Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Revising Revisionism

My memory is getting worse. It's a real bind. My wife says to me, "do you remember...?" and, in all honesty, I've forgotten. I do need to work at improving my memory; it is something that needs to be exercised.

It is my memory that tells me that something has actually happened. I remember the 11th September 2001 with great clarity. I remember the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember the year of the three popes. I know these events to have taken place. I know that they have happened. My students are not old enough for any of these events. To them, they are history and the reality of these happenings can only be conveyed by my eyewitness testimony. To their children, their children's children and so on, the memory will fade as my generation dies out. There will be the written record, but will that be enough to ensure that the 11th September 2001 is remembered accurately.

It's 2514 and 300 years after Al-Qaeda finally conquered the Western World. History books record the first act of the glorious liberation of the World from decadent apostate tyranny in the acts of the freedom-fighting martyrs who struck a blow against the Oppressive West and began the final war to expel the unfaithful from its global power.

I expect that this is how those events would be recorded. It's all about the interpretation and the ramifications of 11th September will colour how that event is viewed in posterity. Of course, in 3714, when the successors to the Western Milieu have conquered the Al-Qaedan empire, the history will be re-written again. Intepretation of events will change again. History seems rather subjective.

It shouldn't be, though, should it?

We know objective facts about 11th September. We have recordings of those awful, awful scenes, have text-messages from the victims, photographs, news reports, lots of primary sources. With the loss of the primary sources, we lose not just the subjective interpretation, but also the objective facts.

The trouble is, History is not a science in the way that Science is understood today. Science today relies on testability. In order to establish the truth of something, it has to be able to be experimented on, and this experiment has to be repeatable. We can't repeat History.

In the year of the three popes, it was taught that King Harold II died from an arrow to the eye, the evidence stemming from the Bayeux Tapestry. In the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was taught that King Harold was not the figure with the arrow in his eye. Now it is taught that Harold got an arrow in his eye but did not die from his wound but was killed later. All were interpretations from this above scene. Is Harold the figure with on the left with the arrow in his eye? Is he the falling figure on the right? Is he both?

The objective fact is not clear. Sources differ. The Bishop of Amiens at the time talks about Harold being savaged by four knights. Amatus of Montecassino talks of him getting the wound to his eye. So maybe it's both. We can't be sure, however.

History always seems to be revised. Vikings don't have horns on their helmets now. Tyrannosaurus Rex no longer attacks and kills stegosaurus while the brontosaurus never existed except as an apatosaurus. Did Pteranodon's wings flap, or did she glide?

History is extremely malleable as memories fade. This has repercussions.

Revisionism is essentially the idea that the Christian Faith can change in respect to the findings of modern thought. Biblically, the most obvious examples of revisionist are Rudolf Bultmann and Bart Ehrmann.

Bultmann begins with the reasonable idea of finding objectivity in the Gospels, but rejects what he regards as being mythological aspects of the life of Our Lord. Unique events can not be repeated, so cannot be verified scientifically and eyewitnesses, however reliable, can be mistaken. Thus the miracles of Christ, in Bultmann's eyes, must be rejected. The current biblical scholar Bart Ehrmann is arguing for revising the whole person of Our Lord in the light of his understanding of the Gospels. The "quest for the historical Jesus" is very much a modern historian's decision, in the light of modern materialist philosophy, to revise traditional views of the person of Jesus Christ.

The trouble is that the Church, however one feels about this organisation, has its own historical reasons for holding onto the truth that it always had. The Bible was compiled by the Church who used the idea of putting together all the texts about the faith that were written within a few years of the events of the Gospel. St Justin Martyr writing in the early second century mentions that the four gospels we have now are a fundamental part of the Christian corpus of testimony.  Many texts were jettisoned because they were late, even some good edifying materials such as the letters of St Ignatius. The Gospels, nonetheless provide eyewitness statements deliberately:
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. (St Luke i.1-4)
Too often, I find that folk of today are trying to change history to fit a modern viewpoint and are reading that into history. This is certainly true of liberal Christianity which performs eisegesis as a matter of course. As I preached on Sunday, it doesn't matter whether we say "I believe One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" or "I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" the effect is much the same. If we believe the Church, then we believe that she teaches not just the truth, but an Eternal Truth. The Church keeps alive the memory of the first Century, bearing the same testimony, providing the same route back in time to the events that allowed humanity to realise the truth of his Salvation and his place with a loving God.

The doctrines of the Church are not for change. They may be discovered, certainly, and inferred as the Oecumenical Councils demonstrate. However, they cannot be inferred from silence, nor may they be inferred by one part of the Church claiming to speak for all the Church. Until the Church is united again and can form a truly Oecumenical Council, there can be no change in doctrine.

Revisionism is therefore a waste of time and resources and denies the Creed. You cannot say that you believe the Church and then set out to show that she is wrong.  A Catholic is properly bound to the Catholic Creed and thus to the commitment that the Undivided Church bears witness to the Truth.

However, genuine historical inquiry is not a waste of time - especially if it sets out to establish facts independent of modern readings. It is good that questions come up, challenge our thinking and put things in perspective. However, these questions should merely colour our understanding. They will not change God, nor will they "debunk" the Resurrection.

The challenge to the Church is, how does it make itself believable?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Keeping in with the Creed

Sermon Preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity 2014 

Shortly, you hope, we will be saying the Nicene Creed. It’s something that we do every week after the sermon. The reason that we have it near the sermon is so that the congregation knows when a preacher goes off the rails. A preacher can’t say, “there is no Holy Ghost” without being made to look foolish when the congregation stands up and says, “And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of life.” The Creed is more than just a safeguard against naughty priests and their wicked ways. It’s there to provide a framework for what we believe.

The word “believe” is Anglo-Saxon in origin and means “to hold something beloved”. To believe something means to regard it as precious. When we say, “I believe in God” we aren’t just saying “God exists” but that God's existence is fundamentally part of our lives. We should not be lukewarm about the pesence of God in our lives – it should make our hearts beat just that little bit quicker.

As you look through the Creed, you will see the phrase “I believe” three times, though it ought to be four. We say “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty” then we say, “and in one Lord Jesus Christ,” though we are really saying “and I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ.” We say “And I believe in the Holy Ghost…” and finally “And I believe One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Did you notice something different there?


We missed the word “in.” We believe in One God the Father and in One Lord Jesus Christ and in One Holy Ghost, but we believe One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Is there a difference? Does one little word really matter, or should we be worried? If we’re talking about belief, then every word does matter because we hold our Faith beloved! The “in” is missed because it is missing in the Latin version of the Creed and our prayer-book used the translation from the Latin and not Greek. It’s there in the original Greek, but the Latin misses it out – the meaning remains the same though. We do believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We believe that there is only One Church, the ACC is one part of it; it is Holy because God has set it apart for His service; it is Catholic because it holds to the same Faith in Christ held by all Christians throughout all times and all places; it is Apostolic because it has been built upon the Apostles and Prophets from whom we derive our lineage of bishops and authority. We believe in this Church as much as we believe in God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But is this the same thing as saying we believe that Church?


The Church bears witness to the facts of our religion. Our three creeds are statements of that religion and we must bear witness to that. However, the statements contained in those three creeds are huge. They are mind-blowing, difficult and life-changing statements with which we are familiar but not always very comfortable ourselves. They are statements that take a life-time to unravel and unpick, and then we will never fully understand them. Why? Because God is beyond all earthly thought. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” He is not at our beck and call. He doesn’t have to pass His plans in front of us, for He is our Creator. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”

The reality of God is beyond our understanding, and this is why we need to trust Him as there are no human words that He can use to tell us the truth. Human words are so limited in what they can convey. We must trust Him, we must believe Him, we must believe in Him.


This means that we have to believe the Church and believe in the Church. That’s hard to do sometimes because there are times when the Church doesn’t seem to get things right. Often, we Christians get called to account for the bad decisions that have been made by Church government. People fall away from God based on what the Church does and sometimes it’s not hard to see why. That’s the trouble when human beings are so fallible, make so many mistakes and sin. We have to learn to believe in the Church even when we don’t believe the Church, and somehow that’s what we have to tell other people. How on earth do we do that?


St Paul reminds us: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”

We have already been baptised into Our Lord. We are identified with Him in His death and we are identified with Him in His resurrection. We have to trust that. We have to live our lives with these facts, holding on to them tightly even when things get tough. We must believe, even when not believing seems easier. Our creeds are there for us to pray as well as remind ourselves what we believe. In saying our creed, we pray for God to fill us with faith, faith enough to help us to serve Him and find our lives in His life.

What do you believe in?

[There follows the Nicene Creed]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I simply cannot let this go unsaid. My brother and sister Christians are suffering in Iraq (hence the "Nun" symbol above), by those whose religion bids extermination of infidels.
Quran (4:89) - "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks."
Quran (9:123) - "O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness."
Quran (17:16) - "And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction."  (Note that the crime is moral transgression, and the punishment is "utter destruction.")

Now, let me be clear. I am sure that the majority of Muslims do not take these verses nor the other verses of violence literally, in the same way that the Christian will not take the warspeak in the Old Testament literally, but apply the allegory of battle to the spiritual battle against Evil that we face daily. It's quite easy to apply these verses to destroying all vice with in us, fighting against our own unbelief and killing all sinful thoughts before they can take root in the soul.

I am sure that the majority of Muslims wish to play their part in society, live responsible and peaceful lives and make a positive contribution. Muslim scholars have contributed vastly to science, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and medicine - it was the diligence of the Arabs that saved Aristotle from being completely obliterated. Contrary to the knee-jerk reactions to what is happening, there are reports of Muslims who will give up their lives to stand up against the violence

As I say repeatedly, I have respect for Islam and believe that people should be allowed to follow it of their own free will. That, in my eyes, is a fundamental human right and a big part of who people are. However, I will say that they are wrong. I will say that their religion is incomplete.

I will also say that the Islamic religion is different from the religion of those who would seek to exterminate Iraqi Christians. I do not believe that these Muslim extremists are actually Islamic - they are not committed to peace save only the peace which comes when there is no-one left to disagree with their warped and perverted disregard for human life. These aren't the Muslims of noble heritage committed to enlightenment, truth and honour. They are Muslims in name only, just as much as the "God hates fags" Christians are Christians in name only. I would say that the religion that seeks to exterminate groups of people is very little different from those extremist groups of the last Century responsible for the slaughter of millions of men, women and children whom they believed to be scum for being different.

What I am most concerned about is that nothing is being done by our leaders. I hear statements of protest against ISIS from individual Muslims, but no condemnation of terrorist acts coming from the main Islamic bodies in any country. Perhaps these protests are not being publicised, but they need to be. I hear nothing from the UK Government who are silent. The US Government seems, for all its self-importance and liberal bombast to be saying nothing. This worries me deeply. 

There is little I can do. Seeing that only a handful of people read this little blogling, there's very little to be gained out of this post. However, something needs to be done. Why not lobby an MP? Fast for the oppressed Christians? Organise a collection for the relief of the persecuted Christians? Speak out? Change your online avatars and profile pictures to the Nun symbol above for a week? Whatever you do decide to do, please just pray, pray hard and pray long about this. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Names, nets and healings

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity 2014 

 Of all the things in life that we don’t want to do, going to the dentist must surely be near the top of the list. Some of us are of an age where the very sound of the equipment used by the dentist causes the hackles to rise and the pulse to quicken. Even if the technology has moved on to make the whole business better, more friendly and more reliable, going to the dentist can still hold much fear for some of us.

Rationally, it seems strange, especially when you know full well that the dentist is there to help prevent toothache and to treat toothache when it happens. Dentists are not out to inflict pain but to heal. That is not much comfort when you’re facing a large needle being inserted into your gums even if it doesn’t hurt that much.

When you’re faced with the possibility of great pain, even the most competent healer seems to be a figure to dread. Does this explain Simon Peter’s reaction to Our Lord when he says, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”? Would you really want to tell Our Lord Jesus to go away?


It is clear that Simon Peter is frightened at the sheer power of Jesus as he hauls in a catch of fish larger than he has ever caught before. Clearly he recognises in this preacher the power and authority that comes from God, and it rocks him to his core. Everything that Simon Peter holds dear is suddenly revealed in the very presence of Our Lord Jesus to be corrupt, wrong, sinful in some way. Simon Peter clearly cannot stand this and his first reaction is to push Jesus away.

This is a very typical human reaction. We fear the dentist or the doctor because they might find something wrong in us and in putting that something right, they may have to inflict pain.

We therefore face a choice. We could learn to cope with the pain. Many do just that, even if that pain is treatable and live lives almost oblivious to the fact that something is very wrong. There are some shocking cases of people ignoring treatment because they fear that treatment more than the pain itself, often with just cause. Sometimes the pain of the treatment is worse than the ailment itself.

If you’ve managed to live comfortably with pain, how then do you deal with someone who reminds you that you are in pain?


Before he meets Jesus, Simon is quite content living with the pain of his sin. As a Jew of the first century, he is used to the system of sacrifices for sin offered up by the priests of the temple and trusts that those will suffice. They soothe his conscience but it turns out that they numb him to his sins. They do not get to the heart of the matter; they do not do anything about the sin itself. The psalmist says of God, “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

In order for true healing to take place, the heart must be broken – we have to be truly sorry, and that is something we all fear. Simon Peter recognises this in Our Lord simply by His power to help him catch so many fish. Simon Peter is afraid of this power, of its effects and what it will do to his life. “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”


What is Our Lord’s response? “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Would this convince you? Would you stop being afraid? Would the promise that you will catch men just as you could catch fish make your fear of pain go away? Perhaps it’s not in what He says to Simon Peter, but the way Our Lord says it. When we have the printed word in front of us, it is so difficult to see just how Our Lord really appears. Clearly there is something about Him that convinces tired fishermen to cast nets into the sea again. Clearly He is trustworthy and clearly His treatment works, and is guaranteed to work!

Look at the effect on Simon Peter. While he is in the boat, he is Simon – the sinner. In recognising Jesus’ power and the presence of his own sins, he becomes Simon Peter. Now we know him as St Peter. He is still the same person, but his true humanity and true identity has been revealed, healed and transformed by God.

The path to our recovery from sin is long, but Our Lord has demonstrated, however many times we fall, however ill we get, however painful life is, that there His death and resurrection guarantee that the faithful soul will be made better and that the pain of the treatment is worth it.

[PAUSE] The mission of the Church is to be a hospital for souls, bringing them to Our Lord for that final, wonderful healing that will make us perfect. Yet, so many people run from the name of Jesus because they deny that they are ill, or they do not believe that Our Lord is willing or able to heal them permanently.

Jesus says, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”

Simon. Simon Peter. St Peter.

What’s your new name?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Knowledge, truth and puffiness

"Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth . And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know . But if any man love God, the same is known of him." (I Cor viii.1-3)
This verse would very much seem to be a damning indictment of theologians. It certainly makes me feel very uncomfortable especially when I know that I've been more of a clever-clogs than a Christian. That's a very good thing! It reminds me of why I am called to seek the Truth.

The truth is that we are constantly being lied to and that those lies are the cleverest form of lie all wrapped up with the truth like the bubbles in a loaf of bread caused by the yeast. The Devil does exist and he is the father of lies - what better way to ensure that his work continue than by convincing people that he does not exist. Until we are perfected, everything that we are or know is pervaded by these bubbles of falsehood, of lack of being, which puff us up into a semblance of true existence.

Our first parents, Adam and Eve introduced the leaven of sin into our world when they fell for the lies of the Serpent. Those lies have indeed caused each one of us to become infected with a lack of awareness as to what the truth is. Thankfully, God has given us grace to know what Truth is and what it looks like. However, we still have to seek it and seek it carefully, examining everything carefully with the torch of inspiration the the Holy Spirit affords us and checking it against what God tells us.

One of the reasons that I get so het up about things theologically is because lies can interfere with the channels of God's grace. It's like knowing that there is water available when we are thirsty and, when seeking it, we are told to walk in the opposite direction; when trying to turn the tap on, we are told the wrong way; and when about to drink that the water is poisoned. I hate profoundly the fact that God is out there and people are being told things which will disable them from ever finding Him. The fact is that listening and trusting God through prayer, study and the sacraments will allow anyone -anyone at all - to succeed in that endeavour.

It comes like a real blow to my face when someone says that God has predestined people to Hell, or that the sacraments are merely symbols, or that I am dressing as a priest but merely play-acting. Those are all lies, and they are refuted in Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and in that inner conviction that I have in my very heart.

Also within my inner conviction as well as in the Faith I preach:
If anyone is being told they are worthless, then they are being lied to.
If anyone is being told that they are beneath anyone else, then they are being lied to.
If anyone is being told that they are above anyone else, then they are being lied to.
If anyone is being told that they are unloveable, then they are being lied to.
If anyone is being told that they are completely lost, damned or Hellbound, then they are being lied to.

There you have it. I admit that at times I am intellectually proud and arrogant. That is because I am imperfect, but the reason that I get very passionate and heated about my faith is because I am trying very hard to show forth the love of God in my life and let people know that there is living water within their grasp which, if they would just reach out, they would find their thirst quenched, their souls revived and their hearts gladdened.

I am not going to pretend that this is easy. The search is long and hard at times, but I know that it's worth it, and I, in my intellectual arrogance, know that I am right.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Housing dissent and difference.

Seeing that what the CofE gets upto these days shouldn't be any of my business, I believe that its established nature does give me the right to comment.

I will admit to being a bit of a secularist. This may appall you; however, please permit me to explain myself with an example.

In Berlin, plans are afoot to build the "House of One", a single building which houses a church, a synagogue and a mosque. There is a central meeting place which everyone has to pass through in order to get to their respective place of worship. This does seem to me to be the model for how Society should be.

The fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard the Church tries, not everybody is going to be Christian: some are going to be Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, et c. In declaring myself to be Christian, I am necessarily saying that, while I believe that there is much in the way of goodness and truth in each of those religions and philosophies, I must also believe that they are deficient or just plain wrong in some way. That's not a disrespect, that's just logic. Nonetheless, if these folk are part of the society in which I find myself, then they are my neighbours, and I am bound by my own adherence to the Christian Faith to love them as myself. Loving them means giving them a place to thrive, even at the cost of their turning away from God. If God does that, then I am duty bound by Divine example to do the same, imperfect though I am.

I am happier with the House of One than I am with the worship room at Bluewater which can change its religious affiliation literally at the touch of a button. For that to happen, that single room becomes everything and nothing - it treats all religions equally and the affiliation is quite generic. That worship room has no actual care about which religion it is; it's a case of one room fits all. The House of One, if it is ever built, has permanent space for each of the religions involved. There isn't one bland room whose furnishings pop out of the woodwork to suit the whims of the worshipper. These rooms are to be permanent, hallowed, and identifiable for each of the religions involved.

This is very much how I would like the British Society to be. Like the House of One, there should be central community in which people must play an active part in caring and building together, each taking ownership of that society and ensuring that everyone is valued. Then there are designated separate places in which to practice one's religion (and yes, I do count atheism, apatheism and agnosticism as religions), each respected by the other. That is how I see a secular society since it acknowledges the realism that not everyone is Christian, and yet lives in hope that by ministering to everyone at the commandment of God, there is the opportunity for everyone to become Christian - not by brow-beating and polemics, but by mutual respect.

The trouble is, that many people think of the Bluewater model when they hear the word "secular". They see society as one single room in  which no one has any religious identity. Consequently, many folk lack the desire to take an ownership in that society, try and cut themselves off and wall themselves in using religious privilege as an excuse. This is why the newspapers enjoy bringing to light stories of Christians being sued by gay rights activists, et c. There is dissonance as two groups with very different beliefs try to coexist.

If both groups therefore had some ownership of the common ground and a separate "room" in society to which they can repair for reaffirming their faith, then there is a chance that some rapprochement and consideration can be made. Both groups must recognise that the opposite viewpoint exists and is real and is unlikely to change no matter how "sinful" the other regards it. For the Christian, walking among sinners is a necessary task and inescapable given the fact that we are probably all sinners, though I simply cannot speak with any authority on the state of other people's souls.

Now this may sound like a ringing endorsement of the CofE's latest attempt to become a broad Church again by recognising the different and indeed opposing integrities. I do have to say that the speeches that I heard before the motion was passed were impassioned and, if genuine in their respect of other theologies, generous to their opponents. There was a sense of wanting to be family together.

This is all very well and I am pleased to see more charity and appreciation for each other being voiced by the Established Church. Certainly this is a very Christian attitude and shows that Christ is present in the hearts of many people in that Church.

Yet, even the CofE realises that it's set itself a very hard task - one that is almost quantum in its nature, given that women are going to be both bishops and not-bishops at the same time according to the totality of its membership. To aid itself, the CofE has developed five principles that it is using to ensure fairness and tolerance. These are:

  1. Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
  2. Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  3. Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  4. Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures;
  5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

Let us just look at these. 

Principle 1. The first to notice is that the CofE has fallen into the same trap of confusing sex and gender. Gender is the social construct; sex is determined by biology independently of any human being and therefore determined solely by God. A human being may be able to change gender by surgical procedure and by law; sex is something written into the very DNA and thus part of that human's being in itself. Likewise, it also shows that the CofE has legislated a change to a sacrament, something which can only really be done by an Oecuenical Council and then only with sufficient grounds. The guiding genius behind the first principle is that the CofE believes it has the right to legislate doctrine. The Roman Church believes the same thing, but on slightly safer principles. For the CofE, Society determines the answer to the question before it is investigated. I explored this some time ago. The fact of the matter is that it is the established nature of the CofE which means it must have women "bishops" because it is funded by the State for the benefit of the State and is the State religion. The U.K is not  a secular society, and this is not to its credit. Disestablishment would benefit the CofE so much.

Principle 2. All members of the CofE must accept that the CofE has made a clear decision. That's fine. For many people, this will be the wrong decision. How they live with the consequence that they believe that their Church is wrong is down to that individual, but it does puncture the authority of that Church. If someone believes that their Church is wrong about this, what else can it be wrong about? The clarity of the CofE's decision creates a lack of clarity for those who believe that the decision is wrong.

Principle 3. Neither the Roman Church nor the Eastern Church have women "bishops" and they will not have them. How then can the CofE claim that it continues the historic episcopate unless what the CofE means by "historic episcopate" is different from the Orthodox "historic episcopate"? If they are different, then there is a clear deficiency in the intention of the CofE to ordain bishops. Thus, while the matter of the sacrament may be invalid for the case of trying to ordain a woman as a bishop, the intention of the CofE to ordain bishops whether male or female is also now invalid, though it seems difficult to take this invalidity in the sense of "absolutely null and void" unless one is Roman. It does give better reason for the Orthodox Churches to ordain a convert rather than re-ordain sub conditione.

Principle 4. When I left the CofE, there were processes in place trying to "encourage" parishes who held the Resolutions to drop them when they fell into interregnum so that they could get a "good priest". They were told that "many priests were unlikely to take up a position in a parish which refused the ministry of women". Can it be that this principle means that a priest who is pro-W"O" will take up a parish which is orthodox in its outlook and respect that? Will he ensure that he will teach the orthodox faith, or will he be true to his principles and try and turn his parish? To flourish means to grow. Does that mean that the pro-W"O" party will ensure that there are sufficient numbers of orthodox priests for that growth to occur? What if that number dwindles? What about isolated orthodox individuals who have no local orthodox parishes but have to travel far and wide? Will there be a commitment to an orthodox church in each deanery, or within a benefice? And what of the incumbent himself? Is he really a priest? In the far future, if there is a far future, what will guarantee a priest really being a priest without him carrying around his genealogy?

Principle 5. It would be wonderful to see the CofE at peace in itself so as to commit to the mutual flourishing of its members.This is something that all Churches need to do and to think about seriously. I do, however, still fail to see how communion can be gradated. One is either in communion  or excommunicate, and this can only be in reference to Our Lord Jesus. If two Christians are in communion with Him, then they must necessarily be in communion with each other despite appearances to the contrary. We are in communion with Him if we keep His covenant. While individuals fail, the Church as a whole does not, i.e. membership of the Catholic Church ensures communion with Our Blessed Lord Jesus. There can be no middle ground. Of course, I am always accused of being a black-and-white thinker unable to see the shades of grey or the different colours of God's creation. Yet, God Himself has created a universe in which a statement and its logical negative cannot be true simultaneously ceteris paribus. The only possible recourse is that "communion" here in this principle means different things to different bodies. This is fine, yet given that it is the goal of each Christian to bein in communion with Christ, must he be in communion with Him in every sense of the word the CofE means or will some meanings do and others not? Is there a necessary criteria for being in communion? If this is the Eucharist, then what can be done with those who cannot receive any "sacrament" confected by a female "priest"? Are they in communion, or not?

The CofE has set a rod for its own back and yet is committed to receive the blows from this rod. Fair enough - it will have my prayers that it may find that way of honouring all its members and, despite the clouds of theological occlusion, at least put folk on the road to Christ. For me, the whole thing raises questions that do not seem to have any sensible or coherent answers, nor does it demonstrate a commitment to what we received in our history. The Vincentian Canon has long since been ignored. The CofE and I walk apart irreconcilably with the status quo but, I hope, peaceably. We have separate rooms in the House of One, but I look forward to our time in the common room.

Friday, July 04, 2014

De patre filioque

I cannot claim to be a well read priest, and this is something that I'm always trying to address in spirit but perhaps not as much in truth as I'd like. I am in awe of the depth of learning of my fellow and senior priests and hope that one day I may honour their commitment to their continuing ministerial education by enhancing my own.

I am, at present, trying to get my head around the infamous filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. It's amazing just how one word can represent so much perturbation in Catholic Christianity, but then again, the first four Oecumenical Councils showed that our faith does matter one iota!

So what's the problem?

Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζῳοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον

And [I believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father.

Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit

And [I believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son.

Here lies the epitome of the Schism between East and Western Orthodoxy. The Latin and the Greek do not match up, so Eastern and Western Orthodoxy do not match up. Does it matter?

We are tempted to say that it doesn't matter all that much. Since it is only one word, surely we could agree to disagree, after all, shouldn't Christians be out there loving their neighbours, helping those in need and making life better for all those who suffer in so many ways rather than haggling and growling over one Latin word? Of course we should! God has shown that each human being has a value to their life that is not measurable within a purely empirical worldview. Theology can never be superior to the commandments of Almighty God. St Paul reminds us that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

However, we cannot separate the second commandment of Our Lord from the first commandment. St Luke records that Our Lord commanded "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind."

Of course, being yet imperfect in ourselves, this commandment is an aspiration from which we cannot allow ourselves to rest. The Christian life is about repentance from sin towards this ideal. We are committed to love God with the mind and this means being sure that we are not worshipping a lesser deity who does not exist.

Our God is a Trinity and this must tax our minds beyond their limits. That's quite reasonable. the Trinity cannot be completely comprehended and it can only be formulated in very shadowy terms.
The word "person" has changed its meaning since the formulation of the Creeds and should not be understood in the same way as we might think of "that person over there".

We believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - One God, three persons. There are some very dull-witted philosophers out there who say that because One is not Three, this God cannot exist. Such folk haven't even begun to go beyond the superficialities of their own ignorance of Trinitarian doctrine and prefer the straw man that keeps them away from the Love that would give their lives a substance that they will never know.

We know that One of the Trinity is called "Father", another "Son" and the third "Holy Ghost". Logic tells us that one cannot be a father unless one has a child, and likewise, one cannot be called "son" without being able to refer to a father. So although the Father is God, and the Son is God, the Father cannot be a father were it not for the existence of the Son Whom Christian doctrine has already proved is consubstantial with the Father. I.e. whatever the Father is, so is the Son. A created "Son" could not be worshipped as God for, in being created, "He" ceases to be God.

The Arian controversy came about from confusing the Greek idea of "cause" as a succession of events rather than an explanatory relationship. The substance of God is beyond the created Universe and thus this causal relationship between Father and Son is also beyond the imagination of the creature. By calling the Son "Eternally begotten", we are saying categorically that the Father is causally responsible for the existence of the Son which is not representable in Time.

Can we say that? Yes we can, it's a consequence of what we understand the terms "father" and "son" to be and God Himself has used these very words when revealing Himself to us. Even if it is not actually true, it is a very forgivable misunderstanding. Of course, this doesn't tell us anything about what this "substance" is or how causes work beyond Time. There is plenty of mystery there for those who do not like to be certain about God.

Christianity proclaims its belief that God the Father is the Causeless Cause. If that is the case, then we must say that God is the Eternal cause of the Holy Ghost too. Yet we have Our Lord Jesus in John xx.22 breathing on His disciples and telling them to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and there is a clear causal relationship between Father and Spirit which is not the same as Father and Son. Scripture also shows a relationship between Son and Holy Ghost which cannot be causal without identifying Father and Son. Yet the Spirit is certainly sent forth by the Son just as willingly as the Son accepts Incarnation.

This does suggest that there is a very subtle distinction between "ἐκπορευόμενον" and "procedit" which are both translated "proceedeth". Do they really mean the same thing? I for one don't think that they do. The Greek is a causal statement, the Latin a missional statement. We cannot truly know the intimate details of the Godhead. Part of me thinks that it is somewhat voyeuristic to try, even if theosis involves being assumed into that perichoresis. Such knowledge can only come through the love of God and meek acceptance of His love and salvation.

St Basil and other Church Fathers would be happy to speak of the cause of the Holy Ghost as being from the Father through the Son. This means that there is only one causal procession, not a double causal procession. It is a procession from the Father-and-the-Son not a procession from the Father and a concomitant procession from the Son. Even then we do not have a real idea how causal procession works.

In all our reasoning, we have to be aware of our limitations. The only things we can say about God are pale shadows concepts of the truth, concepts which we are able to formulate or articulate between ourselves but lack the dimensions that only the beatific Vision can supply.

With the psalmist we cry:

" LORD, I am not high-minded : I have no proud looks.
2. I do not exercise myself in great matters : which are too high for me.
3. But I refrain my soul, and keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother : yea, my soul is even as a weaned child.
4. O Israel, trust in the Lord : from this time forth for evermore." (Psalm cxxxi)

I am happy to say the Nicene Creed with and without the filioque.

If I say it without the filioque, then I assume that I am saying the Greek version. I affirm the Father as the Eternal Cause of the Holy Ghost and align myself with the Church of the East of which the ACC is a part. I also affirm that its presence in the Creed was not the definition of an Oecumenical Council.

If I say it with the filioque, then I affirm that the Son is the vehicle for the Holy Ghost from the Father for our Salvation. I also affirm that the nature of mutual relationships which differ between the persons of the Trinity to form the dynamic of Creation, Justification and Sanctification that will result in our theosis.

The filioque is truly an instance of different theologoumena and very valuable at that. Perhaps an Eighth Oecumenical Council will set things right. Or maybe the day will come when the veil is taken away.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

White Noise and Tuning the soul

The move from analogue television to digital television has eliminated to a great extent the phenomenon of White Noise. White noise (as the older of us remember) was that sort of space between television or radio stations characterised by the random pattern on the screen and the familiar hiss. It is a completely random and full spectrum phenomenon which has its origins in the Big Bang. In some sense, gazing into white noise or paying attention to its sound is like peering into the origins of the Universe.To some, it is relaxing; to others, it conjures up the frustration of trying to tune into a favourite television programme and failing miserably.

Tuning a radio means essentially locating the frequency of a specific wavelength which carries the radio signal. This used to be rather a hit and miss activity. With so many frequencies out there, white noise was always going to be encountered. Sometimes it leaked into a badly tuned radio frequency and became known as interference.

Interference is certainly something that affects our daily lives. I've been thinking on the nature of institional entropy lately and how noise is creeping into much of our lives. We have information coming out of our ears, some of which conflict sharply with other pieces of information. Philosophy is not immune to this, certainly. As David Bentley Hart points out, Philosophy itself is a product of the prevailing fashion. We now live in an age of many philosophies in tension which have resulted from various reductionisms and deconstructionisms. We have deconstructed our milieux so far that the pieces are pinging about causing interference and noise.

Science itself is not immune. There are so many rival theories for the crown of theory of everything, that disentangling the mess is like trying to lay a badly fitting carpet in a room where you're not sure where the corners are. There are those who believe that our minds are simply the phenomena emergent from neurological white noise.

This confusion can be seen as rather soul-destroying as one looks and tries to make sense of why our lives are unhappy or frustrated and why the systems around us designed to organise our lives are making things harder. Human politics is very contradictory. In England, it is very possible to make more money by earning less. Different parts of Law pull against other bits and produce confusion and even some forms of injustice.

The remedy I personally try to turn to is prayer, even then this can be difficult.Often the mind is busy trying to deal with the crowds of thoughts about the day, thoughts about what to bring to God, thoughts which distract. Prayer, done apophatically, is like tuning out the clutter of thoughts and signals from the outside world into white noise. Why white noise? As I said earlier, white noise has its origins in the Big Bang. Where better to find God than at the origins of the Universe? We will not find communion with God in the ceaseless chatter in our heads. Unless God has specific reasons for doing so, He does not speak to us in the various versions of our voice in our heads. Our prayer must begin with returning to the white noise so that our time and space become mere accidents of our being.

Once we are there, then perhaps we can take out our prayerbooks and begin the process of tuning into God's expression in our Universe. This expression is twofold, the Word and the Spirit, both of whom have their Eternal "Origins" in the Father. We hear the human voice of God in His Son translated to our souls by the Holy Ghost, the "breath of God". Our rule of prayer must be specific, regular and robust to allow us the discipline of focus to find God in our lives.

I believe that prayer needs to be both apophatic and kataphatic in good measure, moving from one to the other. My own preference (when life allows me) is to pass from apo- to kataphatic prayer as I mention above. That's because I'm an introvert. I wonder whether extraverts prefer to go in the other direction. As a Benedictine, my prayer life must be both as I have the rule of prayer (dictated by both Breviary for my oblation, and BCP for my Anglican Priesthood) which gives me the focus and direction I need, when I do it correctly!

However, with life becoming noisier for all of us, time to tune out is certainly a way forward to avoid Weltschmerz and cognitive dissonance. The love for neighbour is found in the bigger picture than our lives often present to us as we focus ever more and more upon the reductions that our cultures impose. When we the leave the letter of the law and find the spirit of the law, then we can find the flexiblity to treat those around us as human beings worthy of respect and love, as God demonstrates. God help us all to be more diligent in prayer!