Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bottom of the form

In trying to demonstrate the (shall we be polite) unsuitability of Christian "worship" songs for Mass it seems I've hit upon something that is affecting the whole Church.

It seems that it's a modern disease of separating form and content or form and function and it's eating at the very fabric of the Church.

Let's consider the following problem. Supposing that a headmaster were to come into school wearing a floral dress, stockings, a fox-fir and a straw hat, there would be no way on earth that he could exert any authority over his staff or students. His form has an effect on his function.

For the Church, form and function or form and content are more important as we deal with sacramental realities which have their existence beyond the scrutiny of a directly observable universe. If we go to the rather glib definition of sacrament as "outward sign of invisible grace" then we are faced with what something looks like being coupled with what it is or does.

I've spoken about Transubstantiation quite a bit: to wit bread and wine before consecration become Body and Blood afterwards - their reality changes. Of course, one may reject the Aristotelian physics here of a substance being changed but not the accidents. However, there has certainly been some change and that change is substantial in that what exists after transformation is substantially (i.e. with a changed reality) different from what existed before.

Yet the form and function of the sacrament are very precise. A packet of Doritos and a bottle of Tizer clearly cannot produce the same sacrament - it's too divorced from the pattern the Lord set us, that has been established in Church Praxis and indeed sends out a very different message from the notion of spiritual sustenance and communion that wafer and wine have always provided.

I notice with some dismay that there is an attempt to remove weightier Christian themes from the service of Baptism in the CofE. Again, we have this divorce of form and function, by making the service less Christian, who can we Christen a baby? If the family are not going to play a part in the Practice of the Christian Religion, how can they be said to bringing up a child in the Christian Faith?

Form and function and form and content are inextricably bound. By changing how the religion is practice changes the religion. The exchange of the sign of Peace used to be a holy action in itself which had the practical benefit of demonstrating to someone who may not understand the high-falutin theology that he is meant to be an instrument of the Peace of God. Originally the action was practiced only at the Altar by the Sacred ministers, but today it has become a way to start a conversation in the middle of the Mass. The change of practice means loss of focus on God.

The same is true for "worship songs". I will admit that these do have a place in the correct assembly. A gathering expressly to sing songs of a Christian nature may well encourage people to find some emotional and spiritual expression, however the form of these songs is not often appropriate for the solemnity of Mass where a clear focus of one's attention is needed in order to meet God where the veil is thin.

The Ordination of Women (yes again! I am a one note tuba, aren't I?) is the same problem.

The fact of the matter is this: change the form of the sacrament and you change the sacrament. Change the practice of the community and you change the community.

Yet this is precisely what Fresh Expressions and Mission-Shaped XYZ are doing. Have any of the dioceses which have leapt aboard these bandwagons thought about this?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Victory and Salvation.

9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying , Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

9 post haec vidi turbam magnam quam dinumerare nemo poterat ex omnibus gentibus et tribubus et populis et linguis stantes ante thronum et in conspectu agni amicti stolas albas et palmae in manibus eorum 10 et clamabant voce magna dicentes salus Deo nostro qui sedet super thronum et agno 11 et omnes angeli stabant in circuitu throni et seniorum et quattuor animalium et ceciderunt in conspectu throni in facies suas et adoraverunt Deum 12 dicentes amen benedictio et claritas et sapientia et gratiarum actio et honor et virtus et fortitudo Deo nostro in saecula saeculorum amen

9 Μετὰ ταῦτα εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ὄχλος πολύς, ὃν ἀριθμῆσαι αὐτὸν οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο, ἐκ παντὸς ἔθνους καὶ φυλῶν καὶ λαῶν καὶ γλωσσῶν, ἑστῶτες ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου καὶ ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου, περιβεβλημένους στολὰς λευκάς, καὶ φοίνικες ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτῶν: 10 καὶ κράζουσιν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγοντες, Ἡ σωτηρία τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ καὶ τῷ ἀρνίῳ. 11 καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι εἱστήκεισαν κύκλῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων, καὶ ἔπεσαν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου ἐπὶ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν καὶ προσεκύνησαν τῷ θεῷ, 12 λέγοντες, Ἀμήν: ἡ εὐλογία καὶ ἡ δόξα καὶ ἡ σοφία καὶ ἡ εὐχαριστία καὶ ἡ τιμὴ καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ ἰσχὺς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων: ἀμήν.

The Apocalypse 7.9-12
I'm doing some very slow reading of the Apocalypse as part of my practice of Lectio Divina. I'm finding this very rewarding but not a little puzzling with all the images that the Apocalypse throws into one's head.

This little passage occurs in between the breaking of the sixth and seventh seals. The first seal brought forth the horseman Conqueror, the second the horseman Discord, the third the horseman Famine and the fourth the horseman Pandemic. These are my names for them having mulled over their roles. More on them in a moment. The fifth seal brings forth what appears to be a cosmic disaster that shakes the foundation of the earth, and the sixth brings forth the angel with the seal who marks the 144,000 of the Jewish tribes.

After all these things the countless crowd (who do not number 144,000 since that is a rather accurately counted number) cry out:

"Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
It's a bit of a puzzling statement at first glance: "Salvation to our God," (Ἡ σωτηρία τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν or salus Deo nostro ). One of the modern Bible Translations that I have in front of me (it's my REB Oxford Study Bible) translates "σωτηρία" as Victory. It's not quite good enough really. The word is Salvation. The Latin has connotations of a restoration to health, the Greek a deliverance. We can say "Victory to Our God" and rightly so for He, a Human Being, has conquered Death, but it's easy for it to stop there. There is no need for us to be involved - it's someone else's fight. However, to say "Salvation to Our God" is to ascribe the reason for our deliverance from sin relies solely on the achievement of God.

We have our own struggle in life. We struggle to reach Salvation because we have a part to play. We also have a risk which this struggle involves. All struggle involves the risk of failure. Could Christ have failed? Well, Christians believe that He didn't; the World believes that He did. In order for people to be free to choose, the Truth of the Resurrection lies only upon those who are prepared to take the risk and believe. Faith involves a risk.

If then faith be the essence of a Christian life, and if it be what I have now described, it follows that our duty lies in risking upon Christ's word what we have, for what we have not; and doing so in a noble, generous way, not indeed rashly or lightly, still without knowing accurately what we are doing, not knowing either what we give up, nor again what we shall gain; uncertain about our reward, uncertain about our extent of sacrifice, in all respects leaning, waiting upon Him, trusting in Him to fulfil His promise, trusting in Him to enable us to fulfil our own vows, and so in all respects proceeding without
carefulness or anxiety about the future.

John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons iv.20

Thus, in being prepared to take a risk, we find ourselves in an interesting place. One can cite the new leaders of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Frs Newton, Burnham and Broadhurst, who have risked stipends and ways of life, their reputation, their status as Bishops all for pursuit of what they hold dear. That makes them either supremely foolish, or supremely brave.

But they have risked and thus they have the potential for victory or for failure. Likewise they have risked everything in the pursuit of salvation. If they had remained behind, they believe that they would not have received it. The point is that Salvation requires effort on our part. Living a faith requires a struggle, a worked faith, "risking it all on a game of pitch and toss".

The cause of our Salvation is God. The offer of Salvation is from God. Our assistance to Salvation is God. The end of our Salvation is God. And this is why we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, we risk everything to stand in the Presence of God - but in the presence of God is the truth of how much we have honestly invested in Him.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Upon this rock I will build my Church

13. ελθων δε ο ιησους εις τα μερη καισαρειας της φιλιππου ηρωτα
τους μαθητας αυτου λεγων τινα με λεγουσιν οι ανθρωποι ειναι τον υιον του ανθρωπου

Venit autem Jesus in partes Cæsareæ Philippi : et interrogabat discipulos suos, dicens : Quem dicunt homines esse Filium hominis ?

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

14. οι δε ειπον οι μεν ιωαννην τον βαπτιστην αλλοι δε ηλιαν ετεροι δε ιερεμιαν η ενα των προφητων

At illi dixerunt : Alii Joannem Baptistam, alii autem Eliam, alii vero Jeremiam, aut unum ex prophetis.

And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

15. λεγει αυτοις υμεις δε τινα με λεγετε ειναι

Dicit illis Jesus : Vos autem, quem me esse dicitis ?

He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16. αποκριθεις δε σιμων πετρος ειπεν συ ει ο χριστος ο υιος του θεου
του ζωντος

Respondens Simon Petrus dixit : Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi.

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of
the living God.

17. και αποκριθεις ο ιησους ειπεν αυτω μακαριος ει σιμων βαρ ιωνα οτι σαρξ και αιμα ουκ απεκαλυψεν σοι αλλ ο πατηρ μου ο εν τοις

Respondens autem Jesus, dixit ei : Beatus es Simon Bar Jona : quia caro et sanguis non revelavit tibi, sed Pater meus, qui in cælis est.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon
Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18. καγω δε σοι λεγω οτι συ ει πετρος και επι ταυτη τη πετρα οικοδομησω μου την εκκλησιαν και πυλαι αδου ου κατισχυσουσιν

Et ego dico tibi, quia tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram ædificabo
Ecclesiam meam, et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19. και δωσω σοι τας κλεις της βασιλειας των ουρανων και ο εαν δησης
επι της γης εσται δεδεμενον εν τοις ουρανοις και ο εαν λυσης επι της γης εσται λελυμενον εν τοις ουρανοις

Et tibi dabo claves regni cælorum. Et quodcumque ligaveris super terram, erit ligatum et in cælis : et quodcumque solveris super terram, erit solutum et in cælis.

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

20. τοτε διεστειλατο τοις μαθηταις αυτου ινα μηδενι ειπωσιν οτι αυτος εστιν ιησους ο χριστος

Tunc præcepit discipulis suis ut nemini dicerent quia ipse esset Jesus Christus.

Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.

21. απο τοτε ηρξατο ο ιησους δεικνυειν τοις μαθηταις αυτου οτι δει
αυτον απελθειν εις ιεροσολυμα και πολλα παθειν απο των ρεσβυτερων και αρχιερεων και γραμματεων και αποκτανθηναι και τη τριτη ημερα εγερθηναι

Exinde cœpit Jesus ostendere discipulis suis, quia oporteret eum ire Jerosolymam, et multa pati a senioribus, et scribis, et principibus sacerdotum, et occidi, et tertia die resurgere.

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

22. και προσλαβομενος αυτον ο πετρος ηρξατο επιτιμαν αυτω λεγων ιλεως σοι κυριε ου μη εσται σοι τουτο

Et assumens eum Petrus, cœpit increpare illum dicens : Absit a te, Domine : non erit tibi hoc.

Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.

23. ο δε στραφεις ειπεν τω πετρω υπαγε οπισω μου σατανα σκανδαλον μου ει οτι ου φρονεις τα του θεου αλλα τα των ανθρωπων

Qui conversus, dixit Petro : Vade post me Satana, scandalum es mihi : quia non sapis ea quæ Dei sunt, sed ea quæ hominum.

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

St Matthew xvi.13-23

I don't particularly want to go into the more obvious argument here about the character of the Petrine ministry. The question is: is the simple reading sufficient and thus giving sanction and development to the Papacy or is there a context which is alluded to which Peter and the audiences of St Matthew's gospel would have understood? Isaiah li.1 is often mentioned here in reference to the interpretation of this verse, but I believe that Deuteronomy xxxii and II Samuel xxii.32 are also rather influential in putting forward alternatives to the argument for the Papacy. I'll leave the arguments to the many better theologians than I, suffice it to say that I am still more convinced by the pro-Papal understanding.

On that I shall say no more and ask the charitable reader not to try and convert me to full Roman Catholicism (and until I am in communion with Rome, that is how I shall refer to it) or to dissuade me of Papal claims. I am an Anglican Papalist, and this necessarily means that I am in constant dialogue with people I know and trust and I study to address what I know to be deficiencies and confusions in my position - current events are indeed changing the character of the Anglican Papal position and require much careful thought. It isn't just the head that needs to be converted by reasons and rational argument, but the whole man, and my heart will also require a spark of inspiration through expressions of Christian charity and generosity. I would be grateful for any prayers.

What is interesting is the nature of the Church which the Lord intends to build on the rock whatever that rock might be. The Lord uses the word ekklesia - addressing those who are called out "of Darkness into His marvellous light" as the very same St Peter would say. The nature of Church is one of vocation and in order to respond to a call, one has to listen.

The very nature of this passage from St Matthew's gospel centres around the idea of listening carefully to what's being said, not just with the mind but with the heart, and not just with the heart but with the mind. Heart and mind have to work together. Of course, one usually gets ahead of the other, or one lags behind for a while. Do head and heart get inspired simultaneously.

St Peter who seems to be all heart in this situation. He reacts without thinking to the Lord's statements about His own future. St Peter may correctly respond to his hearing of the Holy Spirit about the nature of Christ, yet still he goes on, spurred by the beating of the same heart, to step over the line and incur a sharp rebuke by not accepting the consequences of being the Christ.

St Paul is of course the opposite here. His intellectual inspiration comes first and, confident of the consistency of his repository of knowledge (albeit incomplete), does what it takes to defend that repository. His heart has to catch up, which it does on the Damascus road, and this realignment of his heart effectively causes him to reflect and thus complete the gaps in his repository.

In order to be of the ekklesia, we have to pay attention to the call that we are receiving. In a noisy world in which there are many voices all claiming to possess the Truth whether without or within, it is very difficult to hear what one's true calling is. In this case, the calling is quite simple in its statement -Come and Follow Christ: its execution is a different matter. If the apostles were all still alive after 2000 years, it would seem more likely that there would be a unified Christianity. Yes, even those apostles would still be sinners, but there would be still a guaranteed link and memory to Christ's intentions in building this church, and I am sure the unity of Christian Doctrine would be maintained. There wouldn't be argument about what St Matthew xvi.18 actually means because the Truth would still be preserved by those who were there when He said it.

Is there Truth in the Church? Well, of course there is. The physical death of the apostles does not affect the transmission of the Gospel, because the apostles not only transmit their testimony, but also the same spirit - the Holy Spirit - to those who come after. The Lord says "The Gates of Hades (αδου, inferi) shall not prevail against it." I believe I'm right in saying that the Lord is referring rather more specifically to Death rather than our understanding of Hell, though really the two are substantially the same. Is the Lord not saying, "the Church shall transcend Death itself"?

It is important, then, to be as active as possible in our Christian faith to be listeners to what is being said by the World and by God and to reflect on them both, hearing the differences. Anything that comes from one's own self motivation or agenda is more than likely not from God. We have to deny ourselves to follow Christ. Whatever is motivated by one's love for Christ and for one's neighbour is more likely to be true than trying to save face in the light of many pressing arguments.

To convert to Roman Catholicism because that is where one sincerely believes that is where he will find Christ is clearly the right thing to do. To convert because he is running away from gay bishops is not. We need to listen to ourselves also and examine our true motives.

Perhaps I present this as a bit of an apology for my position. These are tough times and require perhaps more strength than any of us possess. I think, however, we should be assured that if we are encountering an uphill struggle, then we must necessarily be ascending unlike those engaged in plain (plane?) sailing.