Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Science and speculation

In comments on another thread we have seen the old question raised, would the Word have been made flesh without the Fall? An interesting question this, one I have thought about a few times. Indeed, I have an arsenal of arguments for saying that the Incarnation was the purpose for which man was made in the image and likeness of God, and that the final end of our salvation, Glorification, strengthens this. I like the whole question, and could spend a lot of time with it.

Nonetheless, we have been reminded that the Scriptures speak of the Incarnation almost exclusively as the means whereby we are saved from sin and death. I say almost, because the most direct statement seems to come across as dependent on almost nothing other than a clear distinction between God and creatures to give it its shocking force: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) Nonetheless, again I say almost. For, the context of the Incarnation of the Word comes after this (in v.5): "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

The light could be spoken of alone, but Saint John contrasts it against the darkness. Like it or not, we cannot read about the Incarnation, as taught in Scripture, without the fact of the Fall always present. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." (I John 3:8) "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (I Tim. 1:15) The emergency of the Fall, like that of a burning building, is our reality, and simple rescue is our need, certainly, before any other consideration.

Theology is science, in fact "the Queen of the sciences." It is not like a science, but rather, it is science. Speculation is fun, and even scientists may speculate in their spare time. Nonetheless, the work of science is to discover truth through empirical data. That is, to discover the objective truth through experimentation, observation or any other genuine experience.

In a simple analogy, people argue the political issue of gun control always on the basis of theory and speculation. But, we have empirical data that proves, very simply, that gun control causes violent crime to increase. Wherever and whenever it has been tried, the experiment has failed, and we can document the opposite result from what was intended by legislation. However, this will not end the speculative basis of gun control advocacy.

In a similar vein, my years as an investigator on the mean streets of Baltimore taught me that no case is safely built on logic. Logic must be present, but a case must be based on a fact. The most cleverly and carefully constructed case may be built on logic, only to be destroyed in a split second by the discovery of one fact. This is why real life homicide detectives never build a prosecution on motive, inasmuch as motive, by itself, is not a fact that proves anything.

What, then is the empirical data of theological science? It is revelation. What fact proves the revelation? Above all, that the disciples of Jesus Christ testified as eyewitnesses that God had raised Him from the dead. Their testimony was sealed in their own blood. Is it a fact of history, then, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? Well, it is certainly a fact of history that many witnesses saw Him after He rose.

This fact vindicates the empirical data of His own testimony about Himself, giving us further empirical data upon which we practice the scientific discipline of theology. Speculation is fun, and may even touch upon the truth beyond our comprehension. But, we must deal with facts -- yes, glorious and mysterious facts, but facts nonetheless.

Some of our brethren, especially among the fashionable members of the most up to date and stylish Eastern Orthodox churches, criticize the forensic nature of Western theology. They say we emphasize atonement too much, and instead should emphasize theosis (of course, Western theology teaches both, as does proper and genuine Eastern theology). To this, it is best to answer that even the most direct scriptural statements on theosis never stand alone.

For example, let us look at the strongest statement of all about theosis: "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." (II Pet. 1:4) The Apostle, Saint Peter, does speak of the glorious end of our salvation, but, as we see, in the realistic context of our current predicament and warfare.

Saint Paul, writing to the Church in Rome, speaks of that same glorious end:

"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Rom. 8:29, 30)

But, here too, the context does not allow us to wander from the current condition in which we find ourselves. "The creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (vs. 21, 22) Indeed, the whole context began in chapter six: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" etc.

Chapter seven followed: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."

As glorious as the promise is about the future liberty of the children of God, in Scripture it is never far from the fact of our current condition and struggle. We cannot safely emphasize theosis without joining it to the forensic, propitiatory death of Jesus Christ once for all. And, speculation about what might have been the will of God apart from the Fall is not safely engaged in for long, inasmuch as the reality of our condition is that of emergency and need.

Without realism concerning our present need, we may puff ourselves up into a celestial high that divorces us from humility; some alleged vision that obscures the actual revelation of God's love in favor of something presumably more "spiritual" than we, in our true condition, are able to appreciate. The genuine revelation of God's love, the revelation He has actually given to us to meet our indisputable need, is not glorious in outward appearance, but bloody, terrible and devastating: "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8)

I enjoy speculation as much as anyone. But, we need first our science. We need our facts, the empirical data of our salvation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday madness

A warning to the "clothes horse" Anglo-Papalists out there: What you see in the following video (by clicking the link below) is NOT cool. So, please don't ask where you can buy any of these get ups.

Fellini's Roma Church fashion show.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

First Sunday in Advent

Rom. 13:8-14
Matt. 21:1-13

For us, today is New Year’s Day. Advent is the first season of the Church year, and the idea of New Year’s resolutions ought to pale in comparison to the God-ward turning that is represented by the first of our two major Penitential seasons. I hope we all understand why we must resist the emphasis on shopping and the secular pressures about holiday preparation that compete for our attention. The world has decided that “Christmas” is the name of a shopping season that runs between Thanksgiving Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen on December 26th. Don’t give in.

The spirit of the world wants to take away your Advent, and then your Christmas too. Christmas is, first and foremost, a feast of the Church, named, as it is, the Christ Mass. It is the feast of the Nativity (in the glorious light of the Incarnation of the Word). The emphasis is on Christ’s coming in the flesh and taking human nature into His uncreated, eternal divine Person: and, only in this understanding is it a celebration of His birth in Bethlehem, when "the babe, the word's redeemer, first revealed His sacred face."

One "pop" song, that frequently adds to the noise pollution in public places and stores, is a song that I absolutely hate. It is called “Do you hear what I hear?” It removes the Divinity of Christ from the picture, and celebrates nothing more than the birth of, as the song so vacuously says, “a child, a child, freezing in the cold.” The song ends with the king saying to the people everywhere, “pray for peace people everywhere.” Is that really what the king said? Was it not, rather, “go and kill every male child under two years old, and bring me word again,” in a mad effort to destroy Christ? The voice that the world wants to hear is the voice of the spirit that was in Herod. That spirit wants to kill Christ, to take away your Christmas, and, before that, your advent.

Advent is very important for what it is. It is not Christmas, not yet. Frankly, I wish we did not even put up our trees before Christmas Eve, like it used to be. But, even so, remember this: Christmas starts on the 25th of December and lasts until January 6th. But, for now, it is Advent; it is a Penitential season. We have before us two passages from the New Testament, rich with the meaning of Advent, to start us off. Advent did not originally prepare the Church for a celebration of the birth of our Lord, but rather for His coming again in glory; it is the season with eschatological meaning, looking to the future. Now, the word eschatological (or eschatology) comes from the word Eschaton. It means the End. And, therefore we emphasize the last things of the resurrection and eternity: Death, judgment, Heaven and Hell. Mostly, we emphasize the coming again of Jesus Christ in glory to judge the quick and the dead.

So, the Epistle reading gives us clear warning to turn from sin, to repent and live in the light. And, the Gospel reading gives us a glimpse of Christ coming as king and meting out judgment. First let us consider the Epistle. On the subject of self-examination and turning from sins, we really have to ask God to show us the truth about ourselves. It is not wise to trust our own opinion of ourselves. Jesus said, “Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” Sadly enough, that is the truth about everybody. We would rather not see the truth about ourselves, or hear what the Holy Spirit brings to our attention. So, we have defense mechanisms. The first is comparison. “I am not as bad as this publican.” Jesus said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, “the harlots and the publicans (that is, tax collectors) enter into the kingdom of heaven before you, because they repented at the preaching of John [the Baptist].” So much for the comparisons they were making. Yes, there is always someone worse than you. When all else fails, I like to remind myself that I am better than Hitler, because I have not killed a few million people lately. However, it is better for me to read the Sermon on the Mount, and take it to heart, praying that the Holy Spirit will shine His light on my sins, even though that particular light hurts my eyes.

Another method is the group guilt dodge. In fact this is among the most dangerous things we can do. I am convinced that many people whom I have known, avoid repenting of their own real sins by lamenting the guilt of their group. They deplore and repent of the sin of white racism, or something like that- something safe. Adding danger to danger, they seem to feel quite meritorious and self-satisfied, because they have convinced themselves of their own moral superiority by “repenting” of a group sin- especially since they are truly convinced that they are, actually, above such a thing in real life. In certain circles this dodge is quite popular, a real favorite. It is about as genuine a form of penitence as the hypocrisy of the Pharisee, who said: "I thank Thee God that I am not as other men are." It is self-deception.

The worst kind of penitence is when someone feels proud for repenting of the group sin.

Now, it may seem strange that I have said of today’s Gospel that, in it, we see a picture of the future. The story is, after all a true account of events that happened in the past. In fact, when Jesus entered into Jerusalem, he was hailed as a king by the cheering crowds who met Him. And the prayers of the crowd angered the powers of earth. The people cried “Hosanna to the Son of David.” This means two things. They were crying out to Him to be their Savior. “Hosanna” is not a joyful word. It is a cry asking to be saved. It contains a form of the very Name of Jesus, that is, the Name Yeshua- meaning “Savior.” They identified Him as the Messiah, the Son of David. And, as soon as He entered the city and the temple, He meted out His judgment, cleansing it of the dishonest cheats who had perfected a system to defraud the poor, hard working Jewish worshipers. Later, about the Final Judgment on the Last day, Saint Peter would write: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (I Pet. 4: 17,18)”

In every way, the story of what the Lord Jesus Christ did that day, is a picture of what He will do when He comes again. He did not yet bring the kingdom in its fullness; but he did bring the kingdom to bear on the House of God. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we ask that He bring His rule to bear upon us: His rule, “his government and peace” which is unending upon the throne of David. To the measure that we mean that prayer, our comfortable world will be shaken up. But, it is better to be shaken now than at His coming again in glory on the Last Day.

In this Gospel passage, we see important elements of His Second Coming, elements that are true to the Person of the Son of God, the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father. He is the only king and savior. He is the judge “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:12).” Judgment will begin at the House of God, until His whole creation is cleansed and purified, made ready for a habitation of His righteousness, a dwelling place of His glory among men. The purpose of a Penitential season is to learn to sharpen and focus our self-examination, the same self-examination that we should do every time we draw near to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I know that a “feel good” religion is the popular model for success in today’s “spiritual” market; but the only good feeling we should ever trust is that spoken of by the Psalmist: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).”

To be ready for the last Judgment, we must be willing to let the Holy Ghost shake up our world, we must allow Him to shake up our very selves. Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we must draw near "with hearty repentance and true faith" in order to make a good confession, sincere and resolute of purpose to "walk in newness of life ." Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we need do no more, and no less, than we do when we prepare to receive Communion.
Last year's sermon for Advent I

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts


It is still four weeks away when people will be saying, “Happy New Year,” eating hoppin' john, and getting used to writing 2011 when they date a check. But in the kalendar of Holy Mother Church, today is New Year's Day, when we flip back to page 90 in the Collects, Epistles and Gospels and start all over in the Church's Year of Grace.

Advent means Arrival and prepares our hearts and souls for the coming of our dear Lord at His birthday on December 25. But it accomplishes this not by a sentimental reminiscence of the first Christmas but through a sharp clear focus on His arrival at the end of time to take us to our eternal home. Advent reminds us that our Gospel leads us into the future when “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead.” That was the promise which the angels made to the apostles as they watched Jesus ascend: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”

If we dismiss this glorious promise as an irrelevancy, then we need this season. Advent is like an alarm clock, to rouse a sluggish church and a sleepy Christian. Today's Epistle from Romans 8 (echoed in our processional hymn) almost screams at us: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”

When we read the entire Gospel story of Jesus' coming—God's arrival on earth—from Bethlehem to Calvary to the Empty Tomb to Bethany, we notice how sadly unprepared were the hearts of mankind. The Christian believer, on the other hand, must get busy, getting ready for Jesus to come again. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

This world does not know the future and can only contemplate it with either carelessness or with fear. But Christians happen to know how the story will turn out; we have already read the final chapter. So we look at the future with confidence, hope, and even with joy. Jesus is coming! That is our confidence, hope and joy.

During this penitential season, keep focused on Advent. Stay close to the Lord and be frequently at His altar. Then you will be ready for Christmas. LKW


The Gospel appointed for today makes us think of Palm Sunday and the Holy Week which follows. But no, we are once again entering into the penitential season of Advent which prepares us for Christmas. So what does the triumphal entry of Jesus have to do with Advent?

The word advent means arrival. In these four Sundays we are celebrating the arrival of our King and Savior. The Advent season prevents us from feeling that we have only a remote or absentee God. The Jerusalemites seemed surprised that Jesus had suddenly arrived at their city. What they did was altogether appropriate. Could they possibly ignore the presence of the Son of God? Although they did not know Him, it was only fitting that a “very great multitude” should go out to meet him and that the whole city was stirred up.

Their shout of acclamation was exactly right: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” Those words greeted the promised King, “great David's greater son,” who fulfilled all the future expectations of the Old Testament. That moment on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into the city (not on a war-horse, but on a meek gentle donkey—a sign of peace) was the culmination of all sacred history, from David, from Abraham, from Adam in the Garden of Eden.

And so that arrival pointed mystically to another arrival, the final Arrival when Jesus comes again at the Last Day. We best prepare for Christmas by meditating deeply on a great future event, when He will come in glory. After Jesus had been welcomed by the multitude, His very next act was to go into the temple and perform an act of judgment. This foreshadows “the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed,” the Great Assizes, when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” As the Old Testament had its climax on Palm Sunday, so the New Testament likewise will have its own culmination when Jesus comes again.

That shout of acclamation, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” is repeated at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He who came at Bethlehem and Jerusalem, who will come gloriously at the Last Day, constantly arrives among us when bread and wine become His Body and Blood before our own eyes.

The Eucharist He left to His Church points ahead to His great future Arrival. Hymn 202 sings:

“Alpha and Omega, to whom shall bow,

All nations at the doom, is with us now.”

That Eucharistic presence, the presence of the Judge to come, should hold our attention during Advent and all our earthly days. LKW

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Our first installment of the Thirty-Nine Articles series is producing lively and useful discussion. The one word "reconcile" (Article II) has produced some discussion, and the implications of that have reminded me of the threefold understanding of salvation that my friend, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon (Pastor of All Saints Antiochene Orthodox Church in Chicago and a Senior Editor of Touchstone), has brought up so many times, though I will mention these three things using my own words. In the Incarnation our Lord Jesus Christ has bridged the separation between God and man in three ways.

1. Separation by nature.
By taking human nature into His Divine Person, the Word (Logos) has bridged the separation between the Creator and our created human nature. The distinction between human nature and the Nature of God remains, and that is essential to the Mystery. The Divine Nature of the Word and the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth remain distinct, and yet both are fully present in one and the same Person. He is God the Son, and He is the Son of Man.

2. Separation by sin (Here the word "reconcile" apples directly)
This is where the crucial word "propitiation" comes in, as does the word "atonement." On the cross our Lord offered up Himself as the one true sacrifice for all human sin. We say it well in our Holy Communion, with words that summarize a major theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world..." He paid it all, as the word teleo ("It is finished" John 19:30) so clearly means.

3. Separation by death
In His resurrection on the first Easter Day, our Lord defeated, triumphed over and destroyed death. The full fruit of this victory He will share with us on the Last Day when He comes again in glory (I Cor. 15). He will give us immortality, making us partakers of the eternal and unending life of the Divine Nature (II Pet. 1:4).

Perhaps the value of the word "reconcile," as Article II uses it, becomes more clear in this threefold summary.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two Sermons

Sunday before Advent

Jeremiah 23:5-8 John 6:11-14

Miracles look perfectly natural to the eye, even though the rational mind perceives the impossibility of what is happening. They do not appear as something spectacular, the way Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille teamed up to make the parting of the Red Sea into a cinema-graphic production. It is more akin to seeing a tulip bulb open; that is, a sight wonderful, to behold, but not in appearance like magic tricks. Miracles, quite clearly, are not a mere work of nature, and by the "laws" that scientists know, they are manifestly impossible, even when they are manifest. This is because the same Artist and the same brush strokes are evident both in nature by creation, and in miracles by extraordinary intervention. It is the same God, and the same, if I may use the word, style.

Today's Gospel tells of a miracle by which Jesus fed thousands of people by multiplying a meal so small that it was next to nothing. This was no problem for God, who made the entire universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Jesus fed the thousands of hungry people using the same power he had as the Word, the Logos, through whom all things were made, and without whom was not anything made that was made. More significant than the miracle, from his perspective, was the lesson he would later teach from it. Before we look at that lesson, let us draw out one more fact. Here Jesus provided the material needs of the people, just as he promises that our needs will be met if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. How easily we may forget that God is the Provider of all things, even if it is only by forgetting that everything exists due to the first miracle, creation itself, creation out of nothing, creation by his word. It is not simply nature at work that grows wheat; the wheat grows because of the miracle of creation; and people who fail to believe in miracles ultimately cannot explain how anything came to be. Even the "Big Bang" is not a theory of origin, but of process, how the universe was like an egg that hatched in an explosion. If so, where did the essential elements of that "egg" come from? The origin of the universe and of all creation was a miracle, for it came from nothing, and it was made by the word of God. God provides for us, and we should not think that it is a challenge for him to provide, even to make what we need if it is nowhere to be found.

But the lesson, the lesson we are given in the sixth chapter of John, where today's Gospel is found, is that this bread that Jesus multiplied represents himself, the true food we need.

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."(v.35)

"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." (vs.53-58)

To the ancient Church in St. John's day, reading these words for the first time, it was obvious that the Lord himself had interpreted their meaning on a later occasion: "The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."(I Cor.11:23-25)

Nonetheless, we must not think that feeding on Christ is merely the mechanical act of eating this bread and drinking this cup, and nothing more. In the 17th chapter of John, the third verse, we read these words: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." And, in the same words of warning, where St. Paul tells of the danger of partaking of the Communion in an unworthy manner, without (as our liturgy puts it) "hearty repentance and true faith," we see him affirming the reality of Christ in this sacrament. And, that is why even the words of warning are words of hope. The same passage that tells us of Christ's promise to those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, also reveals that Jesus taught that the benefits are only to those who believe in him (v.40)

We come here today to feed on the living Christ through the sacrament of his body and blood, and so receive his life to save us from sin and death. Modern people have cut out of our Prayer of Humble Access a little phrase that confuses them, "Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us." They reason that the body cannot be sinful, since it is only a machine without volition. I understand that. But, the very fact that death is, as taught in the Law of Moses, an unclean thing, quite justifies the words of our Anglican prayer. Really, it expresses the glorious hope of St. John's words in the Epistle. As we learn from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (v.54)." Our sinful bodies, that is, our bodies that are subject to death, are purified and cleansed by eating this sacrament with faith and thanksgiving; our souls are washed as we receive this sacrament of his blood. I love the words from our Prayer of Humble Access, for they speak of the glorious hope that awaits us by the mercy and goodness of God in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The glorious hope we have in Christ is certified, verified and imparted when we partake with "hearty repentance and true faith." In the words of Article XXV: The Dominical sacraments are the means "by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him." Quicken means to make alive, and so we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, the One in whom is life. That is, life that gives life by the creative power of God, the power he has as the Word, the Logos. For this sacrament to be our life, instead of eating and drinking condemnation, we must live the life of knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. It is not simply the mechanical act of eating and drinking (indeed, if that is all it is for you, then do not receive it). Receiving the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is to feed on the living Christ, the risen Christ, and to receive the Christ who is present among us. It must be part of the whole life of faith, and of knowing God.

The multiplication of the loaves and fish to feed so vast a multitude teaches us that Christ can do what we cannot. When and where we are subject to death, and unable to keep our souls alive, He gives us life. It goes perfectly with His words to Martha of Bethany:

"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" (John 11;25,26)

If you believe this, then come. Eat and drink of the table He has prepared for you in the wilderness.

Christ the King

Colossians 1.12-20
St. John 18:33 – 37

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.

The feast of Christ the King was first introduced in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, because of his observation that nationalism and secularism were growing ever stronger. Think of that time, when Communism as a political power, and Fascism also, were taking over in nations that had formerly been thought of as part of an unofficial international state called Christendom. Ever since the Napoleonic wars that had torn apart Europe and wasted countless lives, and especially after the insanity of World War I -- seen by just about everyone as the most destructive, senseless and meaningless war in history -- it became obvious that the Church of Jesus Christ had to take a more aggressive posture in proclaiming the light of the Kingdom of God into the darkness of the fallen world. That other churches besides the Roman Catholic Church, many Lutherans and Anglicans, began to celebrate the Feast of Christ of King, was more than a simple gesture of ecumenism. It became a world of violence and arrogant State power, with a magnification of "the insolence of office" beyond anything hitherto seen. To the Socialists of Communism and Fascism in their time, and to every state under Heaven where ideology overwhelms simple truth and justice through the agenda of worldly politics, the Church must dig in her heels and proclaim the message that Christ is King over all the Earth.

Christians live under the authority of the State, but only to a point. The problem with governments is that they do, by their very nature, tend to become too powerful, which is why the United States Constitution was written. It was written to define the power of the Federal Government within prescribed limits and to subject that government to the Rule of Law. It is, as we see, an ongoing battle to keep it subject to Law. And, throughout all history it is always difficult to be free in the sense of the truth that God has revealed, the true meaning of liberty.

In the theological sense, that is in terms of the Word of God, freedom or liberty is the power to obey God with a good conscience. Answering their persecutors among the Sanhedrin (the ruling Council of Elders), and the High Priest, the Apostles were very clear in the Book of Acts:

"And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, 'Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.' Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'" (Acts 5:27-29)

The State is not God. Like the Hebrew National kosher Hot Dog company, we answer to a Higher Authority. Earthly rulers can and should see themselves as God's servants who administer justice, keep order and protect the people from harm (Romans 13:1f). When they fulfill this role, it is good. But, the essence of tyranny is for the State to try to take the place of God, and when earthly rulers require individuals to make the sacrifice of laying down and offering up conscience on the altar of Caesar, than they become the Beast from the Book of Revelation.

When Germans obediently murdered Jews, when American soldiers obeyed orders and murdered unarmed Dakota of both sexes and all ages at Wounded Knee, and everywhere in all history where soldiers have allowed unnatural and evil men to turn them into brutes, they received in their hands and foreheads the mark of the Beast. In isolated cases where officers presume to order military chaplains not to pray in the Name of Jesus Christ even when leading services for Christian members of the Armed Forces (as has happened), or when politicians try to pass laws that would require all doctors and hospitals to abort helpless and innocent unborn babies, the obedient ones who lay down their consciences as sacrifices and offerings to the State receive in their hands that work, and in their foreheads that think, the mark of the Beast. No one has the authority to order you to disobey God, or to violate your conscience. God's commandments are absolute, eternal and unchanging. Men's commandments are temporary. We really do answer to a Higher Authority. We answer to Christ the King. Is it any wonder that Christians have had to endure persecution to the death?

The world has armies and weapons, but all we have is the truth.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight...Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Because Christ is the King, and because He rules by the truth of His revelation, we all would do well to learn the attitude of faith that was expressed by the Centurion. He said to the Lord Jesus, "I am a man under authority." (Matt. 8:9) And, that is the case for all of us. In the Church, it has a specific meaning for all the clergy. I have been given the title Rector, which means one who rules (which carries real implication of the word "presbyter"). But, I cannot see myself as a man who possesses authority as much as a man who is under authority. I am under the authority of Archbishop Haverland, a joyful thing for me. Like the Lord Himself, the Archbishop's yoke is easy and his burden is light -- or so it seems to me, because we have the same exact goal and purpose, which is to care for you and to proclaim the Gospel to everyone who will hear us. Ultimately, all authority among human beings is delegated, for ultimately it all goes back to God from Whom it comes, even as it comes through the order He has established in His Church.

It does not come as a privilege, nor as an honor nor as an advantage. It comes as a charge and as a commission with real responsibilities and obligations. We have received a thing called Holy Orders, and that means, as in the military, we have our orders. So, I say to you, I am a man under authority. Some of you may wonder, where does this guy get these things he preaches? The answer is, it has come from the words of our King. What I preach is not my own opinion, my own ideas or simply the expression of erudition. In every service we read the words that have come, ultimately, from God through human instruments called Apostles and Prophets. Because I a man under authority, my duty and my orders are to proclaim the meaning of God's most holy word for the sake of your souls to the end that you walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God and receive the salvation of your souls. I do not stand in the pulpit to fill time in a service (nor even to fill out time in a service).

Because I am a man under authority I am not allowed to compromise on the clear revelation of God. That includes certain essential things.

1. God's commandments.
For example, when I tell you that God's laws have not changed, that Christians must teach their children to "wait until marriage" no matter what the world around them is doing, or that Christians (because we answer to a Higher Authority) have no rights to abortion, no rights to suicide (even physician assisted), no rights to redefine marriage, no rights to treat marriage as a throw away commodity, or to disregard God's Laws in all the ways that are so popular, it is because I have received my orders. God has spoken, and what I must preach is His word, not the amoral fashions of this sinful world. To be men under authority clarifies these things for us.

2. The Gospel.
Perhaps a warm and fuzzy new message would fill up our pews, but no souls would be saved from sin and death. A man under authority has only one Gospel to preach, that defined by St. Paul in I Corinthians chapter fifteen.

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

That is, Christ fulfilled the words of the Prophets (the meaning of "according to the scriptures") in that
1. He died for our sins,
2. was buried,
3. rose again the third day and
4. appeared to witnesses after His resurrection.

Do we have any other message, anything else to offer for those who do not like option A? No, we have nothing else that we have been commanded to preach. Other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have no message whatsoever. Take it or leave it, for you will be given nothing else. Some religious entertainers, clerics and faith healers of various kinds, may offer something else, and sometimes they sell better for a while. But as a man under authority I have one message: Come to the Living Christ with "hearty repentance and true faith." We, men under authority, preach to you the message and words of Christ the King. Everyone who is of the truth hears His voice.

Fr. Wells' Bulletin inserts


In the Church's reflection on the work of Christ in all its aspects, all that He did for us and does for us as our Saviour and Redeemer seems to be well summed up in three distinct functions. Jesus is our prophet, our priest and our king. This insight gets scant attention in our Prayer Book, but in Bishop Wordsworth's great hymn (Hymn 53) which we sing during Epiphany Season, we praise him as "Manifest at Jordan's stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme."All three functions are richly predicted in the Old Testament. But we need to observe that each, in its own way, contains a striking paradox.

As Prophet, Jesus is unlike any prophet before Him. The OT prophets pointed away from themselves to One far off in their future. Jesus, however, fulfilled that prophecy, Himself the incarnation of the message, and there-fore the conclusion of prophecy. Earlier prophets were obliged to say, "Thus saith the LORD." Jesus could say, "I say unto you." He is God's last, final and unchanging Word to us because He is the Word made flesh.

As Priest, Jesus offered Himself as sacrifice to satisfy the Divine justice, to propitiate the Divine wrath, and to reconcile sinners to the Father. So had every priest from the time of Abel. But whereas earlier sacrifices only foreshadowed the perfect and unique sacrifice, in the sacrifice of the Cross the satisfaction, propitiation and reconciliation is now final. But when Christ became our great high priest, He simultaneously became our Victim, On Good Friday, Isaac's question, "Where is the lamb?" was finally answered. Our Hymnal gives us St. Thomas Aquinas' great hymn, "O Saving Victim, opening wide." Too bad it omits Charles Wesley's equally great hymn, "Victim Divine, thy grace we claim."

But most paradoxical is the third office, which is appropriately celebrated on this final Sunday of the Church year, just before we sing the Advent Invitatory, "Our King and Saviour draweth nigh." Jesus never looked or acted like any king this world has seen. When He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He came riding a humble donkey. A Roman emperor would have come riding a majestic stallion, a powerful animal suitable for leading an army into combat. For Jesus, a small beast adapted to peacetime purposes was enough. In order to become the king predicted in today's lesson from Jeremiah, Jesus took the form of a servant. His only earthly crown was a crown of thorns. He displayed His royalty by washing the feet of His disciples.

Advent comes to remind us that He was "born to reign in us forever" as we pray, "Now thy gracious kingdom bring." LKW

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Articles I to VIII: The Catholic Faith

Concerning Articles I and II

Article I

Of faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

De fide in Sacrosanctam Trinitatem

Unus est vivus et verus Deus, aeternus, incorporeus, impartibilis, impassibilis, immensae potentiae, sapientiae, ac bonitatis, creator et conservator omnium, tum visibilium tum invisibilium. Et in unitate huius divinae naturae tres sunt Personae eiusdem essentiae, potentiae, ac aeternitatis, Pater, Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.\
(Derived from the Confession of Ausburg via the provenance of the Thirteen Articles and unchanged since 1553.)

Of the Word, or Son of God, which was made very man

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.

De Verbo, sive Filio Dei, qui verus homo factus est

Filius, qui est Verbum Patris, ab aeterno a Patre genitus, verus et aeternus Deus, ac Patri consubstantialis in utero beate Virginis ex illius substantia naturam humanam assumpsit: ita ut duae naturae, divina et humana, integre atque perfecte in unitate personae, fuerint inseparabiliter coniunctae: ex quibus est unus Christus, verus Deus et verus homo: qui vere passus est, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, ut Patrem nobis reconciliaret, essetque hostia non tantum pro culpa originis verum etiam pro omnibus actualibus hominum peccatis.
(From the Confession of Ausburg via the Thirteen Articles. It was last changed in 1563.)

Fr. Robert Hart

The First of the Thirty-Nine Articles may appear to express something so obvious that it goes without saying. But, the doctrine expressed in this Article is part of the Faith, the truth as revealed and later defended against genuine attack from heresy. Like every major revelation that God has given to the Church, faithful men had to fight for it, in some cases at great cost to themselves. Even as we begin the Articles, the words of St. Jude come to mind:

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."1

No sooner had the Church emerged from the stress of persecution by the Roman Empire, than it faced a new crisis, the Arian heresy, which brought on new persecution against the faithful. The First Council of Nicea (AD 325) was called to defend the Divinity of Christ against a strange doctrine popularized by one Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria. His chief opponent was also form Alexandria, a young deacon at the time, named Athanasius. The purpose of the Council was not to debate the merits of Arius’ doctrine, but to see whether or not he was guilty of denying the full equal Divinity of the Son to the Father. In fact, he was quite open about this denial.

In the final analysis, the Church, as represented in the Council, agreed that Athanasius was teaching the Faith as it had been received and understood since the time of the Apostles. The main reason that Trinitarian theology prevailed at that time was because of the doctrine of salvation. Christ alone is the one Mediator between God and man,2 the Savior of mankind. Sinners have no one else to call upon, and each person needs Christ Himself, to be in Christ. This proved the deciding factor at Nicea in AD 325.

The method of the Fathers, by which they proved the truth of their position, was to draw their teaching from Holy Scripture. They did not know of any distinction between Scripture and Tradition, but only the Tradition of Scripture. It was all one and the same to them, since the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church always recognized Scripture as the source where all necessary Apostolic teaching was recorded. They heard the voice of God in Scripture. At Nicea, they employed this same long established patristic method to prove the truth. Even though the canon of the New Testament had not yet been made “official” before the Council, the actual books that were recognized by the Universal Church were not in doubt. (Old controversies had existed about II Peter, Jude and Revelation. Some had argued that the Shepherd of Hermes ought to be in the Canon; but, these matters were fairly well resolved before the Council.)

Today many people have completely misguided opinions of the first Council of Nicea. They assume that it was dominated by the Emperor Constantine. In fact, when he began to address the Bishops he was told to be silent. He had no voice and no vote whatsoever in the proceedings, and became merely an observer once the Council was underway. No books were removed from the Bible, as popular misinformation would have us believe. Gnosticism was not the issue, as some would have us believe, but rather Arianism.

The Thirty-Nine Articles were written in the Church of England, which retained in its liturgy the Creed called Nicene. That Creed, the universally recognized Creed of the Church, is the Creed composed at the first Council of Constantinople in AD 381, an adaptation of the original Nicene Creed that churches could use for liturgy. The actual Creed of Nicea contains anathemas, and is not generally liturgical in structure compared to the Constantinopolitan Creed we call Nicene; but, it is obvious that the Creed of Constantinople is a refined version of the same Creed. The Church of England kept the same Faith without change, and we say the Creed to this day in all orthodox Anglican churches.

The doctrine that there is one God, “And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” was not invented at the Council of Nicea, but rather it was defended. The Fathers who gathered there did not create the idea, neither did the doctrine develop from some hitherto undefined void. A new word was coined, yes, an extra-biblical word, homoosioun (translated into English “of one substance” in the Creed called Nicene). But, just as the word “Trinity” came to be used to summarize a doctrine clearly revealed in Scripture, so the word homoosioun summarized the revelation of God as clearly set forth in Holy Scripture.

A sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
What we have seen thus far is all relevant when begin to look at the Thirty-Nine Articles. That the Divinity of the Son was settled finally over the question of our salvation from sin and death, takes on special relevance for the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as a publication of the English Reformation. For, in Articles that follow, the teaching that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, and that works, merits of saints, indulgences and sacrifices of Masses (in the double plural) cannot save us from sin and death, was based on the revelation that the One who saves us is Himself both God and man. It is not only that he died for us, but Who He is that died for us, that is at the center of orthodox Christology. The corruptions, heresies and false practices that had grown up in previous centuries, and that had come to dreadful fruition in their own time, needed to be washed away to protect the revelation of Who the Lord Jesus Christ is.

Without body, parts, or passions
Of course, the words “without body” speak of the Divine Nature, God as God. Therefore, Article II balances out the words, “without body” by saying, “The Son, which is the Word of the Father … took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried.” These words tell us that Christ’s human nature is very real, true and complete. He not only looks human, not only appears human, but really is human even though His Person remains Divine and One with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Divine Nature and the human nature of the Son come together in one Person, but the two natures remain distinct.3

Article I should make us think of that part of the Creed that says, “Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made."4 Article II should make us think of the words that follow immediately: “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man.”

“Without parts” means something more than the simple fact that the Divine Nature has no body with individual members. Rather, it refers to the Simplicity of God, namely, that where God is present He is fully present. Furthermore, the Persons of the Godhead are not parts of God: Each Divine Person is fully Divine. Yet, the Persons are distinct even though inseparable. The Son is not the Father, but to see Him is to see the Father. The Holy Spirit is not the Son, but it is through the Holy Spirit that the Son is present in the Church.

“Without passions” is another way of saying that God is impassible. Modern theologians try to reject this ancient doctrine of the Catholic Faith, imagining that the necessary use of anthropomorphic language about God in Scripture should be taken literally. God is spoken of as “moved with compassion,” or as having wrath. But, God also says clearly that he never changes.

“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”5
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.”6
Understood correctly, the doctrine of Divine Impassibility ought to provide comfort and assurance. It does not mean that God is heartless and unfeeling, but rather that God will not disappoint those who trust in Him. The basis of His covenant faithfulness is rooted in His unchanging love, and the promises He has given to us in His Son. God is not surprised, and God does not react. Rather, He sees the end from the beginning. He has acted both to create and to save us. He will not disappoint those who place their trust in Him.

Catholic Faith
The Articles open with a bold declaration of the Faith of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. As we continue to look at them we will see that they never depart from this path.
1. Jude 2, 3
2. I Tim. 1:5
3. Ultimately, a much fuller expression of this was recorded in the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD)) in these words:
So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.
4 "By whom (i.e., by Him, that is the Son or Word) all things were made" is based on John 1:3: "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." The Word, no less than the Father, is the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
5 Malachi 3:6
6 Hebrews 13:8
Fr. Laurence Wells

Fr Hart has given us a fine introduction into the Articles, but I would like to underscore a couple of points he has touched on. First, if we view the Articles as a whole, we should notice how they begin. Not with a broadside against the Bishop of Rome, nor an attack on the Mass, nor with a battle-cry against the sale of Indulgences or trafficking in relics, but a calm reasonable statement concerning "Of Faith in the Holy Trinity," and moving on to "Of the Word or Son of God, Which Was Made Very Man." The first eight articles, in fact (that is roughly 20% of the total), simply set forth the ecumenical consensus of belief, the mainstream of the Christian tradition, the almost universal body of doctrine which we still refer to as the Catholic Faith. There is little in the first Eight Articles which the Roman Church did not share. (And before you bring up the Old Testament Canon, please check out the interesting opinions of Cardinal Cajetan.) So those who either disparage or patronize the Articles need to be careful that they do not accidentally deny the Catholic faith itself.

It must be recalled that the 16th Century controversies were waged on two fronts. As we all know the Reformers were in confrontation with Rome. But they were equally engaged on the other side with far more radical movements (notice plural) such as proto-Unitarians Michael Servetus and Faustus Socinus and various Anabaptist sects. (Pike and Spong have a colorful ancestry!) The English Church, like the continental Reformers, had to take a stand against many of the classical heresies of the early centuries which were returning to the scene with their old vigor.

This should remind us that the Reformation was securely grounded in Catholic faith. In the assertion of "Gratia sola,,,fide sola" in the central portion of the Articles (which begins with Article IX), we have no new departure, no radical innovation, but teaching perfectly consistent with the shared faith of the early centuries.

One term in the first Article requires special comment. This occurs in the phrase "without body, parts or passions" (incorporeus, impartibilis et impassibilis) which might be translated "incorporeal, indivisible and impassible." Incorporeal is self-explanatory. Saying that God is indivisible means that His attributes may not be set against each other; specifically, God's grace and His sovereignty are never in tension. Thus far, little dispute.

But "without passions" for some is problematic. The version of the Articles contained in the Methodist Book of Discipline deletes this. The notion of a dispassionate or even apathetic God seems rather foreign to the God revealed in the Scriptures, a God whose love and wrath are far too real to be explained as mere anthropomorphisms. No, God is truly angry with sin and He truly loves His creation. The revival of Biblical studies (called the Biblical theology movement) of the last century raised some hard questions for the classical notion of the impassibility of God. Many dismissed this attribute as the intrusion of pagan philosophy.

But hold on a bit. The ancient and medieval theologians were perfectly faithful to Scripture when they described God as "purus actus," by which they meant that in God there is no passivity whatever. God is never acted upon because He always holds the initiative. I fondly recall a Latin professor who once said, "Only God can be the subject of a verb."

The impassibility of God is a necessary inference of His immutability. God, whom the Old Testament so frequently describes as "our Rock," is unchanging. This as been seriously disputed by various ancient heresies and by modern theological fads such as the so-called "process theology" and "open theism."

But the Gospel itself--which is the beating heart of Catholicity--requires the doctrine of an unchanging God. We affirm this each time we say, "Thy property is always to have mercy." Such words can only be addressed to an immutable and impassible God. A mutable god would not be trustworthy as it could not be depended on to be consistently merciful. A less than impassible god might be overwhelmed by the sin of the world. The Gospel holds that if sin truly provokes the Divine wrath, it can never defeat grace itself. In this difficult word, "impassible," the victory of grace is at stake. In the words of Henry Francis Lyte, "Change and decay in all around I see; O thou who changest not, abide with me."

Monday, November 15, 2010

God and All

Picture: Rev. Austin Farrer (1904-1968)

For some of us, Monday is our day of rest, or, as I prefer to call it a "theoretical day off". Even with the occasional "sorry to interrupt" call or multiple rings from telephone solicitors who have not heard of the national "do not call" list, the day can be a bit wistful and lazy. This is particularly the case as autumn slips away and pre-Thanksgiving "holiday" tunes make the radio and television even more impossible than usual to listen to or watch.

With a bit of chill in the air and a storm moving in, it is a fine setting for my regular musing, "Where are they now?" Where are the theologians, the writers, the commentators, the novelists and poets who peopled the world of Catholic Anglicanism not so long ago? Are they all gone to First Things or The New Oxford Review, happily working away and dwelling in the "Rome-that-never-was"? Or, like Fr. Colin Stephenson (Merrily On High) did they enter the larger life carrying the banner of Anglo-Catholicism with a smile in the sure knowledge that they had beaten out those who were attempting to destroy the Church?

We hope that we here in the electronic pages of The Continuum labor on in craftsman-like fashion, but so many of our texts and commentaries come with book descriptions such as "sunned spine, much shelfwear, dust cover missing." There is high ground clearly in need of reclamation by a new generation, an Anglo-Catholic revival, if you will. In the meantime, though, the fires that consumed the old Jerusalem did not claim the strong foundations (Scriptural or patristic) or even the first floor constructed by devout and great minds-Stone, Hall, Grafton, Mascall, Farrer and the like. They form a bulwark while we get Jeremiah down off the wall (for we too well know the calamities past), and put new workmen about the task of rebuilding.

At least this is the reasoning I use when a new crate arrives from Alibris, or Loome or aome other seller of books "lightly soiled with former owner's name on flyleaf."

So a quiet Monday as we come to the beginning of a new Church year and "crown" the old, the following quote from the Anglican theologian Fr. Austin Farrer seems appropriate. The piece is Fr. Farrer's meditation for Easter I and is taken from his book THE CROWN OF THE YEAR-Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament
THE death and resurrection of Christ draw near to us in this sacrament. The bread is broken--there Christ dies; we receive it as Christ alive--there is his resurrection. It is the typical expression of divine power to make something from nothing. God has made the world where no world was, and God makes life out of death. Such is the God with whom we have to do. We do not come to God for a little help, a little support to our own good intentions. We come to him for resurrection. God will not be asked for a little, he will be asked for all. We reckon ourselves dead, says St. Paul, that we may ask God for a resurrection, not of ourselves, but of Christ in us.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sermon Notes for Trinity 24 and last week, Christ the King

[B]e filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that ye might walk worthy of the Lord, … being fruitful in every good work”.+

Today's Epistle (Colossians 1:3-12) is rich in beauty of language and theology. In the first few verses St Paul, while explaining his and his companions' devotion to praying for the Colossian Christians, lists the three “theological virtues” as they are called: faith, hope and love. He is thankful for their faith in Christ, their love for each other, and their heavenly hope.

Note that he is not merely thankful because they have hope, subjectively, in their minds. No, he speaks of that hope as an objective treasure “laid up for” them “in heaven”. In other words, it is fundamentally not something they have laid up, for then it would have been laid up “by” them. Instead it is stored and accumulated there “for” them (cp. 1 Peter 1:4). Now, it is true that Jesus tells us to lay up treasure in heaven through good works (Luke 12:31-34), as does St Paul elsewhere (1 Timothy 6:18-19). However, Jesus also teaches that there is in fact one great treasure, the kingdom of God itself, which is “found” rather than earned (Matthew 13:44-46). Indeed, he compares it to a “pearl of great price” for which a merchant should sell all that he had, in order to buy it. So, in this mixture of metaphors, what do we discover? The treasure is not of our making. Yet it costs us everything, for it costs our old life (cp. Luke 14:26), as we take up the cross and devote ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Nevertheless, we gain even more, much more, in return, God and eternal life. We lay up the treasure through good works, yet it has already been laid up for us, its security being guaranteed by God's grace. It is the undeserved granting of the Kingdom to us before it becomes the reward for obedience. It is this grace, the grace of the Gospel, to which St Paul immediately ascribes the bringing forth of fruit, the “increase”. [Re-read verses 5b, 6.]

St Paul then goes on to say something very interesting about his prayers for the Colossians. He prays that they will be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom in order that they will, not only increase in the knowledge of God, but also do those good works that please God and make their “walk”, their way of life, worthy of Him. After this he mentions the strengthening from God necessary for them to do his will. But here he seems to be speaking not so much about the strength to do good works pro-actively, but to endure trials with patience and joy: “unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness”.

The reason this is interesting is that it means that what we need first and foremost to do and to be good for Christ, after receiving grace, is wisdom. To know what God wants, to understand what virtue and holiness really mean, these are the great challenges. I do not think that St Paul is talking here primarily of detailed instructions about particular activities or a daily to-do list. The phrases “be filled with the knowledge of his will” and “in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” imply something deeper than that. What we need from God is not so much a pre-written diary of events or specific commands on which breakfast cereal to have as well as how much money to give to which charity. No, what we need is clearer vision of ourselves and everything around us from God's perspective, and the knowledge that loving sympathy combined with forthright honesty brings. What we need is to remember the simple but profound truths as we make decisions and form our desires. For wisdom is often not a matter of complexity but purity, and incisively delving to the core concerns. Of course, wisdom also involves prudence and not allowing undirected zeal to lead us to undermining our own good intent (cp. Romans 10:2).

The challenging truth in all of this is that while God does judge fairly, according to people's knowledge (cp. Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:11-16), goodness is not compatible with certain kinds of ignorance. There are three reasons for this.

The first is that ignorance can be culpable, that is blameworthy, and not merely a by-product of circumstance. St Paul talks of those in Romans, chapter 1, who “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” after noting that “that which may be known of God in them is manifest”. Their punishment is to be given over to a “reprobate mind”. In other words, suppression of the truth leads to inability to know the truth. St Peter talks of the “wilfully ignorant”. Ignorance can be a surreptitious and self-deceiving choice.

The second reason that ignorance can be incompatible with goodness is what I hinted at before. There is an understanding of reality, and of what makes righteousness righteous and wickedness wicked, that is essential to virtue. But there is also the need for understanding of self and of the sin within. For without this knowledge, there is no repentance and no progress toward God.

The third reason that ignorance can be blameworthy is actually part of the good news in the Good News. The fundamental knowledge that is necessary to us and dispels the deadly ignorance is the knowledge of God in Christ. But this knowledge does not ultimately depend on IQ or a lifetime of theological reading. It is personal and experiential, and not just cognitive. The reason this is good news is that it means the wisdom we need to obey God is available to all who would seek Him and choose to follow Him, regardless of academic ability or native cleverness. (But this also means that, while IQ is not a barrier, not seeking and knowing Christ is.) Wisdom is available to all who, like St Paul, would pray for it and do so in the freedom of obedience, the obedience of faith, hope and love. As we seek to know and get to know God more and more, the wisdom of living will be granted to us. That is the “life-coaching” we all most desperately need. +

Christ the King Sermon, 2010 (Epistle: Col. 1:12-20)

All things were created by him and for him ... [f]or it pleased the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell.+

All is for Him. The Father not only created everything through Jesus, but for Jesus. The creation, and loving dominion over it, is a gift from God the Father to God the Son. But it is a gift to Him as a man too. The association of the Holy Spirit with this gift, this act of Creation, is also asserted from the very beginning of the Scriptures: “And the Spirit of God moved”, Genesis 1:2.

Since we are part of that gift, we also should do all for Jesus. We are a part of the “all things”, so we already exist for his sake. It is astonishing to think that the Creation itself was an expression of the love between the members of the Trinity, but it is true. The fact that we do not exist merely for our own sake (though it is also for love of us that Creation occurred) should not trouble us at all. Instead, it elevates the significance of Cosmos that it is not extraneous to the Divine Life, but rather a mutual act of blessing within it.

It is this that makes the nature of sin, the significance of the primal rebellions against God, whether the earlier angelic or the later human ones, so horrific and so tragic. Creation is, from the beginning, a gift of love, love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and love for the creatures themselves. But some of the creatures have turned the reflection of his glory into a dark place, even the gate of hell, and so a false image. They have taken this expression of God's love and turned it into a habitation of cruelty (Psalm 74:20). It is as if they have tried to make God a liar by sullying and twisting his Creation-word. Rebellion against the Kingship of God is not just rebellion against an arbitrary authority, it is a rejection of light and life, of truth, beauty and goodness. It is not just a defiling of self but an attempt to defile God. Thus is the vileness and malice of sin revealed.

What is the King doing about this unholy Revolution? He is not and has not been idle. But he acts partly through his army, for He is the Lord of hosts. Christ is King of the Cosmos, not just of the Church. However, we are the vanguard of his retaking of the Kingdom. We do this, not as fighters using worldly weapons against human foes, but as soldiers of the Cross, through prayer and lives which shine forth the gospel light. (While the holy angels are our fellow soldiers in this army, fellow servants of the King and not our masters, it cannot but increase our joy to know that we fight alongside and in conjunction with such glorious creatures, however hidden this military cooperation.) As well as prayer and good works, we must be willing to testify to our faith, to explain why we follow the King (cp. 1 Peter 3:15) when opportunity arises. For while everything already belongs to Jesus and, through Him, to the Father (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:28), not every being acknowledges Him as Lord or obeys Him yet. Because He is infinitely merciful, God would win the rebels back through an astonishing love, through divine self-sacrifice. The King of Kings has willingly died at the hands of his disobedient, hateful subjects in order to save them! Not only this, he continues to act mightily on behalf of his faithful people, whether through miraculous intervention, the power of the Word of God in human hearts, or through his over-arching providence arranging the “natural” march of events.

Through meditating on truths such as this, we can get a real sense of who Jesus is, the grandeur and universality of his Lordship, in order to help us toward reverent, grateful and hope-filled obedience. Reverent, because we worship his majesty. Grateful, because we give thanks for his mercy. Hope-filled, because we know whose side we are on! This is what will help us do all for Jesus, as I said earlier. We are given to him to be loyal subjects.

The paradox is that we are to share in Christ's reign and in his fulness, and thus the gift of all creation, especially the “new heavens and earth” to come, is also a gift to us. For the Scriptures tell us that we reign with Him (1 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6), and that the Church is itself “the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). It is not just we that are given to the King, but He that has been given to us. “My beloved is mine and I am His” (Song of Solomon 2:16) says the nuptial song of the Old Testament mystically representing the relationship between Christ and the Church. Think of it. Creation is not just a gift to the Son, but a wedding gift to the Son and his Bride, the Church. Shall we not rejoice at this overwhelming truth?