Sunday, November 12, 2017

What rule is this?

Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

Would you expect the Chief Executive Officer of a multinational company to be concerned with what one of their employees owes to another?

You might expect the boss of your bank to have some concern about any mismanagement of personal funds of their staff, but is it really any of their business?

Surely, we would only expect them to get involved if there were some massive problem, otherwise they’d leave it to their middle management to sort out.

What does it say about a ruler who worries about the personal finances of their subjects?

[PAUSE]

First of all, and perhaps most obviously, the ruler Our Lord Jesus speaks of wants his example to be practised by his servants. The ruler forgives, so he expects his servants to forgive. Yet this isn’t just forgiveness of a little thing, this is major forgiveness! The ruler forgives the first servant an insurmountable debt with rivals the Gross Domestic Product of a small country. If he really does expect his subjects to be like him, then they must be prepared to be just as extravagant as their ruler.

But there is more about this ruler.

This is a ruler who listens to his staff. It is those who are scandalised by their colleague’s behaviour towards another who complain to their boss. This isn’t some petty tale-telling: the actions of this servant have hurt the community badly, and his fellows clearly feel this hurt keenly. But notice that they trust their ruler to do something about it. This ruler has their respect and they clearly look to him.

This ruler is also not afraid to punish but what does he punish? Disobedience? Or the hurt done to others? His people cry to him for justice, and that is what he gives. The hurt that this unforgiving servant has done to his community has been treated accordingly despite the fact that this man can never pay back the debt he owes. Isn’t that too severe? Is there to be no further forgiveness for this man?

[PAUSE]

In typical fashion, the Lord Jesus leaves so many questions unanswered. His message is clear, God is this ruler and He expects His subjects to be like Him. It is those who refuse to be like Him that He is compelled to punish for the sake of the others who are hurt by the actions of those who reject God. We are to forgive as often as is necessary in order for us to be reconciled with our brother if we expect to be reconciled with God.

So why does the ruler not forgive the unforgiving servant one last time? Has this servant sinned for the four-hundredth and ninety-first time?

What we have not been told is whether there is any further repentance by this man – a recognition that, in being unforgiving, he has damaged his relationship with his fellow servants and his ruler. Until we are told this, there can be no reconciliation. His fellows can’t be given the opportunity to forgive, and neither can the ruler himself.

[PAUSE]

Jesus speaks of a ruler who listens, forgives yet administers justice, and who demands his servants be like him for no other reason than their good. If this ruler is an image of God Our Father, then we see how much our sins hurt the whole of creation and yet, there is always a way back in God if we make serious steps to take it.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Ecological Sainthood

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints

It’s a bit of a surprise why we don’t often hear much from the Church on ecological matters. Should we be praying for animals? Should we be more involved with preserving God’s Creation?

Some people might say, “It is the business of the Church to care for souls, not to prop up Creation which is run by God for His pleasure.” There are others that say, “human beings are just animals. Why bother praying in the first place? We evolved from animals and we will die like animals.”

Of course, the Church believes that human beings are not animals. Human beings have a rational soul. We are able to question, do philosophy, and build civilisations. We are also able to sin.

Really, it is sin that marks us out from the animals in God’s Creation. We are able to reject the one who created us. Every sin which we commit tears into the fabric of Creation. Stephen Fry might accuse God of creating the parasite which infests little children and thus deny His Goodness. Yet what of the Western business that has changed the climate and economy and thus has forced little children to live in areas in which they can be infested with parasites. It is not God who is to blame for the misery in the world – it is human sin.

It only takes one fracture in a crystal to spread and break it. It only takes one sin in Creation to bring a fracture into our being in which Evil dwells. All sin cascades through Time from that first sin.

The only remedy for this is Sainthood.

[PAUSE]

We know that we are simultaneously saints and not-saints. St Paul will call us saints because he fully expects us to fulfil our destiny in becoming these citizens of Heaven, able to behold God in His glory and able to rejoice for all Eternity with Him. Yet, we cannot do so now. We can only see glimpses of God in snippets and never see Him face-to-face unless we are blest enough to behold Our Lord Jesus Christ, for to see Him is to see the Father.

We choose sainthood but know that this involves suffering as our lives are broken apart and remade in order to be transformed in the likeness of God. We can only achieve that state of blessedness by realising how poor we are in our spiritual life and accepting that poverty which distances us from the ownership of things. We must weep for our sins and recognise the pain that they cause others. We recognise the sham that is earthly power, knowing only the rule of Christ the King. The driving force of our transformation has to be our single-minded desire for God’s righteousness and yet we have to remember that this desire of ours cannot be fulfilled unless we are prepared to hold close to us even those who do us the greatest wrong, reconciling even those who a diametrically opposite.

Are you daunted by this task?

[PAUSE]

It is only those who do not feel daunted and even discouraged by this who don’t really understand the task that we have in front of us. It is frightening and we know we can’t do this of ourselves. This is where sainthood has its greatest trick – one that confounds the Devil at source.

[PAUSE]

We do not acquire sainthood by our own efforts. True holiness comes from God Himself. We have to honour this by doing what we can, recognising that, of ourselves this is not enough, but trust in God to supply whatever is lacking and correct whatever is amiss. The greater our Love for God, the more we will love Him. Like a mustardseed, that faith will grow but only if we let it go. It is through turning to God that our sins are forgiven and our lives’ course altered.

Yet, the power of Sainthood is immense.

In his Revelation, St John sees four angels with the power to hurt the earth with the results of human sin. Yet, he also sees a fifth angel who says, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” It is only when our sainthood is sealed in us that the old creation passes away and the New Creation comes. While we are saints in progress, we are bringing to birth the New Creation as God works with us and within us to transform us into that which is Holy.

It is our respect for God which means that we use our sainthood to sanctify this world. By caring for His creation, His animals and His people, we make the presence of God deeper so that this fractured reality passes away simply by being healed in God.

Of course we should pray for humans, but we should also pray for animals and raise them up as God’s good creation, and seek their welfare and His glory in their being. When we see Creation perfected, then we will see God within it and within ourselves. Then we shall be like Him, indeed.



Friday, November 03, 2017

Why I am Orthodox but not Orthodox

Oh dear. We all know that there are certain words that fly around whose meaning is disputed: Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox. Is "Anglican" a noun or an adjective? Does "Catholic" mean in communion with the venerable Bishop of Rome? Does "Orthodox" mean that we are in communion with one of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, or Antioch?

Properly speaking, "Catholic" and "Orthodox" should be two sides of the same coin. Both point to fidelity to the faith once delivered to the saints. In order to be Catholic, i.e. holding the faith of the whole Church, one is keeping "correct teaching" i.e. ortho doxia. Thus, as an Anglican Catholic, I must necessarily be Anglican Orthodox. Of course, there is already an Anglican Orthodox Church which is rather a different kettle of fish from the Anglican Catholic Church and actually pre-dates it as an institution by more than a decade. There is also an Orthodox Anglican Church which, I wonder, ought to be different, and yet seems to have very similar sets of beliefs. I'm a little confused as to why these and UECNA have not made a similar concordat as ours as their raisons d'ĂȘtre seems to be almost identical. Perhaps, God-willing, this is already in progress and will imminently happen. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the two words, "catholic" and "orthodox", if not actually synonyms, cannot be separated. I don't think I see anyone trying to do this, though.

My small readership will notice that I might appear, at times, to be more like a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church than an Anglican. Fr Chadwick says that I appear more "Roman" than he, while many others will say that I'm not a true Anglican. Well, so what? What does it matter who I am? Surely, I have to empty myself of everything in order to follow Christ truly, and that includes my identity. I must decrease so that He can increase.

The trouble is that, as a priest, who I am matters to those who need me. My existence as a priest is that I present to them the image that I bear as a result of my ordination. Many a time, all that I can think of is that I'm not presenting that image - that ikon - very well. In this time of lying fallow waiting for the time for me to grow into that image again, my vocation nags and nags and nags because I must be a priest for the good of others, their salvation, their encounter with God, and their reception of His grace that happens at the hands of every single priest who has ever lived, because there is only one priesthood, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The troll will say to me, "you're overestimating your importance." No. I may be the instrument of God's sacraments, but all I can ever be conscious of are my great failures to represent Him clearly.

But who I am does matter to people. The Roman Catholic will ask me, "are you Catholic?" and when I explain that I am, just not a Roman one, they will refuse the sacraments from my hands. Likewise, the Orthodox Christian will ask me whether I am Orthodox, and I will say that I am but one who has inherited his orthodoxy through the Church in England. Of course, the Orthodox Christian may have some inkling that I am not an Eastern Orthodox priest because I can't stand growing a beard.

It's actually harder for me to explain why I am not Eastern Orthodox because, unlike Roman Catholicism, I can't simply say that I am not in communion with the Pope. As it stands, like the CofE, I'm not in communion with any of the patriarchs. This is very, very sad, but it does not stop me from being part of the Church. You are probably fed up of my (over)use of the word "ikon" and my affirmation of not being very Augustinian, rejecting the filioque, and leaning more towards a doctrine of theosis that is still very present in Anglican thought.

However, I do appear to be very close to being Orthodox in belief. Like my communion, I affirm Orthodox Christianity. While the venerable bishop, Lancelot Andrews (who certainly expressed a penchant for the doctrine of theosis) may say:
One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.
 we go further and affirm ten centuries and seven oecumenical councils. It is no wonder that the Anglican Catholic faith should be in many ways very similar to Eastern Orthodox belief.

In that sense, if I am in schism with the Eastern Church, then that schism is not a schism of heresy, but of history. Yet, for me to be recognised as being Orthodox by the East, I must convert and deny what I have received from my history. That I cannot do. If I hold the same belief as the Eastern Church, then I need not convert - I am already there.

While the ACC may be criticised by Eastern Christians by being the product of division, it has to be said that the Eastern Church is not very united either. For example, what of the status of the Patriarch of Moscow? I recently unfriended an Eastern Priest who enjoyed throwing the word "schismatic" around like breadcrumbs - despite the fact that both he and I are very similar in our belief in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Churches which hold the same beliefs do need to reach out to each other, but we need to do so honestly and not assuming superiority or pedigree - that's rather against the gospel. Where there is true heresy, well that heresy must be removed before talks on unification can be arranged. However, the nature of that heresy must be discussed honestly as well.

As a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, I am as Orthodox as I am Catholic. You are free to reject the sacraments from my hands, but I believe that if you do, then you reject the grace of God. You need to be very sure, then, that you're right!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

All Souls Dies Irae


Or, if you prefer...





Day of wrath and doom impending.
David's word with Sibyl's blending!
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
O, what fear man's bosom rendeth
When from heav'n the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded;
Thence shall judgments be awarded.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing undisclos'd remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity then befriend us!
Think, kind Jesu! my salvation
Caused thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and weary thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suff'ring bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution
Grant thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning:
Spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from night undying.
With thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To thy right hand do thou guide me.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doom'd to shame and woe unbounded,
Call me, with thy Saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart's submission;
See, like ashes my contrition!
Help me in my last condition!
Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgement must prepare him:
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.
(translated by W.J.Irons)
It may seem unpalatable to have this as the Sequence for a Requiem Mass. Some composers. like Verdi, have used it with operatic relish. Others, like Fauré, have found it sufficiently discordant with the the idea of committing a soul to its eternal rest that they have omitted it. I remember, when writing a setting for the Requiem Mass, facing the same question. How could I, in all conscience and remembering all those for whom I was writing it, write a setting of a Hymn about the Day of Judgement with all its visions of terror and fear.

Then I read it.

It's about the reality of Death and does not pull punches because Death does not pull punches. Barring the direct intervention of God, each one of us is going to die and that is a subject of fear and trembling. It is precisely this fear that we have that this hymn seeks to address. We sing it together in solidarity with everyone who ever lived and thus ever died. We don't sing this hymn for ourselves but for those who are dying and for those who are suffering because of the death if a loved one. We pour out our human condition, recognising our feebleness and frailty. We acknowledge that our medicine, with all its advances and innovations, merely staves off the inevitable. It's frightening, so very frightening!

And this is the beauty of this Hymn. In amongst all the fear, there is this glorious hope of someone even greater than death itself  - the Rex tremendae majestatis. If this King is greater than Death how much more fear-inducing is He? We see, in this Hymn, Christ come to be our judge and that gives us a new reason to fear. 

For, every action we have performed, every word we have said, every thought that we have entertained, all will be judged by the Great Judge in whom is perfect Justice and perfect Righteousness. By His sheer presence, the infection of Evil will be cast away, all hurts healed, all injustices righted, all tears wiped away. Those who refuse to repent of sin must depart from God, those who long for true repentance will have it at His hand together with the promise of complete transformation and perfection through His Humanity so that we can partake of His Divinity. In the judgement of God, all that our hearts long for will be supplied in Him.

In singing this Hymn together, we comfort each other with this hope that our sinful selves will be restored by His great love. This is a frightening hymn, but it is one worth singing for those who have departed this life, for their benefit, for their continued existence in the "intermediate state" and for their timeless progression to sainthood. We must never, ever despair of the mercy of God.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

All Saints 2017: looking back through the window.



What do we honestly expect to see when we see the saints?

Our ikons display women and long-bearded men with solemn expressions on their faces wrapped in robes with various designs and devices upon them belying their unique holiness in God. Why are they so solemn? Should not there be joy upon their faces?

My ikon of Christos Pantocrator also has this solemn expression. It is a look of concern, almost of worry. If we recognise this expression, then we realise why Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints are depicted with this expression. They are worried about our salvation. The saints are perfected in the love of God: they therefore bear the same concern for our welfare as God Himself as they partake of His divine nature. We use ikons to see into Heaven, and yet it is as if the citizens of Heaven from the Great King downwards use those ikons to peer through into our world of imperfection and flux, longing for us to be with them. What they see is us as we are - imperfect, striving for repentance, falling and writhing in the agony of our sins, or numbed to the pain of our imperfections by the distractions of this life.

In the West, our saints are depicted with statues, bearing emblems of their peculiar conversation in this life. These might be a small cathedral held in their hands to depict their efforts to build the Church, a pallium for their archbishopric, or the instruments of their martyrdom, even their own skin! Do these engage us in the same way as the ikon, or are they merely symbolic - used to tell tales of wonder, love and praise to the illiterate?

For an ikon to work, we need to set time aside to study it, and to look through the created matter to see the light of God. Since saints are already supposed to be ikons of God, an ikon of a saint is essentially an ikon of an ikon. This might seem to diminish the presence of God, yet the saints we celebrate today are those perfected in their purity. Just as a light shines perfectly through a pure crystal, so the Light Uncreate beams perfectly through the countenances of those whom God has washed, justified, sanctified and glorified in the name of the Lord Jesus. To worship an ikon would be like worshipping the mirror itself. It is the Light that pours out of the ikon that we worship because it is the True Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Sometimes, though, it seems to me that, occasionally, the lips of Our Lord in my ikon seem to smile faintly as if to encourage me in remembering that, as a creation of God I cannot be all bad, no matter how far I fall. The ikon gives us this encouragement by its very existence: if there are so many people who, despite being in Eternity (in fact precisely because they are in Eternity), are rooting for us right now then it demonstrates that we cannot be alone in our troubles and sadness.

This means that we can say our Litanies of the Saints with impunity knowing that prayers will indeed be said for us in our state to the end that we may eventually attain the ranks of these perfected humans. And then, we shall pray in turn for those whom we shall see as we gaze back through the window into this fallen world.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lowering the Hierarchy


Sermon for the feast of Christ the King

You can probably hear the confusion raging in Pontius Pilate’s head. What sort of a king is not defended from captivity by his subjects? And yet, the figure before him seems to be claiming to be a sort of king. He talks of His kingdom, but it is a strange kingdom that is not of this world, that seems to be a kingdom of the Jews but this man will not say so emphatically.

Whatever this kingdom is, it is not a threat to the Roman Empire with its structure and hierarchy so Pilate cannot see this man as being the danger that these Jewish Leaders claim.

What he cannot foresee are the barbarian hoardes at the gates of an embattled Rome while the people claiming to be ruled by this king standing in front of him thrive and grow in number and outlast the Imperial might of Rome.

Just what sort of king is this? What sort of kingdom is this?

[PAUSE]

When we look at systems of kings and politics, we see this pre-occupation with power. There always seems to be some sort of hierarchy. Yet the word “hierarchy” arises originally from the Church and seems to revolve around ranking people according to some degree of status. Is it then the Church that is to blame for the patterns of monarchy that we see around us?

In many ways this is natural. You need the person who understands our social needs and issues best to lead the way in meeting them. You need that person to be advised by the best advisors who understand the situation. Those advisors too need to be advised, and so on. What we tend to see though, is the leadership having power over us. We trust our leadership to “know best” but when they decide what the word “best” means, then we do have a problem. Too many political leaders have decided that what is best for their subjects is what they, the leaders, desire most for themselves.

A king makes decisions for others to follow. However, what reason do we have to believe that those decisions are best for his subjects?

Either we have to trust the king, or that king has to have some strong power over us.

[PAUSE]

We have only to look in the history books to see kingdoms based on power over people. Even the Church has wielded political power over people by declaring God’s will even when it is not clear that it is God's will. The Church has certainly got this right at times, such as its support for those in poor and need, and wrongly, in burning people at the stake to save their souls. How can this be right? How can we honestly say that we love someone by burning them to death?

What makes the Church unique is that she is accountable to a much higher power. The Reformation happens precisely because of a misuse of God’s authority to exercise political power. The Christian politics is not based on power, but on Love and Trust. We have the Bible, and we have Tradition, and we have Reason which is based on them both and eventually becomes Tradition. These regulate even the Church rulers.

What makes the Kingdom of Jesus different is that it is built on trust and love, first for God and then for everyone else who can be in the Kingdom. The more we cultivate these in our lives, the more we become fit for the Kingdom of God. It’s a kingdom in which the leaders are no less flawed than anyone else, are no less accountable than anyone else, and have no more privilege than anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is the leaders of the Church who are held to much greater account than anyone else, and for whom the burden of service is greater. This is all because, the King Himself chose to lead by example and to give Himself rather than take from others.

This is no earthly kingdom. This is a kingdom fit for Eternity. Only those who submit to the demands of True Love will find that Kingdom worth submitting to.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Misunderstanding Prejudice

One thing that I notice from such bodies as the Progressive Christian Network and Modern Church is their willingness to denounce Church Doctrines on Ordination and Marriage, and the Immorality of Extramarital Sex as sexist, homophobic, misogynist, transphobic and discriminatory. It occurs to me that those who hold to Church Doctrine (whom, for the sake of argument, we shall call Traditional Christians) are not understanding the language of Progressive Christians (whom, for the sake of argument, we shall allow their preferred epithet). To this end, I think we need to investigate each of the terms as the Progressive element would want us to understand them.

Let's understand a few definitions:

Homophobia: dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people.

Misogyny: dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Sexism
: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

A key word here, is the word prejudice. How do Progressives understand that?

Prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Yet we have to be careful here, what is meant by the noun "homosexual"?

Homosexual (noun): a person who is sexually attracted to people of their own sex.

According to the Progressive Christian Network and Modern Church, Traditional Christian belief is based on either dislike of women and homosexuals, and/or on prejudice against them. 

This is the claim. In order to prove the claim, they have to show that Traditional Christianity either dislikes women or homosexuals or have a preconceived opinion about them that is not based on reason or actual experience.

What evidence do they give to support their claim? Answer: four old chestnuts.

1) Traditional Christian belief states that women cannot be ordained.
2) Traditional Christian belief states that homosexual sexual activity is a sin.
3) Traditional Christian belief states that marriage is between a man and a woman.
4) Traditional Christian belief states that men and women cannot change their sex.

Apparently, (1) displays a dislike of, or a prejudice against women and, by being discrimination against women because of their sex, Traditional Christian belief is both sexist and misogynist. If we replace in (1) the word "woman" with the word "black", Traditional Christian belief would be racist.

Apparently, (2) displays a dislike of, or a prejudice against homosexuals and is therefore homophobic.

Apparently, (3) displays an unjust prejudice against homosexuals, and is therefore discriminatory.

Apparently, (4) displays a dislike of, or a prejudice against transgender/transsexual people, and is therefore transphobic.

First, let us just tackle the minor issue of replacing "women" with "black". This really is a false analogy because it assumes that one social "minority" (to use WATCH's definition of the term) is the same as another. This surely is not valid because in human terms, race is not the same as sex: a community of a single race can grow naturally; a community of a single sex will naturally die. While both do indeed suffer prejudice, that prejudice is not the same, though its effects are truly horrible. Nonetheless, any moral reasoning about race cannot be the same as moral reasoning about sex because it assumes that all social "minorities" are equivalent: they are not and to say so displays a utilitarian ignorance of their peculiar struggles and their peculiar martyrs.

Secondly, all of these accusations require the demonstration of prejudice and that involves demonstrating that Traditional Christian belief is a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience.

First of all, on what is Traditional Christianity based? It's based on a properly basic belief which means that it is a reasonable position to hold without any further requirement of proof. There are lots of properly basic beliefs such as the belief that the person you are talking to really has a mind in the same way you do. If belief in God is properly basic, then reason dictates His revelation of Himself to us. Christianity is the belief that the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth is this revelation, and it is backed up by eyewitness testimony - this testimony can be found in the Gospels. If Christians belief what this Jesus of Nazareth says, then we have to hold fast to the morality defined by God and attested to in the Bible and in the Church.

Of course, whether or not people share this belief isn't the issue. It's whether Tradition Christian morality is based on reason from properly basic premises: it is. Our morality is therefore based on God and not upon the determination of a majority viewpoint.

We know that majority viewpoint is insufficient for determining morals given that there have been instances of majorities performing an ethnic cleansing of minorities, even in the Twentieth Centuries. Morality transcends number.

We also know that there are objective moral values and duties and these are evidence for God. Is there ever a situation in which the torture of a child is morally acceptable? Jonathan Clatworthy seems to suggest that there is.

Traditional Christian belief has always defended its position on the ordination of women, the immorality of extramarital sex, the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage and the immutability of a person's sex based upon what it has received from the revelations from God in Scripture, Tradition and Reason. However, these revelations are called into question by those from without the system, or those who believe that it is only fair to reason from without the system. What needs to be shown here is whether the morals of the current society are indeed superior to Traditional Christianity. On what basis is this morality superior?

Of course, if Traditional Christian belief is true, and I believe it to be, then it must necessarily be superior to all other moral systems because it is based on the being of God Himself. In believing in God, it would be a denial of that belief for me to suppose that another moral system is better than the one that I have received from Him.

Traditional Christian belief is formed from reason from the actual experience of the Church beginning with the Apostles and the Prophets and the properly basic belief in God. To say that this amounts to prejudice is an indictment of the moral systems that are based otherwise. If Traditional Christian belief is prejudicial, then so is the secular belief and indeed any other moral system. It seems quite reasonable, then, that the Traditional Church, in holding to a timeless morality (i.e. based on the existence of God and thus immutably revealed in Scripture, Tradition and Reason) is as innocent of the charges of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination as the morality that would condemn it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Trolleys and Abortion

I came across this little problem set, apparently some time ago, by the author Patrick S Tomlinson who claims that he has  knock-down argument for the doctrine that life begins at conception.

Let us just present what he says:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I've been asking for ten years now of the "Life begins at Conception" crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly.
It's a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. Here it is.

You're in a fertility clinic. Why isn't important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help.

They're in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled "1000 Viable Human Embryos." The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. 
Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no "C." "C" means you all die. 
In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will.
They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is "A." A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically.
You can see where this has come from, because it is very similar to the challenge to the Utilitarian  viewpoint with the trolley problem.
There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person tied up on the side track. You have two options: 
Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. 
Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice?
This is practically equivalent to the problem:
As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?
Yet clearly the systems are morally different. The first does not involve murder, the second does.
We recall that we do have St Thomas Aquinas and his principle of double effect: if an action has bad consequences inseparable from the desired good, it can obly be morally justified if
1) the nature of the act is itself good, or at least morally neutral;
2) the agent intends the good effect and does not intend the bad effect either as a means to the good or as an end in itself;
3) the good effect outweighs the bad effect in circumstances sufficiently grave to justify causing the bad effect and the agent exercises due diligence to minimize the harm.
Thus we see that in the first case, pulling the lever is morally justified: the nature of pulling a lever is morally neutral; one intends to save five lives and does not intend to end one other; five lives are saved at the cost of one. The second case is not morally justified: the act of killing an innocent man is murder.

Okay, so much for trolleys, what about the abortion problem? In saving either the child or the embryos, we are satisfying both 1) and 2) of the double effect, the question is really about the third. Which is better to save, one child or a thousand viable embryos?

The circumstances that we are given declare that we are under pressure of time (smoke inhalation, et c), so it is better to save the one who can definitely breathe and is thus least equipped to deal with the circumstances. Human embryos do not breathe, and thus it makes sense to save the child and entrust the embryos to God for preservation from the fire.

Notice, that just because embryos are not yet capable of breathing does not stop them from being human embryos. Those just about to be born do not breathe, save through their mothers. Of course, these embryos have been deprived of their natural environment in which they can continue their growth as human being do.

Of course, Mr Tomlinson wants us to save the child, and he wants us to save the child because he wants us to admit that an embryo is not really a human being. If one reads his situation carefully, we can see a lot of rhetoric being bandied about. It is Mr Tomlinson who says that there IS a right answer. Is there? How does he know it's right? He declares that this destroys our argument, but it doesn't. In fact it is his argument that is illogical. Consider what he says.

1) You can save a child or a thousand embryos.
2) You save the child.
3) Therefore you do not believe that embryos are human beings.

This only works with the assumption that you save one because you believe the other(s) is/are not human. That's not true at all! Replace the embryos with, say, two elderly people in wheelchairs with the condition that it is just as easy to save them as it is the child, but again you can either save the child or the elderly. Again, if one chooses the child, does that diminish the humanity of the elderly people? For a pro-lifer, as indeed anyone else, the problem is still the same. Tomlinson's argument does not follow.

But he demands an answer, and declares it a triumph when a pro-life person, such as myself, struggles to answer. Of course we struggle to answer: this is about people's lives! Unless we have to do it, then we would rather not think of these questions because we worry about how we can cope with the loss of people's lives. It is Tomlinson who, by demanding an answer, is diminishing the humanity of all the people involved.

So my answer is that I would save the child, but it is not because I believe that the embryos are not human. I would save the child, and then weep bitterly for the thousand people I could not save, imploring God for their souls and for the possibility of their safety. How's that for an answer, Mr Tomlinson?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Thank God for Continental Priests!

I seem to have become part of something larger in my discussion on the Book of Common Prayer. Two brother priests have also reflected on their relationship with the BCP, both Anglican Catholic, but both immersed in different cultures, living on the Continent.

Fr Wassen, with his Eastern Orthodox origins has not had the need to use the Prayer Book itself but rejoices in what the Prayer Book draws out in Missal and Breviary. He disagrees with me about the Benedictine nature of the BCP. Being a Benedictine Oblate myself, I personally find much within the BCP that is Benedictine.

There is the intention and desire for all Psalms to be read as part of our duty to song to God. It seems we can now only manage to do in a month that which our fathers did in a week - I think St Benedict would smile at that. That the Cathedral Offices seem to be a product of Monastic Offices (owing to the close association between cathedral and cloister) seems to be for me, the obvious place where Archbishop Cranmer obtained the material to make this combination of offices. It seems to me to be precisely the same spirituality that we find with St Bede the Venerable.

However, I must confess to having none of the learning that either Fr Wassen nor Fr Chadwick have. I read for my orders and only have the theological training of a CofE Reader, not the great seminary education of many of my brothers. Perhaps I am wrong to see the Benedictine influence in the Book of Common Prayer practically and experientially. But then, I am not the only one to see this influence - it does seem to be widely attested to. This is why I find such happy disagreement so fulfilling. I do learn much, especially since we know that we're all on the same side and have nothing to prove to each other.

Fr Chadwick agrees with me about the need to conform to the Book of Common Prayer without being forced to use it. Again, my ignorance is shocking, especially when it comes to the use of the Sarum Practice. I am of course aware of how the BCP is rooted in Sarum usage: many of the collects are therefrom as well as various liturgical forms. I ought therefore to look more closely at it as, I think its fair to say, I do agree that the Sarum Rite ought to be examined in more detail and adopted more widespread rather than fall into disuse. In many ways, Fr Anthony's description of me being "Roman" is very correct - the old Anglican Papalist is not dead yet - also, my ancestry probably owes more to Normandy than Saxony. However, the Sarum Rite does somewhat uniquely represent a continuity along the fault line of the Reformation. The Gregorian Rite does too and, for me, seems to be present before developing into the Salisbury Usage. Given that my Monastic Community are in extremis in Salisbury, there is another reason for me to check it out with a view to its preservation.

Fr Anthony responds to a comment by Presiding Bishop Robinson of the UECNA, an Old-High Church Protestant who says,
One of the problems one encounters as a Continuing Anglican is that if one actually takes the English Reformation at its word one gets slammed from both directions. The advanced (you could also refer to them as revisionist) sort of Anglo-Catholic generally wants nothing to do with the Articles of Religion or the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which, by the way, is rather at odds with the “Prayer Book Catholic” tradition with which I grew up. On the other hand, the Anglo-Calvinists often try to hammer the 16th century English Reformation into a seventeenth century mould. Neither endeavour is particular successful.
I disagree strongly that, as an Anglican Catholic, I am in any way being "revisionist". History is history, and it seems obvious that the Reformation wasn't a completely Protestant one, but rather the term acquired its meaning even with those whose views were Henrician Catholic so as to distance themselves from Roman Catholicism. One has to ask oneself, "where did the Anglo-Catholics come from?" Yes, there are those who have sought to capitulate to Rome, thereby denying the fullness of their Anglican Catholicism, but that has not been the point. The BCP began somewhere and does not mark the beginning of Anglicanism, so restricting oneself to that view produces a narrow vision of what Anglicanism is.

I certainly do not understand what Bishop Robinson means by "Neither endeavour is particularly successful." The Anglican Catholic Church still exists, is not Roman, and certainly not Protestant in the Continental sense of the word. We are as Protestant as the Eastern Orthodox Churches are, not that many of them would be prepared to admit that! I do agree with a certain Roman Catholic who said that we are called to be faithful rather than successful. I do not see starting with the BCP and using it as a foundation as being an instrument of unity, given that it has not been unifying in its theology, but rather holding different theologies together. I find the Affirmation of St Louis far more of a place to start one's enquiry of "What is Orthodox Anglicanism?" because that narrows the scope to take out the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Calvinism. Once you take the Affirmation of St Louis out of the Continuing Anglican movement, then you become more revisionist than any Anglo-Catholic might be said to be.

It is my hope that I might become a good student of my confraternity in our quest for God, His Righteousness, His Mercy and His Love.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

How on Earth did we get here?

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

You leave the house at the usual time as you go off to your usual haunt. It is as you get there that you suddenly find that you have no recollection of actually getting there. There seems to be a gap in your memory of crossing all those roads, walking down all those streets, turning at all those junctions. You just don’t remember. It is as if you have just appeared.

The route is that familiar. Heavens! Did you look both ways before crossing that busy road? Did you even remember to shut the door behind you? Of course, nagging doubts could come in here, or you can perhaps suspend them comforted by the fact that you’d have noticed things out of the ordinary.

Yet, isn’t it a bit frightening to think that your last journey has happened without any thought from you? Is this how we are going to live life, without memory, without thought? Is life just going to be a destination? A means to an end?

[PAUSE]

As Christians, we know that our life now matters. We aren’t saved once and for all right now and can just coast to the end of our lives. We are in the process of being saved and being created, and we do have a hand in that whole process. St Paul reminds us:

This, I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind; having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who, being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

St Paul says that he doesn’t want us to sleepwalk through our lives and that this isn’t just his will but that he is testifying to the will of God in the matter. He explains that God wants us to be aware of living, and living not our lives with all their selfishness and weakness, but living in His life which is true life. If we just coast, trusting that whatever we’re doing is correct, then we’re not looking for that life of God within us.

That’s not to say that we suddenly need to become oversensitive to our faults and our failings - that way lies a spiritual and nervous breakdown. It means that we need to recognise our faults when they occur and bring them to God for healing and a resolve on our part to do what we can to remedy them.

Yes, we can be angry, but we must put a time limit on that anger and use its passion to work God’s good. Yes, we do need to see what we are stealing from other people and stop it, but remember that good hard work is something that will give us a better walk with God and help bring others to their nourishment in Him. Yes, we must look carefully at what we say and ask ourselves whether what we have just said would ever come out of one who truly knows God, but recognise that any word spoken with love is already borne on the wings of the Holy Ghost.

[PAUSE]

This takes practice which shows why we need our salvation to be a process so that we can progress better along our walk of life and draw nearer to living the life that God wants for us. We must make sure that we build in a good system of self-examination into our daily prayers so that this can happen more naturally.



Life is not something that we can afford to be so familiar with that we should treat it with contempt, especially if God gave it to us.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why I don't use the Book of Common Prayer

The title of this post is likely to put the backs up of many of my fellow Anglican Catholics as well as many of those who identify as Anglican from outside the Continuing Church. I must beg your indulgence. As it is, I heard the following interchange:

A: I use the Anglican Breviary.
B: The only Anglican Breviary is the Book of Common Prayer. Use it.

I found B's response arrogant, blinkered, patronising and unhelpful. It added nothing to the discussion rather than an air of authoritarianism that made me want to reply, "No. I will not use the BCP because of your attitude." As it is, I do not use the Book of Common Prayer for what I believe to be good reason.

I hope that my previous postings have made it clear that I follow the school of thought within Anglican Catholicism which regards the 1549 Book of Common Prayer as the standard of liturgical worship, but subordinate to the doctrine of the Primitive Church as was intended by those who compiled it. I do believe wholeheartedly that the BCP is uniquely Anglican and wholesome for any Christian in their conversation with God. However, the BCP does point outside itself to encourage those who continue the Catholic Faith through the lens of English and Anglophone History to make spiritual progress through Mass, Study, Office and Devotion.

And that's where I sort of come from. My history is entwined with the 1662 BCP. While I make no apology for my Anglican Papalism which came from a parish built on the work of one of the first Bishops to take up the Ordinariate, my choral life was centred around the BCP at Choral Evensong and (occasionally) Choral Mattins. My life at University and having to deal with the lumping-together of Anglican and Free-Church worship meant that I recovered some of my sanity by recourse to the BCP. However, I found it a book that pointed outside itself, as you would expect a book of prayer to do.

However, I discovered that the 1662 BCP is not as full as it should be. The truncated Eucharistic Canon, the truncated hagiography, the desire to hold Catholic teaching with a form of Calvinism, all of these made it difficult for me to continue to just use it for my offices. Couple that with my Benedictine Oblation, and you may perceive that I find a better conversation through the use of the Monastic Diurnal. Yes, it is true that the genius of the BCP is Benedictine. However, that the ferial offices of the Hours doesn't change over the week does make it easier to memorise large chunks of the psalter. I am, like many other Benedictines, able to say the Office of Compline completely from memory which does help after a busy day.

Yet, that is the desire of the BCP, that great chunks of Holy Scripture and tradition get absorbed into the system. I have my daily scripture reading from the lectionary for my study and my Mass is in keeping with the English Translation with the Gregorian Canon following the English Missal which is bound up with the Collects and Readings, and all translations from the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. I baptise using the 1549 Rite which is effectively the old Western Rite.

Essentially, there is a wealth of material that comes from and is consonant with the 1549 Book of Common Prayer which is all consistent with the Catholic Faith that the Church in England received once delivered to the saints. Now, the CofE has their modern liturgical text called "Common Worship" which has so many Eucharistic Prayers, so many rites for this, that and the other. What it lacks is the consistency that the BCP has in how it points beyond itself and allows the Continuing Church to be a truly Broad Church without overstepping the bounds into Liberal and Modernist Heresy.

I recently set myself the task of working one week solely with the 1662 BCP that I grew up with just to see how I would cope with it. While it brought back memories of singing the wonderful alto line in Adrian Batten's Evening Service from the Fourth Service, I found myself up against the brick wall of the Reformation. Anglican Catholicism and I go back further than that. Of course, the material of the Book of Common Prayer does too, but it is so bound up with that turbulent time, and excises so much in the way of the prior Catholic devotion, that I simply could not continue save only in the spirit of its creation.




I hope, then, I have acquitted myself of any charge of despising what is certainly a truly Anglican and beautiful resource, even if I don't use it. I bow to its unifying principle and recognise it in my Offices of Lauds and Vespers. If there are those who will denounce me for not being an Anglican because I don't use it, I remind them that I am not an Anglican - I am an Anglican Catholic and the Anglican Catholic Church accommodates a generous but firm latitude when it comes to Liturgical Worship.

And, again, to B, I say. "No! Sha'n't!"

What a naughty boy I am! ☺

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Branching out all over

Having returned to Facebook (for who knows how long), I had to "unfriend" an orthodox priest last night on the grounds of his unpleasant accusations against the ACC. Apparently, I am not in the Church, "Branch Theory" is wrong, and the ACC is a vagans sect with no interest in communion with the Orthodox Church. I really do want to give myself a break from polemics and arguing with people who don't actually want to listen.

"Ah hypocrite!" you say, "you're the one constantly sniping at the CofE. You're just getting what you give out." There may be an element of truth in that - I am very fallible and prone to all kinds of human vices. However, as I said in a comment in a previous post, I belong to the ACC who, while institutionally young, is seeking to preserve the Catholic Faith and is part of the legitimate continuation of that faith from which the CofE has jettisoned itself. Until it succumbed to the incipient Liberalism and Modernism, the Church of England was the Catholic and Orthodox Church in this country.

I agree that it did inherit some elements of Protestantism at the Reformation: it is that Protestantism that allowed the "Enlightenment" to happen with its acceptance of the type of Liberal Criticism (which is also fuelled by a form of cultural Marxist Critical Theory). However, that Protestantism has not compromised the Sacraments however much Rome might complain. The Book of Common Prayer lends itself very well to the doctrine of the Early Church with the possible exception of the filioque and a typical Western over-dependence on St Augustine of Hippo: even then, these can be understood in a thoroughly Patristic manner via St Maximus the Confessor and St Vincent of Lerins in their roles of clarification and putting the brakes on. However, I do believe that the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 does require augmentation. The Thirty-Nine Articles do admit, via the Homilies, of the rejection of the Second Council of Nicaea. This is problematic with the Anglican Catholic understanding of the Catholic Faith being present in the Seven Oecumenical Councils. This is why we first take the authoritative version of the Book of Common Prayer to be that of 1549 with the Ordinal of 1550 (slightly clarified to reduce the confusion about the intention) and then subordinate it to the doctrine of the Early Church, precisely because it was always meant to be conformed to the Early Church, that was the whole idea. The 1549 does not possess the Articles which, in my mind, is a good thing.

Hold on, has the Book of Common Prayer been given a Patristic reading in the Anglican Church? Yes, clearly. One needs only to look at Hooker, Jewell, Taylor, Andrewes, Ken, Donne, and the Caroline Divines to see that, yes the thought of the Church Fathers is present within the Church of England. Contrary to whatever many modern historians, the Church of Rome and the Church of the East may say, there is plenty of cultural evidence to see that the Church of England has been the Church in this country from the earliest times which may, if some sources are to be believed, predate the existence of the Church in Rome.

The Church of Rome and the Church of the East don't want us to see that and will bring up the facts that we sided with Rome in 1054 and the Protestants in the 16th Century to form a new church. However, let us just hold back here a minute. What do they mean by "new church"? What do they mean when they say that the Church of England began in the 16th Century?

What they mean is that in the 1500s, the Church of England changed the Catholic Faith. Given the mention of the great Anglicans above who have been admired by the Churches of Rome and the East, I really do doubt this. I will say that the big failing of the Church of England was to make the Settlement by which Protestants were given the same housing and which has led to the fragmentation of the CofE into evangelical, catholic, liberal and broad wings: a fragmentation which I predict will be formally recognised as the CofE breaks up institutionally in the not too distant future. The Settlement produced a political peace, certainly, but produced a confusion that Rome and the East find hard to comprehend.

There is a lot of scholarship to say why the Church of England always possessed the Catholic Faith and why we in the Continuing Anglican movement have preserved it when the Lambeth Communion failed to do so. I mean this, there is a LOT of scholarship.

So what about the Eastern accusations of us being vagans, uninterested in dialogue with the East, and believing in Branch Theory?

First, yes, we are small, but we have a system of bishops, a constitution, a set of canons, regular synods, and, most importantly of all, the Catholic Faith. We aren't wandering about at all because we are focussed on what the Church has always taught, everywhere. No, we are not in communion with any of the original five patriarchates, but then that is a problem of our history. It isn't as if Rome and the East haven't had their splinters and squabbles, even recently.

Why are we "uninterested in dialogue" with the East? We have to answer, "for the same reason we are not in dialogue with Rome." Both the East and Rome want us to convert. Conversion means a one-sided statement to say that we got things wrong and the other side didn't. It might sound prideful to say it, but we believe we haven't got things wrong for the same reason that they believe they haven't got things wrong. If we believed that we were wrong - we would change. Just because they are bigger does not make the truth any different: if numbers of the living mattered, I am convinced that both Rome and the East would now believe in the same-sex marriage of women priests. If they examine our Anglican Catholic theology closely, they will see that it is the same faith as the Early Church which they hold so dear.

This gives us a justification for the "Branch theory" which neither Rome  nor the East will admit because if they do, their dogma of "we get to say who's in the Church" falls flat. If they admit to Branch theory, then they cannot reject each other as they so do.

We hold the Branch theory on a position of charity because we are prepared to believe that both Rome and the East both are true to the Catholic Faith found in the Primitive Church. We are prepared for dialogue with these Churches on the basis of that faith, not on numbers and not on the behaviour of people with whom we have been in communion and are not now. If we were less charitable, we too would be labelling Rome and the East as schismatic and heretic and thus make any form of rapprochement impossible.

As Anglican Catholics, we do seek unity with like-minded Christians but not at the expense of what we believe. The recent happenings in Atlanta show that we are committed to talking with those who are like-minded and want to heal the rifts of history without requiring each other to admit that they were wrong and we were right. It is interesting to note from pictures of the Joint Synod Mass, the liturgical colour was purple and all those clergy from all jurisdictions wore it. We do and will enter into dialogue, but not if the other party seek our conversion from a faith that we believe is the same as theirs, for to do so would deny Our Lord Christ's work with us and that we would never do.

Personally, a visibly reunited and reconciled Catholic Church would be a dream come true. I love my Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends and know that, while we have our differences, we have respect that our positions require unification at the level of the Holy Ghost Who, I believe, operates still within all the branches of this tree. However, I really don't want to hear the same, tired old polemics from those who want to demonstrate their (false) doctrinal superiority over us in their claim to be the One True Church. If you want to engage with us, do so in humility and charity and we will do the same.

And what of the modernists and liberals? What about dialogue with them? Does the ACC have a doctrinal superiority over them? Am I being hypocritical in my desire to see Rome, East, and (Continuing) Anglican as being the only branches of the tree?

Again, we have to go back to the Catholic Faith. Rome, East and Orthodox Anglicans hold to the doctrine of the Primitive Church - that is each of our claims, and each of us will demonstrate it. However, the modernist and liberals hold to a source of faith greater than the Primitive Church - it's called progress by which they reinterpret or condemn that which the Church has always held to be true. They claim this moral superiority over us; they accuse us of being backward, retrograde, politically incorrect and uncharitable based upon this new morality which does not have its basis in the very tenets of Christianity except eisegetically. If they are a branch of the tree, then it is a branch that has cut itself off from the very substance that it grew from.

Are the branches of the tree doctrinally superior to modernists and liberals? That's not actually the question. The question really is, is the Christianity of moderns and liberals the same as that of the Primitive Church? Rome, East and Orthodox Anglican will say theirs is and demonstrate it. Moderns and liberals will show why theirs is superior.

This is why it is too early to dialogue with the modernist church, but, if their theology is always of the present age, then it will probably always be too early.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Theoretical God and theoretical neighbour

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Wouldn’t you just love to win an argument outright? Argumentation and debating seem to have had a bit of a resurgence lately, particularly on the question as to whether God exists. In recent years, we have had loud atheists shout and argue and challenge the Church.

They seem to have gone quiet lately. Have they won the argument?

It would appear so. In a recent poll, more than half of people in the UK asked replied that they had no religion. We know that, in general, attendance in the CofE is dropping and it is only because of people coming in from Eastern Europe that the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t seen the same drop. It seems that this is likely to change.

Wouldn’t it be nice to give a knock-down argument which shows that we are right and that everyone else is wrong?

Why isn’t there such an argument?

[PAUSE]

It’s easy to answer some questions. We know that five is three more than two, that the angles in a triangle add up to two right angles and that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066.This is because we know what we’re talking about – numbers, triangles and things that have already happened. But now answer the question, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” The Pharisees say that the Christ is the son of David which now leads Our Lord to say, “If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?”

Confused? So are the Pharisees! It’s true, the Christ is to be born of David’s line. It’s true that David, the great King of Israel calls this Christ, “Lord”. This Christ, descendant of King David, is greater than King David.

It can only happen if this Christ is both fully God and fully human. The trouble is that the Pharisees can’t understand this. To be honest, we can’t understand this! This is too difficult for the human mind to process.

And now we see why there isn’t a knock-down argument for the existence of God. If there were, then he would be too small a God. In fact the same is true for us. There isn’t an infallible argument for why other people are really human beings. The only way that we do know that our neighbour really is a human being and not a robot is by getting to know them. Human beings are not things that can be written down in text books: we are known by interacting with us, even loving us. And the same is true for God.

The idea of God may appear in many Religious Studies textbooks, but we don’t love an idea – we love God. If the Pharisees had been bothered to get to know Jesus, they would indeed know Who He is. Indeed, both St Nicodemus and St Paul are Pharisees that do get to know Jesus and thus know the truth about God – not by book knowledge, but by the knowledge that comes from Love.

[PAUSE]



Sometimes, we have a tendency to try and reduce people and things onto a piece of paper. Laws are just like that too. They are written on paper and yet they have to apply to real human beings in real situations. The laws that Jesus commands us are not just to be written down in the pages of the Bible, they are to be written in the heart of every human being. It is only within the heart that love can really happen. It is only by opening the heart to God and neighbour that the commandments can be obeyed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Which, WATCH, is Which?

Again, I tend to take notice of what's happening in the CofE. The independent reviewer Sir Philip Mawer recently made a report on the +Philip North affair in Sheffield describing the "traditional" wing of the CofE as being a "minority. The organisation known as Women And The  CHurch (WATCH) have taken umbrage at this.

Referring to those who are opposed to the ordination of women as the minority not only suggests that they are numerically few. It also invokes the language of minority rights. For example, Mawer says the ‘key issue for those in the minority was whether their position would continue to be recognised and honoured in the Church.’ He also highlights that ‘pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority’ needs to be made. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a minority group. The opponents of women’s ordination are now numerically few but they are not – in the sense that it is used to protect civil or collective rights – a minority. To be a minority in this sense has nothing to do with the number of people in a group. It is about the locus of power and privilege. 
In every other section of our society women are considered a minority group because, both historically and currently, they do not have the same opportunities as men and do not have an equal share of the power and privileges afforded to them. Although the Right Revd Philip North belongs to a small vestige of people opposed to the ordination of women, he still belongs to the hegemonic majority. That is to say, he belongs to a group of people who for two millennia have held the dominant viewpoint and had the power to enforce it. It is a viewpoint that still has repercussions for women and their vocations today.
The question here is, "Which minority is Sir Philip talking about?" He may indeed mean the simple fact that the majority of the CofE accepts women clergy. This is a simple numerological fact: the bigger share is the majority, the smaller the minority. But WATCH complain that that word "minority" is a sociologically loaded term.

Looking back at history, this is perfectly understandable. Women have indeed been regarded as inferior for far too long. Medieval ideas have seen women regarded as the cause of the Fall and lesser as a result of it rather than seeing the blame appropriately on all mankind. The notion of "headship" in the Bible sees women submitting to their husbands which has gone from being the notion of opposite sexes in relationship to effectively a master-slave relationship and even owner-chattel relationship. In the U.K., the spectre of Mrs Pankhurst still haunts our sociology and, it has to remembered that rape within marriage was only criminalised in 1991! Women indeed have had to struggle for acceptance as doctors, lawyers and politicians whilst being under pressure to conform to the gender stereotype of "the little woman at home". That is still very much the case considering that it is still the expectation that a woman will give up her career to become a mother and raise a family. Society still puts that pressure on both sexes to fulfil a gender stereotype.

It is a false equivalence that gender is the same as sex. It is gender that is the social construct, not sex. This means that there is always going to be a difference between men and women and about how they fulfil roles in Society. We go back to yesterday's false equivalence of being and doing.

WATCH rightly regard the fight for women to fulfil roles as a struggle for a minority ideology to become a majority and thus a socially acceptable rule. Thus they see in their opponents - those who believe women cannot be priests - as denying that ideology on the basis of their previous societal power and privilege. They are the ones that have had to fight for acceptance; they are the ones who hold the social definition of minority.

The trouble is that their opponents FiF and SSWSH (Happy Feast Day, BTW) are in the minority and hold a minority ideology which is not the same as WATCH. It is an ideology which is simply incompatible with how WATCH see their theology. In the ACC, we have reached our clear decision and it is a decision that will not be reversed because it is the Catholic Faith that we have decided to preserve - a faith of ikons rather than roles, being rather than doing. This is why many people see us as being monolithic in our Faith rather than fluid, but then we are trying to be part of the Church as a whole rather than a series of accidents of history. If FiF and SSWSH have the same theology as we do (and that's difficult to say because they are happy to remain part of the CofE) then it is a manifestly different theology from WATCH.

If WATCH regard this theology as being unacceptable for the CofE to hold, then they must campaign to have it extirpated but, in so doing, they will purge the CofE of members. They cannot force people to subscribe to their ecclesiology but will label them with the words "sexist" and "bigot" behind their backs until they are seen as unacceptable. This is effectively a form of bullying, and bullying is a form of persecution. It is the persecuted few who are then become a minority in the social definition of the term. Is bullying the bullies a case of two wrongs making a right?

This raises two options for WATCH:

1) that FiF and SSWSH have an objectively unacceptable theological position in the CofE.

2) that FiF and SSWSH have an objectively acceptable theological position in the CofE.

Clearly objectively unacceptable theological positions must not be allowed to thrive in the CofE, as they would not in any church. In this case, there should be absolutely no provision at all for FiF and SSWSH and holders of the opinion that women can't be priests should be encouraged to leave the CofE or "put up and shut up".

However, objectively acceptable ones must be allowed to thrive under the Five Guiding Principles. This would include members of FiF being given fair chance to any position within the CofE as much as anyone else. If not (and the +North affair seems to make this clear that there cannot be an FiF Diocesan Bishop), then FiF ought to be given their Third Province so that they can thrive. This would be a schism in all but name.

The problem is that 1) and 2) are antitheses and it is difficult for me to see a third logical possibility. Perhaps there is one and I would be interested to know. If there isn't then one of these statements is right and the other wrong. Thus I ask the question, "Which, WATCH, is which?"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The "Ikonography" of Stereotypes

One thing that separates Anglicans from Anglican Catholics (and also our Oecumenical partners) is that we accept the doctrine of the Second Council of Nicaea being the Seventh Oecumenical Council. This is the council which demonstrates that there is a world of difference between ikons and idols.

We're actually more used to ikons than we think. I tend to use the Greek spelling with a k, but the majority of people use a c to produce icons. I certainly remember the first time I opened Windows 3 and saw the icons there. When you clicked on them, the programme opened up and (usually) worked. The presence of the icon spoke about the presence of the programme that it represented. The same is true in the Church: an ikon of Christ speaks of the presence of Christ. We bow before the ikon because we bow before Christ. It's the same principle with photographs - witness the lovesick boy kiss a cherished photograph of his new girlfriend.

It seems clear to me that ikonography is a natural part of human existence. From our troglodyte beginnings, we have always sought to represent what we see in our dwellings. These are representations of our physical reality and we use them to speak of our experience of the world. The pictures speak more of what they represent than we can describe. We always have to go beyond what we see in order to find the depth of reality.

For the Christian, it is God who determines reality and sustains it, thus to see the human Jesus is to see the Divine Person of the Trinity. This is not idolatry because it is not a created thing that we worship: we adore Him who is begotten, not created, His Father and the One who proceeds from the Father in Eternity and is breathed by the Son in Time.

However, Society is not Christian. Yet still it possesses this nature to create "ikons" to point to deeper realities which its materialist and secular attitudes can grasp better. This tends to hark back to good, old-fashioned Platonism. We have the idea of what it means to be male, female, rich, poor, strong, weak, old, young, et c. From these, we tend to construct the stereotypes. We have the stereotypical man based upon his physical attributes. He is the one who goes out to work, drinks beer, plays foot-ball, doesn't readily show his emotions, et c. We have the little girl in pink, the little boy in blue, dresses and flowers for Sally, trucks and toy guns for Jim.

The trouble is that often these stereotypes point to images of a man and a woman who aren't real. If a boy wants to wear pink and play with a doll, it is immediately assumed that there is something wrong with him. He doesn't fit Society's ikon of Man. He must therefore be Woman and Society will encourage him to transition into whatever stereotype suits him best. There is even the new ikon of Non-Sexed. Even Iconoclast has an ikon in the generations of stereotype. These stereotypes arise from Society's expectations of what we should be. Yet, these stereotypes exist only to diminish our humanity.

The moment we equate our actions with our being, we enter this diminution of ourselves and enslave ourselves to the two-dimensional nature that a secular humanity offers. The man who sleeps with another man is gay: action becomes essence. If this is true, then the man who kills another is a murderer and can never escape that identity. There can be no repentance or salvation if what we do becomes what we are. Thus, by accepting the stereotypes and forcing others to accept stereotypes, we find ourselves perpetuating nothingness and thus building the corridors of Hell itself.

The Catholic Faith takes things very differently. In the eyes of the Church, there is no such thing as "being gay" - it is not a thing that speaks to our reality, but to a feature that need not be permanent. We sin and are justly called "sinner" but God does not allow this to become what we are - only we allow it to become what we are. In this sense, we have the opportunity to participate in our own creation by detaching ourselves from the stereotypes that Society tries to impress upon us. Catholic Christians are the true ikonoclasts because we seek to break the fake ikons which point to non-being and find ourselves stripped of all but ourselves in our poor purity to which God then adds substance. In confessing our sins, we break the ikons of stereotype and are thus freed to gaze upon human beings who are themselves ikons of God. St Epiphanius of Salamis would have that while Man is the ikon of Christ, Woman is the ikon of the Holy Ghost and also the Church.

Ironically, this freedom is rejected by Society as enslavement and brainwashing. They see the desire to resist the temptations that beset us as not being true to ourselves. They see our sadness at being flawed and fallen as being unnecessary tears when we should be rejoicing. They see our urging to see the truth as being blasphemous because the truth is already visible. Yet, the more we allow this false ikonography into the Church, the more we will struggle to keep its unity together. As Christians, our duty is to seek God and His Righteousness first. We are to use the ikons in order to break down stereotypes. We must see our freedom as being ourselves in God not being free from constraint to pursue our own stereotype. It is submission to the Catholic Faith as revealed by God to the Church that is more freeing than this World will ever understand.

This World is flatter than the piece of paper on which its stereotypes are drawn: our reality in God is more real than a thousand new dimensions opening up at every point of our being.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Concordat!


As I remain here on this little sceptred isle, I am overjoyed to know that I am now officially in communion with some of my dearest friends. I am glad also to have been represented by Bishop Damien and the newly vested Brother Juniper CGS who runs our Mission in Bristol who have passed on my greetings to those whom I met back in 2013.

While the four jurisdictions will probably remain separate organisations, we each retain and share the fact that we are hewn from the same rock and rejoice in that.

I can't really say more, but must leave it to our leaders who have signed our concordat of communio in sacris. 

Te Deum Laudamus!


Sunday, October 08, 2017

Shameful weddings!

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity


Surely it doesn’t matter what other people think. If you’ve got the wrong room, you’ve got the wrong room – no big deal. Why should you feel shame because you’ve sat down in the high room and now the Groom has told you that you have to give place to another? You just made a mistake, that’s all.

However, Our Lord does say that if you get bumped from the high room, “thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.” Is Jesus saying that we ought to have a sense of social faux-pas? Are we going to be frowned upon in Heaven if we use the butter-knife to eat the fish course?

What if you’re not ashamed of trying to be in the high room at the wedding? It was worth a shot, wasn’t it?

But then, should you be ashamed? There is, of course, the other reaction –that feeling of shame you get when you get there only to find that your socks clash with the bridesmaids’ dresses or that your trousers have the same buttons as the Best Man –unthinkable! Oh the horror!

[PAUSE]

Does it really matter what other people think of us? We’re taught that it doesn’t, yet we live as if it really does. Many of our social interactions are governed by some form of social regulation. It’s interesting to note that much of our sense of the need to conform is imprinted on us as we begin to go to school.

At some level, we do worry what other people think of us. This might be quite acute: we might worry what everybody thinks of us, even the postman who sees us as we step outside the front door. Or we might only worry about our own opinion of ourselves and take nothing into account, yet we do this because we want to provoke a reaction in other people to show that we are in control, not their opinions.

This is not always fair. Indeed the Church is under great pressure from Society to conform to acceptable ways of thinking. There are many issues where we are told that the Church must get rid of out-dated morality and accept more tolerable points of view. We see parts of the Church adopt that view and we see others wrestle against it.

Clearly we want to be acceptable, but to whom? Well, at a wedding, who gets to tell people where to sit?

[PAUSE]

The whole point of a seating arrangement at a wedding is that the Bride and Groom get to choose who they spend the most time with. The high room is for family and close friends, and the bride and groom tend to spend most time there. Of course, they will try to make it around all the rooms but the lower rooms are for friends of the family, or work mates.

If we assume that we are a close friend of the Groom and we are not, then everyone will know this when we are told to make room for someone who is. It doesn’t matter how much we protest that we are a friend of the Groom – if he doesn’t think we are, then we are not.

Humility is about being real. We are to take the lowest room, not through some false modesty, nor because we should see ourselves as being in any way unacceptable. We take the lowest room so that we allow the Groom to make the decision where to put us – it is his opinion, not ours. We attend the wedding, not for ourselves, but to rejoice with the Newly-Married! We are there for them, because they want us to be there. It is not a public opportunity to show off, but an opportunity to share in others’ happiness.

[PAUSE]

It is those who say that they know God best who are shown up for not knowing Him at all. It is those who recognise that they don’t necessarily know what God is thinking who will be find themselves in the right place. They will just be happy to be at the wedding feast of the Lamb because the love Him honestly, and in that happiness they will move closer to Him.



Wednesday, October 04, 2017

What is the Continuum?



I had the great pleasure of meeting Bishop Chandler Jones of the Anglican Province of America back in 2013 when he spoke at the ACC Synod Mass in Newport Beach.

At this time when the Great Synod is taking place for Continuing Anglicans in Atlanta, this video serves as a really sound introduction to what Continuing Anglicanism is and why this Synod is of a great significance.

I needn't say more as Bishop Jones is more eloquent that I could be!

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More worry worries

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

“Oh now don’t you worry about me!” says the little old lady struggling onto the bus, “I’ll manage!”
George looks at her as she struggles with bags that seem to contain the combined contents of Tescos, Wilkos, and a city’s worth of other “o”s. “Now should I help her, or not,” he thinks to himself. However, reaching out for a bag which seems to contain more cat food than a malamute could ever eat is met with a savage, “I said, I’ll manage!” George steps back confused at what has just happened. She said she didn’t want anyone to worry about her, and yet George does – it’s only natural, isn’t it? What is the old lady trying to prove?

[PAUSE]

St Paul seems to be the same: “I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you” – “don’t you worry about me.”

Why do people say that? Might this be a sort of “look how strong I really am and admire me?” situation? It could be that strange sort of self-pity that doesn’t want the pity of others to intrude upon it. Human beings are very complex creatures desiring what they cannot usually have and then grousing because they are given that very thing. Again, we find ourselves back to Our Lord’s words that our hearts are to be found where we value things most. Ironically, we tend to value that which doesn’t even exist or cannot possibly be. It is perfectly possible that we want to want other people’s pity but not actually want to receive their pity.

[PAUSE]

So does St Paul want our pity?

Not at all! Nor does he want to want our pity. Listen carefully!

I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

The tribulations that he is going through: the imprisonment, being beaten, having rocks thrown at him, being shipwrecked, and ultimately being beheaded by the Roman State, all of this is for our benefit!

Is he trying to be like Jesus?

Yes, he is! Not that St Paul will save us, and he knows that, but that he realises that what he is going through can actually work against the Devil’s plans and give us encouragement. The fact that he suffers so much serves as an example, not of someone to be pitied but of someone who knows that there is something worth suffering for and that he will go to extreme lengths to share it with us.
St Paul has yielded himself up to this world’s contempt of him because He knows that God is trustworthy and “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” He wants us not to worry about him because he doesn’t want us to worry about the future, but rather embrace the truth which is “the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

[PAUSE]

This is what it means to be crucified with Christ that our sufferings can give encouragement to those who need it and bring them to the reality of Our Lord’s Passion and Death for us and through them to the glorious resurrection into His Eternal Life. This is the crucifixion that Our Lord offers us.

Do we accept that cross? Do we suffer so that others may find encouragement?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Vaccinations for Purple Fever

I am deeply grateful that my brother priest, Fr Anthony Chadwick has kindly put up some wonderful tales of Anglican Catholic history upon his blog in direct response to yesterday's post. I found it very interesting that, on the same day, the episcopal consecration of Dr Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to Her Majesty was announced by the Christian Episcopal Church. Of course the "Thinking" Anglicans have gone potty over this with cries of "bogus bishop!" "schismatic church!" and "invalid orders!" They simply cannot handle the fact that a prominent dissenter to The Liberal Agenda has left the Church of England and been consecrated bishop in another church. It's not their problem! If anything, you would have thought that they would be glad that their Agenda has one less opponent to worry about - one less need to invoke the (logically wobbly) Five Guiding Principles.

It was a shame that Bishop Ashenden didn't become part of the ACC, but then he clearly had a higher calling. The Anglican Catholic Church in this country is tiny but has grown and transformed under our Bishop Damien Mead. It is his brilliant efforts that have seen us recover from the Hamlett affair and proceed to a stable basis with an eye on the future. Yet, if you are called to episcopacy as is obviously the case for Bishop Ashenden, we aren't the jurisdiction you are looking for. Our clergy are content to be priests and deacons under Bishop Damien because that way lies our stability.

One reason that I'm glad I left teaching is that I no longer face pressure to be ambitious. A good priest remembers what he is and for Whom he is and is thankful for the privilege to serve the laity. He honours his bishop as his father in God and thereby follows the principle of Catholicism laid down by St Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Smyrnaeans
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.
 There is only one focus for the priest and issues of whether he is called to the episcopate can only arise when there is an interregnum or there is a specific need. While the episcopate may be a good thing to desire, it is not the focus of our work.

The Anglican Catholic Church is what it is and we have now been agreed as to what it is for some forty years. This is where we have learned lessons from Bishop Hamlett and his ilk who were never satisfied but sought greater and tighter control but over what? Over the clergy? To what end? Purple Fever is worthless: the episcopate is meaningless if there isn't a diocese to oversee. There are too many bishops out there lying to people by saying that they are Catholic bishops and passing themselves off (for some unfathomable reason) as members (nay princes) of the Roman Catholic Church.

That being said I must beat my breast and say mea culpa as I am a priest without a congregation. Having to build one from scratch in amidst of the turmoil of my own life is going to be a huge challenge. I still have people to whom to minister in my area and hope that this will grow. However, I am part of an established Diocese and have my own little projects on the go. I am hoping that one will come to fruition very soon.

Alas for Bishop Ashenden, the CEC and the ACNA, they have all our old troubles to come. I am always puzzled by the attitude of The Liberal Agenda who try to squeeze out the traditional element in their midst and, when they succeed and these little groups of the traditional faith try to come together to form some fellowship, they cry "schismatic!" and invalidate them from their lives for the crime of "not bowing to The Liberal Agenda". Not only is The Liberal Agenda schismatic, it is profoundly hypocritical.

I wonder if the Devil uses guiding principles?

However, that being said, may God bless Bishop Gavin Ashenden and make his ministry fruitful!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Continuing Anglican History

One of the main troubles that I have is that my mind is not very linear and so sequential work is very difficult. For this reason, I sadly had to decline the writing of the history of the Anglican Catholic Diocese of the United Kingdom. As far as I am aware, there is only one published history on the Continuing Anglican movement and that is Divided We Stand by Douglas Bess. The trouble is that it is written from the perspective of an outsider and thus does not really do justice to the motivation behind the movement.

Of course, there have been some rather shameful moments in our history - the famous "Bishops' Brawl" being one of them but this is true of the whole Catholic Church. However, many of the original instigators of the movement are still with us. I had the privilege of meeting them four years ago during my trip to the Provincial Synod. I can't say that the Provincial Synod I attended was terribly interesting  but then, as Bishop Damien always says, a dull Synod is a sign of stability.

This year is different: four Continuing Anglican jurisdictions are, God willing, signing a statement of full communion. This is highly significant because it will undo divisions that existed when our Diocese was coming into existence. Our Diocese also suffered loss when Bishop Hamlett and other Bishops broke away to form the Holy Catholic Church. I would love to be there as many of my friends across the Continuum will be there - friends whom I have never seen face to face! The fact that I have friends throughout the Anglican world is a testament that there are no barriers to true friendship.

But there are people whom I will never meet - at least not in temporality - having entered their rest in God. They have been instrumental in helping the Continuing Anglican movement get off the ground, especially in the face of disgust from the See of Canterbury. It is their strength of character given by the grace of God that has helped us make forty years of history. It will be forty years on 28th of January 2018 since the Denver Consecrations made that clear statement that our walk with the Episcopal Church of the United States was over.

I have a little plea for my readers, especially to those of a venerable age. Perhaps you would write your memoirs, detailing the history of the Continuing Anglican movement as you saw it. If we can collate as much material as we could, then we have a record of who we are in the past forty years and a record of our testimony to the work of Our Lord Jesus Christ during this time of moral relativism and cultural Marxism.