Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Convert Orthodoxy as Media Echo Chamber

The following was written by a young man who is currently looking to become ordained in the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK). He wrote this after having been in a congregation that departed from Anglicanism altogether for that illusive and greener grass on the other side of the fence. He is now a member of St. George's APCK parish in Las Vegas, Nevada. He begins by quoting my brother, Dr. David Bentley Hart.

Convert Orthodoxy as Media Echo Chamber

by Christopher Cox

“[Theology] has led to some pretty ferocious debates between people who, as far as I can tell, live in their mothers’ basements.” – David Bentley Hart, “Orthodoxy in America and America’s Orthodoxies.” (28:50)
In the last century, mass media and the atomization of Western culture have led to two developments that are important to traditional Anglicanism in the 21st century United States. First, all messages delivered by modern mass media in a global, postmodern society are over-simplified and distorted. Reddit is gospel to many. Second, people reacting to instability seek authenticity in commodities that are marketed by the same mass media, which they consume selectively. Hipsters find refuge in vintage denim, courtesy of nostalgia. Anglicans have a pale imitation of Eastern Orthodoxy. But Anglican converts to Orthodoxy, like hipsters who think they are authentic, choose to exist in a “media echo chamber,” only consuming media that tells them what they want to hear about their product of choice. The term is usually used in the study of media to refer to readers of politically biased news, becoming worse informed as they consume fewer media they disagree with. Here, it applies to a subculture of Orthodox converts who are misinformed for the same reason: They think they are right. 
I take up the case of the Catholic Anglican, and his echo chamber. He is an inquirer, often a cleric, often of Anglo heritage, who is unhappy with secular modernity. He is introduced to a solution by a missionary. The missionary is a pious convert from the friendly neighborhood Orthodox bookstore, who convinces the inquirer that the Eastern Church lacks the problems of the Western. The missionary makes theologically ignorant, sweeping claims with breathtaking confidence. Statues are idols, for example. By his surety and appeal to antiquity, he deludes the inquirer, just as he had been deluded before. It’s the way that fraud gurus gain converts. Imagine what Screwtape tells such missionaries:
“Give them a distorted, idealized story about a miniscule part of a foreign culture; that will lead them astray. They won’t check the facts – knowing these things will make them feel superior! And don’t stop at the laity. If you have the fortune to delude insecure or undereducated clergy, they can answer every question with an obscure ‘fact’ that sounds vaguely mystical!”
This missionary believes in “Convert Orthodoxy” (CO). CO is not the Christian faith, but a Western take on Eastern Church history that sounds like it instead. The CO narrative makes two claims. Its first claim is that fashionable, current Eastern interpretations of patristics are, in fact, the entire Faith. Its second claim is that Western Christianity was always tainted by Scholasticism (the missionary means, “Any serious idea that I don’t understand”). Thus, the West lost all heart religion by sacrificing inner peace for polemic. This last claim is the most dangerous: Basic reading in convert circles includes deep monastic writing that was not always intended for non-monastics. Combined with a hatred of cataphatic theology, it leads to spiritual delusion.  
The inquirer privately convinces himself that CO, which he mistakes for Christian dogma, is in fact the full deposit of the faith. He never considers that Eastern cultures have changed as much as Western cultures since the first century. He spends the rest of his ministry feeling inadequate and experimenting with Byzantine liturgical norms, such as the use of icons. He may not read the text of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which lacks an anathema against statuary. He forgets that Our Lord is a three-dimensional Icon. This black-and-white mentality sounds eccentric, but remember: he now believes in a narrow interpretation of Church history, not the Christian religion. Eventually, this inquirer becomes a convert, taking his parish or family with him to the doorstep of an Eastern jurisdiction, with CO firmly in tow. If he joins a jurisdiction full of secularists, modernists, and hipsters in expensive denim, he won’t even notice. He brought his trad echo chamber with him!
The Eastern Rite convert abandons his tradition and appropriates another, thinking that his foreign affectations (which confuse the ethnic Orthodox) are signs of his renewal. The Western Rite convert claims to be returning to the Orthodox Faith of the Celts, though British Christians always answered to the Western Patriarchate, itself part of the pre-schism Church. The second narrative isn’t even taken seriously by historians, but good marketers go after the heart, not the head. If a critic disagrees with the convert now, he is brushed off. “The ‘Latins’ aren’t arguing with my interpretation of Christianity,” he tells himself. “They’re arguing with the Catholic Faith!” This mindset is called “epistemic closure,” a belief that only those who agree with oneself are right.
Ethnic Orthodox wonder what religion it is that these deluded converts think they have joined. It is meet and right so to do! The former Anglican also learns that most of his fellow converts, whom he meets on the doorstep of the Eastern Church, have left the very fringes of Fundamentalist Protestantism or a New Age cult. People who escape these backgrounds are often abuse victims, lack social skills and unconsciously surround themselves with people who have similar problems. Wherever they go in large numbers, they run the risk of continuing the cycle of abuse they were formed by, resulting in toxic convert parishes. Thus, CO colonizes the Eastern Church like a Gnostic cult, adopted and spread by a subculture that lacks social skills, but attracts people of many backgrounds. CO isn’t Gospel, it’s 4Chan spirituality.
Evangelicals call this process “spiritual abuse.” It’s the reason that so many Orthodox converts belong to the same toxic parishes, full of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, domestic violence survivors, and recovering addicts. The convert described above might plant a church with a bookstore and start inviting inquirers to learn about (his version of) the primitive Church. Taken together, all these things are expressions of “convertitis,” and serve as a warning to those who would even consider entering the Eastern Church at this time. They won’t be entering Orthodoxy, but they will think they are.
As much as all Christian converts like to see their conversion as a Platonic ideal, unspotted by the world, conversions are made in space and time and matter. Maybe conversion is a holy mystery in which an outward physical sign points us to an inward spiritual grace. Anglicans, like members of all faiths, often use a narrative to convince people to see the light. That’s not wrong. The problem with CO is that the narrative is false, and toxic parishes aggressively use it to steal Anglican sheep. This cycle has repeated itself many times. Many well-meaning CO missionaries were spiritually formed in dark places by sick people, long before they came to the Eastern Church and brought their made-up religion with them.
Now it’s 2018. Tens of thousands of Anglo-Catholics in Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Quincy and MDAS are being targeted by CO missionaries. When ACNA voted to continue WO, orthodoxwest.com was released, Rev. Mark Rowe became active on social media, and Anglican Radio went over. This is likely an intentional strategy of clergy with experience in public relations, who mean to convince Anglicans that the Eastern Church cares, and will suddenly save Anglicans by a “miracle” (dirty PR trick). Psychologists call it “love bombing.” It’s a form of psychological abuse. The only serious counterattack in this game of chess has been the October 2017 agreement between four Continuing Churches. It was heroic, but too little too late. Thousands of Anglicans remain outside the merger. Many are quietly entering the Western Rite, or are in secret talks to do so. The Orthodox are moving to checkmate opponents who don’t know they’re playing chess! If traditional Anglicans don’t widely circulate a serious case for their existence in months, they will go extinct.
In conclusion, the age of mass media has come to the Church. CO is a biased version of Church history that replaces the Christian Faith in the minds and hearts of most converts to the Eastern Church. Thousands of former Anglicans and others now assent to CO because their biases have clouded their thinking without their knowledge. It’s difficult to convince people to leave CO because they think that their former brothers in Christ are in fact arguing against Christianity itself, instead of a bizarre, childlike, consumer version of Church history marketed by media-savvy clerics. Thus, it’s better to head off conversions now. Debate will only reinforce the convert siege mentality.
It’s hoped that this article correctly explains the misgivings that some feel but can’t express. The Western Rite may be the proper end of Anglicanism; God isn’t beholden to logical constructions. But it must not come to pass because pious, learned men were taken in by a gimmick.
Put it this way for the laity, clerks in Holy Orders: Orthodox converts in America are just like people who think that Disney’s Aladdin is a serious study of Middle Eastern culture.
For those familiar with the vocabulary of literary criticism: Convert Orthodoxy is an Orientalist fabrication, constructed discursively by Westerners in mock-serious dialogue with a straw man of an Eastern expression of faith and their own unwitting biases.





Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday, July 06, 2018

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle. Rom. 6: 3-11 * 
The Gospel. St. Matt. 5: 20-26
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that anyone who likes the Sermon on the Mount would like being hit in the face with a ball peen hammer. If you thought the whole sermon was simply those opening Beatitudes, then Lewis' remark can't make sense to you. If you have read all three chapters that record this sermon, however, that is Matthew chapters five, six and seven, you know exactly what C.S. Lewis meant. Frankly, the Sermon on the Mount is not there for you to like, in the emotional sense of liking a thing. If it moves you to fear of God, to an honest evaluation of your own soul, and repentance from all known sin, to take up your cross and begin to live obediently as the Lord Jesus commanded, then you understand it.

The Beatitudes, beginning with "Blessed are the poor in spirit" and going on from there, were somewhat repeated by the Lord on another occasion we call the Sermon on the Plain, recorded in the sixth chapter of St. Luke. In that sermon, Jesus patterned His words after the Blessings and Curses of the Law. To understand that, we need to go back to the days of Moses. We find, in the Law of Moses that is, the Torah, these words:

“And it shall come to pass, when the LORD thy God hath brought thee in unto the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt put the blessing uponmount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal. Are they not on the other side Jordan, by the way where the sun goeth down, in the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the champaign over against Gilgal, beside the plains of Moreh? For ye shall pass overJordan to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein.” (Deut. 11:29-31)

These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin: And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. (Deut. 27:12,13)

The blessings were pronounced on those who would obey God, and the curses on those who would rebel against God. Centuries later, Jesus Christ in his role as the Prophet like unto Moses, (Deut. 18:15f) spoke first the Blessings, or Beatitudes. In place of the curses, he spoke words of severe warning, the Woes. The New Covenant Lawgiver following the pattern, as clearly He does in Luke, is easy to understand. But, as I observe the Sermon on the Mount, recorded by St. Matthew, at first it seems to be missing the Woes. The pattern of the Blessings on Mount Gerizim and the Curses on Mount Ebal, more perfectly revealed as the Beatitudes and the Woes, does not appear in Matthew, for the Woes are missing-or, are they?

I think it is wise to see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew as beginning with the Blessings, the Beatitudes, and then the bulk of what remains throughout chapters five, six & seven constitute a large text full of the Woes. They are commandments, requirements of all who would take up their cross and follow the Son of Man as His disciples. We are meant to obey them. It is also true, nonetheless, that no one old enough to understand them is able to deny having broken them, and having needed forgiveness. The Sermon on the Mount stands as a sharp rebuke to sin. It is the most terrifying passage in all of the Bible, the long text in which Jesus Christ tells us of the consequences of unrepentant sin, the penalty that everyone of us deserves, mentioning at times the danger of Hell. In the Sermon on the Mount, furthermore, He makes it clear just how high God's standard of holiness really is, and how utterly helpless we are to meet it. After all, who has never lusted? Who has never been unreasonably angry? Who has never spoken an unkind word?

In the original Greek New Testament the word "Hell," employed by the King James Version translators in this protion of scripture, is the word Gehenna, a simplified form of the Hebrew for the Valley of Ben Hinnom. The Valley of Ben Hinnom was the place where backslidden Israelites had offered their own children to Moloch (or Baal-the same false god). Jesus uses the place here with images from a garbage dump, having led writers to assume (incorrectly it would appear) that the valley must have been so used in those days by the Judeans. What the Lord actually did here, speaking of Gehenna, was to combine the name of a place associated with infamy to imagery suitable only to a garbage dump. The fires that never go out, the worm that never dies, or never seems to die because worms are always there eating the garbage. The warning against the fires of Hell is a warning that unrepentant sinners face being thrown away, burned as trash is burned. It is a warning against the danger of being cast out.

And, the opening of today's Gospel reading, taken from this very Sermon on the Mount, makes our hopes sound all the more elusive: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." And, just in case anyone may begin to measure his own righteousness against that of those very religious, upstanding Pharisees, Jesus crushes our self-confidence: "I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." 

Why would our Lord begin His preaching by utterly devastating us? We are all convicted as sinners. If ever we misunderstood our own Prayer of Humble Access, we can do so no longer. I know of one man who reacted to the words, "we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table" with an angry protest: "Indeed, we are worthy!" he said. But, when I read the Sermon on the Mount, I know that, as St. Paul said, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing," and that I most certainly am not worthy, by any righteousness of my own, to gather those crumbs that fall from the Master's table.

The Sermon on the Mount gives us, however, a powerful ray of hope. Significantly, and crucially, that one ray of hope lies outside of each of us. In fact, that hope is found only in God.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt.5:44-48)

How can a commandment to be perfect offer hope? Hasn't Jesus made it even worse for us? But, look closely at this perfection of our Heavenly Father: "Love your enemies" He says. Why? The answer is, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?...Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

This perfection he speaks of is the perfection of love, specifically the love we call charity (caritas, agape-I Cor. 13). Jesus shows us, even while diagnosing to us our mortal illness of Sin, that God loves even His enemies. Jesus tells us that that the Father loves you and me, and does good to us. Indeed, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."

Of course, the whole point of Christ's coming, as we know from the larger picture of His ministry and teaching, and most of all from His death on the cross and His resurrection, is the love of God to save those of us who, born in sin, were His enemies from the start. Today's Epistle lets us know that God has done for us what we never could do for ourselves. We could never attain a level of righteousness that pleases Him; but Christ could and did. We have been baptized into Christ, we have died to sin, and entered a new life by being, simply put, "in Christ."

So, we learn two things: 1) Christ has paid in full (John 19:30 τελέω ) the price of all human sin, the price of your sin and mine, and 2) God sees us in Christ. The old prayers of the Psalmist come to life for us: "Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed;" (Psalm 84:9) and, "turn not away the face of thine anointed." (Psalm 132:10) The face of His anointed, that is His Messiah or Christ, is our shield. Because we are in Christ, and because the Father will not turn away the face of His Christ (anointed), He accepts us, "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved (Eph. 1:6).” We were the objects of wrath, but in Christ, as God has willed in eternity, we are the objects of mercy and love.

Let me talk a bit about the baptism of John the Baptist. When John's baptism to repentance was taking place, sinners repented and were forgiven. But, one Man stepped into the water not to lay down His sins, for He had none. He stepped into the River Jordan to pick up the sins of all repentant sinners everywhere: And so, about Him and Him alone, the Father said "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." The Father is not well-pleased with any other human being, for no man was found worthy, in heaven or in earth, to break the seals and open the book, except the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lion who appeared as a Lamb that had been slain (Rev. 5). God's only begotten Son, incarnate as a man, alone pleased the Father, and that Son, alone of all mankind, paid the penalty and full price for the rest of us.

But, to see this takes humility. Our Book of Common Prayer does not flatter us, and does not lie to us. Some people have decided that religion is a self-help program. Be warned; if your idea of the Christian life is some sort of self-improvement program, you are in grave danger of missing the whole point. Unless and until you see yourself as hopeless without God's perfection of love and mercy; unless and until you see yourself as unworthy to eat the crumbs that fall from His table, thus rejecting any illusion about some righteousness of your own; unless and until you see that only Christ has pleased the Father, and that you have not, this whole liturgy we call Holy Communion, and the whole message we call the Gospel, is entirely closed to your understanding.

The words of this service were written to affirm the truth of the Bible, that each one of us needs that love and mercy of God revealed in Christ, that is extended to us because we are in Christ, because we could not save ourselves. This service was written to give each of us a way to confess and pray that truth, saying it to God with gratitude. Let us then offer Eucharist, that is, good thanksgiving, the offering that is sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Click on the painting (by Jacopo Bassano) for the link.

Friday, June 29, 2018

St. Peter June 24

The Roman Catholic Church places a great emphasis on Matt. 16:18,19 (seeming to ignore words in 18:18 spoken to all of them). It is true, however, that "upon this rock" is spoken of the one man Peter. It is instructive to notice that the only thing in Scripture that can be called a Petrine charism, or that describes a calling unique to the fisherman, apostle and martyr, is fulfilled in the Book of Acts. The comparison of Acts 1:8, especially the last part of the verse ("...and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth") shows a pattern of how the witness of the Apostles would grow in the earth. To understand what the scriptures say about the keys of the kingdom of Heaven that Christ gave to Peter, we should look at the man's life that he himself lived on earth.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Africa Appeal from Fr. Marriot

Dear all,

Here, a little early, is the Africa Appeal for Trinity. Please feel free to copy and share this, as you will note that the demands are quite high: all valid and necessary, but unfortunately, often exceed our Appeal's capability!!!
The link to the Appeal is at http://www.parishofstbride.com/180519AA.pdf
In Christ,

Friday, May 25, 2018


Here are links to sermons I have written for Trinity Sunday



St. Vincents Rule

The Commonitorium
By Fr. Matthew Mirabile

As I have stood back and surveyed the broken landscape that is the Anglican Communion  I have observed the dialogue in play over the meaning of Scripture.  The crisis in the Anglican Communion is a thoroughly postmodern one.  It is about more than the place of gay people in the leadership of the church or about the correct meaning of scripture.  It is about which “sect” best represents the authoritative community and where this authority derives from.  I have often watched with alarm as evangelical and orthodox Anglicans have failed to properly understand the fight they are in.  As they defend the traditional meaning of scripture they have often done so as people with no memory, as a church with no leverage.  The argument about the meaning of scripture is an argument about the truth about truth, and who owns it!  It is a war over the ownership of the Christian narrative and it has been hijacked by those who wish to “turn the historical patriarchal hegemony on its ear”.  These postmodern concerns have less to do with the gospel of Jesus and much more to do with the anti-gospel of Nietzsche, Derrida, and Spong.
In this context it will not do to stand up and quote scripture in typical evangelical fashion.  Those “hijackers of meaning” merely see the evangelical and orthodox wing of the church as a community that is passé, old, and ignorant – maybe even naive.  When evangelicals (the community I originally hail from) have attempted to defend the faith through the use of scripture they seem to have done so without any real authority.  They are right, and they know they are right, yet it comes off as private interpretation – their read of scripture against the errant read of  their counterparts.  It seems to be much like a conversation in front a mirror – a relativist speaking with his individualist reflection.  It seems that both sides have failed to really see that the starting point is not some personal and subjective understanding of the text.  Nor is it sufficient to say that it is the textual understanding of one “faithful” community against the other “corrupt/outmoded” community.  After all, who is to say who has the authority to interpret The Faith? Such arguments must have teeth.  And as long as the argument takes place in the realm of present opinion it lacks teeth because the argument is ultimately over whose is the authoritative community.  And that is the question. 
This crisis is one of authority first, and not merely meaning.  In order to answer the question of authority the conversation has to turn to discussions of what it means to have a catholic understanding of the church.  For it is where The Church is in consensus that the truth abides.  It is the entire catholic community that is authoritative and that has the right to interpret the meaning of scripture and thereby define the faith.  When the Truth is being hijacked you need more than words, you need the rod of authority.
St. Vincent of Lerins faced a similar set of circumstances in his day.  An ecclesiastical writer of the 5th century, he entered the monastery of Lerins, where in 434 under the pseudonym of Peregrinus he wrote the "Commonitorium”, also called the Vincentian Canon. He lived in a region that was heavily Semipelagian and during his time there were many Christian sects and schismatic groups, not unlike today.    He wrote the Commonitorium in answer to the problem that all these schismatic groups presented.  Which one represented the apostolic and catholic faith?  In so doing he left the church a rule for determining heresy from true doctrine that has been referenced repeatedly through the ages and provided lively discussion during the Second Vatican Council.
 Theological innovation and controversy is not new to the church and Vincent was surrounded by controversy and bishops claiming to have authority to interpret the faith differently than the way it had been received.  This left him with a problem like the one we have today.  Which brand of the faith was credible?  Which bishop was right?  Which community was authoritative?  In answer to this he found this rod of authority.  He fashioned an apologetic based upon a few simple rules, an apologetic that placed the argument outside of the opinion of any single community or person.  By doing so he re-centered the authoritative community across time and space rather than localizing it with any single bishop, or schismatic group, no matter how earnest they may have been.  The familiar phrase, “That which has been believed always, everywhere and by all” (qUOD UBIQUE, QUOD SEMPER, QUOD AB OMNIBUS CREDITUM EST) became a rule for determining the catholicity of the Church’s teaching.  Taking into account the depth of the meanings contained in the Word of God and the “multiform” opinions that may arise out of it he tells us that it is possible to derive “as many opinions as there are men.  “Novation”, he says, “expounds one way, Sebellius another, Donatus in another, Arius, Apollinarius, Pelagius and latterly Nestorius in another.  Therefore because of the intricacies of error there is great need for laying down a rule for the standard of interpretation of the church catholic.”(1)  He contended that there had to be a rule for determining which community could speak authoritatively.  The principles of universality (ecumenicity), antiquity, and consent became standards for determining what is truly catholic teaching form erroneous opinion. His work came to be called the “Commonitorium”.
How can the Commonitorium be applied to this present Anglican crisis? or indeed the Protestant crisis in general?  Firstly, we need to fix a broken leg – I am referring to Hookers three-legged stool.  Someone has sawed off the leg of Tradition – as in The Great Tradition.  Rather than going back to the Reformation, we must go back to what the Reformers went back to, namely the Church Fathers – antiquity.  Now, antiquity is not held in high regard by those who wish to hijack the faith.  There is a modern prejudice for things ancient.  But this does not stand alone, it stands together with universality and consensus.  We are in a stronger place now than St. Vincent was, to look across the span of communities and history belonging to the Church and derive from that shared history certain sets of “constants”.  We would argue that these “constants of the faith” - practices, principles and propositions - which are most common, represent the consensual witness of the Spirit of truth in the church.   So if any one group wishes to dispute the authority of antiquity itself it becomes much harder to make that stick when it is universal to place, community and time.  Since the opinions of modern innovators are inconsistent with the witness of the catholic faith across time, community and common consent they are not merely arguing against the interpretation of one community in the present, they are arguing against the believing community in every age.  By so doing they are arguing against the work of the Holy Spirit as He has been directing the Church into all truth, preserving the Catholic Faith from error.  Anglicans can authoritatively look outside of their own community to the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Churches, and even to the various Protestant churches (Not mainline perhaps, since they are more prone to this same historical amnesia, but to all others who hold to the Trinitarian faith and the law of God) to evidence universality.  Orthodox Anglicans can authoritatively claim the consensual historical witness of the universal church, wherever it may be found, in whatever culture and whatever time, as its own.  In short those things that are most commonly held, believed and practiced by the majority at all times.  To deny the consensuality of this witness is to deny the character and power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. 
The above being said, many people have found it difficult to make the Vincentian canon a workable formula. There are certainly things that have been enjoined upon the church in councils that the church never took up. In the absence of the sort of universality that fails to be apparent the Commonitorium has been reduced to a great idea, but has been rejected as a workable model.  In order to make the it a practical and workable formula we need to tighten it up and make it more specific.  We need to further express the rule and its intent clearly so that it can be put to work more easily.   Anglicanism can adopt St. Vincents formula for the present as follows:
       Arguments from the greater unity of historical consensus are stronger than those of personal conviction or the private interpretation of a community where historical consensus can still be justified by the *plain understanding of scripture. In other words and by example; the consensual interpretation and response to scripture is stronger than the private interpretation of any single community or individual at any time.  Thus, the plain understanding of scripture is understood as authoritative as it has been received by the greatest consensus.
       Where the consensus of any sum of ages is contrary to the clear and plain witness of scripture it is non-binding tradition: where the consensus of a greater sum of ages is not in clear violation of the plain witness of scripture it is generally accepted as received tradition.
       Where the consensus of one age, or community, is contrary to the greater consensus of the greater sum of ages and is not in clear violation of the plain witness of scripture it is provisional at best, suspect at worst.  In this case, any localized consensus still represents a minority view which should not quickly be forced into practice. 
       And finally, where the consensus of one age, or community, is contrary to the greater consensus of the greater sum of ages and is in clear violation of the plain witness of scripture it is to be rejected as false and heresy. 
These principles hold scripture as the norming norm together with the consensus of the believing community.  This results in a more universal and authoritative witness against error.  When armed with this rule orthodox Anglicanism can more effectively argue against innovations, locating the power of the argument outside of the infighting of a single bracketed community in its cultural context to the wider believing and faithful church.  After all, the Anglican communion did not come into existence to be a “Reformational” church, but a catholic one reformed.  We must again reclaim this broader catholic identity so as to locate our history, and the authority of our community, within the witness of the Spirit’s activity within the universal church in all places, at all times, and among all believing men.
       Plain Understanding of Scripture is that which has been generally received, commented on, and understood in common by the entire church.
1. St. Vincent of Lerins, 117-118, Bettenson, 1947
Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1947
Fr. Matthew Mirabile is the Rector of Trinity Anglican Church (Anglican Church in America) in Rochester New Hampshire.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


(Reposted from 2011)

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:1-4)

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23)

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:46,47)

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (I Tim. 1:15)

In the science of theology, finally and ultimately, every nature belongs to one of two categories; either a nature is created or not created. Of the category not created is but one nature, alone without equal; that is God. Everything else is created, and belongs to the same category with natures sub or super to each respective created nature. God exists, and by His will creatures exist; that is all there is, and nothing more. Angels do not share the nature of God. Rather, they share our created nature. Nothing shares with God the Divine nature; God is wholly other from every created nature. Perhaps the day will come when man-made technology can detect the presence of angels, demons and even departed human spirits (and sketchy evidence is reported to exist already). Matter is organized energy, and it is likely that a kind of energy is the stuff of which created spirits are made. The point is, God alone is wholly other from everything created; God alone is of that distinct order that is not part of the creation we live in. 
Really, we cannot speak of "the supernatural" as a wholly different order except when we mean God. Used otherwise, "supernatural" is merely a relative term, such as the supernatural order of man over that of dog (or the sub-natural order of dog compared to that of man). Here too we must distinguish between details, in which the intelligence of man is supernatural to the intelligence of dog, but the nasal ability of man is sub-natural to the superior smelling ability of dog. Like dog and angel, we belong to the created order; we belong to it along with demons, and insects, and along with angels and archangels. 
True Christology must begin with this distinction between God and the whole of creation. This is where St. John begins his Gospel, deliberately alluding to Genesis, to the Greek translation called the Septuagint (LXX) in his opening words. That connection is obvious: "In the Beginning" (בְּרֵאשִׁית) B'Rashet(ν ρχ)  En archē. 

ν ρχ ν  λόγος   or, "In the beginning was the Word." 

Unlike the opening of Genesis, which leads with the creative works of God, John leads by telling about God as God. 

"And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God."

Only after this does he write of God's work of creation. He builds on the ancient revelation in the Hebrew text, where God's word causes the creation to come to life. Genesis says, "And God said," using the word "said" (אָמַר) as the source of power. So, John writing with fuller and richer revelation teaches us that the Word or the λόγος (Logos) is more than an utterance; the Word is a Person Who is Himself God (κα  λόγος ν πρς τν Θεόν), and goes on to reveal concerning the Word, "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light," is answered by "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." 
The Word - that is, the Logos - is God (Θεόν) in the opening of John's Gospel, existing by, in and with the Father ("Begotten not made," as the Creed says). He gives life and light to the creation, and the whole creation is dependent on Him for its existence. It is made by Him; all of its order and all of its life comes by Him as a gift. He, the Logos, is separate from all creation because He is God. He is supernatural to every created nature, and wholly other from the entire order of creation. 

Creatio ex nihilo
Creatio ex nihilo, or creation from nothing, is not some idea imposed on the Biblical texts. It comes from the opening of Genesis itself, declaring that the heavens and the earth were created by God. They are not part of Him, neither did He give birth to creation. That is, we have no goddess who is one with Mother Earth; rather, part of the revelation of God as Father begins with creation strictly by His will.           
Some modern English versions of the Bible connect the first two verses of Genesis along the lines of, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was..." The connection of the first two verses into one long sentence, usually by adding the word "when," can suggest Pantheism; that God is the stuff of creation, or that the universe is God, implying that "the heavens and the earth" existed before creation. The King James Version, or the old (not the New) Revised Standard Version, for example, got it just right. The opening verse is a whole and complete sentence, indeed a separate sentence from verse two. In fact, the opening of verse two with the word "and" is a literal and perfect translation of the Hebrew. That is, God made it all, "and the earth" (וְהָאָרֶץ), after He made it initially, was without form and void at that early stage of its existence (of incidental interest, science tells us that the infant earth was dark because it was not yet in the orbit of the sun). In the Biblical text we read that God then spoke to create light and life, bringing us back to the point we have seen in the Gospel of John.          
The opening words of the Bible, when translated accurately, simply and straightforwardly, provide the revelation that God created everything by His will, that He made it out of absolutely nothing (Hebrews 11:3), for nothing that belongs to creation had already existed. Both the doctrine of Creatio ex nihilo and of God as Wholly Other, are revealed in the beginning of Scripture.

Come into the world
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) 

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23) 

In a simple phrase of St. John that separates the doctrine and spirit of Christ from the spirit of Antichrist, "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." As used above in a quoted passage (...every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, etc. I John 4:1-4), we may well appreciate the incarnate meaning of His human name, and the familiar reality of "flesh." But, the word "come" also is loaded with meaning. No one else has ever come into the world; all the rest of us originated here. The word "come" is the operative word that speaks of Christ's Divinity as the Logos, a Person not created. For, the spirit of Antichrist denies that He is come in the flesh; that is, it denies the Incarnation of the Word by one of two means: Either the spirit of error denies that Jesus Christ is truly human in every real way; or it denies that He is God, the One Who has come into the world of His own making.  This is an essential fact of Christology, that he came into the world. We do well to consider the Greek word translated "world" in the original New Testament; it is the familiar word κόσμος (cosmos). The Logos, a Person equal to the Father Who is not part of the creation at all ("begotten not made"), but rather is God in His own true nature, entered the created order.  He took the fullness of human nature into His Divine Person.   
The First Council of Nicea (325 AD) rejected the teaching of Arius (who asserted that the Word was a creature) by recalling the revelation that Christ alone saves us from sin and death. Yes, the texts of Scripture showed clearly all of the things we have seen in the portions quoted from the Gospel of John, and several more such passages that unmistakably teach that the One who is Himself called both the Logos and the Son, is equal to and one with the Father, without beginning or end. But, in the final analysis, they recognized above every other consideration that Soteriology, the study of salvation, always centers on the Person of the Son of God.   
It is no small matter, therefore, to understand the Gospel. Unless we see Christ as Divine, and as coming into His creation by taking a second nature alien to His "begotten not made" Person as "Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance (ομοουσιον) with the Father," we may be inclined to feel a need for an additional savior, or perhaps some means of making our own atonement. If we limit His atonement we limit Him, treating Him as less than God. We can add nothing more to His salvation, nor can there be any need to do so.
The words of our own Holy Communion liturgy, which come from the Scriptures and most directly reflect the Epistle to the Hebrews, are as much a matter of Christology as they are of Soteriology: "All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, 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."    
These words also reflect the First Epistle of John, "And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (2:2) For, although Christ by His death as our full atonement and propitiation has met with limited reception from the fallen human race, His work is "full, perfect and sufficient" because of Who He is.        
"Who has believed our report?" said the prophet (Isaiah 53:1), and in that same Suffering Servant passage spoke of the One and the many; for "many" in that passage is not properly contrasted against the concept of all; rather the one man upon Whom the burden of sin is placed, is one contrasted against the "many." 

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all...He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53: 5,6,11)        

That is, "many" speaks of the entire human race, everyone except this Man Who takes away all sin; and this is taken up by Saint Paul: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Romans 5:18, 19) There we see the One and the many. So, although not everyone believes, from the Divine perspective and by Divine initiative, salvation is offered to everyone in Christ. However one views the mystery of predestination, a very large subject indeed, it is very dangerous to speak of Christ's work as "Limited;" for, we might then imagine that His death is not sufficient, meaning that He is not sufficient, to take away the sins of the world. (John 1: 29)       
Just as it is unnecessary, not to mention unorthodox, to try to add to the Atonement, whether by the merits of saints from some supposed "treasury," or by calling the Lord's blessed virgin mother "Co-redemptrix" (a popular idea among some contemporary Roman Catholics), and so forth, it is also error to use the term "Limited Atonement" when speaking of Christ's sacrifice. From two opposite ends these ideas limit Christ's work, and therefore treat Him as less than fully Divine. "Full, perfect and sufficient" means just that, as does "once for all." (Hebrews 10:10)   
We serve no need by solving false problems. Reconciling the full, perfect and sufficient work of Christ with the unbelief of a fallen world, is a false problem; and, it would be no solution to undervalue the meaning of the words, "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:2) For that speaks of God's generous will and infinite love, whatever men may do about it.          
Finally, the great Christological passage from Paul's Epistle to the Philippians also connects Soteriology to the whole study of Christ's Person and Incarnation, rehearsing the Gospel in the context of Christ's two natures:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, etc. (see Phil. 2:5-11)

Exorcising the spirit of Antichrist
The revelation recorded in Scripture shows only Christ as coming from outside the fallen world, coming into it by taking our nature to save us from sin and death. No one else is from above; no one else came into the world (cosmos). No one else entered the created order from some other venue. The other venue is His Divine nature that is itself separate from the created order. The mystery of the Incarnation is beyond our comprehension. But, though we can never understand it fully, we are given grace to believe what has been revealed. "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."