Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Faithful Resolutions?

Bishop Damien reminds us that we are called to be Faithful, something that we in the Anglican Catholic Church have resolved to do from the outset. He states something that every Anglican Catholic finds out very quickly: the Anglican Communion (the Lambeth Communion or Canterbury Communion or whatever you prefer) is out to dismiss the Faith that we Anglican Catholics seek to continue. This is a bit bonkers since the Faith that we are trying to continue is precisely the Faith to which the Anglican Communion itself held very dear.

I blogged below on the nature of Schism and how the Anglican Continuum has a proven record of preferring heresy to schism. If that's the way they choose to operate, then that is very much their affair. It is not the way that the Continuing Anglican Church works, though. Whilst that may demonstrate the intensity with which we desire the Truth, people may think that it is the cause of our fragmentation.

Yet, the ACC does have good relations with other Churches who do not feel the least bit threatened by our presence. I, personally have good friends in America who are in the ACA and the APA, the TAC, UECNA and the REC (I apologise for the acronyms - no wonder the Continuum is called Alphabet Soup) and who certainly do not feel threatened by our existence. I enjoy a happy relationship with the Old Roman Catholic Church - we may not be the same in out origins but, God willing, we will be the same in our endings, and that goes for all faithful Christians. God has no beginning, nor does He have an ending, but we have both. Following the call to be Faithful means doing our best to walk in the path that a timeless God has woven into the fabric of our existence. Our call to be Faithful is a call to eke out and present to this turbulent world the character of Eternity.

Bishop Damien recalls Resolution IV.11 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference:

Resolution IV.11 'Continuing' Churches  
 This Conference:  
a.  believes that important questions are posed by the emergence of groups who call themselves 'continuing Anglican Churches' which have separated from the Anglican Communion in recent years; and  
b. asks the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates' Meeting to consider how best to initiate and maintain dialogue with such groups with a view to the reconciliation of all who own the Anglican tradition.
As the Bishop laments, the Anglican Communion seems to have forgotten that in its dismissal and rather sneering attitude towards us as if we aren't really real. there are even those who would seek to destroy Anglo-Catholicism from the root - Prof. Diarmaid Macculloch for one who seeks to aim his final kicks at the "twitching corpse" of High Anglicanism. 

In may ways I can't blame them too much. I know that I have been very critical of what the Anglican Communion does - if they wish to be critical of us, then they have every right. I suppose I try to make sense of what they are doing and yet run up against the same inconsistencies. Yet, I do feel that I have some right to be critical for the Church of England is The Established Church and part of my taxes go to support that church. I do have a right therefore to worry about what this body is putting forward to be the Christian Faith. Admittedly, I do criticise the Roman Church, but mainly in reaction to those former Anglicans who have been vociferous in their hatred for the church they have left and seek to justify their departure by trying to bring down the whole aedifice.

I repeat that I do not wish either the Anglican Communion or the Roman Church any ill at all. Indeed, I wish that we could be better related and better disposed towards each other. I wish that we could see ways f working together against the common Foe and for the common Lord. As I said below, if we have the same intention then we cannot fail to be united. However, the resolutions above need to be dealt with.

So what would a rapprochement between the Anglican Communion and the Continuing Anglicans achieve?

Admittedly, unless there is a change, the impediments to communion will remain. Dialogue is one thing, but to what end? The ACC has its statement of unity and the other Continuing Anglicans will have theirs. We cannot walk with the Anglican Communion while the sacraments are in such disrepair and the influence of the Secular world so great in matters sacred. The ends of good dialogue are for us to understand each other and to envisage how we can work together for a common good. This look hard, and there will be hard admissions to make, but we must both be willing to do this.

If it's any consolation to the Anglican Communion, they will find the Anglican Catholic Diocese of the United Kingdom to possess a sense of humour. Perhaps then, we can learn to laugh together. We do recognise that that we have the perception of being an "angry church". Yes, there are still wounds caused by the way some members of the ACC were forced to leave the CofE, but we must all seek healing and wholeness.

 Hopefully, the CofE will see that, actually, we are a passionate church which does not set itself up as The One True Church, but rather sees itself as part of a bigger picture.Firmly we believe and truly, and they must know that they will not shake that desire for the original faith from us. We may come across as Kripkean, but they must realise that a Faith that has been tested and tried in the previous twenty centuries is not something that can simply be interpreted as differently as modernity demands. We hear the arguments, we weight them and we do consider them, but they are flawed because they seek to change what is an Eternal truth.

That doesn't mean, however, that we cannot at least consider the mission of Christianity together. Humanity has many questions for its Maker and we, the Church, are that interface, that royal priesthood that presents the world to God and God to the world. We Anglican Catholics have our own way of thinking. It may not be to everyone else's cup of tea, but it is valid, based on a sure method and desirous for truth.

The fact of the matter is that we exist and are alive, much to Prof. Maccullough's disgust, I'm sure. We also seek Christ, and that first and foremost too. I think we are ready, willing an capable of good, robust and good-humoured dialogue. Is the CofE?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Intending to ape

Intention is a vital part of the Catholic Sacramental theology. Without intention, our words are literally meaningless; we can also say one thing and intend another which, if you think about it, is exactly how lying works. We also know that God examines carefully the intentions of our hearts, our motives for our actions more than the actions themselves. Those intentions are very valuable indeed. They align us with each other. All through Space and Time, Christians are united in their intention to worship the Triune Godhead, no matter where they are or in whatever circumstance they find themselves.

For example, Bishop Damien Mead has made an appeal to our Diocese to make a special intention in the Leonine prayers for the relief of the suffering of the persecuted Church. What does this really mean? Will we just be able to pray away the suffering just by having good intentions?

We must remember that prayer is not an exercise in asking for wishes from a genie: God is not like that and it is an offence against the First Commandment to think in this way. Prayer is our first duty to God and to our neighbour for the alleviation of his suffering and the growth of his happiness. We know full well that there will always be suffering and persecution in this world. Our Lord promised both quite categorically. He showed that, in the ascent of the soul to God, we will suffer much because we will encounter much that is not Him. Since we can only ever be happy in Him, we will be in pain without Him. As long as there is both Love and Death, there will be Suffering.

 In praying for others, we make a conscious effort, not only to wish their pain away, but to go further and choose to suffer with them. Until their pain is ended, we suffer too because we know that their pain is not ended. This is one of the marks of true love. The suffering we feel here is the sheer futility of not being able to end someone else's pain. That's such a valuable thing, and it is that intention that God holds so dear. Of course, how He answers that prayer is up to Him, but it is worth knowing that the suffering we have now, no matter how awful it is, may well be the vehicle not only of our own ascent to God by participating in the suffering of Christ, but also that of others. We may be judged by God as individuals, but we are saved by Him as the Body of Christ.

Intention, then, is more than just an add-on to our Christian way of life, it is vital. Our prayers need to be said with right and examined intention. Often just choosing to say a particular prayer realises that intention, but we do have to be careful with the words. Words express our intentions and, yet it is probably impossible for us to express those intentions accurately. Our prayer books do help us in ensuring that we allow our intentions to be aligned with others. We do have to be careful and know what we are saying before we start praying.

An alteration or difference in words can interfere with the intention, but then it can not. Take, for example, the Anglican Ordinal of 1550. What is the intention behind the ordinal? Well, in the preface, we read:
"It is evident unto all men, diligently readinge holye scripture, and auncient aucthours, that from the Apostles tyme, there hathe bene these orders of Ministers in Christes church, Bisshoppes, Priestes, and Deacons, which Offices were evermore had in suche reverent estimacion, that no man by his own private aucthoritie, might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and knowen, to have such equalities, as were requisite for the same. And also by publique prayer, with imposicion of handes, approved, and admitted thereunto. And therfore to the entent these orders shoulde bee continued, and reverentlye used, and estemed in this Church of England, it is requysite, that no man (not beynge at thys presente Bisshop, Priest, nor Deacon) shall execute anye of them, excepte he be called, tryed, examined, and admitted, accordynge to the forme hereafter folowinge."
 We see clearly that the intention is very much to ordain Bishops, Priests and Deacons, as were generally understood by those terms from the ancient Church, and that the orders should be continued. Indeed, this preface is used in all the books of Common Prayer and within the ordination services themselves. It sets out clearly, from the start, that the intention is to continue that which has gone before. But suppose you didn't accept this to be true...

Well, of course, if it isn't true, then any "Sacrament" distributed by such an ecclesial body holding this doctrine would merely be aping the truth, wouldn't it? It would all be a sham, There you'd be in your valid mitre, and valid cope and valid stole, et c., and they'd be playing dress-up, copying you but just pretending.
However, we then run slap-bang into the problem of intention. What happens if the ape is praying your prayers, indeed choosing to pray your prayers with the same meaning understood, nay believing the same words in your prayers. There must be some common bond here forged by that common intention, some similar approach to the Divine Master, some commonality upon which a bond can be built between you and the ape. The ape ceases to be an ape but rather your sibling in Christ whether heretical or not. His intention and your intention are identical in the eyes of God: you are of one mind.

Intention is of course completely interior to the individual and only visible to the eyes of God. In the funeral service, we pray
"Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee."
Our End is to stand before God either to accept Him and be perfected fully and bound for Heaven, or to be shown that we have always rejected Him and still reject Him and thus find our wish to live apart from Him granted - eternally so! Our choice and our intention matter. The will is part of the human soul, and the exercise of the will is in choice. Our freedom to choose is very much part of who we are, of what it means to be an individual human being. As I say, intention is more than just an add-on to our Christian way of life, it is vital: it is indeed part of who we are. And yet, our choices do divide us: they can divide us as far apart as Heaven and Hell.

 If we seek to divide, then we simply cannot intend that commonality of suffering with others and thus not intend love. Yet there are those who would look down on others because they fail to follow Ritual Notes as precisely as another, or to disassociate from another because of a clause in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are plenty of folk who seek to engage in polemics for the sake of appearing superior or orthodox ad condemning others as Not-We. If we take pride in being different, then we cannot intend to mourn with those who mourn, nor rejoice with those who rejoice - we cannot love and that is fundamental. The Ritual Notes-perfect Mass may be wonderful to experience, but if the intention is to set itself up above all other Masses, then it ceases to be a Mass and is nothing more than dress-up and play

In practice, I do doubt this happens as, surely, any priest will have solemnly prayed
"I intend to offer this Mass and the consecration of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the use, order, and discipline of the Holy Catholic Church; to the honour of Almighty God and of all the Church triumphant; to the benefit of myself and of all the Church militant and expectant; and for all those who have commended themselves to my prayers both in general and in particular; and for the good of the whole state of Christ's Church, Holy and Catholic. Amen"
Yet, in the grand scheme of things Ritual Notes will pass away, as will Fortescue, as will Dix, as will all the exteriors of our faith. Only our interior intentions will make a difference: the secrets of our hearts, how we have loved, and how we have suffered with those who do suffer. The suffering of one child is of more Eternal significance than a thousand catechisms, creeds, councils and confessions. The suffering of one child is dearer in the eyes of God, and for all our human knowledge we often cannot see it so. With the end of Faith comes knowledge of God and with knowledge of God, catechisms, creeds, councils and confessions vanish away. The Truth within them shall not.

It is through intention that we really cannot dismiss Christians who do things differently from us. We can disagree fundamentally with another Christian group, but we cannot call them un-Christian until they demonstrate themselves to be un-Christian through an act of hatred. If two people deliberately and consciously choose to say the same prayer with the same words, then they have the same intention, regardless whether one is Catholic and the other Heretic. If both actively pray the Lord's prayer, then they will both find themselves faced with the worship of God the Father, the submission to His authority, the sincere desire to do His will, not only the recognition that He provides for us but we must also ask Him for what we need, the recognition that we need forgiveness and that we MUST forgive others in our intention, and finally that we actively hate Evil and beg to be removed from it. If Catholic and Heretic pray this prayer properly with the same meanings and intentions, then they are literally singing from the same hymn sheet. It builds a bond that transcends even the Catholic-Heretic divide.

Of course, it may be necessary for Christians to walk apart for the sake of integrity to doctrine for such integrity allows a focus for good, honest intention. We must all answer to Our Creator for the choices that we make. What we believe may be right or wrong, but it is with the honesty of our intention that we must make our answer. An honest mistake is better than a life of loyal lip-service. We have a duty then to God and ourselves to inform our consciences fully, allow our faith to be tested, and never, ever to forget the potential of another human being to be a child of God. There is no shame in believing another to be wrong, mistaken or ill-advised in matters of Faith. There is plenty of shame, however, of being so proud of not being wrong, mistaken or ill-advised and forgetting that the very act of making a choice is a fundamental part of being human. There is plenty of shame in the sneer of snobbery that points out with glee the deficiency of another's work.

Those who ape with honest intention are sometimes more human than the ones whom they are aping.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Continuing Anger

I wish my brain were a little bit more linear. I did start my last post on anger with a different agenda, but it developed into something else. However, I always seem to get side-tracked easily these days.

One of the reasons that people often enter the Anglican Continuum and subsequently leave is because they find that it seems so angry. There was a time not so very long ago in which I would have described the ACC as an "angry church". I don't think that I was unjustified in my views, mainly because I was just as angry. 

I said below that we should examine our anger before we act. It's a bit late now! However, we do need to ensure that if we have worked in anger that we should ensure that we repent of any sin that we have perpetrated and look to see where this leads us.

Of course, much of the anger among Continuing Anglicans stems from the the passion that we feel towards our heritage and the identity that we glean from the historical Anglican Church. The Anglican Communion has chosen to re-interpret traditional doctrines. We who are now in the Continuum simply do not accept that this re-interpretation is justified. Of course, such passion for God's Church ignites in anger. Some of us feel that we have been betrayed by the Anglican Communion. 

Is that irrational?

Surely any church leadership is free to re-interpret Christian doctrine? Isn't that what the Reformation was about?

Indeed, but look at the effect of the anger of all parties in the Reformation on the lives of sincere and well-intentioned Christians. Of course, this was the sixteenth century, and we can't attribute 20th century sensibilities to a different age and culture. 

The Reformation caused splits and schisms as Christians could not walk together. Lutheranism is different from Reformed Theology which is different from Presbyterianism, which is different from Anglicanism. No single body of Christianity is immune from Schism. The Roman Catholic Church may try to boast that she must be the true Church because she hasn't fractured into different parts believing different things. However, she owes her identity to the person of the Pope and whatever part of the Church the Pope belongs to, that will be the Roman Catholic Church. Thus the "one true nature" of the Roman Catholic Church does not reside in her inability to split, but rather in holding to the doctrine of the Modern Papacy. However, it has not been sufficiently proven that the Modern Papacy is a mark of the "one true Church". Given that many Roman Catholics in the West disagree with many traditional Roman Catholic doctrines (including Bishops!), there does seem to be another potential schism in the offing. There will be anger there because there is anger already. The SSPX was born in anger with Vatican II. 

There is always anger in any reformation. We are torn with trying to be what we are and yet lose something that we have already taken to be part of ourselves. In the Anglican Reformation in which the existence of the Continuum was revealed, we lost buildings, choirs,  congregations, friendships, aesthetics, and respect. There was bound to be anger and loss. It is also true that many Continuing Anglicans were actively forced out of the Anglican Communion by politicians and ecclesiarchs in that church because of their traditional beliefs. There is much anger there!

In this Anglican Reformation, the Continuum was revealed. I won't say that it came into being because it was already there. It is called the Continuum because it seeks to continue, in some way, the Anglicanism that was diverted off-track by the Anglican Communion. Logically, this means that the Anglicanism that is continued in the Continuum is going to be different from the Anglicanism of the Communion otherwise what is the point of the Reformation. Many branches of the Continuum have come into being simply because they have been continuing the aspects of the Anglican heritage which differ from others branches.

In the ACC, we are continuing the Catholic Faith as read through the lens of the original genius of Anglicanism which (very loosely) we see prevalent in the years 1543 to 1549 and especially in the Prayer-book of 1549. Of course, in the American ACC, that continuation is interpreted through the continued use of the 1928 prayer book which was a fundamental part of Anglicanism in America until it was legislated against in the dreaded 1979 prayer book. In England, our 1928 prayer-book was turned down by parliament. Our Anglican identity is markedly different from the Anglican identity of those in the U.S. Yet, we have something in common that we can continue together, namely the Catholic Faith of the Undivided Church. The ACC has, in its canons, the flexibility to ensure that each culture of Anglicanism that can be affirmed by the Catholic Faith can be allowed to continue. This rules out the prayer books of 1552, 1559 and 1662 because they reject the Real Presence and have a tendency towards Calvinism. 

This is all very well, but are we still angry? I think we are very passionate about what we believe, but we do have a sense of humour (especially in the DUK!!) The fact of the matter is that we do not want to allow the past to colour our relationships with other Churches negatively. We will get upset and hurt when we are denied the use of a building or barred for being a "break away" sect. That's usually because they do not understand us. Perhaps we need to be mutual in our attempts to understand.

It is also true to say that some branches of the Continuum exist simply because of angry men who have kept their jurisdictions apart from others for political reasons. These reasons are probably born in mistrust stemming from the anger. It takes one bishop who does not trust the jurisdiction in which he finds himself to take his diocese away and form another part of the Continuum. That also has happened.

The ACC is a sister church to the UECNA. The ACC is "high" Church and see its Anglicanism as being a largely cultural affair. The UECNA is a "low" Church who sees its Anglicanism in the full doctrine of the Prayer-book and its articles. There are differences of doctrine, yes, but there is much common ground. I hope that there will be a continued effort at rapprochement to help set an example to the rest of the Continuum.

We members of the Continuing Anglican Church do need to look very carefully at our anger and examine it carefully. Ultimately, we must all be striving for the happiness of each child of God in the world, and an unexamined anger will not bring that happiness about. I am sure that each branch of the Continuing Church is continuing some worthwhile aspect of Anglicanism even if we do not agree on what Anglicanism is. However, Anglicanism does presuppose Christianity which presupposes both the fallenness of humanity, the grace of God and the love that we must show to our brother and sisters. My hope is that, one day, we can bring all those aspects of Anglicanism back together and, as the pieces of the mirror untie, we might even see the face of God!

Flooded with Anger

Is anger a sin?

This is not as easy a question as it looks, especially as we know that anger is very much a human emotion that just is what it is. Of course, it's what we do with it that matters. 

Many folk outside the Church look to God as being a very angry God, especially in the Old Testament. They will also say that he has clearly calmed down in the New Testament, that is if they believe that the God in the Old Testament is the same as the God in the New. 

Attributing any emotion to God can only ever be a human attribution. The Divine Nature is not Human Nature even though they were both combined in the Second Person of the Trinity. We cannot really say that God has emotions, at  least not as we would understand them. We attribute emotions to Him as we try to understand His actions in Creation. 

If we look at the passages in which it is said that God is angry, we find at the very source of that anger an expression of divine Love, a Love that seeks to give what the beloved wants. We could look at the story of Noah:
"And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said , I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God." (Genesis vi.5-9)
This always looks as if God has thrown a wobbler because humanity is not being obedient. Certainly, this is a difficult passage to reconcile with the God of Love who willeth not the death of a sinner but rather that he should repent and live. It is easier for thos who believe that Genesis is not a book of History but a book of etiology - a parable that says why things are the way they are from a spiritual and philosophical point of view. If Genesis were to be an historic account of the way things were, then we do have things to explain, especially God's capricious nature. How can a capricious God be eternal? Can He truly regret making Humanity, especially one that is free to chose to walk away from Him and whom He allows to resist His Grace?

The text is there and, whether historical fact or allegorical statement, it has been inspired by the Holy Ghost for our learning and edification. So what is it doing?

I think that this text is an invitation to see things outside our human lives. How would we react if our creation was running amok? Let's just consider the situation more carefully.

1) God has created all things.
2) God says that all He has created is very good.
3) God loves His Creation.
4) Because He loves mankind, He desires Man to love Him freely.
5) Man fails to love God.
6) Man worships himself or created things because he does not love God.
7) In loving created things instead of God, Man corrupts created things.

This seems to be the scenario that we come to at the begining of the Noah narrative. We can certainly see the ravages of pollution around us, see the cruelty that we inflict on animals and watch as the forests and greenery are being cut down, species wiped out, other human beings exploited.

If we put ourselves in God's shoes a moment, looking with our eyes and emotions, then we certainly can see the point of view as written in the account from Genesis. With creation a mess, we may seek to wipe the slate clean and start again. Would we have the right to do so?

Let us consider ourselves as creators in the miniature. If we draw a picture and it all goes well and we make a mess, do we have the right to screw up the paper, throw it away and start again? Or if we're making a sculpture of a dove out of clay and it ends up looking like a vulture with acromegaly, do we have the right to smoosh the clay down back to make it afresh? Surely we do have that right!

Perhaps that's something that unnerves us about God. If He created us, then actually He has every right to do with us what He will. He can give us life, and He can take it away again, and He can give it back to us.
"These wait all upon thee : that thou mayest give them meat in due season. When thou givest it them they gather it : and when thou openest thy hand they are filled with good. When thou hidest thy face they are troubled : when thou takest away their breath they die, and are turned again to their dust. When thou lettest thy breath go forth they shall be made : and thou shalt renew the face of the earth. " (Psalm civ.27-30)
It is that fear with which we try to hold God to the same moral standards that He has imposed on us. We are not allowed to murder, so God is not allowed murder. Thus we find ourselves repulsed by the way that God's attitude is represented in Holy Scripture. We look at the murder of the Holy Innocents after the Magi deceived king Herod, and ask God why He didn't prevent this! We find ourselves angry with God because He seems inconsistent.

Let's just look carefully here. Murder is unlawful killing. So which law is binding on God that makes killing unlawful?

Killing is actually rather irrelevant from God's perspective. If we think about it, then whatever life God takes away, He can give back if He desires. We know that God cares for the dead because He allows people to exist after death.
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient , when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing , wherein few, that is , eight souls were saved by water. " (1 Peter iii.18-20)
If God is free to do whatsoever He likes without any repercussions, then this makes Him a truly terrifying individual. This may make us choose to disbelieve in Him, or even believe in Him and hate Him! Well, what effect does that have on Him? None at all!


Here is then, another need for Faith. We not only believe in God, but we also trust in Him!

Remember that this is just us trying to be in God's shoes. We're still looking at things from a human perspective and attributing human capriciousness to God's view.  God is the Eternal being and thus changeless. We may have the mystery as to how an eternal God can become incarnate - perhaps that was the way He managed to build Himself into His own Creation. The text of Genesis is merely an invitation to consider God's position, though we must know that whatever view we may have, it is only Human. Holy Scripture is inspired by God and thus contains all things necessary for our salvation, but it cannot answer all questions, because it can only ever speak in Human terms. One day we will not have a need for Holy Scripture because we will see the Word in His resurrection flesh and through Him will w see the Father.

The characteristics of God that have been revealed to us are that He created us, that He loves us, and that He wants us to be free to choose Him or not. He gives us grace to be saved which we can refuse if we desire. Saved from what? From the desolate corruption that we see all around us as we misuse the creation around us. If we choose, we can remain in this completely corrupt and revolting product of our own sin for Eternity. We call this Hell.

When we read this passage, we see our own perspective from God's viewpoint. It is therefore incomplete, but we must trust that God has morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering and death even if we don't know what they are.

We started off by looking at anger, but we seem to have got side-tracked. Thanks for bearing with me, because there is an important point here. Many of us get angry with God because of the apparently unjustifiable suffering in the world. We hate the fact that He is completely inscrutable and cannot be held to account for His actions. Where did this anger come from?

It came from our sense of justice which is itself a product of our care for others. It comes from our sense of love, indeed from the very image of God that He bestowed on us at our creation. We can be sure that if we see injustice and feel so strongly about it, then we are experiencing something of God's rejection of all that is Evil.

If we are angry with God, then we can be sure that He understands this, but we have to allow Him to deal with it from His perspective. Be angry but do not sin. It is the unexamined and unchecked anger that leads us into sin. It is the reckless disregard for the complexity of existence an the dignity of humanity that leads one consumed with selfish anger to hurt and crush. We cannot undo our actions. We cannot give back any life we take. Anger all too easily descends into a primitive and primeval urge to explode, and explosions cause damage. Anger that is examined carefully can put things right. Examined anger is that which carefully weeds the flower bed: unexamined anger napalms the whole garden. Perhaps that's why we weren't allowed to stay in Eden.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Existentialism in a box

One of the perils of wearing clericals is that you immediately become a target for ridicule. One of my recent encounters was with a particularly brutish individual who asked me whether I believed in Jesus. Of course, I said I did, but the individual concerned was not the type that you could consider really having a rational debate with. Indeed, he was probably of the opinion that Logic is a brand of Adidas Trainers. When it was clear that I just wasn't prepared to engage him in conversation (I was on my way home with a load of shopping at the time), he loudly proclaimed that I would one day be put in a box in the ground and that would be it. Then he just launched into some colourful blasphemies against our Saviour which didn't offend me in the slightest since there was no way I was going to dignify his tirade with any value, and that Our Lord has met with Satan face to face and conquered him soundly.

However, underlying this is a common attitude which is at the heart of our society: the Finality of Death.Why would this individual want to confront me with the statistical certainty of my own demise? After all, I know that I am going to die. I'm sort of prepared for it. I do look forward to it in the sense that I love my life now and I believe that Death is merely the gateway to continuing that life further in a state of perfection - Life is great and in God is true Life. Of course, the Lord tells me that I should not love my life above Him (St Luke xiv.26) but I should love the Life that He is. I do fear dying, but not Death itself.

But then, I am very happy at the moment; I have not always been so. However, many of my fellow Christians are in agony at the moment as ISIS seems to want to torture and kill anyone whose thinking is incompatible with their minuscule and contemptible grasp of Reality. Many of my non-Christian brethren are in agony too. This does diminish my happiness as I think of their suffering. Of course, I pray for their relief from suffering and torment. I do believe, however, that God is working something here that will justify such suffering. St Paul reminds us that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." This doesn't mean that God will just dismiss our sufferings, but rather reveal to us their purpose and show us that even the most agonising torture is working out some good that is at present beyond our understanding. After all, Our Lord's resurrection body proudly bore the scars of His execution because they meant something indescribably glorious. Likewise God will not ignore the sufferings of His children, but transform their scars into something beautiful.

What if my brutish friend is right, then? What if all that there is to my life and yours is going to be shut in a box, put into the ground and left to rot? What are the consequences of this?

Well, both Iraqi Christian and ISIS member will end the same way - both put into a box to disappear. They may both approach Death with an air of joy which will turn out to be empty. The Christian will approach her end in the hope that her sufferings will be ended and that she will meet with a god who will turn out to not really be there, and that her sufferings meant something, that she will find joy in a heaven that isn't there. The ISIS member will approach Death in triumph knowing that he has defended his belief by ending the lives of infidel as commanded by his nonexistent deity, clinging onto the equally vain hope that he will spend eternity in the arms of many virgins. Since they will both just case to be, they won't know the disappointment of the supposed truth.

If the box is the end, then the murderer who is never caught will never face justice for his crime, while the victim's existence is cut short. If there is no life after Death, then why bother living a "good life"? What is a good life anyway? Why bother caring for other people, or falling in love? After all, you're just setting yourself up for unhappiness in the long term when the object of your affection dies and is put in a box. Why not just be in it for maximising your own happiness without getting attached to other people? Why cause yourself unnecessary pain?

Except, human beings just don't work like that. We do seek to love and be loved. Our happiness involves family, friends and spouses. We seek deeper and deeper relationships and, in our marriage rites, we are reminded that Death marks the end of the marriage. That is the risk of loving.

Love, happiness, and the Box seem to be an incompatible trio. We naturally seek happiness; we naturally love; we naturally die. If death is the end, then human beings are faced with the inevitability of unhappiness when a lover dies, or unhappiness in trying to live a life without love. If Death really is the end, and one cannot be happy, why not end it all?

The great existentialists like Sartre and Camus are fond of telling us about the fact that the existence of the Box makes Life absurd. For them, the only meaning of life is the meaning that the individual puts on to life, a meaning that will just rot in the Box.

What, then, of Good and Evil, right and wrong? Indeed, what of morality? How can we answer the question "what ought I to do?" if the Box is all there is?

Ultimately, whatever one does will just end in the Box. If one seeks happiness (as all do), then the means to that happiness will be accidental? If one takes pleasure in destroying the lives of others and escapes any negative repercussions from doing so, he is happy nonetheless despite the fact that he would not escape the Box. If King Joffrey had died in bed at the age of 90 after a lifetime of continuing his cowardly and psychotic pleasure, then that would be the same end as Rob Stark who stood for justice and right and yet was betrayed and executed as a traitor by Joffrey. Yet, this is highly offensive to us. Something in us cries out for justice - we want Joffrey to die a pitiful death for his crimes. What if he doesn't? Doesn't that mean that our sense of justice is just an accident as well?

The Psalmist writes:

"TRULY God is loving unto Israel : even unto such as are of a clean heart.
2. Nevertheless, my feet were almost gone : my treadings had well-nigh slipt.3. And why? I was grieved at the wicked : I do also see the ungodly in such prosperity.4. For they are in no peril of death : but are lusty and strong.5. They come in no misfortune like other folk : neither are they plagued like other men.6. And this is the cause that they are so holden with pride : and overwhelmed with cruelty.7. Their eyes swell with fatness : and they do even what they lust.8. They corrupt other, and speak of wicked blasphemy : their talking is against the most High.9. For they stretch forth their mouth unto the heaven : and their tongue goeth through the world.10. Therefore fall the people unto them : and thereout suck they no small advantage.11. Tush, say they, how should God perceive it : is there knowledge in the most High?12. Lo, these are the ungodly, these prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession : and I said, Then have I cleansed my heart in vain, and washed mine hands in innocency.13. All the day long have I been punished : and chastened every morning.14. Yea, and I had almost said even as they : but lo, then I should have condemned the generation of thy children."
(Psalm lxxiii)

If  there is no justice in the world, then surely we do condemn everyone irrespectve of what they've done. All are indeed damned to the Box. Justice doesn't matter. If justice doesn't matter, then good and evil are merely illusions. Unhappiness is inevitable; happiness exists only in an island surrounded by darkness and oblivion. If there is no justice, then ISIS can hardly be condemned for their treatment of the infidel. They will take pleasure in their extermination of innocents and will rejoice in the face of death because they believe that they have done justly. The Box holds no terror for them either.

Why not, then, just live in a meaningless existence, punctuated only by the noise of the nails being driven into the Box? It's not going to do any harm to do so. If one becomes unhappy, why not end it all? If there is future happiness then it's also going to be accompanied by future unhappiness, and missing out on future happiness isn't really going to make much difference, is it? Despite Camus' protestation, suicide is a perfectly effective way to prevent all pain and suffering. Indeed, murder is a perfectly kind thing to do as it also prevents another from pain and suffering.

But I do believe in Right and Wrong, Good and Evil. I do believe in the existence of Justice as having a meaning which underpins the structure of law and order in society. I believe in rights for human beings and in freedom too. Perhaps I am just a sentimental idealist. However, if there is such thing as Good and Evil, then this must point to some intrinsic meaning in being. If Good and Evil stand outside of human existence, and indeed human construct, then they must stand outside of the Box too. There must be some justice that goes beyond the grave so that the one who escaped justice in this life will not escape it outside of this life. This points to some experiential existence of the individual beyond the Box, and thus beyond the confines of human sense. That, to me, points to God the source of Good, and the existence of the privation called Evil.

I believe that the Box belittles humanity. I believe that it makes a mockery of the sufferings of innocents. I believe that the Box is an affront to the fundamental dignity that each person has regardless of race, religion, sex, gender, orientation, predilections, fallibilities, strengths, loves and laughs. That's partly why I believe in the One Who burst the Box.

Now how do I tell that to my churlish detractor?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Personally speaking

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

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?

That’s a question that seems to be bandied about a lot these days, mainly by Christians of an Evangelical nature. It seems a perfectly good question to ask, but what are we really being asked?

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?

There are a lot of different relationships we could have. We have our family – mums, dads, brothers, sisters; our extended family – grandpas, grandmas, uncles, aunts, cousins; we have our best friends, our worst enemies, our lovers, our social group, the people we work with, the bloke we nod to as we pass on the street. There are lots of ways in which we can relate to each other. Which ones are personal? Surely they all are! So what does it mean to have a personal relationship with Our Lord?

It seems such a strange thing to say. Do we want Jesus to become a friend? A family member? He already knows us better than we know ourselves. On the other hand, we don’t even know what He looks like. It’s clear that He loves us and that we should love Him in return: perhaps that is what is meant. If that is true, how can we understand it when Our Lord says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Indeed, He clarifies this,

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Doing someone’s will doesn’t sound like “having a personal relationship” does it? It sounds very much like an attempt to treat Our Lord as an equal. That’s probably not what’s meant at all, but we do tend to have personal relationships with people who are at least near our level. If we do that then we can miss the Divine Authority of Our Lord. If we seek that personal relationship where we regard the Lord as a personal friend then doing His will becomes very similar to “doing God a favour” by prophesying in His name, casting out devils and doing other wonderful works.

So how are we to have a relationship with God?

God does know us personally, we only know Him by what He reveals to us, so clearly there is a big imbalance in that relationship. Secondly, St Paul reminds us: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

It is the Holy Ghost that brings us into God’s presence, but not alone. We are not saved as individuals but as the Body of Christ, the Church. We have received the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost helps us to cry out to God, “Abba” which means “Father”. We are the children of God through His grace and not through our own efforts. It seems that we already have that personal relationship with God whether we want it or not. Is this really right? Do we have no choice as to whether we are saved or not?


Of course we have a choice. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” We have to do the will of God. The will of God is that we love Him and our neighbour, because God is love. If God wants us to love Him then we must be free to choose whether to love Him or not. We know that God is sovereign and king but the Incarnation shows that He limits His own sovereignty to give us the freedom to choose. He has given us the Spirit of adoption, but we can choose to reject it or ignore it and go about things our way.

The trouble is, doing things our way cannot bring us to God. We have to accept His sovereignty over our lives and listen to Him. We need to recognise that our personal viewpoints are flawed and require the grace of God in order to recognise Him before we can love Him.


Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Yes you do. It is the relationship of the Saviour with His Church of which you are a part. He loves us and we are beginning to love Him. You are being saved, working out your salvation like St Paul with fear and trembling. The process is only complete when you stand before God at the last.

What will you say to Him, then?

Friday, August 01, 2014

Katholicism, Kripkean Dogmatism and ExKommunication

There is a prevailing wind blowing among members of society that there is no such thing as certainty, and that people who are certain about what they believe are somehow mad, bad, or dangerous to know. Philosophically, there does not seem to be much that we can be certain about. I think I'm pretty certain that doubt exists. In fact, if I'm not 100% sure that doubt exists, then I'm contradicting myself!

Religious belief is under a lot of scrutiny lately. It is, after all, the major cause of the exodus of Christians from Iraq as ISIS seeks to drive them out in the name of their religion. What is their way of thinking?

It must be along the lines of::

1) My Religion is the only true religion.
2) Other religions offer an alternative morality.
3) Alternative moralities are not true.
4) An untrue morality is immoral.
5) Alternative moralities are immoral,
6) Immorality must be extinguished from Society.
7) My Religion must extinguish other religions.

Of course, there are several hidden assumptions here. One is that the alternative moralities are incompatible with the One True Morality, another is that an untrue morality is immoral (or of dubious morality) in every moral situation. However, the one that stands out the most is the assumption that "Society must adhere to My Religion". Such an assumption can only be true if members of Society cannot or must not have the freedom to choose their religion. i.e. free-will is impossible or immoral.

Of course, one can try and reason with such fundamentalists, but their fundamentalism cuts off any reasoning because they refuse any evidence against their position. This is known in the trade as Kripkean Dogmatism. It is defined as the state in which a dogma is held to be true to the extent that evidence to the contrary is automatically rejected and all evidence to the affirmative is assimilated. Thus the dogma can only become strengthened and the viewpoint progressively more entrenched. Kripkean Dogma promotes irreconcilable polarities which can do nothing like two equally matched boxers constantly circling each other ready to strike a blow.

Kripkean Dogmatism is inherently irrational. Any dogma is founded on a particular body of evidence. If that particular body of evidence is complete, then one may rightly and justifiably hold to that dogma since there is no new evidence that can alter the decision.

If however, the body of evidence is incomplete, then the Kripkean Dogmatist is assuming the dogma to be certainly true based on the incomplete evidence that he has. So we have an absolute conclusion based upon non-absolute warrant and/or non-absolute data which leads to the acceptance only of evidence for the dogma and that produces an unsound argument. Hence, Kripkean Dogmatism is not a rational position.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the intellectual tide has been so against Religious belief. We have often heard the idea that "Religious belief is irrational" and it is based on this sense of certainty that Religious believers seem to have.

Of course,  Christianity has been guilty of using statements 1-7 to justify awful things. It is my hope that we have grown out of that, that we don't need to spurn, shun or even hate the unbeliever or the heretic. Hopefully, we have recognised the assumptions which really do weaken the argument against thought-control and policing.

However, Holy Scripture does demand excommunication for those unbelievers who would seek to corrupt the Church (see I Cor v.1-13), but since the Church is not the same as Society, we cannot equate excommunication with expulsion from Society in general which is what ISIS seek to achieve. If the mandate of the Catholic Church is to love everyone then this must include heretic and unbeliever alike with much affection and a genuine heartfelt desire for their good. This good must include their freedom of choice since that freedom is part of being human. So is the Catholic Church being Kripkean in its expulsion of those who disagree with it?

Let us try and be reasonably clear, here. Marxism has a set of tenets which must be held for a person to claim to be a Marxist. It is the potential Marxist who maybe Kripkean not the set of Marxist beliefs. The potential Marxist must weigh all the evidence for and against Marxist belief to see if it is sufficiently convincing as to adopt Marxist belief. If he becomes an actual Marxist, then he will only become Kripkean if he refuses to consider all the evidence. If he reconsiders and rejects Marxism, then he ceases to be a Marxist. Likewise, if one rejects the doctrine of the Catholic Church, then one ceases to be a doctrinal Catholic. Such a one cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic Church because they do not accept the dogma of the Catholic Church. Their testimony is rejected by the Church.

That sounds like the Catholic Church must be Kripkean then. After all, to be Catholic, one must accept the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, the testimony of the Church Fathers, and the testimony of the Oecumencial Councils. However, does one do so by rejecting evidence to the contrary?

The Oeumenical Councils arrived at their decision precisely through argument, debate, evaluation and considering evidence. Admittedly, some of them were conducted in a less than orderly fashion, but arguments pro- and con- were offered and the position of the Church clarified. Thus, in accepting the Councils, the Catholic has already accepted dogma which have been proved through reasoning and argument. Ultimately, all the dogmatic reasoning has its authority from Holy Scripture which itself owes its compilation to the Church. The dogma of the Church has been formed by argument, reasoning and debating all the available evidence of the time. The Church can be truly accused of being Kripkean, and therefore irrational, if it rejects all evidence to contrary positions without rational reasons.

I think it fair to say that the Catholic Church reasons as follows:

 1) Christianity is the only true religion.
2) Other religions offer an alternative morality.
3) Alternative moralities are not completely true.
4) Where an alternative morality is not true, it is immoral.
5) Alternative moralities have some inherent immorality.
6) Immorality must not be taught by the Church.
7) People who teach the immoral aspects of other religions cannot be allowed to remain in the Church without recantation.

(7) sounds harsh, but does come with Scriptural warrant, e.g. Titus iii.10. It is not possible to be a Hindu and a Christian because one cannot believe in many gods and one God simultaneously. It must be remembered that each of us sins and falls into immorality somewhere along the line. While that certainly isn't ideal, we do have the teaching that forgiveness is guaranteed to those who truly repent with a contrite heart and trust in the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord. The Church has structures to help sinners and works toward the salvation of every human being. It's when, not only do we accept immorality, but actively teach it that there is trouble.

The truth is that there are a lot of moralities out there: Catholic Christianity is only one, despite the fact that I believe it to be the true, literally God-given morality. However, part of that morality is a fundamental belief in the dignity and worth of the individual regardless of whether they are Christian or not. That makes it very open to discussing the human good and arriving at some form of compromise in most situations.

Admittedly, there are some moral dilemmas such as Gay-Marriage where the dogma of the Church are in sharp conflict with secular morality. They are conflicts of moralities. Is the Church Kripkean on these? It is if it won't discuss these rationally.or dismiss the opposing view out of hand. There is no room on either side of the issue for the waving of banners or placards with pithy slogans if there is no desire in each and every one of the banner wavers to sit down and at least seek some common ground or at least forge some appreciation of the opposing argument with a view to finding some community. As I have already argued, Gay Marriage is perfectly valid in legal terms when "legal" means secular law, but it can never be a sacrament for the validity of sacraments can only be discussed within the Church. Other issues have similar reasoning.

Excommunication is indeed a distancing from the Church, it need not, indeed should not be permanent. Certainly, the burning of heretics is just as vile as the heresy they have promulgated if not more so. However, arguments have an arena in which debates can be played out. If that arena is within Church teaching, then that means submitting to the Church Law. If that arena is secular, then the Church cannot afford to hold to Kripkean dogmata. It must hold to the Faith, yes, but that Faith is in a God Who is big enough to allow the freedom of the will so that all can function together in Society. The problem comes when the arenas get confused. An established church might have such problems.

Whoever controls the secular arena controls morality and thus how to deal with those who are immoral. Now, whose problem is that?