Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A protest Church? I protest!

One of the sad facts of ACC history is that there was a schism in the late 1990s when Bishop Leslie Hamlett left to form the Holy Catholic Church. His argument was that the ACC was more of a protest Church than seeking any actual affirmation of doctrine. Of course, one could argue that the HCC was then a protest movement from a protest movement which itself was a protest movement from a protest movement... et c. Naturally, I have no desire to demonstrate any disrespect for members of the HCC. Does the ACC have a case to answer?

All schism within the Church is an embarrassment and scandalous, especially when the Church isn't very big to start with. The fact that Continuing Anglicanism has fractured I think rather demonstrates how fractured the parent body of the Episcopal Church was to start with. We must also add in the fact that there have been some very strong personalities that have caused repercussions with their words (and sometimes actions) which have not served the movement well.

Should there be these things called "movements" within the Church? Movement implies motion and that implies either a destination or a withdrawal. In the case of the Oxford Movement, it was a movement to reclaiming the Anglican Heritage of the pre-Reformation, especially the heritage of the Early Church. That was the Tractarian Goal. That heritage has both Eastern and Western parts in it which does explain why there is a certain dichotomy among Continuing Anglicans. Just as the Eastern Church had one language - Greek - and the other had another - Latin. So Continuing Anglicans occasionally have difficulty hearing what another is saying.

This needs to be addressed, but can only be really done so when the East and West Patriarchates have done so. Until then, within the Continuing Anglican Church, St Thomas Aquinas will need to find how to sit next to St Gregory Palamas. Reason and Philosophy will have to dwell with Mystery and Unknowing. How are we going to agree on the validity or expression of doctrine of Original Sin when the East rejects it and the West affirms it? Can a soteriology based on The Day of Judgement be reconciled with one based upon a break from prison by Theosis? Personally, I believe it can, but it will take more than I could ever comprehend to work out the details. Is the movement a convergence? I pray so.

From the point of view of the Chambers Succession, the movement called "Continuing Anglicanism" becomes visible in the 1970s in the U.S. when the Episcopal Church of the U.S. puts forward several changes which result in changes to the sacraments and the lex orandi. A vote is taken, the changes adopted and those who protest at the result leave the authority of ECUSA. Again we have political and religious dimensions to this that have to be separated out clearly.

In voting to implement changes to sacraments and liturgy, the Episcopal Church have voted substantive changes to the Faith in order to accommodate the sensibilities of the contemporary culture. The Continuing Anglican movement becomes a protest movement against the politics of the Episcopal Church and, consequently, leaves the political jurisdiction of that Church. It does, however, seek to continue what was in the Episcopal Church before the vote. Thus, the Episcopal Church have departed from what they hitherto affirmed and have thus protest against the religious interpretation that Continuing Anglicans actually continue. The same is true in the Church of England, which is why the Continuing Anglican movement is now present in this country.

To say that we are a protest Church is true in the sense that we exist because we seek to keep things the same as they always have been and do not believe that the changes to the Faith are warranted. We exist as a separate movement in the same way as a non-smoker continues to sit inside the pub while the smokers go outside to light-up. The smokers say, "we're going outside to smoke. Come join us," The non-smokers say, "no thanks!" possibly with some unbecoming comments about how smoking is not healthy. The group of non-smokers becomes apparent precisely because the smokers have left. Likewise, we have become visible because our parent Churches have left us. Is that a protest? Perhaps makes us like the Democrat members of Congress who stage a sit-in to discuss gun control. The thing is, we're still here and we were not in a position to force people to stay; the majority have left the building. In that sense, there is no such thing as a Continuing Anglican movement. We are a Continuing Anglican Staying-where-we-were-ment.

The Church of England was intended to be a political protest at the government of Rome; religious reforms came in later but have never been universally accepted. The Church Papist, the Laudian, the Caroline Divine, and the Non-Juror have always been lurking in English History. The lack of a comprehensive definition of what it means to be Anglican has meant that we in the ACC have had to pick a particular interpretation of that adjective and use that to describe us. For us, "Anglican" means that we are "Anglo-Catholic". Even then, that term is rather subject to change. There are Romanising Anglo-Catholics, and Puseyites. I suppose that makes me an Anglican Papalist Puseyite! This does mean that we have doctrine and thus a particular substance that, although is not unique to us - we hope it isn't!! - means that we have some recourse to answering the question "can I be saved?" in the same way as any other Catholic.

What is true is that our language has probably been rather polemical, and this does lend credibility to the charge of us being a "protest church". The key thing is for us to develop some further substance so that we don't exist for the sake of protest. The fact that we hold to the doctrine that the Catholic Faith cannot be altered by political acts means that we are necessarily in opposition to those that believe that the Catholic Faith is a product of culture. If we voice that opposition, then that is a protest. Yet, to gain substance and credibility, we must actively live that rule.

If we protest against the ordination of women, then what are we doing actively to ensure not only that women have a valued presence within the Church and can find expressions of spiritual leadership if, like St Hilda and St Hildegard, they are called by God to become spiritual leaders? How do we demonstrate that the male priesthood is not a tacit suppression or exclusion of women?

If we protest against abortion, then how do we work to end the need for it? How do we contribute to the welfare equally of mother and baby? How do we invest our resources into making the practice unnecessary? Do we, by our living as well as our speaking and writing, encourage and inspire others to seek the commitment of marriage as the environment in which man and woman can give themselves to each other in loving tenderness for the purpose of bringing a loved child into the world? How do we make our society safe for women so that they can live without the fear of being raped?

If we protest against same-sex marriage, then how do we demonstrate how love really works within celibate friendships? Do we regard divorce as another version of same-sex marriage as we should? How do we value a person who just happens to be a homosexual? Do we actively assist society in seeing that sex is not the be-all-and-end-all of human existence and that celibacy is not only valuable but venerable?

You see, the more we shout loudly and make noises and yet forget about the way we live life sinfully, the more that our protests do nothing about the issues that afflict society. Indirectly, all of our sins contribute to everyone else's like merging ripples on the surface of the water. As Our Lord says, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Yes, we need to be able to stand up and say "that is a sin" but equally we need to be able to lead folk out of sin. It's like shouting "fire" and not telling anyone where the fire escape doors are.

None of these questions can be answered by waving a placard and shouting.

What we often forget is that we, the Church, are called to be a blessing to the world. This was supposed to be the people of Israel, however with the incorporation of gentiles into the Body of Christ, the Church at least shares the call to be this blessing. This makes it all the more necessary for us to live our lives in order to distribute that blessing.

If the Anglican Catholic Church is a protest Church, then let it be because we protest on behalf of the human race against Evil, and let us do so actively reminding ourselves that we do so as part of the Catholic Church. There is very little point in protesting against the Church of England or the Episcopal Church if there are projects and activities within them that feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. People will see these good works and will not see that supporting the transgender manifesto threatens the safety of women, or supporting the right of a woman to abort at any time threatens the life not just of the unborn but also the newborn. They will see the benefit of gene therapy, but not see the impending issue of eugenics.

Of course, the argument could be made by some that the Devil can clothe his vile actions with good works just as he can clothe his lies with truth. Absolutely right! This is why the doctrine of the Church has to be on the firmest footing so that the whole Catholic Church is on the same verse if not agreeing with the same tune. With the Church living out her faith as well as speaking about it, we have greater opportunity to demonstrate that we mean what we say ion an age of soundbite, branding, and superficiality. We must call out sin, but back up its excision with grace, forgiveness and the fullest support.

We also have to be protesting against Death too. The issues that I've outlined above are evils enshrined in Time. They will end with the human race. The existence of the Church is a loud "NO!" to the cadaverous face of the Grim Reaper. We have been given that voice by the Resurrection of Christ. We have the strength to stand up against the end of our lives precisely because Our Great High Priest has made that journey for us, laying out the Catholic Faith like Ariadne's string in the Labyrinth so that in Him we can find the way out of our prison and live with God in Eternity. This is the greatest protest that we can make and none more worthwhile. All of our actions, our good works, our doctrine, dogma, and discipleship, all are pointed towards the destruction of Death in the abyss. All that exists in the repository of the Faith testifies to the worth of each individual from beyond the confines of Time and Space, and it is our job to give expression to that testimony.

We fail to do that if we continue to protest in a way that does not demonstrate the intrinsic worth of precisely everyone involved in the issue we are protesting against.

The Anglican Catholic Church exists because it seeks to continue its protest by staying put and growing in the Faith that it has received. The question we need to ask is whether we truly are growing in the Catholic Faith - not necessarily numerically, but in spirit. If we're a sexist church, a purist church, a church where we're better than everyone else, a church that's all talk and no substance, then we'll deservedly die out, and good riddance!  For, in that case, there is too little evidence that we live the Faith once delivered to the saints.

Our reality and recognition as a Church depends on living a Catholic life. Of course, with the fragmentation of Continuing Anglicanism, we need to make sure that what we mean by "Catholic" is clear. We know that we take the Vincentian Canon as our definition, but do we really live out a faith that is recognisably Christian everywhere, at all times and to everyone? If we do, or at least strive to, then it doesn't matter what we're called, just as long as it involves Christ Our Lord, and we protest our allegiance to Him in spirit and in truth.

Is our protest noted, and by whom?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fishing for expectations

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

Does the future look bright to you? In many ways, most of us hopefully have a lot to look forward to – birthdays, anniversaries, goals in life. For many others, the future is a frightening place full of uncertainty and difficulty. Many people can become unable to function precisely because they are afraid of how this will affect the future.

The bad news is that there will be pain for all of us. There will be temptation. We will be affected by sin, either our own or someone else’s. There will be loss, decay and breakages which will affect our lives. Worse still, if we actually honour our calling to be Christians, Our Lord warns us that we will face persecution, ridicule, social sanctions and, possibly even death. We cannot afford to forget our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are suffering like this right this very minute. This could make us afraid to be Christians.

These are hard facts and the Bible doesn’t shy away from them. Look at poor Job who seems to be punished for something he didn’t do. Ecclesiastes reminds us that both Rich and Poor will end up in the grave. For many people, they will say, “well then, what’s the point? Let’s give up on God and just enjoy life.”

There are times when we’re tempted to feel the same.


Simon Peter toils all night with his friends trying to catch some fish. If he doesn’t find any, he will have nothing to sell. If he has nothing to sell, then he will not get any money which he needs in order just to live. In the morning, his nets are empty and the future is not looking too good. Enter the Lord Jesus.

Years later the same St Peter now tells us, “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” In his time listening to Jesus speaking to him, St Peter has come to realise that seeking that which is truly good is the way forward in life. He has been told, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”.

This is how we are to live life at each and every moment, seeking the kingdom of God. Whatever is troubling us, whatever we need, whatever is oppressing us, we need only focus our attention on the kingdom of God. Why?

The kingdom of God is our home. It is with us now, with anyone who accepts Our Lord as king of their lives and who thus wants to live out that rule. St Peter says, “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.”

He is speaking about the same kingdom of God that he met those years ago. Our Lord Jesus says, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Through his sleeplessness and worry, St Peter says, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net.” In saying “yes” to Jesus, St Peter accepts His rule and is rewarded for his faith. Our Lady says “yes” to the rule of God and is blessed by becoming the Mother of God.


Life may weary us, bother us, frighten us, infuriate us. However, if we can get into the good habit of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all the things we really need will be added unto us, and we will be happy. When we pray each day, we need to ask God for the grace to seek Him out and find Him.

Then we can expect to find Him. We will be carried through all of our troubles, though we will still feel the pain. However, in God, the pain will end and even become for us a badge of honour, just as the wounds of Our Lord are the means to a greater grace and a greater joy for us.

If we remain faithful to God, our troubles will not be as bad as we think. In fact, the joy will break the nets of our expectations!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Political Church: a confusion of categories?

Of course, Jesus was political! He died because He challenged the government, both local and global, and He was executed ultimately for reasons of political expediency.

The Gospel issues a challenge to all human beings, all human organisations and all human governing bodies. Does that mean that Our Lord has a view on how governments are run? Is He Conservative or Liberal, Left of Centre or Right of Centre, or Centre?

The reason that the Continuing Anglican movement exists in its various parts is because of the question: "Can Church Teaching change with time?" We don't accept slavery, but neither does the Continuing Anglican Movement accept the change in the matter of sacraments. The two are not in the same category - one is essentially a question of the political status of people, the other is a question of the Covenant that exists between God and Man. The trouble is that the categories cut across each other because of the nature of how Man lives his earthly life and how he aspires to his Heavenly life.

My bishop and I voted on opposite sides of the recent Referendum. The question is, should I have toed the line and voted just as my bishop voted? The answer is no: we voted as citizens of the UK, not as clergymen. Any authority that I have as a priest and any authority that my bishop has cannot be political. Any authority that we have is derived from our sharing in the priesthood of Christ in the ordering and regulation of how the church ministers to the laity. This is often forgotten by some members of the Church, especially in times past. One could refer to the Cardinals as "Princes of the Church", but the word "prince" can only ever be used in the original sense of princeps - leadership. Leadership need not be political, at least, not in the sense of one person getting their own way in a community. An Abbot of a Community has a leadership bound up with the Rule and no further. The trouble is that any community of people will raise questions of "who's in charge?" and "who gets to say in which direction we travel together?" Thus politics will naturally arise within the Church, that does mean that it will need to be regulated by the Faith, NOT by the law.

Of course, Canon Law is designed to be such a regulation. We recently had to remove a senior clergyman because he had violated the rules of administering the sacraments. Are there rules of administering the sacraments? Should there be rules of administering the sacraments? Of course there should, but the rules on the application of sacraments come from our walk with God and understanding His intentions for them. That's not human politics; that's our willing subjection of our lives to Christ the King. Canon Law is about the ordering of the running of the Church. It is not about (or should not be about) the ordering of the lives of Churchfolk. The spirit of Canon Law can only ever be the organizing presence of the Holy Spirit. God orders the lives of Churchfolk as they seek Him as the community called the Catholic Church.

The movement for the ordination of women has put forward the argument that preventing women from being ordained is akin to condoning slavery. For an Anglican Catholic, like me, there is a confusion of categories here. Ordination is a sacrament which arises from the Covenant relationship that the Church has with God and cannot be changed because the nature of humanity as a creature made in the image of God and fallen from grace does not change in time and, clearly, God is Eternal and thus changeless. Slavery is a political problem and can only be tackled politically by people who believe it to be morally wrong, as the Church does but, admittedly, has not been very proactive in combatting it at times to say the least!

Let's just look at these two issues as they arise biblically.

First, the ordination of women:
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover * he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved ; then let them use the office of a deacon , being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long , that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (I Timothy iii)
How is Paul addressing Timothy here? As a political leader? No. He speaks that St Timothy may how he ought to behave himself in the house of God which is the church of the living God. The rule here is that of God and within the governance of the Church, not the governance of living in the world. It is clear that in mentioning the word "husband", the rule of the sacrament of Ordination is intended solely for those of the male sex, not for political reasons, but for reasons of the Covenant, the means of grace and in keeping with the faith enshrined in the entirety of Holy Scriptures. But then I've fleshed out my arguments elsewhere. The trouble comes when this Canon Law is applied as a political law and women are seen as spiritually lesser, which is clearly not true! Our Lord Himself, in declaring the greatest to be the least and the least the greatest, does away with this idea of ranking people within the Church. Notice that he asks Timothy, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" This again is not the political rule of a house, but the rule of the house according to the Christian Faith. That is the context of St Paul's direction.

On the issue of slavery:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother;  (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath : but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service , as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth , the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand . Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly , as I ought to speak. (Ephesians vi.1-20)
In what context is St Paul addressing the Ephesians? Clearly, he is addressing them about how to live in society, among people who may or may not share their faith. In telling servants to obey their masters, we see a recognition by St Paul that the circumstances of men come about by political means. We are to accept the government we have because that's the way things are and in remembrance that our destiny is not bound up with any politics. If slavery is indigenous, then Christians have to find a political way of dealing with it in accordance with the Christian Faith and the rule of Christ's Kingship. A Christian may engage in the civil disobedience of an unjust law, i.e. where the political law contradicts the Divine Law, but must accept the political sanctions that the disobedience requires. Here we can see that happen with Daniel who accepted the punishment of the lions' den for the civil disobedience of an unjust political law.

When we discuss Church matters, we do need to be able to separate political stances from Divine Law. This is why there are such schisms in the Catholic Church. If the Pope is a bishop, then he cannot be a monarch. His authority comes from God as a ruler of the Church, not from politics as a ruler of the lives of men. The two are in separate categories, and the categories get confused. I would like to conjecture that all schisms within the Church arise from this confusion and suspect that many heresies arise in the same way too.

This also means that we have to look very carefully at our Canon Law and constitutions and, as far as is possible, make sure that we have removed from them laws which arise not from God but from men and especially from issues of politics. Personally, I find that canons and constitutions can lead to political position which do not adequately express the will of God. I therefore, being a bit of an anarchist, do distrust living by canon and constitution as living by a rule book. As a Benedictine, I do have a Rule, but remember that the Christian notion of Rule is a stick by which we can review our relationship with God. It is not an absolute as St Benedict readily admits. If we accept Christ as King, then we are to live by His rule and not by ours. From a human point of view that sounds a bit anarchist. I suspect the late Fr Jim Petty might agree with me!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How to avoid the syllabus of errors

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Trinity

Did you know that the word mathematics actually comes from the Greek word meaning disciple? This is true. The best mathematicians should therefore be the best disciples. Clearly, this means that people with maths degrees are going to Heaven before anyone else.

Of course, that’s not true at all. But Our Lord does pose us a little problem.

If we’ve heard of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, then why haven’t we heard of their physics teachers? If we’ve heard of Nigel Kennedy, why haven’t we heard of his violin teacher?

Is Jesus really right to say “The disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master”? Clearly, it is possible for the one who learns to outstrip his teacher and change the world. You can get the Nobel Prize for literature when your English teacher does not. What’s gone wrong here?


It is clear that Our Lord is not speaking of academic pursuits nor of formal education. Remember, it’s not academic knowledge that gets us into Heaven, it’s getting to know God and following Him that matters. In educational parlance, the Learning Objective of Our Lord’s ministry is to receive Salvation and Reunion with God. We learn to be disciples of God Himself. What does Our Lord teach us while He is with us? What’s on the syllabus?


The syllabus is composed of four parts. They are called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In these, we see that every action recorded by Jesus teaches us something. He may teach us explicitly by teaching us how to pray. He may teach us via parables where we have to listen carefully to Him to understand His meaning. He may teach us by His actions of forgiveness, reconciliation, blessing, and healing.

The trouble is that we all fail to live by this teaching. If we are perfect only then can we be just as sinless as our teacher. The teacher here can only be Our Lord, not a priest, pastor or academic, and we can never be better than Him. Even if a priest, pastor or academic teaches us about what Jesus says, they cannot ever be greater than Our Lord.

This is because every teacher is a disciple too: they aren’t the creators of what to learn. They can only teach what they’ve been taught. The teaching doesn’t begin with them. It can only ever begin with God Himself. It means that we all have to be humble. Not one of us can say that we’ve got everything sussed out; we cannot say that we fully understand another’s position; we cannot be the judge of others if we are no morally better than others. We always have to go back to the Teacher – Our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we see the speck in another’s eye, then we must go back to Our Lord who will teach us mercy, forgiveness, and love by showing us the beam that is in our own eye. If we take that responsibility onto our own shoulders, then we will only fail, and lose more than we did to start with.

Mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love are lessons worth learning. We need to make sure that we keep going back to school to learn them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Lie of the fearmongers

I mentioned a while back the argument ad metum. I also notice that this is being used a lot in Referendum on the European Union. Both sides have been using the same argument to frighten people to vote one way or another. Facts are now so distorted that it seems so difficult to ascertain how true they are. From senior politicians this is not acceptable.

What should the Christian do? The answer is very simple. "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell?

Many people would say that this person to fear must be God. After all, He made us and so can destroy us with perfect moral justification if not by His sheer omnipotence. However, we remember that God is Love, and it isn't He who casts us into Hell - that's us! By sinning, we put ourselves where He isn't, and where He isn't that is Hell. Also, it is God in Our Lord Jesus who tells us not to be afraid. We should fear God in the sense that we should have the utmost awe and trembling wonder in His presence. We simply will not be able to stand in the presence of God because He is just superlatively magnificent and Holy. This fear comes from being in the presence of the One Who is supremely good.

No. The fear of being destroyed in Hell is purely negative, It is a fear of total annihilation, something that God neither wants nor wills. There is only one being who seeks to destroy to that extent.

Yes, of course we should fear the Devil for it is he who tries to nullify everything that we are. He wants to break God's Creation so that the Incarnation of Our Lord has no effect. That's monstrous and terrifying which is why we flee to God, just like chicks run to their mother hen for protection. That's the point, we have someone to run to. Psalm xci speaks of the benefits of holding fast by God. Benedictines pray it every night at Compline: there is no need to ask why.
WHOSO dwelleth under the defence of the most High : shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say unto the Lord, Thou art my hope, and my strong hold : my God, in him will I trust.
For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter : and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers : his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night : nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
For the pestilence that walketh in darkness : nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day.
A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand : but it shall not come nigh thee. Yea, with thine eyes shalt thou behold : and see the reward of the ungodly.
For thou, Lord, art my hope : thou hast set thine house of defence very high.
There shall no evil happen unto thee : neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee : to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee in their hands : that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder : the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him : I will set him up, because he hath known my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will hear him : yea, I am with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and bring him to honour.
With long life will I satisfy him : and shew him my salvation.

We are right to be concerned about the outcome of the Referendum, but need not be afraid. We must vote with our conscience in the belief that we are voting for the best for everyone, not just ourselves. If we leave the EU, life may get difficult, or it may not. If we remain, life may get difficult, or it may not. We must vote for the best and trust God.

It is lamentable that many people have used immigration as a factor in voting out. Yes, we do need to be careful with immigration, as we must make sure that we can provide resources for everyone in the country. Uncontrolled immigration does put a strain on our resources. Yet, most of the arguments I have seen have stemmed from a thinly veiled xenophobia. There is this constant fear that we are letting in ISIS or other militant terrorists. There are also those who think that any Muslim is persona non grata. even when many immigrants are actually Eastern Christians and not Muslim!

That's interesting. I've met so many Muslims and I've taught so many Muslims, and not one of them has tried to kill me. I've spoken of my faith to them and, while they have not converted (and I didn't expect them to) they actually respected my decision. Of course, they believe that I am wrong, and I believe that they are wrong, but we hold our beliefs dearly and firmly.

 As a mathematician, I have to thank Muslim scholars for algebra, algorithms, astronomy, the rediscovery of Aristotle's work, and so much more. The Christian Faith would have had to do without so much wisdom without their input. However, I cannot hide my distress at some of the radicalisation of Islam that we are seeing. The suppression of women's rights, the nature of corporal and capital punishment, and indeed the wilful destruction of certain social groups in the Middle East are truly appalling and one can say that the hand of the Devil is there somewhere.

I wouldn't mind, but I do see some similar attitudes among some Christians, especially some sexist and anti-intellectual beliefs. It's worth remembering that there are different Muslims just as there are different Christians. I'd rather have tea with Sadiq Khan than any member of the Westborough Baptist Church. We have to get out of this whole business of sweeping generalisation and tarring everyone with the same brush. We see that so much between Christians. Do all Catholics worship Mary? Do all Protestants believe the Pope is the Antichrist? Are all Christians Tritheists? Do all Muslims believe in cutting off a hand of a convicted thief? We must watch carefully for sweeping generalisations because they can use the ember of a small minority to inflame the whole.

However, it is fear that breeds fear. It is the fear of oppression that causes a refugee to come to a place where he believes he and his family can be safe. Yet, when he finds the fear of the inhabitants of that country directed against him, he finds solace in a community like himself, a community that will come together and defend him against all perceived attack. It is the fear that breeds the ghetto, and the ghetto that breeds the fear. Separation grows.

Again, the Christian must stop and think. Did Christ die for the foreigner? The answer is yes. God so loved the world, the whole kit and caboodle. Is the image of God in the stranger? Yes, for God made Man in His own image.

What we have to combat here is not people, but the lies that come from fear and that beget fear. This means that both sides have to work at alleviating the other's fear while having the courage to face the fear that one bears in one's heart. That's no mean feat. A fragile peace is easily broken by a single act of terrorist violence or by a heavy-handed enforcement of the law. If the Devil is keen on separating al of humanity from God, then we have to recognise this and fear that separation as a work of diabolical origin. Of course, we have a right to defend ourselves from all acts of violence and we need to protect society from aggressors and hatemongers. But we also need to protect society from fearmongers too and they can be very subtle in their dealings.

Of course, many will say that I am naive, but I do try very hard to see the best in people. That's not easy when I'm grumpy. Yet my Faith in God leads me to believe that everyone is potentially redeemable and there may be strangers in Heaven and the familiar face in Hell. Personally, I pray that everyone comes to know the love of Jesus Christ and turns to Him to find a life that's worth living. There is a lot of fear in this world and we can only break it by developing trust, first in God, then in each other. We need to stretch hands across the divide of any incipient ghetto. Whatever we have to lose, God will restore unless we have chosen to lose God Himself. Now that's a truly terrifying prospect.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Coffee with the CofE

Readers of my last post may be somewhat disheartened or even shocked by my negative stance on the CofE. In that post, I have shown how difficult it is for the ACC to define itself without saying why it is not part of the Anglican Communion because of the heresy that is within. How can I justify such unloving language in saying that the CofE "promulgates heresy", especially when I still have good friends aboard her barque?

I should like to say that I honestly bear the CofE no malice. None whatsoever. In fact I still love that Church, but I cannot love the belief that she holds that the Catholic Faith is something that can be voted on outside of an Oecumenical Council. I have been so angry with her about this, angry because she has lost something wonderful and actually rather substantial, and I honestly, truly desire for her to take it back. I have been forthright precisely because of my affection for the CofE.

However, we believe significantly different things. Archbishop George Carey was one of the first people within the CofE to brand a significant number of his own congregation as heretics when he said, "The idea that only a male can represent Christ at the altar is a most serious heresy." The division within the CofE at this point means that one group must be heretical. However, some twenty years later, both opponents and supporters of WO are seeking mutual flourishing within the communion. WO is a by-product of the belief that the Catholic Faith can change to suit the age in which it is found.

I suspect also that my mention of the Devil may have caused some to worry. Am I accusing the CofE of being diabolical? No!!! Not at all! I could never say that. That we are all sinners and, as I said previously, that we are to an extent all heretics is a device of the Devil regardless of which Church we belong to. What marks out true diabolical activity is that which separates Christians. It is never a person because every human being is a child of God and therefore ontologically good. It does mean though that when Christians divide they are necessarily mutually heretical and thus, logically speaking, at least one absolutely so.

I do use the word "heresy" in its proper sense as a choice that is not in keeping with the Faith once revealed to the saints and not as a pejorative, though I appreciate that it is most often used pejoratively as a stick to bash the other over the head and reduce them to something less than human. I must be clear. In that I am probably the worst of all sinners (pace St Paul) I am probably the biggest heretic of the lot in that I believe in the Catholic Faith and yet still make the choice to sin gravely against God. I want to make that quite clear. Heresy is a point of division, and division is not what God wants.

However, it is clear that the CofE and the ACC are distinct Churches in their own right. We clearly have a different faith. We believe that the Catholic Faith is immutable within a divided Church, the CofE does not. It is entirely possible that we are wrong, but I simply don't see how. I do pray earnestly that if I am wrong that I may see it, repent, and return to the right belief in Our Lord.

Orthodoxy does matter. We must worship the God that's really there. The Athanasian Creed begins:
"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly."
It then goes on to expound the Trinitarian formula. The reason is clear, any deviation from that formula and we cease to be worshipping the One True God as revealed to the Church and as spoken of in the Holy Scriptures. This is still the heart of the belief of the CofE. Yet, there are those within her that reject it with apparently no disapproval from the hierarchy.

Likewise, to change the sacraments is to change or even stem the flow of covenantal grace that comes from God. In the point of view of the ACC, this is to violate the terms of His covenant. I can honestly say I don't know how the CofE would see this, though I am sure that they have thought hard about this.

But that is not to say that God's grace can be stymied. Indeed, God's grace flows through every Christian but it is not as full as the grace that the Holy Eucharist confers - it is not the grace that God promises with which He can feed and nourish us. We Christians are all called to be a blessing in this world.

It is this that reminds me that the CofE is not God-forsaken because I do see blessings come from that communion. There are genuine efforts that are helping communities to grow, develop and find happiness such as food banks, street pastors, and refuges. The pastoral care of a good CofE minister of either sex is invaluable to those who are sick, housebound, or moribund. Yes, there are blessings that still flow in abundance from the CofE. That is a sign of God's presence, but it is limited in that it cannot give the promised grace of God in its fullest sense.

Can I say the same of the ACC in this country? We could use the excuse that we are so small that we can do nothing much, but that's not really an excuse as Our Lord reminds us about moving mountains. There are little projects that go on in our parishes, but we do need to think harder about how we too can be a real blessing on the community around us. The ACC may have the Catholic Faith, but our challenge is how we express that blessing in the community around us. If we're snarky and condescending and give the air that "we're right and everyone else is wrong", then we will simply not be able to bless as we are blessed. If we are snarky and condescending and self-righteous, then perhaps our blessing isn't worth very much.

We have a tension then between Orthodoxy and Mission, and this is why heresy must be hated because that tension produces a temptation. We so easily fall into temptation and thus we fall into division and schism. This is why division and schism must be hated because it stops the grace of God flowing in the world.

I would not say no to sitting down to a cup of coffee (or, preferably, tea) with a friendly CofE priest of either sex. How do I deal with the heresy that separates us? As I said previously, we see the heresy and we ignore it as far as we can. Each of us must recognise that we are separated by a heresy which we will rightly or wrongly attribute to the other. We must agree that we have as distinct a faith as any other Christian denomination. We must agree that the other is a minister of religion, but we cannot agree on the other's understanding of the sacraments. Neither of us will probably give an inch on what we believe, but we must not let the Devil separate us any further than he has done so already.

However, we cannot work to a false ecumenism. There can be no communio in sacris if we have different beliefs about what it is to be in communion. We will not be able to worship together if we cannot agree on the lex orandi. We can and must will and seek actively the other's good but that will not come at the expense of saying what is not true because lies cannot will the other's good. We must bless each other in the people that we are, but not necessarily what we do because we cannot bless heresy. That's the elephant in the room that the Devil brought in. The trouble is at least one of us is feeding it. I pray earnestly that it isn't me.

I pray that one day I will be able to say Mass in a CofE church because of the removal of that elephant. I pray that I may be able to receive the sacraments from a CofE bishop because any and all impediments have been done away by the love of God and that the Catholic Faith has been restored. I look forward to such a day and hope that it is soon.
 Elephants make drinking tea and coffee difficult, but not impossible.

Monday, June 20, 2016

And just why should I join the ACC?

Addendum: I offer a clarification here.

This is a good question, and one that we ought to take very seriously. We are, after all, a tiny church calling for moral absolutism in an age of moral relativism. We're not Roman Catholic, nor do we wish to be. We're not "Church of England", nor do we wish to be. Many people would see this as a rather awkward thing, "dodgy" in fact. Why? Because we're very good at saying what we're not and do not seem to be saying what we are. If we use the book of Common Prayer, then why not be a member of the CofE and the Prayer Book Society? If we say the Hail Mary and believe in some form of Transubstantiation, then why not become either a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox Church?

At this point, I reiterate my disclaimer. I do NOT speak officially on behalf of the Anglican Catholic Church. I speak of things as I find them and as I believe God reveals to me. What does the ACC really offer people that is different, positive and, above all, draws people to Christ?

This is actually a difficult question to answer on the grounds that it sounds like market branding. Why should I buy Sudso Soap Flakes when I'm used to Brighteye Bubbles? This is difficult to answer precisely because the Catholic Faith is not like that. Yes, the Catholic Church is just as fractured as Protestantism. The Roman Church would deny this because they and only they have the Pope. Yet, as I speak to the Roman Catholics around me, many disagree with the fundamental doctrines of Roman Catholicism. I've seen many declaring Pope Francis to be the terrible Pope Peter II who will bring the Church to ruin. Others who are taking what he says to extremes and now calling for a complete reversal of Catholic Dogma. More than a few do not hold to the Roman Doctrine of Transubstantiation (which is not the only form of Transubstantiation, I hasten to add). And then there are the many Jurisdictions claiming the title Orthodox. There are divisions in episcopal authority, but not in the Catholic Faith. If any jurisdiction believes wholeheartedly in the Faith as expressed in the Church in the first 10 centuries and expressed in the Seven Oecumenical Councils, then there can only be schism within the Church. That's desperately sad and these schisms must be ended. Personally, I believe that perhaps we should seek greater unity with the Orthodox Church before Rome. Historically we have already made a beginning at this. Perhaps we should continue.

In that sense, it does not really matter too much which jurisdiction you join, as long as it is truly Catholic. Many believe that the Roman Catholics have added dogmata to the Catholic Faith and they must answer for that.. However, those who have not added those dogmata to the Catholic Faith must answer for why they have not. Yet, further, we do have to remember something of greater importance than that. We will all have to answer for our choices, yet the central thing is that, if we are truly sincere in the Christian Faith, our answers will only single us out for what needs to be transformed in us in order to live in Eternity with God. Our answers will not single us out for damnation unless we have chosen to worship something which is not the One True God. In that political sense there is no One True Church. There is only a One True God. The One True Church is the body into which those who honestly and earnestly seek Him will be joined, united in the Humanity of Christ and thus sharing His divinity.

There is no reason then why anyone should join the Anglican Catholic Church above any other Catholic Church. If Christ is truly present, then we should go where we find Him. We MUST seek first the Kingdom of God at the expense of everything else in our lives. We will not find Him in Division, but only in a spirit that seeks unification. There is One God and He is Indivisible.

So why should I bother with the ACC at all?

I could rattle off more spiel about how the ACC is properly Catholic and culturally Anglican, just as various branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church are properly Catholic and have separate, largely cultural identities. That's not where I'm going to go, though. I can only answer for myself and not for anyone else. If people share my story, then it may be the right thing to do to join the ACC. One must listen to one's conscience.

Contrary to what some may say of Continuing Anglicanism, I did NOT join the ACC to be ordained. One can go back over my blog posts to see that. I'm surprised how much of my journey is charted in this little blogling. I suppose 10 years of blogging charts that.

I joined the ACC from the Church of England, and I joined reluctantly. In many ways I believe that I was forced out by an Establishment that refused to accommodate properly basic Catholic beliefs about the priesthood and about the liturgy which I held and cherished as a faithful Anglican. As a Lay Reader, I knew that I had some ministry within God's Church and I sought out my calling. I sought to remain as I was - one who held the Catholic Faith, desired the Sacraments wholeheartedly, loved the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer but sought to interpret that through the Catholic Faith. For me, the ACC does that. It seeks the Catholic Faith as interpreted through the lens of English History. The CofE does not.

Now this sounds very negative against the CofE. In some sense, it must be since I have a firm belief that the CofE has departed from Catholic Orthodoxy which it did once possess. The CofE has made a clear decision, so has the ACC, and so have I. That cannot give me a reason to hate the CofE. Hatred of people has absolutely no part in ANY expression of the Christian Faith. In contrast, hatred of the works of the Devil has absolutely every part to play in the Christian Faith. I must be able to say that I hate hatred.

And I must hate heresy.

But not heretics.

The Westborough Baptist Church in preaching that "God hates fags" and in demonstrating at the funerals of the victims of the Orlando Shooting quite clearly does not represent any expression of the Christian Faith whatsoever. It is not a Christian institution. And yet, it is my duty, my Christian duty in following the second commandment, to see that each member of that community is a valued human being whose very existence demonstrates the love of God. That's the terrible thing that we Christians encounter. We are deeply conflicted because of God's love and because of the hatred being spread by the Devil. This is why I find myself so drawn and repulsed by the goings on in the CofE that in so many ways, I still love and have so much regard for.

In believing that the CofE is promulgating heresy, I am duty bound to hate that heresy because it is of a diabolical origin not of human origin, but spread through human fallibility and fermented by human intolerances. Does that mean that the ACC is not promulgating heresy? Not directly, but like all expressions of the Catholic Faith, it must continue in prayer that any heresy within it be brought to light in Christ, exposed and expelled. As a Church we MUST seek purity together. If there is any hatred of any human being at all within the Church, then there is heresy. If there is anything that draws us away from worshipping the One True God, then that is heresy. If there is anything that hinders the salvation of any single human being, or prevents that person from receiving the life-enhancing grace that comes from God, then that is heresy.

We have to remember something that is truly fundamental to our Faith. All this, everything we see around us, everyone one we meet, every circumstance we fall into, every star in the sky, every ant on the ground, every nematode worm, every magnetic monopole, every quark, queen and quack, ALL of this was created so that Christ's incarnation would unite us to God in Himself. ALL of this was created so that we could not only exist but be given the mantle of divinity in God and find Eternal Love in Him. Anything which prevents that is heresy. It must be hated because it is contrary to Love.

What has all this to do with the fact that I joined the ACC?

If one truly believes that the CofE has fallen foul of heretical belief, then one MUST leave it. In my final meeting with the female Rural Dean and seeing the disgust in her eyes that I would not accept her prohibition of saying the Angelus - that wonderful prayer which announces the great mystery of the Incarnation and thus the reason for Creation itself - I knew then that the Devil was at work. He sought to separate me from the fact of the Incarnation, I had no choice but to lay down my license, hand back the keys and leave.

And I actually prayed a prayer of thanksgiving that it was all over. The headache that I suffered for many years suddenly vanished.

Yet, the ACC was there doing exactly what I had been doing and it was good. For me, the ACC has the opportunity to do something incredible. It holds to what the Church of England used to believe, but now does not. It has within it the colour of the ikons which the Puritan elements of the CofE destroyed in their Reformation, and it sees these as windows to God. The ACC has the opportunity to use the Seventh Oecumenical Council to great effect by showing the people in this country how to live ikonographically, seeing God in all things and in everyone. The ACC holds to the marriage of deacons, priests and bishops as was practiced in this land in the first years of the Catholic Faith in this Country. Thus, the ACC has an opportunity to show how valuable the family is, how we can live together as a family, a community, as a people with a common prayer, a common cause, a common end in God. In holding to traditional views on marriage, it has the opportunity to promote fertility and faithfulness and the sheer sanctity of human life from conception to the deathbed and far beyond. In holding to the traditional views of the priesthood, it has the opportunity to present the Catholic Faith as timeless through the unchanging and inexhaustible grace that flows from God to whoever would receive that grace, not on their own terms, but in the terms of God who creates all, knows all, and sees all and experiences life as a human being on behalf of all. It has these opportunities and, as more people see these opportunities, the more we can bring them to fruition in this age and in every age. It has the opportunity to bring things old and new out of its treasure house. I rejoice in that and, now that I must share in the responsibility for living that, I seek to promote it as best I can, so help me God!

This cannot be done in a life that seeks elitism, exclusion or excision, but rather must be done, not looking for heresy, but looking for God. We deal with heresy by seeing it and ignoring it. Evil has no substance of its own, and hatred of God is an expression of that insubstantial nature of Evil. Hatred of hatred is therefore to seek the opposite, to seek what is truly substantial. To hate heresy is to look for the substance of God in the heretic and to see that heretic as being no different from yourself, for we are ALL heretics in one way or another. If we see heresy then we are to oppose it, not in condemnation and ridicule, not in hatred, sneering and sarcasm, but to separate ourselves from it and embrace the heretic in our hearts, prayers and lives, even as the holy saints above embrace us heretics in their hearts, prayers and lives. They have been transformed so that no stain of heresy remains in them so that no stain of heresy remain in us. We MUST pray for that transformation and accept it absolutely unconditionally, for then we become what we preach. This is why I continue to beg prayers from my readership, because I am so far fallen from righteousness that I rely on God's grace to do His good things.

And just why should I join the ACC? Perhaps God has called you to. Perhaps the ACC is the vehicle to your transformation in Christ. Perhaps you can honour your calling in a tiny Church. Perhaps you will find the family of God here. Perhaps you just are an Anglican Catholic and that's how you were made.

If you join us, you won't find the perfect Church. We pray earnestly that you'll find a Church striving actively for perfection in the One True God. If you don't join us then know that we joyfully hope that we will find you in our common end - the Eternal Love of God.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Lion's share of diabolical activity

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

Are lions evil?

They catch and kill animals but then, they have to in order to eat. Why does that make them evil?
We tend to make this sort of judgment based on what we see lions do. Perhaps we tend to side with the poor, harmless gazelle who gets chased, and potentially caught. Why take the gazelle’s side over the lions?


Look carefully at a lion and you see that it is a beautiful creature, well-designed by God. In fact, we know that it is the lioness that is the more skilled predator and she is highly efficient at what she does. It’s not safe to be a gazelle when there is a lioness around with cubs to feed.
How efficient is a roaring lion going to be at catching prey to devour? The gazelle will surely hear him coming and run off, won’t she? Resisting a roaring lion is easy, surely?


It is entirely possible for an animal to hear the roaring and be frozen in fear. It is also possible for an animal to be distracted, or unfit. That way a lion can indeed seize the weaker, less-prepared animal.
Likewise, when it comes to the Devil, we can be frozen in fear of his presence in the world. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, we can freeze in the presence of Evil and do nothing to stop its spread.

 We can be distracted from hearing him. There are lots of voices in the world, some of which speak Good, but many which are designed to obscure that message OF God’s love. Sometimes we are just overwhelmed by the noise that we don’t hear Evil coming.

We can be so unfit as to be unable to avoid him. We can be so used to our own sins that we simply don’t recognise the Devil when he creeps up on us.

St Peter reminds us “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith.”How do we avoid fear of the Devil and the sufferings he can inflict?

We need to deal with our fear. First, we can recognise that, in the Cross, Our Lord has already defeated the Devil and rendered him powerless over the people of God. While the Devil may cause suffering in this life, he cannot destroy who we are. We are safe with Christ. If we want evidence, we can recognise that all the saints are going through the same troubles, and hold true to God. This shows that the Devil can be resisted.

We need to know what sin is, and the difference between good and evil. We have only to look to God for that. It is possible for every human being to be good, but all Goodness comes from God, not from human beings. We need to look to God in the Bible, in the saints, in the sacraments.
We need to know how we have sinned and recognise that we all fall short, that we all sin and render ourselves unfit to resist Evil. We can repent of our sins and, by drawing on the grace given by Our Lord, find nourishment to make ourselves fit again to serve.

We  must also encourage others, not by judging them by our own standards, but by realising that we are all in the same boat and all loved by God. Remember, Our Lord says, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Those who are just in their own eyes never hear the Devil’s roar. They are like gazelles who have put their hooves into their ears. But, by recognising that we can behave foolishly, sinfully, and wickedly, we can understand that our fellow human beings need prayer, warning, grace, and love.

All too often, the animals on this planet lose their lives because of the foolishness of people. Playing the blame game does nothing. They lose their lives because we human beings treat them badly. How we treat animals says much about how we treat ourselves. We need to do better, each one of us, but we are loved by Christ. It is His love that helps us hear the lion’s roar and resist the Devil and all his works.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Theology ad metum

In a recent debate I had on social media, one of my former students reminded me of the argument ad metum.

This goes:

1) Either P or Q is true.
2) P is undesirable.
3) Q is true.

Many Christians do inadvertently use this fallacy to argue the existence of God. This usually goes

1) Either God exist or there is no meaning to life.
2) A life without meaning is frightening.
3) God exists.

Clearly the conclusion doesn't follow logically from the premises, but what if we change the conclusion?

1) Either P or Q is true.
2) P is undesirable.
3) Q preferable.

That's actually logically watertight for, if one thing is more undesirable than another, then the latter is preferable to the former. Of course, what we now introduce into the argument is a measure of subjectivity. Do we all find the idea of a meaningless life frightening or undesirable?

Reading the book of Ecclesiastes, we see this latter argument biblically confirmed. All aspects of life are considered "vanity". However, "vanity" in today's parlance doesn't quite give us the sense of what the original Hebrew word הֲ בֵ ל means, nor the sense that the translators of Scripture into English had in mind. Vanity is like smoke, it is something that is insubstantial. It looks real, but as soon as we reach it, it is gone. Had קֹ הֶ לֶ ת , the writer of Ecclesiastes known that our Science today tells us that atoms are mostly empty space, that the Universe is likely to end in a "heat death", he would smile and say "הֲ בֵ ל".

However, Ecclesiastes has something for the atheist as well as the theist, for the conclusion is simple. Enjoy life! Enjoy every aspect of life.
"here is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.(Ecclesiastes ii.24a)
Of course, he then goes on to say, "This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God." (ii.24b)

By modifying the ad metum argument, we find ourselves offering some hope to those of us whose lives are afflicted by injustice. There are those consumed by anger because a suicide bomber cannot be brought to justice for killing their families and friends. What may help them is the hope that there is a justice that can be meted out beyond the confines of human life and human existence. There is the hope that a power greater than Human Justice can ensure that no-one gets away with any wrong, and yet possesses the mercy to ensure that once justice has been done, our existence continues in peace in whatever mode of existence is available after this life is over.

For those of us with faith, this is a sure and certain hope. Those of us who accept the empirical evidence for the existence of God know that, if their belief is true, then we can look forward to en end to the Evil that is within us and outside of us. The hope is a logical corollary from our faith. As St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians ii:8-10)
 Our faith is finite. God's grace is not. Blind adherence to the Jewish law - the "works" of which St Paul speaks - is not the source of Salvation, but only God, and we need to believe that He exists and live out that faith for that belief to do any good. But St Paul tells us one thing more. Christians were created for a purpose, just life the Jews were, namely to be instruments of God's blessing for the whole earth.

If the modified ad metum argument is to have any weight or power at all, then it requires each and every Christian to show that belief in God is better than a meaningless existence. For many people, the problem of Evil convinces them that ending their lives in meaningless is preferable to being in the presence of a god whom they see as purely judgmental, arbitrary, megalomaniac and petty, i.e. Richard Dawkins' god.

This is the mission that the Church has. We are to proclaim the Gospel to the world. It is good news that our lives are not without meaning. That the fact that we exist is for a purpose, namely to live in eternal happiness with the One Who Created us. Of course, there are agencies whose existence is purely for the silencing of this message. There are organisations of Silents just like in Doctor Who who seek only to prevent Christianity from proclaiming that life does really have a meaning and it is a meaning worth accepting.
The Silents of the Devil want us to forget our efficient and final causes, leaving us only with our material and formal causes. They wipe our memories and allow us to wallow in a comfortable numbness of our subjectivity where life happens, is occasionally nice, and then ends. Yet others wage war against the darkness to come, and rail at a god who is deaf, dumb and blind, not realising that He is hearing, seeing, and speaking, though from Eternity.

Our moral existence is based upon the worth that we put on God and on others. God is the giver of worth, because He is the Creator, and that is why the Euthyphro Dilemma necessarily fails for Him. He is the source of Good. God is what it means to be perfectly Good. Thus God commands that which is consistent with Him. He cannot command murder for that is inconsistent with His existence.

Thus, our charge as Christians is to go out and bless the world, every single scrap of it. To glorify God in all things, in science, in society, in slums, in synods. We are to bring God into the lives of people whose existence is not happy, so that they can be happy. We are to stand against all that takes away a single iota of the worth of the least of God's Creation, for the least in God's Creation is the greatest. These are our talents given to us by God to increase and multiply true joy! If we fail to take up this calling, then it is the life of the Christian that is truly meaningless.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Sovereignty, Free-Will, and Brexit

I'm probably going to vote to remain in the EU. I haven't fully decided yet, but it seems the reasonable thing for me to do. That's not to say that I am right to do so, nor do I want to encourage people to follow me. I only ask that they follow their consciences. If you believe that the U.K. would be better off out of the European Union, then you follow that belief and vote Leave. That's your choice.

One of the problems with this issue that has much in common with the American Presidential Candidate situation is that facts are being flung at us from left, right, and centre amid venom, accusation of lies, with ridicule, and coercion. These facts are not easily verifiable by the likes of little me who, like most people I assume, have little knowledge of precisely what the facts are in the EU at this time. There are big assumptions being made by supporters of both sides, many of which hold little water really.

So why am I voting to stay in?

I work by the maxim, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." This maxim ultimately landed me in the ACC where we have maintained an unbroken Anglican Catholic faith unlike the Church of England which, in my eyes broke the maxim and thus broke its Catholic orders. However much the "Leave" people say that Europe is broken, they usually try to appeal to the desire for the U.K. to regain its sovereignty which it lost when it joined the E.U. The trouble is that this sovereignty is largely illusory.

If the U.K. leaves the E.U., then it will still be a member of the U.N., of NATO and of other treaties and organisations which require some complicity. The U.K. could, in theory, become isolationist like North Korea, but clearly this is not in the country's best interests at all. We are still part of trading, the laws of which affect our trading at home. In order to be part of the world stage, the U.K. has given up its sovereignty just like practically every other country. That may or may not be a good thing, but it is inescapable. In order to do deals, we have to compromise. We have to sacrifice the way we rule ourselves in order to find common ground with others.

Given this, there seems to be little reason not to continue in the E.U., since although there is a pressing need for reform, there is no sovereignty to be regained by leaving it.

There are issues which may cause me to vote Brexit, but I won't go into them here. This blogling is not a place for political rallying. I have outlined my current thinking but, given the deluge of fact-flinging and mud-slinging, I will simply not entertain any dialogue here. Comments designed to sway me one way or another will be summarily deleted.

So why have I gone through this political spiel if not to make a political statement?

It's the issue of sovereignty. God's sovereignty to be precise and whether ours is an illusion.

The question still bugs me, am I a Christian because God has made me so, or because I want to be so?

There are many who would say that God has made me a Christian, which then begs the question about the people He didn't make to be Christian. Did He therefore make people atheists, or (horrors!) Occultists?

This brings us to the theories of our free-will in the face of determinism. I'm looking into this at the present time, so I expect that I will be blogging more on the topic a bit later. What do I mean by free-will? I answer that I have free will if I can make a choice that is not based on an external constraint or pre-determined course. Can I lift my arm of my own choosing without being forced to do so by the law of physics or because God predestined me to do so?

The question really boils down to whether I am a causal agent in myself. If I am a completely physical being and every part of my person is described by the laws of physics, then my choices and actions will also be described by the laws of physics. This is true if my mind is merely the product of my brain, i.e. the electrochemistry of my brain gives rise to my thoughts and subsequent actions. However, I believe that my mind doesn't arise from my brain but exists in some correlation with my brain. I am convinced by my experience in life that I have a non-physical mind which is somehow conjoined to a physical body. I believe myself to be a causal agent in myself. This means that I am completely morally responsible for my actions.

So did God make me a Christian? This is a difficult question to answer, primarily because of God's Eternity. God is not bound by the sequences of Time, and that means that His Creative power is not limited to temporal sequences either. Considering also that God's knowledge is not limited to the indicative mood but also a complete understanding of possibilities, it makes sense that He knows me in all possible worlds. I am bound to the causal nexus inhabited by other causal agents. I make my decisions based on how the world around me is changing. I believe I am always free to choose between the decision that I do end up making AND the decisions that I don't. Since I believe myself to be the cause, the responsibility for the effects of that decision must lie with me and not with God.

Did God make me a Christian? Well, I believe that God is making me a Christian by shaping the circumstances of my life so that I have the opportunity to respond freely to the decisions with which He presents me. At the moment, I seem to be doing okay on that front since I believe the content of the Catholic Creeds and I have not rejected Our Lord's sovereignty over me. He is the King of my life. I'm just not a very good subject, which is why I need to keep turning back to Him in order for me to become the Christian as fully as I can. It is through the grace of God that He first drew me to Him and that in being drawn, I have been given the choice to allow the seed of faith to grow in me, or to die. Through that faith I am being justified, being saved, being sanctified. I sin, but I am always presented with the space to choose between repentance or to remain in sin. If I choose the latter consistently and habitually, then I am choosing consistent and habitual separation from God. Eternal separation from God is Hell, and I have only myself to blame for that.

The clever thing is, He is doing this with every single person ever in existence. He has sovereignty over the the entire causal nexus. No, I can't possibly begin to understand the sheer complexity of keeping track of all possible decisions that will ever be made and how the Divine mind can shape a coherent universe around that. But I do know that God is Love and that Love doesn't insist on its own way. God doesn't insist on His way, that's why people are free to reject Him. If that is a limitation of His sovereignty, then it is a self-imposed limitation, just as the Incarnation itself was a self-imposed limitation.

I do not believe that I am predestined for heaven at the level of a single person, but I believe that the Church is predestined for Heaven. I believe that the Church is the chosen people of God, but to ask when He makes that decision is meaningless as it is a decision made in Eternity. I choose to be a member of the Church now, and thus I need to act consistently on that choice according to the circumstances of my existence. I pray then, through the grace I received at my Baptism and Confirmation, that I would always turn to Christ, repent of my sins, and renounce Evil, and thus find myself Eternally bound to God. I pray that, not only for myself, but for every single human being, past, present, and future.

I'm voting to remain with God. The alternative doesn't seem that appealing.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Authenticity of the Sacred Heart

I have always had a bit of uneasiness about the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. It stems back to the days when I was perhaps more devoted to the Prayerbook than I am now. I used to wander around Catholic shops and see the most hideous statues and paintings, the type of things modern Anglo-Catholics would call “tat”. Frequently, these paintings and statues were of the Sacred Heart of Our Lord and, I must say, it rather put me off Roman Catholicism.


The statues and paintings were cheap: badly done, or factory produced with the colours slightly off. The face of Our Lord often appeared to have big “puppy-dog” eyes and seemed to be demanding the same affection desired by a puppy rather than the uncompromising devotion that is required in order to be a follower of Our Lord. For me, the Solemnity seemed not to be authentic and it was the imagery that put me off. I felt, and still feel in many cases, that these factory-line images are being sold just to make money and not for the edification of the Christian.

I still loathe this sort of image, but I love religious iconography from both the East and West. The art of Michelangelo, Rublev, and the like is wonderful. One can see why. The creators of good religious iconography take pains. They take pains to perfect their art; they take pains to prepare their materials; they take pains to plan their work; they take pains to prepare themselves. The art of the Ikon writer has a whole regime of prayer and fasting, purifying the heart so that they might see God.

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart focuses on one event in the ministry of Our Lord Jesus, namely the moment when the soldier took a spear and plunged it into His side, piercing the no-longer-beating heart. Immediately, we go back to Psalm LXIX:
Thy rebuke hath broken my heart; I am full of heaviness: I looked for some to have pity on me, but there was no man, neither found I any to comfort me. They gave me gall to eat: and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink.
Then we begin to see the authenticity of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. We look upon the One Whom we have pierced, and we see what we have done to the son of God through sin and behaviour to those around us who share our humanity. We see the fountains of mercy that pour out from that heart in the form of blood and water. We receive the two liquids necessary for our salvation: the waters of baptism cleansing us from sin and bringing us to new birth, and the blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins which we receive in the Miracle at the Altar. These cannot have come without the agony of the Lord, and our depictions of the Sacred Heart should convey this.

Not an easy task, I know, yet Rublev managed to produce that inspirational picture of the Holy Trinity where the meditating mind just begins to engage in the perichoresis, the dancing between the Persons and the Essence of God.

Caravaggio manages to produce the sense of rent flesh in his painting of St Thomas having his finger forcibly thrust into that pierced side by the hand of Our Lord.

All too often, our efforts do not convey the authenticity of what we are trying to do. Instead of producing a picture of Our Lord’s mercy, we end up like the famous picture of Our Lord lovingly, yet horrendously restored, by an old lady.

Too often, we settle for this in our lives. The Jesus Christ we are painting in our lives will never be perfect, yet it is for perfection that we must strive. The Sacred Heart shows us the extent to which mercy can be shown for anyone and everyone. We mar the image of Christ in us, but that very image continues to burst through should we take advantage of the regeneration that the Lord offers us.

The horribly twee statues and paintings of the Sacred Heart then do have a value – a great value. First, they remind us of the fact that we can always do better, and we can always strive to live more authentically Christian lives. Second, they remind us that the images that we produce are shockingly distorted and barely recognisable. Third, they remind us of what we are supposed to see, and that we have indeed fallen short. Fourth, they remind us of what we’re really supposed to see, that the love and mercy of God are limitless for all who are hungry and thirsty. Fifth, they remind us of what came first!

We must be careful though, especially if the image of Christ’s love and mercy we bear actually puts people off Christianity. The Church has not always done well at this, but it has done better than many people would give it credit. Somewhere, in the Church, the face of the Lord is visible – it is not necessarily where you would expect to see it, nor will it appear as beautiful as you would expect to see it. However it appears, it will always be accompanied by the blood and water flowing from the Sacred Heart.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The Rocky Horror Prophecy

I’ve seen many horror films in my time. I find they give me opportunity to reflect on both the good and evil aspects of our being, as well as the good and evil that is contained in the mind of those who pen such screenplays.

However, one film seems to be standing out for me as a true horror film, and that is the Rocky Horror Picture Show. For many people, it would seem just a “campy romp”, a “bit of outrageous fun”. Others would say that it is not particularly horrific, but that it acts as an expression of the changing times.

I would say that it is a true horror film given that it shows the reality and destiny of a humanity unchecked by morality and respect for others and oneself.

Essentially, the film depicts two socially conservative fiancés who fall under the spell of a sexually-promiscuous transvestite whose concern is to convince everyone to give themselves over to “absolute pleasure” while building a human being for his own gratification. Even the voice of reason is overcome despite a fight not to live life “for the thrills”. In this vision, the “insects called the human race” find themselves “lost in time, lost in space and meaning” before the light is finally switched off leaving only darkness.

In my prayer life at the moment, I have been finding myself confronted with the whole issue of means and ends. I might not find myself in complete agreement with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, but I do agree with his statement that no human being is a means to an end, that we are all ends in ourselves. God is the reason for our existence, giving us life, time, space and meaning. If all we are is to reproduce, then what actually is the point? If we are to follow Frank N. Furter’s idea of giving ourselves up to absolute pleasure, then what happens if we find we have given ourselves up to nothing?

What is “absolute pleasure” anyway?

Clearly, this is a pleasure that everyone must agree is a pleasure. It has to be a pleasure in every frame of reference. For Frank N. Furter, giving oneself over to “sins of the flesh” is the ideal. Yet, if one recognises sins of the flesh to be sins for someone else, then the pleasure cannot be absolute for sin is a transgression of a moral law and to recognise a sin is to recognise the existence of a moral law. Furter’s absolute pleasure is based solely on the idea that his will is absolute in the first place. He is a solipsist who even believes at his comeuppance that he will go home to a better place.

Furter’s idea is for everyone to shrug off the repressive morals which prevent us from having true pleasure, which hold us back from having thrills and ecstasies which moral authorities disapprove of. Here lies the unanswered question:  why should the greatest thrills and ecstasies be repressed in the first place? What reason might the Church have for preventing people’s happiness? Cynics would say that it seeks to gain control over people. Yet this does not answer the question, why? There may indeed have been power-hungry ecclesiarchs over the years, but what power did St Francis of Assisi seek? What of St Therese of Lisieux?

Human beings seek to be free, truly free, but free from what? Free from the control of others? Free to exercise their wills without constraint? This all depends on what you mean by “control”. If one objects to a monarch who has some right to say “do this, do that” that will be all well and good, but this must also mean rejecting becoming a monarch also. One cannot object to the idea of a king and be glad at becoming king. We have laws in society that in theory enable us all to flourish together without one oppressing another. Yet there always seems to be in any system of government a ruling class which gets to call all the shots and an underclass which has to do all the shooting.

The Occultist Aleister Crowley exhorted his followers to live by the one law “do what thou wilt”. Furter is the same. One can readily see the Hell that this leads to, as the stronger will devours the weaker and yet, as that will weakens in time, it finds itself devoured by competing wills. This is Furter’s ultimate fate, leaving behind scorched earth and beings regretting their brush with depravity.
God’s laws are simple to state: recognise God for Who He is and recognise that each human being is an end in themselves. Such recognition is love itself, for when we recognise God for Who He is, then we cannot but fall down in worship and adoration. Of course, we spend our lives doing this and, at times, it seems fruitless, but if we really are bowing down to the Creator, then we can expect our being to find perfection in Him and this perfection in itself will bring absolute pleasure. Likewise, to recognise that each one of us has been willed to exist, that God has wanted to create us from realms beyond Time, and Space, and Comprehension, then to recognise that will be to have nothing but the greatest love and concern for the welfare of others, a sympathy and compassion for their weakness and fallenness, and an absolute loathing of all things that would seek to take away that very humanity from them.

In many ways, Frank N Furter represents the Devil Incarnate, seeking only to break down all obstacles to his will and to corrupt that which seeks to conform to morality, decency and charity. We need to pray for the perception to see this corrupting influence around us, and the strength to oppose it even to our cost. One does not have to be a Christian to be moral, indeed there are some truly moral atheists out there, but the existence of objective morals and duties does provide evidence for the existence, not only of a god, but of God Who cares enough to instil them with an appreciation of the existence of others as equivalent and worthy beings. Human beings are worth dying for, God has shown that. We need to have the same resolve to fight for morality. We may stumble and fall, but this can never prevent God as seeing us more than insects lost in Time, Space, and Meaning.