Friday, April 29, 2016

Long live the Laity!

Back in July last year, I ruminated on the role of the Laity in the Church. (  ) My thesis then was to remind all churchmembers that their presence in the Church needs to be active and that they should rejoice in their activity as layfolk.

I want to take this further mainly because I want to convince the laity of the Church that they have everything to be proud of, and need to rid themselves of what appears to be an inferiority complex.

It is true that layfolk have been belittled in the past, and some still are to this day. I am a conservative in my religion but there are changes that I rejoice in, chiefly the end of feudalism. We now have managed to go to "your vote counts" from "your count votes" politically. In the UK, we still have a Constitutional Monarchy, but its role is limited and its appeal seems only to preserve the quaint and roman tically archaic rather than to curb the excesses of politicians who, it seems, prefer to make a career out of soundbites, jargon, and not really listening to the public.

There is a profound difference between being a member of the public and being a member of the Laity. The Laity are nothing less than the Kingdom of God itself. These are the folk who accept the rule of God as being insurmountably important, overriding the Crown, the Law, and the "Church", i.e. the political body that seeks to be the custodian of the social mores. The Laity are those who have accepted the Fatherhood of God, who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ and know the power and grace given by the Holy Ghost.

With the end of feudalism comes the end of clericalism, of an over-veneration of the priest as a political leader.

There is an old riddle which was told to me by an old friend on retreat. If, on your travels, you should happen upon a priest and an angel, to whom would you confess your sins? The answer, of course, is to the priest. The priest has been given authority by God to pronounce absolution, the angel has not. You might think that this is dreadfully pompous, a riddle created to build up the priesthood as some hierarchy with the power over souls, to be obeyed and fawned over, like tin gods. Yet, it isn't. It really isn't.

Why should you want to confess? Because you hate your sins.
Why do you hate your sins? Because they hurt you, degrade you and kill you?
Why do you confess to a priest? Because God has promised to absolve your sins through the priest?
Why do you want God's involvement? Because He can make you better?
Why should He care? Because He created you. He loves you. He does not want your hurt, degradation, or death.
How do I know that? Because God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Now look at the crucifix and say that you're not loved.

The priest is merely the conduit of God's grace. You, yes you!, are the reason for the existence of the priesthood. These priests exist for you. Tin-pot priests filled up with illusions of their own power of Sacrament and Excommunication are indeed effective distributors of God's grace, but their manner is an obstacle to any cherished layperson. They will receive the punishment of the money-changers who clogged up the temple of God so that those perceived as "unclean" might be kept out. The point is that each and every priest and bishop have in their possession direct channels of the grace of God through the Holy Sacraments for you.

It's easy to look at bishops in their fine robes and strange hats and think that they are commanding earthly power. They are not. They once thought they were, and this is why the Church is no longer the political power it once was. Either it has embrace the zeitgeist rather than the Helige Geist in order to keep its political role, or it has clung on to the traditions it has received and sought smallness in fidelity to the Unchanging Gospel.

And it's all for you. The Laity are the means by which this dark world is sanctified. The Laity possesses a priesthood of its own to bring to the foot of the Cross the horrors of this world. It is the Laity living out their faith day by day, hour by hour, that will bring about the glorious reality of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

The Laity are nothing less than the people of God, the inheritors of Light and the stars shining in Eternity. Often, the Laity think that they are just to sit in the pew while the priest and servers up the front do all the work. That's not true. Work needs to be done - that's why we have liturgy, the work of the laity. It is the laypersons duty to pray the words of the Mass with the priest. However, Mass is not all work, work, work, because by doing the work, rather than getting tired and worn out as you do doing your day job, you are restored for, if you’ve done your work well, you are met with Christ Himself offering you nourishment and rest in Him.

It takes a lifetime to learn the practice of how to be a good layperson. It can only come through prayer, bible-reading, the sacraments and putting into practice what we learn from them. Your priest should help guide you in that. If he doesn't, don't think it doesn't matter! Go out and find a good spiritual director. God will enrich your life abundantly if you do.

Yet, it must be remembered that the clergy are laymen too. They may be set apart by God for your service, but they too do the work of the laity too. The Church is all in this together. The whole concepts of importance, equality, diversity, discrimination, and law are ultimately meaningless for the Laity, because they are meaningless in Heaven with God. Each person is God’s person as He wants them to be, and our lives are lived trying to be that person finding that perfection in Him, through Him and with Him.

If we view the Church politically, then we are tempted to ascribe political terminology to it. We can accuse it of sexism, discrimination and homophobia because it appears to subscribe to political ideas. However, they can’t apply if the Church is honestly following the doctrine set by God Himself. Churchfolk fail at this, but the Church Herself doesn’t, but rather seeks to help all Churchfolk find their perfection in God by being members of the Church.

The Layperson will, of course, be alarmed by any accusations of unfairness or political incorrectness. That is understandable in someone whose mandate is to love God and then Neighbour. Yet, in following that doctrine, there is pain and suffering at the hands of the political agent seeking to reinforce that political power in place of God. Politics, too, shall pass. The end of the Layperson is in the hands of God who will mete out justice and mercy infinitely appropriately. The work of the Layperson will be tried by God’s fire and will be used for Good for all that love God. Concentrate on doing God's word; listen to the accusations critically and bring them to God so that, if true, you will know how to repent or, if false, you can carry on faithfully.

There is an infinite dignity in sitting in the pews at Mass. If you are a layperson, do not look down on your state just because you’re not robed or, “doing something useful”. You’re being something beyond useful, namely a child of God. Don’t let the temptation to do Church at home, or elsewhere on a Sunday. Come to Church and do your work and get paid. Then go out into the world to do God's work and get paid? Remember Who pays your wages, and how generous He is! Why? Because you, yes you!, are of infinite worth to Him forever.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Quo Vadimus?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the fourth Sunday after Easter. 

Wouldn't it be nice to know where you're going? So many of us now are saying things like, "I just don't know what to do in life" or "I've haven't got a clue where this is taking me." More and more schoolchildren are having difficulty in answering the question, "what do you want to do when you leave school?" Do you know where life is taking you?

Why does this disturb us? Can't we just go with the flow?


In this day and age, we find ourselves worrying about the future. What we'd really like to do is to take a sneaky peak at the end of the book and see that everything ends up all right. We just want to be reassured that we couldn't have done better than the life we're living now, that we're in the right job, with the right people, doing the right thing.

As Christians, we might be tempted to think that God has our lives all mapped out for us, and that we don't have to worry about things. Does that mean that we don't have to take any responsibility for our lives? The problem is sin. Any plan that God has for us cannot involve any sin whatsoever. God's desire is for us to be reconciled to Him completely and any sin separates. While it is true that God knows us better than we know ourselves, it is our decision whether or not to take the opportunities that God offers us. Our Lord offers both Judas and Peter the opportunity to become His disciples and friends. Both of them fall away: Judas betrays Jesus; Peter denies Jesus. Yet Judas, rather than repenting, seeking the way back to God takes matters into his own hands and loses everything. Peter takes up that opportunity to face what he has done, repents and is given a further opportunity to feed the Lord's sheep.

The life of Our Lord has followed a particular direction, from birth to death, He set out to accomplish something remarkable, namely the redemption and salvation of all mankind. Some people, like Moses, Aaron, Samuel, Peter, James, John, et c are called in order to do something specific for God. Yet, if one looks at their lives, one sees that Moses doesn't reach the Promised Land,  nor does Aaron, Samuel dies in regret over Saul, Peter and James both die horrible deaths. John is exiled.

One might say that theirs is a life of failure, but we Christians would regard this as a success. Easter shows us why. We don't just have this life to live. We have a whole life beyond with God in Eternity where our sinfulness can't touch us. Our Lord's death on the cross means precisely that we are dead to sin.

Practically, this just means that we do not need to worry about tomorrow. We can be reassured that our ending in the back of the book is wonderful without taking a sneaky peek.  Our Lord has already taken that sneaky peak for us. As Our Lord tells us, we only need to worry about getting through today. Of course we still have to look and plan ahead, but we must live our lives looking  for God. If our plans go awry, that's not always the easiest thing, but we can be sure that God is there. We cannot insist on our own way in life, but we can learn to see God in today, and live and plan our lives accordingly.

The fact that the Lord knows where He is going means that He can send us the Holy Ghost so that we can live knowing where we're going, but not necessarily knowing how we're going to get there. Perhaps God is telling us that that is half the fun!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Reasons for believing: A matter of opinion?

Again I post one of my earlier essays lurking about my computer. This in answer to the question whether Reason is an acceptable way of discerning Christian truth.

“… your masters at Oxford have taught you to idolise reason, drying up the prophetic capacities of your heart.” Ubertino to William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose

Consider the following unlikely questions.

1)      Mankind makes first contact with aliens. Should we proclaim the gospel to them?
2)      Paul’s third letter to the Corinthians is discovered. It’s as authentic as the other epistles. Does that make it part of the bible?
3)      Did God create dinosaurs?

Chances are that these made you think a bit. They seem to be silly or irrelevant questions, but they make a very genuine and important point. The internet has only existed in the last 30 years and television is nearly only a century old. In the 1950s, it was quite reasonable to ask the question, “is it possible to consecrate a wafer in a live broadcast of the Mass?”  We don’t know what the future holds technologically speaking, socially speaking, or even morally speaking. However, we can be sure that we will face questions about our faith that need a legitimate answer.

We Anglican Catholics can only begin to answer these questions by going back to what we believe and that is the Catholic Faith of the Undivided Church. What does this mean?

Any question involves accepting a method for deciding what we know. We Anglican Catholics accept three forms of determining whether something is true or false, Scripture, Tradition and Reason. That might worry us a bit. After all, humans can find reasons which lead to some truly terrible conclusions. The persecution of the Jews, the witch-trials and the Communist purges all arose out of seemingly rational principles, but with clearly Hellish consequences.

In claiming to be Anglican Catholic, we have to believe that Holy Scripture is a true and sufficient record of our salvation which is interpreted through the Tradition of the Church Fathers and communicated via Reason as Archbishop Haverland testifies in his book, “Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice”. Human beings can only communicate what they mean through reasonable statements. Our Lord in His ministry on Earth communicated using reason. Look at St Matthew vii.11:

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”

Here, Our Lord is reasoning by analogy. A father gives good gifts to his child; God is our Father, so God gives good gifts to us. Our Lord shows us that Human Reason is capable of great good and communicating so much good news. However, it must be governed by the Holy Spirit through a life of work, prayer and study because the human will has a very sad tendency to sin.

However, we can see from Paul’s letters that he is reasoning from his experience of Our Lord in communion with the Church. The letter to the Romans is a wonderfully reasonable account of why Gentiles can be Christian. Our God wants us to know the truth because He is the Way, the Truth and the Life in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, reason then tells us that we cannot know God fully.

1)      God’s knowledge is beyond Time;
2)      Man’s knowledge grows within Time;
3)      Any knowledge within Time cannot reach beyond Time without God’s help;
Conclusion) Man’s knowledge cannot reach God’s knowledge without God’s help.

We know that we cannot know anything about God except that which He chooses to reveal to us. We only have two sources of revelation, namely Scripture and Tradition. From these, it has pleased God to bless our reason to discover the Doctrines of the Incarnation, the Trinity and of the seven Sacraments.

For example, the Seventh Oecumenical Council says that Holy Images may be venerated. In the Eighth Century, holy pictures and statues were being destroyed by the Iconoclasts, the “picture breakers”, who were applying the Second Commandment very strictly. They held that venerating a statue of Our Lord Jesus was the same as idolatry because God commanded us not to worship graven images.

However, the Iconodules, those who did venerate icons, reasoned at the Council that an image of Our Lord brought Him to mind, and since Our Lord is to be worshipped, venerating that image is an appropriate response. The veneration is not applied to the created statue or picture, but to the person whom that statue or picture depicts. This is not idolatry in which the object itself is worshipped.

The scriptural image used here is the Biblical narrative about the Brasen Serpent fashioned by Moses (Numbers xxi.8-9) in order to save the Israelites from a plague of serpents and broken by King Josiah (II Kings xviii.4) because people were worshipping the snake and not God. They did not discern the Lord God within the serpent.

However, what happens when Scripture and Tradition is silent or ambiguous?

There is no record of the death of Our Lady within Holy Scripture, so when did she die? Some Christians (especially Roman Catholics) say that, like Enoch and Elijah, she was assumed into Heaven and they will use Revelation xii as Scriptural evidence. However, looking at this with the eye of reason, we see that this is ambiguous in meaning. The Woman Clothed with the Sun could very well be a figure for Israel herself. More to the point, the Revelation of St John is not a history or a biography – it is a prophecy of God’s fidelity. Looking in Church Tradition, there is nothing recorded until about the third Century and St Epiphanius writing in 377 said that no-one knew whether Mary had died or not! However, unlike St Peter and St Paul and many other saints, there are no bodily relics of Our Lady.

What then should we believe?

In 1950, Pope Pius XII used Papal infallibility to declare that the Doctrine of the Assumption of Our Lady MUST be believed by all Christians. Of course, we Anglican Catholics cannot recognise that declaration as being valid whether or not Our Lady was assumed into Heaven. A Pope is not a Council, even if he is advised by one.

Because the Church split into East and West in the 11th Century, no new Oecumenical Councils can take place until that split is resolved. Therefore there can be no new teaching which can be as definitive as a Council or a Creed. The question must remain open. This allows for differences of opinion until the matter can be settled definitively.

Neither Scripture nor Tradition conclusively mention UFOs, dinosaurs nor motor cars, though there are vague pictures such as Elijah’s chariot to Heaven, Behemoth and Leviathan, and the peculiar chariot/throne in Ezekiel. We can choose to believe that UFOS exist, that dinosaurs existed and that motor cars are morally good. We can also choose to believe that UFOs don’t exist, dinosaurs didn’t exist and that motor cars are morally evil. However, we must surely be prepared to justify our choices with reasons if we hope to communicate with others.

St Peter says quite clearly, ”But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter iii.15) We have to justify ourselves and make sure that we do not depart from the Catholic Faith. However, where something does not appear in Scripture or Tradition or in any Council, Canon or Creed, we are not bound to believe it and we are not bound not to believe it also.

We must be careful though. Scripture contains all things necessary for our Salvation as interpreted by Tradition. If something cannot be proved by Scripture, then we cannot be forced to believe it. We can hold to the Assumption of Our Lady as a pious opinion but it is not a dogma: the authority of the Pope is not sufficient to require us to believe it. However, if we do choose to believe it, then we must live our lives with the consequences of that opinion. If those consequences contradict the Catholic Faith, then we have the wrong opinion and must give it up.

We may hold different pious opinions. In that case, St Paul reminds us:

“Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?  to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up : for God is able to make him stand . One man esteemeth one day above another : another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks ; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks . For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live , we live unto the Lord; and whether we die , we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die , we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died , and rose, and revived , that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” (Romans xiv.4-9)

Whatever we believe, we must first believe that we have to love, starting with God and then our fellow men. If we cannot even do that, then perhaps what we believe isn’t really Christian at all.

That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Validly invalid

I am never going to hide the fact that the Anglican Catholic Church in this country is tiny. We're not particularly big world-wide, but to say that we're a significant size is sheer dishonesty. One day we may be enormous, perhaps. Maybe we shall just fizzle out as our members die out. This is all in the hands of Almighty God and none of us can presume to know the future.

We are, of course, working for growth. There are many obstacles that we face and one of them is the question: you're not real priests, are you? My brother priest, Fr Chadwick has blogged on this point too  . Am I, or am I not a real priest?

The Roman Catholic will say no. The Eastern Orthodox will say that my orders will become valid the moment that my church converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. The Church of England would, typically, hem and haw. However, we can show categorically that Anglican Catholic Priests have valid Anglican Orders and believe that they are as valid as any other Orthodox Catholic priest. For those interested, please see the ACC webpage here, and note that our Archbishop John-Charles Vockler was a bishop in the Anglican Communion before joining us. He is a "grand-daddy" consecrator of Bishop Damien.

There is, of course, another issue here. Lots of "Continuing" jurisdictions whether they be continuing Roman, Anglican, or Orthodox orders flout their lineage to convince people of the truth. This is largely due to defending oneself against accusations of invalidity from "mainstream" churches. The fact that there have been some unscrupulous rogue catholic bishops consecrating all and sundry does indeed make a mockery of the the Apostolic Succession.

Fr Chadwick says, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

How right he is: he is paraphrasing Our Lord's words, "by their fruits shall ye know them." I notice that so many of these rogue bishops suddenly acquire doctorates in divinity, in laws and letters. They rejoice in titles such as "His Excellency, the Most Reverend Lord....".

I am, apparently, a "Reverend Doctor", but then anyone popping into the University of Warwick Mathematics Library will find my doctoral thesis on Instanton Moduli Spaces. I am a priest and that gives me the burdensome "Reverend".. Most of the time, I'm just plain "Father" and that's how I'd like it to stay. I've said how meaningless titles are below. There is no point collecting them as they carry such little value. Indeed, a collection of grandiose titles is quite simply laughable.

As a Benedictine Oblate, I prefer "Father" because it reminds me of a burden I have to bear. I am an "abbot" to a little parish. They respect me, and I respect them.

But am I valid? To the ACC, yes unquestionably, since Bishop Damien's orders are unquestionable as well. Yet, I can only be a truly valid priest if I embody Christ daily, hourly, minutely, secondly. I have to  bear His image in a way that the laity don't and I'm glad they don't have to. It's terrifying sometimes and I do find myself worrying about the little I do do. I worry about my temper, my cowardice, my fears and how I constantly let God down. In order for me to be a truly valid priest, I have to do something that shines His light on people.

I see so much good being done by Christians of all kinds of stripes. I hear of ministers on the streets of Birmingham picking up drunken students and such-like and putting them in cabs home. I hear of unofficial foodbanks just opening up for the poor and deprived. I know an Archbishop who rolls up his sleeves not only in a restaurant, but also in a soup kitchen that his monastic order run for the homeless of Brighton. There is good being done out there and God be praised for it and bless those who work such good in this darksome world!

These rogue bishops revel in advertising their presence and will cite that they are doing the Lord's work by providing the people of God with Sacraments. That's all well and good, but while the starving man benefits much from receiving the Mass, he would also benefit more immediately from a good meal so that he could enjoy the benefits of the Mass. Advertising is not Evangelism. Advertising does not preach the Good News in deed or in living. Advertising is a facade because it is cheap and easy to do, especially on the internet. The Lord's work is the washing of feet as well as the giving of Spiritual Grace. It is the fourteen works of Mercy which include the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. A priesthood that consists only of "instructing" the ignorant, and "admonishing" "sinners" is likely to come from one's own personal ideology rather than the love of God.

All Christians must bear the image of God, and that image comes with a cross. Holy Orders exist precisely for the service of these Christians. That service has to be active and respect the efforts that these Christians are making to bring the light of Christ into the world. The Clergy bear the image of Christ indelibly etched into their character. There are many Bishops, Priests, and Deacons out there who claim to be valid. They may be valid on paper, but are they truly valid in bearing the image of the Lord? I pray to God that I do better than I am doing now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Lie of Human Judgement

I must confess that I never "liked the look" of Jimmy Saville. Something about him was wrong, and it is only in later years that my feelings were ratified. However, was I right to think like this? What if I'd been wrong?

There will always be someone we don't like the look of. There will always be that person on the bus who doesn't look right, or doesn't behave themselves in a manner in which we would expect in society. They might "dress like a thug" or sniff loudly or put their feet up on the seat opposite. Of course, body-language experts might be able to reveal an awful lot about someone by the way that they look, but we are not all body language experts.

If a man comes to a job interview with scruffy shoes, it used to be said that his chances of getting the job would plummet. This may or may not be true in this day and age, but the reasoning is there:

1) Anyone who wants the job will dress well.
2) This man is not dressed well.
3) He doesn't want the job.

The first premise is clearly the one to challenge. Do we know that anyone who wants the job will dress well? Yet, the second premise is also in doubt. The man might be dressed as well as he can be. Accidents happen and shoes can get scuffed. The fact that he has turned up to the interview would suggest that the man does want the job, though this can be doubted.

And there we see the point. Everything thing we see about a person may suggest something about them, but there is always doubt; there always must be doubt. We simply do not know what it is like to be the other person. There is no philosophical proof that would even make the existence of other minds irrefutable. It is reasonable to assume that everyone has their own mind, but in doing so, we are forced to say that if other people have minds, then we cannot ever know them.

Appearances merely suggest. They produce possibilities. Whether these possibilities generate probabilities is another matter, and one that can be argued either way.

The Prophet Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh on the grounds that God might forgive the Ninevites their misdeeds. Jonah wants justice. God wants mercy. Only in God can the two be reconciled, but for Jonah there should be no mercy. They have behaved abominably and Jonah wants their blood. In the end God's mercy prevails. The Ninevites repent and are saved, and Jonah is presented with the dreadful fact that God loves his enemies.

And then the Lord Jesus comes along and shows us that God loves His enemies.

And that stings! It scandalises and seems to go against anything that we might ascribe as justice.

For it means that God loves Jimmy Saville despite his abusing women and children under the cover of his charity work. It means that God loves serial killers like Ted Bundy, and Geoffrey Dahmer. It means that God loves the perpetrators of the murders of millions like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and even members of ISIS. Further than that, it also means that if any one of these folk actually, really, truly, and honestly repent, they would be forgiven. And that's the scandal! There is a possibility that we might meet each one of them in the New Jerusalem with God for all Eternity.

The Lie is that our judgement is correct: they are definitely, 100% truly will be in Hell.

We can'r say that, because we haven't got the right to make the decision to send people to Hell. Yet, if God doesn't send them to Hell, what does this say about all the suffering that these people have caused? Doesn't God care that people are scarred, hurt, humiliated, tortured, and killed at the hands of these monsters? Doesn't that matter?

Of course it matters to God. In the 99th Psalm we read:

Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among such as call upon his Name: these called upon the Lord, and he heard them. He spake unto them out of the cloudy pillar: for they kept his testimonies, and the law that he gave them.Thou heardest them, O Lord our God: thou forgavest them, O God and punishedst their own inventions.

If the righteous Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were forgiven AND punished, then how much more everyone else?

It is clear that forgiveness does not mean that we get away scot-free from sin. Justice must be served. But Justice in the old sense of the word really means Righteousness: they are synonyms. Justice means obliteration of wrong. Where God is, there can be no sin, because God is what it means to be Good. Any sin whatsoever separates us from God. For Christians, we have the atoning sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but participation in that sacrifice requires tears and sorrow for our sins: we really do have to be truly sorry.

This is the reason why I believe in Purgatory. I see Purgatory as a mercy of God to help those who have died in sin find God again. It cannot be pleasant: it is the transformation of the self that should have taken place. Herein is the punishment due, where time is served, and the hearts willingly broken and made contrite. Even if my pious opinion is wrong, we can be sure that somehow God will offer forgiveness and mete out due punishment.

Yet, what business is it of ours that Hitler, Dahmer and Saville receive punishment? Largely our response is an expression of outrage at what they have done, how they have destroyed lives and how they have made the world a worse place to live. While that evil goes unchallenged, it remains and we loathe it.

Why do we loathe it? The answer is very simple. We are human beings. We bear the image of God - each one of us. Each one of us is an ikon of our Creator, though we mar and deface that image. That image remains no matter what we do. And it is that image that gives us a visceral loathing for the evil that gets inflicted on the innocent. The trouble is that the perpetrators of this evil also bear the image of God. We somehow have to see that image in these people. We try not to: we dehumanise them, call them monsters, shut them in prison so we cannot look at them, all because they bear the same humanity that we do and, worse still, they bear the image of the same loving, merciful and Holy God.

This is why we need to exercise reason when we execute our human justice. We cannot take away another's humanity for whatever reason, but we must address their crimes and seek some recompense for the victims. It is not an easy task and involves careful thought and prayer.

In our everyday lives and judgements, it means we have to wrestle and strive to see the image of God in each and every person we encounter, regardless of any single aspect or appearance that they exhibit. There are no exceptions: it is something Christ commands us to do.

When faced with even the most appalling injustice, we must remember that we do have a God who can wipe away every tear from our eyes, who can heal, restore, re-create, and renew ANYTHING that has been broken or destroyed, who will forgive us AND punish us, all so that we can be with Him forever. If we are with Him forever, then there will be no sin, nor evil, nor hatred, nor injustice: that we can be sure of if we believe in Him.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Worship or wash-up?

There is one biblical passage which, for me, sums up mankind's relationship with God. In Exodus xxxii.1-14, we hear of Aaron's commissioning of the Golden Calf at the behest of the people. Where's Moses? He's up the mountain, receiving the commandments from God Himself. The people have already given up on him and are seeking to worship the god(s) who brought them up out of Egypt. In many ways, there is a certain amount of sympathy that we ought to have for the people of Israel. They want to worship God. They want to thank and praise the God who has brought them out of Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land. Their intentions are not wholly bad; they are not wholly corrupt. Yet, it is the way they go about it that brings the wrath of God on them and means that they have to spend time in the wilderness for those wrong ideas and heresies to die out. So what did they do wrong?

For the Church after the Seventh Oecumenical Council, holy images are very much to be encouraged along with their veneration:

"The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration {latria} in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult objects. Further, people are drawn to honour these images with the offering of incense and lights, as was piously established by ancient custom. Indeed, the honour paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model, and he who venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image."

What is the difference between the Golden Calf and Rublev's ikon of the Trinity?

Let's start with the obvious. At no point has God ever been seen as a calf. He has made Himself manifest as a man in the second person of the Trinity. One may indeed argue that the three men who visited Abraham and told him to expect Isaac was a manifestation of the Trinity, though the text does not explicitly say this.

Second, the Israelites have come out of Egypt, a culture which worshipped many gods and worshipped them in the animals around them - Horus the kestrel, Anubis the Egyptian golden wolf, Thoth the ibis. However, God had shown Himself to be the True God above and beyond these false gods.

These false gods are clearly limited and cannot represent God in His Divine Simplicity and Wholeness. We learn that, just as we cannot limit God, we cannot take Him to bits and worship Him in pieces.

The essence of worship is worth, and it is precisely the values we ascribe to God or to things that determine what we truly worship. Our Lord Himself reminds us that where our treasure is, our hearts will be also. Our values, the things we give our best worth to, transform us into their likeness. But the thief breaks in, the moth and mould corrupt, the world destroys. The worth of our idols destroys us along with our idols.

Likewise the worship of God transforms us. The soul liberated from idols is free to be transformed into the likeness of God. This is possible because and only because God took flesh and dwelt among us. We therefore have His image to see and to know God by. Unlike idols which can only ever point to things of the earth, ikons point to things beyond, like little holes in the veil clouding the eyes of our souls after the Fall.

If we are not open to transformation into a being of light, then our worship of God is not able to be perfected. If we are not willing to be made perfect, then there is something in our lives which is of greater value to us than God. To an extent we are all idolaters, yet it is our desire to cast away our idols and seek the true and living God that prevents us from commissioning golden calves.

We should indeed surround ourselves with ikons and use them to peer into Heaven. Anything can be an ikon to the soul aspiring perfection in God, for everything bears His fingerprint. The art then becomes trying to resemble the Artist from His fingerprints. Further, we should strive to see everyone as an ikon of Christ, but I think I'll leave that for another blog post. However, veneration of ikons is this process of seeing things of Heaven in earthly depiction. Veneration does not transform us, it is in itself an ikon of God transforming us Himself. Veneration can never become worship if we're doing it correctly.

Anglican Catholics hold to the Doctrine of the Seventh Oecumenical Council. We thus hope and pray fervently that we, too, become a better ikon of the Church Triumphant.

On Liturgy


“Our Mother in Heaven,
Hallowed is your name,
Your Queendom come,
Your will be done on Earth as in Heaven.
Give us today your daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the Queendom, the power and the glory are yours
Now and forever,

The above prayer managed to work its way into the liturgy of Queen Elizabeth II's 80th birthday in 2006 in a Parish Church in Kent. To many Christians, this version of the Lord's Prayer will at least seem a little odd and at most just plain wrong. Why? Simply because it has clearly changed the words that Our Lord Jesus Himself bids us pray.

For Traditional Christians, the meaning of what we pray is bound up intrinsically with what we believe: this is the famous principle of "lex orandi, lex credendi"[ii] - the law of praying is the law of believing. In the Anglican Catholic Church, we take lex orandi , lex credendi to heart and this means that we do and must take our liturgy with the greatest seriousness. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI said, “It is in the treatment of the liturgy that the fate of the Faith and of the Church is decided.”

What is liturgy?

Ever since there has been religion, there has been liturgy. As people seek outward ways of expressing their belief in union with others, they develop common patterns and disciplines to share belief with others and state it to those who do not share that belief. The word liturgy comes from the Greek leitourgia which derives from laos (meaning "people" from which we get the word “laity”) and ourgia (meaning "work", and from which we get the word “energy”). So we see that, for religious believers, liturgy is a duty of the people, not just something nice to do for oneself.

If one is serious about one's religion, then one must be serious about one's liturgy. "To believe" literally means to hold something as precious, and so our liturgy has to make clear what we do indeed hold precious through ritual (what we say) and ceremony (what we do).  Liturgy is a way of allowing people to engage in common worship by word and by action and use this to engage with their belief in their daily lives.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the first Christians “continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.  And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.  And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.   And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”[iii]

We see here that the liturgy of worshipping in the temple, “breaking bread” (i.e. celebrating the Eucharist), praying, and being taught by the Apostles  fuelled the first Christians into living lives in the worship of God through Jesus Christ. These are all liturgical activities, and they still take place today.

The Holy Bible is riddled with liturgy and the documentation of liturgical practice. We can easily see liturgical practice in Exodus xii when God commands how to eat the Passover: which animal is to be used[iv], when it is to be killed[v]; how the meat is to be eaten[vi] and indeed in what manner[vii]. These actions are to be repeated by direct command[viii] so it is clear that God Himself prizes liturgy to unify people’s actions and bind them into a believing community.

Our Lord Jesus also instigates liturgy. At the last supper, we read,

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said , Take , eat : this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.  After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye , as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.”[ix]

We have received instructions for ceremonial and we have also received instructions for ritual:

“And it came to pass , that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased , one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray , as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”[x]

We notice that Our Lord says “When ye pray…” and not “If ye pray…” or “Should ye pray…” We are commanded to pray and we are given words to use. We therefore have divinely prescribed ceremonial and ritual which help us as individuals to share our belief with our community and indeed with God Himself. This is what liturgy is and this is why it is important to the Christian Religion. C.S. Lewis says,
“Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it "works" best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”[xi]

Which Liturgy?

In the Early Church, liturgies were largely made up on the spot by the Bishop, though as Justin Martyr[xii] and the Didache[xiii] demonstrate, there were prescribed forms for the Eucharist and Thanksgivings from the earliest times. The Didache was written at the turn of the second century and shows that within 70 years of the Lord’s ministry the Church was organising itself in order to support a believing community.  This extemporisation was bound by certain rules, and most Bishops naturally fell into repeated formulae the more they celebrated the Mass. Certainly St Clement in the latter half of the second century is making use of liturgical prayer when he write to the Corinthians on prayer.

“We would have You, Lord, to prove our help and succour. Those of us in affliction save, on the lowly take pity; the fallen raise; upon those in need arise; the sick heal; the wandering ones of Your people turn; fill the hungry; redeem those of us in bonds; raise up those that are weak; comfort the faint-hearted; let all the nations know that You are God alone and Jesus Christ Your Son, and we are Your people and the sheep of Your pasture.”[xiv]

The 4th to 8th Centuries were a time of great formation and crystallisation of Christian belief. The great heresies of Arianism, Nestorianism and the like meant that Bishops could not extemporise the Eucharistic prayer with such freedom and, to protect them from heresy, standards to the Mass were introduced. In Greek, the word for standard is kanon, and we still refer to the Canon of the Mass today when we talk of the Eucharistic prayer.

However, there were still many liturgies which could be said to be properly Catholic, i.e. following the rule of faith laid down by Holy Scripture, Tradition, and the Oecumenucal Councils.  Several of them still survive in the Eastern churches, such as the Syrian Liturgy of St. James, from which the famous hymn "Let all Mortal Flesh" is taken, and the two Byzantine Liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, both of which the Orthodox Church still use.

As the Church grew, so liturgies went from being peculiar to one bishop to being common to larger areas under the patriarchs. There is an Alexandrian Rite, and Antiochene Rite, the Syrian Rite and, of course, the Roman Rite which are still used throughout Christendom. The latter was given its essential shape by St Gregory the Great who died in 604 and today forms the basis of the Gregorian Rite and the Tridentine Rite. Even these great rites had their local variants in later centuries. In England, the Roman Rite had subtly different forms such as the Hereford Use and the use in Salisbury famously known as the Sarum Rite.

All these different liturgies, rites and uses sprang up from common Catholic belief and enabled Christians over wide areas to find great commonality with other Christians and yet find some cultural identity. According to Ferdinand Probst[xv], all Christian Eucharistic Liturgy has its roots in that of the Apostolic Constitutions and his theory has been corroborated by subsequent historians. There is a unity at the heart of every traditional liturgy.

The wonderful thing was that, in large geographical areas, the Liturgy would be recognisable to all Christians. While there were regional variations, anyone from England could follow the same Mass in France, the area which became Germany and, of course, Italy even if they spoke no other language. In the West, the language was Latin and united the Western Roman Empire in a common liturgical tongue. This is still true today: one can follow Lutheran liturgy knowing only a minimum of German!

We see, therefore, that subscription to a particular rite means subscription to a Christian Community and a particular expression of Catholicism. Further, since alterations occurred largely through addition to the liturgy, there is a historical unity with those who have used the same words in centuries past. We can be sure that if we use a traditional liturgy, we are joining in with Christians who have long since departed and with whom we have the hope to join in the liturgy of praise and thanksgiving after the Resurrection of the Dead.

So which liturgy do Anglican Catholics use? The clue is very much in the name. We are Anglicans and that means we subscribe to the English Rites. We identify ourselves with the historical Catholic Church in England. We belong to the same Church that produced St Bede, St Alcuin, St Alban, St Dunstan and the like. It is therefore important to us that we worship in a way that encompasses as much of English Catholicism as is possible and is as recognisably so as possible. We try to be both locally English and yet remember that we are art of a larger Church that transcends local boundaries. For Anglican Catholics, lex orandi lex credendi is a vital rule by which we examine our worship.

Which Language?

Initially, the language for the Liturgy was that which was spoke by the first Christians and was usually either Latin or Greek. In the West, the language for liturgy was Latin despite the fact that many indigenous people had their own language. Saxons, Franks, Normans, and Angles had their own languages and expressions, and yet their Liturgy was in Latin meaning that the uneducated could not potentially understand what was going on. All they needed to know was that the priest was celebrating the Mass on their behalf and only he needed to understand what was being said. This mirrored the fact that, in Jesus’ time, the language spoken was Aramaic whereas the language of the Liturgy was Hebrew, though the languages are closely related.

The first Reformation in England did away with Latin in favour of a language “understanded of the people”[xvi] Since at the time, many did not actually know Latin, there were many abuses. During Mass, business would be done, conversations had – even arguments! A bell had to be rung in order to inform people that the Elevation of the Host was to take place. The initial intention was indeed to return to “the custom of the primitive Church”[xvii] and allow the congregation to do their duty, their leitourgos.

However, the trouble with this approach is that it made a clear separation from other Christians and reinforced the divisions that the Reformations introduced. Either everyone has a common language that they don’t necessarily speak, or they have their own language and lose the universality of their language. Miles Coverdale, an eminent translator of Latin, translated the entirety of the Gregorian Canon as well as the psalms.

Translation does cause problems in that it is often very difficult to translate terms exactly. In translation, one has to take into account culture and circumstance. Take, for example, Psalm cxix.83.
“For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.”
This is a rather peculiar thing to say. However, we can put this together with St Mark ii.22
“And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred : but new wine must be put into new bottles.”
We begin to realise that the “bottle” is leather and not glass – it is a wineskin. The Latin word being translated is uter from which we get the word uterus.  Thus we see, just by investigating the words that a wineskin that is smoked, shrivels and we understand the words of the psalmist more fully.

It becomes important that when we translate liturgy into our vernacular, we need to keep the sense of what it means.
Another example is “diliges amicum tuum sicut temet ipsum”[xviii]. In modern English we would say “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  The trouble here is that in modern English, “you” can be either singular or plural. In the context, God is giving Moses words to speak to the Hebrews and so, without the Latin, we might think that the “you” is a plural “you”, but it isn’t. It’s a singular “you” and shows very clearly that God intends each single one of His people to take this commandment to heart. The Lord Jesus repeats this commandment in St Mark xii.31 as one of the two greatest commandments.  In modern English we miss the emphasis on the individual because we do not have a way of telling you plural from you singular. However, in 16th Century English, there is a very clear distinction. “Thou” is you singular and “You” is you plural. This makes it much easier to translate the words of the Latin or Greek into a language which we can understand after a bit of work.

Anglican Catholic Liturgy

The Anglican Catholic Church obviously subscribes to Anglican Liturgy and, because she is Catholic, she seeks to “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”[xix] Our Liturgy must reflect this and so we hold fast to the traditional Liturgy.

Looking at the history of the Anglican Church, we have already seen that there are peculiarly English ways of doing the Roman Rite. The most important of these is the Sarum Rite and it was the Sarum Rite which formed the basis of the Reformed Liturgy of the Anglican Church in the Book of Common Prayer. Of course, the Reformation had a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water as far as doctrine is concerned and within a few years of King Henry VIII’s death, the Book of Common Prayer would be augmented with Calvinist doctrine.

The major casualty of this is the movement away from the Canon of the Mass of the 1549 Prayerbook to the severely truncated version of the 1559 and subsequent Prayerbooks. The later Books of Common Prayer end abruptly with the words of consecration and this causes difficulty if we are trying to hold to the traditional shape of the Liturgy.
The Anglo-Catholic solution was to utilise the fact that the Prayerbooks are based on the Sarum Use which is itself a version of the Roman Rite. This meant that they could keep the substance of the Rite with the lessons and collects and many of the prayers and use the Gregorian Canon or the Canon of the 1549 Prayerbook without damaging the shape or sense of the Liturgy. This concordance has allowed a truly Anglican Rite to be used with great effect and is found in the Anglican and the English Missals. In the use of these missals, the Anglican Catholic Church is using a Rite which is recognisable to the Roman Latin Rite (if not identical) in the language of its indigenous culture. Anglican Catholics can be assured that, when they go to Mass, they are using a liturgy that has its roots back to the first liturgies, preserves the sense of the original language and allows them to worship God in their own culture.


Such a restrictive Liturgy does not allow the Holy Spirit to act.

This is an objection raised by those who prefer more extempore prayer. Actually, the Anglican Catholic Church certainly does not forbid its members from praying in whichever way they wish outside of Church services. However, we are required to profess One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.[xx] Since we are commanded to come together as one with the one intention of worshipping God, we need something to focus our souls and minds and the Liturgy, as we have seen, performs that function admirably.
Restricting ourselves means that we can decrease so that God may increase in us.[xxi] This is no restriction of the Holy Spirit but the liturgy allows a mind well-disciplined by the use of liturgy to be more open to the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in the Mass, the Holy Spirit is most active in bringing us closer to Our Lord Jesus Christ by consecrating the wafer and the wine into the Real Body and Blood of Christ. Far from restricting the Holy Ghost, the liturgy helps us to allow Him to act in our worship and to take that into our daily lives.

16th Century English is not understanded of the people, so why use it?

We have already seen that 16th Century English is actually more accurate at translating the senses of the original languages of the Bible and the ancient Liturgies than modern English which would require more words to render the ideas as faithfully as the writers intended. The language of the English Liturgy has always been regarded as very beautiful and has inspired musicians to set these words to some of the most wonderful music. It is nonetheless true that for our 21st Century ears, 16th Century English is not as straightforward to understand as our modern vernacular.
However, we forget that we read Shakespeare in his English, likewise Milton, Bunyan and Swift. Their language does not change and, if we really want to understand and enjoy these authors, then we have to put the work into understanding their English. Yet, we have already seen that Liturgy is the work of the people – it requires effort! The true Christian has to work to find God. We all know that the spiritual life is hard work. The liturgy reflects this very well.  It reflects the fact that, really, God’s ways are utterly incomprehensible to us. If we are sincere about worshipping God, and we find some piece of the liturgy hard to understand, then what is to stop us afterwards from finding our, from making that search, from asking questions. After all, the Lord does say, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek , and ye shall find ; knock , and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth ; and he that seeketh findeth ; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened .”[xxii] We have to work at our faith and we are rewarded for doing so.

The English Missal still contains the Latin Canon. If people are used to the Latin Canon, then the language is “understanded” of the people in the same way as the 16th Century English, and so it may be used in the same manner.

There’s no opportunity for change.

Actually this is not quite true. The Prayerbook can be revised at a convocation of the Holy Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church on behalf of the whole Church. However we believe in “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever!”[xxiii] The truth does not change and so our Faith and subsequently our prayers do not substantially change. There is no room in the liturgy for change for the sake of change, but rather when the liturgy fails to express the faith delivered to us all.
As we have seen, all of our liturgy, our hymns, and our prayers must fit the Catholic Faith and thus be in line with the liturgy which points us on the way to God. If this seems static, then this is a good thing for it expresses the Timelessness of God. If our hearts desire a change then we need to look into our hearts to see why we desire that change in the first place. A stricter liturgy helps each of us examine ourselves carefully rather than bend and move with us to fit our whims. We have seen right at the beginning how playing with the words changes the fundamental nature of our belief. To call God “Mother” is contrary to what the Lord Jesus teaches us when He prays, “Our Father.”


We have seen that God has given us liturgy by which we may approach Him more closely. We do so as a Church, seeking unity with all Christians who are, who ever have been or whoever will be. The Anglican Catholic Church is a church that continues in the Catholic Faith as received in the English manner. Dom Gregory Dix puts the unifying sense of following the traditional liturgy so very beautifully and he is worth quoting at some length.

“Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.”[xxiv]

We Anglican Catholics are the common people of God and we seek to be Holy. Through the liturgy we have received from the Catholic Church, we work to that goal.


Thanks must go to Ed Pacht, Dr Jim Ryland and Fr David Straw for reading through this tract and offering a few suggestions. Thie help has been appreciated.

[i] Version of the Lord’s prayer altered by a Church of England Vicar in honour of the H.M. Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2003.
[ii] Prosper of Aquitane (c. 390 – c. 455) Patrologia Latina 51:209-210. ...obsecrationum quoque sacerdotalium sacramenta respiciamus, quae ab apostolis tradita, in toto mundo atque in omni catholica Ecclesia uniformiter celebrantur, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi
[iii] Acts ii.42-47
[iv] Exodus xii.4-5
[v] Ibid. v6
[vi] Ibid vv8-10
[vii] Ibid. v11
[viii] Ibid, vv14-17
[ix] I Cor xi.23-26
[x] St Luke xi.1-4
[xi] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm. Chiefly on Prayer
[xii] 1st Apology Chaps 13 and 61
[xiii] Didache chaps ix & x
[xiv] Epistle of St Clement to the Corinthians xlix
[xv] F Probst. Liturgie der drei ersten christlichen Jahrhunderte
[xvi] Article XXIV of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Leviticus xix.18
[xix] Jude i.3
[xx] Ephesians iv.5-6
[xxi] Cf St John iii.30
[xxii] St Matthew vii.7-8
[xxiii] Hebrews xiii.8
[xxiv] Dom Gregory Dix, p744 The Shape of the Liturgy  Continuum 2001

Friday, April 15, 2016

On Canonical Obedience

I once had to write essays for my ordination training. I found this one and thought it might be worth a blog post in the hope that it might clarify matters.

Lawful Authority and Canonical Obedience, what does it mean and what does it include and exclude?

When was the last time you got told off? How did you feel? Indignant or ashamed? Angry at the injustice or acceptance that it was a “fair cop”? Of course it depends on the circumstances, but the fact that you have just been told off means that you have broken some kind of law or rule. You may even question whether the law was fair or unfair in the first place. So why is that law there in the first place? If it’s unfair, then obedience to it surely shouldn’t matter. But if the law is there, then there is a reason for it, is there not?

We often view Law very negatively. Sometimes we see it as nit-picking, fiddly, technical, just getting in the way, wasting time by moving too slowly and then coming out with the wrong answer! Sometimes we’re indignant at the effrontery that the Law has in telling us what we can or cannot do. Look at how often some folk, unhappy with one court’s ruling, appeal to a higher court in order to get their way.

Is that how we should live life?

Our Lord Jesus finds Himself in a land where there are two laws – the Roman Law and the Jewish Law – which are balanced on a knife edge. One false move could incite religious riots and the deaths of many! It is into this situation that Our Lord finds His ministry challenged by the Pharisees and Scribes who are out to destroy Him by forcing Him either to reject the Jewish Law and thus be guilty of blasphemy and apostasy, or to uphold the Jewish Law and thus rebel against the occupying power.

Our Lord set His agenda out very plainly. He has not come to abolish the Jewish Law[1], nor does He condone lawless rebellion. Rather, one must “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.”[2] In this, He demonstrates that it is the Will of God that we live in peace and harmony with each other. We need to abide by laws to keep community together.

But which laws?

There can be only one Law. Look at the two commandments the Lord gives us. We are to Love God first and we are to love our neighbours as much as ourselves[3]. The community of Christians can only be built upon the principles of the same unconditional love that God demonstrates Himself in all three Persons.

St Ignatius of Antioch advises us “And do ye, each and all, form yourselves into a chorus, that being harmonious in concord and taking the key note of God ye may in unison sing with one voice through Jesus Christ unto the Father, that He may both hear you and acknowledge you by your good deeds to be members of His Son. It is therefore profitable for you to be in blameless unity, that ye may also be partakers of God always.”[4]

St Ignatius stresses that we must be bound in unity, not all singing the same voice part but rather in harmony to produce beautiful music. How can beautiful music be achieved without a conductor – someone to keep unity? Who might that be?

St Cyprian maintains that Christian Unity can only come from God and be maintained by the bishop and that the bishops should set the example for unity: “this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided”[5]

So you see that living in such turbulent times, the early Christians prized unity in order to preserve Christ’s message of true love, and that this unity is to be found in the bishops of the Church. St Ignatius mentions in each of his letters that obedience to the Bishop keeps us under the rule of Christ, “For when ye are obedient to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, it is evident to me that ye are living not after men but after Jesus Christ, who died for us, that believing on His death ye might escape death.”[6]

Thus, we see from the earliest authorities that the standard of living for Christians is in obedience to the Bishop and the Bishops to each other. This standard of living is called, in the Greek, a canon and so we find that, as Christians, we owe our Bishop canonical obedience so that we may truly follow the teachings of Christ. St Benedict says in his Rule: “Our hearts and our bodies must, therefore, be ready to do battle under the biddings of holy obedience; and let us ask the Lord that He supply by the help of His grace what is impossible to us by nature.”[7]

Every priest and deacon at his ordination must swear canonical obedience to his bishop, “I, N, do swear that I will pay true and canonical obedience to you, the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the United Kingdom and your successors in all lawful and honest commands. So help me God.”[8]

This is all very well, but the Bishop is a fallible human being like we are, isn’t he? What is to stop him from over-exercising his authority?

We’ve already seen that the obedience must be canonical; it must come from the agreed standards of the Church. These Canons have their roots in Holy Scripture, the Church Fathers and the Seven Oecumenical councils and from these we have our standard of living. This is the famous Canon Law. While there is a lot of it, the underlying principle is that same commandment of Love that Christ has commanded us.  Obedience to the Bishops is restricted to the Canons of the Church and his authority is in “all things lawful and honest”. His commands must be in the spirit of the Canon Law[9]. For example, a bishop cannot demand that all his clergy grow beards, but he can command a priest to adjust his dress if it undermines his priestly authority. The Bishop is responsible for liturgy in churches in his diocese but has no authority to regulate anyone’s personal prayer life, save only to ensure that his priests say their daily office of prayer.
We tend to have a very negative view of law because we are always thinking of how it can be broken or sidestepped. This is, of course, a hazard of being a human being with free-will; we can freely choose not to obey the law. Perhaps we should learn to take a different view of Church Law and see it as a wonderful gift of God to us. After all, a Bishop is very much a servant[10] of his diocese. On his head lie all the concerns of every single member of his flock. He must be a good shepherd and remember the stern warning that Our Lord had for all those in authority, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”[11]

Once we realise the hard burden that our bishops bear on our behalf, then we should seek to ease that burden by being obedient to him that together that we may hear the words of Christ spoken among us by the diligence of our obedience to Him. If we do something wrong, and the Bishop has to have a quiet word, do we have the ability to see how much love is being shown to us? If not, how do we develop that ability?

[1] St Matthew v.17-18
[2] St Matthew xxii.21
[3] St Matthew xxii.37-39
[4] Letter of St Ignatius to the Ephesians IV.2
[5] St Cyprian De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, 4-5
[6] Trallians II.1
[7] Rule of St Benedict, Prologue
[8] Found in Ordination to the Diaconate
[9]John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas Joseph Green  New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, p346  Paulist Press
[10] St Matthew xx.27
[11] St Luke xvii.2

The Lie of Freedom

Are you really free?

The question is a bit disembodied, yet most of us in the West would say a resounding "yes!" These folk cherish their freedom and seek to ensure that everyone has that freedom. However, I believe that the question is incomplete. Indeed, anyone responding to the question, "are you free?" now needs to ask two questions before even beginning to answer. The questions are, "from what?" and "to do what?"

It's considering these two questions that we can really begin to see that perhaps we're not as free as we'd like to be. If we truly are beings with a non-physical mind then free-will is a distinct possibility. Given a choice between things we should be able to make that choice freely. Our minds become the non-physical cause of that choice. That's deep philosophy, though.

Yet, what are we not free to do? From what are we not free? This is where the Lie comes in, that freedom becomes a license to exercise the will in each and every respect. The Lie tells us that, if we can imagine it, it not only can be done but it is an affront to our freedom not to do it. It is often said that our fathers fought and died to give us the vote, and to ensure that we have that right in a free democracy. It's false. These men and women died to allow us the right to choose to vote, or not. Of course, in a democracy, voting is a duty. If, however, we are not in a true democracy, then our vote can do little. In a false democracy, voting could even be the endorsement of something which is morally suspect. Exercising the choice not to vote may actually be morally preferable.

Look carefully at Democracy, and we see that the power and freedom of the people are necessarily restricted. That's as it should be, and brings up the main point. Our freedom is not about the capacity to do whatever we want. We live with others of equal humanity to ourselves and with wills that are no less crying out for expression and exercise. We cannot be free to do whatever we want, and a society that bases the whole notion of freedom on that basis cannot remain functional.

It is an illusion that we are free even to define ourselves. God created each of us in His own image according to His will. Even the Creator has limited His freedom to allow us to be what He created - to be what we are! This involves a lifetime of wrestling with others, ourselves, and even with God as we try to discover our existence in Him.

One thing we cannot do is to define ourselves to be what we want us to be. This is very much like trying to put ourselves into a Procrustean bed of our own making. We see what we want to be, and define ourselves to fit it. Appearances, of course, are frequently deceptive. We cannot choose to be a cat. Cats don't have human brains and so we have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of what it's like for a human to be a cat. One might as well think of the square trying to be circular. The square and the circle share the same topology  (if you travel around their edges far enough, you end up back where you started) but they do not have the same geometry  (corners!).

Our freedom as human beings extends only to what we are and how that fits in with the people around us. If we hold onto the maxim "do what thou wilt" then we find ourselves already in Hell. If we see our freedom as something that exists in our limitations, then we can better appreciate the need to allow others the freedom to be themselves so that we can be ourselves.

When we exercise our freedom, we don't try to become something we're not. We accept what we have and seek to find ways of enjoying what we have. The more a boy tries to "act tough" to hide the pain he's really on, the less chance he will have of confronting that pain in himself and dealing with it. The pain is there for a reason. It is not to be hidden, but taken seriously.

The more humanity tries to be free from itself the more it will become frenzied, confused, and self-destructive. We see this already with individuals tearing themselves apart, or using the Law to tear society apart. The only way to find true peace is to turn back to the One that Created humanity in the first place. Our Redemption is in the hands of a human being, that of Christ Himself. The only way to become truly free is to become one with Him.

Are you free? From what? To do what?

Perhaps we'd be better off asking, "are you really you, yet?"

Monday, April 11, 2016

Magnificat, Magnifican't or Magnificant?

Bishop Damien Mead had a bit of a hard task at our Synod on Saturday. His sermon is usually his charge for the Diocese, but this year he also had to cope with the fact that it was the Mass of Our Lady in Eastertide AND that he was to make Fr Roger Bell a Deacon. A tall order to preach! Did we get three sermons then? Well, yes we did but perhaps not in the way you'd think. He reflected on the Magnificat that wonderful song of Mary and drew from that the unifying theme of service. Our Lady served God by bearing Him patiently in the womb and then by being His Mother actively and responsibly.

Fr Bell as a Deacon has to epitomise that but, as the Bishop pointed out, every Bishop and Priest is a Deacon too. We are to serve the Laity because they must serve too.

I hope this summarises adequately the barest gist of what was said.

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday. I didn't have chance to prepare a sermon due to the fact that I have my own act of service to do. I felt guilty about that because I seem to fall between stools at the moment with Church, Family, and Work all pulling me in subtly different directions. The temptation there is to believe that, because one can't do anything well or as fully as one would like,  that there would be no point in starting it. Sometimes we see the obstacles as an overpowering impediment to doing any good. Our Magnificat becomes a Magnifican't.

Obstacles are funny things though. They get in our way, by definition, but consider where our attention goes when faced with an obstacle : we always consider the space around the obstacle, the negative space. Very seldom do we look at the obstacle as a thing in itself.

If obstacles get put in our way, often we blame God that they are there. We blame Him for what we believe to be a deliberate demonstration by God that He is in charge and seeks to prevent us from moving forward. That sounds like celestial bicep flexing. Yet, we forget about Our Lord throwing the Money Changers out of the temple precisely because they are an obstacle to people coming to God.

God does not necessarily put obstacles in our way to show that He is in charge and to force us to do His will. One might think of Jonah running away from admonishing the Ninevites and changing his mind after being swallowed by the whale. He was running away from service. Yet often we believe ourselves to be serving God actively when the obstacle comes in. That may be true yet our way cannot be as easy as that. The obstacle may be deliberately and directly  imposed by God, or it may be imposed indifferently by circumstances, or it may be imposed by agents inimical to God's love. There are always thorns on life that need to be uprooted.

However, the diligent soul (oh how I wish I were diligent! ) will stop and look at that object carefully, objectively, and prayerfully with God on side. Whether or not that the obstacle is directly willed by God does not stop it from being God's creation. There is good there that needs to be seen.

For the Anglican Catholic Church, there are many obstacles without and within. In the U.K, we are tiny and often seem to be pitted against the Established Church. That's an unfortunate way of looking at things. The ACC is not the CofE, as Bishop Damien points out. We may continue in the orders and liturgy once promoted and beloved by the Established Church, but we are markedly different with our own identity as English Catholics. In some sense, we are still searching for that identity but this is true for us all.

The one who is truly against us is the Devil, and his presence needs to be recognised and shunned. He is not a human being, nor will he be, I  suspect. He would like that lie to continue so that we continue to try to identify fallible fallen human beings with Evil and thus cause more hatred and misery through human hands. We must remember that pure Evil is an absence of Good. Human beings always possess some good in them and in their will. While we are fallen, we can still choose to do good things as well as bad.

When we meet our obstacles, we must meet them with God. We must see God's hand in them and use the to help us grow. Our will is not the will of God, though we Christians do want to do His will. That is why we pray the Lord's prayer daily. Our way forward is not the way we think. Advertising is not the same thing as Evangelism. Preaching is not the same thing as Teaching, and Prophecy is not Foretelling. If we think too simply, the the obstacles we face will help put us back on track.

Yes we wrestle, and we can even wrestle with God Himself. We won't win in the simplistic view of competition, but we will won much when we see the wrestling for what it is, namely rebirth, redemption, transformation, repentance,  justification, and our final sanctification. It is in this struggle to serve God and others that we can say with Our Lady, "Our souls do magnify the Lord". In Latin, that's "Magnificant animae nostrae Dominum"!

So, yes, M'Lud, you can preach three sermons at once!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Devotion at Benediction: April 2016

At this time, the disciples gazed upon their Risen Lord in joy and wonder as the conventions of Nature are overturned and the dead receives life again. We too gaze upon the same Risen Lord under the form of the Blessed Sacrament.

In this we are permitted to gaze with the disciples, sharing their fellowship of joy. This is why we have been given this sacrament that we might become one body across Time and Space. We shall die, but Christ on whom we gaze will bring us His life. Then we will not see Him in Sacraments for Sacraments will cease. Then we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He really is.

Therefore we before Him bending...