Friday, August 24, 2018

The Samaritan

This is not to be treated lightly. As God on his throne in heaven, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son could not be harmed by man's malice. But, as a man, we see Jesus demonstrating the love of God through his human nature, actually suffering injustice, cruelty and pain; and he responded by forgiving and praying for his persecutors. This was Divine forgiveness from the Man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:5)

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Tenth Sunday after Trinity


Click on the picture for the link

Pope Francis and a Capital Gain


On Thursday August 2, 2018, the New York Times reported the following:

Pope Francis has declared the death penalty wrong in all cases, a definitive change in church teaching that is likely to challenge Catholic politicians, judges and officials who have argued that their church was not entirely opposed to capital punishment.

Before, church doctrine accepted the death penalty if it was “the only practicable way” to defend lives, an opening that some Catholics took as license to support capital punishment in many cases. 

But Francis said executions were unacceptable in all cases because they are “an attack” on human dignity, the Vatican announced on Thursday, adding that the church  would work “with determination” to abolish capital punishment worldwide.

The article went to say that this change would be made to “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” and it seems, from all evidence, that it is now the authoritative teaching coming from the Roman Magisterium.

Within hours Social media was all a buzz with complaints from the usual suspects, especially very conservative Roman Catholics of what is called, in the street lingo of online theological gang rumbles, the “Trads,” that the Pope had taught error. Once again it was proved right that an acceptable definition of a modern western Roman Catholic is “One for whom the pope is infallible, and usually wrong.” Also in the buzz was one opinion by a somewhat well-known neo-Anglican that Pope Francis had single-handedly overturned previous infallible Church teaching based on his authority as pope, and that this was “huge.”  

As one who has no dog in the internal papal infallibility fight (in terms of trying to describe and define it by artful tactics designed to affirm it in principle when forced to deny it in practice, thus remaining among the faithful), it is of no particular interest to me how the Trad gangs, when meeting by their motorcycles in their leather jackets and sharpening their switchblades, settle the issue. I know that Social Media is not likely to spare me the unpleasant sight of the rumbles as they ensue, nor from the hue and cry of those seeking the head of Pope Francis on a spike. Nonetheless, as a Christian who admires much about the current Pontiff, I consider his statement to be the only moral position that is in any way that of the Spirit of Christ.

Some of you have read the debate between my younger brother, David Bentley Hart and one Edward Feser, in which my brother firmly rejected the idea that any Christian has any business trying to argue for and support Capital Punishment, as Edward Feser had tried to do. My brother hit the nail on the head, so to speak, as he was wrapping up his position.

I do not believe that anyone can possibly truly absorb the moral and spiritual teachings of the New Testament and conclude anything other than that there can be no genuinely Christian support for the death penalty. And the history of the early Church bears luminous witness to this. In later centuries, admittedly, as Christendom progressively displaced the earlier, purer, and more perilous forms of Christian life, things did indeed become more confused. Loyalty to Christ and loyalty to the civil order were now no longer antithetical to one another, which meant that neither loyalty could remain uncompromised by the other.

This brings me to what I regard as a more important consideration than what Pope Francis may, or may not, have done to Papal Infallibility – whatever it is when all is said and done. As someone who respects the man and his episcopal office, I am more concerned by the probability that this is the moving of the Holy Spirit. No, I do not mean to imply that the Holy Spirit has contradicted Himself, but rather that He would assert His own Lordship over what the Trads call “the Church.” I know that sounds like chaos to those who need the security of an authority system that, like dominoes lined up, cannot endure the fall of so much as one detail. Personally, I would not feel my faith to be secure if it rested on innumerable details, all of which must be infallible in order for the essential and undeniable truths of revelation to stand.

No. For me this brings up something my other brother wrote, my older brother, Addison Hodges Hart, who precedes me in the way of senility, but not so far along that path before he had written a good book that speaks clearly to this matter, indeed, that speaks to it in the very title itself, Strangers and Pilgrims Once More, subtitled, Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christendom World.

Far too long, really since the days of the late Roman Empire, the Church has played the part of chaplain to kings, princes, and in modern times democracies and republics. This has been true more in the western Church over the centuries, but has been the case in the Eastern Church as well except under Muslim rule, or Communist oppression. My own beloved Anglicanism has certainly not been free from the charge of Erastianism, although I find that criticism to be quite lame in the historical context of Christendom as a whole. Whether one was in London or in Rome, up until very modern times, the order of the day was Erastian.  

And, the problem with the Church playing the role of State Chaplaincy is that it weakens its prophetic role. Instead of speaking against the evils of the the world’s governments, as St. Augustine did so fearlessly (likening the various princes and governments of his time to large scale gangsterism), calling them to account for their sins, like John the Baptist addressing Herod in the spirit of Elijah who addressed Ahab, the subordinate Chaplaincy Church blesses the state, and takes part in all of its endeavors. That includes wars whether they can be described by anybody as Just or Unjust, substituting some matters of good and evil as black and white with a politically suitable gray scale.

What Pope Francis represents in his bold declaration against Capital Punishment is liberation for the Church from its chaplaincy role, and a rediscovery of the authority and freedom to prophesy against the evils of kings, princes, and states of every kind. He may well be following the Spirit. “Now the Lord is that Spirit: And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (II Cor. 3:17).”



Sabbath Shift (originally published in Touchstone


Published in Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity in November 2008
Robert Hart on Sunday Marathons & New Savages
If someone wants a picture of mankind without religion, I suggest the first twenty minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. That image would be perfect if the apes were naked rather than furry, and used human speech rather than chimpanzee shrieks. Otherwise, it is just about right, and far from the ethically sensible and civilized non-religious world envisioned by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
At church one Sunday morning in Fountain Hills, Arizona, about fifteen minutes before service time, I was told that a man wanted me to come outside and speak with him (rather an imposition for a priest who is trying to put on vestments and concentrate). I went out into the Phoenix valley sunlight and was approached by the man, a rather busy-looking fellow visibly stressed. “We want to spray-paint the new office building next door. Could you ask everyone to move their cars far away from your parking lot and walk back to church?”
Even if everyone in my congregation had been young and athletic, I would have answered the same way. But the fact that a couple of parishioners made a great effort to walk even a short distance, leaning on their walkers and panting—such was their determination to be in church for Holy Communion—made his request all the more silly. “Absolutely not. Under no circumstances will I ask them to do any such thing.”
“But we need to get this job finished, and I have my crew here, and I have to pay them.” I thought about the big sign that said “Church,” clear for all to see, under a huge cross, and considered that this was, after all, Sunday morning. Only one reply seemed appropriate. “You should have known better than to schedule a spray-paint job next door to a church on a Sunday morning.” I went back inside and turned my attention back where it belonged.
Running over Religious Freedom
Back in the 1970s we were all so busy fighting the major issues, especially for the pro-life cause, and trying to evangelize in the face of the major social upheavals introduced in the previous decade, that defense of what were mockingly called the “blue laws” seemed a bit archaic and counterproductive. In fact, even many Christians were probably glad that stores previously closed on Sundays were now open seven days a week, and that the world had finally given us non-stop shopping. By 1983 nearly everything was open everyday.
But look where this has led. All too often now it is simply assumed that religious liberty and rights can be sacrificed for a public occasion. On March 24, 2002, Washington, D.C., held a marathon race that hindered many people from attending church. Adding insult to injury, that day was Palm Sunday. The mayor, Anthony Williams, had the nerve to say that all the churches should get together in some public arena for an interfaith service, and leave the roads clear for the marathon runners. This insensitivity to and violation of people’s cherished rights are intolerable on any Sunday, but doubly offensive on Palm Sunday.
And Washington’s 2002 race wasn’t an anomaly. In Pittsburgh, for instance, five or six downtown churches must close on one Sunday every year because of the Pittsburgh Marathon. No one is permitted to drive or even walk on the streets around these churches because such activity would “interfere” with the race. Sunday-morning marathons that block access to churches are annual events in Stamford, New York; Evansville, Illinois; Los Angeles, California (despite claims of improvement in 2006), and so many other cities that we have not the space to list them all. The First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion is blatantly curtailed by cities and towns without penalty.
Burdensome Liberation
“Liberation” from the blue laws has become a burden especially to the poor, who need the Sabbath rest even if they do not go to church. They now have to go to work on Sunday, even if they are troubled by their conscience for missing church, or simply hurt because they miss it. This progressive, bold step away from the shackles of the past, promising freedom and prosperity, has taken its toll on the people who suffer the greatest economic need, making them choose between their religious observance and their paycheck.
That is the very opposite of expanded freedom. Perhaps those “silly” blue laws, and other social norms and mores, provided a kind of freedom of their own, especially for people in the working and laboring classes.
I learned that one business in that Arizona town, a diner near the church, had traditionally closed every Sunday until shortly before my arrival. But then a local clergyman, my predecessor, convinced the owner to open every Sunday for the convenience of the congregation. Many liked to go there after the early Mass (8:00 AM) each Sunday and have breakfast together. One waitress there, I learned, had been a member of the church, but was no longer.
I remember the sight of that waitress looking at her former fellow church members, serving them breakfast, missing the services every Sunday. I suppose it was very convenient for the people who could now hop over to the diner after church, but at what cost to that waitress? Is this what a Christian clergyman should have asked for?
Just this past Sunday here in Easton, Maryland, about half an hour before our principal Holy Communion service, I heard what sounded very much like machine-gun fire out in the street. It turned out to be one of those hand-held jackhammers that tears up a street or sidewalk and deafens all passers by. I walked through the front doors of the church into the street, and got the attention of the crew. They were contractors working by the schedule of their boss, who was not of the town.
“You can’t do this here this morning,” I said. We are about to have a church service.” I pointed to St. Andrew’s, a historic (former Roman Catholic) church building that dated from about 1860. They all looked up at the steeple with the cross, and at the signs with clearly visible words like “St. Andrew’s Anglican Church,” “Holy Communion Sunday morning at 10:00,” and other subtle clues.
“Do you want us to stop?”
Just then our bishop walked right up, smiling, and asked them in friendly tones if he needed to call the mayor. Easton is civilized, and the crew knew that they were not going to be drilling for quite some time. But what if they had arrived during a service? They would have been stopped, but only after creating an inexcusable interruption of a sort no one would have dreamed of making several years ago, during a time when work crews and their bosses simply did not need to be told.
False Paradise
In 2006, a town councilman in Scottsdale, Arizona, introduced a bill that would make it illegal for churches to hold services except on Sunday, on the grounds that some of the church parking created an “inconvenience.” No Holy Week services, often no Christmas services, no Saturday weddings, no weekday funerals, no midweek Masses in liturgical churches, no Wednesday Bible studies, no prayer meetings, no revival services in Baptist churches. Sunday was enough.
Even if that bit of insanity had passed, the courts would have been obligated to strike it down. But what has happened in our day and age that makes such lunacy conceivable at all?
Pure capitalism, without ethical or even legal restraints to protect the freedom of the lower classes to worship God, is no wonderful Utopia. We have moved away from those protections hardly noticing what we were doing, and sometimes even cheering for all the wrong reasons as we welcomed the alleged convenience and liberty.
We have, however, been taking a step forward into the world of those first twenty minutes of Kubrick’s movie. Not as hairy, ape-like, pre-man creatures, but rather as businessmen, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, contractors, and politicians, all living down to the call of the wild in a non-religious “paradise” of savagery.
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.