Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Rom. 13:1-7
Matt. 8:1-13

From the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth chapter, is this lesson that is appointed for today, read by those who also attend Morning Prayer:

Moses said to the children of Israel:

Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. (Deut. 5:5-10)

Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else. Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever. (Deut. 5:39,40)


How well balanced the scriptures for this Sunday are. In the Old Testament Lesson, part of which I have just read, we are told that it is for our good that God gives us His commandments. In the Epistle we are told that He provides for us governments in this world, that even among fallen men, in a state of sin and death, we may have some order. And, yet, in the Gospel we see Jesus doing what could be seen as breaking the rules, both of God and of the authorities, at least of the religious authorities. For, in the first story He actually touches the unclean leper, and in the second He gives mercy to a Gentile. In fact, He says that He is willing to enter the house of a Gentile (notice the Centurion did not feel worthy of such a visit, and expresses humility that is quite touching. Also, the Centurion did not want to create a scandal for the Lord).

But, there is no contradiction here. Jesus is not breaking the rules and being a revolutionary. The Revolutionary Jesus was the popular fiction of the 1960s, and we heard that particular Jesus preached about from many trendy pulpits. But, something much deeper is going on in these two stories, far deeper than the shallow theology of the 60s (or of today), and it has to do with the words that the Lord spoke many years before to the prophet Samuel: A Man looks on the outward appearance; but the Lord looks on the heart.

If we understand what God was saying through Moses in the Old Testament lesson, it is not so much that God will punish the evil doer (which is part of the message, don't misunderstand), but rather that God's commandments are a gift to us, a lamp for our feet. If we obey His word, it brings us peace, though not the peace of this world. It preserves us from eternal dangers, and from the consequences of our own foolishness. It is a gift so great that we must pass it on to our children; we must teach it to them for their good, and the good of their children forever (in fact we are not given a choice. Failure to bring up our children in the true Faith is a sin. It is not the mark of an enlightened couple that their children are not raised in the Church, but a terrifying form of neglect and dereliction).

If we understand St. Paul's words, he is telling us that governments exist among men for our good, even though they can often be used by evil men, that is by tyrants. The Romans were tyrants, and they persecuted the Church. But, the purpose of rulers is to enforce laws against wickedness and vice, and to protect society from anarchy and chaos. In a land such as ours, where the law is king, we see that, even in the best of circumstances, perfect justice cannot be found, and that the enforcers of human law allow many evils. Nonetheless, that same law provides order without which we would find it very hard to stand in the winds that would blow -- to allude to Sr. Thomas More's words to his son in law, Roper.

And, with all of this about order and the rules by which order is maintained, we see what could so easily be misunderstood as disorder. The Law of God made it clear that to touch a leper was to make oneself unclean, lo tahor. To avoid uncleanness the priest and the Levite, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, walked on the other side of the road in order to keep safe distance from a man who, for what little they could see, might be dead. And, to associate with Gentiles, that is to be willing to go into the home even of a worthy Gentile who had built a synagogue for the Jews at his own expense, was strictly forbidden. Not by any actual commandment of God mind you, but rather by the consensus of the Rabbis. It represented disorder for a Jewish man to say to this Roman Centurion, I will come and heal your servant.

To see this properly, however, we must have the correct understanding of two things:

1) The true meaning of the rules, and
2) Who Jesus is.

First let us understand the case of the leper. Leprosy was a state of uncleanness in itself. The leper had to keep his distance from all other people, and cry out with a warning when he entered a place that might be populated: He had to cry "Unclean, unclean!" This was his warning label, a verbal invitation to everyone within earshot to keep away from him. We could see leprosy in this case as being a condition that renders one actually guilty of sin, for he is perpetually unclean. He can never enter the temple, or even a mere synagogue to pray with his fellow Jews. That may seem very strange indeed; but we must think of it the same way this poor leper did.

In one sense, his coming up to Jesus would have been seen by witnesses as a presumptuous breaking of God's commandments on top of, or to add to, his unclean state. He was failing in his duty to present a verbal warning label to Christ and the disciples. By what right did he do this?

Yet, Jesus was even worse, for He actually touched this unclean man.

But, man looks only on the outward appearance. Jesus looked upon the heart of a man wanting to be clean, wanting to be able to go into the temple of God with boldness. He saw faith, not presumption. The true meaning of God's laws always was to teach us that we are sinners, and to be, as St. Paul tells us, a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Christ, far from being a law breaker, is the Law Giver Himself. He knows that His Law is written by the Holy Ghost on the heart of anyone who has faith, and so it was written on the heart of this man who wanted to be a leper no more.

Some might be preaching this very Sunday about how today’s Gospel reading teaches us to accept all sorts of unsavory people, who have no intention whatsoever of repenting of their sins. In fact, they want us to accept their sins as good things. And, not only to accept those sins, but perhaps even to applaud them. Jesus said of His mission to sinners, not simply that he was sent to call them, but that He was sent to call them to repentance. This man wanted not only to be healed, but to be clean; clean of leprosy which he saw as being itself a sinful state. Jesus not only heals him, but gives him the great restoration he desires. He sends him to the priests in the temple, and reminds him to offer to God the gift ordered in the Torah for the cleansing of a leper. He restores him to obedience to the Law, giving him the commandment to follow, right out of its pages. This was more than a mere ritual; the man was being given back his place in the religion of the God of his fathers, the people of Israel. More than his body, his heart was healed that day. And of course, this story reminds us that Christ the Man is also the Lord from heaven, able to make clean, which no earthly power can do.

The Gentile, the Centurion, is not only a Gentile, but a Roman. He is what is called a God-fearer, not a convert to Judaism, but a worshiper of the true God nonetheless. However, he is not circumcised; and so, to enter his home is to make oneself unclean (again, by the rules of the rabbis of that time. The Torah really says no such thing). You may recall, from the Book of Acts, how many years later St. Peter would enter the home of another Centurion and God-fearer named Cornelius, and would say upon entering what difficulty he had doing so, for he was not supposed to enter the home of a man who is unclean.

It is the Centurion who begs Jesus not to come, and then proceeds to reveal the depth of his faith by saying "only speak the word." Jesus, again looked upon a heart of faith. He knew that the true children of Abraham were those who believe, a teaching that would later be written down so eloquently by St. Paul. He knew that His own Divine presence carries with it the power to cleanse and to heal wherever He goes. His actions are never disorder, but the very essence of order; it is He Who made the heavens and the earth, and set them in their perfect course. He has come into the world to save us from sin and death, to bring order out of disorder, life out of death; to bring light into darkness, to make all things right. He alone has this power; though He has come and is a man who sees the outward appearance, He is also the Lord Who looks upon the heart.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, glory and power, henceforth world without end. Amen.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Contraception third in a series

At this point, I am not planning another installment. I do suggest reading the links provided, with gratitude to Project Canterbury for the hard work of making many historic Anglican documents available at the click of a mouse.

After the Lambeth Conference of 1930 it was taken for granted that the Anglican Communion now allowed contraception, even though the one resolution on which this assumption was based is easily given to another interpretation. Even if some of the bishops meant to open this door (no doubt, some did), they meant at most to open it only a crack for "hard cases" in rare situations. The debate over the resolution, it seems, was not about contraception itself (which was generally considered to be sinful by all Christians everywhere), but about the danger that this resolution might become a Pandora's box. That is exactly what happened, inasmuch as some new liberty was proclaimed by people who had never once read Resolution 15. A whole generation grew up with this assumption, and after a while many had thought that it was simply a fact that they were allowed by their church to do as they pleased.

After the Lambeth Conference, Francis Hall wrote an essay almost immediately, in which he blamed the bishops who voted for the resolution, no matter what they intended: "Some at least of the bishops who had voted for the Resolution were plainly taken aback at the interpretation placed upon it, complaining that the general context in which the Resolution appears had been disregarded." He went on, "The language I have quoted, as it stands, sanctions under exceptional circumstances a practice which Christians have hitherto regarded as necessarily impure and unholy." The first line shows that some bishops were surprised that a new liberty had been perceived from reading the resolution. As I have argued in the second of this series, the resolution does not, in its exact words, grant any such liberty; as the phrase "other methods" in context most likely was intended to clarify the generally accepted use of the "safe period" against the idea that every sexual act must be for the purpose of procreation; an idea that the context of the resolution might otherwise have implied heavily. The fact that some of the bishops later objected to the general interpretation of the resolution proves, in and of itself, that even some of those who voted for it did not mean to approve contraception.

Therefore, I disagree with Hall on this one point: "The language I have quoted, as it stands, sanctions..." With all due respect to Francis Hall, it is not the language or its plain meaning that was the problem. The problem was the culture into which those words were thrown, and the times that shaped how that culture thought. The bishops who voted against the resolution were right, for the public at large was not willing to read it in context, or to place much weight on the actual words. In fact, to this day most of the people who want to speak about 1930 as the year when the Anglican Communion began to slide downhill to the point of crisis, have not read the resolution, certainly not in context.

The question for Continuing Anglicans is not really about what the Anglican Communion did in that year, but about whether or not we should Continue the Anglicanism that made a clear sound ten years earlier in the Lambeth Conference of 1920:

The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers—physical, moral, and religious—thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists—namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.

The question cannot be answered by arguments from hard case questions, which is why they would not consider rules for "every abnormal case." The teaching of the Church on moral issues must be clear and universal in its meaning. The question can be answered only from trying to perceive the mind of God as revealed in Scripture and as understood by the Church with her authority in what we call the Tradition.

In 1977 the Affirmation of St. Louis was written because the situation had already forced a separation from the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada, which crisis soon forced separation from the official Anglican Communion altogether. This means that the latest symptoms we encounter now are not the whole disease, but neither were the most pressing symptoms of 1977. The disease had already advanced by that time, namely failure to teach and practice plain orthodox Christianity. Then as now, in some churches of the official Canterbury Communion, orthodoxy was tolerated as an option; and that was the problem. It cannot be an option, for it must be the teaching of the whole Church.

Only on that basis can we discuss the matter of contraception, or anything else that requires correct moral theology. Sociology and modern science may be called on as witnesses to provide information; but, neither these things nor the influence of the culture at large, can sit as judges of moral theology. Neither can the subjective concept of "what would Jesus do?", inasmuch as we are better off considering what he told us to do.

For further reading, in addition to Hall's essay, are two by Bishop Charles Gore, one before Lambeth 1930, and one after.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CORRECTION

Or More of the same.

from Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

UPDATED: Traditional Anglican Communion set to Enter Catholic Church?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
1/29/2009

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) – UPDATED: Catholic Online promised to update our readers on this extraordinary story. So, we now pass this on: The National Catholic Register cites a "Vatican Source" as saying that "nothing's been decided" by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Reports abound that the Congregation has recommended the creation of a personal prelature as the vehicle through which to receive the members of the Traditional Anglican Communion into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Register contends that an official at the Congregation spoke with their correspondent Edward Pentin today saying,“It’s something that has appeared on the blogosphere and then been reiterated, but the truth is nothing’s been decided.” We set forth our original story below believing that the sources reporting this exciting news and the history of the dialogue support its accuracy.

The rest can be read by clicking the link above.

Today's news

TAC to be offered "Personal Prelature" by the pope.
(This was what Archbishop John Hepworth had said might happen, telling this to Albion Land in 2007. Last Summer, he told me that he expected even more, but at least this much)


This report is from the Telegraph UK Co.

The Pope is preparing to offer the Traditonal Anglican Communion, a group of half a million dissident Anglicans, its own personal prelature by Rome, according to reports this morning.

"History may be in the making", reports The Record. "It appears Rome is on the brink of welcoming close to half a million members of the Traditional Anglican Communion into membership of the Roman Catholic Church. Such a move would be the most historic development in Anglican-Catholic relations in the last 500 years. But it may also be a prelude to a much greater influx of Anglicans waiting on the sidelines, pushed too far by the controversy surrounding the consecration of practising homosexual bishops, women clergy and a host of other issues."

Here is Anthony Barich's report in full. My guess is that, if this happens, Anglo-Catholics in the C of E will move to Rome in unprecedented numbers under a similar arrangement. More on this later. Also, see American Catholic, which broke the story on the web.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decided to recommend the Traditional Anglican Communion be accorded a personal prelature akin to Opus Dei, if talks between the TAC and the Vatican aimed at unity succeed, it is understood.

The TAC is a growing global community of approximately 400,000 members that took the historic step in 2007 of seeking full corporate and sacramental communion with the Catholic Church - a move that, if fulfilled, will be the biggest development in Catholic-Anglican relations since the English Reformation under King Henry VIII.

TAC members split from the Canterbury-based Anglican Communion headed by Archbishop Rowan Williams over issues such as its ordination of women priests and episcopal consecrations of women and practising homosexuals.

The TAC's case appeared to take a significant step forwards in October 2008 when it is understood that the CDF decided not to recommend the creation of a distinct Anglican rite within the Roman Catholic Church - as is the case with the Eastern Catholic Churches - but a personal prelature, a semi-autonomous group with its own clergy and laity.Opus Dei was the first organisation in the Catholic Church to be recognised as a personal prelature, a new juridical form in the life of the Church. A personal prelature is something like a global diocese without boundaries, headed by its own bishop and with its own membership and clergy.

Because no such juridical form of life in the Church had existed before, the development and recognition of a personal prelature took Opus Dei and Church officials decades to achieve.

An announcement could be made soon after Easter this year. It is understood that Pope Benedict XVI, who has taken a personal interest in the matter, has linked the issue to the year of St Paul, the greatest missionary in the history of the Church.

The Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls could feature prominently in such an announcement for its traditional and historical links to Anglicanism. Prior to the English Reformation it was the official Church of the Knights of the Garter.

The TAC's Primate, Adelaide-based Archbishop John Hepworth, told The Record he has also informed the Holy See he wants to bring all the TAC's bishops to Rome for the beatification of Cardinal Henry Newman, also an Anglican convert to the Catholic Church, as a celebration of Anglican-Catholic unity.

Although Cardinal Newman's beatification is considered to be likely by many, the Church has made no announcement that Cardinal Newman will be beatified.

Archbishop Hepworth personally wrote to Pope Benedict in April 2007 indicating that the TAC planned a meeting of its world bishops, where it was anticipated they would unanimously agree to sign the Catechism of the Catholic Church and to seek full union with the Catholic Church. This took place at a meeting of the TAC in the United Kingdom. TAC bishops placed the signed Catechism on the altar of the most historical Anglican and Catholic Marian shrine in the UK, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, before posting it up in the main street in an effort to gather public support.

Archbishop Hepworth, together with TAC bishops Robert Mercer and Peter Wilkinson, presented the signed items personally to Fr Augustine Di Noia OP, the CDF's senior ecumenical theologian, on October 11, 2007, in a meeting organised by CDF secretary Archbishop Angelo Amato.

Bishop Mercer, a monk who is now retired and living in England, is the former Anglican Bishop of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Bishop Wilkinson is the TAC's diocesan bishop in Canada.

TAC's Canadian Bishop Peter Wilkinson has close ties to the Catholic hierarchy in British Columbia, which has also met the CDF on the issue. He has already briefed Vancouver archdiocesan priests.

One potential problem for the Holy See would be the TAC's bishops, most of whom are married. Neither the Roman Catholic nor Eastern Catholic churches permit married bishops.

Before he became Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger discussed the issue of married bishops in the 1990s during meetings of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission exploring unity, before the Anglican Church's ordination of women priests derailed it.

One former Anglican priest who became a Catholic priest told The Record that the ideal end for the TAC would be to become the 28th Rite within the Catholic Church, along with the Eastern Churches, which have the same sacraments and are recognised by Rome.

The TAC's request is the closest any section of the Anglican Church has ever come to full communion with Rome because the TAC has set no preconditions. Instead it has explicitly submitted itself entirely to the Holy See's decisions.

Six days prior to the October 11 meeting between TAC bishops and the Holy See - on October 5 - the TAC's bishops, vicars-general of dioceses without bishops, and theological advisers who assisted in a plenary meeting signed a declaration of belief in the truth of the whole Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The declaration said, in part: "We accept that the most complete and authentic expression and application of the Catholic faith in this moment of time is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium, which we have signed, together with this letter as attesting to the faith we aspire to teach and hold."

Statements about the seriousness of the division between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church caused by issues such as the ordination of women priests were emphasised at the wordwide Lambeth Conference held in the UK in 2008.

At the conference, three Catholic cardinals - Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Archbishop of Westminster Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and the Prefect for the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, Ivan Dias, the Pope's personal envoy, all addressed the issue.

Cardinal Dias, who favours welcoming traditionalist Anglicans into the Catholic Church, bluntly told the Anglican Communion's 650 bishops that they are heading towards "spiritual Alzheimer's" and "ecclesial Parkinson's".

"By analogy, (Alzheimer's and Parkinson's) symptoms can, at times, be found even in our own Christian communities. For example, when we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer's. And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson's."

Cardinal Kasper warned Anglican bishops that Rome would turn to smaller ecumenical communities if the Anglican Communion at large proved unapproachable ecumenically.

This is bad news for the Anglican Communion, but good news for the TAC.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Contraception second in a series

What really happened in 1930?

It is commonly touted that Anglicanism went wrong in 1930 when the Lambeth Conference approved the practice of contraception. This is one of those things that everybody knows, just as it was once true that everybody knew that the earth is flat. The things that everybody knows cannot be numbered, just as surely as the correction of such common knowledge often reverses public opinion.

In fact, the Lambeth Conference of 1930 was typically conservative, when conservatism was a trademark of Anglicanism. Much stress was laid on orthodoxy, indeed to the further strengthening of relations with, well, Orthodoxy. Theological statements about the sacrament of Holy Communion, for example, and other doctrinal matters, received excellent clarification. Nonetheless, what everybody "remembers" about 1930 is that thing that everybody knows.

The reason that a common perception of license for contraception exists at all, is due to very unfortunate wording in one resolution among many about sexuality and marriage. To give you that resolution (number 15) in its original context, I will here post all of the resolutions about the subject, and then comment more. Afterward, the next posting in this series will be an essay by Francis Hall written that same year, and his understanding of the Black Resolution (if I may give it a label) will show that I am not alone in resisting what everybody knows.

Resolution 9
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference believes that the conditions of modern life call for a fresh statement from the Christian Church on the subject of sex. It declares that the functions of sex as a God-given factor in human life are essentially noble and creative. Responsibility in regard to their right use needs the greater emphasis in view of widespread laxity of thought and conduct in all these matters.

Resolution 10
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference believes that in the exalted view of marriage taught by our Lord is to be found the solution of the problems with which we are faced. His teaching is reinforced by certain elements which have found a new emphasis in modern life, particularly the sacredness of personality, the more equal partnership of men and women, and the biological importance of monogamy.


Resolution 11
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference believes that it is with this ideal in view that the Church must deal with questions of divorce and with whatever threatens the security of women and the stability of the home. Mindful of our Lord's words, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder," it reaffirms "as our Lord's principle and standard of marriage a life-long and indissoluble union, for better or worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to this standard."* In cases of divorce:

The Conference, while passing no judgement on the practice of regional or national Churches within our Communion, recommends that the marriage of one, whose former partner is still living, should not be celebrated according to the rites of the Church.

Where an innocent person has remarried under civil sanction and desires to receive the Holy Communion, it recommends that the case should be referred for consideration to the bishop, subject to provincial regulations.

Finally, it would call attention to the Church's unceasing responsibility for the spiritual welfare of all her members who have come short of her standard in this as in any other respect, and to the fact that the Church's aim, individually and socially, is reconciliation to God and redemption from sin. It therefore urges all bishops and clergy to keep this aim before them.

Resolution 12
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

In all questions of marriage and sex the Conference emphasises the need of education. It is important that before the child's emotional reaction to sex is awakened, definite information should be given in an atmosphere of simplicity and beauty. The persons directly responsible for this are the parents, who in the exercise of this responsibility will themselves need the best guidance that the Church can supply.

During childhood and youth the boy or the girl should thus be prepared for the responsibilities of adult life; but the Conference urges the need of some further preparation for those members of the Church who are about to marry.

To this end the Conference is convinced that steps ought to be taken:

to secure a better education for the clergy in moral theology;

to establish, where they do not exist, in the various branches of the Anglican Communion central councils which would study the problems of sex from the Christian standpoint and give advice to the responsible authorities in diocese or parish of theological college as to methods of approach and lines of instruction;

to review the available literature and to take steps for its improvement and its circulation.


Resolution 13
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference emphasises the truth that sexual instinct is a holy thing implanted by God in human nature. It acknowledges that intercourse between husband and wife as the consummation of marriage has a value of its own within that sacrament, and that thereby married love is enhanced and its character strengthened. Further, seeing that the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children, it believes that this purpose as well as the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control should be the governing considerations in that intercourse.

Resolution 14
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference affirms:

the duty of parenthood as the glory of married life;

the benefit of a family as a joy in itself, as a vital contribution to the nation's welfare, and as a means of character-building for both parents and children;

the privilege of discipline and sacrifice to this end.

Resolution 15

The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

Voting: For 193; Against 67.

Resolution 16
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference further records its abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion.

Resolution 17
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

While the Conference admits that economic conditions are a serious factor in the situation, it condemns the propaganda which treats conception control as a way of meeting those unsatisfactory social and economic conditions which ought to be changed by the influence of Christian public opinion.

Resolution 18
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Sexual intercourse between persons who are not legally married is a grievous sin. The use of contraceptives does not remove the sin. In view of the widespread and increasing use of contraceptives among the unmarried and the extention of irregular unions owing to the diminution of any fear of consequences, the Conference presses for legislation forbidding the exposure for sale and the unrestricted advertisement of contraceptives, and placing definite restrictions upon their purchase.

Resolution 19
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Fear of consequences can never, for the Christian, be the ultimately effective motive for the maintenance of chastity before marriage. This can only be found in the love of God and reverence for his laws. The Conference emphasises the need of strong and wise teaching to make clear the Christian standpoint in this matter. That standpoint is that all illicit and irregular unions are wrong in that they offend against the true nature of love, they compromise the future happiness of married life, they are antagonistic to the welfare of the community, and, above all, they are contrary to the revealed will of God.

Resolution 20
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference desires to express the debt which the Church owes to the devotion of those who in constantly changing conditions and in the face of increasing difficulties have maintained and carried forward the preventive and rescue work of the Church. Such devotion calls for greatly increased interest and support from all the members of the Church.
The removal of the causes which lead to the necessity for such work must first and foremost be sought in the creation of that healthier atmosphere and in the more thorough giving of sex instruction which are recommended in the preceding Resolutions. And this is recognised to the full by the leaders in the work. There is, however, at the present time urgent need for:

much greater financial support, so that the workers may be adequately trained and adequately paid,

more regular interest on the part of church people generally in them and in their work,

the help which men of the Church can give in technical and legal matters, as also in personal service.

The Conference further desires in this connection to place on record its appreciation of the work done by women police in Great Britain, in the British dominions and in the United States of America, and by those many social workers, in different parts of the world, who give themselves to the same difficult task.

In the context of these resolutions, it is quite apparent that the words "other methods" in Resolution 15 was not intended to place a stamp of approval on the use of contraception. All of the bishops present were men born and raised in the nineteenth century, men who no doubt embraced the "women and children first" morality that came with an appreciation of man's responsibility. They were not creatures of the 20th century; perhaps creators of it in some ways, but not people whose emotional and intellectual reflexes worked as carelessly as those of our own contemporaries.

The words "other methods" in the resolution are placed against the phrase "complete abstinence." To men well-educated, the contrast was obvious: Partial abstinence. They were permitting partial abstinence for this purpose, or to this end (the purpose being of issue), not contraception. No doubt, partial abstinence was, in the minds of the learned sons of the 19th century, the "safe period." Concerning this, for once I find it useful to quote the outspoken apologist for the Roman Magisterium, Diane, with whom I am often in disagreement. Nonetheless, in a recent comment she explained well the thinking that prevails now, and that prevailed then, on the moral distinction to be made between artificial methods that violate human nature, and the one method that respects the nature God has given to the woman's body.

Diane wrote: "Women can only conceive one day out of every 28 days. That fact alone has to show that God didn't intend for us to have an unmanageable number of children. Avoiding pregnancy while engaging in the marital embrace is acceptable...and the proof is that God gave us a built-in way to achieve this end...women are both fertile and infertile over the course of 28 days."

This is useful for understanding what most Christians have thought for decades, even if some may wish to criticize the idea. It may be argued that this is simply disguising birth control under another name; but, the consensus of Christians in earlier generations to properly interpret the resolution is our concern for the moment.

Remember, this resolution came on the heels of Resolution 13, and 14 ("Further, seeing that the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children, it believes that this purpose as well as the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control should be the governing considerations in that intercourse...the duty of parenthood as the glory of married life..."), and the bishops were thinking to make room for married couples to come together even if for other purposes. For example, the purpose once stated by St. Paul:

"The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." I Corinthians 7:4,5

Here the Apostle himself encouraged the married couple to come together again in order to avoid temptation to sin by unnecessary abstinence that creates both emotional and physical deprivation. The purpose, in such a case, is not to conceive a child, even though the possibility of conception is present. Indeed, at a certain age these desires continue to exist when conception is unlikely or impossible. However, recalling Abraham and Sarah, and Zecharias and Elizabeth, even then a couple is not ruling out the possibility of procreation if God wills to perform a miracle. In fact, the "safe period" method, called today Natural Family Planning, does allow God to work if he intends to make a child. Still, we may debate whether or not this is a difference without a distinction; but it was commonly accepted as a difference with a distinction in 1930, as indeed the majority considers it today.

Furthermore, Resolution 15 condemns the use of contraception "from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience." Contrasting "complete abstinence" against partial abstinence, and then following it with Resolutions 16 and 17, it is likely that most of the bishops believed they had made a very strong case against both abortion and contraception.

Nonetheless, this is the only resolution that records a vote, as if to say that several of the bishops (67) were better able to see the danger of how this resolution would be perceived. The contraception movement of Margaret Sanger was a noisy influence for evil in that period, and the movement was gaining ground all the time. The crusade of the movement had as its adversary all of the mainstream churches, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestants of all stripes and the Orthodox. The consensus of Christians in all of the various denominations was the same: Contraception is sinful in and of itself.

Whether with genuine outrage, or as a subterfuge to further the Birth Control movement, it was The Washington Post, in a critical editorial, that "informed" the world that Anglican bishops had given the green light to contraception. Thus the myth was born, and from then on everybody knew.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Contraception first in a series

Below I am posting an editorial by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon. “The Roots of Roe v. Wade” first appeared in the January/February, 2003 issue of Touchstone.

Over the next few days I will post more on the issue of contraception, and the particular problem we have inherited from the modern corrupt version of Anglicanism, that version we need to repudiate in favor of the real thing. Contraception is one area where we need to ask ourselves, what are we Continuing? This is especially so, inasmuch as any justification for approval of contraception that anyone may think to put forth, cannot be drawn from Scripture and the Tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
-Fr. Robert Hart

The Roots of Roe v. Wade

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

During this month, as in every January for the past thirty years, those Americans left with even the meanest vestige of moral instinct will reflect with disgust on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. Some of these citizens will also comment, as they should, that that 1973 judicial determination was an affront to humanity, a legal travesty, a distortion of the Constitution surpassing in sheer injustice even the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Some, recalling that the Dred Scott ruling itself set the stage for the Civil War, may wonder—if it was true in yesteryear that “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”—whether some yet worse retribution will be exacted of our country by a righteous God righteously stirred at the murder of unborn children in their millions. And wonder they should. Still others, more stalwart of heart, will fortify their resolve to toil for the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, whether by constitutional amendment or by wise judicial appointments to restore the Court’s good sense and moral integrity. All such things will sane Americans think, of course, for these are still the right responses to the most extreme miscarriage of justice ever perpetrated by any court in this nation.

It is not to slight the propriety of any of those responses, therefore, that we declare Roe v. Wade to be more a symptom of our crisis than its cause. It appears to us, as it does to William B. Wichterman in a recent essay (“The Culture: ‘Upstream’ from Politics,” in Don Eberly, ed., Building a Healthy Culture), that “the Court was simply joining the cultural revolution already well underway.” Indeed, it is very arguable that Roe v. Wade did rather little to increase the number of legal abortions in this country. Wichtermann himself contends that “the abortion rate probably would have climbed to at least one million per year even without Roe, and more likely higher still.”

By January of 1973, what now goes by the abhorrent euphemism “reproductive freedom” was already a movement robustly on the march, as Gerald N. Rosenberg demonstrated in the study he published eighteen years later, The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? When various state legislatures began removing statutory restrictions against abortion toward the end of the sixties, the frequency of the procedure jumped dramatically. Between 1968 and 1973, eighteen states had loosened their anti-abortion laws. In the large states of New York and California there was almost unlimited legal access to abortion chambers, and over a half-million legal abortions were performed in this country during the twelve months preceding the Supreme Court’s ruling. Indeed, before the first line of Roe was composed, 70 percent of all American citizens lived within two hours’ drive of a state where abortions were legal. The pro-choice lobby was definitely in the ascendant, and, according to a Gallup poll published just seven months before Roe, 64 percent of Americans believed that abortion was a matter to be decided entirely by a woman and her physician. Alas, some of us pro-lifers can still remember that it was ourselves, back in those days, not the pro-choice folks, who were counting on vindication by the Supreme Court.

We are not convinced, therefore, that a judicial reversal of Roe v. Wade, though it remains a favor much to be craved, would necessarily diminish the number of legal abortions performed in this country. More likely, such a development would simply shift the pertinent political agitation back to the state legislatures, where, we suspect, the pro-life cause would lose more battles than its proponents contemplate. Law and politics, we contend, lie downstream from culture, and the current cultural state of our nation, particularly with respect to abortion, seems to us not one whit better than it was during the years leading up to 1973. Between 1967 and 1972, a large number of major national groups and alliances passed various resolutions and endorsements to repeal all legal restrictions on abortion. Among those groups were 21 medical organizations and 28 religious bodies, including the YMCA. The political activities of those organizations were mainly directed, not at the Supreme Court, but at state legislatures, where they won more battles than they lost. There is every reason to believe that this would be the case once again if Roe were overturned.

Politics and law, we said, lie downstream from culture. Therefore, the real and deeper dilemma, the dilemma arguably as disturbing as abortion itself, is cultural. Our current culture, to say it plainly, has largely stopped thinking of children as gifts from God and firstfruits of the future. The dominant mentality today is manifestly what Irving Babbitt (if memory serves) called “presentism.” It is concentrated almost overwhelmingly on the present because men right now are living increasingly without hope, and they are living without hope because they are not providing for the future. Their cultural despondency is, in this sense, justified. Our culture, compulsively and even morbidly preoccupied with the here-and-now, is deliberately moribund, depriving itself of anything to look forward to. This truth is lucidly indicated by the disastrously low birthrates in this country (and in the West generally).

We submit, therefore, that children are now being aborted in the flesh, because they have already been, in large measure, aborted from the mind. We deprive unborn infants of a future because they are inconveniences intruding on our chosen pursuits in the present. Why should we let those infants live, after all, if they are but the by-products of sexual activity, rather than the properly intended purpose of that activity? In short, our current cultural crisis has to do with sex regarded in terms of present “fulfillment” rather than in terms of future family. The progressive severance of sex from the proper structures and duties of family is, moreover, a concern that most religious bodies in this nation have hardly begun to address at a deep level.

The most obvious manifestation of this severance, of course, is homosexuality. We are content here, however, merely to mention that the matter is obvious; we are not disposed to argue much with those who disagree. Indeed, some of us hardly know where to begin a serious moral conversation with individuals incapable of distinguishing between sexual organs and . . . well, other parts of the body.

Another manifestation of the current severance of sexuality from family, we believe, is recourse to artificial contraception. The pill, the patch, and the condom have become—once again to cite Wichtermann—our culture’s “first defense against childbirth,” abortion serving only as a socially distasteful back-up. Pregnancy is now widely regarded as something that married couples are expected to prevent until they, not God, decide that they are ready to have children. Husbands and wives are expected to control, that is, not their sexual behavior, but their incidence of pregnancy. Man, not God, is thereby authorized to decide when and how the creation of human beings takes place. It is no small indication of our cultural decline that we now speak, not of procreation, but of reproduction.

This utterly rebellious attitude, the “contraceptive mentality,” is surely a serious moral failing characteristic of the present culture. The relationship of this “contraceptive culture” to abortion itself lies much deeper than a first comparison of the two things might suggest, nor is there any logic, we think, in opposing the terrible sin of abortion while in other respects promoting the selfishness and materialism that give rise to it.

An illustration of the subterranean tunnel joining the ethics of abortion and contraception was provided in the events leading up to Roe v. Wade. It appears obvious to us that the public support for abortion that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 was not unrelated to the public rage and outcry that greeted the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. When Pope Paul VI asserted that the primary and formal purpose of human sexual intercourse is the conception of children and, thus, the assembling of a family, he said no more about artificial contraception than the Bible and traditional Christian doctrine would oblige any Christian pastor to say—namely, that a serious moral flaw adheres to any sexual act that is deliberately closed off to God’s using that act for the creation of a human being. It is our persuasion that if Americans were to take seriously the traditional Christian perspective contained in Humanae Vitae, Roe v. Wade would disappear very quickly.

It is our hope, then, that this thirtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling will be the occasion not only for lamenting the ongoing political climate that permits that odious dictum yet to stand, but also for pondering more deeply the grace and mystery of human sexuality itself, especially the manifest purpose for which God gave it to us. We all know there is a tribunal far higher than our Supreme Court. It is important to recall, in addition, that we too will gather before it, to render an account of our stewardship. The present growing separation of sexuality from the formation of family, we suggest, raises some serious questions about that stewardship.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Icon by Monastery Icons.

Although I expect the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul to take priority over the Third Sunday after the Epiphany in most of our churches, I want to re-post this sermon I wrote three years ago.

John 2:1-11

Today we will look at three important things meant to be drawn out, exegeted, from this portion of the Gospel of John. These are:

1) Christ’s presence at a wedding
2) His phrase “my hour”
3) The title that he gives to His mother, namely, “Woman.”

First, let us consider His presence at a wedding. We know that the Lord is present in a very special way whenever a couple performs the sacrament of marrying each other with the blessing of the Church. Saint Paul calls the marriage union the “mystery” of Christ and His Church, and by the use of the word “mystery” we see that the scriptures tell us that this is a sacrament. We know that a sacrament conveys the grace of God, each according to His plan and purpose, a special and specific grace. The grace of the marital union is specific and has everything to do with our hope for a future and for new life.

We can say, with reason on our side, that the Lord is not present in any meaningful way in unions outside of marriage. Certainly, they lack the grace of the sacrament, or among non-Christians they lack any legal status conformable to God's laws. They have instead the nature of sin. But, in our time such non-marital unions are treated as acceptable by society. This is an area where the Church cannot take the side of popular “culture.” We must be different. The problem is, people treat the ultimate human relationship, the kind that alone brings forth new life, as a casual thing, and as something to be subject to experimentation. They experiment by living as if they were married; and when such a couple decides that it is finally safe to get married, they have become accustomed to the idea of the experiment; and that idea never goes away. No wonder that such couples have a high divorce rate, as, indeed, the statistics show. They failed to learn certain important facts. First of all, marriage is not an experiment, but a commitment. Second, any human relationship that is experimental must fail at some time, because everybody is impossible to live with. If you do not consider yourself impossible to live with, than read the Epistle to the Romans and take note of Saint Paul’s description of what a sinner you are, and wise up. Finally, marriage is not simply a commitment two people make to each other, but a commitment two people make to God, with faith that He is making the same commitment to them, and that (in the words from Ecclesiastes) “a threefold cord is not easily broken.” For the occasion of joy, when a couple begins to live in the sacrament of matrimony, the Lord is present.

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”

The way this sounds to modern ears, ‘What have I to do with thee?’ is a bit misleading. The way to understand it is simply, “what is there to be done between you and Me?” That is, what did the two of them have as a matter of mutual concern?

For this second point, I am grateful for a book by one of the genuine lights of the Roman Catholic Church here in America in the 20th Century, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. His commentary on this part of the Gospel of John, in his classic book that came out in 1961, Life of Christ, highlights one simple phrase and draws out the meaning with clarity. What did our Lord mean by “Mine hour is not yet come,” that enigmatic line He spoke to His mother? In the other places in the Gospel of John that speak specifically of His hour, the meaning has to do with His cross, the time of His death.

“Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.” John 7:30

“These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.” John 8:20

“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified…Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” John 12:23, 27

“Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”
John 16:32

And with the cross His hour speaks of His resurrection and glorification:

“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” John 17:1

Here is how Archbishop Sheen put it:

“The ‘Hour,’ therefore, referred to His glorification through His Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension…His mother was asking for a miracle; He was implying that a miracle worked as a sign of His Divinity would be the beginning of His Death. The moment He showed Himself before men as the Son of God, He would draw down upon Himself their hatred, for evil can tolerate mediocrity, but not supreme goodness. The miracle she was asking for would be unmistakably related to His Redemption.” P.77

Mary knew full well the prediction that Simeon had made to her years before, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke: “A sword shall pierce thine own soul also.” The pain of the cross awaited her too, for her ordeal was to watch her Son die in shame and agony while His enemies rejoiced and delighted in His sufferings as entertainment, amusement and a kind of victory. Knowing that He was going to begin to take the path that would lead to the cross, she speaks her last line that was recorded in scripture: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Here we see the same willingness on her part that was expressed years earlier at the Annunciation: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy will.”
As Archbishop Sheen wrote:

“He was telling His mother that she was virtually pronouncing a sentence of death over Him. Few are the mothers who send their sons to battlefields; but here was one who was actually hastening the hour of her son’s mortal conflict with the forces of evil.” P. 78

Here we see, as well, how the Lord took up the work of His cross willingly. Years later, in the garden of Gethsemane, the most significant words that he spoke to the Father were, “nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.”

Finally, what of this curious title that he gives to His mother? Here at Cana, as He works that first miracle that would lead to His being “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… cut off out of the land of the living” “for the sins of the whole world,” He calls her “Woman.” One more time He would call her that. On the day of His death as she stood by helplessly, with the sword piercing her own soul, He said: “Woman, behold thy Son.”

Perhaps to the modern American ear this has no meaning. But, to the ancient Jews, educated in the scriptures, it was obvious, indeed it was rich in meaning. This comes from the Proto Evangelium, the first announcement of the Gospel. In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, after the fall of Adam into the sin and death that passed to all mankind, God spoke to the serpent the words of his coming defeat:

“And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:14, 15

The Lord Jesus identified Himself as the “seed of the woman.” His heel was bruised, that is He died, but He could not be held by death; and so He rose on the third day. The serpent’s head was bruised, that is, the prince of this world was cast out in the judgment that was rendered, by the Lord’s cross, on the world’s system of sin. The very idea of speaking of the woman’s seed is to express a miracle, that a woman would conceive without a natural father. He, the Son of the virgin mother, is the seed of the woman spoken of by God in the earliest promise made of our salvation from sin and death. She is not simply any woman, but rather she is the Woman, because He is the Savior of the world.

The Conversion of St. Paul January 25th

Yes, this is a re-run.

EASTER OUT OF SEASON

When the Lord appeared to Saul, and made him an eyewitness of the resurrection, many things changed in his understanding. His righteous act of persecuting the Church was revealed to have been the sin of persecuting the Messiah himself, his own self-attained righteousness was shown to be a delusion, the curse that was evident in the manner of Jesus’ death was revealed to be atonement paid by the Righteous one for the many sinners, thus taking away the curse from those who deserved it, and the prophecies of scripture were revealed to have been speaking of two comings of Messiah, not one. How much of this was clear immediately and how much had to develop over time as he thought about it, is not clear. But, right away, in his conversion, is the revelation that would become Paul’s bold teaching about faith in Jesus Christ and the grace that he gives, himself our only Salvation.

BORN OUT OF DUE TIME

Every winter on January 25th traditional churches celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. On that day we remember the story recorded in the Book of Acts, the history of how the persecutor of the Church saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ and became a convinced preacher of the Gospel. And, as we remember the conversion of the Apostle, we are presented with a puzzle that requires a little bit of explanation. The traditional calendar contains four colors, one of which applies to every day of the year (sometimes two colors on certain days).

White is the Lord’s color, and it is used as well for saints who are not martyrs. But, for saints who are martyrs the color is red; and Saint Paul is a martyr, for he was beheaded in Rome. The puzzle is that white, not red, is the color for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. White, the color for the Lord himself, is proper to such times as Christmas, the Annunciation, or Easter. But, the Church long ago decided that white was the appropriate color for this day. If we figure out that puzzle, and meditate on its meaning, we have the answer to the biggest challenge facing the Christian message in our own day and age.

The current challenge to the truth of the Gospel, coming from a school of philosophy that pretends to be a school of science, stretching from Charles Darwin to Richard Dawkins, has to do with an evaluation of what sort of God, God ought to be. The challenge may seem to be an apologetic against Intelligent Design, since that is how it is being presented currently. However, it goes back to the days of Darwin, who considered the world as it is to be less than practical and efficient. The argument has developed along lines of philosophy, particularly of Ethics (part of the larger discipline of Philosophy). It contains criticism of such details as the design, or rather (seeing that it is difficult to come up with a phrase to fit the argument) the shape and form of the human back.

What the argument boils down to is simply this: If the universe were designed, it ought to have been designed better, so as to be more congenial to the people who have to live in it. Therefore, it could not have been designed. This assumes that the critics of God, those who have placed Him in, as C.S. Lewis put it, the dock, are correct about what would be the best way to go about making a world and its creatures. And, assuming their way is the better way, the argument is one of Ethics, that God ought to have made a better world, one that gives more consideration to our needs, and that demonstrates kindness on the Creator’s part. Furthermore, the whole scheme of this Ethics argument depends upon the Christian and Jewish paradigm of goodness. It requires, to summarize the Torah, not doing what is odious to others, as Hillel taught, and doing to others what we would have them do to us, as Jesus Christ taught.

Because this argument is about what kind of God, God ought to be, it is based on conjecture and speculation. Therefore, it places everything in a context that is theoretical, and being theoretical, concerned with logic based upon assumption, or even a kind of reasoning. What if, however, the Christian message is not based on any theory about how the world ought to be, what sort of designer the Creator should have been, or any other concept? What if we should brush aside all that is theoretical and speculative in favor of something evidentiary that is rooted in fact?

The Church’s use of white for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul points to the answer, summoning to the mind very strong accounts of reported history as contained in the Bible. It points to the testimony of eyewitness, in some cases to the testimony of martyrs. The message does not claim to answer any questions about what the Creator ought to have done, but instead it reveals how he has intervened in human affairs. It is fact based, not logic based. That is, it does not come to us as a result of reasoning through to a conclusion, but of accepting reports of fact. The only use of logic that we may use, in this case, begins with the facts rather than with mere conjecture.

We have been given a set of facts that rightly include both revelation and history. Revelation, because God has acted in such a way that the truth has been made known; and history, because the facts are recorded as eyewitness accounts. Testimony of this type constitutes evidence, and the record of it constitutes history, both of which are far more in the nature of science than of philosophy. The Christian message treats as irrelevant arguments that place God in the dock and judge His existence by the conjecture of a system of Ethics. Instead, it simply states a testimony, that of the eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus Christ.

From the facts of their testimony we draw logical conclusions about the sort of God that God is, rather than trying to figure out what He should be. So, we come to what may be called “The Gospel according to Paul.” This is in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, vs. 1-11. In this passage he declares to them the Gospel he had preached to them, and urges them to be faithful to it. After reminding them that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose the third day, all in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, Paul gives a list of several eyewitnesses who saw the Risen Christ. All of these witnesses saw Him between the first Easter and the day of His Ascension. That is, except for one. The last witness who saw the resurrected Christ was Saint Paul himself, significantly later than the others.

The last appearance was to Saul on the road to Damascus, the day of the conversion of Saint Paul. The traditional celebration calls for white as the Lord’s color, white for Easter, though it falls in the season of Epiphany. It is Easter out of season, because of Paul’s own words: “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (v.8) The Church is teaching us that this day, the day of Paul’s conversion, is about the Risen Christ. And, not simply about Him in a theoretical sense, but in a historical sense. He was seen alive after His death, and the Gospel is not complete without the proclamation that witnesses gave us this testimony, reporting facts rather than trying to figure out answers to philosophical problems.

We are certain that in those facts every philosophical question can finally be answered. But, the Christian message is not that we can figure out what God ought to be like, and then pronounce a verdict either on Him or His existence. The Christian message is the Gospel as preached by eyewitnesses who proclaimed the revelation of God in Christ as historical fact, a testimony that was worth dying for. In this sense, the Christian Gospel is far more a matter of fact and history than it is of philosophy. To those who want to begin with their opinions and speculations, the answer of the Church is that we begin elsewhere; we begin with the facts. This testimony of the eyewitnesses is why, if you enter a traditional church on January 25th, you will see the priest and the altar vested in white.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Bad Vicar

It appears that some of you are not familiar with this example of evangelism. Designed, no doubt, for the instruction of godly clergy, this video shows one method of church growth. I think, by the way, that I have met this fellow somewhere. He demonstrates the error exactly opposite that of St. Skip.

From That Mitchell and Webb Look.

video

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Roe v. Wade Day, that will live on in infamy.

Archbishop Mark Haverland sent me a copy of his sermon for December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. When I read it, I asked for and received his permission to post it. I have deliberately held it for today, January 22nd. For this age continues to witness a new slaughter of the innocents. May God free our several nations from the Culture of death.


St. Matthew ii, verse 16 - Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents; known in older English as ‘Childermas’, the Mass of the Children, as Christmas is the Mass of Christ. It is noteworthy that the joyful feast of Christmas is followed immediately by the feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, on the 26th, and then by two more feasts of martyrs with Holy Innocents today and Thomas of Canterbury tomorrow. The joy of Christianity cannot be separated in this life from the fact of martyrdom and suffering. We see this fundamental fact in today’s Gospel lesson, which comes from very close to the beginning of the first book in the New Testament, St. Matthew’s Gospel. We see the same fact throughout the New Testament epistles, culminating in the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, which tells both of the martyrs of Christ and also of the glories of heaven. Crosses and crowns are ever mixed; or in today’s case, crosses and cradles, Herod’s soldiers and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. The blood of the innocent children foreshadows Christ’s cross and martyrs.

And at the center of this story is a great, powerful, selfish, and frightened man, Herod the Great. For more than thirty years Herod has ruled Israel with skill and diplomacy. He gotten along with the Romans, kept Israel peaceful and fairly contented, and rebuilt the Jerusalem temple in a grand style. His countrymen were notoriously unruly and difficulty, but he has maintained order and prosperity with a combination of ruthlessness and true political ability.

A number of commentators have noted that the massacre of the innocents fits very much Herod’s known, historical character. Herod hears from the wise men rumors that a messiah has been born. This rumor would concern Herod, because he himself is not of the royal line of David nor by birth even Jewish. He is an Edomite who married the granddaughter of the last of the Maccabees, the priestly family who led Israel for much of the time between the Old and New Testament periods. A descendant of David would have a better claim to Herod’s throne than he, and that would concern him. His known ruthlessness is consistent with willingness to kill many innocent babies for the sake of eliminating one real, potential threat.

From the world’s point of view Herod’s action is ruthless but understandable. Herod brought peace to an area that has known precious little peace in its history. With peace came the preconditions for prosperity -- for the plenty and employment that rescue the mass of people from hunger and misery. Why should Herod allow all that he has built be threatened by what he must surely view as the mad dreams of messiahs and God’s kingdom-come? For a successful man of the world such as Herod the messianic dreams of his more religious subjects were pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. Worse, they were dangerous dreams, that might stir up rebellions and religious passions which might bring in the Romans, upset the economy, and threaten not only his dynasty but also his people’s prosperity. What were the lives a hundred or so little children to all of that? In the balances surely Herod did the right thing? Surely a few deaths, however regrettable, were more than outbalanced by all the good that they bought. Herod might even accept our designation of these children as martyrs: they were martyrs to the greater good of the nation. Herod might well paraphrase a later realistic politician of his nation, Caiaphas, and say, ‘It is expedient for us, that a few should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.’ (St. John xi.50) Herod acts for the greater good of the greater number.

Now, having heard me explain how Herod might have justified his action, do you see how easy it is to become a mass murderer? Do you see how plausible, smooth, and sensible it is to slip into killing, so long as it goes on outside our immediate sight? We can claim the greater good, we can even claim that in a sense it is good for those who die, that for the sake of peace or prosperity or the whole country some should die. It is sad. It is regrettable. But so long as we do not have to watch, some may be allowed to die.

And let us not dare become smug in this matter. The most civilized nation on earth -- the nation of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, the nation of Leibniz and Kant, the nation of Dürer and Matthias Grünewald -- put people into cattle cars and gas ovens. Our own nation averts its eyes as a million unborn children every year are -- regrettably, reluctantly -- killed. And we tolerate judges and politicians who tell us that this -- of course regrettable -- situation is necessary and that it is the economy that matters. I cannot see how they are any better than Herod, except that Herod has a bad press in the gospels. You may be sure that St. Matthew could never get a job with the New York Times.

The point of course in Herod’s day and ours is a failure of love -- a failure to love and honor God and our neighbor. Herod is frightened by a threat to his power, so he fails to honor the lives of Bethlehem’s children as given by God, the Lord and Giver of life. He values many things, many of which are genuinely good and valuable; but he neglects the one thing needful. He is looking so hard after his kingdom that the kingdom of God passes him by. He is a realistic, this-worldly politician, whose name becomes a byword for murder and wickedness. He realistically struggles to keep the Romans at bay, but thirty years later Pontius Pilate is governor in Jerusalem. He struggles to preserve peace, and in the next generation peace is repeatedly shattered by rebellions and wars. His worldly wisdom is made foolish by the wisdom of God, and he is left with nothing but a bad name and failed policies.

And so it always is. When we fail in love and do not love God above all and our neighbors as ourselves, then everything we achieve and gain in our selfishness will turn to ashes and bitterness. If Herod had had a generous heart, opened to the possibility that God sought to work something great in Bethlehem, what might have been? We will never know, of course. But if Herod had sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, I am sure that he would not have lost in this world either. I have known women who have had abortions because, they tell me, in genuine agony, they just could not manage. I cannot greatly blame them, given the pressures they are subjected to and the circumstances that often cloud what should be clear.

But I believe that if we put God and his kingdom first, even -- no, especially -- in the awful circumstances in which we sometimes find ourselves, then God will open a way, that we cannot see in advance. For I also know people who have not failed in love, even in the most difficult of times, and who have lived to bless God for their choice. We all of us at times are little Herods. Sometimes we all do better. But let us always remember how easy it is to slip into Herod’s position and to justify to ourselves the greatest acts of selfishness. Let us in this joyful season think on these sad things as well. Let us open our hearts indeed to the Christ Child, whose face is that of all men and women, and whose face is especially that of the weak and the helpless -- the sick, the elderly, the unborn, the poor, and the lonely and unloved. Let us strive to be Christians in deed and not to fail in love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

An Ecumenical Lament

Lately I have been sorely tempted by something akin to the sin of despair regarding our Catholic ecumenism. I cannot help but conclude that, for many reasons, the task is hopeless humanly speaking, and so must continually remind myself not to rest there, but to trust in God. An example of how even the best of our ecumenical interlocutors can show signs of not really listening to what we have said, instead falling into a mild but reflexive form of patronising contempt, appeared recently in a comment by our friend Dr Tighe at Fr Hunwicke's weblog. I will address below some of his statements.


Dr Tighe said: “Well, of course -- it shouldn't need saying, but evidently it does -- there never was any "intercommunion" between the Orthodox and the Anglicans.”

If he wishes only to say that the Orthodox (for the most part) do not in theory recognise any category of sacramental communion with anybody short of communio in sacris, such as the word “intercommunion” usually denotes, he is correct, but this would apply between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church as well. But most readers would take his statement as meaning Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox never resorted to one anothers' sacraments with official approval. And this statement is patently false. Let me lay out just a little of the evidence.

  1. From an article (dated January 19, 1928) in the official fortnightly publication of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, Patainos: “On demand of occasion and at different times the Orthodox Church has given effect to her mind that under exceptional circumstances, and in emergency in countries where there is lacking either an Orthodox or an Anglican priest, economy is permissible, whereby the faithful of either Church may have resort for the invocation of grace through an available priest of the other Church: as, for example, in the case of the administration of the last rites {lit. the undefined mysteries, sc. the Blessed Sacrament} to a dying Christian, of the celebration of marriage, and of the burial of the dead. There exist many examples of such relaxation in recent years.”

  2. At an inter-Orthodox commission meeting in Belgrade, 1966, during a discussion of the validity of Anglican Orders and sacraments generally, Bishop Stephen of Dalmatia (Serbian Orthodox) said “I think that our sister-Church of Rumania had made the greatest contribution in this area, and that there is nothing in the Bucharest agreements which cannot be accepted. We certainly cannot say that all the Orthodox Churches have avoided communicating with the Anglican Churches, that they have not recognised in them the signs of 'ecclesiality'. When Anglican bishops visit us, our churches accord them the insignias of the Episcopate, thus recognising in practice the Orders which they bear.” [Emphasis added. Source: Hilaire Marot, O.S.B., 'The Orthodox Churches and Anglican Orders', Concilium, Ecumenism, Vol. 4, No. 4, April 1968, p.80.]

  1. On this very weblog Fr Hart has frequently referred to the practice obtaining in America for decades during the Twentieth Century whereby Orthodox laity were given written permission to communicate at Anglican altars by their bishops. He has also related his first-hand observation of one such letter.

  1. Bishop Tikhon once invited Bishop Grafton of Fond du Lac to make up the third consecrator at an episcopal consecration, in the early Twentieth Century. He was unable to attend due to illness.

    5. See also here and here.

It is plain that for most of the Twentieth Century, up until the ordination of women, a number of Eastern jurisdictions allowed their people to make frequent use of Anglican sacraments in particular circumstances and were willing when necessary to return the favour to Anglicans. Either they believed Anglican Orders and sacraments were intrinsically valid in some sense even before any reunion or they were willing to knowingly permit their people to partake of mock sacraments. Since the latter is ridiculous and insultingly so, the former is inescapable. What is disturbing is that Dr Tighe is a regular reader of this weblog and is unlikely to have missed item 3.

Dr Tighe went on to say: “What the Orthodox "recognition" of Anglican Orders ... meant was that in the event that the Anglican Communion, or some Anglican churches, sought to enter into communion with Holy Orthodoxy (with the requisite doctrinal affirmations and "clarifications," and no doubt the exclusion of some of the more Evangelical/Protestant aspects), then, by an exercise of "economy" Anglican clergy would not have to be reordained in order to minister in Holy Orthodoxy. That's all it meant, no more and no less. ... A glance at, say, the relevant parts of Bishop Kallistos (Ware's) *The Orthodox Church* will easily confirm the truth of this.”

The evidence given above is sufficient to refute the “That's all it meant, no more” claim. But quite apart from this, it is difficult to understand how one as well-informed as Dr Tighe should simply reiterate Ware's gloss on the matter, when it is abundantly clear that it relies on the “no intrinsic grace is admitted in any sacraments outside the Orthodox Church” version of the doctrine of economy. For this is a version disputed by other Orthodox quite openly, including relatively recently in American EO-RC theological dialogue.

The good Dr also not unreasonably observes: “Orthodox who tended to become more familiarly acquainted with Anglicans and Anglican churches tended, however, to lose their initial enthusiasm for it, especially once they became aware of the "comprehensive" nature of Anglicanism and the fact that their Anglo-Catholic friends could not authoritatively speak for their churches and, especially, make definite commitments to the Orthodox on their behalf.” However, he did not mention any of the counter-examples to this tendency, where Orthodox theologians and Churches retained long and close relations with and respect for Anglicans. E.g., Archbishop Methodius Fouyas and the examples cited above.

Perhaps the “unkindest cut of all” was this: “I well remember the reaction of the then chaplain of a certain Cambridge college in the late 1970s who, when he returned from a trip to Romania, spoke about how Anglican clergy were allowed to celebrate the Eucharist on Orthodox altars in certain monasteries there, unlike the RC priests, who were not allowed to do so, and I replied that far from that being a token of "recognition" it probably meant that, given the Orthodox practice of celebrating only once a day on any altar, they felt that whatever the Anglican clergy were doing, it was not the same thing as their Divine Liturgy, whereas the refusal to allow RC clergy to say Mass indicated that the Catholic Mass might possibly be the same thing.”

Could Dr Tighe have been unaware that it was with the Romanian Orthodox Church that Anglicans had the warmest relations and the most fulsome bilateral agreements, those of Bucharest, 1935-'37? That, in the conclusion of these agreements it was famously if optimistically said: “By these agreements, we believe that a solid basis has been prepared for further discussions whereby full dogmatic agreement may be affirmed between the Orthodox and the Anglican Communions”? (These are the very words quoted by Bp Ware in the same section of the same book cited by Dr Tighe.) Did he not see that his argument invited the reductio ad absurdum that if his suggestion was the real reason they permitted Anglican priests the use of their altars, how much more would they have invited Lutheran, Reformed and Baptist pastors to do the same? To object that that would be beyond the pale because of their greater distance from Orthodoxy would cut off the very branch the argument rested upon. No doubt he was unaware that the Romanians had Synodically re-asserted their recognition of Anglican Orders and the Bucharest Agreements in 1966, but was there not enough reason anyway to eschew such an odious and inaccurate inference?

Now, Dr Tighe is well known to us as honest, intelligent, scholarly and friendly toward us. How then can all of the above be explained, when at least some of the counter-evidence was apparently known to him? I can only put it down to a kind of latent dismissiveness of the arguments and evidence Anglicans have put in the past, including ourselves, with this leading to the relevant counterfactuals to his argument not occuring to him at the time. He loves us, but he cannot take us seriously, perhaps. (In fairness, it might also be the case that the last comment regarding the Romanians was an angry response to an annoying bit of skiting by the Anglican priest who related the exclusion of Roman Catholic priests from the Romanian altars.)

All of this is a just one example of why Anglican Catholic / Roman Catholic dialogue will be so difficult and why I feel we must talk to the East first. Let me expand and explain.

There appear to be 4 basic groups and associated attitudes toward us among Roman Catholics who are aware of us. First, there is a large group of self-described “progressives” whose attitude toward us is either plain animosity or chuckling disbelief that we could be so hidebound. However, they accept the Anglican Communion and its ecclesial reality. Second, there are what I will call “unfriendly traditionalists” who consider all Anglicanism to be, in its distinctiveness, essentially nothing but a despicable and wicked rebellion founded solely on regal lust. To them we are little more than simply break-aways from break-aways and heirs to Catholic-persecuting, sectarian Protestantism and so self-deceived in our self-understanding. Our primary obligation is to repent of Anglicanism and submit forthwith to Rome. Third, there are the “friendly traditionalists”, who also think we are wrong about ourselves and our Orders, but can see some worth in our patrimony which is worth generously preserving. Basically, if any form of corporate reunion is the best way to get us “back” into the “One True Church”, then they think that is to be encouraged. (Dr Tighe belongs, I think, to this group.) Finally, there are the orthodox Catholics who dispute or doubt the factual correctness of the conclusion of Apostolicae Curae, because they accept the infallibility of its theological premises and conclusion ad arguendum, if the corrigible historical premises were correct, but believe they probably were not. Alternatively, they deny the infallibility of the infamous Bull altogether, because RC theologians (and one Pope, Pius X, in answer to the question of an Anglican theologian, Dr Briggs) have opined that it was not infallible, and the note appended to Ad Tuandem Fidem claiming it was infallible was not itself infallible! (Got all that?) This relatively small group would be more willing to see us as at least “particular Churches” in the proper sense.

Now, the hierarchy of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) is a kind of mirror to the third group abovementioned. They have indicated they are willing to accept: all Roman Catholic doctrine without further discussion or clarification; absolute reordination if they can't get conditional reordination; the replacement of their bishops; and uniat status if possible or something less if not. But despite this abject submission bordering on self-humiliation, the official response has not been terribly promising. It says, basically, “Thank you, we're thinking about it”, and then implies they wish to turn their attention to the mainstream Anglican Communion. The same heterodox Communion which has been spitting in their eye for so long and from which none of it member churches can bring themselves to leave. In the meantime, nothing is promised or proposed except “prayers and good wishes”. It may be I am too cynical here, and I hope things work out well for the TAC. But given how long and hard they have been knocking on the door, it is difficult to see the Roman response over time as warm and welcoming.

The Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) sent an official letter by registered mail to an appropriate Vatican official. We know it was received, but no reply was ever forthcoming, not even to say, in a formulaic, polite sort of way, “We acknowledge receipt of your letter. Thanks.” Unlike the TAC, the ACC wished to move towards the greatest degree of communion possible after serious dialogue. The silence in response may speak volumes. And in the context of the different groups in the RCC of which I spoke above, it is difficult to hold out much hope for the RCC taking a proposal like the ACC's seriously. The first two groups are contemptuous our position, albeit for opposed reasons. The third might like to see the TAC succeed as it has the proper attitude of unconditional surrender, and so should be treated generously, but they may not have much respect for the ACC's approach. The fourth group may not be large or influential enough to help.

Is it all about numbers? Are the two main continuing bodies, the TAC and the communion of the ACC/APCK/UECNA just not big enough to warrant the RCC's attention or consideration as particular Churches? Using the most conservative figures I have come across, the TAC has a minimum of 70,000 members. The ACC alone has at least 4,000 in the U.S.A., 15,000 in one African Diocese, and many more members elsewhere in Africa, India and around the world. So the ACC/APCK/UECNA has between 20 and 30 thousand members. So, lack of numbers is clearly not a valid excuse, since a number of Uniat Churches, such as the Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church, are smaller in numbers than both these Anglican bodies by a wide margin.

Why, then, do I think it would be better to talk to the East, other than past relationships as noted above? Partly because their versions of groups one and two above have less size and influence in the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC). And partly because there is less to discuss with them in the way of differences. However, I realise that, like the RCs, the Orthodox may see little point in dialogue towards reunion. Despite what both the RCC and EOC have said to Anglicans in the past, absorption is so much easier and more obviously beneficial to them. There may well be the tendency for them to hope we simply wither on the vine, gradually leaking our members to their jurisdictions. I hope and pray this is not the case. Let us all do so.