Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Benedictine Divinity versus Theology and Philosophy



Holy Father Benedict, pray to God for us!

On this, the Feast of the passing of St Benedict, I find that a topic that I touched on in my previous post is quite pertinent, and one that needs thinking about very seriously.

Having looked at the Liberal Agenda below, it seems clear that many people who claim religious roles in society are exercising their brains in Philosophy rather than true Theology. Indeed, Theology in modern UK universities tends to be more about Comparative Religion, and the Philosophy of Religion rather than what the Doctors of the Church would regard as true Theology.

St Benedict himself is not classed as a Doctor of the Church. He is an Abbot and Confessor in Liturgical parlance. He is no bishop, king, or prelate, and yet he establishes a Rule that puts people on course for the Divine. It is a rule that will give rise to hospitals, schools, and universities, and is thus at the heart of our lives, and yet people are tending to follow the course of the Liberal Agenda rather than put their trust in a system of work and prayer. His is a path that uses a Theology that's lived in rather than studied and put into practice through argumentation. For me, whether this is accurate or not, this represents the difference between Theology and Divinity.

Divinity seems to be dying out in the universities in the U.K. It was an academic discipline that combined theology with ministry: in short, it might be described as applied Theology.

This makes sense. We encounter God Himself when we engage in His service. First, we pray, and then we work. The whole point is that Theology is never separated from a way of living life. We are to spend our days in the Light of Tabor shining from the Divine Godhead and seeing our lives ahead by that great light. We learn to trust in our superior, and our superior is bowed under the weight of his office which can only be held up by our trust and community spirit. Divinity, then, is a superior discipline to Theology, and it is one that all Christians should study regardless of their academic capabilities.

Sadly, the ACC is too tiny for a seminary in this country. Yet a seminary education is of greater value  than divorcing ourselves from reality within a modern Theological College especially at a time when students think that it's okay to "experiment" with liturgy to the extent that it is willing to try out blasphemies rather than submit to the rule of the Liturgy. A seminary education that involves study intrinsically interwoven with prayer and work will therefore prove invaluable as it restores the sense of the sacred.

It is the sense of sanctity that we need to recover in our Society. The Liberal Agenda can only hold that nothing is sacred which is contrary to any understanding of the Holy Incarnation of Our Lord. The result of the Liberal Agenda is an incipient Arianism or, even worse, Ebionitism which focuses only on the humanity of Jesus and forgets about the Divine nature that comes inseparably with His Human Nature. Holiness, Love, and Worship are not feelings; they are activities wrapped up in realities in this strange synthesis between being and doing.

That there exist Christian Dogmata that cannot be genuinely questioned by Christians without calling one's own faith into question defies the Liberal Agenda. To question whether there is a god is fine in philosophical circles, or even in a study of comparative religion, but to call the existence of God into question before His face shows that there is a doubt within that Christian that needs to be addressed. For a Christian to call God's existence, or His commands, or His doctrine into question demonstrates a spiritual dis-ease that requires healing through prayer, work and study within a loving community. It is not to be accepted as a legitimate alternative to "the way we do things." It is certainly not "progress" unless by progress we mean proximity to Hell itself.

As I say, we in the ACC have no seminary. The best we can do is read for our orders under the guidance of the Bishop and then look to see how we can live our faith in a little community of people who do actually believe what they read in the Liturgy. It is not ideal, but we talk with each other and listen to each other. If the time comes when we finally have the resources for a seminary, I shall be most pleased to support it as best I can with what personal capacities I can. However, our size does not prevent us from striving to study Divinity rather than some useless academic discipline which seeks to tear the Church apart.

Until then, I continue to pray: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam,. et non confundas me ab expectatione mea.

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Praise of Forward in Faith

I rather feel that I need to right a perceived wrong that I may have done members of Forward in Faith in my recent postings. The fact of the matter is that I do have an enormous respect of this organisation within the CofE, and I wish to assure FiF readers of this blog that they have a cherished place in my thinking - a place that they don't have within the CofE. I know that Fr Chadwick and other members of the ACC in this country agree with me. For me, they represent the Church within a "Church" which is being predominantly swayed by the liberal agenda. It is this Liberal Agenda that FiF are battling, and it is worth seeing it for what it is.

Let us begin with a couple of quotations from Arch-Liberal Fr Jonathan Clatworthy:
Liberal theology, therefore, does accept that people should be free to believe whatever they judge true. However the freedom comes with two limitations.  
 1) It does not follow that they should be free to act on their beliefs.  
 2) They have no right to be left unmolested in their beliefs, as though they transcended all reason. If others find them incredible or harmful, the right to hold them comes with a duty to justify them.
And
To be liberal, inclusive and tolerant do not just mean that anything goes, or that we agree with everyone. They mean we care about truth enough to challenge dogmas; and we care enough about other people to stand up against exclusion and intolerance.
It is clear that the theology that Clatworthy is building up is a purely man-made academic exercise. I have already challenged his deeply concerning statements about "everything being up for discussion". The fundamental mistake he is making is that Theology is NOT Philosophy. It is not an intellectual-exercise along the lines of the Greek thinkers that St Paul encountered at the Areopagus who "spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing."

Theology begins and ends in God Himself. The Bible is the Testament of God's personal revelation of Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to His people the Church. Every word of Holy Scripture speaks of a theological truth - that is what the Church has always said. It is part of the Vincentian Canon, and thus of a true Catholic Dogma.

Of course, all dogmata are free to be discussed at an intellectual level, but the problem is that Theology is not just an intellectual discipline. It deals with matters of faith and especially matters of salvation. The Oecumenical Councils weren't concerned with an intellectual discussion as to the natures of Our Lord: they were concerned with Salvation, and that is the one thing that matters most, that people are brought to God to be saved. The truth about the doctrine of Our Lord is therefore NOT up for discussion in theological circles. Those arguments have been made and settled by those who have come before us.

I think I'm beginning to seem a bit like the Venerable Jorge in that it's all very well and good having Philosophical discussions about theological matters, but as soon as we bring things out from the theological sphere into the philosophical sphere, we are in danger of ascribing a philosophical position with greater worth than the truths revealed to His Church by God. It seems to me that Liberals who follow Fr Clatworthy's ideas above are in danger of philosophical hubris and intellectual pride rather than dealing with the beliefs of the Church which have been questioned but proven to be true by the Church.

And this is where Forward in Faith come in. What Forward in Faith have that Fr Clatworthy doesn't seem to have is a sense of the sacred. If God reveals a truth, then one can certainly engage in philosophical inquiry about it, but if that inquiry doubts that revealed truth, then that inquiry itself is disordered and demonstrating clearly its fallen nature and need for God. The Liberal Agenda says essentially that "nothing is sacred" and thereby attempts to rob God Himself of His Infallibility and the reliability of those whom He has chosen as His witnesses. What Forward in Faith is trying to do is to bring back to an ailing and struggling institution a sense of the sacred, that which is true because it is central to Christian belief to be true. The Christian Faith does "transcend all reason" because God Himself transcends all reason.

The Liberal Agenda may "care about truth enough to challenge dogmas" but it saws off the very branch on which it sits because it denies the integrity of the framework of truth that allows it to challenge "dogmas". Does it challenge its own "dogmas" one wonders.

It seems to me that the Liberal Agenda may "care enough about other people to stand up against exclusion and intolerance" but Forward in Faith seek to lead people to inclusion and acceptance not in the light of a philosophical mushiness, but rather by bringing people to the notion of what is truly Holy, Ineffable and Sublime.

So where do I stand on the position of Forward in Faith?

I stand with them, but cannot be in communion with them while they are in communion with people who deny the sacred. I'm afraid I cannot understand how they can be in such an impaired communion, but I do trust that their intentions for doing so are well meant and that they see that this is the way to try and guide the CofE back to sanctity. If that is what they perceive God's mission to be, then they have my prayers. Part of me still wishes that they would find the ability to separate from the schismatic CofE and perhaps help the ACC and other Catholic institutions in the UK form a body of communication and eventual communion.

But I stand with them, just as I stand with all Catholics and seekers after the Catholic Faith. They have my prayers especially on Wednesdays when I am bidden to pray for the CofE and its return to Orthodoxy. Again, I issue an invitation to any members of Forward in Faith to meet the ACC at our Synod Mass at 11AM on 29th April in Central Hall, Westminster. I do stress that there are no strings attached by this invitation. I would be grateful just to get to know people engaged in the same fight against this Liberal Agenda as I am.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Concerto in the Key of Christ

Sermon for the third Sunday of Lent

Do you ever listen to concertos?

A concerto is essentially an orchestral piece of music which features one or more instrumental soloists. You’ll have heard of violin concertos such those of Bruch or Bach. However, there’s an interesting feature of piano concertos that you might not hear, first go.

In a piano concerto, the strings will be busying themselves setting up all the themes that the piano is going to play, and the other instruments will be listening to them and ensuring that they play the same notes. And then the piano will come in. And the first few chords sound awful! Why’s that?

[PAUSE]

Violins can vary their tuning very carefully and adjust their tone so that the music can sound brighter or duller. Most of the other instruments can do the same. The piano can’t. It has fixed tuning – it can only play the notes that it’s been made to play. It can’t sharpen, nor flatten.

The result is called dissonance and it takes a few chords for the rest of the orchestra to adjust. Dissonance is not just something that orchestras have to deal with. We have to deal with it too.

[PAUSE]

Dissonance often occurs in our lives when what we believe does not match up with reality. The Pharisees know how to cast out demons. They see Our Lord Jesus casting out demons. Jesus is not a Pharisee, therefore He cannot be casting demons out by the power of God. Hence, Jesus must be a servant of the Devil. Perfect logic!

Except…

Except Jesus has much better logic than the Pharisees. If Satan casts out Satan, how can evil ever hope to succeed? Yes, it could be a ploy, a pretence to get people to believe, but look at what Jesus is doing. Does it look Satanic? All those healings. All those words that preach the love of all people, even enemies. How can any of that building up of the human race be diabolical in origin? The Pharisees are faced with the noise of their own dissonance. They have a choice, adjust their thinking, or stop the tune that Our Lord’s love plays.

[PAUSE]

Our Lord speaks the truth because He is the Truth. Those who accuse Christians of wishful thinking don’t see that Our Lord has stern words to say about the behaviour of Christians. He does not hesitate to call people up on sin. His note sounds a dissonance in our lives and we are faced with a choice.

[PAUSE]

You see, the dissonance doesn’t come from Jesus. It comes from our being out of tune with God’s reality. We are actually out of tune with ourselves. The more we listen to Jesus, the more we will hear how out of tune we are. Repentance involves a listening to our lives, and then an active step to retune our thinking, our speaking, our acting and our living to the perfect note that God sounds in creation like the ringing of a beautiful clear bell.

[PAUSE]

As we progress through Lent, we read and pray and listen ever more carefully, not just to God but to our own response to Him. We need to listen to ourselves as well because if we don’t then we will hear the dissonance and believe that it is coming from elsewhere. Lent is as much a listening to ourselves as it is to God.

Christian integrity means doing things in tune with God and with others. There are many gorgeous harmonies, but the rules of classical music state that every dissonance must end in harmony. Likewise, if we are part of the kingdom of God, then we will not try to divide it if we seek to be in tune with Him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

29th April: a Jubilee for the ACC!

The Anglican Catholic Diocese of the United Kingdom was Twenty Five years old on 24th January this year. Our celebrations will centre around two events this year, namely our Synod High Mass at 11AM on April 29th at Central Hall Westminster, and hopefully with the visit to the UK by our Archbishop, Dr Mark Haverland later in the year.

All are very welcome to join us for the Synod High Mass. You will be able to meet us, see what we are about, and hopefully see that, even if you do not wish to join us or even disagree with us, that we are Christians nonetheless, praying for you and seeking to find some way of sharing God's grace with you.

The Diocese was founded in this country after the CofE made the decision to ordain women. Now, let me be perfectly clear. It was not the ordination of women, per se that created the need for the Diocese of the United Kingdom. As our statement of on Church unity makes clear:
It is popularly supposed that the matter which has brought the former Anglican Communion into such division and disarray is the ordination of women. That is not the case. The ordination of women has been merely the occasion, not the cause, of most of the splits within Anglicanism: the straw that broke the camel's back. The fundamental cause has been a crisis of authority within Anglicanism, having its origins in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century and the tensions of the Elizabethan “Church Settlement.” Formed a thousand years earlier, the Church of England emerged from the Protestant Reformation as a “Continuing Catholic” Church, not as a Protestant sect. However under the terms of the Elizabethan “Settlement” the Church of England, whilst maintaining all the essentials of Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order, was required by State Law to accommodate all the Queen’s subjects within it, whether Catholic or Protestant or both. From this tenuous arrangement, wrought in the religious and political crises of the time, was developed a “comprehensive” church polity. There are those who refer to this characteristic as “the glorious comprehensiveness of Anglicanism,” sometimes adding: “As long as you believe in God, we have room for you.”
Recent developments in the CofE demonstrate clearly that this is not true. Any form of comprehensiveness is now an illusion. It really does vindicate the decision that we made back in 1992 to leave the CofE to the consequences of its decision, leaving it to flourish as it would want to flourish without us battling the inevitable at every turn. While we wish Forward in Faith well in its attempt to keep this comprehensiveness alive, we are necessarily sceptical and feel that events have, very regrettably, proved us right. We hate passionately the hurt that is being cause to all parties here: the traditionalists and the progressives. male and female CofE clergy, the individuals and the whole corporation of the CofE. Honestly, we pray to God for a holy resolution to this whole situation.

In commenting on Bishop North's withdrawal from the See of Sheffield, I was accused of trying to recruit members of Forward in Faith to the ACC. I rather deny this, given that I was investigating several options that a Catholic member of the CofE might take. Yet I would be dishonest if I did not include the ACC as an option. We exist to be what the Church of England was and what we believe it should be. We are an alternative to the CofE in that every Catholic in the CofE can recognise what we are doing, and yet can rest assured that we do not believe that we can develop as an organisation apart from the Doctrine of the Primitive Church.

If you attend, you will find a motley crew of clergy and laity of all sorts. You will find our best attempt at the High Mass. You will meet our Bishop and be able to hear his charge to our Diocese. You will be able to ask us why we are here, and hear our stories and how we see our position in this tiny little Church.

This is why I bring to the attention of my readers the Synod Mass this year. Of course, it issues a big challenge to us in the ACC to examine ourselves, particularly this Lent, to see if we are ready to engage with new people, to discuss peacefully, respectfully, and lovingly with people with whom we might passionately disagree. We therefore beg your prayers that we may bring the love of Christ to you and to all who would meet us. Even if you don't want to join us, it will be good to become friends and establish good contacts.

11AM on 29th April at Central Hall, Westminster. Just come and see!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Church versus Society: pre-Constantinian idols?

In thinking about the plight of the CofE, the question arises about the relationship that the Church should have with Society in general. At the time when the English Church was wresting itself away from the jurisdiction of the Holy Father, it seems that Church and Society were virtually synonymous, and that the Church of England was supposed to be the moral lung of Society.

History tells a different story. The rise of Constantine effectively raised the possibility of Christianity being the Imperial religion following three centuries of persecution and marginalisation. There is a good historical precedent for Christianity not to be identical with Society, but rather an actor on Society's stage. Society is now regarded as being necessarily secular in order to provide a harmonious arena in which people of all faiths and none can function together. It was not always so and, indeed, Christian was seen in the third century as inimical to the "secular" age in which indigenous gods and cults were brought together in some form of syncretist literal pantheon in which everyone could perform the necessary societal customs of sacrificing to the right god but perhaps referring to that god by a socially acceptable name, especially if that god happened to be the Roman Emperor. Christians refused to recognise this because we have always believed that there is One God and that these other "gods" are nothing but empty anthropomorphisms of elements of Creation. We cannot, and will not, sacrifice to idols, even today.

Do we sacrifice to idols in today's society?

It does seem that we're going back to the pre-Constantinian idea of Church. When I joined the ACC six years ago, I attended Mass in the Dartford Mission of St Mary and St Eanswythe. It is little more than an upper room and attended by as few as two people, much the same number of congregation as the parish that I have left. The last supper was held in an upper room, so there is precedent for that as well. Yet, for me, that Mission represents something quite incredible and I remember those first breaths that I took as, for the first time for years, I opened my mouth to say the Liturgy that I had been prohibited from saying.

Why had I been so prohibited? Simply because that the State Church in my area did not feel that it could offer a Mass of such an older form on the grounds that it did not reach out to people in Society. The words of centuries were not being translated so much as being simplified at the cost of the true and deeper meaning so that more people might be persuaded to come through the door. It was necessary for the CofE to react to the changes in Society in order to continue serving that Society.

Much of the controversies in which the CofE has become embroiled are the result of injustices in Society. As an Anglican Catholic, I can understand how, in trying to address issues of injustice to women, the Church can be tempted to change doctrine. Likewise, in trying to deal with the injustice done to homosexuals and an institutionalised loneliness, it's clear how the Church is tempted to consider redefining marriage. Yet, what we have forgotten is that these problems did not arise in the Church, but arose from Society.

Often the Church has the issue of slavery thrown up when it is called to think about issues of social controversy. The charge is that the Church supported the whole idea of slavery. This is not true. For starters, one of my patrons St Anselm opposed the British Slave Trade for "in 1102, at a church council in St. Peter's church, Westminster, he obtained the passage of a resolution against the practice of selling men like cattle." ("Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.). In the Eighth Century, the wife of King Clovis II, St Bathilde actively campaigned against slavery.  Pope Paul III pronounced against slavery in 1537. Again, it is capitulation to Society that has found Churchmen associated with the slave trade, not in its doctrine.

The idols offered by Society now are found in its ideologies and political theories, especially the Critical Theory of Marx, and they are worshipped very literally by giving them a worth that they do not deserve. 

Let me be clear, there are many good things about the ideologies that are around today, but they can only be good when they are taken in accordance with what is truly good, i.e. God. Feminism has raised the issue that women have been relegated to a second class citizen status, they have been paid less, they have not been allowed to participate fully in society. It, quite rightly, has fought for the equality of women and men under law, and seeks to ensure that they have as much respect and recognition for what they do as their male counterparts. Yet to take Feminism too far raises issues of false equality - that of the complete interchangability of male and female or, in a more radical form, the dominance of women over men. This over-extension cannot true. Men and women are different. The driving force behind Feminism must not be an idolised goal, but the love of neighbour that comes from following Christ. This is where the Church parts company with secularity: no -ism can displace the Doctrine that the Church has received. Yet, where the Church parts company with a  popular "-ism", we hear the cry of "DISCRIMINATION!"

The Church has rightly been accused of discrimination in the past along with Society in this relegation and invalidation of the female sex, but in putting these injustices right, the Church cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. That's how the problems of the Reformation started and look at the result of that! 

We sacrifice to the idol of a Societal Ism when we change our Doctrine to suit that Ism. We say "Oh Jesus must have held our Ism" and then perform acts of eisegesis in order to support our view that Our Blessed Lord held our philosophical viewpoint.

Now that the Church is back to its pre-Constantinian position with Society placing demands on our philosophical understanding of what is, it is all the more important that we recognise our part as dissenters from the rule of the Secular. We do indeed need to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's - there's no point in being anti-social for the sake of it. However, everything we do, every action we perform must bear witness to Society that we are ruled not by its demands for everybody living peacefully together, but by a complete devotion to the Triune God who bids us seek to live peacefully with each other in a deeper, purer and more charitable sense. When Church and Society differ, we must stand up and refuse to sacrifice to idols, but to do so without forgetting the Divine Mandate and making our sacrifices to Him alone.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Changing your title for someone else's

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

A brown envelope with a crown on it plops through your letter box. It looks terribly official. You have to fill out one of those important forms, and it looks like if you fill it out dishonestly, you might be breaking the law. What are you going to put for your title? Mr? Mrs? Dr? Dame? Or St?

Are you ready to put St as your title? Try it now. How does it sound?

[PAUSE]

The fact of the matter is that anyone who is a member of the Church is precisely that – a saint! Yet, none of us would dare put that as our title on official forms, would we? It makes us uneasy. It sounds presumptuous, over-confident, holier-than-thou. We also feel that if we possess the title of St, then we have a lot to live up to.

Well, we do have a lot to live up to!

As he writes to the Church in Thessalonika, St Paul is concerned with sanctification. The word literally means to become holy, to become a saint. St Paul says, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication; that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour”. God wants us to be saints!

For St Paul, sanctification and justification (being made right with God) are practically the same thing. In writing to the Corinthians (the first time, before they got stroppy with him), St Paul says,
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
We are washed through the waters of baptism where we are forgiven our sins. We receive the Holy Ghost who sanctifies us and gives us faith by which we can be justified. When we are washed, our eyes are cleansed too and we can see the extent of evil in our lives that we have been committing almost unknowingly. Yet as we receive the Holy Ghost through baptism, and have His influence in us fanned into flame by our confirmation, we are separated from these sins and thus, as our faith becomes ever stronger and stronger, so do we become ever more and more capable of being righteous in Jesus Christ. We become perfected through our co-operation with His grace.

St Paul is saying to us that we should be what we are – Saints! We should not act like evil doers because, if we are evil doers, then we can’t be saints!

[PAUSE]

Of course, we still do tend to sin, even after our baptism and confirmation, and the other sacraments. Neither baptism not confirmation can be repeated – you don’t get a second shot! They don’t need to be repeated. St John reminds us that, through these sacraments, we have been given within ourselves that stream of Living Water by Our Lord. Our duty, during Lent, is to reach into that Living Water, to drink deeply and wash ourselves anew. We need also to look and see the ways in which we can block that holy stream from welling up within us. Forgiveness is readily available to simply anyone who turns to Our Lord Jesus Christ – no exceptions!

[PAUSE]

However, we must remember. St is not a title – at least it does not belong to us and we certainly can never be worthy of it. St can only ever point to God. We are only truly sanctified if we live our lives responding willingly to the Holy Ghost. It is His work in us that can sanctify us. All we have to do is turn to Him and say, “yes!” to whatever He has in mind for us.

You are washed, you are sanctified and justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Do you still feel awkward in putting a St in front of your name? Why’s that?

Friday, March 10, 2017

People look North: mutual flourishing and focus for unity

Is it my business to comment on goings-on in a church that I'm not a member of? Most of the time, the answer is no. The internal wranglings of another ecclesial body are not my concern. As I said earlier, the Church of England has the distinction of being the Established Church in this country, second, I am trying to set up a Mission in the troubled Diocese of Sheffield, and third, my history, both personal and ecclesial, is bound up by the ties of Time to the CofE: I cannot ignore her.

Of course, what I have to do is to make sure that I do not attack her, or crow over any misfortunes that she should suffer. I do have a pastoral concern for her members, and I do not want them to suffer. Yet, the current problem that she is facing is essentially of her own legislative doing, in trying to hold together the impossible. I tried to be part of that, myself, when I was in the CofE. I hated what I saw as the lunatic changes to liturgy and service that I encountered both at University, and in my time in my home CofE parish. Yet, I loved the people, the warmth of being with those with whom I had grown up, and there are those whom I love who are still there. I loved the opportunities to sing some wonderful music indigenous to the Church of England which actually spurred my faith on. You must believe me that I truly bear the CofE not one bit of malice, and I could only ever return to her if she returned to Orthodoxy.

But I cannot return to her. She has burnt the bridge and I am content to have found the Anglican Catholic Church which keeps me part of the the Orthodox and Catholic Church. As far as I am concerned, the Anglican Catholic Church is the Church of England, because she is Orthodox and further because she has not changed the Faith. The CofE cannot be orthodox, and whether she can come back to being orthodox is not clear cut.

The latest news is that Bishop Philip North has declined the bishopric of Sheffield following many protests about his ability to be a focus for unity - an integral part of episcopal ministry. His supporters have used the CofE's five principles, especially that of "mutual flourishing" to affirm his appointment.

Neither of these things can happen in the CofE.

First of all, no bishop in the CofE can be the focus for sacramental unity since 1992. Those that ordain women as priests cannot have sacramental oversight of those who cannot receive women as priests. A woman bishop cannot be the focus for sacramental unity, because those who do not believe that she is a bishop cannot receive her ministry. And now, a traditionalist cannot be a bishop because they cannot be a focus of unity for those who believe that to refuse the priesthood of women are discriminating against women. There is now no bishop in the CofE who can truly be considered to be a focus of unity in his Diocese.

Of course, there is a solution: make two non-geographical Dioceses, one North, one South, and make two of the Bishops of the Society Diocesan Bishops with the view of looking after those parishes and priests who cannot accept the ordination of women. The problem there is that this goes against the traditional model of the Diocese. There are many ancient canons still in force which a non-geographical Diocese would breach. Yet it is a solution and a canon is law and not doctrine: laws can be changed when the need to change them arises; doctrines cannot. Geography is a canonical problem; the ordination of women is a doctrinal problem. It is a way forward for the CofE.

Of course, there will then be problems of a "church within a church" as these Traditionalist Churches would essentially lift right out of the CofE. It could be a schism in the making, but would it be a schism in the church, from the church or a return to the Church?

The second problem is that of "mutual flourishing". It's ambiguous. Is it the flourishing of individuals or of a theology? Are opponents of women priests going to be allowed to flourish as individuals, or are they going to be allowed to promote their theology. Supporters of women priests will say that it must be a flourishing of individuals because they believe that their opponents' theology is discrimination and should be stamped out. They will say that individual women priests cannot flourish under a bishop who does not recognise that they are priests. Yet, if a traditionalist cannot be a bishop because he is a traditionalist, then his flourishing as an individual is compromised, and he is discriminated against because he is seen as a "discriminator".

For the CofE, there simply cannot be mutual flourishing, nor can there be any bishops who are a true focus for full sacramental unity unless they start allowing for a peaceable separation. Perhaps priests should be in Dioceses with a bishop of the same sex who only ordains priests of that sex. Yet that is nonetheless separation and another form of apartheid. The ghosts of 1992 are really beginning to haunt the establishment.

There is one other option, and it is a brave and challenging option. All people in the CofE who oppose the ordination of women on Catholic principles are very welcome to join the ACC! We're here to be a fully orthodox and catholic Church of England and we welcome all those of a similar mindset. We're not big, but if more people join, we can get bigger and thus continue the work of God in this country rather than trying to legislate the unlegislatable.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Self-Definition and Souls

My confrere, Fr Anthony Chadwick has revealed that he has Asperger's syndrome. As a teacher, I have had to deal with a lot of students with learning difficulties which include students with Aspergers. As an examinations officer, I have had to make arrangements for many students who require some provision for their difficulties. In most cases, the cause was dyslexia of some kind. In a very few cases, I found out later, some of these diagnoses were acquired by paying an educational psychologist a sum of money - the psychological/medical version of simony. At the time, these folk could acquire extra time (as much as 40% extra time) in examinations.

The trouble is that Life doesn't give you 25% extra time after you leave school. You don't get 25% extra time to meet deadlines, nor do you get 25% extra time to cross a road. These days, the regulations have been tightened so that it is much more difficult to get extra time in an exam. That is a good thing in my opinion.

The fact of the matter is that Life is tough and unfair. I have much respect for Fr Anthony who has lived with Aspergers undiagnosed for nearly all his life. Clearly, the condition has given him some explanation, some answers for the way his life has gone. Yet also, he must have unique insights into a life where interactions with other people are difficult, trying to read their expressions, trying to deal with social cues which are almost invisible, and then dealing with the aftermath when he got these wrong.

Yet, Fr Anthony did not diagnose himself with Aspergers. He may have recognised aspects of the condition in himself, but needed the affirmation of modern science to make the confirmation. To often, people diagnose themselves with things and then expect the world to fit around them. This is another example of the self-definition of which we must beware.

I may seem to many to come across unsympathetically to the transsexual/transgender person. That I will not indulge the reality of their sensations is true. I do not believe that all truth is relative - how can it be? There are things that are objectively true otherwise there can be no truth at all.

1) All truth is subjective.
2) If all truth is subjective then the truth of the statement "all truth is subjective" is subjective.
3) The truth of "all truth is subjective" cannot be verified.
4) Statement (1) is possibly false.

So if "all truth is subjective" is true, then it is possibly false. On the occasion that it is false, then we have a contradiction. On the occasion it is true, then it becomes an objective statement contradicting itself. Certainly we have no justification in believing that all truth is subjective. We do have justification in believing that some truth is objective.

Ouch! Still with me? I'm not sure that I'm still with me!

My point is this: it is entirely possible that my feelings/impressions of reality/experiences although very genuine in their sensation are wrong. There is an objective reality there which exists utterly independently of our opinions. There will be things about our very selves which can be true even if we feel the opposite.

As a Christian, I believe in the existence of God and that He is responsible for the existence of all things that come into existence. It is He who defines what reality is, and our lives are lived trying to experience that reality. That reality is not necessarily what we experience it to be, and it takes our lifetime to reconcile ourselves with the harsh truth of reality.

We all have that terrible experience when we realise that we aren't who we want ourselves to be. We might think ourselves as more academic than we actually are. We might think of ourselves as being fitter, more capable than we actually are. We might think that we were born in the wrong time. We might think that we are the opposite sex to what we are.

This realisation of reality seems to cause two reactions - acceptance whereby we recognise reality and try to improve what we can and accept our limitations, or denial, whereby we cling to our perception of reality which is actually a fantasy and try to impose that fantasy on the world.

It seems to me that Christianity is an attempt to embrace reality with God. Humility is the acceptance of what God has ordained and co-operation with that ordination. The point of the Church is that all we, injured by the lies of the Devil, can find refuge in the company of others suffering the same horror of the fact of reality while embracing the truth of God's love for us in Our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians, we must draw others to us even in their fantasies, but we cannot indulge their fantasies which will draw us away from what is truly real, namely God Himself.

The true response of the Christian to the self-defined is that of the recognition of the first reality, namely of a soul on whose behalf Our Lord made His sacrifice for redemption. That is where we must start. We must first see a person - that is objective. Then we must apply the Lord's directive - "love thy neighbour". No exceptions.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Fatally self-defined



I have been ruminating on the issue of self-definition that I began here, and following a few welcome discussions, it suddenly struck me how lethal self-definition can be. A Norwegian woman claims that she is really a cat. Whether or not the video is true, or some publicity stunt, or just a piece of performance art, I don't know, but it raises a question.

If it can become law that a man can declare himself legally a woman (and vice versa) then it is clear that the law can allow untruths to become legal. A man is not a woman because he feels like a woman: there is a big difference. In today's sports, women's events are being won by men claiming to be women despite the fact that they have the physical power of a man that women do not possess. A man cannot feel like a woman because he cannot know what it is to be a woman. You might as well ask the meaningless question, "what is it like to be a cat?" when a cat cannot experience the world in human terms.

Let us use a little bit of logic: an Aristotelian syllogism, perhaps

1) Some human beings are cats.
2) All cats are beings that can be legally euthanised.
3) Some humans beings are beings that can be legally euthanised.

Now we have euthanasia by the back door.

What of this?
1) Some human beings are horses.
2) All horses are beings that can be legally euthanised when they break their legs badly.
3) Some human beings are beings that can be legally euthanised when they break their legs badly.

Is that grounds for legalised murder?

1) Some cats are women.
2) All women are beings that can legally marry men.
3) Some cats are legally married to men.

Oh dear. Now it is legal for men to marry cats.

When we start legalising the blatantly untrue, then we end up with a legal system that will not be able to cope with the fall-out from defying common sense. We are seeing this now in the Diocese of Sheffield where the CofE's Five Principles are struggling to admit that a Bishop who does not recognise that a quarter of his clergy really are priests can be given pastoral oversight over this Diocese! It is a legal nightmare that, I tentatively predict, will prove to be the end of the settlement between SSWSH and the rest of the CofE.

We really have to learn humility and accept that we do not have the right to say completely what we are when we do not satisfy the criteria for it. I am an Anglican Catholic, and the Anglican Catholic Church recognises me as that, indeed, I believe that the majority of people will accept that I am who I say I am in respect of what the term "Anglican Catholic" means. Those who don't I must accept their rejection, and I pray that I may do so humbly.

I am not a Roman Catholic, and I do not pretend to be a Roman Catholic. I know of one dreadful body of men led by a "Cardinal" who actually contracted a civil partnership with a "Bishop" and has paraded himself around Rome claiming to be Roman Catholic. He is not and his whole outfit of bishops (which seems to change its name every so often) is not recognised by Rome. Nor is he Old Roman Catholic and would certainly not be recognised as such given his credentials. He lacks any credibility as a bishop, even less as a Cardinal, and, as such, damages the whole Catholic Church with his self-definition.

If there is any hope of Christian Unity, then it must be in humility and in discussing and agreeing upon definitions so that, in accepting those definitions, we see ourselves as we are in God.

If there is any hope of legal integrity in this country, then it must come about by realising that falsehood cannot be legalised into truth, Men cannot be women. Women cannot be men. Let us learn to accept the diagnosis we are given and work with the materials that God gives us. From this humility comes good order which frees us from stupid legal wranglings to focus on what our brothers and sisters are in real need of - Love.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Fullness of Fasting

Sermon for the first Sunday in Lent

Are you enjoying Lent so far? We’re four days in and although Sunday is not counted as one of the Forty Days of Lent on the grounds that Sunday is always the Day of Resurrection, it still retains much of the Lenten character. Everything’s very austere, very solemn, very serious.

The challenge, of course, as our Lord suggests, is not to let a period of fasting, abstinence, and penitence become a time of negativity. We aren’t to deform our faces, but rather not publicise our fasting. We are still to mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice. If that’s the case, and we’re not meant to show our Lenten selves, why should we fast, and be abstinent, and be penitent in the first place? What is the point of Lent?

[PAUSE]

The temptation is to see Lent as a time of negativity, a time of discomfort, a time to be in pain so that Easter becomes all the greater joy. This treats Lent like banging your head against a brick wall because it feels so nice when you stop. But that’s it – it’s the temptation that stops us from seeing the truth. If we look at all the Devil’s temptations very carefully, we can ask ourselves the question, how much better off would we be if we accepted the Devil’s temptation?

How much better would Jesus have been if he had turned the stones to bread? Well, he would have stopped being hungry for a time, but He would have become hungry again. However, He would have turned from God and ceased to trust Him. Being filled with bread would have emptied Him of His Father. Likewise, when we fill ourselves with this world, we are actually emptying ourselves of God’s presence.

How much better would Jesus have been having thrown Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple? He would have become assured of God’s providence for Him but, again, He would have separated Himself from His Father by wounding the relationship and trust that they share.

Likewise, to worship Satan, or any created being, is the ultimate rejection of a relationship with God the Father.

The more we fill ourselves with this world, the more we empty ourselves of God. That sounds a bit odd.

[PAUSE]

Except it’s not. We can empty a barrel of water by pumping air into it – that’s how a stirrup pump works. Likewise, we empty ourselves of God’s substance in us by filling ourselves with the emptiness of the world without Him. Without God, the World loses its reality. This is why human beings cannot reconcile themselves to God, they need God’s help. Likewise God couldn’t reconcile human beings to Him without human beings being involved. In Our Lord Jesus, we have God and Man inseparably mixed. That’s how we can be filled with God through Our Lord Jesus.

It makes sense, then, to empty ourselves of the tyranny of things that we have acquired over the year. In fasting, we fill ourselves with trust in God’s providence. In practising penitence, we fill ourselves with trust in God’s mercy. In casting away the false gods and idols in our lives, we fill ourselves with the worship of God. Where there is darkness there can be no light. Where there is light there can be no darkness.

[PAUSE]

This is why we should receive Lent with a sense of joy. The hardships that it brings to our normal way of living should be seen as an opportunity to grow ever more filled of God. The fuller we become, the greater our sense of joy in the world that God has created.

How full are we feeling after four day’s of emptiness? Do you want to feel even more full of God?

Friday, March 03, 2017

Books and covers

My poor library is in boxes and waiting to be moved across the country. Much to the chagrin of some members of my family, my library is large and is still growing. I am minded of the following saying from the Apophthegmata Patrum:
A brother said to Abba Serapion, “Give me a word.” The old man said to him, “What shall I say to you? You have taken the living of the widows and orphans and put it on your shelves.” For he saw them full of books.
This is somewhat of an indictment against me and I do take the point made. In my defence, I do tend to try and lend my books to people who are interested as an informal library. Secondly, there is another poverty which comes about from ignorance and which needs to be tackled. Nonetheless, the testimony that my library makes against my lack of generosity to the poor does make me consider them more. I am privileged in being able to read, and privileged to be able to read some very technical material. If I have been given this privilege, then I must use it for the glory of God and to benefit of my brothers and sisters.

The saying is, "you cannot judge a book by its cover" - things are not what they seem. The trouble is that people do judge books by covers, which is why the graphic design departments of various publishers are often very busy.

The same is true of other things, none more so than Churches.

What happens when we start to look superficially at our internet material, our web pages, and our blogs? How do they appear to those who have little or no real interest in who we are? If, as Bishop Scarlett suggests, it is our online presence that affects whether people take us seriously, then we need to be critical with what we see.

How might a technology savvy teenager, or university student react to our webpages? What of the professional business person? The politician? The impassioned campaigner for social justice?

We do need to consider who we're trying to reach rather than presenting an unexamined webpage. If the unexamined life is not worth living, perhaps the unexamined webpage is not worth visiting?

Likewise, we should still learn to present ourselves well. I remember a tale that when a husband and wife (both CofE priests) encountered some members of the ACC, it was one of our members who struck the first blow by calling the lady a "priestess" within the first sentence. How horrible! And what an embarrassment for the ACC! The conversation went downhill from there, and it does not reflect well on the ACC. In the eyes of those two members of the CofE, we are now regarded unpleasant crackpots. Why? Because we behave like unpleasant crackpots!

The feminine of "priest" is indeed "priestess" and thus a logical term to use, except that words carry a force that is not obvious in logic. The only reason that the word "priestess" was used was done so either in ignorance or (I sincerely hope not) an attempt to poke the bear. The Lord Himself bids us make friends of the  Mammon of unrighteousness - we cannot treat people ungenerously, especially those with whom we disagree profoundly. There may be women priests who object to our very existence as an example of what they sincerely believe to be discrimination. Our job, then, is to show them that we are very, very much a Christian organisation, even if we are not members of the World Council of Churches, or Churches Together.

The ACC is right in its belief that it is part of the mainstream church, because we continue on the same path which others have left. Yet, in believing that, it is all the more important to be Christian, not by recognising in the other what divides us, but rather what unites us, seeing what need we can supply in a spirit of generosity, with a smile, and with a sense of rejoicing in the other's humanity that they share with us.

If we behave like misogynist crackpots, that is all the world will see. If that's the cover we want on our book, then we cannot be surprised if we remain on the shelf. Let us choose rather the face of Christ to be our cover, for then His light and radiance will truly draw those in need to His Church to find refreshment, sustenance and love!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Synergism and Synods

I seem to remember referring to a student as being an ergophobic. He took it as a compliment until he realised I'd just described him as being workshy. My regular readers will know that words always fascinate me, especially when we peel them back to what they really mean. These days we use the Joule as a unit of energy, but we used to use the erg. This came from the Greek word for work, whereby we understand energy as the capacity of a thing to do work,

One word that occurs in ecclesiastical circles is the word "synergy". It literally means a working together and refers to the work of Salvation. Synergy is our co-operation with God in the business of Humanity's salvation in the Church. Many Protestants are monergists in one way or another, meaning that they believe that God does all the work and that there is nothing we can do to bring about our salvation. There are some Protestants who would call synergists Semi-Pelagians, but that is not necessarily true. The Semi-Pelagians believed that the faith that we need to be saved begins in us. This is a position condemned at the Council of Orange in AD529. Orthodoxy tells us that it is God who begins the work of salvation of each of us by giving us grace to repent, i.e. to turn to Him.

Synergism, correctly stated, says that God first takes the initiative in our salvation but we then have a part to play in cooperating with that grace. Our salvation is accomplished by the free-will of God and Man.

When we start talking of two wills, one human and one divine, then we are beginning to talk about the question of Monothelitism which was condemned as a heresy by the Sixth Oecumenical Council. Monothelitism, Monoergism (not the same as Monergism which is the opposite of Synergism) and their parent Monophysitism are all heresies about the person of Jesus Christ. Orthodox teaching arising from the Oecumenical councils tells us categorically that
Our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood. Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ; One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether, not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ. (from the Quicunque Vult)
The teaching which arises against the three "mono"s is that Our Lord possesses two natures, two wills and two "energies" - an "energy" being a capacity to do work - in each case, one is human and one Divine.

It is the orthodox condemnation  of Monothelitism (that Our Lord, despite His two natures only had a divine will) in the Sixth Oecumenical Council that is relevant to synergism. In order for the Lord to work out our salvation, it required Him to be in possession of both a human and divine will, not just the divine will. That is significant. In order to save us, Our Lord had to be fully human and this includes the human will. He is tempted as we are, yet without sin, and the human will He possesses is
clearly not affected by the sin endemic in humanity, namely Original Sin.

We still have to ask ourselves, why two wills? why not be content with just the Divine if that is enough to save a human being? In our salvation, our wills are going to be reunited with God, this is clear. Our wills are to be perfected as part of our transformation in God. The perfection of our wills comes through repentance, i.e. an alignment with the Divine will. If God makes us want to repent, then that is a demonstration that there is no need for the human will - there exists only the Divine Will. Yet this is not the information that the rejection of Monothelitism gives us - the Human Will cannot be freely made to want - there is not a single will, but two. The Divine Will is that of Love which does not insist on its own way, and suggests the freedom of will that human beings possess to choose God and repent.

For me, the Sixth Oecumenical Council suggests that synergism is the truth of our salvation. I doubt that this will convince the die-hard Monergist. Yet, this is a question that anyone who subscribes to the Sixth Council must answer if they wish to continue their Monergism. If the human will is not free to choose God, then why does Our Lord possess a human will?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

To weep, or not to weep?

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Sometimes you just can’t win, can you?

Joel says, “Turn ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.”

Our Lord says, “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.”

So which is it? Joel wants us to weep, Our Lord does not want us to have a sad countenance. 

Obviously, the words of Our Lord should trounce Joel, but we believe that the Holy Ghost speaks through the prophets. Is this a case of God contradicting Himself? If not, then is it possible to weep without having a sad countenance?

[PAUSE]

God always looks to the heart. This is where Joel and Our Lord are in obvious agreement. We remember St Paul’s words on Love: if we do things without Love, we gain nothing from them. Our motivation in all our practices must be devotion to God. This is a theme that we hear time and time again. Yet the world seems to forget this little message, doesn’t it? Isn’t it therefore a good idea to remind people when to fast by showing them that we are fasting rather than by yelling it into their ears with megaphones? If we do try to show them, then we risk falling back into the trap that Our Lord bids us beware.

In many ways, the hypocrites are doing a good thing. They are fasting and encouraging people to fast. That can only do these people good, surely? But notice how it produces the wrong type of devotion. It’s completely empty – just something to do for the sake of it. Empty devotion breeds empty devotion. If there’s nothing there to start with, then there cannot be anything there at the end. Unless…

[PAUSE]

Unless we fill that space with love. 

We have been preparing for Lent for a little while, examining ourselves, realising our shortcomings, and realising that our infirmities help us to glory in the Holy Ghost who dwells within us. It is the Holy Ghost that prevents us from being empty.

We are to approach Lent from the heart. Our tears of sorrow and repentance are to be private, genuine tears when we confront ourselves in the sight of God. We may shed them publicly, yet their origin is from the invisible centre of our soul and not shed in vain. We have the seal of Confession whereby we divulge our sins to a priest and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness. That seal is not just for the priest to observe and thereby keep our sins out of the ears of all and sundry, but it is a seal for ourselves as well, to weep for them and then to push them away from us, released from their weight by God’s assurance of forgiveness.

[PAUSE]

Dust we are, and unto dust shall we return, but the love of God within us is Eternal. That is God’s assurance that our tears wept for our sins will be wiped away when we are raised with Him. Lent is always followed by Easter. Dust is always followed by Resurrection. Now is the time for fasting when all the Church weeps for the sins of her people. Then it will be time for feasting when the Church proclaims her song of joy.