course, it is perfectly reasonable for a member of the ACC to hold to these documents provided that they do not clash with the doctrine of the Undivided Church. However, given that neither the CCC or the XXXIX Articles are held unanimously, they really cannot be used as authoritative statements in debates with other Anglicans. The CCC properly belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, the XXXIX Articles with Protestant Anglicanism. Both contain much that is valuable; both contain much that causes contention and division among Christians.

It is true that in my more rabidly Roman days, I used to hold greater store by the CCC and had very little time for the Articles; now I do not because if there is any ground for Unity, it must come from the Undivided Church, not from just a large majority of it. The CCC does not represent the orthodox teaching of the whole Catholic Church. Neither do the XXXIX Articles which are largely an attempt trying to unite the Catholic and Calvinist wings of the Established Church of England. The CCC does not define Catholicism, the Articles do not define Anglicanism.

Many would look at the Continuing Anglican Churches and say that, because they are Anglican, they are Protestant, and these folk will cite history to show the intent of the Reformers was to excise all that is Catholic. The first Reformation in England, of course, was that of Henry VIII and the infamous divorce business. It was political as it separated the politics of England from the politics of Rome. The intention was categorically not to change doctrine. This came later as evidenced in the prayer-book of 1552 and its successors. Nonetheless, the Church of England maintained its orders and Apostolic Succession (until 1993) regardless of largely irrelevant Papal Bulls. It is true that there is a Protestant admixture within the Church of England, but that Protestant heritage does not speak for the whole of Anglicanism. It certainly does not define Anglicanism and it certainly does not define the ACC.

The ACC is Anglican, not because there is any one definition of what it is to be Anglican, but rather in that it holds to English Catholic Liturgy. It has the 1549 BCP which is lifted practically wholesale from the Sarum Use and augmented with the Gregorian Canon in the English and Anglican Missals. It is using liturgies used in England since before the Reformation and continued afterwards. That is the Anglicanism we preserve. Of course, our members can hold to the XXXIX Articles if they wish, but they are not definitive in the ACC Canons and they do not define what it means to be Anglican. I suspect the same is true in other Continuing Anglican Churches.

To call the ACC Protestant is actually meaningless given that Protestantism did not exist in the Undivided Church. Indeed, according to the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism is Protestantism defined. Personally, I find the term "Protestant" difficult to bear on the grounds that it lumps me in with those Christians who, for reasons of their own, reject good Catholic doctrine. I'm not too fond of the phrase "Reformed Catholic" either, but then perhaps I'm just being precious. I cannot speak for other Continuing Anglicans who may be happy with being Protestant or simply plain indifferent.

Perhaps I've made my distaste for the Articles clear to the point of being offensive. That is certainly not my intention. I have seen clever priests from within my own Church write some very fascinating, edifying and truly Catholic articles on the Articles. What I would hope is that, rather than take them as being authoritative, we should rather take them as opportunities to reflect on what it means to be Catholic. They contain much wisdom, but not all wisdom.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Power of the Laity?

Recent times have seen great changes and indeed turmoil within the Church of God as a result of several changes in society and how those changes have been addressed by the Church. Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger famously said:
“How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4.14) comes true.”
The 20th Century has been a crucible of ideologies, testing them to breaking point. Aristotle’s theory of virtue as the middle way between extremes has been tested to the uttermost as Man has struggled to work out who he is, and in doing so has endured some of the most abominable suffering that he has caused himself as he has effectively torn himself apart in his investigation.

What we have been left with in the West is a strange notion of equality as people have tried to free themselves from the shackles of oppressive regimes. Empire, Reich, Republic and Communism have pushed each other out of the way in offering alternatives to human beings who seek to end their oppression and find genuine freedom to be themselves.

What has emerged in the West is Equality.

Equality has affected the Church as the tensions about the proposed ordination of women and the sacramental marriage of practising homosexuals have been introduced or thrown out or debated or caused splits. It seems that for every ideology seeking equality, there is a church. What is behind this equality? I wonder whether the answer is a struggle for the individual to define himself as an individual in amidst other individuals. Society is becoming more atomic as people seek to assert their distinctiveness as individuals.

For example, if we look carefully at the purported Ordination of Women issue, we do have to ask why women want to be ordained in the first place. The objection to the exclusive priesthood of men is the belief that God can call women as equally as He can call men. There are times when the clergy can seem like a self-important clique hiding behind robes and prayers and wielding power over the souls of the laity. If this is true then it is wrong – fundamentally wrong – and it is perfectly reasonable that women should object to being lorded over. Given that God calls men to be priests and not women, there is certainly an apparent imbalance in the way that women perceive their relationships with God and the Church.

It has been said that God calls men to be priests and women to be mothers. Often this is rejected on
the grounds that women want to be seen as beings beyond their biological functions. It is also rejected on the grounds that men already have a biological function in becoming fathers of the children that are born from their wives. One also notes that comparatively few men are called to be priests in comparison with a large majority of women become mothers. There is something very particular in being called to be a priest and something very common to being a mother.
And yet this attitude does denigrate an undoubted miracle which causes human beings of all stripes to stand back in awe and amazement as a new life is brought into the world. One cannot and should not belittle birth, nor should one belittle being a mother. Motherhood is a commonplace miracle.
St Thomas Aquinas reminds us of the duality between life and Sacrament.
“Now, in a bodily and natural life three things are necessary of themselves, and a fourth incidentally. For first, by generation or birth a thing must receive life; second, by growth it must arrive at its due size and strength; third, both for the preservation of life acquired by generation and for growth nourishment is necessary. And these are of themselves necessities for natural life, because without these bodily life cannot be perfected; wherefore, one assigns to the vegetative soul which is the principle of life the three natural powers: that of generation, that of growth, and that of nourishment. But, since there can be an impediment to natural life from which the living thing grows weak, a fourth thing is incidentally necessary; this is the healing of the sick living thing.

Thus, then, in the spiritual life, also, the first thing is spiritual generation: by baptism; the second is spiritual growth leading to perfect strength: by the sacrament of confirmation; the third is spiritual nourishment: by the sacrament of the Eucharist. A fourth remains, which is the spiritual healing; it takes place either in the soul alone through the sacrament of penance; or from the soul flows to the body when this is timely, through extreme unction. These, therefore, bear on those who are propagated and preserved in the spiritual life.” (Summa contra gentiles IV.lviii.3-4)
As a man can be an ikon of Christ, so a woman can be an ikon of the church. Christ is the groom and the Church the bride as we read throughout the testimony of the Lord’s teaching. A mother brings to birth a baby; she nurtures it, she feeds it, she mothers it. Of course, fathers play a big role in the development of offspring even though they lack the physical make up to be as effective. It cannot be denied that men can feed a baby, but artificially so; men can nurture a child, but the bond that comes from bearing a baby in the womb is uniquely female and is carried through birth. This does not in any way deny that a single father can bring up perfectly adjusted children, but there is a lack. Children have been conceived by two parents and they benefit most with each parent making an investment in their welfare. That investment, however, is going to be peculiar to each parent.

There is, however, more to humanity than progenesis and men and women experience in life. Equality of fatherhood and motherhood is meaningless even though there are very obvious rights and responsibilities that are shared with being a parent of a child.

The key to the modern notion of equality lies in the whole system of rights and responsibilities. We cry for equal rights for all, desiring that everyone be treated equally and that everyone plays an equal part in society. The idea is perfectly reasonable: if we wish to function properly in our society we should make an investment in that society that is in keeping with what we can provide for that society so that we can draw from it fruits that we desire from it. If we want more, we must invest more.
 The whole issue of equality arises from the many instances in which some draw out from society more than they put in, while others’ investment is eroded. True equality lies in the balance between investment and fruition.

The ordination of women is a case in point. Female Christians have a true, honest and fervent desire to love and serve God in exactly the same measure as any man. Yet they see no potential fruit in the Church which will meet with the investment that they innately desire to make, except within the vehicle of the Sacred Priesthood. Yet, many men have exactly the problem. These folk come to God with their willing and honest sacrifice only, like Cain, do they have it rebuffed.
The objection for the women is that it is a rejection on the grounds of sex, whereas for men turned down for the priesthood it is something else. It is here that the comparison with women priests and male mothers seems more reasonable. The passion and desire to make the investment is not enough to realise the outcome; the necessary machinery for realisation is not there and cannot be there for ontological reasons. To obtain the desired fruit would mean a complete change in whom one really is. Far from ratifying the individual, it would destroy it. Exactly the same issue underlies many problems within the Church and within Society.

However, the outcome is still the same regardless of any underlying issue: one has been rejected and one’s desire to play a role has been spurned, not at the level of a genus, nor at the level of a species, but rather at the very nature of the individual itself. In the face to this lies the question ”what is one’s true vocation?” Where does this love of God, this desire to serve, this longing to be in participation with His Creation have its fulfilment?

The answer can only be found in a search in one’s life. Given one’s passion, what machinery is there that can indeed reify that desire and cause it bear the proper fruit of one’s investment. Rejection from the priesthood means a vocation within the laity.

It is the distinction between clergy and laity that seems to cause the majority of problems. The perception is that the clergy gain fruit more out of their investment than the laity. In the old days, the clergy were more intellectually qualified than the laity. The priests and monks were the wise men with “all the answers” the laity were those who worked and supported the church with their tithing and craftsmanship. Of course, this paints a particularly rosy picture of how life was and perhaps this is a little romantic, but it does have the seeds of the truth which we have lost.

It is very easy to be a passive Christian these days, especially in a Traditional Church where the priest says Mass and Office and everyone else sits apparently passive. Ideally, the laity should be praying the Mass with the priest, and prayer is not a passive activity but involves the focus of the mind and the heart. If, however, the Mass and the Offices are the only opportunities in which the Laity are engaged in the Church, then there seems to be very little to do. What has been forgotten is the idea of the priest as a servant of the servants of God – a title which these days seems only to apply to the Patriarch of the West.

What has been lost is an integrated society in which the parish church represents the worshipping part. The burning desire to serve God that many men and women feel is being subverted by the pressures of time and secular work. We might desire fervently to work for the glory of God, but find that all our efforts go in to reinforcing a secular machine which has no care for our church and our religious beliefs. The secular and sacred divide is essentially dividing our desires for a happy, God-fearing life in our society between God and Society. Our secular jobs take us away from devotion with the result that we either settle into our jobs and take a passive pew, or we resent our secular jobs and desire to devote our energy into serving the Church. For many, the Church is not as physically nourishing as it was when it was richer.

Here is the dilemma for the laity and also for non-stipendiary clergy. The laymen and women must be allowed ownership of the Christian Community of which they are members. This means that they must be responsible for the growth and the upkeep of their parish and work to realise its existence. Too often, it is the clergy that have to take all the responsibility and, becoming accustomed to doing so, view any attempt to wrest that responsibility (particularly in leadership) with suspicion on the grounds that the laity have the right intentions but the wrong ideas.

We therefore have boiling away here a mutual distrust between clergy and laity. One way to get around this is for dialogue between priest and people. The priest must remember his duty of service and spiritual guidance for the laity. He is a facilitator, educating the laity into the ways of the church that they may serve faithfully and trustworthily in the Traditions of the Church and thus fulfil their innate desires to serve God as an individual in a community.

The priest is the father of the community, hence his title as “father”. Yet fatherhood is quintessentially a status of relationship than a status of absolute authority. God the Father is precisely so because of the existence of God the Son. The Son obeys His Father and the Father supports His Son. In the Son we see the Father and the Son is given the right to reign over his Father’s Kingdom. The leadership is shared because the Father trusts the Son and the Son obeys the Father. This should be the model for our parishes. There is plenty of evidence of female leadership in the Church, indeed in Ss Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, Hilda of Whitby and Theresa of Avila. In them is obedience and the result is trust in their leadership.

The Church does not need new Puseys, Newmans, Hookers, Kebles, Lauds, Gardiners or Cranmers or any other inspirational figure to start a new movement within the Church to bring it together. It does not need Fresh Expressions, Messy Churches, or innovation after innovation after innovation. All lt needs a laity educated in and faithful to Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason who will rejoice in their lay-status and support the man that God has chosen to act as alter Christus at the altar. We need a laity who are willing to invest in the parish in union with their secular lives in order to reap the fruits that God will give them. We also need a priesthood that is comfortable in its service to the laity to allow that laity to grow the Church and guide it according to the Law of Almighty God.

Individualism leads to atomism and anarchy. Honouring the individual in the context of the Church under the love of God leads to harmony with the Divine and the building up of the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Your church?

Your church is near you.

Your church is for you.

Your church invites you.

Your church needs you.

I saw this on a local CofE Church noticeboard. What do you make of it? I wonder what the locals make of it. Its major failing is that it does require people to think and I wonder how many in our locale want to expend the intellectual energy in fathoming it out.

The main question one asks of this sign is, “for what purpose?” This can be added to each of those statements and I wonder if the church itself can answer that. This, of course, goes for all churches, parishes, missions and congregations of whatever stripe or colour or expression of Christianity.

Your church is near you for what purpose?
What good is it for a church to be near when people vote with their feet and with their car tyres? People these days shop for churches and find one that they like best. It may be the Holy Spirit guiding them, but it might also be the spirit of one’s preference. Of course, the perfect parish doesn’t exist and if it does, we shouldn’t join it! Yet, if there is such a great disparity between parishes that one can exercise choice, does this choice extend to what one believes? If there is a difference between what two parishes believe, can one be sure that this difference does not compromise one’s salvation? If not, then at least one of the parishes is heretical. What really counts is whether a church is near Christ rather than whether it is near an individual.

Your church is for you for what purpose?
In what sense can a church be for you? This ought to have an easy answer. The Church of God lifts up the chalice praying, “We here present to thee, O Lord, the Cup of Salvation : and of thy mercy grant that in the sight of thy divine majesty it may ascend as a sweet-smelling savour for our salvation, and that of all the whole world. Amen.” The Body of Christ was broken for us. The Church of God is for all of Creation, not just for individuals. How does the church exhibit that desire to save the whole world? How does it suffer with suffer with God at the rejection of His love? How does it seek to call people back to Him?

Yet, the words “for you” have several interpretations. “For you” could mean “on your behalf”, “for you to use”, “stands with you”. Of those, only the former really makes sense for the Church. The Church does not stand with anyone who preaches hatred and evil, but, like her creator, must sit and wait indefinitely and in pain for that person to repent and return. The Church is not something to be used for one’s pleasure since this puts the individual’s use above God’s purpose.

Your church invites you for what purpose?
One is often wary of invitations. Each advertisement is essentially an invitation to the consumer to try a product, and yet it would be a foolish consumer to try that product out without knowing what it is at the very least! “We invite you to stick your face in this fan” is not likely to meet with many takers (one would hope none!). So there must be some clear purpose in inviting people in and, for a church, this would have to be the Christian Faith. A church that invites people in to experience the Christian Faith must produce just that if it intends to keep people there. A church that is not clear about what it is inviting people in for may as well be advertising sticking one’s face in the fan.

However, will a church alter the product to suit the person coming in? Or will it alter the product to get people to come in? If so, then this runs the risk of gaining the world but losing the soul. If we invite people to the Last Supper, will they meet Christ? How can we be sure?

Your church needs you for what purpose?
Again, many people can be very suspicious of this statement. If the above three questions have not been sufficiently answered then the materialistic mantra of “what’s in it for me?” raises its head. For a materialist, what the Church offers is nothing at all. There is no worldly gain that comes from going to church other than meeting people and getting a warm glow at family functions. One does not need the Church to supply social opportunities or happy thoughts and many people seem to be able to find exactly these things elsewhere.

Of course, the local church needs a congregation to survive and, without the support of those dedicated to its growth, it will shrivel and die. This is more of a material need of the church. Yet the church needs only God to provide and if He does not want to provide then one must accept that. One then does have to question what provision God is giving and to what purpose. He will not give anything of true value to those who are simply not following His commandment. Even in times of dearth and famine, one can find that spring of living water welling up within from Christ Jesus himself. If that is not there, then there is a problem. We hear from Our Lord that, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

A church must expect death in order for it to grow but only in the right circumstances. The seed planted in the ground is the Body of Christ Himself which, when raised, procured the Resurrection and Salvation for the Church. Death can only be followed by life if one participates in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. This belief has to be central to the being of a church and indeed a reality for that church, not just a theory, a nice idea, or a clever story. Jesus really existed, really died and really rose again. If a church is not convinced of that, it cannot convince others.

The trouble with the English language is that it has lost any distinction between “tu” and “vos” i.e. singular and plural. When it says “your church” does it mean “ecclesia tua” or “ecclesia vestra”?

If the former, then I have already written about this before in conjunction with what it can mean to be "for you".
I like signs that make me think!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What a shame! Or What, a shame?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the Sixth Sunday After Trinity and at St Augustine’s, Canterbury on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.

Would you like to be on the telly?


For many of us,
 the prospect of seeing ourselves on the box
 is not actually a happy thought;
 for others
 it would be the best thing imaginable.

Suppose, however,
that you actually did see yourself
on the telly.

 How would you feel? 

Would you cringe?


For many of us,
 seeing ourselves in photos
or on video
 is an unpleasant experience.

 After all,
we see ourselves in a different light
 from our usual experience of life.

Our internal life
is confronted with the external reality.

We stand outside looking at ourselves
 rather than watching the world from within.

we are given the opportunity to see ourselves
as others see us.

It is then that we are confronted
with what we don’t want to see in ourselves,
and that makes us cringe.

The trouble is,
 opportunities to see ourselves from the outside
 are very, very few to come by.

If they’re a rare occurrence,
then perhaps we have nothing to worry about.

Now do you really believe that?


If the thought of being on television
appals us for fear of seeing ourselves as we really are,
then it’s clear that we have some sensation
of shame about ourselves.

Shame is a bit of a taboo word in society today.

We’re not supposed to be ashamed;
 we’re supposed to be ourselves and be proud of it.

Most of the time, that’s all very healthy.

We should indeed look to love ourselves.

When Our Lord tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves,
 He is assuming that we love ourselves in the process.

However, many of us don’t love ourselves,
 at least, not properly, and this will need to be addressed.

However, what then is this thing called shame and why do we feel it?

Our shame comes from the sense
 that there’s something wrong.

We don’t want to appear on television
because we will appear
to be wrong. 

We’ll say something stupid,
trip and fall over
or end up making a fool of ourselves
 in front of Simon Cowell.

Shame has to do with personal standards.

If we’re fussy with our grammar
then we feel a blush of shame
at a misplaced apostrophe
or writing “could of” instead of “could have”.

To have shame means we have personal standards. 

Of course, it could be that our personal standards are wrong.
In His ministry,
our Lord Jesus seeks to shame
the Pharisees and Scribes for their own good.

He exposes their personal standards and  values for what they are.

The Pharisees pride themselves
on knowing and keeping every single little bit
of the Jewish Law.

Knowing this,
Our Lord says, “Woe to you,
scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier matters of the law:
justice and mercy and faith.

These you ought to have done,
without leaving the others undone.”

He measures them by their own standards.
If they are going to keep the law,
then they must obey the whole law,
 in spirit as well as in front of everyone.

“Love thy neighbour as thyself”
is as much part of the Jewish Law as tithing.

 It’s not a new commandment,
and yet,
the Pharisees push that conveniently out of the way
so that they can make a big show
of giving their contribution
of garden herbs.

 It is this embarrassment
that will fuel the Pharisees into engineering
the death of Jesus.

They do not like being under scrutiny
 – they see themselves as above that sort of thing.

No-one is above scrutiny.

Just like everyone on the television,
we are all under scrutiny.

Every action and word and thought
are known and understood by God.

He discerns our thoughts from afar.

He knows the very hairs on our heads.

He knows everything that
we have done
 even down to the very intention of our heart.

Who doesn’t find that disturbing?

Why is it disturbing?

Because we are ashamed of our wrong-doing.

Because we have failed to be the person,
who deep down, we really want to be.

We know that there are standards
and we know that we have fallen short of them.

Our shame is an honest reaction
to our sinfulness
- not just the failure to live up to our own standards,
 but to live up to God’s standards.

As Jesus shows us,
 intending to hurt someone
is as bad as committing the deed.

 To call our brother, Raca
 –worthless –
shows us up for not valuing others
and loving them as God intends us.

 It is our shame at our wrongdoing that alerts us to the need for forgiveness.

It is the shame that
we aren’t the person that we want to be
 that alerts us to the need to love ourselves
and others
in the way that God intends us.

It is the pricking of our conscience.

So what do we do when we feel some sort of shame?


Our Lord tells us the answer.

 “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar,
and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

 Leave there thy gift before the altar,
and go thy way;
first be reconciled to thy brother,
and then come and offer thy gift.”

Notice what’s being said here.
It isn’t saying “if someone’s done you wrong, go and make peace.”

 It’s “if you think you’ve done something wrong to someone, go and sort it out straightaway.”

God’s priority is on loving one’s neighbour before our liturgical duties.

The Pharisees put their law first, not love,
their perceptions of self-worth before God’s true values.


Of course,
some of us still feel guilty about things
 that we’ve been forgiven long ago, even in confession.

Some of us have learned to hate ourselves.

 If that’s true, then that’s usually the Devil reminding us about our sinful past.

 It’s the Devil spreading the lies into our hearts mixed in with great portions of the truth, trying to convince us that we are worthless.

The truth is that God is love
and desires not the death of a sinner,
but rather that the sinner repent and live.

 If we’ve truly and honestly confessed and repented
 and made good amends,
then we have nothing to fear.
 God DOES forgive sins.

We can be sure of that.

 If the Devil reminds us of our past,
then remind him of his future!

We can be made clean by God if we are willing.

Do you still burn with shame rather than with love?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

An Alternative to the CofE?

I just posted this on the Anglican Catholic Blog. I believe that my Church is a credible alternative to the Church of England for all those who hold Catholic tradition and Anglican identity as being important to the Christian Faith and believe that these have been eroded by recent developments within the C of E.

In the comments, as Fr Anthony says, the ACC has the prospect of building upon the foundations, not by the polemical argumentation which is somewhat passé, but by seeking new ground to be as innovative as the CofE but holding tightly to what we believe. This comes through prayer and humility, learning from our mistakes, reflecting on how unfit we are for purpose and putting our entire trust in the Love of God which we desire to promulgate. The first resort is prayer, the second is honest toil. May the glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us: prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handywork!