Sunday, May 21, 2017

Doing what it says in the mirror

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter


You wake up one morning to a perfectly normal day. The sun shines through the curtains, and the birds are singing as usual to welcome a new day. You get up, stretch and head to the bathroom. As you look into the mirror, the face you see is not what you’re used to – it’s the opposite sex for starters! How do you react?


[PAUSE]


You might say, “oh no! The mirror’s broken, again!” but how do you know the face in the mirror really is not your own? Try another mirror? Look at your face in a spoon? Ask a family member? Can you really have forgotten what you look like?

St James paints a colourful picture of the man who hears the word of God, yet does not act on it, and it leaves us asking the question, “how can I be sure who I really am?” This may sound a bit too philosophical for a Sunday, yet each one of us has a moment when we say to ourselves, “was that really me?” There are things that we do which are somehow unlike us, either to our amazement, or our disappointment. There are things that we do that we have no knowledge of. Have you ever gone out and reached your usual destination, and then suddenly thought, “how on earth did I get here?”


Many people sleepwalk through life without ever really being, don’t they?


[PAUSE]


St James seems to be suggesting that what we do affects who we are. If we do nothing, then we become nothing but a phantom whose very image evaporates. Of course, we have to be careful. What we do does not save us, but if we hear God’s word and let it not affect our lives then what good does it do us? St James would tell us that Jesus saves you, but who is the you that He saves?


It is clear that in following Our Lord’s word, we are transformed in His love, but we have to want that transformation. We have to want to change so that we die to our sins and live to God. Our salvation is a process, not a one-off. Jesus says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and then He says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” Doing whatever Jesus says is as much believing in what He says as anything else. Doing is part of our Faith. Doing makes us who we are in an act of self-creation. In giving us free-will God gives us the ability to play an active role in our own creation and more, for Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do ; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”


In wanting to be transformed in Christ, and seeking to do what it takes to be transformed in Christ, we must expect to be taken out of what is familiar and into the uncomfortable. How can we become new if we cling to our old selves and our old way of doing things? Indeed, if we suffer difficulties because we seek God’s will, then that is a sure way of knowing that we are on the right track.


What will you see when you look in the mirror when you get home? What about tomorrow morning?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mystery, Morals, and Montanism

As I come close to my thousandth post on this little blogling, I find myself with a new challenge courtesy of my friends, Fr Chadwick and Ed Pacht. We are often confronted with a binary view of reality and that binary view is, in many circumstances, perfectly correct but in many others it shouldn't be. For the Atheist/Theist debate, once the appropriate definitions have been agreed, there is a perfectly acceptable binary: either God exists or He doesn't. This may be debated with certain nuances: God is not a thing that exists in the same way that the universe is a thing that exists. If that were true, then scientific theories ought to apply to God Himself such as duration, extension, and location. It is a leap of faith to believe that God exists but not as we do. If He is the Creator of all things, if He brings all things into being, if He is separate from His Creation, then He cannot be comprehended in the same way as that Creation.

Ed will often pick me up on the tendency to be binary rather than to see the both/and given a dichotomy. He is a master of finding the false dichotomy, preferring a form of Hegelian dialectic to black-and-white determination in areas which are more properly grey. Likewise, Fr Anthony will see things in my writing that I hadn't intended, such as Romanticism which may be more due to my naive idealism than anything else.

 In my discussion on Liberalism, especially on the bankruptcy of its substance as a means of Divinity, I might be accused of semantics, overuse of logic, and an unwillingness to be generous to people struggling with discrimination. As soon as I mention infallibility, Ed will challenge me on the use of such a term. I do see Logic as being infallible in its sphere of influence, likewise Mathematics. However, it has to be remembered that deductive logic is largely empty in that it makes no new discovery. Logic is not a means of discovering the riches of God's Creation: it is only a single means of communicating what is, and thus presenting the scientist with a means of using a leap of faith to test his hypothesis. Logic is the way that human minds grasp for the truth and communicate truth. Once we step outside its bounds, we lose the capacity to make such a communication. Thus, for the most part, intellectual recourse does require a logical structure so that two people can at least have a common ground for discussion. This is why I subject the tenets of the Liberal Agenda to my rather tenuous grasp of logic.

Liberal Tenet 2 says: No one source of information is infallible.

As a Christian, I believe in God and therefore I believe that there is a single source of infallibility. Yet, if I say I understand that infallibility, I will have made God small enough to fit into my worldview. This is intolerable, and perhaps this is what the Liberals really mean when they say that there is no single source of infallibility. However, the infallibility that Liberals are usually talking about here is that of human morality. Is there an infallible source of morality? Liberals say "no" in line with Tenet 2 and use that to justify the equality of homosexual relationship with heterosexual, and the equivalency of male and female. It is absolutely none of my business what goes on in other people's bedrooms. It is, however, God's business: He gets that right being the Creator of all things.

However, try to force me to accept that homosexual relationships are the same as heterosexual ones in the eyes of God, and I will point to the single source that comprises the Doctrine of the Church that sex is God's plan for the propagation of humanity, that sex outside marriage is sinful, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I will point to Biblical sources, and to Tradition to justify my premises, and Right Reason to justify my conclusion. Of course, the Liberal Agenda says that the Biblical words don't really mean what Tradition says that they mean, and that Tradition was influenced only by the ambient culture because it wants to justify what it now believes to be right and fair. As far as I can, I say "live and let live!" in order to honour in the other person that which God has put, namely the freedom to choose, but I will always teach the Catholic Faith to any who will listen to me.

Morality is has an objectivity which comes directly from God’s inherent righteousness. He is the source of all that is good and His justice is meted out in the supply of what is truly good to the obliteration of all evil which lurks in things due to their imperfections that come from their separation from Him. Sometimes I wonder whether Time itself is the means by which God allows us to participate in our own creation and salvation. The trouble is that, once we become convinced that something is a moral truth from means other than God's revelation, we seek it out in God’s revelation and this leads to eisegesis which is nothing less than a perversion of exegesis. This is where the Montanists went wrong.

The Montanists separated from the Catholic Church in the mid-second century claiming that they had special inspiration from the Holy Ghost which actually inflicted greater stringency on its members. There is some debate as to whether Tertullian joined their number, but most of the information we have about the Montanist sect comes from his writing. Montanists also ordained women and most notable in their midst are Maximilla and Prisca (or Priscilla).

They were largely charismatic in their thinking and their public ministries tended towards the orgiastic, believing that their prophecies superceded the teaching of the Apostles. There is a great deal of confusion about what they taught or why they are indeed heretical, but it is clear that the Montanists did upset the Catholic Church greatly with their presence. In his history, Eusebius reports Apollinarius saying:
There it is said that a recent convert named Montanus, while Gratus was proconsul of Syria, in his unbridled passion to reach the top laid himself open to the adversary, was filled with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved and began to chatter and talk nonsense, prophesying in a way that conflicted with the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation.
There are wild stories of dubious credibility about what went on, but it is clear that the Church rejected Montanism on the grounds of its lack of order, precisely because it ignored St Paul's warnings in I Corinthians xiv. They refused to be ruled by anything other than the spirit that they perceived to be holy. To my mind, this is exactly where the Liberal Agenda sits. It re-interprets what we have been given, namely the Tradition of God (NOT of Men, as they would have it) to fit what they believe to be right. Again, what we see in Montanism is those who mean well - who mean very well - being corrupted by the spirit of the air who appears as an angel of light. Yet, as St Paul warns in his letter to the Romans, they fall "[b]ecause that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened."

The Liberal Agenda essentially tries to earth the Holy Spirit. Ironically, this is precisely of what they accuse the Catholic Church. Yet, they are the ones trying to fit the words of Our Lord into the culture of our time using Tenets 2 and 3. God's Morality is set clearly in the words of Our Lord. If the Lord uses the word porneia, as He does in St Matthew xix.9, and porneiai in St Matthew xv.19 backed up by St Mark vii.21, then He is clearly speaking of acts in which one prostitutes oneself literally or figuratively. He lambasts adultery, upholding the commandments of His Father. He calls it sin, even if one just looks upon a woman with lust in the heart. What is in the heart matters, and if we cultivate any form of pornography (which is the polar opposite of ikonography) then that is a sin and we need to repent. Only in the Liberal Agenda can the act of having sex be a human right. If they want to be that equianimous, they ought to generate the same right to all animals for if animals get to have sex and reproduce, they are lucky! Many die before. Eros is not, and never has been agape or philos for that matter.

The Liberal Agenda will say, "how dare you try and limit the Holy Spirit?!" The Catholic Church says, "we do not limit the Holy Spirit. WE are the ones that are limited by our falling away from God." If we wish to limit ourselves to matters earthly and matters earthy, then we forget about the Holy Spirit which is opposed to the will of the flesh.  I can hear the cries of "Oppressor!" at my front door now!

So how are we to allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Ghost, particularly as we prepare ourselves for Whitsunday?

First, we recognise the Eternity of God's Goodness and seek His Kingdom. We must limit ourselves to God's Rule so that we distance ourselves from the noise of our own flesh. Of course, we are going to struggle, and may of us will struggle horribly, because it will mean an abandonment of good things for things which are the best. We have to accept that struggle, but never to hate our flesh because it is as much part of us as our mind and spirit.

Second, we need to study. God cannot contradict Himself, so the Holy Ghost will not draw us into things which contradict Who God is and how His Goodness works. We need to be able to guard ourselves against the voices of wishful thinking that cloud our minds. We cannot afford to create a voice in our head which is supposed to be God's voice. Do we expect Him to speak to us with our own voice?

Third, we pray to the Holy Spirit and ask that, through the grace of our Confirmation, we should allow Him into our lives and beings. He will seek conformity - a shaping together - of all members of the Church. I believe we are always seeing this conformity at work when Christians seek each other out for communion. This is why the Great Synod of October has my deepest prayers.

Fourth, we allow ourselves to be still in our prayer and to embrace the Mystical. Mystery is an anathema to those who believe that perfect knowledge can be had in the Universe. Bad Science tries to remove Mystery, Good Science recognises that there are limits to the knowledge it can derive through its methodology. Indeed, as Dionysius the Areopagite would have us, in our prayer to God, we need to cast off our ways of thinking in order to find a true communication with Him. Logic is only from humanity for humanity, though its infallibility is a gift from God even if its scope is limited. It will still need to be jettisoned: all words will need to be jettisoned.

Fifth, we get back to doing our everyday tasks in all their mundaneness yet seeing God at work even in the most trivial of things. If we are truly led by the Holy Ghost, then we will see miracles and can expect them because of God's faithfulness, not our own. We will always find an answer to our prayers, just not always the answer we expect (that really would be limiting the Holy Ghost!), but we will be able to recognise it because we are in the process of aligning our hearts to God. We are to suffer and must expect to suffer at the hands of the world. That is the fact of the Fall. Yet, we are to cultivate that faith in God and seek to participate with Him as He creates us into what we really are.

As the Church prepares for her birthday on Whitsun, we should make an effort to embrace God in His Mystery and not allow ourselves to be led astray by things that are below. I pray that our Pentecost may indeed set us all on fire for God!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

God and a social revolution revolution

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Easter

Poverty.

Slavery.

Abortion.

Injustice.

Four little words, and yet perhaps they have stirred something up inside you. Perhaps just even hearing the words has made you uncomfortable and wanting to do something about people’s suffering due to these issues.

It’s clear that, if we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, these issues need tackling and tackling immediately. We see lots of programmes out in society, some secular, some church-led, all geared at trying to fulfil this Second Commandment that the Lord actually repeats from Leviticus. It’s so important for all of humanity to hold this commandment, and it’s very interesting that versions of this commandment exist in religions and philosophies beyond Christianity.

If many people are so committed to it, why is there still so much strife in the world? If there is so much poverty, is it only the greed of the rich that is causing poverty? Is it only those who disregard the value of humanity who generate slavery and abortion? Is it only the selfish who cause injustice?

[PAUSE]

St James says, “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”. If we are to be swift to hear, whom should we be hearing? To whom should we be slow to speak? Surely we should be quick to be angry about the horrible things that are happening to people in the world?

Not for nothing is this the Second Commandment. There is a commandment that precedes it, a commandment that doesn’t appear in other religions and philosophies: “thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Clearly, a campaign to prevent slavery which includes the idea that “God endorses slavery” is going to be fundamentally against any other campaign to abolish slavery which include the idea that we are in slavery to sin and that God seeks to free us all. Many would-be social reformers are very good at being angry, but end up doing more damage because their anger and indignation is not properly directed.

God clearly says, “vengeance is mine. I will repay!” How is this to be achieved?

[PAUSE]
Our Lord says that the Holy Ghost “will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged.” This sounds a bit cryptic. What does He mean?

As Our Lord ascends into Heaven, He sends down to us the Holy Ghost for the purpose of being present within the Church forever. If God is always present in the Church then this means that the world will always have to answer to God – not to the Church, but to God Himself. He will convict people of sin because they refuse to acknowledge His existence and His Goodness. He will convict people’s righteousness because it is of their own making and not the righteousness that comes from His Creating Presence. They do not see that Christ has already come and already returned to the Father having destroyed the sins of all those who believe in Him. He will convict people of their judgement because they make decisions and pass laws based on Godless theories and Godless politics.

[PAUSE]

Before we can do any good works in the world, we need to know what Good really is. We can only know what is Good through the Holy Ghost working in us, through obeying His call, through abandoning all social reforms that don’t come from God, and through living the Christian life ourselves as best we can.

The Church does not exist as a means for political revolution. It exists to bring the grace of God to all people and provide a way of life that transcends this little life. Priests are not social workers nor are Bishops politicians: they are servants of the Church to bring God’s grace into the world through the Divine Priesthood of Christ on the Cross. Indeed we must aim to help the poor, needy, homeless, unloved, unwanted, and oppressed – no question. But we do better if we bring God with us so as to administer His grace for all human beings.


Our faith in God is the basis on which God can heal this world. Let us learn to trust and obey Him so that He can work through us and thus make our desire to end the suffering of others effective.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Twelve Theses of John Shelby Spong

As I continue to look at the prevailing Liberal Agenda, it makes sense to review one of the catalysts of the erosion of traditional Christianity. Bishop John Shelby Spong is one of the generators of applying the Liberal Agenda to Christian thought. I found this link to an article in 2015 by Spong in which he charts the "new Reformation". In this, he repeats a list of twelve theses which he proposed in a Diocesan news letter and expounded in his book, A New Christianity for a New World.


One should always be wary of people who hold a list of theses. Clearly Spong wishes to identify himself with Luther. I'm happy to make that identification given that I am rather of the opinion that Luther's contribution to Church History is rather more negative than positive. One can look at these twelve theses and readily see the tenets of Liberal Theology at work. I've discussed the unreliability of those tenets on that page already, so much of what I've said there should render Spong's theses utterly devoid of any worth beyond an intellectual exercise in futility. The Christian should have no problem in seeing how unChristian and disingenuous Spong's "theology" really is. I'll post the tenets of the Liberal Agenda again. Indeed, if I also include the Anathemas of the Council of Ephesus proposed by St Cyril of Alexandria and accepted by the council, we see that the faith of the Primitive Church would have expelled Spong straightaway for his opinions.

Why should I devote my time and energy to a man whose main work is past? I do so principally because of two reasons, one I give now, the other I give at the end of this essay where it becomes more apparent. I look at this now because it still influences people both within and without the Church today. While it may put forward ideas that require examination, it does so in a way that denies what the Church says. This comes from an authority in the Church, namely one consecrated bishop. Of course, the Canons of the Oecumenical Councils dictate that such an author of heresy should be deposed of his rank.

Tenets of Liberal Theology
Tenet 1: (Relevance) To be of value, religious faith must be relevant to our lives and consistent with our knowledge in other areas.
Tenet 2: (Fallibility) No one source of information is infallible.
Tenet 3: (Foundation) The foundation of Liberal Theology is Scripture, Reason, Tradition and experience and they shed light on each other.
Tenet 4: (Humility) Whatever we believe today, we always have more to learn from others.

Spong's Twelve Theses

God
Understanding God in theistic categories as “a being, supernatural in power, dwelling somewhere external to the world and capable of invading the world with miraculous power” is no longer believable. Most God talk in liturgy and conversation has thus become meaningless.

A good place to start by Spong demonstrating that he clearly has not read any of the Church Fathers especially (Pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite or St Gregory Nazianzen. From the outset, Spong has shown what his mindset is, that of one who accepts the narrative of Science as the complete story of Reality. This puts debating Spong in a very difficult position as he will clearly not accept the authorities of Scripture and Tradition at all in line with Tenet 2. As we see Tenet 2 is not exactly consistent with Tenet 3! Spong argues only from Reason and Experience, not from Scripture or Tradition. To him, St Clement of Alexandria says,
"most of men, clothed with what is perishable, like cockles, and rolled all round in a ball in their excesses, like hedgehogs, entertain the same ideas of the blessed and incorruptible God as of themselves. But it has escaped their notice, though they be near us, that God has bestowed on us ten thousand things in which He does not share: birth, being Himself unborn; food, He wanting nothing; and growth, He being always equal; and long life and immortality, He being immortal and incapable of growing old. Wherefore let no one imagine that hands, and feet, and mouth, and eyes, and going in and coming out, and resentments and threats, are said by the Hebrews to be attributes of God. By no means; but that certain of these appellations are used more sacredly in an allegorical sense, which, as the discourse proceeds, we shall explain at the proper time. (Clement of Alexandria: Abstraction from Material Things Necessary in Order to Attain to the True Knowledge of God)"
The only thing to do is to show Spong that the questions that he raises have already been answered long ago by people of Faith in Our Lord. To call God "a being" misses His uniqueness as a Creator of all things as testified by St Augustine who saw God as Being itself - ipsum esse or idipsum esse (On the Immortality of the Soul) - St Thomas Aquinas and Paul Tillich. St Gregory of Nyssa says in his Life of Moses,"Every concept formed by the intellect in an attempt to comprehend and circumscribe the divine nature can succeed only in fashioning an idol, not in making God known." St Hilary of Poitier says in his work on the Trinity, "There is no place without God; place does not exist except in God."

If Spong can't believe that, then clearly his imagination is impressively stunted. The fact that Liturgy draws from the eye-witness statements of those who met with God and whose testimonies are collated into the Library which we now call the Bible or Holy Scripture.

Jesus – the Christ.
If God can no longer be thought of in theistic terms, then conceiving of Jesus as “the incarnation of the theistic deity” has also become a bankrupt concept.

It would be a false inference to assume that just because the premise is false that the conclusion is also false. Indeed, it is the eye-witnesses to the Resurrection, especially St John, who shows that that Spong's conclusion is false and thus, logically that the premise is false. St Gregory of Nyssa says in his Catechetical Orations "That God should have clothed Himself with our nature is a fact that should not seem strange or extravagant to minds that do not form too paltry an idea of reality."

Original Sin – The Myth of the Fall
The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which we human beings have fallen into “Original Sin” is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

If one does not accept the Augustinian idea of "Original Sin", then one can probably find a certain degree of sympathy with Spong. If, however, one sees the whole business of Sin as something that does indeed affect and infect everyone, then there is a certain Darwinian flavour to its propagation. The sins of our fathers do affect us. Someone in humanities past sinned and in sinning produced a weakness in our ability to discern what is truly right and truly wrong. This weakness is infected with sin and evil and evolves with us. Sin begets sin. Origen says in his Thirteenth Homily on Genesis:
Consider, therefore, that perhaps even in the soul of each of us there is "a well of living water," there is a kind of heavenly perception and latent image of God, and the Philistines, that is hostile powers, have filled this well with earth. With what kind of earth? With carnal perceptions and earthly thoughts, and for that reason "we have borne the image of the earthly."At that time, therefore, when we were bearing "the image of the earthly," the Philistines filled our wells. But now, since our Isaac has come, let us receive his advent and dig our wells. Let us cast the earth from them. Let us purge them from all filth and from all muddy and earthly thoughts and let us discover in them that "living water" which the Lord mentions: "He who believes in me, from within him shall flow rivers of living water."Behold how great the Lord's liberality is: the Philistines filled our wells and hindered our small and trifling veins of water, and in place of these, springs and rivers are restored to us.
We require God to unblock the streams of living water which is achieved through our Baptism for only good can beget good. Our fallen nature cannot redeem itself. It requires the Divine assistance to bring Good into the world. Good begets good. Thus our world can be seen as interference patterns of waves of good and evil passing over the face of the waters of our Universe. That's not inconsistent with the current theory of the Multiverse and our universe being a Ten Dimensional Membrane floating about in an Eleven Dimensional Existence - if that theory hasn't been discredited yet.

The Virgin Birth
The virgin birth understood as literal biology is impossible. Far from being a bulwark in defense of the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth actually destroys that divinity.

And now Spong shows himself to be one of three classical heretics. Either he believes Jesus was just a man (Ebionite), only seems to be God (Docetist) or that Mary was the mother of the human bit of Jesus (Nestorian). Again he holds the idea that only scientific things are possible. Yet, there are examples of parthenogenesis in biology and even the possibility in human beings. Scientifically, the possibility exists, just not in Spong's imagination. It seems that Spong is just ill-educated. If Jesus is the Son of God, then His mother cannot have conceived Him of a human father. Far from destroying Jesus' Divinity, the Virgin birth proves it! The first of St Cyril's Anathemas against Nestorius is sufficient to state the Church's position. St Gregory of Nyssa says against Apollinarius
The Word, in taking flesh was mingled with humanity, and took our nature within Himself, so that the human should be deified by this mingling with God: the stuff of our nature was entirely sanctified by Christ, the first fruits of Creation.

Jesus as the Worker of Miracles
In a post-Newtonian world supernatural invasions of the natural order, performed by God or an “incarnate Jesus,” are simply not viable explanations of what actually happened.

Like Hume, Spong's reality argues that miracles cannot happen because miracles cannot happen. Again, there is a long list of material on the nature of miracles. One must assume that Spong has never read C.S. Lewis. St Augustine of Hippo in Book XXI of the City of God (Chapter 8) says:
From the book of Marcus Varro, entitled, Of the Race of the Roman People, I cite word for word the following instance: There occurred a remarkable celestial portent; for Castor records that, in the brilliant star Venus, called Vesperugo by Plautus, and the lovely Hesperus by Homer, there occurred so strange a prodigy, that it changed its color, size, form, course, which never happened before nor since. Adrastus of Cyzicus, and Dion of Naples, famous mathematicians, said that this occurred in the reign of Ogyges. So great an author as Varro would certainly not have called this a portent had it not seemed to be contrary to nature. For we say that all portents are contrary to nature; but they are not so. For how is that contrary to nature which happens by the will of God, since the will of so mighty a Creator is certainly the nature of each created thing?
St Augustine does not divide the world up into Natural and Supernatural. A miracle is simply natural because it has its source in the goodness of God. Again, Spong is unable to see beyond his own "rational explanation" that there are alternatives to his point of view that the Church has espoused from her early days!

Atonement Theology
Atonement theology, especially in its most bizarre “substitutionary” form, presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and it turns human beings into little more than guilt-filled creatures. The phrase “Jesus died for my sins” is not just dangerous, it is absurd.

However, Christians are not united in the understanding of the Atonement. Aside from the biblical problems that Spong encounters such as St John Baptist's statement "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" and the fact that Jesus went willingly to His death rather than forced. As St Paul famously says in his Epistle to the Philippians:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow , of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Who made Jesus of no reputation? Who humbled Him? Who was obedient unto death? And for what reason?

St Maximus the Confessor, in agreement with St Athanasius, says in his Theological and Economic Chapters:
Because God has become man, man can become God. He rises by divine steps corresponding to those by which God humbled Himself out of love for men, taking on Himself without any change in Himself the worst of our condition.
How are we saved? Irenaeus of Lyons in Against Heresies says "communion with God is life, and separation from God is death." In uniting His Divinity with our Humanity, Jesus provides the vehicle by which this eternal communion occurs. His sacrifice on the Cross ransoms us from Death and Evil because Death is an absence of Life and Evil is an absence from God's Righteousness. In paying the ransom to Death and Evil, the power of Death is destroyed by being filled with Life itself and Evil is obliterated through the very presence of God in its clutches, just as a hole is obliterated when it is filled with something truly real.

The Resurrection
The Easter event transformed the Christian movement, but that does not mean that it was the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ deceased body back into human history. The earliest biblical records state that “God raised him.” Into what, we need to ask. The experience of resurrection must be separated from its later mythological explanations.

But Spong makes an error of huge proportions here. The Gospels are eye-witness accounts of the Resurrection. It is historical fact, not myth. It is only myth because, again, he is appealing to the world of reason in which men do not rise from the dead. Spong is relying on Biblical scholarship that comes from the Demythologising Programme of Bultmann. Given that modern historians do see the Gospels as historical documents in their own right, especially St Luke, the questions that they raise still remain. This was the belief that sent martyrs to their death rejoicing within the first few years after the Resurrection.

St Gregory Nazianzen in his forty-fifth Oration says:
Today is salvation come unto the world, to that which is visible, and to that which is invisible. Christ is risen from the dead, rise ye with Him. Christ is returned again to Himself, return ye. Christ is freed from the tomb, be ye freed from the bond of sin. The gates of hell are opened, and death is destroyed, and the old Adam is put aside, and the New is fulfilled; if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; be ye renewed. Thus he speaks; and the rest sing out, as they did before when Christ was manifested to us by His birth on earth, their glory to God in the highest, on earth, peace, goodwill among men. And with them I also utter the same words among you. And would that I might receive a voice that should rank with the Angel's, and should sound through all the ends of the earth.

The Ascension of Jesus
The biblical story of Jesus’ ascension assumes a three-tiered universe, which was dismissed some five hundred years ago. If Jesus’ ascension was a literal event of history, it is beyond the capacity of our 21st century minds to accept it or to believe it.

It might be beyond our minds to understand the Ascension, but why does that stop us from believing it? Nor does it make any such assumption of a three-tiered universe. Again, Spong's lack of ability in being able to see beyond earthly thinking makes his objections ridiculous. All he is seeing is Our Lord shooting up from Earth like a rocket into outer space. Yet, nowhere in the Church Fathers is this view of Christ held as a necessity for a people who had yet to explore space. The Creed says that Jesus ascended to the Right Hand of the Father, and all Church Fathers understood that to be a place inconceivable to the mind of mortal man. St Maximus the Confessor says in his commentary on the Lord's Prayer:
Christ, having completed for us His saving work and ascended to Heaven with the body He had taken to Himself, accomplishes in His own self the union of Heaven and Earth, of material and spiritual beings, and thus demonstrates the unity of Creation in the polarity of its parts.
Just as Spong cannot believe in a God who doesn't occupy space, likewise, he cannot accept an Ascension that goes beyond his physics, unlike the Church Fathers who can!

Ethics.
The ability to define and to separate good from evil can no longer be achieved with appeals to ancient codes like the Ten Commandments or even the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary moral standards must be hammered out in the juxtaposition between life-affirming moral principles and external situations.

Well, if you can't believe in God, then you cannot believe in an objective morality. If there is no God to reveal Himself, then there can be no commandments, there can be no Good, no Evil. St Gregory the Great in the twenty-seventh chapter of his commentary on Job says:
It is well said therefore by Eliu, Therefore men will fear Him, and all who seem to themselves to be wise will not dare to contemplate Him. For they who seem to themselves to be wise, cannot contemplate the wisdom of God; because they are the more removed from His light, the more they are not humble in themselves. Because while the swelling of pride increases in their minds, it closes the eye of contemplation, and by considering that they outshine others, they thence deprive themselves of the light of truth. If, therefore, we seek to be truly wise, and to contemplate Wisdom Itself, let us humbly acknowledge ourselves to be fools. Let us give up hurtful wisdom, let us learn praiseworthy folly. For hence it is written, God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. [1 Cor. l, 27] Hence again it is said, If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. [ib. 3,18] Hence the words of the Gospel history attest, that when Zaccheus could see nothing for the crowd, he ascended a sycamore tree, to see the Lord as He passed by. [Luke 19, 4] For the barren [lit. ‘foolish’] fig is called a sycamore. Zaccheus therefore, being small of stature, ascended a sycamore, and saw the Lord, because they who humbly choose the foolishness of the world, do themselves minutely contemplate the wisdom of God. For the crowd hinders smallness of stature from beholding the Lord, because the tumult of worldly cares keeps the infirmity of the human mind from looking at the light of truth. But we prudently ascend a sycamore, if we carefully maintain in our mind that foolishness which is commanded by God. For what is more foolish in this world, than not to seek for what we have lost; to give up our possessions to the spoilers, to requite no wrong for the wrongs we have received, nay more, to exhibit patience, when other wrongs have been added? For the Lord commands us, as it were, to ascend a sycamore, when He says, Of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again; [ib. 6, 30] and again, If any man smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. [Matt. 5, 39] The Lord is seen, as He passes along, by means of the sycamore, because though the wisdom of God is not yet steadily beheld, as it really is, by this wise folly, yet it is seen by the light of contemplation, as though passing by us. But they, who seem to themselves to be wise, according to the words of Eliu, cannot see it; for, hurried away in the haughty crowd of their thoughts, they have not yet found a sycamore, in order to behold the Lord.

Prayer
Prayer, understood as a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history, is little more than an hysterical attempt to turn the holy into the servant of the human. Most of our prayer definitions of the past are thus dependent on an understanding of God that has died.

Indeed, Spong has a point. Often we do behave as if God is a genie to do our bidding. Yet, there are some definitions of prayer from the Primitive Church that make perfect sense when all the other less careful definitions have passed away. St Evagrius of Pontus in speaking of prayer says that
Prayer is a conversation of the spirit with God. Seek therefore the disposition that the spirit needs, in order to be able to reach out towards its Lord and to hold converse with Him without any intermediary.
In his ninth Conference, St John Cassian says in Chapters 35 and 36
Before all things however we ought most carefully to observe the Evangelic precept, which tells us to enter into our chamber and shut the door and pray to our Father, which may be fulfilled by us as follows: We pray within our chamber, when removing our hearts inwardly from the din of all thoughts and anxieties, we disclose our prayers in secret and in closest intercourse to the Lord. We pray with closed doors when with closed lips and complete silence we pray to the searcher not of words but of hearts. We pray in secret when from the heart and fervent mind we disclose our petitions to God alone, so that no hostile powers are even able to discover the character of our petition. Wherefore we should pray in complete silence, not only to avoid distracting the brethren standing near by our whispers or louder utterances, and disturbing the thoughts of those who are praying, but also that the purport of our petition may be concealed from our enemies who are especially on the watch against us while we are praying. For so we shall fulfil this injunction: Keep the doors of your mouth from her who sleeps in your bosom. (Micah 7:5)

Wherefore we ought to pray often but briefly, lest if we are long about it our crafty foe may succeed in implanting something in our heart. For that is the true sacrifice, as the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit. This is the salutary offering, these are pure drink offerings, that is the sacrifice of righteousness, the sacrifice of praise, these are true and fat victims, holocausts full of marrow, which are offered by contrite and humble hearts, and which those who practise this control and fervour of spirit, of which we have spoken, with effectual power can sing: Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as the incense: let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice. But the approach of the right hour and of night warns us that we ought with fitting devotion to do this very thing, of which, as our slender ability allowed, we seem to have propounded a great deal, and to have prolonged our conference considerably, though we believe that we have discoursed very little when the magnificence and difficulty of the subject are taken into account.
Life after Death
The hope for life after death must be separated forever from behavior control. Traditional views of heaven and hell as places of reward and punishment are no longer conceivable. Christianity must, therefore, abandon its dependence on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

It is hard to see what type of Eschatology Spong can have here. If there is no life after death, then everything is moot. If there is, then can Hitler, Judas, and a myriad of suicide bombers ever hope to be brought to justice in Spong's non-behavioural afterlife? Does the fact that our deeds do affect our salvation really mean that guilt motivates our behaviour? In contemplating the Holy Trinity, St Hilary of Poitiers says
though I could not tax with folly and uselessness this counsel of theirs to keep the soul free from blame, and evade by foresight or elude by skill or endure with patience the troubles of life, still I could not regard these men as guides competent to lead me to the good and happy Life. Their precepts were platitudes, on the mere level of human impulse; animal instinct could not fail to comprehend them, and he who understood but disobeyed would have fallen into an insanity baser than animal unreason. Moreover, my soul was eager not merely to do the things, neglect of which brings shame and suffering, but to know the God and Father Who had given this great gift, to Whom, it felt, it owed its whole self, Whose service was its true honour, on Whom all its hopes were fixed, in Whose lovingkindness, as in a safe home and haven, it could rest amid all the troubles of this anxious life. It was inflamed with a passionate desire to apprehend Him or to know Him.
We don't earn our way into Heaven. We co-operate with the grace of God to find Him more deeply. This is not a motivation from guilt but a movement of desire from our souls. Indeed, St Gregory the Great says that "the language of souls is their desire." In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John Climacus says, "Blessed is the person whose desire for God has become like the lover's passion for the beloved." We need to seek perfect contrition for our sins because that moves us towards God. Imperfect contrition fuelled by guilt moves us away from that sin. But St Paul still reminds us that "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (Romans viii.1)

Judgment and Discrimination
Judgment is not a human responsibility. Discrimination against any human being on the basis of that which is a “given” is always evil and does not serve the Christian goal of giving “abundant life” to all. Any structure either in the secular world or in the institutional church, which diminishes the humanity of any child of God on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation must be exposed publicly and vigorously. There can be no reason in the church of tomorrow for excusing or even forgiving discriminatory practices. “Sacred Tradition” must never again provide a cover to justify discriminatory evil.

St Maximus the Confessor in his Questions to Thalassius says, "Christ's death on the cross is a judgment of judgement" For the Early Church judgment is a restoration of justitia - Righteousness. Spong is right that any institutionalised method to belittle, diminish and enslave humanity is vile, but notice how inconsistent he is. If judgment is not a human responsibility, then on what basis can the judgment be made as to whether a practice is discriminatory or diminishing. On what basis is discrimination seen to be evil if one cannot make a judgment between right and wrong? There is an unreasonable discrimination when a black man is denied a job as an accountant because he is black; there is also a reasonable discrimination when a black man is denied a job as an accountant because he cannot count.  Isaac of Nineveh says, "Do not say that God is just... David may call Him just and fair, but God's own Son has revealed to us that He is before all things good and kind."

I hope that I have shown that Spong is unoriginal in his deviations from the Christian Faith and that his thoughts have been shown wanting from antiquity.  From what I read of him he lacks imagination and the ability to see beyond his tiny view of reality.

I hope also that my " conditions reason for devoting my time and energy to this poor theology is also clear. Spong lacks faith. He has no hope for the things unseen. His theology is literally hopeless. There is no justice, nothing holy, nothing to give solace in the suffering in this world. These are not the theses of a man of God: they are a cry for help for one unwilling to open his mind to the One who can still save him. My prayers are for him, but he must realise that St Cyril calls him to repent very clearly!

The Anathemas of the Council of Ephesus
Is it coincidence that there are twelve, one for each of Spong's theses?

1. If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh, let him be anathema.

2. If anyone does not confess that the Word from God the Father has been united by hypostasis with the flesh and is one Christ with his own flesh, and is therefore God and man together, let him be anathema.

3. If anyone divides in the one Christ the hypostases after the union, joining them only by a conjunction of dignity or authority or power, and not rather by a coming together in a union by nature, let him be anathema.

4. If anyone distributes between the two persons or hypostases the expressions used either in the gospels or in the apostolic writings, whether they are used by the holy writers of Christ or by him about himself, and ascribes some to him as to a man, thought of separately from the Word from God, and others, as befitting God, to him as to the Word from God the Father, let him be anathema.

5. If anyone dares to say that Christ was a God-bearing man and not rather God in truth, being by nature one Son, even as "the Word became flesh", and is made partaker of blood and flesh precisely like us, let him be anathema.

6. If anyone says that the Word from God the Father was the God or master of Christ, and does not rather confess the same both God and man, the Word having become flesh, according to the scriptures, let him be anathema.

7. If anyone says that as man Jesus was activated by the Word of God and was clothed with the glory of the Only-begotten, as a being separate from him, let him be anathema.

8. If anyone dares to say that the man who was assumed ought to be worshipped and glorified together with the divine Word and be called God along with him, while being separate from him, (for the addition of "with" must always compel us to think in this way), and will not rather worship Emmanuel with one veneration and send up to him one doxology, even as "the Word became flesh", let him be anathema.

9. If anyone says that the one Lord Jesus Christ was glorified by the Spirit, as making use of an alien power that worked through him and as having received from him the power to master unclean spirits and to work divine wonders among people, and does not rather say that it was his own proper Spirit through whom he worked the divine wonders, let him be anathema.

10. The divine scripture says Christ became "the high priest and apostle of our confession"; he offered himself to God the Father in an odour of sweetness for our sake. If anyone, therefore, says that it was not the very Word from God who became our high priest and apostle, when he became flesh and a man like us, but as it were another who was separate from him, in particular a man from a woman, or if anyone says that he offered the sacrifice also for himself and not rather for us alone (for he who knew no sin needed no offering), let him be anathema.

11. If anyone does not confess that the flesh of the Lord is life-giving and belongs to the Word from God the Father, but maintains that it belongs to another besides him, united with him in dignity or as enjoying a mere divine indwelling, and is not rather life-giving, as we said, since it became the flesh belonging to the Word who has power to bring all things to life, let him be anathema.

12. If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh and was crucified in the flesh and tasted death in the flesh and became the first born of the dead, although as God he is life and life-giving, let him be anathema.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Pruning the Rose-tinted spectacles

I was once told by a senior member of the CofE in my Diocese that I was being loyal to a Church that had passed away. He'd obviously read in me my adherence to traditional forms of worship, to the Book of Common Prayer, the English Hymnal, to choirs and anthems and bells and smells, to beating the bounds in Rogation Week, to a ten o'clock Mass with the Nicene Creed. Is that what I wanted?

Fr Anthony accuses me cruelly of being Romantic.  Naturally, I'm shocked to the core! ­čść

In all seriousness, one might perceive in me a desire for original versions of things. I prefer music on period instruments, with the right type of voices. I don't like a female alto singing The Record of John, nor do I like a male alto singing the Pie Jesu from Durufl├ę's Requiem. I'm not fond of Bach keyboard works on a piano! Of course, there are exceptions to these silly rules of mine.



It does raise a good question: are Continuing Anglicans looking for an Anglicanism that doesn't really exist?

Consider those traditions that Anglicans hold dear: choral evensong with Psalms sung to Anglican Chant. Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas, great buildings in stone, glorious organs, large congregations, Sunday School at the vicarage, the regular use of the Churching of Women and the Catechism. Do any of them go back any further than the mid-Victorian era? It would seem not according to many in the Church who want to strip of antiquity the traditions on which many of us look back with fondness. Why? So that they can justify the proliferation of new material which, quite frankly, is cheap, second rate, and subject to fashion.





There is an extent to which they are right to do so. We must not adhere to traditions of men: Our Lord is very clear of that. As lovely as the great anthems from the Victorian era, even up to the 1960s are, they are still a product of a particular time. These are all things that we must be prepared to sacrifice if we seek to follow God.

Yet, we know that the quality of belief has been declining, and one might argue that the quality of Church music, architecture, and liturgy has something to do with it. I don't doubt that the two are linked through correlation, but correlation is not necessarily a statement of cause.

Too often we seem to have a "Golden Age" mentality, that the past is something that we have to reclaim, that original versions are always better. Of course, we have to accept that there is no real "Golden Age"/ We can't hark back to a 1950s way of life because a 1950s way of life has its own problems and its own lessons to be learned. Certainly, many Continuing Anglicans (and Roman Catholics) have a loathing of the 1960s with the Sexual Revolution, Vatican II, and Honest to God. Yet, it must be remembered that the seeds of the 1960s were germinating in the 1950s and, indeed, have always been germinating before then. One might find the roots of liberalism in the Enlightenment, yet the Enlightenment is a product of the Reformation and the seeds of the Reformation have always existed somewhere in Christianity.

We do need to be critical of our tendency to wear rose-tinted spectacles. We have to admit that there is no real Golden Age to look back to, but rather look forward to bringing about that Golden Age.

The seeds of what we perceive to be great about Anglican heritage are part of our past as much as its apparent destruction. Everything has its origin somewhere. The glories of the Anglican Choral tradition are old and we still hear this age in the choral evensongs of today.


Even words of greater antiquity have a habit of turning up in a rediscovery by someone who understands its significance and eternal quality:



Again, it is those who seek to revise meanings and themes that always have been present in Christianity to suit their own ends who do the greatest damage to the aesthetic of the Faith. As St James says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." We can always tell that which comes from God because it has that character of Eternity about it. God simply does not change. His doctrine does not change. His decisions do not change. We can trust God's word because it is ageless.

This is why we cannot find a Golden Age to hark back to. We have to accept the limitations of our being present in this world now, and bringing to birth things which possess that character of Eternity which people recognise and which still persist. If we find things around us to be ugly or deformed or base, then let us seek to bring some beauty back ourselves, rather than just rail against the humdrum nature of things around us. Yes, modern worship music is, by and large, shocking in its ignorance of the faith and paltry nature of its art, so then let us commit ourselves not only to the majesty which we may perceive within the English Hymnal but also bring something out of ourselves to be new and yet touch upon the character of Eternity which only God possesses but desires to pass on to us human beings in our journey back to our own character of Eternity in Him. Let us be the vehicles of the majesty of expressing our worship through words which keep the Great Catholic Faith which our fathers always had. Let us build, create, and bring to birth things which possess the power of being a window into Heaven by which people can see the Light, feel the Warmth and know the Truth!

Always we begin again. We must always go back to the original, always back to the Source, always back to the Truth and bring Him into our Time through the integrity of our own humanity that He gives us. Let us forget about mythical Golden Ages and give our rose-tinted spectacles a polish in the light of Eternity itself.


Sunday, May 07, 2017

Putting up with putting up

Sermon for the third Sunday after Easter 

A snap General Election on 8th of June! Who are you going to vote for? Is it an easy decision, or are you in two minds? What influences your decision?

[PAUSE]

Recent votes have taken the Establishment by surprise. We have voted to leave the European Union - a decision that many protest strongly; a decision that people want to vote on again so that the country can come to a better answer. Who says it's a better answer? How do we know that it is really better?

[PAUSE]

We Christians always look to God for His opinion. Some of us try to vote according to Christian Principles, scouring Scripture and praying hard to hear what God wants. Yet we often see Christians disagreeing even within the same Church after praying and listening, and voting to what they believe they hear. Does God have a political party? You might as well ask what His favourite football team is!

[PAUSE]

St Peter tells us to "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake" and that we should be subject to our masters "with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy: in Christ Jesus Our Lord." Essentially, he says "just put up with it!"

[PAUSE]

What a strange phrase! "Put up with it" Yet that is exactly what we should do. The Christian is not obsessed with politics because we see our government as Christ the King. We are to put up with secular governments because we accept God as our only ruler. As Christians, our presence is to sanctify the world. Thus is the calling of the Church. By submitting to a government - even if it is corrupt - we are sanctifying it - putting it up to God in our prayers and in our sacrifice of suffering. Indeed, as Christians, we even sanctify our suffering so as to bring God's greater grace into the world.

When the government goes against God, then we follow God like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in disobeying the law that goes against God, accepting the punishment and, like these holy men, trust God to do the rest.

To do this, we need to lift ourselves above earthly thinking and live our lives as Christians, for fleshly lusts war against the soul. St Peter says that we do this when we honour all men, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honour the king.

[PAUSE]

On the 8th June, let us listen to our conscience, vote if we believe that we should, and put up with the resulting Government - putting up with it into Heaven itself.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

On rejection from Walsingham

I must confess that old feelings about the CofE have come back to me, and they are not pleasant. It seems that one of my confreres in the ACC has been barred from saying Mass in the Guild of All Souls simply because we are not in communion with the CofE. This has come as a bolt out of the blue a fortnight before a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Essentially, the administrators have decided only now to enforce a ban on those outside the communion of the CofE which has apparently been in place for five years. As far as I know, there has been no attempt at any dialogue with us, but rather a blanket and ignorant enforcement of a directive which hitherto had been passed over.

We must, of course, try to work rationally and use the principle of charity here, despite feelings of fury and indignation at this decision. We must remember that, at the present time, the CofE is in a "state of emergency" with the conservative group GAFCON seeking to plant missions in the country and put forward their alternative to the CofE in its thrall to the Liberal Agenda. In the light of this incursion, it makes sense for a party fearing invasion to pull up the drawbridge. We see this already in Society in which many people live in fear of the levels of immigration especially from countries where terrorists and insurgents are active and posing a threat to lives in the West.

We must remember that many of us left the CofE in order to continue an expression of the Christian unaffected by the Liberal Agenda. Our theology is different from that of the CofE, even if we share much of its history. Yet, in leaving the CofE, we have tried to do the decent thing and be honest about what we believe, nailing our colours to the mast and admitting that the impairment of communion between us is sufficiently severe as to form a schism. Of course, the CofE blame us for that schism, and we have good grounds to suggest that the blame is not with us. This has enabled the CofE to walk its way without our influence, and for us to walk our way which we believe wholeheartedly to be the Catholic Faith given to us by Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, there is an element within the CofE with which we in the ACC find much sympathy, and seek to support with our prayers even if we stand on opposite sides of the schism. Given that the Shrine in Walsingham was refounded by Fr Patten, a man of great Anglican Papalist tendencies, it makes sense that the Shrine itself is supported by Forward in Faith and the conservative Anglo-Catholics and even the remaining Anglican Papalists within the CofE. We had hoped that their influence might have swayed a degree of leniency when it comes to our celebration of the Mass in Walsingham.

The CofE boasts inclusivity, and yet excludes those who disagree with its theology. There is a certain logic there, but it is the logic of the liberals who see in any dissent from their thinking a threat to the free world. I agree, the ACC is a threat to liberal logic, but not to free thinking in its proper place - namely in the study of Philosophy rather than Theology. If their theology is truly threatened by our presence saying Mass in their buildings, then perhaps it suggests that they are like the Brexiteers and even Donald Trump in the expulsion of those whom they see to be so different as to be unacceptable.

Of course, I could be wrong here, and that there is a good reason for our rejection from Walsingham. I just hope that those who have made this decision would seek to engage in dialogue with us in the common desire to seek the Kingdom of God and the blessing of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Yet, they must understand the hurt that their decision has caused us - a hurt which brought about our existence as a separate body in the first place. Given the presence of the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church, it is only fair that such a dialogue be entertained in the spirit of Oecumenism that the CofE seeks to champion. I leave it with them, and pray for a happy resolution to this whole, sorry affair.#

Jesu, mercy! Mary pray!

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Synod 2017: Hitting the Ritual Notes

I was asked the be the deacon for the Synod High Mass for our 25th Diocesan Synod this year. Last year, I was the subdeacon. I am always very nervous of such duties: I always have been. I remember serving my first Mass in the ACC and nearly dropping the thurible. I think the singe marks are still on the footpace carpet along with encrusted wax that my subsequent arguments with candles have produced over the few years when I was priest in charge. Yet, in the CofE, I was a "candleboy", chorister, sidesman, and Reader and quite used to the business of performing ritual and ceremonial duties. Why should I have been so nervous in serving in the ACC?

On the issue of ritual in my former parish in the CofE, the only message that I got was, "it doesn't really matter. Make it up as you go along." To my shame, I did, though, as my understanding of the Catholic Faith grew, my liturgical actions had a very definite Roman flavour, as opposed to the all-singing-all-dancing-Rector-and-Churchwarden Show that it became. In joining the ACC, I found that ritual and ceremony do matter, and matter a great deal - that's why I was nervous and why I still get nervous.

Why should this be? Why should it matter that, as a priest, I wipe my fingers on the corporal before I utter the words of Our Blessed Lord at the Last Supper? Why should it matter that, as a deacon, I move with the priest and subdeacon from the centre of the altar to the epistle-side for the collects?

It matters not as a point of salvation, nor does digression from the ritual invalidate the sacrament, but such actions are there to assist the people in their work. Too often, High Mass is criticised because the laity have "nothing to do" but watch other people do all the work. This is not true at all. The laity have an immense task to do at Mass, but a task that refreshes rather than saps energy. If a layperson thinks they have nothing to do at Mass then they ain't doing it right!

One thing that I have really had to learn to do, as a priest, is pray much harder when I participate in Mass in any capacity. The words in the Missal aren't meant to be said - they are meant to be prayed! The same goes for the ceremonies - the liturgical actions - they are all prayers in themselves; they are all means by which the Mystery of Earth being plugged into Heaven through the Sacrifice of the Cross is enacted. The laity too are utterly vital when it comes to their work - the liturgy - for this is the Church performing its task of presenting a fallen and silly world to its Creator to raise it up and show it its dignity. If a layperson is doing nothing, then they are missing out.

Of course, we can get bogged down in the minutiae of Ritual Notes. The book Ritual Notes is a wonderful resource which explains how the rituals of the Church go and are performed. It gives a means of regulation by which the Mass can be offered with all its rituals well done. However, there are circumstances in which the ritual and ceremonies cannot be performed as fully as the book dictates. As long as everyone recognises its limitations and their own limitations, the overriding intentions of giving oneself over to God in the Divine Liturgy, of making that sacrifice on behalf of the World, of recognising simultaneously one's fallenness and means of salvation, all of these make the Mass, however meagre its circumstances, a glorious Mystery and source of joy and gladness.

Ritual Notes helps us to cultivate a sense of excellence in our worship and of committing the best of ourselves to God. Of course, one can get frightened by it, but that doesn't mean that we should avoid it. Indeed, we will all make mistakes as we learn it. There's nothing to fear from that provided that we have the right intention. The key is to have a go rather than wimp out. No Christian has any grounds to chastise another for making an error in their liturgy provided that liturgy is taken seriously. St Benedict seems harsh when he says
When anyone has made a mistake while reciting a Psalm, a responsory, an antiphon or a lesson, if he does not humble himself there before all by making a satisfaction, let him undergo a greater punishment because he would not correct by humility what he did wrong through carelessness.

But boys for such faults shall be whipped. (Cap. xlv)
Yet, if we care about our liturgy, then we will naturally apologise and seek to rectify our error, at the next opportunity if not at the very moment. We must not settle for second best. Mistakes get made - all we need to do is try not to make them again or treat them as nothing. Of course, whipping a boy for not serving well at Mass these days is certainly extreme: he will need to understand that if he cannot take Mass seriously, then he will not be allowed the privilege again.

This is the mistake that the anti-liturgists make. They say that because liturgy doesn't really matter, one can get on with one's Christian living. This is why their brand of Christianity becomes a mere social activism with nothing of the spiritual reality and comforts that come from working at seeking to excel in our worship of God. The phrase lex orandi, lex credendi is visibly true. This is why the Liberal Agenda is causing the members of the Church to fall away through its inherent insincerity.

I am thankful that I was taught to say Mass by an extremely competent priest, though I still make many mistakes. I am also glad that I had the privilege of serving the Synod Mass on Saturday with the Bishop and Fr Chadwick who are both ordained subdeacons which made things so much easier as we could predict each others' movements. We did receive compliments on the way we performed our duties, but this was not really due to us but to God's blessing of our actions, just as He blesses a preacher with His words. All I can say is that I am glad I read up on what I was supposed to do, and that my prayers were answered in superabundance. It is a truly a blessing that everyone can receive if we take our worship, our liturgy, ceremony and ritual, with all gravity but with the anticipation of joy. If a newly ordained clergyman is nervous, that is good, but there is no need to fear but rather use those nerves to
cultivate care in action and word. He will be supported by the love of the congregation behind him as well as the love of God before him.

All who were there at Synod said they felt a particular joy, and that's a testament to the blessing that God gives to those who seek to be truly faithful to Him. May we all keep that faith going and growing!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Imposing sincerity

One thing that Continuing Anglicanism needs to beware of is continuing the type of Anglicanism that leads one into the same errors as the larger Protestant denominations such as the CofE or ECUSA. We cannot afford to walk apart from them, only to fall into the trap of committing the same heresies some years later. As an Anglican Catholic, in a strict sense, I am not a Continuing Anglican because I am not technically an Anglican. Of course, I am not a Roman Catholic either, and thus, to Roman eyes, I am a heretic for denying the supremacy of the Pope. However, I am with St Cyprian in knowing that no Bishop can be a Bishop of Bishops save the Lord Himself.

As we Anglican Catholics seek to examine our Catholicism in the light of being Anglican, one thing that stands out is the difference in the way we approach discipline. One only has to read the Baltimore Catechism to see an authority being enforced, and a certain legalism being imposed upon Catechumens. Friday fasts, Confession at least once a year, attending Mass, and various activities which are ignored on pain of mortal sin. I think it fair that the Roman Church has really begun to see things perhaps in a slightly more Anglican fashion.

Anglican Spirituality is rooted in a sincerity of heart, not in enforcing a law. This is the trouble when the leader of one's Church has a political position to fulfil as well as a spiritual leadership, and when infallibility is rooted in his office rather than within the very fabric of the Church itself. On the other hand, we know that Liberal Theology wants to rip that infallibility out of the fabric of the Church and thus create an edifice of cardboard. Anglican Catholicism has a new via media to tread.

The goal is that of cultivating sincerity within the Church. Yes, we should fast every Friday, but better than that, we should want to fast every Friday. We should want to go to Confession regularly even when we don't feel like it. We should want to go to Mass each week even if the Canon of the Mass is the same and perhaps we find it a bit boring. It seems to me that imposing the phrase "mortal sin" on failing to meet one's obligations is actually counterproductive.

Is it a sin not to meet one's Christian duty? Yes, it is, but it is not a sin that is going to be fixed by sternly dropping the anvil of guilt on the errant soul. If a Christian does not want to meet their obligations, then there is a spiritual need presenting itself to the pastoral remit of the Church as a communicating community. The deadly sin of acedia is not vanquished by the threat of excommunication, but rather by a sensible programme of paraclesis through prayer, listening, friendship, appropriate advice and latitude.

Every Christian has a "dry spell". What we need to be taught is that perseverance will help in the aridity that arises in the race to Christ. The Legalist will crack the whip to force the sufferer on. The Liberal will pick the sufferer up in their car and drive them away, thus depriving them of the dignity of running in the race, but also driving them in the wrong direction. Some may think that a carrot is needed to spur the sufferer on. While that may help, sometimes what is needed is a pause in the race with a paraclete sent by the Church to help that sufferer know that the race is worth running. They may need to hear the roar of the Crowd Spiritual cheering them on. They may need their faces wiped spiritually by another St Veronica. I believe that this is what the Anglican way can offer, though I do admit that this offer is not necessarily exclusive to the Anglican way.

One has the Book of Common Prayer, an Anglican Breviary, and a Monastic Breviary all in accordance. One can therefore say any of the offices therein according to the state of one's conviction. But one needs to cultivate that conviction for himself in conjunction with the Catholic Church. In learning to desire to be an active part of the Catholic Church rather than living in fear of not being in the part of the Catholic Church, this produces something of a greater naturality in one's faith.

Human nature is not sinful in itself. In Romans vii, St Paul says, "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." Sin is something distinct from our nature: it is the infection of sin that leads us away from God. It is therefore important to our humanity to rule ourselves and encourage others to live our faith from the heart.

As Anglican Catholics, we believe that the Catholic Faith is infallibly embedded in the Doctrine of the Church and that any departure therefrom is a departure from the Church. The Canons of the Church are there to provide a structure by which the Church can be well-ordered in order to meet the needs of its people and allow them to live out their vocation as a blessing on God's world. Personal piety is something that the Church should encourage.

God has given Man freewill in order to allow him to respond to the love that He gives from a position that is not God. That freedom is only best expressed when it is in a voluntary obedience to God. We only truly and freely become ourselves when we submit ourselves to God's rule - that’s the paradox of our freedom. It comes with the inherent dignity of being Created by God.