Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

My prayers that each of you might have a healthy, prosperous and happy new year; and that you might be blessed in all that you are and all that you do, to the greater glory of God.

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth;
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful;
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, One God;
Have mercy upon us ...

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness, to us, and to all men ...


The Gospel. St. Matt. i. 18-25

I am going to take a bit of a detour today, and I ask you to bear with me. In fact, you should find this quite interesting.

Readers of Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity, will see in the January/ February issue something a bit unusual from me. It is a satire on the Historical Critical Method that is, from all evidence, more relevant than I had imagined when I wrote it. As if “The Jesus Seminar” had not been silly enough, and quite deserving of the contempt of every genuine historian, the public will soon be treated to something sillier still, called “The Jesus Project.” One of its organizers, Robert Funk, has said that one of the subjects will be whether or not Jesus ever really lived, claiming that this is a testable hypothesis. I find this almost gratifying, because my soon to be published satire deals with a future book by a historian who argues that George Washington was not a real man in history, but merely a collection of various legends, each containing possible elements of truth. Another of this “Jesus Project” organizers, R. Joseph Hoffmann, said: “the first Jesus Seminar may have been——for political reasons——too reluctant to follow where the evidence led. When you have pared the sayings of Jesus down to fewer than twenty, one begins to wonder about the survivors.” That's rich indeed. The method for "paring down" was a simple vote among the "scholars" as to which sayings they liked or did not like. If every science were so arbitrary we would have no medicine or technology.

Genuine history cannot work this way, but charlatans can do whatever they like. Some of you may wonder what I make of the constant bombardment on the traditional understanding of Jesus Christ that is always popping up on television. The idea that the Church has hidden the facts in a conspiracy of silence seems to be the only subject that these sensationalists want to discuss. Well, of course. After all, to make money, I mean real money, why write the same old story that true historians, hindered by integrity, have been writing all along? Make up something new and novel, maybe even as a novel, or as a new theory for an allegedly scholarly book that can land the author on television. And once on television, we’re (rather, they’re) in the money. “The Jesus Project” will feature, among other unusually prosperous “scholars” Dr. Elaine Pagels. Allow me to tell you who Elaine Pagels is. She was a student at Harvard Divinity School who took the standard Church History course on ancient Gnostic heresies that has been the fare of Divinity students for ages, in fact that my brother Addison took in the early 1980s when Henry Nouwen was there. She wrote her first book on the subject of those Gnostic heresies, and has since based her entire career on the thesis of the same book. Her claim was that she discovered these ancient writings and that the Church has been hiding them away from the world, due to their fear that the Gnostic writings would be discovered, and prove that there were different versions of Christianity from the start. She made up a few fictional items to elaborate on genuine history in the process, such as making up entire passages from her own mind and attributing them to one of the Church fathers.

The basic problem is that she never discovered anything, except for a way to make money; the texts of the Gnostics have been preserved by the very Church that she accuses of censoring them, because only the Church has had an interest in their historical value. And, like all these sensational things that are alleged to be recent discoveries, such as the Judas Gospel, the Church has known about them all along, and if not for the Church they would have been lost. The simple fact is, the Church always knew about these books, and as early as the Epistles of Saint Paul and Saint John, you see the process of discrimination between the teaching of Christ’s apostles and the so-called different versions of the Gospel. The Church has never hidden these things, neither has the Church been afraid of them. The fact is, just as we know today that The National Enquirer should be distinguished from a serious newspaper, the Church knew better than to take every book by every crank into the Canon of Scripture. The only book ever taken seriously by parts of the Church as one that should be considered to have been Divinely inspired, but that did not make it into the final Canon of the New Testament, is The Shepherd of Hermas. However, it has long been available in the edition “The Apostolic Fathers.” It was never hidden or lost.

Nonetheless, TV is constantly advertising the latest new sensation that is supposed to shock and rock the faith of Christians; but it is always an old story, and quite boring. So, if you want to know whether or not I am worried about these things, I am not. If anything, it is very hard to hide my contempt for conmen, sensation mongers and the obvious commercial interests that they pander to. In fact, hiding my contempt is so hard that I gave up even the idea of doing so, and wrote the satire that I have so shamelessly promoted before you all. It is right for me to address this from the pulpit, because it is a matter of pastoral concern that falls under my responsibility. You ought to know that the real conspiracy is not one of silence by a frightened Church, but rather a very simple commercially motivated one, namely book sales.

You see, this is relevant to what we read in today’s Gospel. Some of you are aware that recent versions of the Bible deviate from the word “virgin” in the book of Isaiah when rendering the verse quoted by Matthew. The Hebrew word, alma, is now rendered “young woman.” This is very interesting, because it was the seventy Rabbis, that is Jewish scholars, who translated almah into the Greek word parthenos - when translating the Septuagint, that is, the Greek Old Testament that Saint Matthew quoted. The Rabbis who translated the scriptures into Greek knew perfectly well that Isaiah meant “virgin." You see, that is the only possible meaning that parthenos can have. It is ancient Jewish Rabbinical authority that stands behind the use of the word “virgin” when quoting Isaiah- which explains why it is a sign. What kind of a sign from God would it be that a young woman gives birth? It happens many times every day.

So it is that I would like now to concentrate on two other Hebrew words. The first is the name Jesus, so named, as Matthew tells us, of the angel. I am sure that we all know that this is pronounced Y’shua in Hebrew. It means salvation. When students are learning Hebrew much is made of the rhyming words from Isaiah 33:22: “Adonai Shophtenu, Adonai Machkakenu, Adonai Malkenu, Hu Y’shieynu.” It means: “The LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our Salvation.” And, if you are thinking that that word “salvation”- in this case Y’shieynu, is a form of the name of our Lord, the name Y’shua or Jesus, you are right. When it says the LORD is our Judge, the picture is not the judge who sits in judgment of us, gavel in hand, deciding our fate. That picture is quite true and right, since “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” But, this word, shophat ( or shophtenu- our judge) is the same as what we see in the title of the Book of Judges (Sepher Shoph’tim). When the people of Israel were oppressed by their enemies, and turned from their sins, several times the Lord raised up different men to deliver them. The Spirit of the Lord would come upon him, he would blow the trumpet and gather the men of Israel into an army, and defeat their foes. This judge is a savior. He comes not to condemn the world, but to save it. He is called as well the Lawgiver and the King. Whatever the world is saying, whatever so-called “new morality” is in fashion- for those of us old enough to remember the “new morality” when it was new- we Christians still live by the laws of our king. This is how we cooperate with the saving of our own souls, and aid the salvation of others. So, the angel said to Saint Joseph, “thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” The little word “from” is very important. Modern affirming religion preaches that he saves us in our sins- in fact that we have no sins, and just need Him to raise our self-esteem. But, the angel said, “thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

The other name is Emmanuel, God with us. This is what the Bible has revealed from the beginning, and I do mean Genesis. God made man in His own image, because it was the Divine will from the start to take human nature into the Godhead, for the Word to be made flesh. The Fall of man into sin turned that grace into a rescue mission from sin and death. Life is not a test; it is a shipwreck, because what we need as the miserable offenders that we are, is not a grade at the end, but rather salvation from sin and death. Our Fall into sin and death made the cross of Christ into a necessary part of the Incarnation story. By the cross of Jesus Christ our sins are condemned and forgiven in one Divine action. The emergency of our Fall into sin and death made the Resurrection of Christ, by which death is conquered and eternal life is granted in place of mortality, into part of the Incarnation history. God with us is our salvation. The Word made flesh is our Judge, He is our Lawgiver, He is our King; and as Judge, Lawgiver and King, He is our Salvation.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Will the Continuum Survive?

I draw your attention to the very blunt and less-than-encouraging piece of this title written by Death Bredon over at The Patristic Anglican

The Collect - Christmas I

The Prayer

The ancient collect as found in the Roman Missal and in the Anglican Missal:

Almighty and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to govern us in all our doings in the way of thy good pleasure: that we, faithfully serving thee in the Name of thy well-beloved Son, may worthily abound in all good works. Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

1549 and subsequent Prayer Books

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.


The Medieval pattern was to use several collects, one after the other, a practice still kept in some Missal parishes. Thus both the specific collect for the Sunday and the Christmas collect (as a commemoration) were used. Cranmer, in the interest of simplicity, preferred to use but one Collect, whenever possible. It would appear that, as the Sunday collect seemed a bit overly generic during such a high festival octave, he chose to omit it and use only the Christmas Day Collect. This latter appears to have been his own composition, artfully weaving together the themes of the various Latin collects for the three Masses of Christmas Day.


He came down for us, and took our nature upon Him.
He became man that man might be restored to union with God.
We are adopted as sons and brethren, redeemed, restored, forgiven.
May we be given strength to walk in all the good works to which he has called us.

Ed Pacht

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Collect - Holy Innocents

The Prayer

From the Roman Breviary

Deus, cujus hodiérna die præcónium Innocéntes Mártyres non loquéndo, sed moriéndo confessi sunt: ómnia in nobis vitiórum mala mortifica; ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra lóquitur, étiam móribus vita fateátur. Per Dóminum.

O God, whose praise the martyred Innocents did this day proclaim, not by speaking but by dying, do to death in us all the malice of sinfulness, that our lives may also proclaim thy faith, which our tongues profess. Through.

Cranmer's Collect of 1549

ALMIGHTY God, whose prayse this daye the yong innocentes thy witnesses hath confessed and shewed forth, not in speakyng but in dying; Mortifye and kyll all vyces in us, that in oure conuersacion oure lyfe maye expresse thy fayth, whiche with oure tongues we doe confesse; through Jesus Christe oure Lord.

The Collect of 1662:

O ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


From comparing the Collects, it is clear that Cranmer sought to follow closely the themes set out by the Roman Catholic Church. By 1662, the testimony of the deaths of the children has been elaborated with an allusion to Psalm viii.

The feast itself is very old -- instituted in the fourth or fifth century. The historical details of the slaughter of the children are scant: Josephus doesn't seem to mention it at all when he compiles a list of the atrocities of Herod; perhaps it was small-fry in comparison with the list of his other crimes that aggrieved the learned Jewish historian. Nonetheless, the Comemmoration of the Holy Innocents was raised to a feast of the Double Second Class with octave by Pope Pius V in 1568. In England, the feast was historically known as Childermas.


Any loving parent will shudder and turn away from thinking about the events commemorating the execution of the savage, hate-filled orders of a paranoid king. Indeed the paintings of the classical artists depicting these events are horrible and hard to look at. Many of them depict, amid the slaughter and grief, a gleeful and ghastly picture of Herod giving out his order without a care, save only that his will be done. In reality, he will not see the event carried out, cocooned safe from culpability in his palace.

Yet how does this event affect even the soldiers themselves following the orders? Some of them are parents also, aren't they? Surely there is one soldier? One who has himself rejoiced over his tiny child recently born, sleeping soundly, squeaking a little, finding warmth and love upon the soft breast of the mother and wife. And yet the same soldier is commanded to smash his way into a small Bethlehem home with sword drawn to cut off the life of one who has barely begun to love, so that one man can sleep soundly in his bed.

Yet this happens daily. We do not like to think of it. We cast the brutality backwards in time to the excuse of a "more savage age", and in doing so we miss the slaughter of the Innocents around us.

This is not just a Pro-Life issue, though abortion is as much a slaughter of a person as is slaying a newborn. This is an issue of the death of innocence within each of us. Innocence - not nocens. The Romans would describe anything that was harmful or wicked as nocens so that one who was innocent was simply not nocens.

In Ipswich, England recently, five prostitutes have been murdered by a single killer. Yet each woman had been damaged long before that. Each woman was dependent on heroin and drugs. One was three months pregnant. Yet each woman was once a tiny squeaking baby who knew nothing but the need for warmth, love and peace. These poor women were infected with the nocenti corrupting their needs into something obscene.

Are they alone in their corruption?

No. For we tread there too in our nocenti - our needs and desires warped by the Darkness around us. No better, no worse. We are all infected.

Yet is is by way of these poor little Innocents that the infant light of Christ is protected in its vulnerability. This is a light that needs to grow and blossom despite being surrounded by the World's corrupting influences, but not being overcome by them, until this Innocent too is beaten, scourged, torn and pierced for our sake. But the light of this Innocent dies not -- a brief moment of darkness before the light burns brighter.

So it is that as the Holy Innocents hide the light in their own undefiled flesh, so too can we, with the help of their supplication, cast off the stinking corruption of our nocenti by our bathing in the blood of Christ whose birth we have celebrated three days before. This is our prayer, and, through faith in Him, it is granted.

Jonathan Munn

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Collect - St John the Evangelist

The Prayer

Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being lightened by the doctrine of thy blessed apostle & evangelist John, may attain to thy everlasting gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Cranmer simply translated the ancient collect to produce the 1549 version.
In 1662, the end was slightly reworked and lengthened, I think to the improvement of its content. The American book follows 1662.

...may attain to thy everlasting gifts altered to ...may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to the light of everlasting life.


It was St John who wrote of the light that shineth in the darkness, the light that the darkness did not comprehend, the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:5 & 9). John saw that light on the Mount of the Transfiguration, and that Light of Christ flowed through him for the rest of his long life. May we live in that same Light, and may we be reflections of it as we walk through this world.

Ed Pacht

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Sermon

The following was preached by my rector, and impressed me sufficiently that I asked his permission to post it here.

A Sermon by Father Owen Williams, Christmas 2006 at Trinity Anglican Church, Rochester NH.

Have you noticed that over the past two weeks on television, both cable and broadcast channels, there has been an onslaught, a blitz, an overwhelming number of presentations of Jesus stuff. It is as if we said, “we want to put Christ back in Christmas.” and they, who ever they are, said, “We will give you Christ“. So, not only do we have the usual deluge of “Miracle on 34th Street” - It has been played daily the last two weeks and steadily all day today. – and repeats of multiple versions of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and don’t forget that today starts the 24 hour marathon of “A Christmas Story” where you can hear over a hundred times, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Besides this usual fare of light, or should I say fluff, entertainment, we have had a barrage of documentaries about Jesus. “Yes,” they said, “we will give you your Christ. But our version, and we will dress him up in our fashion and make it appear to be fact.” They said, “We will tell you that this could be the real history. We will do our best to stir up doubts on Jesus, the Bible and the teachings of the Church.” And so we have more stories about whether or not Jesus was married, with sage sounding scholars saying why the Church might have kept this truth hidden. Then there are the gospels that were ‘removed from the Bible’ Like the Gospel of Judas. Or the story about how Christmas really began. Christian leaders usurping pagan festivals of the Roman empire in order to trick them into accepting a new religion. If you only knew the truth. That Christmas is a lie – Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th in the year one.

It is correct that Jesus of Nazareth probably wasn’t born in December or in the year one after his birth. And yes, Christians did adopt the date of a pagan feast. The same was done for Easter and All Saints Day. But this is hardly malevolent. If the desire is to make people think that Christianity is one huge ecclesiastical conspiracy the time is ripe. After all everything you see on the internet or cable news is true. And now that we have third generation families who haven’t ever gone to Church they don’t know any better. And if you tell half truths (which are actually falsehoods if you are using them to denigrate and detract), if you tell these pseudo truths often enough, uninformed people will believe the story being told.

But why would anyone do this?

Three reasons – Greed, Jealousy, and Pride.
Three of the Big Seven – The Seven deadly sins.

Greed – because this garbage makes money. It is amazing what people will watch or read and what advertisers or investors will pay to support bad or misleading research. It is sad to know that there is a market for things like “Jesus the Man, did he really exist?” Jesus and his tomb, Jesus and whatever can be imagined..

Jealousy – Christians have something that most others don’t. We have a God who reached out from eternity and came to be with us as one of us. With that act of incarnation – he made it possible to be the recipient of a special grace – to be adopted children and invited to live in God’s household. With that grace comes hope and a Godly peace. With repentant and regenerated souls, we do not have to worry – about anything. ( I know we still worry even with Jesus’ assurance Mt:6:34: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

The Jealousy is: If a person can’t have that kind of peace, that kind of assurance – they will try to take it away – or if they can’t have it, then no one will. This Begs the question. Why can’t they have this peace, this grace? It is freely offered. “Come all you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” In the Gospel of John Jesus answered and said to the Samaritan woman at the well. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”

Why would one refuse?

Pride – And not one kind of pride but three:

Intellectual pride – “I don’t have to listen to people from the past, they are all ignorant and superstitious. Besides, I just published my fifth book on the subject so I must know more than all of you.”

Selfish pride – “I will not be told what to do or how to think. If you say I have to believe in this Jesus in order to be saved – well the cost is to high. If I have to repent, admit I was wrong No way! I DO HAVE MY PRIDE.”

The third type of pride is best described as Satanic pride. “If I have to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour - well the cost is too high. I am in charge of my own destiny. I will decide if I go to heaven or go to hell or attain a new level in some new age metaphysical reality.”

John Milton put it best In his poem Paradise Lost

“Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in hell:
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

This is what Christians are up against. A darkness which is ever trying to cover everything, a darkness that is best at hiding itself. A darkness that feeds on ignorance, falsehoods and doubts. And yet, it is able to succeed in putting out the light.

But tonight we are celebrating light.
Not the light of a star over a stable in Bethlehem.
A light coming from that manger.
A light that can never be overcome by the darkness
- can not be understood by it.
God from God – becoming man – Jesus Christ
– so that we might know the Grace and the Peace of God, both now and ever.

Posted by Ed Pacht on St' Stephen's Day.

Monday, December 25, 2006

What's With the Kangaroos?

Google provides an excellent search engine, which I have been using exclusively since I discovered it a few years ago, and also hosts the platform for this blog,

A nice detail about Google is how they regularly modify their logo to reflect special dates on the calendar.

So I was a bit mystified when I had a look today, Christmas Day, and saw a happy kangaroo couple with their offspring. Moving the mouse over the image, I read: "Happy Holidays from Google."

I have written the following email to Laura Ainsworth, corporate communications coordinator:

Hello Laura,

Merry Christmas.

It would have been a nice touch for the roughly 2 billion of us Christians out here if your logo had made some reference today to the event that we are celebrating -- the birth of Jesus.

So I have been wondering -- what's with the kangaroos? What, if anything, do a happy kangaroo couple and their newborn have to do with the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph and Jesus?

Might I ask that, on the second and 10 subsequent days of Christmas, Google change the logo to reflect that it is Christmas?

Yours sincerely,
Albion Land (Mr)

The Collect - St Stephen

The Prayer

Grant us, O Lord, to learn to love our enemies, by the example of thy martyr Stephen, who prayed to thee for his persecutors; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.


This prayer is one of the shortest collects in the 1549 BCP, with only 38 words. The brevity enables us to focus on the pithiest of Christian petitions: that God grant us “to learn to love our enemies.” Later versions expand the collect, and in so doing dilute the profundity of the entreaty. In the 1666 and 1928 Books, the prayer of 90 words introduces looking up to heaven to behold “the glory that shall be revealed” as we endure suffering for “thy truth.” The 1979 American book shortens the prayer to 54 words and shifts Cranmer’s emphasis from learning to love our enemies to giving thanks for the example of Saint Stephen “who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors.”


This Collect and the witness of St. Stephen offer much to edify us. In the Orthodox Church, St. Stephen is referred to as “Protomartyr” and “Archdeacon.” According to tradition, he was the oldest of the seven appointed by the Apostles to serve as deacons in the Church. As a leader among those who were visibly doing good works, Stephen became a target for the Sanhedrin. In Scripture we read how he stood before the religious leaders and boldly declared that they were stiff-necked like their forefathers and murderers of the “Just One” to whom all of their history and prophets pointed. Were this not enough to rouse their fury, Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, told them that he beheld the Son of Man standing in glory at the Father’s right hand (Acts 7:55).

We find here an instance of the Trinity. This alone deserves contemplation. Holy Stephen was about to be baptized by blood and at his baptism into the Blessed Trinity he became another son of God, walking the painful path trod by his Lord Jesus. Millions of martyrs follow him!

As Asterias noted, holy Stephen was “the starting point of the martyrs, the instructor of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel.” (In the Orthodox calendar, the very next day, December 28, commemorates the 20,000 martyrs who were burned in Nicomedia at the beginning of the fourth century by order of Emperor Maximian).

There is also the matter of the parallels between Stephen’s comportment at his stoning and Jesus’ on the cross: both committing their spirits to God and praying God’s mercy upon their persecutors. This also deserves contemplation.

Thomas Cranmer could have enlarged his collect, as did later generations to encompass these elements, but he did well to emphasize one thing: learning to love our enemies. Not all who follow Jesus as Lord are required to shed their blood. Not all glimpse the Son in glory, but all are commanded to love their enemies. Loving our enemies is possible only by God’s abundant grace. It is a sign that we are God’s children. No wonder Cranmer chose to place the emphasis here!

St. Stephen is commemorated very soon after the Feast of the Nativity. We do well to meditate on this collect as an antidote to the widespread sentimentalism of Christmas. The precious Babe who was born in a manger came not to bring peace on the world’s terms, but on his own terms.

Alice Linsley

Sunday, December 24, 2006


The generation I belong to was very quick to use the word “peace” and to use symbols of the idea of peace as a greeting, or as a protest, and sometimes even as a reason for hostility and violence. In many ways the people who were young during the Vietnam War were a reflection of an earlier generation that had lived through World War I. Because of its abhorrence of war, that generation came to be typified by the weak image of Neville Chamberlain stepping off the plane after it returned from Munich, waving his paper signed by Hitler, and bragging that their agreement was “peace in our time.” The highest ideals are easily shattered because, by themselves, they are not strong enough to stand against the reality of evil. Chamberlain’s ideals made him weak, and that weakness was the cause of the War that soon enveloped Europe and most of the world, a war that may have been prevented if Churchill had been in charge. Right now Americans debate the right or wrong of a war that, as a smaller part of a bigger war with radical Islamist terrorists, may have been a mistake- or maybe not. But, one thing is certain: as long as mankind lives subject to sin and death, we have no reason to expect the kind of peace that the youth of the 60s, or that Neville Chamberlain, envisioned. For true peace to prevail in the world, we must wait for the Last day when Christ returns in glory and brings His kingdom. And the reason is simple: Mankind is fallen and sinful.

So then, what is the meaning of the song of the angels on that first Christmas? What did they mean by the words “Peace on Earth; Goodwill toward men”? Looking back at World War I, the president of the United States was sure that his League of Nations (which was rejected by his own country) would be the answer to all of the world’s problems of war. He even went as far as to say that he, President Wilson, would succeed where Christ failed- since peace among nations had not been established by the ministry and life of Jesus. That is not only a tragic commentary on the weakness of idealism, but also on the foolishness of bad theology. The answer to President Woodrow Wilson’s pathetic statement is two fold: 1) Christ did not come to establish some political worldly peace among nations, and 2) it is a blasphemy to say that Christ failed at anything. He did establish the peace that was his mission; the angels were right. For the real war that afflicts the human race is the war between man and God.

Remember the story of Noah. So often when Noah is depicted emerging from the Ark, including the movie when he was portrayed by John Huston, we see the rainbow and think of God’s promise not to destroy mankind. But, in fact, the symbol of God hanging up His bow (the rainbow) in the heavens to show that he would not aim His arrows at the world, and the promise not to destroy the human race, did not come as soon as Noah and his family left the Ark. In the story, in Genesis, this comes after Noah offers a sacrifice on an altar. After the animal is slain, and the smell of the burnt offering goes up, God makes this promise that mankind will be spared destruction. And, like everything in the Old Testament, it is meant to be an incomplete picture needing fulfillment, a shadow of the true figure, a type pointing to the reality. The baby, in whose birth we rejoice this day, lying in a manger, is the sacrifice. The shadow of the cross on a hill just outside of Jerusalem falls across the stable in Bethlehem.

“Nails, spear shall pierce Him through
A cross be borne for me for you,
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe the Son of Mary.”

Only in light of His coming death years later, could the angels speak that night of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” They did not say “goodwill among men.” They said “goodwill toward men.” The picture of Noah’s sacrifice bringing a promise of survival for humanity now takes on the beginning of fulfillment. This peace is with God, an end to the warfare caused by sin and death; the goodwill comes from above to undeserving, fallen mankind. On Christmas “the babe, the world’s Redeemer first revealed His sacred face.” We feel joy at seeing this great love whereby God the Son, the creator of all life, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is revealed in human flesh in great humility as an infant of a poor family, so poor that a manger is his bed. Yet, in the midst of this joy we know that He came to bear the cross. And, by bearing the cross He would be the true sacrifice for the sins of the world, the sacrifice to which Noah’s offering, and the later offerings of the Old Testament priesthood on the altars of the Temple, bore witness as mere types and shadows of the reality. The night in which the angels sang their praise to God and spoke of peace is answered by another night- “the night in which He was betrayed.”

On that night he would establish the Church’s Eucharistic sacrifice that speaks even louder and cleared than the Old Testament types and shadows on blood stained altars; for the Church’s altar, on which nothing is slain, is mystically joined to the cross upon which our Savior died, and therefore joined to “his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”

The Peace of which the angels spoke is best understood with words by Saint Paul, in his epistle to the Church at Rome: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1,2).” The coming of Christ into the world brought this peace- peace with God; his second coming will establish the fullness of a peace that lasts forever, because there will be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, for the former things are passed away. Of His government and peace will be no end on the throne of David. His government as the eternal King will bring peace because sin and death will be no more. For now, however, we are offered the gift of being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Our hope for eternal life is directly bound up in how we respond to this gift, made available to us only by means of His death and resurrection.

So, this simple phrase from the angels’ song speaks volumes- that is, it speaks all of the truth from all of the books of sacred scripture. The mystery of the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh, tells of a love that responds to our greatest need, namely, to have peace with God, to be reconciled with the one who made us and gave us life as the first of His gifts.

The humility of God is a staggering fact that leaps off the pages of the Gospels. For we see the Son, equal with God, deem to be made human for the sake of a race of rebels; to take upon Himself our very nature, to be found in fashion as a man, to take upon Him the form of a servant, to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, as spoken of in Saint Paul’s famous passage to the Philippians. This obedience and service would be quite remarkable from someone who is a creature; but the Son is not a creature; He is begotten not made. He is equal with God, eternally one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. What great kindness shown to us, the race of rebels, that we see His sacred face the holy night of His birth. Into the eternity of His Divine Person He took time; into His Godhead eternally begotten not created, He took our created nature; into His omnipotence he took the weakness of a newborn infant; into His omnipresence He took the location of a human body; into His omniscience He took the mind of a man. Into His Divine life as the maker of created life, He took our mortal nature, indeed death itself and so swallowed up mortality in eternal life.

In all of this we see that God does not deal with us as our sins deserve. If we must cast aside our hope in the best idealism that fallen man can muster, it is for a greater hope, a love that exceeds the story of every romance ever written. It is the love of God for the undeserving children of Adam, benevolence extended where wrath is deserved, immortality where death is justly due, the joy of God’s kingdom where Hell was earned. This hope for all who will believe and repent, purchased by our Redeemer’s shed blood, sealed by His resurrection and trampling of death, is peace with God. This is the song of the angels: This is “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

Merry Christmas

Dear Readers,

I'm just finishing my second coffee on the morning of Christmas Eve, and have already been struck by a very sobering experience.

I had to take daughter Andrea to the shop where she works, and only a block or so away we were greeted by the most tragic of Christmas sights -- a car flipped over on its top, and quite badly crushed. We stopped into a bakery for Andrea to get something for breakfast, and she learned what I had feared was to be the truth -- a young man was dead. I dare say, he'd been out partying and was on his way home, or to another party.

I bid your prayers for an unnamed family who, senselessly, will spend this Christmas arranging for the burial of a son, a brother, perhaps a husband.

The day can only get better, I hope.

Susana has gone to India for the holidays, and I have taken the time off to be single parent. For the most part, with a 14- and a 17-year-old, that basically means running a free taxi service and trying to explain that it really isn't healthy to go out in 5 degree weather with just a T-shirt on.

The three of us will have Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) dinner at home in the Spanish tradition, along with colleagues and other friends I have invited -- a grand total of nine. The turkey is thawed, the basics of the stuffing are prepared, and I'll start cooking around 2.30. That gives me time to say my morning office, take Jack the Dalmatian for his walk and do a bit of house cleaning.

In this quiet moment, I pray for all of you, that you will have a Blessed Christmas, and that your lives will be brightened by the Light that could not be overcome.

Merry Christmas,

The Collect - Christ Mass

The Prayers

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world with out end. Amen.

Commentary and Meditation

It is often forgotten that there is a sense in which we are NOT God's children until we become Christians, whether as baptised infants or converted adults. Until we are "born again" (John 3.3-8), that is, re-generated. There is also a sense in which all human beings are children of God, "God's offspring" as St Paul said, citing a heathen writer (Acts 17.28-29). What's the difference?

Well, to put it bluntly, humanity left home and repudiated its Divine Parent, rupturing the relationship. Nothing we have done could ever change the fact that God is our Creator-Father. Nor the fact that not only do we owe our origin to His act but our essential nature to a reflection of His Being. We are and remain "in his image". But the Father-Child relationship is not just about origin or general similarity. To be an ongoing experiential reality it must involve shared life and love. It is this that we abandoned.

Before the Fall, for a short time Man enjoyed the gift of supernatural life and so was enabled to live in a way that would not have been possible on the basis of unaided human nature. You see, we were never meant to "function" properly or fully without this super-added grace. We were designed from the beginning to be more than natural (in the scientific sense). Indeed, we were designed to connect Nature and SuperNature and to constantly relate to God in such a way that our internal relationships between soul and body as well as our relationships with other humans and other creatures were perfectly ordered. At the Fall this gift was thrown away and, in the process, even that aspect of "mere" human nature that reflected divine nature was also damaged and disordered. We both lost the grace and defiled what was left.

This leaves unregenerate human beings, at least if they have actualised their Fallen-ness in actual sin after the age of reason, as "children of wrath" (Eph. 2.3). This rather terrifying phrase confronts us with both God's hatred of evil and its presence within humanity. And the evil of what Christians call "the old man" (Eph. 4.22) is not simply there as an ugly and unfortunate but passive characteristic of Fallen nature; no, it is active, choosing and chosen. Sin is self-reinforcing.

But, thanks be to God, for He has broken in on this cycle of ever-increasing hopelessness with his love. He takes us back into His arms with forgiving mercy and simultaneously restores to us as an inner and active reality the sharing of divine life that we had lost. This is the "adoption and grace" and regeneration and renewal spoken of in the first Collect.

It is also true that we ask for "daily" strengthening of this gift of salvation in the Collect. One reason we need to do this is that while our regeneration has given us a new identity, a new relationship and the beginnings of a new nature, the "old man" has not been annihilated utterly yet. Concupiscence, as it is also called, remains to be fought and conquered. The difference is that as Christians we can fight concupiscence from an inherently victorious vantage point. We stand in Christ, anchored on Calvary, the power of his Death and Resurrection within us. Let us have faith in this renewal, this power, this victory. We are born again. We are "sons in the Son". Let this truth sink into you and quicken your Christmas joy. The Child lives. He is born within.

Fr Matthew Kirby

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Not Enemies but Brothers

"Each and every person, even soldiers and political leaders, has the capacity to appreciate love, salvation, and life. But for that to happen, a conversion must take place, a conversion from death to life, from viewing the other as an enemy and a murderer to viewing him as a brother and a giver of life."

A Christmas message from the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, calls for renewed efforts to bring an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Collect - St Thomas

The Prayer

ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who for the more confirmation of the faith didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son's resurrection; Grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ, that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved. Hear us, O Lord, through the same Jesus Christ, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and forevermore. Amen.


Reading this collect might make the Anglican Catholic a bit uncomfortable. Composed in 1549, presumably by Archbishop Cranmer, it is the only Collect for a Saint's Day in the Prayer Book (or possibly in the whole of Christian history!) that focuses on a failure of the Saint rather than his or her sanctity or good example. Not only that, but it talks about God "suffer"-ing, putting up with, Thomas' doubt, as if to say, "Thanks God for tolerating Thomas and not striking him dead!". Yet more unusually, the Collect finishes by effectively asking that we may do better than the Apostle in this regard!

However, the fact is that it was Jesus Himself who opened up the possibility of such a Collect by saying to St Thomas: "[B]e not faithless, but believing ... because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." And, of course, nothing Our Lord or the Collect say implies that St Thomas' holiness thereafter is to be seen only in the light of this mistaken doubt.

It is also comforting to know both that even the Saints can make big mistakes and that God can still make the best of such errors, turning them around to his glory. This is no reason to be careless about our failures -- they can and do have negative consequences best avoided. But it is good to be reminded that our gracious God is in control of the situation. He cannot be finally thwarted.


Lord, we thank you that the success of your Plan does not all rest on us! We thank you that you deal graciously with our foibles and failings. May we see that past sins and mistakes do not prevent us from achieving our greatest goal, in a sense, our only goal: becoming Saints with a capital S. Then we can follow in St Thomas' footsteps after his restoration to faith, doing God's will and reflecting his image with "ever-increasing glory" (2 Cor. 3.18, NIV).

Fr Matthew Kirby

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Secret of Patience

A piece inspired by the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The Secret of Patience

The Lord is coming,
coming in glory,
coming in power,
coming soon,
or not so soon
as we would have.

The Lord is coming,
surely coming,
and we wait,
and we wait,
and time goes on
and on and on,
and we wait.

His people wait,
with patience,
or not,
we wait
we wait,
and waiting, what?

Rejoice in His presence,
dance and shout and clap:
He has come,
He has died,
He has risen,
He is here,
and coming soon,
for He is Lord,
and break those dams
that block the flow
of the Spirit of God,

Give thanks.
Talk to Him.

Hear His voice.
and while you wait,
be filled,
and pour His love,
His peace,
His joy,
His Spirit -
into the waiting world.

------------------------ed pacht

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Advent III

I Cor. 4:1f

Matt. 11:2f

The Gospel reading for today reminds us that John the Baptist was the messenger who went before the face of the Lord to prepare the way. The words "my messenger" are the same as the name of the prophet who wrote the scripture that the Lord quoted- Malachi. It means "my messenger" or "my angel." For this reason John is pictured in iconography with the wings of an angel. Since the Gospel reminds us that John the Baptist was, in the words of the prophet Malachi, the special messenger who prepared the people to see Jesus Christ and to receive Him, it is timely to be reminded of why we have Penitential seasons; that is Advent and Lent. I believe everyone knows what goes on in New Orleans just before Lent. The Mardi Gras has become completely decadent and pornographically lewd. They have corrupted the idea into one of whooping it up right up until Lent comes, and spoils all the fun. Hardly a good way to prepare for Christ. I am glad that they don't do this before Advent as well.

Obviously, we don’t restrict Penance to just two seasons, anymore than we restrict faith in the Resurrection exclusively to the Easter season. Each season reinforces an important element of the Christian life in its fullness. Back in Maryland, before Saint Andrew’s moved into a historic and beautiful church, we had a hot water pot that boiled the water for the coffee, and, with only one room, we had to turn it on long before people came in and began to prepare for the service by praying; because otherwise they would hear the pot wailing and mourning with great lamentation and woe while the water boiled. We decided that it was a water pot for the Penitential seasons, for it wailed more forcefully than a piper’s Lament. But, it was the only water pot; so it always made its noise, and we always had to turn it on early; not just in Advent and Lent. And, like that deeply convicted water pot, we need to carry into the whole year the sober message of these seasons. And, neither, in these seasons, do we lose our joy and hope in Christ. In fact, if you paid attention to the scriptures and to the Collect, you see that the message is the message of John the Baptist; that is, to be prepared for the sudden appearance of the Lord Himself. As I pointed out two weeks ago, to be prepared to meet Christ in the final judgment, we all need to live here and now, properly prepared to receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. So, this message of Advent, with its penance and its hope, is a year-round message, telling us to be prepared to receive Jesus Christ, Really and Truly Present among us and in us.

And, if you were paying attention to the Collect, and how it relates to the Epistle, you will see that bishops, priests and deacons are placed in His Church to be stewards of the mysteries of Christ, in order to teach His people this very thing: To be ready to meet Him. The picture of John the Baptist is used by the Church, in Advent, to remind the messengers that we too must prepare the people for the coming of the Lord, for the day when He shall appear in glory, and we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Last year, in a sermon, I laid out before you the conditions that I set for a couple that comes to me to be married. Before I say anything else about that, let me say that my concern, my reason for saying what I said, was not out of concern for when such couples will appear; it was out of concern for you. I had heard some of you express things that alarmed me. I needed to make sure that my own congregation understands that, for us, the Times, they ain’t a’changin’. If we were interested in being politically correct affirming people, who accept everything, we could all have remained in a nice trendy church where they have abandoned moral standards; where nothing is a sin anymore (unless it violates Political Correctness); where the Hymn that ought to be sung every week is Cole Porter’s Anything Goes; where they want to marry men to men and women to women, and probably a man, at some point in the near future, to his horse. Most of us who left a certain modern trendy denomination did so for one major reason: We know that God’s word does not change; and we know that this is because He does not change His mind.

Now, what I did say was not about living arrangements; it was about sleeping arrangements. Simply put, if a couple is used to having sexual intimacy, I want them to agree to stop until after the wedding, and to confess pre-marital sex as a sin. And, before any of you think to close the door on any couple, please don’t. Let them come and talk to me. I want very much to be the voice that they have secretly longed to hear, the voice that tells them the truth that they have always known deep down inside. You let me worry about having the right words to reach them, to open their eyes, to convert them. The idea is not to slam a door in their faces; the idea is to open the right door, the Christian door. The only real way to help a couple become committed to each other, is to help them first to become committed to God. They will face temptations, and their emotional commitment to each other will be no substitute for faith in Christ and a conviction that they must live by His word.

Again, the scriptures today remind us of the messenger, John the Baptist. People do not understand John. They see his message only in negative terms. They think it terrible that he was a “hell fire and damnation” preacher (though, I need hardly point out, that the real hell fire preacher in the Bible was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Baptist was mild by comparison). When John the Baptist appears in movies, he often looks and acts like a wild man, and the wardrobe department replaces the Camel’s Hair garment he wore with something that seems to have come off of Fred Flintstone.

But, if we look at the record of what really happened, as it is in each of the Four Gospels, it was John who gave the people hope. The Pharisees had no message of hope for sinners, and the Sadducees had no message of hope at all, believing that there was no life beyond the grave (which is why the Sadducees were sad, you see). Furthermore, the Pharisees seemed to think of sin in terms of social class instead of in terms of one’s relation to God. But, of course, the most important line was that of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He said to the Pharisees that the tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God ahead of them, because they repented at the preaching of John. People came from miles around to confess their sins and to be baptized by him, with his baptism of repentance.

You know, we do not have the most affirming message: that is, we do not have a message that says: “I’m okay, you’re okay” like a certain book from the 1970s. Anyone who leaves these services thinking he has been told how good he is, has not paid any attention to our liturgy. We do not approach God thanking Him that we are not as other men, boasting of being “good people.” Rather, “we bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed.” Frankly, there is no other way to approach God.

I will tell you now, that I could not do what I do here for you if I did not, myself, from time to time, go to one of Christ’s priests, confess my own sins, and hear those words, “I absolve you…” I do not know why so many people think that confession is strictly a Roman Catholic thing- just for them. Anyone who knows the Ordinal of the Church of England must know that the priestly power to absolve, to forgive sins, has always been a very important part of Anglican practice. We never abandoned it.

Furthermore, as King David wrote, “Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven…” Confession hurts before you do it; but it brings joy to the heart after it is done. It is the most healing experience a person can have. Believe me, I know. As a priest I know what it is to be on both sides. You see, I am a sinner too; and without the ministry of the sacrament of Absolution, I would not know the joy, the freedom and lightness of the life in Christ- not lightness as in silliness, but as in liberation from a heavy weight. “Come unto Me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” It is so.

Be prepared for the appearing of Christ Himself. “Every eye shall see Him.” This is what John was sent to prepare the people for. It is what we teach you, as stewards of the Mysteries of Christ.

The Collect - Advent III

The Prayer (1549)

Lord, we beseech thee, give ear to our prayers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our hearts, by our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Prayer (1662 and later)

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewis4e so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end.


In 1549, for the first BCP, Cranmer simply translated the ancient Latin Collect. As may be seen, it was a very general prayer, and not too closely related to the Epistle and Gospel. Hence, the revisers in 1662 thought it wise to substitute a new composition. The new prayer (which appears in later versions of the BCP as well) masterfully combines themes from both Epistle and Gospel with the central thought of the old collect (the turning of the heart), and makes a fit introduction for the week of Advent Ember Days, a traditional week for ordinations. This Collect is one of the very few to address Jesus, the Son, directly.


Long lay the world in the darkness of sin.
Long lay my heart in the darkness of sin.
John was not light, but came as a witness of the light to enlighten the hearts of men.
To prepare the way of the Lord.
To call for the turning of hearts.
If Light shines in my heart, I am called to shine as did John,
To prepare a way for the Lord to the hearts of men,
and the hearts of men to turn to the Lord.
May He bless the hearts of proclaiming layfolk,
and may He bless yet more those He calls as prophets and priests before Him.

Ed Pacht

Friday, December 15, 2006

Calculating Christmas

For those who want a true and better explanation for the date of Christmas than is provided by the errors of "common knowledge," I recommend an article by my friend and fellow Touchstone contributing editor, Dr. William Tighe. This appeared in the December 2003 issue of Touchstone, and has made quite an impression (being mentioned in such places as the book The Da Vinci Hoax by Sandra Miesel and Carl Olson). This thesis is developed by Dr. Tighe in his usually thorough way, rich with documentation. So you think it was because of the date of a pagan festival that was taken over by the Church? Well, read the article and be disabused.

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Read the whole article, and feel free to comment here.

An Anatomy of Error IV

Continuing as promised, I recommend to our readers the April 2003 portion of the Anatomy of error series that ran in New Directions. here is an excerpt:
There are, of course, enormous problems about how these biblical insights are to be applied and lived out in modern post-Enlightenment society. But there ought not, in our view, to be any dispute about the fact that they are incompatible with – indeed opposed to – the doctrinaire egalitarianism which is often espoused by the supporters of women priests. That egalitarianism is both arrogant and heavy-handed – arrogant because it fails to take account of the simple fact that all previously recorded societies have been patriarchal, and that they have accorded differential roles to women and men; heavy-handed because it lacks all subtlety and nuance in response to the human condition, indiscriminately condemning as ‘sexist’ or sinful whole swathes of activity from fairy stories to pornography.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Women and the Ministry: A Document (IV)

The following is the first Orthodox document to be included in the series. It is published with the kind permission of its author, Fr Shnork Souin, pastor of St Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Livingston, New Jersey.

It is conceived as a "discussion as to what the Orthodox view of ministry and priesthood is in view of her Tradition vis a vis the 'Protestant and Western' ecclesiology that 'controls and directs' the World Council of Churches and modern Christendom."

Read it here

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The True One True Church

My e-mail contacts keep me abreast of theological blogs, and make me aware of ongoing disputes. For example, recently the encouraging and beautiful meeting between the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch was used by one self-appointed Roman Catholic apologist as a springboard to attack the validity of the Metropolitan's title, and to set up an apologetic for Rome against Orthodoxy. I like to think that the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch would be saddened by this use of the news about such a wonderful meeting.

Nonetheless, I have decided that I agree with the Roman Catholic apologists who say the Orthodox Church is not the One True Church; and I agree with the Orthodox apologists who say that the Roman Catholic Church is not the One True Church. In this matter they both prove their points; they are both right.

On the Pontifications Blog, Al Kimmel stated it as one of his "Laws" that "any church that does not claim to be the One True Church is only a denomination or sect." I like Al, personally, but I must say that he has stopped short of the full logic of this allegedly self-evident law. We should go a step further. So here is my Law: Anyone who does not claim to be, all by himself (or herself as the case may be) the One True Church, and to possess in his person the fullness of the Catholic Church, is not a church, but only a part or member of the body.

Therefore, I am announcing now, after much consideration , that I have decided that I (as in me, myself, yours truly) am the One True Church- just me and no one else. Yep. Unless you are me you cannot enter into the fullness of the Catholic Church. I am sorry about the uncertainty of everybody else's eternal standing; but, hey, that's how the cookie crumbles.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Women and the Ministry: A Document (III)

The following, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is the third document in the series on Women and the Ministry.

This was an Apostolic Letter to the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II, setting out why the church reserves priestly ordination to men alone.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Advent II

Isaiah 55 Psalm 119:1-16 Rom. 15:4f Luke 21:25f

“Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away.”

Several years ago I met a man who decided to impress me with his knowledge. He took one look at my collar, and began to tell me about a book he was writing, based upon his idea that the Old Testament has a very different message, and a very different image of God, from the New Testament. He seemed to take this notion of his for granted as a self-evident bit of common knowledge, and he expected me to agree with conclusions he was drawing from this idea. He was shocked when I told him that he was completely wrong.

As you can tell, the Collect has drawn from the Epistle for today. The clear message is that God caused the Holy Scriptures to be written for our comfort. And, we need to know what is meant by comfort. We think of the word “comfort” in a very different way than this older English usage. We think of an easy chair, or lounging on a sofa, or roomy clothes. We think of this Arizona Winter weather as opposed to the weather here in July. Well, the definition of the word has shifted, or, rather, its primary usage has changed. In the word “comfort” we find the word “fort.” And “fort” is a form of another word for strengthening, namely to fortify. Fortitude is courage, a fortification is a strong wall of defense, and comfort is to be “strengthened in the inner man,” to borrow a phrase from Saint Paul.

Another point, stated already in the words that the Collect has drawn from the Epistle, is the simple fact that the Holy Scriptures were written because God caused them to be written. In his second Epistle to his son in the faith, Saint Timothy, the Apostle Paul also wrote that the scriptures were, all of them, inspired by God. And, the word “inspired” means that God breathed them into existence, or that the scriptures were created by His Holy Spirit. Saint Peter made it clear that the scriptures were written because holy men were moved by the Holy Ghost. The scriptures are not merely human thought, and not merely enlightened thought. They are the word of God. The scriptures deal with something even more important than life and death; they speak directly to eternal destiny.

We need to know what this means. When the new Testament was being written, the scriptures were the Old Testament, since that was what had been written and recieved. It is a completely false idea that the Old Testament is inferior, or less the Word of God than the New Testament. When our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the writings of Moses and the prophets, He demanded respect for those scriptures. He said: “the scripture cannot be broken.” He made it clear that the scriptures spoke of Him, that every one of His public actions was a fulfillment of what God had caused aforetime to be written for our comfort. He identified the Old Testament scriptures with Himself.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
-Matt. 5:17, 18

Consider these words from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Saint John, vs. 37-39:

“And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

Listen to what Saint Luke writes about Jesus after His resurrection:

“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”
– Luke 24: 25-27

Notice, “not all the scriptures concerning Himself” but, “the things in all the scriptures concerning Himself.”

Luke goes on a few verses later:

“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.”
-vs. 44-48

While walking the earth, the Son of God proclaimed that the Old Testament scriptures were, in fact, actually testifying about Him. He was their subject. After His resurrection He expounded on the meaning of all the scriptures as the things concerning Himself, and opened the minds of His disciples to understand them.

As Saint Augustine put it, “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.” The Old Testament, you see, is all about Jesus Christ. The absurd caricature of an angry god of the volcano at Sinai, full of nothing but wrath, wrath and more wrath, being replaced by the good God and Father of Jesus Christ, is simply the anti-Semitic non-sense of the ancient heretic Marcion, the worst of the early Gnostics. The God of Moses is our God; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and Christ is One with Him, as is the Holy Ghost. In fact, we can say that Christ gave the Law to Moses, in the words of the great Advent hymn, O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel:
O’ Come, O’ Come Thou Lord of might
Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the Law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
So, too, the New Testament is rich with the reports of Christ’s actions, His words, His life, His death and His resurrection. They tell us, also, who He is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God… 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 1:1,2, 14).” It goes on to tell us how His Incarnation is extended in this world through time and space by His Church, founded by Him and indwelt by His Spirit. The doctrines of that Church are forever enshrined in the Epistles, and our hope made firm by the last prophetic Revelation.

I remind you of the Old Testament lesson appointed for Morning Prayer on this Second Sunday of Advent, since we add (as allowed by rubrics) the Old Testament Lesson and the Psalm to our Sunday Mass. Let’s take another look at part of that lesson from the 55th chapter of the book of Isaiah, vs. 6-11:

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

Often this passage is quoted as an excuse for ignorance. The implication is, we simply cannot know God’s ways, so let’s not form strong convictions about anything; let’s not be dogmatic.

Of course, a careful reading shows the opposite. Wicked and unrighteous ways and thoughts must be replaced by God’s ways and thoughts through serious repentance. The ways and thoughts of God are made known to us, because like the rain and snow, they come down from heaven. His Word goes forth from His mouth. The key words are “ways and thoughts.” Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts…for My ways are not your ways, neither my thoughts your thoughts…” Like the earth drinking up the rain and snow, we must drink up His word that comes down from heaven and that goes forth from His mouth. Our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts must be replaced by God’s very own revealed ways and thoughts. That will, indeed, comfort us, as in fortify.

The Church has a very strong message. We have the scriptures in which we hear the voice of God Himself speaking to man. We can teach their meaning correctly, and no one else can even understand it. Only by the Tradition of the Church can we know how to understand the book of the Church. The scriptures did not simply appear out of nowhere. The Old Testament came through the first Church, which was Israel, the Jewish people. The New Testament has come to us through the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church under the guidance of the Apostles and their Successors, guided, as Christ promised, by the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit spoke through holy men of the household of God, and so any claim that the Bible can be rightly interpreted without the Church by which it came, is silly. We know what our book means. It has belonged to us, as God’s gift and deposit, from its inception.

And, on every page of it, whether in words written by Moses, or the Passion narratives written by the four Evangelists; whether the heart felt cries of David in the Psalms, or the patient and passionate teaching of Saint Paul; it is all speaking to us about Jesus Christ, the Living Word and fullest revelation of God.

The Collect - Advent II

The Prayer

Blessed Lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant us that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of thy holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.


This was a new collect in 1549, substituted by Archbishop Cranmer for the following:

Stir, Lord, our hearts, to prepare the way of thine only-begotten Son, that we may worthily serve thee with minds purified by His coming, through ...

Cranmer apparently thought, justifiably, that the original was a little thin in content. Reading the traditional Epistle, which he retained, gave him the opportunity to produce a well-crafted collect on the Scriptures. In this writer’s opinion, this is the best written prayer extant on this theme. At first glance it seems a bit out of place in the Advent cycle; but, in context, it has the effect of directing us to dig deeper into the Scriptural prophecies in the Epistle and Gospel of both His First Coming and His Return.


“...The word of God is living and powerful ...” (Hebrews 4:12, composite translation).

Hear the Scriptures as they are read in worship.
Read them in the book you hold in your hands.
Mark their meaning as it has been found in the Church through the ages.
Learn them as the Fathers learned.
Let them feed you, and digest their spiritual food.
Any book may be read. Any book may be studied. Any book may be interpreted.
But this book will read you, and study you, and interpret your life.
In the written word is the eternal Word, the Logos, the Christ,
the Same whose Church is His Body,
the Same who redeems and calls and brings us to life.
Embrace Him, hold fast, and live.

Ed Pacht

Friday, December 08, 2006

Choral Treasure Radio

Choral Treasure, a new site, is devoted to playing great music growing from the Catholic tradition.

Listen to it here.

Biretta tip to Occidentalis.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An Anatomy of Error III

In the March 2003 issue, New Directions continued the series that I have been recommending, and to which I have provided the first two links. Again, I offer an excerpt:

It is a commonplace of the debate about women’s ordination that Evangelical and Catholic opponents are coming from different corners. The Catholics, it is said, major on the priest as icon of Christ; the Evangelicals on the Pauline doctrine of Headship. This distinction – the darling of those Liberals whose aspiration is to divide and rule – is expressed in the wording of the two Schedules to the 1993 Measure.

But is it the case that the Catholics and Evangelicals are using different, perhaps incompatible, arguments? It has never seemed so to us. Evangelicals, of course, have often majored on issues of authority in the Church: what they delight to call ‘leadership’. Catholics have been wary of such language as dangerously unscriptural – and any Cruden, they tell you, will establish that! So what is the argument from ‘headship’; and what is the primary meaning of kephale in the relevant texts?

Again, here is the link to the whole article.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

And We Complain

HELSINKI, Dec 5, 2006 (AFP) - The world's richest two percent of adults own more than half of global household wealth, while half the world's population own only one percent, a UN report published on Tuesday showed.

"The study finds wealth to be more unequally distributed than income across countries," Anthony Shorrocks, director of the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) that published the report, said at a press conference.

The report, entitled "The World Distribution of Household Wealth", found that assets of 2,200 dollars (1,650 euros) or more placed a household in the top half of world wealth distribution in 2000.

To be among the most affluent 10 percent of adults required 61,000 dollars in assets, while more than 500,000 dollars was needed to belong to the richest one percent. This group of the most well off was made up of 37 million people.

The study said it was the first of its kind to include major components of household wealth, including financial assets and debts, land, buildings and other tangible property, and to cover all the world's countries.

The report did not measure income, in the form of salaries, pensions and benefit payments.

A quarter of the world's wealthiest 10 percent of adults lived in the United States while a fifth resided in Japan, the study showed.

Eight percent of the world's wealthiest 10 percent of adults lived in Germany, seven percent in Italy, six percent in Britain and four percent each in France and Spain.
The concentration of wealth within countries was also found to vary significantly.
"The share of the top 10 percent (of wealth) ranges from around 40 percent in China to 70 percent in the United States, and higher still in other countries," the report authors said.

In 2000, the year data for the survey was collected, there were 499 dollar-billionaires and 13 million millionaires throughout the world. These numbers were set to "rise fast in the next decade," the report said.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ever Thought About This?

“What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of Heaven and falling into Hell thanks to you?”

St. Francis Xavier

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Advent One

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 both of the Incarnation and of the Nativity. 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. One song, frequently adding 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 Ghost 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 Pharisees and the Sadducees. When my brother, Fr. Addison Hart, was in seminary, for a joke he wrote a hymn that goes like this:
I thank Thee Lord, for I hear tell
That some poor slob just went to Hell.
I thank Thee I am not as he,
An hypocrite and a Pharisee.

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.

The Collect - Advent I

The Prayer

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away
the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of
light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy
Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;
that in the last day, when he shall come again in his
glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal, through him who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now
and ever. Amen.


Today is the first day of the liturgical year in the Western Catholic calendar and of the first season -- Advent. The English word Advent is derived from the Latin, advenio, which means "to come to."

According to present usage, Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays. The first Sunday may be as early as November 27, and then Advent has twenty-eight days, or as late as December 3, giving the season only twenty-one days. As you will see, today is the latest day upon which Advent can begin.

As the Catholic Encylopedia points out, the faithful are admonished during this time

+ to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
+ thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
+ thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.

As the season of Lent is a time for reflection and preparation for Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, Advent prepares us for Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity, when God takes upon Himself our human nature and humbles himself to be born as a child in a simple family.


The invocation in this collect, for us to "cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light" is taken directly from today's Epistle, Romans 13.8ff, and tells us what we are called upon to do.

The works of darkness are the works of the enemy, of Satan, and are reflected in our fallen nature and in our sinfulness. The armour of light is a reference to Jesus. As this is Advent, we are called upon to reflect on the coming of Jesus into the world and His offer to come into us. But only we can choose to receive Him, and in choosing, we "put Him on" as our armour against the deceits and attacks of the Devil.

But before we proceed, we must go to the very beginning of this prayer, and to the key word grace. We may choose to accept Christ as our Protector and Savior, but we cannot do this on our own. We do it only by grace, by accepting his gift of Himself, which is something that we can never earn.

This leads us to the warning of this prayer. If we are to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, it is something that we must do now, "in this mortal life", in order to prepare ourselves for the Last Day, when He will come to judge us, and when that Judgement will determine whether we are to share with Him in His immortal life.

Albion Land