Sunday, July 26, 2015

On being Nice a second time

I must always take note that some of the Christian practices that I find natural, uplifting and of great value are regarded with no little discomfort by my Protestant friends. I am a Catholic after all, and I do not apologise for praying to and with the saints, venerating ikons, or officiating at Benediction. Yet, I want them to be assured that I understand the basis of their concerns.

A good Christian, Protestant and/or Catholic, will always look to the commandments and see, very clearly stated:
Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shew mercy unto thousands in them that love me, and keep my commandments.
For this reason, many Protestants will reject the Second Council of Nice (or rather Nicaea) on the grounds that it contravenes this commandment. I notice that many Anglicans will only accept the first four of the Oecumenical Councils, but I believe that the second book of the Homilies actually quotes from the first six.

As an Anglican Catholic, it is important for us to accept the first Seven Oecumenical Councils. This, we believe is not an arbitrary decision, but rather reflects the position of the Church before East and West went their separate ways. The Ninth so-called Oecumenical Council - the first Lateran Council - met in 1123, the Eighth Council - the fourth of Constantinople  met to depose Patriarch Photius I of Constantinople and ran into the controversies of the filioque clause which has not been resolved, and therefore cannot be a binding Oecumenical Council in the pre-Schismatic sense. For us, it is not an arbitrary decision, but based on clear historical facts of the councils.

Actually, I don't want to go into intellectual argument about being an iconodule - there are perfectly decent and valid defences of the nature of the Second Council of Nicaea out there on the internet. I have rightly been criticised that I can allow the intellect to overrun human interaction, and I think I see signs of that in my blogging. I did say that I was going to pull back from blogging, but I find that I've had a more productive year since the blog began. So let me answer the question of why I am an iconodule from a more personal angle.

The time was that I too found the saints, Ikons and the Real Presence a bit uncomfortable. In some sens I still do, especially when I see

This behaviour still does make me uncomfortable. It's an unfortunate accident that destroys a beautiful statue of Our Lady, but it is only that! It's a nuisance when one breaks a mirror, and very sad when one breaks a mirror into heaven as statues and ikons are, but the whole point is that they are only mirrors and if we react in hysterics because a statue falls, then I think one is in danger of idolatry. Our Lady is crowned in Heaven. She will not fall off her throne because her Son has given her Eternity. We will always see ikons disfigured, hosts desecrated, and statues destroyed, such is the nature of this world, and such is the nature of Satan in confusing the mind.

Yet, as I reflect on my discomfort, I notice that I long for the Real Thing, for God, for His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm sure that this is true ofr every Christian. I long to see the angels and saints and to join their song of praise to the great God in Heaven. Atheists will thus say that I believe in order to give vent to unresolvable longings, yet that doesn't prove that my longings do not have a solution. I believe that God is the fulfillment of all my unrequited longings. Most of all, I believe that God is real, that He wants Himself to be known and loved freely without coercion. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; our eyes have seen Him, our hands have touched Him. We have heard Him speak, we have seen His miracles. He has allowed His face to be seen for what it really is. We shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He really is.

It's this fact that convinces me that it's wrong not to venerate ikons. My practice is to look at the ikon and to look deeply at the picture and try to use it as a window into the divine. At the end, I thank God for allowing me to use this image to see realities that go beyond this world, and I touch it remembering that it is just a piece of wood used for God's purpose. If my little set of ikons at home were to be burned or broken, I'd be annoyed, but it would affect my faith not one jot. It it not the wood that I'm worshipping, it is God.

Of course, my Protestant brothers will see me bowing before an ikon, and will be led to think that I am worshipping a graven image. I do struggle to see how this can be, but I am intent on doing so accurately so that we can find some common agreement and, at least a bit of perspective on issues on which we differ. If I were at the temple of Zeus worshipping in front of his statue, then I could be correctly convicted of idolatry, because Zeus is not God. Likewise, I could be convicted of idolatry if I worshipped in front of any statue of anything that is not God. If I actually worshipped the statue, then I would not be worshipping God.

I will bow before an ikon of any saint, but I do so in context. I usually bow a little when I meet new people, it's a peculiarity of mine. Yet, for me, the saints are the ones who have run the race before me and whose presence in the heavenly courts are affirmed by the Church. I recognise their efforts and bow gently in response to their lives and the examples they have given me. Since I believe in the reality of Heaven, and of Eternal life and the Communion of Saints, it just makes sense that I must live that reality. These folk are real, they have passed through death to life and they have some communion with us. We have a unity, a conversation, a mutual belonging to the Church. How do I live that belief if I completely disregard their ability to pray for us and with us? Their earthly lives teach me, and their prayers help me and their merits ensure that I have some form of "landing light" for me as I progress in the faith and aspire to be in their glorious company.

I also once struggled with the Real Presence. I know that some atheist polemicists like to desecrate consecrated hosts with the express purpose of upsetting Catholics. To me they fail miserably. What convinced me? For me, it was simply trusting Our Lord at His word. I am convinced that He was not going to try and bring great dialogues of metaphysics to people who may not be capable of metaphysical thought. Being a Christian isn't what you know, it's Who you know. Our Lord seeks to reach the simple farmer, unschooled in Aristotle just as much as any Oxonian Doctor of Divinity (perhaps more). If Our Lord then says, "this is my body" and "for my flesh is meat indeed" then He must mean that at the very basic level, because it is the way that He give us His substance so that we can indeed become more like Him. It has to be simple enough for a child to understand. No, the host does not look like the body of Christ - we have to trust Him in His promise that it is indeed His body.
But the deliberate desecration of a consecrated Host only bothers me in as much as I am concerned for the desecrator. I know full well that the Body of Christ underwent the most awful tortures for mankind, and I know that Our Lord Himself suffers in the bodies of persecuted Christians throughout the world. Persecute a Christian and you persecute Christ Himself. The desecration is then merely the violent act of the world of Darkness against its Creator. He suffers in us just as He suffers in His one sacrifice on the Cross in which we participate today. The desecrator upsets me because he demonstrates how Hell-bound he is and no-one should choose to go to Hell. My faith in Christ will not be destroyed by someone who hates Him, though I must always pray for strength when the Devil seeks to tear me from Christ.

The office of Benediction gives me the opportunity to focus on Christ being really present, though not in any way that I can see. Subjectively, I have actually felt Him with me, a ray of warmth coming down out of the monstrance upon me, and I hope upon my congregation. In seeing Him sacramentally enclosed in the monstrance, I have a greater hope and resolve that He is always with me.

It is Our Lord Jesus Christ Whom I worship, I revere His saints and angels and seek to be part of that company of Heaven. It is possible that I may yet shipwreck my faith and fall from that way, but concentrating on the realities that God has given me will surely help me to steer clear of the stumbling rocks in the way. I firmly believe that ikons, statues, saints and sacraments are gifts of God as objective realities for Christians to use to bring them ever closer to God. If Protestants find that only in the pages of Holy Scripture, then, as long as they are using Holy Scripture wisely, I am convinced that they will get ever closer to God too. I just happen to see the facts of Holy Scripture corroborated in the ornaments and sacraments of the Church.

Devotion from Benediction: July 2015

O Lord Jesus Christ here present with us, open our eyes of faith to gaze upon Thyself and to know in our hearts that Thou lovest us so much as to stoop down to feed these Thy little children here assembled and be present with them. Grant us, O Lord, that as we believe that Thou art here, so we may learn to be in the world and not of it. Give us Thy strength to cope with the changes and chances of this fleeting world.

Give grace, O Lord Jesu Christ, to Thy bishops, priests and deacons that, in following the most excellent example of Thy humility, they may serve Thy congregations, especially this little flock here present so that they, working at life's coal face may ever more diligently bring the Good News of Thy love to a world that loveth darkness and live lives that shine with Thy light for all Eternity.

Therefore we before him bending...

Collect for the eighth Sunday after Trinity

Gelasian Collect
DEUS, cujus providentia in sui dispositione non fallitur, te supplices exoramus, ut noxia cuncta submoveas, et omnia nobis profutura concedas. Per Dominum nostrum  Jesum Christum.

[My translation] O God Whose providence faileth never in its disposition, we supplicants beseech Thee that Thou wouldst remove from us all hurtful things, and grant all that would be profitable for us, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Prayer book of 1549
GOD, whose providence is never deceived, we humbly beseche thee that thou wilt put away from us al hurtfull thinges, and geve [us] those thinges whiche be profitable for us; through Jesus Christe our Lorde.

Prayer book of 1662
O GOD, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which be profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The trouble is that human language struggles with God and His attributes. We know that we can more often say what God is not and that what ever we can say about God is more about what He is like. Clearly, Archbishop Cranmer had his own ideas about how to translate this collect from the Latin. How might the providence of God be deceived? Not, as Archbishop Cranmer says, that it ever is deceived, but what would it mean?

The 1662 translation is freer, but yet shows that idea of the supreme authority of God in that His Providence is not just unable to be deceived but is actually in control of everything- a view that lends itself to Reformed Protestant ideas. The crucial Latin word here is dispositio a word that can be translated as "disposition" but also as "arrangement" or, more unhelpfully, "providence". The idea is that of how God's great providence has been arranged so as to provide a framework in which humanity can live and move and have our being. God's Providence is arranged so that human beings can be precisely that, human beings with all the concomitant successes and failures of that species.

The fact is that this great framework, this edifice that God has created for us, is not going to be brought down by the sins of men. We may destroy and pollute our environment, and thus destroy our species as well as the other species on this Earth, but on the whole, in the pangalactic point of view that only God possesses, His Creation cannot lose the goodness which He put into it. We recognise this even in our smallness, because we recognise the greatness of Our Creator even if we cannot comprehend how great He is. Thus we pray to rely completely on God's control and providence and to work within its limitations so that we may gain the greatest profit of all - God Himself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Our Archbishop preaches to the Anglo-Catholic Congress

The full text of Archbishop Haverland's address in Fort Worth, TX:
"Evensong, Forward-in-Faith/North America
15 July 2015
Psalm cxxxiii, verse 3 - Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I was trained to believe that sermons are not meant primarily to prove or to instruct, much less to argue. Rather sermons are primarily meant to proclaim: to proclaim the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection of our Lord. I hope this idea animates my Sunday Mass sermons. But Evensong or Evensong and Benediction are somewhat different from Sunday morning. We read in a delightful miscellany on the Church and clergy by A.N. Wilson of a priest who for forty years ‘preached on a variety of themes at his morning Mass, but thought it inappropriate, at…Benediction, to preach on any subject other than the Empress Josephine.’ (A.N. Wilson, ed., 1992, p. 240) I don’t plan to be quite that bad. But when Bishop Ackerman invited me last year to this event I told him that I would have to address what seems to me the central problem with most of the efforts of Forward-in-Faith and its precursors and now also with the ACNA. I was invited nonetheless, so here is something with a bit of polemic in it, as promised. I will not say with Trevor Huddleston that I have naught for your comfort. But neither will I speak smooth things.
The central problem of which I just spoke is a lack of theological clarity and consistency and, to be blunt, catholicity. That is a rather provocative assertion. Let me offer an initial qualification, if not apology. I know that the religious world is filled with huge problems which are of much greater apparent importance than the intramural fusses of soi-disant Anglo-Catholics. In a world of resurgent and violent Islam and a secularizing America, our intramural differences may seem minor. I do not wish to indulge in the sadism of small differences. But then I happen to think that Anglicanism is central to the fate of the West, and that the near collapse of orthodox Anglicanism since the mid-20th century is at least indirectly tied to our wider troubles. So, back to the question of theological clarity, which I do not think is in fact a minor problem.
The Anglican alternative to the paths taken by Forward-in-Faith and ACNA is Continuing Anglicanism. Despite all of our checkered history and with all our failures, I think we Continuers have theological integrity. That integrity is not a subjective or personal matter, but rests on an objective theological base, expressed clearly in the Affirmation of Saint Louis. This foundation situates us irrevocably within the central Tradition of Catholic Christendom. All Anglican formularies are seen by the Affirmation through the lens of the central Tradition. Anglican formularies are not a kind of Occam’s razor to limit what is acceptable in Catholic tradition for Anglicans. Rather the Catholic consensus and central Tradition are the lens through which we read and appropriate our Anglicanism. This central Tradition is found in the Fathers and the Seven Councils and in the consensus of East and West, ancient and modern and living still. For us, the central problem of the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion is not Gene Robinson or an error concerning any particular person or issue. Rather the fundamental problem was an implicit assertion, decades ago, that the central Tradition of Christendom is at the disposal of Episcopalian Conventions or Anglican Synods or Lambeth Conferences. It is not. The Affirmation and my own Church’s formularies firmly, decisively, and forever reject doctrinal ambiguity, comprehensiveness, or the attempt to make our peculiarities decisive and determinative. We are not Anglicans first and Catholics second. We are members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church first, and Anglicans second. We will vigorously pursue unity with all others who share this central belief. No unity, at least no full or Eucharistic communion, is possible or desirable with those who do not share this starting point.
I congratulate the ACNA for leaving the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada. Every one of you who made that change did a good thing and one, I hope, that you do not regret. But that departure can only be a good first step. For ACNA is really not a Church but a coalition of dioceses. The coalition is for some purposes only, and the communion of the dioceses is impaired and imperfect. The ACNA has retained the central flaw of the recent Lambeth Communion because it permits member dioceses to ordain women to the three-fold ministry, and therefore implicitly claims that the central Tradition is not decisive and may be set aside. ACNA is not a return to orthodox Anglicanism, but only a return to the impaired state of the Lambeth Communion that began in 1975 and 1976.
Continued ambiguity or confusion about the central tradition and women’s ordination is very dangerous. It is very dangerous because it encourages Catholic churchmen to compromise themselves in a variety of ways. Perhaps just as bad, fine, bright, and consistent Catholics will perceive that there is no certain trumpet, no clear ecclesiology, and no real future in a world of such compromises – and so you will continue to suffer the death by a thousand cuts, as people go to Rome or Orthodoxy or the Continuing Church or just stay home.
There are excellent reasons to be both Catholic and Anglican. Anglo-Catholics enjoy the great strengths of the Anglican patrimony. We have the Authorized Version of the Bible and the classical Book of Common Prayer. Together these are not only compelling literary and cultural monuments, but also provide us with an well-balanced spirituality. In some Christian bodies the Bible is loosed from tradition and from the praying Church. Of these bodies Richard Hooker wrote:
When they and their Bibles were alone together, what strange fantastical opinion soever at any time entered into their heads, their use was to think the Spirit taught it them. (Laws, Preface, VIII.7)
The Prayer Book tradition in contrast provides an anchor, an objective interpretative lens, and a prayerful setting for traditional and orthodox interpretation of Scripture. In other Christian bodies the sacraments have been loosed from Scripture and its constant fertilizing influence. Scripture is neglected and the jewel of the Eucharist is pried loose from its golden setting in a round of offices centered on the systematic reading of Psalms and Scripture. But for Anglican Catholics the sacraments are truly Scripture so prayed and read and presented as to be a large part of the very sacramental forms through which God pours forth his grace into our hearts. In short, our tradition has an almost perfect balance of Bible and sacrament. We begin with the Bible as presented in and with Common Prayer, but then add our Anglican patrimony of architecture, music, literature, spirituality, and theological method. Those are formidable strengths. How sad that so many neo-Anglicans have jettisoned the bulk of this patrimony by abandoning the classical Anglican liturgical tradition.
Dear friends, if you compromise with the ordination of women, and if you abandon the largest part of our Anglican patrimony by adopting modernist liturgy rooted in the Novus Ordo or, worse, in the Anglo-Baptist ideas of Sydney, there is little to hold people. Then you can only trust in a kind of slightly more decorous imitation of Charles Stanley or the already-fading mega-churches. You’ve given up both your Anglican past and also any future that can be meaningfully described as Anglican.
We must abandon all sectarian, provincial ideas that separate us from the central consensus of the Tradition of the great Churches. We must take this duty seriously by systematically rooting our doctrine and practice in Catholic agreement. Seven Councils, seven sacraments, invocation of the saints, objective sacramental efficacy, the Real Eucharistic Presence, clear moral teaching, male episcopate and priesthood and diaconate: those are all matters of Catholic consensus. That is what we must believe if we take seriously Archbishop Fisher’s assertion that we have no faith of our own.
The Catholic Movement in the Church of England began as an attempt to call all Anglicans back to the fullness of the Catholic Faith. The goal was nothing less than the wholesale conversion of the entire Church to the fullness of the Faith. The partial success of the Movement may have been its downfall. When Anglo-Catholics became too successful to ignore or suppress, and were invited to the table to enjoy a share of the spoils – a percentage of the mitres and deaneries and professorships and plum parishes – Anglo-Catholics too often lowered their sights and quieted their voices. From the conversion of the whole, we became satisfied with a slice of the pie, with a comfortable status as a recognized party. But half-Catholic is as unreal as half-virgin.
If you still are in the Episcopal Church: get out. Get out today. Anything else threatens your soul’s state. Dear friends in ACNA: you must present a clear and unmistakable demand. The ordination of women must end, soon and completely, for it is directly contrary to Catholic doctrine. No grand-fathering – or grand-mothering is possible – because such compromise leaves intact the central, revolutionary, and false implication that the deposit of the faith is negotiable and at our disposal.
Until there is such clarity, there will be no unity among those of us who like to think of ourselves as Catholic and Anglican Churchmen. There will be no unity because you cannot be a pure cup of water in a dirty puddle. That is the simple, basic message of the Continuing Church to the neo-Anglicans. You have gone a very long way down a very wrong path, and that is true even if all the time you were avoiding a still worse path. You have a journey home to make, things to unlearn and to remember and recover. We want to welcome you at home. But there can be no restored communion with us without hard decisions and firm actions from you.
Glory be to the Undivided Trinity. Glory be to Jesus Christ on his throne of glory in heaven and in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. All honor to the glorious and ever-Virgin Mother of our Lord. Peace be to the Holy Churches of God. May God forgive us our sins, which are many and great. May God give us wisdom to discern a safe path forward. May God grant us true humility and unshakable fidelity and great love. May God bring our Church to glorious days and may he bring us to unity with all his holy people, so that Jerusalem may be as a city that is at unity in itself.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

St Mary Magdalene: The Scandal of Christian Intimacy

St Mary Magdalene has been treated very oddly in history and not always with the greatest respect. She has received the reputation of being a former prostitute or a loose woman. We do know that she has seven devils cast out of her and that she is fundamentally instrumental in bearing witness to the Resurrection and declaring that news to the Apostles.

Then, thanks mainly to folk who don't understand the meaning of "non-canonical" and who want to make up some argument on Gnostic texts, St Mary Magdalene becomes the wife of the Lord and bearer of His children. Yet, I think one can be justified in thinking that, given the love that she has for the Lord, if His mission requires marriage, I am convinced it would be St Mary Magdalene who becomes His wife. But she is not. She is His devoted follower in life, His caretaker in Death and His principal witness to the resumption of His life. This makes her very intimately unique in the life of Our Lord.

Intimacy is something that has Christians blushing all over. Pope St Gregory the Great is somewhat responsible for identifying St Mary Magdalene with the anonymous woman who weeps over Our Lord's feet, dries them with her hair and anoints him with oil in preparation for His burial. That is a rather scandalous image of a woman caressing Our Lord with such affection and gratitude for His love. If such a thing was happening to us, we would feel very awkward indeed, but then we aren't the Saviour of the world. Clearly in this woman, St Gregory sees characteristics in common with St Mary.

Our Lord does say, "noli me tangere" - "do not touch me" or more accurately, "do not cling on to me" as if she were accustomed to doing so. It is clear that she has much affection for Him but given His calling to celibacy (a calling itself scandalous at that time) she respects that this intimacy has a limit.

By being made man, Our Lord attains limitation. In the flesh, He cannot be as intimate with human beings as He is with the other persons of the Trinity. The closest intimacy for human beings is that of marriage and of sexual intercourse in the confines of commitment and love where husband and wife are as naked and as vulnerable as they can be to each other. Even then, there must be a limit to that intimacy for immortal souls remain invisible until Judgment Day where all things are revealed.

The Church has no problem with sex. It is people who have the problem with sex, for they align their whole being with a biological urge, however good and natural that urge may be. No-one has a right to sex, for sex is not jst an urge or a drive: it is a privilege given by God for those willing to expose themselves completely to another human being in an atmosphere of trust and solemn commitment, respecting the two bodies that God has given, and seeking another peculiar intimacy, that of pregnancy. Pregnancy is an even deeper intimacy peculiar only to women in which God creates, through laws of His own making, a new, beautiful individual. Sexual intimacy is the gateway to unique miracles of God in new persons, and thus its profanation through fornication and lack of chastity contradicts the very thing it is to be human, returning us back to our comparison with the beasts which perish.

For God, there is a deeper intimacy available. It may appear one-sided as He enters the very depths of our soul and waits there for us to seek Him out in the depths of our being through prayer and devotion, even as St Mary Magdalene did. We cannot cling to Him for His very Divine Nature is not something we can grasp, but is constantly just out of reach until we become truly like Him. Yet, for someone like St Thomas, the Body of Christ affords an intimacy as we reach into the wounds in His body which He suffered to be opened for us and there find our humanity wrapped up in His person inextricably linked with His Divinity.

St Mary Magdalene finds this deeper intimacy by being present with Our Lord in His life on earth and now in His life in Heaven. For her, there is no need of sexual intimacy which is limited and earth-bound, but she seeks that which she cannot cling to before death and she finds it for God Himself seeks intimacy with her. We may find God's desire for intimacy with us scandalous because we are all to aware of our brokenness and shame. Like Adam and Eve, we seek to hide ourselves from God's penetrating knowledge of all His Creation. However, by letting Him into every single aspect of our lives - yes, even our sexual being - we find ourselves ready for our perfection and that strange and wonderful prospect of being re-united intimately with God Himself!

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Tyranny of Identity

I have to admit that one of my favourite films is Donnie Darko. It's a convoluted tale of physics, metaphysics and ignorance that just doesn't quite make sense. I guess that's why I like it!

There is one particular scene... Ah! here it is (and apologies for the profanity therein - it may actually be justified)

Of course, life is not as simple as the rather closed-minded and simplistic authority figure shows in this clip. However, I do think that there is a grain of truth in what she is trying to say. I just don't think she has the intellect to understand the profundity, unlike Donnie.

Human beings are a wonderful hybrid of mind and body whatever one's philosophy. We can indeed be compared unto the beasts that perish. We are biological organisms and therefore servant to biological necessities. Love and fear are indeed two powerful emotions that indeed command some degree of control over our lives. They are, however, not as one dimensional as Mrs Farmer seems to think. There is fear, and there is fear, just as there is love, and there is love. We are all familiar with the four loves, there are probably a similar number of fears.

Human beings do indeed have some intrinsic morality that does not come from the physical world. I am sure that any reader of this little blogling would regard the rape, torture, and murder of a little child to be abhorrent, vile and unequivocally evil. We would also reason that anyone who thinks that these are morally okay, is not in possession of their right mind or is simply a person consumed by evil. Yet, this happens in the animal kingdom every day. There is no physical prohibition, like trying to walk on the ceiling, there is no social reason as this sort of thing does happen among social animals such as chimpanzees, so where does it come from? Regardless of our answer, we are glad that there is such a moral repugnance for such an awful act.

Yet we know that we can, and often do, go against any moral code that we have. Our reasons for doing so are rooted in our own self-orientation. I'm going to be bold and say that many of the troubles of the human condition are caused by self-orientation, and that it is the desperate protection of our precious identity that gives rise to our personal angst as well as the problems of living in society.

I like to think that the seven deadly sins are reasonably comprehensive in their encapsulation of human misery. All of them possess some recourse to some fear about our identity.

Not only is this the over-indulgence with food, it is the preoccupation with having things just the way we like them. C.S. Lewis points out that the lady who wants just a little bit of toast but done a very specific way. There is here a desire to control our resources and to impress our will upon what we consume.

As I've said somewhere before, Lust is an unbridled and uncontrolled passion that infects our consciousness. We perceive it markedly in the lust for sex, but it also seeks a complete possession of what is desired. Again, we see a desire to exercise our power over the thing we desire.

This idea of hoarding things so that others cannot possess them again demonstrates a desire for control not only of what we have but what we don't want other people to have. Why does someone seek to be rich if not to take complete control over one's life and to protect oneself from the vicissitudes of fortune and the demands of others on our lives.

The saddest sin - a desire to possess that which another has. Here there is always that fear of missing out, of entitlement, of seeing those whom we want to be and wanting to be them so that they cease to become who they are to our benefit.

The uncontrolled desire to force one's will on others. In wrath, we seek to impress our own justice upon others in revenge for an injustice perceived against us. Note that, in wrath, again we seek to impress our identity on the world around - in this case, our own sense of justice regardless of whether that justice is indeed just!

In sloth, we find the disinclination to make any contribution to the world. We seek only to maintain our own comfort at the expense of the needs of those around us. We do not wish to lift a finger because the matter of other people being human doesn't matter. In sloth, we seek the comfort of contemplating our own identity from the warmth of our bed.

Need I say more. Like sloth is formed being comfortable with our identity, pride and vanity seek only to dress up our view of ourselves with empty importance and the belief that our will is more supreme than those around us. In seeing ourselves as the most important aspect of our lives, we find only ourselves to worship.

We can see from these that at the heart of each of these sins, there is a desire to protect and develop our identity. In a sense, this is natural. The one thing that all the experiences and sensations of my lives have in common is me.

Many people in the world today believe that this Me is the only thing they can rely on. Possessions get lost or break, people leave, love fades. The only constant appears to be Me, and if the Me gets damaged or broken or lost, then I have lost absolutely everything! The Me is small, naked and fragile. What do we then do to protect the Me? We seek to keep people away from it and wrap it up in things. Controlling other people keeps them from coming near the Me and thus keeps it safe from invasion. Thus our desire for power comes from making sure that our will is supreme and that the Me cannot be touched by others demands upon it. Not caring for others again releases the Me from being changed from what we want the Me to be. We seek only to become the Me we want to be. But what happens if I actually become the Me I Want To Be?

If I were to become the Me I Want To Be, then I could never change. If the Me changed, then it would not be the Me I Want To Be. If what I wanted changed, again, the Me would not be what I wanted it to be. If both changed together, how would we know? We could look back and see that we have changed, but we would see that the past Me would not have been the Me I Want To Be that I now am.In that case, I would conclude that I was deluded in thinking that I was the Me I Want To Be because I wanted to be the past Me, and that I could not be sure that I am now the Me I Want To Be, and I would want to be sure that I am the Me I Want To Be! I'm sorry for the linguistic jiggery-pokery, but I think this proves that it is impossible for me ever to be the person I want to be, unless I suddenly become changeless, i.e. either becoming God, or becoming dead. We find ourselves slaves to the tyranny of our identity.

The way out is simple. If we want to be free, then we must let go of the illusion that we can ever be in control of who we are. We have to let others have some investment in our identity. We must let them help us find some self-definition. Concern for others is indeed vital if we wish to find some fulfilment in life. I can become a better Me, by seeing the good in others and assimilating that good in Me so that still others can see the good in Me.

Yet, the Me still has one final surrender. What is the point of Me if I am doomed to die and wink out of existence. If there is nothing after this life, then all this work in finding fulfilment in truly being me is worthless. I might as well strive in the futility of seeking to become the Me I Want To Be even if it is impossible. It will make no difference either way, since, eventually if there is nothing else, there will not only be no Me, there will be no other Mes at all! With the end of this planet comes the end of all the Mes, and there will be no Good nor Evil, just dust and then nothing at all.

But there is Good and Evil. This leads me to conclude that there is something beyond our existence that determines Good and Evil, and further something that determines the Me that I am gives me the idea of a better Me I Want To Be because there is some idea of perfection. There needs to be an end if there is any real sense of meaning in this universe other than the arbitrary meaning that human beings impose upon it. That end can only ever be God, and we can only ever see the perfection of humanity in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we seek truly to be happy in this life, then we will never find it in ourselves and the pursuit of developing and protecting a false identity will prevent us from ever really finding satisfaction in simply being ourselves. We can only look for an identity in God and, if we do, we can find and develop sufficient confidence in Him to become the Me He Wants Me To Be which will be the Me I Want To Be!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Collect for the seventh Sunday after Trinity

Prayer book of 1662

LORD of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Lord is very emphatic when He calls Himself the true vine and us the branches. Many people would see this and say that He is being figurative and thus use that idea of being figurative to deny His presence in the Holy Sacrament. Yet, if He says that He is the true vine, then that is what He is. This collect demonstrates quite clearly the ideas of Divine viticulture employed to bring salvation to the Church.

First, we are grafted into Christ in the Church through His love and recognition of His authority. A graft is the deliberate wounding of a vine in order to restore a severed branch. Christ Himself receives real wounds and it is through His wounds that we find our way into being united with Him. The graft has to be bound firmly in place; likewise we are bound to Christ by our religion. The grafted branch receives nourishment from the parent vine; likewise we are nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.

Eventually the graft takes and the new branch becomes a substantial part of the vine. We too, through the mercy of God, remain in Him by walking His way and keeping His commands. This is no figurative analogy, this is very much the truth of our salvation.

When every word is not enough.

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

Occasionally, you’ll hear the phrase, “Oh! She just wants to have her cake and eat it.” It’s a peculiar little phrase and yet it is something that rings true for most of us. There is something profoundly frustrating in life when we have something delicious in front of us that we really want to eat, and yet, if we do eat it, it will be gone forever. Human beings are seldom satisfied. We’re a very hungry species.

Human beings can get very confused about what they are hungry for and what makes them truly alive. We can hunger for different things and yet think we can be satisfied by one good binge. Many people who are sad, stressed or lonely think they feel better with a bit of “retail therapy” and give their credit cards a heart-attack. Yet the novelty of the new things wears off and they feel no better. So out on another shopping spree they go, and the circle goes round again.

We can look around and see that, as a nation, we’re getting fatter and fatter, while the World’s poorest are still dying from hunger. Clearly, we eat enough to keep our bodies working, and working well, yet we seem unable to stop eating. We’ve been overcome with gluttony. If we don’t need the food, then why are we still hungry? What are we actually hungry for?


At His temptation, we hear Our Lord refuse to turn the stones into bread with the words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” However, something should strike us as being a bit wrong here. At the feeding of the four thousand, Our Lord says, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far.”

If Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, why are the four thousand hungry? Is Jesus not God? The multitude has been listening to Him, following Him for three days out in the wilderness, surely the word of God is enough? What’s gone wrong?


It seems that just listening to Jesus teach is not enough for us to be alive. But words that come out of the mouth of God are not always words of teaching. Nor is everything that comes out of the mouth of God a commandment to us. Sometimes the word that comes out of the mouth of God is the word that makes bread multiply miraculously so that human beings can be fed. Sometimes the word that comes out of the mouth of God is a blessing, or a promise, or a reassurance. Many people who are not in the Church think that the only words that comes out of the mouth of God are that of condemnation, of vengeance, of “thou shalt not…” If they think that, then they are not listening properly, and so they will never be fed by the word of the mouth of God.

The fact of the matter is that even fervent Christians find themselves at times getting no nourishment out of reading the Bible, nor out of prayer. Many good Christians suffer a dry spell, when God seems far away. That’s okay, it’s normal and natural. It means that our hunger is not for Bible-reading or prayer, or study. It means we are hungry for something else. If our hunger is for God Himself, then we are truly blessed, but then we realise that this hunger will never be satisfied until we stand before Him face-to-face.

Man shall live by the word that proceedeth from the mouth of God, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and His flesh is meet indeed. Here we are at Mass. Welcome to the feeding of more than just four thousand!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Yes we are!

I can't count the number of times that I've heard the idea that Catholics are not Christians and I'm often amazed at the arguments given as to why calling oneself Catholic rules one out of some people's idea of Christian, most notably among the more fundamental Protestants.

Given that I, being part of the Anglican Catholic Church, identify myself as a Catholic and not as Protestant (see here for a refinement of that idea) I do have a vested interest as to defending Catholicism against the idea that we are not Christian.

Of course, being an Anglican Catholic, I am not a Roman Catholic. I do not believe that Rome defines Catholicism. If it did, then it would not regard the Orthodox Church as being Catholic either. Surely the Orthodox Church would properly be called Protestant if Protestant means "not Roman Catholic". As I've said before, I believe in the Primacy of the Pope but not his Supremacy, the two are different things, and I've not yet heard one successful argument from the Fathers or from Scripture that proves that the Pope is indeed Supreme. It does mean that I cannot entirely defend Roman Catholicism from the rabid attacks by Ian Paisley, but I am confident that they have already mounted a successful defence against those (usually straw-man) arguments.

Yet, I must state quite clearly that if you claim to be a Catholic, then it must be demonstrated that you are a Christian first. How is this to be done? What is a Christian? 

The good news is that the word "Christian" is biblical. In Acts xi.25-6, we read:
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass , that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Is there a significance here? Well, yes, we know that St Barnabas and St Paul/Saul and the disciples of the Church in Antioch are qualified to receive the epithet of "Christian". If we look a little later in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find St Paul before Agrippa. The conversation is worth presenting in full, even if you have a bible at hand!
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. 
Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself : I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify , that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come . 
For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death , I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto * strange cities. 
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said , Who art thou , Lord? And he said , I am Jesus whom thou persecutest . But rise , and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen , and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.  
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. 
And as he thus spake for himself , Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself ; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said , I am not mad , most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest . 
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said , I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
So what does one conclude? Agrippa is almost persuaded to become a Christian by what Paul says, so there must be something in what Paul says here that characterises being a Christian. In fact, what is here is the beginnings of the Catholic Creeds. Compare what is said about the criterion of faith in the biblical passage with
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
and further, with,
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.
It seems quite clear that an active and well-formed belief in the Catholic Creeds is sufficient to fulfill the criteria for being a Christian according to St Paul. For, believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God means to believe His teachings and His witness. His witness, as the Church has always maintained, leads to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the Church as the Bride of Christ.

Do Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came down from Heaven to give us light to show us our need for repentance and gave the promise of reconciliation of us with God through His Death upon the cross?

I believe the phrase is "you betcha!"

So why are Catholics often rejected as Christians? Most of the time it's because we're told what we believe by people who don't want us to be Christians. We're told that we worship Mary and the saints/ We're told that we worship priests and popes and statues. We're told that we worship bread and wine.

All I can say is, isn't it wonderful to have people with so infallible a vision through the window into men's souls? Such infallibility rivals that of the Popes they seek to demonise.

Of course, if they really bothered to look and see what we understand, then they would see that we are just as Christian as they are. In fact, it is because of us Catholics that there is a Bible for them to read in the first place. If what these folk say is true, there were no Christians whatsoever from the death of the disciples until the Reformation!

It's also interesting that the Roman Catholics (these days) refuse to see Protestants as non-Christian. to them non-Protestants are separated brethren, though this has been the product of listening and one of the more welcome results from Vatican II. They also say the same about non-Roman Catholics.

To say that any Catholic is not Christian is the mark of ignorance, either a genuine lack of understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches, or a genuine wilful ignorance born of a deep-seated wholesale rejection of Catholicism. I would hope that such people would be willing to listen and be educated before they pass so damning a judgment.

Of course, there are lots of different doctrines of Christianity out there, and not all of them can be right. I believe that Anglican Catholicism is the closest and also that there are many other Churches out there that believe almost practically the same things as we do, but I am not prepared to write off anyone as non-Christian unless I am given a very good reason to do so! Perhaps there should be a blanket ban on sweeping statements.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Who will show us any good?

Regular readers of this blogling will note that the themes here are similar to the themes of earlier posts. I don't really make much in the way of an apology for that because it was writing this sermon that inspired development in what I have written so far as I try to understand better how Christians are to fit in a Post-Christian society. Goodness is a vital topic for Christians to understand so I do try to understand it and hope that the reader will travel with me too.

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

How do you react when someone comes up to you and says, “it’s a terrible world, isn’t it?” Do you agree with them, or do you have another answer?

We humans do have a tendency to put things into one of two boxes. Some things go into the “good” box, and other things go into the “bad” box. Happiness, joy and love, you’ll agree, belong in the “good” box while sadness, misery and hatred belong in the “bad” box. That sounds quite reasonable.

Which box does stealing belong in? Most people would say, “in the bad box”. Stealing is a sin according to the law of God, but what if you’re stealing bread because you’re starving? What if you’re stealing bread to feed your starving child? Is stealing right then?

You’ve probably met difficult questions like that before. There are many, many moral dilemmas that we face either hypothetically or in reality. They are hard questions and they challenge our ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Yet, we need to know what is good and what is bad if we are to find God. Why’s that?


God is good. In fact, God is what it means to be good. Everything that God says or does is, by definition, good. So, if we want what is good, we must seek God first so that we can find true goodness. What is wrong pulls us away from God. This is why when we sin, we must repent, i.e. we must turn back to God in order to find goodness.

When we try to separate goodness from God, we run into all kinds of problems. If we don’t get goodness from God, where do we get it from? Do we get it from the Law? A good citizen obeys the Law, but it was only following orders that ran the Concentration Camps. If a law turns out to be a bad law, then following it cannot be good. It is possible for laws to be bad, but then we Christians know that there is a higher law that goes beyond any human law.

Our Lord offers this challenge to us, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” We will not be allowed into Heaven just by following the laws of the land. We have to follow the law of the Kingdom of God! That means turning to God first to see what His law really is and how it works with our human law.

Above all things, we need to operate with love, and that means careful thought and consideration before we act. We need to see what the real problem is before we go in all guns blazing. It is often not right to oppose an unjust law by reacting with anger and indignation. Too often we protest loudly with banners waving, making a loud noise and being angry. However, it is often more productive to see how we can change the law, by thinking about why the law is there, what drives it and seeing where the injustice really is. If we really know what the Church teaches, then we should be able to apply it with reason and care and, above all, Love.


The fundamental mistake that Society makes is to assume that Goodness can ever be separated from God. We need to look to God to find His goodness in all things, even when things look dark and horrible. His goodness is there in the suffering in the world and it is only because His goodness is there that any good can come from our tears and toil. We see the people that we love grow ill and die and we say that this cannot be good. Yet without God, there is no hope at all for anyone who dies. We Christians can even dare to see good in death itself! When we trust that God has power over Life and Death, then even dying becomes a route to the good. That is why St Paul can say with authority, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.”

Our righteousness must go beyond law. It must come directly from God and obedience to His will. This is the only way that goodness can be in the world, and the only way we can hope for good things to come.

Collect for the sixth Sunday after Trinity

Gelasian Latin version
Deus, qui diligentibus te bona invisibilia praeparasti: infunde cordibus nostris tui amoris affectum; ut te in omnibus, et super omnia diligentes, promissiones tuas, quae omne desiderium superant, consequamur.

Translation by me:
O God, who hast prepared for them that love thee good things beyond sight: pour into our hearts the affection of love of thee; that, loving thee in all things and above all things, we may attain thy promises which exceed all desire.

Prayer book of 1549
GOD, whiche haste prepared to them that love thee suche good thynges as passe all mannes understanding; Powre into our hartes such love toward thee, that we lovyng thee in al thinges, may obteine thy promises, whiche excede all that we canne desyre; Through Jesus Christe our Lorde.

Prayer book of 1662
O GOD, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that wee, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

What is a good thing? Who will show us any good? This is a really good question these days. What really defines what good is? We all know what it is to feel good, by which we often mean happy and healthy. If we have a tummy ache or are feeling stressed then we don't feel good. Yet, we might have a tummy ache because we're dieting in order to get healthy. Scientists tell us, also, that some stress is necessary for us to live. So there is good there. Sweets taste good, but too much are not good for us. This brings us to a paradox: how can too much good not be good for us?

We all have our own idea of what good is, and it almost always has to do with how we experience life. However, we do fall into the trap of thinking that good is purely subjective, that it depends upon the individual. That's actually false, especially when we turn to the Creator.

God is good. More than that, God is what it means to be good. He is His own goodness. It is of Himself that He makes us, for in Him we live and move and have our being. Our good cannot be purely subjective but must depend on our relationship with God and how we draw that goodness from Him. In our very selves, all things are good. All human beings are good because they exist and have their being and likeness of God. That likeness gives us a dignity that is inseparable from our being. However, we are capable of Evil, and that is why we need to be taken out of an existence in which our choices tear us away from God. Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The modernist paperclip and the use of correction fluid

A recent comment from a liberal "Protestant" blog criticizing those who defend traditional Church doctrine:
"[Jesus] was a man of his time, rooted in eschatological Judaism, proclaiming what he took to Adonai's imminent judgment on the world."
Here we see an old heresy re-emerging, namely that of Nestorianism. I have to be very careful here because there are Oriental Catholic Churches who recognize Nestorius as a saint. I believe that it has been a subject of debate whether Nestorius indeed was a Nestorian; certainly the Oriental Churches do actually proclaim the Catholic Faith as has been revealed in dialogue with them.

Let us then be clear what the Nestorian heresy is. Our Lord has two natures, that of being human and that of being God. According to the proto-Nestorian Theodore of Mopsuestia, these natures were joined together externally like a marriage of natures. I rather like Archbishop Haverland's idea that, in this heresy, the two natures of Christ were paper-clipped together. For the true Nestorian, Mary could never be the mother of God, she was just mother to the human nature of Jesus.

Actually, the heresy is not too hard to refute. The very first chapter of St John's Gospel talks about the Divine Logos - the Word - which becomes flesh and dwells among us. The joining of human and divine nature is internal to the Person of Our Lord as flesh is to bone, only more so. That flesh-bone analogy breaks down when we consider Divine simplicity. Our Lord's human nature is indivisibly linked to His divine nature.

That is what the Catholic Faith says. Anyone who denies it cannot be Catholic and contradicts Holy Scripture itself.

Mary is the mother of Jesus; Jesus is God; therefore Mary is the Mother of God. The logic is as simple as it can be.

The way that Nestorianism creeps into our time comes about from statements like we see above. The idea is that Our Lord was a man of His time and therefore what He says is only ever appropriate in the context of that time.

Why is this Nestorian?

Our Lord's visible ministry is bounded by time according to human nature, yet that ministry was to the whole world. By His death, He saves His people in one great sacrifice for sin at one point in time. Yet, that one perfect sacrifice pervades all time, so that we in our day may participate in that sacrifice which took place in His day. His day of salvation remains our day of salvation, and that day is today - it always will be today.

Likewise, Our Lord teaches His people. He teaches them of what sin is and what death is, and what the Kingdom of God is, and Who He is, and what He has come to do. Is this the teaching of a man of his time? No. He is speaking of things of Eternity. He is speaking from Who He is - human and divine, not one thing or the other, but Divine words on a Human tongue. How does He know the will of God? Because He possesses that knowledge in His divine nature. If He is speaking divine truth then, then He is speaking the same  divine truth now. Divine truth is Eternal or it is not divine.

To say then that Our Lord's teaching is only of His time therefore falls under the charge of Nestorianism. It says that some things that Our Lord speaks are human in origin, and other things are Divine in origin. But these things have one single origin - Our Lord and He is indivisibly Divine and Human.

Of course, one might say, "When Our Lord says, 'I thirst!' that must be human in origin, because God cannot thirst." That is perfectly true. Our Lord is inferior to God in His human nature but equal to God in His Divine nature. There are things that the human nature can do that the divine nature cannot, and vice versa; that's what distinguishes them. However, teaching the Will and Commandments of God requires knowledge of the Will and Commandments of God. Our Lord says, quite clearly:
Jesus answered them, and said , My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. (St John vii.16)
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.(St Johnxiv.23-24)
Thus, what Jesus says is not of a man's time but of God's Time, i.e. Eternity. His teaching is absolute and not to be contradicted or superseded by the fashions of the time or the prevalent philosophy.

Of course, the liberal "Protestants" who post on the blog also say things like:
If the Bible has to be taken literally, then Adam and Eve had no ancestors, science and evolution are wrong, and God desired the slaughter of the children in Canaan when it was ethnically cleansed.

All the direction of history teaches us that the bible has to be contextualised and interpreted.

Interpreted in the context of the primary command to love.

Scriptural dogmatism, and idolising holy text as God's direct dictation or automatic handwriting is potentially harmful whether it is the dogmatists of the Bible or the dogmatists of the Qur'an.

The bible was written by fallible human beings, writing from within the culture, prejudices, and assumptions of their own time. It is wonderful and it is profound.

But it requires the exercise of our own consciences in each age, as we search for the ways of love and faithfulness.
And saying this they belie themselves as no Protestant. Obviously, they have no idea about the senses of Biblical interpretation, and certainly categorically disbelieve in the Bible as theologically inerrant. How then does such an individual know that God is love? How does such an individual know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies? How does such an individual know that the central issues that he or she believes are only applicable to 1st Century AD and to none other? All they can rely on is teaching that fits their own choosing and a God that does justice to that. Such a person cannot know that they can be saved, because they do not know whether they have to repent or even how to repent. That is actually quite terrifying! On what do they base their faith? A pick-and-choose approach to Holy Scripture? Judicious use of correction fluid in the Bible to make it conform to modern thought? This makes the attributes of God arbitrary and relative and a relative God is no god at all!

Of course, this individual is right that we have to think critically about what we believe. We do need to rely upon our conscience, but we must inform that conscience and keep it subject to the Rule of Faith rather than the Rule of Whim.

Either we believe that Our Lord speaks to us through Scripture, Tradition AND Reason together, or we must face the fact that we are walking only in the light of our own experience of the world.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The strength of Law

I mused below upon the nature of the relationship between Church and State. Of course, I will readily hold up my hands and categorically state that I am no expert on law, nor on politics. What does concern me at the moment is the relationship with the Church and the those who do not believe. We have to live together in some kind of mutual flourishing as the Church of England would have it, yet, the Christian cannot but hold the Law of God as being superior to any law passed by a secular authority. And that's the rub: the Church recognizes the higher moral law by which all laws are measured, yet an increasingly significant number of members of the State do not. Many non-Christians find their morality grounded in general principles such as "do as you would be done by" or "do anything that would maximize the happiness of everyone" or the Kantian Categorical Imperative, "act only according to that rule where, at the same time, you would want it to become a universal law."

While these are worthy maxims, they are not consistent, nor do they provide a universal framework for law and for morals. Kant's ideas are certainly very compelling, but considering that Adolf Eichmann claimed to live by Kantian duty shows how either how little it can be understood, or how much it fails to be truly moral.

The fact is that, if the State were to pass a law making breaking and entering legal, we would know that this was a bad law. One could apply the maxims above, by all of which that law would certainly fail. Yet a law allowing for assisted suicide would fail the Categorical Imperative but not the Utilitarian idea of maximizing happiness, or even the Golden Rule. That's when debate comes in and where those more learned than I in legal matters construct the law.

Yet, I firmly believe in the moral law that comes from God as overriding Human Reason itself. Some may tell me that this is just silly on the grounds that I base the framework of my understanding of what is right and wrong on that which could be arbitrary and capricious. My! how people love to accuse God of being capricious.

The strength of the law comes from its power and its authority. The two are very different concepts. The law can force me to act a certain way: I don't steal because if I did, I would end up in a system of sanctions of increasing unpleasantness which I don't want. That's the power of the law: obey or be punished. The authority of the law comes from how much I buy into it, and even take ownership of it. I don't steal because I believe that the law against stealing is in the best interests of the society in which I live. The same is also true of my belief in God. If I obey Him for fear of Hell, then that's because God has the power to cast me into Hell. If I obey Him because knowing Him is the best thing for the whole of Creation, then that's a sign of His authority. Notice that, as St Thomas Aquinas would have it, God is His own authority - being with Him is the reason that persuades us to obey Him.

Yet, the law only ever has power when the sanctions that it can impose are able to act as a deterrent. Most people would indeed balk at the conditions in prison, which is why prison must be an undesirable place to be if the law is to have power. However, this is what makes religious belief very dangerous in the eyes of the law, because where the law is contradicted by religion, the strength of belief will allow the believer to endure even the worst forms of civil sanction. After all, the first Christians chose agonising deaths rather than subscribing to laws which demand that they worship the Roman Emperor. Yet this goes for any religion, not just Christianity. It is quite understandable why the State fears religious believers when legal sanctions do not have effect. It's worth noting here that actually, since we're a long time dead and likely to suffer pain anyway, what is the real power of those sanctions? The secular law can only ever have a temporary hold on people.

Thus, the strength of the law that binds communities together with a freedom of religion must rest upon the authority of the law and not its power. Religious groups of all sorts must feel that they possess ownership of the secular law that governs the country in which they find themselves.

This is very hard for me to admit as a Christian, as I believe firmly that the law should be precisely the moral law of God. That's not the case, and I don't seem to be able to change it which means I must tolerate that which I do not have the power to change, nor do I have the authority. I can't change the fact that Sunday is no longer a day free from trading. I can't change the fact that casual sex is culturally acceptable. But then, given that I am a fallible human being, it's best that I do not have the power to change the law. As well intentioned as I might be, I know that I will be capricious and I will restrict the freedom of others to live their lives. I tolerate the law while it stands, but I criticize it and seek to work around it in ways that show that I am willing to comply with the authority lawfully set over me, yet still seeking to effect the change demanded by the Moral Law which stands above the law of the land.

We have here a bit of an impasse: the State's fear of religious believers' ability to control the law by preferring to endure sanctions in order to get their own way, the religious believers' fear that their moral concerns about the content of the law will be ignored. There is a lot of fear here, and that needs to be addressed and, where possible, dispelled. Institutions always seek to hold onto what authority they have and, when they are at risk of losing it, they exercise their acts of power in order to re-establish that authority.

The Church is rather unusual in that ultimately, she possesses no power at all of Herself. Excommunication means very little these days. Yet She possesses authority because what She has comes straight from God. Any power that She has accrued comes from people who subscribe to that authority. This means that Christians must hold fast to what they believe to be true and fight, not against men, but against what is truly Evil in order to convey the truth of salvation from that Evil. Evil is something that needs to be dug out, like a deep-rooted weed that keeps growing until it is finally pulled from the Earth. The Christian War is not against one solitary man, but certainly against Sin, Worldly Power and the Devil who inspires the others. It is against pernicious and deep-seated Evil that cloaks itself in the truth in order to set society against itself.

This calls for much thought and prayer. We Christians need to see where that Evil really lies and how it is infecting our society. This is a confusing and daunting task, and many people, Christian and non-Christian, will be deluded - and I include myself in that. This means that, when faced with an unjust law, we will need to think carefully and understand what that law is saying. Too often we react before thinking not really understanding the issue or the situation involved. Does the law really say that everyone MUST donate their organs when they die? Is it really true that the law is allowing dying people to be harvested for anything that can be donated to another?

The next time we are tempted to react to a news story about the law, we need to feel our anger rise, then we really do have to stop, count to ten, and then reread looking for actual facts and not speculations. We also need to see where that anger within us comes from and discover the motives that we have for feeling this way. Then we pray. Then we think, taking at least a week to mull things over. And then we seek our what the true Evil is, where the real lie is. And then we act around that lie. We Christians need to become expert fencers or surgeons, able to split a hair with a well-aimed flick of the wrist, rather than lumbering reactionaries trying to remove the speck in our brother's eye with a dirty great spear as well as forgetting the beam in our own eye.

This is how we can help dispel Society's fear that the Church wishes to bring down the law wholesale, when really we seek to sanctify humanity. Lawful authorities pass unjust laws, and Christians must be seen to respect that lawful authority when they challenge the unjust law. That authority is there to prevent different beliefs tearing human beings apart in a series of crusades, purges and jihads, but that selfsame authority is fallible, vulnerable and can be distracted. The more that Christians demonstrate rational and reasonable means to make their points, and have patience before the State concedes those points, then the more the moral authority of the Church will increase. With God all things are possible, yet His will be done.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Prayer book of 1549
GRAUNTE Lorde, wee beseche thee, that the course of thys worlde maye bee so peaceably ordred by thy governaunce, that thy congregacion may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietnes; thoroughe Jesus Christe oure Lorde.

Physics describes the Universe with mathematical principles called laws. The theory of our evolution as a species is given by carefully stated principles which demonstrate how we have come to be. There are other laws such as the Peter Principle - being promoted to one's level of incompetence - which also show how social and corporate dynamics work. Virtually every method we use to predict future events is by application of laws and principles.

The study of these laws and ideas is fascinating and give much fulfillment to the scientist when she finds her predictions corroborated by experiment. Mathematics even seeks to derive these laws from ever more simple principles, and yet the law for the submicroscopic does not yet marry up with the law for the galactic. How do these laws themselves come to be? Are they habits formed by matter and energy which are now so engrained? If so, then how do those habits start in the first place?

With God, we have some explanation as to why the laws of the universe are the laws that they are. We have know knowledge of any other potential universes that God may have created, we only have this one with its rich tapestry of law and order which makes Science such an affirmation of being human. However, if we seek the truth more fully, then we must look at where the laws come from and ask "why?" not "how?" because "why?" is a question that transcends the scope of "how?". It is God our governor and how excellent is His name in all the Earth!