Friday, February 27, 2009

First Sunday in Lent

On Monday night we plan to set off for Chapel Hill N.C. where I will serve at St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church. I am busier than sin (a good Lenten theme), so here is a sermon I wrote and preached in the Phoenix Valley back in 2006.

Matt. 4:1f

Earlier this week, while driving, I heard a news report on the radio about a funeral for a family from Mesa (Arizona) that had been murdered. The only comforting thing in the story is that we live in an area of the country where these things are noticed by the larger community, instead of what I am used to from the news in Baltimore and Washington. In those towns the murder and the funeral would go largely unnoticed. As I listened to the report, the Pastor of the church where the funeral was taking place was offering a prayer about how hard it is to make sense of this terrible tragedy. But, thank God, he then went on to say that their purpose that day was not to make sense of it, but to know the love of God.

I cannot help but think, when I hear Christians trying so hard to make sense out of the evil in the world, that they need to read my younger brother’s second book, The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart. Because in that book he states the most liberating truth of all about the evils that happen so often in the world. Namely, that we should not try to make sense out of them. Christ did not come to make sense out of the evil in the world, neither to justify God against the charge that suffering and tragedy must indicate some kind of flaw, or lack of true goodness. Christ did not come to show that evil and woe, whether by human malice or natural disaster, fit a larger and higher purpose that is somehow necessary in God’s scheme of things. Indeed, he never suggests that it does. The Gospel for today shows that a time comes to resist temptations that are spiritual in nature; and the internal pressure to commit bad theodicy is one that I wish most clergymen would resist.

What Christ did in fact actually come to do, is told to us by Saint John: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the Devil (I John 3:8).” The cross of Christ made use of the evil that is done by violent men and unjust authorities; but it does not fit into a pattern that needs evil in order to balance the scales and make the universe work. On His cross He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In His resurrection he destroyed death. The liberating truth of the Gospel is not that God will make sense of evil and tragedy; but rather that Christ has won the victory against the senseless, meaningless condition of suffering and death, of sorrow and tragedy, that we experience while we live in this condition of being fallen, being made subject for the time being to pain in a world that knows death because it knows sin. The fact that we will die, and that life is "this vale of sorrows,” that illness, poverty and disaster fall upon all sorts and conditions of men, will yield and give way at Christ’s coming again to the fullness of complete victory over every consequence of Adam’s Fall. Death will be no more, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Our hope is not that we will someday make sense of evil; Our hope is in the Living Christ Who was dead and is alive forevermore, who holds the keys of Hell and of death; Who will, when He returns in glory, destroy the last enemy- Death- and share with us the spoils of His conquest over the grave.

So, I cannot make sense of the murders in Mesa. I cannot make sense of the Holocaust, or the American Holocaust of millions of innocent babies murdered by abortion. And, as my brother’s book was dealing with quite directly, I cannot make sense of the Tsunami that killed so many people on December 26th of 2004. I am free to mourn, and to face sorrows, not because I believe they must make sense, but because I know that they make no sense, ultimately- even when they are used for good by Providence, as the selling of Joseph into Egypt, and the good use made of Christ’s cross. In my article for Touchstone, titled Her Mother’s Glory, I related the fact that my beloved adopted daughter was conceived by rape. After my wife’s courageous battle to have and to keep her daughter, against all the forces that were trying to pressure her to abort the child, I married Diane and adopted Hannah (who is now grown up and happily married). God alone is the Author of Life, even when something as hideous as rape has been committed; and no child is unworthy to see the light of day because of someone else’s sin. This is what I wrote about that:

“What if the Author of Life takes the opportunity to do good from someone’s evil? The injustice done to Joseph resulted in the saving of his life, and that of millions of people, foreshadowing the good done for the whole world by the unjust crucifixion of a young rabbi from Nazareth. It is ever the way of God to make good come from the evil that men do.”

Providence is always at work, and so, yes, God takes the evil that men do and turns it into good. This is not because He needs the evil; He is not dependent upon anything- certainly not evil. It is simply that He always wins, and His goodness cannot be deterred or overcome. When evil is as evil as it can be, God is still good and is also All-powerful, able to give life and to act by His eternal character of Love. As Joseph said, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (Genesis 50:20).”

All of this relates to the last of the three temptations we read about today. The Devil tempted the Lord to enter right away into His kingdom and, as clichés go, to “make the world a better place.” The temptation was to avoid the cross, and to put an immediate end to the apparent problems of the world, but not to the real problem of the world. He could end hunger and poverty and injustice and make the world safe for Utopianism, and also avoid the suffering, humiliation and death that was an inherent part of the cross.

Let us back up and take a good look at these three temptations. The scriptures tell us that our Lord Jesus Christ was “tempted in every point like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).” This can be misunderstood. He lived in the real world as a real man. But, even in His human nature He did not have the problem we have, namely that thing called concupiscence. His human nature was not deprived of the grace to live above “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (I John 2:16).” The point of the Gospel for today is not that we can follow His example and be perfect. We cannot. We are supposed to imitate Christ in His life of obedience to the Father’s will, of self-denial and of holiness. We also find, at the end of the day, that no day has gone by in which we have lived without sin by thought, word or deed. Not so Christ. He lived His entire life without sin, born of a virgin and having come into the world from above as its Lord.

In terms of the weakness that the Devil sought for in Christ (but could not find) the temptations we face are similar in that the Devil tried to use those weapons, the things that St. John calls “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”(I John 2:16) Remember the words from the Book of Genesis that show these tools used against Eve. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Gen.3:6). The tree was good for food, that is, it could satisfy the lust of the flesh. It was pleasant to look at, and so the Devil used the lust of the eyes. This is covetousness, the sin of wanting to take what is not rightly one’s own, wanting even to take it from someone else. The implication is clear: They could eat fruit of all the trees in the garden, except this one. This tree belonged to God; and now she coveted its fruit which pleased the eyes. The fruit of this tree was desired to make one wise, to satisfy the pride of life. The Devil did use these elements in the desert when trying to tempt the Lord himself, aiming his weapons at the human nature of Christ, making these three suggestions: To turn the stones to bread in order to satisfy lusts of the flesh; to covet the nations of the earth as his prize possession before the time when the Kingdom of God is meant to come, aimed at the lust of the eyes; to prove his true Divine nature by an unnecessary, show-off miracle, landing on his feet from the pinnacle of the temple, aimed at the pride of life.

The temptations about which we read in today’s Gospel are, in another sense, not the kind that most of us face. I have never been tempted to turn stones into bread, nor to leap off of a high pinnacle to dazzle a crowd as I land safely (not being the Son of God, and having nothing to prove). And, I have never been tempted to become the king of the whole world. I have been tempted to use what feeble powers I have to satisfy my flesh; I have been tempted to end or compromise my fasts (sometimes having yielded), but the temptation to turn stones to bread is something unique to Christ.

So, looking again at the third temptation, many people are tempted to “make the world a better place” by worshiping the Devil; or even if by worshiping some thing they give in to the Devil, the idolatry still serves his end. Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon worshiped themselves; Marx worshiped economic power as the only true force; Hitler worshiped racial purity; and many modern American Utopians worship some form of education or some ideology. Even people who believe that the only hope for the world is to spread Democracy, must face what happened when the Palestinians elected the terrorist organization, Hamas, to run their affairs. Democracy cannot work in a psychiatric ward.

Christ was tempted by the Devil to rule the world with perfect justice, and to end man’s outward troubles. But the real problem of the world is not ignorance and injustice; it is not inequity and woe, hunger and unequal distribution, or whatever evil you can name. Christ will rule the world with perfect justice when He comes again in glory; but first He took away sin and overcame death; just as the Old Testament first speaks of Messiah as the priest who offers sacrifice for sin, and only after that as the King. For, ultimately, all that really plagues us are those two things that are always connected: Sin and death. He came the first time as the Suffering Servant, and will return as the Lord of Glory. And, He will not make sense of those things that plague us. He will take them away forever, and wipe away the tears from off all faces.

For now, we must overcome in this life, "all that is in the world," hoping not to have our questions answered about how God could allow suffering; hoping, rather for something better and eternal.

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, power and glory, henceforth world without end. Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Words of Institution, Receiving and Real Presence

And Right Reason

My suggestion, the other day, was that the western tradition of placing great emphasis on the Words of Institution, and seeing it as a special place in the service of Holy Communion in which many genuflect during elevations, is consistent with the scriptural revelation that God's word in the mouth of his spokesmen is filled with the same power that created heaven and earth out of nothing. That post presents the case for this view, and I need not reiterate it here. This met with a comment that not every Eucharistic rite in the long history of the Church has included the Words of Institution; and, we were reminded of the eastern emphasis on the Epiclesis. And, of course, these facts are well known.

What this really brings up is the subject of Right Reason. This is the most misunderstood element in what has so wrongly been called Hooker's Three legged Stool for far too long. Some think of it as merely "reason" and make it one of three equally balanced sources of authority. Some replace "Tradition" with "experience," subjecting the one and only reliable source of revelation left to us from the Apostolic age and the earlier age of the prophets, that is the Scripture, to the whims of human thought; they subject the Church to every wind of doctrine in the process.

In fact, Hooker wrote about Scripture, Right Reason and The Church with her Authority. For this last, he did in fact use the word "tradition" despite popular misinformation to the contrary. But, he used it sparingly, instead preferring to write in such a way as I have summarized: The Church with her Authority. This speaks not only of the Church's authority to teach the true meaning of the revelation, that is the content of Holy Scripture, but also of the Church's use through the centuries of Right Reason, and of the Church's strutures of authority, the pastoral offices of bishops and priests, polity, the making of Canon Law and Rubrics, etc. It was more, for Hooker, than only the Tradition of the Church's teaching. Right Reason is both the Wisdom we see in the Old Testament, and it is the "Mind of Christ" we see in the New Testament (I Corinthians 2:16). As such, the mind of Christ is not the sole property of any one individual, but is the gift of God granted to the Church. Perhaps, St. Paul saying "we" meant the Apostles primarily; but the context indicates he was speaking of all those whom he classified as spiritual (πνευματικός) rather than natural or "soulish" (ψυχικός).

Right Reason is, frankly, almost impossible to separate from Tradition, or the Church with her Authority. It is not at all clear, really, that Hooker was thinking of three elements that guide us rather than two. Modern day "liberals" might be shocked to learn that what they call "Reason" was, for Hooker (whom they wrongly think of as one of their own) completely tied to the Tradition, and was in fact the same thing, being the mind of Christ in the Church; that is, the Church with her Authority. They may think of "reason" with a mind no higher than a gutter in which the zeitgeist reigns; but Right Reason is beyond their reach. It is very conservative, and demands that we give place to what G.K. Chesteron wrote of as Democracy that includes the dead.

About the subject of the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, we have no revelation concerning when in the Eucharistic prayer the Bread and Wine become the Body of Blood of Christ that allows us to make a dogma out of singling out the Words of Institution for special consideration. Certainly, using the very tools he spelled out for us, Hooker considered it to be unimportant when the consecration was consummated, and believed we know only that they are the Body and Blood of Christ to the one who duly receives them (and condemnation to the one who presumes to receive without "hearty repentance and true faith." That is, his presumption adds sin to sin). He ruled out, of course, Transubstantiation (as then understood), making the question of when the Real Presence is fully in the sacrament immaterial.

Nonetheless, I have no problem genuflecting and elevating the elements after saying the Words of Institution. With the proper use of Right Reason the western Church knows that we cannot, after the Word of God is spoken, treat these elements any longer as common bread and wine. Indeed, the rubrics themselves testify that they are considered to be consecrated. This does not contradict the fully acceptable Catholic sort of Receptionism (if it be called Receptionism) that teaches that the grace of the sacrament comes only by receiving. The Word of God has power, and the fullness of consecration may have only begun at that point, to be completed only by receiving; or the consecration has happened at that moment when the words are spoken. We do not know; but we can trust that the Church with her Authority has given us, in our patrimony a liturgical shape that allows us to believe that God's power is behind his words spoken by his servants who act as Christ's own mouthpiece. Can we then genuflect, and later enjoy Eucharistsic devotions before the Reserve Sacrament? That depends on our faith in God's word, so long as nothing be substituted for eating and drinking.

With all of its wisdom, and all of its dogmatic teaching, the Church's Right Reason leads us to acknowledge the glorious mystery, and to humbly confess our ignorance about how God works his wonders. That is enough; it is as far as even Right Reason can go.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting a Dirty Face

February 25, 2009. Ash Wednesday. It was a hard day today. My mood was wretched indeed, and yet, because of the day it was I went to Mass. As Fr. Christian marked a cross of ashes on my forehead, my mood began to change. The folly of letting little things drag me down began to be put into perspective. Sin and sorrow are great realities. Powerlessness afflicts us all, but there is hope. There is promise ...

Getting a Dirty Face

Ash to ash, dust to dust,
from dust we came, to dust return.
Our mortal frames such short times live,
so briefly walk upon this earth,
so soon like candles burnt and snuffed,
whose light must cease to shine.
And yet we walk, and yet we shine,
and for a few years we live,
and live for what? ourselves to please?
transient pleasures to obtain, to use, to lose?
And when these pleasures have been had,
and when allotted days are done,
what, pray tell, remains of them;
what purpose has there been?
What difference have we made in life,
or was that living all in vain?
Was it useless, pointless, wasted, gone?
Are we merely vapor in the wind,
to be blown aside, dissipated in the breeze,
forgotten as if in truth we'd never been?
Or is there pattern, grand intent,
design and purpose to our days?
Does our coming, walking, going really matter,
has our living changed a world,
or left a print upon its face?
Does design perhaps inhabit vastness we can not perceive?
Can our ending be beginning; is there more to come?
Is there meaning in our doing?
Can we seize upon that myst'ry we can not perceive?
Can the dross we know we carry
be removed and made no more?
Can we step forth in shining radiance evermore?
Can we fly?
Ash to ash, dust to dust,
within a certain hope,
in Him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Receptionism Roman Style

(Below this top post you will find a piece for Ash Wednesday)

Upon reading the most recent analysis of Hooker's Eucharistic theology on this blog, my brother who is a Roman Catholic priest, and who was an Episcopal priest until 1996, pointed out a fact that is worth remembering. The teaching of Rome has its own form of what may be called Receptionism, because the consecration of the sacrament is not completed before the celebrant (at least) eats and drinks the communion. What Cranmer did, and what Hooker a generation later elucidated further, extends that to the members of the Body of Christ who are present and able to receive.

His response was interesting when I pointed out that, recently, one Church of England priest argued for the restoration of "non-communicating Masses" (which means, when the laity are not invited to receive) to emphasize sacrifice as, in that priest's opinion, the most important thing about the sacrament. "In that case," my brother replied, "he has offered no sacrifice."

With which I can only agree without reservation.

Ash Wednesday

Fellow priests, please remember the words are "Remember, O Man, that thou art dust; and unto dust shalt thou return." This is to said whether the ashes are being imposed on a man or a woman or a child. The word "Man" for the fallen children of Adam, in whom all are dead, to be delivered only by the Lord, the Second Man and Last Adam. Each member of the fallen human race, that race called Man or Adam, is told the first half, the bad news. We say these words and receive them in anticipation of Easter that will come at the end of this exile in the desert: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." I Cor. 15:22

“Remember, O Man” first appeared in the March, 2002 issue of Touchstone.

Remember, O Man

Robert Hart on Ash Wednesday

In its emphasis on mortality and guilt, Ash Wednesday offers a two-fold remedy to what ails society. That is, to what ails society because of the prevalent deception that is in the air, and is, like most unthought-out yet strongly held opinions, caught like a virus. Only someone with a Christian mind understands why the thought of our death and our guilt brings comfort. But then, this also suggests why only the Christian can, in the end, be truly happy.

Mortality & Guilt

About death and dying, popular thinking seems itself to be in a state of denial. Perhaps with the beginning of the worship of youth in the 1950s, and the resulting youth culture, people began to seek to avoid death by avoiding age, perhaps by avoiding adulthood itself (after all, the word adult is beginning to mean nothing more than childish delight in things pornographic). If we do not grow up, we cannot grow old, and we can live forever. Viagra can even take away the (to them) greatest disadvantage of age, the loss of sexual gratification.

Maybe we can stay young forever, like Hugh Hefner, who at 75 may still ponder what he wants to be when he grows up. But for now he has nothing more important to do than to score with the chicks, his seven live-in girlfriends. As long as we can sing with Peter Pan, “I won’t grow up,” how can we grow old? How can we die?

The only virtue recognized by the Zeitgeist is that of staying in the best physical shape, having the sleekest and strongest body, and maintaining peak sexual performance. We cannot die. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall live.

So much for mortality. As for guilt, somehow our society has bought the lie that guilt is no problem at all, unless it is felt. All fingers must point to the professions of psychology and psychiatry for forging this deception, and selling it after the model of the most talented con artists and snake oil salesmen. The feeling of guilt is now a medical disability; the reality of guilt must at all costs be denied.

I recall vividly an experience from some 20 years ago, as I sat eating in a restaurant within hearing distance of two men who had no interest in keeping their comments private. “Look, she made the decision to have the abortion,” the conversation went. “Well, that’s that. Now she feels sad all the time because she feels guilty. The doctor told us that we have to be tough with her for her own good, and tell her to knock it off, quit moping, and get on with it.”

Funny how the doctor knew that would happen. Probably, as my experience of sidewalk counseling has made me know, one of these heroes was the sperm donor who, after a bit of pleasure, had to muscle his girl into making what he considered to be the responsible decision. First the girl was deprived of her child, and now she is deprived of her mourning, her conscience—her soul. Part of her very inconvenient humanity had to be eradicated, of course for her own good, just as the child was exterminated for its own good. It’s always for their own good: “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Prov. 12:10).

The feeling of guilt, even when it is another doing the feeling, gets in the way of sheer pleasure. The feeling of guilt is a malady, and must be treated by searing the conscience with a hot iron. After that, one can sleep nights, if not with peace, at least without painful, annoying distractions.

Thank God for Ash Wednesday. We are reminded by the words, “Remember, O Man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return,” that death is a certainty, and we can cease from endless, tireless labors to stay young and naturally immortal. We can focus on something bigger: the eternity into which we most surely shall enter.

We are reminded also that guilt is not so much a feeling as it is a fact, a fact of our fallen sinful lives. We do not have to eradicate the feeling of guilt, and we can cease from the hopeless struggle to deny it. The feeling of guilt must lead us to God, and that fact of guilt be dealt with by Christ, who alone cures that fact and creates a restful conscience. Our consciences can live quite powerfully, and we should not consider it a sickness, but rather the greatest health of the soul leading us to seek absolution with repentance. When we in faith give our conscience its place of effect and power, we face mortality without fear.

So I find comfort in the themes of mortality and guilt on Ash Wednesday. It is the world, not I, that is mad.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hooker's Eucharistic theology revisited

The previous post, Richard Hooker on the Communion of Christ's Body and Blood, requires a further analysis. First of all, we need to appreciate the main emphasis that his generation of English Churchmen were placing on the salvatory effect of two sacraments. This is necessary to reestablish in this day and age, particularly in light of the "Reasserter" version of Anglicanism, that does not deserve to be called "Anglicanism" at all. That two of the sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, are "generally necessary to salvation" is a part of Anglican theology that cannot be taken away without toppling the whole structure. Contrary to popular misinformation, Anglicanism has a distinctive theological system, even though that distinctive system is not its own, but only that of the Catholic Church as described in the Vincetian Canon ("That which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est). That some modern people call themselves Anglican, and yet deny the effect of these two sacraments in their soteriology, favoring instead a religion more akin to ultra-Protestant Revivalism (Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.), demonstrates a kind of ignorance from which we must turn away and withdraw ourselves.

On the other hand, while appreciating the emphasis placed by Hooker and his fellow Church of England theologians, it is only to right to give critical analysis with all due respect. In our own time words like "Receptionism" are tossed about, particularly by polemicists, without any understanding of what such a word might indicate, or how it can represent more than one school of thought. To the extent that Hooker was willing to accept the theory that full consecration of the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood might take place upon receiving the sacrament (which his writing indicates to be the theory he favored), one might call him a believer in Receptionism. I say, "might." The position he took was that we need not bother to argue about when the consecration happens, because the saving effect of the sacrament requires reception. On this point I disagree only with the idea that we cannot see a point in the Holy Communion service when the consecration takes place. More about that later.

Historical context

As I pointed out in the previous post, by the time of the Reformation people had become accustomed to attending church to hear Mass, and they did not receive the sacrament often, if at all. This, in spite of the Apostle's words, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (I Cor. 11:26) He did not say "seldom," but "often." The combined witness of scripture and of history tells us that the Eucharist was offered every Lord's Day, from the beginning of the Church's life, through the persecution by the empire of Rome, and throughout the entire period called "Patristic." This is not a debatable point, but solid fact. Now, inasmuch as St. Paul says "as often," we can take it that he did not mean for his readers to treat that as if he had written "as seldom." Frequent Communion of the laity was an idea first presented, or rather rediscovered, by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. By Hooker's time, during the reign of Elizabeth I, the people were being exhorted to receive the sacrament frequently, and a generation had been taught that they were not there simply to attend or "hear" Mass, but to receive the Holy Communion. To teach this very thing, the Church of England called the service by a Biblical name, "Holy Communion."

As I pointed out, this is why Article XXV says, "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, have they a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith." You will notice, there is no mention in these words of idolatry. The Article was not directed at some notion that people were worshiping the elevated Host. Rather, the Article was written to teach the people that the main purpose for which the sacrament was established by Christ was that it be received, and that for the salvation of each individual. This is why the Article is not relevant to such things as Benediction services. The men of that day would have, no doubt, objected to such a service; but, again, for them it would have been stepping backwards merely into the High Middle Ages, rather than stepping all the way back to the beginning, and to Christ's purpose. The Article was teaching a positive thing; what the sacrament is for. In our own time, we may allow orderly and proper Eucharistic devotion that may indeed assist the soul of a believer; but in that time it was probably better not to do such things and cause confusion.

If the men of that time, Hooker included, were teaching what some might call "Receptionism," it was nothing like Zwinglianism. It was simply a question about when the elements are endowed with the Real Presence of Christ; also, the Real Presence is a charismatic means to impart to us eternal life. Let us look at the things Hooker affirmed in the context of the chapters we were looking at from Book V of his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

He affirmed the Real Presence clearly, not vaguely.

He affirmed Eucharistic sacrifice.

He affirmed the charismatic and salvatory effect of the sacrament. This last part depended on a worthy reception, and about that all Catholic believers must agree.

He sent his word and healed them

So, what about Hooker's version of "Receptionism" so-called? On one hand, we may agree that what matters most is that the sacrament be received, and that for its saving effect. It really does not matter when the sacrament is consecrated, that is, at what exact moment in time, as long as we know that we have fed on the Living Christ by the communion of his Body and Blood. And, that at or by the point of reception this has happened, everyone with a Catholic mind must agree.

Nonetheless, we have to abide by a theological principle. The principle I refer to is the power of the word of God. This is a systematic theological principle. By that I mean, it is consistent throughout the whole of scripture.

"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." Gen. 1:3

"By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. " Psalm 33: 6

"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." Heb. 11:3

When Jesus called the young man back from the dead in Nain, he did so by speaking to him. The people of the town said, "a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people." That is because the word in the mouth of a prophet had the same power as if God spoke it from heaven, and the prophet is the mouth of God.

"If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth." (Jer.15:19)

"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)

So too, the word of God in the mouth of a angel. This is why we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation as the feast of the Incarnation. "And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS." (Luke 1:30, 31) These words are not simply a foretelling or prediction, and neither were the words of the prophets; the scriptures had to be fulfilled because once the word had come from the mouth of God, nothing could stop the creative power of that word. When the young man sat up, the people knew that Jesus was at least a prophet, for his word healed the man from death itself, and was filled with the creative power by which heaven and earth were made. (Psalm 107:20)

For this reason, it is consistent with all of scripture, that is, by proper use of systematic theology, to see that when the words of Institution are spoken, the bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the wine becomes the Blood of Christ. How this charismatic wonder takes place we cannot know; but, how can the elements not become the Body and Blood of Christ once his word is spoken over them? For this reason I see the Words of Institution as a moment after which we may no longer doubt that Christ is really Present in the sacrament on the altar.

I acknowledge that Hooker placed the same confidence in the word of God and the creative power of that word; regarding this sacrament, however, he pointed out that the full Words of Institution include "Take, eat..." and "Drink, ye all, of this..." I cannot rule out that this might indicate that upon eating and drinking each Christian who receives finalizes the consecration. However, once "This is my Body...This is my Blood" have been uttered, the creative power of God's word has begun its work.

These matters are not a distinction between "Protestant" and "Catholic" (which is no distinction at all for those who say "Protestant" according to Anglican usage). These are matters of discussion among Catholics, as they were in Antiquity. What we have no room for is a Eucharistic theology that excludes Baptism and the Lord's Supper from the all important topic of salvation, or that makes them into bare signs, or that makes gazing equal to receiving. These sacraments are "generally necessary to salvation."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Richard Hooker on the Communion of Christ's Body and Blood

The fruit of the Eucharist is the participation of the body and blood of Christ. There is no sentence of Holy Scripture which saith that we cannot by this sacrament be made partakers of his body and blood except they be first contained in the sacrament, or the sacrament converted into them. “This is my body,” and “this is my blood,” being words of promise, sith we all agree that by the sacrament Christ doth really and truly in us perform his promise, why do we vainly trouble ourselves with so fierce contentions whether by consubstantiation, or else by transubstantiation the sacrament itself be first possessed with Christ, or no? A thing which no way can either further or hinder us howsoever it stand, because our participation of Christ in this sacrament dependeth on the co-operation of his omnipotent power which maketh it his body and blood to us, whether with change or without alteration of the element such as they imagine we need not greatly to care nor inquire. Book V.67.6

Anyone who has diligently studied Anglicanism from its own sources, is well aware that the whole idea of being a Protestant was to be a true Catholic. These things do not contradict each other, and indeed, according to the Anglican paradigm, only such a Protestant is practicing the Catholic Faith, and believing that doctrine that has been, from the earliest times,
Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. Richard Hooker, a perfect example of the Catholic Protestant (or Protestant Catholic) in the Church of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and one of the finest theologians and scholars of the period, expressed the Anglican mind with clarity. His writing would not satisfy any modern day "Reasserter," and equally, would not satisfy any Anglo-Papalist. On the subject of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he refused to be painted into a corner by any of the continental European parties of western Christendom.

The emphasis for him was the saving effect of the sacrament as a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. In Book V of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, he approaches the subject of sacraments, specifically Baptism and the Lord's Supper (the two "generally necessary to salvation" as the Anglican Catechism says), by first clarifying that the most important fact about these sacraments is that they impart grace.

For we all admire and honour the holy Sacraments, not respecting so much the service which we do unto God in receiving them, as the dignity of that sacred and secret gift which we thereby receive from God. When Sacraments are said to be visible signs of invisible grace, we thereby conceive how grace is indeed the very end for which these heavenly mysteries were instituted, and besides sundry other properties observed in them, the matter whereof they consist is such as signifieth, figureth, and representeth their end. V.50.3

Before going directly into the subject of these two saving sacraments, he begins by laying the proper foundation. He devotes the next several chapters to the Incarnation (which of necessity requires that much be said about the Trinity). This is the necessary foundation, for as the Church is an extension of the Incarnation, these sacraments flow directly from the Hypostatic Union, and from Christ's death for us on the cross, and his resurrection. Without the risen Christ who is fully God and fully man, one Person who is Uncreated having taken the created nature of man into his eternal Being, who has overcome sin and death, and continues to live forever in both natures, the sacraments could have no real effect. Some have called the Incarnation "the Anglican heresy," perhaps with tongue in cheek, suggesting that it is possible to over-emphasize this doctrine to the neglect of others; to which we say, that is impossible.

By the time he comes back to writing directly about the sacraments, in chapter 57, he has laid the foundation by teaching that our salvation requires a participation in Christ himself.

It greatly offendeth, that some, when they labour to shew the use of the holy Sacraments, assign unto them no end but only to teach the mind, by other senses, that which the Word doth teach by hearing. V.57.1

This is therefore the necessity of sacraments. That saving grace which Christ originally is or hath for the general good of his whole Church, by sacraments he severally deriveth into every member thereof. Sacraments serve as the instruments of God to that end and purpose, moral instruments, the use whereof is in our hands, the effect in his; for the use we have his express commandment, for the effect his conditional promise: so that without our obedience to the one, there is of the other no apparent assurance, as contrariwise where the signs and sacraments of his grace are not either through contempt unreceived, or received with contempt, we are not to doubt but that they really give what they promise, and are what they signify. For we take not baptism nor the eucharist for bare resemblances or memorials of things absent, neither for naked signs and testimonies assuring us of grace received before, but (as they are indeed and in verity) for means effectual whereby God when we take the sacraments delivereth into our hands that grace available unto eternal life, which grace the sacraments represent or signify. V.57.5

This emphasis on the working of these two sacraments that are "generally necessary to salvation" occupied the minds of the Church of England's teachers. That they impart grace, and are not empty signs, was an argument they had to make against Puritans and against
Zwinglians. That the purpose of the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood was not that it be "be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them." (Article XXV), had less to do with any fear of idolatry than with a failure to receive the same, and with that reception to be given the grace imparted. The Article makes this clear in what immediately follows: "...but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith." This came about from correcting a medieval abuse, namely, that many people did not, before the English Reformation, take and eat, but merely gazed on the elevated sacrament during the Latin Mass.

Hooker writes:

This was it that some did exceedingly fear, lest Zwinglius and Œcolampadius would bring to pass, that men should account of this sacrament but only as of a shadow, destitute, empty and void of Christ. V.67.2

The whole idea of Real Presence was not, in his mind, about describing what the sacrament is in terms of
how it becomes the Body and Blood of Christ; but rather about emphasizing what it does. By taking and eating, by drinking the cup, a true believer with a healed and sound conscience is participating in the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

With apparent disdain for foolish debates about Divine mysteries, that come from reasoning that presumes to exceed what has been revealed, Hooker dismisses not the theories themselves as much as defense of the theories.

If we doubt what those admirable words may import, let him be our teacher for the meaning of Christ to whom Christ was himself a schoolmaster, let our Lord’s Apostle be his interpreter, content we ourselves with his explication, My body, the communion of my body, My blood, the communion of my blood. Is there any thing more expedite, clear, and easy, than that as Christ is termed our life because through him we obtain life, so the parts of this sacrament are his body and blood for that they are so to us who receiving them receive that by them which they are termed? The bread and cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth. For that which produceth any certain effect is not vainly nor improperly said to be that very effect whereunto it tendeth. Every cause is in the effect which groweth from it. Our souls and bodies quickened to eternal life are effects the cause whereof is the Person of Christ, his body and his blood are the true wellspring out of which this life floweth. So that his body and blood are in that very subject whereunto they minister life not only by effect or operation, even as the influence of the heavens is in plants, beasts, men, and in every thing which they quicken, but also by a far more divine and mystical kind of union, which maketh us one with him even as he and the Father are one.

The real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament. V.67.5,6

The context of this passage does not allow us to charge Hooker with denying the Real Presence. Indeed, he has made it abundantly clear that Christ is present in all his saving power, giving us grace as we receive and thus participate. Hooker simply refuses to honor the speculations of ecclesiastical academics that had created
disputes and erected schools of thought. At first glance he almost appears to be setting up another theory, one that assigns a time when the sacrament is fully consecrated, that is, upon being eaten and drunk (as the Lord's words, so quoted, might seem to indicate). But, this is not the case. Hooker rejects the idea that we can be sure of the moment in which the consecration has fully happened, and the idea that we could ever know how. To try to know more than what has been revealed is to try to remove the Holy Communion from the list of divine mysteries. The overall context of these chapters clearly teaches, as a chief point, that what matters most, and that upon which all Catholic believers agree, is that by properly taking the sacrament we receive the grace for which it was instituted, the purpose for which God gave it to the Church. We have in that our communion of the Lord's own Body and Blood. We participate in the risen and living Christ, and we are saved from sin and death.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. John 6:53-58

Hooker draws from the Scriptures and from the ancient Fathers of the Church, to make the case that he puts forth nothing more than what has been ever
Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

These things considered, how should that mind which loving truth and seeking comfort out of holy mysteries hath not perhaps the leisure, perhaps not the wit nor capacity to tread out so endless mazes, as the intricate disputes of this cause have led men into, how should a virtuously disposed mind better resolve with itself than thus? “Variety of judgments and opinions argueth obscurity in those things whereabout they differ. But that which all parts receive for truth, that which every one having sifted is by no one denied or doubted of, must needs be matter of infallible certainty." V.67.12

Hooker believes we can afford to admit that we are ignorant about some things, especially the works of God.

Whereas therefore there are but three expositions made of ‘this is my body,’ the first, ‘this is in itself before participation really and truly the natural substance of my body by reason of the coexistence which my omnipotent body hath with the sanctified element of bread, which is the Lutherans’ interpretation; the second, ‘this is itself and before participation the very true and natural substance of my body, by force of that Deity which with the words of consecration abolisheth the substance of bread and substituteth in the place thereof my Body,’1 which is the popish construction; the last, ‘this hallowed food, through concurrence of divine power, is in verity and truth, unto faithful receivers, instrumentally a cause of that mystical participation, whereby as I make myself wholly theirs, so I give them in hand an actual possession of all such saving grace as my sacrificed body can yield, and as their souls do presently need, this is to them and in them my body:’ of these three rehearsed interpretations the last hath in it nothing but what the rest do all approve and acknowledge to be most true, nothing but that which the words of Christ are on all sides confessed to enforce, nothing but that which the Church of God hath always thought necessary, nothing but that which alone is sufficient for every Christian man to believe concerning the use and force of this sacrament, finally nothing but that wherewith the writings of all antiquity are consonant and all Christian confessions agreeable. And as truth in what kind soever is by no kind of truth gainsayed, so the mind which resteth itself on this is never troubled with those perplexities which the other do both find, by means of so great contradiction between their opinions and true principles of reason grounded upon experience, nature and sense. Which albeit with boisterous courage and breath they seem oftentimes to blow away, yet whoso observeth how again they labour and sweat by subtlety of wit to make some show of agreement between their peculiar conceits and the general edicts of nature, must needs percieve they struggle with that which they cannot fully master. Besides sith of that which is proper to themselves their discourses are hungry and unpleasant, full of tedious and irksome labour, heartless and hitherto without fruit, on the other side read we them or hear we others be they of our own or of ancienter times, to what part soever they be thought to incline touching that whereof there is controversy, yet in this where they all speak but one thing their discourses are heavenly, their words sweet as the honeycomb, their tongues melodiously tuned instruments, their sentences mere consolation and joy, are we not hereby almost even with voice from heaven, admonished which we may safeliest cleave unto? V.67.12

What Hooker writes about these debates should remind us of St. Paul writing to Timothy these words: "Neither give heed to fables and endless
genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do." (I Tim. 1:4) Hooker's concern, stating a defense of the position of his Church, was that emphasis should be placed on receiving the grace of the sacrament, not on a quasi-scientific definition of how God works.

Where God himself doth speak those things which either for height and sublimity of matter, or else for secresy of performance we are not able to reach unto, as we may be ignorant without danger, so it can be no disgrace to confess we are ignorant. Such as love piety will as much as in them lieth know all things that God commandeth, but especially the duties of service which they owe to God. As for his dark and hidden works, they prefer as becometh them in such cases simplicity of faith before that knowledge, which curiously sifting what it should adore, and disputing too boldly of that which the wit of man cannot search, chilleth for the most part all warmth of zeal, and bringeth soundness of belief many times into great hazard. Let it therefore be sufficient for me presenting myself at the Lord’s table to know what there I receive from him, without searching or inquiring of the manner how Christ performeth his promise; let disputes and questions, enemies to piety, abatements of true devotion, and hitherto in this cause but over patiently heard, let them take their rest; let curious and sharpwitted men beat their heads about what questions themselves will, the very letter of the word of Christ giveth plain security that these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross, that by them we draw out, as touching efficacy, force, and virtue, even the blood of his gored side, in the wounds of our Redeemer we there dip our tongues, we are dyed red both within and without, our hunger is satisfied and our thirst for ever quenched; they are things wonderful which he feeleth, great which he seeth and unheard of which he uttereth, whose soul is possessed of this Paschal Lamb and made joyful in the strength of this new wine, this bread hath in it more than the substance which our eyes behold, this cup hallowed with solemn benediction availeth to the endless life and welfare both of soul and body, in that it serveth as well for a medicine to heal our infirmities and purge our sins as for a sacrifice of thanksgiving; with touching it sanctifieth, it enlighteneth with belief, it truly conformeth us unto the image of Jesus Christ; what these elements are in themselves it skilleth not, it is enough that to me which take them they are the body and blood of Christ, his promise in witness hereof sufficeth, his word he knoweth which way to accomplish; why should any cogitation possess the mind of a faithful communicant but this, O my God thou art true, O my Soul thou art happy!” V.67.12 (emphasis in italics, mine)

Queen Elizabeth I sums up the prevailing Anglican belief in her little "poem."

Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and break it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.

This refusal to presume upon a divine mystery is the Anglican position, even though few today in the official Canterbury Communion seem aware of it. Rightly understood, it should not discourage orderly Eucharistic Devotions, unless mere gazing begin to be treated as equal to actually taking and eating, and drinking. But, always remember, the greatest Eucharistic devotion, and the one consistent with the purpose of our Lord in instituting the sacrament, is to receive it in a worthy manner, and so receive the food and drink of eternal life by participating in the life of the Risen Christ, fully God and fully man.

1.Which is why Article XXV rightly says that the doctrine of Transubstantiation (as then defined, or at least as then commonly understood) "overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament." Instead of a sign that effects what it signfies, we have a complete change of physical reality that is merely disguised; no, longer a sign that effects.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some Hints for Lent by the Rt. Rev. A.C.A. Hall

During the Pre-Lenten Season it is indeed time to begin thinking about how we will observe Lent. The Rt. Rev. A.C.A. Hall was Bishop of Vermont about a hundred years ago. The following is very direct in giving sound advice. (Coming also this week, a look at Richard Hooker's sacramental theology, rooted in the Incarnation.)

Some Hints for Lent
By the Rt. Rev. A.C.A. Hall
Bishop of Vermont (
Episcopal Church) in the early 20th century

"WHAT mean ye by this service?" the Jewish child was to ask his parents; it the yearly celebration of the Passover. Many who endeavor to "Keep Lent'' lose much of the profit they should derive from its observance, because they have not clearly before them the object and purpose of the season.

The recurrence (if Lent is a call to renewed spiritual effort. This is the great object of the Lenten Season, that we may ''grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ" (2 S. Peter iii. 18). To this end all its exercises are to be directed. The chief duties of Lent, to be undertaken with this Purpose constantly in mind, are Retirement, Prayer, Fasting, Repentance, and Almsgiving.

I. Lent is a time for Retirement. We are bidden at this season to follow our Lord, in some measure, into the wilderness, and give a few weeks to a closer inquiry into the state of our souls, and a nearer approach to God.

We cannot, nor ought we to, withdraw from the duties of our state of life, whether in the family or in business. The retirement to which we are called is from the unrestrained social intercourse and from the amusements which at other times may be perfectly innocent, and even beneficial, but which we now put aside for a time, in order to give ourselves the better to higher and more important interests.

It would be well to make a rule not to go during Lent to any place of public amusement, and, as far as possible, to keep from social entertainments. Try to be sometimes alone. "Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still:" this is one great rule for Lent. Secure time, and freedom of mind, for prayer, for the study of God's Word, for self-examination, and the works of repentance, and for gaining instruction in religious matters.

Many persons remain in ignorance of much that they ought to know concerning Christian faith and practice, because they do not take pains to gain instruction. Persons often in these days are bewildered by some infidel objection or argument which is brought before them, and which, even if they cannot directly answer, they should, by their assurance of the positive truth of their religion, be able to withstand. For our own sake, for the sake of others whom we may help, and for the honor of our Lord, we ought to be ready with meekness and reverence, as St. Peter bids us, to give to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us (i S. Peter ii. 15). While carefully avoiding a controversial spirit it would be well in Lent to take in hand some instructive religious reading (e. g. of Church History), as well as that which is more distinctly devotional. Some time might be saved from newspapers and other light reading for this purpose.

II. Lent is a time for more frequent Prayer, both Public and Private.

A. Public Prayer.--Make a conscientious use of the opportunities provided for you in your own Parish. Very likely you cannot attend all the services. It may not be desirable that you should do so. Services of different characters and at different times are intended to meet the needs of various classes of persons. You will probably find it best to choose some one or more courses of services (as the daily prayers, or weekly service and instruction), and make a rule of regular attendance at these. If you are in a large city, where there are several churches, be on your guard against the danger of religious dissipation, going about with itching ears to hear different preachers, or to take part in different services, moved rather by curiosity than by devotion or a desire for edification.

If a Communicant, you may well desire to receive the Sacrament more frequently during this season. Abstaining from earthly food, and from social pleasures, you may approach more often the Holy Table to feed upon the Bread of Life, and hold communion with your Lord. No general rule can of course be given about the frequency of Communion. Each person must decide the question (with the help of such advice as he can get), according to his own needs and opportunities.

If not yet admitted to Holy Communion, or if you should have ceased to be a Communicant, remember that one special purpose of your Lent should be by a true repentance (concerning which some hints will be given presently) to be prepared worthily to receive the Holy Sacrament at Easter. If we are rightly to commemorate our Lord's Passion, the atoning death of the spotless Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world, we must "shew forth His Death" according to His commandment, pleading in His own appointed way His Sacrifice as the ground of our hopes, and seeking to have its merits applied individually to ourselves. In the typical Sacrifice of the Passover, the lamb was not only to be slain, but for any to share in the benefits of the sacrifice the blood of the victim must be sprinkled upon their house, and they must feed upon its flesh (Ex. .ii.). "Christ our Paschal Lamb is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast'' (i Cor. v. 7, 8).

If you have not been confirmed, you should in Lent set yourself distinctly to prepare, both intellectually and morally, for that holy rite, that by the Seven-fold Gift of the Holy Spirit you may be strengthened for your Christian life, and be ready to receive the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Christ.

B. Private Prayer,--Do not let anything hinder from (nothing can take the place of) private personal communion with God. It would be very helpful to make a rule to pray over, for a few minutes, quietly in your room, and on your knees, each sermon and instruction that you hear. How many good impressions fade away and are lost for want of subsequent and prayful recollection, by which they should have developed into deliberate resolves, and so have been found fruitful in our lives The fowls of the air are too often allowed to snatch away (even at the Church porch) the good seed which has been sown.

Be careful to say your regular prayers with earnestness and devotion, adding, perhaps, morning or night, one or other of the Seven Penitential Psalms (vi, xxxii. xxxviii, li, cii. cxxx, cxliii), and one or more of the Ash-Wednesday collects from the Prayer Book. In the use of such prayers you will unite your private devotions with the penitential prayers and exercises of the Holy Church throughout the world at this common fast of Christendom.

Lent is a good time to begin or take up a fresh practice of meditation or the devotional use of Holy Scripture, reading and praying over a few verses, as one miracle or parable of our Lord, or one mystery in His Passion, and begging God to apply its lessons to yourself. Most persons could give a few minutes each day during Lent to this practice, and by its means would certainly be enabled to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In making any rule for this practice, it is better to devote a certain time (say five, ten, or thirty minutes, as you may be able), rather than to resolve to read a certain quantity.

III. Fasting.--All the forty days of Lent, the Prayer Book tells us, are to be observed with "such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion." Fasting is intended

1) To subdue the flesh to the spirit;

2) To express sorrow and humiliation, acknowledging ourselves undeserving freely to partake of God's good gifts, and avenging past wrongful indulgence;

3) To quicken the soul for prayer.

For all these purposes God's servants under both the Old and the New Dispensation have practised bodily mortification; nor can we without grievous fault and loss disregard a practice enjoined by our Lord's own example and constant teaching. All should form some rule for bodily discipline. Such a rule must vary with different persons, occupations, temperament and strength. It must not interfere with health, but should be such as to be really felt. All but very few could resolve to eat more sparingly and of a plainer diet, and to abstain during Lent from luxuries. Many perhaps by making a rule to rise somewhat earlier than usual would at once combat sloth and gain undisturbed time for devotion.

Amidst the enervating luxuries of our modern civilisation it is especially incumbent on Christian people to learn to endure hardness.

"What a shame," exclaimed a holy man of old, "to be the soft and luxurious member of a Head that was crowned with thorns!"

In Lent especially, when we commemorate first the Fast and then the Passion of our Lord, the Church, His mystical Body would have her members in sympathy with the suffering experiences of His natural Body, now much of the excess, intemperance and sensuality that among all classes bring disgrace on a so-called Christian land may be traced to the softness and absence of discipline of which perhaps we have boasted as the sign of Christian liberty, though in direct violation of the example and precept of Christ!

If the Word of God, the example of our Lord, the practice of His Church, the experience of His saints, and our own so far as we have followed in their steps, are to be of any weight, we must, if we would grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God, set ourselves to mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts. It is by the practice of self-denial with regard to things that may be innocent that we gain the power of self-control, and are enabled at once to say No when tempted to some unlawful action.

It is not of course the body only that needs control, though that in the disordered condition of our fallen nature is the cause of many sins. There must be a universal self-denial, including the discipline of our words, our tempers, our thoughts, our will. We must seek by degrees to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

IV. Repentance.--This is the great work of Lent.

"Turn ye even to Me," saith the Lord, "with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning." (Joel ii. 12).

"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him: and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isa. liv. 6, 7).

The work of Repentance in its several parts of self-examination, sorrow for sin, confession of sin, amendment and satisfaction, cannot be better summed up than in the weighty words of the exhortation in preparation for Holy Communion in the Prayer-Book. Those who would find acceptance with God are therein bidden:--"First, to examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God's commandments: and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sin-fulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God? with full purpose of amendment of life. And if ye shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God, but also against your neighbors; then ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them, being ready to make restitution and satisfaction, according to the uttermost of your powers, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others who have offended you, as ye would have forgiveness of your offences at God's hand."

With regard to Self-Examination, consider not only your past life, but also your present state before God, the real condition of your soul in His sight: consider the graces and virtues that should adorn it, as well as the vices that actually disfigure it. Be definite in your examination and in all your repentance.

"I so run, not as uncertainly: so fight I, not as one that beateth the air," said the Apostle, (i Cor. ix. 26). Many of those who are really trying to serve God would have to say of themselves if they truly described their manner of struggle, "I run indeed but very uncertainly"--not keeping in view the goal to be reached, and stretching continually toward it, with no particular virtue that I am striving for, no definite standard before me; '' so fight I just like one that beateth the air," spending my strength in vain because I do not clearly see the enemy with whom I have to contend, and against whom I ought to direct my blows. Find out your besetting sin or sins, the faults into which you most commonly fall, that are at the root of most evil in your life, the habits that more particularly hinder and mar your Christian life. Set yourself during Lent in good earnest to combat these. Concentrate the force of your prayers, your self-denials, your sacraments upon these strongholds of the enemy within you.

"What evil habit," ask yourself, "am I specially to grapple with this Lent? What virtue in particular am I to cultivate?"

The Seven Capital Sins (so called because under one or other of these heads of evil all possible sins whether of thought, word, or deed, can be classified) are sometimes more helpful than the Ten Commandments as an outline for self-examination, because we are thus enabled to trace the symptoms of evil (condemned by God's commands) to the roots of evil horn which they spring. Pride, Envy, Anger are more especially the works of the devil; Covetousness, the worldly sin; and Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, the sins of the flesh. The capital sins are the development of the three-fold root of evil, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, which draw away from the love of God (i St. John ii. 16).

The knowledge of our sins must be followed by a humble Confession of them before Almighty God, with a true sorrow for the offence we have thereby committed against Him, and a sincere purpose of amendment. There can hardly be a better form of confession, if one be needed, than the General Confession in the Service for Holy Communion, if we say it in the singular number, slowly, and pausing at the end of each clause, to recall our own special transgressions, and to let the words we repeat find a real echo in our hearts.

Concerning the special further confession of our sins to God in the presence of His Priest, the exhortation which has been already quoted thus concludes; "Because it is requisite that no man should come to the Holy Communion, but with a full trust in God's mercy, and with a quiet conscience, therefore, if there be any of you, who by this means [of private personal repentance] cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me [the Parish Priest], or to some other minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness."

Let none whose consciences are troubled, either with the burden of past sin or with evil habits from which they find themselves unable to break free, shrink from seeking the help and assistance of those whom (as Richard Hooker puts it) "our Lord Jesus Christ hath left in His Church to be spiritual and ghostly physicians, the guides and pastors of redeemed souls, whose office doth not only consist in general persuasions unto amendment of life, but also in the private, particular cure of diseased minds."

The bringing home to the individual soul of God's pardoning word may be of unspeakable comfort to the penitent, while the personal guidance of one accustomed to deal with spiritual things may be of great value to a soul in struggling against temptations.

Among "works of repentance" by no means forget the necessity of reparation for wrong done and of the forgiveness of injuries suffered, if we are to be ourselves at peace with God. Take care that you incur not the rebuke of the prophet, "Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness" (Isa. lviii. 4). Put away in Lent the leaven of malice and wickedness that you may celebrate the Paschal feast with "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (i Cor. v. 8).

V. Almsgiving is another special duty of Lent. Some of the money which is saved from luxuries, from amusements, and from dress, should be devoted to pious and charitable purposes. Some of the time which is rescued from society may be well employed in works of mercy and kindly offices to those in spiritual and temporal need. "Break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor" (Dan. v. 27).

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen, saith the Lord, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Isa. lviii. 6, 7).

We may think of Lent as being spent under the teaching of St. John the Baptist. First he preaches Repentance, drawing the people after him into the wilderness, bringing home the conviction of sin, leading to confession, and enjoining works meet for repentance. Then to those thus prepared the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world (St. Matt, iii., St. Luke iii., St. John i. 29). Having in the earlier weeks of Lent endeavored to deepen our repentance we too in Passion-tide are pointed to the Saviour and His Cross, that we may behold at once sin's work and its remedy. It is at the foot of the Cross that the great lessons of the Christian life are to be learned. Remember that the Son of God was given to be both a sacrifice for sin and also an ensample of godly life. Seek more truly to die with Him to sin that with and in Him you may rise to newness of life.

Three dangers we ought specially to guard against, lest we lose the benefit of Lenten observance.

Avoid formality; whatever measure of strictness you may be able to adopt, be real.

Avoid aimlessness; be definite in your purpose and endeavors.

Avoid gloominess; there should be a true joy even in penitence, since in penitence we are returning to Him Whose love has borne with us and recalls us to Himself.

The end of this, as of every, commandment is charity, the love of God above all on account of His own intrinsic worth, and of our brethren for His sake, out of a pure heart, cleansed by grace, and a good conscience, set at peace by true repentance, and of faith unfeigned, and strengthened by spiritual exercises, (i Tim. i. 5).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"The reading"- a suggestion for celebrants

(Coming later this week, I will be posting another reflection on the writing of Richard Hooker, this time about the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.)

The King's English was so called because of the House of Hanover, the "German Georges." The joke was subtle, namely, that the King's English was German, a language foreign to the realm. The words "thou"and "thee" have remained to this day in our Book of Common Prayer and in the Authorized Version, i.e., the King James Bible. Modern people are largely ignorant of the correct grammar of this older version of English, and may not be aware that "thou" and "thee" are two forms of the same word, a singular form of address. One can say "thou" or "thee" only to an individual, never to more than one person. "You" or "ye" are two forms of the same word, a plural address, and could never be spoken to an individual, but only to groups of two or more. "You" corresponds to "thou" as "ye" does to "thee." (Addition: Both the BCP and the KJV used this rule consistently, even though it was already not the common language on the street anymore. These older rules do not apply even to Shakespeare's works, where the modern use of "you" is found.)

The result of the King's German English was that the word "you" began to be pronounced as rhyming with the German word, "du." However, the word "you" rhymed instead with the word "thou" prior to the period of the reign of the German Georges. This is reflected in the Southern United States where a plural form of address, unique to the region, actually continues an older and more correct form of English; that is, the word "y'all." "Y'all," meaning "you all" is really the word "you" closer to the pronunciation it once had everywhere, a plural address that rhymes with the singular address, "thou."

This is relevant to that phrase in our service of Holy Communion, taken from the eleventh chapter of First Corinthians, and this phrase specifically from Matthew 26:27, as its sources: "Drink ye all of this." As we have been accustomed to saying it for centuries, going back to a time when no need existed for puncuation to set the words "ye all" apart, it sounds as if the Lord is saying to drink all of the contents of the cup. But, we know that the meaning is that everyone present is being told to drink it (whether the folks in traditionalist RC churches like it or not). Modern translations of the scripture put it this way: "Drink this all of you." The word "you" would not be a sufficient translation of a form of the word πᾶς (pas), which must include everyone, rather than simply a plurality that might be only some of those present.

Stage actors have a phrase they use for speaking lines in such a manner as to be understood according to the author's intention: The reading. I suggest that modern ears need us to read the words as if they contained the following punctuation: "Drink, ye all, of this." Another way to write it with the reading built in, could be, "drink--ye all--of this." Just a slight pause, like taking a breath. This is how I have celebrated for many years now.

If you like my "reading" enough to use it, but some wiseacre accuses you of making Jesus sound like a Southern country bumpkin- in case it comes out a bit like "y'all"- just say that you know it is not the King's English.

By the Waters of Babylon

We all recognize that Anglicanism, whether the various Continuing jurisdictions or the various divisions in the Canterbury Communion is under a great deal of stress these days. My friend Jonathan Munn has written a rather incisive discussion of these stresses and their emotional effects. You can read it on his blog at:


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sexagesima, or the second Sunday before Lent

II Cor. 11:19-31

Luke 8:4-15

The Gospel and the Epistle appointed for this day blend well together when we consider the patience of St. Paul. He endured all things that could come on anyone, and so brought forth fruit an hundredfold. When he began his walk he turned away from the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. In time of persecution he did not fall away; and in his case the time of persecution was lifelong until his death as a martyr. Instead of complaining that God was terribly unfair in leading him through fire and water, he gave thanks that he could suffer with Christ. Paul saw his own sufferings as leading to good, especially emphasizing how God used those very trials to further his evangelistic mission as an apostle. Through these sufferings Paul was able to reach people with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his salvation.

He said as much in another epistle, writing to the Church in Philipi these words: "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." (Philippians 1:12-14)

In today's epistle, the long list of things he endured was not written down for the sake of boasting, but to establish that he had credentials that his critics did not have, namely certain false apostles and teachers who were troubling the Church in Corinth. That is, he was not waxing rich or gaining status in the world, and was not living in luxury. To choose to continue with his life of persecution and danger, and great discomfort, instead of going back to Tarsus and profiting from his family's tent-making business (no doubt as suppliers to the imperial army), was a proof that his service was genuine. For that reason, and that reason alone, he wrote those words to the Christians in Corinth, that they would hear him and turn away from the false teachers who taught what the Apostle condemned in the strongest terms, in this part of the same chapter from which today's Epistle was taken:

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. (II Corinthians 11:3,4)

It does matter who you allow to serve as your spiritual leader, teacher and guide. Our own separation from the Episcopal Church was due to this very problem, a false gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit which we did not receive (that is, not the Holy Spirit, he that we received in our Confirmation). And our continued separation is due to the fact that their errors have remained uncorrected, and have gone from bad to worse. St. Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians that some ministers are called into their vocation by Satan, not by God.

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (vs. 13-15)

In case anyone thinks this whole thing is all about what prayer Book we like better, or what kind of liturgy pleases us, let me make something very clear: The issues are of eternal consequence, not simply matters of taste. Furthermore, with eternity in mind, it is necessary to be in the Church where the true Gospel is taught, where the pure Word of God is preached and valid sacraments are duly administered, whether everything is to our taste or not. It is not about satisfying our emotions (which satisfaction may come or not come) but about eternal life with Christ as opposed to being forever lost.

It is in the context of St. Paul telling those ancient Christians in the city of Corinth that they needed to follow him, and reject the false ministers of a false Gospel, that he reminds them of his own sufferings and persecutions. I have quoted a few parts of the same chapter that lead to the Epistle appointed for this day. Let me remind you of a little bit of it:

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.

So, once again I want to quote those words from another epistle, the Epistle to the Philippians. "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel." As I must prepare to leave for North Carolina, trusting that God is calling me to ministry at St. Benedict's in Chapel Hill, I want to bring out from these words of scripture a very good and positive message for St. Andrew's. And, I know that you may with confidence continue to follow your bishop, the pastor who has been in apostolic ministry for many years in this town of Easton.

Yes, God has allowed us our portion of suffering. We had planned to move from our old rented space into this place for over three years before it finally happened. Some of you were with us on that early Spring day in 2002 when we were shown all three buildings of this campus. Delays took place as we waited for the Roman Catholics who were here to begin building the new Sts. Peter and Paul Church; and finally we moved in, after a vote taken by the whole congregation after a Sunday Holy Communion (which I remember as a unanimous vote) in 2005. The idea of an economic downturn three years later, simply did not seem at all likely.

So, in a few weeks St. Andrew's will be in a different location here in Easton, and the entire foreclosure has been an occasion of suffering for all of us. Here is how you should think about that: God will use this seemingly unhappy move to further the Gospel. If you will remain faithful, some day in the future you will all be able to look back at this time, and what will have followed, and say with St. Paul, " the things which happened unto us have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel." That phrase, "the furtherance of the gospel," speaks of the evangelistic mission of the Church. As I said a few weeks ago, this is a time to increase the level of your own commitment, not to be discouraged. Accept it as a challenge, take it as an opportunity, and embrace it as an adventure.

Some of you have never attended church in a converted building, and so the change may be good for you. I suppose also that none of us has ever attended church in a catacomb, sneaking there before sunrise to avoid being captured and executed by the authorities for the crime of being a Christian. And, in many lands, the persecution goes on. Anyone who needs a nice church building, a bell, an organ, and stained glass windows, in order to feel like they are in church, would have had quite a problem in the time of persecution, roughly 250 years between Nero and Constantine. Most of "Our fathers chained in prisons dark" did not, in time of persecution, fall away. But others did, of course, fall away. Those who fell away had not received the word in the good ground of a sincere heart.

By the standards of the world, we live in luxury. And, as far as suffering goes, ours has been light. But now, embrace the opportunity that lies ahead. Remain faithful, increase your own level of commitment, and let everybody out there know that St. Andrew's is alive and well, alive because Christ is risen from the dead: Well, because the Holy Spirit is with you in all his power. In the time that lies ahead, you will discover the gifts he has given you, gifts that some of you had not known before. You will know a joy that comes only by working together with God. And, the things that have happened to you will fall out to the furtherance of the Gospel.