Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why worship God?

I invite you to listen to Stephen Fry on God. It's difficult for a Christian to listen to, but I wonder what your reaction is. Do you want to leap in to defend God, or do you believe that Dr Fry has a point?

Stephen Fry is an intelligent man with a level of sophisticated rhetoric on a par with Christopher Hitchens and clearly no less passion, He is giving a voice to what many people in society think about God. We always come back to the problem of Evil.

It is the Atheist J.L. Mackie who tries to put forward the idea that God does not exist because His defining attributes are incompatible.

The argument goes:

1) God is omnipotent, i.e. He can do all that it is logically possible.
2) God is omniscient, i.e. He has a perfect knowledge of Creation.
3) God is omnibenevolent, i.e. God is perfectly good in the morality that He defines.
4) Since God is omnipotent, He can choose not to create Evil.
5) Since God is omniscient, He knows whatever is Evil.
6) Since God is omnibenevolent, He rejects all that is Evil.
7) Since God rejects all evil, knows what Evil is, and can choose not to create it, Evil cannot exist.
8) Evil exists.
9) Therefore God cannot be omnipotent. onmiscient, and omnibenevolent.
10) Therefore God cannot exist.

There are problems with this. First of all, it needs to be proved that it is logically possible for Evil not to exist. If we can talk about Good, the only way that we can ever determine that Good exists is for us to be able to discern it somehow, and we can only do so in contrast with its antithesis in the same way that we can tell what blue is by knowing also what it is not. This is not an answer to whether it is logically impossible for Evil not to exist, but I think it raises a big doubt in the truth of the argument. It's also prudent to remember that since Evil is a privative, i.e. an absence of Good, it is not a thing in itself but an absence of a thing. Thus God does not create Evil: it is only where good is not.

Secondly, the argument contains the assumption that it is not possible for God to allow the existence of Evil for morally justifiable reasons. Given that Christians believe that God offers eternal bliss beyond this life to all who would receive it, it does make it difficult for things such as transient in this life to have a hold on the next. We may suffer now, and suffer horribly, but, if God exists then that suffering can somehow bring about a greater good that surpasses the nature of the misery.

Yet, Dr Fry is giving voice to an emotional reaction to the evil in the world. You can see how he hates the suffering of little children. The same is true of Christopher Hitchens. Both Dr Fry and Mr Hitchens are intensely moral gentlemen: they honestly seek the good of human beings and they are calling out even God for the evil that they see in the world.

This is where much of the West stands at the moment. The simple truth is that secular society does not believe that God is worth worshipping, either because He doesn't exist, or because He's morally reprehensibly capricious, or because He's somehow powerless to intervene, kept alive in a jar like Pullman's Authority.

This is the Christian challenge. We have to show that God is worth the worship.

First, we have to understand what we mean by worship. It means that we give God the top billing in our existence, that we see Him as being worth more than anything else in our lives, including our lives, indeed to the point of laying down our lives. That's a tall order! How on earth can we do this?

Second, the difficult untruth we have to dispel is that God in some way needs us to worship Him. The theological fact that Hell exists does demonstrate that He does not, though again the Church really does struggle in showing the world that God is trying to save people from the Hell that they are creating for themselves. God has given human beings capacity for creation and the freedom to create. It is we who construct Hell for ourselves by rejecting God.

As I grow older, I begin to see that some things that I used to hold to aren't healthy. I am having serious questions about saying the filioque in the creed. I also have significant doubts about an Augustinian view of Original Sin. Brilliant and so beautifully human as he was, St Augustine cannot be allowed to hold the sole ownership of the title of Doctor of Salvation, especially given his view on the souls of unbaptised babies. I have always rejected the (hyper)Calvinist view that our free-will does not play a part in our Salvation: we have to choose to open the gift of Grace that God offers us: we have to choose to walk through the prison door that God opens for us. Yet this dreadfully inhuman view that we are God's puppets to do with as He sees fit is deeply embedded in Western Society. Love does not treat people as puppets, so any god that does is morally reprehensible in the morality that this god defines. Stephen Fry is right: a god that plays fast and loose with his/her own moral character, or is so utterly unconcerned with human suffering is clearly not loving nor lovable.

Thus to modern ears, God is either irrelevant to how we live life, or so morally repugnant as to be avoided.

The trouble is that this does fall down at the cross. Many atheists regard the Christian doctrine of the Cross as a sort of Divine sado-masochism. I'm still trying to work out why they cannot see the cross at the very least as God standing alongside human beings and going through the sheer torture that living life in a fallen world can be. If the Biblical account of God is true, and Christianity believes that it is, the Cross demonstrates that God does so love the world, that there is a Divine desire to pull humanity out of the tyranny of the rejection of goodness and into the warmth of the Divine nature,

Yes, there are (horrible to relate) worms that eat their way out of the eyes of children. Yet, how did those children find themselves in a position for those worms to get there? Is it actually the fault of those whose riches are so great that they force others to sit in the dung heaps where these flies live? Could the reason that people do suffer horribly be always directly or indirectly considered the fault of humanity? Can their suffering be a result of MY pitiless indifference to them when I should be obedient to the will of God and do something to help? If I am God's beloved child, why am I not living up to my Father's example, being obedient to my Father's command, not seeking to promulgate my Father's love? If God has given me free-will and wants me to love Him because He has loved me first, then why do I accept a lifestyle that means that a baby starves to death in Ethiopia?

What is wrong with the world today? With G. K. Chesterton, I cannot but answer "I am".

That's why I need to worship God. He has no need of me whatsoever, but He loves me and I do matter to Him. I need to worship Him because my own involvement in this world without Him leaves behind a legacy of failure, emptiness and suffering. I trust Him to do something about the dying baby, though I weep so much for that child. I trust Him to make all things new, better, right, beautiful, and ultimately to transcend the fallenness of my humanity. I trust Him to envelop each and every human being with love, not just me, so that if we choose we can be lifted out of the depravity we have made and drawn into perfection and love.

The atheist will accuse me of being hopelessly romantic, choosing to worship God out of a fear of misery rather than a regard for His being. However, I see God as being utterly loving, loveable, and lovely. I feel Him walk through my being and know Him to be with me. I can only trust my own experience. Atheists will say that I am deluded, but they also rely on their experience in order to deny God.

What must the Christian do?

We must each of us seek to be an instrument of God's blessing to this world. We must exist as channels of God's grace, doing the little we can and bitterly bewailing that it is only a little. We must then trust God to do the rest and eventually wipe away the tears from the eyes of humanty. We cannot seek to convert people at all, just to bless them, listen to them and bring their cry to God. It may well be that as the most strident critics of God  that both Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry are closer to Him than the leaders of the Church: they are honest in their dealings with Him. We too must be honest in our humility and seek the love of God in all things to the destruction of Evil. We must pray, confess our sins and shortcomings, and bring the love of God to all His Creation.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

That lonesome road

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

Would you decide to go for a walk by night near Chatham Docks? Have a little wander through the back alleys of Baghdad? A jaunt through downtown Capetown? You’ve got more sense than that.

So why would anyone take that road from Jerusalem to Jericho? It’s a bad road, notoriously full of bandits and brigands. You’d be mad to make that journey alone.

Yet, that is just what the man does, and he pays for it.

So why are the Priest, Levite, and Samaritan on the same road, apparently alone? Are they mad as well?


The parable of the Good Samaritan is spoken by Our Lord in response to the question, “and who is my neighbour?” The words are spoken by a Lawyer, a man who is supposed to know the Law, the right thing, the way to go, but who seeks to tempt Jesus and justify himself.

Instead, we have a Lawyer who should know the way to go, but doesn’t. He himself is on the path from Jerusalem to Jericho. He wants to qualify the term “neighbour” to mean what he wants it to mean so that it doesn’t show him up for the hypocrite that he is. The definition of neighbour does not change. It is someone nearby. Simple as that. It doesn’t mean “anyone nearby who isn’t a Samaritan”, or “anyone nearby who isn’t a sinner”, or “anyone nearby who isn’t a woman”, or “anyone nearby who isn’t black”. It means ANYONE nearby.

The Lawyer thinks he’s on the high road, the road which doesn’t touch the dangerous, bandit-infested route to Jericho. He’s wrong. He walks with the Priest and Levite wilfully ignorant of the dangers of his situation, wilfully ignorant of the humanity of others who aren’t right in his eyes, wilfully ignorant of someone who needs help.


We are all on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Each one of us is assaulted and damaged by the demonic forces that scurry about this world. Each one of us looks out for a hand to help us back on our feet. Each one of us is the victim of these bandits.

And each one of us, despite being the victim, has the opportunity to help someone else. In Christ, we have the opportunity to be both the victim and the Samaritan. We are the neighbour to all who are around us, regardless of who they are, and we can help them and let them help us.

The fact that we are all on this dangerous road shows that we inherit a fallen nature. Humanity first trod this path the day that we were cast out of Eden, and we walk it in successive generations. To deny that we all walk the same path is pride, vanity and hypocrisy. We don’t walk the path alone, though often it feels like it. We have the opportunity of walking together and thus ministering to each other when we are attacked by the Evil One. This is the Church, and no-one is too bad, or too good to join it.

However, to be in the Church, we have to follow our leader. Who’s He? The Good Samaritan Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Infinity Trinity

Fr Anthony Chadwick has accused this blogling as being highbrow.  ☺ It isn’t meant to be, just rather the crazed meanderings of my mind. I am grateful to those who read it and find sympathy with what I write and who perhaps find some words from the mouth of God on this page. I am His instrument, but my thoughts are very fallible, so I am merely a leaky pot seeking transformation and repair by my Creator.

One of the things on my mind is the worry if this country were to succumb to a fundamentalist Islamic Caliphate. Would I be denounced as a polytheist, or as a person of the book? The question is purely academic. I don’t seek to die as God’s goodness is great to me, but I would truly wish that, should I need to, that I be able to lay down my life for my God, family and friends. I doubt that any of my arguments would sway the executioner’s knife, but I am no polytheist. I believe in One God in Three Persons, the Blessed Trinity.

This does cause non-Christians a major struggle. It’s meant to. The search for God is not an academic exercise – it’s not that sort of knowledge we should be seeking. To know God is to encounter Him on the level of persons. We are capable of reflecting on the beauty of infinity and are thus so drawn to awe and wonder about God’s being.
Infinity has many fascinating and counter-intuitive properties. Consider the Banach-Tarski Paradox.

Yes, I know. It’s maths! Well, don’t be afraid of it because it’s all numbers. Think about what it says. It is mathematically possible to break up a perfect sphere into pieces and reassemble them into two spheres the same size and shape as the original. If you don’t understand, don’t worry. You don’t NEED to understand it. Just think about what it means.

Infinite objects have peculiar properties. I can talk about a thing called V which is the collection of all sets. You probably know what a set is, but it can be proved logically that V is not a set. However, when we talk of V, we seem to be able to talk about it like a set. This infinite collection is neither a one, nor a many, but both a one and a many.

My point? It is mathematically feasible for something to be essentially a one and a many.

God, being God, is responsible for the existence of mathematics and if He of all beings cannot be thought of as both a one and a many simultaneously, then surely He is smaller in conceivability than His Creation. It is entirely possible that God is more than a Trinity, but He has revealed Himself as a Trinity. Do we have the whole revelation? As far as our Salvation goes, we have enough, and anything more is part of this gradual coming to know God on the level of persons. As Olivier Clement says, our destiny is to become one human being in a multiplicity of persons.

What is really needed is for us to stop looking for God intellectually and look to recover Him spiritually. If our Church exists only as an intellectual construct based on theoretical theological and philosophical premises, then that isn’t a Church – it’s another form of Gnosticism. The Faith exists so that even the most intellectually disadvantaged person is not just able to be saved, but also cherished for being who he is and further can know God.

Our real need Is, at times, to put down the books and the scrolls, and the annals, and get to know God. As I’ve said before, the Creeds help us know something of the God we seek. In our prayer lives and in our spiritual being we encounter many spirits whom we must test. If the “god” we meet is not the one in the Creed, then we know that we’re on the wrong path. However, once we know we’re on the right path, we need to learn more, to become more Holy, and to relate to the One Who created us.

As this world grows darker, our inward lives need care, our spirits need nourishment, and the light needs to burn brighter. However, let us not fall into the trap of an inward looking, introspective faith. Let us remember to turn our gaze outward to those folk with dead eyes and sad faces, remembering that we must stand with them and bring them the care, light and nourishment too. Not by brow-beating, nor intellectual argument, but by good, old-fashioned loving-kindness. Let us help them to approach God in awe and wonder, not by trying to understand infinity but by just being with Him.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Assumption of Our Lady 2016: Celebrating our Destiny

What we celebrate today is our destiny and we celebrate it through the one human being who had the most unique relationship with God.

The Assumption of Our Lady causes our Protestant brethren some difficulty again along the lines of idolatry. We must always listen charitably to their objections because they are valuable, allow us to check our thinking, and seek to find more common ground together in our Christian witness to the world.

What is it that they object to? The object to what they perceive to be our worship of the Blessed Virgin. They perceive that we worship her in the same way that we worship her Son. If that is true, then we are idolaters indeed. We know for a fact that Mary is not God: she is the Mother of God, because she is the mother of Jesus, and Christians believe that Jesus is God. The logic is inescapable and the Third Oecumenical Council of Ephesus ensured that this was the correct doctrine for us to follow lest we fall into Nestorianism. The Mother of God has only one nature, and that is human. She is like us and not like her Son. She is therefore not worthy of the worship that is due solely to God.

Nor can she bear the title of co-redemptrix, putting her involvement in the redemption of mankind on the same level as Our Lord. She recognises herself to be only an instrument of the will of the Lord when she says, “be it unto me according to thy word.” She is not an agent of redemption – only Our Lord is – but she is a recipient of it because of her unique involvement in that redemption.

You see, what we see in Mary we see as potentially true for ourselves. When we look at Mary, what we see is how we can be involved with God as willing instruments of His Will, yet possessing a deep relationship with Him that lifts us up from just being simple tools which can be picked up and put down without further regard. We see in Mary an alignment of the human will with the Divine surpassed only by Our Lord’s alignment of His Human Will with His Divine Will. We too can spend our lives trying to align our wills with God. The fact of our sin and failure does not inhibit this process as long as we repent and continue to repent.

Our Lady always seeks out her son. Some folk seem to think that Jesus is a naughty boy for getting lost and subsequently being found in the temple. Yet, this was not sin because first, Mary did know that her son was the Son of God and second, the Law states to love God before all else. It is because Our Lord loves His Father that He loves His mother too. Yet, the heart of a loving mother is filled with worry for her children. Our Lord did not cause the worry, it is part of Mary’s loving nature and over-riding concern for her boy that caused the worry. God has it all in hand, and Mary needs to grow in faith. The result of such devotion is that, while she spends her life seeking her son, she ends her life being sought out by her son for a particular honour open to very few human beings.

There are no bodily relics of Mary. This is highly unusual, and lends good weight to the Assumption. The Law says “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Even now Our Lord does both. In assuming his position as king of heaven, He uses that commandment to admit Our Lady as Queen of Heaven, as Queen Mother, a unique position that can only be held by one person.

Apotheosis becomes theosis. Our Lady is assumed into the Divine nature of her son. This is why her prayers are so powerful and sweet. Of course, Our Lord hears our prayer with infinite love and tenderness. Yet, in asking for Our Lady’s prayers, we come to Our Lord through her in her unique relationship. As she stands beside us praying with us, we are as close as we can be to Him because she is always standing with Him. She stands in solidarity with us, and we find Christ too in that solidarity.

What of Our Lady’s sinlessness or otherwise? The Church Fathers attest to her sinlessness but the question of her immaculate conception has been raised to the level of dogma by the Roman Church. It is a good pious opinion which makes sense and is alluded to by St Athanasius as reported by St Cyril of Alexandria when he says: “There have been many holy people, free from all sin. Jeremiah was sanctified in his mother’s womb, and John while still in the womb leaped for joy at the voice of Mary, the Mother of God.” While he may just be referring to Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Our Lord, the inclusion of Our Lady specifically by name rather than mentioning her son, does give the impression that he believed her to be holy and sinless.

We know also that she is full of grace because the Lord is with her. Does that mean that she was immaculately conceived? The question is largely irrelevant as we should not be scrutinising other people for sin but constantly working to root out sin from our lives. As far as we are concerned, unless given clear indication otherwise, we cannot rightly call anyone we meet a sinner. We might as well treat them as sinless until we have evidence of sin. But then, as they confess and repent, they return to that state of grace. Our Lady’s immaculate conception or otherwise doesn’t add anything to the faith itself: if she isn’t immaculately conceived, then her apotheosis shows that a sinner can be assumed into Heaven and continue her relationship with her son; if she is immaculately conceived, then we see the power of God’s grace over sin and His Divine foreknowledge at work. As far as we are concerned, in her Assumption, Our Lady exemplifies the purity and perfection of the human condition that is open to every human being who becomes part of the Church.

In loving Our Lady, we find ourselves better able to show the same loving tenderness to all God’s children by creation. In loving her, we love what she stands for and for whom she prays. In loving her we begin to love better the Son she bore and who redeemed us by His blood. We are helped by her prayers and, if we allow her, she can take us by the arm and present us to her Son, especially in those times we feel we cannot approach Him.

Let us pray our Hail Mary together and, in so doing, worship the Son she bore.

Friday, August 12, 2016

On oxygen thieves, vegans and Life itself

I was recently caught up in an argument in which someone referred to an admittedly foolish individual as an “oxygen thief”. This rather pushed my buttons for several reasons. However, the very centre of all my irritation was a disrespect for life itself.

We often bandy insults like “oxygen thief” and “waste of space” around frequently to denote our sheer frustration with someone who is exhibiting useless, lazy, or feckless behaviour. In so doing, we rather put about the idea that the resources that are used to keep someone alive would be better spent for someone else. The trouble is, for the most part, these terms come from describing human beings who are severely disabled, comatose, or even brain dead. These latter often also get described as “vegetables” indicating their complete inability to respond to external stimuli. They are still human beings: not even Death can rob us of being human, so how can we cease to be human if we are still alive?

For those who are designated brain dead, the family is often presented with an agonising decision to switch off artificial respiration and allow their loved one to die. If that family decide against doing so, it has often been heard around those who work in the hospital that the patient is an oxygen thief, using up resources better spent on people who need it to get better and who stand more of a chance of recovery.

Life is a terrible condition to pin down and understand. There are arguments about when it begins, when it ends, and what is alive in the first place. There is a biological definition of Life which will include not only animals and plants, but also bacteria and fungi and a few other organisms not as easily recognisable. While people will readily say that dogs, cats and pigs are living things, they may balk at the idea of vegetables as being alive. Yet, plants have biological processes which correspond very closely to those of animals. Genetically, human beings share between 40 and 50% of their genes with cabbages.

This gives us a bit of a wake-up call. Whatever we eat, we have destroyed its life. Something has died so that we can continue to be. This is true of all living organisms. One being must take resources from another which may include the other's very life itself: all life is in competition. The most common cause of death is suffocation complicated by digestion, i.e. the living thing gets eaten. Thus vegetarians and vegans are responsible for the deaths of plants in their millions. They may not have a central nervous system, but if it could be shown that plants feel pain, then some arguments from vegetarians and vegans would apply to plants as well. Indeed, the old “animals just don’t feel pain in the same way we do” could be easily turned into “plants just don’t feel pain in the same way we do”. This might cause some to become consumers only of berries and fruits which are designed to be eaten, but it could spell the end of the salad!

The fact is that, in order to preserve life, one necessarily has to destroy it in others. We have to live with this fact every day of our lives, yet it doesn’t bother us. Should it?

In some sense, this is the Hell of our existence – our fall from the grace of God. All the time, we fight for limited resources and grudge those who waste those resources. We all do foolish things and waste the resources that we are given. We hoard some, and others starve. This is how human beings live. This is our life, and if this is what human life means, then surely death is a merciful release both from a meaningless existence, and a release of nutrients for other living things. Yet, Hell itself is filled with those trying to devour others to eke any kind of meaningful life from their beings. The finitude of life supporting resources fuels Hell.

We are aware that the life we have will cease. We will die and our bodies return to the dust. Yet we often take the time for granted. If we wander around seeing other people as things, then we cease to appreciate life. The same is true for all forms of life, animals, plants, and fungi too. We must appreciate that, in our present existence, we each depend on each other to live and we need to respect that dependence so much. There are those who say that human beings are evolving to be vegetarian. There is no evidence for that, and seems to go against the survival of the fittest. Omnivores and herbivores are just as long-lived as each other, and both breed at the same rate.

No, we depend on consuming the lives of others in order to continue our existence, and we need to respect all life for that very reason. If we’re going to eat meat, then we need to ensure that the animals are killed humanely, quickly and without wastage. If we’re going to eat plants, then we need to ensure that the plants are grown well with respect to the environment at large so that insecticides do not damage the ecosystem. We need to recognise the life in others.

Calling someone an oxygen thief robs them of humanity and sees them only as a thing. Even the most severely disabled cannot be described as just a thing. They are still a person in their own right. This goes down even to the tiny bundle of cells that result from sperm meeting egg. An embryo is alive, a living thing. Life begins at conception, not at some legally defined date. It often surprises me why more animal rights’ activists aren’t pro-life. It may be a woman’s body, but the cells of an embryo aren’t her body. Thus we have this terrible problem about who can make the decision to end a life. A woman who terminates a pregnancy terminates a life. If the reasons that she does so are not of the gravest nature, then she commits a terrible sin. Yet too many people see a foetus as a parasite - an oxygen thief, not a human being. Yet we were all foetuses once.

The view Christianity takes is to minimise competition. We are not only to look after the worse off, but must even be prepared to give up something of ourselves for the good of others. We must be prepared to lay down  our lives for our friends. The notion of sacrifice is not unknown in the animal kingdom with ants, bees and termites programmed by biological necessity to die for the hive.

Are Christians no better than ants then? God would have humanity as stewards of His creation. This means both mastery and care. The ant cannot sacrifice itself, properly speaking. Sacrifice entails making something holy, bringing it to God. Christ sacrificed Himself upon the Cross to bring God and Man together. The sacrifice of the Mass continues this for all people in Time.

Christ tells us the He is the Life. He isn't just alive - He is what it means to be alive. Even the creatures participate in His Life which seems to spring from just a tiny collection of cells and amino acids. We share life with all that is alive which means that we must treat all living things with care and respect. We recognise our dependence on the lives of other organisms to survive and realise the frailty of our condition seeking to be transformed away from an existence of mutual devouring.

There are no oxygen thieves because God gives His life to all that live just because He would have it so. To call someone an oxygen thief puts us in danger of calling God a fool for creating that person. Our Lord says:

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew v:22)

Let us then seek to love our neighbour as ourselves not by calling into question their right to exist. They, like we, have no right to exist: the right to bestow existence belongs only to God. Rather let us recognise that being alive gives us a common bond. We may act foolishly, recklessly, hatefully, and wickedly but we are all bearers of life, and life is in God. In loving others we are united with them. In loving God we will find that we have no need to compete for existence: we shall have it unconditionally in Him.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Identifying the Creeds

Who is Tom?

Carol says that Tom is 5’ 9” tall, is a bit tubby, is blond and has blue eyes. She says that he limps a little on his left foot after he shattered his leg in a quad biking accident. She says that he enjoys Bon Jovi, can finish a hard Su Doku in 5 minutes, and his favourite food is Sweet and Sour Pork. She also says that Tom loves animals especially dogs, loves children and is a passionate supporter of humanitarian causes.

Denise says that Tom is 5’ 9” tall, is quite slim, is a bit mousy blond and has dark blue eyes. She says that he limps a little, but can’t remember on which leg: she doesn’t know why, either. She says that he enjoys Def Leppard and does puzzles quickly. Denise says that Tom’s favourite food is Dim Sum. She also says that Tom is finds her dog intensely irritating, and keeps away her 5 month old son. To her chagrin, she finds Tom rather ambivalent to charities.

Will the real Tom please stand up?

There are a few glaring discrepancies here, and it leads to a few possibilities as to what’s going on here.

1)      There are two distinct, but physically similar people called Tom.
2)      Tom is being inconsistent with Denise and Carol.
3)      One woman may know Tom better than the other.

Are there other possibilities? Which is the most likely?

If both Carol and Denise swear to their testimony about Tom, then we might be led to rule out (3) and look to (1) or (2). In all probability, (1) seems most likely otherwise Tom seems to be a bit of a pathological liar. We might reasonably conclude that Carol and Denise know two different people called Tom who share some characteristics and yet differ markedly in other.

We might be better persuaded that there was only one Tom if Carol and Denise agreed more about how Tom shows his character. It’s hard to see how a dog lover finds a dog irritating, but I suppose it could happen.

When it comes to different religions, we have the same problem with God.
Two religions may believe that God exists. They might agree on some of His attributes, but they clearly disagree about other things, otherwise they would be the same religion. They may agree on God being the Omnipotent Creator, but differ in the way He issues His commandments. Do they worship the same God?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. If we were to examine the God of the Hebrew Bible in comparison with the God of Christianity, there would be a lot of agreement on God’s character even down to the existence of the Messiah who, for the Hebrew Faith, has not yet appeared. We might reasonably conclude that, because Christians and Jews have the same Testament in common, it is likely that they do worship the same God.

The same can’t be said for Islam where the Bible is rejected in favour of the Q’ran. If Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same god, then that god is capricious and contradictory. Muslims have practices that Christians do not. Christians have the Mass which the Muslims do not. There is marked disagreement about the person that both seem to refer to as Jesus. Again, we can reasonably conclude that Christians and Muslims are not likely to be worshipping the same god. I do stress the word "unlikely" - only God truly knows the hearts of men.

The same is also true with Christians and the Christian Heretics of the Primitive Church. In denying Christ’s divinity, the Arian Jesus is not the same as the Orthodox Jesus. These cannot be the same Jesus. Neither can the Apollinarian, Nestorian, or Ebionite Jesus be the Orthodox Jesus.

This is why Orthodox Christians take the Creed so seriously as indeed we must. In it, we have some way of pointing to the One we can never comprehend, and yet must be careful not to give ourselves to idolatry – the worship of gods who aren’t. While we cannot have complete knowledge of God, it is His will that we worship Him so that we can be with Him. Thus we have His revelation to us in the Bible, in the Faith of the Early Church and in the Creeds. They are vital to knowing that we are truly continually engaging ourselves in conversatio mores – constantly engaged in repentance and the search for God. We have to worship the same God as St Peter, Abraham, Judas Maccabeus, and Our Lady, as well as Linus, Cletus, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, and Chrysogonus, for that is God.

Personally, I have seen Parishes remove the Nicene Creed from their liturgy and then wonder why the congregation starts going a bit Arian. Often the creed is replaced with a statement of faith such as a simple baptismal formula. That is not enough, and many of these formulae teeter the precipice of Modalism and reduce the three persons of the Trinity to roles fulfilled by God.

If we truly want to bring Christ back into Society, then we need to have the Creeds as central to our life. Our Bible Study will point to them, our prayer life will use them to focus our attention on the God Who Is, and we will live our lives in the reality of the Faith to which we hold. Anglican Catholics live their lives by lex orandi, lex credendi. The two are inseparable because prayer recognises the truth of God and reacts to that truth. 

Of course the Creeds are not inclusive! It is not always a sin to exclude! An arbitrary exclusion is sinful, but to exclude a cat from a dogs’ show is just plain common sense. Likewise, the Creeds exclude non-Christians from Christian worship. That is no sin. The modern deification of Inclusivity is another idolatry which cannot be supported by the Creeds.

If anyone says that the creeds are out of date and don’t matter, that one is wrong and in serious error.

When next you say the Creed at Mass, be glad and know that there are Christians around you throughout Time and Space who hold to the same Faith that you do and seek to draw you to the One True God Who is also drawing you by the Light He shines upon you. Be thankful for the Creeds: they exist to help you begin to love God.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Eying the eyewitnesses

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

The most common reason that people give for not believing in God is that there is no evidence for His existence. For us Christians, that’s a bit odd because we have plenty of evidence if we think about it.

This doesn’t mean that we get to criticise them for their belief, but rather we should try to understand why they feel like this.

What do they need for them to see that God not only exists but loves them dearly?

Ideally, in order to say that something exists, they need some form of reliable evidence. It used to be said that all swans were white and that you’d be laughed at if you said that there was such thing a black swan. It was only when explorers found black swans in Australia that people could believe in the existence of black swans even if they hadn’t gone to Australia to see them for themselves. They trusted the testimony of the explorers.

It’s only in recent times that we can see black swans for ourselves. So what about those people who didn’t believe the original explorers? Are they really justified in not believing in black swans?

The same is true of historical events. If we do not believe the eye-witness testimony of an event, are we justified in believing that the event didn’t occur.


What many people don’t realise about the Holy Scriptures is that they were collated by the Church and finalised into what we understand to be the Bible by the fourth Century. What books made it into the Bible? St Justin Martyr tells us in the first century after the Resurrection that the Christians were reading the letters of St Paul and the Memoirs of the Apostles. These Memoirs we know to be the Gospels. Essentially, the rule has always been that the New Testament contains Gospels and letter from all those who were eyewitnesses to Our Lord.

Let’s listen to St Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians again:
BRETHREN, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand: by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures; and that he was seen of Cephas; then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep: after that, he was seen of James; then of all the Apostles: and last of all, he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

When people dismiss the Bible, they do so because they see it as mythology, but forget (or need to be taught) that, actually, the entire New Testament is a collection of historical documents bearing witness to the life and teaching of Our Lord. These documents were written while the eyewitnesses were alive and have been copied very reliably down the centuries. If someone rejects the New Testament as historical text, then they might as well just reject all references to Julius Caesar and then say that he never existed.

But why do this? Why do people not want to accept this testimony?

The reason is probably because believing
will change their lives in a way that they don’t want. So many people have a negative view of Christianity now that they just don’t want the facts to be true, and who can blame them?

What do we do?

There is only one thing we can do and that is become better Christians and bear witness to Him by living our faith deeply and truly seeking Our Lord. If people know that we are Christian and are living lives of faithfulness to Our Lord’s teaching, seeking to bring love, goodness, light, joy and peace to the world, then they will see our testimony in what we believe. If we shout, make snide comments, live a holier-than-thou attitude to life, then we will do more harm than good, not just to ourselves, but also to those around us who need to find Christ.

Let us just worry about serving God, and let Him show His presence in us as He sees fit.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A veiled Transfiguration?

Let’s get this straight. Our Lord takes Peter, James and John up a mountain and is transfigured before them. They see Elijah and Moses talking with Him. Then the vision ends and all is back to normal. Sounds very straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet there is something here.

Why does Our Lord’s appearance change? Why become dazzling white? Well, He is showing us Himself as He is, is He not? If Our Lord is really all dazzling white, then why does He hide Himself? If He is supposed to be the Truth and have no darkness within Him, why does He appear normal? If Peter, James and John can see this and not get burned to a crisp, then why does Our Lord effectively wear a mask?

The answer is simple. We cannot cope with the glory of God. Look at St Peter. His thinking becomes all addled just at the mere sight of this. Even then, we may suppose, this is only the fraction of Jesus’ glory that the Disciples can cope with. It is not Our Lord who has changed – it is the Disciples’ ability to see that has changed. It is the veil over their eyes that is permeated by a gift of the Holy Ghost. The Lord does not change – we do.

This makes sense. Our Lord is eternally begotten of the Father. What we call Time is just another instrument of His good pleasure. His existence is not subject to it, nor does He succumb to its effects save when He wills to be Incarnate. He is without change, but yet fully immerses Himself into a world of change and chaos, reaching out for us to take His hand and be pulled into Eternity with Him through the wounds He receives on the Cross.

This Transfiguration is Mankind being drawn near to God, for God has already drawn near to Man. Likewise, we find the same instances of Transfiguration in our Mass. The sad fact is that most of us don’t see the light, nor do we see the prophets, nor hear the voice of God thundering down from on high. Masses might be more popular if they did.

Yet, the privilege of finding ourselves transfigured is reserved for those whose lives are spent looking for Christ not just in Church, in private devotion and study, but also in their daily lives themselves. We know that the Lord still does work miracles – we often just don’t see them because we don’t allow our eyesight to be purified by the search for Jesus. For Peter, James and John, they are awarded the privilege because of their relationship with the Lord.

This relationship is not just of individuals with Christ, but of individuals with each other, seeing Our Lord’s life in the persons we meet in our everyday lives. The commandments go together: love God, love each other. There are no Christians apart from the Church. There are Christians who think that they are apart from the Church; they may even boast that they are apart from the Church. The reality is that, if they are truly Christian, behind the veil they will be shocked to find themselves within the Church. Likewise, there will be those people who believe themselves to be members of the Church who find, behind the veil, that they are not!

Transfiguration is about reality. We often only perceive what we want to perceive. Transfiguration is a gift of the Holy Ghost for all who genuinely seek Christ, and Who then holds up the window into Heaven to see Him. This will not happen on Mount Tabor, yet for those of us who are faithful, we will recognise this Transfiguration for what it is.

Let us pray to God for this to happen through the Holy Ghost, and work for Christ to ensure that we are ready for it.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Anglican Catholic Inconsistencies?

I’ve had a few people ask me about inconsistencies within the ACC and whether this affects anything. These inconsistencies arise from our name as the Anglican Catholic Church.
As I’ve said before, Anglican Catholics take their definition of Anglican to be synonymous with how the 19th Century Anglo-Catholics understood what it meant to be Anglican. We know the long history of Christianity in the British Isles has its own character and there are even suggestions (of dubious credibility) that the Gospel was preached in Britain before it was preached in Rome. If that’s the case then,

a)      Why does the ACC, in following the likes of Pusey who argue for the integrity of Anglican Catholicism apart from the Bishop of Rome, assume Roman vestments and practices?

b)      Is not the ACC an American invention, and therefore not properly Anglican at all but another of those whacky cults that the Americans produce and find their way over here?

These are good questions and ones that we need to think about very carefully. The second question is often poorly phrased, but essentially brings up the fact American English is not the same as English in the U.K.

Let’s look at these, one at a time.

What Roman vestments and practices might cause one to doubt our Anglicanism? Well, there is the wearing of the biretta, fiddleback chasuble, lacy cotta, and zucchetto. Many ACC bishops do tend to look like Roman prelates rather than the likes of Andrewes, Laud and Cranmer. What practices might cause offence? The Rosary, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the Angelus and observations of the Solemnities of the Sacred Heart and the Assumption.

These all make us look Roman rather than historically Anglican. Perhaps we should reject them; cast off our birettas for Canterbury caps.

I own a Canterbury cap. They’re not well-made these days, and I tend to look less like Cranmer and more like an articulate Allen key. They are also difficult to put on and take off quickly. They do, on the other hand keep my head warmer in winter. I prefer my biretta mainly for practical reasons.

That’s just personal preference. There is, however, another way of looking at the issue.

I would say that it is this. In some real sense, the ACC has a largely Anglican Papalist way of viewing the Pope. No, we do not subscribe to his Supremacy: there is only one Bishop of Bishops and He has holes in His hands and feet and a wound in His side. We do not subscribe to his Infallibility: this is often interpreted to Roman Catholic laity as being the “final say” in matters of doctrine, but the dogma of infallibility goes much deeper than that. We believe firmly that an Oecumenical Council can override any “infallible” decree made by the Pope.

That doesn’t sound very Papalist!

Oh, but it is! What we in the ACC subscribe to is the special and canonical character that the Bishop of Rome possesses. We acknowledge his seniority, his primacy, his venerability and his position as Patriarch of the West even though this title was rejected by Pope Benedict XVI. The accretions made to the role of the Papacy make it less Catholic rather than more Catholic. In the ACC, we have a higher regard for the Pope than the Romans do! That makes us less Old High Churchmen, though even though we share the same sort of heritage as the Caroline Divines, and even affirm it.

That being said, we in the ACC do recognise that we are part of this Patriarchy whether our patriarch recognises us or not. In holding to the Faith as revealed in Holy Scripture, held by the Church Fathers and proclaimed by the Seven Oecumenical Councils, we are already part of the True Vine with all Catholic Churches; this means we do stand with both the Patriarchs of the West and of the East. We stand with them both and we are happy to do so, despite our disagreements and divisions, looking for ways to give each the honour due that the Oecumenical Councils prescribe. It would be wonderful for us to be in communion with each other. Perhaps, God willing this will happen.

How do we express this standing-togetherness?

Well, the Canterbury cap and biretta are related, so why shouldn’t we wear either? Before the Reformation, we practised the Angelus and Eucharistic devotions, on these our theology didn’t change after the Reformation. The practice of reserving the Host is of antiquity. Many practices were removed by the reformers, especially those of a more Protestant tendency. In the ACC, we do want to be true to the ancient faith, but that doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Does that mean we get confused with Roman Catholics? Invariably it does but, like Archbishop Laud would say, that’s not a bad thing as the Roman Catholic Church is indeed a Catholic Church. Several people have popped into Masses in the U.K and said that they thought we were Roman but before things changed. I’ve taken this to be a bit of a compliment because they see the ACC endeavour to continue where others left off. We are quick to disabuse people about our identity as neither Roman nor CofE, but it is good to be recognised as a continuation of what once was.

This leads us to a bit of a sad fact. Many of us in the ACC came out of the Lambeth Communion because it ceased to follow the Catholic Faith. While we adhere to the same Faith that the Lambeth Communion once followed but now does not, there are many of us who find that being identified as CofE or ECUSA painful. In that sense, we’re happier to be confused with being Roman Catholic than the CofE. However, as relations between the ACC and the CofE thaw, I hope this antipathy will dissipate, even if we have to walk apart.

But confusion is not good, and we in the ACC do have a challenge to explain ourselves in ways that stop that confusion. Trouble is, people today like soundbites. The ACC doesn’t lend itself to soundbites.

Rather than being inconsistent with Anglicanism, our “Roman” practices are part of our heritage based on the theology of the Primitive Church. We adopt them, yet give them our “English” flavour. We also express our desire for visible unity with the patriarchates of the East and West in sharing these common practices. While we appreciate that this may cause some confusion this may well be the catalyst for further, robust, honest, and warm conversation.

So, is the ACC really an American cult and thus not deserving of being Anglican?

That’s a bit of a disservice to the Americans who are religious, and live in a vast space where unusual beliefs occur more on the balance of probability. Yet, there is a point here.

Are we a cult? Do we have socially deviant beliefs or novel practices?

Well, we have no NEW practices at all! We’re doing what the Church has always done. Are we socially deviant? Yes, but then so are Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy given our social conservatism and the growing distance between us and the secular humanism that now seems to possess Society. Deviant beliefs from what? From the Church? No, because we’re continuing to do what has always been done. It’s called being faithful to the tradition that we have received. We’re not a cult. A better word for us might be “sect” given that there has been a separation between us and larger established bodies, but we believe that this separation was done for the best of reasons.

As for our American influence, well, the Americans started Continuing Anglicanism first because the heresy of modernism hit ECUSA and Canada first. Theologically, the ACC shares a truly Anglican heritage through the relationship that each Diocese had with the parent church in the Lambeth Communion before walking apart from that Communion became necessary. Thus, the Anglican Catholic Diocese of the United Kingdom does have a special relationship with Anglicanism over the other Dioceses simply because we are still part of the culture from which Anglicanism grew. That doesn’t make us “more” Anglican than anyone else (as if that means something); it means the Anglican Catholic Church possesses the authentic Anglican heritage that we in the U.K. share with Dioceses across the Pond and around the World. While we may have the heritage, we didn’t have the organisational structure nor the encouragement which the American ACC has provided us and which has allowed us to survive and we have to be very grateful for that.

The Anglican Genius allows our Dioceses, even our parishes, to be inhomogeneous and that is important because we each have to bring the Gospel to the people where we are. However, we are united in what we believe to be Catholic and hold onto the ancient faith. What you will find in the very tiny Diocese of the United Kingdom is a disparate group of clergy seeking to be authentically Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox in line with the heritage that we have lived in for a good long time.

So, I think I’ll stick with my biretta, though if someone finds me a GOOD Canterbury cap, I’ll wear it for the Daily Offices.